Monday, March 31, 2008

Demonstrations Against China's Tibet Policy Spread to Nepal, Police Attack Demonstrators

Demonstrations against Chinese rule in Tibet turned violent in Nepal's capital Kathmandu, yesterday, as police wielded bamboo clubs and beat demonstrators, including Buddhist monks and nuns. The UN has said Nepal's harsh clampdown on Tibetan demonstrators violates international human rights law, including the right to peaceful assembly, as embodied in treaties signed by Nepal.

Demonstrations that began in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, more nearly 3 weeks ago have now spread to neighboring provinces in China, and into Nepal and India. The Kathmandu clashes came as large crowds accusing China of human rights abuses in Tibet tried to approach the Chinese embassy grounds.

The occasion of the Olympic torch officially passing from Greece to China today also drew more demonstrations. Ceremonies were disrupted last week, and again today, and China is now wrestling with what some observers are describing as a "PR nightmare" for which the Beijing government may be ill-equipped, as it uses force to crush the protests.

Speculation both from official sources and from journalists says Tibet may find itself under near total "military lockdown" during the run-up to the Olympic games, and during the games as well. Foreign journalists have been banned from Tibet, and reports of violence against demonstrators or killings at the hands of security forces have been difficult to confirm.

The UK's Independent newspaper reports that one Tibetan exile, who fled under dangerous conditions 11 years ago, has now returned to film in secret "the stories of torture, murder and forced sterilisation that China does not want the world to hear". Some reports shown in documentaries on British television are highly disturbing, including one video shot by western climbers in 2006, allegedly showing "a line of refugees plodding through the snow, with some of their number suddenly picked off by bullets fired by the Chinese soldiers behind them".

According to the Independent, Tibet, which covers an area roughly the size of western Europe, is under de facto military occupation, with "an estimated one Chinese soldier for every 20 Tibetans – as opposed to one soldier per 1,400 Chinese citizens."

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) notes that "When the International Olympic Committee assigned the 2008 summer Olympic Games to Beijing on 13 July 2001, the Chinese police were intensifying a crackdown on subversive elements, including Internet users and journalists. Six years later, nothing has changed."

The media freedoms watchdog group adds that:
Now, a year before the opening ceremony, it is clear the Chinese government still sees the media and Internet as strategic sectors that cannot be left to the “hostile forces” denounced by President Hu Jintao. The departments of propaganda and public security and the cyber-police, all conservative bastions, implement censorship with scrupulous care.

China is now facing what many view as a crucial moment in its political history. It is planning to "take its place on the world stage" by hosting the Olympics this year, but still needs to grapple with the tension between staunch traditional nationalism, and the pressures placed on its regime by the views of the international community.

Governments around the world, including US president George W. Bush, have called on Beijing to use "restraint" in Tibet, to lift its freeze on foreign reporting from the region, and to hold talks with the Dalai Lama. The fact that official violence against demonstrators has now also spread to other nations is making the Tibet problem even more visible, which means Beijing's efforts to hide it from the eyes of the world may be in vain.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Price of Rice Doubles on World Markets, Undermining Asian Stability

Rice is a basic food staple for nearly half the world's population. The world's two most populous nations, China and India, depend heavily on the grain for basic sustenance, and for economic stability. The price of rice has doulbed in the last 3 months, causing concern about potential for conflict along Asian border regions.

The Philippine president has ordered government agents to investigate potential "hoarders", seeking to either cash in on rising prices or protect themselves against the instability that could result from prolonged scarcity. The causes of this scarcity are complex, tied to environmental trends, rapidly expanding population, elevated living standards, poor water-use planning and the loss of arable land.

The New York Times is reporting that
Shortages and high prices for all kinds of food have caused tensions and even violence around the world in recent months. Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

Food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. But the moves by rice-exporting nations over the last two days — meant to ensure scarce supplies will meet domestic needs — drove prices on the world market even higher this week.

Even agricultural powerhouses like the United States may find themselves impacted by the price increase. The US is already facing down impending recession, and prices have been exploding in food, healthcare and transport, while the overall economy slows to zero growth.

But poor nations with chronic food scarcity will likely be hardest hit. Asia's major rice exporters are limiting or freezing exports, putting rice-poor importers at risk of severe scarcity. Many African nations are struggling with issues of agricultural productivity or economic instability, and cannot easily afford to replace vanishing imports with locally produced grains.

One potential stress on populous Asian nations, which also harbor some of the world's poorest communities, is the risk of mass migration. Failure to generate a sustainable flow of basic food, entire communities can be forced to flee their homes in search of survival. In any environment, this is a stress on local economies; when scarcity is a regional or even global problem, weak economies or political structures can collapse.

OneWorld reports that the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) has found, in its most recent report that "Due to absence of rural infrastructure, incomplete land reforms and limited alternative income generating activities, agriculture productivity has declined", and that an agricultural "revolution" is needed to reverse trends that have impoverished 218 million people.

Nuclear Material Found in Andes Sign of Proliferation Threat

Reports out of Colombia cite government sources saying the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) acquired uranium on the black market. Colombian authorities claim to have recoverd 66 pounds of uranium. The radioactive material, which in some forms can fuel to a nuclear device, was said to have been recovered after information on 3 laptops seized led authorities to it.

Colombian officials had said previously that they suspected the FARC were trying to acquire nuclear material in order to make a radioactive "dirty bomb", but that has yet to be confirmed. According to reports about the actual find, the material may have been purchased for resale, as a means of generating revenue or aiding other militant groups.

