Magellan's Notebook

News and commentary on worldwide events.

I am a rock, I am an island

Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

The person responsible for the uneducated statement, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), is also the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on the Environment. In the interview, Inhofe did not mention he has received $1,352,523 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, including $90,950 from Koch Industries.

The island nations of Kiribati and the Republic of Marshall Islands beg to differ from the senator.

The Associated Press reports, “Kiribati President Anote Tong told The Associated Press on Friday that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. He said the fertile land, being sold by a church group for about $9.6 million, could be insurance for Kiribati’s entire population of 103,000, though he hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave.”

The Republic of Marshall Islands is similarly desperate, hiring private consulting firms to scape a doomsday scenario.

Philly.com reports, “Though it is independent, its defense is ensured by the United States under a Compact of Free Association that permits America to maintain a large naval base on Kwajalein Atoll, and allows Marshallese to freely emigrate to the United States. In recent years, almost 8,000 have moved to Arkansas to work at chicken-processing plants and other jobs.

“A wholesale relocation of Marshallese to the United States would be possible if it became necessary.”

Really, all of the Republic’s sixty-seven thousand citizens should relocate to Oklahoma and vote Sen. Inhofe out of a job.

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Fiction from the Falklands

“‘My status as a Falkland Islander is my greatest accomplishment,’ my grandfather told me.”

I was on a trip to the Government House in Stanley, on a mission on behalf of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service. Penguins riddled the outback, dodging active mines leftover from the war, set by the Argentineans. Twenty-five thousand mines had been left over from the war, and the government begun to remove them only thirty years after the fact. In a perpetually over-warmed Land Rover, I braved winter’s cold. Soon, the R.A.F. base at Mount Pleasant came into sight, and I stopped at an off-road farm for a break. I pulled over, just a few metres short of the door.

Crashed helicopters, unexploded mines, and sunken ships littered the island’s horizon.

“Hello!,” I said in a course voice affected by the change in climate.

“Good to have you here,” replied the farmer in his Falkland accent.

I paused, looking around his archaic  cottage.

For a moment I lacked any words of necessity, so the farmer took the helm of the conversation.

He said he’d be honored to host me, perhaps because he had seen the diplomatic license plate. I had yet to be acquainted with the true will and intentions of the natives, but their loyalty confided in me a sense of trust and belief.

He left me in the foyer as he walked to an expansive window overlooking Choiseul Sound. The farmer pulled a wool cloth over wooden coffee table, and set tea. I was obliged to join, excited for a taste of England in the south. A small garden dotted the outside. The plants were dead from frostbite.

He escorted me to the window-side table, where I sat down and enjoyed views of the arctic ocean below.

We took a sip of tea, then he spoke. “In nineteen eighty-six, following the Chernobyl incident, all of the world’s reindeer herds were infected by the nuclear radiation. The only exception was the desolate island to our south— the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands.”

Eating reindeer meat, to me, was a new concept, but one of which to be cautious. My mission, on behalf of the government, was to prepare for an upcoming war between Britain and the Argentines. Knowing how to preserve a Falkland delicacy was crucial.

He went on to explain that his great-great grandfather was one of the original settlers in the Islands, and had arrived before any nation held claims or knowledge of the land. Unlike most of the explorers, he decided to stay.

“He proudly believed in the land,” he told me. “Upon returning to England, he convinced some shipmates to bring their families and settle.” Surviving the collapse of the British Empire in other parts of the war, his ancestor’s original land maintained itself. One hundred seventy years later, his descendants still live on his family’s originally settled land.

In the military conflict against Argentina in 1982, he directed his employees to serve the members of the R.A.F. base with farm produce. The British, he thought, would better serve and protect them.

“What incentive would the Argentineans have to facilitate aid and defence?”

I paused again, left without an answer.

“The invasion did us a favor. Before, not many people in the U.K. knew who we were. We felt that Thatcher was about to hand us over to Argentina before they put the last straw on her back. They sent people like you to prepare us for an Argentine handover.”

I was unaware of such history, and now confident that he knew my career track. I thanked him for his hospitality and left a cheque to compensate for the food. Signed: In Her Majesty’s Absence

NOTES FROM RAF MOUNT PLEASANT—

I woke up the next morning with the intimate feeling that something was awry. At breakfast hour, I was reminded that the spirit of Britain that I had departed followed me down south— English pastries and breakfast tea awaited me. The air was moving briskly as uniformed men quickly moved about the lounge. “Is breakfast always like this?” I asked myself. I walked downstairs to the adequately chilled Atlantic zephyr. I noticed then that an attraction had arrived on base. This time, Britain’s second inside in to the throne, Prince William, joined the crew. The enlisted servicemen quietly tried to catch a glimpse of their future King. I backed away, trying to not become too much of a disturbance. For now, he was just another pilot.

