TIME energy

White House Tightens Oil Train Safety Regulations

Oil Trains Accidents
a BNSF Railway train hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Montana on Nov. 6, 2013. Matthew Brown—AP

After a spate of train derailments, the Obama administration issued new rules on an increasingly popular way to move crude in the U.S.

Updated at 3:53 p.m.

Freight trains that haul an increasingly large amount of oil across the United States will have to improve safety mechanisms under new regulations proposed by the Obama administration Wednesday.

The new rules include lower speed limits, new brake requirements, tougher regulations on the sturdiness of oil tank construction and a plan for phasing out some older oil tank cars.

As a result of the rapid increase in oil production in North America in recent years, a growing volume of crude is being moved from well-head to refinery via freight trains—an increase of 423 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the Department of Transportation. In tandem with that sharp uptick, there has been a spate of train accidents involving spilled crude oil, up from none in 2010 to five in 2013 and five by February this year, before a train carrying crude derailed in April in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, temporarily setting on fire to a river that passes by the town’s population of 77,000.

The fact that train accidents overall have been in sharp decline in the last decade speaks to the tremendous increase in the amount of crude oil being moved around the country by rail.

Environmentalist groups have been pushing for tighter safety rules on freight trains carrying crude oil, which often pass through or near residential communities. A particularly devastating train accident last year in a town in Quebec left more than 40 dead and dozens of buildings destroyed.

Among the initiatives the DOT proposed Wednesday is a plan to address concerns that crude oil drilled out of the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, today one of the most productive oil fields in the world, is a particularly dangerous form of crude. “It has become general public knowledge that Bakken crude is proving particularly explosive,” said Anthony Swift, a staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In its response to the DOT proposal, the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, rejected the notion that Bakken crude is especially dangerous. “The best science and data do not support recent speculation that crude oil from the Bakken presents greater than normal transportation risks,” said API President Jack Gerard.

TIME Education

Obama to Sign Bill Improving Worker Training

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden greets President Barack Obama as he arrives to speak at Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Oakdale, Pa., about the importance of jobs-driven skills training. Carolyn Kaster—AP

On Tuesday, President Obama and Vice President Biden will announce new executive actions on job training at the signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Congress and the President have finally found some common ground: Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed by Congress on July 9 will streamline the federal workforce training system, trimming 15 programs that don’t work, giving schools the opportunity to cater their services to the needs of their region, and empowering businesses to identify what skills workers need for success and help workers acquire them.

The bipartisan, bicameral bill is a response to a projection that by 2022, 11 million workers will lack the education necessary to succeed in a 21st century workplace including bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and vocational certificates.

“Workforce training is critically important to help grow the American economy still recovering from recession and bridge the widening skills gap separating thousands of unemployed workers from promising careers in 21st century workplaces,” said Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) when the bill passed.

The Obama Administration apparently agrees. On Tuesday, when Obama signs the bill into law, he and Vice President Joe Biden will also announce new federal and private sector actions to address the need for an improved job training system, which currently serves about 21 million Americans including veterans, Americans with disabilities, the unemployed, and those who lack skills to climb the career ladder. The Obama administration’s new actions also complement the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by improving federal training programs not included in the bill.

Earlier in 2014, President Obama tasked Biden with reviewing the federal training system to find ways to improve it. As a result of that review, Biden will issue a report Tuesday that outlines “job-driven” strategies that the Administration says will make the federal training system “more effective, more responsive to employers, and more accountable for results” in Tuesday’s report.

Chief among these strategies is a new “job-driven checklist,” a tool that measures how effective programs are in preparing students for careers that will be incorporated into applications for all 25 federal training grants, at a total of about $1.4 billion, starting Oct. 1. The checklist requires programs to engage with local employers in designing programs that cater to their needs, ramp up opportunities for internships and apprenticeships, and keep better data on employment and earning outcomes.

“From now on, federal agencies will use specific, job-driven criteria to ensure that the $17 billion in federal training funds are used more effectively,” a senior White House official said on a Monday evening press call.

The Obama administration will also expand opportunities for apprenticeships, considered a “proven path to employment and the middle class,” according to a White House statement. After completing these programs, 87% of apprentices gain employment at an average starting salary of $50,000.

In addition to using competitions and grants to bolster job training in the U.S., the administration will also use technology. On Tuesday, Obama and Biden will announce $25 million award from the Department of Labor to develop a web-based “skills academy” for adult learners. And the Department of Education will experiment with education models that award skills based on a person’s tangible skills rather than their performance in a classroom setting.

