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The Parades Are Over. Where Are Your Vets?

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-11-23 19:13

November 12 falls after Veteran's Day. Flags are furled. High school bands have returned home.

If you were like many Americans on November 12 of this year, you did take time to honor those who have fought - and still fight for - our country. Perhaps you were there personally to watch the parades that day which took place in the largest and smallest cities.

It is more probable that you caught a snippet of the parade on the evening news. What is even more likely is that you were at the mall to take advantage of "Veteran's Day Bargains." Or, the last and saddest possibility, the day slipped past without your noticing it.

I can tell you, Veteran's Day is no discount bargain for those who have served. And, being noticed is what most will starve for over the next 364 days.

The parades are over. The services are over. Where are the veterans?

Look over here... to the homeless shelters.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, nearly 50,000 veterans are sheltered nightly. They comprise 8.6 percent of the homeless population. Over 90 percent are male, 98 percent of these are single, 39 percent of these are black, and 54 percent have a mental or physical disability.

They report a disturbing trend: homeless vets are increasingly younger, female, and heads of households.

Look over here... at the unemployment line.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 573,000 unemployed veterans in 2015. Of this number, 59 percent were ages 45 and older and 8 percent were female.

Through the cold lens of statistics, veteran employment rates are not significantly different from those of the general population and therefore not considered a crisis. You might feel differently if you are one of those 573,000 vets, however.

Look over here... at the mortality table.

The annual suicide rate of 29.5 per 100,000 veterans is a rate roughly 50 percent higher than the rate among other civilians with similar demographic characteristics, according to January 2015 article in the LA Times. This is 50 percent higher than non-military civilians. This is 22 suicides per day, every day. Some 660 per month. Over ... well, you get the point.

If it weren't for charities...

We can thank a large and distinct band of loyalists and advocates for stepping up and making sure that our warriors get the help they need, and they are doing this by way of charities. These organizations come in every stripe and color, according to a CNBC Report on the "Top 10 Charities That Support Veterans."

Some were formed by military wives, some focus on particular branches of the service, and one (Puppies Behind Bars) even specializes in training prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans.

Among the better known organizations, such as the VFW and DAV (Disabled American Veterans), is a relative newcomer - Wounded Warriors which was started in 2003 in Roanoke, VA, by a group of veterans and their friends who decided to take action to help injured service men and women.

Now, here's the part I like. Everything that has been done in the course of launching a non-profit where I work to raise donations to buy - and then abolish - unpaid and unpayable medical bills will add a much-needed element to the work being done by others. RIP doesn't intend to pay a vet's medical bills - it intends to abolish them.

In July, 2014, "RIP Medical Debt" was launched for the purpose of taking the weight of unpaid medical debt off the backs of our fellow citizens. Certainly a worthwhile cause, considering over 50 percent of all personal bankruptcies in the U.S. are medical debt related and medical debt is an unwelcome burden for too many families.

It is now RIP's intention to include veteran debt in our campaign. It was a development that, even I as a Navy veteran, had not considered. After all, our government is supposed to be responsible for those who serve and have served, right? Not quite, not well, and sometimes not at all.

The statistics are shocking: over 500,000 homeless vets seek shelter each night; over 50 percent of returning vets suffer from PTSD; many find that their long-term health care needs outlast their Veterans' Affairs health care, and...in 2010, some 1.3 million uninsured veterans had out-of-pocket medical expenses exceed their disposable income!

With factors like this, it is no wonder that tens of thousands of military veterans are plagued with unpaid medical debt and are hounded by bill collectors.

Look over here... at the difference you can make!

It is a truism that returning vets are not prepared for the road ahead and struggle with issues such as personal finances, low paying jobs, or unemployment - which averages 30 percent for those aged 18-24.

Much to our shame as a country, a large amount of their burden comes in the form of medical debt, and that's where you can help. RIP is seeking donations from private parties and corporations to buy veteran's medical debt and pay it off - not strings attached."

Visit our website to learn more and to learn how to make that sorely-needed difference. If you determine that this kind of program and campaign can put a smile on your face, you can be sure that your donations will put a smile on the faces of our vets.

We cannot guarantee that this will put a smile on the face of the bill collector.

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Fraternity Marches Through Ongoing Gang War To End Violence In Chicago

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-11-23 18:59

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Whenever protests against police brutality occur in the United States, critics of the Black Lives Matter movement and other race-related protests are quick to criticize marchers for ignoring so-called black-on-black crime and for only speaking out when a white police officer is involved in a black person's death

But last weekend, the men of Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically black intercollegiate fraternity, proved this is not the case.

Nearly 300 men marched in the freezing rain and snow in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood on Saturday to demand an end to violence in their community. Joined by Alderman Michelle Harris and Illinois state Reps. Marcus Evans and Elgie Sims, all Democrats, the fraternity marched down 79th Street, where community members say a gang war is raging.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Chatham has the 16th-highest violent crime rate of any neighborhood in Chicago.

"We wanted to show that the community was not giving up," said Sims, who is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and currently represents Illinois' 34th District, which includes portions of the South Side of Chicago. "We wanted the business owners to know that we stood with them and we were going to be there making a statement, standing with them, to encourage patrons to patronize those businesses, to encourage people to feel comfortable and safe in their community."  

The Rev. Roosevelt Watkins, pastor of Chicago's Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, told the Chicago City Hall Examiner that the march's purpose was to "confront the violence on these blocks and to reinvigorate economic development on 79th Street." 

"Black business owners, residents, were coming outside of their homes, opening their windows, customers were stepping outside of their shops," Lamar Brown, a law student who participated in the march, told The Huffington Post. "They were applauding us, yelling 'Good job,' clapping. Even people in cars were stopping their cars, giving us thumbs up. I think the effort itself was really embraced by the community."  

The march focused on general violence in Chatham, but it occurred as community members wait for police to release footage from 17-year-old Laquan McDonald's fatal October 2014 shooting. A police officer reportedly shot McDonald in the back 16 times. According to ABC 7 Chicago, the city has until Wednesday to release the dash cam video of the shooting.  

"There's a civil unrest in Chicago right now," Danny Mason, a financial aid advisor at DePaul University and one of the march's organizers, told HuffPost. "There was something that needed to be done."

He said that marching through Chatham was intentional.

"That was the neighborhood that people were saying was the neighborhood to be aware of, and this was also the neighborhood where a lot of incidents happened." Mason said. "We purposely chose this area to start the march to wake people up." 

Right now the Alphas are marching through my neighborhood of West Chatham on 79th demanding peace. I stand with you. This is mans work.

— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) November 21, 2015

Accusations that Black Lives Matter protesters only speak out about police violence ignore the many marches that address high crime rates in black communities, which happen almost once a week in Chicago and in predominately black cities across the country. 

As author Ta-Nehisi Coates has also noted in The Atlantic, comparing police killings to violence within the black community is a false equivalence: 

To the extent that killings by the police generate more outrage, it is completely understandable. Police in America are granted wide range of powers by the state including lethal force. With that power comes a special place of honor. When cops are killed the outrage is always different than when citizens are killed. Likewise when cops kill under questionable terms, more scrutiny follows directly from the logic of citizenship. Great power. Great responsibility.

Violent crime is based on proximity as well. Nearly 91 percent of black victims are murdered by black offenders, while 83 percent of white victims are killed by another white person, according to FBI homicide statistics.

Also on HuffPost:

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Battery-free LED bike lights offer pedal-powered illumination

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Mon, 2015-11-23 15:40
Reelight's NEO bike lights promise an easy-to-mount friction-free generator for a virtually endless energy source.

Google Glass heads into the operating room

TreeHugger Science-Tech - Mon, 2015-11-23 11:07
The optical display device that is often the subject of ridicule has proven itself to be a very valuable asset to surgeons.

Hilary Clinton and the ISIS Mess

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-11-23 05:31
Hilary Clinton's speech on ISIS to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) showed clearly what to expect in a Clinton Presidency: more of the same. In her speech, Clinton doubled down on the existing, failed US approach in the Middle East, the one she pursued as Secretary of State.

