Friday, February 20, 2009

LDG on travel -- Open Thread

I'm on travel for the next week+; be back the 1st of March.

'till then, here is an open thread for any matters that come up. I'll try to check in as I can, but it may be days between replies for me.

As always, thank you All for coming here!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mobutu Sese Chavez

A little bird dropped by this fine day, and we had a bit of a chat about Venezuela...
He escuchado que se ha de eliminar el calendario gregoriano. Es decir cero carnaval, semana santa y fechas de caracter religioso para sustituirlo por fechas "emblematicas" del proceso...
It seems that Hugo Chavez is spiralling rather far off into that realm of existence where nothing is real unless the "Big Man" says it is real, and nothing need have been real previously for the "Big Man" to declare that it is real now.

to summarize: It looks like Chávez wants to eliminate the Gregorian calendar and all religious and other holidays which will be replaced by those emblematic of his "revolution".

I now fully expect him to rename himself Mobutu Sese Seko Chavez Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga.

h/t: my most wonderful Spanish-language Source Reader

Chinese Ship... sunk?

Here's the story , from the AP, as presented earlier this week by the International Herald Tribune. Tragic, eight missing and presumed dead, but nothing particularly ominous.

But then...

...various sources began to run with this version of the story: *Supposedly* That the Russian Border Forces shot up the ship and then stood by while it went down in stormy seas.

Officially, the Russians have said nothing about any shooting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Niger Delta Conflict Spill-over

Equatorial Guinea has once again suffered from what seems to be a spill-over to the violence that is a constant threat in Nigeria's Niger Delta region. This time it was an attack on the island capital by two(?) speedboats full of militants... which would not be much of a threat most anywhere else, but in West Africa, it doesn't take much to threaten to pull off a coup d'etat.

It took a two hour firefight to drive off the attack, and according to Reuters at least one attacker was shot dead and another group drowned when their boat was sunk by the Navy.

The main Nigerian rebel group in the Niger Delta has denied any role in the attack, but they aren't the only bunch of gun-toting opportunists in the area. After all...


Monday, February 16, 2009

The Weekly N&C for February 16th, 2009

A Dearth of Competence

R. Holbrooke is well on his way to offending the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India...

D. Medvedev and his boss V. Putin have found that the Obama administration can easily be convinced to sell out the interests of Eastern Europe, and seem intent on finding out if all of Europe can be cowed...

H. Clinton is offering even more tribute at the feet of Kim Jong Il, and then has the gall to say how "important" it is for her to meet the families of the Japanese abducted by North Korea...

Someone finally noticed that the last (U.S.) National Intelligence Estimate on Iran never said the Iranians had stopped developing nuclear weapons, but those same some-ones now are positioning themselves to act as if another lunatic with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is somehow acceptable...

S. Nakagawa, Finance Minister of Japan, appeared 'drunk' at the G-7 meeting in Rome last week...

The rest of the world's Finance (Treasury) Ministers probably should be drunk after seeing what several governments have authorized in the way of so-called "stimulus" spending...

H. Chavez wins his plebiscite and proclaims that this is the Mandate for Socialism...

No one in Israel seems able to win a mandate for, well, for anything...

*I'm not even linking to the news stories on these items.*

I could go on:

The whole situation in Darfur is off the headlines, but be sure that the effort by one faction of interventionists to arrest the President of Sudan for crimes against humanity is not helping the other faction of interventionists to get enough peacekeeping (peacemaking? naw.) force in place to have a chance of success...

Don't even ask about Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), D.R. Congo, or Somalia right now...

I'm overcome with a mixture of contempt and outrage, and neither of them need be further advertised than this one reference.

I shall write something more appropriate when I can do so in proper terms.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Morning Push

There will likely be no other new discussion threads 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. Rather than posting an "Open" thread this weekend, this thread is left open to comments to fill any needs for that sort of thing. I am considering what and how best to redo the idea of the open thread, so for now this will have to suffice. The usual rules still apply; play nice.

I am still amazed at how many fans Miss Kosovo 2008 has.