“Too often job training programs are focused on providing the skills needed for yesterday’s jobs, not the jobs of today and tomorrow,” an administration official said Monday. “And teaching methods are often rooted in outdated, class-based models that haven’t kept pace with technology and new training techniques.”

TIME White House

President Obama Plans to Act as Mentor in ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ Initiative

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks at an event at the Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington to announce additional commitments for "My Brother’s Keeper," Obama's initiative aimed at helping boys and young men of color. Susan Walsh—AP

Said he'd help connect with as many young men of color as he could, in an event to mark a new round of private sector investment in his signature program

President Barack Obama will be spreading himself awfully thin if he takes on a commitment he announced Monday at a town hall for his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. Instead of just taking on one mentee as a part of the effort to connect more young men of color with good role models, Obama said Monday he plans to connect with as many as he can.

“The problem with just taking one is all the other guys would be like, ‘Man, how’d you get the President?’” Obama said.

After applauding a new round of private sector investments in “My Brother’s Keeper,” President Obama got his feet wet in offering advice to young men during a candid question and answer session during the event at the Walker Jones Education Center in Washington, DC.

The questions were wide-ranging—from how he learned to become a good father without having had one around, to his stance on D.C. statehood (to which Obama responded, “I’m for it” )—but the message was clear. President Obama is working hard to be a role model for young men of color in the United States.

When asked about if he set goals for himself as a teen, he said at times his goals were “misplaced;” he was too focused on basketball and having fun to think about the future. When questioned about how he learned to be a good father even though his wasn’t around, he said the fact that he didn’t experience it he wanted to make sure his kids did. And when asked what advice he had for young men, Obama noted three things: working hard, finding your passion, and building your network.

“Everything that’s worthwhile requires work,” Obama said. “For some reason, young men think [that] doesn’t apply to school. No reason why you think you will be a good reader if you don’t read a lot.”

Before taking questions from the gathered crowd, Obama announced more businesses and organizations are jumping on board with the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.” Calling the program a “team effort,” Obama said business leaders, faith leaders, educators and community organizers are “all working together to give boys and young men of color the tools the need to succeed.”

Obama was joined by mayors, business leaders and—to his evident delight—the National Basketball Association, to announce new commitments to the program. The NBA has signed on to a five-year commitment in partnership with the Council for Greater City Schools to recruit 25,000 mentors for at-risk kids.

AT&T is pledging $18 million to support mentorship programs and 60 of the nation’s largest school systems are vowing to better educate young black and brown men from early childhood through high school graduation.

“I want to be able to look back and say we were a part of something that reversed the trends we don’t like to see,” Obama said Monday. “We want everybody to have a chance in America.”

It has been six months since Obama launched the initiative aimed at widening opportunities for young men of color in the U.S., and today’s commitments are another instance of Obama relying on the private sector to boost his second-term agenda while his efforts to work with Congress fail.

Earlier in May, a report released by the My Brother’s Keeper Task force used daunting statistics from minority communities to present targeted suggestions for combating the issue, ranging from poor educational preparedness to high rates of incarceration.

 

TIME Gaza

Truce Elusive as Hamas, Israel Stick to Positions

Displaced Palestinians who fled areas of the Northern Gaza Strip are seen in the courtyard of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school in Bet Layia, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014.
Displaced Palestinians who fled areas of the Northern Gaza Strip are seen in the courtyard of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school in Beit Layia, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Alessio Romenzi

Palestinian health officials said at least 550 Palestinians have been killed and 3,350 wounded since the new round of fighting started on July 8

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — The top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip signaled Monday that the Islamic militant group will not agree to an unconditional cease-fire with Israel, while Israel’s defense minister pledged to keep fighting “as long as necessary” — raising new doubt about the highest-level mediation mission in two weeks.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were heading to Cairo on Monday to try to end the deadliest conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in just over five years.

Meanwhile, cross-border fighting continued unabated, with Israeli strikes leaving entire families buried under rubble and Hamas militants firing more than 50 rockets and trying to sneak into Israel through two tunnels, the latest in a series of such attempts.

Seven Israeli soldiers were killed Monday in clashes with Palestinian militants, the Israeli military said. That raised the overall Israeli death toll to 27, including two civilians. The Israeli military said four soldiers were killed in a firefight with Hamas fighters trying to sneak into Israel through a tunnel, and that the other three were killed in battles in Gaza.

