Category Archives: Current events

The Hypocrisy of the West

Stoning

The hypocrisy of the west knows no bounds. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a prime example. There is no doubt that the government of Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi at their embassy in Turkey, we all accept that as fact. That the world should be outraged is not in question, but that Turkey led the original call for justice is the height of hypocrisy. An opinion piece in Newsweek in September called Erdogan’s Turkey the worlds biggest prison for journalist. While true numbers are hard to come by the estimate is that between one-third and one-half of all journalist imprisoned in the world are sitting in Turkish jail cells.
The murder of Khashoggi was a despicable act, of that there is no question, the reaction however could be said to be excessive when put in the light of other events around the region. The moral outrage from the press and the call for the United States to punish Saudi Arabia is valid, but it has dominated the headlines and has been politicized. The facts are that Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen who engaged in actions that opposed the Saudi government and especially the Royal family, which is a crime in Saudi Arabia. He was technically executed on Saudi territory, inside the embassy, under orders from someone in the Saudi government. While this violates international norms and laws it does not violate Saudi custom of an absolute monarchy. Let’s look at the region.
Staying with Saudi Arabia, criminals can be executed by beheading for crimes that range from murder to adultery and vary from blasphemy to homosexuality. There were 146 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2017 and according to human rights organizations the number rose by over 70% in the first quarter of 2018. The kingdom also imposes other punishments such as stoning and lashes for crimes, all of which violate international norms. The world knows of these barbaric practices and yet continues to ignore them, likely for the sake of oil.
Turkey, once a shining light of democracy in the region, has devolved into a dictatorship where the rule of law is up to the capriciousness of politicians and judges. Based on political beliefs or ethnicity, Turks as well as foreigners are tried and sentenced to long prison terms with no transparency or right to defense. This system has been used to silence and imprison not only journalist but political opponents as well as shut down opposition news papers and news outlets. Foreigners traveling to or transiting through Turkey are subjected to searches of there computers and other electronic devices for anything that may be anti-Turkish and subject to arrest and prosecution if materials are found. While widely publicized in the United States the arrest and detention of US Pastor Andrew Brunson on trumped up charges are just an indicator of how Turkey subverts its laws. Less well know is the case of German journalist Mesale Tolu who was held in detention for months on terrorism charges but was allowed to leave the country in order to leverage the German government. There has been no call from the world or US politicians to punish Turkey.
Iran is without a doubt the worst abuser of human rights in the region if not the world. There is no covering up the crimes, in fact they seem proud of how they treat their citizens. Their interpretation of Islam and sharia law allows them to do so under the guise of religion. There is no free press or even freedom of expression. Recently a young woman in protest stood up and took off her head covering, she has been sentenced to 19 years in jail. Not long ago a 16-year-old was stoned to death for crimes against chastity because she was raped. The war against the Kurds is ongoing, declared terrorist or apostate Kurds are hung every day in Iran, woman are stoned to death and the jails are filled to over capacity by Iranians and foreigners. The jails are filled through the use of closed courts and unknown charges, while the world objects to these actions they are more then willing to allow them to continue in order to do business. There is no outcry for protection of the innocent. While the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Iran deal and reinstated sanctions the rest of the world objects to these actions and continues to deal with Iran.
Iraq has abandoned all pretense of a true legal system and has subverted or ignored its constitution. The highest court in Iraq was to be appointed by the government with apportioned seats so that all of Iraq was included. This has never been done and the court that rules is left over from the Saddam regime. Recent activities have included the illegal attack on Kirkuk and other disputed territories following a legal referendum in the Kurdish region that the central government disapproved. This was preceded by more then a decade of ignoring article 140 of the constitution calling for resolution of the problem. Illegal use of private militias such as the PMF and the suppression of individuals and groups is the norm, and yet the world ignores this in hopes that Iraq can be held together and some how become a functioning democracy.
There are many countries that violate human rights or operate outside of international norms and are ignored by the world, but this must be addressed. The world is getting smaller and cultures are clashing harder. This is not to say there should be a culture war, but moral outrage cannot be a light that is turned on and off for the convenience of governments. Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for the extrajudicial execution of Jamal Khashoggi, it should also be held to account for its barbaric justice system. Turkey and the others as well should be made to address their systems. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be a key not just a document. It was once said that human history would be much less bloody if we were as upset over the death of millions as we can become over the death of one individual.

