Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why A. Uribe has been a good President

Besides being a heck of a successful defender of the nation...

Besides being fairly astute in his handling international relations with friend and foe (although not always in a friendly way)...

Besides a heck of long list of other good things...

He doesn't put up with political corruption.

If he'd consider the step down after his term of office ends, I understand Illinois State in the U.S.A. is about to have an opening for a Governor. He sounds like just the man for the job.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nicaragua Commentary

A very well-presented piece of Opinion writing at the Christian Science Monitor, today, on how Nicaragua is in a spiral down, and how outside influence might help prevent that.

The information on the numbers of Nicaraguans who have fled the country to Costa Rica and El Salvador are particularly informative, in context.

Ituri Massacres: Civilian Dead in the Hundreds

The coordinated campaign to bring down J. Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has yet to pay any measurable dividends and, worse, the LRA continues to run rampant through the region.

For all the blame that has fallen on NGO's that insist upon providing aid and relief to the LRA, when news like this comes in, it still terrible news. That is the Reuters version of the UN report from the region.

*This* cites the report on the incident from Caritas, a Christian NGO aid provider... which is probably having some awful second thoughts about things right now.

This matter was first examined here at CompHyp back on 20.Oct 2008 in The Weekly N&C, with a focus upon the roles of Christian Charity NGO's in perpetuating the problem.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Weekly N&C for December 29th, 2008

There is a time for all things, and this is time for a brief respite.

Rather than posting a full The Weekly this time, I would encourage readers of Competing Hypotheses to look back upon each of The Weekly N&C posting (sort by The Weekly Item) and see where we have been (in the 5 months covered) this last year, and consider where things are going, as very few of the matters discussed have reached their resolution.

I have been asked about the ongoing Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza, but rather than attempt to address it in a historical sense I would offer the following news sources and then, an opinion.

Here are some English-language media sources of value in the region:

Ha'aretz Daily Newspaper, Israel, link to the main page.

The Jerusalem Post Newspaper, Israel, link to the main page.

Ya Libnan news source, Lebanon, link to the main page.

The MEMRI 'blog, a translation service for Arabic and other regional language media, link to the main page.

MEMRI also has video media resources from the region, although less current, at their main index page. As of right now, they are not covering current items on the fighting in Gaza.

Now then...


I find Hamas to be a tool of Iranian-inspired radical Islam, and as such to be without merit or tolerable existence. I am sure that they would feel the same about me, were they to care.

I was also asked about my general sense of the Palestinian issue, in specific as to the huge "refugee" problem that has persisted for 60 years. In reply, I would say the entire handling of the Palestine Mandate since the end of WWI was an exercise in multiple double standards, and that the partition that created the Kingdom of Jordan was far short of what needed to be done. By the time of the 1920's, it was clear that *either* the Arab aspirations to a Greater Syria or the to-be-Israeli aspiration to constructing a national sovereignty would have to be sacrificed. The establishment of Israel should have put an end to that, but the Arab League formation to oppose Israel by force was neither recognized as legitimate under the post-1948 system (the U.N. and all), nor condemned by that system.

The failure to choose has put things where they are.

Furthermore, I suggest you look at this general historical summary of a different case, and then talk to me about "right of return", and how "fair" the Western Allies were about that sort of thing at the same time they were being involved in the establishment of the State of Israel. caveat: It is a wiki-p source, presented here only for convenience. Source all specifics, please.


Might 2009 bring us fewer matters terrible to present here, and may some small effect of these writings encourage something better.

To all of you who read this site, be well and safe, and may the New Year be a good one for you.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There will likely be no other new discussion thread today, mostly to allow me time to work on the Weekly piece.

Lots of things left to do with the existing discussion threads, and I'll be around to comment on them too. If that isn't enough, there is still this week's Open for you all to make your own fun.

Otherwise, there are no administrative matters to mention; All goes well.

As always, thanks for coming here!

December 28th discussion item

Charles Krauthammer, writing in the 5.January edition of The Weekly Standard offers a plan for a net-zero Gasoline Tax that has astounding applicability from a National Security point of view for the U.S.A.

It is a lengthy read, but one worth the time.

Open Ground:
Once one has his entire argument in hand, what do you think of it? What unintended consequences come to mind, and what obvious flaws (if any) do you see? Is there a better or different mechanism available to reach the same goal?

Have at it!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

3000 Hamas bombs later...

The Israeli Government has finally had enough of Hamas' intent to make war.

The IDF delivered pretty darn well targeted reprisal, which is no mean feat when dealing with the Gaza Strip (pop. 1.4 million, at over 4,000 people per sq. km.)

The Defense Minister of Israel also has been quoted as saying "It won't be easy and it won't be short."

He's right. On the positive side, the Government of Egypt which had been the negotiator on the "truce" (pause, actually) in Gaza is *furious* that Hamas walked away from the truce agreement this month. Furious Egyptians might just mean less arms smuggling and support for Hamas.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the next 7 days.

That which is not a thread topic, goes here. Also, any topic you want to bring back from the dead or any suggestions for a new topic, goes here.

caveat: the usual rules apply.

Anybody else seeing this as a failure of focus?

Pakistani Army is reported to be diverting troops away from the FATA and Northwest Frontier, as of today. The redeployment is to the Indian border, supposedly to dissuade India from any reprisals for the Mumbai terror attack.

This takes some of the heat off the Pakistani Taliban, and is likely just what the terrorists who planned the Mumbai attacks intended.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Brazil signs on for that Nuclear Submarine

In an EURO 8.6 billion (~US$12 billion) arms deal, Brazil has gained technology transfer and co-production assistance on the purchase of 50 EC725 helicopters and 5 submarines, #5 of that procurement to be nuclear-powered.

We've mentioned here, before, about how important it is for Brazil to feel capable of its own defense, and how friendly countries should find ways to help.

This is a huge leap forward in manufacturing technology for Brazil, and a marked improvement in military capabilities (when they are all delivered).

Heck of a successful sales visit, President Sarkozy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

TFG President said to resign

The latest on the Somalia TFG Government political crisis is in:

President A. Yusuf to resign by Saturday.

More on what this means as it becomes available.

Update 25.Dec

The BBC is now running a report claiming this is a "baseless rumor". Rumor; trial balloon; more political maneuvering trying to force A. Yusef's hand; Whichever, it is certainly *not* helping with clearing up the stability issue.

Guinea Foul

The long-time leader of the Republic of Guinea recently died, taking one of the last "big men" out of the nation-as-personal-fiefdom business, and before the government could announce a planned transition... the Army called a coup...

which may or may not have succeeded...

but the coup leaders are parading through the streets of Conarky...

...yet the supposed government is claiming they are still in power, too.

Consider this a travel advisory: Might not be a good time to visit; the junta is claiming the government is hiring mercenaries and one would hate to be mistaken for a supporter of the wrong side as this one plays out. After all...


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"...I hope you have a new year in good health."

Today is the 75th birthday of Tennou Heika, the reigning Emperor of Japan (known as Emperor Akihito in foreign media), and even though His Majesty is not in the best of health he did make his public appearance today.
Alongside the emperor, Empress Michiko, Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Crown Princess Masako, Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko greeted the public.

In the afternoon, the emperor is to receive celebratory messages from Prime Minister Taro Aso and representatives from legislative, administrative and judicial chiefs.
May you also be well and enjoy the new year, Your Majesty.

(May your glory be known for) Ten Thousand Years (ever)!

