Monthly Archives: October 2014

Vote “as if” your life depends on it

By occupostal for Occupy World Writes

By Minnesota Historical Society [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

1956 Window display promoting voting, Dayton’s, Minneapolis. By Minnesota Historical Society [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My first impulse was to exhort you to vote in our upcoming American elections on November 4. Yes, it matters. In a number of ways. Just Google “importance of voting”  and you’ll get a litany of useful reasons that can be generalized no matter where you stand politically. Many of them will fall within this framework: (1) You and your vote are crucial to the democratic process that our government depends on—we don’t govern ourselves directly, but we need representatives who reflect our concerns and needs and can improve our lives. (2) The more local the election, the greater your impact in voting—and the greater the impact that the reps who get elected will have on your day-to-day life, because you live right here, not just in the “nation at large” or in your “virtual life” online. (3) Finally, if you don’t vote in an informed way you’ll wind up with a government of reps that answer to lowest common denominator partisanship and the big money that promoted those reps and to which their governing will inevitably (given human nature) answer. So if you don’t have the single hobbyhorse issue that extreme partisans tend to, or the deep pockets of the 1% elect, you had better vote and vote smartly informed.

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By now, you’ve probably either seen or heard of this video:

In the video (which was commissioned by Hollaback, an anti-street harassment advocacy group), Shoshana Roberts walks through various neighborhoods in New York for ten hours, following filmmaker Rob Bliss, who had a camera hidden in his backpack.

By her definition, which is the only one that matters here, Shoshana was harassed 108 times in those ten hours – and this doesn’t count the countless winks, whistles, etc. “Not a day goes by when I don’t experience this,” she later told NBC.

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Kobane: the struggle of Kurdish women against Islamic State

By Necla Acik

Necla Acik is visiting Research Fellow at the Regent’s Center for Transnational Studies in London and has co-authored with Umut Erel (Open University) the report “The Struggle for Freedom and Gender Equality: The Contemporary Kurdish Women’s Movement in North Kurdistan/Turkey and the Diaspora” for London based women rights and advocacy group Roj Women. Her expertise is in gender and nationalism in Kurdistan.

Flag of the YPG. By LibComInt (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Flag of the YPG. By LibComInt (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

For several days tens of thousands of Yezidis got trapped on Mount Sinjar in early August 2014 in an attempt to flee the attacks of the Islamic State (IS) on their towns and villages in Sinjar region in north-west Iraq, close to the Syrian border.

It soon turned out that these attacks were not just a strategic move by IS to provide them with a free gateway to northern Syria, but horrific tales of execution, abduction of women and children, forced conversions to Islam, and the mass exodus suggests a more sinister plan.

Amnesty International documented the atrocities of IS and accused them of carrying out ethnic cleansing on a historic scale, systematically targeting non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim local communities, such as the Yezidi Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak Shi’a, Kakai and Sabean Mandaeans.

Several months before the IS attack, Yezidi leaders feared that they would be targeted by IS and tried to lobby for protection and intervention with trips to Baghdad and to the Kurdish capital Erbil. The Iraqi Army had already deserted the region, but they were reassured by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that their Peshmerga Armed Forces were prepared for an onslaught by IS and were ready to defend their Kurdish co-patriots.

Yet, as IS started to advance and attack village by village, to the surprise of everyone, the Peshmergas quickly withdrew, leaving the civilian population widely unprotected. Left behind were poorly equipped local militia and a few Peshmerga fighters who, at their own risk, stayed behind. They managed to hold back IS for a few days, enabling civilians to flee to the Sinjar mountains, but they had little power to prevent what Yezidis call the 73rd massacre on their community. This included group executions, abduction of women as spoils of war, rape and the trafficking of women and girls as sex slaves.

Kurdish female fighters rescue the trapped Yezidis from IS

via Facebook

via Facebook

As news of this humanitarian disaster went around the world and the international community was debating about a possible intervention, help came from somewhere else. The Kurdish women fighters (Women’s Protection Unit, YPJ) of Rojava (the self-proclaimed Kurdish autonomy region in northern Syria) and the women’s guerrilla units (YJA-Star) of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) along with their male comrades were the first forces to respond to the calls of the trapped Yezidi refugees. Setting off from Rojava, these fighters cleared more than a 100km passage through northern Iraq to Mount Sinjar and broke the siege of IS. They provided the desperate refugees with a secure corridor, which enabled them to embark on a 24 hour march into the relatively safe northern part of Syria/Rojava, where they received immediate medical attention, food and shelter.

