Posts Tagged ‘Associated Press’

Senator Warren is Part of the Problem

April 2, 2017

Senator Elizabeth Warren, aka Fauxcahontas, recently wrote an opinion piece in the Boston Globe opposing the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. On the whole, the article was not worth much, being composed of the usual talking points about right wing extremism and Republican class warfare against the poor, written by a woman who is worth millions but there was one or two paragraphs that caught my attention since they illustrate why there is a lack of civility in contemporary politics.

On the bench, his judicial decisions show a remarkable ability to shape and re-shape legal arguments in ways that benefit large corporations and disadvantage ordinary people seeking justice. In the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case, when he had to choose between the “rights” of corporations and the rights of women, Gorsuch sided with corporations. In consumer protection cases, when he had to choose between the “rights” of corporations and the rights of swindled consumers, Gorsuch sided with corporations. In discrimination cases, when he had to choose between the “rights” of corporations and the rights of employees to be free from harassment and abuse, Gorsuch sided with corporations.

Notice the use of quotation marks when she speaks of rights that she disagrees with. In her mind, Neil Gorsuch cannot be simply concerned about religious freedom, the effectiveness and constitutionality of certain laws or government overreach in regulating the workplace. There is not an honest difference of opinion or priorities here that can be discussed and debated. No, Neil Gorsuch is a puppet of the corporations and right wing extremists. He has no logical reason for the rulings he has made, he is simply evil.

Warren goes on;

Gorsuch has taken positions that are even more extreme than his extremely conservative colleagues. When it comes to the rules that protect public health and safety, Gorsuch is more radical than Scalia was. Gorsuch believes that courts should not be required to defer to expert agency interpretations of their governing laws. If he had his way, he’d make it even easier for corporations to challenge health and safety rules that prevent them from polluting our air and water, poisoning our food, undermining public safety, or cheating people out of their hard-earned savings.

What she is referring to is the Chevron Deference, the legal principle established by Chevron vs. National Resources Defense Council in 1984, which holds that the courts should defer to agency interpretations of statutes unless they are unreasonable.

What this means is this. Suppose the EPA decides that a ditch in your back yard is a wetland and forbid you to drain it or develop that part of your lawn in any way, You might take the EPA to court in the grounds that they have no jurisdiction over your private property, but the courts must defer to their own interpretation of the relevant regulations, so if the EPA says they have jurisdiction; they have jurisdiction. You may question whether a ditch constitutes an actual wetland, but the court must defer to their expects, so if the EPA says it is a wetland, it is a wetland. This is a silly example that might never occur in real life, but it illustrates the principle and demonstrates why it is almost impossible to win a court case against a federal regulatory agency. The system is rigged in their favor.

This might be a good thing. One would suppose that the people working for the EPA would know the most about protecting the environment and would be less biased than a company that is polluting, but one can see the potential for abuse, especially if the regulatory agencies are staffed with activists and zealots. In any case, there is legitimate concern among conservatives like Neil Gorsuch that the Chevron Deference permits agency overreach and abuse of power. In Senator Warren’s opinion .anyone who questions the Chevron Deference cannot have any real cause for concern. They must want to allow pollution and poisoned food because they are evil and greedy.

How can you have civility in politics when one side accuses the other of wanting to discriminate and cause pollution? How can government function when a constitutionally elected president is routinely compared to Hitler and his opponents call themselves the Resistance as though they are fighting a foreign occupation. To be fair, there is a lot of this on both sides, but I think it is much, much worse on the left. At least, people on the right haven’t been calling for a military coup to overthrow the president or attacking Trump’s supporters. There was a certain amount of insanity from the right during the Obama administration, but responsible Republicans tried to keep it toned down. Where are the responsible Democrats? There don’t seem to be many left in the Senate.

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Death of a King

January 22, 2015

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has died. The Associated Press has an obituary.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the powerful U.S. ally who joined Washington’s fight against al-Qaida and sought to modernize the ultra conservative Muslim kingdom with incremental but significant reforms, including nudging open greater opportunities for women, has died, according to Saudi state TV. He was 90.

More than his guarded and hidebound predecessors, Abdullah assertively threw his oil-rich nation’s weight behind trying to shape the Middle East. His priority was to counter the influence of rival, mainly Shiite Iran wherever it tried to make advances. He and fellow Sunni Arab monarchs also staunchly opposed the Middle East’s wave of pro-democracy uprisings, seeing them as a threat to stability and their own rule.

