Saturday, August 30, 2008

Independence Day

If we cross the Rubicon and Kosovo gains independent status tomorrow, frankly speaking, I expect this independence to echo in other regions as well, including those close to Russia's borders. You perfectly understand what I mean - I mean Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester” - Russia's military chief of staff, Yury Baluevskyk, December 2007

So, it has begun. Both chambers of Russia's parliament unanimously passed resolutions Monday (the 25th) urging the Kremlin to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Putvedev signed the declaration the next day although many 'experts' had figured that they'd keep the card up their sleeve for a little while at least. So, who else will recognize them? Serbia and Belarus for sure, but it doesn't look like the members of the SCO are going to, they've got separatist problems of their own. Syria? Cuba? Venezuela? For Ossetians, this could bring them a step closer of realizing a dream to restore Alania, an ancient kingdom they believe was home to their ancestors, the Scythians. But really, independent? They set their clocks to Moscow time, use rubles and most of the population carries Russian passports. Speaking of population, they couldn't fill China's National Stadium. There's no industry, save smuggling through the Roki tunnel which cuts a huge ridge through the Caucusus. Consumer goods pour south from Russia, avoiding Georgian duties, and crime rings transport drugs north from Central Asia and Afghanistan, yet they dream of becoming the world's newest Liechtenstein. So, let's look at what other countries could soon be as "independent" as South Ossetia.

What is the internationally accepted standard of independence? It's almost getting a little tired, linking this issue with the NATO bombing of Serbia and the ensuing declaration of Kosovo as an independent country by the west, but the similarities become clearer by the day. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence and much of the west supported her, but there are still many more who have yet to do so. The street celebrations saw people waving Kosovan and US flags, in thanks to US support in the Serbian bombing campaign of 1999. The streets of Tskhinvali Monday saw similar celebrations, this time with Russian and South Ossetian flags being waved in thanks to Russian military intervention in ousting the Georgians. Next up for the Russians, Transnistria, Nagorno Karabakh, and maybe a couple Ukrainian enclaves, Crimea and Donetsk. But I want to look at the possibility of not just a few countries being 'liberated' by independence, how about the possibility of this igniting a wildfire across the planet.

Kosovo was "a lesson in how to resolve conflicts of identity and membership, peacefully and democratically," said Miren Askarate, spokeswoman for the Basque regional government. So, in Spain, the Basque and Catalan separatists seize the moment and officially separate. It turns out Franco was right all along, they were just a bunch of commies (Homage to Catalonia). Belgium splits in two, with a Flemish north and a French south. The snow falls non-stop in Eastern Turkey, where the PKK and supporters, cut off from the rest of the world in Kars, execute a coup and declare independence from Ankara (Snow). The Muslim nations of the world band together in their support of Palestine as it separates from Israel. The rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front(yes, the acronym is MILF) in the Philippines declared that with the move by Kosovo "the taboo" of the unwritten rules of the United Nations safeguarding the integrity of the countries that it recognises "has been shattered. What is prohibited for decades", says Khaled Musa, deputy chairman of the Front, "is now a virtual part of international law". Mindanao therefore splits from the Philippines and Xinjiang from China. Meanwhile the Buddhists all back Tibet and the Shan State's breakaway from Beijing.

Following riots after a controversial Montreal Canadiens game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup finals to the Vancouver Canucks that features English Canadian referees, the Parti-Quebecois quickly calls for a referendum on separation and win in a land slide. The US isn't immune to the spreading disease as Puerto Rico, the Northern Marianas, US Samoa and Guam all quickly declare their independence. Staying in the Pacific, Tokelau and the Cook Islands officially separate from New Zealand. West Papua and Aceh also break from Indonesian control and Bougainville from Papua New Guinea (Mister Pip). Chiapas breaks away from Mexico while the oil rich region of eastern Bolivia also declares a new country with its capital in Santa Cruz. Of course Africa has more than just Biafra which leaves Nigeria (Half of a Yellow Sun), as the newly integrated Bakassi breaks from Cameroon, Zanzibar from Tanzania, Southern Sudan along with Darfur from Khartoum and Puntland and Somaliland form nations out of what was Somalia.

France turns out to be one of the biggest losers as Corsica, Martinique, Guadaloupe, New Caladonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna all become island nations. The Faroe Islands and Greenland are lost to Denmark. Sri Lanka, which has been fighting against Tamil efforts for independence for 20 years, declared the move by Kosovo could create "an unmanageable precedent in the conduct of international relations". Colombo didn't support the secession of Kosovo, because it "poses a grave threat to international peace and security". Now, Tamil Eelam is recognized in the north-east of Sri Lanka. Kashmir gets its hands on a bomb and everyone agrees, yeah, they're a country. The UK not only loses Scotland in a referendum in 2010 but also Northern Ireland, the Chagos Islands, Turks and Caicos and Gibraltar to the independence craze. Nevis, with it's 98% literacy rate breaks from St. Kitts. "I salute the independence of Kosovo. No people can be forced to live under the rule of another," said Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the Turkish Cypriots. Now Northern Cyprus could also be recognized as a separate nation along with the Srpska Republic, completing the circle back in the Balkans as it separates from Bosnia Herzegovina.

I'm sure I missed a few, but it seems like quite a headache for the UN. Technicalities will mean little, de jure or de facto, legal or practical, there could be a lot more countries in the near future. Is Taiwan a country? Not to China, nor the UN, but for all practical purposes it is. Following the Kosovan declaration, the Taiwan foreign ministry said "self-determination is a right recognised by the United Nations, and it is the people who are masters of their nation's future...In no way should the independence of one nation be denied by another". What's to stop somewhere like Kosovo dividing again, the Serb dominated north seceding from the south? Russia and the west are playing a dangerous game which will in all likelihood turn out to be a nightmare for any geography student.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Great White North

In case you missed it, there's a Canadian election around the corner. I know, it's easy to miss with the one happening down south, but Stephen Harper is doing his best to be seen, in the Great White North. The Canadian Prime Minister is in the middle of a trip to make sure the world (read Russia) hears about the new extension of Canada's jurisdiction over icy Arctic waters to 200 nautical miles off its coast. Territorial waters are usually defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea as a belt of coastal waters extending at MOST twelve nautical miles from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state. At the same time as battling the Ruskies to the north he's fighting a legal battle against charges he's an authoritarian ruler at home.

