Sunday, December 27, 2015

A specific Syrian family's story


Eli Saslow and Jabin Botsford (photo credit) give a glimpse of what life is like for a Syrian refugee family, approved after two years processing by DHS, to settle in or near Louisville, KY, “A wary start to refugees’ new life”, with byline, “Amid apprehension from many in the U.S., a Syrian family confronts their own version of fear”.

The family has distant resettled relatives near Detroit.  The narrative indicates that there was not enough space or water resources in Jordan.  I do agree with GOP proposals (and even Hillary Clinton’s) that more can be done with the US military to provide space spaces in the Middle East (and more can be done to get other wealthy Muslim countries to help), but refugee camps, even if secure, don’t provide liberty, personal lives and careers.

A faith-based resettlement agency had prepared a house to be rented.  The family apparently speaks little English and will need a lot of supervision.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

US tax exemptions support Israeli settlements and confiscation of West Bank properties


Here’s a provocative op-ed in the Washington Post today Tuesday December 22, 2015, p. A15, by Uri Blau, “How U.S. taxpayers subsidize Israeli settlements".  Online, the title is more explicit, “Why is the US subsidizing Israeli settlements?
 
The problem is tax-exempt donations, with some not so unintended consequences.
 
It’s wrong to take property away from others by force just because they belong to a different religious or national group.  But that’s what zero-sum-game living is all about. “My family comes before yours.”

In fact, Anthony Bourdain reports in his own TV series that most of the settlements are illegal under Israeli law! (TV blog, Sept. 15, 2013).

Update: Jan. 3, 2016

This Post story was mentioned in a Sunday School lesson at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC today. Every administration, Republican or Democrat, has condemned the taking and expropriation of private property owned by Palestinians on the West Bank. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Iran hacks into NY dam controller; multiple infiltration events at US power companies reported


Hackers from Iran have spied on the electronic controls of a Hudson River dam north of New York City, in 2013, according to a BBC story.  And hackers, probably many from Russia or China, have gathered information on as many as 82 US power plants, including nuclear, according to the story.  The BBC mentions but doesn’t link to a detailed story in the Wall Street Journal by Danny Hadron.

So far, the effect of the hacks seems to be more about gaining leverage in diplomatic or foreign relations than in inflicting real damage.



But the report comports with ideas in Ted Koppel’s recent book “Lights Out” (books, Nov. 10, 2015), but leaves out the issue as to whether critical US utility infrastructure should even be reachable from the Internet.  But subterfuge has been accomplished by workers acquiring thumb drives.  By the way, when I contemplate Koppel's book title, I remember that "lights out" was at 9:30 PM in Army Basic back in 1968.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Economic growth, climate change, zero-sum-game thinking, and jihadism


Ana Johnson has an interesting piece in the Washington Post, “Why young people become jihadists, according to a top expert”, eight reasons. The source is an Italian history professor, Olivier Roy.

One interesting point is that the basic problems have little to do with the religion of Islam itself or with Islam’s responsibility to present itself responsibly to young people.  Many radicals did not start out in Islam, or were only loosely connected to it.

One problem could be that the world they grow up in doesn’t make sense to (some of) them.  They see people benefit from wealth they did not earn (although this observation tended to drive a lot of left-wing extremism or communist-related radicalism in the 1960s and 1970s, some of which I came into direct contact with personally a couple of times).  Instead of a secular socialist idea, religious vision has come into focus for attention, but that is somewhat circumstantial in history. But a sense of indignation is part of the issue.

Of course, there are young adults who become wealthy because of innovations they created, that other people want and will pay for.  That’s sort of the basics of a capitalist market.  But as Malcolm Gladwell has often pointed out, people have to be “lucky” to be in a position to go a long way with creative ideas.  There is not much “equality of opportunity”.


The New York Times has an op-ed by Eduardo Porter, “Imagine a World Without Growth”  The basic premise is that economic growth was connected to the use of fossil fuels, which has to stop.  (Think about the whale oil use before the 19th Century, as with the film “In the Heart of the Sea”, reviewed on Movies yesterday).  But economic growth benefits low income countries as well as rich countries, and relieves the “zero sum game idea” which contributes to war, slavery, aggression, and a familial morality of “take care or your own first” common on the right wing today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

EU passes stricter data rules for 2017 which could affect US bloggers; China jumps into Internet regulation bowl


Dan Levin has a rather chilling NY Times article on how China wants to gain more influence on Internet governance, here.  I have wondered if I would even be welcome to travel there;  I understand Google products (Blogger) are not easily available there, and neither is Facebook.  Yet in late 2013 I was getting emails inviting me to claim my “doaskdotell” in China before anyone else could claim it (which would a subdomain in China).

Mark Scott reports that the European Union has approved tougher data protection and privacy rules, to be effective in early 2017. This would include the “right to be forgotten” and would apparently include the possibility of telling a website to take down “forgettable” information as well as search engines.  It would apply to any company having customers in the 28 countries of the EU, with stiff fines, but would only apply to EU residing people. A problem could occur with a website showing the same content worldwide (Blogger appends country-specific domain TLD’s but that would not get around the fact that most blogs show the same content everywhere available;  furthermore it’s pretty easy to get around the TLD technique to see content.)  I tweeted this story Wednesday, and it got "liked" and retweeted quickly.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Russian black market trying to auction nuclear raw materials, Obama administration officials say quietly; where is the GOP on this issue?