The CIA-led policy in the Middle East works like this. If a regime is deemed to be unfriendly to the US, topple it. If a competitor like the Soviet Union or Russia has a foothold in the region, try to push it out. If this means arming violent insurgencies, including Sunni jihadists, and thereby creating mayhem: so be it. And if the result is terrorist blowback around the world by the forces created by the US, then double down on bombing and regime change.

In rare cases, great presidents learn to stand up to the CIA and the rest of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. JFK became one of the greatest presidents in American history when he came to realize the awful truth that his own military and CIA advisors had contributed to the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The CIA-led Bay of Pigs fiasco and other CIA blunders had provoked a terrifying response from the Soviet Union. Recognizing that the US approach had contributed to bringing the world to the brink, Kennedy bravely and successfully stood up to the warmongering pushed by so many of his advisors and pursued peace, both during and after the Cuban Missile Crisis. He thereby saved the world from nuclear annihilation and halted the unchecked proliferation of nuclear arms.

Clinton's speech shows that she and her advisors are good loyalists of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Her speech included an impressive number of tactical elements: who should do the bombing and who should be the foot soldiers. Yet all of this tactical precision is nothing more than business as usual. Would Clinton ever have the courage and vision to push back against the US security establishment, as did JFK, and thereby restore global diplomacy and reverse the upward spiral of war and terror?

Just as the CIA contributed to the downward slide to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and just as many of JFK's security chiefs urged war rather than negotiation during that crisis, so too today's Middle East terrorism, wars, and refugee crises have been stoked by misguided CIA-led interventions. Starting in 1979, the CIA began to build the modern Sunni jihadist movement, then known as the Mujahedeen, to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The CIA recruited young Sunni Muslim men to fight the Soviet infidel, and the CIA provided training, arms, and financing. Yet soon enough, this US-created jihadist army turned on the US, a classic and typical case of blowback.

The anti-US and anti-Western blowback started with the first Gulf War in 1990, when the US stationed troops throughout the region. It continued with the Second Gulf War, when the US toppled a Sunni regime in Iraq and replaced it with a puppet Shia regime. In the process, it dismantled Saddam's Sunni-led army, which then regrouped as a core part of ISIS in Iraq.

Next the US teamed up with Saudi Arabia to harass, and then to try to topple Bashir al-Assad. His main crime from the perspective of the US and Saudi Arabia: being too close to Iran. Once again, the US and Saudi Arabia turned to Sunni jihadists with arms and financing, and part of that fighting force morphed into ISIS in Syria. The evidence is that the covert US actions against Assad pre-date the overt US calls for Assad's overthrow in 2011 by at least a couple of years.

In a similar vein, the US teamed up with France and the UK to bomb Libya and kill Muammar Qaddafi. The result has been an ongoing Libyan civil war, and the unleashing of violent jihadists across the African Sahel, including Mali, which suffered the terrorist blow last week at the hands of such marauders.

Thanks to America's misguided policies, we now have wars and violence raging across a 5,000-mile stretch from Bamako, Mali to Kabul, Afghanistan, with a US hand in starting and stoking the violence. Libya, Sudan, the Sinai, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are all cases where the US has directly intervened with very adverse results. Mali, Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia are some of the many other countries indirectly caught up in turmoil unleashed by US covert and overt operations.

Of course the US is not solely to blame for all of this. Countries across the Sahel, Horn of Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia are impoverished, suffering from food shortages and hunger, high joblessness, global warming, severe droughts, illiteracy, and the impact of dysfunctional or non-existent schools. The region still reels from the artificial borders and the cynical actions of the colonial powers, Britain and France, after World War I. The British Empire, of course, was key to entrenching radical Wahabism in Saudi Arabia, which now provides cash and ideological support for many of the Sunni jihadists.

Until today, Clinton has not acknowledged the roots of the conflict in the region, including the disastrous role that the US has played, including under her watch as Secretary of State. She has not been a mastermind of it, but has been a loyal backer carried along by the CIA, the broader military-industrial-intelligence complex, and the conventional neocon thinking in DC. That's no doubt good for her national politics. It's hard to run for President as an opponent of the permanent US security state. Being a card-carrying member of the US security establishment is the mainstream media's definition of a "serious" candidate.

Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders are learning this for all their troubles. O'Malley and Sanders wisely and correctly support an America that works with other countries and with the UN Security Council to build peace in the Middle East rather than an America that continues to indulge in endless and failed CIA adventures of regime change and war. While Clinton arrogantly demands that other countries such as Russia and Iran fall squarely behind the US, O'Malley and Sanders recognize that it is through compromise in the UN Security Council that we can defeat ISIS and find lasting solutions in the Middle East.

Whether Clinton could ever break free of the military-industrial complex remains to be seen. If she does become president, our very survival will depend on her capacity to learn.

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It's Time To Get Rid Of The Penny, John Oliver Says

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-11-23 05:27

Why is the penny still a thing

As John Oliver pointed out on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight" on Sunday, it costs 1.7 cents to make each penny, so they lose money the moment they're created. 

"That really makes the phrase you have to spend money to make money ring painfully true," Oliver said. 

Pennies are so worthless that people won't stop to pick them up, and 2 percent of Americans admit to throwing them in the garbage. And if you think tossing them in the trash is bad, Oliver found a reddit thread titled, "I put a penny in my butt and now I can't get it out." 

Turns out the person did it because, "I wanted to know what it would feel like to put a cold penny up my butt. (I put it in the fridge for like... 2-3 hours)"

Oliver even found a case of a dog that ate 111 pennies. 

He said there's really only two things pennies are good for. First, you can throw them into a fountain to make a wish -- although given the low value of the penny, that wish would have to be small. 

Oliver suggested, "I wish somewhere in the world a mouse has a good day" or, "I wish I knew what a penny looked like underwater." 

And second, they can be used out of spite -- like when people pay parking tickets in pennies.

Oliver said other countries have gotten rid of worthless coins, including the United States, which did away with the half cent in 1857 -- so maybe the time is right to finally get rid of the full cent, too. 

"There are certain things we know are impossible to get rid of: terrorism, herpes and Guy Fieri," Oliver said. "But the penny is a nuisance we can actually do something about. So let's do it, America. Let's get the penny out of our pockets... out of our dogs... out of our fridges... and out of our asses. We can do this!" 


Also on HuffPost:

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Sarah Palin Sends Very Mushy Thank-You Note To New BFF Adele

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-11-23 05:14

"Rumor Has It" that Adele and Sarah Palin are fast becoming BFFs.

The "Rolling In The Deep" singer told a UK TV show on Friday night that her success in the U.S. was down to the former Alaska governor. Palin responded by giving her a copy of her new book "Sweet Freedom" with a sweet message inside.

She loaded with note with the references to several of Adele's songs:

The unlikely friendship goes back several years, when Adele appeared alongside the former vice presidential candidate on Saturday Night Live in 2008.

The Grammy-winning singer, whose new album "25" dropped Friday, said Palin's appearance garnered a massive audience for her performance. 

"Because something came up in the campaign, she came and did the week I was doing it with Josh Brolin," she told the "Adele At The BBC" special, hosted by Graham Norton.

"So it was one of the most watched SNLs ever, and then it was two weeks before the Grammy ballot, which is when people decide what songs they want to maybe nominate, so, like, literally the stars aligned for me," she added.

Adele's album "19" shot to the top of charts across the world following her appearance -- and she ended up winning two of the four Grammys she was nominated for.

Friday's broadcast also featured Adele pranking impersonators by turning up to an audition in disguise. She also re-appeared on SNL again on Saturday to perform two of her new singles.

H/T: People 

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California Has Become A Nationwide Leader In Better School Discipline Practices

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-11-23 03:01

California is leading the way in making sure that young kids don't get pushed out of school for minor misbehavior. 

A new study out Monday from UCLA's Civil Rights Project shows that districts in the Golden State sharply reduced the number of suspensions given to kids between 2011 and 2014. At the same time that suspension rates went down in many areas, academic achievement improved -- suggesting that the move away from harsh discipline practices benefitted schools. 

The study comes at a time when schools are facing increased scrutiny for perpetuating the so-called school-to-prison pipeline by employing tactics that push students out of school and make them more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. The school-to-prison pipeline especially impacts youth of color, who typically face higher suspension and expulsion rates.

