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Rough Justice For High School Bondage Textbook



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Bay Area parents have given given a sound thrashing to a sexual education textbook that featured information on handcuffs, sex toys, bondage, and other topics best left in the hands of an experienced dominatrix.

As National Review Online’s Molly Wharton reported last week, the Fremont Unified School District planned to introduce the textbook entitled Your Health Today, without so much as a mutually agreed-upon safe word from parents, at the beginning of the school year:

Teachers unanimously chose the explicit book in June to replace an earlier one that was ten years old. “Our high-school students today need all the tools they can have to arm themselves to make the best-informed decision,” the school district’s Board President, Lara Calvert-York, said.

Authors of the textbook told Today that the book is meant for college freshmen. They added, though, that they believe the material is appropriate for younger readers.

Parents, and even students, say the book goes too far.

“It’s a bit much for me, I’m not comfortable with my child — I mean, wow, that’s, the graphics are extreme — oh my gosh,” one parent told CBS as she was shown some of the images in the book. “They are very pornographic. The pictures are very explicit.”

Clearly a decade-old textbook would not be suitable for a modern readership, given that until 2004 babies were still made through a crude process — involving labor-intensive horticulture and ritual incantations to the sun — that differs radically from today’s sophisticated methods. But old-fashioned Fremont parents hogtied the school district with a petition demanding the book be removed. And according to the Los Angeles Times, Fremont Unified has submitted:

Supt. Jim Morris will ask school board members Wednesday to place the book, “Your Health Today,” on hold until it’s fully vetted following concerns from the community that it would expose teens to topics on sexual fantasies, sex games, as well as themes that include ropes, handcuffs, sex toys and vibrators.

The book’s publisher, McGraw-Hill, will work with school officials to modify the textbook so it meets the district’s needs and address concerns about “the appropriateness of its content for high school students,” according to a district statement.

The land of the nuts and the fruits has lately seen several instances in which parents escaped the chains of public school bureaucracies. In June a Los Angeles judge threw out teacher tenure rules, and a lawsuit is threatening compulsory dues for teacher unions. But the teachers still often end up on top: In July Los Angeles Unified School District passed a hefty minimum wage increase.

Tags: California , sex , Education

Extending the Debate on UI Benefits



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Policy analysts from the left, right, and center continue to debate the wisdom of extending unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed. On July 1, 2013, my home state of North Carolina became the first to exit the extended-benefits program as part of a comprehensive reform of the state’s UI system that pulled North Carolina out from under a federal grandfather clause. At the start of 2014, the entire extended-benefits program expired for the country as a whole.

Republican leaders in Congress and most conservative analysts agreed with the expiration of extended benefits, citing a well-established conclusion in the scholarly literature that extended or rich UI benefits create disincentives for unemployed workers to make decisions that are painful or challenging in the short run but in their interest in the long run — such as accepting a less-than-ideal job, moving to another location where jobs in one’s field are more plentiful, returning to school to retrain for a new career, or starting a business. But some conservatives, including NRO contributors, argued that Congress should have made a deal with President Obama to extend UI benefits once again. They doubt the significance of the disincentive effect and worry that the long-term unemployed losing benefits would simply drop out of the workforce and end up on public assistance (or worse).

Because North Carolina exited the program six months before the rest of the country did, its experience is obviously of great interest. I’ve written about it multiple times, as have other analysts. My latest piece is a lengthy response to a thoughtful article by Brookings Institution fellow Justin Wolfers that ran in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. My conclusion is that while Wolfers is a far better critic of North Carolina’s decision than most, his interpretation of the data is debatable. Using a broad range of valid, relevant economic statistics suggests that North Carolina’s labor market and broader economy improved faster during the last six months of 2013 than both the national and regional averages, and that ending the disincentive effects of extended benefits likely played some role (although not a massive one, since most unemployed workers were never eligible for UI in the first place and thus aren’t directly affected by changes in UI benefits).