Fiji Tit-For-Tat

The diplomatic discord between New Zealand and Fiji has taken a turn for the worse, with Fiji's Interim Government expelling the NZ Acting High Commissioner and New Zealand replying in-kind.

Fiji has been under a military coup since 2006.

This issue may lead to further defense cooperation problems, and certainly does not bode well for the process to return democracy to the Republic of the Fiji Islands.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Weekly N&C for December 22nd, 2008

Trying to Use a Scalpel like a Broadsword

In a rare variation from form, this article for The Weekly N&C is focused upon an entirely military matter and its related political component rather than upon an important World Affairs event. Considering the broader applicability of the point in question, however, let us take the time away from other things to present this item.

Since the telling of the tale of Achilles before Troy, where the great and vengeful champion leapt forward between the battle-lines of Greek and Trojan warriors unwilling to close to melee and slew handfuls of the Trojans in his pursuit of Hector, there have always been those who believe the best use of elite military forces is as a superior version of regular troops in battle. In that school of thought, having spent the resources to obtain some number of warriors orders of scale more skilled and deadly than line soldiers, one would be foolish to then set those fighting men aside for tasks that do not directly determine the outcome of battle.

It has a certain romantic nature about it, one that often beguiles political decision-makers, this idea that their army’s elite can fight through ten-fold their number in foes. It is also, at least in measure, quite true. If a commander sends a dozen of his elite into an opportunity battle against a company-sized regular force of the enemy, it is quite possible that the opposing force will be defeated… but likely at the cost of the dozen elites.

This sort of thinking even penetrates into the military command structure of the regular forces. This should come as no surprise; regular formations of any large size most always set apart a “Select Company”, or a “Special Duty Troop” which the commander relies upon as being more capable when things get tough than the main sections of his command. When given troops quantitatively better, by perhaps an order of magnitude, than line forces, higher level commanders have been known to perceive them as simply superior versions of such select formations.

Certainly there are missions that are considered beyond the capabilities of regular forces, and when those are pivotal to the outcome of a vastly larger operation, there might be some sense in using elite forces, even at risk of the loss of those forces. The American experience at Ponte du Hoc during the Normandy Invasion of World War II is often argued as such a case (irrespective of whether it was in fact a pivotal objective). But any reasoned examination of the situation on a World War II battlefield will likely point out that the 2nd Rangers sent up those cliffs were elite in an infantry sense, yet not different in magnitude than the better of the Axis soldiers whose counterattacks they would fight off for two days. Worse, that same examination might bring up the rather less successful engagement at Cisterna by the 6615th Ranger Force as part of the Battle of Anzio, five months before.

Rangers then, and Rangers now, are organized into fairly large-sized formations in comparison to the Commandos of that day and the Special Operations Forces of modern times, and their material means of war were little different from other infantry forces. When one considers the capabilities of contemporary Special Operations in American forces, it quickly becomes obvious that the fundamental formation (the Operational Detachment or Team) is very small, that it is a rare thing indeed to have more than a couple of such formations working directly together, and that when they are used in Direct Action (intentional combat) there is an enormous tail of transport, support and reconnaissance acting in concert with the Operators on mission. With superior troop quality, training, experience, support and supporting fires, such an example as Operational Detachment Alpha 3336 of the 3rd Special Forces Group (U.S. Army) winning the day even when their mission went very wrong is simply exemplary, not super-human. The battle was won, but as in the mentioned cases above the Detachment was basically expended.

The number of Detachments that can be deployed for Direct Action is of course basically limited by how many Detachments one has in-theater, but more likely the practical limit is on the number of Special Operations-capable aviation and support elements available. More significantly, the number of Intelligence assets available to support operations may simply put an upper limit on how many Direct Action objectives can be prosecuted.

Please pause a moment and absorb the most basic fact-of-life of Special Operations before we proceed: Direct Action missions are a minor subset of what Special Operations in the American Armed Forces are intended to do. The fact that they do them so well, and against such odds, is not particularly germane to the larger set of responsibilities.

Yes, I *know* that in the movies all ‘Green Berets’ do is fight battles. John Wayne and Chuck Norris I’ll ask forgiveness of, later.

Special Operations, specifically the U.S. Army Special Forces, are first and foremost the irregular forces trainers in counter-insurgency warfare. They can also be well used in regular forces training for allied armies, and in the role of intelligence and reconnaissance support for established regular allied forces. They are also well suited for reconnaissance and intelligence operations in support of higher-level formations of regular U.S. Armed Forces. The sum total of desirable bullets-into-bad-guys by an Operator on any of the above missions is zero. There are certain force-protection / command-protection tasks that are also SF assignments. Again, if they are shooting people, somebody is not doing it right (in the big picture). It is only when the Detachment goes into the field as the advisors or team-mates to local forces on operation that there is any desirable result that comes from having the Operators doing the shooting.

In the big picture of the Global War on Terror, recognizing what works for Special Forces and then doing it is *critical*. The war is big, widespread, and there just are not enough assets out there to be wasting any of them. The example case of the success in the Philippines was publicized back in October of this year as part of the discussion inside Special Operations Command (SOCOM) on how best to be doing the job at hand, and SOCOM commander Adm. Eric T. Olson has been leading the way on getting that emphasis back.

Before one asks, yes, Adm. Olson is as good as they get with Direct Action when it is called for; He was in Mogadishu in ’93. He also had SEAL DEVGRU back when it had a number. So he knows the difference between “white” and “black” Special Operations. Moreover, he knows what he wants SOCOM to be doing, and he believes the best thing they can be doing is what they are intended to do; to have small numbers of Operators make other larger forces much, much more effective.

That is what makes problematic a report like this showing up in the Army Times on Saturday about how the first thing being done to increase forces in Afghanistan is the tasking of an additional battalion-sized number of Special Forces; This would up the number of Detachments in the Combined and Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan by about one-third. All well and good, except that the idea of what is being proposed is to increase the number of forces available for combat operations. Consider this the leading edge of the Bush administration’s proposed 30,000 troop re-enforcement to the Afghan theater by next summer. The big problem apparent is that there are not enough aviation, support and intelligence (ISR) assets available right now for the Special Forces already there. Adding in more Detachments will likely mean pooling them into “ongoing operations” as they are expressly *not* being tasked to be the trainer-advisors for the Afghan National Army.

If “ongoing operations” is in fact where they will end up being, then we fall right back into the above forewarned intellectual trap for leaders.

These are your best soldiers, by a host of measures.

They are not replaceable in their specialized tasks.

They are not something that should be traded in attrition with the enemy, even at ten-to-one.

They are a surgeon’s scalpel, not a broadsword, when used correctly.

Let us use them correctly.

End Notes:

All references embedded as links.

Additional Historical References, from Wiki-p, for general information only:

Pointe du Hoc fighting and the 2nd Ranger Battalion: ~225 men committed; ~90 fit for duty after 2 day’s action.

6615th Ranger Force at Cisterna: 767 Rangers, 43 Recon troops reached the objective; 6 and 1 made it back to friendly forces.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There will likely be no other new discussion thread today, mostly to allow me time to work on the Weekly piece.

Lots of things left to do with the existing discussion threads, and I'll be around to comment on them too. If that isn't enough, there is still this week's Open for you all to make your own fun.

Note to self: a great way to increase site hits is to put "mis" and "kosovo" in a thread title.

Yes, we are *still* getting hits from searches for mis kosova 2008 (it is a Beauty Pagent). Heh, oh well.