The UCLA study -- which analyzes district and state-level data -- found that suspension rates declined as districts became less likely to punish students for "disruption or willful defiance," a category used to describe more minor, nonviolent offenses. In 2014, a California law banned school suspensions based on disruption or willful defiance for students in kindergarten through third grade, although data used in this study came before the ban. 

Overall, the number of suspensions dropped from 709,580 in the 2011-2012 school year to 503,101 in 2013-2014. The biggest drop in suspensions came for black students, although they are still significantly more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts. In 2011-2012, there were 33 suspensions for every 100 black students, but by 2013-2014, this number dropped to 25.6 suspensions per 100 students.

"We’re on the cusp of more meaningful change."
Daniel Losen

"There's been a general movement across the nation [to reduce suspensions] and California has been among the leaders," said Daniel Losen, author of the study and director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies.

When districts reduced suspension rates, black students also saw the largest academic gains, according to UCLA researchers. Researchers found that lower suspension rates were related to higher scores on the California Academic Performance Index, but did not claim causation. Still, "we do know from other research that efforts to improve achievement could be consistent with efforts to reduce suspensions," the study notes. 

The data "pushes back on the assumption that if you lower suspension rates bad things are going to happen," Losen said. "Where you tend to find higher-than-average achievement, you also find lower-than-average suspension rates -- especially for black kids."

The data reflects the efforts of major districts like Los Angeles, which barred the use of suspensions in response to willful defiance before the statewide ban went into effect. However, recent reports out of Los Angeles paint a more negative picture of these policies. Some teachers say that they have not been provided with enough training or resources to deal with conflict or misbehavior in lieu of suspensions, and that classrooms have become more unruly as a result. 

Losen agrees that while teachers need to be provided with adequate support and resources to keep their classrooms safe, that doesn't mean districts should slow progress in reducing suspensions.

"My take is: We agree teachers need support but it shouldn’t be either/or," said Losen. "Right now, when you suspend a student, especially out of school for a minor offense, there is no research to support that. That’s just bad practice. It's not educationally sound. That needs to stop."

He continued: "We shouldn’t say, 'Oh, let's put up with something harmful to kids until teachers are trained.'"

The report recommends that districts provide supports to increase student engagement and that state and district policymakers consider eliminating suspensions for minor offenses for all grades.

"We’re on the cusp of more meaningful change if we continue to pursue things," Losen said. 


Rebecca Klein covers the challenges faced in school discipline, school segregation, and the achievement gap in K-12 education. In particular, she is drilling down into the programs and innovations that are trying to solve these problems. Tips? Email Rebecca.Klein@huffingtonpost.com.


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Bashar Assad Likely To Outlast Barack Obama In Office

Huffingon Post Politics - Mon, 2015-11-23 00:28

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bashar Assad's presidency looks likely to outlast Barack Obama's.

As the United States has turned its attention to defeating the Islamic State group, it has softened its stance on the Syrian leader. More than four years ago, Obama demanded that Assad leave power. Administration officials later said Assad did not have to step down on "Day One" of a political transition. Now, they are going further.

A peace plan agreed to last weekend by 17 nations meeting in Vienna says nothing about Assad's future, but states that "free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months." To clarify the timeline, the State Department said this past week that the clock starts once Assad's representatives and opposition figures begin talks on a constitution. The vote would determine a new parliament, though not necessarily a new president.

Getting to constitutional talks will be difficult. It implies that Syria's warring parties first reach a cease-fire and establish a transition government - something unattainable so far. Neither Syria's government nor its fractured opposition has endorsed the strategy yet or done much to advance it.

"Nothing can start before defeating the terrorists who occupy parts of Syria," Assad recently told Italian state television. Assad considers anyone fighting him, including moderate rebels, to be terrorists.

Obama countered: "I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power. ... Even if I said that was OK, I still don't think it would actually work. You could not get the Syrian people, the majority of them, to agree to that kind of outcome. And you couldn't get a number of their neighbors to agree to that outcome, as well."

Syria was the focus for Secretary of State John Kerry as he headed to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for talks with government leaders. Many more discussions with Arab officials are planned over the next months.

The uncertainty of the new peace process, particularly as it pertains to Assad, points to Washington's evolution from early in the civil war, when Obama and other officials boldly stated the Syrian president's days were "numbered" and sought his immediate departure.

The focus of Washington - and much of the world - has shifted now to IS, whose most recent attack killed at least 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13. As a result, the U.S. is cooperating with Russia and Iran, countries it once tried to ostracize because of their support for Syria.

The hope is peace between Assad's forces and moderate rebels will allow everyone to work together to defeat IS.

The U.S. and its allies say Assad remains responsible for far more Syrian deaths than IS. His military has used chemical weapons and continues to drop barrel bombs that indiscriminately hit foes and civilians alike.

But for all their brutality, Assad's forces are not directing attacks in European capitals, beheading American journalists or downing Russian passenger jets. Unlike IS, Assad has powerful patrons in Moscow and Tehran. Russian airstrikes since September have helped stiffen the Syrian government's defenses, while Iranian forces and proxy Hezbollah militants have added muscle to its ground operations.

The U.S. is trying to take all these considerations into account as it refines a common strategy with partners in Europe and the Arab world that see Syria's conflict differently. The Europeans are mostly concerned about the refugee crisis across their continent, and they fear more deadly attacks. Saudi Arabia and others backing the rebels want foremost to defeat Iran, which they would see in Assad's downfall.

The U.S. says both sets of goals are connected. To defeat IS, the president said last month there has "got to be a change a government," rejecting any approach that returns Syria to the "status quo ante." The war has killed more than 300,000 people and uprooted some 12 million.

The Nov. 14 statement from the Vienna talks, involving the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and more than a dozen other governments, avoids the most critical questions to achieve that. It does not outline which opposition groups can negotiate with Assad and which are considered terrorist groups. Assad isn't even mentioned.

In one way, vagueness is the statement's strength, allowing Iran and Russia to make common cause in the search for peace. But it may not satisfy everyone's idea of a "transition."

By itself, the plan offers no clear path for Assad's departure, raising the prospect of the embattled Syrian leader still in office when Obama's presidency ends on Jan. 20, 2017.

Western diplomats described a poker game being played between the U.S. and its own allies. U.S. officials said that while they accept the idea that Assad won't leave office immediately, the plan for his exit will have to be clarified as part of the diplomatic process.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are being counted on to persuade the Syrian opposition to support the plan, but will only do so if they get a guarantee on Assad. The U.S. and its European partners cannot offer that guarantee, according to the diplomats, who were not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

If the opposition rejects talking, Assad will not resign as a result. The rebels would not gain sufficient strength to defeat him on the battlefield, and Russia and Iran would not stop supporting him.

Even if the plan is accepted by all and works to the best of expectations, Assad would be appear locked in for a transition process that could extend deep into 2017 or longer.

If after 18 months or two years, IS is defeated and calm is restored, opposition groups would risk reigniting Syria's conflict by reasserting demands for Assad's ouster. World and regional powers would face the same quandary.

For these reasons, some Western diplomats have begun talking about the possibility of Assad staying on indefinitely as a ceremonial president, though stripped of his control over the nation's security and intelligence apparatuses.

It's unclear whether any of the sides in the fighting would see that as an acceptable compromise.

Also on HuffPost


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Post-Paris Politics: Countering and (Maybe) Defeating Isis

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 22:56
More than a week of cacophonous media and political gabble after the shocking Isis attacks on Paris make it clear that US presidential campaigns are no place to look for answers on this shocking and complex episode of new world chaos.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, our ever reliable index of the ignorant and irresponsible, wants to register all American Muslims. Marco Rubio sees a "clash of civilizations," as if the anti-civilizational barbarism of Isis now represents all rather than a tiny slice of Islam and a war against a religion is anything but a deranged idea. Some Republicans want to send a division or more of American troops to fight, not that many American voters agree.

Only Hillary Clinton provided a comprehensive and coherent response. Though it's quite unclear that her strategy would be any more effective than Barack Obama's, though it sounds tougher, and her inclusion of a Syrian no-fly zone to stubbornly try to bring down the Assad regime overlooks the stark reality of a strong Russian air force presence in Syrian skies.

