Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The I.S.I.S. Mystery


“We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it. We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.” - Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East (August 2014)


When I did some searches for information on I.S.I.S (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) about 1.5 months ago what turned up was very contradictory and incomplete. Maybe you are wondering who I.S.I.S. is and how they get their money. This short post provides an overview of the information published so far and pulls from sources other than mainstream as well. The links will give you sources for getting more info if you want. Or, read on to understand my best guess to this political and military mystery based on who wins and loses in the regional balance of power and where the money ends up. 
  1. CNN paints a picture of using oil revenues from captured oil fields and extracting money from local people. I find both of these hard to believe. Locals have to be tapped out after all this time. And, how does ISIS have the necessary infrastructure to run an oil extraction process and transportation system to provide $1-2M per day as the article says?  
  2. NBC tries to put the source as wealthy Qatarians. This also does not seem very credible to me. Qatar is wealthy but unless they have been flying way under the radar for 30 years have always stayed out of mideast politics. 
  3. This article says it is Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. I find it more than plausible that the Saudis are involved and would think them the kingmakers. 
  4. There were several reports that ISIS robbed $420M from a central bank in Mosul and then other reports that said that was false. It is hard to believe a bank would actually hold that much cash in actual bills. 
  5. Newsweek says that ISIS is mainly supported by Kuwaiti donors, through smuggling routes established during Saddam's regime and taxing the local population. The article, while seemingly containing lots of details does not really add up.  It takes millions per day to run a war of the proportions ISIS is operating at right now. Think about just the amount of gas it takes to move all the equipment. Where do all the armaments come from? Running a war at multiple fronts at the scale ISIS is operating requires an operation like the US was running in Iraq or Afghanistan. ISIS must be getting funding and arms support from a big and rich country(ies) that have access to vast munitions stores. 
  6. The Russian based RT news source interviewed British Labor MP, Jeremy Corbyn who mostly lamented about civilian casualties. RT opined the "Key to ISIS fighting - concerted pressure on its funding and sources of arms", which is correct but one wonders why they are coming down on the righteous side of this argument. Is it because the US, Brit and French arms suppliers are making the most money off this conflict and not the Russians? 
Then there is this NY TImes report that ISIS is executing hundreds of Iraqi Sunnis. This makes zero sense.  ISIS is supposed to be Sunni based, supported by Sunnis, and helping Sunnis.

The amount of conflicting information in the news media makes me believe that the real story is not something the general public is supposed to know or understand. A veil of misinformation is being created to confuse everyone so when the real story comes out, there is enough confusion to provide political cover.

Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (huh?) in Washington, has shown up all over the place and I bet his background could be interesting reading. So, here is a story of the biggest barbarians loose in the world today and a question as simple as where does all the money come from to fund them cannot be answered. And, it takes lots of money for bullets, gas for equipment, food for soldiers, payments to soldiers, etc even if they got most of the guns and heavy equipment for free when the US withdrew from Iraq.

Is there a diplomatic Solution? -  I found this interview with Phyllis Bennis (fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of Before & After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis) which provided a counterpoint to mainstream media.:
PHYLLIS BENNIS:"Yeah. Well, I think, unfortunately, much of this is politically driven. There were moments of crisis in Iraq, as there had been moments of crisis in Syria, where there was the question of would the U.S. intervene militarily. One of the big problems is we don’t hear options. We hear the choice that George Bush gave the nation on September 12th, after the September 11th attacks back in 2001, when we were told the choice is either we go to war or we let them get away with it. Presented with those two options, the support for going to war was 88 percent, and that’s not so surprising: If the only alternative is do nothing, people will support war. The problem is, all of the options that have to do with diplomacy, with disarmament, with arms embargoes, none of that was on the table.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Absolutely. You know, Saudi Arabia is the source of the largest amount of money, from what all the reports are indicating, that is going to ISIS as well as a host of other Islamist and other organizations, the al-Nusra Front, the official franchise of al-Qaeda, and others. Some of it probably comes from the government, although that’s never been confirmed. But this is a very tightly controlled society, where if there was an interest by the government in stopping its own citizens, whether they are Saudi princes or ordinary citizens, who are the source of a huge amount of the money funding these organizations, including ISIS, it could be contained. The Saudi government has been very eager to keep ISIS out of Saudi Arabia. The fact that the U.S. has an enormous base in the region makes it very vulnerable for those who see the U.S. role as something to be challenged, something to be opposed. The Saudis don’t want to talk about that alliance with the United States. But there is $60 billion worth of arms that they’ve been engaged in buying from the United States over this last two years. Many of those arms are the ones ending up in the hands of ISIS. It’s U.S. arms and it’s Saudi arms that are ending up there. Whether it’s individuals or whether it’s part of the government, that money is coming to a large degree from Saudi Arabia, from other parts of the region, as well—from Qatar, from Kuwait, from UAE, from a number of countries—but Saudi Arabia is very much at the center of this. And the U.S.-Saudi alliance is such that if the U.S. chose to challenge the arms sellers in this country, who are making a killing on this new war, this Iraq War 3.0, we might say—if they were to prepared to challenge those arms suppliers, and thus challenge the Saudi government, there could be a real effort to put a stop to the funding and arming of these terrible organizations like ISIS.

