Iceland’s new guardians – Denmark and Norway

Posted April 25, 2007 on 9:01 pm | In the category International Broadcasting, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Since the end of World War Two, the USA has invaded a number of countries that were considered to be involved in threatening political developments – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq are only the most prominent – but there is one allied contry, and NATO member, that didn’t have to be invaded or occupied to have US troops in strength presnt on its soil for more than half a century – Iceland. After the war, and despite a great deal of opposition, Iceland agreed to have US troops stay on to protect a country without armed forces from aggression. In 2006, against the will of the Icelandic government, the US withdrew its troops from its substantial air force base in Keflavik, leaving the 300,000 Icelanders without a military presence. Now the lands from which Viking colonialists sailed forth to settle the uninhabited island more than a thousand years ago – Norway and Denmark – will sign a military agreement with Iceland in Oslo on Thursday. Norway will station military planes in Keflavik and Denmark will augment the civilian Icelandic Coast Guard – which defeated the UK in the famous Cod War – with Danish military ships. Only in case of a real invasion would the US get involved, as would all NATO countries according to the NATO Charter.

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The Return of the Evil Empire?

Posted April 23, 2007 on 11:12 am | In the category International Broadcasting, Public Diplomacy, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

There were many factors that contributed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, including a nutty economic system made even nuttier by corruption and incompetence among the leadership. But more important to many was the brutality of a regime that allowed very little in the way of what we consider commonplace freedoms. Perhaps chief among these was freedom of the press,

Throughout the Cold War America’s Radio Liberty served as a surrogate Russian radio station, providing news, analysis and cultural programs that – for over forty years – made Radio Liberty the most responsible source available in Russia for both domestic and international news. The Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) suffered a serious blow in 1993 when freshman senator Russell Feingold made a strong effort to close the radios because “the Cold War was over”. Feingold lacked any real understanding of international broadcasting and the role it has always played as a tool of foreign policy and a mode of public diplomacy and so the Radios survived in a much-diminished status with a budget reduced by 70% and the Russian broadcast service took much of the hit.

Well yes, the cold War is over but what do we have in its place? A Russia in which journalists critical of the government are routinely murdered, a TV and radio scene in which all the important networks are state-run, and a population more interested in consumer goods than civil liberties.

Over the weekend it was reported that state-run radio in Russia has been handed a new set of rules – 50% of news about Russia must be “positive”, there is to be absolutely no mention of opponents to the government by name, and the United States is to be labeled the “enemy”. So we are back to the 70’s and early 80’s with no more “Glasnost” and a powerful former KGB director as president – with the possibility on the horizon of a change in Russian laws that would provide the opportunity for President Putin to continue in office beyond his term.

It is well past time for a renewal of our commitment to an active public diplomacy that includes provision of serious news and analysis to those citizens of Russia (and other countries) that hunger for the truth. Feingold never understood the importance of that effort and did serious damage to our public diplomacy effort.

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Ukraine 1 Russia 0

Posted April 23, 2007 on 2:21 am | In the category China, Germany, International Broadcasting, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

