‘Not proxy’: Lavrov says US, British, French special forces ‘directly involved’ in Syria war

“There are special forces on the ground in Syria from the US – they no longer deny it – the UK, France and a number of other countries,” Lavrov said in an interview to the Kazakh state broadcaster published on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website on Saturday. “Thus, it’s not so much of a ‘proxy war,’ but rather a direct involvement in the war,” the diplomat stressed.

The US coalition is “illegitimate” from the standpoint of international law and the UN Charter, Lavrov said. “But we are realistic and understand that we wouldn’t fight with them. So we coordinate actions at least to prevent unintended clashes. Our military always keeps in touch with the American commanders who lead the operation on Syrian territory.”

Moscow is also in “a permanent dialogue” with the US General Staff officials “who actually lead the operation on the ground,” the minister said.

Lavrov also stressed attacks on the Syrian and pro-Syrian forces in US-controlled areas deserve condemnation, given that Russia has been repeatedly and “solemnly” assured that the presence of the US military in Syria is aimed “exclusively” at fighting terrorists.

Lavrov also criticized the remarks by the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, about Washington’s readiness to “bomb Damascus and even the presidential palace of Bashar Assad, regardless [of the] presence of the Russian representatives there.”“It is an absolutely irresponsible statement,” Lavrov said.

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Guns, Trump and steel: Next week's Pennsylvania special election a referendum on 2018's hot-button issues

The hard dollar discrepancy partly reflects fundraising skill and donor enthusiasm for the candidates, but it also stems from a difference in approach between the two parties in the upcoming cycle. Democrats are unusually focused on funneling funds directly to new-to-the-scene candidate committees for advertising and organizing operations, while Republicans continue to rely heavily on a sophisticated, data-driven party organizing infrastructure and well-established outside groups who have tested and honed their anti-Democratic messaging efforts across multiple successful House elections.

The deployment of on-the-ground volunteers, trained by the Republican Leadership Initiative to bring targeted messages in person to specific individuals identified as persuadable, helped boost Trump in 2016 in Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Party strategists attribute their continued success in holding GOP House seats in part to their ongoing operations. Democrats may have dozens of new resistance-movement groups to turn to, but the GOP has a centralized program with a proven record of fueling high Republican turnout. That could make the difference in a toss-up contest.

And then, of course, there’s the steel question. Southwestern Pennsylvania is dotted with steel plants and coal mines that have seen better days — and things haven’t improved since Trump’s inauguration, despite his promises. At least five manufacturing plants in southwestern Pennsylvania closed in 2017, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs across the already depressed region. In Westmoreland County, which overlaps in part with the 18th District, a steel plant went idle last year. In Mount Morris, the Mepco-owned 4 West coal mine is slated to close this month. “President Trump said he’s bringing back coal, but there’s not been any change in regulations, really, to make a significant difference,” Blair Zimmerman, chairman of the Greene County Board of Commissioners, told NPR when the closure was announced in January. The closing of the mine will cost the region 370 jobs. “We need help,” said Zimmerman.

Accordingly, Trump’s tariff announcement has been greeted with enthusiasm. “Last week, a president stood up for Pittsburgh, and for the Mon Valley, and Weirton, and Youngstown, and all the small American towns that felt the ripple effect of unfettered trade and abandonment of a primary American industry. It was not Donald Trump’s dumbest hour, it was his finest,” opined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an editorial hailing the president for keeping his word to protect the steel industry and issue tariffs.

The American Alliance of Manufacturers and the locally influential Steelworkers Union also cheered and thanked the president, while the AFL-CIO’s president, Richard Trumka, took to Twitter to defend him. “Tariffs won’t start a trade war…. People may not like how Pres Trump rolled these out, but I applaud him for trying,” he wrote.

But it’s far from certain that this late-in-the-game announcement, which already contains an exemption for Canada and Mexico and will almost certainly face court challenges, will be enough to make a difference against the felt reality of plant closures and job losses.

Nor is the race only a referendum on Trump, whose approval in southwestern Pennsylvania had dropped from 60 percent in May 2017 to 40 percent by last fall. Also at issue is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — and the enduring power of advertising against her. The Paul Ryan-affiliated Congressional Leadership Fund has made her a villain in advertising across congressional races for years, and she has figured prominently in their advertising against Lamb.

Lamb, for his part, has said that House Democrats need new leadership and that he would oppose Pelosi’s reelection. But he would need to be joined by a majority of the caucus to have an impact, and that’s not a likely scenario, barring a Democratic collapse in the midterms. And whoever wins Pennsylvania’s 18th District won’t be able to keep the title of its representative for long, given the impending court-ordered redistricting. If the plan now under consideration survives further challenges, voters in the current 18th District would be split between a renamed 14th District and a renamed 17th District. The existing 14th District represented by Democrat Michael Doyle, which includes the Democratic stronghold of Pittsburgh, would be renamed the 18th.

In that scenario, Saccone would be a strong candidate to win the open seat in the new and even more conservative 14th District, while Lamb might be better positioned as a challenger to incumbent GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus in the new 17th District.

Lamb’s home in Mount Lebanon is in the new 17th District, and he has already begun to receive local Democratic endorsements for a possible fall race against Rothfus.

Republicans have sought to tie Lamb to the national party’s position on gun control as well. Lamb, a former Marine captain, has said he does not support a ban on assault weapons, but the ads have continued. It’s a tactic that often works for Republicans, but national polls show that support for some gun control measures is higher than ever before in the wake the Parkland, Fla., shooting.

“In the last two months, some of the biggest surges in support for tightening gun laws come from demographic groups you may not expect — independent voters, men and whites with no college degree,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, announcing the findings.

That might mitigate what in other years has been an effective line of attack. One thing is certain: Both parties will be watching the results Tuesday closely for clues about how to position themselves for what could be one of the most consequential midterms in a long time.

Read more from Yahoo News:


Source Article from https://www.yahoo.com/news/guns-trump-steel-next-weeks-pennsylvania-special-election-will-referendum-2018s-hot-button-issues-193917585.html

The Special Ed Epidemic: What Happens When They Age Out of School? Part 3 of 4.

