Friday, June 27, 2014

U.S. Middle East Envoy Resigns After Unsuccessful Year

U.S. Middle East Envoy Resigns After Unsuccessful Year

U.S. Middle East Envoy Resigns After Unsuccessful Year

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 11:28 AM PDT

U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk will leave his post after failing to help broker a peace settlement between the two nations. Indyk’s stepping down comes less than a year after his appointment to the job.

The U.S. State Department announced Friday that Indyk will return to his former position as Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy at The Brookings Institution, but he will continue to work with Secretary of State John Kerry on the peace process. Indyk, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, was appointed to the envoy post by Kerry last July.

"Ambassador Indyk has invested decades of his extraordinary career to the mission of helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a lasting peace,” Kerry said in a statement. “It’s the cause of Martin’s career, and I’m grateful for the wisdom and insight he’s brought to our collective efforts.”

Frank Lowenstein, Indyk’s deputy, will serve as Acting Special Envoy, the statement said.

The announcement comes three months after Indyk and Kerry’s latest effort to reach a peace deal broke down, with both the Israelis and the Palestinians abandoning pledges they had made when peace talks resumed last year. In a May address at a conference organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Indyk said that “both parties, while showing flexibility in the negotiations, do not feel the pressing need to make the gut-wrenching compromises necessary to achieve peace.

“It is easier for the Palestinians to sign conventions and appeal to international bodies in their supposed pursuit of justice and their rights, a process which by definition requires no compromise,” Indyk continued in that speech. “It is easier for Israeli politicians to avoid tension in the governing coalition and for the Israeli people the current comfortable status quo. It is safe to say that if we, the U.S., are the only party that has a sense of urgency, the negotiations will not succeed.”

What Can We Learn From the Pending Hobby Lobby Case?

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 11:25 AM PDT


This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Just a little while ago, I read a blog post by Dr. Jackie Roese regarding the upcoming Supreme Court decision about the Hobby Lobby case. She makes the argument that we, especially women, are "eating cheeseburgers" when it comes to the issue of contraception for women – that it seems so straightforward and obvious that women should have easy access to contraceptives, we just go about our regular lives, munching on our cheeseburgers and not worrying about this case or its implications. But depending on how the Court rules, the decision on the Hobby Lobby case could make us think differently.

The Hobby Lobby case asks a simple question – can corporations refuse to cover certain kinds of birth control for women by claiming First Amendment religious freedom protections, despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act requires insurance to cover birth control? So, should corporations have this power – yes or no? It is a simple question, with a simple answer of 'no,' but it is the far-reaching implications that come from studying the issue that make things a bit more complicated.

The Affordable Care Act requires for-profit organizations to cover birth control for women on their employees' health insurance plans. Any non-profit, religious organization with a religious objection to contraception can opt out of this coverage. And obviously any individual with a religious objection to using contraception is not forced to do so. This distinguishes individuals and non-profit organizations formed for religious reasons from corporations formed to make profits. If we start treating for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby the same as churches and allow them to claim to have a faith, we create a bunch of problems. Let's take a look.

Religious Freedom

In this case, corporations are claiming they should be able to ignore laws they don't like by claiming the laws violate their faith. But everyone knows corporations do not have souls. They cannot have faith. Corporations were not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Corporations were created by states to provide liability protections for their owners and to create an organizing mechanism to make profit. It cheapens our religious freedoms and the idea of faith to say that faith is something a corporation can have. And it raises the risks that the government will have to take a more active role in litigating and deciding what counts as religious activity, and what is and is not a valid expression of it, as corporations continue to use religion to bypass any of our laws they happen not to like.


Because supporters of Hobby Lobby have claimed to be against abortion, and many of the women's groups who are pro-choice have opposed Hobby Lobby, many assume that a Hobby Lobby win would reduce abortions. But the opposite is true. Restricting access to contraception actually leads to more unintended pregnancies, which studies have consistently shown result in many more abortions. As the recent Faithful Dems post by Lindsey Bergholz explains, we all want to lower the number of abortions in America, but restricting contraceptives is not the way to do it. If this case goes in Hobby Lobby's favor, there will be more unintended pregnancies and more abortions. As Christians, we should do everything we can to ensure that doesn't happen, while at the same time staying true to our progressive values and giving women as many choices as we can. Giving women access to contraception fulfills both of these needs.

