The Moderate Voice An Internet hub with domestic and international news, analysis, original reporting, and popular features from the left, center, indies, centrists, moderates, and right Mon, 01 Sep 2014 02:00:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Obama: Defeating the Islamic State Mon, 01 Sep 2014 01:57:21 +0000 The Islamic State’s military victories are part of a war among Sunni Muslims of the Arabian Peninsula and Levant. They are not yet a direct threat to the US, Israel, Europe or even Shia Muslims in Iraq and Iran.

Therefore, its military defeat must be led by Sunnis, whether tribal militias or a coalition bringing Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates together with Iraq’s Sunnis and Jordan.

Giving a leading role to the Shia-led government in Baghdad and its regular army could convert the intra-Sunni war into a direct Sunni-Shia confrontation. That would force Iraq’s Sunni militias in the north and along the border with Syria to side with Islamic State warriors for sectarian reasons and because they are the best fighters so far.

Bringing about a new “Sunni Awakening” in Iraq against the IS requires extraordinarily deft military and foreign policy diplomacy by President Barack Obama. Even so, he may not be able to defeat the IS in Syria because that might enable President Bashar al Assad to reconquer all of Syria’s territory.

Bashar’s survival would open Obama to new storms of criticism in America. In a broad sense, he is already doing the right thing by trying to put the IS expansion within a wider context of challenges to the existing international order that governs post World War II national frontiers.

This is not an argument for letting Iraq and Syria stew in their own juices. However, more caution than in the past is necessary before stepping in too deeply. It is essential to ensure that Americans do not continue to become collateral damage in other people’s wars.

The Islamic State is leading a sectarian war among different kinds of Sunnis- It is a war of religion and, therefore, an extraordinary policy challenge for Obama since the principles driving it are very unfamiliar to the American way of thinking.

About the many urgent foreign crises challenging him, President Barack Obama said recently, ““What we are seeing is the old (world) order not working, but the new order not being born yet — and it is a rocky road through that process, and a dangerous time through that process.”

Underlining the relevance and need for continuing American leadership, he added, “…there’s really no competition out there for the ideas and the values that can create the sort of order that we need in this world.

He is right. Arguments rage among Americans who criticize him, support him or simply watch bemused. Yet, what Obama does and through him Americans do in the world is not just a matter for Americans.

Huge populations of non-Americans are at the receiving end of policies devised and implemented in the name of the American people by leaders it elects. Many events in the world look very different to them, than to Americans. Their perceptions, however erroneous or dangerous, are theirs to have.

Herein, lies the crux. Stubbornly and perplexingly, so many governments and people around the world refuse to see what is best for them through Washington’s eyes because they distrust American leaders. No US foreign policy, including against the IS, can be successful without some positive perception by those who are most affected by it.

Confronted by so many walls of distrust, both the American people and their President now seem to be at wit’s end. The time has come for a soul-searching rethink.

Since World War II, Americans are so used to thinking of their country as the greatest and most generous ever on earth, which it is in many ways, that they have trouble envisaging that any foreigner might wish to harm Americans, whether outside or inside it.

Obama’s real challenge is to let them down gently. The fact is that this US President, or any other President, is powerless to command foreign events in their favor or to protect them perfectly even in the US homeland, especially from terrorists.

There is no need to overthink to the point of passivity. But some of the assumptions of the past deserve review through current lenses for better results results.

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US Trained Alaskans As ‘Stay-Behind Agents’ In Case Of Russian Invasion Mon, 01 Sep 2014 01:09:37 +0000 This is interesting:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fearing a Russian invasion and occupation of Alaska, the U.S. government in the early Cold War years recruited and trained fishermen, bush pilots, trappers and other private citizens across Alaska for a covert network to feed wartime intelligence to the military, newly declassified Air Force and FBI documents show.

Invasion of Alaska? Yes. It seemed like a real possibility in 1950.


The secret plan was to have citizen-agents in key locations in Alaska ready to hide from the invaders of what was then only a U.S. territory. The citizen-agents would find their way to survival caches of food, cold-weather gear, message-coding material and radios. In hiding they would transmit word of enemy movements.

This is not surprising.  In the late 60′s and early 70′s I was part of a large DIA/Military Intelligence Group in Southern Bavaria.  In case of war nearly all of the Group was to be evacuated.  I was a member of a small Company that was to stay behind and in case of war were to find our way to a few bolt holes that contained radio equipment and supplies for several months.  We used to practice getting to those bolt holes a couple of times a year.   I remember we used to actually enjoy these exercises since it beat our boring office jobs.  I also remember we made certain those Bolt Holes were stocked plenty of hashish and wine.

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Federal Court Throws Out Abortion Restrictions In Texas Sun, 31 Aug 2014 21:25:05 +0000 Republicans in control of state governments have been trying to restrict access to both abortion and contraception but on Friday a federal judge rule against new restrictions on abortions in Texas:

A federal judge in Austin, Tex., blocked a stringent new rule on Friday that would have forced more than half of the state’s remaining abortion clinics to close, the latest in a string of court decisions that have at least temporarily kept abortion clinics across the South from being shuttered.

The Texas rule, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers, had been set to take effect on Monday. But in his opinion, Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin said the mandate placed unjustified obstacles on women’s access to abortion without providing significant medical benefits.

The rule “is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion,” he wrote.

Think Progress has more on Republican efforts to restrict abortions using sham health laws:

One of the most significant innovations developed by lawyers and lawmakers who oppose abortion are sham health laws that, on their surface, appear intended to make abortions safer, but which have the practical effect of making abortions difficult or impossible to obtain. Texas’s House Bill 2 (HB2) is one of these laws. Last October, a provision of HB2 took effect that prohibited doctors from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. Judge Yeakel halted that provision shortly before it took effect, noting that “there is no rational relationship between improved patient outcomes and hospital admitting privileges.” The Fifth Circuit reinstated the law only a few days later.

On Monday, another provision of HB2 is supposed to take effect. This provision imposes rigid new architectural requirements on Texas abortion clinics, including “electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, and other physical plant requirements as well as staffing mandates, space utilization, minimum square footage, and parking design” requirements. Many clinics are physically incapable of complying with these requirements in their existing locations. For those clinics, “[t]he cost of acquiring land and constructing a new compliant clinic will likely exceed three million dollars.” The remaining clinics can expect to pay as much as 1.5 million dollars to bring their facilities into compliance with the law. According to Yeakel’s opinion, should this provision of the law take effect, “only seven facilities and a potential eighth will exist in Texas that will not be prevented . . . from performing abortions.”

Before HB2 became law, by contrast, there were 40 licensed abortion clinics in Texas.

The new architectural requirements require abortion clinics to meet the standards established for what are known as “ambulatory surgical centers” in the state of Texas. Yet, as Yeakel explains, there’s little good reason to treat abortion clinics this way. Many clinics, for example, do not perform surgical abortions at all, only medication abortions that use drugs to terminate a pregnancy. Yet the Texas law requires abortion clinics that perform no surgeries whatsoever to undertake expensive renovations that transform them into surgical facilities.

Even in clinics that do perform surgical abortions, women are more likely to experience higher health risks because HB2 forces clinics close to them to shut down then they are to gain some benefit from the new restrictions. “Higher health risks associated with increased delays in seeking early abortion care, risks associated with longer distance automotive travel on traffic-laden highways, and the act’s possible connection to observed increases in self-induced abortions almost certainly cancel out any potential health benefit associated with the requirement.”

The most remarkable portion of Yeakel’s opinion, however, may be the fact that he does not simply analyze the effect of Texas’s law. He also accuses the state of outright dishonesty. Responding to the state’s argument that some Texans can seek abortions in New Mexico if they are unable to obtain one in Texas thanks to HB2, Yeakel notes that this argument completely undermines any suggestion that these laws are supposed to protect women’s health:

If the State’s true purpose in enacting the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is to protect the health and safety of Texas women who seek abortions, it is disingenuous and incompatible with that goal to argue that Texas women can seek abortion care in a state with lesser regulations. If, however, the State’s underlying purpose in enacting the requirement was to reduce or eliminate abortion in parts or all of Texas, the State’s position is perfectly congruent with such a goal.

Yeakel, in other words, calls a sham a sham. He recognizes, in the words of the Supreme Court, that the purpose HB2 is to “place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” And he comes just one step from outright accusing the state of lying when it claims that the law was actually enacted to protect women’s health.

Originally posted at Liberal Values

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Mike Peters Guest Cartoon: Kids and Uzis Sun, 31 Aug 2014 19:36:48 +0000 Kids and Uzis
by Mike Peters

MP-2014-08-29 (5)

Leonard Pitts: A 9-year-old with Uzi? Only in US
Kin of dead Uzi instructor: We feel sorry for girl
OPINION: Why do we allow a child to handle an Uzi?
--AZ Talk: Uzi shooting says what about our culture?
–Letting Kids Shoot Guns Is Good for Them
--After Uzi death, gun ranges debate safest way to teach kids to shoot

Mike Peters is recognized as one of our nation’s most prominent cartoon artists for his outstanding work as both a political and comic strip cartoonist. His favorite expression “WHAT A HOOT” certainly sums up his outlook on his life and work which are inexorably entwined. Mike’s warm, easygoing and zany demeanor is evidence that his personality matches his creative talents. As so eloquently phrased by a colleague — “Mike is the Peter Pan of the cartooning world; he’s boyishly charming, good with a rapier and doesn’t spend a lot of time on the ground. And he doesn’t seem to want to grow up”.

The Comic Strip Mother Goose & Grimm appears in over 800 newspapers worldwide and consistently places in the top 10 most popular ratings. Licensees distribute Grimmy products all over the world, and the Grimmy TV show continues to air in several countries. Mother Goose & Grimm is included in the Toon Lagoon theme park at Universal Studios that opened in July 1999.

This copyrighted cartoon is licensed to be run on TMV and is from his website. Reproduction elsewhere is strictly prohibited.

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Things you can do that you couldn’t before digital photography and Photoshop! Sun, 31 Aug 2014 16:21:43 +0000 As a photographer for nearly 50 years I have been known to miss the “good old days” of film.  Below is a scanned 2 1/4 negative.  A good picture except for one serious flaw – the dreaded white sky.


In an attempt to salvage the photo  I used Photoshop  to turn it into a color night scene and replaced the white sky with a partly cloudy full moon  sky.

GermanTownRdmoon copy

If you look closely you  can see I also added some lights to the house.

