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Monday, September 29, 2014

Let There Be Light ~ What One Person Can Do, Chapter Two

What We Can Do Together
In the middle of all this talk of war, of barbarism, of terrorism, of Republican governance, of climate change hoax talk, there is hope.

There are people who, out of necessity, have managed to create wonderful things, and share them with others, upgrading the quality of life for all involved.

A Liter of Light
In The Philippines, one man, Solar Demi, found a way to bring light into previously very dark shanty homes, using discarded soda bottles, water and bleach. A permanent solution to a permanent problem. And no electric company had anything to do with it.

In its first year Liter Of Light.org installed more than 15,000 solar bulbs in 20 Philippine cities. My Shelter Foundation saw a wonderfully sustainable teachable moment and spread the idea to other nations, creating bases in countries like Peru, Colombia, Kenya, Singapore, Mumbai, and Switzerland, even showcasing at the Tedx Earth Summit in Dubai. Their goal is to install more than a million, while creating green jobs for builders and installers of these units in countries all over the world. You can check out updates from advocates working in various global outposts on their website, Liter of Light, and track their progress in real-time through personal videos, photos, and blog entries.

This is just one of those fabulous ideas to improve the quality of life for people everywhere, ideas that are easily replicable, scalable, and of course, only use materials that are sourced from local communities. Perhaps, if we weren't so focused on dragging congress along by their necks, we might be able to focus forward, and once again become a source of innovation, here, in the United States.

Shake Your Power
This Kickstarter campaign was fully funded on July 10th this year, and the idea is musical. Sudha is a ground-breaking percussionist; the heartbeat of the popular electronic band Faithless for 15 years, and a touring and recording favorite for other mainstream artists including Dido, The Spice Girls, Ian Brown, and Talvin Singh. This musician doesn't stay put, and her idea to bring light AND electricity to towns where there was none, brought music to the residents' eyes.

This simple solution was discovered by just one person knowing that an alarming 3/4s of Kenyans didn't have basic access to regular electricity. She saw the need, identified a solution, and created a distribution model for the idea.

Through these increasingly popular crowd sourcing centers, like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, we can see the positive intensions of social media morph into useful boots-on-the-ground change out there in the world. Meaningful minimal change that can make a difference in people's lives every day, substantively raising the quality of life for all involved. The simple act of learning then teaching is in itself a gift that can transcend another human beings interaction with the world.
"If any of this is inspiring you, maybe take a look at some other Kickstarter and GoFundMe campaigns, and look for holiday gifting ideas there., instead of buying dad another pair of socks."
What One Person Can Do
In our continuing series, What One Person Can Do, we hope you get inspired into finding a solution to just one problem that exists in the world. Just One. And share your success. Because a successful world, is a better world.

Chance favors the collective mind, and amazing things can evolve from simple ideas. Where once a plastic bottle was garbage in the street, it is now a vital part of brightening up everyone's day. Where once sundown meant a stop to learning, there is now a reading light...and a charging station.

When we make each other's lives better, we make the world better. Don't you think?

Are there any other crowdsourcing sites that you've heard positive things about, or used yourself? Do share.

Share The Gift Of Light

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Growing It Forward ~ What One Person Can Do, Chapter One

Every human deserves access to clean fruits and veggies, organically grown.
(P. Annie's Secret Garden a 501c3, 2014) 

Back In The Day
When you're a child, some stuff is so much easier. Before the fruit is eaten from the tree of knowledge, you aren't aware of Climate Change, Senate rules, or public policy. You're biggest fight in any given day is to just stay up late, like the adults. But once you become aware, once you are awake, ya just can't put that genie back in the bottle. Once you see everything, there's just too much to fix, too much to learn, too much to teach, and it becomes too important to be quiet about any of it.

If you are lucky, you come up with a solution to at least one problem you see around you, you use Kickstarter or GoFundMe, you start to mass produce your solution, and share it with the world. The way those sites work, once your idea gets fully funded, and only then, you'll need to actually accept the cash. If your organization is a nonprofit, you'd be eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions, making it more enticing for donors to contribute.

One of the most visibly damaged sectors of society, and some of the most vulnerable, are our men and women who have served and returned home, war weary, and in need of assistance. Thankfully, organizations have popped up across the United States to provide that shelter from the storm, to hug them home.

As you may or may not know, many of our men and women who serve come back disabled in one form or another, and not all of them can easily take care of themselves like they used to. Luckily, there are incredible people out there working to support them with every fiber of their being.

We will attempt to shine a spotlight over the next couple of articles on those who do just that.

Growing It Forward, What One Person Can Do
One of those great people is a woman named Brooke Sanders, founder of P. Annie's Secret Garden. After her own little sister died of ovarian cancer at a young age, Brooke started studying the causes of cancer, the rates of disease, and the course of dietary changes over the last 100 years or so. What she saw, what many of us see, are our sicker members of society, i.e. disabled folks, who would benefit tremendously from consistent access to clean, healthy, fresh produce.

Those already faced with unique difficulties in the journey of life, shouldn't be further burdened with additives and preservatives that do nothing to improve one's quality of life, or one's health. Most importantly, when you are stuck like that, no gas money, not alot of money in general, you just grab the cheapest food available, and that's a vicious cycle that perpetuates the lot of our sick and poverty stricken. Sure if you have money, you can shop around for the freshest, the healthiest, the organic. Brooke Sanders made it her life's goal to bring what she calls "clean food" to those who don't have that immediate access, to bring self reliance to those who need it most.

After four years of fussing and fuming, Sanders decided to take matters into her own hands. She asked herself, "If not me, then who?" And really, that's all it takes to begin to make a difference around you. Sanders began by identifying the groups she wanted to focus on. She reached out to Head Start students and their families, local community college students, veterans, the disabled, seniors, and low income people in her area, determined to improve their quality of life. To put it simply, by aggregating the bounty of personal gardens, she could bring health in the form of clean food to the vulnerable.

So what the heck is "clean food?" Sanders decided what was most needed was meal options that included organically grown fruits and veggies using no pesticides, and no GMO seeds or seedlings. She reached out to homeowners with backyards and space to grow, and she got to work.

P. Annie's Gardens delivers to 70 people every week.
By going out into her community, Sanders started asking people to become a P. Annie's Secret Garden Host. Her ask? Allow the Secret Garden volunteers to bring in a healthy, "clean" food garden to your residential yard. They then plant, tend and harvest the food, finally delivering the freshness to all low income recipients who are in need. Through contributions, and lots of sweat equity, P. Annie's Secret Garden pays for it ALL. In fact, Sanders claims that a $10 contribution can feed one person for an entire season. That's about three months, and that's amazing.

Her organization now tends 20 gardens, and 4 greenhouses, and they have a goal of acquiring another 10 gardens before full winter hits, as well as raising another $15,000 to pay for the extra grows and materials. Come next spring, Sanders will be able to provide healthy, clean food for 5000 people, every week, every season. She explains, "Just because you where born into poverty doesn't mean we as a society have the right to feed you substandard food. It's wrong on ALL levels."

As Sanders puts it, "Everyone should have the same ability, as a basic human right, to access clean foods consistently. Our Elderly, without access, our Veterans, willing to sacrifice everything they have to help maintain a safe and free society, and our Children, our future leaders, should certainly have consistent access to "clean, uncontaminated food." All of those target groups, live on a daily basis with little to no safety net.

