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 Fri, 22 Aug 2014 04:46:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Rash of new abductions of foreigners in Syria Fri, 22 Aug 2014 04:46:28 +0000 iopoiuiufyi6td
IRBIL, Iraq — The posting of a video showing the grisly execution of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State, the al-Qaida spinoff that controls much of Iraq and Syria, coincided with a rash of new abductions of foreigners in northern Syria. Two Italian citizens and a Japanese man, who might have been fighting with…

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ISIL Terrorists Must be Defeated, JCS Chairman Says – Hagel Agrees Fri, 22 Aug 2014 00:05:00 +0000 SECDEF CJCS presser

At a Pentagon news conference today, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey , said the ISIL terror group has an “apocalyptic, end-of-days” vision that eventually must be defeated, not only in Iraq but in Syria as well.

Referring to ISIL as ISIS because such highlights the terrorists’ long-term goal of establishing the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, Dempsey explains “Al-Sham includes Lebanon, the current state of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Kuwait…If they were to achieve that vision, it would fundamentally alter the face of the Middle East and create a security environment that would certainly threaten us in many ways.”

Defeating ISIS “requires a variety of instruments — one of which is airstrikes,” Dempsey said, adding, “I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria — at least not by the United States of America. But it requires the application of all the tools of national power, diplomatic, economic, information, and military.”

Read more of what Dempsey had to say here.

Echoing and supporting Dempsey’s words, Secretary of Defense Hagel, at the same news conference, acknowledged that U.S. airstrikes and military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish security forces have stalled the advance of ISIL around Irbil and have especially helped the Iraqis retake and hold the Mosul Dam.

Referring to the crisis on Mount Sinjar, he said “The United States led an international effort to address the humanitarian crisis that unfolded at Mount Sinjar…As there continues to be an acute humanitarian need elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. appreciates the partnership of the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia and the United Nations in helping provide relief. I expect more nations to step forward with more assistance in the weeks ahead.”

But, like Dempsey, he cautioned:

We are pursuing a long-term strategy against ISIL because ISIL clearly poses a long-term threat. We should expect ISIL to regroup and stage new offenses.
And the U.S. military’s involvement is not over. President Obama has been very clear on this point. Our objectives remain clear and limited — to protect American citizens and facilities, to provide assistance to Iraqi forces as they confront ISIL, and to join with international partners to address the humanitarian crisis.

He also emphasized:

But addressing the threat posed by ISIL to the future of Iraq requires political reform in Iraq. The country’s peaceful transition of power last week was important, and the United States will continue urging Iraq’s new prime minister to establish an inclusive government that is responsive to the needs of all Iraq’s citizens. A united Iraq will be a more secure and prosperous Iraq.
Political reform will make it harder for ISIL to exploit sectarian divisions. The United States and the international community will increase support for Iraq in tandem with political progress

The Secretary also addressed the “savage” murder of journalist Jim Foley and offered his deepest condolences and sympathy to Foley’s family. “Jim Foley’s murder was another tragic demonstration of the ruthless, barbaric ideology of ISIL. ISIL militants continue to massacre and enslave innocent people and persecute Iraq’s Sunni, Shia and Kurdish and minority populations,” he said.

Read more here

Lead Photo: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief reporters at the Pentagon, Aug. 21, 2014. DOD.

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Packer on ISIS Thu, 21 Aug 2014 21:17:56 +0000 George Packer, one of my favorite political writers, offers his take on ISIS in The New Yorker.

Armed movements driven by an ideology like that of ISIS are expansionist as well as eliminationist. There is always a new enemy to defeat, a new threat to the dream of purifying the world. The Islamic State, whose success makes it a magnet for jihadists around the globe, has recruited hundreds of suicide bombers, who could carry out operations across the region. Its many hundred fighters holding European or American passports will eventually return home with training, skills, and the arrogance of battlefield victory. It’s hard to believe that the ambitions of ISIS will remain confined to the boundaries of the Tigris and Euphrates.


Only the President can explain to the public why containing and defeating ISIS requires deep, steady, patient engagement. Americans are justly haunted by the mistakes, the deceptions, and the tragedies of the Iraq War. Our toxic domestic politics make it extremely difficult to have an honest debate about this unfolding catastrophe—it’s far easier to assign blame. But fully absorbing the lessons of the past should mean being able to think clearly about going forward: Find partners, internationally and locally, and don’t get out in front of them. Understand the complexity and the importance of politics. Locate the elusive ground between overreacting and underreacting. Pay attention to other people’s nightmares, because they might be contagious.

Cross-posted from The Sensible Center

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Two of My Most Favorite Things… Thu, 21 Aug 2014 21:12:55 +0000 ISIS/ISIL, Ferguson, Sarah Palin…

OK, enough “gloomy and doomy” stuff.

Time for two of my most favorite subjects.

USS New Hampshire returns home.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Culbertson greets his son after a six-month deployment on the attack submarine USS New Hampshire, which returned to its homeport on Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., Aug. 13, 2014.


A U.S. sailor hugs his son after arriving in Fleet Activities Yokosuka on the USS Shiloh in Yokosuka, Japan, Aug. 8, 2014. The Shiloh returned from a three-month patrol to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.


Lt. Mack Elliot holds his son and his newborn daughter with his wife upon the return of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64) to Naval Station Mayport. Carney deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Salt Cebe

Dog teams use training as opportunity to build rapport

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Sean McKenzie, right, holds back Benjamin, a military working dog, from subduing Cpl. Nicholas Newell during bite-work training at the Central Training Area in Okinawa, Japan, Aug. 7, 2014. Bite work trains the dog to subdue a suspect while allowing the handler to maintain control over their dog. McKenzie and Neville are military working dog handlers assigned to 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force

Dog Days: Aquatics aggression class at base training tank

Colli, a military working dog, maintains a bite after Marine Corps Cpl. Paul Kelley, a working dog handler, jumps into the pool during an aquatics aggression class at the training tank on Marine Crops Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 14, 2014.


U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class John Winjum, a military working dog handler, stands duty at the Port of Djibouti during an inspection of ships, tugboats and the pier on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, July 7, 2014. Winjum is assigned to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti security forces.


Military Working Dog Dak, looks out a truck in anticipation while his handler Staff Sgt. Joseph Nault, 799th Security Forces Squadron MWD trainer, checks his gear July 18, 2014, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. MWD’s are used as a deterrent and to search for contraband such as drugs and explosives, as well as enemy positions to protect military personnel on the battlefield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen)

Bonus: Read a related story, “Let me tell you ’bout my best friend.”

All photos and captions: DOD

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Railroad ‘Bomb Trains’: Speeding to Disaster Thu, 21 Aug 2014 20:46:00 +0000 It’s 3 p.m., and you’re cruising down a rural road, doing about 50.

A quarter mile away is a sign, with flashing yellow lights, alerting you to slow down to 15. It’s a school zone.

But, you don’t see any children. Besides, you’re going to be late to your racquetball match. So, you just slide on past.

You’re an independent long-haul trucker. You get paid by the number of miles you drive. If you work just a couple of hours longer every day than the limits set by the federal government—and if you can drive 75 or 80 instead of 65, you can earn more income. You have your uppers and energy drinks, so you believe you should be able to work a couple of hours a day more than the regulations, and drive faster than established speed limits.

Now, let’s pretend you’re the CEO of a railroad. Your trains have been hauling 100 tanker cars of crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in Philadelphia and the Gulf Coast. That’s 100 tankers on each train. A mile long.

About 90 percent of the 106,000 tanker cars currently in service were built before 2011 when stricter regulations mandated a new design. The older cars are susceptible to leaks, explosions, and fires in derailments. But, because of intense lobbying by the railroads, they are still carrying oil.

Railroad derailments in the United States last year accounted for more than one million gallons of spilled oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data. The oil pollutes the ground and streams; the fires and explosions pollute the air.

Most of the derailments threatened public safety and led to evacuation of residential areas. One derailment led to the deaths of 47 persons, the destruction of a business district, and an estimated $2 billion for long-term pollution clean-up and rebuilding of homes and businesses. Three derailments, including one in a residential area of Philadelphia, occurred this past year in Pennsylvania.

The derailment and explosions of “bomb trains” became so severe that in May the Department of Transportation declared the movement by trains of crude oil from North Dakota derived by the process known as fracking posed an “imminent hazard.”

The federal government wants to reduce the speed limit for those trains carrying highly toxic and explosive crude oil.

If you’re Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific (CP), you say you “don’t know of any incidents with crude that’s being caused by speed,” and then tell your investors, “We don’t get better with speed [reduction]. We get worse.”

If you’re Charles Moorman, CEO of Norfolk Southern, you agree completely with your colleague from CN, and say that a higher speed limit is safe.

If you’re Michael Ward, CEO of freight giant CSX, you say that lower speed limits “severely limit our ability to provide reliable freight service to our customers.”

You and your fellow CEOs have even had one dozen meetings with White House officials to explain why slower speeds are not in the nation’s best interest. You explain that your railroad should be allowed to determine the best speed for your trains.

Driving a car through a school zone, you don’t have the right to determine your best speed.

Driving a truck on interstate highways, you don’t have the right to determine your maximum speed.

But, if you’re a multi-billion dollar railroad industry, you think you have the right to set the rules.

[Dr. Brasch is a former newspaper and magazine writer and editor. He is the author of 20 books, most fusing historical and contemporary social issues. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster. Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog assisted.]

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Sarah Palin – still delusional after all these years Thu, 21 Aug 2014 20:18:49 +0000 Sarah Palin – still delusional after all these years
By Richard K. Barry

The Hollywood Reporter ran an excerpt
recently from a new book about Saturday Night Live. It’s actually an update of an old book. Live From New York is by James Andrew Miller and Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post television critic Tom Shales (due out in September). It adds a couple hundred pages of original material to an earlier history of the show, which came out in 2002, in order to bring things more or less up to date.

If you like this kind of stuff, enjoy. Entertainment industry navel-gazing doesn’t really do it for me.

I did find a couple of comments by that half-term mayor somewhat amusing.

These were attributed to Sarah Palin:

I think SNL is egotistical if they believe that it was truly an effect on maybe the public debate about who should lead the country in the next four years.

I know that they portrayed me as an idiot, and I hated that, and I wanted to come on the show and counter some of that.

Well, who can say if a very popular nationally broadcast program that constantly pokes fun at the intellectual capacity of a given politician really has an impact. I’ve got to think it’s probably not helpful to said politician.

