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Live’s lead singer Ed Kowalczyk Inspired me…Yes, I Said It

“The angel opens her eyes

Pale blue colored iris

Presents the circle

And puts the glory out to hide.”

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The band Live’s lead singer Ed Kowalczyk wrote the song “Lightning Crashes” as he envisioned a hospital, where families continuously mourn the loss of one human being as others are born. The song is about the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and the angel’s opening and closing of her eyes depicts birth and death. Life’s circle is sung powerfully, and the glory of divine life hidden deep within each of us comes out to hide as magic flows like air. Kowalczyk explains this wonderful movement of life in words as simple as his lyrics. “It is there before us in plain sight, but hidden because we see the flesh rather than the spirit within.”

“Lighting Crashes” lends itself to other interpretations, and mine is quite simple. What if an angel were to crash on earth one day? What if we hid it? Don’t you think another angel would come down to earth one day to take this fallen angel back to heaven?

I was inspired by the song “Lightning Crashes” to write Dragon Bones: Two Angels Leave at Sunrise.

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Passion Fruit and Politics….That Arab Spring Stench

Have you ever wondered what it smells like when chickens come home to roost? It’s not the kind of chickens that Chicago-based pastor Jeremiah Wright talked about when he bashed white America as our soon-to-become President sat and listened. And it’s not the chickens that our President envisioned when he claimed “times are…um…transforming.”These chickens smell like those who are freed and then find out they have no leadership that will to truly lead them out of bondage. America had our Founding Fathers to lead us; the Israelites had Moses; I can list them all, from generation to generation…if I had the time, but that list would end with the coming of the Arab Spring. The people there have organized thugs like the Muslim Brotherhood to lead them out of bondage; it has failed miserably everywhere they have been anointed and has left American diplomacy with its britches down once again.I remember the day I read President Obama’s Cairo Speech, the one that told the world he was not only going transform America but the world too. I was still working for the U.S. Department of State and it scared the daylights out of me. All I could do was wonder why so few others in Foggy Bottom weren’t shaking too…they are, by the way, the brightest of the bright, the best educated, and the elite we are suppose to look up to. I could see their wringing hands and concocting faces as our great new leader called us arrogant and apologized to anyone who would listen. And none of them asked why. What did we do to deserve such? And why is our commander-in-chief saying it to people who wouldn’t know democracy if it fell on their faces. But I didn’t have to ask. I knew the reason so few stopped to seek such answers, and even fewer cared about the dangerous direction we were taking.I know those fools aren’t bothered. Why should they, especially when cushy window offices, free parking, promotions and pensions are at stake? Why should they care when they publicly, and proudly worship…in mass…every word their master said? I mused all this and more as the concept of timing and accountability came to mind. You see…most of those involved in the Department’s reckless decision-making will be long gone–on to another State Department assignment to botch–by the time this next fallout is realized. That’s the value of being able to bid for assignments every three years; nothing is ever accomplished; it’s just temporarily managed. And, just like that tree that falls but never makes a sound if no one is there to hear it, those responsible for the fallout are never there to be held accountable? “The fools have already left the building,” speaks volumes when no one is left to speak out, explain what happened, and account for all the poor leadership and bad decisions.

In essence, there’s no need to cogitate about all this; one only has accept the truth: that a moral compass inside the bowels of the institution created to represent the United States of America overseas has been missing for a long time and so has character and integrity. But I do cogitate more as the truth hits me like a ton of bricks: sadly most documentation to prove that our moral compass, character, and integrity are missing is also missing, and that’s the point I’m about to make.

I was so hot and bothered that September day in the office. Actually, to call it an office is somewhat misleading; my current part-time office is in a basement, inside a big white mansion hidden away inside Atlanta’s Country Club of the South. My job requirements take up just enough time to cover my bills; the rest of my time is spent writing fiction, blogging, and managing my foundation. So that day, at the so-called office, I was wrestling with the shredder, and it was getting the best of me. My tailspin started within a few seconds.

“What’s wrong is this doggone shredder!” I yelled out as I wondered whether I’d lost that edge I’d acquired so long ago, working for the United States Government, so far away from home.

That edge? What edge is that? I can hear people asking. But, yes, I did have that edge, because the State Department forced it on me like everyone else working there…to learn to shred like the best of them.

