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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pope's call for Orthodox - Roman Christian and Jewish unity could help defeat Islamic extremism

Middle East genocidal wars have their origins in deep rooted religious and ancient tribal differences. Therefore, it seems to make strategic sense to counter radical Islamic extremism with a united counter effort. This movement, conceivably, could be led by Christians, united with moderate Muslims and Jewish leaders, for the purpose of suppressing terrorism.

Middle Eastern Christians need protection from annihilation as much as any group of persecuted refugees the world has ever seen. In addition to loosing everything as a result of the religious persecution of Christians by Islamic extremists, including their persecution by Syrian President Assad,  the assaults include desecration of ancient shrines. Between the previous loss of ancient relics during the American invasion of Iraq, and now the desecration of Middle Eastern Christian shrines, there doesn't seem much argument about the seriousness of the War in the Middle East.  In fact, Pope Francis calls the Middle East chaos a piecmeal World War Three.   

Pope Francis said the current global conflicts were effectively a "piecemeal" Third World War. He said this while condemning the arms trade and "plotters of terrorism" sowing death and destruction.

"Humanity needs to weep and this is the time to weep," Francis said in the homily of a Mass during a visit to Italy's largest war memorial, a large, Fascist-era monument where more than 100,000 soldiers who died in World War One are buried.

ISTANBUL — Pope Francis and clerical counterparts in the Orthodox Church vowed (on Sunday) to work together to prevent an exodus of Christians from the Middle East, and they called for “constructive dialogue” with Muslims to resolve conflicts in the embattled region and around the world.

“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years,” the pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church said in a common declaration issued here on the last leg of a three-day papal visit to Turkey.

The pope made frequent mention on his trip of the plight of Christians and other minorities in areas of Syria and Iraq who have been the focus of persecution by the Islamic State.
His attention to the issue was highlighted in a meeting with a group of young Christian and Muslim refugees from Syria, Iraq and Africa at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Istanbul. 

Pope Francis listened as an Iraqi Christian girl described the refugees’ sufferings and expressed gratitude for his visit, reports The New York Times.

“The degrading conditions in which so many (Syrian and Christian) refugees are forced to live are intolerable,” he added, and called for greater international cooperation “to counter the other causes which are driving people to leave their home countries, and to improve conditions so that people may remain or return home.”

Francis repeated his gratitude to the Turkish government, which is currently sheltering over 1.6 million refugees from Syria, and has relocated nearly 50,000 ethnic Yazidis from Iraq who escaped persecution by the Islamic State since late summer to camps in both Turkey and Iraq.

In their common declaration, the pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who represents 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, asked for dialogue and respect for international law in helping to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, “a country of ancient Christian tradition,” and encouraged “constructive dialogue with Islam based on mutual respect and friendship.”

“Inspired by common values and strengthened by genuine fraternal sentiments,” the statement said, “Muslims and Christians are called to work together for the sake of justice, peace and respect for the dignity and rights of every person, especially in those regions where they once lived for centuries in peaceful coexistence and now tragically suffer together the horrors of war.”

Earlier in the day, the sounds of chimes and the smell of incense filled the small 17th-century Church of St. George in the Fener neighborhood of Istanbul as the leaders of the two churches embraced each other against a background of elaborate gold decorations and centuries-old mosaics.

Both expressed a strong will to promote the full unity of Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which were divided 960 years ago.

Before his departure for Rome late Sunday, the pope met Isak Haleva, the chief rabbi of Turkey, and visited Armenian Patriarch Mesrop II, who represents the largest Christian community of Turkish Armenians, around 50,000 people, and who has been in poor health for several years.
 
Turkey has everything to loose if the Islamic extremists continue to gain momentum in the Middle East. Turkey's culture, government and economy will implode if Islamic extremism takes hold in Syria. Therefore, the Pope could be the leader to bring moderate Turkish Muslims together with Orthodox, and Catholic Christians, plus include the Jewish populations (who are dangerously at risk of violent death by Islamic extremism) for the purpose of defeating terrorism in the Middle East. Oh, by the way, and destroy President Assad in Syria in the collective efforts. Indeed, the time for a united religious front to defeat ISIS has come.....and Bless Pope Francis for seizing the moment during his highly risky visit to Turkey. This Third World War needs united leadership, like the strategic abilities in the Second World War managed and eventually won the global war, in favor of the Allies against Nazism and Japan.  
 
Unfortunately and tragically, the United States wasted clout in the Middle East when our nation illegally invaded Iraq under the pretense of destroying Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which never existed. 
 
Therefore, like World War II needed Winston Churchill when President Roosevelt couldn't mobilize American intervention in Europe, perhaps the Pope can lead what other leaders are somehow powerless to do. In other words, maybe Pope Francis can call for religious unity to save the Middle East from complete annihilation by Islamic extremism and protect the region's Christian culture from violent extinction.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

The New Yorker by Greeberg: Psychotropic drugs and mental illness

As a registered nurse who has cared for people with acute and chronic mental illness, I was particularly interested in this article about the history of psychotropic drugs. 

These pharmacological agents are used by many people who rely on them to prevent exacerbation of mental illnesses, even though, there's little proof about their effectiveness.

People who experience mental illness are often led to believe they can "get better" with a cocktail of psychotropic drugs. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of these drugs are often over rated. There's no way mental illness can be treated like physical diseases. One pill will not cure mental illness. Nevertheless, a combination of pharmacology and counseling interventions will prevent exacerbation of many mental illnesses. 

A September 2013 article in The New Yorker explains the truth behind psychotropic drugs. Author Gary Greenberg describes the reality of how these strong drugs don't do much to improve the outcomes of the mentally ill. Worse, the companies that produce the drugs don't see much profit incentive to keep producing them.  This article shows just how little progress medicine has made in treating mental illness with pharmacology.  

In fact, the article seems to claim the "placebo" effect is, likely, as effective as are the prescribed drugs.
 
September 3, 2013: The Psychiatric Drug Crisis
By Gary Greenberg

Prozac came to market over 25 years ago, and more than twenty per cent of Americans now regularly take mind-altering drugs prescribed by their doctors. 

Almost as familiar as brands like Zoloft and Lexapro is the worry about what it means that the daily routine in many households, for parents and children alike, includes a dose of medications that are poorly understood and whose long-term effects on the body are unknown. Despite our ambivalence, sales of psychiatric drugs amounted to more than seventy billion dollars in 2010. They have become yet another commodity that consumers have learned to live with or even enjoy, like S.U.V.s or Cheetos.

Yet the psychiatric-drug industry is in trouble. “We are facing a crisis,” the Cornell psychiatrist and New York Times contributor Richard Friedman warned.


In the past few years, one pharmaceutical giant after another—GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Pfizer, Merck, Sanofi—has shrunk or shuttered its neuroscience research facilities. Clinical trials have been halted, lines of research abandoned, and the new drug pipeline has been allowed to run dry.

Why would an industry beat a hasty retreat from a market that continues to boom? (Recent surveys indicate that mental illness is the leading cause of impairment and disability worldwide.) The answer lies in the history of psychopharmacology, which is more deeply indebted to serendipity than most branches of medicine—in particular, to a remarkable series of accidental discoveries made in the fifteen or so years following the end of the Second World War.

In 1949, John Cade published an article in the Medical Journal of Australia describing his discovery that lithium sedated people who experienced mania. Cade had been testing his theory that manic people were suffering from an excess of uric acid by injecting patients’ urine into guinea pigs, who subsequently died. When Cade diluted the uric acid by adding lithium, the guinea pigs fared better; when he injected them with lithium alone, they became sedated. He noticed the same effect when he tested lithium on himself, and then on his patients. Nearly twenty years after he first recommended lithium to treat manic depression, it became the standard treatment for the disorder.