As for the second comment, I didn’t think she did all that badly on the show. Dumb as she obviously is, I gave her points for her appearance. I am, however, pretty sure she didn’t counter anything.

All of which is really just an excuse to post a collection of Tina Fey’s best Palin bits. Outstanding.

Richard Barry is Associate Editor of The Reaction. This is cross-posted from that website.

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Before Killing James Foley, ISIS Demanded Ransom From U.S. Thu, 21 Aug 2014 17:24:13 +0000 isis (1)

Well, well, it now turns out that despite the original statement broadcast to the world before a member of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria beheaded American freelance journalist James Foley that the group was sending a message to the United States and President Barack Obama, the group that is bringing back the bad ‘ol days memories of World War II and a certain mustachioed dictator had another reason: the United States had refused to pay a ransom.

So they killed — or, rather, butchered — their victim. The New York Times:

Kneeling in the dirt in a desert somewhere in the Middle East, James Foley lost his life this week at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Before pulling out the knife used to decapitate him, his masked executioner explained that he was killing the 40-year-old American journalist in retaliation for the recent United States’ airstrikes against the terrorist group in Iraq.

In fact, until recently, ISIS had a very different list of demands for Mr. Foley: The group pressed the United States to provide a multimillion-dollar ransom for his release, according to a representative of his family and a former hostage held alongside him. The United States — unlike several European countries that have funneled millions to the terror group to spare the lives of their citizens — refused to pay.

And there could be more murders. SEVERAL MORE:

The issue of how to deal with ISIS, which like many terror groups now routinely trades captives for large cash payments, is acute for the Obama administration because Mr. Foley was not the lone American in its custody. ISIS is threatening to kill at least three others it holds if its demands remain unmet, The New York Times has confirmed through interviews with recently released prisoners, family members of the victims and mediators attempting to win their freedom.

The tragedy — and challenge to American policy makers and the American military — may be far from over. A new bloody chapter — and Internet video — could well be unveiled soon:

ISIS also appears determined to increase the pressure on Washington. It has now threatened to kill a second hostage, Steven J. Sotloff, a freelance journalist for Time magazine who is being held alongside Mr. Foley.

In a video of the execution of Mr. Foley that was uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, the screen goes dark after he is decapitated. Then the ISIS fighter who killed him is seen holding Mr. Sotloff, wearing an orange jumpsuit and his with his hands cuffed behind his back, in the same landscape of barren dunes. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision.”

And capitulation to ISIS’ demands is a non-starter.

Be sure to READ THIS take run earlier on TMV, before Foley’s death.

David Rohde, a Reuters investigative reporter and contributing editor to The Atlantic, says the United States and Europe failed Foley:

Somewhere in the desert of eastern Syria, a militant from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria beheaded the American journalist James Foley this week. The killer and his terrorist group are responsible for Foley’s death. They should be the focus of public anger.

But Foley’s execution is also a chilling wake-up call for American and European policymakers, as well as U.S. news outlets and aid organizations. It is the clearest evidence yet of how vastly different responses to kidnappings by U.S. and European governments save European hostages but can doom the Americans. Hostages and their families realize this fully—even if the public does not…

….This spring, four French and two Spanish journalists held hostage by Islamic State extremists were freed—after the French and Spanish governments paid ransoms through intermediaries. The U.S. government refused to negotiate or pay a ransom in Foley’s case or for any other American captives—including my own abduction by the Taliban five years ago. With the help of an Afghan journalist abducted with me, I was lucky enough to escape. But today Foley is dead and Islamic State militants now say Steven Sotloff, a journalist for Time magazine whom the group also captured, will be killed if the United States does not stop bombing its fighters in Iraq.

There are no easy answers in kidnapping cases. The United States cannot allow terrorist groups to control its foreign policy. One clear lesson that has emerged in recent years, however, is that security threats are more effectively countered by united American and European action. The divergent U.S. and European approach to abductions fails to deter captors or consistently safeguard victims.

He notes that there’s a pattern in these cases which can be boiled down to this: a lot happens privately behind the scenes and the families are hopeful but frustrated.

For the first 16 months after Foley was taken captive, his family had no information regarding his whereabouts. They learned he was alive from two Spanish journalists who were freed by the Islamic State in March after a ransom was paid. In a subsequent email message, the captors instructed the family to keep the case quiet and not identify the Islamic State as the kidnappers. Fearing for Foley’s life, the family obeyed. Other American families with loved ones taken captive by militants have done the same. Privately, the Foleys and other families have grown intensely frustrated with the failure of American officials to negotiate with the captors. U.S. government officials also refused to coordinate their response in any way with European governments.

In the days and weeks ahead, the Foley family will speak for themselves about their ordeal. But the payment of ransoms and abduction of foreigners must emerge from the shadows. It must be publicly debated. American and European policymakers should be forced to answer for their actions.

Foley believed that his government would help him, according to his family. In a message that was not made public, Foley said that he believed so strongly that Washington would help that he refused to allow his fellow American captives to not believe in their government.

Like every substantive issue confronting American policy makers and politicians, this issue will likely to get mired down in tiresome political polemics because red meat must be hurled to the partisan hungry and the highly lucrative political entertainment media industry must feed the beast.

But Rohde raises an issue that needs to be discussed seriously, pondered — and produce some kind of cohesive response.

It is literally a matter of life and death.

For more blog reaction GO HERE

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An ISIS primer: who, what and when Thu, 21 Aug 2014 14:51:15 +0000 ISIS-Salahaddin-Division-WC-10 (3)

An ISIS primer: who, what and when
By Shoshana Bryen and Michael Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL), currently controls about one-third of Iraq. It is a combination of:

• A non-al-Qaeda revival of the al-Qaeda-sponsored Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) organization that tried to take over western Iraq 2003-?2006, and

• Sunni Syrian rebel groups including the Nusra Front (Jabhat al Nusra), which also has ties to al Qaeda.
Turkey, Qatar, and indirectly the United States supported the Nusra Front early in its existence in the Syrian civil war, although it is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. In 2011-12, the U.S. was supplying arms from Libya to Turkey for distribution to Syrian rebels, and both Turkey and Qatar provided them to their preferred radical jihadist groups, not the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels at least politically favored by the U.S. The Nusra Front was a recipient of both arms and money. The CIA was working in the area at the time, ostensibly helping the Turks “vet” the opposition groups and providing them “non-lethal” aid.

Current ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (as the self-styled Caliph of the Islamic State, he is now known as Amir al-Mu’minin Caliph Ibrahim) was an early follower of Abu Musab al Zarkawi, a Bin Laden loyalist. In 2003, al Zarkawi’s “Group for Monotheism and Holy War “(JTJ) bombed the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, killing 34 people. In 2006, after al Zarkawi was killed, the group became the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) under the control of Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian. The American “surge” in Iraq pushed ISI across the border to Syria in 2006-7.

After both al-Masri and al-Baghdadi were killed in 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi assumed leadership of ISIS.

In April 2013, ISIS announced that the Nusra Front in Syria was affiliated with al Qaeda and the two would work together in Syria and Iraq. There were reports that ISIS had waned in influence early in 2014 and in February, al Qaeda separated itself from ISIS. This may have accounted for President Obama’s comment that the group was “the jayvee team” ? a reference to the apparent rise of the still AQ-affiliated Nusra Front at the expense of ISIS. But in June 2014, the Nusra Front was reported to have merged into ISIS, providing it with an additional 15,000 soldiers for its latest push across western Iraq.

ISIS has enormous financial reserves. When Iraqi forces killed the ISIS commander of Mosul in June 2014, they retrieved 160 computer flash drives ? which the CIA, among others, has been combing for information. According to The Guardian newspaper, the drives contained “noms de guerre of all foreign fighters, senior leaders and their code words, initials of sources inside ministries and full accounts of the group’s finances.” A British official told the newspaper, “Before Mosul, their total cash and assets were $875 million. Afterwards, with the money they robbed from banks and the value of the military supplies they looted, they could add another $1.5 billion to that.”

ISIS, then, was not unknown to American, British, Iraqi or other intelligence services before it began its streak across the Syrian-Iraqi border and the acquisition of territory in which it has declared its caliphate.

The group has changed from an insurgency in Iraq to a jihadist group primarily in Syria, to an army largely in Iraq. Following the path of least resistance, the group moved from Iraq to Syria, then Iraq again and today is in control of parts of both countries.

ISIS Timeline

• Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi established al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in April 2004 and swore allegiance to Osama Bin Laden. [i]

• The Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) fought multiple battles with U.S. and kidnapped American soldiers.[ii] It also carried out IED and suicide attacks against Iraqi and U.S. forces.

• Following the 2006-07 surge, many of the group’s members, including al-Zarqawi, were killed by Iraqi or U.S. forces; some remained in hiding. As of 2010, the U.S. considered the group to be dislodged from central AQ leadership. [iii]

• Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi ? ISI leaders ? were killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi mission in April 2010, leaving the leadership of ISI to Abu Bakr.[iv]

• In 2011, all U.S. combat troops had left Iraq, but ISI predominated on the Syria-Iraq border. Had Syria not collapsed, ISI would have had a harder time gaining territory and funds.

• By late 2012, much of the group’s reformed leadership was already targeted by the U.S. treasury. [v]
• The Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL), another name for the same group, started operations in Northern Syria following large demonstrations against Assad.[vi]

• ISIL officially declared its governance over the Levant in April 2013

• In August 2013, U.S. officials said ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was operating from Syria, but directing suicide attacks in central Iraq[vii]

• The group refocused efforts on Iraq-Syria border after fighting began with other rebel groups and Assad in late 2013 early 2014 [viii]

• AQ Central and ISIS split due to differences over methodology and fighting in early 2014 [ix]

• ISIS pushed deeper into Iraq, capturing Fallujah in Jan 2014[x] and Mosul in June.

Early Funding

Early funding of ISI (later ISIS) included many rich and religiously connected Gulf donors. One of the most notable is Nayef al-Ajmi, Kuwait’s former Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs and Endowments. The U.S. Government later sanctioned al-Ajmi for sending money to Syrian Jihadists. [xi] The whole al-Ajmi family appears to have been involved in financing jihadists. Sheikh Hajjaj al-Ajmi used his 250,000 Twitter followers and some of his own wealth to fund various radical Sunni groups in Syria, sending over $1 million. Syrian rebels even sent him “thank you” videos on Youtube.[xii]

The former Head of British MI6 says the Saudi government probably was not sending money, but overlooking when citizens do [xiii] Qatar appears to be the only country openly funding jihadist groups in Syria, but the money trail appears to include a number of rich families in the Gulf.