Women's Choices

Last but not least is the issue of women's choices. As women, we have made so much progress since the second-wave feminism of the 1960s that it is easy to take for granted the gains that we do have. However, events such as this pending Hobby Lobby case should remind us how precarious our rights and choices are. Should the Supreme Court rule in Hobby Lobby's favor and agree that women's right to contraception can be restricted, hundreds of thousands of women and their families would be put in jeopardy. As Democrats, we must raise our voices in defense of the fundamental right of women to plan when they will have a family and what size it will be. And as people of faith, we should think hard about the best ways to support our families and let all people make the decisions that fit best with their values and beliefs. Dr. Jackie Roese puts it well:

"I want to consider how fortunate I am to have choices. I want to spend a second grieving for women around the globe who don't. And I at least want to contemplate what this court decision means on a broader scope for us as women, women who have had choice for so long we are eating burgers and drinking ice cold cokes while watching fireworks as those in power make powerful decisions – about me. A woman."

Madeleine Roberts is a contributor to Faithful Democrats.

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Year after Firefighter Deaths, Town Moves Forward

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 11:18 AM PDT

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — Reminders of the Granite Mountain Hotshots are spread throughout Station 7.

Around the crew’s former firehouse, their pictures surround a quilt hanging on the wall, their names are inscribed on a wooden table and the vehicles they drove to their final wildfire sit parked in the garage, with slips of paper marking their seat assignments.

Over the past year, the station in Prescott has become a source of solace and heartache.

People have parked their cars outside, sharing stories of loss and pride in the 19 Hotshots who died on June 30, 2013, in the deadliest day for U.S. fire crews since 9/11. Families have sunk into the seats of the crew’s vehicles, imagining the final ride.

The tragedy has seen the community go from an outpouring of support in the days after the deaths to animosity over survivors’ benefits to blaming fire officials for mismanaging the blaze. Through it all, the community has balanced how to mourn and honor the men with how to move forward.

“We’ll never move on,” said Darrell Willis, chief of the Prescott Fire Department’s Wildland Division. “They will always be in our mind.”

Nowhere is that more apparent in the northern Arizona town than at Station 7.

A chore list posted on the inside door of one of the crew vehicles, or buggies, lists Clay Whitted’s job as “Bossin Like A Boss.” One of the steering wheels has a mustache-shaped sticker that reads “STASHTASTIC” — a reference to Andrew Ashcraft, who’d sit in the driver’s seat.

A magazine clipping above a flat-screen TV where they watched movies like “Smoke Jumpers” and “Dumb and Dumber” while on the road asks: “What’s the worst that could happen?”

The day they died, afternoon thunderstorms and erratic winds caused a fire they were fighting near Yarnell to shift directions, turning on them and trapping them in a brush-choked canyon. They deployed their fire shelters in a last-ditch effort to save themselves.

When the buggies returned without the men, thousands of people lined the streets of Yarnell, Prescott and surrounding communities to salute them.

Since then, the healing process hasn’t been easy.

One widow led a successful campaign to secure full survivors’ benefits. A father is trying to develop a better fire shelter. A family set up a fund to help aspiring firefighters learn the basics. Baseball scholarships are named for one of the Hotshots.

“You have to make friends with the uncomfortable feeling of missing them every day, because if you don’t, it’s going to destroy you,” said Danny Parker, whose son Wade was killed in the fire. “The No. 1 thing that we believe is we’ve got to have the faith that God has a bigger plan than us.”

For Gayemarie Ekker, whose son Joe Thurston was killed, her saving grace is the support from firefighters and the community, and conversations with her daughter-in-law and two young grandsons. “We’re all doing the best we can,” she said.

The losses were felt deeply in the firefighting community, too.

Firefighters helped remove the thousands of items from a memorial fence outside Station 7, but some of them avoided the cataloguing “afraid it would rip them to shreds emotionally, and sometimes that happened,” said Katie Cornelius, who put together an exhibit for the anniversary.

The firefighters now find levity in a log illuminated with lights for each of the Hotshots, understanding in an oil painting that shows 19 hearses heading up the mountain and deep appreciation for a child’s simple words: “I sorry for your loss.”