The Washington Post has a major editorial today, “In an age of terrorism, disturbing questions remain on nuclear security” The Post refers to an series of at least three attempts to sell highly enriched uranium (in France, Bulgaria and Moldavia) from inadequately secured sites in Russia, since 1999.   The Center for Public Integrity has an even more alarming headline for the story, “The fuel for a nuclear bomb is in the hands of a black marketer from Russia, US officials say.”

Former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), not having the best reputation for his role in “don’t ask don’t tell” in 1993, has since become a big advocate for reigning in on loose nuclear material, as part of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, link here.

The biggest practical risk could be the use of radioactive materials to build a dirty bomb, which would be as much an economic threat (for real estate) as a medical one (cancer). Actual assembly and detonation of a nuclear device, like in several films and television series since 9/11 (like Fox’s “24”) would be less likely. Related, of course, is the EMP threat.



As I’ve noted before, an old legacy web site of mine, since moved, was hacked in April 2002, starting on an essay (in my DADT II book, “When Liberty Is Stressed”) that specifically dealt with 9/11, in a passage that discussed nukes (with the jibberish overlaying it very strange in what it contained).  The incident was reported to the FBI and has not recurred.

I wonder if the Post placed this editorial today deliberately because of the GOP debates tonight on CNN.  The candidates have talked about Paris-style attacks but said almost nothing about hardening infrastructures or identifying caches of nuclear waste. Maybe the candidates will see the editorial and realize they should comment on this.

The book about Taylor Wilson (the young man who built a small fusion reactor) talks a lot about security threats involving radioactive materials, especially in cargo.  I reviewed it on the Books blog yesterday.

Update: Dec. 16

In the debates, Donald Trump did mention nuclear materials as still the nation's most dangerous threat, and Rubio talked about the "nuclear triangle" in defense policy.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Climate change agreement text is getting published, and 1.5 got written on the Eiffel Tower


OK, here are two texts of the Climate Agreement from Paris.

One is the the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, proposal, dated Dec. 11, link here.

Another is at the BBC with an embedded pdf like Scribd with a slider pointer to see changes, link here.

The general result is that a 1.5 degree Celsius will be attempted, and that is even written on the Eiffel Tower.  But there is little consensus on how to enforce it.

We’re back to innovation, as to how to wean the entire developed world from fossil fuels.  It seems that we’re looking to our prodigies (like Taylor Wilson and Param Jarvi) to solve this problem for us, maybe with money from sources like Mark Zuckerberg or Peter Thiel.

Update: Dec. 15

Joby Warrick writes in the Washington Post, "How one word nearly killed the climate deal".  That is, "shall" instead of "should".  Remember verb conjugation in foreign language classes?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

NY Times op-ed: radical Islam seeks escape from "freedom's burden" of "personal choice and its dilemmas"


Roger Cohen has an article from the New York Times Magazine “Turning Points”, titled “The Evil that Cannot Be Left Unanswered”, link here.

Note the startling paragraph that starts with “Freedom is not for everyone.”  Then Cohen writes “the road to Raqqa is in many ways the road from freedom’s burden – from personal choice and its dilemmas to submission …” Indeed, freedom works only when people recognize their interdependence on others without being forced to.  I like the analogy, you pass the desert at a family dinner table just as you pass the spinach.

Cohen does talk about military policy comparatively. In 2001, after 9/11, the Bush administration would not tolerate a Taliban in “power” in areas of Afghanistan. The Obama administration tolerates the failed state of Syria, although the practicalities of doing otherwise may be much more complicated than what Bush faced.  And Bush went to war in Iraq apparently under the wrong assumptions about Saddam Hussein and WMD’s (I’m not so sure Bush and Powell were completely wrong) and when Obama pulled out, the power vacuum filled with evil (some of it left over from Saddam’s own military).

The idea of dealing with enemies – politically at a country level and personally if forced to – seems all to novel now, but people tend to forget all but the most recent history.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Mt. Sinjar in Iraq with USAID and Yazidi refugees (public domain from USAID.   A co-worker from back in 2002 when I was living in Minneapolis had a friend or relative living in Mosul, so the degrees of separation are small.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

In Liberia, cremation of bodies of Ebola victims causes ostracism for those who perform a public health function


Social culture in Liberia is ostracizing young men who performed the public health duties of cremating bodies of those who died of Ebola in 2014. Helene Cooper has a story in the New York Times on Wednesday, December 9, 2015 here.

Liberia is about 85% Christian.  Village culture views the burning of bodies (mentioned in Corinthians in Paul’s love chapter) as “erasing” the person, so the men who did what is necessary for public health are viewed as “erased”.

Cremation has been well-accepted in my own circles, and has been practiced in my own family.  I’ve never believed in making a big spectacle of the end of life.
 
What should happen if my own life were to end as a result of indignant or political violence is a sensitive issue with me, as I don’t think victimhood should be lauded.  But an end-of-life from a normal medical decline is not an issue.  But back in the 1980s, some people viewed death from AIDS as shameful.

In business, Liberia is significant because of its ship registry.  One of my employers in the 1990s owned a ship registry and someone was promoted to take over it, requiring travel to the country.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Montrovia, by Erik Hershman, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 2.0 license.

