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Rick Moran

Rick Moran is PJ Media's Chicago editor and Blog editor at The American Thinker. He is also host of the"RINO Hour of Power" on Blog Talk Radio. His own blog is Right Wing Nut House.
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Catalonia Parliament Approves Independence Referendum

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Prior to the independence vote in Scotland, there were predictions that, win or lose, the vote would encourage other regions of Europe and around the world to seek independence in order to fulfill the national aspirations of their people.

Several European enclaves have been agitating for independence for decades — even centuries. Many of them have their own history, culture, and language that predate their assimilation. The Basque may be the most notorious of these independence seekers since the armed wing of their revolutionary party — the ETA — used to routinely carry out terrorist attacks. The ETA laid down their arms in 2011, but the desire for independence has not lessened.

Italy’s South Tyrol and Sardinia, Belgium’s Flanders, France’s Corsica, the United Kingdom’s Wales and Northern Ireland — all of these and a dozen more have expressed an interest in gaining independence.

And that’s just Europe. There are dozens of separatist movements in Africa and Asia that also have been cheered by events in Scotland. While independence may have lost, the fact that a vote was held in the first place has leaders of separatist movements around the world hopeful that they can be more successful.

The next turn of the screw for Europe will apparently be in Catalonia, the richest and most productive area of Spain. Within hours of knowing the outcome of the Scottish vote on independence, the Catalonian parliament voted to hold their own referendum on independence in November, thus directly defying the national government in Madrid which has threatened to take legal action against the autonomous region.

Wall Street Journal:

A day after a majority of Scots voted against secession from the U.K., the parliament in the wealthy, industrial Spanish region of Catalonia approved a law to allow for its own, albeit nonbinding, referendum on independence.

The 106-28 vote Friday set Spain on a path toward a legal and political crisis. The central government in Madrid has vowed to block the referendum, which it says is unconstitutional.

After the law is published in the coming days, Catalonia’s regional president, Artur Mas, is expected to sign a decree formally convoking the referendum for Nov. 9. At the Spanish government’s request, the Constitutional Court is then expected to issue an injunction to halt the vote.

Mr. Mas has expressed misgivings about going ahead with the referendum in violation of Spanish law because the vote might lack international credibility. Another way for him to satisfy pro-independence groups clamoring to cast ballots would be by calling early regional elections as a proxy vote.

During the Catalan parliament’s 2½-hour debate, many speakers took note of the historic nature of the proceedings.

“Democracy without liberty is a sham and we want to vote—not a sham,” said pro-referendum congresswoman Dolors Camats.

Albert Rivera, leader of the Citizens’ Party and an opponent of the referendum, said that those advocating it were being irresponsible. “This isn’t a day of celebration, but of worry because these separatist movements have a sword over Europe’s head,” he said.

Catalan separatists complain that the government in Madrid drains the region of tax revenue without offering sufficient respect for its language and culture. Spanish government officials maintain that Catalonia receives economic benefits from being part of Spain and has plenty of autonomy under the constitution.

While there is certainly resentment against the perception that Madrid is stifling their national character, Catalans have an economic bone to pick with the Spanish government — especially after the last few years of “austerity” budgets that put most of the burden on the region:

The pro-independence forces claim that Catalonia’s fiscal imbalance with Spain’s national budget amounts to $20 billion (US dollars) per year, according to figures from the Catalan government’s finance minister. This office claims that Catalonia—origin of a quarter of Spain’s exports—suffers an insufficient investment and financial disadvantage since it generates nineteen percent of Spain’s GDP and receives back eleven percent in expenditure from the central government. Indeed, with a population of 7.5 million out of 46 million, Catalonia is, after Madrid, the second-wealthiest of Spain’s seventeen so-called autonomous communities, as stated in the last available Spanish government’s National Statistics Institute account, which excludes the Basque Country and Navarre because they benefit from a special fiscal regime due to their historic “foral” tradition. However, Catalonia is also the most indebted autonomous community among the communities.

Madrid responds to Catalan complaints by claiming that Catalonia receives special assistance from the Spanish government, outside of money from the national budget, in the form of ad hoc loans to make payments not previously planned for. (The central government is in fact its only lender, since Spanish law blocks access by the autonomous communities to shop for loans on international markets.) Spain also insists that solidarity must be at the core of relations among its regional governments. But this has proven a double-edged sword since the separatists claim that Catalonia is discriminated against within this community, noting that Spanish investment in Catalonia (i.e., annual government budgeting for the region) will drop twenty-five percent compared to an average decrease of 7.2 percent for the nation as a whole during the current belt-tightening effort to stop the country’s economic free fall. Catalan nationalists refer to this imbalance as “plunder.”

With Barcelona, one of the jewel cities of Europe and a vital hub of finance and commerce as Catalonia’s capital, it is not likely that the Spanish government will allow independence for the region even if a vote for independence is successful.

Besides, it appears likely that the Catalans themselves are wary of even holding a vote if it contravenes Spanish law:

Just 23 percent of those surveyed in a Metroscopia poll published in El Pais said Catalonia should press ahead with the referendum, even if it is declared illegal. This is the stance of Mas’s coalition partner, the separatist party ERC.

The poll showed 45 percent of those surveyed believed Catalonia should respect the decision of the court and 25 percent said the region should look for other legal ways to redraw its relationship with Spain.

A NC Report poll, published in La Razon newspaper, showed 55 percent of Catalans would not support the referendum if declared illegal. Both polls surveyed 1,000 people.

The wealthy region of 7 million people has its own language and cultural identity and has long sought greater self-rule. Central government spending cuts during a deep recession have helped fuel independence sentiment.

The Metroscopia poll found just 27 percent of those polled wanted full independence from Spain, with 42 percent wanting Catalonia to form a part of Spain but under new terms. Many Catalans want more power over taxes and welfare spending.

The Catalonian people share a common dream with other small European enclaves of distinct ethnic minorities: they want their culture and history back, as well as some sense that they have their hands on the levers of economic and political power to help direct their national destiny. If this can be accomplished within the framework of remaining attached to their current parent country, that would probably be satisfactory to the majority.

If not, we are going to see more votes like the one in Scotland.

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GOP Favorable Rating Inches Up, Matches Democrats

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Voters still show a negative view toward both parties, but favorable ratings for Republicans have rebounded since the low in October, 2013 following the government shut down.

Gallup reports nearly identical favorable numbers for both parties; 40/57 favorable/unfavorable for Republicans and 42/54 for Democrats.

There are encouraging and discouraging signs for both parties in the latest poll, conducted Sept. 4-7, just two months before the important midterm elections.

Americans have typically rated the Democratic Party more positively than the Republican Party since the question was first asked in 1992, so the current parity between the two is a positive sign for the GOP and a negative one for the Democratic Party. Indeed, current opinions of the Democratic Party are among the worst Gallup has measured in the past 20 years. The only time Gallup measured a lower favorable rating for the Democrats was 41% in late March 2010, just after Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law.

At the same time, Democrats can take some solace in the fact that Americans are not rating the GOP any more positively than they rate the Democratic Party, even at a time when Americans believe the Republican Party is better than the Democratic Party both at keeping the U.S. prosperous and at keeping the U.S. secure from international threats.

The situation is similar to what occurred in 2010. Even as Republicans were making large gains in federal and state offices nationwide, Americans did not view the GOP any more positively than the Democratic Party. As such, the Republicans may have merely benefited from public frustration with Obama and the Democrats in 2010, rather than having been truly embraced by Americans. Thus, if Republicans do well on Election Day this year it does not necessarily equate to a voter mandate for the party and its policies.

All Partisan Groups More Positive toward GOP

The gains, or perhaps recovery, in the GOP’s image over the past year are evident among Democrats, independents, and Republicans. Notably, Republicans’ favorable views of their own party are still not back to pre-shutdown levels.

As would be expected given the stability in overall views of the Democratic Party, the ratings of it by respondents’ political identity are also generally steady over the past 12 months. However, Democrats and independents are less positive toward the Democratic Party than they were in late 2012, after Obama’s re-election.

That “public frustration” of voters in 2010 with Democrats may have turned into something even more dangerous for Democratic prospects in November; fear. The threats we face around the world are causing a lot of concern among voters and given the Republican edge in which party can keep America safer, that may play a significant role when voters make up their mind.

Peter Beinart of the Atlantic writes of the return of the “security moms” and how that favors the GOP:

In August, white women favored a Democratic Congress by four points. Now they favor a Republican Congress by eight.

As in 2002, Democrats are responding by becoming more hawkish. In October 2002, most Democrats in competitive Senate races voted to authorize the Iraq War. Last week, Obama announced a multi-year air campaign against ISIS.

But it doesn’t work. Almost all the imperiled Democrats in 2002 lost anyway. And there’s no evidence that Obama’s new hawkishness is helping him politically either. One reason is that although women are more worried about terrorism than men, they’re actually less supportive of responding with military action. In 2002, women were somewhat more skeptical of invading Iraq. Today, they’re more wary of going after ISIS.

Fundamentally, the Democrats’ terrorism problem with women—especially married white women—isn’t about policy. It’s about trust. In 2002, at a time of heightened anxiety, women trusted a Republican president to keep them safe. In 2014, with that anxiety heightened again, they don’t trust a Democratic president to do the same.

Rather than wondering if “foreign policy” will play a larger role in the campaign, perhaps it’s more accurate to talk about “security” as a general issue where Republicans appear to have the advantage.

In as many close Senate races as we are likely to have, the security issue may be a difference maker in at least some of them.

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John Barleycorn is Fretting Over Scottish Independence

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

It’s known colloquially as “Who Hit John,” “The ‘Crature’,” and “John Barleycorn.” It’s name is derived from the Gaelic for “Water of Life” — for which those of us who imbibe the elixir from time to time (or more often) heartily agree.

Whatever you want to call it, Scotch Whiskey is Scotland’s proudest achievement. In a nation of 5 million people, $6.5 billion in Scotch is exported annually. That accounts for fully 20% of all exports in the country. It’s the third biggest industry in Scotland behind financial services and oil.

But the industry operates in a global marketplace where more mundane concerns than achingly smooth taste and a complex bouquet are of paramount importance. Cheap credit, trade barriers, and a reliance on the UK to help promote their product have most distilleries in Scotland worried about the vote on independence.

NBC News:

Members of Scotland’s best-known industry are watching the vote for independence with serious trepidation.

Lack of certainty about Scotland’s currency, interest rate levels and membership in the European Union—which eliminates trade barriers in its largest market—all compete for the top of the list of worries.

Mike Younger, one of the few Scotch executives who will speak to the media, is finance director for Macleod Distillers, makers of Glengoyne Single Malt. He is solidly in the “no” camp. “I’m nervous,” he said, “because the results could be quite difficult for business.”

Scotch whisky is the third-largest contributor to Scotland’s GDP after the oil industry and financial services. And it acts as perhaps the No. 1 ambassador for Scottish culture. Nine out of 10 bottles are sent overseas.

Scotch can only be made in Scotland, just as Champagne can only be made in the Champagne region of France. In Scotland, it’s officially called Scotch Whisky (no “e” at the end!).

[...]

And precisely because it is an export, Scotch is particularly vulnerable to the unknowns that will come about if the Scots vote yes for independence.

David Williamson is the spokesperson for the Scotch Whisky Association. Officially, the group is not taking a side, but Williamson said that “At the moment, the consensus within the Scotch industry is that the potential risks outweigh the advantages.”

Back on the factory floor of Macleod, Younger said he’s worried because he thinks credit will become less available, and more expensive, in what will be a much smaller country, “simply because the full scale of the Scottish banking system at that point will be much smaller and less well defined and less capable than the much richer system that we have across the UK in its entirety.”

The potential rise of trade barriers is another concern. Currently, Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom, is part of the European Union, and faces no trade barriers in member states. The leaders of the “Yes” campaign have promised that Scotland would remain in the European Union, but just today, Spain said it would block Scotland’s membership.

The US imbibes more than twice as much Scotch as any other nation — $1.32 billion to France’s $600 million. If the distilleries are worried, so should be Scotch drinkers. There’s not much danger of an interruption in supply, as much as there may be significant price increases and availability issues for some of the more popular brands.

The Drinks Business:

In its latest report, “Going Scot-free”, the bank notes that while many have argued independence has the “potential” to boost sales of Scotch, it believes the “overall short-term impact on the industry will be negative.”

The bank highlighted five key areas which will be impacted, one of which would be the industry’s ability to access EU export markets, which currently account for 37% of Scotch sales, as a result of its temporary loss of EU membership and free trade agreement with member states.

While Scotland would be expected to re-apply for EU membership, the country would likely to shut out until at least 2018, leaving the Scotch sector at risk of seeing higher import tariffs in its core markets for at least two years, competition from other spirits categories and its competitiveness in key EU markets.

“The Scottish government would also have a mountainous task in procuring new trade agreements with non EU export markets following independence,” warned the bank.

It has been suggested that Scotland could instead join the European Economic Area (EEA) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), giving it full access to the EU market without required membership to the EU, however foregoing any influence on it which could prove uncomfortable for a newly independent country.

The loss of the British pound would also raise uncertainly with a change in currency likely to lead to an “increase in foreign exchange risk for Scotch exports”, according to the bank.

Should independence be established, the Rabobank warned it was likely interest rates would rise which could create a “serious challenge” within an industry built on inventories stored up for decades with smaller companies likely to be hit hardest.

The pro-independence leaders have dismissed the concerns of the distilleries, saying that Scotch has been around for at least 800 years and it’s not going anywhere. That may be true. But it looks like Scotch makers are in for a rough ride if the “yes” vote wins tomorrow.

 

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Looking for Mr. ‘Moderate Syrian Rebel’

Sunday, September 14th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

In the end, I suspect they will be able to hold a convention of “moderate Syrian rebels” in a space larger than a phone booth but smaller than a room at the Holiday Inn.

But the New York Times is, forever, hopeful:

Groups identified by Western intelligence agencies as the moderate opposition — those that might support democracy and respect human rights — have been weak, divided and without coherent plans or sustained command structures capable of toppling the Assad regime. Today, those so-called moderates are even weaker and more divided; in some cases, their best fighters are hard-line Islamists.

Get that? There, indeed, are moderate rebels — except when they’re hardline Islamists. The Times is turning itself inside out trying to make sense of Obama’s policy and ends up twisted into a pretzel.

