Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Right to work" Reflections

I woke up this morning thinking about "right to work" laws. My earliest memory hearing the term "right to work" was when I was about twelve or thirteen. My father mentioned it in conversation with my mother soon after we had moved from Kentucky to Georgia. I had no idea what it meant but it sounded like a good thing. After all, any "right" must be a good right -- cuz when you don't have a right to do something that can't be a good thing. And everybody needs a right to earn a living.

Only later did I learn that it is about unions and union-busting -- and "right to work" actually means "right to get fired" if you think being in a union is a good thing. It's one of the tools in the union-busting collection.

My dad was a tight-fisted guy. He put a price tag on everything. And anything that cost money could always be got for less if you shopped hard enough or bargained forcefully enough. I think it was his experience in the car business that made him that way. The automobile business, after all, is the modern version of horse trading. And horse trading is synonymous with wheeling and dealing. (Get that? "Wheeling?")

Regarding unions, the idea of bargaining with big-shot bosses appealed to my dad. But he knew that union big shots are usually compensated (or were) as well as those bosses, and the only way they got paid was by collecting dues from union members. And this is where "right to work" comes into play. He liked the idea of bargaining for better working conditions and more pay, but the idea of paying some big union organization a bunch of money was a sticking point. It was like tithing at church. Everybody knew you're supposed to do it, but when the preacher sounds like a broken record always talking about it, it's time to look around to find another preacher (or another church).

Union-organized workplaces are "union shops" and if you work in one your wages have a deduction for union dues and you will be a member of that union. That's the difference between a union shop and a non-union shop. Written rules spell out the rights and responsibilities of workers and the company and any problems are handled through the union, not the person (or persons) involved.

"Right to work" laws make union shops impossible by allowing employees to opt out of union membership (and dues) and continue to keep their job. In short, non-union employees enjoy union benefits without paying for them, What a deal! But that is also why companies and bosses love them. Right to work laws cripple unions.

This is why my dad was not a union man. He didn't feel the need to have anyone speaking for him. Over time I learned to appreciate him as a one-man union. During a career of hard work lasting thirty-five or forty years he only had to tell a boss where to get off three or four times, but when he did, they always listened. He had a way of letting you know -- in a nice way, of course -- that you were about to cross a line he could not tolerate. And you didn't want to find out what would happen if you did. In his work environment he had the respect that only comes to those who are unquestionably good at their job. He was an automatic transmission specialist. What he did every day was work that few people could do. Consequently he was paid well, was never discharged and only had three employers in his entire working life -- even though the dealerships where he worked may have changed ownership a dozen times or more.

Back to "right to work." My dad, like most of his generation growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression, was simply too tight-fisted for his own good. Living and growing up at the edge of poverty shapes one's attitude about money. Those who are careful can live from check to check, and over time they might even save a little for a rainy day. After a few years it becomes a lifestyle. You learn to "do without." If you have enough to eat, are blessed with good health and always have a job -- what more could anyone want? And that is the razor's edge on which most of the working poor live.

One feature of union contracts links the minimum wage of members with the official minimum wages, state or federal, wherever the union operates. Increases in the minimum wage automatically trigger comparable increases in union wages. Otherwise, what's the value of union membership? This is the sticking point for most opposition to increasing the minimum wage -- it increases wages up the scale, driving up "labor costs" which is never, ever good for profits.

It's no accident, then, that "right to work" states have the lowest wages which is the definition of poverty. Wages are subject to the same laws of supply and demand as prices. And if there is no legal safety net for minimum wages, periods of unemployment drive the minimum downward in a feedback loop that only stops when working becomes more costly than being unemployed.

This, in short, is why Bernie Sanders' talking points are receiving such a widespread good response from ordinary people. At some level they recognize that his easy to understand remarks about wealth and wages perfectly describe the American work and business landscape. Listen to what he says and it's all correct. Unfortunately he will not make it into the finals because he doesn't have the backing of seriously big money. At this point in the cycle, most people are not even paying attention. I have spoken with several people who have never heard of Bernie Sanders and probably never will. I could inform them (which I do, of course) but that's just John rattling on about something in the news. He's always jabbering about something. So without an avalanche of advertisements (How do you say "Super Bowl" or "blockbuster movie" or "reality TV" or "March madness"?) there is no way he will be among the finalists.

But Bernie is leaving his mark. He's raising the consciousness of lots of people. He's not as eccentric as Ross Perot and he sure doesn't have that much money. But hopefully as the season progresses, his message (and that of the unions) will reach enough people to pressure their elected representatives to do the right thing and increase minimum wages.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Poem Without a Name by John Ballard

This is a repost from Accidental Blogger, an erudite place where I was allowed to contribute before it went inactive. Recent discussions of Southern history reminded me of this. I wrote it about 1960 and published it when I came across it in 2012.

In a few hours I'm having lunch with an old classmate whom I haven't seen for many years. So last night I was digging through a box of keepsakes from high school and college days and came across something I wrote in high school.

I totally forgot about this poem. It is in my handwriting on notebook paper that I recognize. And as I typed it to make a digital record the scene became vaguely familiar, and reference to “the Chumbley place” meant that it had to have been a product of my imagination. Finally the odd words pinen and pecanen were the clues that made me remember. They were my own invention, made to match oaken as wood types. The characters were Sandra and her husband Cass. Together they spell Cassandra, a name that tells the future.

Since there is no chance it will ever be published by anyone else, in the interest of vanity I'm publishing it myself.
I'm also vain enough to think it has held up pretty well after fifty years.


The fire was not as warm
As it was the hour before.
The two were not the same
As they sat before it, sitting
As it glowed on.
A coal oil lantern
Was on the table,
That rough oaken stand
By the spinning wheel.
The packed dirt floor And open ceiling rafters
And the mud-plastered walls
All were a dark and dark-purple hue
The bricks on the hearth were of uneven lay
They were in great need
To be replaced
As did, in fact, the scene in its entirety.

Cobwebs in the corner were dusty,
Pegs in the chimney were loose.
The furniture was old
A cradle, occupied
A double bed, cold
A stool of three legs, pinen
A split-log bench, picanen
A straight-back chair, Sandra
Another, Cass
And the table, oaken.

She spoke
And when will you get back?
And he It shouldn’t be over six days.
And in the meantime what will we do, me and little Cassy?
You can go up to the Chumbley place and tell them the problem.
They’ll understand; you can get with them and might get a job or something.
They’ll understand.
But you…
I’ll find him as soon as I get there and be coming right back.
He can fix us up to last till next year’s crops get harvested.
The Lord willing.
The Lord willing.
But we have to go to bed.
It’s after ten.

He left the following morning
Afoot he was down the roadway.
And beburdened with a bundle
A piece of dried beef
A tough little loaf
And cheese

She drew a bit of cloth
Soft it was, and stained, her handkerchief.
And put it to an eye
Where it drank up
A warm tear.

