Sunday, December 14, 2014

Elizabeth Warren Note

Two excellent Facebook comments here noted for future reference.  Both are smart and I'm afraid prescient. We'll see...
They are responding to the nutty suggestion that Elizabeth Warren is the Democrat's version of Ted Cruz.
Deborah Megivern Foster
I read her book. She is actually sincere about working for middle class families. The rest of the Democrats who signed onto that CROMNIBUS bill gave a big middle finger to the middle class, because in less than five years time, we will be bailing out Wall Street again. Two of the smartest people I know about Wall Street, besides Elizabeth Warren, are Thom Hartmann and Matt Taibbi, and both of them predict a Wall Street crash with another bailout in a very short timeframe, because of what the Democrats helped the Republicans to do.

Michael Kempster 
The Republicans, when they lose, oft say it's because they're insufficiently pure of rightie conviction. The Democrats, when they lose, throw their liberal-left base--at one time, the center of their party, let us not forget--under the bus, in a vain attempt to appear more centered, while moving to the right.
  • First, there is no symmetry here. 
  • Second, given the Democrats' er, uh, lukewarm and only partially successful attempts to fire up their base, they might want to rethink that. 
  • And third, Warren has about seventeen times the intelligence, depth of conviction, command of political rhetoric and policy knowledge, and human decency as does Cruz, and speaks to a portion of the Democratic Party they'd be well advised not to alienate further
Here is the post and other comments...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture Report -- Dr. Gawande's Observations

These observations are curated this morning from Dr. Atul Gawande's Twitter messages. 
The Senate CIA Torture Report reveals savage, immoral, utterly despicable practices by our govt.  

But the worst for me is to see the details of how doctors, psychologists, and others sworn to aid human beings made the torture possible. 

The torture could not proceed w/o medical supervision. The medical profession was deeply embedded in this inhumanity.

It was doctors who devised the rectal infusions “as a means of behavior control.” (p100)

Doctors suggested the water temperature for waterboarding and use of saline instead of free water to avoid water intoxication. (p86, 419)

Doctors watched as stress positions inflicted pain, lacerations, and only stopped them when producing, e.g., shoulder dislocation (70)

Psychologists, who were supposed to stop damaging interrogation, actually served as interrogators. (72)

The Office of Medical Services provided consultation on when fractures and wounds were healed enough to resume torture. (p113)

The Office of Medical Services wrote guidelines approving up to 3 waterboard sessions in 24 hours per prisoner. (p8)

When torture caused Abu Zubaydah’s eyes to deteriorate, MDs only intervened to insure ability to see was saved to aid interrogation.(112)

Doctors found prisoners with broken feet and still approved putting them into standing positions for up to 52 hours (p112)

Doctors were long the medical conscience of the military. The worst occurred because gov't medical leaders abdicated that role. (p87)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Facebook Discussion of Eric Garner's Death

This Facebook exchange was triggered by Jon Stewart's response to yet another death by police.
Click on the comments icon to see who said what, but what follows is the part I want to keep.
BA This just looks awful. But it's the big picture of a growing underclass of all races that portends a nasty future here.

JB  And in this instance we can't blame firearms. It's abundantly clear to me that a dangerous and growing trend to embrace authoritarian control is strong and growing. It is a military-style, chain-of-command, patriarchal, class-oriented social trend that reminds me of accounts I have read leading up to some of the most despicable chapters of human history. 

People everywhere have always responded to promises of a more abundant life and have been willing to die pursuing it, even when they don't really need more. I think it has more to do with control than material needs. In this case, a guy was selling cigarettes which is against the law. But in the aftermath of his death, there is little mention of the bizarre fact that it triggered an altercation with the police that cost him his life. The argument is not about cigarettes or the law. It is about control -- who has it, who doesn't and how much control is appropriate.

BA  On a more prosaic level it's the accurate perception that only the rich are prospering, everyone else is losing with no end in sight. This will not end well if the wealth is not spread by a more egalitarian system.

JB  That was where I was headed. The illusion is that "poor" doesn't mean the same everywhere. It's hard to determine poverty, for example, when portable phones and even broken down pieces of junk cars are part of the baseline -- when such things would be considered luxuries in other places. Then there's the phenomenon of "food insecurity" whis means some children haven't enough food at home and their only meaningful food supply is through school food programs. 

When I was in Korea years ago being fat was a sign of prosperity, but now obesity has become a global problem thanks to global distribution of junk foods. It's such a mixed picture, this rich-poor divide. That's why it's so important to distinguish between income and wealth -- two very different variables commonly spoken of interchangeably.

BA  "We didn't know we were poor..."

JB  And that's true, you know. I recall old people who lived on farms telling stories of the depression. They saw plenty of poverty, but they themselves had enough to eat and even share with others, as well as shelter and the means to keep it weatherproof. Doing without new clothes or indoor plumbing is not nearly as tough as not having enough to eat or a place to sleep.

During the Great Depression trains stopped for water would often lose coal from the loads being carried. Sometimes people would even climb up and toss coal out where it could be collected by hand and used for heat and cooking where that might be their only source of fuel. I've heard that story more than once from old people.

That's not a lot different from selling cigarettes in Staten Island.

BA  I remember a story about a family man in Ga. who owned a hardware store, maybe in Atlanta, at the beginning of the Depression. He hung on as long as he could, giving out credit to his impoverished customers until it was obvious it wasn't working. He sold the store and bought a farm in the country. Later his grown kids said the quote I posted above. They had a house, a garden, the big outdoors and plenty of love.

AS  My father got shot in the leg when he was eight years old and picking up pieces of coal that had fallen off a railroad car. The man who shot him worked for Southern Railway. No charges were filed on either side, as it was considered normal.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Syria Snapshot

Twitter exchange this morning.
More at this link.

@edwardedark OK. 3rd party stabilisation. CFs. Transitional body. New constitution. Elections but no senior people who ordered war crimes?

.@KreaseChan when u have credible means 2 bring 2 justice rebels who shelled& killed my cousin while geting groceries we can talk about that

@edwardedark I'm sorry to hear that. If you want to talk seriously without the grandstanding & trolls you have my email

.@KreaseChan yes I'm sorry, apparently demanding equal justice for war crimes is obviously tantamount to grandstanding & trolling

@edwardedark no not u trolling (yet) just the regime apologists in your orbit. As said, happy to expand this discussion away from here.

.@KreaseChan no need to discuss anything privately mate, if u have something to say about bringing equal justice to #Syria, say it publicly

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson Snapshot

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is becoming a landmark event with symbolic significance bigger than the bare facts of the case. Yesterday Congressman Lewis compared it with Selma but President Obama felt otherwise. In any case, the national response is huge. The number of young black men killed by police has always been inappropriately large, but the trend appears to be accelerating.

The responses of individuals and communities affected continues to be overwhelmingly peaceful but with a growing undercurrent of impatience. Destructive mobs are responsible for millions of dollars in property damage and black communities bear the brunt of those losses, but a non-violent core remains durable and hopeful.

A video linked at Codeblack Life has already received over three thousand comments. Snipped below is a snapshot of the "top comments" from Facebook. 
DCJ Father God we need you right now in the name of Jesus. I speak peace in Ferguson and in cities beyond as this spirit of violence has to stop!

AR The police dont have to kill us, we're doing it ourselves by acting out. This make the police job even easier, Stop the violence and pray instead. God will prevail.

MO  They are looting and destroying lifetime of other people's investment who didn't kill Brown!!! They must be stopped by any means necessary.

GAM Why do we destroy are own community?

SNC If everyone would have flipped it on them... And went HOME... they wouldn't have nothing to bomb. I get it. Very unfair verdict... Why give them ammunition ??? Go home... Pray. Come up with a better plan of action. Your doing exactly what they want... So why get mad ?

MRD Black Friday Boycott 11/27-11/29/2014

DE  Are yall forgetting how the crowd is doing to that town? I guess so.... they aren't harmless by no means, they wanna act a fool then this what happens, it don't matter about our race by no means it's how you act and they think nothing should happen. Smh come on ppl wake up.

KH Brothas and Sistas just Go Home as NOTHING will be accomplished as all your doing is proving them right from all this after the verdict was read!

DM Cash Crew It never belonged to us anyway ...#History

TB Lord Jesus have mercy! Just pray! All you can do is pray! Although justice was not served, we all have to answer to HIM one day. And that judgement is the ultimate you lived your life, how you treated people...etc. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective and God hears the prayers of the masses.

