Saturday, 5 March 2011

A no-fly zone should urgently be imposed in Libya

It now is becoming increasingly clear a no-fly zone is urgently needed in order to stop Gaddafi from using his army and security forces to slaughter even more civivilians. Michael Singh, writing in Foreign Policy, explains the case for a no-fly zone:

But for others, especially those closest to Qaddafi, the sanctions and threats of international prosecution, combined with the advance of opposition forces, may convince them that they have little choice but to hunker down in Tripoli and Sirte and fight.
To deal with this possibility that Qaddafi and his loyalists will use all of the force at their disposal before giving in, and that the violence in Libya may therefore get considerably worse, further international action is needed. The United States and EU should seek U.N. Security Council authorization for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya.
We have heard much from U.S. officials in recent days about the risks of imposing a no-fly zone, but inaction also has its consequences.
Qaddafi has used warplanes against the opposition in recent days, and there is little indication that he will cease doing so as long as it is an option. This not only increases the chances of mass casualties, but it will extend the conflict as the relatively lightly-armed and poorly-trained rebels worry about advancing while Qaddafi has such armaments at his disposal. As the fighting drags on and the violence deepens, the risk that extremist groups will enter the fray as they have in other conflicts in the region increases as well, which has serious implications for our future relations with whatever Libya that emerges from the fighting.
Inaction also strikes a blow to U.S. credibility. On Capitol Hill March 2, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the "stakes are high" in Libya, which she warned could become a "giant Somalia." The United States has "joined the Libyan people in demanding that Colonel Qaddafi must go now, without further violence or delay," she asserted. Yet it is not clear to the world that we have joined the Libyan people in doing anything about it. Our sanctions will work indirectly and over the long term. Our warships are standing off the coast of Libya, but taking no part in the struggle there. This perception -- that we can help but have chosen not to, despite calls from the Libyan opposition to impose a no-fly zone --is one we may rue for years to come.
The reasons provided by senior U.S. officials for not imposing a no-fly zone in Libya seem pale in comparison to their descriptions of the stakes in Libya. They have said that imposing a no-fly zone would be complicated and would not account for fighting on the ground. These are prudent points, but they make better arguments for a smartly-crafted intervention than for doing nothing. There are well-grounded fears that a no-fly zone could turn into a long-term commitment (like the one over Iraq in the 1990s) if a stalemate develops. But this risk must be weighed against the potential of a no-fly zone to bring the conflict to an earlier end, keeping in mind that a protracted conflict will carry costs for U.S. national security regardless of whether we are directly involved. U.S. officials have also questioned whether aircraft are being used by Qaddafi against civilians, or whether the Libyan opposition wants a no-fly zone. Recent news reports undermine both points. Likewise, fears that Russia and China would veto a no-fly zone in the Security Council should not deter us from putting the question to them.

Read the entire article here.

If the UN Security Council is unable to agree on the no-fly zone, then the US and NATO should act on their own. The killing of civilians bust be stopped in Libya!

China´s defense build-up worries Taiwan and other neighbouring countries

Communist China continues to increase its defense budget in a way that worries its neighbours, particularly Taiwan and Japan:

China will beef up its military budget by 12.7 percent this year, the government said yesterday, a return to double-digit spending increases that will stir regional unease.
The country’s growing military clout has coincided with a more assertive diplomatic tone, evident in spats last year with Japan and Southeast Asia over disputed islands and in rows with Washington over trade, the yuan and human rights.
National People’s Congress (NPC) spokesman Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) said the defense budget would increase from 532.1 billion (US$81 billion) yuan last year to 601.1 billion yuan this year. The budget went up by just 7.5 percent last year, after a long period of double-digit hikes.
Many experts believe China’s actual spending on the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is far higher than the figures the government reports.
“It’s widely accepted that these figures bear only a marginal relationship with the actual overall spending. Overall, it means the Chinese are saying we are going to [boost] our defense budget, whatever the real numbers are,” said Dean Cheng, a China security expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
“The PLA is an important and powerful force in decision-making and there is obviously a desire to signal to the Chinese public and Chinese nationalists that China is going to continue to get stronger,” said Rory Medcalf of Australian think tank the Lowy Institute.
Some officials in Taiwan are especially alarmed. China has about 1,400 missiles aimed at the island, according to the government.
“China’s military power is now growing quickly,” said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Lin Yu-Fang (林郁方), who is also a member of the Legislative Yuan’s defense committee, in response to the Chinese budget number.
“The United States should help us turn the situation around, and we hope European countries will also sell us advanced weapons,” he said
Read the entire article in the Taipei Times here.
Also Japan is worried about China´s defense build-up:

