Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kurds share a dangerous abusive practice with societies in Africa


Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post Foreign Service has a story on Monday, Dec. 29, 2008 about female circumcision in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq (and eastern Turkey). The practice is better known in Africa, and is seen as a way men in a patriarchal society remain in “control” (the article is a bit more explicit). The story illustrates a family in Tuz Khurmatu, Iraq. The story appears on page A09 Monday and has this link. The title of the story is "For Kurdish Girls, a Painful Ancient Ritual: The Widespread Practice of Female Circumcision in Iraq's North Highlights The Plight of Women in a Region Often Seen as More Socially Progressive."

The practice does not occur in the Sunni or Shiite parts of Iraq, or in other major Muslim countries in the Middle East, even though these societies are often tribal and patriarchal in nature. There does not seem to be any justification for it in Islam.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Israel attacks against Hamas in Gaza could lead to oil supply disruption


A story from Jerusalem early Monday Dec 29 on CNN maintains that Israel is in “all out war” against Hamas with strikes on Gaza, which started Dec. 27, so far resulting in over 300 deaths.

Oil prices rose slightly and stock market prices fell Monday somewhat in additional uncertainty. But oil prices had fallen to below $40 a barrel because of recession.

The lingering fear is that Israel’s behavior could cause a 70s style embargo or incite terrorist strikes against oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia to punish the west. Oil prices have been so volatile in 2008 that it is almost impossible to predict what would happen.

The link for the CNN story is here.

Tim Paradis, AP business writer, has a story this morning on the fear that the sudden Middle East explosion could disrupt oil production here.

Monday night (Dec 29) ABC "Nightline" showed a Palestinian in Gaza with a Yankee pinstripe mourning the loss of five children to an Israeli rocket.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

China allows civil suit and judgment in cyberbullying case in Beijing


A man in Beijing, Wang Fei, has been awarded a $1300 judgment after a cyberbullying incident that led to the suicide of his wife, a case in China that vaguely resembles the notorious Lori Drew case in the United States.

A man had posted details about his supposed affair online, resulting in multiple personal vigilante threats.

This case appears to be the first known in China relating to cyberbullying or even “reputation defense.” This sounds odd given China’s propensity for political censorship, widely reported in the media and requiring cooperation of American companies doing business there.

The Wired news story is by Kim Zetter, and appeared Dec. 22, 2008.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Japan sliding back into its 90s style deflationary depression


Japan is sinking deeper into recession, according to reports from The Washington Times, based on the International Monetary Fund. Japan’s output decreased over 8% in November.

Japan experienced repeated bouts of deflation during the 1990s after real estate and stock market bubbles burst around 1990. Japan’s example may bode poorly for western countries as a whole dealing with the current crisis. But Japan, unlike the US now, is faced with a soaring yen.

With deflation, both businesses and consumers tend to hold on to cash and wait for prices to get even lower. The problem is particularly persistent in electronics and computers, where technological advance tends to drive down price anyway. And this is a very important cornerstone in Japan. With the auto industry that should be less so, because Japan has done better than Detroit on making fuel-efficient cars that will be in demand.

The link for the Dec. 27 story by David M. Dickson in the Washington Times is here.

The International Monetary Fund has a survey report on the global financial crisis dated Dec. 15, 2008 here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

China, with conservative, "Confucian" economic strength, may recover much more quickly than The West


The New York Times on Friday Dec. 26, 2008 has some articles that show how important China has become economically and how much leverage it may have soon on the whole U.S. economy. The front page story by Mark Lander is “The Reckoning: Dollar Shift: Chinese Pockets Filled as Americans Emptied Theirs.” The online version of the article title reads “Chinese Savings Helped Inflate American Bubble”, link here. That makes us think that the “bailout” U.S. solution of printing money right now may not work if China calls in its investment in us some day. We seem to have depended on their cheap labor far too long.

The Business Section has a story by Keith Bradshear, “A Banking Upgrade in China: Qualifying Tests for Financial Workers.” And Jimmy Wang has a story “Chinese recruiters look abroad for diversity and expertise.” China does have strict qualifying tests for financial planners and advisers, and seems to have managed its mortgage business relatively conservatively (with high down payments for homes), compared not only to the United States but also to Britain and much of Western Europe. Again, this may make recovery in the West harder and give China a lot of political leverage.

Some laid off financial workers from firms in the U.S. with bilingual (Chinese) skills are already finding employment in Chinese financial institutions.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Iraq celebrates Christmas for first time


The “new” government in Iraq has declared Christmas an official holiday in the war torn country for the first time. Christians are a significant minority in Iraq, which only now is getting some sense of stability in the factional fighting between Shiites and Sunnis and various groups since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

Jim Heintz has a story on the AP site, here. ABC News reproduced the story Christmas morning.

The story shows Christians around a fire during Christmas Eve mass at The Great Virgin Mariam Church in Hamdaniya area, about twenty miles from Mosul.

In the Vatican, Pope Benedict criticized the rampant materialism and greed that led to the worldwide financial collapse.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Washington Times op-ed suggests "global cooling"


Since I’ve met libertarian commentator Deroy Murdoch before, I thought I would mention his column on the first page of the Voices section of the Dec. 21 2008 Washington Times, called “Global cooling?”, link here.

He mentions the early bitter cold this December, the cool summer in Alaska (Sarah Palin country), the snow in the Brazilian Highlands (which is not that unusual). Well, remember, we had a mid December ice storm in interior New York and New England, when it should have been snow. Doug Hill of Washington DC’s WJLA predicts a snowy winter for Washington because of low pressure in the Eastern Atlantic, but we’ve had nothing more than a trace so far this December. Doug Hill has also, in public forums at high schools, mentioned that before 1980 scientists were actually more worried about global cooling than warming, and questions the political motives of the global warming "debate."

We’ve had early cold before, such as in December 1983, and again in 1989. And in January 1998, there was a massive ice storm in Eastern Canada – the problem is, it should have been snow.

As Al Gore points out, the mathematics of climate change points out to overwhelming evidence that some of it is man made. But global warming could suddenly lead to cooling if the melting of the Greenland ice cap disrupted the Gulf Stream and feedback ocean currents in the Atlantic.

Deroy Murdock is a media fellow with the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

One other “true thing”, the Washington Times, when accessed in Firefox on my XP Home edition machine, sometimes puts up ads that somehow hang Firefox. Google Chrome and IE seem to work OK on them. I don’t know why. On another (newer) XP Pro machine they work fine in Firefox. I do love the Washington Times’s opinions on the international and national security issues, but sometimes not all of them are up online immediately, some of them disappear, and the ads are sometimes goofy. I usually do buy a print edition (reporters need to earn their salaries, you know), but that’s possible for readers only in the DC area, generally. And recently the paper stopped printing on Saturdays to cut costs.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

China bans New York Times online


The AP is reporting that China blocked access to the New York Times online website today (Dec. 20). Earlier this week, a number of other western papers had been blocked but some were restored Friday. The link is here.

AOL ran the story tonight, and posted a survey showing that a majority of users do not use the New York Times online.

China has more Internet users than any other country, but believes that the government must prevent dissent in order to retain stability. Other smaller countries that are conservative but thought of as a little more progressive (like Singapore -- see Dec 8 posting here) also censor Internet content. China’s Confucian values as well as Communist roots would resist the effects of “asymmetry”.