The PKK guerrillas and the fighters from Rojava were the only force on the ground to respond immediately to the crisis preventing further IS massacres in early August. It was also striking that whole women’s units were among them, not just individual female fighters. Especially, as female fighters arouse so much attention. IS fighters were said to be dreading that the door to paradise would be shut to them if they had been killed by a woman.

While such tales have certainly increased the popularity of Kurdish female fighters in the international media – this was even featured in the free paper Metro – the reality is that these women and men who dared to stand up against IS put themselves in a very vulnerable position; they became the primary target of IS. Although they have been the strongest to fight back against IS, only the Peshmergas have been supplied with weapons and included in the US coalition to combat IS.

The PKK and Rojava administration were neither consulted about co-ordinated actions against IS, nor were they supplied with weapons to defend themselves and the population against further IS attacks.  As the founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres Dr Jacques Bérès has stated, the Kurdish women fighting IS have nothing but their “courage and Kalashnikovs”.  Even two months after the IS massacre on Mount Sinjar, it is again the women’s defence force of the PKK who are protecting the civilian population from ongoing IS attacks. They have also vowed to find the thousands of abducted Yezidi girls and women. Swedish politicians joining this campaign have urged the United Nations to investigate and identify the young women who may have been trafficked to other countries.

The ‘Rojava Revolution’ and the Kurds in North Syria

via Facebook

via Facebook

Amid the civil war in Syria and the withdrawal of the Syrian Army in the north of Syria in 2012, the population of Rojava took control of their region and declared a democratic multi-ethnic and multi-religious autonomy similar to the Swiss model with three separate and geographically detached administrative regions or cantons (Kobane, Afrin and Cizire).

Despite economic hardship and a de facto embargo from trade with other parts of Syria, Turkey and KRG, the people of Rojava have been using their newly acquired freedom to experiment with radical democracy. They are applying the Democratic Autonomy project propagated by the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, which is also being embarked upon by the Kurdish movement in North Kurdistan/ Turkey.

Within two years Rojava has witnessed substantial institutional and political changes and for the first time in Syrian history, the communities are governing themselves without the intervention of an authoritarian central government. Referring to these developments as the ‘Rojava Revolution’, the people of Rojava have eagerly been involved in organising their own affairs, from running schools and hospitals to generating electricity and even making their own tanks.

The most visible change has perhaps been the inclusion of women in the defence force and the police as separate units through the establishment of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) and the Women’s Security Forces (HAJ). According to various estimates, female fighters make up between 7,000 and 10,000 of the Kurdish forces fighting in Syria, representing roughly one third of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in Rojava, the military force that has been set up to defend Rojava.

The empowerment of women has been a key to the Rojava revolution, which explains its popularity particularly among women. A recent report on Rojava commissioned by the London based women’s rights and advocacy group Roj Women, shows that since the self-declared autonomy, Kurdish women have established a dozen women’s unions, associations and committees and have carried out gender awareness campaigns on a large scale in all three cantons.

Among the new regulations instigated to combat gender discrimination are a ban on polygamy for men and underage marriage. Also, unusual for the region, cases of domestic violence are being taken more seriously by being referred directly to the police and courts, while women and their children are provided with temporary safe accommodation. To ensure that women are represented in public offices and in civic life, positive discrimination measures, similar to those practiced within the Kurdish movement in Turkey, are introduced. These include the co-chair system where key decision-making positions are shared by men and women, and the establishment of various women-only bodies making sure that women’s voices and interests are no longer ignored.

Rojava’s model of gender equality borrowed from the Kurdish movement in Turkey and the PKK

Kurdish YPJ forces. Image via Twitter.

Kurdish YPJ forces. Image via Twitter.

Rojava’s model of empowering women is based upon the gender liberation perspective developed by the PKK and applied by the Kurdish movement and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in Turkey, which runs the local governments in a number of Kurdish provinces in the South-East of Turkey or Northern Kurdistan.

A strength of the PKK and the Kurdish movement in North Kurdistan has been their criticism of Kurdish society in terms of class and gender inequalities. Women’s participation in the armed struggle and their success as political activists has broken many taboos in Kurdistan as national movements very often do, but it has not stopped there.

While in the 1990s women were mobilised into the Kurdish national movement primarily to support and legitimise the national cause, with the new political shift towards Democratic Autonomy, stronger emphasis has been put on everyday politics and of provoking change from below and within the society rather than waiting for the ‘big revolution’ to happen. The Kurdish movement and the PKK put so much emphasis on women’s liberation, that women’s demands for more power and recognition within the movement could not easily be ignored.