Otherwise, there are no administrative matters to mention; All goes well.

Thanks for coming here!

Remembering Pan Am 103

The bombing that brought down Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was 20 years ago today.

For those of you who seek remembrance, rather than linking to a forlorn picture of the wreckage here is a picture of one of the memorials.

For those of you who seek reprisal, well, that matter is done and settled. The Libyan Government's settlement and compliance is a matter of record. There is no need for more on their account. Never forget, but do find some way to forgive the Libyans.

For those of you who seek understanding, and can endure the effort such requires, here is the DIA FOIA package on what was learned. Fair Warning: it is both heavily redacted in parts and a composite of several source documents, running ~100 pages.

Personal Note: SEMTEX, the plastic explosive used in the bombing and in many other terrorist activities in the 1980's, was so hard to come by in the U.S.A. at that time that when I asked for assistance in supplying a sample to researchers working on explosive detection systems, the U.S. Government special investigator who fulfilled the request (paraphrased-->) told me that it would have been legally easier to supply the researchers with several kilograms of pure cocaine than it was to bring the same amount of SEMTEX. The stuff really was considered mysterious and very very dangerous "alchemy" back then.

...and the Libyans had 700 tons of the stuff. They were giving it away (to the Provos and other IRA factions, for one example). Nasty stuff indeed.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Updates on Ukraine and Rep. Georgia

Several reports have come in on efforts to help both Ukraine and the Republic of Georgia continue to move forward, but both cases bring additional concerns in the process.

Ukraine has signed a Strategic Partnership with the U.S.A., similar to the agreements reached with the Baltic States to help prepare them for NATO membership a few years back. However, that may all come to naught as the Government of Ukraine can not seem to cease its ongoing fratricidal political problems.

The Rep. of Georgia is coming to terms, finally, with just how many problems it has, militarily, and how best to begin restructuring its defense, but to do so they will need time and guarantees of support. Not intending to allow anything that would give such breathing space, Russia is attempting to get the OSCE observer mission in Georgia curtailed. The plan seems to be to interfere with mission renewal (needed after 31.December), and to continue to obstruct observer activities. The OSCE mission has yet to gain any real access to the rebel territory of South Ossetia, for example.

Heck of a time to be worried about politics and cronyism, folks. Perhaps a large sign is needed in both countries' offices of government: DO NOT FEED THE BEAR.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the next 7 days.

That which is not a thread topic, goes here. Also, any topic you want to bring back from the dead or any suggestions for a new topic, goes here.

caveat: the usual rules apply.

Seems imprudent call the people cowards who have the proximity and capabilty to bring force to bear.
"How could African leaders ever topple Robert Mugabe, organize an army to come?" Mugabe, who has led the country for 28 years, is quoted as asking. "It is not easy. I do not know of any African country that is brave enough to do that."

Having seen how good several local fighting forces *can* be, and how pathetic the force the ZANU-PF puts in the field, it seems to this author that it would be unwise to underestimate what one motivated leader could do (well-supplied logistically).

The only need, frankly, is to get the weak-kneed and enabling "friends of Mugabe" in the AU to get the hell out of the way and let the competent leaders put an end to this travesty of so-called governance.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Heh. If it were my call, I'd think about accepting...

This story was going to be let slide by, as it really is mostly just protests by the used-car cartels in Russia' Primorye region (the Maritimes; Vladivostok and the Amur river cities) against the government of V. Putin and D. Medvedev. New tax on imported used-cars to try and protect western Russian car-makers from competition. Thing is, there is not much real employment in Primorye to speak of... other than importing and refitting Japanese used cars.

But, in the widely distributed Reuters version of the story, was this little gem:
The crowd chanted: "Putin, resign!" and there were several banners that were critical of the prime minister. "Mr Putin you are carried in a Mercedes, not a Volga, are you not a patriot?" one banner asked.

Another banner called for Vladivostok, acquired by Russia from China in the mid-19th century, to be given to Japan.

(bold added for emphasis)

Ho Ho Ho. I have got to get me a copy of the picture of those banners. It would be just the thing to hang out the next time Foreign Minister S. Lavrov comes to Toukyou (Tokyo) to negotiate about the Northern Territories and a Peace Treaty.

UN Rwanda Tribunal verdicts come in

The trip along the road towards justice for Rwanda just passed another milepost.

Theoneste Bagosora and 3 others found guilty; Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi cleared of all charges.

T. Bagosora's judgement included responsiblity for the deaths of former Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian peacekeepers, as well as the genocide charges.

OPEC calls for 2.2 million bpd cuts

Well, given the oversupply, it has been a wonder of diplomacy that Saudi Arabia and related producers were able to hold off major cuts as long as they did. However, the concession to the price-hawks (Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria by some measures) had to come at some point. That point was reached today. Here's the rub on all that, though:
Steven Schork, who writes the Schork Report and is an oil industry analyst, said that oil traders are selling oil today because they believe the cuts came to late in the face of a slumping economy combined with the belief that some OPEC members will not keep their promises to cut production.

"Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela - they all have to produce oil at any cost," Schork told FOX Business. "There's significant doubts of compliance with these cuts."


Schork expects a 60-70% compliance rate with OPEC's production cuts, bringing the real net production reduction to approximately 1.5 million barrels a day.
And if that does in fact occur, expect the Saudis to hit back *HARD* with continued overproduction of their own.

In a related note: Russia claims a 30% cutback in their output to "coordinate with OPEC", but like the desperation producers listed above, Russia really can not slow down much at all. Finances will not allow it, and trying to cap Siberian wells in winter is fool's work.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

NOT helping

The U.N. Security Council was prevented from acting on the situation in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) again, by the action of council members South Africa and Russia.

Russia being a Mugabe enabler is almost comprehensible. Petty, ill-considered, and morally unjustifiable, but in the game of real-politik, almost comprehensible.

The Republic of South Africa being such defies any plausible explanation other than there being some one(s) in the current administration personally benefiting from the ruin of their northern neighbor.

For Shame.

Further, and it hurts to say this, good riddance to their presence on the Security Council come January.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Somalia TFG on the brink

This example item of full-on demonstrable stupidity came in yesterday:

As the TFG's Security forces desert (roughly 80% gone now), the Islamists set up shop in Mogadishu, the Ethiopians have said they are out at the end of the year and the AU "peacekeeping" forces plan a hasty retreat...

President Abdullahi Yusuf fired his Prime Minister, triggering a political test. The TFG Parliament then quickly declared the move illegal and voted overwhelmingly to support (former?-) Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein.

Great timing there, boss.

The Government of Kenya is now so outraged that that they have placed international sanctions on President Yusuf. The AU negotiator claims it was a move to prevent further negotiation with the less-extreme of the Islamists.

A. Yusuf then clearly feels this is an ideal time to get on with political infighting, to hell with the country, declared today he was appointing a new Prime Minister.

Give this a few more days like today and piracy will be the least of the World's problems with Somalia.

An Old-fashioned Agent

Seems the South Ossetian rebels against the Republic of Georgia have had the services of a KGB spy an old-fashioned sympathetic agent working on their behalf in the U.S.A.

The Government of Rep. Georgia claims to have provided proof (via signal intercepts of cell phone conversations) of acts as an undeclared foreign agent, which last time this author checked was still a pretty bad thing in the eyes of the US Department of Justice. We'll just have to see if they buy into the Georgian information enough to schedule an investigation.

