Aug 25

They came from near and far, for many reasons. Some for opportunism, some for possibilities.

Over the past two weeks, many people descended on Ferguson, Missouri mostly, it seemed, to stoke the fires of resentment and divisiveness. Anger and hostility escalated. Finally, some calm has settled and reason seems to have broken out, and it deserves some keen attention.

Over the weekend, people who represented different sides of the racial battle/political debate began saying sort of the same things. Or maybe someone on one side would see that both sides actually agreed on what they wanted, though they were going about it so differently, that fundamental plea wasn’t being heard.

One moment I recall this being crystallized was when Dr. Ben Carson said on one of his many appearances on Fox News that he would welcome a discussion with Al Sharpton, who had been agitating all over the media from Ferguson for racial and social justice causes using the usual slogans, and Carson calmly said he would ask Sharpton ‘what is it that you want?’ That struck me as a good and direct potential encounter. ‘What do you want to happen? What solution are you looking for? What do you want?’

Meanwhile, I saw this piece on National Review Online and thought it reasonable and clarifying.

I’m always looking for areas where the Left and the Right can agree on a policy reform, even if it is for different reasons. One has emerged from the tragedy of Ferguson, Mo. In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting, many blamed some portion of the tension there on the striking racial gap between the police force, which is 94 percent white, and Ferguson’s African-American population, which makes up two-thirds of the city. Not only the police force but also the rest of the local power structure in Ferguson is dominated by whites.

Ferguson has seen enormous demographic change in the last 20 years, with the percentage of its black population growing from 25 percent to 67 percent. But five of its six city council members are still white, as is the mayor. The school board has six white members and one Hispanic.

One reason for the disparity is that, like many cities, Ferguson holds stand-alone elections for local offices in the spring of odd-numbered years when nothing else is on the ballot. Voter turnout is abysmal — 7 percent of black voters compared with 17 percent of white voters. By way of contrast, 54 percent of blacks and 55 percent of whites voted in the 2012 presidential election in Ferguson.

Existing power structures like this arrangement because it greatly favors incumbents, who can continue to dominate local bodies despite demographic change. Jeff Smith, a former Democratic state senator in Missouri who now teaches urban policy, writes that “overwhelmingly white-constituent unions (plumbers, pipe fitters, electrical workers, sprinkler fitters) have benefited from these arrangements” and that these unions operate potent voter-turnout machines that overwhelm black challengers. “The more municipal contracts an organization receives, the more generously it can fund reelection campaigns. Construction, waste, and other long-term contracts with private firms have traditionally excluded blacks from the ownership side, and, usually, the work force as well.”

Low voter turnout for off-year local elections is a problem nationwide. In Los Angeles, fewer than 12 percent of voters participated in the recent race for mayor. Policy reformers and racial minorities are among those hurt by the perpetuation of this incumbent-friendly status quo.

This is not a minor matter. It’s a major one. The disparity in representative government and positions of authority in the community that both are supposed to serve is a growing problem.

Liberals now have a reason to join conservatives in supporting a reformed election calendar. As Ian Millhiser of the liberal ThinkProgress website puts it: “Through a simple rescheduling measure, Ferguson’s black residents could permanently reshape their city’s electoral landscape so that its leaders are chosen by an electorate that more closely resembles Ferguson as a whole.”

Then on Sunday, on Fox News Sunday, Dr. Ben Carson had the chance for an encounter not with Al Sharpton, but his counterpart Jesse Jackson. I watched it, listened carefully, and was impressed with the power of persuasion of clarity with charity.

Chris Wallace pressed Jackson on his remarks that the shooting death was a “state execution.” Jackson said that the 18-year-old was shot six times and was unarmed.

But Wallace noted that reports say Brown was charging at the officer and may have hit him in the face.

“If we don’t know,” he asked, “why are we declaring a verdict?”

“It seems to me the police act as judge, jury and executioner,” Jackson said.

Carson stressed that the issues are much bigger and cannot be resolved in a short segment. Still, he said, “I’m not sure this is a police versus black community issue.”

Then an unexpected moment came, watch it if you can click on the exchange in the link.

Carson recalled his youth, during which he said he had anger issues and even tried to stab someone.

“If you take race out of the issue altogether and you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they’re very likely to end up as victims of violence or incarceration. It has nothing to do with race,” he said. However, he noted that there are problems with race in America – yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Jackson maintained that there is a race dimension to the story.

“It seems to me that when blacks kill whites – which is rare – it’s swift justice. When whites kill blacks, it’s rebellion. When it’s black on black, there’s shrug of the shoulder, a kind of permissiveness,” he said.

Carson said people must get involved in the process and start voting.

Which gets back to the good point John Fund made in NRO, cited above. That’s moving the ball forward, that’s getting social stagnation somewhere, pointing to the process of resolution of social problems.

Carson went on in this pivotal moment.

He also said that what changed him was that his mother made him read books, and he read about people of accomplishment.

“What I came to understand is that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life, it’s you. It’s not the environment and it’s not somebody else. […] we must re-instill the can-do attitude in America not the ‘what can you do for me’ what ‘have you done for me’ attitude,” Carson said.

He also wound up saying he believes that he and Jackson were, essentially, saying and wanting the same things. Which kindly and gently returned to the point Carson made, days before, about wanting to ask Al Sharpton what do you want to happen? In this exchange with Jackson, it sort of came out.

And then the funeral of Michael Brown brought together a lot of people calling for change, but calmly and reasonably. There were local residents, prominent celebrities, members of Congress, representatives of the White House, civil rights leaders.

And the often polarizing, agitating, angry and unreasonable Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy that surprised a lot of folks with its reasonableness and frankness.

After a demand for broad reforms in American policing, Sharpton changed course to address his black listeners directly. “We’ve got to be straight up in our community, too,” he said. “We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have got to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our disregard for each other, our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other, so that they’re justified in trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go.”

“Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug,” Sharpton continued. “Blackness was, no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow.”

Sharpton went on to describe blacks working to overcome discrimination, to build black colleges, to establish black churches, to succeed in life. “We never surrendered,” Sharpton said. “We never gave up. And now we get to the 21st century, we get to where we’ve got some positions of power. And you decide it ain’t black no more to be successful. Now, you want to be a n—– and call your woman a ‘ho.’ You’ve lost where you’re coming from.”

The cameras cut to director Spike Lee, on his feet applauding enthusiastically. So were Martin Luther King III, radio host Tom Joyner, and, judging by video coverage, pretty much everyone else in the church. They kept applauding when Sharpton accused some blacks of having “ghetto pity parties.” And they applauded more when Sharpton finally declared: “We’ve got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America!”

This was a different Al Sharpton. A new day. Not only a mention but a confrontation with problems blacks face but some refuse to face, and a calling out to everyone concerned to deal squarely with what’s wrong and what it would take to make it right.

I have addressed this time and again on radio, with respected authorities on social justice, inner city communities dealing with crime, violence, lack of educational resources, aid to families or barely subsisting relatives without intact families, legal experts, and heroic clergy and church organizations serving those communities. And will again this week.

Stay tuned.

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Aug 21

It worked, though maybe not as that murderous gang expected.

They wanted to cower the US into backing off the already limited air strikes, humanitarian relief drops and rescue missions of refugees from their brutality. Did the horror of beheading a captive American journalist intimidate the US into backing off those strikes, as intended? Did the president end his vacation and return to the White House to monitor all operations going forward? No. No to both questions.

First, the president’s press conference on the state of affairs after this intimidation tactic.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed the nation regarding the brutal slaying of an American journalist by Islamic State militants. After conducting that gruesome deed, James Wright Foley’s assassin warned the president that his organization planned to kill yet another American unless the West surrenders Iraq and Syria to the Islamic State’s inhuman designs.

Many of the words Obama deployed in his rhetorical front in the war against ISIS were quite nice and even refreshingly blunt. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” Obama said after a brief list of the atrocities committed by ISIS militants. “ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”

“People like this ultimately fail,” the president added. “They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”

History is, indeed, replete with examples of barbaric forces bent on delivering the world back into darkness. Some have failed. Some did not. Those that did fail did so because they were resisted by the armies of civilization. None of history’s dark crusades ever failed in a vacuum.

That’s a critical point. They don’t just ‘fail’. They are defeated.

Obama expressed how “heartbroken” he was at the murder of an American, and he pledged to “extract this cancer so that it does not spread.” But this metastatic tumor has already been allowed to spread. And, even in a fashion that maintained a sufficient level of operational secrecy, the president failed to inform the American people how he planned to excise it…

Where was the status update on the ongoing airstrikes against ISIS positions in the north of Iraq which, judging only from press accounts, appear to be relatively effective? Why did the president fail to address rumors that his administration was aware of the threats to Foley’s life prior to his execution, or that unconfirmed reports have suggested that his killer may have been a former Guantanamo detainee?

For that matter, why did the president not address the fact that a significant number of westerners are apparently fighting alongside ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and Foley’s executioner may have been one of these western jihadists? It is, again, perfectly understandable for the president to not want to get ahead of the facts of this still developing event, but Obama is set to chair as United Nations Security Council meeting in September which is focused entirely on that very threat. He has yet to publicly address this forthcoming UNSC meeting, and this incident would have been a perfect time to broach that subject.

Instead, he leaves it up to his surrogates and the media to inform the public about how this war is being prosecuted. The latest development, breaking just minutes after Obama spoke, is an apparent proposal administration officials are considering to send 300 additional troops to Iraq. Even members of Obama’s own party are now strongly suggesting that the president come to Congress with a request to legally authorize this application of force in Iraq. When does the president plan to speak honestly about the scope of American involvement in the Middle East?

British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his vacation to return to the urgent matters facing the West and the world with this extremist threat. He called the beheading of American journalist James Foley “shocking and depraved”, giving voice to the deeply rooted reactions of Westerners.

Look, this will all get analyzed and detailed to some extend in the days to come. I’m out of contact for the next couple of days myself, not for vacation but for personal matters. But an initial response must be swift and clear and strong. I hate that it ‘s always a ‘response’ these days, instead of a nation standing for freedom and protection and justice taking the lead in pro-actively leading the way on what the United Nations Charter called the ‘duty to protect.’

So for now, here are a couple of clear pieces of reporting and commentary that directly speak to what we’re confronting in Iraq.

