Saturday, March 31, 2012

"...little progress in quelling the unrest."

Remember back before the slowdown here at CompHyp how SouthEast Asia, specifically Thailand, used to get a fair amount of topic postings? Between the political instability and a pesky insurgency or two, there was usually something to report...

Well, time gone by and Thailand endured a disaster (massive flooding) nearly as economically damaging as our earthquake/tsunami event here in Japan... and seen a major change in government... and dealt with a lot of other things... but that pesky insurgency down in the south? It is still going, and by some measures getting worse:
YALA, Thailand, March 31 (Reuters) - Nine people died and at least 70 were injured in a series of bomb explosions on Saturday in Thailand's Muslim south, the latest in a wave of violence blamed on separatists in a region bordering Malaysia, police and officials said.
It was a sequenced attack, with the third bomb time delayed after the first two to sucker in onlookers and first responders and then kill them.

The quote in the title, by the way, also comes from the Reuters article cited.

It refers to the Thai military.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Calling in support

I'm on a deadline this fine evening (local time) and as such won't be going through sources until much later. So I'm calling in support:

Here's the link to the always superb NightWatch for today. The topics are Azerbaijan-Israel, Syria and Mali. The writing is by and for analysts, but I think these topics will be of some general interest as well. I haven't even touched on the Azerbaijan story here (mostly out of concern that I'd be too angry at the time of the leak), but it has become widespread open-source so I don't mind linking to a discussion of it now.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some good news, some not so

Time for some local news:

Good: It's fun to be a sports fan right now. Asia League Ice Hockey just ended their playoffs with this author's favored HC Nikkou IceBucks going to the finals (although losing after a brave effort) and Major League Baseball is in town to open the season... and my long-ago home team Seattle Mariners got it done in game one with Japanese expat Suzuki Ichirou (I. Suzuki; "Ichiro") leading the team to victory. MLB has been great about doing the opening here, and has been both supportive of folks up in the Touhoku (NorthEast) who were so badly hit in last year's disasters and generous in donating some of the take to continued relief efforts.

Not So Good: The wrangling over designated no-go zones in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi (Fukushima #1) nuclear disaster is proving to be difficult as towns severely effected are very *very* unhappy with the central government's designation and compensation plan. Adding this to the political panic over any nuclear power issue *and* the widespread unhappiness about the emergency response and the near-heartless policies in the aftermath of the disaster (ask any rancher in Fukushima Prefecture what happened to their livestock after the disaster, just for one thing) is going to keep attention focused on how much trouble this all is, not on how to make it better (which is where the focus should be).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Dry Subject

It's one of those things I look at in passing in the process of some other, more specific, search... the Baltic Dry Index, or BDI. That's the market analyst's index of the cost of ship hires for bulk solid cargoes. What makes it valuable is that it is a very good leading indicator of heavy industrial activity as a whole across the world. As it measures the current bid prices for hiring certain size ships, it is also a direct indicator of profitability in the bulk cargo trade... and right now, it is pretty darn weak. Here's what I mean by that:

Over the twenty-plus years of the Index's history, it has demonstrated some amazing swings, hitting 10,000+ values in the 2007~2008 bubble boom and falling to the 600's in the collapse by the end of 2008... but what does that all mean? Well, the first level you should look at is the roughly 1,000 value as that happens to correlate fairly closely with break-even costs for owning and operating the ships. Generally speaking, this means that at over a thousand, shipping firms can make a profit; under a thousand, they are losing money.

But the second meaning, that as a leading indicator of manufacturing activity, is what gives the Baltic Dry its real utility because that speaks in a large way about the profitability of entire economies, not just shipping firms. That comes from the situation that prosperous economies consume (more), and the eventual end of that consumption is material possessions, and even in this day of software, media and financial instruments the main things that are consumed are *things*... and those are mostly manufactured. If you see an Index of a healthy couple-three thousand, you can rest assured that manufacturing firms believe that in some months ahead (say 3~6) they will be able to sell what they make, so they are buying the raw materials they need now and hiring ships to get those raw materials soon.

All good with that?

Right then, here's the problem: On February 2nd, 2012, the BDI went through its all-time floor to 662 (eventually falling to 647 in the next days). That article linked discusses a lot of the why.

As of the latest, March 27th 2012, the BDI is at 917, trending very slightly upward. For the curious, and later day readers, one can see the latest BDI here without subscribing to the Baltic Exchange.

Frankly, this isn't good. All the talk based on Stock Market and Financials speaking of how the economies of the major nations are on some pace of rebound *is just talk* for at least the next quarter or two.