Palestinian health officials said at least 550 Palestinians have been killed and 3,350 wounded since the new round of fighting started on July 8.

Mounting casualties on both sides have led international officials to step up diplomatic efforts to end the worst bout of fighting between the two sides since 2009.

On Monday, President Barack Obama reaffirmed his belief that Israel has the right to defend itself against rockets being launched by Hamas into Israel. Yet he contended that Israel’s military action in Gaza had already done “significant damage” to the Hamas terrorist infrastructure and said he doesn’t want to see more civilians getting killed.

Israeli fighter planes struck homes across Gaza, in at least four cases burying two or more members of the same family under the rubble, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Palestinian health official.

One of those strikes killed nine members of a single family in Gaza City, another killed 10 in the southern half of the coastal strip.

Also, rescuers going through the wreckage of a house targeted late Sunday retrieved 28 bodies in the town of Khan Younis, including at least 24 from the Abu Jamea family, according to al-Kidra and a local human rights group.

“Doesn’t this indicate that Israel is ruthless?” said family member Sabri Abu Jamea. “Are we the liars? The evidence is here in the morgue refrigerators. The evidence is in the refrigerators.”

Israeli tank shells also hit the Al Aqsa Hospital in the central town of Deir el-Balah, killing at least four people and wounding 60, al-Kidra said.

A doctor at the hospital, Fayez Zidane, said the third and fourth floors and the reception area were damaged, and patients were evacuated to the lower flowers.

The Israeli military said an initial investigation suggests that anti-tank missiles were stored near the hospital and that the cache was successfully targeted. “Civilian casualties are a tragic inevitability of the brutal and systematic exploitation of homes, hospitals and mosques in Gaza,” the army said.

The military has consistently said it makes great efforts to minimize civilian casualties but Hamas puts Gazans in danger by hiding weapons and fighters in residential areas.

In fighting, the Israeli military said 10 Hamas infiltrators trying to sneak in through the tunnels were killed after being detected and targeted by Israeli aircraft.

Hamas also fired 50 more rockets at Israel, including two at Tel Aviv, causing no injuries or damage. Since the start of the Israeli operation, Hamas has fired almost 2,000 rockets at Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the Gaza military operation would have no time limit.

“If needed we will recruit more reservists in order to continue the operation as long as necessary until the completion of the task and the return of the quiet in the whole of Israel especially from the threat of the Gaza Strip,” Yaalon told a parliamentary committee.

Israel accepted an Egyptian call for an unconditional cease-fire last week, but resumed its offensive after Hamas rejected the proposal.

Hamas says that before halting fire, it wants guarantees that Israel and Egypt will significantly ease a seven-year border blockade of Gaza.

Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, signaled Monday that his group is sticking to its position.

He said the aim of the battle is to break the 7-year-old blockade of the Palestinian territory, which was imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas overran Gaza in 2007. Over the past year, Egypt has further tightened restrictions, driving Hamas into a deep financial crisis.

Haniyeh said in a televised speech that “we cannot go back, we cannot go back to the silent death” of the blockade.

He said all of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents shared this demand.

“Gaza has decided to end the blockade by its blood and by its courage,” he said. “This siege, this unjust siege, must be lifted.”

Kerry left Washington early Monday for Cairo, where he will join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that had been agreed to in November 2012. He was expected to urge the militant Palestinian group to accept an Egyptian-offered cease-fire agreement.

Cairo’s cease-fire plan is backed by the U.S. and Israel. But Hamas has rejected the Egyptian plan and is relying on governments in Qatar and Turkey for an alternative proposal. Qatar and Turkey have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is also linked to Hamas but banned in Egypt.

Hamas remains deeply suspicious of the motives of the Egyptian government, which has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, a region-wide to which Hamas also belongs.

Israel invaded Gaza late last week, preceded by a 10-day air campaign. Air and artillery strikes have targeted Gaza’s border areas in an attempt to destroy tunnels and rocket launchers.

TIME LGBT

Obama Signs Executive Order on LGBT Job Discrimination

Protects employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

+ READ ARTICLE

President Obama signed an executive order Monday protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people working for government contractors from discrimination.

The order protects any employee for a federal contractor from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identification. It covers about 28 million workers, making up one-fifth of the U.S. workforce, and includes no exemption for religious organizations.

