Readers and listeners to President Obama’s speech today at the National Defense University, billed as a major address on terrorism policy, could be forgiven for thinking the speech just a re-hash of old policies. Believe me, Obama seemed to repeat, I really, really want to close Guantanamo Bay. It’s true, he stressed, I really want to capture, interrogate, and prosecute al-Qaeda leaders — despite his record of only one al-Qaeda leader captured abroad in five years and the example of the killing, rather than detention and interrogation of Osama bin Laden. President Obama has made these same claims before. Even his promise to restart the transfer of Yemenis from Guantanamo to their home country does little to change the basic architecture of the policies that he inherited from President George W. Bush.
But the one area where President Obama did signal a shift in policy that could have dramatic effects on U.S. national security is on the criteria for using drones. Following the news that his administration has killed four U.S. citizens in its time in office with drones, the president suggested that he will tighten the rules for using unmanned aerial strikes. Now, the U.S. will only use drone strikes against terrorists who “pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons,” where there is a “near certainty” that the target is present, and there is a “near certainty” that civilians “will not be injured or killed.”
The president risks rendering impossible the only element of his counterterrorism strategy that has bred success. An obvious problem is that there is almost never a “near certainty” that a target is the person we think he is and that he is located where we think. President Obama either is imposing far too strict a level of proof on our military and intelligence officers or the standards will be rarely followed. But worse, if the U.S. publicly announces that it will not attack terrorists if civilian casualties will result, terrorists will always meet and travel in entourages of innocent family members and others — a tactic adopted by potential targets of Israeli targeted killings in the West Bank. Neither of these standards — near certainty of the identity of the target or of zero civilian casualties — applies to wartime operations. President Obama is placing impossible conditions on the use of force for what can only be assumed to be ideological reasons.
But broader than even these problems is the pullout from Afghanistan that will accompany these changes in drone policy. Drones are only as good as the intelligence that directs them. If the U.S. lacks reliable information on the identity and location of terrorists, drone missions will become an exercise of shooting in the dark. Drones themselves don’t gather the intelligence — it comes from having boots on the ground in Afghanistan and, once upon a time, in Iraq. Human sources and networks provide the most reliable information for not just drones, but also our special-operations teams, to target the enemy. Without on-the-ground intelligence networks, our strikes will rely on second-hand reports, unreliable partners, and satellite and electronic surveillance, which provides less clarity against a decentralized network. By pulling out of Afghanistan prematurely, we may leave our drones flying blind, especially under the unrealistic standards announced today.
Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday.
The disclosure of the attorney general’s role came as President Barack Obama, in a major speech on his counterterrorism policy, said Holder had agreed to review Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists.
... Holder previously said he recused himself from the AP subpoena because he had been questioned as a witness in the underlying investigation into a leak about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen. His role in personally approving the Rosen search warrant had not been previously reported.
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The law enforcement official said Holder's approval of the Rosen search, in the spring of 2010, came after senior Justice officials concluded there was "probable cause" that Rosen's communications with his source, identified as intelligence analyst Stephen Kim, met the legal burden for such searches. "It was approved at the highest levels-- and I mean the highest," said the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said that explicitly included Holder.
Some employers are avoiding Obamacare penalties by offering “skinny” insurance plans that provide workers with minimum coverage like preventive care but little else, including benefits to help cover hospitals stays.
The minimum coverage qualifies as acceptable under the new healthcare reform law, so benefit advisers and insurance brokers are pitching minimum plans nationally, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Employers who offer the plans are recognizing they can avoid a $2,000-per-worker penalty by doing so, even though the plans often don’t cover basics like surgery, X-rays or prenatal care, let alone hospitalization.
As the story states, "employers could still face other penalties, but they expect them to cost less than the $2,000 per worker fine for opting out of Obamacare." More:
Would you like to have a “skinny” health insurance policy? Probably not. But if you’re employed by a large company, you may get one, thanks to ObamaCare.
That’s the conclusion of Wall Street Journal reporters Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews, who report that insurance brokers are pitching and selling “low-benefit” policies across the country.
Wonder what a “skinny” or “low-benefit” insurance plan is? The terms may vary, but the basic idea is that policies would cover preventive care, a limited number of doctor visits and perhaps generic drugs. They wouldn’t cover things such as surgery, hospital stays or prenatal care.
That sounds similar to an auto-insurance policy that reimburses you when you change the oil but not when your car gets totaled.
You might ask how ObamaCare could encourage the proliferation of such policies. It was sold as a way to provide more coverage for more people, after all. And people were told they could keep the health insurance they had.
As Weaver and Mathews explain, ObamaCare’s requirement that insurance policies include “essential” benefits such as mental-health services apply only to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. But larger employers “need only cover preventive service, without a lifetime or annual dollar-value limit, in order to avoid the across-the-workforce penalty.”
Low-benefit plans may cost an employer only $40 to $100 a month per employee. That’s less than the $2,000-per-employee penalty for providing no insurance.
“We wouldn’t have anticipated that there’d be demand for these type of Band-Aid plans in 2014,” the Journal quotes former White House health adviser Robert Kocher. “Our expectation was that employers would offer high-quality insurance.”
This week on the one and only Ricochet Podcast, Peter is MIA, but Rob and James soldier on in style with guests AEI President Arthur Brooks (read his WSJ op-ed The GOP's Hispanic Opening) and The Weekly Standard's Mark Hemingway on the IRS scandal. Also, we ponder whether taking the fifth always implies guilt, and Lileks v. Buzzfeed. We bet they're going to regret taking him on.
Music from this week's show:
Take The 5th by The Brian Setzer Orchestra
The Ricochet Podcast opening theme was composed and produced by James Lileks.
Make ours a double, EJHill.
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After a devastating tornado in Oklahoma killed several children at an elementary school, Reformed Baptist minister and author John Piper tweeted this:
He later followed it with another tweet: “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped” Job. 1:20.
Piper thought he was being comforting. He assumed other people who suffer respond just like he does -- by tearing their clothes, covering themselves with ashes, and recognizing God’s sovereignty. He was wrong, and the backlash was scathing as people outside of his ministry associated his tweet with God’s judgment of the Oklahoma victims.
In response to the criticism, Piper took down the tweets and offered the following statement on his website, desiringGod.org:
When tragedy strikes my life, I find it stabilizing and hope-giving to see the stories of the sheer factuality of other’s losses, especially when they endured them the way Job did. Job really grieved. He really agonized. He collapsed to the ground. He wept. He shaved his head. This was, in my mind, a pattern of what must surely happen in Oklahoma. I thought it would help. But when I saw how so many were not experiencing it that way, I took them down.
His website contends that Piper’s tweet was misunderstood because the second tweet was ignored.
The impression given by online sources is that only Job 1:19 was posted, an isolated tweet some critics have thought “crude” and “insensitive,” thereby neglecting the most important point made in the second tweet, of Job’s response, and why our sovereign God is still worthy of worship even in the midst of the most unimaginable suffering and personal tragedy.
Job 1:20 not only comes in the direct aftermath of a storm, but also holds out hope and comfort to Christians directly affected by tragedy today, reminding us that trust in God and worship of God are always right, even when we are kneeling in tears in the rubble left by a tornado. Job wept and he worshiped. God’s sovereignty over his suffering provided the basis of his grounds of worshiping God in the suffering...
As Pastor John has said in a sermon, “Satan proved to be wrong. Job did not curse God when he lost his wealth and his children. He worshiped and he blessed God. And so the superior worth of God became evident to all. Job’s steadfast response becomes for all Christians a model to follow in enduring suffering” (James 5:11).
