Quotulatiousness

June 3, 2015

China’s PLA conducts military exercise on Burmese border

Filed under: Asia, China, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Strategy Page posted this informative article the other day:

China announced that it will hold military exercises tomorrow along the Burmese border, including firing artillery shells into jungle areas next to Burma. These exercises are a response to fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic Chinese (Kokang) rebels within a few hundred meters of the Chinese border. This has frequently led to bullets and shells landing in China. Since this fighting began in February this stray fire has killed five Chinese civilians and wounded many more. Burma blames some of it on the Kokang rebels firing into China to cause problems between China and Burma. In any event Burma insists that this fighting is finally over and that the Kokang rebels have, for now at least, been defeated.

The fighting against the Kokang in the tribal north (Shan state) apparently has died down since the middle of May. As usual the rebels lost because the army had more, and bigger, guns (artillery) and aircraft. The rebels were gradually pushed back and the soldiers took over twenty rebel camps or fighting positions (like fortified hilltops overlooking key roads). The action was spread out and gradual. Since February the rebels lost over 500 dead while the army lost over 140 soldiers in about 300 separate violent encounters (ambushes, artillery or air attacks or battles for small bits of territory). Some of the army forces were pro-government tribal militias who suffered fewer losses than the army. Nearly 100,000 tribal civilians fled (most into China) the fighting and for the last few weeks more of these refugees have been returning home. Some of the refugees are fleeing rebels who are more aggressively recruiting new fighters. In some cases the tribal militia recruiters are “conscripting” (kidnapping) young men and when word of that gets around many potential victims flee, often with their young wives and children.

The fighting isn’t over, this is just a pause. A permanent peace deal does not exist yet although negotiations continue on yet another agreement that will finally bring peace to the north. The Kokang tribal rebels of the MNDAA (Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army) are accused of starting it all when they ambushed an army patrol on February 9th and wounded four soldiers. The rebels say the soldiers fired first. That led to more fighting which then escalated. The rebels claim it was more army abuse (rape and robbery) against tribal people that set off the latest round of violence. All this is actually a resumption of clashes that began in December. By the end of 2014 the army had moved in reinforcements and the Kokang withdrew gradually, continuing to inflict casualties on the soldiers. According to the rebels, soldiers kept advancing and have attacked other rebels groups near the Chinese border as well. The rebels often ambush army trucks bringing in supplies and reinforcements and are expert at ambushing army patrols. The army responds by attacking villages and driving away the families of the rebel fighters, denying the rebels food, medical care and other support. The rebels have struck back by firing on neighborhoods where the families of local policemen live. In response the government has moved these families further south until the fighting is over.

April 2, 2015

QotD: Punjab and the Sikhs, 1845

Filed under: Britain, History, India, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

First of all, you must do as Sale bade me, and look at the map. In ’45 John Company held Bengal and the Carnatic and the east coast, more or less, and was lord of the land up to the Sutlej, the frontier beyond which lay the Five Rivers country of the Sikhs, the Punjab. But things weren’t settled then as they are now; we were still shoring up our borders, and that north-west frontier was the weak point, as it still is. That way invasion had always come, from Afghanistan, the vanguard of a Mohammedan tide, countless millions strong, stretching back as far as the Mediterranean. And Russia, We’d tried to sit down in Afghanistan, as you know, and got a bloody nose, and while that had been avenged since, we weren’t venturing that way again. So it remained a perpetual threat to India and ourselves — and all that lay between was Punjab and the Sikhs.

You know something of them: tall, splendid fellows with uncut hair and beards, proud and exclusive as Jews, and well disliked, as clannish, easily-recognised folk often are — the Muslims loathed them, the Hindoos distrusted then, and even today T. Atkins, while admiring them as stout fighters, would rather be brigaded with anyone else — excepting their cavalry, which you’d be glad of anywhere. For my money they were the most advanced people in India — well, they were only a sixth of the Punjab’s population, but they ruled the place, so there you are.

We’d made a treaty with these strong, clever, treacherous, civilised savages, respecting their independence north of the Sutlej while we ruled south of it. It was good business for both parties: they remained free and friends with John Company, and we had a tough, stable buffer between us and the wild tribes beyond the Khyber — let the Sikhs guard the passes, while we went about our business in India without the expense and trouble of having to deal with the Afghans ourselves. That’s worth bearing in mind when you hear talk of our “aggressive forward policy” in India: it simply wasn’t common sense for us to take over the Punjab — not while it was strong and united.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

October 16, 2014

Finland is concerned about recent Russian actions, but not enough to join NATO

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 15:12

In the Christian Science Monitor, Gordon F. Sander reviews the state of Finnish-Russian relations and the unusually uncomfortable situation Finland finds itself in now:

Seven months ago, when Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, Finns seemed relatively unconcerned. The world’s northernmost country shares some 800 miles of border with its huge neighbor, but just a quarter of Finns said they felt threatened by Moscow. And a similar number told pollsters their country should consider joining NATO in interest of self-defense.

