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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Islamic State: Have We Lost Our Opportunity?

Links: A. Jihadists Building Training Camps In Iraq & Syria
           B. IS Kills Iranian Revolutionary Guard General In Iraq
           C. Leader Of Shia Militia Killed By IS In Iraq

We all have our routines.  In the morning, before I take a shower or have anything to eat, I hop online and read email and a bit of news.  I usually scan the Drudgereport, which is very effective at relaying certain "trends" in the U.S. media.  For instance, lately I can't find any news about our involvement in Syria and Iraq.  Thank goodness for the Long War Journal, which not only has the pulse of every hot spot, but keeps relevant stories accessible chronologically.  As for the mainstream media, the issue has dropped off the face of the earth.  When President Obama announced a U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State (IS) targets in Iraq and Syria, the media was giddy.  Even I expected daily stories of bombing sorties and missions to cripple the IS supply network.  Respected military strategists, and probably the Pentagon itself, were quietly not optimistic that an air campaign not operating in concert with ground forces would ultimately fail.  The knee-jerk reaction on behalf of the administration was loud enough to shatter glass, and on September 10, President Obama announced a continuation of the air campaign alongside an effort to train, equip, and stand-up an ethnic Syrian army, which would ideally become the missing "ground forces".  Since that announcement on September 10, the details released by the administration on this force have been scant, confusing and sometimes contradictory. We were told by the Pentagon that this ethnic Syrian force would be led by former Syrian Army officers, whose goals were a secular, free political society in Syria.  Later we were told that it would take three, possibly four months to stand-up this army, which eventually adopted the moniker "Free Syrian Army".  The strangest announcement I recall claimed that the Free Syrian Army would not be allowed to engage in offensive operations, that it would be limited to defensive actions only.  About the same time, a news report from Agency France Press announced that an effort by forces opposed to the IS, including the Free Syrian Army, had been soundly defeated after attempting an ambush.  An ambush stretches the limits of defensive action about as far as it can be stretched, I think.

For those of you familiar with the term, the U.S. involvement in Syria and Iraq has become a complete Goat Rope.  In other words, its a mess.  Two months ago I asked a set of questions that weren't answered.  I repeated those questions last month, and it appears I will be going for month number three.  Reports from both Iraq and Syria appear to indicate that the IS in on the offensive.  In Iraq, the IS has chosen to solidify its hold on Fallujah (and Ramadi?) and continues to swallow up town after town in the greater Baghdad area.  I half-expected an IS attack on Baghdad by now, but the bad guys are obviously thinking a bit more strategically that I am.  As the Iranians become increasingly involved, the IS has stepped up its presence in Diyala Province, which borders Iran.  No doubt the Ayatollahs and the Muftis and the Grand Poobahs in Qom are freaking out that these Sunni Apostates are just a cow patty toss away from Iran, and will demand that Iranian resources be coalesced to meet the threat.  This will leave the Shia militias leaderless (a few are already leaderless, as detailed in links 2 and 3), not to mention a militia or two may scurry over to Diyala as well.  The Iraqi Army has been relying on the Shia militias, which have been instrumental in the defense of the Baiji Refinery and the Iraqi Army's efforts to defend greater Baghdad.  Without Iranian assistance, the Iraqi Army doesn't stand a chance against the IS.

I had predicted that Syrian de-facto President Bashir al-Assad would take full advantage of the allied bombing campaign against the IS, to repair and re-equip the regular Syrian Army.  I opined about the reconstitution of armor (heavy tanks) units and even the possibility of a few new helicopter gunships, courtesy of Assad's best buddy, Vlad Putin.  Instead, I continue to read story after story of IS units kicking the shit out of regime forces in the far east provinces and also near Aleppo and even Damascus.  I assumed that the dream of having a Russian naval base in the Mediterranean would inspire Putin to throw in all his chips behind Assad.  Ideally, the Russians should have taken the break provided by the commencement of the allied air campaign (and the headline-grabbing Kobane struggle) to resupply and equip Assad's regular army, which would then be in a position to defeat a weakened IS and keep control of Syria.  I know this will come as a surprise to many in the west, but the urban populations of Syria (Christian, Muslim, and whatever else) actually support Assad.  But once Turkish President Erdogan decided that Assad wasn't his "cup of tea", many regional leaders jumped on Erdogan's bandwagon.  This explains why the local media refuses to broadcast the fact that urban Syrians, including the majority of Christians, support Assad and believe he has taken positive steps to protect them throughout his time in office.

Back to my simple list of questions:

  • What is the status of the Free Syrian Army?  
  • Has the FSA been stood up?  
  • Does the FSA have the option to undertake offensive operations or is it intended exclusively for defense?  
  • What is the status of the air campaign?  
  • What percentage of missions has been flown by our allies, compared to the number of missions flown by the U.S. Air Force?  
  • If the IS occupies Baghdad, will this trigger greater military involvement on behalf of the United States?  
  • If the IS were defeated in Syria, and the FSA and regular Syrian began a struggle for control of the country, would the U.S. military get involved? 



Monday, December 29, 2014

Another "Concerned" Leftist Wants To Abolish The CIA

Link: Abolishing The CIA

Sometimes, but not often, I must truly collect myself before writing a post.  I have linked an article by a journalist (or blogger) regarding the recent torture revelations and the future of the CIA.  First and foremost, I have no qualms stating for the record that I disagree with all of what this person has to say on the subject.  Actually, THE TRUTH disagrees with some of what he had to say.  The details contained in the politically motivated release of the report have been discussed previously.  There is nothing new here, folks.  If you have three investigations looking into the same subject, don't be surprised if by the third effort, you find yourself with old news.  This article begins with a sensational claim that the CIA allowed a man to freeze to death.  I don't believe this claim.  I want to see the evidence.  More to the point, I want to see what evidence the author who repeated this despicable accusation has seen.  What was the name of the person who died?  In which "Black Location" did it occur?  Did the Agency admit to this event?  As for some of the other claims, I will not try and defend some of the unacceptable actions of a handful of obviously misplaced CIA employees.  The "anal feeding" is something completely foreign to myself and every person with whom I have discussed this event, as is the binding of the legs of someone who is injured.  I have no doubt that these repulsive and disturbing claims are true, but we are dealing with the exception as opposed to the rule.  The United States, along with our allies, have always applied enhanced techniques during interrogation.  It happened in the Revolutionary War, and it happened in WW II.  Unfortunately, war is a nasty business, and things will on occasion get out of hand.  The goal is to minimize those episodes, with the hope of eliminating them altogether.  The events of mistreatment have been blown totally out of proportion by the same, predictable bunch of lefties that will be calling for someone else's head when the next 9/11 happens because we DIDN'T have enough intelligence.  Every once in a while I will read an article written by someone who has been part of the war and understands certain dynamics which are foreign to the average American, and this someone will criticize the behavior of the CIA.  I am willing to except negative commentary from a source with those qualifications, not this guy from the link.  It takes more than a career sitting behind a desk in Chicago to make one an expert on the truth.

What would you do? . . . Without a doubt a very important question.  You are a Federal Agent, or a government interrogator, and you have solid, verified evidence that a man in your custody knows the location of a powerful bomb.  Last week this same man has admitted to bombing a market, which killed seventy-two innocent, mostly women and children.  But today he refuses to give you the location of the unexploded ordinance.  The clock is ticking . . . what do you do?  Would you threaten the man in custody, tell him you will arrest his family if he doesn't talk?  Will you lie and tell him that his silence is a death sentence?  Will you utilize the all-to familiar emotion of fear to save the lives of unsuspecting innocents?  According to this author of the link, even this type of behavior is unacceptable.  We can't even "lie" to the bad guys.  I wonder . . . if we had one of the 9/11 hijackers in custody BEFORE the event, and the writer in question was allowed to choose the method of interaction with the terrorist, what would he decide?  The author has written a wonderful book which includes a collection of all of the essays he has written during his career.  He is a beautiful writer and in most instances I agree with his perspective.  I was truly moved by the love he feels for his family and by his expression of loss.  But I can't sit back and allow someone to advocate the destruction of the most important tool our country possesses in the battle against international terrorism.  The bad guys are out there, and the laws of human nature tell us that they would arrive sooner or later. We did not create the hatred that exists in their hearts, no more than the Shia, or the Europeans did.  Al-Qaeda, and group similar to the Islamic State, exist to destroy what has been created in favor of a new matrix.  They want an empty countryside that they can populate with more bigots who are anti-Christian, anti-Shia, anti-Hindu, anti-Women, anti-Homosexual, and anti-Chicago-based journalists.  They don't pick and choose.  The only way to defeat these thugs is to understand their motivation and what will make them respond.  It may be stating the obvious, but sometimes the only thing the bully on the playground will understand is a fist.

In 2011, the CIA demonstrated its abilities by tracking down Osama Bin Laden and orchestrating his demise, God Bless the Navy Seals.  You know about this operation because the Agency was unable to keep its involvement out of the media.  Forgive the cliché, but for every operation that gets publicized, another 100 stay undisclosed.  That is the nature of the business.  This writer in Chicago has no idea how many lives the CIA has saved in the last decade alone, yet he is so excited about advocating its abolition because of retreaded 10-yr old stories, committed by a very small number of miscreants who no longer have their jobs.  I could talk about the pressure on these guys, after 9/11, and the constant drumbeat from Congress about the need for more intelligence, but I find no excuse for their behavior; just as I find absolutely no pattern to the events that are being played out in the press, for the third go-around.  The CIA is more important than ever, and to enhance its effectiveness, the powers that be need to return the organization to its roots: humint collection.  No one in this world will be safe if we don't have brave young men and women living life dangerously in foreign countries, trying to determine what the bad guys are planning to do next.  One can never know . . . the life they save my just be living in a suburb in Chicago, Illinois. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Its About Time We discussed North Korea

Links: A. Wikipedia on North Korea
           B. Official Website Of The DPRK
           C. Who Really Hacked Sony?

