Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

An Attack on Guam?

Posted by butalidnl on 14 August 2017

On 9 August 2017, General Kim Rok Gyon, head of North Korean Strategic Forces, announced that they were planning to fire 4 medium-range missiles at Guam. These missiles will be set to hit the waters around Guam – about 30 kilometers away from it. He said that the plan will be presented to Kim Jung Un by the middle of August. In response, the US declared that it will defend its territory (Guam is a part of the US), and that North Korea will be sorry if it attacked Guam.

Does this mean that nuclear war is about to break out? Or, will there be war on the Korean peninsula? Perhaps; but I don’t think so. Not even if North Korea does indeed fire missiles towards Guam.

Kim Jung Un may calculate that the US could not afford to retaliate against ‘enveloping’ Guam with missile strikes on water – after all, this would merely be another test. But he would then be ignoring two big changes in the strategic situation. First, that the US believes NKorea has the capability to load nuclear warheads on its missiles. And second, that China has changed its stance towards the NKorea – US conflict: by announcing that if NKorea initiates a conflict, it will remain neutral; but if the US seeks to attack and occupy NKorea, it will move to stop it.  These make up for a changed situation vis-a-vis a possible NKorean missile launch against Guam.

What could happen?
US-SKorea joint military exercises will start in a few days. This could be the time (judging from past experience) that Kim Jung-Un would order the launching of missiles towards Guam.
Right after missiles are launched towards Guam (and after the US radar has confirmed this to be so), the US could declare that NKorea has attacked America. This would then mean that, since the US would only be responding, China will remain neutral in any eventual confrontation. The US will almost surely shoot down the NKorean missiles way before it nears Guam.
Immediately after the missiles are launched, warplanes will take off from US aircraft carriers, airfields in SKorea, Japan and Guam, and military moved out of bases in the region (dispersal in case of nuclear war). The US would have to assume that the missiles have nuclear warheads, and respond accordingly.
A ‘minimum’ response would be for the US to attack one or more NKorean missile and/or nuclear sites with cruise missiles. The damage such a strike would cause will probably be minimal, but the political effect will be substantial.  Given China’s neutrality, Kim Jung Un could not order a retaliatory strike against South Korea; because it will mean that NKorea will be hit by overwhelming US firepower. Besides, why end his regime (as a result of a nuclear war) because of US strikes that did minimal damage? So, he will declare that the US attack had not really hurt his country, and that he had won. Other countries will celebrate the fact that war had been averted.
But Kim would not have won, because the US would have established a precedent – it had attacked NKorea without a substantial response. It could follow-up by declaring that it would shoot down any NKorean missiles it chooses to shoot down. And it could get away with shooting down NKorea’s missiles, because of the precedent of the cruise missile strikes.  After doing this, the US will effectively prevent NKorea from continuing with its testing of missles – meaning that it would not be able to develop an ICBM that could strike the US.

If NKorea is no longer able to test launch its missiles, after a suitable period, the US could initiate a dialogue with its leaders. They could demand a freeze on the development of its nuclear and missile technology, and since that would be what actually would already be in place,  NKorea may then agree.  A package of economic benefits could be thrown in to make the agreement palatable to the NKoreans.

What if something else  happens?
The above scenario is why I think that Kim Jung Un will do something else.  He is probably intellligent enough not to risk loss of face if he loses a confrontation with the US. So, he could do two things:
First, he does nothing for a long while. This would be good, since tensions would cool as months go by. It also means that China will be under pressure to really implement the sanctions against it. With time, the NKorean economy will suffer, and perhaps Kim’s political grip will weaken.
Second, he will do something else.  Kim could simply order new missile tests that do not head toward Guam. Or he could have a nuclear test (I suspect that Chinese pressure had kept him from doing so recently).  The US could (should?) try to shoot down these missiles, even if they were set to splash in international waters. The NKoreans will be trying to perfect re-entry and targetting capacities of its missiles – and if they are shot in mid-flight, NKorean scientists will not learn anything from such tests.

Whichever scenario unfolds, NKorea will continue with their inflammatory rhetoric. But,  if this is not accompanied by steady progress in its missile technology, they will be just whiffs of hot air.

And Guam will be safe from future attacks from NKorea.



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Will US regain its lead on climate change?

Posted by butalidnl on 5 August 2017

I came across an article that asked whether the Trump boycott of the Paris Climate Accord would result in a temporary loss of the US’ lead on climate change. This is based on the assumption that when the US rejoins ‘Paris’, it will resume its lead role.  This is strange, because the US had not been leading the fight against climate change.  Instead, the US had led in causing climate change, since it was the largest emitter of carbon dioxide (it has recently been overtaken by China).

