Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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TED Talks to Julian Assange


font=3 If you aren’t familiar with TED Talks yet, I am about to change that.

TED started in 1984, the year I graduated from college, as a conference to bring together people from the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It is a nonprofit that holds annual conferences in both Long Beach and in Palm Springs each spring, and has grown to hold the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK each summer. The TED Talks are published on the TED Talks video site, which has the capability of translating the talks into up to 27 different languages at this point. More are planned. TED does much more each year to facilitate advancement of the arts and sciences.

The video site on the web offers hundreds of 18 minute talks – not lectures – on subjects as diverse as Cassini’s discovery of the surface tectonics on Saturn’s moon Titan to Sam Harris’s explanation of how morality is hardwired into humans and other animals. The speakers are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes.

The spelunker who plans to lead the expedition to mine moon ice is absolutely riveting. Watch him. How can cave exploration and space exploration be related? How can a spelunker think that he can go into space and mine water on the moon as a propellant for space vehicles to then go to Europa? Is this science fiction? Not the way he tells it. Watch the video. If it doesn’t make your jaw drop, you aren’t paying attention.

TED isn’t just about science.A pair of  beautiful dancers perform Symbiosis – and it is understandable. Isabel Allende tells  true tales of passion, Natalie Merchant sings nearly forgotten children’s poems from the 19th and 20th century from her recent album Leave Your Sleep.

TED is on the edge of what is happening in the world. In July 2010. Chris Anderson of TED interviewed Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks had just released the documents related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and there were rumors that it had still more documents that would set the US government on its ear.

Consider what Julian Assange says in this interview. He explains how the site operates, what it has accomplished, and what drives him. The interview includes graphic footage of a recent US airstrike in Baghdad in which a number of civilians and two Reuters reporters were killed.

Did you note that Assange specifically denies having the embassy cables? In the same breath he said assertively that if WikiLeaks had them, it has a duty to release them so that the world knows.

Assange asserted that “it’s a worry that the rest of the world’s media is doing such a bad job that a little group of activists is able to release more of that type of information than the rest of the world press combined”? Mainstream media does not release documents like  these – not since the Pentagon Papers, that is. One has to wonder if our corporate media even would release such explosive news in this day and age. The news we do get is slanted in such a way as to suit the editorial desires of the publisher, and so often one publisher publishes numerous large newspapers, owns numerous television stations, and even owns radio stations. The news is the same on each one. We no longer have news. We have propaganda. The days of Walter Cronkite are gone.

What does WikiLeaks seek to publish? According to Assange, anything that an organization wants to keep secret. If there is an economic reason for keeping a secret, then it is in the best interest of the world to expose that secret in order to level the playing field. That, he says, is what journalism is.

That is what investigative journalism should be.

Assange pointed out that releasing the video of the Apache helicopter firing on the group of civilians that included the Reuters reporters was not done to inform the Afghans or the Iraqis. They see it every day,” he claimed. “But it will change the perception and opinion of the people who are paying for it all. And that is our hope.” Knowing in advance that innocents were killed in that incident may color our perception of what happened. We hear the soldiers in the helicopter talking and laughing, but to know that the firing was indiscriminate changed how we feel about their demeanor. Is this incident isolated? Or is it typical? We do not know We know this incident happened. We saw it; We do not know if more, similar incidents have happened. We hope not; we fear so.

WikiLeaks’s activities around the globe have resulted in major changes for the better, and for human rights and freedom. The Kenyan election was one example, and recently the Iceland legislature’s passage of a law allowing freedom of speech for journalists that is perhaps the broadest in the world is another.

Americans are divided on the issue of the Embassy documents, and on the war documents. WikiLeaks released them to show abuses. Our country is committing those abuses. It is natural to defend our country, but at the same time, we should not be committing the abuses. We have been caught, Our misdeeds have been exposed by our own words. Yes, it is embarrassing. Yes, we have lost face on the world stage.

Perhaps had we not committed those abuses, our faces would not be so red right now.

Thank you, WikiLeaks, for showing us; the truth.

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December 13, 2010 Posted by | Domestic, Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics, War | 1 Comment

Zionist Fallout and an Independent Press


http://mondoweiss.net/2009/11/the-situation-in-a-nutshell.html

Anna Baltzer, author, and Haithem El-Zabri, founder of the Palestine Online Store. Austin, TX, November 2008. (Photographer unknown.)

I found this photo on Mondoweiss.net, a site devoted to US policy in the Middle East. Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss, whose articles frequently appear in The Nation and Huffington Post among others, maintain the blog as a project of The Nation Institute.

The people in the photo are Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American author and champion of the rights of Palestinians in their home lands, and Haithem El-Zabri, a Palestinian-American. This isn’t the kind of photo we would expect to see in the mainstream national media.

Given the blatant horrors of Israel’s treatment and subjugation of Palestinians in Israel, the American press should be astounded at our Israeli foreign policy. Instead, Zionism reigns supreme, no matter the fact that natives of the regions are imprisoned, starved, refused work, refused permission to reunite with their families, and then attacked by Israel’s army for complaining about it.  Granted, Palestinians have complained with shells and mortars, but if Americans were denied these basic human rights, would we sit complacently in our ghettos without fighting back? I think not. I saw Red Dawn, and I approved. (May Patrick Swayze’s soul rest in peace.)

Some of my friends have asked where to find independent news sources. The Nation is a good place to start, and has been around for a long time – 145 years – and its mission of unbiased, non-hysterical reporting of news should be the custom of all journalists, not just an ideal or aspiration.

The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.

— from The Nation’s founding prospectus, July 6, 1865

The Nation Institute was founded about 100 years after the weekly news magazine. Its website says that “[t]he Institute places particular importance on strengthening the independent press in the face of America’s increasingly corporate-controlled flow of information, and through its programs the Institute promotes progressive values on a variety of media platforms. The Institute sponsors conferences, investigative research, seminars, televised town-hall meetings, original web content, book publishing, film production, fellowships, internships, and awards for truth-telling and social activism.”

I cannot conceive of higher ideals in journalism.

Some of my more conservative friends may claim that The Nation is a left-leaning rag that spends its time bashing Sarah Palin and wringing its hands about mythical global warming. It isn’t. Yes, it supports logical, reasoned debate and yes, it reports scientific conclusions.

Frankly, I do not understand the logic for supporting Palin’s self-professed ignorance of current events (I can assure you, The Nation is not among the news sources she regularly reads) or for dismissing the empirical data provided by science on the issue of climate change, so I don’t have a problem with that. I blast illogical, histrionic, and patently silly pretenders to political thrones whenever I get the opportunity. I revel in exposing foolish denial of scientific proof because it presents an inconvenience to something the denier holds dear, be it the existence of dinosaurs or the depletion of fossil fuels.

We owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Relations, News, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Just Solved All Our Problems


In response to the blog post of a friend who is understandably bemoaning the state of the nation, I got a wee bit windy.

I know, I know – it’s hard for anyone to believe that I – moi – would spew opinions unrestrained against the drums of ears attached to mouths that were asking rhetoricals, not practicals. Nevertheless, I have the answer, and if the president would only sit down and pay attention to me, all the country’s problems – yea, even all the world’s! – would be solved.

The economy is not going to be fixed overnight, and right now Obama is listening to the experts who advise throwing more money at the economy in all the wrong places – at least IMHO. But, in response to those who are nodding sagely, saying “We told you that Obama would bring socialism and liberalism to the country, but did you listen?  Nooooo,” I say that (ahem) this started on the Republican watch. Obama inherited this disaster; he did not create it. And since no one has ever dealt with such a staggering world-wide economic crisis before, that means he is inventing this wheel as he goes along.  Will he get it all right?  Of course not.  But he won’t be likely to get it all wrong, either.

From what I hear and read, the economy isn’t going to start upward on any consistent basis until at least next year, and maybe not until 2011. Whenever in history the economy has tanked as suddenly and as severely as it did last summer and fall, the recovery has always been slow. That’s why they call them “depressions.”

Consumer confidence is badly shaken, and as more and more jobs are lost and more and more foreclosure notices are mailed, it’s not as if Dick and Jane are suddenly going to decide to splurge on that vacation home, lavish gifts for their status-conscious kids, or a pricey new automobile. Their businesses aren’t going to be hell-bent to hire new employees, either, because if sales are down, and no one is getting the services they offer, the employers simply can’t justify it.

The economy is, believe it or not, depressed.  And Economic Abilify has not yet been invented.

My opinion (and one or two of you might possibly be aware that I have one or two opinions, even though I rarely mention them in polite company) is that Obama would be better off to give stimulus money to the people and entities that are best in a position to turn this thing around, i.e., all of us, but in different ways.

Money should go to the homeowners trying to stave off foreclosure as a condition of and part of the debt renegotiation with the lenders – that way the lenders get paid directly by the government on behalf of the homeowners, the homeowners and their children aren’t sleeping on the streets, and the banks don’t own homes they can’t sell.

If a home is undervalued for the debt the homeowner has against it, the government should pay the difference as soon as new terms for the remainder are worked out between the borrower and the lender. If the borrower can’t afford to continue making the original payments – not the juiced-up interest payments – then there can be a second tier of incentives for the lenders to extend the debts to a 40 year amortization as opposed to the customary 30 year schedule.

And NO MORE INTEREST-ONLY long term debt!  Whose idiotic notion was that, anyway?  “Here, Joe Bob and Sally Sue, take this money that you never have to pay back. Just pay us interest and we’ll all be happy.”  The hell, they say! Morons.

