Putin urges closer international cybersecurity cooperation
Friday, July 6
MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin on Friday called for closer international cooperation in fending off cyberattacks.
Addressing a cybersecurity conference in Moscow, Putin said it’s important to develop common cybersecurity standards that take into account interests of all nations. He noted that cyberthreats have mounted around the world.
“Cyberthreats have reached such a scale that they could only be neutralized by combined efforts of the entire international community,” Putin said.
“We have repeatedly seen that some nations’ egoism, their attempts to act squarely to their own advantages, hurt the global information stability,” he added without specifying.
Putin pointed at Russia pooling efforts with European nations to work out an agreed mechanism of protection of personal data rules, citing it as a positive example of international cooperation.
The Russian leader didn’t address allegations that government-sponsored Russian hackers have meddled in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections. Moscow has strongly denied interfering in the vote.
Putin noted that the number of cyberattacks on Russia has increased by one-third in the first quarter of 2018, compared to the same period last year.
He said Russia would work to develop an automated system facilitating information exchange between businesses and law enforcement agencies to help enhance cybersecurity.
The Mephistopheles President
By Steven Hochstadt
The legend of humans making a bargain with the devil is a thousand years old, dating back to the story of Theophilus of Adana, who supposedly signed a blood pact with the devil to become a bishop. Theophilus regretted this deal, and by fasting and praying gained the intercession of the Virgin Mary to regain his soul.
Since the 16th century, German writers have produced many versions of the story of Dr. Faust and Mephistopheles, the most famous of which is the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, completed in 1832. His Faust seeks worldly knowledge and sensual pleasure, ruining the life of the innocent Gretchen. He is also saved from damnation by the Goddess, representing eternal womanhood.
The conflict between profane success and moral integrity, represented as a human choice between Satan and heaven, was worked into countless tales in many languages. Oscar Wilde published “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in 1890, portraying moral degradation as transforming the painting of Gray. American versions are the short stories “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving in 1824, and “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen Vincent Benet in 1936. In Benet’s tale, the courtroom arguments of Daniel Webster save the farmer Jabez Stone, who had bargained his soul for prosperity.
The Faust theme was even written into a baseball novel by Douglass Wallop in 1954, “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” where the devil helps the Washington Senators defeat the dominant Yankees. “Damn Yankees” brought this story to Broadway the next year.
I think this bargain describes the modern plight of many American Christians, especially evangelical Christians, who have made a deal with Donald Trump — you give us political policies we want and we will accept your anti-Christian character.
Many Republicans have condemned Trump’s character in the harshest terms. During the presidential campaign, the National Review said Trump was “a huckster” and “a menace to American conservatism.” Other conservatives said he was a charlatan, an American Mussolini, a louse, a tapeworm, the very epitome of vulgarity. Michael Gerson, an evangelical speechwriter for George W. Bush, calls Trump “the least traditionally Christian figure — in temperament, behavior and evident belief — to assume the presidency in living memory.” David Brooks used the Faust comparison right after Trump’s inauguration.
Trump’s perverse sexual behavior, about which he has openly bragged, his defrauding of students at Trump University, his use of his “charitable” foundation for personal enrichment, all exemplify his character. He has never shown the slightest adherence to Christian principles and publicly stated his disinterest in Christian virtues, such as humility, forgiveness and repentance. He lies every day and acknowledges it.
The evils represented by Trump are indelibly displayed in his policy of breaking up immigrant families: deciding to start an entirely new policy of separating parents and children; falsely blaming others for his and his administration’s decisions; saying he can’t do anything about it and then stopping it. Yet evangelical leaders and voters have tied their political fortunes to him, because he offers his presidential help in their political crusades.
Trump did not suddenly lead evangelicals astray. For years they have ignored universal messages about the importance of helping the poor and the unfortunate, and about welcoming the stranger. But they still proclaimed themselves to be morally vigilant. White evangelicals were the most critical of political leaders who “committed immoral personal acts”: in 2011, only 30 percent said such a person “can behave ethically” in office, less than any other religious or political group.
Since Trump came on the scene, nearly half of American evangelical Protestants have changed their minds about morality and politics: just before the 2016 election, 72 percent said this was possible, more than any other group.