Three Nations go after the LRA

In a surprisingly well orchestrated series of strikes, the Governments of Uganda, (South-)Sudan and D. R. Congo have delivered the answer to Joseph Kony's fanatical LRA forces not complying with the surrender agreement they promised to sign...

A massive attack on the LRA bases in Ituri and adjacent regions.

Moreover, it seems to have been a very successful operation.

J. Kony's whereabouts (or that of his corpse) are not currently known, however.

Forward Goes the Infantry

A little less of the monsoon rains would be better, and a little more time is needed, but things have come together to give further advances by the Sri Lankan Army against the LTTE.

Keep at it, fellows. It is a long campaign.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Weekly N&C for December 15th, 2008

An End of Their Own Making

The appalling man-made disaster that is befalling Zimbabwe (Rhodesia; hereafter not noted) is spiraling into a tragic end. That is, of course, not to predict what ending, but to focus the attention on the fact that one way or another the current failure of what was once one of the most successful Sub-Saharan Nations in Africa is going to result in some sort of resolution, and soon.

The post-Lancaster House Accords Republic of Zimbabwe has fallen so far that hyperinflation obliterates any value from the local currency, food and clean water are functionally inaccessible (to the general population), and disease sweeps the land. The regime of Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF politburo still does not recognize the results of the last Presidential Election and refuses any meaningful power-sharing with the opposition. Detentions and disappearances of human-rights activists and opposition party supporters are once again the norm, and now the government propagandists have turned to claiming an external threat of support for an insurgency.

Take a moment to read that BBC article in detail, please. It is a fair summary of most all of the above.

For familiarization, please also note:

The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is the one-party formed after the forcible unification of the two communist-inspired revolutionary parties in 1987 (roughly the same time as Mugabe’s regime tossed out the constitutional protections guaranteed under the Lancaster House Accords).

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is the opposition, now fragmented into two factions, that successfully contested the 2005 and 2008 elections. The fact that they are legally tolerated has not impaired the Mugabe regime’s active suppression of this party. Astoundingly, the major faction (MDC-Tsvangirai) may well have won more than 50% of the Presidential vote in the 2008 election. They are the current plurality in the parliament.

To continue then, the claims of external threat are particularly troubling, not because there should not be an external threat to a regime like Mugabe’s, but that there seems to no real threat actually occurring. But let that not dissuade the propagandists of the ZANU-PF; they have hauled out claims that every problem contributing to the collapse of human existence inside Zimbabwe is the fault of outsiders. Here is a short list of the most recent versions of such claims:

. Hyperinflation is caused by the Americans – the particulars of that claim have even made it into the wikipedia entry on the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (ZDERA).

.. Zimbabwe Cholera outbreak is a racist U.K. genocide plot – this was widely spread in the mainstream media, but thankfully with intelligent counterpoints to the claim.

… All the disease outbreaks (Cholera, Anthrax) are just excuses for “Western” invasion – Robert Mugabe himself stated such as part of his asserting that there is no disease in the country now. Yes, he really said that.

…. The MDC has bases in Botswana for training an insurgent army to invade Zimbabwe – This is the latest one, repeated *here*, and if one would prefer the official propaganda version, *here* in The Herald (which is controlled by the Government).

To go ahead and introduce a brief bit of illumination on how quickly the accused parties got announcements out to the contrary, *here* is the Government of Botswana’s denial and *here* is the MDC party’s denial.

There is a very good reason why those denials had to come out so quickly, and it has nothing to do with the current ill-relations between the Governments of Botswana and Zimbabwe. It is to prevent giving any excuse to the Mugabe regime to conduct an improved version of the Gukurahundi, the massacres of the Ndebele (Matabele; a Zulu-related tribe), specifically the followers of the rival ZAPU party, that ran from 1982~85 and likely killed around 20,000 Ndebele tribals. The above-mentioned forcible unification of the ZANU and ZAPU parties was the result of that reign of terror. For as brave and independent historically as the Ndebele are, the facts are that the massive population superiority of the Shona tribals virtually disenfranchises any other tribe-based political movement, and the (yes, you guessed it, Shona-dominated) ZANU was more than willing to use the Army against the people.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that thinking has changed since then.

Look at these parts of the picture:

This is a map of Zimbabwe in relation to other countries. Note Botswana to the West.

This is a map of the regions of Zimbabwe. Note the two westernmost regions are Matabeleland, the Ndebele homeland.

If one were to suppose a hypothetical insurgency based in Botswana, then all lines of communication and activity go through Matabeleland. During the Rhodesian Bush War, by the way, neither communist army had that opportunity. The closest bases to the west were actually to the northwest, in Zambia. Those bases were the ZAPU Army strongholds. Mugabe’s patrons in the ZANU Army were based out of Mozambique. Let us go down a sample list of where he and those patrons are now, from the top:

Robert Mugabe – President. The face of the ‘successful’ revolution.

Solomon Mujuru – supposedly retired ZANU Army commander. The man who made R. Mugabe’s career. Kleptocrat par excellence.

Joice Mujuru – Vice President (one of two). Wife of S. Mujuru. Another revolutionary, and another Kleptocrat, with a reputation for violence.

Emmerson Mnangagwa – Cabinet Minister. Bomb-setting revolutionary. Very successful Kleptocrat. Has pretentions of replacing R. Mugabe at the top of the ZANU-PF.

There are more.

Not a one of them has any regrets about having turned Zimbabwe into a one-party government or having done so by turning loose a North Korean-trained Army Brigade on a ruthless suppression campaign to make it that way.

In counterpoint, the MDC is led by:

Morgan Tsvangirai – A trade unionist, who did not fight in the revolution. A rising star in the ZANU-PF who was horrified at the excesses of his own party in releasing the Gukurahundi. A man who, as an opposition politician, has visited the mass grave sites and shown real empathy for the Ndebele suffering.

Maybe also, there is this…

The Ndebele have always been a proud people, but in a way that outsiders rarely seem to grasp. There was one, once, who did. He is buried now, atop the high point of the Matobo Hills, the most sacred ground of Matabeleland. When they placed him there, the Ndebele chiefs performed the only known Matabele Royal Salute to a European.

Maybe that is why the regime is so happy killing Ndebele…

A sense of the inadequacy in the regime's founders; how during the Second Chimurenga they could not compare to the strong fighters from Matabeleland.

If there is ever to be another Royal Salute, to a man or woman of any race, let now be the time that the foreigner step forward.

Because the tyrant and his clique that has seized the government is setting things in motion to commit another massacre of the people of the nation.

They have shown they prefer to destroy the nation rather than give up their power, their perks, their “luxury cars and plasma TV’s”.

No one made this end for them; the Mugabe clique made this all by themselves.

Stop Mugabe and the ZANU-PF now.

Denounce the Lancaster House Accords.

Send a real invasion before the Gukurahundi falls again.

End Notes:

Most notes are embedded as links in the text.

Gukurahundi as a Shona word means roughly "a rain that washes away things".

Here is a quick link to the Zimbabwe news section of All Africa dot com.

The Matobo Hills are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but for traditional reasons.

The following are Wiki-p links, provided for General Information ONLY. This is a very contentious topic. Propagandists are very actively using Wikipedia to present their versions of things. (Both sides)

General Information on contemporary Zimbabwe

General Information on the Lancaster House Accords. Lacks mention of American Government pressure.