But it is surprising to see major newspapers blocked. China lifted some censorship of professional journalists at the last minute during the August Olympics.

My own websites (including blogs and conventional sites) have very little traffic from China (suggesting probable government blockage because of my political content), but substantial traffic from Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran. One would expect it to be common for wealthy or connected people in all these countries to get around filters with various proxy arrangements.

Friday, December 19, 2008

MSNBC reports on new book on nuclear forensics


Robert Windrem, a senior executive news producer for NBC news, has a provocative story on MSNBC “Doomsday detectives battle nuclear terrorism: New book outlines U.S. strategy for determining source of a possible attack”, with link here. The book in question is by Jeffrey T. Richelson and is named “Defusing Armageddon”, to be published Jan 5 2009 by W.W. Norton, 416 pages.

In the event of a nuclear blast anywhere in the world, investigators would be able to track back the origin of the device with forensics and trace the source of the original HEU or plutonium. This is more likely to be achievable than complete prevention of a nuclear device (or EMP blast).

The MSNBC story has links to the earlier report about the greater than 50-50 chance of a WMD attack on the United States by 2013, from the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation, as well as (perhaps a bit alarmingly) a link on how a bomb is built. I won’t repeat that link.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Does the U.S. "need" oil dependence to be a super power?


Does dependence on foreign oil actually increase the position of the United States in the world as “The Superpower.” The answer is yes, if you believe the analysis and futuristic scenarios laid out by Daniel W. Drezner, in the Nov/ / Dec. 2008 “National Interest”, on p. 8. The link (for the article dated 10/30/2008 is here.)

He outlines a scenario where the West really does embrace the need for innovation to address climate change and oil tap outs, but where more progressive Middle Eastern countries become even more powerful by diversifying culturally, as Dubai, for example is trying to do. Dubai (the Burj) has ever reason to address climate change since it is building “Palms” communities out in the sea. He thinks that some Muslim countries, even Saudi Arabia, will set up multi-cultural zones and practice strict Islam only in certain areas. They will not become western democracies with western social pluralism, but they will become more tolerant.

He thinks that by 2030 China will be calling the shots, and that some of the intermediate powers, like Russia, will be in for rough sledding as petroleum becomes less important.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Senate: Rumsfeld and co. responsible for Gunatanamo abuse, maybe others


The Washington Post reports today (Dec 12) that former defense secretary Donald H Rumsfeld and various other Bush administration officials bear responsibility for the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and perhaps other installations. The story, by Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung, has this link.

The Senators involved are Carl M. Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ). The closest document that I could find was on Levin’s subsite here.

Apparently at issue were techniques based on SERE, or Survival, evasion, resistance and escape, borrowed from military survival schools that deal with countries that do not follow the Geneva Convention rules (which were taught to us in Basic Combat Training!).

The techniques could have included what is called extreme rendition (including waterboarding), as in the popular film, or the Abu Ghraib scandal, or even the abuse at Bagram (as in “Taxi to the Dark Side”).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Singapore is hostile to free speech


Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page Editor for The Washington Post has a disturbing op-ed today (on p A19) about Singapore, the utopian city-state in Southeast Asia. It’s called “A Public Enemy in Singapore”, link here.

The story is about one Chee Soon Juan, prosecuted and jailed a few times for speaking in public without a permit and selling books in public without permission. He’s actually been jailed for trying to leave Singapore. I guess if had published “Do Ask Do Tell” and developed and deployed these websites and blogs in Singapore the same thing would have happened to me.

He’s also been sued for “defamation” by leader Lee Kuan Yew and son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, for comparing the government to a charity ridden by scandal. Imagine being sued by the president of the United States or the prime minister of a European country, or by the Queen of England.

The government’s contention is that a small state has to demand conformity to retain social stability. Rather than like an aircraft carrier, it’s like a row boat at sea, where everyone must stroke in unison.

There’s no question that authoritarianism can sometimes promote stability. Singapore in some ways is a Utopian state, almost out of science fiction and on another planet, and people there perceive the unfolding of their lives differently than we do.

High school civics and government teachers should present this editorial in comparison to American First Amendment ideals.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Washington Times runs big editorial on a (soon to be) nuclear Iran


Today, Friday Dec. 5, 2008, the Washington Times, on p. A20, ran a full page editorial “Iran’s Upper Hand”, link here. It should be noted right off that the Washington Times no longer prints a Saturday edition, so this editorial carries the readers until Sunday. The article talks about the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran’s Project 111. It’s long, alarming, and rather a mouthful of words. The online version has a picture with a backdrop poster of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (curiously framed in green) behind a missile.

The Times believes that “a nuclear-capable Iran armed with ICBMs could be only months away.”

Earlier, on this blog, I’ve noted other alarming web stories (by Clifford May and William Graham) about Iran’s intentions, one of which could be to launch a missile from sea over the United States to create an electromagnetic pulse. The US is the arch enemy that could be conquered, according to this theory. Objectively, it’s hard to tell if this is scare talk, or if Iran (or a group like Al Qaeda) really could explode such a device at high altitude this way, and if such a device really would have the effect predicted. More mainstream groups emphasizing the control of nuclear materials seem to ignore or downplay this risk, and instead discuss the possibility of nuclear or radiologically contaminated detonations of small or crude devices within the US. As noted, a few days ago a major terror watchdog group predicted a better than even chance of a major attack somewhere in the western world by 2013 unless we get a grip on things, quickly.

Remember, also how Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (note the Persian: "محمود احمدی‌نژاد ", or even "mæhmuːd-e æhmædiː-neʒɒːd") behaved at Columbia University in a speech to students, and what he said did not exist in Iran. He was laughed at. But he comes from the New Axis of Evil.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

China might see a repeat of "cultural revolution"


The Tuesday Dec. 2 the Wall Street Journal ran a detailed story about “reverse migration” in China from the cities back to the countryside, by Shai Oster, “China Fears Restive Migrants as Jobs Disappear in Cities,” link here.

The story reports protests in China and the government, known for repressing free speech as on the Internet, is sometimes willing or even eager to make concessions. But another complication is that many peasant lands have been taken over by corporate interests without adequate compensation for peasants, who know must deal with returning workers from the cities. But these workers sometimes worked for very low wages for exports anyway.

This sounds like a little bit of the reprise of the “cultural revolution” of Mao of the 1960s. Maybe now it is a “free market cultural revolution” or a “Peoples capitalist republic cultural revolution.” China’s ideas of meritocracy and family loyalty are hitting hard.

Agricultural practices in southern China, where people live close to livestock and especially poultry, are of concern to world public health officials, as these practices breed species jumps in viruses like avian influenza.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Washington Times reports progress in West Bank "deal"


The Washington Times reported today Tuesday Dec. 2, with a headline in its “PLO ready for state in West Bank: Gaza affiliation awakes Hamas surrender.” The story is by Nicholas Kralev, and the online headline is “Palestinians shift position of peace accord.” The thrust of the story is that Palestinian negotiators would accept the idea of a Palestinian state limited to the West Bank only, and accept the idea that Gaza is included later on if Hamas gives up control of its strip. The link is here.

The story got relatively little attention from other media outlets during the day, but it would seem to fit the spirit of suggestions made earlier by former president Jimmy Carter.

Significant progress in the Middle East could make terrorist attacks less likely from other sources, and could help worldwide economic recovery return sooner.