Tod Worner was on my radio program the other day bringing his intellectual heft to the table about what we’re dealing with. And that was while we were dealing with inhumane atrocities unimaginable to the civilized mind, and before the video recorded beheading of an American journalist. Here’s an upshot.

ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria, or the Islamic State in Iraq & the Levant (ISIL), or simply the Islamic State - hereafter called ISIS] is the most ruthless, brazen jihadist army the world may have ever seen. For further description, please see my previous posts here, here, and here. Khaled Sharrouf found ISIS compelling enough to leave Australia with his family to arrive in Syria and partake in particularly vicious bloodletting in the name of jihad and the cause of re-establishing the worldwide Islamic Caliphate. With a large cache of money and weaponry at their disposal, ISIS has unleashed a lightning speed butchery in Iraq and Syria unprecedented in scope, fury, and success (with the closest comparison being the 1940-41 National Socialist onslaught in Western Europe and against the Soviet Union). And their achievements are difficult to ignore.

Well over one million refugees have fled their homes and cities fearing certain death if they refused conversion to Islam. Thousands have been tortured, raped and murdered via gruesome means including beheadings, crucifixions, stonings and mass shootings. The culture being erected includes women and girls sold into sex slavery, female genital mutilation, and draconian rules outlawing tobacco, alcohol, and revealing attire. Absolute and fierce adherence to ISIS’ vision of Islam is the unbending law and a hair’s deviation earns pitiless punishment. And this is all being enacted by a group that is awash with money, oil reserves, territory, weapons and a rabid following.

Now the point of this post is not simply to reiterate the unparalleled viciousness unfolding before our eyes day after bloody day in Iraq and Syria – though this, unquestionably, would be reason enough. Rather it is to call attention to a crisis that is being forgotten or, more likely, conveniently ignored: The Crisis of Moral Relativism in the face of Naked Evil…

In the post-modern world, we have been led to believe that truth is relative to person, place, time and culture. This notion has led many to approach different faiths, cultures, nations and people with the exalted virtues of open-mindedness and tolerance…

With all relative and nothing absolute, there is no standard. There is no right or wrong, fair or unfair, good or evil – just gentlemanly differences of opinion. But in the end, absent a guide such as right, wrong, fair, unfair…what will guide the direction a person, a culture, or a society goes in? Power. So the unholy alliance in a morally relative world is between aggressive entities ruthlessly executing their will and their passive observers falling all over themselves asking “Who are we to judge?”….

Perhaps, then, we can agree on something. Perhaps we can agree that what ISIS is doing is…wrong? And is it possible, just possible, that we may find ourselves naming their untethered sadism…evil? You see, once we have moved from a cozy, theoretical, dispassionate, anthropologic interest in a human affair to a true understanding of what is happening, we find ourselves stirred by a deeper sense of inviolable (perhaps, even sacred) human dignity and justice. We have moved from the realm where all truth and morality is relative…to the realm where there is an absolute standard of truth and morality (where human life is dignified, ought to be respected and the violation of this dignity demands justice be served).

By calling the actions of ISIS unacceptable, we have shattered relativism for all time. Because we have invoked an absolute standard: Right and Wrong. How novel that we live in a world where this should be controversial? As Winston Churchill once said,

“It is an important thing to diagnose the evil…”

Yes. Indeed.

But first we must believe in evil.

And that’s where the other piece comes in, from the engaged and exercised and vocal and exquisitely spot on Elizabeth Scalia, who feels the pain and conveys it in a way we can feel.

Look at how she honored the life and death of James Foley, and his witness to the ‘subversive freedom of prayer‘.

A great deal has been written about the late James Foley, his beheading at the hands of a barbarous Islamic State: the moving response from this band of Syrians, the Jesuit education which, along with the example of his family kept him grounded in his faith; his own words on the power of prayer, written in previous captivity.

The story is tragic and infuriating — every bit as nation-stirring as the similar murder of Daniel Pearl, all those years ago, when bloody “war on terror” was still in its official infancy, though in truth, we have been trailing these tears and stains for many decades, now.

But I keep coming back to Foley’s own words on prayer, and how it sustained him:

It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.

It’s something we’ve talked about a lot on this blog, but it bears repeating: prayer is a subversive means of freedom, at once consoling, engaging and efficacious throughout time and space. It has power, and that power holds, when everything else falls apart.

ISIL got the attention of the US and the Western World. That’s what it wanted. What comes next, God willing, is beyond their reach and grasp.

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Aug 18

Or another flash in the pan soon to be extinguished and forgotten?

So let’s parse that a bit further. If the sudden eruption of active protests, the descent of countless media crews, days and days of street demonstrations both peaceful and angry by both locals and outsiders, on the streets of Ferguson Missouri have collectively inflamed a national debate after the police action resulting in the shooting death of an 18 year old young black man, is it a confrontation with racism seething beneath the surface of our society still? Or is it something deeper? And if that, then what is it about, at root?

On the surface, a lot of news reporting has covered it as racial tension erupting yet again though ever present in communities like Ferguson, emblematic of small towns and communities and inner city neighborhoods across the country. I’ve been watching, listening, reading, following and closely considering it all as it has grown over the past week or more and especially as it’s developed into a national spectacle and standoff between angry citizens and their sympathizers on one side and law enforcement and state authorities on the other. Though everyone turning up in Ferguson doesn’t neatly fall into one of those categories, especially the whole media class adding to the confluence of events devolving there by the day and especially, at night. Every night but one, since it all began.

My default mode is the question ‘What’s the truth?’ And furthermore: ‘Who did what and why? What’s happening right now as a consequence? And who is authoritative enough to answer these questions honestly?’

There are layers of answers, and it will take a while to peel them off.

Here are two articles that capture some of that complexity.

NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote this for Time online, asserting that it’s not ultimately about race as much as social inequality.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)…

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor…

That’s a statement worth exploring further, as most everything he says here is. Exploring at book length, frankly, because race and class warfare keeps flaring up in these flash points before settling back into an uneasy and dysfunctional coexistence, without addressing essential causes for social breakdown and advancing remedies.

And so it continues:

The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

Exactly. My thoughts exactly a couple of years ago when a protest was organized in Chicago as an outcry against violence on the streets with homicides hitting new levels and young people killing young people and anybody caught in the crossfire of random shootings, including innocent little children. This is my town, and the politicians who have run it for so long are people in high places with power and influence, and where are they when these protests are held? Speaker after speaker takes the podium and calls out for help and resolution, community leaders deploring the violence and despair in their neighborhoods and working by all means to aid and protect the people they serve.

Church leaders across different faiths, denominations and congregations are working in coalition to build up those communities, provide services, safety, education, a way out of despair and violence. But where are the politicians?

That gets to the other article, one that addresses questions I’ve been asking. NRO’s Kevin Williamson asks ‘Who Lost the Cities?’

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is, to the surprise of all thinking people, right about something: “A spark has exploded,” he said, referring to the protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo. “When you look at what sparked riots in the Sixties, it has always been some combination of poverty, which was the fuel, and then some oppressive police tactic. It was the same in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles. It’s symptomatic of a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression, seen in Chicago.”

A question for the Reverend Jackson: Who has been running the show in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, and in Los Angeles for a great long while now? The answer is: People who see the world in much the same way as does the Reverend Jackson, who take the same view of government, who support the same policies, and who suffer from the same biases.

…the more important and more fundamental question here is one of philosophy and policy. Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — and Philadelphia, Cleveland, and a dozen or more other cities — have a great deal in common: They are the places in which the progressive vision of government has reached its fullest expressions. They are the hopeless reality that results from wishful thinking.

Ferguson was hardly a happy suburban garden spot until the shooting of Michael Brown. Ferguson is about two-thirds black, and 28 percent of those black residents live below the poverty line. The median income is well below the Missouri average, and Missouri is hardly the nation’s runaway leader in economic matters. More than 60 percent of the births in the city of St. Louis (and about 40 percent in St. Louis County) are out of wedlock.

My reporting over the past few years has taken me to Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and the nearby community of East St. Louis, Ill., Philadelphia, Detroit, Stockton, San Francisco, and a great many other cities, and the Reverend Jackson is undoubtedly correct in identifying “a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression.” He neglects to point out that he is an important enabler of it.

This gets to core, root problems causing social dysfunction and the breakdown of societies basic foundation.

For years, our major cities were undermined by a confluence of four unhappy factors: 1. higher taxes; 2. defective schools; 3. crime; 4. declining economic opportunity. Together, these weighed much more heavily upon the middle class than upon the very wealthy and the very poor.

Though they weigh heavily upon the poor, and more of them are giving up on ‘the system’ they believed would take care of them, especially for the past many years.

Progressives spent a generation imposing taxes and other expenses on urban populations as though the taxpaying middle class would not relocate…They imposed policies that disincentivized stable family arrangements as though doing so would have no social cost.

And they did so while adhering to a political philosophy that holds that the state, not the family or the market, is the central actor in our lives, that the interests of private parties — be they taxpayers or businesses — can and indeed must be subordinated to the state’s interests, as though individuals and families were nothing more than gears in the great machine of politics. The philosophy of abusive eminent domain, government monopolies, and opportunistic taxation is also the philosophy of police brutality, the repression of free speech and other constitutional rights, and economic despair…When life is reduced to the terms in which it is lived in the poorest and most neglected parts of Chicago or Detroit, the welfare state is the police state. Why should we expect the agents of the government who carry guns and badges to be in general better behaved than those at the IRS or the National Labor Relations Board? We have city councils that conduct their affairs in convenient secrecy and put their own interests above those of the communities that they allege to serve, and yet we naïvely think that when that self-serving process is used to hire a police commissioner or to organize a police department, then we’ll get saints and Einsteins out of all that muck.

There’s convergence here between Williamson and Abdul-Jabbar, actually.

Our cities need economic growth and opportunity, functional education systems, and physical security.

Unless the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Jeremiah Wright, mayors and governors and former Chicago South Side community organizer Barack Obama  listen to the Reverends in the inner city churches taking care of the people most in need, knowing them by name, providing through their charities for the fatherless children who need classrooms and school books, doing outreach to the angry young men who have given up looking for jobs, Ferguson will fade from the front pages without causing social change. And meanwhile, Chicago’s shootings and those in Detroit and New York and other US cities will continue to be statistics.

The president says he is watching closely. So are we.

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Aug 14

What is its strategic goal?’ Does the president yet have one?

