Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ISIS pushed out of another town and lose 300 fighters. BBC

A fighter with a machine gun and AK. BBC/Reuters

The Iraqi government are saying that they have taken back the city of Dhuluiya from ISIS. BBC. The city is north of Baghdad and was partially taken by ISIS back in June. The north of the city was fully under ISIS control while the local Sunni tribe, who refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS, were surrounded in the south. The operation began on Sunday with airstrikes and helicopter attacks. By Monday Iraqi troops and Shia militiamen had taken most of the city, with small pockets of resistance left. After fierce fighting overnight, the city had been completely cleared of ISIS forces. ISIS lost at least 300 fighters in the battle. These reports have not been independently verified but both the Iraqi government and a Shia militia leader claimed that Dhuluiya was under Iraqi control. 

My Comment:
Slowly but surely the tide in Iraq seems to be turning against ISIS. I don't know how reliable these reports are but if it is true that the Iraqi government took back this town then it is very good news. Sure, they needed Shia milita support and presumably U.S. airstrikes as well, but they are pushing the enemy back. 

A few months ago it seemed like ISIS was completely unstoppable. They rolled through Iraq like it was nothing and were making gains in Syria as well. Now they seem to be losing on many fronts. This latest battle is just one of a string of setbacks of ISIS and hopefully that trend continues. I'm guessing that ISIS fighters are having a difficult time adjusting to U.S. and coalition airstrikes. They haven't had much luck shooting down any planes or drones. That has to be killing their morale. 

Hopefully the momentum shift is permanent and that ISIS can be pushed back and eventually defeated. It will not be an easy war though. They still have many troops, weapons and control over vast territories with plenty of resources. I'm confident that they will be defeated eventually, but not anytime soon. And even if they are beaten they may rise from the ashes, much like al-Qaeda in Iraq did after their defeat near the end of U.S. involvement in the 2nd Iraq War. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Breaking down what encryption the NSA has cracked and what is still safe. Der Spiegel

A NSA document describing why the NSA doesn't like encryption. Der Spiegel.

New documents released by the German magazine Der Spiegel shows which types of encryption the NSA has cracked and which ones are still safe. The documents, obtained from Edward Snowden describe how the NSA views all commercial encryption as a threat. The NSA has five classes for encryption from "trivial" to "catastrophic". Here are some examples of each level:
-Trivial: Tracking a document through the internet
-Minor: Retrieving logs from a facebook chat.
-Moderate: Decrypt e-mails from Russian e-mail provider
-Major: Cracking e-mails from Zoho or monitoring a Tor user. Defeating OTR encryption protocols 
-Catastrophic: Using Tor in concert with CSpace IM's and the VOIP program ZRTP. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is safe as well. 

NSA is also fairly adapt at cracking virtual private networks, also known as VPN's. These networks are supposedly secure between two points on the internet. Up to 20,000 VPN communications are monitored per hour. HTTPS, hypertext transfer protocol/secure, which is used for secure communications by civilians are also monitored routinely. 

My Comment:
The technical aspects of this report are beyond me, which should be obvious if any of my readers are into computers. But the main point of this article is that the NSA can be defeated if you know what you are doing. Using the Tor web browser for your internet is one way to protect yourself, but most people do not know that. the other programs mentioned in the piece are even more esoteric. 

Of course this information was from 2011 and 2012. It is possible that some of these systems are no longer secure. I don't think Tor is in any danger but downloading any of these programs would probably put you on a watch list. The NSA knows what it can't beat so they have a vested interest in monitoring the places where these programs are available. 

I'm guessing the NSA is going to be livid that this was released by Der Spiegel. If you dig around in the documents they posted on their website you can figure out how to defeat the NSA. Some of the people that will do this will be the "bad guys". Of course if catching the "bad guys" means that encryption is a joke then it isn't worth it. We need strong encryption to protect everything we do on the internet. The less success the NSA has in cracking encryption the better. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

New Ebola case in Glasgow, Scotland. Yahoo/AFP.

The hospital where the health worker is being treated. Yahoo/Reuters.

A recently returned healthcare worker has a confirmed case of Ebola in Glasgow, Scotland. Yahoo/AFP. The female healthcare worker was with the charity Save The Children and was on the "front lines" of the Ebola fight. She returned to the United Kingdom via Casablanca and London before arriving in Glasgow. Her contacts, including everyone on the flight she was on, are being investigated and monitored.  The threat of an outbreak is considered low since the victim was not showing symptoms while on the plane and immediately reported to a hospital after feeling ill. The government confirmed that the patient had been screened in Sierra Leone but since she had not displayed any symptoms, she was allowed to board the flight. 

My Comment:
Let's start with the good news first. The healthcare worker immediately checked into the hospital as soon as she got symptoms. I can't tell you how important that is. The longer she would have been out and about the more people that would have contact with her, leading to more contact tracing and perhaps more cases. She should be commended for that. Also, the U.K. has some experience with treating Ebola patients. Another nurse, Will Pooley has already been treated and released. 

But there is bad news too. Of course the fact that the disease is still around is bad news in itself. And there is a very small chance that someone else had contact with the nurse and got infected. It's unlikely, but possible. It is also possible that someone treating the nurse could become ill as well. Still, it is very possible that none of those things will happen. It is also likely that this nurse will survive. 

Finally, it's important to note that the Ebola outbreak is still ongoing. All the cases outside of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guiana seem to have been contained, but the disease is out of control in those countries. Even worse, Liberia, who recently have seemed to have the disease under control, has seen an uptick in new cases. This outbreak isn't over and will continue into the next year. Time will tell if we manage the outbreak.   

Sunday, December 28, 2014

NATO officially "ends" the war in Afghanistan, but troops remain. Yahoo/AFP

International troops in a flag lowering ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan.

After 13 years of war, NATO officially ends their involvement in the Afghanistan conflict. Yahoo/AFP. A secret ceremony heralded the event, showing that even though the war is officially over, security threats remain. 12,500 international troops will remain in Afghanistan for 2015 but their mission is no longer combat. Instead they will train and support Afghan troops. At its peak, 135,000 NATO and NATO aligned  troops, mostly from America but also from 49 other countries, were involved in the war. Since 2001 3,485 NATO troops have died in the war. The battle for Afghanistan is far from over though. 350,000 Afghan troops are still fighting against a resurgent Taliban, with more Afghan troops and civilians dying then at any other point of the war. Fears of a Iraq style collapse, and continued problems with corruption in the Afghan government mean that the war may not be over just yet. 