Japanese Foreign Minsiter Seiji Maehara on Friday expressed fresh concern over China's ballooning defense spending, after Beijing announced a double-digit increase in its secretive military budget.
Li said the figure represented six percent of the total national budget in the world's second-largest economy.
"It is an extremely high ratio for defense spending," Maehara told reporters during a press conference. "We cannot help worrying about what all the money is used for."
"We have great concerns," he said, adding Tokyo will "continue encouraging China to increase transparency."
Tokyo has repeatedly questioned Beijing's military intentions.
In December Japan called China's military rise a source of international "concern" in its 10-year defense guidelines, following Beijing's increased assertiveness in territorial disputes in the East China and South China seas.

Read the entire piece here.

Ten frightening facts about the Chinese defense build-up:
  • China has the world's largest military, with 2.3 million active personnel and 1.2 million in reserve. By comparison America has under 3 million in total active and reserve personnel.

  • CHINA'S GROUND FORCE: 1.9 million personnel, 14,000 tanks, 14,500 artillery units, 453 helicopters.

  • CHINA'S AIR FORCE: 470,000 personnel, 2,556 jet fighters, 400 ground attack jets

  • CHINA'S NAVY: 250,000 personnel, 66 submarines, 27 destroyers, 52 frigates

  • CHINA'S MISSILE ARSENAL: 100,000 personnel, 140 nuclear missiles, 1,000 conventional theater missiles

  • NEW WEAPON: The Dong Feng 21D is a land-based missile capable of striking an aircraft carrier as far as 2,000 miles offshore

  • China bought the rights to license and reproduce the Sukhoi-27 fighter jet from the Soviet Union, after its collapse

  • By 2020 China is expected to have a fleet of carriers, fitting of a 'great naval power'. It will have its first this year

  • Pentagon officials believe that China has secretly built a base, capable of housing up to 20 nuclear submarines, on Hainan Island.

  • China has now developed and tested its first stealth fighter jet, the J-20. The U.S. is the only other country in the world to have a stealth fighter.

Read the entire article here.

One can only wonder, why China chooses this expensive defense build-up instead of focusing on improving the lot of hundreds of millions of poor Chinese people.

Smart grids not so smart

Like so much else in the politically correct "green" dream world, "smart grid" is just a beautiful catchword, that makes no sense economically. Lawrence Solomon reveals the reality behind the not so smart grids:

Power companies around the world are planning to spend trillions of dollars building smart grids — next-generation marvels likened to the transcontinental railroad and the Internet because they are seen as revolutionizing society.
It won’t happen. The smart grid is nothing more than a politically driven fantasy that has no economic rationale other than to support politically favoured technologies that themselves have no economic rationale other than to save the world from global warming. And on global warming the public in most developed countries, public opinion polls show, has already spoken: Global warming is a non-problem.
The one smart grid that was completed — a small smart grid in Boulder, Colo., called Smart Grid City — came in at $100-million, three times the original cost estimates, and at a cost of $2,000 per billpayer, it has little value to show for itself. Politicians still push the smart grid, but at some point they will need to face reality — the renewable technologies that the smart grid is intended to support, along with the global warming ideology that underpins them, is all but dead.
The world’s electricity systems will remain predominantly fossil fuelled, and because fossil fuels are both flexible and cheap, they won’t require a smart grid to manage them. The politician-driven smart grid will disappear, and with it the trillions of dollars in needless investment now on the drawing boards.

Read the entire article here.

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Bush freedom agenda

Charles Krauthammer reminds us of some facts:

Voices around the world, from Europe to America to Libya, are calling for U.S. intervention to help bring down Moammar Gaddafi. Yet for bringing down Saddam Hussein, the United States has been denounced variously for aggression, deception, arrogance and imperialism.

A strange moral inversion, considering that Hussein's evil was an order of magnitude beyond Gaddafi's. Gaddafi is a capricious killer; Hussein was systematic. Gaddafi was too unstable and crazy to begin to match the Baathist apparatus: a comprehensive national system of terror, torture and mass murder, gassing entire villages to create what author Kanan Makiya called a "Republic of Fear."
Moreover, that systemized brutality made Hussein immovable in a way that Gaddafi is not. Barely armed Libyans have already seized half the country on their own. Yet in Iraq, there was no chance of putting an end to the regime without the terrible swift sword (it took all of three weeks) of the United States.
No matter the hypocritical double standard. Now that revolutions are sweeping the Middle East and everyone is a convert to George W. Bush's freedom agenda, it's not just Iraq that has slid into the memory hole. Also forgotten is the once proudly proclaimed "realism" of Years One and Two of President Obama's foreign policy - the "smart power" antidote to Bush's alleged misty-eyed idealism.

