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Rick Moran

Rick Moran is PJ Media's Chicago editor and Blog editor at The American Thinker. He is also host of the"RINO Hour of Power" on Blog Talk Radio. His own blog is Right Wing Nut House.
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Astounding Cave-in by Obama on Venezuela Threat

Saturday, April 11th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

There’s been a  remarkable about-face by President Obama regarding the threat of Venezuela to the national security of the U.S..

Last month, the president issued an executive order imposing some mild sanctions on seven Venezuela officials who the U.S. says were responsible for the growing climate of human rights violations. The White House said of President Maduro’s crackdown on the opposition, “We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents./..Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent.”

In addition to the sanctions, the president declared a national emergency and referred to the Venezuelan regime as an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United State.”

Sounds serious, right?

After President Maduro threw a tantrum against “American imperialism” and gathered 10 million names on a petition against the sanctions, President Obama backed down and, in an interview this week, said that “Venezuela is not a threat to the U.S. and the U.S. is not a threat to Venezuela.”

So much for the “national emergency.”

Maduro claimed “victory” — as well he should.

Fox News:

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, is claiming “victory” after President Obama said in an interview earlier this week that “Venezuela is not a threat.”

Maduro is attributing Obama’s supposed change of stance to his initiative of gathering 10 million signatures protesting “U.S. imperialism.”

[...]

“This rectification of vocabulary means a lot and it was possible thanks to the help we received from other Latin American governments and the entire world,” Maduro said Thursday to a crowd gathered in front of the Miraflores Presidential Palace.

He said that Obama’s change of language could open a “new era” of relations between the U.S. and Venezuela.

It gets worse — or better if you’re Maduro. When some reporter timidly asked if the president’s statement represented something of a retreat from the language in the executive order (Jesus, what else could it be), a State Department spokesman referred to former Obama speechwriter, now foreign policy expert Ben Rhodes, who gave this incredible explanation earlier:

Asked whether the U.S. was walking back from its previous depiction of Venezuela as a national security threat, a State Department spokesman, Justen Thomas, referred to remarks by a deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, at a press briefing this week in which he said: “The wording [of the executive order], which got a lot of attention, is completely pro forma. This is a language that we use in executive orders around the world. So the United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security. We, frankly, just have a framework for how we formalize these executive orders.”

By his side was Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, a willing signer of the petition that will be delivered this weekend to President Obama at the Summit of the Americas taking place in Panama City.

This is actually good news. Doesn’t this mean that the president’s executive orders on immigration are merely “pro-forma” and they don’t really mean what they say? What a relief. For a while we all thought the president was serious about tearing up the Constitution and doing an end run around Congress.

Obama reminds me of the punch-drunk boxer, cowering in the corner, covering up, as the champ pummels him with blow after blow after blow. It appears that his entire second term will be spent caving in to the thugs and evil fanatics of the world who have been largely kept in a box by presidents of both parties since the end of the cold war. They have been released now, free to run wild and dominate and bully their neighbors — with the president of the United States their chief enabler.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the foreign policy that the most radical liberals have been wanting for 40 years: a humbled, apologetic United States, playing second fiddle to the United Nations, agreeing with every claim of “imperialism” made by every tin pot dictator in all the benighted cesspools of the world. Obama believes it’s time for the U.S. to be taught a lesson through humiliation. And school has just begun.

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Does the Nuclear Framework Deal with Iran Actually Exist?

Saturday, April 11th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

The framework agreement with Iran announced last week by the White House consisted of an outline memorandum of what the deal covered.

But there have been so many differences in interpretation between Iran and the U.S., that it makes you wonder if there’s any agreement at all.

The Hill:

Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s claim that the United States is “lying” about the terms of a framework nuclear agreement will not derail the negotiations, the White House said Friday.

“The test of whether or not that framework can be memorialized in a deal is not going to be a comment on any given day by a particular Iranian leader,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters.

Whether a final deal is reached will depend on the ability of negotiators from the U.S., Iran and five other world powers to produce a document by the end of June that “meets our core objectives of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” Rhodes said.

Khamenei on Thursday accused the U.S. of publishing a fact sheet about the framework agreement that misrepresented what was agreed to, particularly on the pace of sanctions relief and inspections of nuclear sites.

The ayatollah’s comments raised concerns that the differences between Iran and other world powers would be too vast to reach a final deal by the June 30 deadline.

Republicans, meanwhile, have seized on his remarks to argue that the “framework” announced last week wasn’t really a deal at all.

“The Ayatollah and President Obama appear to be talking about two separate agreements and unfortunately, I can’t say I’m surprised,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is considering a run for president in 2016, said in a statement Friday.

“President Obama wants a deal way too badly, and his administration has been trying to sell a deal which may not actually exist,” he added.

Under the framework agreement, Iran would accept limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Iran has called for the sanctions to be removed upon the completion of a deal, but the U.S. and its negotiating partners want them lifted gradually as Iran proves it is abiding by the terms of an agreement.

Basically, Rhodes is saying only we can spin what the deal means, not the Iranians.

And it isn’t just that the two sides aren’t on the same page as far as what was negotiated in the framework deal. They are talking about two different deals — one with sanctions lifted immediately upon implementation and one where sanctions are lifted gradually. One where nuclear inspections are severe and complete and another where military sites are off limits to inspectors. One where the facility at Fordow is converted into a kind of nuclear school and another where research can continue and 1000 centrifuges can continue spinning.

And that’s just a few of the massive contradictions coming from both sides. In short, it looks like there was no agreement at all — that the two sides simply gave up and stopped negotiating so that the administration could run out in front of the TV cameras and claim an achievement that is all smoke and mirrors and not real in any sense of the word.

It takes a lot of cynicism to pull off this kind of diplomatic lie, as well as complete confidence that the press won’t make a big deal about it.  But it is a big deal. President Obama is going to negotiate a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that Congress won’t have the opportunity to vote up or down, where the UN Security Council will have the final say, where the ludicrous idea that sanctions, once lifted, can be “snapped back” into place if Iran cheats is pushed on a gullible public, and where the safety and security of the U.S. and our allies may be subject to differing interpretations of what has been negotiated.

Those who say opponents of the framework deal need to come up with an alternative are wrong. There is no deal — never was and never will be unless negotiators on our side cave in and agree that the Iranian interpretation of the framework agreement is correct. There is no way to reconcile what both sides are saying about the deal with reality. The agreement exists in Never-Never Land and with the administration more desperate to complete a deal rather than halt Iranian efforts to get the bomb, Captain Hook has a better chance of beating Peter Pan than the U.S. has of convincing Iran that its interpretation of the agreement is more than just spin.

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Letter Circulated on Behalf of a Victim of Global Warming Witch Hunt

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

You probably recall the case of Dr. Willie Soon, a respected solar astrophysicist and expert in how the sun impacts earth’s climate. Dr. Soon fell victim to a witch hunt by global warming hysterics who accused him of accepting money from the fossil fuel industry and not acknowledging the supposed conflict of interest in his work.

A group affiliated with the Center for American Progress gathered 20,000 signatures and sent a letter to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics where Dr. Soon had served for 25 years as a tenured but unsalaried employee. The petition said:

Dr. Willie Soon — an astrophysicist employed by the Smithsonian — is a go-to “scientist” for climate deniers in Congress, despite his lack of climate credentials. Worse yet, he’s received research grants exclusively from fossil fuel companies and dark money groups since 2002.

Now The Boston Globe is reporting that Soon just published a paper on climate change without disclosing his fossil fuel funding — a violation of the journal’s ethics code and a no-no in the science community.

Tell the Smithsonian: Don’t lend your good name to fossil fuel-funded climate denial. Drop Dr. Willie Soon.

Joe Bast, the Heartland Institute’s CEO and president, responded to these wild, unsubstantiated accusations:

The claim that Dr. Soon lacks “climate credentials” is false and meant to harm his reputation. Dr. Soon is a distinguished astrophysicist with many published articles in peer-reviewed climate science journals. A bio at heartland.org/willie-soon lists many publications and awards and features this quotation from Freeman Dyson, one of the world’s most respected physicists: “The whole point of science is to question accepted dogmas. For that reason, I respect Willie Soon as a good scientist and a courageous citizen.’’

Forecast the Facts’ second lie is more serious, because alleging a violation of professional ethics is taken seriously in the academy. Dr. Soon and his coauthors told the editor ofScience Bulletin, “None of the authors has received funding from any source for this work. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.”

The petition misrepresents a Boston Globe article which reported only that an environmental group “accused” Dr. Soon and his coauthors of failing to report possible conflicts of interest to the journal’s editor. The petition fails to tell potential signers that the article quoted Soon’s coauthor, Christopher Monckton, vigorously refuting the claim. It also fails to note the reporter said the Science Bulletin had not responded to a request for comment, so he had no way of knowing whether there was a “violation of the journal’s ethics code.”

We have reviewed the Science Bulletin’s policy regarding disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and the coauthors’ letter to the editor explaining their decision to declare no conflicts of interest. We believe the coauthors were correct and there was no violation of the journal’s ethics code.

The phrasing of this petition is plainly misleading, making it meaningless regardless of how many people are fooled into signing it. It should immediately be withdrawn and a public apology extended to Dr. Soon.

Now, there is an effort by Dr. Soon’s co-authors of that important paper to push back against the smears and call out the Smithsonian for their deliberate campaign to delegitimize Dr. Soon’s work, and to damage him personally. Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, David Legates and Matt Briggs are circulating a letter addressed to the Smithsonian IG and the Attorney General of Massachussets outlining specific charges against the Smithsonian stemming from their organized and deliberate campaign against Dr. Soon.

There is a mountain of evidence:

We are friends, colleagues, or supporters of Dr Willie Soon, a solar physicist who has been on the strength at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, part of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, for a quarter of a century. Recently, with Lord Monckton, Professor David Legates and Dr Matt Briggs, Dr Soon co-authored a paper in the Science Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences that led to widespread but false allegations by the Smithsonian, echoing various advocacy groups, that he had improperly failed to disclose a source of his funding for his work on the paper.

When those allegations were proven false, the extremist advocacy group originally responsible for them circulated further false allegations that in 11 earlier papers Dr Soon had acted improperly in not having disclosed the source of his funding. However, the Smithsonian had negotiated a contract with the funder in question by which the funder’s identity was not to be published. The only papers in which Dr Soon had not disclosed his funders’ identity were those papers covered by that contractual obligation of confidentiality, for which the Smithsonian, not he, was solely responsible.

The Smithsonian, however, unlawfully and publicly issued a series of statements intended to blame Dr Soon, though it was at fault for having improperly agreed to the obligation of confidentiality by which he was bound. His three co-authors of the Science Bulletin paper have investigated the allegations by the Smithsonian and various political advocacy groups against their colleague. Their findings are set out in the first two pages of their report to the Regents, attached hereto, followed by the evidence.

We now ask you –

(1) to instruct the Inspector-General of the Smithsonian to investigate the co-authors’ findings (pages 2-3) and the evidence in support of the findings (pages 4-17) as part of his investigation of this matter,

(2) to investigate Dr Alcock’s malicious and dishonest interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education; his subsequent refusal to make any correction of his falsehoods upon request by Dr Soon and separately by Dr Soon’s lead author; and his failure to pass on to the general counsel the lead author’s freedom of information request;

(3) to request the Attorney-General of Massachusetts to investigate those aspects of the conduct of the Smithsonian in general and of Dr Alcock in particular that constitute a fraudulent campaign of connected and co-ordinated deceptions, persisted in despite requests to cease and desist and, therefore, intended to cause not only continuing reputational harm but also financial loss to Dr Soon; and

(4), if the report’s findings are in substance correct, to order the Smithsonian to apologize publicly to Dr Soon and to make just and full restitution to him for the loss and damage it and its defalcating senior management have caused.

The hypocrisy of the Smithsonian is astounding. After signing the confidentiality agreement with the funder, preventing Dr. Soon from disclosing his funding, they then have the gall to accuse Soon of unethical behavior!

There may be merit — or there may not be — to Soon’s theories about the sun’s effect on climate. But the goal here is not to examine the scientist’s findings, but rather to stifle scientific dissent. And for a government-affiliated organization like the Smithsonian to willingly and deliberately take part in this organized attempt to smear a fellow scientist only shows how small-minded those who oppose Soon and his colleagues truly are.

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So Ends the Civil War Sesquicentennial: How’d We Do?

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

The guns did not fall silent across America 150 years ago today with Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant. There was still a little killing and burning and pillaging left to do.

According to this exhaustive study performed by historian Darroch Greer for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, there would be more than 14,000 additional combined casualties on both sides before formal hostilities were declared over by President Andrew Johnson on August 20, 1865. Of course, that doesn’t count the dead civilians who would be killed for years to come as the violence and chaos continued for a decade in some parts of the country.

And while the formal commemoration of the Sesquicentennial isn’t over yet — the battle of Palmito Ranch fought May 11 will be marked by the Civil War Trust next month — the last four years has seen a remarkable effort to recall and explain what happened during those fateful years of 1861-1865.

The Civil War was fought from Canada to Florida, from Maine to Arizona. Hundreds of skirmishes and battles were fought in some of the quietest corners of America– most of them sleepy towns and villages before the two great armies met and spilled enormous amounts of blood in fighting for their possession.

Would we ever have heard of Bull Run creek? Gettysburg, Pennsylvania?  Sharpsburg, Maryland? Chancellorsville, Virginia? It is startling to realize that the Civil War was fought in the front yards and farmer’s fields of ordinary Americans. Much of Virginia was ravaged, especially following General Grant’s famous order to his hell-for-leather cavalry commander Phil Sheridan to lay waste to the state. His troops would “eat out Virginia clear and clean as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.”

Wilbur McLean was one American who experienced the Civil War up close and personal. He owned a house near Bull Run in 1861 and when a  cannonball tore through his front porch during the battle, he decided to leave for safer climes. He settled a few miles south in a tiny hamlet named Appomattox Courthouse. On this day 150 years ago, the opposing generals sat down in his living room to negotiate the surrender of the southern army. Later in life, McLean was fond of noting that “The war began in my front yard and ended in my parlor.”

But perhaps the most astonishing accomplishment of this Sesquicentennial has been to pique the interest of the American people in their own past. Americans are notoriously oblivious to their history — a consequence at least partly because of our desire to look always forward and never behind.  But the rash of books, documentaries, and especially the events at battlefield sites, have excited a desire to know our past in a new generation. There are many thousands of kids who are going to grow up and become Civil War buffs — reading and learning everything they can about the conflict. There are almost certainly many adults who have followed events these past 4 years and will continue to educate themselves about our history.