So asks the BBC, among other news outlets and voices in media punditry. It sounds trite, the ‘economy of the media’ in some ways. Because it’s a large, historic, confrontation with evil. But since that has to be carried out by world leaders, beyond the real ‘shoes on the ground’ of the heroic relief organizations who have been there far longer than the media have been paying attention, this is how the story is being reported.

All three of President Barack Obama’s predecessors in the White House were involved in one way or another with military conflicts in Iraq. Now, having set out his stall as the president who would end Washington’s foreign interventions, Mr Obama has a new Iraqi conflict of his own.

True, for now, the US role seems limited and circumscribed. Mr Obama has made it clear that it is up to the Iraqis to do the fighting. There will be no US “boots on the ground”, at least in terms of combat troops.

A further 130-strong US assessment team of military advisers has been despatched to Irbil – in addition to the US trainers and liaison people who are already there. But the aim is to bolster the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to enable them to hold the line against the advancing Islamic State (IS) tide.

The humanitarian crisis afflicting Iraqi minorities – the Christians and the ancient Kurdish Yazidi sect – has formed the ostensible reason for American involvement. Accordingly the US action has been as much humanitarian as military.

Indeed the number of actual air strikes on IS vehicles and positions has been small – enough to send a clear warning that an advance on Irbil would bring much heavier US action.

For now, at least on this front, the US demonstration may have contained the pressure on the Peshmerga, though it has clearly done nothing to put the IS advance into reverse.

Fanned by factionalism
This, then, raises the most fundamental question about Mr Obama’s war: what is its strategic goal?

Is it to try to defeat IS – a group that holds a huge swathe of territory in both Syria and Iraq and one that is already being hailed as the next great strategic threat to the region and beyond ?

If so, then according to Mr Obama’s critics, US action has been both too little and too late.

But there are significant constraints on US action and Mr Obama’s caution may indeed be well advised.

The message coming from Washington is that Iraqis must do the heavy lifting here themselves.

This is complicated, but the president waited a long time to say or do anything, and then only when the Yazidis cried for help from the Sinjar mountaintop did this administration respond. Democratic pundit Kirsten Powers takes issue with that.

It wasn’t until Aug. 5 that the administration acknowledged the crisis in Iraq. It was done in the form of a statement, condemning attacks on religious minorities, by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

By last Thursday, the largely Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh had fallen to the Islamic State.

Finally, later that night — and two full months after the crisis began — President Obama announced airstrikes in Iraq and for the first time acknowledged that Christians are being driven from the homeland of their faith. But the Christians garnered a passing mention, while the religious minority of Yazidis seems to be what moved the president to act.

An Iraqi Christian leader lamented to me that his people would have to convert to get the administration’s attention.

Homeless Christians

The Yazidis deserve protection and humanitarian aid, but so do the Christians who number in the hundreds of thousands in Iraq. While the Yazidis received air drops of food and water, nothing has been dropped to the Christians who are homeless and in dire need of food and water. Each day that passes is a matter of life and death.

Powers has been an Obama defender on many issues over the years of his two terms of administration. And though humanitarian crises should never be politicized, they are de facto in today’s world.

To world powers that are engaged (and many are not), political realities determine what else might be done.

The danger is that it will be the IS actions that determine the pace and scale of US intervention.

Mr Obama must also contend with the broader strategic picture.

IS is a transnational organisation in the sense that it is fighting in both Iraq and Syria. Indeed the geographical ambitions of its caliphate may be even broader. It has taken on the Lebanese army in the border region and potentially threatens Jordan too.

The US needs to establish a broader coalition in the region to contain the IS advance.

And in this light it cannot avoid thinking again about Syria.

Syria, after all, provided the launch pad for IS. And the failure to halt its growth there meant that it was able to export its violence across the border into Iraq.

Whatever the political realities, it prompted the US and UK governments to declare, suddenly, that the relief mission was over.

Christian leaders don’t see it that way. The Vatican has been outspoken on the need to meet this catastrophic crisis with international intervention. This document clearly enumerates the consequences.

This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions, and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity..

No cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity. This constitutes an extremely serious offense to humanity and to God who is the Creator, as Pope Francis has often reminded us. We cannot forget, however, that Christians and Muslims have lived together – it is true with ups and downs – over the centuries, building a culture of peaceful coexistence and civilization of which they are proud. Moreover, it is on this basis that, in recent years, dialogue between Christians and Muslims has continued and intensified.

The dramatic plight of Christians, Yezidis and other religious communities and ethnic minorities in Iraq requires a clear and courageous stance on the part of religious leaders, especially Muslims, as well as those engaged in interreligious dialogue and all people of good will. All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and in denouncing the use of religion to justify them. If not, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?

Religious leaders are also called to exercise their influence with the authorities to end these crimes, to punish those who commit them and to reestablish the rule of law throughout the land, ensuring the return home of those who have been displaced. While recalling the need for an ethical management of human societies, these same religious leaders must not fail to stress that the support, funding and arming of terrorism is morally reprehensible.

That said, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is grateful to all those who have already raised their voices to denounce terrorism, especially that which uses religion to justify it.

Let us therefore unite our voices with that of Pope Francis: “May the God of peace stir up in each one of us a genuine desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is never defeated by violence. Violence is defeated by peace. “

Francis urged the United Nations to intervene. It’s a reminder of the duty to protect stated in the UN’s founding Charter.

The Catholic Church for millennia has taught that war must be a last resort to resolve problems. But it continues to recognize the right of people to defend themselves and, particularly since the pontificate of St. John Paul II, the church has taught that the international community has an obligation to intervene — with force, if necessary — to defend the lives of innocent people at risk of genocide.

“When all other means have been exhausted, to save human beings the international community must act. This can include disarming the aggressor,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

The duty to defend the innocent explains how Pope Francis can appeal for peace and, at the same time, his representative in Baghdad can welcome President Barack Obama’s decision to begin using military force against Islamic State positions in northeastern Iraq in early August.

Asked about the U.S. military airstrikes, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, told Vatican Radio Aug. 11, “This is something that had to be done, otherwise (the Islamic State) could not be stopped.”

The Islamic State, defined as a terrorist group by the international community and by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has captured a wide swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, torturing and massacring civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands of people — particularly Christians, Yezidi and other minorities — from their homes.

Given the brutality of the terrorists, Archbishop Lingua’s comments were in line with papal statements and Catholic social teaching.

CNEWA, one of the many organizations doing the best on the ground relief operation at the local level, everywhere Christian and minority communities are threatened, reports that some Muslim leaders are speaking out against these crimes as well.

Faced with the unrelenting reports about the sufferings of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, even Christians who are friendly toward Muslims can be perplexed and ask, “Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against these atrocities?” The answer is: Muslims have been speaking out in the strongest terms, condemning the crimes against humanity committed by ISIS (or, as it is increasingly called, IS) and others in the name of Islam.

So, why do we not hear more of this?

The first reason is because Islam is not a structurally centralized religion. Unlike, for example, Catholicism, there is no one person or institution that can speak with authority for all Sunnis or even all Shiites — to say nothing of speaking for all Muslims around the world.

The second reason is that there is a huge number of newspapers in Muslim countries throughout the world. Many, if not most, of these newspapers appear in languages unfamiliar to people in the West. Sometimes, it is not a question of Muslims speaking out, but of others just not hearing. Often, the “not hearing” happens because people do not have access to sources or just do not speak the same language. But the voices are out there. And an important media monitoring group has turned up the volume, to make sure more hear them.

MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute), which could never be accused of being apologetic to Islam or Muslims, has just published a “Special Dispatch,” in which it gives a platform to several significant editorials written by Muslims in important Middle Eastern newspapers — condemning the atrocities taking place in Syria and Iraq in no uncertain terms.

I’ve spoken with scholars waiting to hear this, and it’s good news that people of intellect and good will agree on how to live together with civil, respectful and humane treatment of each other.

Meanwhile, Princeton Professor Robert George is not waiting on the sidelines to see what happens. He has issued a plea on behalf of victims of barbarism in Iraq, and launched a campaign to join high level and grassroots voices to speak with the strength of numbers and influence and intent to help those in harm’s way.

Here’s the distinct site to sign on and join your voice to the plea for humanitarian relief.

President Obama was right to order airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL to stop its advance on key cities, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing their assaults. Much more needs to be done, however, and there is no time to waste.

We, the undersigned, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are conservatives, liberals, and moderates. We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief. None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force. Where non-military means of resolving disputes and protecting human rights are available, we always and strongly favor those means. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such means will not be capable of protecting the victims of the genocide already unfolding at the hands of ISIS/ISIL. That is why Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch Sako has requested military intervention.

Therefore we call upon the United States and the international community to do everything necessary to empower local forces fighting ISIS/ISIL in Iraq to protect their people. No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table. We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in ISIS/ISIL’s path. Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.

We call upon President Obama and the Congress of the United States to expand airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL with a view to eroding its military power, and to provide full air support for Kurdish and other forces fighting against ISIS/ISIL. Further, we endorse the Washington Post’s call for the United States to provide arms, ammunition, and equipment to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and others who are currently hampered in their ability to fight ISIS/ISIL by a lack of sophisticated weapons and other resources. The U.S. should also assist with intelligence. We are hopeful that local forces, with adequate support and assistance from the U.S. and the international community, can defeat ISIS/ISIL.

The expansion of humanitarian aid to the displaced and fleeing is also urgent. Local churches and aid agencies are overwhelmed, and we have grave concerns about how these victims of violent religious persecution will be cared for this winter. The U.S. can and should take the lead in providing food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies.

We must be mindful that in addition to stopping the genocide, the U.S. and Europe have very concrete interests in disabling ISIS/ISIL. As the Washington Post has warned:

“The Islamic State forces, which have captured large numbers of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons, threaten not only the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. With hundreds of Western recruits, they have the ambition and capability to launch attacks against targets in Europe and the United States.”

It is also worth bearing in mind that our own nation is not without responsibility for the plight of victims of ISIS/ISIL genocide. What is happening to these people now, and the further threats they face, would not be happening but for errors and failures of our nation’s own in Iraq. This can and should be acknowledged by all, despite disagreements we may have among ourselves as to precisely what these errors and failures were, and which political and military leaders are mainly responsible for them. The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the ISIL/ISIS campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.

So well written. So let it be done.