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By Sheri A. Marino, MA, CCC-SLP, from WMP Partner: Focus for Health

WMP Note: In this 4-part series, World Mercury Project partner, Focus For Health,  examines the special needs epidemic and its effects on schools, the US economy, life after age 21 and the many theories that point to potential causes of the explosion of chronic disease and disability in our children.

The explosion of special education needs in schools is a result of the significant rise in the prevalence of developmental disabilities, including autism and mental health disorders. With budget cuts forcing schools to eliminate programs and staff, schools are hard-pressed to address the many needs of classified students without having a negative impact on regular education students. These needs can only be met with adequate funding on federal, state and local levels in order for school districts to meet the requirements of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

If the prevalence of special needs and chronic health issues continues on its current trajectory, this system is sure to burst. And the financial needs of these individuals do not end when they receive a high school diploma or age out of the system at 21.

In Part 3, FFH looks deeply into the options for individuals who have aged out of IDEA, which only mandates services be provided until age 21. So what happens next?

Classified students are entitled to transition planning beginning by age 16 (in most states). Transition plans lay the foundation to prepare students for life beyond school, with goals that consider a student’s strengths, needs, and interests. For some, it will prepare them for employment and independent living, but for others, this will not be possible. For those young adults needing more support, federal and state-funded programs exist to assist with transportation, supportive employment arrangements, therapy services, and housing.

On paper, it all sounds wonderful. In truth, funding shortages prohibit many from receiving the necessary supports they need, including appropriate housing.  And equally disheartening, people with disabilities are 50% less likely to be employed.


In May, 2017, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported only 27% of 25-64 year olds with disabilities, compared to 77% of those without, were employed. Even more disturbing, 70% of those with disabilities were not in the labor force (actively seeking employment) at all, compared to 19% of those without a disability. The data also reflected a generally lower level of employment for persons with disabilities within each level of educational attainment. Over 14 million individuals between 25-64 years of age reported at least one disability in 2015. Who pays for the unemployed? The US government.

Individuals with disabilities who want to work are entitled to supported employment services to help find and sustain a job. These services are determined by the individual’s strengths and deficits and can help with resume writing, interview preparation, and on-site job coaching. Who pays for this? The US government.

In 2012, The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed half of all persons with a disability who were not working reported some type of barrier to employment.  Reported barriers included lack of education or training, lack of transportation, the need for special features at the job, and a person’s own disability. Over half of individuals with a disability who were employed reported having some difficulty completing their work duties because of their disability. The National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS 2012) released data showing only 58% of young adults ages 20-25 with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who had been in special education in secondary school had ever worked during their early 20’s; 63.9% received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits; and less than 1 in 5 had ever lived independently away from their parents and without supervision.


The National Academy of Social Insurance data shows in 1982, around 1.9% of working-age men were receiving disability benefits. By 2012, that number had risen to 3.1%. Historically, the workforce as well as college enrollment had been dominated by men. Numerous studies show this gap has closed, in fact, according to data in a Wayward Sons report; women born in 1975 were 17% more likely to attend college and 23% more likely to complete a 4-year degree as compared to their male counterparts.

Perhaps one of the most influential businessmen of all time, Jamie Dimon, CEO, JP Morgan Chase & Co, was recently interviewed by MarketWatch regarding the shortage of men in the workplace today. Referring to The Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing the share of men ages 25-54 considered to be part of the labor force had declined from 97% to 88% in just a half a century, Dimon commented, “That’s not demographics, folks. That’s a huge number. There’s something wrong.” According to the Wayward Sons authors “simple shifts in occupational structure are insufficient to explain the puzzle of declining real wages of non-college males in the U.S. during the last three decades. In reality, there is no single, widely accepted explanation for this phenomenon.”

What Jamie Dimon and the authors of the Wayward Sons report might not know are the studies showing that autism is nearly 5 times more prevalent in boys than girls. In fact, the recently released data in the National Health Interview Survey shows during 2014–2016, the prevalence of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder was higher among boys than girls by 2.38%. Moreover, the NLTS 2012 study showed youth with ASD, when compared to students receiving special education services, were 84% more likely to be male.

Could the millions of men missing from the labor force over the past 50 years also be related to the prevalence of autism increasing from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 36?

A recent article by World Mercury Project reveals how bioaccumulation of neurotoxic chemicals may disproportionately affect males leading to the neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive and motor tic disorders.  Check it out here: What are Little Boys Made of? Too Many Chemicals! 


Housing options for individuals with developmental disabilities (I/DD) are varied and determined by level of assistance needed, affordability, and availability.

So why is there a national housing crisis for people with disabilities?

Firstly, the affordability gap prohibits many individuals with I/DD from owning or renting a home. In 2016, there were approximately 4.9 million non-institutionalized Americans with disabilities relying on Social Security Income (SSI) averaging $763 per month. With the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment costing $861 per month, people who rely solely on SSI can’t afford a home without assistance. According to a 2016 report by The Technical Assistance Collaborative and The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, in four states — New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont — and the District of Columbia, one-bedroom rents exceeded 100% of SSI in every single housing market area. Over 163,000 people with disabilities receiving SSI lived in these areas.

Various rental assistance vouchers are available for eligible persons to limit rental expenses to 30% of his/her income. Who subsidizes the other 70 percent? The US government.

Consequently, when funding shortages or budget cuts decrease the availability of voucher assistance, the individual is placed on a waiting list. Currently, in New Jersey, over 4,500 individuals with special needs are on the Division of Developmental Disabilities’ (DDD) housing waiting list.

The Division of Developmental Disabilities within the Department of Human Services is the primary agency providing support services allowing individuals with disabilities to strive to find living arrangements that encourage independence and community living. Medicaid, a jointly funded federal and state government social health care program for individuals and families with low income, provides funding through the Medicaid Community Supports Waiver or the Supports Program. These Medicaid waivers provide funding for support services for eligible individuals so they can remain in their family home, live in residential settings such as licensed community residences, live in independent homes, or supervised apartments. However, services are only offered when the resources are available, and to no surprise, most waivers have a waiting list. And, to the dismay of many, this push to enforce community living prohibits housing units being dedicated to those solely with developmental disabilities where individuals with similar needs can live together and receive necessary supports because it is not considered to be inclusive.