Jeremy Scahill is always provocative and can provide analysis outside the norm. His complete transcript is at this link.  He talks about the Orwellian nature of the fight in the Mideast which is how I have personally felt since the Iraq War and the lies and deception regarding WMD's.
You know, the Obama administration, in engaging in this policy, is continuing a Bush administration outcome of the decision to invade Iraq. And that is, they’re empowering the very threat that they claim to be fighting. Who is ISIS? What is this group made up of? Is it just people that are radical Islamists that want to behead American journalists? No. One of the top—and this almost is never mentioned in corporate media coverage of this—one of the top military commanders of ISIS is a man named Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri al-Takriti. Who is Izzat Ibrahim? Izzat Ibrahim is the leading Baathist, who was on the deck of cards, that the United States has not captured. He was one of Saddam Hussein’s top military commanders. He was not just some ragamuffin Baathist. He actually was a hardcore general in the Iraqi military during the Iran-Iraq War, and he was a secular Baathist.
Why is he fighting with ISIS? Well, when Bush decided to invade Iraq, and then he put Paul Bremer, who was a radical neocon ideologue who had cut his teeth working for Henry Kissinger—when Paul Bremer was put in charge of the occupation of Iraq, one of the first things he did was to fire 250,000 Iraqi soldiers simply because they were members of the Baath Party. As one senior U.S. official at the time said, it was the day we made a quarter of a million enemies in Iraq. All of these Baathists have been jerked around by the United States, and the Sunnis in western Iraq, jerked around by the United States for a very long time.
Here it is a month and a half after I started to put together this post and nothing has become clearer to me so I decided to publish what I have gathered so far. The deliberate obfuscation by governments and media continues. Comment if you can provide some clarity on who ISIS actually is, where they are getting money, and whose armaments they are using.

Based on the available information, reading between the lines, and then just doing the math regarding the amount of money involved to run a military operation in Iraq and Syria with the numbers of troops involved, one quickly arrives at the conclusion that ISIS:

  1. Must be funded by a country or countries with very deep financial pockets.
  2. The supporting country or countries must have access to large amounts of arms.

There are only a few that fit the bill.

  1. The Arab Gulf States with tacit support from the US, Britain, and France are the ISIS supporters with money and arms. Western arms manufacturers are making lots of money and have established arms distribution channels with the Arab Gulf States.
  2. Possibly Israel because the Shiite government in Iraq and Assad/Syria are kept very weak. Plus, the Iranians are put on the defensive due to concerns ISIS could eventually attack them. 

The Saudis and Gulf States can feel like they are in control of the mayhem. Israel feels better because their biggest and formerly best armed enemies of Syria and Iraq have been cut in half by ISIS. And, even the oil companies get to see the oil keep moving from ISIS occupied territories.



Links

  1. NY Times article In Battle to Defang ISIS, U.S. Targets Its Psychology
  2. Good article by Amir Ahmad Nasr on why ISIS has grass-roots support around the world, and, in Syria and Iraq
  3. From David Stockman's ContraCorner detailing links to how Turkey is part of the distribution and where the oil is going and why the US is not disrupting this supply chain.  
  4. A link to Rep Dana Rohrabacher Statement on Turkey’s Clash with Russia
  5. A Christmas Story: Why No Peace on Earth by David Stockman
  6. Taliban’s Differences From ISIS Are The Key To Its Success In Afghanistan International Business Times Article
  7. NY Times on how Saudis Bankroll The Taliban 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Modern Day Roosevelts and US Hegemony (What Makes a World Successful?)

http://sojkascall.blogspot.com/2014/10/modern-day-roosevelts-and-us-hegemony.html

After watching the Ken Burns series on Teddy, Eleanor, and Franklin Roosevelt it is easy to wonder where the bigger than life visionary leaders have gone in the last 30 years. Are they really gone or have circumstances not provided the need for those kind of people? 

Teddy was a complicated person that on one hand was a social progressive who was the first to prosecute anti-trust cases, expanded the national park system, regulated industry, supported striking coal miners, and took on the party bosses who controlled legislation and maintained a corrupt political system. The other side of Teddy was an almost neanderthal guy who believed men had to fight in wars to be men, started wars for almost the express purpose of being able to fight, and expanded executive powers in a way that changed the presidency forever. 