And that means lots of things: continued increases in instability in the developing manufacturing exporters; little job growth in the established manufacturing economies, and; poor overall consumption growth in the consumer economies. The first could lead to problems that spill over (even more social instability in PRChina is particularly dangerous) and the latter two both imply poor-at-best GNP growth in places like the U.S.A., Europe and Japan... combine that with the national budget problems in those places and more bad things loom.

However... if those consumer economies can avoid making any more mistakes (Pick an example: GovJapan is still talking about raising the sales tax rate two-fold, which will certainly bubble consumption in the period between announcement and implementation and then crater demand thereafter... just about the worst thing a country can do when consumption is already depressed), and roll back some of the mistakes they've already made, you'll see a steady rise in the BDI *before* those economies really get going again.

This makes the Baltic Dry Index one of the things you may never have heard of that you should pay some attention to, and I remain amazed that it is not one of the commonly cited leading economic indicators in this interconnected world we live in.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sudan repeatedly attacks South Sudan

So much for the (paraphrase) "brotherly separation" upon South Sudan's independence...

At least five separate incidents of crossborder fire since Monday by the Sudan Army and Air Force targeting everything from Southern troop positions and camps to oil fields.

The al-Bashir regime continues to demonstrate just how worthless agreements with them are, whether regarding internal (Darfur, Kordofan, Blue Nile) or external (South Sudan) issues. Well, unless you are PRChina and the agreement is about buying oil... or selling guns...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Speaking to the walls

Saw all the reports on U.S. President B. Obama's various appearances in South Korea in prelude to and at the Nuclear Security Summit... actually watched the so-called "special lecture" at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies...

...the man's reaction after going up to Observation Point Ouellette overlooking the DMZ
Earlier Sunday, Obama paid his first visit to the tense Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, speaking briefly at the U.S. military camp located just outside the 2.5-mile-wide zone. What he saw from the border, Obama said, underscored the degree to which the North has suffered under a battery of sanctions aimed at punishing Pyongyang for its continued provocations.

"It's like you're in a time warp," he said. "It's like you're looking across 50 years into a country that has missed 40 years or 50 years of progress."
and so on about how backwards North Korea is. No kidding. He actually sounded surprised. That either demonstrated a jarring reassessment of his world view or was simply his saying the words he and his speechwriters thought he should say at the time. Your choice which.

...and then the usual summit "hot mic" moment, where B. Obama says something when he thinks the press isn't watching.* Those often do one of three things: insult Americans; insult an American ally, or; promise to accommodate a rival, but on terms personally favorable to B. Obama. This was no exception.

...gave a speech disguised as a "special lecture" that was vapid, self-absorbed and directed at someone other than the audience (students... who seemed rather tired of being spoken past rather than to...):
In remarks made at a university in Seoul earlier in the day, Obama sent a pointed warning to North Korea.

"Here in Korea, I want to speak directly to leaders in Pyongyang," Obama said during the special lecture at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul. "Have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the people of North Korea."
I should note the brevity of the quote above does no justice to the long-winded and disconnected speech as a whole. It was... um... he said "um" a lot... uninspired to say the least. There was applause at times, but I can only imagine it occurred when some not-seen-on-the-video-feed indication was signalled to the audience except for that at the conclusion. That was probably a statement of relief.

All in all, a remarkable display of why November 2012 (U.S. Presidential Election) and January 2013 (Inauguration of the next U.S. administration) can not come too soon.

Hopefully something useful actually is going on behind the scenes at this summit. I think there is, but little chance of there actually being a report on any of that. Politics and Posturing are soooo much more important.


note * : That link is to Hot Air, a political site, commenting on the original article. The original citation is linked therein to abcgo 'blog by Jake Tapper at ABC News (USA). The direct link is unreliable in some browser/security software combinations.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Morning Open

Let's try this again...

Here's an Open Thread for you All, to ask questions or discuss topics of your chosing. The basic rule remains: Play Nice.

However since there seems to have been a minor misapprehension about that sort of thing recently, let's also get some things straight:

. Play Nice means don't come in here with a load of attitude, and don't go looking for a fight. If one finds you, don't feed the troll. A little rough-and-tumble with words is fine, but as soon as someone takes offense, game over. Drop the topic.

.. It better be either interesting or important to discuss it here, in public. My e-mail isn't a secret; If you want to discuss something but just doesn't seem appropriate to wave around in public (good-wise or bad-wise), send it to me privately and if it turns out to be good public discussion, I'll ask if I may post the discussion. If it's bad, you'll catch hell from me, but not out in public.

