Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wheels Coming Off The Europe Train

Almost every day on the BBC – well, no – every day, there is another report on the slow motion train wreck of the Eurozone courtesy of Brussels, Berlin and Paris. OK, Greece has something to do with it, but frankly all the handwringing largely seems to attempt to take attention away from the appalling lack of leadership in the European community.  I actually was told the other night at a café on Rudaki Prospect here in Dushanbe that the entire mess is entirely the fault of Greeks and immigrants (since the speaker was German, I assumed the reference to immigrants meant Turks).  Just close the borders and let every country decide whether the rules for the EU need to be followed if they happen to be inconvenient or disagreeable for a particular country. The speaker was a Phd professor of agricultural economics.  A Very Serious Person.

What crap. Let’s leave the Greek default (which I said would happen) aside and look at the culprits during the past year or so.  We can start with the OECD report last year.
Distilled to its core, it says that some people (presumably five or six economics academics from Pluto) believed that inflation was coming in less than a year. Maybe. The solution was to raise interest rates soon to head off the possible rise in inflation,  which was supported by vague premonitions of something or other.  What about the progressively weakening recovery?  Well – on the slim chance that inflation may rise then kill the recovery with high interest rates.  Oh – and throw in the usual ‘fiscal austerity’ as an added anvil.
And who bought into this – with gusto I might add?  The European Central Bank decided to raise interest rates and became a proponent of fiscal austerity also because, as we all learned from Economics 101, economic growth is the direct result of fiscal austerity in a depressed economy as long as trade surpluses are the norm. For everyone.  What is wrong with these people?
These are bad – but when the IMF steps in, better put away the good silver and call out the riot police.  They not only promote and force fiscal austerity in a time of depressed economies, but clearly don’t care about the pain index.  It’s like they are playing a board game. Somehow, the pain felt by the Greeks is just desserts for cheating to get into the euro zone and trying to compete in the European trade game that was fixed by Berlin to forever favor Germany.   Let’s let the Greeks twist in the wind and conveniently forget that the brilliant economic minds in Brussels were completely fooled by those crafty Greeks way back when the Euro zone really, really wanted to expand.  Sooner or later, given the very stark realities, several countries, including Greece, are going to drop out.
And the Turks, of course, with an average 8% growth rate, are increasingly looking at the EU as an institution that is flailing and faltering and which is not a club they are desperate to join.  If Germany has its way, they will never be able to join despite commitments by the EU.  My suggestion to Ankara – keep pretending that you really want to join. Just don’t do it.
In the meantime, Greece will have a default (a write-down I think is the politically correct term). Then comes Ireland, Italy and Portugal.  The European experiment is coming off the rails.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

...and now a word from the racists in America

A militant neo nazi in USA holding a 30-.06 rifle.Image via Wikipedia

From the Repig debates - the audience reaction - and yes, the flag is entirely appropriate for these people.

OK. Courtesy of Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Applause lines:
  • The uninsured should be left to die.
  • Uninsured parents should have daughters who die unnecessarily of cervical cancer.
  • A Fed Chairman who tries to fulfill his mandate by reducing unemployment is guilty of treason.
Boo lines:
  • Muslims are not collectively responsible for 9/11.
  • The children of illegal immigrants should not be denied the chance to go to college.
  • We should not pass an extraordinarily regressive tax cut.
Now, this blog seriously tries to avoid even mentioning the toxic  and galactically stupid atmosphere of contemporary American politics.  However, not only does the American media provide the microphone for stupid and dangerous people, they do so without any critique and without any sense of relevance. 

The tea party positions are simply neo-Nazi, mouthed by racist, hateful, ignorant red-neck stupid and uneducated animals.  They portray the worst elements of US society but are treated as if they are the same as anyone else. They are not. And if they continue on to power, the rest of the planet may need to do something about them.
In the meantime, for presidential candidates to pander to this mass of ignorance, attempting to be even more racist and dumber than their base, makes them little more than dangerous jokes.  And let's get this straight. People as hateful and stupid as Michele Bachman, big hair (and murderer of an innocent man) Perry or the astonishingly stupid Santorum, should never be considered remotely capable of being president.  These people even make Sarah look good - and that's really lowering the bar.
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Palestinian Fail

A quick hit.

