Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas (for those so inclined)!

Posting has been slow of late. I have spent Christmas with the family and for the past day I have bee in transit. I am now enjoying the fine weather of the Guatemalan mountains. I will not be as active until January 12th as I will be spending my time trekking in the moutains and jungle, improving my (pityful) spanish and having a good time.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Kony hiding in Central African Republic

That is the price country pays for having failed states as neighbors. As the pressure became too great on the LRA in Uganda, they fled to South Sudan. When the fighting became problematic there they established bases in Democratic Republic of the Congo. And now that the governments of South Sudan, DRC and Uganda has jointly attacked the LRA, they have moved further northwest to CAR. If the LRA had been operating in Germany or in Malaysia, they would have had no choice but to abdicate after the pressure got too high in their country; there were simply no weak neighbors keep on fighting.

The LRA claims its whole leadership survived last week's attack. This is not too surprising given their skills at avoiding military strikes in the past. But although the guerrilla is alive and well, there is no escaping the fact that it is on the run and it is getting farther and farther from Uganda. While it is not the optimal solution for Northern Uganda, the distance between them and Kony allow reconstruction to happen and a semblance of normal life to restart. Hopefully by the time (and if) the LRA comes back, Acholi communities and the Ugandan government will be resilient enough to withstand them. As for CAR, god bless them; the last thing they needed was yet another rebel group.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quote of the day

Tradition is the living faith of the dead, Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. -Jaroslav Pelikan
Via Jeremiah Jenne

Sunday morning humor

Go see Razib's post on some funny investing books and their raving reviews. Among them:

"Dow 30,000 by 2008" Why It's Different This Time
Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bus - And How You Can Profit from It: How to Build Wealth in Today's Expanding Real Estate Market
The Rules for Growing Rich: Making Money in the New Information Economy (written of course at the peak of the bubble)

I guess every genius is misunderstood in its own time.

Failed abstersion?

Iraq’s interior minister said all 24 of his officers who had been arrested in a security crackdown this week would be released. And in a bold gesture of defiance, he publicly condemned his own government’s investigation, calling the accusations false and motivated purely by politics. -NY Times
As Robert Farley said, the purge did not seem to work out exactly how Maliki seemed to have intended. Joe Klein says there are two ways to look at the situation:
Glass half full: The nascent Iraqi democracy is apparently supple enough to derail this attempt at anti-democratic mayhem.

Glass half empty: We are witnessing the return to Iraqi politics as usual--a constant succession of coups and attempted coups that will produce something less than a democracy in the not-too-distant future.

I'll go with the glass half empty. I think Maliki thought he could get away with the firing but his support was not strong enough at the present time. I do not think they were released out of respect for abstract democratic ideals; the reasons were doubtless much more pragmatic. In any case, the situation does not bode well for Maliki.

The changing Darfuris

There is a fascinating article in the NY Times that describes the increasing power of youths in Darfur's camp. What I found interesting is how their years in the camp changed their perspective on life:

“Before, our desires were simple when it came to education, to culture — all we really thought about was farming,” said Adam Haroun Ahmed, 20, who arrived in the camp at 15. “The colonization, the oppression, all the brutal things done to us by the janjaweed caused us to change our views.”

When asked to describe his old village, his school friends jostling around him shouted down the idea. “It is something in the past, almost imaginary,” one yelled. Another chimed in, “It is so far from our reality that we don’t want to be there.” -Neil Macfarquhar
Before the conflict they were (mostly) uneducated farmers with very little understanding of the wider world. But the experience in the war and the camps, with its politicization and western based NGO education, has broadened their horizon. This new awareness is a bad sign for the sheiks and other traditional Darfuri power brokers. As the article shows, the newly politicized youths are now taking over power in the camps. It is also a cause for concern for Khartoum, as controlling Darfur was easier when the populace was by and large uneducated and predominantly under the control of local chieftains.

