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Thursday, January 29, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Farc ‘to free hostages on Sunday’

Senator Piedad Cordoba, who helped negotiate a previous release, said she had been given exact co-ordinates for the location of the planned release.

[...]

She told reporters: “I already have the coordinates, the liberation is under way and the first release will take place on Sunday, and there will be three successive handovers.”

Hopefully this event will flow smoothly. The last time they voluntarily sought to release hostages it was a process of fits and starts, but it did eventually come to fruition.

According to El Tiempo, three members of the police and a soldier will be released, but their names have not been released.

In other FARC-related news, CNN reports a few additional details on that bombing I noted yesterday: FARC rebels blamed for deadly Bogota bombing

The blast occurred around 9 p.m. at a Blockbuster video rental store in an exclusive neighborhood in northern Bogota, causing major damage to the building, most notably the parking lot. Debris was scattered for more than a block, and nearby buildings and cars also were damaged.

Senior presidential aide Fabio Valencia Cossio said 11 pounds of explosives were used, El Espactador newspaper reported.

A female passer-by and the store’s parking lot attendant were killed in the blast, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told the newspaper. Another newspaper, El Tiempo, said the woman was about 25 years old and was carrying notebooks and books, so authorities believe she was a university student.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Cuban leader seeks Russian boost

Mr Castro is to meet Mr Medvedev on Thursday and formal talks between the two sides are scheduled for Friday.

Russia has concrete economic interests in Cuba and a number of business deals are likely to be signed during Mr Castro’s visit.

Russian oil firms are said to be keen to join international firms drilling off the Cuban coast for oil.

But beyond the economic angle, there is an ideological and political tinge to the visit for both sides, says the BBC’s Emilio San Pedro in Washington.

With its increased involvement in Latin America, Russia has been making it known that it too can play in what the US considers its backyard, in the way Washington has been playing in what Moscow considers its back yard – Eastern Europe – for years, our correspondent says.

This is the first such trip by a Cuban leader since the end of the Cold War.

While this event will stir the ghosts of the past in the minds of some, the bottom line is that this is a direct result of US policy towards Cuba. If Washington had figured out some years ago that Cuba was not a threat to the US, but rather was an opportunity, then it might be US oil firms signing contracts to drill off the Cuban coast rather than the Russians. Beyond that, our recalcitrance regarding Cuba has cut off, or limited, other trade opportunities between the US and Cuba. I know, for example, that the poultry industry in Alabama would love to engage in broader trade with Cuba, and indeed the Port of Mobile is perfectly situation as connection point between the US and Cuba (and lobbying to expand such possibilities have gone on for years).

Beyond that, the US has allowed Fidel for years to have a perfect scapegoat to blame for Cuba’s woes: the United States. As such, the policies that have guided Washington vis-à-vis Cuba have not only damaged US trade interests with Cuba, but it has helped prop up Fidel in power and have almost certainly forestalled liberalization in Cuba in post-Cold War period. It is in the interest of the US to reach out to Cuba and to finally move beyond a policy that lost all rationale almost two decade ago.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: BBC NEWS | Business | World growth ‘worst for 60 years’

World economic growth is set to fall to just 0.5% this year, its lowest rate since World War II, warns the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Now, the report does predict a modest recovery in 2010, with a 3% global growth rate. Of course, they predicted a 2.8% growth rate for 2009 just a few months ago, so…

In other cheery news, Global job losses ‘could hit 51m’ (also via the BBC):

As many as 51 million jobs worldwide could be lost this year because of the global economic crisis, says the International Labour Organization(ILO).

The UN agency says that would push up the world’s unemployment rate to 7.1% by the end of 2009, compared with 6.0% in 2008 and 5.7% in 2007.

The ILO’s most optimistic forecast is for 18 million more unemployed, giving a global jobless rate of 6.1%.

It says developing countries will suffer most from additional job losses.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Writes Dee Dee Meyers fop Vanity Fair: Is Obama the Most Famous Living Person Ever?

Barack Obama is the most famous living person in the history of the world.

I’m not trying to induce an acid flashback to John Lennon’s infamous 1966 comment, “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus.” But whether you measure fame in terms of saturation or sheer numbers, it seems indisputable to me that more people know at least something about the new American president than anyone alive, at this point—or any—in the planet’s existence.

Who else could it be? One friend suggest Muhammad Ali, another Princess Diana, and a third said Bill Clinton. Surely all are global brands with enormous reach and broad appeal. But all fall short of the man-meets-the-moment frenzy unleashed by Obama.

This is silly and conflates fame with popularity, as well as missing the most obvious fact of the matter, which is that the President of the United States, whomever he is, is always one of the most, if not the most, famous living person in the world during the time that that person is president. One of the reasons that Bill Clinton is a contender for the title of “most famous” is because he was president for 8 years and his fame has been maintained via his own actions and especially because of his wife’s. Likewise any list made right now in terms of overall fame would have to include George W. Bush. Obama has had added attention because of his race and because of the unpopularity of the outgoing president. Also, because he has Kenyan ancestry and went to school for a time in Indonesian, we get media attention to those countries, but I don’t think that makes him “the most famous living person ever.”