In the nineteen-forties and fifties, schizophrenic patients in some asylums were treated with cold-induced “hibernation”—a state from which they often emerged lucid and calm. In one French hospital, the protocol also called for chlorpromazine, a new drug thought to increase the hibernation effect. One day, some nurses ran out of ice and administered the drug on its own. When it calmed the patients, chlorpromazine, later named Thorazine, was recognized in 1952 as the first drug treatment for schizophrenia—a development that encouraged doctors to believe that they could use drugs to manage patients outside the asylum, and thus shutter their institutions.

In 1956, the Swiss firm Geigy wanted in on the antipsychotics market, and it asked a researcher and asylum doctor, Roland Kuhn, to test out a drug that, like Thorazine, was an antihistamine—and thus was expected to have a sedating effect. The results were not what Kuhn desired: when the schizophrenic patients took the drug, imipramine, they became more agitated, and one of them, according to a member of the research team, “rode, in his nightshirt, to a nearby village, singing lustily.” He added, “This was not really a very good PR exercise for the hospital.” But it was the inspiration for Kuhn and his team to reason that “if the flat mood of schizophrenia could be lifted by the drug, then could not a depressed mood be elevated also?” Under the brand name Tofranil, imipramine went on to become the first antidepressant—and one of the first blockbuster psychiatric drugs.

American researchers were also interested in antihistamines. In 1957, Leo Sternbach, a chemist for Hoffmann-La Roche who had spent his career researching them, was about to throw away the last of a series of compounds he had been testing that had proven to be pharmacologically inert. But in the interest of completeness, he was convinced to test the last sample. “We thought the expected negative pharmacological results would cap our work on this series of compounds,” one of his colleagues later recounted. But the drug turned out to have muscle-relaxing and sedative properties. Instead of becoming the last in a list of failures, it became the first in a series of spectacular successes—the benzodiazepenes, of which Sternbach’s Librium and Valium were the flagships.

By 1960, the major classes of psychiatric drugs—among them, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs, known as anxiolytics—had been discovered and were on their way to becoming a seventy-billion-dollar market. 


Having been discovered by accident, however, they lacked one important element: a theory that accounted for why they worked (or, in many cases, did not).

That didn’t stop drug makers and doctors from claiming that they knew. Drawing on another mostly serendipitous discovery of the fifties—that the brain did not conduct its business by sending sparks from neuron to neuron, as scientists previously thought, but rather by sending chemical messengers across synapses—they fashioned an explanation: mental illness was the result of imbalances among these neurotransmitters, which the drugs treated in the same way that insulin treats diabetes.

The appeal of this account is obvious: it combines ancient notions of illness (specifically, the idea that sickness resulted from imbalanced humors) with the modern understanding of the molecular culprits that make us suffer—germs. It held out the hope that mental illness could be treated in the same way as pneumonia or hypertension: with a single pill. Drug companies wasted no time in promulgating it.  Merck, the manufacturer of Elavil, commissioned the psychiatrist Frank Ayd to write a book called Recognizing the Depressed Patient, in which he extolled the “chemical revolution in psychiatry” and urged doctors to reassure patients they weren’t losing their minds, but rather suffering a “common illness” with a “physical basis” and a pharmacological cure. Merck sent Ayd’s book to fifty thousand doctors around the country. In 1965, Joseph Schildkraut, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health, reverse-engineered antidepressants and offered an actual theory: at least when it came to depression, the imbalances were to be found in the neurotransmitters he thought were affected by the drugs, dopamine and norepinephrine. Seven years after antidepressants were invented, and five years after Ayd asserted that depression was a chemical problem, psychiatrists finally had a precise, scientific explanation for why they worked. The paper quickly became one of the most cited articles in the medical literature.

But Schildkraut was wrong. Within a few years, as technology expanded our ability to peer into the brain, it became clear that antidepressants act mostly by increasing the availability of the neurotransmitter serotonin—rather than dopamine and norepinephrine, as previously thought. A new generation of antidepressants—the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (S.S.R.I.s), including Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil—was developed to target it. The ability to claim that the drugs targeted a specific chemical imbalance was a marketing boon as well, assuring consumers that the drugs had a scientific basis. 


By the mid-nineties, antidepressants were the best-selling class of prescription medications in the country. Psychiatry appeared to have found magic bullets of its own.

The serotonin-imbalance theory, however, has turned out to be just as inaccurate as Schildkraut’s. While S.S.R.I.s surely alter serotonin metabolism, those changes do not explain why the drugs work, nor do they explain why they have proven to be no more effective than placebos in clinical trials. Within a decade of Prozac’s approval by the F.D.A. in 1987, scientists had concluded that serotonin was only a finger pointing at one’s mood—that the causes of depression and the effects of the drugs were far more complex than the chemical-imbalance theory implied. The ensuing research has mostly yielded more evidence that the brain, which has more neurons than the Milky Way has stars and is perhaps one of the most complex objects in the universe, is an elusive target for drugs.






Despite their continued failure to understand how psychiatric drugs work, doctors continue to tell patients that their troubles are the result of chemical imbalances in their brains. As Frank Ayd pointed out, this explanation helps reassure patients even as it encourages them to take their medicine, and it fits in perfectly with our expectation that doctors will seek out and destroy the chemical villains responsible for all of our suffering, both physical and mental. The theory may not work as science, but it is a devastatingly effective myth.

Whether or not truthiness, as one might call it, is good medicine remains to be seen. No one knows how important placebo effects are to successful treatment, or how exactly to implement them, a topic Michael Specter wrote about in the magazine in 2011. But the dry pipeline of new drugs bemoaned by Friedman is an indication that the drug industry has begun to lose faith in the myth it did so much to create. As Steven Hyman, the former head of the National Institute of Mental Health, wrote last year, the notion that “disease mechanisms could … be inferred from drug action” has succeeded mostly in “capturing the imagination of researchers” and has become “something of a scientific curse.” Bedazzled by the prospect of unraveling the mysteries of psychic suffering, researchers have spent recent decades on a fool’s errand—chasing down chemical imbalances that don’t exist. And the result, as Friedman put it, is that “it is hard to think of a single truly novel psychotropic drug that has emerged in the last thirty years.”

Despite the BRAIN initiative recently announced by the Obama Administration, and the N.I.M.H.’s (National Institute of Mental Health) renewed efforts to stimulate research on the neurocircuitry of mental disorder, there is nothing on the horizon with which to replace the old story. Without a new explanatory framework, drug-company scientists don’t even know where to begin, so it makes no sense for the industry to stay in the psychiatric-drug business. And if loyalists like Hyman and Friedman continue to say out loud what they have been saying to each other for many years—that, as Friedman told Times readers, “just because an S.S.R.I. antidepressant increases serotonin in the brain and improves mood, that does not mean that serotonin deficiency is the cause of the disease”—then consumers might also lose faith in the myth of the chemical imbalance.

Gary Greenberg is a practicing psychotherapist and the author of “The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, the antidepressant Tofranil was originally identified as Elavil.


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Friday, November 28, 2014

Pope Francis takes on challenges - is it just me or does he look like he enjoys his job?

Turkey-  "... three evangelical missionaries were murdered, as were a Catholic priest and a bishop. In addition, anti-Christian prejudice is intense in the Turkish media."

Syria - a framented Third World War- Pope Francis

Pope Francis waves in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican. The pope heads to Turkey on Friday, a country with few Catholics, but he plans to reach out to Muslims and to the Orthodox Church.