Read the entire column here.

Krauthammer is, of course, right about Iraq and the Bush freedom agenda. Bush was not perfect - who is? - but history will be much kinder to him than people relying on the picture given by the MSM have been lead to believe.

Medvedev on freedom

"Freedom from fear, humiliation, poverty, disease, freedom for everyone, in my opinion, is our current goal of development,

Dmitry Medvedev 4.3.2011

Read Robert Amsterdam´s comment here.

No human rights in communist China - Blind activist beaten senseless

A video featuring One Child Policy activist Chen Guangcheng was leaked to the China Aid Association on February 9.  The next day Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing, were “beaten senseless” in retaliation for the release of the video. This is how the rotten and corrupt communist regime in China treats people who dare to speak up.

Watch the Chen video (with subtitles in English) here:

Womens´ Rights Without Frontiers has some background information:

Blind activist Chen exposed the systematic use of forced abortion in implementing China’s One Child Policy.  His work has not gone unnoticed by the world.  Time Magazine named him in its list of “2006’s Top 100 People Who Shape Our World,” in the category of “Heroes and Pioneers.”  In 2007 he was awarded the Magsaysay award, known as Asia’s Nobel Prize.
The Chinese Communist Party, however, took a different view.  For standing up for the rights of Chinese women, Chen was handed a four year, three month jail sentence, was tortured and denied medical treatment, and is now languishing under house arrest.  No one had heard from him since September until yesterday, when he released this video. 
We are alarmed about the brutal beating of Chen and his wife, who are reportedly unable to move from their beds.  We are also indignant about the conditions of Chen’s house arrest.  A total of 66 security police surround their home day and night.  Chen has been denied medical treatment.  Nor can they communicate with the outside world, as their phone and computer access have been cut off.
At least that was the plan of the Chinese Communist Party.  That plan was shattered by “a reliable government source who is sympathetic to Chen’s cause and outraged by the treatment of Chen,” according to CAA.  In other words, Chen’s video was leaked to the West by a Chinese government insider.
Why is the CCP so determined to crush Chen, as though he were a dangerous criminal?  The CCP wants the world to believe that its One Child Policy is voluntary.  Chinese President Hu Jintao, during his visit to Washington last month, told Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that China has no policy of forced abortion.  In contrast, Chen single-handedly exposed the fact that there were 130,000 forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations in Linyi County, Shandong Province in just one year, 2005.  If China truly has no forced abortion policy, then why didn’t the regime jail those who were performing these forced abortions?  Why instead has it jailed and beaten Chen Guangcheng?  (This is not the first time Hu Jintao has been caught lying! /NNoN)
The fact that Chen remains under house arrest proves that President Hu’s statement is false.  The fact that Chen remains unyielding – continuing to urge his fellow citizens to stand up for their rights in China – must rankle party bosses. 
Chen Guangcheng is the “Tank Man” against China’s One Child Policy.  Impoverished, beaten and blind, Chen nevertheless possesses the surpassing backbone to stand alone against the grinding juggernaut of this totalitarian regime.  The CCP apparently perceives in Chen a real threat to its crumbling legitimacy.
In pressing for justice for Chen and his family, let us not forget those for whom he has sacrificed his freedom:  the women and families of China who are being shattered daily by forced abortion, forced sterilization and infanticide.  The coercive enforcement of China’s One Child Policy causes more violence against women and girls than any other official policy on earth.  It is the greatest women’s rights issue in the world today.  It does not matter whether you are pro-life or pro-choice on this issue.  No one supports forced abortion, because it is not a choice.

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers calls for the immediate, unconditional release from house arrest of Chen Guangcheng and his family, and for urgent medical treatment. To sign a petition to Free Chen Guangcheng, click here:

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Putin´s dream of controlling Europe´s energy future is over

We have said it before, but it´s worth repeating; the shale gas revolution is a game changer: Putin´s dream of controlling Europe´s energy future is over. Russia will never more be able to use the energy weapon against Ukraine, Poland and other countries. The much touted Russian-German Nord Stream project will be of minor - if any -interest in the years to come. Altkanzler Schröder might as well take early retirement from the wellpaid job his friend Putin gave him.

Australia and Argentina are countries with massive potential new reserves ....

