Monday, November 30, 2009

Help Wanted: Second Superpower Needed in Middle East

Iran's announcement that it plans a massive expansion of its nuclear program couldn't come at a worse time for the Obama administration. And President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows it.

Right on the heels of a pointed rebuke by the UN's nuclear watchdog agency over its nuclear program, Ahmadinejad announced that the country would build ten more reactors.

Obama is in trouble on all side with Iran. Conservatives are sure to say that Obama's efforts at rapprochement, were interpreted as weakness by Tehran. Meanwhile, the President has just ordered thousands of more troops into neighboring Afghanistan. And with Obama declaring that the war will continue until 2017, Iran knows that there is no chance of a credible military ultimatum from the administration.

Meanwhile another debt fueled holiday season puts the U.S. further in debt to China. Mounting American debt to China in this economic mess takes away American ability leverage China, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said recently. And without China even weak sanctions are impossible.

And Iran for its part has every reason to push for confrontation. With the regime still recovering from the shock of this summer's street uprising, Ahmadinejad is eager for anyway to redirect youthful anger on a shoving match with the West.

Obama has a very difficult line to walk on Iran. Making threats that he can't deliver on will make Iran's leaders even more eager to test new red lines, while giving the regime a greater mandate to crack down on dissent. But the further along that Iran gets on the potential of building a bomb, the harder it will be for anyone to reign them in.

The only real hope is that China can be convinced to assert its new role as a global superpower. In some ways China has the most to lose if the Middle East were to explode. If Israel were to launch strikes against Iran's reactors there would be a real possibility of regional war that would drive oil prices through the ceiling. A huge 1970's-style oil hike would throw the breaks on China's march to development.

China is in a unique position to offer Iran a stake in its future growth through trade agreements. China also can offer Iran a boost through helping to rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure - power generators, refineries, major highway systems.

Iran's stalled economy is one of the causes of the regime's instability and therefore a big part of the reason it needs to pick fights with America. The U.S. is in no position to do massive development projects in Iran, and neither nation's populations would like it much, anyway. But China could take this role, gaining stability in a critical region while building relations and leverage over a country with resources it needs.

Obama's best move in Iran might be to convince China it needs a piece of the action.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hillary: America Has Lost Its Flex

In a moment of striking candor, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the financial crisis has left America's power blunted.

The United States, unfortunately, has lost leverage in the world because of the global economic crisis and because of the steps that this administration had to take to try to prevent, frankly, a worldwide depression, which means increasing our debt, going into the biggest deficits we've seen since World War II. That undermines some of the capacity we need to have to influence events...
It might be a historic first - a sitting secretary of state predicting the decline of American power.

The comments, made on the Charlie Rose Show last night, were made more surprising when Clinton clarified that even after the crisis ends, America will not get back its flex -- we are going to owe too much cash to the countries we want to influence.

But the fact is when we do have that recovery and we can all look at it, touch it and feel it and feel better about ourselves and the world, we're going to be hugely in debt, and we're going to have deficits that will impinge upon our ability to make decisions and will also affect our capacity to deal with other countries because we are in debt to them.
The admission or pronouncement, on the Charlie Rose Show last night, was made in the context of Clinton saying that America will reach out to parts of the world that were neglected during the Bush administration.

"We are back," she said.

And "back" on the big issues that the administration cares about - climate change, Sudan, energy issues.

But why cast the the renewed engagement in the light of lower expectations? Sure being in debt to China is going to make it harder to get them to do what we want - but why say so?

Perhaps with the United States embroiled in two wars that we don't know if we can win, and heaps of other problems like climate change, or say Darfur, that cannot even hope to be addressed by one nation, Clinton may be doing for the U.S. what many CEOs or many big corporations have been doing in the last six months: Adjusting expectations downward.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, June 29, 2009

Why Can't Net Attacks Bring Down Iran Big Brother Site?