Next, apply stimulus funds to the remaking of the American infrastructure, especially rural and smaller urban areas without reasonable public transit. Make light rail, high speed rail, and buses reach more places and serve more people on better schedules. One of the worst things we ever did was allow our railroads to be dismantled in favor of three cars in every driveway and five lanes on every freeway. Refurbishing and improving our infrastructure will employ hundreds of thousands of people in various positions throughout the country. From engineers to draftsmen to laborers to porters, we can get this country moving at a much more economical rate, and faster, if we’ll commit the funds to do it. And those jobs won’t go away when the projects are complete – they will need to be maintained, too.

Simultaneously, pour money into scientific research and development of alternative energy as well as into to cleaning up and maintain the environment. I’m not talking about just reducing greenhouse gases, although that is certainly a big concern, but (for example) about making reasonable accommodations for heavy metals that are the by-product of mining and drilling. A rocket laden with nuclear waste, arsenic, mercury and lead headed for the dark side of the moon might not be a bad use of NASA’s funding.

Put people to work cleaning up the environmental damage we’ve done to the planet, and making sure we’ve still got a planet to leave to our great-grandchildren. Clean water, clean air, and fewer chemicals artificially enhancing the soil and crops will go a long way toward making us all healthier – not to mention the possibility that our grandchildren might be able to play with frogs in their back yards some day.

And while we’re at it, quit giving chickens and cows all those damn hormones!  I have yet to meet a teenage girl whose double-D’s don’t put my paltry gifts to shame.  Why are their adolescent mammaries the size of a Holstein’s udders? Hormones!

Reduce the employer’s share of employment taxes. With the matching amounts that employers pay for health insurance, medicaid, unemployment, and social security, the cost of hiring an employee is a lot more than just what the employee sees in his check. This would be a real, dollar amount of savings for employers and would probably allow businesses to hire more workers across the board and at all levels.

Nationalized health care? Bring it on. Insurance companies will always provide coverage to people who choose to pay more for less care.  Those of us who have survived cancer (twice, thankyouverymuch) or who are on certain costly medications can’t get health insurance without staggering pre-existing conditions clauses that make our health insurance worthless and excruciatingly expensive – if we can get it at all.

When health insurance benefits dictate whether a parent can open a business of his or her own or must stay with an employer who provides health coverage the family can’t get elsewhere, entrepreneurialism is stifled. This country is dependent on small business and entrepreneurs. We absolutely must break down the barriers that prevent people from making an attempt to achieve their dreams. I don’t know about you, but I work a lot harder for myself than I do for someone else. I don’t think failed businesses should be propped up by the government (Detroit, are you listening?), but when something like paying for childbirth determines whether a family can start a small business, there’s something desperately wrong.

Where, O Where will the money come from to do all this?

(clearing my throat)

The same place the last two trillion dollars came from.  And the next trillion will actually make a difference. It will put people to work, shore up the foundation of the country, and stabilize the economy. It will also have the added benefit of making the world a better place.  And if any of you out there are thinking there won’t be more stimulus money forthcoming, you just hide and watch. It’ll come, I promise, whether the president takes my incontrovertible advice or not.

Now that I have solved the problems of the environment, the economy, health care, and reliance on fossil fuels, are there any other problems you’d like me to take a look at?  My rates are reasonable, and I’m in a spewing mood.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Domestic, Economy, Environment, Foreign Relations, Health, News, Politics, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Up



It’s all the talk.

At cocktail parties and in the small talk before business meetings, we’re all talking about that certain Russian prediction of the breakup of the American union and the new countries that will take its place.

With Governor Perry in Texas talking secession, and Japanese having bought up Hawaii, and the Northwest’s own secessionist movement, maybe professor Igor Panarin’s prediction isn’t all that far fetched.

In case you haven’t heard, the Wall Street Journal ran an article in late December 2008 in which Professor Panarin was quoted as saying that there was about a fifty percent chance that the United States of America would break up by July of 2010.  That’s fourteen months from now.

According to him, we won’t be able to hold together as a nation until the end of the world – or the new era – predicted by the Maya. Brash and impulsive, we’ll disintegrate into six different countries, each under the influence of a different foreign power.  The economy and unimpeded immigration will be major causes of our downfall.  Being Russian, Panarin also attributes the coming civil war to our “moral degradation.”

But those two words, “moral degradation,” are awfully subjective.  Our morals, which the Soviets never thought we had in the first place, have actually gotten worse?  This is the result of the rabidly conservative administration we had until January? George Bush’s administration was closer to Putin’s than any other administration in history – yet our morals are fatally degraded?

I’m just glad that Putin’s Evil Twin is no longer in the highest office in the land. That man scared me.  He left us with a constitution in tatters and a reputation sullied worldwide.  He left us with an economic disaster of pestilential proportions. Under his watch an unnecessary war was started and a war that maybe should have been over by now may never be.  We are indeed following in the footsteps of the Soviets in Afghanistan. There’s a reason that country cannot stay conquered.

Russia’s economy tanked – a solitary tank, by the way, and not as part of a worldwide economic downturn – because communism, while perhaps a lofty ideal, is just an ideal.  In practice it can never work because of the avarice of humans and the specialization of society.  Like it or not, capitalism started with the rise of the medieval merchant class, and capitalism is here to stay. China’s gradual embrace of capitalism is much better than the free-for-all Russia and its satellites endured, but that embrace is tantamount to an admission that as much as we might all like to be equal, some will always be more equal than others.

I don’t see the US breaking up.  I see a future in which some secessionist movements might succeed. Perhaps in the Northwest, where politics and civil rights are far more liberal than in, say, Arkansas, a new country could rise. I don’t see it becoming part of Russia or Japan or China.  The cultures are just too different, and the survivalists are just too adamant. Instead of this secessionist entity clinging to the coast like in Panarin’s notion, Montana will allow it to flex its muscle eastward.

Now, Texas has been an independent country before and, as a former resident of the only state with a school in the Southwest Conference that wasn’t located in Texas, I say let ’em be again.  (My ex-husband never mentions the University of Texas at Austin without an exaggerated spit of disgust.)  We don’t need Texas. If we built a fence around its borders, it might help a great deal with the illegal immigration issue. In fact, give Texas New Mexico and Arizona, too.

The South, as they have always said, will rise again.  The Southern economy, lifestyle, and outlook just doesn’t quite mesh with that of those folks up East. Atlanta can be our capital, or New Orleans, at least until it washes away again.  Now, despite Panarin’s model, I just don’t see West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Carolinas joining some urban Atlantic nation-state. We’ll keep them in the South, as well as the Southern two-thirds of Virginia. Washington D.C. is not a Southern city, and Maryland, despite its location south of the Mason-Dixon line, just doesn’t feel Southern. The damn Yankees can have them both.  The South will also take the Florida panhandle, because we need our “Redneck Riviera.” Disney can have the rest of the state and no one will miss it.

That city that stretches from the Chesapeake to Boston Harbor will become a country unto itself.  To give it arable farmland we’ll donate western Pennsylvania and Ohio to its holdings. It’ll eventually sort of have that “Escape From New York” feel to it.  With any luck it’ll turn into “I am Legend” and we can build a fence around it, too, to keep the zombies corralled.

New England will revert to its colonial status, with the exception of Western Massachusetts, which is part of that Atlantic city-state. Its capitol will be Hanover, New Hampshire, that venerable seat of learning that is crowned by Dartmouth University.

The twin capitals of the landlocked Midwest will be Chicago and port city of St. Louis. With the fall of the Atlantic city-state to zombies, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan will become the industrial hub of the continent.

Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Minnesota will join Canada.  People there sound like Canadians already, so the cultural assimilation won’t be difficult for them.  Likewise Alaska will become Canadian, just because Canada needs more tundra.  Although, come to think of it, with global warming, that tundra will turn into bog by the next century.

That takes care of every place except Hawaii.  Since Japan already owns Hawaii, we won’t be able to do much with it.  Vulcanism will render the Hawaii question moot in another few thousand years, anyway.

So, I guess I can see the US breaking up, but not the way that Russian Panarin conceives of it. I have to take the cultural inclinations into consideration, whereas he just looked at state lines.  And other than those northern states that defect to Canada, Japanese Hawaii, and maybe a Cuban or Bahamian Florida, I just don’t see any other country taking control of the nations that result.

And now that I have frittered away a couple of otherwise billable hours on these mental gymnastics, I really should get back to work.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Domestic, Foreign Relations, News, Politics | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Guantanamo Detainees


It seems, despite Dick Cheney’s assertion that all that are left in Guantánamo are the “worst of the worst,” there was at least one completely innocent guy detained there until three days ago as an “enemy combatant.” Haji Bismullah was so innocent, in fact, that that he actually fought against the Taliban and was a member of the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. Thanks to George Bush’s suspension of habeas corpus, Haji Bismullah has spent the last six years locked up in that wretched concentration camp anyway.

A military panel, not a habeas proceeding, cleared Bismullah of his status as an “enemy combatant” last week, and over the weekend he was flown back to Afghanistan.

I’m sure he’s not bitter. It was an honest mistake, right? They all look alike under those turbans.

Between January 2002 and May 2006, 759 individuals classified as “enemy combatants” were treated to an all-expense-paid vacation to balmy Cuba, courtesy of the U.S. Government.

The Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants has now done two annual reviews.  It took several years to get the Administrative Review Board in place. When the Combatant Status Review Tribunals geared up July 30, 2004, nearly every detainee was designated a “keeper.” In less than six months, 558 detainees had had their cases heard before the tribunal. Assuming a five-day, forty-hour work week for the 25 weeks between Friday, July 30, 2004, and Thursday, January 20, 2005 (and assuming that no holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s were observed and work just continued), that’s less than two hours per case.