Monday, December 7, 2015

On Pearl Harbor Day, Donald Trump makes a very modest proposal worthy of Jonathan Swift


For the record, let’s reproduce President Obama’s 13-minute speech Sunday night from the Oval Office on the San Bernadino attack.



The president correctly pointed out that the attacks appear to have been intended to increase tension between all Muslims and all other Americans and to increase the tendency to scapegoat Muslims, so as to increase the propaganda effort for recruiting impressionable young men and women as “converts”.

Donald Trump plays right into ISIS’s hand by calling in the US to ban the entry of all Muslims into the IS (possibly even returning US citizens).  There are plenty of media accounts, like this on Vox.  Trump is willing to suspend the Constitution.

Here’s what the Daily Beast (Michael Weiss as Senior Editor) says.
 
There wasn’t very much constitutional principal when Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans, and today is the 74th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  My parents were on a train to Washington when they heard from passengers getting on at Philadelphia.

Picture: Manzanar, CA, near US 395, south of Bishop CA, my trip, 2012.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

China's renminbi will become a reserve currency, but this doesn't hurt the US dollar (contrary to speculation)


Keith Bradsher writes in the New York Times on Tuesday, December 1, 2015, that the IMF has designated China’s renminbi as a global currency, story here.

That should make the US stock market generally less reactive to China’s behavior, as happened late this summer.  The IMF action, according to a chart on p. B6, leaves the portion of market basket for reserve currencies held by the US dollar almost the same, but reduces the portion claimed by the euro.  This contradicts predictive claims by Porter Stansberry and Ron Paul that the dollar’s position in this basket would collapse.

Update: Jan. 3, 2016

Fareed Zakaria says that China's will be only the fifth in the marketbasket of drawable reserve currencies. The others are the dollar, the euro, the pound sterling and the yen. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Thomas Piketty argues that inequality is behind the rise of ISIS; Trump's shocking "modest proposal"


Thomas Piketty (“Capital”, Book Reviews blog, July 20, 2014), argues that inequality is driving the nihilism and barbarism of ISIS, according to a Washington Post story by Tim Tankersly today, linking to a a short article in the French newspaper “Le Monde”, “The All-Clear Is Not Enough”,, Post link here.

The inequality among countries in the middle east, and within their populations is obvious, even though Islam normally makes a lot of providing charity for the poor.

The problem may be that personal inequality makes others feel that there is no point in playing by the rules, and this may be what young men recruited from the West see.  Nevertheless, it’s practically impossible to imagine how any religious text in any faith could justify sexual slavery and barbarism. President Obama calls it “no ideology”.

At the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC Sunday, Dr. Stan Hastey spoke (“A Righteous Branch”) about the “no ideology” idea and then drew a difference between “justice” and “righteousness”.


Update: Dec 2

Media outlets are reporting that Donald Trump has said that US and its allies should go after "families" of terrorists.  Besides the obvious illegality and offensiveness of the idea, it would justify terrorist ideology that civilians are de factor combatants, whether they choose to be or not.  NBC's story is here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

ISIS attacks, combined with Russia-Turkey incident, creates the most tense environment since the Cold War


Time Magazine offers an alarmist print issue for Nov. 30, 2015, with a gray cover and a title “World War ISIS”, edited and largely written  by Donald Von Drehle.  There is an article on p. 60, “ISIS Will Strike America”, by Michael Morell, as part of a Forum, “What comes next, and how do we handle it?”  Most of the angry videos threatening America and other countries are very transparent (using old backgrounds, for example), whatever the hi-tech behind producing them.  Major media outlets should use great discretion in showing them. I remember that in October 2001, on a Sunday afternoon, after President George W. Bush announced military action in Afghanistan, the networks broadcast an “address” to the American people from Osama bin Laden.  This was unnecessary.  The threats do have a personal tone, and if it happens to “you”, then it is indeed personal.

I can understand the emotion behind the rhetoric of Trump and Carson, but it’s dangerous.

David Ignatius has an important column today Wednesday November 25, 2015, in the Washington Post, p. A15, “Trump’s Irresponsibility”, titled more bluntly online, “Donald Trump undermines our fight against the Islamic state” (it doesn’t deserve capitalization), here.

Today, Brussels re-opened its Metro and schools, probably having ruined some businesses for good.  The shutdown of this magnitude had not happened since World War II.  CNN has an editorial on the shutdown by Juliette Kayyem here.

Newsy mass emailed a link to a video explaining how low-winded the process of refugee settlement really is.

Given the volume of people, what makes the most sense to me is carving out as much safe space as possible in the Middle East itself, expecting more of other rich middle Eastern countries.  But that would mean putting troops on the ground, including US.  It could even revive talk of a draft, like we had after 9/11, and likely recalling the debate over Vietnam.  It certainly would make us wonder why we, in this era of western gender equality, have male-only Selective Service registration.
 
President Obama will address the nation on national security at 11:40 AM EST today, Wednesday.

Update: Thanksgiving Day:

Matthew Yglesias of Vox does an analysis of Marco Rubio's moderately hawkish plan for dealing woth ISIS, here

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gun control debate comes back in Europe, and some people point to Switzerland as a good example


There is an old petition from “Change.org” circulating on Facebook, protesting gun control in Europe, dating back to the Hebdo attacks in January 2015, link here.  The petition seems to import your email from Facebook.

It is obviously true that all the attacks in France (in January and recently on 11/13) were conducted with illegal arms and that gun control, if anything, hindered the ability to French citizens to protect themselves.