The Palestinian bid for UN status is stumbling badly together with its economic situation.  Arabs are not stepping up with funds; Germany has just said the UN bid is not welcome by it or other EU members; the US has said it will veto any measure reaching the Security Council. 

Arabs dislike, to say the least, Iran. Hamas is an ally of Iran.  Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. The Palestinian government (both of the them) are highly corrupt. The Arabs may be entering a 'Palestinian fatigue' state.

The Palestinians have picked the wrong friends.  Back in the past I said that Hamas needs to take the high ground. Recognize Israel and stop the useless attacks.  Get some sympathy - because once you lose the Arabs and their money, your hopes and dreams of statehood will vanish, Turkish support notwithstanding.

Wheels Down in Tajikistan

Modern Tajiks regard the Samanid Empire as the...Image via Wikipedia
Out of Qatar, the Middle East and into Central Asia - Tajikistan to be precise. A Persian people going back to the Samanids and their empire - a monument (see picture) to the Samanids adorns a central square. 

Dushanbe has changed since my last visit here back in 2008, at least physically.  Less dust, new buildings. The Tien Shen range of mountains is still on the horizon.  There are still police every 20 meters or so on the main street, Rudaki, arbitrarily stopping cars and extorting bribes from drivers on fabricated violations. For Independence Day (September 9) the government raised the largest flag pole in the world for a mere $35 million while sidewalks are still pitted and broken in many places. Some things never change.

More soon from Dushanbe and beyond...
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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Turkey Ups the Stakes

MEKO 200 TN type frigates of the Turkish Navy ...Image via Wikipedia
What seemed to be half rhetoric and half serious has morphed into a threat that will have grave consequences arising from an inevitable "unfortunate incident" in the Eastern Med.  Turkey raised the stakes considerably today when PM Erdoğan  told al Jazeera that the Turkish navy will escort aid ships to Gaza.

On the same day President Gül - in Russia to attend the funeral ceremony for the Yaroslavl ice hockey team - stated that Israel was a burden to its allies and should negotiate an honourable peace.

These statements were quickly followed by the remarks of  Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım that Israel’s raid last year on the aid flotilla was “no different” under international law than what Somali pirates are doing in the Gulf of Aden.

Prepare for the pundits to indulge in pleasant debates over the relative positions of Israel and Turkey, the type of intellectual massaging that produces no results.  I happen to think that Turkey is pushing the matter dangerously far although I have no sympathy for the current Israeli government or its apartheid policies.  A naval engagement would be tragic for the region and a lose - lose scenario for the participants. 

The Turkish navy is a significant entity - it can insert 8 highly capable and modernized missile and helicopter equipped Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates as well as almost triple the number of submarines than the Israelis can field.  If they toss in fast attack and missile boats they can overwhelm any Israeli attempt to block the aid convey unless Israel can establish air-superiority in which case would they actually attack Turkish surface ships. 

Will Israel risk war with Turkey?
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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Turkey and Israel - Failed Alliance; Dangerous Talk

Not to be an alarmist and, as everyone knows I don't like predictions because they are based on the selective past, but the sort of warning issued by Turkey to Israel regarding the freedom of passage in the Eastern Med is not helpful. 

The anger in Ankara with Israel is palpable and not without reason; but its explosive PM is sometimes over-the-top in his frequently pointed remarks, and as I've previously pointed out, Turkey needs to learn a little more diplomacy in its pronouncements regardless of the obvious temptation to tell others to piss-off or imply military action.  The most recent example is the following: “Turkey would take every precaution it deems necessary for the safety of maritime navigation in the eastern Mediterranean.” (a reasonable statement by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu) but which was followed by a clarification from an un-named Turkish official who said "A more aggressive strategy will be pursued. Israel will no longer be able to exercise its bullying practices freely...”  What the hell does that mean in terms of rules of engagement?