Turning to the house…
And catching her breath…
She went to her baby.
Gathering the drowsy infant In her off-pink shawl,
That was old when given her,

She left her home,
That beloved room that was a shack and leaked
And trudged up the road In the opposite direction
That had taken her husband.
The shoes that she wore
Without socks, and formerly brown
Were once those of another
The heels were folded down
The side seams were very weak.
Her dress was black polka dots
Set on a background of red.
A tear from the waist at the side
Was held by a large safety pin.
The checked and faded cloth
Over her ebony hair
Was knotted in the front
Just over her forehead,
And her forehead was the
Color of her shoes.

Posted by John Ballard at 07:47 AM | Permalink

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Kidnap and Ransom Insurance

President Obama's recent tweaks of America's policy refusing to pay ransom for hostages reminded me of something I posted six years ago. I have wondered for some time why the government doesn't either take advantage of a process commonly used by the private sector -- or take measures to make the practice illegal. 
Here's a link to a current resource for lawyers. 

The answer, of course, is that most people never heard of K&R insurance, so here's the result of a little homework on my part. Fortunately most of the links still work. The Wikipedia quote no longer matches but no Wikipedia quote is ever safe from editing by anyone. 

I'm also not reformatting for this blog. It works okay as is except for a mysterious gap toward the bottom. 


Kidnap and Ransom Insurance

Kidnap and ransom insurance or K&R insurance is designed to protect individuals and corporations operating in high-risk areas around the world, such as Mexico, Venezuela, Haiti, and Nigeria, certain other countries in Latin America, as well as some parts of the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe. K&R insurance policies typically cover the perils of kidnap, extortion, wrongful detention and hijacking.

K&R policies are indemnity policies - they reimburse a loss incurred by the insured. The policies do not pay ransoms on the behalf of the insured. The insured must first pay the ransom, thus incurring the loss, and then seek reimbursement under the policy. Losses typically reimbursed by K&R polices are ransom payments, loss-of-ransom-in-transit and additional expenses, such as medical expenses.

The policies also typically indemnify personal accident losses caused by a kidnap. These include death, dismemberment, and permanent total disablement of a kidnapped person. They also typically pay for the fees and expenses of crisis management consultants. These consultants provide advice to the insured on how to best respond to the incident.

The policies may be written to cover families and corporations. Some policies include kidnap prevention training.

That is Wikipedia's current description. Most people have no idea about this elegant feature of American business but it has been around for several years now. I first heard about it a few months ago on some NPR report and thought little about it until this last weekend when the pirate story took a couple of loops in the news cycle. I heard passing reference in some early reports to several hundred other hostages already being held by pirates. My first reaction was amazement that theywere not already in the news. What's going on?

Then the penny dropped: They're probably waiting for ransom negotiations to be concluded. Hostages are part of the pirate enterprise backlog, the criminal equivalent of a high value inventory. I wonder if they keep maintenance records tracking expenses like food, shelter, ammunition and other costs of doing business. So hey, what's the holdup? Wait! I know! They're waiting for K & R insurance claims to be processed! And that's why the story isn't exciting enough to be newsworthy.

Sarcasm aside, it doesn't take much imagination to see that kidnap and ransom insurance feeds a flourishing worldwide enterprise in criminal activity. It's the insurance equivalent of derivatives in the securities trading market. There's no stated law against it, so it must be okay. I know that fire insurance does not pay if arson can be proved. That makes sense. Otherwise, we would all burn down investment property and collect for the damages. What a deal!

But in the case of kidnapping and ransom, there is no such exclusion. In fact, the insurance is created precisely to pay off when (and only when) a criminal activity is proved. And all that indemnity and reimbursement language is all it takes to make the package legal.

Insurance companies can provide this product in exactly the same way they can insure against property damage, injuries, loss of life, or just about anything one wants insured. Like casino operators everywhere, they know the odds and what it takes to play them against premium payments to make a profit. No matter what happens, barring some extraordinary event (which is probably excluded anyway in fine print) the insurer will make a profit.

Client companies simply add the cost of K & R insurance as just another line item in the expense column of doing business.

And the perpetrators, the ones really taking the risk (other than their victims, of course) receive the most. And like the insurance companies and their clients, they are becoming, along with drug dealers and the rest of a swelling global underground economy, opportunistic entrepreneurs in a tax-free scheme now becoming one of the world's fastest growing, recession-proof economies.

Four years ago I picked up on a couple of enterprises in Gaza taking advantage of the unstable situation there. Cigarettes and other everyday items were being smuggled in from Egypt(and still are, btw) duty-free, but that strikes me as a special case. Also special, but similar to this piracy enterprise, was another odd arrangement by which automobiles stolen in Israel were being fenced in Gaza in such numbers that the Palestinian Authority (then in charge in Gaza) was issuing special tags for the stolen cars. That item made part ofanother post.  [This ancillary story is great fun. Come back and drill these links when you get time.]

If piracy were an isolated phenomenon, such as those in Gaza, I wouldn't be concerned. But the the growth of piracy is a world-wide trend. It's getting worse and becoming a growth industry, at least in part, because of K & R insurance. A web search for "kidnap and ransom" insurance returns 78,000 hits. A blog search [no longer a Google feature] for the same term gets over five hundred hits, mostly published in the last few weeks, many in the past few days.

Here is an interesting bit that struck me as bitterly funny.You can't make this up, as they say.
Arguing that piracy is driving up K & R insurance rates is like saying that obesity is hurting the good name of junk food and sugar.
(At the beginning of the Iraq adventure Dan Schorr noted that the Irish Republican Army had stopped bombing innocent people because Al Qaeda was giving terrorism a bad name.)

Posted On: April 09, 2009 3:45 PM CST
Zack Phillips

LONDON—The cost of kidnap and ransom insurance today is 10 times as expensive as it was in October 2008 for ships transiting the piracy hotbed of the Gulf of Aden, according to Aon Risk Services.

More shipowners are inquiring about kidnap and ransom cover, for which a shipper now could pay up to $30,000 in premium for $3 million in coverage for one trip through the Gulf of Aden, the London unit of Chicago-based Aon Corp. said in a statement.

The Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, is the site of a dramatic uptick in pirate attacks over the last couple of years. Ships in the Indian Ocean must traverse the Gulf of Aden to reach the Suez Canal or steam around the Cape of Good Hope, a longer and much costlier trip around the southern tip of Africa.

In 2008, pirates hijacked 49 ships and took 889 crew members hostage, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center.

Attacks by Somalian pirates dropped considerably in January and February, but they picked up markedly in March. After a total of 14 attacks and one successful hijacking in the first two months of the year, there were 25 attacks with four successful hijackings in March alone, according to the piracy center. So far in April, shippers have suffered at least six attacks with four successful hijackings near Somalia, according to the center.

Security experts say the return of frequent attacks is due in part to the waning monsoon season, which had curtailed pirate activity earlier in the year. Security experts also say the presence of about 15 naval war ships devoted at least in part to combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden has pushed the pirates to operate farther south in the Indian Ocean, where the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama was attacked this week.