Since then, Russia’s behavior has become more provocative, and not just in eastern Ukraine. During one week in August, Russian military aircraft conducted three unauthorized overflights of Finnish airspace. The Finnish public reacted accordingly. A poll last month by Finnish daily Aamulehti showed that 43 percent of those polled perceived Russia as a danger, an increase of nearly 20 percent from March.

But support for Finland joining NATO remained almost unchanged: a mere two percent higher, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (YLE) found. Why hasn’t Finnish wariness translated into stronger support for NATO membership? And what, if anything, would persuade Finns to join the defense pact?

Defense Minister Carl Haglund says that the foundation for the Finnish public’s aversion to NATO membership stems from its complicated, and oft-misunderstood relationship with Russia. “This [reluctance] goes back to [our] history,” he says, “especially the end of the Second World War and the cold war.”

“Put it this way,” says Pekka Ervasti, political editor of YLE. “Finnish neutrality dies hard.”

October 15, 2014

NORAD

Filed under: Cancon, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:05

From the RCAF website:

If you’ve watched action, drama or even science fiction movies and TV shows over the past 50 years, chances are pretty good that you’ve at least heard of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Often, it’s depicted as a massive operations room with radar screens, uniformed personnel manning various stations and star-studded generals directing all the action. Every Christmas Eve, it’s the means by which millions of children get regular reports on Santa’s progress as he journeys around the world.

Outside of pop culture, however, NORAD is a real military entity. But what is it, and what do we really know about it? More importantly for Canadians, what impact does it have on Canada?

While NORAD is often depicted in film and television as an American entity, it is in fact a joint United States-Canada defence partnership charged with aerospace warning and control for both countries. What this means is that NORAD detects and advises both governments about airborne threats to North America (aerospace warning) and takes action to deter and defend against those threats (aerospace control).

“What it comes down to, essentially, is that Canada and the U.S. have airspace over our respective territories, and we should be in control of who enters it and how they conduct themselves in it,” explained Colonel Patrick Carpentier, the Canadian deputy commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region.

NORAD’s commander is directly and equally responsible to both the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada. While it’s no secret that Canada and the U.S. enjoy a very close alliance, NORAD is truly unique in the world — no other two countries have an arrangement quite like it.

October 7, 2014

Spain’s silly (and dangerous) border violation stunts continue in Gibraltar

Filed under: Britain, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:18

In the Daily Express, Marco Giannangeli lists the latest border and airspace violations in Gibraltar by supposedly “friendly” Spanish agents:

It comes hours after revelations that Spanish fighter jets flew “across the bow” of a Monarch airliner packed with holidaymakers from Manchester as it was landing on the Rock.

That incident prompted Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell to challenge the British Government to finally send Spain’s Ambassador to Britain “packing back to Madrid”.

The latest incursion happened yesterday when a Spanish Government research vessel entered British Gibraltar Territorial Waters off the southern tip of Gibraltar, Europa Point, to “take samples” of the reef at 3pm local time.

It was immediately surrounded by Royal Navy patrol vessels and told to leave British waters.

The demands were ignored by the Spanish vessel, the Angeles Alvarino, which proceeded to drop probes into the water.

It is understood that the boat then performed several reckless manoeuvres and one of the survey probes actually landed on a Royal Navy Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat, which had been sent out to the vessel.

“Once again we have witnessed an unacceptable act of aggression from Spain,’ said a furious Gibraltar Government spokesman today.

[…]

The incident outraged Government officials and prompted senior Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, chair of the parliamentary overseas territory group, to challenge foreign secretary Philip Hammond to finally expel the Spanish Ambassador.

“It is outrageous that Spain continues to behave in such an irresponsible and bullying fashion,” he said.

“Spain refuses to let British military jets fly over Spanish airspace on the way to Gibraltar even though they are partners in Nato, yet they think it’s fine to illegally enter British airspace and potentially distract an airliner as it is trying to safely land on the Rock.

“It’s time that the British Government sent the Spanish Ambassador packing back to Madrid. We are fed up with the bullying and intimidation from Spain, and it’s time that we showed them that we are no longer prepared to put up with it.”