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The Kavanaugh Debate

innocence

So now the process of government is to be slowed by a single unsubstantiated allegation about something that happened almost four decades ago during a drunken High School party. Unless there are additional accusations or some evidence of this being indicative of a continuing pattern of abuse then it must end, and the process allowed to continue.
Having been vetted by the FBI since 1993 with no derogatory findings the allegation cannot be proven, and the man’s character should not be called into question, but will be. If inappropriate behavior doing high school is a bar to government service, then the halls of congress would be empty. This is not to say the accusation is true but given context to life it is of little relevance to the process unless it were part of a pattern. While this is one letter from someone being reported as a left leaning social justice warrior it is counter balanced by a letter signed by 65 woman who knew him when, who say this is not indicative of the person they knew. All we have for evidence is the accuser’s letter supposedly backed up by a therapist note from a session 30 years after the fact and denials from the accused and a friend of his that was implicated.
Should these allegations be investigated, yes, but how? Considering the amount of time that has gone by and lack of any concreate evidence what can be done at this late date. Senator Dianne Feinstein has had the accusatory letter in hand since July, long before the hearings began. Claiming to honor the writers request for anonymity Feinstein did not disclose the letter to anyone other then some staff until after the committee had finished its questioning and was moving toward a vote. I am sure the committee could have designed questions about the incident without revealing names. But the minority decided to wait until the week of the confirmation vote to spring this surprise.
This maneuver is without a doubt designed to confuse and delay the vote as well as an attempt to sway those in the majority and give them reason to not vote for confirmation. Even if this event did happen, and I seriously doubt that it did, it is not as some are saying an automatic disqualifier. If there were a history of drunken sexual assaults over years then yes it would be, but on this there is no evidence.
The court begins its next session in about two weeks, congress must do everything in its is power to ensure for the people that there are nine qualified justices on the bench. All I ask is that everyone PLEASETHINK if there is truly enough here to delay the vote or that disqualifies Brett Kavanaugh from becoming a justice.