I end the piece by observing that Wolfers’ interpretation (extended benefits have no macroeconomic effects either way) and my interpretation (ending extended benefits has positive macroeconomic effects) are only two of three positions on the issue:

The third possible interpretation, still favored by liberals and some conservatives, is that ending extended benefits had deleterious results for the labor market and larger economy, first in North Carolina in the last half of 2013 and then in the nation as a whole during 2014. I’m unaware of any persuasive evidence for this conclusion. Since the entire extended-benefits program expired at the end of 2013, the American labor market has clearly experienced substantial improvement. The U-3, U-4, U-5, and U-6 rates are all down substantially. The employment-population ratio is up. Fewer people are on food stamps. The gains appear to be particularly strong among the long-term unemployed.

In short, the supporters of UI extended benefits predicted dire economic consequences from the expiration of those benefits. The predicted consequences didn’t happen. On that, Wolfers and conservatives agree.

Tags: unemployment insurance , Unemployment

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The High Costs of the HealthCare.gov Debacle



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The cost of HealthCare.gov has likely risen beyond $1 billion, writes Larry Seltzer, a contributing editor at the information-technology publication ZDNet, after browsing a recently released Government Accountability Office report.

The report says (page 9) that, through March 2014, the total cost of the project was $946 million. $840 million of this was spent by the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), with the rest by the IRS and Department of Veterans Affairs. But the development costs continue to rise and are likely already over $1 billion.

Clearly CMS was put in a bad spot having to build a major first-of-its-kind system in a compressed time frame. One implication of this was that the bidding process had to proceed without completed specifications. CMS made many risky decisions in order to meet their goals, such as the use of “cost-plus-fixed-fee” contracts in the bid process and an Agile software development model, which was new to CMS. As the report notes (footnote 23), in 2009 the Office of Management and Budget released a Memorandum (M-09-25) calling for a reduction in the use of such high-risk contracts.

A theme pervades the report: These decisions might have been reasonable, but the risks they created increased the requirements for oversight. The report finds that the agency failed utterly in its oversight responsibilities. Over and over, procedures called for the creation of quality assurance surveillance and other oversight mechanisms, but CMS did not do so. The result was huge cost overruns, the main potential downside of cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts.

I’d suggest that the final cost to taxpayers of HealthCare.gov’s tumultuous launch may actually be even higher than most reports suggest. That’s because, in the rush to enroll and absent a functional website, the federal government had to rely more heavily on non-tech contractors, too.

For example, Serco, which processed paper applications for health coverage, had a multi-year contract worth up to $1.249 billion. It remains debatable how much of that large sum belongs in back-of-the-envelope cost calculations for the HealthCare.gov launch debacle. (Of course, it’d be interesting to know what Marilyn Tavenner thought about these rising supplemental costs. Alas.)

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s takeaway from HealthCare.gov’s disastrous launch is that the government should get more involved in tech, not less, and spend more money on creating a “digital experience” for citizens, as the Wall Street Journal editorial page writes today:

The Administration admits the genesis of its new U.S. Digital Service—a team of “our country’s brightest digital talent”—was the HealthCare.gov tech fiasco that “reminded” officials that technology matters. The White House says the new service will be led by Mikey Dickerson, the Google engineer who was recruited last year to manage the rescue of HealthCare.gov, to the extent it was rescued. Mr. Dickerson and his digital SWAT team will now roam Washington spreading “best practices” and tech “plays” that will ensure a “customer-focused government” with “exceptional service delivery.”

… Beneath this technology ballyhoo, however, is the conceit that the solution to government’s woes can be found in a better app. The real problem with ObamaCare isn’t the website. It’s the belief that bureaucratic mandates, regulation and price controls can better deliver health care than can a system based on individual and market choice. No amount of digital savvy at Veteran’s Affairs will fix a government health service that inevitably rations care and then gives bureaucrats the incentives to lie about the waiting lists.

