Russia

Do you expect me to talk?

No, Mr. Trump. I expect you to win.

Bond… James Bond, was a legend of Cold War fiction. He was a handsome, fearless, well spoken man of action during a time when the politics of America and Russia dominated the global stage. Now, we once again find ourselves in a new type of Cold War, and we again look toward a singular figure to step up and take charge. Unfortunately, we are not talking about the suave and martini swirling 007. We are talking about Trump… Donald Trump, and he is a bit less “International Man of Mystery” and more “Mystery Man of International Politics.” Despite everything, we still do not have a clear picture on what his International policies will be, but we now know one think for certain, thanks to Russia’s help our elections have been shaken, not stirred.

S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of Things to Come
You may have heard recently that the CIA has built a case that Russian hackers used their skills to sway the election for Donald Trump. For his part, Donald Trump rejected the claims outright and accused the CIA of being wrong about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, so obviously they must be wrong about everything-ever-in-the-history-of-all-time. Here’s the thing, the US Intelligence apparatus is not always right. Also, they have not found a conclusive smoking gun to say that Vladimir Putin put his thumb on the scales of our election process… but the CIA, has a lot of evidence to back up their claim.

Here is the timeline of events: On June 14, it was reported that the Democratic National Convention was hacked. We know that for a fact, because the hackers released the DNC’s emails to WikiLeaks who then distributed them to the public. It resulted in several scandals, including the news that the DNC was against Bernie Sanders winning, at least in part. That hack was investigated by the private cyber security firm: CrowdStrike. They identified two hackers by the name of Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, -because what else would you call villains in a James Bond film. The two bears have been known to work as political and economic hackers for the Russian Government. This finding was verified by Fidelis Cybersecurity and Mandiant, two additional private cyber security firms hired to audit the findings. Then in August it was disclosed that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had also been hacked. This hack was investigated by 16 US intelligence agencies, including the CIA. They also independently confirmed that the hack was directed by the Russian government. Now it has been alleged that the Russian hackers also hacked the Republican National Convention, but did not leak the contents of what they found. The GOP denies this, but if it is true it would mean the Russian hackers only released documents that could hurt Hillary Clinton, but kept secret the ones that could hurt Trump or the GOP.

This may not sound as exciting as James Bond kicking down doors, shooting Russian spies, and sleeping with sexy femme fatales, but these days intelligence works tends to be less about dry martinis and more about dry math and computer code. Results are also usually less definitive than having your top agent knock the bad guy off the suspended platform housed in a secret volcano base. As any real 007 could tell you, spies often need to work with incomplete information, but it is also their job to draw conclusions from what they have available. Right now, the CIA and the entire American intelligence community are all drawing the same conclusion, Russia did everything it could to help Donald Trump win the election.

Octopussy Grabber
Realistically, it makes sense. Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton have historically not had a good relationship. Putin blamed Clinton -who was Secretary of State at the time- and President Obama for legitimizing the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Both revolutions ousted pro-Russian governments. Putin saw that as a deep affront to the Russian sphere of influence. Trump, on the other hand, has praised Putin for his leadership style, and they both share a similiar flair for right-wing nationalism. Trump also has a certain affinity for hiring people associated with Putin, including Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman that had to step down for having business ties with the Russian government and organized crime; and -of course- Trump’s new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin, and has many business ties with the government-owned Russian oil companies.

For the record, we are not saying that Trump is some kind of plant by Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump is a reality star and a buffoon but he not a secret Russian spy, nor is he some automaton begin controlled by the Kremlin. Trump is a narcissist and he will always do what is best for himself, and Putin knows this. It seems incredibly likely that Putin saw what was happening with our election and took advantage of the situation to put in power someone he believed that he could control. With right-wing candidates and initiatives gaining power in parts of Europe, and with a more pro-Russian American President, it leaves the door open for Putin to gain greater global influence and dominance in Eastern Europe.

We are pretty much living the plot of one of the weaker Bond movies. -Basically anything staring Roger Moore- We have a foreign, shirtless bond villain using diabolical means to influence the most powerful man in the free world. Except instead of using mind control, or kidnapping, or even the raw sexual musk of 1960’s Sean Connery, Russia is using the kind of tactics that hackers use on old people to get their social security number. Russia sent Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, a phishing email that asked him to change his password on his email account… and he did. So the Russian hackers got access to his email and then the DNC servers. So in this scenario, 007 could have been played by any IT guy who could have told him, “No! Never give your password out to random emails,” but in all fairness to Podesta, he was not the only one targeted by Russia cyber villainy. We all were.

You Only Die a Little Each Day
You see, Russia had several means at their disposal to influence our elections, and there most sinister method was trolling. Hey. it may not be an orbital death laser, but it proved to be just as effective. According to the New York Times, the Russian government hired people to pose as pro-Trump supporters on American social media to spread disinformation and stir up the American populace to vote against Hillary Clinton. So, let’s stop here for a moment. We are completely aware of how paranoid and crazy that sounds, but it actually happened. If you don’t believe the New York Times, believe The Guardian, or CNN, or even Samantha Bee. Believe someone, because it happened. For months there has been a concentrated Russian-backed effort to troll, hack, and alter the events of our election and that is something worth remembering and talking about.

Now with all that said, let’s put some things in perspective. Foreign governments, including Russia, have been trying to tamper with our elections for decades. In fact, Putin is following in a long line of Soviet leaders who have tried to alter the results before. What makes this time all the more shocking is the fact that they may have finally succeeded. The other thing to keep in mind is that, this was not a secret before the election. The CIA and other intelligence agencies had already concluded that the DNC hack had come from Russian-backed sources, but the public outcry was more about the contents of the released emails rather than the illegal activities of a foreign power.

Also, we are well aware of the irony to be found in the fact that CIA is complaining about a government altering the sovereign election of another government. That has kind of been their bread and butter for a while now, but we still need to address the elephant in the room, because right now it is wearing a Ushanka, drinking vodka, and doing a Cossack dance. Whether Donald Trump wants to admit it or not, Russia did influence this election. Would he have won if they hadn’t used trolls and hackers? We don’t know. We can’t say with anymore certainty, than we can predict how many STD’s James Bond is currently being treated for. All we know is that we were the target of successful Russian cyber-sabotage, and we knew it was happening. Heck, Trump even called on Russia to hack Hillary’s emails during the campaign, but instead of taking it seriously, we ignored it. We laughed it off. “Those types of things only happen in movies,” we said.

