Year of Firsts: Innocent Drive

Friday’s First was a trip down depression lane. Anyone who knows me knows I dream of running away to New Zealand and living on a farm in the middle of nowhere. In my mind, New Zealand is like Disney World.


I like to idealize the place and think that no wrong can be done. But I’m not an idiot. I know that no place is perfect and any place plagued with humans is due to be seriously imperfect. I know a relative amount of history of New Zealand and try and stay abreast of current events.


And then I discovered the TV series called I Am Innocent. What a heart wrencher! It’s this show that tells the stories of those falsely accused of crimes. In some cases, these people were in prison for significant amounts of time. In other cases, their trials were dragged out for years before the Not Guilty verdict and other cases these people are considered guilty by uneducated public opinion.


I couldn’t say which is worse than the other. All of these experiences seem absolutely awful. I’m watching this show and the pain and anger in the eyes of the falsely accused are so painful. And too often the people in this show, the ones so strong to make it through this experience– they’re Maori or poor or not from the best background or not traditionally educated or they are some other ethnic minority.


They’re too often people who come from marginalized communities and can’t necessarily afford the best defence, even when the police work is so very and blatantly sloppy. That’s sad and wrong and it happens EVERYWHERE.


I, of course, knew this before watching the show. Every so often you hear of someone being released from prison after the real perpetrator is caught. Or new evidence comes to light that sets the falsely accused free. These things shouldn’t happen, but they do.


What really struck about this TV series though was that only a few of them ever were financially compensated and honestly the amount of compensation received is atrociously low.


In the first episode of the first season, three 12-year-old girls were sent to an ADULT prison. I think they spent maybe six months there and only received about $150,000. Another man spent years in jail and got around $300,000. There really is no amount of money that can give these people back what they lost, but surely the system can do better than that. No?


Some of these people had their lives so completely ruined that even by the end of the episode, their life hasn’t recovered or rebounded. I don’t know how you rebound from that. Some do learn to move on, like the episode featuring Tim Morrison. I’m proud of him and how he made things turn out for himself. But his story is best told himself and he certainly didn’t have it easy. I’d recommend watching the show, if only for his story. I mean, the entire series is amazing in regards to presentation, direction, interviews, casting… Everything. But Tim’s story is… It’s everything.


Life isn’t like that for everyone though; not everyone makes it out in one piece- whether that be emotionally or physically. Some of the featured are so angry and rightfully so. It’s just not right for people to be treated this way, especially when you know that had these people had the money or the community influence, the name or whatever, they wouldn’t have been in that position, to begin with.


I do wonder what can be done to prevent this and what can be done to ease the rehabilitation of the falsely accused.


So Friday’s First was a lesson in broken systems.


Saturday’s First is going to be a short one for you. I went to Panera again, but I went to the drive-thru! Ooooooooohhhh!


Nothing too exciting there, but I had never been to the Panera drive-thru. It was a silly reason, but bizarrely enough it was actually a shorter wait time to go through the drive-thru to cut to the highway than it was to wait at the light. So I picked up a latte and was on the road before everyone else waiting at the light.


Now, if only Panera can start serving up a macchiato then things would be all good.

Until tomorrow…

Peace and Pistachios,





Executive Summary Sample

July 3, 2012


In light of political instability and conflicts occurring in the Arab Spring, Khalid Koser of Brookings-LSE discusses the three matters that are of concern to the MENA regions regarding migration and displacement:

  1. New and Continuing Displacement

In Syria, 156,000 people have been displaced this past year, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, making the total of internally displaced persons 589,000. The UNHCR has an estimate of more than “88,000 registered Syrian refugees, in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.” The UNHCR issued a regional appeal in March 2012 for $84 million to combat a food shortage and absence of rudimentary household items for many Syrian refugees, was only funded at 36 percent as of May. The properties of many of the IDPs have been looted or damaged according to The International Committee of the Red Cross reports. Buildings that sheltered many IDPs do not have water and electricity access, as well as have been damaged. As the level of violence in Syria increases so does the number of those fleeing for safety- a matter of deep concern since Syria hosts about one million Iraqi refugees, 100,000 of which receive UNHCR aid, and nearly half a million Palestinian refugees. Reports say that some Iraqi refugees have returned back to Iraq. Parts of the Syrian regime have accused the Palestinians of supporting the revolution, worrying analysts that the regime may attack the refugee camps, but widespread violence, displacing some Palestinians is more probable. An estimated 175,000 people have been displaced this year in Yemen and the estimated half million displaced last year in Libya have returned home, yet 70,000 people continue to be internally displaced. Of great worry are the outcome of Qaddafi supporters and the restitution of property.

