Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Pestilence

CDC: Hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease - UPI.com
UPI reports: "Despite hepatitis C being preventable and curable, the number of people who died after contracting it hit an all-time high in 2014, baffling researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC researchers found nearly half of the 3.5 million people with hepatitis C are unaware of their infection, and the numbers are rising among people at high risk because of a lack of awareness. Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that attacks the liver, and while some people have symptoms most do not, the CDC reports."

Comment: I really don't know much about this disease and find it scary that people can have it and not know it.  At least it's not a contagious disease that you can get from other people.

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Rumors of War - King of the North

Russia strengthening military in challenge to NATO - UPI.com
UPI reports: "Russia is set to establish three new military divisions -- around 30,000 troops -- along its borders in a direct challenge to Western allies' troop buildup in the region. NATO revealed last month that it would be sending around 4,000 troops to Poland and the former Soviet countries in the Baltic. Now Moscow has hit back by announcing its own plans to expand its military presence."

Comment: I think what's happening here is a sad example of dueling narratives. Russia and NATO look at the history of the last thirty years and they each see something different.  NATO sees a Russia under Putin that appears to be desperate to recapture the glory days of the Soviet Empire. In an almost classic example of a revanchist power, Russia is expanding and recapturing territory (Crimea) and expanding a sphere of influence among neighbors (Ukraine). Russia's neighbors are unsettled and turning to NATO for reassurance and protection. Russia, on the other hand, sees a NATO alliance that never disbanded, even after winning the Cold War, and instead added new members among former Eastern bloc countries, pushing NATO right up to Russia's borders. Russia, in this view, is responding to the NATO threat by increasing defense spending and carving out a frontier or buffer in Eastern Europe between it and NATO. Usually diplomats are able to negotiate when leaders talk past one another, after all, there are many common interests, but in this case, Putin has established his national narrative so strongly in the minds of his people that his ability to maneuver is hampered by is own rhetoric (assuming he doesn't actually believe the "Russia is a victim of NATO" narrative) and this makes compromise (so necessary in avoiding conflict) unlikely.   It's more likely that Russia will continue to act out as an expression of frustration and aggrievement with NATO, nationalism, or Putin's personal agenda to stay in power.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

War

U.S. Navy SEAL killed by Islamic State in Iraq combat - UPI.com
UPI reports: "A U.S. Navy SEAL was killed by enemy fire on Tuesday after the Islamic State breached a Kurdish Peshmerga position near Mosul amid increased American presence, U.S. defense officials said. [...] The service member's death comes as the United States last week announced increased efforts to support Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga in their fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, Daesh and ISIS."

Comment: I wonder when the politicians will admit the U.S. has "boots in the ground" or will Obama continue to insist that he ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? 

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Monday, May 02, 2016

Persecution

North Korea sent agents to kill Christian pastor, activists say - UPI.com
UPI reports: "North Korean agents are responsible for the 'murder' of a Christian pastor who assisted North Korean defectors in China, activists in Seoul said Monday. Choe Sungyong, a Korean-Chinese minister, had been the target of past North Korean threats, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. [...] South Korea's unification ministry warned its citizens of the heightened risk of kidnapping and 'acts of terror' on Monday after the North announced its plan to kidnap 120 South Koreans in the coming weeks."

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Rumors of War - King of the North - Kings of the East

Russian aircraft barrel rolls U.S. Air Force plane, second time in a month - UPI.com
UPI reports: "A Russian fighter jet performed what the United States considers an unsafe arial [aerial?...Ed.] maneuver over a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane while flying over the Baltic Sea, the second such maneuver in a month. CNN reported a Russian SU-27 flew within 25 feet of the U.S. Air Force RC-135 and performed a barrel roll, by flying over the U.S. plane from one side to the other in an inverted position."

China denies U.S. Navy carrier port visit to Hong Kong - UPI.com
UPI reports: "China denied a U.S. aircraft carrier entry into a Hong Kong port, Pentagon officials said Friday. A spokesman for the Hong Kong Security Bureau would not comment on the decision to deny entry to the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and its escort ships access to the port. [...] The denial came as tension rise between the United States and China after Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter visited the Stennis while it was stationed in the South China Sea. The United States is attempting to challenge Beijing's claim to more than 80 percent of the maritime area."

