Archive for December, 2011

Dreaming of a White Sea Christmas

December 27, 2011

This is surely one of those many mere coincidences that add a slightly piquant flavor to the humdrum taste of daily life, but Lunghu is intrigued to note that …

A Defense Ministry spokesman said on Monday that Col. Gen. Alexander Shlyakhturov has retired as chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces (GRU), which he has led since April 2009.
Earlier on Monday, government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta denied an unattributed December 24 report by the Kommersant [business] daily that Shlyakhturov had left his post.  Kommersant said in its report that Shlyakhturov would in the near future head the board of directors of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT), the developer of the Bulava ballistic missile and other strategic missile systems.

Major-General Igor Sergun has been appointed chief of the Main Investigation Department (GRU) of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, a spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry told Itar-Tass.

Denied on Saturday, confirmed on Monday:  sometimes the message takes a little while to trickle downhill to the guys in the trenches.  Now, let’s all remember that chronological precedence is no more equivalent to causation than is correlation … but Lunghu thinks it’s only proper to observe that Colonel-General Shlyakhturov ‘s next assignment as virtual CEO of the Russian effort to develop and perfect its submarine-launched Bulava ICBM will surely be more difficult without detailed technical intelligence concerning counter-missile capabilities of NATO’s Patriot interceptor system.  Certainly, it would have been helpful to have on hand a few dozen samples of the Patriot missile for testing, evaluation and reverse-engineering.

Ah, well … there’s always next time.  That’s more than one could say in Comrade Stalin’s day.

Sweet Sixteenth

December 26, 2011

Ten days ago, the stars and planets aligned in a configuration that was simultaneously auspicious (for some) and inauspicious (for others) in the Eastern Hemisphere.  First, the good news:  December 16th was the 413th anniversary of the heroic death of Korea’s Admiral Yi Soon-shin, slain by musket fire at Noryang while defending his nation from Japanese invaders.   Commemorative rites were held –as they have been for the last 412 years–  at Admiral Yi’s shrine in South Gyeongsong Province.

"Those who wish to die will live ... those who wish to live will die."

That same day, Korea’s first icebreaker sailed from Christchurch harbor in New Zealand en route to resupply a ROK research station in Antarctica.  The vessel MV Araon had been commissioned a few weeks previously, and the trip to the Southern Ocean was its maiden voyage.

Now the bad news:

The Russian fishing vessel Sparta, with 32 crew on board, hit underwater ice on December 16 that tore a 1-foot hole in its hull and caused it to list at 13 degrees.  [Since that time] the crew, made up of 15 Russians, 16 Indonesians and one Ukrainian … has been desperately pumping out near-frozen sea water while awaiting rescue on the edge of the Antarctic ice shelf about 2,200 miles southeast of New Zealand.

Finally, some Christmas cheer:

Search and rescue coordinator Mike Roberts said the South Korean polar research vessel Araon [has arrived] alongside Sparta and is transferring fuel to it to change its trim so the bow rises clear of the sea, exposing the damaged area of hull.  Crew from both ships will attempt to weld a “doubler plate” over the hole –one external and a second inside.  Weather in the area was calm, which should help the repair operation, Roberts said.

Let’s hope all goes well.   When the government of the Russian Federation formally expresses its gratitude for the assistance provided by the Republic of Korea, perhaps Admiral Yoon Jong-gu –or his son– will be on hand to dutifully accept the official commendation from the Prime Minister himself.   Lunghu’s looking forward to it!

Wortspiele

December 23, 2011

Lost in translation.  That’s the latest incremental improvement in NATO’s Thor Liberty  cover  story.  Cargo manifests were not jocularly falsified by describing Patriot missiles as fireworks.  Instead, according to Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation

… this was a linguistic misunderstanding involving the words “rocket” and “missile.”   “There was no attempt in the documents to mislead in any way”, says Detective Superintendent Timo Virtanen.

all the way to Kotka ... in a storm ... for anchor chains. Riiiiight.

