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Aggression's unintended consequences

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Editor's View

Nations or groups that use force rarely get what they aim for. Take Ukraine, where Russia’s seizure of Crimea and meddling in Russian-speaking regions in the country’s east has forged a new Ukrainian nationalism after decades under Moscow’s shadow while isolating Russia economically and politically. In Asia, China’s claiming of disputed islands – which has included dispatching oil rigs and fishing boats into neutral waters and threatening force – has united China’s neighbors in opposition. The book is not closed on these conflicts, but the result of aggressiveness so far has clearly not been what Russia or China envisioned.

What of Gaza, where the conflict may be winding down? Israel has been criticized for the Palestinian civilians killed in the fighting. But Hamas faces criticism for firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel and building infiltration tunnels with money that could have been used to improve the impoverished enclave. Gaza’s civilians didn’t deserve the violence they faced. While they likely still do not sympathize with Israeli civilians, they might begin to question the ruinous policies of their leaders.

John Yemma
Editor at Large

UN: Nearly a million Ukrainians have fled fighting in east

Most of the displaced are in Russia – and putting strains on facilities and infrastructure there, say the UN refugee agency and local Russian officials.

Fred Weir, Correspondent

Almost 1 million people have been displaced by escalating warfare in the two east Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and hundreds of thousands of those have fled across the border to neighboring Russia, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Russian authorities say over 5,000 refugees per day are pouring into the southern Rostov region, which abuts the war zone, and that the numbers are putting strains on local facilities and infrastructure.

As Ukrainian forces close on the rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, the numbers of civilians desperately trying to escape the war zone is spiking.

Before the war, about 6.5 million people lived in the rebel-held regions, around 14 percent of Ukraine's population. The few reports coming out of those places now show widespread ruination and empty streets. A report by the Kremlin-funded RT network from Luhansk on Tuesday said that about a quarter million inhabitants were still trapped in the city, without power or water, with dwindling food supplies and facing constant shellfire from outside the city.

Citing Russian authorities, the UNHCR said that 730,000 Ukrainians have entered Russia this year. A further 117,000 people have fled the war zone to other parts of Ukraine.

"It's getting close to a humanitarian crisis here," says Alexander Titov, spokesperson for Rostov Governor Vasily Golubev. "Depending on the fighting on any given day, between five and ten thousand people come across the border. We have 95 temporary refugee centers – basically tent camps – operating now, up from 15 in June."

"We're very alarmed," Mr. Titov adds, "because cold weather is just around the corner, and those tents aren't heated."

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Federal appeals court takes up next wave of gay marriage cases

An unusual convergence of gay rights cases is likely to produce a massive showdown over same-sex marriage, as early as next year, when the decisions from all these cases are appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Warren Richey, Staff writer

In an unusual convergence of high-stakes litigation, a federal appeals court on Wednesday is taking up six different cases challenging aspects of same-sex marriage restrictions in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The cases, being heard by a three-judge panel in Cincinnati, are among the front edge of nearly 80 pending lawsuits seeking to overturn barriers to gay marriage nationwide.

Two different appeals courts – in Denver and Richmond, Va., – recently struck down same-sex marriage bans in Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Both courts ruled that the US Constitution protects a fundamental right to marry without regard to sexual orientation, and that states may not enact regulations that restrict that right.

More cases are coming. On Aug. 26, a federal appeals court in Chicago is scheduled to hear challenges to gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana. And on Sept. 8, a federal appeals court in San Francisco will examine same-sex marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho.

The resulting decisions from all of these cases are expected to be appealed to the US Supreme Court for what could amount to a massive and final showdown over same-sex marriage. That could happen as early as next year.

In all six cases, federal judges sided with the same-sex partners, declaring that the bans and other restrictions violate constitutional protections.

In some cases, judges found that gay men and lesbians enjoy a fundamental right to marry under the US Constitution. Other judges declined to rule on whether such a fundamental right exists.

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Iraq's jihadis have vowed to wipe out the Yazidis. Who are they?

The ancient religious group, concentrated in Iraq, have been targeted for extermination by the so-called 'Islamic State' that seized a number of towns along the Iraq-Syrian border this week.

Lydia Tomkiw, Staff writer

The arrival of the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar over the weekend sent the native religious minority fleeing. Yazidis belong to an ethno-religious group that predates Islam and has roots in Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic religion that developed in ancient Persia around 1,500 BC. But IS (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS) has labeled the group "devil worshippers," and the Sinjar area, near the border with Syria, is strategically important for IS, just 50 miles from Mosul.

