Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Help Stamp Out the Power Point Rangers

As the work I am trying to accomplish here in the middle of nowhere gradually circles the drain, I thought I would indulge in a little of "what he said"...

Power Point Presentations.  They are used by the lazy to bore the uninformed and can't substitute for well written, concise reports or presentations that don't need a crutch which simplifies the point and makes us stupid as a result. 

Since most donor agencies are inhabited by a species of statue who love PPT and hate concise reports or complex ideas, most of us have to deal with having the lights dimmed by people who don't know what they are talking about so they can hide behind the presentation and avoid looking at and engaging an audience or being questioned for more than five minutes. 

Some quotes from this article in the Paper of Record - which says it much better than I.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making.

So, yeah, what he said! Without the PPT.

Go read the whole thing.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Turkey Rising?

Unofficial Turkish emblem (This is not the Tur...Image via Wikipedia
The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, has been quite busy of in the past month, meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan, the EU, Brazil, Serbia, Bosnia and NATO ministers, and has met with some success in getting what Turkey feels is in its interests. 

For example, after what by all accounts was a difficult dinner in Tallinn, Davutoğlu managed to win over enough NATO members, to get NATO MAP (Membership Action Plan) status for Bosnia.  Although this is part of Turkey's well know efforts to achieve reconciliation in the Balkans, an old stomping ground, it also shows that despite the brush-off and broken promises from certain EU members regarding accession, Turkey is in Europe.

As part of Turkey's Balkan reconciliation effort, Davutoğlu also met with the foreign ministers of Serbia and Spain.  Serbia, of course, is not happy about Bosnia's proposed NATO membership.  However,  Davutoğlu's meetings with Spain and Serbia are also meant to advance Serbia's integration efforts into the EU and NATO. As if that was not enough, a future meeting in Istanbul will involve a presidential summit among Turkey, Serbia and Bosnia.

Perhaps the EU needs to take another look at its tactics regarding Turkish membership and Turkey in general - because Turkey is a European power now whether they like it or not.

The riskiest venture though is Turkey's attempts, with Brazil, to negotiate some sort of fuel swap deal with Tehran.

Last week Davutoğlu met with Catherine Ashton, the EU Foreign Minister, to review his earlier talks in Tehran regarding the fuel swap negotiations. Brazil's Foreign Minister is flying to Tehran soon to continue the pursuit of a deal.  So, what happens if Turkey and Brazil do come up with a deal?  I'm very skeptical that the deal can be brokered given the current rhetoric flowing out ofTehran.  However, assuming that the talks succeed, then then sanctions would be off the table at the UN where they are scheduled to be raised in June when France chairs the Security Council. A deal would be embarrassing for the US and Tehran.  The US has been pushing hard for sanctions and Tehran has been its usual strutting self.  At the end of the day, the US can get over the embarrassment because a solution would be a vindication of its Iran policy.  Tehran not so much. Which is why I am not convinced the negotiations have any chance of success.

The fact is, Turkey and Iran are not strategic partners and both have geo-political aims for dominance in the Middle East.  Iran has a military budget the size of Finland's and is an economic mess. Turkey is a major military and economic power that just happens to anchor NATO in the east. For Tehran to agree to a fuel swap would deliver a huge diplomatic plum to Turkey, enhance its prestige and allow it to reach deep into a region in which Iran would like to compete and control.  The deal won't happen without some intense bargaining.

There is a downside risk for Turkey in its attempt to work with Iran.  Failure to broker this deal will tarnish Turkey's image as a regional leader.  It has been unable to arrive at a successful solution among Israel, Syria and the Palestinians and is already seen in the West as being just a little too supportive of Iranian ambitions. Failure to move Iran to accept a fuel swap deal acceptable to the West will put Ankara in an awkward position when sanctions come to a vote in the UN in two months time where it will likely abstain.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Drezner, Realpolitik and Russia's Near Abroad

Needless to say, I don't agree with this.

In a post yesterday, I pointed out that press freedom in Ukraine is already suffering under the presidency of Victor Yanukovych.  The fact that he had said during his campaign that he would dismantle democracy in Ukraine and move closer to Russia was, apparently, ignored.  He is keeping his promise.