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Breaking: U.S. Airstrikes and Humanitarian Airdrops Break ISIS Siege of Amerli Sun, 31 Aug 2014 16:20:58 +0000 Humanitarian airdrop over the area of Amirli, Iraq

Chalk one up for the good guys.

Over the weekend, the U.S. military conducted airstrikes in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance and protect civilians who had been trapped in Amerli for months by ISIS terrorists and who were threatened with a possible massacre.


Two months ago, hundreds of ISIL terrorists advanced on Amerli cutting off food, water, and medical supplies to thousands of Shia Turkomen living there. ISIL has since blocked many attempts by Iraqi Security Forces and the United Nations from delivering critical supplies to Amerli, threatening the remaining population.

At the request of the Iraqi government, U.S. forces airdropped 109 bundles of much-needed humanitarian aid to the people of Amerli, including the Shia Turkomen minority ethnic group.

Two U.S. C-17s and two U.S. C-130s airdropped the supplies, delivering approximately 10,500 gallons of fresh drinking water and approximately 7,000 meals ready to eat. In addition, aircraft from Australia, France, and the United Kingdom also dropped humanitarian aid.

To support the delivery of this humanitarian assistance, the U.S. military also conducted three airstrikes in coordination with the isolated Iraqi security forces responsible for protecting Amerli.

Fighter aircraft struck and destroyed three ISIL Humvees, one ISIL armed vehicle, one ISIL checkpoint and one ISIL tank near Amerli. All aircraft safely exited the area.

Today, the Iraqi military announced that it had broken a siege of the town of Amerli by ISIS, after the U.S. launched the air campaign.

TIME: “Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen had liberated the Shiite Turkmen town on Sunday, the AP reported, bringing to an end a months-long siege by Sunni militants.”

Read more here

The Washington Post:

“Amerli has been liberated,” said Mahdi Taqi, a local politician and Amerli resident who was inside the town during the siege. “There is so much joy and people are cheering in the streets.”

Jihadists had surrounded the town in June, preventing food and other aid from reaching the population there. Residents had armed themselves to fend off the militants, who have made sweeping gains across the country in recent months, but critical supplies began to run low.

The U.S. strikes around Amerli in support of Iraqi troops on Saturday, and which the Pentagon said would be “limited in their scope and duration,” appeared to swiftly tilt the balance in favor of Iraqi government forces.

Militia leaders aiding the offensive and Iraqi government officials had said that a coordinated assault to clear the Islamic State-controlled towns around Amerli – and eventually the siege’s front line – began after nightfall in Iraq on Saturday.

Read more here

Lead photo: U.S. Air Force Master Sgts. Stephen Brown and Emily Edmunds attach candy to container delivery system bundles filled with fresh drinking water on a C-17 Globemaster III in preparation for a humanitarian airdrop over the area of Amerli, Iraq, Aug. 30, 2014. The candy was collected by the squadron to supplement United States’ humanitarian aid. Brown and Edmunds, loadmasters, are assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. Photo DoD

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Report: Groupon selling Uzi target practice same week girl shoots Uzi instructor dead Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:46:38 +0000 153008_600

As the son of a World War II Greatest Generation veteran who believed showing a teenager how to shoot a gun was a way to instruct him or her on concentration and target practice and not a game or flippant political statement, I’m still sorting out my complex feelings on the case of the 9 year old girl who mistakenly killed her gun instructor who was teaching her how to use an Uzi. The last part seven words of the sentence still stun me.

So I was saddened but not surprised to see this report in Americablog about how Groupon is now selling target practice with Uzis the same week the girl accidentally killed her instructor in a session that her parents and instructor shouldn’t have set up for a 9 year old in the first place:

Only days after a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot her firearms instructor to death with an Uzi submachine gun, Groupon is offering its subscribers target practice packages that include Uzis.

Groupon initially shut down its gun packages after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newton, Connecticut, where nearly two dozen young grade school kids were shot to death. The packages however started up again six months later.

Here’s one from Groupon’s Florida operation. It, and the deal below from Texas, include Uzis:

Go to Americablog to see the offers and predictable reaction from those seeking to make gun use more reasonable, sane and age-restricted.
It seems as if Groupon may feel that the news about the Uzi is what years ago Variety called “Big B.O.”

Which means “Big Box Office.”

But in the case of the offer, the other meaning of “big b.o.” fits as well: there is an bad smell about it.

And, I’m sure, some will argue that, hey, you’re wrong, it smells like perfume.

(Stay tuned for my Cagle column this week which will likely deal more with this issue.)

See great cartoons by all the top political cartoonists at To license this cartoon for your own site, visit

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Review: The case against binge-watching TV Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:23:04 +0000 shutterstock_12114259 (1)
LAKE CITY, Pa. (AP) – It’s no secret technology is changing our television-viewing habits. Americans are increasingly engaging in a practice known as television binge-watching – going through several episodes of a TV show in a single stretch. In the old days, of course, people watched one episode a week. That changed with digital video recorders…

graphic (not part of the original article) via

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Putin: ‘I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers’ Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:10:01 +0000 shutterstock_96507766 (1)

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a message for the international community on Friday: “It’s best not to mess with us.” While speaking at a pro-Kremlin youth camp on Friday, Mr. Putin downplayed the Kremlin’s involvement in destabilizing eastern Ukraine while sending a message to Western nations that he isn’t afraid to use force to forward Russian…

Putin: ‘I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers’

Mark III Photonics /

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Labor Day 2014: Our Military Are ‘Workers,’ Too Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:05:25 +0000 Labor Day Samantha

Tank Mechanic, Army Spc. Samantha Brumley, with Company F, 145th Brigade Support Battalion, Oregon National Guard, Aug. 20, 2014. U.S. Army photo by Maj. Wayne (Chris) Clyne, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Oregon Army National Guard

Labor Day was originally a day to give tribute to the men and women who, through hard, physical labor, built our country — the “working class.”

Today, we celebrate Labor Day to recognize the achievements of all American workers and the contributions they continue to make to our nation’s economy and to our country.

But as we recognize those workers, let us not forget that our military work, too.

They are scientists, doctors, electricians, aircraft mechanics, lawyers, nurses, engineers, cooks, truck drivers and pilots. They fly aircraft, drive tanks, “sail” gigantic, nuclear powered aircraft carriers and maneuver silent, stealthy submarines. They fire missiles and guns, drop bombs and food, water and medicines, too.

While you and I are celebrating the end of summer, they will be working — today, tonight, tomorrow, 24/7/365.

They will be flying combat and humanitarian missions over Iraq. They will be patrolling perimeters at God-forsaken outposts in Afghanistan. If lucky, they’ll get through Labor Day weekend without being shot at, without stepping on an IED, without being injured or killed.

This year, I have not yet seen a “Labor Day message” to our troops by a high Defense official — I am sure there have been some.

Three years ago, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta praised the work and achievements of U.S. service members and said in part:

For the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deployed on the frontlines of America’s wars, Labor Day will be just another day spent in harm’s way, providing for our nation’s security. It is because of your service that Americans can enjoy this and other holidays in safety and comfort. My thoughts go out to you, and to all of our personnel who must spend this weekend away from loved ones. America owes you a debt for your service in defense of the freedoms and liberties that are so precious to this nation.
I want to thank all of you for your willingness to serve a cause greater than yourselves, for your willingness to give something back to this country. You are what makes this country great not just on Labor Day, but always. God bless you all.

Here are some of the men and women Panetta was referring to:

Labor Day Michael Griggs

Staff Sgt. Michael Griggs checks his work on a strut safety wire in an A-10C Thunderbolt II at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Aug.12, 2014. Griggs is an aerospace propulsion craftsman with the 23rd Component Maintenance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ryan Callaghan)


Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Thomas Biejansky, from Queens, N.Y., directing an aircraft onto a catapult under the supervision of Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Stephen Trask, from Sacramento, Calif., aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

1/2 Charlie Company Tears Down P.B. Boldak

U.S. Marine Lance Cpls. Jose D. Munoz, left, and Dylan Eckley disassembling a mine roller during the retrograde of Patrol Base Boldak in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Aug. 14, 2014. Munoz and Eckley are motor transport mechanics assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John A. Martinez Jr.

George H.W. Bush is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Alexandra Mimbela, from Trujillo, Peru, performs maintenance on an F/A-18F Super Hornet attached to the Fighting Black Lions of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213 aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian Stephens

Iraq Humanitarian Aid

U.S. airmen palletize halal meals at a base in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, Aug. 7, 2014, for a humanitarian airdrop mission over Iraq. The humanitarian aid includes bottled water and food, which was delivered to displaced citizens near Sinjar, Iraq. The airmen are assigned to the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.


Humanitarian airdrop over the area of Amirli, Iraq

U.S. Air Force Master Sgts. Stephen Brown and Emily Edmunds attach candy to container delivery system bundles filled with fresh drinking water on a C-17 Globemaster III in preparation for a humanitarian airdrop over the area of Amirli, Iraq, Aug. 30, 2014. The candy was collected by the squadron to supplement United States’ humanitarian aid. Brown and Edmunds, loadmasters, are assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.

1/2 Charlie Company Tears Down P.B. Boldak

U.S. Marine Cpls. Armondo Cortez, left, and Estevan D. Hernandeza discuss their plan for dismantling the command operation center during the retrograde of Patrol Base Boldak in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Aug. 15, 2014. Cortez, a data network specialist, and Hernandez, a telephone switchboard and personal computer intermediate repairer, are assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John A. Martinez Jr.

All photos and captions: DoD

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Not just in danger but being the danger Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:00:53 +0000 shutterstock_163917212 (1)

Jelani Cobb, a New Yorker writer who has been spending some time in Ferguson, writes:

Linda Chavez wondered on Fox News whether “the ‘unarmed teen’ mantra” really fit Brown, who was six feet four and nearly three hundred pounds and had been caught on video shoplifting—and, it perhaps bears repeating, was a teen, and was unarmed. Chavez was roundly criticized, but she was really only guilty of saying aloud what many others have thought. Whatever happened or did not happen between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson on a winding side street, in the middle of the afternoon, in a non-descript outpost on the edge of a midsized city, whatever we imagine we know of the teen-ager, the salient fact is that he did not live long enough to cultivate his own answers.

