Archive for February, 2012

Vee is for Viktor

February 25, 2012

Perhaps it was the grudging recognition that Defenders of the Fatherland are to be honored once a year  –on February 23rd.  Perhaps it was a minor twinge of judicial conscience.  Or maybe something else.  Whatever the reason …

Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered [Viktor Bout] to be moved from solitary confinement to a prison’s general population Friday, an unusual move in a courthouse where judges usually leave those decisions to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.  She rejected arguments by the government that Bout [as a convicted terrorism conspirator] was a danger within the prison: “This case differs significantly from a standard terrorism case,” the judge wrote.  Scheindlin observed that Bout was approached by government agents posing as members of a terrorist organization and there was no evidence at trial that Bout had any connection to terrorists.

She also dismissed claims by the government that Bout could acquire vast resources to escape or harm people, saying the claims were “simply not supported by any evidence.”  Scheindlin also noted there was no evidence that Bout engaged in violent acts or was more than a businessman engaged in arms trafficking.

Gee, what with all this lack of actual evidence, chances of a successful appeal might be looking pretty good.  But before any appeal, first there must be a sentencing.  March 12th … until otherwise noted.  And then the federal Bureau of Prisons will no longer be bound by the judge’s orders.  Should be interesting.



Comrade Eleven

February 20, 2012

Hu was it that advised statesmen to speak softly and carry a big stick?  ‘Twas the self-styled Bull Moose of Oyster Bay, that’s hu.  In that spirit, Vice President Xi Jinping has been carefully, quietly visiting both the high and the low in the United States and in Ireland.  Xi greets the elite behind closed doors and meets the rural masses in the full light of glorious day, with press cameras clicking furiously away and journalists earnestly recording the reactions of the peasantry when they report how nice and down-to-earth he is.   Some if it –all of it– may even be true.

All week in Sixmilebridge, the talk has been that ’11’ (after the Roman numbers XI) was coming.

James Lynch Sr gave his intensely interested visitor a matter-of-fact account of his 215-acre farm in Cappagh, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, which supports a herd of 120 pedigree Friesian cows and a smaller number of beef cattle.  The Chinese leader was clearly interested in the co-operative dimension of Irish agriculture.  Mr Xi said: “I think this form of production and processing is very good, that each farm produces the product and then it is processed on a collective basis; that works well.”

That's the Ag Minister, not the farmer, at left.


As vice-chairman of Dairygold Co-op, [Lynch] went to China in November as part of an Irish agricultural trade mission, traveling to the city of Hothot in inner Mongolia and its dairying hinterland.   “The average farm there is about 10 acres and milks seven cows. The milk yields are about one third of what we get here so he wanted to learn how we operate.”

Dairygold Co-operative Society, which exports €10 million worth of the key ingredients for milk-based infant formula to China, has its roots in the co-operative movement which took hold in Ireland in the 19th century, inspired by Cork-born reformer William Thompson (1775-1833), who also laid some of the ideological foundations for communism.

  • “He was very interested in the quality and protein of the grass. He knew his stuff. He has a background in agriculture and understands it.”
  • “He was very much into lactation and the number of days cows are milking and the production of the cows.”
  • “He was very interested in the milking machine and the technology used and the time it takes to milk the cows.”
  • “He was very interested in the traceability that is involved with ear tags — how long the traceability (along the food chain) stayed with the animal.”
  • “He was very friendly, absolutely fierce nice — a very family-orientated man.”
  • “He was very much at ease with us, chatting with my mother and he even drank an Irish coffee. He came across as a very friendly and modest man and an extremely courteous one.”

Yes, it’s no surprise that VP Xi would be interested in infant formula, food chain traceability and agricultural production technology.  Nor is it surprising that he’s a courteous, affable man.  And it’s always good to remember that he knows how to swing a big stick as well.  When the Chinese take up the sport of hurling, everyone should take notice.

The lad at left has "the football."


Wukan Nam

February 17, 2012

The contagion of Wukan appears to have spread to the south and west, across the border into Vietnam.