So, yes. We need to place blame on Russia for what they did. –More importantly, Donald Trump needs to place blame on Russia, and not the CIA– However, we also need to be aware of our complicity in this plot. We were the ones that allowed it to happen. We were the ones that fell for the trolling and the hacking and ignored the source of both, even though we were warned multiple times. This past election has left us with a lot to think about, and this is just another one of those things. Because, the real truth is that in this scenario Russia was James Bond. They basically walked right up to us, introduced themselves by first name, winked at the pretty girl, and then still proceeded to get exactly what they wanted.

Dear Great Britain,

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation… but on this side of the Atlantic we’re not entirely sure you have done that adequately. Speaking as friends, we’re concerned for you. We just want to make sure that you have really thought out this whole “Brexit” thing. Leaving the European Union is a big decision and maybe its time we had a real conversation about that.

In a week’s time it will be 240 years since we last sent you a formal letter of declaration. We all know how that one turned out, but if We the People of the United States were to be really honest with ourselves, the truth is that a lot of our reasons for leaving the British Empire were specious at best. In fairness, you treated us better than we usually like to admit. So please know we completely understand the impulse to be rebellious for no other reason than anger and the desire to thumb your nose at the establishment. However, our circumstances were also not the same. In 1776 we were colonies with no representation in Parliament and no choice but to follow your rules. In 2016, the United Kingdom was not a colony of the European Union, but a voluntary member. You had a vote -and an important vote- in how things were done. Now, thanks to Brexit you have thrown that away, and there are going to be consequences… for all of us.

To be James Blunt about it, your actions have weakened your own country, weakened Europe, and weakened global stability. There is now a very real possibility that Scotland and even Northern Ireland will be leaving the United Kingdom in order to stay members of the EU. For anyone who voted for Brexit with delusions of getting the old Empire back together, than that notion should be quickly dispatched. Speaking as a former colony, those days are gone, and now you are on the verge of losing at least half of what you still have, including the lucrative oil fields of Scotland. Yet, the problem goes much deeper than that, because the European Union is now weaker and may even face similiar referendums from hard-line conservatives in places like France. A united Europe has been good for the world, especially when it came to dealing with threats like Russian aggression, piracy, and terrorism. An EU without the might of Britain and especially its military will no longer be as strong or connected.

Many Americans do not yet understand the ramifications of Brexit. Some will even incorrectly applaud it as a “blow for freedom,” or other such cliched rhetoric, but it will affect us as it will affect the world. The day after the Brexit Referendum passed the global stock markets, including the NYSE, plunged to record lows. The British pound dropped to about $1.37 against the dollar, the lowest it had been in decades. Even worse, America has now lost its most trustworthy ally in the EU. Great Bee, we know you always have our backs and we will always have yours, but that was why it was so important that you remained in the EU. You were the counter-voice to nations like Germany and France. Don’t get us wrong we love the Germans and the French as well, but sometimes they have strange ideas. Don’t believe us? Check out the EU’s national anthem. You were our voice of reason, our rock, our everything, and now that’s gone. Even worse we are going to have make all new trade treaties with you, but quite frankly we’re the least of your problems.

You see the United States is Britain’s second largest foreign market, guess who the first is? It’s the European Union. Now, economically speak it’s very complicated, but one of your biggest reasons for Brexit was because of the insistence that Europe was creating Draconian regulations that were stifling the UK’s economy. Unfortunately, leaving the EU is not going to fix that. Your private industries still need to trade with Europe, which means they still need to follow those regulations for export, and since it makes no sense to manufacture the same goods in two different ways, so will the UK. Even US companies follow certain EU regulations, because we want to sell our goods to Europe and Britain will too. That means your country is going to have negotiate all new trade agreements with a Union you basically just told to go “Sod off.” They are going to look to make an example of you so that no other countries *cough France* gets any similiar ideas. That probably means higher exports and limited access to some markets.

You may think, “well that’s alight, as long as we get to keep those bloody refugees out of our country.” See… here’s the thing. You’re probably not going to be able to do that either. Unless the UK is planning on going full isolationist, the EU is not going to allow you to close your borders indefinitely if you want to keep trading with them. Your economy needs the European markets. Even worse what are you going to do with the thousands of Europeans living and working in the UK? Do you give them citizenship or do you boot them out? Kicking out foreigners and refugees may feel good, but it is also another way to nosedive your economy. More labor import actually increases a country’s value. In fact, many experts are expecting an economic boost for Europe thanks to the influx of refugees. There are also 2 million Britons working in Europe. What happens to them? Do they have to come home? Do they become European citizens? You see by withdrawing from the EU you are also withdrawing your citizens from the EU and that means they are going to lose a lot of privileges when it comes to travel and overseas work. Not everyone is going to be happy about that.

Maybe that’s why Brexit so was heavily rejected by the younger generation of Britons. The generation that grew up under the EU and experienced all the privileges that if offered. It was the older generation that favored leaving. We do want to say that the United States completely understands this knee jerk impulse. Similar to your former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, we here in the States also have a crazy-haired insane man screaming nonsense from an undeserved pulpit. We are months away from possibly electing an orange skinned bigot to our highest office. We know how you feel, because whenever we mention the chance of a Donald Trump Presidency everyone still sort of chuckles at the impossibility of it, than quietly weeps to themselves at the sheer terror of it. Brexit was a lot like that. No sane person probably ever thought it was going to pass, and now it has. All over the world, we are seeing countries having sporadic and terrifying ultra-conservative reactions. In our progressive world we want to believe that these are simply the last gasp of an older way of thinking, but they still pose very real dangers to the stability of our planet, and that has been illustrated in no clearer way than with the United Kingdom’s most recent referendum.

