Friday, February 27, 2009

"Maybe the NBA really is America's game"

Bill Simmons says the NBA is now the "No Benjamins Association" because everyone is running out of money, attendance is deceptively down, revenues are crashing out, and teams would rather buy Raef LaFrentz's expiring deal than 4-time all-star Amare Stoudemire, just to save money. Whoa. A must read.

Christopher Hitchens slams Avigdor Lieberman


hope for Somalia?

The Economist sees "a glimmer of hope" in Somalia if only America would pay more attention. Myself, I'm skeptical, but at least the guys have the credit to lay blame where blame is due:

The original Shabab was shredded by Ethiopian artillery and American air strikes two years ago. The revitalised Shabab is sustained by a martyrdom complex. But its success is also due partly to money: it pays young Somalis to fight for it. It has also benefited from the decision of President George Bush’s administration to isolate moderate Islamists such as Mr Ahmed and to embrace secular warlords with a history of terrorising civilians.

Shabab's numbers have mushroomed and turned a previously fringe group into a force to be reckoned with. Virulently anti-Ethiopian sentiments have given the movement a shot in the arm, and now it threatens to take over the country. But The Economist sees a way forward:

Many Somalia-watchers think Somalis should work out their own political settlement—and that foreigners should keep out. Somehow the Shabab has to be crushed, perhaps bringing some of its more amenable members into Mr Ahmed’s apparently moderate Islamist fold. The Shabab may not be as cohesive as it claims to be. The recent departure of the hated Ethiopians and the Shabab’s own record of bullying the impious and smashing the gravestones of Sufi saints have lost it some support. Its two top commanders, Muqtar Robow and Hassan Turki, may become isolated if Mr Ahmed’s government holds up, especially as many of the Shabab fighters come from the new president’s own Hawiye clan. Thanks to some back-channel talks, some Shabab, including an influential commander in the town of Jowhar, have already changed sides.

Put me in the "foreigners should keep out" strategy, at least physically. However, Mr. Ahmed is probably the best hope for the country, given the success the Union of Islamic Courts had in pacifying Somalia before being conquered by Ethiopia's foolish invasion. So we should support him, I guess... but not too much.

Burma to the ICC?

An independent report says so:

Military checkpoints were set up across the delta as the regime treated the disaster not as a humanitarian emergency but as a security crisis.

The report claims some people who attempted to distribute private aid were arrested. It details allegations of aid being stolen and resold by the military authorities.

The researchers also claim the army used forced labour, including of children, in the aftermath of the disaster.

Like everyone else, I was horrified by the Burmese regime's response to the cyclone, although unlike everyone else I was not particularly surprised. Still, I seriously question whether this sort of gross negligence is grounds for shipping people to the Hague. A lot of countries have responded ineptly to disasters in recent years, including at least a couple permanent members of the Security Council. Will Michael Brown be at the Hague for the deadly debacle of Hurricane Katrina? Probably not.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

make New York a walking city

Bloomberg to announce he's closing a swath of Broadway to auto traffic. I'm delighted.

Obviously, Senator Kerry doesn't recall the famous Uruguaryan Cheese Defense of 1847

Foreign Policy blog reports, via Haaretz, that Israel was blocking shipments of pasta into the Gaza strip, saying that only rice was permitted. After US delegates pointed out the arbitrary stupidity of such restrictions, the Israelis backed off.

"When have lentil bombs been going off lately? Is someone going to kill you with a piece of macaroni?" asked Laird.

Clearly, American officials do not recall the resourceful Uruguayan use of cheese as cannonfire in a naval battle in the 1840s. (Note: different accounts have them fighting the Argentinians or the Brazilians, and offer up different years for the skirmish. So this story may be apocryphal, but I hope not.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obvious Statement of the Year

US drone attacks in Pakistan are destabilizing, the Pakistani military reports. They've killed a lot of al Qaeda people, but they've also killed a lot of civilians, radicalized the population, and of course al Qaeda is recruiting newer and even more ideological people to fill out the ranks.

