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Misc.



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1) Ali Khamenei is the “supreme leader” of Iran and one of the most monstrous, murderous people in the world. But he is with-it. More with-it than the president of Smith College. Khamenei tweeted “Black lives matter” (to taunt the U.S.). A few weeks before, the Smith gal said “All lives matter” — and got in big trouble for it.

2) We used to say, “If the Eskimos went socialist, they’d have to import ice.” Communist Cuba, in fact, has had to import sugar. I thought of these things when reading this headline: “Famous Venezuelan ice-cream store closes over milk shortage.” (Article here.) Can’t be a famous ice-cream store without milk. Will Venezuela ever run out of demagoguery?

3) The Telegraph ran a feature headed “2014 in 14 quotes.” One of the 14 came from an “anonymous White House official.” He or she said, “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit.” The Telegraph explained as follows:

‘Bibi’, to give him his full name, is Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel — and these words were spoken to reporter Jeffrey Goldberg after this year’s bombing campaign in Gaza. The conflict, in which Netanyahu had promised to “take the gloves off”, killed 2,200 people and injured 11,000 in seven short weeks, bringing Israel’s relations with the rest of the world to breaking point.

A reader must be scratching his head: Why would Israel up and bomb people, leaving 2,200 dead and 11,000 injured in “seven short weeks”? Did they just wake up one morning feeling bloodthirsty? Israel must be an incredibly evil state, huh?

If Israel ever goes down — is ever destroyed by its enemies — journalists who lie about the state, or create a false impression of it, will have a share of blame. Do you know what I mean by that?

Let me devote one more sentence to it: If you relied on articles such as the above, why wouldn’t you hate Israel? Why wouldn’t you think it illegitimate, and without the right to exist? (Yes, that was two.)

4) On to something lighter — sort of. For reasons I could explain, I Googled Elizabeth Becker, an important American journalist. At the top of her Wikipedia entry was the following sentence: “This article is about the U.S. journalist and author. For the concentration camp guard, see Elisabeth Becker.”

Not the pairing you dream of, really.

5) For the music-minded, a blogpost at The New Criterion: on Hilary Hahn at the New York Philharmonic.

An Aspiration for Iran



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Obama likes the expression “get right with.” Illegal aliens, he said, should “come out of the shadows and get right with the law.” Iran, he has now said, has “a chance to get right with the world.” He also said that, if Iran got right, “it would be a very successful regional power.”

That’s nice. You know what I think Iran should aspire to? And what I think the president of the United States should say Iran should aspire to? Not being a totalitarian police state. Not torturing and raping innocent girls in Evin Prison. Not stoning girls to death for the “crime” of having been gang-raped. Allowing a little freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press.

That should be the aspiration, “regional powerhood” be damned. Or are human rights too icky in the post-Bush era?

Moreover, Khomeinist Iran doesn’t want to be a regional power. They are already a regional power. They move events in the PA, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere. They want to lead the whole Islamic world and destroy anyone who does not submit to their way of life, starting with the Satans, Great and Little.

Is there no one in the White House or in Valerie Jarrett’s clique who can explain that to our president? It would be a huge service.

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The Kippah as License



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A few days before Christmas, I had a post in which I linked to an article about “Merry Christmas” — one of those you-can’t-say-it stories. A governmental department in Britain was being Grinchy. I wrote,

This reminded me of one of my favorite stories, or facts. I have a friend who worked at a Catholic relief organization. My friend is Jewish. In December, he was the only one in the joint who said “Merry Christmas.” The rest were either scared or conditioned.

I received a letter from a reader, saying,

I loved your note about your friend who wished his colleagues a “Merry Christmas.” As an observant Jew, I do the same to everyone from colleagues to store clerks. It’s a special day for them, so why should I not wish them joy?

When I’m feeling particularly audacious, I’ll wish them a “blessed Christmas.” Most of the time their jaws drop with a “You’re not supposed to say that” look. But then they see my kippah and smile.

Web Briefing: January 25, 2015

A Whiff of Bonfire



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Ian, Ryan, about the NYPD: One thing that makes it so frustrating is that it was all so predictable. Every issue of City Journal predicted it, or virtually did so. Heather Mac predicted it, or feared it. Myron Magnet predicted it, or feared it. I wrote a weeklong series on the matter, I think — the summer before the mayoral election.

