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4 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Hey, Kids! Let’s Play Hide the WMD!

Back when I was in graduate school, Chernobyl happened.  Being graduate students, we responded to this tragedy in the only way we knew how:  we threw a party.  We covered the walls with aluminum foil, replaced all the light bulbs with flashing red lights, and renamed the keg the cooling tower.  We had so many people there, that the floor almost collapsed and the heat generated by the foiled-up walls caused the air conditioning unit for the entire building to fail.

That was the last time I remember connecting nuclear power to dancing.  Until now.  If you’ve been watching the conventions, you’ve seen this commercial:

You may not have noticed it, given the awesome animation and Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” playing in the background, but if you pause at 0:09, you’ll notice a couple of words down in the lower right hand corner:


So that’s where Saddam put it!  Canada!

And what is up with this ad?  Funkytown?  The happy shiny strip mining?  And the apparent argument that we should have nukes so that people can play Dance Dance Revolution in Shanghai?

So the ad is at least two years old.  The first version was in French.

{{PAGENAME}}You wouldn’t know it from the commercial, but after a check of The Googles, I found out that Areva is “a French public multinational industrial conglomerate that is mainly known for nuclear power.”


Did I mention that the company also manages those yellow cake mines in Niger?  More happy shiny strip mining!

That means Areva played a role, albeit indirectly, in the whole Valerie Plame scandal.  And the Iraq war.  And, of course, the lies of the Bush Administration to justify both the war and the Plame leak.

Now that’s some serious funk.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:00 pm

Controlympics: Schadenfreude Medals (#4 of 4)

We’re taking one last look back at the most discussed — and controversial — Olympics since Berlin 1936. Previously, we looked at the winners, the losers, and winners who in fact lost.

Now it’s time for the medal winners in the schadenfreude competition.  These are the top three moments where an individual or country did something bad that made people feel good.

Bronze:  The French 4×100 men’s freestyle relay team. Before the race, the French team trash-talked, suggesting they would crush an American team that included Michael Phelps.  After 350m, the French had nearly a body length lead and Alain Bernard, the world-record holder in the 100m freestyle, in the pool.  And Jason Lezak somehow caught him.  After the race, the French looked like they had been hit by a truck.

Silver:  American swimmer Amanda Beard. After posing nude for a PETA protest against the Chinese export of fur, Beard failed to make the finals in any of her races.  And along the way, 41-year-old Dara Torres took away her title as America’s hottest swimmer.

Gold:  former Cuban President Fidel Castro. When the Cuban Olympic team did not meet expectations — and a Cuban taekwondo athlete kicked a refugee referee in the face after being disqualified from a bronze medal match — Castro managed to blame corporate interests, the mafia, European chavinism, dirty referees (including the one who got kicked in the face), the United States — basically everyone already on his enemies list.  He also preemptively attacked officials at the 2012 games, in the apparent assumption that Cuba would not perform well there either.

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7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 am

Five to Watch: The Rest of the World

Between the U.S. Presidential election and the Beijing Olympics, there isn’t much space on the Intertubes or the cabletubes for other stories.  And I understand that The Washington Postdated is running a five-part series on McCain’s wacky aunt, so they’re not going to be much help either.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world has taken a break.  Here are five stories worth watching in the coming weeks:

1.  Bolivia.  This Sunday, voters will go to the polls to decide whether to recall Bolivian President Evo Morales (an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez), the Vice President, and nine provincial governors — many of whom are Morales critics.  Originally envisioned as a way to end the political impasse between Morales and his opponents, the vote instead has exacerbated tensions, and could strengthen separatist sentiment in four provinces.  In the lead-up to the vote, Chavez and Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner had to cancel a planned meeting with Morales as a result of the unrest, and Morales had to relocate planned independence celebrations to La Paz from the opposition-controlled Sucre after opposition supporters blockaded the airport.

2.  Rwanda-France. On Tuesday, Rwanda issued a report formally accusing French government officials of complicity in the 1994 genocide.  Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who has steered Rwanda away from the francophone bloc and towards a closer relationship with the United States, cut ties with the French government back in 2006 as a result of a French judge’s efforts to have him charged for allegedly playing a role in the death of President Habyarimana — an event that either triggered the genocide or was used as an excuse for its genesis.  Two separate issues appear to be at play here:  questions about French complicity, which may have included training of and advice to the pre-genocide army, and the role of Kagame’s RPF movement, which human rights groups say is responsible for war crimes (albeit not genocide).

3.  Mauritania. On Wednesday, a group of Army officers seized power from the first-ever democratically elected government in Mauritania.  The coup took place after Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi attempted to fire four senior military officers — who instead led the coup.  The President and Prime Minister are both under house arrest, and while the new leaders have promised new elections, a history of coups and military rule make such an outcome unlikely.  The recent discovery of significant oil reserves further complicates matters.

4.  Iraq. Think everything in Iraq is peachy?  Think again.  The Parliament recessed on Wednesday without passing an essential provincial elections bill, hampering further efforts at reconciliation dependent on the vote’s outcome.  The sticking point is Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to annex but other factions want to keep separate.  Once again, oil is playing a role — Kirkuk has lots of it.  Perhaps the worst news is that the Iraqis decided the best course of action at this point is  to appoint yet another commission to study the matter while the rest of the Council of Representatives went on vacation.