Obama’s about-turn on climate change helped climate negotiators in Paris in 2015 to finally come to an agreement.  Numerous previous international conferences on the climate had failed because of the opposition of the US, China and India.  The US may be said to have ‘led’ the movement against climate change from 2015 to 2017, only because it had stopped its opposition to a multilateral agreement. But this ‘lead’ is rather dubious.

The US had not signed the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, making it the only OECD country not to do so.  This, after it had done its best to water down the agreement during the Kyoto conference itself.  Since then, the US had lagged behind the rest of the OECD in terms of cutting its carbon dioxide emissions.

In 2015, US president Obama not only reversed the US’ opposition to multilateral environmental agreements; he helped to convince India and China to also do so.  Both China and India signed the Paris Agreement which allowed them to continue increasing carbon emissions for a few years, before they would then be expected to reduce them, allowing them to continue economic development.

Both India and China are now enthusiastic supporters of the Paris Accord. They are expected to sharpen their carbon dioxide emission goals during the 2019 follow-up conference.  They have reaffirmed their commitment to ‘Paris’ even after the Trump withdrawal.

The US stands alone in its perception that it is advanced when it comes to climate policy. Many of its top politicians (mostly Republican) are climate-change deniers, i.e. they don’t believe that human activity is the main contributor to global warming. Vice President Pence recently stated this explicitly.  And climate change consciousness is not really internalized by even its most staunch advocates. For example, Al Gore resorts to offsets (i.e. buying renewable energy elsewhere to offset his personal carbon output),  instead of directly reducing his own carbon output.

US transportation is ‘dirty’. Medium- and long-distance travel is almost exclusively done by plane; transport by goods is mostly by truck.  The US train system is  backward.
US auto emission standards are modest when compared with that of the EU. The EU emission target for 2021 is 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer; the US aims to attain this only by 2024.  And the emission standards for SUVs and pick-up trucks, which are used by a lot of people in the US, are significantly higher. Now, the Trump administration wants to scrap emission standards altogether.

Americans think that their country is advanced in terms of climate change, partly because some American companies have advanced products that address climate change issues.  For example, Tesla has its car; but I think this will more likely sell better in other countries, rather than in  the US.

Germany leads in terms of deployed solar panels per capita; while China leads in manufacturing solar panels, and in the use of solar heating. Iceland leads in the use of geothermal energy. Sweden leads in terms of recycling; more recycling means that energy that is used to process raw materials (and thus, lower carbon dioxide production). Norway leads in the (per capita) use of electric cars.

No single country leads the campaign against climate change. Each country strives to reduce their carbon dioxide output following a specific path based on their situation. Even the US, which has withdrawn from ‘Paris’ contributes in its own way.
The US will rejoin ‘Paris’ a few years from now. But it will not lead the movement.




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‘Vitamin B17’ and other fake Cancer Cures

Posted by butalidnl on 5 July 2017

I recently noted a link on Facebook to an article that claims that cancer is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin B17. B17? The B- vitamins only reached B12. ‘Vitamin B17’ was a term made up in order to get around US Food and Drug Authority (FDA) drug regulations. ‘Vitamin B17’ or ‘Laetrile’ are just another name for Amygdalin, which is extracted from amandels, or appple and apricot fruit cores. Amygdalin is claimed to be more effective than chemotheraphy drugs; but this is because it produces cyanide, a poison which also kills cancer cells.

The article posted on Facebook claimed that cancer was caused by a lack of ‘Vtamin B17’; and that taking it will cure all kinds of cancer; and that the pharmaceutical industry has suppressed this information in order to continue earning billions of dollars in income.

While there is something to be said about how pharmaceutical companies often make scandalous incomes from overpricing their products, the Vitamin B17 lobby’s claim that big pharma has been deceiving all of us for the past 81 years is too fantastic to be true.
In 1982, the US National Cancer Institute conducted a human drug trial on ‘ Vitamin B17’ and concluded that there is “no substantive benefit … observed in terms of cure, improvement or stabilization of cancer, improvement of symptoms related to cancer, or extension of lifespan” from the use of amygdalin.

The ‘Vitamin 17’ hoax which went viral in Facebook is only one of several claimed cancer cures going around. Another claim involves the cancer-killing properties of the Guyabano fruit.