My Comment:
Much like the end of the Vietnam war this changes very little. Unlike the Vietnam War, thousands of troops will still be at risk in Afghanistan. This isn't the end of the war by any means. People will still die and some of those people will be Americans. The Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies have given no sign of surrendering. Afghanistan has not know peace for as long as I have been alive, and though the factions have changed the violence remains the same. 

As for the war itself one has to ask "was it worth it?" I don't even know. Destroying Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was a noble and correct goal, but unfortunately we got sucked into nation building again. That never seems to work out well and after our initial successes we lost so many lives and treasure fighting a battle we never seemed to be committed to winning. If the goal was to destroy Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization then we succeeded. If the goal was to make Afghanistan into a functioning democracy with enough power to ensure that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban never come back then we failed and failed badly. 

It's amazing to me how little coverage that this story got. I know that there were other big stories today but you would think that the end of America's longest war would get more attention. It's possible that everyone knows that this isn't the end of anything. If that's true then it means that people don't have a lot of respect for what the government tells us about the war. Still, even though Obama and the government have lost much of their credibility, you would think it would be easier to find stories about this. Some sites have this on their front page but others have the story buried. None of them had it as the top story. The combat history of the U.S. military in Afghanistan ended with a whimper instead of a bang... 

AirAsia flight disapears over the Java Sea. -CNN

A similar Air Asia plane. CNN/AP

An AirAsia flight, QZ8501, has disappeared over the Java Sea. CNN. The plane was traveling from Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board. Before falling off of the radar the pilot had requested to deviate from the flight path in order to avoid bad weather. Shortly after all contact was lost. No mayday or other information was transmitted. Bad weather has hurt efforts to locate the plane as naval vessels from Indonesia and Malaysia scour the area. The missing plane comes 11 months after the disappearance of another flight in Southeast Asia, Malaysia Airlines flight 370. That flight has still not been found. 

My Comment:
As always in these situations I am hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The fact that the plane fell off of radar so quickly without sending out any kind of distress signal indicates to me that something terrible likely happened. It was most likely due to the weather. If there is any good news at all it is that the place where this plane dispersed in is a busy shipping channel. Unlike flight 370, this plane crashed in an area where there are a lot of civilian activity. It is little solace for the people who have loved ones on flight QZ8501, but at least we should be able to find out what happened in this case, with any luck at all. 

And 2014 seems like it will go down for  bad one as far as aviation is concerned. Quite a few plane crashes happened this year and many of them got a ton of media coverage. Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and flight 17 got a ton of coverage and they weren't the only air crashes. Still, it is important to note that air travel is still largely safe. These are isolated incidents and are not representative of aviation as a whole. It only seems like a terrible year for aviation because the accidents that did happen got a ton of attention. CNN seemed to talk about flight 370 for months and flight 17 was a major international incident. These disasters are the exception to the rule. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Heavy U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Yahoo/AFP

Kobani Syria. Yahoo/AFP

Up to 31 airstrikes hit Islamic State targets across Iraq and Syria Friday. Yahoo/AFP. 13 of those strikes were in the besieged city of Kobani on the Syria/Turkey border. 19 fighting positions were destroyed along with buildings and staging areas. A ISIS vehicle was destroyed as well. Both fighter aircraft and drones were involved with the attack. Kobani has been under siege by ISIS since mid-September and has been under U.S. airstrikes since the beginning of U.S. operations in Syria. Other strikes in Syria destroyed oil facilities, more vehicles and staging areas. In Iraq, vehicles, fighting positions and equipment were destroyed in 15 more raids. 

My Comment:
Man, Kobani seems like hell on earth right now. I don't have much sympathy for ISIS fighters, but they have to be hurting from all these airstrikes. If I was in their position I would be furious. Not only have they failed to take a city that they have been trying to take since September, but they are under constant airstrikes as well. What was supposed to be a speedbump on their conquest of Syria is now a quagmire, sucking down troops, supplies and weapons. And the worst (best) part about it is that they can do almost nothing to stop the raids. They can spread their troops around to avoid the strikes but they can't really fight back unless they get some MANPADS or heavier anti-aircraft missiles. 

This must be devastating to their morale and I have already heard rumors that nobody in ISIS wants to go to Kobani. They must be thinking "in a fair fight we could take Kobani". They might have a point, but war is never fair, and the less fair it is for ISIS the better it is for the rest of the world. Hopefully it is enough for them to quit Kobani and let the Kurds have it. 

And I have to give credit where credit is due. All the airstrikes in the world wouldn't matter if it wasn't for the Kurdish fighters there, both men, women and even children, who are giving their all to keep ISIS from taking the town. For a long time it looked like they would be pushed back, but thanks to their fighters and our airstrikes they have held on. Maybe someday they can push ISIS out. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

10 years since the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Yahoo/AP.

Acehnese praying near a damaged building next to a mass grave. Yahoo/AP

Mourners across Asia commemorated the 10 year anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that killed 230,000 people. Yahoo/AP. The disaster  primarily struck the countries of Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka. The disaster, caused by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake, is one of the costliest in terms of lives in modern history. Entire communities were wiped off the map and whole families were killed. Indonesia's Aech Province was among the hardest hit areas. In addition to the devastating Tsunami they faced damage from the earthquake as well. Thailand lost many lives as well, including many tourists on vacation. 

After 10 years most of the areas have recovered. Yahoo has a gallery of the before and after pictures here. 

My Comment:
The 2004 "Boxing Day" Indian Ocean Tsunami is one of those huge, devastating events that pretty much disappeared from the public consciousness a year or two after it happened. Even today if you ask people what first comes to mind when you say "tsunami" they are likely to think of the 2011 Tsunami in Japan.  Though that event was terrible and killed more then 15,000 people, it was dwarfed by the scale of the 2004 tsunami. The Tsunami was so terrible that it killed people as far away as Kenya, Somalia and South Africa. 

Why did the Indian Ocean Tsunami become so obscure? Part of it is because it happened in a relatively obscure area. Most people would have trouble identifying Aech on a map. There was also a lack of the incredibly live footage that the 2011 Tsunami had. I know for me that I will never forget watching the disaster in real time, which did not happen for the 2004 Tsunami. In addition, other then a few European tourists, very few Westerners died in the event. Hurricane Katrina killed almost nobody in comparison to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, but for America it was a much more important disaster. 

That being said, it is important to remember the tsunami. It was, most likely, the worst tsunami in recorded human history in terms of people killed. That alone makes it worth remembering. Not to mention the fact that it serves as a dire warning for all coastal people. It has happened before and it will happen again. If you ever are on the beach and you see the water recede back, run for the high ground. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

ISIS captures Jordanian pilot. Was he shot down? Yahoo/Reuters

ISIS fighters claim this man is a Jordanian pilot. Yahoo/Reuters. 

