Sunday, June 29, 2008
Today (June 29 2008) The New York Times Magazine, starting on p. 34 in print, offers a detailed analysis by Russell Shorto of the supposed “birth dearth” in much of Europe. The article title is simply “No Babies?” (“No hay bebes?”, “Keine kinder?” “nessun bambino?” The link is here.
Shorto gives a detailed and balanced, if meandering, discussion of the “demographic storm” in Europe. We all know some of the economic and social consequences: too few workers supporting too many retirees, some of them requiring care in nursing homes. He points out a number of observations often slighted by social conservatives. For one thing, the lowest European birthrates tend to occur in Southern and Eastern Europe. He gives a lot of detailed discussion of Italy. Generally, in these areas there is less support for families (like parental leave) and women do not participate as much in the workplace, partly because of cultural customs regarding the family. In Scandanavian countries, and also France, there seems to be much more generous support for families in terms of leave and benefits, and women are much more likely to work, increasing family income. As a result, families can afford more children. Even so, in many of these “progressive” countries, the birthrate is a bit less than 2.0 children for family, not enough to maintain native population.
In the United States, birthrates are higher for a number of reasons. But one of the largest is immigration (including illegal), and the tendency for legal immigrants to assimilate into American culture. Another may be a culture that supports two income families. In the United States, there is no mandatory provision for paid parental leave, and the unpaid leave provisions are weak. But among more progressive companies, there is a voluntary practice of providing it among longer term associates.
Europe, moreover, is faced with a cultural demographic problem. Muslim immigrants do not assimilate well, sometimes are drawn to extremism (particularly in Britain and Spain), tend to send money back to families in home countries. If Muslim immigrants have more babies, eventually the political stability of European democracy could be threatened, as Bruce Bawer argued in his book “While Europe Slept”.
Back in February, The Nation had published an article by Katyrn Joyce called “Wanted: The ‘Right’ Babies” along with videos (like “More white babies”) spinning this whole “demographic winter” argument as disguised racism or prejudice. “It’s an old argument,” she says. Indeed, we’ve heard it for a while now, mostly from the Right (until today). The blog entry is on Feb. 20 on the Issues blog, here.
The arguments about birth rates and population replacement fit into broader concerns about “sustainability” as noted on other blogs recently. Three decades ago, exploding population was seen as an ecological problem in a way that previews the global warming debate today. But the “sustainability” issue has become more nuanced. An aging population presents novel sustainability problems in more advanced countries, and immigration population demographics can undermine democratic stability. Conservatives can use “sustainability” arguments to suggest that reproduction is a personal moral obligation and use it to attack gay rights, and these arguments have recently been made related to gay marriage. In Poland, in fact, conservative politicians used the fact that Muslim immigrants “take care of their families” to attack gay rights, an observation I noticed in a Pittsburgh newspaper in the Andy Warhol Museum last year.
Visitors may want to check the front page June 30 USA Today article by Haya El Nasser, "Births fueling Hispanic growth," indicating that higher birthrates account for more of the Hispanic share of US population than does immigration (legal or not), link here.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
President Bush has announced that he will be able to remove North Korea from the list of states that sponsor terrorism (after 45 days), once it completes the promises it has just made. He could also lift other economic sanctions. These actions include imploding a nuclear reactor cooling tower at Yongbyon very soon. North Korea has already delivered its nuclear disclosure and declaration documents to China is a complicated series of diplomatic (and pseudo-diplomatic) moves arranged by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
This development certainly comports with worldwide efforts to account for nuclear materials and weapons and bring them into safe harbor, as advocated by former Senator Sam Nunn’s group the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
The move may help the appearance of Republican candidate John McCain as being more commensurate with future national security.
The item was Breaking News this morning on major media outlets at the same time the Supreme Court was ruling on DC’s handgun law (my “major issues” blog). The CNN story is “Bush welcomes N. Korea move on nuclear program,” here.