If you listened to conservative websites and blogs — this used to burn me — you got the idea that the most important thing about Mayor Bloomberg was that he tried to ban Big Gulps. He was the Nanny, you see.

Yes, that was an unfortunate aspect of him. But the Big Gulps and the trans fats and all that were trivial, utterly trivial. The only thing that matters here is crime control. A world of good flows from effective crime control. A world of bad flows from its absence.

The most important thing about Bloomberg was that he was a scrawny, hard-nosed crime-controlling stud. He took what Giuliani handed him — that colossal, practically world-historic achievement — and built on it. You could practically sleep in Central Park.

And people who were too new to New York to know better, or too dense, took it for granted. They thought it was normal.

Anyway, I hope this Tom Wolfe novel will end before the chapters get really ugly. The moves against Big Gulps and trans fats were infringements on liberty. Crime committed against you, your neighbors, or your city — big, big infringement.

Of course, if you talk this way, people call you “Big Brother” and whatnot. Why don’t I move to North Korea? Mussolini made the trains run on time, you know?

I don’t know why there should be a great big argument between liberty-lovers (self-styled) and the poh-lice. Without the men in blue, your liberty is pretty much caput.

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Oliver Stone’s Gonna Oliver Stone



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In a Facebook post today, renowned film director Oliver Stone apologizes for his long public absence — he’s been sick, working on a movie about Edward Snowden, and spending time in Russia. The combination of influences has had predictable results, a long and ludicrous rant about how the crisis in the Ukraine over the past couple years isn’t really about Russia’s dominating and then invading that country. No, it’s all just the work of CIA-affiliated snipers.

In short, he puts it, “the West has maintained the dominant narrative of ‘Russia in Crimea’ whereas the true narrative is ‘USA in Ukraine.’” That’s despite the fact that Russia is, you know, in Crimea, and a good chunk of the rest of Ukraine besides, while the U.S. is . . . sending dehydrated burritos to a legitimately elected government.

Stone’s rant:

Interviewed Viktor Yanukovych 4 hours in Moscow for new English language documentary produced by Ukrainians. He was the legitimate President of Ukraine until he suddenly wasn’t on February 22 of this year. Details to follow in the documentary, but it seems clear that the so-called ‘shooters’ who killed 14 police men, wounded some 85, and killed 45 protesting civilians, were outside third party agitators. Many witnesses, including Yanukovych and police officials, believe these foreign elements were introduced by pro-Western factions — with CIA fingerprints on it.

Remember the Chavez ‘regime change’/coup of 2002 when he was temporarily ousted after pro and anti-Chavez demonstrators were fired upon by mysterious shooters in office buildings. Also resembles similar technique early this year in Venezuela when Maduro’s legally elected Government was almost toppled by violence aimed at anti-Maduro protestors. Create enough chaos, as the CIA did in Iran ‘53, Chile ‘73, and countless other coups, and the legitimate Government can be toppled. It’s America’s soft power technique called ‘Regime Change 101.’

In this case the “Maidan Massacre” was featured in Western media as the result of an unstable, brutal pro-Russian Yanukovych Government. You may recall Yanukovych went along with the February 21 deal with opposition parties and 3 EU foreign minsters to get rid of him by calling for early elections. The next day that deal was meaningless when well-armed, neo-Nazi radicals forced Yanukovych to flee the country with repeated assassination attempts. By the next day, a new pro-Western government was established and immediately recognized by the US (as in the Chavez 2002 coup). 

A dirty story through and through, but in the tragic aftermath of this coup, the West has maintained the dominant narrative of “Russia in Crimea” whereas the true narrative is “USA in Ukraine.” The truth is not being aired in the West. It’s a surreal perversion of history that’s going on once again, as in Bush pre-Iraq ‘WMD’ campaign. But I believe the truth will finally come out in the West, I hope, in time to stop further insanity. 

For a broader understanding, see Pepe Escobar’s analysis “The new European ‘arc of instability,’” which indicates growing turbulence in 2015, as the US cannot tolerate the idea of any rival economic entity http://bit.ly/1yBmpHa. You might also see “Untold History” Chapter 10 where we discuss the dangers of past Empires which did not allow for the emergence of competing economic countries.