The election call may come September 5th. Also known as the writ period, once the election is called it can take place anywhere from 36 days to infinity later. That's right, there's no maximum limit to the number of days from the call to the handing in of the writs (vote results), by the electoral officers in each district (currently 301 across Canada). The Prime Minister can ask the Governor General, the Queen's rep, for an election anytime he chooses. Just as Harper didn't go to the opening ceremony for the Olympics, the GG isn't going to be in Beijing for the para-lympics opener on September 6th, making him available for a visit. We don't have this whole complicated set date thing like in the US. Harper had been pushing a bill to fix the election for October of '09, but with the world's economy going in the tank, getting out sooner is better. This is a hidden danger for the Democrats and Liberals if elected, they could get holding the bill when the debts need to be paid.

Harper's Arctic adventure is all about Russia. The Russian's were down there (up there, but underwater) with a sub awhile back and have been busy re-asserting their geo-political power elsewhere in the world. Part of that aforementioned UN Convention on the Sea gives Canada, Russia, the US, Denmark, and Norway ten years to submit their map of the Arctic sea bed after ratifying. The economic rights of countries on the Arctic Ocean extend 320 kilometers from their shores. They can base claims on the reach of their continental shelf, creating the potential for overlapping stakes. The Canadians ratified in 2003 and are currently cooperating with the Danes in mapping, though we've disagreed about much of the Arctic in the past. Their technique? Setting explosives off Elsemere Island to seismically map the ground under the Lincoln Sea region of the Arctic Ocean. While the Americans haven't ratified the treaty yet (surprise!) they've been busy mapping the Chukchi Cap and elsewhere. Only a year ago the US was most concerned with the Canadians' inability to do the work, not about the Russians even as they planted that flag.

In order to change that perception, Harper's government has been trying to convey a new, tougher image. Since coming into office, Harper has visited the north seven times. This time while trying to talk about environmental concern, he said "Whether it is the thawing of the Northwest Passage or the suspected resource riches under the Arctic seabed, more and more countries are taking an interest in the waterways of the Canadian Arctic." Of late, Canada has: bought eight arctic patrol ships, decided to fast-track native land claims, announced a series of scientific and infrastructure projects such as building a scientific research base in Churchill and upgrading it's rail line and port, announced plans to develop a new deep water port at Nanisivik, on Baffin Island and a northern army training base at Resolute, and most recently launched a search for a lost ship?!

The tired sounding irony is that the rush for perhaps 25% of the Earth's resources is being precipitated by the melting of the north, and the opening of the Northwest Passage that sailing ships sought 500 years ago, so we can burn more oil to finish the job quicker. Earlier this year in May, the leaders of the five competing nations met on Greenland to discuss the looming problem of who gets what. There are many issues, such as the application Russia submitted to the UN for the right to own the 1.2 million square kilometres along the Lomonosov underwater mountain chain the same one which Denmark thinks is a continuation of Denmark, while Iceland whose not even part of the group, also claims it. The US Geological Service (USGS) thinks Greenland may have the largest crude and natural gas reserves in the Arctic region. Crude reserves in the north-eastern part of the island exceed 30 billion barrels. Yet, after the conference the countries said they did not see a need in elaborating the new international regime to administer the Arctic Ocean and the Russian representative Sergei Lavrov, was even more specific in his statements: “We do not share uneasy forecasts pertaining to the future clash of interests of Arctic and even non-Arctic states under global warming conditions, which lighten the access to natural resources and transport routes."

Even during the Georgian conflict Pravda was declaring "Arctic region likely to become the center of World War III". Sounds even more important that an election, Canadian at least. The image of a strong leader claiming and exerting strength buys votes in the sticks. Oh yeah, while this is all going on, Harper is fighting a legal battle over a Liberal expert claim that he is an authoritarian ruler. It's all part of a defamation suit against the party in which he is hoping to claim $3.5 million (Canadian I assume). The two North American claimants don't have a common front, they have disputing claims. One voice best be found as events in the North are already being compared to Georgia, and once again, the Russians seem to have the edge so far.

Guide to numbers for last picture:
1) North Pole: Russia leaves its flag on the seabed, 4,000m (13,100ft) beneath the surface, as part of its claims for oil and gas reserves
2) Lomonosov Ridge: Russia argues that this underwater feature is an extension of its continental territory and is looking for evidence
3) 200-nautical mile (370km) line: Shows how far countries' agreed economic area extends beyond their coastline. Often set from outlying islands
4) Russian-claimed territory: The bid to claim a vast area is being closely watched by other countries. Some could follow suit

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What's All The Buzz About?

- Albert Einstein

In case you missed it, disappearing bees became a bit of a story a couple of years ago. It's one of those stories that wasn't new, still isn't new, yet every time it comes up, people go, "huh, reeeeeally? We should be doing something about this." Then they go back to their everyday life only to be reminded of it again a couple of years later, thus the cycle continues. Even before 2004, the previous 50 years saw a 50% decline in the domestic bee population. Since then, it's only gotten worse. Why is this a problem you might ask, sounds like our picnics will be more enjoyable in the future. Well, thing is these bees are responsible for anywhere between 15 and 30 percent of the food we eat. Everything from almonds to zucchinis rely heavily on honey bees for pollination. Oh yeah, and they're also responsible for honey. If money is more important to you than food, here's a thought, bees provide an estimated $57 billion in pollination services as well as other free labor in the U.S. alone. In the UK 1/3 of honey bees didn't survive this winter, Argentina, the world's largest honey producer reported a 27% drop in honey yield. What's worse, disappearing bees are now threatening ice cream sellers!

Here's where we are. By February of 2007 the problem had become so acute that it got its own name, Colony Collapse Disorder, the phenomenon in which worker bees from a colony or hive abruptly disappear, and the colony dies. The winter of 2006 saw the loss of between 30 and 90 percent of some bee keepers hives. Winter losses are expected, but not of this magnitude. A survey of managed hives done in fall and winter 2007 by the Bee Research Lab and the Apiary Inspectors of America showed that beekeepers lost about 35 percent of their hives compared to 31 percent in 2006, so bee losses overall are not improving. The alarm bells have been ringing, research is being carried out, yet we still don't know the exact cause. It seems to come down to these factors: diseases caused by mites and other parasites, the spaying of crops with pesticides (or insecticides, apparently some people find the term PESTicides politically incorrect!), environmental stress, GMOs, and maybe even mobile (cell) phones! It appears that were not going to find one smoking gun cause, but a combination of the above.

