Saturday, May 30, 2009

Global Humanitarian Forum: 300 million people already displaced by climate change

In a press release May 29, the Global Humanitarian Forum has reported that Climate Change has already resulted in 300,000 deaths a year, and that 300 million people are already displaced. The direct link is this. The report is called “Anatomy of a Silent Crisis”. The website offers a YouTube video and an e-book “The Human Face of Climate Change” that can be perused online with a virtual page-turner.

The most vulnerable areas are low lying coastal areas, and many areas of Africa experiencing unprecedented drought.

The mass migration of peoples will present an unprecedented security problem, the report says.

The Earth has warmed by 1.33 degrees F from 1906 to 2005 and would warm by 3.6 degrees F by 2100.

The report was broadcast on CNN and AOL this morning.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Israel insists on "normal life" in West Bank policy (expropriation), after Obama administration tells Israel to stop settlements

US president Barack Obama met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had told Israel that it should stop building more settlements on Palestine’s West Bank.

Israel has said that “normal life” will continue on the West Bank – a euphemism that means building of more settlements to accommodate population growth in or from Israel. Sometimes this causes expropriation of land in which Palestinians live, and their expulsion, a process resulting in a great deal of personal shame for Palestinians. (How would anyone like it in this country if someone could just take their home? That’s what the “Takings of Private Property” clause in the Fifth Amendment to the United States constitution is about, for example here.)

The UK Telegraph story is here.

The West Bank includes Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, south of Jerusalem.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

North Korea nuke test could become a grave crisis

There are a lot of stories today about North Korea’s latest nuclear gambit, with the possibility that information could develop that North Korea has supplied materials to terrorists, which could require a quarantine.

Voice of America has a story by Kate Woodsome, dated May 29, “Analysts assess options on how to respond to North Korea’s nuclear threat,” link here.

The Washington Times posted an editorial that “North Korea tests Obama: Kim Jong-Il spots the president’s soft side” May 27, the link URL here. Is this the big test that Joe Biden had promised "the next president" during the primaries?

In 2002, George Tenet had testified that North Korea could lob a nuclear weapon to the Pacific Northwest (or perhaps an EMP device at high altitude). And in the mid “Clinton” 1990s, North Korea was considered the largest threat that could result in large scale US military action, following the fiascos with Somalia and the slow success in the Balkans. I thought that when writing the material on gays in the military in my first book. We simply missed the boat on Al Qaeda.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An informal webcam trip to Serbia

Today, while wandering in Arlington VA, I encountered an informal international webcam meeting outside a Starbucks. Three Serbian young men, who spoke English with very little accent, conversed with three more friends in an apartment in southern Serbia (I think the city was Midzor). They invited me to greet them. I could not see much detail of what the apartment looked like.

They said that Serbia is at peace but has extreme unemployment.

Back in 1982, on a trip to London, while walking on London Bridge, a stranger came up to me and asked me to observe "international hello day".

Visitors may enjoy reading the book “Damages” by Bazhe, an autiobiographical account of coming of age in the Balkans, here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nigeria has oil pipeline attack; North Korea makes crude test

Rebels in Nigeria have destroyed a major Chevron pipeline, according to major British reports. The group is the The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The BBC link for the story is here.

The action came at a time of lower oil prices because of recession driven demand and is not likely to have a major effect on prices.

Back on August 15, 2008 I got a personal email that may have come from this or a related group and shared it (a photo of the email) on this blog.

In other major international news, the Voice of America reports South Korea’s comments about North Korea’s crude nuclear test, which may have caused a small earthquake, story here by Kurt Achin. The link is here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

ABC Nightline covers exorcism of children in Congo

ABC Nightline this evening (May 21) aired a shocking story about children being accused of “witchcraft” and subjected to “exorcisms” my money-grabbing “pastors” in the Congo. The story ran the full half hour.

The story maintains that the “pastors” tell families that the “weakest” children are witches and bring hardship on the families. Of course, this is exactly the opposite of what the New Testament says in almost all interpretations of Christianity, which reporter Dan Harris pointed out in interviewing the pastor.

In the Congo, 70% of homeless children may have been accused of witchcraft, and then are put out by their families who already have many mouths to feed. The practice occurs in several other African countries.

The exorcisms were graphic, including the use of hot wax. The Nightline twitter and feedback pages are asking for user feedback as to whether the United States government should intervene.