So in response, and the real reason we are writing this letter is because we are hoping to get your permission for the United States to join the European Union. We hear they have an opening and it just feels like the right decision. We will of course have to change the name to something like the Transatlantic Union or the United Federation of Planets or something, but we can work all that out going forward. You see, under the EU, Britain’s unemployment rate has been consistently lower than our own, even during the financial crisis of 2008. Your economy is one of the strongest and has grown tremendously thanks to access to the European Single Market, as well as benefiting from the individual trade deals that the EU has set up with 52 countries around the world. As EU citizens, Americans would be allowed to move and work freely throughout most of Europe, and quite frankly a lot of our people could use a little more worldly travel.

Being part of the EU would be a great opportunity for any country. In America, our economy would grow, we could become less dependent on China, our citizens would become part of something much greater, and we could gain a seat in the governing body of the EU and help them make decisions that better affected the stability and peace of the world. Yet, and more to the point, it’s not 1776 anymore, and the world is no longer separated by vast oceans of wooden sailing ships. We’re sorry to be the ones to tell you this, but the British Empire is never coming back, except in steampunk novels. Similarly, the “American Century” is over. Both our countries need to accept that our powers are starting to wane, but instead of railing against it, we should be using what we have to build a better and more peaceful world. As countries and people we can no longer stand apart from one another. The challenges of climate change, radicalism, Daleks, and more must all be met with unified resolve. This planet is more connected than ever and it imperative that we start to learn how to live, work, and pull together as nations and as citizens of Earth.

So… would you think the European Union would be open to letting us join? After all we have a strong economy and a decently sized military, and we hear those are two things they are going to be needing now. Listen, we know this is an awkward request to make. After all, you two just broke up, and its going to take at least two-years of a messy and painful divorce before it is all over, but we were kind of hoping you could put in a good word for us? Also, we wanted to ask your permission first, because we’re best buds and all. We wouldn’t want to do anything that might make you uncomfortable. So, what do you think? Are we cool?

Anyway, thanks again. Say hello to Wales for us and let us know what the EU says. We would really like to maybe get this done before November… for reasons.

Love Always,

The United States of America

Zak woke with a start, sweat beading his forehead. He might have screamed but he couldn’t be sure. Some people were looking at him as if he might have. He ignored their stares and reached for the small woven rope that encircled his wrist, as if to reassure himself it still existed. Goose bumps rippled his arm and neck as he shivered despite the crush of human bodies around him. Almost every inch of the cold metal floor was occupied by men, women, and children. Families huddled close while strangers eyed each other from across the room. He ignored them all and tried to find sleep again.

The small blanket was barely enough to cover his body, but along with the bracelet it was all he had left, except for maybe his dreams. Sleep was the one place he could escape, and in those dreams he was back home, a small town in Iowa with his family. They had been lucky, most of the war hadn’t touched their part of the world. The big cities like New York and Chicago had felt the brunt of the destruction, but not their small rural community. No, for them it was more about the drought.

He still remembered when his father had announced that they couldn’t stay. “Earth is dying. The powerful and the demagogues are fighting over what’s left and it’s people like us who are going to get caught in between,” said his father to his mother when he didn’t think Zak was listening. “I know this guy from the dockyards. He says there’s a ship leaving and we can get on it.”

“Leave Earth?” Zak’s mother began to cry. She tried to hide it like she did some times, but Zak knew. He always knew when his mother cried. “Where will we go?”

“The ship is bound for the Laan Consortium. Once we get into their space they have to take us. It’s their code or something, at least that’s what some of the guys were saying.” He put a comforting hand on his sobbing wife’s shoulder. “It’ll be okay. We can start a new life there, a new home.”

“But this is our home. I grew up here. I thought Zak would…” The tears cut short her words.

At the mention of his name their son ducked behind the corner before they noticed him, but not before he heard his father say “Maybe we can come back someday, once the war is over and the famine…”

That little house seemed so far away now. He tried to find sleep again, but it wouldn’t come. Zak’s eyes slid to the media players that were mounted on the walls beyond the energy shield, which separated the humans from the rest of the spaceport. The video feed itself was in Standard Laanish, but the media player translated it into all spoken languages including Terran English. Two creatures, one a dark hairy muscular beast and the other a hairless smooth pale creature with giant eyes sat talking as footage played in the background.

“These humans are scum,” said big eyes. “Their planet is a mess of war and pollution, and now they expect to come here? We don’t want their burden or their problems. We have enough of our own.”

“They are a sentient species, like every person in the Consortium,” said his hairy opponent.

“No, not at all like us. They are primitive and savage. They can’t even stop from killing one another, and now they are bringing their violence here. There are billions of them on that planet. Do you expect us to accept every single one?”

“There are plenty of worlds in the consortium that have already opened their doors to these poor creatures…”

“And look what happened to them. Look at the violence taking place in F’rag’hul’ja? Thirty Consortium citizens are dead because a few humans decided to build a bomb. Why? Because their god told them to?”

“Those were human extremists. Most of them were let into the Consortium on temporary passes. There was only one asylum seeker among them.”

“Isn’t one enough? Even if less than 1% of humans are criminals, isn’t that enough reason to condemn them all, especially if it keeps our people safe. They don’t deserve to come here and just take opportunities away from citizens of this Consortium. We built our worlds, and we can’t let savages like them tear them down.”

“You can’t judge all human on the actions of a few.

“They are either criminals or will be criminals. They can’t help it. Look at human history, look at their world. They can’t control themselves, they are all killers and deviants. They don’t even celebrate Shad’lat or speak Laanish, like any decent sentient being…” Zak had heard enough. When he turned his head away the sound automatically stopped .

He realized he was playing with his bracelet again, feeling every bump and scratch of the coarse braid against his skin.The colors were fading and the small strands of rope were fraying from time and wear, but it still held together. If only barely, in some spots. He moved his hand away for fear of stressing it more and walked toward the energy fence that encircled the small human enclave.

Running a dry tongue over cracked lips he held out his hands and uttered the Graakic word for water. It had been a while since his last drink, but two soldiers beyond the fence just growled something to one another in their guttural language before cackling in what he recognized as laughter. Then the lizard creatures walked away, never once looking back at him or his outstretched hands.

“I don’t think they’re going to help you, boy,” said a kindly older man sitting near the perimeter of the energy field.

“What did they say?” said Zak.

The man hesitated for a moment but translated. “Something about how we all smell so bad of dirt and piss that they could smell it even through the fence.” He shook his head and spoke into his chest. “Why did I ever leave Earth?”