... I don't place ads or charge a subscription; as such I take particular umbrage with anyone who (no matter how politely) posts spam, ad-links, or redirects to someone else's for-profit site. As soon as I see one of those in comments, it goes bye-bye and the poster draws a permanent ban. No debate, no appeal. Gone.

.... Same-same for anything I decide is beyond-the-pale morally or socially. No debate, no appeal. Gone.

..... Lastly, the Catch-All Rule: My basement, my rules. That means I get to decide what is ok, what isn't, who gets comments deleted (or gets banned) and who doesn't. Yep, that means if I so much as think you are looking cross-ways at me, I might drop the hammer. You don't like it? Start your own 'blog.

Now then, since this is the first time in almost four years I've had to spell things out, let's call it done and go on.

Here's to better days.

As always, thank you All for coming here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

PKK a Syrian tool?

That's what the Turks are claiming. Shades of 1998... although Assad-the-elder sold out the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) that time to avoid a war with Turkey.

Some notes:

The PKK are a former Soviet tool and the worst of the bunch in the category of Kurdish nationalist movements. The more main-line parties in Iraqi Kurdistan realize they are disaster magnets and generally avoid even the appearance of cooperation with them.

The Turks are currently seeking a casus belli to justify intervention into Syrian territory... because they'd rather keep the Syrian rebel and refugee problems off Turkish soil (as much as possible) and they want to dictate the nature of the next Syrian government(s).

The Assad regime in Syria has a history of using national minorities as pawns.

The Kurdish 'nation' would, given the chance, love to have Eastern Syria... or Western Kurdistan... with 2 million Kurdish residents to be united with Iraqi Kurdistan in the pursuit of a viable nation-state.

The anti-Assad Syrian National Council has not cooperated with Kurdish anti-Assad organizers, apparently at the demands of the Turks.

Which seems to mean:

The Turkish fear of Kurdish national aspirations not only prevents them from raising a viable second front against the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War, but may actually invite pushing the Syrian Kurds further into the arms of the regime to justify an intervention that has little to do with the eventual fate of the Kurds.

If, on the other hand, an obviously non-PKK faction could be raised in Eastern Syria and supported from Iraqi Kurdistan, the fall of the Assad regime could be greatly accelerated. But to do that involves Iraq and plays with nationalist fire.

Would either result better the situation? Tough call...

Friday, March 23, 2012

From containment to reduction

At extraordinary financial cost and amidst never-ending political second-guessing, the "answer" to the problem of the Somalia Pirates has been almost entirely defensive; containment with a little bit of armed resistance (by placing armed contingents aboard some merchant shipping in the region). Both worked, to some extent. Both also failed in that they rarely if ever actually reduced the problem.

Maybe, just maybe, that is about to change:
The European Union has agreed to expand its mission against Somali pirates, by allowing military forces to attack land targets as well as those at sea.

In a two-year extension of its mission, EU defence ministers agreed warships could target boats and fuel dumps.
There are still the usual weak-hand gestures of politicians stating the RoE is "to avoid harming people", though, so how this goes in practice remains to be seen. Blowing up pirate boats and fuel supplies, and placing an effective blockade on pirate vessel departures may be enough to take the profit out of piracy... but the only usually effective answer is to reduce the number of pirates. Whether that happens by disincentive or by demise is of little importance. It wouldn't hurt to cap off interdict and arrest the money-men supplying the pirates either...

So let's call this a step from containment to reduction... a step in the right direction.


Here's Eagle1's take on the same. He started his say late yesterday and updated it to include more about the EU authorization.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mali Army Revolt

It looks a lot like a coup, except it isn't (yet)... no clear word on where the Presidential party is, but the troops haven't taken them although some ministers of the government have been. It certainly is an absolutely crippling revolt by elements of the Mali Army.

The reasons (officially) include the usual laundry list of claims against the regime, but one stands out: The Army has been engaged in a nasty fight against Tuareg insurgents who have lots and lots of arms left over from their days helping out on the side of bad in the North African crises, specifically Libya. The Mali Army forces were sent north to take them on with less-than-complete kit ...not that the regular Mali Army arsenal is anything to brag about... and have gotten handed defeat after defeat. Morale in the ranks of what has been a modestly respectable standing army collapsed and their blame focused on the Defense Ministry.

This matters, besides the usual reasons of not wanting rebellious troops rampaging through one's city, because the nexus between West and North Africa has been one of the few areas of growing strength for al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militancy (building on, if not supplanting, the usual bandit culture of the back country areas).

Losing the assistance of Mali in that fight, even for a short while, is bad for all of us.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Less than ideal

... but sometimes you take what you can get.