We, as a community have full power to ensure that our less fortunate members, the most fragile members of our community, are not going without clean, healthy foods. We as a community, by working together, can do something about this issue. It is only through community help, and consistent involvement, that we can truly thrive and make a lasting impact.

Not only does the nonprofit, and yes, they are now officially a nonprofit, deliver fresh food to the needy, but, when possible, the group teaches sustainability as well. What that looks like is putting gardens into some of their recipients' yards. If they have the room, P. Annie's Secret Gardens provides. All they ask is that the owners of these recipient gardens only take 2/3 of their harvest for themselves, and grow it forward by giving 1/3 back to the charity. Giving that portion to P. Annie's system contributes to their distribution abilities, and at the same time, creates community leaders. It's pretty amazing.

Forgiveness, second chances, fresh starts, that's all some of these people need. A sense they haven't been forgotten. The one thing that turns the world from a lonely place, to a beautiful place, is love. Love, in any of its forms. Love gives us hope. And through organizations like this one, we not only share the gift of love, we share the gift of health, and self sustainability.

If you would like to help P. Annie's Secret Garden, and Brooke Sanders, expand their abilities, you can contribute here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Blocking Everything - The Lofgren Principle

(Mostly Blue, 2014)

Why do we care about midterms? What does it mean when people say we have to “hold onto the Senate?” Right now, the Democrats hold 55 of the hundred seats in the Senate. After this November, Dems may hold less than 50 seats, and that combined with the overwhelming presence of Republicans in the House, would mean Republicans would run the place. How did we get here, and why does it matter?

Showing Up Is 90 Percent Of Success
Conventional beltway wisdom tells us that when voter turnout is high, Democrats tend to do better in the exit polls. As a result, if you are an operative in the Republican Party, it would seem to be in your best interest to encourage voter turnout to be a bit lower, regardless of who your candidate is. Even before Obama's first term in office, Republicans had systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote. Sure, we are all familiar with the basic tactics,

  • Putting notes on cars claiming the date of election day has changed
  • Defunding registration aid groups like Acorn
  • Narrowing registration periods
  • Closing formerly used polling places
  • Ending early voting days
  • Shortening the hours of service at the polls
  • Threatening to show up as gun toting militias at polling places
  • Fraudulently denying registration forms
  • Losing ballots, oops
  • Gerrymandering districts
  • Residency requirements that disenfranchise university students
  • Voter ID laws requiring birth certificates and hoop jumping

For those of you who don't understand why Voter ID Laws could be hurtful, consider this. Republicans in Wisconsin legislated the necessity of photo IDs. Simultaneously and systematically, Wisconsin planned to close down DMV offices in Democratic constituencies, and lengthen the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies. Disconcerting, isn't it?

Even with all of that nastiness, Gallup says that voter turnout in midterm elections has ranged narrowly between 38.1% and 41.1% since 1994. For Americans, many of whom are completely unaware of what midterm elections are, that's actually a pretty high percentage of eligible voters.

If you are Karl Rove, or The Koch Brothers, however, that's too much voter participation. The question is, how do you go about getting the American public so disillusioned that they won't vote at all? How do you get the American public to think their votes don't even matter?

What needs to be understood here, is that undermining Americans’ belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy. They want us to believe that our votes don't matter, and that the whole thing's rigged.

The pesky truth remains that billions are spent in an attempt to sway the voters one way or the other, so if you follow the money, voting turns out to be awfully important.

If You Break It, You Can Buy It
In recent years, ideology, especially right-wing ideology, has become the dominant factor in congressional elections. In addition to the “government is the problem” meme that most wear like a suit of armor, the Kochs spend billions of dollars making sure that message is pounded into every brain anywhere near a TV. “Career Politicians Are Bad!! And I, only I, can save you from the idiots in Congress!!” Railing against imagined foes in Washington has become a sure fire way to get yourself a seat there. Railing against government in general, now that’s a more sinister issue, and there is more to this than meets the eye.

From GOP Congressional staffer, Mike Lofgren, author of, The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, we get an insider's insight into why running on what you would repeal, instead of running on what you might get accomplished, has worked, and will continue to work for Republican candidates moving forward. We call this, The Lofgren Effect, and now we're gonna break it down.

1. Break It. ~~ In order to just keep the country moving forward, and functioning, Congress's first duty is to negotiate and pass a budget, annually. Passing a budget used to be a relatively straightforward job. Each January, the president would submit a proposed budget listing every line-item in the budget—all the specific things funded by the federal government that required an appropriation. Congress would adjust these numbers up or down as it saw fit, and the House and Senate would finish their work by July 1, when the new fiscal year began.

In 1974, Congress layered a new budget responsibility on top of the appropriations process, a process that had worked fine for almost 200 years. Now instead of getting right to work on appropriations bills after the president’s budget comes out, Congress debates the broad outlines of the budget, establishing guidelines for appropriations committees to follow, who in turn redebate the spending options. Because this is time-consuming, the beginning of the fiscal year was moved from July 1 to October 1, which as we all know is a deadline mostly ignored by Congress these days.  As it has been harder and harder for Congress to fund the government in any timely way, it has also forced a rethinking of government's priorities. To start with, when you think your job is to obstruct government, you drag your feet on everything, and even welcome government shutdowns, consequences be damned.

Each member of Congress is elected by the people to make judgment calls about what programs to fund and which ones not to, but as we all know, Congress, as a whole, hasn’t done that job properly in years. The result has been less and less oversight of federal spending, with programs that should be axed continuing indefinitely under continuing resolutions, while urgent national priorities are starved for resources. Instead of going through the budget line by line and making necessary adjustments, programs have been cut across the board via “sequestration,” which cuts vital programs, as well as those we could easily live without.

2. Block It. ~~ The same day President Obama was being sworn in, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, declared that his greatest legislative priority was – Jobs for Americans? Rescuing the financial system? Solving the housing collapse? – no, none of those things. His top priority was to ensure that Obama should be a one-term president. Evidently Senator McConnell hates Obama more than he loves his country, and a whole bunch of Republicans agree with him.

3. Destroy The Good. ~~ In the good 'ol days of a functioning Congress, voters fully expected their representatives to “bring home the bacon.” That is, to find ways of getting the federal government to fund needed construction projects, or open additional military installations that would bring jobs and income to their districts. A critical result of the abolition of pork from the budget is that the congressional leadership lost an important tool for cajoling members into making difficult votes. Loyalty could often be bought for the price of a new road, or bridge, or dam in someone’s district. Now nothing gets done, and the Republican caucus couldn't be happier.

Once the concept of a functioning US government seems out of reach to most Americans, their trips to the voting booth become less and less frequent.

Then Fill The Vacuum With Stupid
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watch with exasperation, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots. Yes, even Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, and egomaniacs. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

The Neocon crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become regular speakers at CPAC, and the backbone of leadership in the GOP today: Steve King, Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Paul LePage, Russell Pearce, Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt, Chuck Wooten, Steve Lonegan, Art Robinson, Louie Gohmert, Lenar Whitney, Jim Brown, Buck McKeon, and Allen West, to name a few. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy. As Rachel Maddow puts it, "They should put a bell around these guys, or something, so you can tell when they are coming."

