April 25, 2011

State Dept cables reveal thirst for all things Iranian: Even my top-secret notes?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Jane Stillwater @ 2:37 pm

McClatchy Newspapers recently published an article stating that the newly-released Wikileaks cables regarding Iran “portray a U.S. government ravenous for any scrap of information about Iran, no matter how incomplete or contradictory — and admittedly blind to much of what is taking place in a country where the U.S. has not had an official presence in more than a generation.”

But why do America’s leaders “thirst” for information about Iran so badly? Might it be that they are looking for an excuse to go over to Iran and kill people and steal oil profits, just like they did in Iraq and Libya? My country, having turned into a ravaging beast, red of tooth and claw? My country, now happily defending Libyan “rebels” who are actual members of Al Qaida? Oh well. “My country, right or wrong.”

My country right or wrong — so I’d better fess up. I myself am in possession of several clandestinely-gathered highly-classified intelligence documents regarding Iran — top-secret stuff! Yet even though I gravely suspect that the covert documents in my possession are only going to be put to bad use, I’m still willing to share this hush-hush hardball spy data with our State Department free of charge — because I am a patriot willing to perform my sacred duty as an American citizen.

And here is the bottom-line gist of what all my most excellent spy work and cloak-and-dagger undercover espionage has discovered — uncensored, totally corroborated, of Wikileaks quality and straight from the source:

“Basically, I discovered that Iranians are nice.”

Just like his or her average American counterpart, the average Iranian is a nice person who works hard, tries to do the right thing on a daily basis and cares deeply about his community and his family.

Sure, there are some truly nasty prisons in Iran. But, heck, they’ve got truly nasty prisons here in America too. America has a higher percentage of citizens in prison than any other nation in the world. But do Americans also use torture in their prison systems? Just ask Brad Manning for the answer to that one — or ask anyone who has ever spent time in Guantanamo or Baghram or Abu Ghraib or Phoenix, Arizona or Attica, New York. “Savaged by dogs, electrocuted with cattle prods, burned by toxic chemicals, does such barbaric abuse inside U.S. jails explain the horrors that were committed in Iraq?” inquired BBC journalist Deborah Davies after the Abu Graib scandal broke in 2005.

Sure, Iranians possess weapons of mass destruction. But we don’t? Hiroshima and Fukushima come to mind immediately, both brought to us by General Electric. Ain’t nothing in the world more destructive than nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants — and America is the Queen of constructing every type of these deadly doomsday machines.

Sure, Iran has nasty leaders who lie to their people — but have any of you ever watched Fox News? America has nasty lying leaders too! Of course everyone knows that George Bush lied like a rug. And now so does Obama. Obama fooled us all once with his wonderful 2008 campaign promises — and now he is once again trying to drag out all those same glowing promises, trying to fool us again. “Fool us once….” But at least Ahmadinejad provides Iranians with decent inexpensive healthcare that doesn’t force Iranians to go bankrupt just to keep sleazy health insurance companies and Big Pharma rolling in dough.

I’ve been to Iran and have met many Iranians — and they are friendly and nice and don’t deserve to have happen to them what has happened to Iraqis, Libyans, Pakistanis, Afghans, Palestinians, Yemenis, Saudis, Bahrainians, Egyptians, Israelis, Lebanese and the men, women and children who happen to live in all the other Middle Eastern countries where Americans have been cavalierly tampering with local politics for decades — and blithely producing horrendously disastrous results involving the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Libya is pretty much a typical example of what happens when America intervenes in the Middle East. According to political analyst Stephen Walt, “Although everyone recognizes that Qaddafi is a brutal ruler, his forces did not conduct deliberate, large-scale massacres in any of the cities he has recaptured, and his violent threats to wreak vengeance on Benghazi were directed at those who continued to resist his rule, not at innocent bystanders. There is no question that Qaddafi is a tyrant with few (if any) redemptive qualities, but the threat of a bloodbath that would “[stain] the conscience of the world” (as Obama put it) was slight.”

And now what had started out as a small rebellion in Libya has truly turned into a bloodbath, once again thanks to America’s brutal interfering.

In any case, here are my top-secret notes that I snuck back into America clandestinely after a trip to Shiraz a few years ago — and which, as an American citizen trying to serve my country, I am now willing to turn over to the State Department in their great hour of need. And these notes clearly reveal my for-eyes-only top-secret well-documented finding — that Iranians really ARE very nice.

