Thursday, March 31, 2011

Priceless

How does the credit card company advertisement go...?

Sub-Saharan Mercenaries: a few hundred dollars a day, tops.

Russian-built multiple rocket launchers: a couple hundred thousand a pop.

A Nicaraguan career-misanthrope and fixture of the international blame-America set as your new U.N. envoy: priceless.

priceless = comedy gold in this case.

Way to go on the "buy some respect" move there, Moammar.

Freedom for Libya: Back and Forth

The fight remains well and truly on, and the loyalist fighting force gets the best of it anytime they aren't in the Intervention Coalition's bombsights.

That means, for the east and midcoastal region, the battles are following fairly closely one of the axiomatic courses of North African warfare: it looks about like a soccer (football) match between two loosely coached teams, with guns... lots of rushes half-a-field-length followed by desperate retreats to protect one's own "goal net", that being in this case one's base of supply. Like said sport, the only way to reliably secure victory is to tighten up he coaching discipline and make well-ordered moves of position and control to advance into the hostile zone. For now, it is pretty clear that only one side has the potential of doing that... and sadly, it's not the squad I'm cheering for.

In the regions closer to Tripoli, and out west, it has been almost too easy for the Loyalists... with one exception: Misrata. The rebels are still besieged mightily and at great distress, but they are at least contesting control of the central part of the city. For how much longer, I simply have no way to judge.

The political machinations continue, with some key defections from the regime and some public meetings designed to make it look like the Intervention is a united effort. There has even been talk of setting aside the arms embargo in part to allow weapons and direct support to the rebel forces. There is also a "yes we are / no we aren't" game being played by some Western politicians as to whether covert assets are in the field... cute of them to be playing politics with the lives of 'disposable people', isn't it?

This won't all be resolved until either (a) regime loyalists decide to stop being loyalists... and put daggers in the backs of the whole Qaddafi family, or; (b) one or more of the nations in the Intervention Forces decide to toss diplomatic niceties in the trash and goes all-in to win this thing for the Rebellion, or; (c)... actually, there is no (c). Letting Qaddafi and kin survive, either in power or in comfortable exile, is simply an invitation for unending trouble.

So hang on to your hats, folks. This is going to be a rough ride.

***

BBC World's daily live coverage can be found *here*, but be aware it is not operated 24 hours a day, nor is it continuous. They archive it at the end of each day.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Yes and No

Yes, this is good. Sure would be better if some progress toward getting Gbagbo out was happening on the ground, though.

No, this isn't good. Neither is the ongoing "teachers strike" which is about a whole lot more than education.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just to be clear about R2P

I've written here before about Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the United Nations policy formalized in 2006 that justifies "humanitarian intervention" if the government of a people is in fact a physical danger to those same people.

If you recall, you might note I've written in favor of the policy. I've been rather associated with the academic side of the debate that was the basis upon which the policy was built, although mostly as a spectator, and that gives one a bit of insight into how it is intended.

That said...

...it seems to be popular to talk about R2P these days in political forums. The Libya Intervention being what it is, it calls a lot of attention to R2P. The upshot of those commentaries seems to be either a contempt for the hypocrisy of how R2P has been applied to date or a manifest fear of R2P being some One-Worlder plot that will eventually be unleashed upon the nations of the Western World.

It has been applied poorly, yes. Consider the agencies (often elements of the U.N.) usually responsible for that application and that should come as no surprise.

But you can throw out the conspiracy theory. There is a far simpler and thus far less politic explanation for R2P. It is an updated form of 19th Century Enlightened Imperialism. It has all the hallmarks of the justification used to stop the Slave Trade, to overthrow despotic rulers, and then to bring some element of Human Rights (like trying to stop Foot Binding in China or forcible Sati (Sutte) in India) or of Education (Imperial German colonial schools in East Africa were unequalled for quality even by modern day standards) or Justice (the implantation of legal systems, Common or Civil, throughout much of Africa, South and East Asia where justice had often been tribal or by diktat of the autocrat).

It has the potential to right wrongs. It has the potential to save lives.

It also has the same potential for abuse that Imperialism had.

Like Aristocracy, Imperialism *may* be a beneficial system. Also like being an Aristocrat, Imperialism is a lot more desirable if one gets to be one of the Great Powers.