In Canada the only sport that counts is hockey, in the USA it is (increasingly) American football, but in Europe it is beyond a doubt, the other kind of football, actually played with the feet, which Americans call soccer. It is also the only sport taken seriously almost everywhere, although baseball has real strength in Latin America and Japan, and basketball has taken on an increasingly international flair. But there is no doubt that the major international soccer tournaments, along with the Olympics, are the most widely followed sports event, and that world and European soccer championships have an impassioned audience with real political clout in both the positive and negative sense. Thus the awarding of venues for the Olympics, the world soccer championships and the European soccer championships, all of which take place every fourth year, is a major economic, political and prestige event. Some of the decisions of late have been surprising and controversial. Beijing and Vancouver were awarded the next 2 Olympic venues after lengthy and expensive presentations. For China next summer’s Olympics are an event of the utmost political importance and a chance to display its economic, industrial and athletic power to the world. Last summer’s world soccer championship in Germany had the kind of success that China is hoping for. South Africa is the host of the next one, and billions of fans are hoping that the most prospering country in Africa will be able to provide the infrastructure and the splendidly serene month-long atmosphere that characterized the tournament in Germany.
The European soccer championships have traditionally been held in the large European soccer powerhouse countries, that were already equipped with more than adequate venues – Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK. On occasion, smaller soccer countries – the Netherlands and Belgium, for instance – would jointly sponsor the tournament. Since Italy, the reigning world champion, had applied to host the next available games, it was assumed that they were a shoo-in. But it didn’t happen that way. Heavily tarnished by proof of corruption, fixing and hooligan violence in the Italian league, the world champion was rejected by the venue panel, and suddenly a most unlikely joint partnership was named – Poland and Ukraine. The former is in the EU, a member of NATO, a neighbour of Germany, and a functioning, if somewhat erratic, democracy. The latter is not wanted in the EU, nor in NATO, shares a relatively short border with Poland and a very large one with Russia, and its attempts at democracy make operetta plots seem realistic. Its greatest fear is that the eastward expansion of the EU will draw down a new kind of iron curtain at the Ukrainian border and its dependance on its immense eastern neighbour will become overwhelming.
Now it seems that Ukraine had first approached Russia with the idea of a joint hosting proposal and this was summarily, and somehat arrogantly rejected by Moscow, who pointed out that they could do this on their own. Since Ukraine has a better soccer team than Russia in any case, it seems only appropriate that they have won this one in the backrooms of soccer power. Instead of staging an event that would inevitably have suggested to Europe that Russia and Ukraine are natural allies, Russian arrogance has given Ukraine the chance to convince Europe that its natural place in the world is west of the EU curtain, in the same general area, as its co-host, Slavic Poland. The announcement led to a universal cheer in Ukraine, welding together, for the only time in memory, the bitter enemies of eastern and western Ukraine. It also seems very likely that the games themselves will lead to a sense of unityin Ukraine that has been dramatically missing since 1990. An own-goal by Russia may save the day.

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They Don’t Know What They’re Doing

Posted April 16, 2007 on 12:41 pm | In the category Iraq, U.S. Foreign Policy | by John

I watched General Zinni on Meet The Press yesterday. He was plugging a book and explaining that the Bush Administration doesn’t have a clue about what it did wrong in Iraq and what is happening there now. He cited General Sheehan as still another top military mind who is bewildered by the Bush policy [or whatever it is]. General Sheehan was approached in the past few weeks by Bush to become Iraq War Czar [don’t you love it], but he wouldn’t even begin to consider the notion.
When Bush announced his Iraq “surge” a couple of months ago, it was so apparently dumb that I thought I must be missing something. I am no military expert certainly, so I guessed that there may be some kernal of validity to the surge notion. After all, Bush persuaded General Petraeus to lead the effort and Petraeus seems to be well-regarded. But, it turns out, Petraeus must simply be a good, follow-the-directives-of-the-Commander-in-Chief type of general because Iraq is, almost incredibly, sinking deeper into the morass despite his best efforts. The increased US presence in Baghdad neighborhoods has fomented greater opposition and violence – a logical and predictable result.
Most recently, Al-Sadr has essentially declared war on the US. Al-Sadr has gone underground since Bush declared we were going to be “surging.” Only last week, he directed a massive anti-US rally seeking the removal of US troops. He may not be highly respected in the West, but Al-Sadr is the apparent leader of many Shiites in Iraq. Just yesterday, he ordered six Iraqi cabinet ministers loyal to him to withdraw from the government because of the government’s failure to endorse a US withdrawal timetable. The Democratic leadership in the US still supports a timetable for withdrawal [though that support may be weakening]. Bush, of course, is adamant in his opposition to a timetable – as is the current Iraqi government.
Zinni says there is no quick fix in Iraq and that a timetable is not the way to go. He says we need to stay for 5,6, or more years. But that’s the “general” in him speaking. An alternative is to get the hell out now. Bow to the will of the majority of Iraqis and get the hell out now. Will there be continuing “hostilities”? Yes. Can it get much worse than it is with the US in there? Possibly, but it is very, very bad there now – surge or no surge. With the US no longer a target [principally in the form of road-side bombs and sniper attacks], the hostilities may begin to wind down. The years of separation and hatred between the Sunnis and Shiites could support years of killing. But without the US in Iraq, the Iraqis will have less of an excuse to continue fighting. They could even direct their attention to the other foreigners in their midst, such as Al-Qaeda, and put them down. The US should take the cover that the Shiites are offering [i.e., the demand that we get out] and – with some further cover from Iraq’s neighbors, which would likely come – we should simply leave – our soldiers should come home.