“Yep, we all had to learn to shred, get good at it…fast as hell they’d say…as we loaded paper, paper, paper, and more paper into our designated shredders. And we were timed to the very second. At the time, I didn’t think too much into this; I suspected mostly all American embassies around the world had regular shredding drills. The ones I worked in sure did and I, D.A. (Dennis) Winstead, would never tell a lie about such a trivial matter.Yep…we’d be told to keep a section of our safe full of shredding drill documents, and once a month, the surprise shredding drill alarm would go off. That is when everyone would have to grab his or her saved shredding-drill documents and run to their shredder and then start…shredding…instantly. And we’d all hear about if it we didn’t meet our target times.

I never paid too much attention to anything when I was away working at some embassy. I had enough to worry about…people to dodge…so attention to shredding was nothing new. In fact, as is the case in most things I do, I found utility in the shredder too. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I was posted during 2000-2002, I was given the hash name “Paper Boy” because before every Saturday afternoon hash run, the harriers had to find shredded paper to set the running trial. As for where all this shredded paper originated, it was always either the American Embassy and the British High Commission that stepped up and delivered; our two compounds were always the ones that had shredded paper to spare and it seemed most of the time the Americans had more.

Kid you not. I’ve seen even more, and I have even witnessed a minute-by-minute real shredding…real meaning trained embassy shredders set in motion, not a drill, but the real McCoy. So here is that story.I’m thinking some of you will remember Bill Clinton’s “War on Serbia.” It was the one he tried to sell as a NATO-led operation, but it was his mistake and he eventually had to own it. Needless to say, it was one U.S. engagement we never should have entered…very similar to what almost happened in Syria…and it ended up being a huge embarrassment for America. I was working on the midnight shift, helping to staff the Serbian Task Force inside the State Department’s Operations Center when the doo-doo finally hit the fan. U.S.-led NATO planes had been bombing Belgrade like there was no tomorrow, for several months, and then it happened. On May 4, 1999, a bomb struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and killed three Chinese civilians. The next night, the China Task Force was placed in adjacent office space next to us, and it soon became clear how angrily the people in Beijing had taken the news. The American Embassy in Beijing was so bombarded with angry protesters that the leadership inside wasn’t sure whether the security perimeter would hold. And that’s when the shredding started…Beijing time.

I saw it all that night on my computer inside the State Department’s Operations Center because, like everyone else staffed in the 24/7 Operations Center, I was watching all the cable traffic and reading all the eyes-only emails coming in from all over the world. Mostly everything coming in was mundane and useless, and that’s pretty much how those late nights inside the Operations Center went. But that night, sometime between three and four o’clock in the morning, communications coming in from Beijing caught my attention.

“What’s that number?” I asked when I saw the first short one-line email pop up. It was marked Top Secret/Embassy Beijing and it read simply “98%.” About five minutes later, a second email read “96%.” And then a third, “93%, came in about seven minutes after that.

The response back to me was “The Embassy is shredding documents,” and then a curt “They’re shredding fast. “Good,” was said before the control officer in charge that night prepared to walk away from my terminal.

“Should I do anything?” I asked next.

“Not unless the emails stop coming in,” was her simply reply. That night, I had the pleasure of watching the American Embassy in Beijing go from having 100% of its highly sensitive documents shredded in a matter of two hours.

So what does all of this have to do with me, working in the basement, in that white mansion tucked away inside Atlanta’s Country Club of the South? Well, that day I was fighting with the shredder was six days before the first anniversary of the Bengazi attack. The news was focused on Syria…and you know all the chatter: Are we going to bomb? Will American boots be on the ground? How can we afford another Middle East conflict? And how in God’s name can we pick between one side that is allegedly gassing civilians and the other side allegedly beheading Christians. How could we possibly pick sides? They’re all evil.

My answer, like so many others voicing their opinions that day, was simple: we can’t; we shouldn’t; we mustn’t. But on September 5, 2013, that’s not what the State Department was saying and that’s not what the White House was saying either.

We know the truth even if the press doesn’t, so I will make two points and then end of this nonsense called blogging:

One, I can only imagine all the documents being circulated around Washington that were formulated to argue one side over another but later that day shredded after the Russians stepped up and saved the day;

Two, I can’t help but wonder what the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was doing inside that Bengazi bunker, during those final hours while being attacked by an army of terrorists. Shredding, I supposed, but that’s my opinion.

My grandmother used to say to me, during those times when I told her about all those smart people I was working with in Washington, DC—how they all come from such good schools; they are all so connected; and they speak so many foreign languages. I was naïve back then, drinking the Kool-Aid and believing everything they said. But she would always reply like she was the smartest person in the world…and she was. “It don’t matter how many languages those fools up north can speak. If they don’t have the God-given common sense to think on their own…it doesn’t matter.”