I spent eight days in Ferguson, and in that time I developed a kind of between-the-world-and-Ferguson view of the events surrounding Brown’s death. I was once a linebacker-sized eighteen-year-old, too. What I knew then, what black people have been required to know, is that there are few things more dangerous than the perception that one is a danger….NewYorker

“Being the danger” applies to most Americans — Americans of all kinds and colors. Think of the white men you have known who pride themselves on “being the danger.” Much of the violence is created by whites, often for our entertainment. Given the violence — our cultivation of violence in our laws and in our leisure hours — it shouldn’t surprise any of us if other people around the world cross to the opposite sidewalk, if only figuratively, when they see us coming.

Our guns, our NSA and our Department of Homeland Security and our militarized local police are props we have created and sanctified as important to our safety and integrity even though we have plenty of evidence showing they’re just the opposite. And how about them police? If you happen to be black and waiting to pick up your kids outside their school, you are in serious physical danger from the police.

When you add all this up, it’s hard to imagine how long it could take us take to achieve the kind of America we fantasize we have, an America with real freedom at whatever hour of the day on whatever rural road or in whatever city. Or in an elevator in a building in New York.

Cobb, a “linebacker-sized” black man, writes:

I know, to this day, the element of inadvertent intimidation that colors the most innocuous interactions, particularly with white people. There are protocols for this. I sometimes let slip that I’m a professor or that I’m scarcely even familiar with the rules of football, minor biographical facts that stand in for a broader, unspoken statement of reassurance: there is no danger here. And the result is civil small talk and feeble smiles and a sense of having compromised. Other times, in an elevator or crossing a darkened parking lot, when I am six feet away but the world remains between us, I remain silent and simply let whatever miasma of stereotype or fear might be there fill the void.

F— you, I think. If I don’t get to feel safe here, why should you? …NewYorker

Cross-posted from Prairie Weather

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SAS and US special forces forming hunter killer unit to ‘smash Islamic State’ Sun, 31 Aug 2014 10:35:32 +0000 Terror leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad

Terror leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad

Now I’ll admit the London Daily Mirror is far from the most reliable source in the world but this wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Elite British and US special forces troops are forming a hunter killer unit called Task Force Black – its orders: “Smash the Islamic State.”

The undercover warriors will aim to “cut the head off the snake” by hitting the command structure of the Islamist terror group responsible for a trail of atrocities across Iraq and Syria, reports the Sunday People.

PM David Cameron has told the SAS and UK spy agencies to direct all their ­resources at defeating IS after a video of US journalist James Foley being beheaded shocked the world.

British special forces will work with America’s Delta Force and Seal Team 6. The move sees a rebirth of top secret Task Force Black, which helped defeat al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq .

This time the counter-terrorist ­experts will be targeting Abu Bakr ­al-Baghdadi, leader of IS and now the world’s most wanted terrorist.

A source said: “We need to go into Syria and Iraq and kill as many IS members as we can. You can’t ­negotiate with these people

Keep in mind Task Force Black will not be going in to take prisoners, they will be going in to do what they do best which is to assassinate and kill.  This will not be a short surgical mission and will be led by the CIA.


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Ukraine: A ‘Hopeless Struggle’ for the Lost East (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany) Sat, 30 Aug 2014 18:24:10 +0000 putin-lukashenko-Poroshenko-caption_pic

Should Ukrainians brace themselves to lose yet another chunk of their country to Russia, this time the most densely populated part of east Ukraine – Dunbas? In the aftermath of the first meeting since June between Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Sueddeutsche Zeitung columnist Cathrin Kahlweit writes that Putin’s stubborn pretense of non-involvement augers ill for the remaining integrity of Ukraine.

For the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, after outlining why the Putin-Poroshenko meeting in Minsk ‘was not a success’, Cathrin Kahlweit writes in part:

Putin’s cynical argument that he has nothing to do with all of this is correct and follows a compelling logic. For as long as the Kremlin denies that the Russian army is sending its own troops, officers, intelligence personnel and heavy weapons into the Donbas region, the Russian president must maintain this pose. As long as the Kremlin denies it runs the show in eastern Ukraine, honest negotiations cannot be conducted.


At the same time, the Russian army is quite openly infiltrating the area with convoys, soldiers, and tanks. This is fueling fear among Ukrainians, so that even the smallest concessions from Moscow are welcomed with gratitude.


Even Putin’s separatists may not want to maintain control over and govern the shattered remnants of a decaying industrial landscape in a hostile environment. However, the ongoing conflict, fueled from Russia, is enough to destabilize Ukraine permanently and discredit Proshenko and his peace plan, which is only enforceable with Moscow – not against it. So Vladimir Putin doesn’t need to do very much. For now, he can wait and keep the situation in limbo.


So what is left for President Poroshenko? What is left for the government in Kiev to do? They must prepare the people, for better or worse, for the fact that part of the Donbas, which is still in the hands of pro-Russian forces, is lost – either because recapturing it would cost too many people their lives and exacerbate the conflict with Moscow, or because talks with the separatists will have to take place, but are unlikely to lead to the implementation of Poroshenko’s peace plan.

READ ON IN ENGLISH OR GERMAN, OR READ MORE GLOBAL COVERAGE OF THE UKRAINE CRISIS AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of foreign news and views about our nation.

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From Syria to Ukraine, crises fill the Obama-NATO agenda Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:52:04 +0000 shutterstock_181590401 (1)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama heads to Europe next week, looking to assure nervous allies of the United States’ commitment to the region, as NATO prepares to beef up forces amid fears that Russia will step up its provocations beyond Ukraine. Obama arrives in Estonia late Tuesday, where he’ll meet with the presidents of the three…

photo used on TMV:
Frederic Legrand /

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This Week In Pantsuit Politics: Meet Serbia’s 23-Year-Old Bodybuilding Cardiologist Political Star Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:32:56 +0000 One need only look at the Oval Office to see that when it comes to politics, we’ve got a bit of a gender discrepancy. In this weekly roundup, focuses on powerful political women in the news who are helping to break the proverbial glass ceiling of policy-making around the world. Politicos, move aside. We bring you . . . politicas.

For more on female politicians to watch, click here.

Maja Pavlovic

Talk about a woman of many talents. At age 23, Maja Pavlovic is a cardiologist, a bikini fitness contest winner, a competitive bodybuilder and—oh yes!—a politician with Serbia’s ruling Socialist Party (she serves as a councilor in her home city of Cacak).

Pavlovic is making headlines this week for voicing her support for Margaret Thatcher, despite her disparate political views: “I know it may seem strange that someone from the other side of the political spectrum can be so impressed, but Margaret Thatcher was a force of nature,” Pavlovic told The Daily Mail.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine a Serbian politician talking about Margaret Thatcher landing in the news cycle unless she looked like Pavlovic, who has been voted “Serbia’s sexiest politician” and posed in a series of provocative shots. This is, of course, distressing: Who cares about the women working tirelessly in politics to create change; check out that sexy young thang!

Then again, who says a woman can’t pump iron, be sexy and have political prowess? This may be a different version of female political prowess than Margaret Thatcher embodied and laid the groundwork for, but in having a real voice in the policies of her home country, Pavlovic isn’t so far removed from Thatcher.

One could argue that Pavlovic has surpassed hero however. After all, Thatcher never won a bikini contest.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Imagine trying to hold down a full-time job as a high-powered politician right after having a baby. Now imagine trying to do said job while being told by male colleagues that you’re (and we quote) “porky.”

That is precisely the lamentable scenario New York Sen. Gillibrand found herself in; in her new book Off the Sidelines, she recounts not one, but two, but three men in Congress who commented on her expanded post-pregnancy figure. “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby,” said one. “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat,” complimented another. Yet another proffered the charming “porky” comment.

Naturally, the political world immediately retaliated against Gillibrand’s admission, with one Politico reporter claiming she made the statements up (because women invent comments about being called fat all the time).

Considering Gillibrand had to have known that ringing the sexism alarm would not go over well with many, you have to admire her gumption. Then again, this is a woman who has pushed for reform of sexual assault policy on campus and in the military, and whose Off the Sidelines initiative specifically seeks to empower women. What better way to empower women than by speaking out about the harassment she’s faced in her own career?

(Oh and guys? Telling someone they’re pretty even when they’re fat does not constitute a compliment.)

Hillary Clinton

Meanwhile, in Hillary-World, Clinton came out strong on Ferguson, addressing racism more forthrightly than many of her political peers. In a prepared statement, she said:

Imagine what we would feel and what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers instead of the other way around. If white offenders received prison sentences ten percent longer than black offenders for the same crimes. If a third of all white men—just look at this room and take one-third—went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that. That is the reality in the lives of so many of our fellow Americans in so many of the communities in which they live.


In other news: Rand Paul doesn’t agree with Hillary’s foreign policy (surprise!), and in a story just perfect for this blog, a shop in Kosovo now sells Hillary-inspired fashion, including—of course and hurray!—plenty of killer pantsuits.

This story first appeared at, an alternative women’s news+culture+politics website.


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(Breaking Update) One Thousand Reasons to Let Others Deal with ISIS Sat, 30 Aug 2014 16:57:26 +0000 ISIS flag


Here is one ally who is not subscribing to the one thousand reasons to let others deal with ISIS.

The Guardian reports today (Sunday in Australia) that Australia will help deliver military equipment, including arms and ammunition to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq in an effort to counter the threat posed by Islamic State militants.

“Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster aircraft will join aircraft from other nations including Canada, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and the United States to conduct this important task,” the prime minister said in a statement on Sunday.

“Australia’s contribution will continue to be coordinated with the government of Iraq and regional countries.”


The Australian government is not providing weapons itself but will be delivering the equipment supplied by other nations.

[Prime Minister] Abbott said the decision, made by cabinet’s national security committee, followed Australia’s involvement in the successful international humanitarian relief effort that dropped supplies to the thousands of people stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.

“The situation in Iraq represents a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

Abbott said the decision, made by cabinet’s national security committee, followed Australia’s involvement in the successful international humanitarian relief effort that dropped supplies to the thousands of people stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.

“The situation in Iraq represents a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.


The opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said the Peshmerga and others had been “the only effective fighting force” stopping Isis.


“Where you have an effective or reasonably effective fighting force on the ground being the only thing standing between [Isis] and civilian populations that are at risk of genocide or ethnic cleansing, then there is an international responsibility to assist those people to hold back [Isis],” The opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek told the [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] on Sunday.

Plibersek, who strongly opposed the 2003 Iraq war, drew a contrast between the circumstances then and the process now.

She said the 2003 invasion was “a disaster” and people would remember how “enthusiastic” the Bush, Blair and Howard administrations were.

“In 2003, the US and Australia and a few others went into Iraq without international support and without the support of the majority of the Iraqi population,” Plibersek said.

