Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Georgia and Russia and Investigative Reports

Let's see...what is worse, stupidity or breaking international law? Would the second have occurred without the first or were they mutually exclusive and events would have progressed more or less toward the same conclusion.

In any event, I'm making a judgement call. The breach of international law identified in by those investigating the Russian-Georgian 5 day war is worse because it was a set-up (entrapment, if you wish) by the well armed prosecutor, Russia, taking advantage of the incredibly self-pitying and stupid Saakashvili in Georgia; the Russian's knew he would rise to the bait.

The investigative report was even handed; but, the breach of international law by Russia in, first, distributing citizenship papers and passports widely (as has been done in Crimea) and then seizing territory of the adjoining state during a civil war to "protect" it's "citizens" is only marginally better than Nazi Germany's actions in Czechoslovakia and Austria.

That being said, the inconceivable stupidity of Saakashvili in rising to the bait set out by Russia should disqualify him from running the country.

Development Project Design

I need to go into this in more detail later as I need to run off to a meeting. But, I have found, more frequently than not, that project terms of reference seem to be designed based on premises that omit key issues.

An example is a project designed to streamline the activities of a government agency performing an important public service on the sole basis that all the problems rest with the target agency, when they do not.

Like computers, many government agencies can only work with what they are given. Garbage in...garbage out. Don't blame the computer. Designing interventions that only address a small part of the problem is worse than doing nothing at all. More later.

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French Debt

This can't be sustainable:

In the second quarter of 2009, France’s public debt grew to 73.9 percent of the gross domestic product... (Agence France-Presse)

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Question of the Day - USAID

Why hasn't the President Obama nominated someone to run USAID yet? Yes, there is a lot on the plate just now, including trying to ignore treasonous, poisonous and insane remarks from lunatic Republican Congresscritters, developing strategies for Iran and Afghanistan and passing a health care bill that does not reward the insurance companies by allowing them to continue to rape consumers in a non-market economy structure.

But, there is something to be said for getting the easy stuff out of the way in a hurry. And selecting someone to run with USAID - actually quite important - is the easy stuff.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Remnants of Neo-cons put on notice

* (en) Turkey Location * (he) מיקום טורקיהImage via Wikipedia

Just in case the pathetic dregs of the neo-cons have missed the point because they can't hear over their incessant drumbeating for war with Iran there is this.

Characterizing an attack on Iran as "insanity" is probably too soft a term. Understand one thing - the US needs Turkey for a variety of reasons. Everyone got the point during the Bush Iraq War of Choice when Turkey turned down a troop transit request. Turkey is a key - if not the key - player in the Middle East. It is best to pay attention.

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The Alternate Economic Summit

The two-day meeting on Venezuela's Margarita Island this past weekend which mirrored the G-20 summit, addressed a wide range of concerns, from hunger in Africa to the economic crisis and demands for reming the United Nations. That's all well and good. However, having Hugo Chavez and Muammar el-Qaddafi take the leading roles is not.

One of them sees everything exclusively through the lens of anti-Americanism and self-promotion, while the other has frequently professed a desire to form a United States of Africa led by him - which is not about to happen for a variety of geo-political reasons. These are not the leaders of the South. Chavez has a proclivity for childish behavior coupled with clear tyrannical tendencies while Qadaffi is, well, himself.

Chavez has been struggling to grasp a leadership role outside of his small circle of supporters in South and Central America. However, his policy of nationalizing every major industry in sight is not widespread in the region, much less the world. Although he may be largely correct by blasting "...the empires of the North ...the empires of Europe, ...the U.S. empire..." for past economic and military colonialism, he is not the leader of any South/South reform movement.

The meeting also offered Qadaffi the chance to grandstand and rant - some of which was truly bizarre. Again. He exhibited his penchant for theater claiming (correctly) that "colonialism has stolen our riches." Unfortunately, colonialism of the type he refers ended some time ago and, in any event, I don't see him waxing sadly about Libyan oil and gas sales helped mostly through investment by those same former colonialists. He also wanted to reopen investigations regarding assassinations within the UN structure - JFK was mentioned.

His denunciation of the "politics of the club" used by some nations against others was not clearly translated though. Did he mean "club" as in weapon or "club" as in something he will never be allowed to join. If the first, then I suppose that the war in Iraq and the Russo/Georgian war fit the definition. So what?

