The Easy Days Are Over – By William Saletan NOV. 14 2015 8:06 PM


After Paris, this period of relative peace and easy libertarianism is coming to an end.

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If you’re an 18-year-old American, you were 3 or 4 when al-Qaida hit the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. You haven’t seen a major terrorist strike in your country since then. Maybe you heard about the attacks in Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, or Mumbai in 2008. But aside from the occasional lone-wolf incident—Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, or the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013—you’ve been lucky.

You’ve grown up in an era of peace at home: no world wars, no cold war, and little fear of being blown up or gunned down by militants. It’s an era of libertarianism: We’re less afraid of bad guys coming to kill us, so we don’t see why Uncle Sam should track our phone calls. It’s also an era of isolationism, because our troops have fought two wars overseas, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they haven’t turned out well. We’re sick of those wars, and we feel pretty safe at home. So we don’t want to go fight again.

The libertarianism and isolationism of our time crosses party lines. It affects President Obama, who came into office promising to bring our troops home. But it also affects Republicans. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican presidential candidate who has campaigned on a platform of sending troops to fight ISIS, couldn’t even garner enough support in the polls to get into his party’s undercard debate last week. And if you study surveys on national security and domestic surveillance, you’ll find that Republicans are, by some measures, more hostile to surveillance than Democrats are.

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Taliban Leader Reports Threaten Peace Talks |by Michael Pizzi July 29, 2015 7:45PM ET


Some see saboteur’s hand in timing of news, which could delegitimize Taliban representatives at talks

Analysts urged caution with the announcement; rumors of Omar’s death have surfaced several times in recent years, usually traced back to unnamed Afghan officials and always denied by Taliban leadership. The one-eyed insurgent leader has not been seen in public since the 2001 invasion sent him fleeing into Pakistan, which has long been accused of sheltering him along with other Taliban members. Since then, Mullah Omar has released only written statements — the latest just five days ago — never appearing in videos or offering other proof of life.

But Wednesday marked the first time Afghanistan offered “official” confirmation, and White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the U.S. believed that the reports this time around were “credible.” And while Taliban officials initially denied Omar’s death prior to Sediqi’s comments — at which time the official line form Kabul was that it was “investigating reports — Taliban officials could not be reached for comment later in the day.

Regardless of the report’s veracity, experts on the Taliban insurgency struggled to explain the timing of Kabul’s announcement, which they said would certainly complicate the peace effort. Omar’s death would raise questions about who authorized Taliban representatives to sit down with Kabul officials. On July 15, the group even released a statement supposedly drafted by Omar that signaled his approval of the process.

Analysts believe the Taliban leadership’s decision to negotiate with Kabul has fractured an already diffuse insurgency. If those involved in the talks are acting without Omar’s blessing, it could further undermine the process.

 

Article continues:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/7/29/reports-of-dead-taliban-leader-could-send-shockwaves-across-afghanistan.html

Atheists’ self-defeating superiority: Why joining forces with religion is best for non-believers – Steve Neumann Sunday, Mar 22, 2015 07:30 AM PDT


Prominent atheists like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins judge people of faith. Here’s why it’s a recipe for failure

Atheists' self-defeating superiority: Why joining forces with religion is best for non-believers

Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins  (Credit: HBO/AP/Fiona Hanson/Photo montage by Salon)

I’ve written before about the root causes of religious conflict — in a nutshell: it is not about what many people would like you to think it’s about — but I realized recently that I had still been missing part of the picture picture, because I wasn’t accounting for what happens when people get caught up in narrowly tribalistic thinking. If there’s ever going to be a genuine, durable peace in the world, we have to overcome this tendency. And we atheists have to realize that we’re subject to the same pull of tribalism as are religious believers.

Yes, religion has been a source of conflict for millennia—but religion is just an especially organized form of tribalism. Human beings come by it honestly. As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt observed in his book “The Righteous Mind,” “our ancestors faced the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions that could fend off challenges and attacks from rival groups” for eons. It may even be in our DNA.

New Atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Maher — with their legions of followers, numbering in the millions just on Twitter — continue to employ the Us vs. Them rhetoric of tribalism. But what these New Atheists fail to realize is that even if their criticisms of religion are correct, pointing them out does nothing to combat tribalism—in fact, it only strengthens it. Their faith in the power of rationality, which is effective but not perfect, blinds them to the larger problem.