A Tale of Two Elections

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but in the end the results were predictable. The first of the two elections, Iraq, did have an element of suspense and surprise following the electoral win of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Saairun Alliance winning 54 seats in Parliament. While a good showing for Sadr it was not enough to secure a majority, 165 seats, in Parliament. This has left the door opened to a wide range of maneuvers to secure power that are taking place now. The next election to be discussed was the Turkish election, while there were attempts to make it appear to be an actual free and open election it lacks the drama of Iraq and was more predictable. Following President Erdogan’s call for snap elections there was much said and written that through his recent attempts to subvert Turkey’s democracy that he had opened a window for the opposition to consolidate and remove his power. This of course presupposed the existence of a democratic government in Turkey. Like Iraq the winner, the AK Party did not win a clear majority and will assume power with the help of the ultra-right wing MHP. Unlike Iraq however the AKP will not be controlled by its alliance with MHP and in fact has moved closer to an inescapable one-party dictatorship.
The results of the Iraq election are still not clear and may not be for some time. With the world, and donors, watching the Iraqi government made a valid attempt to run an open election. In the end however old habits die hard, if at all. The Fatah Party, an alliance of Shia militia under Iranian control had secured the second most sets, 47, and under the direction of the IRGC Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani have proceeded to work to build a Coalition that will be, if not under control of Tehran, very friendly to Iran. The use of electronic voting was intended to streamline the process and discourage vote fraud. Following the elections many of the losing parties cried foul and demanded a manual recount. With the Council of Representatives took it upon themselves to call for a recount, even though they had no legal authority to do so, it became apparent that regardless of the legitimate will of the people who voted the decision will be made by the power elites, many of whom would loss power if the results were sustained.
With the acquisition of the courts the recount will be done, even though after a period of time it is not yet determined when and how long it will take. What has been determined is the results will be questioned and never fully accepted. At the outset parliament had set conditions that would not recognize Peshmerga or IDP votes from the Kurdish region, this however was overturned by the courts. Other conditions however have gone forward including percentage reduction in results from polling stations as the failure to address the presence of PMF at polling stations used to discourage voter participation. The loss of paper ballots in a fire in Baghdad as well as attacks on election commission sites in disputed territories has made any results now invalid. With all of this the results must be accepted as reported in the beginning and the fact that Iran will be in charge of the Iraqi government must be accepted by Iraq as well. This of course does not hold true for the rest of the world. Donor nations may decide or be shown that the election does not in fact reflect the Iraqi demographic and world powers need not support an Iraqi military that is under the control of a foreign power and operating to the detriment of the population. Before all this however a final count must be given, and the government formed. The only other alternative is to have a new election which comes with its own set of problems.
Turkey is another story. Forgetting the AKP accidentally released the results days before the election, the activities of the government have made the election and the results illegitimate. Many of the opposition candidates are in jail as well as reporters that could cover the election for the opposition. News papers and other media outlets have been shut and polling stations moved out of reach for many, particularly in the Kurdish region. There is no surprise that Erdogan won a majority what is surprising is that the HDP won enough to be seated. This of course may well be temporary given the history of Kurdish victories. While it is not yet a rump parliament Erdogan has very little to fear in his march to complete one man control Turkey. His rule will not be disputed and we see that regardless of the existing problems all parties accepted the results.
Between the two elections the Iraqi results are the most likely to be a true reflection of popular sentiment. A rejection of the current power elites and a call for change. Regardless in the intervening time the will of the people has been subordinated to the will of the elites. The recount will, without a doubt, strengthen the Shia/Iranian parties and the government will be formed that will continue to ignore the people and the constitution. There will be strong opposition voices but they will be heard as background noise to the Iranian masters. The current upheaval in Iran however could cause major problems in Baghdad. Without money and guidance from Tehran chaos may ensue. This last will likely not be immediate but is worth a mention.
The impact of Turkey’s election however will be more immediate and likely deadly. With little to stand in the way Turkey can continue to its military adventures in Syria and Iraq and expand them without fear of internal interference. The continued crackdown on internal enemies will likewise continue unabated. This slide away from any form of democracy constitutes a greater threat to the region then the confusion in Iraq at least as far as the west should be concerned. Turkey is a NATO country and as such its actions reflect on the alliance as a whole. While there is little the other nations can do to influence the internal operations of a dictatorship there is no longer any reason to pretend it is anything but. The run up to this election should have indicated to all the type of country Turkey has become.
In Iraq the actions of the government prior to the election, to include the illegal attack on Kirkuk, as the actions following the election, attempts to disenfranchise minority populations are also good indicators to the rest of the world the direction Iraq is taking. Like many other countries in the world Iraq is, on paper, a constitutional republic. Unlike other countries the Iraqi government does not seem to see any reason to read or follow its constitution. Again there is little the world can do to impose any external control on the government in Baghdad. The one area that some leverage could be derived is in the will of the people. Iraq has shown in this past election both the peoples desire to have a say in the government and the aftermath has shown the elites have no intention in giving it to them. The US leads the call for a one Iraq but forgets its own past. The American colonist had been strong in their determination to remain part of England, only asking to be given the full rights of Englishmen. When it became apparent that they would never be treated as full citizens of the British Empire they declared and fought for those rights an independent nation. Today in Iraq we also see that a large minority does not have the full rights of Iraqi citizenship and the world must come to recognize this. If the election shows the west anything it is that the west has lost Iraq, it is time to allow what is going to happen, happen and support those who will find their own way to freedom.
As has been said by many, elections have consequences, its time to accept those consequences and react properly to them.

 

The New Art of the Diplomatic Deal

Trump and Kim

When I read “Art of the Deal” years ago I was impressed by the pragmatism but did see some parts that to me as a young man starting out in business did not make sense. I have continued to read Trumps books, “Art of the Comeback” etc., and they now make sense. I also remember a scene in the movie “Patton” in which, after defeating Rommel, Patton yells out “ I read your book.” Today we don’t read books but get our information from TV or the web, at least that’s how it appears listening to politicians and pundits. If you see Trump as an enemy I suggest you follow Sun Tzu and “Know your enemy as you know yourself,” read his books and study his back ground.
The most recent political blowback on Trump has been his pulling out of negotiations with North Korea, with the talking heads and opposition politicians trumpeting how Kim has played us and that it was never going to work etc. Many of those who are saying these things went to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard or got there degree in political science from Georgetown and so forth. Had they gone to Harvard Business School or Wharton they may understand how Trump will handle negotiations. It would also have helped if any of them had bothered to read his books.
What we are seeing, playing out in the open is the give and take of true negotiations. These types of negotiations used to go on in government and between governments after the lights went out, at cocktail parties and behind closed doors. Today there are no negotiations just posturing for the cameras and picking positions based on ideology and the latest poll. Little thought is given today on the impact of decisions for the future if that future goes beyond the next news cycle. Business cannot run that way and neither should government. A politicians legacy should not be decided on just getting a deal but getting the right deal.
The other difference here is that Trump is use to moving fast while government moves glacially, if at all. There will be a summit with North Korea, just don’t know when. The stage has been set and Trump maneuvered China to our side which has blocked North Korea. This is a beginning and will play out. It will take time and more back and forth, but it will end. Its time for those who report the news and work in government to catch up with the new paradigm or get out of the way. The cost of failure is to great and should not be the subject of a sound bit.