The Seattle Times reports:
The two uranium chunks found Wednesday were described by Colombia's military chief as "impoverished." Only uranium enriched through processing - something most countries, including Colombia, are not equipped to do - can be used to make nuclear weapons or power reactors, scientists say.

While independent confirmation of the recovered material or its origin is not available, the meaning of loose nuclear material traveling through the Andean region on the black market, is a sign of the real risks of proliferation. It is not merely international conflict or state-funded arms races that promote nuclear proliferation; there is also the element tied to the financial interests of smaller players, some of whom may be involved in armed conflict with their nation's government.

This is a wildly different vision of the WMD threat from what was professed so voluminously in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003. "Rogue states" seeking nuclear material from established market providers is a much lower threat, due to the level of oversight, international regulation and foreign management of the resources. The Andean material hints at a network of vendors not answering to governments or to regulatory regimes.

Whether or not this material was intended to be used in a "dirty bomb", or for resale to a shadowy entity seeking to do research, its being loose is itself a threat to public safety, and a sign of ineffectual international regulation. Whether or not Colombia will be able to determine the actual origin of the seized uranium, these reports raise the question as to what sort of diplomatic initiatives would best work to curb the spread of catalytic nuclear materials.

WISE Uranium reports that at least 4 different corporations are conducting new uranium mining exploration projects inside Colombia. So, Colombia itself is a possible source for the materials.

Policy approaches to such incidents must balance the temptation to forceful or coercive responses with a genuine examination of the root causes and the actual security flaws. Overreaching will only worsen the problem. At present, the FARC is reported to refute the authenticity of the laptops, saying they could not have survived Colombia's bombardment of their camp.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Moving Down the Food Chain

Lester Brown's latest book is on sale in bookstores and at, and can be read in full online there, free of charge.EXCERPT FROM PLAN B 3.0, CH. 9: "FEEDING 8 BILLION WELL"

Lester Brown, EPI :: One of the questions I am most often asked is, “How many peo-ple can the earth support?” I answer with another question: “Atwhat level of food consumption?” Using round numbers, at theU.S. level of 800 kilograms of grain per person annually for food and feed, the 2-billion-ton annual world harvest of grain would support 2.5 billion people. At the Italian level of consumption of close to 400 kilograms, the current harvest would support 5 billion people. At the 200 kilograms of grain consumed by the average Indian, it would support a population of 10 billion.

In every society where incomes rise, people move up the food chain, eating more animal protein as beef, pork, poultry, milk, eggs, and seafood. The mix of animal products varies with geography and culture, but the shift to more livestock products as purchasing power increases appears to be universal. As consumption of livestock products, poultry, and farmed fish rises, grain use per person also rises. Of the roughly 800 kilograms of grain consumed per person each year in the United States, about 100 kilograms is eaten directly as bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals, while the bulk of the grain is consumed indirectly in the form of livestock and poultry products. By contrast, in India, where people consume just under 200 kilograms of grain per year, or roughly a pound per day, nearly all grain is eaten directly to satisfy basic food energy needs. Little is available for conversion into livestock products.

Of the three countries just cited, life expectancy is highest in Italy even though U.S. medical expenditures per person are much higher. People who live very low or very high on the food chain do not live as long as those in an intermediate position. Those consuming a Mediterranean type diet that includes meat, cheese, and seafood, but all in moderation, are healthier and live longer. People living high on the food chain, such as Americans or Canadians, can improve their health by moving down the food chain. For those who live in low-income countries like India, where a starchy staple such as rice can supply 60 percent or more of total caloric intake, eating more protein-rich foods can improve health and raise life expectancy.

In agriculture we often look at how climate affects the food supply but not at how what we eat affects climate. While we understand rather well the link between climate change and the fuel efficiency of the cars we buy, we do not have a comparable understanding of the climate effect of various dietary options. Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin of the University of Chicago have addressed this issue. They begin by noting that the energy used in the food economy to provide the typical American diet and that used for personal transportation are roughly the same. In fact, the range between the more and less carbon-intensive transportation options and dietary options is each about 4 to 1. With cars, the Toyota Prius, a gas-electric hybrid, uses scarcely one fourth as much fuel as a Chevrolet Suburban SUV. Similarly with diets, a plant-based diet requires roughly one fourth as much energy as a diet rich in red meat. Shifting from a diet rich in red meat to a plant-based diet cuts greenhouse gas emissions as much as shifting from a Suburban SUV to a Prius.

The inclusion of soybean meal in feed rations to convert grain into animal protein more efficiently, the shift by consumers to more grain-efficient forms of animal protein, and the movement of consumers down the food chain all can help reduce the demand for land, water, and fertilizer. This reduces carbon emissions and thus helps to stabilize climate as well.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


As part of the Crisis Policy Forum, the HotSpring collaborative innovation initiative is now planning an effort to tackle the problem of food supply management and chronic food and water scarcity in Africa. The lessons from this experiment in collaborative research will be applicable in many cases to other situations around the world, and we are open to spurring dialogue in those areas as outgrowths of this ongoing discussion.

Among the basic problems we now face, as a species, is the confluence of difficulties in providing reliable clean drinking water reserves, a viable and sustainable food web, by way of an integrated agricultural and distribution ecosystem, economic stability and cohesive political engagement within a defensible political framework.

Ethnic rivalries, resource-focused regional proxy wars, like the massive decade-long tragedy in DR Congo (in which as many as 14 states played a role), and political manipulations and their fallout, as we have seen in Kenya this winter, threaten to further undermine production and distribution systems.

Add to such conflicts the tens of millions of fatal cases of HIV infection, and we have a crisis of historic proportions where mass peril will drive political structures, borders and aspirations on an unprecedented scale. Small-scale logical enhancements to political and economic stability, democratization and integrated decentralization of administrative resources, are needed to reduce risk of mass starvation and heal mounting tensions.

