Espionage: The Danger of Overseas Intelligence

After listening in on a conversation with a Pakistani official, the United States is now leading an investigation with a former State Department diplomat, Robin Raphel (pronounced RAY-full). Searching Raphel’s home, classified information was found and Raphel is now banned from State Department headquarters.

“The investigation is a rare example of an F.B.I. espionage case breaking into public view. Counterintelligence — the art of spotting and thwarting spies — is the F.B.I.’s second-highest priority, after fighting terrorism, but the operations are conducted almost entirely in secret. On any given day, Washington’s streets crawl with F.B.I. surveillance teams following diplomats and spies, adding to files that are unlikely ever to become public.”

Counter-intelligence and espionage are commonly used in the international community. How do you countries diplomatically work with one another after one entity has breached the security of another? Read more in the New York Times!

Kim Jong Oops

The united Nations has official adopted a resolution condemning the inhumane actions of North Korea yesterday. This kind of resolution is unique because it personally holds the North’s leaders responsible for the crimes against humanity and recommends they be prosecuted for their crimes.

Satellite footage and first hand accounts support that the North Korea government maintains order by holding the threat of prison camps over their citizens heads. In this way the term “North Korean citizen” does not exist. All North Koreans are prisoners in their own country. Stories from escaped Northerners tell of public execution, tying prisoners in painful positions for days, and malnutrition to the point of resorting to eating animal feces among many other horrifying stories.

The freedoms North Koreans are allowed by their glorious leader Kim Jong Un are few and far between as it is, but the prison camps make the west’s silence a non-option. This argument has been made time and time again, but it’s true. Why is the North Korean people’s humanity worth any less than our own? We as a nation who values human rights, as expressed in our founding documents, above all else need to consider the suffering that our Korean brothers and sister are enduring. Would we not intervene in a heart beat if England was suddenly over taken by such practices? One might say the Korean war was our attempt at stopping this and it was partially successful, why must we risk more life by intervening again?

First of all, are more lives at risk if we intervene? More American lives certainly, but lives overall — no. The cold truth is that even thought the North puts on a good song and dance with their red flags and big parades, the US Air Force alone could make a crippling dent in the North Korean armed forces.

Second, if the United Kingdom or France was in such a situation such as this would the United States seriously settle for partial success? If we look at the productivity of a free South Korea — the industry created there such as Samsung and Hyundai and more (comparable to many EU nations), why is that not achievable in a free North? Wouldn’t it be something if we could live in a world with one Korea — a free Korea again?

Enough with the rhetorical questions though. The situation in reality is too complex to boil down to a one sentence explanation, but my thought is that we need to be true to our words. “Liberty and justice for ALL”, “Government of the people, by the people, for people”, “Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness (as a fundamental human right)”. We must realize that these are human rights not just American rights. We claimed them centuries ago. It is time we helped the North reclaim theirs.

War Authorization?

The United States is now engaged in a conflict in Syria and Iraq fighting off terrorist groups posing threats to the region and potentially to the United States. However, this has been done without the constitutional approval of Congress. We know from Article 1 – Section 8 of the Constitution that the power to declare war remains in the hands of Congress; however, we have not seen any votes take place to authorize these actions. Harry Reid and his friends did not want to be put in a situation where they would have to take a stance on war that might hurt their popularity at home, but now the election over, it is time Congress does its job and authorizes war. “While it is important for Congress to repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War and terminate the 2001 authorization against Al Qaeda, the priority in the lame-duck session should be to pass a new and separate authorization for the war against ISIS.”

I hope our leaders will do the right thing and follow the Constitution. I was optimistic this Congress would do its duty, but it is looking like we are going to have to wait until January to see anything happen.

Israel Shaken by 5 Deaths in Synagogue Assault

An attack on Jewish Synagogue in Jerusalem left three Rabbis, one worshiper, and one police officer dead. The men were attacked while praying, facing east, with their backs turned to their attackers and they were unable to protect themselves. The assailants, two Palestinian cousins that lived in East Jerusalem, attacked the synagogue because they believed the Israeli Jews to be defiling the Temple Mount. The notion that Israeli Jews do not respect mutual religious sanctuaries and are attempting to change the prayer rules, is one being spread by Hamas and other anti-Israeli groups in attempt to call Palestinians to arms.

Many of the world’s political leaders have condemned the attack, including President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency. Unlike past terrorist attacks there seems to be mutual agreement that places of religious worship are off limits.

Even though political leaders have condemned the attacks, family members of the shooters are proud of the attack, calling it heroic and saluting them for their courage to do something.

President Obama sums international sentiment up nicely with his remarks: “The murderers for today’s outrageous acts represent the kind of extremism that threatens to bring all of the Middle East into the kind of spiral from which it’s very difficult to emerge. But we have to remind ourselves that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis overwhelmingly want peace and to be able to raise their families knowing they’re safe and secure.”

Israel Razes Home of Jerusalem Car Attack Suspect

The Wall Street Journal reported how Israel demolished the home of a Palestinian man suspected of a car attack, and comes soon after a synagogue was attacked by Palestinian thugs that killed two people. The demolition is part of an Israeli policy designed to deter “terrorists” that has been used infrequently over the past decade or so. The suspect died at the hands of police after the demolition.

This is yet another unfortunate incident that highlights the gruesome pointlessness of the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. Each side keeps taking attacks from possibly isolated parties as official threats from the other side, and so reacts in prompt and violent fashion. If only they could just back off, look at this with a more neutral eye, and realize that there are almost certainly less violent ways to resolve their problems. Unfortunately, their history is already so bloody that this solution is probably not going to happen unless something changes drastically.

