Friday, September 30, 2011

Croatian Tourist, 60, Abducted, Robbed of US$800, Released

Early on September 30, Croatian tourist Ante Kritic, 60, was suddenly stopped by gunmen on the streets of Manila, handcuffed and pushed into a car where he was directed to give up all the money he had, which was US$800. Subsequently, he was released and contacted local police to report what had happened to him.

COMMENT: As I've said in previous postings, violent crime on the streets of Manila are not uncommon occurrences. First of all, I suggest that visitors to the Philippines never carry more than US$75 on them; this will usually satisfy the demands of most criminals. Travelers should also carry a debit card with a low balance (e.g., less than US$500) so that they can satisfy the needs of criminals if they're abducted off the street as Kritic was. Finally, always obtain a copy of a written police report in the hope that the loss can be mitigated through an insurance claim back home. Finally, it is also possible for victims of crimes in the Philippines to make a monetary claim under the country's victim compensation program (http://www.doj.gov.ph/index.php).

Committed Spanish Paramedics Deliver Baby From Dead Mother

It has often been said that as one of us is dying, another is coming into the world. We understand this intellectually, but emotionally it is hard to fathom. Yet, yesterday evening (September 30) an unidentified man, 34, walked into the Santa Maria del Pinar Church in northern Madrid and without any emotion or comment, shot and killed a pregnant mother, 36, and then turned his weapon on another woman, 52, who he shot in the chest. Then, without hesitation, he turned the pistol on himself and committed suicide.

COMMENT: The assailant apparently had no connection to his victims and had no motive other than wanting to end lives. What he did not know, though, is the commitment to life shared by the paramedics who responded to the church. Realizing that they could not save the mother, the quick-thinking professionals conducted an emergency
caesarean operation then and there and rushed the newborn and the women shot in the chest to Hospital de La Paz.

At the request of the family, a hospital spokeswoman could only say that she could not provide an update on the baby's condition. When the paramedics delivered the child, he was in cardiac arrest, but the first responders were able to bring him back to life. We can only hope and pray that the child survives. It will be a number of days before the hospital staff will know whether the child has any irreversible brain damage.

The other injured woman was taken to the same hospital and has been stabilized and is out of danger. Bizarre realities of life such as this remind us just how precious and tentative life is and how we must be prepared for every foreseeable AND unforeseeable event.





Update: US Envoy Traveling to Kabul, Islamabad to Address Haqqani Issue

Marc Grossman, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is headed to Kabul and Islamabad to secure Pakistan's support against the Haqqani insurgent network and to persuade Afghanistan to continue three-way talks with the U.S. and Pakistan on counter-terrorism and economic development.

COMMENT: This is excellent news. Marc Grossman is one of the most gifted negotiators the US Foreign Service has produced. The insurgent group attacked the U.S. embassy in Kabul on September 13. Most recently, outgoing JCS chief Admiral Mike Mullen was publicly quoted as characterizing the Haqqani network as a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI.


Analysis: Anwar al-Awlaki's Death Only Possible Through Yemeni Cooperation

I proudly have a framed commendation hanging in my office from the US Diplomatic Security Service, the law enforcement arm of the US Department of State, recognizing me for my personal successes in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) during 2002-2006. Of course, the term GWOT, "Islamic terrorists and" "Islamic extremists" are not normally used anymore in the Obama Administration. They have been replaced with politically correct terms that don't characterize conditions as they are or simply don't make sense in English or any other language. But enough about me.

Today, the news is filled with reports, commentary and analysis about what the US did to kill an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, 40, the fiery, charismatic planner of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who either inspired or directed the actions of the Christmas Day Bomber in Detroit (2009), the mass murder at Fort Hood (2009), failed efforts to blow up US cargo planes (2010), failed efforts to detonate a car-bomb in Times Square (2010) and other known and unknown plots.

Although I personally disagree with many of President Obama's policies and decisions, he should be recognized and commended for two major accomplishments during his presidency: (1) The assassination of Osama bin Laden; and (2) The assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. This statement is not about revenge. More importantly, it is about removing the probability of either of these men ever germinating an act of terrorism against any country. Of course, they will be replaced, but their absence will force al-Qaeda to have a steeper hill to climb.

A gratuitous bonus from the US-Yemeni counter-terrorism operation that killed Anwar al-Awlaki was the simultaneous death of another American citizen, Samir Khan, 25, a self-confessed traitor. Khan was Saudi-born and raised in Queens, NY, but easily relocated to Yemen in 2009, where al-Awlaki became his mentor. Khan went on to establish an AQAP publication in English that helped radicalize other Americans. It also included instructions in how to fabricate IEDs [improvised explosive devices].

What I particularly liked about President Obama's announcement concerning the US air strike that killed both al-Awlaki and Khan was his expression of thanks to the Yemeni government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The US could not have done it alone.

It should be noted that Saleh recently returned to Yemen after recuperating from an assassination attempt in Sana'a, where was badly burned and wounded. Admittedly, he may not be the right head of state for Yemen, but neither are many in the opposition. Fortunately, and probably for reasons we'll never know, relations between the US and Yemen have warmed in recent weeks. Had that not been the case, al-Awlaki and Khan would still be alive.

Hence, it is essential that peaceful people be as thankful to Yemen as they are to the US, because the success of the operation is attributable to both nations. We should be mindful that it was Yemeni intelligence that pinpointed al-Awlaki and Khan's location so that the strike could be surgically delivered. After three weeks of tracking the targets, U.S. armed drones and fighter jets shadowed al-Awlaki's convoy early Friday, then drones launched their strike. The strike killed four operatives in all. US-Yemeni elements. It should also be known that the US-Yemeni effort attempted to use a drone on al-Awlaki in May, but the attack was not successful.

AQAP, which established itself in Yemen after Saudi Arabia defeated a violent al-Qaeda campaign from 2003-6, has emerged as one of the network's most ambitious wings, attempting daring, if unsuccessful, attacks on U.S. and Saudi targets. Yemen has been mired in turmoil after eight months of mass protests demanding that Saleh step down, something he has reiterated he will do only if his main rivals do not take over. Saleh's recent return to Yemen halted talks over a Gulf-brokered transition plan that had been revived despite violence that has killed more than 100 people in the capital in the last two weeks. Saleh's troops have been fighting the forces of rebel General Ali Mohsen and those of tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar. Saleh who has repeatedly avoided signing the Gulf plan at the last minute and has urged foreign governments to have more patience in concluding the deal, saying: "We are pressed by America and the international community to speed up the process of handing over power. And we know where power is going to go. It is going to al-Qaeda, which is directly and completely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood."

Although opposition groups criticize Saleh of giving militants more leeway in a ploy to frighten Western powers and convince them that he is the best defense against al-Qaeda, the only reason that al-Awlaki is dead is because of Saleh. Admittedly, facilitating the joint US-Yemeni operation could have been a tactic of buying off Washington. Then, again, the international community needs to move very cautiously and choose wisely. There is always a possibility that Saleh could be right about al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Just look at how Egypt has changed?


One final thought. There is a lesson-learned from the success of the US-Yemeni operation against al-Awlaki. What if we had completely and irreversibly turned our back on Yemen, as we seem to be doing with the Pakistanis? Clearly, it is time to stop exchanging barbs and accusations in the media and learn from what we can actually agree on.



























