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Islamic State being steamrolled in Syria

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Following the Siege of Aleppo, the Syrian Arab Army has shifted its focus towards land grabs. While Aleppo was still under control of the jihadist groups, the government controlled the coastline, most of the areas along its border with Lebanon, and much of the area surrounding Damascus with some major exceptions. Ever since liberating Eastern Aleppo, the SAA has kept the Al-Qaeda linked groups at bay in the region west of Aleppo. The SAA hasn’t launched any major offensive other than to recapture the gains of jihadists in the Idlib Province north of Hama. Instead, Assad’s forces have focused most on ridding the Islamic State from the desert, leaving hardcore terrorists fright moderate terrorists.

 Figure 1: Syria December 22nd, 2016. East Aleppo under government control

Figure 1: Syria December 22nd, 2016. East Aleppo under government control

Things are looking bleak for ISIS in Syria. Their capital Raqqah is under siege with coalition forces reclaiming 60% and growing of the city. The closest forces to break the siege are about 45 km east and 36 km south using the most up to date maps. The Kurds have been instrumental in defeating the Islamic State, and the Syrian government is content to let them liberate Raqqah. Urban warfare has been brutal in the region with the past Sieges of Aleppo and Mosul both proving difficult.

After Aleppo, SAA with the assistance of Russia and other allies began increasing its land by first recapturing Palmyra which they accomplished in March. Afterwards focused attention on the Iraqi border and desert land south of the main road that goes through Palmyra. Meanwhile east of Aleppo, along the Euphrates River, it’s almost a race between Assad and the Kurds as to who can capture the land first. Neither group is fighting one another, but each village counts when the two groups will eventually negotiate a final peace.

Figure 2: Syria August 23rd, 2017. Most of the land gains are within the last couple months

Figure 2: Syria August 23rd, 2017. Most of the land gains are within the last couple months

The objective for Assad’s forces is clear. Government forces have been under siege by ISIS for five years in Deir ez-Zor. However, it is not a perfect siege. Russia and Syria have been able to supply their forces under siege due to the Islamic State’s lack of anti-air. No doubt the Syrian government is striving to break the siege. Breaking the siege would be a morale boosting victory that would further reinforce Assad’s eventual victory. The SAA captured as-Sukhnah on August 5th which is the only major settlement between Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor. But in the last two weeks, the SAA has decided to clean up rather than rush to break the siege. They have attacked ISIS in the region northwest of Palmyra from the south, north and west. The Islamic State’s oil fields were split by the SAA, rendering the isolated territory under siege and useless. Syria is about to isolate another oil rich mass of land via capturing land directly north of as-Sukhnah.

This break from marching on to Deir ez-Zor was brief because reports show the Syrian Army captured about 30km of highway. The Islamic State has few victories to claim as the defeats keep piling up in Syria. It’s only a matter of time before the five-year siege is broken and intense fighting along the Euphrates begins. For now, Syria enjoys relatively easy victories bringing it one step closer to peace.

Culture and Religion

Elizabeth Warren releases DNA proof that she’s at least 1/1024th Native American. Twitter responds appropriately.

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Elizabeth Warren releases DNA proof that shes at least 11024th Native American Twitter responds appr

There’s a strategist in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ear who thought it was a good idea to release results of a DNA test showing a likelihood that one of her very distant descendants was Native American. The advice taken. The results were predictable.

The test shows she is at most 1/32nd Native American if she is six generations from her Native American ancestor. That’s her best-case scenario. At worst, her ancestor was as far back as ten generations which would make her 1/1024th Native American. To put that into perspective, if she were to honor her heritage by engaging in 1/1024th of a four-hour Native American Sweat, she’d be in and out of the lodge in 14 seconds.

Elizabeth Warren releases results of DNA test on Native American ancesty

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2018/10/15/warren-addresses-native-american-issue/YEUaGzsefB0gPBe2AbmSVO/story.htmlThe inherent imprecision of the six-page DNA analysis could provide fodder for Warren’s critics. If her great-great-great-grandmother was Native American, that puts her at 1/32nd American Indian. But the report includes the possibility that she’s just 1/1024th Native American if the ancestor is 10 generations back.

Undergoing the test and releasing the results reveal how seriously Warren is taking the attacks from Trump, who has been able to effectively caricature and diminish his national foes via nicknames and conspiracy theories. Trump pushed then President Barack Obama into releasing the long form of his birth certificate to prove what most knew was already true: He was born in America.

This publicity stunt was designed to let everyone know she’s serious about running for President in 2020. She wanted to be able to call out President Trump on his promise to give $1,000,000 to charity if she could prove Native American heritage. He won’t pay, of course, which will get plenty of headlines calling him a deal-breaking scoundrel, but was it really if for her to be the focus of even more jokes on social media?

Here are some of the reactions on Twitter. You decide:

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Foreign Affairs

President dispatches Pompeo after talking to Saudi King

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President dispatches Pompeo after talking to Saudi King

President Trump is sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to discuss the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Turkey claims to have ample evidence that the Saudis murdered Khashoggi at their consulate in Istanbul.

The situation is tense as pressure mounts for actions to be taken against Saudi Arabia. The Saudis fired back with threats of their own if such actions are taken. All of this is happening against a backdrop of increased engagement between Saudi Arabia and the United States as they work to put together a Middle East peace agreement.