Seltzer doesn’t have high hopes, either:

I expect government to do a bad job in general, and I’m not surprised that it’s bad at building IT systems. What disappoints me is the lack of appreciation of just how bad a job the administration, an administration once reputed to be “tech savvy,” did on their most prominent project. A couple of CMS officials were allowed to resign and the contractor was replaced (after taking in hundreds of millions of dollars), but I’d say nobody has really paid a price for the HealthCare.gov debacle — other than the taxpayers who paid for it.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Web Briefing: August 29, 2014

Mann v. National Review Legal Update: Amici Weigh In



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Earlier this month NR’s counsel filed a brief in the D.C. Court of Appeals, urging its judges to overrule prior lower court rulings and to toss Penn State professor Michael Mann’s suit again NR (whose co-defendants are Mark Steyn, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Rand Simberg). Yesterday, various amicus briefs were filed in support of National Review and the First Amendment. We’ll share them in the next day or so, but right now we encourage our friends and readers to look at the “Brief Amici Curiae of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 26 Other Organizations in Support of Appellants and Urging Reversal.” It can be found here.

In addition to the Reporters Committee, the other amici are the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, American Society of News Editors, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the Association of American Publishers, Inc., Bloomberg L.P., the Center for Investigative Reporting, First Amendment Coalition, First Look Media, Fox News Network LLC, Gannett Co., Inc., Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the National Press Club, National Press Photographers Association, NBCUniversal Media, LLC, Newspaper Association of America, North Jersey Media Group Inc., Online News Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, the Seattle Times Company, Society of Professional Journalists, Stephens Media LLC, Time Inc., Tribune Publishing Company, Tully Center for Free Speech, Washington City Paper, and the Washington Post​. Their rationale for standing with NR is this:

Media amici have an interest in ensuring anti-SLAPP statutes remain effective tools in protecting free speech. While all citizens who choose to speak out on public affairs benefit from anti-SLAPP statutes, which aim to deter the use of litigation to silence speech, as regular speakers news organizations have an especially strong interest in ensuring that these statutes provide meaningful relief. It is news organizations that choose every day to venture into the thick of public controversy to make sure citizens are fully informed about their world. This engagement with important issues makes the news media more liable to be drawn into court, particularly when a controversial figure decides to use litigation as a weapon to counter thorough reporting or challenging commentary.

The American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital is the Washington, D.C., affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting and expanding the civil liberties of all Americans, particularly their right to freedom of speech. The ACLU of the Nation’s Capital played a leading role in supporting passage of the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act and, having represented defendants in several SLAPP suits, is familiar with the intimidating effect such lawsuits can have on free speech. 

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Hagel: ISIS Is a Threat Like the World Has Never Seen



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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described the ISIS army in Iraq as a threat unlike any the world has ever seen, as he announced that 130 military advisers would travel to northern Iraq.

“The Iraqi people, the government of Iraq, country of Iraq is now under threat from some of the most brutal, barbaric forces we’ve ever seen in the world today, and a force, ISIL [ISIS], and others that is an ideology that’s connected to an army and it’s a force and a dimension that the world has never seen before like we have seen it now,” Hagel told United States Marines in San Diego, Calif.

“I recommended to the president, and the president has authorized me to go ahead and send about 130 new assessment team members up to northern Iraq in the Erbil area to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with,” Hagel said.

Erbil is a Kurdish city that has been under a siege that “has been relieved somewhat by 19 U.S. air strikes on ISIS over four days,” as CBS reported.

 

The European Media’s Anti-Israel Confirmation Bias



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Why is Israel getting harsher media coverage for its artillery and bomb attacks on Gaza than the media coverage devoted to rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel? If we knew nothing of the conflict other than that Israel’s attacks are essentially a response to a deliberate Hamas policy of firing rockets into Israel to weaken it and extract concessions from it, we would almost certainly be disposed to treat Hamas more harshly than Israel. And that would be so even if we thought Israel’s broader policy on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict to be wrong or mistaken or counter-productive. No one believes that Hamas fires its rockets (or builds its tunnels) as a response to Israel’s bombs. We should therefore be disposed to condemn Hamas more strongly.