In addition to this, very much to the dismay of many feminists however, the women trusted Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, in guiding them towards gender liberation. Despite his imprisonment since 1999, it was women who supported him most during the turbulent years following his arrest and the declaration of his new political, and at that time controversial, line. In return Öcalan became more radical in his promotion of gender liberation and urged women within the party to question male dominance within their own ranks.

Thus, the ideological support provided by the PKK and its leader Abdullah Öcalan has helped women within the Kurdish movement in North Kurdistan/Turkey to question and challenge women’s oppression and gender inequalities and many women began to develop a feminist consciousness. They strengthened their position within the legal Kurdish movement and built autonomous and semi-autonomous organisations including women’s assemblies within the pro-Kurdish political parties, women’s centres and associations, a press agency, women’s cooperatives, women’s academies and so on.

Within the guerrilla movement, women also organised as separate and independent units by setting up their own party, the Kurdistan Woman’s Liberation Party (PAJK) and their own guerrilla force (YJA-Star).

Today, women constitute a strong force within the pro-Kurdish parties in Turkey. They have been working initially on low level grass-roots mobilization but have also demanded more recognition for their political work. This has led to the introduction of positive discrimination policies and includes the implementation of a 40 per cent quota of women by the pro-Kurdish parties in Turkey. It ensured that women were elected into local and national governments as councillors, mayors and as members of parliament.

For example in the 2007 national election the pro-Kurdish parties won 21 seats, with a female representation of 38 per cent. This was a significant achievement as the overall female representation in the parliament of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the main opposition, the Republican’s Peoples Party (CHP) was only 9 per cent. In the latest local elections in March 2014 in Turkey, only 37 women were elected as mayors (out of a total 1,364), of which over half were women from the pro-Kurdish parties who have applied the women’s quota rigorously. Besides the quota, the pro-Kurdish parties have been applying a pioneering power sharing system since 2009 that allows key decision-making positions within the party to be shared by both men and women. This means that all elected mayors and councillors have a co-chair who share their salary as well as duties and have equal rights of representing their constituency.

This system has been expanded to other civil society organisations embedded within the Kurdish movement. These and other positive discrimination policies have been highly effective in bringing women’s issues to the agenda of Kurdish politics and raising the profile of women in politics more generally. Arguably, Kurdish women’s representation in political positions and parties has become a yardstick for democratization that has challenged other parties in Turkey to follow suit.

Rojava benefited from the political expertise of the PKK and the Kurdish movement in North Kurdistan/Turkey in setting up a self-governing system and in pursuing gender equality initiatives. The Rojava revolution might seem very ambitious, given that no regional or international power has any interest in supporting and maintaining them. Yet, it was their idealism and their belief that diversity in the Middle East is an asset rather than a problem that led them to take responsibility and to go to Mount Sinjar to rescue the besieged civilian population. Their vision of self-rule and their success in building political capacity has enabled Rojava to become a relatively stable and secure region, offering tens of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq, a shelter. This however changed with Rojava becoming the focus of intense IS attacks.

The siege of Kobane

Kurdish YPJ fighter overlooks battlefield. Image via Twitter.

Kurdish YPJ fighter overlooks battlefield. Image via Twitter.

Rojava is now paying the price for taking on IS and for exercising popular self-governance. Despite ongoing US air-strikes on IS strongholds for over three weeks, the Kobane canton of Rojava has been under heavy attack by IS since September 15. The geographical position of Kobane makes it difficult for any outside help from the other cantons and the PKK guerrillas to get through. Its border to the north with Turkey is heavily guarded. The rest of Kobane is encircled by IS. The surrendering of Kobane is most likely to set off another massacre similar to that on Mount Sinjar. Most of the estimated 160,000 inhabitants of Kobane have already fled the area, but for those thousands of residents who have remained in Kobane attempting to defend themselves against IS, the future looks very grim.

An unclassified US memo written by the former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, suggests that Turkey is pushing for a Sunni-Islamic state in Syria, regardless of the demands of much of the opposition for a secular and multi-ethnic federation as suggested by many Syrians and particularly the minorities such as the Christians, Alawites, Druze and Kurds.

Moreover, in the same memo, Turkish officials are reported to have suggested that a future Syrian constitution should be “Without mention of the Kurds and that any Kurdish problems should be resolved through local municipalities”. It is exactly this mentality of denial and the subsequent assimilation policies of the Turkish state – and similarly that of Iraq, Syria and Iran – that led to the uprisings of the Kurds in the region, causing the loss of over 40,000 lives in the conflict in Turkey alone.