As the dust settled, the Royal Navy personnel prepared mess hall for dinner. I picked up a tray, replaced the dust with a warm meal and retreated to my room. I arrived to an invitation to meet with a Navy Captain at the base the next morning for an orientation.

familiarize yourself with the base and discuss the future of the Falklands

07:30 AM ROOM 657

Sincerely,

William Simmons

Air Commodore, Royal Air Force

The BBC radio woke me up to calls for further safeguarding of the Falklands. The HMS Dauntless, a commenter said, “would be pressed to arrive too soon.”  When I tore into a layer of ennui the night before and watched Newsnight, a young foreign minister vividly express well-founded fears that the pressure on the Argentinean government corresponds with the amount of oil discovered. A new twist to an already disoriented story, I though.

I snapped out of my meditations in thought and switched into clothing from Savile Row. Before my posting, the Foreign Office had given me a generous allowance from clothing. My hope was to not be too overdressed.

Treading like awkwardly in my suit, like a limousine passing amongst taxi cabs, I ran through the narrow corridors of the Mt. Pleasant base. The “Death Star Corridor,” as base personnel dubbed the hallway was the longest in the world: a kilometer of modern catacombs connecting the heart and head of the base.

Soon, I arrived at the door mentioned on my invitation. The office listed was an agreeable change from other room; a chandelier hung from the ceiling, an bold desk framed the back of the room, and a few low-ranking servicemen traversed the sitting area, preparing it for a light breakfast. About a four traditional wooden chairs formed around the desk, none of them yet occupied.

I looked up to the desk and saw an older man working through paperwork. His lapel decorated with various medals, his hairline receding, and amongst the noise in the room his mind closely focused on the present task. I stood back a respectable distance and then introduced myself when he leased his attention. Commodore Simmons, the man whose name was letter-pressed onto my invite. An Eton educated man, in his youth Commodore Simmons studied at Sandhurst and then joined the Air Force. Later, at Oxford his passion for languages landed between us knowledge of French and Arabic. His job, he said, was to monitor the Argentinean military’s approach on the islands.

I stepped back for a moment and let the Commodore tend his business. Soon, a pronounced knock on the door gave way to a new face. This time, a young man with a bald spot on his head. His aging face indicated a higher rank. His shoulder patch showed he was a Sea King pilot. In a few moments, I recognized him as the Prince William, the new pilot who eluded others.

When the commodore and the prince engaged in a quick tête-à-tête, I step back for their privacy. They unbuttoned their uniforms and sat down, as I joined them. The commodore began to introduce us to the base and its history. The prince’s uncle, Andrew, had opened the base in 1984, two years after the Argentine invasion. The idea was to provide a strong foundation for operations of the islanders’ defences. Prior to Mount Pleasant’s opening, Simmons explained, the Royal Air Force based its operations out of the rigid, torn up municipal airport in Stanley.

Soon, the commodore arrived at a tangent on the role of Britain in protecting its colonies. He told us a story of Britain’s failure to protect Cyprus, and how it ultimately cost the U.K. a strategic operating base and historically significant colony in the Mediterranean. The prince drew from his father’s experiences in the handover of Hong Kong. While failing to be particularly insightful William Wales extended his frustrations on the matter. I found it odd that two outsiders to the base had been assembled with a high-rank official. Maybe, I thought, the officer wanted this intimate discussion on the colonies, or a favor when his subordinate became his king.

THE GOVERNMENT HOUSE—

I am persuaded that the most important thing that happened in Britain was that this nation chose to win or lose this war under the established rules of parliamentary procedure.It feared Nazism, but did not chose to imitate it. The government was given dictatorial power, but it was used with restraint. The House of Commons was ever vigilant. Do you remember that while London was being bombed in the daylight, the House devoted two days to discussing conditions under which enemy aliens were to be detained in the Isle of Man? Though Britain fell, there were to be no concentration camps here. Do you remember that two days after Italy declared war, an Italian citizen convicted of murder in the lower courts appealed successfully to the highest court in the land and the original verdict was set aside? There was still law in the land, regardless of race, nationality or hatred. Representative government, equality before the law survived. Future generations will bother to read the official record of proceedings in the House of Commons will discover that British armies retreated from many places. But there was no retreat for principles for which your ancestors fought. The record is massive evidence of the flexibility and toughness of the principles you profess. It will, I think, inspire and lift men’s hearts, long after the names of most of the great sea and land engagements have been forgotten. — Edward R. Murrow, 26 Feb. 1946.

