Cato Institute holds forum on North Korea and escalation of tensions while Trump visits

On Monday, November 6, 2017 the Cato Institute in Washington DC held a three-part, three hour forum (9AM -noon), “How Do You Solve a Problem Like North Korea?”

I did not have time yesterday to get to it, so I watched the live feed.  It’s pretty effective, although the volume is low and sometimes the sound is out of sync with the lips.  Here is the basic link for all of the video.   The link gives the syllabus and identifies all the speakers.

But what was said is critical.

In the first session “Pyongyang’s Capabilities and US Policy”, the last speaker Joe Cirincione from the Ploughshares Fund was quite blunt.  He said that the U.S. probably does not have the capability to stop all incoming missiles over the U.S. once North Korea masters the ability to send them with thermonuclear weapons.  There was some mention of the probabilities of war (some as high as 50%), literally like at the beginning of “Gone with the Wind“.  Earlier Joshua Pollack (“The Nonproliferation Review”) said that North Korea had only to master “old technology” well known from the Soviets and from China. Suzanne DiMaggio, of New America, spoke also (her NYTimes piece, “How Trump Should Talk to North Korea“, followed).

The last session, “New Approaches to Solving the North Korea Problem”, saw Michael Austin (Hoover Foundation) in particular raising questions as to whether being South Korea’s protector indefinitely could remain a sustainable best interest of the United States. Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute seemed to echo a similar concern. While some speakers today agree with the theory that Kim Jong Un’s insistence on having nuclear weapons is simply his strategy for surviving (given what happened to Saddam Hussein and Gadaffi) there was also some skeptoicism, that, once he has the ability to hit the U.S., Un might start demanding that the U.S. halt all exercises near South Korea or even withdraw completely, or lift sanctions. That sounds like the “domino theory” that led to the escalation in Vietnam during the Johnson Administration, where I wound up getting drafted myself in early 1968 (setting up, ironically, my own subsequent involvement in repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” decades later).  Bandow, particularly, talked about how the Soviet Union and particularly Communist China (as during the Maoist Cultural Revolution of the 1960s) were seen as an existential “political” threat to the American way of life that North Korea cannot be, as repulsive as the regime may be now. But the speakers also noted the apparently docility and gullibility of the people, who will sacrifice and “eat grass” for their fat little leader (“fat little Rocket Man”, to quote Donald Trump with a little seasoning from Milo Yiannopoulos, although not during Trump’s current Asia trip).

Will Ripley had reported on North Korean people on CNN recently (the notorious “no chest hair” line) and now reports on CNN on Trump’s trip. Trump wants to put the DPRK on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and indeed there is concern that Iran or terror groups in Muslim world will get nuclear technology underground from North Korea.

No one on the panel or in the audience mentioned the possible EMP threats from North Korean missiles.  I did tweet a question about it but it was not read.

Wikipedia link on North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

Here is a link with the text of Trump’s speech in South Korea later Tuesday (Wed AM there).

UBS (n September) created a link for its investors with discussion of North Korea, with a link to a 37-minute podcast to a retired admiral.  The audio says that US atmospheric defenses are much more advanced than deep space systems, which have slowed down on the theory that the Soviets could have overwhelmed anything Reagan had wanted to do with his “Star Wars”. There is also a whimsical note that people watch the Pentagon parking lot and Metro for increased activity.  There really hasn’t been much lately. I make mental note on Uber or cab rides home from the bars late weekends.

(Posted: Tuesday, November 7, 2017, at 9:30 AM)

From Outright: “Russia and Egypt attack sexual orientation protections in Olympic truce at U.N.”

 

I don’t reproduce press releases from advocacy groups on this blog often, partly because the scope of many releases is too narrow to really affect many people. But this one, from Outright, seems more important.  It maintains that some countries, especially Russia and Egypt, are trying to influence Olympic committees to jettison their protections for LGBTQ athletes and fans.

Remember that in February 2014, when the winter Olympics were held in Russia, Vladimir Putin had actually asked gays to “leave the children alone,” in response to the international condemnation of the 2013 law in Russia prohibiting promotion of homosexuality, much of this based on, in Russia’s case, concern over a low birth rate and the idea that many women especially might feel empowered to refuse to give men more children.

It’s worth remembering that a disproportionate percentage of the cases of LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. seem to come from these two countries (and will probably include Chenchnya in Russia — that region’s president has made some of the most horrific statements imaginable in encouraging family honor killings), rather than Central America.

It’s worth noting that the 2017 Pyeongchong Winter Olympics in South Korea sound under a cloud because of tensions over North Korea’s rapid progress with nuclear weapons and the fear that Trump could start a war at any time.

For this press release, the media contact is  Rashima Kwatra at 1 (917) 859-7555.  The title is “Russia and Egypt Attack Sexual Orientation Protections in Olympic Truce at the UN”.

Here is the text of the release:

“Over the next two weeks, a decision will be made at the United Nations (UN) on whether governments globally will accept discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.  While the UN General Assembly cannot remove the ban on discrimination from Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter itself, Egypt and Russia are leading a stealth attack on the Olympics at the UN General Assembly that is laden with meaning and must be stopped.