“Disability causes and prolongs homelessness. Nearly 16% of the non-institutionalized U.S. population is disabled, yet people with disabilities constitute over 40% of people who are homeless in America.” National Health Care for the Homeless Council

According to the ARC for People with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, over 850,000 people in the US with I/DD live with an aging caregiver (age 60 and older). Due to the shortage of housing and support services, many adult children with I/DD are at risk of institutionalization or homelessness when their aging parents can no longer care for them. The financial burden of institutionalization at the cost of $187-$2,715 per person per day, and 350,923 homeless individuals also falls upon the US government.


Autism rates are up 23% since 2014, according to the latest statistics published in the National Health Institute Survey. Mental health disorders, autism, and chronic health issues are depleting school budgets nationwide. With IDEA not being fully funded, covering only 16%, of the 40% maximum federal contribution of the state average per pupil expenditure in 2014, states and local school districts are forced to make up the difference. If IDEA was fully funded in 2014, the costs would have amounted to $28.65 billion which is nearly $17 billion more than what the feds actually contributed towards IDEA. With only 36% of youth with ASD having participated in postsecondary education between high school and their early 20’s, meaningful and gainful employment is limited. For those unable to work, day programs have waiting lists and housing shortages  are forcing aging parents to care for their adult children.

What will happen when those parents are gone? The lifelong financial burdens of those with disabilities on their families and every citizen in the US, is leading to a definitive public health crisis. It is not a question of “how,” but “when.”

  1. http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/ddd/services/residential//
  2. http://www.philly.com/philly/news/new_jersey/For-thousands-in-NJ-with-special-needs-wait-for-housing-can-be-endless.html//
  3. http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/03/people_with_disabilities_shouldnt_have_to_leave_to.html//
  4. https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/ieps/iep-transition-planning-preparing-for-young-adulthood//
  5. https://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm#anchor62335//
  6. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2017/05/23/432851/trump-budgets-attack-people-disabilities/
  7. http://time.com/4788759/trump-budget-disability//
  8. http://time.com/money/2793944/paying-for-my-special-needs-child//
  9. http://www.nj.gov/humanservices/ddd/documents/autism-navigating-the-maze.pdf//
  10. http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dds/documents/NJDiscoverBility(1).pdf/
  11. http://www.edcentral.org/edcyclopedia/individuals-with-disabilities-education-act-funding-distribution//
  12. http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dds/documents/NJDiscoverBility(1).pdf//
  13. http://www.tacinc.org/knowledge-resources/priced-out-v2//
  14. http://www.tacinc.org/media/59489/priced-out-fact-sheet.pdf//
  15. http://www.thearc.org/what-we-do/public-policy/policy-issues/housing//
  16. http://money.cnn.com/2013/06/19/news/economy/men-workforce/index.html/
  17. http://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/2017/06/07/jamie-dimon-on-americas-big-problem-millions-men-missing-from-labor-market.html//
  18. http://www.nationalcoreindicators.org/upload/core-indicators/Data_brief_-_types_of_employment_FINAL_101512.pdf//
  19. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/dissup_04242013.pdf//
  20. https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/ps.2006.57.10.1391//
  21. https://economics.mit.edu/files/8754//
  22. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db291.htm//
  23. http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/disability2011_-final.pdf/

This concludes Part Three, “What Happens When They Age Out of School?” Part Two: “The Special Ed Epidemic: Burying Our Heads and Crippling Our Economy” examines the financial burdens, especially the responsibility on school districts to accommodate the ever-growing and expanding nature of the special needs population. Part One, “The Special Ed Epidemic: What is Happening to Our Children?” discusses how public schools, with limited resources, are dealing with an epidemic of children with various special needs and asks why more isn’t being done to address the causes for the epidemics.  Part Four will explore the many theories behind the genetic and environmental influences that may be contributing to the rise in childhood chronic illnesses and neurodevelopmental disabilities.

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The Special Ed Epidemic: Burying Our Heads and Crippling Our Economy. Part 2 of 4.

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WMP Note: In this 4-part series, World Mercury Project partner, Focus For Health,  examines the special needs epidemic and its effects on schools, the US economy, life after age 21 and the many theories that point to potential causes of the explosion of chronic disease and disability in our children.

A recent survey of early childhood teachers asked “What is your greatest concern?” The majority of teachers reported “Managing challenging behaviors in our classroom,” according to Mary Ann Hansen, the director of First 5 Humboldt, a county-based commission in California which provides programs for children under age 5. She went on to say “We hear this over and over again, that teachers are struggling.” Sadly, many students are also struggling as their needs are unable to be met in a classroom environment that lacks support, proper teacher training, and the funding necessary to provide a quality education which addresses their varying needs.

With an increasing number of children requiring special education services in the schools, significant demands are being placed on both special and regular education teachers. Learners with differing educational, behavioral, and medical needs are both financially and emotionally challenging for both their school districts and teachers alike. School budgets are being depleted rapidly as districts attempt to provide a free and appropriate education (FAPE) for all, especially when Individualized Education Plans (IEP) require extensive special services including speech, physical, occupational therapy, nursing, counseling, behavioral services, in-class support, and personal aides.

Providing for the many needs of children classified in special education costs our nation an estimated $50 billion annually, and that number is likely outdated as it is based on data from the 1999-2000 SEED study, which doesn’t reflect the rise in students requiring special education since 2000.

The average annual cost for a general education student is $7,552, while the average cost per special education student is $16,921. However, approximately 330,000 students with exceptionally high-needs cost their districts $100,000 or more on an annual basis.

Students identified with one of 13 disabilities listed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are classified in school and provided with an IEP identifying learning goals, necessary accommodations,  and describes the special services to be provided by the school, free of charge to the families.  Students who do not qualify for an IEP may receive a 504 plan. This plan may provide specific accommodations, supports, or services for a child with any disability which can include learning or attention issues. It has a broader definition of a disability, but it does not have to be a written document.

