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John Harding’s book, Escape from Paradise – Paperback and Kindle Versions


Now, available in Kindle and Paperback! Free Kindle if you purchase Paperback. After buying Paperback, go for the free Kindle!

It took me two and a half evenings to complete your un-put-downable is a unique contribution to the appreciation of a life in Singapore. Thank you for having written it. C. V. Devan Nair, former President of Singapore.

Bought the book from Select this weekend and can't put it down! It's a great read! And so nostalgic for me—the good old days! Glen Goei, writer and director of the Miramax film That's the Way I Like It and who played the title role opposite Anthony Hopkins in the London production of M. Butterfly. Mr. Goei's latest film is The Blue Mansion - Click for the trailer!

It is a remarkable story and so full of intrigue that it reads at times like fiction.Jonathan Burnham, Editor in Chief & President, Talk Miramax Books.

“It's quite a story The legendary Alice Mayhew, Vice-President & Editorial Director, Simon & Schuster.

This book out-Dallas, Dallas. No one has written so well of the other side of paradise,Francis T. Seow, former Solicitor General of Singapore

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Funding of education should be top priority

Viewpoint by Conrad Steinhoff

Viewpoint by Conrad Steinhoff

A few days ago I sat at breakfast with a group of friends. We like to get together and talk about stuff. One had been at the Lebanon School band concert the night before. Inevitably, the conversation turned to how tough it is to keep things like music and art going any more in the face of declining funding of education.

I ventured that this is a travesty. “Funding for education should be our top priority,” I declared. “I agree,” said another in the group. “But then there are the folks who say welfare should be our top priority, or the environment. Every interest group is passionate that theirs should be the most important. They’ve got their lobbyists out there bidding for top billing with legislatures.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s why I think our debates should be about our core values.”

“O.K.,” said another, “so what are your core values?”

“One of them is that every one of our kids should have everything they need to be well prepared to take their place in the economy and society,” I said.

“I agree;’ said my questioner. “So, that should include ….” He piled on everything he could think of that kids need to have a top-rate education – some of them what we tend to think of as “frills.”

“I’m playing devil’s advocate here,” he said.

“I recognize that,” I said. “And these are exactly the debates we should be having locally, and at the state, and national level.”

Indeed the debates taking place do reflect core values. The debate is about distribution of wealth, the size of government and the role of government in society and the economy. The theme the debate as it applies to the role of government in education is raging across the country. In an article by Alice Ollstein of “ThinkProgress,” we get a look at how this is playing out at the state level in several states, notably Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana and Illinois.

Wisconsin’s governor Scott Walker has placed top priority on reducing taxes on wealthy citizens and corporations driven by his belief in trickle-down economics: The surest road to a strong economy is to free wealthy property owners and corporations from burdensome taxation, to unleash their money to invest in economic growth. His first bi-annual budget contained massive tax cuts based in this ideology. Another round of cuts is scheduled in his up­ coming budget.

But there is a problem. His ideology has failed miserably. The non­partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has informed him there is no re­ bounding economy. There is no new revenue at all. In his first two years in office, Walker has taken Wisconsin from a state with a $1billion surplus to one with a $2 billion deficit.

He is determined to go ahead with the next round of tax cuts any­ way, based, I assume, on the belief that the problem is not his ideology, but rather that he didn’t cut taxes enough. He is now determined to retrieve the situation by slashing spending. He proposes to cut spending for higher education by $275 mil­ lion, almost exactly the amount his next round of tax cuts will reduce revenue; this in the face of his determination to also spend more than a billion dollars on a new professional basketball stadium in Milwaukee. (Does that sound familiar? How about the new football stadium being built by cash-strapped Missouri, parallel with further cuts in spending for education?) Wisconsin’s elementary and secondary schools are scheduled for a cut as well, at $120 million.

The Wisconsin State University system has already begun laying off hundreds of professors and staff. But other values are beginning to compete with Walker’s agenda. The legislature soundly rejected his new budget. A majority of Republican legislators voted no, joining every Democrat in the legislature. A student movement called United Council of UW Students has mobilized opposition to Walker’s cuts.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, Gov. Brownback’s draconian cuts in taxes have so decimated the state’s coffers, its public schools are closing early this year. They’re out of money.

And in Louisiana, the state university system is considering declaring bankruptcy in the face of Gov. Bobbie Jindal’s huge cuts in taxes on wealthy and corporate entities, consistent with the trickle-down ideology of his fellow governors. Students and their supporters have stormed the State capitol in opposition to Jindal’s tax cuts. The Louisiana House of Representatives has passed a budget that erased more than $200 million of the governor’s tax cuts. The governor threatens a veto.

Here in Illinois, our wanabee Scott Walker, recently elected Governor Bruce Rauner, has proposed a massive budget slashing program as a way of balancing the state’s budget. This is accompanied by huge tax cuts for (guess who) wealthy and corporate taxpayers. Like Walker, he sees that as the way to prosperity.

Like Walker, Rauner’s proposed budget was overwhelmingly rejected by the state House of Representatives. As in Wisconsin, members of Rauner’s own party rebelled. Yes, I am aware that Illinois is in the midst of a major budget crisis. Rauner’s formula for addressing the crisis is untenable, unless we are willing to become like Greece.