Instead of acting like a religion, firmly based on timeless values of moral thought and behavior, American evangelicalism now resembles a cult. Conservatives who support Trump, like Rick Santorum, and who oppose him, like Sen. Bob Corker, both recently talked of a personality cult around Trump. A year ago, Jerry Falwell Jr. said, “I think evangelicals have found their dream president.” Christian television has shifted in the past year from purely religious content to partisan championing of Trump.
Not all evangelicals have made this devilish bargain with Trump. Twenty-eight percent of evangelical Protestants identified as Democrats in a 2014 survey. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, resolved last year “that we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil.” Their new president, Pastor J.D. Greear, has moved the SBC away from identification with the Republican Party.
W.W. Jacobs’ 1902 story “The Monkey’s Paw” reveals the poisonous gifts that black magic can bestow. Trump’s promise that he will allow churches to engage in partisan politics is precisely the kind of bargain that devils make.
Have evangelical Trump supporters bargained away their souls?
ABOUT THE WRITER
Steve Hochstadt taught history at Illinois College in Jacksonville from 2006 to 2016, after teaching at Bates College in Maine for 27 years. He has written columns for the Jacksonville Journal-Courier since 2009. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Mattis, Pompeo Policy Differences on Korea
June 27, 2018 by Donald Kirk
JEJU, South Korea — Top U.S. officials are at odds on the critical question of whether to ask the North Koreans to set a timeline on when they will begin the step-by-step process of attaining “complete denuclearization” as promised in the Singapore summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un and in two summits in Panmunjom between South Korean president President Moon Jae-in and Kim.
The differences put Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in apparent disagreement with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said clearly he is not in favor of attempting to hold Kim to a timetable that would only obstruct progress toward reconciliation between North and South Korea as well as between North Korea and the United States.
Mattis, on a swing through northeast Asia that has taken him first to China and then on to Korea and Japan, did not specifically say that he wanted to pin Kim to a commitment on when he would show signs of getting rid of his nuclear and missile program, including warheads and the facilities needed to make them.
Rather, an anonymous source accompanying Mattis on his current visit to the region, said flatly that everyone would soon know “if they’re going to operate in good faith or not.” The source, speaking on behalf of Mattis, said the United States would be asking specific questions, making demands, calling for “a specific timeline.” The United States, presumably President Trump, would then “present the North Koreans with our concept of what implementation of the summit agreement looks like.”
Veteran American diplomats said this approach sounded much too threatening — and was sure to get nowhere — and could even result in a setback in efforts to persuade Kim to live up to the spirit of the Singapore summit.
It was to try to dispel these fears that Pompeo in Washington said bluntly he was “not going to put a timeline” on when the North Koreans should take certain measures needed to build confidence in Kim’s good faith.
Rather, Pompeo said in an interview with CNN, no matter whether the North Koreans act in two months or six months, “We are committed to moving forward in an expeditious moment to see if we can achieve what both leaders set out to do” at their summit on June 12 in Singapore.
Pompeo, however, may have unpublicized doubts as to the likelihood of North Korea acting in good faith. In order to determine how Kim really feels, he’s reportedly thinking of returning to North Korea for a third time. His return would be the first since he went there in May, had a long conversation with Kim and returned to the United States with three U.S. citizens who had been held there for unspecified crimes, probably spreading Christian prayers.
Unlike more hawkish members of Trump’s administration, notably the national security adviser John Bolton, Pompeo believes in the concept of “an ongoing process of making progress,” as he put it in a conversation with CNN.
Although his approach might be different from that of Mattis, they do share the common goal of seeking “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.”
Pompeo has said that he believes in the goal of “major disarmament” of North Korea, including a reduction of its armed forces of 1.2 million troops, during Trump’s first term in office. That’s an extremely vague goal — one that Mattis might not appreciate but does suggest a more realistic view.
Mattis, arriving in Seoul on Thursday after critical talks in Beijing, will undoubtedly be talking to President Moon and Defense Minister Song Young-moo about ways to deal with North Korea.