The biggest factor seems to be the mites. Specifically the varroa mite, a bloodsucking parasite that attacks young and adult honeybees. Attacked bees often have deformed wings and abdomens and a shortened life span. In addition, these mites are particularly good at transmitting diseases, particularly viruses. Another mite, the tracheal mite, gets inside adult bees and clogs their breathing tubes, essentially suffocating the insects. Combined with viruses, particularly the Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV), which was found in 96.1 percent of the CCD-bee samples in a 2007 report, it could be one of the main factors. IAPV's discovery in 2004 coincided with the beginning of a controversial trend in U.S. beekeeping of importing large numbers of bees from Australia. Furthermore, every CCD-afflicted bee colony they sampled turned out to have originated in Australia or to have been exposed to bees imported from Australia.

The damage being caused by chemicals sprayed on crops seems to be also having an effect on bees. Most probably, these chemicals are acting as triggers, which when coupled with other factors, are having a catastrophic effect. Penn State scientists analyzing pollen, wax, adult bees and brood (larvae) have found the presence of dozens of chemicals, including pesticides used by agricultural producers to protect crops and by beekeepers to control hive pests such as parasitic mites. Sounds like a vicious circle to me. The most dangerous chemicals may be nicotinyl insecticides (also known as neonicotinoids). Both Germany and France have moved in recent months to ban different versions of the pesticides. Germany banned the pesticide clothianidin and seven others after heaps of dead bees were found near fields of corn coated in the pesticide, and in response to scientists who report that the insecticide severely impairs, and often kills, the honeybees that corn and other crops depend on for pollination. France has outlawed the use of the pesticide imidacloprid which has been linked to disoriented behavior in honeybees – and may help explain why many CCD cases result in abandoned hives. The companies involved are Bayer and Monsanto, here is Bayer's assurance of the safety of their product and a Nevada Club urging to ban similar products in the US. It seems to get worse as both companies have recently signed agreements to begin manufacturing neonicotinic-coated genetically engineered corn. Just as protesters successfully fought to get imidacloprid banned in France, many are trying to fight this latest move.

In research done earlier this year scientists are sounding more alarms over the fact that diseases are being spread from commercially bred bees to wild bees (Scientific paper here the link in the article 404s). We've grown dependent on commercially raised bees to pollinate much of our fields. Over the past 100 years or so we've been raising bees in large scale operations where pesticides are used in hives to fumigate for varroa mites and antibiotics are fed to the bees to prevent disease. Hives are hauled long distances by truck, often several times during the growing season, to provide pollination services to industrial agriculture crops, which further stresses the colonies and exposes them to agricultural pesticides and GMOs. The study looked at how disease might spread from "spillover" of runaway commercial bees to their wild cousins. They built a mathematical model that predicted a relatively slow build-up of infection in nearby wild bumblebee populations over weeks or months culminating in a burst of transmission generating an epidemic wave that could affect nearly all of wild bees exposed. This model also predicted a decline in infection rates as you moved away from the greenhouse. The patterns that had been predicted by their mathematical model were borne out by studying the wild bees.

There are many competing voices clamouring to be heard on this issue, each one trying to shout louder than the other, when it seems that in fact it is a combination of all the factors. With the current worldwide food crisis, the cost of bee pollination is adding another inflationary pressure as bee rentals have at least tripled in the past few years. The sad part is that not much is being done about, especially at the funding level. The farm bill passed last year by the U.S. House of Representatives, which calls for $286 billion to be spent over the next five years on everything from school snacks to biofuels, earmarked no funds specifically for CCD research. It's pathetic that a $250,000 donation for research from Haagen Daas is seen as manna from heaven. Mmmm, speaking of that, I'm going to get me some strawberry ice cream sprinkled with almonds now, while the getting's good!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

One Nation, Three Votes

What do you say we forget this whole thing and get a beer?

When I suggested in May that a new process be used to select the Democratic nominee, the Clinton camp ignored me and in the end paid the price, losing to Obama. Now that the presidential campaign is in full swing it's hard to watch the coverage without asking yourself the question, "what the hell is it all for?" Events masquerading as 'town hall' meetings such as the Saddleback forum are created in thinly veiled attempts to woo the religious right, polls are conducted seemingly every few minutes, candidates criss-cross the country to speak at various events and fundraisers, all costing millions of dollars and wasting valuable time. And wait, the worst is yet to come, the party conventions, with the Democrats up first in Denver starting on Monday and the Republicans the following week in Minnesota. Before the accompanying blanket media coverage, I figured it's time to let everybody in on a secret, not that well kept mind you... it's all a giant waste of time, come November 4th, the results of the election will be determined by 3 voters.

That's right, in 2000, 9 people decided who it would be, this time, Emily in Nevada, Olivia in New Hampshire and William (Billy to his friends) in Virginia will decide who's going to be the next president of the United States. In case you missed it, the president of the US is determined by what's known as the electoral college. In this arcane system, the winner is determined by whoever manages to receive the most electoral votes. Each state is allocated a number of votes more or less based on its population, California the most with 55 and little states like the Dakotas, 3 each. If you receive the majority of votes in, say, Oregon, you get all 7 of Oregon's votes, making the votes of all those who voted for another candidate completely irrelevant in the final count (*see below). This is done on a state-by-state basis, and the winner is determined by who gets the most electoral votes. As has happened in the past it is quite possible for the winner of the election to actually receive less votes than the loser (in fact it's happened 4 times: 1824, 1876 and 1888 and of course 2000). Now, the fact is a majority of voters in the US are either Republicans or Democrats and it wouldn't matter if Krusty the Clown was their party's candidate, that's who they will vote for. Additionally, most states tend to be either Republican or Democrat states, for example California will be Democrat and Oklahoma will vote Republican. Of course these preferences change over time, slowly, but why are we wasting so much energy on this when we already know most of the results?

With 538 electoral college votes up for grabs, a candidate has to secure 270 to become the next president of the USA. Of those, 174 electoral votes are locked up for the Republicans (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming), while 207 are virtually assured to vote Democrat (California, Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin). For all practical purposes, these states don't matter, don't waste your time thinking about them, there are only 12 competitive states which can influence the result one way or the other.

