Friday, January 30, 2009

Books on the Israel-Palestine conflict

Despite all the books ive read, i can never claim to be an expert on the catastrophe going on in the middle east. I can however, make a few suggestions for those looking to further their knowledge based upon what I have read

Witness In Palestine
by Anna Baltzer

A fantastic book from a Jewish womans perspective as she visits The West Bank *yes, i realize that is not Gaza* and sees the Israeli occupation and its horrors first hand. Fantastic pictures, horrific tales and proof that this struggle is not Judiasm vs Islam

Islamic Societies in Practice
by Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban

Islam for dummies. A basic guide of the cultural, religous and political influence of the Islamic faith. Also incorporates a great deal about the relationship between "The Arab World" and the West as well as where Fluer-Lobban sees the future of US-Arab relations. I had the privledge of taking a course with Mrs. Lobban and was blown away by her looney lefthood, I have yet to convice her to publish on this blog however.

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
by Ilan Pappe

As its title indicates, this is not a pro-Isreal book, however its information and insight are incredibly valide. Somewhat dense for your casual reader, this book is extremely informative on the history of Isreal from outside specators point of view.

The Lost Years
by Charles Enderlin

As a resident of Jerusalme, Charles Enderlin has some perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also has knowledge of the events left out of the mainstream media, and a superior knowledge of the military roots of the conflict between Isreal and Palestine

Power, Faith and Fantasy
by Michael B. Oren

This book is not about Isreal and Palestine, it is about America's histroy with the Middle East. However this book, which reads like a novel, tells the story of Americans long conflict with Arabs since the days of the Barbary wars. Absolutely superb writting crafts this remarkable tale, which certinally gives us insight into our relationship with the middle east today

The Israel Lobby And U.S. Foreign Policy
by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt

Orignally published as an article in the London Review of Books, this caused a lot of contreversy. As it should! This points the most fundamental flaw in the United States negotionations with the Middle East, our biased view towards Israel. Even in the face of their mounting war crimes and bigotry America still stands by Isreal till the last, this book points out the terrors of that relationship and how they have come to call

So thats its, other recomendations not as strongy endorsed are Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin Barber (VERY DENSE) and Invisible Nation by Quil Lawrence (more about the Kurds than the Israel-Palestine conflict)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dennis Kucinich Takes Dick Cheney

Many of you may not have any idea who Dennis Kucinich is(apart perhaps from his hilarious appearance on the Colbert Report a few weeks ago) but Dennis is in fact one of the nine Democratic Candidates seeking the Presidential Nomination. In polls among "Grassroots Democrats" Kucinich's approval is rising, and with good reason. With his charm, warmth and tenderness its hard not to love him, add to that the fact that he is leading the charge against Vice President Cheney. Bush may get as pass often because of his character and somewhat warm nature, but the cold calculated acts of the devilish Dick earn him the hatred of many Democrats. So how is the little man going to take on the Devil himself? He is filing Resolution House Resolution 333 which contains three articles of Impeachment against Richard B. Cheney for high crimes and misdemeanors.

The First article cites that Cheney knowingly and intentionally misled Americans about the threat of Nuculear, Biological and Chemical weapons in Iraq in order to Justify the war. The Second Article cites that Cheney knowingly and willingly misled the American public to believe their was a relationship between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. With quotes like "His regime aides and protects terrorists, including members of Al-Qaeda . He could decide secretly to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists to use against us" its hard to say that Cheney wasn't trying to make that connection. The Third Article of impeachment states that Cheney undermined the National Security of America by making threats towards Iran. This is where things get streched a little thin, as the threat of Iran is still under great debate. It is a country that's people don't pose a great threat towards us, but it is also a country led by a man who denies the holocaust and has stated he wants to wipe Israel off the map.

Despite being filled with quotes that Cheney used to seemingly mislead us it is doubtful the Articles of Impeachment against Richard B. Cheney will ever be taken to trial. And even if somehow Dennis manages to pull enough votes to get this to trial and get Cheney out of office, does it really accomplish anything at this point? The Damage is done, we are in Iraq and it seems we won't be leaving for a while. The Persian problem (Iran) still looms before us with great uncertainly, and its doubtful a few offhanded comments from our Vice President are going to be what push us into war with Iran. The reason Dennis is doing this is not because he expects to take down the Vice President, but to show that someone has enough courage to try. Also, it seems that bump in the polls is being helped greatly by his attack on Cheney...and I'm sure that helps

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Crisis of Health Care

After watching "Sicko" by Michael Moore this past weekend on DVD, i indeed felt sick. Literally, with a temperature of 100, body aches and massive headaches i knew something was wrong. I have the RIC insurance "University Health Plans" which is actually far better than most of the HMO's and Health Care providers profiled in "Sicko". I simply went to CVS rather than the doctors, because i didn't know all my insurance information and i didnt want to have to deal with the hassles of a trip to the doctors. Long lines, lots of paperwork and co-pays make my head spin, so instead of getting medical care i chose to purchase over the counter drugs.