Amazingly, the US military has once again underestimated the degree to which dropping bombs on a population will upset them.

let's not turn our Musharraf Policy into a Zardari Policy

Nawaz Sharif, the second most powerful elected politician in Pakistan and rival of Asif Ali Zardari, was barred from holding elected office today. In the name of everything smart and sane, I hope the United States does not let this pass for expediency's sake, just because we're tighter with Zardari than we are with Sharif. It's important to have a Pakistan policy, not a policy of engaging the leader of Pakistan and propping him up against all opposition. The latter path, which we took far too often with Pervez Musharraf, is, well, somewhat undemocratic and makes us even more disliked in Pakistan than we already are.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Joseph Stiglitz lays the smackdown on the financial crisis

Joseph Stiglitz gave a talk at the United Nations today, and hammered the US approach to the financial crises, both the one in 1997-98 (from which the roots of this one originated, he said) and the one today. I found this talk really, really illuminating, so the highlights of his lecture have been posted below, with some explanation so you don't have to wade through the whole thing blind. It's all pretty simple, when you get down to it.

1. There are two crises. The first is the US housing and financial bubble that has burst, but the second and deeper problem is a global insufficiency of aggregate demand. Quoth Stiglitz:
Why is it that the central banks all over the world, particularly in the US, in UK, and in some other countries, let loose a flood of liquidity, lax regulations, let there be this kind of bubble? The reason was relatively simple. There was an insufficiency of aggregate demand, and they took on a responsibility to try to keep aggregate demand going. It worked. It worked in a relatively shortsighted way. We had a few years of prosperity, or seeming prosperity.

2. Our financial system stunk. Stiglitz:
We had a really bad financial system. When you think about what is it that a financial system is supposed to do? It's supposed to mobilize savings. It's supposed to allocate capital. And it's supposed to manage risk. It didn't mobilize savings. Savings in the US was zero. It didn't allocate capital well. It allocated capital to houses beyond peoples ability to afford in places where it wasn't needed. And it didn't manage risk: it created risk. It didn't innovate in ways that were meaningful to helping our economy perform well. It innovated in ways that led to temporarily high profits but it didn't innovate in ways that enabled average Americans to manage the risks that they faced. The most important risk is a very simple one: how do you stay in your house without losing it? And not only did they not innovate ... they actually resisted innovations that would have helped effective risk management. ... Did they do it at a low cost? The financial sector is a means to an end, not an end to itself. You don't eat transactions. You don't enjoy them. A good financial system is one with low transaction costs. But yet, in America, and in some other countries, the financial sector was garnering more than 30% of all corporate profits. That should have been a symptom that something was deeply wrong. A means to an end have become an end to itself and it distorted our whole economic system.

3. To fix the financial crisis, we most obviously need "much better financial regulation." And if bankers tell us that's not necessary, we shouldn't listen to them, because they've benefited enormously from the old system. We need to stop rewarding risk-taking and shortsighted behavior.

4. But that's only the beginning. The fundamental underlying problem was caused by the last financial crisis of 1997-98 that devastated Asian economies. From here, I'll let Stiglitz explain, because he's way smarter than I am:
Once we fix the financial system, will we recover to robust growth, or will we still have the problem that gave rise to the problems that we're seeing? There are good reasons to believe that while it is necessary that we fix the financial system, it won't be sufficient to restore robust growth.
So, for instance, the head of America's central bank, Bernanke, today said yes, the economy's going to be weak not only through 2009 but also 2010, but forecast that we'll return to robust growth in 2011. But I think that's excessively optimistic, and that unless deeper reforms are made, there is a substantial risk that we will emerge from this downturn into -- without meaning any offense to anybody -- what is called a Japanese-style malaise, slow growth instead of robust growth. ...
One has to look at all these problems from a global perspective. Yes, there's an American problem. This crisis has a Made In USA label on it. We exported our deregulatory philosophy, we exported our toxic mortgages, and we thanked the rest of the world for buying all our toxic garbage, because if they hadn't, our downturn would be much worse, and now we're exporting our recession. But that simply highlights the fact that we have to look at these problems from a global perspective. There are 2 problems. One is the problem of global imbalances. ... Everybody worried about the disorderly unwinding of these global imbalances and in some ways [that's what we're seeing]. Part of the story ... is the fact that many emerging markets, developing countries, have felt a need to have a buildup of large amounts of reserves. And the reserve buildup in the last 8 years, 9 years, has been enormous. We're talking about trillions of dollars of savings in countries in Asia, in the Middle East particularly. But it's totally understandable why this happened. We mismanaged the last global financial crisis of 1997-98. I talked to several prime ministers who were involved, and they said "never again will we expose ourselves to the loss of our economic sovereignty" and the kind of policies that were imposed on them by the IMF, the pro-cyclical policies that turned downturns into recessions, recessions into depressions. They said, "that's not acceptable to our people and we have to protect ourselves." There's no global system of insurance. So each country is building up these mega-reserves. But this system of mega-reserves is-- one way of thinking about it is, this is income that people are earning that they're not spending, and they're not spending it because they have to build up this buffer in case things go bad. And they were right to do that, because things have gone bad, and the countries that built it up are in better shape than the countries that didn't. In that sense, it's individually rational for countries to do it, but from the system point of view, it leads to a global insufficiency of aggregate demand. The way the global system responded to this was that there was one country that acted as the consumer of last resort, and that was the United States. It was criticized and the Secretary of the Treasury once said, "you should be thankful to us because of what we are doing to global aggregate demand. We're keeping it going." But what kind of a global system is it when it's the richest country in the world that has to live beyond its means to keep the economic system going? It's clearly a very flawed economic system. But that's the economic system that we had. And what worries me is, if we don't do anything about this, things will get even worse. If we don't do better in how we respond to this crisis, and we don't fix the underlying problems, countries will have an incentive to build up even more reserves to protect them from the next crisis, contributing even more to global imbalances and an insufficiency of aggregate demand.