In almost four months, I've managed to avoid a post dedicated to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK-North Korea).  However, thanks to all the noise regarding the Sony film "The Interview," I can't avoid Kim Jong-un any longer.  The plot of the film is interesting if absurd: the CIA hires two people to assassinate Kim Jong-un with a ricin-transmitted handshake.  A week before the movie was scheduled for nation-wide release, Sony Pictures, the company who owns the film, was ingeniously hacked, and mildly embarrassing information became public knowledge.  In a knee-jerk reaction if there ever was one, Sony, suspecting that North Korea was responsible for the hack, and fearing additional retaliation, pulled the movie from theaters.  After a week of PRICELESS publicity, it appears that Sony has changed its mind, and the movie is back in theaters.  I can't help but wonder if Sony didn't engineer this entire hacking story in order to build-up a film that wasn't tracking very well, pre-premiere (see link C).  I've heard that the movie is hysterical, and I like Seth Rogen to an extent (although I am easily annoyed by people who brag about being weed addicts), but James Franco's voice really grates on me.  I find it fascinating that the American people have had North Korea dropped into their laps by the entertainment industry twice in the last decade: 2004 and now 2014.  First, the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, delivered the live-action puppet masterpiece "Team America" to theaters across the U.S. Have you ever seen puppets have sex?  Don't want to?  Don't knock it 'til you've seen it!  Seriously, I loved Team America, and its portrayal of Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-un's father, should have earned someone an Academy Award nomination.  And now we have The Interview.  If it weren't for Hollywood, most Americans would have no clue that North Korea even exists.

If you hop on your computer (or tablet, or phone, or IPad, or TV) and pull up Google Earth, it wouldn't take you long to pick out a country with a dictator, complete lack of freedom, and starving people.  Actually, studying and sometimes visiting these places is a favorite pastime of mine.  Africa probably has more than any other continent, but the biggest boils on the international scene are to be found in Asia (you missed the cut, Castro, because you've become irrelevant).  Russia tops my list because of my personal issues with Vlad Putin, and China comes in second because they get to be treated like a Democracy when in fact they are frozen in Socialist hell, at least internally.  North Korea lands at the three-spot on my list; it probably deserves to be higher, but more people are living (and suffering) in Russia and China than in the DPRK.  Maybe I should revisit the "suffering" comment; North Korea has been mired in an unimaginable famine for over a
decade.  But before I start to badmouth the DPRK, lets have a touch of history (see link A for more punishment):  Korea, even though it was occupied by the Manchu Chinese, actually had its own royal family.   In the late 1890's, the Japanese invented an excuse to invade and annex Korea (sayonara royal family!), which is how things stayed until the end of the second world war.  Korea was due to join the world of free nations, but the Chinese and Russian Communists wanted Korea to be Red.  A compromise was reached, and two Korean nations were created: Socialist North Korea, allied with Mao Tse Tung and Communist China; and Democratic South Korea, the darling of the United States and a rebuilding Japan.  No one was truly satisfied with this arrangement, and in June 1950, heavily supported by Chinese military resources (artillery, armor, and air), North Korean troops came pouring across the border.  After a bit of back-and -forth that almost resulted in U.S. troops being pushed into the sea, the border was re-established at roughly the same location (forgive me, all of you M*A*S*H junkies, but I don't have the space for anymore Korean war details).  The war ended in July 1953, and in the subsequent sixty-one years, there have been moments of great tension, but also signs of hope for the future.

Politically and internationally speaking, North Korea is a rogue state.  They have a fully functional nuclear weapons research facility, with a couple of warheads already in the pipeline.  The governing element is rotted and corrupt inside and out.  The Kim family (Kim
Tower of the Juche Idea,
in Pyongyang, the DPRK
Il-Sung, the creator of the "Juche" philosophy that guides the lives of North Koreans, deceased; his son Kim Jong-il, deceased; and his son Kim Jong-un), administer North Korea as if it were a personal ant farm.  The Kim men have all been addicted to the fruits of western imperialism, including Cognac, McDonald's, and big-breasted women, but no one else gets to sample Yankee treats except the boss.  Outside of the immediate inner circle, an ugly game of "tattle-tale" is constantly being played, so that junior officers can get their bosses executed and move up the chain of command.  Sadly, it is also necessary for decorated officers to barter for food to feed their families.  North Korea has been stuck in a horrendous famine caused by the cumulative effects of a fractured economic infrastructure and inadequate food production. Over 22 million people must rely on food produced from the barely 20 per cent of arable land available.  The remainder of the land, much of it unused, is reserved as private property for the Kim family, or has been set-aside for the building of prisons or some unnamed military project.  The North Korean people should not be hungry; the country itself is naturally resourced to feed its people.  The "Tattle-Tale" system is so ingrained that children learn it in grade school.  Instead of having secret meetings to discuss overthrowing the government, everyone tries to catch their neighbor plotting against the regime, so they can turn them in and get an extra piece of a shoe to chew on.  The Korean economy functions to support three things: the DPRK military, which, given that the soldiers are starving as well, is probably a paper tiger; the Kim family (it includes certain uncles, aunts, and cousins who were smart enough to never criticize or move towards the throne); and the frequently whispered-about nuclear research.  Interestingly enough, the North Koreans have had more success with weapons-grade uranium than they have building a missile that can get from Coney Island to The Bronx!  Why does Mookie find this interesting?  Because the Chinese, who for some really insulting reason continue to protect the DPRK, have also had some problems putting together a successful missile program (unfortunately, lately OUR technology has helped the Chinese immeasurably. . .thanks, Bill Clinton).

North Korea is on everyone's hot-button list because they have nuclear weapons and a lunatic egg-head with small-man's syndrome running the country.  Although North Korea professes to have the world's second-largest Army (after Rhode Island), the South Koreans have nothing to fear from the barely-standing bags of bones.  Besides, the South Korean military is about as good as it gets, with U.S. troops and resources positioned alongside.  As always, the issue is the nuclear warheads/bombs.  We have no leverage with the North Koreans to coax them into giving up their nuclear weapons program, but China does.  Wouldn't you think, that somewhere along the line, during one of those ceremonies celebrating some other "most favored nation" status given to China, someone could have asked for something in return?  No, not us.  And we saw the habit replicated recently.  The Russians gave up NOTHING in Hillary's 2009 New Start arms reduction treaty, and ditto for the agreement to open up the economic floodgates to Cuba (c'mon, Barrack...couldn't you have at least ASKED Fidel to release his political prisoners?).  Those of us stateside really don't have anything to worry about when it comes to the North Koreans finding an accurate and effective delivery system.  But if you are living in Taiwan or Japan, don't hold your breath.  A good fart from a Taco Bell Burrito could put Kim Jong-un into the wrong kind of mood, and missiles might start flying everywhere. . .take cover!!!


Thursday, December 25, 2014

A True Christmas Story

Link: History of The Assyrian People


For those of you who eventually read my book, you will find a longer, more spiritual version of this story.  Given that Christmas is upon us, and this is a true story, I chose to share it with everyone.  Sometimes when you least expect it, and in the most unlikely places, a little miracle with sneak up on you.  Rejoice!
Medieval icon depicting
Ephrem the Syrian

It was December, 2003, and Mike and I were going about our daily routine of ops meetings and paperwork.  I had been in Baghdad for roughly eight months, and Mike had been in country for five.  Mike and I lived in the Green Zone, within the Agency compound, and we worked together on a daily basis.  It was not normal for two case officers to work together as a team, but we gravitated to each other from the start, and modesty notwithstanding, we were as productive as three officers.  Otherwise, I can guarantee you, the arrangement would have come to an end.  Why did we work so well together?  If was a combination of Mike's amazing sense of direction, intelligence, his work ethic, and his patience, mixed with my experience.  We had separate cases and met with our own list of contacts, and we always managed to not let it get complicated.  Unfortunately, both Mike and I were missing one important skill: neither of us spoke Arabic.  We always seemed to have a shortage of linguists in Baghdad, but we managed.  The entire compound was lucky to have a family of brothers, all older gentlemen, travel out to Baghdad and share their Arabic skills.  The three Hanani Brothers, Lucas, Luther, and Nicholas, were all American citizens and all over the age of sixty-five (Lucas being the oldest at seventy-eight).  The Hanani's were ethnic Assyrians, with Lucas having been born in Baghdad.  The large Hanani family were successful merchants in Baghdad, but the unstable political situation following the second world war convinced Hanani Sr. (the father of Lucas, Luther, and Nicholas, who is still around) to move to the United States.  Over the Years, hard-work and sacrifice led to tremendous success in business, and the Hanani's were proud to call themselves Americans.  The family in the United States did its best to keep in contact with family in the relatively large Assyrian community in Baghdad, but communication was never consistent.  While the American Hanani's enjoyed the opportunities and freedoms of the United States, life became more and more difficult for Assyrians living in Iraq.