No one had meant to land on Graak, a small planetoid on the outskirts of the Laan Consortium. They had always meant to keep going to Trimble IV or even Deshdo where humans were being welcomed, like the promised land. It hadn’t worked out. Their ship had never been very space worthy to begin with, and in the end it just couldn’t take the journey. They had spent two weeks adrift in the void before a Laan patrol had found them.

The first time Zak saw the ship that his father had called the SS Alban, all he could think of was how gray it looked. It wasn’t like some of the cool looking military craft he had seen a few times, or even like one of the luxury spaceships that only the rich people could afford. No, the Alban was slate gray, as if it was still waiting to be painted something more exciting. It also wasn’t very big.

He was told the ship had been designed to hold fourteen people. They packed in twenty-seven and two babies. There had barely been a place to sit, let alone lie down. Even worse, the journey was slow. The FTL engine only did about .8 past the speed of light, and they felt every bump and whine as the Alban cruised through warped space.

More than a few people got sick from the motion of the trip, including Zak. He remembered retching up his small meals of bread and water. That was when his mother had made him the bracelet. She put it together from different pieces of rope and string she had collected from others on the Alban. He could still remember watching her as she wove each piece together, humming softly, a small smile turning up her lips.

“What if I don’t get better?” he had asked her as she tied the token around his wrist.

“Sometimes, you just need to have hope.” She kissed him on his head and it was true. Days later he recovered. It had only ever been nausea and space sickness. Unfortunately, others were not so lucky.

Zak and his family were fortunate enough to be closer to the front of the Alban. A few in the rear compartments had gotten very sick from a radiation leak in the engine. The crew eventually managed to fix it, but not before three people, including one of the infants died of FTL poisoning. The bodies had to be ejected into space, not just because of the radiation, but also because the ship had no place to store them. They had held what little ceremony they could for the dead, but it didn’t feel like enough, at least not to Zak.

Every fews day after those deaths his mother would take back his bracelet and add another strand of some piece of string or cloth that she collected from the ship. Maybe it was her way of reminding him that he was alive and every new moment should be cherished. Maybe it was her way of saying how they were all connected; they lived interwoven, like the braids on the bracelet; or maybe she just did it to keep busy, a way to keep her mind off the tragedies they had all witnessed. Unfortunately, the Alban was not done with tragedies.

Three weeks into the journey a small electrical fire broke out in one of the cargo compartments that housed some of the passengers. The doors on the ship sealed automatically and the people inside were trapped. Those that didn’t burn were killed by oxygen starvation. Five people died in a matter of minutes, including his mother. She had been in the compartment chatting with one of their old neighbors, possibly trying to get more strands to add to the bracelet. He was never certain. All he knew was that she would never see Earth again, dead or alive. As before, all the bodies had to be ejected into space. The Alban limped on, and so did Zak.

He could remember the sound when the engines finally died. He had thought they had already crossed into Consortium space, but he found out later that they were barely on the border. The FTL had been slowly growing fainter for more than two weeks, their speed ebbing away like a tired old man losing his fight against time. When the engines stopped completely all he had heard was quiet. It was like there was something missing, a familiar hum in the background that they had all grown accustomed to. It was like a mother’s touch, you never really noticed it till it was gone, and afterwards the world seem much lonelier and crueler.

That had been almost a year before. Zak was thirteen now, his birthday had come and gone, at least he thought it had. It was hard to keep track of the time of the year on a planetoid with a thirty-one hour day and only three quarters gravity. Everything was so alien, so different. He had grown up in the tundras of the American Midwest with wide expanses and fresh air. Now he was being held in the corner of a spaceport where the air was staler than the bowls of pudding-like substance they gave them to eat. It all happened while other beings, hundreds of thousands of light years away, debated if he and his people deserved the right to be free and happy, as if debating whether they were animals or people.

A small girl, with three eyes and a pretty face smiled at Zak from the distant side of the energy fence. He smiled back at her and she started to walk toward him before a restraining hand grabbed her and yanked her away. Her mother or father -Zak couldn’t really tell- was pulling her along and scolding her in a flute-like language. She looked back at him once more, this time in shock and with a new hint of fear. He couldn’t understand what her parent was saying but he had heard similar things enough times to make an educated guess. Fear and suspicion were higher than ever, especially after the attacks on F’rag’hul’ja. Everyone was on nerves and no one seemed to need look far for reasons to hate humans.

In the first camp they brought him to, Zak had met another boy, Peter. He had seemed nice enough, but pretty soon he started talking about everything he wanted to do to the people of the Laan Consortium. “Abominations against God,” he had called them and started reciting all these Bible verses. “It is the duty of humans to exterminate any creature that was not created in God’s image. The aliens of Laan are an affront to Jesus Christ.”

Zak didn’t see much of Peter again after that. There were never a lot of human extremists, but you found them here and there. Mostly it was just talk, old men venting about how it was in a world that they no longer walked on. His father had made sure to keep his son clear of people like that, but sometimes it was inevitable, and sometimes it was more than just talk. Sometimes it was far worse than just talk.

A Graakic month after they arrived a few humans attacked a Graak humanitarian worker. There was a fight and the Graak died along with one of the humans. It was Peter. Most people just shook their head and said how sad it was, or that Peter had been a hothead and he got what he deserved. Most of the people he knew in the camp felt bad over what had happened. “That’s no way for a human to behave,” said Mr. Glenrose. “That’s no way to repay the hospitality of these people.”

Unfortunately, the Graak weren’t satisfied with the remorse of humans, or maybe they didn’t believe it. A group of armed and angry Graakic citizen attacked the camp. They burned down tents and the make-shift barrack houses. They beat anyone they found near to death, calling them all “dirtlings,” and yelling how humans should go home. Mr. Glenrose and four other people died in the attack, and hundreds more were badly injured, including Zak’s father.

He had stood up to some of the Graak when they came, protecting his son. Zak could still remember his screams as they kicked him and beat him with clubs, but he refused to move. He refused to leave his son at the mercy of the mob. After that they took him to a hospital somewhere, but that was the last Zak saw of him. A few weeks later they transferred all the humans to different camps, and no Graak, Desh, Trim, or any alien who spoke Terran seemed to be able to tell him what had happened to his only parent.