He backed Sunni Muslim factions against Tehran’s allies in several countries, but in Lebanon for example, the policy failed to stop Iranian-backed Hezbollah from gaining the upper hand. And Tehran and Riyadh’s colliding ambitions stoked proxy conflicts around the region that enflamed Sunni-Shiite hatreds – most horrifically in Syria’s civil war, where the two countries backed opposing sides. Those conflicts in turn hiked Sunni militancy that returned to threaten Saudi Arabia.

And while the king maintained the historically close alliance with Washington, there were frictions as he sought to put those relations on Saudi Arabia’s terms. He was constantly frustrated by Washington’s failure to broker a settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He also pushed the Obama administration to take a tougher stand against Iran and to more strongly back the mainly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Abdullah’s death was announced on Saudi state TV by a presenter who said the king died at 1 a.m. on Friday. His successor was announced as 79-year-old half-brother, Prince Salman, according to a Royal Court statement carried on the Saudi Press Agency. Salman was Abdullah’s crown prince and had recently taken on some of the ailing king’s responsibilities.

He can’t have had an easy time trying to balance between the needs of modernizing his country and the ultra conservative religious establishment which controls so much of the kingdom’s society. As the obituary mentions, King Abdullah was an ally in the fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, yet Saudi Arabia has supplied much of the funding for that terrorism, with members of the Saudi royal family almost certainly providing assistance to radical groups. The strict Wahhabi sect of Islam which is Saudi Arabia’s official religion has provided much of the ideological backing for the most extreme Islamic groups and Wahhabism has spread in the Islamic world due largely to the financial support from the sale of Saudi oil.

King Abdullah ibn Abdul Aziz in 2002

King Abdullah ibn Abdul Aziz in 2002 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saudi Arabia is among the few countries left in the world governed by an absolute monarchy. The King of Saudi Arabia holds all the legislative, judicial and executive functions of government in his own persons and his royal decrees make up the law of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is also one of the few countries without even a pretext of any democratic machinery. Totalitarian dictatorships such as the People’s Republic of China and the People’s Democratic Republic of (North) Korea have (one party) elections and a legislature to rubber stamp the rulers’ commands. Saudi Arabia is still ruled like a medieval kingdom or a Bedouin tribe. Things are beginning to change in this old fashioned land. Recently there have been elections on the municipal level though no political parties are permitted and the councils elected are mostly powerless. In the 2015 elections, women will actually be allowed to vote and even run for office.

The king’s rule is not absolute, however. He must rule in accordance with the Koran and sharia law. Every Saudi male has the right to petition the king through a tribal council called the Majlis and in practice members and branches of the royal family have considerable influence as well as ulema, the religious establishment of Islamic scholars and jurists. The royal family, the Sauds, form an elite in the kingdom. These are the descendants of the first king of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Saud who united the Arabian peninsula and founded the Kingdom in 1932. Because of the practice of polygamy, the number of princes in the kingdom is very large, perhaps more than 7000. Of these, around 200 play an important role in the kingdom’s government. The Sauds effectively own the whole country and little distinction is made between the family’s assets and the finances of the state. They are the Saud in Saudi Arabia.

It is not easy to determine what will come next in the desert kingdom since so much is dependent on the personality and concerns of the king. So far, every king of Saudi Arabia has been a son of Abdulaziz. The new king, Salman, is 79 years old, so I doubt he will provide vigorous leadership.  Since Abdulaziz died in 1953, I doubt if any of his remaining sons are much younger, so it is possible there will be a series of short-lived, feeble kings for several years until the line of succession goes to the next generation.One can only hope that the desert kingdom continues to inch toward modernity.

Botched Execution

May 1, 2014

I am not sure why they are calling the execution of Clayton Lockett a botched execution. He did, in fact die from the lethal injection given to him. Perhaps they mean that he suffered somewhat before his death. Here is an account from the Associated Press.

A botched execution that used a new drug combination left an Oklahoma inmate writhing and clenching his teeth on the gurney Tuesday, leading prison officials to halt the proceedings before the inmate’s eventual death from a heart attack.

Clayton Lockett, 38, was declared unconscious 10 minutes after the first of the state’s new three-drug lethal injection combination was administered. Three minutes later, though, he began breathing heavily, writhing, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.