Traveler's Alert: Tyson Recalls 131,000 Pounds of Ground Beeef

Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. is recalling 131,300 pounds of ground beef after a family in Ohio fell ill after eating meat produced by the company that was contaminated with E. coli, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The recall involves beef sold as Kroger brands at Kroger Co. supermarkets; Butcher's Beef at Food Lion supermarkets; and generic beef sold to SAV-A-LOT, Spectrum Foods, Supervalu and the Defense Commissary Agency. Tyson produced the affected meat at its plant in Emporia, KS, on August 23.


COMMENT: Four children became ill after eating the meat with their family in Butler County, OH, in the second week of September. A 9-year-old child was hospitalized for about 10 days with severe diarrhea. Ground beef from the family's home tested positive for the bacteria. The family told health officials that they bought the beef at a Kroger supermarket.

The products being recalled include 5-pound packages of Kroger-brand ground beef packed in 40-pound cases, with a product code of D-0211 QW, which was distributed in Tennessee and Indiana; 3-pound packages of Butcher's Brand beef packed in 36-pound cases with the code D-0211 LWIF, which was distributed in North and South Carolina; and 3-pound packages of generic labeled beef packed in 36-pound cases with a product code D-0211 LWI, which was distributed in Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. The beef, all 73/27 lean to fat ratio, had a "best before" date of September 12 and the number 245D inked on the packages. Consumers are urged to check their freezers and return or discard any beef listed in the recall.


Update: Pakistani Spy Chief Responds Re: Haqqani Militants

After meeting with Pakistan's political parties yesterday concerning quickly deteriorating relations with the US, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Pakistani spy chief, was quoted as saying: "We have never paid a penny or provided even a single bullet to the Haqqani network." Pasha added by saying that uninvited US action inside Pakistan would be "unacceptable."

COMMENT: As background, I would suggest that our readers review my recent postings concerning Pakistan. It is clear that JCS chief Admiral Mike Mullen's recent public statement that Pasha's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate was linked to the September 13 attack on the US mission in Kabul was perceived as inflammatory. It would have been far more prudent to classify such comments, so as not to contribute to the deterioration of bi-lateral relations.

The problem is that too many people on both sides [Washington and Islamabad] are using the media to communicate with each other. This is never a good idea. As I said yesterday, it may be time for the US and Pakistan to meet on neutral ground, with the assistance of a facilitator they both respect, in order to head off a complete and irreversible breakdown in communications.

Unfortunately, there are far two many officials in the executive and legislative branches of the Federal Government talking to the media in Washington, which sends very mixed and unvarnished signals to the Pakistanis. The recent comments by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), for example, advocating that the US consider increasing military action inside Pakistan beyond drone strikes, is only going to be perceived in Pakistan as "saber-rattling." The very mention of talking to the media about the deployment of US bombers inside Pakistan is not helpful.

As a dispassionate observer, it appears that both the US and Pakistan are facing the results of missteps and misunderstandings. Combating terrorism is too important for them to be adversaries. The fact is that if Pakistan and the US stop working together in the Global War on Terrorism only terrorists will be the beneficiaries. This is not good for either nation. It is time for them to stop using the media to communicate with one another and to start understanding each other.



HSBC Expat Explorer Survey Releases Initial Results on Top Expat Destinations

The initial findings of the annual HSBC Expat Explorer survey (http://www.expatexplorer.hsbc.com) reveals that Thailand is still the number one expatriate destination for the second time, since the survey was established four years ago. Some nations which have experienced turbulent and often violent political events in the past twelve months continue to rank in the top ten in terms of the quality of the expat experience, with Egypt taking second place, followed by Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, Bermuda did not make it into this year’s survey, yet seven new countries have: Turkey, New Zealand, Brazil, Italy, Egypt, Vietnam & Japan, meaning that this year’s survey now covers 31 countries around the world.

We will keep our readers abreast of the release of the full 2011 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey once it becomes available.


COMMENT: Initial findings from the largest global expat survey of its kind in the world (3,385 expats from over 100 countries have taken part) offers some fascinating trends applicable to the expat community: (1) Despite the economic uncertainty in 2010, expats remain fairly optimistic about the economic outlook in the country where they live. Despite this optimism, only 64% of expats intend to stay in their current country compared to 87% in 2010; (2) The economic benefit of becoming an expat: in 2011 63% of expats report having more disposable income since relocating compared to 56% in 2010; (3) Language barriers are becoming less problematic for expats with only 27% reporting this as an issue compared to 30% in 2010; and (4) In 2011, expats are less concerned about feeling lonely and missing their friends and family with only 31% reporting this in 2011, compared to 34% in 2010.

Update: Foreign Tourist, 22, Robbed, Gang-Raped in Western Australia, Is Canadian, Two More Suspects Arrested

As a follow-up to my posting of September 29 ("Foreign Tourist, 22, Robbed Raped in Western Australia"), the victim in the attack has been confirmed as a Canadian citizen. Additionally, two more suspects in the case, a 13-year-old boy, has also been arrested.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Traveler's Alert: Another Typhoon Heading to Luzon, Inbound Visitors Urged to Defer Arrival

The death toll from Tyhoon Nesat in the Philippines has now climbed to 43, as authorities warn that yet another typhoon is scheduled to hit the country, particularly Luzon, on Saturday (October 1), potentially endangering 1 million people with heavy rains and continuing floods.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, the flood-waters that have yet to be flushed out to sea remain, which means that the arrival of Typhoon Nalgae on Saturday will very likely suck the wet southwest monsoons into these same areas and any fresh rains are bound to worsen the flooding. Consequently, international travelers bound for Luzon may wish to consider deferring optional travel for perhaps three days until there is a better understanding of Nalgae's impact. Updates will be provided at this site.



Hiking Guide, Japanese Tourist Treed by Aggressive Grizzly in Alberta

Parks Canada officials said that they were forced to kill a 350-pound grizzly bear that treed two hikers (a guide and a Japanese tourist) in Alberta earlier in the week because its behavior was becoming increasingly aggressive. The bear has been wearing a radio-tracking collar for more than three years and was identified as Bear No. 8. Parks officials decided Wednesday (September 28) to locate and kill the 6-year-old animal, two days after it chased the two men up a tree and climbed after them in Banff National Park.


COMMENT: After two hours, the bear meandered away and park officials got the two men to safety. A human-wildlife conflict specialist for the federal parks agency said the decision to kill the male bear was sad and was made reluctantly. The bear had a history of charging runners and cyclists, roaming through populated areas and once climbing onto a Canadian Pacific rail car and threatening workers who approached. Officials said it was the first ordered killing of a grizzly bear in Canada's national parks since 1995.



Update: Saudis Dispute US Embassy's Threat Alert That Westerners May be Kidnapped in Capital

An adviser to the Saudi Kingdom denied today (September 29) that there is any kidnapping threat for Westerners in Riyadh, adding that he has "no idea" what prompted U.S. officials to issue such a warning.If our readers will recall, when I filed my posting on this subject on September 28 ("US Embassy, Riyadh, Alerts Westerners to the Possibility of Being Kidnapped"), I intimated that it was unlikely that the threat alert had been coordinated with the Saudis.