Comment: Probably one of the most important changes in the last few years has been the pivot. No, not the U.S. pivot to Asia but the Russian pivot to China. The profound impact of Western sanctions on the Russian economy have driven Russia to seek a new economic partner in China. This is entirely understandable and represents a lost opportunity to fulfill the dream of a new Europe that included Russia. As that door closed, Russia acted to open new doors with new partners like China. Trade deals have been HUGE, weapons deals have been HUGE, and more importantly, the strategic understanding between the two has been HUGE.  The two share a determined resolve to end the unipolar post-Cold War era in world affairs and replace American leadership with a new international order that is more responsive to their interests.  The two countries have an informal agreement to join in challenging American global presence in both small ways and large. These two incidents today represent only the most recent examples of this shared effort. The U.S. response under Obama has been uneven, at times accommodating and at other times, resolute in pushing back against challenges. Although commentators and talking-heads are reluctant to admit it, Obama has been far more pragmatic than most observers expected. He has avoided conflict with Russia and China while seeking to preserve and maintain the current international order. It is growing increasingly evident that the effort to maintain the Pax Americana will eventually lead to conflict with one or both of these countries. It will take shrewd diplomacy and clear strategic vision backed by overwhelming military power to maintain the current international order. We can only hope - and pray - that the next American president will have the skill and wisdom to safely navigate the ship of state through this gathering storm.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Pestilence

Puerto Rico Zika cases now include 65 pregnant women, one death: CDC | Reuters
Reuters reports: "Health officials on Friday confirmed the first U.S. death of a patient infected with the Zika virus in Puerto Rico. The man, who was in his 70s, died from severe thrombocytopenia, a bleeding disorder caused by abnormally low blood platelets, which are needed for blood clotting."

Comment: The first U.S. death from the Zika virus seems like it should be big news but I fear it was lost amid the other news of the day. 

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War

Islamic State-linked hackers target thousands of New Yorkers - UPI.com
UPI reports: "Some 3,000 New York City-area residents, most of them private citizens with no government ties, were targeted in an Islamic State 'hit list,' law enforcement said. The list, intended as a threat, contains as many as 3,600 names. It includes some employees with the State Department and Homeland Security, but mostly contains personal information from private citizens. It was posted on site accessible to only IS supporters and is being considered a scare campaign from the IS-related group Caliphate Cyber United. Law enforcement authorities said there is no specific threat to any one person or group."

Comment: No specific threat? When bureaucracy and PR meet, the results are always the same: inanity ensues.

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Wickedness Increases

Woman who cut baby from mother's womb gets 100-years - UPI.com
UPI reports: "A Colorado woman who lured an expectant mother to a home and cut the unborn baby from her womb was sentenced Friday to serve 100 years in prison. [....] In March 2015, Lane, 35, lured Michelle Wilkins to a home in Longmont, about 35 miles north of Denver, by posting an online ad for baby clothes. When Wilkins arrived, Lane attacked her and cut the baby from her womb. The baby died and Lane was captured by police when she showed up at a hospital claiming she had just miscarried."

Comment: I remember that case when it first made the news, it was so shocking and unbelievable. I wish this article was more complete, it doesn't even mention motive. Maybe there was no motive beyond pure evil? 

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rumors of War - Nations in Distress

Kim Jong Un unpopular among top North Korea top officials - UPI.com
UPI reports: "A senior North Korean official who resigned because he was 'overcome with stress' was forced to return to his position under Kim Jong Un's orders. That and other signs indicate Kim Jong Un doesn't have adequate levels of support from top cadres of the Korean Workers' Party, said Ko Young-hwan, a former North Korean diplomat and defector. [...] North Korea has purged more than a hundred officials under Kim. In other parts of the country, ordinary North Koreans have 'given up hope' in the future of the Kim regime, and lead a hand-to-mouth existence on a daily basis, Ko said."