If you don´t believe it, read the article by Jack Barnes in

The natural gas cartel, a dream of Russia’s just a few years ago, is dead. It died when a natural gas revolution broke out and Gazprom lost.  Energy importing nations around the world are evaluating their own geology, currently, to see if they have shale reserves that can be tapped.  Nations like Argentina, Germany, Poland, France, and Sweden are looking into their national shale reserves.
The shale gas revolution is changing the world we live in, and the power structures of the past.  It is also quickly changing the politics of future energy relationships.  Nations that had to be nice to an exporter, due to energy supplies, will be freed of their need for discretion.
Shale gas is quite simply changing the whole energy paradigm in real time.  The unlocking of source rock, has altered the future history of mankind.  The world has discovered and unlocked its newest true world changing source of stored energy.
The world has shale fields spread around the globe in locations famous for oil production, and some not so famous.  The new technology will change the basic political power structures that exist today.  The era of Russia controlling Europe’s natural gas future is drawing to a close.
“The size of reserves is mind boggling,” he said. “It makes a huge argument for a gas economy going forward.”Annop Poddar, Partner, Energy Ventures.
If the shale fields in Poland and Germany can be brought online at the same level of production seen in the US, Europe on shore will be energy independent via their own production.  France has shale oil and shale gas locations.
The US is now growing its overall hydrocarbon production profile again.  This is after many years of “experts” pontificating that the US was always going to be an importer of energy.  The US was supposed to be trapped importing larger levels of energy from abroad forever.  No one expected the US to quickly become the largest producer of natural gas in the world.
Currently, companies like LNG are looking to spend billions of dollars converting LNG import plants into export plants.  The US could, once again, become a major exporter of hydrocarbons.  This is not a joke.  The era of the US being dependent on Middle East oil, is also ending.
Exxon is quietly buying up shale rights in Germany, as is Shell in Poland.  Australia and Argentina both have massive potential new reserves.  In short, there appears to be the equivalent of new Saudi Arabia’s in BTU totals now popping up in western nations.  The US natural gas reserves are thought to be equal to 2x new Saudi Arabia’s.  It will take decades to unlock this gas, and make it commercially viable in the market place.

Read the entire article here.

There is a huge added bonus connected to the shale gas revolution; it will hasten the demise of the present corrupted leadership in Russia. Sooner, rather than later, Putin will join Mubarak and other criminal and corrupted leaders forced out of office.

There will then be billions to freeze on bank accounts in Switzerland ...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Obama administration shows lack of support for Taiwan

Gate to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Taipei 

The US-Taiwan Business Council is rightly worried about the Obama administration´s lack of support for the only truly democratic Chinese state:

US policy on Taiwan under US President Barack Obama has taken a “hazardous” turn that appears to be moving toward support for Beijing’s interpretation of its core interests, the US-Taiwan Business Council said in a special commentary released on Monday.
Although the Obama administration has been right to encourage cross-strait economic liberalization and support President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), China’s military posture has failed to dovetail with those developments, the report said.
“China is playing relentless offense on Taiwan, and at some point the US has to step up and make it pay for its actions,” the commentary said, adding that Washington “must be as outspoken in [its] opposition to China’s strategy of military coercion as [it is] in [its] support of the ECFA and other positive trends.”
However, such a response has yet to materialize, it said.
“Two years into Mr Obama’s term in office, we have yet to see a single material action that suggests US willingness to make China pay a real cost for its aggressive cross-strait posture,” the chamber report said.
In addition to giving Taiwan and China the impression that it doesn’t care enough to act, US inaction will likely have an impact on the calculations of South Koreans and Japanese, who risk seeing this as “a drawn-out withdrawal of US interests in North Asia.”

Read the entire Taipei Times article here.

Putin has reason to be worried

The message in this article by the global editor of Reuters, Chrystia Freeland, is very much to the point:

Something else that can propel a society with a latent potential for rebellion into action is the demonstration effect, or what Acemoglu calls “contagion,” a phenomenon also familiar to anyone who was caught in the wildfire global spread of the financial crisis in 2008.
In both cases, the sudden belief that a previously stable status quo could change had the power to alter reality. This interplay between perception and fact is what U.S. financier George Soros, an expert in paradigm shifts in both markets and countries, has called reflexivity.
Even some of the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes seem to be getting concerned about the danger of contagion and the power of perception — hence China’s efforts to block electronic information and discussion of the uprisings in the Middle East.
The Kremlin may have even more reason to worry. A Russian opinion poll found that one-third of respondents thought the “Egyptian scenario” of mass protests was possible in Russia. Moreover, a recent Public Opinion Foundation poll revealed that 49 percent of respondents were ready to take part in mass protests. That is the kind of thinking that can tip a latent potential for rebellion into a revolution.