The point is not whether US relations with Ukraine and the Kyrgyz Republic has been adversely affected by their move for closer ties to the Russian Federation. It is what Moscow will demand in return.  One of those demands will be a less free society along the model developed by Russia.  Realpolitik is all well and good, but when it hangs out to dry those who support a more open and free society, there is a serious problem. 

There is a reason why Eastern Europe and the Baltics are concerned about US foreign policy regarding Russia. So implying that the effect is not important reveals a little too much of the cynic.
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UN and Defamation of Religion

A non-binding resolution was adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning the “defamation of religion” as a violation of human rights. The promoters of the resolution, characterized as “a step in the right direction to deal with the growing problem of Islamophobia, were led by Pakistan.

This is a mistake.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly sets forth the right of freedom of expression, including freedom of religion and conscience. Public international law does not promulgate rules to defend political ideas, much less religious; rather, the focus of the international human rights system targets the protection of individual rights. The Muslim countries and organizations which supported this resolution and actions like it are seeking to establish rules against religious defamation – whatever that happens to be at the moment. This is ridiculous.

The right of individuals to practice their religion freely is already set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That does not mean that people can be prevented from legitimate or illegitimate criticism of an idea, religious or not. Any religion, its founders, priests, prophets whatever, can be discussed or ridiculed. Get over it. It is freedom of speech –something not enjoyed in most Muslim countries at any level and where people face the death penalty for, among other things, sorcery, a true 12th century attitude.

Blasphemy laws are frequently used to suppress those with different interpretations of Islam – including those who support women’s rights or religious minorities. It is useless at this point to comment on death threats by fanatical believers against Salman Rushdie or other intellectuals who dare to offend those with different views.

Islam, or any other religion for that matter, does not need protection from criticism and does not need this resolution which will only be used to justify religious intolerance on all sides and lead to further bloodshed.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ukraine Media Freedom

Who would have guessed that this would happen...?!

The Chon An Incident - Why?

The questions that have surrounded the sinking of the South Korean corvette Chon An are now focused on the why, not the how. South Korean Defence Minister Kim Tae-young told the National Assembly on 2 April that of the two possible causes, torpedoes or mines, that a torpedo was the likely device.

All the indications, from the massive inward damage and the fact that she fired her guns north before sinking, to the order for her sister corvette to open fire at an object travelling north (the NoRK have semi-submersibles which carry 2 torpedoes and travel at 30 knots) then there is only one actor who can be identified - North Korea.

The issue is no longer what happened but why North Korea would seek to escalate tensions by taking a provocative action that is of a far higher order than previous incidents of patrol boats exchanging gunfire in disputed waters? Earlier running engagements were the result of patrol in disputed areas and rarely occur. They were not pre-meditated attempts to engage and destroy, by either side.

However, torpedo attacks are not the result of random patrols running into each other. A torpedo attack involves precise tactics that include intelligence reports, tracking, targeting and firing the weapon with the intention to sink the target and likely resulting in the death of the crew. The captain knows this and it is highly unlikely that he acted without orders.

So, what was the intention? This is not simply a factor of a demand for attention – the usual reason even if it involves testing a nuclear device or arresting journalists. The South Koreans are acting very judiciously by not instantly accusing North Korea and may simply be waiting for the atmosphere to cool off. They will need to say something sooner or later. Then the question is one of response.

The entire incident, its purpose and what the South Korean government knows or chooses not to reveal, is very strange. I suspect that the incident will not result in any formal action against North Korea but the one player that such an overt act of aggression would irritate is China. This is not something they need with relations with the US beginning to thaw.

Stay tuned for the ‘butterfly effect’.

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Bakiyev Goes West

The former leader of the Kyrgyz Republic has popped up in Belarus.  Clearly he was not welcome in Moscow, but is in Minsk.  The choice is odd and is perhaps not the final destination since Belarus has an extradition treaty with Kyrgyzstan. The interim government has already issued a formal demand for his return so Minsk is in a quandry.  Why they invited him is a mystery.
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Friday, April 16, 2010

End Game in the Kyrgyz Republic

AstanaImage via Wikipedia
Almost over.  Bakiyev flew to Khazakhstan on Thursday after a disasterous attempt to rally supporters in Osh erupted in gunfire.  Reportedly, he spoke with PM Putin just prior to his flight out on a military aircraft.  What is not reported is whose aircraft it was, where it flew nor the content of the conversation with Putin. I would suspect he flew to the golden towers of Astana (shown in the photo). 