General Information about the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC; both factions)

General Information about the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)

Historical Information on the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU)

Personal Profile: Morgan Tsvangirai; MDC-T leader

Personal Profile: Arthur Mutambara; MDC (M) faction leader

Personal Profile: President Robert Mugabe; ZANU-PF leader

Personal Profile: Solomon Mujuru; ZANU-PF; retired

Personal Profile: Vice President Joice Mujuru; ZANU-PF

Personal Profile: Emmerson Mnangagwa; ZANU-PF

New Thai Government

The Kingdom of Thailand has, by a vote of parliament, invited Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Opposition (to Thaksin Shinawatra) coalition to form a new government.

Let us see if it holds. The coalition only gained a majority by having a key party leader defect from the Puea Thai (formerly-People Power Party; formerly-Thai Rak Thai; Thaksin's party).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There will be no new discussion thread today, mostly to allow me time to work on the Weekly piece.

Lots of things left to do with the existing discussion threads, and I'll be around to comment on them too. If that isn't enough, there is still this week's Open for you all to make your own fun.

Otherwise, there are no administrative matters to mention; All goes well.

Great seeing some new faces commenting, and as always, Thank You for coming here!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Immoral? So is market manipulation

Friday's news brought the statement by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa that the foreign debt he has ordered left un-served is "immoral", and that for no reason other that that Ecuador shall default on the debt when the timer runs out on Monday.

Yeah, yeah, and usury used to be against canon law too. Maybe he'll show up on Monday for a press conference dressed as a priest?

The trick in all this this was the failure to service interest was a buy-back fraud. By triggering the 30 day default timer last month, the price of Ecuadorian global bonds dropped like a stone, and the GovEcuador was then buying them up cheap to self-reconcile them.

More on this all here, at Reuters.

The game is now coming to its end and either R. Correa will hide behind recently rewritten local laws or it will be fight time in the legal system over the default.

The utterly foolish thing about all this is: Ecuador defaulted widely only 10 years ago. Any non-State lender who was willing to go back into a market so badly tainted almost deserves to take the loss this time too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Starting to look like a good investment

As of just before midnight (0000hrs 13.Dec local), the reports have the en (JPY)-to-the-US$ rates just under ~90.40. The bailout-mania in Washington D.C. has taken its toll again.

Even with the risks of the American economy, and political intervention therein, the situation is almost one where if one is holding JPY right now, finding something worth buying that is priced in US$ is almost too good to be missed.

Yes, that goes for Corporate Investments as well (but if you are planning to buy General Motors, do wait a bit).

No, this simply can not last long. The enormous fraction of the Japanese economy that is based on US$-denominated trade can not endure prolonged periods of sub-100 exchange. I would argue that sub-110 is unsupportable. That means we will soon be back to open intervention by Nihon Ginkou (Nippon Ginko; Bank of Japan) like we had twice a year in the 1990's~2004 period.

The Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the next 7 days.

That which is not a thread topic, goes here. Also, any topic you want to bring back from the dead or any suggestions for a new topic, goes here.

caveat: the usual rules apply.

Refresher Course on the usual rules:
. Play Nice.
.. This is the place for all those random thoughts, political or other, that you feel should be out here in public view.

CAVEAT: This is not an invitation to mayhem, and comments that run wildly astray will get deleted with no further notice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Going a-Hunting Ashore?

Good news: It looks like the U.S. is willing to champion a UN Security Council resolution to empower the international efforts against Somali Pirates to engage in land operations. Better yet, the Somali Transitional Federal Government is in full support of the proposed plan.

Bad news: The TFG may well have encouraged this resolution (and they did send two letters almost begging for UN action over the last weeks) because they are up to their eyebrows in problems of their own. The Islamic Courts Union anti-government Islamists have fought their way into the edges of Mogadishu as of this morning, and the Ethiopian allies of the TFG are already planning for a 2009 pull-out.

Going to be an exciting New Year, to say the least.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Man is Well Understood

A strong contender for quote of the day comes from Lebanon's Samir Geagea regarding the recent scheming by political-turncoat Michel Aoun and the Syrians:
In answering a question about status of Christians after the visit to Syria by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, Geagea said:

"In light of past experiences of the late Kamal Jumblat, Suleiman Franjeih and Rafik Hariri, I'm not worried about the Christians, but I am worried about Aoun."

Might be wanting to add one J. Carter to the "be worried about" list, after M. Aoun's name. He is wandering around the neighborhood doing his self-important dance again.

As if there wasn't enough trouble in the East seems that the sole reliable source of legit mining activity in the D. R. Congo, the southernmost province of Katanga (briefly known as Shaba during the Zaire period) is well on its way to economic collapse. Again.

Helpful hint from this for economists everywhere: When the historical price of a mineral resource sits in the US$ 1 ~ 3 per lbs. (1 lbs. = 454grams), and has done so on an inflation-adjusted basis for the last oh say 100 years... it is pretty safe to presume that you can't count on a US$4+ price as the basis for your investment and development plans.

And believe it, Katanga is one place that could sure use more wise investment and development.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Remember this?

Mis-step in the Kosovo Dance.

Well, it seems that Ian Johnson at the Wall Street Journal managed to put the pieces together, in his story today about the EULUX law-enforcement aid program deployment.

Nice job. Wonder who let the Journal review the 2005 BND report on the Kosovar government, eh?

Um, Ms. Betancourt...

I read what you said, and then a huge HUH?!? hit me.

You thanked *Hugo Chavez* for your release?!?

Are you sure we are talking about the same rescue mission?

Oh, and when the Colombians are done with him...

...the Yanks are in line next.

Carlos Marin Guarin, a former ranking member of the Ejercito De Liberacion Nacional (ELN) anti-government guerrilla force in Colombia, has been formally indicted on U.S. charges regarding two hostage-taking events (1999 and 2003). The ELN has been a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997.

Should be easy enough to serve the warrant; He is sitting in a Colombian jail serving a conviction on other crimes.

"Good work!" on getting the particulars of the indictment right to the Department of Justice, the FBI Miami Extraterritorial Squad, and Special Agents in the field.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Weekly N&C for December 8th, 2008

A Drive-in Mumbai

Having had a little time to digest what happened in the terrorist strike against Mumbai (Bombay), India, there are a host of small observations that can be made about the “how”, if not the “why” of the attack. The piece-part elements included a sufficiently competent attack force capable of quality infantry individual combat, reliable enough automatic firearms for each attacker with a large supply of additional ammunition, explosives of both the emplace-able and hand grenade types, and a full suite of commercially available aids to transportation, navigation and communication. The attackers also had enough endurance aids, both of the food and pharmaceutical kinds, to prolong their combat ability. That last capability has to be taken in terms of application, however, as the Mumbai attackers were a “suicide-squad”. Plans of that sort have the simplicity of not needing an exfiltration concept, so all endurance aids can be focused on increasing the opportunities of the attackers to cause further destruction rather than on getting them away after their raid. But what if there had been a convenient hinterland (or border) to escape to?

After all, not every group intent on spreading terror and destabilizing the state they are “at war” with has the sort of motivation and basis that would allow for a regular supply of high-quality recruits who are also fanatics intent on voluntary suicide. It only takes a look at the various Communist-inspired terror raiders of the 1970’s who shot up airports and other public places to point out the shortage of fight-to-the-death types amongst the competent combatants available. Those raids depended (in concept at least) on either timing, specifically a moment of carnage and then a quick escape attempt, or hostage-taking to shield the escape. In much of the developed world, that lesson has now been learned and the capability of State Actors (Law-Enforcement, Intelligence and Military) are far more capable of responding to such events in a way that escape is far less likely than in decades before. Even if the attackers do momentarily escape, pursuit is more capable and far more likely to gain cooperation from other Nations than ever before. Again, though, what if there was a combination of sympathy and social dysfunction in the place the attackers escaped to that normal pursuit would be delayed if not impractical?

