Monday, April 30, 2012

The Weekly Item for 30.April, 2012: Shrinking

This post started life as a response/reinterpretation of R. Douthat's "Incredible Shrinking Country" opinion on the NY Times (28th April) Op/Ed page... and yeah, I wasn't going to be very nice about it. Between the fact that his writing is mostly a reaction to N. Eberstadt's far better "Japan Shrinks" and the otherwise annoying lack of understanding by Douthat of most of the anciliary issues he mentions, I'm not going to bother linking to his Op/Ed piece. However...

...while demographics are related to the on-going economic problems in Japan, they aren't uniquely responsible for how poorly things are trending right now.

I'd also note that I see the demographic future here as an opportunity with challenges, which was Eberstadt's general thrust (setting aside off-topics like some of his "random facts" mentioned), rather than the doomsayer-scenarios that similar discussions of Italy and Russia often turn into.

The real problem, likely dominant politically for the rest of this decade, is that the generation born in or just around 1980 is now ~10 years into what was supposed to be their careers and yet a stunning number have found they are "capped off" from any meaningful career opportunities by the combination of a no-growth economy and a slug-in-the-pipeline effect of a vast number of unpromotable middle-aged desk occupiers just half a generation older than them. If that sounds rather like the situation faced by Americans coming into the workforce just after 1980, well, there are some similarities. What allowed the U.S. workforce to at least in part shake that off was the long, mostly steady, rise in the U.S. economy from ~1984 to the turn of the century (arguably a bit beyond that, even). New enterprises and expansion of existing businesses spread the demand for experienced employees and opened new pathways of advancement. Japan, today, sees little or nothing of that sort of opportunity. But given a chance, it could.

Here's the rub: Japan is faced with a pair of nasty problems that as a set run contrary to the solution of either problem.

Problem One: Any hope of shaking off the shackles of low growth has to come by creating a positive business environment, and we're currently going backwards on that, not forward. Roughly 30% of electric power generation capability is off-line or going to be allowed to restart on a very limited basis... those would be our nuclear power stations. Insufficient or unreliable electric power supply is doom to manufacturing and nearly as damning to any modern urban office activity. Starting up or even expanding an existing company is still a process of red-tape-wrestling frustration for anything more complex than a neighborhood ramen shop. While direct corporate taxation was somewhat reformed during the Koizumi administration, the combination of direct corporate taxation, indirect mandated expenses and a virtual penalty for making any worker a "regular" employee rather than a contract or temp worker remains burdensome. Add to that the fact that no real recovery of the job losses in contract and temp employment in the wake of last year's disaster panic has happened and you are looking at a real unemployment/underemployment for the born-around-1980 generation that remains absurdly higher than the official workforce unemployment rate (By some measures, over 20% vs under 5%). Having the domestic part of the economy rebound would help that a lot, but even with the need to rebuild from last year's disaster we are only seeing GDP growth in the low 2% range (Broken Window Fallacy, but it is a demand). Schemes of the current administration to raise the Consumption (Sales) Tax will prove even more damaging to domestic demand after a brief pre-implementation bubble. Lastly, as Export remains a prime driver in the Japanese economy (roughly 30% of all activity, until recently), there is the possibility of getting growth going by export... except... the en (Yen; JPY) is at an all-time high against pretty much every other currency in the world.

Problem Two: The short-term efforts needed to shore up electric power generation (barely) by massive imports of fossil fuels and the import needs for rebuilding both play hobb with Japan's balance of trade. Without the purchasing power of a super-strong JPY, the cost might likely be unaffordable. But the same super-strong JPY makes imports of a wide array of consumer demands cheaper than domestic-origin goods. In the short run that's a necessary evil; in the long run it may well permanently stunt the already-feeble production of goods for the domestic market. Since full-on Merchantilism and WTO membership are incompatible (for a good reason! cf. PRChina), there's no way to slam that door and little benefit even if there was a way.

Those are the horns we are stuck on: Need a weaker JPY to restore Export and preserve an opportunity for long-term domestic growth; Need a strong JPY to pay for rebuilding after the disaster and to paper over our fears and inablities in providing electric power.

