Tuesday, October 27, 2015

No End in Sight to Europe's Refugee Crisis

The massive flow of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East towards Europe will not subside any time soon, and several factors will see the tide rise and the conditions and consequences worsen. From the NY Times: "Approximately 48,000 migrants arrived in Greece over five days last week, the highest rate this year..." These aggravating factors include:

  • Plainly, there is no end in sight to the wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Somalia and Libya are in chaos. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other "stronger" regional powers are at least being threatened by internal insurgencies while being weakened by economic trends including damage done to the tourism economy in the former and depressed price of oil in the latter.
  • Climate change is making whole swaths of the Middle East/North Africa uninhabitable. Yemen is running out of water. The countries of the Persian Gulf will be too hot for human life. Agriculture will suffer.
  • Far-right political parties continue to emerge across Europe, impeding the acceptance of refugees. Where will these people go?
  • And if they are denied entry, shelter, food, and protection, what will these hundreds of thousands of refugees do as Winter approaches? "If the numbers increase drastically or, worse, if there are more border closings, there would be an almost immediate backup that would quickly repopulate border camps within a week — some of them open-air, others consisting mostly of unheated tents."
  • Finally, there is the disturbing prediction that what we are currently witnessing is only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps there is no solution to stemming the flow of refugees, and in fact their numbers will only increase. Africa--not known for hosting competent governments or reliably expanding economies in general--is looking at having its population quadruple by 2100. If these people aren't adequately absorbed into their home states, you can be sure they will be looking to migrate North.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Are Russians Threatening Undersea Communications Cables?

I've written before about threats to the physical undersea cable networks that carry the vast majority of Internet communications, whether originating by accident or as a result of sabotage. It now seems the US is concerned that Russian Naval vessels' proximity to some of these cables indicates they "appear to be looking for vulnerabilities at much greater depths, where the cables are hard to monitor and breaks are hard to find and repair." The locations of most of these cables are publicly known. "The exceptions are special cables, with secret locations, that have been commissioned by the United States for military operations; they do not show up on widely available maps, and it is possible the Russians are hunting for those, officials said." (New York Times)

Update: Bill Blunden (Officials Issue Scare-Story: Russians Could Cut Internet Cables - (2015-10-26)) points out that the US' alarm at potential Russian disruption is unlikely given that Russia is dependent on the same cables for communications transmission. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The "Emergency" of Globalization

What is the "Emergency"? 
It is an open set of historical, political, ecological, technological, religious, and economic circumstances and developments which are rapidly coalescing and compounding to radically alter life on Earth and usher in a new era of human existence.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The "Gravity" of "All is Lost" & the Emergency of Globalization

Similarities abound between the two recent movies Gravity and All is Lost, although they are not immediately obvious, given that the former is a $100 million sci-fi thriller starring Sandra Bullock in space and the latter an $8M Robert Redford seafaring drama. Both actors perform subtly and strongly, both movies are set in breathtaking and expansive environments, and both flicks take you on visual rides that are gut-wrenching if not barf-inducing as the protagonists tumble around and fly by the seats of their pants which had I been wearing them would quickly have been soiled.  Elements of the art of film-making aside, however, there are in each of these common themes relevant to this blog, and metaphors for surviving the socio-economic crises that are currently disrupting societies around the world.

Humanity, while enjoying the benefits of modern civilization, finds itself sabotaged by unforeseen and unpredictable events (black swans) triggered by the waste produced by said civilization. Redford's nameless sailor abruptly wakes to find a rogue floating shipping container has punctured a hole in his beloved vessel. Bullock's astronaut works on the Hubble telescope for about five lackadaisical minutes before its orbit is consumed by a sprawling debris field caused by the demolition of a defunct satellite. 

These specific scenarios are more than plausible. Just last week extreme weather knocked 520 shipping containers off of the Svendborg Maersk off the North coast of France, "the biggest recorded loss of containers overboard in a single incident." The shipping company responsible assures us most of them sank to the bottom of the ocean but also that 85% of them were empty, which means, duh, many of them will float around for some time and potentially wreak havoc on boats and ships in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. "New Zealand marine insurer Vero Marine says a 20-foot container can float for up to two months, and a 40-foot container might float more than three times as long." 

