Posts Tagged ‘Ramadi’

Letter From New York 12 23 2015 Peering through the fog…

December 23, 2015

It is relatively early in the morning and I am on the train, heading to New York City, where I will board a train to DC where I will board a train to Martinsburg, WV where I will be picked up by my friends Sarah and Jim Malone for the Holidays in Shepherdstown.

As I move south, rushing now between Rhinecliff and Poughkeepsie, the fog is so dense, it is impossible to see the Hudson River to my right.  It provides an eerie atmosphere to the morning, so warm that a light jacket is all one needs.  It is supposed to be seventy in Claverack on Christmas Eve.

Yesterday, I celebrated Christmas twice.  Once with young Nick, his partner Beth, and their three year old daughter, Alicia.   It gave me great smiles and bright eyes to see a three year old devour Christmas.  Earlier I gave her a “communicator” that allows her to talk with Santa Claus each day from December 1 to Christmas.  Nick and Beth tell me she is having a blast.

Then I cooked “Christmas” dinner for Lionel, Pierre and myself, mushroom soup, salad, a roast pork loin, mashed sweet potatoes and asparagus with a butter garlic sauce.  We had no room for dessert.

All day yesterday, I pretty much ignored the world, living in the solitude of the cottage, listening to Christmas carols and prepping for dinner.  The exception was at the gym, on the treadmill where I listened to the sad story of the young woman accused in the car rampage in Las Vegas.  A troubled youth who turned her life around and then…Las Vegas.  People are attempting to understand.

Then there was a long exegesis of the Middle East with Wolf Blitzer, the CNN perennial, and a Congressman and retired General, that left me feeling depressed.

The Congressman predicted that we will be engaged there for decades and the retired General opined our efforts are inadequate.  The Congressman wants more bombing, forget the civilians.  They are the necessary sacrifices to move the needle.  It underscored for me that “W” let the genie out of the bottle and he’s never going back in.

The Afghans have the best army they have had in years but corruption in Kabul is keeping them from getting bullets.

The Iraqis are fighting to retake Ramadi and have sent more troops in to help in the effort to hand IS its biggest defeat in two years.

The Donald keeps marching forward in the polls, up to 39% at this point, twice Ted Cruz’s standing and, according to recent polls, the Republicans are beginning to accept that Trump will be their standard bearer.  What?  Is this really happening?  Can’t I change the channel?

I lightened my mood a bit by reading the wild adventures of Madame Claude, arguably the most famous brothel owner in Paris’ history.  Her clients included most of the great names of the ’60’s and ’70’s.  She died in France at the venerable age of 92. 

The fog is still thick as we begin the last leg into New York, having just pulled out of Croton Harmon.  There are forty minutes left before we hit the city.  At noon I will board an Acela for the next leg.

Behind me there is a woman who has been on the phone now, non-stop, for well over an hour.  Occasionally when she needs to do something, she puts her caller on speakerphone.  I didn’t realize anyone talks on the phone that way anymore just like I can’t believe the Republican Party is thinking Trump is the hope for 2016.

Letter From New York 07 23 15 A perfect day in Columbia County…

July 24, 2015

In the west, the sun is slowly setting, a great golden orb pulsing through the trees and almost hurting my eyes as I sit at my desk typing. It has been a magical summer day in Columbia County. Rising early in a cool morning, I sat on my deck reading and sipping coffee, reminded of summer mornings when I was a child in Minnesota. Then the sun was glittering off the creek. Snapping a shot of it, I sent it to Nick Stuart, my friend who is currently touring Southern California with his daughter Francesca. He returned with a shot of a greyish morning in LA, with downtown Los Angeles visible in the background of the shot.

It is Thursday night and another week has slipped away. Last Friday night I was headed north, plumped with the excitement of having a full week at the cottage. Now that time has slipped away and it has been very sweet. Friends have visited, I have had friends for dinner, books have been read, shopping has been done and now that time is coming to an end. Next week I will be back in the city.

World events swirl around me while I am here and I make note of them but feel far from them. We have done a deal with Iran, something that seemed impossible. Republicans are going to attempt to derail it. Interestingly, the Ayatollah Khamenei seems to have decided he is okay with it. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Ash Carter, the Secretary of Defense, has surprised Baghdad with a visit to discuss the preparations to retake Ramadi from IS. How strange it is that I have become so familiar with such unfamiliar names of places like Ramadi. Years of war have caused them now to be tattooed on my brain.

