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Thursday, March 31, 2005
 
  • It's confirmed. Wolfowitz will be the next president of the World Bank.
    The bank's stated mission is to fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in developing countries. It lends about $20-billion (U.S.) a year to developing countries for various projects, including roads, schools and fighting AIDS. ... Mr. Wolfowitz, seeking to quell criticism over his selection, has reached out. He has telephoned Bono, the Irish rock star who is a vocal advocate for helping the world's poor.

    I hope someone recorded that conversation and is willing to share.
    [Wolfowitz says] he will not pursue any political agenda.

    Now there's a credible claim!
     

  • Tuesday, March 29, 2005
     
  • In Kyrgyzstan, things seem to be calming down, at least for now.

    The ousted President, Askar Akaev, is hiding in Russia and looks like he may still play some role in legitimating whatever solution eventually develops. The Supreme Court nullified the recent parliamentary election, apparently leaving the old parliament in charge. Now, despite the Supreme Court, the old parliament seems to have accepted the legitimacy of the new parliament and is stepping aside. Some sort of talks between Parliament and Akaev look likely. As far as I understand it, the new parliament is led by the opposition, but (in terms of numbers) is hugely dominated by Akaev loyalists.

    The situation in Kyrgyzstan is giving some hope to opposition groups elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, notably Armenia and parts of Russia. Russia is promising aid to Kyrgyzstan.

    ...In other regional news, Georgia and Russia are still having a hard time reaching an agreement on when Russia will abandon its Georgian bases. The deadline may be extended as far as 2009. Georgia has been trying to get the Russians out for over a decade.

    Meanwhile, close to another foreign Russian military base (in Moldova), Romania is offering to help Ukraine block smuggling across the Moldovan border. This may be in part to help impress upon the EU that if and when Romania becomes a member, it won't be an open door to black market goods. At the same time, however, the move certainly has the added value of representing a vague assertion of authority by Romania over the Moldovan border. Most Romanians think it is inevitable that Moldova will one day become part of Romania.

    Finally, the two countries that got all this revolution talk going in the first place, Ukraine and Georgia, are both appealing to the parties in Kyrgyzstan to keep their struggles peaceful. More significantly, though, Ukraine and Georgia are increasing cooperation and, in particular, are promising to support each other's bids to join NATO. Strategic planners in Russia must be very frustrated these days.
     

  • Thursday, March 24, 2005
     
  • Kyrgyzstan's sure moving fast. The parliament has appointed an interim president.
     

  •  
  • Kyrgyzstan's government has apparently fallen and President Akayev is rumored to have fled the capital city, if not the country, by helicopter. He may have fled to Russia or to the Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan, according to the rumors. Quite a success for an uncoordinated opposition movement. From the BBC:
    [E]vents have moved at lightning speed, from a quiet demonstration in the morning to a full-scale insurrection. ... [T]he demonstration in Bishkek grew rapidly from a few hundred people to as many as 10,000.

    Protesters chanting "Down with the Akayev clans" marched through the capital to the presidential palace, known as the White House.

    The latest reports say a bit more about who's leading the opposition:
    "We will establish order. We will not allow looting. We will hold our own elections to start our rule," former prime minister and opposition figure Kurmanbek Bakiev said after the government headquarters had fallen into the hands of protesters.

    Demonstrators then marched to a prison outside the town and secured the release of Felix Kulov, a former police chief who is seen as another of the opposition's main leaders.

    These two men, along with other former politicos may or may not be calling the shots.

    So, what's this all about? A public fed up with corruption, perhaps encouraged by the popular uprisings in Georgia and Ukraine? That's the way it's being reported, though the media has been pretty good about at least noting the strategic significance of Kyrgyzstan. As Reuters puts it:
    The country of 5 million borders China and lies in an energy-rich region where Washington and Moscow vie for influence. Both powers have military bases outside the capital.

    The international consequences of these events could be quite substantial.

    Assuming a new government comes quickly to power, it will need to legitimate itself in at least two ways: by holding an election and by paying off all the people out on the streets today. The new leadership will need to distinguish itself from the old leadership. It will need to do one or both of two things: effectively end corruption; and/or disperse a bunch of wealth. The latter approach is simpler and faster than the former and the quickest way to get money is likely to be from international donors. There are three likely candidates: the US, Russia, and China. Of the three, I'd say that unless the opposition leaders are somehow already beholden to Russia or China, the US is probably going to become the major player in Kyrgyzstan. China and Russia won't be happy.
     

  • Wednesday, March 23, 2005
     
  • Conspiracies happen all the time, of course. But on the face of things, the decision of Kyrgyzstani president Askar Akayev to label the current protests part of a 'coup' attempt by the drug mafia, look like the typical flailings of a dottering dictator. From the Globe:
    Mr. Akayev, 60, is prohibited from seeking another term, but the opposition has accused him of manipulating the parliamentary vote to gain a compliant legislature that would amend the constitution to allow a third term. Mr. Akayev has denied that.

    The usual caveat: I don't know the ins and outs of Kyrgyzstan, and Akayev used to look like a good guy.
     