5. To fix this, we need a global reserve system.

6. We need policies that won't increase global inequality. Why does this matter in the financial crisis? Stiglitz:
It's very simple. What we've been doing is, in effect, transferring income from those who expend it because they need to to those who are not spending it, and that is contributing to the insufficiency of aggregate demand. Now in the US we thought we got around that in a very clever way: we told the poor people whose income has been falling for years now, we told them, don't worry, you can continue to spend even though you don't have any income. It was a brilliant idea, to completely disengage income from spending. And the way we did it was to say, borrow borrow borrow. But it should have been obvious that this was not sustainable. ... One of the innovations of our financial markets was to find ways to allow people to spend incredibly beyond their income, but it was a recipe for disaster, and it was only a matter of time before that disaster occurred.

7. This is going to be really hard to fix, and if we're not careful many of the policies the developed countries are undertaking right now will exacerbate inequality, which will make the problem worse. As Stiglitz points out:
We are bailing out American banks. More accurately, we are bailing out American bankers, and their shareholders, and their bonuses. And what are talking about having to cut back on? America's social security system. It's a straight transfer in effect from average and poor Americans to our bankers.

Stiglitz then points out that the amount we spent on TARP, which accomplished, in his words, "nothing," was way more than the gap in the social security system for the next century. So instead of getting nothing, we could have guaranteed the retirement of every American for the rets of all of our lifetimes. Meanwhile, on the global front, we're in effect subsidizing our banks and auto industries, etc., while the developing countries don't have the money to do that, so not only are rich people getting rich and poor people getting poorer, but rich countries' industries are getting richer while poor countries' industries are getting screwed.

Ticked off yet?

Darfur rebels bolster China's case

China has always claimed that an ICC arrest warrant for Sudan's President Bashir will increase violence in Sudan. Now, it looks like the main rebel group agrees.

“When this warrant comes it is, for us, the end of Bashir's legitimacy to be President of Sudan,” Khalil Ibrahim, chairman of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), told The Times. “We will work hard to bring him down ... If he doesn't co-operate with the ICC [International Criminal Court] the war will intensify.”

Of course, the JEM isn't the only rebel force on the battlefield. There's also the Sudanese Liberation Army... except that according to the article, the SLA has now splintered into 27 different groups.

The article goes on to say that the JEM's goals include "control of Khartoum and the transformation of Sudan into a federation of autonomous regions." The government in Khartoum will obviously never stand for that, so, like I always say, this war will end when someone wins or when both sides realize they can't. That obviously hasn't happened yet. I doubt the ICC warrant, however justified, will do much to shift that balance.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Somalia and the Death of Responsibility To Protect

Jeffrey Gettleman writes a great piece on Somalia, calling it "the most dangerous place in the world." His basic point is that not only is the country an anarchic catastrophe, but the international community doesn't know what to do about it, and everything we've tried has usually made the situation worse.