Ad hoc funding included bank robberies and the looting of antiquities. [xiv]

Later Funding

–Raiding oil fields and processing facilities in Iraq. Oil cannot be shipped out of the country ? ISIS doesn’t have the transportation capacity and no one on the outside will buy it, but there are ways to make it profitable internally.

Traders sell both refined and crude oil to nearby groups including Kurdish smugglers.[xv]

Iraq’s Anbar Province, the ISIS stronghold, doesn’t have much oil, but Northern Nineveh and areas around Kirkuk do.[xvi]

ISIS has taken control of Baiji, the site of a large refinery that supplies oil to much of Iraq

• In June, ISIS looted the central bank in Mosul, taking away an estimated $429 million

With that, it is estimated that “ISIS could pay 60,000 fighters $600 a month for a whole year.”

• Money is also made from business and personal “protection” taxes extorted from residents of areas captured by ISIS.

Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director and Michael Johnson, Senior Research Associate, of the Jewish Policy Center, compiled this report. Bryen’s column in San Diego Jewish World is sponsored by WAXIE Sanitary Supply in memory of its founder Morris Wax, who worked with her in Washington on issues affecting U.S. and Israel security. Bryen may be contacted via This article originally appeared in San Diego Jewish World and is reprinted with its permission.

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Secret terror: Fate of journalist Steven Sotloff now on world stage Thu, 21 Aug 2014 14:27:06 +0000 MIAMI — A grisly recording of Islamic jihadists decapitating an American journalist that was posted on the Internet Tuesday revealed more than just the group’s pitiless, homicidal soul. It also uncorked one of the Middle East’s dirty little secrets: that a Florida man has been held hostage in Syria for a year by militants who now…

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Video: Stunning footage of swimmer escaping huge crocodile Thu, 21 Aug 2014 12:46:44 +0000 A swimmer’s worst nightmare, in the same league with a shark: being in the water near a crocodile. Here’s some stunning footage of a big croc watching and following a tourist in Mexico as he considers having manwhich for lunch. This footage was reportedly shot on a bridge by terrified tourists who were looking on:

Background on this video:

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Is James Foley’s Death the End of Frontline Reporting? Thu, 21 Aug 2014 04:34:35 +0000 Like many families of those who simply disappear and go missing, James Foley’s were no different. They believed that one day their son, who had gone missing before Thanksgiving 2012 in Syria, would walk through the door. Jim was smart. Jim was brave. Jim was a good guy. Because of these traits, his family and his…

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The ones left behind Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:04:07 +0000 bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb

WASHINGTON — The fire this time is about invisibility. Our society expects the police to keep unemployed, poorly educated African-American men out of sight and out of mind. When they suddenly take center stage, illuminated by the flash and flicker of Molotov cocktails, we feign surprise.

The proximate cause of the rioting in Ferguson, Mo., is the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was stopped, a witness has said, by a white policeman for walking in the street rather than on the sidewalk. Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown at least six times, according to a private autopsy and, reportedly, one conducted by the county medical examiner. Two of those bullets struck him in the head.

There we have the familiar narrative: another unarmed black man unjustly killed. Brown thus joins a long, sad list — Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, etc. — that seems to have no end.

This storyline is unassailable. Anyone who thinks race is not a factor in these fatal encounters should have to cite examples of unarmed young white men being killed by trigger-happy police or self-appointed vigilantes. Names and dates, please.

But the violence in Ferguson tells of a deeper, more fundamental narrative about what African-Americans have done, and what has been done to them, in the decades since the urban riots of the 1960s — the fire (BEG ITAL)last(END ITAL) time.

Tempted to conclude that nothing has changed? Please note that the Missouri highway patrol commander, brought in to bring proportion and discipline to what had been a provocative local police response, is black. The attorney general who interrupted his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to order a Justice Department investigation and a third autopsy is black. And, of course, the president and commander in chief — who also took time from a Vineyard holiday to address the crisis in Ferguson — is black.

Also note that this undeniable evidence of progress on the issue of race — which would have been unimaginable when Harlem exploded in 1964 over the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy — makes no apparent difference to the young men who have been rampaging through the streets of Ferguson.

Why not? Because the tremendous gains achieved by some African-Americans have not just left some others behind but made their situation more desperate and hopeless than it was 50 years ago.

When the unrest in Ferguson is over, I predict that there will be a flood of ambitious journalism seeking to assess the status of black America. Most of this analysis will be ignored because it will so contradict what many Americans see every day with their own eyes.

Millions of African-Americans took advantage of the opportunities created by the civil rights movement to climb into the middle class — and in some cases far beyond, as exemplified by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Yet millions of other black Americans did not reach the middle class. This group, mired in poverty and dysfunction, finds the paths others took are blocked. They live in neighborhoods with failing schools that cannot prepare them for today’s economy. Secure, high-paying blue-collar jobs are a thing of the past. Racial bias in policing means they are much more likely to be arrested and jailed for minor nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession, than whites who commit the same crimes.

Increasingly, these African-Americans who were left behind are invisible. Their neighborhoods either get gentrified — which means they can no longer afford to stay there — or simply bypassed by development. What happens in poor black neighborhoods has less and less to do with the everyday lives of middle-class Americans, white or black.

Yet in Ferguson and other such pockets across the nation, millions of young black men and women grow up knowing that the deck is stacked against them. Did Michael Brown have a chip on his shoulder? Not according to his friends and family, although the convenience store video suggests otherwise. Would it be understandable if he did? Might he have wondered if white kids, living in more affluent parts of town, routinely got hassled by the police for jaywalking?

Brown had no police record. He had graduated from high school. He was about to enter a technical college. Given where he came from, it’s hard to do a whole lot better — and easy to do a whole lot worse.

Now that the streets are filled with incoherent rage — and the rioting must be strongly condemned — we can see Brown’s struggle. Momentarily, at least. After the smoke clears, we will be blind once again.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is (c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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(Updated) The President and John Kerry on Foley’s Murder Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:10:45 +0000 Obama on Foley


Apparently, the U.S. had attempted a rescue operation to free Foley and other American hostages held in Syria by ISIL. Sadly, the mission failed “because hostages were not present at the targeted location”

Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement announcing the unsuccessful mission, “the U.S. government will not tolerate the abduction of its people and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of its citizens and to hold their captors accountable.”

Kirby’s statement reads as follows:

“The United States attempted a rescue operation recently to free a number of American hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL. Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location.

“As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home.

“The United States government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can. The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable.”

Original Post:

The President made a statement on the killing of journalist James Foley by the terrorist group ISIL.

“The entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley,” President Obama said. “Jim was a journalist, a son, a brother, and a friend. He reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness to the lives of people a world away.”

The following are parts of his statement.

[ISIL has] rampaged across cities and villages — killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims — both Sunni and Shia — by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.

So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.

The people of Iraq, who with our support are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities. The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists. They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.

From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.

Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security and a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday. And we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism, and replace it with a sense of hope and civility.

Today, the American people will all say a prayer for those who loved Jim. All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss. We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families. We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.

May God bless and keep Jim’s memory, and may God bless the United States of America.

The entire statement can be viewed in the video below

Secretary of State Kerry also issued a statement:

James Foley went to the darkest of places to shine the light of truth. Nothing could stop him from sharing with the world the reality of what was happening on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the struggle against a brutal dictator in Libya, and he was just as determined to do the same from Syria. He was brave and bold, and no masked coward can ever steal the legacy of this courageous American who lived out the meaning of the word journalism.

I was a Senator when James was first held in Libya, and we were first introduced to the Foley family. His family was as determined in working towards his release as James had been daring in covering those war zones himself. The sheer unfairness and unlikely odds that this young journalist would again find himself in captivity in another conflict was almost unimaginable. It is impossible to express how much we all wanted this latest horror to end with his family reunited, as it had been the first time.

Teresa and I, along with members of my family who got to know James’ mother Diane and his brother, are heartbroken for all of the Foleys. There are no words of condolence that can adequately convey our sorrow, our sympathy, or our anger for what has happened.

There is evil in this world, and we all have come face to face with it once again. Ugly, savage, inexplicable, nihilistic, and valueless evil. ISIL is the face of that evil, a threat to people who want to live in peace, and an ugly insult to the peaceful religion they violate every day with their barbarity.

We grieve for James Foley. We mourn for his family and his loved ones. We honor the courage and pray for the safety of all those who risk their lives to discover the truth where it is needed most. And make no mistake: we will continue to confront ISIL wherever it tries to spread its despicable hatred. The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil. ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable.

Amen! Amen!

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Obama’s hard choices: Islamic State or just terrorists? Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:00:54 +0000 President Barack Obama will have to act more forcefully and quickly in both Iraq and Syria if he does decide to take the fight to the Islamic State to preempt a barbaric fortress of anti-Western terrorists.

James Foley’s gruesome beheading underscores the urgency of unambiguous actions.

First, he will have to clarify whether he sees IS as terrorism in new guise or a qualitatively different bid for statehood capable of undermining the so far US-led world order.

He must decide whether this new strain of ideologically motivated warriors is just evil-minded crazies seeking an ephemeral spot in the sun. Or they constitute a fundamental challenge to the Pax Americana that even Russia, China and Iran accept currently and prefer to radical Sunni Islamic perversity.

It is worth recalling that the decline of every great power, including the Romans and Ottomans, began with attacks by determined asymmetrical enemies whose ability to survive retaliation encouraged other enemies.

Eventually, the others created alliances strong enough to fragment and bring down the great power and the world order it established. The process unfolded through unrelenting erosion of the great power’s stamina and wealth by asymmetrical warriors to final decisive war for a new world order.

If Obama decides to seek definitive victory over IS, the path will be lonely since Washington has no trustworthy ally in the neighborhood.

Its Western military allies, including Britain, Italy and France, have lent small helping hands in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Americans have always endured the worst of deaths, injuries and expenditures.

Victory will be harder still with local soldiers on the ground fighting for their own opportunistic theological agendas far removed from such Obama ideals as a unified secular democracy in Iraq.

Despite the catastrophic threat from conquest by IS, each of Iraq’s Shia, Sunni and Kurdish groups seems to have goals different from Obama’s desire for an inclusive Iraq.

The White House will also need massive diplomatic effort to get non-interference and support from governments with stakes in the neighborhood, including Syria, Iran, Turkey and Russia.

An unprecedented scale of coercion will be required to bring Iraqi Sunni, Shia and Kurds on the same page as Obama while conducting intensive diplomacy to prevent outside powers from instigating them to unravel regional borders and relationships among neighbors.