"I think the message here is that there aren't any really clear limits on the range and ambition of these groups," said David Hunt, head of research and development at Exclusive Analysis Ltd., a London-based intelligence firm that forecasts political risks. "Clearly any ships routing from the Gulf (of Aden) down to the Cape (of Good Hope) will probably want to be keeping the maximum distance they can from the Somali coast."

Somali pirates have typically returned the ships, cargo and crew unharmed in exchange for ransoms between $1 million to $3 million, according to published reports. Traditionally, ransom has been paid by the hull insurance policy, although marine underwriters say the London market has begun to shift piracy coverage to war risk insurance. Kidnap and ransom policies offer additional cover that can include consultant and negotiator costs and medical care, in addition to ransom payment.

About 70% of shipowners are selecting kidnap and ransom policies specifically for the Gulf of Aden as well as two other piracy hot spots—the Gulf of Guinea near Nigeria and the Malaccan Straits near Indonesia—Aon said in the statement. 

This is not an American problem. This is an international problem calling for an international response. From a business standpoint companies at risk are doing the rational thing. Thirty grand per trip is all it costs. And the insurance people are selling their usual risk management products in response to demand. (We learned the going rate is now from one to three million dollars for the safe return of cargo, crew and ship. It's hard to know what an individual hostage might bring, but probably not much.)

Having K & R insurance for piracy is like pouring gas on a fire.


Addendum, May 13

Somali pirates guided by London intelligence team, report says

The Somali pirates attacking shipping in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean are directed to their targets by a "consultant" team in London, according to a European military intelligence document obtained by a Spanish radio station.

The document, obtained by Cadena SER radio, says the team and the pirates remain in contact by satellite telephone.

It says that pirate groups have "well-placed informers" in London who are in regular contact with control centres in Somalia where decisions on which vessels to attack are made. These London-based "consultants" help the pirates select targets, providing information on the ships' cargoes and courses.

In at least one case the pirates have remained in contact with their London informants from the hijacked ship, according to one targeted shipping company.

The pirates' information network extends to Yemen, Dubai and the Suez canal.

The intelligence report is understood to have been issued to European navies.

"The information that merchant ships sailing through the area volunteer to various international organisations is ending up in the pirates' hands," Cadena SER reported the report as saying.

This enables the more organised pirate groups to study their targets in advance, even spending several days training teams for specific hijacks. Senior pirates then join the vessel once it has been sailed close to Somalia.

Captains of attacked ships have found that pirates know everything from the layout of the vessel to its ports of call. Vessels targeted as a result of this kind of intelligence included the Greek cargo ship Titan, the Turkish merchant ship Karagol and the Spanish trawler Felipe Ruano.

In each case, says the document, the pirates had full knowledge of the cargo, nationality and course of the vessel.

The national flag of a ship is also taken into account when choosing a target, with British vessels being increasingly avoided, according to the report. It was not clear whether this was because pirates did not want to draw the attention of British police to their information sources in London.

European countries have set up Operation Atalanta to co-ordinate their military efforts in the area.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Confederate History Note

A repost from my old blog.  The links no longer work but I copied enough content to retain the messages...


Saturday radio blogging, Writer's Almanac

Garrison Keillor's little five-minute radio spot is one of the few programs that I take a moment to listen to attentively, even in the middle of a conversation. There are few predictable diversions giving so much reward, having a beginning and end in the space of a few minutes.

Today we are reminded that Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was delivered November 19, 1863. Keillor's remembrance and tribute are worth a few minutes of your time as well. If you don't have the time or inclination to read, there is a link to the audio.
It was a foggy, cold morning on this day in 1863. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator Edward Everett spoke for over two hours, describing the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once.

When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up, and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of ten sentences, a total of 272 words. Lincoln did not mention any of the specifics of the war or any of the details of the battle of Gettysburg. He did not mention the North or the South. He did not mention slavery. Instead, he explained, in ordinary language, that our nation was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, and that we must continue to fight for that principle, in honor of those who have died fighting for it.

Unfortunately for Lincoln, the audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken. Lincoln was disappointed in his performance, but the next day Edward Everett told the President, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." The speech was reprinted in newspapers around the country, and it went on to become one of the most famous speeches in American history.

It would be tacky to point out the parallels between that tragic time and events of our own time, but the similarities bear thinking about. We are again engaged in a great civil war, but this time it is that of another country. Today's cost in casualties is very small compared with the tens of thousands of past wars. The Battle of Gettysburg alone took the lives of six or seven thousand men. I suppose civilization is creeping along, but there is a long, long way to go.

As an aside, the current debate over torture and atrocities can be put into historical perspective by knowing what has occurred in past wars. Lest we too quickly point the finger at our enemies, it would be wise to take a look at some of our own dirty linen. And I'm not referring to today's despicable but historically unremarkable reports.

Last year Donald Sensing did some research following the release of the movie version of Cold Mountain, coming upon some pretty disturbing history from our own Civil War era.

I am sort of a stickler for historical accuracy in movies that derive the context from history. I found the Home Guard portrayals very offputting. (Other Home Guard detachments of the state hound Inman as he makes his way home.) I had never read of such brutalities being done by during the war by Confederate states to their own people, and reacted to this part of the move - and a major part it is - with scorn. This, I thought, was a fatal flaw of the story. While I had no doubt that Confederate authorities did try to capture deserters, I dismissed the idea that Home Guard "brownshirts" ever had the authority simply to shoot down deserters on the roadside or savage Southern civilian families. So I Googled"confederate home guard" today. And discovered Cold Mountain is accurate. Consider

Allen Lowery was born 1795 in Robeson County, NC. He died 9 Mar 1865 in Robeson County, NC from Shot to Death by the Robeson County Home Guard and was buried in Lowery family cemetery near Pembroke, NC.
... Allen and his son (William) was killed by the Robeson County Confederate Home Guard, because they where believed to have helped Union soldiers during the Civil War.
Confederate deserter Henry Tucker joined the Union forces following bad treatment by the Alabama Home Guard for failing to respond to the "callup" for men to fight for the Confederacy. He made the mistake of coming home for a visit where he was caught...
... arrested by the Home Guard at his home in Marion County and tortured to death. He was tied to a tree, castrated, his eyes removed and his tongue cut out before he was literally skinned alive. He is buried at Hopewell Cemetery, south of Glen Allen, Ala.
But Tucker's vicious death was avenged. Home Guard leader Stoke Roberts who personally directed the torture of Tucker, was eventually caught by a group of unionists near Winfield. They took a long iron spike and drove it through his mouth and out the back of his head and nailed him to the root of a big oak tree.
We can be in denial, but there are apples today (uh, acorns?)that didn't fall too far from that tree.

More links, some now not working.

The Confederate Gestapo

I never read the book Cold Mountain, so I went to the movie last night with an uncluttered mind, knowing only that the story line was of a Confederate soldier who deserts to make a long trek home to his beloved. This man is named Inman, played by Jude Law.

Nicole Kidman plays the heroine, Ada Monroe, who loves Inman and waits faithfully for him to return. The movie opens on July 30, 1864, with the Battle of the Crater at the Union siege of Petersburg, Va., which Cold Mountain accurately presents as an unmitigated disaster for the Union side.

