Category: News and Events

Detroit Area Witnesses Calls for Peace and Condemnations of Violence Following ISIS Wave of Terror

On Saturday evening (November 14, 2015), there were two vigils held in the Detroit area to commemorate the victims of a wave of terrorist activity of the past few days, a terror campaign which included a double bombing attack in Beirut on Thursday killing some 43 people, a series of mass terror incidents in Paris on Friday the 13th, in which over 120 people were killed, and a separate suicide bombing in Baghdad on Friday, killing some 20 people.  All operations have been attributed to the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) organization, as the organization expands its regional campaign of violence into a greater international terror campaign.

In Dearborn, Michigan, the local chapter of a Shi’a group, Who Is Hussain?, sponsored and led the “Care for Humanity” vigil at the Islamic Center on Ford Road, condemning violence as an anti-Muslim value, and denying ISIS’s right to claim an identity as a Muslim organization.  Speakers representing Who Is Hussain? noted the attempts of the 7th century Shi’ite leader Hussain ibn Ali to foster peace among the factions of the divided Muslim community, and looked to Hussain’s life as an example of interpreting the Quran as a message of peace.  Attendees of the vigil lit candles (placing a sign composed of tea-candles on the ground, spelling the word, “humanity”), and observed a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the past few days’ violence.  They also held small signs displaying the Eiffel Tower Peace Sign.  The speakers urged world leaders to seek a peaceful solution to the confrontations ripping apart the Middle East.

A second vigil was also held an hour later near the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit by the Saint Anne de Detroit Catholic Church.

Vigil

Photos ©2016, Sparkpolitical.  All rights reserved.

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Spark! Special Report: The Friday the 13th Attacks on Paris

Image: Victim's body in street close to Bataclan concert hall early Saturday

A victim’s body in a street close to the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, France, early on Saturday.  Getty Images (photo and caption as reported by NBC).

Friday night, November 13, 2015, saw a wave of terror attacks ripping through the French capital of Paris, with multiple locations in the tenth and eleventh arrondissements being targeted by shootings, explosions, and a hostage situation. Six locations experienced the greatest carnage, including diner shootings (by assailants spraying automatic weapons fire from Kalashnikov assault rifles), explosions outside of the Stade de France football stadium and elsewhere, and mass terror in the Bataclan theater where an American rock group, the California-based “Eagles of Death Metal” was playing. The area of terror was adjacent to the neighborhood of the attacks against Charlie Hebdo earlier this year, in January.

The Stade de France was hosting a game (a so-called “friendly”) between Germany and France, attended by the President of France, Francois Hollande. While no incidents took place in the stadium, explosions could be heard outside, and the president was evacuated. The game, however, continued, and the French attendees sang the national anthem, “Marseilles,” as they left the stadium after the game’s conclusion.

Bataclan was held by several assailants in a hostage situation until a police assault, which apparently triggered suicide detonations by the assailants. While the site was the center of gravity of the night’s death toll, the band playing there is reported to be safe and all their people accounted for. There were, however, numerous other Americans involved in the events of the night, including dead and injured.

During the carnage, seven assailants killed themselves with suicide detonations, and an eighth was shot and killed by the police. Latest reports by AP, NBC, and other agencies have the police continuing a search for possible additional assailants or accomplices; none are currently known (or at least publicly reported) to be at large, however. One of the assailants was a French citizen, known to have links to “Islamic extremist activity” (as AP reports); and another reportedly had a Syrian passport, but his nationality has not been reported. As of Saturday morning, no other personal information has been reported on any of the assailants.

During the attacks, the French government declared a state of emergency, and tightened security at the border (mostly through repealing open-border measures enacted through the European Union). In addition, airport security was heightened, with NBC reporter Cassandra Vinograd describing “hours-long delays” at the airports. The terror of Friday the 13th is described by some reporters as constituting the deadliest attack on France since World War II, with (as of Saturday morning) 127 reported dead, and some 200 injuries, dozens critically.

In the wake of the attack, ISIS supporters have circulated unconfirmed statements of responsibility for the action. NBC reports that, “ISIS has previously threatened France due to its military operations against the group in Syria and Iraq.” Assuming their claims of responsibility are true, and with the likelihood that the recent downing of a Russian airliner in the Sinai was also an ISIS operation, the group’s opponents may now be facing an expanded terror campaign, as ISIS moves its area of operations beyond Syria and Iraq. President Hollande has vowed to attack ISIS “without mercy” in response to the attacks, which he described as “an act of war that was prepared, organized, planned from abroad with internal help.”