In Yarnell, where flames destroyed 127 homes, residents struggled with looters during evacuations, displacement, resentment that the community was being overshadowed by the firefighters’ deaths and anger over what some viewed as a slow firefighting response.

As the first houses rose from the ashes, people saw recovery as a real possibility.

“We feel the best way to honor those 19 is to make this a vibrant, alive community, and that’s what we’re doing,” said resident Chuck Tidey.

A recovery group has taken in nearly $1.6 million in donations, a figure Tidey said wouldn’t have been as large without the link to the Hotshots.

Station 7 is now home to a new crew of firefighters who do the work the Granite Mountain Hotshots were built upon — clearing brush from around homes in Prescott and teaching people what it means to be fire wise.

“This was their second home, you respect it,” said 27-year-old Ronnie Gamble.

These crew members, however, aren’t Hotshots and don’t aspire to be.

They pay their tributes in small ways. As part of tradition, they do push-ups if they lay a foot on a series of tiles with the initials “GMIHC” at the firehouse entrance, only now they do 19. Their black T-shirts, which resemble the Hotshots’, will be replaced with blue ones featuring an orange “19″ on the sleeve.

Colleen Turbyfill, whose son Travis was among the dead, visited the firehouse recently for the first time since the days after the tragedy. She climbed into the passenger seat of one of the buggies, rubbing her hands across a sticker with his name taped to the dashboard and sobbed.

“Did he talk on this?” she asked, pointing to the radio.

Pressing down the call button, she said: “I love you, Travis.”

Vatican Ex-Ambassador Convicted of Sex Abuse

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 11:00 AM PDT

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican’s former ambassador to the Dominican Republic has been convicted by a church tribunal of sex abuse and has been defrocked, the first such sentence handed down against a top papal representative.

The Vatican said Friday that Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski was found guilty by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in recent days, and sentenced to the harshest penalty possible against a cleric under canon law: laicization, meaning he can no longer perform priestly duties or present himself as a priest.

Wesolowski has two months to appeal. As a papal diplomat and citizen of the Vatican City State, he also faces criminal charges by the tribunal of Vatican City, which can carry a prison term. The Vatican said it would take “adequate measures” to ensure he doesn’t flee pending the outcome of that investigation.

The Holy See recalled the Polish-born Wesolowski on Aug. 21, and relieved him of his job after the archbishop of Santo Domingo told Pope Francis about rumors that Wesolowski had sexually abused teenage boys in the Dominican Republic.

Dominican authorities subsequently opened an investigation, but haven’t charged him. Poland, too, opened an investigation into Wesolowski and a friend and fellow Polish priest.

Wesolowski was the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for alleged sex abuse, and his case had raised questions about whether the Vatican, by extracting him from Dominican jurisdiction, was protecting him and placing its own investigations ahead of that of authorities in the Caribbean nation. The case was cited by two U.N. committees that grilled the Vatican earlier this year on its sex abuse record, but Vatican officials assured committee members that justice would be served within the Vatican’s legal system.

The Vatican has never said how Wesolowski responded to the charges and hasn’t provided contact information for his lawyer.

The case has been particularly delicate because Wesolowski was ordained both a priest and a bishop by his Polish countryman and former pope, St. John Paul II.

The Arthritis Med That Helped A Bald Man Regrow A Full Head Of Hair

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 11:00 AM PDT

The claim: After just 5 months of treatment, a man suffering from near-total baldness regrew a full head of hair (as well as eyebrows and eyelashes) thanks to an FDA-approved drug called tofacitinib, which is normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

The research: Previous studies had shown that tofacitinib—a type of enzyme and inflammation blocker that also influences your DNA—was capable of reversing hair loss in mice suffering from the disease alopecia. In this new study, Yale researchers chose to test the drug on a man suffering from alopecia universalis, the most severe form of the disease, which causes total-body baldness. Within 8 months of treatment, the man enjoyed "full regrowth of hair" and reported feeling no side effects, said study coauthor Brittany Craiglow, MD, in a YaleNews press release.