“It doesn’t make much sense, but today in America millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do but because of who they are,” the president told supporters at the White House, CBS News reports. “America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people.”

Many U.S. companies already offer protections for LGBT employees, according to data highlighted by the Obama Administration. Some 91% of Fortune 500 companies already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and 61% prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

The five top federal contractors–which get about a quarter of all federal contracting dollars–already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Still, although many companies were already in support of protections, Obama’s order makes it official, and without exceptions.

TIME Ukraine

Watch: Obama Speaks Live on Ukraine

As pressure mounts around Russia and investigators begin to arrive on the scene, President Obama speaks about the Ukraine plane crash

+ READ ARTICLE

Four months after MH370 went missing, another horrific plane accident took the lives of the 298 passengers onboard. President Barack Obama speaks about the hostilities between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip as well as the aftermath of last week’s shooting-down of a civilian jet in eastern Ukraine as pressure mounts around Russia

TIME foreign affairs

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Tragedy Fuels the U.S. Intervention Machine

John McCain
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticizes the Obama administration during a Jackson, Miss., runoff rally in support of Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran at the Mississippi War Memorial in Jackson, Miss., June 23, 2014. Rogelio V. Solis—AP

Whatever happened in Ukrainian airspace doesn’t immediately or obviously involve the United States.

Apart from the probable cause of its destruction, we know almost nothing about the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 that was “blown out of the sky” yesterday over eastern Ukraine, according to Vice President Joe Biden. President Obama confirmed today that one American was among the dead and that separatists with ties to Russia are allowing inspectors to search the wreckage area. In today’s press conference, Obama stressed the need to get real facts — as opposed to misinformed speculation — before deciding on next steps.

Yet even with little in the way of concrete knowledge — much less clear, direct ties to American lives and interests — what might be called the Great U.S. Intervention Machine is already kicking into high gear. This is unfortunate, to say the least.

After a decade-plus of disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people (including almost 7,000 American soldiers) and constitutionally dubious and strategically vague interventions in places such as Libya, it is well past time for American politicians, policymakers, and voters to stage a national conversation about U.S. foreign policy. Instead, elected officials and their advisers are always looking for the next crisis over which to puff up their chests and beat war drums.

Which is one of the reasons why Gallup and others report record low numbers of people think the government is up to handling global challenges. Last fall, just 49 percent of Americans had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust and confidence in Washington’s ability to handle international problems. That’s down from a high of 83 percent in 2002, before the Iraq invasion.

In today’s comments, President Obama said that he currently doesn’t “see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing in working with our NATO partners and some of the Baltic states.” Such caution is not only wise, it’s uncharacteristic for a commander-in-chief who tripled troop strength in Afghanistan (to absolutely no positive effect), added U.S. planes to NATO’s action on Libya without consulting Congress, and was just last year agitating to bomb Syria.

Despite his immediate comments, there’s no question that the downing of the Malaysian plane “will intensify pressure on President Obama to send military help,” observes Jim Warren in The Daily News. Russia expert Damon Wilson, who worked for both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, says that no matter what else we learn, it’s time to beef up “sanctions that bite, along with military assistance, including lethal military assistance to Ukraine.” “Whoever did it should pay full price,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the head of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, says. “If it’s by a country, whether directly or indirectly, it could be considered an act of war.”

The immediate response of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2012 Republican presidential, was to appear on Fox News’ Hannity and fulminate that America appears “weak” under the leadership of President Obama and to imply that’s why this sort of thing happens. If the Russian government run by Vladimir Putin or Russian separatists in Ukraine are in any way behind the crash — even “indirectly” — said McCain, there will be “incredible repercussions.”

Exactly what those repercussions might be are anybody’s guess, but McCain’s literal and figurative belligerence is both legendary and representative of a bipartisan Washington consensus that the United States is the world’s policeman. For virtually the length of his time in office, McCain has always been up for some sort of military response, from creating no-fly zones to strategic bombing runs to boots on the ground to supplying arms and training to insurgents wherever he may find them. He was a huge supporter not just of going into Afghanistan to chase down Osama bin Laden and the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks but staying in the “graveyard of empires” and trying to create a liberal Western-style democracy in Kabul and beyond.