Some American analysts suggest that it is in the interests of neighboring Iran and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to cooperate covertly with Obama to defeat the IS.

That may be a misreading of the depth of distrust in the region of US policies for over 30 years. It is more likely that Teheran will prefer to benefit from a new allied Shia state in Iraq that could allow it to obtain influence over Basra’s oil and shipping terminals, thus sharply weakening Western and Saudi influence in the Gulf.

Teheran would benefit greatly from an independent, well-armed and oil rich Shia ally in the Gulf in addition to its friends in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

It may not fear a Shia-Sunni showdown or the rise of a radical Sunni Islamic State because the new Iraqi Shia state would provide a buffer.

Western analysts tend to overstate the intrinsic violence of Arab Sunni and Persian Shia enmity. They forget that both religious denominations and ethnic populations have lived cheek by jowl with fewer large wars in recent centuries than among Christian denominations and European populations.

During the past 1,000 years, wars in the region occurred for national hegemony rather than religious domination. This was true also of the decade-long war between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Iran that killed more than a million people.

Some Americans expect Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to turn against IS to regain lost territory. They suggest discreet cooperation with Assad to destroy IS warriors. After that, the West could plot to depose him to bring democracy to Damascus.

Such talk treats Assad like a babe in the woods despite ample evidence of his resilience and cunning.

It also assumes that Russia, which is currently hostile to Washington, will allow inclusive pro-Western regimes to take root in Iraq and Syria against the interests of its current friends in Teheran and Damascus.

Moscow, Ankara and Teheran may also disallow a militarized pro-US enclave to stabilize in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Turkey and Iran do not want to see the rise of a powerful Kurdistan enriched with oil from Kirkuk and control over the vital Mosul dam.

Ankara fears that a stronger Kurdish Peshmerga heavily armed by Washington will protect safe havens for anti-Turkish PKK fighters who have long sought to “liberate” Turkey’s Kurdish population.

Teheran fears that Peshmerga fighters will be a US proxy at its borders and foment trouble through Iranian Kurds.

Both Turkey and Iran were alarmed when the Peshmerga, PKK and Syrian Kurds came together last week to save the Yazidis near Sinjar by creating a humanitarian corridor from the mountain’s north side. They may try to scuttle close relations among the Kurdish militias.

Both countries also have influence on Iraqi Kurdish politicians and may exploit longstanding squabbles to prevent stabilization of a democracy patterned on Obama’s vision.

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Racing in the ‘Baja 1000’ to Heal Young Hearts Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:36:00 +0000 Baja Racing Team

Every year, scores of adventurous men and women compete in one of the most grueling racing events, the SCORE Baja 1000. This year’s 1,130-mile race — the 47th Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 – will take place November 12 through 16. It will start in Ensenada, Baja California, and end 1,130 miles and 30 to 40 hours later in La Paz, Baja California Sur.

The race tests both machines and humans as it takes place over some of the harshest and most unforgiving terrain in the Baja peninsula, including desert, sand traps, rocks, steep hills, cattle crossings and, yes, even some paved roads here and there. There have also been reports of hidden traps and obstacles “created” by sensation-hungry spectators in remote parts of the course.

Also every year, children from all around the world — some from the most remote and impoverished regions on the planet — make equally grueling journeys to the United States to receive life saving surgery to correct congenital heart defects. HeartGift, a laudable organization that makes such journeys and treatment possible, expects to sponsor 40 such children this year.

Those “journeys” not only involve thousands upon thousands of miles of travel, including by foot and on horseback , but also heartrending experiences that take tremendous emotional, physical and financial tolls on already anguished and impoverished parents.

You see, so many of these parents know that unless their child receives the intricate surgery needed to correct his or her life-threatening heart defect — specialized treatment that is scarce or nonexistent where they live — their child may die. They live with this intolerable fear and anguish for months, sometimes for years.

Some are fortunate to finally make contact with an organization such as HeartGift that will arrange for transportation to a U.S. hospital and for the necessary open-heart surgery. But even so, the burden is tremendous because of the isolation, the distances involved and the costs and difficulties in just arriving at a definitive diagnosis:

  • The parents of 3-year-old Frances from Nigeria had to mortgage their small farm to pay for the “echo” tests, before HeartGift became involved.
  • Several children have come from remote villages in China, such as 3-year-old Jiating whose father earned about $140 a month, almost half of it going to pay for Jiating’s frequent medical treatments.
  • Some of the children brought to the U.S. for treatment by HeartGift hail from nomad families on the steppes of Mongolia, others from the Andes Mountains in Bolivia and Ecuador, still others from tropical Nigeria.
  • Kelly, from Nicaragua, was diagnosed with heart disease when she was only a few days old. Finally, when she was 13, HeartGift made it possible for Kelly to receive healing surgery.
  • Wahab came from war-ravaged Iraq in 2008. Little Norbu joined the Shechen Monastery in Nepal when he was five, and it wasn’t until he was 12 that HeartGift was able to bring him to Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin for open-heart surgery.

At this point, readers who have gotten this far may well ask, “all good and well, but what does all this have to do with the Baja 1000?”

Good question and it brings me to a daring, adventurous, generous and bighearted couple from Houston, Texas, Kay and Greg Crouch.

The Crouches, well-known Houstonian benefactors and founding Board members of the Houston Chapter of HeartGift, will be racing their newly made-over, neon pink and purple “Baja Bug” over one of the longest and most dangerous desert circuits in the world — the aforementioned Baja 1000 — in November.

That covers the “daring and adventurous” part.

As to the “generous and bighearted” aspect, the Crouches will be driving their “HeartGift Baja Bug,” #579, in the Baja 1000 to raise awareness and money for HeartGift, an organization that has already saved the lives of more than 200 little patients from more than 30 countries.

Along with their team, appropriately named “the HeartThrobs,” and their HeartGift Baja Bug, the Crouches have been touring Houston and other cities in Texas to raise awareness of this wonderful organization and of the life-saving work HeartGift does and to collect pledges for every mile they complete of the Baja desert challenge.

Kay and Greg drove in last year’s 883-mile Baja race. This year’s race is even more challenging, but a challenge the Crouches gladly accept to raise money for HeartGift, for the children who every day of their life face much bigger risks and challenges than the Baja 1000 could ever offer.

For, as arduous as the Baja 1000 is, it pales in comparison to the torturous paths children such as Emily from Ecuador, Saranzaya from Mongolia, so many others and their parents have had to travel to get to life-saving medical care.

Take the parents of baby Emily, who live high up in the Andes Mountains. For a living, they grow vegetables and beautiful flowers and sell them at a small, distant market. Very early, they knew there was something wrong with their baby and embarked upon a long and stressful series of consultations and tests, involving numerous grueling trips from their home in the mountains by foot and by horse-back, baby in arms, into the nearest town, frequently followed by long, 12-hour bus rides to the capital, Quito, and back.

All this only to be eventually told that baby Emily suffered from a life-threatening ventricular septal defect (VSD), also known as a “hole in the heart” — a condition that would require delicate and risky open-heart surgery, something that for Emily just was not an option in Ecuador.

Emily’s young parents, devastated, without resources and powerless to seek specialized medical treatment, found themselves in the same agonizing and desperate situation that thousands of other parents — perhaps millions — in so many other developing countries all too often find themselves in.

But here is where HeartGift stepped in and brought 16-month-old Emily with her young mother to Austin, Texas, in March of 2013.

A week later, Austin pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Fox and his world-class surgical team at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin performed life saving open-heart surgery on Emily, successfully repairing her VSD and giving Emily literally a new lease on life.

Rudy listening to Emily's heart

Emily’s mother listens to her baby’s heartbeat after it was surgically repaired (Photo by author)

Today, Emily — almost three years old — is back in her idyllic home in the mountains of Ecuador leading a happy, normal life thanks to HeartGift.

Emily and Rudy 2014

Emily with her young mother, Rudy, one year later, back in beautiful Ecuador (Photo courtesy Emily’s family)

Almost exactly one year later, on March 16, 2014, adorable, one-year-old Saranzaya, also with a “hole in her heart,” arrived in Austin after a long 10,000-mile, 3-day journey from a small village in the remote mountainous Arkhangai province in Mongolia and immediately stole everyone’s heart.

Her heart was healed one week later. Watch her wonderful story below.

Emily, Saranzaya and the other HeartGift children are the fortunate ones.

But each year, more than 1 million babies are born with a congenital heart defect in the world — making this the leading cause of death from birth defects. In developing countries, many of these children are never diagnosed and oftentimes, even after such diagnoses, those with the condition cannot undergo life-saving surgery.

You can help make the journey to life-saving heart surgery for some of these children possible and a little less torturous by pledging what you can to the HeartGift Baja Bug for every mile the HeartThrobs team completes in November in Baja California.

Please watch the delightful video below, where the Crouches promise to go back to Baja in November, “racing for the hearts of children worldwide.” “We have the car, the experience, the desire and the mission,” they say. All they need is your support.

William Van Pelt, CEO of the HeartGift Foundation, sums it all up nicely, “It really takes a community to save each and every child’s life; a community of doctors and medical staff, as well as host families and supporters like the Crouches and so many others who are giving their time and efforts to support HeartGift’s mission.”

Won’t you join this noble cause with a pledge?

Please click here to pledge.

To learn more about HeartGift, please click here or go to

Lead photo: Greg and Kay Crouch at the 2013 Baja 1000 race.


Kay Crouch is a board member for HeartGift and is also president of Crouch Environmental Services, Inc., a Houston company she co-founded with her husband Greg 20 years ago. To learn more about this company, please click here.

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post

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The Letdown: Why I Feel Bad at the End of Good Days Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:30:40 +0000 The Letdown

There might be a very good reason you feel down after big days. And there is a good chance is has less to do with reality and more to do with how your mind is processing reality. Don’t get me wrong, it is a real feeling you confront, but it might not be based on reality. Let me tell you why…

Big days are different than normal days. They are usually defined by increased excitement and increased sensory input or even sensory overload. For example, have you ever gone to a big Fourth of July celebration? Did you go to a big party with lots of people, games and fireworks? Did you see bright flashes of light and hear large bangs all around you? Did you stay up longer and experience more than your average day?

If some or all of these experiences happened, there is a good chance your brain experienced some level of sensory overload or at least you experienced increased, prolonged sensory stimulation. This might have been traumatic to you or it might have been incredibly enjoyable. The pleasure of the day is really not the issue. Instead, the issue is the simple fact that you experienced a day that is different than most days. Your exciting day was a sensory anomaly, it was an exception to the rule of “normal” living.