On Friday night, and Saturday morning, France was greeted with international support from multiple quarters. President Obama called the attack an atrocity against “all humanity,” and the FBI’s legal attache in Paris aided French officials in their investigations. In the meantime, the US Department of Homeland Security determined that there was “no credible threat to the US.” However, some US cities, like LA, saw a greater police presence at certain key sites and public venues. Other expressions of support to France poured in from foreign leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (as well as President Putin). Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the attacks as a “crime against humanity,” and the Kuwaiti, Qatari, Saudi, and Indonesian governments uttered similar condemnations and expressed their solidarity with France. Facebook saw numerous expressions of personal solidarity with France; and Facebook deployed its “Safety Check” capability developed last year, enabling survivors to post their status to friends and loved ones (the capability sends a message about the sender’s safety, that appears in FB friends’ notification lists, therefore taking precedence over regular posts).

On Saturday morning, as police continued to search for accomplices and more answers, numerous public facilities and sites were closed throughout and nearby Paris, including museums, schools, the Eiffel Tower, the Disney theme park, etc. Border and airport security remained tightened. In the meantime, France and the rest of the world have to consider the ramifications of a post-911 world, as more and more groups and causes embrace the use of terror to push their message and agenda.

While the Parties Continue to Fight, MSNBC’s “First in the South” Forum Beats Out CNBC’s Debate By a Wide Margin

Dem Forum

On Friday, November 6, 2015, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow moderated the latest installment of the presidential candidates’ debates, the First in the South” Democratic Forum, hosted by Winthrop University, in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The forum was not a debate, Maddow told viewers, but was a series of one-on-one interviews of the candidates by Maddow, who generated many of the questions herself. The candidates did not, therefore, engage in any direct conversation or exchange, and the forum differed sharply from the most recent Republican installment, the CNBC debate at the University of Colorado. Maddow’s questioning concentrated on serious questions, but also included some lighter questioning to create a friendly atmosphere (including a “meet the young candidate” segment for each candidate, giving them a chance to talk about their youth and their career). The bulk of the interviews, however, saw Maddow pushing the candidates to justify both their views and their candidacy.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was up first. After evading a question about the Democratic Party’s traditional weakness in the South (since the 1970s), the conversation turned to climate change. O’Malley noted that, “We’re the party that believes in science…,” and he talked about the problem as more of a “challenge and opportunity,” denying the traditional view of environmental reform as potentially job-killing. Instead, O’Malley articulated a vision of energy reform as a job creation opportunity, talked about his Clean Energy Jobs Corps proposal, and advocated cities as the best area in which to pursue green energy. O’Malley shrugged aside Maddow’s suggestion that at least some states might lose both jobs and money were his proposal to turn the energy grid completely green by 2050 to be enacted.

Discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, O’Malley asserted that his governorship reduced incarceration and recidivism rates, cleaned the streets of Maryland of drugs, and reduced crime rates, all effects beneficial to African Americans. O’Malley sees the elimination of for-profit prisons as the next step to reduce both prison populations and the legal system’s incarceration mentality.

On foreign affairs, O’Malley sees both the continuing use of the Guantanamo detention facility and the “American boots on the ground” approach to the Middle East as the best “recruiting tools” for ISIL and Al Qaeda, generating by their very existence entire new ranks of extremist, anti-American fighters. The detention of people without due process, O’Malley asserted, was simply “contrary to our principles as a people.”

Maddow’s interview with O’Malley finished with a question about his campaign, still polling in the low single-digits, and a very distant third of the three remaining “viable” Democratic candidates. O’Malley took the moment to attack Sanders as a socialist (unlike himself as a “lifelong Democrat”), and Clinton for being late to the game on numerous issues such as Keystone and gay marriage. O’Malley noted that in races to the governorship, he had also suffered from low polling early on, and that he liked a “tough fight.”

Next up was Bernie Sanders, the formerly independent Senator from Vermont, arguing that his message resonates for all poor and working people, and that despite representing a state that’s 95% white, his civil rights record is unimpeachably progressive. While idealistic, his responses to Maddow’s questions on marketing his Democratic candidacy to southern and black voters spoke less to the realities of lower-class suspicions toward the Democratic Party in the South. Similarly, his responses to her questions about involving the corporations in the reform of the economy and tax structure (especially by moving corporate investment into actual job creation rather than pure wealth concentration) were vague, and centered simply around taxes, suggesting that a Sanders administration might be dangerously confrontational to those powers capable of generating new jobs.