FDR did not start out as a dynamic personality but when circumstances like his polio and WWII dominated him, he rose to those challenges and made this a different world. He was also a social progressive like his wife, Eleanor, who changed our country forever with the introduction of social security, reduced workweek, child labor laws, and many other progressive social changes that no one hardly questions anymore as basic rights of being human.

The result of the Roosevelt era is what is referred to today by many as Pax Americana. Is Empire inherently evil or is there a need and place for it in the world today? While the US has certainly had its excesses, the overriding answer is that far more good has come from the US playing world policeman than harm from US overreaching. David Brin summarized the current and previous Pax eras very well.
"Pax" referred originally to Pax Romana or the Roman Peace that kept the Mediterranean placid and open to commerce for 600 years. Pax Sinica refers to similar epochs across China and east Asia. Pax Hispania was the greatest empire the world has ever known, in which Columbus's discoveries -- then Magellan's -- led to a "peace" that preached its own absolute goodness while it spread deliberate genocide for 400 bloody years. But at least there was no hypocrisy.

Here is the crux. With the likely exception of Pax Hispania, almost every pax era has been better for average people on planet Earth than almost every era without a pax empire, when competing kingdoms would send armies slashing and burning and looting across each others’ territories. The Chinese, for example, admit that the First Emperor Chi'in, who unified the five warring states, was something of a murderous madman. But he also made it safe to travel and trade and paved the way for the Han Dynasty renaissance. He was hell on scholars and dissenters, but made things better for average folk who just wanted to live out their lives, pay taxes, practice a trade and be left alone.
The amount the US spends on playing the Pax Americana role is staggering outspending the nearest country (China) by 3 - 5x in total dollars depending on whose numbers you use. The long and short of it is that the world has overall enjoyed an unprecedented degree of peace and prosperity during Pax Americana.

Many Americans want the world to respect their country more and be more grateful for all the resources spent on maintaining relative peace. They cannot understand how our largesse could go so unappreciated. Many other countries only see the hegemonic side of the equation feeling dominated by US military power and economically by US corporations. Both sides are correct. Finding and maintaining a balance is always the difficult part. 

So, Dems rail about the military excesses of George W Bush which is legitimate. And, Pubs are upset about relinquishing any military power that would create a vacuum only to be filled by chaos and barbarians. And, we wonder where the leaders like Teddy and FDR went. Maybe they are not around because we don't need them.

We live in difficult times, but, thankfully less difficult than other times in history. Have a wonderful day, hopefully enjoying a war-free life like 95+% of the planet.

Links:
David Brin on Pax Americana
Military Spending on Wiki
Teddy Roosevelt

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bulletproof Coffee

When I first heard someone say "bulletproof coffee" it was like fingernails on a chalkboard or hearing that song you hate for the 2 millionth time which for me is Freebird. I liked the song the first hundred times but now cannot stand it.

Famous Paleo Athlete Hunter Pence - BP coffee effect?
And, so for about a year I just made fun of the stupid name "bulletproof" and read a little mostly about people who hated it because they agreed with my position. Once in a while a positive note would slip past my negative net and I would read about how much someone liked the effect.

But, I am probably considered a coffee snob by most people because I buy fresh roasted beans, have an expensive grinder and espresso machine and know how to make cappuccinos and lattes and stuff. To me, that does not make you a snob, but I can understand the label. And, the idea of adulterating my fine coffee in this non-traditional manner that would offend almost all Swiss, Italians and French just seemed very wrong.

Then one day someone's link took me to the bulletproof site and I read some of the info there. It mostly seems OK but I question the mark-ups on basic items. And, when investigating pieces of the info and talking with my coffee roaster friend I discovered things that were claimed about the coffee sold there that just did not make sense. So, that made me think maybe it was all a sales job to get you buying bulletproof store items.

So, I went back to Mark Sissons site and read about his take on bulletproof coffee. I tried the egg thing since I can source eggs from friends who have chickens and made the mistake of microwaving my cup of coffee once after adding the egg which sort of cooked it in my mug. That was gross so don't make that mistake. And, I tried it for a few days because I can get local organic eggs from friends who have chickens and liked the little extra buzz, did not miss the frothed milk of my cappuccino like I thought I would though my cat missed getting her spoonful of frothed milk. But, for some reason I kept thinking I should add nutmeg to my coffee because it reminded me of eggnog which is not surprising really.

So, I went back to the bulletproof guys website and read his recipe again and again.  I almost ordered the MCT oil but then remembered the misinformation there about the coffee beans they sell and decided to just buy MCT oil at my local health food store. And, while there I bought some grass-fed, organic ghee which was nothing like the ghee I normally get at the Indian grocery store. The ghee made in India has a strong smell and flavor while the grass-fed organic kind had almost no smell and consequently a very mild flavor.

So, I made the bulletproof coffee using a triple espresso pull and one tablespoon each of ghee and MCT oil and swirled using a Aerolatte Milk FrotherAnd, geez, this actually was pretty good.