Hypothesis Time:

Lacking any sign of ロナルド・レーガン reborn as a Japanese politician, the odds of having a "Morning in Japan" moment seem pretty long. Bringing down the bunch of DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) amateurs and Finance Ministry draftees that make up our current government would be a very fine start, however. There are a few folks left in the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party; the old guard now in opposition) that could do some good, and there is hope that the YP (lit. "Everyone's Party" but commonly rendered as Your Party) may someday grow into a proper limited-government party that could take on most of the issues in Problem One, above. Neither are really ready, but either are head-and-shoulders more able than the current crew. For that to happen, it will be necessary to hang on the current administration all the blame they deserve and for the electorate of Japan to realize how horrible the situation actually is. Faced with a sense of "we can't be broke; I still have cheques!" upper middle class, that's going to take some educating... but it is possible. One can undermine all the DPJ ploys of offering grants to families with children by making general prosperity and less burdensome government the promise; financially secure citizens make commitments that the fearful do not.

It is time to show some serious fortitude and either fish or cut bait about the national electricity supply: Either go through an upheaval in the Utility sector that turns the regulators of the nuclear industry into bulldogs (rather than the lap dogs they are currently seen to be) and then go all-in on building *lots* of the newest model and safest nuclear power stations... yes that would be the order required; the Japanese public is prone to panic and nuclear power after Fukushima Daiichi is pretty much top of the panic scale... Or dive in with whole heart into the brave new world of Natural Gas as a generator fuel of choice and spend the money now while the JPY is so strong to lock in opportunities in any of the many places where shale gas production is remaking the world energy market. Don't let various Carbon-reduction schemes further injure the economy, or go spending or encouraging any deeper moves into any of the new "green" tech power generation ideas unless they make stand-alone economic good sense right now. Both of those are luxuries, and until Japan is back on the course of wealth (if then), they need be ignored.

Realize a strong JPY is needed this week or month, but not necessarily much after that. This is a risky one... Devalue. The fact so far is that the BoJ (Nippon Ginkou; Bank of Japan) has been persistently engaged in monetary expansion trying to stem the JPY rise for years as well as bail out the Government's awful budget choices and has done rather little of any use in the process. Changing the course of a currency isn't a nice thing to do (cf. the intentional destruction of the value of the US$) and only the most powerful central banks (cf. US Federal Reserve System) can hope to get away with doing it without severe reprisals. That said, as cited in the article linked above, the current government bond situation in Japan is totally dependent on unsustainably low interest rates (~1% on a 10-year note) and a move by bonds to a historically low twice that much would destroy the government's finances... and analysts are seeing a devaluation risk in order to get out from under that sword. How much? Try a JPY40 devaluation vs. the US$. Wham. Welcome back to the "natural" ~115Y/$ trading range of the last two decades. Fair question, though: Can they get away with it? Triggering a full-on currency war helps no one in the end. If a race for the floor doesn't happen, then there is still the reputation damage with foreigners holding the currency (that would be PRChina, for one). It has to happen all at once, too, or foreign exchage speculation can undermine much of the hoped-for gain. Debasing the currency has lots of other risks internally too. But something needs to happen and "easing" isn't getting the job done.

There is certainly more to each of these items, above, and I encourage discussion in the comments about them.

There are certainly other things that will have to play out as well. Like Europe and the USA, Japan has an absurd Higher Education bubble that while not the burden on taxpayers and loan-demanding students that those cases are, is a spectacular expense that generates remarkably little benefit in applicable workforce skills. The conundrum of rising medical demand and yet not enough students willing to train to be doctors is also in the mix. If you have thoughts on what else is in play, do feel free to discuss that as well.

But, to wrap up the hypothesis, I offer you this: A Japan of declining population is a wonderful opportunity to make a better lifestyle and to remove some of the pressure our overcrowded civilization has placed on our limited land. If that meant a hundred years from now Japan is a rich population of 50 million people with the financial means to restore much of what has been changed to support 120 million, *and* rich enough to engage in the luxury of chosing appropriate technologies rather than only necessary ones, that would be fine... Or we might see a hundred year swing of the demographic pendulum back toward 80~90 million as the population regains confidence that there will be enough wealth and opportunity for generations of people to thrive... But we aren't going to get there if we can't get a handle on economic growth sufficent to generate the wealth that either offering requires.

The problem of the economy and the social conditions it creates is the place our focus need be directed. The rest, as they say, will follow.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Morning Push

So, another Sunday has come...

Time for an Open Thread, as usual.

Also as usual, the rules still apply. In particular, Play Nice.


A couple of site admin matters this week:

I lost a couple of days midweek to computer troubles. All better now, and thank you for looking in while I was letting important topics slip by... well, they won't all get away but I'm not posting on them today.


