Friday, December 31, 2010

Message from the future.

The 'blog time is set for North America's West Coast, but (as is obvious from my profile) I'm a permanent resident of Japan.

So yes, it is already 2011 here.


akemashite omedetou

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Surprisingly elegant

My, my... a surprisingly elegant move by a U.S. Department of State that has spent almost the 2 years demonstrating the dictionary citation of "Ham-Handed"...
Washington has revoked the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador to the US, the US state department has said.
Oh, that's good.

Forgive me; I've left out the explanation.

The U.S.A. and Venezuela have lacked Ambassadorial-level relations since summer at the fault of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez. The U.S. Amb E&P, Patrick Duddy, got pitched in 2008 and went back in July of 2009, but now he's done. His replacement was to be Larry Palmer... but that hasn't settled at all well with Hugo. Chávez has now walked away from the invitation to Palmer and has even let a challenge to the U.S. to cut diplomatic relations.

Well, that isn't what happened.

The Embassy is open, and operating as normally as possible under the Chargé d'Affaires.

The Venezuelan representation in Washington D.C. now gets its chance to find out how well they operate under the same conditions:
Washington has revoked the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador to the US, the US state department has said.
Venezuela's Ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, was outside the U.S. at the time. He's not been expelled... he just can't come in.

Now, if Hugo would like to discuss matters, things are on an equal footing.

...and if he doesn't want to resolve this, then the hot potato of declaring a diplomatic breach is back in *his* hands.

Yes, it is petty gamesmanship. Much of diplomacy is just that.

But it *might* just get Ambassador-select Larry Palmer his posting.
State department spokesman Mark Toner said Caracas had only itself to blame.

"We said there would be consequences when the Venezuelan government rescinded agreement regarding our nominee, Larry Palmer. We have taken appropriate, proportional and reciprocal action," he said in an emailed statement.
Surprisingly elegant.


Addenda: Fausta has a thread on this and links to several other parts of the story. Also, look at this item from Daniel at Venezuela News and Views for his take on the gamesmanship going on... on both sides.

Boa vinda to readers from O Insurgente and thank you for linking here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mexico: Civil War in all but name.

It isn't an ideological war, at least not in the political sense.

It is more an example of Warlords carving apart a State.

Here's an overview from the BBC as a simple refresher course on how bad it is... and how hard it is for the Government of Mexico to make any rapid progress against the Cartels.

But perhaps such a broad brush image is simply overwhelming to try and take in...

Very well, let's take today's news reports just to make a couple of examples of the danger:

Here's a very local, rural case highlighting how it is nearly impossible to keep police on the job in places where the Cartels can casually overrun the region and annihilate any trace of State authority.

At the other end of the spectrum, here is a report of how trivial it is for the Cartels to operate across Mexico's borders. This is not only an example of their danger to the Mexican authorities, but it is also a signature example of the danger faced by other countries that have the misfortune to border Mexico or be along the smuggling routes that lead through Mexico.

This is going to have to be brought to an end. The ongoing effort to fund the Government of Mexico's fight (the Mérida Initiative) isn't the way, either. Its implementation schedule alone has been far too slow to offer much to Mexico other than the hope of losing less often. There are also serious institutional problems in Mexican courts and law enforcement (and parts of the military, just on a lesser scale) preventing more normal means of addressing the threat that no amount of outside financial aid will solve.

If (and this is a *big* if) Mexican pride can be set aside long enough for a regional intervention to be formulated and implemented ...a Plan with real victory over the Cartels as the objective... there is some hope of the State reasserting itself. Weapons, trainers, information, secure salaries for officers and men of State authorities, and in contested areas adjacent to other countries the means and manpower necessary to secure and hold those zones are all going to be needed. Some of those means and manpower wouldn't be Mexican, either.

If not, then matters will certainly bring things to an end all by themselves. The State will simply fail. After that, there will still be an intervention. There simply has to be one. Failed State Mexico would be too dangerous for any of its neighbors to tolerate. The only doubt would be as to whether such an intervention would lead to success where the Government had failed, or just an open sore of bloody stalemate.


Mexico and its neighbors can own up to the enormity of the problem and get on with paying the costs of a real, full-scale "Plan", or

...they can pay far more in blood and treasure later.


Note: I'm not even going to address the 'War on Drugs' arguments as to why Americans should take some specific action (militarize the border; decriminalize the traffic; whatever). In my opinion the matter of the Cartels has long transcended any one criminal activity and is now better described as Warlords carving apart territory. This is more like the collapse of Somalia over the last 30 years, or if you prefer the historical example the disintegration of much of China by the 1920's into dozens of 'bandit kingdoms' and Warlord-holdings. Mexico isn't there yet, by far, but that's the path they are on.

Wikipedia linked for convenience only. Please consult citations there for original research.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The militants formerly known as Boko Haram

No, they aren't using a symbol instead of a name now.

Yes, they are back in their bloody and intolerant terror trade.

For those who thought the group had been wiped out last year after the leadership and hundreds of followers were killed or captured by Nigerian authorities, there might be one little detail that was overlooked... 700 detained Boko Haram followers were freed in a jail-break in September of this year. Most made it successfully on the lam and have been steadily regrouping ever since.