Yet there may be ways to be much more effective in not just containing but strangling Isis both in terms of its seeming control over the de facto "Islamic State" portion of what have been Iraq and Syria and of its alarming global reach with recent successive attacks on a Russian jetliner over Egypt, a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut, and the cradle of Western civilization that is Paris. We may be able to effectively strike at the ability of Isis to communicate and recruit, its external commerce and fundraising, and its internal supply lines and cohesion using cyberwar and diplomatic suasion on certain Arab states, air strikes, and raiding parties staged from new forward operating bases inside Islamic State territory.

As tempting and, at least initially, emotionally satisfying as it might be to launch a conventional ground invasion of Islamic State territory, or to change the rules of air engagement which preclude taking out Isis forces and assets shielded in civilian areas, this may be precisely what Isis wants to recruit even more worldwide and sow further chaos through a rising wave of terrorism.

Isis promises more large-scale terror attacks on the West, including inside the United States.

Not that we have anything like a good read at all on Isis, which, even before revelations of cooked intel coming from Central Command, was obviously one of several appalling intelligence failures which suggest that Obama needs to shake things up in the National Security Council and elements of the Intelligence Community.

CIA Director John Brennan, who earlier somehow allowed Obama, whom he's been advising since the president was a young rookie senator, to believe that Isis was the "junior varsity" of jihadism, seems distracted from the tasks of intelligence and analysis by the secret global drone war he's conducting. His gambit of seizing on the Paris attacks as an excuse to break down private encryption is a non-serious smoke screen. There is no evidence that encryption played a role in Western intelligence missing the Paris attacks. There is plenty of evidence that European and US intellicrats, especially in Brussels -- merely the capital of NATO and the European Union -- let the attackers slip through their fingers.

The attackers were exactly what we would expect them to be, some foreign-oriented jihadists and disaffected Euro Arab Muslims, staging within easy hailing distance of the mighty EU and NATO headquarters in a Muslim enclave. So monitoring my communications, as Brennan and his fellow surveillance state advocates want, does nothing to deter attacks but does extend a potential hand of control by a credibility gap government.

Whatever we do next needs to be properly evaluated through an intellectual process of scenario-building and war-gaming, none of which happens on cable chat shows. For whatever we do next will reverberate for a long time.

We've certainly seen how that can work against us, with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's disastrous invasion of Iraq, the actual cause of all the present trouble. And Barack Obama's dilatory response to the rise of Isis, as he fruitlessly focused on reforming a dysfunctional pro-Iranian Baghdad government and training up an Iraqi army on which far too many American billions had already been wasted, helped Isis grow ever stronger, as I wrote repeatedly at the time.

The current approach over the past year of air strikes and some ground offensive operations by Kurdish forces have prevented more geographic expansion of Islamic State territory and may have effected a slight rollback. But this obviously will not suffice.

Intense post-Paris French and Russian air strikes against the Islamic State capital Raqqa in what was northern Syria may not have been effective. Isis has taken much of its operations underground over the past year. And some activities are centered in the midst of civilian areas. In other wars, such as World War II, Allied forces hit civilian areas in Japan and Germany fairly indiscriminately. The "Good War" wasn't always so noble. But to take such an approach in this conflict may drive Isis recruitment and lead to more terrorist attacks, some coordinated by Isis and some simply the acts of angry homegrown jihadists.

The coming week, in which French President Francois Hollande visits President Obama in Washington and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, will be critical for future developments. Hollande evidently has a grand alliance in mind.

Since Putin is doing to be involved in a big way whether Obama likes it or not, Obama should move to structure the alliance to best advantage. Putin is no sweetheart. After seeming to be aligned with them in the first flush of post-Soviet chaos, the career intelligence officer squashed the Russian democratic reformers I was associated with in in the '90s. But Obama has to get over what looks from the outside like his ego problems with Putin -- which go back to the administration's thorough misreading of who was in really the power in Russia, as I wrote at the time of Obama's big 2009 visit to Moscow -- and get down to serious business. Nothing Putin has done should have been a real surprise to anyone with knowledge of Russian history and national security priorities dating back to the czars.

Franklin D. Roosevelt worked effectively for years with Joseph Stalin, a vastly more sinister figure than Putin.

Running intelligence and military operations is not my line, of course, but as a longtime student of the field, several things occur which may more effectively counter Isis and perhaps destroy it as a coherent entity.

In essence, what must be done is to destroy its lines of communication, both in the usual sense of the word and its military connotation. The monster can be strangled without a force-on-force ground invasion.

Why should Isis be allowed to use Western technology to attack the West?

A new anti-Isis alliance should immediately move to shut down the ability of Isis and its supporters to communicate and propagandize across social media and the Internet as a whole. All their sites should be wiped out, their nodes of operation destroyed or denied to them. Isis has declared war on the West, so its online presence should be deleted.

Turning to the more military sense of lines of communication, the ability of Isis to fund itself, both through business revenues and fundraising from other extreme religious ideologues, should be eliminated.

That means going after Islamic State commerce, especially the transport of oil, as the US has done on occasion and as Russia did extensively over the past week.

Air strikes may be of limited utility in cities but they are especially effective against targets moving out in the open, where they are vulnerable and more separated from non-combatants.

And of course the US Navy has a big role to play with oil that makes its way outside Islamic State territory. It should be seized or destroyed as contraband of war wherever it is discovered. And anyone who is in possession of this oil or who facilitates its movement should be forcibly detained as co-conspirators, their vessels or other conveyances sunk or otherwise destroyed. It appears Isis is getting some sophisticated help. There should be no Switzerlands in this conflict.

In addition to Isis commerce, Isis fundraising needs to be shut down.

Our dear friends in Saudi Arabia and some of the other oil-rich Gulf Arab states have, despite their pledges, pulled a disappearing act in the anti-Isis air war. Rather than confronting the psychotically extreme Sunnis of Isis, they are much more interested in countering Shiite Iran and pursuing their sputtering war in Yemen against Iranian sympathizers and tribes that dislike the House of Saud.

Fine. We don't actually need their American-supplied top-line aircraft. What we do need is for them to shut down the flow of funds from extremist religious sympathizers in their countries to Isis. And to make sure that they are in no way facilitating the flow of commerce for Islamic State.

In addition to waging cyber war, financial war, and aerial war, an enhanced ground component, inserted by air into Islamic State territory, may be effective. Not a conventional invasion per se for the purpose of seizing large swathes of territory but something non-linear; namely, the establishment of forward operating bases for elite special ops, airborne, light infantry, and marine forces from several nations to conduct devastating raids along the internal road system and against other targets of opportunity.

Technically, these bases, established by aerial incursion in empty stretches of Islamic State territory, could be easily surrounded. So much the better to lure Isis forces into the open where they can be destroyed by tactical air assets and tanks, mobile artillery, and rocket launchers.

France and Russia have plenty of elite troops to carry out this raiding function. If they want, the British, historically very good at this sort of thing, can join the party, too, along with other NATO members, since the Paris attacks fall under NATO's mutual security pact. Iranian forces may or may not be interested in joining in, but it's best to avoid running afoul of the Sunni-Shia divide.

The US ground role can remain very limited, with a focus on more spotting for air attacks and logistical operations. The principal US role can remain air-oriented, with US forces taking the lead in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, air ops coordination, aerial refueling, and the resupply of ground elements inside Islamic State.

Naturally, it would be preferable to negotiate some sort of end to hostilities with Isis. But these folks make the most extreme leaders in Iran look like reasonable moderates.

Isis looks very much like the most egregious recent exhibit A for the time-honored sociological phenomenon of psychopaths and sociopaths using supposedly divinely-inspired supernatural ideology to justify their will to power.

We have virtually no point of commonality with the barbarians of Isis, who stage their frequent beheadings with a grisly theatricality for video production. When its media arm claimed credit for the Paris attacks -- which focused not on "oppressive" institutions but on regular people out for a fun Friday evening in Paris -- the statement made neither demands not claims of retaliation for any harm. Instead, Paris was targeted as capital of "prostitution and obscenity."