Gettleman (emphasis mine):
It’s crunch time for Somalia, but the world is like me, standing in the doorway, looking in at two decades of unbridled anarchy, unsure what to do. Past interventions have been so cursed that no one wants to get burned again. The United States has been among the worst of the meddlers: U.S. forces fought predacious warlords at the wrong time, backed some of the same predacious warlords at the wrong time, and consistently failed to appreciate the twin pulls of clan and religion. As a result, Somalia has become a graveyard of foreign-policy blunders that have radicalized the population, deepened insecurity, and pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

The moral of the story: don't mess with sovereignty. As Matthew Yglesias points out:
There’s an enormous tendency in this town, and in establishment circles more generally, to see American involvement in a situation as by definition offering a solution. And certainly the United States has involved itself constructively in many situations around the world over the decades. But it’s not some kind of law of nature that us poking around somewhere is a good idea. And in Somalia, at least, our involvement has been hugely destructive.

I tend to go even further: in a tribal bloodbath like Somalia, there is very little the US can do, and to the extent we try to do anything, we become enmeshed in the conflict. Now we're shooting scud missiles into Mogadishu in a fitful attempt to catch this or that an evildoer, while the whole population is being radicalized with anti-American Islamists who were largely unknown in the country even a decade ago.

Gettleman points out that Somalia, though ethnically and religiously homogenous, divvies itself up by clan. Not surprisingly, that stuff is very important over there, as it is everywhere. Gettleman:
Somali society often divides and subdivides when faced with internal disputes, but it quickly bands together when confronted by an external enemy. The United States learned this the hard way when its forces tried to apprehend the warlord of the day, Mohammed Farah Aidid.

The moral of the story for me is that there's very little the outside community can do, and not only that, to the extent the international community does anything, it makes the situation worse and more dangerous for the rest of the world. Why waste money, lives, and political capital on making the world a worse place? I'd rather stay home and let a clan-based solution come to Somalia from within (which is pretty much what happened in 2005 before we sent in the Ethiopians), because I doubt it will happen any other way.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

arms embargo for Israel/Palestine?

Amnesty International calls for an arms embargo for the various parties in the Gaza conflict.

Friday, February 20, 2009

giant rat!

A massive creature caught in China. Don't look at this before lunch if you're afraid of rodents.

the Amazing Adventures of Christopher Hitchens continue

So Christopher Hitchens apparently got into a punchup with some Syrian ultranationalist punks while defacing one of their posters in Beirut. This guy should have his own reality TV show. I'd watch.

Iran crosses the theshold

They've got enough uranium to develop a bomb, if they choose.

Since we're not going to be at war, we should be talking to them, and every day we don't destabilizes the Middle East.

the Great Game: reprise

The BBC has an interesting article on souring US-Afghan relations, and how the Karzai government might turn to Russia for material support, and how the US might support someone other than Hamid Karzai in the upcoming elections.

According to the article, a flashpoint in the feud was when Joe Biden stormed undiplomatically out of a meeting with Karzai. Later, Hillary Clinton, in her written Senate testimony, referred to Afghanistan as a "narco-state," to which the Afghans basically replied, "Look, just because half our economy is opium based... and just because no country in the history of the earth has ever produced more opium than we did in 2007... does NOT mean that we're a narco-state!"

As far as I'm concerned, if Russia wants this mess, they can have it.

another eviction

These are sad days to be a homeowner, and now comes news of another long-time tenant being served eviction papers, with six months to clear out. Only problem? This one's in Kyrgyzstan, and the tenant is the US Army.

Fortunately, the Uzbeks appear to be letting us rent.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hammurabi, the Revenge

A woman blinded by a deranged suitor in an acid attack wants her attacker blinded also. And in Iran, you can apparently do that sort of thing.

I find this story fascinating, because Iran is usually criticized for giving women too few rights. This time, it's arguably giving them too many.

did the UN just revoke security for George Clooney?

Nick Kristof, who's been hanging out with Clooney on the Sudanese/Chadian border, says so:

Apparently concerned that Mr. Clooney might say something strongly critical of Mr. Bashir — perhaps come down hard on genocide? — the United Nations called me on Wednesday to say that effective immediately it was pulling Mr. Clooney’s security escort as he traveled these roads along the border. Now that did seem petty and mean-spirited. A Frenchman working for Save the Children was murdered on such roads last year, and the U.N. requires a military escort for its own vehicles here.