The blinds were eventually lowered to prevent those in the viewing gallery from watching what was happening in the death chamber, and the state’s top prison official eventually called a halt to the proceedings. Lockett died of a heart attack a short time later, the Department of Corrections said.

“It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched,” said Lockett’s attorney, David Autry.

Somehow, I do not find myself greatly upset over the prospect that this man suffered before he died. Does this sound as if I lack compassion? Well, I hope I may be forgiven for not feeling very compassionate towards a convicted murderer. The Associated Press article does not make any reference to the crime that got Mr. Lockett on death row. Fox News does better.

One person who will not weigh in on the merits of Clayton Lockett’s execution is Stephanie Neiman. Clayton Lockett tried to rob a house Miss Neiman was at. She tried to fight him off. He and his accomplices overwhelmed her.

They beat her, bound her with duct tape, taped her mouth shut, shot her, then buried her alive.  Many of those outraged at how Mr. Lockett’s execution played out will, hopefully, pause to reflect on exactly why the state chose to execute him.

Sadly, Stephanie Neiman, is unavailable for comment on the situation.

Dennis Prager likes to say that he who is compassionate to the cruel ultimately will become cruel to the compassionate. Nowhere is this maxim better demonstrated than among many opponents to the death penalty. There are good, logical arguments against the death penalty. There is the possibility of executing an innocent person or racial disparities in sentencing. You can be opposed to the death penalty while admitting that most of the people being executing are despicable. Somehow, that is not enough for many death penalty opponents. They feel a need to make martyrs and victims out of the people on death row. They are portrayed as victims of a horrible injustice.

I once saw a book in our public library which profiled the people on death row in Texas at the time of publication. Each profile showed a stark, black and white photograph of the person in question as well as any art or writing the person had done, and a brief biography highlighting the circumstances of his life that led to him being sent to death row. I think this might be the book, but I am not sure. Somehow, the author of the book did not think it necessary to reveal the crimes committed by any of the prisoners. To the friends and relatives of the victims of these criminals, a book like this must have been life a knife twisting in their heart, reopening the wounds.

I’m sorry but I really do not feel any pity or compassion for these people, unless they were wrongfully convicted.I am less concerned with the suffering of Clayton Lockett before he died than with the suffering of Stephanie Neiman.  Compassion for criminals who have committed terrible crimes really is cruelty to the victims of those crimes.

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Paul Crouch

December 2, 2013

I read the news of the death of televangelist Paul Crouch in Yahoo News the other day. I didn’t actually know the man’s name though I had seen him on television a few times years ago, and I recognized his face. Paul Crouch was the founder of the Trinity Broadcast Network, which has become the largest Christian network in America.

Paul Crouch, the televangelist who built what’s been called the world’s largest Christian broadcasting network, has died. He was 79.

Crouch died at his home in Orange, Calif., on Saturday after a decade-long fight with degenerative heart disease, his grandson Brandon Crouch told The Associated Press.

“He was an incredible businessman, entrepreneur, visionary; he built something that impacted the world,” he said.

Trinity Broadcast Network had reported that Crouch fell ill and was taken to a Dallas-area hospital in October while visiting the network’s facility in Colleyville, Texas. He later returned to California for continued treatment of “heart and related health issues.”

“We mourn Paul’s passing and he will be greatly missed. But we know, as the old hymn reminds us, soon enough we will see him again in that great ‘meeting in the air,'” the network said in a statement Saturday.

Crouch began his broadcasting career while studying theology at Central Bible Institute and Seminary in his native Missouri by helping build the campus’ radio station. He moved to California in the early 1960s to manage the movie and television unit of the Assemblies of God before founding Trinity Broadcast Network in 1973 with his wife, Jan.

037171f7-69a0-4744-b443-a132196641c1_paul_croch_wife

 

I wouldn’t have anything to write about Mr. Crouch, since I have never actually watched his show, but it seems that he was a proponent of the Prosperity Gospel.

They grew the network into an international Christian empire that beams prosperity gospel programming to every continent but Antarctica around the clock. The programming promises that if the faithful sacrifice for their belief, God will reward them with material wealth.

Based in Costa Mesa, the network says it has 84 satellite channels and more than 18,000 television and cable affiliates as well as a Christian amusement park in Orlando.

The Crouches faced criticism for what critics say was their extravagant lifestyle. Ministry watchdogs have long questioned how TBN spends the hundreds of millions of tax-exempt donations they receive from viewers.

