Monday, June 29, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Anyway, the Taliban have shown their appreciation by refusing to lay down their arms, which was supposed to be their side of the bargain. So here we have it...the Taliban gets to welsh on their deal and the Pakistani government is left with their country backsliding into the grip of homicidal maniacs. The Taliban also had a "thank you" gift to offer...
A suicide car bomber has attacked a security post in north-western Pakistan, killing at least 18 people, nine of them police, police say.
The bomber set off his explosives as he pulled up at a checkpoint in Charsadda, a town near the city of Peshawar.
There has so far been no claim of responsibility for the attack.
But correspondents say Pakistani Taleban militants, allied to al-Qaeda, have carried out numerous such attacks over the past two years.
Sick stuff. I hope that President Obama can show the same determination he showed when confronting the Somali pirates.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Perhaps this event will show the Somali pirates and their brethren in Mogadishu, the Al-Qaeda-allied Al-Shabaab militia, that America is not going to deal with their antics. These pirates picked the wrong crew to mess with, that's for sure, and eventually, it looked like these pirates would have been satisfied if they could have escaped with their lives, never mind the $2 million ransom they were demanded. However, their potential future in pirating met a violent end.
Navy SEALS in Afghanistan...let's hope that the Taliban scum who flog young girls and blow up mosques got news of what happened off the coast of Somalia.
Anyway, the Maersk Alabama arrived safely in Mombassa, Kenya, with all of its cargo. The ship was delivering aid to suffering Africans, and luckily all of that aid will be able to reach them.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
First, my friends over at Iraqi Bloggers Central have announced they are closing their doors. While this is a bit depressing, I am very happy for them...they have run the blog for 5 successful years. I don't always agree with them--particularly Mr. Ghost, but nonetheless they have all at one time or another done something to help Iraq and its people. Jeffrey, the most frequent poster, has noted there has been a decline in English-language Iraqi blogs...my link list has quite a few of them, I might add. But on the other hand, there is a growing number of inactive Iraqi bloggers, as evident by the growing list on IBC.
Speaking of which, those blogs that have been a good read are experiencing some trouble. Iraqi Mojo has always been one of my favorite Iraqi bloggers with his spot-on analysis of the situation in Iraq and willingness to stand up for what is right. Today though, the blog has been overrun with haters, many of which come Healing Iraq, a run-down, inactive site that was run by Zeyad Kasim, who also had some good thoughts to offer at one point. Anyway, Mojo's blog has been the center of a debate that tends to invoke nothing but hate and anger for 60 years: Israel and Palestine.
A residential neighborhood in Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank. Anyone who knows about the debate knows that this is a frequent battleground between Israelis and Palestinians.
The lines have been drawn over at Mojo's, and commentators who were once friendly with each other are know bashing each other, tossing insults around, and getting worked up over nothing because anti-American supporters of the Iraqi "Resistance" like Arab Advocate and his side-kick, Bruno, the Afrikaner, have figured out how to stir up trouble and get their sick kicks. In the year and a half I have been commenting at Mojo's, I have been able to avoid the discussion...I always feared that because I vehemently stand beside Israel's right to exist and believe that Israel offers light in a region overrun by darkness I would forever be labeled a "Zionist", a "Zionut", or as some haters will say, a "fascist", or a "Nazi", words which I believe are deliberately used to cause hurt the people of the Jewish Homeland, given their historical significance.
However, when Arab Advocate calls for Israel to be "dismantled"--a codeword for "destroyed"--I have no choice but to speak up. In the midst of my defense, I have been accused of supporting "the deportation of Palestinians to Jordan", supporting Avigdor Lieberman and his policies, supporting the West Bank settlers, and worst of all, not caring about the right of Palestinians. This stuff is so out of proportion I don't even know where to begin. For starters, I am strongly opposed to the settlements and their inhabitants who regularly attack both innocent Palestinians and Israelis who try to protect them. I think they, alongside terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the region. Not only that, they really aren't any different from each other. Militant Zionists like those mentioned in the above link are just as bad as the Palestinians who fire rockets and mortars into Israel. At the same time, I don't think it makes me "anti-Palestinian" to point out that Jordan, in addition to Israel, snatched up Palestinian land in the first partition. Am I anti-Palestinian when I express my sheer outrage over what Hamas does to its own people? I hope anyone who cares about Palestinians wouldn't think this.
Israel has no doubt done bad things in its 60 years history, while at the same time attempting to offer things that no other country in the region will offer, like free press, democracy, women's rights, and major technological advantages, things that I believe are necessary for any society to truly succeed. Perhaps its difficult for some Americans to focus on the bad things Israel has done because they blindly support Israel for religious reasons--a means to an end, if I may say so. Or maybe its because Israel is surrounded by regimes so evil and repressive, like gender-apartheid Saudi Arabia, Bashir's blood-soaked Sudan, and Big Q's Libya, that it makes the settler violence seem mild in the eyes of the world.
If a fair international forum could exist, Israel would have things to answer for. Unfortunately, its nearly impossible to take the UN "Human Rights" Commission seriously when they give their posts and chairmanships to countries like the 3 mentioned above (Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia) and expect the world to take action against Israel. While the Gaza War erupted backed in December, an even worse conflict raged on in the jungles of Sri Lanka...just recently, 60 civilians were blown up by mortar fire but no one cares because this debate does not invoke political passion like Israel and Palestine do. During the the Gaza war, pro-Hamas protests broke out here in San Francisco, believe it or not. I haven't seen any protesters in San Francisco march through the streets waving Tamil Tiger flags and calling for the destruction of the Sri Lankan government, which could meet all the same criteria of being a "racist state" as Israel might. America has provided aid to Sri Lanka and has the Tamil Tigers on their list of terrorist organizations as well.
