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Their Normandy Beach, Our Higgins Boats

normandy-higgins-boatOn this day seventy-two years ago, young Americans were fighting and dying on the shores of Normandy France. The soldiers made their way onto the beach that June 6th in Higgins boats, unique high-walled boats that carried 25 men, sort of a “floating boxcar.”

Conservative author Peggy Noonan wrote about D-Day, and about the Higgins boats in the introduction of her book “Patriotic Grace: What it is and why we need it now.” Noonan tells of one soldier, his fate intricately woven with the fate of the other men in his Higgins Boat, heading in high seas to a conclusion unknown… “it took [his] five little boats four hours to cover the nine miles to the beach:”

They were the worst hours of our lives. It was pitch black, cold, and the rain was coming down in sheets, drenching us. The boats were being tossed in the waves, making all of us violently sick.

Noonan reflects in the remainder of Patriotic Grace on the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in as a people today, and of the rise of the partisan hate-filled din. Says Noonan “we fight as if we’ll never need each other,” yet our very fate may depend on one another.

And so I came to think this: What we need most right now, at this moment, is a kind of patriotic grace-a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we’re in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative. That admits affection and respect. That encourages them. That acknowledges that the small things that divide us are not worthy of the moment; that agrees that the things that can be done to ease the stresses we feel as a nation should be encouraged, while those that encourage our cohesion as a nation should be supported. I’ve come to think that this really is our Normandy Beach… the little, key area in which we have to prevail if the whole enterprise is to succeed. The challenge we must rise to… We are an armada. All sorts of Americans, wonderful people, all ages, faiths and colors, with different skills, fabulous skills, from a million different places, but all here with you, going forward.

Like it or not, we are in each others’ Higgins boats. Our fate, almost certainly shared.

Given that circumstance, perhaps we might use today to consider how we will best keep faith with those young Americans who left their lives that day on Omaha Beach. It’s something we ought to be doing right about now.

Photo credit: Chuck Holon

The Jewish Observer: On Syrian Refugees

Rabbi Jack Romberg writes about the decision we will make on whether to accept Syrian refugees:

I say it directly, without hesitation, with a slight bit of fear, which I am determined to overcome. Let the Syrian refugees come to America. Let them find the safety, the succor, that they cannot possibly receive in any other country. No, we cannot take them all, but we should at least follow the lead of Germany – which is ironic given the comparisons floating around between the plight of the Syrian refugees and the Jewish refugees of the late 1930’s.

I say this without condemnation of most of those who argue we should not let them in. I think I understand those feelings. They are expressed (by most I think) not out of hatred, but out of concern for the impact on our country. Rather than condemn the motives of those who think differently than I do, I would rather address their concerns directly, out of simple respect for my fellow Americans. And then I would hope that at least some might see a path to changing their minds.

Read the entire piece online at The Jewish Observer. Please do feel free to submit alternative perspectives, argued with respect and civility.

We could all learn something from the Scots today.

scottish flagFrom today’s Washington Post:

The announcement of results came just hours after nearly all (emphasis added) of Scotland turned out to vote on Thursday in a referendum marked by civility and passion… on the whole, the referendum debate was remarkable for the seriousness with which voters weighed such a stark choice, and the peaceful manner in which they expressed it on Thursday.

Today at 12:30, College of Law Rotunda: John Bradshaw on nuclear negotiations and human rights in Iran

CONTACT: Mark Schlakman
(850) 766-2146; mschlakman@admin.fsu.edu

Nov. 19, 2013


John C. Bradshaw, executive director of the National Security Network, will speak at Florida State University Nov. 20 as part of the “Human Rights & National Security in the 21st Century” lecture series.

Against the backdrop of heightening tensions surrounding Iran’s nuclear pursuits as negotiators from the P5+1 countries and Iran return to Geneva with a concrete proposal that is providing some cause for encouragement, there is a push from some U.S. senators for new sanctions that may complicate U.S. negotiations. Bradshaw will address these issues in his lecture, “Iran: Nuclear Negotiations, Human Rights and Other Emerging Regional Priorities.”

Prior to joining the National Security Network, Bradshaw served as executive director of the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, Washington director of Physicians for Human Rights and coordinator of the Human Rights Leadership Coalition, which comprises 12 major U.S. human rights organizations.

Bradshaw previously was a foreign service officer, serving in Venezuela, Brazil and Burma, as well as in the State Department’s East Asia and Human Rights bureaus. He also served as a foreign policy adviser for Sens. Paul Wellstone and Robert Torricelli, then members of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights lecture series explores the frequent tensions between human rights interests and national security imperatives. This lecture is sponsored in collaboration with the National Security Network and is free and open to the public. It will be held:

12:30 – 1:30 P.M.