On my drive home i started to think about how ridiculous our health care system really is, and what control drug companies have over our Government. Will we ever be able to escape for the claws of HMO's and Drug Companies? Even with a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate bills like S-CHIP are still being shot down by the President. S-CHIP is clever use of semantic tyranny, because who cares about something thats simply labeled S-CHIP, when it is really Health Care for poor and lower middle class children (State Children's Health Insurance Program). Congress passed a bill that would have expanded coverage to 4 million more children in need, but our President vetoed the bill. After Democrats tried desperately to stir up enough Republican votes to override the veto, the House fell just 13 vote's short of the required 2/3rds majority.

President Bush said he felt that the bill was one step towards "socialized medicine" and of course we can't have THAT! We already fire departments, the postal service, libraries and education funded by that government, why not have our health care be state mandated. Our government is so sickly intertwined with the drug and health care companies that I doubt their will ever be enough votes to authorize a system of Socialized Medicine. Perhaps if a democrat is elected President and the Democratic Majority continues their may be hope, but in our system of Government it seems like nickels and dimes have more effect on Politicians that the suffering of the American People. Of course Hillary Clinton fought the drug companies and lost, so who is to say any other Democratic Candidate will have any more success. One thing is for sure however, none of the Republican Candidates want anything to do with Universal Health Care (what they call "Socialized Medicine"), they all seem much more concerned about the threat Mexicans pose to our National Security than the lack of affordable Health care. I might have hope if John Edwards or Barack Obama get elected that we might someday have Universal Health Care, but even with their efforts i doubt we will ever have the lifestyles of the French, English and Canadians presented in Moore's film. Not as long as their is profit to be made from the sickness of Americans will we ever truly be able to live without fear of our Health Care System.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Blood, Tears and Blackwater

Imagine you are watching a terrible action movie where a renegade brigade of outlaws carry out an attack in broad daylight, killing over 17 civilians in the process. As terrible as that sounds for a scene in a movie, it's even more horrifying that it really happened on Sept. 16 of this year. What's even more terrifying is that those responsible might now be offered immunity from prosecution.

Blackwater is a private military contractor and is currently the largest private security firm to the U.S. State Department. Blackwater received a no-bid contract to protect the U.S. Embassy in Iraq (the largest embassy in the world), and several more no-bid contracts to protect diplomats, politicians, and even the soldiers themselves. It seems rather backwards that we are hiring private militias to protect the struggling democracy in Iraq; especially because I was under the impression that that's what our troops were doing.

Blackwater charges the government $445,000 per year for each employee in Iraq. That's six times the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier. If you want to learn more about Blackwater and all the private companies currently exploiting U.S. dollars in Iraq, watch Robert Greenwald's film, "Iraq for Sale." The film covers several other incidents that left a stain on Blackwater and America's reputations. But for now, let's get back to what took place on Sept. 16.

Survivors of the incident report that there was a traffic jam on a busy Baghdad street when suddenly, out of nowhere, Blackwater militia appeared and started throwing water bottles and flares. Within seconds, it is reported that Blackwater militia officers started opening fire on the traffic jam. Blackwater continued to shoot even at those civilians who were trying to get away. Chaos filled the streets as tears flowed and a simple traffic jam soon became a bloodbath leaving men, women, and children dead. All of this information was gathered and confirmed by the investigators, U.S. soldiers, and Marines.

