Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Looks like more is on the way.

...more U.S. Navy firepower headed across the Pacific, that is. More Air Force assets, too.

That says that no one is expecting the current unpleasantness to blow over in merely a few days. I'd call that a realistic assessment of the situation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

boom

insert internet meme here

No, not that. This.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Morning Push

It's your turn again:

The Sunday Open Comments Thread.

Use this wisely, folks. The usual rules apply: play nice.

As always, thank you All for coming here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

You know them by who they associate with.

So, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is:

...a property-seizing Statist, a man that sees himself *as* the State?

...an evangelical revolutionary whose passion occasionally masks his brutal madness?

...an educational theorist with an ugly history?

...a man consumed with his own destiny and fixated upon demonizing the United States?

...a true believer in the Way, as defined by the latest Trotskyist fashion?

...or just another incarnation of El Jefe?

Maybe all of the above, or worse.

Wait... what do you mean you don't know who Alan Woods is?

You should. *Here's why*.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Japan understands the North Korean risk.

If you are looking for just one example of how the Kan administration has 'put on their big-boy pants' over the last few months, here is one example for you:
Prime Minister Naoto Kan instructed the Cabinet on Friday to stay in Tokyo from Saturday to Wednesday to be on the alert for North Korean provocations during a joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea.
The entire National Security authority is on one-hour recall until the exercise has passed.

Very, very good. A shining moment of competence from an administration that has been far too open to criticism in the past... heck, in the past week.

Now for what is *not* being said: a significant number of Kaijou Jieitai (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force; JMSDF; 'our' Navy) have also put out to sea on an unscheduled basis. I'll just cite the usually well-informed and reliable Information Dissemination as an open source post (Wednesday) on this. The JMSDF is not going into the Yellow Sea with the US Navy and ROK forces for this round of exercises, but given how bad things could get in the neighborhood if something happens, it is a very fine idea to have our ships at sea (and armed up).

So here goes. Time to face the risk.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

More on Iran's West African Debacle

Consider this a followup to an earlier CompHyp thread:

A lot of thoughts on how and why Iran got into this mess by Robert Tait at RFE/RL. He links the November 19th heroin seizure in Nigeria to the larger problem of the arms smuggling, and his sources see the latter as a Pasdaran (IRGC) operation involving someone greedy opportunists in the Government of The Gambia. Hmm.

The Nigerian Government is certainly not taking this at all lightly. They have gone with charges against one Iranian and three Nigerians and have laid the accusation of this being an IRGC operation:
Azim Adhajani, identified on the charge sheet as a Tehran-based businessman and member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, was charged alongside an alleged Nigerian accomplice with the importation of prohibited firearms.
They actually had two Iranians on the hook when this broke, but one had diplomatic immunity and got out of the country in the company of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki shortly after this case broke. As usual.

Should be a lovely trial.

A letter is not a strategy.

The U.S. Congress passed legislation back in May of this year, "The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act", that authorized a formal commitment by the U.S.A. to assist in the defeat of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) militia that terrorizes northern Uganda and nearby States. President Obama signed the law on May 24th, and accepted a 180 days-thereafter deadline for the promulgation of "a strategy".

Well, as of today, he sent a letter to the Congress:
Mr Obama's letter said that strategy would:

. Aim to protect civilians
. Apprehend or remove from the battlefield Mr Kony and his commanders
. Promote the defection or disarmament of LRA fighters
. Increase humanitarian assistance to people in LRA-affected areas.

He also said it would provide a framework for the co-ordination of US efforts.

"Given the necessity of bringing political, economic, military, and intelligence support to bear in addressing the threat posed by the LRA," Mr Obama said in his letter.

"The development of the strategy relied on the significant involvement of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the US Agency for International Development, and the intelligence community. All will remain engaged throughout implementation," he said.
Oh gee. That's great.

Note to readers: A letter is not a strategy.

Those are all good goals... it would have taken a grand total of about 30 seconds to make that list, though. A strategy might just possibly include some vague idea as to *how* to reach those goals. There may even be a actual strategy; nothing in that letter says what that is.

Predictably, several Human Rights organizations are overjoyed that something... anything... is down on paper as to what to do. Pity those fine folks weren't exactly supportive of Operation Lightning Thunder back in 2008 when the Governments of Uganda, the D.R. Congo, and the autonomous administration of Southern Sudan all joined an effort supported by the U.S. to root out the LRA.

Here's hoping that a senior U.S. official is assigned a special portfolio to oversee this renewed effort. If it must be a State Department face, then let it be someone who has actually been of use. Conveniently, the current U.S. Ambassador to Uganda is one such person, but he's a bit busy. I'd sure listen very, very carefully to Amb. Lanier as to who he thinks would be good for the job.