Commission on the Prevention of WMD Prevention issues dire warning


On December 1 2008, the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, led by former Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Jim Talent of Missouri, issued a report warning that a attack on the United States using nuclear (presumably that includes radiological or EMP) or biological weapons was likely on the United States homeland by 2013, by the end of Obama’s first term. The domain name for the Commission is prosaic: “Prevent WMD” and the link is this. The report was not on the website yet, but the site offers a Feedburner subscription for receipt.

The United States should be particularly concerned that disgruntled, unemployed (as in Russia) or ideologically unstable scientists will become terrorists and be able to manufacture and distribute WMD’s.

The AP story by Pamela Hess is here. The report was mentioned briefly, in passing, on the NBC Today show December 2.

ABC "World News Tonight" gave more details, indicating that the report indicates that the world is more likely than not to experience a WMD attack by 2013 unless there is significant progress in security nuclear and biological materials, and that security has been getting laxer, not better. A similar theme is often articulated by the Nuclear Threat Iniative.

ABC "Nightline" had done a series on a fictitious subway biological attack in 1999, before 9/11.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai attacks: NY Times Piece says "it's personal"


The New York Times “Week in Review” has a pointed article by Anand Giridharads, “The Special Sting of Personal Terrorism”, in the Sunday Nov. 30, 2008 paper (first page of section) with a red-caped picture of a woman, rather Hitchcock like. She says that citizens in India understand this as war, not terror. Perhaps that relates to the long standing feud, with many incidents and escalations, of Pakistan. The link is here. What comes to mind for Americans is the 2002 sniping spree of Mohammed and Malvo in the DC area and surroundings (and several other states), leading to their apprehension at a Maryland interstate rest stop and a death sentence and life without parole in Virginia. But this is different. In fact, it seems that it was mostly western visitors (not natives) who were targeted in the Mumbai attacks, but it also seems that the “cause” has a lot to do with the feud with Pakistan as much as it has to do with the “grievances” of radical Islam in a larger sense, as has become well known since 9/11.

I saw “Slumdog Millionaire” today, filmed on location in Mumbai, around some of the same areas involved in the attacks. It’s pretty easy to see how the tribal resentments and corruption can percolate all the way to the top, even if this was a “feel good” movie at the end, oddly timely now. (See the movies blog.)

The other incredible fiasco overseas right now is the tens of thousands of international passengers stranded in Bangkok because of a total breakdown in the current government It’s incredible. These days, one travels in the third world at one’s peril. And people have travel to dangerous areas to work and volunteer.

Even so, some day I hope to take the high speed train in China to Tibet. And to see the Altiplano and Tiahuanaco site in Peru and Bolivia, an opportunity that I missed in 1974 when I changed jobs.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Russia eavesdrops on sensitive US information


Various media reports indicate that hackers from Russia have stolen “unclassified” but “sensitive” (in combination) information from government systems, according to multiple media reports today. A typical story is in the BBC here and apparently much of the work was gathered by the Los Angeles Times. The report certainly reinforces recent tensions with Russia, as over missile deployments and whether Russia will test the new Obama administration.

The report came from the National Infrastructure Protection Center of the FBI, with director Michael A. Vatis. A major statement of the Center’s work appears on the Commission for Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA Online, link here.

The report suggests a phenomenon known well in intelligence. Many individual facts (as about personnel) are themselves insignificant and sometimes are public. But when they are assembled or correlated in certain ways, they can point out vulnerabilities to outside enemies. This is more or less a matter of “social engineering” and “psychological operations.”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai, India suffers multiple attacks; potentially largest incident worldwide since 9/11


In what is rapidly turning into “India’s 9/11”, at least 101 persons have died in at least twelve separate sniper and bomb attacks on a number of locations in Mumbai, India, including hotels, trains stations and theaters. The attacks occurred the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008. The attacks appear to be low-tech and coordinated among many individuals. The most visible target, often shown in the media, is the Taj Mahal Hotel. Many persons, including American and western visitors, have been taken hostage. Terrorists appear to have selected locations where they believed they would find westerners. A group called the “Deccan Mujahedeen” has claimed responsibility. It was not immediately clear if it has ties to Al Qaeda or to specific elements of the ongoing conflict with Pakistan.

There are many reports. Typical among these is a story in the Washington Post online this morning, Thanksgiving Day, by Emily Wax and Debbi Wilgoren from the Washington Post Foreign Service, “Indian troops work to free hostages: series of attacks in Mumbai leave at least 101 people dead”, link here. Wikipedia already has a specific entry early Thanksgiving morning, here.

Mumbai used to be called Bombay, and I recall the city on “Global Pursuit” board games as a boy.

Other attacks have occurred in Asia. The largest may have been in Bali, Indonesia, in October 2002. Shortly thereafter, and for a long time continually afterward, a number of suspects were apprehended and eventually tried (the Wikipedia details are here. A few days after the attack I received a bizarre personal email about another “club” in Bali (geographically near the attacked one) myself; it did not look like typical spam and I had no idea why it was sent to me other than the controversy of my own websites, and I passed it on to a local FBI. (I make no claims of “protecting sources” in a case like this even though I support journalistic shield as a public policy that should be followed; see my Issues blog March 3, 2008). There were other attacks in Indonesia Christmas Eve 2000, before 9/11 but after the USS Cole incident in October 2000.

The Mumbai attacks seem as large as London and Madrid and could eventually become the largest terrorist attack sequence in fatalities since 9/11. As of later Thursday, the death toll was 118. In July 2006, some attacks on Mumbai resulted in 187 fatalities.

Picture: Pearl Harbor, at National Museum of American History, Smithsonian, Washington DC.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

UK Medical Journal envisions end of African AIDS epidemic


The British medical journal the Lancet, on November 26, 2008, has an article (subscription for full text) “Universal voluntary HIV testing with immediate antiretroviral therapy as a strategy for elimination of HIV transmission: a mathematical model”. The link is here.

The article is a “thought experiment” but suggests aggressive testing and drug treatment for HIV could effectively end the epidemic of AIDS in Africa in about ten years.

I got free copies of the Lancet, a compact publication with a white magazine-like cover, from another manager in the workplace at a Dallas employer in the 1980s when I was tracking the emerging AIDS epidemic then, which already was viewed as a heterosexually transmitted disease in Sub Saharan Africa. The presence of other sexually transmitted diseases in the populations (especially female) was thought to be a major explanation.

David Brown has an article in the Nov. 26 Washington Post on p A4, “Model Predicts Halt to Africa’s AIDS Epidemic,” summarizing the Lancet article, link here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Journalists reporting Mexican border drug war face reprisals


William Booth has a story on the front page of today’s (Nov. 25) Washington Post “Violence against journalists grows in Mexico’s drug war,” link here.

This problem has been known in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this story refers to dangers faced by reporters who work the drug wars in Ciudad Jaurez, across the border from El Paso, TX. Newspapers in the area do not identify writers of stories on the drug wars.

A typical story in today’s El Paso Times is this.

I visited El Paso the weekend of my move from New York to Dallas on the first weekend of January 1979. I flew from New York through Dallas to El Paso to explore the area before starting work Monday morning in Dallas. On Saturday, I drove the rent car into Juarez a few miles, probably not a good idea. A coworker took a car trip deep into Mexico and got into trouble that year; not a real good idea. (Remember the Brad Pitt film “The Mexican”).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Internet list of British right wing group circumvents UK's libel laws


The New York Times today (Nov. 24) carries a bizarre story about a list of members of a right-wing “British National Party” on a site hosted in the UK. The site is remarkable because of Britain’s strict libel laws, which reverse the American presumption that free expression trumps. The site gives names and home addresses of persons, including 45 Americans, in specific connection with a “controversial” organization. Britain’s libel laws have been the subject of attention recently because of the “libel tourism” issue.