“The difference here is you’ve got the newly forming Iraqi government speaking with the international community. You’ve got an imminent humanitarian disaster. We have seen already that [Isis] are prepared to commit genocide if they can. So you do have a responsibility to protect from the international community and you’ve got a US administration that are taking a much more methodical and much more internationally inclusive approach.”

Read more here

DoD reports:

American military planes along with Australian, French and British aircraft airdropped humanitarian aid to the town of Amirli in Iraq, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement issued today.

U.S. aircraft also conducted airstrikes against nearby ISIL terrorists in order to support the humanitarian mission, Kirby said in his statement.

Kirby’s statement reads as follows:

“At the request of the Government of Iraq, the United States military today airdropped humanitarian aid to the town of Amirli, home to thousands of Shia Turkomen who have been cut off from receiving food, water, and medical supplies for two months by ISIL. The United States Air Force delivered this aid alongside aircraft from Australia, France and the United Kingdom who also dropped much needed supplies.

“In conjunction with this airdrop, U.S. aircraft conducted coordinated airstrikes against nearby ISIL terrorists in order to support this humanitarian assistance operation.

“These military operations were conducted under authorization from the Commander-in-Chief to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and to prevent an ISIL attack on the civilians of Amirli. The operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to address this emerging humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli.

Original post:

There are probably one thousand reasons for not getting involved in the genocide and other atrocities presently being perpetrated by a band of nihilistic, religious fanatics in the Middle East.

In a superb, well-researched, well-reasoned, logical and eloquent piece — and I do mean each and every one of these attributes — our Foreign Affairs correspondent Brij Khindaria discusses several of them.

Among the reasons for not “getting involved”:

• The centuries-old enmities among the various tribes and sects on the Arabian Peninsula and Levant will not, cannot, be resolved overnight.

• Our almost total lack of understanding of the roots of and the reasons for these enmities and conflicts.

• The superb military, political and pragmatic prowess, strategy and acumen of the wannabe Caliph of the world’s Sunni Muslims, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

• The exculpating factor that America is not even to blame for the “religious barbarity and sectarian bigotry of the Islamic State…It emerges from the peculiarities of Islamic doctrines practiced only in the Arabian Peninsula and Levant.” In other words, while some may argue that the rise of the Islamic State is a consequence of our blunders in Iraq and elsewhere, it really is “an outcome of authoritarian rule, sectarian obscurantism and civil strife among tribes, sheikdoms, factions and rulers from Syria to Iraq, including Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.” No guilt trip necessary and, thus, no need to meddle.

• There is hope that the more humane and peaceful Muslims — in fact the majority of Muslims — will in time, on their own, “bring the Islamic State to naught by causing it to collapse from within,” without our meddling.

• The fact that the West is facing an enemy that in effect has nothing to lose: “If they die, they are guaranteed praise in Islamic heaven; if they win, they purify Islam and Muslims attracted by Western style ‘decadence.’ All other people, including non-practicing Muslims are expendable.” So, why get involved and risk our blood and treasure.

• The consideration that Al-Baghdadi’s central motive is not the destabilization of the U.S. or Europe, albeit some Europeans are getting pretty nervous about the ensuing terrorist threat on their homelands.

Finally, Khindaria rightly points out the reluctance of some Middle East leaders — notwithstanding their own excellent military capabilities — to fight their own battles, to defend and protect their own cultures and religions. They would rather “outsource the sacrifice and opprobrium to Americans.” Another great reason not to get involved “over there.”

There are more reasons for the United States not to get involved in another Middle East “quagmire”: The proverbial “slippery slope;” the fact that we have our own serious problems at home; let others do it for a change; the proposition that ISIS poses no threat to the United States — although Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has warned that terrorism will soon spread to Europe and the United States” unless it is quickly dealt with in the Middle East. However, that could just be another Saudi ploy to let the U.S. do their dirty work.

Yes, there are a thousand valid, logical, intellectual reasons for letting the IS thugs have their way in the Middle East.

The only problem is the deep sense of compassion, humanity, altruism some Americans feel and have for those hundreds of thousands of human beings who are being slaughtered, raped, tortured, made homeless and turned into refugees by these “religious” men.

They understand the reasons for not doing anything — or very little — for these wretched people. They understand the risks involved and, yet, they cannot just let the humanitarian catastrophe happen.

They remember our nation’s legacy of compassion, generosity for the millions who have suffered the ravages of war, natural disasters and how we have protected them, rescued them from persecution, even from certain death.

But they also remember the few times when a distracted, reluctant, even fearful-of-the-risks-and-consequences America did nothing…

We said every time, “Never Again.”

And some Americans are reminding us of those solemn promises.

Let us not ridicule them, let us not ignore them, but let us listen to them and perhaps, despite the thousands of reasons for not doing anything — or very little — do what America has always done best: Help those who no one else will or can help.

And, yes, as Secretary of State John Kerry says, “Airstrikes alone won’t defeat this enemy. A much fuller response is demanded from the world.” (Please read his eloquent opinion piece here)

Have a great Labor Day weekend.

Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.
~ Benjamin Disraeli.

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Republicans Prefer Out of Context Quotes Over Serious Middle East Discussion Sat, 30 Aug 2014 15:49:04 +0000

Republicans, lacking any actual coherent policy arguments, love to dwell on taking comments from Democrats out of context, often distorting what was said. They made such an distorted quote the centerpiece of their last national convention. We are bound to hear another out of context quote over and over from Republicans. In response to a question from Chuck Todd, Obama explained why it is premature to take a plan to Congress before specific military targets are determined and arranging a regional coalition to fight ISIS. Republicans are ignoring the substance of what Obama said and taking a few unfortunate words out of context: “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

Follow up discussion by Chuck Todd on The Daily Rundown this morning (his last as host before taking over at Meet the Press), placed this in context. Todd and Andrea Mitchell were supportive about Obama’s transparency on the issue and consideration of the ramifications of military intervention (video above). It was good to see a news report provide the full context. The failure of other news outlets to do the same has placed the Obama administration in damage-control mode.

Steve Benen has a a good take on this “gaffe”

To see deliberate thought and planning as the object of criticism is a mistake – delaying military intervention in the Middle East until a firm strategy is in place is a positive, not a negative.

It’s a feature of the president’s foreign policy, not a bug.

Much of the media seems stunned by the process: “You mean, Obama intends to think this through and then decide whether to pursue military options in Syria?” Why, yes, actually he does. The question isn’t why Obama has adopted such an approach; the question is why so many are outraged by it.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” without context, lends itself to breathless Beltway chatter. To accommodate the political world’s predispositions, maybe the president should have added the rest of the thought: “We don’t have a strategy yet for possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, which may require congressional approval.”

But that’s effectively all that he said. There is no great “gaffe” here.

If only George Bush had taken the time to develop a comprehensive strategy before going into Iraq.

Peter Beinhart pointed out that Obama does actually have a strategy in the middle east:

President Obama’s critics often claim he doesn’t have a strategy in the greater Middle East. That’s wrong. Like it or loathe it, he does, and he’s beginning to implement it against ISIS. To understand what it is, it’s worth going back seven summers.

In July 2007, at a debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube, Obama said that if elected president, he’d talk directly to the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. Hillary Clinton derided his answer as “irresponsible and frankly naïve.” The altercation fit the larger narrative the media had developed about the two Democratic frontrunners: Obama—who had opposed the Iraq War—was the dove. Hillary—who had supported it—was the hawk.

But less than a week later, a different foreign-policy tussle broke out. Obama said he’d send the U.S. military into Pakistan, against its government’s wishes, to kill members of al-Qaeda. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act,” he vowed, “we will.” Suddenly, Obama was the hawk and Clinton was the dove. “He basically threatened to bomb Pakistan,” she declared in early 2008, “which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.”

So was Obama more dovish than Clinton or more hawkish? The answer is both. On the one hand, Obama has shown a deep reluctance to use military force to try to solve Middle Eastern problems that don’t directly threaten American lives. He’s proved more open to a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program than many on Capitol Hill because he’s more reticent about going to war with Tehran. He’s been reluctant to arm Syria’s rebels or bomb Basher al-Assad because he doesn’t want to get sucked into that country’s civil war. After initially giving David Petraeus and company the yellow light to pursue an expanded counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, he’s wound down America’s ground war against the Taliban. Even on Libya, he proved more reluctant to intervene than the leaders of Britain and France.

On the other hand, he’s proven ferocious about using military force to kill suspected terrorists. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, he’s basically adopted the policy Joe Biden proposed at the start of his administration: Don’t focus on fighting the Taliban on the ground, since they don’t really threaten the United States. Just bomb the hell out al-Qaeda from the air. Compared with George W. Bush, he’s dramatically expanded drone strikes, even though they’re unilateral, legally dubious, and morally disturbing. And, as promised, he sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission, even though his vice president and secretary of defense feared the risks were too high.

When it comes to the Middle East, in other words, Obama is neither a dove nor a hawk. He’s a fierce minimalist. George W. Bush defined the War on Terror so broadly that in anti-terrorism’s name he spent vast quantities of blood and treasure fighting people who had no capacity or desire to attack the United States. Hillary Clinton and John McCain may not use the “War on Terror” framework anymore, but they’re still more willing to sell arms, dispatch troops, and drop bombs to achieve goals that aren’t directly connected to preventing another 9/11. By contrast, Obama’s strategy—whether you like it or not—is more clearly defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.

Understanding Obama’s fierce minimalism helps explain the evolution of his policy toward Syria and Iraq. For years, hawks pushed him to bomb Assad and arm Syria’s rebels. They also urged him to keep more U.S. troops in Iraq to stabilize the country and maintain American leverage there. Obama refused because these efforts—which would have cost money and incurred risks—weren’t directly aimed at fighting terrorism. But now that ISIS has developed a safe haven in Iraq and Syria, amassed lots of weapons and money, killed an American journalist, recruited Westerners, and threatened terrorism against the United States, Obama’s gone from dove to hawk. He’s launched air strikes in Iraq and may expand them to Syria. As the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis has noted, the Obama administration is also trying to strengthen regional actors who may be able to weaken ISIS. But the administration is doing all this to prevent ISIS from killing Americans, not to put Syria back together again. Yes, there’s a humanitarian overlay to Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign: He’s authorized air strikes to save Yazidis at risk of slaughter. But the core of his military effort in Iraq and Syria, and throughout the greater Middle East, is narrow but aggressive anti-terrorism…

Originally posted at Liberal Values

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Labor Day Assignment: Educating the Uninformed Sat, 30 Aug 2014 14:26:56 +0000 shutterstock_141409255 (1)

It’s Labor Day weekend, the schools have been in session about a week, and the disgruntled voices of a minority drone on. Their screeching refrain, often in letters to the editor and talk show call-ins, is familiar:

–Teachers only work half a year.