Assyrians originally come from Syria, and most have always been Orthodox Christian.  As has been the case with Armenians and Kurds, Assyrians have faced episodes of pogroms and ethnic cleansing related to both religion and culture.  During the years of the Ottoman Empire, the Assyrian community was heavily involved in trading, and close, trusting relationships were developed between the Ottoman authorities and Assyrian leaders.  In reality, the Assyrians were able to determine who to bribe and when, which made life so much easier for everybody.  But one morning, soldiers came and kicked in the doors and took everything of value.  This repeated occurrence over the years ended with Assyrian neighborhoods in Baghdad, Mosul, and Arbil becoming little more than slums.  Mike and I really enjoyed discussing the history of Iraq and the Assyrian community with the Hanani Brothers, who were usually posted to Baghdad at the same time (their request).  But when it came time for work, the Hanani's were first in line and ready to go.  I recall many times that an unscheduled meeting was triggered, and a Hanani Brother happily got out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to come translate a meeting.  During a conversation with Mike and I, the two older brothers, Lucas and Luther, announced that their father had ordered them to find their relatives in Baghdad while they were here on duty. If we had made a formal request to go cruising around the slums of Baghdad looking for Assyrians, no doubt we would have been denied.  But Mike and I were convinced that if we didn't get involved, these old farts were going to just walk out of the Green Zone and head for downtown Baghdad one afternoon.  Lucas told me that he spoke Arabic and had no fear of Muslims.  I needed more assurances that that.  Mike and I told the boys to sit tight, and went to work.  We reached out to our local contacts, and also hit the internet.  before long we had a good idea of the last known location of an Assyrian community.  That night Mike and I did a RECON, in order to confirm the existence of a church, a relatively safe place to park, and an open flow of traffic...no bottlenecks.  The next day, December 23, we told the three brothers that we had located an Assyrian Church and possibly the remnants of an Assyrian community in the Ad Dora neighborhood of Baghdad (south bank of the Tigris).  We informed them that on Christmas Eve, we would take them out to the Church at noon, and leave them long enough to enjoy a Mass; they could call us when they were ready for a pickup.  They were ecstatic; it may not have been the family reunion that their patriarch has requested, but at least it was something.  Mike and I also went in to talk to our Chief, whose response was, if something goes wrong, call, but I don't know a thing.  We will pull your ass out, only to hang it out to dry later.

The next morning at 1100 am, we picked up the three Hanani boys (age or no age, I can't help but think of them as boys, because together they were always laughing and playing jokes on each other), who were showered, combed, and dressed as nice as they could be (no one brings a suit to Baghdad).  We had no problems getting to Dora, but we were depending on parking relatively close to the Church.  This wasn't possible because of the number of cars already taking up all available space.  We had no choice but to park in front of this one large, nondescript house about five hundred yards from the Church, and two hundred yards from the end of the street.  The boys would not listen or wait; as soon as the car was parked in front of this house, they were on the street.  I hopped out quickly as well, and thank goodness for my speed because I was able to see the first glimpse of recognition.  Someone from inside the house had come outside to see what big, obviously not-local vehicle had parked in front of their house.  The old man and woman that came outside were the Hanani Brother's Aunt and Uncle.  By chance (and because of the traffic), we had parked directly in front of the Hanani-Baghdad home.  Once the shouting and hugging began, people started appearing from everywhere.  I was so amazed at how many of these people recognized each other, after fifty, maybe sixty years.  The commotion in the street soon moved into the house, and Mike and I were dragged inside virtually against our will.  When I complained to a younger, French-speaking Hanani that I had safety concerns, he laughed as said that the "truck" and its occupants were completely safe.  We had to meet everyone, and had to eat food...lots of food.  I don't particularly like food from this part of the world, but everything was sweet on that day. The tears never stopped.  After roughly an hour, the group prepared to leave for the first Christmas Mass.  Mike and I took the opportunity to say our goodbyes, and confirm our contact arrangements with the boys.  When they were ready for pickup, they would call, and we would be there.

They didn't call until the next morning, but we weren't concerned.  We could have called them, but we chose to leave them in peace.  Mike and I were petrified that a shortage of linguists would create a "where's the Hanani's?" contagion ,but it never happened.  After picking up the brothers on Christmas Day, they never included Mike and I in their family meeting arrangements again.  They knew that Mike and I had jeopardized our careers by taking three older U.S. citizens "off campus" and into the heart of Slumville, Baghdad. They made arrangements to meet their newly discovered family in the Green Zone, which was the safest option to begin with.  Its my understanding that our efforts were instrumental in reconnecting a family that had not spoken in decades, and all the newly discovered young members of the Hanani clan now had the opportunity to learn the entire history of their heritage. For the rest of my life, I will remember the look on Lucas' face when he recognized his Aunt...it was instantaneous, and it was beautiful, and a moment of pure love.  Who could ask for more from a Christmas miracle?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The War Against ISIL Is Being Lost While Obama Vacations...Again

Links: A. Iranian Militia-Leader Killed In Iraq
           B. ISIL Retakes Baiji In Iraq 
           C. Russia Steps Up Involvement In Syria


I read in today's Washington Post that President Barrack Obama's favorability rating had improved up to 47 percent.  I guess we should infer that the American people approve of the President acting unilaterally for the sole purpose of creating voters to support his political ideology.  And, if the Amnesty issue wasn't irksome enough, Obama has decided (again, UNILATERALLY), to start the process of normalizing relations with Cuba.  Obama announced this effort in his usual fashion.  By declaring that the United States would be making all of the compromises and that in order to gain our friendship, Cuba would have to do....nothing.  No, they were not required to release political prisoners, or legalize opposition parties, or end detention without trail.  They weren't even asked to end their campaign of terror against U.S. citizens living in Florida who happen to oppose the Castro dictatorship.  Obama makes two huge unilateral decisions and goes on vacation, and his approval jumps to 47 percent.  Obviously he has this country figured out and I'm living in the past.

Lets cool off a bit by discussing the Islamic State (ISIL) and its offensives in both Syria and Iraq.  Link C details very recent Russian efforts to get diplomatic traction in Syria.  Not surprisingly, the EU bent over and greased up for Putin, I guess to reward him for not snatching another piece of Ukraine this week (I shouldn't complain....and least it was the EU and not Uncle Sam taking it south-ways this week).  Putin's recent interest in Syria comes on the heels of recent unexpected military disasters for the regular Syrian Army in battles with ISIL.  Remember, you heard it hear first (at least two months ago); Putin will not forsake Bashir al-Assad, at least not until he can replace him with another sycophant who will provide the Russian navy with a full-size (read: ballistic submarines) naval facility on Syria's Mediterranean Coast.  What were John Kerry and the U.S. State Department doing while Putin was snuggling up to the EU? Probably smoking celebratory cigars with the Castro brothers.  Since Obama enjoys adulation so much, I predict a trip to Havana is in the planning stages (again, remember you heard it here!).  I wonder if he will think twice about the hundreds, maybe thousands of political prisoners that are rotting in Cuban jails without any kind of due process, some as young as thirteen years old. While Putin was re-establishing his Bona Fides vis-a-vis the Syrian conflict, the United States was continuing its illustrious Air Campaign against ISIL.  In all honestly, the ineffectiveness of this military initiative has been a shock.  Knowing the capabilities of the U.S. Air Force, I fully expected that ISIL would be suffering by now from supply problems.  Our Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, using drones and ground troops to locate and verify targets, made it impossible for the enemy to move, let alone refuel, rearm and resupply.    As I woke up this Sunday morning and read the news before Mass, I was reminded that ISIL has devastated regular Syrian Army positions in Eastern and Western Syria, and also retaken the town of Baiji, which was surrendered by the Iraqi Army without so much as fart in the direction of the enemy.  But the Oil Refinery was heavily defended, which illustrates the priority of the Iraqi government.  Let the people in Baiji get abused and in some cases, murdered by ISIL, as long as the money-maker keeps pumping.

Lately I've been very impressed with the willingness of the Iranians to take on ISIL in Iraq.  The truth is, they recognize the threat that this group represents.  Link A details the assassination of an important Iranian militia leader, who was active in Iraq's Diyala Province.  Well, Diyala is in Eastern Iraq, just outside of Baghdad, and could not be more strategic.  I was a bit perplexed by the number of individual Iranian-backed Shiite militias that were active in Iraq.  These include, but are not limited to, the Mukhtar Army, Hezbollah Brigades (Hezbollah in Iraq, not Lebanon), Badr Brigades, Asaib al Haq, and something called the Peace Brigade.  C'mon, Ayatollah whoever you are, don't you realize how much more effective to would be if you just merged these groups together?  Each militia, fighting separately, with its own politically-focused leader, will have a miniscule impact on the conflict as opposed to what could be accomplished with one, well-equipped and properly led militia.  At least the Iranians are recognizing the seriousness of the situation.  The Iraqi Army cannot gain any traction.  After publicizing the recapture of one or two towns, they pray that the local press won't also announced that four towns were occupied by ISIL during the same time period.  Something tells me that the Iranians will be forced to launch a full-scale military  intervention in Iraq.  Its obviously something they would like to avoid, or at least delay until Obama finds a way to diplomatically allow them to enrich as much uranium as they want. Since Obama has been in office, the Iranians have moved closer and closer to complete independence for their nuclear program.