Discussion is now open: please comment below. We would like to focus on practical solutions to:
  1. Problems related to infusing food supply with enough to feed all those in need;
  2. Environmental degradation: i.e. resilience services, ecological measures, ecosystem management;
  3. Land use deficiencies: how to improve;
  4. Animal and timber poaching;
  5. Economic corrosion and instability;
  6. Corruption and funding shortfalls;
  7. Cooperative measures for extending food supply to conflict-afflicted areas;
  8. Overcoming limits of transportation infrastructure;
  9. Contagious disease: treatment, education, socio-economic impact;
  10. Communications gaps: get relevant anecdotal and researched data to those who can use it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tibet Crisis Deepens, Chinese State Media Say "Crush" Protesters

The Chinese government's military crackdown on demonstrators in Tibet and in neighboring Chinese provinces has been intense, though foreign media have been unable to confirm reports of mounting death tolls. In Sichuan province, there are allegations of 23 killed by security forces in one incident, including a 16-year-old. Reports of mounting fear among civilians in Tibet and Sichuan have become common in recent days.

Despite early official reports from Chinese state-run media claiming that protests were limited to radicals in the capital, they have in fact spread across Tibet and well into China. According to the Sunday Times:
[T]he violence reached right into the centre of Chengdu, a city of 11m, where nerves were on edge last week. In scenes not witnessed in a Chinese city since 1989, troops in battledress joined black-uniformed special police in clamping a cordon around the Tibetan quarter.

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has condemned the military assault on civilians, calling the situation "a challenge to the conscience of the world". She also said "If freedom loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China's oppression in China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world".

While Tibet's independence struggle is political and cultural, linked to the Chinese invasion 60 years ago (political in resisting occupation, cultural in resisting what Tibetan Buddhists believe is Beijing's intention to eliminate its religious traditions), the planned mass migration of ethnic Han Chinese into the agrarian mountain region has caused an escalation in interethnic tensions, and resentment among Tibetans who say economic growth and educational opportunities have been concentrated in Han Chinese communities.

Now, some observers believe, China is facing what appears to be the failure of its post-Tiananmen plan to use economic development as a lure to long-term peace and integration. Chinese in Tibet and in neighboring provinces have reportedly been expressing feelings of despair over the Tibet situation, saying they don't see how Tibet could win its independence, or how China will win Tibetans' hearts.

The conflict could continue to deepen if China depends more heavily on impunity, masking the use of force by way of censored and structured media reports, than on dialogue and working toward a political solution. Some Tibetans are alleging Beijing's plan is to eradicate Tibetan opposition by way of a kind of "economic ethnic cleansing", forcing Tibetans from their homes or even into Chinese cities in search of work.

Today, 29 prominent Chinese intellectuals published an open letter calling on their government to "stop the violent suppression", and suggesting 12 ways to better deal with the worsening but long-lived tensions. The letter went as far as to urge that "As the Chinese government is committed to integrating into the international community, we maintain that it should display a style of governing that conforms to the standards of modern civilization".

Monday, March 17, 2008 Brings Truth of Human Rights Abuse to the Eyes of the World

A revolutionary web-based social networking project, has created a platform for delivering evidentiary video documenting human rights abuses for the collective conscience of the online world. 'The Hub', as the video sharing platform is called, is designed to ensure that individuals who have documented potential human rights abuses, or who are able to give their testimony via video, can put their message before the eyes of the world.

Begun in 1992, after a number of prominent occasions made it clear that video evidence made it far more difficult to obscure brutal acts of state violence (namely Tiananmen Square, and in an American media phenomenon, the Rodney King tape), Witness was started as an organization whose mission was to find documentary evidence and make it available, in the interests of promoting human rights and righting injustices.

The Hub is now providing select human rights activists with pocket-sized digital video cameras, in hopes they can gather interviews from witnesses to human rights abuses around the world, and begin creating a video archive of testimony from those who know and those who can help to motivate change and spur public opinion abroad to take an interst in specific crises, like those in Darfur, Burma or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Witness has helped to bring abourt awareness of abuses in Darfur, Chechnya, Burma, and many other places, as well as focusing on the plight of the most ignored victims of mass tragedy: internally displaced people (IDP), refugees who remain within the borders of a war-torn country with a totalitarian or ethnically repressive regime, or which is subject to a state of continual anarchy and bloodshed.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

3rd Day of Clashes in Tibet Without Independent Media Being Permitted to Verify Death Tolls

Two days after peaceful demonstrations across Tibet turned violent in the capital Lhasa, the Reuters news agency has reported that the violent clashes between protesters and Chinese security forces have spread to neighboring provinces. Supporters of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, say they have confirmed at least 80 deaths among demonstrators.

Xinhua, China's official state-run media organization, reports only 10 civilian deaths and a number of policemen injured. The BBC reported yesterday that mainland China and Chinese-language domestic media were under a near total information blackout regarding the Tibet demonstrations. The government has refused to confirm that security forces were responsible for any civilian deaths.

Calls for an international boycott of the Beijing Olympics later this year have so far been treated as an overreaction by most governments. The Dalai Lama himself said he expects the international community will pressure Beijing authorities to "be a good host" of the Olympics, which means implementing more democratic reforms and disavowing all violence against civilians or persecution of political dissidents.