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Campaign Update: The Press

Posted April 12, 2007 on 5:04 pm | In the category Politics, Press | by Jeff

My intention had been to describe my utter despair over the levels to which the American press can sink in discussing a major political campaign. Like, for instance, for Leader Of The Most Powerful Nation In The World.  But Matt Taibbi has done it for me and better than me in a recent Rolling Stone.  A small quote will give a sense of his take on it and you can read the whole piece by going to the Rolling Stone website.

Like Seinfeld, the presidential campaign is essentially a “show about nothing,” a prolonged prime-time character-driven drama crafted around a series of fake conflicts that always get resolved by the end of the program, in this case November 2008. Marcia and Greg make driving-test bet in segment one; Marcia imagines instructor in underwear in middle segments; Marcia and Greg’s bet ends in a tie, family loves each other again. In the old days the presidential show’s writers tended to use actual political issues (Georgie and Hube argue about Vietnam!) as the starting points for their dramatic conflicts — a natural artistic strategy, given that the subject matter was a real election in a giant country teeming with ugly social and economic problems — but in the last few cycles the networks seem to have figured out that you can shoot even a whole season of a presidential race without including any of the boring political shit.

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The More Climate Changes the More We’re Screwed

Posted April 11, 2007 on 7:01 pm | In the category Environment, Global Warming, Uncategorized | by Kiwi

Among the decisions at last months EU summit two were related. Related in that way that allows one to see between the lines. Allows one to read the political sub-text that is usually meant to be obscured.

The big publicized decision was the EU ordering member states to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. This decision also required specific methods to reach that mandate. (Tho some of the new members grumped — saying they had hoped to leave micro-managed state planning behind when they escaped the USSR— maybe climate change required a bit of extra discipline.) Anyway,among the specific steps to be taken is forced replacement in each nation of a percentage of carbon-intensive light bulbs with more eco-friendly (and expensive) ones.

Well. okay.

But then came the–less publicized– related decision. A 100% tariff on imports of these
eco-friendly bulbs was extended to 2020. Seimens, the German manufacturer has a virtual lock on the EU market. It can pocket the excess profit europeans are forced by law to fork up.

So the sub-text comes into focus.

Eco-terrified Europeans are demanding climate change action. EU authorities are giving it to them. So to speak. Climate change policy comes with baggage europeans aren’t asking for. The baggage from the left is increased central control of european local decisions. The baggage from the right is increased protection of corporate profits.

The capitalists and the authoritarians are immediate big winners. And, hey, maybe there’ll actually be some climate change benefit by 2020. European’s will have to wait to see on that one. Mean time they pay up and shut up.

If this were just a one-off thing confined to the EU it wouldn’t be worth blogging. But maybe there is a universal theme? A sorta cynical global political manipulation of popular terror over climate change? A charade in which the left and right seem to fight each other but you and I are the only ones getting bruises?

In the US there is a worrying coalescence that looks remarkably similar. The Washington Post  today reports on a climate change debate between Kerry and Gingrich that was billed as a “smackdown fight” but degenerated into a love-in. Trees were being hugged by left and right alike.

So what? Nothing, really. Except that as voters we want to be careful what we ask for.

Europeans asked for action on climate change. What they’re getting is poorer and less autonomous.

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The End of Bush Imperialism?

Posted April 11, 2007 on 3:02 pm | In the category Iraq, Politics, Press | by Jeff

Is the Bush presidency headed for that special closet, once reserved for Richard Nixon? The signs say “yes”. Bush travels the back alleys of American politics, speaking to veterans organizations, groups of soldiers and their families, those Republican Congressmen and women who will still be seen in public with him, the occasional trade organization and of course, the Poodles – formerly known as the White House Press Corps.

The video clips of the Poodles dancing and singing with Bush and Karl Rove at the White House Press Club dinner were emblematic of the long standing problem of the press throwing away their honor and integrity for “access” to people who mislead and lie to them to get their version of the news in front of readers and viewers.

Senator McCain continues to support the Bush war and has picked up the president’s theme that anyone who votes not to allow more American soldiers to die for his fiasco is – well, hurting their chances of dying for his fiasco. And Bush continues to ignore the will of the American people in pledging to do more of what has not worked in order to avoid being in office when the inevitable occurs. The hypocrisy and cynicism of his and McCain’s stance is mind-boggling. But not surprising, given who they are.

Well, the party is winding down.  The issue of ending our occupation of Iraq is no longer whether, but when, and the press in catching up with the American people in understanding this. Time Magazine, of all things, has announced: An Administration’s Epic Collapse. Leaving only places like the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, John McCain’s website and the dependably neocon opinion journals to support a presidency damaged beyond repair.