But as the article says, the youths have very high expectations:
Mr. Abdullah reeled off four prerequisites before the shabab in any camp would agree to negotiations between Darfur rebels and the government: disarming the government militias; prosecuting those responsible for war crimes, starting with Mr. Bashir; expelling anyone who settled on land stolen from the displaced farmers; and carrying out all United Nations Security Council resolutions on Darfur.
Just like in the Palestinian refugee camps, education and politicization bred extremism and unrealistic expectations. This recipe did not exactly bring lasting peace in Palestine, let us hope the results will be more suitable in Darfur.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Attempted coup on Maliki?

It's being spun as a thwarted coup on Maliki but I don't buy it. It looks more like Maliki is trying to strengthen his control of the government by slowly removing opponents so that he can become the next Iraqi strongman. As I said after SOFA passed, now that the endgame is in sight we will see a power struggle for control of the country in the post American era. Maliki looks like he is doing pretty well for himself for now.
BAGHDAD — A senior spokesman at the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior confirmed publicly on Thursday that 23 of its officials had been arrested in recent days under suspicion of being affiliated with a banned political party related to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. The ministry, in a statement, also said the scope of the investigation was wider than originally reported, with officials in other security ministries also arrested.


According to senior security officials in Baghdad who revealed the arrests earlier this week, up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general have been detained this week.

The arrests, according to those officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, included at least three generals. The officials also said that the arrests had come at the hand of an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. -NYTimes

Monday, December 15, 2008

He sure proved them wrong

He might have been old, but he sure as hell was not cranky.

DAKAR (Reuters) - A 70-year-old man opened fire with his hunting rifle on a rap group at a concert in northeast Senegal at the weekend because he felt their song lyrics were insulting him, police and local media said on Monday.

Five young people were wounded in the shooting incident at Lobali village in the Matam region on Senegal's border with Mauritania, some 700 km (440 miles) from the capital Dakar.

The man told the rappers to stop when they started singing about a "cranky old man", and when they did not, he opened fire with his rifle, a local police officer said.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Civil War to restart in South Sudan?

There has been clashes in the oil-rich Southern Sudanese town of Abyei between Sudanese government soldiers (who were violating ceasefire agreement by being in the city) and the Southern Sudanese police, causing several thousands people to flee. The Sudanese troops have withdrawn for now but this is a bad sign. Both factions want to control this oil-rich region; Khartoum is deriving most of its foreign currency from it and the Southern Sudanese government knows it can not win if the Sudanese government controls the oil fields. This might be the first step toward faltering of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 in Sudan and a return to the civil war which gripped the country for over 40 years. If this is correct, this is one of the saddest news of 2008, even for a skeptic like me who never believed too much in the CPA (but I still had a bit hope).

In seemingly unrelated news, DR Congo, Uganda and Southern Sudan have attacked LRA positions over the past days, breaking the peace process. Kony (LRA's leader) did not agree to sign a peace deal because of the ICC warrant on his head, (although it might be because after decades in the bush, he can not envision living any other way) so the governments of the region decided to attempt to eliminate him instead in a coordinated strike. Although it might not look connected to Abyei, it is. If the civil war is reignited in Sudan, the LRA will once again get funding and help from Khartoum; they will be in a stronger position and more difficult to deal with, causing more violence and destruction. That is why I said it was very important to reach a peace deal with Kony before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan fell apart.

Let's hope the region does not fall apart.

Whatever your opinion of Bush is...

You have to admit the man is good at dodging shoes.