ISIS has its first captured prisoner, a Jordanian pilot from the U.S. lead coalition against the terrorist state. Yahoo/Reuters. Jordan has confirmed that ISIS has captured the pilot and are holding the groups responsible for his well being. The plane crashed during a military operation against ISIS in Syria near the "capital" of the Islamic State, Raqqa. It is unknown if the plane was shot down or if it crashed for some other reason. No U.S. aircraft or personnel were involved. ISIS published pictures of the pilot, a 1st Lieutenant named Muath al-Kasaesbeh, as well as pictures of his identification cards. Jordan has long been an ally to the United States and has contributed forces to the battle against ISIS. 

My Comment:
Things are not looking good for this pilot. Obviously, I hope that he is released to his family but given that he fell into the hands of ISIS that is not looking good at all. At the very least expect a propaganda video soon. I guess it is conceivable that Jordan could pay a ransom for this man, or mount a rescue mission, but that seems unlikely. I'm hoping for the best but fearing the worst

I'm not sure why the photo of his is blurred out as it looks like he is wearing pants. Not sure if it was ISIS that did that to the picture or a news outlet but it seems strange. I'm guessing even shorts are a bit too revealing for Muslim sensibilities.

As for the jet itself it is very possible that ISIS shot it down. They have access to MANPADS (man portable air defense) and I'm guessing they know how to use them. Of course we can't rule out mechanical failure as a possibility as well. It's possible that the Syrian government could have shot this plane down, by design or mistake, or even another faction like the Free Syrian Army or the Al-Nusra Front. Either way though, I expect ISIS to take full credit. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas everyone!

Over 1000 hours in photoshop! 

With the Christmas holiday coming up, expect blogging to taper off. I've got both family and work stuff to take care of for the rest of the week so I doubt I will have much time to post anything. If something huge happens I will try to post something but since Christmas is usually a very slow day for actual news I doubt I will have too. 

On a related note, this weekend I hope to have a "year in review" post covering all the most important news that happened this year. Given how crazy this year was expect a much longer post then usual. 

Until then enjoy the holidays and have a Merry Christmas! 

German journalist meets with ISIS and reports that ISIS is determined to win and in control. Washington Times.

ISIS supporters in Mosul after the fall of the city. Washington Times/AP.

Juergen Todenhoefer, a German journalist, traveled to Iraq and Syria to interview the Islamic State. Washington Post. While there he found a determined and brutal enemy for the United States and the rest of the world. New ISIS fighters, as many as 50 a day, showed up with a "glow in their eyes" and dedicated to their cause. He also described child soldiers fighting for ISIS as young as 13. A German ISIS fighter spoke to Todenhoefer and claimed that it was only a matter of time before ISIS conquered all of Europe. ISIS spokesmen also defended slavery and beheadings as "part of their religion". Todenhoefer also warned that ISIS is far more dangerous then people think and that they are preparing a campaign of organized religious slaughter unparalleled in history. 

My Comment:
CNN also has a detailed account from Todenhoefer here. What's my take on it? Todenhoefer is spot on. ISIS is incredibly dangerous to the entire world and if they get what they want then there won't be anyone but them left. Fortunately they aren't nearly that powerful yet. The most disturbing part of his reports is that Mosul is a functional, semi-normal city. ISIS is an actual state. And they are one of the most depraved and evil states to ever exist. 

The atrocities Todenhoefer describes aren't particularly new. We have known about the beheadings, slavery and child soldiers for quite some time. But it is interesting that a western journalist was able to secure an interviews and free travel with ISIS. They have a very poor track record with journalists, and it is amazing to me that Todenhoefer was allowed to come home. Todenhoefer has a blog that said negotiations were conducted via Skype but other then that I have no idea how he pulled this off. 

Here is hoping that the world takes Todenhoefer's warning seriously... 

Monday, December 22, 2014

President Obama is incredibly unpopular with U.S. Troops. CNN

President Obama in Afghanistan. CNN/AFP/Getty

Obama's job approval rate among active military troops has plummeted. CNN. Only 15% of active duty troops approve of his performance as president while 55% disapprove. Obama was never popular with the military, with his approval rating in 2009 at 35%, but these new numbers are a record low. Troop morale has plummeted as well. In 2009 91% of troops were happy with their life compared to 56% today. More then half say they are underpaid. The poll numbers come from a Military Times survey of active duty troops. 

My Comment:
I'm surprised the poll numbers are as high as they are. Obama is an anti-military president so it isn't too surprising that the military doesn't like him. Democrats in general are less popular among the military in general but even for a Democrat his numbers are low.  

Why are they so low? Neither the CNN piece or the Military Times survey really got into it. Both articles mentioned the various social issues that Obama has been pushing on the military. Sure, repealing don't ask don't tell, allowing women in combat and the current obsession with sexual assault are unpopular, but not so much to explain Obama's poll numbers. The concerns about pay are more on target but can't explain it completely.

So what do I think the problem is? I've said a million times that Obama is a domestic president who cares little for foreign policy and, by extension, military issues. He doesn't trust his generals and has fired a lot of people that disagreed with his policies that were above the rank of Major. He is also partially responsible for the huge budget cuts and troop cutbacks that are effecting almost everyone in the military. In short, it is hard to like someone who is partially responsible for making your job much less secure. 

But, more then any factor, I am guessing that his failures in foreign policy are what is sinking them. When Obama entered the office, Iraq was on the verge of being won, Afghanistan was realatively quite, we had not gotten involved in Libya or Syria and it seemed that the world was finally starting to calm down a bit. Fast forward to today and Iraq and Afghanistan are all but lost, we are involved in Syria and failed miserably in Libya. And Russia and North Korea have been emboldened. Troops everywhere are asking themselves "was it worth it?" and they are starting to think that not it was not. This is a problem that is going to take a long time to fix... 

Ukraine threatens to cut off power to separatist controlled areas. Yahoo/Reuters

A separatist fighter stands near a damaged building. Yahoo/Reuters.

Ukraine is threatening to cut off power to the separatist controlled areas of the country if the people there do not adhere to consumption limits. Yahoo/Reuters. The months of fighting have disrupted energy in the country as coal supplies have been cut off. In a normal year Ukraine would have 4 or 5 million tons stockpiled for winter, but this year they only have 1.5 million tons. The entire country is facing rolling blackouts. The rebel controlled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk will have to ration their use of electricity if they do not want to be cut off. Ukraine has tried to buy coal from outside sources but efforts have failed, in part due to Russian interference. Ukraine had already cut off pensions and social programs for the rebel held areas. 

