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August, 2009:

Strategic Communication with the Muslim Community

Strategic communication recently made the news because of a column Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff wrote for the Joint Forces Quarterly. His basic point was that by making it an organizing item, strategic communication has become a goal in itself, rather than being a process to enable the larger objectives. Lacking credibility and trust, and by having double standards between words and actions, leaves the US in a position where it is not effective. As he states:

The Muslim community is a subtle world we don’t fully—and don’t always attempt to—understand.

In a similar vein, Beth Noveck, the Deputy Chief Technology Officer from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy gave the keynote address at a United States Institute of Peace event “Smart Tools for Smart Power.” She highlighted the Obama administration goal of renewing the US relationship with Muslim communities, and asked the question of how serious gaming or any other technologies can be used for achieving the purpose (and several others).

There seems to be a general and open acknowledgement in the Obama administration that actions speak louder than words, and the US needs new actions (and policy) to engage with Muslim communities. There also seems to be a void that needs to be filled regarding “what should we do about it?”

How can credibility be built without resorting to propaganda and patronizing? How will a culture of respect and dialogue (that includes listening!) be established when the recent harsh memories are those of arrogance and disregard for human life? Abu Ghraib, Haditha and Guantanamo are not just news stories but the reality for many. It will be a long uphill struggle for hearts and minds requiring a commitment that stretches beyond four year presidential terms.

Arrests for Afros & Low-slung Jeans in Saudi Arabia

According to some reports 800+ people have been arrested in Riyadh for wearing low-slung jeans and sporting Afros in Saudi Arabia. Mosques in the Eastern Province have warned people that they will be banned if they are caught with either at prayer time and can also be arrested.

The youth arrested were released after their parents were called to get them and after they promised to never do it again. What is more likely: the youth will change their style or avoid the mosque?

An unanswered question is why would a mosque ban a worshipper? Common sense says that if a person if coming to the mosque to pray you want to encourage their good behavior, and use the opportunity to educate them (without the fire and brimstone style boring lectures of course). Crazy fashions are a part of youth and people outgrow them with age.

But banning these young men from coming to the mosque helps neither the youth nor the society. Associating the mosque with an oppressive environment where a person can get arrested for wearing the “wrong” clothes is not conducive for a longer term attachment towards religion, or even respect for local traditions.

An educational approach would be more effective in this case rather than draconian measures.

Blackwater (Xe) Founder Officially Charged

The founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince was officially charged in court on Friday, Aug 29, 2009 with intent to kill .

The plaintiffs hold Erik Prince responsible for 20+ Iraqi deaths, and the defense wants the motion to be dismissed. The Judge, T.S. Ellis III has not issued a ruling yet, however as the Washington Post reports:

Judge T.S. Ellis III expressed deep skepticism about the claims. "Are you accusing Mr. Prince of saying ‘I want our boys to go out and shoot innocent civilians?’ ” he asked the attorneys."These are certainly allegations of not engaging in very nice conduct, but where are the elements that meet the elements of murder? I don’t have any doubt that you can infer malice. What you can’t infer, as far as I can tell, is intent to kill these people.”

It sounds like he has already made up his mind.

Blackwater (wiki link and official Xe website link) is the CIA contractor that was hired to assassinate al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan; and also transfer Guantanamo detainees to secret prisons in Asia for interrogations.

There is finally talk of charging Blackwater with war crimes by the Justice Department. Their subsidiaries and them are also currently charged with kidnapping, weapons smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, child prostitution, illegal drug use and destruction of evidence in the Virginia Eastern Federal District Court under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

Al-Qaeda Alive and Thriving in Saudi Arabia

Despite the Saudi crackdowns on suspected militants, the latest attack by Al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was an assassination attempt against the Assistant Interior Minister for Security Affairs.

Prince Mohammad bin Naif was only slightly injured by the suicide bomber however the security breach was HUGE. Arab News reports:

The king asked Prince Muhammad why was the terrorist allowed in without proper checks, to which the prince replied, “It was a mistake.”

Basically a known militant had indicated that he wanted to turn himself in and thus he was allowed to enter Prince Muhammad’s office without proper checking. AP reports the Prince said:

"I did not want him to be searched, but he surprised me by blowing himself up"

Saudi Arabia will no doubt tighten its security procedures; hopefully it will APPLY it’s procedures to all royal visitors, even if it seems disrespectful to distrust them. It would be good if civil liberties are not further violated in the expected crackdown.

China and Rare Earth Elements

China produces some 95% of the world’s rare metals, mostly mined in Mongolia. With its virtual monopoly over the world’s rare earth elements (REE) supply, China is considering banning the export of some and drastically reducing the export of others to ensure sufficient supply for its internal demand. So why do we care?