All in all, the 150th anniversary was a huge success no matter how you measure it. Memory is a fragile, unreliable thing, which is why there is history. And being able to live that history vicariously through books, TV, and battlefield commemorations cements the interest of young and old alike in America’s treasured past.

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Michigan Football Coach Jim Harbaugh Stands up for American Sniper Being Shown on Campus

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

My colleague Stephen Kruiser wrote yesterday of a decision by the University of Michigan not to show the film American Sniper because of protests from students and faculty. They sent a letter to the administration claiming:

“The movie ‘American Sniper’ not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA [Muslim, Middle Eastern and North African] rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer,” the letter read in part. “Chris Kyle was a racist who took a disturbing stance on murdering Iraqi civilians.”

MENA, SHMENA — the film was protested because it made Muslims the bad guys and Americans the good guys.

Thankfully, the administration changed its mind and the film will now be screened on campus. And if all that pro-American violence upsets you, the school has the film Paddington being shown at the same time.

Fox News:

The cancellation drew a strong reaction, and The Michigan Daily reported that a third-year Law School student named Rachel Jankowski circulated a petition calling on the university’s Center for Campus Involvement to restore “American Sniper” to the UMix schedule. The university’s football coach, Jim Harbaugh, weighed in on the controversy by tweeting that he would watch the movie with his team.

 

It was nice that the student newspaper was on the side of diversity of opinion for once. But the real catalyst in getting the administration to change its mind were the sentiments expressed by Harbaugh.

After the recent examples of college basketball coaches falling all over themselves to criticize and condemn the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it’s refreshing to see a big-time college athletic coach stand up against the diversity nuts and come out for academic freedom.

And Harbaugh isn’t some run of the mill coach. Even if he hadn’t recently served as the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach, the Michigan alum was hired this year to serve in one of the three most coveted jobs in college football. The University of Michigan is football crazy and Harbaugh’s influence is greater than that of any academic and most administrators. If his intervention wasn’t decisive, it certainly swayed the administration to change its mind and screen the film.

Harbaugh has had success wherever he’s coached and he will no doubt return Michigan to its former glory. Let’s hope he remains a strong voice for sports excellence and academic freedom.

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DirecTV Pulls Rob Lowe Ads After Complaints From Comcast

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

DirecTV has been clobbering Comcast in recent months thanks to an unusual ad campaign that features actor Rob Lowe touting several claims about the advantages of satellite TV compared to cable, who is represented by one of Lowe’s alter egos.

Some of the doppelgangers include “peaked in high school,” “bad decision making,” and “creepy” Rob Lowe. The ads were mildly amusing, but it was the claims made regarding DirecTV vs. cable that had Comcast up in arms.

The cable giant, whose merger with Time-Warner is currently under review, complained to the National Advertising Division (NAD), which is affiliated with the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The NAD adjudicates these kinds of ad disputes and called out DirecTV for basically lying about its advantages over cable.

Business Insider:

Complaints from Comcast have led an industry trade group to recommend DirecTV pull a bizarre series of commercials featuring actor Rob Lowe.

The ads — which featured alter-egos of the actor who had cable while a smooth-talking, sharply dressed Lowe urged people to switch to satellite — have been discontinued. DirecTV says it did not pull them. Rather, they had already planned to start a new campaign during the second quarter.

DirecTV said in a statement to AdAge that the Lowe ads were scheduled to be replaced with spots showing Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover model Hannah Davis and a talking, singing horse. The new commercials began airing during the Final Four.

“The Rob Lowe spots were always scheduled to end at the end of Q1,” said the satellite provider, adding “We definitely reserve the right to bring back the Rob Lowe campaign, either in its current form or with new spots … It has been extremely successful for the brand.”

The National Advertising Division (NAD), which is affiliated with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, argued late Wednesday that DirecTV pull the ads because the following claims made by Lowe were mostly incorrect:

With DirecTV you get 99% signal reliability
With DirecTV you get 99.9% signal reliability
With DirecTV you get 1080p picture quality and Dolby 5.1. The industry’s best picture quality and sound
Up to 1080p picture quality
DirecTV is #1 in customer satisfaction over all cable TV providers
DirecTV is ranked higher than cable for over 10 years
DirecTV is the undisputed leader in sports which means you can watch all the games you want
When it comes to sports, with DirecTV, you can have them all

“The National Advertising Division has recommended that DirecTV, LLC, discontinue certain advertising claims made in a series of television commercials that feature actor Rob Lowe and one of several odd or awkward alter-ego characters,” the group said in a statement.

The trade group agreed only with DirecTV on claims based on signal reliability and 1080p picture quality. NAD’s ruling has no legal standing, but the satellite provider has vowed to repeal.

I can testify for the plaintiff in the case of signal reliability. Not only is it outrageously wrong, but the customer service rep I talked to when I signed up for DirecTV actually told me that if there are outages, they never last more than a few minutes.

Every summer when there’s a thunderstorm, we can lose the signal up to 45 minutes, depending on how big the storm system is. Even without a thunderstorm, a simple rain shower can cause a loss of signal for 5-10 minutes.

As far as customer service overall, I’d give them a C+.  Comcast, to which I subscribed for many years before I converted to satellite, was no worse, except they took a little longer to come out for service calls.  Picture and sound quality on satellite are far superior to Comcast so I really don’t have much to complain about.

In a statement, DirecTV tried to brush off the criticisms, saying: “The various Rob Lowe advertisements are so outlandish and exaggerated that no reasonable consumer would believe that the statements being made by the alter ego characters are comparative or need to be substantiated.”

This is true, as far as it goes. But when you make claims that can’t be substantiated or are outright incorrect, the company should be slapped down.

DirecTV’s new ad campaign is idiotic and embarrassing:

Bring back “scrawny arms” Rob Lowe who angered the group, the International Paruresis Association (IPA):

The campaign previously made headlines when a group called the International Paruresis Association (IPA) railed against “scrawny arms” Rob Lowe being unable to pee in public. Paruresis is also known as “shy bladder” and affects around 200 million people around the world, IPA claims.

“In this particular case the portrayal is making it look ridiculous, that this guy is a loser for having a problem,” group CEO Steve Soifer told the Associated Press. “What if he didn’t have a leg or an arm?” he continued. “Are you going to make fun of them?”

If it would sell subscriptions to DirecTV, you can bet they’d make fun of them.

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Hatton Garden $300 Million Jewel Heist: Who Should Play the Mastermind in the Film?

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

It was the perfect heist. Whether or not it becomes the perfect crime depends on if the criminals get away with it.

Sometime over the long Easter weekend, an unknown number of criminals broke into the offices above the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit Box Company. They cut through the roof to gain access to Hatton Garden offices, rappelled down an elevator shaft to the basement, disabled a state-of-the-art security system, stole the hard drive of the CCTV system, cut through an 18-inch thick metal wall, and, over the four-day Easter holiday weekend, leisurely went about the business of gathering up an unknown amount of jewelry and valuables by drilling into at least 70 of the safe deposit boxes.

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The estimate of $300 million (200 million pounds) is pretty much a wild guess. Hatton Garden is located smack in the middle of London’s diamond district and all sorts of people had accounts with the firm at the time of the heist. People trying to hide assets for one reason or another may have had a box, and they would not be likely or eager to declare what was in it. Most of the customers were small, independent firms who couldn’t afford to buy a safe. But there were several firms whose losses will be in the millions.

The Telegraph:

Local jewellers said the victims would be small, independent business and workshop owners who used the boxes to store their stock overnight and who did not have their own safes.

Many admitted they were not insured and said the prospect of losing tens of thousands of pounds worth of valuable goods made them “feel sick” as they waited for the police to confirm whose boxes had been emptied.

Michael Miller, a jeweller from Knightsbridge, London, faces the prospect of losing up to £50,000 as the contents of his safety box were not insured. But he said some boxes would be worth several million pounds.

“I have a collection of watches I was going to give my son and that is irreplaceable,” he said. “I bought an IWC GST Aquatimer on the day my son was born and I was going to give it to him when he turns 18. They don’t make them anymore.”

Norman Bean, 68, said: “A friend had a half-cut aqua diamond worth £500,000. He’s terrified it has gone. I have £35,000 of stuff including a pear-shaped diamond ring.”

The gang was almost caught when an alarm went off over the weekend. But the security guard on duty had a rather novel reason why he didn’t investigate:

Mr Bean said he had spoken to the security guard who heard the alarm going off.

“He went downstairs, looked through the door, through the windows and couldn’t see anything and came out again, that was it,” he added. “I said, ‘Well why didn’t you open up and have a look in?’ He told me he doesn’t get paid enough.”

I daresay the security guard isn’t being paid anything now.

With detailed knowledge of the security system and CCTV set-up, authorities believe the heist was an inside job. Given the complexity of the crime, there may have been a couple of insiders.

This is a movie that scripts itself. As for casting, how about Clive Owen as the mastermind? Need someone older? Michael Caine would be perfect. Or, if we want to be politically correct, make the mastermind a woman. Scarlett Johansson would fit the bill nicely.

Eric Bana could be the leader of the crooks who performed the heist. Russell Crowe could play one of the crooks who looks to double cross the rest of gang (can’t have a heist movie without a double cross).

And how about Johnny Depp playing the lead detective who finally catches up with the crooks?

As audacious and daring as this robbery was, you would hope they catch the criminals responsible. Still, in the long and storied history of crime in England, the Hatton Garden heist will go down as one of the most spectacular.

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Greece Demands $303 Billion in Reparations from Germany

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

The Greek debt crisis is entering a surreal phase, where the leftist government in Athens has delusions of forcing Germany to pay reparations from World War II in the amount of $303 billion (279 billion euros).

After overcoming their astonishment, the German government reacted swiftly.

 Germany’s economy minister branded Greece’s demand for 278.7 billion euros in reparations from World War Two as “stupid” on Tuesday, while the German opposition said Berlin should repay a forced loan dating from the Nazi occupation.

Greek Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas made the demand on Monday, seizing on an emotional issue in a country where many blame Germany, their biggest creditor, for the tough austerity measures and record high unemployment connected with two international bailouts totalling 240 billion euros.

“And this leeway has absolutely nothing to do with World War Two or reparation payments,” said Gabriel, who leads the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partner in the ruling coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

Berlin is keen to draw a line under the reparations issue and officials have previously argued that Germany has honoured its obligations, including a 115-million deutsche mark payment made to Greece in 1960.

A spokeswoman for the finance ministry said on Tuesday that the government’s position was unchanged.

How desperate is Greece for cash? The government of Alex Tsipras keeps telling its creditors it will meet all obligations, but nobody is believing them. They have a 450 million euro payment due the IMF by April 9 and it’s unknown whether they can — or will — pay the bill. Over the next three months, much larger payments to creditors are coming due and without the remaining 7.9 billion euros in the bailout package being released by the EU, Greece will be in technical default.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has reiterated his country’s commitment to its creditors, however, saying on Sunday that Greece “intends to meet all obligations to all its creditors, ad infinitum,” Reuters reported Monday. He also told a Greek newspaper Monday that the country “must” reach an outline funding agreement with its lenders at the Eurogroup meeting on April 24.

Christian Schulz, a senior economist at Berenberg, said Tuesday that while the 279 billion euro figure that Greece was claiming in war damages would cover nearly 90 percent of Greece’s entire public debt, it would do little to help Greece’s current crisis.

“If the government were to support these claims, long legal battles between Germany and Greece might loom, but that would be of little help in the immediate crisis,” he said in a note Tuesday. As such, he said, “Europe’s trouble spot provides few reasons for optimism, to put it mildly” and that the new threat is snap elections or a referendum as early as May.

“If the T-bill auctions on 8 and 14 April go well and funds also cover pension and salary payments this month, the government may be able to keep going until the next scheduled meeting of the Eurogroup of finance ministers on 24 April,” he said.

“However, that would only be encouraging, if Prime Minister Tsipras’ coalition was close to an agreement with the EU, IMF and ECB about the necessary reforms to unlock the 7.2 billion euros left in the bailout fund.”

Tsipras will visit Moscow this week which has some EU members nervous. The Greek prime minister may be tempted by President Putin to swap some assets for a line of credit that could get Greece through some rough spots over the next few months.

Russia could offer debt-ridden Greece controversial loans and discounts on supplies of natural gas in exchange for the country’s “assets”, according to reports in Moscow.

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, is due to arrive in the city on Tuesday and will meet Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, on Wednesday.

Athens overtures to Moscow have raised fears the Leftist government is pivoting east in search of alternatives sources of finance as it bids to avoid bankruptcy. Ahead of his visit, Mr Tsipras condemned economic sanctions on Moscow as “a road to nowhere”.

Greece’s dalliance with the Kremlin has also attracted criticism for potentially undermining the EU’s united front against Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

The Syriza leader’s flirtation with Moscow is likely to harden sympathetic European voices to Greek pleas of relief.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said on Saturday that it would be “unacceptable” if Mr Tsipras “jeopardised Europe’s common policy on Russia” in return for Kremlin aid.

But Kommersant newspaper quoted an anonymous Russian government source on Tuesday saying that lines of credit were on the table.

“We’re ready to consider the question of providing Greece discounts on gas: the price for it is tied to the cost of oil which has significantly fallen in recent months,” the source said.

“We are also ready to discuss the possibility of granting Greece new loans. But here we, in turn, are interested in reciprocal moves – in particular, in Russia receiving particular assets in Greece.”

Putin must be licking his chops. Pulling the Greeks into his web with promises of cash and cheap energy in exchange for a seaport or perhaps a natural gas company would be extra satisfying if he could drive a wedge between Athens and the rest of the EU. And, of course, the implications for NATO would be troubling.

For Tsipras, it must be flattering to have Russia so interested in helping him. But the Greek prime minister must know that any help from Putin will come with a price. And when the bill comes due, that price may be too high for Greece to pay.

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California Wealthy: Water Conservation Is for the Little People

Sunday, April 5th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

California is going through a severe drought that has been exacerbated because of poor planning by government and massive interference by environmentalists. (Victor Davis Hanson explains it all.)

It’s gotten so bad that California Governor Jerry Brown has imposed mandatory conservation measures — at least for homeowners and some businesses. Others, like California’s farmers and oil companies, have largely been spared the 25% cut in water usage.