According to Reuters, in Aba county Sichuan province, China, which has a large Tibetan population, there are reports of firebombings and vandalism, and police firing on demonstrators. The news service also reports "widespread talk of 10 or more dead" in Aba county.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Chinese Security Forces Accused of Firing into Crowd of Demonstrators in Lhasa, Tibet

International media reports say that sources in the Tibetan exile community, from India to New York, have confirmed that at least 30 civilian demonstrators were killed by Chinese security forces as they moved to end a demonstration in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on Friday. Demonstrations had begun on Monday, and for four days, reports suggest the majority of demonstrations were peaceful.

On Friday, however, after what some journalists —including those reporting for the BBC and reportedly censored by the Chinese government— say were persistently harsh reactions by security forces to peaceful demonstrations. Throughout the week, demonstrations are reported to have spread from the capital Lhasa to other cities and smaller provincial towns across Tibet.

China has occupied Tibet for 60 years, claiming it is Chinese territory. Official reports from the Beijing government categorize the invasion as "liberation" of the people of Tibet from the tyranny of feudalism. Since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese government has sought to quell separatist unrest in Tibet through economic development plan and mass migration of Han Chinese citizens to Tibetan territory.

On Friday, police sources allege, the peaceful demonstrations turned violent when a number of shops owned by Han Chinese Tibetan residents were attacked and burned. Due to the government's near total media blackout across Tibet and within China generally, it is not clear whether the vandalism rose to the level of inter-ethnic violence or whether it was provoked by security forces' excesses, as alleged by some rights groups and Tibetan exile activists.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pharmaceuticals Found in Drinking Water of 24 Major Metropolitan Areas in US

A new study has found that selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI, or anti-depressants), sex-hormones, painkillers and anti-biotics in significant quantities in the drinking water of 24 out of 28 major metropolitan areas in the United States. Though the term "trace amounts" appears multiple times in today's reporting of the findings, that term does not necessarily speak to quantity.

According to the Washington Post:
Pharmaceuticals, along with trace amounts of caffeine, were found in the drinking water supplies of 24 of 28 U.S. metropolitan areas tested. The findings were revealed as part of the first federal research on pharmaceuticals in water supplies, and those results are detailed in an investigative report by the Associated Press set to be published today.

Health effects are not known, as the question of prolonged unplanned exposure to sub-medical dosages has not been adequately researched, if at all, by the pharmaceutical community or by public health authorities. As the Toronto Daily News points out, in reference to the drugs found in drinking water: "Experts say medications may pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they were crafted to act on the human body".

Utilities insist their water is safe for human consumption, but the Associated Press investigation found that water authorities are more often than not reluctant to disclose any information about testing for pharmaceuticals in the water supply. The AP also found that "while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies -- which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public -- have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife."

Among the more astonishing findings in the study was the range of pharmaceutical contaminants found in the Philadelphia metropolitan area:
Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.

18.5 million people across southern California are reported to be affected by potential exposure to anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications found in "a portion" of the drinking water supply to that region.

The AP also reported that
The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven't: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.

Part of the problem is that pharmaceuticals are not entirely absorbed by those who taken them for medical reasons and water treatment systems are not as yet capable of removing trace pharmaceuticals from water that will be released back into the general public water supply.

Last August, AlterNet published in its environment section a report on apparent behavioral and physical mutations in fish and wildlife exposed to prolonged persistent doses of pharmaceutical runoff. The article specified that long-term effects of such exposure in human tissue are not yet well-studied or well-known, though:
A 1999 (EPA and German) study of pharmaceutical and other personal-care products concluded the "undetectable effects on aquatic organisms are particularly worrisome because effects could accumulate so slowly that major change goes undetected until the cumulative level of these effects finally cascades to irreversible change -- change that would otherwise be attributed to natural adaptation or ecologic succession."

Also, the AlterNet story warned that "Pharmaceuticals have already been linked to behavioral and sexual mutations in fish, amphibians and birds, according to EPA studies." As such, the EPA was by August 2007 planning "preventative measures" to protect against adverse effects on the human population, though there was some suspicion the doses might be high enough to indicate expired pills being flushed by consumers.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Polar Bear May Be Listed by US as Endangered by Global Warming

The global climate change crisis may soon enter a new phase in terms of human society's reaction, efforts to curb harmful activities that exacerbate the problem. The United States Dept. of the Interior is considering a proposal to list the polar bear as the first species facing extinction specifically as a side-effect of global warming.

The move would fall under the regulatory powers of the Endangered Species Act, and environmental activists believe it could be used as leverage to push for the shutting down of projects that would bring new carbon-emissions-intensive activities (like new coal-fired power plants) into use.

It is not clear that the Endangered Species Act would become a comfortable standard by which to measure the environmental footprint of new industries or specifically new power and chemical plants, but a recent ruling by the US Supreme Court, requiring that the government regulate carbon dioxide as a harmful pollutant, seems to show that the law is moving in that direction.

As the polar bear is dependent on the presence of large chunks of floating sea ice for its seal hunting, the increasing lack of ice in northern summer months has led to speculation the bears' habitat is effectively disappearing. Researchers project that more than two-thirds of the current population could be gone by mid-century.

This particular mega-fauna could be the canary in the coal mine, so to speak, warning of how excess carbon emissions could have a destructive impact on complex habitat around the globe. In the US, environmental activists are suing to get the bear listed as global-warming endangered, and to force coal-fired power plants to produce thorough studies demonstrating how their activities would not negatively impact the bears' habitat, thousands of miles away.

The feeling among many, both in the scientific world and in the regulatory business, is coming around to the view that for too long it was assumed there was no impact, or that the distances are too great to trace such fallout, but that logic is no longer enough. There is evidence of real and traceable impact, and those who seek to capitalize from processes which increase the risk should have to show their plans for how not to.