REEs are essential ingredients in a variety of technologies that we rely on: low energy light bulbs, solar panels, wind turbines, semiconductors, smart phones (yes, the iPhone is included in this list), TVs, hybrid cars, smart bombs, lasers, Stinger missiles to name a few. Many industries will be impacted if such a ban is enforced and that will directly reflect on availability and prices in the short to medium term. The existing smuggling trade will flourish.

The Japanese government already has a “Strategy for Ensuring Stable Supplies of Rare Metals” and Japanese companies are trying to create agreements with countries like Kazakhstan and Indonesia to ensure a steady REE supply for themselves.

In the longer term, the supply of REEs will stabilize once again as private companies that were previously driven out of the market by China will reinvest in their mines to meet the gap.

So China is going to cut supplies and Japan is already hoarding- what are other countries planning on doing?

US Postal System Crisis

Did you know that the US Postal Service (USPS) is the second largest civilian employer in the country, after Wal-mart? It has also been running in the red and after cutting 25,000 jobs earlier this year it is offering to pay some 30,000 additional workers to leave.

Facing a $2.6 billion loss in the last quarter (projected to be $7billion by the end of the year), the USPS has been badly hit by the recession. Not only has the volume of regular mail gone down as more electronic options abound (email and electronic bill paying systems), the source of 25% of its revenue in the past has drastically been reduced: JUNK MAIL or as it is euphemistically called “standard mail”!! As all retailers have been hit by dwindling revenue streams they have been forced to cut marketing budgets, and make smarter choices about what fliers/catalogs that need to be sent, and to whom.

Trying to cut costs, USPS has also selected 677 post offices to be closed or merged, mail routes are changing and mail boxes are being reduced. Congress is holding hearings to review the changes that USPS is proposing, including changing their delivery schedule to 5 days a week (instead of the current 6).

On the positive side, at least there are no strikes yet as are being seen in Scotland, England  and Northern Ireland protesting similar cost-cutting actions.

We are reaching a stage where the concept of mail needs to be re-examined and revamped to better meet the needs of today’s technology-savvy consumers.

Finally, a Check on the CIA!

The controversial CIA program for assassinating al-Qaeda leaders using Blackwater as a contractor is becoming an ever-increasing political problem for the CIA as more information gets revealed. Congress was not informed about the program’s  existence when it was formed in 2004. The new CIA Director Leon Panetta (Obama’s appointee) cancelled the program this summer when he found out about it and then informed Congress. The CIA claims that it was in the planning stages only; since then it seems that it was past the planning stages, though it was not successful in it’s seven years.

Congress has launched an investigation into the matter and most importantly the mood is changing on the Hill regarding illegal activity by the CIA. The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is currently evaluating if they should release:

newly declassified portions of a 2004 CIA report that questions the legality and effectiveness of the agency’s harsh interrogations at secret prisons. Additionally, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. may order a probe of possible criminal actions by CIA officers and contractors during those interrogations.

It is about time the legislative and judicial branches of the government actually started acting based on their mandates rather than giving a carte blanche to the executive branch as they did for the past 8 years under Bush. The separation of the various government branches is to ensure checks and balances within the system; however the more we find out about the inner working of the past administration, the more we realize that the judicial & legislative branch were made irrelevant by the ever-expanding power of the executive branch.

America needs to re-establish the rule of law for itself, and not just expect it from other countries. People in glass houses should not throw stones!

Riyadh Camel Souk- Camel Herder

The outskirts of Riyadh is home to one of the largest camel markets in the Middle East. Spread out over several acres there are camels in every color and size, hay and stalls as far as the eye can see. They are available for purchase as food, as assets or as pets. The next few days posts will feature different pictures taken at the camel souk.

Camel herders today are connected to the modern world with their cell phones!

camel herder

Riyadh Camel Souk: Camel Bling

The outskirts of Riyadh is home to one of the largest camel markets in the Middle East. Spread out over several acres there are camels in every color and size, hay and stalls as far as the eye can see. They are available for purchase as food, as assets or as pets. The next few days posts will feature different pictures taken at the camel souk.

Camels often wear shiny harnesses and have elaborate seating equipment. This merchant sells everything that is needed.


Riyadh Camel Souk- Runaways!

The outskirts of Riyadh is home to one of the largest camel markets in the Middle East. Spread out over several acres there are camels in every color and size, hay and stalls as far as the eye can see. They are available for purchase as food, as assets or as pets. The next few days posts will feature different pictures taken at the camel souk.

There is a warren of camel pens on one side of the road and it is fairly common to see camels run off and being chased by the herders.


Come back! Come back! The camel shepherd left in the dust…literally