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01 September 2007

John Cleese Interview

Guess what? It's really funny.

The Secret Life of Brian

Channel 4 documentary from 2006 on the classic Python film, and the idiotic, if predictable, controversy around its release.

Considering a war with Iran: A discussion paper on WMD in the Middle East

The Raw Story report here.

"...written by well-respected British scholar and arms expert Dr. Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and Martin Butcher, a former Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and former adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament..."
Key findings of the 70-page paper [see original for various hotlinks; click the title of this post for the PDF]:
There is considerable international discussion that the confrontation between Iran and the international community over its nuclear programme may change in character into a major war between Iran and either US or Israel or both in conjunction with allies such as the United Kingdom.

This study uses open source analysis to outline what the military option might involve if it were picked up off the table and put into action. The study demonstrates that an attack can be massive and launched with surprise rather than merely a contingency plan needing months if not years of preparation.

The study considers the potential for US and allied war on Iran and the attitude of key states. The study concludes that the US has made military preparations to destroy Iran’s WMD, nuclear energy, regime, armed forces, state apparatus and economic infrastructure within days if not hours of President George W. Bush giving the order. The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely. The US retains the option of avoiding war, but using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Iran’s actions. [emphasis in original]

• Any attack is likely to be on a massive multi-front scale but avoiding a ground
invasion. Attacks focused on WMD facilities would leave Iran too many
retaliatory options, leave President Bush open to the charge of using too little
force and leave the regime intact.

• US bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours.

• US ground, air and marine forces already in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan can devastate Iranian forces, the regime and the state at short notice.

• Some form of low level US and possibly UK military action as well as armed popular resistance appear underway inside the Iranian provinces or ethnic areas of the Azeri, Balujistan, Kurdistan and Khuzestan. Iran was unable to prevent sabotage of its offshore-to-shore crude oil pipelines in 2005.

• Nuclear weapons are ready, but most unlikely, to be used by the US, the UK and Israel. The human, political and environmental effects would be devastating, while their military value is limited.

• Israel is determined to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons yet has the conventional military capability only to wound Iran’s WMD programmes.

• The attitude of the UK is uncertain, with the Brown government and public opinion opposed psychologically to more war, yet, were Brown to support an attack he would probably carry a vote in Parliament. The UK is adamant that Iran must not acquire the bomb.

• Short and long term human, political and economic consequences of any war require innovative approaches to prevent the crisis becoming war.

This study does not address Iran’s nuclear energy programmes or Iran’s relations with other states. It focuses on the shape that a ‘military option’ might take if it is put into action.

US military, if not political, readiness for a war using minimum ground forces indicates that the current seeming inaction surrounding Iran is misleading. The United States retains the ability – despite difficulties in Iraq – to undertake major military operations against Iran. Whether the political will exists to follow such a course of action is known only to a few senior figures in the Bush administration.
General Wesley Clark claims that he became aware of the Bush Administration’s instructions concerning the overthrow of the Iranian regime in September 2001. He states that he was told this in the Pentagon by a serving General holding the order in his hand.1

“He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” -- meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office -- “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

In various forms, regime change or change of orientation favouring the US has occurred in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Somalia in the ensuing six years.

Seymour Hersh's articles claim that President Bush ordered war against Iran shortly after the President's re-election in 2004. His claim that Bush is determined not to leave Iran to a future president and that he has support from leading Democrats is born out by numerous conversations in Washington. As a senior staffer to Senator Kerry put it: "why should people object if we carry out disarmament militarily?"

There have been reports since 2003 that war with Iran is either underway or in preparation. Pat Buchanan in American Conservative argued like Hersh that vice-president Cheney prepared a war plan for Iran including the use of nuclear weapons by summer 2005. Scott Ritter claimed that President Bush ordered that the US be ready to attack Iran at any point after June 2005 and Newsweek reported that the administration was considering options for regime change. Atlantic Monthly concluded after conducting a wargame that attacking Iran was too risky. The powerpoint slides from that game provide a glimpse into the world of war planning. Their analysis assumes a large ground invasion, clearly not a favoured option of either Don Rumsfeld or the American public. The eminent investigative writer, James Bamford, has described a neoconservative push for regime change.