These front line Republicans deliver misinformation daily to the eagerly awaiting news stations. And when anyone refutes any of it, the public just sees a brawl, and tunes out. Why not? After all, to a low-info fair-weather voter, when both major US political parties are pointing fingers at each other, the Dems and the GOP really do start to look alike. And that's exactly the way the Koch brothers want it.

Laying Tacks In The Road To Democracy
In his “Manual of Parliamentary Practice,” Thomas Jefferson wrote that “it is less important that every rule and custom of a legislature be absolutely justifiable in a theoretical sense, than that they should be generally acknowledged and honored by all parties. These include unwritten rules, customs and courtesies that lubricate the legislative machinery and keep governance a relatively civilized procedure.” In other words, the only thing that can keep the Congress functioning is collegiality and good faith. The norm, the absolute least thing we should expect from our members of Congress is reasonable debate, skilled negotiation and problem solving techniques, and of course, Up or Down votes.

During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a “high functioning” institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. It’s safe to say that these days Congress couldn’t have agreed on even our Bill of Rights.

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation, and every routine procedural motion, is now subject to a Republican filibuster, thus requiring a supermajority 60 person yea vote for anything to pass. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked. Conservative ideology insists there must always be a winner, and a loser. No more win-wins in Congress anymore. That’s a no-no. As Hannah Arendt observed while steeped in German World War II politics, “a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.”

When Obama took office in 2009, senior editor at The New Republic, John P. Judis summed up the modern GOP this way:
“Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority, and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of government shutdowns in 1995, 1996, (and 2013), as well as the impeachment trial of 1999, (and the presidential law suit of 2014). If there is an earlier American precedent for today’s Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to, and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.”
Today's Republicans intentionally sabotage government programs by denying them adequate resources, and then complain that the programs don’t work. By stalling budget approvals, and habitually threatening government shutdowns, each government agency never knows exactly what its budget is. In the last six years, virtually every agency of government has had to deal with wildly fluctuating estimates of how much money it will have to spend. Once establishing apparent incompetence, Republicans can then justify further reductions in resources to those programs, leading to more problems.

Perfidy is the permanent state of disloyalty, of pretending you care about the future of the country, and then tripping over yourself trying to block any functioning processes from running at all. That’s the GOP. Pretending to care most of all about America, and then doing whatever they can to destroy any continuity of government, with the express goal of pointing at all of it, and saying it failed.

After a while, the luster involved with voting for people who say government is the problem wears off. Congress’s approval rating is down to around 15%. But in the hallowed halls of Congress, the guys with the red ties couldn’t be happier. ‘Cause maybe you might not show up to vote, and they’ll have a better chance of winning. Insane.

The Lofgren Principle
To put it simply, one side – or a sizable faction of one side – has deliberately attempted to damage the reputation of Congress to achieve its political objectives.

Lofgren cautions,
“Don’t let all this obstruction for the sake of obstruction fool you. The GOP knows what it’s doing. As Republicans succeed in obstructing Congress from doing its job, it further lowers Congress’s favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner."
congress chart lofgren
"The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda has taken over the national discussion, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, our once trusted news sources now hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.’”
The constant murmur coming from main stream news of “there the two parties go again!”, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends.

Although we are quite proud of our less than 50% voter turnout, the United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions – if government is a racket, and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle class declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, 25 million less than voted in Obama in 2008. But those 44 million midterm voters effectively canceled the political results of the 2008 election of President Obama, giving the Republicans control of the House. Will it even be worse come this November election? Are we also going to lose the Senate? As we mentioned, the GOP only needs to gain 6 seats more than they have now to get that accomplished. According to all sources, it's going to be close.

This Lofgren tactic of inducing public distrust of government is not only cynical, it is schizophrenic. For people who profess to revere the Constitution (i.e. the rabid Tea Party flag clingers), it is strange that they so caustically denigrate the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document. Most Republican office holders, and office seekers, seem strangely uninterested in the effect of Citizens United. They never mention the repeal of Fourth Amendment protections by the Patriot Act, the weakening of habeas corpus and self-incrimination protections in the public hysteria following 9/11, or the unpalatable fact that the United States has the largest incarcerated population of any country on earth. If anything, they opt for more incarcerated persons, as imprisonment is a profit center for the prison privatization industry, which is itself a growth center for political contributions to these same politicians.

Conservatives prefer to rail against those government programs that actually help people. And when a program is too popular to attack directly, like Medicare or Social Security, they prefer to undermine it by feigning an agonized concern about the deficit. Or they refer to Obama as the Food Stamp president, complaining that if you feed someone, they won’t learn to feed themselves. That concern is largely fictitious.

Fiction is the stuff of Conservative daydreams, and Republicans continually play on the public’s ignorance of this fact. According to a September 26 Bloomberg poll, 59 percent of people incorrectly believe the deficit is rising versus just 10 percent who know that it is actually falling.

The basics are straightforward and unambiguous: The Congressional Budget Office reported that the federal budget deficit will fall to 2.8 percent of GDP this year, almost one-third below what it was in 2013. As a percent of GDP, not only will that be the lowest deficit since 2007, the drop from 9.8 percent in 2009 to 2.8 percent in 2014 is the largest five-year reduction in federal red ink since the end of World War 2, that is, in almost 70 years. Nonetheless, the perception that the deficit is still growing has been fed by Republicans, including on his way out House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who recently said the deficit is growing, and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who said last month that we have trillion-dollar deficits.

They can’t win on facts, so they make up their own,. And their constituents who believe in the “government takeover” show up to vote, while the ones who can’t believe what they are hearing throw up their hands, and give up, thinking, "How could my one vote possibly help fix this mess?"
Voting Doesn’t Matter And Other Myths
This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens.

Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy, giving the world that chance to vote on the direction their future will take them; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was the signature policy of the Bush administration, and look where that left us. But domestically, they don’t want 'those people' voting.

You can probably guess who 'those people' are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not Real Americans. Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn’t look, think, or talk like the GOP base. Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some “other,” who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Immigrant Children. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Hispanics. Atheists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.

While Democrats dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations’ bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let’s build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it’s evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.

Beware The Words You Use. People Will Listen
You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. “Entitlement” has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is “entitled” selfishly claims something he doesn’t really deserve. Why not call them “earned benefits,” which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don’t make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the “estate tax,” it is the “death tax.” It wasn’t “affordable healthcare for all,” it was “death panels for sure.” Healthy popular rage is instead harmlessly diverted against pseudo-issues: crazy inflation, the second amendment, Planned Parenthood, birtherism, gay marriage, abortion, and so on, none of which stands to dent the corporate bottom line in the slightest. In fact, in some cases, such as the sale of gold, guns, and bullets, business is booming.

The GOP talking points machine cynically feeds the worst instincts of our fearful, and angry, low-information political base with a nod and a wink. It isn’t even clear how many GOP officeholders actually believe the stuff they spew. Red meat is their friend, and they never speak to a group without having some to throw out to the masses.

All of these half-truths and outright lies have seeped into popular culture, who now accept this misinformation as dogma. My vote doesn’t count. The tactics of the GOP are important indicators of an absolutist, authoritarian mindset that is increasingly hostile to the democratic values of reason, compromise and conciliation. This mindset feeds on polarizing division, conflict, and the crushing of opposition, and Crossroads USA has been very explicit that this is has been their principal recommended campaign strategy.