The Saddening News of Peter Kassig

On Sunday, President Obama confirmed the killing of American Peter Kassig by Islamic State militants. Just as with the killings of other prisoners, IS released a video of the decapitation of Kassig, but something was different. The previous videos in which prisoners were brutally killed were of high quality and made in a slick, almost theatrical way; this video was rushed, of poor quality, and much different from the others. Why was this so? A prevailing thought is they were under attack and or surveillance during the video shooting and thus did not have sufficient time to make their work of art. I find it sad that they put so much effort and time into showing something so horrifying and terrible. Kassig was the third American to be killed by IS in recent months; something needs to be done quickly about this awful group to put an end to the brutal murders that are taking place.

One Last Stand: The Keystone Pipeline

The Senate failed to pass the Keystone XL pipeline bill Tuesday, a bill that environmentalists abhor, but that politicians seems to be generally in favor of passing. The bill came one vote short of the 60 needed to pass the legislation. Republican Senators have vowed to reintroduce it when they return in force in January. The New York Times projects that the bill will still fail to muster the 67 votes needed to override the presidential veto.

With a newly elected Republican majority Senate, and a Republican majority House, it seems that President Obama may be, in a lot of ways, the last Democrat standing. It will be interesting to watch how the veto plays a part in the remainder of his presidency.

It is not unheard of for a president to become unpopular at the end of his presidency (George W. Bush left office with only 34% approval), and the most recent approval ratings for Obama reflect the trend of the past decade (42%). However, I cannot help but ask how the popularity for the Republican party will fare when they have the majority in Congress, and possibly in the executive branch as well. Maybe the party’s emphasis on moderates for the midterm election will help them in the long run, or maybe the millennials will start showing up at the polls.


Egypt’s Nervous Reactions in the Face of Growing Threats

Last week Egypt’s most dangerous insurgent group announced their allegiance to the Islamic State, causing Egypt’s government to grow increasingly worried.  The announcement followed several months of violence against the government, including assaults on a Sinai checkpoint that killed 31 Egyptian soldiers.  On Monday the Egyptian government redoubled a crackdown on potential threats in the small border town of Rafah.  There, underground smuggling tunnels up to 2600 feet long have been passing under the Egyptian radar, until recently, when the military took possession of much of the town in order to destroy the tunnels. This mean seizing citizens’ homes and destroying them, displacing up to a thousand families in the region.  As the New York Times reports, “[One resident] learned that he was being evacuated, he said, ‘when the army took down the outer wall of our house.’”  On Monday the military declared they need to claim even more area in Rafah to shut down additional tunnels, putting even more people out of their homes.  The government clearly needs to act and shut down possible sources of aid to the local insurgents, but many feel great resentment at the way innocent citizens are being treated.

What do you think? How should a government balance individual rights and the security of their nation?

Meditation Master In India

Contrary to what one might glean from reading the evening news, there are countries out there with interesting events taking place outside of terrorist attacks in the Middle East and the spread of deadly diseases in western Africa. On a slightly less depressing note, Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji, a Jain monk in India, demonstrated his ability to memorize hundreds of random words and numbers. From the early morning until late in the afternoon, individual members of the audience addressed him and showed him an item, asked the solution to a math problem, and said phrases in six different languages. After the 500th person, the monk opened his eyes and recalled all 500 items with only one brief deviation.

The exhibition was to promote the use of meditation in schools to help children build brainpower, as the Jain monks have done for many centuries. Munishri met a traveling guru at the age of 10 and after receiving his parents’ blessing, began his travels across India. He currently has 20,000 verses of scripture committed to memory and can pull any of them out of his subconscious at will.

I am not interested in this for its world record-breaking status, but more for the implications it can have on young children’s development. If we could harness the ability of our strengthened minds, how beneficial would that be for an education system that is based largely on memorization? Not to mention everyday life. I think meditation is a tool that millions of people, if not tens of millions, use worldwide but is essentially ignored by Western systems.

Is meditation something we should pursue? The benefits of self-discipline, enhanced memory, and reduced stress levels seem on its face to be a no-brainer. Granted our world is a busy one, but isn’t that all the more reason to find calm?

Grieving May Actually Lead Somewhere

Public Grieving for Pop Singer Is Startling for Iran by Thomas Erdbrink

Stir over the death of a very popular Iranian pop singer drew vast crowds and onlookers as a beloved artists was carried to rest (although the funeral was then postponed due to the tremendous size of those gathered and set for a more intimate and private event). Officials of the Iranian government, notoriously famed for keeping public displays of mass gatherings to an almost abysmal occurrence, was very shocked after crowds gathered to mourn the singer.

Given, this was not gatherings in protest of the regime or the hardliners above, but it was a sign to the governing bodies that these people, though very controlled are willing to organize and work together out of the love for what they deem important. This reaction to a celebrity death is directly opposite from the state sponsored push for public mourning after the death of Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani at which no crowds gathered. The people felt close to this often state-blocked artist. For a regime that insists they are on the forefront of what Islam and the Muslim world needs, they seem to not even know what their people want. Many of what the state does is to suppress Westernization, yet they obviously cannot see that these crowds are just wanting to live life and not have to be forced by government or religion into living a life opposite of their desires. People seem to just want to be happy and left to do what they wish with their lives, as apparent by their mourning of an artist closest to their hearts. Maybe the regime should seek to try and upkeep the moralities that lack in this world in their part of the world but without doing so in a way that stifles the growth and expressive lives of their people.

Iran needs to be careful. If the people are willing to go against the norm and gather for an artist, who by the way was not very politically active or an opponent to the regime, then what else would it take to push these people to gather in masses again in favor of a cause they deem worthy of defying the regime?


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