Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm back!

I didn't blog for a couple weeks there. Not on vacation. No explanation. Just didn't. Back now. Hopefully I'll be a regular again, but everyone deserves a break.

swine flu!

Well, the newsmedia have run, um, hog wild with the swine flu story, and Wall Street has followed suit. But today President Obama put the whole thing in perspective.

“We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States,” Mr. Obama said, speaking at the National Academy of Sciences. “This is obviously the cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert, but it’s not a cause for alarm.”

Over at Don't Worry About The Government, stalwart podcasters Ethan Cheng, Roni Weiss and myself debate the hysteria over swine flu, and, more importantly, whether it should be called swine flu.

"all against all"

Well, the five Democratic congressmen who were arrested today for protesting outside the Sudanese embassy probably should've attended today's Security Council briefing on Darfur by Rodolphe Adada, the Special Representative of UNAMID.

In his remarks, Adada stressed that:

"Darfur today is a conflict of all against all. Government forces clash with armed movements. The armed movements fight amongst each other, or violently purge their own members. Membvers of government security forces fight against one another, and the army clashes with the militias. There [are] inter-tribal conflicts. All parties have killed civilians. There is an endemic banditry and a breakdown of law and order."

The greatest problem in Darfur today is the ongoing conflict between the JEM and the Government of Sudan's armed forces, and the related poor relations between Chad and Sudan, according to Adada.

Which brings us to the question of what the congressmen were protesting outside the Sudanese embassy? Genocide? That bird has flown. Somehow I don't think members of Congress were demanding improved relations between Chad and Sudan. The Darfur conflict might have been a cause for sloganeering back in 2003-2004, during the worst of the government abuses. Now it's too complex for that. The sooner the US body politic realizes this, the better and smarter our Sudan policy can be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Colbert wuz robbed

Stephen Colbert was denied having a space station named after him after NASA announced it was going with "Tranquility" instead.

Personally, I'd rather hoped Serenity would win.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Somalia and the Death of Responsibility To Protect

Foreign Policy blog is all over this bumble-dumb idea that airstrikes against Somali pirates on land will solve the piracy problem. Because, you know, American interventions (or proxy interventions via the Ethiopian military) in Somalia have worked so well in the past:

Let's think hypothetically about what might happen if strikes go ahead. U.S. onland intervention will surely anger al Shabaab, the Islamist militant wing that controls an alarming percentage of Somali territory and is the biggest single threat to Somali stability. Already, the Somali government is struggling to convince the country that its relatively pro-Western stance is for the greater good. That argument will lose all weight if and when the U.S. starts airstrikes. Forget about the government's effectiveness, and forget about any hopes that al Shabaab will disarm. This would fuel the fire. No, we shouldn't kneel to the demands of al Shabaab, but nor should we ignore that their ire will be taken out on the already dilapidated Somali population.

Military convoys for shipping vessels? Good idea. Invading Somalia? Bad idea. The place may have no government, but it's one of the most xenophobic countries on earth. Even a stateless country has nationalism, and even a lawless country has sovereignty. We violate Somalia's at our peril.

Update: Over at the Daily Beast, Matt Yglesias also chimes in.

North Korea goes ballistic

North Korea today announced it was abandoning the 6-party talks and denounced the Security Council's presidential statement against it yesterday as "brigandish."

From the ever-vigilant KCNA:

The DPRK Foreign Ministry issued a statement Tuesday flatly rejecting the brigandish "presidential statement" which the U.S. and its followers finally released by abusing the UNSC to condemn the DPRK's launch of satellite for peaceful purposes.

The North Korean news agency went on to declare that the North would be leaving the 6-party talks on nuclear disarmament because "the six-party talks have turned into a platform for infringing upon the sovereignty of the DPRK and seeking to force the DPRK to disarm itself and bring down the system in it."

The North added it would be bolstering its nuclear deterrent. Around about the same time, it informed the IAEA that it was being thrown out of the country.

Ooops, I goofted

Ever-entertaining President of the General Assembly Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann today accused the Western powers of having "goofted" in creating the financial crisis.

"They said they had expertise," added Brockmann, the former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and often critic of US foreign policy. "Expertise in what?! In creating the biggest crisis in 60 years?"

Monday, April 6, 2009

North Korea: South Korea cheated at soccer

In a shocking diplomatic development, North Korea's news agency officially accused South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, in cahoots with nefarious international actors Oman and Japan, of cheating in a football match. I am not making this up.

The North first accuses malcontents in Oman of poisoning their football team in advance of their Asian Cup Qualifier with their bitter rivals, the South Koreans, with whom they are still technically at war. They then accuse the refs of stealing the game, at President Lee's behalf:

Moreover, the Oman chief referee was so seriously biased in refereeing at the match that he insisted the ball headed by our player into the goal mouth at about 6 minutes after the start of the second half of the match was not the goal. He also declared that the foul committed by the rival side about 3 minutes before the end of the match was our player's though it was an obvious foul on the part of the rival side, thus resulting in the loss of our team.

It was something surprising that the Japanese refereeing supervisor tacitly connived at this shameless behavior though he was obliged to ensure the fair refereeing.

The match thus turned into a theatre of plot-breeding and swindling. It is as clear as noonday that it was a product of the Lee Myung Bak group's moves for confrontation with the DPRK and a deliberate behavior bred by the unsavory forces instigated by it.