R2P is no more, and no less, inherently justifiable that any other form of outside control. It is simply the counter-argument against unlimited sovereign rights being the nature of all recognized States, no matter who (or what party) runs them.

But know it for what it is: the presumption that (we) enlightened people have a justifiable reason for lording over (you) un-enlightened people to prevent (what we consider) barbarous conduct... but one that (we) will exercise at our discretion and convenience, indeed to our benefit or at least to as little material loss as (we) see fit.

That's a presumption that requires ethically perfect conduct by the (we) mentioned.

Something to think about, that.

Next of the PIIGS to go

...will likely be Portugal.

Expect the austerity package to fail in Parliament. Expect the administration of Prime Minister Jose Socrates to resign when that happens.

It may be great political theater, but it's not much use toward combating the financial crisis.

Freedom for ... a lot of places.

You are probably watching / reading about the Libya Intervention, and you've likely got the sense that all these Tunisia-Egypt-(a lot of places) Uprisings might just be connected... you'd be right, with the exception of Bahrain which appears to be as much external destabilization as a genuine rising.

Here are two more places to watch, one old news and one very very new on the scene:

Yemen: The uprising there has been fueled as much by the new mood as by the old issues of the North-South divide. The tide is running solidly against the regime now, with even ranking military officers (and co-tribalists of President Saleh) going over to the insurrection. Saleh himself seems to be just trying to get favorable terms under which to leave... another good student of the great Arab Nationalists, he. No need to stick around for the lamppost party after the change in management comes...

Syria: The threat to the Assad regime started slowly this time, and was met with the usual crackdowns and arrests, but... it is still growing. More telling, neither of the traditional opponent groups to the regime are in the picture. The splits are tribal, sectarian, and pragmatic now. (Driving Syria's Druze community into opposition was a particularly clumsy move by the regime.) If that means a significant portion of the State Security apparatus is now at risk of falling in with the rising, then there is a chance that al-Hurra (Arabic: the condition of being free; specifically the opposite of enslaved) may come to Syria.

If only...

May this wind continue to blow, and that even far Iran feels it.

***

Web Sources Reminder:

Besides the major and local media, which may be beyond your ability to judge for veracity (or to read!), here are a couple analysts and a source for in-region media reports that I recommend without reservation:

Your best source for analysis and understanding of matters Yemeni: Jane Novak at Armies of Liberation.

A very good and informed source for the same on Iran and Middle Eastern matters, although of a well-intended bias (that I agree with): Michael Ledeen at Faster, Please! on Pajamas Media.

Original Source Material can also be found in great abundance and translated reliably at MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute. (link is to their 'blog. Homepage has original source video and more.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Japan Earthquake: a few side notes

Just a few side notes for you on the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami story.

Where we were:

Violating the ancient rule about making the reporter the story...
((grin))

Here's a nice write-up about CompHyp friend and FOXNews correspondent Adam Housley and his trip to Japan to cover the story.

Where we are:

You can easily find stories of the recovery efforts underway, the terrible problems with mortuary overload, hospitals running out of materials, and the continued suffering of the survivors and evacuees.

You'll also easily find reports of the efforts to restore stability at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station... and yes, things are getting better.

If you look in the right places, you'll also find more reports on relief efforts and assistance being provided by US Forces Japan, but you might be a little surprised to find that the permanently-ported-in-Japan aircraft carrier USS George Washington hasn't played a role. There's a back story there and it's not exactly flattering...

But others are arriving to help. Just like last year in Haiti, the Israelis are in. Here's hoping they get some nice write-ups in the local media; too often they serve thanklessly in these sort of responses.

So keep up the good work, folks, and we'll get through this.

Friday, March 18, 2011

weekend update (Updated)

This is your weekend update:

Day 8 ends / Day 9 starts

As of just a little while ago, NHK has it that workers in Kesennuma got a live rescue out of the rubble. To give you an idea as to heartbreaking the rescue effort is (was)... that is only about the third live rescue from actually in the wreckage. There have been lots of people pulled off rubble and rooftops, and lots more gathered from hillsides where they fled... but traditional go-in-and-dig-them-out rescues... very very few. It was so disheartening the last couple of days that the official focus shifted to recovery and the search-dog-and-prybar teams that flew in to help have been being sent home.