In April 2013, Mr. Obama authorized the C.I.A. to begin a secret mission to train Syrian rebels in Jordan. The total number trained so far is between 2,000 and 3,000. Last September, the C.I.A. began delivering light weapons like rifles and ammunition to a rebel faction commanded by Gen. Salim Idriss, whom Americans considered a competent leader and whose forces were not connected to terrorist groups. But since then, the Supreme Military Council, which General Idriss headed, has broken apart, and he has been sidelined. Its weapons and supply storerooms have been looted by Islamist groups or stolen by its members.

Don’t worry — we are in the very best of hands.

As the ISIS threat became clearer, Mr. Obama announced a plan in June to spend up to $500 million to send some American Special Forces troops to train as many as 3,000 rebels over the next year, but it stalled in Congress. Now the administration proposes training twice that number of fighters in neighboring countries in the Middle East, including a facility that Saudi Arabia has agreed to host.

One complication is the federal ban on sending military aid to people with a history of human rights abuses. The C.I.A. has been working for some time to vet the Syrian rebels, but on a limited scale; the expanded mission, which would include more fighters, is likely to make vetting even more difficult.

Beyond that, there are bigger questions. The main target of the United States right now is ISIS, but for the mainstream rebel groups, getting rid of Mr. Assad is the main goal. How do you reconcile those competing goals? How do you avoid a flare-up of anti-American sentiment? The Assad government and its allies Russia and Iran have condemned Mr. Obama’s plans, but how will they react when the military campaign begins? And how can weapons shipped to rebel fighters be kept out of the hands of ISIS?

There is no reconciling the twin goals of getting rid of Assad and ISIS. There is no uniting the various factions — at least under the rubric of a secular, “democratic” opposition. There’s nothing we can do to stop Russia and Iran from giving arms to Assad, or running diplomatic interference for him at the UN.

One week, the president admits he has no policy to deal with ISIS and the next, presto! A policy magically appears. Does anyone else get the feeling that this “policy” has been thrown together haphazardly and without careful thought as to the consequences?

About what we’ve come to expect with our new and improved “smart” foreign policy.

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Is it Time to Retire the Star Spangled Banner as our National Anthem?

Sunday, September 14th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Today is the 200th anniversary of the writing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” an event commemorated in Baltimore this weekend — the site of Fort McHenry whose defense against a pitiless British bombardment inspired Francis Scott Key to write the stirring words that eventually became our National Anthem.

Every school child in America knows the story — or, at least, they used to. Today, I’m not so sure. With such short shrift given to the uplifting parts of our national narrative, Key’s remarkable, emotional story may have become something less than a footnote in history books.

Key was on a mission approved by President Madison to negotiate an exchange of prisoners with British Admiral Alexander Cochrane, including a good friend of Keys who had been captured a few days earlier. The attack began on the morning of September 13, with the British launching huge mortar shells and Congreve rockets against the fort. The rockets were more of a psychological weapon at that time as they were very loud but not very destructive. Not so the mortars that arched over the walls of the fort causing few casualties but wreaking havoc on the fort’s infrastructure.

The British plan was to silence the fort’s big guns that would have made any attempt to sail past McHenry into the harbor a suicide mission. Once in the harbor, the ships would then support a ground force whose job was to take the city of Baltimore.

It was a good plan, but dependent on the ability of Cochrane’s ships to either so demoralize the Americans that they surrendered, or cause so much damage that the the fort could not effectively resist. Cochrane believed Key would be useful to negotiate the fort’s surrender so he allowed him to reboard the sloop that brought him to the admiral’s flagship and join the fleet that was bombarding McHenry.

Key had a birdseye view of the bombardment. By all accounts an emotional man, Key watched and fretted while the fort took a pounding for more than 24 hours, as nearly 2000 shells and 1000 rockets pummeled the works. Toward morning, the fort’s defenders replaced the storm flag that had flown throughout the battle with the huge 46′ by 32′ flag that now resides in the Smithsonian.

But Key couldn’t see in the dim light and because smoke obscured his view. Finally, as dawn broke, Key caught sight of the huge flag and was so filled with gratitude and patriotism, that he wrote the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” which was later put to music — “Anacreon in Heaven” – and the rest is history. The “Star Spangled Banner” become the official anthem of the US in 1931.

There have been numerous complaints through the years about the anthem; it’s too “martial”; it’s hard to sing; the song is inappropriate because it was originally a drinking song (not true, but it’s a good story); the lyrics are overwrought.

Steve Vogel, author of “Through the Perilous Fight: From the Burning of Washington to the Star-Spangled Banner: The Six Weeks That Saved the Nation”, debunks several myths about the anthem in a recent column for the Washington Post:

Rather than martial chest-thumping, Key’s first verse is a long question, wondering not just whether the flag still flew over the fort but whether the young nation would survive. In the dark hours before dawn, the guns fell quiet. For Key, the silence was dreadful, a sign that the fort may have fallen. The second verse captures Key’s relief at spotting the American flag “in full glory reflected” at first light.

The rarely sung third verse is angry and vengeful, rejoicing that the enemy’s “blood has washed out their foul footstep’s pollution.” Perhaps the lyrics reflect Key’s emotion after watching the British attempt to incinerate Baltimore. Key takes a more pious tone in the fourth and final verse, celebrating the return of peace and the end of “war’s desolation.”

The man who wrote this most patriotic of American songs in fact deeply opposed the war. Key had been dismayed by the U.S. declaration of war in 1812, considering it foolhardy for the young nation to take on one of the most powerful militaries on Earth.

Politico’s Ted Widmer wonders if it isn’t time to replace the “Star Spangled Banner” with a song that’s easier to sing, and with a less problematic history. Apparently, Key owned slaves and was a vigorous defender of the abomination. Should this disqualify him and his creation?

Two hundred years after that long night in Baltimore, is it time to rethink the Star-Spangled Banner? It has its merits—to drown out bad news with bluster, brass and percussion worked in 1814, and the song continues to radiate personality, even as most of us try and fail to sing along with its awkward leaps over one-and-half octaves. It feels right that the city that gave us Hairspray also surrendered this essential bit of national theater. The music has entered so deeply into our consciousness that even its parodies can seem beautiful—much as the Jimi Hendrix version, inflammatory at the time, has acquired a great dignity of its own.

But the story of Key’s nearness to slavery cannot easily be forgotten, especially in an era that demands more accountability, and offers to tools to find it. Critics over the years—I am hardly the first—have been brutal about the Star-Spangled Banner’s many shortcomings. The New York Herald Tribune dismissed it as “words that nobody can remember [set] to a tune that nobody can sing.” In 1918, a woman named Kitty Cheatham denounced the words as “German propaganda” (because they undermined the Anglo-American alliance), and saw the music as a product of “darkness,” “degeneracy,” and “the carnal mind.” Christian Science leader Augusta Stetson called it a “barroom ballad composed by a foreigner.” A 1965 writer thought it “as singable as Die Walkure, as American as ‘God Save the Queen’”; the columnist Michael Kinsley has ripped its “empty bravado” and “mindless nonsense about rockets and bombs.”

Perhaps—like Old Glory herself—the unsingable song is here to stay. But if not, we have a worthy contender waiting in the wings: “America the Beautiful,” a stirring piece of music, easily sung and irrefutably composed by U.S. citizens.

Like all of us, Key was a product of his times. The fact that he supported slavery is only one aspect of his character, and to condemn him unmercifully for a sin shared by tens of millions of Americans north and south seems harsh and arbitrary. Using that logic, no American born before 1865 deserves recognition for anything. It cost the US 600,000 lives to wrench the institution of slavery from our midst — a horrible price to pay and illustrative of just how difficult it was to escape the institution’s historical trap.

Certainly Key should be criticized for his views on slavery, especially when you consider the growing abolitionist movement in America during his lifetime. He could have changed but he didn’t. That’s a black mark on his character that history will not wash away.

But why besmirch his heartfelt patriotism and sheer relief that Baltimore was saved and possibly, the war with it? The emotional lyrics to the “Star Spangled Banner” are a celebration of American values and a demonstration of the American character. It is as much a part of American history as any icon we possess.

Surely we can find room for Francis Scott Key in the pantheon of American heroes despite his flaws, and celebrate his creation no matter how hard it is to sing. For the sake of our children, we have to.

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Poll: Obama’s Black Supporters Abandoning Him

Sunday, September 14th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

President Barack Obama’s approval numbers appear to be in freefall across the board as his most vigorous supporters in the past are now abandoning him

The Washington Examiner reports:

President Obama, plagued by growing disapproval ratings, is now losing support from his liberal base as the country appears to have given up on his administration and Washington, according new polling data.

Once their hero, now only three-quarters of African Americans and Democrats support the president.

One reason, according to Zogby Analytics: Jimmy Carter-style malaise is settling in.

“There is clearly a growing amount of angst and malaise and it appears to be nonpartisan,” said pollster John Zogby, who provides the weekly Secrets report card on the president.

In a new poll, he said that if the 2012 election were held today, Obama would tie Republican Mitt Romney at 40 percent. Zogby noted that both men have lost support among allies.

For Obama it’s obviously worse because he has the Oval Office and needs public support to push through a new anti-terrorism policy, a developing plan to grant amnesty to illegals and continued efforts to bolster the sour economy and employment.

Zogby reported that Obama “is losing, at this point in time, significant chunks of his base. He won 61 percent of the vote of 18-29 year olds in 2012 but now has only 47 percent of their support. He is down nine points among Democrats (from 82 percent to 73 percent), 12 points among moderates (54 percent to 42 percent), 11 points among Hispanics (71 percent to 60 percent), and 13 points among African Americans (91 percent to 78 percent),” said Zogby on his company’s blog.

This news doesn’t necessarily work in the GOP’s favor. Republican candidates are not going to pick up 25% of the black vote, or 50% of the youth vote. The GOP may see marginal improvements in gaining votes from Obama’s base across the board, but it’s probably not going to be a difference maker.

Turnout among most of those groups is historically low in off-year elections anyway. What is worrying Republicans, though, is the same turnout machine that brought the president victory in 2012 will increase the historical share of the vote among youth, minorities, and fervid Obama supporters.The same social networking infrastructure is in place from 2012 and even a small increase in votes among the Democrats’ base supporters might save one or two vulnerable Democratic senators.

But if Zogby is right and many in the president’s base have given up on him, all the social network goosing in the world won’t matter in the end.

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Charges of Democratic Voter Fraud in Georgia

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The New Georgia Project, an independent group set up by a major donor and adviser to the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn, is under investigation by the state’s attorney general for voter fraud.

We know this is impossible because there is no such thing as voter fraud, right? So, the story is either a hoax, or a very bad joke.

The Hill:

Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) said in a memo, reported by WSB-TV, that his office has “received numerous complaints about voter applications submitted by the New Georgia Project,” an organization launched to register and turn out voters to the polls.

“Preliminary investigation has revealed significant illegal activities, including forged voter registration applications, forged signatures on releases, and applications with false or inaccurate information,” Kemp wrote in the memo.

Nunn is running against Republican David Perdue for a Senate seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Democrats see the race as a pick-up opportunity in a year where they are largely playing defense.

Most polls have shown a close race, with Perdue leading Nunn by three points in the most recent survey, conducted earlier this month.

Republicans are seizing on the allegations against the New Georgia Project to tarnish Nunn, suggesting the group was part of a larger effort by Democrats to “expand the electorate by any means necessary.”

“The serious allegations of illegal activities and potential fraud from liberal voter registration groups are outrageous and should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law,” said Perdue spokeswoman Megan Whittemore.

The New Georgia Project and its parent organization, Third Sector Development, were issued subpoenas this week demanding documents relating to the allegations be turned over to the Georgia Election Board by Sept. 19.

Third Sector Development is run by Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D), who has contributed to Nunn’s campaign and was listed on an official campaign strategy document as a proposed member of a group of potential policy advisers.

Abrams said in a statement she was “saddened” by the subpoenas, and that the group is working to comply with them.

“The abrupt release of this subpoena saddens me as I know the efforts of this organization have been done with the mission of increasing voter registration and engagement in the most disadvantaged and underserved groups in the state,” she said.

Democrats are framing the illegal activity as part of the process to register poor people and minorities. Apparently, we are supposed to put up with a little fraud in order to “enfranchise” more people.

Beyond that, the New Georgia Project is a shadowy organization. When they first appeared, even the NAACP was worried about them — with good reason:

Is the New Georgia Project a legitimate organization? That’s the question NAACP leaders have, saying the organization is under investigation by state election officials. The group has been going door-to-door offering to register voters, but they’re not registered with the state.

NAACP leaders spoke out at Franklin Square to remind people to be cautious with their personal information. “If you see a volunteer with those five letters, NAACP, you can count that they are well trained and they can hold voter registration information in strict compliance with the law and they can assist every citizen with the right to vote,” said Francys Johnson, Georgia NAACP President.

The New Georgia Project claims to be helping register voters. They set up in an office building off Skidaway Road. We went there Friday, but no one was there. Representatives of the group told employees it’s a non-profit organization.

“I truly am worried about some of the people whose information we’ve collected,” said Brad Jones, a Savannah State student recruited to register voters at $11 per hour. Jones says he was instructed to collect full names, social security numbers, birth dates and more. “I’m really not sure what’s happening to this information. That’s what I really want to know because I really don’t think this is a legitimate business.”

Jones says he was instructed to tell people to vote at their polling station at Roosevelt School. But voter registration officials say that place doesn’t exist. When going door-to-door, people are supposed to be given the option to mail the form themselves so strangers don’t get their information. Jones says he was not instructed to give that option.

That was back in June. Now, the NAACP is asking the Georgia secretary of state to drop the subpoenas and halt the investigations. Apparently, giving away your social security number to a total stranger doesn’t bother them very much anymore.

So far, 12 counties have reported voter fraud from the New Georgia Project. Democrats are charging a conspiracy to suppress minority voters. Rational people are wondering what took the secretary of state so long to investigate.

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Adrian Peterson and the ‘Whooping’ Culture

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

When I was growing up in the 1950s, corporal punishment was not only commonplace, it was an accepted adjunct to raising good, obedient children.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” may have been a euphemism for “child beating” even back then. But spanking was considered an important part of child rearing, and few parents would have thought that it was abuse, much less unnecessary.

Taking a rod to a child’s backside — or a razor strop, or a paddle — might be stretching the point. But it was considered to be a parent’s absolute right to discipline his child any way he saw fit — even if that meant leaving marks on the child’s body.

Times have changed and striking a child anywhere for any reason can get you in trouble with state child service authorities. Some may think we’ve gone too far in protecting children while interfering with the right of parents to raise their child by their own lights.

If you believe that, allow me to introduce you to Adrian Peterson.

Peterson is not only star running back for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. He is the best back of his generation, a marvel of speed, power, and shiftiness. Yesterday, authorities in Texas handed down an indictment of Peterson for child abuse.