If you notice any format problems with this or earlier posts, "thank" Blogger. They pulled a massive change to all the features behind the scenes at this 'blog and the new text editor/entry page is just one of the problems they created by this utterly unnecessary set of changes. At least you can change the option of how it interprets line breaks...

Yeah, I've complained. Any bets on if they'll bother change anything?



Thank you All for coming here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Guilty, Not Guilty

Two cases, unrelated other than that they have both been discussed here in the past. Guilty: Charles Taylor.
International judges have found former Liberian leader Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war, at his trial in The Hague. Taylor has been on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone for almost five years. He was accused of backing rebels who killed tens of thousands during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war. But he was cleared of ordering their crimes.
Not Guilty: Ozawa Ichirou (I. Ozawa)
Influential Japanese politician Ichiro Ozawa has been found not guilty in a funding scandal. Mr Ozawa, dubbed Japan's "shadow shogun" because of the backroom power he wields, had been accused of violating political fundraising laws.
Oh well, burden of proof and all that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

and anyone else (2)

U.S. Embassy in Kenya has notified U.S. nationals of "a possible attack on Nairobi hotels and prominent Kenyan government buildings".

The BBC has the report here with some context, but nothing more than what regular CompHyp readers already know.

Being that (1) the possible target list is of places commonly visited by most any foreigner in the city, (2) the likely attacker would be al-Shabaab, and (3) previous attacks have been by grenade and car bomb, let's expand this to a Travel Advisory for anyone there or going there in the near future.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Not unrelated

From the "must read" files for the day:

O'Grady: The Argentine Way of Business (Mary Anastasia O'Grady), and...

The pain in Spain could hit worldwide economy (Robert J. Samuelson).

The effects of these two things are not unrelated.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Old and New, that is.

As we do mostly World Affairs here, both of these mentioned are related to that.

First, an example of the good a major network can do by sending (or allowing to go on their own) a well-known journalist (or reporter, or presenter) out to cover an out-of-way and frankly difficult story:

Greta Van Sustren in the Nuba Mountains. Lots of related posts up and down her 'blog.

h/t to CompHyp friend Adam Housley (who, like GVS, is at FOXNews)


Then, an absolutely wonderful telling of the good done by New Media assets... individuals or acting in concert... to help a cause succeed. 'Fighting Keyboardists' if you will, but not in model of the old (joking about) 'Chairborne Infantry'. Again, these are people who either got out there or got connected with those out there and provided invaluable information support:

People Power 2.0, How civilians helped win the Libyan information war.

Over the years we've seen some amazing individual efforts by 'bloggers working and communicating with efforts far from home to try and do some good. Jane Novak's awesome efforts about Yemen over the years come to mind (although she's been off-line this last month; hope she is well). The cooperation we got here at CompHyp from other folks during the Honduras autogolpe was another example.

With a bit of luck, we'll be doing more for the good, soon.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday Open Push


Open Thread

Play Nice while I'm obliged, please.

Friday, April 20, 2012


In an effort to both get back to talking about things 'Venezuela' here at CompHyp, what with the upcoming Presidential election (at least on paper) an opportunity to bring down the House of Hugo, here's a story worth your attention.

From Daniel at Venezuela News and Views:
Former Justice Aponte Aponte has fled the country after being forced out of office by the Chavistas, is apparently in the care of the US DEA, and is rumored to have started telling tales of the official corruption and narcotrafficking... and supposedly has brought out some evidence.

Daniel has a little more, for readers who understand Spanish. Aponte telling his tale to the media.

Back in February, Roger F. Noriega had this article on a potential narco-coup in Venezuela. Given the faction-splitting that has been going on inside the Chavista leadership, it all brings to mind a possible explanation as to how the heck Aponte could get out of the country, and with any meaningfully damaging documents to prove his claims...

...he got out because someone wanted him to get out.

So here is today's mystery question: Who has the most to gain of the Chavistas-in-waiting (waiting for Hugo to pass on) by Aponte bringing down international damnation upon those who are getting rich skimming (and running) the narcotrafficking through Venezuela?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Now it is official

Earlier in the week here at CompHyp there was a thread titled Declaration in all but name.

Now it is official.

Sudan declares war on South Sudan:
Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, Thursday declared war on South Sudan, vowing to topple its government.
We've seen some similar conflicts recently; Ethiopia-Eritrea have a persistent border conflict, but... that's not being fought over a series of oil fields that are *vital* to the wealth of both parties.