Our soldiers and Marines had to pick up the pieces and put together what happened. They found no sign that Blackwater was ever fired upon and that Blackwater was firing upon cars and civilians who were attempting to flee the scene. 17 civilians were killed and 27 were wounded; numbers that barely phase Americans when we realize that an estimated 80,000 Iraqi civilians and 3,845 American soldiers have been killed since the war began. Unfortunately, Blackwater is "above the law" because of the Transitional Administrative Law in Iraq. It gives Blackwater and the U.S. Military immunity. If a soldier commits a crime in Iraq, however, he will be punished in a United States Court of Law. Blackwater militias have never been taken to trial by the government but they have faced lawsuits from the families of their employees killed in Iraq. The Transitional Administrative Law is about to be tested as those responsible for the attacks of Sept.16 may be held accountable in America. Even with the ongoing inquiry into the events, unclear laws and untested boundaries create a muddy path for the United States government to go down. That path will eventually lead the government back into some very bleak and very black water.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

John Edwards 08: Strenth and Courage

It was in the 2004 Vice Presidential debates that i first realized what kind of man John Edwards is. His intelligent remarks and rebuttal to everything Cheney had to say was confident, straightforward and honest. There was something about him, a charisma, that could not be found in that of his running mate. I wonder to this day if the ticket had been the other way around and Edwards had been in the foreground if things would have turned out any different. Its all speculation anyway, but now is the time to focus on the future.

It takes great courage to face what Edwards and his wife Elizabeth are going through, and have gone through and that no doubt will affect their campaign regardless of whether they wish it too. However in all of this media attention about his wife's condition, the bond between them has been shown to be the most powerful love we have seen in any would be First Couple since Ronald Regan and his wife Nancy. And in this day and age America strives to become united, to become more like a family. A Strong first couple would be good for the Religious right in showing unity and abiding to gods laws. Guilliani and Hillary Clinton don't paint the prettiest pictures of marriage, and we have only seen glimpses of Obama and his wife.

Other than the bonds of love being shown, one thing we see from the Edward's cancer ordeal and the loss of their son, is the most important characteristic a President can have: Strength. Hillary Clintons is a strong, independent woman, but her refusal to admit her Iraq War vote was a mistake will always make her weak to some. Obama has given into vices like Cigarettes, Cocaine and his will has never been truly tested in his time in the Senate. I'm not saying that Edwards has faced much in his time as a Senator either, but its his time since leaving the Senate that has been the most effective. As a citizen Edwards has accomplished more than most Senators accomplish in a year. Starting the One Corps to eliminate poverty, working at rebuilding post-Katrina New Orleans and working to make America greener. It is for this reason that i support John Edwards. He has not been barred down with Party politics for the past two years and has been able to do more because of that, and has shown what issues he truly has a concern in

With all the other candidates we only see them playing politics, occasionally speaking on behalf of a bill that might be blocked by the opposing party due to lack of votes. Its a horrible system that makes pawns out of great men and women, and it does nothing to show us the virtues of our would be leaders. John Edwards is someone who has worked in the system and has realized he can accomplish more outside of it, or over it. With the power of the president John Edwards could use his already in action programs to fight poverty, help rebuild Katrina, enforce stricter gun laws in the wake of Virgina Tech, and work to improve the environment. Edwards has the courage to work outside the system without fear of political bias, and the strength to fight through personal problems and long drawn out campaigns and still come out with a good relationship with his wife, and a strong focus on the issues he holds dear.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The US vs Iran Part 2: Sunni vs. Shia Islam

On the radio, on television, and in the newspaper everyday words like "Shi'ite", "Sunni", "Shi'a" and maybe even "Qu'ran" pass us by, but not many people have an understanding of what they mean. Islam is a complicated religion, and to the western outsider its ideals, practices and teachings seem far too foreign to ever understand. And most Americans will never have a full understanding of the religious implications of a divided Islam, but today I'm going to try and explain to you whats going on in the Middle East

Its my belief that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all worship the same God, only with three different prophets speaking Gods word. Now that may sound crazy to you, but let me make my case first. Now firstly let me tell you that i am not trying to prove or disprove the existence of God, and my religious views have no effect on what i am about to say. I believe it is fundamental to understand that if you cannot prove the existence of god, you have only the teachings of his/her followers and prophets to correlate between religions. Judaism has Abraham as its founder, building altars to the one god "Yahweh" all across the middle east. Christianity of course uses the teachings of Jesus as its primary source of moral guidance, but the Old Testament (AKA The Hebrew Bible) is also part of the Christian faith. Add to that the fact that Jesus was Jewish, and spreading the teachings of the Old Testament, so we can establish that Jesus was teaching the word of Abraham. And since i said before i cant prove its the same god, I cant at least prove its the same book, with a different ending.

