Former Soviet Union:
♦ In Kyrgyzstan, the Sec-Gen of the Russian-led CSTO, Mr. Bordyuzha described NATO involvement in Central Asia as part of a Western plot.  In part because of increased drug traffic from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan has asked for Russian/CSTO assistance in controlling borders.  Ironically, NATO’s inability to get a handle on Afghanistan’s poppy trade has created an opportunity for the CSTO to barge in, but the rhetoric is not about inability, but uberpower.  Things once again look poor for the future of Ganci AFB in Manas.

♦ Big drama in Kazakhstan, where former First Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliev, demoted to the position of Ambassador to Austria, is now recalled and fired by the President, who also happens to be his father-in-law.  There’s more to this than meets the fanzine description I just gave, including future elections, control of the domestic media, and Kazakhstan’s banking business.

♦ The Litvinenko scandal just gets worse and worse.  And overall, a Russian skepticism over the EU matches EU skepticism over Russia.

Latin America:
♦ Colombia has come a long, long way since the days of the Medellin cartel, but maybe not as far as we thought: In trials this week, Colombian death squad members have testified to ties with government, political and military leaders, and implicated them in drug trade.  This is a well-referenced must-read by Daniel Graeber over at FPA War Crimes blog.  Colombian military personnel are also training poppy-rich Afghanistan’s security personnel in security procedures.  Let’s hope that’s all they’re learning.

♦Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador each have repudiated part or all of their World Bank participation,  And five former Finance Ministers from the region called for Mr. Wolfowitz’s resignation from the World Bank.

Middle East:
♦At the World Economic Forum, King Abdullah II of Jordan warned that increasing water pressures will lead to future conflict , as land grabs become river-grabs. 

♦ In the meantime, Lebanon’s conflict conditions resume; the al-Hariri investigations  are a top discussion area at the UN; and the Israel-Palestine conflict continues ugly.  It’s going to be another hot summer in the Near Middle East. 

♦ Afghanistan’s drug eradication issues discussed before dinner? The gap just continues to widen between theory and practice.  And President Karzai appeals to President Ahmadinejad to repatriate Afghanistan’s refugees more gradually. 70,000 have already been expelled.

♦ Mr. el-Baradei of the IAEA reports that Iran is 3-8 years away from nuclear capability.  Both this expert and Russia’s Atomstroyexport think Iran’s nuclear capability is far from imminent.  Iran owes Atomstroyexport money for Bushehr construction, a project that began under the Shah.

♦ In Iraq, the boys are back in town: Moqtada al-Sadr is no longer lying low, and his return brought tears of joy to his followers.  You can pay people to come to rallies, but you can’t pay them to be emotionally spontaneous.  It is this emotional attachment which makes al-Sadr a force to reckon with. 

Energy:
♦ Crude oil prices jumped USD 1.02 and are now back over USD 65 per barrel.  B.S. from the public sector: Congress has once-again threatened to pass anti-price gouging legislation, to rein in oil company greed.  This is a waste of all our time; gouging has little or nothing to do with prices in this high-demand, supply-constrained market.  Congressional interference won’t do much to change price, with Mexico at top production in its dwindling Cantarell fields, Nigeria’s insurgency, Iraq oil law stalled, Iran’s disinvestment woes and larger international issues, and Caspian region geopolitics.  Supply is going to continue to be tight.  Which means prices will continue to rise.

♦ Then there’s the B.S. from the private sector.  Oil companies are warning that biofuels will affect gas supply because investor uncertainty in the wake of new biofuel production will cause a dearth of new refinery investment.  This is where Congress could actually make a difference, by commissioning some easements that allow strategic refinery placement and a better regional distribution plan–not to aid oil companies per se, but to increase energy security.  All we’ve done so far is patch up the ones on the Gulf Coast, right where they are when Katrina hit them last time.  This article is also a signal to the auto industry to increase fuel efficiency. I’m not holding my breath for Detroit to take the hint, either. 

Cultural Intelligence:
♦ The New York times has two great articles by Nicolai Ourossoff.  The first is on the EU’s development of green architecture.  This is not a softly sentimental concept any longer; many forward thinking engineering solutions  have been devised–and work.  The second article is also on modern European architecture: The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.  The article has a picture gallery well worth viewing.

♦ New book release: Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Note: I’m going to do this round-up weekly, and I owe Joshua Foust over at The Conjecturer for the format.  He was gone last week . . . honestly I don’t know how he does this on a daily basis . . .  and I will not be able to cover the Pentagon with the care and attention he gives it.  Thank you Mr. Foust!

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