The Occupy Movement was the launching pad of a growing push­ back against a value system which places highest priority on wealth accumulation for the already wealthy. The campaign for the $15 minimum hourly wage is an outgrowth of that movement, as is the growing counter-campaign for economic and social justice and quality of life values.
Illinois Voices for Children is one organization pushing back hard against Gov. Rauner’s agenda. Next week we will explore IVC’s proposals for putting the state’s fiscal house in order, based on quality of life values.

Illinois Voices for Children is one organization pushing back hard against Gov. Rauner’s agenda. Next week we will explore IVC’s proposals for putting the state’s fiscal house in order, based on quality of life values.

New ISIS attack in Saudi Arabia near oil fields

Saudi Aramco oilfield area

Saudi Aramco oilfield area

The Islamic State , ISIS claims credit for a suicide bombing of a Shia mosque in Saudi Arabia on May 22 that killed at least 19 people with about 70 injured, “some very critically”. Dozens of people were injured in the blast and the death toll is expected to rise.

The ISIS attack resulted in a huge blast at the Imam Ali mosque in the village of al-Qadeeh, in Qatif governorate during Friday prayers.

The village of al-Qadeeh is only and 20 miles north of Dhahran the location of Saudi Aramco, the source of Saudi Arabia’s vast oil production. Al-Qadeeh is also only 14 miles away from Saudi Arabia’s port of Ras Tanura, from where the country ships most of its oil.

This shows that ISIS has is already present in the area and a major threat to the largest source of crude oil in the world. This fact has been suppressed by the media-so far.

The two million Shias in Saudi Arabia live mainly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province where Saudi Arabia’s vast oilfields are located.

The Sunni ISIS extremists have a special loathing for the Shia and, in addition, they will almost certainly have been looking to raise sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority and the rest of the population.

These Shia/Sunni tensions in already exist in Saudi Arabia as a Saudi court has sentenced to death a prominent Saudi Shia religious leader, Nimr al-Nimr, for “sedition” and “disobeying” the kingdom’s rulers.

Nimr al-Nimr, who is in his 50s, was a driving force behind demonstrations in the oil-rich Eastern Province in 2011 against the kingdom’s Sunni rulers, in tandem with the Shia-led protests in neighboring Bahrain.

Map of Saudi Aramco oil field - al-Qadeeh area.

Location of al Qadeeh in Saudi Arabia

Now Shia anger will likely be directed at the Saudi authorities (mainly Sunnis) for failing to protect their community in Eastern Province.

Shias have been concerned for some time at inflammatory speeches given by hardline Sunnis that depict them as being ‘not real Muslims’, a view shared by ISIS.

In a statement published online, IS said “the soldiers of the Caliphate” were behind the attack and pledged “dark days ahead” for the Shia community. It identified the bomber as Abu Amer al-Najdi.

Saudi Arabia has previously been threatened by ISIS in several border attacks – one in which ISIS killed several Saudi soldiers including a General.

Slowly, ISIS has been penetrating Saudi Arabia. More than 2,000 Saudis are believed to have joined ISIS and Saudi Arabia has launched a security crackdown in recent months, arresting hundreds of ISIS suspects.

With Syria, Iraq and Libya being invaded by ISIS, will Saudi Arabia be next?

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Tom Brady allegedly guilty in deflategate scandal

Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP finds New England quarterback Tom Brady guilty of knowingly playing with deflated footballs in the AFC championship game.

Based on the law firm’s exhaustive report, the NFL is weighing a suspension of Tom Brady for allegedly knowing that he was using deflated footballs during the AFC championship game.
His suspension could span up to one season. “Everything is being studied, everything is being considered,” an NFL source disclosed. The source also said it would be wrong to dismiss such an extended and seemingly improbable length of time as the ceiling for discipline – it could be longer.

It is clear the NFL is expecting to hand down some sort of discipline on #deflategate following the unveiling of the Ted Wells report on the incident.

Brady appeared on CNN, today, but was more than cagey in his non-answers to any questions regarding #deflategate. His smug attitude did nothing but aggravate the situation.
ESPN has reported the NFL would respond to this Wells Report (there was another, you may recall) within days, not weeks.

If Brady misses the entire season, the AFC East is up for grabs. Indeed, this has implications beyond the division as players would be fleeing the Patriots for other teams. This is because it is doubtful that Brady’s teammates would find much success under New England’s backup quarterback, second-year player Jimmy Garoppolo who has thrown only 27 NFL regular-season passes in his entire career.

Below is the damning report on Brady by Ted Wells it contains text messages by the “deflators,” but Brady? Brady refused to allow the investigators to see his text messages to the deflators.

By: PAUL, WEISS, RIFKIND, WHARTON & GARRISON LLP Theodore V. Wells, Jr. Brad S. Karp Lorin L. Reisner

On January 18, 2015, the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts played in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts to determine which team would advance to Super Bowl XLIX. During the first half of the game, a question was raised by the Colts concerning the inflation level of the footballs being used by the Patriots. As a result, at halftime, members of the officiating crew assigned to the game, overseen by a senior officiating supervisor from the National Football League (the “ NFL ” or the “ League ”), tested the air pressure of footballs being used by each of the Patriots and the Colts. All eleven of the Patriots game balls tested measured below the minimum pressure level of 12.5 pounds per square inch (“psi”) allowed by Rule 2 of the Official Playing Rules of the National Football League(the “Playing Rules”) on both of two air pressure gauges used to test the balls.
The four Colts balls tested each measured within the 12.5 to 13.5 psi range permitted under the Playing Rules on at least one of the gauges used for the tests.
On January 23, 2015, the NFL publicly announced that it had retained Theodore V. Wells, Jr. and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison (“Paul, Weiss”) to conduct an investigation, together with NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash, into the footballs used by the Patriots during the AFC Championship Game.

