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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Movies That Don't Need to Be Remade, Take 27

Apparently, there aren't enough original ideas floating around Hollywood... We're subjected to remake after remake. First MILDRED PIERCE (1945)...   And now TOTAL RECALL (1990) is to be remade  ?  Where/when will this end ?

Granted,  the original film adaptation of Philiip K.Dick's ' We Can Remember It for You Wholesale'  clearly would've benefitted from having an everyman in the lead role--as opposed to muscle-man Arnold--but what excuse is there for remaking it ?

How many people saw the remake of ROLLERBALL (1975) ?

I mean, what do these studio types do with their day ?

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Few Words in Support of Obama, on Libya

Given the chaotic and confused conditions in the MENA region--and in Libya above all--I don't blame President Obama for not intervening unilaterally [despite my earlier blog that urged such action] and hastily.  In fact, I think he did the right thing. He's already got two U.S. wars on his hands, one for  which he volunteered to end our active involvement and another which he more or less promised to win. His Defense Secretary  was sensibly lukewarm about further military commitments, especially of the open-ended kind, and his nation's allies were divided on what to do.

In the end, Obama decided to intervene--which was the right decision--after making some effort to obtain a diplomatic consensus, within the region and within the international community,  for meaningful action (a) to keep the rebels from being massacred, and (b) to coordinate with NATO allies who were willing--if not eager--to take that action.

Irrefutably, as a consequence of intervention,  many Libyan lives have been saved.  And the U.S. cannot plausibly be accused acting like a Lone Ranger.   

On the other hand, it was ill-advised for Obama to state that  Gadhafi had to go.  First, Only the Libyan people could make that judgment, one way or the other. Second and more importantly,  it sent a signal to those supporting Gadhafi--who might have been induced to remove Gadhafi, his family and innermost circle from Libya, if not this earth, in exchange for amnesty or safe conduct out of the country--that there was no deal to be had from the U.S., and that they had no choice but fight for Gadhafi until the bitter, dead end.  And the last thing we want is unwittingly to create a legion of 'dead-enders',  a la the Baathists in Iraq.

In the future, however, Obama will be put to the test,  and circumstance will oblige him to commit U.S. military force without benefit of lengthy deliberation.  I hope and pray that is a test he will pass.

Germany's Stance on Libya : Schizoid, Phobic, and Eminently Assailable

What other conclusion can one sensibly draw from the recent conduct of the Merkel government, as reported by DER SPEIGEL  ?

One minute, the foreign minister proclaims, 'Gadhafi must go'. Then the German rep on the U.N. Security Council abstains from voting on the No-Fly Resolution. Then the development minister proclaims that the Coalition's hypocritical, beause all it really cares about is Libyan oil.

(Hmm.  Supposedly, some members of the Merkel government felt that the U.N. resolution wasn't sufficiently specific, and that, furthermore, not all non-military options had been exercised. What options would those be ? Wishing and hoping that the dictator would honor his professed,  oft-violated ceasefire and withdraw his aricraft,  artillery and tanks before they slaughtered every last man woman and child in the rebel cities and towns ?)

No wonder that some high-ranking types from previous administrations, having had a bellyful of the Merkel gang's [ your favorite expletive here ], are speaking out :

"Germany has lost its credibility in the United Nations and in the Middle East," wrote former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in a contribution to the Tuesday edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "German hopes for a permanent seat on the Security Council have been permanently dashed and one is now fearful of Europe's future."

Klaus Naumann, formerly the general inspector of the Bundeswehr -- the highest ranking position in the German military -- was, if anything, even harsher in his assessment. "Germany's hopes for a permanent Security Council seat can be buried. Even the idea of an EU seat is damaged," he wrote in a piece for the business daily Handelsblatt. "Germany has turned the idea of a unified European Union foreign policy into a farce."

' Re: Libya, Does Turkey's Erdoğan Have a Plan? ', The Economist asks...

after the Turkish PM's recent volte-face ( from initially opposing NATO action in Libya, to contributing modest forces tasked with  maintaining the Libyan no-fly zone and arms embargo ).

The answer...

The [Erdogan] government has put a brave face on this U-turn, insisting that it had only moved when the military operation was taken out of French hands and placed under the command of NATO, where Turkey, a key member, wields veto power.

The line is disingenuous, as other coalition members, such as Italy, had also been demanding that NATO take the lead. It seems more likely that Turkey feared being left out altogether, as it had been from the conference in Paris where the decision to attack Colonel Qaddafi's forces was agreed. Moroever, the Arab League had already voted on March 12th to support a no-fly zone, thereby giving “Muslim cover” to the operation. Above all, American arm-twisting is said to have won the day.

Libya has thrown AK’s [i.e., Erdogan's Justice and Development Party] much-vaunted Middle East policy into disarray and further strained ties with America and the EU. As Semih Idiz, a columnist for the daily Milliyet, observes, AK’s approach has been based on friendly relations with existing leaders, no matter how brutish. And although Turkey was quick to scent Mr Mubarak’s defeat, Colonel Qaddafi's future is less clear. Mr Erdoğan warns of a protracted and bloody civil war that could make Libya "a second Iraq." He has suggested that Colonel Qaddafi could yet be involved in a peaceful transition of power, which Turkey could help mediate.

Turkey’s attempts to sit on the fence may be partly explained by self-interest. Some 20,000 Turkish citizens worked in in Libya (they are now mostly repatriated). The country has around $15 billion worth of outstanding contracts which may be scrapped if the rebels prevail.

Yet an even bigger challenge is being posed by neighbouring Syria, where nationwide protests have left scores of civilians dead. Mr Erdoğan is a big friend to Syria’s strongman leader, Bashar Assad, and has urged him to ease his iron grip. Should the violence spread to Syria’s Kurdish-dominated north, thousands might cross the border into Turkey, already home to 14m or so restive Kurds. Mr Erdoğan’s pious base have been incensed by the slaughter of their fellow Sunni Muslims at the hands of Mr Assad’s forces. When it comes to Syria, sitting on the fence may not be an option.
Of a similar opinion about Turkish motivations re: Libya is retired Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar, who, in the Asia Times, writes that Saudi diplomacy played a role in adjusting Erdogan's perspective. 
Turkey has calibrated for developments on the ground creating a dynamic of their own. For example, the air strikes may fail to bring desired results in terms of Muammar Gaddafi losing control. Then what? A de facto division of Libya may ensue. This may turn out to be a long and difficult war and at some stage deployment of ground troops may become necessary. On the contrary, if Gaddafi gets ousted in the near term, who will assume power? To quote Sami Cohen, a veteran Turkish commentator wired to the establishment's thinking, "No one knows this. There is no prepared plan for it. It's just another indication of an open-ended period of uncertainty."

In sum, Turkish ambitions as a regional power - like Sarkozy's - are cruising without a compass. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama spoke to Erdogan on Tuesday evening to ensure Turkish participation in any NATO operations. NATO officials have since revealed that Turkey will be one of the seven members of the alliance to participate in the naval operations to enforce the UN's arms embargo and that four Turkish frigates, one submarine and one reserve ship have been deployed. (Canada, Spain, UK, Greece, Italy and US contributed one frigate each so far.)

Thus, Turkey has moved into the tent, finally. Turkey has now been included in the "contact group" of NATO participating countries, which will meet in London on Tuesday to "take stock" of the implementation of resolution 1973 so far and to "take forward this work", according to a British foreign office statement.

Turkey may also have won a point by forcing France to concede that NATO be given a role in the planning and execution of the campaign. (But France has also dug in by insisting that the political leadership will lie with "contact group", which will also include representatives from the Arab League and African Union).

For all appearances, Turkey continues to ride a high horse. A columnist in the pro-government, Islamist-oriented Daily Zaman,  Abdulhamit Bilici wrote:

So, where does Turkey currently stand? Ankara is still behind the US resolution ... [But] Turkey is uneasy about the poor planning and one-sided nature of the operation. It is also upset with NATO secretary general Anders Fogh-Rasmussen's "we-decided-you-can-join-us" attitude ... It's unthinkable for a Turkish soldier to attack a Muslim country. But if it is included in the planning process properly, the Turkish military is ready to offer support in every platform, including NATO regarding non-combat issues. Let's see if the West will choose to help itself and the region by cooperating with Turkey or do the complete opposite by excluding Turkey.
However, in reality, Turkey has been compelled to rethink hard and fast. The "red line" was fast approaching and Turkey was punching beyond its weight. Faisal helped Ankara view matters from a realistic perspective. Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia over the weekend where the first signs began appearing in the Turkish rhetoric that a relentless process of rethink was commencing. 
For yet another perspective, check out  the Al-Jazeera article, 'Coalition of eager vs not so eager ', by Leila Hudson and Johann Chacko of the University of Arizona's Near Eastern Studies Department.  

