Wednesday, October 31, 2018

All Systems 'Go' ... And Then ...

"Last night, we were chatting together about his wife who is now seven months' pregnant, his plans and his dreams with his own small family until we fell asleep."
"Now he's gone. We can't believe that he left us this way, we can't believe that his plane crashed."
"That's something we only see on TV news, now it happened to my son. We want to see his body, his face, his remains."
Latief Nurbana, Jakarta, Indonesia
Map of crash

"What’s most peculiar to me is the fact that they didn’t declare an emergency. They just simply said, 'we’re going back'."
"But when I look at the track of the aircraft after that, the aircraft made a very steep dive after that which is not typical of what they would’ve done."
"They would have maintained altitude and made that turn and come back to it."
David Soucie, former safety inspector, Federal Aviation Administration
What could go wrong? A one-hour flight, strictly routine. A new plane. Experienced pilots. Perfect weather. Passengers boarded, 181 altogether including a child and two babies and an eight-member crew. Then, takeoff. Now hundreds of people; soldiers, police, fishermen remain involved in the search for bodies and aircraft debris. Personal items like cellphones, ID cards, carry-on bags are being retrieved from the seas northeast of Jakarta. They will be returned to grieving family members. No one survived the impact with the sea. No one.

Family members, beyond distraught at the sudden tragedy where one moment they hugged their loved ones off on a journey, the next they stood there, stunned, as news of the tragedy came to them gathered at crisis centres at airports, the one where the plane departed from and the one where it was meant to arrive at, an hour later. The possibility of miracles flash through peoples' desperate minds; a hoax, an accident not as serious as reported, the passengers would be injured, but alive. But no.
An investigation has been ordered by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, but his people, he said, should "keep on praying"; for what is unknown. The Boeing 737 Max 8 was only two months old. Perhaps this was inevitable for despite its newness, there had been a previous recent problem with the same plane. But that problem was examined and corrected and the plane was good to go. Only evidently it wasn't, at all, by any stretch of the imagination. Which may or may not indict Indonesia's reputation over air flight safety concerns of the past.
The pilot, having made a "return to base" request barely two to three minutes post-take-off, was cleared to return. Instead, it plunged into the sea some ten minutes later. Lion Air took possession of the rented plane in August, the very plane where an unspecified technical issue was caught before anything awry could result. A reprieve for those earlier passengers. A death sentence for the later passengers and crew.
Jakarta and Pangkal Pinang airports saw people hugging one another frantically as though demonstrating love and compassion might instantly heal a gaping wound. People wept and they wailed and nothing changed. According to Muhammad Syaugi, chief of the country's search and rescue agency, the hull of the aircraft and its black box would be soon discovered where it had settled in the shallow 25 to 30 metre depths of the ocean where it had plunged. Search ships were headed to the location of the crash. 
The Flight 610 pilot had over 6,000 flying hours; his co-pilot, an Indian national, had over 5,000 hours to his credit, according to the budget carrier, Lion Air, Indonesia's largest. Thirteen minutes after its 6:20 a.m. takeoff, the plane crashed after reaching an altitude of just 5,200 feet. Boeing Co., "deeply saddened" by the crash, was ready to provide technical assistance to the crash probe of the 737 Max 8 leased from China Minsheng Investment Group Leasing Holdings Ltd.
Graphic: Flight trajectory of Lion Air Flight JT610.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

 They Went To Worship: He Came To Kill

"[I would be honored to meet with any U.S. president.] I welcome him as an American. He is the president."
"Hate is not political. It is not blue or red, it’s not male or female, it doesn’t know any of those divisions. The hate rhetoric in our country is a real problem. I’ve seen examples in the last 24 hours. I chose to take the polite and respectful path. . . . Hate is all around us, and people are oblivious to it." "The hateful letters and e-mails about the president are just a renewed reminder of how divisive and painful this is."
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, survivor, Tree of Life Synagogue 

"We find strength in one another. This gunman went in to try and kill as many Jews as possible . . ."
"We will come through this. And hopefully this feeling of community that we all share today can be channeled into each of us doing our part of rooting out hate."
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D)

"The president is the grandfather of several Jewish grandchildren. His daughter is Jewish-American and his son-in-law is the descendant of Holocaust survivors."
"Tomorrow the president and first lady will travel to Pennsylvania to express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Tree of Life Synagogue Reflection
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life/Or L'Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.    By Matt Rourke/AP Photo
Joyce Fienberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 87
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

A 46-year-old man who loved to hate and chose Jews as his very especial target armed himself with a deadly assortment of weapons, a Colt AR-15 rifle and three Glock .357 handguns during an attack on Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday morning, courageously shooting to death eleven elderly Jews engaged in prayer. Once he satisfied his blood-lust and felt his mission to deliver his message was done for the time being he decided to leave. But not just yet, since as he emerged from the synagogue, police officers and a SWAT team arrived, and he decided to re-enter the synagogue.

From the third floor he shot at police who were tasked with public security, not only to arrest his activities, restrain him and arrest and incarcerate him to allow the wheels of justice to begin turning toward a trial, but to evacuate the synagogue of its traumatized occupants, bringing them to safety. And then to assess the situation, where eleven people who had been communing with their God had been shot dead. In the process of confronting this heroic figure of anti-Semitic venom, four police were wounded and two other people as well, all taken to hospital.

One congregant, 90-year-old Joseph Charny, on the second floor of the synagogue. described afterward his experience -- hearing a loud bang from the floor below: "It sounded like some big thing falling over, like a coat rack", he said in an interview. In the pews alongside him, another six to eight worshippers sat, awaiting the arrival of the rabbi to begin the weekly services, all of them very well familiar to Mr. Charny. Suddenly the figure of a man appeared in the doorway and then gunshots rang out.

