Saturday, November 28, 2009

High speed train in Russia attacked, between Moscow and St. Petersburg


A high speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg was derailed and lifted off the tracks by a bomb late Friday night, about 200 miles N of Moscow in western Russia. Islamic extremists and Russian super-nationalists are both suspect. Videos show that the train consisted of blue and gray cars. Some commentators have drawn comparison to the Beslan School Hostage Crisis of Sept. 1, 2004.

A train hijacking occurs in the 1977 thriller film “Cassandra Crossing”.

Russian security remains important in efforts to account for any loose or unsecured nuclear materials in the vast country, as often discussed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dubai debt default: a paradox and contagion; it may help force ING to break up


Major financial media sources report that Wall Street was unnerved today by reports that Dubai (including developers -- the state-owned company Dubai World (link - "The sun never sets on Dubai World"!)) are asking for a six-month extension on its $60 billion debt, due to the 50% drop in Dubai real property values this year. There is a fear that other “sovereign” emirates could default.

All of this happens in a culture that still will put debtors in prison, leaving Europeans and Americans to flee, leaving property and further depressing values.

Dubai may have built the largest manmade artificial island projects in history, all of which could be jeopardized by seal level rises.

Partly as a result (and also to meet the terms of previous Dutch bailout), Dutch financial services company ING Groep took a beating today, and is offering rights to its stock at discounted prices. And apparently ING will have to sell or spin off all of its insurance subsidiaries, like ING-USA, (and ING Direct) which individually are healthy. This may be a better thing for ING employees and retirees.

Wikipedia attribution link for Burj Dubai. It sounds like a fascinating destination anyway, a sci-fi modern Arabia.

Update: Dec 4

Check the op-ed by Sebastian Mallaby in the Washington Post today, p A27, "A bad omen in Dubai", link here. Despite the erosion of confidence in the stability of sovereign states, the stock market went up, he says.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nuclear power becoming acceptable to green movement


A few days after a small leak at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, the Washington Post, in a story by Anthony Faiola, reports overseas that “Nuclear Power Gains Support”, link here and that overseas even green groups support it. Nuclear power plants are being built in Britain again, after years of being banned after Chernobyl. There are 53 nuclear power plants under construction around the world, and the Waxman-Markey bill would get nuclear power generation going again in the U.S., which has long stopped building new plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (link) reports 22 applications for new plants in the U.S.

I recall a large anti-nuclear pressure group in New York in the late 1970s when I lived there, even before Three Mile Island (a woman I met through Understanding wanted to run a caravan across country to oppose nuclear power). I recall the headlines in March 1979 that a meltdown was possible (I was in Texas then, and visited the Glen Rose Commanche Plant in 1982). A lot has changed since then.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Journalist Maziar Bahari tells 60 Minutes about his imprisonment in Iran


On Sunday Nov. 22 CBS 60 Minutes aired an interview of journalist Maziar Bahari, who was held in an Iranian prison and questioned for 118 days before being released on $300000 bail and allowed to leave the country, after which he went to London. He was told that he could be hunted down and returned to Iran, as if there were a bounty resembling that at one time announced for Salman Rushdie.

He was well known as a professional journalist and documentary filmmaker in Iran for twelve years. After the protests, he was accused of working as a spy. Iranian’s claimed that Newsweek magazine was a front for US intelligence (like the CIA). He said that in Iran “you’re for us or you’re against us” and that reporters are not allowed to present shades of gray.


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Climate change: Island nation Maldives is the canary in the coal mine


The Washington Post Outlook section for Sunday November 22 has an important lead story (link) by Bill McKibben “Outlook: Obama needs to feel the heat: The sharp contrast between Barack Obama and Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives on global warming”, link here. The author is Scholar in Residence, Middlebury College and Co-Founder, 350.org.

The article draws a parallel between President Obama and the new president Mohammed Nasheed, of the Maldives, an island nation in the Pacific that never reaches more than 10 feet above sea level, but that some residents regard as paradise.

Note the “International Day of Climate Action” on the 350 site.

The article is critical of what it sees as the president’s inertia on climate change, punting to Congress. So it says, imagine taking Congress on an underwater tour of the Florida keys.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA space picture of Maldives.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Scientists, living in the Greenland glacier, report rapidly increasing carbon dioxide in glacial "dead air"


Scientists live in a lab 800 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Greenland, and wear coats and longjohns to work, in a lab 30 feet below the ice, as they drill down 1.6 miles into some of the oldest ice in the world, in the Eemian Ice Field. They find that the air deeper down has less carbon dioxide, and that the temperature that far north may have risen 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 20 years. This is indeed alarming. Here is the second of the MSNBC videos; the first aired Thursday Nov. 19 on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

This is real science, not just “Smilla’s Sense of Snow”.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why China does not call in our debt -- yet!