The reality is that relatively few Arab governments are willing to risk their prized billion dollar air forces even in the best of times, and most would rather see the "Arab Spring" of 2011 expire entirely.

Cynical observers point out that in most Arab states, combat forces are more likely to be used for domestic "crowd control" than for riskier regional commitments.

The Egyptian Air Force (EAF) with its ideal location, large and relatively modern (US funded and trained) forces, and new revolutionary credentials could play a major role in the tactical phase of the air campaign, but its reluctance to engage reflects its unwillingness to risk any losses.

This aversion goes back to Mubarak (himself an EAF man); it should be remembered the EAF, unlike the Egyptian Army, sat out the 1991 Gulf War.

Several reports have suggested that Egyptian intelligence is facilitating the arming of Libyan rebels in cooperation with Western governments.

This apparent contradiction suggests that just like during the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the military is following a cautious hedging strategy that will allow it to jump on to the winner's bandwagon with minimum cost.

As we learned this February, the Egyptian military is quite bourgeois in its worldview, having morphed into a major stakeholder in the Egyptian economy.

Turkey is also curiously absent from events. It has perhaps the most modern and highly trained armed forces in the Middle East after Israel, and possesses the largest military in NATO after the US.

While some might suggest that the Turkish military, like the US military, is more interested in focusing its energies on ongoing conflicts in Kurdistan and Iraq, it is clear that Erdogan's ruling AKP is now firmly in charge of the military.

After Erdogan's forceful response to the flotilla incident of May 2010 Turkey was hailed as the new champion of the Arabs, and parties like Tunisia's Nahda have publicly proclaimed their intention to follow the AKP model.

Yet Erdogan's statement on Wednesday the 22nd shows that the party's Arab policy is driven not by a desire to demonstrate solidarity with suffering Arab masses, but rather by its Turkish electoral base's antipathy both to intervention in the Middle East and Israeli occupation.

While the US handover of command, and the Arab League's continuing political influence on the operation will be viewed in a positive light, the lack of direct Arab and Turkish participation constrains their influence on the actual conduct of operations and perhaps the final outcome.

This is likely to stoke historical Arab anxieties about weakness and imperialism, especially if the conflict is prolonged, or intervention is intensified. Unfortunately at least one of those conditions is likely to occur.


Just finished this volume,  an informative and enjoyable read which I recommend to anyone who is not a dyed-in-the wool partisan either of Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton.

As Michiko Kakutani rightly observes in his NYT review of May 1993,  PASSIONATE SAGE " is not a conventional biography but an impassioned and shrewdly argued meditation on Adams's personality and his vision of democracy in America."

Don't have time to devour the entire volume ? Then permit me to recommend  either the thirty-page Chapter 4, 'The American Dialogue' , which covers the celebrated correspondence between Adams and Jefferson commencing in 1812 and continuing for fourteen years,  or the like-sized Chapter 6, 'Intimacies', which describes Adams' relationships with various correspondents and critics, as well as the large and extended family which gathered around him and his wife Abigail at the farm in Quincy he variously calls 'Mount Wollaston'  or 'Montezillo' [not a typo] in his letters.

* * *

PASSIONATE is my second Ellis read, the first having been FOUNDING BROTHERS : THE REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION, whose eight chapters, to use the author's own words, "attempt to recover the sense of urgency and improvisation, what it looked and what it felt like, for the eight most prominent political leaders in the early republic ".  

FOUNDING is far more slender than PASSIONATE, and the restless reader will find that he or she can savor each chapter at his or her own convenience, for as Ellis justly claims, each represents a "self-contained narrative".  I found the first chapter, on the Burr-Hamilton Duel, particularly compelling.

To be sure, the historian's recent tome, HIS EXCELLENCY : GEORGE WASHINGTON is on my must-read list , but it must wait, until I get through Ellis' earlier work, AMERICAN SPHINX : THE CHARACTER OF THOMAS JEFFERSON.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Day Late, the Oblivious Blogger Commemorates the Annunciation

To hear the hymn 'Άξιον εστίν', click here 
Scanning the web for images of the Annunciation,  I found none more modest and therefore engaging, than the masterpiece above, painted by Andrea del Sarto.

For articles on the Annunciation, click here for the Catholic Encyclopedia website, here for the Greek Orthodox Church website.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thinking about Investing In China ? Think again, says Carlos X Alexandre

who says that ' China Is Not a Bubble: It's the Hindenburg ' , in a SEEKING ALPHA piece.

It’s no secret that my nickname for China is “The Evolving Nightmare,” and as I continue to keep tabs on the country, increasingly more trouble spots emerge. If I held iShares FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index Fund (FXI), I wouldn’t be walking away. I would be running. And the iShares MSCI Hong Kong Index Fund (EWH) is another investment that would be added to my “do-not-buy” list as well — and the list would be quite long, including sector Chinese ETFs. None is worth holding when the underlying economic foundation is fractured at best. And if investments hinge on the nonsense mantra that China’s demand for commodities will save the global marketplace, please be mindful that the country must first save itself.
Alexandre isn't alone. Apparently John Tang, China analyst for UBS, believes that China is about to experience a 'significant slowdown'.

Monday, March 21, 2011

UPDATED : Gadhafi's Strategy : Military and Diplomatic Attrition

It seems patently obvious what Colonel Gadhafi's strategy is. He will escalate attacks on the rebels using tanks and artillery, and dare anybody--the Coalition, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the U.N. and maybe even the Highway Patrol--to stop him.   

He has every reason to believe that
  • Arab support for the rebels is not merely conditional : it is fictional, already evaporating into clouds of prevarication, hypocrisy, and diplomatic doublespeak
  • there is no Arab power other than Egypt which could singlehandedly tip the balance in favor of the rebels in nearby Cyrenaica,  but Egypt, in the throes of its own revolution, is hors de combat 
  • Iran is conflicted about what is happening in Libya, and while Muslim, it is not Arab, and cannot project military power far from its shores
  • Turkey feels it has no skin whatsoever in this particular game, but will use the occasion to rail against Exploitation by the Western Powers and try to score more cheap points with ' the Arab street '   
And Gadhafi has every reason to believe that :
  • the U.S. is apprehensive about involvement in the MENA region that could become another Iraq 
  • unless U.S. sentiment changes dramatically and quickly,  he need only fear France and Britain, whose respective leaders may well lack the domestic political support to put boots and tanks on the ground
  • no other member of NATO will step up to the plate and wholeheartedly join in a military campaign against him, or provide meaningful assistance to save the rebels.    
So Gadhafi will continue to do what he is doing until he wins.

It is possible that in doing so, he, like Saddam, he will dreadfully miscalculate.

The latter, of course, assumes that the world is still capable of digesting only so much bad behavior, only so many massacres.

3/23/11 Update :

In an article on BBC Online,  Shashank Joshi Associate of the Royal United Services Institute surveys the situation in Libya as follows :  

Gaddafi's forces continue to punish civilians in Misurata, and remain in striking distance of urban areas in the east. In short, Gaddafi's greatest strength is his ability to force an unwelcome choice between escalation and leaving civilians in harm's way.

The best attainable conclusion may involve the irreversible degradation of the regime's firepower and the injection of Arab League and African Union peacekeepers.

Unless detailed planning for a managed stalemate begins now, Gaddafi may succeed in his effort to chip away at UN forces until the Franco-British rump collapses under the weight of its own contradictions.

How long can the dictator hold out, with his overseas funds largely frozen  ?  Longer than one might suppose, depending on where Gadhafi has stashed Libya's gold reserves. How much gold is that ? Glad you asked. According to Andrew Walker, an economics correspondent for the BBC World Service...

Libya has declared gold reserves worth more than $6bn at current prices, thought to be held largely at home.

The reserves are substantial, ranking in the global top 25, according International Monetary Fund (IMF) data.

They could potentially be used to finance Colonel Gaddafi's government at a time when it is subject to international financial sanctions.

It might be possible to transport the gold to other African countries and sell it.
    And that $ 6 Billion could buy Gadhafi lots more mercenaries,  Walker adds. 