For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.

In particular, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee.

Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls. During the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game, a ball thrown by Tom Brady was intercepted by a player for the Colts and the ball was taken to the Colts sideline.

On the sideline, Colts equipment personnel used a pressure gauge to measure the inflation level of the ball, determined that it was below the minimum 12.5 psi level and informed a game official and other NFL personnel.

Prior to the game, Colts personnel had notified the NFL that they suspected that the Patriots might be deflating game balls below the minimum level permissible under the Playing Rules, although they did not support their suspicions with any specific factual information. In response to the pre-game concerns raised by the Colts, NFL Football Operations staff had notified the head of the NFL Officiating Department, Dean Blandino, and a senior officiating supervisor who would be attending the game, Alberto Riveron. During a pre-game conversation concerning various game-day topics, Riveron told referee Walt Anderson that a concern had been raised about the air pressure of the game balls. Anderson told Riveron that he would be sure to follow his usual ball inspection procedure to ensure that the balls were properly inflated. 9.After being informed during the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game that the Colts had measured a Patriots game ball and found it to be under-inflated, and having previously been advised of the Colt’s suspicions, Riveron decided that the game balls for both teams should be inspected at halftime by the game officials. Two other senior NFL personnel present at the game, Troy Vincent and Mike Kensil, independently reached the same conclusion.10.At halftime, under Riveron’s supervision, two alternate game officials (Clete Blakeman and Dyrol Prioleau) tested eleven Patriots game balls and four Colts game balls. The Patriots ball intercepted by the Colts was not among the eleven Patriots balls tested. Each official used a separate air pressure gauge provided by referee Anderson that Anderson had brought with him to the game, one of which also had been used by Anderson for his pre-game inspection. Each of the eleven Patriots balls tested at halftime measured below the minimum 12.5 psi level established by the Playing Rules on both gauges. Each of the four Colts balls tested measured within the permissible 12.5 to 13.5 psi range on at least one of the gauges. The measurements were recorded in writing by Richard Farley, an NFL security official who has been assigned to the Patriots and Gillette Stadium for approximately twelve years.

Only four Colts balls were tested because the officials were running out of time before the start of the second half. Indeed, in our view, a contrary conclusion requires the acceptance of an implausible number of communications and events as benign coincidences. Although we believe that a number of the communications between Jastremski and McNally were attempts at humor, based on the evidence and the communications in their entirety, we believe that McNally and Jastremski were joking about events in which they were actually participating that involved the deflation of footballs in violation of the Playing Rules. When interviewed, McNally claimed, among other things, that he brings game balls to the field when he deems fit, that he generally does not receive permission from or inform the game officials before leaving the Officials Locker Room and taking game balls to the field and that he often has taken game balls into the tunnel bathroom near the entrance to the playing field. We do not find these claims plausible and they were contradicted by other evidence developed during the investigation. Counsel for the Patriots also contended that the text messages between McNally and Jastremski referring to the inflation levels of footballs and related topics were not serious and should be seen as nothing more than attempts at humor and hyperbole. We also find these claims not plausible. As noted above and described more fully in the Report, we believe that although a number of the communications between McNally and Jastremski were attempts at humor, McNally and Jastremski were making jokes based on actual events. Our conclusions with respect to Tom Brady also are based on an analysis of the substantial and credible evidence. The evidence does not allow us to reach conclusions as to when McNally and Jastremski began their efforts to release air from Patriots game balls on game day (although McNally referred to himself as “the deflator” prior to the start of the 2014-15 season), exactly how long those efforts have been ongoing…

The complete report can be found here.

ISIS threatens Italy

ISIS routes from Libya to Italy

ISIS routes from Libya to Italy

Italians are worried ISIS that has already infiltrated their country. Apparently, dozens of jihadists who fought in Iraq and Syria have returned home to Italy. In addition, Italy has evidence that ISIS terrorists are hiding among thousands of people arriving boats and ships from Libya. Along with Libyans, others arriving by sea are other Arabs and Africans, just passing through Libya to get to Italy.

More than 11,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean and taken to Italy in the past six days, with hundreds more expected Friday, April 17, the coastguard said.

Sic transit gloria mundi...

Sic transit gloria mundi…

The migrant wave has swelled in recent days on the back of the worsening security situation in Libya – the staging post for most of the crossings – as well as the milder spring weather.

On April 14, Italian police reported that Muslims who were among migrants trying to get from Libya to Italy in a boat this week threw 12 Christians overboard—killing them.

Italian authorities have arrested 15 people involved in the incident on suspicion of murdering the Christians at sea, police in Palermo, Sicily, said.

The original group of 105 people aboard the killer boat left Libya in a rubber boat. Sometime during the trip north across the Mediterranean Sea, the alleged assailants—Muslims from the Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal—threw the Christians 12 overboard, according to the Italian police.

Investigating migrants from the Christian murder ship

Investigating migrants from the Christian murder ship

Since the fall of Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has descended into chaos, giving rise to warring militias, many of whom are loyal to ISIS. “We find ourselves facing a country with a vast territory and failed institutions, and that has potentially grave consequences not only for us but for the stability and sustainability of the transition processes in neighboring African states,” Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni said.

Unfortunately for Italy, as many as 500 newcomers arrive each day from Africa.