Recently, on Angry Arab's Comment Section, a blog I often visit, one commentator made a joke about Israeli immigrants moving to India and stealing Indian land, completely oblivious to the fact that India is already being "occupied" by Pakistan and Bangladesh, but I guess maybe its okay for these people because the occupiers are Muslims, instead of Jews. I've seen many of the commentators go after the Hindus of India for being the oppressive ones while falling silent over what Pakistani and Bangladeshi militants have done to India's civilian population. And no, I am not going on an anti-Muslim rant. Any regular reader of this blog would know that I have fiercely defended Pakistan in its fight against terrorism and that its harder to find a bigger defender of the Islamic religion than myself. I just don't think that blatant hypocrisy is fair.
My point in going on about this is that I really wish that people would completely and totally avoid this debate UNLESS they are willing to hear the other side and listen to their concerns. At the beginning of the month, I attended a debate featuring As'ad Abukhalil, the "Angry Arab" and Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor. I was disgusted by the people who claimed to be "Pro-Palestinian"--they were extremely disrespectful to the Consul General by shouting insults and yelling at him when he was trying to speak. Somewhere in the crowd, conscientious supporters of the Palestinian people must have been very embarrassed by what was happening. The event was advertised as though it would be a forum to discuss the issue...it was anything but. While it was very exciting to meet the two speakers, the "forum" managed to attract the worst of American Society.
I have met Palestinians...and I have met Israelis. Sometimes it seems they are more willing to discuss the issues than their supporters in other countries, believe it or not. Unless you are willing to bring your opponent into a cafe, drink coffee, and talk things over, you should avoid talking about anything involving Israel and Palestine for your own well-being and the well-being of others. I've heard that this conflict has wrecked many political careers over its perplexity and inability to be solved...I would say that the debate has wrecked many good and decent friendships over the inability to find any common ground.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
This is a video from Hospital General de Tijuana. A little over a year ago, drug cartels stormed the building and controlled it until the Mexican Army arrived.
I know one of these is in my last post, but here are the photos I took. There were a lot of people there, but luckily everything was calm.
Security was extremely tight. The police and security guards on duty were being very careful over who was to be let in. I decided a view from outside was all I needed.
Not even hospitals are safe in Mexico anymore.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
For the past several months, I have been hearing a lot about the situation in Northern Mexico, especially on conservative talk radio and other similar media sources. I have heard border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez described as "shooting galleries" and I have read a lot about them in the international media. Well I decided I needed to see this for myself, so I bought a plane ticket and flew down to San Diego. From there, I took the trolley into Tijuana. I felt a rush of adrenaline just seeing the city from the trolley window, before I even reached the San Ysidro border crossing. A giant Mexican flag flew beside the Tijuana arch, which I found to be a spectacular sight.
I'm not quite sure of the dimensions of this flag, but it must be very large. As soon as I stepped across the border, I found a large convoy of yellow taxis all waiting to bring the American tourists to the most popular parts of Tijuana. My driver was surprised when I told him what destination I was hoping to reach: the Tijuana police headquarters.
Once the cab got in motion it didn't take long to realize I was truly in a foreign country. The traffic was madness...cars swirling through roundabouts, aging buses blowing out black smoke, and pedestrians walking into oncoming traffic. It was a "every man for himself" mentality on the streets of downtown Tijuana, at least that's the way it seemed to me. Being from a quiet town outside of San Francisco, maybe I don't know what I am talking about.
Upon reaching the police station, I asked the driver if he would accept dollars since I had only converted half of my money to pesos and I wanted to save it. He did, and I was surprised to learn how many stores in Mexico accept dollars. Anyway, the police station was quite an experience. Armed guards with M-16 Assault rifles slung over their shoulders patrolled the perimeter...it was basically a fortress. I chatted with a police captain for several minutes and was disappointed to learn that my contact I had spoken with over the phone had been called away to Mexico City for the weekend. I did have a few minutes to talk with his spokesman though.
Police vehicles are pretty much the same as their counterparts in the US, although they are printed with "Policia" on the side, so you definitely know you are in Mexico.
Tijuana has also introduced a new fleet of police vehicles that are smaller, flashier, and more fuel efficient. There was also a lot of motorbike cops on the streets. I was surprised by the number of female police officers, one of whom was driving a vehicle.
I asked the captain if he would allow me to take a few photos and he said it would be okay. Taking photos of police and military personal is a very sensitive issue, or so I learned, because after the captain went inside, one of the men holding an M-16 decided I had taken enough photos. Considering the firepower he was packing, I was not in a position to argue. I put my camera away and strolled off to Avenida Revolucion, Tijuana's once bustling tourist zone.
Before I left for Tijuana I learned that Avenida Revolucion had been devoid of tourists as of late because of the spiraling drug cartel violence. I noticed that most of the people I was passing by on the streets were Mexicans. Waiters, bartenders, and club owners rushed out on the streets upon seeing me walking down the street, hoping they might be able to get a few dollars from an American visitor for a beer or a cigar. I ended up buying a couple of Mexican lagers and a Cuban cigar. The man in the cigar shop had hoped I would take it a step further by purchasing a poncho and a Sombrero, but I politely declined. I do regret not asking him to take a photo of me wearing it though.
This is a car dealership across the street from my hotel. Used Jetta sedans are being sold for just under 135,000 Pesos, or around 9,000 dollars. It really makes you appreciate the value of the dollar, despite all of the enonomic news, doesn't it?