Yet not only is European media coverage of the Gaza campaign far more hostile to Israel than to Hamas, but public opinion there seems to go along with it.

Many reasons for this odd sympathy can be imagined. One is a rising anti-Semitism in Western Europe (to which I’ll return in a separate posting) which biases people against the Jewish state. The usual analysis is to blame that anti-Semitism on the behavior of Israel — to root anti-Semitism in an allegedly more justifiable anti-Zionism. But the mere fact that anti-Israel demonstrators in Western Europe resort to straightforward anti-Jewish incitement without losing all support and respectability suggests that this hatred goes in both directions. And Muslim anti-Semitism has made European anti-Semitism more numerous, more powerful, bolder, and thus more influential.

Another may be the perception that Hamas is the underdog and Israel a powerful bully with unassailable power. That may be true in the short to medium term. But a dispassionate analysis of Israel’s strategic position — a small, rich, energetic, and creative country surrounded by far larger states with wealth, religious hostility, weak governments, and rising jihadist movements–suggests its long-term prospects are precarious. To put it simply, Israel cannot afford to lose a war or to make political concessions that seriously weaken its national security. Failure to take this existential vulnerability into account arises from more than stupidity; it amounts to something like callousness.

But the main reason — or so it seems to me — for the skewed response to Gaza is the reporting of the media that the casualties inflicted by Israeli bombing are disproportionately civilians, including women and children. That has led in turn to the specific accusation that Israel’s military response is itself “disproportionate” and to the more general impression that Israel is a bullying monster. And these ideas have settled in the public mind.

It is probably pointless to subject these impressions to criticism since both the media and Western European public opinion apparently WANT to believe them. Also, the meaning of “disproportionate” in international law does not mean that an army cannot inflict more casualties than it receives — which would be absurd — but that the force employed should be proportionate to the likely military gain. Since Israel’s likely military gain in this campaign is a major reduction (or even elimination) of Israeli civilian casualties from rockets or attacks from the Gaza tunnels by Hamas, that is a proportionate gain by any reasonable standard — especially if the Gaza casualties turn out to be composed of more combatants and fewer civilians.

So it’s very noteworthy that the BBC head of statistics has issued here a very balanced statement pointing out that the composition of the Gaza casualties was still uncertain, according even to those who had compiled them, but that young men of military age were considerably over-represented in the figures and that women and children were similarly under-represented. Unless there is some third factor explaining these discrepancies — for instance, that young family heads take much greater risks than others in conflict zones — then the suspicion must be that Hamas fighters (i.e., legitimate military targets) are a much larger percentage of the casualties than the media coverage has led us to believe so far.

A reason for finding this explanation plausible is that this was exactly what happened twelve years ago in the so-called “Jenin massacre.” Western news reports throughout the crisis gave extremely high casualty rates as a result of Israel’s armed action — hundreds and even thousands of people were said to have been killed — but these turned out to be gross exaggerations when the conflict came to an end. The Palestinian Authority itself gave the number of people killed as 56.

This perturbed me sufficiently at the time — I was then with United Press International — that I asked my colleague, Marty Sieff, to take time away from his usual journalistic duties and investigate these very basic infractions of serious reporting standards. You can find his reports here and here.

How is it that we in the media seem to make the same mistakes again and again. The technical term for it is “confirmation bias.” The reason for it is because we like those mistakes.

Safety 101



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A couple of days ago, I saw a headline: “‘Knockout Game’ Attacker Asked Man If He Had A Gun Before Punching.” (Article here.) I thought of this tonight during a performance of Don Giovanni. (Review forthcoming.)

Giovanni asks Masetto whether he’s armed. Sure, says Masetto. Then he shows Giovanni a musket and a pistol. Giovanni is snookering Masetto, mind you. He takes both the weapons. Then he asks, “What else? Is that it?” That’s it, says Masetto. Then Giovanni beats the crap out of him.

Nations and individuals must learn the lesson: Often, it’s wise to be armed, and undisarmable.