Then there will simply have to be a real plan made.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

About the German Anti-Terror Alert

Here is an absolutely spectacular multipage article in Der Spiegel Online, in English, regarding the extremely high level of Anti-Terror alert in Germany right now.

If you aren't familiar with the "Reichstag Threat" story, this may all come as a bit of a shock, but even for informed readers I recommend this article for the inside look at the political part of the situation.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Gambia tells off Iran

Short and to the point.

"...cutting all ties with Iran. Iranian government representatives have 48 hours to pack and be gone.

You might have noticed that Nigeria found an illicit shipment of arms in containers marked "Building Materials" bound from Iran to The Gambia last month... yes, that same old pathetic trick again... well, apparently the Government of The Gambia was not exactly expecting the delivery. Nor are they particularly pleased that the Iranians were trying something:
"All government of The Gambia projects and programmes, which were [being] implemented in co-operation with the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, have been cancelled," the Gambian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Bravo, Gambians.

NKorean Artillery Fire

Reports started coming in a couple of hours ago (here) of a firing incident across the Limit Line, hitting Yeonpyeong Island. (Link note: Google Maps does not show the Western Sea Border. The island is South Korea; The nearby mainland is North Korea.)

Don't bother going to Reuters, The AP, or other such wire services yet. They are all citing YONHAP... which I conveniently have the direct link to their story. Check the mainpage there as well, for they have both a photo news section with good pics on this *and* you can bet there will be followup reports and related political news.

First Glance Analysis: This is another provocation incident. Not a very clever one either. The primary target may have been ROK elements involved in the "Hoguk Exercise", but the damage seems fairly widespread and as the report says, the shelling fell well south of the exercise area. The pressure on the Lee administration to do something is going to be fairly intense, but like after the Cheonan sinking, picking *what* to do and *when* will be very important.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bemba trial begins

"The war crimes trial of Congolese former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba has begun at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague." - source: The BBC.

Consider me amazed that he went to trial. Back in August, 2009, I wasn't convinced he would. Good to say I was overconcerned, because this case really *needed* to go all the way to trial:
"The MLC is the army of and owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba. Jean-Pierre Bemba created it, to make money and to make power ... and that is the point for us: you will not make money or power by committing atrocities. You will be jailed," Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said outside the court.
- source: Reuters.
Now to make the charges stick...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yanagida - gone

Put a bow on it... it is a wrap.

Justice Minister M. Yanagida resigns.

Public support for the Kan administration has gone from ~49% to ~26% in a month.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Y. Sengoku gets the Justice portfolio on an interim basis.

Given Sengoku's personal numbers, 26% overall approval could be the best Kan can hope for if a solid replacement at Justice can't be found quickly.

Sunday Morning Push

It's back...

The Sunday Open Comments Thread.

Use this wisely, folks. The usual rules apply: play nice.

As always, thank you All for coming here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Haiti Cholera Outbreak

Cholera was absent from Hispaniola for over one hundred years.

Then an outbreak happened... in a rather remote area, far from points of entry.

A remote area that just happened to have a MINUSTAH (U.N. Peacekeeping, Haiti) base upriver.

A base that has been documented to have serious and persistent sanitation problems unfitting any proper military encampment.

Oh by the way, the Cholera is documented as one of the South Asian strains and the Peacekeepers are a formation from Nepal ...which has significant and persistent Cholera.

This is looking more and more like a "you break it; you own it" situation.

This is going to take a lot of work to make right. A response that *should* have started already, but...
Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA, said the cholera response operation so far had received only a small fraction -- $5 million -- of the $164 million the United Nations had appealed for a week ago to fight the epidemic.
Wrong answer.

Then again, this is the U.N. we are talking about, so no surprise.

What is in order is a redirection of as much of the general relief funding as possible. To do that means pushing, yes literally pushing, aside the in-place U.N. administration and what little government Haiti still has. Doing that requires Security Council action and a competent lead-nation placed in stewardship.

Not seeing any volunteers happening for that, though.

It will be discussed. It will be re-managed. It will be considered.

It won't happen... and once again Haiti suffers.

If that doesn't matter, if you aren't in Haiti or the Dominican Republic, maybe I should make it more personal. How about this?

Remember this when more cases show up in Florida. Or in New York City. It took six years to clean up after the 1991 Peruvian outbreak.