On an unrelated subject, normal posting will resume in a few days when the final exams period is over.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Quote of the Day: Realism vs Liberalism

I think this is where the prospects for liberal/realist synthesis really come into view. At its best, realism isn’t just cynicism, it’s a recognition of the important reality that other countries have their own real and perceived interests and that effective US foreign policy needs to take that into account. And at its worst, the liberal humanitarian impulse becomes less about actually helping other than about appropriating vaguely high-minded rhetoric to mass an agenda of arrogance (see e.g., Max Boot’s paen to the virtues of imperialism). Productive synthesis between this impulses can be a guide to good policy, and the useful corrective in both cases is empathy — the idea that others’ point of view should be taken seriously. -Mathew Yglesias

Monday, December 8, 2008

Majority for Charest

Charest won a majority government tonight with a few seats more than the 63 he needed. Parti Québécois did much better than expected with around 51 seats, which will be seen as a victory for Marois. The ADQ has dropped to 17% with 7 seats and Dumont announced that he will step down in a few months and quit politics. Amir Khadir from Québec Solidaire won a seat so the velvet left will have a voice at the National Assembly, which will be highly entertaining.

I do not have much time to blog these days as I have several finals in the next week and a half and I am sick. Posting will be light in the coming days.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

How not to solve the piracy problem

There was some semblance of law and order in 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union, loosely linked with Al Qaeda, took over much of the country and imposed Shariah law. Though there were cruel tradeoffs, the Islamists virtually eradicated piracy. (The crime was a capital offense punishable by beheading.)

When Ethiopian forces, supported by the United States, replaced the Islamists with an ineffective transitional government in 2006, piracy returned with an intensity not seen since the 17th century.

It is evident that no nation can impose its will on Somalia; the colonial British and Italians learned the hard way. And certainly no nation can force Somalis to stop the best business in town. But if the West really hopes to eliminate the scourge of piracy in these strategic shipping lanes, then it should consider involving the courts union, the only entity that has proved it could govern the country, and its militant wing, Al Shabaab, in a new government. -John Burnett

John Burnett appears to be totally clueless about recent Somalia history; I wonder how he could get this article published in the New York Times. The ICU did not eradicate piracy, it was simply never as much of a problem as it is now. They did outlaw it, but the fact is the ICU never had any authority over the area where most of piracy comes from: Puntland. Here is a map that shows that maximum extent of ICU power (dark green). As you can see the Islamic Courts never controlled more than half of the country because, like the Transitional Government, it was an organization that was based mostly on clan affiliation and was thus opposed by the other clans. In this regard it is very similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan, who drew their support from Pashtuns despite their Islamic rhetoric, except that the Taliban actually controlled the vast majority of the country when the USA invaded. There is nothing that could lead us to believe that the ICU could control all of Somalia. Even if they did, I do not see how you could argue for support of a movement that stone to death teenage girls for being raped (while not punishing the rapists) for the purpose of saving a few tens of millions to shipping companies; the fact is that piracy is not a huge problem, it is a nuisance that can be controlled.

Israeli pogrom

An innocent Palestinian family, numbering close to 20 people. All of
them women and children, save for three men. Surrounding them are a few dozen masked Jews seeking to lynch them. A pogrom. This isn't a play on words or a double meaning. It is a pogrom in the worst sense of the word. First the masked men set fire to their laundry in the front yard and then they tried to set fire to one of the rooms in the house. The women cry for help, "Allahu Akhbar." Yet the neighbors are too scared to approach the house, frightened of the security guards from Kiryat Arba who have sealed off the home and who are cursing the journalists who wish to document the events unfolding there. -
Avi Issacharoff
I am generally more sympathetic to the Israeli point of view than the average western liberal, but there is simply no way to defend such behavior. Webster dictionary defines terrorism as "the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion" and that is exactly what those settlers are doing.

Not the smartest fish in the pond

Sometimes, it is better not to say anything at all.

The insurgents were invisible, hidden behind the thick mud walls of the compounds, their rifles poking through narrow slits.

“Small arms have no effect on the walls, and that’s what we were carrying,” Colonel Baluch said. “We did not know where to fire back.”

The attack came from three directions, but the guerrillas made a mistake.