Which is especially rich coming from thugs who use women as sex slaves. Yet utterly consistent in its thorough-going hypocrisy with the behavior of the attackers of 9/11, who loved American strip clubs.

For Isis, religion, as it has not infrequently been throughout history, is a doctrine of control. It may be time for Isis to learn that in an unimaginably vast and frequently random universe, which their determinedly ignorant minds don't even begin to comprehend, control is an illusion all too easily shattered by impact.

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Thank You, Aaron Rodgers

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 22:37
This Sunday morning, as I set out my green and gold for game day, I'm thinking about what it means to be a leader on and off the field.

"Doing the right thing" is not always as easy as it sounds, especially in an atmosphere where fear and anxiety are heightened and fear-mongers exploit tragic events to divide Americans.

That's why I was encouraged and heartened by the example set by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently.

Now, I won't try and hide it: I have been a Packers fan since I was a staffer for then-U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) more than a decade ago. So, I can't claim to be impartial. However, I'd like to think I would be singing the praises of any professional athlete who uses their spotlight to do the right thing.

And that's exactly what Aaron Rodgers did. After hearing a fan yell disparaging comments about Muslims during what was supposed to be a pre-game moment of silence to remember the victims of the recent Paris attacks, Rodgers took time during a post-game press briefing to express his opposition to the fan's sentiment.

"It's that kind of prejudicial ideology that puts us in the position we are today as a world," Rodgers said. He added that he was "...very disappointed."

Later, when asked if he had experienced a negative reaction as a result of speaking out, Rodgers said: "I don't care about any brushback there's been. It's been positive with the response. I feel strongly about what I said and I'm very thankful [to have] clarity of mind to be able to speak my thoughts in a way that I'm proud of."

It takes a special kind of courage to speak out in times of fear, more so in this case as Rodgers chose to address the topic on his own -- he wasn't asked to speak about it, he could have easily moved on. That is why his words were so powerful, and why I am so grateful and inspired, and I obviously am not alone. Star athletes like Aaron Rodgers are heroes to many children, including American Muslim children. I know there are young American Muslims in Wisconsin and across our country who were thrilled to have their hero sticking up for them.

So thank you, Aaron. Your statements against bigotry and in support of American Muslims mean a great deal during these times of immense distress, sadness, and uncertainty. I have long been impressed by your skills and leadership on the field, and my favorite team is fortunate to have a quarterback who's just as poised and thoughtful when he steps off the grass.

Aaron reminds all Americans that this is not a time to be silent and sit on the sidelines, but to speak out against religious bigotry in all its forms and to stand up for religious freedom.

And, finally, I can't miss this opportunity to say, Go Pack Go!

Farhana Khera is President and Executive Director at Muslim Advocates. Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization working on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. Through high impact lawsuits, policy advocacy, and community education, Muslim Advocates serves as a resource to empower communities and ensures that the American Muslim community is heard by the courts and leaders at the highest level of government.

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Quiet Desperation and American Fascism

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 21:59
As if to confirm MacGillis's point, consider the Louisiana election. The Democrat actually won -- hurray. All it took was a thoroughly disgraced and corrupt Republican opponent in David Vitter, and an outgoing incumbent Republican incumbent, Bobby Jindal, who was a national joke.

How often can Democrats expect that sort of harmonic convergence? Even so, Democrat John Bel Williams, a Catholic social conservative with a military background, only won 56 percent of the vote.

But the deeper story is in the turnout. Louisiana has 3,536,185 people of voting age.
In the 2012 presidential election, 1,152,262 -- less than a third -- turned out to vote. Four years ago, in the gubernatorial election that Jindal won by a landslide, just 673,239 voted. This time, only 444,517 bothered -- about one in eight eligible voters.

Williams was elected governor with the support of about seven percent of the Louisiana electorate.

A lot of the people who stay home would vote for Democrats if they bothered to vote at all. This problem goes far deeper than better techniques for getting out the vote. It reflects a massive decay of civil society, a deep disinterest and contempt for government and politics, one that often seems richly earned.

This is also the soil in which fascism grows. As political scientists have demonstrated for more than a century, it is "mass society," in which people are disconnected from the "little platoons" beloved of Edmund Burke and the local associations celebrated by Toqueville, where a strongman can suddenly seem the solution to people's inchoate frustrations with their own lives and the irrelevance of politics.

And evidently, the quiet desperation and buried rage are such that the crazier the strongman's pronouncements, the better. (Cue Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz.)

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Panic Room Politics on Syria and Terrorism?

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 21:57


By Mark Green

There's a new false equivalence -- "Sure, GOP's gone overboard in anti-Muslim rhetoric, but Obama's tone is too defensive." Reagan and Cooke actually reach consensus how to combine "both sides" and what this scare will mean for 2016. Answer: No October surprise, but October inevitability when GOP yells that: "The X are coming!" (fill in blank).

On Military after Paris. Who has the better argument? Obama saying our military could clear out ISIS, but then they'd reconstitute unless populations took up the fight, or the U.S. occupied Syria/Iraq, or Chris Christie attacks the President as a "joke" who created a problem he now can't solve it?

Ron Reagan agrees that our armed forces and armaments can defeat some 30,000 ISIS fighters "but then?" Surely we've learned lessons from our two decade-long occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Charles CW Cooke says "joke" overstates it, but "it's indisputable that Obama's reluctance and inaction led us to this place." He acknowledges that invading Iraq was a mistake (and presumably disbanding the army creating a pool of armed, unemployed men to join ISIS) but "that's what Obama inherited when he became president and irrelevant now."

Again, what about Obama's long-term concerns, including that our greater presence will serve as a recruitment tool for jihadists? Charles concludes that we're haggling over details, and that sometimes you have to "respond in the short-term and then work it out." Ron agrees that it'd be hard for any President and our political system to resist calls for an escalated effort... especially if there are attacks within a country with a John Wayne warrior image.

Host: Speaking biologically, will testosterone + amygdala overwhelm a reasoning brain? For all the jingoistic rhetoric from GOP contenders, the two sides may be evolving toward an Obama-plus strategy of yet more bombing and "special forces," with more pressure on allies, including NATO and Arab Nations to send troops to join Kurdish fighters.

But Americans nostalgic for army on army battles with soldiers in different colored uniform will have to adjust to asymmetrical warfare where one side spends trillions on arms while the other spends hundreds in suicide vests. And every time a Marco Rubio calls this a "clash of civilizations" playing into ISIS's East-West framework equating the two, he presumably gets a few more GOP votes, but also appears to be a "useful idiot" that could backfire in a general election... or not.

On Refugees after Paris. What to do with 11 million Syrian political refugees, some of whom theoretically could have embedded terrorists?

Charles concedes overblown Republican rhetoric against Muslims, for a Muslim Registry, for admission by religion, comparisons to rabid dogs and (of course) Nazis. But "if there's a lack of good leadership, bad leadership will take its place," which blames Obama for a House bill insanely requiring the heads of three intelligence agencies, each individually approve every single refugee.
Again, there's a rough consensus -- Ron and Charles agree that, with France itself continuing to admit 30,000 Syrian refugees (and Germany hundreds of thousands), surely we can't just shut the door ,but should admit our share after a careful vetting process (which appears to exist now).

Also, since millions stay in the U.S. as tourists and students under a liberal visa program, that too could be improved.

Host: 10,000 Jews were turned away in the 1920s because of public opinion fearing they included criminal elements -- and with the fathers of two Cuban-American Senators being admitted to the U.S. despite fleeing from turmoil and communism -- this recent spurt of xenophobia will abate...or not.

On Presidential Politics after Paris. The Paris-ISIS crisis complicates things for two name candidates connected to recent presidents. We three agree that it's a problem that reminds everyone why a Bush 45 may not be a great idea after Bush 43, and that Obama's problems could rub off on his Secretary of State. But does this situation net-net help Hillary Clinton, who's unarguably versed and experienced on such matters? Maybe not, says Charles, because "Americans often reward new candidates who haven't made a host of mistakes, like Rubio."