There is also a photo circulating making an odd comparison of Honduras to Switzerland (Facebook link ). The reference to Hippolyte is interesting.
 
Switzerland has mandatory military service for males and, in a sense, mandatory gun ownership, link here.  And right now, it seems quiet.

There is talk of requiring Visas for Europeans working in the US (not only in I,T., but also in film, and this can affect people whom I personally know.

And Brussels remains shut down early Sunday afternoon, in a manner that recalls Boston for at least one day in April 2013 (BBC story ) .

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Can individual sponsors overrule state bans on refugees with their own money? A provocative moral question


Today Indiana governor Mike Pence (R) created controversy by supporting Indiana’s suspension of a Syrian refugee’s family that had been vetted thoroughly three years ago.  CNN has a detailed story here.  The family was able to find supported housing in Connecticut. Today, Chris Cuomo (himself an attorney, and son of former New York Democratic governor) grilled Pence on why this family had to be punished for what terrorists did in France?  How would you feel if that was done to you, was the thrust of Cuomo’s questions.

USA Today has a story today about Syrian refugees in Florida, living under a new kind of fear, link here. Again, they were thoroughly vetted months to years ago.

One question comes to mind: what if a family in Indiana had “stepped up” and offered free housing and support to the Syrian family?  Could the family have stayed in Indiana?  Should this kind of sacrifice and risk be expected of individual Americans?  That idea, “radical hospitality”, has been the subject of some sermons at some area churches in recent years, including Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington. The implication of the question is that one person for family could be pressured to step in and save another whatever government policy.

No question, a major resettlement program would require working with NGO’s and faith-based organizations (like Catholic Charities) who would then need to be able to find volunteers and sponsors, which would not be easy in today’s world.  We will need a lot more facts about how effective the background investigations are, and more answers as to whether more resettlement could not happen in secure zones in the Middle East (with more support from richer countries like UAE and Saudi Arabia).  So this call for “radical hospitality” on a personal level may not happen soon.
 
Ben Carson created controversy today with his “rabid dogs” metaphor. Donald Trump “commented” on the Syrians showing up in Central America.  Trump even proposed an unconstitutional “Muslim database”.

The GOP-controlled House passed a bill requiring a high government official to personally vouch for every refugee, in a bill that echoes the Kim Davis situation in Kentucky over same-sex marriages.
LGBT refugees from Russia (and Nigeria and other countries) could still provide troubling questions about support.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Romney brings up old chestnut in talking about Syrian refugee crisis after attacks last week


The GOP presidential nominee in 2012 and former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney (generally fairly moderate, whatever his own LDS religious background) has a strongly worded op-ed in the Washington Post Monday, November 16, 2015, “Obama must wage war on the Islamic state, not merely harass it,” link here.
   
All of this is being said while there is strong evidence but not necessarily absolute proof of ISIS’s backing of the Russian plane crash in Egypt, an attack in Beirut Thursday (almost unnoticed, although a little-known but hard-hitting documentary film about Beirut had been shown in NYC the previous Sunday) and then the nihilist carnage (in the style of James Holmes in Colorado in 2012) in Paris Friday.  It’s just possible that it could have been plotted by other elements (closer, say, to Yemen).  But it won’t be long before French and Belgian police (and Russians, and US intelligence) have all the proof sorted out. It seems as if the whole world is the enemy of ISIS.  An Atlantic article in February (2015/2/15 here) had suggested that the group wants to throw the entire world back to the 7th Century so that the end of times comes.  It’s an odd “schizotypal” belief, that seems a stretch to draw out of any scriptures (and make no sense to modern science, where it can sometimes join with religion).  Religious faith is important, but it is personal.  It’s hard to see people believing things just because those in authority told them to.  But that’s world history.

France has “gone in” in the past 24 hours, and the US and allies had been conducting raids already. But the president may have courted disaster when saying that somehow ISIS was contained – in its “home park” so to speak, but not on the road.  I do think that the media outlets should refrain from playing the threatening video reported (as by Reuters and WJLA) to have surfaced (and probably available for someone who wants to hunt for it).  The obligations of all other NATO countries were mentioned here yesterday. They could affect average citizens in many western places besides France.

Gov. Romney says that western countries, at least the US, should not take in young single male Syrian refugees at all.  He might be willing to screen the elderly, women and children (married men with families, he leaves that unclear).  But to me this is noteworthy, because Romney seems to fall back to the idea that we inherit obligations to others merely by biological gender whether we like it or not.  This country still requires young men (18-25) to register for Selective Service, but not women.  In the early 1960s, President Kennedy wanted to exempt married men and then fathers from the draft, but that got pared down to the socially divisive student deferments, that I could take advantage of in the 1960s.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

France says it is at war; Americans offer "radical hospitality" to stranded travelers from France; FPRI charts likely responsibility


This morning, the French president Francois Hollande said that France is in a state of war (in fact, he says ISIL has declared war on France, which I don't know to be legally possible with an unrecognized state), after the attack by gunmen in at least six locations, apparently driven by ISIS, as is claimed but far from proven. CNN reports in a cover story that ISIS claims responsibility. CNN’s coverage (and possibly Fox’s) is the most “alarmist”; Vox is a bit more cautious, with the other broadcast networks in the middle and letting their regular programs continue.