As a result of the battle, his own near-death experience from a nasty neck wound, and of Ada's letters explaining how difficult life is for her, Inman deserts to make his way back to Cold Mountain, NC, and Ada.

There is a lot to like about the movie and a lot I found to scorn, but this is not a movie review post. The dramatic conflict of the movie revolves around the heroine's antagonist, Marshall Teague. Teague heads the local Home Guard, a paramilitary outfit empowered by the state government to deal with Confederate army deserters and civilians who gave them aid, even their family members.

Desertion was the huge problem, especially in 1864 and 1865. More than 13,000 North Carolina Confederate soldiers deserted during the war. The privations of the war on the home front put many soldiers' families in truly desperate circumstances. All in all, tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers deserted to care for their loved ones. (Many returned to their units, however, and were generally forgiven once they did.)

Teague and his small band of enforcers, chartered by the state, ruthlessly track down deserters. For selfish reasons, Teague leans hard on Ada. At one point Teague and his men saber to death a man in his own front yard for suspicion of harboring deserters. They torture his wife, expose the deserters and shoot them down on the spot. Such killings continue in the movie.

I am sort of a stickler for historical accuracy in movies that derive the context from history. I found the Home Guard portrayals very offputting. (Other Home Guard detachments of the state hound Inman as he makes his way home.) I had never read of such brutalities being done by during the war by Confederate states to their own people, and reacted to this part of the move - and a major part it is - with scorn. This, I thought, was a fatal flaw of the story. While I had no doubt that Confederate authorities did try to capture deserters, I dismissed the idea that Home Guard "brownshirts" ever had the authority simply to shoot down deserters on the roadside or savage Southern civilian families.

So I Googled "confederate home guard" today.

And discovered Cold Mountain is accurate. Consider:
Allen Lowery was born 1795 in Robeson County, NC. He died 9 Mar 1865 in Robeson County, NC from Shot to Death by the Robeson County Home Guard and was buried in Lowery family cemetery near Pembroke, NC. ...
Allen and his son (William) was killed by the Robeson County Confederate Home Guard, because they where believed to have helped Union soldiers during the Civil War.
According to historian Milton Ready of the University of North Carolina-Asheville,
To help enforce conscription, find deserters and collect taxes, the "Guard for the Home Defence" was formed. The Home Guard, as it came to be known, is depicted in [Cold Mountain] as a sort of Confederate Gestapo ... "A lot of the people in the Home Guard belonged to extended families and a lot of the people who didn't want to pay or who harbored deserters were in different families," Ready says. "They used the Civil War to settle personal debts that went back years."
And not just in North Carolina. In the northern Alabama hill country there remained strong pro-Union sentiment throughout the war in . (Not just in Alabama, of course; my own state of Tennessee was highly pro-Union in the east.) With the advent of Confederate conscription in 1862, the men there were subject to arrest by the Home Guard for not responding to the callup. Large numbers fled to the hills, leaving their families behind.

But the Home Guard persecuted the families. The family of John Phillips, for example, suffered severely. Phillips related,
“They commenced robbing my family of the support I had left for them, they drove off my cattle and took my horses and mules, also my corn. They event went so far as to pour what meal my family had out in the floor and fill the sacks with meat. They event took their cups, saucers and plates, not leaving anything for their sustenance.”
Such brutalities led many of the men to make their way to Union lines and enlist in the Union Army. One such man was named Henry Tucker, who rather foolishly decided when on leave from Union service to visit his family in Alabama.
Henry Tucker ... was arrested by the Home Guard at his home in Marion County and tortured to death. He was tied to a tree, castrated, his eyes removed and his tongue cut out before he was literally skinned alive. He is buried at Hopewell Cemetery, south of Glen Allen, Ala.

But Tucker’s vicious death was avenged. Home Guard leader Stoke Roberts who personally directed the torture of Tucker, was eventually caught by a group of unionists near Winfield. They took a long iron spike and drove it through his mouth and out the back of his head and nailed him to the root of a big oak tree.
Alabama men who remained hiding in the hills were tracked down and often killed on the spot.
Three sons of Solomon Curtis were all killed in Winston County. Joel Jackson Curtis was killed in 1862 for refusing to join the confederate army. George Washington Curtis, home on leave from the union army, was killed by the home guard in his yard while his wife and three children watched. Thomas Pink Curtis, the probate judge of Winston County, was arrested near Houston by confederate authorities in 1864 and taken to a bluff on Clear Creek where he was summarily executed with two shots to his right eye.
This is a repellant aspect of Southern history that is underreported. I wish a competent historian would undertake a disciplined study of the Home Guard. Some historians estimate that 100,000 white Southerners served in the Union Army; with brutalities committed by the Home Guard against many of their families, it seems that the war was a civil war not merely between North and South, but just as much between Southerners.
Posted 17th January 2004 by Donald Sensing

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Turkish Elections -- A Guardian Op-ed by Yavuz Baydar

Turkey’s people have acted to prevent an autocratic nightmare
by Yavuz Baydar
Editorial: The challenge now is for a fractured society to make multiparty politics work

There is only one loser from Turkey’s historic elections on Sunday, which was without doubt a referendum. The president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, made it a vote about his “way”, and found himself rejected by a large group of “democrat” voters – and almost completely abandoned by his long-term allies: pious Kurds. The wound was self inflicted.

Erdoğan, with one erratic move after another, brought this situation about. It is the end of an era.

The electorate, reacting to his murky attempts to grab more and more power, simply said “enough is enough”, and applied the handbrakes. Their message is that Erdoğan is an undesired player in active politics. By implication, he now risks being seen as a liability for his party, the AKP.

After four long years of a terrible choreography, his attempt to establish a new order – a “new Turkey” – is over. It is clear that voters in sufficient number realised that the real aim was to establish an Orwellian structure – a “Mukhabarat state” consolidated around the AKP and run by an inner circle of sycophants.

Erdoğan lost his daredevil gamble. He now faces defeat and eventual isolation. He tested the “moral” segment of Turkey’s silent majority to its limits in terms of intelligence and patience. That was his undoing.

What Erdoğan and his inner circle failed to understand was that the grassroots of the party that ruled Turkey for more than 12 years was and still is a social coalition, which, among other groups, was backed by a large bulk of Kurds, a coalition that would crack if pushed too far.

By resorting to denialist rhetoric about the Kurdish issue, Erdoğan ended up losing almost the entire bulk of the Kurds, as well as votes from Turks who expect more, not less, freedom and rights.

He is a charismatic leader, polluted by power, who became a victim of his own success. Erdoğan has never been defeated, his party has never been forced to endure opposition since its inception 14 years ago. Blinded by a series of sweeping victories, he forgot that the public saw in him not only stability, but also a hope for decentralisation and redistribution of power.