The account of their preaching is, no doubt, vastly oversimplified. A short news story of the death of a preacher cannot be expected to delve very deeply into that preacher’s theology. The Prosperity Gospel is the belief that devotion to the will of God will lead to material prosperity and well being. This would seem to contradict several passages in the New Testament in which Jesus warns his disciple to expect nothing but trouble and persecution as the result of following Him, and that they should aim for treasure in Heaven that never decays.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:23-25)

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:9-11)

For this reason, mainstream Evangelical leaders have considered the Prosperity Gospel to be heretical. There are, to be sure, passages which suggest that riches will come to those who are righteous. Abraham prospered as did the Israelites when they were faithful. Job regained all that he had lost and more after remaining faithful. The book of Proverbs suggests that prosperity is the result of righteousness. I think, though, that this is the general idea that those who are honest and just are actually more likely to prosper than the dishonest and unjust, whatever a cynic might believe. If money is what you most want in life, than it is likely that you will get money, but perhaps nothing more. If Heaven is what you want, you might get that, and much more.

 

Call Me Loretta

August 22, 2013

I am beginning to have the strange feeling that I have somehow stumbled into a Monty Python sketch.

 

What brings this feeling on is the news that Bradley Manning wants to be a woman. Call him Chelsea.

Bradley Manning, the Army private sentenced to military prison for leaking classified documents, revealed he intends to live out the remainder of his life as a woman.

“I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” the Army private wrote in a statement read on TODAY Thursday. “Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.”

Manning, 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday after having been found guilty of 20 charges ranging from espionage to theft for leaking more than 700,000 documents to the WikiLeaks website while working in Iraq in 2010.

Manning signed the letter “Chelsea E. Manning.”

During his trial, Manning’s defense team suggested his struggles with gender identity as a gay soldier were a factor in his decision to leak. His attorneys presented an email to a former supervisor from April 2010 in which he said he was transgender and joined the Army to “get rid of it.” The email, which had the subject line “My Problem,” also included a photo of Manning in which he is wearing a blonde wig and lipstick. During Manning’s nine-month detainment at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., following his arrest in 2010, he sent two letters to his counselor using the name “Breanna,’’ Master Sgt. Craig Blenis testified at his trial.

Normally, I wouldn’t have anything to say about Mr./Miss Manning’s lifestyle choices and psychological issues, but I wish he had come to this decision before deciding to commit felonies and being sentenced to 35 years in prison. As it is, I have a sinking feeling that the taxpayers will be paying for his/her treatments.

Manning will likely serve the sentence at Fort Leavenworth, the only military prison for service members sentenced to 10 or more years, a Military District of Washington spokesperson told The Associated Press.

Coombs said he is “hoping” that Fort Leavenworth “would do the right thing” and provide hormone therapy for Manning. “If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so.”

Why should they? I have no objection to him taking hormones or having surgery, as soon as he is released from prison and can pay for them. I have a problem with making us pay for it. The Army seems to agree.

The Army responded to Manning’s decision to seek hormone therapy with a statement.

“Inmates at the United States Disciplinary Barracks and Joint Regional Correctional Facility are treated equally regardless of race, rank, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” the statement reads. “All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioral science noncommissioned officers with experience in addressing the needs of military personnel in pre- and post-trial confinement.

“The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder. The USDB has implemented risk assessment protocols and safety procedures to address high risk factors identified with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.”

One thing I find a little disturbing about the Manning case is how someone with such an unstable personality and untrustworthy character was able to gain access to military secrets. Who is determining who gets access to classified Information. How many more people are out there who might reveal secrets. If you think Manning did the right thing, and perhaps he did, consider what someone with less noble motives might do with the information the NSA is currently gathering on every American citizen.

 

Auditing the Tea Party

May 14, 2013

It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. During the last election cycle some Tea Party and conservative groups noticed that the IRS was unusually curious about their tax exempt status. This might be dismissed as anti-government paranoia, except that last Friday an official from the IRS admitted to doing just that.

An IRS official apologized on Friday to tea party organizations and other conservative groups for inappropriately targeting them during the 2012 election, the Associated Press reports.

The groups, which enjoyed tax-exempt status under the internal revenue code, were singled out for additional scrutiny of their tax exemption if their names included the words “tea party” or “patriot.” In several cases, the groups were asked to provide a list of donors for review, usually a violation of IRS policy.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive, and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases,” said Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. “The IRS would like to apologize for that.”

