Tag Archives: U.S.

InCity Times Book Review

The Iran Wars

By Jay Solomon, (2016, Random House, 336 Pages)

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

Two of the biggest issues that will bedevil the incoming Trump administration will be the rogue state of Iran and the nuclear deal signed by the Obama Administration in July 2015. This timely book by Jay Solomon entitled “The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East” is a well written and easy to read account of how we got to this point.

“The Iran Wars” reviews the history of how the United States first sent nuclear technology to Iran during the reign of the Shah, then a U.S. ally. The technology was inherited by the Mullahs after they overthrew the Shah in 1979.

Assassination and Stuxnet

Neither the United States nor Israel wanted to see Iran build nuclear weapons. They resorted to two state tools which have become unfortunately commonplace in today’s world: Assassination and Espionage.

Richard Nixon once said the Israeli Mossad is the best intelligence agency in the world. The shadow war with Iran gave them the opportunity to prove it. With orders to stop the Iranian nuclear program by any means, Mossad infiltrated its agents into the Iranian capital, Tehran, and assassinated several Iranian scientists working on the project.

Enraged, Iran tried to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States in retaliation. In the convoluted world of Middle Eastern politics, the Iranians did this on the theory that the United States was an ally of Israel, and Saudi Arabia was an ally of the U.S.

There was no direct link between Saudi Arabia and the assassinations in Tehran. This incident is worth noting, if for no other reason, as demonstrating the paranoid mindset of those ruling Iran today.

Next the U.S. and Israel launched a cyber-attack on Iran using a malware program named “Stuxnet.” This program was written in a fashion so it would only infect centrifuges in Iran’s atomic plants. It succeeded in delaying Iran’s processing of sufficient uranium to construct an atomic bomb by causing the centrifuges to spin at high speeds and break. This is believed to be the first cyber-attack in history by one nation state against another.

The Rial War

Connoisseurs of spy novels or movies will find the chapter entitled “The Rial War” fascinating. The “Rial” is the Iranian currency. The US launched a financial war against the Iranians. It was the most successful effort against the Iranian regime since 1979.

The international oil market is conducted entirely in American dollars. Treasury Under-Secretary Stuart Levey figured out financial institutions doing business with Iran could be damaged if they were denied access to the U.S. currency. As Solomon put it: “Treasury knew that major businesses simply couldn’t function without access to U.S. dollars, the world’s default currency. Treasury could force foreign firms to choose between doing business with the United States or conducting it with rogue states and criminal enterprises. To most, the decision was a no-brainer.”

Solomon thereafter takes readers through a labyrinth of disreputable banks in the Caymans and Luxembourg, straw fronts, paper corporations, and the other denizens of the financial netherworld. The Iranians used accounts within accounts, false charitable shells, and other subterfuges to hide their illicitly obtained dollars.

Treasury started out by choking off the banks and corporations suppling Iran material and technology to further their nuclear program.

Next, they cracked down on the banks which assisted Iran’s sale of oil on the black market.

Finally, they froze billions of Iranian dollars in U.S. banks on American territory. The value of the Rial went down 30% in one day.

Some 70% of the Iranians’ budget came from oil revenues. When the oil market cratered, Iran’s economy began to collapse, tens of thousands of Iranians were laid off, and Iran came to the nuclear talks in 2013 as an economic basket case.

Nuclear Treaty

In July 2015 Iran, the U.S. and the other P-5 powers signed the nuclear deal with Iran. Solomon believes the treaty has given the U.S. a 10-year breathing space to further disarm Iran. President-elect Donald Trump has said he intends to strictly enforce the agreement in lieu of canceling it. Americans must wait and see what Trump does before finding out how this story will conclude.

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InCity Times Book Review

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Rose’s kitchen window: more flowers, fewer fascist dictators!!!!  pic:R.T.

The First Nazi: Erich Ludendorff, the Man Who Made Hitler Possible

By Will and Denise Brownell (Counterpoint Press, 2016; 277 pages)

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

If there ever was a human being who richly deserved to spend eternity burning in the fires of hell, it would be German Field Marshall Erich Ludendorff. This man prolonged the agonizing bloodshed of World War I at a cost of millions of lives, brought Lenin’s Communists to power in what became the Soviet Union, and smoothed the way for Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. Ludendorff was an epicenter of evil a century ago, a man who fostered the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century.

A scholarly study of Ludendorff is long overdue, given his enormously destructive impact on human history. Unfortunately, this book isn’t it. The authors, as they were writing, let their emotions get away from them and used inflammatory language throughout this book, expressing opinions about Ludendorff and Germans in general.

A good example:

“World leaders now saw Ludendorff as a megalomaniac, and they regarded Germany as what Romans used to call an ‘enemy of the human race.’ Germany was indeed becoming the enemy of the world. It was a country that enslaved its neighbors and its own people at the same time. It sent torpedoes into any ships it pleased, spewed poison on the battlefield, and practiced something similar to genocide in both Africa and Europe.”