  1. Filling the Protection Gap for Foreign Nationals

The violence in Libya displaced half a million foreign nationals that relied on a combined effort by the UNHCR and the International Organization on Migration, as they “fell into a legal grey zone.” Most foreign nationals have returned to their home countries, but many remain internally displaced in Libya. Returnees face employment, financial and housing difficulties upon return to their home countries, however attracting foreign nationals to return to Libya will be a struggle. In response to the large-scale displacement of foreign nationals, the international community has begun to form contingency and evacuation plans, as well as other planned responses to the future displacement of foreign nationals.

“At the level of international institutions, the focus for IOM’s annual International Dialogue on Migration in 2012 was ‘Migration Consequences of Complex Crises.’ Among the chair’s recommendations were: greater coordination between humanitarian, migration and development policies and actors in order to better integrate the different principles and procedures often adopted in these separate realms; and more coherent links between short-, medium- and long-term responses. Another recommendation was for vulnerability mapping, acknowledging that existing categories for crisis-affected populations do not always capture the vulnerabilities experienced by those displaced in crises. A third recommendation was for more innovative partnerships between the various U.N. agencies, international and non-governmental agencies involved in migration crises such as Libya, but also including a role for the private sector. There may, for example, be a role for the private sector in the provision of micro-insurance to migrants to help them cope with emergency situations.”

  1. Developing Regional Protection Frameworks

Egypt and Tunisia have been applauded for keeping their borders open to Libyan refugees, however, Egypt has been criticized for not protecting the refugees during the Egyptian revolution and Tunisia has been criticized for not inhibiting refugees from trying to reach Europe by boat. The MENA has poor framework for the protection of displaced people as for the most part they “are not signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol… Even in those countries in the region that are signatories, international protection principles have tended to be poorly applied.” The UNHCR is currently working on helping Egypt and Tunisia improve their legislation regarding refugees and asylum seekers. “And direct experience of displacement, combined with regime change based on concerns about dignity, rights, social justice, legitimate governance and representative democracy, should provide an opportunity to strengthen international protection principles, at both the national and regional levels.”


Brookings, Migration, Displacement and the Arab Spring: Prospects for the Next Year, Read more


Reva Bhalla, writing for Stratfor, discusses sanctions on Iran and U.S.-Iranian negotiations as news sanctions are imposed, attempting to ultimately target Tehran’s “resources that otherwise would be allocated to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” However, there have been ways for Iran to skirt sanctions through front companies. Iran depends on tax haven nations to “switch out flags, names, registered owners and agents, and addresses of owners and agents.” While the U.S. Treasury Department is aware of these tactics, numerous shell companies “operating under different names and flags can be created in the time it takes a single sanctions lawsuit to be drawn up.” Many nations have cut their Iranian oil imports in recent months, however, many nations overlook “shell practices to maintain their crude oil supply at steep discounts.” The Obama administration is aware of the shortfalls of sanctions, but U.S. legislators plan to compose “stricter sanctions legislation in an effort to track down more Iranian shell companies…the U.S. administration is rumoured to be preparing a list of options by which it can selectively repeal the sanctions for when it sits down at a negotiating table with Iran.”

In an editorial appearing in U.S. foreign policy journal The National Interest, two insiders of the Iranian regime, Iranian political analyst Mohammad Ali Shabani and former member of Iranian nuclear negotiating team Seyed Hossein Mousavian, communicated several key points on behalf of Tehran:

    -The United States and Iran must continue to negotiate.

    -Sanctions hurt Iran economically but by no means paralyze Iranian trade.

   – Iran cannot be sure that any bilateral agreement made with the United States will be honoured by a new administration come November.

   – The United States must abandon any policy intended to bring about regime change in Tehran.

   – Washington has few remaining options other than military intervention, which is an unlikely outcome.

    – Iran can significantly increase pressure on the United States by, for example, threatening the security of the Strait of Hormuz, an act that would raise the price of U.S. oil.