But please, Mr. State Department, if you don’t like my report please don’t throw me in Quantico or Leavenworth and make me stand naked!

PS: This highly hush-hush spy transmittal actually started out as an excerpt from a book I’ve completed but haven’t published yet, tentatively entitled “Iraq, Iran & North Korea: From Axis of Evil to Top Tourist Destinations”.

Here’s my transcript:

October 15: “Today we will be driving across Iran’s central mountains and through miles of desert, on our way to Shiraz,” said my guide. “We will also be stopping at Abarkuh and Pasargadae on the way.” Goodbye, Yazd! I loved Yazd. Maybe I could go live in Yazd on Social Security? Nah. I’d miss my family.

“Nationwide, Iran has 25% unemployment. 35% of Iranians own their own businesses but the other 65% are not as secure and usually work two jobs to make ends meet.” I could moonlight as a cab driver in Yadz?

We passed a group of men waiting for jobs as day laborers. “Day laborers used to be Afghan illegals but now most of them are from Kurdistan because most Afghans have been sent back. And you can see over there that the Yazdis are starting to plant trees to reclaim this desert area.” It’s like the desert in Iraq or California’s Imperial Valley – add water and you get instant dirt. “The water comes down from the mountains.”

Today we will pass through the Qashqabai tribal area and through several caravansary ruins. “We are now on the Silk Road.” And there are gas stations on the Silk Road now, and truck stops with giant Volvo 18-wheelers parked next to diesel pumps.

“Near the border with Pakistan there are highwaymen and kidnappers so tourists are not allowed to go there without a police escort.” Two Belgians, however, told our guide that the time they had been kidnapped was the highlight of their tour in Iran. “There was dancing and music and kebabs and they lived in tents!”

Back on the road after the truck stop, we passed a toilet factory. I feel like Jack Kerouac. Plus I finally finished reading one of the novels I brought, entitled “Searching for Caleb” — aka “Reading Ann Tyler in Iran”.

Already we are 7,500 feet above sea level and climbing. “In this high desert, they are trying to plant as many grasses and shrubs as they can – to help prevent erosion, sandstorms and further spread of the desert. It is a very big project.” Then our guide served us exotic Persian cookies, candy, baklava and tea until we arrived at the ancient caravansary town of Abarkuh. I felt like an Allumite princess and was totally content.

“This mosque is almost unique because it has two murabs – pulpits where the imam prays – instead of one. One faces Mecca and one, more ancient, faces Jerusalem, where all mirabs originally faced.”

Our next stop was a 4,000-year-old cypress tree. Then there was an ice-making ziggurat. They don’t use it no more since they invented refrigerators. “Now we are about to pass by a canyon that is as impressive as America’s Grand Canyon. And on our right is a state prison and its prison farm. The prisoners are being taught farming skills.”

“What happens if an Iranian woman gets arrested by the fashion police for not wearing scarves and dress-coats?” I asked someone else on the bus. “Do you go to jail here?”

“The first time it happens, you get arrested and held for a few hours and then you are let go. But after the third time, you pay a fine. After 10 times, you get three months in jail. Ahmadinejad promised to ease up on this if he got elected but he didn’t, causing women to be really angry with him.”

“What kind of clothes are considered an offense?”

“See-through dress-coats. Benetton sells them. But some girls don’t care and just keep on wearing them anyway.”

Oops. I just sat on my last bag of Fritos.

So here we are, on the Silk Road, the very same one once traveled by Marco Polo and Genghis Khan. “What about Alexander the Great?”

“He took an alternative route.” I’ve been carrying around those Fritos since Berkeley and they are like my touchstone to home. Then we left Yazd province and entered the province of Fars – up and over the Zagros Pass.

“Let’s talk about nomads,” said our guide. “They move twice a year, taking one month to move. They go up into the high pastures in the summer. This is 10,000 feet above sea level where we are now – but the nomads have already left. Nomads provide at least 30% of the nation’s beef so they are generally tax-free.” There are over 1.5 million nomads in Iran.

“They played a large part in the politics of Iranian history and have the Mongolian look of Central Asians. They live only within Iran. And lately they have taken to moving around in trucks. That is the Kashkai tribe. The Backtais, on the other hand, are pure Persian; Aryans. They’ve been here since the second millennium BC. Where we are now receives 10 to 15 inches of snowfall per year and is the largest source of water in Iran. Marble, alabaster and travertine also come from around here. Decorative stones.” As compared to precious and semi-precious stones.