Mattis also will be talking about Trump’s decision to call off joint military exercises with the South Koreans. Trump did not discuss it with him before agreeing, at the Singapore summit, to acquiesce to Kim’s call for an end to war games in exchange for cessation of North Korean missile-and-nuclear testing.
Experts at the annual Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity expressed shock over Trump’s hasty agreement to Kim’s basic demand.
Gary Samore, executive director for research at the Belfer Center of the Harvard Kennedy School, said “the next obvious step would be to freeze the size of the fissile material” that North Korea has built up in recent years, but he doubted if Kim would agree.
“Such a process is going to be stretched out over years,” he said. “It’s very unlikely North Korea is going to stop its nuclear program.” As for the military exercises, he said Trump “could have agreed to trim the war games” by calling off flights of heavy bombers or deploying aircraft carriers off the coast rather than simply suspending exercises.
Joseph Yun, former U.S. negotiator with the North Koreans, was also disheartened by cancellation of this year’s war games, notably Ulchi Freedom Guardian, an exercise that’s been conducted every year in August.
Cancellation of the exercises “has implications for the strength of the U.S.-ROK alliance,” Yun said at the forum. “If the military do not exercise,” he said, “then why are they here?”
About the Author
Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post, and many other newspapers and magazines.
Point: Want Less Ocean Plastic Pollution? Make Less Plastic
May 05, 2018 by Emily Jeffers
Plastic garbage is steadily accumulating in our oceans. It’s killing marine life and threatening the health of people who eat seafood.
This massive and growing problem demands real solutions. Legislation restricting single-use plastic bags or water bottles is good, but doesn’t go far enough. Ocean cleanup efforts are admirable, yet not up to the enormity of this problem.
What society really needs to do is stop producing so much cheap plastic junk — and stop building factories that convert cheap, fracked natural gas into cheap plastic junk.
Unfortunately the United States is moving in the opposite direction, with a building boom of ethane cracker plants, most of them in Texas and Louisiana. Yet even in conservative, pro-oil Texas, people are alarmed by a proposal to build the world’s largest plastics plant near Corpus Christi.
This joint proposal by Exxon and the Saudi Arabian government got President Trump’s signoff during his trip to the royal kingdom a year ago. Texas is in the process of approving the project and subsidizing it with more than $1 billion in tax breaks.
The plant will “crack” the ethane in natural gas to produce almost 2 million tons of ethylene annually. Ethylene is the basic building block of plastic products. That’s part of a multibillion-dollar push by fossil fuel companies to increase global plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade. Dozens of plastic plants are planned.
Byproducts of the process are massive greenhouse gas emissions and toxic pollution, and the main product is more plastic — none of which society needs right now.
There’s a direct connection between policies that spur overproduction of natural gas and the glut of factories being built to turn that gas into plastic. States that encourage generous taxpayer subsidies of the fossil fuel industry also tend to ignore the damage fracking does to groundwater, wildlife, air quality and climate stability.
This vicious cycle is inviting climate chaos and filling our oceans with plastic. The latest studies by the World Economic Forum estimate that the weight of plastic in our oceans will exceed that of all the fish in the sea by 2050 unless we drastically change our ways.
The Great Pacific Garbage Dump and other ocean gyres where currents make plastics accumulate are visible, growing indicators of the problem. But ocean plastic pollution isn’t just disgusting to look at — it’s also a major threat to public health and the ocean food web.
Plastic pollution remains in our oceans forever, picking up mercury, lead or other toxic compounds along the way.
Little bits of plastic get mistaken for food and eaten by fish, sea turtles, birds and other wildlife. These animals often choke on the items, or experience feelings of fullness and then starve to death. Other animals become entangled in plastic garbage and drown.
One study found that marine plastic pollution affected at least 267 species, including 86 percent of sea turtle species and 43 percent of marine mammal species. Large whales are often found with bellies full of plastic after they die.
Plastic gets eaten by little fish, which get eaten by bigger fish, which often end up on dinner plates. Seafood eaters end up consuming thousands of tiny bits of plastic every year, which stays in our bodies and can affect our health.