This isn’t surprising, because science has convincingly shown that individuals don’t really reason well on their own—our rationality is unreliable because of the pervasiveness of motivated reasoning. This suggests that the only cure for our cognitive biases is other people. The problem is that we’re more receptive to alternatives only when challenged by members of our own tribe. Atheists as well as religious believers are relatively immune to attacks from those “other” people.

http://www.salon.com/2015/03/22/atheists_self_defeating_superiority_why_joining_forces_with_progressive_religion_is_best_for_non_believers/

The World According to Kissinger – By Wolfgang Ischinger MARCH/APRIL 2015 ISSUE


How to Defend Global Order

How many authors could title their book simply World Order without sounding utterly presumptuous? Henry Kissinger still plays in a league of his own. For admirers and critics alike, he is more than just a former U.S. secretary of state and previous national security adviser. Some see him as the quintessential wise man of U.S. foreign policy; others, as a diehard realpolitiker hanging on to yesterday’s world; and still others, as a perennial bête noire. To all, he remains larger than life. And regardless of how one views Kissinger, his new book is tremendously valuable.

To call World Order timely would be an understatement, for if there was one thing the world yearned for in 2014, it was order. In the Middle East, the Syrian civil war has killed hundreds of thousands and allowed jihadist groups to threaten the stability of the entire region. In Asia, an economically resurgent China has grown more assertive, stoking anxiety among its neighbors. In West Africa, the Ebola pandemic has nearly shut down several states. And even Europe, the most rule-bound and institutionalized part of the world, has seen its cherished liberal norms come under direct assault as Russian President Vladimir Putin reclaimed military aggression as an instrument of state policy.

Even more ominous, the traditional guardians of global order seem to have become reluctant to defend it. Following long, costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States and other Western powers are suffering from intervention fatigue, preferring instead to focus on domestic concerns. And the rising powers have so far proved either unwilling or unable to safeguard international stability.

Yes, Mr. President? Kissinger in the White House barbershop, January 1972(Alfred Eisenstaedt / The Life Picture Collection / Getty Images)

Enter Kissinger. A strategist and historian by training, he takes the long view. The core of the book is his exploration of different interpretations of the idea of world order and competing approaches to constructing it. Kissinger opens the book by defining the term “world order” as “the concept held by a region or civilization about the nature of just arrangements and the distribution of power thought to be applicable to the entire world.” As he is quick to point out, any system of this kind rests on two components: “a set of commonly accepted rules that define the limits of permissible action and a balance of power that enforces restraint where rules break down, preventing one political unit from subjugating all others.”

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Palestine just joined the International Criminal Court. Here’s what that means. Updated by Amanda Taub on January 5, 2015, 3:50 p.m. ET


Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a treaty to make Palestine the newest member state of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The move was greeted with jubilation in Ramallah, where there were reportedly fireworks to mark the occasion, and by outrage in the Israeli government.

But the practical consequences of Palestine’s move to join the court are much less clear. Here’s what you need to know about what Palestine joining the court really means, why Israel and the US oppose the move, and what this means for the Israel-Palestine conflict.

1) So is Palestine a member of the ICC now?

Palestinian treaty signing

Mahmoud Abbas signs international agreements, including the ICC’s Treaty of Rome, on December 31, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Probably, but it’s not 100 percent for sure. If news reports are correct, Palestine has acceded to the ICC treaty, and thus completed the main legal process for joining the court. But there are still some significant legal questions to be worked out.

The most important question is whether the court considers Palestine a state. Only states can join the ICC, so if Palestine isn’t a state, then the membership question will be moot. In the past, the ICC prosecutor has said that Palestine couldn’t join the court until it was recognized by the UN General Assembly. But in 2012, the General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a state. So,as far as the Office of the Prosecutor is concerned, Palestine has been eligible for membership since then.

However, if challenged, the prosecutor’s decision on statehood could be overruled by the court itself, which could apply a different legal standardthat would be at least somewhat more difficult for Palestine to meet.

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http://www.vox.com/2015/1/5/7494157/palestine-icc-explained

100 years ago, soldiers celebrated Christmas by temporarily calling off World War I – Updated by Timothy B. Lee on December 25, 2014, 9:30 a.m. ET


One hundred years ago, Europe was locked in the bloodiest struggle it had ever known. Yet for a few hours on Christmas Day, 1914, the troops on either side of the declared a spontaneous truce. Ordinary soldiers came out of their trenches, exchanged souvenirs, and may even have played a game of soccer.

This Christmas Truce has become one of the most famous stories of World War I. It’s an inspiring story of ordinary people carving a few hours of peace out of a senseless war. And for political scientists, it teaches important lessons about the nature and origins of cooperation.