Thus, despite being besieged by IS in Kobane, the Kurds in Rojava deeply mistrust any Turkish military intervention, not least because they accuse Turkey of actively supporting IS by allowing them to cross the border back and forth. For Turkey, struggling with concessions for their own Kurdish population, an autonomous Rojava run by Kurds affiliated to the PKK is an absolute no. A Turkish intervention in Rojava would not only threaten the autonomy of Rojava, which represents a model for the PKK in Turkey, but would also threaten the peace process with its own Kurds in Turkey.

Democracy in action in the Middle East

via Facebook

via Facebook

The autonomous region of Rojava and its unique population is illustration enough of what we have long understood from Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflicts around the world; that democracy has to come from within. No military intervention from the west or from a third power can teach a country and its citizens how to reconcile differences and build a future together.

Yet, Rojava is being punished for trying to stand on its own feet and for their alliance with the PKK which has helped them ideologically and logistically to set up their own administration as well as with their fight against al-Qaida affiliated groups.

Although the PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation, and has indeed been engaged in violent conflict and has been ruthless at times towards internal opposition, their policies and strategies have changed over the years. Their popularity among the Kurds remains high as they have been leading the struggle for civil liberties, political representation and recognition of cultural rights for the last 30 years or more.

The Democratic Autonomy project has been one of the key political projects of the PKK devised as a long term solution for the Kurdish question in the Middle East. Proposed as an alternative to a separate Kurdish nation state, it focuses on widening democratic forms of participation and developing alternative forms of governance and economy. This moderate political line of the PKK, compared to the 1980s and 1990s, has allowed the Kurdish movement in Turkey to strengthen its legal political struggle and aims to open up negotiations for a peaceful political solution.

A secular, multi-religious and multi-ethnic Rojava with democratic ambitions constitutes a threat for IS and equally for the conservative Islamic government in Turkey. For the west however, which complains about the lack of democracy in the Middle East, what makes them hesitate to support such a progressive movement, one wonders?

This movement has not only been halting the advance of IS but has also providing security and stability in the areas run by them, it has empowered women and built an inclusive form of governance, involving many of the region’s diverse populations such as the Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, and Armenians.

This article appeared in on October 22, 2014, and is republished here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence.

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The Face of the Tealiban

I spend a lot of time on Facebook on any given day. It’s a way to stay in touch with friends of mine who live across the country and overseas, and also to keep a finger on the pulse of what people are talking about. One page I check on a regular basis is Ted Cruz’s official page.

Ted Cruz. Photo by Ted Cruz for Senate (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ] via Wikimedia Commons

Ted Cruz. Photo by Ted Cruz for Senate (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

This isn’t due to any admiration I have for Teddy or his policies, mind you; it’s because I feel he might be the most dangerous man in American politics today. He’s smart, he’s charismatic, and he’s also a raving psychopath who has lots of minions who swallow whole the lies and half truths he spouts on a daily basis. Teddy, his father and the Dominionist philosophy they ascribe to will be the subject of a future post; today, I’ll talk about his Facebook fans and their views.

On Friday, Teddy posted on his page an article where he had been quoted on the recent attacks in Canada. While I’m used to the vitriol shown by Teddy’s supporters towards anybody to the left of Genghis Khan, the bile and hate aimed at people in our country who share nothing with the people committing these acts other than their claimed religion was shocking, to say the least. Some examples (unedited):

“It’s not fear mongering to know the FACTS. Quran IDEOLOGY is a curse to freedom & humanity. It should be outlawed in free society. No such thing as moderate Muslim. They all follow the SAME Quran. They are here under the guise of religious freedom to spread Sharia law. This is NOT a religion. It’s an IDEOLOGY similar to NAZISM & FASCISM. Look at U.K., France, Germany for just some examples of how they spread. BAN this in AMERICA.”

“I think it is time to round up the Muslims for detention and questioning, no matter who they are, even if they are doctors.”

Islam is not a religion, it is a political totalitarian system that can be distinguished from Nazism only by the fact that it followers claim God is on their side. That claim does not make their beliefs a religious belief.”

Now, you have to realize that these people are the first to scream about religious intolerance and their Constitutional right to freedom of religion under the First Amendment. They claim “religious beliefs” to justify such things as discriminating against gay people or denying women contraceptive coverage in the insurance policies they offer to their employees. They’re constantly foaming at the mouth over a perceived “war on Christianity.” Yet, they fail to see that they’re being just as intolerant of others as they claim Islam is. I, like others who I know, refer to them as the Tealiban.