Obama is about to make a visit to Kenya to address the Global Entrepreneurship Summit; Kenya is agog with excitement. Obama’s father was Kenyan of the Luo in the west of Kenya. “Mama Sarah,” his grandmother, will go to Nairobi to see him but he will not go to the ancestral lands of his father. Kenya is deeply invested in the success of Barak Obama. Schools are named after him; children are named after him. He is the “native” son who has become the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.

Ah, the sun has slipped down and the sky is now a soft pearl grey. Twilight has arrived while I review the events of the day.

NASA has announced the finding of a near Earth twin, Keplar 452b. Well, may be an older cousin like planet but one that holds the possibility for all the factors NASA believe are necessary for life. Heavier gravity, older than earth, but in the “Goldilocks” zone, it may well be a place where life has evolved. Hopefully, radio telescopes are looking at it to see if there are messages that might be coming from it. Unfortunately, it is 1400 light years from here. We will need warp drive to get there.

Donald Trump is in Laredo, Texas. I would so like to chat with my friend Alicia who is from there. Would love to get her take on his visit. He is causing constant conniptions in Republican circles, even more so now that he is thinking of running as a 3rd party candidate. They see catastrophe in front of them. The Donald is leading in the polls! And if he doesn’t get the nomination, he might not go away! Ouch!

How rich is he? Hard to tell from the forms filed but Forbes is guessing $4 billion.

The Euro is up on the progression of Greece obtaining new loans from the EU. Reading an article just now it seemed like it’s Peter borrowing from Paul to pay…I have to say it seems more and more like a house of cards that will only work if there is a reduction in Greece’s debt, which is unsustainable. The country can’t survive with the amount of debt it has.

The sun is almost gone. Evening is upon us. The light has turned on for the fountain in the courtyard. Soon it will be summer dark.

What a wonderful summer day it has been. I am going to curl up with a new book or a good movie and let the day slip away. Tomorrow I have lunch with a new friend and then dinner at home with my friends Susan and Jim; we know each other from the train.

Perfect. May your day be perfect too!

Letter From New York 05 18 15 Of a grey day with some things interesting, some tragic…

May 18, 2015

As I trained into the city today from Claverack, the east bank of the Hudson River was shrouded in a fog, hiding the foliage on the far bank of the river, casting a ghostly pall across the landscape. It felt like the first shot in a Gothic romance set in the Victorian Age.

Closer into the city, the fog dissipated but New York has been grey all day, a heaviness that seems to have affected the citizens. Smiles have been hard to find today. One crossed my mouth as I passed through Penn Station this morning on my way to the subway.

I have almost gotten to the point where the soldiers blend into the background and are simply a part of the scenery. Today one soldier was tapping his foot to the rhythm of the music being played by a busker a hundred feet away. I smiled.

While on the train and the subway, I scanned the headlines of the day.

Blazoned across all the news outlets was the story of the fall of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, hard fought for by American soldiers twelve years ago, now in the hands of IS. Iraqi soldiers were reported fleeing as fast they could. 25000 civilians fled the city, seeking safety in the capital. Reports have indicated at least some have been turned away from Baghdad.

It is also grimly reported that IS has slaughtered at least 500 as they overran the city, specifically seeking any soldiers or policemen.

In Waco, Texas there have been at least 192 arrests of bikers after a fistfight got out of control in front of a Twin Peaks restaurant, ending with nine bikers dead and eighteen others wounded. There are rumors that bikers from around the country are riding toward Waco, an image that calls up scenes from Mad Max, the older one, as I haven’t seen the new one yet. Police have cordoned off exits around the area and have said they’re ready.

At least five different motorcycle gangs were involved, including the Cossacks and the Bandidos.

Speaking of Twin Peaks, do any of you remember that quirky, creepy television show “Twin Peaks” from twenty-five years ago? It’s coming back. David Lynch will return to direct. Kyle McLachlan will be back to play his character, Special Agent Dale Cooper. Showtime has committed to a new series, picking up the crazy thread of a show that had everyone confused most of the time, while contributing regularly to nightmares. Will the “Log Lady” return?