BO  Those small bombs are smoke canisters and bean bags. Y'all are kinda of embellishing a bit. Look, you should never wrestle with a man with gun. I'm just had Brown just talked to the police or not resist he would be alive right now and that's a fact. He made a poor choice, and made a selfish decision to attack the officer. He didn't think about himself or his family that loved him. Had he did, he would be alive. To all my brothers and sisters just follows the rules and use common sense and you will live to see another day.
Like · Reply · 85 · Yesterday at 2:39am


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Does the Obama Era Echo the Arab Spring?

An essay by Amro Ali written in May appeared in my Twitter feed this morning. The parallels between what happened in Egypt since 2011 and what has happened in America about the same time are striking. Here is my Facebook reflection...

Read and reflect on this Egyptian commentary written in May.

Idealistic, mostly young people, energized by the Arab Spring in 2011 soon saw their dreams torn to pieces. After dislodging Mubarak, a military dictator, they watched the Muslim Brotherhood bully its way to power, followed by another military takeover. As military heroes often do, the general in change slipped smoothly from a military uniform into civilian clothes as his title changed from general to president -- supported by a critical mass of the population.

As I read this essay an uneasy similarity with America's flirtation with Barack Obama played in the background. Is it my imagination or do the following parallels have no meaning?
...a medical professional, trained to save lives, tells me that a death sentence for 683 people should be carried out, though he will feebly concede that it may be a “bit harsh.”
How different is that casual indifference to the deaths of thousands elsewhere, whether they be Mexican students, Liberian villagers, thousands in Gaza or victims of gun violence in our own country?
[A ministry officer] tried to explain that torture was limited to specific cases, that it does not strike him as morally wrong, that it is not as a widespread as popularly thought, and that the global media exaggerates it—“We treat Brotherhood detainees with utmost respect.” <<
Does that not echo what has been widely reported about treatment of "detainees" in Guantanamo?

I could go on, but you get the idea. Read for yourself. Then tell me I am deluded. Reassure me, please, that it makes no difference that religious extremists, science deniers and xenophobic super-patriots now have a parliamentary majority in both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court -- that the next presidential election won't complete a checkmate of the whole government. And persuade me, please, to quit imagining that all of these trends are orchestrated by wealthy power brokers who have fine-tuned their skills at manipulating a majority of an electorate eager to follow their guidance.
The Disorient Express: Egypt and the Language of Darkness
By: Amro Ali

“Inevitably, our opinions cover a bigger space, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things, than we can directly observe. They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of what others have reported and what we can imagine.” – Public intellectual Walter Lippman, 1922.

With emotions running high on the eve of the 1952 coup, one of Nasser’s colleagues panicked and was close to tears. Nasser said firmly: “Tonight there is no room for sentiment. We must be ready for the unexpected.” The colleague soon regained his composure and asked Nasser, “Why did you address me in English?” Nasser laughed and replied, “Because Arabic is hardly a suitable language in which to express the need for calm.”

Whether or not this is truly the case—and I am not convinced that it is—the Arabic language today is certainly living up to Nasser’s perceptions, as it is being used to intentionally bring about anything but calm. A schizophrenia increasingly pervades Egyptian colloquial speech, empowering people to express wildly irresponsible and impulsive views and actions and yet expect positive outcomes—sadly, one frequently encounters such behavior these days.

It is easy to see the extent to which media discourse has affected public conversation, even to the level of hearing a news anchor’s sentence be unconsciously mimicked word-for-word the next day by members of the public, such as, “Egypt is not ready for democracy and needs a strongman from the military to rule it” and “Why does Sisi even need a policy platform?” That is not to mention the media-inspired accusations and conspiracies that infiltrate next-day conversations. This might not be unusual in many parts of the world, but in Egypt, it can have severe or even fatal consequences—opinions are shaped and inflamed here by an inexhaustible imagination that can leap from suspecting every tourist of being a spy to nodding at (if not cheering for) a mass death sentence.

This is an Egypt where an old lady feeds some birds, asks about my well-being, and in the same breath, tells me the massacre of over 600 people at Raba’a was necessary; an Egypt where a medical professional, trained to save lives, tells me that a death sentence for 683 people should be carried out, though he will feebly concede that it may be a “bit harsh.” My usual response to people with such opinions is for them to go personally tell the parents of the 683 (or other victims) why their children need to be executed. This usually causes something of a short-circuit in their imagination, but few actually change their minds on the matter.The road to the presidential election is now paved with fear and suspicion, harming society’s mental and economic well-being. The result is a climate that renders the vision for the country described in Sisi’s interviews, despite their melancholy and opaqueness, to appear as all that Egypt can hope for. The inevitable problem herein is that if it takes hysteria to bring a man to the presidency, it will take hysteria to continue to legitimize his presidency. A “platform” of security and stability cannot be maintained without consistently invoking the scarecrow of chaos.

At the core of such interactions lies an overlooked, foundational problem that can shed light on the nature of the public’s irrational and uncompromising stance towards anything that falls outside the state line. This problem involves the accumulation of individual anxieties stemming from experiences that are reported and imagined, rather than directly felt and observed. As a result, an uncontrollable, collective national resentment has evolved that extends, disturbingly, to the point of turning a blind eye towards, or actively whitewashing, unjustified deaths. This darkness spreads although—or perhaps because—few are actually encountering real life threats on any appreciable scale.

The train to Cairo

On trips to Cairo, I have come to find that interactions with the passengers I encounter on the Alexandria to Cairo train set the tone of my trip to the capital. Beside me most recently was an armed forces cadet and an Interior Ministry junior officer. As all the seats had already been sold, the three of us (and a few others) were forced to stand for the two-and-a-half hour trip.

The cadet abused his position to probe into my life, starting with the xenophobia-inspired question “Are you Syrian?” (I’m often mistaken for a Levantine because of my light complexion and altered Egyptian dialect from having lived abroad). He asked me why I was heading to Cairo, to which I replied that I was attending a funeral. He asked where in Cairo, and I replied Mohandessin. No answer could satisfy him. In fact, the stern way he first stated his occupation—“Armed Forces”—was a futile attempt to knock me off balance.

The Interior Ministry officer steered the conversation away from my destination, and we began talking about Australia. I was struck by the way that he casually spoke in a way that perfectly echoed statements mouthed off by state media. He asked me about my Ph.D. research and how Australia was different from Egypt. Then, he asked the predictable question:“What do they think of us?” I replied that they probably are not happy with Egypt at the moment, given that one of their citizens (journalist Peter Greste) is languishing in jail. I then turned the conversation to the use of torture by the Ministry. He tried to explain that torture was limited to specific cases, that it does not strike him as morally wrong, that it is not as a widespread as popularly thought, and that the global media exaggerates it—“We treat Brotherhood detainees with utmost respect.” On asking my religion (this questioning is second nature to Egypt), I was able to satisfy him that I am indeed a Muslim. Despite all the above, he then went onto explain how religion is not being applied correctly in the country.

Despite both of us being around the same age and engaging each other politely, the implicit feeling was that there was an invisible wall between us—a wall that was put there by historical and exclusionary hegemonic forces. In the end, we could only agree that Egypt is going through a generational struggle and that the young are disadvantaged throughout the county—I left with a feeling that I will cross paths with him again someday.

1984 in Tahrir Square

Standing outside the Hardees in Tahrir Square while waiting for a friend, I decided to take a number of photos to kill time. At a news stand, I saw George Orwell’s 1984 and snapped a photo of it, tweeting the words “a very timely piece of work.” In an ironic moment soon after, the police came by and, as a crowd of eight of them gathered, they pulled me in to their nearby, makeshift security office. They searched through the last photos on my phone and asked me countless questions. I explained the reasons behind each photo—that is a book cover I took an interest in; that was a road accident; that is graffiti; that is a panoramic shot of Tahrir. They grew alarmed at one photo of Muhammad Mahmoud Street where I had snapped a “creative” night shot through barbed wire. I somehow managed to reassure them that was just a harmless attempt at artistry.

Ultimately, the decision to let me go was not based on my words alone. After showing my Egyptian ID card and my University of Sydney card, the senior officer smiled and decided to let me go. The officer who pulled me, though, chose to take one last shot: “Are both of your parents Egyptian?” I answered: “Yes, my mother and father, may he rest in peace, are both Egyptian.” He looked at me sternly, handed back my cards, and responded, “May he rest in peace.” What most frightened me in this case was that somehow my heritage presumed my innocence, and doing a doctorate reassured them that I was “respectable.” What about others who are detained and who do not fit into this culture- and class-based security framework? The language of darkness has its subtexts.