God Is In The Details
In addition to all of that extreme lunacy, there is a constant undercurrent of religious righteousness. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country, and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. Since then, it’s seeped into ‘wars on christmas’, and ‘prayer in schools,’ and ‘America Is A Christian Nation.’ The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like neanderthals on questions of evolution versus creationism, on scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary, or quaint beliefs. We are, after all, only slightly more than 300 years away from our own salem witch trials.

Still, over 300 years later, all around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility towards science, evolution, and progressive growth; it is this group that defines “low-information voter” – or, perhaps, “misinformation voter.”

Some say the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides common use dog whistles which rationalize, in the minds of followers, the GOP’s rhetoric. End of Days is now, Obama is the anti-christ, we will all be redeemed, the rapture is upon us. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War, or God is Anti-Gay, or God is Anti-Immigrant. It’s mother’s milk to the misinformed climate change deniers, and those who think President Obama is a godless Muslim. It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only in foreign lands, but also in the realm of domestic political controversy.

The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy, and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant. Our country has been hijacked by terrorists who aren’t concerned about the life of the hostage they’ve seized. And these mostly men that we elect to serve, stoop awfully low in order to gain their seats of power.

Protecting The Least Of Us, WWJD
In the modern GOP; it hardly seems conceivable that a Republican could have written the following:
“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things…a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” (That was President Eisenhower, writing to his brother Edgar in 1954.)
Lofgren further warns, “If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté. They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.”

No Leaders For You
Of course it always helps if you can also deny the government agency administering a program a permanent leader, as Republicans in the Senate have routinely done during both terms of Obama’s presidency. This has forced agencies into a constant state of “automatic pilot,” unable to move forward and deal with issues arising within its jurisdiction, thus leading to problems that justify abolition of the agency, and the programs it administers.

“The United States continues to operate without a complete diplomatic toolbox to exert our leadership and advance our security and economic interests across the globe…” reports Secretary of State John Kerry. A Senate backlog in confirming ambassadorial candidates has left the United States without permanent ambassadors in 40 countries. And in many countries where we had existing ambassadors, those men and women have moved to their next assignments, while their replacements languish in the confirmation process. How could the Republicans constantly rail against our standing in the world, and yet not allow us vital links between our government and the rest of the world? As hard as it is to believe, our Congress has been taken over by a party that wants us to fail internationally, as well.

“Obama can’t lead.” Tell us that one again, while you refuse to deploy his emissaries? “Obama is inept in the art of government.” Explain that please, GOP, while you deny him his appointees indefinitely, and refuse to fund his initiatives.

The Lofgren Effect
American historian Bruce Bartlett shares, “Once one understands Lofgren, it is very easy to implement in a variety of situations—as long as one cares nothing about the proper functioning of government.” Make government look so corrupt that no one wants to vote. So simple in its usefulness, and so damaging to the United States.

If Republicans have perfected a new form of politics that is successful electorally at the same time that it unleashes major policy disasters, it means twilight, both for the democratic process, and America’s status as the world’s leading power. For the first time in American history, we had our national credit rating downgraded because of GOP obstructionism. Is that the path we are going to continue on? A slow degrading of the value of our country at the hands of a political party that has no intention of even attempting to make things better for its citizens.

We usually think of incompetence as being the result of ineptness, stupidity or ignorance. But in the case of this Congress, it is often intentional and deliberate, part of a long-term strategy by some Republicans to undermine government itself. Thankfully, Lofgren exposed the tactic of filibustering all legislation in the Senate, and all nominations to administration positions, regardless of merit. In Lofgren’s words:
“A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner."

"A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public, and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980)."
An ABC News/Washington Post poll confirms that the strategy has been working.

So What Are We Saying
The goal of today's Republican Party is to strangle, and ultimately abolish useful government programs on the grounds of being ineffective, just so they can continue to claim that government is ineffective. Once that perception takes place, the goal becomes establishing in the minds of Americans that their votes are useless. Why participate in a broken system? And once that wafts over the fields of America, mission accomplished. No matter how hard Democrats might work to campaign, to form platforms, to create legislation, to improve the lives of millions of Americans, none of that matters if the base stays home, forgets to vote, and the Dems lose control of Congress.

Luckily, it’s getting a little harder to keep the people ignorant. Far from our old Massachusetts colonial cousins, we have the internet, and social media, so it’s getting more and more difficult to keep the general population out of the conversation.

Whatever happens, we can be sure that Republicans will continue to operate on the plan exposed by Lofgren—at least until there is another Republican president. What can a citizen do? You can vote, and you can encourage others to vote. That's exactly what you should be doing.

Source: Mike Lungren’s Truth-Out article, Goodbye To All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left The Cult and Bruce Bartlett's Financial Times Article, Republicans and Lofgren Corollary

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Banner!

Old Glory
Well, it's not actually our American Flag that's 200 years old this weekend. It's the song, The Star Spangled Banner, which has survived 200 years of being sung on high o'r the land of the free and the home of the brave, and along with it, a tough little piece of cloth, that managed to make it through one particularly difficult fight in Maryland, during The War of 1812.

Somewhere along the way, that song about the flag, and its adventure flying over the battle of Fort McHenry, became our national anthem. It actually didn't get popular as a song at all until the Civil War (1861 to 1865), at a time when the flag became a symbol of loyalty to the Union.

In case you aren't familiar with how things went down back in 1812, let us help clear the fog of war. On June 18, 1812, America declared war on Great Britain after a series of trade disagreements. (Yes, this was another war with Great Britian, not more than 50 years after the first one) By August, 1814 (2 years into the war), British troops had invaded Washington, D.C., and burned the White House, Capitol Building and Library of Congress. Their next target was Baltimore, and Fort McHenry was taking a beating.

On this day, in 1814, a lawyer, and an amateur poet, named Francis Scott Key, made his way out onto a British ship in Baltimore's Inner Harbor to help free a prisoner. Turns out, one of Key's friends, Dr. William Beanes, had been taken by the British and was being kept onboard, so Key made his way to Baltimore from Virginia, then out to meet with the captors, and began to negotiate with the Royal Navy for the doctor's release. That night Key managed to do more than haggle Beanes away from the British and back to his family, he also jotted down a little poem, as he watched the fight back on shore, and that poem, once set to music, would later become our national anthem.

You see, despite the fact that Key was able to get Beanes released as a prisoner, the two men weren't allowed to leave the deck of the British ship until after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry. Key watched the bombing campaign unfold from about eight miles away, helpless. After three days of fighting, it was determined that the British would be unable to destroy the fort, and Key, who was relieved to see the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry, quickly penned those now famous lines in tribute to what he had witnessed, the sight of a lone U.S. flag still flying over Fort McHenry, through the night, through to the next day.
"And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there."
He was talking about Bmore.

Francis Scott Key was later appointed U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and it wasn't until 1931 that the diddy becomes America's national anthem. The poem was printed in newspapers and eventually set to the music of a popular English drinking tune called "To Anacreon in Heaven" by composer John Stafford Smith. People began referring to the song as "The Star-Spangled Banner," and in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson announced that it should be played at all official events. It was adopted as the national anthem on March 3, 1931.

Today, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1914 is housed at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. And this weekend, we celebrate that image.

American history and American myth are often inexorably intertwined, making it difficult to tell where one begins, and the other takes off. Myths, after all, are meant to simplify and inspire; while history is left with the business of recording events faithfully, faithfully enough for the victors and tale writers, no doubt.