September 17, 2014

Gibraltar asks for additional Royal Navy support

Filed under: Britain, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:39

Spanish vessels have been making more frequent and blatant incursions into the waters around Gibraltar recently, and the governor has made it public that he supports the deployment of another, larger RN ship in the area to help deter these jaunts:

Governor Sir James Dutton has publicly voiced strong support for the deployment of a larger British naval vessel to patrol Gibraltar’s territorial waters.

Sir James, a retired Royal Marine with a distinguished military record, said such a move would send “a really valuable message” in the face of persistent incursions by Spanish state vessels.

“I think it should happen, I have always thought it should happen, I’ve always said it should happen,” he said during a wide-ranging interview on GBC’s Talk About Town.

Sir James said deployment of an offshore vessel would strengthen the Royal Navy’s ability to patrol British waters and stay at sea for longer periods of time.

The governor also revealed that “many” officials at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office supported such a deployment, but that other factors had to be considered including parallel demands on the UK’s limited resources.

“I would be lying if I said one is going to arrive next week, but there is a strong push for it and there is a lot of sympathy, there is a lot of support,” he said.

During the interview, Sir James said Spain was unlikely to shift in its 300-year old position on Gibraltar and that it was important to seek ways of managing the situation through diplomacy so that tensions did not escalate. He said Britain now had a “pretty slick” process of responding to Spanish incursions and said that in the more serious cases, people should not underestimate the impact of calling in the Spanish ambassador, as has happened several times over the past year.

September 14, 2014

The Franklin Expedition discovery as a tool in Canadian claims to the Arctic

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:26

Canada has long claimed sovereignty over the Arctic islands and the waterways around them. The United States disputes that claim, saying that the Northwest Passage is an international waterway. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been using the search for the Franklin Expedition to bolster Canadian claims, and the Guardian‘s Nicky Woolf reports disdainfully:

Apart from these findings, the fate of the expedition remained a mystery for almost 170 years – until this week, when the wreckage of one of the ships was found by a Canadian scientific team. Ryan Harris, one of the lead archaeologists on the expedition, said that finding the ship was “like winning the Stanley Cup”.

The official announcement of the find was made by Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada.

“This is truly a historic moment for Canada,” he said, in a bombastic statement to the press. “Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.”

The certainty of the statement was perplexing to Suzanne Lalonde, a professor of international law at the University of Montreal. “I’ve been struggling with it – the way Prime Minister Harper announced the find as if there was a monumental confirmation of Canadian sovereignty,” she told the Guardian.

Canada’s position is that the North-West Passage is already Canadian. In an official statement to the Guardian, Christine Constantin, a spokeswoman for the Canadian embassy in Washington, said: “All waters of the Canadian Arctic archipelago, including the various waterways known as the ‘North-West Passage’, are internal waters of Canada … Canada’s sovereignty over its waters in the Arctic is longstanding and well established.

“No one disputes that the various waterways known as the ‘North-West Passage’ are Canadian waters.”

The routes usually taken to constitute the North-West Passage pass between Canada’s mainland territory and its Arctic islands.

September 9, 2014

Russian FSB lured Estonian official into a trap

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:26

In the Guardian, Julian Borger updates the situation in Estonia after the kidnapping of Eston Kohver by Russian forces:

The Estonian intelligence official seized by Russia thought he was going to meet an informant in a secluded spot on the border as part of an organised crime investigation but instead walked into an FSB trap, according to Estonian security sources.

Eston Kohver went to the arranged meeting at 9am on Friday in woodland near the village of Miikse, about five miles north of the official Luhamaa border post. He had armed backup in the form of Estonian security officers nearby but they were unable to react in time because of the use of flash grenades and because their communications were jammed.

By the time they realised what has happening, Kohver had been dragged into the woods on the Russian side of the border by a group of gunmen.

Kohver is now in Moscow where he is awaiting formal charges. Russian media have suggested he could be accused of spying; a pistol, a recording device and €5,000 in cash were displayed on Russian television as evidence.

Estonian security sources confirmed that all the items were Kohver’s but said it was entirely routine for him to be carrying them. The recording device and the cash were intended for the informant he thought he would be meeting.

The Russian-Ukrainian War

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:16

Paul Goble summarizes Konstantin Gaaze’s ten questions and answers about the war between Russia and Ukraine:

Gaaze’s first question is “Why did we (they) act as we (they) did with them (us)?” His answer: “President Putin considers that the Ukrainian state exists only because he agrees to its existence.” Consequently, “Moscow has acted from the false hypothesis that ‘Ukraine is not a state,’” something for which several thousand people have already paid with their lives.