My Comment:
This could be a humanitarian disaster if some kind of agreement isn't made. The rebels can survive without heat and all the other things that electricity provides, but many civilians may not be able to. Especially the very old and very young. Since those people have also been cut off from pensions and social programs they could be especially vulnerable. If it was the summer it would not be as much of a concern but Ukraine has a cold climate which means people could freeze if electricity and gas are cut off. 

Is this the right move, should it come to pass? Depends on how you look at it. There is certainly a humanitarian aspect to it. The people that will have their electricity shut off will suffer. But from a strategic viewpoint, it makes sense. It will hurt the rebels somewhat and the extra suffering for the civilians could turn them against the rebels. Or it could just make them support the rebels more. Either way though a lot of people are going to get hurt. 

As for the war itself, it seems to have calmed down somewhat. At the very least it isn't making the headlines nearly as much as it used to. The fighting has definitely died down a bit, but that doesn't mean the war should be ignored by the media. Unfortunately, the news cycle this year has been beyond insane, so no matter what happens important stories will eventually be left behind. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Yazidi town of Sinjar liberated by Peshmerga fighters. ISIS is in retreat. CNN

Peshmerga fighters on Sinjar Mountain. CNN/Getty.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have taken the Yazidi town of Sinjar from ISIS. CNN. The town had been a stronghold for the Yazidi people before it fell to ISIS last summer. The religious minority faced extreme persecution from ISIS and were forced to flee to nearby Mt. Sinjar. Hundreds of Yazidi were killed or enslaved. The latest offensive to oust ISIS from the area involved attacks from Peshmerga fighters and heavy airstrikes from the United States and other coalition partners. With a corridor opened to supply and help the remaining Yazidi, ISIS has retreated to Mosul and the Syrian border. The Peshmerga fighters vow to continue the offensive. 

My Comment:
Finally some good news out of Iraq. The plight of the Yazidi was one of the most tragic and horrific stories to come out the third Iraq War. And though I don't think this is the end of their troubles, at the very least their homes are controlled by people that are friendly and tolerant to them. They are still under threat, after all ISIS is still around and hundreds of people are still enslaved by them, but for awhile it looked like the Yazidi would go extinct. With any luck, that shouldn't happen now. 

It finally looks like we are seeing some success in the war against ISIS. For a long time ISIS was unstoppable. They took over half of Iraq with little effort, pushed the Kurds around in both Iraq and Syria and made a huge name for themselves with their savvy and professional propaganda. Now they are fleeing from the battle in Northern Iraq, having their leaders bombed by the United States and are being fought to a standstill in Kobani. 

It is way to early to say that the war will be won soon though. The tide has turned, but ISIS is still getting foreign recruits, the Iraqi army is still very weak and Syria is a madhouse. The bombing campaign will help but it can not destroy ISIS alone. We are past the phase of the war where ISIS is making huge advances, in Iraq and Syria at least. But we aren't at the point where they are defeated. If anything, I am predicting a stalemate. And remember, this is a global war. ISIS is just a part of a larger war against radical Islam that has lasted more then a decade. But, at the very least, we can now claim some victories against them. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Two cops killed in New York City in retaliation for recent police killings. Yahoo News/AP

Investigators working on the scene of the shooting. Yahoo News/AP.

Two police officers were shot and killed in Brooklyn, New York in an apparent revenge attack in response to the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases. Yahoo News/AP. Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the suspected gun man ambushed the two police officers, Wenjan Liu and Raphael Ramos, before killing himself. The suspect is also accused of wounding his ex-girlfriend. Brinsley's instagram page, since removed, said that he was "...Putting Wings On Pigs Today" (sic) and mentioned the Brown and Gardner cases by name. The shooting has exposed tension between the NYPD and New York City Mayor Bill de Blassio. Police have criticized they mayor for comments they found supportive of the police during the Eric Garner case. Some NYPD officers went so far as to turn their backs on the mayor during the press conference. The families of Brown and Garner, along with Al Sharpton, denounced the attack. 

My Comment:
This is the inevitable consequence of the deterioration of race relations in this country over the last few years. The media, along with Democratic politicians, have convinced the African American community that they are under siege from police departments across the country. It isn't true of course, but, as it so often is, the truth is irrelevant. Perception is king and the media and the Democratic Party has shifted the perception of the African American community. It was only a matter of time when a disturbed person decided to act.

And this is in no way justified. Even if the Brown and Garner cases had been examples of brutal murders, then this would not be justified. As it stands, the Brown case was a clear case of self defense and the Garner case, at worst, was a tragic mistake. This? This was a choice. Someone decided to murder two police officers, neither of who were white, for no other reason then that they wore a uniform. 

Revenge is never the answer, even in circumstances seem to justify it. Not only is killing out of spite wrong, you are opening yourself up to retaliation. And even if no cop ever does decides to get street justice for Liu and Ramos, every cop in the country is now wondering if he or she is a target. Cops are people too and they get scared. And now every single one of them, regardless of race, has to look at every young black man as a potential murderer. Maybe not on a conscious level but it has to be in the back of their heads somewhere. For people concerned about the treatment of African Americans by the police, this is the worst possible outcome. I talk about self fulfilling prophecies all the time, and in this case, it is coming true. 

On a more personal note, I have several friends who are cops so this issue hits home for me. I don't like thinking of something like this happening to them. The whole situation needs to be diffused and diffused fast, but I get the feeling that all that will happen will be a further fanning of the flames... 

ISIS is executing its own fighters for desertion. Yahoo/AFP

ISIS fighters in Syria. Yahoo/AFP.

A source says that 100 ISIS fighters in the Islamic States capital of Raqqa have been executed for trying to quit the organization. Yahoo/AFP. The fighters were foreign recruits. ISIS has created a military police unit to collect and arrest militants who do not report for duty. Many of the militants have become disillusioned because they are fighting other rebel groups instead of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Others, including between 30 and 50 Britons wish to return home but fear arrest if they were to make it out. ISIS has faced a string of defeats lately, so the internal strife is significant. 

My Comment:
This is good news and bad news, at least in terms of the fight against ISIS. Obviously it was very bad news for the people executed, but for the rest of the world this may be a positive sign. The fact that so many foreign fighters are sick of the war does not bode well for the long term survival of the Islamic State. I think the decline in morale is in part due to what they said in the article. These fighters though they were going to be fighting Assad, not the Free Syrian Army. 