The Italian Navy has a fleet of ships dispatched to find these migrants at sea. These ships have saved as many as 170,000 people from sinking vessels in 2014, a 66% increase over 2013.

It’s hard to say how many hiding among these immigrants could be terrorists or ISIS sympathizers.

Sabrina Magris, president of the International University School of Rome and Florence, which offers counter terrorism and hostage negotiation training to various governments around the world, said that Italian officials are increasingly worried about the situation in post-Qaddafi Libya and the influx of terrorists sneaking into Italy. A growing number of Libyan militias have proclaimed their loyalty to ISIS in recent months.

Pro-ISIS blogger Abu Irhim al-Libi wrote last month.,“If ISIS can successfully intermingle with those fleeing the Libyan coast en-route for Europe, this could turn life in southern European states into hell.”

ISIS has hundreds of thousands of sympathizers in Italy. Italy’s army is only 5,000 strong—a force to small, perhaps, to save Italy from ISIS—and there are hundreds of thousands currently waiting to be transported to Italy.

Last year, 170,000 refugees from Africa and the Middle East entered Europe through Italy, according to the United Nations. And by some estimates, their number may more than triple this year, as political and economic stability in their home countries worsens. Presently, there are 600,000 or so migrants currently waiting in Libya for their turn to go to Italy.

To stop the largest group of migrants from coming, Europe would have to end the bloody civil war in Syria and institute a lasting peace in the area. This is something Western governments don’t have a great track record with in the Arab world so far, as Libya demonstrates. In fact, the current turmoil in the Middle East and Libya has been caused by the U.S. overthrowing of the governments of Iraq and Libya—thereby upsetting the delicate balance of power in the Middle East and North Africa.

This is the legacy of the last Bush administration with the support of the Democrats led by Hillary Clinton who voted in favor of the invasion of Iraq and who played a leading role in reducing Libya to a failed state. Consequently, there is no end in sight to the continuing migrations to Italy and the threats of ISIS calling for their invasion of Italy.



Gone with the Wind starring Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian – Part 2

Bieber, Kardashian, Gone with the Wind!

Bieber, Kardashian, Gone with the Wind!

Way back on April 1st, 2012, we wrote about the super-exciting remake of the famous film Gone with the Wind, starring Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian. With everyone anxiously waiting for the film to come out, we ask – what happened? When are we all going to see this wonderful film.

Back then, James Cameron, the producer consented to give us an interview. We met with Cameron, today, early in the morning in his office to see what had happened.

“Hi, I’m Jim,” said Mr. Cameroon with a friendly smile. He was an unimposing fellow, short and fat, and seemed to be somewhere in his sixties or seventies. He had aged at least twenty years since our first interview only three years ago, to the day.

Mr. Cameron didn’t seem to remember us, so we explained that we were reporters from, and were here to get some background information on his epic re-make of Gone with the Wind.

“Youse come to the right place,” smiled Mr. Cameroon.

We felt quite at ease with the great man.

Before we could ask a single question, just like in the last interview, Cameroon took off what was going on with Gone with the Wind, and its stars, Bieber and Kardashian.

“We have had to delay the film a bit. Kim is demanding $50 million for her part, and wants to replace Bieber with Kayne West. Geez. I tried to explain to her that, as great an artist that Kayne is, how could he play Clark Gable’s part.”

Gosh, Mr. Cameron, how could Kayne play a rich white guy back in the days of slavery?

“Exactly, continued Cameron, “but Kim countered that she is all for LGBT and diversity, which is her mission in life. Also, said I had to pay for her new butt implants.”

“LGBT?,” we spouted out.

“Of course, I’m sure you must know it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Trans-gender.”

“Oh sure, Mr. Cameron, sir,” we responded as one.

“So I told Kim that since we are all for LGBT Diversity, we should have Kayne play the part of her black maid – you know, the gal who said, ‘I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ babies. Well, guess what? Kim said that this was a great idea to have Kayne star in a female role, and that he would do it for sure for $90 million.”

“Ninety-million,” we chorused.

“Now don’t tell this to Bieber, or he will be wanting even more than Kayne – maybe even $100 million. But you know what Bieber wants?”

We sat in stunned silence.

“Bieber wants Selena Gomez to play the lead role and replace Kim Kardashian… not a bad idea because Selena will do it for peanuts.” Cameron paused in thought and then continued, “Hell, I don’t know what we are going to get this film on the road, even though the public is screaming for it.”

Cameron then stared at the floor.

Slowly and respectfully we got up and left in silence.


Who is Edward “Ed” Mezvinsky?

He is Edward “Ed” Mezvinsky, born January 17, 1937. Then you’ll probably say, “Who is Ed Mezvinsky?”

He is a former Democrat congressman who represented Iowa’s 1st congressional district in the United States House
of Representatives for two terms, from 1973 to 1977.

Mezvinsky sat on the House Judiciary Committee that decided the fate of Richard Nixon. He was outspoken saying that Nixon was a crook and a disgrace to politics and the nation and should be impeached.

Mezvinsky and the Clintons were friends and very politically intertwined for many years.

He also had an affair with NBC News reporter Marjorie Sue Margolies and later married her after his wife divorced him.

In 1993, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, then a freshman Democrat in Congress, cast the deciding vote that got President Bill Clinton’s controversial tax package through the House of Representatives.

Mrs. and Mr. Mezvinsky

Mrs. and Mr. Mezvinsky

In March 2001, Mezvinsky was indicted and later pleaded guilty to 31 of 69 counts of bank fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraud.

