Sunday, September 28, 2014

Presbyterian Peacemaking Program tries to intervene in Middle East conflict at the youth level; the ideas of "authority" and "respect" and how others see us overseas

Today, Sunday, September 28, 2014, at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, Susan Stocks made a brief presentation of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, with link here.   The brief talk mentioned a number of very troubled parts of the world, like those affected by Ebola in West Africa, as well as the South Sudan.  It is normally very difficult for mainstream churches to send volunteers into areas like this now.  Generally, only specialized charities, like Samaritan’s Purse or Save the Children, have the infrastructure to do this.  If one has a portfolio for charitable giving, as at a bank, probably one or more of these organizations, after vetting, should be in it.
The presentation also mentioned a program in the Washington DC area where five Palestinian and five Israeli youths are brought to the area and housed (presumably by some chosen families) to learn to interact and start a dialogue.  I don’t know if this amounts to “radical hospitality”.

Rev. Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt addressed the topic of “Authority and Humility”, with a children’s sermon on “Respect”.  The relevant text concerned the Parable of the Vineyard (explanation).  I can recall, as a boy, resenting the idea of my father’s doing something “just for authority”.  The concept here was, how does someone get legitimate authority to get others to do what he or she says?  One can have formal authority but fail to command personal respect.  There are ideas like having credentials, standing, a stake, or “skin in the game”.  Authority seems to be a very important part of social structure.  But in a high-tech world of instant communications on the Internet, and asymmetric actors, authority seems to have much less relevance. 
The Prayer of Confession articulates what sounds like an idea very relevant to what I develop elsewhere:

 “Our culture tells us to exalt ourselves – to strive and to achieve and to be lifted above others through accomplishments and accolades. Our sense of success often depends on someone else’s failure. We twist service into convenience and leisure, denying that to serve means we must become servants.” 

No, this wouldn't suit John Galt in "Atlas Shrugged" very well.  I could add that individualistic, entrepreneurial "success" sometimes (or often) does raise the standard of living for most people, even most of the poor, but often at the cost (perhaps fatal) of at least some of the "losers".  I wonder how this feeds into the growth of brazen crime, lone wolf attacks, and terrorism as in the news.  I covered some of this ground on Sept. 25 when I reviewed Morten Storm’s book on my Book Review blog (“Agent Storm”).  The Danish double-CIA agent actually got into this a bit, how our values affect young men who don’t have parental upbringing that connects them to our value system. There’s some difference between the radical Islamic perception of “us”, and the perception from the far Left, which often became very personalized, venturing into outright Maoism, as I saw myself interacting with people when I was a much younger adult, like in the 1970s.

One other brief “international” item today:  there are protests now in Hong Kong over the expectation that mainland China (The “People’s Republic of Capitalism”) will soon take away a lot of freedom.  Consider the genesis of the word “authoritarianism”.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Obama at U.N.; the irony of what Assad "achieves"

On the day that President Obama gave a stirring address at the United Nations and chaired a Security Council meeting, and also a day when coalition forces destroyed ISIS oil refineries, denying them income, Vox Media produces an op-ed about Syria: "Congratulations, Assad: You successfully got the U.S. to bomb your enemies instead of you," link here. Indeed, think of the irony.  The U,S. has to act in a way that it thinks protects its own citizens at home.  Of course, one can debate whether Obama's reasoning is right.  I personally think it is.  
CNN's Anderson Cooper gives an interview concerning sleeper cells and lone wolves, here.
Vox has also questioned the "legality" of attacking specifically Khorasan.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We went in

OK, “we went in”.  The US has a coalition of five Arabian peninsula countries, but no other western countries (not even Britain): Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan, CNN story here,
 The Pentagon confirmed various surgical strikes of ISIL command centers with little damage to surrounding areas.
Obama also discussed the attacks on the Khorasan Group in Syria, which was believed to be in advanced stages of planning attacks on airliners inbound to the US or other western countries.  The attacks would have included small amounts of explosives hidden in hard-to-detect places, including electronics.  The resulting explosions would have been small but could have decompressed and brought down airliners.  NBC News has the story here.  The day Jan. 17, 1991 comes to mind.  As I checked into Bally's Holiday for a workout after work, I learned we had just "gone in".