Lerner said the additional scrutiny was initiated by lower-level employees working out of Cincinnati, and that the practice was not a product of political bias. She told the Associated Press that high-level officials were not informed of the practice. On a conference call on Friday, IRS officials said they did not know whether any administration officials at the White House or Treasury Department were aware of the practice.

During the election, several conservative groups cried foul over what they saw as undue pressure justify their tax-exempt status, accusing the IRS of sending arduous questionnaires seeking information about their members’ political activities.

The story that it was just a few low level employees didn’t last long.

Higher-level Internal Revenue Service officials took part in discussions as far back as August 2011 about targeting by lower-level tax agents of “Tea Party” and other conservative groups, according to documents reviewed by Reuters on Monday.

The documents show the offices of the IRS’s chief counsel and deputy commissioner for services and enforcement communicated about the targeting with lower-level officials on August 4, 2011, and March 8, 2012, respectively.

The two communications occurred weeks and months before Doug Shulman, then the commissioner of the IRS, told congressional panels in late March 2012 that no groups were being targeted for extra scrutiny by the tax agency.

The IRS has maintained that its senior leadership did not know for some time that lower-level agents were applying extra scrutiny to applications for tax-exempt status from groups with key words in their names, such as “Tea Party” and “Patriot.

The agency said in a statement on Monday that Steven Miller, who is now acting IRS commissioner, was first informed in early May 2012 that some groups seeking tax-exempt status had been “improperly identified by name” and subjected to extra scrutiny.

Late on Monday, Senate Finance Committee Republicans said Shulman was briefed on the targeting in May 2012, a date not previously disclosed. An aide said committee staff learned this on Monday from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), an independent IRS watchdog.

It keeps getting worse and worse. The Tea Party weren’t the only ones selected for special attention by the IRS.

The Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative groups went beyond those with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names—as the agency admitted Friday—to also include ones worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to “make America a better place to live,” according to new details of a government probe.

The investigation also revealed that a high-ranking IRS official knew as early as mid-2011 that conservative groups were being inappropriately targeted—nearly a year before then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a congressional committee the agency wasn’t targeting conservative groups.

The new disclosures are likely to inflame a widening controversy over IRS handling of dozens of applications by tea-party, patriot and other conservative groups for tax-exempt status.

The details emerged from disclosures to congressional investigators by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The findings, which were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, don’t make clear who came up with the idea to give extra scrutiny to the conservative groups.

The inspector general’s office has been conducting an audit of the IRS’s handling of the applications process and is expected to release a report this week. The audit follows complaints last year by numerous tea-party and other conservative groups that they had been singled out and subjected to excessive and inappropriate questioning. Many groups say they were asked for lists of their donors and other sensitive information.

On Sunday, a government official said the report will note that IRS officials told investigators that no one outside the IRS was involved in developing the criteria the agency now acknowledges were flawed.

In my opinion this is worse than the scandal regarding the Benghazi attacks last September 11. It is regrettable and unfortunate that four Americans lost their lives and an investigation is in order to determine what went wrong, but the worst that the Obama administration can be charged with there, is gross incompetence and negligence, and a coverup to ensure that the narrative that al-Qaeda was in retreat not be challenged. The issue with the IRS is the deliberate use of the federal government’s power to harass people and organizations opposed to the administration.

Is President Obama responsible for the questionable activities of the IRS? Probably not directly. Richard Nixon almost certainly neither knew of or authorized the break in at Watergate. He was still responsible for the scandal because the President sets the tone for his administration. The Nixon administration became one in which the suggestion that someone break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters and install listening devices was not instantly dismissed as illegal and insane, but was approved and acted upon. President Obama probably never suggested that the IRS should investigate Tea Party organizations, but the employees at the IRS must have suspected that such activity would be condoned by President, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun” and “punish our enemies in the voting booth“. Barack Obama has never seemed to be especially interested in getting along with his opponents. Perhaps it is a legacy of his days as a community organizer, but Obama seems to be more interested in destroying those who oppose his policies, which makes this whole affair all the more chilling.