The story, on p B3, is by Noam Cohen and is called “Link by Link: In Britain, Outwitting Strict Laws Against Libel”, link here.

As of today, Wikileaks ("We help you safely get the truth out") has information about the "BNP members" National Party list on its strike page, and says that there are 11,211 members in England and Wales.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Iran has enough enriched uranium for one weapon (IAEA)


The Global Security Newswire of the Nuclear Threat Initiative reported today that Iran has accumulated about enough enriched uranium to make one atomic bomb. Iran has even more incentive to develop nuclear power than previously accepted because of the rapidly falling price of oil with global recession and deflation.

Iran has been considered a potential threat to Israel, and possibly even the United States, given bellicose press statements, if a rogue group could fire a nuclear missile at the United States from open sea from a covert ship, or possibly at high altitude for a disabling EMP strike.

However, to carry out such speculative threats, it would probably have to acquire loose nuclear material from other parts of the world, like the former Soviet Union, rather than just on its own.

Iran has supposedly manufactured about 1390 pounds of enriched uranium. The link for the story on the NTI site is here. It was also linked from the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nuclear Threat Initiative issues sobering 2008 report


The Nuclear Threat Initiative has released a detailed report “Securing The Bomb 2008” by Matthew Burn. The report is in three parts: an Executive Summary (18 pages0, a Full Report (205 pages), and “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: An Agenda for the Next President” (205 pages), all PDF files. There is also a formal Press Release.

The basic link for the reports is this.
There is a detailed appraisal of nuclear safety in all parts of the world, especially Russia and Pakistan. There are many charts. There is discussion of a break-in in South Africa.

There is also a “latest developments” section that leads to a detailed table of over twenty major diplomatic or political events regarding nuclear safety.

The reports do not mention EMP risks, a subject recently discussed in conservative newspapers like The Washington Times and discussed in the House (by conservatives) in July, as documented on YouTube.

Columnist reports that yellowcake was recovered from Iraq


Carter Andress has a major column this morning on p A19 of The Washington Times, “Yellowcake from Saddam”, link here. Mr. Andress is an owner of a company called American-Iraqi Solutions and author of “Contractor Combatants: Tales of an Imbedded Capitalist,” from Thomas Nelson publishers.

Andress reports that several months ago the U.S. Armed Forces recovered over 550 metric tons of “yellowcake” (ammonium or sodium diuranate – a good compound to mention in AP chemistry classes). Andress argues that, with centrifuge and other equipment on the black market in places like Pakistan, Libya and Iran, terrorists could have manufactured up to 140 nuclear devices. We have all read recently about the exploits of A. Q. Khan. Such devices would not necessarily have been used by Saddam Hussein himself; they could have found their way into the hands of Al Qaeda or Palestinian-related groups. Conservative columnists have, in recent months, upped the discussion of the risks of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands, the use of dirty bombs or even the detonation of nuclear weapons for EMP effects.

Is this some kind of vindication of President Bush’s invasion of Iraq? Why hasn’t the administration said more about this? The Left has always said, “no WMD’s were found.” That no longer seems so. But the same diligence is necessary in securing all potentially loose nuclear material around the world, in the former Soviet Union, and in various other locations, including Africa.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Piracy off of Somalia is a big security threat


Today, there were multiple media reports about “Pirates of the Indian Ocean”, mainly off the coast of Somalia, for as far as 400 miles. Today a Saudi super-tanker had to drop anchor near Somalia. Some of these tankers can be three times the size of an aircraft carrier, like the carrier I visited at Patriot Point (Charleston, SC) in 1993. The US Navy says it is unable to police the entire area, and NATO says it is limited in the actions it can take. Nevertheless, the British Navy recently arrested some pirates.

Piracy can earn each participant $10000-$50000 per incident, in a poor country. Money from piracy buys weapons and even missiles that can be used by terrorists, even though piracy is motivated by “bully” economics, rather than politics or religion.

A risk could develop that Al Qaeda or a group from Iran could infiltrate a pirate group and use it for missile strikes against developed countries in the Middle East, including Israel, or even Saudi Arabia or Dubai. This is especially dangerous if such groups had nuclear weapons or were capable of something like an EMP strike. That is another reason why piracy is so dangerous, especially to that part of the world.

Some oil companies are going around the Horn of Africa to avoid the region, at increased cost.

Somalia, of course, was the site of President Clinton's debacle in 1993, that led to the movie "Black Hawk Down."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Financial crisis increases security concerns; alarming media reports mount quickly


So, as G20 meets in the National Building Museum this weekend, the media is finally getting open about the multi-faceted danger that the financial crisis will make a future terror attacks on the west more likely.

There are several reasons for this. Some of this has to do with less money to upgrade homeland defense systems. But more of it would have to do with more social unrest in the developing world, particularly Muslim countries like Yemen and Pakistan. The front page story on Nov. 15, 2008 in The Washington Post is by Joby Warrick, “Experts see security risk in downturn: global financial crisis may fuel instability and weaken U.S. defense,” here.

It’s important to notice that in the US the ability of defense and intelligence agencies to “connect the dots” has been boosted by establishing the National Counterterrorism Center, the NCTC, link here. There is an interesting video available there. This mission is supposed to increase the odds that the significance of intelligence data “out of context” is not overlooked, but it obviously needs big time funding.

On the left side of the political spectrum, Alternet has an article, by Joshua Holland, about the dire economic risks, “Our economy is in a death spiral – will Washington stop the bleeding?,” here. Rapid deflation is hurting debtors even more, and probably contributing to extreme social unrest. It seems that the economic downturn started with Wall Street’s behavior but was exported overseas and is hitting even harder overseas now than at home. With deflationary depression, people simply do not buy the goods and services that are produced and hoard cash. Even so, there may be some encouraging signs that the US stock market is finding a "reliable" bottom of support levels from people who don't have to sell quickly.

The news reports that trickle in recently sound alarming, even in a world that seems elated by the political change signaled by the results of the US election. The major media outlets suddenly have run many somewhat sensationalistic stories about increased concerns about security for the new president. And in at least one frightening recent police case in suburban Maryland, a moderate level employee in intelligence might have been targeted in open auto traffic just because of where he worked.

People who grew up in my generation, the Cold War, feel we have seen some of this before. Two Alfred Hitchcock films that I rented from Netflix and watched this week ("Topaz" and particularly "Saboteur" (back to WWII)) show that these asymmetric concerns are not as new as they seem.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Columnists are starting to question EU progress in global warming


Paul Driessen, senior policy advisor for the Congress on Racial Equality and the Stop the War on the Poor Campaign, has a number of “devil’s advocate” columns in the Washington Times questioning the sincerity of the world on meeting climate change. You can search on his last name and find them at the Times site. Today (Nov. 14), on p A18 he has a column “Second thoughts on warming.”

Driessen points out that a number of European countries are, in 2008, way above their Kyoto carbon targets, including Italy, Portugal, Spain, Denmark and Austria. America is above what it would have agreed to had it signed Kyoto, but now, Driessen claims, our carbon emission growth rate is just 0.2% a year.