“Every two years, member states of the UN General Assembly negotiate the “Olympic Truce Resolution”, which calls for peace among nations during the Olympics and the one week preceding and one week following the games.  Since 2015, Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter has banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Now, Russia and Egypt are aggressively trying to remove all reference to Principle 6 from this year’s Olympic Truce Resolution.

“In recent weeks, Egyptian authorities have arrested 60 people perceived to be members of the LGBT community, and last week, a member of parliament introduced a bill that would criminalize life, speech, and activism for LGBT Egyptians and their allies.  In recent months, the Russian government has turned a blind eye to the one hundred plus gay men in Chechnya arbitrarily arrested and tortured.

Jessica Stern, Executive Director at OutRight Action International, commented:

““’Egypt and Russia are not simply fighting over symbolic language but over the levels of violence governments are allowed to use against LGBT people. After systematic attacks on LGBT people in their own countries, they are now setting their sights on promoting violence and discrimination in every country of the world. The Olympics Games are supposed to be a time for sport, technique, pride and community, not for politicking, hatred and violence’

“In 2015, the UN General Assembly, under the leadership of Brazil, included the principle of non-discrimination in the Olympic Truce Resolution with a reference to Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter. Since that year, Principle 6 has included sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds for discrimination, a development deemed necessary following Russia’s attacks on gay and lesbian people in the lead-up to its role as host of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

“In the back rooms of the UN Headquarters over the last two weeks, Russia and Egypt have proposed an ultimatum: remove explicit reference to Principle 6, or they will not sign the Truce. Their ultimatum has put South Korea, leader of the negotiations as the 2018 Olympics host, in a precarious and difficult position.

As in the style of UN negotiations, the removal of reference to Principle 6 from the Olympic Truce Resolution this year could mean never seeing these protections in the peace agreement again. Recognizing the high stakes, a cross-regional group of States has come out against the ultimatum by Egypt and Russia.

“OutRight has utilized its access to the UN General Assembly to monitor developments and advocate throughout the closed-door negotiations. OutRight has worked with key States to ensure cross-regional support for the inclusion of Principle 6. OutRight continues to triangulate information between governments and civil society, encouraging stakeholders to remain informed and actively engaged.

“In reaction to this threat, Stern concluded,

’Russia and Egypt are known anti-LGBTI campaigners at the UN, and they are prepared to sacrifice the Olympic spirit to do it. We cannot allow this type of bullying to target LGBT people or undermine the principle of global community’.”

Posted: Monday, October 30, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT

Update: Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 at 1 PM ESR from Outright

“Today, 17 professional athletes came out against attempts by Egypt and Russia to thwart non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation in the United Nations Olympic Truce Resolution. The letter, endorsed by respected athletes such as Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis and Martina Navratilova, is part of the #OlympicSpirit campaign spearheaded by OutRight Action International and Athlete Ally. It calls on countries to ensure that sexual orientation remains grounds of protection in the Olympic peace agreement.

“The Olympic Truce Resolution promotes civility among nations during the Olympics and the one week preceding and one week following the games. It is negotiated by all 193 United Nations Member States every two years. In 2015 it included, by unanimous consensus, a reference to Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter. Principle 6 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at the Olympic Games.

“Breanna Stewart, 2016 US Olympic basketball competitor, commented on the situation, saying,

Sport and society thrive when we embrace the diversity of our world. The Olympic spirit is grounded in inclusion, fair play and solidarity, and the explicit mention of Principle 6 within the Olympic Truce Resolution sends a clear message that we take these values seriously.””

“This year, the inclusion of Principle 6 has come under attack, with States, such as Egypt and Russia, trying to remove all reference to Principle 6 from the Olympic Truce. Both countries have openly persecuted and criminalized lesbian, gay, and bisexual people at home and exported their homophobic agenda to the United Nations.

“The letter released today emphasizes that, “At a moment when oppressed communities around the world remain under attack, we can’t afford to turn our back on our most vulnerable communities. Explicit reference to Principle 6 in the Olympic Truce Resolution sends a strong signal of our community’s support of respect, inclusion and diversity — values sport holds inherently close. Afterall, regardless of where in the world we practice sport, the rules are the same and apply to everyone. They are based on our shared values.”

“Layshia Clarendon, a WNBA basketball star, also voiced her opinion on the inclusion of Principle 6, stating,

Athletes and fans deserve the opportunity to enjoy the Olympic Movement free of the fear of discrimination, and should have the ability to live openly and authentically — regardless of sexual orientation. I believe sports performance happens at its highest level when one feels unburdened and free to focus on their games. The explicit mention of Principle 6 within the Olympic Truce Resolution sends a clear message that we take inclusion seriously.”

Luckily, with thanks to cross-regional support and pushback from key Member States, the efforts of Egypt and Russia have so far failed and Principle 6 still remains in the Truce. However, there is still time for Egypt and Russia to thwart a consensus and challenge the inclusion of Principle 6 in the Olympic Truce.

Hudson Taylor, Founder and Executive Director, Athlete Ally, commented,

We’re witnessing the greatest expansion of athletic activism in modern history — never before have we seen athletes speaking out so regularly for the protection and inclusion of the LGBTQ community. Today, the athletic community stands with its LGBTQ constituents and commits to not being sidelined in the fight for equality.”

Seventeen professional athletes have signed on to the letter and reject any opposition by Egypt and Russia, as well as any other State, that is attempting to undermine the spirit of the Olympics. OutRight Action International and Athlete Ally stand with all the athletes in calling for public support of States to include reference to Principle 6 in the Olympic Truce.