For instance, the flag housed at the Smithsonian, apparently, is one that was actually raised after the battle ended, and wasn't the one flying all night. A fierce storm was raging during much of the bombardment the night Key watched from afar, and the wet garrison flag would have been so heavy that it would probably have snapped the flagpole. Analysis by Smithsonian conservators has also shown no evidence that holes in the flag at the museum were a result of battle damage. But this bigger flag still deserves its revered status. It was the one raised over Fort McHenry after the bombardment ended on the morning of Sept. 14, 1814, a sight that galled the British, thrilled Francis Scott Key, and inspired every other American who saw it.

star spanled banner book cover
Author: Lonn Taylor
More than just the tale of one flag and one song, The Star-Spangled Banner is the story of how Americans—often in times of crisis—have expressed their patriotism and defined their identity through the "broad stripes and bright stars" of our preeminent national symbol, a tradition that still thrives today.

The dramatic story of this flag, and of the Smithsonian's effort to save it for posterity, are the subject of Lonn Taylor's book that explores the broader meaning of the flag in American life.

Formerly a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Lonn Taylor served as historian for the Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project. Today, Kathleen M. Kendrick and Jeffery L. Brodie are co-curators of a new exhibition about the reinstalled Star-Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian.

The original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key "by the dawn's early light" has been cared for by the Smithsonian since 1907. Unfortunately, not long after the huge 30-foot by 42-foot flag inspired the poem by Key, its caretakers began snipping off pieces. Seriously. The first documented clipping was taken in 1818 at the request of a widow, to be buried with her husband who fought at the battle. By the 1880s, about 20% of the McHenry flag had been lost.

"It was such a monumental moment in time that people felt they wanted to hold a piece of that history," said Jennifer Jones, one of the curators who oversees the flag at the Smithsonian. Today, the Smithsonian has recovered 17 missing pieces from the flag, displaying the reconstructed icon with care under low lights.

Much of America's history has been obscured, or removed from history books, but the poem, the song, and the flag are tent poles of our identity, generally accepted as fact, and no matter how you parse it, the United States flag, and its National Anthem, can still fill a patriot with pride.

Americans this weekend will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the poem that became the nation's national anthem.
Americans this weekend will celebrate the 200th anniversary
 of the poem that became the nation's national anthem.

Happy Birthday, Star Spangled Banner! And Many More!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gas Prices Down. Here's Why.


Gas Prices Down
If you loaded up the family, and took to the road this summer, you, like millions of others crossing U.S. highways, undoubtedly noticed that gas prices had come down. A welcomed relief leading into the back-to-school and holiday spending seasons.

WJXT out of Jacksonville, FL reports, "Despite the conflict in the Middle East, and even with recent concerns over long term Russian energy supplies, gas is averaging $3.41 a gallon for regular unleaded. That's the lowest since 2010, when you compare Labor Day gas prices from year to year."

Domestic Oil Production Up

These days, in the United States, we are producing more of our own oil, which helps bring the prices down. As of April 2014, there were 1,835 operating oil and gas rigs, up over 18% from 1,553 when President Obama took office in January 2009. Total domestic oil output is up 8% this year, after declining under President Bush. In fact, domestic natural gas production is on pace to set a new record high in 2014, up nearly 25% from 2008.

None of that really helps toward investing in alternative fuels, or lowering green house gases; still, lower gas prices are always welcome, and prices are expecting to continue to fall through November.

'Yay, Mr. President, Great Job!!!' reports all the news outlets? FOX loves oil wells, drill baby drill, and all that. 'Yay, Mr. President!! You heard us! You drilled!' reports Steve Doocy of Fox And Friends. Really? Of course not.

Who Do We Blame?
Back in 2008, while the world's markets were starting to tank, FOX went into overdrive to defend the rising gas prices under George W. Not surprisingly, Fox Business Network Anchor Cheryl Cason jumped on the case, saying, "No President has the power to increase or to lower gas prices. Those are market forces," adding, "It really is tough for this President (Bush Jr.), because he really does not have any control what is going to happen with the markets and with the economy, and with oil prices, and supply and demand in gasoline, it really is out of this President's (Bush Jr) hands."

"The next time you hear a politician say he or she are going to bring down oil prices, understand it's complete BS." ~~ Bill O'Reilly on Fox News.

President Obama would agree. While stumping in North Carolina, POTUS warned, "The next time you hear some politician trotting out some 3 point plan for $2 gas, you let 'em know, we know better."

We Still Blame Obama
When reviewing the numbers from this last Labor Day, and comparing them to past Labor Days, gas prices are the lowest they’ve been in four years, at an average of $3.41 a gallon of regular unleaded nationwide. Last year’s Labor Day saw an average price of $3.59 per gallon, and the year before that it was $3.83 per gallon.

If you switch to Murdoch's channel, and we don't suggest you do, Fox and Friends is reporting,"Gas goes up almost double under this President. Did anyone see that coming? He's (Obama) been nothing but bad for the economy. The President is going to have to explain his role in causing these gas prices to go up. President Obama is the first to try to actively stop supply and production in the United States from increasing. Why isn't anybody talking about this?"

That is a good question, Steve Doocy. Why isn't anyone else saying that? Maybe because you are just making things up as you go along, Fox News.

The Facts
1. Oil production is up 25%, since President Obama took office.

2. In the US, this fall, the price of a gallon of gas is slightly down, and despite the turmoil in the Middle East and Russia, gas prices are expected to keep falling through November.

3. If you ask FOX, or Obama, nobody has anything to do with any of it.

Want to find out the gas stations with the most reasonable prices in your area? Check out Gas Buddy. It's free. You enter your zip code, they search for the cheapest gas in your area, and steer you in the right direction.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

It’s All About That Base: Each One, Reach One

How Do We Fight Back Against The Kochs’ Money?
This November, like most midterms, represents a turning point in the direction our country will go for the next two years or more. This time, we are fighting an ideology as reckless and short-sighted as any we’ve ever seen.

This time the issues at stake are enormous, as more and more misinformation leaks into the conservative base, and more and more voters disengage from the noisy din where nothing gets done. The less they know, the more they think they know, the more dangerous these uninformed voters can be. They tend to elect Rove/Koch party line misguided Republicans.

The crop of radical clowns they’ve got lined up to join Congress this year as members of the Republican Caucus have been saying things that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. That is, unless you’ve already heard this mess, in which case, we can only assume you haven’t been sleeping well as it is.

What Are The Messages The Koch’s Want Us To Believe

“Women Shouldn’t Swear”

“Overturning Citizen’s United Will Eliminate Free Speech”

“Climate Science Is A Hoax”

“The Minimum Wage is Evil”

“Entitlements Are Something One Can Apply For, But Not You”

“The Deficit Has Quadrupled Under A Democrat”

“Obama Hates White People”

“Obama Hates America”

“Obama Conspires To Increase The Immigration Rate”

“Obama Has Taken More Vacation Than Any Other President”

“Progressives Are Evil”

“Liberals Are Communists”

“Women Are Always Responsible For Being Raped”

“Women Should Make Less Than Men”

“The United States Is A Christian Country”

“Obamacare Is A Government Take Over”

“They Want To Take All Our Guns, Just Like Hitler Did”

“The Refugees At The Border Have Ebola”

“ISIS Is Coming To Attack Our Oil Through Texas”

“Education Is Evil”

“Gays Want To Behead Christians”

“99% Of Mass Shooters Are Democrats”

“Autism And Dementia Are God’s Punishment For Abortion/LGBT Rights”

“Public Schools Should Teach Students That Humans And Dinosaurs Lived Together”

“Unions Must Be Outlawed”

“Cap And Trade Is Evil”

“It’s Adam And Eve, Not Adam And Steve”

“Abortion Is Killing”

Do we need to go on? No. 
Now you think all that came from Tea Party radio hosts, don't you? You think Rush Limbaugh maybe.... Um, sorry, those are the actual platforms for republican 2014 congressional candidates.