So-Called Arab Leaders Bang A U-ey

'Arab League condemns broad Western bombing campaign in Libya' THE WASHINGTON POST's Edward Cody reported on Sunday.

The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, deplored the broad scope of the U.S.-European bombing campaign in Libya and said Sunday that he would call a league meeting to reconsider Arab approval of the Western military intervention.

Moussa said the Arab League’s approval of a no-fly zone on March 12 was based on a desire to prevent Moammar Gaddafi’s air force from attacking civilians and was not designed to endorse the intense bombing and missile attacks — including on Tripoli, the capital, and on Libyan ground forces — whose images have filled Arab television screens for two days.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone,” he said in a statement carried by the Middle East News Agency. “And what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.”
Earlier today, the L.A. Times'  Meris Lutz reported that Amr Moussa had, as it were, banged a U-ey, and  
qualified comments he made a day earlier criticizing the reported civilian toll from Western airstrikes in Libya, telling reporters in Cairo on Monday that his organization and the U.N. Security Council are "united" on the need to protect civilians after saying he received assurances on the protection of noncombatants.

The Arab League "respects the U.N. Security Council resolution, and there is no contradiction," Moussa said. "We will continue working to protect civilians, and we will ask everybody to take this into consideration in any military operation."
Meantime, despite the fact that the Coalition is acting under the aegis of a UN Resolution, as well as the approval (however qualified) of the Arab League and the support (however qualified) of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Turkey not only thwarted concerted NATO action on Sunday, but now contends that the Coalition's actions are illegal, reports Simon Tisdall in THE GUARDIAN :

Speaking in Mecca on Monday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, elaborated his country's misgivings.

"Our biggest desire is for this operation to be finished as soon as possible," he said. "Our biggest desire is for the Libyan people to determine their own future ... Now the issue is, is Nato going into operation? If Nato is going into operation, we have some conditions. Nato should recognise that Libya belongs to the Libyans, not for the distribution of its underground resources and wealth."

The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, raised legal objections. "There are legal procedures for the establishment of a coalition in an international operation. We take the view that for Libya, these were not sufficiently respected."
All of the above is as predictable as the lack of any concrete action on the part of so-called Arab leaders--beyond continuously emitting gaseous pronouncements--to assist their co-religionists in Libya.

I, for one, would be interested to know how these so-called leaders, on their own, without U.S. and European military forces assisting,  would propose to ensure the safety of Libyan civilians who were being pounded by Gadhafi's Air Force until the Coalition implemented the no-fly zone, and who continue to be pounded by Gadhafi's tanks and artillery days after the Libyan dictator has declared his bogus ceasefire.  
At the same time, it is less entertaining than infuriating to hear Turkish officials rant about international legal niceties. For decades Turkey has ignored international objections to its invasion of Cyprus, subsequent expropriation of Cypriot property, and continued military occupation of half of the island nation. And at present, Erdogan's regime flouts domestic legalities daily in its crackdown on the Turkish press.

Libya's Rebels : Who Are They ?

This article, reproduced below from STRATFOR,  tells us much about Gadhafi's opposition.

* * *

Libya's Opposition Leadership Comes into Focus


Libya has descended to a situation tantamount to civil war, with forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the west pitted against rebels from the east. One of the biggest problems faced by Western governments has been identifying exactly who the rebels are. Many of them, including former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil and former Interior Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis, defected early on from the Gadhafi regime and represent part of the leadership of the National Transitional Council, which lobbied Western governments for support soon after its formation. Challenges posed by geography and lack of military capabilities remain, however, meaning that even with the aid of foreign airstrikes against Gadhafi’s forces, the rebel council will struggle to achieve its stated goal of militarily toppling Gadhafi and unifying the country under its leadership.


Identifying the Opposition

One of the biggest problems Western governments have faced throughout the Libyan crisis has been identifying who exactly the “eastern rebels” are. Until the uprising began in February, there was thought to be no legitimate opposition to speak of in the country, and thus no contacts between the United States, the United Kingdom, France or others. Many of those who now speak for the rebel movement are headquartered in Benghazi. There have been several defections, however, from the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to the eastern rebel leadership, and it is men like these with whom the West is now trying to engage as the possible next generation of leadership in Libya, should its unstated goal of regime change come to fruition.

The structure through which the Libyan opposition is represented is the National Transitional Council. The first man to announce its creation was former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who defected from the government Feb. 21 and declared the establishment of a “transitional government” Feb. 26. At the time, Abdel-Jalil claimed that it would give way to national elections within three months, though this was clearly never a realistic goal.

One day after Abdel-Jalil’s announcement, a Benghazi-based lawyer named Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga held a news conference to refute his claims. Ghoga pronounced himself to be the spokesman of the new council and denied that it resembled a transitional government, adding that even if it did, Abdel-Jalil would not be in charge. Ghoga derided the former justice minister as being more influential in the eastern Libyan city of Al Bayda than in Benghazi, which is the heart of the rebel movement.

The personality clash between Abdel-Jalil and Ghoga continued on for most of the next week, as each man portended to be running a council that spoke for the eastern rebel movement in its entirety. It was significant only insofar as it provided just a glimpse of the sort of internal rivalries that exist in eastern Libya, known historically as Cyrenaica. Though Cyrenaica has a distinct identity from the western Libyan region historically referred to as Tripolitania, that does not mean that it is completely unified. This will be a problem moving ahead for the coalition carrying out the bombing campaign of Libya, as tribal and personal rivalries in the east will compound with a simple lack of familiarity with who the rebels really are.

The National Transitional Council officially came into being March 6, and — for the moment, at least — has settled the personal and regional rivalry between Abdel-Jalil and Ghoga, with the former named the council’s head and the latter its spokesman. Despite the drama that preceded the formal establishment of the council, all members of the opposition have always been unified on a series of goals: They want to mount an armed offensive against the government-controlled areas in the west; they want to overthrow Gadhafi; they seek to unify the country with Tripoli as its capital; and they do not want foreign boots on Libyan soil. The unity of the rebels, in short, is based upon a common desire to oust the longtime Libyan leader.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Turkish Regime, Opposed to Intervention Against Gadhafi, Continues Press Intimidation at Home

For contrasting views in the Turkish news media on this topic, check out these articles in Today's Zaman and The Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review, respectively.

REUTERS FLASH : Libya Declares Ceasefire

Reuters reported about a half-hour ago that the Libyan government had declared a ceasefire.  However, Reuters also reported that there are no signs of that ceasefire in the rebel-held western city of Misrata,  which was under attack by the Gadhafi regime's forces. Al-Jazeera confirms the attack in its coverage .

For an encapsulation of the respective NATO nations' responses--including Germany's rationale for inaction--and the resources they have availbale, check out DER SPEIGEL's 'West Seeks a Response to Libya's Ceasefire' .

Clearly what the Western Coalition will do depends on when and how blatantly Gadhafi violates the ceasefire, but it would make sense immediately to regard the attack on Misrata as an egregious violation, and attempt to relieve the city by air and by sea. Such action would have the beneficial effect of pinning down the regime's forces in the west.

Likewise, it seems logical that the Coalition would seek asap to neutralize Ajdabya, or at least the roads from there leading east along the coast to Benghazi,  or through the hinterlands to Tobruk ( see the UN Map of Libya ), as well as roads leading west,  which would make it difficult for government forces threatening Benghazi to receive reinforcement or resupply from Sidra.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Blogger DJ Gets Spring Fever, Nothing Satisfies Like STREETS OF FIRE

Not the film, but the music, which salvaged what otherwise was [ CENSORED ].

Look, sometimes importing western plots or themes into a later era works--as in  OUTLAND, which basically was HIGH NOON in space--and sometimes it doesn't. 

* * *

Ellen Aim and the Attackers (Fire Inc.) - Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young

Dan Hartman - I Can Dream About You

Ellen Aim and the Attackers (Fire Inc. )- Nowhere Fast

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Time Has Come Today, in Libya : The U.S. Should Intevene Unilaterally

Brave Libyans are llterally dying for freedom, bombarded and air-striked by their blood-crazed dictator. Within a week they'll be wiped out.

It's time we, the U.S., acted, unilaterally if necessary.

Are we going to sit by, like the rest of NATO, while diplomats jabber to no effect ? Because if we do sit idly by... well,  then what the hell does the U.S. stand for, anyway  ?

The Libyan Revolt : Two Weeks Before Extinction ?