The "pastor" charges up to a half-year's income of the family ($50).

ABC has a story by Dan Harris and Almin Karamehmedovic “Child Witches: Accused in the Name of Jesus: Christian Pastors in Congo Paid to Perform Violent Exorcisms; Children Banished From Homes, Abandoned by Families”, link here.

Save the Children has a story about the Congo conflict from March 2009, here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Senate rebuffs Obama on closing Guantanamo, despite his promises

Today, the Senate voted 90-6 to deny President Obama the authority to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo to anywhere in the United States and the $80 million in appropriations he would need to close the facility.

A number of officials, including a former FBI director, have said that detainees could disrupt US prisons, although that is hard to believe: how could they disrupt a supermax? Surely federal prisons aren’t beset with the cell phone problems reported recently.

Some prisoners have been transferred to a “reeducation camp” in Saudi Arabia, and have been reported to be rejoining Al Qaeda.

Obama had made closing Guantanamo one of the biggest promises of his campaign. He signed an executive order ordering the closure two days after his inauguration, and also terminated harsh interrogation techniques, which some conservatives were necessary to prevent another major homeland terrorist attack.

Richard Wolf and Mimi Hall have a typical story in "USA Today" May 20 “Obama’s anti-terrorism policies hit walls,” link here.

As recently as April 5, 2009, National Geographic had aired a controversial documentary on Guantanamo, reviewed here.

Update: May 21

Barack Obama and Dick Cheney gave contrasting views on national security and Guantanamo today in back-to-back contrasting speeches, CNN link here.

Update: May 24

Obama indicated that some detainees could be held indefinitely without trial "if they are at war with the United States."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fareed Zakaria: the sky isn't falling: our world is more stable than we think; but what about Ramo's sandpiles?

CNN Global Public Square host Fareed Zakaria has a great column in Newsweek May 16, “The Sky Isn’t Falling: Our world is more stable than we think,” reprinted in the Washington Post Monday May 18, p A19, original Newsweek link here.

Zakaria makes an interesting point about the sacrifice that citizens of Mexico, particularly Mexico City, made to contain the H1N1 swine flu outbreak, when we simply were uncertain as to the real danger and as to whether economic sacrifice (of social distancing) really was necessary. Such sacrifice would not have been tolerable in the United States, yet it was made in 1918 and it would be necessary if something really bad did get out there as a pandemic.

He says that the world is much more stable now than it was then. Well, it had better be, because of so many apocalyptic and asymmetric dangers, ranging from those of the Cold War to the post 9/11 world. He also points out a paradox: if it were not for fear of another Great Depression, we might have had one.

But Zakaria also touts the book “The Age of the Unthinkable” by Joshua Cooper Ramo, which makes the ("sandpile theory") point that we simply do not know how to anticipate the long term social and political consequences of innovation, where individuals, sometimes from dorm rooms, suddenly generate so much change and can have so much “power”. Despite the legal controversies, most of the individuals who have singlehandedly added to our communications revolution have done so with good intentions and generally in good faith. We can be frightened that out there could exist a digital “Dr. No” (well, there are plenty in the small fry area – look at all the worm and virus writers and the domain name apocalypse that was barely avoided in 2008 by a rushed international security conference and fix organized by Microsoft, after a discovery by one programmer, who, fortunately for all of us, did the right thing -- almost anyone can tap the “red phone” it seems).

What we are left with is something like l’Hopital’s Rule in calculus. We need to assess limits.

There seems to be one particular moral anomaly I’ve noticed. We’ve gotten used to the idea that specific responsibility for others occurs only when one chooses to have children. We may have it backwards. We could find us in a world where people need specific responsibilities for others (that is, a personal stake) before we can trust them enough to turn them loose. It seems like the "Greatest Generation" of Tom Brokaw understood that. Ramo’s book, in quoting Roberto Unger, makes that point. I wonder if Zakaria will mention it in a future GPS interview. Maybe Zakaria should interview Unger himself on GPS.

Oh well, if the sky really isn't falling, Chicken Little needs to fix his online reputation.

