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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Ted Cruz Was Booed Off Stage at a Christian Event

Why Ted Cruz Was Booed Off Stage at a Christian Event


Why Ted Cruz Was Booed Off Stage at a Christian Event

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 10:52 AM PDT

While the nation watched President Obama primetime address the threat of ISIS Wednesday night, something else was happening in Washington: Senator Ted Cruz was getting booed off the stage of a Christian event.

Cruz is often considered a rising darling of the American Christian right. He speaks at evangelical gatherings in the country, talks to groups of conservative pastors and headlines events with the Family Research Council. But Wednesday night, his Christian audience was largely Eastern and Arab. The brand of conservative, American evangelicalism that Cruz often champions—one that often aligns itself with the state of Israel’s interests—did not sit well with everyone in attendance.

Cruz was keynoting a gala for In Defense of Christians (IDC), an advocacy and awareness group that aims to bring the U.S.’s attention to the plight of ancient Christian communities in the Middle East, and to protect the rights of other religious minority groups in the region. This week, IDC is hosting a three-day Summit, a conference bringing together a range of Middle Eastern Christians—Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, Syriac, Lebanese, Assyrian, to name a few—to foster a new sense of unity in the midst of a politically fraught season. Most of the panels at the summit are of a religious nature, but a handful of political leaders are slated gave remarks as well, including Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood was Wednesday’s gala’s master of ceremonies, but Cruz was tapped to give a keynote.

Cruz initially received applause for his opening remarks that the group was united in defense of Christians, Jews, and “people of good faith who are standing together against those who would persecute and murder those who dare to disagree with their religious teachings.”

Things turned sour within minutes. “ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and their state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East,” Cruz said. “Sometimes we are told not to lump these groups together, but we have to understand their so-called nuances and differences. . . . In 1948 Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state.”

His audience at the Omni Shoreham Hotel began to boo.

At first, Cruz continued undeterred. “Let me say this: those who hate Israel hate America. And those who hate Jews hate Christians.”

The booing got louder.

Cruz pressed on, adding that his heart “weeps that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals who seek to murder them.”

IDC’s president Toufic Baaklini tried to calm the crowd, which appeared to have a divided reaction to Cruz’s words, but by that point Cruz had had enough. “I am saddened to see some here, not everyone, but some here are so consumed with hate,” he said (to which someone in the audience shouted, “We are not consumed with hate, no, you are consumed with hate”).“If you will not stand with Israel and Jews, then I will not stand with you,” Cruz said. “Thank you and God bless you.”

With that, Cruz walked off stage.

Later Cruz reacted to the event on his Facebook page. “Tonight in Washington should have been a night of unity as we came together for the inaugural event for a group that calls itself ‘In Defense of Christians,’” he wrote. “Instead, it unfortunately deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred. . . . Anti-Semitism is a corrosive evil, and it reared its ugly head tonight.”

Baaklini attempted to smooth over the situation. “As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural Summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few problems,’” he said in a statement following the incident. “In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.”

At its core, Cruz’s problem was one of context. First, he pinned his remarks to the conflict between Israel and Hamas when one of the group’s primary agenda points was actually the plight of Iraqi Christians. Second, Christians are far from a monolithic group, especially when it comes to views on policy on Israel and the Middle East. The American evangelicals Cruz typically addresses tend to be worlds apart historically, culturally, theologically, and politically from the Christian leaders in attendance.

Most American evangelicals are likely not even familiar with the Christian leaders gathered at this event, even though the headliners are the Rick Warrens, Cardinal Dolans, and even Pope Francises of their own Eastern Christendom communities, who also met with Obama at the White House on Thursday: Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Raï, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East; Gregorios III Laham, Melkite Greek Catholic Patirarch of Antioch and All the East, Alexandria, and Jerusalem; Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch and All the East; Aram I Keshishian, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Metropolitan Joseph Al-Zehlawi, Archbishop of New York and All North America for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria; Ibrahim Ibrahim, Bishop Emeritus of Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle.

Whether or not Cruz meant to rile up the crowd to rally his own base or whether it was all a giant mistake is hard to parse. Whatever the case, it caused quite a stir. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and another speaker at IDC’s conference, calls Cruz’s performance “bizarre” yet “expected.” “Like most other blind ideologues on the far right, he cared not a bit for the reality and the sensitivities of Middle East Christians,” he says. “If policy makers want to help Christians, they will first listen to them, before they try to lecture them. Having an ‘I love Israel, and I don’t care about the rest of the Arab World’ mindset may work in US politics, but it’s why we are in the mess we are in across the region.”

