Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Annapolis: Mideast Peace Process to continue in January 2008


The summit at Annapolis has yielded a promise from leaders of Israel and Palestine that the peace process will continue in January, 2008. The three big issues are (1) an independent Palestinian state (2) the Palestinian refugees (3) the status of Jerusalem.

We've seen this kind of benchmark agreement before. Back in 1978, Jimmy Carter jawboned Begin and Sadat into peace talks at his September Camp David accords, and even appealed to family values to get them to keep talking. Today, younger people in the region say (as on a film on PBS Tuesday night "Campus Battleground" from the "America at a Crossroads" series -- see the TV blog for Nov 26) say they look forward to a day where individual values trump over tribal and religious strife in the region. Yet, people who elect to move to Israel often believe in the idea of the chosen people, and that the Holocaust proves that Israel must be their historical homeland, even if established by expropriatory land takings and even if it must be defended by all security means necessary. Individually, many people who have lived in Israel tell me that the Palestinians should have their homeland so that this strife stops, but they are afraid to say it publicly.

Commentators maintain that a lot depends upon the involvement of the president himself. Bush may travel to the region early in 2008, and his successor will need to be heavily involved, regardless of party.

Ex Prime Minister of Britain, Tony Blair, has a job as a peace mediator. He points out that it is difficult to get Hamas into the negotiations when it does not officially recognize the right of Israel to exist.

There are many media stories. The Washington Post story today (Nov 28, p A1) is by Glenn Kessler, "Mideast Talks Yield Promises To Press On; Israelis, Palestinians Will Restart Peace Negotiations," link here.

The New York Times story today, by Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper, is "Israel and Palestinians Set Goal of a Treaty in 2008", here.

The 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles is here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Severe sentence for Saudi woman illustrates radical Islamic social values


Blame the victim??

Major media reports have focused on a harsh corporal punishment sentence given to a woman by a Saudi court. She was in a car with another man for an innocuous purpose, and was pulled out of the car and raped. Although the perpetrators were sentenced to 2-9 years, she was also sentenced for being in a car (the private company) of another man who was not a blood relative.

Although this is shocking by western standards and it is appropriate for western governments to criticize Saudi Arabia 's justice system, which seems designed to protect the absolute religious monarchy and not the individual, it's well to ponder the cultural issues. Blood relationships are all that a lot of people have to live for and generate all the mechanisms by which people get "taken care of" (e.g. personal power), so in some cultures extreme measures are taken to protect them.

Update: Nov 28, 2007

A Saudi court will review this case, according to ABC.

There is also a case in Sudan of a British teacher threatened with jail and lashes for allowing a seven year old in a private school to name a Teddy Bear "Mohammed," which radical Islam calls blasphemy. A typical story is on Richard Dawkins.

Sudan has gotten a poor reputation for hosting Osama bin Laden in the 90s, and for its abuse of minorities in Darfur, as documented in two recent films, The Devil Came on Horseback, and Darfur Now. Check reviews here (Sept. 12).

Update: Nov. 30

The teacher was sentenced to jail. But radicals in the Sudan are protesting and demanding here execution, story here.

On Dec 3, however, major news outlets reported that the president of Sudan had pardoned her because of heaving lobbying from Muslims in Britain's parliament. She was released and deported back to Britain.

Update: Nov. 30, 2007

Now there is an ABC 20-20 story of a teenage boy from France who was a victim of rape and was accused by Dubai authorities of provoking it. The authorities feel pressured to reinforce Islamic "law". The story is on ABC about the inconsistencies in modern Arabia (even a bustling, more "progressive" and certainly rich city) is here.

There is more on the site "Boycott Dubai," set up by the boy's mother in Paris.

Update: Dec. 17

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as pardoned the woman, although not the man that was with her.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Debate on loose nuke risk in National Interest; important conference at Naval Academy in Annapolis


The current print issue of The National Interest (Nov/Dec 2007) has a couple of lively items about two of the most critical issues: nuclear threats, and supposed “resource wars.”

Earlier, John Mueller had published an article called “Radioactive Hype”, link here) (Subscription required to get entire essay). Mueller has other “devils advocate” pieces, like “Harbringer or Aberration?: A 9/11 Provocation” here.