Public parking is available across the street at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, 505 W. Pensacola St.

# # #

September 11

There are always moments amid the wreckage of what is worst in the human race, when we see clearly what is best in it. Even on 9/11.

There were those who walked toward trouble to allow the rest of us to walk away from it – the fire fighters, police officers, and in the case of 9/11, EMTs and Port Authority Police. They, like us on that day, had other concerns. . . kids to raise, bills to pay, oil to change. They put it all down and walked toward the horror to help strangers.

But of all the stories of human kindness following the terror of 9/11, one story in particular stuck with me.

About cows.

The Masai tribe of Kenya had raised money to send their native son Kimeli Naiyomah to medical school in the United States. He happened to be in downtown Manhattan on 9/11. He later returned to tell his tribe of what he witnessed.

“What happened in New York City does not really make sense to people who live in traditional huts, and have never conceived of a building that touches the sky,” explained Ibrahim Obajo, a freelance reporter working in Nairobi. “You cannot easily describe to them buildings that are so high that people die when they jump off them.” Read all »

Florence Snyder: A Senator, The Bulldog and September 11th

Ft Lauderdale—As a writer of spy novels, Bob Graham is no threat to Ian Fleming. As a statesman, the former three-term U.S. Senator and two- term governor is the best of the best.

Graham’s novel, Keys to the Kingdom, is the hail-Mary pass of a dedicated public servant working way beyond the call of duty and well outside his comfort zone to provide the world with the unvarnished, uncensored truth about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

As Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Co-Chair of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11, Graham became convinced that the Saudi government has the blood of September 11th on its hands.

Specifically, the Saudis created a social and financial infrastructure stretching from Sarasota to San Diego which made it possible for the 19 hijackers —who had no fluency in English, no ties to America and no visible means of support—to live in anonymity amongst us as they prepared to shatter our domestic tranquility. Graham is chillingly persuasive in making the case that this infrastructure is still here and remains capable of unleashing new horrors on American soil.

Censors armed with classified stamps redacted the best evidence from the official reports. But as a work of fiction, Keys to the Kingdom is beyond the reach of the government’s power to trample on truth, said Graham at a forum last Tuesday to mark the 11th anniversary of the attacks. The program, titled “Unanswered Questions of 9/11: A Conversation With Bob Graham”, was a fundraiser for the Internet-based investigative reporting website Broward Bulldog, and drew 125 people to the downtown Museum of Art.

Bulldog has, almost single-handedly, kept alive the story of what Graham calls a “bi-partisan cover-up” of Saudi involvement in the attacks. Last year, Bulldog editor Dan Christensen, working with Anthony Summers, co-author of The Eleventh Day, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for History, revealed that the FBI withheld from the Congressional Inquiry, and from the subsequent 9/11 Commission, the fact that it had investigated the “Sarasota Saudis.”

Responding to Bulldog’s reporting, the FBI claimed it had disclosed to Congress everything it knew about 9/11. Graham—a Harvard educated lawyer not given to casual cursing—calls that claim “total B.S.”

In the recent past, a highly reliable source like Graham bearing stories about Saudi nationals living large in Sarasota and raining death upon thousands of our countrymen was raw meat for packs of rabid watchdog journalists who roamed the country and the world from basecamps in Florida’s notoriously aggressive newsrooms.

Not anymore. As the Jounro-pocalypse of layoffs and furloughs grinds on, Broward Bulldog pretty much owns this story.

Christensen worked for the Miami Herald, the Daily Business Review, and other south Florida newspapers at the apex of their agenda-setting power. His reporting about Broward Sheriff and former state senator Ken Jenne’s private business dealings sparked a federal corruption investigation that landed Jenne in prison in 2007. His reporting on hidden and falsified court records led to a pair of unanimous Florida Supreme Court decisions in 2007 and 2010 outlawing those practices. In 2000-2001, his reporting about a deadly gun-planting conspiracy and cover-up by Miami police resulted in the indictment of more than a dozen officers and the establishment of Miami’s long sought civilian review panel.

Graham, whose late brother Philip and sister-in-law Katharine, built the Washington Post into one of the world’s great newspapers, understands better than most people the importance of investigative reporting. He heaped praise upon Christensen’s stories about “the Sarasota Saudis” and other truths about terrorism that President George W. Bush and his successor, Barack Obama have stuck in the “state secrets” drawer.

