Sunday, September 7, 2008

What in the world.......

Feeling the heat

Foreign ministers strolled in the late summer heat of southern France towards their meeting, passing the impressive palace of pale stone where once popes ruled and were imprisoned as part of a power struggle over the future of Europe.Now, the rulers of Europe - or at least some of them are meeting to discuss a struggle over its most eastern boundaries: the Georgia crisis.
palace.jpgOn his way into the Petit Palais, where the meeting is actually taking place, I asked the British foreign secretary if he saw any sign at all the Russians were taking notice of the stern noises that emanated from the summit in Brussels at the beginning of the week.
He said: "President Sarkozy has an important job in Moscow on Monday to deliver a very clear and united, firm message that the European Union, all 27 countries, are determined to see Russia live up to the agreement it has made in respect of the six-point peace plan.  "And also to pass on the universal European condemnation of the recognition of the breakaway republics, which for every European leader was the straw that broke the camel's back."......... it's likely they will decide whether to go along with the plan of the German foreign minister to launch an investigation into the beginning of the war.
Mr Miliband was not against this "It is important to make sure false stories about the origions of the crisis do not become holy writ ..but equally that serious allegations are followed through."
They will also look at the plan to send EU monitors to report on the ceasefire. This, of course, may be difficult without Russian approval but the vetran Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bilt was dismissive: "The Russian position is 'What is ours is ours, what we have taken is ours, the rest we can negotiate about'. That's classic, it's been so for a couple of hundred years. We will deploy our mission to Georgia without asking for permission".
We won't know the result of this meeting until later, or perhaps tomorrow. MORE....

Testing for a new 'Cold War' in Crimea

Russian warship enters Sevastopol
Cheers for a Russian warship as it enters Sevastopol
The Russian military operation against Georgia and its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have led to concerns amounting at times to near panic about whether a new Cold War is under way.
The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that he does not want a new Cold War but is not afraid of one either.
So is the conflict a turning-point heralding a new age of confrontation or just a limited Russian action to resolve two border disputes left over from the Soviet era?
Or something in between, a sign of uncertainty on both sides which will mean tension but not the kind of ideological struggle and military stand-off that was the Cold War itself?  MORE....
Russian invasion spooks investors
Russia traders
Russian traders are nervous
Some international banks estimating that between up to $20bn (£11bn)in foreign capital has been pulled out of Russia in the last month alone.
Since the invasion the value of the rouble has slumped, reportedly leading to the central bank stepping in.
So whereas Russia may have got away with a slap on the wrist from Europe for its invasion, Moscow is being punished much more directly by international investors.  MORE....
USS Mount Whitney at Poti
The USS Mount Whitney has a cargo of humanitarian aid
A US Navy warship carrying humanitarian aid has arrived in the Georgian port of Poti, where Russian troops are still deployed.
The USS Mount Whitney is the third US ship to deliver aid to Georgia since its conflict with Russia last month, but the first to dock at Poti.
Poti was bombed by Russian forces when they entered Georgia, and several ships in the port were sunk.  MORE....

The Chronicle of a Caucasian Tragedy

A lengthy, but detailed, account of the buildup to the war in Georgia.  And, if true, castes some measure of blame on the United States' participation.....a good read.......

Many in the West were surprised by the outbreak of war between Georgia and Russia. But there were plenty of signs that the conflict was approaching. SPIEGEL reconstructs the road to violence. .... the war that erupted on the southern flank of the Caucasus Mountains was almost as inevitable as thunder after a lightening strike. The dozens of witness statements and pieces of intelligence information at SPIEGEL's disposal combine to form a chronicle of a tragedy that anyone could see coming -- if they only looked.  MORE....

'Osama bin Laden is Planning Something for the US Election'

US author Steve Coll spent years looking into Osama bin Laden's family. Now, his new book provides a unique insight into the clan. SPIEGEL spoke with him about where the terrorist might be hiding, how his father got his start, and the unique romantic liasons pursued by one of his brothers.  MORE....