Read the entire article in the Moscow Times here.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A day in the life of an EU commissioner

Being an EU commissioner must be one of the better job opportunities for retired European politicians. The salary is decent (In 2009 the basic salary for a commissioner was €230,000 + a lavish entertainment allowance + a residency allowance and a lot of other perks that come with the job. Of course, after 2009 there must have been a considerable adjustment upwards. Just as a comparison, in 2009 the British PM earned only a scant £187,000 - 20.000 less than a commissioner), and you do not have to worry about facing the voters, because you are an unelected bureaucrat. And when you finally quit the job, your ever generous employer makes sure, that you are in a position to enjoy the good life also during the years of retirement or whatever other later occupation. What more could one ask for?

The duties of the members of this exlusive, taxpayer financed elite group are of course varied. Just as an example, let´s have a look at what one of them, the Commissioner for development, Latvian Andris Pielbags is doing today, March 2, 2011:

Unless there has been a last minute change of schedule, the Commissioner will wake up in the capital of the tiny Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, where he, according to his website is on an "official" visit (commissioners like to think that they are on the same level as ministers of independent nations on official visits).

The "official" visit to Vanuatu is just one leg of the Commissioner´s grand tour also including the French Pacific paradise islands of New Caledonia in the South Pacific and East Timor in Southeast Asia. (The Commissioner should be congratulated for the excellent timing of the tour - who would not like to spend a couple of weeks on exotic Pacific islands this time of the year, when cold winter winds are blowing in Europe?)

While in Vanuatu, our Commissioner is ably assisted by his entourage from Brussels and the new EU "embassy" (or delegation) in Vanuatu headed by EU diplomat Robert De Raeve, Chargé d'Affaires. (Yes, the Europan Union´s External Action Service now has an embassy in this nation of 243.000 people. It sure must be one of the most challenging  jobs to be an EU diplomat over there. No wonder there are no vacancies at the embassy right now, according to its website).

And what is the Commissioner´s schedule in Vanuatu today ? The background notes from the Commission´s Spokespersons’ service for journalists give us some useful information:

Wednesday 2
 – Friday 4 March: EU’s help to Pacific Islands to fight climate change effects: Commissioner Piebalgs in Vanuatu to launch €50.4 million worth projectsThe news:
Between 3 and 4 March, 2011, European Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, will participate in Conference on Climate Change in Vanuatu and sign an Action Plan to enhance Pacific-EU cooperation on climate change.

Some of the small Pacific islands are under the threat to disappear. They dramatically need increased aid.which, Commissioner Piebalgs will call EU member states and other international partners and donors to engage politically and financially in addressing climate change challenges faced by Pacific Countries and Territories.
The Commissioner will also sign four programmes which show EU determination to combat climate change and poverty in the Pacific for €50.4 million in total. Two of them cover specifically Vanuatu and Solomon Islands climate resilience specific needs. One will support strategic actions on adaptation in 9 Pacific Small Island states and prepare those countries to absorb efficiently the expected international climate fast start funds. The second regional project, to be implemented by the University of South Pacific, seeks to strengthen capacity building, community engagement and adaptive actions along with applied research.
The background:
Pacific islands are very isolated developing countries which have already suffered from regular natural disasters. In the worse case scenario, some islands could disappear due to rising sea levels and increasing erosion occurring from intense storms. All these changes infringe on hunting, fishing and the quality water resources therefore contribute to increased poverty in the region. In order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals on time the poverty must be also addressed in the Pacific region.

The European Commission provides development aid to the Pacific, which amounts €600 million for 2008-2013. It has reached a 60% increase between the 9th European Development Fund (2002-2007) and the 10th EDF (2007-2013).. A specific support needed to be devoted to address the negative impact of climate change in the Pacific. The Commission is politically and financially leading this EU effort. Together with Pacific partners, the Commission is actively engaged in financial terms, with €90 million in ongoing and already planned development cooperation projects and programmes at country and regional level for the period 2008-2013.
The event:
Building on the Cancun Climate Change Conference, the High Level conference on Climate Change in the Pacific will be hosted by Vanuatu on 4 March and is organised by the European Commission. Commissioner Piebalgs will make the introductory speech and Prime Minister of Vanuatu will do the closing remarks. An action plan will be presented for endorsement by the Conference.
A press conference will be organised on site.
Commissioner Piebalgs will visit a first wind farm implemented in the Vanuatu archipelago, designed to help meet the country’s growing energy needs. He will also visit the National Disaster Centre and Meteorological Services to assess local capacities deployed at the forefront of disaster risk management.

In the Commissioner´s own blog from last year we find out that:

A long-term vision to combat climate change is worth nothing if it does not involve future generations. That is why the Commission has provided € 8 million of financial support to the University of South Pacific, part of which will be used to train students in the science of climate change (since when is climate change a science? -NNoN) and also to provide 300 certified trainers to work with communities on climate change adaptation (The EU is financing the "education" of 300 climate change progaganda officers for these tiny islands!)

