This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chernobyl, Sealed

"Russian aggression had undermined the trust of non-nuclear governments in the non-proliferation of these weapons, and threatened the repeat of a nuclear catastrophe in our country."
"[Ukraine would] neither today, nor tomorrow [halt nuclear reactors providing power for Ukraine in reflection of its vital need for energy independence from Russian gas]."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko
The arch, though, is a formidable structure, said Vince Novak, the director of nuclear safety for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which administers the project’s financing. If necessary, he said, “it might be able to last 300 years or more.”

Addressing his country on the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power explosion and meltdown, President Poroshenko spoke of Moscow's support for ethnic Russian Ukrainian separatists in the eastern  Ukraine, and the potential threat of a repeat of the catastrophe that might have ensued during the course of its actions there. The domination of the Soviet past was revisited on an unwilling Ukraine by its former nemesis.

It has taken thirty years, but finally the international efforts to seal the remains of the exploded nuclear reactor No.4 is close to completion. The immense dome meant to seal the reactor was the setting for Mr. Poroshenko's speech to his nation. He made note of the fact that fighting between the military and the insurgents had occurred a mere several hundred kilometres from the city of Zapaorozhiye where the nuclear power plant stood.

The New Safe Confinement structure is meant to contain the radiation from the worst nuclear catastrophe in a century, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, leading the project. And when that giant deadly tomb is finally sealed, the international community will withdraw, leaving destitute Ukraine to fend for itself in managing future nuclear waste disposal.

"By the time we were evacuated, we had been exposed for 36 hours. My entire family has been affected by this. We are all sick. My daughter, my son, my husband and me", stated Nadiya Makyrevych, a survivor of the catastrophe who lived with her family in the town of Pripyat, where there were no warning sirens installed in the town, and it took Soviet authorities quite some time to alert residents even as a radioactive cloud rose over Eastern Europe.

Even then, there was no word of the sheer magnitude of the nuclear event that tore apart peaceful life in the area, making the area unsafe for human habitation for generations while authorities sat on the botched experiment at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The wrecked reactor No. 4 along with the initial protective "sarcophagus" that had been installed in 1986, are set to be sealed by an immense 35-storey arched dome, wheeled into permanent place, next year.

Once sealed, robotic cranes within the structure will be programmed to disassemble the destroyred reactor. The disposal of a thick, lava-like mass filled with uranium will complete the dismantling and neutralization of the reactor. As long as all goes as planned.

The arch stands 360 feet high and 540 feet long and will be the biggest moving structure in the world when it slides into place atop a concrete sarphogus built atop the melted down reactor four after the disaster. It is tall enough to fit the Statue of Liberty, from the base to the torch.
The arch stands 360 feet high and 540 feet long and will be the biggest moving structure in the world when it slides into place atop a concrete sarphogus built atop the melted down reactor four after the disaster. It is tall enough to fit the Statue of Liberty, from the base to the torch. Photo: John Wendle for The Wall Street Journal

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Canada To The Rescue -- Or Not

"I always admired John [Ridsdel, abducted, beheaded] ; he was a free spirit and he found a rich, full life in the bigger world outside Canada. He was also well aware of the risks he faced in making life choices and lived a well considered life knowing those risks."
"I also know John would be appalled that his passing and the manner in which it happened would be used to close doors to international understanding, our relation to the Muslim community or our ideas about immigration. He embraced culture diversity and international understanding and had immense pride in the roles his daughters were playing in their chosen fields."
Bob Foulkes, Vancouver consultant

"He [Canadian Robert Hall, abducted by Abu Sayyaf along with John Ridsdel, for ransom] talked about the people being amazing and it being such a beautiful place. He just raved about it."
"I asked him, 'Will you come back to Canada?' And he said, 'I don't think so. I love it'. And then this happened and you go, oh my goodness. All your hopes and dreams."
Yvonne Coccio, British Columbia