For the state’s wealthy, their attitude seems to be “catch me if you can.” The water restrictions depend a lot on voluntary compliance. So it shouldn’t surprise us that this weekend in upscale areas  like Beverly Hills, La Canada Flintridge, Newport Beach, Malibu and Palos Verdes, the sprinklers were going full blast, fountains were burbling, and hoses were watering all those beautiful gardens.

From the Los Angeles Times: 

Residents in communities such as La Canada Flintridge, Newport Beach, Malibu and Palos Verdes all used more than 150 gallons of water per capita per day in January. By contrast, Santa Ana used just 38 gallons and communities in Southeast L.A. County used less than 45.

Water usage in Los Angeles was 70 gallons per capita. But within the city, a recent UCLA study examining a decade of Department of Water and Power data showed that on average, wealthier neighborhoods consume three times more water than less-affluent ones.

With Gov. Jerry Brown’s order requiring a 25% cut in water consumption, upscale communities are scrambling to develop stricter laws that will work where years of voluntary standards have not. Many believe it’s going to take a change in culture as well as city rules to hit the goal.

“Some people — believe it or not — don’t know we are in a drought,” said George Murdoch, general manager of utilities in Newport Beach, which is beginning to fine chronic water wasters. “We have people that own a home here but aren’t around a lot, so they could miss a leak.”

Stephanie Pincetl, who worked on the UCLA water-use study, said wealthy Californians are “lacking a sense that we are all in this together.”

“The problem lies, in part, in the social isolation of the rich, the moral isolation of the rich,” Pincetl said.

Until now, Beverly Hills officials said they have focused on educating, rather than penalizing water wasters. The city is in the second stage of its emergency water conservation plan, which calls for voluntary limits on use of fountains that do not use recycled water, pavement washing and lawn watering to reduce water consumption by 10%.

But on Friday, fountains, sprinklers and hoses seemed to flow freely throughout the city.

City officials will introduce a stricter plan that they say will achieve the governor’s 25% reduction target at a council meeting this month. There is some debate as to how much residents can change.

Kay Dangaard, a longtime Beverly Hills resident who recently moved to a condo just outside the city, said she’s seen much apathy about the drought.

“In this part of town, everyone is just too important to see outside themselves,” she said as she shopped at the Beverly Hills Whole Foods Market. “Where are these people going to go with all their money when the water is gone?”

The answer to that last question is easy: wherever they damn well please.

As an object lesson, perhaps California should shut the water off in those zip codes for a day or two, giving the residents a chance to see what it would be like to live without water. We recently had that experience here in Streator, IL, when a boil order went out because of contamination.  No drinking, no washing, no bathing. Sue rushed to the store and bought the last 8 cases of water but it was still a pain in the neck to deal with. It made us both appreciate a little more what comes out of the tap every time you turn the handle.

Is the social isolation of the rich a problem associated with income inequality? The rich have always been socially isolated. It’s one of the perks of having money. You don’t have to hang around with Joe and Marge Public if you don’t want to. This has been true forever, so it’s hard to see how this is a recent problem that government should try to fix.

I don’t begrudge these people their money and wealth. I celebrate it. But if I lived in California, I would organize a brigade of water spies who would prowl these wealthy neighborhoods looking for obvious scofflaws and turn them in to the local authorities. If I have to cut my water consumption by 25%, by god, both the wealthiest and the poorest are going to cut it, too. And if there are those who actually believe they are above these restrictions, I would want the local and state government to know who they are.

 

 

 

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Watch J. Christian Adams Eviscerate Madison, WI Atheist Protections

Sunday, April 5th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

PJ Media’s Legal Editor J.Christian Adams was “on fire for his faith” yesterday, according to Fox and Friends host Anna Kooiman. Adams appeared on a segment discussing the recent city council ordinance in Madison, WI that granted atheists “protected class” status.

Adams explained that the aggressively anti-religion group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is pushing the measure in cities and counties across the country. He warned that an “army of bureaucrats” would enforce the measure, making sure that people of faith are not discriminating against atheists — even though there may be a good reason an employer would want a person of faith working for them.

The video is currently the top video on the Fox News site.


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Pope’s Easter Message Decries Persecution of Christians

Sunday, April 5th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Pope Francis celebrated Easter mass in a rainy St. Peter’s Square on Sunday in front of tens of thousands of the faithful.

He delivered his annual Easter message — “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) — where he spoke movingly of Christians being persecuted for their beliefs.

Jerusalem Post:

Francis, after saying Mass for thousands of people in a rainy St. Peter’s Square, delivered a mostly sombre and grim “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message.

Attacks on Christians in Africa and the Middle East have been the grim backdrop of all Holy Week ceremonies leading up to Easter.

“We ask Jesus, the victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence – and there are many,” he said.

The pope spoke as churches in Kenya, where al Shabaab gunmen massacred nearly 150 people, singling out Christians for point-blank executions, turned to armed guards to protect their congregations on the most important day of the Christian liturgical year.

“May constant prayer rise up from all people of goodwill for those who lost their lives – I think in particular of the young people who were killed last Thursday at Garissa University College in Kenya – for all who have been kidnapped, and for those forced to abandon their homes and their dear ones.”

The 78-year-old Argentine pope, celebrating the third Easter of his pontificate, spoke from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica after saying a Mass below for tens of thousands of people wearing plastic ponchos and holding umbrellas against the driving rain.

Calling for peace in Libya, where last February Islamic State fighters beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians, the pope called for an end to “the present absurd bloodshed and all barbarous acts of violence”.

He prayed for peace in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, where Boko Haram Islamist militants have also targeted Christian churches.

“We ask for peace and freedom for the many men and women subject to old and new forms of enslavement on the part of criminal individuals and groups,” he said.

The pope’s words of sympathy are welcome, considering the fact that few western leaders say anything at all about the epidemic of violence directed by Muslims against Christians. In his sympathy call to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta following the massacre, President Obama apparently never mentioned that the victims were Christians and that this was the motive for targeting them.

Until the world acknowledges that innocent people are being killed because of their religious faith, the slaughter will go on with impunity and the true nature of Islamic extremism will be hidden.

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Emanuel’s Disciplined Campaign Rankles Some Chicagoans

Saturday, April 4th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign for the runoff election on Tuesday is about what you’d expect; tightly controlled and scripted appearances designed to tout his accomplishments, hide his shortcomings, and make his inexperienced opponent, Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia, look like he’s not up to the job.

Emanuel has a comfortable lead over Garcia this last weekend, but he’s still out on the hustings, asking for votes. However, yesterday, Emanuel did himself no favors when TV cameras were rolling and he was unexpectedly confronted by a resident who wasn’t scheduled to talk to him. Kathleen Vulpitta had an uncomfortable question for hizzoner that Emanuel resented.

Chicago Tribune:

“We’re concerned with all this crime going on,” Vulpitta told Emanuel. “Like, when I walk down the street, I don’t want to take a purse or anything, you know? And I’m always looking around. We’ve had a lot of robberies.”

The mayor told Vulpitta he’d “call that in” to the new police district commander, and quickly changed the subject. “How’s the tree trimming, garbage pickup?” Emanuel asked.

The exchange left Vulpitta, 53, unsure who she’d vote for.

“I just wanted him to know it’s very important we do something about the crime. I don’t think he was very happy about it, and I think I caught him off guard,” Vulpitta said. “Then he asks about the trees and the garbage. What kind of a reaction is that?”

For Emanuel, the exchange marked an unscripted moment in a carefully controlled, made-for-TV public campaign, one that reflected the reality of his hard-fought bid for a second term: As mayor, he now owns the good and bad impressions voters have of their city, fair or not.

The mayor has responded to that challenge in a manner true to his blue-blood, Washington pedigree. Emanuel, a classically trained ballet dancer, has mastered a political three-step in the runoff campaign: He accentuates his accomplishments, deflects his shortcomings in office and casts his opponent as not up to the job of fixing deep-seated problems the mayor himself has yet to solve.

Much of that message is on display in Emanuel’s closing TV ad. The mayor highlights his expansion of full-day kindergarten, a reduction in crime, attraction of new businesses and an increase in the minimum wage. Then he looks into the camera and admits the city still has a long way to go.

“Chicago’s a great city, but we can do even better,” the mayor says, before pointing a finger at his chest. “And yeah, I hear ya. So can I.”

Gracia, who was once touted as “Chicago’s Bil de Blasio,” is nothing of the sort. The press has made sport of him for his lack of polish and, more importantly, his refusal to say how he is going to fix a fiscal crisis that threatens the solvency of the city while also spending billions more on social welfare programs.

Garcia has been long on promises and short on specific solutions, except to say that Emanuel will raise taxes. Emanuel accuses Garcia of the same thing, which has created a first in politics; both accusations are 100% correct. The next mayor is going to raise taxes — a lot. Gracia has proposed the usual far left “soak the rich” kind of taxes while Emanuel has suggested raising fees for licenses and city services. Most experts in Chicago are convinced either man will be forced to raise property taxes as the quickest, most reliable way to increase city income.

Garcia will form a committee of very smart people to look at all the city’s problems and give him recommendations within 6 months. No one is fooled. He knows his only chance for an upset is to convince low information voters that he can do as good a job as Emanuel in running the city. By being as vague and unspecific as possible, he doesn’t give people an excuse to vote against him.

Emanuel is likely to lose the minority vote and the far left vote in Obama’s old neighborhood of Hyde Park, while winning the traditional Democratic vote overwhelmingly. Chicagoans will grumble about the taxes, the crime, the pension crisis, and probably the failure of the Cubs to win the World Series. But they will hold their nose and vote for the incumbent, trusting he can hold things together while keeping the barbarians out of their neighborhoods.

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These Are the Guys We Helped Retake Tikrit

Saturday, April 4th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

There must be advantages to the US acting as the Shia Air Force in Iraq, but I’m not seeing them.

After all, the president wouldn’t have helped these half-Shia militias, half-death squads retake the city of Tikrit by carrying out bombing attacks on Islamic State targets in the city, unless there was something positive that could come out of it, right?

Maybe the president sees these militia-death squads as a civilizing influence:

“We are very concerned by reports of widespread human rights abuses committed in the course of the military operation in the area around Tikrit,” the rights watchdog’s Donatella Rovera told AFP.

Security forces backed by paramilitary groups and supported by US-led air strikes retook Tikrit from the Islamic State (ISIS) group over the past few days.

Outlying areas in Salaheddin province, which had also been under ISIS control since last year, were retaken gradually over the course of the past month.

The operation – Baghdad’s largest yet against the jihadists – was seen as a test of the Shi’ite-dominated forces’ ability to retake a Sunni area while reining in reprisals against the local population.

“We are investigating reports that scores of residents have been seized early last month and not heard of since, and that residents’ homes and businesses have been blown up or burned down after having been looted by militias,” said Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty.

“There have also been reports of summary executions of men who may or may not have been involved in combat but who were killed after having been captured” when not in combat, she said.

Rovera said the latest such report was an incident Wednesday inside Tikrit.

The government and its coalition partners, the United Nations and rights groups have repeatedly stressed that any military victory against ISIS that comes with sectarian-driven abuses would only sow the seeds of future violence.

Pro-government militiamen could be seen looting shops in central Tikrit Wednesday as Iraqi forces sought to consolidate control over the city.

Reports of homes being torched by anti-ISIS fighters have been frequent in the course of the month-long offensive. Such allegations are generally denied by commanders on the ground who say the fires were set off by fleeing jihadists or used by their men as a way of detonating ISIS booby traps.

Torching homes, “summary executions,” looting…sounds like fun — if you’re a Shia thug who enjoys killing Sunnis. The list of massacres by these death sqauds grows longer. Tikrit is but the latest example.

BBC:

Iraqi Shia militia, who helped recapture Tikrit from Islamic State (IS), are being pulled out of the city amid reports of violence and looting.

The militia made up the vast majority of pro-government forces that retook the city over the past week.

But people in Tikrit say the city’s liberators have since stolen cars and ransacked government buildings.

Tikrit was captured by Islamic State in June last year in what was an important strategic victory for the group.

The city was ravaged by the fighting that followed and now sits largely empty.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the arrest of anyone caught looting, but reports suggest the actions of the pro-government paramilitaries have gone beyond theft.

A correspondent for Reuters reported seeing an Islamic State fighter surrounded by a mob and stabbed to death, as well as the corpse of another being dragged by a car.

Ahmed al-Kraim, head of the city’s Salahuddin Province council, told the news agency that mobs had burned down “hundreds of houses”.

These Shia volunteers are under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders, not the Iraqi government. Baghdad has to negotiate in order to get them to participate in battles. Following the US airstrikes last week, several militia units quit the battle rather than accept help from America.

Our friends.

Meanwhile, the US thinks that the militias are behaving themselves most excellently:

The US-led coalition, whose aircraft played a key role in breaking the back of ISIS resistance in Tikrit, said calls for restraint and respect of the civilian population paid off.

“I think the Iraqi government and the security forces and all those under the command of the security forces know the importance and profile of the issue,” a senior coalition military official told AFP.

“It’s been reinforced again and again down the chain of command, and our information is that that has been a success,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

I’m sure Iran appreciates us running interference for their Sunni death squads in Iraq. Their new found friends are proving to be very useful…idiots.

 

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Indiana Pizzeria Owners Go into Hiding

Saturday, April 4th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

The online threats haven’t stopped since Crystal O’Connor told a South Bend TV station that she wouldn’t cater a gay wedding. In fact, the ugliness has gotten so bad, that the family has gone into hiding.

Associated Press:

A northern Indiana pizza shop that came under fire after its owners said their religious beliefs wouldn’t allow them to cater a gay wedding is closed indefinitely, and its operators say they’ve gone into hiding.

Memories Pizza in Walkerton faced criticism this week after co-owner Crystal O’Connor expressed support for a new Indiana religious objections law. The Facebook and Yelp pages for the restaurant about 20 miles southwest of South Bend were bombarded with negative reviews.

A coach of a high school golf program was suspended after a Twitter post that mentioned going to Walkerton and burning down the restaurant.

WNDU-TV reports that O’Connor and her family are considering leaving town.

A ray of sunshine for the O’Connors through this dark night: the GoFundMe account set up on their behalf, with an original goal of raising $200,000, is now over $840,000 and climbing.