In 2002, former CIA director George Tenet had testified to Congress that North Korea was capable of lobbing a nuclear weapon (trebuchet style) across the Pacific to Alaska or even the Pacific Northwest. "Yes, they can do that," he had said to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
When I was authoring my "libertarian" first book in the mid 1990s, I personally viewed North Korea as a much bigger threat (as I also viewed resurgent communism or nationalism) than radical Islam.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Mideast oil countries use sovereign wealth funds to perturb economy, guarantee food supplies; new gov't intelligence reports
Michael Gerson has an interesting op-ed “The Wrong Way to Kick an Oil Habit” on p A13 of today’s (June 25) Washington Post (link here A windfall profits tax might discourage domestic production when we need it. But the normal working of energy markets might not solve the problem either. Perhaps he is echoing the criticism by George Soros of international “market fundamentalism.”
Gerson discusses the way oil producing countries are deploying their “sovereign wealth funds.” Although there is some pretense of humanitarian and charity work, many of them (especially desert Arab countries) are investing in agricultural areas in order to gain some control of food supplies. They could engender the same sort of tensions as Americans generate by importing too much oil. This is an interesting viewpoint.
Author William R. Morris discussed the sovereign wealth fund concept in his recent book “The Trillion Dollar Meltdown,” reviewed here on by books blog. He traces seigniorage and the devlopment of SWF's and explains the destabilizing effect they can have on the global economy.
NBC Nightly News tonight mentioned that the Department of Energy issued its 2008 Energy Outlook today, with sobering predictions of a 50% increase in world demand in two decades with increasing carbon dioxide emissions, link here.
NBC also reports that the National Intelligence Council will soon has a report indicating how it views global warming as a threat to national security. The Council has a number of reports for purchase in this area which the visitor can peruse now, and apparent more will be added soon on sea level rise, drought, and competition for resources. This is becoming a sustainability problem The CNN story " Global warming could increase terrorism, official says," on the NIC report is here.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
A recent two-part series (particularly the second part) in The Washington Post indicates that Al Qaeda, given its dispersal in primitive areas, is even more effective in using the Internet than had been previously supposed. The decentralized groups have been able to make videos in tribal areas of western Pakistan or Afghanistan, transfer them (on memory sticks or other devices) by couriers to Internet cares with convenient wireless or other Internet access, and remain undetected for much of the process. There is even an 80-minute film called “The Power of Truth” alleging Muslim victimization by western aggression in various forms.
The story (appearing June 23 on the Washington Post front page) is called “Al Qaeda’s Growing Online Offensive” by Craig Whitlock (of the Washington Post Foreign Service) and Munir Ladaa (in Berlin). The story includes excerpts from Al Qaeda propaganda videos.
The first part (June 23) had discussed the US-finance al-Hurra television network.
Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri have repeatedly sent audios and videos since 2001. On Oct 7, 2001 major media outlets broadcast a video tongue-lashing by bin Laden as Bush announced action in Afghanistan. On Dec. 13, 2001 (the date of my own layoff) bin Laden broadcast a particularly gratuitous video gloating at the WTC collapse.
Right after 9/11, there was a lot of speculation thay Al Qaeda or other groups could send “steganographic” messages by hacking ordinary websites, but this has not been reported as happening widely. (I found disturbing "vandalism" on a file discussing nuclear issues on my older site in April 2002 and reported the incident.) But steganography has been widely used in the physical world, all the way back to the wars in ancient Greece.
It's also interesting to speculate how propaganda works on the Internet, compared to the way it worked earlier in history (as in Germany before WWII). The mechanics of propaganda was covered in government class when I took it in high school in 1960-61. It would not work as well in an environment where there is freedom of dissent, but in radical Muslim countries there is heavy censorship and harassment of bloggers, as previously discussed on this blog.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Another blogger today informed me about “The Simultaneous Policy” with the byline “Breaking down barriers to solving world problems”, with this website. It translates into several languages. The underlying concept is that if countries impose green-friendly or slow-growth policies or compromise individual property rights, their own nations may become less competitive; therefore more coordinated international efforts are needed.