You might not have stopped to contemplate the sensory uniqueness of that day, but your brain totally noticed. In fact, for some of us, our brain not only noticed, but it aggressively confronted the unique day by behaving differently. However, most of us didn’t even notice that something neurological was happening; which was the goal of our brain, to make things feel pretty much normal. So what happened?

When the brain is overstimulated or faces more sensory stimulation than normal, it adjusts or compensates. With so much going on, our brains instinctively protect us by lessening the impact of that stimulus on our bodies. To put it simply, the brain sort of steps back from the stimulus and begins to tune out or tone down what it receives. Just as we instinctively move back from a fire that might burn us, the brain pulls back from stimulus that might overwhelm us. It’s as if the mind goes within itself to protect us from freaking out.

Consequently, on a day like the Fourth of July, we might think we are fully experiencing the bangs and flashes of the fireworks, but our brain has actually already pulled back a little bit to make the experience tolerable. We see the flash and we hear the bang, but our brain is not processing the intensity of this event in the same manner as a normal day. It’s as if our vision and hearing is muffled. The brain hears less and sees less to keep us from freaking out. Or maybe it would be better to say that we see and hear fine, but we process in a protective way that dampens the overall effect of the day.

This process of dampening how we viscerally experience a day is something that seldom goes noticed while we are engaged in an exciting event. The event has enough excitement that we are not able to realize that we are actually not fully experiencing what is happening. Which is a good thing, because as mentioned before, if our brain didn’t pull back a little, we’d probably freak out.

I am extremely thankful that I have a brain that is able to compensate for me. I’m thankful that my brain can limit the stimulus I’m confronting so that I can sanely process the more exciting moments of my life. Even so, there are some downsides to this compensating. One downside is how I feel when the super exciting, sensory bombardment is over. When the firework show is over and I’m home in bed, I often feel the other side of sensory compensation which feels a lot like sadness, disconnect and depression. It is such a feeling of contrast that I used to confront the following question after most every major event in my life: Why do I feel so bad after such a good day?

After confronting this conflicting reality, I began to investigate the pattern until I came to some rather practical conclusions. To discover these conclusions, I’d like you to take a self-discovery journey with me.

Cycle of Sensory Overload

The first step on our journey is to take inventory of the events that leave you feeling depressed, sad and disconnected. Remember, this is a journey concerning sensory overload, there are many other reasons for depressed feelings that will not be addressed in this post. This is just one very specific facet of life that influences many of us in profound ways.
With this in mind, I’d like you to take inventory of the days where you end up feeling disconnected at day’s end. For me, I found a pretty powerful pattern. In my life, the following events almost always lead to a certain amount of sadness or disconnect at day’s end:

-School dances
-County fairs
-Rock concerts (Christian or secular)
-Disneyland and Disney World (We are Disney junkies)
-Worship services
-Anything fireworks related
-Big family outings and active vacations
-Just about any big, special event with lots of activity

As I listed these events, I began to see a rather clear pattern. Whether or not I had a fun day or a conflict free day, I still felt disconnected at the end of sensory exciting days. In contrast, I realized that on more boring or mundane days, I had less of an emotional swing. It’s the extremes in emotional contrast that gave me some insight into what is really happening.

For my life, the pattern and process is rather straightforward. On days with a tremendous amount of sensory excitement, my mind deals with the excitement by compensating and taking in less of the sensory bombardment. In other words, my mind protects me by taking in less of the chaos around me. Whether it’s good chaos or bad chaos, my mind filters more of it out. This is a wonderful gift to me when I’m in the middle of too much stimuli. However, at the end of the day, when the excitement has waned and the stimuli has waned, my mind is still in its protective mode; it is still taking in less stimuli. It’s as if my mind has put in earplugs during the fireworks, but forgets to take the earplugs out once the fireworks have ended. It’s as if my mind took a step back from reality for protection, but it doesn’t step back into reality once the excitement is over.

It has been my experience that it takes the mind a while to recover from overstimulation. The brain doesn’t quickly step back into normal functioning and regular processing. Instead, it stays a little deadened, or might I even say, shell shocked from the day’s stimulus. This leaves me feeling kind of empty, distant and disconnected at the end of really wonderful days. It’s as if the sound has been turned down, the room has turned gray and I’m processing my life more as a spectator than a participant.

I used to think that this distant, disconnected or depressed feeling was a sign that even the most meaningful days were not enough to provide me with genuine happiness. I wrongly assumed that my feelings were a sign of something wrong with my personality, spirituality or purpose in life. I assumed that my disconnected feelings were pointing to some greater troubling truth about existence. I used to think these things, before I noticed the clear pattern in my life that accompanies sensory overload.

When examining my disconnected feelings, I realized that big events, with lots of stimuli, almost always led to my emotions feeling deadened at the end of the day. I also realized that this feeling would eventually pass within the next day or two, regardless of whether or not I deeply processed the psychological or spiritual importance of the day. Eventually, after sleep and some normal living, the feeling would subside and my mind would get back to processing and experiencing existence “normally.”

This is the profound truth I discovered in processing why I feel depressed, sad or disconnected at the end of really fun days. I feel down, because my brain takes a little bit more time to get back to normal after confronting non-stop sensory bombardment. My seemingly incongruent feelings are actually a very natural response to days with, dare I say, too much excitement. In light of this revelation, I try to remember the following truths at the end of an exciting day.

Remember at the End of an Exciting Day

My feelings are not reality: If I feel disconnected, it is most likely an issue of overstimulation.

I don’t need to process my life, at least not today: Instead of trying to process my life after a big day, I just let myself feel a little disconnected, knowing that this feeling will pass. There will be time to process later, if needed.

I need to build boredom into my schedule: On vacation, it is important that I allow for time to sit and do boring, low stimulation stuff. It is important for me to just abide, rest and be. If I fill every day with a big event, I will find myself deadened by day or week’s end.

It’s all right to feel this way: This might sound simplistic, but it has been incredibly freeing to understand and embrace this stimulus cycle. Instead of feeling fearful or condemned, I am able to walk through the cycle with a positive view of myself and a better view of the day. I am able to celebrate the day, regardless of the mixed feelings.

I share how I feel with my wife and kids: Now instead of hiding my feelings for fear of ruining the day, I let them know when I am feeling disconnected. None of us has to be afraid, because we know it is just a feeling that will pass with time; it does not define the day.

I share this to encourage anyone who struggles with this same issue. I want to remind you that I am talking about a very specific pattern relating to overstimulation. This post is in no way an attempt to speak to the real complexities of depression, anxiety or any other psychological struggles. Instead, I am sharing a perspective that might help some of you understand why you feel certain ways and certain times.

Although awareness of this cycle has helped me greatly, I want to encourage each of you to feel free to get help for any issue that causes you real struggle. There is no shame in getting the best medical and spiritual counsel necessary to live a victorious life. If you have psychological needs, you should not hesitate to pursue the best care that will lead you on a path of true hope and healing.

As for me and this pesky issue of feeling disconnected, I’ve found a real peace in becoming more aware of the amazing ways in which my brain processes the world around me, especially on days with lots of fireworks.

Doug tweets @fairlyspiritual
Doug blogs at
Doug talks weekdays from 4-6 pm (pst) at

the letdown

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The White House Confirms: Journalist James Foley was beheaded by ISIS Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:02:50 +0000 jpeg

And now the dreaded confirmation from the White House. Yes, freelance journalist James Foley was indeed beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The video — on line and for a while on You Tube, then taken off — was authentic.

The video showing the beheading of an American journalist by the militant group Islamic State is authentic, the Obama administration said Wednesday.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said intelligence officials analyzed the video and confirmed its authenticity. The journalist, James Foley, was freelancing for the website GlobalPost when he was kidnapped in Syria almost two years ago.

On a personal note, I freelanced overseas in India, Bangladesh and Spain from 1973-1978 writing for the Chicago Daily News and the Christian Science Monitor. When you freelance you are freelancing in more ways than one: it’s you, alone, out there. Small and big things can happen. And this was tragically big.

The video of the execution-style murder of Foley was posted by the Islamic State, an Al Qaeda offshoot that has seized a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq. Its stated goal is to establish an Islamic caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.

The group recently has suffered setbacks in Iraq as the U.S. has given air support to the Iraqi military and Kurdish militias fighting them, and in the video, Foley is forced to call the U.S. government his “real killers.” It’s not clear when or where the video was made.

As I noted HERE, ISIS potentially could be a far bigger and more brutal threat to the United States’s national security and its citizens here and around the globe than is currently perceived (or publicly admitted) by U.S. officials.

Use of the beheading tactic really tells it all. Al Qaeda and some of its branches had started using the tactic and the internet to show their handiwork starting most infamously in Feb. 2002, when Daniel Pearl, kidnapped while working as the South Asia Bureau Chief of The Wall Street Journal, based in Mumbai, India, was beheaded and the video pumped into the Internet. Some other beheadings followed — but the tactic then suddenly seemed to fizzle out. The reason, some analysts said, was that Al Qaeda felt it was hurting the group, creating a backlash from many Muslims.

Beheading is the most barbaric way of m-u-r-d-e-r-i-n-g (let’s not skip using the word) someone to make a political statement. It’s used to inflict terror, beat down those who might dare to oppose the group or divulge its secrets, and propel a groups message into the headlines due to the barbarism, cruelty, and inhumane nature of the “execution.”

Meanwhile, get ready for this to be the first in a series. ISIS is getting its moment in the sun.

But it’s more like a Devil’s moon.

The Global Post reports:

The video appeared following a threat made last week, GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni told NBC on Wednesday.

…Late on Tuesday evening the family acknowledged there was a small chance the video may still prove to be fake, but nonetheless released the following statement:

“We have never been prouder of our son and brother Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

“We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”


Earlier Tuesday, Philip Balboni, GlobalPost CEO and co-founder, made the following statement: “On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim’s possible execution first broke. We have been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video posted by the Islamic State to determine if it is authentic. … We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family.”GlobalPost, for whom Foley had reported in Syria, has mounted an extensive international investigation since November 2012 to determine who kidnapped Foley and where he was being held. Significant research has been undertaken throughout the Middle East, including along the Syria-Turkish border, in Lebanon, in Jordan and in other locations.

“Although GlobalPost’s investigation at one point led us to believe that James was being held by the Syrian government, we later were given strong reason to believe he was being held by Islamic militants in Syria,” Balboni said. “We withheld this information at the request of the family and on the advice of authorities cooperating in the effort to protect Jim. GlobalPost, working with a private security company, has amassed an enormous amount of information that has not been made public.”