So they are certainly back. The open question has "Are they still capable of terror campaigns?", and that can be put to rest as well. They are capable, and rearmed in a manner more substantial than in previous times. What was a panga-and-crude-firearms group now has a plentiful supply of basic combat weapons like AK's. Weapons of source unspecified, to no surprise.

They are actually claiming responsibility for the church bombings in Jos, Nigeria and nearby areas. They've hauled out a name, Jama'atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'Awatu Wal Jihad (roughly "People Committed to the Prophet's Teachings for Propagation and Jihad"), associated with them previously. Seems Boko Haram ("non-Islamic education is a sin") wasn't good enough, I guess. One thing is clear, though: Jos is well into the midlands of Nigeria. The 2009 fighting was up north, in Bauchi. If they *are* able to move and strike outside their favored territory with any real effect, then the threat is no longer regional.

There is some doubt as to whether they actually did perpetrate the attacks, but it seems more likely that the group has just expanded its arsenal of mayhem.

Nigeria needs to step up and face this as what it really is capable of becoming: an Existential Threat to the State, at least in the North and midlands.

If that means setting aside ECOWAS commitments for a time to concentrate on the problem, then Nigeria's allies need to understand this and increase their commitments to deal with all the other (drug-trafficking; military coups; factional rebellions) problems that are plaguing West Africa right now, at least enough to buy the Nigerians some time.


Wikipedia link (the first link in this thread) is for convenience only. Please check any cited source there for actual research.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Khodorkovsky, Ledbedev found guilty

I could have picked any of several sources on this, but here is RFE/RL's version of the report that combines accuracy and context in the most readable fashion, I think.

Most all the details are there, but one example was not as clear as it could be. Here's how they cited it:
(Khodorkovsky)'s since been accused of stealing $25 billion of oil from his own company, Yukos, and laundering the proceeds, an allegation brought months before he was eligible for parole in 2007. Many believe he and Lebedev were charged as an excuse to keep them in jail, possibly until 2017.
What isn't said is that sum of oil production *exceeds what Yukos could possibly have shipped* in the period under challenge.

So, besides the fact that one can put aside any claims that Mikhail Khodorkovsky may have gained control of Yukos in the usual (questionable) manner in the "Wild East" post-Soviet times of the oligarchs ...those weren't the charges this time... it is now clear that the charges-as-filed are simply fabricated.

This was all about Khodorkovsky and his associates opposing Vladimir Putin.

That, apparently, is good for functionally indefinite detention in the "new" Russia.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Morning Push

Hope your holidays have been good times, folks. We're up for New Year's Time here as our big winter holiday and it's looking to be a fine time indeed.

Here's your Open thread for Sunday.

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

As always, thank you All for coming here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mugabe looks to pin 'treason' on the opposition. (UPDATED)

When all one has is a hammer... everything looks like an excuse to hammer one's opponents.
Zimbabwe's attorney general plans to set up a commission to investigate possible treason charges against locals over briefings with U.S. diplomats reported in confidential State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.

The move appears to be targeting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, following state media reports that hawks in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party wanted an official probe into Tsvangirai's briefings with the U.S. ambassador in Harare.
The very idea that opposing Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF kleptocracy is in any way 'treason' against the nation of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) is shall-we-say open to dispute... although the medieval definition of 'treason' as an indignity against the person or property of the monarch might fit. Were that to be so in this case, of course, that would simply advertise more widely what is already known; that R. Mugabe and company see the state as their personal property.

I'll say it plainly: In my opinion, conduct by any citizen of that nation that expedites the departure of the Mugabe regime is patriotism.

Update 28.Dec

Professor Jacobson at Legal Insurrection has an article up now about this matter, and has kindly linked here as well.

In a side discussion with him, I realized that there was one small part of all this that readers might not be aware of:

OFAC listed J. Tomana on 21.Dec

TOMANA, Johannes, Office of Attorney General, Private Bag 7714, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe; DOB 9 Sep 1967; National ID No. 50-036322F 50 (Zimbabwe); Attorney General (individual) [ZIMBABWE]

Yes, that means the US DEPTTRES OFAC added Johannes Tomana to the SDN (Specially Designated Nationals) list on 21.Dec., placing him specifically under U.S. sanctions.

That predates the report of his actions in the Wikileaks matter by several days. Consider him a motivated actor.


Eirene; pax; peace.

Merry Christmas, my Christian friends, and all who delight in the joys of this season.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"I'm not savvy about Russian affairs ..."

These are *not* the words one wants to hear from your country's Ambassador to Russia.

A Career-limiting Maneuver of the first rank, that.

The government has decided to replace the Japanese Ambassador to Russia following his failure to gather advance information on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to the disputed Northern Territories off Hokkaido last month.

Masaharu Kono, Japanese ambassador to Moscow, will be replaced by Chikahito Harada, Japanese ambassador to the Czech Republic, as early as January, the government decided on Dec. 23.
The replacement under consideration, C. Harada, *is* savvy about Russian affairs... the only concern might well be that the Russian School in the gaimushou (Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) hasn't always been reliably to put this delicately?... working for *Japan's* best interests, but in fairness to Mr. Harada his work in the Embassy to the Czech Republic recently has been entirely proper. He may well be a very fine choice for this tough assignment.

