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Three Bad Arguments against Life Beginning at Conception

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 17:51

A recent article on Romper argues "3 Ways Science Proves Life Doesn't Begin at Conception." The arguments are not good ones. To begin with, the author is not really arguing that embryonic humans are not alive (this is clear, since she also argues we should be allowed to kill them). Rather, she's arguing that these reasons prove embryonic human beings are not valuable human life.

The arguments are: 1) many embryos die, 2) many embryos have genetic abnormalities, and 3) embryos can't survive without receiving sustenance from another human being. To test whether her reasons prove embryonic human beings are not valuable, I've slightly adjusted the words of the three points in her article in order to apply her value-determining principles to newborns. Since we're not used to hearing these arguments made about newborns, you'll hear them with fresh ears, which should provide some clarity.

See if you find them convincing.

A Newborn Can Turn into a Toddler -- But That Doesn't Mean It Will

Regardless of your viewpoint regarding newborns, it does make some sense that anti-infanticide advocates consider birth as the beginning of life. Once a baby is born, it has the chance to eventually grow into a toddler, who theoretically could become capable and self-aware and, thus, would be considered a person with all the associated rights. But as ethicists promoting after-birth abortion have pointed out, birth shouldn't be considered the beginning of life, because, well, biology is much more complicated and flawed than our ideological opinions might like it to be.

Protecting the rights of newborns might seem like a good way to ensure they grow into toddlers, but the idea doesn't even sort of align with the medical reality. Why? Because there are newborns that never become toddlers, but instead die in various, natural ways.

Many Complications Can (And Often Do) Occur between Birth and Childhood

Then there's the fact that, while we may prefer to think of birth as a beautiful time in which a human being grows and flourishes without issue, something often goes wrong. Early deaths occur, sometimes due to nothing more than a chromosomal mixup. And as upsetting as that can be, it's ultimately just a reality of the human body.

Complicating matters further, though, is that significant genetic abnormalities or other complications don't always result in the death of the baby. In these cases, killing the baby can be the medically-advised option. But a definition of life beginning at birth can change what would otherwise be considered the best medical option, as the baby would have to be allowed to live, regardless of the outcome.

Without the Mother, the Newborn Wouldn't Survive

Perhaps the most obvious argument against the idea of life beginning at birth, though, is that it takes a long time after birth before that newborn will have become a child capable of obtaining food and water on its own. In many cases, this happens around two or three years. Babies who are just born still need quite extensive intervention to live.

It's not exactly news that a baby can't survive on its own, but it's actually a very important distinction from a technical standpoint. If a baby needs another person's bodily actions in order to live, then it means that person is essentially lending her body to the baby to allow it to survive. Again, that baby might eventually be able to be a human being existing in the world independently, but for a long while, it is entirely dependent on another person's body to sustain it. While making birth the beginning of life might be helpful for anti-infanticide advocacy, it unnecessarily infringes on the rights of adult humans, who could then be expected to continue to use their bodies to care for a growing baby.

Infanticide has always been an incredibly controversial topic, and it's unlikely that that will change anytime soon. But ideological notions of protecting babies from "murder" just don't align with what science and medicine knows to be true: that there isn't much about making birth the beginning of life that is actually helpful or valuable.

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It hope all this sounds horrifying to you. In the original article, the author applied these arguments to embryonic human beings. But as you can see, they could just as easily be applied to newborns since newborns are also dependent and vulnerable. Therefore, if her arguments did not convince you newborn humans are not valuable human beings, then neither should they convince you embryonic humans are not valuable human beings. The reasons she offers are simply not relevant to a human being's value.  

Originally published on Stand To Reason on November 16, 2017. Republished with permission.

In 1 Chart, the Differences Between the House and Senate Tax Reform Bills

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 17:34

The House has now passed its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Senate is still working on the final details of its reform package. The Senate plan improves on the House bill in many places and misses important opportunities elsewhere. Here are the differences you need to know about:

 

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Copyright 2017 The Daily Signal

 

Congressional Office of Compliance Releases Breakdown of Harassment Settlements

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 15:39

The Congressional Office Of Compliance (OOC) released a year-by-year breakdown Wednesday of harassment settlements, including how much money was awarded to victims throughout the past decade.