“We're now at the point where we are essentially on alert,” Lieutenant General Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, the heart of Strategic Command, said. “We have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes in half a day or less.”

Under the command of Marine General James Cartwright, US Global Strike planning has the potential to destroy over 10,000 targets in Iran in one mission with "smart" conventional weapons. That number assumes only 100 strategic bombers with 100 bombs each. The actual number of planes/bombs and missiles is far larger. US government documents obtained by Hans Kristensen and analysed by William Arkin has described the development of this Global Strike capability.

Awaiting his orders, George Bush has more than 200 strategic bombers (B52-B1-B2-F117A) and US Navy Tomahawk cruise missiles. One B2 bomber dropped 80, 500lb bombs on separate targets in 22 seconds in a test flight. Using half the total force, 10,000 targets could be attacked almost simultaneously. This strike power alone is sufficient to destroy all major Iranian political, military, economic and transport capabilities.

Such a strike would take "shock and awe" to a new level and leave Iran with few if any conventional military capabilities to block the straights of Hormuz or provide conventional military support to insurgents in Iraq. If this was not enough, the latest generation of smart bombs, the Small Diameter Bomb, now in the US Air Force arsenal quadruples the number of weapons all US warplanes can carry.

Placing forces on high alert does not mean that the US will use them. However, in an atmosphere of mounting crisis, great care must be taken as events move forward.

Conventional Wisdom concerning any US attack on Iran:

a) Any attack will be limited to suspect Weapons of Mass Destruction sites and associated defences.

b) Iran will then have options to retaliate that include:

-interference with the Straits of Hormuz and oil flows, destruction of Gulf oil industry infrastructure;

-fire missiles at Gulf States, Iraq bases and Israel;

-insurrection in Iraq;

-attacks by Hizbollah and Hamas on Israel;

-insurrection in Afghanistan;

-use of sleeper cells to carry out attacks in the Gulf, Europe and the US; and

-destabilisation of Gulf states with large Shi’a populations.

c) This analysis is not convincing for the following reasons:

-Elementary military strategy requires the prevention of anticipated enemy counter-attacks. Iranian Air Force, Navy, Surface to Surface Missile and Air Defence systems would not be left intact. Although one option may be to leave regular Iranian armed forces intact and attack to destroy the regime including Revolutionary Guard, Basij and religious police. In this way regime change might be encouraged.

-President Bush will not again lay himself open to the charge of using too little force.

-US policy is regime change by political means and prevention of nuclear weapons acquisition by all means. The only logic for restraint once war begins will be continued pressure on Iran to acquiesce to US demands through intra-war deterrence.

-Long term prevention of Iranian WMD programmes may require regime change and the reduction of Iran to a weak or failed state, since all assumptions concerning attacks on WMD sites alone conclude that Iran would merely be held back a few years.

-US military preparations and current operations against Iran indicate a full-spectrum approach to Iran rather than one confined to WMD sites alone.

Isn’t war unthinkable?

"There's a strong sense in the upper echelons of the White House that Iran is going to surface relatively quickly as a major issue - in the country and the world - in a very acute way," said NBC TV's Tim Russert after meeting the President in January 2007.2

The political context as seen from inside the White House is that we are in a war as serious as the Second World War. John Bolton exemplified this outlook when he compared US problems in Iraq with the fighting with Japan after Pearl Harbour.
There are eight arguments currently in circulation that deny the idea of a looming war. How do they stand up?

First, is it likely that Iran will “do a Libya” – open all its facilities to United Nations inspectors, and surrender any illicit weapons along with its missile programmes? Such a policy would command little support amongst the Iranian public, let alone within the political-religious leadership. While the United States refuses to offer any form of security guarantee to Iran, and indeed is actively engaged in attempts to undermine Iranian authorities, this possibility seems extremely remote. The refusal of the White House to consider an Iranian offer to join the Arab League Beirut Declaration and consider recognition of Israel indicates that at least at that time that the White House was not even prepared to accept such an opening from Iran.