There is a good question as to how worldwide recession (or depression) will affect emissions. Lower demand would seem to reduce fossil fuel consumption for a while (look at oil prices now), but it also slows investment in alternative energy. Furthermore, society remains very vulnerable to a sudden incident, such as a terrorist strike on major oil fields in Saudi Arabia. I recall, in fact, back in the early 1980s there was a TV movie “World War III” predicated on the idea that the Soviets would attack America’s Alaska oil production and pipeline.

Monday, November 10, 2008

London Arab newspaper warns of plans for major 9/11-style attack against the U.S. homeland


Australian sources this morning are reporting a story in the London Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi (edited by Abdel al-Bari Atwan) that Osama bin Laden (or Usana bin Laden) is deep into planning another major attack against the United States, to be bigger than 9/11. The reports seems to involve the United States rather than western Europe. So far the United States says there is no specific intelligence to that effect. Al-Bari is thought to have interviewed bin Laden in 1996. Stories say that he is the last such journalist, but I believe that British-raised foreign journalist and book author Peter Bergen interviewed him in 1997.

One major news story is by Paola Totaro, in the Canberra Times, here.

The story was repeated briefly on ABC “Good Morning America” Monday morning Nov. 10.

The Homeland Security National Terror Alert has a version of the story "Report - Bin Laden May Be Planning Large Scale Terror Attack Against U.S." here.

Conservative newspapers like the Washington Times have recently run a lot of material about novel WMD’s, such as EMP devices, that could be launched from sea without interdiction by normal American or European inspection procedures at ports and border. A lot of attention has been paid recently to reigning in on loose nuclear weapons components, and the issue was mentioned by candidates (especially Joe Biden) during the recent presidential campaign. See the posting on this blog Oct. 14 2008 about the Washington Times story. Joe Biden (now the Vice President elect), after running for president himself last spring, had said in October that a new President Obama would be tested by a major foreign crisis early in his administration, a remark that McCain's campaign tried to capitalize on.

It is still unclear how bin Laden is communicating with the outside world, by ground couriers in tribal areas. It is possible for newspaper like the one above to fabricate a story.

There is a blog entry about the report on "Public Secrets" here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Russia may deploy missiles near Poland, in response to Bush's plan to defend Europe from rogue missiles


Russian president Dmitri Medvedev told a television audience Wednesday that he will place short-range missiles near the western border if a new President Obama carries out the Bush administration’s plan to install short range missile defenses in Poland.

President Bush has said that the new missile systems are needed to protect Europe from Iran and from rogue actors, not from Russia. Under the table, of some concern could the be possibility of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack with a high altitude detonation.

The Washington Post story (Nov. 6, 2008, on p A01) by Philip P. Pan of the Washington Post Foreign Service , and Michael Abramowitz, is “Russia Gives Obama Brisk Warning: Kremlin Plans Missiles Targeting NATO if U.S. Defense Shield Proceeds”, with link here.

The AP story by Steve Gutterman and Vladimir Isachenkov seems to suggest that Russia will deploy the missiles near Poland anyway.

Russian nationalism and the rise of an authoritarian “state capitalist” government has been seen as a risk for reigniting a kind of Cold War. The possibility could seriously disrupt international markets. Russia’s stock market has been especially hard hit by the world financial crisis which seem to start in the United States with the securitization of bad mortgages and the sale to worldwide investors.

President Obama might be inclined to appoint Republicans or more conservative officials to defense and foreign policy positions, in order to appear stronger in international matters, or to maintain more continuity in actual job experience. He could, for example, decide to keep Condoleezza Rice in his administration.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

UN "blacklist" of suspected terrorists faces legal setback


Craig Whitlock, of the Washington Post Foreign Service, has an important story on the front page of The Washington Post, Sunday Nov. 2, “Terrorism Financing Blacklists at Risk: Global system faces multiple challenges,” link here.

The United Nations maintains a “blacklist” of 503 entities (including a few individuals) imposing a travel ban on them and freezing their assets. However, in September the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg declared that the blacklist violates the fundamental rights of those named. One reason is that it does not allow disclosure of the charges or any effective challenge, and violates what would be constitutional procedural safeguards in many countries, including the United States.

A copy of the judgment (in English) is available on a website in Germany in PDF format, here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

US Defense Secretary makes specific warning about WMD's


United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates make a specific statement Tuesday (Oct. 28) that any group or individual assisting terrorists (or any unauthorized party according to UN rules) in obtaining weapons of mass destruction would be held fully accountable. The comments may have been related to recent concerns about Iran, or about conservative speculation that Iran or North Korea of other rogue groups could conceivably use a small nuclear device launched from open sea to disrupt electronics over a western country, including the US. Other reasons could be all the various reports about activities connected to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons rogue, A. Q. Khan. Another possible source of information could be various stings like that discussed in the book “Terrorist Hunter”.

The New York Times story (p A12, Oct. 29) is by Thom Shanker, “Gates Gives Rationale for Expanded Deterrence,” link here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Global Network Initiative will set standards for dealing with countries that suppress Internet freedom


Several Internet companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google, will be spearheading an effort to draw up common principles in dealing with countries like China that restrict free speech and expression (especially about politics or religion) on the Internet. The “China Journal” in the Wall Street Journal online today (Oct. 28) is reporting the story here.

The companies will compose the Global Network Initiative, which has yet to set up its web site. But the initiative will include other interests, like Human Rights in China.

The 110th Congress has a bill, HR 275, “The Global Online Freedom Act of 2007” (link here, or here on govtrack ) (introduced by Christopher Smith, R-NJ) which would make it a crime to turn over personal data to countries with censorship or privacy violations (hard to enforce when we have our own Patriot Act and various wiretapping controversies). But the Global Network Initiative would depend on voluntary measures.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Economist warns a successive defaults by many smaller countries


David Smick, author of “The World Is Curved” (a counter-argument to Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat”) has a column in The Washington Post today warning that entire countries could soon go bankrupt, and take down several major European banks with them. He mentions specifically Pakistan, Hungary, Belarus and the Ukraine, and even South Korea, suffering from major export losses. Iceland has already had to be rescued.

The column appears on p B03 of “The Washington Post” Outlook section today, link here. It is titled “If Entire Countries Go Broke, We’ll Go With Them.”

He also mentions that several European banks have assets greater than their corresponding country’s GDP.

Of course, it’s clear that a default by Pakistan poses grave security problems since it has small nuclear weapons. South Korea could obviously be jeopardized again by the North.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Biden warns that Obama's leadership will be tested with a major national security problem


Senator Joe Biden has introduced “The Parallax View” or perhaps paradox view in a provocative statement that a new president Obama will be tested with a severe international security crisis.

"Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking," Biden said. He said this Sunday, Oct. 19 while campaigning in Seattle.

That comment, for McCain, sounded like a hanging curve ball (or what we called a “palm ball” in backyard softball in my boyhood years). He came back with this and reminded us that he was on a Navy warship during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which threatened our whole way of life more than any other crisis has, even 9/11.

The story appeared Monday Oct. 20 on Fox News, here.

Biden is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and may believe that his remarks will be taken as affirmation that he and Obama can handle anything. Back in April, right after withdrawing from the primaries, he had delivered a speech at Georgetown University in Washington DC, “2008 and the Stakes for America’s Security,” here.