The OCC said it decided to release the information regarding payment of awards and settlements regarding all types of harassment due to the mass amounts of recent inquiries. In the released statement, OCC executive director Susan Tsui Grundmann explained that these cases originate from multiple offices inside of the legislative branch, other than the House or the Senate.

"Based on the volume of recent inquiries regarding payment of awards and settlements reached under the CAA, I am releasing these figures beginning with Fiscal Year 1997, up to and including FY 2017," Grundmann wrote. "A large portion of cases originate from employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of Representatives or the Senate, and involve various statutory provisions incorporated by the CAA, such as the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act."

The breakdown shows more than $17 million spent on settling harassment claims throughout the past decade.

The Office of Compliance has released settlement details for fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017 pic.twitter.com/gnbfH7YtK1

— Jennifer Shutt (@JenniferShutt) November 16, 2017

Congressional Office of Compliance releases year-by-year breakdown of harassment settlements and awards: pic.twitter.com/vxbezi22wb

— Reid Wilson (@PoliticsReid) November 16, 2017

In the newly released breakdown, harassment payouts averaged almost $400,000 per victim in 2002. In 2017, there has been nearly $1 million in payouts amongst eight victims.

The OCC's release of harassment settlements comes as various congressional staffers have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and groping from lawmakers, adding to the cascade of women coming forward against powerful men.

The release also comes the same day that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was accused of sexually harassing a news anchor multiple times during a USO entertainment tour in the Middle East in 2006.

 

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Copyright 2017 The Daily Caller News Foundation

Why Women Aren’t the Answer

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 15:36

Hollywood. Business. Church. Congress. Where hasn’t sexual misconduct, including assault and harassment, left its ugly mark? As #MeToo has revealed, the experience is common to millions of women. Old and young, rich and poor, black and white. It’s heartbreaking.

When so many famous men have been dethroned, people are looking for solutions. A tweet by comedian Conan O’Brien last week sums up the country’s exasperation: “I’m ready for the all-female reboot of America.”

I'm ready for the all-female reboot of America.

— Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) November 11, 2017

That’s meant to be a joke. Yet a joke’s not a joke unless its holds a grain of sincerity. In light of #MeToo, many have called for more women. In Congress, as CEOs, in other leadership roles.

As an idea, it’s one I support. So often women forge their careers in male-dominated fields. It’s harder to stand up for yourself when you’re in the minority, with few to understand your experience or perspective.

Maybe men are the problem. Maybe we wouldn’t have sexual assault, or violence, if we just got rid of these men. Right? Wrong.

A History of Abuse

Throughout history, women have been treated as sub-par humans, with fewer rights and less value. Even in the Land of the Free, women haven’t enjoyed the full-scale rights of citizenship as long as men have. For centuries, men have held most of the powerful public roles.

We need men and women to care for each other. To build each other up. To view each other as teammates rather than enemies.

Power tends to corrupt. So when you have more men in power, it’s no surprise you have more men abusing power. Throw in men’s generally stronger physique, social expectations influencing male and female behavior, and the controversial but science-backed fact that men tend to be more aggressive than women and Bam! When the gates hiding rampant sexual misconduct finally break open, no wonder it’s mostly men tumbling out.

But that doesn’t mean men are more sinful. Or that women are more holy. Or that the solution to our society’s brokenness is to eradicate one sex, let your guard down with the other, and assume everything will be okay.

Women Are Sinful, Too

Let’s get biblical, here. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Women, that includes us. Often, our sin will come in different stripes than the fellas’. After all, our brains are different. And so are our proclivities. Again, this is both common sense and solid science.

But don’t think that means women aren’t capable of vile behavior, including violence, aggression and even sexual assault. These stories from the past month didn’t get as many hits as others. They had the likes of Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey to contend with. But they happened:

Married science teacher, 22, arrested for sex romp with teen boy student (she was also in possession of child porn) Texas mom accused of killing 2 kids hours after deputies visit home (she also tried to shoot her husband) Mom charged with inciting son to rampage at school And others. Just search the internet for a while. You’ll be disgusted.