Sadly, by citing only the first tweet, Job 1:19, online critics muddied the point.
In my opinion (and as a former student at one of the seminaries where he lectured), the one who muddied the point was John Piper himself. While his intentions were good, he posted the first tweet without any context—it is shocking when you initially read it and if you don't already know the context—and the second tweet would not have done much to illuminate his point to an audience unfamiliar with the book of Job and the many difficult doctrines it teaches. Psalm 23 would have been a better choice.
Regardless of Piper’s intent, it does seem to be a bad habit in some corners of the church for people to claim that specific events are a result of God’s judgment—something that has negative effects for conservatives in general as it feeds the narrative that conservatives, particularly social conservatives, are judgmental and don’t care about people. That’s certainly the message going around the internet in response to Piper’s tweet.
Whether it’s AIDS or 9/11 or mass shootings or natural disasters, inevitably someone says, in essence, the victims deserved it. And yet, Jesus himself taught that we shouldn’t draw such conclusions. When his disciples asked whether a man’s blindness was caused by his sins or his parents’ sins, Jesus clearly said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Do you think Piper was right in what he tweeted? Do Christians rush to judgment too much when tragedies occur? What effect, if any, do you think this has on the conservative movement as a whole? How do you respond to people who are suffering?
In a sign of more to come, former CIA Director David Petraeus is being set up to take the blame for the “controversy” surrounding the Obama administration’s preposterous attempt to explain the Benghazi attack on Muslim outrage over a shoddy YouTube video. The Washington Post has pitched the tent for this latest White House sideshow.
Purporting to present a “close reading” of the emails recently selected by the White House for public release, the Post claims that “Petraeus’s early role and ambitions” to put a pro-CIA spin on the talking points “is the pivotal moment in the controversy.” (How and why Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Barack Obama, for weeks, falsely described a September 11 terrorist attack on a US facility as an overboard fit of righteous Muslim indignation is apparently not interesting to the Post.)
When you stop laughing bitterly, you can read the article here. Spoiler alert: It’s Petraeus’s fault that the first draft of the talking points was informative, and not the vaguely "minimalist" points requested by Democrat Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (never mind what Intelligence Committee Chair Rogers may have wanted). It is not the fault of the White House or the State Department that the final draft was both uninformative and wrong; they were merely trying to protect classified information and the integrity of the FBI’s criminal investigation. The Post’s “close reading” of the emails reflects little more than hand-holding by its nameless “senior administration official” sources.
And the video? Who said anything about a video? As we all know, “a group of armed men” attacked the Benghazi compound as “violent anti-American demonstrations unfolded across the Middle East and North Africa over an anti-Islam video made in the United States.” The Post treats the question that propels Benghazi from a "controversy" over the bureaucratic drafting process into a foreign policy scandal as an article of faith.
As usual, you can guess the Post’s sources by who looks good. Here, it is the Obama White House, portrayed as “the only government entity that did not object to the detailed talking points produced with Petraeus’s input” and which merely served as “mediator” in a “bureaucratic fight,” provoked by Petraeus’s vanity. An apolitical lot, no doubt.
In fact, the emails show that the White House (1) had previously sought to control the narrative by forbidding CIA from making any assessment of who was responsible for the attack, (2) was concerned about the “messaging ramifications” of the talking points being prepared for House Intelligence Committee members to use with media, and (3) backed the State Department in gutting the drafts. And all of this was wrapped in the now familiar mom-and-apple-pie guise of “protecting” an “investigation” – under White House and Department of Justice control.
Back in October, it was the intelligence community’s fault that the Administration falsely described the assault on Benghazi as the unanticipated outgrowth of a spontaneous protest over a video. Now that that story has fallen apart, David Petraeus is being blamed for wanting to call it as CIA then saw it: as the foreseen act of Islamic terrorists commemorating 9/11.
Notably, while "senior administration officials" and the Post have the time and energy to call David Petraeus's judgment into doubt, they remain strangely disinterested in the question made famous by two earlier Post reporters: what did the President know, and when did he know it? Given the Administration's willingness to leak the operational details, including the President's role, of highly classified missions that succeed, it's no stretch to assume that the answer is embarrassing and there is no compelling photo of the President wearing his Commander-in-Chief jacket in the Situation Room. But what does one do on the night before a big Vegas fundraiser while your Ambassador to Libya is being murdered?
It is no accident that the Obama Administration has long tried to blame its false and clumsy Benghazi story on the intelligence community, an unloved arm of government unable to defend itself in public. It is a cowardly tactic, employed by bullies. As the truth drips out, expect more of it.
This week on Uncommon Knowledge, Economist and journalist Dr. Thomas Sowell discusses his book, "Intellectuals and Race," and highlights the pervasive racist views of the Progressive era. Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson is produced by the Hoover Institution for the Wall Street Journal.
Back in 2004 or so, I was visiting Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I was checking out some interfaith worship spaces there for research and attended a Sunday morning worship service. It was ... interesting. If I recall correctly, the text was Matthew 15, with the story of the Canaanite woman. The sermon, as has become a trend in recent years, was all about how Jesus was xenophobic.
Being that I come from a faith that confesses Jesus is the perfect Son of God, I found the sermon blasphemous. But to my credit or shame, I sat silently and took notes in my reporter notebook (my job at that time was not to discus theology but just observe).
So the next day I ran into the rector or some such and told him I'd been at services the day before. He began profusely apologizing and I was about to thank him when I realized that he was apologizing because, he said, the lighting in the sanctuary was not functioning properly.
Which brings us to the May 12 sermon delivered in Venezuela by the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church. When I read the initial reports of the sermon, I was sure someone was taking it out of context or had misunderstood what she was getting at. But you can read the entire sermon on the church's web site. It was not taken out of context.
The top of Anglican Ink's story on the matter:
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has denounced the Apostle Paul as mean-spirited and bigoted for having released a slave girl from demonic bondage as reported in Acts 16:16-34 .
In her sermon delivered at All Saints Church in Curaçao in the diocese of Venezuela, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori condemned those who did not share her views as enemies of the Holy Spirit.
I have two thoughts. One is how fascinating it is that this week we saw the media flip out over Pope Francis' belief in the reality of Satan. Isn't it interesting that the Pope being Catholic is cause for huge headlines while Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's full-throated rejection of St. Paul's exorcism of demons doesn't generate a single story in the mainstream press?
My second thought is more general. Later in the sermon she says:
We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end. We’re seeing something similar right now ... as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong. For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.
OK, so different is not the same thing as wrong, fair enough. I'm curious, though, on what basis does she decide that views different from hers are wrong? She's definitely condemning the views of people who disagree with her, but I'm not quite sure what the basis for the condemnation is. Can you help me out?
Public Policy Polling finally got around to asking: Do Republicans and Democrats like the same music?
Apparently not. PPP found "a partisan divide" in the favorability ratings of the biggest music stars of the past several decades:
There’s a massive 54-point party divide on Michael Jackson – Democrats have a favorable view of him at 59-30, Republicans are flipped and view him unfavorably by a 34-59 margin. The same with Madonna – Democrats narrowly view her favorably (43-41) while Republicans strongly dislike her (21-68). The party disagreements even extend to Favorite Beatle – Democrats choose John over Paul (39-36) while Republicans strongly prefer Paul over John (49-15) – it seems Republicans still haven’t forgiven Lennon for his strong political activism. Overall, Democrats (84-10) like The Beatles more than Republicans (66-24).
Wouldn't this make "Say Say Say" the most popular song of all time?
Let me note: While I usually can't stand Michael Jackson or Madonna, I feel very strongly that Paul is only the third best Beatle.
Is there a place for a RINO like me in the big tent?