In the hours after the 1982 attacks on the archipelago, Edward R. Murrow’s description of Britain’s response during the Second World War captured the essence of the Falklands. From the dispatch box of the House of Commons, Prime Minister Thatcher reassured her nation of Britain’s commitment in winning the war. The islanders were keen to follow the advice of their governor and stayed indoors. Despite almost one thousand deaths throughout the war, only two civilians were killed. The calmness in the land allowed the governor to escape to Uruguay for communication with No. 10 and the Foreign Office. The months and years after the incident lead to restoration of Britain’s relationship with Argentina under the ‘umbrella policy’, and of course, the construction of RAF Mount Pleasant.

Stanley, the islands’ capital, the world’s southernmost city (in terms of having a cathedral), and most populous settlement on the islands has a population of two thousand people. Thirty-four times larger than the next largest ethnic group, British denizens and native islanders constitute of ninety per cent of the population. When I walked across the frosted trail to the Government House, I felt the tremendous English history engrained on the grounds. Here, Sir Ernest Shackleton stayed during his journey to the Antarctic. Here, in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, the Royal Marines protected the house from Argentines while inflicting casualties, but taking none on their side.

For the next several weeks, my role as on Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service continued as I was posted to work and sleep in the Government House. When I walked into the building for the first time, the lady at the reception desk was quick to greet me. Today, she told me, the Falklands government collects payments from private fishing vessels abusing the South Atlantic waters. College in England, she proudly explains, is free for all secondary students who complete their A-levels.

“A common misconception in the U.K. is that our government is a drain to the British taxpayers. Our independent surplus last year was nineteen million pounds. I think we’re doing better than most countries right now.”

In the past, fishing revenues lead to oil exploration. Now, oil analysts estimate that the reserves surrounding the islands could deliver three billion nine hundred million USD in taxes and royalties in the years ahead.

“The Argentine invasion is the greatest thing that has happened to us since the islands’ settlement. In our transformation from a sluggish economy, once more, the world discovered who we are.”

A note on the Falklands

As a supplement to the fiction piece on the Falklands, the author of this blogs writes this post to support President Obama’s actions regarding Falkland Islands negotiations.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama expressed support for the conflicts formed around the Falkland Islands to be discussed and solved between the two countries at hand. After a historic speech in Westminster Hall reaffirming the alliance between the U.K. and the U.S., some British Members of Parliament jumped to the unfortunate conclusion that the U.S. was turning its back on Britain.

On January 31, 2012, the prolific blogger and ever resilient MP from Hexham, Guy Opperman, said in Westminster Hall:

I have great respect for President Obama, and he is truly a groundbreaking politician and a leader of men; he is taking things forward tremendously in America. On this particular issue, however, I do not respect his decision, and am most concerned that it appears to have been made without full assessment of the UN rules on self-determination.

The MP referred to a State Department publication which allegedly called the Falklands the ‘Malvinas’. The author of this piece could not find such publication, despite efforts to do so.

Below are the U.S. government’s responses to inquiries on the Falklands.

This is a problem between two of our partners. We do not want to change our position (…) We prefer that both countries negotiate a diplomatic solution in that matter. — Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta S. Jacobson

This is a bilateral issue that needs to be worked out directly between the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom. We encourage both parties to resolve their differences through dialogue in normal diplomatic channels.

We recognize de facto United Kingdom administration of the islands but take no position regarding sovereignty. — State Department briefing – January 20, 2012

While the support of the U.K. is not as explicitly strong as it has been in previous administrations, the common narrative is support for both parties. President Obama recognizes that Britain will never sit down at the negotiating table with Argentina, and consequently attempts to strengthen relationships with South American countries. Now Brazil, the South American country that just overtook the U.K. as the sixth largest economy, is pressured by Argentina to support the cause for the Falkland’s separation from the U.K.. President Obama’s pseudo-support of the negotiations may simply be an attempt to silence Argentina and strengthen relations.

When called upon to comment on the topic, David Cameron was hesitant to denounce the State Department’s actions, but instead reaffirmed his calls for self-determination.  The two leaders will see each other from March 13-14 to discuss this, amongst other topics.