Two Mayors, One ‘Rev’



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Reading Christine Sisto’s post, below, on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s importuning of Al Sharpton, I thought of Ed Koch. One of the highest compliments he was ever paid was the following, by Sharpton:

“At the end of the day, he had respect for African Americans and Latinos. He respects us enough not to placate us. We probably would have liked it better if he told us what we wanted to hear. But he respected us enough to talk to us like adults and tell us what he was and wasn’t going to do. And as I got older I learned to respect people more that didn’t give me empty promises just to get me out of their office. When he said yes, I could go and say he would keep that yes and when he said no he meant no. Even when I thought he was wrong, I never felt he was disingenuous.”

Krauthammer’s Take: On ISIS, ‘Enunciate a Policy’



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The president hasn’t “talked about ends, objectives, what we’re trying to do” with regard to the threat of the Islamic State, Charles Krauthammer argued on Tuesday’s Special Report. “The president talks only about tactics: no troops on the ground, air strikes here,” he said.

“Enunciate a policy,” Krauthammer advised, even it’s just “containment” — “then you fit the means” to that end.

“The idea of turning the U.S. Air Force into an airlift,” he said, remarking on the U.S.’s current operations in the country, “spending all of our resources on that to do essentially humanitarian work and social work, is a misuse of the one power in the world that can help to repel ISIS.”

The administration’s response to the jihadist threat in Iraq has been, Krauthammer said, “dithering, slow, defensive, and ad hoc.”

Mayor de Blasio Gets Al Sharpton to Call Off Verrazano March



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Reverend Al Sharpton’s planned march across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to protest the death of Eric Garner is off. No, Mayor Bill de Blasio did not demand that Sharpton put an end to a planned protest that would have rendered much of the borough immobile, possibly putting lives at risk, should an emergency arise. Instead, New York’s fearless leader called Sharpton and “begged” him to change his mind, according to the New York Post.

As National Review Online reported, Sharpton’s National Action Network had not secured a permit to march across the Verrazano Bridge, the only bridge connecting the borough of Staten Island to the rest of New York City, and the mayor’s office was coy about how it planned to respond to the situation. Many politicians called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to force NAN to move the protest to a more convenient location.

A source told the Post that de Blasio, who was getting “hammered” in the press for his lack of a response on the march, tried to get Sharpton to “see the light.” 

“Do you think that marching over this bridge will be a benefit to the progressive agenda?” De Blasio asked Sharpton, according to the source, who is described as being connected to City Hall and having “knowledge of the conversation” between de Blasio and Sharpton.

On Saturday August 9, Sharpton announced that instead of marching across the Verrazano Bridge, protesters would take buses, or “justice caravans,” across the bridge and hold a demonstration in front of the Staten Island District Attorney’s office on August 23.

According to the Post’s source, the possible march was “really threatening the de Blasio administration.” The source added, “They thought they could control the Rev, but no one can control the Rev.”

De Blasio seems to be learning that lesson the hard way.

Tags: Bill de Blasio , Al Sharpton

‘Living Wills,’ Dodd-Frank, and Banana Republics



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Abby McCloskey and Paul H. Kupiec have an informative op-ed in yesterday’s American Banker on one aspect of the incomprehensibly complex Dodd-Frank legislation. Here’s a bit:

This type of regulatory discretion is not uncommon in the world, but it is usually found in “banana republics” and countries where the government runs the banking system. Such unconstrained authority opens up all sorts of avenues for partiality and government intrusion into a financial institution’s operations.

You can read their whole op-ed here.

Meet the One Federal Bureaucrat Who Controls What Beer Labels Can Look Like in America



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Kent “Battle” Martin, who approves beer bottles and labels for the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau, has singlehandedly approved nearly 30,000 beer labels this year, according to the Daily Beast. But the labels he rejected — and his reasons for doing so — seem to indicate the man is hardly lenient when it comes to deciding what’s okay to print on an American beer container.