The funeral of Bassem Sabry

The funeral I was attending in Mohandessin was that of Bassem Sabry. Having communicated with Bassem online but never having been able to meet him only further fuelled my anguish. The feeling was not unlike what I feel when thinking of the goals of the revolution that were always talked about and yet have remained elusive.

Beyond serving to mark the tragedy of losing a great human being, Bassem Sabry’s funeral was a surreal showcase of myriad key players involved in the darkness enveloping Egyptian politics now, fighting either for or against it or simply riding its wave—weary human rights workers, life-endangered journalists, veteran activists, opportunistic political figures, brown-nosing media personalities, despondent intellectuals. People who would normally be at each others’ throats were calmly gathered, though avoiding eye contact. It was like Sabry’s funeral invoked an uneasy truce for that one night as the Quranic recitations played on. At one stage, while seated next to TV comedian Bassem Youssef (who spoke in an ominous tone), I told him that he had little to worry about, as his fame gave him some sort of immunity. He replied: “You think two million Twitter followers can save me against a regime? A regime that arises to defend special interests will be more deadly than one that defends political interests.” He should know—he has been pushed onto the front lines against the insanity that has gripped the nation.

Sabry’s funeral was the funeral of part of the inheritance of the January 25 revolution as well—the language of hope. That night, the Cairo air was filled with the vibes of December 2010, yet unlike then, the political language of darkness has exposed a serious absence of empathy and forgiveness in the public discourse that endangers any aspirate for a positive outcome. It was as if empathy and forgiveness, Sabry’s defining characteristics, were two inheritances that had been lost.

Followers of the hyper-nationalist trend are just like those advancing religious fundamentalism, minus the beard. Both are showing themselves to be destructively intolerant—the former more so these days—and incapable of accommodating the rich and diverse tapestry of Egypt.

But is all hope lost?

As I came back to Alexandria, I decided to take a boat ride in the Mediterranean with friends to get away from all the madness—no Sisi posters out there on the water, thankfully—and to reflect on the past few weeks. The sailors who I encountered had this remarkable demeanor that made them seem detached from the political upheavals, and a glow of hope radiated from their faces. The simplicity and fortitude of the sailors made a mark on me. An explanation was soon coming.

I came back home to a friend who had shared a story of a distressed man who, in 1973, had sent a letter to author E.B. White saying that he had lost faith in humanity. The man received this response:

“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock as a contribution to order and steadfastness. Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But, as a people, we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time, waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.”

I can think of many remarkable human beings who fight tirelessly for social justice, some of whom I met for the first time at the funeral. They, like many others, are battling to establish the right conditions to affect, positively, the volatility of human nature. It is not that Arabic is hardly a suitable language in which to express the need for calm. It is that the true definitions of freedom, social justice, and democracy have yet to triumph over the state’s definitions of these terms. This state of affairs, however, cannot endure for long.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Who Defeats ISIS? -- A Twitter Exchange

Ekrem ‏  Can you kindly explain who is going to stop the barbaric regime and Shia militants if al Qaida/ISIS is destroyed?

Awdnews ‏ The Saudi prince warns Americans from looming ISIS terror attacks on U.S. soil

Peter Pyke   Quite frankly, both #alqaeda & #Daesh are CIA creations. Intended to allow #UKUSA to annihilate all opposition for #Israel.

@EN_AWDNEWS What about continuous American/Saudi terror attacks on Syrian soil? 

Edward Dark ‏  @ekremuk that's a very silly question. the #Syria regime & Shias are not a serious danger to global security, the ISIS & Al Qaeda are

Ekrem ‏  I asked you to kindly explain, not to insult. I obviously know that. But helps me to understand where you stand. Unfollowed

Hubert ‏ 
Not agree. Enough boots, weapons and airborne strikes to degrade ISIS and al Nusra. But: rebels also must disappear!

Edward Dark ‏  its those forces you don't like, the regime & Shia militias, who are the only ones capable of stopping ISIS/Al Qaeda in #Syria now --  perhaps this might change your mind: … 
In a major setback to President Assad, the second city – Idlib – narrowly
escapes falling to jihadists as rebels storm provincial governor’s
office and set about executing senior regime officers.

Robert Fisk reports from Damascus

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Comment by Todd Shea

It's possible to embed a Facebook status post but I found out when I do that nothing else can be added. So the following is a comment by Todd Shea left at a status post by Chris Thompson posing a question -- a short version of "where is the outrage of Muslims at the horrors of extremists?"
Israel and ISIS ~ Not comparing Apples to Oranges, but curiously Outrage to Crickets ~ where are my Sunni friends (and Shiite) in Pakistan, USA, Europe et al condemning the acts of these miscreants with the same outrage/fervor in social media shown to the Palestinian innocents in the early days of the Gaza invasion? If it is fear, I understand. And let's just skip the "Mossad created ISIS" nonsense ~ shukriya very much.
It's a question that has been repeated by those who don't seem to realize that we all live in the same glass house, and throwing stones is not all that smart.  Todd Shea left this telling response. I have taken the liberty of breaking it into paragraphs. Todd is sometimes like a charismatic Christian speaking in tongues -- when he gets going it just comes pouring out until he's done. JB
Hi Chris, Maybe because it really is Apples and Oranges, and maybe it's also because the corrupt bought-and-paid-for U.S. Congress and leaders of the United States of America have enabled BOTH the pure evil of ISIS with an illegal and woefully mishandled war in Iraq that never should have happened which has totally destabilized the entire region AND the pure evil of Israel's disgusting murder and oppression of Palestinians for 68 years. I don't see many Americans on my Newsfeed expressing outrage for what their government has done. I hear crickets about THAT. 

If Americans had half the sense of passion and outrage against their government's unjust behavior as they do a bad call in a football game, the World's problems would likely be solved in a few years. 
  • Where is American outrage over Kashmir and Tibet and the People of Saudi Arabia? Deafening silence because of money and power. 
  • Why do we stand on top of our ivory tower and criticize Human Rights abuses when our own wussy mental midget brownshirt wannabe police kill unarmed black men, murder homeless people, sexually abuse defenseless women, beat the crap out of any citizen who dares to assert their Constitutional rights and then get in their armored vehicles and menace our already oppressed communities in full military gear as if they are our occupiers? More crickets.
Maybe it's also because the American media plays up one thing and ignores or distorts the other because it's a hungry and greedy monster that knows exactly where its feeding trough is. 

All that being said, I don't know about your FB newsfeed but mine is full of condemnations of ISIS from my many Pakistani, Pakistani British and Pakistani American Friends. There's a dozen other reasons I could offer, but one thing should be obvious to anyone who is willing to be fair: America's leader's have done a piss poor job of being the "Lone Superpower" and Leaders of The World since Pakistan helped them bring down the Berlin Wall, only to be left holding the bag with 4 million Afghan refugees who still live in Pakistan. 

If you are a true leader, you take responsibility for the bed you have made and you clean up your messes and atone for your sins, not create more of them for Humanity to suffer. Most of The World and many Americans are past tired of American and Israeli arrogance. 

Let's face it Chris, too many Americans are a bunch of cowardly racist bullies who have terrorized non-white people for centuries (with the Holocaust against The Native American Indigenous Peoples, stealing their land and resources and their very spirit away from them, and stolen the labor that built this country's riches with the Holocaust of slavery, continued institutional racism against our African American Brothers for more than a century, having a bunch of coward pussies for police officers whose departments nationwide allow brutality with no accountability and who hold open disdain for true hero cops starting with Frank Serpico, the installation and empowerment of tyrants and dictators in the post-colonial world (who we know damn well have raped, murdered and oppressed their own people for generations when we are supposed to stand for Liberty and Justice for ALL) selling our very souls just for the pursuit of the Almighty dollar and control of resources and allow our corporations to go into developing nations and do things that they would go to prison for in America, and so much more. [Whew! See what I mean?]

Yes, we saved the World from The Nazis, but that doesn't absolve America from its many sins and evils. Yes, we saved the World from Communism (again, with the help of Pakistan), only to find out that Capitalism hasn't worked out too well for anyone in the long term except the military-Industrial Complex and the top 1% elite of this pathetic and dangerously imbalanced World. Considering myself to be a Human Being FIRST, The Just God that I believe in doesn't let that bullshit go on forever...
Thank you, Todd for what you do and all your good work. Keep it up and be encouraged to continue to speak out for what is right. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

14 Facts About The Obama Presidency

This post is copied with no editing -- easy to read. 
The link is at the end. 

People have many perceptions of how the US economy or the country as a whole is doing in recent years. Depending on your political views, you may think the country is doing exceptionally well or on the verge of collapse.