Ron counters by noting that such a life-death issue as terrorism may not benefit someone who looks like everyone's callow son-in-law. (Host: not mine!) Answer: We'll only know at the first Marco-Hillary debate, if there is one.

There's also agreement that the ISIS crisis could help the blustery Trump with his tough-guy appeal to a fourth of a third of Americans (i.e., his share in polls of the 30 percent of country that's Republican). Charles lets go: "He's a moron and a fascist who won't be the nominee." He continues that while Americans can't figure out the exact right policy on the Middle East, "they do want clarity, they want a president telling everyone that we're the good guys who will defeat the bad guys."

Host: From killing OBL to approving thousands of bombs against ISIS targets to numerous speeches, Obama has certainly conveyed his resolve against this threat. Looks like he'll have to do it again every time the GOP calls him weak, feckless etc.

But let me note that this was the first time the F-word has been used on BSN in nearly five years and, predictably, it was by a conservative about a Republican. But with both Joe Conason in his articles/tweets and Charles CW Cooke agreeing that Trump displays fascist tendencies, it appears that The Donald will not continue getting a free ride with his Putin-like bellicosity.

On Bush 41 on Bush 43. There's non-partisan admiration for Bush 41 for telling his biographer that Cheney/Rumsfeld were "hard asses" who ill-served his son but that 'the president was ultimately responsible because the buck stops at his desk." The obligations of history here prevailed over he obligations of blood.

Ron, too, knows something about father-son relations and Oval Offices. He notes that when commenting on President Reagan, he always admires him personally -- "I've never known a finer man -- even as I disagree with some of his policies."

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Ted Cruz Misinterprets Ronald Reagan's 1980 Election Victory

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 21:08
U.S Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is running for president as an unreconstructed conservative Republican. Cruz suggests a Republican nominee can win the presidency by waving the conservative banner and galvanizing conservatives rather than by making inroads with centrist persuadable voters.

Cruz's template for this strategy goes back to 1980 when Ronald Reagan won the presidency. Cruz told the Conservative Political Action Conference that he is "convinced 2016 is going to be an election very much like 1980." Cruz often repeats a line Reagan uttered four years prior to his 1980 victory: "Raise a banner of bold colors, not pale pastels."

However, the circumstance in 1980 and 2016 are markedly different. In 1980, Reagan had the propitious fortune of running against an unpopular incumbent Democratic president. Moreover, Reagan won the presidency by mustering not solely the votes of conservatives, but also the votes of liberal and moderate voters.

Unlike Cruz, who sports a pristine conservative voting record in the Senate, Reagan's record as Governor of California, coupled with some of the rhetoric he used in 1980, would be sacrilegious with contemporary conservative voters. In addition, the 1980 election was a referendum on an unpopular Democratic incumbent, and any standard Republican should have defeated Jimmy Carter handily. The Democratic nominee in 2016 will not be an unpopular sitting president.

Reagan did not govern California as an intransigent conservative, but as a technocratic pragmatist. In 1967 Reagan signed what was the largest tax increased in California history. Reagan did this to eliminate the state's gaping budget deficit. When he ran for re-election in 1970, Reagan promised voters his feet were "in concrete" against establishing a withholding system of state income tax. However, as Governor, Reagan reversed course, signing a tax increase to obliterate the state's $200 million deficit. Using humor as opposed to an excuse, Reagan commented: "that sound you hear concrete cracking around my feet." In addition, Reagan signed the Mulford Act, restricting the use of firearms by the citizenry. Reagan also signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act, liberalizing state abortion laws, which he later came to regret.

Reagan unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976 against president Gerald Ford. Reagan ran to the right of Ford, particularly on foreign policy. Ford supported a detente (relaxation of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union). Reagan excoriated Ford for signing the Helsinki Accords, intoning they put a "Stamp of approval on Russia's enslavement of the captive nations." Under the agreement, the U.S., the Soviet Union, and 39 other nations agreed to respect the autonomy of every nation-state in Europe and not encroach on their territory.

The fight for the nomination was whisker close, with neither candidate winning the requisite number of delegates during the primary. The nomination was decided at the Republican National Convention. Reagan announced that if he garnered the nominating, he would select one of the party's most liberal Senators, Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, as his vice presidential running mate. This show of pragmatism set off a raging inferno of indignation among conservatives. Cruz, in sharp contrast to Reagan, would never consider picking a liberal Republican as his running mate.

In 1980, unlike 2016, the Republicans had the luxury of running against an unpopular incumbent Democratic president. Americans were beset by stagflation, gas shortages, and a failure to secure the release of 44 American hostages held captive in Iran. President Jimmy Carter was blamed for all three situations and harbored job approval ratings in the low thirties. An AP-NBC poll taken in 1979 showed that 70% of Americans believed Carter could not be re-elected.

Furthermore, there was little enthusiasm for Carter within the Democratic base. They believed he was too conservative for the party and had focused on fiscal austerity rather than on expanding the social safety net. Consequently, Carter barely eked out renomination. The Democrat's liberal bloodline had supported U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and California Governor Jerry Brown. Both men ran against Carter for the nomination. There was also a movement by panicked Democrats (who feared Carter was unelectable in the General Election) to draft U.S. Secretary of State Edmund Muskie for the nomination. Muskie did not accept the draft effort.

In July of 1980, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) met with fifteen of his Senate colleagues, asking them if Carter could win their respective states in the General Election. The only Senator who answered in the affirmative was Sam Nunn from Carter's home state of Georgia.

Accordingly, the 1980 election should have been a slam-dunk for the Republican nominee. However, in part because of his move to the right in the 1976 campaign, Carter was successful in styling Reagan as a conservative extremist. He called Reagan "dangerous "disturbing." This forced Reagan to spend much of the General Election campaign trying to assure the American people that he was in the mainstream of American political thought.

There was just one debate between Carter and Reagan that year. It occurred just one week before the election. Despite Carter's anemic job approval ratings and the hunger from the electorate for change, the election was a dead heat. During that debate, Reagan essentially won the election by proving he was not a right wing ideologue. When Carter accused Reagan of having opposed the establishment of Medicare, Reagan soothingly replied: "There you go again." In his closing statement, Reagan did not delineate a wish-list for conservatives but calmly asked the question: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Thus with enough of the electorate confident Reagan was not a reactionary, the American people got the green light to vote against Carter.

Reagan did not win the General Election by appealing only to conservatives. Astoundingly, he also pocketed 48% of the moderate voters and 27% of the liberal voters. By contrast, in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney won just 41% of the moderates and 11% of the liberals.

The last example of a GOP nominee running as an unreserved conservative occurred in 1964. That year, disaffected conservatives launched a mutiny against the party's moderate establishment by successfully working to nominate U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), a full spectrum conservative.

In his oration accepting the nomination, Goldwater made no effort to counter critics who called him extreme. In fact, he doubled-down, declaring: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Consequently, Goldwater ceded the political center to his opponent, Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson. With only conservative support, Goldwater was trounced, winning just six states.

Cruz uses Reagan as the archetype of a Republican who won the presidency by proudly wearing the conservative label. He fails to mention that Reagan's perceived conservatism was a hindrance that Reagan successfully overcame. In addition, Reagan won an election any Republican should have won handily. Currently less than 40% of the American electorate identify themselves as conservatives. Furthermore, the Democratic nominee will not be an unpopular incumbent president. Accordingly, in this political environment, like in 1980, a successful Republican nominee needs to appeal to more than just conservative voters.

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I Don't Care Who Killed JFK

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 20:39
The controversy over who killed President John F. Kennedy has now raged for over half a century. Every year on November 22, Americans regurgitate the debate over who was responsible for JFK's murder in 1963. It is a diversion and a waste of time.

It is more important to learn from the successes and mistakes of Kennedy's presidency, to reflect on the changes that have occurred since his death, and to restore the hope for a better society and a peaceful world that JFK -- despite his many contradictions -- inspired.

But the question of who killed Kennedy will never be resolved. Assassination buffs, for whom the JFK murder is a cult-like obsession, are locked into their views. Proponents of different theories argue and make claims, but they don't really debate. They look at many of the same facts and come to very different conclusions.