The financial sanctions against Iran have been loopholed; same same in practice for the EU version of the sanctions.
WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday the United States has decided to exempt Japan and 10 European countries from its new financial sanctions against Iran over the latter's suspected nuclear weapons program as they have significantly reduced their oil imports from Tehran.
Why this is bad: Sanctions can't be drawn slowly and have an effect that shocks the economy of the target nation. If done after much drum-beating, even sudden sanctions are simply a motivation for a prepared target to act aggressively as long as their stockpile hold out. We've seen this before. (cf. 1940 Oil and Scrap Iron Embargoes against Imperial Japan)

Why this is good: It is a short-term loophole, renewable every 180 days. Those are often misused, but this time it buys time, because...

Japan can't do much more vis Iran without hurting Japan more than hurting Iran. They've already cut 40% over the last five years.
With Japan's efforts to cut such imports, the country has been asking for an exemption for Japanese financial institutions involved in oil transactions, Japan's top government spokesman said.

''Our country, sharing the concerns of the United States and members of the international community over the Iranian nuclear issue, is working with the global community in dealing with Iran based on the approach of dialogue and pressure,'' Fujimura said.

Finance Minister Jun Azumi separately said to journalists that Japan may keep cutting Iranian oil imports in a measured manner.
You can amend that very diplomatic "may" to a "will" unless a lot changes in Iran very quickly. Some Japanese businesses have a history of being famously amoral about origin of resources, but they are also mortally terrified of supply interruption. Iran being what it is today, and with the international opposition to that (finally) rising to an effective level, supply interruption is a real possibility.

Expect Japan to quietly live up to the eventual goal of leaving Iran in financial isolation, just not today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Freedom for Tunisia: a ray of hope (Updated)

Appropriately happening on the anniversary of independence from France (colonial), a significant demonstration of secular political power was seen on the streets:
TUNIS, March 20 (Reuters) - Thousands of secular Tunisians marched in the capital on Tuesday, the country's independence day, to show their rejection of growing calls by conservative Salafi Islamists to transform post-revolutionary Tunisia into an Islamic state.
Would that the nationalist and other non-religious parties had thought things through better before the election, they probably had the numbers to keep even Ennahda (the most moderate of the Islamist political parties) from winning a plurality... had they only formed a united front... but it means that the minor secular parties and the two secular parties that are in coalition with Ennahda have some of the time they need to keep organizing and build strength.

Given how some of the other "Arab Spring" revolts have turned out, to date, there is reason to believe they are going to need all the strength they can muster.



Just to show how important this is, here's an example of what they are up against politically: Salafists rally last Friday. Yup. Those are al-Qaeda banners in there amongst the traditional ones.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Another Guinea Bissau Assassination

This time, on the very day of the latest Presidential election... Colonel Samba Diallo, the former head of military intelligence was shot dead.
Diallo was widely feared during his time as head of military intelligence and is believed to have played a role in many coups and political assassinations, diplomatic sources said.
Um, yes.

The larger problem, one only masked by the appearance of a peaceful election, is that the only discernable difference between any stereotypical narcostate and the current situation in Guinea Bissau is that the factions in the military have been killing each other off gangland-style for much longer than the flood of cocaine money has sloshed around in the country.

So, whether this was an old score or a new dispute matters not in the particular, but it does mean that things aren't getting better... and that's just the way the narcos would want the country to stay.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Midday Open

Ya... long time coming, but as opportunity allows a good 'blogging pace for now, let's run with it.

Here's an Open Thread for all of you. This is for folks that just want to keep in contact, or ask about anything from the Nuba Mountains to the Euro Crisis and beyond; pretty much wide open. Even partisan politics are ok, but do recall the basic rule for commenting here: Play Nice.

As always, thanks to All for coming here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

NORKs being... NORKs

Time for another verse of the North-Korea-Hokey-Pokey...

In February, for some unfathomable reason, the USA (with concurrence from Japan, South Korea and the PRC) made a package deal of resuming "de-nuclearization" discussions and of sending North Korea a bribe food aid classed as "a nutritional agreement".

This week, the North Koreans announced a blatant violation of sanctions an entirely unrelated and certainly harmless ballistic missile test satellite launch to celebrate the centenary of Kim Il-sung (Kim the First) 's birth.

This garnered a response from the diplomats of, to quote US DeptState Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland:
"If they were to go forward with this launch it is very hard to imagine how we would be able to move forward with a regime whose word we have no confidence in and who has egregiously violated its international commitments."
Which shows both that DeptState does recognize they were played for the fool *and* that anyone who thought the Kim regime's word was ever worth a dust speck of confidence just got what they deserved.

Here's YONHAP News Agency (South Korea)'s report on all this, just for second sourcing.