Quadaffi then, clearly miffed, personalized the issue claiming to be humiliated by the fact that his delegation had to travel 20 hours to reach New York. Well, living in a tent is his privilege. Dropping it in places where he is not wanted, is not. I'm sure the Russians were amused when he pitched it in Red Square - but not for long. After complaining about the 20 hour commute, he called for more air routes between Southern Hemisphere nations - a policy which the beleaguered airline industry would likely not jump at immediately.

Both leaders demanded reform to the UN. OK, fair enough. But, Quadaffi went so far as to claim that the Security Council format is unsustainable because of the right of veto. Well, unfortunately the countries on the Security Council, which includes rotating membership from the General Assembly like Libya, prefer it that way. In any event, the entire concept of the Security Council was based on the major powers taking the permanent seats and not Zimbabwe or Burma. If anything, I can certainly agree the SC should be expanded to include as permanent members India, Brazil and Japan, for example. Beyond that, giving the Mugabe's of the world a chance to set international policy for the planet is laughable.

Others at this meeting, such as Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, were less flamboyant and far more pragmatic. She simply expressed hope that Africa will expand its potential to produce and export food and - more to the point - said her government was willing to provide technology and expertise to help.

Chavez, for his part, also promised investment in Africa. But, much like his promise to supply Iran with gasoline, this is more poor rhetoric than reality since his budget is in shambles due to his economic policies and low oil prices.

Given the recurrent attempts to hijack the under-privileged, under-served and under-represented southern part of the planet, perhaps it is time for the Non-Aligned Movement to reinvigorate itself. Formed during the Cold War, it seems to have lost its way after the collapse of the Soviet Union. After all, all of Africa, except Morocco, are members and so is Venezuela. The problem for Chavez and Quadaffi, but no one else, is that they do not lead the organization and will not likely have a say in its leadership for some time. But, it includes economic powerhouses - India and South East Asia - which could constructively lead an alternative non-political, economic program to the IMF (albeit on a smaller scale) if they really wanted to do so. But then it is politics, not economic development that motivates Chavez, so the Non-Aligned Movement would need to somehow work with or around his type.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why Biden was Right about Russia

President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Photograph...Image via Wikipedia

It's Eid week-end in Tanzania and I'm essentially very lazy. So, instead of writing something on my own regarding Russia's psyche, go here.

I think the analysis is essentially correct, but doesn't go far enough. The Russian people have always been afraid - of chaos, invasion, perceived insults - while simultaneously feeling un-respected. This is a bad combination for any country, but more so for one that became accustomed to throwing its weight around. It breeds less than free societies - and we can see that reversion to a czarist style government beginning with Putin. The Russians like it and we should not pretend otherwise.

Having said that, Russia has very good reason to be afraid. A paranoid world-view does not make it untrue. Russia has been invaded by the Mongols (successfully), France, Germany (twice), Sweden - the list goes on. The ordinary people want to feel safe - whether the reality is different or not.

So, although it is useful to deal cautiously with Russia, it is important to see their view of the world - particularly in their immediate vicinity.

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Ahmadinejad - Again

TEHRAN, IRAN - JUNE 14:  Iran's President Mahm...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Iran has a 3,000 year history. Having someone like Ahmadinejad running the show is tragic. His venemous speach at the Friday sermon entitled "Jerusalem Day" was enriched with some of the worst anti-Semetic remarks to-date, including a complete denial of the Holocost. Juan Cole has the best analysis, as usual.

Despite all the hate erupting from Ahmadinejad's mouth, fortunately he is not in control of Iran's foreign policy and certainly has done little to assist the Palestinians so his support does not ring true - and they know it. It will be important for the US and the West in general not to over-react to Iranian pretensions of power coupled with Ahmadinejad's views. Israel needs to show restraint, and likely will refrain from any military action - which would need American assent in any case.

Ahmadinejad will not be there forever.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

BMD mania...

Yeah, what he said....

Why are we afflicted with this crap from Goldfarb....?

Iran, Israel, Russia, US

I am still curious as to what was discussed - if that's the right word - during the less than secret meeting in Moscow between Medvedev and Netenyahu. Iranian negotiating tactics (delay, hesitate and produce long but meaningless reports) are normally very successful. Indeed, the latest round of proposed talks regarding its nuclear program has been delayed beyond the meeting of the UN General Assembly. They were supposed to start prior to the session.

Now that Iran says they will talk about anything except their nuclear program, it seems to me that the meeting will need to take place just for the sake of appearances. What happens next?