The details here are a little arcane, but there’s a lot to love here: the idea that a coup d’etat in 2002 in Venezuela established “a new pro-Western government” (oddly, a few days later, the country was still run by Hugo Chavez); the claim the snipers who killed protesters and police in Kiev back in February were CIA agitators when in fact the clear, photographic and video evidence suggests they were Kremlin-trained Ukrainian-government forces; the suggestion that it was random, small right-wing groups that got Yanukovych to give up the presidency and flee the country rather than parliament’s agreeing unanimously to impeach him and rein in the security forces killing on his behalf; the idea that it’s free Ukrainians and the West perverting history, not Stone and Putin and his cronies . . . (Glenn Greenwald, of course, agrees that Stone gets the narrative basically right.) 

This is just the latest in a long series of distinguished work Stone has done as Putin’s useful idiot, which Nat Brown recounted for NRO in October. Perhaps sweetest now is the suggestion that the U.S. would have pulled this off in Ukraine because it “cannot tolerate the idea of any rival economic entity.” Yep, Russia, definitely a real economic rival.

Scalise May Not Have Actually Attended That White Nationalist Conference



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House majority whip Steve Scalise may not have spoken to a conference of white nationalists in 2002 after all, even though he’s already apologized for doing so.

Kenny Knight, a longtime political adviser to former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana politician David Duke, told Bloomberg that Scalise spoke to a town hall at the same venue as the white nationalist event, before the latter event began.

Knight said he invited Scalise, then a state legislator, along with someone from the Red Cross and a sheriff’s representative, to speak to a civic organization before the European-American Unity and Rights Organization held their conference.

“I basically gave him a town-hall meeting to address constituents about legislation he was working on,” Knight said. “It was not a EURO-sponsored event. I sponsored the event as president of the local civic association.” EURO, a group of white nationalists started by David Duke, hosted the conference that Knight says Scalise did not attend; some attendees, Knight said, did show up to Scalise’s talk. Knight told a similar story today to Slate and the Daily Beast.

On Monday, Scalise’s staff confirmed to the Washington Post that he had attended the EURO-sponsored convention, but Scalise himself told the Times-Picayune on Tuesday he did not recall speaking at the event. Knight’s comments only add to the confusion about Scalise’s involvement in the white-nationalist event.

Today, Scalise received the support of several Republican colleagues — including House Speaker John Boehner and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal — as some suggested that he might have to resign his leadership posti n the House.

Jeb Thots



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I enjoyed the posts on Jeb by Rich and Mark, and think both of those posts make good points. I have a couple of points to make myself. They will not be popular, on the right. Good thing I’m not running for office! Or anything else.

Rich calls Jeb a pre-Obama conservative. One thing about conservatism, it has a certain timelessness, transcending phases, trends, and passions.

Mark says that Jeb is not a national stager — maybe a state-policy guy. He reminds us, “. . . the Republican platform of 1980 called for the abolition of the Department of Education just two months after the department came into being.”

Yeah, and we elected a Republican president that November, who proceeded not only to maintain the Department of Education, but to beef it up. Who was that RINO? What was he doing on the national stage? Can we find his grave and spit on it?

Mark also writes, “Even if his name weren’t Bush, Jeb would not be an appropriate standard-bearer for the national GOP in 2016.”

That may be so. But the thing is, we have elections now — primary elections. It used to be, party nominees were determined by party bosses in smoke-filled rooms. There is an argument to be made for the old system. I’m kind of soft on it. But there came a time when it was thought not democratic enough — so we vote.

And the voters, damn them, or bless them, determine who is the “appropriate” nominee.

Of course, if Jeb wins, people will say that the fix was in. The vote was rigged. Karl Rove and his pals at the Chamber of Commerce subverted democracy.

If the guy we favor wins, everything was hunky-dory. If the guy we disfavor wins, it was a swindle.

Obviously, Jeb Bush is in bad odor on the right today. When he was in office, he was beloved. I remember it well. He was thought in particular to be a guru on education. Then one day, I woke up and heard that Jeb was a Commie on education — Common Corey? — or at least a dunce. That was weird.

You never really know with the Right, or a segment of it. One day a guy’s up; the next day he’s down, down, down. Marco Rubio was a huge favorite — the golden boy, a savior. Then he was a RINO Commie squish. Paul Ryan was a huge favorite, a golden boy.