It may only be now, as policy-making and environmental research begin to converge in a more serious and well-thought-out way, that the standard of sustainable development actually penetrates into the planning process at the federal level. Industrial activities with a high environmental cost may be seen increasingly as not only unfortunate, but beyond the law, where public health and conservation are concerned.

One of the key questions will be, to what degree and how soon to top-level policy-makers integrate the long-term survivability of other species into the planning for a sustainable form of human economic development?

LA Times: "U.S. close to decision on polar bears"
NY Times: "Justices Rule Against Bush Administration on Emissions"

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hyper-convergence of Media & Services Necessitates New Paradigm for Securing Personal Data

The potential for broad-scope "electronic agents" —preprogrammed service aggregators and self-organizing databases with proactive marketing capability—, aiding in everyday information-related activities, will require a new security standard to prevent identity theft, which could become one of the gravest threats to economic performance and individual liberty.

Digital IDs will have to be maintained through unbreakable private information management systems, entirely parallel to and separate from the information actually sent, which will behave as a single identifying set of characteristics for a given internet user, when ID is called for.

Individuals will be able to use a complex array of mental-reference data, unique to personal knowledge, to block hackers' access to the actual management system itself, which will allow users to take instant corrective-protective action in case of hacked or apparently compromised online IDs.

The main purpose of this service would be to achieve security of personal data by securely matching real personal data with an official, singular digital ID, containing none of the real ID data. Thus, there would exist an impenetrable barrier (semantic separation) between sensitive personal ID data and the malicious intent of those who may seek to misuse it.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Stability Key Goal Shared by Top Rivals in Pakistan

In the wake of the assassination of Pakistan People's Party leader Benazir Bhutto, stability seems to be the key goal among top rivals in secular political leadership. The PPP has announced that in keeping with Ms. Bhutto's wishes, her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a 19-year-old student at Christ Church College, Oxford, will take the helm of the party, with her husband, Bilawal's father, managing day-to-day affairs until Bilawal finishes his studies.

The Bhutto family has run the PPP since its founding, by Benazir's father, and the move appears to be an attempt to assure supporters that the movement will have continuity of personality and of vision. Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal's father, has called for the United Nations to launch a special investigatory commission to uncover the plotters behind the assassination, as several opposition leaders and foreign officials say the Musharraf government lacks the credibility to carry out the probe.

The risk of severe destabilization across Pakistan has been evidenced by ongoing violence, bloodshed and arson, in what many have called a collective "outpouring of grief and anger" on the part of Bhutto supporters and those who blame rival factions for the plot. Pres. Musharraf has said he will not tolerate further violence, but a crackdown has not come, and he has reportedly told UK PM Gordon Brown he will consider international help in probing the killing.

Aides close to Bhutto and to opposition rival, fmr. PM Nawaz Sharif, have said they believe the plot may have originated inside the government itself, and for this reason, the government should not be permitted to lead the investigation. In response to calls from the PPP leadership to drop its boycott of the scheduled January elections, Sharif's party has reversed its position and said it will participate in the campaign, which many are still saying should be postponed to ensure a "free and fair" election.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bhutto Assassination Signals Deep-running Political Rift that Could Destabilize Pakistan

Fmr. Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, whose father was executed in the process of a military coup in the 1970s, and who has said she remained "broken" by what had happened to her during 5 years in military prison, was assassinated Thursday, while campaigning to restore free elections to her country. She had been the first woman elected PM in a Muslim country and had sworn she would combat radical fundamentalism and end the cycle of military takeovers.

Since her return to Pakistan in October, she has faced an attempt on her life that killed over 100 supporters, multiple incidents of house arrest, the suspension of the Constitution, martial law and the arbitrary replacement of several supreme court justices by then military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf. While Pres. Musharraf himself claimed he had surrounded her home with more than 4,000 police and concrete barricades "for her own safety", Bhutto had accused several high-ranking members of Musharraf's security apparatus of ties to fundamentalist militia in the Northwest of the country.

Bhutto has said repeatedly that she returned to Pakistan knowing it would put her life at risk, but that she could not live comfortably in exile while she watched a major threat to her nation gather force and potentially destroy hopes for the restoration of democracy and the rule of law. She was considered the favorite to win the premiership in January elections, slated to be held after much wrangling, international pressure, Musharraf's resigning as military chief and the subsequent lifting of martial law.

Now, the entire global community must face the harsh reality that Benazir Bhutto's assassination poses a very serious threat to regional stability, and could plunge Pakistan into a confused multi-faceted power-struggle in which democracy is likely to lose out to authoritarian measures, which will be justified as an attempt to secuure Pakistan's nuclear weapons against radical Islamist militia groups.

In the US, condemnation of the assassination is near universal, and political and security analysts are warning of the dangers that could emerge either from "ignoring the threat" posed by radical groups that may have been responsible and by the Musharraf government's duplicity in both countering and collaborating with these insurgent elements, or by taking too aggressive a stance against any element internal to Pakistan's domestic political struggles.

Concern is widespread among governments that have backed Gen. Musharraf's regime that his transition to democracy has been slow and clumsy, or even halting and contrary, while his dealmaking with radical militia groups has contributed to their taking root and being emboldened across the poorly policed northwest border region.

In responsible political and diplomatic circles, pressure will be heavy on Pres. Musharraf to find and to subject to serious, open criminal prosecution those responsible, even should they be members of his top-level security establishment, as some Bhutto supporters allege.