If that was indeed the situation available to a potential attacker, then much of the burden of recruiting raiders is greatly lifted. The organizing group need only have a plausible plan for getting their terrorists away from the scene of the attack and the promise of shelter, aid, and if need be disappearance (identity-wise) to increase the pool of potential terrorists to include that which is in far wider supply: the amoral killer.

There should be plenty of those around, one might think, and if all one needed were gangster thugs to do the job well then they are available in disquietingly large numbers. The limit on that supply would be the cost (loyal thugs are a prized commodity, after all) and the need from the stated premise above that they be competent combatants. If paying for thugs is costly to gangster organizations, then paying for more than a couple of highly qualified military-trained killers is beyond the budget of most common organized crime groups. It takes a particularly lucrative and by-nature violent criminal enterprise to require any significant number of such killers and to operate them in tactical groups.

One alternative, and one commonly discussed when looking at Middle Eastern terrorism, is the State-sponsored terrorist but for this line of inquiry let us set aside those cases as State-sponsored and Para-state Organizations are so traceable to their sponsors by contemporary Intelligence Agencies that the actions of such terrorists is rightfully considered an act of war. Just ask the Afghani Taliban about what happens after that. But if the group conducting the act of terror is able to have carved out for itself a criminal state-within-a-state, then attributing blame to the Nation they are operating out of is more problematic. If the Government of that Nation is already in open conflict with the terrorists, but incapable of defeating (or even containing) them, then all manner of complexities of National Sovereignty and international legal constraints come into play, mostly to the benefit of the terrorist group.

So to be capable of replicating a Mumbai-style terror raid (to use the most current example) without having fanatic suicide-soldiers, the initial limitations to be overcome are, in no particular order: Motivation; Quality Combatants; Money; An Escape Plan; and then possessing enough modern weapons, ammunition and explosives to do the job. If available, a large available supply of drugs suitable for use to increase combat endurance / effectiveness would be a bonus. If an organization capable of having all those factors in hand also has a suitable urban area as a target, then all the pieces fall into place.

Anyone care to guess who and where that combination of ill-omens is most threatening right now?

Let us add one more hint: Where have *in the last year alone* such terrorist activities resulted in roughly the same number of dead *every three months* as the Mumbai attacks caused?

Have a guess yet?
Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have taken on the characteristics of small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and, on occasion, grenades. Firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but particularly in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.
If the guess was Mexico, sadly, that is correct. The above quote is from the U.S. Department of State Travel Alert, as currently issued. The situation is multilayered: with Mexican Narco-trafficking Cartels battling each other; the National Government (Law Enforcement and Military) battling the Narco-traffickers; and the Narco-traffickers also engaged in a campaign of terror against the very structure of the society.

There has been another of the ongoing rounds of violence just this weekend, with shootouts in Guerrero and Cuidad Juarez.

Torture and terrorism against the State and the population is all-too-common.

The Narco-traffickers have targeted journalists for particular attention, and the violence has even engulfed hospitals.

What makes this all far worse than merely gangsterism-grown-large is that the incredibly lucrative profits of narco-trafficking (known transfers in cash exceed US$7 billion a year; total estimates go as high as STRATFOR’s estimate of US$40 billion a year) allow the now consolidated Cartels to afford the very highly trained ex-military personnel that were spoken of previously. The Gulf Cartel, with its sometimes-partner The Tijuana Cartel, acts through its infamous Los Zetas armed force, originally composed of renegade former GAFE Special Forces soldiers. The Sinaloa Cartel, The Federation, and those fragments of the Juarez Cartel loyal to The Sinaloa Cartel act through their Los Negros force (an attempt to copy Los Zetas). Each side’s armed force has hundreds of reliable soldiers.

Both forces are also armed to the teeth. One recent success on the part of the Mexican Federal Forces resulted in the seizure of 540 rifles, 165 grenades, 14 blocks of TNT and half a million rounds of ammunition.

Even when there are successes by the Mexican authorities, just getting a high-value suspect into safe custody is an exercise in overcoming armed resistance every step of the way.

And that is what leads to the nightmare scenario… a Mexican Mumbai, or a cross-border raid against an American urban area in reprisal for arrests or extradition of Cartel members.

This month, the first tranche of the Merida Initiative funding by the U.S.A. for the direct supply of equipment for Mexican forces has been released. This will deliver much-needed aircraft, communications and protective gear, and equipment for information analysis to the beleaguered Mexican authorities. All well and good.

Now how about making sure that *the north side of that border* have sufficient assets available to intervene the next time trouble spills across?

Because it might not just be a kidnapping next time; It might well be a Drive-in version of the attack on Mumbai.

End Notes:

Most all end notes are embedded as links in the text.

One additional (and superb) resource not commonly known of is the Council forum on Small Wars Journal. This link is to an ongoing discussion on this particular topic. Obviously, there are many other topics elsewhere in the forum.

General Information links from Wiki-p. The usual caveat applies: Check all sources.

Cartel del Golfo, The Gulf Cartel. A major Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization.

Los Zetas. This is the specialized armed force of the Gulf Cartel; it has several branches.

Cartel del Sinaloa, The Sinaloa Cartel. A major Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization.

Los Negros. This is the specialized armed force of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The Merida Initiative. This summary is particularly useful for its map references to Cartel activities and Military Counter-Narcotics Efforts.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Morning Push

There is to be no other new discussion thread today, mostly to allow me time to work on the Weekly piece.

Lots of things left to do with the existing discussion threads, and I'll be around to comment on them too. If that isn't enough, there is still this week's Open for you all to make your own fun.


There is one minor administrative detail: To all you fine Europeans searching for "mis kosova 2008"...
(I'm not making this up; there were about a dozen hits here just yesterday on that item.)

Um guys, She's over here.


Otherwise, all is well. Thank you for coming here!

Thoughtful words on the past

This author will ardently discuss the why-and-how reasons for the way it came to pass, but not today.

Instead of that, here is perhaps the finest speech ever given at a Pearl Harbor Day Memorial:

President George H. W. Bush; December 7th, 1991.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Catching a Clue about Ortega

First, it looks pretty clear that the only reason Opportunist Par Excellence Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua has signed on the political agendas of Bolivarian Socialism (Chavismo) and Imperial-Russia-Renewed (Putinism) is to get a line on some cash.

Moreover, even those "friends" can't be overly pleased with the heavy-handed way that D. Ortega puts his own interests ahead of those of the FSLN party that he supposedly heads.

And now, even the chief officer of the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid-and-comfort club is expressing "deep concern and disappointment", specifically about the local elections in November but also as a general assessment.

MCC aid is now suspended. Several European aid providers are also suspending gifts, and the E.U. has only given out 10% of promised funds for 2008 so far.

D. Ortega's answer?

"Comandante" (Hugo Chavez) and "Admirer" (Dmitry Medvedev) will cover the losses.

Sure. Not a problem.

Can not imagine why they would not.


Yeah, yeah, fine. So, how is the weather?

"We will neither treat Japan as a party to the talks nor deal with it even if it impudently appears in the conference room, lost to shame,"
a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry told propaganda organ Korean Central News Agency (KCNA; amusingly, this bunch of collaborators is based in Japan).