Further downtown in the financial district of the city, things were calm, save for the occasional sound of a police siren or the honking of a horn. In this photo, the sun is beginning to set, and common sense was telling me to get back to the hotel because many of Tijuana's most horrific crimes take place at night and in the late evening. I ended up hanging out in a Starbucks for a little while though.
Now this I found to be a strange sight...this is a statue of Abraham Lincoln, also just a few blocks away from my hotel. I've heard a lot about how Latin America is "Anti-US" but I didn't see any of that in Tijuana. I proudly wore a "United States Navy" sweatshirt during my walk through the city and I had many people say to me "Yeah! America". Tijuanans were very friendly.
Outside of the financial district, things got a little more gloomy. This is the type of setting I imagine every time I read a horror story on the news about violence in Tijuana or any of the other northern cities. This was probably the one point in the trip where I feared a shoot-out could suddenly erupt. This picture was taken from a pedestrian overpass above a busy road.
I crossed over the pedestrian bridge and could see one of Tijuana's main hospitals off in the distance. After crossing a drainage canal I got a good view of the hospital, and found that it was very busy.
Once again, here are some more indications you are clearly not in the US when you are in a border city like Tijuana. The Km/hr sign reminded me of Europe. This was taken as I stepped down from the pedestrian bridge.
Tijuana is growing rapidly despite the troubles it is facing. I read somewhere that the city's population is approaching 2 million!
As I began to walk back to the hotel, I passed a government office...I believe it was for a state prosecutor. Granted that this is the type of peron at the center of the drugs war, I was not surprised to see two armored Humvees sitting outside with masked soldiers behind 50 Caliber machine guns. I reached for my camera, anxiously hoping to get a photo. In my best Spanish, I politely approached them.
Hola, yo soy estudiante del periodismo en Estados Unidos. Un Foto?
(Hello, I am a journalism student in the United States. May I take your photo?)
They politely replied:
Arrepentido, eso no es permitido. (sorry, we are not allowed to do so)
and I said:
Permanezca seguro, amigos (stay safe friends)
I would've been quite a sight to get a picture of, but just as I felt with the police, I was not in a position to push it when my subjects have machine guns. I also learned that soldiers and police wear black or brown face masks to conceal their identities, and photos are a concern because the drug cartels could use them to find the families of soldiers and police...something that has been happening all to often along our troubled border with Mexico.
I will have more photos to post soon, along with the conclusion of my trip...standby until then.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Beheadings, kidnappings, and assassinations are all common place in Northern Mexico today.
Reporting from Mexico City -- The Mexican government will deploy 1,000 more federal police officers as part of a wider effort to restore order in Ciudad Juarez, the nation's most violent city, officials said Monday.
Some of those uniformed federal officers began arriving in the border city Monday, two days after about 2,000 soldiers landed there in a related military buildup. Those soldiers were the first of an expected 5,000 additional troops who will be sent to help perform basic police functions.
The military reinforcements will bring to more than 7,000 the number of soldiers in Ciudad Juarez.
The nation's public safety chief, Genaro Garcia Luna, said that along with the soldiers, he planned to dispatch the additional 1,000 federal police officers, Notimex news agency reported.
About 425 federal officers already had been posted in Ciudad Juarez, where the death toll last year exceeded 1,600, the highest in a country racked by drug-related violence.
The border city is in the throes of a vicious turf war between a local drug-smuggling organization and rivals from the northwestern state of Sinaloa. The feud, and the Mexican government's 2-year-old crackdown on organized crime, has sent killings soaring.
The city's police chief, Roberto Orduna Cruz, resigned almost two weeks ago after several of his officers were shot to death and anonymous signs appeared warning that an officer would be killed every 48 hours unless he stepped down.
Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, who has also been the subject of anonymous handwritten threats, said last week that the army would take over basic policing duties, such as patrolling the streets.
More of this story can be read in the Los Angeles Times here
Side-note: I have filed this post under "War on Terrorism" because the subhuman monsters terrorizing the citizens of Ciudad Juarez are terrorists just as much as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and other knife-wielding lunatics who bastardize the Koran.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Okay...here I go!
1) I never like to stay in the same place for an extended period of time, such as a city, state, or country, I am always determined to travel :)
2) I played sports for the first ten years of my life before I realized I didn't enjoy playing them.
3) LOST is my favorite TV show
4) John Locke is my favorite character in LOST...his faith and determination inspires me in life.
5) I am trying to learn both Arabic and Spanish at the same time, and I am thankful that I have friends who speak both languages so I can practice with them.
6) I voted for John McCain...it was my first presidential election to vote in.
7) Religion is complex for me..I consider myself a Christian, I would say, but I strongly embrace all faiths and I am always eager to learn more about the world's many great religions.
8) I have been to Friday prayers at a San Francisco mosque twice now
9) Sometimes, I have a tendency to be oversensitive and I overreact to the simplest of all things
10) Spending more than two weeks without going into downtown San Francisco could very well drive me crazy, since I really enjoy the atmosphere
11) When I go to SF, I visit Pier 39 often, even though it is an extreme tourist attraction and there's not much there for a native Californian.
12) I have lived in California for almost 4 years and I still have not gone over the Golden Gate Bridge! Although, I have crossed the Bay Bridge, which is almost the same size, dozens of times.
13) Last December, I stayed at a hotel on the California-Nevada border in Lake Tahoe and I ran back and forth across the border just for fun. I went about 50 yards each way. Of course, I went to dinner later on and got to spend plenty of time in the great state of Nevada.