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself. – Sun Tzu

The similarities between the Daesh and the Tealiban are striking. Some examples:

  • The Daesh blows up mosques in captured cities; the Tealiban deny permits to build mosques in local cities.
  • The Daesh desecrates cemeteries of religions different than theirs; the Tealiban have their own “church sponsored” cemeteries that ban the burial of “non-conformists.”
  • The Daesh rejects abortion and birth control. So does the Tealiban.
  • The Daesh teaches religious doctrine as social law. So does the Tealiban. The Tealiban would like nothing better than to have their version of “Christianity” to be the law of the land.
  • The Daesh beheads hostages to draw attention to their cause. The Tealiban murders abortion providers to draw attention to their cause.
  • The Daesh is exterminating people in Syria and Iraq who don’t share their beliefs; the Tealiban want to send troops to Syria and Iraq to exterminate people who don’t share their beliefs.

By (Flickr: P1050331 (Medium)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

By (Flickr: P1050331 (Medium)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the Tealiban claim to be patriotic, when instead it’s obvious by their actions that they’re anything but. They’re rabid nationalists who want to “take America back.” I wonder where they want to take it back to; I’m thinking the 1800s, when slavery was legal and only white, male property owners could vote – but, I digress.

Where have we seen this before? A nation recovering from an economic meltdown, with a small but very vocal segment of the population who are virulently nationalistic? Who are anti-intellectual at heart? Who claim that all members of a different religion are inherently evil? Who long for a return to the “grand old days” of empire?

It’s up to us to stop the insanity. The elections are a week away; go out and spread the word. It’s time to stop the neofascists on the far right who are masquerading as “Christians” from gaining any more traction in our local, state and federal governments.

Vote as if your country depends on it – because it does.

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The War On Education – Texas Style

We of Occupy World Writes share a lot of common goals and views. As is normal with any group of people though, each of us have subjects that fire us up more than others. One of the subjects that’s guaranteed to fire me up is the dumbing down and gutting of the public school system in America.

Back in April, we outlined the beginnings of what I referred to as the new idiocracy, and we’ve touched on the subject off and on since, most recently in regards to Jefferson County, Colorado and the school board’s attempt to make revisionist history the accepted curriculum. Today, we’ll take a look at what’s happening in a state well known for generating controversy over such matters; the great state of Texas.


Last Monday, petitions with more than 24,000 signatures from Texas residents were delivered to the Texas Board of Education and textbook publishing executives. The petitions call for the correction of errors in the way that climate change is covered in social studies textbooks presently under consideration. The errors include such things as claiming that scientists “do not agree” on the cause of climate change (97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real, and that man is the major driver of such change), that there isn’t a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica caused by fossil fuel emissions (also false), and a quotation from a notorious climate change denial organization presented in rebuttal of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In a joint press release by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), the Texas Freedom Network and Climate Parents, NCSE’s Josh Rosenau said; “From the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters, teachers and school boards want textbooks that handle climate change  accurately, and they are watching to see which publishers fix these errors. These petitions show that parents, teachers, students, and voters across Texas will make sure the board doesn’t let these errors slip into their classrooms.”

Conservative groups, needless to say, are calling the NCSE and the others “activists” who want to censor the textbooks and stop healthy discussion on the issue. However, when I read through the articles promoting this point of view, I notice two things: 1) they’re all written by the same guy, H. Sterling Burnett, and 2) Mr. Burnett, among other things, is an advisor for the Energy, Natural Resources and Agricultural Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Yes- our supposed impartial op-ed writer works for our friends, the Koch brothers.

If these were the only issues with the books, it would be bad enough. However, they also have other “interesting” issues, such as questioning the separation of church and state, asserting that Moses was a major influence on the Constitution and our constitutional structure of government. and glossing over segregation and slavery, to name just a few.

Then, there’s the impact on other states. Texas has the largest public school system in the country and has strict standards for textbooks, so publishers tend to base their new textbooks around what Texas wants. Do we really want our children learning revisionist garbage?

The textbooks are given final consideration next month; up until then, the publishers can correct any errors pointed out to them. Hopefully, they’ll follow through and do so. Our children’s education depends on it.

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Islamic State Murders Erdogan’s Dog!

By Kani Xulam, Guest Contributor. Originally published October 24, 2014 in Rudaw. Republished here with author’s permission.

Kani Xulam during a protest in Washington, DC. Image via

Kani Xulam during a protest in Washington, DC. Image via

“Throw the dog a bone!”

Newly elected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave that old expression new meaning when he “threw a dog bone” during his address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York last month.

He said the new Islamic State had killed a Turkish dog — well, sort of — as part of the price Turkey paid for the release of 46 Turkish diplomats being held by Islamic State militants.

Mr. Erdogan denied that Turkey paid any ransom. He said, Ankara has “no monetary relationship” with the Islamic State, but quickly added, “You cannot expect us to divulge what the intelligence agencies do in their business.”

No — that might reveal the ransom paid!