Mezvinsky had embezzled more than $10 million dollars from people via both a Ponzi scheme and through notorious Nigerian e-mail scams. He was found guilty and sentenced to 80 months in federal prison.

After serving less than five years in federal prison, Mezvinsky was released in April 2008 but remains on federal probation.

To this day, Mezvinsky still owes $9.4 million in restitution to his victims. About now you are saying, “So what!”

Well, this is Marc and Chelsea Mezvinsky. That’s right, Ed Mezvinsky is Chelsea Clinton’s father-in law. They were married in George Soros’ mansion.

Now Marc and Chelsea are only in their early thirties but managed to purchase a $10.5 million NYC apartment.

Has anyone heard mention of any of this in any of the media?

If Mezvinsky was Jenna or Barbara Bush’s, or better yet, Sarah Palin’s daughter’s father-in- law, the news would be an everyday headline and every detail would be reported over and over. And yet liberals say there are no double standards in political reporting.

ISIS is winning!

Yemen’s capital has just been taken over by pro-Iranian Houthi tribesmen. Both the American diplomatic corps and military personnel have fled the country, leaving behind $500 million of valuable equipment and arms for the Houthi rebels.

In addition, secret files left behind by the fleeing Americans contain details of American intelligence operations in the country have been looted by Iran-backed militia leaders, exposing names of confidential informants and plans for U.S.-backed counter-terrorism strikes, U.S. officials say. The identities of local agents were compromised after Houthi leaders in Sana took over the offices of Yemen’s National Security Bureau, which had worked with the CIA, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations. The compromised agents’ lives are now in danger.

On Wednesday, March 25, Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled his residence in the southern Yemeni city of Aden.

This is a major victory for Iran which continues to exploit the ongoing unrest by the Shia majority in Bahrain, which threatens to spread to the Shia population in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. Meanwhile, Sunni-backed ISIS continues to penetrate into Saudi Arabia from Iraq.

The strength of ISIS lies in social inequality, which is rife throughout the Arab and North African countries.

When unrest came to Syria in the spring of 2011, King Abdullah’s advisers thought that, with a little outside help, Syrians might be able to rid themselves of the Assad government and shift their country out of the Iranian orbit.

Washington shared this optimistic assessment, which turned out to be a tragic misreading of Syrian realities. 225,000 dead and nine million displaced Syrians later, Bashar Al-Assad still rules in Damascus. Worse, Syria has become the incubator for a self-proclaimed ISIS “caliphate” (“Da’ish,” to use the Arabic acronym for it), a renegade Muslim movement of truly satanic brutality that is at once an idea, a structure of governance, and an army.

ISIS was born by the U.S. intervention and misguided “surge” in Iraq, and has grown rapidly in Syria. It has already erased the Syrian-Iraqi border.

ISIS is determined to undo the legacy of colonialism in the Middle East, including the formation of the modern states of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, and to revenge past injuries to the world’s Muslims at the hands of Western powers elsewhere. ISIS plans to rule in Mecca and Medina. It now governs an area the size of Ireland with a population larger than Israel or Jordan.

ISIS is rapidly attracting migrants, recruits, and statements of allegiance from all over the world. ISIS is expanding into Africa. Potentially hundreds of millions of people with two continents could fall under the ISIS caliphate.

At the outset, Riyadh saw ISIS as a distastefully extremist but potentially useful instrument of armed opposition to Assad and Iran. But the Kingdom later realized that ISIS is threat to its interests, including its domestic tranquility and even the head of its ruler, among other Arab monarchs.

Under Saudi Arabia’s new monarch, King Salman, Saudi policy seems to be evolving toward actively countering ISIS as well as Iran and the Houthi’s in Yemen.

It looks as though Riyadh may now be in the process of organizing a coalition with its neighboring Arabian countries, especially with the Arab monarchies, whose Ankara, Amman, Cairo, and Islamabad so as to be able to counter both ISIS and Iran. This could change the regional balance and alter its political economy in important ways. With respect to Iran, Pakistan can provide a nuclear deterrent, Egypt can furnish military manpower, and Turkey has industrial strength. All three are producers of armaments as well as importers of them. Amman is on the frontline with Da’ish. Saudi money can help them cooperate or at least coordinate their policies to mutual advantage.

From an American perspective, such a coalition would be a mixed blessing. Certainly, Israel would not welcome it. But, if something like it came into being, there could at last be hope for an effective strategy that dealt with all three dimensions of the Da’ish phenomenon. Currently, there is a military campaign plan but no strategy. U.S. policy is especially limited. The Americans treat ISIS as a bombing target, even though military commanders all acknowledge that it is also an ideological and political problem that military means alone cannot address.
This is because Western interests are not credible or competent as commentators on ISIS connection to mainstream Islam. Rather than believe in an “extremist” version of Islam, ISIS may reflect what true Islam was originally.

Salafism has a literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam. Salafi Jihadis who espouse offensive jihad (holy war) against those they deem to be enemies of Islam as a legitimate expression of Islam.

It is often reported from various sources, including the German domestic intelligence service, that Salafism is the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world.

The Saudis had their Salafi reformation in the 18th century. Salafism in the Kingdom is a conservative, stabilizing, if repressive force. Many Saudis, like ISIS, are Salafis, being adherents of the view that the revival of their Islam requires reaffirmation of the way of the Salaf, the earliest Muslims and the repudiation of subsequent innovations, superstitions, and corrupt practices.