I swear, Pople Francis seems to look younger as a Pope than he did when we knew him as a Cardinal from Argentina. Contrast Pope Francis and his vigor facing challenges, with his predecessor who appeard to carry the burdon of being Pope like the chains of St. Peter being dragged back to Rome to face Crucifixion.

Reaching out to Turkey's predominantly Muslim people isn't a job for the meek.  Nevertheless, Turkey is where the Byzantine  Orthodox Christians have shrines and sanctuaries. Supposedly, the Apostles took refuge in Turkey with Mary, the mother of Jesus, after the Resurrection, to protect her from persecution. A Marion Shrine is located in Turkey, it's at the place where Mary was until her Assumption into heaven.  

Therefore, Turkey certainly seems like a natural place for Pope Francis to begin a dialogue with Muslims. This is especially timely, because the Pope is seeking advice about how to remove the terrorist factions within Islamic extremism. 

National Public Radio (NPR) reports that Orthodox Christians are very excited about the visit, says Robert Mickens, editor in chief of Global Pulse magazine. "There is something very compelling about Francis, he is seen by other Christians, leaders and people, as somebody very special, a harbinger of a better future among the different Christian denominations," he says.

In the Muslim world, Francis has a great deal of credibility.

He won points last year for his opposition to Western military strikes against President Bashir Assad's regime in Syria and for signaling sympathy for Palestinian suffering by stopping to pray at the security barrier while visiting Israel last May.

One of the visit's thorniest issues will be the plight of Christian minorities in Turkey, which long presented itself as a model of moderation and tolerance in the Muslim world.

In recent years, three evangelical missionaries were murdered, as were a Catholic priest and a bishop. In addition, anti-Christian prejudice is intense in the Turkish media.


Moreover, Turkey bans the training of Orthodox priests, and makes it very hard for foreign clergy to get residency or work permits.

"It is of course very sad story because this is a negation of the basic right of religious freedom. If you don't have the formation of clergy, how can you sustain a church life? It is impossible," says Mustafa Aydin, a Turk who heads a center for inter-faith dialogue in Rome.

And there's the issue of the Orthodox seminary that's been shut down since 1971 – despite Turkish President Recep Erdogan's promises that it would be re-opened.


John Allen, longtime Vatican analyst, now with the Boston Globe, says the pope has the opportunity to challenge the president publicly.

"(He can) look at Erdogan in the eyes and say, 'Mr. Erdogan, re-open this seminary,'" Allen says. "That will become the litmus test as to whether Erdogan is truly serious about protecting religious pluralism and protecting Turkey's secular moderate heritage."

Just across Turkey's borders, fighting rages in what Pope Francis has called the "fragmented Third World War."


It is a world war in bits and pieces with many spots of crisis," says veteran Vatican analyst Marco Politi. Politi expects the pope will reiterate his vehement denunciations of the so-called Islamic State that has carried out massacres of Christians, Muslims and other minorities in the region.

"Certainly Pope Francis will stress the distinction between Islam as religion and violent, terrorist, fundamentalist groups who abuse and manipulate religion for political purposes," he says.

But it's the dwindling number of Christians in the Middle East who will be listening most closely to what the pope has to say, says John Allen.

"Is he going to be able to move the ball in some concrete way to give Christians in Turkey and Christians in Middle East a sense that they have a future in this region?," Allen says. "Right now the vast majority of them, they feel that they have been given a death sentence, and most of them are looking for ways to get out."

Francis has also expressed interest in a visit to border areas near Iraq or Syria to meet refugees. Up to now, Turkish officials have ruled it out on the grounds of security.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Collaterall damage from timing of the Ferguson Missouri Grand Jury ruling still unresolved

To say the timing of the reading of the Ferguson, Missouri Grand Jury ruling by prosecutor Robert McCulloch was a mistake is a classic "no brainer".  

While the international media and the public waited....and waited, the St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch was, no doubt, practicing how to read the 20 minute script he prepared, whereby the Grand Jury's ruling was finally made public.  In other words, McCulloch's curious timing turned this tragedy into a catastrophe.

At this point, the Grand Jury's ruling not to prosecute (no probable cause) was anti-climactic. It's probably not a surprise to learn from the Grand Jury that they did not find sufficient evidence to rule there was probable cause to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of the Black man Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri in August 2014.  

What's mystifying, however, is how the prosecutor was allowed to control the Grand Jury without benefit of cross examination of Police Officer Wilson. Worse, why did McCulloch wait until late into the evening to make a grandstanding oration about the ruling?

Here's what BBCNews in Great Britian is reporting by Anthony Zurcher:


The announcement that a St Louis County grand jury would not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown came a little after 20:00 (9 o'clock) - St. Louis, local time, under the cover of darkness.

What followed next was something protestors and law enforcement officials had assured the public they were dedicated to avoiding. Riot-gear-clad police officers and armoured vehicles cleared the streets with tear gas and smoke canisters, as looters smashed store windows and cars burned - a night of chaos and violence.

The outcome was tragic - but did the timing of the announcement contribute to the conflagration? The grand jury reportedly had reached their decision by early afternoon.

No official explanation has been given - Governor Jay Nixon threw up his hands when asked in a press conference, as if to say it was out of his control. One official in St Louis mentioned to reporters that rush hour played a part in the delay, the implication being that it would give people time to get home safely from work or school. 


But on the streets of Ferguson, some residents were concerned that the verdict was coming after nightfall - they would have preferred a morning announcement. 


According to the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery, the timing of the announcement wouldn't have made a difference.  "Protesters were going to protest, day or night." But, as dawn broke on a shattered town the morning after, many didn't see it that way.

"Irresponsible" and "unnecessarily provocative", said activist Al Sharpton.

"Foolish and dangerous", said legal analyst Jeffery Toobin.

"Here's the thing about that time of night: it's dark.  Anyone - anyone! - should have known that the decision in the Brown case would have been controversial. A decision not to indict, which was always possible, even likely, would have been sure to attract protests, even violence. Crowd control is always more difficult in the dark," said Toobin.


Everything about the announcement - the timing, the condescending tone, the weeks of militarised vehicles patrolling the roads - seemed designed to inflame and incite the region” Sarah Kendzior Politico Magazine

The decision on when to reveal the non-indictment was "inscrutable" and only likely to increase the possibility of violence, said The New Yorker's Jelani Cobb. 





But, he adds, that it was all part of a larger lack of preparation on the part of law enforcement.

"Despite the sizable police presence, few officers were positioned on the stretch of W Florissant Road where Brown was killed," he writes. "The result was that damage to the area around the police station was sporadic and short-lived, but Brown's neighbourhood burned. This was either bad strategy or further confirmation of the unimportance of that community in the eyes of Ferguson's authorities."

St Louis-based freelancer Sarah Kendzior agrees.

"Everything about the announcement - the timing, the condescending tone, the weeks of militarised vehicles patrolling the roads - seemed designed to inflame and incite the region," she wrote for Politico Magazine. "And it did."

Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC's Morning Joe show, said it was "mind-boggling" that authorities continued to mishandle public relations in the case.

A daylight announcement would (in my opinion "could" is more accurate) have encouraged peaceful protests, he said.

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Heartfelt Ferguson MO post - from NFL player Benjamin Watson

I'm re-posting the link I just deleted from a previous post because I want the content of the blog by NFL player Benjamin Watson to be included in this published version.  

My apologies to any who may have received the previous link.  