Russia probably believes Washington will do nothing. Washington will work with Europe to impose sanctions (gasoline is the most likely target). Russia and China will not go along. Israel, under Netenyahu is not even proximately involved in negotiations regarding sanctions. This diplomatic gamesmanship among the parties could blow up in all our faces if Netenyahu decides that Israel needs to attack Iran. If that happens, oil prices will shoot up to Pluto - and that would be the least of the ramifications.

This could turn out to be a mess mostly because all the parties may be misreading the motives and possible actions of each other.

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Alphabet Soup in Turkey

OK. I'm not at all sure that the plan to include the letters Q, W and X to the Turkish alphabet which are necessary to the Kurdish language is as dangerous to the Turkish nation as portrayed by the opposition. Nevetheless, as reported in Hurriyet "the move was harshly criticized by the opposition Wednesday".

“It’s impossible to include such letters in the alphabet according to our Constitution and existing laws,” Hakkı Süha Okay, deputy parliamentary group leader of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, told reporters Wednesday.

I've just finished reading the independent report on EU accession by Turkey, which was not favorable to the EU - or some of the EU at least. But this constant patrolling of the border of the oppostion's damaged self-esteem is not helpful.

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No BMD for Poland/Czech Republic

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the BMD system proposed by Bush (and which never worked very well, to be generous) for deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic is about to be dropped. Meanwhile, Russia is deploying more troops in Belarus.

The purpose of deploying the BMD was not because of the unrealistic policy of protecting Europe from Iranian missles. The Bush administration had a amazing capacity for mendacity and apparent self-deception in this regard. Deployment created a footprint in Eastern Europe and backing for those countries on Russia's borders who felt most threatened by Russian expansionism.

It is doubtful that Russia will see this as a concession. They are not stupid. If it is meant to pull Russia away from its support of Iran, the move won't work except perhaps on the margins of cooperation. Under Putin/Medvedev, Russia still operates within a zero-sum approach, so the NATO partners need to consider what will replace the BMD footprint.

Poland in particular is looking for US support to replace what it considers is soft backing from NATO largely due to the increasingly close relationship between Germany and Russia. What will Obama offer in return?

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Russia Legislates Unilateral Intervention

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 24: Russian soldiers ma...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The Russian Duma recently passed its first reading of a new amendment to its Law on Defense. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with defense, but a great deal to do with military intervention in its sphere of influence. If enacted (and there is no doubt that the Duma, as ever, will pull out its rubber stamp) the amendment provides for using its military to "protect" Russian citizens outside its borders. History recalls that the Nazi regime in Germany used exactly that pretext for invasion.

Russia has a proclivity handing out passports to citizens of foreign countries. Guess what the reason was for the invasion of Georgia? Leaving aside the unwise provocations by the Georgian government, this is a dangerous new trend in Russian foreign policy and could easily be applied to Ukraine. Russia has handed out thousands of passports to its supporters in Crimea.

It would be unfortunate if Russia resorted to its military again, particularly against Ukraine which, despite a pathetic military, is no Georgia. Additionally, Russia's military is hardly an efficient fighting force having been embarrassed on the ground and in the air in the Georgia conflict (its navy performed very well).

The passage of this amendment would also be aimed at Estonia and the other Baltic States. It is clear Russia would only use its military against far weaker foes, so Russian "citizens" in Poland, Turkey, China and Finland probably should not hope for salvation from the motherland quite yet.

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Dar (as in Dar es Salaam)

Dar es Salaam SunsetImage by will likes tea and biscuits via Flickr

Well, finally arrived and up and running in Dar es Salaam (House of Peace). We are going to try and streamline the land tenure system in Tanzania which is under a huge strain despite having arguably the best land code in Africa.

I'm also looking forward to seeing the Serengeti (already tried the beer of the same name) Ngorongoro Crater, the Great Rift Valley, Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro, that is, in between work.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Out of the US - Thankfully

The failure to blog has been because of my peripatetic nature and lack of time. I spent about two weeks in the US at my home in Virginia. I could not be happier to have left the US, although not my farm - a fortress of sanity and intelligence, frankly, in a sea of stupid.

I have encountered in the US the epitimization of angry, fundamentally obtuse (deliberate or not) white men - who also happen to be bigots and racists. It is not a small proportion, I fear.