Listed below are 14 objective facts, without interjecting any opinion, about the state of America under the leadership of President Obama. Every statement is followed up with a link to a source where you can verify these facts for yourself.

1. We've now had 63 straight months of economic expansion.
That’s right, for 63 consecutive months the US economy has gotten progressively better. That includes 54 consecutive months of private sector job growth. Forbes magazine, no fan of President Obama, crunched the numbers and demonstrated how the economic recovery under President Obama has been better in just about every measurable way than the recovery under President Reagan.

2. We are currently enjoying the longest period of private sector job creation in American history.
Again, this statistic comes from the Forbes Magazine article listed above. In fact, we have now had 54 straight months of private sector job creation. That is the longest period of job creation since the Department of Labor has been keeping statistics. See the link below.

3. Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% in October of 2009 to 6.1% and projected to reach 5.4% by summer of 2015.
Not only has the unemployment rate dropped significantly, but since the recession ended, our economy as added over ten million new jobs. You can refer to the Forbes article above or check this article on PoliticsUSA.

4. The stock market continues to set new records since President Obama has been in office.
Since early 2009 there has been a steady trend in stock market growth. The Dow Jones Industrial averages reached an all-time high of 17,098 in August, 2014. Since most Americans have 401K retirement investments in the stock market, this stock market growth benefits millions of middle class Americans.

5. The Federal budget deficit is shrinking. It’s been reduced by two-thirds since 2009.
The $1.4 trillion federal budget deficit that Obama inherited in 2009 was in a large part due to the high rate of unemployment. When millions of people were put out of work in 2008 and 2009, it resulted in far less income taxes and less economic activity to generate federal revenue. As ten million people have been put back to work, there have been billions more tax dollars generated. As a result, the deficit has been shrinking each year. The 2014 deficit is projected to be around $500 billion, the smallest deficit since 2007 and roughly 1/3 of what it was in 2009.

6. Under President Obama, spending has increased only 1.4% annually, the lowest rate since Eisenhower was president.
You may have heard critics say that President Obama is spending money wildly and running up our debt. According to this article from Forbes, Obama has increased spending by 1.4% annually, far less than President Reagan (8.7%) or George W. Bush (8.1%). In fact, Obama has increased spending less than any president since Eisenhower.

7. For 95% of American taxpayers, income taxes are lower now than just about any time in the previous 50 years.
After President Obama took office, thousands of Tea Party members all over the country held rallies protesting Obama’s tax increases. At that time, President Obama had actually passed several tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Most of the Tea Partiers who were protesting had only seen their taxes decrease under Obama. Yet polls indicated that most Tea Party members wrongly believed their taxes had gone up.

In fact, the only people whose income taxes have gone up during Obama’s presidency are those making $400,000 per year or more. That's less than 2% of the population. Today, for the vast majority of people, tax rates are exactly where they were when Obama first took office or lower. The article below from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains this in greater detail.

8. Our dependence on foreign oil has shrunk due to record domestic oil production and improved fuel efficiency standards.
While some people claim that oil production has declined under President Obama, the truth is just the opposite. Oil production has reached record highs. The United States now produces so much oil that we export more oil and gasoline than we import.

9. At least 7 million more Americans now have health insurance than before.
Depending on whose numbers you use, between 7 and 10 million Americans acquired health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act. Now that those 7 to 10 million Americans have insurance, the rest of us are no longer on the hook to pay for their health care when they get sick. This saves the American people billions of dollars in the long run.

10. The Affordable Care Act has added years to the life of Medicare.
The Medicare trust fund had been on course to run out of money by the end of 2016. But due to cost savings from the Affordable Care Act and lower healthcare expenses, Medicare’s trust fund is now stable until the year 2030 without cutting benefits.

11. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, we are seeing the slowest rate of increase in healthcare costs since 1960.
Contrary to the predictions from Republicans, health care costs have increased at a much slower pace since the passage of the ACA.

12. We currently have fewer soldiers, sailors and airmen in war zones than any time in over 10 years.
With the end of the Iraq war and the steady withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, we have fewer people in war zones now than any time since 2002.

13. There have been zero successful attacks by al Qaeda on US soil since Obama became president.
Despite Dick Cheney’s claim that if voters elect a Democrat as president, we’ll be “hit again and hit hard” by al Qaeda, we have actually been far safer from terrorist attacks on US soil in recent years than we were under the previous president. There have been several unsuccessful attacks against the US under both presidents, but under Obama, al Qaeda has been largely unsuccessful in striking the US on our home soil.

14. We now successfully catch and deport more illegal immigrants than ever before.
Despite the publicity from busloads of children who illegally entered the country, the numbers prove that President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than any other president.

All of the facts stated above can be confirmed through multiple sources, yet most Americans are not aware of all of this positive news. I invite you to do your own research and check these facts for yourself.

- See more at:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Prize Winner, 2014

Image by Red Hill Productions from the
Oregon Public Radio link below. 
This year's Nobel Peace Prize is shared between Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi.  She is world famous but he is less well-known, despite having spent most of his life dedicated to his work against child labor and slavery.  I didn't know the name Kailash Satyarthi until this morning, but I'm pleased to learn why he is being honored. Child exploitation is a global issue that needs more public awareness.

Part of my informal education was learning about hand-made carpets in 1965. Even now I recall an exhibition of imported rugs at an excellent local museum where I hung out a lot. The Dildarian Rug Company from New York shipped in an impressive collection of rugs displayed in the largest gallery. A lecture and slide presentation explained the techniques used to make these incredible rugs -- how the frames were strung and each knot tied individually with one of two or three forms, then the most delicate part, the sheering of the knots to set the final depth. The number of knots per square inch is the metric of fineness, starting at forty to sixty (the most coarse) to sometimes hundreds per square inch! There was a Chinese silk rug on display that had over four hundred knots per inch. It shimmered in the light like pearls or finished wood.

But I'm getting carried away with the memory. I became enamored with hand-made carpets (and still am) and can't resist examining the corners every time I see one to count the number of knots. But some years later I learned that many, perhaps most of these rugs were produced by women and children. Because they are small and have little fingers, they are perfectly equipped to sit side by side in front of the loom, each working on a section of each row as the design slowly emerges. The pattern is sometimes from memory but often on a template behind the frame where the design and color scheme can be used to keep track of progress. I cannot imagine, but it must be the most tedious and boring work imaginable, taking days or weeks to produce a single rug.

My appreciation of these rugs was mixed with guilt when I learned some time later about child slavery and exploitation. In my mind those little fingers were like the farm hands that supported the hard but honorable life of American farmers. The reason we still don't have year-round schooling is part of our agricultural heritage. Children were needed during the growing season to work on farms, so in an agricultural economy going to school was secondary to earning a living. In my mind those children were like those who even today help their parents harvesting crops (which they still do among migrant workers in the US, though no one talks about it much).

But where there is a market there will often be unprincipled people making whatever that market is buying -- even if it means exploiting children. So these carpets, romantic as they seem, are too often the products of child labor -- not all that different from sex trafficking. It's part of the backstory of Slumdog Millionaire. So I'm pleased to know that this man, Kailash Satyarthi, is being recognized. Hopefully this will increase awareness of a global issue that receives too little attention.

Something tells me that the Nobel committee made a deliberate gesture dividing this prize between honorees from both India and Pakistan. That significance will not be lost on anyone familiar with that long-standing conflict. That conflict has been in the news lately with latest outbreak of the perennial issue of Kashmir's governance. A more civil reference even appeared in a Facebook comments thread with remarks from both countries. 

Mr. Google found a good link from 2005, Oregon Public Radio, about Kailish Satyarthi...

The New Heroes -- Kailash Satyarthi

Projects: Global March Against Child Labor, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS), Rugmark
[This acronym gets lost in a search. Following this morning's announcement I expect it will be easier to find, as well as better links for Mr. Satyarthi. This new link is a good place to start.]

Locations: New Delhi, India (headquarters), partners in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka

Kailash Satyarthi has saved tens of thousands of lives. At the age of 26 he gave up a promising career as an electrical engineer and dedicated his life to helping the millions of children in India who are forced into slavery by powerful and corrupt business- and land-owners. His original idea was daring and dangerous. He decided to mount raids on factories — factories frequently manned by armed guards — where children and often entire families were held captive as bonded workers.

After successfully freeing and rehabilitating thousands of children, he went on to build up a global movement against child labor. Today Kailash heads up the Global March Against Child Labor, a conglomeration of 2000 social-purpose organizations and trade unions in 140 countries.