Right after that suspicious denial, Mr. Erdogan “threw his dog bone” in this casual aside: “We lost a dog to them.”

For those who follow Mr. Erdogan, it came across as an enticing ploy calculated to curry favor with his audience: Americans love dogs and adopt them as house pets and often treat them like family members.

Muslims — and Mr. Erdogan considers himself a pious one — dislike dogs, consider them dirty, and think those who befriend or adopt them childish.

So that pooch killed by Islamic State militants must have been owned by a secular Turkish diplomat — whose numbers, incidentally, are dwindling as Turkey reorients itself towards Mecca.

Still, the Turkish president couldn’t resist using a “dirty” dog to “clean up” his image and that of his country’s for some hoped-for sympathy from the unsuspecting Americans.

But the shaggy dog story was peanuts — compared to Mr. Erdogan’s outlandish claim that “Turkey has never been a racist state.”

Trying to bolster his claim, “Our country embraced the Jews who were fleeing Hitler’s persecution,” he added with a deadpan expression.

The average New Yorker may not know whether Turkey is racist, or if it truly “welcomed” the persecuted Jews, but that roomful of highly educated Americans knew better — and should have challenged Mr. Erdogan’s blatant lie.

Alas, none did.

Let’s subject his claims to hard facts.

The majority Turkish population dictates to the minority Kurdish population what to do, including prohibiting us from calling ourselves Kurds.

Isn’t that racism, Mr. Erdogan?

As to his assertion that Turkey welcomed Jews fleeing the Holocaust, nothing in the historical record supports Mr. Erdogan’s far-fetched claim.

The Turkish president is too young to know this, but a ship called Struma gleams brightly as exhibit A to invalidate his contention.

On December 12, 1941, it sailed with nearly 800 Jews from the port of Constanta, Romania for Palestine.

Three days later, its engine failed in Turkish waters and the helpless ship was hauled to Sarayburnu harbor in Istanbul. But contrary to Mr. Erdogan’s claim, its passengers were not allowed to disembark –were even quarantined — as if they were all infected with the deadly Ebola virus!

Two months later, the engine-dead ship was tugged out of the harbor through Bosporus — and despite the frantic pleas of its passengers for help, and thousands of Turks helplessly watching — was coldly set adrift ten miles outside of Turkey on the Black Sea.

The next morning — February 24, 1942 — a Soviet submarine mistook the Struma for a cargo ship carrying war materials to the Nazis, and torpedoed it — plunging 782 Jews to the bottom of the sea.

Only one man survived:  David Stoliar.

Until his passing on May 1, 2014, he was a living witness to how Turkey had really treated the fleeing Jews.

Today, another humanitarian crisis is staring Turkey in the face and Ankara is fudging yet again.

The Kurdish town of Kobane at the Turkish border has been mercilessly attacked by the militants of Islamic State for more than a month.

Yes, Turkey has opened its Mursitpinar border crossing to allow Kurdish civilians cross into its territory, but is only reluctantly – and recently — permitting military hardware and some Kurdish fighters in.

The story of the murdered pooch is also revealing relative to the ongoing empty talks that are taking place between the Kurdish politicians and their Turkish interlocutors on the island of Imrali and Ankara with ramifications for Americans.

While Turkey claims to be working for “peace” with the Kurds, early this month its parliament authorized Ankara to conduct cross-border military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State.

Eleven days later, The Turkish air force conducted its first operations, not against the militants of Islamic State, as Washington wants Ankara to do, but the de facto allies of Coalition forces, the PKK.

America’s desperate search for a reliable ally in Ankara is a fool’s errand no different than the Kurdish pursuit of peace in the Turkish capital.

In other words, Mr. Erdogan likes Kurds and Americans as much as he likes the dogs.

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Where The Criminals Are The Police – Guerrero Edition

While we at Occupy World Writes recognize that our media has pretty much given up on reporting the news, sometimes we’re still surprised by their lack of coverage of vital stories happening around the world. Instead of providing us with an unbiased accounting of current events, they focus instead on the sensational.

Our news broadcasts are filled with stories about Ebola, yet the chances of an Ebola epidemic occurring in the US are close to nonexistent. They cover things such as Occupy Wall Street and the Ferguson protests when they first start, but then ignore them as soon as a new shiny story comes around, even though the protests are still happening and the issues that started them are still present. And, sometimes, they almost completely skip the story, even though it’s happening right next door.