The number of students ages 6-21 with disabilities rose to 5.83 million by fall 2014. Chronic health issues such as epilepsy, mental health disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and mobility impairments, classified in school as “other health impaired,” increased nearly 51%, between 2005-06 and 2014-15 school years. In the same age group, students classified with autism spectrum disorder had risen 165% nationwide. Children classified with “autism” or “other health impaired” account for more than 1 in 5 school-aged children covered under IDEA nationwide.

The least restrictive environment (LRE) mandate within IDEA requires that all students in special education be educated with typical peers to the greatest extent possible to prevent segregation, while still providing a free and appropriate education. This means children with IEP’s or 504 plans and their typical peers are integrated in one classroom with a general education teacher when possible. While some students receive in-class support with the help of an aid and sometimes a special education teacher, many general education teachers report they lack the support, training, and resources necessary to teach classified students appropriately.

In addition, some children presenting with emotional and behavioral issues, who have not been identified or classified at all, do not receive any accommodations for educational or behavioral support. As a result of limited funding and teacher shortages, general education teachers are often challenged to divide their time and attention teaching the curriculum to general education students while managing classified as well as unclassified students with attentional, emotional and behavioral issues at once. These issues affect the quality of education for all students.


Mental health problems often develop during childhood and adolescence and are treatable if recognized and diagnosed. Students with mental health issues present challenges to teachers and commonly have social-emotional issues affecting peer relationships. Studies show that mental health disorders are at the root of some bullying behavior occurring in schools. School nurses report frequent complaints of “stomach aches” and “headaches” because an individual’s mental health is intertwined with their physical being. Yet research shows most children who need a mental health evaluation do not receive services. Because schools are often understaffed with social workers, counselors, and school nurses, the burden is placed on the classroom teachers who are with the students throughout the school day.

Educating children with mental health issues is not the only challenge for general education teachers. More and more teachers are reporting explosive outbursts by students including hitting, scratching, and flipping desks, putting teachers at risk, while at the same time they are trying to protect other students in the classroom. Disciplinary actions including suspensions are on the rise across the nation. Classified students with behavior issues are frequently sent home from school when teaching assistants are not available to shadow them. For students with autism who have complex behavior issues, physical restraints have become commonplace and can occur daily. Add to it the significant rise in self-harm and teen suicides; schools are being forced to look at this epidemic and to provide solutions at all costs. Some schools are attempting to mitigate the issues by creating sensory rooms and calming stations, while others have even created new mental health clinics on site to help manage the behavioral issues.

Compared to the national average, only 40% of students with emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders graduate.

Studies looking at teacher job stress in early childhood education show that teacher-child conflicts are more common where workplace stress is higher. Essentially, this reduces the ability of the teachers to work effectively with students with emotional and behavioral problems. These teachers also report they felt mentally, emotionally, or physically exhausted or overwhelmed by working with these children, ultimately leading to burnout and staff turnover.


Children with severe disabilities have even more difficulty getting their needs met in district as the school may not have the resources on site to accommodate their various educational and healthcare needs. In such cases, these high-needs students may be offered placements in private schools for the disabled outside of the local school district. Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and other medically complex disabilities require services beyond what most districts can afford to provide because they require specialized training and care. This can include nursing, advanced technologies for communication and learning, special transportation, and more. While providing out of district placement can cost an average of $10,000 more per student than placements within district for similar students, keeping them in-district may not be cost effective if they need to hire staff and purchase equipment for just a few high-needs individuals.


The number of children in the US with chronic health conditions has dramatically increased in the past 4 decades, doubling from 12.8 percent in 1994 to 26.6 percent in 2006.

With chronic health conditions on the rise, schools are faced with additional challenges of providing for the medical needs of children with severe health issues. Food allergies now affect 1 in 13 children, and asthma affects 1 in 10 children, requiring nursing staff on site to help care for these students. In addition, juvenile diabetes increased 23% between 2001 and 2009, while epilepsy/seizures affect 1 in 20 children. Some schools are opening health clinics on site to manage the medical needs of the student population. Unfortunately, the cost of building and staffing such clinics is prohibitive for most districts which already lack funding to meet the basic needs of special education students.


2015_10_14 iStock Chronic Illness square

You do. We all do. Federal, state and local governments all contribute to fund K-12 public special education. IDEA was established to provide the bulk of federal funding contribution for special education and governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services. The states distribute funds to local agencies to be used in accordance with state and federal law, and allocation is based upon the local district’s tax structure. The local district budgets vary greatly and are dependent on local revenues resulting, however, in significant disparities.

Unfortunately, Congress historically fails to fully fund IDEA. While they have authorized special education funding equal to 40% of the national average per pupil expenditure (APPE), spending typically ranges between 10-20% per child.

This leaves the burden on the states to make up the difference. IDEA funding is based on FY 1999. This formula was derived from the number of children identified with disabilities in each state in relation to total state population. However, populations within states have increased or decreased, as have the number of children with disabilities within each state yet the base award has not changed. This creates a wide disparity in funding across the US. Additionally, when a state decides to accept federal funds, mandates apply in association with those programs. Despite this funding, many states find it insufficient to cover the local costs of meeting those program’s requirements. Consequently, districts are often compelled to tap into their general education funds to meet those requirements.

The number of students with disabilities and chronic health issues are rising across the nation while programs and services are being cut to save money. Currently, all taxpayers are bearing the financial burdens of the local school districts as property taxes help fund special education programsAlthough Medicaid helps to offset the gap by covering health-related expenses for students with disabilities, cuts in Medicaid funding are frequently threatened.  Without appropriate education, therapies, and medical services, these children will grow up to be adults who may not reach their full potential. In turn, employability will decrease, and without sustainable jobs, they may not become productive, self-sustaining adults. 1 in 36 children between 3-17 yrs. of age have ASD now; this means in the next 1-15 years, these individuals will become adults. Individuals with ASD have a normal life expectancy, and many will outlive their parents, requiring other family members to take care of them, if willing and able. And if not, tax-payers will be responsible for funding supportive housing and living costs, including health care, for those unable to live and care for themselves.