Does this call for “world government” or loss of national sovereignty? It doesn’t sound like it at first. I recall a process like this called “The Area of Mutual Agreement” promoted by an organization called Understanding that operated west of Phoenix in the 1970s.
Along these lines, the visitor may want to look at a Guardian article by Andrew Rawnsley, “Don’t rely on the boys with the black stuff, Mr. Brown: As the Prime Minister visits Saudi Arabia, the lesson of rising oil prices is that green politics matter more than ever”, link here.
The comment on the previous entry has the reference to the blog “Global Justice: The Big Picture” with a survey.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Multiple media stories now report that Saudi Arabia has promised to increase oil output in a meeting today (Sunday). Other stories report that the oil ministers say that Saudi Arabia “can” increase production. Perhaps the analytic character of our own English language matters here.
The AP story is by Sebastian Abbot with a link here. The report does not specify an amount. However, various comments in the media suggest an increase of 1 to 2 million barrels a day, which could amount to up to a 20% increase starting in July.
It is not clear how this would affect oil prices Monday, in view of other news, and in view of theories that Arabia could become “tapped out.” It is also not clear how it would affect oil company share prices. It could drive them down for a while, tempting more investors to buy. That could be a good thing if the oil companies are allowed to do more domestic off-shore and Canadian drilling, given the long term outlook for demand.
Reuters has a story by Simon Webb and Summer Said, “Jeddah starts oil price dialogue, but no quick fix.” The story discusses a Saudi promise for loans to help developing countries deal with high oil prices. The link is here.
The other big question is this: If Saudi Arabia markedly increases production (as it did in the 1980s under Reagan's policies and seems willing to do so now out of fear of "demand destruction") will the West really get serious about developing politically secure sources of oil, particularly in North America, where you need $100 a barrel to get it out with a profit?
Picture (across street): Islamic Saudi Academy, south of Alexandria VA, a grade, middle and high school funded by the Saudi government, subject of some controversy in local news stories this spring.
Note: Reports on CNN later on Sunday indicate that Saudi Arabia has promised to increase production from 9.0 million to 9.7 million barrels a day, an increase of about 8%.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Major media sources report that Israel is running training missions for a possible strike against Iran, should Iran continue its nuclear weapons development program, which Iran claims is for peaceful nuclear power resources only.
However, repeated reports about Israel’s training runs keep on pushing on the price of crude oil. There are recent reports Israel’s actual logistical and military capability of actually carrying out such a raid is in doubt. For example, see the story by Dan Williams today (July 21) on Reuters, here.
AP has a story today by Ali Akbar Dareini to the effect that the Mideast will turn into a witch’s brew if Israel attacks Iran, according to remarks in Dubai by Mohamed El Baadei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, link here, also reprinted today in The New York Times in the World Section.
Recall that the United States and Israel made a covert coordinated attack in Syria September 2007. There is a blog discussion by “Matt” on “1913intel” from April 2008, which already raises speculation about an Israeli attack on Iran, here. This action had been partially justified by intelligence suggesting that some of the nuclear materials in Syria had come from North Korea.
Remember, Israel performed a surgical pre-emptive strike against Iraq’s “Osiraq” nuclear power plant on June 7, 1981. There is an interesting archived “memo” to syndicated columnist George Will from Jude Wanniski dated November 2001 that predicts that the Bush administration will go into Iraq, and will use evidence from decades ago to justify the attack, link here, on Worldnet, link here.
An actual attack by Israel now could indeed throw oil production in the middle East and prices into utter chaos, leading to rationing and various financial failures in the United States. As CNN has often said, “we were warned.” Remember 1973?
Friday, June 20, 2008
Today (June 20) the front page of The Washington Times offers an “exclusive” scoop by Bill Gertz, “U.S. nuke spotters sent to China before games; Secret team acts on attack fears,” link here. The group is called the Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) and will include a small number of nuclear scientists to help the Chinese government detect any evidence of radiological dispersion during the Olympic games in Beijing in August 2008. Obviously, the Bush administration had to engage in delicate diplomacy. The team carries heavy gear and personal protection and decontamination facilities that may recall the movie “The Andromeda Strain.”