There may be more too it then that though. I'm willing to bet that at least some of these fighters are disgusted by the level of violence that ISIS is committing in Syria and Iraq right now. These fighters may be willing to kill for ISIS but they might draw the line at some of the atrocities they are committing. The allied airstrikes may be having an effect as well, along with a string of defeats and the unending siege at Kobani. Add that all up with the general terrible conditions in war and it isn't all that surprising that ISIS is having a morale problem.

There is a downside though as well. If ISIS is serious about clamping down on deserters and are executing people then that may inspire people to fight harder. If the choices are fight and probably die or run and almost certainly die many will choose to fight. A man without hope is a dangerous thing, and if these fighters feel they have nothing to lose by risking it all they might just fight harder. Of course that means that these military police units have to be incredibly diligent about catching these deserters. Can they do that in a chaotic and confusing war? Good question. Time will tell, but my guess is no.

One wonders what will happen to these fighters if they do manage to escape ISIS. The only people who I think would accept them would be other radical organizations. If they return to their home countries they will be imprisoned at best. The question of what to do with ex-jihadists has not been answered yet, but it would be a huge risk letting them back in to live as normal people. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

House to house search for Ebola in Sierra Leone. Yahoo/AP

A quarantined home in Sierra Leone. Yahoo/AP.

The fight against Ebola continues in Sierra Leone as health officials go on a door to door search for the disease in the nations capital. Yahoo/AP. In addition to the search public holidays, such as Christmas and New Years Eve have been canceled in the country. The disease is making a comeback in the capital of Sierra Leone and the surrounding area. In the past it was largely limited in the rural areas of the country. The infection rate in the other most effected countries, Liberia and Guiana, have stabilized, but the outbreak in Sierra Leone has not. American officials have declined to give any additional help to Sierra Leone due to the British taking responsibility for building hospitals and isolating patients. To date, the Ebola virus has infected at least 18,500 people and killed more then 7000 of them. 

My Comment:
Ebola has largely fallen off the map in the United States, for several reasons. First, it was a huge election issue with both American parties scoring political points with the disease. When the election was over nobody really had any reason to hype the disease anymore. Second, the handful of cases in the United States and the one case in Spain did not spread, and almost everyone that caught the disease in Western countries survived. That made the disease seem like less of a problem then it actually is. Third, the outbreak seems to be slowing a bit. Looking at the raw numbers, I don't know how accurate that is. Liberia and Guiana have seen their rate slow, but there are still dozens of new cases each week. Still, the growth of the disease no longer seems to be exponential. 

The disease is still a threat though. As long as the infection rate is more then one then the disease will continue to spread. Looking at the data, it seems that the spread of Ebola is still steady. That is not bad news exactly, but it isn't the end of the outbreak either. I'm starting to wonder if Ebola is just going to be another of those diseases that just don't go away. Despite all the efforts of the West, Ebola is still around. This outbreak isn't over yet. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The United States and Cuba restore diplomatic ties. Yahoo/Reuters.

People gather in Havana, Cuba to hear the news. Yahoo/Reuters

The United States and Cuba are preparing to restore diplomatic ties after more then 50 years of embargo. Yahoo/Reuters. The deal, brokered by the Vatican and Canada, calls for a prisoner swap, opening of embassies between the two countries and an easing of the embargo. President Obama said that the embargo had failed to accomplish the goal of regime change in Cuba. The embargo still remains, and is unlikely to be lifted, because the Republican party controls congress and historically has been very hostile to Cuba's communist regime. Obama still has power, through executive orders, to ease the embargo. The prisoner exchange involved the United States trading three Cuban spies for one American spy and an aid worker named Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned by Cuba for trying to give the internet to Jewish Cubans. Republicans vowed to torpedo the plans.

My Comment:
I don't support this. I would love to have Cuba join the international community, but only if the Castro brothers share the same fate as Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadaffi. The communist regime is completely unacceptable and should be removed. But that isn't realistic. It's pretty clear that nothing short of an invasion will topple the communist party in Cuba. We tried that once and it failed spectacularly. The embargo didn't do much either, but at some point we have to ask ourselves is it really worth it to deal with Cuba?

That's a tough question to answer. We work with China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and a whole host of other countries that are, quite frankly, evil, but for valid reasons. I'm struggling to think of a reason to work with Cuba. They have little strategic value and they are too poor of an economy to really contribute to trade. Cuba, of course would benefit greatly from this deal, but I fail to see how it helps anyone in America. If anything, it could be worse for us if our workers lose their jobs due to Cuban products flooding the market. Still, Cuba is so small  and our economy is so huge, either way it would be a blip on our radar. Some Cuban-Americans may like it, but I'm guessing most of them do not.

This is probably a gift for Republicans. They have long held Cuban-Americans as a strong voting block. This has faded in recent elections, but for 2016, expect this to be a major issue in the presidential election. Cuban-Americans are a crucial voting block in the swing state of Florida and it is possible that this issue could tip the state red. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sony Pictures pulls The Interview, caving to North Korean pressure. CNN Money

Sony Pictures has pulled the Seth Rogen film, The Interview, caving to North Korean pressure. CNN Money. Sony had little choice after most of the nations theater chains decided to not show the movie, but Sony had given them that option. The U.S. Government believes that the massive information hack and threats of violence comes right from the top of the North Korean government. A shadowy unit of hackers, called Bureau 121, was probably behind the attack. Meanwhile, celebrities and film executives widely condemned the pulling of the movie.

My Comment:
What a gutless move by Sony Pictures. This kind of cowardice is only going to encourage further attacks. And it will have a chilling effect on creative people, not just in the film industry but in literature, video games and television as well. What happens now? Are the North Koreans going to go after previously released movies like Team America: World Police or the Red Dawn remake? How about the video game Homefront? What about documentaries and news? Will anyone ever be able to criticize North Korea in the media again?

Again, this move is completely gutless and will have serious consequences. Of course the government has its role in this too. They need to do something to strengthen the defenses of internet networks. Too bad the NSA has the opposite goal. The government could increase sanctions against North Korea, and start hacking them back but the best offense in this case is a strong defense. And the NSA has no desire to make computer networks hack proof.

On a more personal note, I had planned on going to a movie this weekend, but now I am not so sure. I don't know if I want to directly support an industry that caves at the first sign of a threat.

Hackers invoke 9/11 and threaten movie theaters that plan on showing "The Interview". CNN Money

Via IMBD. 