Sanders continued to answer vaguely on other issues, such as Middle East policy. He insisted that the “boots on the ground” needed to be regional rather than American, or that American involvement could take place through a venue of greater international involvement, especially by European powers such as Great Britain, France, and Germany. Sanders refused to consider a unilateral American effort, and seemed to falter at Maddow’s questioning about European and regional reluctance to engage. To be fair, O’Malley’s answers were similarly idealistic and vague, and yet Maddow had not pinned O’Malley into a corner on the issue to the same degree that she did with Sanders.

Sanders pushed his self-image as a candidate for reasonable gun control, arguing that his representation of a rural state gave him a special appreciation of second amendment rights, but that (despite voting against legislation such as the Brady Bill) he also had worked to improve and increase background checks, and to ban assault weapons.

Finally, on the subject of voting rights, Sanders became heated, calling the Republicans “…political cowards, and if they can’t face a free election, then they should get another job.” Sanders saw the loss of Democratic vitality in the South as largely due to defeats on the issue in those states. He saw greater and effective political change as achievable through a renewed fight on that front. “We need to greatly expand voter turnout… We need a political revolution.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton completed the evening, coming out on stage to an explosion of applause. However, the many African American members of the audience looked less than convinced. Maddow’s first serious question asked Clinton about African American reactions to a Democratic stage with only white players, and whether African Americans should feel “left behind” by that reality. Clinton bypassed the question to argue for a “New New Deal,” which would help not only African Americans, but middle-class white voters as well (clearly an answer to speak more to that latter, larger demographic, but which for that very reason cannot be encouraging to the former). Clinton also answered weakly to Maddow’s questioning about Wall Street, repeating her mantra of telling Wall Street to “stop it,” and arguing merely that she is on record as fighting to level the playing field, and that the economy works too much for those at the very top, and too little for everyone else.

Clinton redirected a question about having police in school classrooms (referencing the recent ugly incident in Richland County, South Carolina), to the larger issue of economic change, with over half of students now on lunch programs, a key metric for gauging childhood and family poverty rates. Clinton condemned the school system’s vastly greater expulsion and suspension rates for African-American students in particular.

On foreign affairs, Clinton waved off Maddow’s suggestion that she is more “hawkish” and aggressive than her Democratic competitors. She argued that as Secretary of State, she had pursued diplomatic solutions and saw diplomacy succeed in creating international progress, especially with respect to Iran (with Clinton citing her work in creating a sanction environment that pushed Iran into a peaceful agreement with the West).

Maddow asked few specific questions of any candidate on economic policy and jobs creation, although the candidates were able to get in some vague ideas on the subject. Similarly the three Democratic candidates are all reluctant to use force in the Middle East, and yet they see the area as a key political arena; the forum demonstrated little in the way of clear thinking about alternatives. Another problem area for both parties, the demographics of their own base constituencies, shows an ironic contrast between the Republican Party, fronting both black and Hispanic candidates, and the all-white Democratic candidate pool. With both parties fighting for minority votes, such voters will have to decide whether they are better served by white candidates with more inclusive policies, or by minority candidates breaking key racial barriers but offering little else in the way of overall social inclusion.

In any case, the Forum provided the audience with a stark contrast to the CNBC debate, being more substantial (but still with glaring weaknesses on the issues), less inherently confrontational, less dramatic, and more didactic. The Democratic Party’s candidates therefore are better served by this environment than by the more confrontational atmosphere at Denver, and those viewers considering the Democratic candidates now have better information with which to consider their options as the political fight moves on to the next round.

Clown Car 3: The Moderators Strike Back (The CNBC GOP Debate in Synopsis)

The third Republican Party debate of 2015 (titled with an astonishing lack of irony, “Your Money, Your Vote“), moderated and broadcast by CNBC on Wednesday, October 28, 2015, and hosted by the University of Colorado, proved to be very predictable in most respects, but also played to the modern television audience through elements of drama and confrontationalism. The moderators (John Harwood, Becky Quick, and Carl Quintanilla) get the credit or blame for the content of the questions, for the environment of the debate, and for keeping the candidates on track. While conservatives may applaud their candidates for continuing their basic platitudes, and liberals may denigrate them for the same reason, the audience of the debate also must consider the job of the moderators in getting the candidates to answer tough, relevant, and expository questions, fulfilling the role of the debates (as one of the moderators noted) as the candidates’ “job interview.” After this “interview,” there was a substantial (admittedly mostly conservative) backlash against CNBC for failing in their part of the process. The candidates failed to speak much on relevant issues, but the moderators failed to ask the right questions and failed to earn the candidates’ cooperation.