Instead, the AKP became embroiled in corruption allegations, symbolised by raids in December 2013, which were ruthlessly covered up. But the cover-up could only extend so far. There for all to see are tangible products of a corrupted mentality – the massive palace in Ankara, and a smaller but equally excessive one, overlooking the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

His repression of the Gezi Park protests in 2013 – when it is estimated that eight people died and 8,000 were injured, further exposed his dark side. Ever since he has been perceived as a leader with a hammer who sees every problem and act of dissent as a nail.

Freedoms of expression, speech, media and assembly have been severely restricted; journalists, judges and prosecutors have been jailed or charged in courts for doing their jobs.

The press has been muzzled, large chunks of the state’s checks and balances lie in ruins. And it was no accident. It is clear that the ruling party’s plan was to sever Turkey from the democratic values of the west, possibly for good.

What is positive is the reaction of the voters. They may only have been able to slow the process, to apply the brakes. Still, they showed the world that with a single vote it is possible to pull back from the brink, pull back from the autocratic nightmare that now afflicts states such as Egypt.

The people of Turkey took a risk that could have ended in disaster. But when it seemed that the channels to democracy might be tightly shut, they moved to keep them open. It will become a historic example of strategic thinking.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My Personal DNR Order

After putting it off a long time I finally got around to a little detail that has nagged me for some time -- a personal Do Not Resuscitate Order. My wife and I completed our advance directives for medical care some time ago, both of which include a so-called "living will." But those documents are only needed if someone is unable to communicate (coma, stroke, dementia, anesthesia, otherwise). Advance directives appoint one or more agents for medical decision-making should questions arise while we are under medical care.

But there can be an accident or some other life-threatening event when the only medical resources are those responding to a 911 call or a nurse or doctor who might be available. Those people will be trained to immediately begin life-saving CPR and first aid. I know this because I am CPR and First Aid certified myself and have been most of my adult life.  And if I am knocked unconscious and bleeding, I want by all means to have someone stop the bleeding, clear an airway, keep me safe and covered, treat for shock, and do whatever is necessary to keep me from dying. 

However, should my heart stop beating and my breathing stop I am prepared to die. The statistics for cardio-pulmonary resuscitation in a hospital setting are not impressive, and bystander life-saving using CPR are even worse. Moreover, lack of oxygen to the brain damages cognition and memory more than a restored blood supply can repair. If I were younger ten years or more I would (and did) want to take my chances with CPR under emergency conditions. 

Having passed seventy and given the matter a lot of thought I have come to terms with the inevitability of dying. According to the actuarial tables of the Social Security people, I have a life expectancy of thirteen-plus more years. That's pretty good, and I hope to beat it. In fact, every year that we survive we do, in fact, "beat the odds." If I am still alive ten years from now my life expectancy will not have diminished ten years. In fact I will pick up four additional years simply by surviving another decade. As a male aged 81 my life expectancy becomes seven-plus years! That's pretty cool when you think about it. There is an actuarial life expectancy even for centenarians and beyond. As long as there is life, there is hope.
To Dr. H---- or whom it may concern: 
I want a DNR bracelet and/or tag to wear around my neck indicating that in the unlikely event my heart and breathing stop no CPR or intubation will be used to resuscitate me. I realize this is an unusual request and that despite clear instructions to the contrary EMR teams or others trained in CPR, motivated by the best of good intentions, may intervene anyway.

A copy of my advance directive for medical care is in your file, but it’s not practical to carry on my person all the time. A bracelet or tag with my ID and telephone (or other validating contact) is more suitable.

To be clear, I do not want to die. But that is not the same as saying I am not ready to die. As many military and first responders know, being ready to die and wanting to die are not the same and must not be confused.

My reasons for carrying a DNR are easy to explain. At this writing (age 71) I have spent the last twelve years working as a caregiver, mainly with seniors. During five years in a retirement community and seven years as a non-medical caregiver via an agency I have had many assignments and have seen the effects of age and disability in a way that most people never do. When I die I want to be remembered as someone leading a full life, productive and helpful to others. As I now approach the end of the actuarial tables, the longer I live the less likely that outcome will be.

I have seen too many people dying a little at a time, increasingly dependent on others even for the simplest needs. The decline may be physical, cognitive or both. But in all cases the quality of life is compromised a little at a time until the dying person is left in a miserable condition, often for years, waiting, waiting for that final appointment with the Angel of Death. That is a condition I want to prevent, if possible, by deciding now against heroic life-extending measures. 
This is not an appeal for everybody to follow my example. I am a firm believer that end of life and beginning of life issues are among the most private of all human decisions, involving as few others as possible. Making final arrangements we need the input and advice of family, friends, clergy and legal council. But there is no substitute for thoughtful reflection and doing lots of homework. I provide this, my personal journey notes, as a friendly reminder that we all have and share one final appointment with the Angel of Death. 

My decision is influenced in part by what happened to my father following a stroke which incapacitated him for almost a year before he died of another cause. During that time he was not the person I had known as my father. He was not interested in eating and was kept alive by nutrients and hydration via a PEG tube in his stomach. He was in a good skilled nursing environment, well cared for and not in pain. But I want nothing like that to happen to me. If possible I want to be remembered full of vitality, alert and productive to the end.  

I could also cite many examples from my work as a caregiver, but that could be interpreted as a violation of the rules. No matter. There are numerous on-line places with tons of information. I just recently came across a Facebook page for The Caregiver Space. And I am happy to answer any questions in the comments. 

Legal and practical requirements vary from state to state, and even when everything is in order, it is possible that a bystander with the best of good intentions will apply CPR anyway. The same is apt to happen with EMT personnel or others not aware of my decision. To that end I wear a medical alert tag around my neck that says look in my wallet. In my wallet I have a small copy of my DNR order, together with my ID, that of the doctor and a contact phone number. I read once about a doctor, knowing that his DNR might not be readily available, had "Do not resuscitate" tattooed on his chest. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Stop Blaming the Victims

We can thank Bernie Sanders that the wealth gap will be discussed during the 2016 election cycle. That gap has always been around, but over the last forty years has become almost insurmountable for most Americans. We don't yet know what the official party responses will be, but I suspect both will advance variations blaming the victim. It will be presented with compassion and civility, but after all the packaging has been stripped away, it will be the old bootstraps argument in a new package.

I just came across a wise-sounding link, now two years old, offering the following advice.
The fact is the poor are poor because they have too many Poverty Habits and too few Rich Habits. Poor parents teach their children the Poverty Habits and wealthy parents teach their children the Rich Habits. We don’t have a wealth gap in this country we have a parent gap. We don’t have income inequality, we have parent inequality.
Included was a string of statistics reflecting the lifestyle contrasts between rich and poor, none of which is controversial. For example "9% of the wealthy watch reality T.V. shows vs. 78% of the poor." Do tell! The list might well have included how many wealthy people have vintage wines with meals instead of beer among the poor.

GOP contenders position themselves in the "work your way up" camp while Democrats talk about "jobs, jobs, jobs" but neither side is courageous enough to argue (as does Bernie Sanders) that the way our of the quagmire requires more than just "work, work, work."