This fight is going to be ugly.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

and anyone else

Reuters Thompson AlertNet has just run up this emergency warning to U.S. citizens in Abuja, Nigeria...

...which is based on this offical message from the Embassy. Key Point:
The U.S. Embassy has received information that Boko Haram may be planning attacks in Abuja, Nigeria, including against hotels frequently visited by Westerners. The U.S. government has no additional information regarding the timing of these possible attacks. The Nigerian government is aware of the threat and is actively implementing security measures.
Considering that the threat is (1) regarding Boko Haram, (2) targeting "Westerners" in public locations, and (3) Boko Haram has proven to be quite indiscriminate in its targeting profile, let's just call this a Travel Advisory to just about anyone planning an optional trip to Abuja.

If you have to go, be smart as you always should... and invest in a little extra smart this time around.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


The title refers to the Argentine Oil business, majority owned by Spain's Repsol...

...until now. (link via PJMedia as FT is partly paywalled)

Classic Peronist thuggery by the Argentine government: A legislative decree nationalizing all the Repsol shares on an uncompensated (at least as presented) basis.

Spain, reacting to this both as proxy for Repsol *and* because of the massive position of Spanish and other EU banks in Repsol is rightfully furious. Here's the BBC version of that story:
Promising a "clear and overwhelming" response, Spain summoned the Argentine ambassador to express its concern.
...and were this "the old days", said ambassador would shortly be headed home with an ultimatum "backed by the sovereign power" of Spain. That's *probably* not the message this time. What is in the package, however, is almost certainly statement of a joint Spanish-EU opposition to the nationalization of YPS shares (and only the foreign-owned shares) by Argentina and the implication of what the EU could do to Argentina's export markets by sanction.

Meanwhile, real harm has already resulted: Repsol-YPS CDS Surge (CDS being Credit Default Swaps).

Argentina is rapidly managing to offend most all of their trading partners and what few friends they have left. The Chavistas are still on their side, but that's like having the Mafia think highly of you... maybe helpful, but rarely a good character reference. Oh, I guess we have to count inept but vaguely supportive guys, too.

The rest of us, however, would like to see Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner take some lumps for this latest outrage.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Declaration in all but name

Declaration of War, that is.

The BBC reports Sudan has declared South Sudan an enemy state.
Sudanese MPs have voted unanimously to brand South Sudan "an enemy".

"The government of South Sudan is an enemy and all Sudanese state agencies have to treat her accordingly," the resolution said.

A Khartoum information ministry official told the BBC the move was linked to South Sudan's seizure last week of the Heglig oil field.

The South had accused Sudan of launching attacks on its territory from the frontier oil field.
UPI has a similar report. Scheduled peace talks as part of the border demarcation requirements and the 2005 agreement that led to South Sudan's independence have been cancelled.

The only question at this point is whether either nation has the means to actually prosecute a war, and over how wide a front.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Open Thread

Time for an Open topic thread to round out the week.

The usual rules apply, foremost amongst them: Play Nice.

If you are of the mind to click on a link, here's one that plays to this author's interest in history: Who do the British consider to have been their greatest foe in history?

I'd call it a fair cop; the famous line about "will kill you in your sleep on Christmas" remains a favorite of mine.


All else seems to be going about as well as can be expected here.

As always, thank you All for coming here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Not getting any better

While the obvious observation as to what would make Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) a better place would be the end of Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF thugocracy, that isn't going to happen easily any time soon. Rumors to the contrary are unfortunately still just rumors.

Meanwhile, things are not getting any better. Please compare and contrast the following:

The Zimbabwe Crisis, as of 2010. Agriculture in ruins; a breadbasket nation dependent on food aid.

The Food Crop Shortfall in Zimbabwe, 2012. Maize (corn; mealie) production down year-on-year again; wheat shortfall near total. Policy continues to compound disaster.

There is no money in the national budget for relief, either. Yet the bank accounts and diamond hoards in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong continue, by all reports, to grow. If the ZANU-PF loses its grip on power, the claw-back of that is going to rival the pursuit of Marcos' millions (Philippines)... but that very reason seems to be why the ZANU-PF will continue to fight to keep power no matter the cost to the people.

May such an opportunity be denied them, and the people dance on *their* graves.

Friday, April 13, 2012

and Guinea-Bissau goes

Coup season is apparently upon us and the In-Box at ECOWAS peace-enforcement must be getting pretty full right now...