Like Graham and Christensen, Bulldog’s pro bono First Amendment lawyer, Tom Julin, cut his professional teeth in an era when every news organization fought for every story, and took no guff from government. This month, Julin filed suit in federal court in Ft Lauderdale against the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice. The lawsuit cites the Freedom of Information Act and demands release of the records which will tell the truth behind the fiction in Keys to the Kingdom.

Graham with his “fiction” and Christiansen with his website are the new faces of The Lonely Pamphleteer. If you want to know the whole truth about September 11, buy Graham’s book; support Christensen’s website; and tell President Obama to declassify the documents.


Florence Snyder is a member of the Board of Directors of Broward Bulldog. She is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

“It’s we who win.”

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik apparently didn’t approve of a Norwegian version of a Pete Seeger song called “My Rainbow Race” because of its affirmation of multi-culturalism. On Thursday, as the trial of Breivik proceeded, Norwegians crammed into public squares across their country – 40,000 estimated in Oslo – to sing the song. The video shows Norwegian singer Lillebjørn Nilsen leading the Oslo crowd in song. When he finished, Nilsen proclaimed “it’s we who win.”

Tuesday evening: Tallahassee Committee on Foreign Relations event

Imam Muhammad Musri, President and Senior Imam of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, former Co-Chair of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, and former member of the Florida Governor’s Faith-Based Advisory Council (appointed by Governor Jeb Bush and reappointed by Governor Charlie Crist), will be TCFR’s next featured speaker.

Imam Musri will discuss Islam, Islamic law, ongoing transitions within the Middle East, Quran burnings in Gainesville, Fl and Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan (and other horrific developments including the massacre in Kandahar) both of which evoked highly critical comments by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Imam Musri also will discuss the role of moderate Muslims since 9/11.

WHEN: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 from 5:30 to 7:00 P.M.

WHERE: Hotel Duval, Opal Room in the Lower Level Lobby

415 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32301

Light hors d’oeuvres will be provided from 5:30 to 6:00PM and the presentation will commence at 6:00PM. Please RSVP to tcfr.info@gmail.com at your earliest convenience if you have not done so already.

Our immediate priority is to continue developing and diversifying TCFR’s membership base: individual, corporate and institutional memberships. For those who have not had the opportunity to submit your inaugural spring season membership dues, please do at your earliest convenience so that we may show strong numbers to our Washington counterpart. Also, please let us know of individuals and/or business entities you think might be interested in joining.


About the Tallahassee Committee on Foreign Relations (TCFR):

A private nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization (501(c)(3) status pending), TCFR’s mission is to help facilitate a more robust local dialogue on international issues, including trade, economic development, foreign policy, security and humanitarian issues. Membership is open to the general public and includes active civic, business, government, academic and political leaders interested in engaging in discussion with top U.S. and international policy makers, and other influential officials. TCFR is a chapter of the American Committees on Foreign Relations, which was established nearly 70 years ago as a program of the Council on Foreign Relations. While there is no longer a formal relationship between the Council and ACFR, the emphasis remains substantially similar to serve as a vehicle to engage at the local level.

Boston University’s Robert Hefner at FSU tomorrow: “The Question of Islam and Democracy Reconsidered”

The Florida State University’s College of Social Sciences & Public Policy
announces a public lecture by:

Robert W. Hefner
Professor of Anthropology, Boston University

The Question of Islam and Democracy Reconsidered

Thursday, February 23, 2012
3:30 to 5:00 pm

The Pepper Center’s Broad Auditorium
636 West Call St. on FSU’s Campus

Sponsored by the
Ruth K. and Shepard Broad International Lecture Series

Parking available at no charge on the top level of the parking garage
located at the corner of Call and Macomb Streets.

Download a program flyer HERE.

Check out two foreign policy events in Tallahassee tomorrow



12:30 – 1:15 P.M.



U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Steven Ratti, the United States Southern Command’s director of plans and operations and a Florida State University alumnus, will discuss security and humanitarian issues within the Caribbean, Central and South America, as well as the situation in Haiti two years after its devastating earthquake, at Florida State University on Monday, Jan. 23. Read the entire release here.

Former Foreign Service Officer and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State to discuss energy policy within the international arena as it may bear upon Florida at kickoff event for Tallahassee’s new chapter of the American Committees on Foreign Relations

MONDAY, JAN. 23, 2012

5:30–7:00 P.M.