His unsettling and sometimes shocking explanations for beating his son with a tree branch because he misbehaved remind us that socioeconomic and cultural differences in parental attitudes toward child rearing are still with us, despite efforts to eradicate child beating disguised as “discipline.”

CBS Houston reports:

The “whooping” – as Peterson put it when interviewed by police – occurred in Spring, Texas, in May. Peterson’s son had pushed another one of Peterson’s children off of a motorbike video game. As punishment, Peterson grabbed a tree branch – which he consistently referred to as a “switch” – removed the leaves and struck the child repeatedly.

The beating allegedly resulted in numerous injuries to the child, including cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to the child’s hands. Peterson then texted the boy’s mother, saying that one wound in particular would make her “mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.”

Peterson also allegedly said via text message to the child’s mother that he “felt bad after the fact when I notice the switch was wrapping around hitting I (sic) thigh” and also acknowledged the injury to the child’s scrotum in a text message, saying, “Got him in nuts once I noticed. But I felt so bad, n I’m all tearing that butt up when needed! I start putting them in timeout. N save the whooping for needed memories!”

In further text messages, Peterson allegedly said, “Never do I go overboard! But all my kids will know, hey daddy has the biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”

According to police reports, the child, however, had a slightly different story, telling authorities that “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face.” The child also expressed worry that Peterson would punch him in the face if the child reported the incident to authorities. He also said that he had been hit by a belt and that “there are a lot of belts in Daddy’s closet.” He added that Peterson put leaves in his mouth when he was being hit with the switch while his pants were down. The child told his mother that Peterson “likes belts and switches” and “has a whooping room.”

It seems apparent that Adrian Peterson experienced similar beatings as a child and was only “whooping” his son as he had been “whooped” as a boy. This becomes clear with Peterson’s bewilderment at thinking that anyone thought his intentions and motivations were anything but legal and proper.

Peterson, when contacted by police, admitted that he had “whooped” his son on the backside with a switch as a form of punishment, and then, in fact, produced a switch similar to the one with which he hit the child. Peterson also admitted that he administered two different “whoopings” to his son during the visit to Texas, the other being a punishment for the 4-year-old scratching the face of a 5-year-old.

In an interview with Houston police, Peterson was very matter-of-fact and calm about the incident, appearing to believe he had done nothing wrong and reiterating how much he cared about his son and only used “whoopings” or “spankings” as a last resort. He offered up information that the police didn’t have and was incredulous when asked if some of the numerous wounds and marks on the child were from an extension cord, saying, “Oh, no, I’d never hit my child with an extension cord. I remember how it feels to get whooped with an extension cord. I’d never do that.”

Peterson also said, “Anytime I spank my kids, I talk to them before, let them know what they did, and of course after.” Peterson also expressed regret that his son did not cry – because then, Peterson said, he would have known that the switch was doing more damage than intended. He didn’t realize the “tip of the switch and the ridges of the switch were wrapping around [the child’s] legs.” Peterson also acknowledged that this was administered directly to the child’s skin and with the child’s pants pulled down.

It would be a mistake to ascribe this attitude to black America only. It is more a product of one’s socioeconomic strata and tradition than a condition based on race. From what I can discover, Peterson grew up in a lower middle class home with loving parents. While his parents divorced when Adrian was seven and his father was convicted and given an eight-year sentence for money laundering when he was thirteen, Peterson maintained close contact with his father, even speaking to him before every game in high school despite him being in prison.

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Ohio State Sexual Assault Code About as Idiotic as it Gets

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

I thought that the recent passage in California of the “yes means yes” bill was extremely problematic — especially for males, who are basically at the mercy of women when it comes to initiating a sexual encounter. The temptation to engage in false accusations for purposes of revenge or pique will be great, and given the temper of the times, rather than an incident becoming a “he said, she said” issue, it is likely to be a “whatever she said goes as the truth” matter.

That California law defines consent as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” And it covers each step of the sexual encounter — from kissing to petting, to intercourse. Madness.

But Ohio State has gone California one better. If you’re a Buckeye male, it’s not enough that you get “consent” for every sexual act. You have to agree with your partner on why you are having sex.

Have they gone bat guano crazy?

Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute writing at the Liberty Unyielding blog:

Ohio State applies an impractical “agreement” requirement to not just sex, but also to a much broader category of “touching” that is sexual (or perhaps romantic?) in nature. First, it states that “sexual assault is any form of non-consensual sexual activity. Sexual assault includes all unwanted sexual acts from intimidation to touching to various forms of penetration and rape.” Then, it states that “Consent is a knowing and voluntary verbal or non-verbal agreement between both parties to participate in each and every sexual act. . .Conduct will be considered “non-consensual” if no clear consent . . . is given. . . .Effective consent can be given by words or actions so long as the words or actions create a mutual understanding between both parties regarding the conditions of the sexual activity–ask, ‘do both of us understand and agree regarding the who, what, where, when, why, and how this sexual activity will take place?’”

(emphasis mine)

College students, barely out of their teenage years with little sexual experience, are now expected to glean “consent” by the actions and supposed intent of their partner. If you kiss a girl without permission, that is considered a sexual assault — even if the girl liked it.

Bader takes us through the practical consequences of the policy:

This “agreement” requirement is impractical, because unlike sex (where there is generally an implicit agreement among the participants before it can even happen, since sex is difficult to do without active cooperation), no one agrees in advance – verbally or non-verbally – to have someone touch them in a particular place while making out. No one ever says, “may I touch your breast” before doing it while making out. They may (and usually do) welcome (and enjoy) it after it occurs, but they don’t specifically “agree” to it in advance (indeed, they may have expected the touch to occur in a different place, even if they found it pleasant). The very process of making out is a gradual escalation of intimacy step by step, without constant discussion or an endless series of agreements. That may be impossible under Ohio State’s policy, not just because it requires “agreement” (rather than mere “acquiescence”) but also because it expresses hostility to the concept of “consent to one form of sexual activity” being a signal of receptiveness to other, slightly more intimate “forms of sexual activity.” But that’s exactly what happens in making out: when you acquiesce in one form of touching or other “sexual activity” long enough, that signals a likely willingness to engage in slightly more intimate forms of touching — although you are free to rebut that presumption of willingness at any time simply by saying “no” or physically conveying your unwillingness. Such fluid interaction is threatened by Ohio State’s definition, which states that that “Consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other . . . sexual activity,” that there must be “agreement between both parties to participate in each and every sexual act,” that only “clear consent” counts, and that “Consent can never be assumed, even in the context of a relationship.”

With so much going on prior to intercourse, can a woman having a sexual encounter under these circumstances ever use the excuse that she and her partner got “carried away” and had unprotected sex leading to an unwanted pregnancy and an abortion? If you’re going to slow down the process of becoming intimate, what excuse do you have for not using a rubber? Or some other form of contraception?

That’s a side issue, to be sure. But Bader’s practical guide to sex at Ohio State (and other schools that will likely adopt similar policies) is a clear warning to males; know your partner well before even initiating a kiss. Is she mentally stable? Does she have relationship issues? If you’re only interested in a casual encounter, is she OK with that? A woman who discovers that her sexual partner from the night before was not interested in a long term relationship and only wanted to “hook up” for the night, is that grounds for charging him with sexual assault?

This may be the zenith of political correctness on college campuses. To take perhaps the most joyous, fulfilling act a human being can perform and turn it into a laborious, awkward, artificial, and dangerous encounter is the height of stupidity.

You have to wonder if the people who developed this policy ever had sex themselves.

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Government Threatened Hostage Families with Prosecution if They Raised Ransom Money

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

I am of two minds about this story. Certainly, we can all relate to the desperation of the parents of Steve Sotloff and James Foley. They were willing to do anything to get their children back — as any of us would do in a similar situation. The fact that the government apparently threatened both families with prosection if they tried to raise ransom money seems harsh and arbitrary.

But the government is forced to think not only about present hostages, but any future hostage taking of Americans by the terrorists. It seems logical that paying ransom for hostages only encourages more hostage taking. Recall in Lebanon in the 1980s when the U.S. bartered arms for hostages only to see more hostages taken by the terrorists.

But there is more to this story. Specifically, White House lies about being in “constant contact” with the families of hostages. That’s not the story the families are telling. And the manner in which the message about potential prosection was delivered is more reminiscent of a threat delivered by a mafioso than a caring, compassionate government.

ABC News:

The mother of slain American journalist James Foley said she wasn’t necessarily surprised that the U.S. government threatened her family with prosecution should they raise money to pay her son’s ransom, but she was astounded by how such a devastating message was delivered.

“I was surprised there was so little compassion,” Diane Foley told ABC News today of the three separate warnings she said U.S. officials gave the family about the illegality of paying ransom to the terror group ISIS. “It just made me realize that these people talking to us had no idea what it was like to be the family of someone abducted… I’m sure [the U.S. official] didn’t mean it the way he said it, but we were between a rock and a hard place. We were told we could do nothing… meanwhile our son was being beaten and tortured every day.”

Earlier this week five current and former officials with direct knowledge of the Foley case confirmed the alleged threats were made.

“It was an utterly idiotic thing to do that came across as if [the U.S. official] had the compassion of an anvil,” said a former official who has advised the family.

[...]

At times, Diane Foley said the family “had to beg” the government for information on their son.

“We were an annoyance, it felt, at some level… They didn’t have time for us,” she said.

Today White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said that government officials were in constant contact with the Foley family and declined to comment on the alleged ransom warnings, telling reporters he’s “not going to be in a position to detail the kinds of conversations that took place so often between members of the administration and the Foley family.”

“It is a long standing policy of this administration, it was the policy of previous administrations that ransoms should not be paid to terrorist organizations,” Earnest said before referring more specific questions about the Foley’s situation to the Justice Department.

Secretary of State John Kerry today told reporters that he was “really taken aback [and] surprised” by Foley’s allegations. “I can tell you that I am totally unaware and would not condone anybody that I know of within the State Department making such statements,” Kerry said.

The family of Steve Sotloff, the other murdered American, was also threatened directly with prosecution at a White House meeting.

Sources close to the families say that at the time of the White House meeting the Sotloffs and Foleys — after receiving direct threats from IS — were exploring lining up donors who would help pay multimillion-dollar ransoms to free their sons. But after the meeting those efforts collapsed, one source said, because of concerns that “donors could expose themselves to prosecution.”

Although European hostages have been freed through ransom payments that have run into the millions of dollars, the Obama administration has taken a hard line against any such payments, viewing the transfer of cash as a violation of federal laws that forbid providing “material support” to a terrorist organization.

“They’ve been stricter than any administration on this,” said a former law enforcement official who has been working with the families of IS hostages.

Barfi said that within a few hours of the White House meeting, he was at a separate meeting with State Department officials. One of those officials repeatedly mentioned the “material support” law and made it “clear,” said Barfi, that criminal prosecutions could result if ransoms to the IS terrorists were paid.

Such explicit threats made to parents who “had to beg” to get any information about their children points to an administration that employed clod-hoppers as liaisons to the families. No doubt it was a tough job to inform the families of the law and the potential penalties that would have come with raising ransom money. But it’s obvious from statements made by both families that the administration blew it. The situation called for striking the right balance between showing compassion and imparting the matter-of-fact information about potential prosections. The White House chose people without tact or empathy to deliver their message and struck out.

Even though they’re right about the policy.

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‘Daisy’ at 50: The Most Vicious, and Most Effective, Politcal Ad in History

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Time magazine described the “Daisy” ad, which aired only once 50 years ago today, as “the most infamous, and most effective” political ad ever. A little girl appears on the screen, stoops, and picks a daisy. As she starts pulling the petals off the flower, she counts, “One, two, three…” Her little-girl voice fades away as an ominous male voice counts down from 10:

It’s a minute long and appeared during Monday Night at the Movies on NBC. This is what happens next, as TIME described it: The countdown ends, and the screen erupts in atomic explosion, followed by the voice of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who says somberly: “These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.”

Context is all, and here’s the political context in which that ad appeared:

The commercial, an election-season spot for incumbent president LBJ, was never meant to run repeatedly, but it was followed later in the month by a similar commercial featuring another little girl, this time with an ice cream cone, accompanied by an ominous voiceover about radioactive chemicals introduced to the environment by nuclear tests. Still, the spots provoked immediate controversy — and contributed to TIME’s decision to dub the Sept. 25, 1964, issue “The Nuclear Issue.” (The daisy girl appears on the cover.) Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, TIME said then, was dogged by an “itchy-finger image.” After speaking in favor of making it easier for the nation’s armed forces to use nuclear weapons if needed, Goldwater became synonymous with the threat of full-on nuclear destruction. As one registered Republican from Vermont told a reporter, “I don’t think too much of President Johnson, but I guess I’m really afraid of Senator Goldwater.”

In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock for 50 years, here’s the ad:

The ad was a punch in the groin to Goldwater. Republicans immediately cried “foul” and went off on the network for running it. Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois wrote the National Association of Broadcasters, fuming that the ad was “unfit for children to see, and takes the level of political campaigning to a depth never before approached in the history of television.” Republican House leader Charles Halleck said “decent people resent this kind of play on emotions, this appeal to fear, this scare campaign that outdoes a horror movie.”

Ad Age reports that it didn’t matter that the ad ran only once.

It didn’t run again, partly due to the outcry, mostly because it didn’t need to run again. According to atomic-age-obsessed CONELRAD, which has an extensive, must-read three-part history of the ad (complete with supporting documents and an interview with Daisy herself and a video clip of the DDB team), “Daisy” was also a pioneer in what we now call “earned media.”

The spot may not have been re-broadcast as a paid ad, but it was run during nightly news segments. CONELRAD quotes a memo from the Johnson campaign’s Bill Moyers (yes, that Bill Moyers) to the president, that reads in part:

“While we paid for the ad only on NBC last Monday night, ABC and CBS ran it on their news shows Friday. So we got it shown on all three networks for the price of one.”

The cost to run that ad? According to CONELRAD, $24,000.

According to a Nov. 23 Ad Age article citing a Walter Pincus story in the Washington Star, the Democrats were billed for $4 million worth of advertising (including media) for that election, compared to the Republican’s $4.6 million.

And the Democrats thought the Willie Horton ad low? At least the Horton ad, run by the George H.W. Bush campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988, was based on fact, as you’ll see on the next page.

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Revealed: Brookings Shilled for Qatar

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

So much for appealing to the authority of think tanks when making an argument.