Those nuttier-than-a-fruitcake phrases up above are what they actually say at stump speeches; this is what they are choosing to run on during these midterm elections. Real live candidates wearing buttons with elephants on them say these things.

Why? Because obviously they have no real complaint against the sitting President. No real issues to rail against. Nothing based on facts. If they did, they would surely use that as their rallying cry. But they don’t. So we have to listen to all of this nonsense, nonsense designed to activate their red base with red meat. Garbage in, garbage out.

You can’t be anti everything, you have to stand FOR something. You have to have ideas of your own. That’s how the GOP became the party of “No,” the party of gridlock, the party of obstructionism. They are the reason our Congress is broken, which is keeping our government broken.

What Can We Do About It
Vote. Really. Vote. I mean it. And make sure you bring someone with you. Or this kind of stuff will be minted on our coins.

It will be a slow change to turn this Congress around, and get them back on the road to true progress, making way for America to possibly lead once again in the areas of science and knowledge. But you, you can be the trim tab, you can make the difference. Don’t let them make you believe you can’t. Don’t let those conservative talking head whackos enter your consciousness.

You have time. Almost two months. A little less. You have to sit yourself down, and think of someone you know who doesn’t plan on voting this year. And you need to convince them to vote. Pick them up the day of, maybe get some coffee after, but get them to the polls. We have more Democrats in the U.S. than Republicans, so the more people that vote, the better chance the Democrats have of winning. We just have to show up.

Each One, Reach One. Everyone Bring One.

Do You Have Your One?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Oh Mighty ISIS ~ We Might Just Be Bombing You

blue bomb (2)
(US Gov, 1945)

Is This Our Fight?
After policy geeking around practically 24/7, crowdsourcing, tweeting, and reading, we begin with this premise. The Entire World needs to stop the group most people are referring to as ISIS. They just have to be stopped.

As Americans, we stand for religions freedoms, we stand for women’s rights. As humans we stand against torture. As hippies we stand against war, and as progressives we work to evolve our ideals.

As legislators and negotiators we have pointed at torture and called it illegal, worldwide. We sign treaties. We make friends. We attempt to put barbaric history behind us.

Every human on earth, regardless of ideology or religion, should be able to look at the short films posted worldwide that have been produced by the Islamic State In Iraq (aka al-Qaeda In Iraq) and see the same thing. If you don’t find yourself cringing, you might just be one of the bad guys.

If no attempt is made to stop ISIS, the world, the entire world, will be saying that death by rape, death by beheading, death by torture, death because of religious choice, and the subsequent mass massacres are just part of what should be expected when you live on earth in 2014. So not doing anything is not an option.

(nedayeazadi.net, 2014)

The Bad Guys
What do these guys want? Let's start with what they have said on camera. After changing their name from al-Qaeda In Iraq to Islamic State In Iraq, finally settling on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS militants outlined a chilling five-year plan for global domination and declared the formation of a caliphate. They take orders from their current leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who they say now has authority over all Muslims. They also demand Muslims around the world swear allegiance to the caliphate.
"O Muslims everywhere, glad tidings to you and expect good. Raise your head high, for today – by Allah's grace – you have a state and khilafah, which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership." Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, July 20, 2014
Even though this guy goes by the stage name of al-Baghdadi, which just means a guy from Baghdad, his call actually has reached sympathetic ears around the world. For some Muslims, the announcement of a Muslim caliphate by al-Baghdadi was a dream come true, and for these people, the restoration of the caliphate is their ultimate goal. There has been a longing to have a Muslim world united, and that desire has been ignited by these ultra violent militants calling themselves Islamic State. If only one Muslim/Caliph could unite the muslim world under one banner, one caliphate, that would be perfect. They could conquer the world.

ISIS has between 20,000 and 31,000 people (depending on who you ask) in tanks, or just wielding weapons, in the name of Caliphate building. They want to craft a new Islamic center, building out of the ruins of a great battle. They are calling out to the world of warriors to come out and play, and they want America back in the battle zone, in full throttle, fighting them for the holy land.

What's a Caliphate? 
A caliphate is an Islamic state. It's led by a caliph, who is the political and religious leader, and who is a considered by his followers to be a successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Many mistake a caliph for a pope-in-chief of the islamic world, but he is actually the guy, the top political guy, the voice of God on earth, someone who is appointed by Allah himself. His power and authority are considered absolute. But he is only a place holder. Should anything happen to him, almost any Muslim extremist can claim authority, and replace the Caliph. The word Caliph means substitute. The replacement just has to be someone the people will follow, a commander of the faithful. And there is a never-ending stream of radical clerics willing and able to take his seat and keep it warm. Between 633 and 700 AD a huge Islamic community was built across the Middle East, wielding power and control over vasts lands. Ever since then, there has been a core group of islamic believers, waiting to be led through a holy war, by a Caliph who is appointed by God himself, leading to the reestablishment of that Islamic State.

Of course, "from the very beginning, right after Muhammed's death, there was a massive split between Sunni and Shiites.' says Middle East expert, Moshe Sharon. It was like herding cats, except with alot more death. But the myth of a united dream persists, that there will be a world power led by a political and military leader who unites his people, throws out the jews from the holy land, placing Islam in charge of earth. "This Caliph would declare a holy war against Christians as well", so that under this Caliphate, there would be no tolerance for any other religion, or any other interpretation of the Koran. Every real Muslim dreams about the reinstitution of the caliphate," concludes Moshe Sharon.

According to a Pew Research study, there are 1.6 billion muslims worldwide (some arabic websites cite as low as .7 billion all the way to 2.8 billion). Islam is the world’s second-largest religious tradition after Christianity. Muslims make up a majority of the population in 49 countries around the world.  The Global Religion Landscape Report states there are vast differences in religious beliefs and practices amongst muslims around the world, each culture and region with their own views of religion, politics and society, even citing vast differences in their use of the internet.

Chart Showing Regional Distribution of Muslims

“Their (ISIS) use of the internet is unlike anything we have seen before.” Charlie Cooper of the Quilliam Foundation continues, “Social media applications like Facebook and Twitter act as a facilitator to connect young radicalized Britons with jihadists in Syria and Iraq.” Islamic State has so far run a very successful campaign also using public forums such as YouTube, whilst avoiding detection by authorities.

Obviously, of course, obviously, not all of the estimated 1.6 billion muslims in the world feel the same way about the caliphate that Islamic State does. Let's say less than 1/100 of 1% did. That's 160,00 people. Just sayin. Right now it's around 20,000 that are fighting. And they are actively and successfully recruiting, worldwide.

ISIS has strong support from some of their neighbors in the area. Despite the fact that ISIS wants to take over all the gulf's autocracies, bring down the Saudi government, and take over the mecca in Medina, reportedly, 4000 Saudis so far have crossed borders to join them.