That group is often viewed with suspicion both by democrats and by those radical insurgents most opposed to an open democratic state in Pakistan, and demonstrating the will to counter such elements could give the government the credibility it needs to work with opposition leaders and to effectively stabilize the remote border regions. Though at present, many fear the Musharraf government is too heavily reliant on the strong-arm support of rogue elements in the security establishment.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Overcoming Acrimony, Bali Conference Brings Concessions, Start of a 'Roadmap'

The UN climate change policy conference on the Indonesian island of Bali has ended in dramatic fashion, as EU and US delegates found themselves in a war of words over differences in how to reach long-term reductions in "heat-trapping gases" emitted by human societies, essentially: carbon emissions.

The International Herald Tribune reports on the confrontations and final dealmaking as follows:
In a tumultuous final session at international climate talks in which the U.S. delegates were booed and hissed, delegates from nearly 190 nations committed Saturday to negotiating a new accord by 2009 that, in theory, would set the world on a course toward halving emissions of heat-trapping gases by 2050.

The dramatic finish to the negotiations came after a last-minute standoff during a day of see-saw emotions, with the co-organizer of the conference, Yvo de Boer, fleeing the podium at one point as he held back tears and the representative from Papua New Guinea telling the U.S. delegation to lead, follow or "please get out of the way."

The standoff started when developing countries demanded that the United States agree that the eventual pact not only measure poorer countries' steps, but also the effectiveness of financial aid and technological assistance from wealthier ones.

The United States did capitulate in that open session, which many observers and delegates said included more public acrimony and emotion than any of the treaty conferences since 1992, when countries drafted the original United Nations climate pact, the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

A significant part of the hostility involved in the negotiations has to do with mounting evidence that climate change is not only accelerating, but that it will adversely affect certain poorer countries more than the wealthy industrialized nations or fast-growing developing nations (like India or China) blamed for the lion's share of the greenhouse-effect-related emissions.

The current US position, which differs from what Democratic leaders in Congress have suggested might be an alternative policy in coming administrations, is in part based on the economic analysis that aggressive efforts to enforce emissions reductions would slow or even reverse economic growth in coming years. Part of this analysis is a lack of planning for a broad industrial reorganization, which would imply millions of new jobs, increasingly dynamic new economic structures, and the ability to meet ever-more-costly energy needs afffordably for the average consumer.

Over the long term, it will benefit wealthy economies to lead not only in emissions regulations but also in the shift to incentivized clean energy technologies. Cooperating with the plans for a global emissions regime and working strict standards into the policy guidelines will help ensure that developing nations are not able to fall back on high-contamination production methods to achieve unsustainable levels of short-term growth.

An integrated policy direction among developed and developing nations will help ensure that 'seepage' of policy direction toward apparently cheap but economically adverse polluting production methods not undermine the capacity for international regulations to reduce the risk of damaging climate change. This will benefit all parties economically over the long-term, though short-term considerations continue to drive much of the policy of major players.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Time is Now, an Action Plan for Global Emissions Reduction

Due to the science we already have, the laws we have to govern our own activity and to force government to act for the public health, we face the real possibility of being forced, in American courts, in the future, to pay for damage done to the most affected populations in other parts of the world, as a result of inaction by our government. And if not in court, then as a matter of the de facto urgencies of international political stability.

If we do not find a way to work to mitigate global climate change, future generations will look back and will see clearly that a zeitgeist of selfish convenience and primitive disregard for the wellbeing of our fellow human beings led to a reckless attitude with regard to this snowballing crisis. The public voice, and those campaigning for the level of public respect needed for election to office, should bring this issue to the fore, push for real initiatives to tackle the problem boldly, in a collaborative way, now.

In November, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon wrote a piece entitled "At the tipping point", in which he explained some of the most dire aspects of the advancing effects of global climate change. Among the serious potential crises is the evidence that 20% of of Antarctica's territory, in the form of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, may break up. "If it broke up, sea levels could rise by six meters", he writes.

Added to that, such massive events may take some time to unfold, but once they reach their respective tipping point, the event itself could happen "quickly, almost overnight". It's worth considering what effect such a sudden sea-level rise would have on low-lying coastal cities, like New York, Mumbai or Shanghai, Dubai, Sydney or Hong Kong. The storm surge that breached New Orleans' levees and plunged the city into chaos was roughly six meters.

The IPCC is one of the most comprehensive and prestigious bodies of scientists ever gathered from around the world, and it has been unequivocal in its reports this year. Every major player in world politics, including Pres. Bush, has acknowledged that global climate change is happening, and is the result of human activities. 2007 will be remembered as the year the climate crisis went public and stayed on the global public interest radar, for good. The United States cannot afford to be lagging behind, not now, and not in the eyes of history.

Senator Barack Obama's campaign website explains the problem as follows: "Global warming is real, is happening now and is the result of human activities. The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years. Glaciers are melting faster; the polar ice caps are shrinking; trees are blooming earlier; oceans are becoming more acidic, threatening marine life; people are dying in heat waves; species are migrating, and eventually many will become extinct." In fact, large-scale mass extinction already appears to be underway, with the IPCC predicting 15% to 37% of all species may be wiped out by climate change alone.

The campaign issue write-up continues: "Scientists predict that absent major emission reductions, climate change will worsen famine and drought in some of the poorest places in the world and wreak havoc across the globe. In the U.S., sea-level rise threatens to cause massive economic and ecological damage to our populated coastal areas." Many may disagree, but the science supports every word of the problem as stated. US presidential candidates are, for the first time, seriously contending for the climate-responsibility prize.