He looked again at the fading braid on his wrist. The night of the attacks it had been nearly torn off, but it had held. Zak examined the bracelet and picked at the fraying ends of the weaker parts. It was as if he could not stop digging at it, like touching at a raw nerve in hope or disbelief. His memories were like that too. Sometimes, no matter how much he tried not to, he found himself seeing his mother’s body; hearing the cries of his father; or feeling the raw gut pain that came when he thought of the poor baby that did not make it to Graak. Part of him wanted to forget, but part of him also wanted to know why it was all happening to them. So he picked at his memories, at his pain, and at the small memento that sat on his arm.

“We are receiving word now,” said the blue-skinned newscaster on the media player, “that because of the attacks on F’rag’hul’ja,” the Consortium council has been forced to deport several hundred refugees back to Earth, for their own safety.” The video changed to show footage of attacks on human aid centers all across the Consortium. Fires burned and people of all types were fighting with fists, weapons, claws, and tentacles. “Officials have told us that those being moved are currently in the highest risk zones for anti-migrant violence. This decision also comes after the leaders of many worlds have begun openly refusing to accept any humans, saying that they pose too high of a risk to their native populations.”

A mummer went up from the people around Zak as more and more people were suddenly paying attention to the news feed.

“Humans in detention centers on parts of F’rag’hul’ja, Rangul, and Yulide are already being put onto ships for the return trip to their own homeworld of Earth. Consortium officials believed it was best to keep this secret for fear of further reprisals against the human migrants as they were transported to launch sites.” The video feed changed again to show lines of humans with armed guards surrounding them. Men, women, and children shuffled forward as they were loaded back onto waiting ships that seemed no sturdier than the Alban.

“That’s a death sentence,” said the older gentleman sitting beside him. “Half the warring factions on Earth will shoot any approaching ship out of orbit, and the other half will take them hostage to try and use as leverage.”

Zak just looked at him and twisted his braid nervously on his wrist, before returning his attention back to the distant media player. That was when he saw it. One of the shuffling figures. His shoulders were back and his head was down. He looked at the camera only once, but that was enough. It was enough for Zak to recognize his own father. He looked older and thinner than his son could remember. It was as if something had broken inside of him, as if he no longer cared.

“The Consortium Council is still trying to decide what they will do with the rest of the humans still currently being held in temporary detention centers, but more deportations could be expected. Experts are trying to determine how much of a threat the humans are to the the security of Laan and its member worlds. There is also a debate among many people of the Consortium of how deserving these creatures are of the same rights as every citizen of Laan, with many polls showing that a majority of Laan now believe that humans are less than sentient.

Zak felt the tension release before he heard the final snap. When he looked down his mother’s bracelet was in his hand. One of the ends had finally broken under his nervous tugging. Part of him wanted to cry,  but the rest of his body didn’t have enough water to allow it to happen. So he just stood there, watching the live feed as the ship holding his father blasted off into the dark violet skies of some alien world. The camera held for a second longer as the fast moving ship disappeared from sight, leaving only a small trail of smoke behind it.

In 75% Earth’s gravity the braided rope took longer to find the floor than Zak would have anticipated. He closed his hand around the nothingness that replaced it and watched the bracelet for a long moment, debating whether to pick it up again. Maybe it could be fixed. Maybe it could be made whole again. Instead, he just stepped over it and walked away finding that someone had already stolen his blanket. So he just laid down on the cold floor shivering, feeling suddenly less than who he had been, maybe even less than he would ever be again.

We here at The NYRD have been doing a lot of soul searching. Any loss of innocent lives is worth a pause and a prayer, but being New Yorkers we feel a kinship with those who have lived through the events of cowardly and horrific acts of terror. Our hearts and our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic, in the Middle East, and everywhere else there is suffering. In situations such as these it is always the “what ifs” that cause the most pain. What if someone had gone left instead of right? What if that person had decided not to go out that night? What if an attack could have been predicted and stopped? What if we had the power to never let something like this happen again?

When Gods Watch the News
So it is in these times that we often find ourselves marveling at the Man of Steel. Superman, has more power than any person could ever dream to have. His speed and strength are matched only by his heart. The boy in blue has a true desire to protect the innocent and save the world, and yet for all his power, he is a failure. Sure he will stop the schemes of Lex Luthor or the machinations of the Legion of Doom, but no one will ever be 100% safe. Crime, poverty, death, and fear will never go away even with the entire Justice League patrolling the skies of our world. Yet, it is in times of tragedy that we all wish we were Superman, if only because we want to stop the pain and the suffering, but could we really?

If we were the Last Son of Krypton, enjoying a hot cup of coffee at home in our small Metropolis apartment and we turned on the news to see the chaos of the terrorism, the poverty, and the general state of the world, what would we feel? Sure, maybe we spent the morning punching an asteroid out of a collision course with the planet, but that kind of problem is easy. How do you solve deeper systemic issues of hatred, of terror, and of greed? What would a near-god feel when he saw the state of our world? Would he feel sadness, pity, anger, or maybe frustration?

Terrorism and extremism are not things you can just punch or heat vision away. The chaos that exists, exists because we are human and because we are different and because we have the freedom to be so. Most sane people know to voice their differences in the debate rooms or sporting arenas, but there will always be that small minority -of any religion- who will try to solve it with hatred and violence. The Man of Steel can survive bullets and bomb blasts, but what can he do when he is not there to help those who cannot?

Justifying the End
It is perhaps no small wonder that most Superman comics are not about Clark Kent taking over the world and declaring himself its protector-king. It would be an almost small task for him to accomplish, global domination for the sake of saving the world. It almost sounds noble. It almost sounds sane. It is wonder that there are not more stories about superheroes going all “Ozymandias” on the world. Sure there are always alternate timeline stories, but those are portrayed as unrealistic. Maybe the truth is that they are the most realistic. After all, if Superman really cared about saving everybody in the world he would accept the burden that dictatorship brought. If he really cared he would bring the corruption, the terrorism, the death, and violence to heel, by force if necessary. He must want to sometimes. He must look at the world and have that thought cross his mind when he sees dying children and when he hears the calls of starving families.