I remember when Mitt Romney was in the process of picking his vice-presidential nominee. The Torquemadas of the Right — the ones who think they decide who’s conservative and who isn’t — said that if he picked anyone but Ryan, that was proof of his RINO Commie squishdom. He picked Ryan. That gave him a reprieve for about two seconds. Soon, Ryan was on the bad list — “Paul Ryano,” people said.

The late Gene Genovese had a standard answer when asked why he was kicked out of the Communist party (at age 20): “I zigged when I should have zagged.” There is some of that on the right, too.

I’m a Cruz man, long have been — going on 15 years. (Ted and Penelope both, come to think of it.) But I’ll tell you this: A conservative movement that reads out Jeb Bush is a movement too stupid to live.

I didn’t want y’all to be too bored on New Year’s Eve Day Eve!

Responding to The Atlantic: Does Our Military Escape Scrutiny?



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Over at The Atlantic, James Fallows has written a long, thoughtful cover story called “The Tragedy of the American Military,” taking our nation, our political leaders, and our military to task for creating a bloated, ultimately ineffective fighting force that our country is too eager to deploy. Here’s his core contention:

If I were writing such a history now, I would call it Chickenhawk Nation, based on the derisive term for those eager to go to war, as long as someone else is going. It would be the story of a country willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously. As a result, what happens to all institutions that escape serious external scrutiny and engagement has happened to our military. Outsiders treat it both too reverently and too cavalierly, as if regarding its members as heroes makes up for committing them to unending, unwinnable missions and denying them anything like the political mindshare we give to other major public undertakings, from medical care to public education to environmental rules. The tone and level of public debate on those issues is hardly encouraging. But for democracies, messy debates are less damaging in the long run than letting important functions run on autopilot, as our military essentially does now. A chickenhawk nation is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing, than one that wrestles with long-term questions of effectiveness.

Essentially — he argues — our nation’s overwhelming respect for the military allows it (and the politicians who support it) to escape effective scrutiny. Given free rein, it plans poorly, purchases poorly, and — ultimately — loses its wars. Some of the points Fallows makes are unassailable. Who’s willing to defend the military’s overall efficiency in procurement and weapons development? And his section on the so-far disappointing and absurdly expensive F-35 makes for depressing reading. He also highlights a number of entirely proper cultural and political concerns that arise when such a small percentage of the population do all our fighting, with the resulting reality that the vast majority of Americans are entirely unaffected by our most recent wars. Ultimately, however, I take issue with a number of his conclusions. His piece is too long to be handled properly in one blog post, so I’ll respond in a short series.

Let me begin with this: His starting assumption — that the military “escape[s] serious external scrutiny” is just flat wrong. It faces intense external scrutiny, not just politically, but in pop culture. The problem isn’t that the military escapes accountability, it’s with the kind of scrutiny it faces, scrutiny that tends not to strengthen it but instead to weaken its effectiveness in a number of important ways.

Fallows spends a considerable amount of time dealing with the pop-culture treatment of the military, but he is highly selective, ignoring the ways that many moviemakers and members of the media have obsessively focused on the military’s failings. One can easily find movies like Redacted, In the Valley of Elah, Stop-Loss, Mark of Cain, and Green Zone. Meanwhile, critical documentaries abound, including The Invisible War, No End in Sight, Fahrenheit 9/11, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, The Kill Team, and many others — the vast majority deeply critical of the military, of the war, and of the conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The New York Times devoted more column inches to the Abu Ghraib scandal than virtually any other event in the entire Iraq War. 

Keep reading this post . . .

PETA Shuts Down N.C. Town’s Awesome Possum New Year’s Eve



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The terrorists win again. Via the Los Angeles Times:

The Annual Clay’s Corner Possum Drop is still on for New Year’s Eve in Brasstown, N.C. – but without an actual living, breathing opossum.

Responding to a lawsuit from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, country store owner Clay Logan said Monday he won’t lower a live opossum in a box Wednesday night – a 21-year New Year’s countdown tradition in his tiny Smoky Mountains town.

PETA had sued to stop the event, attended by up to 3,000 people. In a letter to a North Carolina judge, Logan promised not to put a live opossum in the plexiglass box he lowers from a light pole every New Year’s Eve outside his store.

Given the condition in which I have found most possums in my life — namely, two-dimensional — the varmint care exercised in Brasstown seems positively royal.