There are 4 million Saudi Salafis, making up 22.9% of Saudi Arabia’s population, while most of the rest are Wahhabi. The Salafi movement is often described as synonymous with Wahhabism, but Salafists consider the term “Wahhabi” derogatory.

The 4 million Saudi Salafis plus many socially deprived Saudi Wahhabis provide a fertile recruiting ground for ISIS. In fact, there are many ISIS attacks on Saudi Arabia and not just on its border. Internal attacks in Saudi Arabia by ISIS are increasing rapidly – something which is not reported in the news.

Both the rise of ISIS and the challenge of Iran’s advance into Iraq, Syria and Yemen underscore the importance of Saudi-American strategic cooperation. The window of opportunity is closing. For the sake of the West, the Arab and African counties quick, informed and decisive action must be taken to save the day.

Saudi Arabia has formed a coalition of more than 10 countries to attack the Houthi Shiites in Yemen. These include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. In addition, Egypt, Jordan, and Sudan have said they have forces involved in the operation. Even Pakistan is considering a Saudi request to send ground forces. Some reports say that Morocco will send combat aircraft as well.

Even if this is a winnable plan (and it may not be) its success is risky. If the effort fails, those opposed to ISIS will suffer the consequences and heads will roll (both figuratively and literally).

Striking similarity between flights MH379 and Germanwings 9525

The similarities between the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared on 8 March 2014 and Germanwings flight 9525 are striking.

The pilots of both airplanes remained silent and apparently incapacitated while their flights flew calmly to their doom.

Like MH370, Flight 9525, without warning or distress signal, abruptly left its cruise altitude as it approached the French Alps and began a steep but controlled descent lasting eight minutes before slamming into a remote, snowy mountainside, killing everyone on board.

For both flights, no distress call was made to air-traffic controllers, suggesting some sort of relatively sudden event—perhaps a depressurization and failure to don oxygen masks that left both pilots incapacitated.

Since MH370 was a Boeing 777 and Flight 9525 was an A100 Airbus, the design of the aircraft is probably not to be blamed for the crashes.

So what happened to the pilots? Was there an explosion or decompression in the cockpit of both aircraft? Apparently so, and if so, what happened is apparently sabotage in both cases.

The wreckage of Germanwings Flight 9525 may well hold the answer to what happened to both flights.

The threat of ISIS explained

The Three Dimensional Threat of Daesh: A Conversation with Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and SUSRIS, the Saudi-US Relations Information Service

Note: ISIS or ISIL as it is known is referred as “Daesh” in this interview.

[SUSRIS] A year ago few people had heard of ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic State. Now it is the transcendent security threat in the Middle East and beyond. What are your thoughts on this challenge?

[Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr.] I think we’re mishandling it. The one exception to all of the words of praise that I uttered in our earlier conversation about King Abdullah’s legacy is that, in his last years, he was misled by key advisers and pandered to opinion in Saudi Arabia by carrying out a foreign policy organized mainly on sectarian lines. This makes no sense if the geopolitical problem is Iran. To weaken Iran’s hold on their fellow Arabs, the Saudis should be emphasizing their Arab identity, not their schismatic Sunni identity.

The Saudis have a terrible problem in Daesh. I don’t like to call it ISIS or ISIL. Neither they nor we have handled this problem at all effectively. But there are some indications that King Salman – perhaps with help from Prince Mohammed bin Nayef – understands this and the Saudi policy may be shifting.

Daesh is a three-dimensional thing. First, it is an idea – a renegade idea within Islam – and, second, it is a political movement. It has the structure of a state. I mean every attribute of a state – territory, tax collection, the enforcement of order, judicial authority – is now present in Daesh. And, third, Daesh is a military force. It has a very effective infantry, now US-equipped by virtue of the Iraqi army’s retreat and abandonment of its weapons and transport equipment on the battlefield. Daesh has to be attacked on all three dimensions, not just the military one.

The U.S. cannot lead an effort to deal with renegade Muslims. We have no authority, no knowledge, no competence, no standing to say who is a Muslim and who is not, what a Muslim is, and whether Daesh fits within that definition or not.

It’s also ironic for non-Muslim Americans to object to Daesh as non-Muslim. Daesh is Takfiri. It pronounces anathema on Muslims as well as the people of other religions. Daesh strikes me as a terrible perversion of Islam but it does not make sense for us to emulate it by arrogating to ourselves the right to declare that Daesh is not Muslim. It makes sense for non-Muslims to shut up and to insist the Saudis and others who do have the standing to undermine or attack or discredit Daesh’s religious credentials do that, with us helping but only in the background and not even visible.

Second, on the political front we’re not in a position to reconstitute the Iraqi state. We may have destroyed Iraq by invading and occupying it but Nouri al Malaki and the overambitious Shiite majority then completed the job. Only Iraqis can reunite Iraq.

Syria fell apart in part because of the sectarian nature of the divisions and fighting in Iraq, which was communicated to Syria, producing contagion there and ultimately erasing the Syrian border with Iraq. We’re not in a position to address the political problems that come about from the collapse of Sykes-Picot or the collapse of the authoritarian states that succeeded the colonial governments that Sykes-Picot created. Those governments were designed to facilitate divide and rule policies by colonial regimes, and divide and rule is how the subsequent governments have governed. That’s all broken down. We can’t do anything about that.