Update: May 29, 2009

Ariana Eujung Cha, Washington Post Foreign Service, "Caught in China's aggressive swine flu net: Quarantine measures keep cases down but virtually imprison healthy travelers," p A1, link, reports the detaining and quarantine of travelers with even slight fevers, and the surreal infection precautions. But the draconian measures seem to work. China is aggressive because of the bad press it got with SARS.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Effect of ice-cap melting may be "only" ten-foot sea level rise

Global sea levels will rise “only” ten feet rather than maybe 25 feet, if the West Antarctic shelf collapses. Part of the ice is still anchored to the actual continent, and the predicted sea level rise has been adjusted. And the rise could, “fortunately”, take several centuries.

That’s the AP story Randolph E. Schmid today, here reproduced on AOL this morning.

Nevertheless, a large portion of the world’s people, including those in Oceania and Bangladesh, live lower than ten feet above sea level. The entire country of Tuvalu could disappear.

BBC News has an article by Mark Kinver “The ebb and flow of sea level rise” here on Jan. 22, 2008, with many technical diagrams on how sea level is monitored.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

WHO looks into possibity that H1N1 swine flu was "manmade"

The World Health Organization is now looking into claims that swine flu (that is, H1N1 influenza) was accidentally created by scientists in a laboratory conducting genetic experiments.

The claims come from Adrian Gibbs in Australia, who helped develop Tamiflu.

Even so, the claims sound extravagant. Influenza viruses are notorious in the way they mutate, as they move from birds to mammals (including hogs) to primates and people. It’s entirely reasonable that it would arise naturally, especially in areas where people live close to livestock and poultry, mostly in the Third World. Ironically, living patterns in some parts of the world, like Central Africa, emerged in response to malaria and smallpox, but could encourage other diseases.

The story appears in the Science column of the Tech Herald, here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

German town goes for bikes only (almost); Britain offers garden plot rights

European countries are rapidly making “green lifestyles” more appealing. The New York Times, in a story by Elisabeth Rosenthal, May 11, 2009, reports “Germany Imagines Suburbs Without Cars”, in a story here.

The story concerns Vauban, Germany, a town near the French and Swiss borders with a large car-less area. Mother Nature has a “bike to work” article on the town here.

Of course, biking to work is much safer if you have bike lanes not attached to roadways. But the big deal in Europe is that there’s public transportation, by train, everywhere. I’ve been there four times, and if I lived in any European city I wouldn’t need to own a car tp remain footloose and independent.

And then Bonnie Azab Powell has a story in the Food Section, p D3, of The Washington Post May 13, 2009, “In Britain, a Rite and a Right: Garden 'Allotments' Go to All Who Ask, Eventually” link here. This is about commons vegetable plots. There is a plot like this in South Arlington (VA) along Four Mile Run that Eagle Scouts have planted before. Remember, the last number of Leonard Bernstein's opera (and Voltaire's satire) "Candide" is "Make Our Garden Grow". And earlier, there is "Money" (times three).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Journalist Saberi freed from Iran; monitor situation of Canadian blogger Derakshan

According to CNN, imprisoned journalist Roxana Saberi has been released, and is leaving Iran. She will not be allowed to work in Iran for five years.

A court agreed that Iran is not at war with the United States, and that she cannot be punished for crimes like treason or collaborating with an enemy.

Apparently Iran’s wild president Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, more concerned about his own international reputation, intervened with the prosecutor in Tehran, and is also urging the relase of a Canadian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan.

The CNN story, which appeared midday Monday May 11, is this. The link for Hossein’s blog is this. Reporters Without Borders ("Reporters sans frontieres") has an entry for him here.

I have long been concerned that American bloggers who criticize Islamic regimes in various countries could be at risk of detention if they travel to those countries (or are sent there by employers), even if they don’t blog from within the country.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Activist group in Kenya sued over "emotional dress" by man who refuses to go along with demands of abstinence

CNN is reporting a bizarre lawsuit by a man in Kenya, against political activists who called on women to boycott sex, apparently even with marriage. The plaintiff is James Kimondo, who claims extreme emotional distress.

Here is the link for the story.

The group is the Center for Rights Education and Awareness. (CREAW, an organization in Kenya, web link with applicable story on women’s right) The group was indignant about a man who would not sacrifice or “abstain for the sake of his country.”

I know this is overseas. But it’s interesting to see one group able to demand sacrifices from others for its version of the “common good.”