A vote on the Olympic Truce Resolution will be made on November 13th, 2017.

Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, concludes,

Egypt and Russia are invested in promoting discrimination at the Olympics, undermining the very spirit of the games. Thankfully, there are other States which recognize that there is no place for discrimination at the Olympics. Today, we hear clearly from these Olympians that the Games is a place for friendly competition, athleticism, and diversity, not a place for politics and divisiveness.”

Petition for signature is here at this link.

Outright also provided a link to the new press release, here.

(Nov. 8)

 

Why are mainstream media outlets reluctant to discuss power grid security threats? (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell II”?)

Since 9/11, some national security observers, generally on conservative blogs and publications, have intermittently warned Americans that they could face catastrophic destruction of the power grid and of technological civilization though either extreme solar storms with the accompanying coronal mass ejections, or electromagnetic pulse’s generated by terrorists or rogue states, usually from high altitude nuclear detonations or certain other (non nuclear) magnetic flux weapons used by the US military now in deployments. In retrospect, it’s interesting to recall at Popular Mechanics story on the threat published one week before 9/11 in 2001.

Occasionally, conservative politicians and engineers have testified to Congress on the issue, most notably Newt Gingrich, who spoke about this in March, as I recall.  He also wrote a foreword to the 2009 novel “One Second After” by William Forstschen. Around 2012, the National Academy of Sciences and Oak Ridge National Laboratory both published sobering studies on these issues (my reviews). I actually visited ORNL in 2013.  It has also been reported that Earth had a narrow miss from a huge coronal mass ejection in July 2012.  PBS Frontline apparently covered these threats to the grids (in the US, there are three major power grids) with three brief reports.

The major media has not shown any consistency in willingness to report on this problem.  However, very recently a Fox station in Chicago reported bluntly on North Korea’s apparent threat to use an EMP weapon as a “gift” to the United States, shortly after DPRK had tested what some believe was a thermonuclear weapon (fusion hydrogen bomb), right while the US is dealing with major hurricanes.  As I look through the literature, I see sporadic reports in the past, including one piece in 2015 in the Wall Street Journal that seems to have anticipated North Korea’s progress with its missiles.  Another environmentally oriented article makes the interesting point that the use of solar energy would help decentralize power distribution and make the grid harder to attack.

The most emphatic statement on the problem may be Ted Koppel’s late 2015 book “Lights Out”, but Koppel, after exploring EMP, focuses most of his attention on cyberthreats.

Sinclair broadcasting in Baltimore created a couple of interviews on the problem in August 2016 and, along with Fox, sponsored a forum from a Green Bay WI studio; but owned-station WJLA, while advertising it, did not air it (on its own News Channel 8).  I covered that on this blog before.

Why has the media waffled in talking about this problem?  Is there some kind of “don’t ask don’t tell” policy to protect the stock market?  I can imagine the conspiracy theories.  But a couple points stand out.

One point is the fact that the most obvious threat, a high altitude H-bomb, has never been carried out, even though all reputable science supports the idea that the threat is real. (There were major problems in Hawaii in 1962 after an early H-bomb test.)  Such an event has been viewed as unthinkable, although North Korea’s recent bad behavior sounds very menacing indeed.  No one has said if it is technologically easier for an enemy to explode a nuclear device at high altitude than to aim it at a city and have it survive re-entry.

Another reason is that the media has been more focused on cyber threats, such as one carried out against Ukraine in 2014.  Now, the Pentagon’s core systems are unreachable to external hackers, so it’s fair to ask, should not the same thing hold for an electric utility?  Of course, an inside job saboteur is possible.  But I fear that there probably does exist a topologically connected Internet path from my computer to the grid, even though there should not be. (Yes, I studied topology in graduate school in the 1960s, before getting drafted.)

A more subtle reason for media reticence is that the threats to the gird from EMP and solar storms need to be understood as a threat to suddenly and increasingly technology-dependent civilization, perils which can actually be decomposed into separate components and individual threats (including cyber) which individually may be more likely.

The main components are E1, E2, and E3.  The E3 is the prolonged magnetic pulse which can overload and destroy transformers.  It occurs (in slightly different forms) with both extreme solar storms and thermonuclear fusion weapons.  Major utilities don’t talk about this very much (even to their shareholders), but recently some of them have made vague statements that they are working on installing technologies that would enable transformers to survive the overloads.  The Foundation for Resilient Societies has tweeted that the necessary changes would cost about $5 per American, or about $2 billion, which would sound affordable.

E2 is more like a lightning strike and is more easily defended.  But E1 is what fries modern consumer electronics and many newer car ignitions.  It appears that an E1 is possible from a very small fission nuclear device, or from some kinds of magnetic flux guns possessed by the US Army for grand war (like for disabling IUD’s).  E1 events might be created locally by a saboteur and have effect only in a small area.  The concerns expressed by James Woolsey about North Korea’s Shining Star satellite probably relate to an E1 device without E3.

I visited a Best Buy store today an asked a clerk about this. He admitted he had heard this question from other walk-in customers before, and recommended a DVD-R optical storage pack (about $25) and writer drive (about $25).  This is now recommended for personal storage (for example, documents, music if one composes, etc).  Modern USB thumb drives and solid state “hard drives’ are supposed to be able to resist ordinary magnets (and hopefully nearby electric transmission towers which would induce magnetic fields), but they would not survive actual E1 pulses.   I immediately made an optical backup of my most critical files when I got home, after installing the Cyberlink software from a DVD.