Hotel Duval

415 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32301

Molly K. Williamson, a dynamic speaker affiliated with the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. and former Foreign Service Officer and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations at the U.S. Department of State, will discuss international energy policy as it may bear upon Florida, a topic of significant interest at the national, state and local levels. Read the entire press release here.

It’s about who we are

This op-ed written by Joe Nocera in Saturday’s New York Times speaks volumes about who America is now and who we were after WWII when a young Army combat engineer named Harold Burson covered the Nuremberg trials for the American Forces Network. Nocera writes of Burson’s coverage:

There was another aspect to Harold’s scripts, one I found quite endearing. They have an earnest, idealistic quality that reminds you just how full of hope America was after World War II. Though we had fought a brutal war, we were determined to act generously to the vanquished. That even applied to the Nazi brass who had committed reprehensible crimes against humanity. “G.I.’s have one stock question,” reads Burson’s very first script. “Why can’t we just take them out and shoot ’em? We know they’re guilty.” Read all »

Neil Skene: A Postcard from Africa

(Photograph: Lunch under the mango tree in Fissel. Village Vice President Alpha Faye talks with University of Florida Professor Leo Villalon. First District Court of Appeal Judge Nikki Clark is at left.)

(FISSEL, Senegal) – July 20, 2011 – The Village of Fissel is more than 3 hours southeast of Senegal’s sprawling, car-choked capital, Dakar. Sitting in plastic chairs in a bare meeting room with no electricity, about three dozen citizens of Fissel gathered Wednesday afternoon for a mid-year report on the community’s budget, covering 42,000 people spread over miles and miles of African bush who live mostly off farming with hand tools and mule-drawn plows. Read all »

Consider the lemon tree

Recently, as he promoted his “Restoring Courage” event in Jerusalem in August, Glenn Beck recalled the moving, meaningful and important movie Schindler’s List. His guests shared stories of courage in saving lives of Jews during WWII.

The safety and security of the Jewish people and the state of Israel is one near to American hearts for deeply human and compelling reasons, even if you sidestep the loaded topic of biblical history and prophecy that Beck is invoking.

Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree tells part of the history of the Jewish people during the establishment of the State of Israel and the central conflict in the Middle East through the very personal history one home in Ramallah, built by an Arab family who was later forced by events to leave it.

It tells the story of a Bulgarian Jewish family who fled Europe after the war to Israel with nothing but the dream of returning to their ancient homeland after the horror they had endured. In the tumult of politics, people and their imperfection, Jewish families were allowed to claim homes that had been left by fleeing Palestinians.

It tells of the lemon tree planted in the backyard of this home by the Arab family who had to leave it.

The adult daughter of the Jewish immigrants who had claimed the home would consider two histories of the land many years later after having been visited by the son of the family who had built the home: “I had to acknowledge that this is my childhood home, my parents lived here until they died, my memories are all here, but that this house was built by another family, and their memories are here. I had to acknowledge absolutely all of it.” The visit was the beginning of a difficult, challenging friendship between the two.

The son returned to be questioned by his family about his visit to the home they had not seen since being forced to leave:

Did the light still stream in through the south windows in the afternoon? Were the pillars on the gate still standing straight? Was the front gate still painted olive green? Was the paint chipping? If it still is, when you go back you can bring, a can of paint to make it new again; you can bring shears and cut the grass growing up along the stone lath. How is the lemon tree, does it look nice? Did you bring the fruit? Did you rub the leaves and smell them, did your fingers smell like fresh-cut lemons?

The tragedy of the Middle East is deep and wide. It has planted much hatred which has since gone to seed. The Jewish people and the Palestinian people know both the tragedy and the hatred. In time, the victim becomes the aggressor, and back again the victim in an endless spin of loss, heartache, blame, retribution, repeat.

We cannot afford to look at the situation from a comfortable vantage point — one that starts the story from the transgression that most favors “our side” and pretends that what came before doesn’t exist; ignoring facts along the way that don’t confirm our righteousness. This is not a comfortable story if you tell it truly. Telling comfortable stories only serve ultimately to accelerate tragedy.

In his presentation Beck warned, as he is prone to do, not to blur the line between good and evil. A world view that places all evil over there (whether “there” is across the street, across the aisle or across the Israeli West Bank barrier) while all goodness resides here is self-deceiving, self-serving, belies the teachings of faith and only serves to pour gasoline on what is already well beyond combustible.

And what connects us? The same thing that separates us. This land.

“Our enemy,” the Jewish daughter said softly, “is the only partner we have.”

This is usually true in epic, entrenched conflict… if you look closely enough to see the lemon tree.