MORE: 8 Ways To Disguise Thinning Hair

What it means: Thanks to its enzyme-blocking, gene-influencing powers, tofacitinib appears to switch off out-of-control aspects of an alopecia sufferer's immune system, which would normally attack hair follicles and prevent hair growth, the study authors say. "The results are exactly what we hoped for," said senior author Brett King, MD, PhD, in the YaleNews release. King says he now hopes to conduct a clinical trial using a cream-based form of tofacitinib to treat people suffering from milder forms of alopecia.

The bottom line: Could this single-person study mark the beginning of the end for baldness? Male pattern baldness (MPB)—the most common cause of hair loss—is a form of alopecia. And while the Yale study suggests tofacitinib could be used to reverse MPB along with the disease's more-extreme cases, it's too early for bald men and women to start celebrating. In the meantime, try these 5 Natural Hair Loss Remedies.

MORE: 11 Bad Habits That Make Your Hair Thinner

This article was written By Markham Heid and originally appeared on

Here’s What It Will Take to Contain the Worst Ebola Outbreak in History

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 10:56 AM PDT

The “perfect storm” analogy is often over-used when it comes to disease outbreaks–all the elements that you don't want to see converge to make conditions ripe for a bacteria, or, in this case, a virus, to rip through a population at lightning speed: geography, society, culture, a potent virus, reluctant politicians and a weak health care system. But all those factors are contributing to history’s largest-ever Ebola outbreak, which the World Health Organization now calls a "crisis." Since early spring, Ebola has spread to two additional countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia, infecting 635 people and claiming nearly 400 lives.

MORE: Ebola Outbreak Beyond Our Control, Doctors Without Borders Says

The Ebola virus causes a nasty infection that triggers an inflammatory reaction so intense, patients essentially drown in their own fluids as they bleed internally and externally — victims’ bodies are overtaken with a well-intentioned defensive system run amok. Anyone who comes into contact with the infected fluids can also get infected. As of now, there are no treatments for Ebola. The only hope is for the body to remain strong enough to overcome the initial onslaught from the virus and start to develop antibodies to fight it. As patients get sick, they stop eating and drinking, becoming too weak to develop these critical antibodies. Left alone, nine out of 10 infected people die. At treatment centers, where doctors can provide supportive care with nutrients and hydration, that figure improves to seven out of 10.

Those aren't great odds, and social and cultural practices in west Africa may be stacking the deck even further. Dr. Michel Van Herp, a physician and epidemiologist with Doctors Without Borders who traveled to Guinea when the outbreak began, says he has been confronted by hostile villagers who did not welcome the medical help.

"I have had aggressive people in front of me in the village," Van Herp says, as he tried to bring infected patients to treatment centers. "Most villagers are denying the existence of Ebola."

MORE: 6 Things to Know About the Latest Ebola Outbreak

That denial is fueled by a strong stigma against the disease. In other parts of central Africa where smaller outbreaks occurred, survivors of Ebola returned to their villages only to find their homes burned and their remaining family members ostracized for having been infected.

Such denial not only increases the risk that the close contacts of those infected by Ebola will be affected, but it also creates the ideal situation for the virus to gain an even broader foothold. A critical first step in containing any outbreak of infectious disease involves carefully tracing which people patients have been in contact with. Only then can scientists start to create barriers against the virus by keeping it contained to people known to have already been exposed. In Guinea, denial and stigma against Ebola means some patients who believe they are infected are fleeing to other villages or even crossing the border to another country.

"If you have a guy who runs away to a village 20 kilometers away, then you need to start from scratch in that village to trace his contacts," says Van Herp.

MORE: What You Need to Know About the Ebola Virus

Making things worse is the fact that in the part of western Africa where the outbreak is centered, the population is particularly mobile, often traveling to nearby Sierra Leone and Liberia in search of work.

"We've seen kids who travel between three or four villages, and between the countries before they are too sick and weak that they aren't able to work any more," says Van Herp. "In the meantime they have contaminated three or four villages."

Cultural practices mean that the potential for transmitting Ebola is also amplified if a respected elder is affected.

"If a guy like this falls sick, then more people try to cure him," says Van Herp. "If he dies, more people are involved in the process of the funeral–in cleaning the dead body, and preparing the body. We have seen that one patient can give disease to 15 or 20 other people."