And if you want to talk about public figures, “feminist hero” Gloria Steinem brushed off Bill Clinton’s accusers for years. Nasty Women co-editor Kate Harding argued Thursday that “we should not force a Democrat to resign for sexually abusing women,” because it would make room for “more men who hate women deeply and openly.” (She’s talking about Republicans.)

Democracy 2017: I am sincerely arguing that we should not force a Democrat to resign for sexually abusing a woman, because I know Republicans never will, and that once the first Democrat goes, R's next move is finding shady Ds from states with R governors.

— Kate Harding (@KateHarding) November 16, 2017

Let’s not even get started on Hillary Clinton. Her career was built on a pile of expendable women and empty empowerment jargon.

It’s not just conservative women who will agree with this. Ask any liberal female whether they truly think all women deserve to be in power. They’ll quickly recite the faults of chicks (especially those pesky pro-lifers) deemed unworthy of their own sex.

Needed: All of Us

Don’t misconstrue my words to mean that I don’t think more women should run for Congress, lead businesses or speak up in general. Don’t think I’m ignoring the systemic problem of powerful men abusing women. Don’t think I’m bashing #MeToo.

Hear what I’m saying: our society is broken. Women and men are getting hurt because of it. Men and women are to blame.

We need good women to have courage to stand up for what’s right even when it’s difficult, to continue to pioneer new paths for posterity, to teach their children what it means to be loving, respectful, confident and determined.

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We need good men to have the courage to stand up for what’s right. To speak up for the vulnerable when their voice carries more weight. To teach their children, especially their sons, what it looks like to honor, encourage, and assist women as co-laborers on this earth.

We need men and women to care for each other. To build each other up. To view each other as teammates rather than enemies. Not as feminazis or toxic men, but as fellow image-bearers of God.

The all-female reboot of America sounds cute. Even a little refreshing in a time when the misdeeds of men are getting exposed. But it’s not the answer. Not even close.

Are Black Churches a Key to Saving America?

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 14:09

I just got back from a conference of African-American pastors. I have arrived. I’m now an "ally." That’s a word from Woke-speak, the language of social justice warriors. It’s a weird dialect. Kind of constricting, really. Like Orwell’s Newspeak, it conveys only a narrow range of concepts. By design. In Woke-speak, you can only really say the following things:

I feel guilty. Even guiltier than you. Which means I’m a better person, because I feel like an even worse one. But you and I can agree, at least: THAT guy over there is even worse than we are. Want to have some sterile, depressing sex? I’ve printed out our consent forms. … The Coalition of African-American Pastors

In cold fact, there was probably no place on earth less SJW-friendly than that conference room in Henderson, NV, which hosted the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP). Which on one level should be surprising.

Its founder, Rev. Bill Owens, grew up in Jim Crow-era Memphis, Tennessee. He saw his father called "Boy" and worse. He saw white insurance collectors stalk into his house, leave on their hats, and insultingly call his mother by her first name. As if she were their maid, and not their customer.

Owens risked his neck in the Civil Rights Movement. The real one, which faced down the Klan, brutal sheriffs, police dogs, and all-white juries. Its claims were just, its methods moderate, its goals based in the gospel and the American founding. Owens marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through hostile white Southern streets.

Civil Rights, Education, the Family

Years later, Owens lived out of his car while running a ministry he'd invented himself. Its task? Finding poor, disadvantaged African-American students, and putting them into college. Not just any college, though. Owens placed them at the devoutly Christian Oral Roberts University. A school which, it turns out, was never segregated. Oral Roberts, you see, was part-Indian. He had seen his mother suffer racist discrimination, and was determined not to allow such sinful practices at his school.

The left today uses movements like Black Lives Matter for a dark and cynical purpose.

But none of this would matter to sniffy white snowflakes today. Because Bill Owens is a Christian. A real one. This means that he didn’t just see the Bible as a stick with which to beat racists. (Though it’s perfectly right to use it that way, since the Word of God teaches that we are brothers first in Adam then in Christ.)