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Nigerian town tries sports to encourage religious tolerance

Christian Purefoy, reporting from Jos, Nigeria, shoes a soccer (he calls it “football”) game of teams with each side having Catholics and Muslims, in this small town struggling with religious strife. Religious leaders are using sports to teach younger men and teenagers religious tolerance.

Purefoy is a young British journalist now based in Lagos, Nigeria. Jos is in central Nigeria, north of Abuja.

Nigeria has had problems with “rebels” vandalizing oil fields and claiming that they have the power to disrupt oil companies. It’s not immediately clear how this relates to religious breakdowns.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Palestinian Christian speaks about Middle East at a Virginia church

On Communion Sunday, May 3, 2009, the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA listened to a guest sermon from Mr, Daiud Nassar, a Palestinian Christian. The title of the sermon was “Witnessing Even from Bethlehem.”

Many people overlook that Bethlehem is now on the West Bank, and that the name means “House of Meat” in Arabic and “House of Bread” in Hebrew. Wikipedia offers quite a number of interesting still photographs here.

The speaker compared the trials of Palestinians today to those of everyone in the Holy Lands during the time of the birth of Christ. In general, his remarks tended to stress a libertarian view of the political situation. The people are hardshipped because property rights have been expropriated from them, by force, for questionable security (and previously religious) reasons and in violation of normal standards of civilized society. The ability to earn and acquire and keep property was one of the most important liberties that stoked the American Revolution (as with some of my own recent field trips), and, yes, there was a catch.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Obama administration has to tread carefully with Taliban "virus" in Pakistan, to keep it away from nukes

John R. Bolton, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has an important op-ed on p. A11 of the Weekend (May 2) Wall Street Journal, “The Taliban’s Atomic Threat: The extremists who harbored al Qaeda could get control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal”, link here.

The government of Pakistan has become an unstable, experimental patchwork of constitutional civilian authority and the military, and the ability of the military to deal with the Taliban – often infecting its own ranks like a virus – represents a major existential threat. It seems ironic that the Bush Administration and Northern Alliance drove the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan, only to lose it to a malignant spread through Pakistan.

The biggest threat would be that the Taliban could gain control of the suitcase nukes and deploy them, possibly (from mercenaries) from high altitude rockets to cause EMP strikes as well as conventionally. This is true Tom Clancy territory. The nukes must be "quarantined."

The Obama administration has to play all possible cards, as in courting Nawaz Sharif, rival of Asif Ali Zardari, as in a front page story May 2 in the New York Times by Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzeti, “In Pakistan, U.S. Courts Leader of Opposition: Zardari is seen as weak in resisting surge by Taliban militants,” link here.

The other “curious” international story today sounds like something out of a cable biohorror movie. Guests of a hotel in Hong Kong (the Metropark) are locked down for a week and not allowed to leave after the government learned that guest from Mexico had A(H1N1). The Hong Kong government had experienced criticism for its reticence in handling SARS in 2003, so politicians will take no chances at all. This is an extreme measure. When you travel today, you do so at your own risk. You can be detained at the slightest whim of a politically motivated foreign government.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Does H1N1 lead to political opportunism on immigration, trade?

Columnist Ruben Navarrette, Jr. has an interesting column on CNN, “It’s time to end flu hysteria”, link here.

Like an earlier Washington Times editorial (April 28), Navarrette believes that most of the deaths from flus like this (H1N1 flu or “swine” flu (sic) occur from secondary infections, although there is quite a bit of evidence that “cytokine storms” from primary infection can kill young healthy people quickly with extreme forms of these viruses.

He also criticizes Biden’s careless comments, which he says, “It was about what you should do if someone else is sick.” He also gets into the disproportionate sacrifice – this time, hog farmers (maybe Smithfield, which was named as the owner of a farm in Mexico near ground zero). Ecuador has banned import of US pork products, and Egypt, remember, wanted to destroy its entire hog population. He says that this is an opportunity for some countries to weasel out of trade agreements. He points out that, while it could be easy to scapegoat illegal immigrants, we should think about the people who traveled legally – students for spring break parties. It’s interesting that parents had been urging kids not to go to Mexico because of the drug cartel and security problems, and the parents may have been right – if not for the right reasons.

He has a Dec. 21, 2008 piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “Why America needs more guest workers”, here.

He talks about the H-2A program and maintains that there are too many dirty jobs that Americans don’t want to do or can’t do, even in a bad economy. It sounds like bad karma for us!