If the U.N. is too craven to protect its own goodwill ambassadors — because they might criticize genocide — it’s not surprising that it and the international community fail to protect hundreds of thousands of voiceless Darfuris.

No response yet by the UN. If the UN gives one, I'll post it here.

(Update: UN Secretary-General Spokesperson Michelle Montas said that the UN is "still trying to ascertain the facts," but that Clooney is in Chad in his personal capacity, not as UN Goodwill Ambassador, and thus that MINURCAT, the UN mission there, doesn't provide him security. She was under the impression that another group was providing his security. She has no idea who called Nick Kristof, or whether the call even happened. More to come, I'm sure.)

Cohen nails it on Iran

Roger Cohen writes a solid piece on Iran, its goals, and the realistic expectations that can be expected of it. Basically, he says, the US must give up on regime change and the use of military force on Iran, and give up denying Iran the nuclear fuel cycle and some degree of regional influence, and in return we can get verification that the fuel cycle isn't being diverted to nuclear arms, an end to military support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and aid towards stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan. Both sides will work harder for a 2-state solution on Israel-Palestine, as part of Cohen's proposed grand bargain.

Oddly, Iran sent us an offer sheet of basically these precise negotiating terms 6 years ago, which the Bush Administration ignored. Time to take that up again. I've got a copy on my desk. If the Obama Administration needs it, they can borrow mine.

Free Muntadhar al-Zeidi!

The man who chucked his Model 271 brogues at George W. Bush during Bush's final trip to Iraq defiantly refused to apologize today as his trial began.

"What made me do it was the humiliation Iraq has been subjected to due to the U.S. occupation and the murder of innocent people," al-Zeidi said. "I wanted to restore the pride of the Iraqis in any way possible, apart from using weapons."

Al-Zeidi claimed he was tortured by the Iraqi government, which the government denies. The government, um, lacks some credibility here, since cameras caught government security guards beating the tar out of al-Zeidi after he threw the shoe to begin with. Also, the government -- not to mention the US under the Bush years -- has had a bit of a torture problem.

Meanwhile, Al-Zeidi's attorneys, according to the AP, say he's been charged with "assaulting a foreign leader" and could get up to 15 years in jail. All I know is, if the Iraqi government allows that to happen, it will become very, very, very unpopular in the Arab world.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Where in the world is Osama bin Laden?

California professors, using techniques used to find endangered species, think they know. Right down to one of three possible buildings he might be in.

Of course, it's now on the web, so assuming he has internet access, bin Laden's probably not there anymore. So much for that idea...

change we can believe in

An opportunity for a fresh start looms with upcoming elections in... North Korea! Or at least, so says Kim Jong Il.

talk to the people

Christopher Hitchens wants Obama to talk to the people of Iran, not the government. Hitchens properly castigates Bush Administration Iran policy, but misses the point. We already did talk to the Iranian people. We do so all the time at the UN, saying "we are not your enemy," etc. I lost count of the number of times I heard US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and various other US officials say this. But the people aren't the ones who are close to achieving the nuclear fuel cycle.

Hitchens warns that Iran will try to delay to achieve the fuel cycle. Probable. But this isn't a reason to negotiate. The same logic was used to not negotiate with Iran back in 2005. Three years have passed since then, during which time we probably could have negotiated Iran into a suspension. Iran has not stopped its centrifuges. Sanctions have had minimal effect. And we've wasted a lot of time.

The bottom line is, we should be talking to people right up to the point where we go to war. If we leave the situation to fester -- or just "speak to the people" without dealing with the regime -- it gets worse, not better.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A force with no name

The Group of Friends of _______* have agreed in principle, as of last night, to a compromise text renewing the mandate of the UN Mission in _________*. The resolution takes note of the ongoing Geneva talks between the parties, underlines the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes, calls for the Secretary-General to think up a new security apparatus for the region, and extends the mission by four months.

* For political reasons, no country here is named. To understand why, and what the hell is going on, please refer back to my previous post (#454, 2/10/09).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

with friends like these...

The Friends of Georgia group met today. Oops, excuse me, since Russia is a member, it's now just called the "Group of Friends." The word "Georgia" is dropped. The group met to renew the mandate of the UN Observer Mission In Georgia, which due to Russian objections is not going to be called that anymore, but is just called the "UN Mission." No reference to where it is, because to Russian eyes Abkhazia and S. Ossetia aren't part of Georgia anymore.