This system is unsustainable, and it is spiraling out of control, yet few people are talking about it. More importantly, nobody is asking “What is happening to our children?” In fact, the latest report just released by The National Center for Health Statistics within the US Department of Health and Human Services, does the opposite. Authors of the 2017 report “Estimated Prevalence of Children with Diagnosed Developmental Disabilities in the United States, 2014-2016” point out the prevalence of children aged 3-17 years who had ever been diagnosed with a developmental disability has increased from 5.76% to 6.99%. This increase of 1.23% is STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT. The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in the US reportedly increased from 2.24% to 2.76%, a difference of .52%. According to NCHS, this increase is not statistically significant. While the article failed to disclose the sample size, the fact is, both increases are alarming.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “The mission of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is to provide statistical information that will guide actions and policies to improve the health of the American people. As the Nation’s principal health statistics agency, NCHS leads the way with accurate, relevant, and timely data.” The first step to making change is acknowledging we have a problem. A .52% rise in ASD indicates I in 36 children have autism, up from 1 in 45 in 2014; however, the CDC has not released a statement acknowledging this increase. The CDC must stop burying its head and work to address this problem first, by admitting we have one, and second, by identifying the causes with trustworthy science so that we may stop this epidemic. Until then, this and many other systems are destined to fail, affecting not only those individuals with special needs and their families, but every citizen in our nation.


    1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/other/su6202.pdf
    2. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/appi.ajp.159.9.1548
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    12. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/one-five-children-mental-illness-schools-often-dont-help/
    13. https://www.usnews.com/news/healthcare-of-tomorrow/articles/2017-09-29/improving-care-of-the-medically-fragile-child/
    14. http://www.asha.org/Advocacy/schoolfundadv/Overview-of-Funding-For-Pre-K-12-Education/
    15. https://www.cbpp.org/research/health/medicaid-helps-schools-help-children
    16. https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/504-plan/the-difference-between-ieps-and-504-plans
    17. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/about/mission.htm
    18. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/appi.ajp.159.9.1548

This concludes Part Two: “The Special Ed Epidemic: Burying Our Heads and Crippling Our Economy.” Part Three, “What Happens When They Age Out of School?” will explore the exploding financial burdens to taxpayers as the children exit school and looks deeply into the options for individuals who have aged out of IDEA, which only mandates services be provided until age 21. So what happens next?

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The Special Ed Epidemic: What Is Happening To Our Children? Part 1 of 4

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WMP Note: In this 4-part series, World Mercury Project partner, Focus For Health,  examines the special needs epidemic and its effects on schools, the US economy, life after age 21 and the many theories that point to potential causes of the explosion of chronic disease and disability in our children.

Pick up a paper anywhere in the world and you are more than likely to see a story about the special needs epidemic affecting public schools.

Recent headlines read “Wolf Creek Public Schools hires additional staff to work with severely disabled students” and “York school system nearly $1M over budget in special education spending,” and “7 EV teen suicides in 6 weeks alarm schools,” and, “How Vermont schools manage food allergies.”

If you take the time to read some of these disturbing articles, you will see quotes from school directors making comments like “What’s different from past years is the students we’ve received really do have severe, very particular learning needs that are well beyond what we would typically see. It caught us by surprise, for sure,” admits Jayson Lovell, Superintendent for Wolf Creek Public Schools. This school district is one example of districts needing to hire additional staff in order to accommodate a sharp rise in the number of students requiring services through IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) due to their severely complex special education needs.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports disabilities affect 1 in 7 children. From the increased number of children requiring special education and related services to the increased number of health care professionals needed to care for children with chronic physical and mental health issues in the schools, school budgets are depleting rapidly. Fast-forward, when these children are adults, the workforce is affected, as is the housing industry. Every child with or without special needs is affected, just as every tax payer, with or without a child with special needs, will bear the burden.

According to The National Center for Educational Statistics, the percentage of youth ages 3-21 served by IDEA, a federal mandate which provides a free and appropriate education has risen significantly since 1990. Data from school years 1990/91 through 2004/05 showed 4.7 million, or 11 percent, of the total public school enrollment required special education services. By 2014/15, children and youth served under IDEA had risen to 6.6 million, or 13 percent, of the total public school enrollment. And it isn’t only a rise in special education demands; sadly, there is great demand for nurses and even health clinics on school property to manage the dramatic increase in children with chronic health conditions and mental health disorders as well.

Over the past 2 decades, the number of children with chronic health conditions doubled from 12.8 percent in 1994 to 26.6 percent in 2006.

With limited resources, public schools are dealing with an epidemic of children with various special needs including behavioral, learning, physical, and mental health disorders, as well as chronic health issues like severe food allergies, asthma, diabetes, autism, ADHD, seizures, and more. We read about it in our headlines, so why aren’t we asking, “What is happening to our children?”

Mental Illness

As referenced in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the CDC in 2013, mental health disorders among children are described as “serious deviations from expected cognitive, social, and emotional development.”

According to this report, a total of 13–20% of children (<18 yrs. of age) living in the United States experiences a mental disorder in a given year. Among children aged 3-17 years, these disorders include:

Attention-deficit disorder = 6.8%
Behavior and Conduct Disorder = 3.5%
Anxiety = 3.0%
Depression = 2.1%
Autism Spectrum Disorder = 1.1%
Tourette ’s syndrome = 0.2% (amongst children 6-17 yrs. of age)

  • As many as 1 in every 33 children may be depressed. Depression in adolescents may be as high as 1 in 8.
  • In 2010, suicide was the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 12-17 yrs. The suicide rate for this age group was 4.5 suicides per 100,000.
  • It is estimated that 4.7% of adolescents aged 12–17 years reported an illicit drug use disorder in the past year and 4.2% had an alcohol abuse disorder in the past year.
  • Of the 100,000 teenagers in juvenile detention, an estimated 60% have behavioral, cognitive, or emotional problems.
  • Less than 1/3 of the children under age 18 who have a serious mental health problemreceive any mental health services.
  • Mental health disorders are said to be the most costly disorders to treat in children because of the impact on the child, family, and community, costing the US an estimated $247 billion dollars annually for health care, special education, juvenile justice and decreased productivity.

