• Keeping it in perspective

    The question we should ask about nuclear power is not whether or not it has risks; every mode of power generation comes with its own risks; rather, the questions we should ask are: How do the risks of nuclear power measure relative to the risks of other power generation methods? Was the disaster in Japan proof that nuclear power plants are riskier than we thought — or did the disaster provide evidence for the opposite conclusions: aging plants absorbed unprecedented blows — a double whammy of an 8.9 earthquake, followed by a massive tsunami; a series of mistakes by plant operators — mistakes which came on top of years of wrong decisions about back-up systems and redundancy — and yet, the plants survived: there was no meltdown; there was but little release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere; some would be moved to say this is a pretty good record under the circumstances

  • Obama: Coalition cannot militarily force Gaddafi to leave

    The Obama administration is continuing to send mixed messages about the direction, purpose, and effect of the U.S.-led missile strikes on Libya, with conflicting statements from the top about Col. Qaddafi’s grip on power five days into the campaign; the coalition’s air dominance has been achieved, but administration officials have not offered a clear picture as to what the no-fly zone is expected to yield; the president reiterated that the coalition does not “have military tools at our disposal in terms of accomplishing Qaddafi’s leaving,” though he has said it is U.S. policy that Qaddafi should go; Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa spoke by telephone Sunday night with assistant secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman; no details were released

  • Air dominance is achieved, but confusion of goals deepens

    As the coalition forces achieve air dominance over Libya, the lack of clarity over the campaign’s goals becomes even more apparent; the Security Council authorized the use of force to prevent Gaddafi from killing a large number of civilians, and U.S. and French planes were thus within the UN mandate when they attacked Libyan ground units trying to attack rebels’ positions; but if the rebels go on the attack against the Libyan military, would coalition forces provide close air support? Would the coalition begin to arm and train the rebels — because if they do not, then Gaddafi will not be dislodged from power; as importantly: the support for Gaddafi comes from certain tribes, and the opposition to him is also tribal, although not exclusively so; we should not delude ourselves: if the rebels gain the upper hand, we should expect massacres and atrocities to be committed by some rebel groups against members of tribes loyal to Gaddafi; what do the coalition forces do then? Their mandate is the prevent the wholesale killing of civilians, but does this mean killing by Gaddafi loyalists only, or is the mandate broader than that?

  • Military action continues, operation's goals still unclear

    The military operation against the military assets of Col. Gaddafi continued Monday, but with lesser intensity than the attacks over the weekend; it is still not clear what the end goal of the military operation is — and it now appears that one of the reasons for the lack of clarity are divisions within NATO over the aims of the operation and who should be in charge; there are two camps within NATO which are uncomfortable with the idea of the organization running the campaign: Turkey and Germany — the former is the only Muslim member of NATO, the latter, owing to its past, always reluctant to support the use of force — are worried that NATO, under the leadership of England and France, would push for more expansive goals for the operation; France is worried that NATO — an organizations operating on the basis of unanimity, so all twenty-eight members have to agree on every move — would be swayed by those members who are not enthusiastic about the operation to limit the operation’s scope

  • Analysis: More questions than answers

    It is not clear, exactly, what targets have been attacked — and what is the overall goal of the campaign; Libya does not have an army the size of Iraq’s circa 2003, but an attack by 124 cruise missiles is on the limited side — and the numbers of planes involved is also on the small side; if what we know about the weekend air campaign is accurate, then there is not enough in it materially to weaken Gaddafi and his forces, nor is there anything in it to strengthen those who oppose him; we must conclude, then, that the campaign is more a part of a complex bargaining process with Gaddafi than a serious effort to topple him from power; it would be wise for NATO leaders to be clearer about the goal of the campaign against Gaddafi: democratic public opinion would demand it, and the Arab world, watching the West’s every move, should not be allowed to have unrealistic expectations about what it is we are trying to achieve

  • Studying counterterrorism in Israel upsets Cambridge residents

    Some residents of Cambridge, Massachusetts are upset that sixteen law enforcement and emergency services officials from the city went to Israel in an Anti Defamation League-sponsored trip to observe Israeli counterterrorism methods; the trip was funded by a local businessman; in a city hall meeting residents expressed discomfort with a privately organized trip for public officials — and with the fact that these officials chose Israel as the place to study counterterrorism tactics; one local resident said that what Israel calls “counterterrorism” is “a mechanism of oppression suited to employment in a police state, a status I do not regard our city as having obtained. At least not yet”

  • ME turmoil offers both problems and hope for U.S. counterterrorism efforts

    In a few short weeks, popular uprisings in the Islamic world have upended counterterrorism relationships that the United States spent much of the past decade trying to build; the turmoil is a source of concern for U.S. counterterrorism officials, scrambling partnerships that have been critical to operations against al Qaeda; U.S. officials say, though, that the long-term prospect of democratic reform in the region will likely be a setback to the terrorist group, because the uprisings — and the prospect that more democratic and representative governments could emerge — will do significant damage to al Qaeda’s appeal

  • Boston Dynamics developing humanoid and robot cheetah

    Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Boston Dynamics, an advanced robotics developer, a contract to build “Cheetah,” a fast and agile robot capable of chasing and evading; the eighteen year old engineering company is also working on a humanoid robot named “Atlas” based on the design of “PETMAN,” an anthropomorphic robot for testing chemical protection clothing used by the U.S. army