Van Herp plans to return to Guinea in July, but he says that so far, there hasn't been much improvement in people's education and acceptance about Ebola, despite the rising number of deaths. The WHO has called an emergency meeting of 11 nations next week to discuss ways of containing the outbreak. Attending will be the Minister of Health from Uganda, where the government has made efforts to address the stigma associated with Ebola by creating a survivors network to educate and inform the public about the disease–and hopefully reduce fear and misperceptions about the virus.

6 Interns’ Amazing Journey to Make a PlayStation Game

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 10:55 AM PDT

In front of thousands of spectators, six recent college graduates debuted their first game during PlayStation’s lavish, high-spectacle E3 presentation. The small independent team, named Pixelopous, was on stage rubbing shoulders with industry professionals showcasing their multi-million dollar projects to the world. Not only that, but their game, Entwined, came as a complete surprise to the thousands of spectators at the press conference; a true testament to secrecy in an industry plagued with insider leaks.

“So [for] all of us, [it's] our first game after college … and to announce a launch at the same time as E3 is such a dream come true for us,” Entwined designer Jing Li said.

But where did this secretive game come from in the first place?

Sony has built a reputation for itself as always looking out for the little guys, and Entwined is just the latest example of that philosophy. The game and the Pixelopus studio are both products of Sony’s PlayStation incubation program; an initiative that looks to foster young talent in the gaming industry. The program started in 2006 when Allan Becker, now head of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Japan, struck up a relationship between Sony’s Santa Monica studio and the University of Southern California. That endeavor lead to the creation of ThatGameCompany, the studio responsible for the Flower, a title that many critics cite to argue that gaming is an art form.

Jump forward six years to the budding game program at Carnegie Mellon University, of which Sony is a sponsor. The sharpest students from that first graduating class were brought on as interns in Sony’s San Mateo Studio in California. Three months later, six of them were hired and formed the Pixelopous team responsible for Entwined.

As a group in Sony’s incubation program, the Pixelopus team received unprecedented access to professional support and were given considerable freedom to dream up something fresh and new.

“We would have never dreamed up Entwined,” said Scott Rohde, PlayStation’s head of product development. “This came out of a group that hasn’t been working on third-person action adventure games for the last eight years. It’s a fresh perspective.”

Sony then added two industry veterans to the Pixelopus team, art director Jeff Sangalli and Creative Director Dominic Robilliard, to give the team’s dreams a sense of direction.

Now that Entwined has released on the PlayStation 4, the Pixelopus team will begin working on their next project while remaining in the incubation program.

“We’ll probably go back to prototyping, see what sticks around with us … and then make that into a full game,” Entwined Programmer Jitesh Mulchandani said.

The San Manteo incubation program is just one of the many that PlayStation is setting up around the world. Sony opened up an a program in Singapore in 2007, and now it’s also doing the same in Latin America. All of this is a part of Sony’s larger goal to be the center of a gaming community that extends beyond the big Triple-A titles. So expect to be surprised by more incubation projects in the future from teams across the world.

REVIEW: Phish Keeps Things Fresh With Fuego

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 10:54 AM PDT

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

At Phish’s Halloween concert last year, the band began its second set with a somewhat esoteric reference to golf, of all things: "You'll never win a major only shooting par." The lyric belonged to "Wingsuit," the first of 12 songs Phish debuted that night as a yet-to-be-recorded future album. Although some fans felt tricked out Phish's usual Halloween cover-album tradition, for me and for many other phans, it was pure treat. In the ensuing eight months, we've replayed recordings of 10/31/13 set II over and over again, analyzing meanings, contextualizing the event and nerding out, all the while pontificating on how the eventual album would sound. Despite our propensity to unjustly discard the studio albums while cherishing the live recordings, many Phish fans wondered: Might this album be the one that breaks the jam band studio-album stigma?

Now we have our answer with Fuego, Phish's 12th studio album and second since the triumphant 2009 comeback from their 2004 breakup. The answer is probably no: This will not be Phish's In the Dark [the Grateful Dead's 12th studio album, which was a surprise hit 20 years into the band's career], catapulting them into unprecedented popularity. Partly it's just a different era in the industry, and partly there's no single that touches the musical zeitgeist as readily as the Dead’s "Touch of Grey" did in 1987. Despite that, the first single, "Waiting All Night," is excellent, with a lugubrious, lo-fi sheen that floats on deep-space bass notes, brightened with acoustic guitar strums.