"I looked up and there were all these dead bodies", he said. "I wasn't in the mood to stay there", and he exited swiftly before any of the bullets could leave him as they had those he knew so well and would no longer speak with again. Concealing himself alongside the rabbi and his assistant in a storage room on the third floor, they heard bullets continuing to fire. "We all knew leaving too soon would have been our deaths. At first I felt numb, then thankful. I don't need to tell  you how terrible this has all been." But he survived that ordeal, his friends did not.

Everywhere that Jews congregate they are aware that they may be targeted. It is perhaps the more visible among congregants, Orthodox Jews, who see the obvious need for security. In the Reform synagogues, with their less visible presence, the attitude was more relaxed in the sense of normal disbelief that harm should come their way simply because they are Jews, and because they gathered in a house of worship to speak with God. It is, after all, inconceivable to most people that identifying themselves and their religious devotion represents a red flag of vitriolic hatred so deadly it could mean their death.

But it can and it does. And as Jews all over the world last Saturday gathered in synagogues and temples and any other type of normal social gathering became instantly alert to the atrocity that took place in Pittsburgh they knew it could have been where they were located. And it still can, any day of the week. They are Jews, after all, and from time immemorial Jew-haters and Jew-baiters have awaited their opportunity to muster the courage it would take to confront elderly Jews with lethal weapons.

And here in Canada, Jews are taking stock. "As a precaution [Saturday], police across the country signalled to us that they would immediately increase front line police presence in Jewish neighbourhoods and around Jewish community institutions which will likely continue for the next few days", announced Martin Sampson, vice-president of communications and marketing for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. "There is nothing whatsoever to indicate an increased security threat to Canadian Jews."

For the time being.

Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood following the shoooting.
Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood following the shooting

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

On The Horns of an Energy Dilemma

"I don't think people know that we have this ocean in the United States that's filled with industry."
Scott Eustis, ecologist, Gulf Restoration Network

"We were flying to monitor the BP disaster and we kept seeing these slicks, but they were nowhere near the BP spill."

"There is no requirement under law of the United States that actually the agencies or the industry put you on notice of a continuing spill."
"And so what happened is you have an offshore area that is not actually seen by most people unless you're flying over it, and most organizations can't afford to fly over it."
"It just went under the radar until there was a need to fly over, which was the BP disaster, when people started noticing that there was something wrong."
"When they asked the federal government, the federal government admitted, 'Yeah, there's a problem'."

Cynthia Sarthou, executive director, Gulf Restoration Network 
Oil sheen is seen with vessels assisting in the Gulf of Mexico near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon in 2010. Conservationists have discovered another little-known oil spill by Taylor Energy that is still leaking and may be even worse. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

"There is abundant evidence that supports the fact that these reports from NRC [U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center] are incorrect."
"My conclusion is that NRC reports are not reliable."
U.S.Justice Department-sponsored independent analysis, Oscar Garcia-Pineda, geoscience consultant

There is an estimated two thousand oil rig platforms in the waters off Louisiana, with another two thousand off the neighbouring coasts of Texas and Mississippi. Added to those rigs pumping up oil the Gulf of Mexico, rich with oil and gas regions proving to be the most productive in the world, hosts close to 80,000 km of active and inactive pipelines to carry oil and minerals to shore. An average of 20 uncontrolled releases of oil (blowouts) occur every year for every thousand wells in state and federal waters. What's more, hundreds of workers are injured every year.

In 2004 an oil-producing platform attached to 28 wells sank when Hurricane Ivan triggered a mudslide. Most of those wells have since been spewing oil, though the owner, Taylor Energy, managed to successfully cap some of them. Now, an estimated 30 to 700 barrels of oil daily, have been pouring into the Gulf, a phenomenon that seems to be inured to any easy fix, and one that may simply go on forever. As disastrous as the infamous BP Deepwater Horizon spill was, this one may overtake it in infamy.

There is a forest of oil platforms springing up from the waters of the Gulf. Where the Taylor platform once stood a colourful slick of oil is visible for kilometres. Where Taylor Energy declared just a few barrels-worth of oil was escaping daily, the reality is far, far beyond that. Offshore platforms in general off the Louisiana coast see on average 330,000 gallons of crude spilled daily, figures supplied by a state agency monitoring those spills.

But the Gulf, representing one of the world's richest and most productive oil and gas fields in the world yielded over 600 million barrels this year alone representing close to 20 percent of total U.S. production, with another 40 billion barrels underground, to be recovered as time goes on, according to government analysts. On the negative side, aside from uncontrolled releases, fire erupts offshore every three days on average, aside from the casualty numbers of injured workers.

The sunken Taylor platform stood in over 250 metres of water, about 40 stories in height, legs pile-driven into the ocean floor comprised of mud. Funnels were attached to its 28 drilled oil wells and at its peak Taylor Energy was a thriving enterprise. That ended abruptly when Hurricane Ivan struck and toppled the platform when 230 km/h winds and 20 metre waves roared into the Gulf and underwater, dislodged tons of mud, buckling the platform.

The resulting mud avalanche knocked the sunken platform "170 metres downslope of its original location" as over 620 barrels of crude stacked on its deck tumbled along with it into the ocean and a jumble of steel and leaking oil became buried in 50 metres of mud. Taylor Energy hired contractors  to locate the wells under the fortress of impenetrable mud and debris, to cap them, even as they were unable to drill or bore through the muck lest their activity strike a pipe or well and release even greater volumes of oil.

A fortune was spent by Taylor Energy to pull the deck of the platform out of the ocean and plug a third of the wells, then build a type of shield to keep the crude from rising. In short, they pulled off a seemingly impossible feat, yet without solving the problem of the remaining two-thirds of the leaking wells -- and the oil kept leaking. Taylor was arguing the leak was no more than two gallons daily even while the Coast Guard estimated 784 gallons or more leaking from 16 wells.