In other words, what the Commissioner is busy doing is showering millions of EU taxpayers´ money on a small group of Pacific islands, which according to official EU propaganda "are under the threat to disappear"

But is there really such a threat? Not according to the latest study by the University of Auckland, featured in the magazine New Scientist:

In recent times, the inhabitants of many low-lying Pacific islands have come to fear their homelands being wiped off the map because of rising sea levels. But this study of 27 islands over the last 60 years suggests that most have remained stable, while some have actually grown
Associate Professor Paul Kench of Auckland University, who took part in the study, published in the journal Global and Planetary Change says the islands are not in immediate danger of extinction.
"That rather gloomy prognosis for these nations is incorrect, " he told the BBC.
We have now got the evidence to suggest that the physical foundation of these countries will stillbe theere in 100 years, so they perhaps do not need to flee their country."

Other experts, like Swedish professor Nils-Axel Mörner have already long ago come to the same conclusion. Vanuatu is not going to "disappear" anywhere - although it may experience all other kinds of problems, like most places.

One can only wonder, why the European Union is spending millions of EU taxpayers´ money on non-existent "climate change"/global warming problems in a number of Pacific island states. Why is nobody protesting when commissioner Pielbags and his entourage are travelling around the globe (at the expense of us, the taxpayers) in order to spread unsubstantiated climate change propaganda? And, by the way, why should the European Union have an "embassy" in the tiny island state Vanuatu at a time when ordinary European citizens are facing deep financial austerity measures?

Bon voyage, Mr. Commissioner!

New Caledonia - one of the exotic places in the Commissioner´s grand tour.

(image by wikipedia)

"The EU Has Failed the Arab World"

German magazine Der Spiegel notes how the European Union has been propping up dictators in North Africa in the interest of stability. Now the divided EU is struggling to respond to the popular uprisings. The magazine describes the debate in the EU foreign ministers´ meeting on February 20:

But, as is typical in the European Union, the meeting turned into a heated dispute. Right after Lady Ashton finished reporting on recent talks she had had in Cairo and Tunis, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini piped up. He spoke about the unrest in Libya, a country he claimed to know particularly well. He claimed that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was the only person who could guarantee the country's stability. The most important thing for now, he said, was preserving the country's territorial integrity. His colleagues from Greece and Malta seconded his opinion.

After that, the room fell silent. Germany's Werner Hoyer, a senior Foreign Ministry official who was attending the dinner as a stand-in for German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, was one of the first to resume the conversation. "If that were our position, it would be a massive mistake and a betrayal of our fundamental values," he said. "Instead of worrying about Gadhafi, we should be happy when he's gone." (NNoN: Well spoken, Dr Hoyer!)

For weeks, a blossoming democratic movement in North Africa has been toppling one dictator after the other -- first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, now possibly in Libya. During this whole period, the reaction of Europe's governments can best be described as paralyzed. While Gadhafi's regime was ordering its forces to fire upon its own people, the reactions of the political elites -- whether in Brussels, Berlin, Paris or Rome -- were unsure, divided and without a plan.
When it comes to determining Europe's policies in North Africa, national interests trump the principles expounded in the EU treaties. In regard to its former North African colonies, France still considers itself a regional power player. Malta and Cyprus have long-standing worries about stampedes of illegal immigrants. Italy made Libya one of its preferred trading partners.
As a token of his appreciation, Gadhafi has made massive investments in Italy in recent years. Libya owns a 7.2 percent stake in Unicredit, Italy's largest bank, 2 percent of Finmeccanica, Italy's most important arms manufacturer, and another 2 percent of FIAT, its largest automotive company. Libya also owns a 7 percent stake in Juventus Turin, the publicly traded and massively popular football club. Similarly, more than 100 Italian companies are active in Libya, including the oil and gas giant Eni, the transportation electronics company Ansaldo STS and the construction company Impregilo.

Read the entire article here.