Marie Colvin, 1956-2012

Rory Stewart is the Member of Parliament for Penrith and The Border. Last summer, he visited Libya and ran into Marie Colvin, a journalist whom he had first met in 2003 Iraq. This week, following his travels back to Tripoli, he threaded one of the greatest tributes of all time.

It is well worth your reading.

Marie Colvin, 1956-2012


Russian Recap

Russia, this past weekend, had one of history’s most brilliantly contemplated elections. The competition was legitimatized, the polls were closely monitored, and the turnout was auspicious. None of these adjectives are positive in reality. They are postulated from men with inopportune ambitions and judgement. The unfavorable ironies in this situation are those that shed from the anti-democratic remnants of previous governments. The United States, a country which has maintained warm relations with the post-Soviet nation, may be keen to realize that progress is in the air.

ImageImage

The protestors lining the streets of Moscow around the Kremlin protested fraud in the parliamentary elections. The Duma, as the parliament is called, experienced even more amazing election results in December when the voting turnout exceeded one hundred forty-six per cent of the electorate in one region. This time, as thousands braved the Moscow cold, the demands for legitimate elections increased. Eight days later, an alternative to Putin was offered. This time an outsider, NBA team-owner, and mining billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, said he would run for president in the, “most important decision of my life.”   The last time an outsider entered Russian politics, the last laugh was Putin’s. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oil tycoon, tried to help his friends into the Duma in 2003. In October of that year, the New Yorker writes, “masked commandos stormed his private jet and arrested him. His assets were parceled out to Putin’s friends and he was sentenced to nine years in jail. In December, 2010, he was given another fourteen-year sentence.” The story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky perhaps suggests that wealthy barons are not welcome into Putin’s politics.

In December, 2011, the coincidental timing of Prokhorov’s entry to politics suggested to disgruntled Russians that Prime Minister Putin’s intentions were twofold. The first was to legitimatize the election by involving a powerful external force. The second was to break up the opposition, although very few people knew believed that the billionaire was on his own. The intention, allegedly, was to create a general election primary in the opposition.

Now, as anti-Putin protests continue following the Prime Minister’s self-declared victory, new facts illuminate the happenings of election weekend.

Inspiring Voter Turnout

The turnout was not as inspiring as the previous elections in December, but still amazing. Precinct 451 got one hundred seven per cent voter turnout.

Pro-Putin Culture

In Chechnya, the Prime Minister won 99.82  per cent of the vote, with only one vote going to the opposition. This happened despite a deadly war between local anti-Putinites and Putin’s troops.

Election Monitoring

Prime Minister Putin ordered web cameras to be installed at all ninety thousand polling stations around Russia. A network of civilian observers joined online  to observe the cameras. They, in exchange, reported over one thousand irregularities.

Strong Public Transport

Independent election watchdog groups reported that busses assembled to ‘carousel’ pro-Putin voters from precinct to precinct.

Vladimir Putin was a welcomed candidate in his maiden rise to power. Although corruption remains, the country’s uprising against Putin suggests that the people of the Russian Federation are moving in the right direction.

A Digression: Kony 2012

The bandwagoning of youth by Invisible Children is perhaps the most decisive show of strength perpetuated across the social media networks of the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, and those around the world. It is more spontaneous that the uprisings of the Occupy movement, more diverse and widespread than the organization of Arab Spring protests, and more rapidly developed than the uncontrollable London riots of 2011. Students at high schools and colleges quickly curated their corner of the movement in an impetuous decision blind to the ultimate goals of the rebellion. Already, Facebook events are spontaneously posted to support the cause, like political yard signs quickly posted during a campaign. The enemy, the Lord’s Resistance Army, is a well documented target. But with whom are the activists fighting?

In the spring of 2003, three filmmakers traveled to Africa for the creation of a documentary. Jason, Laren, and Bobby, tall men with the resemblance of young Californian surfers, filmed their story on unstable cameras, roaming around villages to film their journey. Two years later, the group produced a documentary and watched it go viral.  In 2006, Invisible Children, Inc., formed as a non-profit organization. The group, headquartered in San Diego, claims to work in Central Africa. The truth behind their work is more disturbing.

Terraced fields in southwestern Uganda. Credit: National Geographic

The prevalent claim that Invisible Children spread the story of the Lord’s Resistance Army is largely disproved by recent history. Two years before the existence of the group and one year before the creation of its first documentary, President George W. Bush placed the LRA on the list of groups prohibited from entering the United States. Then, from November 2008 to November 2011, the United States government continued to fund the effort to capture Kony with forty million dollars. The public financial statements for Invisible Children indicate that in 2011, of the organization’s thirteen million dollars in revenue, the organization spent eight million six hundred thousand dollars. Of this, only thirty-two per cent went to direct services. The amount spent by the U.S. government dwarfs the amount that Invisible Children has in reserve or is willing to spend.