The New York Times studied the question of foreign funding of American think tanks and discovered some disturbing patterns. Twenty-eight think tanks received at least $92 million from dozens of foreign entities in exchange for at least some favorable research and access to US policy makers.

Of particular interest were payments made to the Brookings Institution, the most prestigious of all think tanks in the US.

Daily Caller:

The Brookings Institution, considered by many to be the most prestigious think tank in the world, comes off especially poorly in the report.

“There was a no-go zone when it came to criticizing the Qatari government,” Saleem Ali, formerly a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, told The Times.

Qatar, which backs the Muslim Brotherhood, paid Brookings $14.8 million over four years to fund the center and for a special project to address relations between Muslims and the U.S.

“It was unsettling for the academics there. But it was the price we had to pay,” Ali said of the partnership, while warning members of Congress to “be aware” of Brookings reports, which he said may not contain the full truth on any given issue.

The Qataris were pleased with the arrangement, which the foreign ministry touted on its website, writing that “the center will assume its role in reflecting the bright image of Qatar in the international media, especially the American ones.”

“Yikes,” Todd Moss, the Center for Global Development’s chief operating officer, exclaimed to The Times after the paper showed him communications between his organization and the government of Norway, detailing plans to lobby the White House and Congress to double spending on a foreign aid program. ”We will absolutely seek counsel on this,” said Moss.

[...]

The failure to comply with foreign donors’ agenda had ramifications at one organization.

Michele Dunne, a former State Department official with expertise in the Middle East, was named as the first director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. In 2013, Dunne signed a petition and testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to voice concern over the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

Bahaa Hiriri, who financed the center, called to complain, according to The Times, and Dunne was out four months later. She was replaced by a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, who was reportedly criticized for being too deferential to former president Hosni Mubarak.

The first word that comes to mind is “whores” — selling your name, your credibility, and your reputation for money. There’s no other way to see this no matter how they spin it.

And I don’t think this is a left-right issue. The competition for dollars is fierce and it’s not surprising that most policy centers would reach out to foreign governments for donations.

From the Times report:

The think tanks’ reliance on funds from overseas is driven, in part, by intensifying competition within the field: The number of policy groups has multiplied in recent years, while research grants from the United States government have dwindled.

Foreign officials describe these relationships as pivotal to winning influence on the cluttered Washington stage, where hundreds of nations jockey for attention from the United States government. The arrangements vary: Some countries work directly with think tanks, drawing contracts that define the scope and direction of research. Others donate money to the think tanks, and then pay teams of lobbyists and public relations consultants to push the think tanks to promote the country’s agenda.

The trouble comes when sensitivity by the think tank to the feelings of foreign governments shades the research a certain way. Apparently, outright interference by governments is not unheard of either.

A solution might be to amend the law governing lobbying activities by domestic concerns for foreign governments. A little transparency would, at least, give policy makers better context to judge think tank output.

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Arab League Says It Will Support U.S. Effort Against ISIS

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The Arab League will issue a resolution sometime today or tomorrow supporting efforts to confront Islamic State.

They may even include language that supports the U.S. air campaign against ISIS in Iraq, although any show of support for the U.S. would be politically troublesome for some Arab countries.

The resolution is not expected to go into detail about what exactly the league would be willing to do to support efforts to defeat Islamic State, but there’s a chance that the resolution will include a hint of some kind of joint military action by the league against ISIS

Reuters:

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo are set to issue a resolution on Sunday backing Iraqi and U.S. efforts to confront Islamic State insurgents who have overrun large areas of Iraq and Syria and declared a cross-border caliphate, diplomats said.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi told the opening session that the rise of the group in Iraq challenged not merely the authority of the state but “its very existence and the existence of other states”, and called for a clear and decisive resolution to confront terrorism militarily, politically, economically and culturally.

Several foreign ministers spoke of the gravity of the challenge posed by Islamic State in Iraq as well as the violence that has engulfed Libya and other regions.

An Iraqi diplomatic source said Baghdad had drafted a resolution that would endorse its efforts to confront the militants and condemn Islamic State’s actions as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Other diplomatic sources said the Arab League would agree a resolution endorsing the U.S. aerial campaign against the group. Egypt’s official Mena news agency quoted a source saying the ministers would agree to coordinate with the United States.

It was not immediately clear if Washington would be named in the final text as the foreign ministers hammered out the details into Sunday evening.

However, the Iraqi draft does endorse a U.N. Security Council resolution passed last month that urges member states to “act to suppress the flow of foreign fighters, financing and other support to Islamist extremist groups in Iraq and Syria”.

Diplomatic sources said backing for Iraqi efforts and the U.N. resolution could be read as offering tacit support for U.S. action, even if the United States is not named in the final text.

Arabi suggested that military action could take place under the umbrella of an Arab League joint defense pact.

Most Arab states have taken steps to prevent their young men from going to Syria to join ISIS, although according to one source, there are 12,000 foreign fighters who have joined the rebellion against Bashar Assad, most of them from Arab League countries and many of them now swelling the ranks of jihadists fighting for Islamic State.

And the resolution represents something of a flip flop for Gulf states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia who originally financed and armed ISIS. Money still flows from those countries into ISIS coffers despite both governments now disavowing any support for the terrorists.

So, now the Saudis and Qatar are going to go to war against their creation? Such is the topsy-turvey world of Arab politics.

Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to visit the Middle East next week to see how much Arab rubber meets the road. Will they back up their tough words with tangible support? Egypt would almost certainly agree to go to war against ISIS. They have the largest army and the military government’s stated position against extremists as well as their recent actions in Libya to combat jihadists would suggest their willingness to commit troops.

As for the others, there isn’t much to write home about as far as military prowess. The Saudis and UAE have modern equipment courtesy of the U.S., but the fighting skills of their armies have rarely been tested. How would they measure up against the battle-hardened veterans of ISIS?

They are probably going to need a lot of help from America to be successful.

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Obama Blames Immigration Punt on Illegal Alien Children

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Somebody has got to take the fall, so why not the most vulnerable and voiceless among us?

President Obama declared war on illegal alien children during an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd of Meet the Press., blaming them and the resulting border crisis for scuttling his amnesty plans.

The president also claimed that politics was not the reason for his decision to delay his power grab. And he said that unicorns were real and can fly.

Well, maybe not the last. But if he expects us to believe the other two explanations, why not?

NBC:

“The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem,” Obama said in the interview, which will air on Sunday’s Meet the Press on NBC. “I want to spend some time, even as we’re getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we’re doing this, why it’s the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy.”

In the sit-down with Todd, Obama rejected criticism that the postponement is merely a political tactic intended to help embattled Democrats in the months before contentious midterm elections, saying that the delay will help make new immigration policies “sustainable” when they are announced later this year.

“What I’m saying is that I’m going to act because it’s the right thing for the country,” he said. “But it’s going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we’ve done on unaccompanied children, and why it’s necessary.”

It should go without saying that “the truth of the matter” is Obamaspeak for “pay close attention because I’m about ready to lie.” The midsummer “shift” in politics was a sudden drop in the poll numbers of Democratic senators in states where Republican challengers were making hay criticizing Democrats for their border policies.

And, as Jennifer Rubin points out, the notion that the president delayed his policies because he didn’t want to hurt the chances of comprehensive reform passing Congress is a crock:

If the president wants to make a policy grab, he can do so whenever he pleases. This craven move, however, allows him to (try to) duck responsibility and avoid the wrath of voters. To suggest that he is trying to avoid wrecking the prospects of legislative action is absurd; he’s given up on legislation passed as the Constitution prescribes. The speaker of the House rightfully blasted the president: “There is never a ‘right’ time for the president to declare amnesty by executive action, but the decision to simply delay this deeply-controversial and possibly unconstitutional unilateral action until after the election – instead of abandoning the idea altogether – smacks of raw politics. The American people deserve honesty, transparency, and accountability – and any unilateral action will only further strain the bonds of trust between the White House and the people they are supposed to serve.“

Obama has handed Republicans a powerful issue and put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the president’s lawlessness. If there is one thing that united all Republicans on the immigration issue, it is the unacceptability of the president taking the law into his own hands. Republicans can now talk about this, not to mention the fact the House did pass a bill on the border security crisis (the Senate went home). Democrats have gone from offense to defense, thanks to the president, on the one issue that might have saved some seats. Now it is Republicans who will seize the momentum.

While Rubin is correct, the unfortunate fact is that Republican candidates have nowhere to go on the amnesty issue. The president hasn’t confirmed anything. The administration has only said that amnesty is an “option.” Republicans may broadly allude to the prospect of amnesty but are prevented from specific criticism by the president’s delaying tactic.

Indeed, it’s the last quiver in the president’s bow to save the Senate for Democrats. By taking amnesty off the table as a campaign issue — or, at least, reducing its impact — the president gives Senators like Pryor in Arkansas and Landrieu in Louisiana a fighting chance. It also eases the way for incumbents like Udall in Colorado and Dem candidates in several open-seat races who are locked in tighter-than-expected contests.

On the downside, it is likely to depress Hispanic turnout. But minority turnout in off-year elections is notoriously low anyway, so the calculus will probably make the president’s gambit pay off on election day: It will save more votes for Democrats than cost them.

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Al-Shabab Vows Revenge after US Confirms Death of Terrorist Leader

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The Somali terrorist group Al-Shabab has vowed revenge after US intelligence confirmed that a drone strike on a truck earlier this week took out their leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.

The terrorists named Abu Ubeyda Ahmed Omar to replace Godane and swore vengeance on both the US and the Somali government.

Reuters:

In a statement, al Shabaab reaffirmed its affiliation to al Qaeda, and named its new leader as Sheikh Ahmad Umar Abu Ubaidah, warning its enemies to “expect only that which will cause you great distress”.

Little is known of al Shabaab’s new leader, but a local elder who asked not be named said he had joined al Shabaab in 2006 and, like Godane, hailed from the Dir clan.

Godane himself was named head of al Shabaab in 2008, less than a week after his predecessor Aden Hashi Ayro was killed in a similar U.S. raid.

Godane dramatically raised the group’s profile, carrying out bombings and suicide attacks in Somalia and elsewhere in the region, including last September’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in which 67 people died.

Godane publicly claimed responsibility for that attack, saying it was revenge for Kenyan and Western involvement in Somalia and noting its proximity to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The militants have also staged guerrilla attacks in parts of the capital, as well as in neighboring Kenya and Uganda.

The Pentagon said on Friday that Godane’s killing was a “major symbolic and operational loss” for al Shabaab, but some analysts have said it could bring more violence.

Al Shabaab, whose name means “The Youth”, said two of Godane’s companions had been killed in the attack, adding: “Avenging the death of our scholars and leaders is a binding obligation on our shoulders that we will never relinquish or forget, no matter how long it takes.”

The group, which aims to impose its own strict version of Islam, controlled Mogadishu and the southern region of Somalia from 2006 until 2011. It was forced out of the capital by peacekeeping forces deployed by the African Union, who have launched a new offensive against the Islamists this year.

Kenya deployed troops with the AU force to try to prevent al Shabaab encroaching onto its own territory, and suffered retribution in the shape of the attack on the Westgate mall.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta thanked the United States for killing Godane, and “for bringing an end to Godane’s career of death and destruction; and finally allowing us to begin our healing process”.

Al-Shabab may be the least of our worries at this point, but along with Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and Algerian-based Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the world may have more than it can handle in Africa very soon. These three groups are growing, gaining recruits and credibility, and gaining confidence as they confront government forces ill-equipped to battle fanatics.

It’s good to see that we aren’t totally ignoring the threat from Al-Shabab. But the danger is we will get so caught up in fighting Islamic State that other, growing threats are given short shrift until we wake up one day and discover that one of these terrorist groups has become a full-blown threat to the region and us.

It’s what happened with ISIS and we shouldn’t let it happen again.

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One Third of American Workers Considered ‘Freelance’

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

According to a report from the Freelancer’s Union and freelance markeplaces oDesk and eLance, 53 million American workers, or 34%, are now considered “freelance.”

As you will see, there are several definitions of freelancer, some traditional, some less so, but familiar to many who struggle with their personal finances. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue with this statement from the report; that the move to freelancing by so many millions represents “a cultural and social shift” that will “have major impacts on how Americans conceive of and organize their lives, their communities, and their economic power.”

Hit and Run:

The first and last time anyone looked at the freelance worker population in the U.S. was 2004, in a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Back then the GAO turned up about 42 million “contingent workers,” a group that included folks we would normally think of as freelancers but also all part-time workers. “It was a solid, if not particularly nuanced, effort,” as the writers of the new report put it. For their purposes, they defined freelancers as “individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, or project- or contract-based work in the past 12 months” and further broke the group down into five categories:

  • Independent contractors (21 million). This group hews closest to our “traditional” idea of freelancing: individuals whose main source of employment involves working on a project-to-project basis in their field. They make up about 40 percent of freelancers.
  • Moonlighters (14.3 million). These are individuals who work regular full-time jobs and also do some amount of freelance work. This group includes 27 percent of freelancers.
  • Diversified workers (9.3 million). These are our serious hustlers, the folks pulling in income from multiple sources, including traditional employment and freelance work. A diversified worker may have a 20-hour per week bartending or retail job and supplement her income with freelance graphic design work and some time as an Uber driver. This group makes up about 18 percent of freelancers.
  • Temp workers (5.5 million). Temp workers are those working with a single employer, client, job, or project but on a temporary basis. This could be “a business strategy consultant working for one startup client” (the report’s example) or a recent college graduate doing grunt or admin work for different companies each week through a temp agency. They make up about one-tenth of freelancers.
  • Freelance business owners (2.8 million). This group includes people employ between one and five others and who consider themselves both freelancers and business owners. They make up 5 percent of the freelance economy.

A few more key findings about the freelance population in general:

  • 77 percent say they make as much or more money now than they did before becoming a freelancer
  • About half (53 percent) say going freelance was totally their preference; the rest say it was out of necessity.
  • The main reason people take on freelance work is to earn extra money (68 percent), followed by the ability to have a flexible schedule (42 percent).

There have always been people who “moonlighted” to earn extra cash, or took a particular part-time job because the hours were flexible. But that was almost always a result of necessity; child care duties or simply not making enough in one’s 9-5 job to make ends meet.

Today’s freelancer would seem to be more interested in freedom of action and making an impact on the world, according to the study. The fact that decent paying jobs are hard to find may also factor into a workers’ decision to try to make a living as an independent contractor.