The Yazidis have a long history of persecution, and reports of forced conversions and murders by IS have now emerged, with forty Yazidi children reportedly killed.

Much of the Yazidi faith remains shrouded in mystery: outsiders aren’t allowed to convert and believers aren’t willing to share details of their rituals. The exact size of the population is unknown, but estimates run as high as 600,000 (although with violence in Iraq in recent years the number is most likely lower).

This isn’t the first time the Yazidis have been targeted. In the 1800s, Ottoman troops carried out many killings of the Yazidis. Under Saddam Hussein, many of their villages were destroyed in fighting against Kurdish groups.

In recent years, pressure on Yazidis to convert to Islam has mounted. In 2007 the Islamic State of Iraq, the group that evolved into the current incarnation of IS, issued a fatwa that all Yazidis should be killed. This prompted around 70,000 Yazidis to flee Iraq.

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US general killed in Afghanistan: How big is threat of insider attacks?

Pentagon officials insist that the death of the highest-ranking US officer in America’s post-9/11 war effort will not change US strategy in Afghanistan. Mission No. 1 is to train Afghan counterparts ahead of US combat forces leaving.

Anna Mulrine, Staff writer

The news that a two-star general was shot in Afghanistan Tuesday – the first US general to be killed in action during America’s wars in Iraq or Afghanistan – will inevitably renew questions about the threat of insider attacks on US troops, and whether a change in the US game plan might be in order.

More than a dozen troops, including other Americans and a German brigadier general, were wounded in the attack by a gunman who is believed to have been an Afghan soldier.

The shooting took place at a military training center in Kabul – a pointed setting for the attack, given that it is now mission No. 1 for American troops to train their Afghan counterparts ahead of US combat forces departing at the end of this year.

Top Pentagon officials insist that the death of the highest-ranking US officer in America’s post-9/11 war effort will not change US strategy.

Afghan National Security Forces “continue to perform at a very strong level of competence and confidence – and warfare capability,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said during a briefing Tuesday.

That said, he acknowledged the ever-present danger of insider attacks, calling them “a pernicious threat.”

It is a threat that reached peak levels in 2012, when Afghans who were posing as soldiers – or who actually were soldiers – killed 62 troops, according to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) figures.

Insider attacks have declined markedly since then, with two insider attacks against ISAF troops in the first quarter of 2014.

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Opposition gains in Cambodia may portend crack in strongman's power

Opposition lawmakers were sworn in Tuesday, after gaining promises of reform that ended their 10-month boycott of parliament. Prime Minister Hun Sen has long ruled with an iron grip.

Joe Freeman, Contributor

Over the past 30 years, Cambodia’s politics have been tightly managed by one man and one group: Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party.

Mr. Hun Sen, who came to power in 1985 in the wake of the horrific killing fields of the Pol Pot regime, has long exercised complete control over the police, the parliament, and the press. But on Tuesday, 55 opposition lawmakers finally took their seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, in a deal that ends a 10-month opposition boycott sparked by claims of fraud in last summer's parliamentary elections. It also promises electoral reforms.

For Cambodians, the breakthrough is prompting speculation that their leader's iron grip on power may be starting to crack. No one is suggesting that Hun Sen is going anywhere quickly. But opposition leader Sam Rainsy has “carved out a space for the opposition to air its views, and he has attracted higher support for this party than any opposition party since 1993,” says Carl Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales in Australia and a longtime observer of Southeast Asian politics.

Now the question is whether the opposition can capitalize on the opening, or if Hun Sen is maneuvering to divide and conquer his sometimes fractured opponents. 

Under a deal reached on July 22 with Hun Sen's CPP, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) will control five committees in parliament, head a newly created anticorruption committee, and be granted the deputy presidency of the National Assembly.

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Editorial: The Monitor's View

What Israelis, Palestinians expect from the world but not each other

The Monitor's Editorial Board

In their latest war, Israel and Hamas have tried once again to evoke empathy from the rest of world for the suffering of their civilians. Largely absent from this play for empathy was any imagining by Gazans or Israelis about the hardship of the other side.

They desperately want from the world what they have been so unwilling to give each other.

Their suffering from this war may have been unequal. But each is equal in callous disregard for the distress on the other side caused by their armed forces.

By most accounts, this “empathy deficit” between Israelis and Palestinians began to increase after the second intifada, which erupted in 2000.