I like the more coffee flavor experience because my drink was not diluted with the frothed milk. And, my stomach actually felt better after drinking my coffee because the frothed milk about half the time seems to be almost like a laxative. And, there is a kind of buzz from the bulletproof coffee. It is more pronounced the first few times but even after about a month of being about 90% bulletproof I still notice it.

So, what more can I say? If you resisted trying bulletproof because it seemed too cliched or mysterious or stupid, now you don't have those reasons if you read this far. The only reason now is you don't want to spend $7 for 7.5oz of organic grass-fed ghee, $16 on MCT Oilor buy organic coffee. I can understand that because I didn't either. I spend more money on other things that turn out stupid and since I drink coffee everyday I finally convinced myself to try it. And, sourcing those items locally only ended up costing me $23 because I already had a frothing wand and already bought organic coffee beans. Or, if you believe the claims on the bulletproof site about upgraded this and that, you can order a kit there for lots more bucks and get everything that way and not have to make more decisions on what to buy and where.

And, that ghee and MCT oil are going to make months of bulletproof coffee at one cup per day. I will have to buy maybe four 7.5oz containers of ghee to each 32oz of MCT oil so the cost is really minimal.

There are other claimed benefits of drinking bulletproof coffee. For me, the most important items were taste and how I feel right after drinking it. Who knows about the increased metabolism and weight loss claims. That is hard to know. Mark Sisson is not convinced about MCT oil and sort of pooh pahs it but while I agree with Mark's stance probably 90% of the time, his tone is a bit off on this one - almost like since he did not discover it then it is not that great. I don't know. I could be reading something else into his writing on it, but that was my take.

What do you think? Have you tried bulletproof coffee? Is it just a stupid trend that will disappear or will Starbucks and Peets be selling it in a year?



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Paleo Inspired Lemon Meringue Cake

This is not really paleo because real paleo folks will not eat anything remotely sweet or even something similar to a grain-based dish because it weakens the resolve of a person to be 100% paleo. I have given up on being totally paleo and just don't want to be a food nazi and worry about being completely grain-free.


The idea has been floating around in my head for a few weeks now and came together today. The basics are 1) a Meyer lemon based curd with 1/2 cup lemon juice, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp xylitol, 2 tbsp butter, 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, tbsp half&half, and dashes of vanilla extract and salt; 2) meringue with 2 egg whites, 2 tbsp sugar, and dashes cream of tartar and vanilla extract; 3) pancakes made of coconut flour, almond meal, eggs, and milk. Then I assembled the cake in a 9" springform pan with pancake, lemon curd, pancake, and meringue. This was then baked for 20 minutes at 325 degrees. With a cup of cappucchino, it was a great brunch dish. The remainder will be dessert tonight.

Cooking the curd is easy: 1) whisk sugar/xylitol with eggs and yolks. 2) heat lemon juice and add to egg/sugar. 3) heat mixture until it thickens 4) add butter, vanilla, half/half, salt.

Each pancake was made with 2 tbsp of almond flour and coconut flour each mixed with 2 eggs and enough milk to create a thick enough consistency for a 9 inch crepe pan. I used butter to oil the pan.










Just use an electric hand mixer to make the meringue.  


Regarding xylitol, I read about it on the bulletproof website, bought some at the health food store, and am using it sparingly at this time. There is nothing magic about it regarding taste or in this recipe. Sugar is fine to use and you could experiment with other sweeteners. 









These are fairly standard recipes you can find almost anywhere in standard cookbooks or on the internet. Any variation of these would work. Just trial and error this for yourself. For instance, next time, I will probably make a little more curd and meringue even though this tasted very good as is. Lime juice or regular lemon juice could be substituted in the curd.


Let me know what you think and how any variations worked out. Thanks!



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lone Survivor Movie Review

I went to see Lone Survivor yesterday. If you have been living under a rock the last couple weeks or unplugged from the media world and don't know, this is a movie about a Navy Seal operation in Afghanistan that goes badly.

A small group of Seals are vastly outnumbered by a group of Taliban fighters and try to fight their way out of the mess. This true story is about honor, courage, toughness, teamwork, and decision-making on a personal level. On the macro scale this a movie about the horrors of war, tribal society mentality,  and living in a culture still in the middle-ages.

This is a powerful movie that left me physically shaken. I literally felt wobbly leaving the theater and the ground did not feel solid for quite a few minutes. Lone Survivor will shake your body, mind, and emotions.

Highly recommended movie that makes Zero Dark Thirty look a bit tame in comparison though the stories are very different. I would not bring children or those with heart conditions to this show. Seriously, this is an impactful story that in a modern theater puts you on the battlefield. Though a modern big-screen television and high-end audio system could get close, this is really a movie to see at your local cinema.







Link to the book by Marcus Luttrel