–Teachers are overpaid.

–Local school districts and their taxpayers shouldn’t have to hold the burden of teacher salaries.

Often, those who complain the most are those who were average or below-average students who blame teachers, not themselves, for their mediocrity. Although most claim to be strong free-market capitalists, they believe teachers should not have much higher wages and benefits than they do, a philosophy bordering on socialism.
Let’s look at each of the claims.

First, the work year. Public school teachers generally work a 180-day school year. Each day is about six hours. That leads the uninformed to believe teachers only work half a year. But, let’s do the math. There are 365 days in a year. Subtract two days a week, which the average worker does not work, and that leaves 261 days. Next, remove 10 days of vacation; some get as many as 20 days a year, but 10 days is the usual vacation time. That leaves 251 days. Next, there are state and federal holidays, bracketed by New Year’s Day and Christmas. Generally, most businesses accept the 10 federal holidays. That leaves 241 days.

The critics may claim that teachers still work 61 days less than the average worker. But let’s look at the hours. Most public school teachers may be in class only six hours a day, but they have to be at work before classes, most stay after classes to assist in extracurricular activities and then, at home in evenings and weekends, grade papers, read current information about teaching practices and their own academic specialties, and prepare lesson plans for five to seven classes. With schools shoving more students into each class, teachers don’t have the option of working less—they still have to grade papers, talk with individual students and their parents about performance.

Most teachers don’t spend the summers lying around beach houses. Summer is when most develop lesson plans for the coming academic year, attend professional conferences, and take additional college classes to keep their certification and improve their knowledge of teaching methods and their own academic disciplines. Now, let’s look at those “overpriced” teachers. The average wage of a teacher—who must have at least a college degree, and additional coursework, often a graduate degree—is about $56,000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The range is about $40,000 (South Dakota) to about $75,000 (New York). While this may seem generous to an overburdened taxpayer earning only $35,000 a year, it isn’t a wage that is comparable to those with similar education and work experience. The non-partisan Economic Policy Institute says public school teachers are paid about 19 percent less than professionals with similar education and experience. Some, especially in the sciences and math, may be paid less than half of what others with their backgrounds are paid.

Finally, taxpayers do have a valid point about the burden on local school districts. Most school funding comes from local taxpayers. When the federal stimulus funds were eliminated, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett chose not to replace it. Corbett also cut about $500 million that was not federal stimulus money. Corbett did restore federal stimulus funds for corrections and certain areas of health care, but not to education. Further, while cutting education budgets and putting greater burdens on local districts, he generously gave out more than $3 billion in corporate tax breaks. Many politicians may say they believe in education, that the future of America is in the students of today, but the reality is their words are little more vacuous babbling.

Because of Corbett’s low priority for education, about $350 million has not been restored, leading to about 30,000 layoffs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He is not unique. Other conservative administrations have also chosen not to increase educational funding. The layoffs have led to larger class sizes, significant cuts in arts and music programs (while not cutting athletics), and fewer critical programs, including those that target at-risk students from dropping out of school. Layoffs also mean that taxpayers are burdened with helping pay unemployment benefits and some welfare benefits. It also means that teachers, teaching assistants, and others who directly work with student are less able to financially contribute to local business and the economy or to pay the higher level of local, state, and federal taxes they contributed when fully employed.

Inner city and rural areas do not have the property tax base as the affluent suburbs, but there are numerous costs that are fixed, including buses, and the physical plant. Thus, the burden on individuals is greater in the inner city and rural areas. Some of this is political—the impoverished don’t contribute as much to political campaigns as do the affluent. Because of the failure by the state to provide adequate assistance to local districts, in Pennsylvania the 50 poorest districts have seen a $475 per pupil cut this past year, while the 50 most affluent districts have seen only a $95 cut per pupil, according to data compiled by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) from state documents. This disparity strongly affects the quality of education in the rural and inner city schools.

The concept of school taxes based upon value of property is archaic and needs to be modified to allow students from the least affluent districts to have the same quality of education as those in the most affluent districts.

Critics of teachers also wail about the high cost of pensions. In Pennsylvania, the problem is not the teachers, but the failure of the Tom Ridge, Ed Rendell, and Tom Corbett administrations to make the minimum payments to the pension system. Wythe Keever of the PSEA suggests that what the three administrations did was similar to consumers who max out their credit cards and refuse to make even the minimum payments.

There are slackers in the education profession, those who do the minimum work, give high grades, and just shove students along. There are also incompetent teachers who can, and should, be terminated. Contrary to what many believe, tenured teachers can be fired for just cause, as long as their rights are protected. There are slackers and incompetents in every profession. Education isn’t unique.
And, there are some parents who do little to help their children learn as much as possible, who instill a hatred of teachers and education by constantly complaining about overpaid and underworked teachers.

Starting this Labor Day, it would be nice if those who run a constant criticism would look at the facts—including facts that could suggest better ways to teach our children and to pay for their education. When they do, they will realize that teachers are not overpaid relative to others with the same education and experience, that they work more than the average workers—and only because of unions do teachers have the support to keep education from disintegrating into mediocrity.

[In a 31-year career as a university professor, Dr. Brasch usually worked about 60 hours a week, as documented by reports mandated by the Pennsylvania legislature. He wasn’t unique. He is the author of 20 books, the most recent of which is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]

graphic via

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Weekend Photo Sat, 30 Aug 2014 05:56:40 +0000 When I first arrived in Bavaria as someone who was from the recent Pacific Northwest the thing that amazed me was how I was surrounded by very old structures and history.


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Reagan Sets ‘Acid Test’ for Crisis-Beset Obama (La Stampa, Italy) Fri, 29 Aug 2014 23:03:31 +0000 Reagan-Gorbachev-iceland-caption_pic

With President Obama confronting a wide array of crisis across the world, who can he turn to for advice about how to proceed? For Italy’s La Stampa, columnist Gianni Riotta suggests a little summer vacation reading: Reagan at Reykjavik by Ken Adelman. Riotta writes that for all of President Obama’s obvious gifts and advantages, he lacks one essential thing that Mikhail Gorbachev respected above all – and Reagan had in abundance: ‘the trust of the American people.’

For La Stampa, after discussing how Reagan got results in his fateful 1986 summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Gianni Riotta explains why he thinks America’s friends and adversaries feel the need and have the nerve to act as they please:

President Obama has every possible option on the table: military force, diplomatic astuteness, America’s energy boom and high technology, a formidable intelligence and an academic background possessed by neither Reagan nor Gorbachev (a former minor Hollywood actor and a one-time grey local functionary of the CPSU). But in the six years of his presidency, Obama has never yet shown the strategic ability to change the rules of the game, the courage and charisma to inspire other leaders to follow him, or faith enough in his own ideas to intimidate enemies. Above all, he lacks the talent which Gorbachev maintained was most important in an American president: Barack Obama does not enjoy, deep down, the trust of the American people.


That is why all the players in the Middle East – allied, neutral, and deadly adversaries, feel free to act. Egypt and the UAE are bombing fundamentalists in Libya because Obama has vacillated between statements of support for the so-called “Arab Spring”, i.e., giving free rein to the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, and attempting to save Mubarak, and then abandoning him. Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, after a phony attempt at shifting blame for the raids on fundamentalists to former Libyan General Khalifa Hifter, let it be understood that without the blitz, Tripoli Airport would soon have fallen into the hands of Islamist militias.


To place all the blame on President Obama for the disaster we are experiencing would be ungenerous, mistaken and anti-historical. America, Europe, Arabs and Israelis – no one is innocent. The prevailing propaganda divides responsibility according to convenience: Bush’s invasion of Iraq, failed Israel-Palestinian negotiations, fundamentalist terrorists, the impotence of Europe, the conspiracies of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Erdogan’s short-sighted calculations in Turkey, the extremism of Putin (a far cry from Gorbachev!), the ferocity of Assad. Everyone has their own point.


But what we are asking of Obama and his European allies now, if it isn’t already too late, is to look at Bush Sr., stitch together a U.S.-E.U.-U.N. coalition with Arab countries as quickly as possible, reassure Israel and the Palestinians in the short term, and cut the claws of the principal enemy: ISIL.

READ IT ALL IN ENGLISH OR ITALIAN, OR READ MORE GLOBAL COVERAGE OF THE IRAQ-SYRIA CRISIS AT WORLDMEETS.US, your most trusted translator and aggregator of foreign news and views about our nation.

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Islamic State: Blame the Arabian wars Fri, 29 Aug 2014 19:00:45 +0000 President Barack Obama admits that he does not yet have a strategy deal with the Islamic State, which he calls a cancer that needs “rooting out” although the fight “won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.” On Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned of a new generational war against the IS.

The question remains whether getting deeply involved will drop Obama and his allies into the inextricable centuries-old trap of intra-Arabian enmities, despite the best intentions of his motives.

This Islamic State assault is the latest in wars that have caused numerous border and regime changes in 1500 years of enmities among Muslim tribes and kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula and Levant.

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s declaration that he is Caliph of the world’s Sunni Muslims is a direct threat to the Saudi King, who claims to be the Protector of Muslims everywhere. So far, it does not directly challenge the authority of Ayatollahs over Shia Muslims in West Asia.

Does anyone in America really know how Arabians think and why they have been fighting one another for so long? Does anyone know why American youth — even just special “advisors” — should die in barbaric Arabian Peninsula wars involving how local Muslim believers should live and be governed?

If the need is for oil, Americans and others can just buy it. They do not have to step into local wars or provoke regime changes.

As the new face of intra-Arabian enmities, Al-Baghdadi’s chief goal is winning power over people in the Arabian Peninsula and their main religion – Sunni Islam — by war, terrorism and ruse. Destabilizing the US or Europe is not his central motive although he will retaliate in the West by any means if it tries to thwart him.

Unlike Al Qaeda terrorists, he is especially ominous for his local prey because he is a pragmatic military and political strategist, not just a zealot blinkered by dogma.

For instance, he has allied with Baath Socialist professionals from the army and air force of the late Saddam Hussein despite deep ideological differences. He is also taking advantage of the disillusionment of Sunni tribal Sheikhs with the Shia-led government in Baghdad although he disapproves of their softer versions of Sunni Islam.