Whether you believe the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman acting on his own, or one of the many conspiracy theories that Oswald was part of a plot hatched by the CIA, the mafia or both, or some other speculation, the nation will never reach a consensus on the tragic killing of the young president.

But more importantly, it really doesn't matter.

I refuse to waste my time wading into the muck of the JFK assassination controversies. It is not that I lack curiosity about American history. But nothing that I uncover would surprise me or alter my view of my country. I already know that the Central Intelligence Agency was involved in the overthrow of governments and the murder of political leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam and elsewhere. It is well established that the CIA bungled several efforts to kill and overthrow Cuba's Fidel Castro. I don't need more evidence to know that some politicians and government agencies collaborated with organized crime. I just have to read the news stories about the recent trial of Boston mobster, James "Whitey" Bulger.

Nothing I could learn from the Warren Commission, Oliver Stone's film JFK, or the hundreds of books about the assassination, would change how I think about the current problems facing the United States or what to do about them.

I know that since Kennedy was killed, the nation's economy has become increasingly dominated by a relatively small number of giant global corporations who have too much political influence. Some of the nation's corporate leaders are Republicans and some are Democrats but (with a few exceptions) they share a common outlook about business and government. They want lower taxes, fewer regulations and weaker unions. They seek to maximize profits and control, but they are not a conspiracy. Since Kennedy's time, the super-rich have expanded the tools they use to influence politics. In the past half century, the role of private wealth, corporate-backed think tanks and business-supported lobby groups in American politics has skyrocketed.

Kennedy was hated by the nation's right-wingers, including the KKK, the John Birch Society, some extremists within the military (such as General Edwin Walker) and anti-Catholics among Protestant fundamentalists. But the Republican Party still had a liberal wing. And the right-wing businessmen who later became the money behind Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964 were still just a faction within the GOP. Today, in contrast, the Tea Party and the religious right -- fueled by funders like the Koch Brothers, political operatives like Jim DeMint and Grover Norquist, and the right-wing echo chamber dominated by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh -- has taken control of the Republican Party.

Just as President Kennedy was torn between his Democratic Party's segregationist wing and its liberal, pro-labor and civil rights wing, President Obama has often been torn between the Democrats' corporate and Wall Street wing (think Tim Geithner and Larry Summers) and its liberal wing (think Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the labor movement, environmentalists, women's, civil rights and gay rights, groups, and the majority of people under 40).

Kennedy was an ardent Cold Warrior, timid on civil rights and had few legislative triumphs as either a senator or as president. Because he was young, charismatic and murdered before he could even complete his first term in office, most Americans overestimate JFK's achievements during his thousand days in the White House. Even so, he rarely gets credit for some of his most important accomplishments, including creating a commission on women that helped jump-start the feminist movement, resisting his top military advisors who wanted to go to war with Russia over the Cuban missile crisis, and initiating an effort to limit the nuclear arms race.

Similarly, many of my fellow liberals are quick to criticize Obama for drone strikes, keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan too long and compromising on health care reform, but they and other Americans don't give him sufficient credit for his efforts to toughen environmental and fuel-efficiency standards, enact the Dodd-Frank bill tightening regulations of banks, support same-sex marriage, restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, push for a higher minimum wage and overcome Republican and business opposition to any health care reform at all.

Regardless of who killed Kennedy, it won't change my view that we need much tougher campaign finance reform to rid the country of its legal bribery system that gives corporate America too much power.

No matter who pulled the trigger in Dallas that November day in 1963, it won't revise my thinking that we need tougher regulations on big business to protect consumers, the environment and workers from irresponsible business abuses, we need to tighten regulations on Wall Street so they can't repeat the damage they caused with their risky, reckless and often illegal practices, and we need to battle the National Rifle Association and win stronger gun control laws.

We'll never know whether JFK would have expanded or ended American involvement in Vietnam, but we do know that need the next president to do more to reduce our country's military presence around the world, cut the defense budget and redirect tax dollars to strengthen our education system, our crumbling infrastructure and our shortage of affordable housing.

Whether Oswald acted on his own or was part of an organized plot, it won't have any bearing on my view that the next president's Supreme Court appointments should be individuals who will overturn Citizens United, reverse the current court's pro-big business agenda, protect women's right to reproductive health and abortion and restore the Voting Rights Act.

Whether or not JFK was a great president, he did inspire a generation with his call to use their talents to improve our society and our world. The idealism that he helped unleash resulted in a revolution in values and institutional change, including civil rights, the environment, women's rights, gay and lesbian rights, consumer protections, workplace safety, and limits on American militarism. No matter who killed Kennedy, that is his most important legacy.

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame. (Nation Books)

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Greenwald Goes After CNN's Coverage Of Paris Attacks While On CNN

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 20:21

How did CNN not see this interview going south?

When CNN's "Reliable Sources" asked Glenn Greenwald, a co-founding editor of The Intercept, on Sunday to weigh in on whether the media has been perpetuating a thirst for war in the days following the Paris attacks, he blasted the network for being the biggest contributor to the problem and for encouraging Islamophobia.

"Well, I think that CNN has actually unfortunately led the way in this," Greenwald told host Brian Stelter. "You've had one intelligence official with the CIA or formerly with the CIA after the next, gone on air and able to say all kinds of extremely dubious claims that print journalists have repeatedly documented in Bloomberg News and The New Yorker, on The New York Times editorial page [that] are totally false."

One of the most reprehensible incidents on CNN, Greenwald noted, occurred last week when two anchors spent six-plus minutes asking why the Muslim community in France didn't do more to stop the attacks.

"I think the worst example, probably the most despicable interview we've seen in the last several years were two CNN anchors, John Vause and Isha Sesay, who told a French Muslim political activist that he and all other Muslims bear, quote, responsibility for the attack in Paris because all Muslims must somehow be responsible," Greenwald said. 

In an attempt to defend the network, Stelter suggested Greenwald might be "cherry-picking" examples to prove a point. Greenwald wasn't having it.

"This is the kind of opinionating that comes from CNN all the time ... that is never sanctioned, never punished," he said. "You're allowed to demonize Muslims."

Watch the whole fiery exchange on CNN. 

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My Grandma Used to Lose at Checkers

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 19:21
My mother was born in Canada. There's no shame in that. If you don't believe me, then just ask Ted Cruz's two children.

There is a reason why my Mom was born in Canada. Her parents, my grandparents, were refugees from Eastern Europe. And America wouldn't let them in. So they took a right turn, and ended up in Canada.

My Grandma had four siblings who were less fortunate. They had to stay where they were. They died in the Holocaust.

I'm sure that there were right-wingers in America in 1929 (they called them "nativists" back then) who said, "Don't let the Sabins in -- they might be terrorists. Or criminals. Or rapists."

My Grandma was not a terrorist. She just needed somewhere to go, when it wasn't safe for her to stay in Eastern Europe any more.

When I was a small boy, my Grandma taught me how to play checkers. And then she lost to me, over and over again, to show me the thrill of winning.

She was a good person. So was my Grandpa. But if Canada had turned them away, like the United States did, then they both would have died in the concentration camps, and I never would have been born.

Every one of those refugees from Syria is somebody's daughter, somebody's son. And if Life smiles on them, they might one day be somebody's grandma, somebody's grandpa. But only if they have a safe place to live. Otherwise, for them, it will be just ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The only question is whether there would be anyone left alive, to say whatever their version of Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for mourning) is for them.

I didn't fret, brood, fuss or perseverate over that nasty anti-refugee vote last week. That one was as clear as day. You'd have to have a hard, hard heart to know that you have the power of life and death over thousands and thousands of people, and then consign them to death.

As the President noted, a three-year-old orphan is no threat to us. And -- who knows? -- maybe one day that orphan will have a grandchild who serves in Congress, and that Member of Congress will cast his vote in favor of compassion and peace.


Rep. Alan Grayson

May there be abundant peace from Heaven,
And good life,
Satisfaction, help, comfort, REFUGE,
Healing, redemption, forgiveness, atonement,
Relief and salvation,
For us and for all His people.

- The Kaddish Prayer

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Chicago Sets November Snowfall Record As Midwest Walloped With Cold

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 18:59

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A deep freeze set in across the Midwest on Sunday with low temperatures forecast in the single digits and a few below zero, turning the season's first major snow into ice that made some roads treacherous to travel.