Doan Van Vuon,  a college-educated agricultural engineer, spent 18 years and his life’s savings turning 99 acres of coastal swampland near Haiphong into a viable aquaculture farm. His daughter and nephew drowned in the process, but he pushed on and eventually built dykes capable of protecting the coastline from tropical storms.  In Vietnam all land belongs to the state, but sweeping economic reforms in the 1980s led to conditional 20-year land grants to many farmers.  In this case, state-run media have alleged that the family was cheated in 1993 when they were given a lease of only 14 years instead of what should have been 20 years.

[Last week]  when local police arrived in riot gear to evict the Vuon clan, family members were ready with homemade land mines and improvised shotguns. In a guerrilla-style ambush, they wounded six officers.  After the raid, two houses on the family’s land were burned and bulldozed, forcing Vuon’s wife to take shelter under a plastic tarp.
 “Our family was cornered,” she said.  “We put all our efforts and money into our farm, but the authorities evicted us without compensation. It’s very unjust.”

Vietnamese law allows authorities to seize land for national security or defense, economic development or the public interest.  In some cases, that translates into highways or industrial parks that bring jobs to the poor.  But increasingly, it means grabbing fish farms or rice paddies for swanky golf courses and resorts only accessible to the rich.  The area [near Vuon’s farm] was slated to be developed for housing and an international airport.
Vuon and fellow farmer Vu Van Luan filed a lawsuit in 2009 challenging the proposed land seizure. Luan said the court had agreed to let them stay if they dropped the suit. But when they did so, the eviction order went ahead anyway.

Well, in a much smaller nation, the Vietnamese Communist Party just might be much closer to its people than in vast, teeming China.  Even better, the Party quickly learns the lessons of history.  Also, most Vietnamese don’t have the same get-rich-at-all-costs ethos that appears to plague modern day China.   And Hanoi is just around the corner from Haiphong (just ask John McCain).  So the central government recognized an opportunity to reclaim a portion of the legitimacy that may have been lost during the past decade:

Retired generals and a former president have weighed in on Vuon’s behalf.   Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered an investigation, ruling that the eviction was illegal and those who ordered it should be punished. He also encouraged local authorities to renew the family’s land lease. 

The Supreme People’s Court on Wednesday ordered a new trial yesterday in farmer Doan Van Vuon’s suit against the Tien Lang District People’s Committee in the northern city of Haiphong, ruling that the People’s Court there wrongfully dismissed his action in April 2010.  The Supreme People’s Court found that the trial court failed to comply with all required legal procedures or to consult with relevant land management agencies before issuing its judgement. The court also failed to consider the issue of compensation due to Vuon when his land was seized, even if the seizure were deemed lawful.   The People’s Court of Haiphong also failed to facilitate conditions for Vuon and the Tien Lang District People’s Committee to negotiate [for compensation] in accordance with the law.

A representative of the Supreme People’s Procuracy argued in support of Vuon’s appeal and also urged the Haiphong People’s Court to handle the case in accordance with the law.

If the Vietnamese are adopting/adapting the Wukan model for their own purposes, Farmer Vuon will soon be running for local office.  When you’re seeking to recruit the US of A as your ally in standing up to China, it’s always good to demonstrate commitment to democracy and the rule of law.  Unless you’ve got lots of oil or an influential lobby in Washington.

Heigh Ho Silver!

February 16, 2012

Happy Holiday!  If you’re in or around the DPRK, you’ve been enjoying a mid-month holiday today in celebration of the birth of dearly departed Dear Leader –the late, great Kim Jong-Il.

Luminous Comrade Kim Jong-Eun marked the occasion earlier in the week by unveiling a monumental bronze equestrian statue of Pyongyang’s favorite father-and-son combo:  DPRK founder Kim Il-Sung and KJI.  Based on the photograph below, it’s not certain whether the sculptors used stallions or geldings as their mounts.


