Friday, January 29, 2010

Washington Post columnist stings the issue of miranda rights for terror suspects

Charles Krauthhamer has a stinging op-ed in The Washington Post today (Jan. 29), here, “The handling of the Christmas Day bombing suspect: the scandal grows”. The Post lead in was “Miranda rights for terrorists”?

Krauthamer gives a long litany of intelligence failures that have occurred or that could occur if these sorts of suspects are not treated as enemy combatants. Remember how the Bush administration pulled Joseph Padilla off the streets and held him in a Navy brig in South Carolina?

Krauthamer also wrote dire warnings after 9/11 that asymmetric terror attacks with nuclear materials could “destroy civilization.”

Nevertheless, his piece makes of interesting reading, especially the “High Value Detainee Interrogation Group” which does not even exist yet. Maybe we’ll need to hire Jake Gyllenhaal-types who like pie charts.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A new proposal for worldwide population demographics: retirees: move to developing areas

Jack A. Goldstone has an important piece on p 31 of the January/February 2010 Foreign Affairs (a pricey periodical at Barnes & Noble stores) , “The New Population Bomb: The Four Megatrends that Will Change the World”, link here.

This is pretty much a secular presentation of the “demographic winter” problem: families in poor countries, especially some Muslim countries, have more children than they do in the West. Population replacement is a real problem in Russia and western Europe (and Japan and South Korea, even Singapore), but not so in the United States because of immigration. Still, pro-birth policies will be needed in some advanced nations, which could lead to moral debates on “childlessness”.

But the most startling proposal of Goldstone’s is that aging populations in developed countries consider retiring in the developing world, such as much of Africa, because eldercare is labor intensive and will provide employment and revenue to poorer countries. To some extent market forces are already encouraging people to retire in Panama and other areas of Latin America, where housing and health care costs are sometimes much lower than in the United States, while still offering a warm climate and amenities.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Obama administration softens intelligence ops against China, despite Internet espionage snafu

On Wednesday, Jan. 20, The Washington Times reported that the Obama administration’s intelligence operations have downgraded China as a mark for intelligence gathering, with the link for the story (web url) here. This sounds very curious, since China (that is, China’s autocratic government) seems to have behind the hacking of many major American high tech companies, causing companies like Google (and many others) to consider pulling out or reducing operations in China.

Perhaps the measure is motivated by the idea that China holds so much American debt, especially in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and mortgage meltdown, and could have the power to “pull the plug”, although not without a Chricton “three minutes to self-destruct”.

Curiously, in another story, the Washington Times reports that the Obama administration plays to deploy some missiles near Russian territory, despite the provisions of the 1991 START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty).

The Times, perhaps to its credit, has a pretty long memory of what the 50s to 80s Cold War was really like, especially for those of us who grew up in it. (The conservative newspaper, which recently downsized and restructured to focus more just on global issues, was not founded until 1982).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Medical reporters in Haiti get directly involved in treating patients; an issue for their journalism?

Sphere, whose content is often headlined to AOL subscribers, has a story on whether journalists in Haiti have “crossed the line”, link here. Medical reporters, especially CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, have become deeply involved in treating patients, performing emergency surgeries. Gupta, 40, born in India but raised in Michigan, a slender man who seems like one of CNN’s most engaging and yet aggressive reporters, is a neurosurgeon who normally practices in Atlanta and teaches at Emory University.

Does involvement by medical reporters affect their journalistic objectivity?

Gupta says there is a great lack of neurosurgeons in the area, but the United States military (as well as British and European armed forces) should be sending combat surgeons quickly.

The Red Cross Comfort ship should arrive Jan. 22.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Germany faces low birthrate by increasing school days; women still struggle to balance work and family

The expansion of kindergarten and primary school to a full day is creating controversy in Germany, according to a long article in the New York Times today by Katrin Bennhold. The piece is titled “In Germany, A Tradition Falls and Women Rise”, link here.

In Germany, the birthrate is particularly low, and all day schools would help women work and take care of children again. All of this is surprising because, as the article explains, Germany, like all western European countries, offers generous mandatory paid maternity leave, even more if the fathers will share some of the home care. Curiously, Germany is still somewhat schizophrenic on childbearing, because of the history back in Prussian days and then the policies during Nazism.

Rachel Bartlett, from Germany and from the Rosenfels Community, gives a perspective on motherhood and non-motherhood here. The title is "It's never too late to have a good childhood." Call it perpetual adolescence, possible in sheltered communities. She's rather blunt on the attitudes of children toward their parents.

Update: Feb 14:

Here's an AlterNet piece by Elizabeth Gregory along the lines of the Bartlett piece. The title is "Many Women Don't Have Kids -- Get Over It: Many women are happy without kids. They'd be even happier if they weren’t reminded all the time how unhappy they should be", link here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

China cancels gay event over "family values" concerns (what happens when only children leave no lineage?)