Mental health disorders in children can result in difficulties in school, at home, and with peer relationships. Studies show 40% children with mental health disorders also have a second mental health diagnosis and are also more likely to develop chronic health disorders including asthmadiabetes and epilepsy. They also have a greater risk for mental health disorders as adults which negatively affects productivity, increases substance abuse, and ultimately becomes a financial burden to the individual and society.


  • The CDC reports autism rates of 1 in 68 American children, up 30% from the 1 in 88rate reported in 2008, and more than double the 1 in 150 rate in 2000.
  • Autism affects 4-5 times as many boys than girls.
  • Compared to the general pediatric population, children with autism have higher rates of co-occurring psychiatric and medical illnesses including GI disorders, epilepsy, dyslipidemia, vision and hearing impairments, hypertension, autoimmune conditions, asthma, allergies, and others, extending across all age groups.
  • Economic costs for 2015 were at an estimated $268 billion in the United States.
  • A study published in 2015 in The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders projects economic costs rising to $461 billion in 2025 if autism’s prevalence continues at today’s rates. Projected costs could exceed $1 trillion by 2025 if prevalence continues to rise at the same rate it has this past decade.
  • Direct costs include medical care, hospitalizations, special education, special therapies (occupational, speech and physical therapy), and paid caregivers. Indirect costs include lost productivity for family caregivers due to the inability to maintain employment while caring for affected individuals as well as lost wages and benefits.


  • The National health Interview Survey (NHIS) 2011-2013 reported 9.5% of children ages 4-17 had been diagnosed with ADHD.
  • This study also reported the rate of ADHD in children aged 5–17 years increased significantly from 7.0% to 10.2% between 1997–1999 to 2012–2014.
  • Boys (13.3%) continue to be more than twice as likely as girls (5.6%) to have current ADHD.
  • According to a more recent population-based study using DSM-IV criteria, 15.5% of school children enrolled in Grades 1 to 5 have ADHD.
  • The economic cost of ADHD is reported to range between $143 billion to $266 billion in the US (adjusted to 2010 U.S. dollars) every year.
  • Of the total annual cost of ADHD, 26–27% was incurred by children ($38 billion–$72 billion).
  • Direct costs are inclusive of special education, special therapies (occupational, speech and physical therapy), school counseling, and disciplinary incidents. Other costs related to health care include primary care and specialty care visits, medications, emergency room visits, behavioral and emotional health care.

Food Allergies

  • Food allergies have been skyrocketing in the United States in the last fifteen years. According to the CDC, food allergies increased 50% between 1997 and 2011.
  • Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18. That’s 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom.
  • The CDC reported a 265% increase in the rates of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions in a ten year period.
  • Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergy appears to have more than tripled in U.S. children.
  • The New York Times reports record sales growth for EpiPens, a life-saving medical device for those with food allergies.
  • Nearly 40% of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.
  • Private insurance claims for anaphylactic food reactions rose 377% from 2007 to 2016.
  • Researchers reporting in the Journal of the American Medical Association state that the costs of food allergies, from medical care to food to pharmaceuticals, is $4,184 per child per year, costing our economy $25 billion, including lost productivity.

The economic burden to care for children with developmental and medical needs affects not only families, but school districts, federal and local government budgets, social security, health insurers, and the insured, as well as every tax-payer in our nation.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/mumps/outbreaks.html/
  2. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp 
  3. https://www.foodallergy.org/life-food-allergies/food-allergy-101/facts-and-statistics
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6433a11.htm
  5. http://www.chadd.org/understanding-adhd/about-adhd/data-and-statistics/general-prevalence.aspx
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058092/
  7. http://childhealthdata.org/docs/default-source/cahmi/asdchartbookfinal.pdf?sfvrsn=2
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/other/su6202.pdf
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25911091
  10. https://bangordailynews.com/2017/09/27/news/york-school-system-nearly-1m-over-budget-in-special-education-spending/ 
  11. http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/news/ev-teen-suicides-in-weeks-alarm-schools/article_5a3bf82a-9fe6-11e7-9e50-7f4f87c5e0ec.html 
  12. http://digital.vpr.net/post/how-vermont-schools-manage-food-allergies#stream/0
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26183723

This concludes Part One of “The Special Ed Epidemic: What is Happening to our Children?” Part Two, “Burying our Heads and Crippling our Economy,” will explore these financial burdens, especially the responsibility on school districts to accommodate the ever-growing and expanding nature of the special needs population.

Written by By Sheri A. Marino, MA, CCC-SLP, from WMP Partner: Focus for Health

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Trump Attorneys Approve Second Special Counsel To Probe FBI & DOJ


The war between the White House and the FBI/DOJ complex may be turning nuclear.

While speaking to reported aboard Air Force 1, Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said that President Trump’s attorneys have already approved the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate the FBI and Justice Department’s actions during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to White House pool reports.

The excerpt from the pool in question:

FISA warrant should it be released? and what about a second special counsel?

Presidents attorneys have addressed this and said yes to a second special counsel.

FISA: That document along with any other that the House Intelligence Committee chooses to vote out of its committee through its process and all the House procedures, we would entertain like anything else.

As Axios adds, Shah also said that the White House will approach further memos, including the one created by Democrats, in the same way they handled the memo authored by Devin Nunes:

“Which is to allow for a legal review, national security review led by the White House Counsel’s Office, and then within five days the president will make a decision about declassifying it,” said Shah.

And another highlight from the gaggle summarized by Axios:

Trump’s tweet calling Rep. Adam Schiff a leaker: “We don’t really see any reason why anybody else would leak his information other than partisan political stunts by Adam Schiff and other members of the minority.”



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02-02-18 — Ernest Hancock and Tim Picciott Special Podcast on The FISA Memo

Tim Picciott

, Surveillance

Ernest Hancock (Publisher of Freedom’s Phoenix; Host of Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock Radio Show) and Tim Picciott (The Libertarian Advisor) dissect the FISA Memo in a special podcast

CALL IN TO SHOW: 602-264-2800


Feature Article  •  Global Edition

Freedom’s Phoenix

Declare Your Independence APP now on Google Play 

Donna Hancock

   Listen to any recent show of “Declare Your Independence” at the click of a button!