Maybe not even that long, in my opinion. The Western World will sit back and tut-tut, while a bloodthirsty dictator's artillery and air force extirpate the opposition.

At one time, the United States and its Atlantic Allies stood for something.  Not any longer.  Otherwise, we would go in, guns blazing, and finish Gadhafi, his  thugs and mercenaries.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joe Morello, R.I.P.

Just heard that Joe Morello, the drummer for Dave Brubeck Quartet immortalized by his drum solo on 'Take Five', had passed.

The news brought back memories of a trip my wife and I took to Greece in 2003, and the warm hospitality of her cousins.

I especially remember that,  after we'd arrived in the port town of Agios Kostantinos, our host--among other things, a jazz drummer--regaled us with a rendition of Joe's solo, a testimony to the universality of great jazz. 

For more on Joe, check out Drummerworld.

Click here for 'Take Five'.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Feasting on Art and Clams of the North Shore

Yesterday, the Culture Vulture and Mrs. C.V. made the quick trip from the homestead to Salem, Massachusetts, to take in 'Golden : Dutch and Flemish Masterpieces from the Rose-Marie and Ejik van Otterloo Collection ', now showing at the Peabody Essex Museum through June 19.

We found that the superlatives lavished on this magnificent exhibit  of 17th century Dutch and Flemish Painting and Decorative Arts--including works by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Jan Brueghel the Elder, and embracing the grand sweeping landscape, the intimate portrait, the varied genre subject, and the exquisitely detailed still-life--by The Boston Globe's Sebastian Smee more than justified.

(Viewing Tip : The Museum makes magnifying glasses available at various points in the exhibit space. Take advantage of them, the better to appreciate the aforementioned detail.) 

* * *
Osborne - Two Rising

After viewing 'Golden' we jumped back into the CV-Mobile and motored up to Newburyport, where we dropped in at The Churchill Gallery and feasted on even more visual delicacies, concocted by, among others, Leo Osborne,  Larry Preston, and Dennis Perrin (see examples from the gallery website).

Perrin - Angel Roses
Preston - Marigolds

From there,  we made the short hop over the Merrimac to Salisbury and Stripers Grille, overlookiing the river and the lights of Newburyport.   We ( C.V. and the Mrs. ) heartily recommend Stripers' Ipswich Clams.

Next time we have a hankering for art and clams on the North Shore, I think, purely for the sake of variety, we'll drive up to Gloucester and the Cape Ann Museum (and, if we have the time and energy, the North Shore Art Association and the Rocky Neck Art Colony, as well) before heading to Essex to gorge on the superb clams at Woodman's .

Friday, March 11, 2011

Check out the latest links on the Nation, World, Money Page Middle Eastern News organizations Haaretz, Aljazeera, and Asharq Al-Awsat.

Arab League to Endorse Libyan No-Fly Zone at Cairo Confab Saturday

according to the Financial Times' Roula Khalaf in London and Joshua Chaffin in Brussels.

"Hisham Youssef, a senior Arab League official, told the Financial Times that Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi’s actions had crossed lines, making it difficult for foreign ministers not to back a no-fly zone that would protect civilians against regime attacks."

On Monday, the Arabic International Daily Asharq Al-Awsat had quoted French officials as saying that the League would support such action, after League Secretary general Amr Musa's Sunday conference with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

Catching Up on Movies : DESPICABLE ME Entertaining, if Predictable

Click here to see trailer
Though lacking the originality or the emotional appeal of either Toy Story 3 or Monsters, Inc., still, Despicable Me is a fun ride, featuring a brilliant performance by Steve Carell.

For film specifics, see the IMDB entry.

For a sampling of critical opinion, see below.

A. O. Scott of the New York Times

Is there a meaningful distinction to be drawn between exercising the imagination and just making up a bunch of stuff? When it comes to children at play, probably not: the pleasure of inventiveness matters more than the quality of the particular inventions. But children’s entertainment, made by grown-ups at great expense in anticipation of even greater profit, is another matter. The difference between inspired creation and frantic pretending is the difference between magic and mediocrity, between art and junk, or to cite a conveniently available example, between “Toy Story 3” and “Despicable Me.”

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud and produced by Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment — a new player in the lucrative and competitive world of feature animation — “Despicable Me” cannot be faulted for lack of trying. If anything, it tries much too hard, stuffing great gobs of second-rate action, secondhand humor and warmed-over sentiment into every nook and cranny of its relentlessly busy 3-D frames.

The few moments of genuine visual or verbal wit — a bit of delicate minion slapstick that recalls the antics of Scrat in the “Ice Age” movies; a line reading that showcases Mr. Carell’s unparalleled deadpan — only highlight the paucity of real originality or artistic confidence. So much is going on in this movie that, while there’s nothing worth despising, there’s not much to remember either.

Kirk Honeycutt,  AP, in The Hollywood Reporter

"Despicable" doesn't measure up to Pixar at its best. Nonetheless, it's funny, clever and warmly animated with memorable characters. This first animated feature from Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment since it set up shop at Universal in 2007 looks like an all-around winner. Made by French special effects house Mac Guff Ligne, the CGI cartoon starts a rollout in North America and some European territories next month that should pick up ample coin around the globe based on its appeal to all ages.

Where "Despicable" falls short of Pixar glory is its predictably. From moment to moment, one can never guess where a Pixar cartoon is headed. Here, it's all too clear. But individual sequences and fresh characters dreamed up by writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (from a story by executive producer Sergio Pablos) are quite wonderful.

The animation overseen by directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin gets an A for energy, imagination and color. And Gru might be the most interesting cartoon bad guy since "Ratatouille's" Angon Ego. Come to think of it, Ego had childhood issues, too.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times 

“Despicable Me” lacks a franchise to ride into town on, but it may establish one. I'm not sure how Gru can think up anything more sensational than stealing the moon, but I'm sure Dr. Nefario is working on that as we speak. The film is funny, energetic, teeth-gnashingly venomous and animated with an eye to exploiting the 3-D process with such sure-fire techniques as a visit to an amusement park.

The sad thing, I am forced to report, is that the 3-D process produces a picture more dim than it should be. “Despicable Me” is technically competent and nowhere near the visual disaster that is “The Last Airbender,” but take my word for it: Try to find it in 2-D. Or, if you see it in 3-D, check out the trailers online to see how bright and cheery it would look in 2-D. How can people deceive themselves that 3-D is worth paying extra for?
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian

Here is an amiable animated comedy that has had a wildly enthusiastic response in the US. This baffles me a little. It is a perfectly agreeable family entertainment, but not exactly original and nowhere near Pixar's great creations.

Friday Politics Fix #4 : There's a GOP Food Fight in the Granite State...

Huntsman, center, above
and it's over whether former Utah governor and Obama's ambassador to China Jon Huntsman would be a viable candidate in New Hampshire's 2012 Presidential Primary. 

Scott Conroy of RealClear Politics reports that

... former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu is not the only influential New Hampshire Republican with an opinion about Jon Huntsman's electability.

Sununu caused a rumpus in GOP circles here last week when he told RealClearPolitics' Erin McPike that Huntsman "won't play well anywhere" as a presidential candidate because the outgoing U.S. ambassador to China was "barely a Republican."

Sununu's blunt disparagement of the former Utah governor did not sit well with some unaligned New Hampshire GOP officials and strategists, who deemed it counterproductive to the process for such a prominent Republican figure to write off a prospective presidential contender before a single person, let alone Hutsman himself, has even officially announced a candidacy.

Manchester attorney Ovide Lamontagne, who ran a close race against now Sen. Kelly Ayotte in the 2010 GOP primary, said in an interview Thursday that Sununu's criticism of Huntsman was unfair.
"I don't think anyone in New Hampshire should be dismissing anyone's candidacy, frankly," Lamontagne told RCP. "That's why the New Hampshire primary is so special. A real dark horse can come here and actually make significant inroads and do well, and that's why we have the primary we do."

Although Lamontagne ran as a movement conservative in 2010, he refused to rule out the possibility that Huntsman - who has a moderate record on some social issues - could gain traction in a Republican primary, arguing that electability would be a particularly salient issue for New Hampshire Republicans who are aware of the daunting prospect of trying to unseat an incumbent president.