The southern boundaries of Europe have seen increasing migrations of people desperate to depart Africa, much of the traffic coming from Libya and organized by criminal gangs involved in human trafficking. The EU has proposed launching a naval campaign to destroy their boats, thus disrupting their business. It awaits UN approval.

It appears the smugglers are being allowed by IS to operate out of the part of Libya they control in exchange for half their profits.

Macedonia’s crisis continues. The opposition is demanding the departure of Prime Minister Gruevski and he has been saying: no way, Jose! The opposition has rallies. Gruevski gets out his followers. Violence is in the air. Gruevski is saying this is all the result of foreigners.

That sounds familiar.

What is unfamiliar is that President Maduro of Venezuela may face real opposition in the next elections. Sentiment is growing against him. Polls indicate that if elections were held today, he would be out on the street.

In less dramatic news today, the President of the United States got his own twitter account. @Potus. There was some kidding back and forth between Obama and Bill Clinton [@billclinton]. Apparently the twitter handle will go to the next occupier of the Oval Office.

Also, little Elian Gonzalez, who was found floating off Florida in 1999 by some fishermen is now grown up. His mother died attempting to get the two of them from Cuba to America. His arrival caused a tug of war between those who wanted him to stay and those who thought he should be returned to his father. In a dramatic moment, armed men stormed the house where he was staying with one of the rescuing fishermen and forcibly removed him so as to return him to Cuba.

He now would like to return to America to express his love for this country, he has said in an exclusive ABC interview.

Speaking of ABC, George Stephanopoulos has found himself in some uncomfortably hot water. Apparently he has given $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation without telling his bosses at ABC. They consider it an honest mistake. Republicans are, not unexpectedly, calling for some version of his scalp.

Today has been full of events, some just interesting, some like Ramadi, tragic, and it would be possible to continue longer but it’s time to wrap up.

I’m off to seek some sustenance at the end of the day and see if I can shake the weight of this grey day.

Letter From New York 05 17 15 Beauty contrasting with tragedy…

May 17, 2015

It has been a beautiful, summer like day in Claverack. The creek is still and the trees that overhang it are reflected back in the mirror that is the water. The trees have bloomed and a canopy of green has arrived to the view in front of me as I write. The days are longer and when I have finished today’s letter, I will find myself something to eat.

Today, I took the day for myself, caught up on my cluttered email inbox, luxuriated in waking early and reading The Times along with a mug of good, strong Honduran free trade coffee picked up a couple of weeks ago at the Farmer’s Market, on the day it opened its summer season in a parking lot at 7th and Columbia in Hudson.

I am relaxing in my freshly painted living and dining rooms and have had a lovely day. Yesterday, while doing some work I discovered that my vehicle inspection was now seriously overdue and so I went and had that done. I plowed through two weeks of mail, so much of it that it came home in a Post Office plastic bin.

Other than the vehicle inspection and picking up my clothes from the laundry, I have not wandered from my two little acres on the creek.

The news is not good. Ramadi has apparently fallen to IS, giving them a foothold seventy miles from Baghdad, which is closer than comfortable I would imagine if I were sitting in the Presidential Palace there.

In Syria, in a rare ground involvement, the US Army’s Delta Force made a daring nighttime raid Friday, killing Abu Sayyaf, a leading IS figure who had a commanding role in IS’s finances. They scooped up buckets of data before they departed with his wife, Umm Sayyaf, who is now being held in Iraq. She, too, was in the know about many things and is being “debriefed.”

Ukraine is claiming to have captured two Russian soldiers near the rebel held eastern zone. They are shown in a video, which has not been independently verified. More to come on this, I’m sure.

Whenever I hear the word “Macedonia” I think of Alexander the Great, who hailed from there. But it is a real country, once part of the former Yugoslavia, and it is in crisis. Tens of thousands of Macedonians have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of the Prime Minister, who has been revealed to be pretty dictatorial in a series of conversations that had been recorded. Think the Nixon tapes. He says he isn’t going anywhere and there is a chance this could become ugly.