Judge for yourself, below. The actual “Possum Drop” starts at 3:00, but if you love America, watch the whole thing:

By the way, Logan says the Drop will continue: “We’ll still do something,” he told the Times. “Maybe some roadkill or a pot of stewed possum.”

Well played, sir. Well played.

Re: Ezell Ford Autopsy Consistent with Police Account



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I posted below about the Ezell Ford case in Los Angeles. The autopsy report, released yesterday, spurred renewed protests on Monday evening. KTLA-5 news, a local outlet, caught on camera some of the less savory participants — including one who threatens to set a cameraman on fire. (Language warning.):

Via Weaselzippers.

Boehner: Scalise Has My ‘Full Confidence’



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House speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) issued a statement supporting majority whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) amid reports that Scalise spoke at a conference organized by white supremacists in 2002.

“More than a decade ago, Representative Scalise made an error in judgment, and he was right to acknowledge it was wrong and inappropriate,” Boehner said in a statement. “Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I know Steve to be a man of high integrity and good character. He has my full confidence as our whip, and he will continue to do great and important work for all Americans.” 

House majority leader Kevin McCarthy joined Boehner in standing with Scalise, and released a statement calling Scalise a longtime friend that he knows does not share the views of white supremacists. Several other high-profile Republicans including Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) have also backed Scalise as pressure mounted on him to relinquish his leadership position. 

Jeb Bush, State-Level Conservative



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I don’t entirely disagree with Rich’s observation that Jeb is yesterday’s conservative, who has been bypassed by the reinvigoration of the Right brought about by Obama’s excesses. But I think there’s another side to it. If Jeb were to serve as governor of Florida again, his actions in those areas of responsibility where states are paramount — especially education and state taxation and regulation — would likely still be conservative. It seems to me that Jeb’s real problem is that some of his views are unfit for the national conservative stage, rather than the state, and always have been.

Even before the effervescence of the Tea Party in 2009–10, conservative voters were opposed to federal takeover of education and skeptical of open immigration. As governor, it was perfectly appropriate for him to establish new statewide standards for schools and, from what little I know of the matter, they seem to have been successful. But he made the mistake of applying that same thinking to the national level, something conservatives have opposed long before the Tea Party; in fact, the Republican platform of 1980 called for the abolition of the Department of Education just two months after the department came into being. In contrast, Jeb’s views on immigration — a combination of sentimentalism with corporate cronyism — have never been shared by the Republican base, but as governor they had little saliency, since it’s mainly a matter for the national government.

So his sound views on education are unsuited to an area where the national government should have little role, and his unsound views on immigration are unsuited to an area where the federal role is paramount. Even if his name weren’t Bush, Jeb would not be an appropriate standard-bearer for the national GOP in 2016.

Prominent anti-Putin Critic Arrested after Being Convicted of Fraud



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Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption activist who for years has been one of the Kremlin’s most vocal critics, was arrested today near Moscow’s Red Square for taking part in a protest unsanctioned by the government. The arrest came shortly after his being convicted of fraud and given a suspended sentence of three and a half years, and the protest was in response to the Kremlin’s treatment of both Navalny and his brother, Oleg. Oleg, who was also convicted on the same charge, will have to serve out his prison sentence, a punishment which prompted Alexei Navalny to yell at the sentencing judge, “Aren’t you ashamed? Why are you jailing him? . . . To punish me more?”

Navalny, an attorney by profession, first came to prominence in Russia through his Live Journal blog, which has chronicled numerous instances of cronyism and corruption both in the Kremlin and among prominent members of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. (In a 2011 radio debate with a high-ranking party representative, Navalny referred to United Russia as the “party of crooks and thieves,” a phrase which became widely popular among anti-Putin activists, especially in the 2012 protests against Putin’s reelection.) Frequent arrests, threats, bans from social media, and previous convictions on trumped-up charges have not stopped Navalny from exposing the rampant corruption and abuse of power within Russia’s government. He was even able to capture 27 percent of the vote in Moscow’s 2013 mayoral elections despite the usual government tampering.

As the Kremlin’s Ukraine invasion backfires and Russia’s economy continues its downward spiral, it is no surprise that Putin is stepping up his effort to stifle dissent at home.