While estimates vary widely from 100 to 1,000, the World Shipping Council (an industry group which would have an interest in keeping the number conservative) estimates that around 675 containers are lost at sea each year. No one knows for sure because companies are not required to report their losses to the International Maritime Organization. And any one of these 20- to 40- ft. long, sharp-cornered, floating pieces of trash can smash a hole through your boat just like one did to the vessel in which Redford's sailor was without a care slumbering.

I can happily say that the menacing spectre of destructive debris fields in space has been a concern of this blog since its inception. There are so many satellites, stations, and ships in orbit--functioning and defunct--that the threat of collisions amongst them is very real. And after a few get smashed, their remnants spread to cause more damage, and before you know human space waste will form an impenetrable barrier to space travel. Its known as the Kessler syndromeIts all fine and good to talk about moon mining and human settlements on Mars but the bad news is that we're polluting our own orbits so badly that we may have blocked our most fantastic way out of the mess we've made of this sphere already. 

As I wrote six years ago, "Our species’ brightest, if not wisest, minds have already littered the moon, Mars, our Earth orbit, and the furthest reaches of the solar system with human-made crap. We are polluting realms of nature that we do not even yet recognize."

Don't count on the system to be there to save you. Despite the use of flares and fires, Redford's lifeboat is ignored and almost sunk by the massive cargo ships ploughing through the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean, one of which is possibly the culprit that dumped the rogue container in the first place. Gravity's monster debris wave annihilates not just the Hubble and Bullock's shuttle but the Chinese and International Space Stations as well; communications with Mission Control are lost early on. 

The world's economic, infrastructural, and political systems are more fragile than people think and as we witness their breakdown do not assume that their managers will go out of their way just to save you. Quite the opposite. As instability increases, global elites become more paranoid; as the Tao states, "If you don't trust the people, the people will become untrustworthy." Witness the rise of the surveillance-industrial complex.

The only way to survive is to innovate, tinker, hack, and improvise. There is no time to save stuff from one's own sinking ship, and to spend a moment longing for the lost wholeness of one's vessel is to ensure one's imminent demise. Realize that the situation is an emergency, and calls for immediate and extraordinary measures. Tear apart what you have to and use whatever you can. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures and we are entering the most desperate times. The world's globalized economic system contained the seeds of its own demise, "Crushing the Expectations of 2.5 Billion People." Industries, economies, and middle classes worldwide are being decimated by rampant technological progress that replaces workers with bots and management with automation. 
This situation has the potential to become a socioeconomic nightmare of monumental proportions... The last time a mismatch this great occurred, the world exploded into world war as malicious leaders exploited the crushed expectations of the structurally unemployed to take up arms. Of course, history being what it is, it’s not likely to happen in the same way this time. This time, people aren’t needed to man the factories or the bureaucracies of the national security machine. Technology makes it possible for a few to control a great many. It allows the automation of tyranny.
Like Redford's drifting mariner and Bullock's weightless astronaut, swaths of humanity are presently being sabotaged by the excesses of the very politico-economic systems purportedly designed to ensure decent living in the first place. And like them, people are going to freak out as they realize those collapsing systems are unable or unwilling to respond to their cries for help. In order to survive the Emergency of globalization, people will have to take matters into their own hands, legacy futures and corrupted institutions will have to be junked, re-purposed, or dismantled, and a radical rethinking of the environment we live in must become a daily reality as chaos escalates and cascading systems fail.

That is the Emergency we live in--the one this blog examines--and its happening right now all across the world, from Ukraine to Venezuela. This is just the beginning. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Fine Line Between Infiltration and Crime

I've been thoroughly enjoying Swedish writers Roslund and Hellström's Three Seconds, a smart novel in which the murky relationship between law enforcement, government, intelligence, and transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) is portrayed against the backdrop of the general ascendance of the latter. There is a pervasive sense of the state institutions all but losing the war on crime; as soon as one criminal syndicate is infiltrated and defeated, another (or several) take its place. Tightened budgets and finite resources lead law enforcement to rely more than ever on criminal informants, double agents at risk of being exposed to the criminal organizations and/or burned by their handlers when things get too messy. Recommended read.