The Strait of Hormuz acts as a point of contention as Iran and the U.S. “have an understanding that allows for the free flow of oil through the strait.” Iran can close the strait and use that as a negotiating tool. This act could make “everything from the sanctions campaign to U.S. covert backing of Syrian rebels to the nuclear program,” negotiable.


Stratfor, Negotiations Behind U.S. Sanctions Against Iran, Read more


The Syrian Army is detrimental to the survival of the Assad led Syrian-regime, according to Jeffrey White of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In the face of an expanding opposition, casualties and defections, the Syrian Army “will break, disintegrate, or withdraw to the Alawite heartland in order to preserve remnants of the regime. Alternatively, some units may move against the regime in order to save themselves.” Fighting between the Syrian Army and the opposition has been growing across key regions and more than eighty locations across Syria experienced combat. In June, more than 250 clashes occurred, the most clashes since the start of the conflict, showcasing the intensifying pace of the conflict. The regime forces face four challenges as the conflict intensifies: “Growing opposition capabilities, Geography, Tempo of operation and Attrition.” The Syrian army is unlikely to emerge triumphant using the tactic of “wearing down the opposition.” Regime forces have been unsuccessful at establishing new uses of its resources and there lies little “prospect for serious analysis of the challenges and implementation of realistic solutions…Although it has routinely employed field artillery against civilian and military targets, it could use such weapons much more widely and intensely. No place in Syria has witnessed the kind of artillery bombardment that the army is capable of inflicting.”

On the other hand, the regime benefits from having Alawite loyal generals and soldiers. Soldier loyalty to the Assad regime continues due to “personal commitment or benefits in the form of position, privileges, or pay. Others fear the consequences of regime change or desertion.” If the Syrian Army cannot address the challenges it faces, “it will likely collapse, though precisely when is difficult to determine.” Steady collapse of the regime forces is most likely to occur, but the Free Syrian Army must improve its “planning, intelligence, combat. And command-and-control capabilities would presumably speed this process even further.” The regime is forecast to fall in the event “the army breaks, and the opposition must have something ready to replace it.”


The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mounting Pressure on the Syrian Army, Read More

Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Emanuele Ottolenghi, discussed the cons to intervention in Syria and what alternatives exist. Support for the fractioned opposition in Syria that may have elements of al-Qaeda “suggest that the toppling of the Assad dynasty may give way to an even worse regime.” The fear that Assad’s stroking of sectarian differences could plunge the nation into “anarchy if the regime were removed” exists as Assad uses sectarian differences to his advantage. “Anarchy would leave the vast stockpile of Syria’s weapons- including, crucially, its WMD arsenal- up for grabs among the warring factions…The danger that sectarianism may engulf ethnic communities across the border – the Kurds first and foremost – is already real.”

Iran and Hezbollah have become involved with support the Assad regime as they have a vested strategic interest in Syria. For economic purposes, such as weapons’ sales, Russia has become active in supporting the Assad regime. “Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are trying to support those they favour to come up on top – chiefly the Muslim Brotherhood – as a way to increase their influence.” A post-Assad regime may see the rise of Islamists that “will not be friendlier to the West. And under the fog of war and a looming defeat, a dying [Assad] regime may seriously contemplate using chemical and biological weapons, transferring them to their Lebanese proxies, or unleashing a war against Israel to tip the regional balance of sympathy in their favor,” making intervention costly and objectionable.

Alternatives to intervention include the assassination of al-Assad, supplying the opposition with “weapons that can countenance the regime’s,” and create “humanitarian corridors and buffer zones along Syria’s border with Turkey could alleviate civilian suffering and chip away at the regime’s confidence.”


Foundation for Defense of Democracies, The Syrian Conundrum, Read More

I’m embarrassed, but I need your help #please… I have a possible tumor and my insurance isn’t helping

I don’t do this often and the few times I have asked for help, I’ve never gotten very far. But I need to try because I don’t know what else to do.

I suppose this is a long rant about what’s going on with me and my life these days. I try to keep it quiet and distract myself with pretty things, but sometimes I need to let it out. And maybe you can find it in your heart to get through this and help me in some way. Anyway.

There are too many things going on. Too many things.  No one I know has money they can lend or just gift me. I have no money. My family of 3 lives off of $17k a year. I honestly don’t know how we make it.