Guinea-Bissau, as foreshadowed here at CompHyp in previous analysis, has undergone a military take-over.

Yes, it is the real thing. Troops have seized the interim President and perhaps more importantly the retiring Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, who was forecast to be the most likely winner of the coming Presidential election. Oh, and he was campaigning on a plan to cut the military...

...and that hasn't been well received by the uniformed set, to say the least. In fact, they believed he was about to set "peacekeeping troops" on them:
In a statement read on state radio on Friday morning, the military said it had acted to halt what it called foreign intervention.

It alleged the interim government had done a secret deal to allow Angolan troops to wipe out Guinea-Bissau's army.
As far as rumormongering goes, that's a pretty good motivator for a troop insurrection.

Here's a longer report from Reuters Africa that, while written a bit earlier in the events, has more information on the Narcostate and Narcoterror issues involved in all this.

There are some players that need to be eliminated (politically) from the picture before things start getting better in Guinea-Bissau. This isn't how. This only lets one group of kleptocrats push out the other.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


North Korea earned a host of charges about sanction-busting and violating UNSC resolutions with their "satellite launch" plans...

...and today, they added littering to the charge. The launch failed around first stage separation.

Oh, and the embarrassment is pretty deep.

Scarborough Shoal

There's a problem down south...

...the Philippines Navy caught eight PRChinese fishing vessels looting taking catch along the Scarborough Shoal area of the South China Sea. They made a boarding and examination, finding full holds of illegally (by everyone else's rules other than the PRC) taken catch, but before arrests and confiscations could be made, two PRC "Observation Vessels" intervened. The resulting standoff has gone on...

More, with analysis, at EagleSpeak.

...and today, some changes happened. A Philippines Coast Guard vessel arrived, allowing the warship to back off a bit, and there are reports of "diplomatic" activities. Yeah, I bet; real diplomatic of the PRC about such matters... They have reportedly sent a third vessel and I'll wager it isn't a parley gig.

Do note the maps in both Eagle1's post and the BBC link... the lines labeled "UNCLOS EEZ"... and the other lines marked "Chinese claims".

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


When reports came in of yet another large earthquake of Aceh, Indonesia, it looked like things were going to be pretty bad. 8.6 magnitude and only about 500km southwest, out in the Indian Ocean in a very bad place for generating tsunamis.

Now, a bit after those reports, major wire services are all reporting (for example)
"There have been no immediate reports of damage or casualties."
...even with an aftershock above 8 magnitude, things look to have been mostly survivable. Unconfirmed pictures from Aceh show some damage, though.

There was a tsunami generated by the main 'quake, but it was small (10cm at one location in Thailand).


Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Everything old is new again... in this case being the United Kingdom and Japan are back in the defense cooperation business. Not quite a return to the old alliance, but a very positive step.

Oh, you thought UK PM David Cameron's visit to Japan was some high-level summitry on some matter of International Importance? Well, trade is important, and ~40 members of Cameron's entourage are business representatives... but most of them are looking for Defense deals... and it looks like the deal is done:
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his British counterpart David Cameron agreed Tuesday to pursue joint development of weapons and equipment, marking the first such development for Japan with a country other than its main ally, the United States.
Here's a longer version of the story, although written just before the visit:
"I hope to discuss these issues with Prime Minister (Yoshihiko) Noda so that we can pave the way for our defense ministers to agree more formal cooperation when they next meet," Cameron said.

"I believe stronger cooperation on defense will provide benefits for both countries in terms of jobs and investment as well as reducing the cost of defense equipment upon which we both rely," the prime minister added.

Britain will be only the second country to collaborate with Japan in this sector. Tokyo and Washington had cooperated on several defense projects as exceptions to the ban before it was lifted in December.

According to British media reports, the agreement on joint weapons development between London and Tokyo will initially focus on nonlethal equipment and could lead to Japan investing in several projects including the purchase of combat ships and helicopters.
Combat Ships, you say... hmm. Given the cost of the F-35 program with the U.S.A. and the loss last year (in the earthquake/tsunami) of an entire squadron of Japan's extremely expensive F-2 fighters, you'd at least think that the possibility of reopening discussions on Combat Aircraft would be on the table...