Despite calls for denial-0f-service attacks, where users try to bring down a site by flooding it with traffic, all over the blogosphere and "twitterverse", is still up. The Iranian government site has photos of protesters and requests the publics assistance in identifying these "monarchists" and "counter-revolutionaries".

I am a bit suprised that all these have proven ineffective. The strongest of the attacks are not coming from users just reloading their browsers but from botnets. Users load a program onto their computer, or someone else's computer with or without their knowledge, and then it continually loads address. If you can get enough of these zombie computers together you can bring down very large sites.

In the past criminals have done these attacks against online casinos, shutting down the sites and then extorting big cash in exchange for letting the online dice roll again, according to Ethan Zuckerman, social media guru at Harvard's Berkman Center.

But the political uses, which we have seen on both sides of the Gaza War are not often effective says Zuckerman. “All you are doing is knocking the site off the web for a short time systems until the admin finds a way to block your bots. And then they go back up again think it’s a stupid tactic and ineffectve. I am not a fan of censorship of any kind this is a way that silences speech and just makes administator's life miserable. I think there is a much stronger statement going on right now."

But is it censorship to try to knockdown a site used to hunt protesters? And if it's possible to attack casino's why hasn't anyone been able to nail this site? Thoughts?

Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Homicide reporting: Some Scenes I Have Seen.

The most memorable reporting I did at the NY Daily News was on murders. In some ways I feel that crime reporting is journalism at its most elemental and crucial.

Local tragedy and violence doesn't make front pages but it has tremendous importance for people in the communities affected - more so perhaps than foreign wars and national politics.

As a reporter just starting out, knocking on doors and talking to family members and neighbors of victims, showed me how important it is for people to feel that their sorrow is not disconnected from the world around them. That it has meaning and shape beyond their house or block.

Those family members were usually so eager to tell me what their child meant to the those in his or her life and how this will affect them. People always wanted to make sure I knew - and that the pubic knew - that their loved ones were separate from the violence that ended their lives. That dying by the sword didn't mean they lived by it.

I have long thought the NY Times is poor at covering the city. It's not just that Metro coverage is given secondary billing - but the level of coverage given to city news is less than what you would expect to see from a good paper in Akron.

The Times often does not cover murders in its city - which offers a hint at how they view the importance of local coverage.

But now the Times offers an interactive map that charts murders throughout the city. Readers can look at patterns in homicides across time and place and make recommendations for trend stories. This seems like a great chance for communities to become more involved in helping to direct important stories. I hope this, along with The Local project partnered with CUNY, is sign that the Times plans to take its job in the city a bit more seriously.

As I was going through the map I found many of the victims I reported on, and I wanted to see if I could use the google maps tool also - but for a more personal purpose. The Times map shows a birdeye view. But I wanted to give an interactive street view of some of my memories.

New Bronx school copes with tragedy of student murders

View Larger Map

Man killed, 2nd hurt at Bronx party

View Larger Map

Man slain in Brooklyn on grandma's doorstep

View Larger Map

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran has not yet flipped the switch

There has been much talk of Internet shutdowns in Iran, but according to one expert as of June 14th, Internet in Iran has been running at near its regular levels. James Cowie, CTO for Renesys, a web-analytics company, whatever shortages that happened were very shortlived.

While the government's crackdown certainly appears to be blocking individual sites, the government of Iran appears not to have made any move towards taking down the Internet as a whole – a step taken by the Burma regime in protests in September of 2007. And it would be easy for them to do, according to Cowier, who I interviewed for my story, Iran's Twitter Revolution.

The country has only one major internet service provider, Data Communications Iran (DCI) which is run by the government, and subcontracts to smaller ISPs. “The interesting thing is that they can turn the Internet on-and-off like a light switch. but they have chosen not to do it,” Cowier says.

Cowier has analyzed Internet activity from DCI and concluded that there have not been any major outages. “Iran remains well-connected to the Internet from a routing perspective,” he notes in a blog entry.