Now we come to Islam, the third piece in the triangle of the three major Religions in the world. Islam accepts the teachings of Abraham, and Jesus (although they do not acknowledge the holy trinity with Jesus as the son of god) and they add to that with the teachings of their prophet, Mohammed. Given that Christianity is the son of Judaism, with its teachings and practices taking root in the Hebrew bible and expanding with the New Testament. And given that Islam acknowledges and accepts the teachings of both Abraham and Jesus, and given the fact that i cant prove gods existence, we can prove that all three religions believe in the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament includes the creation of the world in its text, we can accept that Muslims, Christians and Hebrews all accept that the same God created the Universe

Muslims also believe that the Angel Gabriel (For all you Christians, he was the one who told Mary she was pregnant with Jesus) preached Gods word directly to Muhammad ibn Abdullah between the years of 610-632. Muhammad had many children (the number is widely disputed among scholars) but it is generally accepted that only one child, his daughter Fatima, outlived him. Fatima married Alī ibn Abī Tālib, and he is considered to be the father of Shia Islam. We will come back to that but imagine for a moment if the rumors of the Da Vinci Code and Dogma were true and Jesus and Mary Magdalene really were married, and had children. What would that mean for the religion? Whose words would have been more important, the apostles who served their entire lives to spread the word of Jesus, or his Children? This is the critical issue between Shia and Sunni Islam, because Muhammad had children, and disciples and never appointed a successor before he died. The Shiite's believe that Muhammad's son-in-law Ali was the rightful Imamah, or political and spiritual leader of Islam. While Sunni Muslims regard Abu Bakar, one of Muhammad's Sahaba (disciples), as the caliph (head of state) of the Islamic world. This is an area of interest because Abu was the first elected political leader of Islam (not religious), and to make matters more interesting Ali (the Shia Imamah) was the fourth man to be elected Caliph. Now things could have gone smoothly from there, but Ali was murdered by and the war between the bloodline of Muhammed (Ali-Fatima) and the rule of the Caliph began. Ali lived on after Fatima, and would have over thirty children with several wives, but his two most famous sons Husayn and Hasan who lived on to continue Shia Islam

With the differences in leaders, overtime there became a great difference in the religious laws of the two sects. As the laws changed, so did practice of religion with those laws. Sunni Muslims accepted westernization more and adapted to change, while Shia Muslims adhere to stern practices and values. A lot of the major hat rid stems from the liberation of women in Sunni Islam, and the freedom they are given in everyday life. This doesn't mean that all Shia Muslims are evil, but the Shia seem to be the ones causing a lot of the trouble in the Middle East. In the end its always how you interpret the words you are given, how your own values affect your faith that truly makes you who you are. Shia Muslims have been a minority for centuries, and maybe they have a right to be angry. After all, if it we're really true that Jesus had children, wouldn't you want the world to know? Wouldn't that be important enough to fight for? If anything can be certain its that Religion, all Religions have caused war at some point or another, and Christians should not look down on Muslims because they fight for their beliefs. For thousands of years, Christians did the same thing.

To bring us back to my continuing saga, we have established that Shia Muslims tend to be the most Radical. Guess what country has the highest percentage of Shia Muslims? Iran...

Aslan, Reza "No God But God" (Random House, 2006)
Nasr, Vali "The Shia Revival" (Norton, 2006)
Lewis, Bernard "What Went Wrong" (HarperCollins, 2003)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The US vs. Iran: The History Part 1 of 5

At a time when a country is engaged in active combat in two countries, and is losing troops daily in both those countries one would think the last thing on the mind of said countries leaders would be to attack another country...right? Wrong. America is now blaming the death of at least 170 US Soldiers on Iran. Senior Bush Officials are claiming the Iranians are supplying the Shia extremists with 81mm Explosive Mortars, capable of destroying tanks or other armored vehicles. Bush officials also authorized Military force against Iranians on a special list of 31,690 men and women believed to be supporting the Shia extremists inside Iraq.

Condelezza Rice even went so far as to say that Iranians are "Training Shia militants". Dick Cheney added to that by saying "I think it's been pretty well-known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters, if you will, inside Iraq. The threat that Iran represents is growing, it's multi-dimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region". This from the man who said "We Will be greeted as Liberators" and "The War is in its last throws". However, a man who hasn't been proven to be a liar yet also supports the claims. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that serial numbers on the mortar shells are "pretty good" evidence that Iran is providing weapons to the militants. Pretty Good? Reminds me of his predecessor saying he was sure their wear Chemical and Biological weapons in Iraq and he knew where they were. An Uneasiness came over me as i looked at headline after headline about Iran supporting Shia Militants.

