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.