It is highly unlikely that Astana would have agreed to the flight without checking with Moscow. It is also very likely that Moscow has told the interim government in Bishkek to leave Bakiyev's family alone.  If, as they probably will, agree not to arrest and prosecute members of the family - his son, Maxim, in particular - they will need to institute and enforce some serious reforms in the country if they are not to be seen as "more of the same".
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lesotho - In the Realm of the Mountain King

I never blog about current assignments.  But I thought I'd share a few photos.

Civil War in the Kyrgyz Republic

I am at a loss why Russian President Medvedev suggested that civil war was near in the Kyrgyz Republic (the official name by the way - I'm looking at you CNN - oh, and while am at it
CNN Ukraine is simply Ukraine - not "the" Ukraine unless you like "the" France or "the" Italy - it's not a province of Russia any longer!).  I digress.

In any event, the only reason Medvedev could possibly have thought to bring this up was to increase the possibility of an offer to send Russian peacekeepers. Just like the TransDniester and South Ossetia and Abkhazia.


Civil war is nearly impossible.  The stronghold of the ex-president and his first-son is in the south -specifically in Jalal' abad with a population of 12 and several chickens.  (OK, it's really around 70,000 people but I stand by my chicken count - I saw them). Osh is Uzbek and Bakiyev will have little support there. The north and south a seperated by a small range of mountains exceeding 4000 meters. It becomes hard to get at each others' throats with that type of barrier.  In the middle lies Naryn - the Kyrgyz heartland. They are not about to side with Bakiyev et al.

Medvedev is being the set-up man for intervention. Again.  I suggest that he look to his own backyard in the North Caucuses before expanding military adventures on questionable efforts. He's in Washington now. Perhaps he has heard of Iraq and Afghanistan? He can talk about adventures.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Turkey and Brazil on Nuclear Issues

Perhaps this is a good idea.  Some fresh views from two rising powers might have a salutory effect.  I doubt it, with the current leaders of Iran and Israel.  But, just maybe...

The Politics of Aid and Poverty Reduction

Over here Teddy Brett, Associate Director of the London School of Economics' Development Management Program, makes some very valid points about development aid that are frequently swept under the rug or simply ignored as inconvenient truths by project designers in the various aid agencies. In short, he correctly points out that politics in recipient countries often kills off poverty reduction efforts when the implementation of the effort touches political sensitivities of the corrupt elite.

The problem is endemic and donor agencies are incapable of addressing the issue, choosing rather to ignore corrupt government officials and elites, rather than simply cutting off the funds and allocating those to less corrupt governments. It is a choice of evils.

Furthermore, for some countries, finding substitute donors is somewhat easier, particularly if there is a geo-political or resource reason for investing the money. The Kyrgyz Republic, for example, has already been promised $300 million in aid from Russia which correctly sees the recent revolution, where evidence is mounting that it orchestrated, as an opportunity to establish a stronger foothold in the region - nothing wrong with that from their strategic interest point of view.

Then there is Sudan and other African countries with resources that China wishes to secure. Non-democratic or corrupt regimes are ignored merely because China sees no upside in political interference or moralizing. And in any event, that is a pot and kettle situation.

There are only two reasons for the enormous amount of aid rained on Armenia by the United States. The first is an incredibly powerful lobby in Congress (these aid funds are largely earmarked).  The second is purely geo-political: to counter Russian influence in Armenia.  In regard to the latter, purely political reason, the US has been singularly unsuccessful.

Let's be realistic. Aid is an arm of foreign policy and when that aid involves economic and structural reforms it will run smack into local politics and power centers which will either support or obstruct it depending on self-interest. That should not be a shock to anyone.