Depending on the era, the same things could be said about the United States: the pre-civil war era when slavery was an institution, Mexico invaded and deprived of half its national territory, the genocide of native Americans, and Agent Orange in Vietnam.

After reading this diatribe, one could not help but thinking that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Usually historians “source” their reference material with footnotes or endnotes. Instead, the authors here cited for each chapter half a dozen sources, with no statements identifying the text verified. In going through a book which is heavily laced with opinion, readers are left to wonder whether he/she is reading a fact, or the authors’ opinion.

Focus on World War I

Much of this book dwells on the carnage of World War I. There is little background on Ludendorff’s upbringing, which the authors attribute to a lack of source material. They review at length the agony of trench warfare, the battles with million man casualties (Verdun and the Somme), the entry of the United States into the war, and the 1918 collapse of the German army.

The book devotes several chapters to how Ludendorff sent Lenin in a sealed train to Russia in 1917 in the hopes Lenin would lead a second revolution that would take Russia out of the war. In this Ludendorff was successful, and so the catastrophe that was Russian 20th century history followed.

Post World War I, Ludendorff is best known for being present at the “Beer Hall putsch” in 1923 when Hitler attempted to seize power. While Hitler and the other Nazis flopped to the pavement on their bellies after the state police opened fire, Ludendorff bravely marched forward towards the gunfire. This was left out of the book’s account of the episode.

Ludendorff was the main propagator of the so-called “stab in the back” theory, in which Germany was not defeated on the World War I battlefields but undermined by a Jewish cable. This theory gained considerable acceptance in Germany and created an atmosphere which enabled Hitler to rise to power.

An impartial assessment of Ludendorff’s life would be difficult given his great crimes. The authors seemed talented at the writing aspect of this book. But they could have at the least made an attempt to be impartial. By allowing their emotions to flow into this book, and not sourcing their accusations, they undermine their contention that Ludendorff was one of the worst monsters in human history.
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These guys brought Hitler to his knees! Worcester honors them – City Hall. pic:R.T.

China is leading the way on climate change, and the U.S. should be ashamed

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Rosalie’s kitchen table this a.m.: More corn please! pic:R.T.

By Jennifer Bates

China will soon surpass the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy.

And now it is poised to overtake this country by yet another metric: environmental protection.

In an unexpected development, China – known for its choking urban pollution and notorious Three Gorges Dam – has introduced new dietary guidelines that seek to cut its meat consumption in half.

If this sounds familiar, it might be because you remember similar guidelines proposed in the U.S. in 2015 — which were promptly rejected by officials on the grounds that dietary guidelines aren’t an “appropriate vehicle” for addressing sustainability concerns.

But what we eat is directly tied to the environment, and large-scale animal agriculture is destroying our planet. You probably know that this industry spews climate-changing greenhouse gases into the air, but animal agriculture’s adverse effects don’t end there. Because the industry relies on water-intensive crops and uses enormous amounts of water to clean out filthy enclosures, provide animals with drinking water and more, the average meat-eater indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per day more than someone who just eats plant-based foods.

One pig produces as much fecal matter as 10 humans, and that waste has to go somewhere. Often, the toxic stew finds its way into our rivers and oceans, poisoning aquatic life. Meanwhile, countless acres of rainforest are cut down every day to create more grazing lands or to plant crops intended solely to feed farmed animals.

This industry is also hell on the animals raised for human consumption, who are violently abused and traumatized from birth to death. Male pigs and cattle are castrated without painkillers. Farmed fish are kept in crowded, filthy enclosures full of their own waste. And each year, nearly 1 million chickens and turkeys are still alive and conscious when they’re immersed in the scalding-hot water of feather-removal tanks.

The average Chinese citizen consumes about 128 pounds of animal flesh each year. But the average American? Two hundred and sixty-four pounds, more than twice the amount of our Eastern competitors.

By cutting its meat consumption, China will spare billions of sentient beings a terrifying death. Cutting back on meat will also be a tremendous boon to public health, because it will reduce not only air pollution but also diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and obesity. China seems to understand what the U.S. refuses to acknowledge — that the health of our planet and the health of our citizens are irrevocably linked.

Fifteen years ago, the U.S. dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol — the world’s first concerted effort to tackle climate change — with the argument that it was unfair to expect Western nations to curb emissions while exempting China. But now that China has fully signed on to the new Paris Agreement and has taken this important first step toward reducing its meat consumption, what’s holding back the U.S.?

It is a travesty that China acts while we sit on the sidelines refusing to address the most pressing issue of our time. Rather than bickering over “appropriate vehicles” while the planet melts and burns around us, we must respond. The only way to reclaim our status as world leader is by going beyond China’s measures.

First, the U.S. should drop federal subsidies for the animal-agriculture industry in favor of subsidies for plant-based foods. Next, we must lead on the development of in vitro meat, which generates 96 percent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions and whose production requires up to 99 percent less land, 96 percent less water and 45 percent less energy than “traditional” meat. Finally, we must all do our part as Americans by curbing our crippling addiction to animal flesh.

Go vegan, and the health of our environment — not to mention our status as a world leader — will follow.