Friday Poltics Fix #3 : Dems Hustle for Lobbyist Cash

Meantime, for their part, the Dems aren't sitting on their hands, which are outstretched, according to THE POLITICO's Chris Frates :

President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee might not want their money, but Democratic lobbyists say the House and Senate campaign committees are happily scooping up their cash and fundraising help as the 2012 election season gets under way.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are actively raising money from lobbyists put on the sidelines by Obama’s policy of banning their contributions to the DNC and his reelection campaign.

“The DSCC and the DCCC, clearly, they’re willing to take our money and have called. No question about it,” said a lobbyist who is a member of the DSCC’s Majority Trust, an elite group of donors who contribute the maximum allowed under law, which is $30,800 per year for this election cycle.

Indeed, the influence class, long a pariah in Obama’s Washington, is one of the only donor bases left untouched by the president’s reelection machine, leaving it to the committees to work, and compete, over.

Friday Politics Fix #2 : Sen. DeMint's Machine Could Give GOP Fits in 2012

According to THE POLITICO's Manu Raju an John Bresnahan,  the 'Jim DeMint machine could rival NRSC' :

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is already building an aggressive campaign machine for the 2012 Senate elections, promising to push his party further to the right, despite angering many in the GOP establishment with his political activities last year.

DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund wants to rake in a staggering $15 million, which is nearly $6 million more than in 2010 when his political action committee raised more money than any other politician’s PAC.

DeMint is now renting a Capitol Hill townhouse for his political operation — just a few blocks from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the official campaign arm for Senate Republicans. And unlike the NRSC, which plans to stay out of contested primaries, DeMint is prepared to be an active force, jumping into intraparty battles by pushing conservative candidates against moderate Republicans.

The buildup is the latest sign that DeMint has become the pre-eminent conservative political activist in the Senate, and he plans to push candidates whose ideological views align with his and the tea party movement’s — even if it sets up a major clash with the NRSC, which always looks for the most electable prospect.

This year, DeMint says he’s not trying to compete with Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the NRSC. And both committees appear eager to avoid the same sort of collision course that prompted a nasty round of finger-pointing last November, when the GOP fell four seats short of winning control of the Senate, despite significantly narrowing the Democratic majority.

At that time, DeMint was blamed by many of his Republican colleagues for propping up weak candidates who either could not win a general election or needed tons of Washington cash to stay competitive in their races. But DeMint said he was backing those with strong principles of small government, which had been abandoned by many Washington Republicans. Still, he has repeatedly said he would rather have a caucus of 30 principled conservative senators than 60 who lack those convictions.
In a peace offering to the seven GOP incumbents who are still seeking reelection, DeMint has vowed not to back any primary challenger against them — even in the case of Maine’s moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe. Instead, DeMint will focus his attention on open seats and against the 23 Democratic seats that are in cycle.
 Hmm.  Wonder what effect DeMint's effforts might have on the 2012 Presidential Race... 

Friday Politics Fix #1 : Larry Sabato Handicaps the 2012 Senate Races...

at his Crystal Ball Website

Some excerpts from his March update :

The Senate class of 2012 is substantially Democratic, with Democrats holding 23 seats to the Republicans’ 10. Obviously, this gives Republicans a leg up in contesting seats. The GOP has a small number to defend, while Democrats will have to cover a broad map, and depend on President Obama for long coattails.

...there are seven toss-ups at the moment, six of them Democratic: incumbents Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and the seats of the retiring Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), John Ensign (R-NV),  and Jim Webb (D-VA).

In addition to Bingaman and Webb, three more Democratic incumbents have chosen to step down: Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Joe Lieberman (D/I-CT). Democratic Senate leaders believe the rest of their incumbents are running again—though surprise retirements can never be ruled out (Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin is a prime example). The three Republican senators to have announced that they are stepping down are Arizona’s John Kyl, Texas’s Kay Bailey Hutchison, and scandal-drenched John Ensign of Nevada.
The North Dakota seat is very likely to switch to the GOP, and Republicans have a clear edge to hold Arizona and are certain to retain the Texas seat. The Hawaii and Connecticut seats will probably stay Democratic. Two currently Democratic seats start off as toss-ups, New Mexico and Virginia, along with the Republican open seat in Nevada. The identity of the eventual party nominees and the coattails from the top-of-the-ticket presidential race may well determine the winners in these three states. President Obama’s support, or lack thereof, could also have a great influence on the contests in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, and Ohio.

There are eight seats currently leaning to one or the other party. Six are Democratic and two are Republican. Of the eight, the seat of Scott Brown (R-MA) may be the most endangered, initially—although we believe some are underestimating his ability to win a full term despite the state’s heavily Democratic tilt.

The remaining 18 seats are “likely” or “solid” for the twelve Democrats and six Republicans who occupy them.

Depending on the party identity of the Vice President elected in 2012, Republicans will need to win a net three or four Senate seats from the Democrats to take control of the upper chamber of Congress. With six Democratic toss-ups to just one Republican toss-up, the GOP can obviously win the Senate in theory—but it is far too soon to say whether theory will become reality. Just remember how many Senate surprises there were in the primaries and general election of 2010.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Blogger DJ Dedicates Tonight's Playlist to Northwestern University, Whose Commitment to Applied Research and the Tireless Pursuit of Knowledge, in Any and All Forms is above and beyond...

Rhetorical question, or not ? You decide, bubby.
Morris Day and the Time - Jungle Love
Dazz Band - Let It Whip
Rick James - Super Freak
Chic - Le Freak
Sylvester - You Make Me Feel Mighty Real
Cheryl Lynn - Got To Be Real
Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing
Marvin Gaye - Lets get it on
Mariah Carey - Touch My Body

U.S. Dead in Space ? Not so Fast. There's the OTV....

...which stands for ORBITAL TEST VEHICLE,  launched last Saturday from Cape Canaveral, under heavy secrecy

What is the OTV ?

Glad you asked.

The vehicle's formal designation, according to Wikipedia, is the Boeing X-37.

Saturday's flight was the second flight of an X-37 robotic mini-shuttle. The first took place in April of 2010.

For more info on the OTV, see articles on SPACE.COM's and AVIATION WEEK's  websites.

Yes, Yes, YES ! Push Those Frontiers Of Education Forward One More Time, Baby !

Let no one say that American Education is stultifying, unstimulating, and in severe need of some sort of prodding, at least not at Northwestern University, where, Jessica Bennett reports in THE DAILY BEAST, a Human Sexuality Course included an optional live demo.

Some excerpts from Bennett's report, with emphasis and expurgation mine :

It was bizarre, say students—even for a professor who gets off (excuse the pun) on controversy. On Feb. 21, after a lecture on sexual arousal, students in Northwestern University psychology Professor J. Michael Bailey’s human-sexuality course were given the option to stay for a guest presentation. Most were used to these sessions: With topics like “The Gay Guys Panel” (gay men talking about their sex lives) and Q&A sessions with transgender performers, the optional add-ons were part of what made Bailey’s class one of the most popular on campus.

But this particular lecture was, shall we say, different. Led by a man whose website describes him as a “psychic detective and ghost hunter,” it was called “Networking for Kinky People,” and began with a towel placed neatly on the auditorium stage. Next, a woman took her clothes off, and—with an audience of around 100—lay down on her back, legs spread. As students moved forward from the theater’s back seats, for a closer view, “The girl grabbed the mic,” says Sean Lavery, a Northwestern freshman. “She explained that she had a fetish for being watched by large crowds while having an orgasm.”

Guess Who Else is Outsourcing Engineering ?

In a SEEKING ALPHA post,  Edward Hugh tells us it's Japan, many of whose companies " many Japanese companies have outsourced research, development and engineering overseas in the last twenty years."

Why ? Seems Japanese students' interest in math, science, and engineering is on the decline.

Even so, according to a 2010 NYT article Hugh cites,  these same Japanese companies aren't merely sending these tech jobs overseas, they're sending Japanese workers overseas to do them !

“Japanese outsourcers are hiring Japanese workers to do the jobs overseas — and paying them considerably less than if they were working in Japan. Japanese outsourcers like Transcosmos and Masterpiece have set up call centers, data-entry offices and technical support operations staffed by Japanese workers in cities like Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei.”

UPDATED : The Libyan Civil War : Insights on the Dictator's Strategy, Foreign Intervention Options, and Action by the Arab League

Check out Paul Wallis's Digital Journal piece, Libya civil war shows Gadaafi’s weaknesses.  Some excerpts :
The net impression is that Gadaafi is using minimal forces to cover as wide an area a possible, and tie down as many rebel forces as possible, to prevent them from conducting coordinated actions. That’s “budget warfare”, bordering on guerrilla warfare, and only makes sense if resources are relatively low, and some forces are being kept in reserve.