In Nepal, the toll in the earthquakes which have ravaged the country are now climbing toward 9,000, surpassing the death toll in the last great earthquake in 1934. Six American Marines and two Nepali soldiers died when their helicopter crashed. Their bodies have now been recovered and returned to Kathmandu. They died on a mission to evacuate survivors.

Pope Francis, who never ceases to amaze, has canonized two 19th Century Palestinian nuns. He has also called Abbas of Palestine “an angel of peace.” The Vatican has implicitly implied that it recognized the “State of Palestine.” I am sure this is causing deep concern in Tel Aviv.

The canonization of the Palestinian nuns is seen as a way of offering encouragement to Middle Eastern Christians who are more embattled today than they have been for centuries.

In Egypt, former President Morsi has been condemned to death and the sentence has gone in front of Egypt’s Grand Mufti for consideration. I was once at a panel on which the last Grand Mufti sat. He resigned shortly thereafter. I think he didn’t want to have to deal with issues like this.

There is a very good chance that Ireland’s voters will vote in gay marriage. Stunning for a country that is heavily Catholic. In a recent poll, 63% were in favor. The Church’s influence in Ireland is on the wane.

Obama has said that full gay rights won’t be won overnight. And it’s very true. Even if the Supreme Court legalizes same sex marriage in June there will be other, local battles to be won. Discrimination against gays is not forbidden in many states and then we have Mike Huckabee…

Outside the room in which I am writing, I hear the distant sound of birds singing. A stray cat has wandered over my deck, calmly until it noticed me. It is a stunningly beautiful night.

Letter From New York 05 15 15 Of sunny afternoons and death sentences…

May 15, 2015

There was no Letter from New York yesterday; the day was simply too full for me to pound one out. From fairly early in the morning until deep into the evening, I was scurrying from one end of Manhattan to another. There was a breakfast, a lunch, a wine meeting, a couple of conference calls and everything else in between.

Today is a sunny afternoon on a spring like day in New York City and in a couple of hours I’ll begin to make my way to Penn Station to head up to the cottage for a weekend retreat. I’m looking forward to a weekend of catching up. I’ve spent the day plowing through all manner of emails but don’t feel like I’ve managed anything too productive.

B.B. King died today, the man who brought blues into the mainstream, the man whose name emblazons a club here in New York, an 89 year old living legend is now gone. Fans went to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to lay flowers but most were washed away by the rain sweeping through Los Angeles, a welcome wetness though according to meteorologists not enough to break the drought.

The Iraqi city of Ramadi seems to have been mostly overrun by the IS forces. Suicide bombers killed ten police officers. Washington calls the situation “fluid.” It’s been a back and forth battle for weeks and this is probably one more of those. In the meantime, nearly 150,000 people have fled the city, mostly to Baghdad. Ramadi lies in the center of the area where many Sunni Muslims live.

To the east of Ramadi, in Syria, IS is advancing on the area where lie the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra, a city that was at the crossroads of the Greeks, Romans and the Persians. The ruins there are probably the best set of extant classical ruins in the world today. IS is not directly targeting the ruins but if the area falls under their control it is feared they will have more opportunities to film themselves destroying ancient artifacts, as they did in Nineveh.

We are now halfway through the five day truce that was to allow for the dispensing of emergency aid in Yemen and it is looking as if there will not be enough time to get all the emergency aid needed, dispersed.

On Tuesday of this week, a U.S. helicopter on an aid mission in Nepal went missing. It has been found on a mountainside at 11,200 feet. It does not appear that there are survivors.

In the U.K. David Cameron met with Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP [Scottish National Party]. He will consider more powers for Scotland but won’t think about another referendum on independence, thank you very much.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg has married Gauthier Desteney, his long time partner. He is the first EU Prime Minister to have married his gay partner. The first European Prime Minister to do so was Johanna Sigurdardottir, Premier of Iceland, back in 2010. Luxembourg legalized gay marriage in January.

Having met with Putin at Sochi, Kerry jetted back to D.C. for meetings with Arabic leaders and he is now heading to China, where he will arrive tomorrow. He and his Chinese counterparts will be hammering out details of the Chinese leader’s visit to Washington in September.

They will also be working to defuse the situation in the South China Sea. Like good little beavers, the Chinese are building up some small islands into bigger islands. On one of them, it is constructing a runway that could land even the largest planes. It is a source of tension, particularly with Japan and the Philippines. Both sides are eager to defuse the situation but this seems to be a must do project for Mr. Xi and not something he can gracefully back away from. Tensions will mount.