Meanwhile, Russian President Medvedev has gone back to stating Russia doesn't have to give up the Northern Territories. He certainly seems heartbroken to hear Japan is replacing M. Kono:
Medvedev deplored press reports that the Japanese government is planning to replace Ambassador to Moscow Masaharu Kono over his insufficient intelligence gathering on the president's visit to Kunashiri.

Medvedev said he was sorry that his visit had the unintended effect of helping to interrupt the ambassador's career.
Yeah well, I'm sure it is easy to feel that way if such a useful idiot fellow is departing. Spare us the crocodile tears, Dmitry.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It just gets worse

...for the people of Venezuela, and anyone else within the grasp of Hugo's desire.

I've recently mentioned just how bad it is as a general statement; now consider some of the details:

President Hugo Chávez got his 'Enabling Law' and a package of Organic Laws (a class of legislation second only to Constitutional Amendments in the Venezuelan system) out of the lame-duck session of the National Assembly (flat-out undermining the results of the last election). He's got rule-by-decree for the next eighteen months.

Changing political parties, once elected to the Assembly, is now functionally illegal, as the Representative is disqualified from office upon voting outside the party manifesto under which they were elected.

Land seizures are continuing, and accelerating. The massive nationalization of 47 major agricultural properties in Sur del Lago (South Lake Maracaibo district) is underway and only a few of the protests seem to slow the effort.

The mayhem being committed on the rest of the economy, from media to internet to financial institutions and on and on... is that consolidation of absolute authority in the ruling regime that always brings disaster but usually allows a fair number of apparatchiks to get really rich before the fall.

...and they are just getting up to speed.

Daniel at Venezuela News and Views has a summary of the latest stages of this de facto autogolpe.

It's going to get worse.

Imperial Birthday

We here in Japan have been graced once again with the opportunity to celebrate the birthday of Tennou-heika (His Imperial Majesty), and his birthday message to the nation was once again sincere and understated.

Here's a media photograph of the public reception at the Palace today.

May I wish you a healthy, peaceful New Year as well.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Had time. Didn't have time.

The classic comparison:

Had time to... go on national television and get interviewed.

Didn't have time to... get briefed on the breaking counter-terror story of the day before going on said television program.

Yup. went on the air and got blindsided.

The victim of this administration-inflicted wound?

U.S. DNI James Clapper.

Analysis: Likely not a coincidence. Jim Clapper is a solid professional at what he does. The only way something like this happens is if someone left him out of the loop.

Resolution: That someone should be quietly identified and reassigned to Penguin Abatement Duty at MCAGCC (29 Palms). Perimeter foot patrol.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Something to fill

I'm not available to take on any new threads today, so instead I'll offer this link for your information:

The Washington Post article on Tom Donilon, the incoming U.S. National Security Advisor to the President.

He was the deputy in the office to James L. Jones Jr. from the start of the Obama administration, and got the boost when Jones announced he would be stepped down. No surprise that the administration would move to a more loyalist politico after that, but T. Donilon is just about the textbook example of a political man... and one that, prior to his work under Jones, had no National Security experience.

It's a long read, but do make the time please. When you do, note carefully the names associated with T. Donilon's career and recommendations.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lukashenko beats 'the opposition'

That's what you'd expect in an election in Belarus run by the Lukashenko (Lukashenka) regime, right? Numbers like 99% in favor are not ahistorical and this time he claimed a modest number just under 80%.

The problem (if you are A. Lukashenko) is that this time the Oppos didn't take it very well...

...but with sufficient arrests and public beatings that shouldn't be a notable problem.

Labeling the Oppos as "vandals" and "hooligans" is apparently sufficient justification for what happened, according to President Lukashenko:
"You saw how our law-enforcers behaved. They stood firm and acted exclusively within the bounds of the law. They defended the country and people from barbarism and ruin."

"There will be no revolution or criminality in Belarus."

Several hundred people were detained when police dispersed at least 10,000 anti-Lukashenko demonstrators in the centre of the capital on Sunday night, officials said.

The demonstrators tried to storm a government building, but were pushed back by riot police. Dozens of people in the crowd were injured in clashes after being beaten with batons, according to eyewitnesses.
If you'd prefer another source, with lots more information, here's RFE/RL on the crackdown on opposition demonstrators.

So much for a move toward making his regime acceptable to the OSCE and Europe.

Where's the kaboom?

Yes, well...

The miltary exercise on Yeonpyeong Island finally went off this afternoon.

The North Koreans had vowed all manner of retaliatory mayhem.

As of now, YONHAP news agency has it like this: N. Korea silent as S. Korea concludes live-fire drill near sea border.

Somewhat underwhelming to say the least. Bets are the North Koreans are laying low waiting for the South Koreans to let down their guard... which by the way was up and ready for a fight all day today.

Expect more on this story.


(snide aside)

Then again, the NorKs might have simply misplaced their "Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator".

h/t to Marvin the Martian for the title quote.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Morning Push

Here's your Sunday Open Comments Thread.

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

As always, thank you All for coming here.


News to watch for: South Korea awaits only the lifting of the foggy weather to commence its next live-fire artillery training drill... for the troops on Yeonpyeong Island. This could get messy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gbagbo demands UNOCI, LICORNE leave

It's good to want things, I'm told. Even if you can't have them.