I understand the attraction of such claims. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one could keep cancer at bay, or even cure it, simply by eating certain foods? Unfortunately, this is not so. We are not yet at a stage where there is an actual cure for any of the various kinds of cancer.  Maybe this is because cancer has multiple causes, which interact in various ways.
Claims of various food cures for cancer are false; at most, they may alleviate the symptoms of cancer.

All we now have are various treatments for cancer.  These treatments usually involve surgically removing the cancerous tissue, and subjecting the body to radiation, chemotheraphy or hormonal treatments to prevent the cancer from taking root elsewhere in the body. These treatments often come with rather unpleasant side-effects. Many people don’t have cancer anymore as a result of these treatments.
A true cure would be something less invasive, does minimum damage to healthy tissue, and which would work almost all the time.  This has not yet been found.

Science has not yet found a cure for diabetes, or Alzheimers, or a lot of other ailments either. But so far, ways have been found to alleviate symptoms and extend the lifespan of patients.

The lack of a cure is being exploited by many people who claim that they do have a cure.  Faith healers claim to be able to cure cancer. We also have many who claim cancer cures on the internet, and which go viral on Facebook and other social media sites. While they may be mere curiosities for most people, some people may really believe in them.
And this is the danger: people who reject medical treatments and opt for faith healers or other claimed cancer cures.  These people inevitably die from cancer.  I understand that there are people who choose other cures because they do not have the money to pay the medical expenses; but there are those who could otherwise have afforded the medical route but chose other ‘cures’ instead, and died.
The tragedy of the ‘Vitamin B17’ story is that while its advocates accuse the pharmaceutical industry of making money from cancer, they make a profit from selling ‘laetrile’ on false claims that it cures cancer.

For anybody who casually shares a Facebook link to a ‘sure cure for cancer’ , thinking that there is no harm done; there is real harm done by these posts taken together. Some people could very well choose to reject medical treatment because of them; and inadvertently choose an early death.
Stop these ‘shares’  or ‘retweets’ of fake cancer cures, they actually kill people!

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Trump and Brexit Strengthening EU

Posted by butalidnl on 1 March 2017

The international  media is constantly speculating about a possible impending break-up of the European Union (EU), due to the momentum of the Brexit and Trump populist victories. The opposite is true: Trump and Brexit are actually strengthening the EU.

The media point to three ‘crucial’ elections in 2017 – that of the Netherlands, France and Germany – that may end up derailing the EU, because anti-EU parties are poised to gain power. Not really. In both the Netherlands and Germany, anti-EU parties could increase the number of their parliament seats, but that is all. In France,  Le Pen of the Front National (FN) may get the biggest vote in the first round of the French presidential election, where five main parties (and some minor ones) have candidates. But in the second round, with only the two top candidates left to fight it out,   Le Pen will lose, since the supporters of all the other parties will vote for whoever stands against her. This has happened once before, when Le Pen’s father (Jean Marie Le Pen) also won in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections, but got trounced in the second round.
There is very little chance that any country will opt to leave the EU, other than the UK.

The people in EU countries are well aware of the economic and political mess Brexit is bringing to the UK. Even before the UK triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (which will formally start the process of leaving the EU); the negative economic effects of Brexit have started to take effect: the British Pound devaluated by more than 10%, foreign companies are preparing to move their Europe headquarter offices out of London,  inflation is rising, etc. To add to the UK’s woes, Scotland will most likely leave it and join the EU.  Far from being an inspiration for other countries to also leave the EU, Brexit is showing everyone the horrors of leaving the EU. Recent opinion polls in the EU show a rise of pro-EU sentiment because of Brexit.

Brexit is the logical end result of years of UK government policies.  Various British Prime Ministers, with David Cameron as the last, had regularly threatened to take the UK out of the EU if its demands were not met. Just before the Brexit vote, the EU gave in to most of the UK’s demands for a special deal, including with regards to EU citizens working in the UK. Before that, the UK had succeeded in opting out of the Euro single currency and the Schengen Agreement (for free travel within most of the EU, plus Norway and Switzerland), and other EU-wide arrangements. The UK had long had one foot outside the EU;  Brexit is the natural continuation of this trend.
The UK was alone in this unique position; other EU countries, with both feet in EU, are not likely to follow the UK’s lead.

Ironically, the presidency of Donald Trump is having the effect of strengthening the EU. Trump’s open disdain for the EU, and his wish that it breaks apart, has mobilized latent anti-American feelings among many EU citizens which have been channeled into pro-EU sentiments.