No, Owens also took seriously some other words of Genesis: "Man and woman he made them." Starting in 2004 or so, Owens began to be deeply worried by inroads of LGBT activists. Not just in the laws, but in the churches. Owens learned from reliable sources that Barack Obama secretly favored same-sex marriage -- though in public he said that he didn’t. Owens warned other black pastors about Obama’s view. Most of them told him to "zip it." They said, "This is our chance to get one of our own people into the White House."

Standing Up to Compromised Clergy

That didn’t sit well with Owens. As much as he has fought all his life for equal justice for Black Americans, he sees himself first as a Christian. So he came out in public against Obama’s candidacy, and reaped a public whirlwind.

Reclaim the "real Civil Rights movement," which focused on equal citizenship and brotherhood across the color line. Its methods were hijacked by movements with aims partly or wholly incompatible with the Bible.

Rev. Bill Owens

It got worse when Owens joined the campaign to defend natural marriage. But that fight did sift out the wheat from the chaff, he remembers. Which pastors were really committed to the Word of God as written? And which ones had simply, as he puts it, "sold their souls to the Democratic Party"?

Now almost 80 years old, Owens is still an activist. He’s connecting faithful black pastors with genuine, Christian allies of every background, and welding them together into a potent political force.

The Real Civil Rights Movement

He wants to reclaim the "real Civil Rights movement," which focused on equal citizenship and brotherhood across the color line. That was hijacked, as he points out, by movements with aims that were partly or wholly incompatible with the Bible. Anti-family, pro-choice "women’s liberation" activists? "Gay liberation" marchers who for years didn’t spurn pedophiles in their midst such as NAMBLA -- perhaps because their most prominent leader, Harvey Milk, liked to date underage boys. They were aping the Civil Rights movement, and that's how they succeeded.

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Owens also has seen in the half-century since Lyndon Johnson was president that what the Democrats gave with one hand, they took away with the other. Yes, the Democrats finally dropped their 100-year fight against black civil rights and suffrage. Most of them. But at the same time, they constructed a massive, secular welfare state. As Owens puts it, the Great Society "drove the father out of the black American home, and replaced him with the government." Those massive, expensive programs also bought the loyalty of millions of new voters, even as Democratic party machines selectively purchased their pastors.

Why else did Jesse Jackson go from calling abortion "Black genocide" in the early 70s, to supporting that evil practice? Why else do so many ministers stand up and defend Planned Parenthood -- a eugenics organization whose founder, Margaret Sanger, addressed the Ku Klux Klan?

Black Solidarity, Polish Style?

The suffering that American blacks endured in America was distinctive. The Civil Rights movement they launched was uniquely important, and deeply Christian. Yet the politics that captured too many black Americans right afterward was secular, statist, and deeply counterproductive. Now the left is becoming ever more openly anti-Christian. So Owens thinks his moment has arrived. It’s time for the black church and the white church to bury their old quarrels and unite in self-defense. The well-earned moral credibility of the black church, Owens argues, is critical to winning the culture wars.

It’s a worthy idea. As I noted during the conference, the left today uses movements like Black Lives Matter for a dark and cynical purpose. They hope to peel black Americans away from their long-suffering patriotism -- a virtue they practiced even under fire in a segregated military. The left sees American blacks the way that Marxists long saw the working class: a mass of potential shock troops for its ideological agenda.

Communism didn’t fall until it was clear that workers wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. It was a Polish labor union, Solidarity, that brought down the Berlin Wall. It might be that conservative Christians won’t prevail against the intolerant, secular left until their imagined shock troops, African Americans, peel away and join us. Bill Owens is doing his best to hasten that day. How can the rest of us help? By connecting with men like Bill Owens, and offering them organizational and financial support -- such as Ronald Reagan once funneled to Solidarity.

Senators: Why is Air Force Punishing Colonel Over His Religious Views on Marriage?

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 13:59

A group of prominent U.S. senators is coming to the defense of a highly-decorated Air Force colonel who could be booted out of the military over his religious views on same-sex marriage.

Col. Leland Bohannon, an experienced combat pilot, was suspended from command and orders were handed down recommending he not be promoted after he refused to publicly affirm the same-sex spouse of a retiring subordinate.

Bohannon, who was on the verge of being promoted to a one-star general, was punished after the subordinate filed a formal Equal Opportunity complaint which was later substantiated by investigators.