A bit of research with a certain well-known internet machine translation engine will lend the barest modicum of plausibility to this claim.  Rakete [De] –> raketti [Fi] –> rocket [En].   Flugkörper [De] –> ohjus [Fi] –> missile [En].  If, in Finland, raketti is the term commonly used in colloquial vernacular to describe the harmless diversions which provide colorful starbursts over Helsinki harbor on national holidays, it’s all good.  Otherwise, it’s a bit of a stretch.

It’s also possible that the Finns are indulging in some wordplay of their own.  Finnish contains another word that translates into the English term ‘rocket’ –haukkumiset. However, this is more of a verbal rocket (in the British sense):  it primarily means a scolding/ invective/ tongue-lashing/ telling-off/ going-over/ or roasting.  If you catch my drift.

Don’t piss off those Finns!   It’s going to be a long, dark winter.

O Tannenbomb, O Tannenbomb

December 22, 2011

As spur-of-the-moment cover stories go, it’s just barely plausible.  Just barely.  Those Patriot missiles enroute to the Far East?  A completely normal government-to-government transaction  –so says the Bundeswehr, at least:

A spokesman for Germany’s Defense Ministry said the missiles were an official shipment that was fully declared and had all necessary clearances from German authorities.
“Those Patriot guided missiles are from the Bundeswehr’s stocks and have been shipped to South Korea” according to an intergovernmental treaty, he said, declining to be named in line with government policy.   He said no explosives were part of the [German] shipment and he didn’t have any information on that part of the impounded cargo.

credit: Sam Yeh

Finland isn’t so sure:

Detective Superintendent Timo Virtanen said the ship’s captain and first mate were detained.  “The missiles did not have the appropriate transit papers,” Virtanen said. “We are questioning all the other 11 crew members who are also Ukrainians.”
Klaus Kaartinen, spokesman for the National Bureau of Investigation, said Finnish police and customs would continue their investigation. “Even if the missile cargo is a legitimate shipment, from a Finnish point of view the law has probably been broken because it was not properly declared,” Kaartinen said. “Also, the explosives were stored improperly.”

Markku Koskinen, the director of traffic operations at the port of Kotka, said “Otherwise, the shipment of explosives was legitimate and can continue on its way to China as soon as it’s safely packed.”

Nothing to see here.  Move along.  Now, Lunghu can understand why ROK might suddenly want to have a few extra anti-missile missiles on hand: after all, who knows what Kim Jong-Eun‘s idea of New Year’s fun might be.  And although the Germans are usually sticklers for following proper procedures and having all their ausweis in order, perhaps a sense of urgency was in the air and everyone involved took a few shortcuts as far as transit permits and customs declarations were concerned.

Still, Lunghu finds it rather curious that the Russian media, normally so intensely concerned about NATO’s anti-missile plans, hasn’t even bothered to cover the mini-drama unfolding just across the Baltic border to their west.  Perhaps they’ve been awaiting guidance from Novo-Ogarevo.

Refuge at Last

December 22, 2011

Pity the poor Finns!  They haven’t even (officially) managed to get to the bottom of the 2009 M/V Arctic Sea saga, and now someone has dropped another boatload of missiles into their laps  –this time, American ones.

The Finnish authorities have impounded an Isle of Man-flagged ship bound for China with undeclared missiles and explosives, officials say.  Routine checks by Finland’s traffic safety authority revealed a load of up to 160 tons of improperly packed nitroguanidine, a low-sensitivity explosive with a high detonation speed.   Police are questioning the crew of the MS Thor Liberty after what were described as 69 Patriot anti-missile missiles were found in containers marked “fireworks”.

Fireworks enroute to China:   it’s like carrying coals to Newcastle all over again.

credit: L K Gilbert

 

BBC News accompanied their online story with an archive photo showing a Patriot missile launcher deployed at a Greek air force base. Are they hinting at something that no one’s willing to actually say quite yet?  Like maybe the bankrupt Greeks are paying off debts by selling high-tech NATO weaponry to Russia and China?

AP via BBC

 

Lunghu thinks that the ostensible destination of this shipment –Shanghai– is quite a clever touch:  it’s almost enough to make him believe that Comrade Bear is behind the whole thing, seeking to torque up tension between China and the United States, embarrass the Obama administration in an election year, and sow seeds of mistrust within NATO.  Too complicated?  Maybe.