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Pige gets played

Former Japan souridaijin ("Prime Minister") Hatoyama Yukio (Y. Hatoyama), known derisively as "the Pige" here at CompHyp (Pige... pigeon; the family name means 'Pigeon Mountain'), hasn't figured out that the main benefit to his resignation from the premiership was that the world didn't have to listen to his loopy schemes and prevarications any more. Yes, I'm being mean. Sadly, the man deserves it:

He goes and runs off playing self-appointed diplomat, goes to Iran and says some very foolish things even though he was admonished not to go...
Hatoyama, who is visiting the country in a personal capacity to make efforts toward a peaceful resolution of the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program, will meet Sunday morning with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before leaving the country in the evening.

Hatoyama visited Iran despite the Japanese government's concerns that it could result in "dual diplomacy".
Then, for doing so, he got the 'you shouldn't have lecture' from *his own party's officers*...
"The (Japanese) government is taking a consistent position that it would be better if he had not gone (to Iran) at a time like this, even if it is a personal trip," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters.
And THEN he had the gall to claim that Iranian reports of his meeting were "completely fabricated"...
The (Iranian) presidential office quoted Hatoyama as saying the IAEA's treatment of certain countries including Iran is ''unfair,'' but the former Japanese leader told reporters Monday night upon returning to Tokyo that Tehran ''completely fabricated'' his comments and he finds that ''regrettable.''

''I have made no comments that deviate from the stance of the Japanese government,'' Hatoyama said.
So one of two things just happened:

Either the Pige went and said something he thought the Iranians wouldn't publicize, or; The Pige was just used as a propaganda tool by the Iranians because they know he can't make any counterclaim stick.

The first would be entirely in character, and damn foolish; The second would be (for the Iranian) entirely in character, and (for the Pige) damn foolish.

Note the similarity of the two possibilities in regard to Y. Hatoyama's conduct.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The ol' one-two

Here we go again: NorKs being NorKs.

North Korea has moved its "satellite launcher" ballistic missile test into launch position, on track for a launch between 12 and 16.April.

North Korea is also reported to be likely in the final stages of preparing a third nuclear test explosion at the same site as previous fizzles... er... tests.

OK, to quote another thread, so much for negotiations.

Open question to the UNSC, the United Nations Command in Korea, and to the governments of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States: So what are you going to do about it?

Further open question to Russia and the PRChinese: What are you going to do about it, or will you let this get hung on you for aiding and abetting?

'Close' was deadly enough

For those that have followed CompHyp, and really anyone who has seen international news over the last years, the group Boko Haram is a familiar one. This Islamist insurgency, mostly in Nigeria, was a vastly under-rated threat when they first surfaced and efforts to wipe them out have had decidedly mixed result.

Over the winter, the group launched a Christmas bombing campaign that caused significant death and destruction, and once again they are at it trying their murderous ways on a Christian holiday. The first bomb report came in from the city of Kaduna, where Easter celebrations at a Christian Church were targeted... that car bomb went off at a security checkpoint near the church... at least five dead...

... and now a related second bomb report has come in. There is some disagreement as to the total number of dead and injured, but at least 6 and 18 seems consistent.

No, Boko Haram hasn't (yet) issued any formal claim. Being that they are the only game in town, however, this is not a challenge to attribute the attacks to them.

So much for negotiations.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday Open Push

Yeah, yeah, usually comes on Sunday...

Not happening.

Here's an Open Thread for you All while I have some time with family. As always, the usual rules apply, specifically: Play Nice.

See you on the 'morrow, and thanks for coming here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

and a cautionary note

Since the announcement of the sentencing of Viktor Bout earlier, the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation (MID) has out out a statement to the press about how they do not see the matter resolved. *NOTE: Statement was apparently a press statement and is not as of yet available on the MID site in English.*

Sky News UK, just to pick one of the reports out there, has it like this:
"The Russian foreign ministry views the US court verdict sentencing Viktor Bout to 25 years in prison as baseless and biased," the ministry said in a statement.

"(We will make) all possible efforts to return Viktor Bout to the Motherland, using for this all the existing international legal mechanisms."
Noble of them, standing up for a citizen of their republic; wish more countries had done so when Westerners got left to take the fall in places like Angola and Equatorial Guinea back in the day... but...

...the honest observation is that Viktor Bout was doing what he was doing with the help of a lot of powerful interests. They want him home and back to work, or at least in a place where he isn't pressured to say what he knows.

The most legitimate observation is that the MID will, through legal challenges and diplomatic linkage, try to get Bout sent to "serve his time" back in Russia.

Less sporting of them would be to make certain that one or more Americans working in Russia is "caught doing something bad".