Baaklini, the IDC president, says the incident only serves as a reminder that unity, especially among diverse Christian groups, is still needed. “Tonight’s events make clearer than ever, that In Defense of Christians is desperately needed in a world that remains divided to the point where even the most fundamental value of life and human dignity are cast aside,” he said. “We remain undaunted and focused on achieving our goals.”

Obama’s Anti-ISIS War in Syria May Be Illegal

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 10:46 AM PDT

If truth is the first casualty of war, law is apparently the last, at least for President Barack Obama.

Obama came to office declaring his determination to reimpose legal limits on the American effort to defeat al Qaeda. He swore to close Guantanamo Bay, abolish torture, tighten rules for the treatment of terrorist prisoners and rein in the broad executive power President George W. Bush had claimed in the global hunt for terrorists.

But after five-and-a-half years of near-constant terrorist brush fires in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, and a Congress that remains largely unwilling to update key counterterrorism legislation, Obama appears finally to have surrendered to a very loose legal definition of where and when he can use military force against terrorists.

In his prime time speech Wednesday evening, Obama told Americans he was expanding attacks against the group calling itself the “Islamic State”, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by targeting its fighters not just in Iraq but also in Syria. “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq,” Obama said, “This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

Strategically, that makes sense. Speaking to reporters before Obama’s speech, a senior administration official explained, “ISIL is moving with impunity back and forth from Syria to Iraq, and vice versa, each time and from each place gaining arms, gaining manpower, gaining fuel, literally and figuratively, for their fight.”

Legally, however, Obama’s authority to attack ISIS in Syria is on shaky ground. Under the Constitution, Congress decides if and when the U.S. goes to war. In 2002, it authorized President George W. Bush to attack Iraq. That authorization, broadly interpreted, can be read to include the threat ISIS now poses there. But it doesn’t apply to Syria, at least not easily. And the Obama Administration announced this summer that it was no longer using the 2002 authorization to justify its actions.

Instead, Obama claims he has authority to bomb ISIS in Syria under the Sept. 14, 2001 authorization from Congress following the 9/11 attacks. In the call with reporters, Obama’s senior administration official said, “We believe that he can rely on the 2001 AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force] as statutory authority for the military airstrike operations he is directing against ISIL.”

That joint resolution gave the president the power to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

A variety of legal scholars on the left and the right, including Obama himself, have argued that authorization is too broad and needs to be rewritten so it doesn’t give eternal war-fighting power to all future presidents. And as Jack Goldsmith writes for TIME today, it’s a stretch for Obama to claim it applies to ISIS, given that ISIS and al Qaeda split earlier this year.

According to a 2012 speech by Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security who previously served as Obama’s top lawyer at the Department of Defense, there are two characteristics that a group must have to be considered an “associated force” with al Qaeda under the 2001 authorization. First they must be “an organized, armed group that has entered the fight alongside al Qaeda,” and second, the group “is a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” The White House has yet to release to Congress or the public any detailed analysis of their determination that the Islamic state meets these standards.

If Obama is breaking the law, don’t expect much to come of it in the short term. The consequences of Obama’s legal interpretation, beyond his own discomfort, are not likely very great. The Bush administration showed the bar for legally constraining presidential counterterrorist actions is high, and even when it is surmounted there are little or no penalties. Politically, the president has nothing to fear: no matter how angry they are about the new effort against ISIS, the left wing of Obama’s party isn’t going to impeach him, and the right won’t either, at least not for going after Islamic extremists.

In the long term, perhaps Obama’s legal legerdemain will boost those who want to come up with new, clearer legal frameworks for international counterterrorism operations. But for now Obama, like Bush before him, seems determined to act without them.

U.S. to Ratchet Up Russia Sanctions

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 10:21 AM PDT

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the United States would “deepen and broaden” its sanctions on Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine, despite last week’s cease-fire reached between the government of Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists.

American and European officials have been preparing the additional sanctions for weeks, and decided to press ahead with them this week. “We have yet to see conclusive evidence that Russia has ceased its efforts to destabilize Ukraine,” Obama said in a statement, noting that the U.S. is taking the action in response to the presence of Russian military forces in eastern Ukraine over the last month.