Cloud companies are supposed to maintain multiple copies of backups in different data centers around the U.S. for redundancy, which would provide reasonable protection against regional attacks. (A lot of these backup servers are in the North Carolina Piedmont, it seems.) But it’s a good question whether data centers could construct Faraday-like protections for the consumer data in their care.

Since 9/11, there has been a lot of attention to the possibility of terrorist or saboteur-introduced or built small nuclear weapons (as opposed to the rifle, car, and pressure cooker devices that have been used), or radioactivity dispersion devices (“dirty bombs”), which could destroy and make inhabitable a lot of real estate even if they didn’t kill people. These have not been used.  But it is well to remember that during the 1980s, there was some (not widely discussed) fear that rogue communist elements could carry out attacks, which contributed to the idea of developing a “civilian reservist force” which was sometimes discussed in Sunday newspapers (pre-Internet), at least in Texas. Communism was responsible for personalized terrorism in the 1970s (Patty Hearst), but radical Islam has caught the focus of such attention since 9/11.  Recently, we’ve had to recognize the “progress” of North Korea with its WMD’s, which seems shocking now but which older articles show had been expected.  Nevertheless, the Trump administration must seek the best intelligence and wisdom from it military and civilian sources and Congressional leadership in dealing with the challenges of what sounds like an unpredictable, combative and antagonistic regime in North Korea, which may quickly be able to wreak more havoc with American civilians than we would have believed even a few months ago. So the mainstream media needs to really do the extensive fact-checking on this issue and not behave as if it were “fake news”.  I’m willing to go to work on this myself.

This topic sounds like it deserves a presidential address to the nation, but it’s hard for me to imagine Donald Trump’s addressing this one publicly.  Maybe he’ll surprise us, and not just on Twitter, before it’s too late.

(Posted: Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 at 10:45 PM EDT)

Update: Friday, Sept. 8, 10 AM EDT

I found two very alarming opinions in the Washington Post this morning.  One is an editorial warning of cyberattack on the power grid, here. The piece discusses Dragonfly malware and spearfishing.

Another is an op-ed by a former (2002, Bush era) acting CIA director that North Korea can launch nuclear weapons on the United States now, here.  The piece seems aimed at discouraging Trump from initiating a pre-emptive strike now in response to more underground or missile tests.  But what it North Korea detonates a device over the Pacific and demands that the US withdraw completely from protecting South Korea?  The Domino Theory from my own days dealing with the draft in the Vietnam era suggests this can happen.  The most cynical interpretations of this idea could mean that China could want DPRK to attack (E3) so that China can walk in and take over the US!  Incidentally, it is well to remember that DPRK has every incentive to fire a missile test while the U.S. is preoccupied with its own natural disasters (like this weekend).

In all these discussions, the confidence in NORAD and “Star Wars” defense becomes very important as part of the deterrent.

Oddly, neither of these pieces talks about EMP.  It may be easier for an enemy to detonate a missile at high altitude than make it survive re-entry.  Has anyone looked at this idea?

The Boston Herald now has an article similar to Fox’s.

Related is the video review of mine.

“Stability” really matters, for people who already have capital (earned or inherited)

OK, I am “retired”, and I “depend” on past accumulated wealth, much earned but some inherited, to keep these blogs going because they don’t pay for themselves.  They don’t require much money (or Piketty-style capital) to run in the grand scheme of things, but they depend on stable infrastructure, security, and stable economic and personal circumstances for me.

Yes, stability.  And judging from the “outside world” events of recent weeks, it doesn’t sound like something I can count on as much as I have.

For most of my adult working life, I was very much in command of the possibility for my own mistakes to undo me and possibly end my stable I.T. career (as with bad elevations into production).

But early in my life I was forced to be much more aware of eternal demands by the community I was brought in.  Gender conformity had to do with that.  Then came the military draft and Vietnam.  There was an expectation of eventually having a family even if running a gauntlet that could expose me to some personal fair share of community hazards.  This had much more to do with my own “mental health” problems in the age 19-21 range than I probably realized (including a brush with nihilism in 1964).

It is true, of course, that my employment could be affected by outside business events like mergers and takeovers, but in my case these actually worked out in my favor.  And earlier in my work life I was concerned about staying near a large city (New York) where it would be easier for me to “come out”;  the energy crisis was actually a threat to my mobility, as was potentially NYC’s “drop dead” financial meltdown when I was (finally) living there.

So it is, in retirement.  If you have accumulated wealth, you want the world to be stable so you don’t have to watch your back, and face sudden expropriation because of political deterioration (maybe combined with a natural catastrophe).  You want to believe if you pay your bills, make good choices, and play by the “rules” you will be OK.  And you find people knocking for attention your life, and you have to deal with the knowledge that they didn’t have the situational stability that “you” did.

It’s possible to find one’s life suddenly becomes a political bargaining chip. For example, Congress could try to means-test Social Security recipients (even current one) as part of its debt (and debt ceiling) issue.