14) My favorite singer is Bob Marley and I know many of his lyrics by heart
15) One time, I held a conversation in Farsi with an Iranian at Tehran University. It lasted for about a minute before my counterpart was able to put me through to an English language line. I had to use an online phrase list to help me through it ;)
16) I have visited both coasts of Ireland and spent a week and a half on each one
17) Even though I am non-Muslim, I have a framed picture of the holy city of Medina because I think it is a beautiful sight to look at. I also have a framed picture of Istanbul's blue mosque.
18) I am probably one of the last people my age to start using facebook and myspace.
19) I am not quite sure what my favorite country is outside of the USA...I suppose I might just have to say ALL of them!
20) I am watching 3 White Cloud mountain minnows swimming in a mini fish tank on my desk as I write this.
21) Many people tell me that I need to develop self-confidence
22) One day, I imagine myself traveling the world and having a very exciting career as a global correspondent. I will travel to Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and countless other amazing people that few Americans will get to see :)
23) I am extremely thankful to blogger because it has helped me meet some of the nicest friends there are.
24) Math was my most difficult subject in school...come to think of it, it was really a miracle that I was able to get enough credits in math!!
25) I keep having this strange feeling that President Barack Obama is going to make a very good decision that will make me vote for him in the next election...hmmm, we'll see how that goes :D
So...how did that go?
Monday, February 16, 2009
If the Pakistani Army does pull out and the Taliban moves into the once-beautiful Swat Valley, that leaves us with few options, except for maybe...
Air power of course...certainly no one deserves a missile up their ass more than a bearded scumbag who storms into a girls school with an AK-47 and burns it down, blows it up, or in some cases, throws acid on the innocent students. How sad is it to think of the young girls in Pakistan who, thanks to the Pakistani government, might lose the battle for their education.
President Obama needs to put forth a troop surge strategy in Afghanistan, but it will have to be more complex than that. Recent polls are suggesting that the people of Afghanistan are losing their trust of the United States and our NATO allies. For every girls' school the Taliban burns down in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the elected-government of Afghanistan, along with its western allies, should build 50 new ones on the Afghan-side of the border. Having their leaders picked off by CIA predator drones may be damaging to the Taliban, but the only way they will ever be finished off is if both Afghans and Pakistanis succeed in building successful democracies.
I have always defended Pakistan...there is little doubt that they have suffered far more than any other country in the region from terrorism, especially India and Afghanistan. But surrendering Swat Valley could be a mistake of historical proportions.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Regardless of how one might feel about Israel and what has been happening in Gaza lately, its hard to dispute that Israeli citizens have more rights and freedoms than most countries in the region. I find it revolting whenever I hear that Israel needs to be "dismantled"--often a codeword by the Israel haters that they really seek to see Israel destroyed, as if a Hamas-ruled Palestine is going to give the Palestinians the freedoms they desire. Even worse are the frequent verbal assaults on Israel involving Nazi and fascist comparisons to the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli government.
Israel and Iraq deal a devastating blow to tyranny and terrorism every time an election is held. You can bet that the monarchs in Saudi Arabia or the mullahs in Iran cringe every time an Iraqi or an Israel-Arab casts a ballot and takes a step to decide on his or her future. Syria's Assad and Libya's Muammar Gadaffi probably feel similar. Yet this does not stop Saudi Arabia from feeling fit to criticize Israel, even as they lash rape victims , chop off heads for the most simple of all reason, and look the other way as terrorists who go on to kill innocent Arabs and Muslims are exported over their border.
Afghan police in Kabul, outside the scene of the attack
The Taliban attacked government offices in Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Wednesday using coordinated "Fedayeen" assaults, the same tactic that was used during the Mumbai attacks last November, in which some 170 people were killed by a mere 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists wielding AK-47 and a small amount of explosives. Apparently, the attackers in Kabul engaged the Afghan police in a 3-hour gun battle after taking control of a government office. Its small compared to what happened in Mumbai, but its frightening nonetheless.
I find this particularly disturbing, especially considering that we have Obama in the White House now. I've been hearing from many of my friends that Obama is going to be tough on terrorism but I just can't get rid of the doubts I have.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Contrary to what may be a popular belief, the use of women as suicide bombers did not begin after the US invaded Iraq or during a stage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It originated in the dark jungles of a remote island in the Indian Ocean, and it continues to this day. The Sri Lankan military has made many strategic gains against LTTE rebels in the island's civil war, but unfortunately, this type of violence may never go away.
Sri Lanka bomber 'kills dozens'
A female Tamil Tiger rebel has blown herself up, killing 28 people and injuring dozens more in the north-east, the Sri Lankan military says.
A military spokesman told the BBC the woman blew herself up as she travelled with civilians fleeing fighting.
He said 20 of those killed in the attack in the Vishwamadu area of Mullaitivu district were soldiers. The rebels have made no comment yet.
Thousands of civilians have fled the fighting over the past few days.
Military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara told the BBC: "[The civilians] were coming to an area where there were security forces. A woman in that group blew herself up when she was being checked by female soldiers."
Brig Nanayakkara said 20 soldiers, including three women, were killed along with eight civilians. About 50 troops and 40 civilians, mostly women and children, were hurt, he said.
The injured, Brig Nanayakkara said, were being evacuated to hospitals in the area.
State television showed footage of the bodies of civilians lying on bloodstained ground in Vishwamadu.
The United Nations said it deplored the attack. Resident coordinator Neil Buhne said: "It's a blow for people who have suffered so much."
The rest of the story can be read here
Saturday, February 7, 2009
This is Arco, which pretty much has the cheapest gas in the Bay Area.
Chevron has always felt the need to be a few cents higher.