Ivory Coast's Gbagbo tells UN, French forces to leave Ivory Coast.
ABIDJAN, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The government of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has told the United Nations and French peacekeeping missions to leave the country, escalating a dispute over last month's elections.

"The government demands the departure of the UNOCI and LICORNE forces in Ivory Coast and is opposed to any renewal of their mandate," said spokeswoman Jacqueline Oble, reading a statement over state television.

"UNOCI has interfered seriously in the internal affairs of Ivory Coast," she said.
UNOCI, as mentioned here previously, is the U.N. peacekeeping mission to Côte d'Ivoire; LICORNE, a.k.a. Operation Unicorn, is the French military intervention in Côte d'Ivoire that remains separate from the U.N. force and under French control.

This is looking more and more like a "forced removal" situation... forced removal of L. Gbagbo from power, that is. Most unfortunate, that. Then again...


The 19.Dec elections in Belarus

Actually, this is a summary of why said elections won't really matter...

Better the devil you know.

Belarus deserves better friends than this.

Friday, December 17, 2010


...Mugabe, that is... seems to be a bit sensitive about reporters asking questions.

Moreover, she's taken to the courts to claim injury to her reputation by The Standard newspaper.


Given everything commonly known about Grace Mugabe, there is little chance that The Standard did any ill to her reputation.

Little chance at all.


Wikipedia summary of citations provided for convenience only; please see all the links for proper attribution.

Chavez digs in

like a tick on a dog.

Here's a summary from Fausta on the whole matter.

Fausta, being a Friend-of-CompHyp, and I recently had a side discussion on Hugo's plans; one matter that came up is that he has packed the military command just as he has packed the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ; the Supreme Court).

It's going to take one heck of a crowbar to pry him out any time in the foreseeable future.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ivory Coast now a fire zone

I've been casting warnings about how this was likely to play out for a couple of weeks now... would have loved to have been wrong... but here we go. The fighting has started.
Former rebels loyal to would-be Ivorian leader Alassane Ouattara fought a fierce battle with troops backing his rival Laurent Gbagbo on Thursday, in an apparent bid to break a siege on their Abidjan base.

A heavy exchange of fire erupted at around 11.30am (1130 GMT) and several explosions were heard in the area around the Golf Hotel, Ouattara's waterfront base in the Ivory Coast commercial capital.
For those who forgot their scorecards, L. Gbagbo is the incumbent President of Côte d'Ivoire who apparently lost the election. A. Ouattara is the supposed winner... not that the government's election commission has owned up to that possibility (*correction*) the Election Commission has actually reported Ouattara won last month's run-off election by 54% to 46%, but then Gbagbo refused to admit defeat, and the Constitutional Council then annulled some results from the north and declared Mr Gbagbo the winner... and he (Ouattara) is closely allied with the New Forces former rebel movement leader Guillaume Soro. It was G. Soro' men that made the attempt against the Forces armées nationales de Côte d'Ivoire (FANCI; the National Army) encirclement, and pulled back after an hour and a half of trying.

You might ask "Where are the UNOCI (U.N. peacekeepers) in all this?"

...well, other than being the doughnut between Ouattara and company inside the Golf Hotel grounds and the National Army surrounding them, it isn't really clear. Rioting has broken out over much of the city of Abidjan, but that seems to be a "Chinese Biathlon" (the Army does the shooting; the demonstrators do the running. cf. Tian'anmen Square, 1989). So much for seeing to local order, and all that.

There is going to need to be a bit of re-enforcement required for UNOCI to be able to do much more than guard its bases if this continues to spiral out of control. That's going to mean not just more money (it is already budgeted at nearly US$500 million for this year to keep roughly 7,500 troops and 1,300 police in country)... it means that somebody with significant logistical and combat power is probably going to have to step in. I'm not at all sure that ECOWAS (West African community; Nigerian-led forces) can manage that.

That's another thing I'd love to wrong about, by the way.


More details on this from the BBC. (and the source of the *correction*, above)

Defense of Japan 2010 White Paper

I'll not be writing about this in any detail, but for those of you with a serious interest in the new National Defense policy for Japan here's a link to Galrahn at Information Dissemination 's overview and links... including the original White Paper (in pdf) if you are up for that.

He says he'll have further analysis as he gets through the document in full.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ICC takes on 2008 Kenya election violence

It remains a crying shame that the Republic of Kenya can't handle this prosecution itself, but given the seriousness of the crimes and the obviously high-level government involvement there really isn't much of a chance that a domestic prosecution could ever overcome the political pressures of this case. But that same seriousness and level of state involvement... and the toll, ~1,200 dead and ~350,000 forcibly displaced... has drawn in the International Criminal Court.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has called upon the six suspects to appear voluntarily before the investigation.

May justice be done.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Daremblum on Nicaragua

Ambassador Jaime Daremblum (of Costa Rica, represented them to the U.S.A. 1998~2004) takes the knife to both the OAS and the Obama administration regarding the Nicaraguan occupation of the San Juan River basin:
In case further proof was needed that the Organization of American States (OAS) has become embarrassingly incompetent, witness its pathetic response to Nicaragua’s invasion of Costa Rica.
Yes, he is a biased source. Not a problem. In this case, he is correct in taking Costa Rica's side. He also knows more about Central American and Caribbean political matters than the entirety of the U.S. State Department.

