Wikileaks’ head as James Bond villain

British police are reportedly closing in on Julian Assange, the man behind Wikileaks, with plans to arrrest him on Swedish sexual assault charges. But now Assange, playing the role of a James Bond villain, has devised a doomsday weapon set to go off if anyone interferes with his fiendish plans:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has reportedly released an encrypted “poison pill” file that contains sensitive data related to Guantanamo Bay, Afghan military ops, Bank of America and the BP oil spill.

The file – known as insurance.aes256 – is locked-down with a 256-digit key deemed virtually unbreakable by even the US Department of Defense (DoD).

Assange, who is using the sensitive data to hold governments hostage, states: “We have over a long period of time distributed encrypted backups of material we have yet to release. All we have to do is release the password to that material, and it is instantly available.”

WikiLeaks threatens “poison pill” if site shut down Assange explains that if any government tries to stop WikiLeaks by downing the website or detaining him, he will disseminate the “poison pill” password, allowing anyone to access the highly-embarrassing documents.

Meanwhile, the leaks keep coming.  The latest goes far beyond diplomatic embarrassments.  It is a direct attack on U.S. national security tailor made for international terrorists:

A long list of key facilities around the world that the US describes as vital to its national security has been released by Wikileaks.

In February 2009 the State Department asked all US missions abroad to list all installations whose loss could critically affect US national security.

The list includes pipelines, communication and transport hubs.

Several UK sites are listed, including cable locations, satellite sites and BAE Systems plants.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says this is probably the most controversial document yet from the Wikileaks organisation.

The definition of US national security revealed by the cable is broad and all embracing, he says.

There are obvious pieces of strategic infrastructure like communications hubs, gas pipelines and so on. However, other facilities on the list include:

* Cobalt mine in Congo

* Anti-snake venom factory in Australia

* Insulin plant in Denmark

In Britain, the list ranges from Cornwall to Scotland, including key satellite communications sites and the places where trans-Atlantic cables make landfall.

A number of BAE Systems plants involved in joint weapons programmes with the Americans are listed, along with a marine engineering firm in Edinburgh which is said to be “critical” for nuclear powered submarines. . . .

The geographical range of the document on installations is extraordinary, our correspondent says.

If the US sees itself as waging a “global war on terror” then this represents a global directory of the key installations and facilities – many of them medical or industrial – that are seen as being of vital importance to Washington.

Some locations are given unique billing. The Nadym gas pipeline junction in western Siberia, for example, is described as “the most critical gas facility in the world”.

It is a crucial transit point for Russian gas heading for western Europe.

In some cases, specific pharmaceutical plants or those making blood products are highlighted for their crucial importance to the global supply chain.

The critical question is whether this really is a listing of potential targets that might be of use to a terrorist.

via BBC News – List of facilities ‘vital to US security’ leaked.

The Fall of the American Empire

Foreign affairs think tanker Robert D. Kaplan argues in the Washington Post that the United States and the Soviet Union constituted, in effect, two empires that organized the world between them.  Other countries mostly aligned themselves with one side or the other.  The Soviet Empire collapsed, leaving the United States alone in the imperial role.  But now, according to Kaplan, the American empire has collapsed.

Because of our military quagmires, our economic problems, our diplomatic weakness, and our overall popularity abroad, the United States no longer carries much clout with other countries.  We can’t influence even the little ones any more to do what we want.

China is on the verge of replacing  the United States as the world empire.  But it isn’t quite ready yet.  In the meantime, Kaplan predicts global instability since “no one is in charge.”

This raises lots of questions:

(1)  Do you think he is right?

(2)  Does the United States have any business being a de facto global empire?  (The old empires, like that of the Romans and the British, at least profited from their takeover of other countries, unlike the United States with its “soft empire.”)  Wouldn’t it be better for this country if we just hunkered down behind our own borders, letting the rest of the world go its own way?  (On the other hand, didn’t Rome try that, only to find there were no more buffers to keep the Barbarians away?)

(3)  What do you think the world will be like under a de facto Chinese empire, with its free market communism, that strangely effective blend of totalitarian government with money-making enterprise?

via Where’s the American empire when we need it?.

Is America exceptional, or what?

The latest ideological buzzword is “exceptional,” as in, “America is exceptional.”  Republicans Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich are accusing Democrats–and President Obama in particular–of not believing in “American exceptionalism.”  See this rather biased article for an overview of the phenomenon: Conservatives’ new focus: America, the exceptional.

What does it mean to say that America is exceptional?  Does it mean, as the article says, that America is the best of all countries, or does it really mean something different?  What IS exceptional about America, and what is not?

Isn’t it true that conservatives tend to be more positively patriotic, while liberals tend to be patriotic in the sense that “it’s patriotic to criticize what is wrong”?  Why is that?

And what does all of this mean from a Christian point of view? At what point does patriotism turn into pride and idolatry?

Thank a mosquito. . .