Similarly, he pushed loudly not simply for toppling Saddam Hussein but talked up America’s ability to nation-build not just in Iraq but to sculpt the larger Middle East region into something approaching what we have in the United States. Over the past dozen-plus years, he has called for large and small interventions into the former Soviet state of Georgia, Libya, and Syria. He was ready to commit American soldiers to hunting down Boko Haram in Nigeria and to capturing African war lord Joseph Kony. In the 1990s, he wanted Bill Clinton to enter that Balkan civil wars early and often.

In all this, McCain resembles no other politician more than the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, whose hawkishness is undisputed. Like McCain, Clinton has long been an aggressive interventionist, both as a senator from New York and as secretary of state (where her famous attempt to “reset” relations with Russia failed spectacularly when it turned out that the “Reset” button she gave her Soviet counterpart meant “overcharged” rather than the intended conciliatory term). In the wake of Flight MH17 being shot down, Clinton has already said that the act of violence is a sign that Russian leader Vladimir Putin “has gone too far and we are not going to stand idly by.”

For most Americans, the failed wars in the Iraq and Afghanistan underscore the folly of unrestrained interventionism. So too do the attempts to arm rebels in Syria who may actually have ties to al Qaeda or other terrorist outfits. Barack Obama’s unilateral and constitutionally dubious deployment of American planes and then forces into Libya under NATO command turned tragic with the death of Amb. Chris Stevens and other Americans, and we still don’t really have any idea of what we were trying to accomplish there.

No one can doubt John McCain’s — or Hillary Clinton’s — patriotism and earnestness when it comes to foreign policy. But in the 21st century, America has little to show for its willingness to inject itself into all the corners of the globe. Neither do many of the nations that we have bombed and invaded and occupied.

Americans overwhelmingly support protecting Americans from terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. They are realistic, however, that the U.S. cannot spread democracy or preserve human rights through militarism.

When the United States uses its unrivaled military power everywhere and all the time, we end up accomplishing far less than hawks desire. Being everywhere and threatening action all the time dissipates American power rather than concentrates it. Contra John McCain and Hillary Clinton, whatever happened in Ukrainian airspace doesn’t immediately or obviously involve the United States, even with the loss of an American citizen. The reflexive call for action is symptomatic of exactly what we need to stop doing, at least if we want to learn from the past dozen-plus years of our own failures.

President Obama is right to move cautiously regarding a U.S. response. He would be wiser still to use the last years of his presidency to begin the hard work of forging a foreign-policy consensus that all Americans can actually get behind, not just in this situation but in all the others we will surely encounter.

TIME Religion

Just Because You’re Mad at Obama Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Have Dinner at His House

The White House Iftar boycott is a fruitless debate

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

The other day in clinic when I asked a patient of mine what he did for work, he said, “Doc, I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m a retired deputy Sheriff from LA.” I inquired about his hesitation. He noted how the department had deteriorated in morale and discipline, adding that once he was so proud to be a part of the department that if the Sheriff called him for duty, he could not say “no.” It’s much like if the President of United States calls one to serve our country, he said. How can one say “no?”

It is his latter comment that has stuck with me. Time and again, I’m intrigued by the respect, trust and prestige the office of POTUS carries in the minds of Americans, despite the contemporary vitriol and polarizing environment surrounding the office. When a national tragedy occurs, the President consoles the American people. And, when the President addresses the nation, it brings much needed healing and comfort, as seen in the aftermath of recent mass shootings and terror incidents.

It is for this reason, I contend, that when the President invites one for Iftar (the fast-breaking meal in Ramadan), one responds gracefully and strives to attend. It is precisely the respect for this office and what it symbolizes – not necessarily the one who holds the office – that inspires citizens.

Therefore, if one wishes to boycott such an event in hopes of achieving a policy objective, I would direct that individual’s energies toward the ballot box. Imagine if 90 percent of American Muslims began casting votes; we would then be having a different conversation altogether.

On Monday, hours before the White House Iftar, a boycott petition was circulated and generated an unusual buzz, especially on social media, that was captured by the Huffington Post and Politico. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s position, in favor of the boycott, was also released before the Iftar. The reaction was hardly surprising, as it came on the eve of a barbaric and brutal assault on the innocent women and children of Gaza. The loss of civilian life clearly outweighed any chronic grievances the Muslim community held, ranging from surveillance to Guantanamo Bay, which despite being constantly brought up directly with the President at these Iftarsin the past, had not received much consideration at all.