Pope Francis called this the start of World War III. Paris will have three days of mourning, with all businesses closed.

Today there is another raid in Belgium.

There was a Facebook post by NBC News “Stranded in US”, about people offering spare rooms for travelers from France stranded in the IS, story here (with video).  Is this an example of “radical hospitality”?

You can check with friends in Europe with Facebook Safety Check.



In the Vox video above, Ezra Klein gives a short history of ISIS.  Our own president certainly got it wrong by saying ISIS is contained (well, it is somewhat in Iraq right now).

One of the most disturbing parts of the story is the claims that Muslim young men (mostly disaffected, in European “slums” and sometimes in the US) are quickly radicalized on social media.  That could lead to calls (at least in Europe) to shut down social media (especially Twitter, which is supposedly losing money anyway) as an indirect but existential security risk for some people.  However, this particular attack seems to be well coordinated, and not simply staged by ragtag recruits, and has elements of both Al Qaeda and ISIS.   But the volume of young men who have actually gone to Syria to “fight” and then tried to return (often with forged passports, and certainly without visas) does seem shocking to a “privileged” westerner.   The moral rhetoric reminds me of the early days of Bolshevism (even if the latter was not religious). The Foreign Policy Research has an interesting chart on a blog post yesterday, here.  The visitor might want to look at the posting Feb. 15, 2015, where there is a link to Gaeme Wood's big Atlantic essay.  Clint Watts, a Fox Fellow at FPRI, has some narrative analysis here.

There were new reports early Sunday that one of the attackers found dead at the stadium has "snuck in" as a "Syrian refugee".  That can certainly dampen the call for countries. including the US, to accept more refugees or eventually personally sponsor them.  And there is talk that France with go to NATO (under Article 5) with a war declaration and ask all the other nations (the US) to be included "in" the declaration. It is not clear if this could have legal consequences within the US (like Internet use or surveillance), as well as the possibility of US participation in ground intervention in Syria (which the "enemy" seems to want to provoke anyway).

The photos are mine, from Las Vegas (2012).

Update: Nov. 17

Zack Beauchamp has an important piece on Vox, "Turning back Syrian refugees isn't just wrong, it actually helps ISIS", here.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Paris attacks shut down city; ambiguity of targets is the biggest concern for analysts now.



I had settled into a seat at a theater in northern Virginia to watch “Trumbo” and glanced at my smartphone to silence it, and I saw the first message about the attacks in Paris, on Friday, November 13, 2015 at about 11 PM local time. As of 4 AM local time, 4 or 5 of the attackers had been shot, but it was thought that probably over 20 were still at large.

After the film, there was not much awareness in the large crowds of what was going on.

Getting home, I find continuous coverage of the “Bloodbath” on CNN’s page on AC360.  Vox has a constructive article on how this event should be viewed in light of the refugee crisis, here.  Major broadcast networks continued their normal programs on Friday night in the US (which surprised me). NBC Datelines at 10 PM ET covered the attacks.

I do know a few people in Europe.  I won’t mention any more details here, but some have commented on social media already, but others haven’t.  I’ll keep checking.

Some commentators have compared this to Mumbai in 2008, in the way it was carried out.

But what seems most striking is the ambiguity of the locations affected.  Terrorism analysts have already noted this. It is true, sports events have been targets before (Munich in 1972), as have concerts (as with an incident in Russia in 2003 as I recall) or bars and restaurants (in Indonesia in 2002).  Instead of picking targets for direct or even associative political or religious messages, the point seems to be that there is no point, or that almost anyone can be a target or some convenient reason of the attacker’s whim.  This sounds like nihilism.  But the whole country of France is shut down at least through Saturday, so the attackers have, in a sense, started a war on civilians.  Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” (Books blog, Nov. 9) gets into the psychology of this toward the end.

Conservatives will make something of the gun control issue.  European countries have strict gun control for ordinary citizens, and that didn’t help here.

There is the issue of the large number of sympathizers of radical Islam arriving in Europe.  There is also the issue of the “misuse” of social media (most of all Twitter) which will get blame.  But the barbarism and nihilism connect issues like inequality and personal insularity (and even lack of resilience), which seem to leave a lot of young men in some parts of the world with a sense of meaningless when they see it.

But as a foreign policy issue, all of this seems like the result of the policy of Bush and Obama in Iraq and, less directly, Syria.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

India, China can lose out on climate change pressures; Russia and China both fight future population loss


The New York Times has reported concerns that both India and China seem likely to increase carbon dioxide emissions as they seek to provide electricity and raise the standard of living to more of their large rural areas.  For example, Edward Wong writes about coal-fired plants here.

All of this runs counter to what is in the latest National Geographic Magazine issue, “Cool It”, which I will review soon in my Books blog.

And in the latest Time Magazine, Latanya Mapp Frett writes “The end of China’s one-child policy isn’t enough”, here. The one-child policy did help China raise its standard of living for many people.  But once women become more economically independent, she writes, they tend to want to have fewer children, in any country, even authoritarian ones.  This is relevant to Russia, where Vladimir Putin seems to blame gay men and lesbians for low birth rates.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Russia contemplates draconian "Don't Tell" anti-gay law, even as if to use homosexuality as a proxy for differences with the West


The Russian parliament is considering expanding its DADT “Don’t Tell” idea in civilian life to expanding its anti-gay law to cover all public statements about homosexuality, as reported in Britain today here. The law would ban “Public expression of unconventional sexual relationships, as explained here by a Russian lawmaker (use Google Chrome translate).

