On the Edge: Toward public policy and personal action that is visionary, effective, courageous, and compassionate.

Welcome to a place for exploring insights and solutions to the public problems that test our times. This space is where I hope there will be discussion, co-learning, collaboration and—I hope—organizing actions. Your comments are welcome after each piece. Some of my own views come from fifteen years in the US Foreign Service, most of them spent way off the beaten track. Some come from my career since then as an activist, coach and mentor to activists, and President of Giraffe Heroes International, moving people to stick their necks out for the common good. — John Graham

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I like Jeff Flake a lot. He’s the Republican senator from Arizona who just published Conscience of a Conservative, a slashing, no-holds-barred critique, not just of Donald Trump and his administration, but also of the Republican Party for selling out its principles to support Trump.

I share very few of Flake's arch-conservative principles.

I like Jeff Flake because of something that happened 11 years ago. George Bush had...

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As an Eagle Scout and lifetime supporter of Scouting, I’m appalled by the unhinged speech Donald Trump gave to the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on July 24.

Scout jamborees often invite distinguished citizens to speak and the best of them deliver stirring calls for Scouts to live out the personal and civic values of their organization, calls laced with enough inspiring personal stories to keep the boys looking up...


Some Trump voters now justify their votes by saying they just don't "trust" Hillary.

Yup, I get that. I didn't and don't trust her much either. I also think that she was asleep at the switch in Benghazi (but not a criminal). She was way too beholden to Wall Street and way too oblivious to Main Street.. She ran an incompetent campaign and let the DNC deliberately undermine the campaign of her primary opponent. She totally misread the...


The report from heads of American intelligence agencies has confirmed the obvious: Russia deliberately tried to influence the outcome of the American election in favor of Donald Trump. The agencies’ report found no evidence that the Russians tried to electronically change vote totals; they were content to mess with our heads, and in that, they did quite well.

I find complaints about these Russian actions by some US leaders laughable....


At a time when it seems almost naïve to expect public figures to act with transparency, compassion and courage, I vividly remember one who did. I worked for John Glenn, then a Senator for Ohio, for a brief time in the late 70’s as an adviser on foreign policy. He became an icon to me, not so much for what he did as a politician or even as an astronaut, but for who he was as a human being, a man whose simple decency transcended just about...


This droll account by my friend Tom Ewell of his love-hate relationship with computers and social media sounds so, so familiar. Read this especially if you know who Adlai Stevenson was, if you Tweet less than twice a week and if Medicare is your current or soon-to-be best friend.


Investigations are still ongoing in Orlando but it seems that the professed allegiance to ISIS by the shooter, Omar Mateen, was more a detonator than the charge itself. What exploded inside the Pulse nightclub was a volatile mix of rage and instabilities that had been building in the man for a long time. The siren call of radical Islam, coming over the Internet, added an ideological justification, a sense of divine mission and membership into...


I’ve been uneasy that the praise heaped on Muhammad Ali over the last week has been so uncritical, simplifying the story of a much more complicated man. Quaker writer/activist Tom Ewell reminds us that there were times when Ali was no saint, yet rose to become the icon of courageous truth-telling and civil disobedience we honor today. Ewell's eulogy acknowledges the full length of Ali's difficult and brave journey.—John Graham.

As a...


Defeating ISIS will not be simple and we must not think it will be. The challenge is stupefying in its complexity, involving, among other things, the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims, a bitter history of Western interventions including blowback from America’s war in Iraq, overlapping power struggles today among at least six nations, the ongoing political chaos of the Middle East, unrelenting poverty and social and political decay...


In late March, I helped Nana Darkwa set up Giraffe Heroes Ghana (GHG), the newest affiliate of Giraffe Heroes International. GHG will find courageous Ghanaians working for peace, then tell their stories to the nation, inspiring others to follow their leads. The purpose is to help ensure that November's highly contested elections here will be free, fair and non-violent. Part of the work was a...


ISIS attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have heightened fear around the world. If ISIS are vicious sociopaths, then why do so many people see them as saviors? Why are so many young Muslims in so many countries joining ISIS? Unless and until we understand who they are and why they join, we can't provide counter narratives that can disrupt the ISIS recruiting process. So who are these recruits?


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It was an honor to represent my country at the United Nations for three years, despite the organization's blatant hypocrisy, a condition that has only gotten worse.

With votes from countries, like the US, in thrall to its oil blackmail, Saudi Arabia has just been named Chair of the UN's Human Rights Council.

Saudi Arabia!! Saudi Arabia is the base and financial support for Wahhabi Islam, an extremist sect that empowers both al...