Ezell Ford Autopsy Consistent with Police Account



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In Los Angeles, another case of “state sanctioned anti-black violence” that most likely wasn’t.

On Monday the L.A. County coroner’s office released the long-awaited autopsy report on Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old unarmed black man, shot and killed by two LAPD officers on August 11. According to the report, Ford was shot three times: in the right abdomen, the right arm, and the back.

That lines up with the report of the officers involved, who claim that Ford — who was known among locals to be mentally ill — walked away when the officers tried to stop him as he walked on the sidewalk. When the officers followed, he became violent. As presented in the coroner’s report:

The officers followed Mr. Ford on the sidewalk to a nearby driveway when Mr. Ford crouched in between a car and a row of bushes.  One of the officers reached for Mr. Ford when Mr. Ford suddenly turned, grabbed the officer and forced the officer to the ground.  While on top of the officer, Mr. Ford grabbed the officer’s handgun and attempted to remove the gun from its holster.  The officer yelled out to his partner that Mr. Ford had his gun.  The officer’s partner then fired two rounds striking Mr. Ford.  At about the same time, the officer on the ground while on his back grabbed his backup weapon, reached around Mr. Ford and fired one shot at close range striking Mr. Ford in the back.

The officers subsequently took Mr. Ford into custody and requested emergency medical aid from the Los Angeles Fire Department.  LAFD paramedics arrived and transported Mr. Ford to California Hospital where his death was pronounced at 10:10 p.m.

In the days after the shooting, protesters took to the streets in the Florence area of South Los Angeles, pointing to the similarities between Ford’s case and that of Michael Brown, shot and killed on August 9. And as in Brown’s case, the accounts of some witnesses and those of the police differ enormously.

Dorene Henderson, a family friend of Ford’​s, “saw no struggle between the officers and Ford,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Ford “was lying on the ground and complying with the officers’ commands when he was shot three times,” his mother, Tritobia Ford, told KLTA-5 News. Another witness, who identified himself as Ford’s cousin, said that police “laid him out and for whatever reason, they shot him in the back, knowing mentally, he has complications.”

While the autopsy report reveals little about a struggle between the officers and Ford (though abrasions on Fords left arm, left hand, and left shoulder could have been caused by a struggle), it provides no evidence to contradict the officers’ claims. The entry wound on Ford’​s right abdomen casts doubt on witnesses claim that he was lying prone when he was shot, as does the angle of the bullet wound in his right arm, which entered from the outside and exited approximately horizontally, as if he were being shot at from the side. Those wounds are, however, consistent with the officers’​ account. Also, the coroner reported a muzzle imprint on Ford’s skin at the site of the gunshot wound in his back, consistent with the claim that the officer on the ground “reached around Mr. Ford and fired one shot at close range” into Ford’s back.

The autopsy is, of course, only “one element of the ongoing investigation,” as LAPD chief Charlie Beck told KTLA-5 News:

“An autopsy does not prescribe motivation, nor does it indicate propriety,” Beck said.

The civilian Board of Police Commissioners will make a final determination about whether the shooting was within the department’s use of force policy, Beck said. That decision will come at the end of an investigation that was expected to last several more months, he said.

The LAPD’s Force Investigation Division, Office of the Inspector General and the county District Attorney’s Office were all investigating, Beck said. The DA’s office will determine whether the shooting “met legal standards,” according to the chief.

Since the release of the autopsy report, protesters have returned to the streets, briefly halting traffic on a Los Angeles freeway on Monday evening.

Without a doubt, Ford’s mental illness — he had “the mental capacity of an 8-year-old,” an area resident told the Los Angeles Daily News — heightens the tragedy of August’s fatal encounter. But as the evidence stands now, the facts do not support the heated rhetoric.

More on What Pope Francis Didn’t Say



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To Patrick Brennan’s spot-on comments about the low-information media narrative on Pope Francis, I would add two observations.

First, Michael Smerconish had it exactly backward when he said that “the treatment of women” is an issue on which Francis proved himself a “game changer” in the past year. Here is a list of some the pope’s recent offenses against feminist sensibilities. He committed gaffes, not crimes, and clearly he meant well, but still they betray a traditional view of gender differences that only corroborates the belief that the Church is inhospitable to women. (To judge from attendance figures, churches of most denominations in the United States do a better job of alienating men, but that’s a topic for another post, or a book.)