Seems like kind of a big story that isn't being reported much:
You've read the stories about Sweden's excellent health care system, innovative gender-neutral day care centers, and generous parental leave policies. But here's a story that those who would like to portray Sweden as a socialist paradise are less eager to tell: For three consecutive nights, the residents of several largely immigrant suburbs have rioted, torching cars, clashing with police, and setting buildings ablaze.
The rioting -- the worst social unrest to strike the country in many years -- was sparked by the lethal police shooting of a 69-year-old, knife-wielding man last week in the suburb of Husby, the epicenter of the riots. Roaming gangs of angry youths have since clashed with police and Husby residents have complained of racist treatment by police officers, who they say have used epithets such as "monkey."
Source: Foreign Policy
Glenn Greenwald has a typically lengthy item arguing that we shouldn't describe the unspeakably violent attack on a soldier as "terrorism."
The US, the UK and its allies have repeatedly killed Muslim civilians over the past decade (and before that), but defenders of those governments insist that this cannot be "terrorism" because it is combatants, not civilians, who are the targets. Can it really be the case that when western nations continuously kill Muslim civilians, that's not "terrorism", but when Muslims kill western soldiers, that is terrorism? Amazingly, the US has even imprisoned people at Guantanamo and elsewhere on accusations of "terrorism" who are accused of nothing more than engaging in violence against US soldiers who invaded their country.
He has all sorts of reasons for why he thinks that this is the wrong word to use. I care far much less about the word than the reality of the violence of this situation and the effect on the children and others who witnessed it.
One of the things that I do think is important to remember is the reality of the carnage of all warfare, whether it's engaged by drone or machete.
But isn't the important issue vis-a-vis terrorism whether it happens outside of established military protocols for violence? And isn't it almost always about exploiting the media to advance a cause?
In a Wikipedia discussion of the difficulty of defining the term, we learn that one scholar has come up with a list to distinguish terrorism from other types of crime. He includes:
- ineluctably political in aims and motives
- violent – or, equally important, threatens violence
- designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target
- conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia) and
- perpetrated by a subnational group or non-state entity.
Another scholar has a definition that includes:
Terrorism is defined as political violence in an asymmetrical conflict that is designed to induce terror and psychic fear (sometimes indiscriminate) through the violent victimization and destruction of noncombatant targets (sometimes iconic symbols). Such acts are meant to send a message from an illicit clandestine organization. The purpose of terrorism is to exploit the media in order to achieve maximum attainable publicity as an amplifying force multiplier in order to influence the targeted audience(s) in order to reach short- and midterm political goals and/or desired long-term end states."
A soldier walking down the street in civilian clothes thousands of miles away from the theater of conflict seems close to a "non-combatant target" and the rather obvious exploitation of media from yesterday also comes into play, no?
I know that Greenwald is trying to make people think more about the nature of the military actions committed by American and British soldiers (and I share many of his concerns about our ongoing wars and the civilian casualties of our strikes, etc.), but I worry that the downplaying of this act as terrorism serves a few troubling functions.
For one, it legitimizes the idea that every street and every home in the United States, Britain, and throughout the world is in the theater of conflict. That means that typical civil liberties protections go away. For another, it can harm social order in that wartime relations between peoples are naturally more suspicious.
Does a Greenwaldian understanding -- that an unspeakably violent machete attack on an off-duty soldier walking down the street in front of a London primary school and scores of citizens isn't terrorism -- have more danger for civil society than classifying it as terrorism?
This technology gets more astounding by the day.
Six-week-old Kaiba Gionfriddo suffered from a rare lung obstruction called bronchial malacia that made it impossible for him to breathe:
With hopes dimming that Kaiba would survive, doctors tried the medical equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass. Using an experimental technique never before tried on a human, they created a splint made out of biological material that effectively carved a path through Kaiba’s blocked airway.
What makes this a medical feat straight out of science fiction: The splint was created on a three-dimensional printer.
“It’s magical to me,” said Dr. Glenn Green, an associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan who implanted the splint in Kaiba. “We’re talking about taking dust and using it to build body parts.”
Kaiba's mother, April, rather wonderfully described the technology that saved her child as "pretty nifty". It is indeed!
Green, who has been practicing for two decades, and a UM colleague, biomedical engineer Scott Hollister, had been working for years toward a clinical trial to test the splint in children with pulmonary issues when they got a phone call from a physician in Ohio who was aware of their research.
"He said, 'I've got a child who needs (a splint) now,' " referring to Kaiba, said Green. "He said that this child is not going to live unless something is done."
Green and Hollister got emergency clearance from their hospital and the Food and Drug Administration to try the experimental treatment -- which had been used only on animals -- on Kaiba. The child was airlifted from Akron Children's Hospital to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at UM.
"It was a mixture of elation and, for lack of a better word, terror," said Hollister, a professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering who has been studying tissue regeneration for more than 15 years. "When someone drops something like this in your lap and says, 'Look, this might be this kid's only chance' ... it's a big step."
Green and his team obtained a CT scan of Kaiba's lungs so the splint could be custom fitted. They used the scan to build a computer model of the splint and then fed the model into a 3D-printer. The printer constructed the splint out of a powder material called polycaprolactone, or PCL:
PCL is malleable; it can be fashioned into all kinds of intricate structures. When a splint is created using PCL, it becomes a sort of biological placeholder, propping up structures while the body heals around it.
PCL has been used for years to fill holes left behind in the skull after brain surgery, according to Hollister. As time passes, PCL degrades and is excreted out of the body, hopefully leaving behind a healed organ.
What followed in Kaiba's case was a painstaking process of creating the splint on the printer in layers. Information about each layer is transmitted from the computer to a laser beam, which melts the PCL into a 3-D structure.
"We can put together a complete copy of a body part on the 3-D printer within a day," Green said. "So we can make something very specific for a patient very quickly."
Green then took the splint, measuring just a few centimeters long and 8 millimeters wide, and surgically attached it to Kaiba's collapsed bronchus. It was only moments before he saw the results.
"When the stitches were put in, we started seeing the lung inflate and deflate," Green said. "It was so fabulous. There were people in the operating room cheering."
"This case is a wonderful example that regenerative technologies are no longer science fiction," said Dr. Andre Terzic, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine, who was not involved in Kaiba's case. "We are increasingly ... finding new solutions that we didn't have before."
It's now fifteen months later and Kaiba is still breathing on his own. The splint is expected to take three years to degrade, during which time Kaiba's lungs should develop normally.
One of the attackers had this to say after hacking a British soldier to death in broad daylight on a south London street yesterday:
We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
There are a host of breathtaking aspects to this crime -- the fact that it took place within spitting distance of the Royal Artillery's London headquarters, for example, or the fact that it took 20 long minutes for the armed police to show up, or the fact that the murderers were inclined to stand around schmoozing with onlookers while awaiting the shootout that would take them down. I realize their object was to "start a war" and that the showdown with police was thus part of the plan, but they could have spent those intervening 20 minutes in further mayhem. Instead, fortunately for those long-delayed armed police as well as for the gathered crowd, the killers stood around chatting, gesticulating with their blood-soaked cleavers and machetes while speaking in local English accents. Surreal.
The Muslim community in Britain is responding early and loudly to condemn the attack.
Faith Matters is a charity that supports entrepreneurs in the West Bank through micro and small business loans, as well as providing support to Palestinian women. Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Faith Matters, said:
This is the kind of butchery we saw in places like Iraq and it’s appalling it is happening here.
The vast majority of Muslims in Britain will be truly sickened. We have to come out and shout out against this type of violence. We have to say enough is enough.