“When they shouted, ‘God is great,’ it was helpful to us,” Colonel Baluch said. The voices gave away their location. -NYTimes (Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Québec poll: Charest surging ahead three days before election

With three days left before the election, this new CROP-La Presse poll has some very good news for Jean Charest. Results:

PLQ (Jean Charest): 45%
PQ (Pauline Marois): 29%
ADQ (Mario Dumont ): 15%

The Liberals have not moved since the last poll whereas the Parti Québécois dropped by 3 points and the ADQ increased its percentage by 3. These results would give a comfortable majority for Jean Charest. The Liberals are a mere one point behind the PQ (35% vs 36%) among french voters, an increase of two points since last poll; although unnecessary, a win among francophone would be a moral victory for Jean Charest.

The PQ is getting an astounding 8% less than the percentage of people who claim to be independentist, although it is unclear why those people are not voting for them (expect the hardliners to use this statistics as an argument in internal party fights after Monday). Mario Dumont is also heading toward disaster, with 15% he will get a few deputies at best and lose his standing as an official party. With three days left before the election, it is hard to see how the opposition parties could turn things around. It looks like Jean Charest will remain in power for at least four more years.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Quote of the Day II: Harper

This is finals period so I do not have as much time as I would like to write, so I'll quote. Here is Jeff Jedras summing up my opinion of what Harper has done the past few weeks:
But I’ve digressed. I don’t blame Jean. I blame Harper. He put the Governor-General in this position, and now a very dangerous precedent has been set: illegitimate governments that have lost the support of the people’s representatives can govern with impunity, fleeing parliament at will to avoid accountability. Mark my words: Conservatives, and all Canadians, will come to regret the precedent set here today.

What we have today, however, is an illegitimate government that has lost the moral authority to govern. As El Presidente would say, Let Me Be Clear. Stephen Harper has lost the confidence of the House. You know it, I know it, he knows it. It is a fundamental tenant of our system of parliamentary democracy that, to be Prime Minister, you must command the confidence of the House. And he does not. That is abundantly clear.

Harper may go on to govern for many years. And he may even do some good things, anything is possible. But his scorched Earth, nuclear war campaign to maintain his tenuous grip on power has besmirched and weakened the very institutions he claims to be fighting to protect.

He has stoked the fires of Western alienation by exploiting the legitimate concerns of Western Canadians for his narrow political ends.

He has stoked the fires of Quebec nationalism with his narrow-minded attacks on the Bloc Quebecois, a party that draws broad support from Quebecers not for its pro-sovereignty policy, but for its pro-Quebec policy.

He has exploited the lack of understanding many Canadians have of our parliamentary system to portray opposition parties representing the majority of the population exercising legitimate mechanisms available to them under our system of government as undertaking acts of treason that constitute a coup, thereby weakening the confidence and respect the public has in its system of government. That’s very dangerous.

And he compounded the danger by putting the Governor-General in the untenable position of having to make a decision he should never have asked her to make, further weakening our system of governance. It was only his blinding ambition and lack of respect for democracy that but her in this bind, and his inability to do the right thing.

Harper gets his prorogation

According to Radio-Canada, all the hints seem to indicate that Harper got what he wanted. He has been talking with Michaelle Jean for more than two hours now and he should be giving a speech shortly.

Update: confirmed

Harper and Québec

Harper has attempted to demonize the Bloc Québécois following the formation of the LPC/NPD/BQ coalition. I never voted for BQ or Parti Québécois, but the idea that their mere presence in a coalition is used as an argument against the coalition has greatly angered me (and pretty much every Québécois I have talked to). If Québec is to be a part of Canada, Québécois have every right to influence the direction that the country takes; if you attack the coalition on the basis of the support of the Bloc, you question whether or not Québécois should have a right to influence the country. This is low level demagoguery. The Bloc is not some kind of disreputable organization or a mafia; it is a political party playing by the rules of the Canadian Parliamentary system. If you are not happy, blame the system and not those who follow the rules.

Harper has destroyed in a few days all his efforts to build support for the CPC in Québec.

Quote of the Day: Economy

So here’s what I’m wondering: will it, in fact, even be possible to pull the economy out of its nosedive before unemployment goes into double digits? I’m starting to wonder. -Paul Krugman