“[The video] feels much the same, laced with more macho bravado. The movie feels like it’s about the filmmakers, and not the cause. There might be something to the argument that American teenagers are more likely to relate to an issue through the eyes of a peer.  -Prof. Chris Blattman, Yale University

Children aren’t the only invisible part of this group— count in financial records.  Charity Navigator, a non-profit group that evaluates American non-profit organizations, gives Invisible Children two out of four stars for transparency. Case and point: the Better Business Bureau reports, “[Invisible Children] did not provide requested information. As a result, the Better Business Bureau cannot determine if it meets standards.” When looking at the palpable aspects of the group, the humility continues.

In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict. — Council on Foreign Relations

In late 2011, President Obama committed to deploy one hundred armed U.S. military advisors to assist local troops in the dismantling of the LRA. The Council on Foreign Relations reports, “Greater numbers of surveillance flights over LRA-afflicted areas are said to have pinpointed Kony’s position in the Central African Republic.” Invisible Children claims to hold offices in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thus, the group is one or two countries displaced from the actual location of the guy.

In other words, the U.S. government has accomplished more tasks than Invisible Children ever had the capability of doing. Activism is welcomed, but more so from groups that have a record of creating progress. Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International are three highly respected groups with transparent records of actions and results. And no, they won’t waste your time on something that already has a solution. Join a respectable organization and make a difference, but don’t toss your mind into a tide of public amusement.

China’s hinterlands

Economically and geographically, China exhibits a lot more than it can account for. By all estimates, China features the world’s second largest GDP, which still lags distant eight trillion dollars behind the United States’s fifteen trillion. In eighteen years, the United Nations says India is set to overtake the country in terms of population. As a finding a unified language becomes progressively difficult in India, the Chinese are finding themselves stuck with an archaic and difficult language. The Economist Group’s Intelligent Life magazine asked three students at the Chinese equivalent of Harvard to write, “sneeze,” only to learn that even much of the educated Chinese population now resorts to romanization of their texts. Human-rights problems endure in the republic as North Koreans refugees are sent back to face execution in their homeland, poets are sentenced to seven years in prison for encouraging ‘subversion’ of the government— the same reason that Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is imprisoned and being prevented from collecting his prize.

The largest catch, however, is how little control the government possesses over much of the geographical landscape. Without the autonomous provinces of Xinjiang, Xizang (Tibet), Guangxi, Nei Mongol, and Ningxia, China becomes a far less geographically intimidating landmass amongst its former communist allies. The blue portions of the country in the map below are self-autonomous regions of the country. While the overlords from Beijing try to engage in the governance of these regions, they are met with resistance and disobedience.

As the status quo prevails, most administrative regions continue to embrace it. Only Tibet continues to beg for independence, and its people going to extreme lengths to do so. Yet, even at the political extremes, the times are changing. The Fourteenth and current Dalai Lama says that he may be the last. In the same fashion, China’s dominance is taking a heavy toll on its neighbors. In 1997, Hong Kong was returned from Britain as a thriving economy, and two years later the Portuguese turned over Macao. Support for Chinese dependency remains spirited in Taipei, with two-thirds of the population opting to maintain the status quo.

Even as the country’s aggregate economic power makes an impressive statement, the Chinese GDP per capita pales in comparison to other nations. According to the International Monetary Fund, the United States had a GDP per capita of forty-eight thousand dollars in 2011. China’s average was forty thousand less. Even in Hong Kong, where the per capita GDP is one thousands dollars senior that of the United States, denizens resort to living in ten by ten cages. The problem has been persisting since the climax of the British rule in Hong Kong, but since late, it has progressively become more widespread. On the mainland, economic hardships have lead to the largest migration in history. Farmers previously subsisting through personal sacrifices to earn good wages on the coastline one thousand kilometers away from home are now being urged to migrate back to the countryside. The result, the Economist writes, is a “fast-narrowing wage gap between the coast and the interior.” Undaunted by inhumane working conditions, the struggle for survival perseveres.

Is China able to maintain its global presence with such conditions? One day, reality will check in to the politburo and embassies of the People’s Republic of China, and the country will have to account for what it doesn’t have.