Next time you get bit by a mosquito, do not swat him. Rather, thank him for your freedom!  Yesterday marked the 229th anniversary of George Washington’s victory over the British at Yorktown, which meant that American independence was won.  This fascinating piece by J. R. McNeill credits the lowly and much-hated mosquito for this otherwise unlikely turn of events:

Major combat operations in the American Revolution ended 229 years ago on Oct. 19, at Yorktown. For that we can thank the fortitude of American forces under George Washington, the siegecraft of French troops of Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the count of Rochambeau – and the relentless bloodthirstiness of female Anopheles quadrimaculatus mosquitoes.

Those tiny amazons conducted covert biological warfare against the British army. Female mosquitoes seek mammalian blood to provide the proteins they need to make eggs. No blood meal, no reproduction. It makes them bold and determined to bite.

Some anopheles mosquitoes carry the malaria parasite, which they can inject into human bloodstreams when taking their meals. In eastern North America, A. quadrimaculatus was the sole important malaria vector. It carried malaria from person to person, and susceptible humans carried it from mosquito to mosquito. In the 18th century, no one suspected that mosquitoes carried diseases.

Malaria, still one of the most deadly infectious diseases in the world, was a widespread scourge in North America until little more than a century ago. The only people resistant to it were either those of African descent – many of whom had inherited genetic traits that blocked malaria from doing its worst – or folks who had already been infected many times, acquiring resistance the hard way. In general, the more bouts you survive, the more resistant you are.

via How mosquitoes helped swarm the redcoats at Yorktown.

The article goes on to explain how the British troops, with no immunity to malaria, were incapacitated by the disease, while the colonial troops, especially the Southerners who had already survived bouts with the mosquito-borne malady, were relatively immune.

Loving austerity

You’ve got to hand it to the Brits, as Anne Applebaum explains:

“Vicious cuts.” “Savage cuts.” “Swingeing cuts.” The language that the British use to describe their new government’s spending reduction policy is apocalyptic in the extreme. The ministers in charge of the country’s finances are known as “axe-wielders” who will be “hacking” away at the national budget. Articles about the nation’s finances are filled with talk of blood, knives and amputation.

And the British love it. Not only is “austerity” being touted as the solution to Britain’s economic woes, it is also being described as the answer to the country’s moral failings. On Oct. 20, the government will announce $128 billion worth of spending cuts, and many seem positively excited about it. . . For these voters, the very idea of instant gratification is anathema, in theory if not in practice. And they elected this government because they’ve convinced themselves that they’ve had enough of it.

Austerity, by contrast, has a deep appeal. Austerity is what made Britain great. Austerity is what won the war. It cannot be an accident that several British television channels are running programs this year with titles such as “Spirit of 1940,” all dedicated to the 70th anniversary of that “remarkable year” of rationing, air raid sirens and hardship. One series, “Ration Book Britain” is even devoted to that era’s parsimonious cooking. “With bacon, eggs and sugar rationed, wartime cooks had to be jolly resourceful,” explains an advertisement for the show. Its host promises to “re-create the recipes that kept the country fighting fit.”

Sometimes the depth of the Anglo-American cultural divide reveals itself in unexpected ways, and this is one of those moments: No cooking show featuring corned beef hash and powdered eggs would stand a chance in the United States. Perhaps for similar reasons, nobody is talking about “austerity” in the United States either. On the contrary, Republicans are still gunning for tax cuts, and Democrats are still advocating higher spending. Almost nobody — not Paul Krugman, not Newt Gingrich — talks enthusiastically about budget cuts. Instead, our politicians use euphemisms about “eliminating waste” or “making government more efficient,” as if no one had ever thought of doing that before.

Despite the deep shock the United States supposedly experienced during the banking crisis of 2008 and the resulting recession, we are, in other words, still far from Clegg’s “long-termism.” Hardly anyone in America is talking about cuts in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, for example, the biggest budgetary items (even though “private” pensions now look a lot safer, even when taking stock market fluctuations into account, than those who will depend entirely on a bankrupt federal budget 20 years hence). In Britain, by contrast, everything is on the table: pensions, housing benefits, disability payments, tax breaks.

Politics explain some of this difference, but I reckon history explains more of it. The last period of real national hardship Americans might remember is the 1930s, too long ago for almost everyone alive today. But rationing in Britain lasted well into the 1950s, long enough to color the childhoods of many politicians now in power. Nostalgic Brits, longing to re-create their country’s finest hour, remember postwar scrimping and saving. Nostalgic Americans in search of their own country’s finest hour remember postwar abundance, the long consumer boom — and, yes, a time when even instant gratification wasn’t fast enough.

via Anne Applebaum – For the U.S., Britain’s austerity is a foreign concept.

The conventional wisdom is that politicians dare not ask Americans to make sacrifices of any kind.  Do you think Americans could come to love austerity?

America’s Ruling Class

According to Angelo M. Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, power in America is held by a distinct ruling class,  comprised of both Democrats and Republicans, a political and social elite that uses the government to advance its interests against the two-thirds of ordinary Americans whom it rules with contempt.  This is not an economic class–just being wealthy won’t get you in–but rather it is a social aristocracy based not on birth but on a particular set of beliefs, social values, and class markers.  The article is long, it defies excerpt or paraphrase, and it is inflammatory.  You’ve got to read it:  The American Spectator : America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution.  Then talk about it here.


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