The way out and up must include some pro-active political moves having little or nothing to do with the behavior of the poor and much to do with attitudes of those who are already wealthy. A handful of rich people have set good examples, but even those who express admiration for them stop short of following their good examples. At the core of their reluctance is that nagging belief that if poor people would just shift gears and embrace better habits, make better choices, they would somehow escape the penalties keeping them down. 

Thanks to Bernie Sanders' stirring the pot once again, I'm getting flashbacks to thoughts that struck me following Hurricane Katrina. The following is what I posted then.
I can't remember a time of so much blaming. Attempting to make sense of the tragedy that has happened, nearly every voice is seeking to simplify a blindingly complicated scene, to finish every sentence, every paragraph, on a note of insight leading to understanding. Pundits, preachers, politicians and other word peddlers are busy trying to make themselves look good as they reel out ream after ream of empty words.

A lot has been said about those who are suffering because they failed to follow instructions to get themselves out of harm's way. It reminds me of the way we blame those suffering from substance abuse, obesity, gambling addiction, or any number of human problems, both medical and behavioral, because those who suffer most from those problems are not doing all they can to ameliorate their various conditions. Who has sympathy for the cancer victim still smoking, the morbidly obese patron going back to the buffet for yet another plate of food, for the panhandler wanting money because the bottle in his little brown bag is empty, for a laborer in line at the unemployment office instead of being out there in the street looking for work, for the young mother with two kids in tow and no dad in sight, pregnant again with another kid she can't afford?

Yes, it's easy to blame victims, to look past our own motes to those in other eyes. I have heard it for years, and I'm hearing it again.

The head of FEMA said the people in New Orleans shared some of the responsibility for their plight and the reaction was official indignation, but when I mentioned that remark to someone I know he replied "He's right. I know it's not good politics to say that, but he spoke the truth. I'm glad he said it."

A screaming headline over a picture of people at the Superdome had a quote about "They are treating us like animals..." and someone else said "Just look at that! Damn liberal paper trying to stir something up...I wish I could go down there and kick some butts."

Check any comment thread, look at most any weblog and find someone looking to assign responsibility for what has happened. Either the problem should have been averted or the response should have been more expeditious or both.

My take on the situation is more boring. What I am seeing is a clash of values, of lifestyle, of cultures. I'm not speaking of race or class in the popular sense. Or "lifestyles" in the magazine or homosexual or "extreme makeover" sense. I'm talking about what makes people get up in the morning and start their days. What makes people live and act as they do. Hard as it is for me to accept, a lot of people don't want to do the same as I, or work for the same goals.

My career has been in the public, serving cafeteria patrons, working with those who produce the food. I have met and loved many thousands of the public, their friends and families, watched their children grow, learned to admire their energy and accomplishments. I also understood that my job, along with those of fifty or a hundred others, depended on their discretionary spending.

Behind the scenes I worked with people who would never go "out to eat" in the cafeteria sense, at least not two or three times a week - or even daily - as our best customers did. They enjoyed pizza or other fast food. They might treat themselves to a full-service restaurant from time to time, but they had no use for places that charged more for service and image than for food.

But enough about me. And enough about you, for that matter. Let's back up and look at the picture. What we see is a contrast in values.

We see a population of people who would never eat in a cafeteria earning a living by working in one. It's not too different from any other workplace where people make new cars but drive to work in old ones, who clean houses for a living but live in a house with a rodent problem, who work in a grocery store but eat an unbalanced diet of starches, fats and carbs.

On the other hand, I once lived in a suburban neighborhood where substance abuse victims all happened to be "functional." They had good jobs, six-figures in some cases, but came home every day and organized their afternoons and evenings around their alcohol intake. They could afford it. They could also afford the resulting health problems and other consequences.

I watched a line of customers in a newly opened cafeteria in a very upscale community with family after family consisting of a grey-templed dad and his much-younger, fashion-conscious, pretty young wife and mother to his second family, all going out to eat. There were so many kids we had to order in another fleet of high chairs. All because they could afford it.

My point is this: there are a great many lifestyles and choices in America. We can argue that they are all determined by income, but that is demonstrably untrue. It's not about income, it's about choices. And before you jump to the conclusion that I'm about to condemn those who "choose" to be poor, back off. I have a great respect and admiration for those who, whether by choice or circumstance, are living poor. They include old people who can no longer work, simple people who would rather live humbly and have more time in their life for travel and study, those who for religious reasons eschew wealth - I'm thinking of the Amish and Catholic Worker types. Remember the old saying about all work and no play. That, too, is part of the American Dream.

And there is a vast population of people in our society whom we can call the working poor. They work, but remain poor. Why? Is it because they like being poor? Why, no. If you could choose to be good-looking or in good health or respected would you choose to be ugly or sick or hated? Of course not. But often we are not who or where we are because of choice. We are there because that is where we are and being someplace else is not part of our imagination.

How can the person born blind understand about colors? How can the person who is deaf know about musical harmony? And how can the infant born into what we condescendingly refer to as an "underclass" know that there could have been some alternative? At what point does the toddler begin to make "choices" about whether or not he wants to continue a lifestyle? What are the dynamics that produce an occasional boot-straps success despite a "poverty" mentality?

I do not have an answer to these questions, and I do not propose to find any.

What I do propose, however, is that whatever the reasons, however it happened, there are a lot of people in America who do not have what I describe as a "suburban mentality." For them life is just as challenging, just as exciting, just as painful, just as rewarding as it is for anyone else. They know that when they get up in the morning they have to eat, live, love, worry, rejoice and rest just like everyone else. The family structure may not be ideal, they have more problems as the result of that lifestyle than they would elsewhere, but elsewhere is not where they are.

They have not come to America, like immigrants, with a vision of success, working to buy into the American Dream. Nor have they jumped out of bed one morning and said "This is the pits! I can't stand living like this! No matter what it takes, I'm gonna work my ass off til I get the hell outta here!"

No, not everyone is mad as hell and not gonna take it any more. It not only takes hard work, creativity and sometimes a good break or two, it also takes role models, encouragement and a stubborn resolve on the part of the individual that is rare in the human population. Remember, we aren't talking about third-generation college grads whose parents, grandparents and extended family would look good in a magazine article.

We are talking about people who have grown up very differently. "Work" is not something you do because you like it. It is something you do because you need the money. If you learn to like it later, that's great - maybe even necessary. But as soon as you learn to like what you do, where is the motivation to do something else? If you are in tolerably good health, get a cold beer from time to time, enjoy your tobacco, play cards, and have good sex, why in the world would you want to change? I know a lot of so-called "successful" people who would toss it all in to have that much.

Transportation, for the simple lifestyle, is walking, public transportation, catching a ride with someone else or driving some old piece of a car that will have to be replaced pretty soon. (If someone "orders" an evacuation that order is as alien as it comes. It presumes a car, and the means to buy gas, and a destination, and the means to feed and shelter yourself in a place you have never even seen. It presumes you know the way, and I'm not speaking of maps.)