ISIL is on the offensive in Syria, and giving the Iraqi Army and the Iranian militias fits in Iraq.  What about our bombing campaign?  Where are the figures?  I want to know how much ordinance has been expended and what the enemy has lost.  You know the military has those figures at their fingertips.  Normally I wouldn't care, but I'm trying to understand how a ragtag group of terrorists, totally without air support (except for a few drones, we're told), is moving around Iraq and Syria with impunity?  How was ISIL able to reoccupy a town as large and strategic as Baiji, under the nose of the air coalition led by the United States Air Force, and including elements from France, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE?  Anyone?  I don't see any slowdown in ISIL, so how about we save the U.S. taxpayer billions of dollars and just pull out?  John Kerry should understand the policy.  Its what he advocated for when he returned from Vietnam, remember?

On a separate note, I want to acknowledge all the media reports of Fidel Castro announcing Cuba's refusal to move one inch away from its Communist principles.  I'm shocked that anyone would be surprised.  Cuba isn't going to change, folks.  What will happen, is a bunch of rich businessmen who donated money to Obama (and possibly Rand Paul as well), will build new, flashy resorts around the island, and make a ton of money.  The Cuban elite will get their cut, the black market that runs the Cuban economy will get its due, and Obama's base will hail their icon as the man who saved the Cuban people (from the mean, ol' USA).  Folks, the reality is, no one gives a shit about Cuba or the Cuban people.  If Obama thought about Cuba even once while trotting from the sixth hole to the seventh, I will eat my hat.  The goal isn't to change Cuba.  ITS TO CHANGE THE UNITED STATES.  More damage has been done to our Constitution in the last six years than has been done in the previous two hundred.  This Imperial Administration is allowed to ignore an obvious electoral mandate, and just sideswipe Congress to enact monumental legislation.  And the nut-less wonders Boehner and McConnell got over on us again, as nothing as yet to be even suggested in opposition to Obama's actions.  Well, the GOP will have a nice surprise come 2016.  I'm not sure about the Presidential Election, but conservative and moderate independent voters will either split the primary or not vote.  The GOP rhinos have called the bluff of their own voters one too many times.    

Monday, December 22, 2014

Is Mainland China Still A Communist Nation?

Links: A. China Moves Away From Reform
           B. People's Liberation Army

We all have certain phrases and clichés that rub us the wrong way.  One phrase which always brings out the red-ass in me is, "we must compromise with China because they are the world's biggest economy".  Actually, a few variants exist on the same basic theme.  Reading between the lines, the point is that since China has become so powerful economically, we must defer to China and ignore the distasteful laws and actions of the government in Beijing.  The detention and execution of political reformers, religious intolerance as a rule, and hardline support for the likes of Kim Jung-Un in North Korea are three particular issues that I have with China, and if you give me about two minutes I can come up with five more.  While the western world was attempting to peacefully evolve from the age of colonialism, China invaded Tibet and brutally murdered any and all local opposition.  China continues to clamp down on even the slightest display of nationalism in Tibet, which is about as indigenous to China as Tahiti is to France.  I'm not usually an apologist for Islamic "freedom fighters", but China has reacted brutally to expressions of Islamic identity in far western Chinese Provinces.  I believe these examples are all indications that the Chinese government is just as reactionary and just as opposed to basic individual freedoms as they have always been. 

The evolution of a Chinese middle class has done much to encourage people into believing that China isn't a Communist country anymore.  How could they be, with such a large and powerful economy?  China does have a growing middle class (growing SLOWLY), and also an elite class of highly placed party leaders who lead lives very different that the average rice grower out in the provinces.  The Generals who sit in positions of power in the People's Liberation Army all lead very comfortable private lives as well.  Their families also enjoy the benefits of luxury and influence.  But this is how Communism has always betrayed itself.  If you've managed to get through anything penned by Karl Marx (don't lie!), you know that the example must be set at the top, not at the bottom.  Wealth should be evenly distributed, and equality should be the focus of all government domestic policy.  But Communism has yet to follow through on this admirable but unrealistic plan.  Have a look at the Soviet Union, Laos, Vietnam, and China, just for starters.  The people in positions of authority (I thought the working class was the societal authority?) always live well, or at least better than most.  In China today, I wouldn't be surprised if the growth of the middle class slows to a crawl, and the number of rich Chinese dramatically increases.

For the average citizen of China, the rules and regulations of Chinese society haven't changed in over sixty years.  Well then, why do we see so many wealthy Chinese?  Because someone found a way to game the system.  When Europe and the United States opened up to China and embraced Chinese products, the increased flow of money allowed a select few to take advantage of newly discovered avenues to wealth.  Chinese products have always been attractive to western consumers.  Originally interest might have been influence by the sense of the exotic that Chinese products delivered.  Quickly, though, it became about money.  Chinese merchandise was always much cheaper than the competitor.  Chinese businessmen who were fortunate enough to have a relative in the National Bank were able to take out loans and build large factories, duplicating European products at a fraction of the cost.  These businessmen joined the wealthy list as well.  But China is a country of more than one billion people, and the vast majority have always lived within the confines of a limited economy.  The closest most Chinese will ever come to wealth is to wash dishes in an exclusive Shanghai restaurant.

The Chinese economy is a force to be reckoned with.  I will argue that the United States, Japan, and Europe were instrumental in helping the Chinese economy transform so dramatically in a relatively short period of time.  The Chinese needed open markets and favorable trade agreements, and the west obliged.  In the 1970s, the argument was, "there are almost a billion Chinese, we MUST be supportive of their efforts to reform (expand) their economy".  Along with the establishment of middle and upper classes, the Chinese government became flush with cash.  Not just from favorable trade, but also from a streamlined tax system.  The Chinese used the financial largesse to increase their influence diplomatically, especially through building projects in Africa (roads, dams, hospitals, etc.). The Chinese also enjoyed spending money in the United States, with enormous real estate ventures on both coasts.  As far as I am concerned, the most important figure in this discussion is 1.2 trillion.  That is the amount, in dollars, of U.S. debt that China currently owns (eight percent).  How does a Communist country manage to own such a substantial amount of debt from the world's wealthiest nation?  Forgive....I hate rhetorical questions as much as you.

I believe that China is a Communist country.  A country-side tour, outside of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, will remind the tourist that China continues to be more rural than urban.  Subsistence farming is still the staple way of life for many Chinese families.  It's my understanding that the educational system has improved dramatically in the past two decades, both by the number of schools and the quality of teachers.  As the economy flexes, jobs are created, and China gives the appearance of a nation on the move.  Allow me to share with you the reasons why China continues to be deeply embedded in Communism.  The entire educational system is controlled by the government.  Every Chinese government school textbook is pure propaganda.  Once a student completes what we would consider "grade school", they must take a test to determine their aptitude for whatever direction that they would prefer (occupation/trade).  Most young Chinese follow in their father's footsteps; its probably rarely by choice.  I have had the pleasure of meeting many Chinese students who are studying at U.S. universities.  The tuition for these foreign students is almost always paid for by the university.  After a bit of research, I learned that these students were the children of Generals, Admirals and Governors.  I would have been so thrilled to read, "rice farmer" under the space marked "parent occupation", but it was not to be.  So anyone who thinks that China is "less" Communist because of the plethora of Chinese students studying at U.S. schools, think again.  Chinese students almost always attend universities who have been selected for highly sensitive U.S. Department of Defense research projects.  These students enter the United States with a server on their computer that can't be monitored, and links them directly to Beijing.  This information has been detailed in one news article after another, yet left-wing academia continues to arm-wrestle for the opportunity to host Chinese students.

In the past, Communist nations have always spent disproportionately on their military budgets. I'm not exactly sure where China fits on a scale of military spending, but I do know that since the Nixon rapprochement with China in 1972, the Chinese have become steadily less reliant on outside sources for military equipment, and better at copying the best that the west has to offer.  The Chinese have refined a particularly nasty little trick that a number of countries like to try.  If a particular company has created a really useful mobile missile launcher (for example), the Chinese will invite the company reps to demonstrate the equipment in China.  The reps will be wined and dined, and given the impression that the sale is basically a done-deal.  Sometime while the equipment is in storage in China, the Chinese will take it apart down to the last screw, photograph and measure everything, then put the equipment back together.  The next day, the company reps are abruptly dismissed with a curt, "not interested".  Roughly one year down the road, the Chinese will introduce their own, "indigenous" mobile missile launcher.  But China has not always played the game so smoothly.  One reason why Taiwan has not been swallowed up by the mainland (yet), is because the Chinese Air Force could not guarantee control of the air.  The Taiwanese pilots in their latest F16s were more than a match to waves of whatever the Chinese pilots were flying at the time.  Another issue was naval.  The Chinese navy did not possess a dependable method for transporting troops across the Taiwan Strait (sitting ducks for the Taiwan Air Force).  But since the late 1970s the Chinese have made steady progress in all areas of military concern.  Some people will ask why the Chinese don't just invade Taiwan and resolve the issue once and for all.  I'm sure China could.  When a country can turn to a population of over one billion, there can be no doubt that China could just drop a million troops on Taiwan and smoother the country into submission.  But we are dealing with subtleties here.  The Taiwanese military is no slouch.  It's well-equipped and well-trained, and the navy includes three Daphne-class French submarines that are capable of housing a missile delivery system.  The mainland Chinese are itching to take Taiwan, but they want to look good completing the job.  So a few more military preparations appear to be in order.