AOL-Huffington has a more detailed story on Khorasan here.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Washington DC pastor comments today on the unique danger in the international area now; Australian plot among the most grotesque ever

Today,  at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, Dr. Stan Hastey delivered a sermon “A New Standard of Unity,” where he started by explaining how America got drawn into World War I, and how Woodrow Wilson had to refocus his idealism to the point that he eventually had to promote the military draft aggressively, at great sacrifice to ordinary Americans. It's relatively rare these days for pastors to remind congregations that we have had conscription in our history.  Twenty years later, psychopathic evil of the relatively few would again cause enormous suffering and loss to ordinary people in WWII. At the end of the service, Hastey offered a special prayer for the leadership in the administration  and Congress for leadership in what he obviously sees as a new and remarkably dangerous threat to ordinary Americans, even beyond the rhetoric that was common after 9/11.
For civilians to be greatly affected by war and aggression has always happened throughout history.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of conquest.  Sometimes it is targeting a known “group” of people.  The Nazis did both.  Sometimes there is more focus on the supposed political or social crimes of individuals, as Communists sometimes did (as when the North Vietnamese targeted various civilians as they invaded and conquered the entire country in 1975).  The current rhetoric of radical Islam, ISIS and others, seems to be a mixture of all of these, only some of it personal.  
As I grew up during the Cold War, “duck and cover” represented what could happen to all of us (as with the film “The Atomic CafĂ©”) and civilization came to the brink in October 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis.  (OK, Truman used the atom bomb himself on Japanese civilians to end WWII, saving the lives of American soldiers.)   I have covered my unusual personal circumstances (as an “M.P. who could burden the survival of the group) during that period here before.  Later, I would negotiate the world of the military draft, student deferments, and sheltering MOS’s.  Young men owed their society their share in the risk of defending the country.  That idea had been around since the tribal existence of Biblical times, when the long term survival of the tribe or nation really did seem to depend on what every person did.
Soldiers, however, are usually ordinary people, who are conscripted or who join out of a need to provide for a family, or out of a genuine desire to serve, or some kind of combination.  Soldiers have sometimes been singled out randomly in civilian places and assassinated by “terrorists” or enemies.  A shocking crime like this happened in London in early 2013 (story).  But this actually sometimes happened even during the Vietnam war.  Two marines were shot in a bar in Georgetown in Washington DC sometime after the Tet Offensive, when I was in Basic Training myself, in early 1968.  That incident actually shows up in my first novel manuscript, “The Proles” and is mentioned in an excerpt from it in my DADT III book.  And the idea that civilians could be targeted at home by extreme Left wing radicals was well known in the early 1970s.  I actually overheard such plans suggested myself in 1972.  The possibility that war could start that way was known, even if not widely discussed, as was not so easy in pre-Internet days.  My 1981 novel manuscript uses that idea (Wordpress reference. ).
There have, of course, occurred a number of “lone wolf” rampages in this country, stimulating the gun control debate, usually connected to psychopathy and “mental illness”.  But the Mohammed-Mlvo sniper shootings in 2002 were somewhat a “political” or “religious” terror attack on individuals, as were at least four recent shootings by a man recently attested and charged in both New Jersey and Washington State. 
Like everyone else, I am particularly galled by the story from Australia of a plot that would target random civilians.  Frida Ghitis on CNN analyses the speculation that such a plot could happen in the US, as here.) Imagination of what could happen is endless, and there is no need for gratuitous enumeration of the grotesque scenarios that could occur.  I did say after the service today to De. Hastey that this sort of thing, that such an event eliminates the idea of “victims” in a world where everyone is presumed a combatant enemy, and that memorializing anyone in a typical funeral service no longer could make sense.  Sometimes, if we are too insular, the heart of our lives is taken from us.  There may be justice, even revenge, to follow, but without forgiveness, there is no more life, maybe not even eternal life. We, as one door-to-door salesman once threatened, all start over, in the same place.

Of course, the idea of targeting civilians is by definition a war crime, even if goes on everyday in the Middle East right now.  As I’ve noted that before, we were taught that in Army Basic Combat Training in 1968 at Fort Jackson, SC;  I think there was a question on this point in the written portion (on the Geneva Convention) in the BCT “final exam” during the last week.  Those who accept the invitation to be recruited into ISIS overseas are in fact, in a legal sense, joining a conspiracy to commit war crimes.