Talk about sore losers, jeez. With rhetoric like that, this could be the start of the second Football War in world history. (The first, of course, being the infamous El Salvador-Honduras war of 1969.)

water is the new oil?

Jack Shafer and Wendy Barnaby take to Slate to dispute the coming "Water wars" hypothesis:

None of my skepticism should imply that I think everybody everywhere has all the clean, cheap water they need. Water, like all resources, is scarce, and I accept that scarcity can cause conflict. But before anyone starts frightening themselves about impending water wars, they might want to consider Barnaby's observation that in the last five decades there have been no "formal declarations of war over water.

The authors go on to argue that states tend to work out water shortages by importing food from water-rich nations.

I think it takes only one word to rebut that essay: Darfur. The Darfur conflict is all about water. The desert has migrated south 100 km in 40 years while the population has quadrupled. Pastorlists and farmers, both dependent on depleting water resources, began fighting to the death over what was left, and the government took the pastoralists' side. Without water scarcity, the Darfur genocide would not have happened. Period. Countries may be able to import food to counter water shortages, but poor farmers and pastoralists depend on it for their livelihoods, and they don't have the money to import new livelihoods. And this is not an isolated example. The entire Sahel, and much of East Africa, is facing the same issues.

Countries can import water to make up for shortages, but in poor countries, subsistence farmers and pastoralists depend on water for their livelihoods. Take that away, and disaster will strike. It's little exaggeration to say the entire Sahel is at risk of Darfurization.

Moreover, the fear of massive water loss could lead to problems like we've not known. India and Pakistan have reached water treaties in the past, yes, but today you've got over 1.5 billion people in the Subcontinent more or less entirely dependent on Himalayan meltwater. If climate change thins those glaciers and drastically reduces that flow, just as the population increases to well over 2 billion and adopts a more meat-heavy, water-intensive diet, never mind increased water usage by urban centers and industry... well, you can see where this could lead.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

North Korea missile test: update 1

I could fill you in about all the diplomatic minutiae that's taken place here at and around the United Nations Security Council during the past 12 hours I've been following this...

or I could just link you to this hilarious update from Arms Control Wonk. This from a wonkish commenter on the site:

"According to the US Navy the highly unique North Korean satellite has entered subaquatic orbit in the Pacific Ocean, and is transmitting melodies of the immortal revolutionary paeans Song of General Kim Il-sung and Song of General Kim Jong-il on a 15 kHz acoustic channel."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

the crackdown begins

Just as Iowa and Vermont are moving to allow gay marriage, Iraq is going in the other direction, in a big way. Ridiculous.

Obama calls for a nuclear free world

Reuters is on the case. A lot of smart people have started making this call from across the political spectrum. It's nice to hear the President do it too.

great moments in marketing!

So the venerable hockey team the Montreal Canadiens are up for sale. PETA offered to "rent" them for one game in exchange for getting to rename them the "Canadien Seal Pups" to publicize baby-seal clubbing that continues unabated in Canada.

But then a Sports Illustrated writer pointed out that, um, PETA, what if Montreal loses that game? Headline the next day: SEAL PUPS BEATEN.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Seymour Hersh does it again

Fascinating article on Syria in this week's New Yorker. Hersh argues that Syria is badly wanting, if not a total strategic realignment, then certainly improved relations with the West and a peace deal over Golan with Israel. The article also says that the incoming Obama Administration persuaded Israel to end its Gaza campaign before the inauguration, over the objections of Dick Cheney. Definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Avigdor Lieberman: worst Foreign Minister ever

In remarks that could scarcely be believed if reputable newspapers weren't reporting on them, Avigdor Lieberman today eschewed the Annapolis Peace Talks (okay, fine, understandable, it was a futile attempt anyway, but still...), the 2-state solution, and peace in general. From the Guardian:

Israel's new foreign minister dismayed the international community today with a rancorous analysis of the peace process and an announcement that the new government favours aggression rather than concessions to the Palestinians.

In his first speech since taking office, the rightwinger Avigdor Lieberman dismissed the last round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, arguing that Israeli concessions made in a bid to secure peace had all been fruitless.

He refrained from his previous well-publicized Egypt-bashing, however, perhaps demonstrating that Netanyahu has a bit of a leash on his pit bull:

Lieberman was more amiable towards Egypt, which he described as an "important element in the Arab world". This is an improvement on a few weeks ago, when he said the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, could "go to hell".

A triumph for diplomacy and rationality!

sea cucumbers in danger

The UN reports that sea cucumbers are at risk of overfishing. Somehow, FAO's press release, in the grand tradition of its infamous Army Worms scare in Liberia, manages to be hilarious.

The real trouble with sea cucumbers is that they're not nearly as adorable as, say, orcas or belugas on the list of endangered things. Even walruses are more majestic. If a sea cucumber is in a Hollywood movie, it's much more likely to be the villain (The Cucumber Who Killed would be a good C-movie on Sy-Fy) and much less the hero, a la Free Willy. It's just really hard to rally behind this one.

That said, overfishing is a serious problem and if we've exhausted the oceans to the point that we're overharvesting mobile blobs like the sea cucumber, we're in real trouble.