The specific sanctions will be detailed Friday, when the European Union will also outline a new round of economic sanctions against Russia. “We will deepen and broaden sanctions in Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors,” Obama said. “These measures will increase Russia’s political isolation as well as the economic costs to Russia, especially in areas of importance to President Putin and those close to him.”

Obama hinted at the additional sanctions last week, suggesting that ratcheting up the pressure was the most likely way to ensure compliance with the cease-fire. “It’s my view that if you look at President Poroshenko’s plan, it is going to take some time to implement,” Obama said last week following a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Wales. “And as a consequence, for us to move forward based on what is currently happening on the ground with sanctions—while acknowledging that if, in fact, the elements of the plan that has been signed are implemented then those sanctions could be lifted—is a more likely way for us to ensure that there’s follow-through.”

“If Russia fully implements its commitments, these sanctions can be rolled back,” Obama said Thursday. “If, instead, Russia continues its aggressive actions and violations of international law, the costs will continue to rise.”

 

Less Than 5 Hours of Sleep Leads to False Memories

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 10:11 AM PDT

Skimping on sleep wears down your body in so many ways: it worsens cognitive function, slows reaction time, and makes learning more difficult. (The list goes on and on: after reading our new feature about the power of sleep, you might just scare yourself sleepy.)

That’s quite enough consequences without piling on the results of a recent study in Psychological Science, which found that sleep deprivation is linked to false memories. Among the 193 people tested, those who got 5 or fewer hours of sleep for just one night were significantly more likely to say they’d seen a news video when they actually hadn’t.

There’s more than just fantastical daydreaming at stake. False memories in the form of eyewitness misidentifications are thought to be the number-one cause of wrongful convictions in the U.S., the study authors write, so sleep deprivation could have consequences beyond the scope of your own health.

The study also discovered that students were more prone to researchers’ false suggestions when they hadn’t slept more than five hours. They wove those suggestions into their responses 38% of the time, while the group that got plenty of sleep did so 28% of the time. That’s probably because sleep deprivation leads to problems encoding new information, the authors write.

“Our results also suggest that total sleep deprivation may not be necessary to increase false memory,” they write in the study. Losing just a few hours could be enough to lead you to dream up facts during waking life.

Why Terrorists Love Twitter

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 10:08 AM PDT

In 2011, the Somali Islamist group known as Al-Shabab took to Twitter. Its official handle taunted the group’s enemies, boasted of battlefield triumphs and shared images from the front lines of conflict zones. It sparred with political antagonists, rattling off missives in grandiose English. The terrorists—like the site’s less murderous users—used Twitter to share news and promote their brand. In 2013, a Shabab account live-tweeted commentary as allied fighters carried out a terrorist attack at a Nairobi shopping mall.

Terrorists love Twitter. That includes the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Sunni Muslim extremists whom the U.S. is targeting in an expanded military campaign. ISIS has emerged as the most sophisticated group yet at using the service to spread its bloodthirsty message. And when ISIS jihadists and tens of thousands of acolytes swarmed Twitter in recent months, it raised the question of how social media sites should respond when unsavory groups colonize their platform.

There are no easy answers. Social-media networks exist so users can share information; sites like Twitter are neither equipped nor inclined to police large numbers of rogue feeds themselves. And within the intelligence community, there is no consensus on whether the use of sites like Twitter as a propaganda tool hurts or helps U.S. interests.

To some observers, Twitter was derelict in allowing extremist accounts to flourish. “For several years, ISIS followers have been hijacking Twitter to freely promote their jihad with very little to no interference at all,” says Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadi extremists’ behavior online. “Twitter’s lack of action has resulted in a strong, and massive pro-ISIS presence on their social media platform, consisting of campaigns to mobilize, recruit and terrorize.”

Others say it’s not so simple. “There is a case to be made for removing the content or removing the most prolific [jihadist] accounts online. Each time that happens, they had to rebuild their audience. It has a disruptive effect,” says counterterrorism expert Clint Watts, who has studied ISIS’s behavior online. But ISIS accounts may also, in some cases, be a boon to intelligence-gathering efforts. “Their braggadocio tells us what we don’t know about what’s happening in eastern Syria,” Watts says. “In Iraq they show us every one of their successes. There is value in that.”