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Aug 13

Barbarism has returned in a supposedly civilized world. What can we do?

How do you dialogue with a fanatic,” asks an Iraqi Patriarch in the middle of insane violence.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako says he is working with the government of Iraq to bring Christian refugees to Baghdad.

The majority of Christians who have been driven from villages and towns in the Plain of Nineveh are living in dangerous conditions, in makeshift facilities that are now overflowing. In the Iraqi capital, there would be greater care in terms of hygiene, medical care and personal safety.

The Patriarch is also convinced that the American airstrikes are not enough to stop the pressure and advance of ISIS troops.

Here’s part of the fuller interview with Aleteia.org.

Is it true that ISIS militants are asking Christians to pay a tax in order to save their lives and are likewise abducting women and taking them as their wives?

These two reports are true. Christian women have been abducted, and taxes have been demanded. In particular, these Islamic fanatics ask Christians for money to allow them to return to their homes. But the Christians don’t trust them. They are people who continually change their minds: they are unreliable. Perhaps today a Christian pays, returns home to stay there in peace, and tomorrow the militants attack him again, and one never knows what the consequences will be.

The government in Baghdad has accused ISIS Sunni jihadists of having thrown hundreds of Yazidis into mass graves, including women and children who were still alive. What can can you tell us about this?

What you’ve heard happened to the Yazidis is true. More than a thousand women have been kidnapped. A great many children are dead. The people have neither food nor water and they feel cut off from the world. They don’t know where to go or what to do.

In speaking about the crisis in Iraq, Archbishop Sivano Maria Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, has said that “military action at this time is needed.” What do you think about US military intervention?

Partial strikes are not enough. The solution to the crisis needs a broader agreement, with the involvement of the Kurdish government and the Iraqi central government. Without an overall strategy, the dream of seeing the people return to their homes will not happen.

And then this:

In your opinion, what will we see happen in the days to come?

I fear that the situation is worsening. There is a problem with the refugees and the humanitarian emergency, and another problem with the political order. For now I don’t see any prospects. The whole world must mobilize itself for the situation in Iraq; otherwise, a stable and permanent situation, in my opinion, will permanently slip away.

The Telegraph is reporting this dire situation, which is merely reporting the truth on the ground there.

The last day of Qaraqosh’s time as a Christian town, a time almost as old as Christianity itself, began with a mortar shell at nine in the morning.

It came through the roof of Melad and Marven Abdullah’s house on Wednesday, killing them instantly. Melad was nine; his cousin, Marven, four. The mortar struck Marven in the head as it landed. They found his arms and feet, crushed against the wall, but nothing else.

The family’s next-door neighbour, Enam Eshoo, had popped in to deliver some fresh drinking water; she too died where she fell.

The day ended with an order to evacuate. Within a couple of hours, the city’s tens of thousands of inhabitants were crowding the road to Kurdistan, fighting with troops manning checkpoints, trying to find shelter where they could.

The streets of the capital Erbil’s newly Christian suburb, Ainkawa, swelled by exiles from ten years of punishing terror and oppression in northern Iraq, are now full of stunned and helpless people. They are camping on the floors of church halls, in a building site, in the street. An old woman was sleeping in a flower bed. Another begged for help.

“Please take me home,” the woman, Azat Mansur, said. It was not clear what she meant by “home”; it sounded more spiritual than real, since her home is now under the control of the jihadists of the Islamic State.

“I can’t stay here any more, or anywhere else. They are going to kill us. They will cut our heads off, if we stay here.”

There is great fear that the advance of the jihadists of the Islamic State is not over, that even Erbil is not safe, two days after the jihadists advanced to within 30 miles.

Mrs Mansur knows them directly, having fled their June advance into Mosul, from where she and all the other Christians were expelled. The jihadists stole $2,000 and her mobile phone at a checkpoint before they let her go, she added…

Qaraqosh is, or was, the largest of a triangle of Christian towns north and east of Mosul, in fact the largest Christian town in Iraq.

It has been Christian since the earliest years of the faith.

Islamic State, the ultra-jihadist al-Qaeda off-shoot that now controls large parts of the country, first tried to attack in late June, after its sweep through Sunni areas of the north and west.

In that case, they were beaten back, or at least did not press their assault. It seemed for a while as if their forces were stretched thinly, bolstered by their allies in the primarily Sunni tribes of western Iraq but not able to reach into areas where those tribes had no interest, such as Kurdish or Christian regions. The promised attack on Baghdad never materialised, either.

But that assessment was wrong. In the last three weeks, IS has made substantial gains in both Syria and against the Kurds, seizing 17 towns in the last week alone, according to their own account, and Mosul Dam, the country’s largest.

Last weekend, they sent the entire population of another beleaguered minority, the Yazidis, into flight north-west of Mosul. Thousands are still camped out on a mountainside, surrounded, starving and awaiting some form of deliverance.

The residents of Qaraqosh had feared they were next in line, but even so, events happened faster than they expected.

Mr Abdullah, a member of the local home guard, was on duty when the mortar hit on Wednesday morning. “There was blood and flesh on the ground,” he said, as he stood in the gardens of St Joseph’s Cathedral in Ainkawa, a church of the Chaldean Catholics, one of Iraq’s patchwork of sects. He himself, like most in Qaraqosh, is from the Assyrian Catholic church.

Alongside Marven and Melad, who was killed by shrapnel in the head and chest, Anas, Mr Abdullah’s seven-year-old younger son, was also seriously injured.
The mortars landed all Wednesday, and families began to pack up and leave. The Abdullah family and the relatives of Enam Eshoo stayed on for the funeral, which was held in the Church of the Virgin Mary at 5pm.

There has been a church on the site since the earliest years; it was mentioned by travellers in the 12 Century.

Not long after the funeral, a mortar landed outside the church’s front gate.

Shortly after that again, a ticker tape notice on the satellite news channels flashed a warning, said one resident, Wissam Isaac. Mr Isaac worked at a Qaraqosh primary school, teaching the local Syriac language, derived from Aramaic, the language of Christ.

The ticker said the Kurdish army, the Peshmerga, on whom the residents had been relying for their defence, was withdrawing.

“Before this time, no-one really thought we would have to leave,” he said. “We trusted the Peshmerga. They said they would save us. They stayed in our houses. We can’t believe this has happened.”

No one can.

Today, ethnic cleansing has a feeling of permanence.

“Without our homeland, we face extinction as a people,” said Mardean Isaac, a British-Assyrian writer. “We are watching our last chance for survival disappear.”

Sitting on the floor of an Ainkawa church hall, watched over by a statue of the Virgin Mary, Bassma Yousef said she could barely find milk for her 20-day-old baby, Mervy, let alone food for the rest of her family. The thousands of people here are eager for hand-outs from aid organisations, the United Nations, or anyone who can help them, before they leave and move on, as they feel they must.

They are less interested in the two bombs that Washington finally dropped on the Islamic State on Friday, regarding them as too little, too late.

So American scholars and other leaders have launched a desperate relief effort, and anyone can sign on to help.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS/ISIL) is conducting a campaign of genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and others in Iraq. In its fanatical effort to establish a caliphate, ISIS/ISIL has engaged in crimes against humanity by deliberately causing mass starvation and dehydration, and by committing unconscionable acts of barbarism against noncombatants, including defenseless women, children, and elderly persons.

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS/ISIL genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities…

President Obama was right to order airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL to stop its advance on key cities, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing their assaults. Much more needs to be done, however, and there is no time to waste.

We, the undersigned, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are conservatives, liberals, and moderates. We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief. None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force. Where non-military means of resolving disputes and protecting human rights are available, we always and strongly favor those means. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such means will not be capable of protecting the victims of the genocide already unfolding at the hands of ISIS/ISIL.

Read the whole thing and sign on if you agree. If not, at least be increasingly aware of what’s going on.

What is happening to these people now, and the further threats they face, would not be happening but for errors and failures of our nation’s own in Iraq.  This can and should be acknowledged by all, despite disagreements we may have among ourselves as to precisely what these errors and failures were, and which political and military leaders are mainly responsible for them. The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the ISIL/ISIS campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.

So help us God, to do what is within our power.

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Aug 12

How fitting a legacy that would be for a genius at comic relief.

This is the third time in recent weeks that I’ve been startled by a confrontation with depression, mental illness, or emotional distress that wrought  havoc or brought death before such suffering could be successfully treated. And those were only three high profile cases that are emblematic of countless others, especially people on the margins of society with no one particularly paying attention to them.

With no other thread than that, here are my encounters, and each one had impact.

The July 7th issue of ESPN magazine featured an article titled ‘The Pursuit of Radical Acceptance.’ It was about Chicago Bears’ Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and his struggle with ‘borderline personality disorder’, a mental health condition so little understood or talked about that Marshall made it his mission to “make an off-limits subject commonplace.”

He’s reaching out to players who might need help, teaming with mental health organizations through his charity and raising awareness and cash for early-detection programs.

“Where we are now is where the HIV community was 25 years ago,” he says. “We can raise all the money in the world, but people might not go get help. They’re still going to see it as a taboo topic. So it’s important for us to get the conversation started.”

Mental health issues can’t be taboo. They still are though, which is why so much of the population, including high profile celebrities, suffer in silence or within a small circle of closest family and friends. This must change.

Over the years, I recall several cases of prominent professionals whose grown children had ended their own lives, and couldn’t imagine the dreadful horror of such an experience nor how one could live through it. Once you’re a parent, you just know that’s the worse thing that could happen. And it happens to anyone, even the unlikeliest of people and families.

Like beloved Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, American’s Pastor as many people see him, who couldn’t save the life of his own son. I encountered that story again over the weekend in a poignant interview with Raymond Arroyo in ‘The World Over’ on the EWTN network. It covered Pastor Warren’s initiative, ‘A Gathering On Mental Health and the Church’, and the tragic event that inspired him to focus on the issue of mental health, the death of his own son. It’s heart wrenching beyond words to see these parents go out publicly trying to save others from such unspeakable tragedy.

But the hope of saving them is greater if they can be reached, and going back to Brandon Marshall’s point of his mission, mental health is still a taboo subject, so people won’t talk about it the way they will about any range of other health issues for which there’s a support community and charitable organizations championing the cause. Again, that must change.

