Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eight years after 9/11 with relative safety at home

CNN National Correspondent Jason Carroll has a 3 minute video exploring why we have not had a major homeland attack since 9/11/2001.

Ironically the video offers subtitles in Arabic.

The video discusses the setup of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 and the early efforts of Tom Ridge, who often appeared on Nightline and even answered public questions. The assimilation of Muslims into American society (compared to what happens in Britain, France and even the Netherlands) was mentioned. In the US, most cells are very small and have little motivation, unless they have an unusually motivated leader with contacts, as with the recent Denver and New York arrests of Zazi and others. The video interviews the head of the NYPD.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Iran makes verbal nuclear "threat", then backs down; Obama, others condemn Iran at G20

"God willing, this plant will be put into operation soon, and will blind the eyes of the enemies," That quote from an Iranian official has stoked fears in the West that Iran really is developing nuclear weapons and might try to deploy them, in the Middle East against Israel, or even conceivably for an EMP blast (a grim possibility that the Washington Times repeatedly brings up).

However, Iranian officials also say that IAEA can inspect their new plant. The CNN story is here.

All of this goes on while the president visits the G-20 conference in Pittsburgh, with this story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about the President’s condemnation of the 2nd site in Iran.

CNN has this video of the president with leaders of Britain and France.

On CNN on Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told John King that the major concern is that Iran puts its nuclear facilities deeply underground, increasing suspicion. Gates also said that there is no military option that does more than buy time, a couple years or so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama addresses global warming, middle East at UN; Washington Post analyzes health care in France

On Tuesday, President Obama gave an address on global warming at the United Nations, the text of which is here.

One of the most important points in the speech was this sentence:

“We must also energize our efforts to put other developing nations -- especially the poorest and most vulnerable -- on a path to sustained growth. These nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do, but they have the most immediate stake in a solution.”

But The Washington Times, in a story by Jon Ward and Christina Bellantoni, put on a different spin Wednesday with the story "Chinese plan upstages Obama at U.N.Rate this story: U.S. warns world leaders of 'irreversible catastrophe'", link here.

At the same time, the administration is maintaining that Israel and the Palestinians must start making more progress on a two-state solution without insisting on resolving the psychologically and morally divisive issue of the West Bank settlements.

All of this is going on the same day that the Homeland Security department issued warnings related to the recent arrests in Denver and New York, as discussed on the TV blog.

Today (Sept. 23), Edward Cody of the Washington Post Foreign Service wrote an article in which he explains that the health care system in France has larger private components than most people think. The piece is titled “For French, U.S. Health Debate Hard To Imagine: But National Insurance Faces New Challenges” link here. I recall a conversation at a train station in Toulouse, France in May 2001 where a family told me that the French health care system “worked for them.”

Attribution link for Wikimedia Commons picture of UN General Assembly hall.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ethiopia should be watched for Al Qaeda, according to the "man on the street"

Last night, someone drew me into a very bizarre conversation about international politics, specifically the situation in Ethiopia, which the speaker said is a new focus for Al Qaeda. I hadn’t heard this from the media. The CIA fact book on the country is here. The country is 60% Christian (unlike its neighbors) and 33% Muslim, but the speaker said that the country, hit by famines, attracts Muslim men because of the possibility of taking on multiple wives. (To the extent that this happens in Islamist society, it leaves many young men without brides, a fact noted by conservative columnists in papers like The Washington Times after 9/11).

I asked if Ethiopia could hide Osama bin Laden or other terrorists who might secretly escape Pakistan through the port in Karachi, and he said, no, but the Sudan definitely could and probably does.

It’s interesting how much “intelligence” filters out onto the streets, for “ordinary people” to pick up. Sorry, I don’t have Jason Bourne’s looks or body.

Attribution link for CIA map (p.d.) of Ethiopia on Wikipedia.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Smaller, roving missile defense necessary to protect against Iran's existential threat

MSNBC offers an interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Anne Curry, six minutes, about the elections and the death of a protestor.

But on Sept. 17 the news media reported that President Obama will pull back from a Bush plan to station large missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic for roving smaller missiles, which Obama (and his administration) says will be cheaper and more numerous, and a better deterrent especially against Iran and perhaps North Korea. Reading between the lines, it seems as if the Obama administration want to keep the agility required to detect rogue elements that could conceivably launch small nuclear devices from sea, possibly with the aim of an EMP attack.

Monday, September 14, 2009

West Bank raises questions about national and personal ethics simultaneously

The New York Times has an interesting article on West Bank “hardliners” by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, “Unsettled: Resolve of West Bank Settlers May Have Limits”, link here. The article, with a picture of desolation around a “pretend settlement,” talks about the “moral code” of hardline Zionism, which sees the world in terms of historical destines of various peoples, and their struggles (but so does radical Islam see the world that way).

That’s in marked contrast to mainstream Judaism in the United States and Europe today, with the emphasis on individualism, personal liberty within certain variable precepts, academic success, and artistic expression, especially in classical music – an outlet that in the US usually fits into the Democratic Party.

Libertarians, without taking sides, often point out that land was taken from individual Palestinians by force, in order to serve abstract religious objectives. That would not be acceptable in the U.S. (but consider the "eminent domain" debate). The personal shame felt by Palestians is often described, as in a Time article a few years ago, a motivation for all the violence. Look at this article by Gary L. Rubin, "Exploring the Hidden Roots of the Israeli Palestinan Conflict: The Current State of Palestinian-Israeli Relations" (2006), here. Look at his discussion of the writings of Raphael Patai.