February 2nd, 2018

Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock

on LRN.FM / Monday – Friday

9 a.m. – Noon (EST)

Studio Line: 602-264-2800 


Hour 1

Ernest Hancock (Publisher of Freedom’s Phoenix; Host of Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock Radio Show) and Tim Picciott (The Libertarian Advisor) dissect the FISA Memo in a special podcast

Tim’s previous interviews on the Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock Radio Show:



Source Article from https://www.freedomsphoenix.com/Media/234049-2018-02-02-02-02-18-ernest-hancock-and-tim-picciott-special-podcast.htm?EdNo=001&From=RSS

Debunking US Zionist David Harris’s “special Israel” arguments

By Lawrence Davidson

David Harris and an appalling situation

One of my “favourite” American Zionists is David Harris, Chief Executive Officer of the American Jewish Congress (AJC). I like David Harris because (1) for some unfathomable reason, he, or his office staff, have been kind enough to keep me on his mailing list and (2) he consistently puts forth the ideas which reflect the Zionist establishment’s worldview. Pay attention to Mr Harris and you will always know how America’s Zionist leadership sees things, at least publicly. 

It is true that the old saws that Harris puts forth have gotten a bit shopworn, but since Zionist organisations such as the AJC see fit to repeat them over and again, it is necessary to reveal their holes and threadbare seams – that is, to challenge, yet again, their errors and illogic.

Recently, Mr Harris has been decrying the alleged fact that Israel is treated with double standards – “It’s appalling to see how Israel is treated by a totally different standard than other countries in the international system”, he says. And what is his evidence for this “appalling” situation?

Claims and responses

Here are just two of his repeated claims (there are a lot more), followed by my debunking of same:

Claim 1: The Zionist state is the only UN member subject to “a relentless chorus of nations, institutions and individuals denying Israel’s very political legitimacy”.

Response: Actually, as time has passed the claim that there exists this “relentless chorus of nations, institutions and individuals” challenging Israel’s “political legitimacy” has become much less true. Just about the entire world of nation-states, including the Arab and other Muslim ones, recognise Israel. It is true that Iran, Syria and but very few others do “deny Israel’s political legitimacy”, but this hardly constitutes a “relentless chorus”.

And, in most cases, those “institutions and individuals” that do “relentlessly” criticise Israel do so based on behavioural standards that are of paramount importance to the preservation of international law – and are indeed applied universally rather than only to Israel.

Harris goes on to make this curious claim: “No one would dare question the right to exist of many other countries whose basis for legitimacy is infinitely more questionable than Israel’s, including those that were created by brute force and occupation.” (Is he here referring to the US?) Perhaps he has conveniently forgotten that the original basis for, as well as ongoing, criticism of Israel was based on just such historical facts – that Israel’s creation was a function of “brute force and occupation”. Harris tries to obfuscate this truth with references to 2,000-year-old Hebrew tribes, egged on by their biblical god to conquest and slaughter. But there has to be a commonsense statute of limitations that makes this sort of excuse irrelevant, at least to the rational mind, even if one believes it to be factual.

Unfortunately, it is exactly the persistence of “brute force” that has worn down most “states, institutions and individuals” to the point that they now accept the Zionist state’s permanence. This means the author’s claim that it is “open hunting season only on Israel” is a wild exaggeration – a tendency to focus on very few examples and extrapolate them into something that, as of the present, they are not. Why would he do this? He gives us his own explanation. “Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that it’s the only Jewish-majority country in the world?” 

There is something unreal about this explanation. The notion that the world is full of people wanting to do harm to Israel only because of its association with the Jews is base paranoia. For instance, a lot of anti-Semites do not oppose Israel. White racists identify with Israel as a model of a racially “pure” state. The Netanyahu government understands this and is embracing the “Alt-Right” racists of the US. Then there are the millions of fundamentalist Christians who ultimately pray for the annihilation of the Jewish people. They give millions of dollars every year to facilitate Israel’s defiance of international law. So, who is left? Who out there really does oppose the Zionist state, and does so for sane reasons?

Here is the truth that Mr Harris seems unwilling to accept: those who, after all these decades, continue to oppose Israel are not anti-Semites but rather are anti-Zionists. And they do so for the very legitimate reason that Zionism has proven itself in practice to be a racist ideology. These opponents include the Palestinians and their supporters, the latter, in turn, being dominated in the West by a large and growing number of non-fundamentalist Christians, humanitarians and Jews. In other words, the issue here is not the political legitimacy of Israel, but rather the political legitimacy of its guiding ideology. And, by extension, the political legitimacy of a state (any state) operating in a racist and oppressive way against others. Israel certainly fits the bill thanks to its obsessive drive to be “Jewish” through a process of segregation and ethnic cleansing.

Claim 2: “Israel is the only UN member state that’s been targeted for annihilation by another UN member state.”

Response: Here Harris is referring to Iran.Typical of the propagandist, Harris fails to contextualise his claim, for to do so would call it into doubt. The charge that Iran has “targeted Israel for annihilation” is based on a  2005 New York Times article that claimed that the president of Iran, at the time Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declared in a speech that Israel needs to be “wiped off the map”. Soon after this was published, it was realised that Ahmadinejad was being misquoted. And, to no one’s surprise, the misquote came from “the Middle East Media Research Institute,” an enterprise “founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer”. Of course, the Israeli leadership knew of the misquote, and in 2012 Dan Meridor, then Israeli minister of intelligence, belatedly conceded this fact, agreeing that that “Iran wants to wipe Israel out” is a “common trope that is put about… but as we know Ahmadinejad didn’t say that he plans to exterminate Israel, not did he say that Iran’s policy is to exterminate Israel”. You would think that David Harris, who almost certainly knows the truth, would have long ago stopped spreading false rumours. But then, this big lie serves his propagandistic purposes so well.

So what did the Iranian president really say? It took till 2006 for the correction, rather quietly, to be made. Ahmadinejad had expressed the opinion that the Zionist state was an “unnatural creature” and therefore it was unlikely to survive. It is true that this is not very flattering but it was not at all a threat to wipe Israel off the map. 