I have to say I do have a gut reaction from “extremists”, whether associated with Communism (North Korea) or radical Islam, who make threats that sound personal, as if they saw someone like me as a personal enemy.  I do understand the racial contact, that some people will take statements (hate speech) made on the alt-right that way, also. But combativeness has become a problem that I had not anticipated throughout most of my working life.

It is true, also, that the most extreme scenarios from foreign enemies could reduce me personally to nothing.  The conservative Weekly Standard, after 9/11, liked to use the term, being “brought low” because of the resentment of others.  In the North Korean threat, there are many nuances.  The right wing talks about EMP, and the major media refuses to mention it.  It could become a real threat, but my own probing of the utility world suggests it is making some progress in making transformers less vulnerable (to “E3” threats, also posed by extreme solar storms).  (The power companies won’t say exactly what they are doing, for good security reasons.)  Personal electronics, cars, and data can face threats from a different mechanism (“E1”) which actually might be easier for an enemy (including retaliation by the DPRK) to pull off.  This is a developing topic that the major media just doesn’t want to cover yet (outside of cyberwar, which is better known, as with the psychological warfare implications of the Sony hack).

I have to say, too, that for one’s life to come to an end out of political expropriation or violence is particularly ugly.  I was privileged enough to avoid Vietnam combat, and I was “safe” enough not to get HIV, which previously could have been the most dangerous threats I faced.  I was economically stable for my entire work career, which sometime after 9/11.  I did have some family cushion.

The basic reaction from most people is to “belong” to something bigger than the self.  I think all this relates to “the afterlife” and I won’t get into that further right here. In retirement, I’ve had to deal with constant reminders of how narrow my capacity for personal intimacy can be, even if it can be intense in the right circumstances.  Yes, now I have to throw the “psychological defenses” (Rosenfels) to maintain my personal independence and stop being dragged into the causes as others.  Solidarity alone seems rather alien to me, even if I can’t count on affording that kind of attitude forever.

Again, as to the “belonging” idea, throughout history, individuals have suffered because of the actions of their leadership.  In Biblical times, it was considered morally appropriate that all members of a tribe be punished together for “disobedience” (to “Jehovah”).  In modern times, it’s the “everybody gets detention for the sins of one in middle school” problem,

I want to reemphasize my intention so see all my own media initiatives through.  That includes getting a novel out in early 2018, trying to market a screenplay, getting some of my music (written over 50 years, some of it embedded in two big sonatas) performed.  The best chance to make some of this pay for itself would be to get some (perhaps conservative) news outlets interested in some of my blog content, especially in undercovered areas (power grid security, filial responsibility laws, downstream liability protections in online speech scenarios including copyright, defamation, and implicit content (which can include criminal misuse like trafficking).  The intention is to help solve problems in non-partisan manners away from the bundled demands common with “identity politics”.

I tend not to respond to demands for mass “solidarity” with so many other causes, and I usually am not willing to “pimp” someone else’s causes as my own.  But I realize I could be riding on partially unearned privilege, which can become dangerous.  Indeed, having inherited wealth subsumes a responsibility to address needs as they arise;  to ignore them would be tantamount to stealing. I tend to think that helping others is easier if you are in a relationship or have had kids (that became an issue when I was working as a substitute teacher).  I think there can be situations where one has to be prepared to accept others as dependents and “play family” (and this often happens in estate and inheritance situations anyway, although it did not specifically in my own situation). We saw this idea in films like “Raising Helen” and in the TV series “Summerland”.

I’ll mention that it looks like I’m selling the estate house and moving out in October. That would remove the hosting opportunities for now; but, after downsizing, it could make other volunteering much easier and even open up the possibility of volunteer travel (although I need to stay “connected” at all times when traveling as it is now).

I have to add that taking on dependents grates against complacency. It means more willingness to sell other people’s messages rather than on sticking to your own.  Our culture has developed a certain split personality: resistance to sales people or middlemen and to being contacted by cold calls (the robocall and cold call problem), yet an expectation of voluntary personal generosity and inclusivity online.

The sudden announcement of the intended termination of DACA is a good example of how instability affects those less fortunate. Although I really believe Congress will fix it in the required six months, today “dreamers” would have to deal with employers or schools who are uncertain as to what their legal status might be in less than a year.

(Posted: Tuesday, September 5, 2017, at 7 PM EDT)

We need to be prepared, as a nation, to house people quickly after catastrophes

I can remember, even living in Arlington having returned to look after Mother, the shock in that late August morning of 2005 learning when I got up that Hurricane Katrina had been much worse than expected.

I would volunteer some time at the Red Cross in nearby Falls Church (mixing the shifts with substitute teaching at the time) finding with many callers there was very little we could do but tell them to wait hours on the line for FEMA.

Over time, a few hundred people settled temporarily in the DC area.  Many more settled in Texas, and I believe that in some cases families, or especially individuals, were housed in private homes.  I at least wondered if we could be asked to do this.  I’ve entertained this kind of emergency before (May 18, 2016).

The Sunday before Hurricane Sandy (which came inland on a Monday night in late October 2012) the pastor at an Arlington VA church gave a sermon on “radical hospitality”. Fortunately, there was little damage in this area from the storm.

I’ve also documented on this blog some of the issues with hosting asylum seekers, which I have suspended as I consider moving (no more details right now).