The support for the law seems to come from remnant communist and Soviet elements.  As I noted in a post Sunday, this sort of thinking seems like a double-negative to a western person.  It sounds as though politicians and many ordinary Russians (and similarly in many other authoritarian countries) believe that young adults will be persuaded not to have families, and Russia has a serious population dearth.  But this way of thinking seems to have little faith in any human urge to reproduce and provide future generations.

Gay politics is even effecting a bill to ease visa restriction for travel between Ukraine and the rest of the EU, here, as the country gets drawn back into the Russian orbit (story).

It seems as though Russia, and some of the former Soviet republics, are getting caught in a bind that sees homosexuality as a proxy for big cultural differences (regarding the relationship of the individual to the family and then larger society) between West and East.  But it’s an artifice that fails at a certain intellectual level.  No doubt, Russia got another rude shock this week that it shares common security concerns with the west, given that it was its citizens (not the West) that may have been targeted with the Egyptian plane crash that is looking deliberate now.



I’ve embedded a short film (“The Terrifying Reality of Life Under Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws”) from YouTube about life under Russia’s anti-gay law.  In February 2014 I reviewed “Dispatched” and “Moscow Is Burning” on my TV blog about the issue.

Monday, November 2, 2015

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church holds vigils, offers reports


At the (first Sunday, All Saints Day) potluck for the First Baptist Church for the City of Washington DC Sunday, there were handouts “The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church 2015” (link), with sheets for Iran, Iraq, Syria and the general area of the Middle East and North Africa.

There was also a handout describing a mission in Liberia (near the Ebola crisis) , the Mt. Galiliee Baptist Church in Careysburg, set up by the Dennis, Jackson and Richardson families.  It is not expected that it is practical for Americans to be able to go and visit or volunteer very easily.

FBC has participated in a summer mission in Nacascolo, Nircaragua in the past.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bloggers in authoritarian countries face both legal and physical threats, with the possibility of exportation


CNN has published several pieces recently about the dangers that bloggers face in authoritarian parts of the world, whether the “rule of law” is respected or not.

The most important piece seems to be an older one by Bob Dietz from April 1, 2015, link here.

In several countries, ranging from China to Malaysia even to Singapore (which, however authoritarian as Zakaria has pointed out, is more progressive in many areas) writers have been prosecuted or fined by the legal system for making criticisms of government or corporate operations that would be normal speech in western countries.  Several independent films have been made about the problems in China.

And in many other countries, most of them influenced by radical Islam, bloggers have been physically attacked (with the worst cases recently in Bangladesh as well as ISIS areas).  And some reports have a few writers in western countries being on so-far-unpublished “hit lists”.

This recalls the “fatwa” in the past against Salman Rushdie, even when he was living in Britain.  It also recalls the Hebdo shootings and the cartoon controversy, even in the US (with Pamela Geller and previously Molly Norris).

A western person would turn the question around.  If a government (or religious figure) cannot tolerate the presence of critical speech, doesn’t that give credibility to the speaker and spread the speaker’s message (possibly posthumously)?

In western societies, that is largely true.  Writers with unwelcome (or morally offensive, by current standards) content are often largely ignored and don’t become targets or controversial.

In non-democratic societies, there are usually fewer visible amateur speakers on the Internet (as there would have been none in print).  So those speakers that do show up may be more noticed, which could give political or religious leaders more reason to feel the possibility of loss of power or control.  Authoritarian leaders (especially those connected to fundamentalist religious ideas) may be less “rational” in terms of western standards of reasonable behavior and react to unwelcome speech with paranoia in a way that mental health people would call schizotypal.  But authoritarian systems also make more of the idea of personal “right-sizing” and discipline as a critical part of making their societies “stable” (and of course they often abuse this idea).  It does not matter, in this view, if the speaker’s content has real value;  the speaker has no right to a voice anyway until he (or she – often in a patriarchal context) comports with the social structure imposed from above.

This sort of thinking does sometimes affect speakers in the west.  The idea that one, if standing out and being noticed, could bring harm not only upon himself but upon other family members or those connected to the person, is something that an enemy overseas could try to exploit, even if this has happened very little so far.  Even in my own situation, with the eldercare situation I had for a number of years, I started feeling conscious of this idea, however remote, after 9/11, even though I had never really considered it in the 1990s when I wrote my first book.

The New York Times has a related story on the execution of a 17-year-old in Saudi Arabia for participation in protests and then beheading and "crucifixion".  There was even an online petition about this.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Could Russia cut off US Internet overseas as act of war?


CNN now has a provocative story suggesting that Russia (or China) could wage war on the US by cutting trans-oceanic Internet cables, with the CNN story by Douglas Rushkoff.

Of course, that would make it difficult for Russian or Chinese hackers to disrupt infrastructure in the US, a threat recently getting attention because of Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out”, which I will read soon.  Maybe Sony would never have been hacked.  Well, that is, unless foreign agents came to our shores and played saboteur, Hitchcock-style, in our own workplaces.