In my opinion, all who learn about the Ferguson Missouri killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson find themselves emotionally on the spectrum described herein by Benjamin Watson:

This is the content (also my summary note at end):

NFL player Benjamin Watson's Ferguson Facebook goes viral
Posted: Nov 26, 2014 12:42 PM EST Updated: Nov 26, 2014 12:42 PM EST by Nichole Mischke


KHQ.COM - Benjamin Watson, who plays for the New Orleans Saints, posted the following on his Facebook page and it has since gone viral:

"At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.

I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope."

Here is the link to his Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/oo9szxv


Julie's note:  Benjamin Watson has faith there will be a cure for the racial divide exposed by the litany of killings of young black men who live primarily in America's urban areas.  Let's pray he's right.



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Heartfelt response: NFL player Benjamin Watson's Ferguson post on Facebook goes viral

NFL player Benjamin Watson's Ferguson post on Facebook goes viral

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Immigration- President Obama is in line with a litany of Republican executive orders

In fact, presidents have been modifying immigration policies for decades.

Yellow journalism is practiced routinely by Fox News and other right wing media outlets.  

Fortunately, columnists like Tom Zirpoli from the Carroll County Times in Maryland speaks truth to Fox. He provides an informed reality check to correct the yellow journalism, as reported by wrong minded right wing media reporters, who are flooding Fox News, without regard for facts, most recently about immigration reform.

Oboma Has History on His Side should be required reading for people who are unsure about how to respond to right wingers who put President Obama on trial in the media, without due process.  Right wingers are obsessed with anger because President Obama rightly used his authority to implement executive action when the U.S. Congress refused to act on immigration reform. 

In my opinion, President Obama had a "duty to act", when the Congress, under the misguided leadership of Speaker John Boehner, refused to allow an up or down vote on a bipartisan bill previously passed by the US Senate.  

Here's what Zirpoli wrote:  

President Dwight D. Eisenhower did it three times. President Nixon did it once. President Gerald Ford did it twice (this is particularly interesting to me i.e. Ford's "Pardon" certainly has not fared well over the "test of time").  

Moreover, President George H.W. Bush did it six times. President George W. Bush did it four times. All of these Republican presidents used the executive powers of the presidency to establish  national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.

Mark Norferi, of the  American Immigration Council, writes that executive action by Presidents Reagan and Bush senior were the model for Obama's recent executive order.

In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration and Reform Act that allowed 3 million illegal immigrants permission to stay in the United States. The problem with the new law is that it did not include people's spouses or children. In response to the lack of action by Congress to fix this problem, and supported by the U.S. Catholic Bishops who urged Reagan to act with "great moral urgency", Reagan used his executive powers to stop the deportation of children, if their parents were covered under the 1986 act.

The Senate tried to fix the problem in 1989 and voted 89 to 17 to approve a bi-partisan bill protecting children and spouses from deportation if one of the parents was a U.S. citizen. But the House would not pass the bill.  

In response, Bush senior carried out the intent of the bill by executive order in 1990.  Bush called his order the "family fairness" policy, which allowed children and spouses of legal immigrants to remain in the U.S., as long as they reapplied for extensions each year.

According to Noferi, Bush's executive order "amounted to over 40 percent of the 3.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. at the time". This is similar to the proportion of immigrants affected by Obama's order, announced last Thursday evening. 

The success of the Reagan-Bush family fairness policy serves as a strikingly similar historical precedent for Obama. The Reagan-Bush family fairness policy deferred deportations to protect families, just as previous presidents used their executive authority "to protect war refugees or immigrants stranded by a foreign policy crises", wrote Noferi.

Over one year ago, the Senate once again passed a bi-partisan bill to fix the problem of separating families by deportation. This time, however, there are enough votes in the House to pass the bill, but House Speaker John Boehner refuses to allow the bill to be voted on because he knows it will pass and upset the conservative wing of his party. This is why immigration reform is has been stalled in Congress.

Republicans are not upset with Obama's executive order because of their stated concerns of executive abuse of power, but because the issue of immigration reform deeply divides them. Having won a majority in the Senate to go along with their majority in the House, the last thing the Republican congressional leaders want is another internal war over immigration reform prior to the 2016 national elections

Republicans currently have the votes to pass an immigration reform bill and, as stated by Obama, they can do so at any time.  This will not happen, according to Andrew Sullivan, because a compromise bill on immigration would "split the GOP in two". Sullivan writes that it is better for them to "recast the debate around whether Obama is a lawless dictator".  According to the American Presidency Project, however, Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any president going back over 117 (one hundred seventeen) years to President Grover Cleveland. Obama's annual rate of 34 executive orders compares favorably with Bush senior 41, Bush junior 47, by Reagan and 60 by Eisenhower. 

History is a wonderful resource for helping us keep current events in perspective. 

From Julie: If Fox News and right wing pundits bothered to learn history, maybe all of us would benefit from news based on facts rather than fear.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster Maryland.

As explained by Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger, since Congress provides only enough resources to deport about 400,000 illegal immigrants per year, they directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish "national immigration enforcement policies and priorities" (6 U.S. Code 202) for deportation. In fact, presidents have been modifying immigration policies for decades. - See more at: http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/news/opinion/ph-cc-zirpoli-1126-20141126,0,7116868.column#sthash.GS8NHaw2.dpuf
President Dwight Eisenhower did it three times. President Richard Nixon did it once. President Gerald Ford did it twice. President Ronald Reagan did it four times. President George H.W. Bush did it six times. President George W. Bush did it four times. All of these Republican presidents used the executive powers of the presidency to establish national immigration enforcement policies and priorities. - See more at: http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/news/opinion/ph-cc-zirpoli-1126-20141126,0,7116868.column#sthash.GS8NHaw2.dpuf

President Dwight Eisenhower did it three times. President Richard Nixon did it once. President Gerald Ford did it twice. President Ronald Reagan did it four times. President George H.W. Bush did it six times. President George W. Bush did it four times. All of these Republican presidents used the executive powers of the presidency to establish national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.
- See more at: http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/news/opinion/ph-cc-zirpoli-1126-20141126,0,7116868.column#sthash.GS8NHaw2.dpuf

President Dwight Eisenhower did it three times. President Richard Nixon did it once. President Gerald Ford did it twice. President Ronald Reagan did it four times. President George H.W. Bush did it six times. President George W. Bush did it four times. All of these Republican presidents used the executive powers of the presidency to establish national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.
- See more at: http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/news/opinion/ph-cc-zirpoli-1126-20141126,0,7116868.column#sthash.GS8NHaw2.dpuf


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Russia's economy can't sustain war and economic sanctions -but real estate might be a bargain

Russia's President Putin is reported to be planning a trip to visit Egypt, but his nation's credit card might want to check the balance on his account before he leaves the country. 

In fact, maybe the Egyptians will even ask for advance payment for the cost of his visit.  In other words, Russia's economic woes are worsening even while President Putin continues to support military operations in the Eastern Ukraine as well as in Syria.  It's impossible to figure out how Russia pays the military as well as the cost of operations, while the ruble currency is in a free fall. 

As a matter of fact, the cost of world oil continues to slide as well. Therefore, the financial security Putin once believed would come from Russia's oil reserves is bringing in less revenue.

Nevertheless, according to a report in The New York Times, real estate may be a bargain in Moscow, because vacancy rates for high rise office space are climbing.  Apparently, the luxury office space in Moscow's financial district is being utilized by low rent occupants.  Sounds like a nice place to hang out, on the cheap.

Commercial Real Estate:  

In Moscow, a Financial District in Name Only
NOV. 25, 2014 by Andrew E. Kramer

 
MOSCOW — In the coveted corner office, a bearded man in sweatpants scrambled eggs at a kitchenette, all the while taking in the serene beauty of the city lights twinkling far below.


