US Embassy Baghdad is shrinking…shrinking…shriiinkiiing – to 8,000!

Oh, quit jumping up and down.

According to the New York Times, the U.S. is reportedly planning to slash the U.S. Embassy staff in Iraq by up to half. The staff there is estimated at 16,000, including some 2,000 diplomats, if reports are correct, and thousands of private security contractors.

The NYT underestimates the frustration:

“[T]he Americans have been frustrated by what they see as Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag.”

The rationed chicken wings really brought home the almost insurmountable problem, which is not going to get fixed while our contentious relationship with the Iraqis is ongoing.  Again from the NYT:

“After the American troops departed in December, life became more difficult for the thousands of diplomats and contractors left behind. Convoys of food that were previously escorted by the United States military from Kuwait were delayed at border crossings as Iraqis demanded documentation that the Americans were unaccustomed to providing.

Within days, the salad bar at the embassy dining hall ran low. Sometimes there was no sugar or Splenda for coffee. On chicken-wing night, wings were rationed at six per person. Over the holidays, housing units were stocked with Meals Ready to Eat, the prepared food for soldiers in the field.”

As if rationed chicken wings and no Splenda for coffee are not bad enough, the Prime Minister of Iraq is now a visa officer.  What’s this world coming to?  The next thing you know, they’ll have Iraqi ministers acting as  anti-fraud officers to weed out the ones they like and those they don’t like? And if they don’t like the muscle guys doing private security work for our diplomats … oh dear, this is going to be messy …

“Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office — and sometimes even the prime minister himself — now must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays. American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi officials.”

Need I point out that even shrinking the US Mission in Iraq by up to half would give it a staffing of approximately 8,000 souls still?

That would make the US Mission in Iraq, still the largest in the world.  And we’re back to where we started. 8,000 employees will not be happy with six chicken wings each and no Splenda for coffee while Iraqis who are now “allies” are shooting outside the mylared window of the glorified bunker.

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Introducing the Lunch Scholars – Cover Your Eyes But Listen

This video was created by two junior students from Olympia High School in Washington State.  It was directed by one and filmed and edited by another, both 16 year old students. The project was for  theolympus.net, the “longest running student publication in the state of Washington since 1904.” It was originally posted at http://vimeo.com/theolympus but had since been placed for private viewing.  The embed below is from YouTube.

After the video was posted in The Huffington Post and went viral (currently shy of 800,000 hits), the young filmmakers gave a statement published by Kirotv.com:

“The video that we made as a school project has received a lot of unexpected media attention, and has been co-opted into an ongoing political debate that has become quite volatile.  It should be known that we filmed for several hours, during which time many students gave correct responses; the film represents a short segment of the most entertaining answers.   The bottom line is that we made the video to get a few laughs around our school, and it turned into something bigger.  It was not our intent to polarize people, set off a firestorm, or get people to point fingers.  Having said that, people will take from it what they will.  We want to continue our work as student journalists in a productive manner.”

It probably was not a coincidence that kirotv.com also has the reactions from school district officials who said that “the video doesn’t accurately reflect the strong academic performance of Olympia students.”

“Olympia High School is one of the top five-percent performing high schools in the state,” said Ryan Betz with the Olympia School District.

I’ve seen the original post and I thought the students did a great job.  Aside from the “Bin Laden” answer, I think the best response was probably from a student who said, “I was never taught that knowledge.”  The young filmmakers, no doubt, picked a hot button issue for their “fun” school project.  It’s funny and shocking, but is that enough to get our politicians off their collective asses?  Probably not.

In typical response, the video was yanked from the school’s website.  In a kirotv interview here (scroll down to the bottom for the video interview), the reporter asked, “And certainly it was not a condemnation of the education system….” One of the students replied, “Oh, absolutely not…”  The high school principal released a statement here (pdf).

End of conversation, ya?

But wait — the Lunch Scholars school project has resurfaced in YouTube. It was posted by SENIOR12913612 on Feb 2, 2012, around the time the sh*t hits the fan in Olympia. Let’s see who will write a take down notice to YouTube.

Now imagine if the Lunch Scholars project is deployed in high schools across America?  No teaching the tests. Not showing off “skills in many areas” — just answering questions  on their toes. Now, that would potentially be a real wake-up call on educating America.

Below is an item from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (October 7, 2011):

“Elementary and high schools are receiving less state funding than last year in at least 37 states, and in at least 30 states school funding now stands below 2008 levels – often far below. These cuts are attributable, in part, to the failure of the federal government to extend emergency fiscal aid to states and school districts and the failure of most states to enact needed revenue increases and instead to balance their budgets solely through spending cuts. The cuts have significant consequences, both now and in the future: They are causing immediate public- and private-sector job loss, and in the long term are likely to reduce student achievement and economic growth.”

In Washington state, after a 28% cut to higher education funding since 2007, a new $360 million in cuts have been proposed. That’s just one state.  And while we’re building schools elsewhere, and as we pour funds into endless wars to protect our future, we are undermining our future right before our very eyes.