The probability is that the loyalist brigades, arguably the only forces truly committed to Gadaafi, are being preserved. These brigades were maintained prior to the civil war as a check against the military, not unlike Hitler’s SS. They’re political associates, too, and come directly from Gadaafi’s support base. Heavy casualties in these forces would decimate his reliable local support, hence the tentative combat performances.

There’s also military method to this particular madness- It wouldn’t make sense to risk his few effective combat forces unnecessarily. As it is they have the ability to stand off and select how and when they fight. That situation, however, may not last, if the rebels take Surt and effectively shrink the area of Libya under Gadaafi’s control to the Tripoli region.

Gadaafi is doing something common but very risky in the history of desert warfare since Hannibal and Scipio- Trading space for time. He’s outnumbered, and recent defeats have thrown his initial counterattacks back, at a cost he can't afford to maintain. He doesn’t have infinite resources, and time is his only ally.

This strategy can only work if he’s got more up his sleeve than is apparent from current reports. If he’s successfully building resources, more attacks should be seen in coming weeks. If not, the attacks will be Zawiyah- like limited attacks with conservative use of resources.

Joe Pappalardo offers several reasons 'Why a No-Fly Zone Over Libya is the Wrong Move Militarily' . Some excerpts :

Experiences in Bosnia and Iraq have proven that no-fly operations are a lot harder to maintain than most civilians assume. Establishing a no-fly zone over a country the size of Libya would take hundreds of fighters and refueling aircraft. And with Libya's network of Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles, such round the clock flights would be hazardous duty. If an allied pilot was shot down, more lives would be placed at risk to rescue him. There's another practical problem as well: Locating every airborne helicopter or fixed wing aircraft in Libyan airspace would take a massive surveillance effort. As the revolution turns to civil war, the operation could suffer from a lack of focus.
I'm not advocating a military intervention of any type. But if the world insists on preventing Libyan military aircraft from flying, it's not logical or efficient to maintain endless 24-hour sorties, waiting for the Libyans to launch aircraft and hoping to shoot them down before they target civilians. It would be simpler and more effective to destroy the country's air force on the ground—and much safer for our fliers.
Russian-built SA-6
No matter who is conducting the air strikes—a coalition of the willing of Britain and the U.S., a NATO force a la Bosnia or a U.N.-sanctioned operation—it would be better to conduct a quick operation. The initial steps would be the same as establishing a traditional no-fly zone—"wild weasel" style strikes launched from bases in Italy, Turkey and the Middle East to take out air defenses. Many of the Libyan threats are mobile SA-6 launchers, old but effective Russian gear that can knock workhorse U.S. and European airplanes out of the sky. These armaments would be threat in any scenario. And in any scenario, we would be bombing them, causing Libyan casualties: There's no such thing as a bloodless military intervention. But maintaining a no-fly zone would extend the most perilous part of the operation indefinitely. The Libyans would hide certain launchers and radar that could later take potshots at overhead U.S. planes policing the airspace.

For an appreciation of how effective Libya's "legacy" SA-6 SAM's might be, see Dr Carlo Kopp's article, 'Surface to Air Missile Effectiveness in Past Conflicts'  and the Wikipedia article on the 2K12 Kub Mobile SAM system.

For an overview of the Libyan military generally, as well as an appreciation of No-Fly's implications, check out the recent comments of Anthony Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies on NPR.

UPDATE : Cordesman's opinion is seconded by Patrick Baz of STRATFOR Global Intelligence, whose source estimates that Gadhafi has 5,000 troops "well trained and well equipped by Libyan standards, many of whom have a stake in the regime’s survival. " Included is the well-equipped, trained, mechanized revolutionary guard of 3,000 men stationed in Tripoli. The balance of the Libyan Armed Forces consist of conscripts with questionable training and motivation, many of whom already may have defected or deserted. 

Is it possible the dictator can mount a serious offensive against the rebels' strongholds in eastern Libya, some 800 or so miles distant ?  Baz doubts it.

The sparsely populated, open terrain between these two forces is a considerable logistical challenge even for a well-trained and well-equipped military, which Libya’s is not. Gadhafi, fearing the potential for a coup from his own troops, has kept the military systematically weak and fractured. There is little in the way of military proficiency or professionalism, and some basic training has been deemed useful in a coup scenario and thus prohibited altogether. Being able to project power — to organize an armored march of hundreds of kilometers and sustain it at a distance in combat — is almost certainly among those scenarios. Most sources suggest that the Libyan military is capable of little beyond its garrison and pre-scripted maneuvers.

Thom Shanker of THE NEW YORK TIMES gives us a U.S. military perspective on 'No-Fly' in his article, 'U.S. Weighs Options, on Air and Sea' : 

Gen. John P. Jumper, who served as Air Force chief of staff from 2001 to 2005 and commanded all Air Force missions in the Middle East from 1994 to 1996, said past flight-denial missions over Iraq proved that requirements reach far beyond the jet fighters and bombers that are the most obvious instruments of carrying out a presidential order.
The destruction of Libyan air-defense radars and missile batteries would be required, perhaps using missiles launched from submarines or warships. A vast fleet of tankers would be needed to refuel warplanes. Search-and-rescue teams trained in land and sea operations would be on hand in case a plane went down.
The fleet of aircraft needed for such a mission would easily reach into the hundreds. Given the size of such a mission, it would be expected that American and NATO bases in Europe would be used, and that an American aircraft carrier would be positioned off Libya.
In THE POLITICO, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution reviews five different military options (Create a No-Fly Zone ;Arm the Opposition ;Create No-Drive Zones ;Protect Rebel-Held Cities with Foreign Ground Troops ; or Invade) and concludes:

There is no single clear answer about what we should do next. And it is not clear that any military option really makes sense now. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, all options are on the table. But it is not clear which would help most.

My instincts lean toward arming the opposition with limited numbers of small weapons. But only if the opposition itself, as well as the Arab League, clearly calls for such a policy — and if the latter is willing to help implement it [emphasis mine]. That might suffice to help solidify a military stalemate. It could also buy us time to try collectively to persuade and pressure Qaddafi to abdicate through other, nonlethal means, over the coming weeks and months.

It seems to be the most likely — and best — outcome at this point, even if it is not as clean or quick as many would prefer. But other possibilities and scenarios cannot be dismissed, depending on how the situation evolves.

fyi : Oil Pipelines of North Africa

Just what are the chances that the Arab League will implement the policy Hanlon describes ? If their latest pronouncements are any indication, slim and none. Meeting in Cairo, the League rejected any military foreign military intervention and offered Libyan freedom fighters nothing but the immense consolation of considerable diplomatic hot air.

Brazilian Foreign Policy : A Change for the Better Since Lula Left ?

From an U.S. point of view, and in regards to the Libyan Civil War, the answer must be a resounding, NO, given Brazil's stated position as regards the Libyan Crisis.

As recently as March 4, a spokesman for the Brazilian Foreign Ministry underscored, " the need to avoid militarising and exacerbating the situation, and the desire to find a negotiated, calm solution without foreign intervention. "

And Foreign Minister Antonio Aguiar Patriota was quoted as sying that  "Brazil believes the debate on the proposal of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, or on any military initiative in that country, can only be legitimate in a framework of strict respect for the U.N. Charter, within the Security Council."

But who has militarized/exacerbated the situation more than the Libyan dictator himself ? And hasn't foreign intervention already taken place, Gadhafi having imported mercenaries from neighboring African states ?  And what useful action can the U.N. be expected to take in light of Russia's and China's declared opposition to same ?

Clearly,  the current Brazilian government is content to mouth platitudes about the need for negotiation and respect for the U.N. Charter while a bloodthirsty dictator unleashes mercenaries on the populace of his own capital and his Air Force rains down death and destruction elsewhere.

One would think that a nation that had experienced dictatorship not so long ago would not turn its back on those who try desperately to free themselves from tyranny and suffer greatly as a consequence.  But one would be wrong.  And that nation's foreign policy has been, if nothing else, consistent over the last few years, Brazil having made common cause with such fastidious observers of human rights as Venezuela's Chavez and Turkey's Erdogan, not to mention the regime in Tehran.    