An Associated Press story carried on MSNBC reports that China has canceled or shut down a “Mr. Gay” Pageant. China, however, is officially atheistic and had removed homosexuality from its list of “mental disorders” in 2001. The link is here.

In China, because of the one-child policy, there are many only children, and if the child is gay, parents fear that they will not have a lineage at all. Ted Koppel, in his 2008 series on Discovery “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” gay men in China often feel pressured to leave the gay lifestyle and marry and have a child. Physical appearance may not be as big a deal in Chinese gay society as it is in European and American gay life.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

China faces serious degradation of its Internet effectiveness because of its bullheaded government

Media outlets brim with the story that Google is threatening to pull its “.cn” search engine out of China as well as its workers in China, after hackers attempted to garner information from gmail, apparently to track down pro-Tibet or other political activists, or to seek defense secrets from a number of other American technology companies at the same time. It is also stopping its self-censorship of material returned at its .cn site.

Bloomberg has a lead story here, by Brian Womack, Ari Levy and Mark Lee, up to Update 4, link.

The Washington Post has a front page print story by Ellen Nakashima, Steven Mufson, and John Pomfret, on Wednesday Jan. 13. An interesting tidbit is that the attacks seem to be launched from Taiwan, which was in a serious dispute with mainland in the first months of the Bush administration, long before 9/11. Steve Mufson has a later article “China faces backlash from ‘netizens’ if Google leaves,” link here. The company’s chief legal officer has a statement ("A New Approach to China") on Google’s official blog here. The post reinforces advice to home users to be careful on the Web and use anti-virus software.

The New York Times has analysis by David Barboza, to the effect that Chinese internet business could be devastated, as users would be left to depend on an inferior search engine Baidu, link here.

ITNNews has a YouTube entry.

Authoritarian governments try to suppress information that they believe would "undermine" social order, but technology can simply overrun them. But there are serious international problems. If China believes that American tech companies are pulling the plug because of its restrictive policies (or because of encouraging security threats, as here), China could decide to play hardball in financial markets and call in loans. It might think it has little to lose.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Beijing smog here

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

China faces a dearth of husbands soon

China’s past policy of allowing only one child per family could mean that 24 million men of marrying age will not be able to find wives, by 2020. That’s according to an article in Sphere, offered to AOL subscribers this morning (Jan. 12) “Dearth of women to leave 24M Chinese men unwed”

The tendency to abort more female unborn is a major factor, and that obviously stems in part from the one child per family policy.

Some conservative social critics, like George Gilder (who wrote “Men and Marriage” in 1986) say that the inability of men to find wives leads to political instability. This is particularly true in some polygamous societies in some parts of the Arab world, also.

The story is here.

This story sounds like it belongs in The Washington Times!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fareed Zakaria talks sense on the Christmas Day Incident

I wanted to recommend a column this morning (Monday Jan. 11, The Washington Post) by CNN host (of the Global Public Square show on Sundays) Fareed Zakaria. It’s “Don’t Panic: Fear in Al-Qaeda’s Real Goal”, link here. The key sentences in Zakaria’s piece are these: “A Nigerian fanatic with (what appeared to be) a clean background volunteered for service; he was wired up with a makeshift explosive and put on a plane. His mission failed entirely, killing not a single person. The suicide bomber was not even able to commit suicide. But al-Qaeda succeeded in its real aim, which was to throw the American system into turmoil.” He also notes Senator Diane Feinstein’s reaction, that it is better to “overreact than underreact”. Zakaria has a another point here: if an airline attack is the best that Al Qaeda can do know, it has come way down, however much attention it can get. The real problem is that we can imagine much worse.

I recall a boss in the early 80s who said that the key to success was not to work longer hours but to “work smart”. So the case is here. Right now, the attention is on going to ludicrous attempts to ferret out any possible threat to air travel with all kinds of body analysis, recalling Michael Crichton and his “Andromeda Strain”. Will the day come when passengers have to undergo the humiliation of the “photoflash chamber” in the film based on that novel (Crichton does describe it)? Am I being facetious?

Of course, intelligence on potentially subversive individuals is itself a scary concept, even if for airline security it seems like the most pertinent and cost-effective measure. Why wasn’t the Nigerian rescreened in Amsterdam; why was the screening of a third world country accepted?

But if Al Qaeda wants to scare us, there are a lot of other very soft targets that are impossible to protect with the energy we use for airlines. A lot was written about this shortly after 9/11, and again in the middle of the decade given what happened in Spain and Britain. And a lot of attention needs to be focused on just why someone like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was so persuaded by Internet sites. The underlying psychological issues as to what is going on are scary.

But ultimately groups like Al Qaeda (and the ideology of radical Islam) have to be defeated militarily, diplomatically, politically, and most of all socially.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nigerian oil pipeline hit again; a troubling pattern

The Associated Press, in a story by Jon Gambrell printed today on p A10 under “World Digest” of The Washington Post, reports that gunmen have again disrupted an oil pipeline in Nigeria, owned by Chevron, forcing the company to reduce output. It’s not likely to impact the price of oil much immediately. This is a troubling story, repeated several times, now occurring right after the Christmas Day Incident involving a Nigerian.