Turkey claims to have a recording of Khashoggi’s murder captured on his Apple Watch. They also have the identities of a 15-man “kill team” that was allegedly sent to the consulate to capture and torture Khashoggi. Video shows him going into the consulate with his fiancee remaining outside, but no footage has been released of him leaving the consulate and his fiancee hasn’t seen him since. Turkey claims Saudi Arabia has sufficient surveillance cameras at the consulate that could prove he left, but the Saudis claim the equipment was not recording during his visit.

My Take

The White House is trying to sweep this under the rug. As obtuse as the Saudi government has been for decades, their strategic and economic importance to the United States is great. The last thing the White House wants is to be forced to choose between their close ally and public outcry, most of which is demanding repercussions in light of the alleged evidence.

Turkey has been adamant that their theory is correct.

At some point, we’re going to have to cut ties with Saudi Arabia unless drastic changes are made. Changes are underway, but they seem too slow to compensate for the backwards nature of the country. It’s time to just cut them loose now.

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Guns and Crime

Why isn’t Katie Brennan’s #MeToo accusation getting national attention?

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It’s the type of story that should have received national attention immediately. It was sourced by a respected major news outlet, the Wall Street Journal. Both the accuser and the accused are high-ranking public official in New Jersey’s government. The accused stepped down two weeks ago when approached by WSJ for comment. Katie Brennan’s story is a major newsworthy scandal.

As of Monday morning, a day after the story officially broke and four days after it was leaked to other major news outlets, both mainstream media and the #MeToo movement are essentially silent.

That will change soon, possibly today. Brennan, a prominent volunteer for Phil Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign and current Chief of Staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, released this statement:

On April 8th, 2017, Al Alvarez raped me. On April 9th, 2017 I learned that the system is broken.

I have pursued every form of justice available. But it has become clear that this system is not built for survivors.

The details of the assault portrayed in reporter Kate King’s Wall Street Journal report published today are accurate. But to date, I have received no justice.

I decided to come forward because I know that Al Alvarez, and all perpetrators, must be held accountable, must never rape again, and the justice system needs a complete change with regard to sexual violence.

New Jersey residents are only given a two-year window to file a civil suit. After spending an entire year pursuing a criminal case before hitting a dead end, I am left with less than one year to pursue civil action.

It is clear that leadership from the Murphy administration is needed to create meaningful policy change on several levels to make sure future victims do not have to endure what I have. I urge Gov. Murphy and the Attorney General’s Office to eliminate the statute of limitations on civil action related to sexual assault, and to direct prosecutors to be more aggressive in taking on these criminal cases. Further, the Murphy administration and the General Assembly should pursue legislation to ensure New Jersey’s police and other first responders are better trained to handle sexual assault victims.

Finally, sexual predators like Al Alvarez are only able to stay in power when those around them do nothing. Several senior level members of the Murphy administration were aware of my assault and failed to take meaningful action. Al Alvarez remained employed at a senior level in the Murphy administration until just a few weeks ago, when he knew the Wall Street Journal article was coming out and opted to resign. The failure of members of Gov. Murphy’s staff to respond in an aggressive, proactive fashion is unacceptable.

To other sexual assault survivors in New Jersey, I urge you to join me in coming forward if you are able. I will stand with you, because when we stand together, we are safer and stronger. Our voice is our power. Together, we can finally receive the justice we all deserve.

Murphy has not commented other than saying Alvarez should not have been hired. He was made aware of a “sensitive matter” that needed to be discussed by Brennan in June and claimed his staff would set up a meeting. That was the last Brennan heard from Murphy.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of aide sex assault allegation questioned

https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/new-jersey/governor/2018/10/14/murphys-handling-sexual-assault-allegation-called-into-question/1642517002/His accuser, Katie Brennan, was a Murphy campaign volunteer who said she spent more than a year seeking action against Alvarez for the alleged sexual assault before directly emailing Phil and Tammy Murphy in June. Phil Murphy responded within the hour, according to the Journal.

“Hang in,” he wrote. “We are on it.”

But Alvarez remained in his $140,000-a-year position until October. The alleged assault happened in April 2017.

Standards set by the #MeToo movement dictate that credible accusations should be believed. Brennan appears to be extremely credible, having reported her rape immediately after it allegedly occurred. Alvarez offered a $15,000 settlement that would have been attached to a non-disclosure agreement, which Brennan refused.

Where is MSNBC? Where is CNN? Where is Alyssa Milano?

Social media is starting to take notice. In particular, they’re going after Murphy and his wife for speaking out in support of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against Brett Kavanaugh.

Katie Brennan

My Take

I am a strong proponent for what the #MeToo movement once promoted and how it started. The original intent was to embolden women who had experienced sexual misconduct at the hands of men in power over them. The goal was to give courage to those who were in very tough situations.

Recently, the #MeToo movement has been weaponized. I’m not going to draw comparisons between accusations against Kavanaugh and Alvarez. That would be unfair to Ford since Brennan’s accusations against Alvarez are much more recent and have the benefit of an immediate report to the authorities. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that as of now, either the story hasn’t reached the right people or the right people have chosen to ignore it.

We can’t let them.

It’s not as if this is a political hit job against Democrats. Brennan’s image was used in Murphy’s campaign handouts and she was outspoken as a “Young Democrat of the Week” in New Jersey as a result.

Katie Brennan NJ Democrat

I don’t like when something as heinous as rape gets politicized, but silence from mainstream media and the #MeToo movement is deafening. Would they be avoiding the story if Brennan had accused a Republican?

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