COMMENT: Having worked as a Regional Security Officer (RSO) for the Department of State for 22 years, my experience tells me that the US Embassy did not coordinate the threat information with the Saudis very likely because of the need to protect the source of the information or because the Saudis would dispute the information, which they obviously have.


The adviser to the Saudi government described above, responded to questions from CNN via e-mail said "we were not told about the intelligence or warning ahead of time and have no idea what it is based on." The adviser criticized the content of the warning, including its mention of a "terrorist group." The advisor added: "The way the warning was written is completely unacceptable....There is (not) a terrorist group running around Riyadh threatening to kidnap expatriates."

My sense is that it perhaps would have been better for the Saudi government if the "advisor" had said much less than he did. He added in his response to CNN: "The hype that this warning is causing is absolutely unwarranted, and we will not tolerate it....The achievements of the Saudi counter-terrorism program will not be put into question or belittled by the Americans or anyone else for that matter!"

Although a State Department spokesperson stated during a press conference on Wednesday that the Department saw no need for expatriates to leave Saudi Arabia, the fact that the alert was released suggests that the source of the threat had been corroborated. My advice to Westerners living in Saudi Arabia is to follow the security awareness advice I offered yesterday, as well as that contained in the Department's security alert.

Update: Police Chief in Rio Resigns Over Judge's Assassination

Mario Sergio Duarte, chief of police of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro, who is responsible for law enforcement in a jurisdiction of 16 million people (equivalent to being chief of police of New York City, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles combined) tendered his resignation yesterday (September 28) for promoting Claudio de Oliveira as chief of police of the state of Rio's second largest city (Sao Goncalo, population 1 million).

It was recently disclosed that Oliveira and seven officers in his department conspired in the assassination of Judge Patricia Acioli (please see my recent posting) who was known for being tough on rogue cops who turned to vigilantism or extorted money from civilians. She was shot 21 times with police-issued bullets in front of her home in the city of Niteroi in August. All eight officers have since been arrested.

COMMENT: In his letter of resignation, Duarte took responsibility for naming Oliveira a police chief. He said blame should not fall on the state public security department itself, which has made strides against combating crime in recent years, but solely on his own shoulders.


The head of the state security department, Jose Mariano Beltrame, a state cabinet position, accepted Duarte's resignation with regret. In just the last few months, Rio police officers have been charged in several cases. Eleven officers who were part of the community policing program were arrested in September after being caught taking cash from traffickers. In July, the month before Acioli's slaying, four officers were charged with murdering and dumping the body of an 11-year-old boy. A 2009 case severely shook the image of Rio's police: Officers were caught on camera arresting and then releasing men who had just shot to death the head of a civil rights group.

Although Duarte was unaware of Oliveira's complicity in Judge Acioli's assassination, he nevertheless did an honorable thing by resigning. Few public officials in the US would do the same when confronted by scandal. Hopefully, Beltrame will select an equally suitable candidate to replace Duarte to continue with his efforts to clean up the state police system.


British Expat Loses Legs in Capetown Shark Attack

British expat Michael Cohen, 42, lost his right leg and part of his left, in a Great White shark attack in Cape Town, South Africa, after ignoring a shark spotting flag warning on the beach. Spotters had sighted three sharks 90 minutes before the beach was closed and on preceding days. When the flag was raised and the beach closed, Cohen foolishly entered the water and began swimming.

COMMENT: Quick thinking on the part of first responders resulted in their being able to fashion a makeshift tourniquet made of a wetsuit which was fastened around Cohen's right leg, which according to an ER surgeon, saved the Briton's life.

Presumably, he may have had some sort of a death-wish because he often ignored shark alerts and the warnings of shark spotters. This is the third recent shark attack. Ian Redmond was killed by a shark in the Seychelles in August, and a body boarder died in Australia earlier this month after a shark bit off his legs.


Cohen was about 50 yards from the shore when he was attacked at lunchtime on Wednesday (September 28). Little did he know that he would be on the menu.

A part-time accountant who lives in Cape Town, Cohen was dragged from the water by friends who were with him at the city’s Fish Hoek beach.


Foreign Tourist, 22, Robbed, Raped in Western Australia

Earvin Jared Hensley Dimer, 18, and Agnes Violet Oliver, 18, appeared in Broome Magistrate's Court earlier today, each charged with three counts of aggravated sexual penetration and one count of aggravated robbery.Broome police [north of Perth] police are searching for two youths accused of robbing and violently gang raping a 22-year-old unidentified foreign female tourist in the town of Kimberly. The two local teenagers were remanded in custody to appear on October 7. Two other youths believed to take part in the attack on the tourist are being sought by police.

COMMENT: Police said the victim, whose nationality was not revealed, was walking home from Murphy’s Bar on Louis Street at around 0200, when she was confronted by four youths near the corner of Anne Street and Tang Street. Oliver allegedly approached the woman and threatened to kill her with a broken bottle unless she handed over her handbag. When the tourist refused, Oliver allegedly punched the victim in the face, fracturing her cheek and causing her nose to bleed, and then pushed her to the ground before one of the gang stole her handbag.

Now, here's the bad part. As if she did not have enough trouble, the victim made a another bad choice when she decided to chase after the four assailants to recover her passport and handbag. When she caught up with them, they repeatedly assaulted and raped her. Fortunately, a passing motorist happened by and took the victim to the Broome Hospital for treatment.

Oliver and Dimer were denied bail by the magistrate out of concern that they might interfere with police efforts to find the other two youths allegedly involved.

As I've said countless times in the past, resistance and chasing after multiple assailants should never be viewed as a first choice. Losing a replaceable purse and passport is one thing, but chasing after a group of assailants only to be gang raped simply is not good risk management.




Traveler's Alert: Visitors to US Need to be Alert to Contaminated Cantaloupes

As the death toll from the listeria outbreak in the US climbs, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed 72 illnesses, including 13 deaths, from listeriosis linked to whole melons grown by Jensen Farms in Holly, CO. Three other deaths are currently under investigation. Cantaloupes usually don't last for more than two weeks in the refrigerator and the melons were recalled on September 14, yet health officials still are urging consumers to check to see where any whole cantaloupes are from.

COMMENT: "If it's not from Jensen Farms, it's OK to eat. But if you're in doubt, throw it out," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said during a Wednesday (September 28) briefing. The farm, which sells many of its cantaloupes under the Rocky Ford label, has ended its harvest season and is no longer producing melons. Federal and state officials still don't know how the cantaloupes came to be contaminated, but authorities have been investigating the farm for evidence that animals possibly strayed into the fields. They also are examining water quality, growing, harvest and processing practices and how the cantaloupes were stored.


Update: Time is Running Out for US, Pakistan to Reconcile

I said in a posting a few weeks ago that relations between the US and Pakistan would continue to worsen. I wish I could have been wrong in that assessment, but it appears that I was not.