The Washington Times also has a provocative story about international Internet use in the World “Briefing/Asia” page, “Insecure youths vent in Web chat rooms; Authorities find it difficult to differentiate angry postings from violent manifestations,” by Eric Talmadge and Mari Yamaguchi, on p A20. The story concerned the monitoring of Internet chat rooms by police in Japan, and the recent violence on the Tokyo subway. Japan has been asking Internet Service Providers to remove certain violent and weapons related content, which reminds one of the recent agreement in the United States of some ISP’s with the New York State attorney general to remove certain materials related to child pornography. The link is here.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
In one of the greatest perversions of the use of music in history (apart from Nazi Germany) the government of the Sudan has been imploring musicians, the Hakama singers, to sing ritual pieces to “inspire” the government troops, the Janjaweed, to attack ethnic civilians in Darfur.
Songwriter Abazar Hamid is trying to change that. Today, June 19, a story “Songs of Hope for Sudan, When Censors Allow,” p A12, by Washington Post foreign correspondent Stephanie McCrummen, link here describes the gauntlet Hamid runs with his “Rainbow Project” which inserts lyrics about human rights into songs originally intended to produce violence. The story includes a short video “Singing for Peace” of the music.
The Darfur conflict takes place in western Sudan but there is concern that it would spread to other areas in conjunction with radical Islam.
I have reviewed the films “The Devin Came on Horseback,” “Darfur Now” and “on Our Watch” on Sept. 12, 2007 on the movies blog (please see the Blogger Profile).
Picture: personal trip, SW Pennsylvania, 1995.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Around the planet, workers are organizing protests against higher fuel and food prices, or against pro-US policies of some governments, when workers may see the United States as the “bully” and American consumers as due for a purification.
There have been trucker protests in France and Colombia. In South Korea, masses poured into the streets to protest the resumption of purchases of American beef (which had been stopped with a mad cow disease scare in 2003). Furthermore, construction workers and truckers were striking in South Korea as well. Truckers in Thailand organized a brief strike against a new government that is said to be bracing itself for demands for handouts.
The Reuters story is by Catherine Drees, “Fuel cost protests spread and rattle governments,” link here.
According to an AP story by George Jahn, “Oil prices steady ahead of Saudi meeting,” link here
Crude oil prices Monday remained over $135 a barrel despite an announcement Sunday by Saudi Arabia to boost oil production by 2% in July. Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities may well be targets for Al Qaeda, particularly during periods of severe run-ups on oil prices.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
I seem to recall a grade school book report on a children’s novel about, of all things, a smuggling ring. This activity was happening on a global and international scale with nuclear weapons parts and now, we learn, computer drawn blueprints (similar to those used by architects as for the imaging technology). These files were recently destroyed by the Swiss government. This story was related in a United Nations report by David Albright. It related to the now shut-down operation by Abdul Qadeer Khan. The files had been over 1000 gigabytes in size. There is every likelihood that other copies had been made and exist. The disk space is larger than what may fit on many modern home computers, which now often have disk storage in the hundreds of gigabytes.
The blueprints and parts might have been particularly desired by Iran and North Korea.
General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has never allowed IAEA to interview A. Q. Khan or his associates. The designs reportedly resembled those of the smaller nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s current possession.
Some of this story had appeared in a book by David Armstrong and Joseph Trento, reviewed on my Books blog (see my profile and follow links) Dec. 2, 2007.
Joby Warrick reports this new development in the front page story in the June 14, 2008 Washington Post, “Smugglers Had Designs for Advanced Warhead,” link here.
The New York Times on June 15 has a couple of stories by David E. Sanger, such as (with William J. Broad) "Officials Fear Bomb Design Went to Others", link here.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has a paper dated 2004 from Congressional Quarterly on its site, “Nuclear Proliferation and Terrorism: Can “rogue” states and terrorists acquire nuclear weapons?” here.