Most folks would find it easier to identify a Democracy than a Communist state.  As Eric Cartman on South Park put it so eloquently: "Its the difference between smelling the sweet air of freedom or the stale air of repression".  The Chinese government has shown no disposition towards religious tolerance, and in far western China, Muslims are being targeted by Chinese police and military solely for practicing Islam.  Rumors abound in China that couples are only allowed to have one child, and lets hope that the newborn isn't a girl.  The Chinese government has population controls, in that you must apply to live in certain areas (the Chinese have grown accustomed to many, many waiting lists).  We have already demonstrated the tight grip the government has on all levels of education.  As for students, the government likes to turn them into little spies, because they have the kind of valuable access that case officers would love to have.  I could go on and on, but I think I've made my point.  China continues to be a nation happily integrated at every level with Communist philosophy.  Am I sure?  Have you taken a peak at their electoral process lately?      

Saturday, December 20, 2014

In One Fell Swoop, Rand Paul Has Lost Me

Link: Rand Paul Supports Relations With Cuba


Politics can be very unpredictable.  This morning I woke up, believing that Senator Rand Paul would most likely be my choice for the GOP nomination for President in 2016.  President Obama normalizes relations with Cuba, Rand Paul supports Obama's actions, and I'm through with Senator Paul. It wasn't just Paul's announcement that he supported President Obama.  What really changed my mind were Paul's comments regarding the issue.

The link that I have included provides all of the comments from Senator Paul which have caused me to rethink my support.  Rand Paul claims that sanctions on Cuba have failed.  What, exactly, did Paul expect the sanctions to achieve?  Our diplomatic and economic non-involvement with Cuba has to do with the foreign and domestic policies of the government in Havana, not some effort to create a democracy.  The United States has the same sovereign right to chose its trade partners as does every other member of the United Nations.  If we chose not to trade with Cuba, then that is our business, and Cuba is free to find other, more sympathetic regimes with which to carry on trade.  Rand Paul also claimed that U.S. sanctions on Cuba hurt the Cuban people.  Absolute HORSE SHIT.  Its crap like that which makes me question how I could have ever supported this man for political office.  Cuba is what it is because of the repressive, leftist/fascist rule of Fidel Castro, not because of the United States.  Not surprisingly, Havana has an expensive, elite neighborhood, with mansions and all the trappings of wealth.  Who lives there?  the cronies and sycophants of Castro, that's who.  Socialism in the best circumstances will eventually collapse upon itself, and in a poor, underdeveloped nation with very little industry or infrastructure?  People are never really given the opportunity to better their lives.  It's impossible to generate wealth when what little the government receives is stolen or spent on military escapades in South America and Angola.  Tell me, Senator Paul, as an American, is it my fault that Castro chose to pay for Cuban Mig fighters and tanks in Angola instead of food on the tables of Cuban families?  I have grown to expect President Obama to blame the American people for the ills of foreigners, but hearing it from Rand Paul was really disappointing.  Newsflash: endemic poverty in Cuba is not the fault, or the responsibility of the United States.

On Thursday, during a radio interview, Rand Paul commented that, “When we first opened up trade with China we were thinking it was a bad idea. But you know over time I’ve come to believe — and many conservatives have come to believe — that trading with China is actually the best way to ultimately defeat communism, and it makes us less likely to fight.”  Lets take a look at this picture, shall we?  Since President Richard Nixon went to Beijing in 1972 (and threw Taiwan right under a speeding bus), and we have become progressively more economically involved with China, communism has somehow suffered?  Not according to reality, Senator Paul.  The Chinese economy, with our assistance, has become an international monster that has a special taste for all things American.  The Chinese have made an art form out of buying up our debt, not to mention millions of acres of real estate all over the United States. Since relations with the United States improved, the Chinese military has greatly improved its offensive capacity and its missile delivery systems.  Much of that missile technology came from the United States.  And a quick look around the current Chinese political environment, the Communist Party is just as much an immoveable object as it always was, and the Red Army has become much more active in espionage and international banking. As for the Chinese government's dedication to the basic principles of Communism, I only have to look at Tibet and the more western provinces to remind myself what the Chinese government really thinks about open, political dialogue.  Basically, the Chinese still do not enjoy the freedom to worship as they please.  The education system is tightly controlled by the government, textbooks are total propaganda, and teachers are almost as left-wing as they are in American schools.  Also, it is highly discouraged (some would say illegal), to have more than a certain, approved number of children.  The political system does not allow for dissent, nor does the average Chinese citizen get to participate in a representative electoral process.  The government controls the media and all aspects of the internet.  So how, exactly, have we been "defeating" Communism with our economic and diplomatic embrace?  I don't see it.  No doubt a growing middle-class exists in China, but it is a segment of the population that does not question authority.  The truth is, Senator Paul, that we have enabled the Chinese Communist Party to become even more entrenched and powerful by forgoing economic and political isolation.  The mouthpiece of the Party continues to look for opportunities to threaten and insult the United States.  This China that Senator Rand brags about is Kim Jong-Un and North Korea's lifeline.  China could shut down Kim Jong-Un and free the people of North Korea in a heartbeat.  But they won't.  Let me tell you what China WILL do.  The Chinese government will export nuclear technology to terrorist states, and also create an elaborate system of spying using Chinese citizens studying at U.S. Universities who just happen to have contracts for research projects with the U.S. Department of Defense.  And spying at the laboratories in New Mexico is another example of Communist China's love for Democracy.

Lets move away from the criticism of Rand Paul and continue the discussion of Cuba.  Today, President Obama gave away the kitchen sink without getting anything in return.  Just last month, the Cuban regime was denounced for continuing to illegally jail Alan Gross, a U.S. Aid worker who was in Cuba to assist the poor.  That government, which jails protesters, refuses to reform, controls all aspects of the lives of the Cuban people, and embraces any political movement that expresses anti-American sentiment, shouldn't exist in our sphere of national security, let alone gain diplomatic recognition.  Cuba has not had a real election in over 60 years, and the government that has been squatting in Havana all that time, has been recognized by the Obama Administration.  Would Obama have recognized apartheid South Africa?  To be honest, if this decision had been debated in Congress and vetted through our tried and trusted legislative system of checks and balances, and passed a vote, I wouldn't complain.  I might express my disagreement, but I would continue to be proud that our system was still functioning as intended.  Instead we have one man making a decision that used to be important enough for full Congressional consideration.  How far is this going to go?  First immigration Amnesty, now normalizing relations with Cuba.  What's next?  Returning Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to Mexico?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Most Miserable Place Known To Me

Links A. Data On Former Soviet Republics
          B. East Africa And Endemic Poverty
          C. The Favelas Of Sao Paulo, Brazil
          D. Child labor In Bolivia

When I chose this particular subject to write about, I was careful to limit the list of candidate-locations to places that were familiar to me.  Lets be honest; anyone can make a list of shit-hole cities.  I was careful in my selection.  I try diligently to avoid overly long posts.  If my friend Joe can't start and finish reading a post while he is on the train home from work, then its too long.  Having Joe fall asleep while reading a post is also something I hope to avoid.  It will be difficult for even the hardiest of people to fall asleep during this commentary.

In 1990, when the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc began to crumble, many of us in the west had no idea what to expect after a close inspection of life under communism.  The image I am unable to remove from my mind's eye is row after row of ugly, gray buildings.  Communism wanted everyone to have the same exact living quarters (no one should have something nicer than their neighbor), so in many former Eastern Bloc cities like Warsaw, Belgrade, and Bucharest, it is not uncommon to still see the endless rows of gray apartment buildings, although much of the old architecture has been torn down.  The municipal buildings fit the same mold: bleak, gray and utilitarian.  In some of the poorer nations in eastern Europe, the former municipal buildings are still in use.  Attempts are made to brighten the appearance with a bit of paint and some flower boxes, but the true effect is deep and permanent.  There is no cure for the "gray building disease".  The patient must be euthanized at the earliest opportunity.  I find much of eastern Europe depressing, even two decades after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.  Some cities have made tremendous progress regaining the appearance of pleasant, traditional European communities, Warsaw in particular.  For the purpose of this post, I must pick one particular city that I would describe as "miserable".  I choose Mitrovica, Kosovo.  I see no need to deliver a history lesson.  Kosovo was a province of Serbia with a predominantly Albanian population.  In 1998, the province descended into civil war, eventually involving Europe and the United States.  Since that time, Kosovo has declared its independence, although many of the communities with large Serbian populations are loath to break away from mother Serbia.  Mitrovica is a prime example of just such a community.  It is located in the north of the former province and has a population roughly evenly split between Albanians and Serbs.  And the last time I checked, they hated each other with a passion.  The Ibar River separates the two ethnicities, and a beautiful, new bridge was built in an attempt to foster forgiveness and economic integration.  Events have not followed the intended script, as fighting between the two groups has left Mitrovica resembling a Mad Max, post-apocalyptic town, with electricity outages, garbage in the streets, and vehicles that had seen better days pre-Hitler.  Some of the houses on both sides of the river (Serbs to the north, Albanians on the south) have started to deteriorate, others have already crumbled into a pile of bricks and mortar.  The residents of this community stare at each other across the river with distrust and anger.  I'm happy to admit that I haven't visited Mitrovica in almost a decade, so its possible that the city has come together and created one community working towards safe streets, refuse collection, functioning schools, and the creation of one central business district.  But for my dollar, Mitrovica deserves to be on the list of most miserable places.