Trump MBA: The Art of Negotiating 101

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While everyone is concentrating on the recent interview of an overaged porn star trying to extend her 15 minutes of fame, while writing a cheap crime story, the president has again improved the US position in the world. With the announcement that President Trump was going to impose a tariff on steel and aluminum, the economic experts went nuts. Tariffs are counterproductive, tariffs will cost more jobs then they save, this will start an all-out trade war with the rest of the world, etcetera. The problem is that we have been taught over the years to only see the close in results on a narrow timeline. We have lost the ability to see a larger picture over an extended period. In other words, we have lost the ability to think and reason out situations.
Much of this has been the result of politicians learning to respond to news cycles in the past and to the present day 24/7 news coverage. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have learned to be circumspect in any statement and not take a firm position. The exceptions are those who demand ideological purity. Then along comes Donald J. Trump, a complete amateur in the field who speaks his mind and is willing to change position as needed to accomplish a needed end. Add to this the fact that he accomplished the impossible by defeating the anointed one for the presidency causing the news media to declare all out war. We need now return the American people to the point where they can think and reason.
Trump is a negotiator and as anyone who has negotiated knows, the first thing to do is set up the conditions of the negotiation. In the case of the tariffs it appears that the initial conditions were just that, setting the stage. Since the declaration of the tariffs the President has exempted counties such as Canada and Mexico and has begun trade negotiation with several others. One such negotiation was with South Korea which has now agreed to reduce the amount of steel exported and to double the number of US manufactured cars to be sold in the country. While South Korea is the third largest exporter of steel to the US we have also begun to negotiate with China which has now come to the table.
We must also look to the claims of the tariffs on US production and employment, which the talking heads scream will be negatively impacted. To begin most steel used in the US is domestically produced. Of what is imported 26% comes from Canada and Mexico which we have said is already exempted from the tariffs. South Korea accounts for an additional 10% of imports. To find the rest we see Brazil contributes 14%, which now brings us to 50% of all imports. The rest of the worlds top ten contributes another 27% and the balance of the world adds 23%. All this imported steel represents around 25% of all steel used in the US. Domestic with US mills are running at about 75% capacity. This means US mills can cover the loss of imported steel. The problem is not in the amount of steel however it’s the cost. All of this is not to confuse the issue but to point out that this issue, unlike what many are claiming, is complicated and needs thought, not emotion to reason out.
Because of several factors US manufactured steel is more expensive then imported steel, tariffs are designed to compensate for the difference. Which leaves two potentials, products that use steel will increase in price or the price of those products must come down. There is also the probability of US steel manufactures finding ways to reduce the cost of steel, which likely would cost jobs as efficiencies increase. The Trump administration has cut several cumbersome regulations and passed a tax bill that gives both corporations and most Americans additional income therefore we can look to market equilibrium containing pricing.
What have we learned, first that we should not react to actions without thinking about them in the long term. Second many negotiations begin without the intent that they will meet all the initial demands. Which brings us to the conclusion that nothing is black and white. That all things are negotiable if both side understand the rules and that obviously both sides don’t always understand the rules. There will be an impact on US markets, but it will not be the end of the world.