Yet even as he has become a globally recognized figure, Kailash continues the gritty work of leading raids to free slaves. Kailash believes that he must focus on a range of activities -- from the most grassroots to the most visionary -- in order to win the fight.

What Does SACCS Do? 
Since its inception in 1989, SACCS and its partners have liberated nearly 40,000 bonded laborers, many of them bonded, working in various industries, including rug manufacturing. But to free such children without offering new opportunities would, in Kailash's view, be meaningless.

Bal Ashram in Rajasthan, India is a transition center where newly-freed slaves are taught basic skills. Kailash describes the arrival of a girl recently freed from a stone quarry: "It's a joyous experience to watch the changing emotions flit across this beautiful girl's face. She's like an open book, and her varying expressions tell us a story: the story of transition from slavery to a new life of freedom. When her face lights up, it is clear she is taking her first steps toward freedom and belief in others."

Since the Ashram can only serve 100 children at a time, Kailash has begun a program called "Bal Mitra Gram" to encourage Indian villages to abolish child labor. In order to be a part of the program, an entire community must agree that no child will be put to work and every child will be sent to school.

While changing India village by village is a worthwhile pursuit, such a strategy could take centuries to achieve Kailash's goal, and he is not prepared to wait that long. So he has begun attacking the problem by harnessing the immense power of market forces.

Many rugs from South Asia are manufactured using child labor. Kailash believes that if consumers around the world knew how their expensive and colorful Indian rugs were made, they would no longer think they were so beautiful. He started "Rugmark," a program in which rugs are labeled and certified to be child-labor-free by factories who that agree to be regularly inspected. Kailash plans to extend the labeling program to other products such as soccer balls, another popular product that is commonly made by children.

Kailash says "If not now, then when? If not you, then who? If we are able to answer these fundamental questions, then perhaps we can wipe away the blot of human slavery."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Yemen Snapshot -- Part 5

Does the Houthi Takeover of Yemen’s Sanaa Endanger World Trade?
Juan Cole summarizes Yemeni politics as of October 9, 2014.

The fall of the Yemeni government to radical Zaidi tribesmen from Saadah in the north has gone relatively unremarked in the US mass media.

Yemen is admittedly a relatively small country of 24 million, a little less populous than Texas. It is the second poorest in the Arab League after Somalia. It is nevertheless a country with enormous global strategic importance:

It commands the Bab al-Mandab, the opening to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal from the Arabian Sea (and beyond it the Indian Ocean). Some 8-10 percent of world trade goes through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.  Some 2.5 percent of world petroleum flows are among that total. (Petroleum markets are tight, so the loss of 2.5 percent would put prices way up, and even having to ship it around Africa would increase costs substantially. Liquefied Natural Gas is also shipped in large quantities through the Bab al-Mandab straits, with Qatari exports providing half of Britain’s natural gas and 90 percent of Belgium’s.

Yemen is also important to the Arabian Sea, with its substantial ship traffic.

It neighbors Oman and Saudi Arabia, crucial hydrocarbon players. A mass exodus of panicked Yemenis could affect the security of these countries. So too could a radicalization of Yemenis.

So because of where it is, Yemen has for centuries been a strategic country. The Portuguese eyed it in the 1500s, but the Ottomans forestalled them. In the 19th century, the British took Aden and made it a Crown port, using it as a refueling station for ships going back and forth from India to Egypt (after the Suez Canal opened in 1869 Aden became even more important.)

North Yemen was dominated by the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam, which unlike the Twelver Shiism of Iraq and Iran, has no ayatollahs or religious hierarchy, and generally gets along with Sunnis, not cursing their orthodox Caliphs or feeling antipathy to them. In the 1960s, a nationalist revolt broke out against the Zaidi leader or Imam who acted as its king and spiritual guide (at least for Zaidis). The nationalist officers overthrew him, with the support of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, a theorist of Arab nationalism. South Yemen went Communist in 1967 but the north was Arab nationalist and mildly socialist.

With the fall of the East Bloc in 1989, South Yemen and North Yemen unified in 1990. It has been an uneasy union, and substantial southern sentiment for secession still exists (efforts in that direction in 1994 were crushed by the Yemeni army).

Although many of the nationalist officers in the capital of Sanaa were of Zaidi Shiite extraction, including dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, they were leftist nationalists and distrusted the rural Zaidis. In the 1990s, Saudi Arabia began trying to spread Wahhabism and Salafism in the Zaidi Shiite north, paying for pricey mosques and community centers. Saleh’s secular nationalists allowed this move, since they thought quietist Salafi Sunnis would be more loyal to the central government than Zaidis, with their traditions of rule via the theocratic Imamate. You had a sort of secular-nationalist alliance with Saudi fundamentalism against rural Zaidism. In the 1990s when Saleh allowed parliamentary elections, the Sunni fundamentalist Islah Party emerged as the most important civil party, again demoting the rural Zaidis.

Husain al-Houthi reacted against this conservative Sunni proselytizing in Zaidi Saadah and other northern population centers. He wrote refutations of Wahhabism (the Saudi religious establishment) and Salafism (Sunnism tinged with Wahhabi emphases). He organized Zaidis. He also began adopting into his Zaidi beliefs and rituals a few ideas and practices more commonly associated with Iran than with Yemen. This adoption of stronger Shiite principles underlined the difference of Zaidis from Sunnis (otherwise the two had often been very close in Yemen and there were even Salafi Zaidis, kind of the way there are some evangelical Catholics in the US). But there is no strong evidence of Iranian involvement with the Houthis or that their successes can be laid at the feet of Iran. And, even Houthi Zaidis are not very much like the Iranian, Twelver Shiites, with their ayatollahs and folk cursing of the Sunni Caliphs.

Ultimately the Houthis went into rebellion against Sanaa, accusing the government of betraying them by allying with Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and of neglecting the development of their regions because of antipathy to Zaidi traditionalists. They denounced the United States as a grasping imperial power. They not only fought central government troops (many of them Zaidis), but also fought Salafis that had declared allegiance to al-Qaeda. Ultimately the Houthis and tribal partisans of the Sunni fundamentalist Islah Party were to fight violently. In mid-September, the Zaidis defeated Islah in Sanaa and environs.

After the 2011-2012 revolution, when Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to step down, his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, became president in a referendum. He, however, faced opposition from the officer corps, where Saleh’s relatives had high positions, and the bureaucracy. Saleh remained the head of the ruling party, to which Mansour Hadi belonged, which was, well, awkward, and gave Saleh the opportunity to intervene in politics. But Mansour Hadi gradually moved against loyalist officers. In June, he accused Saleh of plotting a coup and much weakened him and his military clients.

When the Houthis unexpectedly flooded into Sanaa and took it over in September, the military appears to have stood down and thrown Mansour Hadi to them. It is murky, but perhaps Saleh loyalists or officers hurt by Mansour Hadi’s policies were so resentful they decided to punish him by making themselves scarce at a crucial moment.

The Houthis just rejected Mansour Hadi’s pick for a new prime minister and seem to be taking over policing in the capital. They are also apparently dictating fiscal policy to the Ministry of Finance.

It is hard to imagine that the largely Sunni south will accept a government dominated by hard line Houthi Zaidis. These developments could cause another north-south split in Yemen. The central government troops had pushed back against al-Qaeda affiliates taking over Zinjibar and other town in the southern Abyan province, but now the central government seems in disarray. Will al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula take advantage of the chaos, a la ISIL, to make a play for territory again?

And, if Yemen falls into political chaos and balkanization, what will happen to security in the Bab al-Mandab and the Red Sea?

Will the turmoil hurt the world economy? Will it scuttle Egypt’s plans to expand the Suez Canal and cut transit times from 11 hours to 3 hours? (Egypt hopes to charge much more per container if there are new ports, facilities and faster transit; it now makes $5 bn a year from Suez tolls, but could much expand that figure; and it desperately needs new income streams). Could Egypt be drawn back into Yemen to protect its Suez investment, a la the 1960s?

When I was living in Asmara, now in Eritrea, in 1967-68 I remember people coming over fleeing chaos in Yemen. Are we back to 1967?

Stay tuned. But, apparently, not to American network and cable television news. Only Aljazeera America even seems to be covering the story in a systematic way in the US. The rest don’t appear to know about the Bab al-Mandab or the Suez Canal.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Yemen Snapshot -- Part 4

These two links appear in a comment appended to the previous post (Snapshot Part 3) but I can't get them to share space with that embedded Facebook post. There are many moving parts to the Yemen puzzle. 