Second, it would be hard for Smerconish to substantiate his suggestion that the pope in 2014 did anything to advance his reputation for being gay-friendly. Despite Francis’s warnings about a “gay lobby” in the Vatican (and about “a Masonic lobby,” for that matter), we never stop hearing that he has changed the Church’s tone on homosexuality. His image in this regard rests almost solely on “Who am I to judge?”

In context, as Patrick notes, that remark was only an affirmation of existing Church teaching. Moreover, the teaching was already articulated more fully by Francis’s predecessor — the bad pope, according to the media script. “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action,” Pope Benedict wrote in 1986, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. “Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. . . . The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in work, in action and in law.”

Back in October, the interim report of the synod on the family did include a line about the importance of “accepting and valuing” not only the homosexual person but his orientation. That would have been game-changing, indeed, were the document not later revealed to be the fabrication of a few well-positioned prelates who had tried to wrest control of the proceedings and to represent their minority opinions as the consensus of the 260 synod fathers. The synod fathers were quick to object. (“It’s not what we were saying. It’s not a true message!”) Their final report amounted to a refutation of the most egregious passages in the interim report.

That whole drama is what Smerconish may have had in mind when he vaguely referred to what Francis this year accomplished in the category of “the treatment of gays,” although, in fairness to Francis, remember that there is no evidence that he contributed to the fiasco. Archbishop Bruno Forte authored the paragraphs on homosexuality, and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri was complicit in misrepresenting them as the mind of the Church.

Kentucky’s Obamacare ‘Success’ . . .



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. . . doesn’t include signing people up for private plans, according to the New York Times:

Relatively few people have signed up for private health plans offered through the state’s new online marketplace, Kynect. People earning between 138 and 400 percent of the poverty level — between about $16,000 and $47,000 for a single person — can get subsidies to help with the cost.

Even with that incentive, only about 76,000 Kentuckians signed up for these plans in 2014 and have renewed the coverage for next year. Since the enrollment period for 2015 began on Nov. 15, an additional 9,000 people have selected exchange plans. Before the new coverage options took effect, state officials estimated that some 340,000 uninsured Kentuckians could get private insurance through the exchange.

David Elson signed up for private health insurance in February, but then decided he could not afford the $350 monthly premium for a plan that included his doctors. He never paid his bill and lost his coverage. His poor health got worse, and in October, he landed in the hospital with end-stage kidney disease.

“The president gets up there and says, ‘We’ve got to get affordable health care for our people,’ ” said Mr. Elson, 61. “It’s not.”

Read the whole story, which includes some heartbreaking stories of people with serious health issues and financial problems.

Scalise: Ludicrous to Suggest I Was Involved with White-Supremacist Group



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House majority whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) said it’s “insulting and ludicrous” to suggest that his speaking in 2002 at a conference organized by a white-supremacist group indicates his support for the group.

“I don’t have any records from back in 2002, but when people called and asked me to speak to groups, I went and spoke to groups,” Scalise told the Times-Picayune. “When you look at the kind of things they stand for, I detest these kinds of views. As a Catholic, I think some of the things they profess target people like me.”  

Scalise told the Times-Picayune that he was the only state legislator in the New Orleans area who opposed a tax plan being debated in 2002, and he canvassed the region speaking out against the plan. He noted that he spoke to “any group that called,” including liberal groups such as the League of Women Voters. While Scalise said that he will continue to speak to groups of people who disagree with him, he said that he would not speak to a white-supremacist group today. 

The story about Scalise’s appearance at a white-supremacist event in 2002 surfaced on a left-leaning Louisiana blog just as Republicans are set to gain control of both chambers when the new Congress is seated in January 2015. 

Courage, Patience, Victory: an Interview about Christianity in the Middle East



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Over the summer, Sister Utoor Joseph, along with one other Daughter of Mary Immaculate and three orphans, were kidnapped by ISIS militants (after having smuggled most of the 18 orphans under their care to safety).

“They locked her up in the grubby suite of a derelict hotel, where she prayed the rosary for those being tortured in other rooms,” says Amal Marogy, her niece, told the British Catholic Herald.

When she was told to switch her habit for Muslim garb, She said she’d been a Christian for more than 50 years and it was too late to change.”