How We React To Terrorism
As Rachel Maddow of MSNBC schools us,"Terrorism is provocation. It is designed to provoke action by those who are terrorized, so that a fight can then happen between the terrorist group and the opponents of their own choosing, on the terrorist group's own terms, and on their own time frame." 

Maddow continues, "when terrorist groups launch spectacular attacks, when terrorists groups do things that get the world's attention, it can unite previously disparate allies against them. When everyone has that sort of collective experience, it unifies the world in horror. Sometimes, this kind of mayhem can also break logjams, or settle internal disputes, in countries that had been thinking about taking action against said terrorist group, but had not yet been able to decide to do that. That is what President Obama is doing now. Herding cats. Building a coalition of the horrified. He's in Europe. He's on it.

Once we build this coalition, or stitch it together, the next step will be deciding how everybody wants to respond to this terrorist group that keeps killing Americans on video tape. What is the most effective approach to targeting this group? Because, what we want to do, and what we are capable of doing, are not always the same thing. Sure we can kill Bin Laden, and some other guys over here and some other guys over there, but it doesn't wash away the ideology, or the attraction ISIS has to an angry, confused, myopic group of religious zealots, many of whom are being cheered on by less violent, but just as religious, zealots all over earth.

The concept of terrorism can’t be defeated with an invading army; however, Obama has a proven track record of terrorist neutralization. His methods have worked in the past, and there is no reason to believe that they won’t be effective in dealing with ISIS.

Generally, as war weary as our country is these days, we mostly focus on the top leaders and kill them. Unfortunately, we have learned that that does not seem to work. The terrorism doesn’t stop. It just spreads like cancer. It’s a horrible, horrible comparison, but it’s apt.

Case in point, we tried to attack the al-Shabab leadership with Navy Seals, and we were turned back. The commando raid was organized after the disastrous mall shootings and several day siege at the Westgate Mall in Somalia. There was nothing about that terrible terrorist assault that made it more likely we would be successful in attacking al-Shabab. Our Navy Seals can do amazing things; however, they are not perfect. We dropped our guys in, and they were sent back before the fight could even really get started. They were spotted, shot at, and out, in a very short period of time, leaving behind bullets, grenades, a GPS, and some night goggles. The siege of the mall horrified us so much, we reached a tipping point, and we were willing to attack, to send the best, to get the bad guys. Willing is not the same as able.

How Did ISIS Rise To Power?
Under Bush Jr., we invaded Iraq on what appears now to have been a false premise. When we invaded, we destroyed every civic and humane resource along the way. Once we created a lawless vacuum in the region, an area that previously had no al-Qaeda presence, became a holiday vacation spot for terrorists calling themselves al-Qaeda In Iraq. The Caliph, who at that time was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, enjoyed using a multitude of attack and suicide tactics in Iraq to keep the delicate levels of reconstruction, barely in place, as fragile as possible.

When Syrian demonstrations led to Syrian violence, and finally the decay of the fabric of Syrian civilization, more extremists with guns from every corner of the world flew in to join the action. Al-Qaeda In Iraq, bloated with soldiers from previously disparate groups, continued upping the ante on deprivation to satiate the needs of these increasingly barbaric militant recruits. Al-Qaeda In Iraq renamed themselves al-Qaeda In Iraq & Syria.

Funny enough, the new franchise was considered too publicly violent, leading al-Qaeda Central to think that al-Qaeda in Iraq & Syria was going to taint their brand of Caliphate building. So they cut ties. And they did it on YouTube. Mistake, big mistake. Al-Qaeda In Iraq & Syria starting calling themselves Islamic State, aka IS, which the American media calls ISIS (mostly because its easier to say it on TV), and the White House calls ISIL. Once the break between the terrorist groups was finalized, ISIS became the big dog in town. With the printing of new flags, and a fancy new logo, ISIS was ready to go Hollywood.

ISIS videos started to spread the word of Jihad, blasting out the call. They use music and graphics, and their stuff looks slick. Apparently, "Islamic States militants’ recruitment campaign has overtaken al-Qaeda in its effectiveness online, targeting primarily young muslims." ~~ Quilliam Foundation. As of the writing of this article, ISIS is made up of people from everywhere, taking orders from several levels of middle management, and somehow holding onto two previously sovereign countries, Iraq and Syria.

How Are They Paying For This?
In addition to the large cash stockpiles that ISIS has already looted directly from banks as they've traveled east into Iraq, and the weapons and tanks they've acquired from the surrender of thousands of Iraqi troops, CNN reports that ISIS controls Syria's largest oil field. In total, ISIS is extracting crude at a rate of 30,000 barrels a day in Iraq and another 50,000 barrels a day in Syria. Assuming $40 a barrel is the going rate on black market oil, they make $1.2 million dollars a day from Iraq and another $2 million dollars a day in Syria. The local economies are benefiting from the low market prices in oil, but not for long, as ISIS is now burning fields behind them as they go. ISIS can't keep up this rate of production long-term because ongoing use of the oil field equipment requires maintenance. Although with that kind of funding, it would be hard to imagine that they couldn't find people to do just that.

Islamic State has lured followers from:

France, including a 16-year-old French girl who was arrested Saturday at the airport in Nice as she tried to board a plane to Turkey. Officials say the teen intended to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State. Several hours before the teen's arrest, a 20-year-old man was arrested for recruiting the girl and purchasing her plane ticket. Allegedly, the girl's parents were unaware of her plans. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve now urges parents to call a toll-free hotline if they observe "a disturbing trend of violent radicalisation" in their children. The International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London reported that about 700 French citizens have defected and joined the extremist Muslim terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.

EnglandKhalid Mahmood, the MP for Perry Barr in Birmingham, estimates that at least 1,500 young British Muslims have been recruited by extremists fighting in Iraq and Syria in the last three years. UK-based radical Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary, a vocal supporter of establishing a Caliphate under islamic sharia law, told digital radio's Fubar Radio that “it’s not important if it’s a British person carrying out the execution (of the journalist on the video), because you’re Muslim first, and British second."

Germany, 300 Germans have reportedly left the country to join the fight with ISIS. They also refer to them as IS. Same thing.

Australians, 150 Australians have made their way to Syria. At least 15 Australians died fighting alongside Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, Australian Intelligence (ASIO) chief David Irvine said on Wednesday.

Americans, A few dozen Americans are believed to be fighting with ISIS in Syria, totaling a little over a hundred Americans when you count the ones fighting for ISIS in Iraq.

These recruits hold valued passports from westernized countries, making it extremely easy to export their plans.

ISIS Called Out Japan
August, 2014 ~~ Japanese entertainment giant Sony says its online music and gaming sites have come under attack by a hacker group that also claimed there were explosives on a plane carrying a senior company executive. The company said that a US commercial aircraft carrying the president of Sony Online Entertainment had to be diverted after a warning online about the explosives.

“The PlayStation Network and Sony Entertainment Network have been impacted by an attempt to overwhelm our network with artificially high traffic,” the company said on its PlayStation blog, adding that “no personal information has been accessed.” A spokeswoman for Sony in Tokyo said a person or group using the Twitter name @LizardSquad had claimed responsibility for the attack.  “Today we planted the ISIS flag on @Sony’s servers,” tweeted the man who attached a photo of someone carrying the Islamic State flag.