To Lunghu, this is beginning to look a bit like the sequel to Kim Jee-Woon‘s classic ramen-Western:  “The Good, The Bad, The Weird.


February 12, 2012

Lunghu certainly hopes that his avid readers in Singapore and Malaysia have learned how to take a hint and therefore took the opportunity to wager heavily on the Copper Bullets in the final of Africa’s Cup of Nations.  There’s no reason to confine the celebrations to Lusaka, its environs and hinterland!

credit: Rebecca Blackwell

Lunghu further predicts that round about mid-November, many Zambian newborns will be christened “Stophila” or “Herve” …



February 11, 2012

In the United States, February 11 is (unofficially) National Inventors Day —not exactly a Hallmark Holiday in most segments of American society.  In Russia, however, the spirit of inventiveness is still quite strong (Necessity stubbornly performs her maternal duties there):

Sevmash shipyard will convert the multirole Project 949AM nuclear submarine Belgorod for a “series of special missions,” the navy’s head Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said on Thursday.  Construction of the Belgorod had been suspended since the [accidental] sinking of its sister ship, the Kursk, in 2000.  “Belgorod will be completed as a special project. The boat will have many special tasks ahead of it,” Vysotsky said.

The Russian Navy has several submarines for what it terms “special missions,” but information about them remains classified.

For those of you who need a broader hint about what the Admiral might mean by “special tasks,” consider these remarks from last week:

Russian strategic nuclear submarines will resume routine extended patrols in international waters around the world in June 2012, Russian Navy Commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky said.  “On June 1 or a bit later we will resume constant patrolling of the world’s oceans by strategic nuclear submarines,” Vysotsky said at a meeting with naval personnel on Friday.

credit: Anatoli Zhdanov

So, while Lunghu has noted a sharp drop in the number of sudden, unforeseen breaks in undersea fiber optic cables since the G W Bush administration left office, international telecom carriers (particularly European and American ones) might want to begin budgeting now for repair and replacement of their transoceanic fiber links.  Just sayin’.  AT&T: are you listening?  Of course you are.

Dash Dot Dot Dash


February 9, 2012

Finally, an American media outlet that provides a sane and sober perspective on Iran’s nuclear development program.  Unfortunately, and as usual, it’s The Onion.

Iranian officials said Wednesday they were increasingly concerned about the United States of America’s uranium-enrichment program, fearing the Western nation may soon be capable of producing its 8,500th nuclear weapon. “After all, the United States is a volatile nation that has proven it needs little provocation to attack anyone anywhere in the world whom it perceives to be a threat,” said Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

Iranian intelligence experts also warned of the very real, and very frightening, possibility of the U.S. providing weapons and resources to a rogue third-party state such as Israel.

Sad, sad, sad, but all too true.  Maybe we’d all be better off riding jetskis instead.


Active Shooter

February 9, 2012

Q:  When should you listen to a Russian with a gun?  A:  Almost always.  At the very least, listen.

The Russian Olympic shooting team is suffering because the sport is still run along Soviet lines and needs a “revolution” to save it, two-time European champion double trap shooter Vasily Mosin warned Thursday. “Our driving force, Soviet sport, is quietly starting to slow down,” Mosin said.  “The world’s moving forward in leaps and bounds and we are trying to evolve. We need some revolutionary approaches.  The remarks that we hear from the athletes every time, all these remarks say that a systemic crisis really does exist. .. When I hear the problems that were described today, it’s so sad it brings me to tears,” he said.”

credit: Max Bogodvid

A sentimental Russian with a gun.  Scary.  Are you listening, Comrade Bear?

Meanwhile, further afield …

President Dmitry Mevedev met on Thursday with diplomats from the Russian Foreign Ministry ahead of Russian Diplomat’s Day, celebrated on February 10.