 

 

Boston Marathon Suspects

April 19, 2013

One of the men responsible for the atrocity at the Boston Marathon has been killed and the other is presently the object of an intense manhunt in Boston. They are Dzokhar A. Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The Tsarnaevs are brothers from Chechnya and contrary to the fantasies of liberal commentators, are not Tea Partiers protesting  Tax Day. Rather, they appear to be followers of the Religion of Peace. Here are parts of the story I read at Yahoo News.

The Associated Press identified the surviving Boston bomb suspect as Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, of Cambridge, Mass., and said that the suspects were brothers. The second bombing suspect is Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, according to NBC News, who was found with an IED on his body. The brothers’ family is believed to be originally from Chechnya, a volatile southern Russian republic.  Photographer Johannes Hirn took this photo essay of the older brother, a boxer. The captions suggest Tsarnaev came to America as a child with his family as refugees after fleeing Chechnya. Dhokhar Tsarnaev posted links to Islamic and pro-Chechnyan independence sites on what appears to be his social media page.

The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth announced shortly after 10:30 a.m. on Friday that they were evacuating the entire campus after learning Tsarnaev is a student there.

At sunrise, Gov. Deval Patrick ordered a shutdown of all public transit and residents on the edges of Boston to stay indoors as a massive manhunt for the second suspect was underway. The entire city in Boston was under a shelter in place order by late Friday morning.

“This situation is grave and we are trying to protect the public safety,” said Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben, who ordered a lockdown of Watertown, Waltham, Belmont, Cambridge, Newton, Allston and Brighton. A no fly zone has been declared over Watertown. The city of Boston was eerily quiet during Friday’s rush hour, the city’s busy intersections totally abandoned.

Federal agents swarmed Watertown after local police were involved in a car chase and shootout with the men identified Thursday by the FBI as Suspect 1 and Suspect 2 in the Boston bombings. During the pursuit, officers could be heard on police radio traffic describing the men as having handguns, grenades and other explosives.

The mayhem began at approximately 10:20 p.m. Thursday when police said the bombing suspects robbed a 7-Eleven store in Cambridge. Minutes later, police said, the men shot and killed an MIT campus officer responding to the robbery call. The terror suspects then carjacked a Mercedes-Benz with the driver inside and fled, eventually letting driver go. They were then spotted in Watertown where they exchanged dozens of rounds of gunfire with patrol officers.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot by police and brought to Beth Israel Medical Center. He arrived at the hospital under cardiac arrest with multiple gunshot wounds and blast-like injuries to his chest. The second suspect fled on foot, leading to the tense manhunt that is still underway at this hour.

“We believe this to be a terrorist,” said Boston police Commissioner Ed Davis. “We believe this to be a man who has come here to kill people. We need to get him into custody.”

A transit officer, Richard H. Donohue, was seriously wounded during the exchange of gunfire, officials said.

In a radio alert sent issued to fellow officers, the suspect was described as a “white male with dark complexion … with thick curly hair wearing a charcoal gray hooded sweatshirt … possibly with an assault rifle and explosives.” Police in Watertown, Newton, Brighton and Cambridge were put on high alert. “Units use caution,” an officer said. “He might have an explosive object on his person.”

Worried residents in Watertown, a suburb about 8 miles from downtown Boston, were ordered to stay indoors and turn off their cell phones out of fear that they could trigger improvised explosive devices.

Dozens of police officers, many of them off-duty, searched backyards in pursuit of the second suspect, and a police perimeter of several blocks was established. K9 units and SWAT teams searched homes on Spruce Street as officers with a police robot searched an SUV that the suspects had abandoned. Multiple devices were left in the road and two handguns were recovered, according to police scanners.

The Watertown shootout occurred after a gunfight erupted near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the MIT police officer, 26-year-old Sean Collier, was shot and later died. The campus was placed on lockdown for several hours, and students were told to remain indoors.

Shortly before 2 a.m. Friday, MIT issued a statement on its website saying that the suspect “in this evening’s shooting is no longer on campus. It is now safe to resume normal activities. Please remain vigilant in the coming hours.” MIT, Harvard, Boston University and other local colleges have cancelled classes.

President Barack Obama, who attended an interfaith service for the bombing victims in Boston on Thursday, was briefed on the overnight developments, the White House said early Friday.

At approximately 3:30 a.m., Massachusetts State Police issued a plea on Twitter for residents of Watertown to lock their doors and not open them for anyone as they searched backyards and exteriors of houses there.

“Residents in and around Watertown should stay in their residences,” the alert read. “Do NOT answer door unless it is an identified police officer.”

