US Embassy Beijing Air Monitoring, Pollution Hype? Oh Yeah, the Smog Fogs the Brain, and Closes Beijing’s Airport …

Last month, environmental authorities in Beijing have accused the US embassy of “hype” after its widely-publicized measurements of air quality in the Chinese capital sparked concern.

“I’m not clear about their way and methods of monitoring or how they ensure the accuracy,” said Du Shaozhong, spokesman for the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, according to the Beijing Times.

“But I feel their way of releasing (the data) is more like hype, and not a very serious attitude toward research.”

The last 48 hours, the air quality in Beijing according to the US Embassy’s reading has see-sawed between Very Unhealthy to Hazardous, with one Crazy Bad (Beyond Index) reading on Sunday. See  http://twitter.com/#!/BeijingAir. 

Melissa Chan of Al Jazeera illustrated the current air quality in Beijing and Vermont with a photographic comparison on Twitter last month.

Greenpeace East Asia has put together real-time apps, Twitter tracking air quality levels in different Chinese cities to “help you closely monitor the skies (and know to stay indoors on those ‘crazy bad’ days).” Check them out here.

Today, we saw the amateur video of what Beijing’s streets looked like yesterday morning, December 4 via WSJ’s China Real Time Report:

http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XMzI4OTEyNDg0/v.swf

WSJ China Real Time Report notes that authorities in Beijing and most other Chinese cities measure air pollution by counting only particles between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter. The US embassy counts particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), which experts say make up the most of the city’s air pollution and cause more damage to the lungs.

Continue reading, Victory for U.S. Embassy as Beijing Chokes on ‘Heavy Fog’

A few hours ago, BBC reports that Beijing airport has cancelled hundreds of flights after a dense smog reduced visibility in the Chinese capital.

Also this piece from PRNewswire touting that the global residential air treatment systems market as highly dynamic and expected to show steady growth should be helpful:

Verify Markets estimates the global residential air treatment systems market to be over $2 billion in revenues in 2010. China was the largest market, followed by Japan and the United States.  The key drivers in most countries globally are poor indoor quality and rising awareness about poor air quality.  In China, purchasing power, steady increase in income levels and poor indoor quality are major market drivers.

The smog fogs the brain, that is all. Don’t believe what you see or hear or breath … it’s all a hype, of course.  But just in case, get ready with your 3M masks!

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US Embassy Iraq: Severely Restricts Movement of Employees Within the Green Zone

There was an explosion inside the International Zone (aka: Green Zone, aka: Ultimate Gated Community) last week. The first since 2007. According to the McClatchy Newspapers,  Iraqi officials at first attributed the explosion to a rocket that had landed in a parking lot. Later they admitted that it was a suicide car bomb that detonated at the entrance to the parliament building and killed five people. McClatchy notes that “as the drawdown has continued, violence has risen steadily. More than 100 people have been killed in violence in Baghdad in November; the number for October was 65.”

On 1 January 2009, full control of the International (formerly “Green”) Zone was handed over to Iraqi security forces.  So– if entry into the Green Zone, where Iraqi government offices and the U.S. Embassy are located, is strictly controlled, how did the suicide car bomb made it past the gate? Is this a prelude of what is to come in 2012?

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denies that the explosion signals a deterioration in Green Zone security ahead of US forces’ planned pullout. In fact, the PM down playing the attack says, “It was a very simple operation.” One apparently meant to kill him.

“The preliminary intelligence information says that the car was due to enter parliament and stay there and not to explode. It was supposed to explode on the day I entered parliament,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr. al-Maliki  was also quoted in the Guardian saying that the bomb was probably assembled inside the Green Zone and was not very powerful. He reportedly also blamed al-Qaida in Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party for the violence.

Uh-oh! Shouldn’t this give you some pause or something?  How many more car bombs out there can be assembled inside the Green Zone?

In the meantime, just days before the last of our troops leave Iraq, and the Iraq headache is officially transferred from DOD to the State Department, the US Embassy in Baghdad released escalating warnings about kidnapping of U.S. citizens throughout Iraq including the International Zone. The most recent warning includes a notice that the movement of its employees within the IZ is restricted.

On November 22: Possible Increased Kidnapping Threat

The U.S. Embassy wishes to apprise all U.S. citizens of the potential for increased kidnapping operations by militant groups throughout Iraq, including in Baghdad.  The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens in all areas of Iraq maintain a heightened sense of security awareness and take appropriate measures to enhance personal and operational security at this time.

On November 28: Significant Threat of Kidnapping of U.S. Citizens

The U.S. Embassy wishes to notify all U.S. citizens of the existence of severe  threats of kidnapping operations and attacks by terrorists throughout Iraq.  These threats also exist within the International Zone in Baghdad.  The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens in all areas of Iraq maintain a heightened sense of security awareness and take appropriate measures to enhance personal and operational security.      

On December 3: Continued Severe Threat of Kidnapping of U.S. Citizens

Due to severe threats of kidnapping operations and terrorist attacks throughout Iraq, including the International Zone (IZ), the U.S. Embassy has greatly enhanced the security posture for U.S. Government employees.  This enhanced security posture includes severely restricted movement within the IZ.  The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens in all areas of Iraq, including the IZ, maintain a heightened sense of security awareness and take appropriate measures to enhance personal and operational security at this time.  U.S. citizens are advised to keep a low profile; vary days, times, and routes of travel; and exercise caution while driving and entering or exiting vehicles.