Second, will the European Union succeed in brokering a compromise in which Iran fully satisfies the International Atomic Energy Agency ’s inspectors, the United States and Israel? Privately and not so privately, senior US officials – such as vice-president Dick Cheney, newly appointed undersecretary of state Robert S Joseph, and onetime United Nations ambassador John Bolton – deride the EU’s efforts as futile.

Third, are the military obstacles too great to permit a successful US attack on Iran? This may turn out to be the case. However for Washington – and indeed for Israel – this conclusion is literally unthinkable. The military strategy adopted under President Bush’s father, continued under President Clinton and accelerated under the current administration, is based on the idea that the US should have “full spectrum dominance” of all aspects of warfare and be so far ahead that, in the words of the current national security strategy, any state will be “dissuaded” from even trying to compete. An attack on Iran would have to take into consideration a number of risks. But from the perspective of those considering a military option, Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons merely makes all of these problems harder – and in that sense provides an additional argument for pre-emptive action. Perhaps more importantly, none of the arguments made about the consequences of an attack on Iraq – whether or not they proved true – influenced the decision to go to war; some, such as the need to provide enough troops to prevent the outbreak of disorder, were simply ignored.

Fourth, it is sometimes claimed that the US does not have enough troops to attack Iran. But the US Army is engaged in a reorganisation to provide more frontline forces from headquarters and training units, and in any case US Air Force and Navy offensive forces are available for the task of attacking Iran, as they have little role in fighting the insurgency.

Army overstretch from long-term deployments in Iraq is a significant problem, but providing forces for a short duration war (following the pattern of the initial invasion of Iraq) would be much less of a problem. Iran has little ability for conventional military attack outside its own territory, allowing the US considerable scope to sit back and await internal developments after the type of attacks described in this paper.

As John Pike of the indispensable globalsecurity.org puts it: “they think that they can just blow up what they want to blow up and let the ant-heap sort itself out afterwards.”

Fifth, it is argued that the Iranians may have hidden their activities in inaccessible parts of their huge country. This is likely to be the case – though whether these are banned WMD programmes or permitted activities is an open question. However, as Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker , special forces have long been in Iran preparing the target list. He may be wrong on the detail, but as we discuss below there is considerable evidence of US action inside Iran. An aerial attack would not involve a ground invasion and would leave the Iranians to pick up the pieces. Even a limited duration ground incursion from Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iraq and onto the Iranian coast could cause significant damage to the government, rendering any reconstruction of nuclear activities much more difficult.

Sixth, could the Iranians cause immense trouble with Iraq’s Shi’a community and through Hezbollah with Israel? Perhaps, but how much stronger would Iran’s hand be if it was believed to have nuclear weapons? Moreover, the Iraqi Shi’a did not collectively defect to Tehran’s side during the Iran-Iraq war, and may be more concerned to develop their own interests than to be drawn into a new war. The present US pressure on Syria in Lebanon is partly related to Syria’s alleged involvement with the Iraq insurgency, but it can also be seen as isolating Hezbollah and clearing the way for action against it, prior to or in conjunction with an attack on Iran.

Iran’s military has considerable experience drawn from the long war with Iraq in the 1980s. It has, no doubt, closely watched US military tactics around its borders. It certainly retains some options to launch counter-missile attacks on Israel, as well as at the US navy and US bases along the Persian Gulf – from Kuwait to Bahrain and the straits of Hormuz. At the same time, the US armed forces have been preparing for this contingency for many years and it would be hard to be the military commander telling President Bush that Iran is just not “doable”. As the former counter-terror official Richard Clarke has written, a second-world-war-style advance by US armies to Tehran from the Gulf coast is not possible, but this is not part of the planning anyway.