So read it all, please.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mottaki gets the sack

That's about all that is known about this, for now... that Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki has been removed from the portfolio.
Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has fired Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki.

In a brief statement on the president's website today, Ahmadinejad thanked Mottaki for his more than five years of service but gave no explanation for the change.

Ahmadinejad has appointed the country's top nuclear official, Ali Akbar Salehi, as the caretaker for the key position.
Sacked him while he is on an official visit to Senegal, too. Bad timing, that; unhappy diplomats sacked while abroad have a nasty habit of staying abroad... wonder if his Pasdaran (IRGC) minders were suitably informed prior to the announcement to make certain he *will* come home, ne?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Morning Push

Indeed, another Sunday has come.

((wave; smile))

So, here's your Sunday Open Comments Thread.

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

As always, thank you All for coming here.


p.s. A special 'welcome back' to Susan!

p.s. (2) Oh, and just to rub it in a bit, from last week's Sunday Push and an Open thread before: I suggested that the election in Cote d'Ivoire was worthy of discussion. Well... things are *still* going sideways there and now it has become a problem involving adjacent countries as well. Worth your time to read up on it, folks.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Japan Self Defense Force to... Korea? (Updated 2)

Wait, wait... let me explain.

This is the Twitter Tweet that got, well, a bit of a reaction.
PM Kan says he would consider dispatching the Self Defense Forces to North Korea to rescue #Japanese abductees.
One of those times the Twitter 140 character limit just doesn't cut it, fellows.

Here's the original story, (in Japanese). The first line:
reads that "on the evening of the 10th, Prime Minister Kan stated that in the event of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, to remove (rescue) those Japanese abductees still in North Korea, the administration is considering if the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces is possible."

What wasn't Tweetted, but is further in the original article, is that Kan-souri was addressing the families of abductees at a meeting in Toukyou (Tokyo), and that he was rather round-about in his speaking... almost thinking aloud as to possibilities.

Very good, that. Open to possibilities in a crisis, and all that.

But, then...

Mr. Kan spoke more on the subject of SDF dispatch to Korea at noon today (local time). This report kicks off with a whole different matter (in Japanese):
This is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. It generally says that "On the 11th, at noon, Prime Minister Kan stated that in the event of a crisis on the Korean Peninsula, the SDF should be deployed to evacuate (implied: Japanese-national) residents, and discussions with the government of the Republic of Korea are to start (will start? an open potential) to make this possible."

That's a pretty big jump forward if the Lee administration in the ROK is willing to go along with even this level of let's-be-honest-about-what-it-is military cooperation between the two countries.

This was at a Press Call, by the way, so no explaining it by guessing it was tailored to an audience. He also (in the body of the article) mentioned both his awareness of the sensitivity that Korean people have as to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and that this matter will require some legal changes to the Self-Defense Force Law(s) were it to come to be. No surprise, that last. The SDF basically has to ask legal authorization from the kokkai (Parliament) for any deployment or irregular activity and this situation probably couldn't be considered covered by the Emergency authority of the naikaku (Cabinet; the whole thereof functioning as national Executive).

Very, very promising.

Here's hoping it wasn't just a politician playing with words again.



Bad news: The South Koreans were "rather surprised" by Kan's comments. There was no consultation with ROK officials before he spoke.

The remarks have been labeled "unrealistic".

Oh, bother.


UPDATE 13.Dec (local time)
Japan is not exploring the possibility of dispatching the Self-Defense Forces to the Korean Peninsula to rescue Japanese nationals in case of contingencies, the top government spokesman said Monday, taking back Prime Minister Naoto Kan's remarks last week.

"There is absolutely no such plan. Therefore there are no talks (with South Korea)," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said at a news conference.
source - Kyoudou (Kyodo) wire service.

Why is it that every time I hear Y. Sengoku open his mouth on a foreign affairs matter, I hear him saying what he thinks the P.R.C. wants to hear? This man is clearly a weak link in the Cabinet, but for some reason N. Kan believes he can't run things without him.

That may well have to change.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kan to clean house?

It would be a first, to say the least.

All the major parties in Japan's parliamentary system have long been hesitant to ever reprimand or demand expulsion of a sitting Representative. It basically takes a conviction for a crime *and* the full course of appeal, and only when the malefactor is actually on their way to prison do they seek to remove them from office. That is, of course, just... in the case of prosecutable criminal offense... but where the system often fails is when impeachment is deserved for reasons not precisely indictable as criminal. Flaunting the rules of party and chamber, for example.

Well, maybe this time will be different? We are speaking of the all-too-convincing accusations against Ozawa Ichirou (I. Ozawa). He wouldn't be removed from his seat directly, but...
Executives from the Democratic Party of Japan will not rule out penalizing party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, including up to expulsion, if he refuses to give the Diet an explanation of the financial scandal for which he faces indictment, DPJ lawmakers said.
...this would certainly impair his ability to play factional games inside the party. That's important when you remember his reputation as the "Shadow Shougun" of the Democratic Party of Japan... the supposed kingmaker and faction sponsor without peer, and a man known for practicing some pretty brazen bare-knuckles politics.