Trump is widely perceived as being supportive of Europe’s far-right parties. These parties, e.g. France’s FN, have thrived on their anti-immigrant platform. Now, the Trump victory has pushed them to take a more pronounced anti-EU position. As a result, these parties have backed themselves into a corner. Being anti-EU is effectively being pro-Trump; and since Trump is unpopular in Europe, the far right parties are losing support.

Another thing about the Trump victory in the US is that it shows how wrong elections could go, and that it does matter that people vote. When before, many people (especially young people) would not vote, because “the result will be the same anyway”; now they know how bad a bad result could be. Not voting could result in a Trump or Brexit-like victory. Because of Trump and Brexit, younger voters are now more likely to vote in future elections; and most of them tend to be pro-EU.

While the EU faces all kinds of problems today e.g. the Greek debt crisis or the floodof migrants from Africa and elsewhere, these are far from existential. The EU will overcome them, just as it has done for the last 58 years.


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After a Trump Defeat

Posted by butalidnl on 3 November 2016

The US elections are still some days away; and any side can still win. However, the odds that Hillary Clinton will win the elections are quite good. Trump will lose. Let us take a look at how the how the loss will be for Trump.

Accepting the Results
Inspite of all the furor about whether or not Trump will accept the results of the elections, I believe that he will accept the results of the elections as soon as they are declared. Cinton’s victory will be by a large enough margin that there could be no objection to the result. Trump will probably avoid saying that the elections were rigged, because this may cause violence, and he will be blamed for it. He will resort to blaming his loss on the media and to Republican ‘traitors’.
Incidents of angry Trump supporters being violent will be isolated and short-lived.

Things will have Changed
Trump will not be able to go back to the way things were before his presidential bid.
The accusations of sexual assault by a number of women will keep him busy for a long while. He will probably not sue them, because it would be difficult for him to prove them wrong, and things will turn out worse for him if he sued and lost. After the elections, I expect more women to step up and accuse him of misbehavior.

The campaign has broken the aura of invincibility and impunity around Trump. Media is no longer scared of exposing him in various ways, and people are now more open to revealing his bad business practices (e.g. the case of Trump University).

His businesses will suffer from his presidential bid. His brand is now ‘damaged goods’ for a very big part of the population. Many of his former customers will no longer consider it classy to go to a Trump resort or to buy Trump branded products. His current supporters are not the kind of people who patronized his luxurious brand.
The Trump brand has suffered immensely in Latin America and the Muslim world.

Trump’s unethical business practices will be subject to increased media scrutiny. As a result, Trump will have to stop his practice of employing illegal immigrants, using dubious tax avoidance strategies, etc.. This will significantly increase his cost of doing business. If the Democrats win the House of Representatives, the loopholes that Trump used to avoid paying income tax will be closed.

Trump’s political clout (i.e. his ability to influence politicians) will not be the same as before. Previously, he would contribute to a wide range of politicians, and then collect favors as he needed. Now, only those who are politically aligned to him will ask for his support and potentially do him favors.

Trump TV
What Trump has gained is his popularity among a segment of working-class whites. Many of them will continue to be devoted fans after the elections. There are indications that Trump is preparing to launch Trump TV, which will cater to his new-found base of support. If he did so, it will have to position itself to the right of Fox News.
I believe that the space to the right of Fox News is too small. What will the difference be between Fox News and Trump TV in programing, in news content? If Trump’s outlandish statements would be the main difference, they will not be enough to sustain its audience for long.
It would make good business sense for him not to launch ‘Trump TV’, since it is poised to be a big failure.

Chaos Among Republicans
The elections will probably result in a Democrat majority in the Senate, and a reduced Republican majority in the House of Representtives.  This means that Clinton will be able to appoint progressive Supreme Court judges; but will have to court moderate Republicans to get her legislative proposals through the House of Representatives. She would need only a few Republican congressmen to break any boycott by the Tea Party and Trump’s hard=line followers in Congress. In the previous Congress, the Republicans had boycotted everything that President Obama proposed.

Republicans who supported Trump will blame those who didn’t for the defeat. This internal struggle will push the more moderate Republicans to cooperate more with the Democrats in passing legislation.

The Republicans  will have to reevaluate their opposition to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) and gay marriage. If they continue to oppose these, they stand to lose even more ground in subsequent elections.

Trump will retain his wealth after the elections are over; but he will lose a lot of prestige, and have a lower capacity to make money. He will continue to make political statements that may cause some commotion from time to time.

It is even likely that Trump will make another try for the presidency in 2020, especially if Clinton runs for reelection. If he does, the Republicans will be able to stop him early in the primaries.


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