Seventh, wouldn’t a war with Iran cost too much and risk plunging the US into recession? US conservatives are quick to point out that as a percentage of gross domestic product, US military spending is barely half the Reagan-era peak of 6.5% of GDP; and of course, military spending is the one Keynesian tool of economic policy that conservatives permit themselves. However, as an analysis by ING indicates, there would be significant economic costs to a war, including oil at the $85 per barrel level, and further damage to an already weakened dollar.

Eighth, would US public opinion and US politicians prevent the war? There are few who would come to the defence of what is widely seen as a fanatical religious state that repeatedly calls for the end of the state of Israel. Both Hilary Clinton and and Barak Obama are prepared to attack Iran if necessary, the Congress recently refused to insist on being consulted before any attack on Iran. The only consistent opposition comes from members of past administrations, such as Jimmy Carter’s national Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who earlier this year described an attack on Iran as ‘unilateral war’ and ‘impeachable’, not to mention counter to US interests and the establishment of security in the region.

A low intensity war already exists, nuclear weapons use is under active consideration but most unlikely as militarily ineffective and political disastrous, major conventional strikes become “the moderate option”. The US has the power and apparent plans to implement its 2002-2006 National Security Strategy and National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction; use Full Spectrum Dominance to conduct Shock and Awe and Escalation Dominance, minimising Iranian retaliatory capability and rendering Israeli action superfluous except to contain or eliminate Hizbollah and Hamas.

31 August 2007

Palestinians Poorer Than Ever, By David Cronin

[Links added by yours truly..."Jews United Against Zionism" is Neturei Karta, a pretty hyper-religious group that is against Israel and Zionism because it goes against their fundamentalist version of Judaism. Not my kind of crowd, nor my kind of reason to be against -- not Israel, per se -- but against its actions in the OTs, and some of its actions against non-Jews in Israel. Would have been nice if IPS had clearly identified this group. Otherwise, this is a good article.]

BRUSSELS, Aug 31 (IPS) - Poverty in the Palestinian territories has reached "unprecedented levels" because they have been held under an "economic siege" for almost seven years, a United Nations body has found.

During 2006 the number of Palestinians living in 'deep poverty' almost doubled to more than 1 million. Some 46 percent of public sector employees do not have enough food to meet their basic needs, with 53 percent of households in the Gaza reporting that their incomes declined in the last year by more than half.

This data is contained in a report [PDF; press release], released Aug. 30, by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

It stated that an ostensible Israeli policy of 'separating' the Palestinian authorities from Arab and world markets by restricting the movement of people and goods has "squeezed the economy to a size smaller than a decade ago."

The Palestinians' reliance on imports as a proportion of their gross domestic product rose to 86 percent last year -- up from 75 percent in 2005, equating to the loss of 500 million dollars to the economy.

UNCTAD also complained that Israel declined to hand over more than 800 million dollars in tax revenues it had purportedly collected for the Palestinian Authority during 2006. Because of this refusal -- the second since 2002 -- the authorities' revenues shrank to under 600 million dollars, half what they were in 2005.

The report's publication coincided with a UN-sponsored conference on resolving the Middle East conflict in Brussels.

Controversially, the conference, which featured campaigners from the international Palestinian solidarity movement, was described as anti-Israel in some press reports.

Yet this allegation was dismissed by Paul Badji, a Senegalese diplomat who chairs the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. "It is not anti-Israel to defend the rights of Palestinians," he said.

Leila Shahid, delegate general of Palestine to the European Union, reminded the conference that it is 40 years since Israel began "the longest occupation in contemporary history."

Delivering a statement on behalf of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, she said that by setting up 550 permanent and mobile checkpoints, Israel has turned the West Bank into "a group of isolated cantons, while over 11,000 Palestinians, including elected representatives and municipal council members, languish in prison, and targeted assassinations continue."

Pierre Galand from the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine [closest thing online I could find] said he did not believe that the U.S. President George W. Bush and his administration could "do peace a favour by granting 30 billion dollars of military aid to Israel, an increase of about a quarter of the American military aid to the Israeli state for the next ten years.