The other "obvious" question is, would Alaska Governor Sarah Palin really be competent to lead the nation as president through national security problems if she had to step in? True, she would make a good host for Saturday Night Live and would write a good mommy blog. She could play Dagny Taggart in a film of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. But she shouldn't be president.

Can McCain change his VP nominee?

Is it possible for McCain to ask Sarah Palin to step down and appoint someone moderate and properly experienced, like Rudy Giuliani (who would have been my choice for president for the GOP)? Maybe McCain could get back into the game in the last ten days if he could do that. The stock market even might like this.

Can a presidential nominee do this?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nations more interested in economic benefits of Northwest Passage than in consequences of melting North Polar ice cap


Most reports about global warming in the Arctic stress the rapidity with which the summer ice is disappearing, and the vicious cycle set up: blue water retains more summer heat than ice, so the warming in northern latitudes increases even more rapidly.

Yet, an article in U.S. News and World Report, Oct. 13-20, 2008 by Thomas Omestad, on p. 53, would lead one to believe that the short term economic benefits of opening the fabled Northwest Passage are most on the minds of international politicians. The story is titled “The Race for the Arctic: As the ice melts, nations eye oil and gas deposits and shipping routes,” link here. Sarah Palin, who keeps her eye on Russia from her living room window, practically speaking, seems particularly aware of this.

The irony is, of course, that we must do both. Whatever the soft prices for oil commodities right now during the deflationary global financial crisis, they will surely return. The underlying problem is that the world has no idea how to manage, in financial terms, a switch to renewable energy. “Cap and trade” systems and carbon credits don’t themselves build new infrastructures for clean energy. Zachary Coile has an important article Oct 13 in The San Francisco Chronicle, “Fiscal woes could delay climate change efforts,” link here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Clifford May warns that Iran could launch EMP attack by sea


Today, The Washington Times, however strident or hysterical its editorial tone, published, on p A19, a commentary by Clifford May and Jay Carafano, “Iran’s ‘world’ without America”, along with a strident cartoon. I found the original article at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, with the title “Wake Up to Iran’s Dark Dream to Disable U.S.”, link here.

I see that William Graham had already written a similar piece which I discussed on this blog Sept. 3, 2008 (see archives) and I see also that I had written about it on my main blog in Oct. 2007, link here.

The threat is an electromagnetic pulse attack, or EMP. The most likely way this could happen would be a high altitude explosion of a small or "suitcase" nuclear weapon. The higher the altitude, the wider the effects, which can cover hundreds of miles, limited by the curvature of the Earth. According to Popular Science in a September 4, 2001 issue (one week before 9/11), the same effect can be achieved over substantial areas with some kinds of conventional devices, the details of which we need not cover here. Objects inside Faraday cages are supposed to be protected, and it is likely that the military has a substantial part of its domestic resources protected. But the civilian economy in a large region could be put out of commission for many months, to say the least. This grim possibility was sometimes mentioned by other media sources (especially ABC and AOL) in the weeks following 9/11 but it never got a lot of attention.

According to May and Carafano, Iran may be vocalizing such an implicit threat, and might be able to carry it out. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that the goal of a world without America is “attainable.” An EMP event could be what he is hinting at. The James Clancy-like scenario is that a ship, possibly registered with Liberia and with rogue terrorist crews (possibly from the Palestinian conflict rather than Al Qaeda) could launch a nuclear-tipped (or possibly effective conventional) device similar to a cruise missile and exploded it some miles in altitude over the United States. The writers say that Iran has already tested sea-based platforms.

As to the Liberian ship idea, I worked for an insurance company in the early 1990s that owned a Liberian ship registry as a subsidiary. The business then was considered innocuous.

This could be very difficult to prevent, other than by a missile defense (like that proposed by Reagan in 1983), or a very aggressive Navy and Coast Guard within a few hundred miles of US shores. The nuclear retaliation deterrent should be US policy. Of course, there is a whole other controversy: just how far Iran is with its "peaceful" nuclear program, which the U.S. has every reason now to fear.

George Tenet had testified in 2003 that it was possible for North Korea to reach the Pacific Coast with “lobbed” missiles, either for a nuclear explosion or possibly an EMP effect over some of the West Coast or Alaska (or British Columbia).

May and Carafano talk about “connecting the dots” – something which our nation did not do before 9/11, and was left with a “failure of imagination.” One dot is societal: radical Islam (whether Sunni ir Shiite) expresses the sentiment that those individuals who do not function properly in a tribal religious culture but who (depending on global technology) speak for themselves will be of absolutely no use in a more primitive, barter-like and moneyless world driven back to religious and social hierarchy for all meaning. Ahmadinejad seems to be promoting an ideology of selective extermination, and may be closer to Adolf Hitler than even Saddam Hussein (who was more like Stalin). He could be the world’s single most dangerous man, even than Osama bin Laden.

If an EMP event occurred, the symptoms would be locally diagnosed quickly. The power would go out. But even if you have a UPS for your computer (or your laptop is running on a battery) it would fail too. Your car will not start. You’ll know in a minute. The neighbors will start to congregate outside. I have a screenplay short about this scenario (among other horros) on my doaskdotell.com domain. You will be able to bike (by manual pedal).

Home users and businesses (even as big as banks) alike can think about protecting their data on optical CD’s, which are not affected. It’s possible the fiber-optic cable (even Internet) would be easier to restore than conventional phone or cable. It may be possible to design laptops that could run on optical discs as if they were hard drives (since we have the disk drives in common use already for DVDs). There may be more that the information-centered world can do to harden itself to this than May and Carafano acknowledge.

As our country reels from a self-inflicted financial crisis (which could have been triggered as a political act by destructive short selling – even if that’s a speculative theory) it’s guard is down from possible sudden strikes for enemies. History teaches us that wars or major incidents often follow severe economic strife. Heaven help us if history repeats itself. I hope I don’t have to say, “I told you so.”

Update: Oct. 28, 2008

An organization with more information on EMP is "Shield America".

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Next World War is already here: It's financial


Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, of a group called Effective Intervention, has a disturbing op-ed in the Outlook section of The Washington Post today, with “The Next World War? It Could Be Financial”. The link is here. (Newspaper links often require registration to see content.) The home page of the EI site emphasizes reducing child mortality in developing countries.

Much of the article focuses on Iceland, whose bank assets are 10 times its GDP. The irony is that Iceland, among all countries, is among the best prepared to become and remain self-sufficient in energy and without carbon dioxide emissions. Obvious step: start selling its innovations, even if is lucky to have geothermal power. Other countries are trying to retrieve funds frozen in Icelandic banks.

There are concerns that some governments will, for example, not insure bank deposits of foreigners.

The US stock market crashed in slow but jagged motion all week, even after the passing of the bailout, once it became apparent that the problem had been exported to Europe (which had bought so many toxic assets related to mortgages and repeated some of the same mortgage folly in the US), with a political climate that is, whatever the political problems here, more difficult to resolve quickly amount different European national banks.

The bigger problem now seems to be the underwhelming result from Saturday’s G20 meetings in Washington, in the Farragut/GW area of the city, some of which was roped off even from pedestrians to prevent a “Battle in Seattle” type confrontation. Investors overseas, as in the Asian markets tonight, may react negatively to the appearance of floundering. Countries have agreed in principle to cooperate but lack the specificity that it takes to get international lending moving again (and reduce the Libor rate and Ted spread).