Foreign journalists detained in China

The growing number attacks on foreign journalists is a clear sign of how nervous China´s communist rulers are about the possibility of new anti-government demonstrations spreading  into China in the wake of the popular uprisings in the arab countries:

New York, February 28, 2011--Chinese security officials' concerted attack on the foreign press in a busy commercial street near Tiananmen Square in Beijing Sunday is a return to the restrictions international reporters faced before they were eased in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.   
 Police briefly detained more than a dozen foreign journalists and assaulted at least two at the site of a planned anti-government protest in Beijing on Sunday, according to international news reports. All were released after a few hours. Anonymous appeals for "Jasmine"-themed protests in Chinese cities, based on popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, began circulating online on February 19. The authors of the appeals call for an end to government corruption and an independent judiciary.
Men in plainclothes punched and kicked an unidentified Bloomberg journalist, confiscated his video camera, and detained him in a nearby store, according to the news agency. He sought treatment in a local hospital for unspecified injuries, Bloomberg reported. A journalist with Taiwanese television station Sanli TV sustained a shoulder injury when he and a female colleague were thrown into a van and detained shortly after 1 p.m., according to Radio France Internationale. They were released after 6 p.m., RFI reported.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said journalists were warned by telephone to seek special permission from the Wangfujing district office to report from the site, a popular shopping center. The club did not specify who the warnings came from, and said security officials had been unable to provide contact information for a police or other security office in Wangfujing where reporters could seek permission. The year before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, authorities issued regulations allowing foreign journalists to report without prior authorization on Chinese "politics, economy, society and culture," although the regulations are sometimes ignored, particularly in sensitive regions like the Tibetan Autonomous Region, according to CPJ research. 
"This is the worst aggression against the foreign press we've seen since the Olympics in 2008," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Such a heavy-handed response discredits the ruling Chinese Communist Party and highlights their fear of popular opposition."

Read the entire article in the Committee to Protect Journalist website here.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Gaddafi zenga zenga spoof popular in the Arab countries

Italy´s Berlusconi has his bunga bunga. Now his (former) friend Gaddafi has his zenga zenga. The spoof  created by an Israeli journalist, is according to the New York Times a hit in the arab world.

     Watch the zenga zenga here:

Governor Chris Christie - a politician for the future

(Image by Hoboken Condos)

This blog does not usually cover domestic policy in the US - or any other country. It is the time to make an exception, because there is a governor in New Jersey, Chris Christie, who deserves to be more wellknown outside of the US, particularly in Europe. The governor´s fight for fiscal responsibility in his state is exactly what the US needs - and what is needed also in most European countries, which still are doing far too little in addressing spiraling welfare costs.

The New York Times´s well-written profile is a good introduction to the thinking and agenda of this fascinating former federal prosecutor. Here are a couple of excerpts:

What makes Christie compelling to so many people isn’t simply plain talk or swagger, but also the fact that he has found the ideal adversary for this moment of economic vertigo. Ronald Reagan had his “welfare queens,” Rudy Giuliani had his criminals and “squeegee men,” and now Chris Christie has his sprawling and powerful public-sector unions — teachers, cops and firefighters who Christie says are driving up local taxes beyond what the citizenry can afford, while also demanding the kind of lifetime security that most private-sector workers have already lost.
It may just be that Christie has stumbled onto the public-policy issue of our time, which is how to bring the exploding costs of the public workforce in line with reality.
The centerpiece of Christie’s frenzied agenda, which passed the Democratic-­controlled Legislature last July, is a strict cap on local property taxes, which will be allowed to rise no more than 2 percent every year. When combined with a reduction in state aid, what this means, practically speaking, is that New Jersey’s townships and cities will have to hold the line when negotiating municipal labor contracts if they want to remain solvent, because they can’t rely on either their residents or the state for more money.
The crux of Christie’s argument is that public-sector contracts have to reflect what has happened in the private sector, where guaranteed pensions and free health care are becoming relics. It’s not surprising that this stand has ingratiated Christie to conservatives in Washington; advocacy groups and activists on the right have carried out a long campaign to discredit the ever-shrinking labor movement in the private sector, and what Christie has done, essentially, is to blast his way into the final frontier, taking on the public-sector unions that have come to wield enormous political power. More surprising is how the governor’s proposals are finding sympathy from less-partisan budget experts, if only because they don’t see obvious alternatives. “I’ve tried to look at this objectively, and I just don’t know of any other option,” says Richard Keevey, who served as budget director for a Democratic governor, Jim Florio, and a Republican governor, Tom Kean. “You couldn’t tax your way out of this.”
The most sophisticated communicators of the modern era hammer at a consistent argument about their moment and the response it demands, and they choose carefully constructed metaphors to make the choices ahead seem obvious — think of Ronald Reagan’s morning in America, or Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century. And Christie’s communications strategy is about as sophisticated as any you will find in American politics right now.

Read the entire New York Times profile here.