He shot down a beer label with a sloshed Santa Claus, the Daily Beast reported, because the eyes appeared to “googly” when labels must not promote the impact of alcohol on the body. He reportedly rejected a label for the beer King of Hearts that contained a playing card because the heart could make consumers believe the beer would have some sort of health benefit. And he reportedly denied another holiday-themed beer because it contained a warning for elves not to operate toy-making machinery while drinking, which Martin claimed would confuse consumers.

“He’s just amazingly finicky on stupid things that don’t really achieve any government purpose,” one brewer told the Daily Beast. “He’s implementing rules that are totally antiquated. If you do something like 30,000 [label approvals], [perhaps] it makes you feel like you are the law.”

Brewers said that Martin sends his decisions about the “Battle”-tested bottles at all hours of the day, and he reportedly asks to be called by his nickname “Battle.” Despite many brewers’ disgust for the man the Daily Beast labeled a “pedantic pain in the ass,” some of his strongest opponents reportedly admire his work ethic and attention to detail.

The Pope Needs Ninjas



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With the news that the Vatican is supportive of military strikes on ISIS, I return to a question I first raised around here almost 10 years ago (and which lives on in my occasional Twitter declarations of “The Pope Needs Ninjas”). I wrote in 2005:

Why shouldn’t the Catholic Church bring back its army?

Hold on, hold on. I’m serious — at least insofar as I’m seriously asking the question. I’m not saying they should use an army for crusades for new lands or for conversion or anything like that. But why shouldn’t the Catholic Church have peacekeepers of its own? The use of force isn’t forbidden by Catholic law, I know that much. And the Swiss Guards still have weapons even on Vatican property. Why couldn’t the Pope dispatch armed soldiers to restore order, open food supplies, secure humaintarian efforts etc? The benefits here are many. Normal nations have to answer to all sorts of political contituencies and considerations that would not apply to the Papal Peacekeepers. I’m sure unwanted and unwarranted violence would result at some point. But Church doctrine already covers this. Meanwhile the Church could do an immense amount of good in the world. It could establish clear-cut guidelines about how and when it would intervene and the soldiers would obvious be very motivated to behave in an ethical manner. Dishonorable discharges are one thing, excommunication is another.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

 
If memory serves, almost nobody really liked the idea — except for me — when I first raised it. There were plenty of valid objections. For starters, such a move would be interpreted by the Muslim world as validation of Jihadi’s paranoid rhetoric about crusades. I also recall a lot of talk about such a move would run counter to, well, a lot of what the Church wants to stand for. These are all perfectly valid and maybe dispositive objections. But I still like the idea.
 
Whenever I bring up the idea — and after people realize I’m not joking —  a lot of the negative reactions seem rather instinctive and knee-jerk. 
 
One obvious sort of discomfort, I think, stems from an understandable distaste for anything that smacks of mixing religion and violence.  This is a very rich topic (and for those of a philosophical and theological bent, I heartily recommend reading the work of William Cavanaugh, starting with his “Killing for the Telephone Company“). But let me just offer two points on this score. I no way, shape or form would want to see a Catholic version of Jihadi terror (nor do I think such a thing would be remotely plausible). But it’s worth keeping in mind that we are already in an era of armed transnational religious movements. The problem is that they are evil. What would be so terrible about leading by example? Papal peacekeepers could do incredibly valuable work in parts of Africa or South America, protecting persecuted populations, delivering aid etc. The teaching effect could be profound (and perhaps very good at getting people back in the pews). Democracies are often slow and reluctant to do such work. And, if present trends continue America is going to do less and less of such things. Papal armies could do the jobs Americans won’t do. 
 
Which brings me to a second reason I think people instinctively recoil at the idea. We take the Westphalian system of nation-states as not only a given, but a huge advance in human progress. Except when we don’t. Plenty of people want the United Nations to send peacekeepers into horrible places. The problems with this, off the top of my head, include: 1) The UN sucks 2) The UN has no peacekeepers. Frequently this means it needs rich countries to bribe poor countries to provide people to wear blue helmets. 3) The politics and structure of the UN lend themselves to all sorts of dysfunction and the capture of UN agencies by bad actors (See point #1). 
 