A bigger problem is conceptual. Western countries are perceived as living beyond their means, relative to the resources and finite capacity of a relatively small planet (in astronomical terms), and exploiting almost slave-like manufacturing labor in developing countries. From a moral point of view, this makes people who “sit” on assets appear to be vulnerable to expropriation. That does make it seem to me that oil prices are unlikely to tumble forever, and may well go back up again.

One wonders, could short sellers who attacked companies with heavy "credit detault swap" obligations (and bought swaps while shorting the companies) have intended to bring on global financial war, or perhaps a change in power? There are some likely and some unlikely suspects, as in any Clue game.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bailout and global "nervous breakdown"


Victor Davis Harrison (a columnist from Stanford’s Hoover Institution) has a sobering op-ed on p B1, Commentary, of The Washington Times today, “Global nervous breakdown?” The link is here.

He points out that domestic economic malaise has tended to provoke international crisis in the past. During Jimmy Carter’s years, Iran took its hostages and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Now, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (remember that he told Columbia University that there are no gay people in Iran?) ups the ante in his talk against Israel to echo Adolf Hitler’s call for a second “final solution.” He thinks we are distracted enough to let him do anything he wants. (That quotes a line from the little horror film “Bugcrush”).

Russia is getting in cahoots with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, something reported just before the financial crisis started to escalate.

Remember, that Hitler and Stalin both rose in a world plagues by the Great Depression.

We could argue with his premise. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred during a period of relative economic growth an innovation.

Oil is trading somewhere in the 90s now because of reduced demand. It wouldn’t take much a $200 price for oil, as in Stephen Leeb’s book reviewed on my Books blog Sept. 8, just before Fannie Mae started the dominoes to fall. Leeb, remember, has been on CNN warning that if we don’t get a grip on this we could have 25% unemployment and a dictator ourselves.

I remember, when I was growing up in the 50s, the a “nervous breakdown” was the ultimate catchall for going crazy. People would be whisked away. “Nothing to be ashamed of,” they would say. Then it would happen to me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Questions about TOM-Skype and Chinese surveillance of political dissent


The information warfare monitor has published disturbing information about the practices of TOM-Skype, which is the version in China of a voice and text software package called Skype. The Chinese version of the site (skype.tom.com) has a “red” rating from McAfee which reports that it offers a number of downloads which some users consider to be spyware, and that these Trojans may be related to Chinese government surveillance of the political activities of civilians.

The Joint Report from the Information Warfare Monitor OMI Asia is called “Breaching Trust: An Analysis of surveillance and security practices of China’s TOM-Skype platform, link here, by Nart Villeneuve, Psiphon Fellow, the Citizen Lab.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a version of this story Oct. 2, “Chinese Skype Client Hands Confidential Information to Eavesdroppers,” link here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

China: Wen Jiabao: US had better stabilize its credit markets; Hamid Karzai: OBL never in Afghanistan


Today (Sept 28) on CNN’s GPS show, Fareed Zakaria interviewed China’s premier Wen Jiabao (of the State Council) for about 40 minutes. Jiabao expressed confidence in the real US economy, but suggested that it was essential for it to restore some stability to financial market (as with “The Bailout”). There was a veiled suggestion that some day China could call in the debt on the US Treasury bills that its holds (the financial nuclear weapon) if things (especially credit markets) did not stabilize.

Fareed asked how China reconciles the paradox of socialism and markets. Jiabao said that market determine what is produced and sold, but government regulation can determine fair distribution of wealth among people. Jianao said that Adam Smith was one of his favorite western authors, that “Wealth of Nations” and “Theory of Moral Sentiments” are among two of his favorite books, with the latter discussing morality as it should apply to the people interacting with an economic system.

He said that China was still a developing country and is not yet a world superpower, a rather modest statement. He said that justice is his most important moral virtue.

He said that Internet regulation is necessary for security for the majority of the people. He also said that criticism of the government is allowed online, in contradiction to what western reporters have experienced, especially in the period leading to the Olympics. We’ve read repeatedly of major American companies having to agree to Chinese content standards of filtering when doing business in China.

For the last twenty minutes Fareed interviewed Hamid Karzai, current President of Afghanistan. Karzai was dressed in his green cloak. Karzai said that Afghanistan should take over its own security more effectively (as should Pakistan and Iraq), and said that after 9/11 Osama bin Laden has probably never been in his country. He was not even convinced that bin Laden was hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan. He had no secret opinion as to where he is.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Global warming is accelerating even more than we had thought


Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere even more quickly than had been predicted, according to a story Friday Sept. 26 in The Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin, on page A2. It is titled “Carbon Is Building Up in Atmosphere Faster than Predicted,” link here.

The kinetic momentum in the atmosphere would raise the average temperature by 4.3 degrees F by 2100 even if humans could stop emitting all greenhouse gasses today, according to a report from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. That report, titled “Warming World in Range of Dangerous Consequences,” published Sept. 15, 2008, link here.

The Post story also quotes Robert Moss from the World Wildlife Fund, as saying that we are locked into much more rapid warming than we had thought. The climate change page for that organization is here.

The general tone of these reports is to reiterate what Al Gore said in “An Inconvenient Truth”, that the rate of change (or calculus derivative) in carbon concentrations in recent times, in a historical perspective, is cause for grave concern.

Friday, September 26, 2008

London Times reports that we will soon run out of Internet IP addresses; Asian countries are ahead on this


Vint Cert, the supposed “father of the Internet” has recently told the London Times that the Internet is running out of new IP (internet protocol) addresses. The story is called “Father of the Internet: ‘web is running out of addresses’:, by Mike Harvey, Technology Correspondent, link here.

Mr. Cerf had founded the 4Pv2 system in 1977, with 4.2 billion potential addresses. With the rise of wireless and mobile phones, less than 1 billion addresses remain.

This could be a big problem overseas, making Internet access available to more people in developing countries, to comport with initiatives like “a laptop for every child”.

The new standard IPv6 would provide 3.4 x 10**14 addresses (OK, they teach scientific notation in Algebra I now).

Asian countries, including China, may be ahead of the US and the west and getting ISP’s to convert. The systems development work for the conversion is done but would require considerable work in phased implementations by ISPs. In the UK, the British government is starting to push the issue. We haven’t read about a similar effort in the US.

One downside risk is that people with IP connections based on the old scheme will not be able to reach Internet addresses, particularly overseas, with the new system.

Governments and security forces will need the connectivity quickly for intelligence work regarding hostile communications made overseas with the new systems.

Monday, September 22, 2008

TV interview of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew


On Sept. 21 CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria sat down with former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

He asked Mr. Yew about Singapore’s strict laws on behavior, that seem to limit freedom somewhat, and Mr. Yew suggested that it’s important to have a stable, civil society so people can achieve their potentials. You have to limit some things and prevent people from taking undue advantage of the system, he seemed to say. Some of the conversation was about chewing gum and things that don’t matter too much. Okay, litter matters.

He also said that he is a bit of a social Darwinist. If you don’t change with the times, you will be come extinct. He thinks that many people are not “changing” and presuming that they can live beyond their means, in terms of karma, it seems, for ever. Sustainability finally catches up with them.

He was critical of American neo-conservative attempts to export “democracy” to the Arab world. He thinks that tribal chieftans in the Middle East, and various sects within Islam can come to agreement on how to share oil wealth, but we cannot impose our personal cultural values on them, let alone our form of government.