For that reason, some government officials may prefer the accounts remain open. “There is some value to being able to track them on Twitter,” says William McCants, a former State Department senior adviser who directs the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution. McCants recalls that a U.S. intelligence official described the site as a “gold mine” of information about foreign-fighter networks, better than any clandestine sources. The State Department is using Twitter itself, with a counter-propaganda campaign run through an account, Think AgainTurn Away. It tries to nettle ISIS and neutralize their recruiting.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment for this article. The site’s rules prohibit threats of violence, harassment and other abuses, and government agencies or law enforcement officials are able to request the removal of prohibited content. In 2013, it received just 437 such requests from governments worldwide; it received 432 in the first half of this year.

In recent months, Twitter has cracked down on some accounts, including those sharing macabre images or videos of the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. But it is not trawling for the content that some government officials believe has the greatest potential to convert potential conscripts. “This is not necessarily a bloody picture. It’s somebody telling you to go kill,” says Alberto Fernandez, coordinator of the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, whose digital outreach team is responsible for the Twitter counter-messaging campaign. “That discussion is not being taken down by Twitter.”

It’s easy to see why terrorists flocked to the platform. Beginning in the mid-2000s, al-Qaeda has been organizing online through bulletin-board forums, which were largely password protected and sometimes required special contacts to gain access. Moderators would scrub signs of dissension. In contrast, Twitter is something of a digital town square—a free megaphone to reach a mass audience, easily accessible on smartphones and largely unmonitored.

As ISIS fighters began capturing vast swaths of Syria and Iraq this summer, its network of online organizers—there are around 30 key players, according to analysts who study global extremism online—tweeted about territorial gains, posting photographic proof of their conquests. They softened their hard-edged image by sprinkling in common humanizing touches, like pictures of meals and cute cat photos. And they set about trying to recruit more conscripts—including Westerners—to the cause.

It may seem incongruous; religious extremism is in large part a renunciation of modern society, while the social-media platform is both emblem and enabler of the networked world. But since it is impossible to scrub all pro-ISIS sentiment from Twitter, U.S. analysts are trying to use the service to piece together a better understanding of the terrorist group’s dynamics. Twitter’s decision to silence some accounts but not all is fine, McCants says, and watching the group latch onto a new account when a big one is blocked can be instructive. “When you knock one of them down, it’s interesting to see how quickly they reconstitute and who their earliest followers are,” he says. “Those are the guys that are plugged in.”

Watch Hugh Jackman Describe The ‘Uplifting’ Experience of Singing at Joan Rivers’ Funeral

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 10:02 AM PDT

Joan Rivers’ funeral was held on Sept. 7, and as she wished, it was a star-studded affair with celebrity guests like Sarah Jessica Parker, Howard Stern and Rosie O’Donnell. Rivers had also wanted X-Men star Hugh Jackman to perform at her funeral after seeing him in a musical, The Boy From Oz, 10 years ago. Jackman sang a song from that musical titled “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage.”

Jackman described the experience on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon as “uplifting” and “moving” but also “funny.”

Obama, ISIS and 9/11

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 09:53 AM PDT

The President laid out a measured, prudent approach to handle the ISIS threat last night. A lot was unstated–as it should be–concerning the role of US special ops on the ground and surreptitious alliances with countries like Iran, whose interests now coincide with our own in the region. The McCainiac Republican reaction–more! bigger! now!–is so far beyond foolish that it needn’t be taken seriously. If John McCain had been elected President–and actually governed the way he runs his mouth–we’d have troops stuck in perpetuity in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and quite possibly Iran, not to mention Ukraine and Georgia (if we were lucky enough to avoid a nuclear exchange with Russia). McCain, in his tussle with Jay Carney on CNN last night, said we’d had troops in Korea and Bosnia for many years and nothing awful had happened–true enough–but neither Bosnia nor Korea (nor Germany, or Japan, he might have added) have the history of rampaging western imperialism that the Middle East does.

And that history of imperialism represents the greatest obstacle to success for Obama’s plan. George W Bush’s foolish invasion of Iraq, plus the increasing power of communication among jihadists, unleashed the possibility that the straight line borders and imaginary countries drawn by Europeans in the Middle East 98 years ago might erode (as the border between Syria and Iraq has now vanished). This is the most critical problem with the President’s plan: It assumes that Iraq is a country, that it will be able to organize a plausible, multi-sectarian government and Army–his proposed “boots on the ground” in the war against ISIS. It also assumes that Syria, in its current borders, is a country. But it’s equally possible that Syria splits apart into Sunni and Shia (plus Druse and Maronite) zones, perhaps compromising the future existence of Lebanon and Jordan. And that the Kurds split off from Iraq. And maybe even that the Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province make common cause with their Arab Shi’ite brothers across the “border” in southern Iraq. Or, worst of all, that we’re on the cusp of a regional Sunni-Shia conflagration–which our actions might help precipitate. The possibilities are myriad, and defy anything we now assume.