How does the most powerful man on the planet sit in his apartment on nights where every news stations plays footage of bomb blasts, starving children, and systemic genocide? How does Ka-El of Krypton feel when he arrives too late to do anything more than help with clean up? He must sometimes think about taking control and ending it. All he would need to do is reach out his hand and the world could be his to hold and squeeze. It may not be pretty, or heroic, but it would be effective. Taking away the freedom to be different and imposing his will would ensure peace and security. It would ensure that no innocent man, woman, or child ever had to feel unsafe in the streets of their homes or cower in fear of what the morning would bring. Under the steel rule of Superman, things like hunger, war, terrorism, and even global warming could all be erased. Is that not worth any cost, even freedom?

It Means Hope
We admire the restraint of Superman, because when we watch the news we question if we could exercise it. Yet, maybe the Man of Steel knows something we don’t. Maybe Clark Kent is a reporter not to find places he is needed, but to remind himself why he can never stop trying and never stop being Superman. We like to think that he sees the truth in it all, because these acts of butchery and cowardice are not committed by the majority, but a small small minority. Giving up our freedom in the name of security is no different than surrendering to the terror that these villains seek to impose. Clark knows that the world does not need an all-powerful emperor, but a symbol of all the things that can be good about humanity. The real power of Superman is not in his strength or flight, but his ability to inspire us to be better, to make the world better. He gives us the example we strive to live up to, because he knows that the vast majority of people aren’t the bad guys and together we are stronger.

That is why we love superheroes, not because of the capes or the explosions, but because they remind us about the best of what we are. It is why we invoke their symbols and their imagery in times of tragedy and it is their examples that  give us strength to be a little stronger, a little faster, and a little better when surrounded by chaos. They are also not alone, because with any tragedy you may find very few villains but a hell of a lot more heroes. Police, firefighters, soldiers, brothers, sisters, regular people who do the right thing. Like the people of Paris who opened their doors to strangers in need on the scariest night of their lives. People like that help, not because they are superhuman but because none of us are.

Superman is not real. He can’t take over the world and fix our problems for us, but the example he gives us is real, and it is only one of thousands of examples we see everyday from good and real people. We all need to be the heroes we want to see in our lives, because maybe one day, we can save the world, together. Until then, we hold all those who have been affected by violence and terror in our thoughts.

For anyone who is not in the “know,” and by that we mean a complete Trekkie, the Prime Directive is the first imperative of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. It is a rule of non-interference. The developed Federation and by extension Starfleet cannot interfere with the affairs of developing worlds, or they might taint their evolutionary progress, even if the planet and its refugees are under threat of destruction or death. Yet, is this a policy we should be adopting when it comes to our own planet?

Maybe there comes a time in the life of every person, and every nation when we need to ask ourselves the hard questions. What kind of people we want to be? is the Prime Directive any positive divisors other than 1 and itself? What kind of world do we want to live in? What Would the Federation Do? We suppose the short answer is: “boldly go wherever Captain Kirk’s libido has never gone before,” but another answer may become our very own Prime Directive, not in regards to any alien race, but in regards to how we treat other people in the world.

The Conscience of the King
As Jean-Luc Picard says the Starfleet Prime Directive is not just a set of rules, but “a philosophy.” At its core it is about letting a people fend for themselves. It is about teaching fellow sentient creatures self-reliance, to figure out the hard problems on their own, and without the technological and economical hand-outs of a more developed nation. In the end, one could actually interpret it as a fairly “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” type of policy from the normally leftist Federation, but is it one directive we are willing to put to use in today’s world? What would Picard do?

Currently, Europe and the world is facing one of the largest refugee crises in a generation. 4.1 million people have fled the violence currently taking place in Syria, thanks to ISIS and other warring factions. That is nearly double the amount displaced by the Rwanda genocides in 1994. Europe and other countries have had varying responses to the flood of refugees trying to stream across their borders. Countries like Hungary have been cracking down while countries such as Germany have been opening their nation to fleeing refugees, but they have been forced to “drop it down to impulse” in the past week. Yet, what is the right way to handle this crisis?

The humanitarian side would say that we have a moral and ethical obligation to help the people who are currently fleeing war and violence. After all they are fighting for their lives and the lives of their family to make it to safer grounds, flooding into Mediterranean countries by land and sea. However, a more practical side could also argue that from an economic and security standpoint, letting thousands of unknown refugees from a high risk area of the world, unquestioningly into your country may not be the best choice. After all, when the Klingon moon of Praxis exploded and threatened the lives of everyone on the Klingon homeworld of Qo’nos, did the Federation decide to take the risk and help its most hated enemy?… Well, yes they did, but in all fairness they never had the Internet.

Balance of Terror

Alleged Romulans at a rally in Germany.
Alleged Romulans at a rally in Germany.

There has been a lot passed around on Facebook and social media about this current crisis. The most currently famous image is the picture of what appears to be an ISIS flag being held aloft by refugees during a clash with German police. It often gets posted to show why countries should be closing their borders to this outpouring of humanity. The picture is also falser than Seven of Nine’s implants. It is a picture from 2012 taken at an anti-Islam rally in Bonn, Germany. the flag is not an ISIS flag at all, but another Muslim flag with a similar color scheme. Many Muslims believe that one of the banners carried by Muhammad was black and monochromatic, so it’s a very popular color scheme.

In fact, according to the ship’s LCARS and our own research the only violence that we could uncover -that was even remotely related to the surge of refugees- had to do with anti-refugee protests. We are talking about people who already live in the affected countries and commit violence against migrants and government facilities, such as the arson attack against a planned center for refugees in Germany back in August. So far it seems as if most of the Syrian refugees have been relatively peaceful, especially in contrast to some of the more horrifying conditions they have been met with. 22 refugees, including 4 children, drowned while attempting to reach Greece, and that story is not at all out of the ordinary. What would Sisko do?

The Trouble with Tribbles
The problem with the refugees is that there are a lot of them, and they keep multiplying everyday, but nobody seems to be able to agree on what to do. A meeting of the EU this week in Brussels by European Union Interior Ministers failed to come to any formal agreement or plan. The ministers failed to set any binding quotas for how many people each EU member nation should be obligated to take in. The group did propose a system of camps for refugees to be housed in Africa, which for anyone who is bad at geography, is not in Europe. The minsters also agreed agree, in principal, to share the current 160,000 refugees, which are already in Italy, Greece, and Hungary, but all 22 nations could not agree on a time schedule or a quota.