And I’ve noted the somewhat informal private hosting website “Emergency BNB”. And the sharing economy, developed by companies like Airbnb, many people, especially younger adults, may be used to the idea of keeping their homes ready to be shared, which is not something that would have been very practical for me during most of my own adult life. Younger adults may be less interested in collecting possessions that could be put at risk from a security perspective. Music and film could be stored in the Cloud.

Younger adults living in “earthy” neighborhoods (like New York City’s East Village) or in certain rural areas, even in collectives or intentional communities, and used to social interdependence, may be more willing to share their spaces with less attention to personal, material or legal liability risks.  Many do not have an economically realistic choice, beyond building on common social capital, as Rick Santorum or Charles Murray would describe the idea.

Along these lines, then, I wonder again about emergency housing in the context of disaster or catastrophe preparedness.  I see I took this up Sept. 22, 2016 (before the Trump election) in conjunction with preparedness month.

A few of my friends on Facebook do indeed come from the doomsday prepper crowd, and it rather alarms me how much they are into it.  A sizable number of people do not believe you can count of civilization to last forever.  They see personal self-reliance in a rural home as a moral prerequisite to participating in a world that goes beyond the immediate surroundings. Indeed, ever since 9/11, we have been warned that at some point, whole generations of people may have to rebuild the world from scratch, as in NBC’s series “Revolution” which predicates a bizarre kind of EMP event.  I say I would have nothing to offer such a world at 74,

We could indeed face a grave threat to personal security in the homeland even in 2018.  War with North Korea might be impossible to avoid, and at least a couple small nuclear strikes on the US homeland might be impossible to prevent.  As a matter of policy, what happens to the people who survive but lose everything?  Insurance doesn’t cover war (whether it covers terrorism is controversial).  Will the government indemnify them?  (It more or less did a lot of this after 9/11.)  Or will we depend on the volunteerism of “GoFundMe”? which to me has sounded self-indulgent and tacky sometimes.

It does seem that we need some kind of “national discussion” or town-hall on this.  Would seniors aging alone in oversized homes be able to take people in?  Would we expect that?  Well, we really don’t do that now with our own homeless.

Any North Korean domestic nuclear strike would probably involve a small low-yield nuclear weapon. If you look at charts like this one, you see that the number of casualties and total property damage in a city might be less than one expects.  The radiation damage is another matter.  But one can imagine calls for people in distant states to house and take in the “victims” as they may never have an uncontaminated habitable home neighborhood to return to (even with Katrina that did not hold).  It is appropriate to consider how effective the manufactured housing industry can be (with Katrina the result was not that good).

Again, another issue is the possibility of an electromagnetic pulse, which would damage all electronics in a very wide region.  Have Silicon Valley companies protected their infrastructure from this sort of thing?  One day we could find most of the Internet (and “GoFundMe”) gone forever if they haven’t.  There is very little written about this.

Nobody likes talk like this to be “thinkable”.  But the preppers have a moral point.  Resilient and prepared people are less inviting targets for an otherwise determined enemy.  Maybe that’s what “America first” means.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 3:15 PM EDT)

North Korea is changing the state of play

My own perception of the greatest external threats to “my world” seems fickle and to change over time, sometimes suddenly.

When I was writing and editing my “Do Ask, Do Tell I” book in the mid 1990s (July 11, 2011 will be the 20th anniversary of publication) and building my arguments about how to lift the ban on gays in the military, I perceived another war in Korea as the most likely threat.  At the time, I was not really aware of the potentially grave threat to the homeland that radical Islam (then in the form of Al Qaeda) could pose, as 9/11 was still several years out.  I had been aware of the economic consequences of oil embargos since the 1970s, but that threat had receded with the oil gluts of the late 80s (with a real estate recession in Texas, where I had been living).

Indeed, until 9/11, I still believed Communism, or post-Communism (which North Korea exemplifies, although with a bizarre royal history) the biggest threat.  And, indeed, where the biggest threat within Communism lay had changed with time.  I remember a day at the Reception Station in US Army Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson SC in early 1968 where soldiers were saying it was much safer to go to Korea than to Vietnam.  At that time, it was.  It would not be now, as Korea is a flash point (with the whole of South Korea held hostage), whereas Vietnam is a more or less acceptable country. (I wouldn’t move there, but Anthony Bourdain had a good time there on his “Parts Unknown”.)  And although the Vietnam War got discredited with time, in the middle 1960s the “Domino Theory” to which President Johnson subscribed (and which Nixon had to solve by a fractured “peace with honor”) seemed credible enough to many of us, leading to the 1965 documentary “The War Game”.  Much of the argumentation in my first book regarding the military gay ban (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) referred back to earlier controversies over the male-only military draft and the possibility of “getting out of things” (as my own mother’s moral language put it) with student deferments.  It turned out, over time, that this unusual argument would be more effective than many people (who had forgotten the draft) expected  Discussions of resuming the draft (partly at the instigation of Charles Moskos) ignited again after 9/11.  They still go on, with a recent proposal to include women in Selective Service registration.

How serious is the threat to “average Americans”?  I’ve put together a few links in mainstream sources that analyze the risks and policy choices.