Now, for the third time in as many weeks, the tragedy of mental despair unresolved and maybe largely unaddressed has hit us all, like a sucker punch that knocked the wind out of everyone. New media preempted coverage of the crisis in Iraq, the Israel-Hamas war, the brink of war between Russia and Ukraine, and other major breaking and developing news stories, for blanket coverage of the suicide of Robin Williams. How terribly tragic.

The articles and television videos and remembrances are so vast, let them celebrate this one man’s life and life’s work that elevated the hearts and minds and spirits of countless people while his own were sinking into darkness. Here are only a couple I’d like to point out.

Friend Elizabeth Scalia posted this on the ‘Murderous Mendacity of Depression.”

Depression is a hissing false witness. It lies and tells someone there is no hope; it lies and declares, “you’re a fraud”; it lies when it warns you to hide your feelings, because people won’t love you if they know how terrified and alone and desperate you feel; it lies and sneers that you’re weak — that you can just snap out of it, anytime, if you really want to; it croons the lie that love is not real, and hope is for suckers; it whispers the most insidious of lies: that your pain will never ebb, cannot be transcended, and has no value at all.

After a while, the pain begins to feel like all you are and all there is: a worthless, pointless void. And when your life becomes just pain-without-end, suffering-without-meaning, tomorrow seems like less a promise than a prison.

When depression wins, it is such a damned tragedy, no matter whether it has carried off a big rich somebody, or an ordinary nobody, because it is the victory of an incessant liar.

Biblically, that refers to ‘the Accuser, who stands night and day accusing incessantly until you hear and start believing that voice, which is the voice of a liar. Who doesn’t hear that voice? But who has moral and mental and spiritual support behind them and who doesn’t? That’s so key to making this a subject and condition to talk about in the mainstream public discussion of health.

My friend Kathryn Lopez posted this poignant piece on her blog, refreshingly innocent and yet deeply knowing about the human condition.

What if every person of faith who ever laughed at a Robin Williams joke, prayed for him? And every day it happened? Could this be a new way for us to live?

On Sunday night I turned on Dead Poets Society, the 1989 movie where Robin Williams, teaching his students poetry, famously encourages them to give a nod to Walt Whitman and go ahead and address him as “O Captain, my Captain.”

I remember watching Dead Poets Society when it first came out and being so taken with the pain of a young man who lost all hope.

Young men, we pray, grow up to be men. And even then … the burdens of pain may grow, despite success.

God help them, God heal them from the pain of what they believe about themselves.

We see talent, they can’t see past fear.

Sunday night, I had turned on the TV to see if anyone was doing anything different given the Christian extermination — and then-some — in Iraq. Not really. So after a quick journey into the center of the Teen Choice Awards, I stopped inside a classroom with Robin Williams, a movie I hadn’t seen in years. The daughter of teachers -– and a schoolgirl who quite liked being a student — I remembered how grateful I was a teacher was portrayed in a good light.

I didn’t watch much of Dead Poets Society Sunday night but I felt prompted to pray for Robin Williams Sunday night. Perhaps simply in thanksgiving. Perhaps because we are — all the baptized — are the body of Christ, and I was called to hear a cry for help from a brother.

Perhaps because he needed prayers and God wanted me receptive to this, interceding for his pain. God looks out for His Creation and relies on His adopted sons and daughters to do the work of His graces, living sacramental lives as the Body of Christ.

I only prayed briefly for him.

What a world it might be if, every time someone made us laugh or otherwise entertained or informed us, we prayed for him? What if we always prayed in thanksgiving and with the knowledge that we don’t know what lies beneath? Anyone who followed Williams’ career knew he had his struggles. We often don’t know. But it’s so often there — no matter how clever or talented. We’re only human.

We must pray. And be alert — looking and listening for opportunities and promptings. Our lives must be ones of prayer and we must set aside time and plead with God on behalf of those who suffer most. In front of us and a world away.

To say “we must pray” is so counter-cultural, and yet Kathryn Lopez is an editor-at-large of a national secular news organization out of DC and New York who regularly blends the secular and the sacred, faith and life, God and man, applying eternal truths to cultural relativism. She does it so well.

One of the Patheos bloggers posted an interesting piece on the saints who suffered from depression.

With this topic very much in the news today, it seems a good time to remember that even the holiest of people have suffered from periods of despair.

It’s a comfort of sorts, a relief for those willing to engage it, and a resource for hope.

Pray if you will or don’t if you won’t. Kathryn Lopez and Deadon Kandra  just make a suggestion and a very good one for those who see the merit and the power of prayer. God only knows what a difference it may have made for Robin Williams.

And all the other individuals out there whose names we don’t know who are suffering as he did. God willing, it may save their lives.

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Aug 07

It’s about time.

Atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities have been perpetrated for months and have grown more ferocious and dire in recent weeks. Then overnight, the horrific account of the Yazidis running for their lives and stranded on a desolate mountain in Kurdistan finally got the world’s attention, those elite media and world leaders who were saying and doing next to nothing or nothing until now.

Elizbabeth Scalia has used her megaphone and all social networking media to call attention to the problem and point to possible avenues of relief. Take a look at just that handful of examples of Christian cleansing from their ancient homeland. With no government response and practically no media mention at all.

Then overnight, this happened and hit the collective consciousness.

Stranded on a barren mountaintop, thousands of minority Iraqis are faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of the encircled Sunni extremists or sit tight and risk dying of thirst.

Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children.

Unable to dig deep into the rocky mountainside, displaced families said they have buried young and elderly victims of the harsh conditions in shallow graves, their bodies covered with stones. Iraqi government planes attempted to airdrop bottled water to the mountain on Monday night but reached few of those marooned.

“There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads,” said Marzio Babille, the Iraq representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

…“Children have died because of dehydration and lack of food,” Vian Dakheel, a Yazidi parliamentarian from Sinjar, said through tears. “My people are being slaughtered,” she continued, referring to reports of mass killings of those who had stayed behind.

Tireless human rights activist Nina Shea had issued this warning about issuing only a statement on so massive a humanitarian crisis. And she describes it in more gruesome detail.

On Wednesday, Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, came under assault from the Islamic State, and all 50 to 60,000 of its residents have fled to Erbil in Kurdistan. In June, Qaraqosh’s residents had fled in terror when Mosul was taken but, some 80 percent of them had since returned. The recent exodus was triggered when jihadists’ mortars killed two children and a 30-year-old woman.

Yesterday, the Christian residents of other Nineveh towns and villages, Bartilla, and Bahzany, also left and sought safe haven in the monastery of Mar Mattai, as well as in Erbil and Duhok. Ba’ashiqa and the Ba’ashiqa Monastery are being evacuated by their inhabitants and the displaced civilians who had recently sought refuge there. The Yazidi and Christian families who lived in Ein Sifni are all fleeing.

The enormity of the humanitarian crisis of the cascading exodus from Nineveh was overshadowed, though, by the early reports indicating genocide is taking place against the people of Sinjar, who are mostly followers of the Yazidi religion but also include some Christians.

The Yazidi city of Sinjar and the towns of Tal Afar and Zummar, captured on Sunday by the Islamic State, remain under jihadi control. Some 200,000 of their citizens fled, mostly to Kurdistan. But about 40,000 are now in a truly desperate situation, trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they had fled on foot without provisions and are now dying. Quoting a UNICEF spokesperson, the Washington Post reports today: “There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads. There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster.”

Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana reports that Kurdistan’s High Commission of Human Rights airlifted ten shipments of aid, each with 20 tons of provisions, to those on Mount Sinjar today.

Others who did not manage to escape have been executed, abducted into sex slavery, or are being used by jihadis as human shields.

This is horrific. The ‘international community’ surely could not allow this to continue….one could only hope and pray.

The following is a description of their ongoing ordeal from a report sent today by Christiana Patto of the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq:

Yesterday 45 children died of thirst. Some families throw their children from the top of Sinjar mountain in order not to see them die from hunger or thirst, or not to be taken by the terrorists. 1500 men were killed in front of their wives and families, 50 old men died also from thirst and illness. More than 70 girl and women including Christians were taken, raped and being captured and sold. More than 100 families are captured in Tel afar airport. There is about 50 Christian families in Sinjar. The terrorists were able to control the Syriac church there and cover the Cross with their black banner. Till now we do not know anything about those Christian families.

Read these numbers as human lives, each and every one. Men, women, children, very young and very old, terrorized and driven by fear and self-preservation to the mountains with nothing but what they were wearing and who they could carry or help make the climb along the agonizing, torturous way. While we sit comfortably in the West either unaware of the ‘headlines’ (behind which there is so much massive human atrocity and unimaginable suffering) or aware and engaged but feeling helpless to do anything about it.

In booking Catholic Near East Welfare Association Communications Director Michael La Civita to come back on my radio program this Friday for the third time in three weeks, I learned that listeners had opened their hears and resources to respond to the persecuted religious minorities in dire need, and they were so grateful. But guest after guest on radio, experts all, expressed frustration at the lack of attention to the crisis by government and media.

I talked about it again on Thursday’s show, calling for awareness of a crisis of epic proportions that grew horrific overnight, citing Pope Francis’ latest appeal for relief. Its tone had increased in extreme urgency.

Pope Francis asked Catholics around the world to pray for tens of thousands of Christians from villages in northeastern Iraq who were forced from their homes in the middle of the night by Islamic State militants.

The pope also made a “pressing appeal to the international community to take initiatives to put an end to the humanitarian drama underway, to take steps to protect those involved and threatened by violence and to ensure the necessary aid for so many displaced people whose fate depends on the solidarity of others,”…

Think about that, having your very fate in the hands of people in other parts of the world even noticing that you are in mortal need and then doing something to help.

Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters the pope was appealing “to the conscience of all people and every believer,” repeating what he had said July 20 after a similar forced exodus of Christians from Mosul: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace. Let us pray in silence, asking for peace.”

Meanwhile, people were suffering the most extreme measures just to hang onto their lives.

This proved to be a turning point.

Overnight Aug. 6-7 fighters belonging to the Islamic State attacked the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh and other villages in Ninevah province, said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. “The Christians, about 100,000, horrified and panicked, fled their villages and houses with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

In an appeal, the patriarch described the scene as “an exodus, a real ‘via crucis’” or Way of the Cross. “Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat” toward Iraqi Kurdistan. “They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter.”

The central Iraqi government appears incapable of protecting its citizens, the patriarch said, and there is no cooperation or coordination with the regional government.