The current issue has (on p. 12) detailed responses by Graham Allison (“The Three “Nos” Knows”), Joseph Cirincione (“Cassandra’s Conundrum”), and William C. Potter (“Nonj-Proliferation Parody”), as well as a rebuttal from Mueller, whose books include Retreat from Doomsday (1989), The Remnants of War (2004) and Overblown (2006). Allison (author of “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe”, 2004) repeats horrific probabilities of the likelihood of a nuclear incident in the west each year and every ten years, making it look like a matter of time. (And he is talking about an actual nuclear weapon, not a contaminated conventional weapon). An already assembled “suitcase” nuclear weapon stolen from Russia or Pakistan (the kind deployed on the Fox “24” program) could, in some cases, be concealed in illegal drugs shipments. Cirincione writes that the current Bush administration has acquiesced to “management of” proliferation rather than its prevention.

On page 48 there is an essay “What Resource Wars” by David Vector, in which the writer plays down the international tensions that would likely result over oil shortgages and unequal sacrifices to prevent global warming. He believes that oil makes unstable governments even more unstable, and believes that China can become much more self-sufficient in oil.

The magazine’s site has a piece “Thoughts of the Annapolis Conference” about the summit at the Naval Academy this last week of November, here.

A couple of important films on the nuclear leak issue are "Last Best Chance" (from NTI, the Nuclear Threat Initiative) and "PU-239" from Picturehouse / HBO (recently shown on cable). Another new important book is "America and the Islamic Bomb" by David Armstrong and Joseph Trento, Steerforth Press, 2007.

News reports indicate the arrest this week of three persons in Eastern Europe by Interpol for trying to acquire radioactive substances from the former Soviet Union.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

OPEC may dop dollar in pricing oil; bonds can be affected


The Washington Times, this Thanksgiving Day, has a financially scary story (front page, A1) by Patrice Hill, "Oil Greasing dollar's skid: OPEC's move adds to woes of currency, economy," link here.

Left-wing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, along with new member Ecuador, helped push OPEC to consider a policy of pricing oil on a currency other than the dollar, possibily the more stable Euro. Wednesday, the price of oil went over $99 a barrel briefly before settling down to about $97. That would be more like about 65 Euros. Chavez has said that oil could rise to $200 a barrel if the US precipitates further military action in the Middle East.

The US dollar has lost value because of oil imports and the subprime mortgage crisis, but most of all because of the expense of the war in Iraq, without tax increases (presumably on the rich, at least as demanded by the Left) to pay for it, leading to huge budget deficits.

That can, according to the Washington Times article, lead to a run on US Treasury Bills held by Persian Gulf states, and could make formerly stable bonds less stable. It could also lead to 70s style increases in interest rates.

Still, the biggest problem is the dependence on foreign oil and on carbon-emitting technologies, competing with other societies that want to raise their standards of living, which can cause individual Americans to appear to be immoral materialists and hedonists in the eyes of some parts of the world.

Update: Nov. 24, 2007

Related to all this is the story in the Business Section, D1, Sat. Nov. 24, The Washington Post, by Tomoeh Mukakami Tse "Crunch May Hit Insurers of Bonds: Downgrading Weighed for 8 Leading Firms", here
When a bond insurer is downgraded, the bonds that it has certified as risk-free may themselves become less valuable. This would seem to make bonds seem less safe than they have been. All of this is related to war-related federal deficits and to the subprime crisis, all of which suggests that American consumers live beyond their means in the largest sense.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

UN Panel to U.S. and China: Cool It, or Else (Global Warming)


Today (Saturday Nov. 17) major media outlets have reported that U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon issued a report today indicating that the United States and China, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and previous and potentially future competitors and enemies (and Security Council members), must do more to reverse greenhouse gases and do it quickly. Other parts of the world, especially Africa and southern Asia, will suffer catastrophes if we don't. This report is underscored by the typhoon this week striking low-lying Bangladesh.

The AOL story ("U.N. Panel Offers Dire Warming Forecast") is here. It has many still illustrations. AOL shows 14 cities at risk from rising seas. The FairProxy web blog is this.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report can be found here.

Visitors should also look at the PDF "Synthesis Report" (about 6 meg) here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pilots use 9/11 as reason to urge re-opening UFO investigations


A story on Reuters this morning (link here) maintains that "Former pilots and officials call for new U.S. UFO probe." It was also presented on AOL.

An international panel of over 20 former pilots called on the Pentagon to re-open what amounts to Project Blue Book. Some files from it are open to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. I actually looked at these in the 1990s, and visited an area in SW Virginia reporting sightings in 1992. The pilots cited the example of the September 11, 2001 ("9/11") attacks as an example showing that unexplained warnings should not be ignored.