I have been watching Yemen for three years, and the more I read the more complicated it gets. Here are two additional links for anyone interested. This is not quick and easy reading. There are many moving parts. Anyone claiming to understand fully what's going on is either full of baloney or driving an agenda.



Yemen Snapshot -- Part 3

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Islam Notes

This Twitter message has a couple of informative links.

Khaled Diab has solid credentials. His name is not a household word in America but his is a well-known and respected voice in the Middle East. 
Khaled Diab is an Egyptian-Belgian journalist, blogger and writer who grew up in Egypt and the UK and has spent around half his life in Europe and the other half in the Middle East, including nearly two years in Jerusalem. He currently moves backwards and forwards between Geneva, Switzerland, and Ghent, Belgium.
al-Baqra 256 refers to a verse in the Qu'ran indicating that this conviction and execution do not conform to the teachings of Islam.

The Newspaper link has details, including these paragraphs mentioning dervishes, a word I have only come across in the context of history. References to whirling dervishes have been part of the shallow, condescending Western caricature of one of the three principal Abrahamic faiths, in contrast to the origins of the term . 

Iranian authorities are sensitive towards those practising Islam in ways not conforming to the official line. In recent years, several members of Iran’s Gonabadi dervishes religious minority have been arrested and are currently serving lengthy prison terms.

Amnesty said last week that a group of nine Gonabadi dervishes were on hunger strike in protest at their treatment in prison. They were Mostafa Abdi, Reza Entesari, Hamidreza Moradi and Kasra Nouri, as well as the five lawyers representing them who have also been jailed: Amir Eslami, Farshid Yadollahi, Mostafa Daneshjoo, Afshin Karampour and Omid Behrouzi. 
“The men were mostly detained in September 2011, during a wave of arrests of Gonabadi dervishes. They were all held in prolonged solitary confinement, without access to their lawyers and families, and were sentenced, after two years and following grossly unfair trials, to jail on various trumped-up charges,” Amnesty said. “The men are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for practising their faith and defending the human rights of dervishes through their legitimate activities as journalists and lawyers.” 
In Iran, Gonabadi dervishes face persecution, discrimination, harassment, arbitrary arrests and attacks on their prayer houses, Amnesty said.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Yemen Snapshot -- Part 2 -- September, 2014

The previous post has background on struggle for control in Yemen. At this writing Houthi control appears to be holding, if only by a few threads. I read in the early days of the Arab spring that Yemen was the most heavily armed population of the Arab world. It seems in retrospect that Libya may have been more infested with armed local militias and the influx of foreigners into the proxy war in Syria may have put Yemen behind those places, but how many firearms are in non-military hands does not necessarily correspond with civil disorder.
In understanding the case of Yemen these background links are helpful. 

The limits of the ‘sectarian’ framing in Yemen
By Stacey Philbrick Yadav

September 25
It was 2005 when my Yemeni friends first started talking seriously about their fears that the Houthis would march on the capital of Sanaa. The Houthis were never closer than the nearby province of Amran back then. There was a media blackout, and most of our information came from journalist friends who were in and around the city of Saada, then the center of the conflict, distributing news via SMS. Information was not the only thing the regime of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh sought (and failed) to control: Humanitarian agencies had no way to reach the civilians who were bearing the brunt of the conflict between government forces and Houthi militants. In a harbinger of things to come, a UNICEF employee told me that the only way he could get supplies to Saada was by partnering with the Islah Charitable Society (ICS), a local aid agency tied to Yemen’s largest Islamist party. He complained that ICS was padding the books and inflating the numbers of people who had been displaced to gain resources for its wider evangelical work, but he noted that it was the only non-governmental agency that he knew of that was granted a permit to work amid the stranded civilians. It was in ways like this that the Saleh regime manipulated the “sectarian” politics of Northern Yemen, seeking to ensure that the two groups were too distracted by each other to turn their attention elsewhere. 
That, of course, was not a wholly successful strategy. Over the past decade, there have been at least half a dozen military campaigns with the Houthis, a secessionist movement in the South, the relocation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, a popular uprising that lasted 11 months, a fracturing of the armed forces, an externally-brokered transitional agreement, a dramatic escalation in U.S. drone attacks in different parts of the country, and a National Dialogue Conference theoretically designed to put all the pieces back together. So, why think of this as sectarian war? The Houthi’s march on Sanaa in September cannot be easily glossed as “sectarian” just because they are Zaydi Shiites, and most (though not all) Islahis are Sunnis. The existence of nominal difference is not by itself a compelling causal story. 
The fact that the Houthis are Zaydis does not mean that their movement is aimed exclusively or even primarily at establishing a Zaydi political order, reinstituting the kind of imamate that ruled Northern Yemen for hundreds of years (though some critics will tell you so). Similarly, the fact that Islah’s membership is predominantly Sunni doesn’t mean it is working to reestablish the caliphate, or even that it is willing to cooperate with those transnational movements that would, though its detractors may allege this. Instead, the conflict that pits the Houthis against Islah is one several decades in the making, and rests as much in the structure of the Yemeni North, the hierarchies of power and privilege among Zaydis themselves, and a state apparatus that sought to manipulate them. 
Charles Schmitz recently contributed an excellent overview of the development of the Houthi movement as a political force. Additionally, the work of anthropologists like Gabrielle von Bruck and Shelagh Weir on the cultural politics of Zaydi/Islahi tension in the North is useful. While their field research mainly predates the Houthi movement as such, it outlines the dislocating impact of republican ideology in the North from the 1970s, and two interrelated developments that form a subtext to the current conflict. In “Islam, Memory, and Morality in Yemen: Ruling Families in Transition,” Von Bruck maps the ways in which Hashemites (descendants of the Prophet, from whom Zaydi leaders have historically been chosen) were maligned as “feudal” by new republican leaders and the ways in which Sanaani Hashemite families consequently worked to refashion central Zaydi religious precepts as supportive of constitutional rule and accountable governance, fitting religious concepts into the discourse of the developing state. Weir’s book, “A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen,” documents the efforts of Sunni evangelists (who would ultimately align with Islah) to make use of this republican critique of hierarchy to recruit or “convert” low-status Zaydis in the far North, biting in to the core Zaydi demographic base. As constitutional checks on presidential authority and more general political accountability were undermined by Saleh in Sanaa and his regime supported the expansion of Islah-oriented schools to advance Sunni recruitment in the North, these new Hashemite discourses of accountability became more evidently oppositional. The residue of this ideological refashioning is evident in the Houthi project. 
So when I say that this conflict can’t be glossed as sectarian, I don’t mean to suggest that religious conviction is irrelevant to the Houthi movement or its relationship to Islah or to the Yemeni government. Instead, it is important to investigate the meaning of “sectarian” concepts of good governance and opposition to corruption, and question whether these are (or, more to the point, are not) consistent with existing institutions and governing practices by Yemen’s transitional government.

It took a decade for the Houthis to march on Sanaa, but before they did so, they also sat in its square, participating in a broad-based social movement that called itself the “Change Revolution.” Easily forgotten is that they did so alongside many members of Islah. Over the 11 months of Yemen’s popular uprising, Houthis and Islahis managed to cooperate on a number of issues, particularly outside of top leadership circles. In the year that followed, Houthis and Islahis were co-participants in workshops for Yemeni youth, where they disagreed on principled grounds, but also carved out spaces of agreement on core issues. To be clear, this was not an easy relationship, but it was also not one characterized by implacable sectarian animus. 
The transitional agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and endorsed by the United Nations as the blueprint for a new Yemen included provisions that overrepresented Islah and excluded the Houthis from the transitional “national unity” government. It did little to address key anti-corruption demands central to Houthi and non-Houthi protesters alike. It also deferred essential transitional justice mechanisms that might have brought redress for the brutality of past military campaigns against the Houthis and civilians in the North. It moved instead to a direct (and uncontested) presidential election of someone close to ousted president Saleh and to a National Dialogue Conference that further over-represented Islah, even while cementing the importanceof the Houthi conflict as one of the key questions facing the country. 
So when the Houthis marched on the capital – a march that was not entirely military, but also included large-scale, nonviolent mobilization of protesters in the weeks that preceded it – there was no reason to interpret this as a march on Sunnis, sectarian rhetoric notwithstanding. Instead, it appears to be a campaign to target Islahis as major contenders for institutional power, designed as a renegotiation of the transitional framework. Islahi media outlets like Suhail TV have been taken off the air (though it appears that the main Houthi Web site may have been hacked by Suhail viewers). The homes of prominent Islahis have been seized or destroyed, as has the home of General Ali Muhsin, who oversaw the bulk of the military campaigns against the Houthis over the past decade, and later defected to the opposition during the 2011 uprising. It appears that his troops bore the brunt of the conflict with the Houthis in September, while President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi ordered troops from other commands to stand down. 
The ceasefire agreement, rich in detail and very quickly agreed, focuses primarily on renegotiating power sharing to increase the representation of Houthis (and the Southern Movement, also a thorn in Islah’s side), and to outline concrete benchmarks for anti-corruption and economic reforms. It calls for the quick establishment of a technocratic committee of economic advisers whose recommendations will be binding on the new government. It is not focused on the kind of “culture war” issues that might characterize a sectarian conflict, but rather seeks to achieve several genuinely popular reforms sidelined by the transitional government. That it was accomplished at the point of a gun speaks as much to the failures of the transitional framework as to Houthi ideology. Widespread dissatisfaction with slow progress of the transitional process may help to explain why so many foreign actors have been quick to support its renegotiation by backing the ceasefire terms.