Poverty reduction is like apple pie and no one is going to say that they are not interested. How that poverty reduction is implemented is the difference. But in the end, it is all political and foreign aid assistance needs to be better formulated to address this fundamental.
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Monday, April 12, 2010

Growing Authoritarianism in Isreal

Israel is setting up procedures that are a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Under the current government, Israel is becoming more isolated as its former supporters, including your humble blogger, have doubts about whether it believes in basic democratic principals or is intent on pandering to its religious extremists by continuing to invoke religious reasons for its occupation of the West Bank and inflaming the region.

The matter at hand is the report in the Guardian and a new “Order Regarding Prevention of Infiltration and Order Regarding Security Provisions”, which comes into force on Tuesday. According to Israeli human rights’ activists, the order can label any foreigners living in the West Bank as infiltrators and deported within 72 hours or jailed for seven years if they are found without the correct permit. It does not define what Israel considers a valid permit. We know which "foreigners" are targetted.

This is called ethnic cleansing and is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. It is clearly in preparation for the approaching threat by West Bank Palestinians to unilaterally declare an independent state.

Wrap this latest move together with the constant attempts to get the US to attack Iran, the insults to its former ally, Turkey, additional settlement activity on the West Bank and Netanyahu’s cowardly avoidance of the nuclear summit that began today in Washington and you have the makings of a rogue government that is no better than the religious zealots running Iran. Except this one actually has nuclear weapons.
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The Roza Revolution?

BishkekImage via Wikipedia
Reports from some colleagues in Bishkek indicate that the city is almost back to normal although of the 40 Narodny stores (similar to US 7-11 stores but bigger) 26 were looted and burned.  This is what happened in 2005.  On the other hand, one explanation could be that, unlike the Orange Revolution in Kyiv, there was no food for the demonstrators in Bishkek - hence, hit the food stores.  A "mine" or small bomb exploded outside the Metro Pub - otherwise know as the American Pub - a huge hang-out for expats and Kyrgyz alike - and unreported by the media were the police who were killed during the riots.

A herd of potential leaders have emerged - approximately 14 - so the next step will be reformation of the constitution and elections.  Former president Bakiyev refuses to resign but remains in the south which is his power base.  It is unlikely that he will have very much support, however, given the manner in which PM Putin has embraced the interim government.

There has been no official comment from neighboring Khazakhstan which is allergic to this type of change, nor from Dushanbe which may face similar problems in the future.  China will likely closely monitor the situation as Uighers and other Chinese nationals have been attacked in central and eastern Kyrgyzstan.  This is not new, of course, as the Chinese are viewed with intense suspicion by the Kyrgyz.

According to the BBC, Bakiyev addressed his supporters in the southern town of Teyit and implied that he and his supporters would resist an attempt to arrest him.

As for names, Troy Etulain on twitter said: We could call this latest revolution the “Roza Revolution”, to stay (somewhat) consistent with previous FSU “revolutions”.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another Word About Mongolia

As some may have noticed, my post regarding an aid project in Mongolia to reform herding and agricultural practices was characterized as snide (and short).  I am very familiar with donor funded projects and know pretty well how they are designed and by whom.  So, if I sound snide, I have good reasons.

But, in this case, I was mostly deriding the title of the project in its context, not necessarily its terms of reference - about which I know little. Also, as most Americans know next to nothing about their neighboring county much less another country, gave a microscopic history of the Mongols for contextual purposes. So, try not to be overly sensitive - even if it is your project.

Let's look at the numbers: Mongolia has around 2.5 million people. Between 1991 and 2000 total aid was almost US$1.9 billion.  By any measure, a huge sum of money-to-population ratio ranking up there with Armenia. Funding has been growing as if nothing has been learned,  because the situation is getting worse.

As I mentioned in the post, for centuries economic activity in Mongolia was based on migratory livestock breeding. Again - the numbers speak for themselves: Over 30% of the GDP from 1921 to 1990 came from Moscow in order to industrialize the country and destroy nomadism. By the mid-1950s, over 90% of the population were rural herders -  by 1990 that dropped to 33%. Industrialization was a success but the true nature of economic activity in Mongolia could not be perpetually hidden.