It’s hard to see what this has to do with “religion”. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blitzer interview heighten's Putins disrespect for international law

The Telegraph, in a story by Justin Huggler, reports that Vladimir Putin has “privately” threatened to invade Poland, Romania, and the Baltic States, link here.  An invasion on any NATO country could require all members to respond.
And today, Wolf Blitzer interviews Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko. About how Putin reneged.  Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in return for absolute guarantee of its sovereignty, which was deliberately violated when Crimea was seized and when Putin assisted the rebels in trying to build a land bridge to it. The CNN link is here.  The breakdown of sovereignty and the “liberal” idea of law and order in the past year is shocking.
There could be some concern about the border of Finland, at least according to a hack of one of my own files in 2002 where the hacker left the names of some places near the border on an essay that discussed 9/11 and nuclear weapons.  Such a hack has not happened again.  Finland is not a member in NATO.

In the meantime Scotland’s vote is counted from paper ballots and the outcome isn’t known until Friday morning.  Leaving the UK now sounds stupid.  NATO countries will be unlikely to admit Scotland as doings could spur separatism in their own countries.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

US will send troops (engineers and military medical personnel) to west Africa to counter Ebola; concern over future mutation voiced

The United States will send up to 3000 troops to West Africa to help construct treatment clinics and provide medical and nursing training to local medical caregivers in several countries.  The Obama administration wants to offer high level supportive care in place in Africa.  CNN’s news story with a video is here

The troops apparently will be deployed (at least) first to Liberia.  There will be an emphasis on distributing home care supplies, although it is hard to see how this could work.
The president has said before that he fears that the Ebola virus could mutate and become airborne.
That was reported to happen with the monkey “Ebola Reston” virus in the US in 1989, but it was not transmissible to humans. But in the mid 1990s, right wing politicians and “doctors”, particularly in Texas, speculated that this could happen with HIV.  If it could, HIV would become a very different virus, probably less lethal and no longer a “gay disease”. But that speculation led to an attempt to strengthen the Texas anti-sodomy law in 1983.
The concerns, were Ebola to become airborne and circulate in western countries, would obviously be grave, just as with a resurgence of smallpox (perhaps engineered by terrorists) or bird flu. Imagine the “social distancing” issue that could develop.  As for bioterror, it is much harder to weaponize most agents than most conservative columnists think.  We need to get moving faster with the Ebola vaccine. 
Just as with violence in the middle East and Africa from terrorists and conflict, disease like Ebola makes it very challenging for church groups to send volunteers (sometimes older youths) to these more primitive areas.  It would become an issue were national service proposals to be developed further (as Stanley McChrystal has proposed).  
Kent Brantly warned, in testifying, that Ebola was like fire from the underworld.  

Update: Sept. 19

Sierra Leone has started a three-day lockdown of the entire country today to try to control Ebola, CNN story here

Is Lindsey Graham blowing hot air, or is the immediate threat to the US homeland "real"?

