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.