Monday, September 27, 2010

The Oath Movie - Documentary of a Terrorist

Yesterday, I watched an astonishing film on POV, a PBS series of independent documentaries, called The Oath. It chronicles the rise of a “reformed” Al Qaeda operative Abu Jandal a.k.a. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard. After leaving bin Laden's service, he was captured at the Pakistani border and became a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay facing war crimes charges. It's a little hard to follow, because it's not presented in exactly chronological order, but it ultimately leads to Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 attacks, and even the US Constitution.

Although the filmmaker was trying to show why American foreign policy creates hatred and uprisings in the middle east, and gain sympathy for them, she was much better at painting an accurate picture of why we need to take so-called “Islamic Extremists” seriously. She reveals what their thinking is, the lies they are told, and how they have no regard for anyone who doesn't think, live or believe as they do. There are also sections showing some of Al Qaeda's recruiting practices, and communications tactics.

What is most telling is the conversations Hamdan has with young militant Muslims. He acts like a mentor, or minor Imam, subtly giving them a philosophy of hatred for “infidels” and a mindset of action, all the while denying that he has ever asked them to kill Americans. What is most interesting is when he tells them to be careful, or cuts them off when they start asking questions that may be “too sensitive” and reveal these young men's connections, or aspirations, to terrorism.

While some who have seen the movie focus on the side of the story trying to humanize Salim Hamdan, and thus dismiss the film, they shouldn't. This is likely the most terrifying, and brutally truthful, look inside Al Qaeda I have ever seen. It reveals the actual war we are waging with them and other related militant groups. They see themselves as freedom fighters, as Holy Warriors. Make no mistake, there sole mission is to kill us. If the events portrayed, and the conversations recorded in this documentary doesn't wake you up to the real danger we are facing as a country, nothing will.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

US to Give $50 Million for Cookstoves

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced that the US is poised to donate $50 million to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. They area non-profit group dedicated to clean-burning cookstoves to under-developed countries that currently use open fires within their homes.
Such cooking practices create large amounts of carbon monoxide and black carbon soot that can significantly compromise a person's health. As a “foodie” and home cook, this problem is of great concern to me. What I'm confused about is why the U.S. Should be donating such a large amount of money in this down economy.

I'm also concerned about why we are donating to this specific organization in this way. It turns out that there are already many US government agencies and private companies that support this group. Why are we giving $50 million in addition to the money US taxpayers and corporations are already giving them? Other countries have pledged much less.

According to the New York Times:

Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation, one of the founding partners of the alliance, said that the plan was not simply to use donations to buy millions of new stoves and ship them out to the developing world.
Rather, he said, the group hopes to create an entrepreneurial model in which small companies manufacture or buy the stoves close to their markets, taking into account local fuel choices, food consumption patterns and methods of cooking.

There's a problem with this ideal. It turns out that one of the major manufacturers of these stoves is China. How is large scale manufacturing groups in China, who shamelessly belch out tons of greenhouse gasses, a small company model, in practice?

It also turns out that this “solution” has a built it replacement date. It's actually designed to be cheap, and break down, so it has to be replaced every few years:

“The idea is how to create a thriving global industry in cookstoves, driven by consumers’ desire to have these products at a price they can afford,” Mr. Detchon said.
“These stoves don’t have a long lifetime,” he said. “To produce low cost and high volume, you’ll have to replace them relatively frequently, perhaps every two, three or five years. You’ll need a supply chain and business model that delivers them, not on a one-time basis, but as a continuing enterprise.”

How is selling sub-standard equipment to a developing nation a good idea? This group positions itself as highly moral, wanting to help poor people. This sounds like they're taking advantage of them.

The solutions to carbon smoke and soot in the house was fixed hundreds of years ago with much simply, and in some cases less expensive, technologies and practices. While this may be a worthy cause, there are other things that can be done and many of them don't require any money at all.

Move the Stove Outside. An open flam in a closed space not only creates breathing problems, it's a major fire hazard.

Use a Chimney. Even a simple hole in the roof can help direct smoke upwards, and out of the home.

