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‘I could see gas masks all around and [the fighters] were all talking about this. Everyone was already having problems with their eyes. One day I did an interview with the commander of the little position. These guys are used to shelling, fighting, snipers. That’s their life. But chemicals, you never know. It has a real psychological effect. You cannot smell it or see it for certain. Sometimes there is not even smoke.
At first I was scared with what I saw and what I was carrying, because we knew it was something that could change everything….My colleague and I had a long argument. Should we release everything when we were stuck in Damascus? Do we run the story and send it to the newspapers right away? But then we would be a bigger target, so we decided to not do it.’

-Laurent Van der Stockt on realizing that Assad’s forces in Syria were using chemical weapons. Read more - The Photographer Who Crossed Obama’s ‘Red Line’
Image by Laurent Van der Stockt/Reportage by Getty Images, from Nerve Gas in Syria


The boneheaded war in Iraq is claiming tens of thousands more lives now that it’s tied the hands of the US and allies from intervening in the Middle East when something really has to be done. There is no win in sight for either side, and even when arms are eventually lain down what will remain but sectarian conflict, a ruined infrastructure, a lost dream of democracy for what had been one of the most stable nations in the region, hundreds of thousands dead and countless lost landmarks and cultural icons from the birthplace of civilization.
Politics don’t matter, the past doesn’t matter, the fact that the US has never properly lived up to the image it likes to display of helping the rest of the world achieve democracy and intervening in atrocities doesn’t matter, that the government wants to pretend this country hasn’t toppled and instated dozens of governments over the years around the world but can’t be involved now doesn’t matter, that this threatens to be a new Cold War like proxy war following the renewed tensions between the US and Russia doesn’t matter, that there is no easy solution in sight doesn’t matter, that the economy isn’t strong doesn’t matter; all that matters is now and what is happening, human to human and talking and politicking has let the worst humanitarian crisis in the world fester, led to the largest conflict migration in generations and continues to allow torture, disappearances and the use of chemical weapons to stand.
It doesn’t have to be boots on the ground to turn the tide, Libya proved that, but more importantly the US should have been using the Arab Spring as an opportunity to live up to the false buzzword of “exporting democracy” and earn back a positive reputation on the world stage through advising and aid. We still can.
Mincing words and debating non-intervention while the bullets flew left a millions dead in Rwanda, the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Chile, etc., don’t let more nations join that shameful list. 

reportagebygettyimages:

‘I could see gas masks all around and [the fighters] were all talking about this. Everyone was already having problems with their eyes. One day I did an interview with the commander of the little position. These guys are used to shelling, fighting, snipers. That’s their life. But chemicals, you never know. It has a real psychological effect. You cannot smell it or see it for certain. Sometimes there is not even smoke.

At first I was scared with what I saw and what I was carrying, because we knew it was something that could change everything….My colleague and I had a long argument. Should we release everything when we were stuck in Damascus? Do we run the story and send it to the newspapers right away? But then we would be a bigger target, so we decided to not do it.’

-Laurent Van der Stockt on realizing that Assad’s forces in Syria were using chemical weapons. Read more - The Photographer Who Crossed Obama’s ‘Red Line’

Image by Laurent Van der Stockt/Reportage by Getty Images, from Nerve Gas in Syria

The boneheaded war in Iraq is claiming tens of thousands more lives now that it’s tied the hands of the US and allies from intervening in the Middle East when something really has to be done. There is no win in sight for either side, and even when arms are eventually lain down what will remain but sectarian conflict, a ruined infrastructure, a lost dream of democracy for what had been one of the most stable nations in the region, hundreds of thousands dead and countless lost landmarks and cultural icons from the birthplace of civilization.

Politics don’t matter, the past doesn’t matter, the fact that the US has never properly lived up to the image it likes to display of helping the rest of the world achieve democracy and intervening in atrocities doesn’t matter, that the government wants to pretend this country hasn’t toppled and instated dozens of governments over the years around the world but can’t be involved now doesn’t matter, that this threatens to be a new Cold War like proxy war following the renewed tensions between the US and Russia doesn’t matter, that there is no easy solution in sight doesn’t matter, that the economy isn’t strong doesn’t matter; all that matters is now and what is happening, human to human and talking and politicking has let the worst humanitarian crisis in the world fester, led to the largest conflict migration in generations and continues to allow torture, disappearances and the use of chemical weapons to stand.