"We do not believe either that Germany aided peace in the Middle East when delivering in August 2006, during the war against Lebanon, two submarines with nuclear capacity and a 4,500 km radius of action," he added.

But Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, welcomed efforts by Washington to convene a Middle East peace conference.

"There is no question that the U.S. is a very powerful country and very influential in our region," he told IPS. "Therefore, its participation in brokering a conference for the autumn could possibly be very constructive. It could help to get all the parties to the conflict to move in the right direction."

Jamal Juma, coordinator of the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign in Jerusalem, strongly denounced the 760 km 'security fence' that Israel has been constructing in the West Bank. This barrier is being constructed in defiance of the International Court of Justice. In 2004, the Hague-based court declared that the wall flouted international law by infringing on the rights of the Palestinians.

"What Israel is creating on the ground is a ghetto system worse than the apartheid system in South Africa," Juma said.

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions pointed out that both South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have drawn parallels between the plight of the Palestinians and that of their country's black majority under apartheid.

She urged an international boycott of Israel similar to that which led many governments to impose economic sanctions against South Africa during the 1980s.

Clare Short, the former secretary for international development in the British government, said that Israel has razed 18,000 Palestinian homes since 1967 and that "each demolition is a war crime."

Short noted that a free trade agreement between Israel and the European Union contains clauses relating to respect for human rights. She asked why these provisions have not been invoked "to insist on Israeli compliance with international law."

New York-based Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, a spokesman for Jews United Against Zionism, said that the conduct of Israeli forces in the Palestinian territories is helping foment anti-Semitism. He also took issue with Israeli politicians who cite the Holocaust to defend attacks on Palestinians, which they claim are necessary to protect Israel's security.

"The state of Israel is not doing Jews a favour," he told IPS. "My grandparents died in Auschwitz and it is wrong to dig them up and use them to oppress the Palestinian people. They should not be used as a pawn."

On Gaza Beach, Avi Shavit, NYRB, 7/18/91

Brave essay by an Israeli soldier on his time in Gaza...sixteen years ago. Imagine what it's like in the OTs today...

Ah, yes, "beautiful Israel." Yes, just about any group of people will act this way, given the ethically corrosive effects of military occupation. Inflicting daily humiliation and torture warps those who carry it out -- not nearly as much as those who withstand it, of course. Those who give the orders from air-conditioned offices? I think we all know how they rationalize it -- whatever national government they happen to be a part of.

Iran atom work at slow pace and not significant: IAEA, Reuters Wire Report

This has been the consistent line from those not committed to propagandizing for a widened war in the Middle East.

I wonder what kind of play this will get. Here's a google news search of the title to this Reuters report. Doesn't include the most important media: TV news.

The IAEA also reports Iranian cooperation as "significant." Not significant enough for the insane US administration, no doubt. But don't worry, given the statements by their presidential front-runners, the courageous Democrats will stop this outlaw regime from risking nuclear war over nonexistent nuclear weapons.

Continue shopping.

Liberals, Bush Unite in Ethnic Cleansing of Iraq, Chris Floyd

Yup. It's those damn child-like Iraqis who can't rise to the occasion (the occasion being the complete destruction of their country by Republican and Democratic administrations alike for the past 17 years) who are clearly to blame for their inability to grasp the maturity and altruism of their American conquerers, who simply want to give them their God-ordained rights to democracy.

Nothing to do with oil or mideast geopolitics, of course...no, not our "exceptional" nation, under God, marching in the vanguard toward freedom for all. Does any American citizen still believe this horseshit-laden children's story? Shame on him or her if so.

Monty Python Satirizes the Left

Lest you think we lefties have no sense of humor, here's a classic satire on anarcho-syndicalism, divine right, and much besides. Plus, it's just goddamn funny. This is followed by more excellent satire on the lefty tendency to talk and talk and talk...unlike executives at meetings, of course. Furthermore, it's easier to collate the lefty-satire, as the bulk of the rest of their work is anti-establishment in every sense:

La Commune, 2000

On the Paris Commune, filmed as though modern media were there to capture the events. IMDB on the film. I believe this is a shortened version; the French one ran to 5 1/2 hours. More info here and here; info on the director, Peter Watkins, here.