He said that China is reasserting itself as a 5000-year-old culture that has given the world many things, including printing. He believes that the show at the Olympics was a statement to the world of what China is capable of doing.

On the other hand, Russia has a guarded future. It will lose population quickly, despite Putin’s attempts to increase birth rates.

Singapore has a low birthrate, despite supposedly pro-natalist statements in the past by Mr. Yew. Chinese and Asian family values have certainly contributed to a climate of self-discipline, but, perhaps as a leftover of the “one child per family” policy in China itself, Singapore has not enjoyed a lot of births.

Some people regard Singapore as a benevolent authoritarian state and a “procedural” rather than real democracy. It attracted notoriety in the 1990s with canings. Yet, because it is a small and confined society, it rather works. It reminds one of Yzorddorex (a city-state making up the “Second Dominion”) in Clive Barker’s fantasy “Imajica.” It seems like a product of a sci-fi writer’s imagination, but it is real!

Yew also talked about the second life he has gotten from angioplasty in his 60s.

The transcript is here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Harvard professor teaches "neo-tribalism" in Dubai


I recall an early episode of Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” based on the concept of negotiation. Remember what contestant Troy McClain had to give up as his part of the negotiation?

Seriously, as a business skill, “negotiation” goes international. Harvard law school faculty member Daniel Shapiro has taken the concept to the Middle East, specifically Dubai. The New York Times Magazine, on p. 80, today, Sunday September 21, has a story about him by Negar Azimi, “The College Issue: The Teaching Cure,” with a handsome picture of the Dubai skyline close up from the beach (but without the Burj in the picture), at this link. The focus on Shapiro’s seminars to teach western negotiating skills, almost as The Donald would see them, in the Arab world.

Dubai, from pictures, has always struck me as a city on another planet. Maybe one could say that about some cities in China now (beside Beijing). Try looking at “Dubai: Another World” here.

Dubai is supposed to set the example for modern Arabia. Far from perfect in terms of human rights, it still is supposed to be a firewall – successful capitalism -- against the nihilism of radical Islam in other parts of the Arab world, as documented in the film “Obsession” that I reviewed yesterday on my movies blog.

Ali al-Yousuf, president of the Dubai School and adviser to Sheik Mohammed, is quoted as saying, “We want to show the world that we Arabs can be successful without giving up our values or religion”.

Shapiro leads an interesting experiment in neo-tribalism. In the Arab world, we think of tribalism as a bad thing, associated with the lawless areas in Pakistan and harboring Osama bin Laden. We associate it with patriarchal family values. He builds an exercise where members of a seminar form new tribes, based on new sets of shared values within the larger group. He says that most people already belong to multiple tribes. Interesting. Remember, Troy made his psychic "pawn sacrifice" for the benefit of his newfound "tribe."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pakistan's military now seems hostile to US forces


In a story by Stephen Graham, the AP reports that Pakistan’s military has threatened to fire at American assets if Americans cross the border into Pakistan to chase elements of Al Qaeda, who could conceivably include Osama bin Laden himself. US actions might well take the form of unmanned CIA drones. An unusual small US ground action (the sort that Sebastian Junger has written about in the past in Vanity Fair) early this month reportedly contributed to the war of words. The link for the story is here.

In recent times, Pakistan has won some praise from the US military for assistance, but there have been many recent media reports indicating that Pakistan’s military has been undermined by radical ideology and tribalism. The lack of dependability has become an even larger concern because of Pakistan’s cache of small nuclear weapons.

AOL replicated the AP story this afternoon on its news site. AOL included a package of 500 photos from Pakistan supplied by Reuters.

Is Pakistan an "ally" any longer? This is getting dangerous.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Saudi cleric issues fatwa against owners of Arabian satellite TV networks broadcasting irreligious content


A Saudi Arabian mullah essentially declared a “fatwa” on owners of satellite television channels that broadcast “immoral” conduct or behavior that violates religious requirements of strict Islam or Wahhabism. The shiek was Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan, supposedly Saudi Arabia’s top judiciary official. His declaration (characterizing some whole Arab TV networks as "immoral") does not have the force of law but may be seen as influential on actions that others may take, as it says what kinds of personal “retribution” are “OK” by radical religious thinking. The AP story is at this link and appeared this morning. The story did name an author.

Many of the television channels attracting the ire of the sheik are owned by princes connected to the royal family. Radical Islamic culture views movies and television as potentially subversive, and in tribal areas people often do not understand the distinction between “fiction” (as in most western movies) and reality. That was a reason why the release of the Dreamworks film “The Kite Runner” (based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini) was delayed worldwide in 2007 and not shown in some Islamic countries (although the DVD is widely available).

The ruling was seen as disapproval of Western lifestyles and values, and might support the theory that Western behaviors (as well as occupation of sacred lands by “infidels”) offend Saudi young men otherwise dispossessed and contribute to their actions. The statement certainly supports a collective, rather than individualize view, of responsibility for behavior.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? Administration is said to be changing course in the hunt


I remember on the afternoon of my layoff (Dec. 13, 2001), I coworker said, “Bill, you should take your severance and take a few months off. Maybe you could work on collecting the $25 million for finding Osama bin Laden.” The FBI still has an official offer for information on its Ten Most Wanted site, here. Note the alternate spelling on the poster, "Usama bin Laden". The poster mentions the 1998 Embassy incidents in Africa specifically, but curiously does not specifically list 9/11. The poster seems to call for John Walsh and his program "America's Most Wanted."

Oh, sure. Like an “amateur” blogger is really going to attract the one tip that leads to his capture, despite all the listening and eavesdropping by the NSA and CIA for seven years. There are plenty of “eagle eyes.” Not to mention all the spying all over the world enabled by the Patriot Act and its upgrades.

Remember Morgan Spurlock’s recent film “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?" (film website here; I reviewed this in April 2008 on my movies blog). He thinks we shot ourselves in the foot. We try too hard.

Or, if you believe the New York Times Magazine story Sunday (covered here that day), a lot of the problem is pragmatic: Pakistan, especially its military, seems to have little incentive to bring him to justice.

Today (Sept. 10), Craig Whitlock in the Washington Post carries this report on, with a front page story, “In the Hunt for Bin Laden, a New Approach,” link here. American forces are also not allowed to operate in many of the tribal areas near Peshawar. Much of the effort will consist of use of the unmanned Predator drone spy plane, which carries the risk of civilian casualties. Drones have been effective before, as in a particular instance in Yemen.

It seems that intelligence officials don’t spend a lot of effort on the possibility that Bin Laden could have left the area completely and escaped across the Indian ocean through Karachi, where there are many familial contacts.

Bin Laden’s single minded "moral" or "religious" tenacity over decades seems to stun the West. Peter Bergen tried to explain this in his 2001 book. According to Bergen, the issue is not so much bombastic Western lifestyles as specific complaints about the occupation of sacred lands by "infidels." That theory doesn't track with Bin Laden's behavior on his videos. The media put a bin Laden tape on the air quickly after President Bush started operations in Afghanistan in October 2001, and Bin Laden seemed to be trying to hold American civilians personally responsible (a tactic that I remember from radical Leftism of the early 1970s). On Dec. 13, 2001 (the day of my layoff), Bin Laden gloated over the way the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center had been destroyed on Sept. 11.

Even so, one wonders if the administration knows something now, and if the capture or death of Bin Laden will be the “October Surprise” of this year’s election.