No, really, we still get "mis"-directed hits from people searching for info about her. There is likely something I should be learning from that... ((grin))

Otherwise, there are no administrative issues to mention.

As always, thanks for coming here!

Following the Venezuela Vote

For those of you interested in following (in English) the vote today in Venezuela, *here* is the link to El Universal's English page.

The they are also running a ticker-type alert at the top of that page for this voting day with breaking news. *here* is the direct link to the log page.

As Always, for pure opinion and analysis in English on Venezuela, this author encourages readers to visit Venezuela News and Views, where Daniel is liveblogging the vote from in-country.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Roy Bennett Arrested

The new "unity" government of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) has begun...

...with the arrest of MDC Treasurer General Roy Bennett, a long time opponent of the Mugabe regime's land-seizure policy (and victim thereof), and the MDC choice for Deputy Minister of Agriculture in the new government.
Richard Cornwall, a senior researcher at the South Africa-based think-tank, the Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN the abduction bore the hallmark of "hardliners" attempting to "scupper this deal [unity government] before it gets off the ground."

He said the focus has been on the divisions between Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai's MDC, but recent developments showed "what sort of divisions exist within ZANU-PF, not all of who agree with the unity government." The next few days would determine Mugabe's "ability to bring the hardliners to heel," he commented.

Cornwall said it was understood that the "hardliners" were from the Joint Operations Committee (JOC), which comprised security chiefs of the army, police, Central Intelligence Organisation and the prisons department, and was coordinated by Emmerson Mnangagwa, at one time a presidential pretender.
Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC leader and the Prime Minister of the new government, says the world should no longer see Robert Mugabe as the main problem.

He's right, but for all the wrong reasons. ZANU-PF clings to power as a bloc, with several hands all taking from the till. R. Mugabe and his family are just a part of the kleptocracy. And the kleptocracy will continue to look out after its own, which means that men like Roy Bennett are their blood enemies.

But as long as Mr. Tsvangirai believes that his invitation to the government is entirely contingent on turning a blind eye to the ongoing malfeasance, expect him to keep saying things like this.

Friday, February 13, 2009

*That* will buy a lot of votes.

Just as a warm-up for the Venezuelan referendum election coming this Sunday, whereby Hugo A-go-go Chavez will once again try to set himself up to be President-for-life, here's a little something to remind us all who has all the money in Venezuela right now. (English-language source)

Fortunately for the future of the country, it looks like not everyone is willing to be bought off.

Still, it is going to be a tough day at the polling stations on Sunday.


I was holding this back, but as one major media outlet and several weblogs are running it...

...U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein should know better than to say things like this, especially in a public hearing.

No, the Agency isn't confirming it as true, officially.

Here is the Washington Post article of March 2008 D. Feinstein's mouthpiece claims is her open source. Quoting from there:
Musharraf, who controls the country's military forces, has long approved U.S. military strikes on his own. But senior officials in Pakistan's leading parties are now warning that such unilateral attacks -- including the Predator strikes launched from bases near Islamabad and Jacobabad in Pakistan -- could be curtailed.
This report wasn't confirmed or denied at the time, either, with good reason.

Bringing it up again now just throws gasoline on the fire that is Pakistani politics, and just in time for "Special Envoy" R. Holbrooke to be in the region.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Yemen recruits al-Qaeda inmates

The report came out that the Government of Yemen was releasing a large number of the al-Qaeda detainees incarcerated on the grounds that ((paraphrase --> ))"they had signed a pledge not to engage in violence".

Well, there seems to be a bit more to the mass releases...

The Saleh regime seems to have cut a deal recruiting said fighters into the cause of fighting the two movements against the government.

Quoting the always excellent Jane Novak (bold added for emphasis):
President Saleh deployed Fahdli and other Afghan Arabs against southern Socialists in 1994’s civil war. Some bin Laden loyalists were rewarded with high positions in the administration and military after the 1994 civil war. More recently, General al Ahmar incorporated Sunni extremists into military ranks during the 2004-2008 Saada War against Shiite “Houthi” rebels. Militants legitimize both the 1994 and Saada deployments by referencing the “apostate” nature of the enemy. This task is made easier by the official media’s description of both Socialists and Shiites as satanic.
Let's see if I have this right...