The foreign media has truly fled. Between risks, panic, and other stories to cover, we've got a (relatively speaking) handful of reporters in Oosaka (Osaka) monitoring things. Only the hard core that were already in the Touhoku (Northeast region) before the panic are getting the actual reports out now. No slight to them; that's how their bosses decided to cover this story.

We've avoided rolling blackouts today, here in the north Kantou (East region; the big flat spot that surrounds Toukyou (Tokyo)).

The snow stopped up north late yesterday. Sunny and clear most of the day so far today (Saturday, local time).


As far as American efforts to help:

. The US Forces Japan (USFJ) and other assets sent to help have done a superb job. Only possible points of improvement would have been getting a release to help earlier (not their job; DeptState didn't get it done for a day or two) and a little less playing to fears regarding the nuclear power station... there is no need to evacuate dependents down at the bases, really.

.. Ambassador Roos has not embarrassed himself.


You can expect the mass media to be somewhat caught up in other things now:

. It's been more than a week. Getting the coverage we've gotten so far has been a boon, but the media's attention span is necessarily short.

.. There are other things really worthy of attention. The Civil War in Libya has gotten short shrift for a week and the regime used that diversion to kick the daylights out of the Rebellion. Now the UNSC has *finally* acted... expect to see lots about that in the news from here.

... There are other things that are really not worthy of attention, but will get it anyway. cf. American Presidential visit to a nice beach in Brazil.


So we go on, here.

We'll keep digging, and going out to help, and gathering relief aid, and sitting in the dark a few hours most days so others can have some power.

When things have reached a point of some stability, then I'll get my vacation.

Damn it.

***

Update:

re: the live 'rescue' in Kesennuma.

Some news is, in fact, too good to be true.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In the dark...

Well, not literally. We had our three-hour share of the rolling blackout come through earlier today. But as to when and if I go back out on a work call... well, that I'm in the dark about.

I'm home tonight (local time), having had a day to myself for the first time since Saturday. The panic in the foreign media has resulted in some teams being pulled back to cities, away from any nuclear plant dangers, and other foreign teams simply being pulled out and sent home.

So I'm off stand-by, but not really at liberty to do much: (1) there's not much to do, any way, and; (2) if some sense of safety overtakes my clients, then there will be the immediate need to get teams up north where the *real* story... the massive rescue and recovery operation from the direct damage... is still going on.

The latest estimate has 14,000 people dead or missing, 450,000 people in temporary shelter... and it's snowing heavily up there.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Friday, March 11, 2011

Major Earthquake in Japan (Many Updates)

Magnitude 8.4 ~ 8.9 (reports vary).

Major casualty event in Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures.

Here, about 100 km away from the area directly effected, it was a heck of a ride.

Kudos to the fine gentleman and his craftsmen that built this house; not a whit of damage even at Japanese Intensity 5 shaking.

Rail and airports are shut down or on very limited availability throughout east and northeast Japan.

Substantial, and occasional Major aftershocks continue.

The coast took an enormous Tsunami. Wave height reported to be 7+ meters in Sendai port and as high as 10 meters in a few places.

For English language reports, I recommend FOXNews (carrying the AP, which gets Kyoudou as their source) and the impeccable BBC, which is running live feeds from NHK World and has a very good reporter based in Toukyou.

FOXNews report as of now.

BBC report, with links to their live feed.

Also, here is the Japan Met Service Earthquake Information page for this event. From that page, go to 'next information' to see each of the aftershocks.

For your convenience, here is a list of the effects of the JMA seismic intensity scale. You can see there what I meant about how it went here... upper 5... and get a sense of how bad it was in the hard-hit regions ...they caught a full 7.

The aftermath of this is going to be pretty ugly. Presume a large number of people are now without shelter in a part of the country famous for late winter snow. Worse for the folks on the coast up there, who may have nothing left... if they survived. But amazingly, no reports of deaths have come in, yet.

Hope that holds. Bets are it won't.

***

Update: 0049hrs 'blogtime

Three dead reported by AFP.

BBC has one dead in Toukyou (Tokyo).

***

Update 2: 0113hrs 'blogtime

AFP now has it at 19 dead.

***

Update 3: 0155hrs 'blogtime

NHK has it at 20 dead... with "many many more" missing.

The fire being constantly shown on the news re-cycle is a refinery in Chiba Prefecture... which is far south of here. It is about as far away from the quake as Toukyou is... ~250 km from epicenter. But earthquake damage is a funny thing. cf. 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake destroying much of San Francisco's Marina District and dropping a span of the Bay Bridge, neither particularly close to the epicenter.