By December 1914, the war seemed increasingly pointless

French troops in a ditch in 1914. These ditches would evolve into full-scale trenches. (Via Oxford University Press)

 

German military planners had hoped to end the war quickly by sweeping down through Belgium to conquer Paris. It didn’t turn out that way. The French and British counter-attacked before the Germans reached the French capital, and the conflict soon bogged down into trench warfare.

This was a style of warfare the world had never seen before. Whereas previous wars had consisted of a series of discrete battles in specific locations, the Western Front stretched for hundreds of miles. Earlier battles tended to last a few days. Fighting on the Western front dragged on for months without either side making gains.

Over and over again, soldiers were ordered to throw themselves at enemy lines only to get mowed down by enemy machine gun fire. Poor sanitation and the constant roar of artillery made the living conditions in the trenches miserable. By the closing weeks of 1914, many soldiers had grown fed up with the conflict.

Spontaneous cooperation breaks out

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http://www.vox.com/2014/12/25/7448471/christmas-truce-1914

The World Is Not Falling Apart – By Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack DEC. 22 2014 11:18 PM


Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times.

An explosion rocks the Syrian city of Kobane during a reported suicide car bombing by the Islamic State, as seen from the Turkey-Syria border, on Oct. 20, 2014. The small picture is very bad, but the big picture of violence around the world is about as good as it’s ever been. Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images

It’s a good time to be a pessimist. ISIS, Crimea, Donetsk, Gaza, Burma, Ebola, school shootings, campus rapes, wife-beating athletes, lethal cops—who can avoid the feeling that things fall apart, the center cannot hold? Last year Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before a Senate committee that the world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.” This past fall, Michael Ignatieff wrote of “the tectonic plates of a world order that are being pushed apart by the volcanic upward pressure of violence and hatred.” Two months ago, the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen lamented, “Many people I talk to, and not only over dinner, have never previously felt so uneasy about the state of the world. … The search is on for someone to dispel foreboding and embody, again, the hope of the world.”

As troubling as the recent headlines have been, these lamentations need a second look. It’s hard to believe we are in greater danger today than we were during the two world wars, or during other perils such as the periodic nuclear confrontations during the Cold War, the numerous conflicts in Africa and Asia that each claimed millions of lives, or the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq that threatened to choke the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf and cripple the world’s economy.

How can we get a less hyperbolic assessment of the state of the world? Certainly not from daily journalism. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a reporter saying to the camera, “Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out”—or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as violence has not vanished from the world, there will always be enough incidents to fill the evening news. And since the human mind estimates probability by the ease with which it can recall examples, newsreaders will always perceive that they live in dangerous times. All the more so when billions of smartphones turn a fifth of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents.

We also have to avoid being fooled by randomness. Cohen laments the “annexations, beheadings, [and] pestilence” of the past year, but surely this collection of calamities is a mere coincidence. Entropy, pathogens, and human folly are a backdrop to life, and it is statistically certain that the lurking disasters will not space themselves evenly in time but will frequently overlap. To read significance into these clusters is to succumb to primitive thinking, a world of evil eyes and cosmic conspiracies.

The Year of Outrage – DEC. 17 2014 11:48 PM


Slate tracked what everyone was outraged about every day in 2014. Explore by clicking the tiles below, and then scroll down to read about how outrage has taken over our lives.Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at Dec 18, 2014 2.43

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http://www.slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/2014/12/the_year_of_outrage_2014_everything_you_were_angry_about_on_social_media.html

The Middle East Peace Conundrum – By Teresa Welsh Dec. 11, 2014 | 12:01 a.m. EST


The U.S. hasn’t been able broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal – but it can’t be done without the U.S., either.

Palestinian activists use ladders to cross over the Israeli separation barrier to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem on Nov. 14, 2014, during protest against Israeli restrictions on the holy place.Palestinian activists use ladders to cross over a separation barrier to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during protests against Israeli restrictions on the holy place last month.

Recent months have seen a simmering of violence in Israel, with no viable end to conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in sight. The issues separating the two sides – security, borders and control of Jerusalem among them – are no closer to being resolved than they were in April, when the last round of peace talks collapsed.

The U.S. has long been the chief negotiator in trying to reach a deal between Israelis and Palestinians that would end a decades-old clash between two peoples claiming the same holy lands as their own. Yet again and again the process has failed, causing some to say it’s time for a new lead actor to take the stage, even though complexities on the ground indicate neither side will make concessions significant enough to create space for a deal no matter who is trying to mediate.