As self-appointed Caliph, he places Shias alongside Christians, Jews and other religions to be converted to his version of “pure” Islam after the three rallying points of Arab Islam – Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem — are brought under his control.

He is not yet planning wars against the Saudis but expects that the local Muslim faithful will turn against the corrupt Saudi establishment when they witness the purity of his nearby Caliphate. He may leave Jerusalem unmolested for some time since that means directly facing Israel and the US.

If they wished, the Saudi King and his Gulf Emirate allies and could take on al-Baghdadi’s fighters because they have very powerful military and air forces, thoroughly equipped and trained by the US. They would also get Israeli intelligence help in Syria.

In addition, they have intimate knowledge of the terrain in the Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria, experienced local spies and long-standing influence over the region’s tribal Sheikhs.

But the Saudi King may avoid fighting his own battles because the extensive civilian deaths would be Muslim on Muslim and he would get the blame. He may again try to outsource the sacrifice and opprobrium to Americans.

Some argue that Obama is morally obliged to fight the Islamic State because its rise is an unintended consequence of American blunders in Iraq or his neglect of the viper’s nest in Syria.

More accurately, it is an outcome of authoritarian rule, sectarian obscurantism and civil strife among tribes, sheikdoms, factions and rulers from Syria to Iraq, including Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

Fortunately, the White House is waking up to the cynicism of its Arab allies and US interventions are being limited so far to protecting American lives and preventing large humanitarian disasters. For the moment, not much else is doable.

The religious barbarity and sectarian bigotry of the Islamic State is not a result of Sykes-Picot imperialism or American mistakes of governance in Iraq since 2003. It emerges from the peculiarities of Islamic doctrines practiced only in the Arabian Peninsula and Levant.

The 900 million Muslims outside Arabia, both Sunni and Shia, practice more humane and peaceful versions of Islam. They are the world’s so far silent Muslim majority.

Perhaps, they are the ones who will reject Arab al-Baghdadi’s sequestering of their religion and dethrone Saudi Wahhabism by simply ignoring its strictures. That could help to bring the Islamic State to naught by causing it to collapse from within.

None of al-Baghdadi’s local allies likes his totalitarian barbaric style but the Sunni Baathists hate the US for ousting them and letting their Shia subjects seize political power. The Sunni Sheikhs feel Washington broke promises to obtain significant influence for them in Shia-led Baghdad as reward for the Sunni Awakening that drove Al Qaeda out of Iraq.

Both blame Americans but their various angers stem from changes in the local Sunni-Shia power balance and the internal power balance among local Sunni tribes.

Washington’s inclusive state mantra is out of touch with Arabian Sunni believers in particular, who have steadfastly resisted Western-style modernism and globalization despite the rapidly changing world around them.

Other less religious Arabs, such as the Baath Socialists, tried to enter the new world but only to expand their power rather than living as orderly world citizens. Even they were too steeped in local culture to promote Western-style democracy, however limited.

Now the tribal Sheikhs who never accepted Baath secularism are reluctant to fight the IS just to satisfy Washington’s desire to protect Americans against IS-inspired terrorism in the US homeland, among other things, by creating an inclusive Iraq. They may also refuse to continue supplying spotters for US air strikes against IS in Iraq or near the Syrian border to prevent humanitarian disasters or genocide.

To strike a new bargain with Washington against al-Baghdadi, they too might want considerable autonomy like the Kurdish region or even independence as a separate Sunni Union.

In fact, the more Obama tries to prevent humanitarian disasters and genocide, the higher their price since they know that Washington is ineffective without them because it will not put US boots on the ground.

Such attitudes are extremely cynical since the Baathists and Sheikhs have almost nothing in common with IS warriors. They loath al-Baghdadi’s craving for a “pure” Islamic State to force the entire human race to submit to his fevered version of God.

Al-Baghdadi’s warriors are enemies of the Saudi King because they see him as a vassal of Washington, thus undeserving of his official title as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina.

They expect the IS example to be so inspiring that the King will no longer be able to buy off citizens motivated by extremist dogma, as he has in the past.

After consolidating the IS in Syria and Iraq, al-Baghdadi will be more focused on fomenting terrorism to depose the Saudi King than starting a major war against the Shias in Iraq or Iran.

He is battling to restore “purity” to Sunni Islam, as he sees it. Conquering Shia Islam’s 90 million people in Iraq and Iran, and converting the world’s 214 million Shias is not yet a priority.

The Sunni vs Shia troubles he is trying to foment in Iraq are a tactic to gain time to consolidate his hold over the territories he wants for his special “kingdom”. He wants to prevent Iraq’s Shia from making common cause against him with the Sunni tribes he wants to dispossess.

For him, purity is meaningful only in the context of Sunni Islam since he sees Shias as apostates. Not being Muslim in his sense, they do not deserve his immediate attention even in Iraq.

Starting with Iraq’s Sunnis, he prefers control over the world’s 1.4 billion Sunnis, projected to grow to 2 billion by 2030.

He and his warriors believe that they win either way. If they die, they are guaranteed praise in Islamic heaven; if they win, they purify Islam and Muslims attracted by Western style “decadence”. All other people, including non-practicing Muslims are expendable.

In his view, scripture commands pitiless destruction of obstacles to “pure Islam”, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, unless they pledge to live by his version. Thus, the barbarity.

In line with his medieval beliefs, cutting off heads ensures that the impure will wander forever in damnation so he chooses that over the bullets people in the West find more civilized.

The process of killing is always ghastly. Making it medieval is his way of instilling shock and awe into the people he wants to subdue. It used to be the practice in conflicts in the Arabian Peninsula and Levant for centuries until the US used a different style of shock and awe during its 1990-1991 campaign in Iraq.

As yet, medieval fighting methods seem to have the upper hand over America’s modern styles of war. So it is worth asking whether getting deeply involved again will change much, whatever the good or human freedoms Americans may desire to bring to the region’s people.

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Hundreds of Thousands More People To Obtain Health Care Coverage Under Obamacare With Pennsylvania Joining Expanded Medicaid Program Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:40:44 +0000 Pennsylvania has become the 27th state, and 9th with a Republican governor, to accept the expanded Medicaid program. This significantly increases the number of people to receive health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act starting with about 300,000 and increasing to over a half million over the next two years. Some Republican governors are vulnerable for failing to join the program, especially considering that the federal government will pay 100% of the expense for expanding health care coverage through 2016, and afterwards it will gradually fall to 90 percent. Corbett is in danger of losing his reelection bid in Pennsylvania but it does not appear that his late adoption of the program will be enough to save him.

Currently three additional states, Indiana, Missouri, and Utah, are considering expansion and twenty states are not  considering Medicaid expansion at this time.

Originally posted at Liberal Values

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Summary Update: Iraq-ISIS/ISIL Crisis (Updated) Fri, 29 Aug 2014 17:52:50 +0000 Fueling the fight: The air bridge in Iraq

A U.S. F-18 fighter jet refuels from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over northern Iraq, Aug. 21, 2014. (Photo: DoD)



Britain raised its international terrorism threat level to the second highest level of “severe” on Friday in response to possible attacks being planned in Syria and Iraq, Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May said.

“That means that a terrorist attack is highly likely, but there is no intelligence to suggest that an attack is imminent,” May said in a statement.

“The increase in the threat level is related to developments in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West. Some of those plots are likely to involve foreign fighters who have traveled there from the UK and Europe to take part in those conflicts.”

Read more here.

Original Post:

This is the last update on the Iraq-ISIS crisis before the Labor Day weekend.

BBC News reports that Kurdish Peshmerga forces say they have retaken oilfields near Mosul in north Iraq from Islamic State (IS) militants:

“The attack on the three Ain Zalah installations began on Thursday morning, they said, but the militants blew them all up as they retreated.

The area is part of a large swathe of territory in northern Iraq overrun by Islamic State in recent weeks.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by US air strikes have regained some ground, including the vital Mosul dam.

IS-led violence has driven an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis from their homes.

Whole communities of minority Yazidis and Christians have been forced to flee in the north, along with Shia Iraqis, whom IS do not regard as true Muslims.”

Read more here

More on the refugee crisis. The Stars and Stripes reports that the civil war in Syria has forced a record 3 million people out of the country as more than a million people fled in the past year, according to the U.N. refugee agency:

The tragic milestone means that about one of every eight Syrians has fled across the border, and 6.5 million others have been displaced within Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, the Geneva-based agency said. More than half of all those uprooted are children, it said.

“The Syria crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

Syria had a prewar population of 23 million.

The recent surge in fighting appears to be worsening the already desperate situation for Syrian refugees, the agency said, as the extremist Islamic State group expands its control of broad areas straddling the Syria-Iraq border and terrorizes rivals and civilians in both countries.

Read more here.

In what seems a throwback to our own not-so-distant-past activities, the Stars and Stripes reports, “At least four hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State, including an American journalist who was recently executed by the group, were waterboarded in the early part of their captivity, according to people familiar with the treatment of the kidnapped Westerners.”:

James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


Critics of waterboarding have said for years that the practice endangered Americans, putting them at risk that they will be subjected to the same brutal treatment at the hands of the enemy.

“Waterboarding dates to the Spanish Inquisition and has been a favorite of dictators through the ages, including Pol Pot and the regime in Burma,” said Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island in an op-ed in 2008. “Condoning torture opens the door for our enemies to do the same to captured American troops in the future.”

Read more here.

In the meantime the New York Times reports that “fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have killed more than 150 captured soldiers in northern Syria in the last two days” according to a monitoring group and adds “Video images posted online appeared to show the men being marched through the desert in their underwear by the extremists and then lying dead in the sand.”:

The mass killing of the soldiers represented a dark end to the battle for control of the Tabqa air base in Raqqa Province. The insurgents seized the base on Sunday after the deadliest fighting so far between ISIS and government forces.

The killings were reported on the same day that Syrian rebel fighters captured 43 United Nations peacekeepers near the demarcation line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, after heavy fighting in the area between non-ISIS rebel fighters and government troops.

Read more here.

Yesterday, the President provided an update on several issues, including Iraq-ISIS.

ON ISIS/ISIL, he said:

Our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to ISIL. And that starts with Iraq’s leaders building on the progress they’ve made so far and forming the inclusive government that will unite their country and strengthen their security forces to confront ISIL.