As an independent contractor myself, I can tell you one big change that has to made; the tax code. It is rigged against independent contractors and is unnecessarily complex. The tax code actually encourages an independent contractor to pile on as many expenses as possible. This lowers your taxable income but is counterintuitive  to those who wish to save something for retirement.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, author of the Hit and Run piece, sums up the consequences:

To its credit, the new report remains relatively agnostic about whether these updated employment realities are better or worse than the previous paradigm(s), an agnosticism I share. There’s just no use crying over a culture and economy we won’t get back. What matters is what is happening now, why it’s happening, and how adjust our political and cultural expectations to accommodate it. And to the first two points, this new report provides some valuable and long overdue data.

Why it’s happening probably has as much to do with a stumbling economy that is failing to create jobs that someone who might want a little more security would take in a heartbeat, as it does with any newfound independent spirit in the workforce. In this case, the Mother of Invention is necessity, and as long as the economy is in the doldrums, it is likely to continue that way.

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It’s Official: Obama to Delay Immigration Decision Until After Elections

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The Associated Press is reporting that President Obama has decided to break his promise to immigration advocates and hold off on any executive action on amnesty until after the midterm elections.

The ditherer-in chief-probably could have gotten away with his executive orders having minimal impact on the midterms if he had decided in the spring to amnesty millions of illegal aliens. But now, less than two months from the elections, such a move would likely lead to a slaughter of vulnerable Senate Democrats and perhaps even the loss of some seats thought relatively safe. The delay was realistically the only chance Democrats had of keeping hope alive to remain in control of the upper body.

Abandoning his pledge to act by the end of summer, President Barack Obama has decided to delay any executive action on immigration until after the November congressional elections, White House officials said.

The move instantly infuriated immigration advocates while offering relief to some vulnerable Democrats in tough Senate re-election contests.

Two White House officials said Obama concluded that circumventing Congress through executive actions on immigration during the campaign would politicize the issue and hurt future efforts to pass a broad overhaul.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s decision before it was announced, said Obama made his decision Friday as he returned to Washington from a NATO summit in Wales.

They said Obama called a few allies from Air Force One to inform them of his decision, and that the president made more calls from the White House on Saturday.

The officials said Obama had no specific timeline to act, but that he still would take his executive steps before the end of the year.

In a Rose Garden speech on June 30, Obama said he had directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to give him recommendations for executive action by the end of summer. Obama also pledged to “adopt those recommendations without further delay.”

Obama faced competing pressures from immigration advocacy groups that wanted prompt action and from Democrats worried that acting now would energize Republican opposition against vulnerable Senate Democrats. Among those considered most at risk were Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

Obama advisers were not convinced that any presidential action would affect the elections. But the officials said the discussions around timing grew more pronounced within the past few weeks.

Ultimately, the advisers drew a lesson from 1994 when Democratic losses were blamed on votes for gun-control legislation, undermining any interest in passing future gun measures.

White House officials said aides realized that if Obama’s immigration action was deemed responsible for Democratic losses this year, it could hurt any attempt to pass a broad overhaul later on.

Immigration advocates blasted Obama and Senate Democrats over the decision, saying both have shown a lack of political will.

Mitch McConnell summed up the political dilemma for Republicans perfectly:

What’s so cynical about today’s immigration announcement is that the president isn’t saying he’ll follow the law, he’s just saying he’ll go around the law once it’s too late for Americans to hold his party accountable in the November elections.

Republicans on the hustings can’t go out and charge the president with planning unilateral amnesty for millions of illegals because he can always say he hasn’t decided yet, or some other dodge. The president has effectively checked the Republicans on immigration as a campaign issue, although border security remains a big problem for Democrats.

As for immigration advocates, they are getting what they deserve. They trusted the most untrustworthy president in recent memory and look what it got them:

“We are bitterly disappointed in the president and we are bitterly disappointed in the Senate Democrats,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice. “We advocates didn’t make the reform promise; we just made the mistake of believing it.

Will this depress Hispanic turnout in November? Past off-year elections have shown low participation by Hispanics, so it is unlikely that the president’s decision will materially affect the outcome. But it certainly puts a dent in the president’s plans to goose turnout among his base followers, hoping that blacks, the young, single women, and other minorities could ride to the rescue and save his Senate majority.

I think GOP chances to take the Senate just improved markedly.

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Fertile Ground: Cuban Intel Recruiting Academics to Spy on U.S. Government

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Prolific bank robber Willie Sutton, when asked why he held up banks, supposedly said, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon, who reports on an FBI internal document stating that Cuban intelligence is targeting American academia and university professors to recruit spies, brings to mind Sutton’s declaration.

Why should Cuban intel target colleges? Because that’s where the communists are.

Cuba’s communist-led intelligence services are aggressively recruiting leftist American academics and university professors as spies and influence agents, according to an internal FBI report published this week.

Cuban intelligence services “have perfected the work of placing agents, that includes aggressively targeting U.S. universities under the assumption that a percentage of students will eventually move on to positions within the U.S. government that can provide access to information of use to the [Cuban intelligence service],” the five-page unclassified FBI report says. It notes that the Cubans “devote a significant amount of resources to targeting and exploiting U.S. academia.”

“Academia has been and remains a key target of foreign intelligence services, including the [Cuban intelligence service],” the report concludes.

One recruitment method used by the Cubans is to appeal to American leftists’ ideology. “For instance, someone who is allied with communist or leftist ideology may assist the [Cuban intelligence service] because of his/her personal beliefs,” the FBI report, dated Sept. 2, said.

Others are offered lucrative business deals in Cuba in a future post-U.S. embargo environment, and are treated to extravagant, all-expense paid visits to the island.

Coercive tactics used by the Cubans include exploiting personal weaknesses and sexual entrapment, usually during visits to Cuba.

The Cubans “will actively exploit visitors to the island” and U.S. academics are targeted by a special department of the spy agency.

“This department is supported by all of the counterintelligence resources the government of Cuba can marshal on the island,” the report said. “Intelligence officers will come into contact with the academic travelers. They will stay in the same accommodations and participate in the activities arranged for the travelers. This clearly provides an opportunity to identify targets.”

In addition to collecting information and secrets, Cuban spies employ “influence operations,” the FBI said.

“The objective of these activities can range from portraying a specific image, usually positive, to attempting to sway policymakers into particular courses of action,” the report said.

While the left generally romanticizes the Castros and Cuban communism, the hard-core Marxists on college campuses see the regime as on the frontlines of the revolutionary struggle against capitalism. They are dead serious about the regime’s survival and would no doubt betray their own country to facilitate that goal.

The fact that being a Marxist professor is not a detriment to one’s career means that Cuban intelligence operatives on a recruiting mission don’t have to try very hard to find likely targets. More difficult, one would think, would be to recruit the fellow travelers who might be in a better position to supply usable intelligence. Those academics who move easily between the ivory tower and Washington, D.C., would be prime candidates for recruitment. They would also be likely targets of honey traps and other methods to compromise potential recruits.

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Obama to Skip Red States in Fall Campaign

Sunday, August 31st, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents running in red states are breathing a sigh of relief. White House aides are telling Politico that the president’s fall schedule of campaign stops will stick with blue states and avoid places where he is not popular.

The move isn’t exactly unprecedented. What makes this strategy unusual is that the Democrats are fighting to keep control of the Senate and Obama’s presence might ordinarily excite the base and open the spigot of campaign contributions. In this, a turn out election, a presidential visit close to election day could make a difference in a tight race.

But the president is so unpopular in so many states that whatever gains would be made by his appearance would be offset by giving the GOP candidate a potent weapon to hammer the incumbent with.

The White House is putting the finishing touches on a post-Labor Day schedule that will send the president to states where he’s still popular, such as: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California, Obama officials and Democratic operatives said this week.

But in the red states that will determine control of the Senate, Obama will remain scarce. That means no personal campaign visits to states like Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina. He may do some targeted outreach through robocalls, digital ads and conference calls, but the campaign plan is clear: Stay away from candidates he’s already hurting.

Obama’s no-fly zone for certain Senate campaigns reflects the deep concern among Democrats about his drag on the national ticket. Obama can’t seem to get his poll numbers out of the low 40s, he’s struggled through an endless stream of foreign policy crises, and he’s the last person that many candidates want to be forced to defend on the campaign trail.

Six years ago, Obama’s massive campaign organization helped to sweep several Senate Democrats, now the most endangered, into office with his appeal to unite political factions.

Now, he’s an attack line.

Across the country, from Alaska and Colorado, to Louisiana and North Carolina, Republicans are citing how often the Democratic incumbent sided with the White House on votes in Congress. It’s a tactic Democrats used to great effect in 2006 when they wrestled back control of the Senate by linking every incumbent to President George W. Bush, who was even more unpopular than Obama.

“He’s going to be an anchor on each one of these Democrats all the way through,” said Guy Harrison, a media consultant for the Republican Senate nominees in Arkansas, Colorado and North Carolina. “They’re trying to grasp every life preserver they can, but the anchor of Obama is still going to pull them down.”

White House officials argue that Obama never would have been deployed to assist red state Democrats, even at the height of his popularity. The better, more effective use of his time is to assist in states with key House races, such as Illinois, Pennsylvania and California, a senior administration official said. Obama still retains strong support in the Democratic base, and he can motivate African-Americans and Latinos like few others can.

Obama helping with House races? There might be 15-20 competitive seats in the entire country.  And are they serious when they say they wouldn’t have sent him to red states if his approval was in the 60′s?  Who are they trying to fool?

A pig in a prom dress is still a porker. There are a lot of Democrats who probably wish the president would hide in the White House basement until November. Unless a Democratic House member is going to get 70% of the vote, Obama is going to be the kiss of death for any Democratic politician foolish enough to appear with him.

 

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Putin Calls for Talks to Establish a Southeast Ukraine ‘State’

Sunday, August 31st, 2014 - by Rick Moran

After having gobbled up and digested Crimea, Vladimir Putin appears ready for the next course; the establishment of a separate state in southeast Ukraine.

The fiction that such a state would be independent of Moscow’s control fools no one. But appearances must be kept up to satisfy a western public that has no stomach for a military confrontation with Russia. Ergo, watch Putin as he pulls a client state out of his hat. Nothin’ up his sleeve. Presto!

Reuters:

Talks should be held immediately “and not just on technical issues but on the political organization of society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine”, Putin said in an interview with Channel 1 state television, his hair tousled by wind on the shore of a lake.

Moscow, for its part, he said, could not stand aside while people were being shot “almost at point blank”.

Putin’s use of the word “statehood” was interpreted in Western media as implying backing for the rebel demand of independence, something Moscow has so far stopped short of publicly endorsing.

However, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no new endorsement from Moscow for rebel independence. Asked if “New Russia”, a term pro-Moscow rebels use for their territory, should still be part of Ukraine, Peskov said: “Of course.”

“Only Ukraine can reach an agreement with New Russia, taking into account the interests of New Russia, and this is the only way to reach a political settlement.”

Rebels have rallied behind the term “New Russia” since Putin first used it in a public appearance in April. Putin called it a tsarist-era term for land that now forms southern and eastern Ukraine. Ukrainians consider the term deeply offensive and say it reveals Moscow’s imperial designs on their territory.

Moscow has long called for Kiev to hold direct political talks with the rebels. Kiev says it is willing to have talks on more rights for the south and east, but will not talk directly to armed fighters it describes as “international terrorists” and Russian puppets that can only be reined in by Moscow.

The deputy leader of the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, Andrei Purgin, said he was due to participate in talks in the Belarus capital Minsk on Monday. Past talks by a “contact group” involving Moscow, Kiev and the rebels have covered technical issues such as access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner shot down in July, but not political questions.

This is a bad dream. I know it’s sort of useless to contemplate a counterfactual scenario, but if any other president of the post war era was sitting in the Oval Office now, would any Russian leader dare be this brazen? Putin has taken the mettle of his rival in Washington — and the capitals of old Europe — and has determined he can do just about anything he wishes.

He has completely flummoxed NATO, outmaneuvered Kiev, and made the US look weak and inconsequential. He is doing it by employing tactics of 19th century imperialists and by being on the “wrong side of history” — exactly what John Kerry believes is ineffective.

The only side history cares about is the winning one. And unless Barack Obama can figure out a way to confront Putin without starting World War III, the Russian president is likely to get exactly what he wants, either by imposing his will militarily or bullying Kiev into giving him southeast Ukraine.

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The Fall of Atlantic City

Sunday, August 31st, 2014 - by Rick Moran

In the next two weeks, 3 of Atlantic City’s premier casinos will close with the loss of nearly 8,000 jobs — a quarter of the city’s entire casino workforce.

The loss of The Revel, The Showboat, and Trump Towers Casinos follows the closing of The Atlantic Club earlier this year. That makes 4 of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos going out of business in less than a year.

The Christian Science Monitor explains what happened:

New casinos popping up in an already saturated Northeastern U.S. gambling market aren’t expanding the overall pie but are slicing it into ever-smaller pieces. Fewer casinos could mean better financial performance for the survivors.

Resorts Casino Hotel, which was on the verge of closing a few years ago, completed a remarkable turnaround in the second quarter of this year, swinging from a $1.3 million loss last year to a $1.9 million profit this year.

“I truly believe that eight remaining casinos can all do very well when the gambling market is right-sized,” said Resorts president Mark Giannantonio.

That may be true, but it is little comfort to workers who are losing their jobs. By the time Trump Plaza shuts down in two weeks, nearly 8,000 jobs — or a quarter of Atlantic City’s casino workforce — will be unemployed. A mass unemployment filing due to begin Wednesday is so large it has been booked into the city’s convention center.

When casino gambling was approved by New Jersey voters in 1976, it was billed as a way to revitalize Atlantic City and provide stable, lasting jobs. The first casino, Resorts, opened in 1978, kicking off three decades of soaring revenue and employment.

But the Great Recession hit just as new casinos were popping up in neighboring Pennsylvania and New York, cutting deeply into Atlantic City’s customer base.

“There was a promise when casinos came in here that these would be good, viable jobs, something you could raise your family on and have a decent life with,” said Paul Smith, a cook at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. “I feel so bad for all these people losing their jobs. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

It’s not just Atlantic City casinos that are taking a hit. Nevada casinos have lost money for 5 straight years as states across the US approve various kinds of gambling venues. Slot parlors, off track betting, video poker houses, and online gambling give players plenty of options to gamble besides casinos. Indian nations are long time players in the gaming industry and many are also reporting declining revenue.

States see gambling as a mostly painless way to part their citizens from their hard earned cash. But the social costs of gambling addiction are an expensive consequence of legalizing casino gaming. And if you look at gambling as something of a tax, it is a regressive revenue raiser. The poor are far more likely to become compulsive gamblers, and lose a larger percentage of their income than the middle or upper classes.