Mevedev said he often hears complaints about ineffective and untimely help from Russian diplomats abroad.  Russian diplomats should resort to more effective measures in protecting the interests of their compatriots in complex situations abroad, the President said.  “It is important to resort to measures concerning the protection of interests and dignity of Russian citizens abroad, particularly of those who under various circumstances, even accidental ones, get into trouble,” Medvedev told the diplomats.

notice the way everyone is avoiding that trapdoor in the middle of the floor?

Ostensibly, Medvedev’s remarks were made in the context of the recent failure of Lanta-Tour, a large Russian tourist agency that went bankrupt, failed to pay  hotel reservations and airline tickets, and left thousands of Russians stranded abroad.  However, maybe Comrade Cub also had something else in mind …

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Thursday,  “The decision of the Federal Court in New York to reject the appeal of Viktor Bout’s lawyers against the guilty verdict raises serious questions about the independence and credibility of the American judicial system.”  “We will continue to demand provision of the normal conditions for the detention of a Russian citizen including the implementation of court’s decisions on revising the detention regime,” Lukashevich added.   The defense had insisted on the absence of direct evidence proving a conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens and officials.  Sentencing is scheduled for March 12.

Lunghu fully appreciates that there’s not much the consul can do once a judicial verdict has been reached.  But in the view of the guy inside, this still counts as ” ineffective and untimely help from Russian diplomats.”   He may still be holding a few hole cards, though …

#1 With a Bullet

February 8, 2012

Whether you call ’em the Copper Bullets or Chipolopolo, the Zambian national football [soccer] team has been mowing down its opponents in the African Cup of Nations and has now reached the finals.

Substitute Emmanuel Mayuka scored 12 minutes from time to give Zambia a shock 1-0 win over four-time champions Ghana Wednesday and a place in the Africa Cup of Nations final.  Mayuka, the only member of the Zambian squad plying his trade in Europe, scored against the run of play with a shot past goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey into the corner of the net on the turn of 78 minutes.

step one ... ... step two ... ...

Zambia now go to Libreville for an emotional showdown with Ivory Coast Sunday: it was off the Gabon coast that a plane carrying the 1993 squad plunged into the Atlantic killing all 25 players and officials on board.

Does the fact that Team Zambia’s uniforms are orange have anything to do with their success?  A prime sponsor of the Cup of Nations is Orange, the French mobile phone operator.  And Zambia’s coach is a Frenchman; Herve Renard (that’s The Fox, en francais).

But perhaps instead it’s just a serendipitous convergence of energy and pride that accompanies the fact that Zambia is one of the few countries in Africa to have recently accomplished a peaceful, democratic transition of power from corrupt incumbents to opposition reformers.  Whatever.  Excitement is mounting, from Lusaka to Mongu, from Solwezi to Chipata:  no matter the outcome, Sunday’s game will be an immense source of joy for the entire nation.  All aboard!


There’s Always Tomorrow

February 7, 2012

The day we’ve all been waiting for has not yet arrived –and it won’t be here tomorrow, either.  That’s because …

A [federal] court in New York has postponed the sentencing of Russian national Viktor Bout, who was found guilty of arms trafficking last November.  The court was to deliver its sentence on February 8, 2012, but the session was postponed as prosecutors failed to give their response to one of the defense team’s two motions.  No details were available on Tuesday.

Lunghu wonders whether certain mitigating factors are being taken into consideration during the course of consultations between Judge Shira Scheindlin and SDNY prosecutors.  Bout’s attorney, Albert Dayan, appears to be lobbying for a lighter sentence:

Lawyer Albert Dayan compares Bout’s “barbarian” incarceration conditions [at MCC] to those of the Count of Monte Cristo, a fictional creation of novelist Alexandre Dumas who spent 14 years in a prison cell.  Dayan says his client … has to spend “days and nights” in solitary confinement and is denied “basic, God-given rights like fresh air and sunshine.”

Actually, Albert, fourteen years would be considerably under the sentencing guidelines for the federal charges on which Bout was convicted.  Good luck with that.

On the brighter side, FCI Fairton gets plenty of sunshine and fresh South Jersey air.  Better than Lewisburg or Allenwood.