We've got 157 electoral votes left, of which Obama needs 63 and McBush 96 for victory. Minnesota has gone Democrat the last 8 elections so I'm gonna give Minnesota to the Democrats, using the same logic, North Carolina goes Republican having voted that way the last 7 times. Colorado and Ohio have both gone Republican the last couple of elections and McBush leads them both, so Republican for both. Obama is polling ahead by 5 points in Pennsylvania, more in Michigan and they've both gone Democrat the last 4 elections, while in Florida, McBush leads, done, done and done. While we're at it, let's give New Mexico to Barack.

Leaving us with only three states to decide the election, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia. Now, assuming the polls are correct (yes, I know, a very large assumption), these states are all practical dead heats, which I will take the liberty to extrapolate until election day, meaning we have a draw in all three of these states moments before the close of the polls. Enter Emily, Olivia and William, and with them, the fate of a nation.

So, here's my proposal, let's skip the conventions (PLEASE!), air some old re-runs of the Dukes of Hazard instead of the TV debates, dedicate the news coverage to news, really, just focus our energy on improving the world instead of this silly election. If we'd have adopted my plan for the primaries combined with this new approach, billions of dollars (over a billion for the campaigns, maybe $100 million for the conventions, then there's the cost of holding elections!) could have and would be saved. If you look at the environmental angle, think of all the flyers, posters and confetti that have been and will be printed, hung and tossed. Obama announced his VP choice with a text, why don't we just call up Emily, Olivia and William and ask them what they think and be done with it?

(*)Maine and Nebraska allocate two electoral votes to the popular vote winner, and then one each to the popular vote winner in each Congressional district (2 in Maine, 3 in Nebraska) in their state. Note that since these rules were adapted, neither state has ever split their electoral votes.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Evo and Alan

Um, what do you call that dance, Alan?
Whenever I think that Africa is the forgotten continent, a news story pops up with Venezuela or Brazil in the headline and I remember about South America. Not only is it not considered its own continent over here in Europe (in North American schools there are 7, whereas from what I've seen there's only 5 here, don't ask what happened to Antarctica), but with the lack of news, you'd think it was another planet. Well to rectify that to some extent, let's look at a couple countries on distinctly different, yet converging paths, Peru and Bolivia.

It was Bolivia that caught my eye today as president Evo Morales is battling anti-government forces in a general strike that has paralyzed much of the country. Governor's in 5 of the 9 provinces called for the one day strike Monday in a call for a greater share of energy revenues and increased regional autonomy. This came on the heels of a referendum on a presidential recall 10 days ago in which Morales won the support of 67% of the the voters. Meanwhile in Peru, President Alan Garcia has declared a 30 day state of emergency in three Amazonian provinces in an ongoing confrontation between environmental groups and the government over land auctions to oil and gas companies.

Bolivia is the classic example of the conservative elitists trying to deny the will of the people. Not only did Morales carry 67% of the total vote, he won in 6 of the 9 provinces, including Chuquisaca, home of Sucre, where the opposition has been playing up to the press, creating the illusion that he can't even enter the city. In the days leading up to the vote, protesters blockaded airport runways and prevented Morales from traveling to several regional capitals. Most analysts were shocked by the scale of his victory. It was expected he would lose in places like resource rich Santa Cruz, but even there he receive just under 40% support. Four provinces have voted for autonomy in the past few months. The main bone of contention is sharing oil revenues more evenly, particularly to the nation's seniors.

Meanwhile in Peru, the land grab is on. The amount of Peruvian Amazon territory now open to oil exploration has risen from 13 to 70% in two years. The state of emergency was declared following violent clashes between police and indigenous groups that left eight police officers and one protester injured on Sunday. The decree effects regions in Amazonas, Loreto and Cuzco prohibiting public gatherings and free transit within the regions. The protest comes three months after the promulgation, without congressional approval, of Legislative Decree N°1015 which simplified the process for private investors to obtain permission from indigenous communities to set up business to bring Peruvian law into compliance with a new free-trade deal with the United States. Now, instead of requiring a vote representing 66 percent of the entire community, investors need only to persuade a simple majority of those in attendance at a community assembly. Basically Garcia created a loophole for mining development and oil exploration in the high Andes and Amazon region. To put the decree into context, it ignores the UN Convention N°169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, to which Peru is a signatory, which states that governments must “consult the peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, whenever consideration is being given to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them directly". It also follows another state of emergency declared in July following an ore mine rupture that threatened to contaminate the drinking water of the capital, Lima.

What we are seeing are the results of the battle between the "free market" and the rights of the indigenous people to control their land. Unfortunately South America has become something of a battle ground of ideologies as the right accuses the left of "Chavism" and the left ignores the market concepts of private land ownership. In Bolivia, while Evo does have the support of the majority of the people, the power of the rich, land-owning class will do everything in their power to maintain control over the land, a confrontation that may lead to provinces like Santa Cruz declaring independence. The degree to which the two sides disagree was exemplified last December in the process of drafting a new constitution. The right-wing faction, Podemos, boycotted the plenary of the constituent assembly, enabling the ruling Moviemiento al Socialismo (MAS) to achieve passage of its draft text unopposed. Santa Cruz, the main bastion of the opposition, thus decided to take matters into its own hands, in rejecting the constitution and proposing to go its own way. They held autonomy referendums which easily passed in four provinces but were declared illegal by La Paz. Basically it is a battle over money.

La Paz is awash in new money from the "nationalization" of the hydrocarbons industry in 2006, the Peruvian economy is humming, growing at 9% per year, yet they both are on confrontational paths that may lead to further bloodshed. In Bolivia, Morales will continue his drive to indigenous empowerment following the referendum, which also gave him the power to name two new governors who were recalled in the vote. Meanwhile, the right will continue to try to build a wall, facilitated by geography as the states where they hold power are contiguous in the east of the country forming a half-moon shape, thus their nickname of "media luna". In Peru, while the economy grows, so does the disparity between rich and poor. No attention is being paid to basic infrastructure reforms, exemplified by the governments inability, more than a year on, to provide relief to the area effected by the largest earthquake to hit in 35 years. Che Guevara was killed in the jungles of Bolivia trying to bring his revolution of equity and justice, today more than 40 years on, the struggle continues and sees no signs of letting up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What did he say?

"We must be aware of the superiority of our civilisation, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its value understanding of diversity and tolerance...