Mind you, there’s no reason that an enterprising Chinese missile entrepreneur wouldn’t like to have a few dozen Patriot missiles in stock … just to round out his inventory.

Return Bout

Meanwhile, Lunghu is sure this is just a coincidence:

Judge Shira Scheindlin interviewed a juror from [last month’s] trial of Viktor Bout at a brief hearing Wednesday. The juror said she had seen the film “Lord of War” before the trial began … [but] didn’t realize until after the trial was over that the movie pertained to Bout.  Judge Scheindlin [then] rejected requests by Bout’s lawyers that she rule the juror acted inappropriately in convicting him.

 

TIZ the Season

December 18, 2011

In the nominally Christian continents of Europe and the Americas, it’s officially supposed to be the season of benevolence, bonhomie, and general good cheer.   In the judicial system of the United States, it’s (unofficially) customary to defer the sentencing of a certain class of convicted criminals until after the New Year so that the newly-minted felons can enjoy(?) one last holiday as freemasons men.  Why, even convicted terror supporter Viktor Bout has had his sentencing deferred until early February.

Former Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd and former Freddie Mac CEO Richard Syron have been handed a Christmas gift of a slightly different sort: the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have charged them with civil fraud [rather than criminal charges] for their material misrepresentations of Fannie and Freddie’s subprime mortgage risk exposure in the previous decade.

patriotism: last refuge of a scoundrel

  • Fannie Mae told investors in 2007 that it had roughly $4.8 billion worth of subprime loans on its books, or just 0.2 percent of its portfolio.  That same year, Mudd told two congressional panels that Fannie’s subprime loans represented didn’t exceed 2.5 percent of its business.  The SEC says Fannie actually had about $43 billion worth of products targeted to borrowers with weak credit, or 11 percent of its holdings.
  • Freddie Mac told investors in late 2006 that it held between $2 billion and $6 billion of subprime mortgages on its books.  And Syron, in a 2007 speech, said Freddie had “basically no subprime exposure,” according to the suit.  The SEC says its holdings were actually closer to $141 billion, or 10 percent of its portfolio in 2006, and $244 billion, or 14 percent, by 2008.   Syron also authorized particularly risky mortgages for borrowers without proof of income or assets [aka ‘liar loans’] as early as 2004, the suit alleges, “despite contrary advice” from Freddie’s credit-risk experts. He rejected their advice.

The feds usually don’t go to trial unless they think they have the proverbial open-and-shut case, and in a civil process the plaintiff’s burden of proof is only ‘preponderance of the evidence’ rather than the standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that must be satisfied in a criminal trial.  However, the real take-home lesson to be drawn from the SEC’s announcement is that Barack Obama needs some mortgage-crisis fall guys in his reelection year, and Messers. Syron, Mudd et al. fit the bill all too perfectly.  Unfortunately, these members of the mystic brotherhood really don’t face much worse than a vigorous wrist-slapping, because …

Based on the outcomes of similar cases, the lawsuit might not yield much in penalties against the former executives.  Fines against executives charged in SEC civil cases can reach up to $150,000 per violation.  SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro has asked Congress to raise the limit to $1 million [Lunghu would be astounded if Republicans actually oblige her].

Robert Mintz, a white-collar defense attorney says he doubts any top Wall Street executives will face criminal charges for actions that hastened the financial crisis, given how much time has passed.

  • Mudd was paid more than $10 million in salary and bonuses in 2007, according to company statements. He was fired from Fannie after the government took over. He’s now the chief executive of the New York hedge fund Fortress Investment Group.
  • Syron made more than $18 million in 2007, according to company statements.  His compensation increased $4 million from 2006 because of bonuses he received —-part of them for encouraging risky subprime lending, according to company filings.  Syron resigned from Freddie in 2008. He’s now an adjunct professor and trustee at Boston College.

Yep, justice delayed is definitely justice denied.  Just ask the people of Paris (well, some of them):

On Thursday, a French court found former French president Jacques Chirac guilty of misusing public funds and abusing public confidence when he served as mayor of Paris in the 1990s.  Chirac received a two-year suspended sentence.  It is the first time a former French head of state has been convicted since Marshal Philippe Petain, leader of France’s wartime Vichy regime, was found guilty of collaborating with the Nazis.