It doesn’t have to be boots on the ground to turn the tide, Libya proved that, but more importantly the US should have been using the Arab Spring as an opportunity to live up to the false buzzword of “exporting democracy” and earn back a positive reputation on the world stage through advising and aid. We still can.

Mincing words and debating non-intervention while the bullets flew left a millions dead in Rwanda, the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Chile, etc., don’t let more nations join that shameful list. 

"The government can’t solve problems because the two parties are so wedded to their opposing ideas that they can’t move. The very idea that someone from Congress can’t take something from the other side because they’ll be punished by their own party? That’s stupid. If I were running for office, I would be poaching ideas from everywhere. That’s how art works. You steal from everything."

Steven Soderbergh on how politicians can benefit from learning to steal like an artist in this excellent interview on New York Magazine.  (via explore-blog)

I admire you even more now Mr. Soderbergh.

(Source: , via explore-blog)

Important elements of the administration’s gun plan that will probably get lost because of the debate of the controversial ones.

Whatever your stand on gun ownership is, I implore you to note these apolitical highlighted provisions in the plan/recommendations laid out by the administration that could be the great boon to public health and safety we’ve needed for sometime before you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Our national dialog tends to get obfuscated by both sides playing distractive or reductive arguments against one another, no actions by the state will prevent actions taken by individuals if they so choose, and yes there are ways outside the lines to obtain weapons (though a large portion of “illegal guns” are obtained through licensed dealers acting inappropriately with little recourse, or through straw purchases) but the idea that if you can’t stop everything from happening you should do nothing is absurd. Yes, more than legislative controls needs to be done, which is exactly what I’m choosing to highlight here. I do wish more attention had been placed on the responsibilities of gun dealers, too many rules look the other way while misuse of that vocation leads to greater availability of “illegal” weapons. Not to mention that control on federally-licensed entities is less of a political hassle to wrestle with than those on individuals, given the language of the 2nd Amendment, and the gun lobby’s prerogative to continue to appear as if their vested interest is in individuals’ rights rather than businesses’ outlook. The highlights on catching mental health problems before they escalate & working to remove the stigma of mental illness in our culture are extremely important. I do wish the language leaned away from only talking about the threat of mental illness leading to mass shootings and focused on where the majority of gun deaths arise from: suicides. Suicide has become so commonplace that 15-20,000 people using guns to kill themselves in this country each year does nothing to spark the kind of national attention mass tragedies do. Every single suicide is a tragedy. But this is a problem that is endemic, not isolated incidents like Aurora or Newtown, and one that requires more sweeping measures to curb as a result. The elements of the recommendations that will be more controversial are just that, recommendations, not executive actions, should they be enacted it will be by the will of Congress, so don’t start raising Cain in apprehensive objection yet. Though I would assume the majority of gun owners & those wary of controls are not among those who find it necessary to build personal arsenals of weapons of war (the type of person the media on both sides loves to give voice to as if they represent average gun owners, feeling it mutually advantageous to their arguments to imply that), those types of weapons and fully-implementing the background checks that have been a part of national legislation for nearly 20 years are the only real stakes for individuals here. Though I have to wonder why anyone without a financial stake in gun companies, or fear that their own irresponsible activities would be curbed would be averse to background checks, and ensuring the sharing of proper documentation to make those checks effective. You can read the entire document here, and I would encourage you to if you want to participate in an informed national dialog. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/wh_now_is_the_time_full.pdf ———- Create serious punishments for gun trafficking: Today, criminals can easily buy guns from unlicensed dealers, or acquire them with the help of so-called “straw purchasers” who pass the required background check to buy guns from licensed dealers. But there is no explicit law against straw purchasing, so straw purchasers and others who traffic guns can often only be prosecuted for paperwork violations. We cannot allow those who help put guns into the hands of criminals to get away with just a slap on the wrist. Congress should close these loopholes with new gun trafficking laws that impose serious penalties for these crimes. Take executive action to enhance tracing data: When law enforcement recovers a gun during a criminal investigation, they can trace that gun’s path from its manufacturer, to the dealer who sold it, to its first purchaser. This gun tracing process helps law enforcement solve violent crimes by generating leads in specific cases and can reveal gun trafficking patterns when large amounts of tracing data are combined. However, not all federal law enforcement agencies are uniformly required to trace all guns they recover and keep in custody. The President will issue a