Moscow’s skyscraper district, formally the Moscow International Business Center, reflects the broader problems in the Russian economy. The country, facing broad-ranging financial sanctions and largely dominated by state-run companies, simply has no need for vast office spaces for stock traders, auditors and bankers.

Vacancy rates in the newly built financial district have become acute. The entire site, some 148 acres that now includes the tallest building in Europe, Mercury City Tower, had a vacancy rate of 32 percent at the end of October, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the real estate consultancy. The rate is projected to rise above 50 percent next year when new buildings open.

 
In the conference room, or as the company prefers to call it, the “common area,” two other men lounged about playing video games on an Xbox. In place of cubicles, there are bunk beds.

High Level Hostel, one of the newest tenants in the financial district here known as Moscow City, sits on prime real estate on the 43rd floor of a multimillion-dollar glass-and-steel tower. It is not a youth-hostel-themed work space, but an actual youth hostel — dirty socks and all.

“We thought, ‘why not open a hostel in a skyscraper?’ ” said Roman Drozdenko, the 25-year-old owner. “Nobody’s done that before.”

The tower, with its marble veneer foyer, banks of elevators and breathtaking views, was clearly built for lawyers, accountants or stock traders. But “there were no questions regarding our guests” from the building management when he opened in September, Mr. Drozdenko said. “In fact, there were no questions at all.”

Moscow’s skyscraper district, formally the Moscow International Business Center, reflects the broader problems in the Russian economy. The country, facing broad-ranging financial sanctions and largely dominated by state-run companies, simply has no need for vast office spaces for stock traders, auditors and bankers.

Vacancy rates in the newly built financial district have become acute. The entire site, some 148 acres that now includes the Mercury City Tower, the tallest in Europe, had a vacancy rate of 32 percent at the end of October, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the real estate consultancy. The rate is projected to rise above 50 percent next year when new buildings open.

“Russians have a great tradition of building things they don’t need,” Sergei Petrov, an office worker in Naberezhnaya tower, said of the emptiness behind the glass facades, a veritable Potemkin Wall Street.

Moscow City was envisioned as a hub of emerging market finance, a shiny skyscraper-dotted testament to Russia’s growing international influence. For a time, the idea was not improbable: From 2000 to 2007, the Russian economy grew on average 7 percent a year.

This herculean undertaking on a bank of the Moskva River was to be Moscow’s answer to the City of London or Manhattan.

One tower, called Evolution, twists in a DNA-evoking double helix. The spires of Federation Towers resemble billowing sails, evoking Russia sailing into a capitalist future. Federation Tower East, when finished, will rise 95 stories to a height of 1,224 feet, surpassing its still mostly empty neighbor Mercury City Tower as the tallest building in Europe.


Eight skyscrapers are finished, including the gold-tinted Mercury tower. Eight others are under construction, and two more are planned. The entire site is scheduled to be finished by 2018.

But Russia’s tanks are now getting more international attention than its banks, leaving Moscow City as a $12 billion reminder of the nation’s economic woes.

Western sanctions, for example, have taken aim at Russia’s largest state financial institutions, Sberbank and VTB, which both own towers or floor space in Moscow City. The two banks now have a limited ability to issue debt on global markets, thus limiting their growth options.

Sanctions by the United States and the European Union are expected to trim about 1 percentage point of growth from Russia’s gross domestic product this year, and slightly more next year if they remain in place. Even without sanctions, problems have been stacking up. Rising inflation, falling oil prices, and a tumbling ruble have left Russia near recession.

The government also accounts for an outsize proportion of the economy, leaving scant jobs for the grunt workers of private enterprise, the bankers, lawyers and traders for whom Moscow City was built. In Russia, 81 percent of the shares of the top 10 companies are owned by the same entity, the state, compared with 11 in Germany, according to a study by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development economists.

Rather than turning to banks, Russia’s largest company, the sanctioned state oil company Rosneft is now appealing directly to state funds for loans. And the Kremlin this year again delayed shifting pensions into the private sector, dealing another blow to financial sector jobs.

Somebody had the idea that if you build a lot of skyscrapers in one spot you have an international financial center,” Darrell Stanaford, a real estate analyst in Moscow with Romanov Dvor, said in an interview. “But it doesn’t work. You need other things, too.”

Moscow City, which has taken a direct hit from these policies, is now shifting tactics to fill the glut of premier office space.

City, the management company for the development in the neighborhood, says financial services companies are no longer the majority of its new tenants. Of the new Russian occupants signing leases this year, 58 percent were nonfinancial companies as well as local small and midsize businesses, like High Level Hostel, according to the management company.

New buildings are also being repurposed at the development stage. One low-rise will become a 6,000-seat movie theater. (!!!)

In finished towers, various nonfinancial ventures are renting space. One company sells Cambodian citizenship to Russians wanting a second passport. A culinary school and restaurant are opening.

Many multinationals have rented space. IBM, General Electric, KPMG, General Motors, Hyundai, Energizer and Japan Tobacco International are all tenants, as is a major Russian investment bank, Renaissance Capital.

Prices, too, are falling. Mr. Drozdenko, the hostel owner, said a real estate agent offered him the space for about $8,000 a month for 1,600 square feet, or about $5 a square foot.

In Moscow City, office space currently averages $6.90 a square foot each month. That’s below the average of $7.75 for high-grade office space elsewhere in the capital, according to Denis T. Sokolov, senior analyst and a partner at Cushman & Wakefield in Moscow.
 

“We have to do this,” Dmitry Granov, the director of City management, said in an interview of the effort to broaden the range of tenants, because of the dearth of financial sector jobs in Russia.

“If before we were looking for international corporations, today we are looking for Russian companies, and small and medium businesses,” he said. He said dropping rents would attract technology start-ups.

City management company contested the vacancy estimate by Cushman & Wakefield. Cushman & Wakefield counts vacant sublease space in its total, while the management company does not. City says current vacancies are about 20 percent.

Meshing the various constituencies is also creating challenges.

“The cafes, amenities and dress code you need is different for clients of a youth hostel and for investment bankers,” said Mr. Stanaford, the real estate analyst, of settling tenants like High Level Hostel in their high-level location. “What image-conscious business is going to buy office space in the same skyscraper with a youth hostel?”

Empire Tower, the skyscraper where High Level hostel sits, is still largely empty two years after opening. In the foyer, an oval marble sculpture echoes the oval motif of the 60-story tower, designed for a more professional clientele.

Forty-three stories up, High Level Hostel opened in September with 24 beds, with prices starting at $25.50 in a six-person room, including a breakfast of toast, porridge or muesli. The hostel manager, Leonid L. Fedotov, 19, who goes by the nickname the Beard, recalled backpacking guests from Holland named Ron and Eve.

“It was really cool because Ron and I played guitar in the evening,” he said, as they gazed out at the twirling facade of Evolution Tower and the sea of lights of Moscow below.


+++++++++++++++

It's hard to imagine how Russia can sustain economic growth, when the posh office buildings in the nation's highest rent business district are essentially being lent out to kids in a youth hostel. In other words, some of the world's homeless people are benefiting from the low rents while residing in a high rent neighborhood.  

Meanwhile, the Russian ruble continues to be worth less than the paper it's printed on. It's only a matter of time before Putin will be on the ropes. Consequently, maybe Egypt will be a good hiding place for Putin, as long as his line of credit can cover living costs.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Prosecutor McCullloch decision read late at night

CNN is asking the salient question. Why did Prosecutor McCulloch wait until nearly 10 PM to read the Ferguson Grand Jury's ruling about not finding probable cause to prosecute Officer Wilson, who killed Michael Brown?  He read aloud a 20 minute narrative of the Grand Jury's case. In order to make the case for the Grand Jury's decision, the prosecutor went out of his way to hamper any further prosecutions. This weird county prosecutor obviously doesn't want any further investigation into his own conclusion about the Michael Brown investigation. 