These new songs display veteran craftsmanship despite only one of them, keyboardist Page McConnell's superb "Halfway to the Moon," being honed over years of live playing. Granted, I liked most of the Fuego songs when I heard them live on Halloween and I’ve grown to love them since, finding beauty in the nuances: guitarist Trey Anastasio's passionate and pleading chorus to "Waiting All Night," the shimmering gleam of Floyd-esque psychedelia on "Wingsuit" and the silences between notes of "Wombat" that make it one of the most unique and exciting funk grooves Phish has created.

Judging Fuego on its ability to stand alone as a work of studio art, it has much to applaud. Phish wisely avoided trying to capture the live experience on wax, instead hiring pedigreed classic-rock producer Bob Ezrin (Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper). Ezrin's most noticeable contribution is the addition of horns and backup singers, most successfully done on "555," bassist Mike Gordon's minor-key funk stomp. Punchy horn interjections and powerful female vocal responses add a touch of Stax magic to the Little Feat-flavored groove, not surprising since Phish recorded Fuego in both Nashville and Muscle Shoals, in addition to the band’s Vermont barn-studio.

Like the compositions themselves, the brilliance of Ezrin's work here is in the nuances. He opted to use a live recording of "Fuego" as the basic track, letting its raw energy shine through in the ass-kicking classic-rock guitar riffs and the wild, trance-like speed-funk breakdown. He slowed down "Waiting All Night" and "The Line" from their live incarnations by a hair, allowing the former to ooze a touch more lethargically and the latter to settle into its groove pocket a bit more easily. The ’60s psych pop of "Sing Monica" is crisp and endlessly danceable, with a blistering guitar solo to close out the track.

There are spots where Phish and Ezrin stumble. The most glaring is "Wombat," a tune that needs to be approached as silly, but whose lyrics are delivered seriously, as if Phish didn't realize the joke only works if they ham it up. The edges are smoothed over on the normally intense funk jam; not even Ezrin's horns and soul vocals save the track.

Thankfully, this album's shortcomings are not due to a drying up of creativity or motivation. Far from being a celebratory nostalgia lap, Phish's 30th anniversary year of 2013 produced mind-blowing jam after jam after jam. Fuego reveals a band not content to merely keep touring as it always has, playing the workhorse "You Enjoy Myself" every fourth night (although they'll likely still do that). Phish wrote most of these songs together, with the basic rhythms and progressions coming directly from some of their best recent concert jams. Their democratic approach to composition signals a more mature band, while individual contributions from Gordon and McConnell are some of their strongest to date.

This is not a band reveling in their storied past and "only shooting par." Fuego is new and fresh, in both content and intent, changing things up, sinking a few birdies, and settling for a bogey or two.

Essential Tracks: "Waiting All Night", "Fuego", and "555"

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The French World Cup Team Made a ‘Yo’ Account to ‘Yo’ With Fans

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 10:54 AM PDT

Yo—an ├╝ber viral new app that was programmed in eight hours, has already had a major security breach, and literally only let’s people send the message “Yo”—probably isn’t the future of communication. But the French soccer team decided to take part in the cultural zeitgeist and send the message to their fans during the World Cup.

French social media agency KRDS created an “EquipedeFrance” account for the French team that aimed to say le Yo to its followers every time they scored a goal Thursday against Ecuador. (Which happened, not one time. The score was 0-0.)

“A single 'yo' can mean many things," KRDS head of mobile strategy Emilien Coquard told Digiday.

Maybe fans will have a chance to unpack its many meanings when France plays again in round 16.

Now if only Uruguay’s team had made a Yo account that alerted fans every time Luis Suarez bit somebody…

Kerry: Syrian Moderate Rebels Could Help in Iraq

Posted: 27 Jun 2014 10:51 AM PDT

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry signaled on Friday that the U.S. hopes to enlist moderate Syrian opposition fighters that the Obama administration has reluctantly decided to arm and train in the battle against militant extremists in neighboring Iraq.