  • Gratuitous insults: The staying power of bad ideas

    The state of Tennessee will consider a bill which will make supporting Sharia law a felony; Oklahoma already has a similar measure of the books, but it is currently under judicial review; burning the Koran and declaring Sharia law to be a felony are not going to help in our war against terrorism; they will have the opposite effect; they are provocative measures which will inflame Muslims around the world; without the active support of Muslims around the world, the war against the terrorists cannot be won; one way to make sure we do not receive such support is by burning the Koran or by declaring support for Sharia law to be a felony; legislating that support for Sharia law is a felony is unnecessary; we outlaw polygamy without declaring support for Mormonism to be a felony; Hassidic Jewish men believe that they can divorced their wives simply by repeating “I divorce you” three times; we do not allow that – without declaring support for Orthodox Judaism to be a felony

  • Gaddafi launches first major counter-attack on rebels

    Gaddafi’s forces are escalating a counteroffensive, pushing the country closer to an all-out civil war; opponents of Gaddafi today (Wednesday) repelled an attack by the Libyan leader’s forces trying to retake Brega, a key coastal oil installation, in a topsy-turvy battle in which shells splashed in the Mediterranean and a warplane bombed a beach where rebel fighters were charging over the dunes. At least five people were killed in the fighting; the assault on the Brega oil port was the first major regime counteroffensive against the opposition-held eastern half of Libya, where the population backed by mutinous army units rose up and drove out Gaddafi’s rule over the past two weeks; a coalition of anti-government movements is considering whether to ask the UN to execute airstrikes against pro-Gaddafi forces; NATO has drawn up plans for imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, but the organization said it would implement the plan only with a UN Security Council blessing, which is unlikely because of Russia’s objections

  • UN Human Rights Council to praise Libya's human rights record

    While the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on Libya, the UN Human Rights Council is set to adopt a report full of praise for Libya’s human rights record; the report also contains comments on Libya by Council members: Sudan praises Libya for improving education conditions; North Korea noted Libya’s progress on economic and social rights; Saudi Arabia praised Libya for improvements in constitutional, legislative, and institutional frameworks, which “showed the importance that the country attached to human rights”; praise is also heaped on Libya by Cuba, Venezuela, Oman — and two nations whose leaders were recently ousted in the midst of Middle East unrest — Egypt and Tunisia

  • History: Libya and the Un Human Rights Council

    In May 2010, in a secret ballot, Libya received a shocking 155 votes (out of 192 countries who are UN members) and was elected to the UN Human Rights Council; UN members were aware of Libya’s human rights practices, such as extrajudicial and summary executions, systematic use of torture, and the imposition of the death penalty for political and economic offences; UN members were also aware that Libyan agents in 1988 blew up a passenger airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, exploded a French airliner over the Sahara desert, killing 170; Gaddafi also financed and helped train dozens of terrorist organizations, supported Charles Taylor in the Liberian civil war that was responsible for more than 200,000 deaths, supported the insurgency by Fodeh Sanko in Sierra Leon — Sanko’s followers chopped off the arms and legs of more than 82,000 men, women and children in villages loyal to the government, but left them alive so the government would go bankrupt trying to take care of them — and backed Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who brought hunger and devastation to that once relatively prosperous country; but then again, this is the UN

  • Battle lines in Libya harden

    The divisions in Libya harden; the Gaddafi government reinforces its hold on the Tripoli region by transferring to the area thousands of soldiers from southern tribes loyal to Gaddafi, augmented by hundreds of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa; in the break-away eastern part of the country, former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who defected from the Gaddafi regime, announced Saturday he was setting up a provisional government; the UN Security Council imposed a series of sanctions on the Gaddafi regime and its loyalists; the UN General Assembly will debate tomorrow (Tuesday) whether to kick Libya off the UN Human Rights Council (the 47-member Council debated the Libyan situation Friday, but member states could not bring itself to criticize Gaddafi); British and German military planes landed in Libya’s desert over the weekend to rescue hundreds of oil workers and civilians stranded at remote sites; the secret military rescue missions signal the readiness of Western nations to disregard Libya’s territorial integrity when it comes to the safety of their citizens

  • Acoustic gunfire detection devices heading to the field

    Technological developments may one day create artificial soldiers, but until they come along, the United States and other countries will continue to rely on human soldiers; the militaries thus want to preserve as many of their soldier’s lives as possible; to that end, Shoulder-Worn Acoustic Targeting System (SWATS), which helps Marines zero in on enemy sniper fire, is a godsend to the United States; asymmetric warfare favors the forces that can strike and runaway unharmed, but with plentiful acoustic sensors in the field it will be that much harder for snipers to ambush U.S. soldiers and live to escape

  • On kabuki, farces, subpoenas, and theocracy

    The United States is trying to persuade the UN Human Rights Council to kick Libya out (yes, Libya is a member of the council) and to order an investigation of the atrocities committed by the Gaddafi regime against anti-government protesters; trouble is, members of the council include such towering paragons of human rights as Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Burundi — and the council is controlled by a bloc of Islamic and African states, backed by China and Russia; to hope this UN body will be moved by the plight of the Libyan people is to expect too much; closer to home, Darrell Issa (R-California) promised that when he assumed the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he would launch a subpoena campaign against the Obama administration; the campaign has now been launched; in Kentucky, the state’s homeland security department requires the department’s executive director to publicize a “dependence on Almighty God” in agency training and educational materials; atheists argue in court that this would turn Kentucky into a theocracy