What exactly is going on here? Again, it doesn't make much sense. My grandpa likes to blame the oil companies, while I prefer to direct blame at the oil-producing countries who believe that $100 per barrel is a fair price (never mind that they were still building gold-placated palaces all across the Middle East when it was only $25 in 2003). Either way, I think both take the blame.
With the economic downturn and lack of profit, maybe the oil companies have decided to just start raising prices again to see how long they can do it until consumers start complaining again. If anyone else has a theory as to why gas is going up, I would really like to hear it.
This isn't just a local or a national issue. I remember last month when Russia threatened to shut off gas supplies to the Ukraine. Russia accused Ukraine of falling behind in payments, but I think that Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev wanted to generate a crisis to boost the price of gas and provide some relief to Russia's faltering economy.
But that's that. Gas at $2.09 a gallon is a hell of a lot cheaper than what we were paying over the Summer. As of two weeks ago, gasoline at Arco was the cheapest I had ever seen it since moving to California from Boston. Notice all of this bad economic news is not stopping people from going out and enjoying their lives...one of the local cafes and the Subway was packed with customers all anxious to enjoy the beautiful weather after a couple days of rain.
Yes, I realize that this is turning into more of a multi-pronged ramble instead of a post, but I thought I should show this picture. There's been a lot of panic that California is undergoing a drought, but the recent rain is really beginning to green-up the hills. The view of the mountain is quite breathtaking, isn't it?
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Those who wanted Iraq to fail have only failed themselves. Al-Qaeda's roots have been smashed thanks to the courage of the Iraqi people, the Lions of the Iraqi Army, and of course the Surge Strategy implemented by a true American hero, General David Petraeus. As for Saddam and the Baathists, they are nothing but a closed chapter in a dark history.
Iraqi heroes patrol the Tigris River
Usually, when I think about the people who looked down on Iraqis, I think of terrorist scumbags who suicide bombed mosques or Militiamen who trained in the art of torture from a compound outside of Tehran. But we cannot forget people like Harry Reid and the other democrats...I don't want to dwell too much on that. Our country is focused on another crisis, and the last thing we need is more division, but I will stand by this statement: Harry Reid should have stepped down a long time ago after his reprehensible statements.
I am very proud of my president, Barack Obama, for commending the Iraqi people and praising the success of today's elections, which passed free of violence and proved to the world that Iraq, its people, and its freedom are truly a force to be reckoned with. I must say that I am even prouder of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Kamal Al-Maliki, who has strong that he is a strong and gracious leader.
The Iraqi people have stood up for their security
But I am most proud of my former president, George W. Bush. I suppose if I ran into him tomorrow, this is what I would say to him:
Mr. President, now that you have stepped aside and are enjoying a calm, quiet life in the Dallas suburbs, remember that you are a real hero. You stood by Iraq's side in its time of need...you outsmarted those who wanted Iraq to fail, from the congressmen who verbally ravaged you day in and day out to the terrorists who arose from the sands of North Africa and Saudi Arabia to inflict terror and fear on the Iraqi people.
The democrats won the election. They got the White House and they consolidated their power in Congress. For now, they have even won the trust of the American people. But each morning, when you and your wife get ready to have coffee, just think of the millions of Iraqi families who are going to live in peace, and the future generations who are going to lead Iraq and the Middle East to greatness. The Democrats never got their new direction. You looked them in the eye and exposed them for the frauds they were when they threatened to cut funding or tie in a "troop withdrawal" to one of their so-called "blank checks" they were handing you.
History will judge you very differently, sir. You will be remembered with heroes of the Middle East like T.E. Lawrence and Benazir Bhutto, except your accomplishments are even greater.
Hhhhh...maybe I need to do some work with it, lol. But that is pretty much what I would say if I met the former president. Anyway, even as the Bush hatred remains solid in this country, there are plenty of images that will show just the opposite.
A bustling Baghdad comes to mind. As George and Laura go about their golden years, I hope that they will find the time to visit it. I've heard reassurances from some of my Iraqi friends that they will be warmly welcomed one day, and I trust this will be true.
Bush did a great thing for Iraq, for the world, and for humanity. It disgusts me when I hear about Republicans who urged the president to give up during the bloodshed that peaked in 2006-07, when Iran, Syria, Al-Qaeda, and the Baathists were hard at work trying to destroy the country. While they all had different goals, the above mentioned thugs seemed to agree that a democratic Iraq was a threat to their despotic way of life.
Another question comes to mind...is Iraq even still a "war"? Obviously, the Iraqi people will always be at war with so-called Islamists who wish to destroy their way of life, but perhaps the media can look at stories coming out of Iraq as something other than "war news".
The struggle is far from over...Iraq is going to serve as a role model for the Middle East, and we will have to wait and see what happens. Iraq's future is just beginning.
Synagogue attacked in Venezuela
An armed gang has ransacked a Jewish synagogue in the Venezuelan capital Caracas after occupying the building for several hours.
About 15 unidentified men broke into the building before daubing graffiti on the walls and desecrating scriptures.
They also called for Jewish people to be expelled from the country.
Jewish leaders say tensions have risen since Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with Israel this month over its recent military offensive in Gaza.
Elias Farache, president of Venezuela's Jewish Association, said the gang had tied and gagged security guards before destroying offices and the place where holy books were kept.
Anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli slogans were painted on the walls.
"Never in the history of Venezuela's Jewish community have we been the target of such an aggression," said Mr Farache.
"The climate is very tense. We feel threatened, intimidated, attacked."
Venezuela and Israel have had strained relations for some time, and Caracas has been fiercely critical of Israel's military operations in Gaza, which started in late December.