Maybe 20% of my own traffic comes across an ocean from overseas (is not confined to the Western Hemisphere).  Despite being banned, my legacy sites do have traffic from places like China and Saudi Arabia

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A primer on Nationalist China, and more on recent hostilities with the People's Republic of Capitalism


Saturday, near the Newseum in Washington DC, as I was leaving an exhibit on broadcast news reporting of the Vietnam war (TV blog, Oct 24), I encountered a father explaining the status of Taiwan, or the Republic of China (ROC) to his son.  In earlier times we called it “Nationalist China” or even “Formosa”.

The People’s Republic of China will not maintain diplomatic relations with any country that recognized ROC.  That resulted in RIC’s expulsion not only from the UN Security Council but also the entire UN in 1971, an event often forgotten.  All of this is explained in a Wikipedia article here.

There were skirmishes around this issue early in the Bush administration in 2001, long before 9/11.  (I even recall the issue of foot and mouth disease at airports and on shoes. How little did we know our sensibilities would change.)

There’s a similar dispute now about a US warship in the South China sea, CNN story with video here. The US says that the artificial islands built by China don’t “count”.  What about some artificial islands near Dubai, all to be submerged someday by rising sea levels?  Trump is right: China is not our "friend".

Nevertheless, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech in Chinese at Tsinghua University in Beijing. It's a good question as to whether it's good to expect people to do business with a society hostile to our kind of individualism.
 
Wikipedia attribution link for P.D. NASA image of Tapei, link. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

NY Times provides map showing gradual resettlement of Syrian refugees within the US


The New York Times has a “map study” showing where Syrian refugees have resettled in the United States.  So far the total is 1854, compared to 92991 in Germany. Most are settled in communities where there are other Syrian refugees, or where they have relatives.  Refugees are expected to become self-sufficient in a year. There are nine agencies which supervise the resettlement (including volunteers).

By comparison, the US took in 120,000 during the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, which actually resulted in churches in southern states trying to find individual sponsors to house them.
 
Picture: Syria, VA, near the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 100 miles from Washington DC and a completely different world.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cuba's long time aversion to the Internet; China tracks down dissident family members across borders


Vox has an article tracing the very slow growth of Cuba’s Internet, where only about 5% of people have access, and where there are thirty-something hotspots on the whole island.  The link is here.

Outside of North Korea, Cuba has been one of the world’s most repressive countries, on the theory that that having information should be a social or political privilege.

In the mean time, China has demonstrated it will cross international borders to bully family members of dissidents, as shown in this story  about a kidnapping in Myanmar.

Friday, October 16, 2015

CNN reports ISIS trying to hack US power grid


CNN Money led off Friday morning with an alarming story, “ISIS is attacking the US Energy Grid”, link here

The story says they are “terrible at it”, and features a video describing the Bloom Box, which helps distribute power locally through fuel cells.  NASA has considered the idea for space travel, and the devices are being tried in California. Bloom has yet to go public. 
  
But, to get back to the scare story,  it simply should not be possible for a hacker, all the more overseas or any disaffected domestic person, to get to the power grid, or to any electric utilities control systems,  from his computer.  

The New York Times added to this narrative Saturday, here.  Will there be a cyber Pearl Harbor?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Political violence in Jerusalem gets "personal", something that happens more often than we admit


A CNN op-ed  by Alan Elsner points out a terrifying reality of the recent street violence in Jerusalem:  it’s simply personal now.  He writes: “It’s almost as if Palestinians are sending Israelis a message: If we are suffering, we want to make sure that you suffer to.”

It’s a mindset that reminds me of how some of the military draft and deferment system (and even Special Training Company during Basic) during the Vietnam era used to work:  If I’m exposed to the risk of maiming, disfigurement and sacrifice, so should you. To avoid it was “cowardice,” a word we don’t use that way much today. 

I wonder if some street violence in US cities isn’t motivated by the same animus.  When some people see others “getting out of things” that they had to deal with, they may see these potential victims as having it coming to them, as living off their sacrifices.  But it was somewhat that kind of thinking that drove so much of the violence in the early to mid 20th Century, from Bolshevism to Nazi Germany. 

But for one’s life to end that way is particularly ugly.  It almost makes the idea of a memorial service an afterthought, and perhaps unwelcome.  

Pictures: from recent S.C. trip 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New York Times gives detailed story of Syrian refugee family settled in northern New Jersey


The New York Times today has a detailed story by Liz Robbins about the life of a Syrian refugee family placed in Jersey City, link here.

Relatively few refugees can be placed in major coastal cities like New York or Washington because of high housing costs.  But the article explains how the family was screened, and how groups like the International Rescue Committee and Church World Group have formed partnerships with government.

Financial aid is provided for a limited period, during which time the refugee parents (at least one of them) needs to find work.  Many factors are considered in allowing someone in, including the availability of relatives, and sometimes sexual orientation.

The underlying question is whether an increase in refugees would require getting organizations to find more potential volunteer sponsors.  Nobody wants to talk about this yet, but it could become a theme in 2016.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Public relations firms ask for interviews; right now, I can pass along he links


I got an email regarding an interview request for Christal M. Jackson, head of the charity “Head and Heart Philanthropy”, link here. This is a social impact agency emphasizing “communities of color”, and seems to mentor social value entrepreneurs.

I’m not really set up for interviews requested by public relations, I am beginning to wonder if I could set myself up better to do this in 2016.  In the meantime, I can pass along the link.
  
If big-time organized efforts to help resettling refugees (now from Syria or Central America) becomes a priority in 2016, could an organization like this play a role?  It seems to work at various levels and form its own little seed activities. 