“The day that the talks broke down on April 1 of this year was the day where it became evident that the period of American ownership of this political process is over,” says Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem expert and founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem – an Israeli nongovernmental organization – referencing a period during which disputes over the failed release of Palestinian prisoners and international conventions started the talks’ demise. “This conflict will not be resolved primarily through an American-brokered deal between Israelis and Palestinians.”

[READ: Inside Israel’s and Palestine’s Propaganda Wars]

Secretary of State John Kerry walks past American and Israeli flags at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on Jan. 6, 2014.

John Kerry had led the negotiations between Israel and Palestine since last summer.

Secretary of State John Kerry was in charge of the latest round of talks, continuing the long-held role of the U.S. as lead mediator between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry remains involved in the region, holding meetings with leaders on both sides in attempts to quell a flare-up of tensions this fall over a holy site in Jerusalem, but has recognized that the time is not right to resume formal peace talks.

“We don’t expect the negotiations to resume tomorrow,” Kerry said Sunday at a forum in Washington on U.S.-Israeli relations.

Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to the Palestinians in the peace process and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, says the U.S. must recognize it can no longer go it alone when it comes to mediating peace.

“There are lots of things the U.S. can do without totally ceding the mantle,” Elgindy says. “We still need even American leadership, but its leadership in orchestrating other actors and not simply trying to do everything ourselves and then because of our political constraints saying, ‘We can’t do it right now but no one else is allowed to do anything until we can do it.’”

Elgindy says Americans too often have let their country’s domestic political situation jeopardize effective movement toward peace. He points to the attempted Palestinian statehood bid at the U.N., which the U.S. has said it would vote against.

“Why on earth would the United States vote against recognizing a Palestinian state if that is the stated goal and has been identified by President [Barack] Obama as a vital national security interest?” Elgindy says. “It’s because we didn’t do it. It’s because it didn’t happen in a signing ceremony on the White House lawn. It’s because we’re not controlling the process.”

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http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/12/11/challenges-face-the-us-as-lead-middle-east-peace-negotiator-between-israel-and-palestine

Questions Linger as Israel and Hamas Announce Egypt-Brokered Ceasefire – By Andrew Soergel Aug. 26, 2014 | 4:09 p.m. EDT


Palestinians celebrate Tuesday in the streets of Gaza City after a cease-fire arrangement was announced between Hamas and Israel, ending seven weeks of violence.

An Egypt-brokered cease-fire between the Israeli military and Hamas militants may finally bring an end to a seven-week conflict that has killed more than 2,200 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians.

Tuesday started, as many mornings have during a 50-day-old Israel-Hamas conflict, with an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City that killed at least two people and wounded 20 others, according to CNN. Two Gaza high-rise buildings were reportedly toppled during the attack.

Hamas militants, in turn, fired more than 100 rockets Tuesday from positions throughout the Gaza Strip, according to The New York Times.

[READ: Israel, Hamas Agree to Open-Ended Gaza Cease-Fire]

But by the end of the day, an open-ended cease-fire had been reached. Victorious “God is great” shouts boomed from Gaza City loudspeakers, according to the Times.

“We declare the victory of the Palestinian resistance, the victory of Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a Gaza City news conference, according to the Times. “We achieved some of our instantaneous demands out of this battle.”

The latest attempt at resolution in Gaza is “unlimited in time,” according to a senior Israeli official who spoke with the Times. Though a series of failed, temporary cease-fires have broken up a summer marred by Gaza violence, Tuesday’s negotiation is reportedly structured to be a longer-term solution. The deal is markedly similar to a cease-fire that ended a 2012 Israel-Hamas conflict, according to The Guardian.

[MORE: Obama Approves Syrian Surveillance]

Throughout this most recent conflict, Hamas militants called for lifted Gaza trade barriers and the release of hundreds of Palestinian citizens arrested by Israeli forces as possible suspects in the murders of three Israeli teenagers. Israel, in turn, demanded complete demilitarization of regional Hamas militants.

Tuesday’s agreement, which went into effect at 7 p.m. local time, will reportedly ease trade and travel barriers in and out of Gaza, though the restrictions will not be removed completely. Further negotiations, including the possible establishment of a Gaza seaport and the return of Israeli soldiers’ remains, will reportedly be discussed after a month’s time, assuming the truce holds.

 

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http://www.usnews.com/news/newsgram/articles/2014/08/26/questions-linger-as-israel-and-hamas-announce-egypt-brokered-ceasefire?int=9a5208