"His career is likely over and he will likely have to retire as a colonel instead of as a general," First Liberty Institute attorney Michael Berry said on the Todd Starnes Show.

First Liberty Institute, one of the nation's most prominent religious liberty law firms, is representing the distinguished military officer.

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"The military is no longer a place of diversity and inclusion if you are a person who holds to a traditional belief in marriage," Berry said.

At least eight Republican U.S. Senators -- including Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, John Kennedy of Louisiana, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Ted Cruz of Texas -- wrote a letter to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson urging her to intervene and save the colonel's career.

"Col. Bohannon has suffered severely on account of the EO investigator's mishandling of his religious liberty rights," the senators wrote. "The Air Force owes it to him to see that justice is restored, along with his good name."

Last May the colonel declined to sign a certificate of spouse appreciation for a retiring master sergeant's same-sex spouse. Instead, he asked a higher ranking military leader to sign the customary document.

"Col. Bohannon recognized the moral and legal dilemma this situation presented, and to his credit, sought to carve out a solution that would affirm the contribution made by the retiring officer's same-sex partner while at the same time allowing the colonel to abide by his religious convictions," the senators wrote.

“Which circumstances, if any, would move the U.S. Air Force to defend the free exercise rights of its soldiers?” -- GOP Senators

However, the retiring service member took offense and subsequently filed a discrimination complaint. The EO investigator determined the colonel had indeed discriminated and went on to say that "even had the accommodation been granted, Col. Bohannon would nonetheless be guilty of unlawful discrimination."

The senators said the EO's decision raises disturbing questions.

"The Air Force's refusal to accept this compromise and its refusal to grant an accommodation -- when doing so would cause no discernable harm -- raises the question as to which circumstances, if any, would move the U.S. Air Force to defend the free exercise rights of its soldiers," they wrote.

The senators are calling for the Air Force to reverse the EO's decision and remove any unfavorable notes from the colonel's service record.

 

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary. His latest book is The Deplorables' Guide to Making America Great Again. Follow him on Twitter @ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.

Originally published on ToddStarnes.com. Reprinted with permission.

Radio Anchor Accuses Sen. Al Franken of Forcibly Kissing, Groping Her

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 13:38

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Minnesota Sen. Al Franken faced a storm of criticism and a likely ethics investigation after a Los Angeles radio anchor accused him of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 USO tour. He was the first member of Congress caught up in the recent wave of allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior.

Franken apologized Thursday, but there were no signs the issue would go away any time soon. Fellow Democrats swiftly condemned his actions, mindful of the current climate as well as the prospect of political blowback.

Republicans, still forced to answer for the multiple allegations facing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, joined in pressing for an investigation. Franken said he would welcome it.

Leeann Tweeden posted her allegations, including a photo of Franken and her, on the website of KABC, where she works as a news anchor for a morning radio show. The photo shows Franken posing in a joking manner, smiling at the camera with his hands on her chest as she naps wearing a flak vest aboard a military plane. Both had been performing for military personnel in Afghanistan two years before the one-time Saturday Night Live comedian was elected to the Senate.

Tweeden said Thursday that before an earlier show Franken had persisted in rehearsing a kiss and “aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.” Now, she said, “every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry.” She’s angry with herself, too, she said, for not speaking out at the time “but I didn’t want to rock the boat.”

On Friday, Tweeden said she didn’t come forward with the hope that Franken would step down.

“That’s not my call,” Tweeden told ABC’s Good Morning America. She later added: “I think that’s for the people of Minnesota to decide.”

Franken, 66, was the latest public figure to be caught in the deluge of revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct that have crushed careers, ruined reputations and prompted criminal investigations in Hollywood, business and beyond. The swift rebukes from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers suggest that momentum from the online #Metoo movement has begun to spur a culture shift on Capitol Hill, where current and former staffers say misogynistic and predatory behavior has long been an open secret.

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In a statement Thursday, Franken apologized to Tweeden and his constituents while maintaining that he remembered the rehearsal differently. Tweeden said she accepted his apology.

“Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive,” Franken wrote.