The Islamic State fighters, he said, are taking advantage of the power vacuum “to impose their rule and terror. There is a need of international support and a professional, well-equipped army. The situation is going from bad to worse.”

That’s an understatement. The situation went from torturous to horrific.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said the Islamic State militants are “chasing out thousands of Christians.”

“We are facing a serious humanitarian situation,” Cardinal Filoni told Fides, the congregation’s news agency. “These people have been left to their own devices with a closed border in front of them and they don’t know where to go.”

“The Christians had to abandon everything, even their shoes, and barefoot they were forced toward Iraqi Kurdistan,” a region already overwhelmed with displaced people, the cardinal said.

Relief organizations and some Christian and (few) sympathetic media had been calling on governments and citizens on different continents to intervene in this horrifying crisis. Pope Francis made an urgent appeal when the crisis grew catastrophic late this week, from August 6-7.

Something about the overnight turn of events, something in the Yazidi call for help that made it to the West, reached a US administration well aware of the ISIS problem for about a year. The president referred to that cry for help when he addressed the nation to announce a mission of humanitarian intervention had begun, finally.

The United States has authorized targeted airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in northern Iraq, President Obama said Thursday night.

The aid mission dropped by aircraft 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 meals ready-to-eat to thousands of Iraquis who have been stranded atop a mountain, driven there by attacks from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Obama said he directed the military to “take target strikes” against ISIS to prevent the terrorist group from advancing in Iraq’s city of Erbil and threatening U.S. personnel there. “We plan to stand vigilant and take action if they threaten our facilities anywhere in Iraq, including the consulate in Erbil and embassy in Baghdad,” the president said.

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘there is no one coming to help,’” Obama said. “Well, today America is coming to help.”

He added: “We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

News media coverage of that address and the aftermath of political analysis was in full swing breathlessly trying to come up to speed with a crisis some of us have been talking about and warning of in blogs and columns and news articles for weeks and months.

They played a sort of parlor game in advance of the president’s appearance Thursday night predicting what he would say and how he would say it. Having little patience for that sort of punditry, I turned the volume back on when Obama appeared…not behind the desk in the Oval Office looking squarely into the camera and addressing the world, as some of my colleagues noted, correctly, but at a podium with the left and right teleprompters he’s so used to and comfortable with, before the assembled world press. He looked and sounded determined and resolute, which is rare outside political campaigning for this president. I was impressed with his deliberation. He talked about “adhering to a set of core principles; to support allies when they’re in danger; to stay true to fundamental values, like human dignity’, which was great to hear. This isn’t the time to apply that to a test. And again he talked about “the dignity of our fellow human beings”, finally.

Secretary of State John Kerry said this about the US mission.

The stakes for Iraq’s future could not be clearer, and today’s crisis underscores the stakes profoundly. ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yezedi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide. For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it. ISIL is not fighting on behalf of Sunnis. ISIL is not fighting for a stronger Iraq. ISIL is fighting to divide and destroy Iraq – and ISIL is offering nothing to anyone except chaos, nihilism, and ruthless thuggery. With a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis unfolding, and the rolls of the starving and sick growing daily, there’s not a minute to waste. The United States is acting and leading, and the world cannot sit by and watch innocents die. We will continue to coordinate with our allies in the region and the international community to assist Iraqis to confront ISIL’s brutal ideology which poses a severe threat to Iraq, the region, and the United States.

In the news analysis following the president’s address, one military expert expressed this concern about President Obama’s intentions and tolerance for a protracted engagement: “What does he do next, even if he stops genocide? What will he do to stop march of ISIS toward Baghdad?”

That is for tomorrow. For today, the US government finally stepped up to the role of international relief and aid when the balance of the world seemed to be teetering between chaos and some reconstructed form of moral order. Help had arrived, we learned, and we will learn what will come in the days ahead.

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Aug 03

This is an old story with new intensity. The elimination of Christians from their earliest homes is at epic proportions.

My files on this go back years. In less than six months, they’ve more than doubled. I regularly have guests on the radio show talk about  latest updates from around the world, always with something people can do to help make a difference for persecuted religious minorities worldwide. But lately, I’m beating that drum almost daily, while also covering the Israel-Gaza conflict, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and other US and geopolitical news. It’s been awfully busy.

There’s too much to cover in one post on the effort by militants to eradicate Christians from Iraq alone, so look at the past week or so chronologically, when ‘Christian cleansing’ reached a new fierce, brutal, in some places final level. Without much of the world even noticing.

Mark Movesian noticed, warned that a line had been crossed in Mosul, and signaled what that meant for Christians everywhere.

Say goodbye to one of the most ancient Christian communities in the world. Last week, members of ISIS—the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” a Sunni Islamist group that recently has captured parts of Iraq and declared a new caliphate—began going through the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter “Nun.” “Nun” stands for “Nasara,” from “Nazarenes,” a word that refers to Christians. The implications were clear. Mosul’s Christians faced the same fate the Christians of Raqqa, Syria, had when ISIS captured their city last spring. “We offer them three choices,” ISIS announced: “Islam; the dhimma contract—involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.”

In other words, convert, pay punitively, leave or die. Or omit ‘leave’ as an option, and face the other three.

By last week, most Christians in Mosul had already taken a fourth option—evacuation. Their departure marks the end of a continuous Christian tradition in Mosul. For thousands of years, Mosul has been a center for Christians, particularly for Assyrians, an ethnic group that predates the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia. Indeed, the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, where the Prophet Jonah preached, lies across the Tigris River. Christianized in apostolic times, Assyrians have divided over the centuries into a number of communions that reflect the history of the religion: the Assyrian Church of the East, a small body, historically associated with Nestorianism, which once spread as far as China; the Syriac Orthodox Church, a member of the Oriental Orthodox family; and the Chaldean-rite Catholic Church, in communion with Rome. A small number of Assyrian Protestant churches exist as well, the legacy of nineteenth-century American missionaries.

As recently as a decade ago, tens of thousands of Christians lived in Mosul, some of them descendents of victims of the genocide the Ottoman Empire perpetrated against Assyrians, as well as Armenians and Greeks, during World War I. After this weekend, virtually none remain. On Saturday, ISIS expelled the fifty-two Christian families still in the city, after first requiring them to leave behind all their valuables. For good measure, ISIS also burned an 1800-year-old church and the Catholic bishop’s residence, along with its library and manuscript collection.

What ISIS has done in Mosul is a worrying hint of Islamism’s possible future.

That, for another post. This crisis of Christian extermination continues to grow more grave, if that’s possible.

Some of the few media people paying any attention to this humanitarian story have called out the Pope to intervene, saying he’s ‘only calling for prayer’ and has to step in and do something. However, Francis is ‘putting his money where his mouth is’, Vatican expert John Allen told me on radio this week. He’s sending relief and opening centers for refugees, among other things.

Meanwhile, what’s the US government doing? Specifically, the president the world is watching? Nothing noticeable. Elizabeth Scalia has been writing frantically for days and weeks about the situation, which the White House saw coming, as it turns out.

The group’s operations “are calculated, coordinated and part of a strategic campaign led by its Syria-based leader, Abu Bakr al Baghadi,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk told a House committee on Feb. 5, four months before fighting broke out in Mosul. “The campaign has a stated objective to cause the collapse of the Iraqi state and carve out a zone of governing control in western regions of Iraq and Syria.”

The testimony raises an obvious question: If the Obama administration had such early warning of the Islamic State’s ambitions, why, nearly two months after the fall of Mosul, is it still assessing what steps, if any, to take to halt the advance of Islamist extremists who threaten U.S. allies in the region and have vowed to attack Americans?

In fresh testimony before Congress this week, McGurk revealed that the administration knew three days in advance that the attack on Mosul was coming. He acknowledged that the Islamic State is no longer just a regional terrorist organization but a “full-blown” army that now controls nearly 50 percent of Iraq and more than one-third of Syria. Its fighters have turned back some of the best-trained Iraqi units trying to retake key cities, while in Syria, it’s seized nearly all that country’s oil and natural gas fields and is pushing the Syrian military from its last outposts in the country’s east.

“What started as a crisis in Syria has become a regional disaster with serious global implications,” Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday.

And the president has said little. Scalia called it ‘a threat ignored‘:

Bin Laden was a Western-educated terrorist looking for the big statement but lacking a substantive plan beyond mayhem. ISIS is a home-grown movement — “calculated, coordinated” per our intel, and apparently well-funded — seeking caliphate. Who is going to stop them? Turkey? Europe?

The unchecked, unprotested aggression of ISIS — now called “Islamic State” — is the story to watch; unlike the border immigration story, or the perennial Gaza headlines, this is the story that will go global, while the people in power do little, say nothing.

Ed Morrissey at HotAir says time is either running out for Christians in Iraq, or already has. That was on July 25th.

The Christians in Mosul have already fled, and those remaining in Nineveh and other areas of Iraq have until Saturday to make their choice to pay jizya, convert, or be put to death. While ISIS conducts an ethno-religious cleansing of Iraq, the ancient Christian communities there wonder when the West will at least speak out:

He and the rest of northern Iraq’s multitude of Christian sects have plenty of reason to worry about the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that’s taken hold in much of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria since Mosul fell to the Islamic State on June 9. The men who lead the caliphate adhere to the most austere and literal interpretation of Islam, one that subscribes to the notion that improperly pious Muslims can be killed and that Christians, Jews and other monotheistic minorities must pay a protection tax or face a similar fate…

Bitterness abounds. In Qarakosh, where fighters from the Kurdish peshmerga militia maintain a front line just a mile or so from Islamic State positions and regularly come under sniper and mortar fire, one refugee from Mosul said he knew exactly whom to blame for the situation.

“Goddamn George Bush,” Abu Fadi spat out in English as he stood in line in the 100-degree heat to register for aid. “He removed Saddam, and this is all his fault.”

Then, in Arabic, he turned his anger on the current U.S. administration, which is still formulating what, if anything, it will do in response to the rapid advance of the Islamic State.

“Tell Obama I lost my house because of America, and now he’s a coward and won’t come save us from these animals,” he said.

McClatchy reports today that the earlier reports that the US had been taken by surprise by the ISIS sweep through Nineveh was no surprise at all. The Obama administration knew that ISIS had planned its invasion and seizure of western Iraq, but didn’t take any action to prevent it despite the obvious consequences…

At the end of the post, Morrissey quoted

Christian Kaldo Oganna, who is living in Iraq.