Of course, from the point of view of any post-Soviet 'crime' interests that Bout was hooked up with, he is and has been since his arrest simply a detail that needs to be eliminated, but that is a danger really only to Viktor Bout right now.

Consider the second above a cautionary note, friends who are working in and with Russian interests: That deal that just broke your way that looks too good to be true... probably is. Watch yourselves.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

five and twenty

Note to CompHyp Friend Will... looks like pre-sentencing gamemanship was for 'naught. Viktor Bout gets 25 years.

Congratulations to Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara.

Congrats as well to the DEA-and-friends team that pulled the original sting.

Hell, as long as we are waving around the 'at-a-boy's, congratulations to Journalists and Investigators Douglas Farah and Stephan Braun, whose 2007 work publicized the role of Bout as a modern "Merchant of Death", and who have waited a very long time for this day to come.

Drink up, gents. Now let's go get some more bad guys.

Kim-the-newest base visit foreshadows trouble

Pretty much every time the Kim-in-power in North Korea visits some outlying military base and gives a statement (veiled as a speech) proclaiming doom for the enemies of the DPRK (North Korea), something bad happens. Consider it a "tell" of the crudest kind.

Well, guess what?

Shortly after this report of a visit to a navy base specializing in coastal submarine activities, where Kim-the-newest declared the following...:
SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his troops to bury enemies at sea if provoked, Pyongyang's state media reported, amid tensions over his country's planned rocket launch.
...other reports came in via the Korea Herald stating that
Several North Korean submarines have disappeared after departing from bases on the eastern coast.

According to reports, three or four North Korean submarines recently departed from bases on the east coast and have since remained outside South Korean surveillance.
Consider this a very strong foreshadow of trouble to come.

Also, consider conducting some really realistic anti-submarine warfare drills (with live weapons and targets of opportunity) along the Sea of Japan coast of South Korea. Now. Not later. NOW.


h/t Galrahn via Twitter for setting me looking into this.

About that $10 million bounty

That being the US$10 million bounty on capture/confirmed demise of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT; 'Army of the Good'; Army of the Righteous; a Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist organization) boss Hafiz Saeed...

...Thomas Joscelyn for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies writing at The Long War Journal has a particularly troubling explanation as to why, why now, and why so much.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Another back door

O. Reich and E. Vazquez on How Ecuador's immigration policy helps al Qaeda.

Obviously, not just AQ. What this really is the exit point of the Iran-Venezuela-Ecuador and Dubai-Russia-Cuba-Ecuador pipelines... and the U.S.A. still trivially accessible from Ecuador. Here's the money quote:
While there is no evidence to show that the Correa government established the policy of "open borders" in an effort to attract criminal organizations, that has been the result.
The only thing worse, from a regional security point of view, than having a failed state as a neighbor is having one that is willfully aiding the enemies of civilization. Time to close those tunnels, indeed.


...Malema, not Caesar, although not for want of trying. Oddly enough, it was accusing someone else of wanting to be a dictator that just drew him his fourth suspension from the ANC (The African National Congress as reformed to be a South African political party). Disrespecting the Party and the President, for just a couple of the charges.

Yes, that's how the ANC works; still more in common with its roots in the SACP (South African Communist Party; just as bad as it sounds) than a real democratic political party although in fairness, much has changed for the better. It's that "change for the better" that is actually imperiled by characters like Julius Malema. He's stated previously that his role model is Robert Mugabe... and he means it... and it is his personal goal to live it.

The ANC leadership tried to put on a show of unity but when two of the top six in party may well be in the pocket of Malema's little political-insurgency, that's not going to stand up to much observation.

Watch carefully how President Jacob Zuma handles this from here. He and some of his clique really made Julius Malema a political force, and now they are the ones standing between Malema and what his ego demands. Defusing this is going to be either (1) terribly complex and troubling, or (2) political martyrdom for Malema... and those choices presume it is still possible to defuse...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rain Delay (Updated2)

We are getting slammed with a good old fashioned full gale today here in Japan. Massive winds and rain pulled up from the south bringing the weather systems over the Pacific onshore.

I do mean "slammed". Sheesh. (link to English language source)

Winds 90~100 kph (54~60 mph), briefly sustained, and waves on the coast up to 10 meters (34 feet).

All this because of a severe low pressure area over the western part of the Sea of Japan. Clearly, this is because North Korea sucks er... difficult.