Use a Solar Oven. You can build an effective solar oven for next to nothing. Sure, there are fancy models that cost hundreds of dollars, but you can actually buy/build a cheap, but very effective ovens for much less. Solar ovens have a zero-carbon footprint, where the other cookers do not. Here's the other kicker – Secretary Clinton has known about it, and supported them, for over a year. Why change gears, now?

Photo by Sunil Lal

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Friday is Constitution Day! Just Don't Try to Celebrate in Ohio

This Friday, September 17, is the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. That's quite a reason to celebrate, if you ask me.  According to this news article, you better not try doing it in Andover, Ohio.

Members of the recently formed Andover Tea Party had petitioned the city to allow them to hold a rally commemorating the signing of the Constitution. They were denied due to, get this, their group's political affiliation. The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a nonpartisan law center in Ohio, has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the Tea Party group, claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Apparently, the Andover City Council is citing a local resolution that prohibits any for-profit advertising or political signs on the Andover Square.  The problem, it seems, is that the trustees believe celebrating the signing of the Constitution is a political event.

Okay. I can buy that. Under that standard, though, so is celebrating Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, and Independence Day, all of which have had events cleared by the Andover City Council. There's supposed to be a ruling on a restraining order against the Council before Friday.

File this under, “More Evidence that the World has Turned Upside Down.”

Photo from the National Archives.

Friday, September 10, 2010

9/11 - 9 Years - Never Forget

Never forget what they did to us.

Never allow them to do it again.

Never surrender your American Values and Freedoms because of fear or politics.

"These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. - President George W. Bush, from his 9/11 address."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Burning the Koran - Distractions and Double Standards

By now you've heard the plans of a Florida pastor to burn a copy of the Koran on 9/11. You've probably also seen the insane about of outrage in the media over it. Actors, senators, you name it - they're all pontificating about how stupid and terrible it is.

It is stupid. It's also well within the rights of this pastor and his congregation to burn them. Here's where I see another example of a double standard in our society. It's okay to spread elephant feces on a picture of the Virgin Mary in the name of art. It's okay to burn the American flag in protest over American foreign policy. Just try and burn the Koran, though, and the political pundits will call for your head.

The person I see that has the right attitude about this is Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, "Any issue that takes peoples eye off of unemployment, job creation, economic growth, taxes, spending, deficits, debts is taking your idea off the ball."

Well said, Governor.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque Shows Religious Intolerance, but Not Against Islam

The media chest thumping about the proposed Cordoba mosque to be built 2 blocks from Ground Zero in New York City is reaching a fever pitch. Most articles I've found show a clear support for allowing the mosque to be built. I have to agree. It's on private property. It's being funded privately. There is no legal reason I can see for stopping it from being built. Indeed, plans have been approved by New York City already.

These same New York officials seem to feel differently about Greek Orthodox Catholics, though. What is barely being covered by the mass media is the fiasco surrounding the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church, destroyed when the south tower fell on it in 2001. The St. Nicholas parish council has been trying to get permission to rebuild it ever since. For some reason, the New York Port Authority has said no.

So, YES to Muslims, NO to Greek Orthodox Catholics.

Do you sense religious discrimination here? I do.

To be fair, there are other issues involved. Reading between the rhetoric, it seems like an issue of land use. It was originally proposed to move the site one block over because the Port Authority wanted to use the land, or at least the land underneath it, as part of a security screening point to be installed as part of the area rebuild. Now, the Port Authority is back-pedaling. A Port Authority spokesperson told Fox News, “The church continues to have the right to rebuild at their original site, and we will pay fair market value for the underground space beneath that building.”

My suspicion is that with the costs of the rebuild, and the current economic crisis, the city has decided to play hardball. I wouldn't be surprised to find an eminent domain clause being used to force the sale of the land at a rock-bottom price in the very near future, leaving the parish without a church or land to build it on.

So much for the First Amendment.

Somehow, given our “politically correct” climate, I doubt this nonsense would have happened if it had been a mosque that was destroyed instead of a Greek Orthodox church.