The point being…we all must use common sense, think on our own, and always be able to back up our debates with proof and documentation when called upon to do so. That’s called accountability, and when really tough situations like Syria come into play, God forbid that we don’t have the documentation to back it up.

We’ll never really know what ever really happens in the end, but we should know and we should demand to know. That’s called transparency and it never comes into play inside the State Department; remember Hillary Clinton answering nothing about what really happened in Bengazi? I do and I’m still not surprised she’s getting away with it. They all do; it’s in the smoke-and-mirrors playbook…for a game where truth doesn’t matter.

So where do you go from here? I have my own common sense and learned behavior to offer: Just manage your expectations wisely and always remember that those in charge are trained to shred everything they don’t want others to see. It’s just sad that some of our best have probably been killed while shredding documents and those in charge in Washington are still covering it up…by more shredding.

I hate to dwell on the negative, but I will just end it here by asking whether anyone has ever driven by a chicken processing plant. You know those places…rural Delaware, eastern North Carolina, Alabama, or Mississippi. Oh yeah…that smell is what I’m talking about…the stench of all those chickens roosting. The Arab Spring is starting to smell just like it. If only those inside our embassies could shred that stench, but they’re only allowed to shred the stuff they don’t want others to see. I’ve made that part of the story clear…right?

I just hope one day, during more free and open times, we’ll all know how things “really” transpired in all these countries…Egypt, Syria, Iran, Tunisia, and Bengazi, Libya. But we won’t and if you’ve really been paying attention, you already know why. No, I’m not ragging on the mainstream media this time or the lies coming out of Foggy Bottom. It’s those damn shredders I don’t trust, and unfortunately, they’ll never go away.

Just saying…†

It’s a big world…write about it.

D.A. WINSTEAD
Award-winning International Author, Conservative Blogger, and
Founder and President of Color Him Father Foundation

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Passion Fruit and Politics – Egypt in Waiting

I’m always one country behind the truth…just like a lot of folks in Washington, DC.  And I muse a lot too, for way too long sometimes. But I don’t mind; I earned this “too-late” posturing honestly, after twenty-three long years at the U.S. State Department. So, I found myself writing this essay one late afternoon, August 14, 2013. That morning it seemed that Egypt had officially fallen into all out civil war—young rebellious believers in democracy versus the Islamic Brotherhood that seemed to take over Egypt with the blessing of Leader and Commander President Obama. I was nearly finished by the time I got a call from the Washington area. Needless to say, I wasn’t anxious to answer; it was a 202 area code and I hear from the National Republican Committee about twice a week now. And because I am so eager for our nation to straighten up and fly right, I usually give—point being, give once-give every time…give forever.

I give what I can when they call me, but that isn’t much. I don’t have a penny to spare, having left my cushy job at the State Department to write, and we all know that striving writers are probably poorer than striving actors, dancers…teachers. But that day, the call was from someone I worked with at State during the good years before 2008. She had something to tell me and since I…was only writing fiction at the time…I listened, heart pounding, blood flowing, eyes closed and expecting the worst. You see, mostly everything coming out of that building in lower Foggy Bottom is scary and unbelievable, even in the eyes of those inside.

So this former colleague of mine told me that one of our former bosses at the State Department had just been promoted to senior Foreign Service and this is where my writing turned a 180.

First of all, let me put a few things in perspective: once you reach the senior Foreign Service point at the State Department, you’re almost ensured a slot as an American Ambassador one day. “So what?” some I know will surely ask. “She deserved it. And our country deserves her. We’ll be in good hands…right?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if things were so simple? Unfortunately, in Washington, most things aren’t. Things are never simple…and fair, I muse as I listen to our President telling the world that his Administration will take no blame for what is happening in Egypt, all of it playing out on television in our safe and distant worlds. Obama and his team of spinners seem to be on television everyday–blaming everyone else but him and his Administration, for everything that goes wrong. And it seems most days, that everything that is going wrong…covers everything. And as I listen to him, while I’m reminded of the old days working under this newly promoted senior official, I can only cogitate and write. Why? Why? Why? What the hell is going on in Washington!

So today, as I cogitate and write, trying hard to figure out where America went wrong and wondering whether America will ever get back on track, my doubts overcome my spirit fairly easily.

And after a few more minutes, the news moves from Egypt to Palestine where the newly appointed Secretary of State is trying to revive peace talks. Egypt is burning; we still don’t know what happened in Benghazi; and Putin snubs our leadership every chance he gets–all this and Kerry is trying to settle the score in Jerusalem.