 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Activist try to counter ISIS abuse of social media; encrypted terror threats may be impossible for law enforcement to detect now


Simon Cotte has a rather interesting article in The Atlantic, Oct. 8, 2015, about a “volunteer” anti-ISIS activist nicknamed Mikro, somewhere probably in eastern Europe (maybe a former Soviet republic) who helps Twitter blacklist suspect accounts.  It’s not clear how he gets paid (ask that about Snowden, too), or whether innocents could get misidentified.  The link to the story is here.
  
And NBC News reports FBI director James Comey as saying that “dozens” in the US are in encrypted communication with ISIS, and currently US intelligence or law enforcement is unable to monitor them.

 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The US has effectively outsourced the Central American refugee problem to Mexico


Sonia Nazaro has a disturbing front-page article in the New York Times Sunday, “The Refugees at our Door: We’re paying Mexico to keep people from reaching our border, people fleeing violence in Central America”, link here (big illustration online).

The article goes on to say we’ve essentially “outsourced” the  Central American refugee problem to Mexico (the biggest problem country is El Salvador, but it may even include Guyana; more about that another time).  The film "The Golden Dream" (Movies blog, Sept. 15) presents this problem in docudrama. 
  
The article says we need to cooperate with other countries on this just as Europe does now with Syrians.  American charities would have to go a long way (with Catholic Charities leading now).

  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Doctors Without Borders creates controversy with its own characterization of the mistaken attack that killed 22 people in Afghanistan

   
Doctors Without Borders has a statement on its website calling for an independent fact-finding investigation, after colleagues were killed in US air strikes at Kunduz, Afghanistan, link here, which hit one of the organization’s facilities, killing 22 people.


But the Obama administration has issued a rare apology, after press reports indicated that Doctors Without Borders had called the raids a “war crime”, 

I’ve even heard that people are reducing discretionary giving to DAB because of the war crime language.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

AP reports FBI sting intercepted Russian criminal plot to sell nuclear waste to possible terrorists


The AP reports that the FBI has broken up several attempts in eastern Europe (Moldova) by Russian criminals to acquire and then sell radioactive materials, possibly to ISIS or other Islamic extremists, possibly to make “dirty bombs” in western cities.  The material seemed to be cesium, enough to contaminate several city blocks.


The Huffington Post maintains that the Russian smugglers tried to sell directly to ISIS, but the FBI plays down identifying any particular Muslim group, here

AP’s own Bigstory link for the reporting of Desmond Butler  and Vadim Ghirda is here

ABC is also reporting that Russia stopped cooperating with the US on rounding up loose nuclear materials around Jan 1 because of tensions over Ukraine.

I'll give a link to the most recent report I find at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (Sam Nunn), on civilian HEU overseas, here. The  NTI will surely have more to say about this story soon. 

The main damage to an area would be economic.  Homeowner’s insurance would not cover radiation damage to the value of the property, putting the indemnification risk back on the government and politicians in Congress or any affected country’s legislature.

In 2002, the Bush administration arrested one suspect, Jose Padilla, and held him in a Navy brig (Time account ).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Fascism may be getting traction in Greece


Another ominous sign, in a story in the New York Times by Matthaios Tsimtakis, “Greece’s fascists are gaining”, link here.  
   
So history repeats itself.  Greece’s financial crisis and hardships, and now the refugee crisis, and Islamophobia.
  
What this shows is that down the road, it can lead to pressure on ordinary citizens (eventually even possibly to personally house or sponsor refugees) because of the complex political motives behind the policies of their governments.  But at a personal level, this becomes a moral issue.

  
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of world's first computer from ancient Greece, by Marsyas, under Creative Commons 2.5 generic license. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Bullying attacks free speech from ordinary secular bloggers in India


Sonia Faleiro has a sobering article in the New York Times on the erosion of free speech in India by intimidation, link here
  
Forces trying to make India into a religious country, Hindu, have been “blamed”. But what seems notable that rather obscure bloggers, who might not normally have reasonably been on a radar screen for their readership volumes, have been attacked and some have self-censored. The government seems rather unconcerned. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Germany finding housing the refugees overwhelming; Obama, Putin stalemate over Syria


Various states in Germany have lowered their standards for housing refugees, according to this story in the UK Globe and Mail, link here.

So far, refugees are being housed in barracks in remote locations, not affecting ordinary German citizens.  But as the crisis continues, the “spare bedroom” idea is bound to come up, it seems.
In some areas, there are attempts to separate Christian and Muslim refugees.

Note the terms "migrant" and "refugee" are different'; the former term includes more people. 
    
In the meantime, President Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin still agree to disagree on what to do about Syria.  The short term practical reality is that Russian presence could stabilize some areas.  The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.

Update: Sept 30

Donald Trump said today that if he wins the 2016 election, he'll send the Syrian refugees home, and his own choir audience cheered. Here's the Reuters story.  But earlier he had said the US should take in some Syrian refugees. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Petition circulated over planned execution in Saudi Arabia


I don’t know how effective this is, but there is a group called Avaaz that sponsors petitions.  There is a protest against the planned public execution in Saudi Arabia for a man under 18 for participating in public demonstrations, link here

What would be interesting is to know how much influence the US has on authoritarian (Muslim) countries with which it has reasonable relations.