In 1991 Mongolia had two world-class industries: copper and cashmere. Now, despite millions of dollars in international aid and the combined wisdom of hundreds of Western consultants, there is none. For example, around 1995 the World Bank, IMF and ADB forced Mongolia to lift a ban on the export of raw cashmere. China has purchased all of the raw cashmere and Mongolia’s processing industry is vaporized. This is otherwise known as globalization. You may have heard of this? Thank you donor community.

Then, the devasting effects of several severe winters and dry summers have taken their toll. Millions of animals have died this winter alone and herders are dropping further into poverty and debt and retreating to the cities. There is nothing - nothing - aid agencies can do about the effects of climate change in Mongolia; but blaming the herders appears to be easy. 

One idea tossed around by the aid industry in the past is ranching. I'm willing to bet that this new project will promote ranching. I hope I am wrong, but if that is the case, then the climate, terrain and history will disabuse the consultant of pre-conceived notions quickly.  The vegetation is too sparse and the climate too harsh - just for a start.  Less than 1% of the land is cultivated. You think this will change? Perhaps to double it? Triple? Quadruple?  Ranching is a joke.

The fact of the matter is that the herders - indulging in long held nomadic practices -  rescued the Mongolian urban population from starvation during the early 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed, inflation skyrocketed and food vanished (except for a price). But, Mongolians did not starve and the unemployed did not riot. Why? Because they returned to the kind of activity most suitable for the environment. Neither education nor employment made a major contribution to Mongolia’s economic growth, but livestock raising - nomadic style, was key to Mongolia’s quick recovery after 1995 even if its share in GDP has been declining since 1999.
The donors of today downgrade or outright ignore the salvation of the economy during that period. One merely needs to read the UNDP reports from 2001 (Keith Griffin’s Poverty Reduction in Mongolia (2001) )where he  emphasizes the lowering of productivity among the herders because the animals only increased 30% while the number of people increased 183% in one decade. So what? The implication is that the alternative - for the population to sit around hungry in Ulan Bator - was better? There is a denial of reality - the reality being that a nomadic lifestyle can be viable. Furthermore, these donor agencies appear to believe that the nomadic herders would not be what they are if they had alternatives. Well, I suggest that these preconcieved notions (applied everywhere, I might add, and not just in Mongolia) be tested against research on nomadic societies. A little understanding can go a long way.

The UNDP has actually called for livestock collective farms - an absurd suggestion given the collective memory of the Soviet system.

I agree that the capacity of the pastures to absorb increases in herds must be studied and that some improvement in herding and livestock farming is always possible; but, climate change and over-grazing, although real, are not alone in adversely impacting the industry.

So, good luck with the project. Imposition of western techniques is normally resented, so I hope the project actual helps the Mongolian people and takes into consideration their history and the environment.

Confusion in the Kyrgyz Republic

Following up on the events in the Kyrgyz Republic, the cause of the successful revolt does appear to be grounded solidly on the intensity of anger, building up over the past three years, over the dashed hopes for reform ushered in by the Tulip Revolution. The latter revolt elevated the now ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to a leadership role that quickly degenerated into a kleptocracy of extraordinary magnitude spearheaded by his son, Maxim.

Maxim sold off the resources of the country and pocketed the funds for himself and his family. He sold water to Uzbekistan far beyond the Kyrgyz Republic's resources and electricity to, of all places, the Republic of Kazakhstan. The water sold could have been used to generate electricity rather than endure the twice daily power shedding that occurred in 2006 leaving even the capital, Bishkek, in the dark. He then raised electric rates by 170% as well as cell phone rates and pocketed that as well. In 2006 I witnessed his thugs cut down the surrounding two meter metal fence from the grounds on the Hyatt in retaliation for the hotel's refusal to increase his percentage ownership of the casino. The purported reason? So the public could visit the monument in the park without the need to pass security. The man needed to be removed - one way or another.

Bakiyev did nothing to stop the deterioration of the economy while indulging in conspicuous consumption and, on days he was bored, murdering journalists. Little has been done to find and punish the murderers of Alisher Saipov (killed in 2007), Almazbek Tashiev (2009) and Gennady Pavlyuk (also 2009). More than 60 cases of assaults on journalists have been reported since Bakiyev took control in 2005.