...this is the regime to which the current American administration wants to release more GTMO detainees too?

Previously here at CompHyp on Yemen: The Weekly N&C for January 26th, 2009.

Let us hope they got the right man

Arrested in furthest-out-in-faraway Ethiopia, the police say they have got a suspect in the bag in the case of the murder of Brian Adkins.

B. Adkins was on his first foreign consular assignment. He would have been 26 years old had he made it through his birthday.

Leave us hope they got the right man.

Closing the cracks before things slip through

Even with the new management in D.C., the chaps at the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) are keeping at the task assigned.

Recent listings under E.O. 13224 have both been valuable moves:

Last week, they hung a bell on the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK), freezing their assets in the U.S. and more importantly banning U.S. nationals from any transaction with them.

This matters a lot because the legitimate Kurdish political parties are trying very hard to clamp down on the PKK, who are the Soviet-era relic that keeps trying to kill Turks in the name of Kurdish independence. The PJAK was nothing more than a PKK front group.

Then, today, OFAC pulled out a real winner; a successful linking of various LTTE front-organizations operating in the U.S. (and world wide), and the listing of the supposedly "clean" fronts as well as the extant listing of the known "dirty" ones.

With the LTTE on the ropes in Sri Lanka, cutting off the supply of funds in places outside South Asia is an important part of preventing funds from reaching LTTE leadership on the run. Again, both assets were frozen and U.S. nationals are banned from any transaction with the group.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Victoria Fires

The pictures have been all over the news.

When a wild brush fire in a developed country kills as many as 300 people over a couple of days, the media picks up and notices.

What one likely has heard, if one follows the news, is that the Fires seem to have been Arson.

One fire bug sets one fire and then pulls back to watch the fun... ten fires in an afternoon, if he's ardent about seeing his fire grow...

The Victoria Fires include over 400 separate fires.

Twenty three major blazes are still out of control.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Weekly N&C for February 9th, 2009

Allow me to direct your attention to…

…the extraordinarily competent reporting and analysis on the current situation for refugees from Myanmar (Burma) by Jeff Kingston of Temple University Japan.

His recent work has received a wide spread in the most recent Sunday edition of The Japan Times. If one can imagine a major metropolitan newspaper in North America or Europe using almost two full pages of layout space to speak of a matter little known and even less understood, one likely has a sense of how large a commitment to getting the story out was made by The Japan Times editorial staff.

Here’s a bit of background on the situation before you follow the linkage to Professor Kingston’s work:

Burma (so-called as the Union of Myanmar by the current military junta) is one of the last territorial relics of British imperialism in Southeast Asia. Once acquired by conquest spanning the years 1824~1886, the territories were placed under attachment to British India. Come the process of the “beginning of the end” in India during the 1930’s, the British held a referendum in these territories as to whether they should remain under the came colonial government as India or be separated into a stand-alone colony to be called “Burma”. On April 1st, 1937, Burma became a separately administered territory, composed of a wide diversity of cultural groups and tribes, and in addition heavily colonized by colonial subjects who were of Indian and Chinese origin.

Come World War II in the Pacific, what little cohesion was present in colonial Burma was shattered by the successful Imperial Japanese conquest of most of the territory in the drive to invade India and knock the British out of the war. The problem was, they never got all of it, nor lost all of it until the end of the war. The front line of the war moved back and forth across the territories first one way and then the next, repeatedly. Various tribes and factions within Burma sided openly with the Imperial Japanese, others simply claimed to do so, and many more never abandoned support for the British or the Americans when they came into the theater of operations.

Come the last year of the war, the nationalist Burma Independence Army that had fought beside the Imperial Japanese turned against them. It may well have been opportunism, or just the realization that Japan was going to lose, but General Aung San had enough command influence to order a full-force turning-of-the-coat and the Allied armies had a new member… One that was counting on American anti-imperialism to do what supporting the Japanese had not; run the British out of Burma.