Two hours is plenty of time to review whether someone needs to be held as an enemy combatant when the detainee is not permitted to know the evidence against him, or to have the help of a legal professional, or otherwise to defend himself.

As one Washington Times commentator put it, “Detentions of alleged enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) and extraordinary renditions smack more of Franz Kafka’s The Trial than of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.”  I would expect that the men imprisoned there without any recourse and without notice of what they did wrong might feel a surreal quality to their experience. Haji Bismullah is not the only one.

Only thirty-eight men were freed by that first round of reviews by the Office of Administrative Review, and 520 continued to be held as “enemy combatants.” It’s no surprise to me that these 520 men continued to be held at Guantánamo when one considers that they were not permitted access to all of the allegations that initially gave rise to their status as enemy combatants, and that they were not given the benefit of legal representation.  What’s equally bad, though, is that only 37 of those first 558 tribunals were attended by the media.

The media weren’t turned away from any of the reviews, insisted a spokesman for the Office of Administrative Review. All the media had to do if they wanted to attend a review hearing was 1) be on the island the day the review happened and 2) ask to go.  Of course, the Office of Administrative review didn’t tell anyone in advance when the hearings were.  Dumb luck seems to be the device by which those 37 hearings were attended.  Even when the transcripts of the hearings are released, the names are redacted from them – the public has no way of knowing who the detainees were or who any of the other players are in the decision to hold or release them.

In 2005, there were 463 recommendations that resulted in 14 releases, 119 transfers of prisoners to other facilities. The Administrative Review Board decided to continue to detain 330 of the prisoners remaining in Guantánamo.  In 2006, two prisoners were released, 55 became eligible for transfer, and 273 continued to be detained at Guantánamo.

Since a Supreme Court decision in June 2008 gave detainees the right to have their detentions reviewed by federal judges in habeas cases, the government has won only three of them. Three! Not surprisingly, Bush’s Department of Justice has appealed some of the rulings it lost.

As The Decider and his waterboarding cronies prepared leave Washington, they speeded up the release of many men held at Guantánamo over the last seven years.

Nearly ten percent of the “worst of the worst” have been released in the last three months. One of them, a poor kid from Chad, who spent the first two thirds of his life in Saudi Arabia with his parents, was accused of being a member of an Al-Qaeda cell in London when he was 11. He was sent to Guantánamo when he was 14, where he stayed until last week. He says that he was tortured during his imprisonment there.

If young Muhammad Hamid Al Qarani was not an enemy of the United States before his capture and designation as an enemy combatant, you can bet he’s one now, having grown up subject to the loving nurture of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.  He spent nearly one third of his life being held indefinitely there.  Do you think that might give a kid some issues?

In September, the Department of Defense admitted that a dozen teenagers had been held at Guantánamo over the last six years, four of whom were still there. Five of these kids were released, but one commited suicide. If my own child were held in a foreign prison, not even as a Prisoner of War but under a nebulous designation that prevents any treaties from applying to him, I would be advocating strongly for the war crimes of the country holding him to be punished – and punished severely.

There’s still another problem, though.  About 50 of the detainees who have been cleared for release have no place to go.  Either their homelands won’t accept them or they don’t have a homeland.  Some who fall under the latter status are Palestinian.  Yemen won’t accept its natives back. And even as the numbers in Gitmo dwindle, there are still thousands of detainees held in military prisons in other countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia, and  the joint US/UK base on the Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia.

President Barack Obama has said consistently over the last two years that he intends to close the Guantánamo Bay as a detention center. Last week it was reported that he might issue the executive order closing the prison camp as soon as today, although other reports are that closing the prison might not be accomplished even within the first 100 days that he is in office.

I hope he does more than just close the prison camp. I hope he repatriates each and every person held there. If they are terrorists, their own countries can deal with them. The United States government has refused to do anything but warehouse them.

Sources:

Rulings of Improper Detentions as the Bush Era Closes (NY Times, January 19, 2009)
Obama Vows to Close Guantanamo (Al Jazeera English, November 18, 2008)
Obama Closing Guantanamo: Preparing Order in First Week (The Huffington Post, January 12, 2009)
24 Gitmo Prisoners Ruled Wrongfully Held in Last three Months (The Washington Independent, January 19, 2009)
Obama: Guantanamo Center Might Not Close Within First 100 Days (Baltimore Sun, January 20, 2009)
Annual Administrative Review Boards for Enemy Combatants Held at Guantanamo Attributable to Senior Defense Officials (DoD, March 6, 2007)
List of Individuals Detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from January 2002 through May 15, 2006 (DoD, May 15, 2006)

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Domestic, Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics, War | Leave a comment

Perspectives on War


I was talking recently with a couple of friends who have experience in military and foreign relations. As sometimes happens with us, the discussion turned to politics.

The question was asked, “What do you think about Russia and China conducting joint military training?”

One friend, who has a military background, dismissed the exercises as “showing off.”

“So you don’t think they can amass the power to oppose the US in world military matters?” I asked.

“I think the trainings were a desperation move,” my other friend responded. This friend has worked with the American diplomatic corps in international locations for years.

“Why do you say that?”

“China and Russia consider themselves decision makers along with US on international levels, but in recent years, they have found themselves out the picture and being ignored. They are trying to drawn some attention hoping the world will remember their presences.”

“As though the world doesn’t remember that they are both serious nuclear powers?” I was skeptical.

“They hope, among other things, that if they make a display of comradeship and display their combined military might, other countries will look to them with more respect,” said my diplomatic friend.

“They can only do so much, though,” agreed my military friend. “In the end, they know and everyone knows that we could crush them and their entire military in less than 24 hours.”

“Yeah, right,” I said sarcastically. “Like we crushed Iraq.”

“No war has ever been won faster than Iraq,” declared my military friend.

“What about the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War?”

“No. We won the war in less than eight hours and then we invaded to take out the remaining resistance. It took time to cover the land and actually get to Baghdad, but by then the war had been won.”

“What do you mean, eight hours? Eight hours from when we got to Baghdad, or eight hours from when we crossed the Kuwait border initially?”

“By military definition, a war is won when one side destroys the enemy’s military and renders it unable to fight. That only took us less than eight hours with airstrikes, before we ever crossed the border,” my military friend explained.

I repeated one of my initial questions. “Could we cripple the combined military of Russia and China as quickly, without nuclear reprisal?”

“Easily,” my military friend asserted. My diplomat friend agreed with a nod.

“Without inviting a nuclear attack from them?” I was very skeptical.

“There is no assurance that we could avoid nuclear missiles getting into our territories,” said my diplomat friend. “Desperation may lead the losing countries to try using their nuclear power, and they might get missiles through before we could destroy them.”

My military friend added, “But we have jets that have never been used in any war, sophisticated weapons…”

“Do you really believe that we are 100% capable of taking out any nuclear warhead directed at the US or its allies?” I demanded. No matter what the technology might be, error-prone humans create the equipment, program it, and operate it.

“Nothing is one hundred percent assured,” agreed my diplomat friend.

“Do you think any country would actually use nuclear weapons?”

“Yes,” asserted my military friend without hesitation. “Any Muslim country that obtains nuclear weapons will use them against us.”

I was still skeptical, but thoughtful. “I prefer to think that the lessons of Japan and even of Chernobyl would cause leaders not to use them, but if the nuclear arsenal of a country got into the hands of fanatics, I don’t think we would be able to judge what might happen. Fanatics just don’t think like we do.”

“Consider, too, that the world population is increasing and there are not enough natural resources to satisfy everyone. It won’t be long before the countries of the world will be fighting over resources as basic to sustaining life as water.” My diplomat friend has already been at the negotiating table on matters of resources and the environment.

“That is definitely true,” I agreed. “But if nuclear weapons are used, then the land affected by them becomes uninhabitable, and resources like water that pass through contaminated lands will be unusable.”

“Right, but some countries may see themselves as having no choice but to destroy more powerful countries just so they can survive. They believe the historically powerful countries are dominating the world and they need to be taken out. For instance, that is what many Muslims believe. They think the only way for Islam and their way of life to survive is if there is no powerful Western influence over their government or their culture.” My military friend feels strongly about this, in case that fact escaped anyone.

“There are plenty of countries that resent our interference in their policies. Venezuela is one. Obviously the Muslim world thinks that of any non-Muslim power. China has been careful to prevent foreign influence and accused England of causing their population to become addicted to opium in the 19th century in an effort to control them,” my diplomat friend pointed out.

“No country appreciates the interference of outside forces,” I agreed, “unless they see that country as an ally that has been invited for a particular purpose – like Kuwait during the Gulf War.”

“The bottom line,” declared my military friend, grinning, “is that we need to destroy the rest of the world sooner rather than later if we want to stay in the driver’s seat.”

“Now you’re thinking clearly!” I laughed.

“Right,” said my diplomat friend. “Instead of annexing the rest of the world, we should just annihilate those other countries. We should learn from the mistakes Rome made.”

“Not to mention the Soviet Union,” I added. “Ancient Greece, ancient Persia, Hitler, Napoleon – all made the same mistake of trying to conquer the world when they should have just destroyed it.”

“Finally you two are talking like people who know what they are talking about,” my military friend chuckled.

What’s disconcerting is that I’m not sure he wasn’t just a little bit serious.

October 16, 2007 Posted by | Foreign Relations, History, Humor, Iraq, News, Politics, War | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Clintons on Torture


Vodpod videos no longer available.