I am also sure that Moscow was not pleased after bribing him with a $2 billion loan channeled through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to close Manas airbase to NATO and then watching as the US outbid the bribe and he broke his promise to close the base and then suggested that he would give the US a second base.

This brings up the issue as to whether the revolt that toppled the government was aided by Russia. President Putin immediately called interim the president and promising support and aid. Meanwhile, in the US, the State Department in another example of saying too much when asked to comment implied that it was working with Bakiyev. Philip Crowley said,
We work with that sitting government. We have — as we’ve outlined in various reports, including the Human Rights Report — we have concerns about issues, intimidation by the government, corruption within the government…but that said, there is a sitting government. We work closely with that government. We are allied with that government in terms of its support for international operations in Afghanistan.
How about, "We urge calm and restraint on all sides to avoid further bloodshed". Period. Rumours are flying about in Bishkek, according to my former colleagues that Maxim has fled to the US. Not.Very.Helpful. Russia is viewed as helpful. The United States as a supporter of a corrupt regime.

Finally, domestic politics has played a key role. The country is divided between northern and southern clans. In 2005 as a result of the Tulip revolution, Bakiyev, a representative of the southern clans, came to power as president. That did not entirely please the northern clans, a feeling that was made worse as he failed to keep his promises including to avoid assigning his own clan to governmental positions and avoid press censorship . He did the opposite.

Apparently, the northern clans gave him an ultimatum about three weeks ago to remove his brothers and son from their positions. In response, he had opposition leaders arrested which lit the fuse of the revolution in Talas which then spread across the country to Bishkek. It was in Talas that the head of the interior ministry was found shot as well.

So, now Bakiyev has escaped south and has no support in the more powerful north. Buh bye Bishkek.

Now both the US and China are assessing the change. The US from a military standpoint and China from security and balance of power issues. Russia is the clear winner whether or not it supported or had any hand whatsoever in the revolution and continues its progress to rein in the former Soviet republics. Orange, Rose and Tulip revolutions have all been rolled back and perception always trumps the truth.

What will the new regime bring? Probably little change, although one can hope. Omurbek Tekebaev and Temir Sariev, the two most visible opposition figures, are the same people who were in power under both Akayev and Bakiyev. Both were reelected to parliament in 2005 in a fraudulent election that sparked the Tulip Revolution. Both retained their seats under Bakiyev, and Tekebaev served briefly as speaker in Parliament. In the 10 years they have been in politics, nothing changed and indeed became worse. It is unlikely they can or will change anything now.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Kyrgyz Republic - What Color Revolution

Tian ShanImage via Wikipedia
The events in the Kyrgyz Republic this week have toppled the corrupt regime which toppled the former corrupt regime during the Tulip Revolution. Note to CNN – it is not alleged corruption. The corruption was real, systemic and widespread in all levels of the government. Calling it alleged merely gives cover to those who spawned the corruption.

I was completely surprised by the intensity of the demonstrations which turned very ugly, very quickly and haven’t collected all the information about it from some of my Kyrgyz friends who I know from my work there between 2006 and the end of 2008. When I get it, I’ll write about their impressions as to what finally triggered the overthrow of the regime, hopefully tomorrow.

A few questions need to be answered as well. What will be the effect on both Russia and the United States foreign policies in Kyrgyzstan and the region in general? How will the overthrow of the Kyrgyz government affect the unstable situation in its neighbour, Tajikistan? Will the new government actually be revolutionary and toss out the equally corrupt Parliament? What will be the colour or flower for this revolution?

More to come.

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Turkey and Israel - Again

PM Erdoğan of Turkey appears to be in a race with Foreign Minister Lieberman of Israel to see who can create the most poisonous between the two countries.

There is obviously nothing wrong with the Turkish PM expressing the opinions of the Turkish state regarding the actions of another country. However, there is a time and place and should not be the constant drumbeat it has become. He appears to be taking every opportunity to poke a stick into Israel which he knows, or should know, will elicit an immoderate response from Lieberman – a master at intemperate, childish remarks.