A few general observations are in order. One is that there is still some residual controversy over whether the July 4 test represented a true ICBM or an intermediate range device. But the best intelligence suggests that the missile comprised two stages, with the upper stage a new design.  ICBM’s have two to four stages.  Another observation is that North Korea is making much faster progress with missile technology than had been expected even a yea ago.  Still, DPRK would face tremendous challenges guiding a missile all the way to the continental US (as Tom Foreman has explained on CNN). And the DPRK does have nuclear weapons, but miniaturizing them to fit on ICBM’s will still be a major feat.  Still, the acceleration of DPRK’s progress is alarming.  It sounds conceivable that an ICBM nuclear threat to the US west coast could exist as early as 2019.  It’s not clear from media reports (and from classification of information) just how effective NORAD would be at stopping a missile, although there have been successful defensive tests recently.

In the meantime, North Korea can hold civilians in South Korea and even Japan hostage with its current weaponry.

North Korea’s motive is said to provide a deterrent from American attempts to upend the regime of Kim Song Un, who (like his father) is well aware of what happened to Qadaffi and Saddam Hussein.  Fox News may well call North Korea a mob state (“mobocracy”) that will do anything to survive as a mob family. But Un seems particularly sensitive to personal insults (as is Donald Trump, ironically).  There is evidence of the DPRK’s engagement of computer hackers (sending its own prime to school for this) even to punish western private companies like Sony Pictures (“The Interview”).  Could this extend to western private citizens?  Could he throw a tantrum and release a missile over an insult, despite his desire to “survive” obvious retaliation?

There is still another disturbing wrinkle.  Wednesday night, July 5, former CIA director James Woolsey appeared on Don Lemon’s show on CNN at 10 PM EDT and reiterated his claim that North Korea can launch an EMP attack against the US now from a satellite and has been able to do so since 2013.  Woolsey said that Trump is naïve about the real threat at that the ICBM issue really is superfluous.   I had covered this grim possibility in a posting here March 7.  Many other authorities consider this claim largely discredited, however.

Anthony Cordesman, however, this morning suggested on CNN that Trump could consider a limited military strike including an EMP attack on North Korea (which does not require nuclear weapons for more local effects).  But if North Korea has EMP attack capabilities from a satellite now, wouldn’t that invite an EMP attack on the U.S., as catastrophic retaliation (“One Second After”).  DPRK could even retaliate this way to a private insult (the Warmbier tragedy is indeed a dire warning).  I have no idea whether NORAD can disable or remove a hostile foreign satellite.

Of course, all of this brings up the question of civilian disaster preparedness and even “radical hospitality”.  I see a lot of material from doomsday preppers on Facebook all the time, on topics ranging from “bug-out” locations to sewing skills (especially from “Survival Mom”).  I’m personally an existentialist when it comes to these matters, and I won’t get further into the personal moralizing today.  I do think an issue like this calls into question a kind of “rich young ruler problem”, about putting all of one’s own life into orderly civilization and depending on it.

But another question comes up, why does an amateur blogger like me even dare to touch a subject like this.  Blogs are supposed to help people with specifics, so says Blogtyrant.  A lot of people see this kind of posting as rude, because most people believe they can’t do anything about external global catastrophes anyway (although they will march in climate change demonstrations, before returning to their identity politics).  My own life as an individual, however, has always been on the precipice of being affected by major events.  True, it may be related to my aversion to unwelcome personal interdependence.  More about that later.

I do think there are a few issues where the media has totally missed the boat, and not out of desire to spread fake news or support political correctness.  Power grid security is one of the biggest of the issues, and the conservative media companies (like Sinclair Broadcasting) seem closer to covering it right.

New York Times:  Surgical strike; Tough action; Five blunt truths

CNN

Vox:  Missile test explainedFive ways to spin out of control; North Korea history

CSIS Cordesman

(There are more links on March 7 posting and comments.)

(Posted: Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

People in “groups” need to pay heed to the outside world; we can lose it all

It’s important to keep up with the outside world.  Generally, throughout my adult life, I’ve often gotten feedback from some people who say they don’t need to get scary news from the political world from me (unless it’s about their own tiny bubble).

As I’ve noted here before, I don’t necessarily rush to elevate every victim in every marginalized group, including my own.   I have to agree with Peter Thiel, speaking at the DNC, that LGBTQ people have more pressing issues that bathroom bills – although I have to say that North Carolina’s recent HB2 “repeal”, under pressure from the NBA, is a bit of “bait and switch”, even in the language of Barbara Ehrenreich. In fact, major league sports have recently become the :GBTQ community’s ally out of self-interest.  Major League Baseball, for example, though it has very few if any openly gay players right now, knows it eventually will have them.  It is quite credible, for example, to imagine a transgender person as a relief pitcher or “closer” for a pennant winning team.  (And one wonders about big league sports and the rare cis females who happen to able to play.)

Over history, collective security for a country or a group is a big influence on respect for individual rights.  Whatever our internal squabble, a common enemy or peril can force us to come together.  We found that out suddenly after 9/11 (which I do think Al Gore would have prevented).

While Donald Trump has first stated that ISIS is our most dangerous enemy (because of its unusual asymmetry and targeting of civilians).  Trump has gotten a rude awakening (“foreign policy by ‘Whiplash’”, complete with Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons) from Assad’s chemical attack on his own people this week, and may suddenly realize how dangerous it is to remain bedfellows with Vladimir Putin.

it’s quickly becoming apparent that our most existential threat may indeed come from North Korea (whom we got a rude shock from in cyberspace over the  Seth Rogen and James Franco movie “The Interview”).  This morning, on p. A14 of the Washington Post, Anna Fifled has a frightening and detailed article, “Does North Korea have a missile that can hit the U.S.?  If not, it will”. Online the title is more blunt. “Will North Korea fire a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland?  Probably.”