Another interesting article on Christie by the NJ Star-Ledger.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Putin´s puppet blames the West for plotting revolution against Russia

No more Mr. Nice

Putin´s puppet, also know as president Dmitry Medvedev, has finally got tired of playing the good cop. Probably on the orders of his master, Medvedev has now dropped his soft,  "liberal" style, which used to be so cherished by a number of Western leaders:

President Dmitry Medvedev’s ominous comments on Tuesday in Vladikavkaz that there are outside forces plotting a revolution against Russia sound eerily like the comments made by then-President Vladimir Putin after the Beslan hostage tragedy in 2004. In a televised address to the nation, Putin said there were certain forces — clearly hinting at the United States — that wanted to emasculate Russia as a nuclear power and “seize its juiciest parts.”

The Moscow Times concludes:

Perhaps the president is tired of playing the role of good cop in the tandem with Putin. Nice guys finish last, after all. In the end, there is nothing like a fresh conspiracy theory to boost a Russian leader’s popularity among the masses. It always worked for Putin.

Read the entire article here.

UN Security Council agrees sanctions on Gaddafi regime

Finally, the UN Security Council was able to agree on sanctions against the criminal Gaddafi regime. After the Security Council resolution was announced, Libya´s UN ambassador Abdurrahman Shalgam (who has deserted Gaddafi) was optimistic, hoping that the sanctions would "help put an end to this fascist regime, which is still in existence in Tripoli."

Although the UN decision was welcomed by most, it is worth noting that the sanctions do not e.g. include imposing a no-fly zone, something which has been discussed by US and its allies. It is quite possible that the now agreed sanctions are not tough enough in order to really hurt the Gaddafi regime. Turkey´s Prime Minister Erdogan for example warned on Saturday that sanctions would do more harm to Libya´s people than to Gaddafi. He may very well be right.

(image by UN)

Russia´s huge rearmament programme

Intoxicated by the (temporary) rise of the price of oil due to the events in the Middle East and North Africa, the ruler of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has decided to upgrade the country´s Soviet-era military instead of trying to invest in improving the lot of millions of poor people in his country:

MOSCOW: Russia has unveiled the biggest rearmament program since the fall of the Soviet Union, saying that it intends to buy 600 planes, 100 ships and 1000 helicopters within the next decade.
The ambitious overhaul will cost the equivalent of $650 billion. European countries are meanwhile cutting defence spending to try to balance their national budgets.
But with oil prices rising, Russia, the world's biggest energy exporter, feels confident it can afford to upgrade its dilapidated Soviet-era military and believes it urgently needs to do so to confirm its self-proclaimed status as a leading world power.

Read the entire story here.

Even if Russia would actually be able to get all this modern weaponry, it would would not be of much use due to the country´s Soviet style, corrupted conscription system:

Another Soviet military legacy is the system of obligatory conscription. While all other large European countries abolished military conscription in recent decades, Russia continues with a system in which all physically fit male citizens aged 18 to 27 must serve for 12 months. Exemptions are based on medical conditions and are given to university students and employees of certain organizations. About 500,000 young men are conscripted every year.

The system is unfair, inefficient and unpopular. According to the polling firm Public Opinion Foundation, 51 percent of Russians support abolishing conscription, and 67 percent are against extending the age of eligibility for the draft. The Russian military estimates the total number of draft dodgers to be close to 200,000. According to the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, the current rate for bribes to avoid conscription is as high as $5,000, while a typical lieutenant’s monthly salary is about $500.

Obligatory military service is inefficient because “free” conscript labor is much cheaper for the military than hiring civilians as, for example, cooks and cleaning personnel. Moreover, the military has no incentive to value conscripts’ lives and well-being. According to the Public Opinion Foundation, 79 percent of Russians perceive serious hazing and abuse of draftees as being widespread. Five of six respondents who served in the military since the 1990s were subject to abuse as soldiers. Since 2005, according to official statistics, 2,051 servicemen have committed suicide.

Read the entire article here.

One reason why Putin and his henchmen want to invest in the army and the security services is described by British top diplomat Tony Brenton, who served as UK ambassador to Russia in 2004 - 2008:

Egypt's revolution has disturbing implications for Russia.
There are huge differences between the two countries but the comparisons are still unsettling for Russia's elite.
Long ago I was a young diplomat in Cairo, and the cynicism I heard from Egypt's politically aware classes is almost exactly mirrored in Moscow now.
Both countries have run 'guided' democracies, dominated by electorally impregnable 'parties of power' and untouchable security establishments.
The elites find it hard to give up power; those who do are more likely to face corruption charges than honourable retirement.
Events in Egypt have already produced echoes in some of Russia's client states: Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
They are a timely reminder to the Russian establishment that the demand for freedom is universal, and will sooner or later have to be met.

Putin seems to think that the demand for freedom in Russia can be suppressed with the help of new armaments, but he will be proved wrong, sooner rather than later ...