Protest demanding the resignation of the governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre. Photo via

Protest demanding the resignation of the governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre. Photo via

A month ago tomorrow, a group of students from Ayotzinapa Normal School – a teacher training college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, Mexico – traveled to the nearby city of Iguala to protest against what they said were discriminatory hiring practices. Police opened fire on the buses the students were travelling in, killing three of them and three more people in nearby vehicles. 43 students were seen being loaded into police vans; that’s the last time they were seen.

The speculation around the city was that the police reaction was related to the mayor’s wife having an event in the city on that day; police officers had been told to prevent the students from disrupting her event. Which brings us to the next twist in the story; the mayor’s wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa, is part of the Pineda family. The Pineda family is known to have controlled the drug trafficking in Guerrero for the Sinaloa Cartel, and were associates of a group known as Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), a spinoff of the criminal group Los Beltran Leyva.

After the leader of Guerreros Unidos revealed that the police had handed over some of the students to the group and ordered their executions, dozens of police officers were arrested. The mayor was fired, and he and his wife went into hiding. Last week, the State Capitol building in Chilpancingo was heavily damaged by fire in demonstrations demanding that the governor step down. Which brings us to this week.

On Wednesday, protesters burned the Iguala city hall, and tens of thousands of people marched through Mexico City and other cities in protests over the disappearance of the students and the failure of the government to find them. Also on Wednesday, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam ordered the arrest of Jose Luis Abarca (the former mayor), his wife, and an aide, alleging they masterminded the attack. On Thursday, the governor of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre, stepped down.

Since the disappearance of the students, a dozen mass graves with remains of burned and dismembered bodies have been found in the area, but authorities claim none of the bodies were the missing students. As horrible as this sounds, it’s just a drop in the bucket.

Around 26,000 people have gone missing in the last eight years in Mexico, according to a list compiled by the administration before the present one headed by Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. The level of corruption and collaboration between the army police and the cartels is staggering. And, to a large degree, we’re responsible. The “war on drugs” is what gave birth to the cartels; without the huge profits that the drug trade generates, there wouldn’t be the violence and corruption perpetuated by the cartels and gangs throughout Latin America, and we wouldn’t see anywhere as much corruption in those countries’ governments and security forces that we do now.

What can we as a nation do? Put in place a sensible drug policy. Instead of attempted nation building in the Middle East, why don’t we worry about closer to home instead? Put the money we spend in Iraq, Afghanistan and the like into building up our neighbors in Latin America. Make it so the citizens of Latin America have other options to make a good living and feed their families other than working for the cartels. It would be a win/win for everybody; not only would the cartels’ grip on those countries and the violence resulting from that diminish greatly, but we’d have fewer people crossing our border in search of a better, safer life.

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Follow The Yellow Brick Road

By Smallbones (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Smallbones (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was a really young kid (late ’50s/early ’60s), one of the highlights of TV programming was the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. The story of Dorothy and her companions following the yellow brick road never loses its charm; how they struggle through adversity and evil to see the Wizard, only to find that he’s a fraud, and that the real power to do what they desired was in themselves.

Here at Occupy World Writes, we’ve noticed a striking similarity to L. Frank Baum’s masterpiece and the things we write about. We also follow the yellow brick road on our way to see the Wizard. However in our case, the yellow brick road is the money, either paid by corporations or people to get governments to do as they wish, or as future profits somewhere down the road.

FOLLOW THE MONEY. If you take the time to do that, you begin to see what’s behind the policies (or lack thereof) of our governments at the federal, state or local level. You begin to understand why the US and Russia both have a vested interest in keeping Ukraine in a state of turmoil. You begin to understand the dynamics of US policy in the Middle East; why we went into Iraq (it had nothing to do with WMDs) and why we have the policy we do towards Syria. You begin to understand why the TPP and TTIP negotiations have been kept secret.

Once you begin to follow the money, all becomes clear. You realize why some states have little or no safety and/or environmental regulations. You know why our elected representatives deny climate change is real, even when the evidence is overwhelming. You don’t wonder why some states won’t release information on the trains hauling Bakken crude that are nothing less than rolling bombs. The list goes on…

And, just like in The Wizard of Oz, when you get to the end of the yellow brick road, you find that the man behind the curtain isn’t who you thought it was. The “all-powerful” government isn’t who’s running the show; it’s the non-elected elites who are calling the shots.

However, the lesson of our trip along the yellow brick road is the same as the one that Dorothy and her friends learned. The power to change our world is in ourselves, and nobody else. And, in order to use that power, we must recognize that we have it first.