Aung San would not live to see it (assassinated by rivals in 1947), but come January 4th, 1948, the Union of Burma became an independent republic. They were *so* independent-minded that they did not even accept the offer of Commonwealth membership. This placed the territories previously classified as “Lower Burma”, “Upper Burma” and “Frontier Territories” under a single Nation. There are one hundred and thirty five distinct ethnic groups; four major linguistic families including more than a dozen major languages. The largest fraction is estimated to be the Myanmar (Bamar) ethnicity, at roughly 2/3 of the total population. About the only unifying things in the nation were the Buddhist traditions (over 80% of the population today follows those) and the desire for independence from the British Empire… or any foreign Empire…

What was overlooked was the possibility of a self-generated overlordship.

The republic stood for a scant 14 years.

In 1962, a military junta assumed complete control of the nation, led by General Ne Win. They have never let go, although since 1974 they have ruled through a mechanism then-called the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). Opposition to military rule flared from the start, and never was completely suppressed, but in late 1988 after massive demonstrations against the BSPP government were brutally put down with the death of “thousands” (the exact number is not known), a coup within the coup turned over the regime to State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), run by General Saw Maung. One of their first actions (besides shooting people) was to change the official name of the nation to the Union of Myanmar, but the junta also offered the first democratic elections (for a People’s Assembly) in May of 1990.

The SLORC was astounded when their slate of picked candidates lost.

They lost badly, too. The National League for Democracy (NLD) took 392 of the 489 seats contested. It seems that the daughter of the revered Aung San had come to lead the NLD. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a veteran of the days of republican Burma and former United Nations Secretary General U Thant, proved to be a unifying force throughout the country, beyond all expectations.

Never ones to let a little thing like losing an election slow them down, the SLORC refused to accept the results, dropped Aung San Suu Kyi into detention, and went on ruling by fiat.

Under new management by General Than Shwe since 1992, the now-renamed SLORC State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has reissued a national constitution (1993) that brushes the whole democracy idea under the rug and puts Than Shwe in undisputed control.

In control, that is, of a nation in utter ruins.

If not by the hands of the Generals of the junta, if not by the climate of thuggery that puts 800,000 people into forced labor camps, if not by the absolute madness of relocating the entire capital from Yangon (Rangoon) to a new site inland “to prevent foreign invasion from seizing the government”…

…then by the biggest cyclone to hit the eastern Indian Ocean area in decades. Cyclone Nargis came ashore on the Irrawaddy coast in May of 2008, leaving over a hundred thousand people dead or missing, and devastating the coastal growing region.

The SPDC refused available foreign aid.

This is the Burma people are trying to run away from: an unforgiving ethnically-charged dictatorship so paranoid that it compares closely to North Korea in leadership-by-psychotics. It is a regime that is actively trying to kill its citizens… and any foreign reporters who get in the way, too.

That is why the issue of Burmese refugees is so important.

That is why Japan needs to allow recognition and refuge to *more* than the 30 people *each year* promised in the most recent government allowance.

We can do better than that; other countries can do better than that; and we should do better than that.

Now one is ready to read Professor Kingston’s work.

Main article on Japan’s refugee policy and Burma

Related article on the SPDC role in causing the crisis

Related article on one Burmese refugee seeking legal status in Japan

End Notes:

Just in case one thinks the accusations of atrocities by the SPDC are unfounded, here is a 2005 Asia Times article on the International Labor Organization effort to justify placing sanctions on the SPDC regime for its Forced Labor policy and here is the CIA Factbook entry on Burma; scroll down to the section on Transnational Issues to get to the matters of Human Trafficking, Narcotics Sourcing and Trafficking, and the Displacement of Persons by Conflict.

The following Wiki-p links are for convenience and general reference only.

General Information on Myanmar (Burma); Map references included there.