Presidential Memorandum requiring them to trace all such firearms. Finally give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) a confirmed director: The ATF has not had a confirmed director for six years. There is no excuse for leaving the key agency enforcing gun laws in America without a leader. It is time for Congress to confirm an ATF director. End the Freeze on Gun Violence Research There are approximately 30,000 firearm-related homicides and suicides a year, a number large enough to make clear this is a public health crisis. But for years, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other scientific agencies have been barred by Congress from using funds to “advocate or promote gun control,” and some members of Congress have claimed this prohibition also bans the CDC from conducting any research on the causes of gun violence. However, research on gun violence is not advocacy; it is critical public health research that gives all Americans information they need. Better understand how and when firearms are used in violent death: To research gun violence prevention, we also need better data. When firearms are used in homicides or suicides, the National Violent Death Reporting System collects anonymous data, including the type of firearm used, whether the firearm was stored loaded or locked, and details on youth gun access. Congress should invest an additional $20 million to expand this system from the 18 states currently participating to all 50 states, helping Americans better understand how and when firearms are used in a violent death and informing future research and prevention strategies. Analyze information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement: The Department of Justice will publish an annual report on lost and stolen guns to ensure that data collected by ATF is available. This report will include state-by-state statistics about guns reported as missing. Making this data available will provide valuable information to law enforcement about how to target its resources, and give states and cities the information they need to pass laws and take other effective steps to make sure that lost and stolen guns are reported. The Department will also identify best practices that are working today and encourage states and cities to follow those models. Clarify that no federal law prevents health care providers from warning law enforcement authorities about threats of violence: Doctors and other mental health professionals play an important role in protecting the safety of their patients and the broader community by reporting direct and credible threats of violence to the authorities. But there is public confusion about whether federal law prohibits such reports about threats of violence. The Department of Health and Human Services is issuing a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits these reports in any way. Protect the rights of health care providers to talk to their patients about gun safety: Doctors and other health care providers also need to be able to ask about firearms in their patients’ homes and safe storage of those firearms, especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses or if they have a young child or mentally ill family member at home. Some have incorrectly claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking their patients about guns and gun safety. Medical groups also continue to fight against state laws attempting to ban doctors from asking these questions. The Administration will issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit or otherwise regulate communication between doctors and patients, including about firearms. We need to do more than just keep guns out of the hands of people with serious mental illness; we need to identify mental health issues early and help individuals get the treatment they need before these dangerous situations develop. Make sure students with signs of mental illness get referred to treatment: Project AWARE also includes $40 million to help school districts work with law enforcement, mental health agencies, and other local organizations to assure students with mental health issues or other behavioral issues are referred to the services they need. This initiative builds on strategies that, for over a decade, have proven to decrease violence in schools and increase the number of students receiving mental health services. Provide “Mental Health First Aid” training for teachers: Project AWARE includes $15 million for training for teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness in children and young adults, including how to encourage adolescents and families experiencing these problems to seek treatment. Launch a national conversation to increase understanding about mental health: The sense of shame and secrecy associated with mental illness prevents too many people from seeking help. The President is directing Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan to launch a national dialogue about mental illness with young people who have experienced mental illness, members of the faith community, foundations, and school and business leaders. Finalize requirements for private health insurance plans to cover mental health services: The Administration will issue final regulations governing how existing group health plans that offer mental health services must cover them at parity under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. In addition, the Affordable Care Act requires all new small group and individual plans to cover ten essential health benefit categories, including mental health and substance abuse services. The Administration intends to issue next month the final rule defining these essential health benefits and implementing requirements for these plans to cover mental health benefits at parity with medical and surgical benefits.