There is a school of thought that this may simply not be Europe’s problem? The United States pledged to take 70,000 refugees from all over the world this year and will take an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, but many in the US look at this problem and feel very little responsibility toward the solution. The USA has donated $4 billion in humanitarian aid, but takes a view as if this is an issue to be dealt with by the Old World, if not the Middle East itself. Yet, what is our Prime Directive in this mess? Is this really just a Middle Eastern problem?

Many people have criticized, and with good reason, the lackluster response from other Middle Eastern countries and their failure to take in more refugees. According to CNN and Amnesty International Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and other Gulf countries have offered no resettlement places to Syrian refugees. Many of the wealthier countries have donated money with Kuwait giving $101.9 million; Saudi Arabia $2.7 million; Qatar $2.5 million; and the UAE giving $2.2 million, but those amounts are a small bit of latinum compared to the troubles being faced by the international humanitarian crisis. However, it is easy to point fingers and lump all Middle Eastern countries together, but the truth is more complicated than the plot of Star Trek V.

The Immunity Syndrome
First of all, not all Arab countries have turned their backs. Lebanon has taken the most migrants per capita of any country so far, housing roughly 232 refugees per 1,000 refugees. They are followed by Jordan and Turkey at 81 and 27 per 1,000, respectively. Even Iraq has accepted 249,000, and Egypt has taken 132,000. In contrast, Germany is only currently housing 2.6 refugees per 1,000 refugees, and the United States ranks at a measly 0.8 refugees per 1,000. Secondly, it is not only Arab countries who have shut their borders to their neighbors in need. Israel, has offered no resettlement for displaced Syrians, which many have criticized because Israel is one of the richest and most powerful countries in the region, shares a border with Syria, and because the Jewish people themselves should empathize with the plight of refugees.

We do not say any of this to be critical against any country, only to show that this issue is not as black and white as some Internet memes would have it appear. As humans we like to make generalizations: Arab countries aren’t helping, Syrian refugees are all terrorists, all Star Trek: Enterprise  episodes were horrible, but they weren’t. That was a decent show canceled before its time, but making unthinking gross judgements we risk falling into a Tholian Web of inaction and excuses. In fact, even a lot of people whom live in countries whose governments are refusing to lend aid or resettlement, are doing everything they can to ease this crisis. Israelis, Saudis, Britons, Hungarians, Americans and all sorts of individuals are helping, because as people humans can be amazing creatures. We feel a responsibility toward our fellow humans, but are the responsibilities of an individual the same as the responsibilities of a nation? Wouldn’t accepting these extra people put a burden on countries, like Greece, who can barely afford their own citizens? Is that even logical. What would Spock do?

The Way to Eden
There may be other reasons for developed nations to take in more refugees, we can handle it. According to a US News report, smaller countries such as Jordan will spend upwards of 2.4 billion dollars on caring for displaced migrants. They will strain their country’s already limited water supply and other essential services. However, European and North American countries tend to have a sturdier infrastructure, and a lot more employment opportunities when compared to Middle Eastern ones. That is actually a boon for developed nations because any country that can shoulder the initial costs of a large influx of migrants has, historically, benefited in the long run. There are more people to work jobs, more people to consume products, more people to pay more taxes, and to just generally do more things.

For example, in Cleveland, the local service for refugees spent roughly $4.8 million back in 2012 to help a small number of refugees get established, but, according to Chmura Economics & Analytics, those refugees had a long term economic impact on the community equal to about $48 million, or about 10 times the initial resettlement investment. It makes a certain a mount a sense. Refugees want to create opportunities and provide for their families, and they tend to be younger. Countries with younger populations often benefit economically, educationally, and militarily. Maybe it is not surprising that most Western countries are getting older, considering that the majority of EU members want less immigration. Yet, the United States continues to maintain a youthful population due to our constant influx of foreign immigrants -both refugees and non-refugees. New people means new ideas, new opportunities, and a new spirit of diversity, cooperation, and profit. What would Quark do?

Remember, the United Federation of Planets is made up of thousands of worlds, hundreds of different species, and each brings their own strength to the table, and that is the real philosophy of the Federation, and of our planet. The Prime Directive might be a guideline for technologically advanced civilizations, but we aren’t members of Starfleet dealing with a culture who are imitating early 20th century gangsters -for some reason. We are all humans, dealing with out fellow humans. There is this idea that we are somehow different from the people of the Middle East, or Europe, or any toher nation, but we are all the same. To any passing Andorian, we are just humans, and maybe its time we treat each other like humans.

Maybe that should be our real Prime Directive.


Photo courtesy: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/truth-behind-picture-claiming-show-6447418 

For anyone who has been paying attention to what goes on in Time Square -and if you are a local that means as little as possible- this past week saw a massive protest by pro-Israel support groups against President Obama’s deal with Iran. We here at The NYRD were curious what all the fuss was about, so we buckled down and did something that most of senators will not do and actually read the 159-page Iran deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. Quite frankly, we would have found a better name for it, like the He-Man Nuke Haters Agreement.

Regardless, we read the damn thing, and even then we still didn’t understand what the problem was, so we had to dig a little deeper. What we found was that the Iran situation all comes down to board games. They say world politics is a game, and we aren’t sure if we read that somewhere or heard it on Game of Thrones, but it makes sense to us. So, the only question is, what game is it?

The Rulebook
Have you ever gotten a new board game and never read beyond the first page of the rules. Maybe you just look things up as you go or you just make everything up. Well, we here at The NYRD are those geeks that wind up reading the booklet from cover to cover. That is also why staff board game nights are run with an iron fist.

It turns out that many congressmen treat bills and treaties like the rulebook to Clue. They barely get past the preamble before they just start going off about what they think or don’t think is in it. Next thing you know you get someone accusing Mr. Green of killing freedom with the wrench in the gumdrop forest.