Chirac enjoyed immunity from prosecution when he served as member of the National Assembly and President, but those patient, pesky French magistrates just waited him out of office.  Anglophone Africa was watching and taking note:

Commenting on Chirac’s conviction, Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) executive director Goodwell Lungu [No relation to your humble correspondent.  Really!] said that leaving office peacefully does not nullify a former leader’s misdeeds.
“We feel that it sends the right signal at the right time.  In the Zambian scenario, the former leadership, especially MMD –particularly Mr. Rupiah Banda– should be able to learn that whatever wrong he might have done to this country and no matter how long [he evades justice], time might catch up with him,” Lungu said.
“This is why we continue calling on former and current leaders to live exemplary lives.  And if they [betray the public trust] and the law catches up with them, they should not [claim] that they are being persecuted.  It simply means that their own past behavior is both catching up with them and persecuting them; so they should face reality,” said Lungu.

“It’s a very good lesson what has happened and the local leadership, both the current leaders, the PF and in particular the MMD leadership should seriously reflect on that.”

That’s tellin’ it like it TIZ.   If only Lunghu could be as hopeful about the United States ‘justice’ system.

The Price of Progress

December 16, 2011

How much is a half-hearted political ‘endorsement’ worth?  If it’s a week after Russian Duma elections and you’re Vladimir Putin, the answer is … one nuclear submarine and a southbound Gazprom pipeline full of LNG:

  • Russia will significantly boost supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to India in 2016, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday.   India’s gas consumption is projected to increase 70 percent by 2020.
  • Russia will lease its Nerpa nuclear submarine to India by the end of the year, the head of Russia’s federal agency in charge of military and technical cooperation, Mikhail Dmitriyev, said on Friday. … Friday’s announcement on the submarine lease came during a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Russia.  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met with Singh earlier in the day.

 

  • Russia’s president will visit India in 2012, the two countries confirmed in their joint statement on further improvement of the Russia-India strategic partnership. Traditionally, leaders visit each other in one year’s time, thus a visit of Russia’s leader to New Delhi is due in 2012. It is also traditional that exchange visits happen in December.  Dmitry Medvedev will leave office in May of 2012, thus Russia’s new president [wonder who?] will go to India.

 

 

  • Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday wished his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin success in the March 4 presidential elections. “Let me congratulate the people of Russia on the successful State Duma elections and the victory of United Russia.”

 

credit: Alexei N.

 

Hmmmm.  Sounds to Lunghu as though the sales commission payments will be delivered in India, in person … next year.

But wait!  It gets better.

Foreign travel is always more enjoyable when accompanied by an old friend:

Alexei Kudrin, who was dismissed by President Dmitry Medvedev as finance minister, will be offered a post in the new government, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
“Kudrin has never left my team. He is my long-standing comrade, a close friend,” Putin said during a televised Q&A session.  He praised Kudrin for his ability to “think globally, strategically” and for being “a visionary.”

Lunghu’s translation, courtesy of Comrade Bear himself:  “Tovarich Alexei, there is no such thing as a former Chekist.”

WHAT did he just say?!?

Kudrin showed himself to be as cagy as ever:

“I would leave this question open because I would like Putin to propose some new approaches,” he said.

Lunghu’s translation, American-style:  “What’s in it for me?

Sounds like the continuation of a beautiful friendship.

 

Yes Wukan

December 15, 2011

The bourgeois capitalist running-dog media machine has received its latest orders and is faithfully slavishly carrying them out: three major Western wire services have featured the story of intensifying Wukan (Guangdong) peasant “unrest.”   In case you haven’t been following the story (and really, who has?  Chinese peasants have been mistreated for at least the last three thousand years:  at some point it ceases to become news), the good villagers of Wukan are angry that corrupt municipal officials …

… sold [communal] farmland to developers without their consent.  Rural land in China is mostly owned in name by village collectives, but in fact officials can mandate its seizure for development in return for compensation, which residents often say is inadequate and does not reflect the profits reaped.