So I decided to do a little more research about Iran, about the Iran-Iraq war and about Americas relationship with Iran over the past 15-20 years. Toda we will start by taking a look at the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the pre-cursor to the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), and sometimes referred to as Persian Gulf War I. If there was ever a time for America to have a serious problem with a country using Chemical and Biological weapons, this was it. Saddam's regime and Military used Sarin, Mustard Gas and VX on the Iranians (A Nerve Agent causing all muscles in the body to contract, leading to death by asphyxiation). However this time, the United States was on Iraqs side.

In the Summer of 1980 United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski met with King Hussein of Jordan to discuss plans for a Military cout against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. To grasp why America had such a problem with Khomeini it is necessary to know what the Iranian White Revolution of 1963 did to help spread Democracy, Liberalism and Peace in Iran. The White Revolution was an Economic, Political and Cultural Policy Reform started by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in order to improve literacy, the economy and the overall health of Iran. The Revolution was extremely controversial because it opposed many traditional Shia values, and took away power from the Clergy. As wonderful as an idea as the White Revolution was, it like all things in politics fell victim to corruption, scandal and general mismanagement. And sadly this was not the Shahs first error, failure to meet Oil Revenue profits promised, creation of SAVAK (an SS like Military Police with unlimited power), and his creation of a political monopoly with one party ruling all led to the Iranian Revolution.

This Revolution led to Ayatollah Khomeini seizing power and turning the Monarch into the Islamic Republic. Before coming to power Khomeini was the leading critic of the White Revolution, and extremely opposed to the westernization of Iran. Khomeni successfully stopped the Shah from granting women the right to vote, and from passing a law giving women legal equality in Marriage issues. Khomeni promised a government that would adhere to values of Islam, opposed westernization and more importantly ridding the Middle East of all western influence. Khomeni believed that Shia leaders all through the Middle East could rise up and come to power the same way he had, and together form a united Islamic Republic. This was a strong force to have bordering Saddams Secular Iraq (something that Khomeni viewed as completely against the foundations of Islam) and one that posed a serious threat. Lucky for Saddam a group of Iranians opposed to Khomenis rule were planning a coup under the leadership of former Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar. And that gets us back too why the United States National Security advisor was in a sweaty conference room with Saddams closest friend on July 7th, 1980.

Clearly Khomeni wasn't just a threat to Iraq and the Middle East, but to the United States. If his Radical Islamic, Anti-Western ideas spread to countries with military capability to attack America. Not to mention the Iran Hostage Crisis, which involved the capture of the US embassy workers in Tehran and their being held captive for 444 days (the Hostages were still being held at this point). So the US asked Saddam to support the military coup and try and overthrow Khomeni, and he agreed. There was just one problem, the coup was shot down before it could even get under way as Khomeni had learned of the coup ahead of time, and had USSR operatives hunt down Bakhtiar in France and kill him, along with 600 of his supporters in Iran.

Lucky for us, Saddam decided to invade Iran himself, starting an 8 year war, with the US supporting Iraq the entire. The US sold Iraq over 200 Million dollars in Helicopters, guns and other technology, hoping it would win out over the Radical Regime of Khomeni. And in the Irony of Ironies the US even sold Iraq the material to develop Chemical weapons that we would someday not even be able to find. Chemical weapons that were used to kill over 100,000 Iranians, and injure thousands more. The two countries also battled for control of oil in the region, consistently destroying oil tankers and damaging each nations economy. After 8 years of bloody conflict the UN finally stepped in after the US Navy launched and Operation Praying Mantis on Iran because of Damage sustained to the USS Samuel B. Roberts. Before this turned into a Global Conflict with the West vs Radical Islam the UN was able to get Iran and Iraq to agree to a cease-fire.

In the end Saddams soldiers had killed over a million Iranians (over 100,000 using Chemical weapons as i said before) and had economically crippled Iran. That was over twenty years ago that the Iraq-Iran war ended, have relationships between the two former enemies really turned into a conspiracy against America. Is Iranian President Ahmadinejad just getting back at the US for their support of Iraq over 20 years ago? Is he trying to form the Islamic Republic that Khomeni wanted? Or is this all just another pack of lies being fed to us by the Bush Administration?

Continued in the US vs. Iran: The Second Gulf War