Conor Friedersdorf, writing in the Atlantic, asks “Should Mom-and-Pops That Forgo Gay Weddings Be Destroyed?”:

What do white evangelicals, Muslims, Mormons, blacks, conservative Republicans, and immigrants from Africa, South America, and Central America all have in common? They’re less likely to support gay marriage than the average Californian. Over the years, I’ve patronized restaurants owned by members of all those groups. Today, if I went out into Greater Los Angeles and chatted up owners of mom-and-pop restaurants, I’d sooner or later find one who would decline to cater a gay wedding. The owners might be members of Rick Warren’s church in Orange County. Or a family of immigrants in Little Ethiopia or on Olvera Street. Or a single black man or woman in Carson or Inglewood or El Segundo.

Should we destroy their livelihoods?

If I recorded audio proving their intent to discriminate against a hypothetical catering client and I gave the audio to you, would you post it on the Internet and encourage the general public to boycott, write nasty reviews, and drive them out of business, causing them to lay off their staff, lose their life savings, and hope for other work? If that fate befell a Mormon father with five kids or a childless Persian couple in their fifties or a Hispanic woman who sunk her nest egg into a pupusa truck, should that, do you think, be considered a victory for the gay-rights movement?

Before this week, I’d have guessed that few people would’ve considered that a victory for social justice. And I’d have thought that vast majorities see an important distinction between a business turning away gay patrons—which would certainly prompt me to boycott—and declining to cater a gay wedding. I see key distinctions despite wishing everyone would celebrate gay marriage and believing Jesus himself would have no problem with a baker or cook acting as a gay-wedding vendor. A restaurant that turned away all gay patrons would be banning them from a public accommodation every day of their lives. It might unpredictably or regularly affect their ability to meet a business client or dine with coworkers or friends. It would have only the most dubious connection to religious belief.

Whereas declining to cater a gay wedding affects people on one day of their life at most, denies them access to no public accommodation, and would seem to signal discomfort with the institution of same-sex marriage more than animus toward gay people (so long as we’re still talking about businesses that gladly serve gays).

It’s not that the left and gay activists can’t see the distinction. It’s that they refuse to acknowledge the difference for political reasons. Since tolerating dissent would mean less than a total victory for their pet cause, we must all think alike — absolute domination or nothing.

The backlash isn’t fazing them a bit. If anything, their hate has become more exaggerated and more hysterical as commentators like Friedersdorf calmly, rationally point out their radical extremism. The army of Fascists who have attacked the O’Connors — and anyone who remotely agrees with them — won’t stop. Shaming them does little good, as they have no shame. Reasoning with them is useless because they lack the ability to reason.

The taste of power that this Fascist collective has gotten in recent years, destroying those who displease them for any reason, is like a drug. Soon, the pizzeria victims will fade from view and the leftist cadres will have to find another target. It hardly matters who is in the crosshairs, only that someone with an unpopular or politically incorrect thought is railroaded.

Aided and abetted by a media eager to fan the flames of controversy, real people’s lives are being destroyed. The O’Connors were lucky that their friends on the right stepped in and intervened on their behalf. But many who are guilty of thought crimes usually don’t fare as well. Perhaps more unity on the right and a willingness to stand up to the bullies is what will even the playing field and save those who run afoul of the New McCarthyites.

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How Is Iran Interpreting the Nuclear Deal Compared to the U.S.?

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 - by Rick Moran

The vagueness of the framework deal struck between the P5+1 powers and Iran is going to work out beautifully for Tehran in that there is apparently enough wiggle room for them to engage in nuclear activities that the U.S. is clearly saying they can’t engage in.

Looking at how each side is interpreting the same elements of the deal is an eye opener. The Iranian outlook is from their semi-official press organ, Press TV. The U.S. interpretation is quoted from Politico.

1. Centrifuges

U.S. Interpretation

Iran will dismantle two-thirds of its 19,000 installed centrifuges. Those devices, which spin uranium into material that can be used for a nuclear weapon, will be stored under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) oversight. Tehran will be left with 6,104 centrifuges, lower than some reported offers by the U.S., and 5,060 of those can be used to enrich uranium.

Iranian Interpretation:

According to the solutions, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for enrichment program will cover a 10-year period, during which more than 5,000 centrifuge machines will continue producing enriched material at Natanz facility up to the 3.67-percent level. Extra machines and the related infrastructure in the facility will be collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in order to be replaced by new machines consistent with the allowed standards. Accordingly, Iran will be allowed to allocate the current stockpile of enriched materials for the purpose of producing nuclear fuel or swapping it with uranium in the international markets.

Iran will continue research and development program on advanced centrifuge machines and will be also able to keep initiating and completing its R & D program on IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 machines in the 10-year period of the agreement.

Most independent experts say that Iran doesn’t have more than 8,000 working centrifuges, with the rest being in various stages of disrepair. Is Iran saying that its newer centrifuge models can be incorporated into the Nantanz facility? It certainly sounds like that. The newer models are 16 times more efficient than the older ones.

2. Fordow

U.S. Interpretation

Iran can keep open an underground nuclear facility at Fordow, a controversial site because it was built in secret and only revealed by the U.S. in 2009. Iran will not be required to close the facility but will only use it for research that does not include the enrichment of uranium.

Iranian Interpretation

According to the joint statement, Fordow nuclear facility will be turned into a research center for nuclear science and physics. More than 1,000 centrifuges will be maintained at this facility and two centrifuge cascades will keep operating. In cooperation with the P5+1 countries, about half of the Fordow facility will be dedicated to advanced nuclear research and production of stable isotopes which have important applications in industry, agriculture and medicine.

If, as the U.S. claims, there will be no enrichment of uranium at Fordow, why does Iran get to keep 1000 centrifuges and be allowed two working cascades?

3. Inspections

U.S. Interpretation

Rigorous transparency and inspection measures to ensure that Iran doesn’t cheat on any deal. They include granting the IAEA intrusive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and supply chain, including to its domestic uranium mines and mills. The inspections would continue even after many elements of the deal have expired in 2025, including surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors until 2035. Iran has also agreed to some indefinite transparency measures.

Iran isn’t saying much about the IAEA inspection regime, probably because, as in the past, they will simply deny access to international monitors when it suits them. No doubt Iran will allow access to mines and mills. But if the point was to lengthen Iran’s breakout time period to construct a bomb to a year, how does allowing them more efficient centrifuges and a large domestic stockpile of uranium accomplish that?

4. Sanctions

U.S. Interpretation

In return for the limits on Iran’s program, the U.S. and E.U. will suspend sanctions after the IAEA has verified Iran’s compliance with the deal; those sanctions can automatically “snap back” if Iran violates the agreement at any time. (Obama can temporarily suspend sanctions passed by Congress, although only Congress can permanently repeal them.) The United Nations will also lift its sanctions on Iran after it meets the deal’s requirements.

Iranian Interpretation

Following the implementation of the JPCOA, all the UN Security Council sanctions as well as all economic and financial embargoes by the US and the European Union, including bans on banks, insurance, investment, and all other related services in different fields, including petrochemical, oil, gas and automobile industries will be lifted. Besides, all nuclear-related sanctions against real and legal entities, state and private organizations and institutions, including those sanctions imposed against the Central Bank of Iran, other financial and banking institutions, SWIFT system, and the country’s shipping and aviation sectors, and Iran’s tanker company will be immediately lifted all at once. Moreover, the P5+1 countries are committed to avoid imposing any new nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.

To make matters even more confusing, Secretary of State John Kerry appears to believe in a “gradual” lifting of sanctions:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that if a final deal is reached with Iran, the removal of any sanctions against Tehran will come in phases. “And if we find out at any point that Iran is not complying with the agreement, the sanctions can snap back into place,” he said.

Iran is saying that once the UN votes to approve the deal, all sanctions will be lifted. The U.S. appears to be saying that will only happen when the IAEA certifies Iranian compliance. And Kerry obviously fell asleep during that part of the negotiations.

And then there’s the question of Iran coming clean to the IAEA about its past nuclear activities. The U.S. said in the past that there would be no deal unless the Iranians detailed their work on a bomb.

That position appears to have slipped a bit:

Iran has refused to answer a list of IAEA questions about its suspected past research into nuclear weapons technology like explosives that can detonate highly enriched uranium. The agreement does not specify how or when that will happen, saying only that “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns” on the military research question. Mogherini said only that the nuclear agency “will have enhanced access through agreed procedures, including to clarify past and present issues.”

The Iranian government has this to say about the overall deal:

In the framework of the agreement, none of Iran’s nuclear facilities as well as the previous activities will be stopped, shut down or suspended and Iran’s nuclear activities in all its nuclear facilities including Natanz, Fordow, Isfahan and Arak will continue.

These comprehensive solutions will guarantee the continued enrichment program inside the Iranian territory and according to this, Iran will be allowed to go on with industrial production of nuclear fuel which is meant for running its nuclear power plants.

And what did President Obama say?

It’s a “good deal,” Obama declared Thursday, calling it “a historic understanding with Iran which, if implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final deal, it will make our country and the world safer,” Obama said in a statement in the White House Rose Garden. The deal would “cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.”

We ought to call this deal “The Swiss Cheese Agreement.” It’s obvious that Iran is going to interpret the deal any way it wants and that the administration’s spin is geared to putting a prom dress on a pig, selling it to the press, to Democrats, and to the American people as a “good deal.” From where I’m sitting, far from putting Iran in a box, is allows them to continue dual-purpose research and does nothing to shorten the time it would take them to kick out the inspectors and quickly gear up to build a bomb.

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Shocker: Justice Department Declines to Prosecute Lois Lerner for Contempt

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Saying that Lois Lerner did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights at a congressional hearing two years ago, US attorney for D.C. Ronald Machen said in a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner that the Justice Department would not prosecute the former IRS manager for contempt.

During her testimony in 2013, Lerner read a self-serving statement into the record and then took the Fifth. Former prosecutor Rep. Trey Gowdy said at the time that by giving her statement, Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment rights:

“She just testified. She just waived her Fifth Amendment right to privilege,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a former federal prosecutor, said, “You don’t get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross-examination. That’s not the way it works. She waived her right to Fifth Amendment privilege by issuing and opening statement. She ought to stand here and answer our questions.”

Gowdy was probably right except for one thing: that’s not the way it works in Obama’s Washington.

The Hill:

In a statement, the U.S. attorney’s office stressed that career prosecutors made the decision to not bring charges against Lerner and that the Constitution gives the former IRS official “an absolute defense” against prosecution.

Bill Taylor, Lerner’s lawyer, said he and his client were “gratified but not surprised by today’s news.”

“Anyone who takes a serious and impartial look at this issue would conclude that Ms. Lerner did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights. It is unfortunate that the majority party in the House put politics before a citizen’s constitutional rights,” Taylor said. “Ms. Lerner is pleased to have this matter resolved and looks forward to moving on with her life.”

Still, Machen’s letter only addresses the contempt of Congress charge that Lerner received last year. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would conduct a criminal investigation into the IRS’s scrutiny of Tea Party groups shortly after the controversy broke in May 2013.

Emily Pierce, a DOJ spokeswoman, said the department will “complete our investigation as expeditiously as possible.”

“The Justice Department launched its IRS investigation without hesitation and immediately after public revelations of potential misconduct,” Pierce said. “Since that time, it has been conducted by career prosecutors and law enforcement agents with the utmost of integrity, and department officials have regularly characterized the investigation as a top priority.”

Congressional committees are also still looking into the matter. One of the panels, the House Ways and Means Committee, sent the Justice Department a criminal referral last year with potential charges that could add up to 11 years in jail.

Following Machen’s letter, Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said the Obama administration had once more “tried to sweep the IRS targeting of taxpayers for their political beliefs under the rug.”

“But unaccountable federal bureaucrats using their power to attack the First Amendment strikes at the heart of our democracy, and the American people deserve the truth,” Steel added. “The White House still has the opportunity to do the right thing and appoint a special counsel to examine the IRS’ actions.”

GOP lawmakers have pushed for a special prosecutor for months, pointing out that one of the DOJ lawyers looking into the case was an Obama donor. Republicans also have insisted that Machen was “legally bound” to send their contempt charge to a grand jury.

If the DoJ investigation is a “top priority,” what have they been doing for two years? Mr. Machen is stepping down soon, making this decision one of his final acts. It will take some time for his successor to get up to speed on the investigation, which means more delays.

Incredibly, Lerner’s attorney says that his client cooperated with the Justice Department investigation but wouldn’t answer questions from lawmakers “because they didn’t trust Republicans to run a fair investigation.” The implication is that Lerner was among friends when being deposed by DoJ officials.

No one really expected DoJ to pursue this matter with any energy. And now they’re at the point where they can run out the clock. Unless a Republican president taking office in 2017 lights a fire under the prosecutors, it appears that Lerner and her friends at the IRS are going to get away with it.

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Cincinnati Reds Create a ‘Breastfeeding Suite’ for Moms at the Ballpark

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 - by Rick Moran

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Cincinnati Reds COO Phil Castellini heard from female fans that they wanted a place to breastfeed their children while at the baseball game. The father of five thought that made a lot of sense, so he had a suite built in the Great American Ballpark for women to have a more private space to breastfeed their infants. There’s also room for women who want to bottle feed their children, diaper changing stations, and other amenities.

ESPN:

The site, built by local home builder Fischer Homes and sponsored by Pampers, which is owned by Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, will have five gliders that will give the female fan the comfort of home while at the ballpark.

The space can be used for breast- or bottle-feeding and diaper changing. Areas include private restrooms, a kitchenette, refrigerator and lockers to store items during the game.

“We’ll also have flat screen TVs so that they won’t miss the game, and there will be toys to play with if the 3-year-old has to come with them,” Castellini said.

The nursing center is another example of teams catering more to female fans. New stadiums, including Yankee Stadium, have doubled the number of toilets for women than for men — a far cry from more than 50 years ago, when White Sox owner Bill Veeck happened to notice there were no women’s bathrooms in the bleachers.

One could question the judgment of parents who bring an infant to a baseball game or any public event that’s loud, smelly, and crowded. But there are too many busybodies today who are trying to tell parents how to raise their kids and what is or isn’t good for them. I don’t want to join that chorus.

It’s amazing that breastfeeding in public is still controversial. A woman flying on a Virgin Australia flight was taken off the plane and arrested because she wouldn’t stop breastfeeding her baby:

Virgin Australia Airlines has responded to controversial allegations that it kicked a woman off a flight and summoned the police after she refused to stop breastfeeding her 10-month-old son.