What we can do is supplement the efforts of regional military forces. We have military and intelligence capabilities they don’t. But again, we should not be in the forefront. This is ultimately a struggle within Islam, within the region, within the Arabs, perhaps between the Arabs and Iran and in none of those contests are we competent to lead.

So the question now is will King Salman step into the leadership vacuum that we have partly and mistakenly attempted to fill, and help us out. After all Daesh wants to rule in Mecca and Medina not in Washington.

There is a pattern of commentary emerging which counters the mindlessly militaristic John McCain-Lindsey Graham position. There’s a good article by Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post this morning [“An ideological war American must watch, not fight”], for example, which makes some of these points. We’re not yet sophisticated enough, apparently, about these issues to deal effectively with them but we are beginning to think about how to do so.

[SUSRIS] Where do you fall out on the Washington parlor game of whether it’s called countering violent extremists or Islamic radicals?

[Freeman] As I said it’s not for us to make that distinction. I think the President is very wise not to label this as a war on any particular Islamic idea because the implications of that would be that we are at war with 1.6 billion people and their faith. One of the basic rules of statecraft is not to multiply your enemies but diminish them.

The debate here doesn’t deserve the title debate. It’s part of ‘gotcha’ politics, and it’s very dysfunctional. But that shouldn’t be news because our government is dysfunctional.

So what could we do about this? King Salman just sponsored a conference, though he didn’t attend. He had Khaled al Faisal read out his speech in Mecca but it was devoted to the first two of these issues which are the ones that only the Arabs can deal with, mainly the ideological or theological questions and the political issues. We ought to get behind that. But we ought to be saying look, this is a Muslim problem, it’s an Arab problem and we will be helpful, but we are not going to take the lead because we can’t.

That is a very difficult message to put over in a Washington where the main renewable resource seems to be hubris. It’s election season. We’ve got all kinds of posturing going on.

We have many presidential candidates, none of whom have any ideas at all about what to do about these issues other than more of the same. That includes the lead candidates. Jeb Bush certainly doesn’t understand any of this and he is being advised by the very people who got us into Iraq and who bear ultimate responsibility for creating the conditions that fostered Daesh. Hillary Clinton led the charge into Libya — that turned out to be not so smart — and encouraged the destabilization of Syria. That also hasn’t worked out too well for anyone but Daesh.

So we’ve got people running for office who are not qualified to deal with these issues: Hillary by her record, and Jeb by his ignorance and his advisors. Paul Wolfowitz as an advisor again? Give me a break.

[SUSRIS] There were not too many fresh names on the list.

[Freeman] One hopes it’s basically symbolic, but if it is symbolic it’s symbolic of deep incompetence in our statecraft. I’ve said all this before. At the Arab-US Policymakers Conference [Link] last October I lamented how everything we have been trying to do in the Middle East has gone awry.

We don’t have any standing or answer on any aspect of the situation in the Holy Land – Israel or Palestine. We’ve lost control of the issues. We’ve now got Netanyahu coming to Washington basically to join the Republicans in abusing the President. I’m no fan of this president but it’s disgusting to watch this. It’s being facilitated by people in Congress who have pledged allegiance to a foreign country and are more committed to its leader than our own. They have to be among the least patriotic politicians in our history.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress about the P5+1/Iranian nuclear negotiations on March 3, 2015

Israel has its problems but we have lost control of our problems, specifically the problem of Daesh.

We don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t have good relations, basic cordial, good relations, or mutual trust now with anybody in the region – not Israel, not Egypt, not Saudi Arabia, not the U.A.E., not Iran, not Turkey, not Syria, not Iraq, not even the Kurds in Irbil.

We don’t have a diplomatic strategy. We don’t even have politicians who know what diplomacy is.

What are we doing? There’s no effective strategy for dealing with the ideological and political issues. The purely military approach we have taken is facilitating the metastasis of anti-Americanism with global reach.

This problem is now all over the Sahel and North Africa and in the heart of Africa, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and you know it also has some resonance in the Caucasus and even in Europe.

We’re just not dealing with it. We don’t know what to do. We imagine that you can deal with it as you could with an enemy army: decapitate it; take out its leadership and it falls apart.

Well, this is a political structure. It’s a network that you can’t decapitate because by definition you can’t decapitate a network. It’s partly a political structure that requires compromise between people over whom we no influence. We can’t deal with the political aspects of Daesh effectively unless there’s some sort of understanding among Iraqis and among Syrians and between Riyadh and Tehran, and we’re very far from that.

My fear with respect to the nuclear negotiations is that we will do a deal with Iran – one which under the circumstances will be the best we can do and much better than not doing a deal. The Israelis will then either succeed or not in derailing that deal. If they derail it, Iran will go nuclear. If they don’t succeed in derailing it they will raise sufficient doubt about it in the course of their attempts to do so that they will erode its credibility enough to force the Saudis and others into proliferation. In either case, Riyadh will have no confidence in the possibility of holding Iran to nuclear latency or precluding its building weapons.

The question is, if the Saudis believe that an Iranian nuclear breakout is possible in a fairly short timeframe, what do they do? Will they have any confidence that there will be no breakout?

I think we’re much better off with an agreement than with no agreement, but the fact is that nothing’s perfect. Meanwhile, we’ve got the nuclear counter-proliferation advocates as well as the Israeli lobby agitating against any rapprochement with Iran for reasons that have nothing to do with Saudi concerns.