But few states are even contemplating giving it up. There’s a ballot measure in Massachusetts this November that would repeal the 2011 law that legalized casino gaming before a single casino opens.

New York Times:

With the casino industry showing signs of retrenchment, voters in Massachusetts may do something that voters nowhere else have done, at least in the last century: slam on the brakes on casino gambling.

Massachusetts was one of the last states to climb aboard the casino craze, approving legislation in 2011 to allow three casinos and a slots parlor. Now it may be the first to reverse itself, with voters deciding in November whether to repeal the law before a single casino has been built.

The stage is set for a multimillion-dollar campaign pitting the casino industry and its allies in organized labor against a coalition of grass-roots activists, religious leaders and mom-and-pop businesses. The two sides have already squared off in several town-by-town referendums across much of Massachusetts over the last year, fighting each other to a near draw. Now they are laying the groundwork for an all-out, statewide donnybrook that will burst into public view in September in television ads and on doorsteps as both sides try to secure support, house by house.

Atlantic City’s problems are twofold: a) Two dozen casinos have opened in the densely populated northeast in the last few years; and b) the recession has made all but the wealthiest customers cut back on their casino visits.

Philly.com:

“This is a massive economic body blow to Atlantic City on par with the hit to the national economy during the Great Recession,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester.

Beyond the thousands of job losses, which will spread into related industries and the general economy, Atlantic City will soon be left with four empty buildings (including the shuttered Atlantic Club) that have no clear future.

“What we’ve got in Atlantic City is unprecedented. It hasn’t happened before in this type of context, where they are going to shutter them up and literally can’t give them away for pennies on the dollar, like Revel,” said Alan Silver, a former casino-industry executive who teaches at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Silver and other casino-industry experts said there was little precedent for reusing casinos for anything other than hotels.

David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, could point to only one former casino in the United States – the Golden Phoenix in Reno – which was turned into condominiums.

In addition to condominiums and time-shares, experts are quick to mention boutique hotels, which have become increasingly popular in Las Vegas and other cities.

“It’s nice to do all these things, but you’ve got to have supply and demand and you’ve got to have the various attractions there to get people to come to Atlantic City,” Silver said.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, who has adopted a salesman-in-chief attitude since taking office in January, spoke optimistically last week of openings expected next year, including a Bass Pro Shops location and Harrah’s Conference Center, that could create 1,300 jobs in the city.

Guardian expressed confidence Friday that Revel would be resurrected as a casino under a new name, projecting that it would sell for $25 million to $50 million. That would also reduce the job losses.

“At $50 million, it’s certainly a bargain-basement price for a brand-new facility. It’s finding the right buyer, meaning having the financial wherewithal, and then that buyer finding the right brand to come in and run it,” he said.

Fitch Ratings estimated Friday that $280 million of the $457 million gamblers lost during the last 12 months at the casinos that are closing would be captured by the survivors. That will help boost profits, and perhaps add some jobs at those properties.

The hope that the casinos would revitalize Atlantic City as a playground was always misplaced. While the hotel towers gleamed in the sunlight, much of the rest of the city remained a grimy, crime-ridden mess. The fact is, there are only so many dollars available for casinos to take. And with so many options available to the gambling consumer, Atlantic City no longer holds the attention — or loyalty — of tri-state residents.

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U.S. Air Strikes Help Break Siege of Amirli

Sunday, August 31st, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Iraqi army units, supported by Shiite militiamen, broke the six-week Islamic State siege of the town of Amirli on Sunday with the help of U.S. airstrikes.

The town is home to 20,000 ethnic Turkmen who IS had targeted for destruction. Cut off from food, medicine, water, and ammunition, the townspeople fought off Islamic State forces who had surrounded the town in July.

USA Today:

Iraqi forces entered the town Sunday, Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said, adding the military suffered “some casualties.” He said fighting was still ongoing in surrounding villages.

“We thank God for this victory over terrorists,” Nihad al-Bayati, who had taken up arms with fellow residents to defend the town, told The Associated Press by phone from the outskirts of Amirli. “The people of Amirli are very happy to see that their ordeal is over and that the terrorists are being defeated by Iraqi forces. It is a great day in our life.”

The community, located about 105 miles north of Baghdad, initially came under siege in June, but 15,000 Shiite Turkmen were able to hold off militants, who eventually surrounded the village in mid-July.

“Today is a day of victory for Iraq and the resilient people of Amirli,” retired Gen. Khaled al-Amerli, an Amerli resident and member of its self-defense force, told CNN.

Turkmen lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said the military was disturbing aid to residents of Amirli, which is home to the Turkmen, an ethnic minority.

The news comes after U.S. warplanes conducted a fresh round of airstrikes and emergency aid drops in Amirli, the Pentagon announced late Saturday night. The operation was similar to the one mounted at Mount Sinjar, not far away in northern Iraq, to help save Yazidis, a religious minority that militants had also besieged.

“These military operations were conducted under authorization from the commander-in-chief to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and to prevent an (IS) attack on the civilians of Amirli,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. “The operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to address this emerging humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli.”

It’s becoming clear that no matter if it’s the Peshmerga or Iraqi troops, U.S. air power closely coordinated with ground assaults is an irresistible force. Our air force is making the Iraqi army look competent.

But the Amirli operation brings into focus something that should be on the minds of both military and civilian leaders in Washington.

We can’t save everybody.

We could save everybody if we radically expanded the mission. But we’re not going to do that. The humanitarian crisis that’s sweeping across the Levant is the worst in a century. There are more than 3 million external refugees in Syria with another 3 million internally displaced. There are a million more people on the move in Iraq. The world hasn’t even begun to address the basic needs of these people and we are likely to see a catastrophe if the nations don’t get their act together and supply the refugees with food, clean water, medicine, and decent shelter.

The Yazidi and Amirli operations were carried out because they had become hot stories in the news — humanitarian crises which the U.S. felt compelled to respond to. The Mosul Dam was retaken for the same reason, although the thought of IS blowing it up and killing half a million people was also considered.

But there have to be dozens of towns and villages that are suffering a similar fate as Amirli, and the sad truth is, unless we want to jump back into Iraq with both feet, those unfortunate people will be left to their own devices.

No doubt we will be hearing of another tragedy in the making in the next few days. And once again, U.S. fighter jets will plow the way clear for Iraqi forces to relieve the crisis. But unless an overall strategy emerges to roll back IS forces in Iraq and Syria, this piecemeal approach — which looks good in the media — will only serve to delay the time of reckoning when the Iraqi army must take control of the destiny of their country and confront Islamic State forces wherever they are.

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Notorious Anti-Semitic British MP Attacked on London Street

Saturday, August 30th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

I know we should be empathetic about British MP George Galloway being assaulted on a London street.

But I hope you’ll forgive me if I reserve my sympathy for those who deserve it — like Israeli civilians who live under constant threat of attack from Hamas rockets and terrorists.

Galloway is a nauseating anti-Semite who once told Saddam Hussein during a speech he gave in Iraq, “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.” He blamed British policy for the 7/7 terrorist attack that killed 52 Britons. He said a suicide attack on then Prime Minister Tony Blair without any other casualties would be “morally justified.” He says that gays and lesbians are not at risk for execution in Iran, “only rapists.” Several more knowledgeable commentators sharply corrected him.

More recently, he walked out of a debate over Israeli policy sponsored by Oxford University because his debate opponent was an Israeli citizen. His explanation:“I don’t recognize Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis.” Even the BDS committee he represents condemned his action.

Yes, we should condemn the attack and the attacker. No matter how vile this man is, no one in a decent society deserves to be beaten up for their political views.

Nor is it proper to say that Galloway brought the attack on himself, even though he declared the North England city he represents an “Israeli-free zone.”

A man has been charged with a religiously-motivated “assault by beating” on British MP George Galloway, police said on Saturday.

Galloway, who recently declared the northern English city he represents an “Israel-free zone”, was attacked on a west London street on Friday night.

Police said Neil Masterson, 39, had been charged with “assault by beating which is religiously aggravated” and would appear in court on Monday.

“It is thought that the attack is connected to Mr Galloway’s support for the Palestinian cause,” his Respect Party said in a statement.

The outspoken Scot, dubbed “Gorgeous George” by the British media, recently made headlines when he declared Bradford to be an Israel-free zone and urged people to reject all Israeli goods, services and tourists.

A Respect spokesman said the incident appeared to be connected with Israel because the attacker had been shouting something about the Holocaust.

Some western  supporters of Hamas and the Palestinians may be sincere when they claim to be anti-Zionists or anti-Israel rather than anti-Semitic. Given Galloway’s appalling record and statements, I don’t see how you can make that claim about him.

Case in point: his statement about making Bradford an “Israeli-free” zone:

We have declared Bradford an Israel-free zone. We don’t want any Israeli goods, we don’t want any Israeli services, we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or the college, we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford.

His words call to mind the spirit of Nuremberg and the decrees against Jews in Nazi Germany.

Galloway has been released from the hospital, and we should wish him a speedy recovery. We should then destroy him the democratic way: find a good candidate to run against him and bash his brains in at the polls. He’s a disgrace to Great Britain and to decent people everywhere.

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Florida Reports Huge Drop in Obamacare Enrollment

Saturday, August 30th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

You will note that after the White House announcement — and victory dance — regarding the 8 million people who signed up for insurance on the Obamacare exchanges, we haven’t heard much from the administration to update us on enrollment numbers.

Could it be that consumers are dropping their Obamacare insurance policies like they had the plague?

Daily Caller:

Florida’s Obamacare enrollment is now over 220,000 lower than the Obama administration’s most recent tally, according to a report from the state insurance department.

The Obama administration hasn’t released updated Obamacare enrollment statistics since May, when the Department of Health and Human Services put the number of Florida sign-ups at 983,775 — but the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation says that now, just 762,723 Floridians have health insurance through the exchange.

The state insurance department issued a report this week including updated exchange enrollment, based on rate filings from state health insurers. By June 2014, the number of Obamacare enrollees in Florida was almost a quarter lower than the Obama administration’s sign-up numbers just one month before.

Insurance department spokesman Harvey Bennett told the South Florida Business Journal that the enrollment numbers are lower than the Obama administrations because some sign-ups never paid their first premiums and others may have dropped out afterwards. A portion of the federal tally could also have been duplicate enrollments, Bennett said.

The 220,000-plus drop in one state is one of the first updates on Obamacare statistics and could have serious national implications. The Obama administration trumpeted an Obamacare victory with 8 million sign-ups, but if other states are undergoing similar enrollment drops the real number of Americans who have bought coverage could be much lower.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are intensely curious about those updated numbers. Where are they? Just this week, two GOP Senators asked HHS Secretary Marilyn Tavenner to release updated enrollee numbers, including those who have cancelled.

That should make for interesting reading.

What we do know is that Aetna, the nation’s third largest insurance company, reported a drop of more than 220,000 insureds — from 720,000 to less than 600,000 according to IDB:

That would leave Aetna’s paid enrollment down as much as 30% from that May sign-up tally.

“I think we will see some attrition … We’re already seeing it. And we expect that to continue through the end of the year,” CEO Mark Bertolini said in a July 29 conference call.

It’s not clear how representative Aetna’s experience is of broader exchange trends, or whether its projection may be too conservative. (If it were representative, a similar 30% decline would drop ObamaCare enrollment to 6 million or less.)

Still, as one of ObamaCare’s largest players, participating in exchanges in 16 states plus D.C., Aetna’s experience provides a pretty good window into what is happening across the country, and there are other indications that enrollment has turned down.

Attrition is to be expected in any normal year, but 30%? That sounds excessive, which could mean other factors are the cause. How many people cancelled their insurance because they didn’t realize what they were buying? Perhaps many consumers found better deals off the exchanges. Whatever the reason, Obamacare is not out of the woods yet, and gloating liberals should keep in mind that much of Obamacare hasn’t even been implemented yet — the result of unilateral, and possibly illegal delays made by the president.

How many workers will have their hours cut to part-time so employers don’t have to pay for their health insurance? How many workers will have their insurance eliminated? How many will be forced to pay more where the employer shares the costs of premiums?

We won’t have any of these questions answered until next year when the employer mandate begins to go into effect. Sooner than that, we will discover how much current Obamacare premiums are going to rise. Indications are that some states will hold the line on increases, but others will see their insurance costs skyrocket.

All of this will happen after the election — just as President Obama planned it. Already, it appears that Obamacare as a campaign issue has lost some of its bite. But because of the delays and other issues — experts are predicting chaos at tax time next year — Obamacare promises to remain near the top as matters of concern to the voter.

 

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Why War in Europe is Not an Hysterical Idea

Saturday, August 30th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Russian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine. Threats have been made against Baltic countries. Putin seems to be reassembling the old Soviet Union in slow motion. And, as Anne Applebaum reports in the Washington Post, a new country is being openly discussed — and created — in Russia. The new nation, known as Novorossiya, is the “scariest dog whistle of the Ukraine crisis” according to Max Fisher of Vox:

The word literally means “new Russia” — it was an old, imperial-era term for southern Ukraine, when it was part of the Russian Empire, and is now a term used by Russia ultra-nationalists who want to re-conquer the area.

Putin has used the word twice during the crisis. First, he used it in April, about a month after Russia had invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea, subtly suggesting that the annexation was justified because Crimea was in Novorossiya and thus inherently part of Russia.

He used it again on Thursday, in an official presidential statement addressed to the eastern Ukrainian rebels that have seized parts of the country — and whom he addressed as “the militia of Novorossiya.”

Along with other “dog whistles,” Applebaum wonders if there is a real possibility of a general war in Eastern Europe:

Russian soldiers will have to create this state — how many of them depends upon how hard Ukraine fights, and who helps them — but eventually Russia will need more than soldiers to hold this territory. Novorossiya will not be stable as long as it is inhabited by Ukrainians who want it to stay Ukrainian. There is a familiar solution to this, too. A few days ago, Alexander Dugin, an extreme nationalist whose views have helped shape those of the Russian president, issued an extraordinary statement. “Ukraine must be cleansed of idiots,” he wrote — and then called for the “genocide” of the “race of bastards.”

But Novorossiya will also be hard to sustain if it has opponents in the West. Possible solutions to that problem are also under discussion. Not long ago, Vladimir Zhirinovsky — the Russian member of parliament and court jester who sometimes says things that those in power cannot — argued on television that Russia should use nuclear weapons to bomb Poland and the Baltic countries — “dwarf states,” he called them — and show the West who really holds power in Europe: “Nothing threatens America, it’s far away. But Eastern European countries will place themselves under the threat of total annihilation,” he declared. Vladimir Putin indulges these comments: Zhirinovsky’s statements are not official policy, the Russian president says, but he always “gets the party going.”