Britain's MI6 and SAS Show What NOT to do in Libya

as reported by THE TELEGRAPH's James Kirkup, Nick Meo in Benghazi and Caroline Gammell :

A [sic] SAS mission to Libya resulted in humiliation after the troops were first captured by rebels, then a diplomat’s plea for their release was broadcast on state television. 
The mission was error-strewn from the beginning, when a helicopter carrying the team of seven SAS soldiers and MI6 officer landed in Benghazi without warning the rebel commanders - causing the insurgents to think they were coming under attack.

The team then aggravated the situation by claiming to be unarmed - which only made their predicament worse when their weapons were discovered.

A senior British diplomat was on Sunday night unwittingly broadcast on Libyan state television pleading for the release of the group.

The troops and their Special Forces escort were detained by rebel security forces on Friday after arriving in the early hours by helicopter.

The seven SAS soldiers and MI6 officer touched down 20 miles from Benghazi, the eastern city where the rebels have their headquarters. They were taken to a nearby compound where local witnesses said warning shots were fired.

Their unexpected arrival prompted panic among the local militia, only exacerbated by the discovery of weapons, explosives and ammunition accompanying the soldiers. The group was swiftly handcuffed and taken to a military base as British officials frantically tried to secure their release.

...Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the rebels' National Council in Benghazi, said they were detained because of the secretive manner in which they had entered Libya.

The reason they were arrested was that they came into the country unofficially and without any arrangement with the Libyan authorities. Libya is an independent nation, we have our borders [and] we should expect them to be respected by everybody."

The intelligence officer and escort last night left Libya aboard HMS Cumberland. The failed mission and subsequent negotiations has led to a disastrous start for any future co-operation between Britain and the rebel troops.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, is expected to make an urgent statement on Monday to the House of Commons explaining the secretive mission and the events that followed.

In a terse statement last night, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that a "small diplomatic team" had been in Benghazi and "experienced difficulties".

Britain would send more such teams in future, he said.

Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, said that the mission was part of Britain's support for regime change in Libya.
For more on the mission, check out THE TELEGRAPH's follow-up article.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Human Rights Watch Blew It in Libya

So claims Michael Weiss in THE WEEKLY STANDARD : 

" Where governments and statesmen can afford to be cynical about trade relations and security agreements with rogue regimes, human rights groups are supposed to operate at a higher level – the ultimate goal being for those regimes to alter their behavior. When NGOs traffic in realpolitik, it has a more scandalizing impact. Nothing better showcases this phenomenon than Human Rights Watch’s kid-gloved and self-interested approach to Libya in the past several years."
Want details ?  Read on.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Erdogan's Turkey a Model for Fledgling Democrats in the MENA Region ? Updated

That's what Abdullah Bozkurt suggests recently in Today's Zaman :

Turkey can certainly be an inspiration for a lot of people in these countries and can rise to the occasion to help these troubled regimes make the transition as smoothly as possible. The men and women on the Arab streets look to Turkey and feel close affection for what Turkey represents today. The increasing popularity of Turkish soap operas across the region is a testament to that fact. If the new and existing regimes in the region are in a desperate search for a boost to their legitimacies, Turkey could assist them in building a platform for channeling the aspirations and expectations of people to reflect better governance and transparency.
But as Dani Rodnik of THE FINANCIAL TIMES reports, the Erdogan regime is anything but a model of better governance and transparency, let alone adherence to democratic ideals.

Some excerpts from Rodnik's compelling FT piece :

Signs of repression are increasingly abundant. On Thursday police launched a wave of raids, detaining 10 journalists and authors – including an award-winning reporter who had investigated official negligence in the 2007 assassination of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Last month three journalists from a website critical of the government, OdaTV, which specialises in exposing prosecutorial and police misdeeds, were also jailed.
At the root of this lies the government’s drive to consolidate support and demonise the opposition, in particular using a series of political-military trials revolving around the so-called “Ergenekon terror organisation”. Prosecutors appear to have concocted a series of bizarre plots to entangle an unlikely cast of characters, from military officers and journalists, to lawyers, academics and even a former mayor of Istanbul – all of whom are alleged to be involved in a conspiracy to topple the government. The journalists detained last month and on Thursday were charged with being the media arm of this plot.
Many of these cases require total suspension of common sense. They presume a bumbling ensemble of conspirators – sometimes unknown to each other – who never manage to carry out their garish plans yet leave detailed documentary evidence behind, and who are exposed thanks to anonymous informers animated by patriotism. The evidence against the defendants is typically paper-thin.
The apogee has come with a case known as Sledgehammer. Here 195 military officers are being charged with plotting a coup in 2003. The case rests on reams of digital documents describing the coup preparations, containing some glaring anachronisms which leave little doubt that they are forgeries. Among many examples, documents supposedly from 2003 refer to a company that changed its name in 2009 by its new name, and also show a frigate in service that joined the navy only in 2005. Prosecutors have disregarded such inconsistencies.
...Mr Erdogan had a choice. Having won a constitutional referendum in 2010 he could have rebuilt his democratic credentials and stood more firmly for the rule of law. Instead, more than 100 officers have already been jailed on account of the improbable Sledgehammer coup plot, while other past coups have yet to receive legal scrutiny. The European Union’s latest progress report on Turkish accession also notes concerns about press freedom.
A turn towards real democracy would have required Mr Erdogan to reconsider his alliance with the Fethullah Gülen movement, named after the influential Pennsylvania-based Turkish preacher. The Gülenists, who provide the AKP with crucial support, have been loud cheerleaders for the trials. Their sympathisers within the police and legal system are, by all indications, doing much of the heavy lifting.
Turkey is not about to become an Islamic state. But on current trajectory, the country is headed towards becoming a Middle Eastern version of Russia, with the media and courts increasingly becoming tools of political manipulation. Having only recently emerged from the military’s sway, Turkey faces a future clouded by the threat of a different, civilian kind of authoritarianism [emphasis mine].

March 5 Update :  For more on the Erdogan regime's crackdown on the press, check out these articles on the Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review website.

Maintaining a Libyan No-Fly Zone Might Not Be A Piece of Cake...

suggests Ulrike Putz of DER SPIEGEL in her article, 'Libyan Air Force Could Be Gadhafi's Trump Card'.

Some excerpts :

Although a large part of Libya's army has defected and joined the rebel forces, its air force appears to have remained almost completely loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Indeed, it is one of the main factors still propping up the regime and the most serious threat to the insurgents who control the eastern part of the country.

Libya's air force is made up of roughly 18,000 men and women, most of whom are staunch supporters of the regime. The elite military branch recruited from followers who were 100 percent loyal to the regime, and members of Gadhafi's Gadhadfa tribe and its closely allied Magariha tribe were given preference during the selection process for recruits. They have shown a blind obedience to their commander in chief. Only a handful of pilots and officers have switched sides to join the opposition.

In return for their loyalty, Gadhafi has always made sure that members of the air force received the best training and equipment. The fighter wing is reportedly made up of roughly 100 MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighter jets as well as 15 Mirage F-1 and 40 SU-22 planes. The arms depots are thought to be filled to the rafters with munitions.

The planes' missiles are from the arsenals of the former Soviet Union or of more recent Russian makes, according to a report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. The report also states that Libya's air-defense system is very well equipped. As Lieutenant-General David Deptula, who recently retired from his position as an air force expert at the Pentagon, told Britain's The Economist, if the West decides to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, the country's surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) could present a serious danger to Allied jets [emphasis mine].

The planes in the Libyan air force are stationed at 13 bases spread throughout the country. The bases are also home to Russian Mi-25 attack helicopters, which can be a deadly weapon both in open country and in urban combat. Rebel forces advancing on Tripoli, the capital city, should expect to encounter massive firepower from these helicopters.

In the end, however, the really decisive factor in the battle might turn out to be the large number of military transport aircraft that Gadhafi purchased from Russian and American manufacturers. In just a few hours' time, the seven squadrons of helicopters and transport planes can ferry government units and reinforcements to scenes of fighting anywhere within the country. The rebel army forming in the eastern part of the country also has almost nothing to counter them with.  

For the moment, however, Gadhafi has held back from sending his elite troops into the fight. Granted, on Thursday, his warplanes bombed the eastern port city of Brega for the second day in a row. But that is only a small taste of what the Libyan air force is capable of.