ABC “World News Tonight” presented an amusing cartoon tonight explaining why China doesn’t try to call in our debt and sell our dollars.

If it did so, the dollar would go down in value, and Chinese currency would increase in value. Chinese goods would no longer be cheaper in the United States, and jobs for Chinese would disappear, as some would come back to the US, which would have to make more of its own goods. (That might be a good thing.) The Chinese government cannot tolerate the political consequences of the job loss.

Nevertheless, the lack of spending in China on some domestic needs, such as heating schools, shows the social consequences of such export policy. China does spend money on huge infrastructure projects, like dams and power plants.

Monday, November 16, 2009

People in Mexico send money to relatives in US, reversing usual "data flow"


It is common for immigrants into the US and Western Europe to send money home to relatives, and this has caused some comment among cultural conservatives, such as in Poland in 2007 when one Polish official criticized gays on the grounds that heterosexual immigrants from Muslim countries “take care of their own” (in a Pittsburgh gay paper circulated at the Andy Warhol Museum).

But now, according to a story by Marc Lacey in The New York Times Monday November 16, the money flows from Mexico to unemployed relatives in the United States. The story title is “Money starts to trickle north as Mexicans help out relatives,” link here. And the relatives can be more distant relatives by blood, not just one’s own children. Loyalty to blood is more important in many other cultures than in Western culture. Here “trickle up trickles” to re-paraphrase Ross Perot (1992).

Perhaps this story is an indication that the ecomonic situation in Mexico is improving relative to the U.S., and that illegal immigration will become less attractive.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Yorker article examines security of Pakistan's suitcase nukes in time of instability


The New Yorker has an important article by Seymour M. Hersh, suggesting that reporters can read between the lines of what the Pentagon and Obama administration will say and conclude that American forces could take extraordinary measures to secure 80 or so small nuclear weapons in Pakistan. The article is titled “Defending the Arsenal: In an unstable Pakistan, can nuclear weapons be kept safe?” link here. The article is headed by a not-so-amusing Strangelove-like cartoon. The author of the article had interviewed various Pakistani officials to confirm his impression. The need to fine tune the arsenal for strategic gamesmanship vs. India complicates securing them from Al Qaeda, however.

If a weapon went missing, it could precipitate a crisis, as there might be no way for sure to know when someone tries to smuggle it into a western country or even tries to detonate it at a higher altitude for an EMP effect. It’s important for the US and allies to know the status if the cache at all times.

Last night, a former State Department employee told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Afghanistan is primarily at civil war. The same may be true in Pakistan with the Taliban and Al Qaeda (however their purposes cross or do not), but maybe the stakes are much higher after all.

Update: Nov. 21

Wolf Blitzer interviewed Seymour Hersh (Pulitzer prize holder) on CNN Situation Room tonight, and Hersh emphasized that the main concern is a radical coup in Pakistan, with resulting grab on the mini-nukes. The State Department reacted to Seymour's article, denying that the US will interfere with the Pakistani government. Hersh says that the Taliban is not necessarily interested in destroying the US (unlinke Al Qaeda) and describes them as a "mercantile society."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Obama's speech in Japan focuses attention on trade with Asia, especially China, especially balance of trade and cheap imports


John Pomfret has a front page story in The Washington Post about the significance of trade with China in the Saturday, Nov. 14 Washington Post. It’s “The Chinese Are Changing Us: Rising global power is reshaping the way Americans do business and live their lives”, link here.

The story focused on Wisconsin, and the quality and quantity of some agricultural exports to China, as well as the overwhelming dependence of American consumers on Chinese imports, often exploitative, based on very low wage work. Chinese imports show up everywhere, in clothes and in computers and electronics, even new home construction. Defective products have been a real problem, such as drywall that has made many new homes in Florida uninhabitable.

Here is a portion of President Obama’s speech in Japan. “Nations need not fear the success of another”, from MSNBC (31 minutes).


The president gave Japan credit for adding to stability around the world and to combating piracy off the coast of Africa.

The president also mentioned his "past life" in Indonesia.

He said that we are at the "brink of ending economic recession" but later mentioned that we were at an "inflection point" (a term from calculus) on the way toward sustainability.