Monday, February 9, 2009

the germ theory of intervention

Christopher Hitchens says that if a country's policies are so bad that it's leading to disease that is then transmitted across borders, that's grounds for international intervention. And, because of the cholera outbreak, we should invade Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is undeniably a tragically collapsed state, a breadbasket turned into a basket case, and that is directly a result of Robert Mugabe's policies. To me, though, Hitchens doesn't have much of a case. The precedent that such an intervention would set would be so broad as to basically undo all sense of sovereignty. By rights, South Africa should be next because of its dithering policies on AIDS, which have helped fuel the spread of the disease across the subcontinent and beyond. Dozens of developing countries that for either political, ideological, religious, or infrastructural reasons are unwilling or unable to deal with dangerous diseases, be it malaria or AIDS or polio or avian flu or even SARS, could justifiably be subjects for "intervention." Hell, the most recent cholera outbreak to make the news before Zimbabwe was in Iraq... AFTER the US invasion. What were we supposed to do? Invade again and liberate the country from ourselves?

aid shipments resume to Gaza

Hamas, which never surrendered to Israel, caved to UNRWA after the refugee agency suspended all aid until the aid that had been taken from it by Hamas was returned. Shipments resumed today.

However, the Israelis are still blocking some rather ridiculous aid items -- plastic bags and paper for textbooks most egregiously. As UNRWA's John Ging pointed out again today, among the textbooks that aren't being printed for the UN's Gaza schools are books that teach the children of Gaza about human rights. Some respect for human rights by everyone involved would, you know, come in handy right about now.

and if there are no good guys?

Pick a side and give it money... even if it massacres civilians. Apparently, that's the tack the US took in supporting Uganda against the Lord's Resistance Army... with predictable results.

Friday, February 6, 2009

don't mess with the Kryzgyz

Kyrgyzstan, previously known mostly as the country with the most consecutive non-vowels in its name (8), made international headlines for announcing it was booting the US's Manas Military Base off its territory. Today they announce that that decision is "final" and the US forces must be gone by summer. It seems Moscow doesn't want US military bases in former Soviet states, which they regard as their sphere of influence. The US was also booted from its base in Uzbekistan a couple years back.

On the plus side, Iran and Russia seem to like us more these days. Maybe our next military base can be in Bam.

AQ Khan released!

Unleash the power of your inner proliferator! AQ Khan, the guy who sold nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya, is freed from house arrest.

and while you're at it, could you become a secular liberal democracy?

From the Futility Department comes today's call by Western nations for Saudi Arabia to stop using flogging and amputation as punishment. This in reaction to the first published human rights review of the Saudis from the Human Rights Council. From Reuters:

Western countries called on Saudi Arabia on Friday to halt floggings and amputations, allow religious freedom and abolish a system of male guardianship sharply limiting women's rights.

Britain, Canada, Switzerland and Israel challenged Riyadh on issues including its high number of executions. Saudi Arabia executes murderers, rapists and drug traffickers, usually by public beheading, and judges sometimes give the death sentence to armed robbers and those convicted of "sorcery" or desecrating the Koran.

The Saudis defended themselves at the Human Rights Council, according to the article, by saying that they were in strict compliance with Sharia, that they were cracking down on domestic violence, and that people can practice religions other than Islam so long as they do it in private and don't tell anybody. No, seriously, this was their defense.

Added the delegate of Saudi Arabia:

“We do not have a religious problem with women driving, but our polls shows 80 percent do not believe that women should drive cars, and we respect the wishes of people and respect gradual developments.”

In the interest of fairness, the Human Rights Council also took Canada to task for its use of tasers. Cuba, of course, was praised for its exemplary record on human rights.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sudan likens the ICC indictment to "giving birth to a dead rat"

Today was an incredible day for Sudanese diplomacy at the UN, as the Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad called ICC Prosecutor Jose Maria Ocampo "crazy," got into an unlikely pissing contest with Costa Rica, and likened the ICC's potential indictment of President Bashir to "giving birth to a dead rat that is smelling and having no use at all."

It all started when, following a Security Council meeting on Sudan, Costa Rica's Ambassador Jorge Urbina came out to talk to the press, stressing that Article 16 of the Rome Statute (which allows the Security Council to block ICC indictments) must not be invoked, and that there can be no peace without justice. Bear in mind that Costa Rica is probably the most non-intimidating country on earth. However, Ambassador Mohamad didn't feel that way, and he told us so.