For the record, here’s Bill Clinton on the issue, from the transcript of the September 24, 2006 edition of Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: What did you think when Colin Powell said, “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism”?

MR. CLINTON: I think he was referring to the, the questions that have been raised about the original evidence, which plagues him and in which he was, I think, unwittingly complicit. I don’t think—I think it’s pretty clear, based on what all the people that worked for him have said. I think he was most worried about the question of torture and the conduct of the prisons at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. And of course, he weighed in in this debate about the extent to which the CIA or others could engage in conduct which clearly violates the Geneva Convention.

Now, we—as you and I talk, and we hear that they’ve reached an agreement, the senators and the White House, and I hope they have. But Colin pointed out that, you know, we’ve got soldiers all over the world. If we get a reputation for torturing people, the following bad things are going to happen: We’re as likely going to get bad information is good, just for people to just quit getting beat on; two, we’re likely to create two or three or five enemies for every one we break; and three, we make our own soldiers much more vulnerable to conduct which violates the Geneva Convention. That is, we can’t expect our friends, much less our enemies, to accept the fact that because we’re the good guys, we get to have a different standard of conduct. And most people think the definition of a good guy is someone who voluntarily observes a different standard of conduct, not someone who claims the right to do things others can’t do.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you outlaw waterboarding and sleep deprivation, loud music, all those kinds of tactics?

MR. CLINTON: Well, I—here’s what I would do. I would figure out what the, what the generally accepted definitions of the Geneva Convention are, and I would honor them. I would also talk to people who do this kind of work about what is generally most effective, and they will—they’re almost always not advocate of torture, and I wouldn’t do anything that would put our own people at risk.

Now, the thing that drives—that, that gives the president’s position a little edge is that every one of us can imagine the following scenario: We get lucky, we get the number three guy in al-Qaeda, and we know there’s a big bomb going off in America in three days and we know this guy knows where it is. Don’t we have the right and the responsibility to beat it out of him? But keep in mind, in 99 percent of the interrogations, you don’t know those things.

Now, it happens like even in the military regulations, in a case like that, they do have the power to use extreme force because there is an imminent threat to the United States, and then to live with the consequences. The president—they could set up a law where the president could make a finding or could guarantee a pardon or could guarantee the submission of that sort of thing ex post facto to the intelligence court, just like we do now with wire taps.

So I, I don’t think that hard case justifies the sweeping authority for waterboarding and all the other stuff that, that was sought in this legislation. And I think, you know, if that circumstance comes up—we all know what we’d do to keep our country from going through another 9/11 if we could. But to—but to claim in advance the right to do this whenever someone takes a notion to engage in conduct that plainly violates the Geneva Convention, that, I think, is a mistake.

Thanks, Bill. Now, that having been said, I think “Geneva Convention” is too much to have to remember when we’re talking about Safewords.

September 29, 2007 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Humor, News, Politics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Patriot Act Is Dealt a Blow


“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” – U.S. Const. Amend. IV.

On March 11, 2004, 191 people were killed and more than 1600 were injured when bombs placed by terrorists exploded on a Madrid, Spain, commuter train. Latent fingerprints were lifted from a suspicious plastic bag, and Interpol sent digital photos of them to the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.

No matches were found in the FBI’s database until higher resolution digital photos were sent the next day. This time, 20 potential matches were returned with respect to one of the latent prints. The FBI was able to pull names, addresses, sex, race, birth dates, and Social Security numbers for the 20 potential matches, and performed background checks on each of them.

Brandon Mayfield, a 38 year old practicing lawyer living near Portland, Oregon with his wife and three children, was ranked number 4 on the list of potential matches for the latent print. Mayfield had not been outside the US since 1994 (he didn’t even have a current passport), and had never been arrested for a crime.

A supervisor in the department that matches fingerprints decided that Mayfield’s prints matched the latent print. For verification, as the FBI sometimes does, independent confirmation was sought. The person who confirmed the match was a former FBI employee who had been reprimanded several times for falsely or erroneously matching fingerprints. He knew that the FBI had already made the match, and he was aware that Mayfield was a practicing Muslim. Because there were less than 12 points at which the latent print and Mayfield’s prints matched, a third analyst also reconfirmed the match. The second reconfirmation was also tainted by the fact that the third examiners knew that the first two had made the match and by the knowledge that Mayfield was Muslim.

The FBI began surveillance of Mayfield and his family. They followed then to the mosque they attended, to the children’s school, to Mayfield’s law office, and to family activities. Attorney General John Ashcroft personally applied to the Foreign Intelligence Security Court (FISC) for an order to permit placing bugs in the private rooms of the Mayfields’ home. While waiting for the FISC order, the FBI went ahead and placed the taps on phones both in the home and in Brandon Mayfield’s law office. They began gathering information about the Mayfields from other people. They also did “sneak and peek” entries into the home and law office, entering, but not removing anything. The Mayfields detected the entry and believed they had been burglarized.

Three weeks later the FBI sent Mayfield’s prints to Spain. In the meantime, several Moroccan immigrants to Spain had been arrested in connection with the bombing. There was no connection between the Moroccans and Mayfield. The Spanish authorities examined the fingerprints and found too many dissimilarities, so notified the FBI that there was no match. The Spanish authorities had the original latent prints, not digital photos of them, for comparison purposes. A formal report from Spain to the FBI followed. Not to be deterred, the FBI sent agents to Spain, but the Spanish authorities were firm. There was no match of Mayfield’s prints to the latent print.

The FBI was still determined to connect Brandon Mayfield to the Madrid bombing. In support of its request for a warrant to arrest Mayfield as a material witness to the bombing, an FBI agent swore in an affidavit that the FBI had determined Mayfield’s prints and the latent print were a 100% match. No mention was made of the Spanish conclusion that the prints were not a match. The affidavit also emphasized Mayfield’s religion and ties to the Muslim community.

Once he was arrested, Mayfield vehemently protested his innocence, but an independent fingerprint examiner selected by Mayfield and his lawyers also determined that the prints were a match.

Thanks to broad search warrants for the Mayfield home and law office, computer files, papers, and even the Mayfield children’s homework was seized by the FBI. Mayfield was held incommunicado in a detention facility, and he and his family were told that he was to be charged with crimes punishable by death. They were told that there was a 100% match between his fingerprints and those found in Madrid. The FBI and the Department of Justice leaked information about the arrest to the press, and there were international headlines proclaiming Brandon Mayfield to be involved in the Madrid bombing.

Two weeks after his arrest, Spain notified the FBI that it had matched the latent print in question with an Algerian. Spain specifically notified the news media that the print did not match Mayfield’s. Mayfield was released from detention the next day, but was ordered to remain on home detention for the next several days.

At least eight federal agencies, the CIA, the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, and the NSA, now have “photocopies or photographs of documents from confidential client files in Mayfield’s law office, summaries and excerpts from the computer hard drives from the Mayfield law office and plaintiffs’ personal computers at home, analysis of plaintiffs’ personal bank records and bank records from Mayfield’s law office, analysis of client lists, websites visited, family financial activity, summaries of confidential conversations between husband and wife, parents and children, and other private activities of a family’s life within their home.” – Mayfield v. United States (CIV. 04-1427-AA, p. 23), ___ F.Supp. ___ (26 Sept., 2007).

It’s not surprising given this chain of events that Brandon Mayfield, his wife, and their three children sued the federal government.

The USA PATRIOT Act allowed the federal government to conduct secret surveillance of Brandon Mayfield and his family based entirely on the misidentification of that latent fingerprint, even after Spain had determined there was no match. The unconstitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) as amended by the USAPATRIOT Act was the subject of a decision by one of Oregon’s federal judges this week.

The USAPATRIOT Act modified the FISA, 50 USC §§ 1801 et seq., to allow the federal government to conduct secret surveillance of U.S. citizens without having to meet the requirements of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution against unreasonable search and seizure, and against warrantless searches and seizures.

Until 2001, when the federal government sought a warrant under FISA, a high ranking member of the intelligence community, such as the Director of the FBI, was required to certify that the primary purpose of the surveillance was to obtain foreign intelligence information. With passage of the USAPATRIOT Act, that standard is changed. The government now needs only to claim that foreign intelligence gathering is merely a significant purpose of the surveillance. 50 U.S.C. §§ 1804(a)(7)(B) and 1823(a)(7)(B). Because of the USAPATRIOT Act, FISA surveillance orders can be obtained even if the government’s primary purpose is to gather evidence of local, domestic criminal activity.

What does this mean? Passage of the USAPATRIOT Act meant that for the first time since 1791, when the Bill of Rights was adopted, the government could conduct searches and seizures without showing that a crime was either contemplated or had already been committed. It means that the federal government can avoid the probable cause requirement of the Fourth Amendment by merely alleging that part of the reason for the search and seizure is related to foreign intelligence gathering.

The government doesn’t have to suspect its target of any criminal activity at all, so long as gathering foreign intelligence is claimed as part of the reason for the search. The government only has to make a nexus of some sort between foreign terrorism or international espionage and the targeted person or place, and the approval for surveillance is granted under FISA. There doesn’t have to be any specific activity that the government is concerned about, unlike in the Fourth Amendment searches and seizures, where the affidavits and resulting warrants have to be specific as to the information to be sought and seized.

FISA allows surveillance to continue for four months at a time, whereas similar activity in the context of a normal criminal investigation is only allowed to continue for 30 days.