It also doesn't interfere with indictment (above) that the Public Prosecutor's Office is working up, and if that does come to pass, then there is some hope that Iwate #4 will be electing someone other than Ozawa to the seat one day.

That's going to take a while, though. Suzuki Muneo (M. Suzuki) was convicted of his various misdeeds back in November, 2004, but he wasn't stripped of his seat until September of this year when appeals were exhausted.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


First, everyone establishes their position of record.

North Korea: We will keep doing what we are doing.

South Korea: The next provocation will be met with significant reprisals (airstrikes).

The P.R.C. (round one) as reported in South Korea:
China is taking a vague attitude on North Korea's provocations, including its artillery attack on a South Korean island, with a top Chinese official skipping any mention of the shelling when he visited Seoul last month, a senior Seoul official said Thursday.
The U.S.A.:
"I actually believe that because these provocations continue, and seemingly at a more frequent interval, that the danger is going up and that steps must be taken to ensure that they stop," said (U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike) Mullen at a news conference in Tokyo.

"Much of that volatility is owed to the reckless behaviour of the North Korean regime, enabled by their friends in China," he said.

"There is too much at stake for this sort of myopia."
The P.R.C. (round two):
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference that she questioned what Adm Mullen had done for "peace and stability in the region".

She called his remarks on China's support for North Korea an "accusation".
Okay then... so much for the formalities.

Now that everyone has staked out a public position, it is time to get things done.

Today, Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo (the "top Chinese official" that visited South Korea earlier) has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. This is reported as:
"the two sides reached consensus on bilateral relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula after candid and in-depth talks," Xinhua news agency said.
Next, a high-level U.S. delegation, led by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, plans to visit Beijing next week.

But wait... what could possibly go wrong?:
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations who for years has served as a roving diplomatic troubleshooter, will visit North Korea next week in a trip that was announced hours before the North's Kim Jong-il met in Pyongyang with Chinese State Councilor Dai Binggou.


Richardson said in a statement that he is worried about the North's actions.

"If I can contribute to the easing of tension on the peninsula, the trip will be well worth it," he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Richardson will not carry any message from the U.S. government. However, Richardson will likely be briefed before he goes and then report back to the State Department after returning, and the visit could help ease tensions.

Forgive me.

Given all the preliminaries, I thought there was some hope for meaningful action.

I can not think of a move more likely to undermine our allies and put off any resolution to things short of the Obama administration organizing a "beer summit".

I will say that several State Department folks *should* be outraged with their bosses. I doubt that they would publicly air said outrage, but still...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sudan fighting links Darfur and South problems

There has always been a linkage... merely a causal one. The Government of the Republic of Sudan has been perfectly content to use the means of warfare on both those peoples and regions.

Rarely, the two conflict zones have overlapped; Most commonly that has happened when an anti-government militia from one area runs into the other region to seek cover. Not this time. Yes, there was fighting on the Darfur side of the line. No, that doesn't explain the bombings in South Sudan territory last month, nor this:
(IRC’s Vincent) Kahi said Sudanese army planes circled overhead during a visit last week by a team composed of several aid agencies, which was sent to assess the needs of the displaced.

“The overflying planes caused additional fear and alarm among a group already traumatised by last month’s bombings,” he added.
The planned referendum on South Sudan Independence comes on January 9th, 2011. None too soon, in my opinion.

If (when!) independence comes, there is some serious doubt that the North will respect it. Means need be provided for the South to at least assert sovereignty over its own borders... but the South is years away from having on its own any air defense capability of note.

So... who's ready to pony up to enforce a no-fly zone over the conflict areas of Sudan?


Thought so.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Just asking for trouble

If one does consider doing something that just asks for trouble, it is pretty much incumbent upon those who are considered one's friends to speak up while the matter is still merely under consideration.

Here at CompHyp, I've been rather open in my support for the rule of law in Honduras. Supposedly, that makes me a friend. This is me, speaking up.
(Honduran President Porfirio) Lobo says he is working with prosecutors to find a way for (ousted President Manuel) Zelaya to return to the Central American country to face charges - but without taking him into police custody. Zelaya is accused of fraud, usurping powers and falsifying documents.
This is just begging for trouble.

The ALBA nations have been laying the groundwork for a campaign of internal dissent (and likely armed insurgency) in support of M. Zelaya for months now. The Ortega regime in Nicaragua hasn't even been particularly subtle about doing so.

Inviting M. Zelaya back into Honduras and *not* detaining him almost certainly will leave him free to figurehead another anti-government campaign.

On the face of it, this is just a bad idea.

Maybe, *maybe*, if enough conditions on his liberty of action can be put in place and enforced, then the promise of not remanding him directly into custody for the duration of a trial might be a way to encourage a voluntary return and surrender to justice... but that's probably a plan too clever by a half.

This is one of those rare cases where a trial-in-absentia (Honduras being a Civil Law jurisdiction) might be better than the proposed alternative.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Government-level Dumb

There is "dumb" (stupid), there is "really dumb", and then there is "Government-level dumb". In International Services work, we regularly encounter the latter.

"Government-level dumb" is that epic form of thoughtlessness where the response to a perceived problem is not only inappropriate, but indeed so counterproductive that it makes the problem worse... and because it is enshrined in legislation or regulation, there is not a damn thing any reasonable person can do to reverse it without a massive political undertaking, if then.