Unfortunately, it is never helpful for politicians to use the media to communicate with one another, because most journalists need controversy to get attention. I'll be the first one to emphasize that retiring JCS chief Admiral Mike Mullen USN did not help US-Pakistani relations when last week he accused Pakistan's intelligence service (ISI) of being deeply linked with the Haqqani militant group that is responsible for recent attacks on the US Embassy in Kabul and US troops in Afghanistan. Mullen should have known better to classify such dialogue, so as not to start trouble the US does not need.

It is clear that US pressure on Pakistan to attack Afghan militants on its soil is very unlikely, largely because most Pakistanis adamantly dislike the US and dislike its policies even more. Hence, Pakistani leaders must walk a fine line in not being perceived as US puppets.

Knowing how upset Pakistan was with the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis at the hands of CIA contractor Ray Davis in March, and in particular with the US Navy SEAL operation on Pakistani soil on May 2, which resulted in the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the Obama Administration should have stopped talking to the press. Period. Somewhere along the line, though, American politicians have begun to think that they have to tell the media everything they're doing and thinking. They don't.

Yet, Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani appeared to be extending an olive branch yesterday when he said, "Pakistan cannot be pressured to do more, but the doors are still open from our side for talks and discussion....We reject these allegations. God willing, we can face these challenges with unity. We are committed to defend our independence and sovereignty." U.S. officials have long talked with the Pakistanis about links between Pakistan and the militant Haqqani network that is behind much of the violence in Afghanistan. Yet, those discussions were mostly held in private, in the hope that Pakistan could gradually be persuaded to sever their purported ties with the group. Nevertheless, Mullen embarked on a risk-rich strategy last week by publicly saying that the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI.


Although they bicker amongst each others as do most political parties around the world, Pakistan's conflicting political parties now seem to be fully unified against US saber-rattling and the Pakistani perception that American "boots" could soon be on the ground. It is believed that these parties could soon issue a collective resolution condemning the US, but it's unclear whether the statement will touch on the allegations of Pakistan support for Afghan militants, a far more sensitive topic because it could set off criticism of the powerful army.

It is believed that the Pakistani Army and the ISI are tolerating or even supporting the Haqqani network largely because they want to cultivate it as an ally in Afghanistan once the Americans withdraw. They see little chance of the top brass attacking the group now, especially when the US is calling for peace talks with other militant factions in Afghanistan. This reasoning has strong support in Pakistan, where most citizens view American forces in Afghanistan as invaders. Yet, there are some circles in Pakistan that see the Taliban as being linked to al-Qaeda, which has also conducted countless operations on Pakistani soil in recent years.

Before either the US or Pakistan says or does something imprudent, that could worsen relations between the two countries, this may be a time for Washington and Islamabad to meet on neutral ground and have their meeting facilitated by someone the two countries both respect so as to reach greater understanding. This would be far better than using the international media to advocate contentious rhetoric. The bottom line is that they both vitally need each other, in the interest of stemming future acts of terrorism.


Solo Japanese Tourist, 31, Killed by Rapist at Bagan

This tragic story closely resembles my August 24 posting ("Update: Suspect in Frenchwoman's Murder Charged"), which concerned a French tourist who was murdered on a remote island in Malaysia presumably because she resisted being raped.

Chiharu Shiramatsu, 31, a young Japanese tourist who was traveling alone, was killed on Wednesday (September28) near Kyaukpadaung, close to the ancient temple city of Bagan (previously known as Pagan), after hiring a motorcycle taxi to go sightseeing.

According to local police, Shiramatsu was
killed by a motorcycle taxi driver who tried to rape her. Min Theik, the 39-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, was arrested at the scene. Violent crime involving foreign tourists is relatively rare in military-dominated Myanmar, yet even one isolated violent crime can be irreversible.

COMMENT: I visited Bagan during the 1980s when few tourists had even heard about it. Located 320 miles (514 kilometers from Yangoon), this is probably one of the "must see" ancient sites in the world, which rivals Angor Wat in significance. The endless view of pagodas can be seen as far as the eye can see. It is located on the Ayeryarwady River and is roughly 90 miles from Mandalay. Definitely worth the effort of getting there.

Nevertheless, Bagan is also one of the most isolated tourist sites in the world; getting there is not easy. There are many similarities in this case to the attempted rape/murder of Frenchwoman Stephanie Moray, 30, who was killed on Pulau Tioman in May.

As I have previously pointed out in many of my postings which involve personal threats, I don't suggest solo travelers visiting out-of-the-way, isolate places unless they have been competently trained to successfully repel a physical attack.

I should also note that pedicabs, "samlors," "tuk-tuks," and similar two-and-three wheeled motorized transport is the least desirable way for a person traveling along to see the sites, particularly considering that many of these drivers are of questionable character.

Alternatively,
Shiramatsu could easily have conferred with the Japanese Embassy in Yangoon to obtain a list of reputable transport services or tour operators providing services to Bagan who could have set up safe transportation for her (http://www.mm.emb-japan.go.jp/profile/english), preventing the loss of this precious life.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Update: King Abdullah Overturns Judicial Ruling that Woman Driver Be Subjected to 10 Lashes

Saudi King Abdullah thankfully has overturned a court ruling sentencing a Saudi woman, Shaima Jastaina, to be lashed 10 times for defying the Kingdom's ban on female drivers. On Tuesday (September 27), a Saudi court found Jastaina guilty of violating the driving ban, and sentenced her to 10 lashes. The verdict took Saudi women by surprise, coming just a day after King Abdullah promised to protect women's rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015. Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.


COMMENT: The harsh sentence marked the first time a legal punishment had been handed down since female activists began their campaign in June to break the taboo.

There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is simply rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold that giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sin.

King Abdullah's counter-action against ultra-conservative clerics shows incredible strength on his part and is an indicator that harsh punishment for women who drive may no longer be tolerated. Then again, time will tell.

US Embassy, Riyadh, Alerts Westerners to the Possibility of Being Kidnapped

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia today (September 28) reported that an unnamed terrorist group may be planning to kidnap Westerners in the capital of Riyadh and urged U.S. citizens to exercise caution. As it often does when such threats arise, the US Embassy reminded US citizens "to exercise prudence and enhanced security awareness at all times."

COMMENT: Reportedly, the warning was based on "solid information," but that the embassy had no plans to reduce the hours it was open or repatriate any staff or their family members. The fact that the Saudi government said it had no information about the threat that prompted the U.S. warning, indicates that the US Department of State did not confer with the Saudis prior to the threat being announced.

Our readers are reminded that the kidnapping of Westerners in Saudi Arabia is not a new phenomenon, recalling that Westerners were kidnapped in Saudi Arabia during 2003-2006. First of all, there are sufficient numbers of terrorist elements in the Kingdom that have the same freedom of movement in Saudi Arabia that Osama bin Laden had in Pakistan for years.


It is rarely known exactly what "solid" means within the context of State Department warnings. Based upon how dramatically politics are now changing throughout the Middle East, in countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Yemen, Westerners living in Saudi Arabia would well be well-advised to (1) be predictably unpredictable; (2) travel to and from work in groups; (3) avoid being out at night alone; (4) Car pool with friends, using different vehicles; and (5) telecommute every other day or so.

Generally speaking, diplomats are less likely to be targeted, considering that the Saudi government is responsible for protecting them. Conversely, Western business executives and military contractors who are afforded a lesser degree of personal security than accredited diplomats are more likely to be targeted. Bombing attacks on Western residences should not be ruled out.