Furthermore, the government can retain the information obtained in the search without notifying the target of the search. Under the Fourth Amendment, the target of the search not only knows there has been a search but has been officially served with a warrant for it, and can challenge the validity of the warrant and the underlying affidavits in court. No such judicial challenge is available under FISA. Unless there is a criminal prosecution under FISA, the target may never know that the government has been watching him, tapping his phones, following him to work, or copying documents or records he thought were private.

The Oregon Federal District Court was mindful of the conflict between preserving the constitutional rights of Americans and the need for national safety and security. It was also mindful that the United States Supreme Court had already determined that the Executive Branch’s arguments to be specious “that ‘internal security matters are too subtle and complex for judicial evaluation’ and that ‘prior judicial approval will fracture the secrecy essential to official intelligence gathering.’” United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 320 (1972).

In 2002, the seven federal judges who are allowed to issue warrants for FISA surveillance – the only seven people in the country who have that power – issued a unanimous opinion finding that the procedures for obtaining approval for surveillance under FISA after passage of the USAPATRIOT Act were improper because they appeared to be geared toward law enforcement purposes rather than toward foreign intelligence gathering.

The U.S. government appealed. The FISCR, the court that reviews any appeals from the FISA court, reversed the unanimous decision of those seven judges. The government was the only party allowed to argue the case even though a number of entities had filed briefs as amicus curiae (friends of the court), urging the appellate court to uphold the ruling of the FISC judges. Only the government is allowed to ask the United States Supreme Court to review appeals from the FISCR.

This week, in striking down the relevant portions of FISA as amended by the USAPATRIOT Act, the Oregon District Court said:

It is notable that our Founding Fathers anticipated this very conflict as evidenced by the discussion in the Federalist Papers. Their concern regarding unrestrained government resulted in the separation of powers, checks and balances, and ultimately, the Bill of Rights.
. . .
[T]he constitutionally required interplay between Executive action, Judicial decision, and Congressional enactment, has been eliminated by the FISA amendments. Prior to the amendments, the three branches of government operated with thoughtful and deliberate checks and balances – a principle upon which our Nation was founded. These constitutional checks and balances effectively curtail overzealous executive, legislative, or judicial activity regardless of the catalyst for overzealousness. The Constitution contains bedrock principles that the framers believed essential. Those principles should not be easily altered by the expediencies of the moment.

Despite this, the FISCR holds that the Constitution need not control the conduct of criminal surveillance in the United States. In place of the Fourth Amendment, the people are expected to defer to the Executive Branch and its representation that it will authorize such surveillance only when appropriate. The defendant here is asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so.

Thank you, Judge Ann Aiken.

Read the entire decision here: Mayfield v. United States

September 28, 2007 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Lawyer, News, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wench’s Virgin Training School – Again


Wench's Virgin Training School - Again magnify

I am thrilled to report that Wench’s Virgin Training School is quite popular. Enrollment numbers are quite encouraging and the Camel Endowment is quite large. Ahem.

Please allow me to make a full report to our Trustees, Students and Sponsors.

In just three months of operation, the school has enrolled 19 female revirgination candidates. They are, in order of enrollment, KimberKat, Cyndi, Lisa, Silly, Sue, Sherry, Shira, Catherine,Blue, DWMeowMix, SweetP, Selinda, Gypsy Firecracker, Lia, Susan, Jen, Cherish, Bobbie-Lynn, and Melissa.

We are still waiting for 7 more students: Free, Juls, Red Carol, Tricia, Superbitch, JeniT, and Nancy . You may remember that these potential virgins were contacted by either Habib Aktar or Hachbar Vinmook (and maybe by both) to be members of their harems. Their admissions applications have been approved but they have not yet picked up their copies of Virgins for Dummies or the Pop-Up Kama Sutra, nor have they appeared for class. If anyone knows where these truants are, please have them report to me immediately.

We have a Winter Dance coming up soon. We couldn’t have a Christmas Dance because…well, Hachbar and Habib don’t exactly celebrate Christmas. We need volunteers to decorate the gym with the appropriate tissue garlands, incense burners, and silk rugs. One exciting feature of the Winter Dance will be the BookChick, Cyndi’s exhibition performance of the Dance of the Seven Veils. She is our Dance Instructor, and classes in both “Advanced Seven Veils” and “Belly Dancing 101″ are being offered in the spring term. (“Seven Veils” will only be available with Instructor permission based upon an audition, as “Belly Dancing 101″ is a prerequisite for it.)

We’re going to have a fundraiser and sell chocolate bars and gift wrap. It is necessary for the school to raise enough money to repurchase Ohio. Our dear friend and champion, OhBilly, traded Ohio for the honor and virtue of one of our students when Habib had her on the run. Also, Basser has passed me a letter from the National Security Advisor that if we do not reinstate Ohio soon, Habib may be considered a terrorist for having caused Ohio to secede from the Union involuntarily. We have to buy back Ohio, and that may take a little doing. Texas was also traded for one of our students, but apparently the government doesn’t much care about that.

We have a special ed student, proving the accepting and inclusive nature of Wench’s Virgin Training School. Sherry’s 504 plan is in place, and Mad Diane LeDeux,, who is our Flogger of Recalcitrant Virgins, handles special education instruction at Wench’s Virgin Training School. Unfortunately, Mad Diane has had to wield her whip a few times. We are sad to report that we do have disciplinary issues with some students. Shira is in the habit of sleeping behind her veil and Silly keeps showing up for class naked. For some reason Mad Diane is particularly enthusiastic about Silly’s floggings.

In a related matter, Blue has asked about cuff and stick training. It has been determined that this class shall be an elective for advanced students, except for those who Mad Diane believes need the extra discipline. Mad Diane will be the class’s instructor, of course.

Hachbar has become quite a benefactor for Wench’s Virgin Training School. I am pleased to report that he compensated me with much livestock and health insurance. Because of his generosity, I am able to concentrate on the school full time.

Hachbar also wants to sponsor a new building on the campus of Wench’s Virgin Training School. He has directed that all virgins shall use their feminine wiles to lure contractors to build the new school. This will indeed be a test of our revirgination program because of course, the contractors will not be allowed to touch the virgins. Hachbar has decreed that the penalty for touching virgins is death by camel humpy. What Hachbar doesn’t know won’t hurt him, though. If virgins get touched, all they have to do is go back to Virgins for Dummies, Lesson 1, and start the revirgination program all over again.

Habib has not been seen around the school very much. Hachbar informs us that Habib had a delicate operation called an “addadictomy.” I thought all that facial hair was proof certain that Habib already had a Y-chromosome, but Hachbar insists that Habib was missing from many of the opening festivities of the school because of that surgical procedure. Habib hotly denies this, and we can certainly understand why he might be a bit embarrassed about it. One simply does not discuss one’s elective cosmetic or prosthetic surgeries in polite company.

Shortly after Wench’s Virgin Training School opened, we received a dire warning from Basser.It seems that US intelligence operatives somehow got the idea that our school is an Arab Training Camp! According to Basser, Homeland Security was tipped off by an undercover inside informant. Homeland Security has now put the country on Yellow Alert because of this misinformation. Navy SEALs stealthily infiltrated the bushes behind the school and began monitoring us. When they saw Silly was naked, they even began filming!

Homeland Security was disturbed primarily by the fact that because so many women were attending revirginification classes, men could get drunk in bars with no worries about a phone calls demanding they come home. For some reason Homeland Security considers this a national threat beyond even Bill Gates running for president.

The government is now closely watching the school’s banks accounts, activities of students and instructors that occur outside the school, our cable TV bills (searching for naughty pay-per-views, I suppose), breast exam results, and so forth. Under the Patriot Act, the government has access to everyone who deals with us and our virgins. Despite my best legal wrangling with the government’s dark-suited men with their dark glasses and their dark SUVs with the dark-tinted windows, the Patriot Act allows them to violate our rights anytime they want by claiming it is in the best interest of the government. They have specifically asked that our gynecologists check us for Arab intrusion and that our hair stylists check us for fleas. As headmistress of Wench’s Virgin Training School, I find this highly insulting.

What’s even more insulting is the intimation that the government thinks that there are spitters here at our school. Basser said that the SEALs objected to the camels, which stink and spit, and advised me that Navy Men do not like spitters. I was quick to inform Basser that so far as I am aware, the camels are the only spitters at this school, and the Navy men just need to stop playing with the camels. The lip gloss gets in their fur and makes it difficult for Lou’s crew of camel jockeys to groom.
The problem was rectified very quickly, though, when we got use of the FEMA trailers still languishing at Hope, Arkansas (just a few miles down the road from where I live). David (that adorable green puppy!) Reminded us that the trailers were sitting there empty and unused, and naturally we had a great use for them while awaiting our expansion. Each virgin is now assigned a FEMA trailer when she arrives at school, and the Navy SEALs have graciously agreed to leave the bushes and stealth mode behind and take rotating shifts guarding our virgins! There are two SEALs to a virgin on each shift. This has been a great reassurance to Homeland Security and the safety of our virgins is guaranteed.

Before Silly gets too worried (I know she’s thinking about this), let me assure everyone that there is plenty of lip gloss. Our budget has ample funds set aside to purchase lip gloss in 55-gallon drums, and one drum will be placed in each FEMA trailer.

Initially we got wonderful financial advice from that scion of numbers, the Spy Man himself. Thanks to his input, we have established the prices we will charge for our virgins. A virgin in training will go for 6 camels (2 humps preferred), a 12 cup coffee maker, The Idiot’s Guide to Disarming Bombs, and a gift certificate from “BURQAS R US.” A graduate will cost 12 camels, 10 horses, a year’s supply of Glade room deodorizers, a Brookstone electric shaver with the body hair attachment, and an oil well producing at least 500,000 barrels a day.