China's Xi Jinping warns against Korea instability - UPI.com
UPI reports: "Chinese President Xi Jinping told a ministerial gathering in Beijing his government would not tolerate any instability on the Korean peninsula. Speaking at the fifth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, or CICA, Xi said China is fully committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and to its peace and stability  [...] Twenty-six member countries, including Russia and South Korea, were in attendance. North Korea did not send a representative – but it was unclear whether Pyongyang had received an invitation in the wake of worsening relations with Beijing."

North Korea tightens security ahead of congress: South Korea | Reuters
Reuters reports: "North Korea has tightened security ahead of a ruling party congress, South Korea said on Friday, with authorities keen to avoid any 'mishap' at the gathering at which advances in the drive for nuclear weapons will likely be hailed. Thousands of delegates are expected in the capital, Pyongyang, from May 6 for the first congress in 36 years at which young leader Kim Jong Un is expected to cement his leadership and formally declare the country a nuclear-armed state. "

Comment: Although missile launches and bomb tests make a war initiated by North Korea a real concern, the primary threat is the implosion of the North Korean state. A bloodless coup is a possibility, if staged by a respected member of the party/military, but given how indoctrinated the military in that country is and how pervasive the cult of personality around Kim Jong Un is, it's likely that a coup would meet with strong resistance. A civil war between generals competing to be the next dictator is the more likely scenario. The upcoming party conference provides an ideal nexus for intrigue and machinations. If young Un can hold on to power over the next few weeks he may yet be able to stabilize his country...if he wants to.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pestilence

'Platform' could spur development of new vaccines, scientists say - UPI.com
UPI reports: "Researchers in Denmark have created a 'platform' for vaccines that mimics the structure of a virus, which they say could speed up the process and make it easier to create effective vaccines. The virus-like structure, to which harmless parts of viruses can be attached, aids in provoking an immune response [...] The researchers also report their virus-like structure can motivate the immune system to attack its own cells, potentially allowing for the treatment of cancer and other diseases that are not caused by pathogens."

 Comment: It's nice to have some good news to share once in a while!

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Famine

Famine Threatens Parts of Sub-Saharan Africa - VOA
Voice of America reports: "Many parts of Asia, Africa and the Americas are scorching in heat caused by a cyclical phenomenon known as El Nino. The unusually warm waters that come up to the surface in the Pacific Ocean every three to six years cause extreme weather conditions. The resulting drought is especially hard on the poorest people of sub-Saharan Africa. [...] Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country, is in the grip of its worst drought in decades. The government is appealing for aid to help 10 million affected people. The food shortage is also grave in Malawi, which has not yet recovered from last year's record flooding."

Comment: This short article does not address it, but the international aid community has now come around to the realization that international aid alone will never provide a long-term solution to the endemic famine that Africa experiences. Local efforts to combat corruption, promote good governance, micro-financing and development should go hand-in-hand with international relief efforts. Only the combination of the local and the international have any hope of breaking the cycle. 

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Rumors of War - War

Obama sends more Special Forces to Syria in fight against IS | Reuters
Reuters reports: "President Barack Obama announced on Monday the biggest expansion of U.S. ground troops in Syria since its civil war began, but the move was unlikely to mollify Arab allies angry over Washington's cautious approach to the conflict. The deployment of up to 250 Special Forces soldiers increases U.S. forces in Syria roughly sixfold and is aimed at helping militia fighters who have clawed back territory from Islamic State militants in a string of victories. Defense experts said giving more fighters on the ground access to U.S. close air support could shift the momentum in Syria."

Comment: So, no boots on the ground. I wonder what kind of footwear they will have then? Seriously though, I heard Obama explaining this to the media and trying to make it sound acceptable to them and to our "allies" by going out of his way to assure them that American special forces won't take the lead. That turn of phrase explains everything wrong with his approach. He is asking the most expertly trained elite forces we have to go there and NOT lead. That's simply not what they are trained for and a poor use of their skills. There is a difference between special operators and regular military advisors and perhaps he is counting on us to not know the difference, but we do, and he should know better. 

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