The Venezuelan ambassador and his staff were ordered to leave the country on 6 January, and President Hugo Chavez has urged Israelis to stand up against their government.
Israel responded by ordering Venezuelan diplomats to leave, declaring them "persona non grata in Israel" earlier this week.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
I know, I have never been too much into posting or reporting on the economy, its never been my strength...but I really would like people to read this story because it is important. There is plenty of good news out there.
I really wish that more news like this would be reported. I have always believed that half of the fear people are feeling over the economic crisis is media-driven.
Amazon profits from festive sales
Profit at online retailer Amazon rose 9% in the final three months of last year, as the company enjoyed a robust holiday shopping season.
It said net profit totalled $225m in the fourth quarter, up from $207m a year ago.
Unlike many retailers, Amazon has not yet been hit hard by the cutback in spending by many consumers.
Amazon said it would continue to offer low prices and free shipping deals to lure budget-conscious shoppers.
Revenue increased 18% to $6.7bn, beating analysts estimates and Amazon it expected sales to rise in the first three months of 2009.
It looks like they took a lot of market share and made substantial gains," said Jeffrey Lindsay of Sanford C Bernstein.
"The good thing is that Amazon hasn't had to discount to the extent that people feared to achieve this."
Chief executive Jeff Bezos said Kindle, the electronic-reading device it introduced in 2007 to encourage book, magazine and newspaper downloads, had boosted sales.
Once a bookseller, Amazon now sells products in more than three dozen categories ranging from hairdryers to jewellery.
In the UK, it launched a music download site last year.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
President Obama has an obligation to keep up the effort in Afghanistan and make sure the gains we have tried so hard for in Iraq do not crumble. If only our President could hear from one of Iraq's potential leaders. He would learn some things he probably isn't hearing much about from his democratic colleagues in Congress.
A few months back I had the honor of interviewing Hayder Al-Khoei, also known as Eye Raki on his blog. Hayder opened up about his recent trip to Iraq, and revealed the progress that is being made. I originally published this story in a local newspaper.
UK College Student Travels to Iraq, reveals the progress being made
Published December 3rd, 2008
Hayder Al-Khoei is an Iraqi-born college student living in London, England, and studying political science. Recently, he interviewed with the Experience about his recent trip to the Middle East, where he spent several weeks in Iraq. Traveling between Baghdad and southern Iraq on his own, he was able to get a good picture of the progress achieved by the Iraqi Army and the newfound sense of security among Iraqis—as well as lingering concerns the country is feeling about the future.
Hayder is the 21-year old son of Sayyid Abdul Majid Al-Khoei, an influential Shiite cleric who was assassinated in Najaf in 2003 while trying to serve the will of his people. When he was very young, Hayder left his homeland of Iraq with his family after the 1991 Uprising, and he has spent most of his life living in the UK. He hopes to return to the Middle East permanently in the future, after finishing post-graduate studies in London. I was fortunate enough to learn about his most recent trip to Iraq, where he traveled to Baghdad after a two weeks stay in Iran. His trip later concluded in Amman, Jordan.
"The relaxed atmosphere I saw was very different" he said. "I was in Iraq earlier this year too, but this time I could tell a lot had changed. In many parts of Baghdad, people stay out late at night to drink tea and smoke nergila. That doesn't sound so strange to the average American, but in Iraq, when you can see families out at night enjoying themselves it says a lot about the current security situation".
The biggest differences Hayder noticed were the little things, such as taking a taxi from Baghdad International Airport to the Shiite holy city of Najaf at night, something that was considered dangerous as little as six months ago. Lack of electricity and militiamen roaming the streets could make a deadly combination. But this time, the taxi driver said the 3 hour trip down south would be no problem.
But still, not everything is perfect. Hayder noted that Iraq's electricity production levels still present a huge difficulty, and will need a lot of work to truly meet the needs of the Iraqi people. "Electricity is still a big problem. Having no electricity is not only an unbearable inconvenience in the heat but it means roads can be extremely dangerous to travel through at night," he said.
Iraq's future also faces a growing threat from the Sahwa—Arabic for "Awakening". They are Sunni tribal councils that have been critical in routing Al-Qaeda from Anbar province and other areas of the country. Some fear the Maliki government could try to disarm the Sahwa, reigniting sectarian tensions that extremists tried so hard to set off. Hayder believes that the Sahwa's threats of rebellion should be taken seriously. If the government fails to integrate most of its 100,000 strong militia into the Iraqi Security Forces, it could jeopardize the many security gains Iraq has achieved. Recently, Maliki's government agreed to take the reins from the US military and pay the Sunni Arab tribesman themselves.
At the same time, great progress has been achieved. The government of Nouri Al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, attained a defining moment this year when the Iraqi Army faced off with the Jaish Al-Mahdi, or 'JAM', the militia loyal to Muqtada Al-Sadr that fought two uprisings since 2004 and has been a thorn in the side of coalition forces who have been trying to stabilize the region. Despite an image portrayed by the many critics of the war and the media of incompetence on the part of the Iraqi Army, the facts on the ground appear to tell a different story. Maliki's actions helped to shed his title of a "sectarian" leader. Maliki is a Shiite, and he had often been accused of coddling the Shia militias who maintained control of entire swathes of Baghdad. After multiple crackdowns against Al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups in the north, the Iraqi government finally brought the fight to the Shia extremists, many of whom are suspected of mass kidnappings, executions and brutal torture methods involving drills and other weapons.