Of course, Hachbar’s explanation of the livestock exchange rates was very helpful in establishing the virgin prices:

1 camel = 2 horses
1 horse = 2 sheep or goats
1 goat = 1 sheep
pig = worthless

I am sad to report, however, that Spy turned out to be a, well, an embezzler. I know, I know. It’s hard to believe. But shortly after publication of the last blog about the school, he bought an Aston Martin with school funds and headed to the casino in Monte Carlo. He assured me it was to increase our holdings and for marketing purposes, and he even took Silly with him, ostensibly for some undercover work. He left a note, which was found after his departure, that he had purchased a Walther PPK gun with Silencer for $650 and an $1,800 Hugo Boss Tuxedo. He wiped out the remaining funds in out bank account, leaving us with only 23 cents.

He abandoned the Aston Martin in Monte Carlo, apparently, because he took the company Lear jet back to the school. He dodged in and out under cover of darkness, I am sorry to say, and left another note. Our bank account was overdrawn by $150,000, and still he had the temerity to demand reimbursements for mini bar charges of $1,452; a cash advance at the Monte Carlo Casino of $72,000, and entertainment expenses of $33,400! And this was despite the fact that he had won $500,000 playing baccarat! I tell you, the NERVE of some people!

What’s worse is that he swiped money from the school’s coffers and wired it to the bank account of the Young Republicans. They called and thanked me, or I might never have known. I nearly died of embarrassment. Of all the organizations in all the world, he had to choose the Young Republicans! He is now officially known as ”Spy Non Grata,” if his name must be spoken at all. Please use his name sparingly in my presence as it makes my blood boil.

For every bad egg like Spy Non Grata, though, there is a good egg. Feudalserfer, my beloved friend and now my partner, has established the Satellite Academy. That’s right, Wench’s Virgin Training School has launched into space and a campus is now located on the moon! Legal aliens only may apply, though. We don’t want gate crashers.

A huge party in the Feud’s blog celebrated the grand opening in glorious style.

And speaking of blog parties, Billy’s Dusty Springfield Blog, the official 69 training ground for Virgins, has not seen a 69 since Christmas Eve. Ladies, if you want to be considered experts in 69, you had better get busy! I’m just sayin’….

The last official count, on December 12 at 7 a.m. Central Standard Time was:

  • Melissa in the lead with10, with #’s 369, 869, 1169, 1769, 1969, 2169, 2369, 2569, 2769, and 2869.
  • SweetP demonstrated her prowess with 7 glorious 69s. She stole #’s 269, 1069, 1269, 1369, 1469, 2069 and 2669.
  • Silly, the original 69er of the training blog, elegantly stealthed in for 5, #’s 69, 1569, 1669, 1869 and 2469.
  • I scored twice with #’s 169 and 769.
  • Susan captured #469 in a dazzling display of 69 activity.
  • Natalie showed that she is definitely not afraid to get her hands dirty with her procurement of #669.
  • Cherish showed great stamina and a truly adventurous nature in her grabbing of the only 69 worthy of being read the same either backward or forward. #969
  • And Sue bombarded the blog in an effort to grab 2269.


Billy, honey, can we get a current count?

Oh, and you don’t mind the Virgins using you to practice their 69 technique, now do you?

Disclaimer: Please note that all prices and exchange rates either expressed or implied are subject to change without notice. The Wench of Aramink reserves sole discretion in the adjustment, revocation, and/or evaluation of said prices and exchange rates. All sales are final; no refunds and no exchanges. Internet sales are subject to all applicable regional, national, and international laws and taxes. Paypal is accepted. Virgins may be traded on eBay. All transactions void where prohibited.

February 12, 2007 Posted by | Creative Writing, FEMA, Fiction, Foreign Relations, Humor, Virgin Training School, Writing | Leave a comment

Venezuela


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made headlines last week when he told the United States government to “Go to Hell” in a Sunday radio address. My first reaction was to laugh. Then I asked myself why I was laughing.

I might be laughing because someone in the Americas has the outspoken temerity to stand up to Washington’s bullying of the rest of the world, especially smaller, less economically and militarily powerful countries like Venezuela. It is refreshing for someone in the position of Hugo Chavez to stand up to Washington’s arrogance.

Chavez made headlines in September, you may remember, when at his address to the U.N.’s General Assembly he said the UN was basically powerless as an organization to make much of an effect on world politics. Referring to Bush’s speech the day before, Chavez said, ”The devil came here yesterday and it smells of sulfur still today.” I admit that I laughed at that statement, too. My opinion of George Bush isn’t very flattering, and I will admit that on at least one occasion I flippantly referred to him as the anti-christ. Last year, when Chavez was in the U.S. for the annual meeting at the U.N., Chavez declared in a Washington Post interview that the Bush Administration was a terrorist administration. In case you’re wondering, that statement did not make me laugh.

Chavez’s posturing is especially refreshing in light of the fact that he overcame what what was probably a U.S.-backed coup d’etat in April 2002. In fairness, Washington investigated itself and officially denies it had anything to do with that coup. Whether or not the U.S. government backed it, it was clear that Washington would not have been unhappy to see Chavez go. The administration actively supports Chavez’s political rivals, despite the popularity of the Venezuelan leader among his people and in Latin America in general.

Chavez’s ire rose most recently in response to a U.S. State Department statement that the legislative body in Venezuela has allowed Chavez too much power when it gave him the authority to make the extensive socialist reforms, including the nationalization of public utilities and the country’s main telecommunications company. Gasoline is already heavily subsidized by the government of this oil-rich Latin American nation, and sells for around 12¢ per gallon.

But is socialization such a bad idea for these basic necessities? In Venezuela, the same as in the rest of Latin America, there is a huge gap between the rich elite minority and the hoards of the desperately poor. Economically, Latin America has not been the global powerhouse that Europe or North America are. Our neighbors to the south have not yet thrown off the yoke of poverty enforced by centuries of Spanish colonization and dictatorial regimes.

Recently, though, the countries on that continent have started working together for a common political and economic good. The example of the European Union, countries which joined together for economic strength, is one I would not be surprised to see South America emulate in the reasonably near future. Venezuela was instrumental in helping Argentina out of its devastating economic crisis a few years ago when the International Money Fund stood by and did nothing. Venezuela bought much of Argentina’s debt and contributed significantly to stabilizing the country in the face of catastrophe.

Chavez is a significant economic leader in the region. His is the driving force behind ALBA, the “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas” that Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia have joined together to form, and which Nicaragua, once again under the control of Sandinista Daniel Ortega, will soon be joining. ALBA is an alternative to NAFTA-style free trade among Latin American countries, where the countries come together economically but retain their own political sovereignty.

Venezuela is positioning itself as a force to be reckoned with on more than just the economic front, though. Despite a U.S. arms embargo against Venezuela, that country is increasing its defense spending at the rate of more than 12% a year. “According to the US Defense Department, since 2005, Venezuela spent more than China, Pakistan and Iran in procurement of weapons,” El Universal reported. The article quoted Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who said that Chavez’s government “emerged as a major purchaser of weapons and resorted to Russia for high-tech weaponry in order to neutralize the US influence.”

How major is major? Well, since 2005 Venezuela has spent $4.3 billion acquiring weapons. That’s almost $1 billion more than China, which spent $3.4 billion, and Pakistan, which spent $3 billion. Venezuela has spent two and a half times the amount Iran has spent on arms since 2005.

Iran is the country the Bush administration is focused on right now because of its possible intent to acquire nuclear weapons. The Bush administration is doing practically nothing about North Korea, which not only has acquired nuclear weapons but has actually test-fired its Taepo Dong missiles in our general direction. (Make no jokes about the name of those North Korean missiles which have such trouble staying up, ok? I’m trying to be serious here.)

In light of the military might of the United States, Venezuela’s acquisitions may seem inconsequential. Purchases included 24 Russian Su-30 multi-role fighter jets, 50 transport and attack military helicopters, 10 new Russian multi-purpose helicopters, 53 Russian Ak-103 assault rifles (before you laugh at that number, note that there was a deal for 100,000 more). Venezuela also purchased a license to build a factory to produce Kalashnikov assault rifles.

Venezuela has spent hundreds of thousands to refit older helicopters and on maintenance of two submarines (for the first time ever Venezuela is tending to this matter herself) and to improve existing weapons systems. More than half a billion dollars went to streamline and revamp the entire Venezuelan military.

Chavez is politically allied with Castro’s Cuba, and this week went so far as to say ‘When they name me, they name Fidel and when they name Fidel, they name me.’ Any moves the U.S. might make against Cuba in Fidel Castro’s waning days as dictator will be seen by Chavez as an attack on Venezuela.

The Venezuelan people recently re-elected Chavez President. Despite his popular support in free elections, the Bush administration perceives Chavez as a threat to democracy because of the socialist reforms he wants to enact, his political alignment with communist Cuba, and his outspoken opposition to President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror.” Chavez, in turn, sees Bush as a threat. He has accused the Bush administration of attempting to assassinate him, not just overthrow him.

The official position of our government is that Chavez’s government is eroding democracy and human rights in Venezuela. Our government also claims that Chavez wants to undermine American influence in the region. I am forced to disagree. By supporting a coup d’etat of a leader that had been elected in fair elections, the American government, not Hugo Chavez, is acting as the greatest threat to democracy in Venezuela. Chavez is attempting to make utilities, which we rich Americans consider the basic necessities of life, available to more Venezuelans through socialization. That appears to me to be a betterment of the human condition in Venezuela, not a worsening of it.