The SPDC; the junta

Personal Profile: General Than Shwe

The National League for Democracy

Personal Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi

Historical Information: Cyclone Nargis

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday Morning Push

There will likely be no other new discussion threads 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. Rather than posting an "Open" thread this weekend, this thread is left open to comments to fill any needs for that sort of thing. I am considering what and how best to redo the idea of the open thread, so for now this will have to suffice. The usual rules still apply; play nice.

Otherwise, there are no administrative issues to mention.

As always, thanks for coming here!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The shooting starts in Antananarivo

The Associated Press is now confirming reports from local / regional media that the National Army has opened fire on anti-government protestors.

Both sides appear to be responsible for the confrontation(s), and things will likely become more difficult in the coming weeks.

Foreign interests like mining, oil prospecting, material resources and ecological activities are *mostly* outside the capital region, but political instability is always cause for caution.

Consider this a travel advisory: Visit lemurs in the zoo, for now.

Salvadoran, Ecuadoran Presidential Races

The situation as to the upcoming (March 15th) Presidential Election in El Salvador is one of a tightening race, according to local polling reported by Angus Reid Global Monitor.

Looks like the victory by ARENA in the capital mayoralty was not a fluke, and it is just possible that trends are turning against the FMLN, finally...

However, a matter of some risk is occurring in Ecuador's Presidential race. A total of 10 candidates are in the preliminary round, which should deny incumbent President R. Correa an outright 50% of the vote to win without a runoff... *BUT*...

...the election law also allows for a win with a 40% share so long as that candidate is also more than 10 points ahead of the next closest rival. There is a real possibility that could happen if the opposition is fairly evenly distributed.

As soon as polling data comes in on this current field of candidates, it would be great to see the numbers to try to predict whether a Correa outright-win is possible.

-hat tip to friend MP and blogger Boz, who cites the original report from El Comercio of Quito (Spanish language source)

Friday, February 6, 2009

A.Q. Khan... freed

The no-doubt-about-it *most* successful nuclear proliferator in history has been let free of "house arrest" by Pakistan... who by the way considers him a National Hero.

OFAC and UNSC Sanctions should be the least of the immediate reactions, on him and if politically possible on Pakistan for protecting him.

Further would be if various governments can put together a more meaningful international Arrest Warrant on him.

Best of all, of course, would be for him to conveniently hand himself over to IAEA and INTERPOL for a series of long, long, LONG discussions...

...but that is not going to happen.

At least, not the "hand himself over" part.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A test of character for Japan

The Japanese delegation to the United Nations has accepted a request to chair the U.N. Sanctions Committee on Iran.
This year, no countries bid to chair the sanctions committee on Iran, the sources added.
The U.S.A., U.K. and France had to ask Japan to step up to the task.

Given the history of some shall-we-say-selfinterested dealings that Japanese diplomats and commercial interests have had with the Iranian regime over the last 30 years, this is going to be a test of character for Japan to demonstrate that UNSC sanctions mean something.

For all our sakes', let us pass that test.


This is one that just has to be read... and then re-read... and then...

Moamer Kadhafi (Muammar al-Gaddafi), the Leader and Guide of Libya ...yes, him, and that is his title... has been elected the President of the African Union.

It took a grand total of one day for his "Union of States of Africa" idea to come out again... and the Addis Ababa AU meeting has gone spinning into a crash.

Makes one sort of wish for the old days when he claimed to be Arab not African, doesn't it?

No, really, I mean Madagascar

Taking the risk that readers here will accuse me of picking only reports from the *most* remote and distant places on the planet to comment on...

There has been a steadily developing story in Madagascar as the national Government of President Marc Ravalomanana has been locked in a political battle with Andry Rajoelina, Mayor of the capital city Antananarivo. (Those readers here familar with Venezuela will immediately recognize the parallels)

According to the Associated Press, the fight, at least the legal part, is over. The National Police Minister announced that the mayor is "replaced". A. Rajoelina wasn't exactly accepting the order, though.
On a day of setbacks, the mayor told reporters his dismissal was "illegal" and proof "once more of the dictatorial nature of this regime."