This is why American mediation in the Middle East now often starts with attempts to create trust between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Former negotiator Dennis Ross, writing in his book “Statecraft,” called this approach the “empathy rule.”

“The more you show that you will reach out and that you do understand the other side,” he wrote, “the more you can and should create an expectation that the other side must also understand your needs and respond to them.”

Empathy, he admits, is not enough. The next step is action. Empathy brings the two parties to the point of a decision, but “to get them to cross historic thresholds, they must also feel that there will be a profound, adverse consequence if they do not do so.”

After three wars, Israelis and Gazans have experienced enough adverse consequences. It’s time to give empathy a try, and then act on it.

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A Christian Science Perspective

Choosing not to drink

Recently I went to a local fish market to buy some fresh lobsters and crabs. As I was paying the bill, the young fisherman who waited on me said, “There’s nothing like a hot steamed lobster and a cold beer.” He then added, “Actually, I don’t drink anymore, and I feel so much better about myself. My life has definitely changed.”

I told him about a man I know who gained his victory over alcoholism and also found his life dramatically changed. He now has a full-time job that enables him to pay his rent. He has bought a new musical instrument for teaching his pupils, and he is in the process of reading through the Bible.

The young man at the fish market was so happy to be free from drinking that his face glowed with gratitude. His eyes were bright and focused.

People choose not to drink for different reasons. They may have learned from others, whether from family, friends, or their religious training, that drinking is not good. That’s all they need to stay sober. Others have had to go deeper and have found their own reasons not to drink.

These deeper reasons can be found in understanding our relationship to God as our creator. Cherishing our spiritual identity, knowing that we reflect only God, good, as explained in Christian Science, not only conquers temptation, but also the belief that it takes incredible human effort to gain self-control and dominion. True dominion is divinely instilled in each of us. God, divine Love, has created each of us, and we are the expression of this Love, the manifestation of God and His goodness. As this divine fact is realized, any temptation to depart from that loving relationship to God, our Father-Mother, becomes powerless. In reality, we couldn’t depart from our relationship to God, even if we wanted to.

This spiritual awakening instills in us a natural self-control and individual dominion in thought and action. A growing understanding of our true selfhood as ideas of God helps us see and experience God’s government of our daily lives and behavior. God’s man – the real man, a term that includes both manhood and womanhood – possesses control, self-respect, and dignity.

Those who want to gain their freedom from alcohol, or other substances, often find that it requires determination and persistent effort, but more than just human willpower. The road to recovery can begin with a desire to value one’s self as God’s beloved child, and to feel content with that spiritual relationship. God, divine Mind, has given to every single man and woman the idea of self-respect and conscious self-worth.

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, explained the pitfalls of getting drunk, as well as the great benefits of preserving self-respect and conscious self-worth. She wrote: “The depraved appetite for alcoholic drinks, tobacco, tea, coffee, opium, is destroyed only by Mind’s mastery of the body. This normal control is gained through divine strength and understanding. There is no enjoyment in getting drunk, in becoming a fool or an object of loathing; but there is a very sharp remembrance of it, a suffering inconceivably terrible to man’s self-respect” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 406-407).

People may have many excuses for drinking. They might find that it brings a sense of ease in social situations. Some might find it an easy escape from daily problems or responsibilities. For others, it may have escalated into an uncontrolled habit. These human reasons for drinking are like thieves that try to steal one’s peace and freedom. In his Sermon on the Mount, Christ Jesus warned against behaviors that would attempt to corrupt our true spiritual freedom. He said: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matthew 6:19, 20).

Regardless of the reason behind it, the alcoholic habit can be identified, addressed, and conquered with God, divine Mind. God’s power to transform us is always greater than human reliance on a material substance. Mankind’s inherent spiritual desire for dominion and self-worth has behind it a divine strength that enables us to find complete freedom over the variety of reasons for drinking.

Whatever impels us to go higher and claim our God-given freedom is a blessing, not only to our lives but to those around us. We express more dependability, unselfish care for others, and productivity in whatever work we do. A higher sense of self-respect not only gives us true freedom and peace of mind, it also enables us to be more loving and useful in life – whether as fishermen or professional musicians.

Robert R. MacKusick

“The object of the Monitor is to injure no man, but to bless all mankind."
- Mary Baker Eddy

The Daily News Briefing is published Monday through Friday by The Christian Science Publishing Society in Boston, Massachusetts.

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