I associated with an Arizona group called "Understanding" in the 1970s, headed by a Dr. Dan Fry, known for a self-published book "To Men of Earth" in which he maintained that he hosted an alien for years himself. A typical web link is here.

Films have been made about the possibility of a sudden UFO "invasion" over the decades, one of the most notorious being "Independence Day" in 1996, directed by Roland Emmerich (20th Century Fox). I have always thought that a more subtle film about what would "really" happen if there were a smaller scale unmistakeable contact (how would it affect the stock market, the media, civil liberties, etc) would be interesting, and at least two of my own screenplay scripts deal with that. Another film that is obviously important is "Contact" (1997), dir. Robert Zemeckis, Warner Bros., based on the novel by Carl Sagan.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Washington Post has paid China insert


Just as it did some time back with Russia, The Washington Post, on Friday November 9, 2007, included a paid advertising supplement from China ("Reports from China"). The Post itself did not contribute any content. The inclusion is comparable to paid programming on networks.

Some of the issue brags about China's space program ("Fly me to the Moon"), but much of it aims to refute popular impressions that China is recklessly contributing to pollution, global warming, and pandemic concerns. Anderson Cooper has hit China particularly hard in his recent "Planet in Peril" television documentary film on CNN. There are detailed reports about Hunan Province and about Beijing, for the 2008 Olympics.

The space program aims to return man to the Moon by 2015.

Mitch Moxley has an article called "Land of opportunity: Mitch Moxley looks at how foreigners start up businesses in China." One business is Salo Homes, which houses visiting foreigners.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pakistan: martial law, maybe: connect the dots please


Today there were widespread, although brief, media reports that Pakistan ‘s military president Gen. Pervez Musharraf may be close declaring a state of emergency and martial law, if his Oct. 6 “victory” is not confirmed. A typical story is an AP-CNN “Pakistan militant clash 'kills 70'”here.

Newsweek’s big story on Pakistan (Mark Hosenball and Zahid Hussain, Oct. 29, 2007) talks about the uncertainty of stocks of highly enriched uranium within Pakistan. Various groups like “Last Best Chance” have emphasized accounting for stocks from the former Soviet Union, but most attention to Pakistan has been with existing small nukes, rather than raw materials. All of this seems to make the situation seem even more urgent.

Update Nov. 3


On Saturday morning, Nov. 3, CNN announced that martial law had been implemented in Pakistan, with a "media blackout," and that its constitution had been suspended. The CNN story is here.

Update: Nov. 5

In a story that seems almost comical, an AP writer Munir Ahmad reports today that Pakistani police are attacking lawyers, something that conservative right wingers would relish in the US, maybe. The link is here. The story is also front page on Yahoo!

Remember, "Pakistan" means "Land of the Pure" in Urdu.

Update: Nov. 11, 2007

The AP, in a story by Matthew Rosenberg, reported "Musharraf bows to U.S. calls; emergency to end in a month; Bhutto 'is not free to go'", as carried on page A1 of The Washington Times Nov. 10. However, Jane Perlez and David Rhode report in The New York Times, Nov. 11, "Musharraf Refuses to Give Date for Ending Rule by Decree" although there are supposed to be parliamentary elections in January 2008, story.

But on Sunday, Joby Warrick in The Washington Post, p A1, reports: "Pakistan Nuclear Security Questioned: Lack of Knowledge About Arsenal May Limit U.S. Options," here, to the effect that the United States has never been able to monitor Pakistan's nuclear stash adequately. And in the Outlook Section, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins have "Those Nuclear Flashpoints Are Made in Pakistan: The fallout from U.S. policy in Pakistan may not be just dictatorship. It could be something worse" -- a mushroom cloud like on the Fox Show "24", story here.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, iaea, in Vienna has a story "Confidence fails to ease fears over nuclear threat" By Farhan Bokhari and Jo Johnson, link here from the London Financial Times, here.

IAEA's home page is here.

Visitors may want to check "A Brief History of Pakistan's Nuclear Program" and Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan here. Also the story by Robert Windrem Nov. 6 2007 on MSNBC, "Pakistan's nuclear history worries insiders: 'Nuclear coup' in 1990 and bin Laden meeting offer two chilling precedents" here.

Update: Sunday, Nov 18

David E. Singer and William J. Broad have a major New York Times story today, "U.S. Secretly Aids Pakistan in Guarding Nuclear Arms," for the past six years, link here.
It was also a headline story on AOL today.