Japan Met has made an official revision to the magnitude: 8.8 , which would be an all-time high.

The focus is now shifting: Presuming no parallel earthquakes or massive aftershocks, the danger of more damage here is fading... but look out across the Pacific. Tsunami velocities are hard to judge but a reasonable expectation would be a major tsunami threat to Hawaii in the 7~9 hours post-quake time frame, and the same to the west coast of the U.S. Lower 48 starting around the 9 hour mark in the Northwest and proceeding from there. Philippines, the South Pacific and points south, Russia's Kuriles, Sakhalin, Kamchatka and points north and east of there (like Alaska), *all* these places can presume to be under tsunami threat in even less time than that. Having a 20+ foot high wall of water coming one's way should be enough to fix the attention on getting people the heck out of risk zones. Philippines is taking action as best they can already. Here's hoping the other governments are taking action as well.

***

Update 4: 0237hrs 'blogtime

The AP has 32 confirmed dead so far.

While searching for reports on any injuries to personnel, or equipment loss, at Misawa Air Base... I find that Stars and Stripes has an entirely respectable overview of earthquake effects on US Forces Japan. Short Form: all personnel accounted for; impact on operational capacity negligible.

***

Update 5: 0606hrs 'blogtime (2306hrs JST)

Now the scary reports start to come in...

Official reports (various) sum up to about 90 dead so far.

unconfirmed or partial reports...

...have a ship at sea with ~100 aboard unaccounted for.

...have 200~300 bodies on the coastline near Sendai.

...state a train that ran on a coastal rail line remains unaccounted for.

...one of the nuclar power stations in Fukushima didn't go into shutdown normally; it had to be brought down hard when a cooling system failed.

***

Update 6: 1623 hrs 'blogtime (0923 hrs Sat, JST)

Rescue and recovery operations are underway.

The toll rises; reports have the confirmed deaths over 350 and the missing at over 700.

Rail and cell phone service is spotty at best in the east of the country, and still non-functional up in the disaster zone. The peripheral problem of getting commuters home from Toukyou is rapidly becoming significant... anyone trying to get back home by train to the towns north and northeast of Toukyou metropolitan area is basically still camped out in the stations. Highway and surface roads are overcrowded so doing an overland extraction is still not reasonable, but if the rails don't get reopened soon, organizing bus convoying may have to be the answer.

There is a lot of noise about the BWR reactors at the atomic power stations in Fukushima in some trouble maintaining cooling systems. They are still trying to use the secondary systems, but the emergency cooling systems for all the reactors in question are on standby and ready to be used if core temperatures get anywhere near dangerous levels.

Electricity and water/sanitation interruptions (and shortly food distribution) are all significant threats to the population in the disaster area. Road and Rail bridges are all suspect at this time as well.

The state of emergency has allowed the government to activate Defense Force resources and large numbers of helicopters, cargo aircraft and other assets are now deploying. Allied forces from USFJ (Americans) are also being made available including a second carrier on the way from the U.S.A. that will add even more secure flat space and aviation capability to help.

***

Update 7: very early Saturday (Saturday evening JST)

That comment above about food distribution is coming to pass far more quickly than... it should, frankly. But modern distribution systems for retail food and high-use materials like gasoline have very little stockpile buffer, at least here. So, your Saturday trip to the shopping mall went something like this... even down here in Tochigi which is well outside the zone of serious damage... by noon, there was no bread, dry soup or noodles on the shelves. Other sections were a mixed bag of plenty and of suspicious absence. So you buy what you can/want and head over to fuel up the family car... hope you weren't too low or heaven-forbid actually use the car for work... *if* the gas stand had any fuel to sell, they were limiting sales to cash-price 2000 en per customer. That buys about 13 liters (3 gallons and a bit)at today's also significantly higher price.

Now this is actually all explainable if you consider the level of disruption, the astounding level of shock in ordinary people over the earthquake, and the utterly cynical hoarding instinct that people here have relied upon since ancient times to signal their conscious mind in times of shortage to go buy everything they can lay their hands on that they think they might need. cf. the origin of Shinjuku as a commercial center in the post-WWII years as the premier black market during the Occupation.