It's pretty ironic that countries far from our region ... are now giving lectures about justice and peace. We need no lessons and lectures from Ambassadors like the Costa Rican one. His statements here in front of you are totally unacceptable, and they reflect in no uncertain terms his defeat, because they have no logic and no consideration for priorities of peace in the Sudan. Imagine! He has no standing or justification whatsoever to appear before you here and to talk about Article 16 and the need to leave this crazy prosecutor to do what he's planning to do.

Added Mohamad:

This possible [ICC] verdict, if it comes, will be only like giving birth to a dead rat that is smelling and having no use at all. So we will not be at all concerned about it and it will die a natural death.

Mohamad went on to blast countries that oppose invoking Article 16 (and there are certainly more than enough to stop it at this moment), and discussed the fears of what would happen after the indictment. What he said wasn't precisely reassuring:

Indeed the Council has a special responsibility to halt this crazy move, and we think that his words are very appropriate in front of the Council that the Council should do something about it. Now they are saying, no, we will try to do that after the indictment. They want only damage to occur, and then to ask the fireworkers to come and extinguish the harm. Indeed, we view with a lot of concern that so far some countries are resisting this move, and we are still engaging with them on what the Council will do, but it's very clear to everybody that the indictment or possible indictment will have far-reaching implications, not only on South Sudan or Darfur but the entire country.

And lastly, he vaguely warned of terrible consequences for the UN peacekeeping mission if the indictment happens.

The United Nations should, on its part, play a role to see that peace is a priority in the country. It takes two to tango. It is not only the Sudanese government. We know our obligations and we will be faithful to our commitments and our obligations vis-a-vis our guests and the peacekeepers. But the UN should, on its part, should demonstrate is commitment to the safety and security of its own people on the ground and to, as requested by the African Union, to invoke Article 16 in order to arrest this movement by the prosecutor. ... No, no, the safety of the peacekeepers is not at all an issue here. The issue is the safety and the security of the entire people of Sudan. So people should not look at the issue as separate islands. ... We are saying that we cannot predict the public outrage. But on our part, we will be very careful about our commitments regarding the foreign presence in our land.

So, obviously the Sudanese Army wouldn't give the UN any trouble, but the people of the Sudan... the outraged people!!! There might be no stopping them.

This could get ugly.

when in doubt, blame New Jersey

Turns out, that weird syrupy smell that engulfed Manhattan back in 2005 came from a plant in Jersey, says Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

I'd do some Jersey jokes here, but... well, just read the article.

The weekender gets spoofed

You know those "the weekender" ads that The New York Times runs constantly? Well, if you've seen them 300 times like I have... you should probably watch this.

If you're afraid of snakes, do not read any further

This monster snake, which lived about 60 million years ago, is so big it's almost difficult to imagine.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hamas seizes UN supplies

First Israel doesn't let the supplies in. Now, when they get in, Hamas takes them. Remember when I said that donors to that UN $613 million flash appeal for rebuilding Gaza should make sure that Hamas and Israel are quite finished destroying it first?

reports of armyworms are greatly exaggerated

Another twist in the saga of the rampaging caterpillars. They're NOT armyworms... they're caterpillars after all! Hollywood's loss is Liberia's gain: apparently the caterpillar cocoons are easier to eradicate than those of the armyworms, who cocoon underground.

Zombies ahead! The end is near

Electronic road signs hacked. Beware of zombies!

Update: it's spreading.

First Law of Lithium Politics?

Tom Friedman says that higher oil prices equals less democracy. So we should go to electric cars, right? Well, electric cars need lithium for their batteries, and guess where half the lithium on earth can be found?

That's right: Bolivia. That noted bastion of democracy and stability.

When one of the indigenous leaders there says, "we can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium," all I can say is, uh oh...

evil is normal

Yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Judea Pearl, UCLA professor and mother of Daniel Pearl wrote a piece called "Daniel Pearl and the Normalization of Evil," accusing Jimmy Carter, Europe, elites and academia of caving to terrorism by explaining how Hamas's actions are a byproduct of the Israeli occupation.