"I appeal to my family, the Philippine government, and the Canadian government. My specific appeal is to the Canadian government who I know has the capacity to get us out of here. I wonder what they are waiting for."
Robert Hall, 50, Canadian adventurer
A still image captured from video footage of the kidnappers and their victims is shown in this SITE Intelligence Group video made available to Reuters. File photo

"Canada does not and will not pay ransom to terrorists, directly or indirectly."
"Obviously, this is a significant source of funds for terrorist organizations that then allow them to continue to perpetrate deadly acts of violence against innocents around the world."
"But more importantly, paying ransom for Canadians would endanger the lives of every single one of the millions of Canadians who live, work and travel around the globe every single year."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
And there are plenty of them, those Canadians "who live, work and travel around the globe". Almost 59 million trips were made by Canadians in 2013 to foreign parts. And almost 2.8 million Canadians live overseas. They can be found in remote and dangerous locations; some, like John Ridsdel in exploration for undiscovered mineral reserves. And then there are aid workers and missionaries feeling morally driven to offer their help to people in developing countries.

Canadians, in the past several years, have been abducted by criminal and terrorist groups across Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Experts feel that these abductions are a rising phenomenon as terrorist groups realize they can be useful in raising funds for their operational expenses. Canadians, however, cannot reasonably expect their government to be able always unfailingly to rescue them when they find themselves in these dire situations.

And while there is a limit to what governments can do, and many governments prefer to do nothing officially in shared reflection of the declaration of Mr. Trudeau's statement, the avenue of negotiating with terrorists remains open conducted by private groups, skilled professional negotiators representing families of the abducted. Which is how Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay were released by a West African terrorist group, though it is generally held that government money paid for their release.

That didn't stop former diplomat now retired Robert Fowler from excoriating the government for being laggardly in their release, despite other countries' and their diplomats' interventions in concert with the government of Canada. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper came in for some contemptful and contemptible criticism from Mr. Fowler who felt his choice to place himself in potential danger warranted an all-stops rescue effort from his country.

Had Stephen Harper ever publicly expressed the bald views now aired by his successor, he would have been publicly pilloried as a heartless politician with an overt agenda, pleased to leave unfortunate victims of circumstances to their own devices, and if that included beheading, then so be it. Trudeau, on the other hand, is able to say whatever he wishes, and no one seems to care to consider he could have said less.

In Mr. Hall's case, it seems that the southern Philippines held an especial attraction for this man because of its lawlessness. Courting danger has its moments, no doubt, but once an abduction takes place and a defenceless person is surrounded by dangerous, surly, armed jihadis, the idea of placing oneself in such a personally compromised position may lose much of its lustre. Certainly, Mr. Hall, in his videoed statement seemed to feel, like Mr. Fowler, that Canada has let him down.

"He's an adventurer. He's just always looking for the next thing", stated his stepmother. He planned to ship out from the Philippines and go on to Thailand before his abduction on September 21, 2015 along with Mr. Ridsdel, a Filipino friend and the Norwegian manager of the isolated marina they all had their boats moored at, while they enjoyed the beautifully lush natural surroundings.

The shock of 68 year-old Canadian John Ridsdel's beheading by a Philippines' terrorist cell is still reverberating, with many Canadians who have a penchant for visiting exotic places of the world where threats to their existence in the form of jihadist groups like Abu Sayyaf are becoming an increasing potential no doubt giving second thought to their plans.

Travelling to world hot spots because they are exciting and romantic has its attractions; somewhat modified by the knowledge that danger also lurks.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Conniving as Only a Mind Mired in Medieval Tribalism Can

"In the tangled world of the Middle East, 'My enemy’s enemy is my friend' is the dictum most likely to cause tragic mistakes. Very often, the saying would be more accurate if adapted to read: 'Beware the tyrant who cynically poses as an enemy of your enemy in order to strengthen his grip on power.'
So it is with Bashar al-Assad in Syria. From the very beginning of his country’s insurrection, Assad has done his best to help Islamist zealots hijack the Syrian opposition; he worked particularly hard to create ideal laboratory conditions for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL]. His supremely cynical aim was to convince the West to accept him as an essential bulwark against the very threat he helped to conjure into being. Put bluntly, Assad is an arsonist posing as a fireman.
This is an old trick. Every Arab dictator since Nasser has sought to confront his people and the world with a stark choice: either support me or watch the jihadists take over. The ruse is obvious, time-honoured – and remarkably effective."
David Blair, The Telegraph, December 2015