Prosecutor Robert McCulloch should be fired.  He even said some of the witnesses who presented to the Grand Jury didn't tell the truth, but he refused to say they had committed perjury.

But why did the prosecutor Bob McCulloch decide to present his daunting analysis of the Brown and Officer Wilson investigation at night, just in time to catch late night TV audiences? Obviously, the timing of this decision led to fueling intense street violence.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was asked by reporters about the nighttime announcement. Nixon said the decision was made solely by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch.

"We coordinated with law enforcement, gave schools time to get their children home and in a safe place, gave businesses time to make a decision on their employees' safety, gave media time to set up, prepared our statement and made the announcement," Edward Magee, executive assistant to McCulloch, said in a statement.

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said McCulloch's decision was "foolish and dangerous."

"I find this a completely bizarre decision to do this at night," Toobin said.

"Here's the thing about that time of night: it's dark. Anyone -- anyone! -- should have known that the decision in the Brown case would have been controversial. Crowd control is always more difficult in the dark."

CNN legal analyst Paul Callan noted the announcement was supposed to be made at 8 p.m. ET but was rescheduled for 9 ET.

"Why would you be moving it another hour? I think the only reason can be that they don't have their security forces in place," he said.

Initially, prosecutors were expected to give law enforcement 48 hours' notice from when the grand jury made its decision to when the announcement was made. But that clearly didn't happen Monday, since the decision and the announcement came on the same day.


Unfortunately, McCulloch assured that his Grand Jury ruling would nearly eliminate any possibility of further legal action in regard to prosecuting Officer Wilson for killing the victim Michael Brown in August 2014.  Nevertheless, nothing prevents the prosecutor McCulloch from being fired for his arrogance and, in my opinion, wrongly influencing the Grand Jury's ability to analyze the evidence presented in the Michael Brown investigation. 

Of course, only the Ferguson Missouri Grand Jury can speak about the evidence they received and acted on. We certainly can't second guess their ruling to recommend no prosecution of Officer Wilson for killing Michael Brown. 

Nevertheless, we can observe the inappropriate decisions of Prosecutor McCulloch, who, while speaking on television, appeared to be proud of his self proclaimed authority. 

He should be fired.

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Fueling the tragic Ferguson firestorm is grandstanding prosecutiing attorney Robert P. McCulloch

Sometimes, people really do have to "blame the messenger". St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert P. McCulloch behaved with annoying bravado and should be fired for mishandling the police shooting of the young unarmed black man named Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Race relations between Blacks and Whites in America are obviously at an all time low. 

Therefore, we didn't need the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert P. McCulloch to incite more trouble. With what appeared, to me, to be a smirk on his face, he stepped up to the international television cameras with the bravado of the swashbuckling antagonist Gaston, to explain the secret Grand Jury's decision about whether or not there was probable cause to bring police officer Darren Wilson to trial, for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, in August 2014.

Although I do not intend to second guess the Grand Jury's decision to protect Officer Darren Wilson from prosecution, I can evaluate the behavior of the prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch. His inept handling of this race relations tragedy has made a bad situation much worse. 

Police Officer Wilson, 28, will face no charges for shooting Michael Brown. As reported by McCulloch, the Grand Jury examined the evidence and did not find probable cause to bring forth any prosecution of the police officer for the killing.  Following McCulloch's reading of this decision, the streets of Ferguson Missouri became torched, as the decision caused a firestorm of destruction. Demonstrators believed the Michael Brown shooting was another example of enabling the police to single out young black men, without allowing due process, if they become suspects of misconduct of any kind.

Obviously, McCulloch is a miserable communicator. He rehearsed the cold reading of the Grand Jury's decision statement, after keeping the public and reporters waiting for at least 4 hours to hear the anticipated decision. Following the reading, he gave condescending answers to questions from reporters during the press conference. More to the point, knowing how the decision would likely be ill received, why did McCulloch wait until after sundown to grandstand his announcement? In my opinion, McCulloch created an incendiary situation by timing his announcement concurrent with late night prime time television coverage and thereby enabling the violence that, predictably, erupted after the information was made public.

Missouri public officials must've known that McCulloch was the worst person to give this outcome information to the community, to the US and, ultimately, to the world. Although I have no idea about protocol for reading a Grand Jury decision, it seems to me a judge would have been a better communicator than McCulloch. If a press conference was deemed to be necessary, it seems to me, there should've been more than one person available standing alongside McCulloch, to answer questions. Instead, the prosecuting attorney stood alone before TV cameras, like he was the victorious gladiator in a struggle for the "up" or "down" vote of his supporters. Indeed, McCulloch gets a "thumbs down" from me. His communications failure resulted in the worst night of violence since the August 2014 incident, where Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, at about 12 noon, and then laid in the street for four hours afterwards. 

At this point, the sad death of the unarmed Michael Brown is nearly secondary to the unraveling situation resulting from prosecutor McCulloch's arrogant mismanagement.

Perhaps the only justice, as tangential as it may be, to the killing of the unarmed Michael Brown might be to see the prosecuting attorney  McCulloch fired. 

This man has misrepresented our judicial system by self appointing himself to be the judge, jury and communicator about this horrific incident.

Nevertheless, Michael Brown's death cannot be avenged. Race relations in the U.S. are probably worse than they've ever been. The more this particular Ferguson incident is discussed, the worse it gets for everyone, because there's no apparent resolution. Sooner or later, there will be another person in the litany of incidents without resolution.....Rodney King...Treyvon Martin and....Michael Brown....?  

Perhaps Americans need to experience a 1960's Civil Rights Movement revival.    

Meanwhile, our sympathies continue to grow for the family of Michael Brown and for all the victims in Ferguson, Missouri, who are trying to understand how to fix this racial tragedy.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Zealous Republicans over reach with the "I" word - impeachment has lost meaning

Perhaps President Bill Clinton gave subsequent US executives a gift. By withstanding a failed impeachment trial by the right wing Republicans in the US Senate, the entire concept of "impeachment" has lost relevance. When the Senate voted to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, the trail was based upon unprofessional conduct with a White House intern. Now, as a result, Americans are probably "impeachment" immune.  Nevertheless, Republicans continue their expensive and wasteful efforts to remove Democratic presidents.  

In fact, Republicans with the same genetic DNA as those who failed to remove President Clinton, want to sanction President Obama. These zealots are angry because President Obama took executive action to initiate immigration reform to help millions of undocumented US immigrants to stay in America with their families. On Fox News and other "yellow journalism" media sources, the pundit screeching claims the President wasn't authorized to use executive authority to provide safe residency for illegal immigrants who have lived in the US for at least 5 years and have no criminal history. Indeed, these hyped up pundits are over reaching with the "I" word i.e, impeachment.  

Moreover, if the U.S. Senate failed to impeach President Clinton, it's hard to imagine how they can succeed in yet another attempt, especially when the U.S. Constitution gives the President of the U.S. authority to act under the "Recommendation Clause". Obviously, I'm not a Constitutional law authority. Nevertheless, it seems clear, by reading this particular clause, that the President of the United States has a responsibility to act when Congress fails to do so, on behalf of the best interest of the people.

Article Two of the United States Constitution creates the executive branch of the government, consisting of the President, the Vice-President, and other executive officers and staffers appointed by the President, including the Cabinet Secretaries. 

Pursuant to Article Two, the executive power of the federal government is vested in the President.