At any moment in time, the President of the United States of America and the Pope (especially a long-serving one) are probably the two most famous people in the world. John Paul II was pretty famous, for example.

I know this is from Vanity Fair, but please, this is, to repeat myself, silly. Indeed, while I largely find all the accusations that the president is being treated as “the One” or “the Obamessiah” to be a bit ridiculous, this piece by Meyers does comes across as on the star-struck side of things.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the LAT: South Korea lawmakers: Reaching across the aisle with a sledgehammer

Lee Jung-hee recalls the precise moment when all hell broke loose — the tie-yanking, headlocks and neck-wringing, the thud of sledgehammers and, ominously, the sickening whine of a chain saw.

The 39-year-old had witnessed plenty of violent protests in her native South Korea, where rowdy demonstrations are a Saturday newscast staple. These combatants, however, weren’t blue-collar workers or student protesters, but dozens of blue-suited national lawmakers.

And they were in South Korea’s august seat of government, the National Assembly.

Apart from the obligatory “C-SPAN would get better ratings if this is how the US Congress behaved” or “who said Question Time in the British parliament was tough?” jokes, there is a legitimate question to be raised about why this kind of thing happens, especially since it has happened before:

Brawling among South Korean politicians is also not new. In 2007, lawmakers battled over a move to impeach then-President Roh. Politicians dived into the crowd like fans in a mosh pit. One was carried out on a stretcher.

In neighboring Taiwan, legislators’ public battles have included wrestling, shoe-throwing, tie-pulling and the hurling of microphones, lunch boxes and books. A politician once tried to eat the draft of new legislation to stop a vote on the issue.

And, of course, there were instances of fisticuffs in the history of the US Congress. The case of the Taiwanese lawmaker who tried to eat the draft bill may be my favorite action in a legislative body of all time.

Some other tidbits of note:

“If I had caught the GNP lawmakers running away, I would have shouted, ‘You bastards!’ ” the petite, bespectacled lawyer said later as she poured tea in her office. “My gesture was symbolic, to mark a moment when the values of democracy and the process of reason had given way to chaos.”

Indeed.

And from the “you can’t make this stuff up” file:

Investigators are still looking into who fired up the chain saw. So far no one has taken responsibility for using it to help break through the door.

Beyond the melee itself there is the politics thereof:

the battle could have political consequences. GNP lawmakers, who hold 172 of the 299 assembly seats, are seeking legislation to punish assembly violence with a mandatory three-year jail sentence, forcing offending politicians to give up their seats.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Here’s a follow-up to a story I noted yesterday.

Via the BBC: Cameron urges new lords sanctions

Conservative leader David Cameron has said his party would change the law to allow peers who “behave badly” to be expelled from the House of Lords.

He told the BBC it was “completely wrong” those who broke the ethics code could not be suspended or expelled.

[...]

Mr Cameron told the BBC: “What is completely wrong is that members of the House of Lords can behave badly, can break every code of ethics in the book and yet they cannot be suspended or expelled from that House of Parliament. So we would change the law.”

The fact that they were Peers from the Labour Party likely helps motivate Cameron’s position. However, he wasn’t alone, as NicK Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats agreed, although he was focused not on ethics code violations, but rather those who broke the law, and even members of the House of Lords are calling for changes:

Labour peer Lady Royall, the leader of the House of Lords, has said she believes tougher sanctions are needed.

In an article for the Guardian newspaper, she said there was a need for change in the rules, including on consultancy work, and tougher sanctions against those who broke them.

She said she would recommend a range of sanctions including the immediate suspension of peers who are under investigation, longer suspensions if cases are proven and the possibility of “permanent exclusions in extreme cases”.

The entire episode strikes me as the kind of thing that could hasten more reform of the House of Lords. Indeed, one does wonder if the time will come when the people of the United Kingdom start to think that they no longer need the chamber at all.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Bomb blast hits Colombian capital

An explosive device was apparently placed in an automatic cash machine inside a Blockbuster video shop.

[...]

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the explosion, and police have cordoned off the area to investigate.

Employees and customers were evacuated from the damaged video shop as the blast caused the partial collapse of the two-storey building.

Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said the explosion was consistent with previous attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), aimed at extorting money from local businesses.

Two people were killed by the blast.

The FARC would be the likely suspect, although forays into urban terrorism have not been too common given the rural nature of the group. The story notes that another Bogotá Blockbuster had been the target of extortion by the group last year. And really, basic criminal motivations were probably what was at work here more than politically motivated terrorism, per se. Although the fact that it was aimed a US-based franchise was probably sufficient justification for whomever did this to rationalize they were doing it for the revolution and not the cash.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

Ok, gentle readers, who would win in a cage deathmatch: Blago’s hair or That Thing on Donald Trumps’s Head?

Discuss.

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By Steven L. Taylor

“I view myself as Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper and I know that’s gonna be met with mockery, but that’s how I see it.” –Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich from Nightline

Well, closer than the great martyrs of modern politics, as these guys were actors at least.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Cowboys’ Terrell Owens gets reality show.

What, he doesn’t aleady?

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