Africa Becoming a Biofuel Battleground

Western companies are pushing to acquire vast stretches of African land to meet the world's biofuel needs. Local farmers and governments are being showered with promises. But is this just another form of economic colonialism? .......The Tanzanian government has granted the British firm Sun Biofuels, use of 9,000 hectares (22,230 acres) of sparsely populated farmland, or enough land to cover about 12,000 soccer fields, for a period of 99 years -- free of charge. In return, the company will invest about $20 million (€13 million) to build roads and schools, bringing a modicum of prosperity to the region.
Sun Biofuels is not alone. In fact, half a dozen other companies from the Netherlands, the United States, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Germany have already sent their scouts to Tanzania. Prokon, a German company known primarily for its wind turbines, has already begun growing jatropha curcas on a large scale. It expects to have 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) -- an area about the size of Luxembourg -- under cultivation throughout Tanzania soon....  MORE....

With apparently a significant percentage of the world's population focused on every word spoken by the US Presidential candidates, it's amazing that hardly anyone in the US is aware of, or even interested in the political events of their nearest and largest trading partner (pssst....the one we get most of our oil from), Canada.   I would also venture a large wager, that you would be hard pressed to find one neighbor, friend, or co-worker, who could tell you who the Prime Minister of Canada was, and why the election might be important to the US.  

Filed at 11:36 a.m. ET
TORONTO (AP) -- Canada's prime minister dissolved Parliament on Sunday and called an early election next month in hopes of strengthening his Conservative minority government's hold on power.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's party needs to win an additional 28 seats to have a majority in Parliament. Although he has played down that possibility, polls in recent days indicate his right wing party has a chance to do so.

The Oct. 14 election will be Canada's third ballot in four years.  The Conservatives unseated the Liberal Party in 2006 after nearly 13 years in power, but as a minority government the Conservatives have been forced to rely on opposition lawmakers to pass legislation and adopt budgets......

''It will be bad for Harper. Canadian politics don't exactly mirror those of the United States but if something happens in the United States it will find an echo in Canada,'' Bothwell said.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Saturday that if the Conservatives win the next election, the government will lower personal taxes to make them more competitive with rates in the U.S. over the next few years....

Since becoming prime minister, Harper has extended Canada's military mission in Afghanistan. Canada has lost 96 soldiers and as the death toll approaches 100 the mission could become an issue in the campaign....Harper also pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol, which commits industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions....

Dion, a former environment minister who named his dog Kyoto, wants to increase taxes on greenhouse gas emitters. Dion has moved his party to the crowded left in Canada by staking his leadership on a ''Green Shift'' tax plan....Dion hasn't had much success selling the plan to Canadians, many of whom have viewed him as a weak leader ever since he surprisingly won leadership of the party in late 2006.  The Liberals have traditionally been the party in power in Canada. Analysts say Harper is intent on destroying the Liberal brand and wants to instill conservative values in Canada....

Dion was a part of Canada's Liberal government that opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and turned down Washington's request to send troops. Harper supported the Iraq war when he was in the opposition.  MORE....

Closing out the week....

Closing out he week's review of events, here's a few interesting opinions that you might be interested in reading....

But, in addition, a quick comment.  The more that I've thought about the unusual amount of positive reaction that's been accorded Gov. Palin, and attempted to understand why she has seemingly been so emotionally embraced by so many people, I've come to a simple conclusion.  She really is what she seems to be, and that is rare.  And like  all things rare, highly valued and treasured.

In a very existential way, she is a highly and innately talented woman without artifice.  She has not scripted her life, as many others have, to seek high office (such as Al Gore, John Kerry, Bill and Hillary, John Edwards, and now possibly Barack Obama).  She's like the British Postal worker who sings opera, and gets plucked out of obscurity on Star Search.  Although I don't believe that she is like the maiden, Joan of Arc, she may in fact come to be considered by some in the Republican Party, to be just that.

I've spent the weekend perusing videos of her; watching her debate for the 2006 Alaska Governor's election and other interviews.  There is something about her that reminds me of watching Margaret Thatcher, Golda Mier, or Indira Ghandi.