Seems Japan didn't get around to sending over any tribute aid shipments prior to this round of the Six-Party Negotiations. Seems North Korea has not done much of anything on the Abductions issue since that line of negotiation reopened in June. Seems that might not have exactly engendered warm feelings on "our" part here in Japan.

Speaking of warm...

Reports said high temperatures were around -6 C (19 F) in Pyongyang this week.

Long time until spring comes, too.

Sure might be nice to have a couple shiploads of fuel show up in North Korea.

Of course, there's not much reason for Japan to send over those ships, now is there?

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the next 7 days.

That which is not a thread topic, goes here. Also, any topic you want to bring back from the dead or any suggestions for a new topic, goes here.

caveat: the usual rules apply; play nice.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Combating Kleptocracy

Just in case there was any concern that the U.S. Department of the Treasury was not in the game on recognizing the threat to other nations caused by the practice of Kleptocracy, Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing P. O'Brien has these remarks on Treasury's approach toward combating Kleptocracy.

Key Point: the role of NGO's in reporting and combating Kleptocracy is integral to the strategy proposed.

Notes to the snide (you wags know who you are):
. Yes, that is his job title; No, he does not finance terrorists.
.. NGO's can not also *be* Kleptocrats. Non-Governmental, and all that.

New Neighbors

First, they learn to transit the area.

Then, they move in to stay.

Not only in Guinea-Bissau, but in Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana, narco-traffickers are setting up new identities, permanent presences and finding ways to buy off the local authorities.

The Telegraph (UK) has a special report on this in the December 3rd edition.
Almost 18 months after their detention, none has been charged or tried. Commander Daonde Diop, from Senegal's Gendarmerie in Dakar, said they were still in prison and "waiting for a trial".

But officials doubt this explanation. They suspect that all of those arrested simply bought their freedom and disappeared.

Not up to NATO standards

The December 2nd NATO meeting produced some good results for the efforts to get Croatia, Albania, and (likely) Macedonia into the alliance, but for Ukraine and the Republic of Georgia there was a very loud Not Now. Given the terms summarized in the report, both countries still have a long way to go both militarily and politically to make it over the hurdles set for them.

This should not come to anyone as a great surprise given the opposition to the idea shown by France, Germany and Italy, as has been discussed here previously, however...

...inviting Dmitry Rogozin back to the meeting, and then giving him something to crow about was probably not the best move the Atlantic Alliance could have made. The man is an arch-enemy of Europe, which is abundantly clear to everyone except Western Europe, apparently.

Of course, it could be argued that the Continental powers have become their own arch-enemy, more the pity that.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

News one never wants to hear

Reports out of Brazil are that a South African man on a business trip to Brazil has died of an undiagnosed hemorrhagic fever.

My compliments to for getting word on this out in English, starting about 14 hours ago.

For those readers who would prefer a summary of the situation, *here* is a direct link to the Reuters Alertnet item on this from one hour ago.

Hemorrhagic Fevers include a wide range of diseases (Yellow Fever, endemic in Brazil, being only one) but if one reads the case trail of fatalities related to a Zambian source-vector brought South Africa dating back to September of this year, it looks to be potentially much worse.

Brazilian Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization are already on the case.

Canadian "Coup" and "Countercoup"

In one of those things that can happen in a parliamentary system, but probably should not...

All the parties except the Conservatives (even the ones that have been part of the governing coalition) have signed on to a Liberal-led bit of trickery where they promise to support a Liberal administration *if* the current government can be brought down. That means that while the Conservatives are by far the largest party (having gained ~37% of the total vote; at 143 seats they are 12 seats short of an outright majority), the Liberals with only 76 seats could at least on paper have what outside support is needed to form a government.

The answer, it seems, is two-fold:
Both sides are fighting a no-holds-barred battle for public opinion.
and Mr. Harper is considering
an unprecedented request to prorogue Parliament to avoid a confidence vote that could defeat his government next Monday.
Seems two can play at parliamentary games, eh?

Southern Philippines Situation

The situation in the southern regions of the Philippines, where 100+ year old on-again-off-again Moro insurgency has festered, is growing more active.

The Arroyo administration correctly saw no good coming from a negotiated expansion and continuance of the Autonomous Region last August, and fortunately the Supreme Court tossed out the Memorandum of Understanding on constitutional grounds in October.

This all should not come as a great surprise, considering the whole area is considered a "haven for terrorism".

The current plan of action is "DDR"; disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration.

Just one little problem with that concept, and then one fly-in-the-ointment issue to go with it:

. One can't re-integrate a societal element that has *never* been willing to integrate or compromise more than superficially with the nation, and that pretty much sums up the Moro view of relations with the GRP (Government, Republic of the Philippines).

.. The semi-recognized Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has its own radical elements that have returned to terrorism and, worse, the group provides cover and protection for the Abu Sayyaf. Those would be the al-Qaeda want-to-be's that engaged in spates of piracy and kidnapping of foreigners a few years back.

So with that knowledge in hand, here is the current situation:

The international observers have been mostly ineffective, and now Malaysia has pulled out of the observer effort entirely.

The GRP is still trying to find someone and some way to talk with the MILF.

Meanwhile, the forces on the ground in the region are being pressed into counterattacking. Basilan Island is once again the center of the conflagration. Brave work to be done there, and the Philippine Marines are just the fellows to be doing it.

Well, that certainly clears that up.

Gosh, it is sure great to have the Iranian daily newspaper Kayhan around.

According to their insights, the Mumbai attack wasn't al-Qaeda or the Government of Pakistan... was clearly an Indo-Israeli-American-mosthatedEnglish Plot.

Just one more reason to cancel your newspaper subscriptions, turn off the TV, and start getting IRNA's press releases as your sole source of news.

Oh, and stop reading 'blogs like Competing Hypotheses.

a heartfelt tip of the hat to the great translators over at MEMRI for this item.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Down goes the Somchai Administration

The Thai Constitutional Court acted "with unusual speed" and has dismissed the administration of (now-former-)Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, disallowed three political parties including the one he stands in, and placed Mr. Somchai under a 5-year ban from political activity.

Word coming in is that the anti-government PAD protesters that occupied the major Bangkok airports and some government offices are standing down their protests.

All this, and His Royal Majesty due to deliver his much-anticipated Birthday Address on Friday.

He is at it again

While no one is likely surprised at the attempt, the only real question is "why try this now?"

Yes, that fan-favorite Hugo A-go-go, er... President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, has once again called for a Constitutional Referendum to allow him to stay President-for-life.

There are all sorts of reports of potential new bank nationalizations and unpaid civil employees circulating right now. Could it be that he sees the window of opportunity about to close?

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Weekly N&C for December 1st, 2008

Does the Predictor exist?

In a more than slightly amusing moment of converging interests, this author has recently needed to revisit the study of elements of Game Theory as it applies to negotiations and the expected conduct of the participants in and after a negotiated agreement. While Game Theory is a vast and widely applicable concept, having been applied to Economics, Political Science, Biology and Military Science (specifically Strategic Deterrence), in this particular need the application is more philosophical. When asked to evaluate the post-negotiation conduct of a participant in an ongoing negotiation, are there some lessons that can be taken from the problems and paradoxes of Game Theory exercises that shed some illumination?

That, as is wryly said, depends on what kind of illumination one is in need of.

