European Union government ministers met in Paris Jan. 11 to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But there is an Orwellian aspect to their reaction. A joint statement (PDF) issued by twelve EU interior ministers, including Bernard Cazeneuve of France and UK Home Secretary Theresa May, included the following text: "We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence... With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible." In other words, pressure on ISPs to shut down websites deemed objectionable by EU ministries, and rat out their producers to the Euro-cops—a notion rendered especially problematic due to the elastic nature of the word "terrorism." (To provide just a few examples, see here and here and here and here and here and here and here.) The statement was signed in the presence of US Attorney General Eric Holder. (Global Guerrillas, Jan. 12; The Register, Jan. 11)
As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?
Gunmen attacked a police checkpoint and stormed a media building in Grozny, capital of Russia's southern republic of Chechnya, Dec. 3. At least 20 were killed in the attacks and ensuing clashes—10 militants and 10 police. Authorities said no militants escaped. Chechnya's worst fighting in months erupted a few hours before President Vladimir Putin said in a speech in Moscow he would defend Russia against what he called attempts to dismember it, accusing the West of seeking a "Yugoslav scenario," and a "policy of containment" that it has pursued "for decades if not centuries." The Chechen insurgent underground, calling itself the Caucasus Emirate, took credit for the attack in a statement on its website, Kavkaz Center, improbably claiming over 80 "puppet soliders" were killed. The statement said the assault was revenge for "oppression of Muslim women." Media accounts interpreted this as a reference to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov prohibiting local women from wearing the hijab—an accusation he has denied. The Kavkaz Center statement also refered to Grozny as "Jokhar," part of the alternative nomenclature the "Emirate" has for the Russian territory it claims. The Russian policy establishment is already hypothesizing an ISIS hand in the attack. "I suspect ties to the Islamic State, even if they have not commented on it so far," said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center. (Reuters, BBC News, Moscow News, RFE/RL, ITAR-TASS, Dec. 4)
The Nicaraguan government and Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND) will soon publish the "exact and definitive map” of the interoceanic canal, with construction slated for begin by year's end. In televised statement, project spokesperson Telemaco Talavera said details will also follow on feasibility and environmental impact studies, which involved a census of 29,000 people in the catchment area of 1,500 square kilometers. The canal will join the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean through a 278-kilometer trench, including 105 kilometers through the southern part of Lake Nicaragua, or Cocibolca (Sweetwater) as it is known in the local indigenous language. (TeleSUR, Nov. 12)
Bashar Assad can only be taking perverse joy at Turkey's attempt to play an Arab-versus-Kurdish divide-and-rule card, seeking to isolate the Kurds from the Arab-led Syrian opposition. There was an advance for this stratagem today, as a Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander said it was wrong to send rebel forces to the ISIS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobani when Aleppo was besieged by Assad regime forces. Nizar al-Khatib told a group of journalists at a press conference in Istanbul: "I am criticizing this decision because we need these forces in the other fronts in Aleppo. The situation is very critical in Aleppo right now, regime forces have been surrounding the city for some time." (Hurriyet Daily News)
Multiple confrontations are impending between Russian authorities and the Tatar minority in annexed Crimea. Akhtem Chyyhoz, deputy head of the Majlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, stated this week that the Majlis will not comply with Moscow's demand that the assembly register within the framework of Russia's legislation on civic organizations and associations. "The point is that they are suggesting that we register at the level of a civic organization which is unacceptable since the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People is an elected representative body," he said. "It is impossible to put it in the same category as civic organizations." The current head of the Majlis, Refat Chubarov, and former Majlis leader and Ukrainian MP Mustafa Dzhemiliev have both been banned from their homeland for five years by order of Russian authorities. The bans came after the Tatar leaders called for a boycott of the March referendum on Crimean secession from Ukraine, and then of the September Crimean elections. On Sept. 17, three days after the elections, FSB troops carried out a 12-hour-search of the Majlis premises in Simferopol. The following day, the Majlis was evicted from the building. (Human Rights in Ukraine, Oct. 22)
Well, this is really cute. With refreshing honesty, Fortune magazine on Sept. 14 issued a list of the "Fortune 5"—the biggest organized crime groups in the world, ranked by their annual revenue estimates. No sources are given, but the Fortune editors presumably relied on international law enforcement intelligence. The results are slightly surprising for those of us who grew up in the era of the Sicilian Mafia and Medellín Cartel. Brave new crime machines have long since eclipsed these entities from the global stage, and far outstripped their earnings from human trafficking, extortion, credit card fraud, prostitution and (above all) drug smuggling. In the number one slot, by a mile, is Yamaguchi Gumi, a wing of Japan's Yakuza, with revenue estimated at $80 billion. A distant second is Russian mafia group Solntsevskaya Bratva, with revenue at $8.5 billion. Three and four are two Italian outfits that have long superceded Sicily's Cosa Nostra: the Camorra, based in Naples, with revenues of $4.9 billion; and the 'Ndrangheta, based in Calabria, with revenues of $4.5 billion. Number five is Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, with revenues of $3 billion.
Shelling in the rebel-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk left two dead Sept. 17, despite a ceasefire and a law passed by Kiev's parliament a day earlier granting greater autonomy to the country's east. Fighting centered on the city's airport, which remains in government hands, with nearby neighborhoods caught in the crossfire. Civilian casualties have continued to rise since the supposed ceasefire, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed in the conflict so far. (The Independent, Sept. 17) In an asburd irony little noted by the world media, as Vladiimir Putin backs the brutal "People's Republics" (sic) in eastern Ukraine, he has cracked down on a separatist movement that has emerged in Siberia. Last month, when the Ukraine crisis was at a peak, Russian authorities banned a Siberian independence march and took hrash measures to prevent the media from even reporting it—threatening to block the BBC Russian service over its coverage of the movement. BBC's offense was an interview with Artyom Loskutov, an organizer of the "March for Siberian Federalization," planned for Aug. 17 in Novosibirsk, The Guardian reported.