At the Iftar, POTUS’s remarks included an emphasis on the right of Israel to defend itself while stating, in passing, a request to also protect civilian life –- confirming the sentiments of boycott proponents. Furthermore, the news of 18 family members who were killed in an aerial bombing of Gaza that broke earlier pointed to the extreme gravity of the situation. We, as Americans, cannot even begin to imagine the pain and suffering endured by the Gaza victims and their loved ones.

And so, in the midst of such pain and injustice, it is completely understandable that an individual might not feel comfortable smiling for the cameras on the White House red carpet. So if one rather busied onself with humanitarian efforts, aid delivery and advocacy on the Gaza situation and decided to politely decline the invitation with an appropriate accompanying message, it would be completely reasonable and justified. Such a response would be graceful and have impact. The decision of each guest whether or not to attend is, of course, a personal choice. But regardless of the decision, the act should be done with purpose, dignity and grace.

The arguments that I have seen from both sides of the debate merit consideration, minus the rare instances of calling theIftar participants sellouts (irrelevant in this case, since most attendees are from the diplomatic corps anyway; usually few American Muslims are invited). The event itself is symbolic in nature but does speak volumes about American Muslim contributions and the recognition of those contributions by the highest office of the land. And that is something that should not be dismantled but, instead, strengthened.

In drawing lessons from Islamic history, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was invited to meet an elite group from a powerful tribe in Medina (Banu Nadhir) that was initially an ally but had begun to turn against him. He accepted the invitation at the expense of risk to his life. What followed suit is a matter of controversy. Nevertheless, the lesson derived here is the emphasis on attempting at dialogue and setting things right on part of the prophet (pbuh).

Did Musa (Moses) walk into Pharaoh’s palace uninvited? Certainly not, he was invited and he went forth with an ultimatum and a challenge. In the White House Iftar story, there is neither a Moses nor a Pharaoh, but only a challenge. And that challenge is for us to deliver results for the sake of all those who are suffering from inequities . And once again, it all starts at the ballot box.

Rather than boycotting the Iftar to show disapproval of the White House’s response to the situation in Gaza, this opportunity should be optimized, to make the Muslim presence felt and our voices heard.

Many of you may have heard of Tarek Abu Khdeir, a teenager from Florida who was nearly beaten to death by earlier this month. Two IDF soldiers beat him to unconsciousness after which he was imprisoned without medical care. Tariq’s teenage cousin Muhammed was burned to death on July 2.

I believe one useful petition to circulate next year would be to urge the White House to invite Tarek and his family to participate in the Iftar, perhaps even reward him for his courage and determination.

Dr. Faisal Qazi is the co-Founder of MiNDS, a community development foundation local to Southern California and VP of the Whitestone Foundation – a national American Muslim community-building project. He serves as a member of City of Fullerton’s Community Development Commission.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME energy

6 Simple Ways to Save on Your Energy Bill

Reduce your carbon footprint and keep more money in your pocket

+ READ ARTICLE

Unless you’re the Viking God and Marvel Comic character Thor, with the enviable ability to harness electricity—i.e. lightning—using your magic hammer, odds are you have to buy energy from other sources like power plants and gas stations.

Energy is a major expense for American families—about 22% of all energy consumed in the U.S. goes into running our households and all the modern conveniences we’ve come to rely upon, like our air conditioners, heaters, lights and computers.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to cut back on your energy usage, reducing your carbon footprint on the environment and your energy bill along with it. Here are six areas where cutting back on your energy usage is an easy way to put more money in your pocket.

TIME Religion

More Muslims Approve of Obama Than Any Other Religious Group

President Barack Obama in Texas
U.S. President Barack Obama the legendary Paramount Theater in Austin on July 10, 2014. Bob Daemmrich—Corbis

Mormons are the least approving group

More than 70 percent of Muslim-Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance, a higher percentage than that of any other religious group, according to data released by Gallup Friday. On the other end of the spectrum, only 18 percent of Mormons said they approve of the President’s performance.

Overall, the data suggests a sharp religious division. Non-Christians are much more likely to approve of Obama’s performance than their Christian counterparts — minorities of Protestants, Catholics and Mormons approve of the President while majorities of Jewish, Muslim, non-religious, and other non-Christian people do so.

The data also show that most Americans continue to identify as Christians, with approximately 50 percent saying they are Protestant and 25 percent saying they are Catholic.

Obama’s approval rating across all groups stands at 43 percent.

The data, complied from 88,000 interviews, was collected during interviews for Gallup’s daily tracking poll during the first six months of 2014.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser