Friday, September 27, 2013

UN report on man-made climate change is pretty scathing

The UN International Panel on Climate Change has reduced a report indicating a 95% chance that the spike in carbon dioxide levels and world temperatures in the past few decades is man-made.  CNN has a detailed report and multiple videos here.

All likelihood is that sea levels would rise by several feet at least by 2100, and that storm surges will become stronger.
One of the biggest but uncertain risks could have to do with methane release.
The direct link to the UN report seems to be this.

Moral questions arise in the idea that many people don’t experience “generativity” as part of their locus of personal responsibility.  Advanced countries with lower populations will be accused of emitting much more carbon per person.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Save the Children offers sponsorships of individual children overseas; is this tantamount to parenthood?

Yesterday, I received a “mirror card” from an international charity, Save the Children, which is a regular monthly beneficiary of an estate contribution.  While I don’t normally discuss this operation publicly, I did want to make a point about the card.
Back in my working days, I made small contributions to STC, from about 1977 until the layoff at the end of 2001 (discussed widely on my IT page).   It was small, and I tended to think of it as “conscience money”.  For quite a considerable portion of these years, STC would offer sponsorships of individual children, usually in Africa.  As the children reached 18 or some specific age, they would be replaced.  Sometimes the children would write letters.  I rarely responded.
I do wonder if this practice is appropriate for me right now.  It seems that establishing a “relationship” of any kind with a thirteen year old boy (in Haiti in this case)  is taking on a responsibility.  Would I be prepared to bring him here?  To become a foster parent? To adopt him?  To prepare home for him?   Is this something I should be expected to do?  It’s an intriguing question.  But with a specific, named child (which I will not identify) it seems like it is taking on a one way permanent responsibility. 

The appeal had an expiration date of Oct. 15, 2013.  Real kids don't have expiration dates.
STC had called about two months ago about this program, and said it would send a package, and encourage recruiting other sponsors.  It called a second time, the caller thinking I had “volunteered”.  I asked for the package again.  Maybe this is that package. 

I’ll discuss it with a local church I have mentioned here before.  I wonder what others think of the practice, and the question that it poses.  

It’s important to remember that a few countries, notably Russia, do not want to allow adoption of their children in the US for political reasons.  And the whole process has been plagued with grave problems.  Christian charities take this on as a mission or a calling.  It has always been interesting, to wonder about the idea of being responsible for raising other people's children when one did not have one's own. and did not engage in the the activity personally necessary to reproduce (I could be more blunt), but is supporting those who do.    

Talking on a child would mean a career change.  I would have to learn what it is like to "sell things" to support a family, in a society of people who pretend to be self-sufficient and not need anything, not want to be bothered in pursuing their own agendas.  Salesmanship, it seems, used to be part of "real life". 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Apparent progress in freeing hostages in Kenya; CNN says attack has western domestic security planners worried

CNN is reporting that most of the hostages have been freed by force by the Kenyan army from Al-Shabaab, but there are at least 68 dead in Nairobi.  The attack was surreptitious and unusually brutal in a personal sense, CNN story here. CNN reports that three of the terrorists may be from the US, possibly from Minnesota, which has a large Somali community.
CNN has paid a lot of attention to the crisis today, and covered the subject of mall security in the US, especially the Mall of America near Minneapolis, which actually practices lock-downs.  Security can certainly inspect backpacks and items brought into malls without creating disruption. But soft target dangers have existed for years, such as the parking garage under the WTC in NYC in 1993. Many domestic dangers with a variety of WMD’s exist, as have been covered on this blog before.  

The nature of security threats, being so varied (among international terrorists and lone wolfs in the US), makes the budget showdown in Congress particularly dangerous.  It also does give pause to think that NSA monitoring, despite the Snowden and Wikileaks scandals, may be essential in preventing major domestic threats.
Prince William has spent a lot of time in Kenya doing conservation, and a local church sent a gay male couple over to Kenya covertly around 2004 on humanitarian work, with Uganda next door. 
Going to that part of the world is just plain risky.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Myanmar expropriates farmers' land, claims government owns all land

PBS Newshour is reporting that the government of Myanmar (Burma) has been expropriating land of farmers for government purposes (like the military) and for building factories with Japanese companies.  The government has been giving two-week eviction notices and not compensating the farmers.

The government of Myanmar has supposedly become less oppressive than it had been, which is why there has been some international development and jobs. 

Farmers in Burma who “inherit” land don’t get title to the land; the government has it. However, under international pressure, the government is reportedly working on some sort of compensation plan now.

Wikipedia attribution link for 1988 uprising image. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chinese force "detained" blogger to make video confession for rumor-mongering

A well-known blogger, Charles Xue, detained by Chinese authorities, has been coerced into giving a video confession, according to a Washington Post story Monday September 16, 2013 by William Wan, link here, p. A7, 
Chinese law now punishes “spreading rumors” on the Internet. Chinese attitudes on the Internet seem to parallel those of Putin’s Russia, but for all issues.  This is the legacy of communism.  Why do Chinese authorities believe their power is so fragile that one micro-blogger could really threaten it?

Authoritarian governments love to make "examples" of people who don't play for the team. 
But the blogger had originally been arrested for soliciting prostitution, probably a set-up. 

I would like to visit China some day.  But as with Russia, I wonder if my own online presence would make it dangerous for me to do so.  I haven’t heard, though, of westerners being arrested in China or Russia for their publicly available web content.  Will this happen?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Menendez has queasy stomach over Putin's op-ed; and, by the way, Putin "really doesn't have any"

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) says he almost vomited at dinner, apparently public, when he read Putin’s op-ed, which apparently he took to the dinner table or opened on his smart phone.  No wonder Oprah thinks meal time should be tech-free.  The Huffington Post wrote this account
The New York Times copy of the editorial is here. You need to negotiate the paywall to read this.  Ezra Klein from the Washington Post had tweeted Wednesday that the Post had rejected his op-ed for Wonkblog because of his poor “algebra” or depiction of the “Y axis”.
In fact, his policy recommendations are logically inconsistent or “don’t follow”.  He blames the Syrian rebels for the chemical attack, but is willing to put pressure on Assad anyway, Post Wonkblog story by Klein and Evan Soltas, here 
Putin has been railed today for his “criticism” of Obama’s claims of American exceptionalism. Anderson Cooper has asked how he can say that all of us are created equal and then support the recent atni-gay law. Is his answer to bolster Russian birth rates by (again not very “logically”) prohibiting pro-gay speech? On that, I’ve wonder about the pictures of Putin on horseback showing bare breasts. Is his chest hairless because he shaves and waxes? Or is it, as the gay community claims here, because he really doesn’t “have any”? He can't help it.  
As for Menendez, he may take comfort in former President George H. W. Bush’s state dinner in Japan in early January 1992, where his suits needed to be cleaned, according to Fitzwater.   That was the beginning of Bush’s decline and Clinton’s eventual victory, and the long road of DADT and repeal.     

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Eminent domain abuse by Chinese government leads to suicides by farmers

The New York Times on Sunday ran a major story by Ian Johnson, “Picking Death over Eviction”, about suicide by Chinese farmers in rural areas when their land is taken by the government under eminent domain and they are very poorly compensated.  The story is here  and it looks a bit like the way land was taken from farmers in Tennessee during WWII to build Oak Ridge, or even like taking land from Palestinians to build West Bank settlements.
The Times offers a translation into Chinese (script, probably Mandarin) online. 

This is certainly a story that will attract attention of the libertarian community.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Obama's speech on Syria seems narrower than had been expected a few days ago, a bit underwhelming

Our ideals and principles are at stake, the president said, in his address on Syria tonight. 
Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper discussed the speech on CNN after the 15 minute address was complete.
The president said that any action by the US military would be significant, denying the idea of a “pinprick strike”.  He said that any strike would be targeted to reach a clear objective.

Obama often refers to the US as the "oldest constitutional democracy".  Recently he has started to use a favorite term of the right, "asymmetry". 
In the past twenty four hours, the White House and State Department have said that they can wait to see if Syria will surrender any WMD’s “voluntarily” under some sort of international, including Russian, supervision.
Russia is said now to have something to gain from peacefully removing chemical weapons from Syria, because Assad would stay in power. 
The speech seemed a bit anti-climactic.
New Gingrich, Gloria Borger and Stephanie Cutter joined in the discussion  Gingrich called the speech a “mistake”. But one liberal commentator said that the possibility of chemical weapons being used against American troops some day was a grim possibility.
The White House link for the speech is here and the text and video will appear shortly. 

Or go directly to YouTube.

What happens when Congress gets back to the debt ceiling and the budget?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Obama's "red line" on Syria does not comport with "R2P" or "responsibility to protect"

The Outlook front page of the Washington Post on Sunday has an important article by Michael Abramowitz from the Holocaust Museum about the idea of “Responsibility to Protect”, or R2P, as it would apply to the current Syrian crisis. The link is here

The writer maintains that “R2P” would have applied long before chemical weapons were apparently used in Syria, and that Obama’s use of the international “red line” does not satisfy the concept.  Had action been taken sooner (although this is all recent, such 2011) the crisis might not be so pressing now.

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) says he has heard things in classified briefings that may change many minds in Congress.  But unless the “R2P” concept is being fully honored, that would suggest that she has heard of some sort of threat to the US homeland, implicit in the presence of WMD’s in Syria at all.  That would make more sense with biological or radiological agents than chemical.

Jeff Toobin of CNN says that Obama does not have the legal authority to act without some sort of third party backing.  John McCain supports action, but says Obama risks impeachment if he puts “boots on the ground” after miscalculation if he acts without Congress.

CNN says that the administration has not shown, at least in unclassified reports, proof that Assad knew these weapons would be used.
The president will speak Tuesday night to the nation, maybe about the risks and sacrifices involved.  He didn’t seem to want to compete with the Washingto Redskins’ Monday Night Football NFL home opener.

Friday, September 6, 2013

McCain and the "marshmellow Congress": Syria can get dangerous. Is this a warning to the American people to toughen up?