It’s December 5, 2011 and that’s the way things are. How long can the International Zone remain “green” might be a good question. And if movement within the IZ is severely restricted, how much work can our folks realistically do over there? Also what about State Department folks outside the IZ, which bunker can they hunker while staff movement is severely restricted?

US Embassy Belgium: Ambassador Gutman in Very Hot Soup Over Anti-Semitism Speech

So the American Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman gave a speech on November 30  on Thinking About Anti-Semitism in Europe during the “Conference on Fighting Anti-Semitism in Europe: What is Next?”

Before you know it, the Euro wave got here and our political ambassador to Brussels ran smack into 2012 politics. On Saturday, Newt Gingrich, this week’s GOP front runner tweeted:

@newtgingrich Newt Gingrich
Pres Obama should fire his ambassador to Brussels for being so wrong about anti-semitism: bitly.com/scCgsj

WaPo reports that GOP sort of perpetual front-runner Mitt Romney (not to be outdone by the Newt) also called for Ambassador Gutman’s firing on Sunday: “President Obama must fire his ambassador to Belgium for rationalizing and downplaying anti-Semitism and linking it to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.”

I’m just waiting for Michele Bachmann to say, “If I were president, Ambassador Gutman would be packing his bags already.”

Of course, Rick Perry would say, “Send this ambassador to some god-awful place.”

What did Ambassador Gutman say that is roiling the political crowd? Excerpt below:

There is and has long been some amount of anti-Semitism, of hatred and violence against Jews, from a small sector of the population who hate others who may be different or perceived to be different, largely for the sake of hating. Those anti-Semites are people who hate not only Jews, but Muslims, gays, gypsies, and likely any who can be described as minorities or different. That hatred is of course pernicious and it must be combated. We can never take our eye off it or just dismiss it as fringe elements or the work of crazy people, because we have seen in the past how it can foment and grow. And it is that hatred that lawyers like you can work vigilantly to expose, combat and punish, maybe in conjunction with existing human rights groups.

I have not personally seen much of that hatred in Europe, though it rears its ugly head from time to time. I do not have any basis to think it is growing in any sense. But of course, we can never take our eye off of it, and you particularly as lawyers can help with that process.
[…]
What I do see as growing, as gaining much more attention in the newspapers and among politicians and communities, is a different phenomena. It is the phenomena that led Jacques Brotchi to quit his position on the university committee a couple of months ago and that led to the massive attention last week when the Jewish female student was beaten up. It is the problem within Europe of tension, hatred and sometimes even violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews. It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem.
[…]
[T]he longest and loudest ovation I have ever received in Belgium came from the high school with one of the largest percentages of students of Arab heritage. It was in Molenbeek. It consisted of an audience dominated by girls with head scarves and boys named Mohammed, standing and cheering boisterously for a Jewish American, who belongs to two schuls and whose father was a Holocaust survivor. Let me just share a minute or two with you of a video clip from that visit.

These kids were not anti-Semitic as I have ever thought of the term. And I get a similar reaction as I engage with imans, at Iftars, and with Muslims communities throughout Belgium.

Here is the link to the video from  Molenbeek taken on May 25, 2010 at the Royal Athenee Serge Creuz where students welcomed Ambassador Gutman to their school in Molenbeek (Brussels) and sang the American and Belgian national athems for him.

ABC News quotes William Kristol, chairman of the Emergency Committee for Israel, who charged that this is part of a larger problem for President Obama.

“Pardon us for retaining our belief that Muslim anti-Semitism in the Middle East predates 1967, and even 1948 — and in any case is the fault of the anti-Semites, not of the Jews,” said Kristol. “Ambassador Gutman’s comments were not way out of line with Obama’s worldview. Nonetheless, we expect he will be recalled because the Obama administration won’t want to expend political capital defending him. He should be recalled, of course. But what the events of recent days emphasize is that the problem is not with one ambassador or with one cabinet secretary. The problem is President Obama.”

On Sunday, the US Embassy in Brussels released the following statement from Ambassador Howard Gutman: “I strongly condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms. I deeply regret if my comments were taken the wrong way. My own personal history and that of my family is testimony to the salience of this issue and my continued commitment to combating anti-Semitism.”

Jennifer Rubin over in WaPo calls this a lack of sympatico and note that the comments were not spontaneous, but written in
advance. “Was it vetted? And if so shouldn’t that person be canned as
well, unless of course the administration agrees with his views?”

Uh-oh! How about the person who posted it online? The next thing you know, she’d want that person canned as well.  Will anyone be left standing on the carpet over there in Brussels?

We note that Ambassador Gutman has traveled all over Belgium; he did not pluck this idea out of thin air.   And if he is not “way out of line with Obama’s worldview” then he can reasonably be expected to stay put in Brussels.  Except that we are now amidst the huff and puff of an election year, with just 11 months to go. And stranger things happen during election years ….