The statement, which the airline posted on its Facebook page on Tuesday, read: “We’ve seen some misinformation today regarding our policy relating to breastfeeding on board. To clarify, Virgin Australia welcomes breastfeeding and bottle-feeding on board at any time during the flight, especially during take-off and landing when it can help prevent any ear discomfort felt by infants. When the seatbelt sign is illuminated, an infant must be restrained to their carer via the infant seatbelt only, which is provided by our crew. Safety is always Virgin Australia’s number one priority.”

But mom Virginie Rutgers had a different take. “I was in a state of shock honestly,” she told Australian news station Seven News. Rutgers was using a cover to nurse her son on the March 15 flight that was taxiing down the runway but a cabin supervisor asked her to remove it and “started to raise his voice” and became “quite abusive.” She added that she wasn’t given an explanation for why her behavior was wrong so she continued nursing. She was allegedly forced off the plane and met by federal and local police who ultimately released her without charge. Virgin offered Rutgers a flight credit, however she returned home by a Qantas flight.

Other incidents of intolerance for breastfeeding in public show that there are some people in positions of authority who worry about what some loudmouth might say about it. The fact is, too many people are uptight about public breastfeeding because of the sexual overtones of the female mammaries. There is nothing remotely sexual about breastfeeding and besides, most women — like Mrs. Rutgers above — use specially designed covers so that nothing of the breast is exposed to prurient eyes.

You can’t expect women to be chained to the home when they’re breastfeeding their child. That’s why businesses like the Cincinnati Reds who provide mothers with a private space to nurse their children are likely to score big with women, building good will and — most importantly from their point of view — creating loyal customers.

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Too Cute: Monkey Meets Puppies for First Time

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

I couldn’t resist this one — even though, like most animal videos, it’s probably staged.

If you’re looking for a pick-me-up today, you’ve come to the right place!

Watch as Tommy, a curious Capuchin monkey, meets a litter of adorable puppies for the very first time. He can be seen caressing the tiny pooches and seemingly giving them sweet kisses.

If this interaction doesn’t melt your heart, consider us floored.

Tommy almost certainly saw humans and the puppies interacting, which gave him the right idea on how to behave around them. And yeah, consider my heart melted.

Irresistible.

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Supreme Court Declines to Hear Free Speech Dispute Over Banning American Flag on Cinco De Mayo

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

The Supreme Court declined to hear a case where students were banned from wearing an American flag T-shirt on Cinco de Mayo at a California high school because administrators believed it might cause violence.

The court’s inaction let stand a lower court ruling that safety and security at the high school trumped free speech rights.

In essence, the decision implies that Hispanic students are unable to control their anger when they see an American flag on a day honoring Mexicans’ heritage, so others’ free speech rights must be curtailed.

Reuters:

The court declined to hear an appeal filed by three students at Live Oak High School in the town of Morgan Hill, south of San Francisco. School staff at the May 5, 2010, event told several students their clothing could cause an incident. Two chose to leave for home after refusing to turn their shirts inside out.

The school had been experiencing gang-related tensions and racially charged altercations between white and Hispanic students at the time. School officials said they feared the imposition of American patriotic imagery by some students at an event where other students were celebrating their pride in their Mexican heritage would incite fights between the two groups.

Lawyers for the students said that the fear that the T-shirts would offend others did not trump free speech rights because the act of wearing the shirts did not rise to the level of incitement to violence.

Three of the affected students – Daniel Galli, Matt Dariano, and Dominic Maciel – were involved in the lawsuit, which was filed on their behalf by their parents.

In the February 2014 ruling, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said officials did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. School officials acted out of legitimate concerns of violence when they sent a handful of students home for refusing to change their American flag-embellished apparel, the court said.

It is the expectation of violence that is most disturbing. Gangs don’t need an excuse to cause trouble and the idea that they would be more likely to pick fights if they saw an American flag being worn is ridiculous. Even if it were true, where are the authorities? If they’re alert for trouble already, wouldn’t they be able to head off altercations as they would during a normal school day?

Note that when the principal banned the flag T-shirts there had been no violence against the students to that point  in the school day.  In fact, the principal had no reason to ban the shirts other than a desire to cover the school’s behind if violence did break out.

Students learned a valuable lesson in this incident: fear and freedom don’t mix very well — and if you’re going to indulge in the former, you can forget about enjoying the latter.

 

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Is Tom Izzo the Best College Basketball Coach in America?

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

It may be surprising to some to see a 7th seed make it all the way to the Final Four in the NCAA basketball tournament. But in the case of Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans, it’s almost expected.

Izzo has now led his teams to 7 Final Four appearances in 20 years at MU, equalling the record of North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Louisville’s Rick Pitino. Only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has more Final Four appearances at 12. (Williams 7 semi final appearances include 4 when he coached at Kansas.) Izzo won it all in 2000 and has been runner up twice.

Michigan State will play the #1 seeded Duke Blue Devils in the first semi final next Saturday, featuring a coaching match up for the ages; Izzo vs. Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K has 4 national championships and 3 runners up and is generally recognized as having one of the the best big time program in the country.

Izzo’s program is also on most top 10 lists. You wouldn’t want to live on the difference between the two, but Izzo’s career has been marked by winning games he had no business competing in. To get to this year’s final four, the Spartans beat the East Region’s #2 seed Virginia, as well as the #3 seed Oklahoma. And no one is counting MU out against the Blue Devils.

The Spartans were inconsistent during the regular season, finishing 3rd in the Big Ten after losses to Nebraska and Illinois, as well as being defeated by mid-major Northern Iowa. But MU caught fire in the conference tournament, making it all the way to the final before losing to fellow Final Four participant Wisconsin in overtime.

That momentum carried over to the NCAA tourney — which isn’t unusual. Izzo has a knack of molding his team throughout the year so that they peak in March, saving their best basketball for the Big Dance:

Izzo, in his 20th season leading the Spartans, has reached the tournament 18 times and pushed his team to six Final Fours and the 2000 national championship. But perhaps nothing on Izzo’s résumé is as intimidating as his ability to win games he’s not supposed to, results of a well-known – and much-feared – tendency of Michigan State peaking as the regular season winds down.

“Whatever you saw in November, his players will be better when you see them in March,” said Gary Williams, the former Maryland coach who, along with Florida’s Billy Donovan, joined the fraternity in 2003, the seventh-seeded Spartans reaching that year’s Elite Eight. “A lot of teams, whatever they are when you get to January, that’s what you get. Izzo’s teams just keep improving.”

Izzo is 12-1 all-time in the tournament’s round of 32, which is where the seventh-seeded Spartans (24-11) and second-seeded Cavaliers (30-3) meet again, and no coach with at least 10 NCAA tournament appearances has a better record in the second round. Izzo’s recipe, according to friends and colleagues, is not complicated. He schedules challenging non-conference opponents to test his team, and practices grow shorter, an attempt to preserve his players’ health and conditioning, as the Big Ten conference schedule advances. He schedules frequent one-on-one meetings with players, particularly this time of year, to remind them of their responsibilities — the most important of which is muffling the voice of any player who seems ready for the college basketball grind to end.

[...]

Fife described his boss as a “math genius,” able to calculate large numbers and percentages in a flash, though Izzo struggles to spell and pronounce even the most basic words. The word “discipline” and the name “James,” for instance, are great sources of frustration.

It is the strange but effective Izzo way, and the banners hanging in the Breslin Center make his emphases, motivational tactics and quirks difficult to argue with. So do the disappointing memories that inhabit the minds of some of America’s best basketball coaches: Donovan, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and U-Va.’s Bennett among them.

Izzo’s accomplishments may have even been greater if, as one former coach and college basketball analyst suggests, he had been willing to cheat to get better talent.

“When a coach gets caught cheating, they ought to throw the book at him,” Fraschilla said. “Because there are a whole lot of other coaches out there, and I’ll give you one example: The reason Tom Izzo doesn’t have a great team right now is because he has not, quite frankly, he has lost some guys, at times, to schools that he wasn’t willing to break rules for. And coaches who don’t cheat will get fired if they don’t win, and that’s part of the problem I have with the NCAA. They ought to throw the book at all these guys that cheat.”

A clean program, a stellar post season record, a demonstrated ability to win games he shouldn’t, and players that will walk through walls for him. Does all this add up to Izzo being the best coach in America?

A subjective answer, of course. Two other coaches in the Final Four can make their own claims on that prize. Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari lead legendary programs and have achieved the highest success over many years.

But Izzo appears to accomplish as much or more with less. He can get the most out of what he has, which separates him from other great coaches. It’s not that his players are devoid of talent, but he can motivate them to have them playing at their very best when it counts the most.

That’s the definition of a good coach. And Tom Izzo fits it to a “T.”

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Looming Pension Crisis Roils Chicago’s Mayoral Runoff

Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

It’s the number one fiscal issue facing Chicago and both incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his challenger, Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia are refusing to face up to reality. The city’s $20 billion pension shortfall is partly the result of demographics and partly because of shortsightedness on the part of previous tenants of city hall.

The fact is, many of those pensions were agreed to 30 years ago when Chicago had a population 15% larger. With a fleeing population and shrinking tax base, the numbers simply don’t add up anymore and the city now finds itself on the brink of ruin.

Neither candidate is willing to discuss it, but everyone not involved in the campaign agrees that the only way to deal with the crisis is to raise property taxes.

Bloomberg:

“Limitations on benefit reforms will likely leave large tax increases as the only viable solution, a challenge given the city’s historical reluctance to tap its property tax base,” Matt Fabian, a partner at Concord, Massachusetts-based research firm Municipal Market Analytics, said in a March 16 report.

Chicago isn’t master of its financial destiny. State legislators would have to approve a tax on the 600,000 commuters who work in the city, or any effort to impose an income tax.

Emanuel, former chief of staff for President Barack Obama, floated a $250 million property-tax boost last year to pay for pension obligations. He dropped the plan in the face of City Council opposition, and is taking a different route this time. He’s proposing to build a casino, dedicating the revenue to retirement debt, and extend the sales tax to services. Again, he can’t do either without state approval, and even with that consent, the casino wouldn’t be built in time to contribute to next year’s pension payment.

A property-tax increase, though, is within the city’s direct control. The levy generated $824 million last year, equivalent to about 9 percent of this year’s spending plan, according to Chicago’s annual financial analysis.

The population of the nation’s third-most-populous city fell 7 percent in the last decade to 2.7 million, according to the Census Bureau. The drop increases pressure on the tax base to pay for retirement commitments, some made decades ago.

“The problem is you’re paying the bills of the city of 30 years ago with today’s population,” said Norton Francis of the Tax Policy Center in Washington. “That’s a huge challenge for cities.”

In Chicago, property taxes have risen even as housing values dropped. The effective tax rate jumped 32 percent from tax year 2003 to 2012, according to the Civic Federation, a nonprofit research group specializing in government finance.

Although the national recession ended in 2009, housing values in parts of the South Side have yet to recover, according to the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. The area is home to many mostly black precincts, where Emanuel’s support has dropped relative to the 2011 election.

Opposition to property taxes is part of the campaign dialogue. Emanuel criticized Garcia for a vote he cast in favor of a higher levy — in 1986.

With new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner proposing to reduce the state’s contribution to Chicago by about $135 million, and a billion dollar shortfall in the budget for Chicago Public Schools, it’s hard to see how any mayor can work the magic necessary to stave off disaster.

 

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O’Malley: Presidency not a ‘Crown to be Passed Between Two Families’

Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Yo, Hillary. Hey, Jeb. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has a message for you.

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, O’Malley reminded us all of some fundamental truths about America that the Crown Prince and Princess appear to ignore:

“I think that our country always benefits from new leadership and new perspectives,” he said. “Let’s be honest here, the presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust.

The former governor, who often trails Clinton by 50 percentage points or more in early-state polls, could end up being Clinton’s only challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is also weighing a race, and Vice President Joe Biden has yet to rule it out.

“We need a president who is ready to take on powerful and wealthy special interests,” O’Malley said.

Asked if Clinton was the right candidate to take on those special interests, O’Malley said: “I don’t know. I don’t know where she stands. Will she represent a break with the failed policies of the past? I don’t know.”

O’Malley, who endorsed Clinton over President Barack Obama in 2008, had shunned questions about Clinton since he left office early this year. But he has lately stepped up his attacks on Wall Street, potentially attempting to woo supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and highlighting an area where Clinton is weak with progressives.

“Right now, it’s not even a fair fight. It’s as if Wall Street owns one party and is trying to totally intimidate the other,” O’Malley said. “We need to stand up and put the national interest first.”

O’Malley also touted Maryland’s high income levels and claimed the state had created jobs at a faster rate than Virginia or Pennsylvania.

The “greatest dangers” faced by the United States, he said, are a nuclear Iran and related extremist violence — “I don’t think you can separate the two,” he explained — along with climate change.

In truth, the situation we find ourselves in with Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush is unprecedented. While we’ve always had powerful political families in America — Adams, Roosevelt, Byrd, Kennedy — we’ve never had two families facing off in the same presidential election.

Even the possibility of that happening should give us all pause. Americans who fought in the Revolution would be appalled at the prospect of a son and brother of former presidents becoming president. The voters threw out John Adams after only one term partly because of Thomas Jefferson successfully smeared him as a monarchist and accused him of wanting to award hereditary titles.

Here we are 215 years later and while the monarchist label might not fit either Hillary or Jeb, “keeping it in the family” is not the republican way. In fact, it makes us look like a banana republic. Polls show that the voters want someone with experience but that they don’t want a replay of the past. And while both candidates top the polls in their respective parties,  that is liable to change as voters are reminded of where these candidates came from.

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Priebus: ‘Even Nixon Didn’t Destroy the Tapes’

Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus didn’t mince any words in responding to the news that aides to Hillary Clinton had deliberately deleted 30,000 emails from her private server.

Priebus issued a statement saying that “even Nixon didn’t destroy the tapes.”

The Hill:

Clinton’s lawyer informed the House Select Committee investigating Benghazi on Friday that Clinton no longer had copies of any emails from her four-year tenure as secretary of State, ending in 2013.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the committee, said in a statement Friday that “Clinton unilaterally decided to wipe her server clean and permanently delete all emails from her personal server.”

Gowdy, whose committee had subpoenaed the server earlier this month, charged that Clinton apparently decided to delete her emails after Oct. 28, 2014, when the State Department first asked her to turn over public records.