It is a safe bet that this area will have fractures and bloody amputations, stuggles over new borders and perhaps new countries for the rest of this century. The forces pushing toward a tribal and sectarian rationalizing of borders are far too primal for the U.S and the West to control completely. Does that mean we shouldn’t try? No. We should try–humbly–and with low expectations. We should certainly try to take out as many of ISIS’s assets as possible and proceed–as the President suggested we should–in the same targeted manner we have in Somalia and Yemen. Keeping the terrorists on the defensive is very much in our national interest.

There is constant talk of hard and soft power, but in the 13 years since 9/11, we have learned of a third source: viral power. Terrorism is a constantly metastasizing virus. It can be suppressed but it is too mutable to be swept away. It is difficult to fight with conventional means, under the traditional rules of war. What the President was trying to communicate last night was that this struggle is not going to end with a signing ceremony on the deck of a battleship. As John Kerry said in 2004, it will continue as a low-grade fever for many years, quite possibly for the rest of our children’s lives. It is a chronic condition that will have to be managed, until the real nations in that benighted region are sorted out, built, governed and controlled–not by us, but by the people who live there. Our job between now and then is to be realistic, defend our national security interests and to help, diplomatically and economically, to build a stable peace, if such a thing is possible.

Specs Shootout: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus vs the Competition

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 09:45 AM PDT

Choosing the right smartphone involves plenty of intangible metrics, to be sure. But if you’re looking for raw data about how the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus stack up against high-profile Android handsets, check out the below chart. The iPhone 5s has been thrown in for good measure, just so you can get a good idea of the newer models’ enhancements (or lack thereof).

You can also build your own comparisons if you’d like to include other phones. Head over here and check the “Add to compare” box next to each phone you want to examine, then click the “Compare Now” link in the right sidebar once you’re ready.

Ohio Senator Criticizes Obama ISIS Speech as ‘Tardy’

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 09:45 AM PDT

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman criticized President Barack Obama’s national address Wednesday evening on the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), telling reporters Thursday that he should not have bragged about withdrawing American troops from Iraq.

“It was tardy,” Portman said of the speech. “I wish he’d done it sooner.”

Speaking at a breakfast for reporters organized by the Christian Science Monitor, Portman, a Republican, argued that the United States’ failure to maintain a combat troop presence in Iraq after 2010 “is the reason we’re in the situation we’re in” with ISIS.

“He is proud of the fact that we are ending the combat mission in Afghanistan this year,” Portman said of the President, adding that Obama is indicating to would-be partners and foes that the U.S. is not “in it for the long haul … Again we are not learning the lessons of Iraq.”

“I don’t consider it a new war [against ISIS],” he added. “I consider it a continuation of something that began 13 years ago.”

Portman said he was broadly supportive of the strategy Obama laid out for Iraq and Syria, saying that Congress should approve the President’s funding request to train the moderate Syrian opposition: “I think the speech last night laid out a general strategy that I hope most republicans will support.”

The Vice Chairman for Finance of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said that with 53 days until Election Day, the battle for control of the Senate is “too close to call” and that “what happens in terms of the economy is always the x-factor.” He admitted it was unlikely to change dramatically before the election.

Portman said he isn’t actively weighing a run for the White House in 2016. “Yeah, I’ll take a look at it after the election,” he said. Asked about any upcoming visits to the early state of New Hampshire, he quipped, “My daughter goes to school up there, so part of my heart is in New Hampshire.”

 

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 11

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 09:37 AM PDT

1. National service is a critical American value that has the power to unite us.

By Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates in Time

2. The challenge for America’s strategy against ISIS isn’t our military might. It’s the will of our partners in Iraq and Syria.

By Jeff Shesol in the New Yorker

3. After a decade of urban violence, blacks in America report PTSD symptoms at the same rate as veterans of our last three wars.

By Lois Beckett in Essence

4. Municipal buses move more than 5 billion people annually. Converting them to electric power would slash carbon emissions dramatically.

By Daniel Gross in Slate

5. To gather valuable health data from the poor, texting survey questions yields impressive results.

By the University of Michigan Health System

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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