Wikpedia attribution link for p.d. map of Israel and West Bank, historical comparisons

Today, there was also wide discussion in the media of a new audio tape supposedly from Osama bin Laden, and a major NYPD bust in Queens about a possible terror plot, about which few details are yet available.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Journalist freed from Taliban by raid; other big problems from patriarchal values

Time Magazine already has a detailed story on the release of journalist Stephen Farrell (and a translator) by a British commando raid on a Taliban stronghold, in which at least five others died. The story is by Tim McGirk in Kabul, here.

The Washington Times on Tuesday ran a disturbing story about the mafia-like control that Mexican drug cartels with extortion have on smaller towns in much of rural Mexico, by AP writer Mark Stephenson, link here. Today it is reporting on a hijacking in Cancun

And Betsy Pisik has a story in the Washington Times today (Wednesday) about the status of women in the Congo, often blamed as insults to their families when they are victims, very much as is the case in some areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The link is here.

It strikes me as interesting how many of this violence overseas depends on a heavily patriarchal social format (often religion-driven) of the societies in which the events occur.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Group meets in upstate NY to warn America about EMP threat

An organization named EMPACT: Protecting America Against Permanent Continental Shutdown from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack is having a symposium in Niagara Falls, NY this week. The agenda is here.

Among the scheduled speakers is the "polarizing" former Georgia GOP Rep. Newt Gingrich of "Contract with America" fame during the Clinton years.

There exists, from mid 2008, a “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack,” a long PDF document, here.

The report compares a hypothetical event to previous calamities like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina; but some experts say this could be much worse.

The Washington Times today (Sept. 8, 2009) ran an op-ed by Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. “Death Star: A weapon that could create a new Dark Age”, URL link here.

This blog has presented other editorials on this topic from this conservative paper. Past op-eds have stressed the possible threats for rogue devices launched under the aegis of Iran or North Korea.

This article, while reporting that 90% of people in a large area could perish if electricity were lost for a year, points out that it’s possible that dire threats might occur naturally, as from solar flares or storms (there was a minor storm in October 2003, a larger one in 1989 that shut down power in Quebec for a day; a major episode of “Smallville” in 2003 presented the solar flare possibility on the same day that the October flare really happened! – hence the “death star” is our own Sun). The article also mentions the “Oceans 11” scenario of a small device, as speculated in a September 2001 issue of Popular Science (just before 9/11). There is a “mystery picture” which tracks back to a device proposed by an engineer at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, as the US Army was assessing various devices that potential enemies could try (I think the photo dates from before 9/11). The original Getty Image link is here.

Or check this "Barking Studios" blog link.

The image does, tangentially at least, bring up the idea that when one relocates into an area, one needs to make sure there is no unusual radio or magnetic activity that could affect one's own electronics. I've always wondered about living right next to major power lines.

Attribution link for Niagara Falls NY and American Falls, a favorite spot by honyemooners (even the Cramdens) in the 1950s, now a bit more sinister .

Sudanese female journalist jailed for wearing long pants in public

Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein was jailed and fined after conviction for “public indecency” for wearing long pants in public in Khartoum. The AP story (photo by Anu Rauof) appears in the CFape Cpd online paper here.

The journalist says that the (Shariah) Islamic law in Sudan is vague and being interpreted to harass visible women who are not submissive to men. Apparently the jail and fine avoided a public caning.

Recently a woman was sentenced to caning in Malaysia, another Muslim country, for drinking in public, but the corporal punishment was canceled.

Attribution link for Wikimedia p.d. map of Sudan.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Is Japan a good model for US health care reform?

Blaine Harden, of the Washington Post Foreign Service, has a front page story Labor Day, “Health Care in Japan: Low Cost for Now: Aging Population Could Strain System”, link here.

The Japanese system is mostly “private” but does not allow health insurance companies to profit or to cherry pick, and has mandatory insurance. Nevertheless, there are many “inconveniences”. And the strict cost controls will be hard to maintain as the population ages rapidly. Japan’s system was actually featured in PBS’s “Sick Around the World”. Japanese visit the doctor three times as often as Americans. But many visits are very short. Medicine is not a real profitable field to enter in Japan.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

National Guard holds boot camp for corporate CEO's, to let them know what it is like for their reservists overseas

A network (I believe it was CBS news) recently broadcast a report from a short summer “boot camp” for business executives given by a state national guard, to let executives know what their employees faced when, as reservists or guard members, they are called up and sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Guard told executives bluntly in an outdoor class similar to a bleacher class in Army Basic (say in hand-to-hand), “we can’t always return them to you in the same shape they were in when they left you.” The effort seems to be a jawboning exercise to get executives to be more energetic in saving returning veteran’s jobs, even given the current recession.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

George Will says, get ground forces out of Afghanistan

George F. Will, normally a conservative columnist, is calling for America to withdraw its ground forces from Afghanistan. Part of his logic is to concentrate on Pakistan, “a country that actually matters”. Some of his argument derives from comparison with Iraq. He does support the continued use of drones, cruise missiles, and some special forces units. Yet, that was Clinton’s approach in 1998 when he missed Osama bin Laden. The link for the op-ed (Sept. 1) is here.

Monday, the Washington Times had a long piece about the deficit in skills in Arabic and other Muslim languages in intelligence, law enforcement, and military services. Remember, “don’t ask don’t tell” doesn’t help.