I hope I am wrong, but what I see in the US is the grasping rise of immoral Catonians, corporatists and their sycophants - all of whom cleave to a false moralism for the sole purpose of stealing power. They, mostly old, white, male Republicans, are essentially hateful, stupid and bigoted and some are elected. Those who are not stupid are merely immoral bigots, flying the stars-and-bars symbolising support for treason-in-the defence-of-slavery on their trucks, cars, homes and lawns. They know nothing about the Constitution. They are all Republicans. These people live immoral lives, as frequently depicted in the media, and many profess to be Christians. But they are not. They are fundamentalists exactly like Muslim fundamentalists. They are anti-black, anti-brown, anti-poor, anti-science and anti-federalism. They are supported by the media because they make news and money for the corporations that own the media.

The media presents creationism as a legitimate debating point. The media reports the opening of creationist museums depicting humans living with dinosaurs and the earth being "created" about 6,000 years ago. Note to Christian fundamentalists - medical schools have rejected candidates for admission based on the fact that creationism is taught as a science in some places - so the intelligent students will leave you behind, thankfully. Ignorance is not bliss. It is a stage on the road to extinction - intolerable and it must be stopped. This ignorance is exemplified by the photo of the complete idiot holding a sign at a town hall meeting that demanded that the government keep its hands off medicare - a government program. Worse of course, are those who don't believe in any of this crap but still vote Republican. They are lower than the true believers and have no excuse. They should, but won't be, ashamed. It means they want power at the expense of everything else. Sad, maybe. Dangerous. Absolutely.

What struck me most are the outright lies shouted by the tea-baggers and their political supporters regarding health care - all dutifully reported by the media as legitimate positions. In that regard, we have now been treated to a moron and another angry, white, southern, bigot, Joe Wilson, who has extended the tactics of the great white ignorant unwashed into Congress. He needs to go. Now. Bush, despite all the evil he perpetrated on the people of the planet (and the US economy as an apparent afterthought) while mouthing support for the right wing fundamentalists never suffered that type of outburst in Congress. How dare Wilson?! The Romans would have had him flogged, at the least.

Then, we were treated to another hyprocritical fundamentalist who could not identify a hot from cold mike and broadcast his recent extra-marital escapades. Former state Rep. Michael Duvall (R-Yorba Linda) was kicked off his committee and forced to resign over his raunchy bragging about his sexual exploits at a committee hearing last week in Sacramento.

If that was not enough within the framework of failure perpetrated by the Sanctimonious Hypocrisy,Pro-Rich, Old White and Racist Know-Nothing Party (formally referred to as Republicans)good old Newt (and the organization he represents) awarded an Entrepreneur of the Year award to Allison Vivas - of producer of "Pink Visual". You get the picture. Don't get me wrong - the porn industry is huge and growing - but for those who represent the no-sex and treason-in-defence-of-slavery party, this is typical.

It is rarely reported that rape, abuse of women, underage pregnancy and crime are the highest in the states that vote Republican most consistently. And they are in the South. Guys, cut them out of the picture. If Texas wants to secede, let it. Then we can require visas, take away the Dallas Cowboys (no longer America's Team), remove all federal funding and the army, NASA, Medicare and every other federal program and, hopefully, allow Mexico to invade and take it back. Please.

The nihilistic Republicans need to be crushed, destroyed and thrown into the dust-bin. To those blue dogs who talk to me about Obama's failure - you are traitors to the Republic and part of the problem. You are supposed to lead - not follow. Teabaggers can be thrown under the bus. Stop being Catonian. You can only be that with a strict morality.

Republicans and Blue Dogs are Catonian corporatists without the requisite morality. That is fundamentally evil and one can only hope that what happened to the original Catonians happens to them.

All in all, I am glad to leave the US. When a huge proportion of the people don't get a simple concept like "public option"; when they think the planet was created6,000 years ago; when they think Obama's parents plotted almost 50 years ago to fake a birth certificate and elect him president; when they believe brain-dead people like Newt Gingrich, Senator Inhofe, Representative Bachmann and a little insignificant moron like Glenn Beck then, as Montesquieu said, they will get the government they deserve. They got it with 8 years of Bush and a Republican controlled Congress that gave short shrift to governance, rectitude, finance or compromise.

For the Democrats there can be no wavering, no compromise. The Republican Party in its present incarnation is against the principles of the Constitution and the Republic and needs to be finished off. It is evil.

I'm now in Tanzania. No further diatribes on the US. Oh - my home town - please secede before it is too late.