A hacker group known as the Guardians of Peace have invoked the 9/11 attacks and have threatened all movie goers that go to see the new Seth Rogen comedy "The Interview". CNN Money. The group has carried out on their threats before and have released thousands of hacked files and entire unreleased movies from Sony Pictures, who are releasing the movie. Since the movie is a fictional account of an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it is suspected that the North Koreans are behind the Guardians of Peace. Sony Pictures have not pulled the movie as of yet, but they have told theater owners that they can pull the movie if they so desire. Although the FBI has not discovered an active plot, Sony canceled the premier of the film and canceled the promotional tour for the stars of the film. 

My Comment:
Man, the North Koreans can not take a joke. I understand why they are upset, they don't have free speech over there and anyone living in North Korea who would so much as joke about Kim Jong Un would be sent to a camp, along with their family. When the film eventually gets smuggled into North Korea the leadership there will have to paint a picture for their people. If word gets out that the United States (i know Sony Pictures isn't the United States, but the North Koreans wouldn't understand the difference) made a film that made fun of their leader and the North Koreans did nothing about it then the government would lose face. By punishing Sony Pictures and threatening violence they are saying to their people that NOBODY, not even the United States, can get away with making fun of Kim Jong Un.

This whole debacle is terrible for film though. It is going to cost Sony Pictures millions of dollars and has aired a lot of Hollywood's dirty laundry. Whatever the film makes it won't be enough to cover the money they have already lost. Not only is that bad for Sony it is bad for film in general. The studios are already terrified of taking risks with movies and the losses Sony is taking here will make them even more skittish. They already tip toe around China due to their huge film market, so films will now probably aim to not offend North Korea as well. Which means that there will be no more films with Asian villains in them.

Of course the fact that Sony is even allowing theaters to pull the film is disheartening. I hate censorship of any form and that includes self censorship. If you have to account for the sensibilities for everyone in the world then you can't do art anymore. I have no idea what the merits of "The Interview" as a film is but it absolutely should be released. Even if the North Koreans make good on their threats. The whole situation reminds me of the South Park episode "201" which was made after Islamic extremists threatened the creators for their depiction of Muhammad. The episode contained a speech that applies here.  

That speech of course, was censored completely when it was released. And just like Comedy Central did, Sony Pictures is on the verge of proving the point again. Threatening violence always works... 

As for the film itself, if it does stay in theaters I might go see it. I'm not a big fan of Seth Rogan or comedies in general, but I'm also not a fan of small groups of people that want to impose their will on others. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Taliban attack a Pakistani school and kill at least 126 people. Yahoo/AP.

A wounded student being helped after the attack in Peshawar Pakistan. Yahoo/AP

Gunmen from the Pakistani Tehreek-e-Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, Pakistan and killed at least 126 people. Yahoo/AP. Most of the victims were students in grades one through ten enrolled at the school. The attack happened in the morning with half a dozen gunmen shooting randomly. Commandos from the Pakistani military responded quickly and fought a pitched battle with the terrorists. The military deployed APC's and helicopters and were able to rescue 11 staff members from inside the school. The terrorists had taken hostages but it is unclear how many. Sources are also unclear about how many attackers were involved. At least two were killed and one blew himself up with a suicide belt. The attack is seen as retaliation against Pakistan's military campaign against the Taliban in North Waziristan. 

My Comment:
The war against Islamic terror is truly global at this point. Lost in the fight against ISIS and all the various battles in Africa, Pakistan has its own major insurgency. Along with Afghanistan, the whole region is unstable, with the Taliban advancing in both countries. Killing children as a political statement is, of course, reprehensible, but this isn't the first time that an Islamic extremist group has targeted them. It almost seems that the various extremists groups are trying to outdo each other in terms of atrocity. 

As for Pakistan, the war against the Taliban and other terror groups in North Waziristan has largely gone unnoticed. It is a shadowy war that certainly has some U.S. involvement. I've heard rumors that some of the U.S. drone strikes in the area were done on behest of the Pakistani government to take out their own internal enemies as payment for being allowed to operate against Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. This attack is just another part of this shadow war. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Australian hostage taker has been identified and he has a troubled past. Yahoo/Reuters.

The alleged hostage taker Man Monis at an anti-war protest in 2009. Yahoo/EPA/Sergio Dioniso

The alleged hostage taker in Australia has been identified as Man Monis, an Iranian refugee that has had several run ins with the law. Yahoo/Reuters. The list of crimes Monis, also known as Sheikh Haron, includes sending threatening letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers to protest their involvement with wars in the middle east, a crime which he was convicted of. He is also accused of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife and a sexual assault case dating back to 2002. Monis has a website with graphic images of children who were supposedly killed in allied airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. 

My Comment:
No other news about the situation developed overnight except for this and the escape of 5 hostages. The number of current hostages has been lowered to less then thirty. The rumors about a suicide belt seem to be true and Monis appears to be armed with some kind of firearm. Monis has also forced some of the hostages to contact the local media. Who knows how long this will last, but here is hoping that a peaceful resolution will be found.

As for Monis himself he seems like the kind of person that should have never been let into Australia in the first place. At least that is going to be the argument. It is possible that he radicalized in Australia and not Iran. After all ISIS has been in the news and has inspired several other lone wolf attacks.  Either way though this will be another talking point in Australia's fierce debate about immigration, a debate that every Western nation seems to be having. They are more anti-immigration then most countries but this incident may lead to them clamping down further. And to be completely honest, that makes some sense. It might not be the righteous thing to do but it could be the smart choice.

Of course clamping down on immigration won't help much when your terrorists are already in the country. One wonders how a man who is out on bail got a hold in a gun in a country that has extremely strict gun control. That's a rhetorical question of course, guns are easy to find in almost any country if you are a criminal and know where to look for them. In America, a country with strong gun rights in most of the states, there is a very good chance that situation would have been resolved already. We have already had one incident this year where a good guy with a gun stopped a radical Islamic terrorist.  Pity there wasn't a good guy with a gun in this case... 

Twitter is lighting up with reports of loud bangs or gunshots at the scene of the crime. 5 more hostages may have escaped. Not sure if we are getting our happy ending here...

UPDATE: CNN is reporting that at the very least two people were injured, possibly as many as four. The threat seems to be over. Sounds like Monis is down.