Clinton has turned over roughly 55,000 pages of documents to the State Department, though Republicans have have seized her admission this month that her aides deleted more than 30,000 “personal” emails.

Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, reportedly told House investigators that after aides determined which emails were private and which were government-related, an account setting was changed to only save emails sent in the past 60 days, adding the setting was changed after she responded to the records request.

“Thus, there are no hdr22@clintonemail.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized,” Kendall said in a letter to Gowdy’s committee, according to The New York Times.

Still, Republicans are likely to keep up their attacks on Clinton over the emails heading into her official declaration of a 2016 presidential campaign, which is expected in weeks.

Priebus on Saturday echoed calls from Republican lawmakers for Clinton to turn over her server.

“It’s imperative an independent third party review the server immediately. Unless Mrs. Clinton went to extreme lengths to wipe this server, there are ways to recover this data,” Priebus said.

A third party should have reviewed all 60,000 emails before anything was turned over to the State Department. It’s simply incredible that Mrs. Clinton would arrogantly take it upon herself to decide which communications were “official” and which were “personal.”

Priebus pointed out, “There isn’t a separate set of rules the Clintons can choose to play by. It’s time they be held accountable.” Good luck with that, boss. “Accountability” is not in either Clinton’s vocabulary.

So what’s worse? Clinton deleting 30,000 emails or Democrats defending her?

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Benghazi panel, said Kendall’s letter confirmed “what we all knew: that Secretary Clinton already produced her official records to the State Department, that she did not keep her personal emails and that the Select Committee has already obtained her emails relating to the attacks in Benghazi.”

Cummings said it is time for Gowdy and other Republicans to stop what he called a “political charade” and instead make Clinton’s emails public. Gowdy also should schedule Clinton’s public testimony before the Benghazi panel as soon as possible, Cummings said.

No, we didn’t know that Clinton “did not keep her personal emails.” That is a gargantuan surprise. And what independent, third party is guaranteeing that all emails relating to Benghazi have been turned over to the committee? Cummings may trust that Clinton has done so, but less partisan observers might be skeptical.

Bottom line: Clinton is going to get away with it. And Hill and Bill are probably laughing about putting one over on their political enemies.

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Iranian Defector: US Team ‘Mainly There to Speak on Iran’s Behalf’

Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

An Iranian editor in Switzerland to cover the nuclear negotiations has defected, according to a report in The Telegraph.

Amir Hossein Motaghi said in a television interview that he defected because being a journalist no longer made “sense” to him due to the censorship in Iran. He was a public relations consultant on the campaign of President Hassan Rouhani last year.

Motaghi also said that the US negotiating team was “mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal.”

“There are a number of people attending on the Iranian side at the negotiations who are said to be journalists reporting on the negotiations,” he told Irane Farda television. “But they are not journalists and their main job is to make sure that all the news fed back to Iran goes through their channels.

“My conscience would not allow me to carry out my profession in this manner any more.” Mr Mottaghi was a journalist and commentator who went on to use social media successfully to promote Mr Rouhani to a youthful audience that overwhelmingly elected him to power.

But he was also subject to the bitter internal arguments within the Iranian regime. One news website claimed he had been forced in to report to the ministry of intelligence weekly, and that he had been tipped off that he might be subject to arrest had he returned to Tehran.

He is said to have been a friend of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American reporter for the Washington Post who has been detained in Tehran, and to have campaigned privately for his release.

ISCA, which has come under fire from regime hardliners critical of Mr Rouhani, issued a statement denying that Mr Motaghi was in Lausanne to report for it.

“Amir Hossein Motaghi had terminated his contribution to ISCA and this news agency has not had any reporter at the nuclear talks, except for a photojournalist”, it said.

However, critics said Mr Mottaghi was “prey of the exiled counter-revolutionaries” and had gone to Lausanne with the sole purpose of seeking refugee status in Switzerland.

In his television interview, Mr Mottaghi also gave succour to western critics of the proposed nuclear deal, which has seen the White House pursue a more conciliatory line with Tehran than some of America’s European allies in the negotiating team, comprising the five permanent members of the UN security council and Germany.

Meanwhile, France is alarmed that the deal doesn’t restrain Iran’s nuclear program enough. Apparently, Kerry’s browbeating has not had much effect on them. But it’s not likely that the French would blow up a framework deal, knowing that serious negotiations remain with a June 20 deadline for an agreement.

But White House “bullying” France into keeping its mouth shut about the deal’s weakness threatens to severely impact our relations:

Efforts by the Obama administration to stem criticism of its diplomacy with Iran have included threats to nations involved in the talks, including U.S. allies, according to Western sources familiar with White House efforts to quell fears it will permit Iran to retain aspects of its nuclear weapons program.

A series of conversations between top American and French officials, including between President Obama and French President Francois Hollande, have seen Americans engage in behavior described as bullying by sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

The disagreement over France’s cautious position in regard to Iran threatens to erode U.S. relations with Paris, sources said.

Tension between Washington and Paris comes amid frustration by other U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. The White House responded to this criticism by engaging in public campaigns analysts worry will endanger American interests.

Western policy analysts who spoke to the Free Beacon, including some with close ties to the French political establishment, were dismayed over what they saw as the White House’s willingness to sacrifice its relationship with Paris as talks with Iran reach their final stages.

Obviously, the French don’t agree with giving away the store just to get a framework deal.

With 72 hours to go before the deadline, expect more concessions, more moving goalposts. Obama has put his legacy on the line in these talks and the Iranians know it.

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Hillary Clinton’s Emails Deliberately Deleted

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

According to Hillary Clinton’s lawyer, requests by Congress to see the emails that the Clinton gang did not consider “official” can’t be honored because they don’t exist anymore.

That’s because after the Clinton team turned over the emails relating to her official business as secretary of state to the State Department, a setting on the server was changed to keep only those emails generated in the last 60 days.

The remaining 30,000 or so emails promptly disappeared.

Nothing to see here…Move along…

From the New York Times:

“Thus, there are no hdr22@clintonemail.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized,” Mr. Kendall said in a letter to the House select committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

The committee subpoenaed the server this month, asking Mrs. Clinton to hand it over to a third party so it could determine which emails were personal and which were government records.

At a news conference this month, Mrs. Clinton appeared to provide two answers about whether she still had copies of her emails. First, she said that she “chose not to keep” her private personal emails after her lawyers had examined the account and determined on their own which ones were personal and which were State Department records. But later, she said that the server, which contained personal communication by her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “will remain private.” The server was kept at their home in Chappaqua, N.Y., which is protected around the clock by the Secret Service.

Mrs. Clinton’s disclosure on Friday only heightened suspicions by the committee’s chairman, Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, about how she handled her emails, and it is likely to lead to more tension between her and the committee.

Mr. Gowdy said in a written statement that it appeared that Mrs. Clinton deleted the emails after Oct. 28, when the State Department first asked her to turn over emails that were government records.

“Not only was the secretary the sole arbiter of what was a public record, she also summarily decided to delete all emails from her server, ensuring no one could check behind her analysis in the public interest,” Mr. Gowdy said.

Mrs. Clinton’s “unprecedented email arrangement with herself and her decision nearly two years after she left office to permanently delete all emails” had deprived Americans of a full record of her time in office, he added.

So, to sum up: Once it became clear that the personal email server and 60,000 of her emails were going to become public last October, two of Mrs. Clinton’s trusted employees were tasked with culling “official” emails from the “personal” communications. No, they didn’t read each and every one, but used a basic search function employing key words and phrases.

The remaining emails were then automatically — deliberately — deleted when the setting on the server was changed.

Even if most of the deleted emails were cutesy missives to Chelsea or other things of a personal nature, if only a few dozen had relevant information on them, Congress should have been the one to determine that, not someone with a compelling interest in hiding embarrassing information.

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Second Grader Faces Suspension Over Military Haircut

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

A school named after a Medal of Honor recipient has threatened to suspend a second grade student, calling his military haircut a “distraction.”

Seven-year-old Adam Stinnett got his haircut “high and tight” in honor of his stepbrother who is serving in the Army. But the principal of Bobby Ray Elementary School, Monti Hillis, told Adam’s mother in an email, “We are not a military school and the boy’s haircut is against the rules.” The principal says she banned the haircut because it resembled a “mohawk.”

Not surprisingly, the idiotic policy set off a firestorm of protest.

From the Times-Free Press

Repeated efforts to contact Hillis were unsuccessful. In a statement released Wednesday, the Warren County Board of Education said it couldn’t comment on the controversy.

“Due to the confidential nature of this incident, which addresses a specific student and on advice of counsel, we cannot comment on the specifics of this incident and the investigation we have conducted internally,” the statement said.

The statement also said the Warren County School Board Policy “doesn’t address or prohibit any hairstyle” but “does allow each individual school to make guidelines appropriate for their particular school.” It emphasized the district’s support of all branches of the military, its pride that Bobby Ray Elementary is named after “a true American hero,” and that “Neither Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary nor any school in Warren County School District prohibits military haircuts.”

Adding irony to the situation is the fact that Adam’s school is named for a McMinnville soldier who was killed in Vietnam. And the school’s gymnasium, according to Stinnett, is named after another soldier, a classmate of hers who died in Afghanistan.

Hillis stuck to her guns.

“[Principal Hillis] said it was a distraction, and threatened to have him kicked out of school unless we shaved it off,” Stinnett said. “Like a bald head isn’t a distraction?”

Stinnett complied, but not before taking a photo and sharing her son’s story with the Southern Standard newspaper in McMinnville. The story was picked up by news outlets across the state, and Stinnett and Adam appeared nationally on “Fox and Friends” on Friday. Stinnett said Adam is loving the attention.

“Thursday night he said, ‘Momma, after tomorrow I’m going to be famous,’” Stinnett said.

The kid has a great attitude, but he shouldn’t have to put up with this nonsense. Note that the school district has thrown the principal under the bus, although it’s probable that the rule against such haircuts was written by them. Their pious proclamations of patriotism ring hollow when placed against their actions.

Adam got another military haircut on Thursday and attended school on Friday. The principal never said a word.

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Military Exercise Not a Dry Run for Martial Law

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

An internet rumor about a military exercise scheduled for next summer that involves 1200 special operators training in nine states across the southwest being a prelude to martial law has conspiratorial websites in a tizzy of speculation.

“Operation Jade Helm 15″ is being run by U.S. Army Special Operations Command and, if you believe the conspiracists, is a practice run for either the imposition of martial law or a roundup of administration opponents.

A map identifying Texas and Utah as “hostile territory” is being cited as proof of…something. Also, the “pocket of insurgency” in southern California is a nice touch. The military won’t confirm the authenticity of the map, but one analyst points to the acronyms as being key to figuring out what the exercise is all about.

After speaking to several former and active duty soldiers, The Fifth Column can say with almost certainty that Jade Helm is a massive Field Training Exercise (FTX) to enhance the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) capabilities of American special operations troops.

The uproar of Jade Helm was triggered by a map that surfaced on the internet labeling some areas of the United States as “hostile.”  Had the sites that cast this as some plan for martial law researched the acronyms on the map, they would have quickly realized it was a large scale training exercise involving some of America’s most secretive units. It should have also been immediately evident that there is currently no “insurgent pocket” in Southern California.

In the hostile area of Texas, there will be a JOAX event and a CRF event. This is the starting point of the exercise.

JOAX (Joint Operation Access Exercise): This is where the 82nd Airborne Division will parachute into “hostile territory.” An exercise identical to this phase of Jade Helm was recently conducted in North Carolina.

CRF (Crisis Response Force): This is typically a force that is made up of different units put together to handle a given scenario. The most recent example of a CRF was the group of units sent to the Mideast to protect US facilities. In this case, the CRF appears to be made up of a list of America’s most secretive units. In some cases the units are so secretive that The Fifth Column’s sources were either unaware of their existence or unwilling to talk about them.

MSOT (Marine Special Operations Team):  The Marines have several special warfare units that fall under this acronym. The best known of these units is Force Recon.

NSWTU (Naval Special Warfare Training Unit): This is a unit dedicated to making SEALs better.There is the possibility that this is in reference to Naval Special Warfare Task Units, which are subgroups of a SEAL Team. This seems highly unlikely given the massive size of the operation.

ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha): These are Green Berets. This is otherwise known as an “A-Team.” Sometimes identified as SFOD-A

0000.jpg - Shortcut.lnkStars and Stripes reports that USASOC is pushing back against the conspiracists:

Army Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria, a USASOC spokesman, confirmed that there is an upcoming exercise called Jade Helm 15 which is scheduled to take place this summer at locations in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, California and Nevada. But he denied the event is preparation for some sort of military takeover.

“That notion was proposed by a few individuals who are unfamiliar with how and why USASOC conducts training exercises,” he said in an email. “This exercise is routine training to maintain a high level of readiness for Army Special Operations Forces because they must be ready to support potential missions anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.”

He said the only thing unique about this particular exercise, which is slated to take place between July 15 and Sept. 15, is “the use of new challenging terrain” which was chosen because it is similar to conditions special operations forces operate in overseas.

Lastoria said coordination with local law enforcement is necessary for safety reasons because some of the training will take place outside of military bases where civilian agencies have jurisdiction.

He said his office has been receiving a lot of calls from people who heard about the exercise and are concerned about “the nature of the training objectives.”

The exercise sounds fairly straightforward and unremarkable. Using domestic sites to train our special operators is a lot cheaper than sending them overseas. Also, in order to practice infiltration, the special operators will have to try and blend in with the population, not arousing suspicion. Dark theories that the special operators will “snatch and grab” conservatives are pretty paranoid.

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‘Smart Power’: Iran Framework Deal Will Not be Written Down

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters on Friday that the deal to create a framework to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions will not be written down and will be short on specifics.

Of course, this leaves both sides with the ability to spin the framework deal any way they wish. Obama can proclaim the mullahs will be in a box and Iran can trumpet their victory over the decadent west once a permanent deal is negotiated by July 1.

Practically speaking, it’s the only way to advance the negotiations. Both sides are still far apart on a number of issues with no hope of resolving anything by the March 31 deadline for a framework agreement.

Politico:

No specifics, nothing written, perhaps not even anything that Iran and the international negotiating partners say as one—that’s the most to expect out of the nuclear talks now running up against the deadline in Switzerland, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Friday.
But even concluding this round of talks with that level of ambiguity, Hammond said, would count as a significant success. And he thinks they’ll get it.