"The West will continue to conquer peoples, even if it means a confrontation with another civilisation, Islam, firmly entrenched where it was 1,400 years ago." - Silvio Berlusconi

You do have to watch the slippery slope, it's not only easy to slip and hit your head, but before you know it the hate could be turned on you. I wrote a few months back about the racial violence in South Africa caused by the upsurge in Zimbabwean refugees, quickly brushed over some American intolerance and also mentioned some problems they'd been having in Italy. Yes, in case you missed it, Silvio Berlusconi is back in power in Italy, having ridden to victory partially on a wave of old-fashioned, finger-pointing, it's their fault intolerance. Well my friends, it seems that even the Vatican is sitting up and taking notice.

There's been talk in the past, mostly whispers mixed with the occasional warnings from Nobel laureate Dario Fo that what we are witnessing in Italy can only be called creeping fascism. However, when Fo would say of Italy that "the new style fascism is already with us", the right would just call him a communist looney. Then last week I noticed a story about an Italian Catholic magazine called Famiglia Cristiana that ran an editorial claiming that Italy may be witnessing the re-birth of fascism and finishes with "Let's hope their fears are unfounded that another form of fascism is looming here". This is the Catholic Church, to whom most right wing politicians swear allegiance. In an odd schoolyard type reply, junior minister Carlo Giovanardi, attacked the magazine saying: "You are fascists, with your bludgeoning tone". The government had previously labeled the magazine Catho-communist for an earlier editorial against anti-crime measures. The head of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party in the upper house of parliament, Maurizio Gasparri, said he would sue the editor of the magazine. Still, it's not like the Pope called them fascists...oops!

"I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone." - Silvio Berlusconi, 2006

Yesterday as Pope Benedict XVI (B16) was delivering his weekly Sunday sermon, he was telling a story from the gospels about Jesus meeting a pagan woman and rising above his initial misgivings to perform a miracle for her daughter. A little later the pope said: "One of humanity's great conquests is the overcoming of racism. Unfortunately, however, there are new and worrying examples of this in various countries, often linked to social and economic problems that nonetheless can never justify contempt or racial discrimination." Later he reminded Catholics of their duty to steer others in society away from "racism, intolerance and exclusion [of others]".

Um, dude, er, Il Cavieliere, Berlusconi, the pope just called you a racist. I'd love to see him try to keep that smarmy smile on his face as he reads the news. He seems to be having some problems with the Church, this on top of the whole marriage problem he's trying to 'fix'. Seems he's been trying to get them to lift the ban on communion for divorcees. If only it were as easy as changing the laws of your country for your own purposes when you're a fascist dictator. Berlusconi has faced multiple charges of corruption, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties over the years but has always protested his innocence. He has even been found guilty, only to have the decisions overturned on appeal. In under a month between June 26th and July 24th his government managed to introduce and pass two bills to protect himself and his buddies. The first froze long-running trials, including one involving Il Cavieliere for a year. The second, and perhaps most audacious, grants himself, the president and the speakers of the two parliamentary chambers immunity for the time they are in office. Berlusconi has long criticized what he sees as the power of the magistrates but now has a strong enough majority to pass such laws. Most people see the magistrates' power as necessary as their dates back to the post-war era, when a strong court system was seen as a bulwark against a repeat of fascism.

"If I, taking care of everyone's interests, also take care of my own, you can't talk about a conflict of interest." - Silvio Berlusconi

Fascists are easy to spot, they us the same repertoire and shout the same slogans: freedom, effort, fatherland, Italy, defense of the race, culture of our civilization, original civilization. In Italy, Berlusconi swept back into power while the far right won the mayor's race in Rome where liberals had ruled for years. Berlusconi's coalition is an assortment of far-right extremists and dangerous, deluded rabble-rousers. The Popolo della Libertà coalition, for example, includes Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of you-know-who. It also includes the remains of the so-called post-fascist party, the National Alliance. Its leader, Gianfranco Fini, once said that Mussolini was the greatest statesman of the 20th century. Perhaps most worrying of all is that the Northern League, led by Umberto Bossi, won 8% of the national vote. Their xenophobic rantings are truly evil, one recently suggested that foreigners should be forced to use separate train carriages; Bossi himself has, in the past, urged the Italian navy to use live rounds against the thousands of immigrants arriving on Italian shores. If you don't like it Bossi has said the rifles are still warm and that he has 300,000 martyrs ready to battle those who get in his way. It's been seen before, first you whip the people up into a rage about the problems of a country being the fault of Others, intolerance grows and violence breaks out, in this case a concerted action along with the authorities. New laws are passed, against immigrants, particularly Roma, they gradually grow more menacing, to the point where they are identifying people according to ethnicity, not only those you don't like, but everyone.

"Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile." - Silvio Berlusconi

I'm not the only one comparing Italy 2008 to 1922, or Hitler's treatment of minorities to the creeping xenophobia that's entering Italy's mainstream. The celebrations following Berlusconi's victory saw amid the sea of tricolour flags were hundreds of people raising their right arms to the skies, their fingers tense and straight. Everywhere you could see the old fascist salute. It is back in fashion and many are now wondering if the boot-boys themselves are back in power. There is much indifference in Italy to this movement, as usual there are other, more important things to worry about, the timing is right with Europe nose-diving into recession. The concentration of power, particularly in the media allows Berlusconi to shape public opinion. Making things even scarier is the shift in how the fascist past of Italy is now being looked upon. Mussolini has been reconsidered and rehabilitated. Fascism is nearer than you think and not only in Italy, who knows, maybe this time the pope is the only one who can save us from its grips.

"A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned ... to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors, and schoolteachers."
Brave New World (P.S.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Old Revolutionaries Die Hard (Sometimes)

Prachanda's the guy on the right

With all the news seemingly centred on Georgia and China this past week, an interesting story has slid by almost unnoticed by the world. Oh yeah, and it has a hammer and sickle involved. In tiny mountainous Nepal, former Maoist guerrilla leader Prachanda was sworn in as that countries Prime Minister just two years after laying down his arms. In true revolutionary form, Pushpa Kamal Dahal still uses his "nom de guerre", Prachanda, meaning the fierce one, easily won 464 votes out of 577 ballots cast in a special Constituent Assembly vote. This after leading a decade long insurgency against the Hindu monarchy that saw the deaths of at least 13,000 people.