UPDATE #2: CNN just confirmed that two people have died... and then cut to commercial. Classy CNN. Not clear if that includes the suspect or not. 5 people injured, with one possibly being a cop, according to what i just heard on CNN. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

BREAKING NEWS! Hostage situation in Sydney, Australia. Yahoo/AP

Hostages forced to show a black flag with Arabic writing. Yahoo/AP/Channel 7

A hostage situation has erupted in Sydney, Australia with possible links to Islamic extremism. Yahoo/AP. The hostages were taken at a Sydney coffee and chocolate shop called Lindt Chocolat Cafe Hostages were forced to show a flag through the window that had an Islamic saying on it. Hundreds of police have evacuated the area. No injuries have been reported so far. It is unknown what the motivation of the attackers are.

RT is reporting that between 30 and 40 people are being held and that there may be more then on attacker. RT is also reporting that the men are demanding an audience with Australian Prime Minster Tony Abbot. There are also unconfirmed reports of the hostage takers wearing suicide belts. One hostage taker was seen using a hostage as a human shield.

My Comment:
Australia is downplaying the fact that this is almost certainly an attack based on radical Islam. the black flag has been used by Al-Qaeda and ISIS for years. This particular flag seems to be a more generic one, but it fits the profile. It's clear to me at least that this is an Islamic attack. 

As for the report from RT, I'm not sure where they are getting their information. I'm guessing their report is more detailed then the AP one because they aren't quite as strict about verifying their sources. I'm guessing that the reports about the hostage takers demands are legit as well as the use of human shields. The report of a suicide belt seems a bit more dubious to me. 

The whole situation is terrible though. Given how these situations have played out recently, it would be extremely lucky if everyone makes it out of this ok. Here is hoping that luck prevails. And if it doesn't then Australia is going to have to start asking itself some very hard questions. 

I'll keep track of this story as it develops. 

The French are having success in West Africa fighting Islamic Militants. Yahoo/AFP

French troops on a protection detail. Yahoo/AFP

France has killed or captured over 200 Jihadists in West Africa, including some important leaders. Yahoo/AFP. Among the dead is the leader of the Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar Al-Murabitoun group, Ahmed el Tilemsi. The victories in 2014 come on the heals of a very successful operation last year where Jihidists were routed in Mali. In August of this year France expanded their operations outside of Mali to include the countries of Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania. 3000 French troops are deployed and are currently building a base in Niger close to the border with Libya, a hotbed of Jihadi activity. France has not ruled out military action in Libya as well, but the security situation there is chaotic at best. 

My Comment:
I first posted about France's military action in West Africa here. It is always good to hear about the French military being successful. They get a bad rap for stupid reasons, but when it comes down to it they are one of the most professional and capable armies in the world. They are pretty much  taking care of West Africa  by themselves and they are helping in Iraq as well.  They have a great motivation to do so as well. Many of these West African countries were former colonies of France and they also have a large Muslim population. It is in their best interest to fight against extremists wherever they might be. 

As for West and Northern Africa, the situation is a mess. Libya's instability is a major factor why everything is going crazy there. The destruction of Gaddafi and his government opened the floodgates for sophisticated weaponry and Jihadi groups. In the chaos after the fall of the old government, splinter factions have arisen and threaten the entire region. And like i posted the other day, ISIS is in the area as well. France might not be willing to do something about the situation yet, and nobody else is either, but eventually something will have to be done. Here is hoping that France can help keep the region under control. 

Also, here is a video from last year's conflict in Mali. There is a little bit of graphic content so skip this one if you are sensitive to such things. Either way though it shows how effective the French were in fighting the insurgents. The first part of the video is mostly African Militia but about 1/3rd of the way through is where you can see the French fighting. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

ISIS is expanding into Libya, will the U.S. strike? LA Times.

A bombed out warehouse in Libya. LA Times/AFP/Getty

ISIS has new training bases in the remote regions of Libya, causing concern for U.S. officials. LA Times. Hundreds of fighters are training in camps in eastern Libya and some fighters may have been spotted near Tripoli as well. Although there are no current plans to strike these camps, officials are starting to wonder what, if anything, should be done. Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 revolution, where the United States conducted airstrikes in support of rebels. After the overthrow of Gaddafi, the United States did nothing as the country fell into sectarian violence. It has not been determined if these camps are made up of fighters from Libya, or if they are from Iraq and Syria. ISIS allies also have control of the city of Derna. Officials are wary of new airstrikes due to the complicated situation involving many factions on the ground and fears of getting involved in yet another middle east conflict. 

My Comment:
Once again, the law of unintended consequences strikes again. Some people did speak out back in 2011 that overthrowing Gaddafi would turn Libya into a haven for terrorists and other extremists and throw the country into sectarian violence. All that has happened and more, and since the Benghazi attack, the United States involvement in the region has been limited. That has limited our options. These ISIS fighters are, of course, a threat. Not only could they eventually take more territory, they can provide fighters for the Iraq and Syrian conflict and perhaps strike at targets in Europe as well. 

As for ISIS, it is very disturbing that they have been able to spread so successfully. Iraq and Syria are the main countries that they have control in, but if they are taking and holding territory in Libya as well that means they aren't just a regional threat. They are a global one, and more should be done to fight them. I wouldn't have a problem with the air force or navy bombing these camps to oblivion, but I doubt there is any political will for any involvement in Libya. We are partially responsible for the situation there, but nobody, not in the United States or Europe, is willing to commit the resources necessary to save the country, let alone fight ISIS. I'm guessing that nothing will be done about ISIS in Libya until they either take over the country or conduct some kind of major terror attack. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

ISIS formed inside an U.S. prison in Iraq. The Guardian.

Camp Bucca in Iraq, where the leaders of ISIS first met. The Guardian/AFP

The Guardian has a detailed report, based on interviews with an active member of ISIS and an Iraqi General, details the history of the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The Jihadist, with the nom de guerre of Abu Ahmed, disillusioned with the war but too afraid to leave ISIS, detailed the history of ISIS. Ahmed describes how Camp Bucca, a prison in Iraq, concentrated several extremists in a small area. Abu Bakr first made waves in the camp by acting as a calming influence and an expert at conflict resolution. The leader of ISIS was released due to this.  While there, he and other Jihadists fostered relationships that would soon form the core of ISIS. Jihadis wrote contact info in the waistbands of their underwear and as they were released or escaped they joined up with ISIS's precursor group, Al-Qaeda in Iraq. With the death of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, Abu Bakr became the courier for his replacement, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. When Abu Omar died Abu Bakr took over, along with his inner circle of Camp Bucca alumni. 