But Kiev, the Moscow writer says, has also operated from a false hypothesis.” Ukrainian leaders believed that “Russia will not provide essential assistance to the local uprising in the east of Ukraine because it is intimidated by Western sanctions.” But Moscow isn’t, and it has intervened. Consequently, Ukraine has had to fight, and many have suffered as well.

His second question is “What has been obtained and how did the war end?” In Gaaze’s view, “the east of Ukraine belongs to people whose names we in fact do not know. Kiev has lost part of its territory but forever have been marginalized the future of the non-existence Novorossiya.”

“It will never become part of Russia,” Gaaze says, but “in the near term, it will not be part of Ukraine either. Millions of people thus are condemned to live in an enormous Transdniestria, to live between two armies, one of which (the Russian) is committed to destroy the other (the Ukrainian).” The first is only waiting for the order to do so.

Gaaze’s third question is this: “Was Putin fighting with Ukraine or with the West?” the answer is with both, but the results are different. “Kiev did not lose the war, but it did not win it either. The West,” in contrast, “lost the first round of the new Cold War. Moscow did what it wanted,” while the West did not act decisively because of various fears about the future.

“But the first round of the cold war is not the entire war,” Gaaze says. The West can recover. NATO can rearm. “There will be other rounds,” and Russia “will not be able to win them.”

September 6, 2014

Estonian intelligence official kidnapped by Russian FSB

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:14

Russia appears to be willing to test the patience of all of its European neighbours, as Estonia lodges a formal complaint that one of their intelligence officers has been captured by Russian FSB troops on Estonian territory:

A strange incident near the Russian-Estonian border on Friday ended with an Estonian intelligence officer in Russian custody and the two countries trading sharply contradictory allegations about what happened.

Estonia’s president and prime minister, among other officials, said the officer had been kidnapped at gunpoint from their territory and forced across the border in a blatant violation of sovereignty. The Russian Federal Security Service said the officer was in Russia and engaged in a clandestine operation when he was detained.

The episode threatened to heighten tensions between Russia and the NATO alliance, to which Estonia belongs, at a time when relations are already severely strained over the conflict in Ukraine. It came just two days after President Obama gave a speech in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, pledging that NATO would defend the Baltics against Russian aggression and suggesting that any attack on them would lead to war with the West.

Although the intelligence officer was apparently detained around 9 a.m., the Russian security service, known as the F.S.B., did not acknowledge the incident until Friday evening, when it issued a statement to three Russian news agencies.

Senior Estonian officials, including the director of the country’s Internal Security Service, held a news conference in the late afternoon, saying the officer had been abducted after unknown assailants set off a stun grenade and jammed communication signals. At the time of his capture, the officer was investigating a criminal case in the area of Luhamaa, Estonia, a little more than a mile from the border with Russia, officials said, according to Estonian news reports.

Update, 7 September: The Interpreter‘s Ukraine Liveblog included this information today.

Eston Kohver, an Estonian intelligence officer who was, according to Estonia, abducted and taken across the border to Russia yesterday, has appeared in Moscow, where he is being detained. The Estonian authorities reported that smoke grenades were used and that there were signs of a violent struggle. In addition, it was reported that communications signals in the area were jammed at the time of the reported abduction.

Meanwhile the FSB claimed yesterday that Kohver had been arrested on Russian territory, in the Pskov region.

Interfax reports that Russia’s state-owned Channel One announced today that the Lefortovo Court has approved Kohver’s detention on suspicion of espionage.

Here is video from Russia’s Ruptly news agency showing Kohver being taken out of a car and into a pre-trial detention centre (known in Russia as SIZO). The footage also shows a display of the items that the FSB has claimed that were found on Kohver including 5,000 euros in cash and a Taurus pistol.

August 28, 2014

None dare call it an invasion

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:49

The battles between Ukraine forces and Russian-backed rebels were one thing: you could make a case for it being a “local” issue if you didn’t want to draw attention to it (for fear the Russians might cut off your natural gas supply). It’s quite a different thing when the Ukrainians are fighting Russian soldiers rather than irregulars and paramilitaries:

Russian forces in two armored columns captured a key southeastern coastal town near the Russian border Thursday after Ukrainian forces retreated in the face of superior firepower, a Ukrainian military spokesman said.