  • Monday, March 21, 2005
     
  • BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Protests force Kyrgyz poll review:
    Kyrgyzstan's President, Askar Akayev, has ordered a review of some parliamentary poll results.... Mr Akayev has warned that [a popular revolution movement such as occurred in Georgia and Ukraine] would risk civil war in Kyrgyzstan.

    According to the BBC, there is no central opposition figure around which these disparate protests can coalesce. The opposition seems to involve both ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks.

    I'm not a Kyrgyzstan expert, but these two points suggest to me, at least, that (a) without some substantial international pressure, Akayev and most of his loyal parliamentarians will be able to hold on to power, since there is no unified opposition; and (b) given that lack of cohesion and the fact that the unrest cuts across ethnic lines, the threat of civil war is probably a red herring... In other words, this looks to be a situation where the international community could really do some good.
     

  • Sunday, March 20, 2005
     
  • Protests in Kyrgyzstan over an allegedly flawed election.
    Protesters also occupied government buildings in other parts of Kyrgyzstan, accusing the government of rigging parliamentary ballots on Feb. 27 and March 13 that gave Mr. Akayev an overwhelming majority and won places for his daughter and son in the legislature. ... Some analysts have suggested Kyrgyzstan is ripe for an outburst of the mass protests experienced by other post-Soviet countries, such as those that recently brought pro-Western leaders to power in Ukraine and Georgia.

    Kyrgyzstan used to be the West's little Central Asian darling, being much more liberal than its neighbours. No longer.
     

  • Thursday, March 17, 2005
     
  • It looks like Paul Wolfowitz will be the next President of the World Bank. This has nightmarish economic catastrophe written all over it in very big, very brightly coloured letters. Meanwhile, read this book.
     

  • Tuesday, March 15, 2005
     
  • Kosovo's president, Ibrahim Rugova, survived a bomb attack today.
     

  •  
  • Josh Marshall has a suggestion:
    Imagine Bush’s “plan” to fix Social Security consisted of building immense gold statues of himself through the country.

    I've been keeping away from the social security war that's raging across the US blogs because I have nothing to add to it and for the most part prefer to focus on international issues (and Arcade Fire), but I just had to draw that one line to your attention. It's got to be the best line yet written on the subject.

    UPDATE: Oops, that wasn't Josh Marshall, but Jonathan Chait guestblogging at TPM.
     

  • Friday, March 11, 2005
     
  • I've heard, though I have yet to see, that the Arcade Fire have their name on the cover of this month's Rolling Stone. Here's a few-weeks-old article discussing how they "escaped the cold of Montreal and became the hottest indie band in America."
    "There's a certain uninhibited passion in the Arcade Fire's huge, dense recording sound," says Bowie. "They meld everything from early Motown, French chanson and Talking Heads through to the Cure in a kaleidoscopic dizzy sort of rush. I bought a huge stack of the Funeral CD last September and gave them to all my friends. I made so many converts."

    They've got another show in Montreal in April, the 23rd I think. Alex managed to get us tickets for the third night, which was only added after the first two nights sold out.
     

  •  
  • Has the dark side won?

    Kevin Drum thinks we've lost the battle over the phrase "begging the question." I beg to differ.
     

  •  
  • Signs of the Decline:
    ...Asian central banks have been quietly switching their dollar holdings to regional currencies for at least three years, confirm global banking data. In a further, and so far the biggest, setback for the greenback's status as the undisputed reserve currency, Japan on Thursday said it might diversify its holdings, though monetary chiefs later sought to play down the prospect.

    ...Export-led Asian central banks have been accumulating dollars for two decades or more to keep their own currencies competitive. Japan alone has stockpiled $841 billion of reserves to stop the yen from over-valuing as it searches for an economic stimulus. If the central banks pull out, the US may find it hard to borrow the cash it needs to keep the wheels of government turning.

    The article provides quite a bit of detail about the currency markets of Asia. Thanks again to Michael for this one.
     

  • Monday, March 07, 2005
     
  • If I were in charge of a Canadian political party or a commission on electoral reform, I would give some serious thought to the American Idol format of candidate selection.

    The format combines several good features:
    -the input of expert judges
    -the legitimacy of a public choice
    -results informed by a long process of comparison and refinement
     

  • Sunday, March 06, 2005
     
  • Early results from Moldova's parliamentary election held today indicate the current Communist government will remain in place. That's probably good news. The Moldovan Communists are in favour of Western integration while still being pretty good about appeasing Russia and Moldova's large Russian minority, mainly by opposing unification with Romania. Indeed, many of the headlines today use the somewhat surprising phrase "Pro-Western Communists". (There have been some recent Moldovan-Russian tensions.)
     

  •  
  • Much of the Canadian press has been making a big deal out of the apparent lack of communication between Ottawa and Washington since the PM announced Canada's non-participation in missile defence. Well, this morning Martin and Bush spoke. Whoopy-doo.

    While I support the decision not to participate, I do so only hesitantly because there's been so little discussion of what participating or not participating means. Basically, I support it because it sends a political signal to Washington and the rest of the world that we consider this business a risky one. Of course, the Canadian signal has been made largely indecipherable due to the considerable amount of noise put out by the government. So maybe I should rephrase my justification: I support the decision because declaring our non-participation definitely doesn't signal the kind of support for missile defence which I think would be a bad signal to send.