Friday, November 19, 2010

More land seizures

Here's the story, minus the identifying marks for now:
As part of its policy to seize and occupy agricultural lands, the **** government plans to seize some 450,000 hectares of lands (1,111,974 acres) in 2011, said **** ***, the Vice Minister of Agroproductive Circuits, Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAT). The ministry's budget includes (currency name) 17.9 billion (USD 4.16 billion) to seize lands.

The Executive Office told the National Assembly's Committee on Finance that ever since the Law on Lands became effective, **** authorities have seized 3 million hectares, while other 14.1 million hectares have been duly legalized.
Sound familiar?

Sure is a big budget there. Given the lack of meaningful compensation for many of the seizures, there sure is a lot of the local currency floating around to reward friends-of-the-authorities, isn't there?

Any guess as to where this is happening?

Because after all, in a Socialist Worker's Paradise, property is only held by the State... if they let you "own" it, it is merely an illusion that comes undone whenever the State decides you "don't".

Here's your answer as to where, this time: *link*

Oh and by the way, between the 30% inflation rate and the estimated 15% devaluation coming in 2011 for said local currency, if one was lucky enough to actually get compensated for a land seizure, your compensation will next year be worth 1/2 of what it is now... and with the currency controls, good luck getting any of it changed into a hard currency.

An economy built on fraudulent valuation and State compulsion. Another great nation brought down by kleptocratic leaders.

How many more times does this lesson need to be taught?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Russian state-of-the-nation speech delayed.

The speech, planned for this week, has been put off until at least the 22nd.

Well, that says what, but not why.

The folks at RFE/RL's The Power Vertical (a superb window into Russian politics) are offering a potential reason why:

Is Medvedev About To Redraw Russia's Map?

If so, then the biggest ever territorial reorganization in modern Russian is about to happen... cutting 83 existing administrative districts to 20... concentrating political power in super-regions each focused on a major metropolitan area.

Sure, that makes things more manageable for the powers-that-be in Moscow, but, such regional centralization has some pretty serious risks.

Read it all, and you'll see what I mean.

Yanagida

There are times when politicians tell the truth. Some of those times it is the nature of the person; sometimes it is the need of the situation; and once in a while it is unintentional... the famous "Kinsleyesque Gaffe".

This time, I think it is safe to consider the case to be the last of those listed:

Japan's justice minister is facing calls for his resignation after he was quoted as saying his job was easy and he had no idea why he had got it.

Yanagida Minoru (M. Yanagida) has been in national politics for minshutou (The Democratic Party of Japan; DPJ) since 1990, but fairly quickly moved from the Lower House to the Upper House of the parliament... usually a sign of a party insider or a minion of some more substantial faction leader. This case appears to be the former.

It is a pity, really. The DPJ as a party has little depth on the bench other than the Ozawa faction, who are still in the political doghouse with the electorate.

It may be too late to salvage the situation. The Kan administration needs to get past this... and Japan needs an effective Justice Minister.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

ARE THEY PERFECTLY INCOMPETENT?

Ridiculous. The American Transportation Safety Administration couldn't be perfect at anything. All that is asked is that they be some degree of capable. Sadly, THEY AREN'T.

Besides the fact that they federalized a bunch of local security operators with no real understanding of how to do aviation security...

Besides the fact that they refuse to use basic methodology to screen and target risks...

Besides the fact that more often than not intelligence information supplied by National and Police agencies seems to reach the inspectors in the field after the threat has acted...

Besides the fact that the largest capital investments in screening technologies are driven not by efficacy but by political lobbyists getting big money for their clients...

Besides the fact that the TSA has criminalized non-compliance with what is obviously a Fourth Amendment violation they are committing against U.S. air travellers...

Besides all of that...

... these morons (And I Don't Use That Term Lightly) seem to think the correct answer to any problem is over-reaction. cf:

Japan Post to comply with the closure of the US Mail to any international package weighing more than one pound (453 g). No period or end-date announced.

Apparently, the TSA thinks this is such a good idea that they are making it a world-wide ban:

Post Offices in the Caribbean are also preventing shipment of packages over 400 grams to the U.S.A. until 10.December and there are no commercial alternatives there as the other mail delivery companies there have also been ordered to cease shipments.


If there is enough intelligence to determine that there is an imminent threat, then there is almost certainly enough intelligence to determine risk. I'll go so far as to allow that a reasonable person would likely not question an interruption of package mail originating in Yemen (and yes there is such a ban right now). But an all-origins ban?

YHGTBFKM.

Morons.


***

Thank you's and addenda:

Thank you to Professor Jacobson at Legal Insurrection for posting about this. He also kindly links to this article in The Atlantic on this matter as of today.