…Foley was on a freelance assignment for GlobalPost when he was abducted in northern Syria on Nov. 22, 2012. He was on his way to the Turkish border when he was stopped by a group of armed men. Foley reported for GlobalPost from Libya and Afghanistan before traveling to Syria in the early days of the now long-running civil war that has taken the lives of more than 170,000.

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Book Review – A History Of The Future Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:37:28 +0000 AHistoryOf The Future1James Howard Kunstler was best known for his dystopian non fiction until he made the move to fiction in 2008.  I reviewed his first novel, A World Made By Hand, in 2010.  The US Economy and for all intents civilization has collapsed suddenly.
 The reasons really don’t matter, there are hundreds of scenarios that might result in such a collapse.  Only the strongest and the brightest are able to survive and move from a 21st century technocratic society to a 19th century agrarian society.  The first novel centers around the town of Union Grove in up state New York.  For more background read my review of the World Made By Hand.

A History of the Future is the third novel in the series.  It takes place about 2 years after the first novel.  Union Grove has made great strides in organizing thier 19th century civilization.  The benevolent feudal lord Bullock  still runs his estate although he is out of spare parts to repair his water powered electrical generator so he too will soon have to do without electricity.  Brother Jobe who is the head of the cult/commune has become an important part of the community because  included among his flock are engineers and skilled tradesman.  He opens a tavern and restaurant in town which serves as a gathering place for the people of the time.

The thing that really makes this 3rd novel different is we learn what is going on in other parts of what used to be the United States.  In the first novel Robert Earle’s  son Daniel takes off with a friend to see what is happening in the rest of the country.  Daniel returns after two years on Christmas eve.  He is nursed back to health by the local doctor and then begins to tell his story.  It is almost a novel within a novel.  I understand that in the print version of the book his story is actually presented in a different font.

All three novels are dystopian Science Fiction and Kunstler does not try to pass them on as predictions.  For someone best known for non fiction Kunstler does as good a job of any author I have read of creating characters with depth and personality.  I recommend all three novels in this series for the joy of reading.

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Cartoon: Hands up in Ferguson Wed, 20 Aug 2014 15:56:16 +0000 Rainer Hachfeld, Neues Deutschland, Germany

Rainer Hachfeld, Neues Deutschland, Germany

This copyrighted cartoon is licensed to run on TMV by Cagle Cartoons. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited.

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Tea Party Has Republicans Afraid To Discuss Scientific Consensus On Climate Change Wed, 20 Aug 2014 15:43:40 +0000 ocean temperature increase

Republicans must say idiotic things to get elected, often denying science, but that does not mean that all elected Republicans are idiots. Bloomberg has discussed the scientific consensus on climate change with many Republicans. While well ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree on how human action has caused global warming, rank and file Republican remains in denial, often seeing this as stemming from a left wing conspiracy. Republicans must play to this attitude even if they know better:

In stark contrast to their party’s public stance on Capitol Hill, many Republicans privately acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is at least partially responsible for climate change and recognize the need to address the problem…

In Bloomberg BNA interviews with several dozen former senior congressional aides, nongovernmental organizations, lobbyists and others conducted over a period of several months, the sources cited fears of attracting an electoral primary challenger as one of the main reasons many Republicans choose not to speak out.

Most say the reluctance to publicly support efforts to address climate change has grown discernibly since the 2010 congressional elections, when Tea Party-backed candidates helped the Republican Party win control of the House, in part by targeting vulnerable Democrats for their support of legislation establishing a national emissions cap-and-trade system…

While environmental groups continue to search for Republican candidates to back, Goldston said the Tea Party movement has swept many more deniers of climate change into Congress than ever before, and it has pushed Republicans away from basic environmental principles. He disagreed with others who said many Republicans privately acknowledge the risks of climate change, even if they don’t say so publicly.

“It’s very comforting for people to think that these people are pretending,” Goldston said. “It’s not true. The problem would be in many ways easier to solve if it was true.”

Chris Miller, who served as a senior energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agreed with Goldston’s assessment that the Tea Party has made it “impossible” for Republicans to speak on the issue.

“I have had no or very few private and honest interactions with Republicans on the topic,” Miller told Bloomberg BNA. “They’re all too scared of speaking the truth.”

It is ironic that Republicans are now afraid to express support for cap and trade considering that this was largely a Republican idea in the past, similar how Republicans now oppose aspects of the Affordable Care Act which were initially advocated by Republicans such as the individual mandate and selling insurance through exchanges.

In order to oppose the scientific consensus on climate change, conservatives frequently spread false claims and distort statements from scientists. For example, Rebecca Leber recently described how conservatives misquoted climate scientists to promote their claims that global warming is on hiatus:

Norman Loeb, an atmospheric scientist with NASA, gave a crash course in climate change science for the public at Virginia Air and Space Center on Tuesday. He talked about all the evidence that the planet is warminglike the fact that temperatures right now are the hottest they’ve been since record-keeping began in 1850. He also noted that the rise in surface temperatures has slowed considerably since 2000. This doesn’t contradict the theory of global warming, he explained. Land temperature regularly varies, and much of the warming in the last decade is happening unseen in the ocean.

The same day, the frequently conservative-leaning Washington Times ran a short story on the talk. It said that a prominent NASA scientist had admitted global warming is on “hiatus.” As the writer explained, “The nation’s space agency [has] noticed an inconvenient cooling on the planet lately.”

It was pretty much the opposite of what Loeb was trying to say. But it’s not an isolated incident. Conservatives love to cite the relative stability of global surface temperatures for the last 15 years as proof that climate change is a hoax. And they frequently twist the words of scientists to do it. I read or hear versions of this argument all the timefrom outlets like Forbes, National Review, and Fox News. Sometimes the conservatives even talk about “global cooling,” joking that maybe we should be more worried about that, instead. This sort of commentary probably helps explain why still find that just 67 percent of Americans accept that humans cause climate change, even though there is nearly unanimous scientific consensus.

Needless to say, the conservatives have it all wrong. And the science really isn’t that hard to understand…

Originally posted at Liberal Values

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ISIS Releases Video of Execution, Alleges Victim is American Journalist James Foley Wed, 20 Aug 2014 03:49:19 +0000 A video released Tuesday by militant Islamic extremist group ISIS depicts the violent execution of a man alleged to be missing American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria last year. Foley, 39, was taken while working for Agence France Presse. AFP has no comment at this time, AFP’s Chief Editor for North America told…

ISIS Releases Video of Execution, Alleges Victim is American Journalist James Foley

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(Updates) Another ‘Oops’ for Perry Wed, 20 Aug 2014 01:00:39 +0000 Ric kPerry mug shot 2

Gov. Rick Perry’s booking photo, Aug. 19, 2014. Courtesy Travis County Sheriff’s Office

Update II:

Under a celebratory, almost victorious atmosphere, a defiant Texas governor Rick Perry arrived at the Travis County justice complex in Austin, Texas, this afternoon and spoke to a cheering crowd before entering the courthouse to be booked, fingerprinted and having his mug shot taken.

Perry exited the booking room about 20 minutes later, spoke again to a cheering crowd, and left.

CBS News reports that shortly thereafter Perry posted a photo of himself at an ice cream store on Twitter.


The Austin American-Statesman reports:

A state district judge has set an arraignment date for Governor Rick Perry for August 29, officials said today. Under state law, Perry does not have to be present, but may still attend. Meanwhile, a judge has granted a personal bond to Perry, which means he will have to pay only a $20 fee for his release once he surrenders to the Travis County Jail. The judge granted the bond after the prosecutor and Perry’s attorney agreed a personal bond was appropriate, officials said.

Read more here.

Original Post:

The all hat and no cattle governor of Texas has been indicted by a Travis County grand jury on two felony counts stemming from his alleged attempt to use his veto powers to pressure an elected official — Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg — to step down by threatening to cut off $7.5 million in state funding for a public corruption unit in her office.

According to the New York Times, “Ms. Lehmberg is Austin’s top prosecutor and oversees a powerful public corruption unit that investigates state, local and federal officials; its work led to the 2005 indictment of a former Republican congressman, Tom DeLay, on charges of violating campaign finance laws.”

The governor’s hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, says that some Democrats are calling for Perry to step down:

“For the sake of Texas, Governor Perry should resign following his indictment on two criminal felony counts involving abuse of office,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said: “Governor Rick Perry has brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas.”

“The charge of abuse of official capacity carries a prison sentence of five to 99 years, and the charge of coercion of a public servant a two- to 10-year prison sentence, says the Times.

If the governor is treated like any other person charged with a felony, Perry will have to surrender to the Travis County jail where he would be booked, have a mug shot taken and be fingerprinted.

It remains to be seen how this latest — and somewhat more serious “oops” — will affect Perry’s ambitions to run for the U.S. presidency and, more important, his chances to succeed should he decide to run.

Perry is the first Texas governor in nearly a century to face criminal charges.

Read more here

Lead image: Christopher Halloran /

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Islamic State: Victory, responsibility and deceit Tue, 19 Aug 2014 21:55:03 +0000 For the US-led West, the best remedy to the Islamic State lies in military victory. But it remains unclear whether Iraqi groups mean the same thing by victory as President Barack Obama.

The central fact is that Iraqi Sunnis, Shia and Kurds claim they are too weak to repel the invasion of their home territories by Islamic State warriors from Syria without support from American warplanes, materiel and treasure.

Absent that support, their soldiers simply abandoned weapons and ran. This is ridiculous because the IS has less than 15,000 fighters spread thinly over large areas of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

They captured American weapons in Mosul but far less than the high quality arms held in Baghdad and Erbil, which also have many more US-trained soldiers.

Each Iraqi group claims it cannot protect its territory without extended US involvement, including military advisors, intelligence and more weapons. All paid for by American taxpayers.

In effect, each is dumping the chief burden of its salvation onto Obama, including protection of civilians and humanitarian aid.

Iraq’s Sunnis, Kurds and Shia have abdicated responsibility for their own redemption. Instead, they are misleading Americans to believe that the terrorist Islamic State is a greater threat to the West than to them.

They are asking US taxpayers to sink yet more material and money into the cesspools that gave opportunity to the IS, including their corruption, unfair governance and sectarian political infighting.

Perversely in Washington, the arguments that rage are for or against Obama’s leadership instead of this deceit of Iraqi leaders, whether Sunni, Shia or Kurd.