A transnational armed force would certainly run against the grain of the legal and political world order. But if international law says the Pope can’t send armed people in to stop mass murder or feed starving children held hostage by goons and terrorists then, to paraphrase Dickens, international law is an ass. 
 
There is one criticism of the idea that I think is very powerful. It’s never going to happen. But I think it’s worth noodling all the same. 
 
 

Cruz Spokesman: Protesters Outside My Office Could Just Ask for a Meeting



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Illegal immigration activists who plan to protest outside of the office of Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) could get inside the office if they would only ask, a Cruz aide says.

“Of course, it’s this group’s First Amendment right to say what they want to say and we are happy to talk, if they are willing, but we have not received such a request,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told National Review Online when asked about United We Dream’s plan to protest at the senator’s Houston office on Thursday.

Maria Fernanda Cabello, an organizer at youth-immigrant advocacy group United We Dream, said that they plan “to remind the senator of his immigrant roots, [because] it’s shameful that he continues bullying families like his” — a reference to his proposal to halt President Obama’s deferred-action program for certain immigrants who arrived in the U.S. early at a young age.

“If they ask for a meeting, we will talk to them; they have not requested a meeting,” Frazier reiterated. 

‘Build-a-Protest’



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I noted in my piece on Alabama senator Jeff Sessions that, in part as a result of his opposition to the 2006 immigration bill, constituents began mailing bricks to their congressmen and senators as a symbol of their support for tougher border-security measures.

A former congressional staffer passed along the image below. He says it’s the first brick his office received back in 2006.

The New York Times eventually dubbed it the “Build-a-Protest” campaign.

The ISIS Threat to the United States, in Six Sentences



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Let’s make this simple, shall we?

1. Al-Qaeda carried out the deadliest attack on American soil in American history and the most devastating foreign attack against an American city since the British occupied and burned Washington during the War of 1812. 

2. ISIS is more brutal than al-Qaeda.

3. ISIS has more financial resources than al-Qaeda.

4. ISIS controls more territory — and possesses more firepower – than al-Qaeda.

5. ISIS has seized uranium in sufficient quantities to make a radiological weapon, a dirty bomb.

6. The leader of ISIS declared to his former American captors, “See you in New York,” and ISIS militants have pledged to raise the black flag of jihad over the White House.

In other words, ISIS is more capable in every way than the terrorists that hit America so hard on 9/11. Pinprick strikes weren’t enough to stop a much weaker Osama bin Laden. They will not be enough to stop a much stronger Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The IRS’s Lawyer



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The pro-Israel group Z Street sued the IRS for viewpoint discrimination in 2010, and its case is proceeding in court. I wrote last month about the Justice Department lawyer representing the IRS in the case: He happens to be a former employee of Lois Lerner, and to have been involved with the sort of targeting that Z Street alleges violated its constitutional rights.

I quoted a former Justice Department prosecutor who was troubled by the connection — he said it could violate Washington, D.C.’s rules of professional conduct for lawyers in a number of ways, including a rule that prevents lawyers from arguing cases in which they could be called as a witness. 

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Justice Department has withdrawn the lawyer, Andrew Strelka, as the IRS’ counsel of record on the Z Street case and two others involving the agency’s alleged discrimination against right-leaning groups. The Justice Department told the Journal only that “it is not unusual for attorney assignments to change during the course of litigation.” 

The Journal editorializes: ”If Mr. Strelka had personal knowledge of the processing of tax-exempt applications for groups like Z Street while he was assigned to the IRS, he should have recused himself from handling the case at Justice.” 

Read the whole thing here

Knights of Columbus Set Up Fund to Provide Relief to Christians Fleeing Iraq



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From the press release: 

Knights of Columbus Announces Fund to Help Christians Threatened with Extinction in Iraq

Commits $1 million and seeks public donations for humanitarian aid to religious minorities

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Knights of Columbus announced today that is establishing a fund to assist those – particularly Christians as well as other religious minorities – facing a horrific and violent persecution and possible extinction in Iraq and the surrounding regions.