From December of 2015 and an informed journalist's take on the situation known for quite some time that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was earning huge profits through the oil fields it had taken from the governments of both Iraq and Syria, with the help of Turkey and Syria. Nominally it was taken for granted that both countries viewed ISIL as terrorist threats, but Turkey is well known to have nurtured ties with the Sunni jihadis and it was no surprise that oil reached the black market through Turkey, and Syria's Bashar al-Assad saw sinister profit for himself in their enrichment as well.

So the latest revelations that the Syrian government was busy cutting deals with ISIL -- aiding the jhadis to earn over $40-million monthly from oil sales should be no big surprise. It's just that with the emergence of actual documentation which a U.S./British raid on an ISIL commander's base have revealed the details and since the devil's in the details, there is great fascination to parse those documents. In the form of thousands of spreadsheets maintained by ISIL's oil minister, Abu Sayyaf.

Last year's big U.S. Special Forces raid secured those documents for penetrating inspection into how well ISIL was benefited when it captured some of Syria's eastern oilfields in 2013. Two years earlier claims had surfaced that the regime was purchasing oil from Islamic State, and they were held to be rumours which Syria could easily deny. Now the scale of the collusion between the Syrian regime and Islamic State has been fully revealed.

In late 2014 to early 2015, at the height of production, $40.7-million in monthly profits accrued to the Islamic State treasury. Helping to shore up its wealth just as the wealth of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States swelled through the sale to the West of their petroleum resources. One memo in particular highlights the ties through a query from ISIL's treasury to the office of Abu Sayyaf seeking guidance on the establishment of investment ties with businessman linked to Bashar al-Assad's Baathist regime.

Citing agreements permitting truck and pipeline transit from fields controlled by Syria through ISIL-controlled territory, the background to the guidelines requested was abundantly clear; purported enemies made for tight business partners. Once Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had established his caliphate, he recognized the potential in Abu Sayyaf, appointing him top operator of ISIL's oil business, headquartered in the al-Omar field near the Iraqi border, previously operated by Royal Dutch Shell.

The human dimensions are just as fascinating. Rather than dismiss Syrian state employees from the oilfields, Abu Sayyaf persuaded them to remain where they were, to work for ISIL, and their recompense would be salaries much higher than they had previously earned; up to four times national rates. So 152 Syrians remained to work at the al-Omar field in Deir Ezzour, and aside from their princely salaries they also received the occasional threat of beheading for any disobedience they might be rash enough to engage in.

The division of the ISIL oil ministry headed by Abu Sayyaf was responsible for delivering $289.5-million to ISIL in the space of six months. Until the raid that destroyed Abu Sayyaf in 2015, those handsome revenues continued to roll in, profiting Islamic State with the neighbourly aid of the Syrian regime.

Department official Adam Szubin said militants were selling as much as $40 million a month of oil at the installations which was then spirited on trucks across the battlelines of the Syrian civil war and sometimes further.
"ISIL is selling a great deal of oil to the Assad regime," Szubin, acting under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence with the Treasury, told an audience at Chatham House in London.
"The two are trying to slaughter each other and they are still engaged in millions and millions of dollars of trade," Szubin said of Assad's government and Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The "far greater amount" of Islamic State oil ends up under Assad's control while some is consumed internally in Islamic State-controlled areas. Some ends up in Kurdish regions and some in Turkey, he said.
"Some is coming across the border into Turkey," Szubin said when asked for details on the money trail.
"Our sense is that ISIL is taking its profits basically at the wellhead and so while you do have ISIL oil ending up in a variety of different places that's not really the pressure we want when it comes to stemming the flow of funding - it really comes down to taking down their infrastructure," he said.
Reuters, December 10, 2015

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