So, with the debates going on in the Senate Armed Services committee about ISIS or ISIL, and the remarks by Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that we could all be dead at home (link ).
It does sound as though the main issue for ISIL right now is its territorial aims in the “Fertile Crescent” (which isn’t very fertile now).  However, fighters with US or European passports might slip through (although they would be questioned).  It only takes a very small sleeper cell with bizarre ideology or vindictive motivation to do tremendous damage. Imagination as to scenarios that can occur is limitless.
Can we really “lose the country”?  Well, we almost did during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Ii was an inpatient at NIH and not exactly fit to survive.  But with the Soviets there was a “red phone” (rather like the red chair in kindergarten that my father liked so much).  With a non-state or illegitimate state, there is no red line.  There might not be with North Korea, either.
The single most destructive event that I can imagine would be an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a high altitude nuclear blast, perhaps launched from a Scud (the kind that Saddam Hussein liked) smuggled onto a commercial ship offshore.  In the book “One Second After” (Books, July 20, 2012), William Forstchen and Newt Gingrich imagine a vessel in the Gulf with three missiles. Michael Maloof (“A Nation Forsaken”, April 13, 2013) imagines a blast from the Jersey Coast over Pennsylvania.  And the remake of “Red Dawn” (“cf” blog, Nov. 22, 2012) envisions a North Korean attack over the Pacific Northwest.  Let’s not forget Byron Dorgan’s blueprint for a cyberattack in “Gridlock” (Books, Sept. 5, 2013).
The idea is that if the power grid in the US were permanently destroyed by an enemy, the enemy could invade at gunpoint and round us all up.  That is sort of the idea of NBC’s “Revolution” although in that series the enemy is internal. 
Could this really happen?  George Tenet used to warn that North Korea really was capable of lobbing a nuclear warhead toward Alaska or the US Pacific Northwest.  As for the commercial ship idea, would NORAD intercept anything?  Would the Coast Guard be able to detect anything like this?
It probably will be possible eventually for terrorists to make a small nuclear weapon, which is why Iran and North Korea are possibly so dangerous (a lot more so in this regard than ISIL).  For an asymmetric actor to have the ability to fire one on a Scud a hundred miles up from a ship does stretch credibility.  I don’t have a sense that the administration takes an idea like this very seriously. Neither does the mainstream press, Roscoe Bartlett, Lindsey Graham and perhaps Newt Gingrich notwithstanding.
More likely is smaller weapons, possibly directed at individual communities, areas of cities, or even individuals, like smaller flux weapons or radioactive dispersion devices. These are probably harder to make from the Internet than The Washington Times would have us believe.  But it is this idea that sounds the most dangerous to me.
Needless to say, some of these possibilities can lead to a world that has no use for someone like me, and I can imagine at a personal level the terrorist gloats.  It’s usually not personal, but it could be. (I react to bellicose statements by enemies as if they were personal.)  Of course, personal complacency and indifference needs to be looked at from the bottom up, partly because bad things can happen, and people need to be able to accept some interdependence.

Note: The Wall Street Journal has a video about life in Ar-Raqqa under ISIS.

Monday, September 15, 2014

China blocks CNN report of its own persecution of Christians in eastern part of country

Anderson Cooper reports that the Chinese government has “cracked down” on Christians, tearing down crosses and churches in eastern China, especially around Wenzchou. Cooper showed the CNN signal in China being blocked out during his report, here. The Chinese government complains that Christians are becoming too “numerous” and therefore creating a “disturbance” for the party.  So the claims of persecution in non-democratic parts of the world ring true.,  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Many theories explain radical islamic violence, and it is not as personal as terrorists make it sound; also AC360 interviews Foley's mother

There is a wide range of views on the question as to what drives radical Islamic terrorists to violence.
The rhetoric in some of the ISIS videos sounds personal, like we having coming to us.
But much more of it is ground in ideas of religious duty (falsely reasoned), the idea of belonging to a group rather than being an individual, the idea that “infidels” create a religious violation by occupying Muslim lands, and the idea that Muslim “paradise” is a reward that replaces poverty on Earth.  It is much less personal than it sounds.

Here are a few references:

Doug Bandow, Cato and published in the Huffington Post, 2010, here

The Philosopher’s Magazine Blog, post by Mike La Bossiere, 2013 

“Mb-soft” gives a totally historical explanation, in detail 

William Blum sees it as propaganda and talks about the Bali bombing in 2002, about which I actually got an email then, link.

The conservative Breitbart site notes that an unusually high percentage of European jihadists are redheaded, possibly as a result of bullying (so that is personal), link.  
Despite the fact that much of this theory is put in terms of clashes between groups of people (based on religion, nationality, race, or anything else), ultimately this comes down to personal morality insofar as it can affect me.  If I can become part of the “enemy” because I am part of an aggressor nation, then I have to be able to participate in defending people around me.   I have a stake, my own skin in the game.  
Also, today, in  replay of an interview by Anderson Cooper on CNN, James Foley's mother said that the FBI had to come to her for information and was rather clueless.  She had traveled to Europe several times to talk to other hostages. The interview video with Diane Foley ("I feel our country let Jim down") is here.  She also said that the government would prosecute her if her if she paid ransom personally to foreign terrorists

Thursday, September 11, 2014

North Korea tries to attract tourists, but from non-western countries

Incredibly, North Korea is trying to attract foreign tourists, although China is probably the major source of customers.  One reason us that the DPRK needs to earn hard cash and isn’t getting too far with its bluster.  The Washington Post has a front page story on 9/11, “North Korea sells itself as vacation destination”, by Anna Fifield, link here. Still, this looks like a very risky idea for Americans and western Europeans, as we know from the recent interviews of three prisoners, all in a hotel now but facing years at hard labor for trivial or political offences.  Don’t go.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Obama's speech on ISIS has some ironies