Boko Haram in Nigeria has been in retreat the last few weeks but now is in a counteroffensive and has retaken a key village. They just won’t go away.

In Pakistan, the military has begun an attack on the Taliban in the Shawal Valley while the President of that country has issued a rare public rebuke of the Taliban, calling them “terrorists.” Imagine that. But it is evidence of new toughness toward the group.

And in an ending note, the jury has returned a judgment on young Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston for the Marathon bombings. He has been sentenced to die.

I have never felt the death penalty accomplished anything.

It is closing in on four o’clock. I am going to post this and then probably gather my things and head toward the train station, rolling north to sit tomorrow on my deck and admire the new grill I will be acquiring.

Letter From New York 04 21 15 A city in sunshine instead of rain…

April 21, 2015

The very first thing I did today was look at the Weather Channel app on my phone. It told me that New York was going to have a rainy morning and cloudy afternoon. Well, all day the sun has been pouring down joyfully and relentlessly upon the city, to my great delight. I hope it stays that way.

Just now, it was announced that the Saudis are stopping their month long aerial attack on Yemen’s Houthis, called “Operation Decisive Storm” and replacing it with “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Yemen needs some hope. Its feeble infrastructure has been overwhelmed by the attacks and food and medical supplies are in short supply due to the Saudi sea blockade, holding up ships to make sure they weren’t carrying arms. Yemen is desperate for hope.

However, while the bombing is over the fight may not be. The Saudis are still determined to keep the Houthis from power.

In Egypt, former President Morsi has been ordered to spend twenty years in jail. He still faces several more trials on accusations against him from his year in power.

In 2005 a then 83-year-old German denounced Holocaust deniers and spoke of having seen the gas chambers and the ovens with his own eyes. Today, at 93, Oskar Groening, went on trial in Germany for his role as a bookkeeper for the Nazis at Auschwitz.

He has told the court he feels morally guilty even though he did not actually kill anyone personally. It is, he said, up to the court to find him legally guilty or not.

Italian courts will decide if the captain of the migrant smuggling vessel that capsized this week is guilty of human trafficking, reckless homicide and causing a shipwreck. He was one of the 28 survivors; as many as 950 may have perished.

In the last six days alone, almost 11,000 people have been pulled from the Mediterranean, attempting to reach the Italian coast.

The European Union will now play a bigger role rather than leaving it to Italy to shoulder this burden alone.

Almost all the human smuggling originates in Libya, which is in chaos and where IS has made some gains even as they have had to pull back in Iraq. There are conflicting reports today regarding Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled Caliph of the self-styled IS Caliphate. He either was or was not gravely wounded in a March air attack near Mosul.

Whether he is gravely wounded or not, the war with IS grinds on and there is fighting around Ramadi with residents torn between returning and staying away. They fled by the thousands as IS entered the city’s center. Now Iraqi forces seem to have retaken most of the town but there is still fighting going on.

At least six died in Mogadishu, Somalia as a result of a car bombing. Al Shabaab takes responsibility.

Certainly not dead or wounded is Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 89 today though the country celebrates her birthday in June. There has been a royal tradition that if a monarch is born during the winter months, celebrations will be in the summer, when the weather is better.

There were numerous gun salutes today while Her Majesty celebrated quietly with her family at Windsor Castle, where she has been in residence the past month.

Crowds are already lining up outside the hospital where Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Prince William, is due to give birth to their second child. Some people have already been there for two weeks.

While the overall popularity of the British Royal Family is not in question, the popularity of the American President has not been so good of late. However, it is up right now, back in positive territory for the first time in months. As is the public’s view of Obamacare.

And in the world of entertainment, if you were a fan of “Full House” which ran on network television from 1987-1995, it will be returning for 13 episodes on Netflix, interestingly described in one news article as an “online network.”   Not all cast members are signed on; some are, some are still in negotiation. But with or with out the full cast, “Full House” will return to Netflix.

Since I never watched it on network television maybe I will have to see what the fuss is about when it reaches Netflix. But that will be awhile in the future. Tonight I am off to the theater to see Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in “It’s Only A Play.”