The gurus of the non-proliferation effort write in the New York Times that we have to do this, this, and this to hem in Iran – an entirely coercive approach, all sticks and no carrots. All technical approaches and no strategy. Nobody’s making an effort to think about how to address the security issues that might drive Iran to actually field a nuclear deterrent. We need a strategy on that level, and we don’t have one.

We probably also need to administer some tough love to Riyadh. “Hey, guys you live in the region. We’re happy to support you up to a point, but you cannot afford an entirely confrontational approach to Iran. This business of conducting a simultaneous war of religion and geopolitical rivalry with the Persians doesn’t serve your interests and it doesn’t serve ours. It facilitates the rise of things like Daesh, which are mainly a menace to you, not us.”

We need to have a serious conversation about regional strategy with Riyadh. But that presumes that we’re capable of strategic thought – for which there’s very little evidence at present.

[SUSRIS] Is the larger problem the sentiment in Riyadh that Washington is going soft on Iran?

[Freeman] Of course, that is the concern and underlying it is Saudi recollection of the days when Iran, not Saudi Arabia, was our principle partner in the region. I don’t think it’s realistic to imagine a return to those days, but it’s easy to understand the Saudi concern. Saudi fears may not be well grounded but they’re there. There’s no doubt about this.

We need to restore confidence in our sense of strategic direction and steadfastness. The problem goes well beyond Saudi Arabia. There’s no one in the region who believes we know what we’re doing or can be counted upon to do it — not General Sisi, not King Salman, not the late King Abdullah, not the terribly exposed King Abdullah II in Jordan, not Prime Minister Netanyahu. There’s no on in the region who thinks we listen to them or pay attention to what they think. Dysfunctional government at home does not stop at the water’s edge.

Amb Chas Freeman was interviewed by SUSRIS by phone on Feb. 27, 2015

Obama’s Speech on the 50th Anniversary of Selma

(This is one of our greatest presidential speeches. It should be made the source and content of a course given at every college and university throughout America.)

Edmund Pettus Bridge
Selma, Alabama
2:17 P.M. CST

President Obama:

It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning 50 years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation and fear. And they comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

“No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.”

And then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, and a book on government — all you need for a night behind bars — John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

President and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Mayor Evans, Sewell, Reverend Strong, members of Congress, elected officials, foot soldiers, friends, fellow Americans:

As John noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place. In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher — all that history met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America. And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.

They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came –- black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. (Laughter.) To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would well up and reach President Johnson. And he would send them protection, and speak to the nation, echoing their call for America and the world to hear: “We shall overcome.” (Applause.) What enormous faith these men and women had. Faith in God, but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before. (Applause.)

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were called everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place? (Applause.) What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals? (Applause.)

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents: “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (Applause.)

These are not just words. They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work. And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom. (Applause.)

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon. (Applause.)

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo. That’s America. (Applause.)

That’s what makes us unique. That’s what cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity. Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down that wall. Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid. Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule. They saw what John Lewis had done. From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest power and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

They saw that idea made real right here in Selma, Alabama. They saw that idea manifest itself here in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Political and economic and social barriers came down. And the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus all the way to the Oval Office. (Applause.)

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities — they all came through those doors. (Applause.) Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say. And what a solemn debt we owe. Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done. (Applause.) The American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, as well, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. And I understood the question; the report’s narrative was sadly familiar. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic. It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom. And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was. (Applause.)

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.

We know the march is not yet over. We know the race is not yet won. We know that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged, all of us, by the content of our character requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth. “We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin once wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

There’s nothing America can’t handle if we actually look squarely at the problem. And this is work for all Americans, not just some. Not just whites. Not just blacks. If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built. (Applause.)

With such an effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on –- the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago -– the protection of the law. (Applause.) Together, we can address unfair sentencing and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and good workers, and good neighbors. (Applause.)

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. Americans don’t accept a free ride for anybody, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity. And if we really mean it, if we’re not just giving lip service to it, but if we really mean it and are willing to sacrifice for it, then, yes, we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts sights and gives those children the skills they need. We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote. (Applause.) Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.

How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts. (Applause.) President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. (Applause.) One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it. If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year. That’s how we honor those on this bridge. (Applause.)

Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or even the President alone. If every new voter-suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar, the number of bubbles on a bar of soap. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life.

What’s our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? (Applause.) How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future? Why are we pointing to somebody else when we could take the time just to go to the polling places? (Applause.) We give away our power.

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in 50 years. We have endured war and we’ve fashioned peace. We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives. We take for granted conveniences that our parents could have scarcely imagined. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship; that willingness of a 26-year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America. That’s what it means to believe in America. That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction — because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.

Look at our history. We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, and entrepreneurs and hucksters. That’s our spirit. That’s who we are.

We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some. And we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth. That is our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free –- Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. We’re the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because we want our kids to know a better life. That’s how we came to be. (Applause.)

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. (Applause.) We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened up the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent. And we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the Navajo code-talkers, and the Japanese Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied.

We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re the gay Americans whose blood ran in the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge. (Applause.)

We are storytellers, writers, poets, artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We’re the inventors of gospel and jazz and blues, bluegrass and country, and hip-hop and rock and roll, and our very own sound with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway. (Applause.)

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.” We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others. (Applause.) We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing. We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe old age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day. You are America. Unconstrained by habit and convention. Unencumbered by what is, because you’re ready to seize what ought to be.

For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” (Applause.) That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer. Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Somebody already got us over that bridge. When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on [the] wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.” (Applause.)

We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.

Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)

2:50 P.M. CST