This serious problem needs to be confronted in multiple ways. Communities need to ban single-use plastic, as France has. Plastic producers need to be held responsible for the damage done by their products. The apparel industry needs to address the microplastics shed by our clothing, and more municipal water-treatment plants need finer filters to capture those microplastics.
But the biggest thing we can do to reduce ocean plastic pollution over the long term is to produce less plastic. And that starts with opposing the epidemic of new plastic plants and the cheap, fracked natural gas that fuels them.
About the Author
Emily Jeffers is a biologist and staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program.
Counterpoint: Plastic Bans Won’t Solve Ocean Plastic Problem
May 05, 2018 by Angela Logomasini
Proposed “solutions” to mounting plastic waste in the ocean continue to border on the absurd — suggesting that banning straws, bags and other consumer products offers an answer. While these policies might make good political sound bites, they are unlikely to solve anything, and they divert attention away from real solutions.
Plastics that are washed out to sea have accumulated in certain areas of the ocean because of rotating currents, creating floating patches of concentrated trash and fragments. Media hype in the past suggested that these amount to massive “islands” of consumer waste covering the ocean surface. Yet researchers have reported that the waste is more dispersed and fragmented.
Angelicque “Angel” White, an oceanography professor at Oregon State University, pointed out after a 2011 expedition to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which lies between California and Japan: “You might see a piece of Styrofoam or a bit of fishing line float by at random intervals after hours or 20 minutes.”
The nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup has taken a closer look at the problem and how to solve it. Recently, they produced the most comprehensive assessment of the problem ever, which they detail in the 5 March 2018 issue of Scientific Reports.
This ambitious effort deployed 30 ships equipped to collect a wider range of debris sizes than before and repurposed military aircraft equipped with sensors to detect trash. After collecting and counting more than a million pieces of trash, they then characterized the size of the patch and what it contains.
Their study maintains that the Pacific patch is larger than estimated, covering territory three times the size of France with waste larger than previously estimated. They also estimate that up to 20 percent of the mass may have resulted from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, which sucked trash out to sea.
Interestingly, the primary culprits weren’t straws, cups and plastic bags. In The Ocean Cleanup’s Pacific patch sample, 46 percent was fish nets. When combined with ropes and lines, it amounted to 52 percent of the trash. The rest included hard plastics ranging from large plastic crates and bottle caps to small fragments referred to as microplastics, which comprise 8 percent of the mass. Obviously, this is not simply a consumer waste issue, and the solutions need to address that.
Some of the waste, such as food packaging, included written material that indicated a significant portion came from Asia. Of these, 30 percent where written in Japanese and 30.8 percent were in Chinese.
Other studies confirm that Asia is a substantial source of ocean garbage. Data in a 2015 Science published study revealed that China and 11 other Asian nations are responsible for 77 percent to 83 percent of plastic waste entering the oceans because of their poor disposal practices. A 2017 Environmental Sciences & Technology study reported that up to 95 percent of plastic waste enters oceans from one of 10 rivers — eight in Asia and two in Africa.
Unfortunately, addressing such trash flow from less developed parts of Asia and Africa may take decades.
Of course, other nations should do their best to reduce their contributions, no matter how small. The Science article placed the United States as 20th, but its contribution to ocean plastics was just about 1 percent, even though the United States is among the top plastic producers and consumers. Credit goes to modern waste management practices — landfilling, incineration or recycling — and litter control.
The nonprofit Keep America Beautiful (KAB) has taken the lead in the United States to fight litter since 1953. KAB educates the public through public service announcements — such as the weeping native American ad from the 1970s — and mobilization of businesses, individuals and local governments to implement litter control programs. In fact, KAB reports that U.S. litter has declined by 61 percent since 1969.
Today, The Ocean Cleanup is assuming a similar role to clean the oceans. In addition to offering valuable research, it maintains it has developed and can deploy cleanup technologies that could remove more than 50 percent of the waste from the Pacific patch within five years, which would be quite a remarkable achievement if it can do it without significant harm to wildlife.
While trendy bans on plastic bags, cups, straws and whatever else may enable lawmakers to grandstand on the issue for political credit, they only divert attention from developing real solutions that actually tackle the problem.
About the Author
Angela Logomasini is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.