Although Japan is currently burdened with a government that borders on the insignificant in the ability department, I'll risk taking the same position on this missile launch as I did on the last time the NORKs lobbed one over us...


Better yet, wipe the launch facility off the face of the planet while the missile is under assembly.

Then ask what other thing they'd like to concede away for a little "nutritional agreement".

Friday, March 16, 2012

...working with him, yeah, that's it.

While enduring the BBC World's Impact news program this evening, I once again had the infuriating experience, eh hem, pleasure of watching one of the world's great front-men for his bosses' policies, Russian Foreign Minister S. V. Lavrov. When asked at a press conference about the situation in and regarding Syria, he fielded it in terms of Arab League and United Nations Special Envoy Kofi Annan (yes, former UNSecGen) 's presentation of the results of his 'peace plan' to the UNSC, due today... Lavrov said:
"...we are working with him every day."
Call me a biased opinion, but my first reaction was "SO? You've been working with him every day for decades. Russia and UN apparatchiks..."

Catch the drift of what I'm saying?



As long as we are at least tangentially on a Freedom for Syria topic, I would be remiss to not mention the superb back-and-forth between Michael Ledeen and Andrew C. McCarthy yesterday on what to do or not do about Syria. If you make the time to read it all, and I hope you do, please make the effort to backtrack from M. Ledeen's last pronunciamenti to the very first link in their chain of discussion. Two very, very sharp gents taking a very civil difference of opinion about the way forward about Syria and running it to ground in one of the best considered analyses-by-competition I've read in a long while.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

SWIFT slams the door

The international inter-bank transfer system, SWIFT, has slammed the door on Iran.
Brussels, 15 March 2012 – Following an EU Council decision, SWIFT is today announcing it has been instructed to discontinue its communications services to Iranian financial institutions that are subject to European sanctions.

The new European Council decision, as confirmed by the Belgian Treasury, prohibits companies such as SWIFT to continue to provide specialised financial messaging services to EU-sanctioned Iranian banks. SWIFT is incorporated under Belgian law and has to comply with this decision as confirmed by its home country government.
This closes off virtually all legitimate means of access to the international financial system, for every Iranian asset that matters.

Hang on to your hats, folks. The sanctions regime just got teeth.


That's the term I will use about any military leader who takes a measured command action that gives his troops reason to believe they are not trusted.

Yeah, I've heard all the arguments about not offending the allied troops present...

...but even knowing all that, disarming your troops in a combat theater for an event, for a civilian leader VIP, was unwise.

Bill Roggio's take on the same.

Blackfive's take on the same. Note carefully the comments.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stop tickling the catfish.

We're ok here, but this is getting a little troublesome. Again.

Earlier today, a 6.8 mag shake hit up between the Touhoku and Hokkaidou. Spawned a little-itty-bitty 50cm tsunami. Scared the heck out of folks up there, to no surprise.

Now we get a resounding *whack* in back down here as a 6.1 mag hit at 2105hrs local (on the 14th). Major shaking all through the "capital region", and a serious knock on folks over by Narita International Airport.

No damage or casualties reported in the first 20 minutes after.


The title refers to the mythical Japanese belief that earthquakes were the result of the movements of a giant catfish that lived beneath the world. Conveniently, said mythology also referred to one of the lesser gods solving the problem by pinning that catfish at spearpoint. Anyone got a spare spear?

Monday, March 12, 2012

I'm impressed.

Experience changes a person. Sometimes for worse, but more often for the far-better:

"But I have more important questions for Irish artists. What happened to the notion of the artist as a free thinking individual? Why have Irish artists surrendered to group-think on Israel? Could it be due to something as crude as career-advancement?

"Artistic leadership comes from the top. Aosdana, Ireland's State-sponsored affiliation of creative artists, has also signed the boycott. Aosdana is a big player. Its members populate Arts Council funding panels.

"Some artists could assume that if their name is on the same boycott sheet as the people assessing their applications, it can hardly hurt their chances. No doubt Aosdana would dispute this assumption. But the perception of a preconceived position on Israel is hard to avoid."
A rare occurance that shouldn't be so rare. In a world where an Irish city considers a statue honoring an enemy of freedom and Hollywood rich folk are "proud" to stand with the likes of Hugo Chavez, seeing one person overcome their environment and see the real world for what it is tis a joy to behold.

Please read the whole article.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

One year on.

The Great Touhoku Earthquake and Tsunami, and all the resulting problems.

One year ago today.

At least the 'quake and (most of) the tsunami damage were unavoidable Acts of Nature (Acts of God; Force Majeure; Casus Fortuitus)...

Mainichi Daily News has a very good summary of where we are today.