Most all the basic exercises in Game Theory as applied to economic choices and group behavior call upon the three elements of: Rational Actors; Minimized Losses; Maximized Gains. Casting academic posturing aside for a moment, those are actually very straightforward concepts and they all work and play together very well. “Rational Actors” simply means that the participants in the event *that may make choices that effect the result* will act in a manner that is rationally consistent with reaching goals. “Minimized Losses” states that losses in the course of the activity are to be avoided, and if possible reduced to nil. “Maximized Gains” states that where gain can be had, the greater gain is the more desirable outcome. Put these three things together and one has pretty much what any student of human nature could identify: People will make reasoned choices to lose as little and gain as much from any arranged exchange as possible.

At least, that is the simple model. But even by the time von Neumann and Morgenstern published their classic work “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” (1944), many other and more complex factors were under consideration. If one is a fan of American biographies or movies, the portrayal of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. in “A Beautiful Mind” includes his pioneering work in identifying key elements of Game Theory, in particular the situation where each participant in the situation identifies the best possible choice based on the best possible choices the other participants are making, and none of the participants changes their choice from that point on even if greater rewards are possible if the other participants were to change their choices.

Continued theoretical work in a host of fields added vastly to the complexity beyond equilibrium choices, considering all sort of variations in rationality and in common knowledge held by the participants. Perhaps the most challenging exercises came to be focused upon conduct in a two-actor exercise where a Predictor has some very high probability of (if not perfection in) knowing what the choice the Chooser will make *before it is made*, and the Chooser is aware of that capability before being asked to choose. Arguably, such an exercise seems at first to be of no use other than of philosophical weight-lifting, but let us be certain of understanding the elements of that sort of problem before seeking to find applicability.

The text-book example of the Predictor-Chooser exercise in Decision Theory is Newcomb’s Problem (also called Newcomb’s Paradox). It was first analyzed and shortly thereafter popularized in the philosophical community in 1969 in Robert Nozick’s essay “Newcomb’s Problem and Two Principles of Choice”, and here is a common example of the situation (the “player” is the Chooser):
The player of the game is presented with two opaque boxes, labeled A and B. The player is permitted to take the contents of both boxes, or just of box B. (The option of taking only box A is ignored, for reasons soon to be obvious.) Box A contains $1,000. The contents of box B, however, are determined as follows: At some point before the start of the game, the Predictor makes a prediction as to whether the player of the game will take just box B, or both boxes. If the Predictor predicts that both boxes will be taken, then box B will contain nothing. If the Predictor predicts that only box B will be taken, then box B will contain $1,000,000.

By the time the game begins, and the player is called upon to choose which boxes to take, the prediction has already been made, and the contents of box B have already been determined. That is, box B contains either $0 or $1,000,000 before the game begins, and once the game begins even the Predictor is powerless to change the contents of the boxes. Before the game begins, the player is aware of all the rules of the game, including the two possible contents of box B, the fact that its contents are based on the Predictor's prediction, and knowledge of the Predictor's infallibility. The only information withheld from the player is what prediction the Predictor made, and thus what the contents of box B are.

What makes this such an engaging exercise is that by the two schemes of optimal decision-making, (Expected Utility and Dominance, respectively) opposite choices are called for with equally valid rationality, and yet when addressed philosophically this problem devolves into a challenge to the possibility that such a (near-?) perfect Predictor could exist, and if it did, is there then no such thing as Free Choice…

What should be immediately noted is that in this exercise, one of the basic elements is missing. There is no loss to be mitigated or avoided, other than the “opportunity cost” of not gaining the minimum guarantee-able result (in this example $1,000, the least result of a "take A and B" choice).

Furthermore, if one *believes* in the infallibility of the Predictor, the B-only choice is perfectly rational and *should* reward one with $1,000,000.

Let us now look into an alternative problem, one with a similar basis in Chooser-Predictor structure and that includes some element of loss as a part of the choice. Again, looking to the text-book examples, one finds The Toxin Puzzle (1983), by Gregory S. Kavka. In this example “the Billionaire” is the Predictor and the “You” is the Chooser:
An eccentric billionaire places before you a vial of toxin that, if you drink it, will make you painfully ill for a day, but will not threaten your life or have any lasting effects. The billionaire will pay you one million dollars tomorrow morning if, at midnight tonight, you intend to drink the toxin tomorrow afternoon. He emphasizes that you need not drink the toxin to receive the money; in fact, the money will already be in your bank account hours before the time for drinking it arrives, if you succeed. All you have to do is. . . intend at midnight tonight to drink the stuff tomorrow afternoon. You are perfectly free to change your mind after receiving the money and not drink the toxin.

Note very carefully the wording “All you have to do is… intend…”, and then consider the philosopher’s immediate challenge to the exercise that one can not intend to do something that when the moment arrives one will not do.

The money is in the bank, if one did at midnight so intend.

Once the money is in the bank, can any rational Chooser then keep to that intention knowing that there is no practical obligation to actually drink the toxin at the appointed time?

Would not that imply then that any Predictor who actually put the money in the bank would be in fact predicting an irrational Chooser?

Presuming the goal of the Predictor in initiating this exercise is to actually get the Chooser to drink the toxin, has the Predictor made himself a prisoner of his own infallibility in discerning intention as well as required for his own success the irrationality of the Chooser?

With all that in hand, this is a time for an application to reality.

From the U.S. Department of State Briefing on North Korea, October 11th, 2008:
QUESTION: Yeah. If the North does not fulfill its verification promises, then what happens? Would they be put once again on the state sponsors of terrorism list? And do you have a package of punitive measures prepared in case they don’t comply with what they’ve said they’re going to do?

AMBASSADOR KIM: I mean, I don’t want to – speculation on North Korean noncompliance. I think we need to focus on the next step, which is to make this into a Six-Party protocol. And you know, they’re obligated to cooperate with verification activities. In fact, they stated in their declaration that they would cooperate fully with the verification activities. And in numerous discussions, they have reaffirmed that they’re prepared to cooperate fully with verification activities, so we will hold them up to their word.
“…they’re obligated to cooperate…”

Says who? The entire effort to negotiate the de-nuclearization of North Korea is, and has been from the earliest promises of reward for negotiated intentions, nothing more than a real-life Toxin Puzzle. The gain to the Chooser (North Korea) continues to be one they receive in return for the confidence of the Predictor (the U.S. and other negotiators) in the Predictor’s ability to *both* accurately detect intention *and* to believe that the Chooser will “irrationally” suffer the toxin having already received the gain desired.

So long as the methodology of the negotiation is more akin to The Toxin Puzzle and less like a conventional negotiation-to-mutual-and-contemporaneous-obligation, then the only hope for success is that the Predictor is really perfect and that Intention can not exist without (“irrational”) Commitment to fulfillment.

Is anyone really willing to play that game?

End Notes:

In addition to the DeptState document embedded as a link, the following general information may be of use to readers. The usual caveat regarding Wiki-p entries applies: Check the sources cited there.

General Information on Game Theory

General Information on the Nash Equilibrium

General Information on Newcomb’s Problem

General Information on The Toxin Puzzle

Disaster in progress

The completely preventable disaster that is the situation in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) grows worse by the moment.

The cholera outbreak has spiraled completely out of control and the supply of water to capital has now been interrupted.

Half the population is literally starving, yet the Mugabe regime intends to speed up land seizures, in violation of SADC judicial rulings to the contrary.

This Author is now fully on the same page as the stated opinions of the Governments of Botswana and Zambia: This is situation has now endangered neighboring nations and is indisputably a case where R2P intervention is called for to save the people from the regime.