Syrian Kurds, Turks and Kawa the Blacksmith

Kawa

The recent actions of Turkish forces and their allies have shown their racist intent by treating the people of Afrin as barbarians of old treated those they conquered. Looting, murder and rape are the order of the day. The west has seen a fair share of this type of barbarity. The Spanish conquistadors, Manifest Destiny and the destruction of indigenous people as the US pushed west, any war in Europe, and the rape of Nanking. History has not been kind to the perpetrators of these acts, and they will judge the Turks more harshly, in modern times this should not have been allowed but given the history of the region it should have been expected and stopped. The Turkish Government must be held fully accountable for this tragedy and brought to justice. As a member of NATO Turkey must be held to a higher standard.
The Turks have claimed the purpose of their attack on Afrin is part of the war on terrorism since the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military the YPG controlled Afrin. It is Turkey’s claim that the PYD is wholly part of the Turkish Kurdish group known as the PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for almost 40 years. While the two groups can be considered affiliated politically they are not one monolithic Kurdish movement as the Turks would believe. The PYD and the PKK may believe in the same basic concepts, but they have shown they will apply them differently. The PKK has been in direct conflict with the Turkish military inside of Turkey while the PYD/YPG has never attacked Turkey or its military. Non-the-less Turkey holds to the fantasy that they are one in the same and hopes if they say it often enough the world will believe. The west does not believe and have armed trained and fought with the Syrian Kurds against ISIS since the beginning.
In a widely distributed photo a of statue seen being torn down and defaced, is a statue of Kawa. Kawa has been identified as a Kurdish hero. Kawa is a mythological figure in Kurdish culture. A blacksmith who helped the people of an ancient Mesopotamian kingdom overthrow a cruel king and restore peace and prosperity. This was the beginning of a new day for the Kurds, Newroz in Kurdish, and Newroz is the Kurdish celebration of the new year on March 21th. Kawa is held up as a symbol to the Kurds that fighting for your rights you can overcome adversity.
The attack on Kawa’s statue not only indicates the level of destruction the Turks put Kurds through, but the level of hatred. This is an attack on the Kurdish culture which fits into Turkish history. Following the end of the Ottoman empire and during the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic, Kurdish identity came under attack. For most of the 20th century the Kurdish language was outlawed in Turkey, no books, newspapers, music or celebrations of Kurdish holidays were allowed. Recently these Turkish Jim Crow laws were removed, and Kurdish culture allowed to come into the light. This was a short-lived movement and once again all things Kurd are falling under Turkish censorship. In a country that claims to be democratic one in every three Kurdish politicians are in jail. This includes members of Parliament who have their immunity voted away and charged with supporting terrorism.
The Kurds have proven themselves to be a strong ally of the US and have shed blood for us. They have established the closest thing to a democratic government we have seen in the region. Turkey, once a democratic ally and strongly secular is sliding into a one-man dictatorship basing itself on a desire to reestablish the Ottoman empire, or at least restore lost territory.
Turkey must be brought back to its democratic roots or censured by the west and removed from NATO. Turkey has relied too much and for too long on the blind belief that they must be held in NATO at any cost. The reality is in the new paradigm of the Middle East the Kurds must be protected and allowed to continue their march toward democracy. The world must once again believe that the US will protect its friends. For some parts of Kurdish culture, the road forward is longer then for others, if however, we do not help we will only have one more enemy in the region rather then a strong friend and ally.

The coming of Bolton

 

With the announcement that John Bolton is going to replace H.R. McMaster as the National Security Advisor a rash of reporting has come out condemning the former UN Ambassador as a hot head and a war monger. His early rejection of the JCPOA (the Iran Deal) as bad for the world and his pronouncement that the US has a legitimate right to attack North Korean to end its ability to threaten the world with nuclear war. In an article in the Atlantic his statement on North Korea was called a radical idea and that it risks the “most destructive war in living memory.” These types of melodramatic declarations do nothing to help an informed decision. I would say the most destructive war in living memory was World War II. It must be pointed out that WWII began because democracies failed to confront dictatorships in a timely manner.
When the Obama administration was making its argument for the Iran deal the president told the nation there were two options, diplomacy or war. There of course many options in any scenario, and presenting only the extremes is a treacherous path to take. Let us look at a potential third alternative, diplomacy with the threat of war. We have tried diplomacy with North Korea for over 25 years we no success. If Kim Jung-un is of the opinion that it will always be diplomacy followed by sanction relief, followed by jettisoning what ever agreement you came to and carrying on your nuclear program until next time, diplomacy will not work.
In the case of Iran we negotiated away all leverage and financed Iran’s terrorist proxies. Kim can see the results of the JCPOA and how toothless the enforcement provisions are. Why then should North Korea negotiate in earnest? Presently the answer is John Bolton. With Bolton advising the president and Mike Pompeo at State, both hawks, the North Korean calculus must change. Hawk by the way does not mean go to war over everything but stand firm on principles and work for the best but never shy away from a credible threat of war. This is what Bolton brings to the table, not a crazy man but a firm man. If he can bring fear to the other side so be it. I suggest reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis, perhaps Bolton can chair EXCOMM.