Kind of like painting the front house shutters when the back side of your house is falling in, I think practically every day when I see what Kerry is up to. Smoke and mirrors…State Department…smoke and mirrors…State Department…smoke and mirrors, two peas in a pod while the U.S.’s perception overseas is falling from the sky. It didn’t take much longer to find the need to put a few more things in an even deeper perspective…away from the President, his mindless blame-dodgers in the White House, and the rest of his cronies in Washington, D.C. Instead, I decided this time to muse on his extended network of blame-dodgers and cronies. Public Sector employees are supposed to be unbiased, but we all know they’re not…the IRS bell ringing in my head.

And the unbiased truth be told, everyone with a human brain knows that most career workers in Washington would rather fall on a sword than abandon the progressive leadership, and that also goes for the United States Department of State. I worked for those fools for twenty-three years, so I know how they roll, especially those blame-dodger cronies inside. Of all these parasites in Washington, those in the State Department are most predictable and much of what I wrote about in my first novel The Seventh Priest: Offering Day reinforces this truth: The U.S. Department of State is led by smart, unbiased, civil servants who want to succeed; they are led by blame-dodging cronies who want to stay in their cushy jobs.

My first book, The Seventh Priest, was set in Sudan during the end of the long-awaited peace agreement that ended the country’s fifty-year civil war. When horrible terrorist attacks started in the heart of Khartoum, north and the Christian south, those in the know in Washington seemed to know exactly who to blame, even before real intelligence was collected, analyzed and interpreted…mainly because we’d already chosen the other side to end up winning…the Egypt and Syria bells ringing in my head.

But to make a long fiction short, my point throughout the story was simple and much more focused on what seems to happen in most American embassies around the world. The elephant in that room, in the heart of Khartoum, wasn’t an Islamic terrorist cell in the north, or rogue Christian rebels from the south. And it wasn’t the ancient Nubian curse that I ended up blaming it on. The elephant in the room was the blame-dodger crony American Ambassador who thought she knew everything and didn’t need to listen to anyone else. And this elephant in the room would say and do anything to make her and her country look good to her crony allies back in Washington just so she, an American ambassador, could keep her cushy job back in Washington and rise to the top of cesspool.

In The Seventh Priest, Tony Rodder (the good civil servant) figures out why Lucy Kibbles (the know-it-all elephant in the room) is unable to admit that she is wrong. “The reason is she and others like her believe that everyone else–the less educated, and non-elite–lack the ability to perform at their ivory tower levels. For most people, admitting when you are wrong is a fundamental part of our maturity, our character. But for those wishing to rise to the top of that cesspool, admitting even the simplest of mistakes can be a fatal flaw. ‘Don’t ever forget, future American ambassadors are never wrong.’”

I continued my diatribe by connecting the intelligence dots. “U.S. Ambassadors are the ones with primary responsibility to interpret and analyze country-specific information and report accurate, unbiased assessments back to Washington. So, if most of them are too hardheaded to admit when they are wrong–or entertain opposing arguments–then chances are a lot of what they report back to Washington policymakers is inaccurate.”

So how entrenched are they…these blame-dodging cronies who get paid a lot of money for reporting inaccurate information to Washington decision-makers? Let me list a few diplomatic rules of play:

1–a growing number of American ambassadors would rather be wrong than risk being right; Washington mentality never rewards risk-taking; therefore, all the risk-takers have left that sad city.

2–an ambassador’s own survivability is maintained by a highly protected and veiled buddy system that relies on one blame-dodging, risk-adverse crony pushing another up; the one assurance of all of this is simple: anyone who goes up against this buddy system will be destroyed.

3–an ambassador’s advancement to the top is an entitlement; success is tied to towing the line, not…success. Don’t worry about performance, don’t work too hard and don’t take risk…just do as I say and you can rise to that top just like the others did.

4–an ambassador will always look good to those back in Washington even if the country he or she is responsible for is falling apart.

5–at best, half of all analytic reporting back to Washington is unbiased and accurate.

So back to Egypt and our American ambassador posted there…I pulled the following from the Internet:

Anne Patterson joined the Foreign Service in 1973 and was promoted to Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the career Foreign Service, in 2008. She has been Ambassador to Pakistan (2007-2010), Ambassador to Colombia (2000-2003) and Ambassador to El Salvador (1997-2000). She has also served as Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, as Assistant Secretary of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, and as Deputy Inspector General of the Department of State. Mrs. Patterson has held a variety of economic and political assignments in her career, including economic counselor in Saudi Arabia (1984-1988) and deputy assistant secretary for Latin America. Mrs. Patterson has been awarded the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award twice, in 2010 and 2008, and the Ryan Crocker award for expeditionary diplomacy in 2010. A native of Arkansas, Mrs. Patterson is married to retired Foreign Service officer David Patterson. She graduated from Wellesley College.