The simplest answer I can come up with is that evil has been normalized because evil is normal. Any tribe can and will commit it in the name of nationalism when its leaders can convince the population that they're faced with a credible external threat. That doesn't make it just. That doesn't even make it effective. But it makes it highly predictable. These days, occupied peoples tend to use suicide bombers. Before suicide bombers, they used insurgencies that would lead to exponentially greater death on their own side, all in the name of "liberation." UNDERSTANDING THIS DOES NOT JUSTIFY IT. But it explains why the Israelis can kill 1300 Gazans with very little gain and mostly feel miffed that the war didn't go on long enough, while Hamas can futilely launch rockets at Israel and send suicide bombers into cafes and still remain popular enough to win an election in Palestine. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are an evil people, nor are they demons. But they are NATIONALISTS, just like everybody is.

When sovereignty is in dispute, hardliners will prevail. Moving to end the sovereignty threat will undermine the support and the cause the hardliners claim to stand for, and thus undermine the hardliners themselves. If you want to see how to end the threat of a repugnant "resistance" militia, look at how General David Petraeus dealt with the Sunni insurgency. In 2006, the Sunnis fought a civil war against the Shiites and lost. Facing annihalation and political oblivion, the Sunni insurgents turned to the US for support, and Petraeus wisely armed and funded them in exchange for having them police their own territory and wipe out extremists foreign elements like Al Qaeda in Iraq. Ultimately, I think this strategy won't bring long-term peace to Iraq, because the sovereignty battle between the Sunnis and Shiites hasn't been settled and can't be, except by blunt Shiite force, while the country's borders are as they are. But it did temporarily remove the sovereignty threat the Sunnis felt from the Americans and the Shiites, and allowed the Sunnis to take part in elections they'd boycotted just a few years earlier. It gave the Iraqis the best chance to succeed. Many of the people we've been giving money to were actively involved in killing US soldiers. Were they evil? If so, why are we paying them? Because it works.

Likewise, after the latest war Hamas must realize it can't win by military means against Israel, and Israel should realize it can't exterminate Hamas. Now would be an excellent time to try to bring out the moderates in Hamas (and yes, there are some) and bring the organization into the peace talks in the same way that Fatah was brought in. This might take years. It might require painful sacrifices by Israel. And it might require talking to, negotiating with, and - gasp! - legitimizing people who have done hideous things. But we should start now. Not because we think Hamas's acts are justified, but because if we don't deal with legitimate Palestinian nationalist interests, violence will continue and more people will die. I'm not a terrorist apologist for saying so, and I don't appreciate being called one.

Welcome to the human race, Professor Pearl. If we understood ourselves better, fewer people would get killed.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

another 1-state solution

Fresh off the heels of proposing a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine (Isratine, he called it cleverly), Muammar Qadaffi is selected as President of the African Union, and proposes to make Africa one country.

Myself, I think this will work at least as well as trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to get along.

My coworker: "If Africa is one country, then Sarah Palin will be right!"

there will be blood

South Darfur descends back into the abyss. US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice reports that the UN Secretariat told the Security Council today that the JEM, the rebels holding the town, have pulled back and asked for the town to be a demilitarized zone, but the government rained in 28 bombs already this morning anyway, and appears ready to overrun the town, home to 50,000 people. 200 UN peacekeepers are standing their ground.

And, of course, if the ICC indicts President Omar al Bashir of Sudan, he may demand that the UN leave the country entirely. Who will save south Darfur then?

Monday, February 2, 2009

UN: we won't take part in the upcoming massacres, we'll just help with logistics

The UN, rather understandably, punts on Congo. With the Rwandan army and Tutsi militia CNDP about ready to launch an all-out offensive to rout the Hutu genocidaires camping out in eastern Congo, the UN announces that it will restrict its role to planning. Why?

MONUC ... underscored that it will not participate in any transaction in which. Bosco Ntanganda, the leader of the mainly Tutsi National Congress in Defense of the People (CNDP) militia, will play a role at any level.

The fact is, there's not much the UN can do to stop this offensive, and it's going to be messy. UN planning might well help demobilize Hutu militias and rescue civilians. But still, it's a little cynical to assume you're morally off the hook if your guys aren't out there firing the guns.

a Super Bowl climax that few wanted to see

Tucson viewers get hit by 30 seconds of hard core porn near the dramatic conclusion of the epic Cardinals-Steelers title game last night. I think the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake incident has nothing on this.