“Our people are under the threat of killing, ethnic cleansing,” he said. “We are all in fear. The Jihadis are going to attack.”

Oganna begged for condemnation of the violence and begged the United States to stop ISIS before things get worse.

The US has been much more focused on trying to stop Israel from crippling Hamas, for some reason. Maybe they’d prefer that people don’t ask too many questions about how Iraq went from an Obama administration success story in 2011 to a genocidal charnel just three years later.

But the people have done an end run around politicians and even media, however silent they choose to be on the crisis in Iraq. Tod Worner provides this excellent fact checker and updated factual indictment of a disengaged government in the face of a violent onslaught against innocent minorities. Sometime between Elizabeth Scalia’s post and Ed Morrisey’s post, ISIS blew up a sacred site in Ninevah, where Christians not only lived but many had taken refuge.

If you flee, you leave your home, your possessions, your community and your culture. What little you carry is soon stripped and looted from greedy militia men. You leave with your lives and the clothes on your back. But what if you can’t or don’t leave? What awaits you? Beheadings, amputations, gunshots and crucifixions. Unbending Sharia law including women and girls forced to undergo compulsory genital mutilation and to don the most conservative of clothing. You know these are bad people when even Ayman al Zawahari, al Qaeda’s de facto leader, disavows them finding them too difficult too control.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Large swaths of previously secured Iraqi land and resources have fallen. Cultural and religious treasures have been destroyed. The Iraqi Army is in disarray and the Iraqi Government has been shaken up.

ISIS blew up the Tomb of Jonah in Ninevah, and the international community is doing what? Scalia cited the Washington Post as finally getting the picture, though barely:

The problem: In Iraq, the Islamic State is advancing. If it’s willing to destroy anything other religions — even other Muslims — hold sacred, what’s next?

Some Congressmen, led by Jeff Fortenberry, humanitarian rights advocate, tried to rush through last minute legislation for emergency relief before Congress went on recess.

And Commentary magazine laments, no one cares.

With reports of how the doors of Christian homes were ominously marked by Islamists so as to streamline this campaign of ethnic cleansing, with incidents of Christians having been crucified–yes, crucified–you might have thought that some of those avid humanitarian activists attending the recent anti-Israel rallies could have at least organized a sub-contingent to highlight the terrible fate of the Iraqi Christians, but no, that might have risked detracting in some way from the anti-Israel political objectives of these protests.

It’s a political chess board and Christians are the pawns. Even though many innocent Christians are in Palestine, which is getting Western media and activists’ attention, the Iraqi Christian holocaust is getting very little.

Kirsten Powers highlighted it in her USA Today column on July 29th.

Iraq’s Christians are begging the world for help. Is anybody listening?

If that sounds dire, it’s because it is.

Human rights lawyer Nina Shea described the horror in Mosul to me: “(ISIS) took the Christians’ houses, took the cars they were driving to leave. They took all their money. One old woman had her life savings of $40,000, and she said, ‘Can I please have 100 dollars?’, and they said no. They took wedding rings off fingers, chopping off fingers if they couldn’t get the ring off.”

“We now have 5,000 destitute, homeless people with no future,” Shea said. “This is a crime against humanity.”

For the first time in 2,000 years, Mosul is devoid of Christians. “This is ancient Nineveh we are talking about,” Shea explained. “They took down all the crosses. They blew up the tomb of the prophet Jonah. An orthodox Cathedral has been turned into a mosque. … They are uprooting every vestige of Christianity.” University of Mosul professor Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a Muslim, bravely spoke out against ISIS’ purging of Christians and was executed.

Lebanon-based Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, who heads the Syrian Catholic Church, called the crisis “religious cleansing” in an interview. “I want to tell American Christians to stand up, wake up and no longer be a silent majority. American-elected representatives need to stand up for their principles on which the U.S. has been founded: the defense of religious freedom … and respect for human rights.”…

Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf has taken to the House floor three times in the past week to plead for action from the U.S. and world community.

Wolf told me, “The Kurds have done a good job, but they are bearing the burden. President Obama should thank and encourage the Kurds for protecting the Christians. He also needs to provide (humanitarian aid), including funds for water and food.”

But he hasn’t done those things. Relief organizations and religious groups are doing what they can, and Scalia is giving these causes all out attention.

The Nineveh plains to which many Iraqi Christians fled are within the sites of the Islamic State; water and electricity are already cut off.

Patriarch Louis Rafael I Sako denounced IS as worse than the country’s Mongol invaders during the medieval period.

“This has never happened in Christian or Islamic history. Even Genghis Khan or Hulagu [the Mongol destroyer of Baghdad in 1258] didn’t do this,” he said, according to Reuters, at a church service in Baghdad where 200 Muslims joined in solidarity.

“We are seeing great swatches of Christianity wiped from the Middle East,” said Edward Clancy, Aid to the Church in Need’s director of evangelization and outreach. He said IS enforces “the strictest and most brutal interpretation of sharia,” including “little children having their hands hacked off” for stealing food out of hunger

“They have no problem with crucifixion, and they have done it,” he said.

Clancy said Aid to the Church in Need confirmed IS’ atrocities with priests and bishops on the ground through its regional coordinator.

“Simply put, it is all true: They are kidnapping, there are crucifixions, beheadings, beatings and enforced conversions,” he said.

Citing another writer, she concludes:

Their witness stirs our conscience, too. We Americans want the world to take care of its own problems, but now Mosul’s Christians, along with many other embattled religious minorities, remind us that we can not wish away evil.

John Allen reports on those cries for help from Mosul’s Christians.

“We have to ask the world: Why are you silent? Why do you not speak out?” said Catholic auxiliary bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad last week.

“Do human rights exist, or not? And if they exist, where are they?” Warduni said. “There are many, many cases that should arouse the conscience of the whole world: Where is Europe? Where is America?”

Others are pleading with their fellow believers to act.

“We need the solidarity of Christians worldwide, not to be afraid to talk about this tragedy,” said Archbishop Amel Nona of Mosul.

On Wednesday, Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him to pressure the international community to step up assistance to Iraq’s Christians and other minorities targeted by militants.

It’s up to the people to act, contact members of Congress (in their home districts at this point), media, relief organizations, anything they can do to help. People are finding ways.

Members of ISIS have been marking Christian homes in Mosul with the Arabic character N, which stands for “Nazarene,” meaning Christian, Sichko said. “It is reminiscent of the Star of David that marked Jews in Nazi Germany.”

Because of that, “St. Mark in Richmond, Kentucky, today has marked our Church doors with the the Arabic letter N in solidarity with our brothers and sisters” in Iraq and around the world, he said.

“We are all Iraqi Christians,” Sichko said. “As Catholic Christians, the members of St. Mark stand together in defiance of genocide, of persecution, of hate and the slaughter of Christians anywhere.”

It takes a village? The part that’s on fire urgently needs relief from the rest of the ‘international community.’

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Jul 16

How you connect the dots determines the picture that emerges.

The recent chronology of events provides a startling snapshot of abortion extremism in this country.

The Supreme Court ruled on the Hobby Lobby lawsuit on June 30th, upholding free exercise rights established in the Constitution but more specifically, the bi-partisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Then Democrats in Congress reacted with outrage. And a reactionary legislative bill.

“Women across the country and men are outraged by a decision by five Supreme Court justices that all of a sudden says your boss has an opportunity to decide for you what your health care choices are,” Sen. Patty Murray, the bill’s sponsor, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday.

“That outrage is being transmitted to everyone, and I think we have a very good chance of rewriting the law so that the justices can’t take away women’s ability to make their own health care choices.”

So wait…what?

To reset, as politicians are fond of saying, it was “all of a sudden” that this administration announced in January 2012 that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated certain drugs and procedures to be provided by employers in their health insurance coverage, decided by government with no choice for employers.

And now that such government overreach has been found excessive and in violation of RFRA, a Supreme Court decision is going to be rewritten in law? So “the justices can’t take away women’s ability to make their own health care choices”? When was the last time something so audacious was undertaken by politicians, even after the Supreme Court wrote abortion into law and swept away the separate and enumerated power to make laws for all 50 states in one fell swoop?

This is surreal. Even the liberal Washington Post did a fact check on congressional Democrats claims and found them demonstrably false, calling it all “overheated rhetoric.”

“Really, we should be afraid of this court. The five guys who start determining what contraceptions are legal. Let’s not even go there.”

That was House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, with what WaPo called “a very odd statement”, which her office tried to walk back, though foot dragging along the way.

Then the WaPo article cited this quote:

“The one thing we are going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five white men. This Hobby Lobby decision is outrageous, and we are going to do something about it.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), remarks to reporters, on July 8

Spoken by a white man who wields power in the Senate with potentially less considered reasoning on a daily basis than justices on the Supreme Court on occasion. And by the way…

The Hobby Lobby decision was written by Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. That’s certainly five men, but Thomas is African American.

Reid’s office said he realized the mistake after he made it, and reverted to citing this decision as having been made by five men.

And so on. The fact checking goes on at the WaPo site.

Into the fray comes legal scholar Helen Alvare with her calm, clarifying and poised voice.

Prior to the 2012 HHS Mandate, there were no “runs” on birth control suppliers, nor were there demonstrations in the streets by women demanding free birth control. Nowhere was there observed a dearth of women willing to work for businesses informed by a religious conscience on matters of contraception or abortion.

This should come as a shock to those predicting the end of women’s freedom as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. It should also shock those protesters screaming about women’s ovaries on the steps of the Supreme Court. It should even shock the president of the United States, who took time away from his deliberations concerning Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria, to tweet cleverly against this win for religious freedom. And perhaps it will deliver the biggest shock to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose dissent in Hobby Lobby spoke of the “harm,” the “havoc,” and the threat to women’s “ability to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation” posed by the decision. Media reaction has been predictably similar.

Helen goes on to enumerate “myriad reasons that many women won’t be joining Justice Ginsburg in the panic room post-Hobby Lobby”, aptly describing the current environment.

One…

Justice Ginsburg, like so many feminist activists of her generation, has a tendency to claim to speak for all women when she frames a grievance on women’s behalf. But relatively few women are actually affected by the majority opinion in Hobby Lobby. Poor women, and even women at several times the poverty level, already have free or subsidized birth control available from the state. Since 1970, they have been served by the National Family Planning Program (“Title X”).