Merciless medieval zealot warriors are obliterating their ancestral lifestyles and conquering their ancient homelands. Yet they demand further American sacrifice as a precondition to fighting the invader. This is deceitful.

They pretend to have suddenly forgotten how to fight without air support, whereas they always did so before the US military arrived in 2003.

They know that however precise the airstrikes, collateral causalities will occur causing civilians to hate Americans more than the IS invaders since they have no airpower. Each feuding group is trying to make the US a scapegoat for their man-made hornet’s nest in Iraq.

Against this backdrop, Obama’s caution and that of his generals makes sense because the current war is different. Unlike 2003, it is not a clear-cut fight against a dictator’s bloody tyranny. It is much murkier.

The current war is a showdown among long-standing enemies, comprising extremist and moderate Sunni militias, rival Iraqi Shia militias, Arab dislike of Kurds, and malign interference by neighbors.

Each group wants to use American power to slant the showdown in its favor. They are using the IS threat to pull the US back into a war that they are unwilling to fight together, because each wants to gain the upper hand at war’s end.

That end might be realignment of territories among Kurds, Sunni and Shia, rather than unity within the inclusive Iraqi state of Obama’s vision.

Despite some gaps, Obama’s measured approach is more rational than the new quasi invasion that some strong American voices propose. Larger intervention even without thousands of US boots will drop the peace of Iraq, Syria and the entire region squarely on the White House lap.

It will force American taxpayers and soldiers to make more sacrifices while local actors continue to feud as Americans carry the can.

For instance in Baghdad, it is far from certain that the new Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has goals similar to the White House.

Al-Abadi might simply do to Washington what Pakistan has done for years in Afghanistan. He will take American weapons and money on pretext of fighting the Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but bolster his own control over Iraq’s military instead.

He may protect Iraq’s Shia regions without ever defeating the IS because that would tear up his meal ticket from the US.

In particular, he may not abandon his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki’s drive to consolidate Shia power in Iraq to secure Shia domination. He could make it lower key for a while to gain time for building his own power against future challenges from al-Maliki or other Shia leaders.

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Observing World Humanitarian Day Tue, 19 Aug 2014 19:17:02 +0000 Tsunami

When one looks around places like, Syria, Northern Iraq, Ukraine, etc., there is not much to be seen that qualifies as humane or “humanitarian.” There are also way too many natural disasters which all too often become catastrophic humanitarian disasters.

Nevertheless, there are organizations and individuals — “those unsung heroes” Secretary of State John Kerry calls them — who “despite the risks, work to save lives on the front lines of conflict and help victims of natural disasters pick up the pieces and rebuild their communities.”

And, yes, in spite of all the gloom and doom, we have seen those “world’s humanitarians” in action in recent days trying to save lives in places such as Sinjar Mountain, northern Iraq, and in other places throughout the world that have been hit by monstrous typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.

So, despite all the gloom and doom, it is right to remember that today is World Humanitarian Day — perhaps even celebrate it.

Secretary of State John Kerry does.

Kerry believes that one of the great privileges of serving as Secretary of State is “getting to see firsthand the unfathomable commitment of men and women who give so much of themselves to victims of tragedy.”

He says:

I’ve met with leaders and community members in Iraq who are standing up to ISIL’s grotesque campaign of violence and terror. I’ve witnessed the commitment of aid workers in refugee camps on the Syrian border, helping Syria’s people and its neighbors cope with one of the cruelest humanitarian crises in generations. I’ve spoken with the heroes in Juba who are today doing everything they can to provide an estimated 3.9 million South Sudanese with food and save an entire generation from famine.
The men, women, and children affected by these crises represent only a fraction of the 108 million people worldwide who are victims of civil strife or the destructive power of natural disasters and need assistance.
In each case, humanitarians – armed with courage and a powerful moral compass – are answering the cries of those in dire need and our common call to conscience. They are providing food, water, clothing, shelter, and medical care where no one else can or will. They are working to reunite children separated from their parents and families torn apart by chaos and conflict. They are helping victims of sexual violence to heal and helping the world to speak with a unified voice that the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and intimidation is absolutely unacceptable in the 21st century.

I am proud to agree with Kerry, whatever other shortcomings America and Americans may be accused of, that we are still the world’s largest donor of humanitarian assistance and, as Kerry says, we remain “steadfast in our commitment to doing everything we can to provide for humanitarians’ safety and security.”

But, Kerry mentions, there are risks involved in such humanitarian actions and today “of all days” we must also remember “the men and women who pay the ultimate price as a result of their devotion”:

Across 30 countries last year, 155 aid workers lost their lives. These men and women gave everything they had for those who have nothing. Today, we recommit to their mission of bringing charity, healing, and kindness to those who need it most. We remember the universal principles they gave their lives to uphold.
We remember the six Afghan employees of the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development, who were shot while working on a rural development project in the northern Afghan province of Faryab. We remember one Kenyan, five Somali, and two South African nationals killed at their U.N. compound in Mogadishu. We remember the five South Sudanese aid workers killed earlier this month only for being ethnic Nuer. We remember them and we honor them by taking up the torch they have left behind, by acting to affirm human dignity wherever it is denied.
Today, as the United States and the global community recall the names of these and all humanitarians, we remember our own obligation to affirm the inherent value of every life, and what that demands from our own lives. When there is so much work to be done, we remember the vital work of humanitarians and what we can all do to be humanitarians.

I would add to these “unsung heroes” our military troops who are invariably first to respond to such disasters, whether in a rescue, recovery or relief capacity or by providing military protection and other support measures as they have done and continue to do in Northern Iraq.

Lead image: DoD

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Is Moderate Synonymous With Inert? Tue, 19 Aug 2014 13:38:21 +0000 image1495067xPolls over the last two decades show that the percentage of the electorate calling themselves independent, moderate, or centrist generally runs about 40%. However, in some states, such as Massachusetts and Alaska, 53% of their citizens are unaffiliated with any political party. It also appears that the number of independent voters may be growing, given the disgust the populace feels for the current parties and the dysfunction in Washington. In a national Gallop poll last year 42% of voters self-labeled themselves as independent. These numbers do not include those individuals who are registered Republicans or Democrats and consider themselves moderate or centrist in orientation.

Given the fact that such a large percentage of Americans belong to the category of moderate, independent, or centrist, why aren’t their voices being heard in Washington and why do they have such minimal representation in Congress and state legislative bodies? And why hasn’t a national centrist third party arisen to provide moderates and independents with a voice, since recent polls have shown that a plurality of citizens would support such a party?

Perhaps moderate citizens are so fed up with the political process, with its corruption and partisanship, that they have abandoned their rights to the franchise and refuse to participate in what they see as a sham. Third party movements in the past have been successful in elections in individual states and regions, but have never gained enough traction with voters to be perpetuated or spread nationally. Those national third parties that did receive significant percentages of the vote were usually driven by a specific individual or idea, and fell by the wayside when that individual left the playing field or the idea lost its appeal. (For example, the Reform Party, Bull Moose Party, Progressive Party, Know-Nothings, Greenback Party, and so forth)

Though the problem of moderate under-representation in politics is endemic in the United States, it is seen universally in democracies around the world. Those who are more extreme and partisan in their political views tend to have power that is disproportionate to their numbers because they are more driven activists.

In the United States, there are a number of reasons why moderates and independents have been unable to manifest the political strength commensurate with their numbers. First of all, a duopoly of power by the Republicans and Democrats has colluded to obstruct the creation of a viable centrist third party on both state and federal levels. This includes various legislative tactics that make it as difficult as possible for third parties to get onto the ballot.

Secondly, closed primaries in most states don’t allow independents to vote for candidates unless they are registered members of that party prior to the primary. Party members who are willing to spend the time and effort to vote in the primaries are often those who have the most extreme positions and partisan views, with moderate party constituents disillusioned with the politics and neglecting to vote in the primaries. (It is difficult to excite prospective voters with slogans that emphasize pragmatism and compromise instead of red-blooded take no prisoners approaches to governing.) Thus the party’s nominees are more likely to be far left or right-wingers than moderate centrists.

Gerrymandering also plays a role in curbing the power of moderates. The aim of the state governments under one party’s control is to make certain districts safe for their party’s nominees for Congress and the state legislatures, by loading these districts with probable supporters and cutting out opponents. However, it also makes the nominees less likely to be moderate as there is no need for them to appeal to centrists, independents or members of the opposition party in order to get elected, as the political deck is stacked for them.

So the dysfunction in Washington (and many states) continues, with moderate centrist members of the two established parties a dying breed that will soon be completely extinct. Mobilizing the passive moderate middle to become activists and make our democracy functional again seems to be an overwhelming task, either through participation in the current parties or the creation of new centrist party. In fact, the chances for the formation of a national centrist third party appear to be slim to none, unless a charismatic figure with deep pockets comes along who is willing to take the plunge. Our democracy is in dire straits with no easy or straight-forward answers to turn the political process around.

Resurrecting Democracy

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Evil Strikes Back Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:48:03 +0000 shutterstock_127509986

Just as World War I didn’t prove to be “the war to end all wars,” the 20th century didn’t turn out to be when the nearly unimaginable brutality and indescribable evil represented by German dictator Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime was definitively laid to rest.

The evil is back. Big-time.

This time it’s in the form of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is battling to take over Syria and Iraq and has already blurred the two countries’ boundaries. It’s leaving trails of bodies — and horrors — in its path. If it were a movie, you could title early 21st century “The Evil Strikes Back.”

The images of this Sunni group that even Al Qaeda reportedly found too brutal are coming fast and furious – and sickeningly. Only this isn’t Hollywood, but a nightmarish reality faced by those in Syria or Iraq whose lives cross with a group seeking to take over the Middle East and — some believe — beyond by imposing an ultra-conservative caliphate.

It’s a case of the bloody ends justifying the warped, theological means. According to The Daily Mail, a 21-page letter found at Osama bin Laden’s compound after his killing urged the cutting of all ties with ISIS because its ultra-brutality could damage Al Qaeda’s reputation. And Al Qaeda didn’t exactly enjoy the reputation of a group that played Patty Cake with infidels.

Populations that cross paths with Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s self-declared Islamic State must convert to Islam and pay tribute — or else. The Internet brims with grim examples of or-elses: photos and videos, many hyped via social media by ISIS to create fear and recruit.

Among other things, they show mass execution shootings of Iraqi security forces, graphic beheadings, and rows of victims’ heads on sticks. One shows fighters walking bound prisoners over to the water’s edge, making them kneel, then shooting them in the back of the head and pushing them quickly into the water. It’s unflinching assembly-line-mass-murder that would make Hitler proud.