An organization called the Nuclear Threat Initiative, connected to former Senator Sam Nunn, has offered a short dramatic film about proliferation, "The Last Best Chance."
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The Supreme Court has ruled today, 5-4, that military detainees at Guantanamo Bay may appeal their detention in civilian courts. This reverses an earlier ruling by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The ruling was based in large part on the concept of writ of habeas corpus, and all of the constitutional history surrounding it. The decision strikes down part of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that denies Gitmo detainees the right to file petition under habeas corpus.
The case is Boumediene et al v. Bush, President of the United States, link here.
Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia dissented.
There is a bill in Congress, S 185, the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007, govtrack reference here.
Both Barack Obama and John McCain have supported closing down the prison in Cuba. Obama wants to scrap the military tribunals, but McCain wants to move them to Fort Leavenworth KS.
Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution reads “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”
Some observers maintain that trials of the detainees may take much longer, and the effectiveness of the administration's prosecution of the "war" is compromised. Documentary films (such as that of Morgan Spurlock) have questioned how many of the detainees really had been involved with Al Qaeda.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
At least two US congressman report that their House computers were hacked, apparently with the support of the Chinese government. Frank Wolf, from Virginia, and Chris Smith, from New Jersey, both Republicans, say that their “work” computers were compromised and that data on dissidents in China (very likely including those in Tibet) was copied. Wolf has four computers and Smith has two computers invaded, both starting in 2006.
There is some suspicion that a laptop taken to China during a visit by Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez might have been compromised and led to the disclosure of access information that could have facilitated the hacks. Apparently public announcement of the hacks was delayed a long time out of security concerns.
The main AP news story is by Pete Yost and Lara Jakes Jordan, title “Lawmakers say Capitol computers hacked by Chinese,” link here.
The story was repeated on multiple media outlets. It seems that the Chinese government will stop at nothing to track down dissent. Who’s next on the spy list, the webservers of ordinary Americans?
Monday, June 9, 2008
Global Online Freedom Act would be far from perfect in dealing with "Internet-restricting" countries
The Washington Post today (Monday June 9) ran a sensible editorial on Internet censorship by undemocratic or authoritarian regimes (including China, and much of the Islamic world). The editorial is called “Servers that snitch: what can be done to preserve freedom on the Internet?” and the link is here.
One of the problems is that companies may get a pseudo “competitive advantage” by circumventing overseas censorship when other companies don’t, and the new proposed Global Online Freedom Act of 2007 (H.R. 275), for which I summarize the references here. The Post correctly points out that the State Department would develop the list of “Internet-restricting countries” administratively, and would face tricky quasi-political questions such as Germany’s strict controls on material that even “looks like” advocacy of neo-Nazism.
The question is, of course, is a country like China better off with American companies serving them and acquiescing to Chinese control of dissent and speech that would not be acceptable in this country. As a pragmatic matter, perhaps they are. Yet, how often in our own lives do we say no to things because they violate our own principles? Global companies don’t always have the luxury of ethical purity or “ethical fundamentalism.”
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Today Israel tightened the rhetoric against Iran when Benjamin Ben-Eliezer threatened to erase Iran if Iran even “dreamed” about attacking Israel. It was not clear what kind of mental telepathy (beyond press statements or even Internet rumors) would constitute the “dreams” like in novels by Stephen King and Clive Barker.
Israel accused other western companies of doing business with nuclear facilities in Iran, which insists if it doing research for peaceful purposes only and following international law. Friday, another threat from Shaoul Mofaz suggested that Israel might attack Iran if Iran kept working on its supposed “nuclear weapons program” and that announcement may have helped provoke the $10 oil price spike.
But rigorous monitoring of Iran would seem necessary given declared national security policies of the United States and other western countries to locate all nuclear material in the world and account for it, to defer the threat of nuclear terror, as discussed often in the books and papers by Graham Allison (already discussed on this blog).