While the government has not yet pulled the plug they are definitely restricting the web in other ways.

Here is a video from ITNNEWS on internet problems faced by protesters:

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Charter 08: Chinese Activists Question Effectiveness of Popular Democracy Petition

published in Huffington Post

Jiang Qisheng was among the first to sign the pro-democracy manifesto -- which calls for a radical departure from China's current one party system. In doing so, the 60-year-old Beijing writer put his freedom, his livelihood, even his life at grave risk.

But he had lived through the massacres of Tiananmen Square, and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and had great hope in the power of this document to provoke change.

"I think the charter has addressed very well what our people have tried to accomplish for over 100 years: to change the system from tyranny to democracy," said Jiang in a telephone conversation through a translator.

But not all China human rights activists and scholars share his sense of optimism about the petition, known as Charter 08. While most agree that a petition signed by so many ordinary people inside China is a historic first, there is no consensus on its importance or that the new movement will succeed.

read more

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Under-Secretary of the UN Talks to I-House LIVE BLOGGING

Lynn Pascoe
Under-Secretary of the United Nations for Political Affairs, spoke at the International House's Sunday Supper on challenges and limitations of UN peace keeping efforts.

8:23 - Pascoe said that "there have not been conflicts between major states and seemed to cite this as an accomplishment of UN diplomacy. This is partially true but it seems that the advent of nuclear bomb also played a role in this. Also lack of conflict between major states has little relation to overall levels of violence. Fighting between big countries and small ones can be plenty bad too.

8:29 "Countries come to the UN when they can't solve problem and then when we can't solve them they ask why we can't solve them." This is well put. The expectation that the UN address ills that individual states can't solve is a heavy one. It is fair to to fault the UN when it fails but these failures need to be framed around he enormous size of the goals.

8:33 The UN SG was very involved in the Gaza ceasefire, Pascoe said. Now that the firing is done its the division between the Palestinians that the UN will help to iron out. After that a reconstruction of Gaza "for the third time" Pascoe said wearily. Its seems a bit early to be jumping to those stages though - with rockets landing in Israel and a far right-wing party posed to gain significant power in the Knesset the could start again and soon.

8:35 Pascoe wondered aloud why noone seems to be very eager to get involved in Somalia. Somalia is one of those high risk low yield areas of the world. Both politically - no national leaders gain many points for throwing their hat into that stage - and in terms of the good that can be done. At best it seems like Somalia might be able to move up from an anarchic Mad Max style failed state to a loose coalition
of war lords who will maintain their bonds for as long as donor money flows their way and not one moment longer.

8:38 Pascoe explained why the UN is often not able to get involved. Other states have leverage but the UN diplomats "only have their smiles." In the case of Zimbabwe southern African leaders don't want to the UN to get involved in their sphere of influence. I don't buy this argument of not having leverage. The UN has plenty of traction and leverage in southern Africa, where it runs dozens of programs worth billions plus maintains the closest thing it has to a standing army (in the Congo).

8:41 Russia wouldn't allow the UN to get involved so it didn't, Pascoe said. I don't like this limitation because it seems to say that aggressor states get to decide whether or not the UN can take action in preventing agression. In fact this might often be the case but it is dangerous to state this as a matter of principle.

8:43 People often don't see the negotiations that the UN is involved in because it doesn't make news when people don't get killed, Pascoe said. I like this point. The UN is involved around the world in thousands of positive ways large and small and it is difficult to recognize these successes because any violence going to be more prominent then a lack of violence.

I asked Pascoe about what the UN is doing to stop fighting from breaking out again in Gaza:

"What we are trying to do is extend the ceasefire. We are going to need to get those border crossing open - the Egyptians are working on this with us."

For medium term "there needs to be Palestinian unity and then you need to restart the peace process. Annapolis was fine but it was short terms and Olmert flaming out in the middle didn't help things.

Sphere: Related Content