Health insurance is denying my claims. I can’t pay my medical bills. I need a ct scan bc I have a tumour that may need chemotherapy (according to a resident at John Hopkins) and I can’t afford any of it. It may not need chemo or radiation. It could be nothing. It could be outright removed (even though we’ve removed it twice already) but I’ll never know until it’s too late, if I can’t get this ct scan.

I practically live on my asthma inhaler and I often wonder if I can even afford to “waste” another huff of it. My asthma isn’t bad enough to kill me or anything like that, just bad enough to torture me every day and send me to urgent care with the occasional asthma attack that requires being hooked up to a breathing machine.

I got put on prednisone. The side effects are weight gain, fatigue, foggy thoughts, pain, nausea and just about everything I don’t need right now, or ever.

My phone is dying a little more every day. I can’t make or receive phone calls or texts and data anything doesn’t work. I can only use it when I’m home and connected to wifi. It turns off randomly. Freezes. Even when at home, it can take forever for it to do anything. Battery life is an hour at rest if I’m lucky.

My mom’s car is busted. That was our only source of transportation and now that’s gone. We can’t afford to fix it. The closest bus stop is 5 miles away on the highway with no sidewalks. I can’t walk there bc I have nerve damage so severe that I’m on meds galore and still can’t walk longer than 15 minutes. And sometimes the pain is so bad that I can’t walk at all.

I have nothing in my name other than debt. What are these bill collectors going to take away from me? I don’t have wages to garnish. What do they want? I have nothing to give them. If I could dissect this tumour myself, I would maybe sell it to science or some weirdo on Craigslist. That could make some money, maybe.

Nothing is right or even close to it. Even if after 4 years of unemployment someone does want to hire me or even interview me, how would I get there? How do they call me? Even that doesn’t work out right.

I’m stuck and I need help getting unstuck. I’m so embarrassed to even be asking, but I really don’t know what else to do.

If you can find it in your heart to maybe throw a few bucks my way, I’d be so insanely and forever grateful. Maybe you can pass this along to a friend?

Thank you.

Peace and Pistachios,





Because apparently, you can’t have too many versions of a CV

Writer copy


Heba Issa (1)

Heba Issa copy 3

Heba Issa copy 5

Hamilton cast members addressing VP-elect Mike Pence causes a social media uproar

Last weekend, Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended the sold out Hamilton show at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. And the Hamilton cast had a few words for the future Vice President.

Actor Brandon Victor Dixon went off script and gave a powerful monologue addressing Pence personally. The Hamilton audience responded to Dixon’s monologue by booing Pence.

While Pence has stated that he was “not offended” by the monologue or audience’s response, President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to respond:


But Trump was not the only person to react on Twitter. Twitter users, over the week, started trending #BoycottHamilton, in defence of the future President and Vice President.

Even celebrity and New Jersey native, Steven Van Zandt, took to Twitter in response to the incident.

Hamilton supporters also responded to the trending hashtag with some clever tweets.




Gov. Chris Christie has been very involved in the Trump-Pence election campaign and Christie shortly led the transition committee until Pence took over. Christie has since been demoted to vice chairman.

With the announcement and appointment of alt-right cabinet members with ties to white nationalist groups,  there is no telling how his involvement in Trump’s campaign will influence Gov. Christie’s approval rating, which was recently reported to be as low as 20 percent.

Messing About with the Many #Canva #Resume #Template















Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release


May 9, 2016

U.S. Official On Syria

May 9, 2016

Via Teleconference

MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone, and thanks for joining us on such short notice.  We don’t have a lot of time today, so I’m going to get straight to the point.  Today we will have a background briefing and an update on Syria by [U.S. Official].  He is also engaged on the ceasefire task force and various aspects of the cessation of hostilities.  From here on out he will be known as a U.S. official.  That’s a U.S. official.  I want to reiterate that this call is on background.

With that, I’ll turn it over to our U.S. official.

U.S. OFFICIAL:  Hi, everyone.  Nice talking to you.  You have the statement in front of you so I’m not going to speak for long, but I would just highlight some main points.  First is that the statement with Russia affirms our shared understanding of efforts to revitalize the nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria, and that’s opposed to reverting to local ceasefires.  It also explains our commitment to making particularly intensive efforts in specific hot spot areas of Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, and Latakia.  It has a clear demand which Russia joins on parties to cease any indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including civilian infrastructure and medical facilities.  It has a commitment for undertaking a joint assessment where such incidents are reported to have occurred with casualties, as well as to share that with the members of the task force and through the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to the UN Security Council. 