The president has the power and duty to recommend, for the consideration of Congress, such measures which the president deems as "necessary and expedient". At his inauguration President George Washington declared in his Inaugural Address: "By the article establishing the executive department it is made the duty of the President "to recommend to your consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."  (This is the Recommendation Clause): Recommendation Clause also imposes an executive duty on the President. In so doing, Presidents speaks collectively for the People as they petition Government for a redress of grievances, and thus his recommendations embody popular sovereignty. The President tailors his recommendations so that their natural implication is the enactment of new legislation, rather than some other action that Congress might undertake. Finally, the President shall have executive discretion to recommend measures of his choosing.

Frankly, Americans don't know much about the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, many just believe whatever television or Fox News tells them. What I know about the U.S Constitution is that the pundits on Fox News know less than I do about this formative government document. For right wing media to claim President Obama didn't have the authority to initiate executive action to provide compassionate residency for illegal immigrants is simply whistling in the wind. These screeching right wing pundits don't even know how to read the U.S. Constitution.

From an observer of the Constitution, I'd say President Obama had a "duty to act". He was compelled to act when House Speaker John Boehner refused to bring the U.S. Senate bipartisan immigration reform bill to the floor for an "up or down" vote. 

Regardless of how Constitutional experts interpret the "Recommendation Clause", the fact is any proposed impeachment action resulting from President Obama's executive action on immigration reform are ludicrous and wasteful. 

In fact, the "I" word has lost meaning because Republicans over reached this concept with President Clinton's failed impeachment trial. Thank you President Clinton.  

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Denial of global warming and extra terrestrial life

Astrophysicists are reporting the possibility of finding life in the universe within the next 20 years. 

If so, will science deniers believe it? 

Right wing extremists are cemented in their wrong minded anti science beliefs. They don't believe in "global warming" even though the earth's temperatures continue to rise at a rapid rate. It occurs to me, these same science deniers would probably completely freak out if astrophysicists happen to find proof of extra terrestrial life in the universe. In Briefing, an article published in The Week, November 28, 2014, optimism is reported about finding some form of life in the universe within the next 20 years

Suppose life outside of earth is discovered? Will anti-science right wing extremists believe the scientists who make this discovery? Science history would indicate otherwise.

It's entirely possible right wind extremists could behave like the middle ages religious philosophers who didn't believe in a round earth. Moreover, when the Italian physicist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) proved the earth was a planet, rather than the center of the universe, he was put  under house arrest for the remainder of his life because his discovery was declared to be heretical.  

I suspect climate change deniers, along with right wing religious extremists who fundamentally believe in the Biblcal description of the earth's creation, won't believe scientists who find evidence of life outside of earth.

Nevertheless, scientists are tracking information from data collected about earth "like" planets where the potential for life forms are possible.  November 28, 2014: The Week

The search for E.T.

Buoyed by recent discoveries, NASA now boldly predicts we’ll find alien life within the next 20 years.
Why are scientists so optimistic?

The Kepler space telescope gets much of the credit. 
 
Before it was launched into orbit in 2009, astronomers couldn’t be sure whether planets existed outside our solar system. 
 
The search for extraterrestrial life was mostly focused on our own solar system—on Mars and a number of moons around Jupiter and Saturn—and on an intergalactic eavesdropping project known as SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). For 50 years, SETI has been using radio telescopes to listen for signals from an alien civilization somewhere out there in the cosmos, with no “Hello there!” detected thus far. But when Kepler began scrutinizing the stars from its perch beyond the atmosphere, its unprecedented resolution gave scientists a tool to detect the relatively dim planets circling them. Using the telescope’s data, scientists now estimate there are more than 100 billion exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) in the Milky Way galaxy alone. One in every five stars, they’ve concluded, has a planet that is habitable, and Kepler can help pinpoint which ones to examine for signs of life. “It’s within our grasp to pull off a discovery that will change the world forever,” says telescope scientist Matt Mountain.
How does Kepler work?

Trained on a patch of sky containing about 100,000 stars, the telescope studies the light emitted by each star to look for telltale dips in brightness. The periodic dips are a sign of a partial eclipse, caused as a planet transits in front of its star’s surface during orbit. From that one patch of universe, Kepler has used the “transit method” to confirm the existence of at least 2,000 exoplanets—from rocky spheres smaller than Earth to gaseous giants larger than Jupiter. The next challenge, says MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager, is to identify exoplanets that live within their star’s so-called Goldilocks zone—neither too near nor too far from their star so that their environment is “not too hot, not too cold—just right for life.” Astrobiologists believe they’ve already identified 86 Earth-like exoplanets that exist in this habitable zone and are now studying them for signs of life.
What kind of signs?

The traditional marker of life is liquid water. “Life needs a liquid; even the driest desert plant on Earth needs water for its metabolism to work,” says MIT astrobiologist William Bains. So if an exoplanet contains liquid water, the planet might be home to an alien life-form, whether it’s a simple bacterium or a complex and intelligent creature. A watery planet could be detected by the chemical signatures of water in its atmosphere. Some scientists think it’s possible that aliens are more different than we can imagine and have evolved to exist on methane or other chemicals instead of water. “The things we can conceive of are probably a very small set of the possibilities that are out there,” says biogeochemist Ariel Anbar. “We know we’re going to be surprised.” 

What else would indicate life?
NASA also plans to use its telescopes to search for certain “biosignatures” in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. A large amount of oxygen is one such biosignature: As a highly reactive element, oxygen needs to be consistently renewed by a biological process like photosynthesis in order to exist in large quantities. Another tip-off would be a carbon footprint that we’ve developed on our own planet: i.e., air pollution.  “You’d know that’s an inhabited world, not just a habitable world,” says Jill Tarter for the SETI Institute. “And then you can ask the question, Did they develop any technology we might detect?” 

Could we contact any aliens we find?
 
Perhaps, but not easily. The biggest barrier for astronomers is the time lag involved in communicating with planets located trillions of miles away. Suppose NASA decided to try to communicate with Kepler-186f, an Earth-like planet about 500 light-years away (or 2,939,249,910,000,000 miles): Given the planet’s distance, it would take half a millennium for a message to reach its inhabitants, and another 500 years for their response to be received. Either our civilization or theirs could perish during that time, rendering the communication moot. This assumes, of course, that the alien life is intelligent and can communicate; there will be no return signal from silent microbes in an ice-capped lake. 

What if we do find life?

Legendary astrophysicist Stephen Hawking believes we’re taking a big risk just by looking for it. He has warned that any signals we send out could invite the visit of a far superior alien civilization intent on our colonization or destruction. But even the discovery of friendly, intelligent aliens—or primitive life-forms—could have a mind-blowing effect on humanity. Traditional religious teachings about man’s central role in creation would be overturned, and our species would be forced to redefine itself in the knowledge that we’ve got company—perhaps plenty of company—in the universe. “Soon, we’re going to have an existential shock,” says theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. “Even if we find a fossil, a DNA strand from another species, that would be absolutely staggering.”

Finding a marker of civilization 
 
As astrobiologists search for biosignatures in a planet’s atmosphere, they’ll now also be looking for a telltale indication of an advanced civilization: pollutants like those found in our own atmosphere. Astronomers will look for industrial pollutants such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the chemicals found in aerosols and refrigeration units, which have helped to eat a hole in Earth’s ozone layer. These chemicals aren’t known to occur in atmospheres naturally, so they would be a helpful indicator that an industrial civilization once existed on that planet—though because they take approximately 100,000 years to disappear, those aliens may long be extinct. The irony is that “aliens are often referred to as green little creatures,” says theoretical astrophysicist Avi Loeb, but “detectable CFC-rich civilizations would not be ‘green,’ since they are environmentally unfriendly.” 
++++++
(Well, this would be interesting. If global warming deniers don't believe in climate science, maybe they'd actually find a reason to like extra terrestrials, who could be environmentally unfriendly.)
 