“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” he added. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”

Of the photo, Franken said: “I look at it now, and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture.”

President Donald Trump ridiculed Franken in tweets Thursday night: “The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? ….. And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?”

Trump, who misspelled the name Frankenstein, referred to a New York Magazine story from 1995 in which Franken, while a writer for Saturday Night Live, suggested a skit in which 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney would muse about drugging correspondent Leslie Stahl and raping her or taking pictures of her.

Through a spokeswoman, Trump called the allegations of sexual misconduct against the Roy Moore “very troubling.” A White House statement also said that if the allegations are true, Moore should step aside. But Trump has stopped short of calling for Moore to drop out of the race. Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump believes the Alabama voters should decide “who their next senator should be.”

The accusations against Franken come just days after the Senate unanimously adopted mandatory sexual harassment training for members and staffs amid a flood of stories about harassment, sexual misconduct and gender hostility from staffers, aides and even female elected officials.

Franken’s fellow Minnesota Democrat, Amy Klobuchar, said, “This should not have happened to Leeann Tweeden. I strongly condemn this behavior, and the Senate Ethics Committee must open an investigation.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who is facing a tough re-election next year, said she was “shocked and concerned.” She said, “Comedy is no excuse for inappropriate conduct, and I believe there should be an ethics investigation.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, called for an ethics inquiry.

Tweeden said Franken wrote a skit for the pair that was filled with “sexual innuendo,” and had brought a woman’s thong as a prop that he waved around during their performance. Part of the skit included a kiss, she said, and he insisted they practice during a rehearsal despite her protests.

“We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” she wrote.

___

Associated Press writers Kyle Potter and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cuban Exiles Recount ‘Sonic’ Torture By Castro Regime

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 13:09

A group of Cuban exiles and former political prisoners gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday to recount human rights abuses that they and their relatives suffered at the hands of the Fidel Castro regime.

In a hearing organized by Freedom House and the Justice Cuba International Commission, survivors told gripping stories about friends and family who were imprisoned, tortured and killed for resisting communist rule in Havana.

The tales of two former political prisoners stood out among the heart-wrenching accounts of abuses, if only for their parallels to the strange, unexplained sonic attacks inflicted upon U.S. diplomats in Havana last year. Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez and Luis Zuniga, anti-Castro dissidents who were sent to hideous regime prisons, said they were repeatedly subjected to "ultra-sonic" torture over more than 20 years in confinement.

"The methodology consisted of placing large loudspeakers around four feet high each ... at both ends of the hallway of cells," Zuniga recalled of his experience in 1979. "Then, they were connected to some sort of electronic device that produced high pitched sounds."

"The sounds oscillated from high-pitch to very high-pitch that almost pieced the eardrums," he added.

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Zuniga went on to describe symptoms from the torture sessions, saying that he began to feel "increasingly uneasy" and "unable to think." Other prisoners suffered debilitating headaches. The brutal punishment lasted for days, he recalled, leading to the suicide of a fellow inmate.

"This torture was kept [up] for days and nights without a respite," Zuniga said. "It ended when one of the prisoners ... hung himself. He died from the torture."

For the former prisoners and exiles gathered at Wednesday's hearing, the memories of audio torture were made fresh this summer, when it was revealed that American diplomatic personnel had been subjected to similar treatment over the previous year. What the State Department described as "sonic attacks" may have occurred in diplomatic residences and hotels in Havana -- not in the regime's dank prisons -- but many of the physical and mental effects were eerily similar to those described by Zuniga.

Victims of the mysterious attacks, which began in late 2016 and continued through this summer, experienced disturbing symptoms, including permanent hearing damage, memory loss and impaired cognitive function. In several cases, the affected officials reported hearing noises similar to loud crickets and then experiencing physical distress.

Last month, the Associated Press obtained and released an audio recording of the noise that U.S. intelligence officials believe was used in some of the incidents. Like the sound described by the Cuban political prisoners, the noise heard by American diplomatic personnel was a high-pitched whine that modulated in intensity and tone.

The U.S. has not directly accused the Castro regime of carrying out the attacks. Investigators are looking into the possibility that Cuban intelligence, perhaps a rogue element of spies, orchestrated the provocations in order to derail the normalization of diplomatic relations begun under the Obama administration, reports Politico.