The question remains if he can complete the transformation from rebel ideologue to successful political leader, however, there are many precedents that say it's possible. From George Washington to Daniel Ortega and all points in between, many revolutionary leaders have become successful politicians. Lest we forget, Ortega was the leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the group that helped overthrow dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979. His first term in office as president of Nicaragua was from '85 to '90. He initiated land reforms in an attempt at wealth redistribution and had to deal with the American backed Contra rebels. This brings to mind another thorn in the US' side, good ol' Fidel. It was Castro's birthday just the other day (August 13th), and although no longer technically in power, it was a long, interesting ride. From the Bay of Pigs, through the Cuban Missile Crisis, he proved that he could keep his country going , for better or worse, despite the efforts of the world's superpower just 90 miles away.

Other successful examples abound, Lech Walesa in Poland went from union leader on the docks of Gdansk to the first directly elected president of his country after the fall of Communism. Speaking of which, of course there were Lenin and the rest in the USSR and Mao Zedong in China. Regardless of which side of the political fence one sits, most everybody would agree that the best example of freedom fighter turned political leader is Nelson Mandela, like Walesa, a Nobel Peace prize winner. Not only did he lead his people to victory in one of the most important struggles of the 20th century, he knew when to step aside and let others lead, something many of this ilk have never figured out. Robert Mugabe would be the most glaring example of this type and some would argue that Hugo Chavez should take some lessons on when to move aside from his hero Simon Bolivar.

I know I've left many important figures out, the list could go on forever, Kenyatta, Begin, Shamir, Qadhafi, Carransa, Arafat..., but back in Nepal the changes have already begun and huge challenges remain. In April the Maoist party won elections but failed to secure a majority and therefore had to negotiate with other parties to secure the backing of the 464 out of the 577 ballots cast in the special Constituent Assembly. The same Assembly voted to abolish the 239-year-old monarchy in May, declaring the nation the world's newest republic. However, the Nepali Congress, which ruled Nepal for much of the past 18 years and the second largest party in the assembly, have refused to join the Maoists in government. The former guerrilla Maoists are also on the US list of terrorist organizations which isn't surprising as Prachanda was inspired by Peru's Shining Path along with chairman Mao. The promised land reform in a nation where 80% of the population depend on farming for a living will be difficult in one of the world's poorest countries already dealing with soaring food and fuel prices. The trickiest problem will be the integration of the 20,000 rebel fighters with the national army. In addition, they have two years to draft a new constitution. An uphill battle to be sure, but I think the true test of a revolutionary turned political leader is the ability to form compromises with former enemies, something he's already done forming alliances with other parties. He has also insisted that Maoists are not "dogmatic communists" and that globalisation and free markets are facts of life, hello China. Finally, and prematurely in this case, a true revolutionary must know when to step aside, something many never learn as they cling to their ideological beliefs and battlefield mentality, hello Mugabe, Musharaf...

...We leave victorious...because we Sandinistas have spilled blood and sweat not to cling to government posts, but to bring Latin America a little dignity, a little social justice. - Daniel Ortega

(Note: Yes, I realize Ortega went back into politics, and yes he's been accused of some nasty stuff)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Heartland

In the geopolitical world nothing happens in isolation. Anybody caught by surprise over the events last week in Georgia really just hadn't been paying attention, or probably just forgot that what has been done can often be undone. The term geopolitics, while coined by Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellen, gained attention as a doctrine through the writing of Englishman Sir Halford Mackinder and his Heartland Theory of 1904. Essentially his doctrine divided the world into the World Island, comprising Eurasia and Africa; and the Periphery, including the Americas, the British Isles, and Oceania. The Heartland of the World Island was made up of the Ukraine, Western Russian and Mitteleuropa (Central Europe). His theory held that: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island. Who rules the World-Island commands the World."

Yesterday's seemingly curiously timed signing of a preliminary agreement between the US and Poland to host part of the missile defence system to be stationed near Russia's border must be part of this heartland strategy of the 21st century. Surprisingly the Russians are pissed off. The Russian talk had been largely ignored, all bluster with no bite. Suddenly, the world has been reminded that the bear still has claws. So when Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian general staff, says the deal "cannot go unpunished...Poland, by deploying [the system] is exposing itself to a strike —100 per cent," we all take notice, especially those of us moving back to Poland in the fall, gulp. Funny that after 18 months of negotiations the Poles finally accepted. Guess they got something in return, such as: American soldiers to staff air defense sites in Poland oriented toward Russia; the United States would be obliged to defend Poland in case of an attack with greater speed than required under NATO (that's like...Superfast, not Georgiafast); a battery of patriot missiles. OK, so Mitteleuropa is pacified, what's next...?

"Do you understand George? The Ukraine is not even a state! What is the Ukraine? Part of its territory is in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, we gave them the most important part of their country!"
-Vladimir Putin to George Bush, April 4th, Bucharest
Yep, Vlad made quite an impression at his first and last NATO summit as Russian president. Not only did he manage to convince the right people (read France and Germany) that the Ukraine and Georgia shouldn't be offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP), but he gave a peek to the world of what was to come. The "most important" part of the Ukraine that Putin was referring to was the Crimean peninsula, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based and most of the population is Russian. The area was given to the Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954, when the collapse of the USSR was unthinkable, but control then went to the Ukraine in 1991 after the wall fell. Under a 1997 agreement, Ukraine agreed to lease harbor space in the Crimea peninsula base of Sevastopol to the Russians until 2017. Now, with tensions escalating, President Yushchenko's issued a decree on Wednesday requiring the Russian fleet to secure permission for any movements 72 hours in advance. Hmmm, what could happen next?

OK, Rose, Georgia; Orange, Ukraine; Tulip, Kyrgystan; the regime-change strategy under the cover of democratisation which Washington has sought to use to extend its influence in Eurasia with colour/flower coded revolutions is crumbling. Many thought Russia made a huge miscalculation in allowing them to happen, but those crafty Ruskies were just biding their time, knowing that democracy develops differently on different soils. The rest of the 'stans are seemingly lost to the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). At the same time many are losing faith in NATO. “Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later — it is no good when assistance comes to dead people,” the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said on Polish television. “Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of — knock on wood — any possible conflict.” The Heartland could be lost to Russian influence in a heartbeat and many believe it is their goal, to truly reassert their presence as a superpower.