Obama sent Congress a $500 million request Thursday for a Pentagon-run program that would significantly expand previous covert efforts to arm rebels fighting both the Sunni extremists and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. The move that comes amid increased U.S. concern that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are becoming an intertwined fight against the same Sunni extremist group.

If approved by lawmakers, the program would in effect open a second front in the fight against militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, that is spilling over Syria’s border and threatening to overwhelm Iraq.

“Obviously, in light of what has happened in Iraq, we have even more to talk about in terms of the moderate opposition in Syria, which has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against ISIL’s presence and to have them not just in Syria, but also in Iraq,” Kerry said at the start of a meeting with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba.

Al-Jarba thanked the Obama administration for requesting the $500 million, but said his rebels want even more foreign aid to fight two fronts: a bloody insurgency and their so-far unsuccessful effort to oust Assad.

“We still need greater assistance,” al-Jarba said, speaking through a translator. “We hope for greater cooperation with the U.S.” He said General Abdullah al-Bashir, the head of the military wing of the Syrian opposition, “is ready to cooperate with the U.S. side.”

Al-Jarba called the crisis that has gripped Iraq in the last month “very grave” and blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for policies that he said have divided the country. Iraq is 60 percent Shiite, and the rest nearly evenly split between minority Sunnis and Kurds. Iraqi Sunnis, who enjoyed far greater privileges during Saddam Hussein’s regime, have decried al-Maliki’s leadership and accused him of sidelining minority groups from power.

“The borders between Iraq and Syria are practically open,” al-Jarba told Kerry. ISIL seized a key border crossing between Iraq and Syria in the last week.

Kerry traveled through the Mideast over the last week to try to broker a political agreement with Iraqi leaders to give more authority to Sunnis in hopes of easing sectarian tensions and, in turn, help quell the dominantly Sunni insurgency.

Kerry also met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, where it was expected he would seek the monarch’s help in supporting Sunni efforts to combat the Sunni insurgency. More than 90 percent of Saudi Arabians are Sunni Muslims.

Obama has long been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition, in part because of concerns that weapons may fall into extremist hands, a risk that appears to have only heightened now that ISIL has strengthened. But Obama’s request to Congress appeared to indicate that tackling the crumbling security situation in Syria and Iraq trumped those concerns.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the military assistance “marks another step toward helping the Syrian people defend themselves against regime attacks, push back against the growing number of extremists like ISIL who find safe haven in the chaos, and take their future into their own hands by enhancing security and stability at local levels.”

The Syria program is part of a broader, $65.8 billion overseas operations request that the administration sent to Capitol Hill on Thursday. The package includes $1 billion to help stabilize nations bordering Syria that are struggling with the effects of the civil war. It also formalizes a request for a previously announced $1 billion to strengthen the U.S. military presence in Central and Eastern Europe amid Russia’s threatening moves in Ukraine.

With ISIL gaining strength, U.S. officials say Assad’s forces launched airstrikes on extremist targets inside Iraq on Monday. The U.S. is also weighing targeted strikes against ISIL in Iraq, creating an odd alignment with one of Washington’s biggest foes.

Obama has ruled out sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq. But he has dispatched nearly 600 U.S. forces in and around Iraq to train local forces and secure the American Embassy in Baghdad and other U.S. interests.

The White House has been hinting for weeks that Obama was preparing to step up assistance to the Syrian rebels. In a commencement speech at West Point on May 28, he said that by helping those fighting for a free Syria, “we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.”

Officials said the administration would coordinate with Congress and regional players on the specific types of training and assistance the U.S. would provide the opposition. One potential option would be to base U.S. personnel in Jordan and conduct the training there.

The Senate Armed Services Committee already has approved a version of the sweeping defense policy bill authorizing the Defense Department to provide “equipment, supplies, training and defense services” to elements of the Syrian opposition that have been screened. The Senate could act on the bill before its August recess.

In addition to the covert train-and-equip mission, the U.S. also has provided nearly $287 million in nonlethal assistance to the moderate opposition.

The military program would be supplemented by $1 billion in assistance to Syria’s neighbors — Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — to help them deal with an influx of refugees and the threat of extremists spilling over their borders.


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