There’s also a commitment by Russia to work with the Syrian authorities to minimize aviation operations over areas that are predominantly inhabited by civilians or parties to the cessation.  There’s also a clear call on the parties for ensuring continuous delivery of humanitarian access including to besieged areas that haven’t been reached yet, and those are specifically named, and for unconditional delivery without obstruction of medical personnel and equipment, having access to those areas as well.

So those are some highlights, but I’ll stop there.  I’m happy to take questions.

OPERATOR:  Thank you very much.  And ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to queue up for a question you may press * followed by 1.  You will hear a tone indicating that you have been placed in queue, and you may remove yourself from the queue at any time by pressing the # key.  If you are using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the number.  So again, for your questions you may place yourselves in queue by pressing * followed by 1, and please allow just a few moments as questioners do queue up.

All right, I’ll take our first question in queue from Felicia Schwartz with The Wall Street Journal.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  On the part about Nusrah and seeking an understanding about where they are, is that different than – is this a fresh or different effort than what you’ve been trying to do in the past?

And then the second question is the Aleppo ceasefire is going to expire at 5:00 today Eastern Time, so is there a reason that there wasn’t a fresh commitment from U.S. and Russia to extend that ceasefire today?  Thanks.

U.S. OFFICIAL:  Sure, thanks.  On the Nusrah piece there’s an emphasis on it because both Nusrah and ISIL are, of course, excluded from the cessation of hostilities, but Nusrah is present in areas where they are proximate to civilians or and/or parties to the cessation.  And over the last several weeks of the cessation the presence of Nusrah has been a complicating factor, and so we’re making a fresh commitment to look at that in relation to the cessation of hostilities and try to come to a clearer shared understanding of where they’re operating and what threat they pose to the cessation.

On Aleppo on the ideas that the particular special measures that we had in place for these specific areas or hot spots is making sure that it’s understood they’re folded in within a commitment to a renewal of the cessation nationwide.  So the intention is for that very much to be extended.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  The next question will come from Bill Faries with Bloomberg News.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks again for having this. Could you – can you give us – can you say anything more about – you said the intention is very much for this ceasefire to be extended in and around Aleppo.  Is there going to be another time period set on that or – and what has the status been, I guess, over the last 12 to 24 hours?  Thank you.

U.S. OFFICIAL:  There has been a reduction in violence in various parts of Aleppo.  We’ve seen a decrease, although there are pockets where that has not been the case.  There has been fighting in the southwest, for example, fairly intensive, although that fighting is involving Nusrah and other groups that are not party to the cessation.  So fighting there shouldn’t be seen as indicative of the cessation not being in effect or being extended in Aleppo.  We are fully committed to its extension in Aleppo.  Each side has communicated with commanders, saying that the other side is called upon to honor the cessation and that they should reciprocate. 

So the cessation of hostilities is in effect in Aleppo, but there are periods – pockets where there has been fighting, certainly in the last 12 to 24 hours.  One would like to see a decrease there, but in the areas I just mentioned where Nusrah is operating we may not see that right away.

OPERATOR:  All right, thank you.  The next question will come from Curt Mills with U.S. News & World Report.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, thank you.  So is it the U.S.’s current contention that there is currently a ceasefire in Aleppo, just to be clear?


QUESTION:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Thank you very much.  And next in queue is Rosiland Jordan with Al Jazeera English.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for the call.  I want to go to the section of the statement that deals with the COH item number three:  “The Russians will work with the Syrians to minimize aviation operations over areas that are currently inhabited by civilians.”  Does this mean that Russia has committed, one, to compelling the Assad government to stop airstrikes over areas such as large parts of Aleppo, and does that mean that the Russians themselves will not be carrying out airstrikes, as has been alleged by some in the opposition?  Thanks.

U.S. OFFICIAL:  So the language in that paragraph is “to work with the Syrian authorities to minimize aviation operations over areas that are predominantly inhabited by civilians or parties,” so I think the words are carefully chosen.  What we would like to see as a result of that work is a real reduction in Syrian authorities’ or Syrian air force overflights of those areas.  Even if they’re not dropping ordnance, just the mere hovering of a helicopter overhead has had a particularly worrying effect for understandable reasons for civilians who have witnessed that over the last years of the conflict.  So the commitment, however, is quite specifically related to the Syrian authorities. 