    Man, the PM has so effectively muddled our response that even defining a response to the response is complicated. This is either finely tuned tightrope walking or the product of a dithering mind.

    The clearest signal by far came from Pierre Pettigrew the day after the PM's announcement:
    "We have identified our priorities in defence and security," Pettigrew said. "We believe that we should not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons."

    I found this statement fairly shocking, since it apparently says that the Foreign Affairs minister thinks the missile shield will lead to nuclear proliferation. This is a reasonable, if unproven, hypothesis. At any rate, if that's the Government's view, then Canada should be a hell of a lot more forthright about its opposition to the program.

    But perhaps it was not so shocking a statement after all, since the media proceeded to ignore it and instead focussed on whether or not Bush and Martin were ever going to talk again. Where the hell was the public debate on this issue - either before or after the "decision"?*






    *Here's a question: Should the Prime Minister lead or follow the public mood? I mean, the US President generally at least tries to shape the public debate pretty forcefully. (I'd say "manfully", but that's just an obnoxious word.) Should the Canadian PM do the same?
     

  • Friday, March 04, 2005
     
  • Sign up now for your online course on Canada for Americans.
    What makes Canada tick...so similarly yet differently from America?
     

  • Thursday, March 03, 2005
     
  • Am I good or am I good?

    This site is certified 35% EVIL by the Gematriculator

    This site is certified 65% GOOD by the Gematriculator

    A big thanks to Kate for bringing the Gematriculator to our attention.
     

  • Tuesday, March 01, 2005
     
  • Today the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that executing childen is unconstitutional. That leaves Somalia as the only other country on earth to permit it. Julie Saltman reacts appropriately:
    What sort of ass-backwards place is this, that it is (or was until today) one of the last two places on earth to permit the execution of children?

    A couple of points: (1) Somalia barely has a government; and (2) To be fair, execution of minors was legal in only 19 of the 50 states, so our derision is more appropriately directed at those jurisdictions rather than the country as a whole. Unless, of course we want to deride the country for not putting a stop to this sooner in those jurisdictions... which would be entirely justified.

    Via Kevin Drum, who makes the obvious but useful point that you can't (and shouldn't bother trying to) use the Constitution as a guide for this issue.
     

  •  
  • An Historic Failure in Latin America:
    Today Washington's unqualified, 100 per cent loyal allies to the south of its border with Mexico are no more than one or two - El Salvador and Honduras certainly, but who else? ... Instead, a de facto centre-left bloc is emerging across the continent. ... They may not be necessarily opposed to the US on every issue, but they are no longer beholden to it.

    Their drift away is testament to an historic failure of American foreign policy. In recent years the US approach to Latin America has been hopelessly distorted by its fixation with one modest-sized island 90 miles south of the Florida Keys. ... Once upon a time, the US tried to understand Latin America. In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt and his top Latin American adviser, Sumner Welles, realised that US military interventions in Cuba and elsewhere were counterproductive. Instead they devised the "Good Neighbour Policy". Two decades later, John Kennedy proclaimed the Alianza para el Progreso (the Alliance for Progress).

    Since then, however, US diplomacy has been cack-handed in the extreme. ... Mr Birns [director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington] points to the growing links between Mercosur, the rickety four-nation trade bloc grouping Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, and the EU as a preferable alternative to the FTAA, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, that is promoted by the US. Tellingly, after his stop in Montevideo, Mr Chavez is off to India and the Middle East. Washington can but watch, and gnash its teeth in impotent fury.

    A tip of the hat to Michael for this one.

    ...Meanwhile, Matt Yglesias and a few others are giving props to Bush and company for the recent democratic lurchings of Egypt and Lebanon.
     

  •  
  • Juan Cole has posted a brief history of Lebanon and Syria that is well worth a read if, like me, you don't have much background on the region. In terms of the future, these strike me as the most significant of Cole's points:
    The Sunnis, the Druze and the Maronites have seldom agreed in history. The last time they all did, it was about the need to end the French Mandate, which they made happen in 1943. This cross-confessional unity helps explain how the crowds managed to precipitate the downfall of the government of PM Omar Karami.

    If Lebanese people power can force a Syrian withdrawal, the public relations implications may be ambiguous for Tel Aviv. After the US withdrawal from Iraq, Israeli dominance of the West Bank and Gaza will be the last military occupation of major territory in the Middle East. People in the region, in Europe, and in the US itself may begin asking why, if Syria had to leave Lebanon, Israel should not have to leave the West Bank and Gaza.

    ...The Lebanese are still not entirely united on a Syrian military withdrawal. Supporters of outgoing PM Omar Karami rioted in Tripoli on Monday. Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah still supports the Syrians and has expressed anxieties about the Hariri assassination and its aftermath leading to renewed civil war (an argument for continued Syrian military presence).
     

  •  
  • Justin Logan makes the case that there are observable efforts by the EU, Russia, and China to balance against the US.
     




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