You can read more about it from both Fox News and the New York Times.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Michelle Obama's Spain Trip – Smoke and Mirrors

By now, you've probably heard many of the Right Wing pundits on radio and the web thumping their chests and pontificating about how terrible our First Lady Michelle Obama is being for taking a trip to Spain. “How dare she!” they rant, “When our economy is so terrible.” Sorry folks. I don't buy it. I don't even care. If I had the money to travel to take a vacation with my kids to Spain right now, and the First Lady has the money, the last thing you'd see of me for the next week is my backside as it enters the plane.

Was it smart, from a PR perspective? No way. Was it intolerable and, dare I say it, un-American? Same answer. No way.

Many Left Wing pundits and followers may be screaming, “Who's to blame for feeding it to the media, this way?” Outside of the European press, who first reported it, I'd say nobody. What I wonder, though, is if someone within the White House administration, or the upper-ups of the Democratic party, didn't leak it, first.

Now that I've got you totally confused, let me tell what the rants about her trip have amounted to: smoke and mirrors. However it got leaked, the Far-Right has bought into it, hook, line and sinker. They've been screaming about Michelle Obama going to Spain and completely lost two much more important things that happened at the exact same time: unemployment rose in July, and the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) downgraded the forthcoming economic outlook for America

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis released a statement on the July 2010 Employment figures. Her report stated that the monthly unemployment rate has not changed — remaining at 9.5% — while the economy has had a net job gain of 71,000 in the private sector. Overall, employment declined by 131,000. How that big of a change doesn't effect the reported unemployment rate I can only guess. What we need to keep in mind is that the unemployment rate only reports the number of American's filing for unemployment benefits, not those that have lost their benefits because they've been out of work for too long, and are still unemployed.

I believe these figures has quite a bit to do with the FOMC lowering their economic outlook. I admit, the way the FOMC announced this bad news was hard to follow. They came out and and told people they were reinvesting certain funds to cope with the problem, rather than just say, “There's a problem.” To fully understand what they are doing to fix the situation may require a degree with at least a minor in economics. In one of the most interesting “spin doctoring” I've seen, the FOMC's statement said, “the pace of economic recovery is likely to be more modest in the near term than had been anticipated.” That's PollyAnna-speak for, “Things aren't going as well as we thought.”

To read more about un-employment rates, go to: Democracy Now and My Bank  Tracker.

You can find more about the Fed's actions at Business Week, NPR, and The Washington Post.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Return of the American Whiner

Hey everyone! It's been a long time, hasn't it? Sorry about that. Of course, it's been so long I'm probably just talking to my computer. Or rather typing to it. I doubt very many of my original readers will be finding this post anytime soon.

Of course, that's never been anything different, has it? Bloggers really aren't “talking” to people. They're writing stuff and hoping people will read it. Just like I am right now. It's kind of twisted if you think about it.

After two years of silence on the socio-political front, I've decided to come back. Part of it is that I find myself in a position to start kibitzing about the current local and national socio-political scene again.  For a long time I've simply not had the time or energy to publicly vent my spleen. My life situation has changed a bit now so, I should be able to write again.

The other reason I'm back is that I'm not sure how much longer I can keep silent. I'm seeing a lot of really stupid things going on in the world. I'm seeing as many threats to what I consider the “American way of life,” and the U.S. Constitution coming from within our own government as we've seen foreign terrorists threaten us from without. I don't think there's some huge conspiracy behind everything that's going on, mind you. I just think that we're entering a perfect storm of events and legislation that could undermine our way of life and freedoms.

How do people threaten the Constitution without changing it? By passing laws that ignore or undermine it's original intent. Remember, laws are only as effective as the people who are in charge of enforcing them. If the people in power choose to ignore them, and we as American citizens allow them to by continuing to vote for them, it doesn't matter what's written down. Only governments and political leaders that are held to the standards of the law by the people they govern will act in accordance with those laws. If we let the law be twisted or ignored by our own government, either through inaction or silence, we will be as guilty as they are.

The time to be silent if over. The time for action is now.