Worrisome for the medium term stability of Sanaa, however, is the question of Hadi’s relationship to the Houthis. The earliest ceasefire benchmark for a new government has already passed, suggesting that all may not proceed smoothly. While the Houthis may have helped to conveniently clip the wings of Yemen’s largest Islamist party in ways that help Hadi consolidate his own position, now that the deed is done, how long before he decides that the Houthis are more trouble than they are worth? After all, as vice president, Hadi was at former president Saleh’s knee when he first used Islah to hem in the Yemeni Socialist Party, and then turned on Islah itself in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Houthis will need to quickly cultivate allies from other corners of the political field if they are to avoid a repetition of that storied past. Their window for credibly doing so becomes narrower as each benchmark is delayed.
That first paragraph is my highlight. 
This snip from Wikipedia is the reason it is important. 
I have not come across this important detail elsewhere. 

Houthis belong to the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam, also known as Fivers, a sect of Islam almost exclusively present in Yemen. They are distinct from the Shi'ite majority, the Twelvers found in mainly in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran and are known for being most similar to Sunni Muslims in matters of religious law and rulings. They do however, believe in the concept of an Imamate as being essential to their religion, which makes them distinct from Sunnis. 
The Houthis have asserted that their actions are for the defence of their community from widespread and systematic discrimination, whereas the Yemeni government has in turn accused the insurgents of intending to overthrow the regime out of a desire to institute Zaidi Shia religious law, destabilising the government and stirring anti-American sentiment. The Houthis have told people they are “praying in the wrong way” by raising their arms, as is the custom among Sunnis in Yemen 
The Yemeni government has also accused the Houthis of having ties to external backers, in particular the Iranian government, as Iran is a Shia-majority country. In turn, the Houthis have countered with allegations that the Yemeni government is being backed by virulently anti-Shia external backers such as al-Qaeda and the monarchy of Saudi Arabia despite the fact that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh was also Zaidi.
The Wikipedia article describing the Zaidi branch of Islam is quite long. It's challenging reading for anyone without a background in the history and theological minutiae of the faith. This part is what jumped off the page at me -- suggesting that these Zaidi Muslims, though Shiite in origin, are not seen as offensive by their Sunni brethren as mainstream Shiites. Look at this:

Zaidiyya or Zaidism (Arabic: الزيدية az-zaydiyya, adjective form Zaidi or Zaydi) is a Shi'a Muslim school of thought named after Zayd ibn ʻAlī, the grandson of Husayn ibn ʻAlī. Followers of the Zaydi Islamic jurisprudence are called Zaydi Shi'a and make up about 30% of Muslims in Yemen. The Zaydi Shi'a have a unique approach within Shi'a Islamic thought. Its adherents are also known as Fivers.
Zaidi Imāms
The first three Zaidi Imams were ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib, Hasan ibn ʻAlī, and Husayn ibn ʻAlī. The Zaidi's believe that they are part of the Ahl al-Kisa (along with the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and Fatima az-Zahra). After these three Imams, the Zaidis have a number of Imams beginning with Zayd ibn ʻAlī followed by his son Yahya ibn Zayd. They believe any descendent of Hasan or Husayn can be an Imam if he exhibits two attributes: "excel[ing] in knowledge" and "call[ing] others to fight against oppressors."  If an individual possesses one of these two attributes, he can be considered an Imam of a lesser degree. For example, the Zaydis consider the fourth, fifth, and sixth Twelver Imams, Zain al-Abidin, Muhammad al-Baqir and Ja'far al-Sadiq, Imams in this lesser sense due to their high levels of knowledge, but the Zaydis do not consider them Imams in the absolute sense because they did not revolt against the oppressors of their time. An example of an Imam from the lineage of Imam Hassan isMuhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya.
Zaydis, the oldest branch of the Shia and the largest group amongst the Shia before the Safavid Dynasty in the sixteenth century and currently the second largest group, are the closest to the Sunnis and do not believe in the infallibility of Imāms after Husayn. Zaydis believe that on the last hour of Zayd ibn Ali, he was betrayed by the people in Kufa who said to him: "May God have mercy on you! What do you have to say on the matter of Abu Bakrand Umar ibn al-Khattab?" Zayd ibn Ali said, "I have not heard anyone in my family renouncing them both nor saying anything but good about them...when they were entrusted with government they behaved justly with the people and acted according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah."... And Imam Jafar al-Sadiq and Imam Zayd ibn Ali did not themselves write any books.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Yemen Snapshot -- September, 2014

Circumstances change frequently in the Middle East, but the delicate balance of power in Yemen seems to be holding for the moment. 
This Twitter exchange is a peek behind the curtain. 
All these people are well-informed observers -- academics and journalists.

D. Gartenstein-Ross ‏@DaveedGR
Sad to say, but AQAP is probably the group best positioned to benefit from the Houthi takeover in Yemen.

Amel Ahmed ‏@amelscript
@DaveedGR @Malanesi actually, they were doing quite well with Hadi in charge. That counterrorism cash cow is the gift that keeps on giving.

Mohammed Al-Anesi ‏@Malanesi 2h
@amelscript @DaveedGR Cash cow gift? Most of the counterterrorism aid comes in either solider training, light weapons, or vehicles ..

Amel Ahmed ‏@amelscript
@Malanesi @DaveedGR You call precision strike aircraft and drones light weapons?

Mohammed Al-Anesi ‏@Malanesi
@amelscript @DaveedGR US aircraft and drones strikes are different story. I was referring to US aids for Yemen to counterterrorism

Amel Ahmed ‏@amelscript
@Malanesi The two aren't exclusive...

Mohammed Al-Anesi ‏@Malanesi 1h
@amelscript AlQaeda is spreading their operations all over Yemen and now adopting #ISIS methods in execution

@Malanesi I don't doubt that.... US-Hadi alliance has failed to curb AQAP. Houthis, so far, have proven their ability to get shit done.

Mohammed Al-Anesi ‏@Malanesi
@amelscript Most Yemenis support Houthis because we believe our government has failed us in so many ways. #Yemen

هيكل بافنع ‏@BaFana3
@Malanesi Agree. I have too many Sunni mates and acquaintances in Sanaa who suddenly became "Houthi" overnight. Not sectarian. @amelscript

Mohammed Al-Anesi ‏@Malanesi
@BaFana3 @amelscript I am not Houthi but hell yeah I am a big supporter of Houthis even though I disagree with their slogan and other things

هيكل بافنع ‏@BaFana3
@Malanesi Abdul Malik is too moderate, really. If I had an army of 10,000 I'd topple the govt AND exile all ministers to Somalia.@amelscript

Mohammed Al-Anesi‏@Malanesi
@BaFana3 Since Houthis came into Sanaa, people felt more secure and actually pleased with security level all over the city. @amelscript

Here, in no particular order, are three links from the last day or two.