The two Russian columns, including tanks and armored fighting vehicles, entered the town of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov after a battle in which Ukrainian army positions came under fire from Grad rockets launched from Russian territory, according to the spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko.

“Our border servicemen and guardsmen retreated as they did not have heavy equipment,” Lysenko said in a statement.

Ukrainian authorities have denounced the latest fighting as a Russian invasion of their territory, intended to prop up pro-Moscow separatists who have been losing ground to Ukrainian forces and to open a new front in the southeastern corner of Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials said earlier that Ukrainian troops were battling combined Russian and separatist forces on the new southern front around Novoazovsk, about eight miles west of the Russian border. The Ukrainian military also said Russian troops were increasing surveillance from northern Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in March.

Among western countries, Canada (of all places) has become snarky about the situation:

May 24, 2014

European defence and Russia’s renewed military adventurist spirit

Filed under: Europe, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:51

In Forbes, Roger Scruton provides a few reasons why Europe — especially Eastern Europe — is much tougher to defend now than it was in the post-Cold War years:

Three factors are principally responsible for this. The first is the growth of the European Union, and its policy of dissolving national borders. The EU has set out to delegitimize the nation state, to make it irrelevant to the ‘citizens’ of the Union whether they be French, British, Polish or Italian, and to abolish the national customs and beliefs that make long-term patriotic loyalty seriously believable. The EU’s attempt to replace national with European identity has, however failed, and is widely regarded with ridicule. Moreover the EU’s inability to think coherently about defense, and its policy of ‘soft power’ which makes defense in any case more or less inconceivable, means that the motive which leads ordinary people to defend their country in its time of need has been substantially weakened. Patriotism is seen as a heresy, second only to fascism on the list of political sins, and the idea that the people of Europe might be called upon to defend their borders looks increasingly absurd in the light of the official doctrine that there are no borders anyway.

The second reason for European weakness is connected. I refer to the guarantee, under the European Treaties, of the right to work and settle in any part of the Union. This has led to a massive migration from the former communist countries to the West. The people who migrate are the skilled, the entrepreneurial, the educated – in short, the elite on whom the resolution and identity of a country most directly depends. Very soon countries like Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, all of which are directly threatened by a militant Russia, will be without a committed and resident class of leaders. No doubt, should the tanks start to roll, the émigré populations of those countries will protest. But will they return home to fight a pointless war, leaving their newly-won security and prosperity behind? I doubt it.

The third factor tending to the indefensibility of Europe is the dwindling American commitment to the Western alliance. President G.W. Bush was prescient enough to revive the idea of anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe, and the military in both Poland and the Czech Republic were prepared to go along with it. Putin displayed his KGB training immediately, by declaring that these purely defensive installations would be an ‘act of aggression’. All the old Newspeak was trotted out in the effort to influence the incoming administration of President Obama against his predecessor’s policy. And the effort was successful. Obama weakly conceded the point, and the anti-missile defenses were not installed. Since then the Obama administration has continued to divert resources and attention elsewhere, creating the distinct impression in Europe that America is no longer wholeheartedly committed to its defense.

May 5, 2014

The Constitution-free zone near the US border

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:48

A recent decision by a federal appeal court expands the already very broad opportunities for police and border agents to stop and search travellers near the US border:

A federal appeals court just ruled that the police have a legal right to stop, search and arrest you for innocent behavior including driving with your hands at the ten-and-two position on the steering wheel at 7:45 p.m., taking a scenic route and having acne.

To the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, these factors added up to fit the profile of a person smuggling undocumented immigrants and drugs. The court said, “Although the factors, in isolation, may be consistent with innocent travel … taken together they may amount to reasonable suspicion.”

In other words, the police can now stop you for no reason at all. Law enforcement just needs to add a sinister context to your behavior, and off you go to jail. The court endorsed this expansion of aggressive police behavior in USA v. Cindy Lee Westhoven, No. 13-2065.

[…]

Incredibly the court found that this scenario created a reasonable suspicion for an “investigative stop.” By inserting a context that would make every driver guilty, the court upheld this belligerent law enforcement:

The officer said he spotted the car because “her arms were ‘straight and locked out’ at a ‘ten-and-two position on the steering wheel,’ — as everyone is taught in driver’s ed in high school. He was also suspicious because the road was used primarily by locals in New Mexico, and Westhoven had Arizona plates. She had acne scarring, “indicating to him she might be a methamphetamine user.” He also thought the shopping was better in Tucson than Douglas, so this was also “suspicious.”