The investigators are on the trail, and I'm sure that over the next few weeks we'll be treated to more than we ever wanted to know about her.  And if the minions of the press are unable to discover a fatal flaw, I'm sure that we'll be hearing about Sarah Palin for a long time.........

Giving Credit Where It's Due for Palin - William Kristol, Weekly Standard
The editors of THE WEEKLY STANDARD believe in giving credit where credit is due. The presidential race looks a whole lot better today than it did two weeks ago. For this, thanks are owed to two men--Barack Obama and John McCain--and to that herd of independent minds, the liberal media.

First: Thank you, Barack Obama. He lacked the confidence or the strength to ask Hillary Clinton, recipient of some 18 million votes, to join him on the ticket.
Second: Thank you, John McCain. He showed guts with his pick of Sarah Palin. 
Third: A special thank you to our friends in the liberal media establishment. Who knew they would come through so spectacularly? The ludicrous media feeding frenzy about the Palin family hyped interest in her speech, enabling her to win a huge audience for her smashing success Wednesday night at the convention..........

Palin's Story is Our Story - Jim Wooten, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Country music legend Loretta Lynn, the coal miner’s daughter, captured the America that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin touches in Lynn’s 1971 hit, “One’s on the Way.”
The song contrasts the glitzy world of celebrities with the routine of the ordinary life of a woman in Topeka where: “The rain is a fallin’. The faucet is a drippin’ and the kids are a bawlin’, one of ‘em a toddlin’, and one is a crawlin’. And one’s on the way.”

The Referendum on Sarah Palin - George Jonas, National Post
The U.S. election of 2008 is shaping up as a contest about a vice-president — possibly a first in America. In most American elections, few things matter less than the second-in-command. In this one, judging by the media attention, few things matter more.

The Battle of Party Themes - Michael Barone, RealClearPolitics

The national conventions are political shows staged to influence voters.Soon, we can measure the bounce that the two tickets have received from their gatherings. One of the themes hammered home at Barack Obama's convention was McCain equals Bush. That never struck me as sustainable and was pretty well demolished on the first full day of McCain's convention.......The Republican convention's premise is that McCain is the maverick reformer -...............We'll see if that argument is sustainable.
The Democrats have a world view based (as Dr Johnson might have put it) on the triumph of hope over experience. The Republicans’ is rooted firmly in reality.

Obama: The Disillusioned Activist - John Judis, The New Republic
What Barack Obama won't tell you about his community organizing past........To win their votes, Obama needs to do precisely what he once taught organizers to do: speak to the self-interest of ordinary people.  So far, this has not been Obama's strong suit as a presidential candidate. To his credit, he has certainly talked about gas prices and health insurance. But, as Obama would have told his trainees 20 years ago, conveying concern requires more than saying the right thing; it involves seeing the world from the vantage of those you are trying to win over--and convincing them that your empathy is sincere.

Russia's Role in the Iran Crisis - Takeyh & Gvosdev, Boston Globe
.......Moscow feels that as long as the diplomatic process remains in play, America is in no position to launch a military strike that could destabilize the Middle East. At the same time, the theocratic regime has increasingly adjusted to a sanctions policy whose impact is negated by increasing oil prices........For its part, Russia is happy with the standoff between Iran and the United States. Not only does it destabilize international oil markets - keeping prices higher than they ought to be - but Iran's large natural gas reserves are effectively off-limits for European use, reinforcing the continent's dependency on Moscow. At the same time, as Iran strengthens its economic links with key Asian powers, it makes it more dependent on Russia and China for its critical trade and investments. Russia can only benefit from Iran's gradual reorientation toward the East.

Palin Inexperienced? Not Really - Ed Morrissey, Hot Air
Greta van Susteren took a look at the “inexperienced” criticism of Sarah Palin by interviewing people who worked with Palin in Alaska.  She spoke with the current mayor of Wasilla, which is — surprise! — one of the five largest cities in Alaska, and with the commander of the Alaska National Guard.  Greta also gets to the bottom of her battle with oil companies in her state in this lengthy video from Fox News last night: VIDEO

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