More thank you's to Chiefio, Irons in the Fire and Israel Matzav for citing this in their links back to Legal Insurrection. Getting the word out is a very good thing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

V. Bout in U.S. custody

It took two years of determined effort, but Viktor Bout is now in U.S. custody.

media reports: The AP via FOXNews; The BBC.

Job well done.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Three places to watch - November edition

There are always places out there hanging on the edge of conflict. Here at CompHyp, I've made it a habit in the past to point them out as the first open-sources (usually minor media reports) come out about them. This is by no means exhaustive, but for now let's live up to that tradition again with Three Places to Watch:

1) Sudan ~ It is voter registration time as of today for the national devolution referendum. This almost didn't happen, but a last minute deal seems to have kept the door open. For the next 17 days registration will compile voter lists all through Sudan that will be used for the 9.January 2011 vote. But to get to this point several side deals have been cut; the matter of contesting the demarcation of Abyei region will be treated with negotiation between the al-Bashir regime (the de jure government; represents the 'North') and the SPLM autonomous area government (the opposition separatists; the 'South') and that is just a recipe for a sellout done out of the media's view. There have also been some (upon examination) absurd claims of military build-ups and border fights along the separation line between North and South this weekend. That being what it is, the real risk is that there *will* be a military build-up as both sides think that a vote in favor of Southern secession will come. So put this on your watch list, but do be careful of breathless panic stories that could be the product of the flame-fanning on both sides.

2) Lebanon ~ The investigation into the Hariri assassination is coming to a close, and it looks like Hezbollah (Hizb' Allah; Party of God; the Iranian-sponsored faction of terrorist and Israel-attacking infamy) is going to get indictments from the Special Tribunal laid on several of their leadership. Hezbollah has angrily denounced that possibility, and says they will not comply. The last time they had a bout of 'non-compliance' they damn near restarted the Lebanese Civil War. If the indictments *are* upon leadership elements of Hezbollah, and there is a will by the State to try and enforce them, Hezbollah will likely start a fight. With someone. Plan for the worst there.

3) Nicaragua ~ Specifically, the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border violation along the San Juan River by Nicaraguan military elements. This is happening now. No, it isn't just a Google Maps error. It is claim jumping of the first order. The problem is made worse by the obvious contempt held by the Nicaraguan military for the Costa Rican Fuerza P├║blica (Public Force; Police with some paramilitary capability; Costa Rica has no regular army). Costa Rica also has depended in the past on the OAS to provide some amount of diplomatic protection for their interests, but that isn't going to happen if this matter is left in the hands of the current ALBA-influenced leadership at the OAS. Nicaragua under Ortega is proving to be another example that friends-of-Hugo are really bad neighbors. Oddly enough, this is also related to Iranian gamesmanship as they've got interests in their new Atlantic-side port project in Nicaragua and are in bed with the ALBA Chavistas. Potentially a really ugly situation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

APEC Yokohama - Day Two

Okay, it's done.

We get a restatement (The Yokohama Vision) of the goals that haven't been met (The Bogor Goals) with an extended timeline. Goalpost-moving at its finest.

The side meetings had a few more interesting pieces. The big show of the USA-Russia meeting between Presidents Obama and Medvedev has produced the soundbite of the promise that the NewSTART treaty will go before the US Senate in the lame duck session, so that pretty much confirms that the Obama administration is in deep denial as to its current mandate (or lack thereof). But in smaller meetings, some good things did get done of the sort that APEC (and the old G-7 meetings) were pretty good for... invitations to heads of state to visit other member nations are almost always a good thing but are especially good between old foes.

Whether the FTAAP (Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific) really turns into something do-able remains to be seen, but the preliminaries of the TPP (TransPacific Partnership) are promising. Still, APEC finds itself once again wedged between the offical "rounds" of the WTO and the regional agreements like ASEAN's East Asia economic plans. Duplication of effort, or a re-enforcement of the movement? Hard to tell right now. Sadly, the history of APEC says consider what you see an illusion of something actually happening.

APEC. Gareth Evans once called it "four adjectives in search of a noun". More accurately, I propose, is that it is in search of a meaningful effect.

***

Side note: as always, the real thanks need go to the staffers; the "sherpas" of G-8 meetings fame. They get everything they can done before the leaders meet, and more importantly they realize what isn't going to get done and take it off the agenda. But from this outsider's view, APEC Yokohama went as well as probably could be expected. Take a bow, fellows. Most of you put your bosses to shame.

***

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi free, at least for now.

I've been asked about the significance of the release from house arrest of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi today.

The short answer is: that the term of her detention expired and the Junta had not chosen to extend it again, so when the time came, they just picked up the barbed wire barricades and left.