We have to make clear the line between voicing dissent and extremist violence. Muslims have to hammer home that anyone advocating this kind of horrific extremism will be shunned.
The backbone of extremism has gone. What you have are cells of a few people reinforcing each other’s beliefs who are disillusioned, mentally vulnerable and often out of touch with their families.
The Muslim Council of Britain stated outright that the killers' use of "Islamic slogans" indicated they were motivated by their faith. It went on to say:
This is a truly barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and we condemn this unreservedly. Our thoughts are with the victim and his family.
We understand the victim is a serving member of the Armed Forces. Muslims have long served in this country's Armed Forces, proudly and with honour.
This attack on a member of the Armed Forces is dishonourable, and no cause justifies this murder.
Akbar Khan of the Building Bridges conflict resolution organization said:
We totally condemn the killing of an innocent person in Woolwich this afternoon.
And we also condemn all forms of extremism wherever they are.
The thoughts of the Muslim community are with the family of the man who lost his life, and we pray for him.
Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, which promotes moderate Islam and interfaith dialogue in the UK, said:
I wish to condemn the evil and barbaric crime carried out today in Woolwich.
Our immediate thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims. From whatever angle you see today's attack, it was at every level evil.
We must allow the police to gather all the facts before unnecessary speculation and wait for the facts before determining its impact on our country.
But what happens in the days to come, London and our nation will come together and will not be divided. The terrorists will never win and succeed in their evil plans.
But tonight we think of the family of that soldier killed.
As tempting as it is at moments like this, we simply cannot give in to blanket condemnations. One thinks not only of public statements like these, welcome as they are, but also of the less publicized instances of kindness and support the British Muslim community has extended to its neighbors in the UK, like this one:
For years, the Jews and Muslims of Bradford have lived in close proximity to each other: Bradford's only remaining synagogue sits just 500 meters from the city's main mosque in the inner city neighborhood of Manningham. But the two groups kept to themselves. That is, of course, until the synagogue's roof started to leak and Bradford's Muslim community stepped in as a surprise donor for the repairs.
“It was a true mitzvah,” says Rudi Leavor, the 87-year-old chairman of the synagogue, of the gift from the Muslim community.
Leavor says that the congregation was considering selling the building out of desperation, but enough members were opposed to that idea that they scrapped it. Instead, a new Friends of the Synagogue organization was founded, offering concerned citizens – both Jews and non-Jews alike – membership for 60 GBP a year. In turn, they received invitations to social events at Hanukkah and on other festive occasions.
Donations trickled in, but not as fast as the water from the leaky roof. Things looked very dire for the Bradford Synagogue until some concerned neighbors intervened.
Zulfi Karim, the 47-year-old secretary of the Bradford Council of Mosques, was at Friday prayers when he heard of the synagogue's plight...
“I was shocked to hear the news,” says Karim, who was born and raised a few hundred yards from the Bradford Reform Synagogue,” and I immediately reached out to others in the Muslim community.”
Within a few days, the community had raised GBP 2,000 for emergency repairs – 1,000 from a variety of individuals, and 1,000 matched by a donor who at first asked to remain anonymous.
Eventually Leavor discovered the donor was Khalid Pervaiz, the new owner of a textile factory near the synagogue. That same factory had previously belonged to the Strauss family, who were descendents of Bradford’s first Reform Rabbi.
“We have so much in common,” says Karim of the two Bradford communities. ”We both have a tradition of helping each other out in business, and strong entrepreneurial, family and community values.” He also acknowledges that in addition to their common Abrahamic ancestry, there are parallels between the anti-Semitism and Islamophobia both communities have endured.
Bu in the end, it was Karim's personal relationship with Leavor that helped connect the two communities.
"When I met Rudi, I felt like he was my father, or grandfather," Karim says. "If he were an elder in my community, I would be there for him in his time of need. So I felt – well, it’s my obligation to help him as if he were a member of my own family.”
James Delingpole, voted Britain's most dangerous podcaster, returns for another edition of Radio Free Delingpole. This week, fellow Daily Telegraph blogger and educator Toby Young joins for a rousing conversation covering James' jelly wrestling critics; the Oklahoma tornadoes and global warming; the last best hope for Britain to leave the EU; the insider's POV on UKIP; James' new TV obsession; and, yes … zombies!
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Lanny Davis, the former Clinton aide -- no stranger to scandals he -- thinks that the recent surge in bad news for Democrats could have implications for 2016. Here's what he told Andrea Tantaros on her radio show, according to the Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard:
The growing IRS-Tea Party scandal, which has robbed Democrats of the so-called "trust edge" they held over Republicans, is now jeopardizing the Democratic majority in the Senate and even hopes that Hillary Clinton will replace President Obama in 2016.
"This hurts the Democratic Party and will hurt anybody who runs for president in 2016," said former Clinton White House counsel Lanny Davis, a major supporter of Hillary Clinton. Speaking on national radio's Andrea Tantaros Show, he added: "It will make it almost impossible to elect a [Democratic] president. ... I'm nervous."
Meanwhile, several Democratic and GOP political advisers told [us] that the combined scandals — IRS, Benghazi and the media source hunt — threatens the Democrats' grip on the Senate. House advisers are even predicting that Republicans will pick up nearly 10 seats if the scandals continue to eat away at trust in the Democratic Party.
What do you think? We're three and a half years away from the next presidential election. Could the current controversies be significant enough to still have resonance come November 2016? Will they even hold sway come the midterms? Let us know in the comments.
Remember when, in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, there was a dustup over the fact that none of the culpable parties at the State Department seemed to have lost their jobs? Despite the fact that it was announced that four of them would be leaving? Given the current atmosphere in Washington, you can be forgiven if it's not the outrage at the forefront of your mind right now. Rand Paul, however, hasn't forgotten. He brought up the topic last weekend, during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."
The Washington Post's fact-checker, Glen Kessler, digs into the claim that no one lost their job and here's what he comes up with:
The dismissals were announced after the completion of the Accountability Review Board report, which fixed the blame for the poor security that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, including the U.S. ambassador, at the Assistant Secretary level and below. Besides [Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric J.] Boswell, two other officials in Diplomatic Security lost their positions, as well as a deputy assistant secretary in the Near East bureau.
But it’s not that easy to “fire” someone who is part of the foreign service or civil service unless they have committed a readily identifiable crime. Such decisions certainly can be appealed. The ARB, while critical of the officials’ performance, noted that there was no provision under its charter to recommend disciplinary action because someone failed to demonstrate leadership qualities. Among its recommendations:
"The Board recognizes that poor performance does not ordinarily constitute a breach of duty that would serve as a basis for disciplinary action but is instead addressed through the performance management system. However, the Board is of the view that findings of unsatisfactory leadership performance by senior officials in relation to the security incident under review should be a potential basis for discipline recommendations by future ARBs, and would recommend a revision of Department regulations or amendment to the relevant statute to this end."
... In essence, the four individuals are in an administrative limbo as their performance remains under review, State Department officials say. They don’t have any real jobs, don’t have a desk, but still have a State Department badge which allows them to enter the building — presumably for lunch conversation.
“None of the individuals identified by the Accountability Review Board are in the positions held prior to the report’s release and at the time of the attack,” said State Department spokesman Patrick H. Ventrell.
“This internal administrative process can take some time,” he said. “For an ARB to recommend disciplinary action, it must find a breach of duty. The ARB found that no one engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities, and thus did not recommend disciplinary action against any Department employees.”
He added: “It is also important to remember that the four people discussed are all long-serving government officials who over the years have provided dedicated service to the U.S. Government in challenging assignments.” He also noted that “career foreign service employees are entitled to due process and legal protections under the Foreign Service Act with respect to any potential disciplinary action.”