“We envisage being able to deliver a narrative. Whether that is written down or not, I don’t think is the crucial issue,” Hammond told reporters at the British ambassador’s residence during a visit to Washington. “This will be a political statement, or perhaps political statements from the [negotiating partners] and Iran which create enough momentum to make it clear that we’ve now got this boulder over the hill and we are into the detailed work to produce an agreement.”

Whether that will happen by Sunday, as some have indicated, is an open question, Hammond said. He said he’s expecting to fly to Switzerland soon, but wouldn’t commit to a specific date of arrival.

Other sources are also now casting doubt on recent speculation that a deal would come by Sunday.

In short, not much of a “framework” at all. But putting lipstick on a pig and trying to sell the deal as a triumph of diplomacy is better than nothing, as the administration sees it.

Senators demanding details are likely to be disappointed. Might this mean the long delayed vote on forcing the president to keep Congress in the loop and slap additional sanctions on Iran will finally take place?

Republicans say they have veto proof majorities for both bills as Democrats are also tired of Obama’s games.

What form any agreement takes could determine the reactions from senators who have threatened to oppose a nuclear agreement if they deem it insufficiently tough. Some senators have insisted on seeing Iranian commitments in written form before they’d agree not to vote for legislation that the White House says would blow up the talks.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said he sees no need for a written document describing an interim agreement in advance of the June 30 deadline for a comprehensive deal.

Hammond said no one should expect that kind of formal document.
“The challenge is: as soon as you write anything down, you’ve got to write everything down,” Hammond said.

So write it down. If Iran and the west don’t see eye to eye on important issues that would lead to an agreement, what’s the point of continuing negotiations?

The point is, a failure to reach an agreement with Iran means that other ways must be found to stop them from getting a bomb. At least a deal could be spun as the west successfully curbing Iran’s nuclear bomb program — even if it does no such thing. No deal means re-authorizing sanctions or bombing their nuclear infrastructure.

There is no stomach in the west for either of those options, hence, this game of “pretend” where we make believe that a deal could stop the Iranians from developing a “break out” nuclear bomb program, and that we’d actually do something about it even if they did construct a weapon.

The level of cynicism it takes to try and sell this framework deal to the American public and Congress is extraordinary. But failure would be seen as a personal blow to Obama and damage his legacy.

The idea that these things are more important than the safety and security of the US and our allies is something to behold.

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54-Pound, 7-Year-Old Girl Sent Home from School with a Note Saying Her BMI Is Too High

Friday, March 27th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

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Kylee Moss, a 7-year-old-girl from Belton, Missouri, was sent home from school with a note to her mother saying that the 54-pound child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) was too high.

Aside from the idiocy of using a discredited measurement for body fat, what are these administrators thinking? Obviously, they’re not. If they had two working brain cells, they would take one look at this kid and realize the stupidity of believing their “measurements.”

KMBC:

The leader of the Belton School District is promising changes after a girl came home from school with a note saying that her body mass index was too high.

Kylee Moss’ mother said she was infuriated when her daughter brought home the note from Hillcrest Elementary last Friday, along with a recommendation for healthy snacks and more physical activity.

“She goes, ‘Does this mean I’m fat?’ and I said, ‘No, this does not mean you are fat,’” said Amanda Moss.

Kylee, 7, stands 3 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 54 pounds. Her mother said she’s as active a second-grader as you’re likely to see.

“She is tiny. She has no body fat at all,” said Amanda Moss.

And this kid has energy to burn.

The BMI is a bogus measure of body fat. How bogus?

1. The person who dreamed up the BMI said explicitly that it could not and should not be used to indicate the level of fatness in an individual.

The BMI was introduced in the early 19th century by a Belgian named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He was a mathematician, not a physician. He produced the formula to give a quick and easy way to measure the degree of obesity of the general population to assist the government in allocating resources. In other words, it is a 200-year-old hack.

2. It is scientifically nonsensical.

There is no physiological reason to square a person’s height (Quetelet had to square the height to get a formula that matched the overall data. If you can’t fix the data, rig the formula!). Moreover, it ignores waist size, which is a clear indicator of obesity level.

3. It is physiologically wrong.

It makes no allowance for the relative proportions of bone, muscle and fat in the body. But bone is denser than muscle and twice as dense as fat, so a person with strong bones, good muscle tone and low fat will have a high BMI. Thus, athletes and fit, health-conscious movie stars who work out a lot tend to find themselves classified as overweight or even obese.

4. It gets the logic wrong.

The CDC says on its Web site that “the BMI is a reliable indicator of body fatness for people.” This is a fundamental error of logic. For example, if I tell you my birthday present is a bicycle, you can conclude that my present has wheels. That’s correct logic. But it does not work the other way round. If I tell you my birthday present has wheels, you cannot conclude I got a bicycle. I could have received a car. Because of how Quetelet came up with it, if a person is fat or obese, he or she will have a high BMI. But as with my birthday present, it doesn’t work the other way round. A high BMI does not mean an individual is even overweight, let alone obese. It could mean the person is fit and healthy, with very little fat.

5. It’s bad statistics.

6. It is lying by scientific authority.

Because the BMI is a single number between 1 and 100 (like a percentage) that comes from a mathematical formula, it carries an air of scientific authority. But it is mathematical snake oil.

7. It suggests there are distinct categories of underweight, ideal, overweight and obese, with sharp boundaries that hinge on a decimal place.

That’s total nonsense.

Bottom line: “It is embarrassing for one of the most scientifically, technologically and medicinally advanced nations in the world to base advice on how to prevent one of the leading causes of poor health and premature death (obesity) on a 200-year-old numerical hack developed by a mathematician who was not even an expert in what little was known about the human body back then.”

But it’s only partly the school’s fault — the part where they totally embarrassed a 7-year-old girl and gave a shock to her self esteem. The BMI is still used by public health officials across the country and around the world. This “snake oil,” as the author above calls the BMI, is virtually worthless in cases of extreme malnutrition. Also, it doesn’t take into account relative musculature and body build.

There are other ways to calculate BMI, but those require specialty machines which are more expensive than just plugging in a mathematical formula. So despite the BMI being proved as an unreliable measurement, it looks like we’re stuck with it.

For the sake of Kylee Moss and an unknown number of other kids who are misidentified as having too high or too low BMIs, schools should get out of the business of tagging children as either too fat or too thin and leave the guesswork to the family doctor and to parents.

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UNC-Wisconsin Headlines NCAA Tourney Play Tonight

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

It’s Kentucky vs. West Virginia and Notre Dame vs. Wichita State in the Midwest Regional semis tonight. Xavier vs. Arizona and UNC vs. Wisconsin from the West Regional will complete the night.

Kentucky will be tested by the Mountaineers tough defense, but should have enough to make it to Saturday’s final. The Irish are slight underdogs against a very talented Shocker team. But neither team plays stellar defense so Notre Dame has a good shot at pulling off a mild upset. The Musketeers benefitted when Georgia State knocked off 3rd seeded Baylor in the first round and Xavier then faced the Panthers in the second round, defeating them handily. But 2nd seed Arizona has talent to spare and the Wildcats should be able to handle Xavier’s pressing defense.

That leaves the game of the night; North Carolina against Wisconsin. For North Carolina, the health of their standout forward Kennedy Meeks weighs heavily on their chances. Meeks injured his knee in the Tarheels win over Arkansas, and his availability for the game against the Badgers is questionable:

“We don’t know anything about Kennedy,” Roy Williams said on Wednesday during the pregame news conferences at the Staples Center. “This morning he did some contact on a limited basis for the first time. You saw him out there, if you chose to go out there, he didn’t do much, but our whole team didn’t go because we had already practiced. But the big thing now is we’ll have to wait to see if there’s any more swelling or any pain tonight for what little he did this morning, and probably it won’t be — well, if there is swelling or pain tonight, we won’t play him. If there’s not, then we’ll probably make the decision during warm-ups tomorrow.”

If Meeks can’t go, it’s possible Coach Williams may go small, moving Tokoto to the wing and playing 3 forwards. Or, Williams could put in 6’10″ Joel James who has the bulk to match up with the Badger’s bigs.

The key man in Williams offense is Marcus Paige, a diminutive guard who can get out on the break and make Wisconsin’s life miserable. If UNC has its running shoes on, Wisconsin will be hard pressed to stay with them.

But it is likely to be a game won or lost in the frontcourt.

Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker vs. North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, J.P. Tokoto and Joel James.

UW’s talented trio contributed a combined 62 points and 22 rebounds in the second round against Coastal Carolina, but the numbers dipped to 47 and 12 in the third round against Oregon. North Carolina surely will pay extra attention to Kaminsky, meaning Hayes and Dekker should get favorable matchups. Hayes might prove to be too strong and/or quick for whomever guards him. Dekker must remain active on both ends of the floor. When he moves without the ball and defends hard good things happen. He must make sure his feet are set when he has an open three-pointer. The 6-foot-9 Johnson is tenacious on the interior. He averages 12.9 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds per game. He has 88 offensive rebounds, the No. 2 mark on the team, and is shooting 56.0%, second best among the starters. He has not attempted a three-pointer this season and has fouled out five times. Tokoto, a graduate of Menomonee Falls High School, is an outstanding defender who scores better in transition than in half-court sets. He also is No. 2 on the team in assists (4.3). His athletic ability is remarkable but his jumper is wildly inconsistent. With Kennedy Meeks iffy because of a sprained left knee suffered last weekend, it will be interesting to see if James, a 6-10, 280-pound junior who is averaging 2.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, can produce. If he gets the call, he has to give the Tar Heels quality minutes. Edge: UW.

Kaminsky is a load because he can score from anywhere on the court. From the free throw line extended to the blocks, his deft touch can get you points in a hurry.

But Kaminsky is prone to getting into foul trouble, and you can bet that Paige is going to test him early by going right at him, especially on the break. If Kaminsky can stay on the court, he could be the difference maker in the game.

The Badger’s other bigs will also be tough to handle for the athletic, but undersized UNC forwards. Hayes is a good rebounder (6.5 a game) with a knack for snaring offensive boards, while Dekker can shoot the 3 ball well for a big man.

UNC’s Brice Johnson is only 6’9″, but weighs nearly 230 pounds. He may guard Kaminsky one on one to start the game, trying to play him physical to wear the Big Ten Player of the Year down. James is a beast at 280 lbs but is better suited to playing a low post game. The perimeter shooting of Wisconsin’s bigs could give him problems.

The Tar Heels aren’t whining about possibly losing Meeks. It will be next man up for UNC in what should be the most entertaining game of the night.

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Another Scott Walker Flip-Flop on Immigration Reform (Updated)

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Sir Thomas More: [to Will Roper] Now, listen, Will. Two years ago you were a passionate churchman. Now you’re a passionate Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head’s finished turning, your face is to the front again.

And, I suppose we can hope that when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s head is finished turning, we might actually know exactly where he stands on the question of granting a path to citizenship for illegals.

In 2013, he told an audience in Milwaukee that the comprehensive immigration reform bill, in which illegal immigrants can become United States citizens by first paying penalties and enduring a waiting period, “makes sense.”

Earlier this month, he told Fox News:

However, he is now saying such a plan is tantamount to amnesty, amid criticism that he has flip-flopped on that issue and others — including right-to-work legislation in his home state.

“I don’t believe in amnesty,” said Walker, who finished second Saturday in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s straw poll for potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates. “We need to secure the border. We ultimately need to put in place a system that works — a legal immigration system that works.”

Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that he told a private dinner in New Hampshire that he supported a path to citizenship:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans this month that he backed the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and to eventually become eligible for citizenship, a position at odds with his previous public statements on the matter.

Mr. Walker’s remarks, which were confirmed by three people present and haven’t been reported previously, vary from the call he has made in recent weeks for “no amnesty”—a phrase widely employed by people who believe immigrants who broke the law by entering the country without permission shouldn’t be awarded legal status or citizenship.

The changing positions by Mr. Walker, a likely candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, show the difficulty that some in the Republican Party face as they try to appeal both to the conservative GOP primary electorate—which largely opposes liberalizing immigration laws—and business leaders and general election voters who have been more supportive of granting legal status to undocumented immigrants.

This isn’t just a matter of flip flopping. This is chameleon-like — and kind of creepy. Usually, politicians aren’t quite so brazen about telling a specific audience one thing, while telling another audience exactly the opposite.

But Walker, whether he intended for his remarks to get out or not — and if he thought he could keep it a secret, he’s either stupid or naive — picked the wrong issue on which to be all over the map and back again. Supporting a path to citizenship is a deal breaker for a lot of conservatives and now that his support is out in the open, he must either renounce his now twice stated position again (and hope that  few people believe him), or embrace the suck and join Jeb Bush in being the only major candidates supporting “amnesty.”

Twitter hasn’t blown up yet, but I suspect once this information gets out there, Walker is going to be in for a very rough few days.

UPDATE: Spokesman Denies

Reuters is reporting:

Likely 2016 Republican U.S. presidential hopeful Scott Walker’s stance on illegal immigrants remains unchanged, his spokeswoman said on Thursday, disputing a report that he favored letting them stay in the country and eventually become eligible for citizenship.

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswomen for the Wisconsin governor, labeled as “erroneous” a Wall Street Journal report detailing what the newspaper called Walker’s shift in stance on the matter.

“Governor Walker has been very clear that he does not support amnesty and believes that border security must be established and the rule of law must be followed,” Kukowski said in an emailed statement.

That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

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Three Members of ‘Taliban 5′ Swapped for Bergdahl Tried to Reconnect to Terror Network

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

At least three of the Taliban 5 terror commanders who were traded for Bowe Bergdahl made attempts to make contact with their former terrorist networks, reports Fox News.

The new allegations come as Bergdahl now faces desertion charges, and as the one-year deal governing the former Guantanamo detainees’ supervised release in the Gulf nation of Qatar is set to expire — at the end of May.

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency recently told Congress that, after that expiration, all his officers can do is warn the U.S. government if the men return to the battlefield.

“I’ve seen nothing that causes me to believe these folks are reformed or [have] changed their ways or intend to re-integrate to society in ways to give me any confidence that they will not return in trying to do harm to America,” Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., a member of the House intelligence committee, told Fox News.

The official who described the attempts by three to make contact did not identify the men by name. But the evidence came to light through intelligence from liaison services and monitored communications available to the U.S. government.

A defense official did not dispute the claim, emphasizing that one of the men has come “very close, trying to provide advice, council or inspiration” to his terror network, while the other two had not crossed that line.