30 August 2007

Where do postmodernists come from? Terry Eagleton, 1995

Excellent critique of postmodernism from the left by a world-class literary critic and cultural theorist.

Greg Palast on Subprime Loan Sharks...

Palast, an economist and true journalist, breaks it down.

Look, my wife and I are now in the process of buying a house. We'd like to think we're fairly intelligent -- four Ivy-League degrees between us (two each), for whatever that's worth. Guess what? It has taken every single neuron we have -- without having to work three jobs, without kids, with family in the business, etc.: i.e., with every possible advantage of class (connections, that is: lawyers we know, etc.) and relative wealth -- to figure out all of the fine-print bullshit and force people to take us seriously. As in: sitting in an office for three hours going through every single line item, every single piece of fine print, knowing what to ask, being able to test various mortgage brokers, etc. Knowing enough to ask questions that will let people realize we're not low-hanging fruit. And so on. It's been a full research project, and we're still not sure we're not going to get ripped off.

So, for all of those willing to blame the "stupid people who took subprime loans," uh, yeah, right.

Noam Chomsky: On Power, Dissent, and Racism

A wide-ranging discussion from 2002/2003...

29 August 2007

POLITICS: Israel Warned US Not to Invade Iraq after 9/11

Wanted the US to invade Iran, instead. This should take some of the wind out of the Jews/Israel-caused-the-war sails; should add wind to the current attack-Iran build-up. I tend to trust Gareth Porter, btw, for whatever that's worth. And Wilkerson.

28 August 2007

Juan Cole: Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East

The excellent Juan Cole -- Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan, and of Informed Comment blogging fame -- talks about his new book, and about Western invasions of the Middle East down the years...

Favorite Memory: Gonzo on Habeas, Robert Parry

Absolutely pertinent. While everyone's patting each other on the back about Gonzo's departure, the actual laws passed, and executive orders enacted, under his influence and watch stand -- all of them. Is anyone particularly concerned about that?

Finkelstein Update: No Office Space, Classes Cancelled, Hunger Strike Planned

DePaul hits a new low: they have just canceled all of Finkelstein's classes for his terminal year. Plus, he has been denied all office space. Details here and here. And check this out:

How DePaul practices Vincentian values

Prof. Finkelstein - Professor Budde has informed me that you have asked for office space for your books. We do not have office space assigned to you for the coming academic year. I will look into whether we can make space available for you and either I or Professor Budde will get in touch with you next week with more information.

In the meantime, you will not have access to your old office space. To the extent that you left personal belongings in your old office space, we can discuss a plan for their return to you when I get in touch with you next week. You should not plan on moving into any office space tomorrow, as that option is not available to you.

I will contact you next week with more information.

Dr. Charles (Chuck) Suchar
Professor and Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
DePaul University
Vincent dePaul Professor
Office of the Dean
990 W. Fullerton Ave. Office#4207
Chicago, IL. 60614-3298
Phones: (773) 325-7305
(773) 325-1858
fax: (773) 325-7304
e-mail: csuchar@depaul.edu

You might want to contact Dean Suchar and tell him what you think.

Finkelstein has announced the following:
"I intend to go to my office on the first day of classes and, if my way is barred, to engage in civil disobedience," Finkelstein, 53, said in a telephone interview. "If arrested, I'll go on a hunger strike. If released, I'll do it all over again. I'll fast in jail for as long as it takes."
There is a conference on October 12th at the University of Chicago on this case, and on academic freedom in general. You can make donations here. I hope there will be a live internet hookup, or at least a video posted after the fact.

For all of you who despise Finkelstein and/or his writings -- and I don't, obviously -- let me remind you, who are no doubt a self-described civil libertarian (like Alan Dershowitz), of the following:

"I disapprove of what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." -- Voltaire

Most people, despite what they profess, are not up to Voltaire's standard.

Chomsky's First Appearance on Charlie Rose