Need I ask, did any red flags pop up? Am I the only one who sees another entrenched blame-dodging, risk-adverse crony elitist? Am I the only one dying to ask: how the hell can the Ambassador to Pakistan get rewarded for her service there? Wasn’t this around the same time our diplomatic relations with Pakistan imploded? The place is a gigantic quagmire…a national security disaster that showed zero progress during her tenure there! Am I the only one who sees the same connection to Egypt? And am I the only one who sees another award coming down the pike for another elitist blame-dodging, risk-adverse crony who’s managed to ruined another nation and destroy another American ally? United States Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson practically slept with the Muslim Brotherhood, presumably under orders from her bosses back in Washington. And in the end, as almost all our foreign policies end up, it was a resounding failure.

One day Madam Ambassador Anne Patterson will have to come out of that rock she’s hiding under, but I’m still left to wonder how long it will be before she is put back out there and how many just like her are waiting in line. Excuse me for musing more…remember people, it’s the State Department…smoke and mirrors, two peas in a pod while the U.S.’s perception overseas is falling from the sky and those responsible for our failures are filling their trophy awards back in Washington.

So with all this in mind, I eventually make it back to this person who was just promoted to senior Foreign Service. I wouldn’t pick on her except for the fact that she knitted at her desk almost every day I worked under her…all day sometimes.

“That can’t be true; she couldn’t have knitted all that time?” I can hear all y’all asking. And I’m confident enough to reply. “No. I’m not saying she knitted every second she was at her desk…claiming to work, getting paid to do nothing. Sometimes she took a break, to dole out orders to her underlings or to “Yes, sir; Yes, ma’am” to folks higher up on the pecking order. But most times, yes, she knitted.

Now, don’t get me wrong; don’t get this bit of information twisted. I have nothing against knitters. I have neighbors who knit, in groups sometimes, and I like them all. I just don’t like people who waste taxpayers’ money and then get rewarded for it, especially in offices I view as vital to our…economy.

Economy? Did you just say economy?” In my mind I can see the questions popping in peoples’ heads. “What the hell does the State Department have to do with the economy? Don’t you mean foreign affairs, counter-terrorism, national security?”

“No,” I would have to answer with despair in my voice. “You see, the State Department did support U.S. companies back in the day, eagerly promoting U.S. technology, innovation, and manufactured goods and services to overseas buyers. Back in that day, before 2008, American exports translated into American jobs. Back in that day, success in business was not linked to racist thievery like it is now. Back in that day, successful businesses meant one thing: more jobs. Back in that day, jobs were something we worked for, not something we talked about in speeches. Yes, back in that day, thousands of U.S. companies received commercial advocacy through the State Department, and…back in that day…it wasn’t shunned or passed directly toward political contributors.

Looking back now, I can’t blame the resource people for the demise of commercial advocacy at the State Department. They must have heard it too–the head of that office is knitting all day. That office can’t be busy; it can’t be doing any work with that kind of waste in charge. It doesn’t deserve our limited resources. It needs to go.

And I’m disappointed to say, it wasn’t the Obama Administration that did us in. You see, crony progressive thinkers don’t come and go with the Presidency; they stay in Washington regardless, hidden away during good years, but still doing their dirty work. I can honestly say: the bowels of the State Department hate capitalism and free enterprise regardless of who’s in charge. I saw it at its best during 2000-2008. Trade-not-Aid sounded nice and worked well with outsiders, but getting State insiders to support business was like pulling teeth. Obama’s arrival to Washington only solidified the end and the end came quickly. So don’t let our conservative leaders tell us that the left can’t cut programs. The State Department’s business advocacy function has for the most part disappeared, and the crony bureaucrat responsible for some of its demise, the knitter that did zilch to promote American enterprise and technology overseas, has now risen to the top in the State Department.

Wow, ouch, so sad, so clueless and idiotic, and yet it still saddens me to add…so predictable. After all our inability to learn from our mistakes, I’m still watching Cairo and much of the world go down the toilet, Palestine laughing, and Putin giving us the middle finger while blame-dodging, risk-adverse, wasteful cronies are rising to the top in Washington.

Oh yes, the world is changing fast; we’re no longer in charge, and even if we were, our moral compass is lost. All this and more while those responsible for this drop are filling their war chest with useless awards and selling their souls to become ambassadors.

Just saying…

It’s a small world…write about it.

D.A. WINSTEAD

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