Month: October 2019

Human RightsPolitics

Kurds: “We have no friends but the mountains”

This week, following the Trump Administration’s betrayal of a long-time Middle East ally, I received a message containing these words from one of my former students in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan Region.

We as “Kurds have no friends but the mountains“ history repeats itself!

Over the past 100 years, the Kurdish people–whose territory includes northern Iraq, northern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran–have been repeatedly lied to, stabbed in the back, gassed and violently murdered by successive regimes from both the West and the Middle East.

The US Government has called on the Kurdish people repeatedly for help and these loyal allies have at all times capitulated to Washington’s requests. In 1972, they were asked by the CIA and US-placed Shah of Iran to rise up against the Ba’athist Party-led government in Iraq. The Kurds were used and then left alone to suffer the wrath of the Iraqi military when Iran’s Shah make a back-door deal with the Iraqi government.

Still willing to trust the Americans, the Kurds in northern Iraq once again rose up against the Baghdad-based government of Saddam Huessein at the urging of George H. W. Bush’s administration during the Gulf War in Kuwait in 1991. While the Kurds did eventually receive US support in setting up a no-fly zone over their northern territory, other promises of oil wealth sharing and possible independence were not kept. Establishing border security was left to the Kurd’s very capable military, known as the Peshmerga, which created a safe haven in an otherwise extremely dangerous and chaotic country.

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EnvironmentHealth and Well-being

Coal and the Price of Prosperity

Working as a miner has long been one of the most perilous occupations on the planet. As the ancient Romans famously conquered lands near and far, they sentenced the slaves they took prisoner to a life of back-breaking labor in their mines. The hardships of such labor were famously portrayed in the Hollywood production of Spartacus, the story of a slave who worked in the mines, refused to submit to the torture of his captors and eventually led a rebellion against Roman tyranny.

Fast forward to mid-18th century Britain, when the mining of coal produced the energy needed to power factories and run transport networks bringing about what would later be known as the Industrial Revolution. As knowledge of new industrial technologies spread across Western Europe and then on to the Americas, countries rich in this relatively inexpensive resource developed into industrial powerhouses.

The advent of industrialization sparked an exodus of rural folks from the countryside to rapidly growing cities where they found employment in factories, and for the first time had wages which enabled them to purchase goods. Using abundant coal reserves as fuel allowed factory owners to produce more goods than were needed, thus introducing the concept of buying things as a sign of status. Later industrialists, such as Henry Ford, developed methods of mass production for goods which accelerated these emerging trends. Factory jobs, in turn, provided the steady incomes that built a middle class which could afford to consume more, and therefore, set the stage for contemporary economic systems based principally on the mass consumption of goods and services.

The discovery and use of coal as a tool for rapid economic development not only changed the way people went about their daily lives, it also became a tool for political propaganda. According to Barbara Freese, author of Coal, A Human History:

In the 1800s, a lot of theologians who wrote about coal saw coal deposits as signs of God’s favor. And that’s why God gave America so much coal and gave England so much coal because he essentially wanted English-speaking countries to have a controlling influence over world affairs. So it was seen really as further evidence of our manifest destiny–Barbara Freese

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