Power Failure, Manual Error Blamed on Shanghai Subway Crash

The September 27 subway crash in Shanghai, which injured 284 people, was caused by a power failure and manual error, a day after its chairman blamed the accident on signaling equipment. Reportedly, operators did not follow proper procedures after a power shortage disrupted signaling. Shanghai Metro will conduct safety inspections and improve training following the crash.


COMMENT: “The main cause of the accident has no relation with the signaling system,” Philippe Kasse, a spokesman for France-based Alstom, said by e-mail yesterday. Services on Line 10 were shut across a 13-station stretch most of yesterday. Full operations on the track, which opened last year, resumed at 2000 hours. The company limited train speeds to 45 kilometers (28 miles) an hour.

The accident, two months after a fatal high-speed train crash, has stoked concerns that China’s rapid construction of new transport links comes at the cost of safety. Shanghai’s subway and train network expanded more than sevenfold in eight years to 453 kilometers because of a growing population and demand during last year’s World Expo. More than 500 people were evacuated from the two metro trains when they crashed into one another. Of the injured, 95 were admitted to hospitals or were under observation. A train on the No. 10 line also ran in the wrong direction on July 28 because of a signaling fault during an upgrade.

In July, a high-speed train crashed into the back of another locomotive near the city of Wenzhou, killing 40 people. That accident was caused by a signaling fault following a lightning strike.


Traveler's Alert: Check on Labor Strikes in Athens Before Traveling

A suggestion to international travelers planning to visit Greece in coming months: Check on transportation labor strikes before traveling. Another 24-hour public transport strike today (September 28) left commuters in Athens struggling to make their way to work as unions lash out against austerity measures the government hopes will get it access to crucial bailout loans. Wednesday's strike left the capital without buses, metros, taxis and trams. Customs and tax office workers were also on strike, while about 350 pensioners demonstrated outside the Finance Ministry against pension cuts and tax increases.


COMMENT: Greeks have been outraged by the announcement of new austerity measures, including pension cuts and a new property tax, coming after more than a year of spending cuts and tax hikes. The heads of Greece's international debt inspectors are due back in Athens this week to complete a review of government reforms in anticipation of yet another bailout for the economically crippled country.

Analysis: Politics Aside, Life for Greeks, Others Facing Steep Hills to Climb

Athens has always been one of my favorite international cities. Admittedly, it is congested, polluted, noisy and hard to get from Point A to Point B, yet over a period of 30 years in working and vacationing there, it remains to offer a charm that it hard to describe. Probably the best way of describing Greece as a whole is the sense of humor and gusto for life of its people. Unfortunately, though, like the US, the Greek government has overspent, gone crazy with entitlements and overstaffed its central government. I know that Greece's problems are more complex than that, but when Americans look in the mirror in the morning they see the Greek colors in the background. We're all in the same boat.

Politically and economically, the question for EU economists is: Do we bail out Greece or don't we? As we speak, EU officials, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank are in Athens to deliver really bad news in what massive austerity programs the Greeks will face to get a life-supporting bailout.

Like the US, Greece will face tougher times ahead before things will get better. It is going to be a hard pill to swallow. Yet, Europe's fiscal experts are already behind the curve, as economists are in the US. Regrettably, austerity measures are nearly two late for both countries. The problem now, for both nations, is the demobilizing fear that is infecting both societies. Fear of the future, fear of the present and longing for better says they saw in the past.

In real terms, Athens is confronting a debt load five times the size of Argentina's default in 2001. With an ever increasing recession, riots in the streets and the potential for the collapse of the banking system, the worst-case scenario potentially could include expulsion from the EU. After two massive bailouts already, and with the average income of most Greek households dropping by as much as 50%, the capacity of Greeks to sustain further austerity measures is quickly running out. As in the US, Greeks no longer believe their government.

The fact that Greek wage earners were among the lowest paid in Europe BEFORE the current crisis is no consolation. The reality is that many Greeks are skimping along on 500 euros a month, while national unemployment is at 16%,

With the Greek economy predicted to contract for a fourth year, Greece is not only mired in a recession not seen since World War II, but has become increasingly unhinged by the crisis. While international economists sit in board rooms with complimentary continental breakfast, espresso machines and Swiss chocolate, people worldwide are suffering, but probably not to the extent that they are in Greece. Drug addiction is spiraling, suicides are up, thousands of shop owners have abandoned their businesses and some crisis hot-liners receive upwards of 5,000 calls a day. The announcement this month of a flurry of new taxes, including a Draconian tax on real estate, has come as yet a further shock.

As in the US and elsewhere, citizens find themselves being punished by irresponsible, bloated central governments who view citizens as serfs rather than citizens. As the mood in Greece has really darkened, so has the sense of injured pride among a people who are acutely aware of their ancient lineage and feel they are being made the scapegoat by EU leaders, some of whom may view Greece as a "throwaway."

Despite the negativity we all see around us, I have always been an eternal optimist, who believes that there is no problem for which there is not a viable solution. This applies to virtually everything.

Although Greece's plight is indeed severe compared to some countries, it must be bailed out with reasonable austerity provisions. Interestingly, though, the medicine needed for Greece is not unlike the medicine needed for ALL governments who are addicted to overspending and over-entitling: (1) Spend less money than you take in; (2) insist that ALL citizens pay some income tax--no one should be exempt (3) place a moratorium on tax increases; (4) reduce all central government workers by 25% and outsource those service needs to the private sector; (5) equalize multi-lateral trade deficits; (6) institute term limits for all politicians; (7) eliminate public sector unions; and (8) eliminate unnecessary central government departments.


Flashy Infrastructure in China Conceals Safety Risks

Two recent railway incidents, one in Shanghai on Tuesday (September 27) and another in the southeastern city of Wenzhou in July, are beginning to reveal that lots of new infrastructure does not convert to safe infrastructure. Even the Chinese government itself are sobering up to the fact that hastily built office complexes, shopping centers, mass transit systems and airports often comes at the expense of safety.

Even an editorial in today's issue of The Global Times, a Communist Party publication, urged that China be more cognizant of risk management in its business development, referring to the media blow-back and massive number of injuries (270) stemming from two subway trains colliding in the country's financial capital [Shanghai] Unfortunately, the accident came just two months after 40 people were killed when two high-speed trains collided on a viaduct in a rural section of Wenzhou.

COMMENT: Even in China, where government control has been elevated to an art-form, the two disasters have prompted unprecedented outrage at the incompetence of rail officials who additionally even seemed to mishandle the rescue efforts and then rush to re-open the line before safety concerns could be addressed.

Local media focused on one train passenger who after the accident in Shanghai was seen wearing a helmet to demonstrate his disgust. The incident in Shanghai, which boasts the world’s longest subway system, has again prompted anger toward officials.

On a positive note, China’s central government responded to the Wenzhou collision by slowing down trains, firing officials and scaling-back investment in high-speed rail, yet Chinese commuters don't seem to be convinced. Between 2010 and 2015, China will have invested US$180 billion in subway lines, tripling the network's reach to 1,864 miles, virtually unheard of in any developed nation. Sadly, the government's rushing the construction of the country’s transportation network will now continue under a cloud of severe public distrust.