Kibera is a community just north of Nairobi, Kenya.  It is a slum-like collection of informal houses, shacks, and lean-tos, with a population that varies from 100,000 to 1 million, depending on the source.  Kibera is a Town Planner's nightmare, as no one really knows which neighboring, smaller communities are part of Kibera and which ones are not.  Ideally, the government of Kenya would task government Town/Urban Planners to map Kibera, street by street and house by house.  As many homes as possible will be left standing, but any effort to bring services to Kibera and upgrade the roads and the existing facilities will require the destruction of most shacks and shanties.  Some of those shacks and shanties house families of ten or more.  The effort to put Kibera on the grid, build real hospitals and schools, and create safe housing will never begin in earnest until the community itself is ready to make the necessary sacrifices.  Until then, segments of Kibera will improve, one section at a time.  At least its progress for some.  For the majority of the residents of Kibera, life is a struggle that is impossible for most westerners to comprehend.  Finding food is a daily adventure, especially when you have a family to feed.  Living in large townships can be very dangerous, and anyone who has anything of value is smart to keep it out of sight.  Sanitation is basically non-existent, although water is available from pipes that have been laid by the city.  My memory of Kibera is of a place that is full of children.  And interestingly enough, they were always laughing and playing soccer.  The Kenyan government has good intentions regarding Kibera, but it will take a tremendous infusion of state resources, and the complete cooperation of the people of Kibera, to remold this community into a safe, recognizable suburb.

The favelas of Sao Paulo have received a great deal of press in recent years, although the gangs of children that seem to interest most people, have been around for decades.  Favelas share many of the usual characteristics of large, urban slums.  The people are the poorest of the poor, most of the housing is informal, economic activity comes in all shapes and sizes, drugs are prevalent, and every day is a struggle for survival.  One factor which separates the favelas from many of the other famous slums of the world, is the presence of the gangs of children.  We aren't referring to groups of kids playing soccer or stealing the odd candy from the neighborhood store.  The slums of Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro are inhabited by gangs of kids under the age of ten.  Many of them are addicted to glue sniffing, or if they can get it, crack and heroin.  They are often armed and terrorize otherwise peaceful residents of the favela.  A few years ago, a scandal erupted in Brazil as it was disclosed that the police were targeting the gangs "off the record".  These young kids were often armed and exhibited no fear of authority, possibly a result of being hyped-up on booze, glue and whatever else they could access.  A policeman is shot here and there, and the cops feel the justification to eradicate this problem.  While the targeting was in effect, no one complained.  Everyone had been a victim of the gangs at one time or another, and they were seen as nothing more than a virus.  The young kids, without parents probably since birth, living on the streets, dealing with underage prostitution and pedophiles, turned to each other because no one cared.  And they learned how to make hunger go away by watching the shake-downs of organized crime.  They formed gangs, stole weapons, and took to the streets.  Some estimate that in the favelas of Sao Paulo there are at least 100,000 abandoned kids trying to find a daily meal.  What a tragedy that adults act indignant when a child choses the easiest method of survival.  In the favelas of Brazil, being miserable isn't an emotion, its a condition. 

The last place on my list is Potosi, Bolivia, which is home to Cerro Rico, of Hill of Riches.  Since the 16th century, miners have labored inside of Cerro Rico, extracting silver.  The neighboring town of Potosi used to be nothing more than a small market village, but it has become a city full of the young boys and old men who venture everyday into Cerro Rico for work.  Notice I didn't mention men of average age.  That's because in Potosi, the men appear either very young, or middle aged.  That is a result of spending upwards of 18 hours a day inside of the mountain.  Laws supposedly limit the age of workers to sixteen years of age, but the reality is that boy as young as ten are working in the mine.  In fact, child labor seems to be all the rage in Bolivia.  I thought the latest ethnically indigenous America-hating Socialist was going to fix everything.  Seems to me things have only deteriorated.  But I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to these sandal-wearing pretend-farmers who managed to get themselves elected president of South American countries by blaming everything from the weather to the boil on someone's ass on the evil "Yanquis".  But the fact that children are digging around in Cerro Rico, creating more wealth for rich hedge funds who have invested in the various mines that dot the landscape, is enough to make me go postal.  I'm not socialist, but I can't help but wonder, just how much money do some people need?  And that goes for you out in Hollywood as well, and all the athletes in the U.S. and Europe, who make more in salary and endorsements than the GDP of some countries, just for kicking around a soccer ball.  Potosi is a miserable place, and thank goodness I was just passing through.  The kids that work in the mines, and the ones who are shining shoes or sleeping with truck driver's in La Paz bordellos, never get to experience the joys of childhood.  The kids who work in the mines get up when its dark, and they come home when its dark.  Inside the mine it is dark as well, and the eyesight of these young people suffers from this unnatural existence in almost total darkness.  I might not be so opposed to these kids working to help support their families, or to save money for college, if they were receiving a decent salary for their efforts.  Unfortunately, they will destroy their bodies and consign themselves to blindness at an early age, for just enough money to feed the family.  The name of Cerro Rico should be changed to Cerro Miserable.

I realize that some of my readers expected to find a commentary on actual geographic locations and how people struggle because of where they live.  it was my intention to write this post along those guidelines.  But then it took on a life of its own.  I am horrified by the lives children are obliged to lead in our society, circa 2014.  When it comes to this issue, I only wish I could find a reason to be optimistic.




Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Extremists On The Offensive In Syria

Links: A. Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al Sham Advance In Syria
           B. Islamic State Advances On Deir al Zour

Lately I've had to come to grips with the fact that I was wrong regarding certain events in Syria.  Last month I repeatedly raised expectations that forces loyal to de facto Syrian President Bashir al-Assad would have had the opportunity to refit and reorganize.  I opined that Russian military aid would have allowed the Syrian Armed Forces to reconstitute its armor brigades and possibly rebuild the Syrian Air Force.  The Allied air campaign should have occupied the Islamic State (ISIL) and the various other armed groups enough to allow the regular Syrian Army an opportunity to regain the strategic initiative, I hypothesized.  It appears that I was mistaken.  Even though in late November the international media printed a number of stories indicating a slow down in ISIL military advances, the reality is that the extremist groups were on the move just about everywhere. 

For some reason, the press and media continue to separate the groups who make up the Islamic extremist element in Syria.  Wasn't there a recognition in October that Al-Nusra, ISIL, Ahrar al Sham (and whoever else wants to throw their hat into the ring) are loyal to Al-Qaeda?  And yet we continue to see Al-Nusra being given the mantle of "Al-Qaeda's representative in Syria", as if we are referring to a Lodge meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Unless I see some usefulness in doing so, I will not refer to separate Islamic extremist factions in Syria.  I have a good idea why the U.S. media (eager to do the bidding of this administration) continues to perpetrate the falsehood that their is some significant difference between these groups. Qatar (and possibly the UAE as well), who has a couple jets involved in the "anti-ISIS" air campaign, has been suspected of supporting some of these other groups in the past.  Qatar wants to be seen as only bombing ISIL targets, because ISIL's message of an enlarged Caliphate is dangerous to the existing Gulf royal families.  Qatar wants to continue its "clandestine" support for these other groups, though, so they will only participate in ther bombing of ISIL targets.  If someone has evidence that Qatar and the UAE contingents in the air campaign have indeed participated in action against non-ISIL targets, please let me know.  Actually, I'm not even sure of the United States is bombing non-ISIL targets (although you would think that "Al-Qaeda's representative in Syria" would be in line for some sort of attention).

What a mess.  We can be certain of one thing: the regular Syrian forces have been taking a beating in the northwestern province of Idlib and eastern province of Deir al Zour.  Interestingly enough, the extremists have been making effective use of American-made TOW anti-tank missiles in action against Syrian armor.  Will I be the first to consider just how the TOW anti-tank missiles ended up the hands of the extremists?  Were they originally the property of the Free Syrian Army that is being supported and armed by the United States?  Assad can only be ringing his hands in despair as the U.S.-led air campaign seems to be having no impact on the Islamic extremists offensives against the few remaining government positions outside of Damascus.  I'm one of those folks who likes to look at a big map and envision the various military elements and positions accordingly.  I have spent a decent amount of time focusing on the regular Syrian Army, and I think I'm beginning to get a grasp on the three main groups that constitute the Islamic extremist forces.  But I'm totally in the dark regarding the army that the United States government was planning on training in place of U.S. ground forces.  Last summer we were told that the United States military would be training and equipping the "Free Syrian Army" (sometimes called the "New Syrian Army").  If my memory serves me correctly, this military force was led by a group of former regime officers who were both secular and opposed to Assad.  Money was allotted for the training and equipping of this army, and I recall the Pentagon supposing that it would take somewhere around four months to stand-up the Free Syrian Army.  In October, my understanding of the situation was shaken like an Etch-a-Sketch.  The Pentagon released a statement declaring that the Free Syrian Army would be a force utilized for defensive operations only.  Then a few days later, I recall news reports indicating that elements of the free Syrian Army had been involved in a battle with ISIS, and came away the worse for it.  Was this a "defensive only" engagement? 

If I could get the answers to a few simple questions, my understanding of the conflict would be increased measurably.  What is the state of the Free Syrian Army?  Does it exist, is it active, and will the Pentagon confirm its previous statement that the Free Syrian Army has definite rules of engagement that limit is capabilities to defensive action only?  Is it true that the Qatari government requested rules of engagement for its contribution to the air campaign, which would exempt Qatari jets from bombing any targets other than ISIL?  If so, does the UAE, Kuwait or Bahrain have the same prohibition sewn into their agreement to be part of the Allied air coalition?  I can't help but feel a bit lost on the Syrian front.  The last time I spent much time on this part of the map, the Kurds were besieged by ISIL in Kobane; has this situation in Kobane changed?  Its true I have been keeping a closer eye on developments in Iraq, as the growing Iranian involvement has me reconsidering my prediction that Baghdad would eventually fall to ISIL.  The Iranians have the capacity to defeat ISIL hands-down.  At the same time, the Iranian government might decide to climb back into its hole and pull back its resources.  When it comes to efforts to obtain weapons-grade Uranium, the Iranians are easy to predict.  But when it comes to the deployment of its military, Iran can vacillate with the best of them.   