She lists other ways access to birth control has been widely available to women for low or no cost.

Also, generally speaking, the Centers for Disease Control report that cost does not even make the list of “frequently cited reasons for nonuse” among the 11 percent of sexually active women not using contraception. A Guttmacher source claimed that only 3.7 percent of the total sample of women seeking abortions listed cost as a barrier to contraceptive usage.

And then…

There is also a sizable cohort of women who dislike (or even hate) the side effects of some forms of contraception—especially those of hormonal methods such as the pill, Depo-Provera, and IUDs. Ironically, these are the more costly methods that Justice Ginsburg and other activists hope the mandate will most promote. You can find women hating hormonal birth control for decidedly nonreligious reasons in books like Holly Griggs Spall’s Sweetening the Pill, or in articles on popular news sites.

Then there is the significant group of women who have suffered some alarming health effects from their birth control. Think of the 10,000 women suing Bayer Pharmaceuticals for blood clots or strokes related to the Yaz pill (Bayer has paid more than $1.6 billion in settlements so far), or the 3,800 women suing Merck & Co. for the blood clots, strokes and heart attacks related to the Nuva-Ring. Even birth-control cheerleaders like Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, and the New York Times acknowledge the serious or fatal effects of some methods for some women, or their role in increasing AIDS/HIV transmission. Not to mention the World Health Organization or the American Cancer Society, organizations that label some forms of the pill carcinogenic to some parts of the body, while noting that some forms might mitigate the risk of cancer in others.

Click on the link to this article for all the links Helen Alvare provides for these references. It’s outstanding. Here’s more:

What about women who are just sick and tired of the obsession with contraception and abortion—women starving for concrete policies allowing them to manage the costs of education and the demands of work, and also to marry and have kids?

This adds up to a lot of women who are not nodding their heads in agreement over the “you can take my free contraception out of my cold, dead hands” tone of the Ginsburg dissent, or other frenzied post-Hobby Lobby laments.

Read the whole article. It’s brilliant. And in her professorial mind, she sums up well:

The all-too-brief summary is as follows: when birth control and abortion separate sex from kids, non-marital sexual encounters increase as the perceived “risks” (children) appear to decline. Sex easily becomes the “price” of obtaining a romantic relationship, and “shotgun weddings” following a pregnancy disappear because women have the right of access to abortion. But because there are so many more uncommitted sexual encounters, and because contraception regularly fails, and because of continuing aspirations for children and relationships, cohabitation skyrockets, nonmarital births and abortions increase, and marriage is delayed or forgone (despite women’s fertility patterns and persistent desire for children). Single parenthood by women (and therefore poverty) becomes far more common.

It wasn’t just the “technology shocks” of the pill and abortion that shaped this marketplace; the law cooperated. The feminist legal establishment of the latter part of the twentieth century argued (and the Supreme Court agreed) that children imposed serious disadvantages on women. Contraception and abortion were thus achieved as constitutional rights. At the same time, leading feminist voices glamorized paid work and failed to pursue policies harmonizing motherhood with work outside the home. They played down differences between women and men, allowed the “ideal male worker” model to dominate women’s work lives, and let birth control and abortion policy constitute nearly the entire “women’s agenda.”

In sum…

We must clearly draw attention to the nature and workings of the marketplace of relationships today. Ask women to honestly confront the question whether it is to their advantage to participate according to this market’s current terms. In particular, point out the good of renewing female solidarity toward relinking sex, commitment, and children for the benefit of women, children, and men as well. Finally, vocally offer to cooperate on public and private policies enabling women to manage the demands and costs of education and employment, in harmony with their aspirations to marry and have children.

How I wish this work were as simple as parroting the simplistic claim that Hobby Lobby harms women. It isn’t. But the alternative—allowing Ginsburg to stand unchallenged—is unacceptable if we are to be fair to women and to preserve religious freedom for both women and men.

However, the Senate stayed in the “panic room” and worked on some draconian legislation. One was a bill to overturn the Supreme Court ruling on Hobby Lobby, upholding religious freedom. That one was called the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act.” another was written to undo a host of state abortion laws, as many as 200 of them nationwide, laws that set common sense limits like sex-selective abortions, fetal pain limits at five months (extremely liberal even at that duration), abortion clinic health regulation ordinances for the safety of women, informed consent laws for the sake of truly informed choice, and so on. That bill was called the “Women’s Health Protection Act”, which stood for the opposite of what it was called. One was called the ‘Not My Boss’s Business Act’, which is more true than drafters realized. It’s not the business of the employer to provide no-cost birth control pills and morning-after pills and other drugs mandated by the HHS. Especially when they’re not mandated to provide essential vaccinations, or many other preventive health services.

National Review Online got it right in this editorial. Unfortunate for longtime purists, but true today.

Democrats hold one thing — and one thing only — sacred, and that is abortion. Our diplomats may be murdered abroad, the rule of law may be grossly violated at home, the First Amendment may be written off as just another roadblock on the freeway to utopia, but abortion will always have for them a uniquely holy status — even if that means employing unholy methods to facilitate it. Thus Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has introduced a bill, cosponsored by a majority of Senate Democrats, that would purport to strip states of their ability to impose even the most basic of health and safety regulations on the grisly procedure, a bill that David French has rightly suggested should be titled the Kermit Gosnell Enabling Act of 2014.

How horrifying. But how aptly named.

Senator Blumenthal proposes to apply the Philadelphia model to the nation at large. Under his bill, states would have effectively no power even to ensure that abortions are performed by licensed physicians — surely the most minimal standard of medical responsibility that there is. Laws covering grisly late-term abortions would be forcibly overturned and fetal viability would be redefined according to the subjective whim of the abortionist. While the Democrats are bemoaning a fictitious war on women, their bill would provide federal protection to sex-selective abortions — the barbaric practice under which generations of girls have been decimated in such backward jurisdictions as China and Azerbaijan, a practice The Economist describes as “gendercide.” Laws restricting taxpayer funding of abortion would be overturned. Laws protecting the consciences of physicians who choose not to perform abortions would be overturned.

So here we are. The Senate voted on one of these bills Wednesday, and it failed in this first go-round.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lamented that this pro-abortion bill only gained 56 of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture (end debate), and promised another vote “before the year is out” (read: before the November elections). In other words, Sen. Reid is signaling to his pro-abortion allies that he will make the abortion-pill mandate a central issue of the fall elections.

That’s clarifying. That they had 56 votes today on something so draconian is a warning. More Americans are self-identifying as pro-life. But they and others may not realize how comprehensive this bill is in covering “extremism we’ve never seen before”, as an Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel explained to me today. He said, flatly, that the bill covered even physician assisted suicide drugs under the terms of its wide and mandated coverage.

From the NRO piece:

Morally literate people, including those who generally support abortion rights, understand that abortion is fundamentally unlike anything else doctors are commonly called upon to do, and that it is morally significant in a way a tonsillectomy is not. People of good will may disagree to some extent about the moral significance of what is maturing in a woman’s womb — but it is not an ingrown toenail, and all the Senate proclamations in the world will not change that fact.

Right. Let’s be clear on the proclamations and the reality. Reactionaries are reaching for the ‘war on women’ declaration again, which denigrates and demeans women. Let them speak for themselves.

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Jun 30

Yes, the Obamacare HHS mandate does violate fundamental rights, said justices willing to state the obvious.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into law under President Bill Clinton after near unanimous approval in the House and Senate in 1993, applied a two-pronged test to any attempt by government to impose a federal law that substantially burdens citizens’ free exercise of their religion. The first test requires the government to show it has a ‘compelling interest’ in enforcing such a sweeping law, and the second is that government was seeking the ‘least restrictive means’ possible to achieve its ends. There’s no way this federal fiat issued in January 2012 could possibly pass either of those tests.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty dubbed the HHS mandate ‘a contraception delivery scheme’, which describes it well. As the court cases piled up across the country and spectrum of employers from non-profit organizations to for-profit business owners, academic institutions to healthcare providers (see Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius), government lawyers could not defend their claims coherently.

Here’s the breakdown of current cases against the federal government when those arguments have been heard in courts at all levels. Monday’s Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby will impact a great number of others, and certainly scored a victory for religious freedom.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a landmark victory for religious liberty today, ruling in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of David and Barbara Green and their family business, Hobby Lobby, ruling that they will not be required to violate their faith by including four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan or pay severe fines.

“This is a landmark decision for religious freedom. The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and counsel for Hobby Lobby. “This ruling will protect people of all faiths. The Court’s reasoning was clear, and it should have been clear to the government. You can’t argue there are no alternative means when your agency is busy creating alternative means for other people.”

The decision also has important implications for over 50 pending lawsuits brought by non-profit religious organizations, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which are also challenging the mandate. In two different respects, the Supreme Court strongly signaled that the mandate may be struck down in those cases too. First, it rejected the government’s argument that there was no burden on the Green’s religious exercise because only third parties use the drugs. Second, it held that the government could simply pay for contraception coverage with its own funds, rather than requiring private employers to do so.

“The handwriting is on the wall,” said Windham. “The Court has strongly signaled that the mandate is in trouble in the non-profit cases, too.”

The Court upheld a June 2013 ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals protecting Hobby Lobby and the Green family from the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. That mandate requires Hobby Lobby and co-founders David and Barbara Green to provide and facilitate, against their religious convictions, four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan. The Greens argued that the mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs in violation of a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court stated:

The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate . . . against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs. . . . Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.”

Justice Kennedy’s concurrence added: “Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion.”

There will be plenty to cover and analyze on this in the days to come. But here’s some good background worth reading, artfully written with accurate citations by creative thinker Tod Worner, news coverage as a play in three acts. Written just over two months ago, after oral arguments were presented in the Supreme  Court by plaintiffs and government lawyers in the HHS mandate cases justices would decide later, it ended with this:

Plaintiffs and defendant would rest. The Court would adjourn. The verdict will come to us in June.

Who is this young, promising man – this main character in our play? Perhaps we can know by considering him in each act: The Speech, The Executive Order, The Court Case. Perhaps.

This play, in three acts, is far from finished. There is more to be said and done. Will it end as a comedy? Or a tragedy? How will it end? How, indeed? We shall see. We shall see.

We now see how the Supreme Court ruled on this day in this pivotal case. We’ll see what comes next. Stay tuned.

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