Jealous, Al-Qaeda Calls On India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Kashmir etc.
In a recently released video, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri blasted out HIS call to arms. He called for "rescue" from "injustice, oppression, persecution, and suffering" in India and Pakistan, adding their purpose is to "wage jihad against Islam's enemies, to liberate Islamic land, to restore Islamic sovereignty, and to revive its Caliphate." Al-Zawahiri also said he seeks to gain support "for the vulnerable" in Myanmar and Bangladesh; in the Indian states of Assam and Gujarat; and in Kashmir, the disputed region between India and Pakistan. CNN's Peter Bergen reports,"It's al-Zawahiri's obvious way of getting some of the limelight back," he said, "as ISIS has moved front and center."

"They (al-Qaeda) are losing a lot of constituents to the Islamic State," Bergen said. "They're trying to show their global reach as an organization, but I'm not sure of exactly what sign they are trying to send." If ISIS undermines al-Qaeda, "it's going to affect funding," said Ajit Singh, senior fellow at South Asia Terrorism Portal in New Delhi, adding the radicalized Muslims are more likely to fund ISIS. "That's why al-Qaeda is trying to increase its influence," he said. Turns out, it's not al-Qaeda's first time trying to gain a foothold in India.

On Sept. 5, 2014, Obama admitted, "Given the nature of these organizations, are there potentially remnants of an al-Qaeda organization that are still running around and hiding and still potentially plotting? Absolutely. And we will continue to hunt them down the same way we’re doing with remnants of al-Qaeda in the FATA, or elements of al-Shabaab in Somalia, or terrorists who operate anywhere around the world."

A Caliphate For Who?
The violence in Iraq has killed more than 5,500 civilians over the first six months of the year, according to a report by the United Nations that documents the massive humanitarian toll of the Sunni militant offensive.

At the time of the writing of this article, the Caliphs have killed a whole bunch of muslims while claiming to defend and protect them. No one knows exactly how many muslims have been killed, or the number of total dead at this point. 600 - 700 massacred over here, 1000 - 1500 beheaded over there. We just don't know.

Glass Houses
To turn a particularly jarring spotlight on a sickening truth, our country, that we love so much, has invaded, overthrown, massacred, enslaved, jailed, slave wagered, and yes, even tortured, in just the 200+ years of us being a country. Some we've done just in the last decade. And there is just no excuse for it. We are evolving quickly on everything from The War On Drugs to LGBT rights; however, we still don't have equal pay, nor can we get the ERA signed...really...still. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before we invaded Iraq.

"That being said, 9/11 did not usher in an age of terrorism, with al-Qaeda going from strength to more strength. Why? Because countries cooperated in fighting them and other terror groups, with considerable success. When we can come together, when we cooperate, when we put aside petty differences, the results are astounding." ~~ CNN

War Money, War Problems
For those who say we could have stopped these guys in Syria, not so fast. These soldiers who are now called ISIS were not united, it was impossible to know who to back. The photo below has been widely reported as McCain being duped into meeting the bad guys, ISIS, when he went to Syria. The photo below has also been reported, by one source, as McCain meeting with Free Syrian Army (FSA) members who were later murdered by ISIS.

What’s the difference? The FSA says they are a group unified to defend against the brutality of the dictator Assad; however, since ISIS wants to topple every leader in the area, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, in some skirmishes, FSA joined up with ISIS and fought together. So who do you back? Who were we supposed to be fighting with if we had invaded Syria? It is in no way clear that American money and American weapons would have made the situation better had we thrown them at Syria a year ago.

ISIS posts PR Photos of John McCain (CNN)
Our Response
As Karen Finny, DNC Communications Director, points out, "The people voted in 2008 and 2012 to say we do not want war. We voted for a not-war President. We don't want cowboy diplomacy."

Although Vice President Biden was heard saying, "We'll follow Islamic State (ISIS) to the gates of hell!", White House spokesperson Josh Earnest states "the responsibility of what happens in Syria will not sit on the shoulders of the United States alone." Nonetheless, we are about to, and seriously we are about to, go to war. We might be the good guys this time, but we are in the beginning stages of a kill-all-the-bad-guys kind of war. I guess we'll just aim at anybody wearing a mask.

Moderate Islamic clerics worldwide state, "these are not Muslims in the true sense of the word. Saudis, Kuwaitis, Palestinians all say these are not Muslims. This is way above any Sharia law. And they control the message. They put anything they want out into the world, and it sticks. They plan to take over Israel, Iraq, Syria, Gaza, the whole region, and make it one big country." That's exactly what their plan for that part of the world entails. Just the way it is. The growing of this group may be someone's fault, but that is no longer the point. ISIS wants America in the fight. They want more of our weapons, and they can recruit better if we show up for the fight.

Sept. 5, 2014 ~ President Obama takes a detour
from his anti-ISIS coalition building to walk
and think, at Stonehenge (CNN Pool)

Calm Before The Storm
On August 28, 2014, White House spokesperon Josh Earnest explains exactly what "We Have No Plan" means. Of course, it does not actually mean we have no plan. (See video) He laid out the following TO DO list. 1. Iraq's political leaders need to unite the country of Iraq to confront ISIS." Earnest adds, "The stakes here have never been higher for Iraq. It has never been more in the interest of Iraq's political leaders to put down their sectarian differences and focus on the common enemy of ISIL (aka ISIS). This is not an easy solution, but it's the most important one. 2. We've put people in there to protect American assets, and we've dispatched air strikes to protect personnel in Iraq as well as to 'infrastructure' like the Mosul Dam." Writer's note: there is also an oil refinery just south of Mosul.

In a morning press conference on September 3rd, Obama announced, "Whatever these murderers think they can achieve by killing an innocent journalist like Steven (Sotloff), they have already failed. They've failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism. We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take this fight against the terrorists. We will not forget, our reach is long, justice will be served."

On September 5th, Obama pointed out, "You can’t contain an organization that is running roughshod through that much territory, causing that much havoc, displacing that many people, killing that many innocents, enslaving that many women. The goal has to be to dismantle them. And if you look at what happened with al-Qaeda in the FATA, where their primary base was, you initially push them back. You systematically degrade their capabilities. You narrow their scope of action. You slowly shrink the space, the territory that they may control. You take out their leadership. And over time, they are not able to conduct the same kinds of terrorist attacks as they once could."

POTUS continues, "What we can accomplish is to dismantle this network, this force that has claimed to control this much territory, so that they can’t do us harm. And that’s going to be our objective. I’m pleased to see that there’s unanimity among our friends and allies, and they are prepared to work with us in accomplishing this worthy goal."

Today, President Obama emerged from talks in Wales to announce the formation of a 10 nation alliance dedicated to combat Islamic State (ISIS). The avengers consist of, well, us, and UK, France, Denmark, Poland, Italy, Turkey, Canada, Australia, and Germany. Sec. of State John Kerry and Sec. of Defense John Hagel secured the agreement. Obama signed off saying, "There is a consensus that a sustained coalition effort is needed to degrade and destroy ISIL."

As reported by Luke Russert, "It is expected that Arab states and Sunni majority states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emerits, Qatar, and Jordan, would join us actively in the fight as they also reject these extremist islamic views."

The rest of this year is going to be very interesting. It will be intriguing to see what the coalition comes up with to take these guys on. We know who they are.

The most important question moving forward is how can we reach their hearts and minds in order to put this period of barbaric terrorism behind us, back in the history books, where it belongs.

The Policy Geek