So, for those candidates serious enough to work across ideological rifts, a proposal for responsible legislation to deal with this crisis (to be pushed for and initiated in advance of the November 2008 US elections):

1. Push a 90% emissions reduction goal for 2050, and make it global. (There's no reason this cannot be done. Wind-energy resources in Texas, Kansas and North Dakota alone could power the entire US economy and more, if properly funded and developed. Most nations have a surplus of wind resources; the secret is local development and responsible construction and implementation. Other new technologies and a rebuilding of transport infrastructure can help reach this goal, without undermining economic stability.)

2. Work to punish all forms of corruption associated with energy production, and implement stiff sanctions against any nation that does not severely punish such corruption (whether it's bribery is Appalachian coal mining schemes, Saudi authoritarianism and arms trafficking, Uzbekistan's megalomaniac leader, or China's support for the Bashir government in Khartoum).

3. Ensure that the US economy is incentivized, from top to bottom, to adopt renewable resources and that we can fund through innovation, entrepreneurship, research and development grants, the green technology boom, which if properly carried out, will far surpass the 1990s economic expansion related to the building and popularization of the world wide web.

4. Institute in US law a "limited use" doctrine for nuclear plants, which means they will be employed in a period of transition (with no new construction) as a means of softening the price pinch that could come to sectors that lag in the renewables transition. This is not meant to allow new growth or prolonged use of fossil fuels, but rather to avoid punishing the underprivileged for their lack of access to easy capital. Eventually, a plan will need to be implemented that will transition away from these extremely costly plants with unequaled capacity for contamination (in case of accident).

5. Greening the military: begin immediately the funding and incentivization for defense contractors of a comprehensive transition to a military made more efficient, flexible and green in its global reach by way of the ecological (which in the very near future means economic) sustainability of its technologies and deployment systems. This will soon be a measure of rapid-deployment capacity, i.e. the ability to project power without bankrupting the state, so there is a direct security motivation involved in this. (The US military is a massive source of research and development, and cutting-edge technologies could emerge for civilian use, if the fossil fuel addiction is broken.)

6. Plan for "jump" generation innovations: energy resourcing is still in its infancy, comparatively (fossil fuels are square one; nuclear a bold but ill-advised 'spur'; renewables are the first step toward rational sustainable energy policy; after renewables, or within the context of, there will come a more advanced mode of powering the global economy). Geothermal still relies on risky construction methods, wind requires massive construction and solar occupies space (ever less, but still a constraint), whereas new capabilities may be lying in wait beyond the scope of current scientific methods.

Let's think ahead and privilege the "zero emissions" criterion. The more we can do to implement large-scale energy solutions that are in themselves zero-emissions processes, the larger the percentage of current emissions we can do without. It's that simple.

We are on the cusp of an energy revolution, which is synonymous with acting to save the relative homeostasis of the global environment, to which our civilization is accustomed and which it requires for long-term stability. We can phase out fossil fuels, then nuclear, while building a global renewables grid, and (parallel to that) jumping ahead to what's next. Integrated thinking will help us to serve the needs of a global systems ecology imperiled by our current practices.

Lastly, I propose that it is of the utmost urgency to examine security risks involved with climate change. We already have water wars in Africa. There are potential hydrological conflicts brewing in South America and south Asia. Australia faces the possibility of the Sydney region becoming near uninhabitable in a century's time. And Bangladesh, with more than 150 million inhabitants, is caught between India's overpumping of vital rivers and the constant threat of mass death and chaos from monsoon flooding.

We need to look at the potential for crop failure on massive regional scales, resulting economic or political collapse, or the unplanned migration of tens of millions of refugees, and what happens when local militia start responding (reference: Darfur, or Afghanistan, on a much larger scale).

We need to find a collaborative framework wherein:
1. democracy is not in any way curtailed nor are totalitarian measures elevated by the global protocols;
2. global treaties are bold, viable, respected and implemented;
3. the median wealth of the human population globally is increased (to de-incentivize violations).

This is the very least we can do to get started.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Liberty & Security Wrestle in Pakistan, as Elsewhere: What Does this Mean for 21st Century Democracy?

In many parts of the world, people are presently facing the question, on a societal scale, of whether or not free and open democracy can coexist with measures taken to protect against extremism. The question is an old one and goes to the root of whether it is possible, as a matter of natural law, to vote away one's rights or to vote against democracy.

To take a serious look at this question, we must first consider that: democracy is not an ideology and it is not a system; it is quite simply the idea that no form of government can be legitimate unless it is (regularly) chosen by a free and sovereign people. That can be implemented in a number of ways and need not be contrary to anyone's culture or faith.

But, a new problem has come into play in recent years, which has existed throughout modern times and essentially has always been part of the mix between populist rhetoric and authoritarian rule, from Hellenic city states to the Roman empire up through the 20th century: that is whether the need to be secure justifies overruling the protections that allow for a population of free individuals to choose its government.

Famously attributed to Ben Franklin, but possibly written by diplomat Richard Jackson is the tenet "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety". Clearly, one cannot secure one's liberty by stamping it out, just as one cannot save a village by burning it.

There are countless cases of dictators committing mass murder under the auspices of a prolonged security operation or state of emergency, so it should not be shocking that authoritarian rulers expect to persuade that mass detention, the suspension of civil liberties and attacks on opposition activists can be justified by security concerns, so long as no one is killed.

In Pakistan, we have seen a tragic loss of life —the authorship of which is still undetermined— when a bomb attack targeted Benazir Bhutto's celebratory convoy upon her return after years in exile. Now, we are seeing a general who has ruled as a quasi civilian leader for nearly a decade, targeting all the levers of a democratic state, and making the claim that security and extremism are his concerns.

Maybe. What if? But there is no way to trust in that justification, because as Ms. Bhutto quite rightly points out, extremists are being ignored by the 4,000 police surrounding her home, and the legal system has been dismantled by military decree, added to which we have the constnt problem of a general claiming he plans to save democracy by stamping it out.