He called for protests in the capital for Wednesday and urged foreigners to stay at home. He told a news conference Tuesday that he planned peaceful protests "but you can never tell how the people will react to this decision" to dismiss him.

After the president temporarily shut down the mayor's TV station last week, mass protests turned into riots and looting that left dozens of people dead.
I include the last line of the quotation just to convey the stakes of this confrontation.

Expect it to get worse before it gets better.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vetting Aid Recipients

Matthew Levitt, writing in an Op-Ed piece appearing in the New York Daily News, has some strong things to say about USAID and how it pretty much fails to ever check whether the recipients of aid are not using control of that aid for internal political purposes.

His case example is Gaza, specifically how Hamas gets it hands on USAID material, but as I read it, the application is much broader: Whether one is USAID, Japan ODA, the French, Scandinavian, Dutch, or any international humanitarian (or development) aid supplier... sure that the groups receiving the aid will perform the needed relief...

...and be even more certain that one is not enabling the very political problem that one is supposedly sending the aid to relieve.

Bonus Points: If one is in political authority at the budgetary level, also be very sure that the officers running one's aid program haven't been co-opted by people with other agenda than one's national interest. cf. USAID in parts of Latin America; ODA in Viet Nam (last year).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

FARC releases *some* hostages

They let four security force members (police and military) go free to the Red Cross (ICRC) Sunday local time, and reports are that two political hostages will be released today.

The big question on all this is "Why now?", and that looks to be at least in part because of a move by the FARC to regain the ability to negotiate through their 'useful idiots' such as Colombian Liberal Party Senator Piedad Córdoba...

...think of Rev. Jesse Jackson in a skirt, and you've got the picture on her.

Errata: corrected the date of the first release. Thanks, Kate!

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Weekly N&C for February 2nd, 2009

If one does not have anything nice to say...

I think I had best follow those sage words today.

In the mean time, here are four items worth the time to read:

Besides the coming referendum in Venezuela on making H. Chavez President-for-life, it seems Mr. Obama will be meeting with Chavez in April.

The North Koreans have been posturing for a couple weeks now, but all the signs are out there that they actually intend to start shooting at something.

In a move this author strongly disagrees with, the Obama administration has chosen to replace the chief of the campaign against AIDS.

With 26 million migrant workers about to discover they have no job to return to, there is a very strong possibility of social disorder in the P.R. China as the factory shutdowns are just hitting now, after the Lunar New Year.

And, since the declared policy of some of the new hands at the United Nations is to substantially increase the effort in Darfur, Sudan, it should be noted that the Government of Sudan is not exactly cooperating.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sunday Morning Push

There will be no other new discussion threads 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. Rather than posting an "Open" thread this weekend, this thread is left open to comments to fill any needs for that sort of thing. I am considering what and how best to redo the idea of the open thread, so for now this will have to suffice. The usual rules still apply; play nice.

This is the six month mark for CompHyp. I'll judge it a qualified success as a soap-box for my opinions, but fair to poor marks for the avowed purpose of getting very many rousing discussions going. The ones that we have had, however, have been a joy.

As always, thanks for coming here!

Heavier-than-expected Security

The "dissident" faction of the Provisional IRA ("Provos") in Northern Ireland has not gone along with the peace agreement, and has been functionally blacklisted by the mainstream Catholic-aligned parties for their intransigence... and continued attempts at terrorism.

Thankfully, the police and the British Army are still on the job:
IRA dissidents telephoned in at least two warnings describing the bomb's approximate location — raising police fears they were being lured into an ambush, a past IRA ploy. But the dissidents said in a later statement they abandoned the car bomb short of their intended target, a major army base in nearby Ballykinlar, after encountering heavier-than-expected British security near the installation.
This makes it a clean sweep since the 1998 Omagh bombing; not one of the many car bombs constructed since then by the dissident IRA has reached its target.

This is what victory looks like.

There has been asked, repeatedly in some quarters of the media, the question "What would a victory in Iraq look like?"

Well, *here* is a pretty good example of what it does look like.

Living proof that it is not how badly one screws up that matters, but how gracefully one recovers.