These are the people and culture Marogy, born in Kirkuk, works to save. An affiliated researcher in Neo-Aramaic Studies at the University of Cambridge, she is the founder and executive director of the Aradin Charitable Trust. Aradin exists to preserve ancient oral and written culture in the Middle East. In an interview with National Review Online she talks about the courage of the likes of her aunt, Christians living under threat of extinction, and a culture that she feels a duty to save.

As we prepared to begin the Christmas season, Marogy planned to be in Bethlehem Christmas night. She shared that her “prayers will be for each one of us to be faithful — people who spread the joy and peace of Christ. I’ll pray that we all experience the real joy that no persecution, disease or poverty can take away from us — because the Prince of peace is born to us. I’ll pray that we will all have the conviction and willingness to sacrifice everything for God!”

 

Q: Your aunt, Sister Utoor Joseph, sounds like she should be person of the year. Do you agree? Tell us about her and what’s so remarkable about her.

A: Sister Utoor is a remarkable woman of faith and courage: for decades she helped the Christian community in Mosul to be resilient witnesses of Christ. Her works of charity and mercy extended from looking after the orphanage Mosul, helping the poor, and inspiring young people to find their vocation whether to religious life or marriage. Most importantly, after ISIS took over her city, her fearless and motherly heart prompted her to cover the dead bodies she would see dumped on the roadside; she would stop her car and cover them with a blanket she always carried with her in the car; and even take the bodies of assassinated Christians and Muslims alike to the hospital or to their families.

When taken hostage after the fall of Mosul, she refused to change her habit for a Muslim garb and kept her medal of the Immaculate Conception and the rosary on her person all the time; she was not afraid of challenging the terrorists; she refused to convert and declared — and so did her companions, a fellow woman religious and two orphan girls — that she preferred to die rather than denounce Christ. Their captors were impressed and her companions in captivity never felt so close to God as when they were taken hostage and spent their time in captivity praying for each one of us.

 

Q: Do people who live in the West even understand that kind of courage?

A: I’m sure they do but it is considered as something that belongs to the past or to the life of saints and heroes. It is almost impossible to believe that a woman like Sister Utoor could challenge ISIS fighters — and even change some of their attitudes, because she never stopped praying for her captors either.

 

Q: Where are the children in their orphanage today? Can we do anything for them?

A: The orphanage does not exist any longer, some children went back to their relatives and some were sent to another orphanage. The two orphan girls who were taken hostage along with my aunt are still with her and she is trying to get them to join their relatives in the U.S. and Canada.

 

Keep reading this post . . .

Jeb Bush, Pre-Obama Conservative



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If you look at Jeb Bush’s record as governor, it can’t be seriously argued that he’s not a conservative. I think the distinction to make here is that he is a pre-Obama conservative. The last six years have marked an entire epoch of Republican politics — defined by the rise of the Tea Party and the fight against Obama’s agenda — that Bush has largely been absent from. His last year in office was 2006, and the last time he was on the ballot was 2002 — long before anyone had heard of Barack Obama. Bush’s most attention-getting forays into the national debate in recent years have been defenses of positions on immigration and Common Core anathema to populist conservatives who have been ascendant in the Obama years, and statements scolding the current Republican party for what Bush considers its various deficiencies. One of the main questions that his presumed presidential campaign will have to answer is why he should lead a party that has undergone a generational change, that has been ideologically refreshed, and that has been tested in the fights against Obamacare and other Obama initiatives since the last time he ran for office.

N.Y. Post: NYPD Not Going After Low-Level Offenders



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The NYPD has drastically scaled back its effort to go after low-level offenders in the wake of the execution-style murder of two cops, according to the New York Post. From December 22 through December 28, traffic tickets and criminal-court summonses for minor offenses—including public drunkenness and urination—dropped 94 percent from 2013 during the same time frame. 

The number of parking violations plummeted a whopping 92 percent, from 14,699 last year to 1,241 during the same time frame this year. And, the Post reports, the overall number of arrests has decreased 66 percent since last year. 

Some cops have already admitted to turning a blind eye toward minor crime, including one who told the Post: “I’m not writing any summonses. Do you think I’m going to stand there so someone can shoot me or hit me in the head with an ax?” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and police commissioner Bill Bratton plan to hold an emergency meeting with the heads of five police unions today to address the rift between the city and police that feel betrayed by de Blasio. 

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