Temperatures plunged behind a cold front that brought snow across much of the region Friday and Saturday. The National Weather Service forecast 20 degrees or lower across six states from North Dakota to Illinois.

The weather service reported temperatures in the single- and low double-digits Sunday in northern Illinois, including Chicago, where residents were digging out of more than 11 inches of snow — the highest November total in 120 years in the city.

 More than 130 flights were cancelled Sunday into and out of the O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.

In Minneapolis, dozens of people huddled around fires to stay warm at an encampment outside a police station to protest the fatal shooting of a black man by officers there last week. Temperatures hit a low of 17 degrees overnight, and light snow was expected to move in by Sunday evening.

The first snowfall of the season also brought amounts ranging from a few inches to 20 inches of snow from South Dakota through Michigan earlier in the weekend.

In the southern Wisconsin town of Janesville, between 10 and 20 inches of snow had fallen by late Saturday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

Southside True Value Hardware manager Matt Krienke said business had been good in the days leading up to the storm in the Janesville, but that it had become "very, very, very, very slick."

"People who don't need to drive don't need to be out," he said.

Slick driving conditions were reported across the region. In western Michigan, two people were injured in a 15-car pileup late Saturday along Interstate 196 following heavy snow in the area. Local police said one woman was struck by a vehicle after getting out of her vehicle.

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Former Prosecutor Helps Teen Who Was Given Life Sentence Win Release After 20 Years

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 18:16

A Florida man who was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 17 for murder has been released after serving about 20 years behind bars.

An Orange County judge on Friday resentenced Edward Francis, now 37, to time served plus five years' probation for his role in a 1996 murder and kidnapping involving three fellow gang members.

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton, who personally prosecuted Francis in the shooting death, voluntarily brought the new case before Circuit Judge Keith Carsten.

That move follows the Florida Supreme Court ruling in March that some juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole can be eligible for a new sentence. Prosecutors believe Francis is the first inmate in Orange and Osceola counties to be released under the new guidelines.

The high-profile attorney pursued the case because he found Francis to be humble and remorseful for what he had done, said Angela Starke, a spokeswoman for Ashton’s office.

“The State Attorney vividly remembers Francis’s acceptance of his responsibility, his humility and his willingness to testify against the actual killer,” Starke told The Huffington Post by email Sunday.

Starke said that at the time of Francis’ trial, the teen testified against the man who pulled the trigger and killed 28-year-old Kenneth Lewis after he had been beaten, bound and gagged following a botched robbery attempt. Francis was convicted of murder and kidnapping.

“Francis testified -- even though he had nothing to gain as he had already been sentenced to Life. This is an unusual and surprising attitude for a defendant with a Life sentence and the [state attorney] thought about this intermittently through the years -- to the point that when he retired in 2011, he reached out to Edward Francis to encourage him,” Starke said.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on Friday that Francis did not intend to kill Lewis, though it was the judge who ultimately made the decision for his release.

Outside the courthouse, friends and family gathered to greet Francis, who called himself lucky.

“That was one of the best things I have ever received in my life even though I am not worthy,” he told reporters, according to WESH-TV.

“I didn’t want to acknowledge it at the time but yes I was wrong for my crime and I deserved to be punished for it,” he said. “It took me to lose the freedom and it took me to actually see what the face of no love is, to actually find love.”

Steven Evans, who was in his 20s when he pulled the trigger on Lewis, is on death row after being convicted of first-degree murder. A second teen, who was 16 at the time, pleaded guilty to armed kidnapping and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

According to the terms of his release, should Francis commit a crime while out of prison, his life sentence will be reinstated.

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We Cannot Turn Our Back on the Refugees From ISIS Barbarity

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2015-11-22 17:57
2015 is not 1938. The faces of the refugees are different. The languages they speak are different. The places and killers from which and from whom they are fleeing are different as well. But the refugees' anguish and despair, their fear and sense of abandonment, are very much the same.

So is the xenophobia of much of the world that wants no part of them.

Then, the refugees were Jews persecuted in Nazi Germany. Today they are Christians, Yezidis and Muslims targeted for mass killing by ISIS in the Middle East.

Then, the refugees were Jews whose synagogues and homes had been burned and ransacked during the Kristallnacht pogroms of November 9, 1938. Today, they are Christians and Muslims whose churches and mosques have been bombed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The failure of most of the world, including the United States, to give a haven to Jews fleeing first from Nazi Germany and then from German-occupied Europe gave Hitler the assurance that no one would stop him from taking his anti-Semitic hatred to the next, foreseeable level. How many Jews murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, and the other death camps might have lived if only the gates of the United States, Canada and Australia had not been closed to them?

President Obama points out that "Slamming the door in the face of refugees would betray our deepest values." He is right, of course. And we must never forget that we already betrayed these values 77 years ago.

Much is being written these days about the St. Louis, the ill-fated German transatlantic liner that was forced to take more than 900 refugees back to Europe in May of 1939 after being turned away from Cuba and refused entry into any U.S. harbor. An even greater international outrage, however, had taken place 10 months earlier.

In July of 1938, at the behest of the Roosevelt Administration, representatives of 32 countries met in the French resort of Evian in what turned out to have been a disingenuous pretense of addressing the then prevailing refugee crisis. Sitting in the luxurious Hotel Royal, they professed to be sympathetic to the plight of the Jews who were being persecuted in the Third Reich, and in turn, with the notable exception of the Dominican Republic which expressed a willingness to take in 100,000 refugees, they explained why their respective governments would not do anything to help.

The United States would not increase its quota of 27,370 immigrants from Germany and Austria. Great Britain's representative declared that "The United Kingdom is not a country of immigration," and refused to even discuss the possibility of allowing more Jews into Palestine. Some delegates pleaded that they did not have the financial means to take in refugees. Others said categorically that they had taken in as many refugees as they could absorb. And so on, and so on. The Australian delegate, T. W. White, famously said that, "As we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one."

Addressing a United Nations conference on Indochinese refugees in Geneva in 1979, Vice President Walter Mondale accurately concluded that at Evian, the international community "failed the test of civilization."

It is true, of course, that today's refugee crisis presents enormous challenges, but these are challenges that must be met pragmatically, realistically, not rejected out of hand.

This does not mean that refugees should not be rigorously vetted to prevent terrorists from infiltrating our country in their midst. But this presupposes erroneously that this is not already being done.

"Syrian refugees undergo a more extensive screening than any other visitors or immigrants to the United States," U.S. Representative David E. Price (D-N.C.), former chairman and current senior member of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, explained in the Charlotte Observer. "They must first interview in-person with representatives of the United Nations, who conduct an extensive initial background check that is verified by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. They are then interviewed and their cases reviewed by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, the State Department, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, Customs and Border Protection, and the federal government's intelligence agencies.... This process is so intensive that it takes a long time - an average of 15 months, and often as long as three years."

If something practical can be done to enhance this screening process even further, it should without question be done, but we cannot lose sight of the fundamental fact that we are talking about human beings who have been persecuted viciously, and who look to the international community for help much as European Jews did in the years before and during the Holocaust.

Simply put, grinding the entire refugee program to a screeching halt or eliminating all federal funding for the resettlement of refugees are not acceptable options.

David Miliband, the former British Foreign Secretary, wrote in God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2015), a book I was privileged to compile and edit, that he now heads the International Rescue Committee, because he believes that "in a small way I am repaying a personal debt to those who helped my parents." Miliband's father came to the United Kingdom from Belgium in 1940 as a refugee. His mother survived the war years in hiding in Poland. Although raised in a secular household, he wrote that, "I know the injunction 'He who saves one single life it is as if he has saved an entire world.' That is the spirit of those who helped my family. It is the spirit I try to honor. And it is the spirit we need to keep alive tomorrow."

Each and every refugee from the ISIS barbarity, whether Christian, Yezidi, or Muslim, represents a world that not only deserves but needs to be saved. As a society and as a nation, we cannot, we must not abandon or betray them.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and senior vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. He teaches about the law of genocide at the law schools of Columbia and Cornell Universities.

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