The region is in turmoil. Syria is in melt-down mode. A vote on Palestinian statehood is coming up at the UN. Egypt is still unstable. Hamas and Hezbollah are facing problems - the first with a still military controlled Egypt and the latter with the loss of Syria. A vote for Palestinian statehood may provoke a new intifada. Israel has already called up reserves. The US is pulling out and has no stomach for a fight with anyone.

A highly visible confrontation between the two naval forces would simply add to the regions problems and Turkish naval officers may run into equally nervous Israeli captains.  It's this sort of rhetoric that leads to "regrettable incidents resulting in loss of life".  Everyone needs to dial it down before the middle east goes up in flames.

Turkish warships will be more frequently seen in the area but their rules of engagement must be circumscribed and publicly announced.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Turkey Downgrades Israel

As a result of the findings in the UN report on the Gaza flotilla, Turkey has lowered the diplomatic level to the lowest it could without completely breaking relations.  The isolation of Israel is accelerating and will reach a high point when the vote for recognition of a Palestinian state is taken this month in the UN.

The complete inability of the Israeli government to reach a compromise for an apology has lost it a key ally for the forseable future. You can't get any dumber than this (well, you can - just take a look at the state of US politics courtesy of the Republicans and its Tea Party facist supporters).

Libya - No more headlines

Muhammar Qaddafi is encircled and under siege in Sirte and is now calling for one of the always possible scenarios to be implemented – guerilla war.    Effecting this scenario may well be problematic as it is unlikely he will escape the coming assault on Sirte.  The regime is dead – an internal revolution succeeded but only with the help of foreign intervention.  That’s important to remember, because otherwise this would have been a long and likely losing struggle.  Qadaffi has been in control for over 40 years and didn’t keep his power by being stupid or reluctance to do whatever was necessary to retain power.

Now that the fighting has narrowed to small pockets of resistance by Qaddafi loyalists, questions can be raised that have previously been dismissed.
Consider this.
Libya has nearly 45 billion barrels of oil reserves, 3.4 percent of the world’s known supply. Natural gas reserves are estimated at near 55 trillion cubic feet.
Most of Libya’s oil exports went to Italy – 32 percent of foreign sales as of 2009. The majority of the rest went to Germany, France, Spain and China (no veto of the no-fly zone imposition).
All existing contract will remain active, begging the question of the extent of modifications.  Who will get the new exploration and extraction licenses? ENI (Italy) or Total (France).
Will the existing contracts be modified from their current 90/10 revenue split between Libya and the companies? Tipping the balance is expensive.
How is it that a listed terrorist organization gets to be a freedom fighter group and whose head commands the Tripoli Military Council?  Change of name – change of status.
The Arab Spring, of which Libya was made a part, has been astonishingly lucrative. For weapons sales.
In the five months ending in June, the UK sold arms to Arab governments amounting to 30.5 million sterling, according the The Times – a 30% increase.  Germany, that bastion of peace which refused to take part in the naval blockade of Libya, nevertheless inked a contract with the Saudi’s (whose military crushed the Bahrain demonstrations by Shiites) for a division’s worth of high end tanks tagged at 1.5 billion euro only to be heavily trumped by the US - $60 billion of aircraft to Saudi Arabia over a 20 year period. This is only in the Arab Spring period – care to guess about the past ten years?
There is nothing wrong with disposing of people like Qadaffi and I support it.  But the media, as usual, has played the useful idiot and parrots the talking points of the protagonists while studiously avoiding the hypocrisy.  This is not a judgment.  It is important to make sure that events are not seen in isolation from other, important factors nor should decisions to act or not be viewed in black and white even if the short attention span or relative ignorance of populations demand simplistic analysis.