What ever happened to those heady days back in that innocent summer of '01. US hegemony was unquestioned, everyone was listening to Lifehouse (!?) the Twin Towers stood in New York, and Dubya peered at Putin for the first time and said: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul". A tectonic shift has occurred threatening a domino effect. South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be the first to fall. Transdnistria, Crimea and South-Eastern Ukraine the next likely dominoes. Bielorussia, Armenia (along with the Nagorno-Karabakh, sorry Azerbaijan), Kazakhstan and Tajikistan complete the new Russian Federation. Looks like the USSR minus the Baltics, western Moldova and Ukraine along with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Do we have a colour to call this next revolution?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blame Canada

Hey Canada! What's up? It used to be that the only complaints people had from up north focused on Celine Dion. Lately, I can't seem to look at the news without seeing a negative, disturbing or simply ridiculous story coming out of my homeland. Could it have been the federal election in 2006 bringing Stephen Harper and his Conservatives into power? Is it the unknown addictive substance that Tim Horton's must put in their coffee? Whatever the reason you can't deny that the stream of news flowing out of Canada of late has ranged from the bizarre to the tragic. Regardless of the cause for the shift, the world's view of Canada is undergoing a transformation from an idyllic, if frozen, land of peacekeepers and natural beauty to one more in line with it's neighbour to the south.

The easiest line of attack is the environmental angle. While much of the world thinks of green spaces, majestic mountains and lush forests, the truth is Canadian government has possibly done more harm to the environmental effort than the Bush administration. While it could be expected that the US in their greed and lust for profits wouldn't ratify the Kyoto Protocol, Canada could have been a shining example to the world. They were one of the first countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Since that time however, led by the Conservative party, both federally and provincially, they have taken the low road. In typical wild west fashion, the governments have turned a blind eye to the developing disaster of the Albertan oil sands. The ecological damage is mind-boggling, while the environmental disaster has forced the government to change the definitions of pollution emissions. Congratulations Canada, while only making up 1/2% of the world's population, you´re the world's eighth largest producer of carbon dioxide.

We could talk about immigration if you'd prefer, Canada is a land of immigrants, where the term multiculturalism was born. A land where many have dreamt of starting a new life. Well, hopefully you´re not a confused Polish immigrant landing at the Vancouver International Airport with those dreams. Yes, the world watched in horror as some of those fine young men in powerful uniforms, RCMP officers, tasered Robert Dziekanski to death. If you're looking to come to Canada to avoid fighting in an illegal war, don't bother either. Last month Canada expelled the first US army deserter to have arrived since the Iraq invasion, and now Jeremy Hinzman is set to join Robin Long. Both face court martial and five years in prison for refusing to serve in Iraq. It is estimated that there are about 200 deserters in Canada.

If you're looking for the low point, you need look no further than the current governments support of the US "war on terror". After the previous government's refusal to join "the coalition of the willing" in an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation, the biggest worry that most Canadians had was that relations with their southern neighbour would be soured. Fear not, the new Conservative government led by Stephen Harper has saved the day. Just ask Maher Arar, a Syrian born Canadian university graduate who tried to return his home in Canada from vacation in Tunisia on September 26, 2002 and wound up in a Syrian prison, a victim of the US' secret rendition program. There he was repeatedly tortured. His family had no idea of his whereabouts for days and he didn't see them for 376 days. If you have time, here's the link to the official Arar Commission report, basically Judge O'Connor blasts the RCMP for providing U.S. authorities with inaccurate intelligence that resulted in Mr. Arar, and his wife Monia Mazigh, being put on a border watch list as dangerous al-Qaeda terrorist suspects. That same report confirmed their complete innocence. Oh yeah, there are a few more cases just like this.

It gets worse, friends. Maybe you somehow missed the video of Omar Khadr that was released in July. We'd all like to think that if our government and country knew that I was being held without charges and tortured they would do something about it. Well, according the the footage, Omar told the Canadian interviewers what was happening to him and yet nothing was done. Being only 15 when he was seized by US forces after a firefight in Afghanistan in July of 2002, he was thrown into prison on a Caribbean island with no rights and no charges. The cold indifference of his Canadian interrogators about seven months later is truly shocking, if you haven't seen it, you should, here:

Prime Minister Harper said in July that he would not interfere in Mr Khadr's military tribunal, due to begin at Guantanamo on 8 October. “Mr. Khadr is accused of very serious things. There is a legal process in the United States … Frankly, we do not have a real alternative to that process to get to the truth about those accusations.” Even Khadr’s American military lawyer, Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, found that “preposterous.” Harper, he said, should “stand up as the Prime Minister of Canada and protect the rights of a Canadian citizen, and stop taking his orders from the Bush administration and stop being the last leader of a Western country to support a failed process in Guantanamo Bay.”

Of course I shouldn't lose my head over all this, not much has changed, has it? I guess that's another point, Canadians seem to be losing theirs, literally. Whether sitting on a dreary bus journey across the prairies or in prison in Saudi Arabia, heads seem to be rolling. In case you missed it, 40-year-old Vince Weiguang Li was charged with second degree murder for decapitating a 22-year-old fellow passenger Tim McLean on July 30th. After pulling out a hunting knife and stabbing McLean as many as 40 or 50 times, witnesses said, Li displayed the victim's severed head to horrified passengers who had already fled the bus. What the? It's not even hockey season yet, so I've no idea what could have pissed him off so much. Meanwhile one Canadian as already been sentenced to death and another still awaits trial in Saudi Arabia, and the punishment is beheading. The 18 and 23-year-old brothers both face death by sword for their role in the death of a 19-year-old Syrian in a schoolyard incident last year.

Heads are rolling while feet are washing up on shore. The west coast has seen at least five unidentified solo feet wash up on its shore over the course of the past year. It's a mystery that has the police, media and locals scratching their heads. The fifth foot, and first left foot, was found on June 16th near Ladner, B.C. No leads have been found, but there are enough missing people and serial killers around if the past is any indication; from Clifford Olson (killed 11 children) to Paul Bernardo and his wife Karla Homolka who killed three teenage girls, including Homolka’s sister to the biggest monster of all Robert Pickton. Pickton is alleged to have killed and dismembered the bodies of his victims, possibly as many as 49, on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. Don't forget the Canadian pedophile, that swirly face picture guy, who was convicted yesterday in Thailand to 39-months in prison.

Of course none of this really matters to the Canadian psyche. What's really important is that we haven't won any medals at the Olympics yet. You'll find more outrage on the internet about the medal drought being experienced by the Canadian team than any of the above stories. The Canadian news story of the year for 2007 was the rise of the Canadian dollar versus the US buck. Woohoo! Way to go Canada, your dollar did what every other currency in the world did, appreciate versus the US dollar. Wake up Canada, there's more to life than Tim Horton's.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Peaceful Resolutions?