Then, responding to a follow-up question by reporter Chuck Todd as to whether the President needs “Congress’s approval to go into Syria” the President answered, clearly referring to the specific facet of “going into Syria”:

You know, I have consulted with Congress throughout this process. I am confident that as commander in chief I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently. As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress, and I do think that it’ll be important for Congress to weigh in and we’re — that our consultations with Congress continue to develop so that the American people are part of the debate.
But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet. (Emphasis mine)I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are. And I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military, as well. We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard.
But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.

As discussed here, it is that sentence — “We don’t have a strategy yet” — lifted totally out of context, which is now being exploited by the “loyal opposition,” such as here.

This is how the Defense Media Activity reports on Obama’s words:

President Barack Obama has directed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to present a range of options aimed at the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

During a White House news conference today, Obama called ISIL a “cancer” that “poses an immediate threat to the people of Iraq and to people throughout the region.”

The United States has struck the terror group in Iraq. Any effort taken against the group in its sanctuary in Syria must be part of a broader regional and international effort, the president said.

“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I’m confident that we can, and we will, working closely with our allies and our partners,” Obama said.

The president said the options he’s asking for are aimed primarily at thwarting ISIL’s designs in Iraq.

“My priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself,” he said.

“We’re going to have to build a regional strategy” to degrade ISIL over the long term, Obama said.

“Part of the goal here,” the president said, “is to make sure that Sunnis, both in Syria and in Iraq, feel as if they’ve got an investment in a government that actually functions. A government that can protect them. A government that makes sure that their families are safe from the barbaric acts that we’ve seen in ISIL.”

All aspects of national and international power must be in play, the president said. Diplomatic, political and economic power will be just as important as military actions, he said.

The limited airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq have had an effect, Obama said.

“Because of our strikes, the terrorists of ISIL are losing arms and equipment,” he said. “In some areas, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have begun to push them back. And we continue to be proud and grateful to our extraordinary personnel serving in this mission.”

I believe this version does address our current strategy against ISIS.

In the meantime, U.S. military forces continue to implement the President’s current strategy attacking ISIL terrorists in support of Iraqi security force operations, using fighter aircraft to conduct five airstrikes in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam:

The strikes destroyed an ISIL Humvee, a tank, four armed vehicles, an ISIL construction vehicle and severely damaged an ISIL checkpoint. All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.
Since Aug. 8, U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 106 airstrikes across Iraq.

In the unconfirmed reports/rumors column, the National Defense Magazine reports:

Recently, video emerged that showed Islamic militants in Syria had acquired a surveillance drone. It marked the first time such technology has been used by the burgeoning terrorist organization, a RAND Corp. analyst said.

The consequences of the Islamic State — the terrorist organization known as ISIS that has been characterized by its increasingly violent tactics in the Middle East — acquiring such technology could be dangerous, Colin Clarke, an associate political scientist at RAND Corp. who researches ISIS, told National Defense.

“This is the first time I’ve seen ISIS showing this kind of capability,” Clarke said. “[But] it’s not a total surprise simply because we’ve seen other similar … groups like Hezbollah or Hamas using these drones.”

Read more here.

And, in an “Exclusive,” Foreign Policy reports:

Found: The Islamic State’s Terror Laptop of Doom

Buried in a Dell computer captured in Syria are lessons for making bubonic plague bombs and missives on using weapons of mass destruction.

Read more here

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Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal Mistakes Hispanic Student for Illegal Immigrant Fri, 29 Aug 2014 14:28:16 +0000 Nathan-Deal

Gov. Nathan Deal handed his critics a huge gift after he made a statement that a Hispanic student attending a forum on immigration at the University of Georgia was an illegal immigrant, WGCL-TV reports. Yep, the out-of-touch hypocrite who presided over the Snowmaggedon spectacle that left many Atlantans stranded and irate.

Gov. Deal: “There’s a fundamental problem that can only be resolved at the Congressional level and that is to deal with the issue of children, and I presume you probably fit the category, children who were brought here.”

The student’s response was priceless: “I’m not an illegal immigrant. I’m not. I don’t know why you would have thought that I was undocumented. Was it because I look Hispanic?”

This was cross-posted from The Hinterland Gazette.

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Cartoon: My Little Uzi Fri, 29 Aug 2014 14:05:22 +0000 Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

See great cartoons by all the top political cartoonists at To license this cartoon for your own site, visit

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Deny the Islamic State a safe haven (Guest Voice) Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:57:08 +0000 8123

In 2002, my aircraft carrier battle group was conducting retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan when I was directed to move into the Persian Gulf and begin precursor combat operations against Iraq. While meeting with the fleet commander, I told him we were ready to go. But when asked my opinion of the impeding war, I replied that…

Deny the Islamic State a safe haven

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Obama’s Big Gaffe on ISIS: Says “We don’t have a strategy yet.” Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:29:00 +0000 118879_6

The White House has been in damage control mode. Once again a politician has made a foot-in-mouth gaffe that can hurt and/or define him. And this time it was President Barack Obama — bigtime.

At a time when a new poll by the respected company Pew Research finds Americans now feel the U.S. doesn’t do enough to solve world problems and that 54% feel Obama is not tough enough, Obama, in trying to explain that he’s working to develop a cohesive strategy to combat the threat from terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said this when asked about wider military action by the U.S.: ““I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.”

The reaction from Republicans was predictable. It was an early Christmas present — a toy they can use extensively in the November elections.

And the scrambling by administration official was perceptible:

In an interview with CNN, [press secretary Josh] Earnest said Obama was only referring to potential military strikes within Syria.

“Those options are still being developed by the Pentagon,” Earnest said.

He added that Obama “was asked a specific question about what approach he was going to pursue about possible military action in Syria.”

The White House spokesman said Obama had for months described a “comprehensive strategy” to deal with the threat posed by terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who have established a foothold in both countries.

“Our strategy is much broader than just the use of military force,” Earnest said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki appeared shortly after Earnest on the network, also looking to clean up the president’s remarks.

“I think it’s important to note here that the president has already begun implementing his strategy to defeat [ISIS],” Psaki said, noting that the administration was working toward “building international coalitions” to combat the terror group.

Separately, Earnest took to social media to argue in a series of six tweets the president “was explicit — as he has been in the past — about the comprehensive strategy that we’ll use to confront” the threat posed by ISIS.

White House aides began quickly contacting reporters just minutes after the press conference looking to explain the president’s comments.

One White House official said Obama was “candid” in describing the strategy during his press conference. The official noted that the president said he had directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a range of options and that he planned to meet later Thursday with his National Security Council staff to “continue to develop that strategy.”

Reaction on Twitter was immediate and still underway early Friday morning:

Is a gaffe like this no big deal? As The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza points out, there is a big cost:

By now, President Obama’s remark that “We don’t have a strategy yet” has made the rounds. Republicans were quick to pounce on it, as well they should have.

But while the White House went into damage-control mode, emphasizing that it was a reference to the lack of decisions about increasing military action in Iraq and/or Syria and not a lack of a broader strategy there, the damage was already done.

As with all gaffes, the worst ones are the ones that confirm people’s pre-existing suspicions or fit into an easy narrative. That’s why “47 percent” stung Mitt Romney so much, and its why “don’t have a strategy” hurts Obama today.

And the short and long term impact?

Will this gaffe push a whole bunch of voters into the GOP column in November? Of course not. But it certainly helps the GOP make the case that Obama’s foreign policy continues to “lead from behind.” And to the extent foreign policy matters in the coming election (which it’s starting to look like it could), that could put some red-state Democrats in tough positions.

Moreso, though, this strikes us as a legacy problem for Obama. For a president confronting a bunch of overseas crises in the final two-plus years of his presidency – including ones that involve or could involve U.S. force. — “don’t have a strategy yet” could become a pretty unhelpful shorthand for his foreign policy if things don’t go well.

Kind of like “lead from behind” … or “47 percent.”

Indeed: there was an old line in Hollywood aimed at those filmmakers who wanted to add big messages in movies: “If you want to send a message, send it Western Union.” The phrase “we have no strategy” may not be the best message to send a terrorist organization that’s carving out a state and is funded by some $2 billion.

Other likely impacts:
–Hillary Clinton will move to the right on foreign policy to distance herself from perceptions about Obama, particularly in light of this statement.
–The “war” within the GOP over foreign policy will intensify as new polls continue to show that the gains made by Obama and Democrats on foreign policy are now evaporating. Sen. Rand Paul’s brand of Republicanism, which some thinks gives off the aura of 1960s Democratic McGoverism, could face even tougher resistance from Republican conservative and establishment types.
–A solidifying of the media around the idea that Obama is ad libbing on foreign policy and may not have a secure handle on it.
–A boost to Obama and charges of an “October surprise” if a month before the election there is some kind of high profile military action. As we’ve seen a zillion times before, the conventional wisdom and a political narrative can be totally tossed out the window (with those who advocated it seemingly trying to make sure readers or viewers forget what they used to say with absolute certainty) and a new one could emerge. Obama strikes back, etc.

But for now, the White House is scrambling to remove the foot in Obama’s mouth.

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GOP Attacks on ACA Fading Fri, 29 Aug 2014 11:38:42 +0000 Dylan Scott reports that Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act have declined on Talking Points Memo.

It really is extraordinary in a lot of ways. Republicans were absolutely convinced that the antipathy toward the ACA would be the ticket to victory,” Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM. “Now they still may have a ticket to victory, but it’s not going to be that.”


Ornstein called the GOP’s singular focus on attacking Obamacare — and inability to foresee that it would eventually collapse on them — “a textbook case of mass psychology.”


“They basically worked themselves up into a frenzy over the notion that this was a government takeover of health care and socialism,” he said. “I think they convinced themselves that this was so awful, that they denied any objective reality.”


The evidence that Obamacare has lost its salience as a political attack has been mounting in recent months, as the 2014 elections kick into gear. The latest clue is a Wednesday report from the New York Times that analyzed official releases from congressional offices. This summer compared to last, the number of releases related to Obamacare fell from 530 to 138.


“The relative dearth of Obamacare-titled statements this August shows that (Republicans) have found other issues to raise with constituents as the midterm elections approach,” the Times’s Derek Willis wrote, “like investigations into the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Cross-posted from The Sensible Center

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Have we gone to war again? Fri, 29 Aug 2014 04:20:30 +0000 WASHINGTON — I’d like to know whether the United States is at war with the Islamic State. I’d like to know why — or why not. I’d like to know whether the goal of U.S. policy is to contain the jihadist militia or destroy it.

President Obama? Members of Congress? Please pay attention. I’m talking to you.