For foreign travelers to China, be advised that transportation safety is one of biggest risks in traveling there. Getting hit on roadways as a pedestrian used to be the biggest problem in moving around the country. Now, unfortunately, unsafe mass-transmit systems may become a greater risk.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Intoxicated Pilot Causes Death of 4 British Tourists in Peru

The families of four British tourists witnessed the results of a UK inquest yesterday (September 26), whereby they learned that their loved ones, Andrew Brown, 30, Gayle Callow, 34, Alastair Rowe, 34, and Warren Denham, 34, all died last year as a result of gross pilot error in Peru when the group was attempting to see the world-famous Nazca Lines (http://www.go2peru.com/nazca_lines).

The inquest at the High Wycombe law courts heard that the four Britishers and the pilot and co-pilot all died instantly when the aircraft hit the ground, largely because the intoxicated pilot, Ricardo Cardenas Garcia, 40, and Gilberto Ziniga Sanchez, 56, co-pilot, failed to turn on the engine's fuel supply. As a result, the Cessna 185 crashed suddenly 90 seconds into the flight because the small amount of fuel remaining in the line had expired and the cut-off switch had not been checked.

COMMENT: Lisa Fitzsimons of the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch said a substantial amount of alcohol was found in the pilot's blood; the crew members also were seen arguing before takeoff, which led to a rushed mandatory pre-flight systems check. The aircraft had taken off from Maria Reiche Airport before the crash.

The inquest also revealed that the accident report prepared by Peru's civil aviation authority had documented very well the numerous pilot error factors that caused the plane to crash. It was also disclosed that Peruvian aviation regulations prohibit pilots from consuming alcoholic beverages 24 hours prior to a flight, but that obviously was a variable that contributed to the crash, considering that the pilot had a substantial amount of alcohol in his blood.

It is always sad to see international travelers die abroad, particularly in cases such as this. In my recent posting on the crash of a sightseeing aircraft at Mt. Everest I emphasized that the discipline and judgment of pilots in developing countries is much, much different from what we may be used to at home. Unfortunately, none of the passengers could have known that the fuel supply had not been turned on, but it is possible that they had observed questionable behavior on the part of the pilots which potentially could have led the tourists to conclude that perhaps they should fly another day. As we now know, that was not in the cards.

In developing countries, it is never good to be rushed in doing anything. Reportedly, the pilots were rushed because the booking was made at the last minute late in the day, just 20 minutes before an aviation curfew began. The curfew had been recently instituted following a previous plane crash in the area.






Saudi Woman Who Drove Car Sentenced to Ten Lashes

A few days ago, there was a press report that called attention to the kinder and gentler treatment of women in Saudi Arabia in terms of having access to voting and even holding political office. I was inclined to post a report on this development, but I sat on it, knowing that I lot of Westerners would get very excited about the new, permissive Saudi government. Not so fast.


COMMENT: Earlier today, a Saudi woman was sentenced to be lashed 10 times with a whip for defying the kingdom's prohibition on female drivers, the first time a legal punishment has been handed down for a violation of the longtime ban in the ultraconservative Muslim country.
Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.

Ironically, the woman's barbaric sentence came just two days after King Abdullah promised to protect women's rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015. Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council. Needless to say, these could prove to be promises made in good faith, but not fulfilled because the King did not really have the power to authorize them.

King Abdullah said that he had the backing of the official clerical council, yet Tuesday's sentencing is a stark reminder that the hard-line Saudi religious establishment that controls the courts and oversees the Gestapo-like religious police really run the country.

The driver, Shaima Jastaina, in her 30s, was found guilty of driving. Hopefully, the young woman will appeal the sentence, but overturning clerics rarely follows rule of law.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women of all nationalities from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

It should be noted that there are no written or codified written laws against women driving in Saudi Arabia. Rather, the ban is deeply rooted in conservative thinking that holds that giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins. In recent months, dozens of women have led a campaign to try to break the taboo and force new social mores. The campaign's founder, Manal al-Sherif, who posted a video of herself driving on Facebook, was detained for more than 10 days and only released after signing a pledge not to drive or speak to the media again.

Eight Cops Arrested in Murder of Brazilian Judge Tough on Vigilante Groups

A Brazilian court in the state of Rio de Janeiro ordered six new arrests yesterday (September 26) of police implicated in the murder of a judge who was tough on rogue cops. Two other police officers were arrested last week as also being involved in the assassination of Judge Patricia Acioli, who was shot and killed in front of her home in the city of Niteroi in August. Among those arrested was Claudio de Oliveira, who was chief of police in the city of Sao Goncalo, a city of nearly 1 million people. Clearly, the involvement of a chief of police of a city of that size would be BIG news in any country.

Judge Acioli was known for being tough on crooked cops. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them in Brazil, and many are in the state of Rio de Janeiro, where Acioli presided. During her tenure, she put more than 60 officers behind bars, most of them for murder.

COMMENT: Normally, I would not extensively cover what some may describe as a just one of many murders of judges in Latin America. For sure, there are lots of example of such attacks to be found in Mexico, Colombia and several other countries. Yet, the brutal attack on Judge Acioli is a serious flag that the criminal justice system in Brazil is not doing well at all, particularly in light of the fact that Rio has been selected as host to both the World Cup (2o14) and the Summer Olympics (2016).

Another distinction in this case surrounds the number of times that Judge Acioli was shot. All of the 21 rounds that hit her came from a lot issued to police, including some in Sao Goncalo, the city where she presided as judge. Any reasonable person would conclude that her murder was a very strong message from cop-dominated vigilante groups to "lay off." Acioli's murder was also the first assassination of a judge in the state's history.


Unfortunately, vigilante groups have grown in number and power in recent years, largely due to the huge levels of crime seen in major Brazilian cities (e.g., Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, etc.). As a result, vigilante members are comprised mostly of former and current police, firefighters and jail guards. Strangely, some have even succeeded in becoming elected officials. A state-level investigation in 2008 revealed that vigilante groups were connected to execution-style killings, far-reaching extortion schemes and the kidnapping and torture of a group of journalists investigating the groups' activities.


Sadly, Acioli had been repeatedly threatened for taking on the police officers who were part of the gangs and had written letters to her superiors requesting protection. One week before her murder, she went to Rio police internal affairs office and reported that she was being threatened by officers from Sao Goncalo. The last case on her docket the day she died, involved police officers charged with executing an 18-year-old man in a slum. One of her last acts as a judge was to authorize their arrest.

Nationally, the lives of 134 judges are currently under threat, according to the National Council for Justice, which oversees the judiciary branch in Brazil. Requests for protection from magistrates jumped 400% after Acioli's assassination, according to the Brazilian Association of Judges. Acioli's murder also caused the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, to urge Brazilian authorities to protect those charged with enforcing the law. Yet, how is it possible for the vigilante groups to be stamped out, when former Rio de Janeiro Mayor Cesar Maia in 2006 welcomed them as a "lesser evil" and a form of "community self-defense" against drug gangs. Worse, incumbent Mayor Eduardo Paes also praised vigilante groups in a July 2008 interview on Globo television, saying they "brought peace to the population" in areas where the state had lost sovereignty to drug lords.