As for Russia, they are a party to the cessation with respect to not striking parties to the cessation, and in the actual terms of the agreement it makes clear that neither Russian nor Syrian air forces should be striking either civilians targets or parties to the cessation.

OPERATOR:  Thank you very much.  The next question will come from Margaret Warner with PBS NewsHour.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  This is actually a follow-up to the question just asked.  Obviously, the Russian Federation had made some commitments to you all to try to restrain the Syrian authorities from bombing, and the same for themselves.  And so what is new about this?  Are the Russians now more committed?  Is this just kind of a shell game on their part?  I mean, what makes you think this will work any better than before?

U.S. OFFICIAL:  Well, I think that what it is a – the commitment, as you say, has been there in effect since the cessation went into effect on the 27th of February as far as not striking parties to the cessation or civilians.  I think we’ve raised serious concerns about the strains and the very real strains the cessation underwent and violations that we’ve seen in recent weeks, and so we believe that it was quite important to renew the commitment with a particularly intensive focus on areas or hot spots where we’ve seen more violence, Aleppo being among them. 

Now, there is no prohibition on overflight or general air operations, so an undertaking on their part to work with minimizing air operations over these areas is an additional measure that, if implemented, would strengthen the COH.  They are not restricted from striking Nusrah, but minimizing air operations even where Nusrah is present, if in an area that’s predominantly inhabited by civilians or the parties to the cessation would help with implementation of the cessation more generally.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  And next is Nike Chang with Voice of America.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi.  It’s Pam Dockins, actually, with Voice of America.  But a question about section four of the joint U.S.-Russian statement.  Down in the bottom of that paragraph it says the U.S. is committed to intensifying its support and assistance to regional allies.  Can you elaborate on that and indicate whether or not that indicates some type of new commitment or any additional material support to allies, and if so, what is that?

And then secondly, concerning the localized ceasefires such as the one in Aleppo and Latakia:  Is there concern that at some point it’s going to get overwhelming or too difficult to continue to try to maintain these 48, 72-hour ceasefires?  The overall goal, of course, is the nationwide ceasefire, but as you look at these localized attempts, at what point does it become too cumbersome to try to keep up this pace?

U.S. OFFICIAL:  So I’ll take the last question first.  The use of these 24, 48-hour periods in places like Latakia, Eastern Ghouta, and Aleppo were because the exchanges of fire on both sides had become quite intense, particularly in Latakia and Aleppo.  And so it was a means by which to get local commanders to be assured of the other side’s readiness to renew the implementation of the cessation.  In Latakia I think we’ve seen the violence come down quite significantly through the result of those efforts, and therefore folding it into the normal order with the nationwide cessation makes eminent sense, and that’s what we’re doing with the other two areas as well.  Aleppo, there is still work to be done to bring the violence down in pockets of the city, so – in pockets of the – in the environment, and so that’s what we’re working on now.

As concerns your first question, we’re not right now announcing or indicating any fresh or additional specific measures, just a willingness at this stage to intensify efforts in that direction as needed.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Next question will come from Michele Kelemen with NPR.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  All right, thanks.  I’m wondering about this question of Nusrah in the Aleppo area.  Can you explain how the U.S.-Russian task force works?  Are they actually looking at maps and deciding which group holds which block?

And then, secondly, do you have a shared understanding with the Russians as to the consequences for violations of the ceasefire?

U.S. OFFICIAL:  Yeah, so – I mean, we have had multiple conversations in various fora, both in Geneva and in the region and between our capitals, because we have multiple channels of communication to exchange information on our views on where Nusrah and the parties are located.  The challenge is, of course, where Nusrah and parties to the cessation may be located quite closely together.  And there our view is that while Nusrah is excluded from the cessation and therefore it is permissible to take action against them, you nonetheless are also required under the terms of the COH to ensure any action you take does not harm civilians or parties to the cessation, and that’s where we believe additional work is needed to reach a shared understanding on how you honor that fully.  And in some cases it’s not simply a matter of having a general understanding, but you have to get more granular, and so we’re making a commitment to try to deepen our understanding of that challenge.  And it’s different in different specific locations of the country, so there isn’t a – one approach that applies equally to all, because it depends on the disposition of forces on the ground in specific areas and also the extent to which areas are more densely populated versus more remote.