On Monday (Nov. 16) the President said in China that a free speech by ordinary people makes a country stronger and that censorship is not in a country's best interest, but this message was censored! Twitter ands Facebook reportedly are not available in China.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Event held for children in Afghanistan


I received an email from the Niche Focus Group (link) http://www.nichefocusgroup.com/welcome.html regarding a relief effort for children in Afghanistan sponsored by Fumar Events and Fumar Cigars.

The email mentioned my LGBT blog, but it is more appropriate to create an entry here on the International blog and post the email as a comment. Their web site for East Coast Operations appears to to have this URL.

David Haddad of Fumar Events and Fumar Cigars discusses his recent recent 9/11 charitable event, “I am awed and humbled by the generosity of Americans. They donated over $18,000 worth of blankets and clothing for kids, as well as cigars for soldiers in the field. We’ll be shipping them overseas in November. ”

The rest of this event is discussed in a comment.

The overseas charity most familiar to me is Save the Children. Donors received communications from sponsored children.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ebola-like virus found among troops in Afghanistan


The Washington Times, in an exclusive story written by Sara Carter, reports that an American soldier has died in southern Afghanistan from infection with an Ebola-like virus, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever. It may have been transmitted by a tick (as an arbovirus) and probably is transmitted among people only by blood or body fluid contact. The link for the story is here. All of this reminds me of a couple of major books in the 1990s that dealt with Marburg and Ebola: Richard Preston: The Hot Zone (1994); Laurie Garrett: Coming Plague: Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance (1994). Preston maintains that we barely missed a pandemic from one strain that might bave been more contagious, Ebola Reston.

The relative transmissibility of infectious disease is always controversial and tends to be confusing to the public. In the 1980s the CDC and NIH had to work hard to convince the general public that HIV is not casually transmitted. But it has to turn an about face with H1N1 and H5N1. Ebola seems to be somewhere in the middle but it is even more dangerous.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Georgia (former Soviet republic) blogger targeted, leading to DOS attacks (August)


A blogger, identified by the names of Giorgi Cyxymu, an economics professor in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, was the target of a massive DOS attack on Twitter, Facebook and LiveJournal last summer, according to a New York Times story (Business Day)Aug. 8, 2009 by Jenna Wortham and Andrew E. Kramer, link here. It looks like I missed this story in August.

The story is important in that it shows that, at least overseas, controversial bloggers could become “targets” and be viewed as nuisances by the international (often American) companies that host them, challenging the companies to absorb some risk in order to provide free speech. Imagine how important this point would be in reporting the unrest after the “elections” in Iran.

Attribution link for Wikimedia modern map of Georgia.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

India faces Maoist insurgence; another perspective on the old Iron Curtain


The November 1, 2009 print edition of The New York Times has a surprising article about the resurgence of Communism by Jim Yardley, “Rebels widen deadly reach across India,” link here. There is a color picture of a government guard in Barsur, in the Indian state of Chattisgarh, watching for Maoist guerllias.

Maoism? Yes, the resurgence of the most moralist form of Communism, from Communist China of the 1960s, where Chairman Mao Tse-Tung forced intellectuals into the countryside to take their turn living as peasants. Call it a “pay your dues” system of morality if you like. Left-wing writers in the 1970s imagined Maoism as “absolutely perfect justice at the personal level”. But you wouldn’t want to actually live it; we can just afford to ponder it now from the distance of history. Or imagine that today’s economic dislocations in the “bourgeoisie” West have imposed a “free market cultural revolution.”

And back in the 1970s, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, people on the streets would still speak of “pinko Commies”, while radical groups like the Peoples Party of New Jersey (Benjamin Spock’s) would develop platforms limiting a maximum income to $50000 a year!

The story doesn’t mention the cultural revolution, as is more concerned about how India can contain threats to its industrial operations in the eastern part of the country where rebels are common. It seems that similar problems go on in oil rich areas like Nigeria (and what about Venezuela?) .

If you want another perspective on the fall of Communism, in Germany especially, look at Rachel Bartlett’s “Live Journal” with this essay “Human Nature ant the Coming Crisis I”, here.

Wikipedia attribution link for map of India.

Update: Nov. 2, 2009

Check the op-ed "Murderous Idealism", by Paul Hollander, link here. The core point of his piece goes like this: "They also shared an ostensible commitment to creating a morally superior human being -- the socialist or communist man. Political violence under communism had an idealistic origin and a cleansing, purifying objective. Those persecuted and killed were defined as politically and morally corrupt and a danger to a superior social system."