The debate began with a “job interview” question, asking the candidates to describe their greatest weakness. The candidates, used to beginning with opening statements (omitted from this debate), generally refused to even acknowledge the question, and used the time to make opening statements. Trump was then asked about his “comic-book candidacy,” to which he responded with predictable indignation, but he also reiterated his baseless platitudes about building a “wall” and getting Mexico to pay for it. Carson and Cruz both said little about their similar flat tax plans (and Rubio would also later get into a fierce argument with Harwood over criticisms of his plan), while Fiorina argued for a simplified plan (reducing the tax code from her alleged 73,000 pages to three pages). Kasich argued that both Carson’s and Trump’s tax plans in particular were unrealistic and irresponsible, and would explode the budget deficit. As the moderators interrupted the candidates, ran over other candidates’ own interruptions and responses, and denied the veracity of the candidates’ claims and statements, Cruz criticized the moderators for asking tough questions, but also for ignoring substantive issues, and for attempting to incite fighting between the candidates (especially between Bush and Trump, Huckabee and Christie, etc.).

After the first commercial break, the debate environment settled down a little, with less open interruption and confrontation by the moderators, but still aggressive questioning. However, through the rest of the debate, the moderators asked the candidates more about their personal differences and disagreements, and about minutia of their views and statements, while avoiding completely major current issues such as gun control, education reform, banking reform, foreign affairs and national security, police culture and law enforcement (and incarceration) issues, etc. Carson, Trump, and Fiorina were questioned about their personal business interests and failures. Fiorina used the moment to blame government for all social and economic problems. She steadfastly refused to acknowledge that failures, weaknesses, corruption, and concentration of wealth create problems in the corporate sector. Cruz, in answering (or avoiding) a question on working women’s issues, focused solely on “single mothers,” thereby ignoring the possibility that single career women without children (or with adult children) and married women might also be a part of the labor force worth considering. He and Fiorina, to the surprise of no one, both blamed women’s poverty on the Democrats, and also unsurprisingly failed to cite any facts or argument behind their assertions.

Trump was asked about the rights of his employees to come to work armed, and about whether he himself carried, rather than about gun control or rights as a national issue. He played to his base in responding that he “sometimes” carries, just to be unpredictable. Christie claimed Obama does not support the police; and of course he did not bother to cite any actual examples, let alone facts. As the topic moved to retirement, with only modest mentions of Social Security (notwithstanding some mutual sniping between Huckabee and Christie), Fiorina predictably called for the government to get out of the retirement business.

In the final segment of the debate, as the topic moved to Medicare, Huckabee said, “We don’t have a health care crisis, we have a health crisis.” He claimed that only a few maladies, particularly cancer and Alzheimer’s, cause most of the spending on Medicare, and that the solution to funding Medicare (or defunding it) would be “simply” to cure these maladies (ignoring the fact that medical science has been working towards those goals, and that we do not yet have a road map toward those objectives).

A major dramatic moment occurred when Jeb Bush was asked about whether fantasy football constitutes gambling, and if such ramifications necessitated a greater role for the federal government. While Bush shrugged the question aside (admitting to participating himself and bragging about the success of his team), Christie exploded about the pettiness of the moderators in ignoring substantive issues and asking about a stupid issue like federal involvement in fantasy football. Christie also called John Harwood (and the panel in general) rude even by New Jersey standards, particularly when Harwood interrupted one of Christie’s responses on climate change (one of the few moments substantive issues were even brought up).

Ultimately none of the candidates either were asked, or found the moment, to present their “vision” of America and the federal government, beyond simple soundbites like Fiorino’s vapid antifederalism and Trump’s childish and unelaborated “I will do so much better.” Rand Paul had few moments worth remembering, Kasich played the reasonable Republican criticizing his colleagues’ unreasonable and irresponsible approaches, Bush played up his affability (aside from criticizing Rubio’s absenteeism), Rubio attacked the Florida press for also criticizing him for not doing his job, Carson remained quiet and sleepy and devoid of actual facts and arguments, Christie played up his aggressive New Jersey attitude, and Huckabee echoed Jim Webb’s complaints at the Democratic debate about not getting a fair share of mic time.

After the debate, the conservative press (and the RNC) lambasted CNBC for the confrontationalism and for preferring the incitement of infighting to a greater conversation about substance. As the third debate of the “clown car,” little else could really have been expected. The GOP has yet to whittle its candidate army down to a few likely leaders, and until it does, substance is effectively beyond the expectations of a two-hour debate with commercials. While the “clown car” makes for entertaining television, it minimizes the possibilities of substantive debate and fuller policy proposals. As the Democrats have already culled their candidates to two likelies and one not so much, America awaits the conservatives’ response to the constraints of their own selection process.