The link is here.

See again the story here Aug. 15, 2008.

Update: Jan. 13

Check the Washington Post editorial "A President AWOL: Who is in charge of Nigeria?" link here. The editorial title reminds me of the title of the movie "The President's Plane Is Missing" from the early 1970s.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

President releases details, changes policies after Christmas Day Incident

An unclassified copy of the White House Security Review of the Detroit Incident with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has been released, and is available here at CNN in PDF format. One of the slip-ups concerned a simple misspelling of the suspect's name.

The president gave a brief but pointed speech from the White House about the results of the investigation at 4:45 PM EST Thursday Jan. 7, 2010.

The president said, “We are at war … with Al Qaeda”. The announcement of a war (even if legally undeclared) could become a political or “moral” justification for expecting more sacrifice from the American people. In this case, the president seems to be referring to more intrusive screening procedures at airports and more aggressive actions to prevent people for whom intelligence shows association with terror from flying. There is always the possibility that the government gets it wrong in these cases. The president said that we would maintain our "open society" and would not give in to a "siege mentality", giving enemies what they want, as long as he is in office.

The president also said that what happened here was not a failure in intelligence gathering but a failure of agencies to “connect the dots”. This could be the result of “turf oriented behavior.” The National Counter Terrorism Center is supposed to oversee connecting the dots, and I recall that an employee of that facility was gunned down while driving on a public street in Prince Georges County MD in November 2008. A typical factual story of the incident appears in the Washington Post Nov. 13, 2008, by Aaron C. Davis, link here.

Sometimes alert members of the public connect dots as well as bureaucratic government agencies.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

TSA's "Screen Gems"; Obama speaks about emergency homeland security review today

Anne Applebaum has a pointed piece on p A15 of the Tuesday Jan. 5, “Screen Gems” What are we getting for all the security funding?” link here.

The title of the story refers, perhaps accidentally, for Sony Pictures “Screen Gems” trademark mostly for domestic genre thriller movies.

What she recommends is that Homeland Security spend a lot more on “connecting the dots” than on screening hardware and controversial body scans (which are rather like Clark Kent’s x-ray vision in Smallville to scope people).

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Here is the CNN story of Obama's emergency meeting with his homeland security aides today, link.

MSNBC carries the AP story of Obama's speech late Tuesday afternoon, "Obama: Airline attack was preventable: President says intelligence officials 'failed to connect the dots'", link here. Maybe amateurs can help connect these dots!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Canada was also too easy on libel plaintiffs; this may have changed

We’ve covered British libel tourism here, but Canada has also had a problem. Plaintiffs have been able to get judgments against newspapers in Canada more easily that in the U.S. But the New York Times today has an important editorial, web URL “Canada’s Free Press”, link here.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently announced an affirmative defense of “responsible communication on matters of public interest.” The journalist must show that a comment or report is in the public interest and has practiced some due diligence in fact verification, even if the report is incorrect.

It’s not clear from the editorial if this applies only to “establishment” media or would also apply to amateur bloggers (including those outside of Canada who write about a potential Canadian plaintiff).
Wikipedia attribution link for NASA satellite photo of Canada

Friday, January 1, 2010

In the CIA almost like a branch of the military?

Mark Mazzetti has an important global New York Times article Dec. 31, “C.I.A. takes on bigger and riskier role on front lines,” link here. The recent stealth attack leading to the deaths of seven operatives in a remote area of Afghanistan point out the character of the CIA as a somewhat paramilitary organization. Movies have shown CIA operatives being trained in military-like quarters, but no one knows how real this is. (The recent incident says: "just because someone wears a uniform doesn't mean they can be trusted" [CNN, Anderson Cooper}; they work with private contractors, as in the movie "Avatar", and sometimes in primitive conditions, like the military, showering once a month).

Yet, the agency tends to look for highly educated persons in languages and international affairs as well as security and technology. The military “don’t ask don’t tell” policy is not supposed to apply; in fact, secrecy could be regarded as a reason for denial of clearance. It’s easy to imagine, at least in fiction scenarios for spy novels or movies, how the DADT policy could undermine security (as if there were a relationship between a CIA operative and a person in uniform) when the CIA is involved in a joint operation. Will Hollywood take up this challenge?

If you visit the CIA web page, you get some comical teletype sounds reminiscent of the program “Chuck”, but can navigate to the link with job descriptions. Moat of the positions appear to be analytical rather than "operational" or "combat". All this reminds me of the Army's distinctions between combat, combat support, and combat service support when I was an "analyst" while in the Army in 1968-1970.

What’s interesting is the advice not to disclose to others you have applied. “You cannot control whom they would tell.” That sounds like Dr. Phil’s advice on “private” Myspace and Facebook postings today.
Attribution link for Wikipedia picture of CIA Memorial Wall.