There are clearly real security issues in Pakistan. As there were in 1864 when the United States was at war with itself, but still held national elections. As there are at all times in the Philippines, whose government confronts several rebel factions, or even in Spain, where Basque separatists continue to harass the democratic state.

In 2004, when the Spanish ruling party talked of suspending elections because there had been a terror attack, it was top ranking military and police who said they would not stand by and watch the constitution ignored by the government. When the US Dept. of Homeland Security, under Tom Ridge, contemplated suspending November elections, it was the president's own party that responded to public outrage and moved to bar such a move.

Security and liberty are not at odds. They are parallel streams whose tributaries often intersect, but they have their own course and should not be mixed for the political gain of any faction or ideology. This much we should be able to agree on. From there, we need to take a very serious look at what motivates a people to sign away its rights in the confusion of a dangerous moment.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Nobel Peace Prize Awarded for Work to Raise Awareness About Global Climate Change :: Climate change is no longer controversial; it has been accepted as scientific fact by a global consensus of researchers and policy makers, including the Bush White House, which resisted acknowledging human activities were a vital contributing factor, until recently. Now the Nobel committee selecting the Peace Prize laureate has raised the issue of warming posing a major international security crisis.

At a September conference he hosted on 'Energy Security and Climate Change', Pres. Bush acknowledged the validity of the IPCC's research, stating "A report issued earlier this year by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded both that global temperatures are rising and that this is caused largely by human activities. When we burn fossil fuels we release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the concentration of greenhouse gases has increased substantially."

And now, the political class in the US liberal-conservative hot-bed must grapple with the fact that climate change will be, when its most serious repercussions are felt, an international security issue, pushing millions of refugees across borders in search of basic sustenance, like water and food. And policy-makers in the US must come to terms with their very real role in shaping the global capacity to confront these adverse consequences.

The Sudan is cited as a first-case. It's long civil war, in which the Khartoum-based regime fought against rebellions in the east, south and west of the country, had a lot to do with food and water scarcity, and the need to control natural resources like oil in order to have the wealth to import sufficient amounts of those vital commodities or to build needed irrigation. Khartoum would not allow local control in any part of the country. Further desertification, the "advance of the Sahara", threatens to return Sudan to multi-party civil war.

More global cases involve countries like China, India and Pakistan, three nuclear powers, which could find themselves engaged in a brutal life and death struggle to provide water to their immense populations, as snow-melt from the Himalayan Plateau becomes scarce. The world cannot afford to allow such a war, or its causes, to burst forth.

The IPCC, which shares the award with Mr. Gore, the world's most visible climate campaigner, has issued several reports this year alone putting top-line consensus climate science into the public domain and forcing governments to keep dealing with the issue publicly and diplomatically. [Complete Text]

Monday, October 8, 2007

Project Quipu: Integrated Economic Atlas for the 21st Century


Examining the manner in which financial news is reported in the popular media, THINK proposes to create a system whereby live-update, rss-technology, and financial and editorial expertise, come together to produce a reliable up-to-the-minute resource for evaluating broad economic trends and engagements, without limiting analysis to single-parameter references like GDP or individual stock indices.

It is often thought that in order to organize ideas or to put some kind of order to any analysis, one needs uniformity, a limited number of generic categories and a single system of uncomplicated parameters by which to categorize each subject under review. But the truth is, this uniformity is not and will not be the rule of any part of lived reality.

To emerge from the fog of flawed, incomplete and opportunistically limited economic and financial analysis, means we need to come to grips with the fact that all resources, all functions or 'services', be they natural or the product of human ingenuity, figure somehow in economic values at all levels. There may be no clear way to quantify their contribution or mercantilize them, but they are there, and nothing can be fully understood in economic terms without seeing this. [Complete Text]

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Darfur Scene of Ongoing Ethnic Cleansing, Largest UN Peacekeeping Force Deployed :: Darfur, beset by years of bloody internecine violence, with the Khartoum-backed janjaweed militia killing civilians in numbers the US government has officially declared to be genocide, is still struggling to find a real beginning for peace. For years, human rights groups have pleaded with the international community to intervene, with or without the support of the Khartoum government. Finally, in August, the UN Security Council ordered the world's largest peacekeeping mission to secure Darfur.

Estimates at the time suggested that at least 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur, with more than 2 million refugees unable to return home, some since 2003. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has noted the scale of the mission is "unprecedented" and told the Security Council "You are sending a clear and powerful signal of your commitment to improve the lives of the people of the region, and close this tragic chapter in Sudan's history".

After years of staunch opposition and threats, the government in Khartoum said it would "support" a UN force to police Darfur, but only after intense negotiations, the backing of China, a key Sudan ally, and the "toning down" of language attacking Khartoum for involvement in a deliberate campaign of genocide. China's backing allowed for a unanimous vote in favor of the peacekeeping mission.

But cooperating has been spotty, and human rights groups are now calling for a comprehensive probe of the murder of 10 peacekeepers and police, allegedly by the same groups accused of carrying out the slaughter of Darfur civilians. It remains unclear whether the Khartoum government is committed to peace, and the rebel groups have not all signed up to the framework for peace.

The world community is facing in the case of Darfur a grave challenge to the rule of law and the right of people to live free of state-backed killing. Issues of national sovereignty, state policing powers, interventionist diplomacy and regional unity have made resolving the fractious crisis a political hot-button among security council powers, so for now, much depends on the success of the peacekeeping mission in overseeing tenuous peace.

MORE AT, Darfur Humanitarian Crisis Special Report