In Sao Goncalo, 34 officers were placed on administrative leave after Acioli's death because they faced a multitude of felonies, including murder, according to Rio state's Supreme Court. Arrest warrants have been issued for 28 of them.


Here's the really sad part. In spite of the documented threats against her, Judge Acioli had her protective detail cut from four officers to one in 2007. On the day she was murdered, August 10, 2011, her assailants, who were also cops, followed her from the courthouse to to her home where she was shot 21 times. On that day, the armed security escort who was assigned to accompany her on all portal-to-portal moves, was conveniently absent. What may never be known is whether the police who protected her were the same officers who actually killed her.


Update: Pakistani Foreign Minister Talks to Al Jazeera Re: US-Pakistani Relations

In advance of her remarks to the United Nations General Assembly later today, Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar seemed to "loaded for bear" when she intimated to Al Jazerra that the US must face the risk that it could “lose an ally” in the fight against extremism, referring to Admiral Mike Mullen USN, chief, Joint Chiefs of Staff, comment last week that the Haqqani network was “a veritable arm of” the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

COMMENT: As I said in an earlier posting, Admiral Mullen could well have insisted that his comments regarding the ISI be made in classified testimony before the Senate, but his frustration with Pakistan in advance of his retirement no doubt influenced him to make a public statement.

It is regrettable that Mullen did not take the confidential high ground because that leaves the US no room to apologize for the statement, considering that it was made based upon intelligence corroboration. Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby subsequently retorted that there was credible evidence regarding at least two attacks in September, which showed that “the ISI continues to support and even encourage the Haqqanis to launch... attacks.”

In her comments to Al Jazerra, Ms. Khar lashed out on the role of the CIA, which orchestrated the May 2 covert US Navy SEAL strike against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil: “If we talk about links, I am sure the CIA also has links with many terrorist organizations around the world, by which we mean intelligence links."

Despite her contentious rhetoric, Ms. Khar added: "“I just hope that we will be given a chance to cooperate with each other and the doors will remain open,” adding that “statements like this are pretty much close to shutting those doors."

It is hoped that Ms. Khar will temper her comments when speaking before the UNGA, considering that despite quickly deteriorating relations between the two countries, the reality is that they both need each other. Without the US actively engaged with the Pakistanis in Pakistan, Islamic extremism around the world would only escalate and produce more acts of terrorism.

The US must also be sensitive to the fact that most Pakistanis have a low regard for the US, which forces Pakistani officials to walk a tightrope. The lessons learned from all of this is: Don't use the media to express your anger. Classify discussions that will not derail bi-lateral relations.


Suicide Bomber Who Attacked Christian Church Identified

Pino Damayanto, 31, the suicide bomber who attacked a Christian church in Central Java, Indonesia, on September 25, was part of a West Java-based terrorist network and one of five suspects wanted in connection with a bombing in Cirebon. The detonation killed Damayanto and wounded 27 others.

Earlier today (September 27), the Indonesian National Police conducted a press conference for the media during which they stated that that Damayanto was a member of Jama’ah Anshorut Tauhid operating in Cirebon, West Java, which was also his home.

COMMENT: Jama’ah Anshorut Tauhid is led by cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, according to the International Crisis Group (http://www.crisisgroup.org). Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June for funding a terrorist training camp in Aceh province. In April, a suicide bomber attacked a mosque at a police station in Cirebon, killing himself and wounding several officers.

Indonesia is distinguished among a handful of countries that have had significant successes in the Global War on Terrorism. Specifically, the national police have had a number of major convictions against indigenous and transnational terrorist group since the Bali bombings, the first attack on the JW Marriott in Jakarta in 2003, and the 2009 bombings of the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels that killed nine people, including two terrorists. Authorities have blamed Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an al-Qaeda-linked group, for attacks on hotels, nightclubs and embassies that claimed more than 200 lives in the past decade.

As a matter of interest, Jemaah Islamiah is a Southeast Asian militant Islamic organization which operates in Indonesia, Malaysia, the southern Philippines, Singapore and Brunei. JI was added to the United Nations 1267 Committee's list of terrorist organizations linked to al-Qaeda or the Taliban in 2002. The group began in Indonesia in the 1940s as an anti-colonialist movement, but was formally structured in its new face in 1993.

Recruiting, training, indoctrination, financial and operational links between the JI and other militant groups, such as al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Misuari Renegade/Breakaway Group (MRG/MBG) and the Philippine Rajah Sulaiman movement (RSM) have existed for many years. Its ties with ASG are considered to be particularly close.

JI is considered to have killed hundreds of civilians in the first Bali car bombing on October 12, 2002. In that attack, suicide bombers killed 202 people and wounded many others in two blasts. JI is also suspected of carrying out the 2003 JW Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta, the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta, the 2005 Bali terrorist bombing and the 2009 JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel bombings. One of its tactical trademarks is attacking the same target more than once.







Monday, September 26, 2011

Traveler's Alert: Suggest That Optional Travel to Manila Be Deferred

As a follow-up to my earlier posting on Typhoon Nesat's arrival in the Philippines, massive flooding hit Manila early on Tuesday (September 27) as winds and rains isolated the historic old city where residents waded in waist-deep water. Wind gusts reached up to 106 miles (170 kilometers) per hour. In Metro Manila, cars and buses were bogged down and residents waded through deep water as waves as six-lane highways were transformed into rivers. In other parts of Manila, both Quezon City and the financial district of Makati faced knee-deep water.

COMMENT: With its immense 400-mile (650-kilometer) cloud mass, Nesat threatened most of Luzon. It is expected that the typhoon will move off to the South China Sea late on Wednesday (September 28) or early Thursday (September 29).

Most government offices, schools and universities in the capital were closed while scores of domestic flights were canceled and inter-island ferries grounded. The Philippine Stock Exchange and most embassies were also closed on Tuesday. Electrical power was also interrupted in many parts of Luzon, including in Manila, where hospitals, hotels and emergency services used stand-by generators. Nesat is the 16th typhoon to lash the Philippines this year.

It is suggested that international travelers destined for the Philippines defer optional travel to Luzon until Friday (September 30).


Update: Pakistanis Meet with China's Public Security Minister

As reported previously, China’s Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu met with his Pakistani counterpart, Interior Minister Rehman Malik today (September 26). Although US-Pakistani relations have never been worse since the events of 9/11, Pakistan hosted China’s top security official and staged war games with Saudi Arabia, strengthening ties with two regional players as its relationship with the US deteriorates over allegations that Islamabad supports insurgents in Afghanistan.

COMMENT: It appears that Pakistan and the US are both risking the greater good by seemingly going out of their way to annoy each other. This new overture with China may well be a partnering strategy in the event the US begins to sanction Pakistan for its unwillingness to take action against the Haqqani militant group operating inside of Pakistan, which recently attacked the US Embassy in Kabul and separately wounded 77 US soldiers in a truck bomb earlier this month.

It should also be noted that Beijing provides Pakistan with aid and direct foreign investment, while Pakistan offers Beijing important diplomatic backing in the face of Muslim-majority nations who might be helpful to China. China and Pakistan have both had good ties for some time, in part because of their mutual distrust of India, which stems from both countries having exchanged military hostilities with India in the past.