According to Reuters, an Iraqi government official recently reported that ISIS has killed 500 Yazidis, including women and children who were buried alive. ISIS is also systematically destroying Iraq’s cultural and religious artifacts.

I’ll never forget how stunned my late father Richard Gandelman was in the weeks following 9/11. He and other members of The Greatest Generation thought the kind of evil Hitler represented was eradicated when America won the war. Shortly after 9/11, I sat with him and other family members at Carmine’s Tuscan Grill in New Haven and when 9/11 came up he seemed doubly anguished. I sensed he had felt that his grandkids wouldn’t have to grow up in this kind of world — and now it was clear that The Evil had not vanished but merely resurfaced elsewhere under a different name.

You get the feeling that the extent of ISIS’ threat — including in the long-term to America’s national security — isn’t fully grasped by policy makers or the American public.

“A militarized Islamic State made secure and permanent by dismembering Syria and Iraq is a far worse danger to the world order than Russia’s annexation of Crimea,” wrote The Moderate Voice’s Foreign Columnist Brij Khindaria. “It will alter power equations in the entire region stretching from Lebanon to India and West China. It could inspire creation of similar Islamic States in Libya and Afghanistan, which are teetering on the edge of chaos.”

He warns: “It will also trigger a fierce rivalry between IS and the remnants of al-Qaeda….. Both may undertake spectacular acts of terrorism against Americans and Europeans to seek leadership of Muslim extremists fighting against the West’s ‘decadent’ influence and moderate Muslims in the Arab world.”

Can Americans take this seriously enough? Khindaria and others point out that President Barack Obama still seems to view ISIS as a regional problem.

Are we too mired in our selfies, and 24/7 partisan and ideological polemical wars? Can we finally get dead serious? Because, from all indications, ISIS is d-e-a-d serious, as the people who were crucified, beheaded, shot or buried alive by them could attest. If they were still here.

Copyright 2014 Joe Gandelman. This weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

graphic via

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Experts Skeptical of Perry Indictment Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:14:58 +0000 Sahil Kapur reports on legal experts skeptical of the indictment of Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) on Talking Points Memo.

Susan Klein, a professor at UT-Austin School of Law, torched the indictment. “I think the Perry indictment is tragic. It makes my beloved city of Austin a national laughingstock. I am embarrassed to be a liberal Democrat. I consider Perry’s behavior ungentlemanly but certainly not illegal,” she told TPM. “I see nothing in the indictment that would lead me to believe there is anything for the government to prove. I think the statutes were designed to prevent bribery, extortion or fraud, not use of the Governor’s veto authority.”


Many legal experts say the case against Perry is weak. Would a grand jury really send a governor to jail for exercising his veto power? The two-page indictment is vague and leaves many questions unanswered about what the grand jury was told and what legal avenues the prosecution intends to pursue.


“On the more serious charge, the abuse of official authority, I really am not sure what the theory is,” said Jennifer Laurin, a professor at UT-Austin School of Law. “It’s hard to know, looking at the indictment, what the state might be seeking to prove.”


Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University School of Law, said that if Perry’s actions make him a criminal, “a wide array of official actions and public comments could be criminalized.”

Cross-posted from The Sensible Center

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What to Look For In Dueling Autopsies of Michael Brown Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:14:27 +0000 In the next few weeks, separate teams of doctors will issue autopsy reports about Michael Brown, the unarmed African American shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. If history is any guide, they will differ, perhaps significantly, on how to interpret the gunshot wounds on his body. Michael Baden, the veteran medical examiner…

What to Look For In Dueling Autopsies of Michael Brown

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Comment Editing Disabled Tue, 19 Aug 2014 11:15:34 +0000 Comment editing has been disabled due to an inconsistent experience across different web browsers. I’m currently looking at the feature and making it accessible on all platforms. I don’t have an ETA yet but this WILL NOT be a long process.

Until them, please re-read your comment before posting and take care when posting URLs to make sure they are accurate.

Thank you!

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Law enforcement actions against journalists in Ferguson Tue, 19 Aug 2014 08:25:00 +0000 On Saturday, August 10 at 12:01 p.m., 28-year-old Darren Wilson confronted 18-year-old Michael Brown. According to press reports, Brown was walking down the middle of a street; Wilson was in his police car. Reports conflict as to what happened next, but three minutes later Brown was dead, his body riddled from at least six gun shots.

At Storify, I’ve begun chronicling reports of law enforcement officers arresting and harassing professional and citizen journalists.

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Emmitt, Trayvon, Rodney, Raymond, and now Michael (Guest Voice) Tue, 19 Aug 2014 04:59:41 +0000 trayvon

Emmitt, Trayvon, Rodney, Raymond, and now Michael
by Rabbi Ben Kamin

ENCINITAS, California — Ferguson, Missouri, and the inexplicable shooting of teenager Michael Brown, represents not only the latest episode of America’s urban war against black men—it will be far from the last.

Still unresolved is another horrifying racial incident in Miami Beach, Florida. Police there have still failed, ignominiously, to clear the air about the street slaying of motorist Raymond Herisse. Herisee, 22, was killed on a South Beach street in his vehicle in a barrage of firepower that entailed more than 100 rounds of ammunition.

Herisse was taken out, reports the Miami Herald, “in a frightening war-like moment that his family likens to being executed by a police firing squad.” [May 25, 2013]. No less than twelve officers were involved in an assault that left the young man with sixteen bullet wounds, slumped in his seat. Four bystanders were seriously wounded.

Again, the Miami Herald: “Two years and multiple lawsuits later, Miami Beach police have yet to produce evidence that Herisse did anything to deserve a death sentence.” Police have claimed that the man was speeding recklessly and hit an officer on bike patrol. No substantiation, including any witness or video footage, has been produced.

Let’s skip past the clichés as in, “If it had been a white victim,” etc. The reality is more repetitive than any cliché. From Mississippi to Los Angeles to St. Louis to Miami, white officers beating or killing black men, in displays of force and brutality that are inconsistent with any forms of social or legal codes, has been—and remains—rampant.

From the odious gang-murder of 14 year-old Emmitt Till in 1955 (he smiled at a white woman) to the shooting of Trayvon Martin (as if we don’t know the real story here) to a million unknown victims of this American slaughter, the life of a black male has never really amounted to much. We white folks fear black men so we acquiesce to a cycle that is infinitely more gruesome than the worst notions of them that we have carried.

What of the mass carnage ongoing in Chicago and so many other urban centers, not to mention the preeminence of black-on-black crimes that plague us? Unforgivable and intolerable—these are the only answers. And shame on the African American community and its many gratuitous “leaders” who offer nothing but steam and publicity stunts while their—and our—children are perishing in our streets and prisons.

But that doesn’t obscure the reality that our police squadrons, armed with military-level arsenals, and our vigilantes, driven by hate and police-like fantasies, remain free to reduce the humanity of any given black male into road kill. You could have just asked the late Rodney King, beaten senseless by LA police in 1991. The media kept on labeling him as “motorist Rodney King.” But he—and Raymond Herisse and Michael Brown were not motorists. They were men.

Rabbi Kamin is a freelance writer based in the San Diego suburb of Encinitas, California. He may be contacted via This article originally appeared on San Diego Jewish World and is reprinted here with its permission.

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NFL: New Season, New Rules For 2014-15 Tue, 19 Aug 2014 04:45:47 +0000 Goodell

NFL: New Season, New Rules For 2014-15
by David Parada

If there is one cliché I’ve heard often during my short life on earth it’s this, “The only constant is change.” Change is the name of the game every year in the NFL and the upcoming season will be no exception. Several rule changes will be enforced this upcoming season to ensure safety, speed, and the league’s reputation. What has become the norm for the league? A lot of the changes in rules are reactive (remember the Immaculate Reception or the Holy Roller?). How the changes will affect the game, and the Chargers, won’t be known until the regular season begins. Here’s a brief rundown.

1. Roger Goodell would like to remove the point after touchdown attempts from the game. This rule change won’t be permanent this season. However, as fans may have noticed, extra point attempts have been moved to the 15 yard line. Two point conversions will still originate from the two-yard line. Also, and I didn’t notice this change last week, the goal posts are taller by five feet. No more close calls in the event that a kick gets too close to the uprights. This change is due to Justin Tucker’s questionable game winner over New England in 2012.

2. Player safety is a top priority for the league. A couple of new rules were approved to address this issue. First, offensive players can no longer roll up on defensive players from the side. Normally, players weren’t allowed to roll up from behind. Now, the rule has been amended to include rolling up the side of a defender’s leg. Hands to face no longer has to be prolonged contact. Any contact will result in an illegal use of hands penalty and 10 yards.

3. In what is being called the “Navarro Bowman Rule,” all fumbles are now reviewable. Normally, a fumble was only reviewable if it happened in the end zone. Now all fumbles will be reviewable. Warning: the video below is hard to watch.

4. In order to speed up the game, officials will no longer stop the game clock if a quarterback is sacked after the two-minute warning. It’s good thing Chargers Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich is installing the no huddle offense.

5. Slam dunking the ball through the goalpost will now result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Yes, there will no Jimmy Graham knocking the goal post off-balance delays. Soon, most players will have to channel their inner Barry Sanders and hand the ball to the official.

6. In light of recent social developments, the NFL is cracking down on what is essentially trash talk. As stated on the official NFL video, abusive language will include words that address a player’s race and/or sexual orientation. Coaches, game officials, and league representatives will held to the same high standard and such trash talk cannot be directed their way. The resulting penalty is 15 yards.

7. Contact before a pass will be closely scrutinized this season. In effect, defenders will no longer be allowed to lay a hand on a receiver after the 5 yard buffer zone and if the quarterback is still in the pocket. Additionally, defenders are no longer permitted to grab a receiver before a pass has been thrown. It will not matter if the hold impedes a receivers movement. Defensive holding will result in a five yard penalty. Offensive pass inference, a ten yard penalty, will be called if a receiver pushes off on a defender to catch a ball.

8. Player movement on the line of scrimmage will be watched closely. Offensive lineman (particularly centers) will be given five yard false start penalties for jerky movements that might signify the start of the play. Watch out for this penalty during shotgun formations when the center has to look back before snapping the ball.

9. Although some rules have been implemented to speed up the game, one rule change that might have an opposite effect will permit officials while at the replay booth to consult with the league officiating department. My guess is it’s like giving an official a lifeline if the official isn’t certain.

Cross-posted from the

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