There is a very emphatic story on PressTv today (and headlined on Mixx) here.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Crude oil prices rose today by a record $10.75 a barrel, to $138.54, after reaching $139.12.
What were the factors? One was a reported threat from Israel to attack Iran if Iran doesn’t discontinue its nuclear program. It’s unclear what was said and it sounds irresponsible. The Palestinian situation has always sounded very strange to libertarian thought: property was taken from individual Palestinians over decades to reconcile a historical tragedy for a whole group of people. It is religious and historical groupthink v. individual rights. As long as this continues, oil supplies from the region will be subject to disruption.
Another factor was simply that Morgan Stanley predicted a price of $150 by July 4, not Dec. 31. Still another was comments about the falling dollar from the European Central Bank. Furthermore, the Federal Reserve is caught behind a rock and a hard place on the “stagflation” problem. Stimulation with lower interest rates to help alleviate unemployment leads to a weaker dollar, still.
On the other hand, George Soros and others have said that commodity prices may be in a bubble, and lack of oversight by regulators is a problem.
I wonder why oil is not priced in a more stable currency, which right now is the Euro. Or why not price it against gold directly? I never see any discussion of this, and would welcome comments from someone who could explain.
The underlying problem, particularly when oil is priced in dollars, is that America has not convinced investors that it can replace a large enough part of the oil infrastructure with other fuels to seriously reduce demand and reduce the political leverage of the “oil weapon”. The combinations include wind, solar, biofuels, and Western coal (which could replace petroleum for some airline fuels). And investors don’t even seem to be thinking about global warming yet when they buy oil futures.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Well, the bashing of Beijing can continue. Apparently the Chinese government suspended the licenses of two human rights lawyers who had defended Tibetans who had protested against Beijing in March. And there are stories about denial of license renewals to numerous lawyers. This sounds like the post-Communist Chinese version of McCarthyism and blacklisting. The story by Jim Yardley appears on p A12 of today’s New York Times, with the link here.
Curiously, on the same page, another story by Keith Bradsher reports that the impact of the earthquake on the Chinese economy would be “minimal” because it occurred in a poor, agricultural area. This seems to turn the 60s Maoist “cultural revolution” upsidedown. That’s hard to believe, when one considers the massive rebuilding required of housing and schools, driving China’s consumption needs up even more.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Today (June 1) The Washington Times, on p B3 in the Commentary Section, carries an op-ed by Maggie Gallagher than I can definitely agree with. Actually, I do get where she is coming from in some of her past pieces (as in the Weekly Standard) on gay marriage. But today, she shows that it only takes a post-totalitarian state to establish the link between the right to life and what we normally talk about as civil rights. Yes, I notice the rehearsal of Sharon Stone’s remark about “karma” and the Dalia Lama.
China, in the wake of the earthquake, is oh so generously allow grieving parents who lost their only child to have another child. “The government will give you a certificate so you can have another child. How big of them!”
She goes on to describe a Muslim woman in the western provinces who “illegally” had a second child in the 1990s. There is some confusion. Ethnic minorities sometimes had exceptions carve out to the one child policy. But her work group had to approve of the birth and tried to pressure for a legal abortion. Life is so communized that any sort of organic experience of normal emotion is denied. It is hard to say what is “the people” and what is “the state” that is supposed to take care of everything.
A couple decades ago, many commentators welcomed China's one child policy, which is said promote young people to grow into "little emperors". Now, as noted by Philip Long and others, the whole question about population demographics comes into question with occasional pieces about "demographic winter."
The Washington Times, by the way, in undergoing some changes. It increased the newsstand price and now is cutting out a Saturday print edition, but its website has a new look. I could not find her commentary there yet today; just keep looking for it.
Also, today, the New York Times has impressive slide of the total destruction of many coastal villages in Myanmar (another totalitarian government, and after North Korea, one of the world’s most despotic). Look under "World" and graphic on June 1.