But enough with the rationalizing and back to the rationing. Here's the situation: the media is spreading advice from authorities that fuel and even food distribution will likely be very limited all across eastern Japan *for a week or more*. This, in the basically untouched inland area of the Kantou region. Just imagine what it must be like for folks up in the area of effect.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This...

...explains why the Maehara resignation is just another in a series of diplomatic disasters for Japan...

...and this is an example of how crippled Japan's diplomacy has become, even with its closest ally...

...and this, which is far, far more important, has been pushed out of the news cycle by the two previous items.

The trivial triumphs over the existentially threatening, again.

When political life is dominated by petty individuals with no interest or ability to understand matters outside their narrow parochial interests, this is what happens.

A study in democracy.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sunday come on Monday Push

Four hours sleep and a 'Maebashi Monday' does not a good blogger make...

Worse yet for my mood, the one really competent foreign policy guy in the otherwise amateur DPJ government here, Maehara, just resigned because his accounting staff didn't seem to remember that life-in-Japan multi-generation Korean nationals are still *foreigners* and thus can't donate money to politicians or parties here. Way to go, Staff. Stupid mistakes like this cause panic in the political ranks; suddenly no one wants to even look like they are doing something contrary to the Political Funds Control Law; makes it even harder for *this* foreigner to get clients in government (for example; and that isn't a donation. it is paid work).

***

Anyway... here's your Open Thread for this week.

The usual rules apply: Play Nice.

As always, thank you All for coming here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Rising in Arabia and North Africa: source material

Just a quick note to point out a location for English-language source material that is a bit off the beaten track of news outlets... and it's a good one:

The National Review online has added Egypt Watch as a tracker for reports concerning The Rising. It got its start covering the Egyptian uprising, but they try to get as much about the entire region covered as possible now.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Freedom for Libya: Not going quietly

To no one's real surprise, Muammar al-Qaddafi (M. Gaddafi) is not 'going quietly into the night'.

The fight is on, for real now, after the half-hearted attempt by regime loyalists to retake al-Zawiya. The latest counter stroke has fallen on Marsa el-Brega, with the outcome unclear but certainly more favorable to the regime than previous efforts.

Meanwhile, it looks that any intervention (if any is to come) will have to be mostly a European effort... the Americans are repositioning forces of some utility to be available if NATO calls, but the absence of a Carrier Strike Group from the Med is still a problem. One is close by, but would have to transit Suez to be back in any real proximity. It is also obvious that the political will to action is simply lacking in the Obama administration.

It's been said before, not by me though, but bears repeating in paraphrase:

"The 3 a.m. call has come. It went to the answering machine."

The ghost of Mrs. McConville...

... still cries out for a reckoning.

John Derbyshire at The Corner, while writing on the Irish election, brought mention of Gerry Adams winning the constituency of Louth.

Mr. Derbyshire also very helpfully links to Ruth Dudley Edwards's commentary of 25.Feb and she's got a very, very good point: He's more open than ever to being charged for his crimes internationally than ever before.

Adams has, by resigning his Northern Ireland seat in the Westminster Parliament (which he profited from but never actually took up) last year and then winning election in the Republic as a TD... made himself the Republic's problem. She's not one to mince words about what should be done, either:
Brendan Hughes, Mr Adams chief lieutenant in the IRA, has stated that Adams was in charge of these ‘dirty’ operations. It is extremely serious that a potential member of Dail Eireann should be under suspicion of war crimes. It brings disgrace to the Irish Parliament and the Irish people.

We ask that one of the first duties of the new Government and the new Attorney General should be to investigate these claims, to see if there is a prima facie case for reporting Mr Adams to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. This has happened with political figures from the former Yugoslavia, such as Radovan Karadich, the Bosnian Serb leader. Hopefully he will soon be joined in The Hague by Colonel Gaddafi, a man who brought much suffering to Northern Ireland as well as his own people.
I wholeheartedly agree. May it come to pass.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"groundless"

from the BBC about CdI:
The UN team was attacked in the capital, Yamoussoukro.

They were looking into reports that Belarus had provided attack helicopters for supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to give up the presidency.

Belarus has denied the allegations as "groundless".
Let's just say I'd go with the unconfirmed reports over a Lukashenko regime denial. Looks like the UNSC sees it that way, too. Note the Libyan side issue mentioned in this article as well. There is a history of such behaviour.