This is a long freaking bus ride. We have been at it for hours – traveling perhaps half the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The next group we talked about was the Turkmans. “They have a Mongolian look and also raise sheep and weave rugs. After that come the Kurds, around the Caspian Sea area. They live peacefully in Iran because Iranians are tolerant of diversity, unlike Turkey, which isn’t.” Ah, the Armenian massacre and suppression of the Turkish Kurds. Then our guide described the characteristics of some more tribes, but I lost track. The Baluchi grow camels. The Arabs also grow camels and dates. And then ,somewhere near the summit of the Zagros Mountains, I finished my Ann Tyler book.

Then we ate lunch and I ate so much Iranian candy that I could hardly walk. That’s a bad sign. I always eat under stress. “To your left is the Shiraz grape-growing region.” I wonder if that is where Shiraz red wine originally got its name? Leaving the desert behind us, we’re in rich farm country now – wheat, corn, tomatoes. You can see huge tractors and combines chugging along the back roads.

Then we passed an oil refinery. Like I even care any more. We’ve been on the road since 7:30 am and it’s 4:00 pm already. I didn’t know Iran was this big. We coulda driven from San Francisco to freaking San Diego in this amount of time. Screw it. I want to go home to Berkeley.

“Here we are at Shiraz, the city of love, roses, nightingales and wine. Shiraz wine used to come from here. It doesn’t any more. Shiraz has a population of one million. The province it is located in is known as the breadbasket of Iran. It is also the cultural capital of Iran.”

Apparently the Shirazi are very easy-going and only work enough so they can afford to attend and host picnics and parties.

“Our hotel was closed at the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war but it just recently opened again,” said the hotel receptionist. But does it have internet? Yes! But once I got on the net, it turned out that there was trouble back home. My daughter Ashley was having problems with one of her co-workers and felt all sad – so I called her. I actually called the USA from Iran! How cool is that. And it only cost four dollars for ten minutes. Even better.

October 16: By yesterday evening I was a tired hot mess and only wanted to go home. “Come and sit with us, Jane,” one of the tour members said when we got back to the hotel. No, go away, leave me alone! Then I buried myself in more Iranian candy. Pistachio brittle. My brain has been receiving too much information and there’s still 12 days left on the tour. I needed to get a grip.

But this morning I feel better. Except of course for a large lump in my abdominal area the shape of one pound of pistachio brittle.

“What’s on the agenda for today?”

“Mosques, citadels, madrassas, bazaars, shrines.” Let’s do it.

I telephoned Ashley again. “My co-worker told me that he’d gotten some girl pregnant and would have to marry her,” Ashley told me yesterday. And I thought about it and worried about it all night and finally decided that if the woman involved can play the traditional “I’m knocked up and you have to marry me” card, then her co-worker could feel free to play the traditional “It’s not my baby and I’m out of here” card too.

But this morning when I called Ashley again, she said, “It was all a joke. He made the whole thing up!” When I get back from Iran, I’m gonna hit Ashley’s co-worker with my prayer rug.

Then the battery on our bus died and we all had to be stuffed into taxis. “You just did this so I’d have something to write about,” I told our guide.

Then we went off to a madrassa. “This building houses the oldest theological school in Iran – 400 years old. It is one of the most important Shia teaching schools today.” Apparently you go here after high school and then it offers you courses up through the equivalent of a Muslim PhD.

Then we got to talk with a professor there, a direct descendant from Mohammed (PBUH). 220 PhD students are now studying here, supported by endowments and zagot. The professor is also a high imam. I was so interested in what he had to say that I forgot to take a photo of him. I have photos of the freaking taxi that brought me here but not of the imam, who was hurrying off to a conference on the ethics of nuclear issues.

“Will you please pray for peace between America and Iran?” I asked him.

“When the next president is elected,” he stated, “nuclear issues will no longer be a problem.” Very interesting. But did he mean the president of America? Or of Iran?

Next came a tour of a mosque. Then a museum. Then another museum. And then lunch. And suddenly touring Iran has disintegrated into my new 9-to-5 job. But one museum used to be the governor’s palace and had one room that was totally covered with mirrors. Thousands of mirrors. That’s just the way that I want my home back in Berkeley to look.