Economic and Tax policy are also areas where "Government-level dumb" commonly can be found. (cf. tariffing Brazilian Ethanol out of the North American market, then subsidizing a vast overproduction of food-source Ethanol within the market.)

But where "Government-level dumb" really comes into its mindless own is when the most central and powerful elements of national government are directed to act on some minor or entirely local matter. The combination of overreaction and misappropriation of effort, with a healthy dose of central government infallibility doctrine, almost always leads to a screw-up.

With that all in mind, and I'm sure you all have examples in your own countries of just such incompetence-as-governance, let me just give one example of why government officers with only a single (if any) area of competence should *never* be allowed to make policy in a vacuum... that somebody with a wide-not-deep understanding needs to vet *everything* against some standard of stupidity-to-be-avoided:

On November 26th, as part of a tax and revenue policy review, the policy arm of minshutou (the Democratic Party of Japan; DPJ) came out with their recommendations for addressing several problems reported by national ministries and prefectural governments. In the list was the problem that the rather large increase in pet ownership in Japan over the last decade has had at the same time led to a large increase in pet abandonment... estimated at over 300,000 dogs, cats and other small pets lost or set loose... a number that vastly overwhelms the animal control capabilities of many regions. The proposed solution is to be a "pet tax" annually upon owned pets.

This got a lot more airplay on the morning news around the 1st of December as the idea has apparently made it out of committee and is actually being considered.

Sounds kind of like a dog-license fee, right?

the thing is...

...the intention of the use of the revenue raised is to fund animal destruction efforts. Animal Control catches a lost or loose pet, and kills it. Humanely, of course. Smothering by inert gas.

((pause for effect))

Which may very well imply that smothering by inert gas would be better reserved for politicians who come up with such ideas.

Let's leave behind the moral argument... that being that humans have an obligation to treat well those animals that we bring into a situation... and the empathy argument... that it is not only senseless but heartless to destroy pets...

Let's focus on the "Government-level dumb" of this entire idea.

The problem here is: too many pets are abandoned; private rescue/humane operations are few and far between; traditional beliefs still hold that releasing an unwanted animal is a morally correct choice; Animal Welfare spay/neuter programs are non-existent, vets charge full price to every one; Government-run Animal Control is intended to catch and destroy the rather rare dangerous cases like a rabid animal, not to catch strays or manage feral colonies.

Right now, every purchased small-mammal pet in Japan was taxed at 5% of sales price. Given that store-bought animals vastly outnumber rescue/adoption/gifted animals, that's a chunk of change. *And* every bag of pet chow, veterinary visit, vet medication and little squeaky toy bought all also generate the 5% sales tax. That's all a plus to the government, and of the best kind they think as the revenue goes straight into the general fund... like all the rest of sales tax.

So faced with that set of problems, and utterly mindless of any repercussions, they now propose a "pet tax". If implemented what happens?

Oh come on, this isn't hard. What happens?

In the short run, some large fraction of existing pet owners refuse to register their pets. Folks will try not to pay the new tax.

There is no pet owner on the planet who thinks it is a good idea to kill lost/stray/abandoned pets. It might be necessary in some circumstances, but it is antithetical to the entire idea of having a pet. People will be unhappy, if not outraged.

The authorities then mandate a compliance scheme... probably requiring participation by vets and pet breeders/shops to register all animals on pain of loss of their business license. Once compliance is required, expect most of that large fraction mentioned above to abandon their pets. Same for any pet owner in financial difficulties. The number of abandonments balloons.

In the long run, expect a significant cut in the number of pets sold. Life is expensive enough already, here. Not many folks will sign up for even a fairly small additional boat anchor tied to their economic legs. The sales of pets, pet products and pet services plummet, and so does the collected sales tax.

This is solving the problem? No.

This is exacerbating the problem.

This is "Government-level dumb".


I strongly encourage all my Japanese-national readers to contact their representatives at the City, Prefecture and National levels and tell them to act to stop the "Pet Tax" as currently planned. Thank you.

fair disclosure: The author is active in animal rescue in Japan.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Morning Push

Amazingly, things here seem to back on schedule.

Now if I can only get back to doing The Weekly item on Mondays, ne?

So, here's your Sunday Open Comments Thread.

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

As always, thank you All for coming here.


p.s. In the "unplanned open thread" this last Wednesday, I pointed to the election in Cote d'Ivoire as being worthy of discussion. See? Told you so. Not only are there two claimants to the Presidency now, but ol' Thabo Mbeki is the AU negotiator trying to resolve this. Given his lack of success in several other circumstances, I predict near-certain doom awaits. Love to be wrong, though.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

South Korea renegotiates US Free Trade Pact

It was a notable failure of the side meetings at the Seoul-G20 meetings when it became abundantly clear that the Obama administration was determined to win a renegotiation of the pending Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA). At the time, the Lee administration of South Korea declared no renegotiation was possible. Times, they change: a week ago, new negotiations started and on Friday a new deal was reached.

For the U.S., this was a major repositioning of obligations... onto South Korea. The U.S. negotiators were tasked to land a number of advantageous items in the area of automobile import and export. They got almost all of them. The Americans also claim a number of improvements in access for agricultural products, but...