OPERATOR:  Thank you very much.  And we do have time for one final question.  That will come from Lesley Wroughton with Reuters.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah, hi.  It’s got to do with the political process.  How realistic is it that you can actually, as you say, redouble efforts to reach a political settlement when these sides are still in battle?  And if you think that you – do you think that you can realistically actually get the parties together this month, as suggested last week?

U.S. OFFICIAL:  So our view is that the renewal of the cessation of hostilities coupled with humanitarian access – indeed being allowed in the besieged and hard-to-reach areas and for the assistance to be continuous – these things create a much better – a far more conducive environment towards the parties being able to tackle very difficult political issues. 

The statement points to the mediator’s summary that was issued following the last round of talks between the 13th and the 27th of April, which in its annex listed many different issues that the parties need to tackle for the political transition to be viable.  And it’s important to note in there that among the things it covers are how is power to be exercised in practice by the transitional governance, including in relation to the presidency, executive powers, control over the government’s own security institutions. 

And so by making clear that these things are very much the subject of discussion, it certainly clarifies for those who were wondering, well, is this a real discussion on political transition, to make clear that the co-chairs’ shared understanding as these things are front and center on the table for discussion.  So to the extent that there was any lack of clarity among some of the parties as to what are the items that are meant to be discussed, having a list of issues spelled out as to what will inform the agenda for the talks going forward can help.  But they’re very, very difficult issues, to be certain.  So the issues are difficult, and equally the cessation – it’s going to face – when it went into effect, we knew that it would face setbacks and that it would take strenuous efforts to get it back on track.  The same remains today.  But the commitment that we have from both co-chairs is to work through those challenges – indeed, to try to get it back on track.

OPERATOR:  Thank you very much.  At this time we’ll turn the conference back over to our presenters for any closing comments.

MODERATOR:  I just want to thank our U.S. official for taking time out today, and thank you all for calling in.  This will conclude today’s call.

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An entirely flawed system

So I just found out that NJ is cutting off my food stamps because I’m considered able-bodied. Food stamps has literally been the only thing feeding my family right now and the only way for me to continue getting food stamps is if I go to a 20 hour a week work program. I tried to go to the program and had to make an appointment for orientation months ago and they were so mean and dismissive of me. They wanted me to miss my doctor appointment to go to their orientation and I told them I couldn’t miss it. I was sick, I needed to see a doctor. So they wouldn’t schedule me for another day and that was that.

I can get out of the requirement if I’m caring for someone in my family, which I am, my mother who has been unwell. But why is she unwell, because without warning her health insurance was terminated because she was deemed to make too much money. My mom makes $800 a month from alimony payments. That’s it! How is that too much money? Because she doesn’t have health insurance, she can’t afford her meds and hence has not been the greatest lately. The only way to prove that I’m caring for my mother is if she gets evaluated by a doctor and deemed disabled. Again, something we cannot afford. And if she never had her insurance terminated to begin with, she’d have her meds and she wouldn’t need someone to look after her.  It’s a flawed system and I’m so embarrassed and sad and scared. I don’t know how to feed my family.

I’ve been trying to get a job for a year and a half now with no luck. I have a BA and two MAs. I’m clearly educated and should be capable of getting a job but no one wants to give me a chance despite my 10 years of experience. I really don’t know what to do. I really hate to ask, but I need help. I haven’t paid my credit cards off, we’re charging everything on credit and I’ve reached my credit limit. We’re not using the heat even though it’s so cold, bc we can’t afford to make the payment. I don’t have a cell phone line because we can’t afford it. How is my family going to eat? What am I supposed to do? Like we can’t even afford to pay rent this month. Literally, I have no idea what to do or how to keep us from being hungry and homeless. And I could kick myself for ending up in this situation.

I keep trying to crawl us out of this hole, but I keep failing.

This is so embarrassing, but I need help and I don’t know where to turn. I’m so embarrassed to ask and hate myself for getting to this point. If you could spare anything, even just $1, I would appreciate it so much. I swear, I’ll never forget your generosity and 100% promise to pay it forward. I’m just so scared and so unsure of how to make ends meet. I’m so embarrassed and I’m so sorry for asking. Maybe you could pass this around, reblog it. Any help would be so important and I’d be so thankful.