"The Sadrists were begging for the cease-fire," said Hayder, who spent most of his four week Iraq visit in the southern part of the country. "They really didn't have a choice. They could either continue the fighting and be humiliated by the Iraqi Army, or beg for a cease-fire in order to save face. For a few years, JAM could play ball with the Iraqi Army, but after the three separate successful crackdowns by the Iraqi Army, JAM were reduced to nothing, and were eventually disbanded by al-Sadr, who retained only a few 'special groups' to tackle the coalition forces in Iraq"
According to Hayder's account, Iraqi police commandos maintain a strong presence in the southern Iraqi cities, including Kufa, scene of some fierce fighting earlier this year when JAM and the Iraqi Army faced off. In the end, the once-feared cleric who led two uprisings against US forces may not be the fiery strongman he has always been seen as.
When it comes to the question of the source of Iraq's violence, Hayder does not point to the fact that Iraq is being run by a Shia government—a majority that was once repressed by a favored Sunni majority—for the reason behind the continuing attacks against Iraqis. While the attacks have abated to levels once though improbable, they still persist in some parts of the country, most notably the city of Mosul and the central Diyala Province. American intelligence reports indicate that suicide bombers make their way in from the Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia and unleash their destruction via Syria. Iran has long been accused of funneling arms to support Shiite militias in the south.
"For some of the neighboring countries this isn't about a Shia-led, or a Shia- Kurdish government, there is much more at stake" he said. "The word democracy sends a shiver down the spines of the leaders of those countries. If there was real democracy…many would not be in power today."
Hayder offered his thoughts on the controversial security pact, known as the SOFA, being negotiated between Iraq and the United States. The pact's continuing difficulties have led to speculation that Iraq's newfound ties with Iran could be having a hand in the country's calls for US troops to leave in the coming months. This has become a favorite talking point of the Bush Administration's critics. While he does not rule anything out, Hayder's view on what's happening is that Iraq is trying to assert itself as a sovereign, independent nation. "It's sort of a catch 22 for the Americans because they worked so hard to bring the Iraqi Army up to a good standard...and now, because of all the time, money and effort the US spent on training the Iraqi army, the Iraqi government can tell the US 'thanks but no thanks'. So then really, this is Iraq standing on its own two feet and asserting itself," he stated in his analysis.
The way Hayder sees it; the realities on the ground that suggest a dramatic turn of events in Iraq cannot truly be successful if the success is not recognized.
"There are a lot of people in the US, especially the Democrats, who downplay any success in Iraq simply because they are at odds with the Bush administration, they want to portray Iraq as a failure because they see Bush as a failure" said Hayder, who believes that there should be no correlation between politics and doing what is morally right by helping the Iraqi people. "You can hate Bush if you want, but just admit that what he did in Iraq turned out for the better. Better for Iraq, better for America and better for the world"
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Zimbabwe is on the brink of collapse...as if a brutal dictatorship and Cholera outbreak aren't enough, daily life in the country has reached the point where it requires a bill of this size just to buy basic necessities like bread.
Zimbabwe is introducing a Z$100 trillion note, currently worth about US$30 (£20), state media reports.
Other notes in trillion-dollar denominations of 10, 20 and 50 are also being released to help Zimbabweans cope with hyperinflation.
However, the dollarisation of the economy means that few products are available in the local currency.
On Thursday, the opposition leader said he was still committed to power-sharing intended to rescue the failing economy.
Since September, when the deal was signed, talks have stalled over who should control key ministries.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he was due to hold talks with President Robert Mugabe "within this coming week" to try to resolve the political crisis.
He described Mr Mugabe as "part of the problem but also part of the solution".
The latest annual figure for inflation, estimated in July last year, was 231m% - the world's highest.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
But here is where it gets interesting, and this shows how divided Iran really is. Instead of putting his trust in Khamenei, he should reach out to Iranians like these brave citizens:
The Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip has sparked a predictable wave of protest throughout the Muslim world. (Somebody please call us the day a similar protest is held against al Qaeda's mass murder of Muslims in Iraq or Pakistan.) But theirs aren't the only voices making themselves heard on the subject of Gaza...
...an Iranian student group is pointing the finger at its own government. "Those who have armed and encouraged groups like Hamas . . . have innocent blood on their hands," read a communiqué published December 30 in an Iranian newspaper and translated by the invaluable Middle East Media Research Institute. "Israel's current crimes in Gaza are strongly to be condemned -- but it is equally [important] to condemn the terror organizations that use kindergartens and hospitals as a shield against [Israeli] attacks."
The Iranian government shut down the newspaper that published these remarks the next day. We can only hope for the safety of the authors. They have shown a great deal more clarity, and courage, than the protestors on the other side.
The bulk of this very insightful article can be read here, in the Wall Street Journal.
A lot more going on than one might think, isn't there?
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Have a look at this horrific video, taken back in 2007 shortly after Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup. Watch, and you will see Palestinians singing a song at a wedding ceremony. Moments later, armed Hamas policemen storm in, guns blazing, on the backs of pickup trucks. Gunfire goes of, innocent people are savagely beaten, and the ceremony is broken apart as police vehicles drive over tables and chairs.
Where were the angry protests taking place across the world for this? Obviously, there are none. Anyone who thinks that these people--Hamas--actually care about the welfare of Palestinians, are blissfully ignorant. If the Gaza offensive is stopped, and everything goes back to status quo, is this brutal treatment of innocent people to be excepted? Are lost Palestinian lives only a tragedy if they are killed by an Israeli bomb as opposed to a gang of bearded lunatics wielding guns and screaming "Allah Akbar" as they attack the people they want to "liberate"?