Health care is getting over being sick. If you can't get over it you take over the counter meds. If it gets worse you go to the emergency room and hope they can help. Dental work is about the same. Get over it. Take something for the pain. And if it gets too bad, find a dentist to pull the tooth. If they get bad enough, have them all pulled and find a cheap lab that will make you some more for two hundred dollars. Then you can smile like you used to., with teeth again. [Obamacare has eliminated these conditions for many, but the number who live this way still number in the millions, which is why Bernie Sanders' call for universal health care still has meaning.]

I'm here to tell you that the people I have just described are not optional to our economy. Their lifestyle "choices" if you insist on calling it that, is as basic to the American economic infrastructure as coins and credit. Pay attention to this: Not everyone will make a good income. Somebody is going to work for low wages, the so-called "minimum wage."Somebody is going to work for even less. And those who do will not be drawn from the much exalted middle class, They will be drawn from the young, the inexperienced, the very old and those between jobs.

But I can tell you from experience that the best of them - the core of their respective professions - will be there, year after year, generation after generation, doing a good good job, putting in their days and weeks, teaching the more transitory around them how to do their work because those in a supervisory capacity are on their way elsewhere and have not been trained to be teachers. I have watched good poor people doing honorable work and doing it well for my entire career. When I think of what happened to those people because of the hurricane it makes me want to cry.

And this week I have watched those same people on television being blamed for circumstances over which neither they nor anyone else had any real control. [Just a few hours ago I came across a link referring to Jeb Bush advocating shaming unwed mothers and people getting public assistance. That was in his book published in 1995. He may or may not have "evolved" since that time. Time will tell.] 

I have watched helplessly as many who call themselves leaders grope blindly for remedies.

I have read endless words of blame and recrimination. And I am calling for an end to meanness and counterproductive arguments. Now is not the time to be lecturing poor people about their bad "choices." No one need tell them about the consequences of lifestyle. They understand better than most the problems of hypertension, obesity, substance abuse, unplanned babies, short age spans for black men, under-employment and unemployment, dependence on welfare, and everything else that goes with the picture. No need to beat anybody up any more.

The time has come for everyone to do or say something positive. Like we were taught as children, if you have nothing good to say, then please don't say anything at all. If you are sitting there reading from a monitor and think you have had a reality check, you are right. But your "reality check" is nothing compared to what happened this week to a lot of folks. Let's work to make it better, not worse.

Fisk on Palmyra

Isis slaughter in the sacred Syrian city of Palmyra: The survivors' stories
When the black-cowled gunmen of the 'Islamic State' infiltrated the suburbs of Palmyra on 20 May, half of Assad Sulieman’s oil and gas processing plant crews – 50 men in all - were manning their 12-hour shift at the Hayan oil field 28 miles away. They were the lucky ones. Their 50 off-duty colleagues were sleeping at their homes next to the ancient Roman city. Twenty-five of them would soon be dead, among up to 400 civilians – including women and children – who would die in the coming hours at the hands of the Islamist militia which every Syrian now calls by its self-styled acronym ‘Daesh’.

Oil engineer ‘Ahmed’ – he chose this name to protect his family in Palmyra – was, by chance, completing a course at Damascus University on the fatal day when Palmyra fell. “I was appalled,” he said. “I tried calling my family. It was still possible to get through on the phone. They said ‘Daesh’ (also known as Isis) wasn’t allowing anyone to leave their home. My brother later went onto the street. He took pictures of bodies. They had been decapitated, all men.

[photo caption -- Destruction of the Jezaa gas and oil processing plant Destruction of the Jezaa gas and oil processing plant “He managed to send the photographs out to me from [the Isis-controlled city of] Raqqa on the internet which is the only communications working there.”]

Some of the photographs are too terrible to publish. They show heads lying several feet from torsos, blood running in streams across a city street. In one, a body lies on a roadway while two men cycle past on a bicycle. So soon after the capture of Palmyra were the men slaughtered that shop-fronts can still be seen in the photographs, painted in the two stars and colours of the red-white-and-black flag of the Syrian government.

“The Daesh forced the people to leave the bodies in the streets for three days,” Ahmed continued. “They were not allowed to pick up the bodies or bury them without permission. The corpses were all over the city. My family said the Daesh came to our house, two foreign men – one appeared to be an Afghan, the other from Tunisia or Morocco because he had a very heavy accent – and then they left. They killed three female nurses. One was killed in her home, another in her uncle’s house, a third on the street. Perhaps it was because they helped the army [as nurses]. Some said they were beheaded but my brother said they were shot in the head.”

In the panic to flee Palmyra, others perished when their cars drove over explosives planted on the roads by the Islamist gunmen. One was a retired Syrian general from the al-Daas family whose 40-year old pharmacist wife and 12-year old son were killed with him when their car’s wheels touched the explosives. Later reports spoke of executions in the old Roman theatre amid the Palmyra ruins.

The director of the Hayan gas and oil processing plant, Assad Sulieman, shook his head in near-disbelief as he recounted how word reached him of the execution of his off-duty staff. Some were, he believes, imprisoned in the gas fields which had fallen into the hands of the ‘Islamic State’. Others were merely taken from their homes and murdered because they were government employees. For months prior to the fall of Palmyra, he had received a series of terrifying phone calls from the Islamists, one of them when gunmen were besieging a neighbouring gas plant.

He said: “They came on my own phone, here in my office, and said: ‘We are coming for you.’ I said to them: ‘I will be waiting’. The army drove them off but my staff also received these phone calls here and they were very frightened. The army protected three of our fields then and drove them off.” Since the fall of Palmyra, the threatening phone calls have continued, even though 'Daesh' have cut all mobile and landlines in their newly-occupied city.

Another young engineer at Hayan was in Palmyra when the 'Islamic State' arrived. So fearful was he when he spoke that he even refused to volunteer a name for himself. “I had gone back to Palmyra two days before and everything seemed alright,” he said. “When my family told me they had arrived, I stayed at home and so did my mother and brother and sisters and we did not go out. Everyone knew that when these men come, things are not good. The electricity stopped for two days and then the gunmen restored it. We had plenty of food – we were a well-off family. We stayed there a week, we had to sort out our affairs and they never searched our home.”

The man’s evidence proved the almost haphazard nature of Isis rule. A week after the occupation, the family made its way out of the house – the women in full Islamic covering – and caught a bus to the occupied city of Raqqa and from there to Damascus. “They looked at my ID but didn’t ask my job,” the man said. “The bus trip was normal. No-one stopped us leaving.” Like Ahmed, the young oil worker was a Sunni Muslim – the same religion as ‘Daesh’s’ followers – but he had no doubts about the nature of Palmyra’s occupiers. “When they arrive anywhere”, he said, “there is no more life”. The ancient Palmyra theater (Reuters) The ancient Palmyra theater (Reuters)

Syria’s own oil and gas lifeline now stretches across a hundred miles of desert from Homs in the midlands to the strategic oil fields across the broiling desert outside Palmyra. It took two hours to reach a point 28 miles from Palmyra; the last Syrian troops are stationed eight miles closer to the city.