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who Are The Gulf States, Exactly?

Links: A. United Arab Emirates Wikipedia
           B. Oman Wikipedia
           C. Kuwait Wikipedia
           D. Qatar Wikipedia
           E. Bahrain Wikipedia

When I was a young boy, I was fascinated with maps.  I spent hours trying to determine the methodology for the color-coding of different countries, and also did my best to learn the correct pronunciations of the countless rivers, mountains, towns, and cities.  When I grew a little older, I became interested in history, so the Atlas section of my family's Encyclopedias got put down, and the Encyclopedias themselves got put to use.  Not surprisingly, I gravitated towards some places more than others (it might be déjà vu, reincarnation, or it might be coincidence, but most people who look at maps and globes will feel an odd familiarity with certain place names).  I was drawn to a political entity known as "The Trucial States".  I counted seven oddly-shaped little places, all hugging the south shore of the Persian Gulf.  In my mind's eye, I pictured camels, men in white, flowing robes with rope-ring head pieces to keep their head-covering on, tents, and sand......lots and lots of sand.  This description wasn't far from the truth back in the 1930s and 1940s.  As far a colonial influences go, the Persian Gulf was a British lake.  Following the death of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the British happily moved into the void.

In most of Great Britain's colonies, calls for independence put pressure on the British government to relinquish control to the indigenous peoples.  In some countries, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, the process was observed internationally, and there was great optimism that the transition from one form of government to another, would go smoothly.  Interestingly enough, the Trucial States were in no hurry to separate from great Britain.  The importance of oil in the region was on everyone's mind, and the various Shaykhs of the Trucial States enjoyed having the protection of the British navy and Air Force.  It was actually the British who insisted on the Declaration of Independence in 1971.  The seven Trucial States, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Ajman, Sharjah, Um al-Quwain, and Ras al-Khaimah, each had its own Shaykh.  Representatives from the seven Shaykhdoms met and decided to form a federation, which called itself the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Abu Dhabi and Dubai are larger in size and population than the other five Emirates, and there was some concern that the smaller Shaykhdoms might feel slighted because of the greater influence that Dubai and Abu Dhabi naturally possessed.  But it never really has been a problem.  The Emirates are incredibly wealthy, and the largesse has been distributed in a smart and effectual manner.  The UAE has a surprisingly large and well-equipped Armed Forces (thank you, United States), and shares one common currency.  Certain political positions are granted on a rotating basis, while others are voted upon. The leaders of the UAE have traditionally been from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but they have done such a stellar
Burj Khalifa Tower, Dubai
job negotiating the Emirates away from conflict and towards greater wealth, that no one dares complain.  The UAE has become a popular tourist destination, especially for the British (just don't get caught kissing in public, especially if you are gay).  The Emirates prides itself on having some of the tallest buildings in the world, including the astounding Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai.  The UAE can also be proud of its research and discoveries in desalinization.  A great deal of Emirati wealth has found its way to the California real estate market, especially high-end shopping center projects.  The current Prime Minister of the UAE, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Mahktoum, is a true lover of horse racing, and owns stables and breeding centers in Australia and the United States.

I love Oman.  Of all the gulf States, and I include Saudi Arabia and Yemen in this instance, Oman, has managed to follow its own, independent course.  Oman, which has a relatively small population, has extremely good relations with the west.  Sultan Qaboos, who deposed his father in 1970 during what has been Oman's only internal conflict of the modern era, has not shown a fear of modern development, and welcomes tourists from Europe and the United States.  The women of Oman do not suffer under the same prohibitions as exist in Saudi Arabia.  The Omani Army is well-trained and equipped (mostly by the Brits), but for practical purposes is too small to be useful for anything other than self-defense and internal conflict.  I have a personal affinity for Oman because it is an absolutely lovely place.  Muscat, the capital city, is filled with buildings that could have
Fort Al-Jalali, Muscat, Oman
been plucked right out of the seventeenth century.  The original Portuguese fort built in 1580 to guard the entrance to Muscat (Fort Al-Jalali) continues its timeless duty of protecting the Omanis from Pirates and other ne'er do wells.  The Omani people are a pleasure to look at, and take great care in their appearance without obvious signs of vanity.  Qaboos has been a loyal friend to the United States and western Europe since he first sat on the throne.  I'm sure at one time or another, extremists have attempted to set-up shop in Oman.  But I guessing that they didn't make much progress, as the people seem very loyal to their sovereign and content with their lives.

Kuwait reminds me of the opposite of Oman in many ways.  Although the Al-Sabah family keeps a tight grip on power, the political environment in Kuwait has become much noisier as of late.  The Sabahs have to contend with a very vocal women's right lobby and a population that at times appears sympathetic to Islamic extremist groups.  Was it that long ago that Saddam Hussein's Army poured into Kuwait, emptied the stores and dumped babies out of incubators?  A Kuwaiti friend of mine explained why a segment of the population of Kuwait has become sympathetic to the jihadis. From 1990 to the present, the United States military has had a large presence in Kuwait.  Many Kuwaitis are not happy with the inevitable influence that this group of young Americans has had on their country.  This includes the relaxation of attitudes regarding liquor consumption, the fraternization between Kuwaiti women and U.S. servicemen, and the unavoidable evolution of the Kuwaiti economy to accommodate all those U.S. dollars.  Another unintended result of the U.S. presence is the perceived growth of the Christian community and the movement away from the teachings of Islam.  A not insignificant percentage of native-born Kuwaitis are convinced that Kuwait needs to embrace a traditional brand of Islam that will remove the Game Boys, the mini-skirts and the six packs of Budweiser.  It is rumored that a well-placed member of the Sabahs is very sympathetic towards conservative Islam and is working hard to influence his family.  Help may be on the way.  Its my understanding that the draw-down of U.S. military forces overseas includes most of our Army facilities in Kuwait.

Forgive me for including Qatar and Bahrain in the same paragraph.  It's a bad habit that is shared by many.  Qatar is a small but very wealthy country that borders Saudi Arabia on the west and the Perisan Gulf on the east.  The Qataris have the highest per capita income in the world (according to Wikipedia), and Qatar itself has over 100 billion dollars in investments worldwide.  Each year those investments grow from 30 to 40 billion dollars.  The Qatari government, ostensibly loyal to Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, has been accused of supporting extremist causes, including Hamas.  The Qataris deny supporting any extremist groups in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank, but Qatar readily admits to supporting the Palestinian people.  With regards to Syria, Qatar has been supporting various factions opposed to Syrian President Bashir al-Assad.  In fact, Qatar is one of the nations included in President Obama's anti-ISIS air campaign coalition.  I'm still trying to determine who exactly were the Qataris supporting before the air campaign?  At first glance, it would appear that the Qataris were supporting ISIS, a claim which they deny.  If Qatar was not supporting Assad, then who on the rebel side was receiving funding from Qatar?  Sadly, the five Guantanamo-based terrorists that Barrack Obama traded for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl were deposited in Qatar, with the understanding that the Qataris would keep them under thumb. Fat chance....its my understanding that at least two have already rejoined the struggle against "The Great Satan".  We don't have much to say about Bahrain.  In 2011, the ruling al-Khalifa house was given quite a scare with the almost spontaneous demonstrations in the capital city Manama.    Eventually the police and riot control units were mobilized to disperse the crowds and they seemed to disappear as quickly as they assembled, although some human rights organizations claim that whenever people congregate in the same fashion, the police move in quickly.  Half of Bahrain's 1.2 million population are working foreigners.  Bahrain has a strong economy, built on oil just like its fellow Gulf States.  Bahrain has arguably the closest relationship with the United States, as the U.S. Navy has a base in Bahrain and the U.S. military trains and equips the Bahraini military.  Recently tensions arose between Qatar and Bahrain which resulted in the recalling of ambassadors; but that issue appears to have since resolved itself, and diplomatic personnel have returned to their jobs.




Sunday, December 14, 2014

Please Excuse The Tinest Bit Of Politics

Links A. Will Hillary Clinton Run In 2016?
          B. Romney Looking Like A Candidate For 2016
          C. Another Bush Eyes The Oval Office


The 2016 election began the moment Mitt Romney conceded the 2012 race to Barrack Obama.  The Republican power-brokers (who appear to exclusively be Members of Congress) were quoted all over the media about the need to find "new blood" and "fresh faces" to lead the GOP into this new century. I agreed; because of reasons not unrelated to tradition and loyalty, Republicans always seem to chose the candidate who has "put in the time".  In 2012 Mitt Romney's candidacy and eventual nomination as GOP standard bearer seemed predestined, even with a couple grumbles from Rick Santorum.  A month before the actual election, it appeared that Mitt as in the driver's seat.  All the polls showed Romney in the lead, and he avoided any terrible missteps in the less-than-inspiring final debate.  Not only did Romney lose, but he lost every single battleground state (except maybe Florida; I can't remember how Florida finally ended).  So as 2014 comes to a close, who is on top of all the major polls for the 2016 Republican nomination? Why Mitt Romney, of course.  I don't mind Romney and I believe he would make a decent President, but what I do mind is his obvious belief that the United States cannot survive without a President Romney.  Why else would someone run for the office three consecutive times (you will recall that before John McCain got hot, Romney was leading the GOP race in 2008)?