So for anyone who doesn’t have the attention span to get through the main points of the JCPOA, we felt it was our duty to layout some of the key components:

In layman’s terms, Iran will be welcomed back to the international financial community, and in return they will not able to accumulate the technology or fissile material capable of creating a nuclear weapon for at least ten years. That is, of course, if everything goes as planned, and that is the sticking point. Most people’s disagreements over this plan come down to whether or not we believe Iran will hold to their end of the bargain, and that is a real and potential fear. In other words, it’s a risk.

Risk: The Game of Global Police Actions
Risk is a game about consolidating military power, conquering territories weaker than your own, and basically taking Madagascar from that guy across the table, just because he drank the last of the Mountain Dew. We’re looking at you, Todd. It is also the basis for how we may choose to look at the board of the international stage. It is true that we have not had as many wars of conquest as we used to, except if you’re Russia, but really it all comes down to how we want to deal with our neighbors.

In Risk there is nothing stopping a player from forming alliances with those around him or her, but those agreements are often tenuous, dissolving almost as quickly as they were made. An ally in Risk is just someone who will be your enemy in a few turns. After all, the goal of the game is complete and total global domination. Now, we are not saying that the detractors of this deal are trying to move our cavalry soldier piece into Kyrgyzstan, but they are approaching these talks with the same level of paranoia as Todd, hopped up on a few Mountain Dews. If you view the world as a Risk board, than you see everyone out there as a potential enemy, if not now than later. Thus, the JCPOA is a problem, because treaties will never last when everyone is out to win.

However, those feelings might be justified. After all, Iran does have a history of deceit and of proven ties to terrorist organizations all over the Middle East. They also pose a very credible threat to Israel and many Western interests in the region. Even if all goes as planned and Iran follows the JCPOA, chances are they will have the material, resources, and technology to create nuclear weapons within ten or twelve years. Essentially, this plan may not stop them from getting the bomb, only in delaying their ambitions by a decade or so. Even worse, with all the sanctions lifted it will be harder to get Russia and China to agree to new ones if the need arises. That is why you hear many detractors accusing the President and his negotiators of basically handing Iran the means to create a nuclear weapon, and they are correct. Thanks to our new economical help and with even the allowed incremental advancements of centrifuge technology, it is very possible that Iran will have a nuclear weapon, but not for at least a few more turns.

Many estimates from experts around the world had Iran gaining enough material for a nuclear warhead by the mid 2014’s. Even Israel’s own Prime Minister admitted that Iran was on the “threshold” of becoming the next nuclear power. We know sanctions have not been working, and thus the only option left open to the US and our allies is war. This is not just some idle threat either, there are many world powers who, if it was confirmed Iran was days away from completing a nuclear warhead, would most likely attack to try and stop them. It would mean a real game of Risk, and not with just a few of our minor pieces.

Even worse, many experts, including George W. Bush’s former CIA director, believe that an invasion could prove ineffective at stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In fact, it would only justify their fears and give them all the more reason to push for the bomb. It would also mean another long and drawn out Middle Eastern conflict with American lives caught in the middle. The JCPOA is not perfect, but maybe there is a reason why Risk is a game played with pieces shaped like horses and cannons. In this day and age, the international game of choice is often played with trade and resources.

Settlers of Tehran
Settlers of Catan is a game we here at The NYRD highly recommend for your next game night. It is about owning property with resources and then using those resources to build cities and roads. Victory can only be achieved through trade and cooperation with opposing players. It is a game that tests your negotiation skills, and your skills at flinging game boards across the room when Todd inevitably refuses to share the wheat he has been stockpiling. Come on, Todd, really? It is also a game, much like Risk, that is built upon acquiring power, but not military power. At the heart of the game you are trying to build up your own infrastructure for achievement points.

In a way we have been playing Settlers with Iran for almost thirty-five years, except much like Todd, we have been refusing to trade with them. However, the only way to advance in this game is to work together to trade and to build. So for our Iranian opponents it has not been much of a game. More to the point, if they don’t trade with us then they trade with others, not for wheat or stone, but uranium and explosives. They don’t build roads and cities, they build bombs and a hatred for the West. No matter how much we have tried to restrict them they still keep inching forward to a nuclear weapon.

Proponents of this treaty will say that for Iran, the game is no longer about winning or losing, because we stopped letting them play a long time ago. We have bled them dry, and the better part of this treaty is that fact that we will once again normalize relations with the country. If we lift economic sanctions against the Iranian government we also lift them against the Iranian people, not terrorists, but families with children. These are people who once owned factories, and made livings through trade and export, but after their businesses dried up they had nothing left but hatred. Maybe if they start to once again earn money, to be allowed to play the game, their drive to acquire nuclear weapons and create havoc in the region will lessen. After, all, if you are going to swipe at a board, you don’t do it where you have pieces in play.

There is no guarantees either way. Lifting the sanctions will give Iran more money which they could use against us, but it also gives more money and prosperity to the average citizen, and if the lessons we learned during the Arab Spring mean anything, it is that we should never underestimate the power of those very same families and citizens. Maybe it comes down to how we view people in this world, are we naturally made for cooperation or competition?

Coopertition
Coopertition is a board game strategy where players work together to achieve mutual goals, until one person wins the game. It does not always work, and sometimes it even ends in a few tears -mostly from Todd- but it does give game nights a new edge. It is the idea that together people achieve more and along the way we make life interesting. Ultimately, someone wins but for the losers the game becomes less about a feeling of loss and more about a mutually enjoyed experience.

Can we trust Iran? No, as of right now they have not proven that they are capable of being trusted. There are still many hardliners in the country, including their spiritual leader, the Ayatollah. In fact, they are currently engaged in funding terrorism around the region, and even as these negotiations were happening Iran held four Americans prisoners. America has made a good faith effort to put as many safeguards in place so that this treaty will be upheld. Granted the IAEA has a less than perfect record when it comes to monitoring Iran, but the US, EU, UN, and many reforming elements within Iran itself are invested heavily in seeing this treaty succeed. There are some promising indications that this time things might be better, but nothing is certain.

So. do we take a risk or do we settle? Whatever we decide we have to give Iran a chance to play, because excluding them for the past thirty-five years has been proven an ineffective strategy. It is time to find a new way of dealing with the people sitting across the table from us, because the truth is, this is not a game.