A decade on, the actual level of oil leaking into the Gulf is up to 700 barrels each day; a barrel containing the equivalent of 42 gallons.
A deepwater oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.
A deepwater oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Estas en Tu Casa ("This is Your Home")

"Today, Mexico extends you its hand."
"This plan is only for those who comply with Mexican laws, and it's a first step towards a permanent solution for those who are granted refugee status in Mexico."Mexican President Peña Nieto

"The majority plan to cross the border. And that's my intention, too."
"Because, yes, while life here is calmer than at home, it's still not like the U.S. where it would get better. That's the goal: to have a better life."
Jose Santos, from Honduras

"It's a kind offer - but it's not the plan that we have, to stay here halfway up."
Anna Lisset Velazquez, from Honduras

"To those in the Caravan, turn around, we are not letting people into the United States illegally."
"I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency."
"They [migrants] will be stopped!"
U.S. President Donald Trump

Central American migrants rest on the steps of a Catholic church in Pijijiapan, in southern Mexico, as a thousands-strong caravan that is slowly making its way toward the U.S. border stops for the night Thursday. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)
Mexico, which has a problem with its own poverty-stricken, violence-averse population seeping over the border into the U.S. has made a generous offer to the estimated seven thousand marchers intent on crossing the Mexican border into the United States to find new homes for themselves in the land of plenty. Mind, there's plenty of poverty and violence in the United States too. But wherever people live in penury, lacking government support and security, their minds swivel to one place and one place only; the United States of America.

Offering to the law-abiding citizens who are wearily making their way on a long journey of hope to a destination where they will be refused entry, a humanitarian gesture of compassion for people who have opted to make themselves homeless. To those people there will be extended temporary ID cards and work permits, medical care, schooling for their children, and housing in local hostels until such time as those who accept and whom Mexico will accept establish themselves and become independent.

Sounds like a solution, and it would be one, if Mexico was the destination that all those people stream toward, but it is not. For the marchers, it is a border they must cross, a country they must traverse to arrive at the point where another border beckons. But beckon it does not. There are lawful means of entry, to make application, to await consent to enter, and these marchers are deliberately bypassing all of that. The U.S. has a monumental problem as it is, of tens of millions of illegals living there.

And should it decide that the plight of all those seven thousand marchers must be resolved, and they will take a deep breath and permit them entry and begin processing them, it would send a signal to all the other disaffected people in Central America, in Africa, in the Middle East and elsewhere that the U.S. border is easily breached, and the kindhearted people of America will welcome them. The size of the current march will seem minuscule in comparison to the unbridled hordes that will assemble to achieve the goal of living where opportunity beckons.
The Economist

Only it doesn't, not for them. For the last hundred years people everywhere, from Europe to Africa, Asia to the Middle East, have yearned to go to America. A hundred years ago the persecuted minorities of Europe spoke of a country where the streets were paved with gold, an allegory that owed its persistence to the knowledge that those who did make it to America wrote home about how successful they had become, how wealthy, how happy with life they were. Everyone wanted to share that. And for a while many did.

Is there any other country in the world where people everywhere else aspire to join? China? Brazil? Egypt? Russia? India? South Africa? France? There are no long marches of desperate people willing to undertake dangerous, long journeys in an effort to find haven and leave the miserable past behind, streaming toward a country promising a future that their current locations do not and cannot and would not offer them. But one country cannot absorb them all, not even a small proportion of those anxious to join it.

And so, for the United States, what the aspiration of so many represents is a "national emergency"; the very notion of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of economic migrants joining the already-established illegal migrants now ensconced in the United States represents a nightmare of administrative and accommodation proportions. Those failed nations governed by despots, by autocrats, by inept and inadequate rulers who despise those living under their heel need the rescue of revolution.

And to inspire them there is always the example of Somalia and Syria.

Families with small children get truck rides in Tonala to meet up with the thousands more Honduran migrants and refugees 25km further along up the highway [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera]

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Rehabilitating Canadian Islamic State Jihadists?

"I dream about one day bringing all the militants to justice, not just the leaders like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but all the guards and slave owners, every man who pulled a trigger and pushed my brothers' bodies into their mass grave, every fighter who tried to brainwash young boys into hating their mothers for being Yazidi ..."
"They should all be put on trial before the entire world, like the Nazi leaders after World War II, and not given the chance to hide."
Nadia Murad, 25, Yazidi, human rights activist, Nobel Peace Laureate
‘Devil worshippers’: torture inflicted on the Yazidi people by Isis includes rape, stealing children and forced conversions – researchers say the true scale of suffering cannot be charted
‘Devil worshippers’: torture inflicted on the Yazidi people by Isis includes rape, stealing children and forced conversions – researchers say the true scale of suffering cannot be charted ( )

"Processes, both here in Canada and in the courts of international law, to bring perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice, are slow and rarely work."
"Canada should lead immediate reforms to ensure justice is swift, both within our own domestic policy and abroad."
"To date this government under Justin Trudeau has failed to take action, and Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are calling on the Prime Minister to immediately table a plan to serve justice to anyone who left our country to fight with this terrorist organization."
Michelle Rempel, Member of Parliament, Conservative critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Children play with a kite at a shelter for displaced Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, northern Iraq.
Children play with a kite at a shelter for displaced Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, northern Iraq.

Credit: Richard Hall/PRI

"[ISIL rapists, genocidaires propagandists and collaborators must be brought to justice. The House of Commons should support Murad’s appeal for justice and the government is called upon] to refrain from repeating past mistakes of paying terrorists with taxpayers dollars or trying to reintegrate returning terrorists back into Canadian society, but rather table, within 45 days after the adoption of this motion, a plan to immediately bring to justice anyone, including those who are in Canada, or have Canadian citizenship, and have fought as an ISIS terrorist or participated in any terrorist activity."
House of Commons motion by MPs Rempel and Pierre Paul-Hus, Opposition critic for Public Safety
Displaced Iraqi women from the Yazidi community, who fled violence from the Islamic State (IS) group, gather around tents at a refugee camp on Mount Sinjar, on 15 January 2015 (AFP)

The not-so-oblique reference to the over $10-million of public funds the Liberal government doled out to convicted 'child-soldier' Omar Khadr who had been trained as an al-Qaeda-affiliate by the Taliban to produce explosive devices and fight alongside the Taliban against NATO troops established in Afghanistan to free it from the grip of terrorist groups and was found guilty in the bombing death of a U.S. medic and the blinding of another, represents a condemnation of the Liberal's governments soft approach to Canadians binding themselves to deadly jihad.