A recent Economist article, "Earning with the Fishes," provides an efficient summary of the continued rise and metamorphosis of TCOs in our globalized era. It doesn't include much new thinking but demonstrates that their ascendance is robust and unabated. Among the main points:

  • We've known globalization has favored decentralized and overlapping criminal networks over the old mafia-type hierarchies for some time. "Europol...estimates that just a quarter of Europe’s roughly 3,600 organised-crime groups have a main nationality, and that some operate in dozens of countries. A third are involved in more than one criminal enterprise, with half of those linked to drug-trafficking." TCOs are diversifying, and most are not geographically or nationally based mafias.
  • Those traditional mafias still exist and have adapted as well, but their support had been based in legacy institutions-such as unions-that have found their own power diminished as "traditional industries have shrivelled." Those industries are not coming back, and more are on their way out as "technology kills the global economy" (Robb)
  • "The UNODC says the value of cross-border trade in counterfeit goods could be as much as $250 billion a year..." Which is phenomenal.
In short, it would seem that law enforcement is indeed losing the war against TCOs. Criminal informants undoubtedly play a huge role in the gathering of police intelligence, but on a deeper and broader level what are the limits of infiltration? How involved is, say, the US government and law enforcement in, say, the illicit drug trade? Does the US favor some criminal organizations over others, and allow them to get away with egregious crimes in order to procure information about rival gangs? 

More than 3 years ago I had written about the fact that not only were international and US banks laundering drug money (thus keeping them afloat during the financial crisis), but the Zetas accused the US and Mexican governments of aiding competing cartels. Also the Justice Dept. was reaping and laundering drug profits. And the notorious "Fast and Furious" operation smuggled untold amounts of weaponry South of the border. The biggest way in which the US facilitates the drug trade is of course its program of drug criminalization, which inflates the TCOs' profits substantially. All of this is troubling.

However, direct collaboration between the US and the Sinaloa Cartel was still conjecture until last month, when Mexico's El Universal obtained documents that described how the two groups had worked together "to consolidate the drug trade in Mexico in the hands of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the Cartel de Sinaloa (CDS)." What are the US interests here? At least some people point fingers at the banksters who wouldn't be able to sustain profits without the constant influx of laundered drug money, which would diminish substantially without the "War on Drugs" driving up prices.
To say that the “Sinaloa Cartel is aided and funded by the US government” is admittedly problematic on its face, as the mess created by the “war on drugs” pits the DEA and CIA almost perpetually at odds with each other.
Yet despite all the smoke and mirrors, shifting alliances, and questionable motives, the involvement of the US government in the drug trade through its many competing agencies assures a few constants: a destabilized, weakened, and dependent Latin America; increases in drug warrior budgets; and the sustained health of a nearly US$400 billion industry, without which banking systems and economies would falter severely. It is by exploring and understanding these relationships that the true dark alliance is revealed.
Food for thought. This shall be explored further.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Warriors, Inc. & Military-Hollywood Relations

I've often wondered where Hollywood goes for consultation on cinematic depictions of military life. Not the blood and guts and technology so much as development of characters and portrayal of culture. For about thirty years a private company named Warriors, Inc, founded by actor and retired Marine Captain Dale Dye, has been a primary resource in shaping public perception of the armed forces through the film and t.v. industry. The guy's been in everything from Platoon to Starship Troopers. The firm aspires to "reach the hearts and minds of the public" by training actors to behave and speak like real "intelligent, creative, and full of heart" grunts. 

There is an obvious, unapologetic pro-military bias throughout. As such, it bears responsibility for much of the more propagandistic aspects of US war movies, at least since the 80s. When asked "HOW do you strike a balance between factual accuracy and entertainment?," Dye replied his goal is to "find the compromise that is least objectionable to veteran audiences and still impressive to those who don’t care as much about accuracy" (Soldier of Fortune). 