But there are almost two years of this presidency for us to survive and a cornered Bush who feels he is not sufficiently respected can be dangerous.  It is time for serious Republican leaders –  especially those in the Senate – to help rein in this train wreck of a  Presidency before it goes completely off the track.

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Iraq and Imus: The Press Chooses

Posted April 11, 2007 on 2:22 pm | In the category Iraq, Press | by John

The surge does not appear to be working. It’s still early, but the latest development is that al-Sadr has essentially declared war on the US. 10s of thousands march “peaceably” to protest the US’s continued presence, and US military spokesmen say we invaded to establish a democracy [oh?] and the Shia demonstration is democratic so we all deserve a clap on the back – all that’s some spin. But the important development is that al-Satyr has now asked all Iraqis to stop fighting each other and fight the US presence.

Meanwhile, TV news covers not al-Satyr, but Imus and The Revs. Jackson and Sharpton. The Rev said it best: “We have to make a choice – choose us or Im-us.” Lordy, Lordy.

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A Canadian weekend

Posted April 9, 2007 on 2:11 pm | In the category Canada, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Anyone under the delusion that Canada and the United States are really one very big country in North America, competely dominated by the latter, might have spent this Easter weekend in the larger one, Canada, to gain a more realistic perspective.
It was the last weekend for NHL regular-season hockey and virtually nobody in Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto, or Montreal wasn’t paying attention to the results. (The first three made it into the playoffs, the last two managed to knock each other out.) All of the Canadian teams will be playing against teams housed in US cities, which will, as a whole, be very uninterested (here we can except Detroit) in the next two months of the NHL playoffs while Canadians will have daily entertainment covered on the national tv network, the CBC. US hockey fans will have to turn their aerials to the north.
On Easter Saturday there was a 3-hour wait at the British Columbia-Washington border crossings as many thousand Canadians had their traditional Easter weekend visits to the gorgeous tulip fields of the Skagit Valley in Washington wrecked by the vigilent US defence forces dealing with terrorism. Apparently no terrorists were caught in the lineups, although the photographer on assignment for the Vancouver Province newspaper was convinced to not spend the rest of his day trying to get across the border for his annual tulip-field shot. There are no 3-hour border waits left in Europe – well, truckers entering Serbia or Ukraine claim they suffer such harassments – and it is hard to see what the US gains from convincing its neighbours to spend their money at home.
Then there is the 90th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge in eastern France, where Canadian troops succeeded in overrunning German positions, after Brits and French had failed for years, losing many thousands of soldiers in the attempts. Military buffs are convinced that this operation, in which 3500 Canadian soldiers were killed in one day, is the glue around which the nation was formed. Others point out that the murderous war continued right on nonetheless.
On Easter Sunday, six Canadian soldiers were killed in the murderous fields around Kandahar, Aghanistan, where 2,500 of the 11,500 soldiers deployed are Canadian while most NATO countries continue to refuse to send their troops – apparently individual German soldiers can refuse to take part in operations they object to on ethical grounds. And on Easter Monday, the leaders of Canada, France and Great Britain gathered at the spectacular Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the battle. There, on soil deeded to Canada by France, the Queen of England, who is also still the Queen of Canada, demonstrated more power in her 80th year than the rest of her family combined will be able to do when the question of succession in Canada arrives. The Prime Minister of France was best-dressed and had the best hairdo while the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, a supposed lightweight who is beginning to punch above his weight, profited from his natural informality and the presence of his very pleasant family, whom most Canadians, to their approval, had never seen before. Back in Ottawa, the Governor-General, the Queen’s representative in Canada and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, presided over ceremonies at the War Memorial. Dressed in a long white coat and black fur hat to fend off a winter still hanging around in eastern Canada, Michelle Jean, the very attractive young black bilingual immigrant from Haiti who is now the Governor-General, would have caught the immediate attention of even the Prime Minister of France. Just a month ago she was in Kandahar, she noted, and in battle dress. It’s not the image the world – not to mention the United States – has of Canada, but they have simply failed to note the dramatic changes taking place in the world’s second-largest country, something most Canadians are not unhappy about. As the world’s second-largest source of both oil and water, Canadians are watching that southern border even more suspiciously than do the border guards wasting their (and out time) at Blaine, Washington.

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