This man is very dangerous and at this point doesn’t have anything to lose. Indeed, if he is a fanatic Muslim he may well desire to be martyred, taking as many infidels with him as possible, so they he can get his 72 virgins. Let us hope and pray he is apprehended quickly.

 

 

 

Book Burning in Timbucktu

January 30, 2013
English: Image of Timbuktu manuscripts.

English: Image of Timbuktu manuscripts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a child, Timbuktu generally seemed to mean the farthest possible place it was possible to travel to while still remaining on the planet, an almost mystical city, not one you who expect to travel to. It actually came a something of a shock to me when I saw Timbuktu on a map. I didn’t really think it was a real city.

Well, Timbuktu is real enough and not nearly far from the troubles of the world as the inhabitants might wish. Timbuktu has been in the news quite a lot recently as a battleground in Mali‘s civil war. Recently, Malian and French soldiers captured the city from the Islamic militants who had seized the city ten months ago. The terrorists did not show much respect for the historical or cultural legacy of Timbuktu, and even less respect for the rights and well being of the people there. I read this report from the Associated Press.

Timbuktu, a city of mud-walled buildings and 50,000 people, was for centuries a seat of Islamic learning and a major trading center along the North African caravan routes that carried slaves, gold and salt. In Europe, legend had it that it was a city of gold. Today, its name is synonymous to many with the ends of the earth.

It has been home to some 20,000 irreplaceable manuscripts, some dating to the 12th century. It was not immediately known how many were destroyed in the blaze that was set in recent days in an act of vengeance by the Islamists before they withdrew.

Michael Covitt, chairman of the Malian Manuscript Foundation, called the arson a “desecration to humanity.”

“These manuscripts are irreplaceable. They have the wisdom of the ages and it’s the most important find since the Dead Sea Scrolls,” he said.

The militants seized Timbuktu last April and began imposing a strict Islamic version of Shariah, or religious law, across northern Mali, carrying out amputations and public executions. Women could be whipped for going out in public without wearing veils, while men could be lashed for having cigarettes.

During their rule in Timbuktu, the militants systematically destroyed cultural sites, including the ancient tombs of Sufi saints, which they denounced as contrary to Islam because they encouraged Muslims to venerate saints instead of God.

The mayor said the Islamists burned his office as well as the Ahmed Baba institute, a library rich in historical documents.

“It’s truly alarming that this has happened,” Mayor Ousmane Halle told The Associated Press by telephone from Bamako. “They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people.”

This is unfortunate, but not unexpected. There is something of a tradition of iconoclasm among the more fanatic Muslim sects. Muslims generally regard the pre-Muslim past as the time of Jahiliyyah or ignorance. This often leads Muslims to denigrate the pre-Islamic history and culture of a nation and more devout or fanatic Muslims can even systematically destroy artifacts from the past, especially art that is considered pagan or idolatrous. The worst offenders in this regard are probably the members of the Wahhabi sect, prominent in Saudi Arabia. In their zeal to purify the Islamic faith and to ensure that Allah alone is worshiped, the Wahhabi have often attacked long standing customs and traditions of less strict Muslim sects, such as the veneration of saints, Sufi mysticism, and the Shi’ites whom they regard as heretics. The Wahhabi dominated government of Saudi Arabia has been destroying historical sites in Mecca and Medina that are associated with the beginnings and early history of Islam.

I am not certain to what extent the militants in Mali have been influenced by Wahhabism. The story said that they were linked to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Ladin was, of course, from Saudi Arabia. It seems likely that their ignorant destruction of historical manuscripts is derived from the same sort of fanaticism that drives the Saudis to destroy houses and mosques associated with Mohammed and other figures from early Islam.

 

Bill Nye

September 26, 2012

Bill Nye, the former Science Guy does not like the way evolution is taught, or rather not taught in this country. I read about his views in a story by AP.

Nye

Nye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The man known to a generation of Americans as “The Science Guy” is condemning efforts by some Christian groups to cast doubts on evolution and lawmakers who want to bring the Bible into science classrooms.

Bill Nye, a mechanical engineer and star of the popular 1990s TV show “Bill Nye The Science Guy,” has waded into the evolution debate with an online video that urges parents not to pass their religious-based doubts about evolution on to their children.