And if Romney were to decide against running in 2016 (fat chance), who else is making noise on the Republican side?  Jeb Bush.  As if the name "Bush" is all America needs to regain the edge.  I'm sorry, but I'm not ready for another Bush.  I like some of the younger Bushes who seem to have their own ideas and ambitions, but enough time hasn't passed for me to jump back onto that Bandwagon.  I like Jeb as much as I like Mitt, but it just ain't gonna happen.  I will not support a Bush for the Republican nomination in 2016 (unless Barbara decides to run).  Rick Santorum is another face that refuses to go away.  I prefer Rick to Mitt and Jeb, but he has about as much chance as Osama Bin Laden's corpse of getting elected President in 2016.  I mean no disrespect, but I can't support a candidate who is so polarizing that the Democratic nominee would win in a landslide (and I like the fact that Santorum does not run away from his Catholic faith).  I'm hearing Beltway rumors that Mike Huckobee is considering a run.  Oy Vey!  Thank goodness for Chris Christie, who I don't particularly support, and Rand Paul, who I like, for bringing a bit of variety into the conversation.  Rick Perry?  Rick missed his opportunity in 2012, and Ted Cruz isn't quite ready for prime time.

On the Democrat side, I've heard three names mentioned repeatedly: Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden (snicker).  In plain English, the nomination is Hillary's for the asking, and ask she will.  Her syncophants have lately tried to spread the idea that Hillary may not run, either for medical or unrelated personal reasons.  Give me a break.  Hillary has been running for President ever since Bill left office.  Hillary wants to be President because she craves authority; its a large part of her nature.  She believes that she is more intelligent than most people and therefore deserves to be in a decision-making position.  Unfortunately for Hillary, she was a terrible Secretary of State, with a degrading and compromising treaty with Russia (New Start Treaty) as her only achievement.  I can't imagine the "Hillary 2016" tour is going to highlight Clinton's diplomacy vis-a-vis Vladimir Putin as reason to trust her foreign policy acumen, and we haven't even gotten to Benghazi.  Elizabeth Warren, the darling of the left-of-left modern hippies that appear to be all that's left of the Obama base, will probably run in order to keep her name and future options fresh.  Biden may run out of vanity alone, but everyday he seems to morph into an even larger baboon, and I can't imagine the Democratic power-brokers allowing Joe to make a complete ass of himself (anymore than usual, that is).

The point of this post is to release a bit of steam that has been collecting in my gizzard regarding the persons who appear to be running for President in 2016.  For the life of me, I just don't understand why certain politically prolific persons refuse to retire.  In the old days (pre-1990), people would run for President once, maybe twice, and then just drift away with dignity and manners.  Today, we have a new breed of politicians who will hold on for life to whatever bit of power the electorate has seen fit to bestow.  Jeez, how I'm sick of the same old faces delivering the same old platitudes.  At least the GOP has a few new names on the list.  I can't imagine what the Democrats would do without Hillary.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Can't Help Myself - My Comments On This Torture Business

Link: Senator Kirk Telling It Like It Is


Before this issue exploded on the front page of the NY Times, I did not have much to say about Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois.  Interestingly enough, today he became my choice for President in 2016.  I have read the Congressional Report on Torture three times cover to cover, and I have yet to see the justification for all the drama.  Obviously some CIA personnel stepped outside the bounds of their authority.  This FACT was determined years ago, by the CIA's own internal investigation.  Individuals were punished appropriately as far as the process allows.  If you don't like the process, and want to bring CIA personnel to trial for alleged acts against foreign nationals, more power to you.  But you have to change the process (and law) first.  The release of this report was nothing more than rehashing information that was already available to the public.  I never saw any of the disgusting acts described in the report, which isn't surprising since they were the exception, not the rule. One, possibly two detainees were put through some process called "anal feeding".  Its horrible, inhumane and not allowed.  Anyone who participated in that type of behavior should be punished to the furthest extent according to the policies that are in place.  The same can be said for anyone who engaged in slapping, punching, or kicking detainees.  I'm also appalled by the allegation of Agency officers putting restraints on legs of persons with leg or ankle injuries.  I am not opposed to the use of Waterboarding in extreme circumstances.  A clearly defined set of guidelines should determine the proper use of this form of enhanced interrogation.  I know Waterboarding has saved lives.  It will do so again in the future if it is "recalled" to use.  But that decision was, and always will remain above my pay grade. Otherwise, in my opinion the least amount of physical contact between guards and detainees is the best policy.

I had a short but important conversation with my friend Joseph.  JJ and I seldom agree on politics but otherwise we get along famously.  I put great value on humor, and JJ sure knows how to make me laugh.  I think JJ was a bit worried that I would be one of those stereotypical bully-types that are usually associated with intimidating others.  Actually, I don't think he thought I was "one of them", but he was concerned that I might be a sympathizer.  Truth be told, I've met more than a handful of the kind of folks who are usually suffering from a permanent case of The Napoleon Syndrome (or Small Man's Syndrome).  I'm not comfortable around anyone who derives pleasure from degrading others.  I am convinced that people who get pleasure from dominating or humiliating others are suffering from some form of psychosis.  I'm sure that the U.S. Government at one time or another has hired both men and women who fit that description.  But I don't believe it was ever a planned strategy.  I'm sure the CIA has hired persons like this as well, but I'm convinced it was the rare exception as opposed to the rule.  I can assure you that the persons the CIA chooses to interview detainees have no intention of physical interaction.  I believe that the rare (singular?) instances detailed in the recently released Congressional Report shed light on a few bad apples who have since been appropriately disciplined.  As usual, what the report does not mention are the thousands and  thousands of lives that have been saved through enhanced interrogation techniques.  I am personally offended and angered when a Congressman or Congresswoman allege that CIA interrogation techniques have not been successful.  Its not only a false allegation, its libelous. But Congress can say whatever it chooses because the Agency is an easy target.  The CIA has no built-in mechanism to defend itself from internal attack.  I guess the men who built the organization did not anticipate that the U.S. Government would become so self-destructive as to turn on the nation's professional clandestine service.  Some people will not be happy until the CIA is disbanded.

The September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the intended attack which tragically ended in a field in Pennsylvania, initiated a great deal of commentary from both Congress and the mainstream media.  I remember it like it was yesterday, because I felt like I had a bullseye on my back.  How could these butchers and cowards have managed to pull this off?  Where was the CIA?  Why didn't our intelligence services discover the plot beforehand?  The process has become so predictable.  The Intelligence Agencies, responding to intense pressure from whatever Administration is in power, leaves no stone unturned to improve intel collection, particularly human intelligence, which has proven time and again to be the most valuable.  Almost immediately, the media starts the countdown until they are in a position to point out that the CIA hasn't changed; that its still nothing but a bunch of bully-types who are looking for weaker folks to dominate.  Occasionally the CIA is able to walk the thin line between the "not enough" and "too much" cacophony, but at the end of the day, I believe the Agency's days are numbered.  You have no idea how painful it is to give consideration to such a thought.  But something that used to be whispered about (how will the USG delegate the distribution of Agency responsibilities to other Departments, Agencies and Bureaus) is now discussed openly.

I was really encouraged to learn about Senator Kirk's justified and accurate portrayal of the events leading up to this post.  Feinstein's staffers, already less-than enthusiastic towards the CIA, took full advantage of the opportunity to re-introduce information that has already been disseminated in DC.  But the story was broadcasted in a manner which all but labeled the details as "previously confidential".  Who is Diane Feinstein (and her staffers) to accuse anyone of anything?  They are so out of their league in this business.  And we all know that if, God forbid, the enemy strikes again, this time in California, Feinstein will be the first in line, wanting to know why the Intelligence Agencies weren't more aggressive in their collection efforts.  Like most people, occasionally I can get a bit of the gorilla red-ass about things in DC, but Feinstein's release of this document has upset me more than usual.  She should no longer be allowed to participate in classified briefings.  If I were soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader McConnell I would make sure she was not present during classified briefings.  Since she has decided that she is the only one smart enough to decide what should be released for public consumption and what shouldn't (I don't recall any Feinstein wadded panties during the Clinton Administration's flirtation with missiles to China or the bombing of Serbia to move the conversation away from Monica Lewinsky), then I don't believe she should have access to classified information.

Congress needs to address entitlements and stop digging around in the military and intelligence budgets to save a quarter here and there.  The big money is in entitlement reform.  A sincere effort by Congress and the President, with politics not allowed in the room, can result in serious tax and entitlement reform.  Fraud needs to be addressed and eradicated, and congressional junkets and airports to nowhere must become a thing of the past.  All manner of entitlements must be addressed: no more multi-million dollar grants to the University of South Commode to determine why sober college students have sex less often than drunk college students, or five million dollars to Ass Napkin University to research the causes of color blindness in worms (the schools were invented but the research and grants were real).  Also, someone in Congress please pass legislation that outlaws an incoming president from rewarding donors with absurd billion-dollar grants for eco-friendly research.  Give me the red marker for a week; I'm more than ready to tackle DC spending.  And I can do it without cutting the budgets of the military or the intelligence community.