So now I know where Hollywood gets this stuff in the "private sector." There's long been a cozy relationship between the big (war) film industry and the US military and intelligence services, evidenced recently by Zero Dark Thirty's "Hollywood History" re-imagining of the events leading to Osama bin Laden's supposed demise. The film makers received classified information from the government to inform their story, which basically portrays torture as being instrumental in finding Osama, which it wasn't. 

People don't generally like the state and military meddling in civilian cinema these days--ZDT's legacy is tarnished in wake of these revelations--so when it comes down to meta-military consulting or training, film makers can turn to Warriors, Inc. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Rights of Property and the Rights of People: Reactions to Locke

The Rights of Property and the Rights of People: Reactions to Locke's Essay Concerning the True, Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government

John Locke's refutation of the divine right of kings made him unpopular enough to get driven out of England; his arguments for religious tolerance drew criticism from various religious sects; he was even bold enough to risk censorship and contend that "women [have] the ability to reason" (Geib, n.d.). Yet what once were somewhat extreme positions have become widely accepted, in fact Locke's Treatises of Government heavily influenced the founding charters of the most powerful nation-state in all of history. Nevertheless, in the 300 years after his death, the societies, corporations, and nation-states of the world have transformed dramatically, in ways he could not have anticipated. With the goal of continually prodding society to follow the progressive path, we can now critique Locke and his "radical" colleagues' works from almost the same respective position as they held while attacking the 18th-century monarchies.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fear of Mumbai Model attacks in Kampala and London

In the last few weeks since my post regarding the Nairobi Westgate Mall attacks there have been raids on and arrests of suspected militants allegedly planning to launch Mumbai-style attacks in London. From the London Standard
The suspects are understood to be different nationalities, though at least one is British. They were held in co-ordinated raids in what the Met described as a “pre-planned, intelligence led operation.” They were being questioned at a south London police station today on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. Officers were searching six addresses across London as well as two cars linked to the suspects.The threat of an attack in London by several gunmen such as in Mumbai in 2008 or Nairobi last month is the biggest fear of anti-terror chiefs.
Now the US Embassy in Kampala, Uganda is vaguely warning of a "Possible Westgate-style Attack" in the capital. (Some government guy told CNN that the notice was released "out of an abundance of caution.") Uganda last suffered a major terrorist attack when Al-Shabaab bombed restaurants during the 2010 World Cup

Even if the London arrests turn out to be something else and the Kampala warning is unfounded, these latest developments display international law enforcement's and the media's growing awareness and fear of the proliferation of Mumbai Model tactics.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Westgate Mall Attacks and the Spread of the Mumbai Model

A year and a half is a long time to stray from writing, especially when that is the most employable skill one possesses. Time to get back into this, there is a lot of spying and terrorism and stuff going on and that is after all what this blog is about. >ahem<

Somalia-based Al-Shabaab, which pledged allegiance to the Al-Qaeda brand, laid siege to the glitzy Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya (despite the mall being located in a section of town from which the group receives contributions), killing at least 67 people, wounding countless more, and traumatizing thousands far beyond that. The attackers held out for more than three days before being killed or apprehended. 

Clouding the Issue: An Analysis of Shell's Greenwashing Campaign

Clouding the Issue
Micah Wonnenberg
March 30, 2004

The September 2003 Discover opens with a two-page spread which asks: “Cloud the issue…or clear the air?” Clean Arial text raises questions about the “heated debate” over global warming: “Is the burning of fossil fuels…a serious threat or just a lot of hot air?” Most of the two pages consist of a snapshot of the sky, clouds on the left and blue atmosphere on the right. In the center of the right page is a large, easily distinguishable red and yellow pectin. This carefully informative introduction to the current discussion about fossil fuels is brought to us by Shell Oil. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines greenwash as “Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image,” similar to whitewash. The Royal Dutch/Shell Group, the third largest oil company in the world, has had been praised for its “Profits & Principles” ad campaign, the main purpose of which is to portray Shell as committed to renewable energy. Unfortunately, Shell spends only 0.6% of its budget on renewable sources of energy. As the watchdog group CorpWatch exclaims, “When it comes to greenwash, Shell is simply superb”.