5.  Pakistan. Perhaps the biggest mess in the world today, Pakistan continues to find new ways to destabilize itself.  As a result of the secret police’s (and perhaps the military’s) role in the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, U.S.-Pakistani relations are the worst they’ve ever been.  The military’s accomodation of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province hasn’t helped much either.  Meanwhile, Parliament is debating whether to impeach President Pervez Musharaf at the very moment that Musharaf has headed to Beijing for the Olympics.  With no one apparently in charge and the ISI and military facing increasing calls for reform, another coup is a real possibility.  This time, however, the generals are unlikely to continue to pursue policies favorable to American interests.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

30 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:56 pm

Thabo Mbeki Is So Bad….

…that he’s starting to make George W. Bush look good in comparison.  At least on Sudan.  From Reuters:

South Africa and Libya, backed by Russia and China, want to include a paragraph halting any ICC moves in a resolution to extend the mandate of a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which expires on Thursday.

But the United States, France and other Western countries made it clear that they wanted to keep two issues separate. As a result, The council failed to reach any agreement.

“We have a division in the council at this point,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters. He said there was no point in linking the UNAMID mandate to any possible future indictments by the ICC.

First the ChiComs, now the Americans.  If The Mbekster were a college student, he’d be hired by dorks to hang out with them so that they could look cool in comparison.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:45 pm

Obama, Berlin, & Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

Best one-liner on Obama’s trip last week:

There were so many Germans screaming, France surrendered, just in case.

–Craig Ferguson, The Late Late Show, CBS, July 24, 2008.


Hat tip:  Undip reader Greg

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6 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:30 am

Incredibly Bad Idea of the Day

Jim Hoagland wants to “blow up” the G-8 and replace it with a G-3:

Predictable suggestions that this body be expanded to a G-13 or a G-20 go in the absolute wrong direction. More expansion will destroy any opportunity for informal, effective consultation by world leaders. They will be talking for the press releases, not for each other. Such proposals should be put forward only as cover for a more sensible proposition: The United States, the European Union and Japan should quietly form a G-3 that would operate in the shadows of the much larger talk shop.

Oh boy would that be a good idea incredibly stupid thing to do:  alienate everybody except Japan, the one country without the capacity to help us militarily.

The French, Brits, and Germans would be angry because their three votes would be reduced to one, not to mention the fact that the EU would be represented by whichever country happens to hold the Presidency  (right now, that would be France, but come January it would be the Czech Republic, whose economy currently ranks somewhere between 31st and 40th largest, depending on your source).

The Russians, who already disdain us (as we do them), would get even madder.

The Chinese, Spanish, Brazilians, Indians, and Koreans would have brand new reasons to be annoyed with the arrogance of our foreign policy.

The Canadians and Italians would be upset at being kicked out of the one club where they are somewhat relevant.  And of course, we would look like the big bully once again.

I’m no fan of the G-8.  I think it’s the wrong grouping for the wrong reasons.  I agree with Hoagland that it’s not a very useful construct.  Every two years these (mostly) guys get together and set out an ambitious agenda on a given problem or set of problems, which they then trumpet as a breakthrough.  Two years ago, it was Africa, debt, and development (thanks largely to Bono and Blair).  This time, it’s (again) climate change and the rapid rise in commodity prices.  But if the past is prologue, they’ll negotiate until the last minute, issue a communique, and then… go home.  Little else ever comes of these “breakthroughs.”  And that doesn’t even get to the fact that the host country has to establish a miniature police state to make the event happen.

Part of the problem, as Hoagland notes, is that the G-8 really doesn’t have a clear definition of membership.  That is in part a consequence of the dumb decision to admit Russia in the post-Cold-War-end-of-history euphoria of the 1990s (I would not be the first to call this one of Clinton’s dumber ideas).  But it also is a product of the fact that the G-8 (with that one exception) has remained a static body while the world has changed.

So what is the G-8?  To put it in Jim Collins’ Good to Great terms, what is its hedgehog concept?  Is it a gathering of the world’s largest economies?  If so, what’s Russia doing there?  Is it the world’s largest democratic economies?  Again, Russia disproves that.  Furthermore, Spain (which by some (but not all) accounts has surpassed Canada in terms of nominal GDP), India, and Korea have just as much right to a place at the table as the Canadians.

I also have a hard time understanding why China is excluded when Russia remains at the table.  It’s either the world’s biggest economies or it’s the world’s biggest democratic economies.  Right now it’s a ridiculous hybrid.

Instead of maintaining the status quo or arbitrarily growing the club to include/exclude certain countries, why not draw a line that gives countries aspiring to membership a clearly delineated criteria for membership?  From now on, The G-xx will include

  1. only those economies whose annual GDP is equal to US$1 million or greater;
  2. only those democratic economies whose annual GDP is equal to US$1 million or greater; or
  3. some other equally arbitrary criteria that is clear to outsiders.

Doing this might create incentives for economic growth and perhaps even democratic governance.

Of course, the problem is deciding whose standard to use.  If we were to use the first criteria listed above, would the membership be ten (using World Bank numbers) or twelve (using those of the IMF)?  That explains one of the real reasons the group hasn’t changed:  everyone is terrified of making somebody else angry.

I recognize none of what I’m proposing is new:  as Hoagland notes, there are numerous proposals to expand the group to a G-13 and even a G-20.  But instead of coming up with a bad idea to fill a column, let’s acknowledge the truth of the matter:  the time has come to revise G-8’s mission statement or abolish it altogether.

Of course, the chances of this happening are almost infinitesimal — if it takes these guys months to negotiate a statement on debt relief, imagine how long this project would take?

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