For the ROK, there was a single concession that had to be gained. Not negotiable. No changes in the Beef trade. Well...
The agreement did not address issues with the beef trade.
or as reported in the Yonhap version of the story:
Focus, however, had been on autos as South Korea has refused to discuss the key beef issue: possible shipments of cuts from older cattle. Weeks of street rallies almost paralyzed the Lee Myung-bak administration in early 2008 after Lee's decision to resume U.S. beef imports.

The U.S. beef industry recognized the sensitivity of the issue and did not want to jeopardize the rapid increase in beef exports to South Korea since 2008.
Punted it down the road, thankfully. It will be hard enough for President Lee to go home with this deal. It is a huge deal, and in the main a great gain for both countries, but if the Korean media decides to run with the (entirely true) story that the adjustments to auto and truck tariff reduction schedules is gamesmanship to reward certain unions (and union-government controlled companies) in the U.S. that the Obama administration owes, then President Lee may get the capitulationist label stuck on him.

That would be too bad, both because the rest of the FTA is a good thing and because the Lee administration is on poor footing since the full story has come out on his government's less-than-ept response to the Yeonpyeong Island attack.

The U.S. side was ready to get the FTA ratified as it was, but couldn't so long as a Pelosi-Reid Congressional leadership was willing to hold it back until the (then new) Obama administration was satisfied with it. This new deal will also sail to ratification.

The hard part will now be what the ROK does with it. Previously, they had functionally ratified the deal. Now...
The South Korean National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee passed the deal last year, but will have to again deliberate on the revised text before it is sent to the assembly's plenary session.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Where the ETA is welcomed in the government

More evidence of terrorist-supporting villainy in Venezuela:

in addition to Arturo Cubillas, other six ETA members work in the government.
Diego Arria, a former minister of Information and Tourism and former Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday in Madrid that in addition to Arturo Cubillas, other six ETA members who were deported to Venezuela in 1989 work in the government led by Hugo Chávez.

Arria testified before the Spanish National Court Judge Eloy Velasco, who is investigating the alleged links between Basque terrorist group ETA and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and their presence in Venezuela.
There is a certain "serves you right" to Spain about the origin of this affair; Having chosen to deport ETA terrs rather than incarcerate them, it should surprise no one that they found a patron when Hugo Chávez came into power and joined up.

This Spanish investigation may well lead to one good outcome, however. If some degree of certainty finally connects the ETA, the FARC and the Chávez regime, that would be one step closer to pinning the "State Sponsor of Terrorism" label on Hugo's Venezuela... with all the legal baggage that carries with it.

None too soon, in my opinion.

Japan-USA 1 lbs mail limit lifted

Officially, it ended Wednesday. We here living outside the Toukyou (Tokyo) Metropolitan are hoping the local Post Offices got the word today.

Here's The Japan Times report on the lifting:
Japan Post Co. resumed Wednesday accepting airmail packages weighing 453 grams (1 pound) or heavier bound for the U.S. because the carrier now has secured transportation means for such packages.
The various private parcel delivery companies never went along with the ban, arguing they already security-inspect their planes. Then again, they probably also recognized a dumb move for what it was...

Ah well, at least ex-pat Japanese might get their New Year's packages (shipped at a reasonable cost) now.

Keen Sword 2010

The Yellow Sea exercise by the ROK military and US Forces has run its course.

Now it is our turn: Keen Sword 2010
The drills in and around Japan are part of the annual "Keen Sword" maneuvers and involve tens of thousands of troops from both sides, including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and its battle group. For the first time, the exercises also have observers from South Korea.

According to Japan's Defense Ministry, 34,100 Japanese personnel, 40 vessels and 250 aircraft from Japan's ground, maritime and air self-defense forces will take part, along with 10,400 troops, 20 ships and 150 aircraft from the U.S. military.

The maneuvers, which were scheduled well before the North Korean incident, are to continue through Dec. 10.
So, while a regularly scheduled exercise, it is clear that this is also a piece in the puzzle regarding the 'new' approach to North Korean trouble-making.

What remains to be seen is whether this will be 'message delivered and go back to port' or if this is a working-up for something more significant to come.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

More good source material

Here's a link to more good English-language source material on things here in Japan, thanks to The Wall Street Journal's Asia operation: Japan Real Time.

It is a bit of politics, a bit of business, a bit of pop culture, all written in the hyperlinked 'blog format. Here's how they describe themselves:
Japan Real Time is a newsy, concise guide to what works, what doesn’t and why in the one-time poster child for Asian development, as it struggles to keep pace with faster-growing neighbors while competing with Europe for Michelin-rated restaurants. Drawing on the expertise of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, the site provides an inside track on business, politics and lifestyle in Japan as it comes to terms with the inevitability of being overtaken by China as the world’s second-biggest economy.
Oh, and when they do decide to address a 'real news' story, they do a pretty good job of it.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Unplanned 'Open' Thread

Obliged elsewhere. My regrets.

For your amusement, an open thread is provided in my absence.

Maybe, if I dare suggest, someone has some comments on the recent elections in Cote d'Ivoire or on the recent swap-extraditions between Colombia and Venezuela?

...or, your choice. See you tomorrow.