Residents have been complaining since September, but resentment turned to rage when …

Xue Jinbo … who was detained on suspicion of helping organize protests against land seizures, died in police custody. Family members and supporters suspected he was beaten. Chinese media reported that local police and provincial authorities said Xue died of cardiac failure.  Relatives who have seen Xue’s body say it showed signs of torture.

Things haven’t been getting any better:

 [Last week] police entered the village and took away several key [peasant] representatives and when police tried to come back the next day, villagers blockaded the roads with tree trunks and barriers to prevent them from entering.  Police [then] fired tear gas and water cannons at the villagers, who had armed themselves with sticks, clubs, hoes and other farming tools.

In situations like these, the Chinese peasant’s traditional recourse is to appeal to the emperor:

 “We have no justice. Our land has been taken away and villagers are arrested and beaten to death. The people here are furious, but we have to remain calm. Only the central government can rescue us from corrupt officials,” [said a villager].
“The whole village is distraught and enraged. We want the central government to come in and restore justice,” said one resident who described the scene.
“We won’t be satisfied until there is a full investigation and redress for Xue Jinbo’s death,” said another resident.

photo credit: Song Jiang

Huang Hancan, a Wukan fisherman with the unenviable designation of  “one of the village’s representatives in the land dispute,” was not impressed by district-level officials’ promises to investigate municipal officials for wrongdoing and impose a temporary freeze on the farmland development project:

“It’s all a pretense. That’s only a small part of the problem.  The bigger problem is that we want to get our land back. We want to re-elect our village officials because the current corrupt officials were not elected … and we want those [who have been] detained to be released,” Huang said.

Lunghu finds it remarkable that the political climate in China is almost the mirror image of that in the United States:  Chinese peasants believe that local officials are corrupt but that the national leaders actually “serve the people.”   Here in the United States, the rustics generally believe that their local officials are honest, but that our federal representatives are wholly-owned by wealthy corporate interests.  Lunghu concludes that both sets of citizens are hopelessly deluded.

This sounds like a job for … the avenging Heroes of Liangshan Marsh!

Nice Work If U Can Get It

December 10, 2011

For those (few) readers expecting some kind of discussion here about Russia’s recent elections, Lunghu has this to say:  “Elections? What elections?”   If you catch my drift…

Instead, Lunghu is going to continue his occasional long-range surveillance of the Korean peninsula by commenting on the activities last week of three leading personalities in the Grand National Party:  the President, the Prime Minister and the (former) party chairman.  Once again, thanks to Yonhap for pictures that tell most of the story.

President Lee Myung-bak: a President you’d actually trust with your kids.  He might bore them to tears, but they’ll come to no harm.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik: he has to do all the dirty work, like ensuring parliamentary passage of an unpopular Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and publicly performing CPR on a repulsive plastic dummy at Seoul Fire Department headquarters.  Lunghu is gonna guess that the finger position being demonstrated by one of Seoul’s Bravest might be a silent response to sexist catcalls from the journalists and photographers in attendance.  Korean men aren’t exactly known for their enlightened attitudes toward women.

Representative Hong Jun-pyo:  he’s going to have to go back to his day job as South Gyeongsang factional arm-twister in the National Assembly.

The embattled chief of the ruling Grand National Party resigned Friday, yielding to mounting pressure from reformist members seeking desperately to reshape the beleaguered party ahead of next year’s general elections.  The resignation came two days after three top GNP leaders quit en masse in a political coup that underscored concerns among reform-minded members that the party won’t be able to regain public confidence under Hong and will suffer crushing defeats in April’s parliamentary elections.

In its article covering the story, Yonhap News Service appears to have mixed a bit of editorializing in with its journalism:

Rep. Hong Jun-pyo’s departure is sure to add pressure on the GNP’s leading presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye to step forward and help salvage the unpopular party … [She is] an unrivaled presidential front-runner in the [GNP].   If Park is to take over as GNP leader, the party should revise its charter that bans presidential hopefuls from serving in a leadership post one and a half years before the vote.

“Unrivaled frontrunner”?  “Should revise its charter”?  Lunghu thinks that Yonhap has its money on the mare in next year’s horserace.  That leaves open the question of who will bet on the proverbial bobtail nag.  We’ll see …