And let’s consider this: if George Bush believed that Venezuela had been behind a temporarily successful but ultimately failed coup d’etat of our government, and believed that the Venezuelan government had a hit out on him, don’t you think he’d be doing all he could to undermine Venezuelan influence among our neighbors and allies? And wouldn’t it be reasonable to build our arsenal and strengthen our military in the face of such threats?

The logic of our government’s foreign relations completely escapes me at times.

Oh, and get this. “Venezuela is providing low-income Americans with two million barrels of heating oil at a 40 percent discount price.” The program, which is similar to many Chavez has spearheaded in his own region, underscores the fact that he recognizes a difference between the American people and our leader. I, for one, am greatly relieved by that news.

January 26, 2007 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Politics | Leave a comment

Homeland Security–Your Incompetent Bureaucracy at Work


 

A nonprofit organization my aunt works with was awarded a State grant and had to submit some forms to get the money. There is a new form this year, one they had never heard of before: Declaration Regarding Material Assistance/No Assistance to a Terrorist Organization Form.

My aunt went to the state homeland security website to get the form. There were two pages to fill out, swearing that they do not give aid to terrorist organizations that are on the U. S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion list.

Now, let’s think about this. If you were in the business of aiding terrorists, would you tell the government all about it?

Maybe, but only if you were a really stupid terrorist.

Feel safer now?

January 2, 2007 Posted by | Foreign Relations, News, Politics | Leave a comment

Pinochet Ricochet


Pinochet Ricochet magnify

Every once in a while, we come across a conspiracy theory that has just enough truth in it to make us want to probe it a bit deeper.

I don’t mean a theory like “Elvis is alive and working at a 7-eleven in Minneapolis.” I mean, his accent would give him away if that were true, right? Not to mention that he would have killed Michael Jackson’s African-American ass for messin’ with his baby girl before Michael ever had a chance to mess with too many little boys.

No, I’m talking about the conspiracy theories that have just enough truth in them to make us think that the hysterical hyperbole surrounding them may not be all that hysterical.

Yesterday my great friend Feud posted a list of his favorite conspiracy theories, among which is that [t]he world is run by a small number of hyper-rich, elusive families.

The Illuminati conspiracy, right?

Well, I laughed and dismissed it until I happened across a certain article that appeared in the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel while perusing the news this morning. Then I did such a fast double-take that whiplash seems to have set in. Now I need a neck brace as well as an ankle brace.

The author of the article is Robert Parry, an investigative journalist in the mold of Woodward and Bernstein. Parry broke a number of the Iran-Contra stories during the Reagan administration, and later wrote a book about the experience. He also wrote a book about the October Surprise of 1980, which explored whether the Reagan-Bush campaign secretly sabotaged President Carter’s desperate negotiations to free the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for over a year. Parry’s latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.

Today’s article appears to be a synopsis of his book, so I take it for what it’s worth. Nevertheless, I want to check out his claims.

In a nutshell, Parry says that because former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet died Sunday, former President George H.W. Bush and the current President George W. Bush are going to be  spared what might have been extremely damning accusations of involvement in covering up international terrorism. We can imagine how poorly that would fly for the president who declared war on terror five years ago.

The senior President Bush was Pinochet’s “longtime friend and protector,” and Parry claims that with Pinochet will also die allegations that both #41 and #43 covered up for Pinochet’s assassination squads, arms dealings, money-laundering, terrorism, and drug running.

The slightly longer version is this:

The Bush family’s involvement with Pinochet began about 1976, when then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush diverted investigators from Pinochet’s involvement in a Washington, D.C. car bombing. That attack killed Pinochet’s political rival Orlando Letelier and an American woman named Ronni Moffitt. Our current president effectively stopped a recent FBI attempt to indict Pinochet for that act of terrorism, which in 1976 was the worst that had ever occurred on American soil. The car bomb was detonated along the well-guarded Embassy Row.

Pinochet’s US connections didn’t start with that episode. He took power in 1973 during a bloody coup when his CIA-supported rebels shot Chilean President Salvador Allende at Santiago’s presidential palace. Until the coup, Chile was a constitutional democracy.

His military uniform made Pinochet look like any number of military dictators across South America and Africa at the time. His conduct was not far from the Fascism and Nazism that seem almost to be hallmarks of the twentieth century. Thousands of political dissidents were rounded up, tortured, and executed under his rule. It made no difference to Pinochet whether those dissidents were Chilean, or even if they were to be found in Chile.

Pinochet and his military junta were deadly serious about stamping out any and all opposition, wherever it might be. In 1974, Pinochet sent an assassin to eliminate a memoir-writing rival, Gen. Carlos Prats, who had fled to Argentina after the coup. A year later an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made against another rival, Chilean Christian Democratic leader Bernardo Leighton, who was in Rome.

The most far-reaching of Pinochet’s assassination squads, though, went by the code name “Operation Condor ” and involved intelligence services from several South American military dictatorships. Operation Condor was formed in 1976, taking effect about the same time that George H.W. Bush was sworn in as CIA director.

Chile’s former Foreign Minister and former Defense Minister, Orlando Letelier, lived in Washington, D.C., where he had relocated after Pinochet’s coup. The international community was favorably impressed with Letelier, who was apparently more personable than Pinochet. Letelier also tended to be highly critical of Pinochet’s human rights abuses, a fact that was obviously displeasing to the Chilean dictator.

Parry claims in his article that Bush’s CIA learned considerable information about Operation Condor even as Pinochet used it to eliminate Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C. Pinochet’s government “heatedly denied any responsibility” for Letelier’s assassination. It was suggested that Chilean leftists had killed Letelier to turn him into a martyr.

The CIA knew differently. One CIA field report specifically implicated the Chilean government’s direct involvement in Letelier’s death. However, under the senior Bush’s command the CIA instead leaked information that pointed away from the real killers. The FBI’s legal attaché in Buenos Aires, Robert Scherrer, reported to his superiors that based on information from Argentinian sources, the assassination was most likely the work of Operation Condor, the assassination project organized by the Chilean government.

In a separate incident just two weeks after the Letelier assassination, anti-Castro terrorists planted a bomb on a Cubana Airlines DC-8 leaving Barbados. The bomb exploded nine minutes after takeoff. The attack had been planned in part by a CIA-trained veteran of the Bay of Pigs, Luis Posada, who was still in close contact with the CIA. Just as they had in the Letelier assassination, senior CIA officials pleaded ignorance.

It is Parry’s position in his book and in the article that the CIA’s proclaimed ignorance was a sham.

When Jimmy Carter assumed the US Presidency in 1977, federal investigators cracked the Letelier case, successfully bringing charges against several conspirators. However, nothing the CIA offered helped to solve this case. Before the matter could be closed, though, the Republicans returned to power in 1981. Former CIA Director George H.W. Bush was now Vice President and a top foreign policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

Pinochet was a close ally of the Reagan administration, providing help on a variety of sensitive intelligence projects, including shipping military equipment to Nicaraguan contra rebels who also were implicated in the exploding cocaine trade to the United States. Part of Pinochet’s $28 million fortune apparently came from his own cocaine dealings.

When help was needed on sensitive projects, the Reagan administration often turned to Pinochet. For instance, in 1982, after Reagan used one of Pinochet’s favored arms dealers to deliver weapons to Saddam Hussein’s army. A Deputy CIA director named Robert Gates was instrumental in getting the military equipment to Iraq.

Yes.

This is the very same Robert Gates who was nominated by President George W. Bush as Donald Rumsfeld’s successor as Secretary of Defense. This is the same Robert Gates that the still-Republican congress confirmed just days ago, and who will now be in charge of the war in Iraq.

Isn’t it amazing what comes around?

December 12, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, News, Politics | 1 Comment

Bush: “There is No Civil War” and “It’s Al Qaida’s Fault”


magnify

This photo, a slide from a power point presentation prepared by the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), shows the drastic increase in sectarian violence in Iraq since the February bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra. CENTCOM is the military command that oversees the war in Iraq.

As of this writing, the slide is nearly two months old. October and November were the deadliest months for American forces in Iraq since the war began, and it was not exactly a picnic for the Iraqis. The death squads that roam Baghdad didn’t exist before Samarra’s bombing. Snipers were not out in the force that they now are. Scores of tortured, usually dismembered or decapitated bodies have been found daily in Baghdad since August. Anbar Province is practically lawless.

Why is the situation deteriorating? There are numerous reasons apparent from the slide.

• Iraqi police are ineffective at best, and are being rounded up and murdered by local militias.

• Moderate politicians have little influence and often are kidnapped or assassinated. Those who scream for drastic action get more attention and militant followings.

• More important than the political leaders are the religious leaders, and the moderates among them are being assassinated and silenced. Again, the militants seem to gravitate toward the extremists, not the moderates.

• Sectarian conflicts among the members of Iraq’s security forces are increasing.

• Police and military desert their posts and jobs in greater numbers.

• Militias, not the military or the police, seem to be “law enforcement” in Iraq, and they are becoming more and more active.

• Violence motivated by sectarian differences has moved into a “critical” phase.

Neighborhoods “allow” the violence to go on, according to CENTCOM. I question how the neighborhoods could stop armed militia members from their random kidnappings and murders, but CENTCOM obviously knows more that I do about that situation.

At the bottom of the slide, CENTCOM notes that “urban areas [are] experiencing ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns to consolidate control” and “violence [is] at all-time high, spreading geographically.” Based on the news reports I’ve seen, violence also appears to be increasing exponentially. The sheer number of mutilated, tortured corpses found since August, often at the rate of more than 50 a day, boggles the mind.