Update: Chile Continuing to Have Outages

The massive blackout that Chile suffered on Saturday (September 24) affected over half of the country's 17 million residents, yet the blackouts have continued with the port city of Valparaiso being severely effected on Sunday (September 25) and today much of northern Chile also lost power. As a result, energy minister Rodrigo Alvarez pressed for new enhancements for the country's electrical grid, although admittedly that takes time.

COMMENT: What is known, though, is that the country's grids are not well integrated and are in need of major upgrading, particularly insofar as cross-grid redundancy is concerned. Alvarez also said that the companies responsible will be fined.

The apparent inadequacies of the country's electrical infrastructure may well stimulate large companies to rely more heavily on industrial-level emergency generators and for consumers to consider purchasing residential portable generators to support lights and cooking requirements.

20 Brazilians, French Citizens Robbed at Hostel in Rio de Janeiro

Some twenty tourists attending a local music festival, largely Brazilians and three French tourists, who were residing at a local hostel were robbed at gunpoint when five assailants suddenly entered their hostel on Sunday (September 25) and robbed them of money, credit cards, electronics and other valuables. After the victims were tied up, the gunmen methodically went through their luggage and belongings for valuables.

COMMENT: This type of crime is not rare in Rio de Janeiro, which unfortunately has one of the highest levels of crime in South America, despite the fact that Rio is scheduled to host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Generally speaking, Brazil's wealthy and foreign visitors are at the top of most criminals' shopping list. From my perspective, local police have a very long way to go before the World Cup and the Olympics.

Visitors to Rio are urged to bring nothing that cannot be replaced, "dress down," avoid wearing expensive or expensive-looking jewelry, don't carry their passport (only a photocopy of the passport photo page and the Brazilian visa/entry pages), carry little cash and be observant of would-be criminals sizing them up. Loners are specifically targeted. It is suggested that women leave their wedding rings/bands at home and avoid carrying a purse.

It should also be noted that travelers entering Brazil with LESS than six months validity remaining on their passports can be deported to their country of origin.

Digital cameras, MP3 players and laptops should be carried in very "weathered" tote bags. International insurance coverage for such items can be obtained from
http://www.safeware.com.




Update: Pakistan Attempts to Gang Up on the US

Sadly, Pakistani officials now seem to be abandoning direct dialogue with the US over political differences and appear to be doing what the Palestinians have done--taking its case directly to a sympathetic United Nations, rather than engaging in dialogue directly with Israel.

Since yesterday, Pakistan has decided to attempt to make its case to a number of foreign governments and have them put pressure on the US so as to explain the Pakistani point of view. One of the central sticky points is Pakistan's apparent refusal to take action against the Haqqani militant group, which according to retiring Admiral Mike Mullen USN, is a "veritable arm" of the Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI. Mullen went further last week and accused Pakistan of providing support for the September 13 attack on the US Embassy in Kabul. Pakistan's government and army strongly rejected the allegations.

COMMENT: Although Pakistan did not name the countries it has approached to convey Pakistan's view on a number of issues to Washington, it is presumed that China is among the list. China's Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu arrived in Islamabad on Monday (September26) and was scheduled to meet senior officials.

The US has long pressed Pakistan to pursue the Haqqani network, one of the most lethal Taliban-allied Afghan groups fighting Western forces in Afghanistan. Mullen's accusation that Pakistan uses violent extremism as an instrument of policy was the strongest yet leveled at Pakistan since it joined the U.S.-led war on militancy. Two weeks ago, militants launched an assault against the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul. U.S. officials blamed those attacks on the Haqqani network. U.S. officials have also publicly said there is documented intelligence, including intercepted phone calls, suggesting that those responsible for the attacks were connected to Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate.

Pakistani commanders have agreed to resist US demands for an army offensive in North Waziristan, where the US believes the Haqqani network is based. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is expected to present Pakistan's case when she addresses the United Nations General Assembly on tomorrow (September 27).

Unfortunately, the comments and decisions being made by Pakistani officials are influenced heavily by a large majority of the Pakistani public that dislikes and distrusts the US, its foreign policy and the magnitude of its presence in Pakistan. That being said, the US was not responsible for the events of 9/11, nor was it the US who harbored al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan for years.

It should also be noted that it is not only the US that was forced into war with al-Qaeda's deadly 18-year agenda; Turkey, the UK, Indonesia, Germany, Kenya, Jordan, Tanzania, Morocco, Spain, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many others have all had al-Qaeda strike on their sovereign ground, killing large numbers of their own nationals, not counting the foreign nationals from some 90 countries who died at the World Trade Center.

As I've said recently, I foresee relations between the US and Pakistan continuing to worsen and also see the personal risk of foreign diplomats, aid workers and journalists inside Pakistan rising. One would be severely naive to conclude that the recent anti-West rhetoric by Turkey's prime minister, Hamas' asking the UN to vote on Palestinian statehood and political turbulence in Egypt are all unrelated.












Vietnamese Shipping Company Pays US$2.6 Million for Return of Vessel, Crew

Twenty-four members of the Vietnamese crew of a container ship, the Hoang Son Sun, arrived in Hanoi on September 23 members landed on Friday, after the ship's owner, Hoang Son Ltd Co., paid Somalian pirates a US$2.6 million ransom. Although Vietnamese-owned, the ship was registered in Mongolia. The ship, a 22,000-ton bulk carrier, was originally home-ported in Haiphong.

COMMENT: Nguyen Truong Son, deputy general director of the Hoang Son Ltd Co. was quoted as telling the AFP news service that "We had to pay the pirates $2.6 million. The money was from our own company." This is a very strange statement for Son to make considering that the ship was operating in waters reachable by Somalian pirates. Nevertheless, the ship apparently had no piracy neutralization plan in place.

The vessel was believed to have been seized about 520 nautical miles south-east of Muscat on January 20. Son should consider that he got off easy, considering that Danish security firm, RiskIntelligence, estimates that the average merchant vessel pays an estimated US$5 million for the release of both crew and vessel (http://www.riskintelligence.eu).

According to the monitoring group, Ecoterra, Somalian pirates hold at least 49 vessels and more than 500 hostages. The United Nations reported 171 attacks in the first half of 2011.






Traveler Alert: Typhoon Bearing Down on Manila

Many schools, offices and businesses are currently bracing for the arrival of heavy rains and winds compliments of fast-moving Typhoon Nesat in Manila. Additionally, many flights have also been canceled at Manila's international airport. Forecasters say Nesat will make landfall in eastern Aurora province in the next 24 hours and cross Luzon Island north of Manila with winds of up to 133 miles (215 kilometers) per hour.


COMMENT: Even before the arrival of Nesat, heavy downpours and wind on Monday forced flights to be canceled and most schools to be shut down. The Coast Guard also grounded inter-island ferries, stranding hundreds of travelers. Travelers are urged to defer travel to the capital until at least Wednesday (September 28), although it is suggested that broadcast stations and the Internet be monitored to ensure that the Philippines have returned to normal before proceeding to Manila. Local residents are urged to remain home if at all possible until after the typhoon has passed.