All joking aside, it may mean that we're down here for a while if the already strained electric power grid takes another hit. No real danger as we're safe enough here inland, but it could impair 'blogging.


Update: OK, we're still here and intact. It was pretty spectacular last night, but no obvious signs of anything major damaged around here. A few trees down, advertising signs blown away, that sort of thing. Folks over on the coast had to deal with a lot more (like a fair number of big trucks rolled over by the wind). Still blowing a bit, but life looks headed back to normal.


Update2: The BBC has a wrap-up of counting up the damage today. Could be worse; could be Dallas (my sympathies to our Texas friends).

Monday, April 2, 2012

...and Now.

There is serious evidence that between envy at other's success and their traditional bullheadedness, the Argies (as a Nation-State) haven't learned their lesson.

Besides the fact that the persistence of any Argentine claim to the Falkland Islands is only slightly less defensible or precedent-based than the (*former*) Indonesian claim to Timor Leste (East Timor)...

...I'll defend that in detail, if you'd like. Remember, I'm as revanchist as they come *when there is an actual historical claim to territory*, I'll gladly go chapter-and-verse on why this "claim" is Nationalist claptrap and has been since Argentina managed by some grace of heaven to liberate itself from the Spanish Empire...

...anyway besides that, the fact is they tried aggression and ended up with all the moral justification for their position that Saddam Hussein had when his army was sitting in Kuwait. And then they got what was coming to them, even without an Article 5 NATO intervention or a UNSC authorization of force. Just little 'ol tired Britain (and a tiny handful of help) gave them just what they deserved and frankly they got off lightly with the only reprisal outside the campaign on the islands was the sinking of the General Belgrano... Yes, that's heartless of me to say so. Doesn't change the fact that had the Argentines pulled a stunt like that on a U.S. possession they would have been picking up the pieces of every airplane, rowboat and army barracks from Buenos Aires to Tierra del Fuego. Don't ask what Ivan would have done to them had it been their collection of turf and sheep.

But these days, Argentina (again, the Nation-State, not necessarily the ordinary citizen) seems intent on playing again... at least politically. With a steady growth in GDP for the islands and the recent petroleum exploration success, Falklands is on its way to returning the favor to the homeland for all the lives and all the years defending the place. Argentina, on the other hand, remains mired in one of the longest and ugliest economic collapses of the last century, vastly worse and longer lived than the current unpleasantness in the U.S.A. and Europe. The current Argie management, the regime of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Yes, she married her way into politics. It's a local tradition after all.) is part patron and part client of Hugo Chavez' schemes of anti-just-about-anyone-halfway-decent Gangster Totalitarianism Bolivarian Socialism, and living up to that means having enough ego and envy to parade around making threats against anyone that one might have a grudge against. Okay, fine. Argies are pretty good at grudge-holding, but that still doesn't make any sense of schemes and plots that require rather more ability (and weapons) than they have. On the other hand, that does fit Hugo's M.O. pretty well... big talk but really not capable of beating up on anyone three weight-classes down.

The U.K. side of things has been steady and measured (and more than Cristina and her political henchlings deserve, frankly). With the construction and constant operation of RAF Mount Pleasant, and a fairly good plan for rapid re-enforcement, there is also the stick available in case calm words and a few carrots don't keep the peace. None the less, it pays to be prepared.

In the words of Sara Jones (widow of Lt Col Herbert 'H' Jones VC OBE, 2PARA ):
"We stood up for what we believed in. We didn’t like to see a small country overrun by somebody who had very little claim to it."

She told The Daily Telegraph: "The islanders have always been fiercely British and want to stay that way. I would like to believe that we would, if we could, do it again."

If you've not heard of 'H' before, this is of marginal value in telling about the man.

caveat: this and the Wikipedia links above are only for general reference. Please check all actual citations.


Thirty years ago today.

Nothing much to celebrate except that the lads and the Kelpers made a good try of an impossible situation.

...but, the famous parting words of "Don't make yourself too comfy mate, we'll be back" eventually proved true enough.

We'll be celebrating on 14.June, though.


Personal note to Mum: I'd wager you remember my catching the fleet reports on BBC shortwave in the days just after this, disturbing the office and all. Then again, I didn't exactly mention why at the time. ((wry grin))

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Morning Open

Yes, it's that time again, time for the Sunday Open thread.

The usual rules apply (all of them), but in particular: Play Nice.

April Fool's Warning ~ don't even try it, wiseguys.

As always, thanks to All for coming here.