In January, CNN was first to report, and U.S. officials later confirmed, that one of the five fighters was making phone calls to militants. The latest claim indicates those efforts were more widespread.

A State Department official, though, disagreed with the characterization of the intelligence and how it relates to the “Taliban Five’s” activities.

“None of the five individuals has returned to the battlefield and none of the five have left Qatar,” the official said. “Since their transfer many actions have been taken to restrict the actions of these individuals, and they are all being closely monitored by the United States and Qatar.

“We are in frequent and high level contact with Qatari government about the implementation of these measures, to ensure our concerns about these individuals are being met. For example, by enabling us to closely track their activities.”

The State Department is putting political spin on the revelation, as is the office of the DNI:

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence also uses a strict definition for re-engagement, saying they do not “consider mere communication with individuals or organizations — including other former GTMO detainees — an indicator of reengagement. Rather, the motives, intentions, and purposes of each communication are taken into account when assessing whether the individual has reengaged.”

It’s all doubletalk. They raise the bar high enough that they don’t have to do anything unless the terrorists actually carry out an attack.

This was a bad deal from the start and we still don’t have all the facts surrounding it. Was there a ransom paid? Were reports of a possible rescue operation called off true? What were the other options to get Bergdahl out facing the administration?

While Bergdahl’s case was being considered, the DoD begged off answering questions before Congress. Now that the fate of the deserter is known, maybe some of those questions will be answered.

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Controversy Over ‘American Pride’ Themed Dance at High School

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

There was a time in America, not too long ago, when the most controversial question in the country was whether the Yankees should be broken up.

We took a lot of things for granted back then — things I wish now I had appreciated a little more. This is especially true after I read this incredible account of how school advisors in Lexington, Massachusetts, tried to talk the junior class at the local high school out of holding a dance with the theme of “American Pride.”

Yes…THAT Lexington, Massachusetts. THE Lexington, where the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired and the American Revolution got underway in earnest.

Boston.com:

A high school dance will keep its “American Pride” theme after a debate over concerns that people of other nationalities might feel excluded, the school superintendent said Tuesday.

Assistant superintendent Carol Pilarski said in an interview with Boston’s WHDH that school advisors suggested students abandon their chosen “American pride” theme in favor of “maybe a national pride theme, so they could represent their individual nationalities. Maybe it should be more inclusive and it should be national pride.”

Students complained to WHDH, which quoted one student, Ethan Embry, calling the decision “ridiculous.”

Now that the crap has hit the fan, school administrators are backtracking furiously:

But superintendent Paul Ash told Boston.com on Tuesday that as far as he knows, the theme was never officially changed. He said Lexington was “very proud of its history” and that administrators were “delighted” that students had chosen an American pride theme.

Still, he acknowledged a debate.

“There was discussion. I’m not going to deny that,” Ash said.

“Official policy is made by the high school principal. And she didn’t change it,” he added. “I talked to the high school principal and I believe her.”

He declined to comment on Pilarki’s remarks, adding that he was not involved in the discussions.

“As you can imagine, superintendents of schools don’t get involved with school dances,” he said.

Actually, we can imagine superintendents getting involved in anything if they thought it could advance the cause of multiculturalism and diversity. We’ve seen this so many times before. A school does something incredibly stupid like banning flag T-shirts, or preventing men in uniform from walking the halls, and then quickly backs down when the matter becomes public.

It doesn’t get much more politically correct than ginning up controversy over the concept of American pride. It’s one of those things we took for granted growing up. Who could have imagined otherwise?

This is the 40th anniversary of one of the most successful advertising campaigns in American history. Watch this Chevy ad from 1975 — unabashedly pro-American.

Just 25 years ago, in Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones gave a speech about America that spoke of how the country is always changing, but remains basically the same:

People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

You couldn’t put that speech in a film today. It would be laughed out of the theater.

When conservatives talk about “taking America back,” liberals will inevitably say that what they really mean in their heart of hearts is that they want blacks in the back of the bus, women  barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, gays back in the closet, and white privilege the rule.

It may be that way for some. But for most of us, it means we want an America where “American Pride” is not now and never will be a controversial subject. Where we don’t have to walk on eggshells when we speak in public, fearing we’re offending someone — or someone who might pretend to be offended. And we want an America where we can be reasonably certain the Congress and the executive branch pay attention to the tenets and precepts found in the Constitution.

Is that really too much to ask?

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Ted Cruz Speaks the Languages of Hyperbole and Exaggeration Fluently

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Rick Moran

For the media’s so-called “fact checkers,” you must admit that Ted Cruz is a target-rich environment. But so are most politicians, when it comes down to it.

For Cruz, however — a man who speaks the languages of hyperbole and exaggeration fluently — our beloved gatekeepers rejoice in the prospect of a Cruz candidacy. The Texas senator has a special relationship with the truth — he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. So what if he inflates the number of IRS agents or the number of people who have been forced into part-time work because of Obamacare? The important point is that the IRS sucks and Obamacare, well, sucks too.

Just a cursory examination of stories about Ted Cruz today shows that many media outlets are piling on — and not hiding their glee in doing so. I’ve found several sites that insist on “fact checking” the senator’s speech at Liberty University announcing his candidacy.

USA Today reports:

• Cruz railed against a “government … that seeks to ban our ammunition.” The Obama administration sought to ban a certain type of armor-piercing bullet, not all types of ammunition. The proposal has since been postponed.

• Cruz claimed that as a result of the Affordable Care Act “millions … have lost their health insurance.” In fact, about 10 million people on net gained insurance between September 2013 and December 2014, according to the Urban Institute.

• Cruz also claimed that as a result of the law “millions [have been] forced into part-time work.” There’s no solid figure on how many may have had their hours cut to part time, but one analysis of monthly labor surveys said the number was “likely” a few hundred thousand.

I guess this is what passes for “fact checking” — putting words in Cruz’s mouth for starters. Cruz did not say, nor would he ever say, that the government was trying to ban all ammunition. That’s an absurdity that reveals the “fact checker’s” bias.

And I suppose that Americans only matter in the aggregate and not as individuals. Over 5 million people had their insurance taken away from them because of Obamacare mandates. The net total of those covered may have increased, but tell that to the 5 million people who lost their plans. I’m sure it will be very comforting.

As for the senator’s claim that “millions” of people have been forced into part time work because of Obamacare, Cruz is neither wrong nor right. We simply don’t know. No one is going around with a clipboard asking part-time workers why they are working part time.

It probably isn’t “millions,” but what if it’s a million? In this case, the point Cruz is trying to make is well taken. Besides, we’ll really get a feel for how many employers are going to downsize the hours of their employees next year when the small-business mandate goes into effect. Those companies with more than 50 workers but fewer than 100 will be deciding whether to eliminate some or most full-time jobs or refuse to cover the employees anyway, forcing them on to the exchanges.

Fact-checking politicians is a fool’s errand and with Cruz, it’s no different. But you can’t fact-check paranoia. A large portion of Cruz’s exaggerated rhetoric that sends conservatives into paroxysms of joy smacks of fear mongering. He is trying to evoke the Man on a White Horse syndrome and you don’t have to guess who is riding to our rescue.

The Atlantic’s David Ludwig quotes liberally from Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay on the “Paranoid Style in American Politics” and eventually manages to get to some hard truths about Ted Cruz, the candidate:

Historian Richard Hofstadter described the use of “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” in American political life. Hofstadter called this phenomenon “the American paranoid style,” built on the perpetuation of conspiracy theories and the use of apocalyptic prose. “[The] demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals,” Hofstadter wrote. “Since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration.”

While this style has been employed by both the right and the left, one place it finds current expression is in Cruz’s appeals to conservative and Tea Party audiences. The freshman senator’s willingness to stand up and fight for “hopelessly unrealistic goals” was perhaps clearest during his 21-hour-and-19-minute Senate filibuster to defund Obamacare in 2013. “I will say standing here after 14 hours, standing on your feet, there’s sometimes some pain, sometimes some fatigue that is involved,” Cruz told the Senate chamber. “But you know what? There’s far more pain involved in rolling over, far more pain in hiding in the shadows, far more pain in not standing for principle, not standing for the good, not standing for integrity.”

Although Senator Cruz’s speech had no serious chance of derailing the Affordable Care Act, his hours-long rebuke of Obamacare resonated with supporters. “I’m proud of our good friend Ted Cruz, who is doing what he promised voters he would do, which is fight at every turn to protect American families and businesses from the President’s disastrous health care law,” wrote Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer afterwards.

At the time, I referred to Cruz and his supporters as the “King Canute Caucus,” referencing the utter futility of what he was attempting to do: defund Obamacare in the Democratic Senate.

But that’s not the only time Cruz led with his face:

In 2010, the former Texas solicitor general claimed that Harvard Law School had employed a dozen communist professors during the time he studied there. Running for office in 2012, Cruz warned supporters about a George Soros-led United Nations environmental initiative to banish golf courses from the local American communities. And during former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s nominating hearing in 2012, Cruz earned rebukes from both Democrats and Republicans for questioning Hagel’s character. Among other things, Cruz insinuated that Hagel had taken money from foreign governments, didn’t fully support Israel, and that his nomination was being “publicly celebrated by the Iranian government” (a claim that was, at the very least, exaggerated). These intricate conspiracies avoid the ambiguity of reality in exchange for simple and easy to understand narratives. Instead of wading into complex issues and weighing ramifications, Cruz sets up straw men, which are easy—indeed, necessary—to oppose.

It appears that Cruz is the Randall “Tex” Cobb of politics. Cobb was a professional punching bag back in the 1980s whose bout against then-heavyweight champion Larry Holmes was so one sided and bloody that it drove Howard Cosell from the ringside microphone. (Cobb quipped: “Hey, if it gets him to stop broadcasting NFL games, I’ll go play football for a week too!”)

But despite taking on opponents he couldn’t possibly defend himself against, Cobb ended up on his feet: he took his skills to Hollywood and became a professional bad guy in the movies. And yeah…he was a punching bag for the good guys, too.

Cruz may not be as big a loser as Cobb was, but he has precious few victories to crow about. What he apparently possesses more than anything is an ability to raise the temperature of conservatives by suggesting the absolute worst about his opponents. Do the American people need to be told that the world is ending, or that it’s “on fire” as he told a New Hampshire audience recently?

A little less exaggeration and hyperbole, a little more nuance and an acknowledgement of the complexities of the world, and who knows? Ted Cruz could emerge as a top-tier candidate for the Republican nomination.

But I’m not holding my breath.

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Is a Confederate Battle Flag Displayed on a License Plate Free Speech?

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 - by Rick Moran

Once again, the Confederate battle flag is the center of controversy as the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, a case involving the display of the flag on a specialty license plate in Texas.

The question facing the court is more complex than it would originally appear: is the “speech” that the flag represents a matter of individual freedom or, since the license plate is issued by the state, is it a question of government speech, where Texas can pick and choose which sentiments and issues it supports?

The case is important because other issues that private citizens wish to highlight on their license plates — abortion, war and peace, minority rights — can also be rejected if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the state.

Bloomberg reports:

The case goes back to 2009, when the Texas branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which honors soldiers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, submitted a design proposal for a specialty license plate to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles that included a Confederate flag. The DMV board that voted on the proposals fielded angry public comments and twice rejected the plate as an offensive celebration of slavery, according to the Supreme Court-focused news site SCOTUSblog.

The SCV sued, saying the DMV is violating the free speech rights of drivers who would select the license plate. Texas countered that license plates are government property on which the government can decide its own message. (The First Amendment guarantees that the government won’t abridge individuals’ right to free speech, but the government is allowed to police its own “speech.”)

Texas—which does celebrate an annual Confederate Heroes Day—asserted in a case brief that it “is fully within its rights to exclude swastikas, sacrilege, and overt racism from state-issued license plates 14 that bear the State’s name and imprimatur.”

In its own brief, the SCV shot back that having the annual holiday shows that “The State apparently does not believe that the ‘message’ of the Confederate flag is offensive to the public, or, if it is offensive, the State certainly does not shy away from its expression because of such offense.”

The case has attracted some unusual bedfellows, with the American Civil Liberties Union, pro-life groups, and even the satirist P.J. O’Rourke filing briefs in support of the SCV.

The AP said Texas offers 350 varieties of specialty plates (including ones devoted to restaurants, the Boy Scouts, and blood donations) that brought in $17.6 million in revenue last year. The state does offer license plates commemorating “Buffalo soldiers”—black regiments that fought Native Americans in the 19th century.

“There are a lot of competing racial and ethnic concerns, and Texas doesn’t necessarily handle them any way but awkwardly sometimes,” Lynne Rambo, a professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth, told the AP.

Five federal appeals courts have ruled in favor of the non-profit SCV, according SCOTUSblog, including, most recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The battle flag of the Confederacy (actually, it’s one of several battle flags used by southern armies during the war) is perhaps the most misunderstood — usually deliberately so — piece of Americana there is. It is not the national flag of the Confederacy, which you can see here. So the question becomes, what is it?

If we are going to penalize southern soldiers and think awful things about them because they fought and died under that flag, then we might as well ban Old Glory as well. Historian James McPherson estimates that no more than 20% of union regiments were abolitionist regiments formed expressly to free the slaves, or regiments with abolitionist sympathizers. Most northern working men opposed freeing the slaves, fearing they would head north and take their jobs.  And northern whites almost universally opposed giving blacks the right to vote, to be educated in their schools, and to worship at their churches.

The fact is, almost all of America had the kind of casual, racist attitudes back then that modern-day opponents of the battle flag appear to ascribe to southerners only. So why pick on the battle flag?

It’s sad but true that the battle flag was incorporated into the flags of several southern states during the civil rights era not to honor southern soldiers, but to signify opposition to federal interference in what they considered states’ rights. In that sense, the anti-battle flag advocates have a point. It was used as a symbol of oppression and opposition to equal rights which has no place in modern America.

The flag is also employed by the Klan and many hate groups across the country. But as an expression of free speech, should it be allowed on license plates?

Allowing Texas to ban the battle flag from license plates would open the door to banning other, more overtly political speech. Pro- and anti-abortion messages could be banned depending on who is in power. “Drill, baby, drill” could be banned by a liberal administration that opposes fossil fuels. Giving the state the power to regulate free expression is a slippery slope that the Supreme Court will, hopefully, prevent us sliding down.

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