Then we went to a wax museum and I got my photo taken with Cyrus the Great and President Ahmadinejad. After that came two hours in the bazaar. I bought a nomad doll for my granddaughter Mena for eight dollars and a huge cloth wall hanging with a picture of Mecca on it for three dollars. Perfect.

Then there was a big fight a couple of stalls away from me. “What’s happening,” I asked.

“Someone just stole something!” Then three things happened next. The tourists all backed off and ran the other way, the young men who worked in the bazaar grabbed poles and chairs and knives and ran toward the fight, and I fished out my camera and ran toward the fight too – but I couldn’t get a clear shot of the action.

Some guy tried to sell me some tribal rugs for $49 each and I suppose that was a good price but…. With the economy tanking and all, I probably should save my money.

Geez Louise. Some talking head on BBC News on TV in my hotel room is practically crying on camera about how disastrous the US economy is. Can’t I even step out of America for a moment without things all falling apart?

One more tomb and citadel left to tour today. “The last king of the Zand dynasty defeated his enemy, castrated him and made him work in the harem. But the eunuch escaped, formed another army, took the bones of the king out of his tomb and took his bones to Tehran where he re-buried them under a stairway so that the eunuch could step on them every day when he walked up and down the stairs. However, the first Shah brought the bones back – and now here is the eunuch’s tomb, bones and all.”

Later, at dinner, there was a Shirazi folk band. One man played a hammer dulcimer, one man played a fiddle and one man played some sort of pottery. “Show us how they dance in Persia,” I told our host. “I’d like to dance too.”

“If you do that, you will go to jail,” someone said. Really? That’s the first instance – well, aside from the coat-dresses and scarves – I’ve seen of censorship here in Iran. No dancing in public. I was gonna jump up and dance anyway so I’d have something more to write about when I got busted but our host discouraged me. “I’m the one who would have to go and bail you out.”

October 17: “The reason that Iranian palaces are decorated with small mirrors,” said our guide, “is because several hundred years ago, the Shahs imported glass mirrors from Europe and some of them got broken on the way here, so instead of throwing the broken mirrors out, they used them in their elaborate mosaic work instead – and the style caught on.” I’m serious. I really want to decorate my home with mirrors too. But how do you attach them to the walls?

At breakfast, I talked with another Iranian about the upcoming Iranian presidential elections in May of 2009. “Do you think Khatani will win over Ahmadinejad?”

“I don’t even think that Ahmadinejad will even run again. He’s not very popular and he knows that he won’t get re-elected.” Oh.

“The only way he would stand a chance of getting re-elected would be if they lifted the sanctions – but that’s not going to happen even though all UN inspections have shown that we are not making nuclear bombs. However, many Iranians consider the sanctions to be extremely unjust, even if we were weaponizing uranium, because if we are being sanctioned for supposedly trying to manufacture nuclear weapons, then Israel, Pakistan and India should be sanctioned too.”

“This morning we are off to Persepolis, constructed by…” I can’t hear what the guide is saying. Cyrus? Darius? I guess I’m about to find out. Persepolis is one hour by bus away from Shiraz. “Darius never massacred any of the people he conquered. All the subject nations were allowed to retain their own religions and kings. He also encouraged the arts. Artists and craftsmen were welcome in Persepolis and they came from all over the world.”

Darius’ son Xerxes was all into making war and that proved to be his undoing — when he attacked Greece and Alexander the Great then kicked his butt. “I am Xerxes, great king, king of kings….” Persepolis was covered by the desert and not rediscovered again until 1930, and not excavated until the 1960s.

The Lonely Planet says that Persepolis is as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the pyramids or the Coliseum. However, Darius the Great apparently didn’t publicize its presence all that much and it is one of the ancient world’s best-kept secrets.

Before coming to Iran, even I had no idea of the depth of archeological presence this country contains. According to the Lonely Planet, it is easily as impressive a tourist destination as Egypt or Angkor Watt. Planning your next vacation? Seriously think about going to Iran.

There are tons of tourists here in Shiraz, by the way. Most of them are from Germany. Some of them, surprisingly, seem to be from South Korea.

“This bias relief shows some of the things that the 27 subject-nations brought to Persepolis – Ethiopians brought ivory, Arabs brought camels, Afghans brought bulls, Indians brought spices, etc.” Wow. The Persian Empire stretched from Afghanistan to India to Ethiopia. “And also to parts of Greece.”