President Obama warned tonight that no place in the world (including Syria) is a haven from any party that threatens the United States or Americans.  But he also said that ISIS (or ISIL) “could pose a growing threat beyond that region (Syria and Iraq) including the United States”.  Obviously that includes western Europe (especially Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium).  Belgium has already had an attack on a Jewish facility, and the Netherlands had an attack on a filmmaker about ten years ago. 
But Zack Beauchamp of Vox Media points out that radical Islamic groups in Yemen (Al Qaeda and others) have been a more immediate threat, yet Obama talks little about this threat (article here ). David Gergen is saying we have to say this is bigger than ISIS to get other partners in the Arab world. Actually, Obama mentioned Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and North Africa, and called ISIL as "one of the groups" and "not Islamic" with most of its victims Muslim. The White House URL link is here.

The president did not "complain" about the abuse of asymmetric social media by members of ISIL in a manner that he could have.  Social media can be used for good and bad purposes, and this is true of most technology.
Yesterday, CNN reported some "trash talk" of threats on Twitter by ISIS accounts against domestic employees of the company, not credible, but the idea is certainly disturbing if you think about where that could lead.   

Thursday, September 4, 2014

CNN interviews a defected ISIS fighter, now in Turkey, who warns that they will try to attack home countries out of religious titillation; "philosophy was canceled"

Arwa Damon and Holly Yan have an article on CNN “Inside the Mind of an ISIS fighter”, link here
CNN interviewed a former fighter and defector, who found their tactics against civilians too brutal but agreed with their religious views. “Philosophy is prohibited; they canceled it as a kind of blasphemy.”  Given the course of my own life in the late 90s, that statement sounds especially ironic.
The fighter said that after establishing the caliphate, ISIS fighters will try to conquer their home countries. He also said that security measures in western countries make it very difficult for fighters to carry out effective attacks right now, but they will become more dangerous in the future. 
According to the defector, they honestly believe that Allah commands that persons who do not submit to him literally according to the Koran (as they read it) must be killed.   It doesn’t make sense to a westerner, but in the early tribal history of the Old Testament, this sort of belief was common.  To some young men, this sort of belief reinforces itself and becomes titillating.  The supposed “virtue” enforced on others becomes the point of existence and a reason to reproduce.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

North Carolina middle class man caught trying to cross into Syria to join ISIS

NBC News presented the curious story of Don Morgan, from North Carolina, and his attempt to join ISIS, link here. Morgan had been a military school graduate and raised as a Roman Catholic.  After his life went wrong (with legal run-ins), he converted to Islam and radicalized himself on the Internet, believing that someone has to defend Sunni women and children in the Middle East – the karma problem.  He was stopped at the Turkish border and returned to the US, where he faces a federal weapons charge. He said he is not a terrorist, but what he did might meet the legal definition of supporting terrorism. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

David Cameron proposes draconian passport revocations to Parliament in UK for returning fighters; house arrests are already happening

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Parliament Monday and proposed stricter laws to revoke passports and deny Britons re-entry to the country if they had fought in certain countries like Syria for terror groups.  Some could be left stateless.  The Daily Mail has a storyhere

Critics noted that some British subjects with Muslim ties have been under effective house arrest and curfews since 2005.  In one case, a Muslim was put under house arrest for socializing with the brother of an Al Qaeda terrorist (in Yemen). 
Coverage on the second “beheading” is on the TV blog. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

North Korea lets CNN interview three of its US prisoners

North Korea has taken advantage of world tensions elsewhere to try to improve its own propaganda, showing water parks, and letting CNN interview three other American prisoners it has detained. The CNN news story is here.

These three are Kenneth Bae, Matthew Todd Miller and Jeffrey Edward Fowle.  One of these was imprisoned for leaving a Bible in a hotel room.  In North Korea, only the leaders are "divine". All have admitted violating North Korean law to CNN.   Bae has been serving a lot of time at a hard labor camp.  All are living in a hotel now.  Miller says he faces a trial (for tearing up some paperwork) and could wind up in a labor camp. Miller said that the US government hasn't done much for those held in North Korea.  CNN said that it thought that North Korea wants to use the detainees as bargaining chips to ease up on US control over their development of nuclear weapons.  The CNN reporters say that had they not followed instructions exactly, even they might have been detained as prisoners.