The barbarians who decapitated journalist James Foley — and who commit atrocities on a daily basis — control territory in both Iraq and Syria. I’d like to know why it makes sense to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State fighters on one side of a border that no longer exists but makes no sense to do so on the other side.

The answer may be that the U.S. military lacks intelligence about the enemy’s positions and movements — the Islamic State (BEG ITAL)is(END ITAL) the enemy, right? — inside Syria. This week, Obama authorized surveillance flights over Syrian territory to gather the needed information. Should we therefore assume that airstrikes there will soon begin?

I’d like to hear an honest discussion by our leaders about what we’re signing up for. Obama called the Islamic State a “cancer” and said the fight against it “won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.” To my ears, this suggests that the United States is making a long-term commitment and that time is on our side, not the Islamic State’s. I’d like to examine both assumptions.

Public support for extended U.S. military involvement in another Middle East war lies somewhere between negligible and nonexistent. An open-ended commitment would run counter to the thrust of Obama’s foreign policy from Day One — and indeed, he has limited the airstrikes and declared that he will “not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq.”

If there are to be no boots on the ground, one wonders what kind of footwear the hundreds of U.S. military advisers newly sent to Iraq are sporting. One also wonders what the plan might be.

To say that “rooting out” the cancer that is the Islamic State “won’t be quick” implies that considerable time is necessary to accomplish certain tasks. What, exactly, might those tasks be? Is the idea to protect the Kurdish region in the Iraqi northeast, assume the Shiites in the south will defend themselves, degrade the Islamic State to the degree possible with airstrikes alone and wait for the Sunnis in the west to have another “awakening” and turn against this group of jihadists the way they turned against al-Qaeda?

If this is the idea, it seems awfully far-fetched. During the first “awakening,” there were tens of thousands of U.S. troops present who could eliminate al-Qaeda leaders and assets identified by Sunni tribal leaders. Now there are just a few hundred U.S. advisers in Iraq, and the Islamic State, by all accounts, is a far more capable and better-equipped military force than al-Qaeda ever was.

As much as we scoff at the notion of the Islamic State as an (BEG ITAL)actual(END ITAL) state, the group is managing to hold and administer huge swaths of territory and has found sources of continuing revenue — gray-market oil sales, kidnapping Europeans for ransom, widespread local extortion that the militants probably see as taxation.

Why wouldn’t time be on the side of the Islamic State as it digs in? Doesn’t the “rooting out” of the group become more difficult if it becomes more rooted day by day?

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week that the Islamic State is “beyond anything that we’ve seen.” He called it “as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded.”

Reality check: Most experts estimate that the group has about 15,000 fighters. This number may grow as recruits come in from abroad and local Sunnis are pressed into service, but this is not an unbeatable military force.

It seems foolish, however, to expect the Islamic State to defeat itself — by being excessively brutal, perhaps, or too greedy for new land. This brings me back to an earlier question: Is the aim of U.S. policy to contain the Islamic State or destroy it?

President Obama should tell the nation, in plain language, what he believes we must do. Congress should debate the issue rather than duck it. After all, no decision by our elected leaders is more fateful: This is war. As far as I can tell.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said Thursday. Which is the one thing we already knew.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is

(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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Farmers markets, here I come Fri, 29 Aug 2014 04:02:18 +0000 shutterstock_145996466 (1)

Farmers markets, here I come
by Esther J. Cepeda
Washington Post Writers Group Columnist

CHICAGO — After back-to-back readings of three books chronicling the state of food production in the United States, I’ve realized that except for a few childhood trips to South America during which I drank warm goat’s milk and ate freshly picked corn, beans, potatoes, rice and fruits, I’m not truly familiar with what real food tastes like.

I’ve done a lot of carbohydrate, fat and fiber monitoring over the past 15 years, attempting to fend off the dreaded Type 2 diabetes, which runs in my family.

But like most people, I shop at the local chain grocery store on a budget that doesn’t afford certified organic products. Not only am I not a foodie, but I’ve never so much as stepped inside a Whole Foods supermarket.

Even so, I’ve just learned that shopping at pricey food stores doesn’t guarantee that what I buy hasn’t been farmed for portability rather than taste, been highly processed, fed any number of antibiotics and hormones or grown in poor soil full of synthetic fertilizers.

At least this is what I took away from three recently published books that take us behind the scenes of food trends, modern agriculture and livestock production systems, the giant industrial complexes most of us rarely give a thought to.

“The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue” by David Sax gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at how the chef-adulation culture in this country drives what shows up on our plates and how quality and wholesomeness are sacrificed by corporations pushing the next food novelty. The short history of the American South’s nearly extinct grain culture is not to be missed if you can get past all the tiresome (though blessedly scornful) cupcake talk.

Both Dan Barber’s “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food” and Christopher Leonard’s “The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business” detail the gritty realities of what it takes to get animals from their natural habitats to our plates.

Prepare yourself for deep questions about the ethics of allowing our insatiable desire for certain cuts of meat and fish to shape both the physical landscape and our political one. These complementary books graphically illustrate how Americans tend to idealize the small farmer, yet trample over his or her right to make a living wage.

For extensive explanation about how contemporary, Big Ag chicken farming ruins American and immigrant farmers’ lives, “The Meat Racket” will forever color your trip to the poultry section of the grocery store. Not because of gory animal welfare treatment, but because of the cost to the people who raise our chickens.

Pick up “The Third Plate” to understand how the power of consumer demand for trendy foods enables corporations, markets and governments to give us what we want at far too high a price.

Explaining how America offloads all our non-breast, non-wing parts of chickens on other countries, Barber writes, “In 2008, [Mexico] eliminated tariff protection on imports, opening the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of tons of chicken legs. The decision immediately wreaked havoc on small states like Jalisco, one of Mexico’s largest areas for poultry farming. Some Mexican farmers were forced to consolidate to lower their costs. … In the meantime, Jalisco’s poultry workers, displaced from their communities, began entering the United States illegally in larger numbers. And they have found employment where they have skills to match: at [American] poultry-processing facilities. … Wouldn’t it be easier to cook every part of the bird?”

Environmental, social and political impact aside, my biggest takeaway was that in the rush to win big sales by being trendy or “healthy,” harvested and slaughtered food is designed primarily to travel and last. Taste isn’t much of a consideration because it can be added in during processing or cooking. And rarely does anyone notice.

I’ve not done justice to these three fascinating investigative exposes, but they’ve motivated me to seek out a farmers market so I can taste real small-farm produce and bread.

If any of these books can get you to think about what you’re putting into your body and why, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by reading them.

Esther Cepeda’s email address is Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

graphic via

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Cartoon: Uzi insanity Thu, 28 Aug 2014 20:53:56 +0000 Bill Day, Cagle Cartoons

Bill Day, Cagle Cartoons

See great cartoons by all the top political cartoonists at To license this cartoon for your own site, visit

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Too detached to lead? (Guest Voice) Thu, 28 Aug 2014 20:43:14 +0000 Too detached to lead?
by Michael Gerson
Washington Post Writers Group Columnist

WASHINGTON — Having once served a president, I don’t begrudge any president a vacation. There is, in fact, no escape from this relentless job. A change of scenery does not involve a change in responsibilities, or even a release from the essence of the president’s routine. The intelligence briefings stalk him. Presidential respites are measured in hours, not days or weeks — say, a few hours on a golf course. And the public would be selfish and shortsighted to demand those downtime hours, which are necessary for humans to function.

The problem for President Obama has come in managing the symbolic aspect of his office. Playing a round at the Farm Neck Golf Club was appropriate. Giving a speech after the murder of James Foley was necessary. It is the immediate juxtaposition of beheading and golfing that should have raised questions.

Those questions would have been so obvious to any reasonably competent deputy press secretary that the incident raises further issues: Is there really no one on the White House staff with the standing to confront Obama when he is about to make a self-evident mistake? Is he surrounded by sycophancy? Or has re-election liberated Obama from all considerations of symbolism or appropriateness?

One gets the impression of a particular message being sent. The president is so aggressively indifferent to appearances that he doesn’t really seem indifferent at all. He appears to be telling the media, his political critics and the world: You can criticize me, vilify me, challenge me; but you are powerless, at least, to change my tee time. It shows resilience. Yet there is a fine line between not giving an inch and not giving a damn.

Our view of presidential character is often conditioned by the direction of events. When a president is succeeding, he might be regarded as principled. When he is failing, the same leader may be viewed as stubborn. A president who is considered flexible in success might be called slippery in failure. A leader’s virtues can become his weaknesses — or maybe they are inseparable. Our admiration becomes our indictment.

President Obama rose to prominence, in part, because of a certain aloofness and emotional distance. The contrast to his opponent in the 2008 election, John McCain, was particularly vivid during the financial collapse. McCain seemed excitable and unsteady; Obama was cool and self-contained.

In political success, Obama’s manner was reassuring. As his failures have multiplied, he seems disconnected and tone-deaf. It must be frustrating for the president to know he is actually the same leader, and tempting to display a defiant unconcern.

But this is not just a matter of image management. Obama now faces the defining crisis of his presidency — the rise of a terrorist state at the heart of the Middle East with global ambitions of violence — which suddenly demands a different set of attributes: resolution, clarity, inspiration. The traits and views that aided his political rise — an emotional and geopolitical disengagement — are not sufficient to the moment. Even some of his traditional supporters have begun to fear that the president’s golfing has become not merely a respite but a symbol of detachment.

As the president has vacationed, senior officials have talked of efforts to “stall,” “contain,” “degrade,” “defeat” and “destroy” the Islamic State. These words actually mean very different things, indicating either a major internal administration debate or utter confusion. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel describes the Islamic State as an “imminent threat to every interest we have.” But a senior defense official was recently quoted as saying, “There is no policy” to deal with this imminent threat.

In his public statements, Obama has carefully avoided resolving or clarifying his administration’s ultimate policy goal. He has consistently downplayed America’s incremental (but escalating) military actions. He has promised to be “relentless” toward some unspecified end. He has argued that the Islamic State has “no place in the 21st century” — as though the appeal of radical Islamism should have faded like bell bottoms and disco.

For years, Obama has reacted to events in the Middle East, and lately been at their mercy. Now he must provide some assurance that he is shaping events with a strategy that culminates in the end of the Islamic State. As a matter of policy, this will require recognition that Iraq and Syria are one theater in a long-term struggle that does not fade when we ignore it. As a matter of leadership, it will require a certain trumpet, for a change.

Michael Gerson’s email address is (c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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