The article goes into the technical challenges of actually directing a nuclear warhead thousands of miles.  But North Korea is making progress faster than we had thought.

The article does play down the satellite EMP risk discussed here earlier (March 6).  There’s a valid question as to whether NORAD would find and intercept such a missile (My classified computer programming job in 1971-1972 in the Washington Navy Yard was about just such capability. ) Fifield notes that it may be harder for US spy satellites to spot the missiles as they become mobile on the ground.  And a pre-emptive first strike against North Korea would invoke the obvious problem of making South Korea an instant target (as well as Japan).  This is no time for the president of the United States to have an adversarial relationship with his own intelligence services.

It’s also a time to ponder national resilience again, at a personal level.  I am not a member of the doomsday prepper crowd, although I have several Facebook friends who are.  There is something reassuring about being able to take care of yourself (with guns, and your family (with firearms if necessary), and property, in a world suddenly radically changed by “Revolution”. I can see how some people (mostly on the far right, to be sure) see this as a component of personal morality.

There is some debate as to whether DPRK can threaten all of the US (by Great Circle routes) or “only” Alaska, Hawaii, and the West Coast.  But imagine life with Silicon Valley and Tinseltown gone. (I’m reminded of the second “Red Dawn” film particularly, as well as “Testament“).  After Hurricane Katrina (and just before Sandy) there was some discussion of “radical hospitality”, as to whether ordinary homeowners with some extra space should prepare themselves to house strangers after a catastrophe.  The idea has obviously come up in Europe with the migrant crisis, less so in the US (but somewhat in Canada).  As I’ve noted here before, the idea can be tested with asylum seekers (and it hasn’t gotten very far yet).

I’d mention here that a bill to require women to register for Selective Service has passed he Senate, quietly.  A prepper friend posted this on Facebook.

Update: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT

Consider this recent piece in the April 11, 2017 of Time Magazine about loose radiocactive waste in the former USSR and possible terrorist “dirty bombs”.  Victims in an incident could be too “hot” to treat, and then there is real estate whose value goes to zero, a definite attack on the rentier class.  Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (with some recent articles about North Korea including charts and timetables) warned about all this in the 45-minute 2005 film “The Last Best Chance“.

James Woolsey (ex CIA) warns CNN that North Korea might be capable of detonating EMP weapon from orbiting satellite soon, even now

Today, Monday, March 6, 2017 Erin Burnett gave former CIA director James Woolsey an interview in the 7:30 PM slot, and Woolsey defended his recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning that North Korea could pose a much bigger and more immediate threat to the United States even now than we realize.

Specifically, he suggested that North Korea could be capable of detonating a nuclear device from an orbiting satellite now.

Erin Burnett herself introduced the word “apocalyptic”.  Woolsey said there is disagreement as to how many US transformers on the power grids could survive the overload that would result.  Woolsey’s op-ed calls for strengthening the grid right now.  Bannon’s infrastructure programs so far have not mentioned this problem.  One way to strengthen the grids would be to require utilities to have their own small original generating stations and be less dependent on load sharing with other companies.  (That brings back the whole AC vs. DC debate in the early 20th century, as one time documented on the History Channel “The Men Who Built America”, 2012 episode).  Taylor Wilson (who has been supported by Peter Thiel, who supported Trump) has proposed that these small stations be shielded underground fission reactors.

I do recall many scenarios (as in “One Second After”) proposed where scud-type missiles fire off the US coast from clandestine ships create a high-altitude EMP result. There are even some non-nuclear magnetic flux devices that could be detonated on the group (as in a  mystery Popular Mechanics article shortly before 9/11 in 2001).  But I don’t recall mention of the satellite threat before, not even in Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out”.

I do see, however, a report about North Korean satellites with this capability on a smaller conservative web site reported back in April 2016.    Wikipedia has details on one satellite.

There have been many reports in recent days of North Korea missile test attempts.  President Donald Trump has not said (or tweeted) much about them yet (except, “not going to happen”).  CNN has a story today, questioning whether North Korean missiles could overwhelm THAAD.

In November 2015, I was reading later chapters in Ted Koppel’s book on the Metro in Washington when a college-age young man looked over my shoulder to read it.  That someone that age would notice this subject matter is encouraging.

There are some issues, for preserving freedom for everyone, that seem more pressing to me than the bathroom bills.

(Published: Monday, March 6, 2017 at 9:45 PM EST)

Update: Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST

A Facebook friend (somewhat connected to the prepper crowd) passed on this link from a family security website discussing Woolsey’s predictions about North Korea and even invoking the “fake news” idea.  Note the mention of Popular Mechanics, which had discussed non-nuclear EMP in an issue shortly before 9/11 back in 2001. (The Washington Times discussed it in 2009).  Here is the link.

Update: Tuesday, April 11, 2017  6:15 PM EDT

Common sense would say that DPRK would already need to have developed a miniaturized device that could have been placed on a satellite.  Would we know?  Or could they deploy another satellite soon? DPRK’s statements remain belligerent after the Syria intervention by President Trump.