Regardless of what kind of life is discovered in the universe, my prediction is the anti-science right wing extremists will behave just like their middle age predecessors, whenever the disclosure is affirmed. Any astrophysicist should think twice before claiming to be the first to proclaim the discovery of extra terrestrial life. Stephen Hawkings should worry less about the dangers of the extra terrestrials and more about those who will deny the discovery. Indeed, we might worry about the response from those who will claim the "life" discovery to be false.  
 
"We have met the enemy and it is us." (Pogo)

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Christian Alert - please live the Word on immigration

Immigration reform has been held up in the US Congress because Speaker John Boehner, who is a Roman Catholic, wouldn't allow an up or down floor vote. Here are a few Biblical references to help Speaker Boehner to understand his Christian heritage and motivagte his leadership responsibility.

Hebrews 13:2
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.


Matthew 25:35
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in...

Message from Sean Cardinal O'Malley of Boston:

Roman Catholics are called to welcome immigrants. Christian teaching notwithstanding, we're descendents of immigrants! 

Some recent coverage from the Boston Globe

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley is hailing the Obama administration’s decision not to deport young, law-abiding illegal immigrants who came here as children.

“This action by the President makes it possible for these young men and women, who have spent most of their lives in this country, to pursue education and employment opportunities and to make a contribution to American society,” O’Malley said in a statement issued today.

“The United States has historically welcomed immigrants from throughout the world, to improve their own lives and to contribute to the common good of our nation,” said O’Malley, who heads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.


President Obama’s declaration Friday granting temporary residency to the illegal immigrants received a joyful reception among the state’s immigrant community. 

The Obama administration on Friday granted immigrants brought to America before age 16 the right to apply for deferred action, meaning they will not be deported and can apply for work permits. To be eligible, immigrants must not have any serious criminal convictions and must be in school or have received a high school diploma or its equivalent. They cannot be over age 30.

The decision was hailed by some as a major advance for young people who did not choose to break the law, while critics said it would take jobs and college seats away from Americans, the Globe reported Saturday.


Blogger's note:  I'm confident President Obama would have preferred to expand this action to include even more immigrants, but he has been held back because of the threat of legal action by the Roman Catholic Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Roman Catholics and Christians of all denominations should applaud President Obama's executive action. We are called by our Christian teaching to extend Biblical teachings, about providing care to strangers, and give legal compassionate residency to all immigrants living in the United States.




 

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Sheik Muhammad al-Yaqoubi could be the Islam leader to transcend the extremists


Public Broadcasting Network (PBN) journalist Margaret Warner introduced Sheik Muhammad al-Yaquobi. In an interview, the well spoken religious leader spoke with Warner as the completely positive alternative to the horrific images of Islamic extremists, who are dressed in black, while heinously terrorizing innocent people, with evil random.
 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/syrian-cleric-led-funeral-prayers-peter-kassig-speaks-islamic-state-assad/
Americans rarely, if ever, see Islamic clerics who are well spoken and speaking about humanitarian issues. Instead, Islamic extremists on the media are men in black, bent on destruction of civilization as we know it. 

On the other hand, in a PBS interview with Warner, al-Yaquobi said the evil ISIS leader Baghdadi is going to to to hell. In other words, Muhammad al-Yaquobi condemned the ISIS extremist leader Baghdadi to eternal damnation. Moreover, al-Yaquobi called on other Muslims to rise against terrorism and Islamic extremism's murderous tactics.
 

Al-Yaquobi is a Syrian Muslim scholar. He was born May 7, 1963 in Damascus, Syria.  In 1991, he joined the PhD program of linguistics in the Oriental Studies Department of the University of Gothenburg. In Sweden, he worked as a researcher and teacher of Arabic literature. In 1999, the Swedish Islamic Society appointed him mufti of Sweden.

In 1992, he moved to England and completed the FCE, CAE, CCS, and CPE Cambridge courses in English within a year, before returning to Sweden where he continued his studies in Swedish.
Al-Yaqoubi has studied seven languages.

 In April 2011, he was one of the first Islamic scholars to support the Syrians in an uprising against the Assad government. Al-Yaqoubi demanded the resignation of the evil Syrian leader, President Bashar al-Assad.
 
Since the start of the Syrian uprising, al-Yaqoubi has campaigned internationally to provide humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees. In December 2012, he led a convoy for the delivery of vast quantities of food, baby food and blankets to displaced Syrians in Turkey.

After being exiled from Syria, he took part in a sustained international effort to provide aid for Syrian people. He has publicly urged the international community to “implement help immediately” and to “lift the siege” on Syria.


Al-Yaquobi has a sad personal story.  His father, who was his role model and mentor, died in 1985.  Both of his wives died within one year of each other.  He is the father of three children by his first wife, who died in an automobile accident in 2006, when she was five months pregnant.





Muhummad al-Yaqoubi led prayers at the memorial of assassinated humanitarian Peter Kessig, who was murdered by ISIS executioners.

Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, a prominent Syrian Sunni cleric and vocal critic of the Islamic State (ISIS), led prayers at the funeral of American beheading victim Peter Kassig. 

Chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner interviewed al-Yaqoubi, who as been exiled from Syria. 

Warner asked al_Yaqoubi about atrocities committed by the Islamic State, and asked him why the militant ISIS group is able to gain followers and the fight against the Assad regime.

Two months ago, al-Yaqoubi released an open letter to the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, telling him: “You have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder,” which he called a great wrong and an offense to Islam.  Sheik Muhammad al_Yaqoubi said ISIS carries hatred to the world, to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

About Assad, al-Yaqoubi said the Sryian president opted for violence and extreme use of power from the very early days of the Srian uprising. Moreover, Assad released from prison the most extremist Islamists, knowing that they would opt for carrying guns and fighting and revenge. So that's how the shape of the Syrian uprising changed from the beginning. It's how ISIS was able to recruit from among these extremists.  

MARGARET WARNER asked al-Yaqoubi about his declaration that al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed ruler of this Islamic State caliphate, was going to hell. "What do you mean," she asked?

SHEIK MUHAMMAD AL-YAQOUBI: al Baghdadi is against Islam. He’s non-Muslim, according to the Muslim standards, because he’s allowing people to kill Muslims, referring to the Book of Allah, wrongly using religious texts.

This is anti-Islamic. He’s going against God. He’s going against the message of Islam, Mohammed, peace be upon him. If he repents and come in a court and defend himself, he won’t have any one single verse of the Koran to defend his opinion in killing innocent people.

MARGARET WARNER: What will this hell look like?

SHEIK MUHAMMAD AL-YAQOUBI: For him?

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

SHEIK MUHAMMAD AL-YAQOUBI: Hell will — for him, God knows what type of punishment he’s going to receive for this savagery which has never been witnessed in modern history.You know, in Islam, we have never seen any group as extremist as this group. 


Warner's insightful interview with al-Yaqoubi was the most interesting I've ever watched with any Muslim cleric, especially when being questioned by a woman.  Al-Yaqoubi was engaging and seemed to be making eye contact with Warner. He didn't appear to be scripted or reticent about answering any of Warner's questions.

Al-Yaqoubi might be able to transcend the black robed Islamic terrorist images Americans have grown accustomed to seeing on television. Hopefully, we'll hear more inspiring interviews from this well spoken Islamic religious leader, especially if he motivates Muslims to fight against, rather than with, the evil ISIS.


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