Here's the kicker: we're about to see the exact same thing happen at the IRS. From Politico:
Lawmakers pressing for more heads to roll at the Internal Revenue Service are going to be disappointed.
“Why weren’t more people fired?” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) demanded at a hearing Tuesday on the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, channeling the frustration of his colleagues.
Turns out it’s not so easy.
In fact, it appears that no one has been formally reprimanded and a spokesperson for the union representing IRS workers said it hasn’t been called to help any employees yet. Most employees involved in the targeting program are covered by protections for federal workers that could drag out the termination process.
... The incoming acting IRS Commissioner, Daniel Werfel, could try to clean house — but he’d have to be prepared for a lengthy appeals process.
Under federal rules, a fired government worker has the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. He or she can challenge the decision, argue that their actions don’t meet the threshold for termination and ask to be reinstated — especially if there was no warning of trouble in past performance reviews.
The board is set up so fired employees appealing their termination get two chances to prove they should stay. Their first stop is at the merit board’s regional level, which — for the Cincinnati-based IRS employees in question — would be in Chicago.
The initial appeals take an average of 93 days to process, said William Spencer, a spokesman for the board.
If the regional board rules against the IRS employees, they could appeal to the national Washington, D.C.-based board, which takes on average another 245 days.
All of which put me in mind of this USA Today story I remembered reading back in 2011:
Federal employees' job security is so great that workers in many agencies are more likely to die of natural causes than get laid off or fired, a USA TODAY analysis finds.
Death — rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs — is the primary threat to job security at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Management and Budget and a dozen other federal operations.
The federal government fired 0.55% of its workers in the budget year that ended Sept. 30 — 11,668 employees in its 2.1 million workforce. Research shows that the private sector fires about 3% of workers annually for poor performance, says John Palguta, former research chief at the federal Merit Systems Protection Board, which handles federal firing disputes.
The 1,800-employee Federal Communications Commission and the 1,200-employee Federal Trade Commission didn't lay off or fire a single employee last year. The SBA had no layoffs, six firings and 17 deaths in its 4,000-employee workforce.
When job security is at a premium, the federal government remains the place to work for those who want to avoid losing a job. The job security rate for all federal workers was 99.43% last year and nearly 100% for those on the job more than a few years.
The Obama Administration is supposedly hellbent on cultivating trust in government. They're obviously in the hole right now. Implementing some genuine accountability would be a good start to getting out of it.
Reports are emerging out of a London about a gruesome attack earlier today in which a British soldier appears to have been hacked to death with machetes in broad daylight by two men shouting "Allahu Akbar." Early details are here from theTelegraph.
A news video has already been posted to YouTube as well. While the video does not show any violence or carnage, it does feature one of the attackers, hands bloodied, addressing the camera and telling viewers, "you will never be safe." Due to the sensitivities involved, we won't post it here, but you can see it by following the link.
Tatum Raetz' daddy couldn't make it to her kindergarten graduation. So hundreds of her adoptive daddies did.
Her father, Phoenix Police Officer Daryl Raetz, was struck down in the line of duty over the weekend. While investigating a possible DUI, another driver killed him and fled the scene.
As his daughter Tatum drove up to her elementary school, she learned that she had a bigger family than she ever imagined:
Because her father couldn't be there, her Phoenix Police Department family showed up to stand in his stead and celebrate Tatum.
"She had 300, 400 parents up here for her this morning," Officer James Holmes said. "It was absolutely amazing. It was bittersweet and it was a bit overwhelming for all of us."
Officers lined the sidewalk clapping for Tatum and congratulating her as she and her mother walked into the school for the graduation ceremony. Inside the auditorium, it was standing room only with a sea of blue in the back and along the side of the room.
God bless Officer Raetz and God bless his little girl.
(Photo courtesy Tess Rafols, KTVK-TV.)
So on Monday, as we all know, a tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, destroying communities and leading to widespread fatalities. To say that this is horrifying is to understate matters.
The calamity led blogger and public policy professor Michael O’Hare to write this post at the “Reality-Based Community” (try not to laugh). In its entirety, the original post read as follows:
Oklahoma is an oil state. Oklahomans vote for people like senators Inhofe and Coburn, who rail at the ‘myth’ of climate change. After all, there are millions and millions of dollars still to earn selling oil to burn: what more evidence does a reasonable Sooner need?
People who think science is more than a political flag one can choose to wave or not, depending on whether there’s profit in it, are pretty sure that one of the effects of global warming is increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather.
I wish I believed that a just Providence sent things like today’s tornado upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans. I don’t, but could the devastation in Moore possibly give the survivors something to think about along these lines?
(Emphasis mine.) Actual “reality-based” commenters expressed a strong sense of shock and disgust that O’Hare would (a) seek to politicize the tragedy while the bodies are still warm, (b) tell us that he “wish[ed] [he] believed that a just Providence” sent the tornado “upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans,” and (c) said that while he didn’t believe it, he wouldn’t mind if “the devastation in Moore” could “possibly give the survivors something to think about along these lines.” Because, of course, what the survivors really need right now is to be haunted by the thought that they might have brought this calamity upon themselves and their community thanks to the fact that they prefer to vote for Republican senators -- and because there is apparently a straight line that can be drawn from voting for a Republican senator to dying/being injured/losing your home and possessions in a tornado.
Recognizing that he might have gone way too far, O’Hare then wrote an update in which he told us that the “reference to Providence” was a “pointer” to the claim “trotted out (for example) after Katrina,” that natural disasters happen to people who deserve to be punished.” O’Hare then tells us that if he “wished” he believed that natural disasters happen to people who deserve to be punished, “I would feel OK about the consequences, I guess even the children whose school was shredded around them” (and who died as well, one might add). O’Hare then assures us that he doesn’t believe that “natural disasters happen to people who deserve to be punished” (thank Providence for small mercies), but
… actions like putting carbon back in the air from underground as fast as possible have consequences, consequences that fall most heavily on the least deserving: the poor people who will not have enough to eat as floods and droughts deepen and come more often, and all the children still unborn around the world who didn’t get to dance at the fossil fuel party but will still have to figure out how to live in a toasted planet – yes, and children in tornado alley who never voted for anyone.
I also believe that the time to talk about politics and how we engage with that amoral reality is while the manifestations of foolishness, especially their injustice, are salient, and that doing so shows respect and sympathy for those who suffered and died for no good reason other than the cupidity of their leadership and its willful ignorance (or worse, putative ignorance)
To which, my reply to O’Hare is “okay, but you still could have made that point without making comments that struck reasonable readers—including longtime fans of the blog you write for—as being utterly repulsive. You could have written ‘guys, this pattern of extreme weather will continue until we get climate change under control, and until we do, more people will die. Let’s please do something.’ You could have written ‘I am really outraged that our environmental policies are leading to more extreme weather, and more deaths.’ But you didn’t. You wrote instead ‘I wish I believed that a just Providence sent things like today’s tornado upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans. I don’t, but could the devastation in Moore possibly give the survivors something to think about along these lines?’ Standing on its own, and even after the explanation you gave in your update, that’s repulsive. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell called, and they want their disgusting schtick back.”
As one of the commenters to O’Hare’s post noted, his post was in line with a tweet from Lizz Winstead, who is a co-creator of the Daily Show and who tweeted that “[t]his tornado is in Oklahoma so clearly it has been ordered to only target conservatives.” Unlike O’Hare, Winstead apologized for her tweet once the scope of the devastation became clear. Belated class is better than no class at all.
As for me, I wish I believed that a just Providence would send a sense of shame and wisdom to the conscience of Michael O’Hare. I don’t, but could the condemnation that he is getting from various quarters for his appalling comments possibly give him something to think about along these lines?
Yesterday, the White House had a special meeting with journalists even more loyal to President Obama than their compatriots. People on Twitter were enraged, because the White House has been so tightlipped with regular journalists.
But I was looking forward to today, when we'd see what the White House was thinking by reading what these journalists had to say. I can't say I'm terribly impressed.
Example 1: Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo:
I love the smell of rightwing paranoia in the morning. Actually, doesn't smell very good. But sounds good to say. So there's that.
Uh. OK? Example 2: The Washington Post and MSNBC's Jonathan Capehart:
Over the last three and a half years, there have been three silly political storylines that have driven me absolutely nuts because it was plainly apparent that they were not true. .... And the most irksome of all is the complaint from African Americans that Obama ignores their concerns.
Sure, JC. Finally, here's Ezra Klein:
Yes, heads should roll at the IRS
What follows that headline is a perfectly boring blog post about how it's basically impossible to fire any federal employees.
So, what does this mean? I almost read it as if the White House has not the faintest idea how to handle this scandal.
Having said that, I guess we do see some effort to paint concern about the various scandals in the same way the White House has painted all concern about its actions -- as delusional and overblown. Josh Marshall leads the charge above and here is Media Matters' Oliver Willis trying something on the journalist-scandal fronts:
Today’s reporters want to be Woodward and Bernstein without the legwork. “Why should I read documents when I can just get a leaker?”
Our final entry is Brad Woodhouse, Communications Director for the DNC,
Jonah responds that the tweet makes so little sense that the only recourse is for Woodhouse to sit out the game for a few days.
I'm with him. This is, far and away, the worst messaging I've ever seen from Team Obama. What gives? I understand that even the slight change in press treatment -- from complete fealty to just a hint of skepticism -- is profound. But is that all that's at play? Why is this White House imploding so quickly in its communications efforts?
Or am I missing something?
In recent years, it has become clear to me that most people want to rack up "experiences." They like to travel, to enjoy interesting food, to do things on their bucket list.
Others, myself included, are much more focused on what we do, instead of what we experience. I am not interested in going to exotic places, or experiencing new and wonderful things. Instead, I measure my life by my accomplishments.
So: a snapshot. Women going into labor are often fixated on making the experience just right (mood, drug-free, etc). My wife was focused on the result: the baby.
Or a biblical example: Rabbi Sacks points out that the Jews in the wilderness complained and fought and made trouble - despite witnessing the plagues, the Exodus, and the experience of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Being close to G-d did not improve us one whit! The only time the Jews did not make trouble? When they were building the tabernacle.
And why? Because experiencing things does not make us better people. What makes us better people is when we build something, when we apply ourselves to changing and improving the world around us.
So how about it, Ricochetti? Is this too simplistic? Or is there something here?
Think about it in political terms. Liberals would have us believe that a good life is one with "quality of life." We get stuff. And since "stuff" can be measured externally, a good liberal believes that they know when someone's life is worth living - and when, for example, a birth defect means that life would not be worth living, and so can be aborted.
But conservatives not only think that life has intrinsic value - we know that a good person improves both themselves and those around them. And that the things we do with our lives, our accomplishments, are much, much, much more important than our experiences. A wedding is nice: but the experience of a wedding falls away in comparison to the accomplishment of a good marriage. Having children is nice, but the childbirth experience is not remotely important compared to the accomplishment of raising a good kid.
To a liberal, it is good when the poor receive stuff, because it means that they are having a good experiences. But like the Jews in the wilderness, merely getting bounties from On High requires no personal development at all - on the contrary. But to a conservative, it is good when people make something of their lives.
[Note: This letter was posted on the Member Feed as an open request for advice, not only from Penelope, but from the whole Ricochet community. I invite you to check out that thread to sample the wisdom of our fellow Ricochetti.]
My dear Ricochetti,
I could use some advice. The summer is upon us, which means it's wedding season. This Saturday is the wedding of one of my few remaining single first cousins. The problem is that, frankly, I really don't want to go.
My mother is the middle of five children, and I've never really gotten along with my mother's oldest sister or her family. Some of it may be jealousy -- thanks to some fortuitous real estate investments, they've been able to afford a much more extravagant lifestyle for their children than my parents ever provided for their children despite earning less wages. But there's also a huge difference in perspective on the world -- where my parents and I firmly embrace Reagan's description that "We're from the government and we're here to help" are the most terrifying words in the English language, my aunt and uncle have been the ones saying those words.
To paint a picture of the family, my uncle is now an Apostle in the church -- a position roughly equivalent to a Catholic Cardinal, if the Catholic church consisted of 140,000 people and it only had 12 cardinals, two of them women. His connections were invaluable in allowing his middle daughter to get a secretarial job at church headquarters. My soon-to-be-wedded cousin, his son, is one of the new group of rising stars in the church, providing ministry to the youth and young adults of the church with his cafe "church" and praise band. One might think being immersed in the church, of providing ministry to others, might encourage one to live virtuously as a good example. Yet both these cousins lived for years with their fiances before tying the knot -- proof indeed of how little the traditional rules of moral living are thought to apply to daily life in this denomination.
As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm leaving this church despite all my family ties. I'm sick of the nepotism and cronyism I see as an outsider who knows all the insiders. I refuse to raise my children in a church that is willing to relax every moral standard on the grounds of being "loving." Given that, I don't really want to support a couple who's seemingly marrying just to have a big wedding like all their other friends. I don't want to darken the door of a church that has just declared that marriage is nothing more than a promise to love each other between any two people as long as convenient. (Divorces not only among the laity but also the priesthood were long ago accepted; it's the acceptance of homosexuality that's new.)
At the same time, one of the lessons my parents hammered into me was the importance of family, of supporting your blood even when you'd rather be doing something else. And given that I don't have the excuse of distance or working, my absence would probably be noticed -- by my own parents if no one else. As they never bought into the whole "if it feels good, do it and if it feels bad, don't" basis of morality, I can definitely expect an earful about how "friends come and go, but family is forever."
Hence the dilemma. What say you, Ricochetti?
I'm not just sending this to Judith for her column because a) I don't care about being anonymous and b) I need to make the decision by Saturday night.
Go to the wedding, honey.
Since you don't have easy excuses at the ready like distance or work obligations, your absence would be interpreted (correctly) as a statement. You would in effect be using the occasion of your cousin's wedding to pass judgment on him publicly, as well as on your church. You'd thus be injecting a sour note into what should otherwise be a joyful day.
Attending the wedding does not imply your approval of the church or even of the couple. It's simply a gracious act, and a means of honoring your parents. You don't have to stay long. Just show your face, wish the couple well, and leave early. Keep the peace and let your cousin have his day. Because that's what it is -- his day, not yours. Your principles will be not be compromised by being kind to him on his wedding day.
Got a question for Penelope? Write to AskPenelope@ricochet.com.
Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. Neither Ricochet nor the writer of this column accepts any liability for the outcome or results of following the advice in this column. Ricochet reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.
Maybe it's the solitude. I've been on the road for over a month now without a day off, on freight schedules that have me rising at 1 AM one morning, 9 AM the next, 4 AM the following morning, etc., etc., world without end, a-men. I don't especially mind the solitude either. The cab is comfortable. I have books, music, and I can reach out to the world from this little keypad. It may be the erratic and long hours, or the solitude, but I think my friend Murphy (author of Murphy's Law) has my number. It seems that whatever takes place within the first 30 minutes after I rise in the morning becomes the theme for the remainder of the day.
For example, a couple of days ago, I awoke and stumbled across the parking lot and into the truck stop to wash out my travel mug and refill it with coffee. The one and only sink in the men's room was occupied by a gentleman who was shaving, brushing his teeth, washing his face, and doing everything short of hopping in the thing to bathe. When he finally finished his ritual, I washed the mug and made my way to the coffee pot for a jolt of caffeine. Naturally, the same guy that had transformed the men's room into his personal boudoir was getting his coffee. While I waited on him again, he took his meticulous time … first slowly pouring a little coffee, then adding some cream before pouring a little more coffee, at which point he added a few packets of sweetener, took a sip of the science experiment, and then repeated the procedure until he finally ran out of space in his cup. Back at my truck, I did the required pre-trip inspection of truck and trailer, made sure my logs were updated and ready, entered the destination into both GPS units, put my baby in gear, released the brakes, and began to pull out of the parking space. Whereupon I came to an abrupt stop as another truck darted in front of me, driven, of course, by the two-legged hemorrhoid that had been plaguing me for the last 30 minutes.
This wasn't an aberration either. It was a precursor! The theme of the day having been set, one person after another would pass me in traffic and then slow down, never going quite fast enough to move along, though never going slow enough to justify the effort and time required to pass him. Eventually, my self-designated escort would exit the highway, much to my relief. No sooner would I begin to celebrate the newly opened road when another vehicle would merge onto the highway directly in front of me and assume the duties of the driver who had just exited. It was shift-change for public nuisances.
It causes me to wonder: Is it solitude, or is it age that has me to noticing these things? One morning, it became apparent that I had wondered into Freak Day at little truck stop in someplace I can't remember. I bid good morning to the manager, who was standing behind the cash register, and she answered with, "We out 'o eggs." Well, that narrowed options down a bit. I was in the middle of ordering a ham and swiss croissant when a skinny little cupcake of an employee with a bad lisp pranced up to the manager and interrupted, telling her, "Dey said you want me to go in da freezer and pick up two bags and I was like, fo real?" "Yep," she said, "put on ya jacket and go get tha bags. They only weigh five pound each." "Pssshhhhhhhh," he said (having evidently sprung a leak), "I already been to da hospital fo picking up heavy [stuff]."
I finished making my order while Fresh Prince of Idiotville turned his attention to another employee and started talking to him. The manager finally dispatched both of them to their jobs, and then looked straight at me. I thought she was going to say something, but she just stood there. That's when she began singing! "Ooooooh baaaaby, mmmm mmmmm mmmmmmm yeeeeaaaahhhhhh." She began gyrating -- in sections. One section would start a ripple that would travel to the next section down and start it gyrating in the opposite direction and so on, until she looked like a human slinky with parts flying all out of synch with each other. I couldn't hear any music, but then she was the one wearing the headset. I got my order and practically ran out of the place, even more worried about the future of the country than usual.
As it turned out, the remainder of THAT day was filled with one human abnormality after another. It began to wear on me, so that by the end of the day, I sought out a booth in the corner of the restaurant, as far away from everyone as possible. That was when, predictably, a very large fellow and his wife arrived at the booth directly behind me. When the big fellow -- we'll call him Jabba the Customer -- plopped down in the seat directly behind me, it had a seesaw effect that nearly launched me across the room. I tried to make the best of it though, honestly I did. When he decided to blow his nose loud and long in the restaurant, it sounded like the contents of his head were being spackled into his hanky. I didn't say a word, though my appetite was waning. But when he followed up that little display of grace with a chunky, wide open-mouthed belch, I quite reflexively turned around and asked, "Would you like me to get a waitress to clean that up or do you want to barf first?" His wife sat there wide-eyed and speechless, and Jabba the Customer didn't even acknowledge that I had said anything. A few minutes later, they left.
I had surprised myself too. Thoughts that would normally bounce around in my head are spilling out with greater frequency. My Mom worries that I'll end up in a fist-to-cuffs, but I take solace in two options. First, like the Toby Keith song says, "I ain't as good as I once was, but I'm as good once, as I ever was." There's also the possibility that they'll see the white beard and dismiss me as a cranky but harmless old curmudgeon and let me be.
There are, however, positive aspects to this newfound spontaneity. It works like this: After a brief lunch, you stop in the convenience store for a mug of decaf. Then, upon spying some delicious little jelly-filled donut bites, you try to retrieve one of the little plastic bags from the rack so that you can load it up with sugary goodness, see? The bag tears. So you try another. It tears too. So you try to grab the next bag from the bottom. It won't turn loose from the other 200 bags. So you try to grab the bag from the top corner where it hangs from the rack. The rack falls off the counter and onto the floor. Whereupon you say, a little louder than you intended, "Screw it! Didn't want the damned donuts anyway." At which point the cashier calls out to you that the coffee is on the house. And this is how you get free coffee. Granted, Murphy will insure that everything you touch for the remainder of the day disintegrates, but at least you get some coffee out of the deal.
Gallup has released the results of a new poll regarding American attitudes towards some moral issues. The take away is that, on many key issues, the SoCon position is in the minority.
For example, here are some of today's results with a comparison to 2001:
Homosexual relationships: 59% morally acceptable (+19%)
Giving birth outside marriage: 60% morally acceptable (+15%)
Heterosexual sex between unmarried persons: 63% morally acceptable (+10%)
One item I found interesting was that the percentage of respondents who said polygamy was morally acceptable went from 7% to 14%. It will be interesting to see where that number goes over the next decade.
Is Pope Francis an exorcist? This is the question many are asking after Francis blessed a man in a wheelchair after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. While the pope put his hands on the man’s head and prayed over him, the man heaved deeply, shook, then slumped in his chair.
Exorcists who were surveyed by the television station of the Italian bishops’ conference said there is “no doubt” that the pope either performed an exorcism or a prayer to free the man from Satan.
The Vatican said Francis “didn’t intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him.”
News reports have focused on Francis’ apparent interest in demonic activity. This is from the AP:
Fueling the speculation is Francis’ obsession with Satan, a frequent subject of his homilies, and an apparent surge in demand for exorcisms among the faithful despite the irreverent treatment the rite often receives from Hollywood.
Who can forget the green vomit and the spinning head of the possessed girl in the 1973 cult classic “The Exorcist”?
In his very first homily as pope on March 14, Francis warned cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel the day after he was elected that “he who doesn't pray to the Lord prays to the devil.”
He has since mentioned the devil on a handful of occasions, most recently in a May 4 homily when in his morning Mass in the Vatican hotel chapel he spoke of the need for dialogue — except with Satan.
“With the prince of this world you can't have dialogue: Let this be clear!” he warned.
Experts said Francis’ frequent invocation of the devil is a reflection both of his Jesuit spirituality and his Latin American roots, as well as a reflection of a Catholic Church weakened by secularization.
“The devil’s influence and presence in the world seems to fluctuate in quantity inversely proportionate to the presence of Christian faith,” said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University. “So, one would expect an upswing in his malicious activity in the wake of de-Christianization and secularization” in the world and a surge in things like drug use, pornography and superstition.
In recent years, Rome’s pontifical universities have hosted several courses for would-be exorcists on the rite, updated in 1998 and contained in a little red leather-bound booklet. The rite is relatively brief, consisting of blessings with holy water, prayers and an interrogation of the devil in which the exorcist demands to know the devil’s name and when it will leave the possessed person.
Only a priest authorized by a bishop can perform an exorcism, and canon law specifies that the exorcist must be “endowed with piety, knowledge, prudence and integrity of life.”
While belief in the devil is consistent with church teaching, the Holy See does urge prudence, particularly to ensure that the afflicted person isn’t merely psychologically ill.
The Rev. Giulio Maspero, a Rome-based systematic theologian who has witnessed or participated in more than a dozen exorcisms, says he’s fairly certain that Francis’ prayer on Sunday was either a full-fledged exorcism or a more simple prayer to “liberate” the young man from demonic possession.
So, what do you think? Was Francis performing an exorcism? Do you even believe in exorcisms? Do you agree with the 70 percent of Americans who believe in the devil? Or are you a skeptic who chalks this up to medieval superstition?
Lois Lerner will invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself when she appears tomorrow before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, her lawyer told the panel in a letter.
Lerner is the IRS official who triggered a Washington scandal by acknowledging that the agency wrongly targeted conservative groups. In the letter, Lerner's lawyer, William Taylor, asked Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to excuse her from appearing at tomorrow's hearing.
"Requiring her to appear at the hearing merely to assert her Fifth Amendment privilege would have no purpose other than to embarrass or burden her," Taylor wrote.
Well, yeah. That's kind of the point. Are you telling us she wasn't embarrassed already?
Once again, I want to mention that I am really sick of writing about this issue. But it deserves the maximum amount of attention possible.
First off, it would appear that the Obama administration knew that the IRS was targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny back in the 2012 campaign:
There were new questions Saturday night concerning if anyone in the White House was aware of the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups.
Inspector General Russell George said he informed a deputy at the Treasury Department in June of 2012 about the probe into the IRS.
The Treasury Department confirmed the timeline but said they did not know the details of the investigation until last week.
It’s the first evidence that someone within the Obama administration knew about the practice during the presidential campaign.
It is unknown whether anyone in the White House was told of the federal investigation.
I can only hope that someone will be allowed to ask questions regarding this issue without hearing complaints that such questions are “offensive.” Speaking of the issue of what certain people knew and when they knew it …
The White House’s chief lawyer learned weeks ago that an audit of the Internal Revenue Service likely would show that agency employees inappropriately targeted conservative groups, a senior White House official said Sunday.
That disclosure has prompted a debate over whether the president should have been notified at that time.
Can we ask questions about this as well?
A story in the Washington Post yesterday about the Internal Revenue Service’s Cincinnati office, which does most of the agency’s nonprofit auditing, clearly contradicted earlier reports that the agency’s targeting of Tea Party groups was the result of rogue agents.
The Post story anonymously quoted a staffer in Cincinnati as saying they only operate on directives from headquarters:
As could be expected, the folks in the determinations unit on Main Street have had trouble concentrating this week. Number crunchers, whose work is nonpolitical, don’t necessarily enjoy the spotlight, especially when the media and the public assume they’re engaged in partisan villainy.
“We’re not political,’’ said one determinations staffer in khakis as he left work late Tuesday afternoon. “We people on the local level are doing what we are supposed to do. . . . That’s why there are so many people here who are flustered. Everything comes from the top. We don’t have any authority to make those decisions without someone signing off on them. There has to be a directive.”
(Emphasis in the original.) Meanwhile, I am pleased to note that Glenn Kessler has eaten his wheaties:
In the days since the Internal Revenue Service first disclosed that it had targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, new information has emerged from both the Treasury inspector general’s report and congressional testimony Friday that calls into question key statements made by Lois G. Lerner, the IRS’s director of the exempt organizations division.
The clumsy way the IRS disclosed the issue, as well as Lerner’s press briefing by phone, were seen at the time as a public relations disaster. But even so, it is worth reviewing three key statements made by Lerner and comparing them to the facts that have since emerged.
“But between 2010 and 2012, we started seeing a very big uptick in the number of 501(c)(4) applications we were receiving, and many of these organizations applying more than doubled, about 1500 in 2010 and over 3400 in 2012.”
Lerner made this comment while issuing a seemingly impromptu apology at an American Bar Association panel. (It was later learned that this was a planted question — more on that below.) In her telling, the tax-exempt branch was simply overwhelmed by applications, and so unfortunate shortcuts were taken.
But this claim of “more than doubled” appears to be a red herring. The targeting of groups began in early 2010, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC was announced on Jan. 21. The ruling led to increased interest in a tax-exempt status known as 501(c)(4). Most charities apply under 501(c)(3), but under 501(c)(4), nonprofit groups that engage in “social welfare” can also perform a limited amount of election activity.
At first glance, the inspector general’s report appears to show that the number of 501(c)(4) applications actually went down that year, from 1,751 in 2009 to 1,735.
But it turns out that these are federal fiscal-year figures, meaning “2010” is actually Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010, so the “2010” year includes more than three months before the Supreme Court decision was announced.
Astonishingly, despite Lerner’s public claim, an IRS spokeswoman was not able to provide the actual calendar year numbers. By allocating one-quarter of the fiscal year numbers to the prior year, we can get a very rough sense of the increase on a calendar-year basis. (Figures are rounded to avoid false precision; 2012 is not possible to calculate.)
In other words, while there was an increase in 2010, it was relatively small. The real jump did not come until 2011, long after the targeting of conservative groups had been implemented. Also, it appears Lerner significantly understated the number of applications in 2010 (“1500”) in order to make her claim of “more than doubled.”
Four Pinocchios are given to Lerner for her misstatements, though Kessler notes in the title of his post that she deserves “a bushel.” I couldn’t agree more.
Finally, let it be noted that the best satire has the ring of truth about it.
On behalf of all conservatives living in California (a form of dhimmitude), I'd like to apologize to the rest of the nation -- but particularly to Oklahoma -- for the conduct of Senator Barbara "Don't Call Me Ma'am" Boxer, who has a nasty habit of twirling a baton at the front of the idiot parade. From the Daily Caller:
California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer blamed the tornado that devastated Oklahoma on global warming during a Senate floor speech Tuesday, using the opportunity to push her own plan to tax carbon dioxide emissions.
“This is climate change,” Boxer said. “This is climate change. We were warned about extreme weather: Not just hot weather, but extreme weather. When I had my hearings, when I had the gavel years ago — it’s been a while — the scientists all agreed that what we’d start to see was extreme weather.”
“Carbon could cost us the planet,” Boxer added, plugging her own carbon tax bill, co-sponsored by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “The least we could do is put a little charge on it so people move to clean energy."
Here’s a germane question for these geniuses.
Tell us, what could any tax, law, edict, or protest have done to stop yesterday’s tornado outbreak? And what makes this one somehow different from the F5 Oklahoma city tornado of 1999 that also hit the city of Moore?
What made this somehow AGW enhanced or different from the F5 tornado that destroyed the Oklahoma city of Snyder in 1905, or the 1955 Great Plains tornado outbreak which produced an F5 striking Blackwell, Oklahoma, killing 20 with another F5 from the same storm strik[ing] Udall, KS, killing 80?
Tell us you Canutian meteorological geniuses, how could you have changed the outcome yesterday?
Watts then produces NOAA charts showing the U.S. annual count of strong to violent tornadoes (F3 or higher) from 1954 through 2012; the U.S. inflation-adjusted annual tornado trend and percentile ranks; and the daily count and running annual trend of U.S. tornadoes. All three show us currently running well below average (you should really check out the original post to see the data visualized).
And when is the hottest part of the year in the USA? July and August of course. When is the peak tornado season? In the spring when it is cooler. Seasonal heat is not aligned with tornadic activity.
But tornadic activity does seem to be aligned with political grandstanding. Apologies, America. Californians keep reelecting this woman -- perhaps just because they know that it's the best way to minimize the amount of time she actually spends in the state.