“The Earth is not 6,000 or 10,000 years old,” Nye said in an interview with The Associated Press, citing scientists’ estimates that it is about 4.5 billion years old. “It’s not. And if that conflicts with your beliefs, I strongly feel you should question your beliefs.”

Millions of Americans do hold those beliefs, according to a June Gallup poll that found 46 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago.

Nye, 56, also decried efforts in recent years by lawmakers and school boards in some states to present Bible stories as an alternative to evolution in public schools. Tennessee passed a law earlier this year that protects teachers who let students criticize evolution and other scientific theories. That echoes a Louisiana law passed in 2008 that allows teachers to introduce supplemental teaching materials in science classes.

“If we raise a generation of students who don’t believe in the process of science, who think everything that we’ve come to know about nature and the universe can be dismissed by a few sentences translated into English from some ancient text, you’re not going to continue to innovate,” Nye said in a wide-ranging telephone interview.

In the video he tells adults they can dismiss evolution, “but don’t make your kids do it. Because we need them.” Posted by Big Think, an online knowledge forum, the clip went viral and has 4.6 million views on YouTube. It has garnered 182,000 comments from critics and supporters.

Naturally, young earth creationists do not appreciate Nye’s plunging into this controversy.

It drew the ire of the creationism group Answers in Genesis, which built a biblically based Creation Museum in Kentucky that teaches the stories of the Old Testament and has attracted headlines for its assertion that dinosaurs roamed alongside Adam and Eve.

The group produced a response video featuring two scientists who say the Bible has the true account of Earth’s origins, and that “children should be exposed to both ideas concerning our past.”

Ken Ham, a co-founder of Answers in Genesis, said dating methods used by scientists to measure the age of the earth are contradictory and many don’t point to millions or billions of years of time.

“We say the only dating method that is absolute is the Word of God,” Ham said. “Time is the crucial factor for Bill Nye. Without the time of millions of years, you can’t postulate evolution change.”

While I am somewhat sympathetic to Bill Nye’s concerns, I nevertheless believe that that he is out of line. He does not have the authority or the right to tell parents what they should teach their children. He is saying that parents should not teach their children what they believe to be true. To his credit, Bill Nye has not suggested that the government should compel parents to teach their children the theory of evolution, at least not yet.

Frankly, I think the greatest jeopardy to science in America is the tendency to treat science as a list of facts to be memorized and orthodoxies to be accepted without question. I am afraid that the way the theory of evolution is taught is an especially bad example of this tendency.

The theory of evolution is a scientific hypothesis that purports to explain the development and adaptation of the many organisms on Earth. As a hypothesis, it is a very good one and there is quite a lot of evidence to support it. Indeed, most of what we know about the science of biology doesn’t really make sense outside of this theory. It is important to remember, however that the theory of evolution is only a hypothesis that stands or falls solely on the evidence. Charles Darwin did not receive the text of The Origin of Species on tablets of stone on Mount Sinai. However unlikely it may seem not, it is possible that the theory of evolution will be replaced or modified in the future. After all, the theory of phlogiston, the theory of the four humors, and the luminiferous ether all seemed to have plenty of evidence in their favor.

That being said then, why shouldn’t the students be encouraged to question evolution? Science ought to be taught as a means of asking the questions and getting the answers rather than as facts to be memorized for the test. Don’t just tell students that the theory of evolution is true. Show why the great majority of scientists believe it to be true and why there is not, at present, any real alternative. Better that than teach evolution as a thing that must be believed. If we are going to teach unquestioned orthodoxies in the schools, we might as well teach young earth creationism. At least, it is somewhat less controversial.

I think the progress of science, and society in general, would be better served by young people who are taught to ask questions, whatever their views on evolution .

The Creation of Adam

After all, it could have happened like this.

 

Egypt to Try US Citizen for Blasphemy

September 23, 2012

I read this story in the Hill last week.

Egypt’s general prosecutor on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for Florida Pastor Terry Jones and seven Coptic Christian Egyptians linked to an anti-Islam video on YouTube that sparked riots across the Middle East, The Associated Press is reporting.

The eight individuals, none of whom are believed to be in Egypt, are charged with harming national unity, insulting and publicly attacking Islam and spreading false information. They could face the death penalty.

Jones promoted a 14-minute trailer for the movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The man behind the film, California-based Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, is also among those charged.

I expect that the  Justice Department will be arranging for their arrest and  extradition as quickly as possible. Though maybe Obama will wait until after the election when he will be more flexible.


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