Does living in a globally connected, technologically dependent world make possible civilization-ending catastrophes that have never happened?  Yes, they do, and that has a bearing on moral thinking, especially criticisms of hyperindividualism and the modern “libertarian” idea of personal responsibility.  The question comes up in international contexts when we have a crisis like Syria and both sides say that the other is crossing “the red line”.
For example, the American people as a whole have a hard time believing we should risk military action in Syria.   This came to a head in Phoenix last night at a forum held by John McCain when an audience member compared Congress to a bag of marshmellows.  The president says “the red line” has been crossed.   But now Russia is involved, and it is not completely impossible that a nuclear showdown could evolve.  Moreover, other Islamic countries are making bellicose threats, especially Iran, although right now most of the rhetoric stays in the region (involving Iraq and Israel, in different ways) rather than threatening a covert domestic US attack with cyberwarfare or a saboteur, Hitchcock-style.

The end of “life as we knew it” has happened throughout history, going back to the Biblical flood and Old Testament captivities.  Some of the exiles are so long that generations adapted to them as new normal ways of living and forgot the past.  Throughout history, invasions and conventional conquests, destroying lives of civilians, have happened.  (The Blitzkrieg started 74 years ago Sept. 1.)   Pandemics (smallpox, plague) have destroyed large percentages of continental populations and decimated indigenous peoples. In the purely financial area, repeated total collapses, wiping out the "idle rich", have always been part of history, 
Even so, the “threat” that developed after the Cold War, of MAD ("Duck and Cover"), leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, seems quite unique in the history of civilization. Through WWII, it had been believed that two large oceans largely sheltered the US from annihilation.  Now we learn we may have been saved by one reticent submarine commander as his boat approached the quarantine in 1962 (see TV blog Oct. 23, 2012).

To a technologically dependent people, there are new asymmetric threats.  The most touted right now is cyberwarfare, but potentially the most dangerous could be electromagnetic pulse (EMP), which (contrary to popular perception) does not require a nuclear warhead at 200 miles altitude (as if launched by extraterrestrials).  The other biggest threat is “natural” – solar superstorms and coronal mass ejection.  It’s only recently that FEMA has even talked publicly about this (Issues blog Aug. 29, 2013).
Some social critics, even from the libertarian world, like Charles Murray (Books blog, May 1, 2012), have been criticizing the loss of “social capital”  associated with hyperindividualism, which could make Americans or westerners even tempting to terrorists who want to “bring them low” (as in Dorgan’s novel  "Gridlock", reviewed on Books blog yesterday), or the 2009 “One Second After” by William Forstchen, Books blog July 20, 2012). 
When I started working and living on my own as an adult in the early 1970’s, one reaction I encountered in some people on the radical Left was that ordinary citizens in the professional “middle class” were among their oppressors, merely because of our insularity and indifference to them.  That was a surprising find.  It still may be around. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Syrian refugees could provide a new test of "radical hospitality"

The scale of the refugee problem associated with Syria, with wounded civilians crossing a narrow river into Turkey, could raise another issue for people in the west: “radical hospitality” and the possibility of openness to providing care or adoption of children.  The issue of course has come up before, as with the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe, and it provided challenges that would shock most people.  And Russia, as we know, is banning adoption of its children from many countries over gay issues. 
Save the Children has a page on its emergency response here. One question is whether regularly scheduled charitable giving can deal with this.
I’ve seen this before.  In 1980, when I was living in Dallas, there was an appeal within the LGBT community to house Cuban refugees, many of whom were thought to be gay men fleeing Castro.  There were appeals to let people say in “spare bedrooms”.  It wasn’t long before a lot of people found out that this was far riskier than they had first realized  It was also far more demanding as to time, as people working all day probably couldn’t give refugees, non English speaking sometimes, that kind of attention.  When Catholic Charities tried to start a program in Dallas, it banned gays and lesbians from participating.  I found that out in a personal interview.  
CNN is covering the question of why the "younger" Assad (who took over in 2000) has become so repressive in using power, when once he was a "mild mannered opthamologist".  He was compared to a Mafia boss.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Syria will use Russian "help" if US attacks, setting up a dangerous confrontation between US and Russia

The latest news from the situation in Syria today on CNN is that Russia is going to provide anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses for Syria, on land and possibly with its own Naval presence in the Mediterranean. It is said that Russia and Syria are “business partners”, because Syria buys so many Russian weapons.

To the diplomatic history novice, this sounds like an invitation to direct conventional contact between the US and Russia. 

CNN also reports that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have offered to help the US; how much is unclear. 
Drawing in Russia sounds especially dangerous given the tension now only Snowden (which many Americans saw as a good thing for Putin to do) because of the way Russia seems to have scapegoated its own LGBT persons, but also seems to be trying to scapegoat LGBT people in western countries, as if to dare these countries to bring back the kind of thinking common a half century ago under McCarthyism.

If would be understandable if Russia did not want to allow same-sex couples to adopt its children.  But to refuse to allow any traditionally married couple to adopt any of its children (some of whom are severely neglected, according to many reports, to the point that some adoptive parents can’t handle them, as with a recent tragic case in Texas) makes its own children hostages and potentially sets up citizens of other countries as scapegoats in its political ambitions.  This is particularly galling.