What the Houthi takeover of Sanaa reveals about Yemen's politics
Analysis: Houthi militiamen capture Yemen's capital, but it's the president's adversaries that are targeted
September 25, 2014 12:56PM ET

by Iona Craig
SANAA, Yemen — Houthi fighters seized most of Yemen’s capital of Sanaa and signed a deal with the government last Sunday. Since their lightning takeover of the city, Houthi militia have attacked the adversaries of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and political rivals of President Abdrahbu Mansour Hadi. But the apparent ease of the Houthi victory reveals much more about the smoke and mirrors of Yemeni politics than it does about the fighting prowess of the militiamen. Indeed, by allowing the Houthis free rein of the capital, Hadi has taken a gamble that could ultimately bring more violence as the backlash against the Houthi uprising grows. 
It has been more than a decade since Yemenis were last given the opportunity to vote for a parliament. After 33 years of rule by President Saleh, a popular uprising in 2011 led to an internationally backed deal and an election — in which there was only one candidate: Hadi, Saleh’s long-serving deputy. 
The government had broken the social contract with Yemen’s 25 million people long before peaceful protesters took to the streets in 2011. The Houthis — also known as Ansar Allah — joined the demonstrations against Saleh, who had presided over six wars against them between 2004 and 2010 in the groups’ stronghold in Yemen’s northern province of Saada. 
The Houthis are rooted in a Zaydi Shia youth movement in the 1990s, that grew to a movement formed in 2004, taking their name from then-leader Hussein al-Houthi. Hussein was killed during the first war in Saada in 2004. 
The 2011 uprising marked the group’s revival and, after Salehs’ ouster, saw a surge in open support. During Saleh’s rule, Zaydism was repressed, and Houthis in Sanaa were under constant threat. Many disappeared into the prison cells of the capital’s notorious Political Security Organization, while others maintained their allegiance to the movement in secret. 
During the unrest of the 2011 political uprising, the Houthis, who had been calling for autonomy, consolidated their control in Saada as the power struggle played out 115 miles away in Sanaa. Saleh’s ouster allowed Houthi supporters to emerge from the shadows, resulting in the groups’ slogan being daubed across walls from the ancient city of Old Sanaa to mountainsides across northern Yemen. The battle-hardened group soon gained popularity outside their traditional Zaydi lines. 
The 2011 protests had united political opponents around the shared goal of removing Saleh and his regime, but once that was achieved, rivalries quickly resurfaced. In the two-mile-long tented sit-in that had been home to anti-government protesters for nine months in Sanaa, fistfights broke out between Houthi demonstrators and their political rivals, Islah — Yemen’s equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood. 
At the same time, confrontations in the north turned violent, centered on the Salafist Dar Al-Hadeeth religious school in the village of Dammaj, to which the Houthis laid siege for two months at the end of 2011. Renewed fighting in 2013 led to a cease-fire agreement in January this year that included the evacuation of the Salafi students. After the fall of Dammaj, the Houthi fighters began their push south toward the capital. 
Although often painted as a sectarian conflict between Shia and conservative Sunnis, the root of the conflict is political and tribal rather than sectarian. But the Houthis’ rise could cause the sectarian narrative to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yemen’s Al-Qaeda insurgency has always had an aggressive stance against the Houthis. As the group began taking territory in northern provinces, the Al-Qaeda fighters of Ansar al-Sharia started to act upon their long-running anti-Houthi threats. In July, in a brutal Ansar al-Sharia’s attack that mirrored those by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), 14 unarmed off-duty soldiers had their throats slit and heads hacked off by militants wearing head-mounted cameras. Ansar al-Sharia justified the killings by claiming the soldiers were Houthis 
Saudi Arabia vs Iran

Conflict with the Houthis in Yemen is often framed as an Iran versus Saudi Arabia proxy battle that came to a head in 2010 when the Saudis were dragged into the most recent war in Saada as it threatened the Kingdom’s border. 
Saudi Arabia has backed multiple individuals and factions in Yemen, including Islah. But since 2011, the regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has played out in the in the tussle for influential patronage in Yemen. The previously close relationship between Saudi Arabia and Islah has soured since the uprisings of 2011, while Qatar has been spreading its informal sponsorship networks in Yemen. In March, Saudi Arabia listed both the Houthis and the Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood as banned “terrorist organizations.” 
President Hadi has repeatedly thanked Saudi Arabia for its financial support while accusing Iran of inciting conflict by supporting the Houthis and the southern secessionist movement, Al-HIrak. Iran has denied arming the Houthis but is unlikely to refute credit for the Houthis’ rise when it provides a boost to Tehran’s leverage in the region. 
The takeover of Sanaa this week appeared well planned. After setting up tented encampments at the entrances to the city, peaceful demonstrators took to the streets of the capital calling for the corrupt government to be dissolved and fuel subsidies, lifted in July, be reinstated — both appealing demands to many Yemenis. On Sept. 9 those protests turned deadly when uniformed soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. Eight protesters and an ambulance driver were shot dead. 
Attempts to broker a deal between President Hadi and Houthi leader Abdulmalek al-Houthi over fuel prices and the formation of a new government repeatedly stalled. On Sept. 16 the first clashes broke out, leading to four days of heavy fighting concentrated on a major military camp, the former base of Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar — who led the wars against the Houthis in Saada — and the surrounding area in the north of the city. 
The battle was won by Houthis in four days, just in time for the signing of “The Peace and National Partnership Agreement” agreed by the two sides as fighting raged in the north of the capital. While politicians gathered in the capital’s south for a ceremony to sign the deal, the prime minister announced his resignation and Houthi militiamen turned up at key government buildings in the center of the capital. Uncontested by the soldiers and military police posted to protect the city, the gunmen asserted their control of strategic buildings across the city, including the American embassy. 
The target of the apparent takeover has not, so far, been president Hadi, but his political adversaries and those of former President Saleh. After storming the base of General Ali Mohsen, who had turned his back on Saleh in 2011 and defected, the Houthis targeted the homes of the al-Ahmar clan (no relation to the major general), including the houses of Islah backer Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, who had also stoked the uprising against Saleh in 2011. 
Brewing backlash

The Houthi campaign in Sanaa was the culmination of months of fighting outside the city, most notably in the province of Amran to the north of Sanaa, where the Houthis persuaded tribal leaders and their men who had previously been loyal to the al-Ahmars to turn and fight against their former potentates. In a significant symbolic act to the tribes of northern Yemen, the Houthis blew up the main family home of the al-Ahmars in July, marking an end to the family’s command over Hashed tribal sub-sects. Islah’s tribal influence was usurped — to the benefit of all their political opponents. 
Saleh, who blamed the entire regional “Arab Spring” on the Muslim Brotherhood when I interviewed him early last year, has three decades of experience in creating conflict to meet his own ends in Yemen. A weaker Islah removes obstacles for Hadi. 
The drawback may come if, in the process of allowing the Houthis into the city, the conspiracy has inadvertently created a monster that could slip out of control. What happens next is almost impossible to predict. What parts of the deal will be implemented is largely down to the Houthis. In a televised speech to thousands of his supporters in the capital’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday, Abdulmalek indicated the “peoples’ committees” of militiamen would stay until the military was able to maintain security against the threat of Al-Qaeda, while also suggesting the Houthis’ plan to continue their path south and east to the oil-rich province of Marib and al-Baydah. 
In addition, a backlash from events in Sanaa over the last week may be brewing. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has already released a statement calling on Yemen’s Sunni tribesman to unite and attack the Houthis. If representation in the new government, set to be formed within a month under the terms of the signed agreement, does not meet the expectations of Islah, there is a risk of disenfranchising swathes of the party’s supporters and driving them to take up arms or into the hands of Al-Qaeda.

Further conflict appears almost inevitable, but while the Houthis’ progress to Sanaa was tolerated, the next stage may test Hadi’s ability to prevent their so far unabated territorial gains.
This untitled link is from Yemen Online...
The leader of Yemen's Shia Houthi rebels has described his supporters' takeover of key parts of the capital, Sanaa, as a "successful revolution".
Abdul Malik al-Houthi said his movement had forced the government to give in to the demands of the people. The Houthis and the government signed a deal on Sunday to end deadly clashes.
Yemen: Houthi leader hails

Earlier, Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi denounced the takeover of Sanaa as a conspiracy that could lead to civil war. 
At least 200 people are thought to have died in the latest fighting. Under the UN-brokered deal, a new government will be formed and the Houthis and southern separatists will nominate a new prime minister.
"These great efforts created this great success - victory - for all the people, forcing an answer to popular demands," Mr Houthi said, in a televised speech on Tuesday."If it is implemented, this agreement will also change the government, which the people called to fall, to fail, because it stood on an unjust, non-consensual basis," he said

Mr Houthi also called for partnership with Islah, the main Sunni party, the AFP news agency says. The rebels have been fighting forces loyal to Islah.  Yemen has remained unstable since anti-government protests in 2011 forced the then-President Ali Abdallah Saleh from office. 
The rebels, who are based in the mountainous north of Yemen, have been advancing on Sanaa for several weeks, skirmishing with rivals and staging mass protests calling for greater rights. The Houthis belong to the minority Zaidi Shia community. They have staged periodic uprisings since 2004 to win greater autonomy for their northern heartland of Saada province.
Does the seizure of Yemen’s capital by Houthi rebels represent a gift for Tehran?