The Knights has pledged an initial $500,000 and will match an additional $500,000 in donations from the public.

“The unprovoked and systematic persecution and violent elimination of Middle East Christians, as well as other minority groups, especially in Iraq, has created an enormous humanitarian crisis,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Pope Francis has asked the world for prayers and support for those affected by this terrible persecution, and we are asking our members, and all people of good will, to pray for those persecuted and support efforts to assist them by donating to this fund.”

Anderson added: “It has shocked the conscience of the world that people are systematically being purged from the region where their families have lived for millennia – simply for their faith. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with them in defense of the freedom of conscience, and provide them with whatever relief we can.”

Those seeking to assist with the relief efforts can donate to K of C Christian Refugee Relief by visiting www.kofc.org/Iraq or by sending checks or money orders to: K of C Christian Refugee Relief, Knights of Columbus Charities, P.O. Box 1966, New Haven, CT 06509-1966.

Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Knights of Columbus Charities, Inc., is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable organization under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code, and 100 percent of all donations collected by Knights of Columbus Charities, Inc., will be used for humanitarian assistance for those Christians – as well as other religious minorities –being persecuted or displaced in Iraq and the surrounding region.

The Knights of Columbus has a long history of providing humanitarian relief and has done so following Sept. 11, 2001; last year’s typhoons in the Philippines; Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy; tornadoes nationwide; flooding in Mexico; and tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan.

In addition, the Knights of Columbus has also long supported persecuted Christians. Throughout the 1920s, the Knights provided humanitarian assistance and created international awareness of the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico.

The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization with more than 1.8 million members worldwide. 

Dedicated to charity, Knights last year provided more than $170 million and more than 70 million hours to charitable causes, assisting substantially with several humanitarian disasters from North America to Asia.

ISIS: Terrorism for Tykes



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On the homepage today I write about the horrifying photograph — of a spry seven-year-old holding aloft the severed head of a Syrian soldier — published on the front page of yesterday’s Australian. For those worried that said youngster might end up ill socialized from having to spend his days with only mass-murdering Islamic State fanatics for company, fear not. It seems he will have some prepubescent chums. Reuters reports:

A Saudi father gave his ex-wife the shock of her life when he informed her he was taking their 10 and 11 year-old-sons to join Islamist militants in Syria, telling her to count them as “birds in heaven”, Saudi-owned media reported.

The pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper said on Tuesday that the unsuspecting mother had been told that her sons, Abdullah and Ahmed, were going on holiday with their father, identified as Nasser al-Shayeq, in a neighboring Gulf Arab country when she saw an Instagram photo of them in Turkey.

Al-Hayat said she telephoned her son to ask about the photo, only to receive a message from her ex-husband, a former Saudi civil servant, to say that he was taking the boys to Syria to join Islamic State, one of the most militant groups fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

“Count your children as birds in heaven,” Shayeq said in his message, according to al-Hayat, suggesting that they may be killed and become young “martyrs”.

Fellow Islamic State militants later posted a photo of the father and his two sons crouching in front of Islamic State’s black flag, with each boy brandishing an AK-47 rifle in one hand. The father was smiling as one of the boys also held a grenade in his other hand.

N.Y. Lawmaker Finds It ‘Hard to Believe’ It Was Ever Legal to Take Pics with Big Cats



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New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Monday that bans fairs and circuses from letting people take pictures with tigers, lions, or any other big cats.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D., Manhattan), who introduced the measure, said she can’t believe the law didn’t already exist.

“It is hard to believe it is not already illegal,” she said, according to an article in the New York Daily News.

Rosenthal said the law is necessary not only for public safety but also to keep the animals from being exploited.

“I guess some young men in New York will have to find another game, because big cat selfies, along with direct contact with big cats, is now prohibited,” she said, according to an article in Syracuse.com.

The law takes effect in 180 days. The penalty is $500 for the first offense, $1,000 for the second.

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