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 “” 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.