A far more serious person, the dissident Russian analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, has recently published an article arguing, along lines that echo Zhirinovsky’s threats, that Putin really is weighing the possibility of limited nuclear strikes — perhaps against one of the Baltic capitals, perhaps a Polish city — to prove that NATO is a hollow, meaningless entity that won’t dare strike back for fear of a greater catastrophe. Indeed, in military exercises in 2009 and 2013, the Russian army openly “practiced” a nuclear attack on Warsaw.

Would NATO risk a general nuclear war if Putin was crazy enough to nuke Warsaw? Of course not.  If NATO countries are not going to exert themselves by fighting for Ukraine — through which travels much of their natural gas supply –they are less likely to go to war to save Poland, or any Baltic country. Putin has read the strategic situation correctly, if, indeed, Piontkovsky has read him correctly.

Or has he?

The use of a nuclear weapon would change the game dramatically. It might not precipitate a nuclear exchange, but it would certainly necessitate a rush of men and material to eastern Europe by the US and NATO. Red lines would be drawn and the region would become a tinderbox. Unless Putin has gone totally insane, it’s hard to see him wishing for this situation — especially since he could probably achieve the same ends by being patient and moving slowly enough that he doesn’t provoke the west into responding, as he is doing in Ukraine.

I agree with Applebaum that war in eastern Europe is not an impossibility. But it is also still extremely unlikely. Only blunders comparable to those made 100 years ago in Europe could lead to war.

The fact that it’s happened before should remain uppermost in the minds of American and European policy makers as events continue to unfold in “Novorossiya.”

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Obama: Social Media’s Fault Americans Think the World Is ‘Falling Apart’

Saturday, August 30th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Silly Americans. Listen to your president.

Russia invading Ukraine? Barbarity arising in the Levant? More slaughter in South Sudan? Iran on the verge of possessing the ultimate deterrent to making fun of the prophet? Our southern border a sieve? Boko Haram? Civil War in the Congo? China threatening war with its neighbors?

Things are not as bad as all that, says our semi-retired president.

The Hill reports:

President Obama on Friday said social media and the nightly news are partly to blame for the sense that “the world is falling apart.”

“I can see why a lot of folks are troubled,” Obama told a group of donors gathered at a Democratic National Committee barbecue in Purchase, N.Y.

But the president said that current foreign policy crises across the world are not comparable to the challenges the U.S. faced during the Cold War.

Acknowledging “the barbarity” of Islamist militants and Russia “reasserting the notion that might means right,” Obama, though, dismissed the notion that he was facing unprecedented challenges.

“The world’s always been messy … we’re just noticing now in part because of social media,” he said, according to a White House pool report.

Hear that, you twitterers? You’ve already ruined our president’s vacation. Now you want to go and scare people half to death by reporting on events around the world? Shame on you!

If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart,” said Obama.

The president acknowledged that conflicts in the Middle East posed difficulties, “but it’s been challenging for quite a while,” he said.

“We will get through these challenging times just like we have in the past,” Obama added.

The president, looking to strike a reassuring tone, argued that American military superiority has never been greater and that the U.S. still held advantages over potential international rivals like China.

Obama appears to be channeling another Pollyanna — Kevin Bacon from Animal House

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Does Islamic State Now Have an Air Force?

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

A bloody assault by Islamic State forces captured the Syrian government air base in Tabqa, today, acquiring “several warplane squadrons, helicopters, tanks, artillery, and ammunition bunkers.” An aviation “squadron,” according to Wkipedia, is “a unit of aircraft that consists of three or four flights with a total of 12 to 24 aircraft, depending on the type of aircraft and the air force, naval or army air service.”

Again, according to Wikipedia, the Taqba air base possessed 12 squadrons of the aging MIG-21 — both combat fighters and trainers. The base also housed about 20 Mi-8 helicopters, probably a mix of transport and gunship models.

So Islamic State possesses several dozen aging, but effective MIG-21 fighters, several helicopter gunships armed with anti-tank weapons, as well as an unknown number of tanks and a lot of ammunition.

Certainly no match for American jets.  The biggest question is, do they have the pilots to fly the machines?

Christian Science Monitor describes the battle:

The jihadis launched their long-anticipated offensive last week to seize the sprawling Tabqa facility, located some 45 kilometers (25 miles) from the extremists’ stronghold in the city of Raqqa along the Euphrates River.

After several failed efforts to breach the walls in recent days, Islamic State fighters managed to punch through and storm the air base Sunday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Government warplanes carried out waves of airstrikes to try to beat back the attack, but those ultimately proved unable to stem the assault.

“Some of the Syrian regime troops pulled out, and now the Islamic State is in full control of Tabqa,” said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman. “This makes Raqqa province the first to fully fall out of government hands.”

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, also said the extremist group was in control of Tabqa.

The SANA state news agency confirmed that the government had lost the air base, saying troops “are successfully reassembling after evacuating the airport.” It said that the military was still “striking terrorist groups, inflicting heavy losses on them.”

The government had made significant investments in both weapons and manpower to try to hold onto Tabqa, making its fall a both a symbolic and a strategic blow.

Islamic State fighters had been closing in on the base for weeks. When the fight finally came, it was bloody.

The Observatory said that at least 100 Islamic State fighters were killed and another 300 wounded in the fighting, numbers that exclude casualties from the final assault. Abdurrahman said dozens of government troops also were killed Sunday alone.

Tabqa is the latest in a string of bases to fall to the Islamic State group as it strengthens its hold over a vast swath of territory in northern and eastern Syria. Last month, the extremists overran the sprawling Division 17 military base in Raqqa, killing at least 85 soldiers. Two weeks later, they seized the nearby Brigade 93 base after days of heavy fighting.

The group’s trademark brutality was on full display after those victories. They killed army commanders and pro-government militiamen, decapitating them before putting their bodies and heads on display. The Observatory reported similar acts following the fall of Tabqa Sunday.

Since the Syrian military is going to try and take the base back, they probably haven’t destroyed many of the armaments left behind. But the capture of the base is really bad news. IS has proved itself to be resourceful. If they don’t have men who can fly the jets, they can hire people who can train them. The same goes for the helicopters.

If Islamic State now possesses an air force, it could tip the balance their way in Syria and Iraq. The nightmare just got a little blacker.

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Report: Brit Intelligence ID’s Foley Beheader

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The New York Post reports that British intelligence has identified the jihadist who beheaded American journalist James Foley.

British rapper Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, AKA “L Jinny,” is the prime suspect in the murder of Foley, according to sources in MI15. Bary’s father, Adel Abdul Bary, the terrorist charged with participating in the bombings of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998, is awaiting trial in New York after an 8 month extradition battle with the US.

Bary joins a list of three other Brits who were identified as possible leaders of the jihadist group nicknamed by former hostages as “the Beatles.”

That list includes the brother of a British doctor once charged with kidnapping two Western war correspondents and a former gang member who converted to Islam before traveling to Syria to wage jihad.

It is now being estimated that up to 20 British extremists a month are heading to Syria and Iraq to take up arms with the ISIS, according to The Sunday Times.

“It is horrifying to think that the perpetrator of this heinous act could have been brought up in Britain,” British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond wrote in the Sunday Times.

In addition, Hammond referred to the actions of “John the Beatle” as “an utter betrayal” of everything the British stand for, The Sunday Times reported.

He added that Foley’s death would serve as a “reminder to us all that Islamic extremism in Iraq and Syria is not only causing huge suffering in those countries but is also a barbaric ideology threatening us at home.”

The “root causes” of Bary’s radicalism aren’t poverty and hopelessness. He grew up in a $3 million home in London, and had the best of everything growing up. His rap career never amounted to much but those who know him say he became radicalized when he began attending one of the many radical mosques in Britain. He is disciple of extremist preacher Anjem Choudary, who has expressed a desire to go to Syria and join Islamic State.

Bary has already been photographed holding one severed head. The Daily Mail ran a profile of the budding jihadist last December:

Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, 23, is the latest in a growing stream of young men to join militant groups in the war-torn Middle Eastern country.

He walked out of his family’s £1million home several months ago telling them he was ‘leaving everything for the sake of Allah’.

Friends said Bary – an aspiring rapper on the ‘grime’ music scene – grew increasingly radical and violent after mixing with thugs linked to hate preacher Anjem Choudary.

He has posted a series of photographs online, including shots of him masked and posing with guns under the title ‘soldier of Allah’.

In other messages he called on Allah to ‘grant us martyrdom’, and praised Osama Bin Laden. Bary, whose music has featured on Radio 1, is one of six children of Adel Abdul Bary, 53.

Bary probably won’t be able to come back to Britain. But his friends and other British, French, German and other European terrorists will. You can see why these governments are so worried. Potentially, dozens of trained terrorists dedicated to killing as many civilians as possible will be able to blend in with the population. Intelligence will no doubt identify many of them. But there going to be many who slip through and arrive home unnoticed, only to be heard from when they strike.

 

 

 

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Ferguson is Calm, But What if There’s No Indictment?

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The grand jury considering whether to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case is coming under pressure from politicians and residents of Ferguson, Missouri to do the “right” thing and indict the policeman for murder.

Otherwise…? The unspoken threat that violence would erupt if no indictment is returned isn’t very subtle.

Associated Press:

Conditions calmed this week in Ferguson after nights of sometimes violent unrest stemming from the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer. But a delicate and crucial question lingers: What happens if the grand jury now considering the case doesn’t return a charge against the officer?

The fear among some local residents and officials trying to maintain peace in Ferguson is that failure to charge the officer could stoke new anger among a community profoundly mistrustful of the legal system. Many say they just hope the grand jury’s decision, whatever it is, has irrefutable facts to back it up.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill told The Associated Press she’s pushing for federal and local investigations to be completed around the same time so that all evidence in the case can be made public — a step many consider important should prosecutors decide not to charge the officer. Her office said Friday that the Department of Justice hasn’t given a timeline for the federal investigation, which centers on whether a civil rights violation occurred when officer Darren Wilson fatally shot the unarmed Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

McCaskill, a former prosecutor in Missouri, said she’s hopeful the physical evidence in the case — including blood spatter patterns, clothing and shell casings — will provide “incontrovertible facts” about what happened during the shooting. She said whatever local prosecutors decide, it will be important to explain the decision by providing that physical evidence, and that won’t be possible if the federal investigation is ongoing.

McCaskill said she urged Attorney General Eric Holder during a meeting earlier this week to speed up what is typically a lengthier federal process.

“What we want to avoid is a decision being made without all the information being available to the public also,” McCaskill said, adding that not being able to do so could “create more stress and certainly much more fear that we would be back to worrying about people being able to protest safely.”

It is not likely that the facts will be “incontrovertible.” They rarely are. It is reasonable to assume that some of the evidence will be ambiguous. Some of it may even be contradictory. Judging by the wild disparity in eye witness reports we’ve seen already, it is doubtful that a clear picture of guilt or innocence will be forthcoming.

And what’s the point of conducting a “secret” grand jury proceeding if you’re going to make their deliberations public? It’s another layer of intimidation that is being brought to bear on the grand jurors to do what the mob wants and indict Officer Wilson.

Residents of Ferguson made it clear what the grand jury must do:

“This officer has to be indicted. I’d hate to see what happens if he isn’t. The rioting, the looting, man …,” said resident Larry Loveless, 29, as he stopped at the memorial for Brown where he was killed.

The racial make up of the grand jury is another potential flash point. There are only 3 blacks on the 12-person panel, allowing a decision not to prosecute Wilson to play directly into the racialist’s hands.

The streets of Ferguson may be calm, but the pressure being placed on the grand jury to give into the mob will be hard to resist.

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In Iraq, Turkmen Targeted for Slaughter by Islamic State

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Another ethnic minority is on the verge of being slaughtered by forces of Islamic State. And the UN is asking the international community for help.

The town of Amerli has been besieged for 70 days by IS forces. The 20,000 residents are of the Shiite Turkmen minority and are without power, food, or medicine. The UN’s Special Representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, is asking the international community to intervene, “to prevent a human rights tragedy.”

Fox News:

BBC reports the victims are part of the Turkmen ethnic group, who comprise roughly 4 percent of Iraq’s population. But as Shia, they are considered apostates by the jihadist group.

“After the attack of Mosul, all the Shia Turkmen villages around Amerli were captured by Islamic State,” resident Ali Albayati said. “They killed the people and displayed their bodies outside the village.”

Albayati said the town has been trying to fend off the militants for 70 days and are now left without electricity and drinking water. And unlike recent U.S. intervention to save members of the Yazidi religious trapped who were trapped on Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq, there are currently no plans for a rescue operation.

“The situation of the people in Amerli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement.

“I urge the Iraqi government to do all it can to relieve the siege and to ensure that the residents receive lifesaving humanitarian assistance or are evacuated in a dignified manner,” he said.

Most of the town’s residents work as farmers, but male workers have been neglecting crops to fight the militants, BBC reports. As a result, the only food supplies arriving in town come via Iraqi Army helicopters.

“It is a humanitarian disaster,” Albayati said. “Twenty-thousand people in Amerli are fighting off death. There are children who are only eating once every three days. I can’t describe the situation. I just don’t know what to say.”

Prime minister designate Haidar al-Abadi promised aid for the town on Saturday, calling for provision of “all times of military and logistical support for Amerli,” AFP reported.

Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayotollah Ali al-Sistani, also called for efforts to free the village and “save its people from the dangers of terrorists.”

There are no Americans to protect in Amerli, so if the president decides to intervene there, he will have expanded the parameters of our involvement once again. Talk about mission creep — that would be it.

It’s clear that the Iraqi government cannot protect its own people from the bloodlust of IS. And when the UN rep calls on the “international community” to intervene, he’s not talking about France, or Russia. He’s talking about America.

So, do we accept the challenge and expand the war in order to protect Iraqi religious and ethnic minorities? Or do we decline to intervene and watch as thousands are massacred or starve to death in Amerli?

There is something to the argument that we can’t protect everyone — that limiting the mission as the president has done is the smart move. In Iraq on Friday, gunmen burst into a mosque and opened fire with automatic weapons, killing 70 Sunnis. Are we expected to prevent those kinds of massacres as well?

Iraq is de-evolving. It’s the right move not to get trapped by its death throes. But confronting Islamic State and destroying them is a separate issue from saving Iraqi civilians because their own government can’t act. Somebody, somewhere is going to have to put boots on the ground and do the dirty work of grinding IS forces to dust, and destroying the administrative infrastructure they’ve already set up. Killing an entire nation state is going to take time, and will be an extremely bloody affair.