“The dark tinted windows on Ms. Westhoven’s truck raised Agent Semmerling’s suspicion that she might be concealing something or someone in the back of her truck,” the court added.

The time happened to be between a 6-to-8 p.m. border patrol shift change, and the cop inferred that Westhoven was a smuggler trying to exploit that two-hour window. Westhoven was nervous, taking long pauses and shaking — which apparently signaled criminality.

The final nail for Westhoven was that she had two cell phones visible in the car. The cop said this was a common practice for drug smugglers. It is also common for people who have a business phone and a personal phone.

April 10, 2014

Erasing the 49th parallel? Not so fast…

Filed under: Cancon, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:30

Froma Harrop reviews the latest hare-brained scheme geopolitical notion of Diane Francis:

What country do Americans overwhelmingly like the most? Canada.

What country do Canadians pretty much like the most? America.

What country has the natural resources America needs? Canada.

What country has the entrepreneurship, technology and defense capability Canada needs? America.

Has the time come to face the music and dance? Yes, says Diane Francis, editor-at-large at the National Post in Toronto. Her book Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country is both provocative and persuasive.

“The genius of both societies is that they are very good at assimilating people from all over the world,” Francis told me. “So why can’t they do it themselves?”

Relatively small differences are why. Canadian intellectuals have long portrayed the United States as their violent, unruly twin. Many conservatives in this country, meanwhile, deride Canada as the socialistic land of single-payer medicine, gun control and other heavy regulation.

“I don’t buy the narrative of American exceptionalism or Canadian superiority,” says Francis, a dual citizen (born in Chicago). “Both have good points and bad points.”

Americans close to the border already think a lot like Canadians, she notes. Some northern states actually have more liberal laws and lower crime rates than Canada’s. “They are more Canadian than Canadians.”

We have a set of alliances that ensure continental security is underwritten by the world’s most powerful military. We have a free trade arrangement between the two countries that also includes Mexico. Our respective intelligence services co-operate (along with the UK, New Zealand, and Australia) at a very deep level — both for good (shared military surveillance, analysis, and security) and for ill (very significant individual privacy concerns).

Our economies are strongly inter-linked, but both are still subject to outside forces and inside stresses that affect each country differently.

In other words, aside from the minor convenience of not having to carry passports when moving from one country to the other (and the way the US is moving, that may no longer be true for Americans travelling domestically in a few years), we already have most of the benefits of a merger with none of the drawbacks: the American legal system is a terrifying beast to behold, US federal and state governments are far more intrusive and undemocratic in practice despite the legal framework of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the US political system is if possible even more terrifying than their legal system.

Canada’s legal system could benefit from a few key reforms (getting rid of the human rights tribunals would be a good one, for example), but seem to work in a manner that is both faster and more visibly fair than their American counterparts. Our form of government looks (to American eyes) to be dictatorial, yet yields to democratic pressure from the voters most of the time (most recent example: Quebec). Our head of government is just a politician … and that’s all we expect of a Prime Minister. Our head of state doesn’t even live here, and we’re totally okay with that, too. Of course, if such a merger did take place, the head of state still wouldn’t live here…

A merger? I don’t think so.

December 24, 2013

Indian gold bugs go home

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, India, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:19

The Indian government has been attempting to restrict the domestic gold market, but there’s a big loophole in the rules that many travellers are taking advantage of while they can:

Faced with curbs on gold imports and crash in international prices leaving it cheaper in other countries, gold houses and smugglers are turning to NRIs to bring in the yellow metal legally after paying duty. Any NRI, who has stayed abroad for more than six months, is allowed to bring in 1kg gold.

It was evident last week when almost every passenger on a flight from Dubai to Calicut was found carrying 1kg of gold, totalling up to 80kg (worth about Rs 24 crore). At Chennai airport, 13 passengers brought the legally permitted quantity of gold in the past one week.

“It’s not illegal. But the 80kg gold that landed in Calicut surprised us. We soon got information that two smugglers in Dubai and their links in Calicut were behind this operation, offering free tickets to several passengers,” said an official. The passengers were mostly Indian labourers in Dubai, used as carriers by people who were otherwise looking at illegal means, he said. “We have started tracing the origin and route of gold after intelligence pointed to the role of smugglers,” he said.

Reports from Kerala said passengers from Dubai have brought more than 1,000kg of gold in the last three weeks. People who pay a duty of Rs 2.7 lakh per kg in Dubai still stand to gain at least Rs 75,000 per kg, owing to the price difference in the two countries. Gold dealers in Kerala say most of this gold goes to jewellery makers in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

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