To the west lies the great Syrian air base of Tiyas – codenamed ‘T-4’ after the old fourth pumping station of the Iraqi-Palestine oil pipeline – where I saw grey-painted twin-tailed Mig fighter bombers taking off into the dusk and settling back onto the runways. A canopy of radar dishes and concrete bunkers protect the base and Syrian troops can be seen inside a series of earthen fortresses on each side of the main road to Palmyra, defending their redoubts with heavy machine guns, long-range artillery and missiles.

Syrian troops patrol the highway every few minutes on pick-up trucks – and make no secret of their precautions. They pointed out the site of an improvised explosive device found a few hours earlier - more than 30 miles west of Palmyra. Further down the road was the wreckage of truck bombs which had been hit by Syrian rocket-fire. Assad Sulieman, the gas plant director, declares that his father named him after President Bashar al-Asasad’s father Hafez. He described how Islamist rebels had totally destroyed one gas plant close to Hayan last year, and how his crews had totally restored it to production within months by using cannibalized equipment from other facilities. His plant’s production capacity has been restored to three million cubic metres of gas per day for the country’s power stations and six thousand barrels of oil for the Homs refinery. Ancient sites in Palmyra (EPA) Ancient sites in Palmyra (EPA)

But the man who understands military risks is General Fouad – like everyone else in the area of Palmyra, he prefers to use only his first name – a professional officer whose greatest victory over the rebels on a nearby mountain range came at the moment his soldier-son was killed in battle in Homs. He makes no secret of “the big shock” he felt when Palmyra fell. He thinks that the soldiers had been fighting for a long time in defence of the city and did not expect the mass attack. Other military men – not the general – say that the ‘Islamic State’ advanced on a 50-mile front, overwhelming the army at the time.

“They will get no further,” General Fouad said. “We fought them off when they attacked three fields last year. Our soldiers stormed some of their local headquarters on the Shaer mountain. We found documents about our production facilities, we found religious books of Takfiri ideas. And we found lingerie.”

What on earth, I asked, would the Islamic State be doing with lingerie? The general was not smiling. “We think that maybe they kept captured Yazidi women with them, the ones who were kidnapped in Iraq. When our soldiers reached their headquarters, we saw some of their senior men running away with some women.”

But the general, like almost every other Syrian officer I met on this visit to the desert – and every other civilian – had a thought on his mind. If the Americans were so keen to destroy Isis, did they not know from satellites that thousands of gunmen were massing to strike at Palmyra. Certainly they did not tell the Syrians of this? And they did not bomb them, either – though there must have been targets aplenty for the US air force in the days before the Palmyra attack, even if Washington does not like the Assad regime. A question, then, that still has to be answered.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Hamas and Israel -- Detente? Rapprochement?

This is hugely important. 
IS tried to bait Israel into another conflict with Hamas by launching rockets from Gaza, which would have put Hamas into the ISIS camp. But Israel did not take the bait. I have not seen this mentioned in the US press (yet) but the key players certainly took note.
Here is a Google translation. 
Suddenly Israel remains the most important friend of Hamas
A security official explained that harming the Hamas response to the attack last night serve Daas and Egypt looking from the side and refuses to believe - a key ally in talks with Qatar and Turkey, but refuses to talk to Abbas.  

Avi Issacharoff
Monday, 07 June 2015 13:30

The Israeli response this morning (Sunday) the rocket yesterday from the Gaza Strip largely represents Jerusalem's new policy against Hamas - the bride and instead embrace a military confrontation. On one side of the air assault was empty buildings not signed to produce the appearance of a reaction, while there were statements by security officials, appears to be seeking to defend Hamas.

"The purpose of the latest launches from Gaza is to light a fire between Hamas and Israel, "said a senior security official this morning. According to him, the Salafist organization is identified with Daas and launched the rocket attack 'Israel expects Hamas and do the job for him. " In other words, the same anonymous source explained to the Israeli public that harming the Hamas response to the attack would serve the "Islamic State" (Daas), and the conclusion is that we must exercise restraint. 

Hamas good for the Jews. [Video at the link -- no captions]
No longer an enemy, but a partner in maintaining the peace. Ismail Haniya (Photo: Reuters)

The change in perception regarding Hamas Israel is nothing less than amazing. No longer an enemy, not another terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction, but a partner in maintaining peace and perhaps even more in the future. In terms of defense and decision-makers in Jerusalem, control of Hamas in Gaza is an Israeli interest, and therefore strive to overthrow it. To recall the last election spots, presenting Hamas as an enemy of Israel and those who want ousting Netanyahu, then to understand that the reality is 180 degrees different.

No longer an enemy, but a partner in maintaining the peace. 
Ismail Haniya (Photo: Reuters)
Today, Israel is one of the few factors that work in the preservation of the rule of Hamas in Gaza. Moreover, it also works with the world's most outstanding representative of the "Muslim Brotherhood" - Qatar and Turkey - in order to keep the peace in Gaza. Israel allows representatives of both countries to mediate between it and the organization born from the "Muslim Brotherhood". The biggest absurdity is that when he tried to Foreign Minister of the United States John Kerry to end the fighting in Gaza last summer through Doha and Ankara, Israeli politicians attacked him and accused him of amateurishness and innocence.
Still sees Netanyahu partner, but the credit can be expended.
Egyptian President al-Sisi (Photo: Reuters)
Likewise, should examine this situation from the perspective of the most important ally of Israel in the region, Egypt. Much has been written and said about the cooperation between the parties and honeymoon between Jerusalem and Cairo. And now, one can only imagine how the Egyptians are looking at Israel's modus operandi in recent months.First, Israel refuses to communicate with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas , despite the urgings of a few non-Cairo. On the other hand, the Netanyahu government talks with Hamas indirectly, from the creator of "Brotherhood" is the biggest enemies of Cairo. To do this, Israel allows foothold of Qatar in Gaza, through the Apostle Muhammad al-Amad, and even Turkey agrees to stir Palestinian issue.

An example of this occurred three weeks ago and a bit, then Israel allowed Turkish counterpart Minister of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Gormz, visit with a delegation of senior officials in the Gaza Strip. In addition, he visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque and was venerated. However, when visited by the Chief Judge of Sharia Jordan, Ahmed Khalil, hurled shoes at him. Cairo, presumably, watching all this from the sidelines and refuses to believe. Israel, which the senior partner of its most important war radical Islam, is currently conducting an entire axis of talks with "Muslim Brotherhood". Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi goes to see Netanyahu as a partner and ally, but the question of when this credit is over.

No less important question is whether Israel's gamble on "Muslim Brotherhood" is not far-fetched to begin with. Why does Israel refuse to examine the possibility of cooperation with Abbas, but in such a hurry to embrace Hamas? The new Israeli approach Hamas says' If not, we Daas or anarchy in Gaza. "Or, they might be the case, but whether everything was done to examine the possibility of return of the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip? Is the first step, even before the rush into the arms of "Muslim Brotherhood", is not it better to the Israeli government to resume diplomatic channel with Abu Mazen?