The alternative is to “contain” IS — a dangerous and completely unsatisfactory course of action. But given the reluctance of leaders in both American political parties to intervene by using ground troops, and the even greater reluctance of Europe to offer more than token assistance in any effort to destroy IS, it may be the only course open to us.

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‘Jihadi-Cool’ in Great Britain

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

British Muslims are blaming a subculture of “jihadi-cool’ for seducing many of their young men into joining the Islamic State camp. The issue arose when James Foley’s executioner surprised the world by speaking in the clipped accent of a Londoner.

Everything trendy starts in London and eventually crosses the ocean, so the chances are pretty good we’re going to see it here. But how can terrorism be “cool”?

Washington Times:

An adviser to the Muslim Council of Britain said Thursday that a “jihadi-cool” subculture is inspiring young British men to join the Islamic State group in its quest to create an Islamic caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.

Iqbal Sacranie told BBC radio that the “jihadi-cool” subculture “is the real challenge,” Retuters reported Thursday. “This is a problem that affects all of us, and it will only be dealt with more effectively if all of us are working together on this.”

The United Kingdom has roughly 2.7 million Muslims, and the Muslim Council of Britain that Mr. Sacranie advises has over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools at its disposal to help handle Muslim affairs in the United Kingdom.

During his interview with BBC radio, the adviser went on to say that the majority of Muslims in the community believed that what the Islamic State group preaches is “totally alien to Islam.” He also asserted that families were reporting to the authorities when they discovered their sons had traveled to the Middle East to fight, Reuters reported.

Ghaffar Hussain, managing director of the counter-extremism Quilliam Foundation, talked to Reuters about the United Kingdom’s predicament, saying that it was only a matter of time before men who fought in Iraq and Syria started planning attacks for Europe.

“It is disturbing that people born and raised in Britain and who have gone to the same schools as us could have been essentially indoctrinated to the extent where they can justify raping women and chopping heads off,” he said, BBC reported. The Quilliam Foundation bills itself as “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank.”

Alienated youth will seek out cliques and groups that make them feel powerful. Islamic State appears unstoppable at the moment and that’s got to be attractive to lost boys.

It is believed that there are several dozen American citizens attached to Islamic State forces. Like Great Britain, authorities here are worried that radicalized Americans will arrive home and wreak havoc with terrorist attacks. While law enforcement has been very good at breaking up potential terrorist attacks — except for those of the “lone wolf” variety — the terrorists only have to be successful once to cause a lot of damage.

That’s why it’s better to kill them over there.

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Obama’s Newest, Bestest, Buddy: Bashar Assad

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Not really, of course. But, as the Obama administration contemplates conducting air strikes on Islamic State positions in Syria, you might recall what several leading Democrats have said about the dictator that has hekped kill 191,000 of his own people.

In a recent column, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens recounted some of the paeans to Assad: In a March 2011 interview, Hillary Clinton implied that Assad was a “reformer.” In 2007, Nancy Pelosi, over strong objections from the State Department, visited Syria, and said, “The road to Damascus is a road to peace.” Senator John Kerry predicted that “Syria will change as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States.”

Several other prominent Democrats made fools of themselves when visiting Syria, falling all over themselves to praise Assad. Nancy Pelosi actually thought Assad was a key to peace in the region. He is — but not quite the way that Nancy was thinking. Assad’s idea of peace would require the mapmakers of the world to make a slight change on the world’s charts; remove the State of Israel.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that President Obama wants to go after IS in Syria, thus benefiting a man who gassed his own people.

New York Times:

The Obama administration is debating a more robust intervention in Syria, including possible American airstrikes, in a significant escalation of its weeks-long military assault on the Islamic extremist group that has destabilized neighboring Iraq and killed an American journalist, officials said Friday.

While President Obama has long resisted being drawn into Syria’s bloody civil war, officials said recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had made clear that it represents a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies. The beheading of James Foley, the American journalist, has contributed to what officials called a “new context” for a challenge that has long divided the president’s team.

Officials said the options include speeding up and intensifying limited American efforts to train and arm moderate Syrian rebel forces that have been fighting both ISIS as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Another option would be to bolster other partners on the ground to take on ISIS, including the Syrian Kurds.

But American officials said they would also take a look at airstrikes by fighter jets and bombers as well as potentially sending Special Operations forces into Syria, like those who tried to rescue Mr. Foley and other hostages on a mission in July. One possibility officials have discussed for Iraq that could be translated to Syria would be a series of unmanned drone strikes targeting ISIS leaders, much like those conducted in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Whether Mr. Obama would actually authorize a new strategy remained unclear and aides said he has not yet been presented with recommendations. The president has long expressed skepticism that more assertive action by the United States, including arming Syrian rebels as urged in 2011 by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state, would change the course of the civil war there. But he sent out a top adviser on Friday to publicly hint at the possibility a day after the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said ISIS could not be defeated without going after it in Syria.

Wait a minute, Mr. President. Aren’t you forgetting something? No, not your golf clubs. I’m talking about deferring to Congress to authorize the expanded military action.

As a former constitutional law professor, you probably remember that it’s Congress that declares war in this country. I know such details aggravate you, and I know how much Congress irritates you. But really, Mr. President. Couldn’t we just this once do things by the book — or rather our founding document — and not wing it like you always do?

Saying we’re not assisting Assad by bombing IS in Syria is like saying you didn’t cheat on your wife because the woman you had sex with didn’t mean anything to you. It may be true but it’s not the point. I’m sure the Syrian rebels will appreciate our splitting hairs on this one.

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White House Issues New Contraceptive ‘Fix’ for Religious Companies

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The thrust of these “workarounds” and “fixes” is that the administration is trying to give devout people an “out” on contraception coverage, ostensibly to assuage their consciences.

Isn’t that insulting? You would think that objections to paying for contraception for employees is a black and white issue — either you do (no matter who pays for it), and violate your beliefs or you don’t and keep faith with God.

But these guys don’t get it. Is it because many on the left are used to compromising with their own moral precepts — that they can rationalize away moral dilemmas by finding their own “out” to satisfy their consciences?

MSNBC:

The Obama administration has issued a new set of rules to provide contraceptive access to women whose employers object to their insurance plans covering birth control, which is required under the Affordable Care Act.

The new policies are intended to fill gaps left by two Supreme Court moves: The landmark Hobby Lobby decision saying contraceptive coverage violated the religious liberty of a for-profit corporation, and a preliminary order in Wheaton College v. Burwell. With today’s regulations, employees of for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby will be able to access an “accommodation” where the insurer directly provides the cost-free coverage with no financial involvement by the employer. That accommodation was originally limited to religiously-affiliated nonprofits like Little Sisters of the Poor; houses of worship are fully exempt.

For nonprofits like Wheaton College that object to even that accommodation – which involves them signing a form to their insurer – the Obama administration has created a new accommodation to the accommodation. (Yes, it gets complicated.)

“The rules, which are in response to recent court decisions, balance our commitment to helping ensure women have continued access to coverage for preventive services important to their health, with the Administration’s goal of respecting religious beliefs,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said.

For the non-profits that object to the form – arguing that signing it triggers the very birth control coverage they oppose – the new rule allows those employers to write to HHS directly, instead of filling out the form. The Supreme Court first suggested the letter-writing option, and so far the litigants have accepted it. But there was some dispute among legal scholars before about whether the letter would result in actual coverage for the women who worked at those companies. The new rule clarifies that it does.

HHS is also seeking comment on exactly how to structure its accommodation for for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby, which is only one of 193 corporations that have sued for an exemption from covering contraception.

The more the administration tries to satisfy those who don’t want to compromise their religious beliefs, the more they appear out of touch with the main issue; religious freedom. While we should “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” when such collisions take place between the state and religion, it would seem logical that the 1st Amendment trumps any effort to force people to violate their beliefs.

It’s a self-evident position for the Godly. And since the exemption touches only a tiny number of all insureds, you would hope the administration would stop fighting and start accommodating.

As long as Hobby Lobby and others continue to win in court, the administration is tilting at windmills trying find a “solution” for the insoluble.

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Iraq’s Sunni Bloc Walks Out of Talks Following Mosque Massacre

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The Sunni bloc in Iraq joined talks to form a new government last week following the selection of Shiite Prime Minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi. There was hope that a more inclusive government would emerge, taking away one of Islamic State’s primary recruiting tools; Shiite oppression of Sunnis.

It is not to be. Yesterday, Shiite gunmen burst into a crowded mosque north of Baghdad and slaughtered at least 73 worshipers, and wounded dozens more.

There were reports that authorities prevented help from reaching the stricken mosque. This prompted the Sunni bloc to walk out of talks to form a new government.

Bloomberg:

Basem al-Samarraei, deputy governor of Diyala province, said the mosque attack in the village of Bani Wais that killed at least 73 people was carried out by members of a Shiite militia after a gathering of Shiites was targeted by roadside bombs.

The casualties at the mosque included the local imam, women and children who were killed as they tried to save relatives from the gunfire, eyewitness Mahmoud al-Shimmary said in a telephone interview.

Hours later, Sunni politicians withdrew from the talks with Shiite Prime Minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi, lawmaker Talal al-Zuba’ay said by phone, in a major blow to reconciliation efforts. He said security forces had barred rescue teams attempting to reach the mosque.

“These Shiite militias are massing across the country and killing people based on their identity,” Zuba’ay said. “What is happening will create a volcano that once it explodes, no one will be able to stop.”

The offensive by Islamist State, a former offshoot of al-Qaeda, combined with political instability in Baghdad, has heightened concerns that Iraq may descend into the sectarian warfare that flared after the removal of autocrat Saddam Hussein after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Today’s strike took place after three roadside bombs targeted a Shiite political gathering 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the Musab bin Omair mosque, killing four bodyguards of local official Sadiq al-Zargoushi, Deputy Governor Samarraei said. Shiite militias then attacked the mosque, with four gunmen opening fire, he said.

The mosque, about 120 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, is in an area under government control but close to territory held by Islamic State, the Associated Press reported.

Whether this was an emotional response to the attack on Sunni politicians or a planned attack carried out to stir the religious pot is unknown. The Iraqi government has responded by ordering an investigation:

The speaker of Iraq’s parliament says an investigation is under way into an attack on a Sunni Muslim mosque that killed scores of people and escalated sectarian violence.

Salim al-Jabouri told reporters Saturday in Baghdad an investigative team has been given two days to find out who is responsible for what he called “the vicious crime and massacre.”

Friday’s attacks on a Sunni mosque northeast of Baghdad appeared to undermine the Shi’ite-led central government’s effort to bridge Iraq’s sectarian divides and forge a united front against Islamic State militants. At least 60 people were killed as they attended weekly prayers.

Witnesses and Sunni religious officials blamed members of a hardline Shi’ite militia for the attack, but some government military commanders said they suspect Islamic State militants were responsible for the carnage.

I doubt that any “official” Iraq investigation will satisfy the Sunnis. Mistrust runs too deep. But Sunnis have a stake in a united Iraq and their self-preservation may eventually overcome their anger at the massacre, bringing them back to the table. They don’t want to live under the heel of IS terror any more than other Iraqis. But time is working against the politicians in Baghdad and the longer they delay in creating a new government, the more the threat from IS grows.

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Why the ‘War on Journalists’ in Ferguson?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Two more journalists were arrested last night in Ferguson and briefly detained before being released. Three others were detained without being arrested. Media organizations have expressed growing alarm at the detentions, pointing out that the police are interfering with the ability of reporters to do their job.

Politico:

In response to the arrest of two journalists last week, 48 media organizations sent a letter to law enforcement authorities expressing “deep concern over the unwarranted detention” of the reporters and “other reports of police intimidation and harassment of journalists in Ferguson.” Last week, the ACLU obtained a court agreement, signed by the city, St. Louis County and the Missouri Highway Patrol chief, stating that ‘the media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgment unless it obstructs the activity or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.”

Pancho Bernasconi, the vice president of news for Getty Images, similarly condemned Olson’s detention on Monday: “We at Getty Images stand firmly behind our colleague Scott Olson and the right to report from Ferguson,” Bernasconi said in a statement. Olson was released after a few hours.

Meanwhile, all three cable networks ditched their regular programming for breaking news from Ferguson late into the night on Monday and early Tuesday morning. MSNBC hosts Chris Hayes and Craig Melvin had rocks thrown at them while reporting on air, and CNN’s Don Lemon was pushed back by police while reporting from the front lines of the protests.

Despite appearances that the police are trying to smother the story by targeting reporters, the reality is far more prosaic:

In a news conference late Monday night, Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson said authorities would continue to arrest journalists due to the chaotic nature of the protests.

“I’m going to tell you in the midst of chaos, when officers are running around, we’re not sure who’s a journalist and who’s not,” Johnson said, according to an audio recording. “Yes, if I see somebody with a $50,000 camera on their shoulder, I’m pretty sure. But some journalists are walking around, and all you have is a cellphone because you’re from a small media outlet. Some of you may just have a camera around your neck.”

“So yes, we may take some of you into custody,” he continued. “But when we do take you into custody, and we have found out you’re a journalist, we’ve taken the proper action. But in the midst of it, we cannot — in the midst of it, in the midst of chaos, and trying to move people on, we have to be safe. … And we are providing protection for journalists. We had, we had a journalist who was trapped in the midst of that gunfire, in the midst of that chaos. And we’re providing protection for them. We took journalists back to their trucks.”

Reporters are trying to cover a riot where there are no battle lines. By definition, it’s a melee — a free for all, with people running around coming in contact with the police who, themselves, have lost formation. There’s gunfire, tear gas, sound canon — total chaos.

It is unrealistic for reporters to think that police approach anyone not wearing blue during a riot with anything but suspicion. This is especially true when they are under gun fire, and Molotov Cocktails and rocks are being thrown at them. It appears that many of the detentions have occurred when reporters either got in the way or were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On the other hand, there have been some questionable actions by police directed at reporters, like the incident mentioned above at the McDonald’s last week where two reporters were roughed up and dragged off to jail.

I’m not sure what it is that reporters want. Do they want the police to protect them when they wander into a free fire zone? The police have a lot more important things to deal with than act as bodyguards for reporters. Do reporters think they should have free rein to run around a riot ignorantly, putting themselves and the police who try to assist them in danger?  The desire to cover the story under such trying circumstances is admirable, but it’s clear that there are many reporters in the streets who haven’t a clue what they’re doing.

That ignorance is going to get one of them killed unless they’re more careful.

 

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