The purpose of Erdoğan’s not-quite-hyperbolic observations is quite clear – a major Moslem voice of a secular nation that is part of NATO which can, and does, throw its considerable weight around in the region will have its opinions seriously considered. If Iran, Syria or Libya voices those same opinions they are easily dismissed. When Turkey says it, people actually pay attention. Lieberman understands this, which might explain some his instantaneous tantrums and perpetual crabbiness. But, enough is enough.

Whether the substance of what Erdoğan says is true or not is irrelevant. Many already agree with his statements on Israeli policies regarding Palestinians, Gaza and illegal settlements – the latter endorsed, according to some, by God, the Old Testament or Better Homes and Gardens.

Many in the Middle East, Europe and the US already think the government headed by Netanyahu is dangerous to others and itself. Lieberman, however, is not. He is a loudmouth spokesman with the attitude of a hyper-sugared twelve year old. Although he has a voice in establishing Israel’s foreign policy, he does not form it. Netanyahu does and he needs to tell Lieberman to shut up and not respond to Erdoğan’s internally driven statements. And Erdoğan needs to dial it down a bit under the circumstances and stop switching into assault mode at every international convention. He has made his point for his domestic and regional audience, the United States and Europe. None of the vituperative jousting is helpful now and only increases the perception of the current Israeli government that it is under siege.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Coals to Newcastle - via Mongolia

{{en|This image is a zoomed-in version of East...Image via Wikipedia
There is a very thin line between funding genuinely useful development projects and those that are established merely to spend money. I suspect the recently announce tender by the MCC in Washington is the latter.

Training of Herders and State Officials in Pasture Land Management in Mongolia

The original Mongol or proto-Mongol people, composed of a myriad of periodically warring tribes, were first chronicled around 200 BC. They were – you guessed it – nomads and herders living off various pastures in the regions now known as Mongolia and Inner Mongolia (part of China) and were similar to the other nomadic groups further to the west in Central Asia.

Mongol society, however, threw up one of the greatest military forces in history which, under Genghis Khan forged an empire stretching from Hungary to Korea and from Russia to modern day Iran and China. They were herders, among other things, and developed one of the most sophisticated legal and administrative systems the world has ever seen. It included rules on land management and animal husbandry.

The unified Mongol Empire began in earnest about 800 years ago and came to an end only recently – perhaps 600 years ago – breaking up into family khanates. Marco Polo visited the largest and wealthiest group in a China ruled by Kubilai Khan. Perhaps you’ve heard of this.

I am sure, in searching for the best project team, the key members will be required to have at least five to ten years experience in pasture maintenance and herding, preferably in Central Asia and they will intensely and sincerely instruct the modern day Mongols on both.

US taxpayers would probably be interested to know how their money is being disbursed. But, then, maybe not.

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New Changes to Blog

Amazon has been added to the blog, for those interested.  Hopefully, they will be contextual.
Other ads have been removed until they become contextual - a problem for google, apparently as I don't want mothers' day ads from South Africa on the blog.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Georgia and TV Promotions

I don't know how many people out there watch CNN - I happen to get the Asian station and watch it only because my converter box is sitting at the South African border waiting for clearance and I can't get the BBC.

But...if you do and if you have seen the ad for Georgia with a voice from space looking down on the world questioning "what's that shiny little dot" and "hello, people. Having a party?" have you had enough?  This is the worst country promotion for investment in the history of the galaxy, if not the universe.  Who put this thing together? Have they seen the professional ad aired for Macedonia? Was the developer 12 years old? Please, make it stop.

New Look

In between struggling to justify sole sourced procurements, I thought it was time for a change.

Let me know what you think of the new look.  Depending on my mood, I may pay attention. Don't count on it though.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool or Not in Georgia

georgia 024Image by onewmphoto via Flickr
Sometimes, because what is true can be typically bizzare, this story out of Georgia may or may not be true. 

Given the content, I am inclined to think it is a joke. But then again, this is Georgia...and he looks concerned.
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Bulgaria Chooses the Ruble

Communism worksImage by St Stev via Flickr
The future of the euro in Bulgaria is vaporized.  The story here!
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