Experts see Gadhafi's apparent decision to hold his pilots back in a reserve capacity as a tactical maneuver. "There have been no large massacres, air power is being used in a calculated way and he is launching probing attacks," Shashank Joshi, a military specialist at London-based think tank the Royal United Services Institute, told the New York Times. Even if Gadhafi has appeared somewhat mentally unstable during his recent televised appearances, Joshi believes Gadhafi's tactical maneuvers do not show "the decision-making of a man totally out of touch with reality [emphasis mine]."

Finance Friday #4 : Don't Be Surprised If ETF USO Takes a Header

...warns Dian Chu in her latest post.  Why ? 

"...basically, there’s not a real physical oil shortage, and crude prices primarily have been moving from fear and speculation depending on news and rumor coming out of MENA.

" Now with crude prices bid up so much, traders are left with a dilemma - to be in the crude oil trade, players basically either have to take delivery, or rollover contracts and options come expiration time. However, with storage at Cushing, Oklahoma pretty much at capacity, and price curve front month (April) loaded, it is doubtful that anybody would be in a position to take physical delivery.

" And don’t forget that the humongous United States Oil Fund (USO) is a futures-based ETF that has to rollover as scheduled (from Mar. 8 to Mar. 11). Because of the USO effect, plus the record open interest almost exclusively long and heavy in April, there will likely be a massive rollover starting with USO around March 8, then to all the other market players, when April contracts and options expire (See Chart, click to enlarge). That will push down the April price for both Brent and WTI, regardless of what’s going on in Libya and MENA. "

Finance Friday #3 : Looking at Corporate Bond ETF's ?

Matthew J Patterson advises us to be aware that their portfolio turnover rate of such funds is an  "invisible performance killer" that "drives negative tracking error and eats into investor returns."

How ?
The shockingly high levels of portfolio turnover in corporate bond ETFs largely stems from an arcane rule of index construction that was created by the first-ever bond index, the Lehman Aggregate Bond Index, and subsequently adopted by most of its predecessors, including all of the indices tracked by the corporate bond ETFs in the table above. This rule of index construction, called a minimum maturity rule, excludes bonds from indices when the bonds reach a certain minimum maturity.
Minimum maturity rules make sense for investment banks that deal in bonds and wish to facilitate purchases and sales of bonds by customers who track their indices. They make little sense for investors in corporate bond ETFs. One of the primary benefits of investing in bonds is the return of principal upon maturity. Minimum maturity rules throw this benefit out the window and instead force fund managers to sell every bond (and pay associated transaction costs) when it reaches a certain minimum maturity.
Is there no way around this ?
Glad you asked.
A recently developed fixed income indexing methodology, maturity-targeted bond indexing, addresses the issue of high portfolio turnover in corporate bond ETFs by holding bonds until they mature. Unlike traditional bond indices, maturity-targeted bond indices target a particular year of maturity and do not employ minimum maturity rules. This approach results in indices with very low turnover and bond-like cash flow characteristics, where principal is redeemed and returned to investors at the conclusion of an index’s designated year of maturity.
The first maturity-targeted bond ETFs launched in January 2010 and there are now 17 such ETFs trading on U.S. exchanges. Of these, 11 have published semiannual reports containing partial-year portfolio turnover figures.
 And just what funds are these ?  Check out Patterson's article ''The Biggest Cause of Tracking Error in Corporate Bond ETFs ' at SEEKING ALPHA.

Finance Friday #2 : Turkish ETF's Headed Down ?

Kerem Uluengin explains that the Istanbul Stock Exchange National-100 index (XU100) has been declining of late,
basically due to rising global inflation expectations, and actions by the Central Bank of Turkey.  On top of that...

" Turkey imports 93% of its oil and political unrest from Libya is increasing the cost of energy and diminishing demand from a region that buys about 30% of Turkey’s exports. The country’s January trade gap was 7.4 billion dollars, in contrast to the expected amount of 4.5 billion. "

That being said, it's likely that " the ISE National-100 is most likely to continue its meager performance until the general elections which will be held on June 12 this year. "

What's an investor to do ? Check out Uluengin's article at Seeking Alpha.

MARCH 7 UPDATE : For a contrasting (and earlier) view, check out  Edward Hugh's SEEKING ALPHA post, 'Positive 2011 Outlook for Turkey'.

Finance Friday #1 : Looking for Mutual Funds to Hedge Against Inflation ?

Tom Taulli of InvestorPlace suggests the following global funds :

Artisan International Value (MUTF: ARTKX)
Oakmark International I (MUTF: OAKIX)
Oppenheimer International Growth (MUTF: OIGAX)
Fidelity New Markets Income (MUTF: FNMIX)
Harding Loevner Emerging Markets (MUTF: HLEMX)
Want the details ? Check out Tauli's article, ''Hedge Against Inflation With These 5 Global Mutual Funds : Some top global funds use currency plays to boost returns '.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Meantime, in Iran...

... the Thugocracy has become even more repressive and apprehensive,  as it witnesses people in the MENA region rebelling against dictatorial regimes . So apprehensive, Haleh Esfandiari explains, on the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS webiste, that the regime has begun to turn on its own.

Some excerpts :
 We are witnessing today the intensification of the post-election crackdown, perhaps the severest the country has experienced since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. This campaign is aimed not only at the usual dissidents among the intelligentsia, political activists, students, and journalists, but also at men once considered regime insiders. Iran’s leaders have turned against their former comrades-in-arms, fearing the reformists will take the country in a more liberal direction. In doing so, hardliners in the regime have joined hands with the Revolutionary Guards, the Intelligence Ministry, and their collaborators in the judiciary, whose chief is appointed by the Supreme Leader, and whose Revolutionary Court is used to try those accused of crimes against the government. The repression has included widespread arrests of reformist politicians, student and women activists, trade union leaders, journalists, lawyers and public intellectuals; show trials and trials behind closed doors; coerced televised “confessions”; lengthy detentions without trial and long prison sentences after trial; and, perhaps most disturbingly, widespread executions.
Executions have drastically increased under the Ahmadinejad government. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, 86 persons were executed in 2005, the year he became president. That figure has risen steadily to 346 in 2008, 388 in 2009, and 542 in 2010—of which only 242 were officially announced. In January 2011 alone, the organization reports, 86 people were executed—almost one execution every eight hours. Iran, with its much smaller population, now stands second only to China in the number of executions it carries out.
Among the executed were several leaders of Turk and Baluch ethnic minorities as well as the Dutch-Iranian dual national Zahra Bahrami, who was arrested during the 2009 post-election protests, but sentenced to death as a drug trafficker. Drug trafficking—a capital offense in Iran—has become a convenient cover for political executions. Two post-election protesters were hanged at Evin prison on January 24, for “warring against God,” a vague charge that became common after the Islamic Revolution and provides a convenient pretext for imprisoning or killing opponents of the regime. Many more prisoners are on death row.
Harsh prison sentences for political dissidents are becoming increasingly routine. Last year Emadeddin Baghi, an extraordinarily brave journalist and human rights activist who has called attention to the abuse of political prisoners in Iran, was sentenced to six years in prison and stripped of his civil rights for five years, a verdict that will prevent him from voting, running for office, and probably from engaging in journalistic and NGO activities. He was charged with “activities against the national interest” and “publicity in favor of the regime’s enemies”—in part for having interviewed the late Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, a critic of the regime, for the BBC in 2007. The regime is also targeting lawyers who defend political dissidents—another practice not common in the past.
The human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi enjoyed a degree of immunity after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. But in December 2008, security authorities raided her offices and her Center for the Defense of Human Rights, and subsequently shut down the center. Ebadi is now living in forced exile abroad. Two of the lawyers associated with her center have been arrested. One of them, Mohammad Ali Seifzadeh, was sentenced last year to nine years in prison and barred from practicing law for ten years. And in January, Ebadi’s own lawyer, Nasrine Sotoudeh, was sentenced to eleven years in prison and barred from practicing law and traveling out of Iran for twenty years. Sotoudeh’s criticism of Iran’s human rights record and her defense of dozens of political prisoners provoked the decision to punish and silence her.
Torture is hardly new in Iran’s judiciary system, but it has taken particularly grisly forms since the post-election crackdown. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, personally ordered the shadowy Kahrizak prison in Tehran’s suburbs closed after news leaked out that a number of those held there after the election protests died under torture. In 2009, Karroubi made public letters he had received from families of victims alleging rape of male and female prisoners at this prison. Torture, intimidation, and threats of trial and imprisonment are also being used to extract false confessions from political prisoners, forcing them to implicate themselves or others for allegedly engaging in antigovernment activities or working for foreign powers.