Alexander the Great was apparently pissed off at Xerxes for burning down Athens and Delphi and so burned down Persepolis in revenge — and looted it too.

A Greek woman sitting next to me at the site said, “We learned all this history in school.” Oh. Just like Americans learn about the Civil and Revolutionary wars. And then an Iranian woman told me that the Iranians also learned about this in school too. But I bet that each of these two countries teach slightly different versions.

Then we went to a museum on-site to see some of the little trinkets and stuff excavated here. I hated this museum. There was no place to sit down.

On one cuneiform tablet in the museum, Xerxes boasted that he was, “The great king, king of kings, king of countries containing all kinds of men, king in this great world far and wide….” Then he got creamed by Alexander because he over-extended his empire. Sound familiar? GWB? [And Obama?]

A lot of the Iranian women here are wearing the full nun outfit – black dress, black cloak. But other signs of this being an Islamic Republic are rare. One hardly ever hears the call to prayer, for instance, and there is religious tolerance here for Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, etc. – it’s not as complete a theocracy as, say, Saudi Arabia or Israel or even parts of the U.S. Now see how much we have in common with Iran?

Then I got into a conversation with some schoolgirls in front of the Persepolis gift shop. I showed them photos of my daughter Ashley, my son Joe and his daughter Mena and then we talked. They all thought Joe was a BABE and were very disappointed when I told them that he was already taken.

And then while I waited for the rest of our tour group to get done climbing up to some rock tombs, I met some more Iranian men. “George Bush is crazy, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is crazy, they deserve each other,” was one man’s observation.

Then we went off to a restaurant built around an ancient courtyard designed with a pond and sprinkler system in the middle — an old skool air conditioning system. And green vines had grown over the men’s room sign and so I thought it was the women’s room and surprised three or four men – there are no urinals in Iran. Everyone uses just the squat toilets.

Then we had beer. “Iranian beer is non-alcoholic and comes in several different flavors,” our waiter instructed us. “Lemon, strawberry, peach, pineapple….” Pineapple beer? Eeuuww. But the lemon beer was great.

Then we stopped by the side of the highway out in the middle of nowhere and there was a rock and on it was an exquisite bias relief. “Why is it HERE?” I asked.

“To impress the locals and the caravans passing through.” Oh. Sort of like an early-times billboard. “Don’t mess with Persia.”

What’s next? Oh goodie! Rock tombs. “This is where the kings are buried. Xerxes, Darius the Great, Darius II. 550 BC to 236 BC. And this has been a necropolis for others as well.” We’re in the Iranian equivalent of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

My right middle toe has just started to hurt. I’m standing right below the elaborate rock tomb of Darius II, and contemplating mortality – mortality and the possibility of changing my shoes.

“Time to get back on the bus, Jane,” said our guide. But I wanted to stay longer. This place was just too powerful to be reduced to just another tourist drive-by.

But, in the end, the emperor of one of the largest empires in the world was reduced to living in a box in a cave. I wonder what GWB [and his friend Obama] will be reduced to? A box in a cave works for me.

Everyone in Shiraz loves to picnic. I continue to be amazed at how they picnic EVERYWHERE – but city expressway meridians seem to be their favorite place. They bring blankets to sit on and they sit. So we sat too – and ate tamarind candy. What an outstanding day this has been.

Next stop? Shirazi ice cream. They freeze “starch noodles” inside of a clear liquid that tastes like moisturizer. Weird stuff. “You either love it or you hate it,” said our guide. Yeah but can you finish it?

“I’ve been thinking,” I told someone on our tour, “about how Iran and America can close the gap between themselves – through business. America is looking for new markets and Iran has them to offer.” Iran is approximately the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi and has 69 million citizens. That’s a hecka lot of people needing whatever it is that America manufactures these days. Kias?

“Iran and the U.S.? Already they are getting around the trade embargoes in many different ways,” said one Iranian. Take the Kia for instance. Americans contract to manufacture it in South Korea and then South Korea ships it here.”

Still and all, with the world in such a financial crisis, Iran could offer American businesses a lucrative new market. “Think Nixon opening up China,” I said. “But we all know how badly that one turned out, however. Now we’re in debt to China up to our necks.”

December 17, 2010

The Trumped-Up Espionage Case Against Julian Assange


December 9, 2010

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange: Will the Truth Set Him Free?


Read the Reuters Special Report on the bogus Swedish charges here.

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