Of course, there is more: that the Myanmar Junta has already dismantled the political party behind Aung San Suu Kyi and just held an exercise in manipulated voting that they called an 'election', resulting in a massive win for the Junta-backed candidates. They didn't extend her detention because... for whatever reasons in their minds, they don't see her as a threat any more. To explain why the Junta thinks that, and maybe why they are wrong, would take a lot more time than I have right now. But I think a close look at the media reports will point you in that same line of understanding. Look for reports on the 'election', on the reformation of 'political parties' under the new rules, and on recent military activities by the Myanmar Junta against ethnic rivals in the countryside. The Junta is more confident domestically than ever, these days.

But like I said above, they might be wrong.

APEC Yokohama - Day One

When the highlight of the day's reports is the exercise in artistic indulgence that is the "virtual koi pond" in the convention center, you just know that not much good happened.

Just Not Going to End Well Situation: Medvedev spokeswoman Natalya Timakova speaking of the side meeting planned between Russian President Medvedev and Japanese PM Kan about the Northern Territories - "She added that Moscow's position that the disputed islands belong to Russia has not changed." No kidding. After all the other statements, the Vostok military exercises this year focusing on Sakhalin and the nearby possessions, the adoption of a formal Russian position that hostilities in WWII in the Pacific didn't end until September of 1945, and then the Medvedev visit to the occupied islands on November 1st of this year... you'd think it would be pretty obvious at this point. Even the Kan administration is going to come to realize that continuing to do favors for Russia is not buying them anything.

Petty Moment of the Day: US President Obama crying out "Stephen, don't fall in!" while Canadian PM Stephen Harper was looking at the virtual pool. Typical, but still disappointing.

Unsaid, but Lurking: Way too many of the nations surrounding the South China Sea have been nervous for years about the PRC's massive upgrading and enlargement of the PLA-N (their navy). After the events of this year, add Japan and quite possibly the ROK to the "concerned" list. The question is rapidly changing from "should something be said/done?" to "what are we going to say/do?". If that pops out in public statements during this conference, I'd say things could get rather ugly.

Friday, November 12, 2010

G-20 ...that could have gone better.

Got to watch the road show that is the post-November-2nd American Presidency a bit closer this week. The Ind(ia) and Ind(onesia) legs of the tour went pretty much as expected. The Big Sell in India and the Big MakeNice in Indonesia... both more befitting a Chirac-led French industrial promotion exercise, but mostly positive at least in small ways. But then, the road show got to South Korea for the G-20 round.

Ouch.

Mister Popular is now Mister Not-So-Keen.

It probably would have helped if the U.S. Federal Reserve hadn't been initiating its second round of willful devaluation quantitative easing at the same time President Obama was voicing his unhappiness with countries manipulating their currencies. That just didn't go over well at all.

Waving around "trade imbalance" issues at the same time also smacks of a real lack of understanding of the details. Helpful hint: While the PRC is probably the prime example of a country running up a trade advantage by gaming the exchange of its currency (not that the Renminbi is really able to be converted in any free market sense), it might be wise to note that the other big manufacturing-based trade imbalancer is... Germany. Yeah, the same Germany that sits in the middle of the Eurozone. The one where the Euro currency is currently significantly above parity with the US$ in valuation.

All that, and the side discussion about closing the ROK-USA Free Trade Agreement went nowhere.

On the local news front, it should also be noted that Japan did a whole lot of nada about the fact that the major cause of the run up to the en (Yen; JPY) is that the PRC has been shoveling formerly US$ assets into JPY in massive quantities; while there is a certain "safe haven" logic to doing so, the other effect is to undermine any Japanese export advantage to the US market at just the time that the PRC is hoping to move upscale in what it sells. There may be some nemesis being summoned up there, though... with the Renmimbi virtually pegged to the US$, forcing other currencies to appreciate sends echoes through the still-US$-denominated raw materials markets that China depends on to fuel its growth. Still, it all smells of the PRC trying to pass along its bad hand on the US$ to other countries' injury. The Japanese delegation really missed an opportunity to raise the matter where it might be noticed.

G-20 is a wrap. A whole lot of not much good.

Gee, what joy awaits us this weekend at APEC here in Japan, ne?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance

I spent the day 'seeing some old friends', as is my way.

Armistice Day; for Americans, it is also Veteran's Day.

I've been off on other things all summer and autumn. I didn't get to write a thing about all the days worth remembering, this time. Maybe this will have to suffice for them all.

...and fellows, thanks.


I'll be around from now, and will post new discussion threads.


***

Remembrance Day, 2010

Ich hatt' einen Kameraden...

In Flanders fields the poppies blow...

***