Another stunning example:
Yemen is a country filled with weapons...more guns than people in fact. It ranks as one of the poorest nations in the world, and its people are struggling for food. The government is largely corrupt, and the threat of extremism is never far. Have a look at this laughable accusation by the Yemeni authorities. This is just plain ignorance...Al-Qaeda inspired Salafists are targeting innocent Muslims in mosques, police patrols, schools, and even foreign embassies, and the blame immediately shifts to the Jews. Unless the people of Yemen (and many, many other countries) except that their so-called "Arab brothers" are responsible for many of the problems they face, the country is going to continue meandering down a path of poverty, violence, and starvation.
SANAA (AFP) — A Yemeni court began on Saturday the trial of three Islamists accused of establishing contact with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and offering to collaborate with the Jewish state.
The three men are accused of operating under the name of Yemen's barely-known Organisation of Islamic Jihad and spreading false news of attacks on government buildings, embassies and foreign interests in Yemen between May and September 2008.
The prosecution charged the main defendant, Bassam al-Haidari, 26, of writing directly to the prime minister of Israel by email, offering to work for the Jewish state.
"We are the Organisation of Islamic Jihad and you are Jews, but you are honest, and we are ready to do anything," Haidari said in the email sent to Olmert, the prosecution charged.
The list of charges say that Olmert responded to Haidari, also known as Abu al-Ghaith, welcoming his offer to collaborate.
"We are ready to support you to become an obstacle in the Middle East. We will support you as an agent," Olmert was quoted as writing back.
The group, which includes Imad al-Rimi, 23, and Ali al-Mahfal, 24, has also claimed in Internet messages signed by Abu al-Gaith that it prepared 16 car bombs to attack governmental buildings and embassies, according to the charges.
The three defendants denied all the charges and demanded a lawyer. The court agreed to their demand and adjourned the hearing to January 17.
Yemeni authorities rounded up six suspects in Sanaa shortly after a September 17 attack on the US embassy that killed 18 people.
The interior ministry said at the time that the arrested group included Abu al-Ghaith al-Yamani, who was the signatory of an Islamic Jihad claim of responsibility for the attack on the US mission.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh later that an Islamist "terrorist cell" with links to Israeli intelligence had been dismantled.
Hmmm...I think that President Saleh should be more concerned about his neighbor to the north, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where a deranged and incorrect interpretation of Islam is exported through fiery, angry clerics eager to march off young Arab men and women to their deaths as "martyrs".
I want to make perfectly clear that I am posting this story because of my concern for the Arab people, not to be pro-Israel. Anyone who reads my work knows I am a strong supporter of both Arabs and Israel, and that terror groups like Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hamas are the bane of my existence. The Arab people are never going to be able to unify if such blatant hatred continues to run through even the highest of government officials and others who would otherwise be respected.
One final point I feel compelled to make is the hypocrisy of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan. He has been a fierce critic of Israel's operation in Gaza, even though his own country is engaged in a war for its security. Last year, Turkey felt the need to send soldiers across the border into Iraq to protect its citizens from a Kurdish separatist group known as the PKK, which desires an ethnic homeland for Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere. Exactly, how is this different from Israel's decision to move against Hamas?
Basically, Erdogan wants to believe that Turkey can do whatever it wants to protect its citizens, even if it means destabilizing a peaceful region like Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turks will point to bombings and other terror attacks by the PKK in order to justify the operation...its almost a mirror image of Israel's operation in Gaza. However, when Turkish tanks rolled over the border into Iraq I don't recall any masked protesters in San Francisco waving PKK flags and calling for Turkey to be "radiated", as some haters have gone so far to say about Israel.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, invited Iraq's Prime Minister into his bubble of ignorance today, holding a strongly-worded meeting on the Security Pact known as SOFA and warning Maliki about what he sees as the "treacherous" United States. Khamenei made his usual statements about the US being responsible for everything that is happening in Iraq, and blaming the continuation of violence on US troops that are still operating inside of the country.
Meanwhile, as Khamenei blasted the US, a suicide bomber attacked Iranian pilgrims who had gathered near a shrine in Baghdad, killing dozens of them. The idiot bomber no doubt harbored the same anti-Shia/Persian sentiment expressed by those who have kidnapped and killed Iranian police and bombed military buses INSIDE of Iran's borders. It was the "treacherous" US who joined side by side with Iraq's exiled Shia community (also with Iran's blessing) to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Let's not forget that it was also the "treacherous" US that routed the Taliban, Iran's other nemesis, from Afghanistan...the same Taliban that kidnapped 9 Iranian diplomats back in the 90's, crammed them into a box, and executed them in a hail of gunfire. Things were certainly going great for Iran before the "treacherous" US barged into the region, weren't they?
Iranians inspect the damage after Sunni insurgents, likely based in Pakistan, bombed a bus transporting a Revolutionary Guard Unit.
I'd like to note that I believe the anti-Shiite sentiment that is taking place around the world today is akin to a new form of anti-Semitism. I've heard Baathist sympathizers, right-wing conservatives, and the the so-called "antiwar" movment all express the same anger towards Iran, as well as Iraq's majority Shiite population that played a critical role in overthrowing Saddam Hussein and now maintains a majority in the democratically-elected government. The Shiite Islamic Republic has no doubt been a destabilizing force in Iraq and elsewhere these last few years, but if Khamenei had a brain, he would realize that his country and the United States share many common interests and working together to accomplish them might not be such a bad idea.
What's happening in the Middle East right now is mind boggling, so much so that its difficult for a single mind to try and make sense of it all. Its sort of like trying to figure out how the Universe came to be and what lies beyond it...its enough to drive someone mad.
As if the above story isn't enough, have a look at this post from my good friend Iraqi Mojo about the situation in Gaza and the hypocrisy among the "resistance".