My Comment:
An excellent report from the Guardian. It is a bit long but well worth the read. My education was in criminal justice and one of the things we learned in college is how prisons are "finishing schools" for criminals. Petty criminals go in and by they time the get out they learn how to better commit crimes, in some cases even learning about new crimes they didn't have the knowledge to commit before. Obviously, when you put a bunch of potential terrorists together in with actual terrorists then instead of crime, terrorism is the new skill the prisoners are going to learn. Of course, I don't think there was much that could have been done to prevent this short of not letting any of the prisoners escape or be released. Hindsight is 20/20 but once again the United States has had a role in creating its own enemies. 

As for the other revelations it is fascinating to hear from someone inside of ISIS that is disillusioned with the cause and the violence. Whoever this Abu Ahmed is, he doesn't sound happy that he is stuck with ISIS. There is no chance that ISIS will let him leave and they may very well kill him if they figure out he was talking to the press. And even if he does escape I doubt he would escape western attention. The best case scenario for him is probably the inside of a prison cell. 

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is an interesting case as well. The fact that he was able to manipulate the guards at Camp Bacca shows that he is manipulative and smart, two qualities that are dangerous in a leader. The fact that he was let out of U.S. custody is mind boggling, but again, hindsight. Of course sooner or later his fate will be the same as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi. It might not be the U.S. that kills him but it definitely won't be old age that kills him. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Public support for gun rights is increasing. More then half support gun rights. Pew Research.

Pew Research Center. 

In a major reversal a majority of people support gun rights then gun control, according to a new report from Pew Research Center. 52% of people now say that it is more important to protect gun ownership then restricting access to firearms. Support for gun rights had been increasing in polling until the shooting in Newton almost two years ago, which caused a dip in support for gun rights. More Americans have the opinion that guns protect people instead of putting them at risk, with 57% saying guns prevent crime. Demographically the largest jump in people that believe that guns help people are African Americans. In 2012 only 29% said guns helped prevent crime, compared to 54% in 2014. African Americans still say that guns should be controlled but the number of supports of gun rights has increased from 24% in 2012 to 34% in 2014.  

My Comment:
Another poll confirming what I've long suspected. My major surprise is that the numbers aren't higher. Gun control is on life support in this country and is only a factor due to the deep pockets of people like Michael Bloomberg. In addition, the supporters of gun rights are much more dedicated to their cause then the gun control advocates. Gun control advocates have had some victories though, so even as the polls turn against them, they still have power. 

As for why the numbers are changing here are some possible reasons:

1. Widespread civil unrest after the Michael Brown shooting probably convinced many people that owning a gun is a very good idea. Perhaps not all for the same reason though. Anyone who say the riots and demonstrations had the very reasonable fear that those riots could spread to the point that they could threaten their homes and lives. People don't believe the cops could protect them from that so they decided to protect themselves. Conversely, some people may have bought guns to protect themselves from perceived (and in my view incorrect) bias from the police. 

2. The Millennial generation is fairly libertarian in general. Sure there are still huge numbers of Social Justice Warriors who hate guns, but the generation is more libertarian then previous generations. That's good news for gun rights

3. Video games. You heard me. A whole generation of kids have been turned onto guns due to shooters like Call Of Duty and so on. Sure, some of those kids are annoying but they play video games with cool guns and think "man, these are cool, I'd sure like to own one in real life!"

4. People are sick of Democrats and their platform in general. Again, Democrats would disagree, but other then their die hard supporters, people are getting sick of everything related to Obama. And gun control is related to Obama. Of course some of that is 2nd term dissatisfaction but hopefully its more then that. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Time's person of the year are the Ebola fighters. Time


My Comment:
Great choice by Time. The doctors, nurses and other volunteers are truly heroes and deserve this honor. It takes incredible courage to fight such a deadly and terrifying disease and more then a few gave their lives trying to fight Ebola. It's not just the ones in Africa, but all the doctors and nurses that helped treat exported cases and stop the outbreaks in Spain and the United States. 

And it is important to note that the outbreak is anything but over. Though it seems to be subsiding in Liberia the disease is still rampant in Sierra Leone and Guiana and Mali still hasn't gotten its outbreak under control yet. The crisis is not over, even if coverage of it has waned. Although it isn't clear if the outbreak will be stopped anytime soon, if it does stop it will be because of the brave doctors and nurses fighting the disease. 

Kalashnikov Concern, producer of the famous AK-47 and other rifles, is having trouble dealing with U.S. sanctions. BBC

Kalashnikov Concern is having trouble finding buyers for its rifles. -BBC

The Russian company Kalashnikov Concern, maker of the famous AK-47 family of rifles, is having trouble finding buyers for its rifles due to U.S. sanctions. BBC. The company, which had secured a huge contract of 200,000 rifles for the United States, lost its chance to sell those rifles after President Obama imposed sanctions on it and seven other Russian companies. The sanctions are in response to the Russian governments actions in Ukraine. Losing the U.S. market was not the only problem as EU sanctions are harming efforts to modernize production at the Izhevsk plant. These problems are compounded as former Soviet Bloc nations are also producing AK weapons. Due to these concerns the firm is trying to secure a contract with the Russian government to supply the government with a new rifle, the AK-12. Still, the heads of the company are hoping that the sanctions are lifted soon. 

My Comment:
I'm hoping that Kalashnikov can survive. If for no other reason then for the great historical importance of the AK-47 family of rifles. The have been involved in dozens of major wars and have proven themselves to be one of the most ubiquitous rifles of the 20th and 21st centuries. Like the Mosin-Nagant before it, it's fought on both sides of practically every war in recent history. It's also an acceptable home defense weapon as well. In the great AR-15 vs AK-47 debate my answer was always... BOTH! Too bad I can't really afford either... 

As for the sanctions, I don't see them doing much to convince Putin to stop his adventure in Ukraine. He has some fairly serious strategic and tactical concerns in the nation and I doubt he will give it up to save Kalashnikov. If the choice is between an arms manufacturer and Russia's historical interest in keeping Ukraine in its sphere of control, Ukraine is going to win every time. He may very well choose Kalashnikov Concern's AK-12 as a new rifle for the Russian military, but that seems somewhat unlikely. From what I understand Russia still has thousands of AK-74's and doesn't really need a new rifle. 

Of course I think that gun control was a major factor in passing these sanctions in the first place. I won't say it was the only reason but at the very least the Obama administration considered the ban a great way to stop a particularly hated rifle from being sold. Even if it was a fringe benefit, from their perspective, it still is terrible. Thousands of Americans own AK rifles and thousands more want new ones but due to the sanctions they can't get them. But as long as both Obama and Putin are in office I don't see these sanctions going away. Even if U.S./Russian relations start to thaw there is almost no chance of Obama lifting these sanctions, just because he hates guns. Hopefully things will change in 2016 when he is out of office...