Amazon’s high-pressure business model should make us think, not just about the directions the retail world may be taking, but about our personal lives and how we choose to live them. A controversial New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld is sharply critical of the high-stress culture that drives Amazon. According to the authors, Amazon is super successful--the world's largest retailer--not just because its...


If we don’t understand what makes ISIS tick we’ll never be able to defeat it. To view ISIS as simply a determined army of vicious psychopaths is a significant mistake. ISIS is far more complicated than that, in its origins, philosophy and strategies.

ISIS is an ultra-puritanical interpretation of Islam that traces its roots back 1300 years to early decades of the religion, when the prophet Muhammad and a small band of...


[from the Blog: On the Edge] In 1972, I was US Advisor to the City of Hué, South Vietnam. Some evenings, especially if the day had been difficult and dangerous, I would drive a few miles outside the City to an ancient pagoda called Linh Mu. There I would sit at this very spot on a wall overlooking the Perfume River where I would meditate, or at least try to absorb some of the calmness of the river, the temple bells, and the monks sweeping...

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President Obama has announced the resumption of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, good news that I have a particular reason to welcome. It wasn’t that the US has lacked opportunities to do this. We could have at least begun the process thirty-five years ago. I was there, and this is the story you will not read in any diplomatic archive.

The story begins in Iran...

In November 1979 the staff of the US Embassy in Teheran...

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Who says that ordinary Americans can’t make a difference? Last week, a few hundred frightened, insular people in Oklahoma City got millions of Africans scratching their heads about just how stupid Americans can be.

The story may have been tucked into page 10 of your newspaper or newsfeed but I saw it all over the front pages in Nairobi:

As the opportunity of a lifetime, 24 kids from an orphanage choir in Kenya had come to the...


The shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17 over Ukraine may actually open doors for peaceful resolution of the conflict there. As evidence mounts of their complicity in the disaster, Russia is now thrown on the defensive and any momentum they and their separatist Ukrainian allies had has been stalled, at least for now, as Russia twists and turns in the glare of global condemnations and threats of significantly more painful economic sanctions....


I’d never heard of Oso, the mountain town in Washington State that was leveled by a massive mudslide in March—even though I live only fifty miles away, But I owe the people there an apology--and the people living in hundreds of similar small conservative rural communities.

I’m an environmental activist, or used to be, and the town where I’m based went for Obama by 80% percent in the last election. To the people of Oso, I'm the guy (or...


The current crisis over Ukraine spotlights larger and hugely important questions: What are America’s interests in an interconnected, post Cold-War world? How should we protect and promote them, especially with our rivals?

The views of hawks like John McCain are part of that discussion. They need to be heard and they are. What’s wrong is the snarky insinuation from McCain and others that the real problem we face is personal--that...


What a performance! And when it ended, the talk swirled around a brilliant, passionate 25-year-old black man whose skill, brains and ability lifted him and his team to victory against opponents who were doing absolutely everything they could to make sure they failed. His name was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He had joined the Montgomery bus boycott and, playing brilliantly, was key to forcing a Supreme Court decision in favor of the boycotters,...

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I left Egypt in late May, less than 48 hours ahead of a Cairo Court arrest warrant for foreigners "promoting democracy."

A month later, June 30 could end up having been the watershed moment for the new Egypt. Perhaps by the time you read this, it already has. June 30 is the first anniversary of the government of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that many secular Egyptians fear wants to turn the country into a theocracy....


“Tahrir Square was not the Revolution,” a young Egyptian woman told me in Cairo last week. “The real Revolution,” she said, “has yet to come.” Considering that over 300 protestors died in the Square two and a quarter years ago, this is chilling news.

A former US Foreign Service Officer, I just spent ten days in Egypt listening to Egyptians from every quarter, including getting caught in the middle of a demonstration in Tahrir Square....

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Get off the plane in New Delhi’s modern, efficient airport and you don’t feel like you’ve landed in the “developing” world. Take the fast, sleek metro into town through miles of new office buildings sporting the names of the world’s biggest multinationals and you’re positive this isn’t a third-world country.

It’s not the New Delhi I remember from my last trip here 25 years ago. I’m told that you can see the same kinds of eye-popping...


The US Army thought it could squeeze one more combat tour out of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. It was wrong. Bales is now accused of shooting and stabbing to death 16 Afghan civilians, most of them women and children. The Army said that he’d “snapped.” Something else may have snapped too--the last frail thread of trust between the US and its Afghan partners and with it, the last hope for any kind of success in this war.

It’s easy to blame...


All content © 2015 John A. Graham. All rights reserved.