Despite which pointed reference, Members of Parliament found it morally problematical not to support the motion, invoking the name, reputation and cause of a Nobel Laureate, so the motion was passed but for one dissenter. Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel is a robust defender of Yazidis, the ethnic-religious group that Islamic State targeted for mass murder of the men and slavery of children and women. Yazidis were not the only group viciously murdered by ISIL, Christians and Shia Muslims were also the targets of the Sunni-sect Islamists.

But it was the horrible plight of the Yazidis that drew international attention, when thousands of men, women and children fled Sinjar, their main city as it and countless towns and villages nearby were invaded by ISIL, men slaughtered and girls and women taken into captive custody as sex slaves to be violently abused and bartered. Those that could escape made their way up Mount Sinjar, to starve and to freeze to death. Kurdish factions led many of them down the mountain to safety, if refugee camps can be designated as 'safe'. Yet thousands of Yazidis remain marooned on the mountain.
Patients and relatives wait in the psychiatric unit of the public Azadi Hospital, in Duhok, Northern Iraq (MEE/Sebastian Castelier)
And thousands of Yazidi girls and women remain in captivity as sex slaves. Those who manage to escape speak of the abomination of their experiences and appeal for help in rescuing their still-captive sisters, mothers and aunts. The world pays lip service to their dreadful plight but for the brave actions of some activists attempting to free the women from sex-serfdom, no solution is in sight to their plight. Handfuls of Yazidi families have been brought to safe haven; a hundred to Canada, another hundred to France, but the bulk of those long-suffering people continue to suffer.

Canadian Muslims who left Canada for the allure of joining the ISIL caliphate and engage in jihad as the Koran demands of its faithful, appear now to be less enamoured of their chosen flight, weary of murder, rape and beheading. And these are the eventual returnees that Justin Trudeau muses about rehabilitating and 'reintegrating' into Canadian society. They were never really 'integrated' into Canadian society to begin with, else the values of human decency and the rights deserving of all people would have been theirs.

Those expressing any degree of sympathy for men who now claim they are innocent of committing any form of violence while with Islamic State, and only joined because they felt it their sacramental duty, have no place in Canadian society, although there should be made ample space for them in federal high-security penal institutions where they should moulder for a period of time comparable to the lifetime of those who were murdered in obedience to Islam State's viral jihad of atrocities. 

Kurdish militias succeeded in defanging the horrible threat of an expanding territory for the ISIL caliphate. Kurdish soldiers took Islamic State terrorists into custody, along with their wives and their children. The women were just as involved in volunteering themselves for life in a terrorist caliphate as were the fighters whom they married and bore children for. Children who were themselves soon enlisted in ISIL programs to be taught the fundamentals of violating human rights and conducting various atrocities alongside their elders.

The Kurds understandably have no love for those they hold prisoner, and await the opportunity to surrender them to the countries from which they came. Unfortunately, those countries have no idea what to do with their terrorist citizens. These are not people who can be rehabilitated. The evil they represent and the horrors they perpetrated on helpless victims speaks volumes about their orientation and their representation as potential future members of any decent society. They have earned the right to rot in Hell; failing that, to spend eternity confined within solitary bleak prison cells.

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“Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent”

"Palestinian authorities have gained only limited power in the West Bank and Gaza, but yet, where they have autonomy, they have developed parallel police states."
"Calls by Palestinian officials to safeguard Palestinian rights ring hollow as they crush dissent."
Tom Porteous, deputy program director, Human Rights Watch

"A PA civil servant, arrested after a friend tagged him in a Facebook post calling for protests on the electricity crisis, spent most of his days in the Internal Security’s Gaza City detention center subjected to positional abuse… causing him to feel ‘severe pain in my kidneys and spine’ and as if his neck would ‘break’ and his ‘body is tearing up inside'."
"Palestinian forces in both the West Bank and Gaza regularly use threats of violence, taunts, solitary confinement, and beatings, including lashing and whipping of the feet of detainees, to elicit confessions, punish, and intimidate activists."
"Systematic arbitrary arrests and torture violate major human rights treaties to which Palestine recently acceded. [The] systematic practice of torture by Palestinian authorities may amount to a crime against humanity prosecutable at the International Criminal Court."
Human Rights Watch report
Palestinian security troops in Hebron,  (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
The routine use of torture and arbitrary arrests used by both of the rival Palestinian governments, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza, has long been noted by the Israeli press, and by Palestinian Arab writers in detailing the behind-the-scenes activities in both governments. The world has taken little interest, considering the sources no doubt, biased. Now, Human Rights Watch has issued a report of their own highlighting the corruption and abuse suffered by Palestinians, condemning both governments for committing what the rights group equate with war crimes.

Illustrative: The hands of a young man tied with rope (nito100; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: The hands of a young man tied with rope (nito100; iStock by Getty Images)

This, the result of a two-year investigation part of which information was elicited by interviews with close to 150 people, among them a cadre of Palestinians who had suffered detention and experienced the "machineries of repression" meant to stifle dissent. The systematic use of torture, emphasized the report, could be characterized with good reason as a crime against humanity under the United Nations' Convention Against Torture. Human Rights Watch went so far as to recommend that countries providing funding to Palestinian law enforcement suspend such financial assistance.

The government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas itself had formally joined the Convention Against Torture following the acceptance of 'Palestine' as a non-member state at the United Nations. This is typical of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as well, portraying themselves as legitimately subscribed to upholding human rights, for their human rights as Palestinians were upended with the creation of the State of Israel, a formula accepted without question by their supporters abroad fully sympathetic to the 'cause' of the 'Palestinian homeland'.

Whipping the feet of those apprehended for questioning their government's actions and administration; forcing detainees into painful stress positions; hoisting people's arms up behind their backs with rope, and coercing suspected critics into giving access to their mobile phones and social media accounts are all detailed as methods of torturing those whom each government suspects of attempting to undermine their authority.

Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch's group director for Israel and the Palestinian territories informed a news conference that the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank had detained 220 Palestinians without charge or trial as consequences of their having posted issues on social media. Included among the detained were 65 university students and two journalists. In Gaza, Hamas detained over 45 people for their activity on social media. "These numbers do not speak to the scale which both authorities have gone to in order to shut down dissent", he added.

But he must certainly be in error, for both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority led by Fatah, factions viewing one another as enemies for whom only Israel surmounts the venom they hold for one another, both deny those accusations of less than stellar administrations.

Hamas security forces in Gaza City. (Wissam Nassar/FLASH90)

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Give Me Your Auspices to Advance Into a Future of Security and Opportunity...

"The Caravans are a disgrace to the Democrat party. Change the immigration laws NOW!"
"Every time you see a Caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our Country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws!"
"We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them [Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador]."
U.S. President Donald Trump

"[The United States, Canada and Mexico should work out a joint plan to fund development in Central America and southern Mexico]."
"In this way we confront the phenomenon of migration, because he who leaves his town does not leave for pleasure but out of necessity."
Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

"We have had people who have ankle or shoulder injuries, from falls during the trip, and even though we have offered to take them somewhere where they can get better care, they have refused, because they fear they'll be detained and deported."
"They want to continue on their way. They are going to continue walking, and their feet won't heal as long as they keep walking."
Ulises Garcia, Red Cross official

"You have to help the next person. Today it's for them, tomorrow for us."
"From them we learn to value what they do not have."
Jesus Valdivia, Tuxtla Chico, Mexico

"There isn't a single terrorist here. We are all people from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua."
"And as far as I know there are no terrorists in these four countries, at least beyond the corrupt government."
Denis Omar Contreras, Honduran-born caravan leader, Peubo Sin Fronteras
Honduran migrants take part in a caravan heading to the US, in the outskirts of Tapachula, Mexico. Photograph: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

Those with authority within the caravan movement are themselves uncertain about the exact route they will direct the thousands of participants toward, much less where they want to arrive on the U.S. Border. Central American migrants on their own have in recent years taken a direct route to Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. A much smaller caravan in the spring organized by the Contreras' organization arrived in Tijuana, about 4,000 kilometres from Tapachula, where the current four-thousand-strong caravan is resting before resuming their journey.

There they are, in their numbers, remaining together for moral strength and some assurance of safety in numbers, but with nowhere to stay other than in public, on the streets, in squares, wherever they can shoehorn their bodies into sleeping positions overnight, coping with wet ground from recent heavy downpours. They huddle together wherever they can, in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, tired and only mildly dispirited, determined to forge forward to their final destination; the U.S. somewhere.
The caravans include families, single parents with young children, and unaccompanied minors. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

"We are going to sleep here in the street, because we have nothing else", 42-year-old Jose Mejia explained, having taken his wife and four children from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to Mexico on a long, exhausting trip. "We have to sleep on the sidewalk, and tomorrow wake up and keep walking. We'll get a piece of plastic to cover ourselves if it rains again." And it will, repeatedly, on the route the caravan is taking.

When the caravan of migrants set out a week earlier there were fewer than 200 participants; since then more people have joined the caravan along their journey. It finally swelled to an estimated 5,000 on Sunday, with migrants crossing from Guatemala into southern Mexico even as police blocked official crossing points. Another group of roughly a thousand migrants entered Mexico from Honduras. Migrants speak of widespread violence, poverty and corruption in Honduras; they flee to find a better, safer world.

Sympathetic Mexicans along the way offer the weary migrants food, water, clothing, with locals driving pickups, vans and cargo trucks stopping to give migrants a lift. Offers to take the migrants by bus to shelters set up by Mexican immigration officials, seven kilometres outside of Tapachula by civil defence officials have been refused. The migrants convinced that boarding buses would make them vulnerable to deportation.

The world, from Africa to the Middle East, Central America and Latin America is on the move as people seek alternatives to their desperate situations at home, where corrupt, inefficient, and uncaring governments oppress them, and criminals associated with drug cartels and weapons-running create atmospheres of lurking danger particularly in efforts to recruit the young into the drug trade and all the violence attendant on it. Their plight is obvious; their governments unstable and disinterested.

They look toward opportunities they know exist in the United States where once those such as they were welcome. There are legitimate channels for emigration from their countries of birth, but the question of qualifying for visas and eventual transition as immigrants is time-consuming and uncertain. Countries seen as places of haven from the threats and disorder they leave already face the reality of unregistered and illegal residents in the millions.

The wholesale movement of people willing to undertake arduous and dangerous journeys to find a new reality for themselves of promise for the future belies the facts and the needs of countries they aim for to remain in control of their borders, to be able to select whom and the numbers of those they are willing to accept. The assumption that once reaching the border they can declare themselves refugees is utterly flawed with no base in reality.

Theirs, however, is a reality of desperation. The answer to which creates a moral quandary all of its own. Accepting those thousands will do nothing if not incite many others to do the same. And the numbers will grow and the overland marches become unstoppable. The way the world now turns is wholly dysfunctional. No one is advantaged by this turmoil.
The larger caravan currently making its way north numbers in the thousands. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

In The Ring: European Union vs United States

"The primary objective of the European Union is to provide a face-saving way for Iran to stay [in the nuclear deal]. The Europeans are trying with Russia and China to create an economic package for Iran."
"But if the deal collapses altogether, you can bet Iran will expand its nuclear program."
"[The Europeans are trying to convince Tehran the nuclear pact is more than an economic agreement] but has important political and security dimensions for Iran, and so far Iran is listening."
Ellie Geranmayeh, European Council on Foreign Relations
Launch of an Iranian Emad long-range ballistic surface-to-surface missile

"[The Trump administration appears to be leading toward a Middle East conflict, with its National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] cherry-picking intelligence and inflating threats."
"They're making specious connections between Iran and terrorists, including Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. And they're ratcheting up their rhetoric."
Joseph Cirincione, nuclear expert, president, Ploughshares Fund
iran missles ayatollah
Iran is building a missile factory in Syria (Image: GettyImages)

Fascinating, that sentiment of Mr. Cirincione's, a nuclear expert who holds no brief for the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear-weapons aspirations, as though those agreement-defying, technologically advanced ballistic missiles really don't need a nuclear warhead to satisfy Iran's ambitions to be feared throughout the Middle East and eventually far further abroad. Iran, according to this man is being picked on unfairly; in his opinion definitely not aspiring to nuclear weapons, and certainly no sponsor of Islamist terrorism.

The European Union may find his message reassuring to a degree. After all, Europe is not in very direct threat of a strike from Iran and they're buying time by persuading Iran to defer their ambitions and who knows as time passes, Iranians may succeed in another revolution to free themselves from the murderous Ayatollahs, and restore to themselves a government dedicated to humanity not to a vision of a returning mullah from the dead whose appearance will herald the Apocalypse. Iran is merely attempting to ratchet up the time-line so all its faithful can finally ascend to join Mohammad.

Europe has been busy, it takes a lot of attention, time, planning and subterfuge to covertly undermine the U.S. administration's intention to further sideline and penalize, isolate and financially strain the Islamic Republic to continue draining its resources, depleting its internal funding of needed public infrastructure in the finer interests of funding Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, to finally convince the Iranian population that a wholesale upheaval of the current Ayatollahs' and Republican Guard Corps' hold on control will lead to their existential salvation.
In this Aug. 21, 2010 file photo, an Iranian security official directs media at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, with the reactor building seen in the background, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran.
In this Aug. 21, 2010 file photo, an Iranian security official directs media at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, with the reactor building seen in the background, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran.
(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
European intervenors strive to convince their Iranian contact authorities that it is in their best interests to remain within the nuclear agreement, to wait out the administration of Donald Trump, to anticipate that Europe will somehow negotiate avoidance of the strictures being placed on Iranian assets and oil sales with incoming increased U.S. sanctions. Above all, to look to avoiding triggering a conflict with its combined nemesis, the Great and the Little Satans. Speaking of Israel's existential defence reaction as an "excuse" to attack Iran.

As though tensions between the United States and the European Union are now insufficiently strained; as though suspicion and vigilance between the United States and Iranian intentions are not for now and the foreseeable future beyond redemption. There are consequences to the provocations that Iran's arrogance in refining ballistic missile reach and capacity alongside viral threats to the existence of Israel, let alone its permanent installation of its surrogate militia Hezbollah on the Golan Heights and its Shiite militias in Syria.
A missile is fired from Kermanshah, Iran
In this photo released on Oct. 1, 2018, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a missile is fired from city of Kermanshah in western Iran targeting the Islamic State group in Syria. (Sepahnews via AP)

From November 4 forward, Iranian oil and petrochemical products will find disposal and dispersal, sales and income formidably interrupted. Foreign financial institutions will be sanctioned for any transactions they may undertake with the central bank of Iran. The "special purpose vehicles" planned to permit payments "to assist and reassure economic operators pursuing legitimate business with Iran" in paying for Iranian exports and imports will not escape American notice.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Mauritania : Human Misery Incarnate

"I have been hit, tortured, humiliated -- I'm always the first to wake up and the last to go to sleep."
"None of us ever went to school. None of us had identity or civil papers. I received no support, no one could help me."
"I was totally at the mercy of my masters."
Habi Mutraba, Maurtania
Former slaves Habi and her brother Bilal, above left, stand in front of Bilal’s garage outside Nouakchott. The siblings were both slaves to a family east of the capital, but Bilal fled suddenly one day after his master beat him. After several attempts to rescue his sister, who was a victim of sexual abuse and forced labour, she was finally freed with the help of SOS Slaves in 2008. Today, the pair live in a poor neighbourhood on the periphery of Nouakchott. With the help of some activists, Bilal recently opened a small tyre-mounting garage

"For the last two weeks, we have been thrown into the corridor of a cramped courtyard with no roof to shelter us from the rain."
"It [his arrest] was necessary to prevent me from entering the assembly and, better still, to invalidate my claim to run for the presidency of the republic in 2019."
"The only solution to ending slavery in Mauritania is that Europe and the U.S. as well as donors, stop giving money to the Mauritanian regime."
Biram Dah Abeid, anti-slavery advocate, Mauritania

"The government turns a blind eye because, traditionally, they are the affluent ethnic group who owned slaves."
"They have run the country and still do."
Jakub Sobik, Anti-Slavery International

"They raped me, all the time, and so I became pregnant with my first child. They did this all the time, every day, whenever they wanted."
"My daughter was taken from me when she wasn't even five and so it was that my own story was repeating itself."
"To really stop slavery, an uprising of all the former slaves is needed, to unite with human rights movements globally."
Barkam Tusakim, 30
Mauritania is a bridge between the Arab Maghreb of north Africa and darker-skinned sub-Saharan Africa. The ruling Arab-Berbers have higher paid positions in jobs and government, while the darker-skinned Haratines and Afro-Mauritanians are under-represented in leadership positions and face many obstacles in society, from access to education to well-paid jobs

Taken herself at age five from her own mother, this woman is now seeing her own horrible life as a child inducted into a life of slavery repeated with her daughter. Mauritania is the last country on earth where human slavery persists as part of the culture, despite that formally in 1981 it abolished slavery. While doing so, it overlooked the necessity to introduce criminal laws to enforce the ruling until 2007.

Anti-slavery NGO SOS-Esclaves estimates that at least 500,000 people remain enslaved in the country representing 18 percent of the population; a number vastly greater than any other country internationally. The slavery culture is deeply engrained dating hundreds of years back, passing through family lines where slaves are born into servitude. The enslaved population is isolated to the extent that most have never known any other life.

Slave owners include government officials, and Judges. Slave owners never traditionally release a slave to freedom. Routine tradition sees slaves traded between families, treated just as livestock would be; material possessions. In their master's house slaves cook and clean, or are tasked to live their lives in desert areas herding goats or camels in remote regions for months on end.

Habi, who spoke of the miseries she experienced in her West African country, was enslaved from birth when her mother was raped by her "master". On her birth, Habi was given as a gift to another member of the extended family. She tended to livestock or worked in the household, fetching water, preparing food and was regularly raped by the household head under knife threat. Her own pregnancy resulted by the son of the household raping her.

She did manage to free herself, escaping with the aid of Biram Dah Abeid who helped organize her rescue and who is himself being held in the Nouakchoff Central Prison, uncharged with any offence, his sixth imprisonment where he has been denied sleep, showers and a mosquito net, and nor is he permitted family visits, medical care and legal advice. His sin, that of confronting government and planning to run for election himself.
A Tarhil neighborhood resident outside her house, where she was relocated by the state when her slum in Dar Naim was demolished to make way for the construction of a road. Married, with two children, she sells biscuits to passersby while her husband holds small jobs in the city. “If we had the budget, we would have rented a room in Nouakchott. Here, we don’t even have water – we have to pay for a cart to deliver water,” she says.

The Sahara Desert makes up a huge part of Mauritania where black sub-Saharan Africans are held hostage to the beydan tribe as slaves to tend livestock. It is the light-skinned beydan Berbers which are the minority of the population, forcing the Haratine ethnic group of blacks to a lifetime of slavery. A rigid caste system maintains that social order, with the majority of the country's wealth in the hands of the beydan.

The country's president is beydan along with his political allies. Even those haratine  who are free face legal and practical obstacles in obtaining property, land or employment, with little political incentive to modernize the system, since many of Mauritania's political and judicial figures are themselves slave-owners. Complicating matters is Mauritania posing as an ally in the West's efforts to stop irregular migration and end terrorism in the Sahel.

Britain, France and Spain managed plans to increase EU funding for the G3 Sahel that will benefit Mauritania which has received millions in EU funding to stem migration. International advocacy groups are denied entry to the country, leaving internal activists isolated and on their own, fighting for change.

The Haydel family in front of their tent next to their master Sheikh Ouled Mhammed’s house. Photograph: Seif Kousmate/Hans Lucas

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Violence Committed Against Aboriginal Women : Whose Violence? The Solution to End it Lies Within

"When we're hunting moose, we're also looking for human remains because there are so many missing and murdered women along that highway. A lot of those logging roads we go down are exactly the same kinds of places where those women's remains are found."
"We got a moose that morning [In 2001]. We had been talking about the Highway of Tears [Highway 16, northern British Columbia] and Raven said, 'You know Dad, I wish there was a way that we could wipe away some of those tears'."
"Like a lot of guys in this country, I grew up in the home of a violent, alcoholic father. That's the story of so many guys who are in jail or who are struggling. When they were little, their dad would drink and beat them up."
"It's almost as simple as it gets for some of the domestic violence cycles in Canada."
Paul Lacerte, Yinka Dene, Carrier First Nation, northern British Columbia

"It's a reality for a young Indigenous woman like me that life is not as safe. I've heard the stories of murdered and missing Indigenous women all my life."
"Our family is close and connected. I knew that we could get together and make something happen and make a difference."
Raven Lacerte, northern British Columbia

Raven had been out moose-hunting with her father Paul when she was 16, seven years ago. They had been talking about the dread menace hanging over aboriginal girls and women of violence and violence that at times becomes lethal. The pair travelled along the infamous 'Highway of Tears', Highway 16, where the reality is that up to thirty Indigenous women are known to have disappeared, never seen again alive. And this tragic reality was in teenage Raven's mind while she was cleaning the moose they had bagged.

The thought occurred to her while cleaning the moose hide that it could be made into a symbol of a new awareness campaign they would launch. They called their campaign the Moose Hide Campaign and it couldn't have been more grass rooted in origin than in the mind of a 16-year-old haunted by the thought of psychopathic violence that harms, injures and kills women like herself. Raven and her three sisters cut the hide into small squares and set to work producing 25,000 cards they hand-lettered, explaining the significance of the hide squares.

Their campaign has swept into the consciousness of Indigenous people with its initiative to persuade boys and men, Indigenous and non-Native to commit themselves to taking a personal position to prevent violence against women. The Lacerte family recently brought awareness of their campaign to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, a yearly ritual. In the space of seven years they had managed to proliferate over 1.2 million of the moose hide patches distributed in over 350 communities.

They engaged with local Ottawa and area high school and post-secondary students, who set out to pledge themselves to upholding a day-long fast in a demonstration of their own commitment to see an end to violence committed against women. Their campaign led politicians, as they are wont to do, in supporting obvious public-good campaigns to show their 'progressive' bona fides, to come out in support of this initiative of awareness, education and commitment.
Raven Lacerte, co-founder of the Moose Hide Campaign, raises her fist on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 18, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

And so, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett, addressed a crowd of several hundred on Parliament Hill, speaking of the inter-generational phenomenon of violence against women, and inevitably linking it to the legacy of the residential school system now a topic of incendiary condemnation against the-then colonialist 19th century government that had initiated a project to remove aboriginal children from their families and educate them in the ways of the white folk at custodial schools. Much like, in fact, the upper-crust British 'public' school system.

Absolutely everything recognized as First Nations troubles, from addiction to child neglect, criminal activity to an inherited welfare syndrome, all the malfunctions and dysfunctions of a people seemingly incapable of adjusting to ordinary life in a democratic system, to be responsible for their own well-being, to respect the law, to engage in generalized social life, to be gainfully employed, to be responsible for raising healthy, educated children -- is now attributed to the 'trauma' imposed by the residential schools system.
Sage Lacerte, national youth ambassador for the Moose Hide Campaign, on Parliament Hill on Oct. 18, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

A trauma that has lingered and festered generation after generation, explaining why it is that more First Nations children are removed from the bosoms of their incapacitated family to be given shelter and presumably opportunities by public welfare agencies, and that aboriginals are over-represented in Canadian prisons in comparison to their numbers in the general population, and that alcohol and drug addictions consume too many First Nations lives, all attributable by default to their grandparents having been placed in residential schools.

The violence committed against Indigenous women is commonplace and horrendous. And although there is the prevalence of hostility and discrimination from wider society against First Nations people, a human rights crime in and of itself, much of the contempt in which they are held would without a doubt dissipate were they viewed as willing and able to integrate into general society. First Nations people have a proud past and they should regard that with pride and dignity. There is a way to fight bigotry and seek the justice owing them through their own efforts.

But as long as their communities, with the support of a sympathetic broader public continue to deny that most of the violence committed against girls and women come from within their own communities, not those outside them, and insist on attributing that violence to the lingering after-effects of the residential school systems and the degrading loss of self-esteem, nothing will be accomplished. They have indeed suffered viral discrimination. But they have also spurned opportunities to shed the past and embrace a presence as unhyphenated Canadians.

The transition from a dependent people insisting they represent an entirely different set of "nations" within the greater nation of Canada which does them no favours, is past due. Victimhood and resentment cannot forever mark their destiny, but it will unless they take the mature steps required to shed the dependency of federal handouts to finally assume their rightful place in the Canada that has prospered by absorbing people whose goal is simply to be Canadian and in the process take advantage of all opportunities that status offers them.
Our Goal is to end violence towards women and children. To help achieve this, the Moose Hide Campaign will distribute 10 Million Moose Hide squares across Canada.
  • We will stand up with women and children and we will speak out against violence towards them.
  • We will support each other as men and we will hold each other accountable.
  • We will teach our young boys about the true meaning of love and respect, and we will be healthy role models for them.
  • We will heal ourselves as men and we will support our brothers on their healing journey.
  • We encourage you to Take Action, Make the pledge, and Stand up to end violence towards women and children.

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Byzantine Logic At the Very Best....

"[Saudi leaders, including the crown prince], assured me that they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi, and that they will do so in a timely fashion, and that this report itself will be transparent for everyone to see, to ask questions about, and to enquire with respect to its thoroughness."
"They're [long-standing U.S.-Saudi partnership] an important strategic ally of the United States, and we need to be mindful of that."
"I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that [the ongoing investigation] so that we, too, have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that, at which point we can make decisions about how, or if, the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr.[Jamal] Khashoggi."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Washington
Turkish officials raced to intercept Saudi plane after suspecting Jamal Khashoggi had been killed

The world's press is spending more time on the disappearance and likely murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, a man who had fallen out with the Kingdom's Saud family with which he was once close, and whose criticisms of the royal family have earned him Saudi scorn and anger, than space and time devoted to the Saudi military's ongoing bombing of Yemenites causing massive relocations, refugees and deaths, both presumably engineered by the modernizing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Turkey, which wins the international prize for silencing, imprisoning and threatening more journalist and news media than any other repressive regime, is playing the honour card here, revealing a now-very-public but initially very covert conspiracy to murder a pestiferous critic of the rulers of a collegial Islamist nation. This, of course, is the same Turkey responsible for slaughtering countless Kurds critical of Turkish rule over ancestral Kurdish lands. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has overturned Turkey's Islam-style democracy but suddenly he is sanctimoniously outing an atrocity.

The truth of the matter is, there are few instances of Islamic countries whose governance equals the standards set by democratic, peaceful nations of the West. Chaos and disorder, conflict and punishment are standards of Islamic rule. Tyranny and compliance and violent response to what in the west is mildly termed conscientious objection and civil disobedience merit incarceration, torture and frequently, death. The Syrian civil war whose victims number a half-million when the regime responded to dissent with the use of chemical weapons, barrel bombs and child-torture is old news.
Patrick Poole @pspoole
I didn’t realize until yesterday that Jamal Khashoggi was the author of this notorious 1988 Arab News article of him tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam. He’s just a democrat reformer journalist holding a RPG with jihadists.
View image on Twitter
The new news is that a man whose Islamist fundamentalist credentials include a friendly acquaintance with Osame bin Laden, support and admiration for Hamas, and the destruction of Israel, and though he complained in his last article for The Washington Post, published posthumously, that Arab journalists are badly in need of an unbiased press not controlled by the governments in the countries in which they are published, he forgets how the world has embraced Al Jazeera, Qatar's flagship news outlet, deemed by the West to be a reliable purveyor of news.

And then there is, of course, Saudi Arabia's Al Aribaya, which goes out of its way to publish utterly neutral news perspectives, leaning heavily on Associated Press-derived articles, an agency which has its own very un-neutral biases. But oops, nothing critical of the regime.  "The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices", he wrote, the ingrate. He was grateful to The Washington Post for providing that platform for his very particular Arab voice.

And though Jamal Khashoggi was very well aware of the vulnerable position his criticisms had placed him in, with the very thin-skinned Saudi rulers, he proceeded to make himself available to them in a country that disposes of journalists like used facial tissues, within a diplomatic mission whose presence was as good as being in Riyadh, as though he was courting death in the greater interests of becoming the story of the year himself, and succeeding handily....

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