It’s all fun and games until the flying monkeys attack…

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Blackwater’s Black Day

A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter in Baghdad, Iraq, 2004. Photo by Master Sgt. Michael E. Best (Public Domain)

A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter in Baghdad, Iraq, 2004. Photo by Master Sgt. Michael E. Best (Public Domain)

Here at Occupy World Writes, each of us have topics that fascinate us. One of the topics that fascinate me is the outsourcing of various military and police/security missions and/or duties to create a facade of deniability of responsibility.  Back in July, I wrote about the ongoing prosecution and trial of four contractors working for the company then known as Blackwater who were charged with murdering 14 iraqi citizens in Baghdad in 2007. Yesterday, the court ruled.

A jury in the D.C. Federal Court convicted Nicholas A. Slatten of murder, and Dustin L. Heard, Evan S. Liberty and Paul A. Slough of manslaughter and using a machine gun to carry out a violent crime. The machine gun charges carry a mandatory 30 year sentence (which is more than the manslaughter charges have as a minimum), and Slatten faces possible life in prison.

Professor James Stewart, a former UN war crimes prosecutor who followed the case, said; “This was a sensational event: even at the time it happened, people realised there were going to be big implications from the get-go. There was not much doubt whether the attack was legitimate or the firepower excessive, but the trial became a whodunnit: an attempt to convince the jury that each of the men were responsible for each of the killings.”

Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. attorney for the District, whose office prosecuted the case, said; “This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war. Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families.”

The jury took 28 days over two months to come to a verdict, though three of the manslaughter charges against Heard resulted in a hung jury. The defense is expected to appeal the ruling.

So what does this mean over the long haul? Frankly, it sends mixed messages to us. On the one hand, it does define a limit on what is considered acceptable force in future military operations carried out by subcontractors. Professor Stewart said; “I think this trial has reflected well on America. There are not that many countries in the world where a group of men working for the government like this would have been held accountable in a criminal trial back home.”

On the other hand, it’s only the people who carried out the orders who are being held responsible. Erik Prince (Blackwater’s CEO at the time) and other former Blackwater executives are still making profits from their armies for hire. And, what about the Obama administration? When Obama was running for President, he promised to rein in the subcontracted mercenary forces if he were elected. Well, guess what- it hasn’t happened. Jeremy Scahill wrote an excellent piece for The Intercept on this very subject; the lack of accountability for all besides the ones carrying out the order. This one paragraph says it all:

“None of the U.S. officials from the Bush and Obama administrations who unleashed Blackwater and other mercenary forces across the globe are being forced to answer for their role in creating the conditions for the Nisour Square shootings and other deadly incidents involving private contractors. Just as the main architect of the CIA interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, is on a book tour for his propagandistic love letter to torture, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, so too is Erik Prince pushing his own revisionist memoir,Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.”

We’ve proven that we can hold the underlings responsible for their actions. When do we find the courage to hold our officials to the same standards?

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We Don’t Need Your Secret Formulas

One of our favorite topics is fracking and the harm it does to the environment. We’ve discussed how fracking can poison the groundwater and aquifers in the areas where it goes on. We’ve found evidence of gas (notably methane) getting into and contaminating the water supply through poor cement jobs or fractured pipe at fracking wells. However, we’ve never had a way to prove that other chemical contamination was a direct result of fracking, or was caused by some other unknown factor. That is, we haven’t until now.

By Jason Shenk. CC BY 2.0

By Jason Shenk. CC BY 2.0

In a study published on Monday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers have identified geochemical tracers that can identify flowback fluids from hydraulic fracturing that have spilled or otherwise released into the environment, and can distinguish between those fluids and contamination that results from other processes.

Duke University geochemist Avner Vengosh, who co-led the research, said; “By characterizing the isotopic and geochemical fingerprints of enriched boron and lithium in flowback water from hydraulic fracturing, we can now track the presence of ‘frac’ fluids in the environment and distinguish them from wastewater coming from other sources, including conventional oil and gas wells. This gives us new forensic tools to detect if frac fluids are escaping into our water supply and what risks, if any, they might pose.”

One of the big issues with fracking is that companies weren’t required to disclose the chemicals that make up their fracking fluids- in fact, it’s a crime to do so in North Carolina. With the tracers though, scientists no longer need to know the chemical makeup of the fluid to determine whether or not it’s getting into the environment.

Duke University geochemist Avner Vengosh told ThinkProgress; “This is one of the first times we’ve been able to demonstrate that, here, you have a spill in the environment, and yes, this is from fracking fluid and not from other source of contamination. It’s a pretty cool way to overcome the issue of trade secrets.”

Occupy World Writes applauds their ingenuity. We further call on all state and federal environmental agencies to require and administer these tests in all areas where fracking is taking place. Will it be expensive? Not half as expensive as letting our water become contaminated would be.

We don’t need your secret formulas to be able to tell if you’re poisoning us or not.

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