Could it be that it is still possible for nations to resolve territorial disputes peacefully? A little news item caught my attention today of just such an occurrence. It's in Africa, so I'm sure it won't have much impact on the rest of the world, but you never know. What's even more unlikely is that there's oil involved. Bakassi, a small, possibly oil rich peninsula, was ceded from Nigeria to Cameroon today in a ceremony held in Calabar, Nigeria.

In another twist, it was the International Court of Justice, the same body that has been defied by the US in its drive to continue to murder Mexicans, that issued the verdict that has been adhered to by both sides. OK, the ceremony had to be moved from the peninsula's main city due to fears of violence, but the fact is, war wasn't necessary to resolve the conflict! Yes, there has been some bloodshed as the Niger Delta Defence and Security Council (NDDSC) has launched attacks on the Cameroonian army, resulting in some deaths, at least four separate clashes in recent months. November of 2007 was particularly violent as at least 21 Cameroonian soldiers were killed. The fact is though that following a series of clashes in the 90's, the case was brought before the court by Cameroon, a ruling was made, and both parties seem to be abiding by it. Although a majority of the population call themselves Nigerian, the court sided with Cameroon.

Bakassi juts into the Gulf of Guinea, an area which may contain up to 10% of the world's oil and gas reserves as well as being rich in marine life. The peninsula has been administered by Nigeria since independence from Britain in 1960. The ruling was quite difficult to determine because of the colonial history of the territory. The biggest bone of contention on the part of the Nigerians is the fact that the ruling was purportedly based on an Anglo-German treaty from 1913 that transferred Bakassi to Germany. However, at that time Nigeria and Bakassi were only British protectorates, not colonies meaning it wasn't their land to give.

There are many more hurdles to be overcome, of course most of them from the Nigerian side. For example, the Nigerian constitution stipulates that there shall be 36 states in Nigeria, of which Bakassi is one. Furthermore there may be as many as 200,000 Nigerians, many of whom are fisherman, who may need to be relocated, and the proposed area is landlocked and already populated. When does international law override domestic law? When the judgment is against the US (see US vs Nicaragua or the current situation of the Mexicans sitting on death row) of course it's domestic law. I hope that they learn a lesson from the Nigerians.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Still Cheering Dubya!?

"Are those the American fighters finally here to protect us?"
Georgian President Saakashvili takes cover in Gori

Can you name the capital city with an avenue named after George W. Bush, and where they still gather in their Freedom Square to cheer his name although his and his country's policies led directly to their recent humiliation? Of course we can only be talking about Tblisi, the Georgian capital, a city I visited a few years back and swore to one day return. While they have beautiful mountains, girls and great wine, they have been the victim of the one of the greatest political miscalculations since Neville Chamberlain's back in 1938 (OK, maybe more like Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait).

So why did Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili decide to attack (not the right word when it is your territory) South Ossetia last week? Surely they knew the Russians far out-gunned them and wouldn't stand idly by as Georgian tanks rolled into Tskhinvali. Some say timing, with the world's focus on Beijing, maybe the Russians wouldn't notice. Some say they were provoked, the stakes were being upped by the Russians and they had tanks rolling south, it was now or never. More likely was the thought that statements such as these would lead to an actual American response:
Dubya - The Russian invasion of Georgia is "disproportionate and unacceptable"
Cheney - The Russian invasion "will not go unanswered"

Many observers have been trying to draw a parallel between the Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland in 1938 and the current crisis. Sure there are similarities, but the fact is that we now live in 2008, a completely different world where just recently it was an accepted fact that the great powers should show restraint in dealing with other nations. Where the strong don't impose their will on the weak and where it was the world's responsibility to protect those weaker nations. And finally, as Dubya said, great powers don't go about "toppling governments in the 21st century". Alas, this is 2008, not 2003 and countries such as Georgia who have chosen to throw their lot in with the US (see NATO aspirations, 2000 troops in Iraq), must now pay part of the price for being part of the "New World Order". Condoleezza Rice visited Georgia just last month and although she claims to have privately warned Georgia not to use force against Russia in a war they couldn't win, the outward signs from the States cried out for war. Advisers sent to build up the Georgian military; excercises last month with 1,000 US troops; pushing hard for NATO ascension; loudly supporting Georgia's territorial dispute over Russian claims of the separatist enclaves.

The result of the Georgian gamble in South Ossetia is becoming clear. Russia is in a position to dictate the terms of peace, and they don't look good for Georgia (or the EU and the west for that matter). Outlining his terms, Putvedev referred to the Georgian president as a lunatic: "The difference between lunatics and other people is that when they smell blood it is very difficult to stop them," Medvedev said. "So you have to use surgery." The Russians are demanding a legally binding agreement in which the Georgians renounce the use of force in dealing with the two breakaway pro-Russian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and that Georgian forces withdraw entirely from the regions and no longer form part of the joint "peacekeeping" contingents there. In addition, they are insisting that the two regions be allowed to vote on whether they want to join Russia, a poll that would definitely result in a yes, prefiguring a possible annexation. Georgia has been part of the peacekeeping force in South Ossetia for 15 years, but the Russians are adamant that they not return. "They shot their brother Russian peacekeepers, then they finished them off with bayonets, so we are not going to see them there any more," said Dmitri Rogozin, ambassador to NATO in Brussels.

So, the end result of the Georgian foray will be the loss of 20% of their land as both Abhkazia and South Ossetia fall deeper into the control of Russian forces and eventually have the added credibility of a referendum. Maybe the west will begin to realize that they have poked the Russian bear one too many times with a stick, (Kosovo, Ukraine, missiles in Poland...). Maybe the world will recognize that the past 5 years has seen the complete neutering of any authority the UN had (ie. the Iraq invasion sin security council consent, Kosovo declaring independence sin UN blessing), and will try to rebuild its legitimacy. As usual, the results will probably less obvious. In retaliation for Israel selling arms to Georgia (yes, $300 million worth), the Russians will sell more to Syria and Iran. The US presidential race is slightly influenced as both candidates spew rhetoric about what should be done. Remember McBush's top foreign policy advisor Randall Scheunemann lobbied for Georgia for four years, earning his firm $900,000 in payments from that nation. Or maybe the Russians will take advantage of this and move into Georgia for real, as it is reported they may be doing now. Stalin's statue in the centre of Gori could be under Russian control again sooner than we think.