Later the Iranian president would explain his view further with an analogy to the recently removed Soviet regime in Russia. The analogy with Russia takes us back to the centrality of Zionism in this story. Just as the Soviet regime had ruled Russia for the benefit of the Communist Party, but now had “vanished from pages of time”, so, Ahmadinejad said, the Zionists’ discriminatory mode of rule for the benefit of one group must also “vanish”. And, just as there is still a Russia which is now, allegedly, of a more democratic character, so there can continue to be an Israel that is a more democratic state operating for the sake of all its people.

Why Israel is special, really

One of the interesting things about David Harris’s lament is that he never denies that Israel is practising oppressive policies and cruel tactics. He is just asserting that Israel should not be singled out for these criminal actions when others also act in this fashion. His problem then is not that Israel isn’t guilty of violating international law or acting in ways that are recognised as inhumane. It is that we all take too much notice of that behaviour. Hence his assertion that it is “egregious double standards and blatant hypocrisy” when folks protest Israel’s criminal misbehaviour.

However, might there be reasons that do warrant singling out Israel for greater notice – reasons that cannot generate the charge of “double standards”? Indeed there are: 

– Here is the most immediate reason: The fact that Zionist influence spreads far beyond Israel’s area of dominion and now influences (one might say corrupts) many of the policy makers and bureaucrats of Western governments, and particularly those of the United States. This often turns their governments into accomplices in Israel’s abusive policies. This process makes it imperative that Israel’s criminality be singled out as a high-priority case for protest and boycott. Under these circumstances, prioritising Israel is not hypocrisy, as Harris claims, but rather a national act of moral self-defence.

– Zionist Israel appears to be aiming at the destruction of many of the international laws which, ironically, were put in place after World War II in order to discourage the racist and genocidal policies directed against the Jews themselves. Why would Israel do this? It is because only by taking the world back to an era where racist colonialist practices are accepted can Israel, a consistent practitioner of such policies, be truly accepted into the world community. 

– Israel is the only country whose behaviour can be identified as a contributor to the recent increase in real anti-Semitism. It is therefore in the obvious interest of world Jewry to single out Israel for protest and force the Zionist state to mend its ways.


There can be no doubt that David Harris considers himself a defender of the “only Jewish-majority country in the world”. However, he also seems quite accepting of the fact that Israel has become one of a number of thuggish nation-states. In the face of that reality all he can muster in its defence is a demand that Israel “merits equal treatment” with the rest of the barbarians, “no more and no less”.

Finally, David Harris doesn’t understand how dangerous to his cause is a consistent application of his demand. The demand for equal treatment means that citizens can insist that their leaders cease treating Israel as special in all ways. For instance, in the name of equal treatment, US citizens can insist their leaders stop giving Israel grossly inordinate amounts of financial and military “aid”. This assistance has amounted to almost $150 billion since 1949. Now that really is treating Israel, in Harris’s words, “by a totally different standard than other countries in the international system”. The result of that sort of inequity truly does constitute an “appalling” situation.

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01-29-18 — Ernest Hancock – Adam Kokesh – SPECIAL PODCAST

Adam Kokesh
, Davi Barker

Kokesh For Not President
, Adam vs the Man
, Pirate Communications

Hour 1- Adam Kokesh (The Freedom! Line; #KokeshForNotPresident) and Davi Barker (The Muslim Agorist; Author Survivor Max Series; Bitcoin Not Bombs) are in studio to discuss Adam’s recent arrest and announcement running for Not-President of the U.S. w/ the Libertarian Party

CALL IN TO SHOW: 602-264-2800


Feature Article  •  Global Edition

Freedom’s Phoenix

Declare Your Independence APP now on Google Play 

Donna Hancock

   Listen to any recent show of “Declare Your Independence” at the click of a button!




January 29th, 2018

Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock

on LRN.FM / Monday – Friday

9 a.m. – Noon (EST)

Studio Line: 602-264-2800 


2017-11-08 Hour 1 Adam Kokesh from Ernest Hancock on Vimeo.


Hour 1

Adam Kokesh

The Freedom! Line 

#taxationistheft National Tour Update…







Davi Barker (Writer, Artist, Merchant, Speaker – The Muslim AgoristBitcoin Not BombsSurvivor MaxShiny Badges)


Adam Kokesh (The Freedom! Line; #KokeshForNotPresident) and Davi Barker (The Muslim Agorist; Author Survivor Max Series; Bitcoin Not Bombs) are in studio to discuss Adam’s recent arrest and announcement running for Not-President of the U.S. w/ the Libertarian Party

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‘Various groups of Syrian society’ to meet ‘for the 1st time’ – Russia’s Special Envoy to Syria

“All groups of Syrian society will be attending, all those concerned about Syria’s fate,” Aleksandr Lavrentiev said in an interview with RT. Nearly 1,600 delegates are expected to arrive in Sochi, where the Syrian National Dialogue Congress will take place January 29-30.

“Delegations have started to arrive,” Lavrentiev said. “Invitations have been sent out not only to the groups, ethnic and religious, but also individually,” the envoy added, referring to the Kurdish representatives.

Although the Saudi-Arabia based High Negotiations Committee (HNC), a group representing the opposition, refused to come to the congress, part of the group “has decided to participate on an individual basis,” Lavrentiev said. Still, “invitations are on the table,” the envoy emphasized. “Hopefully, common sense will prevail and [the HNC] will decide to arrive.”

It is also “a very good signal” that the UN, as well as the world powers, have agreed to send their delegates. Apart from the UN Security Council permanent members, including the US, the UK, France and China, regional actors have been invited. Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have confirmed their participation.

The sides will be discussing ways of political regulation in the war-torn Syria. “The delegates will have a voice on how they see reaching peace in the country,” Lavrentiev said. Another goal of the Sochi forum is “to select candidates for a commission to draft a constitution.”

The results will be given to the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, for further implementation. De Mistura has already arrive in Sochi and will hold preliminary consultations with the Russian delegation, Lavrentiev said.

Despite Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria, the situation has been “stable,” Lavrentiev said. “There have been fewer provocative acts in the de-escalation zones in eastern Ghouta, Homs and Idlib,” he noted. “We hope the atmosphere at the congress will be positive and constructive.”

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