According to the New York Times, President Bush said Tuesday that al Qaida was responsible for the increasing sectarian violence in Iraq. He claimed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaida leader in Iraq who was killed by American forces over the summer, operated al Qaida in Iraq with the primary purpose of causing this kind of conflict between the different branches on Islam in the country. Naturally the president says that the US “will continue to pursue al Qaida to make sure that they do not establish a safe haven in Iraq.”

Not surprisingly, neither the American military commanders most familiar with the situation nor Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, agree with Bush’s assessment of al Qaida. The conflict between Sunni and Shi’a that has heavily armed militias roaming the streets of Baghdad and other cities is more complicated that simply what happened at Samarra. Although the al Qaida-sponsored attack in Samarra may have started things back in February, neither that attack nor any continued efforts of al Qaida are credited with the roving bands of militia that kidnap, torture, mutilate, and kill members of the other sect in what amounts to sectarian cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad and other cities.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the senior spokesman for the American military in Iraq, says that mortar and rocket attacks between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods are on the rise, and things are expected only to get worse because of last week’s attacks. Last Thursday, our Thanksgiving Day, a series of bombs exploded in a Shiite district of Baghdad killing more than 200 people. The following day, Shiite militias attacked Sunni mosques in Baghdad and in the nearby city of Baquba.

King Abdullah of Jordan and Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, have both said publically that Iraq teeters at the brink of civil war, something that President Bush seems to spend da great deal of time denying. Jordan is one of the moderate states in the Middle East that is on reasonably good terms with the US. In the geography of the Middle East, however, Syria and Iran, both of which border Iraq and both of which have large Kurdish populations, may have more influence than Jordan, and certainly more influence than the UN. Bush has repeatedly said that the US will never ask either of those countries for help to stem the sectarian violence in Iraq.

In August Gen. John P. Abizaid, who heads CENTCOM, publically mentioned the likelihood of civil war in Iraq. The sides in a civil war would be along sectarian lines – and there are essentially two divisions: Sunni and Shi’a. Throw in the Kurds’ eternal quest for a homeland and a third party comes into the mix.

Bush says it’s not a civil war, but earlier this month Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency described the conflict between the two sects of Islam as an “ongoing, violent struggle for power.” Prime Minister Maliki says that the sectarian attacks are “the reflection of political backgrounds” and that “the crisis is political.”

What is a civil war but a political struggle for power between two or more opposing armed factions? The American Heritage Dictionary defines “civil war” as simply “a war between factions or regions of the same country.” Wikipedia, my go-to authority for anything that needs defining, goes into a little more detail:

“A civil war is a war in which parties within the same culture, society or nationality fight for political power or control of an area. Political scientists use two criteria: the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second criterion is that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.”

Regardless of the definition used, I think the sectarian conflict in Iraq qualifies. In the NY Times article that supplied Wiki’s definition of the term, James Fearon, a political scientist at Stanford, agrees.  “I think that at this time, and for some time now, the level of violence in Iraq meets the definition of civil war that any reasonable person would have,” he said.

General Caldwell, the military spokesman,  described Al Qaida as having been “severely disorganized” by American and Iraqi efforts this year, but reminded us that it is “the most well-funded of any group and can produce the most sensational attacks of any element out there.” He summarized the continuing violence in Baghdad this way: Shiite militias conducting murders and assassinations in the city’s Sunni western section, and Sunni insurgents and Al Qaida staging “high visibility casualty events” in the city’s predominantly Shiite east.  And despite the fact that a tourniquet might be applied to the sectarian violence if influential neighboring nations exerted pressure on the warring factions, President Bush appears determined to ignore Iran and Syria, Iraq’s two key neighbors, as long as possible.

General Caldwell won’t say that Iraq is engaged in a civil war because the government still operates and there is not “another viable entity that’s vying to take control.”  Yes, that would take it out of the part of the Wiki definition, certainly, but the people of the middle east are not only accustomed to theocratic control of their governments, Islam demands it.  Sunni and Shi’a are battling in the streets to determine which branch of Islam will dominate Iraq’s government.  But struggles for political and economic power were taking place on many levels throughout the country, including fights among Shiite groups seeking dominance in the south and among Sunni elements in Iraq’s west.

The Wiki definition also says that civil wars occurs when there is fighting or voilence intended to force a major policy change.  Changing the government’s Sunni leanings to Shi’a and vice versa are huge policy matters in any Islamic state.

The question of whether the fighting constitutes a civil war has becoming an increasingly sensitive one for the Bush administration, as Democrats cite agreement among a wide range of academic and military experts that the conflict meets most standard definitions of the term.

Why is President Bush so reluctant to admit what seems obvious to so many experts? I wonder if Bush believes that if the administration is left with no alternative but to concede that Iraq is in a state of civil war, then the American mission there will have failed despite “Mission Accomplished” being declared there three and a half years ago.

I’d love to hear from politically conservative friends as well as the more liberal-leaning ones who tend to comment on my political blogs.

November 15, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics | Leave a comment

Kurdistan


Kurdistan magnify

Kurds are one of the largest ethnic populations in the world without a country.

The Kurds are an ancient people who have inhabited the area of Kurdistan for as long as 8,000 years.  The Kurdish language cannot be taught legally in Iranian schools.  It is banned entirely as a language in Syria, and Turkey has prosecuted people for using it even as recently as 2003.  The only part of Kurdistan where the language thrives is Iraq, and Iraq hosts Kurdish refugees from the other parts of Kurdistan. Although the language in Indo-Iranian in origin, “the historical development of the Kurdish language (both grammar and vocabulary) is distinct and different than the other members of the Iranian language family,” according to Wikipedia.

For centuries the Kurds have been persecuted much like the Jews of Europe and the Native tribes of North America.  For instance, in the 16th century, as the Ottomans conquered more and more of Persian, entire Kurdish regions of Anatolia were systematically destroyed.  Cities were and crops were burned and the people who survived were forcibly marched to Azerbaijan and even further east, as far as 1,500 miles away to Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains.

Because of their ethnic identity, Kurds have continually sought autonomy from the governments that have split Kurdistan.  When the Ottoman Empire finally decayed out of existence in the early  20th century, many Kurds expected that autonomy.  When it failed to materialize, they believed that the newly created Turkish republic had betrayed them.  Backed by the United Kingdom, Turkish Kurds declared independence in 1927 and established the Republic of Ararat, which was never recognized by the international community.  In 1931Turkey resumed control over the disputed area. Turkey again suppressed Kurdist revolts in 1937-1938, while Iran did the same in the 1920s. The Soviet-sponsored Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, in Iran, lasted barely more than one year after World War II.  Kurds fought Iraq’s Baathist government for independence in the 1960’s and in 1970 rejected limited territorial self-rule within Iraq, unsuccessfully demanding larger areas including the oil-rich Kirkuk region.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime implemented anti-Kurdish policies and practices which were widely condemned by the international community.  Among the more notorious actions against the Kurds under his rule was the Halabja poison gas attack, when Saddam used of chemical weapons against the Kurds. Thousands died.

Later, Saddam’s army, under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid, carried out  a systematic genocide of the Kurdish people. From March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, more than 2000 Kurdish villages were destroyed and an estimated 50,000 Kurds were killed in rural areas. The large Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) was completely destroyed by the Iraqi army. The campaign also included Arabization of Kirkuk, a program to drive Kurds out of the oil-rich city and replace them with Arab settlers from central and southern Iraq. Kurdish sources report the number of dead to be greater than 182,000. Saddam Hussein is currently on trial and no doubt awaiting sentencing for his crimes against the Kurds.

So should Kurdistan be autonomous?

Since we invaded the country, the most peaceful portion of the Iraq has been the Kurdish north.  I have seen several articles about non-Kurdish Iraqis moving to Iraqi Kurdistan to escape the violence.  One has to wonder if this mass migration will result in the violence being brought to the doorstep of the peaceful Kurds. To a degree, it already has in cities like Kirkuk and Mosul.

Kirkuk itself is a thorny issue within the issue of Kurdish autonomy within Iraq.  Kirkuk is in a region with vast oil resources, but lies on the southwestern edge of the Kurdish area.  Negotiations with the Baathist government in 1970 broke down over whether or not Kirkuk would be part of the Kurdish autonomous region.

Iraqi Kurds want independence.  It would seem at first glance that an independent Kurdistan would be reasonable, except that our ally Turkey objects.  Turkey has the largest population of Kurds.

The area that would make an ethnic Kurdistan actually spreads into six countries: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.  An estimated 25-40 million Kurds inhabit the area, which is approximately the size of France.  If Iraqi Kurds win independence, there could very easily be a domino effect in the other five countries with Kurdish populations.  This would destabilize the entire region, especially Turkey, Iran and Syria.  I can’t imagine anyone wants to see any of these countries, especially Iran or Syria, destabilized.

November 4, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics, Religion, War | 1 Comment

Bush: ‘We’ve Never Been Stay The Course’


Think Progress » Bush: ‘We’ve Never Been Stay The Course’

Do You BELIEVE this BS? And Bush actually expects the American public to BUY this sudden denial of everything he’s said for the last three years?

Now, here’s another look at the “Stay the Course” idea. The Washington Post can sure spin things for this president. It’s “Cut and Run” from “Stay the Course.”

Bush’s New Tack Steers Clear of ‘Stay the Course’

Now, is he a moron, or does he think WE are?

October 24, 2006 Posted by | Foreign Relations, Iraq, News, Politics | 1 Comment