Whoever is to blame, the episode has certainly soured relations between Washington and Havana. In a series of diplomatic reprisals, the State Department reduced the size of its Cuban mission, ordered Havana to withdraw several of its own diplomats, and issued a special warning advising Americans to avoid travel to Cuba until further notice.

Those moves were a prelude to new travel and trade restrictions President Donald Trump implemented earlier this month, halting and reversing the bilateral rapprochement initiated by his predecessor. Trump, who came into office highly critical of the Obama administration's opening to Cuba, has made good on his promise to take a tougher stance toward the Castro regime.

Trump's position was met with unanimous approval among the exiles, relatives and Cuban-American politicians assembled at the Justice Cuba event. Commission chairman Rene Bolio told attendees that human rights abuses in Cuba did not end with Fidel Castro's death and the succession of his brother, Raul.

"It's not a thing from the past," he said.

Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, one of the most ardent Cuba hawks in Congress, concluded the event with praise for the Trump administration's hard line on Castro -- and a swipe at Obama's approach.

"I am exceedingly grateful that the policy of the last number of years, of trying to legitimize the corrupt, murderous [Castro] regime, of the visual of the president of the United States doing the wave at a baseball game with a tyrant -- those days are over," the Florida Republican said.

 

Follow Will on Twitter. Send tips to will@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

Copyright 2017 The Daily Caller News Foundation

Iraqi Forces Retake the Country’s Last ISIS-held Town

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 12:54

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition retook on Friday the last town in the country that was held by the Islamic State group, more than three years after the militants stormed nearly a third of Iraq’s territory, the Defense Ministry said.

At dawn, military units and local tribal fighters pushed into the western neighborhoods of Rawah in western Anbar province, and after just five hours of fighting they retook the town, according to Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, the ministry’s spokesman.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated his forces on retaking Rawah. In a statement released on Friday afternoon, Al-Abadi said Iraqi forces liberated Rawah in record time and were continuing operations to retake control of Iraq’s western desert and the border area with Syria.

Rawah, 175 miles (275 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, lies along the Euphrates River Valley near the border town of Qaim that Iraqi forces retook from ISIS earlier this month.

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U.S.-led coalition forces supported the operations to retake Rawah and Qaim with intelligence, airstrikes and advisers, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon said.

ISIS blitzed across Iraq’s north and west in the summer of 2014, capturing Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul and advancing to the edges of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Later that year the United States began a campaign of airstrikes against the militants that fueled Iraqi territorial gains, allowing the military to retake Mosul in July this year.

All that now remains of ISIS-held Iraq are patches of rural territory in the country’s vast western desert along the border with Syria.

ISIS has steadily been losing ground across the border in Syria as well where its so-called “caliphate” has basically crumbled with the loss of the city of Raqqa, the former Islamic State group’s capital, which fell to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in October.

Both the U.S. and Russia have embedded special forces with their respective partners and are supporting their advances with airstrikes. Russia backs Syrian government forces of President Bashar Assad.

The last urban areas controlled by the militants in Syria are parts of the border town of Boukamal and a patch of territory near the capital, Damascus, and in central Hama province.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russian troops and Iranian-backed militias, originally pushed ISIS out of Boukamal earlier this month, but the militants retook a large part of the town, mostly its northern neighborhoods days later. Since then, ISIS has repelled government forces trying to push back into the town.

Meanwhile, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces are also approaching Boukamal from the eastern side of the Euphrates.

Despite ISIS’ significant territorial losses, the group’s media arm remains intact, allowing it to still recruit supporters and inspire new attacks. Iraqi and American officials say ISIS militants are expected to continue carrying out insurgent-style attacks in Syria, Iraq and beyond.

___

Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Military Photo of the Day: A Family Reunited at Last

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 08:00

An Army National Guard soldier reunites with his family after 318 days conducting combat operations in the Middle East on November 8, 2017, in Aurora, Colorado.

Welcome home, hero!

 

 

 

 

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Clinton Calls Uranium One Allegations a ‘Distraction,’ ‘Debunked,’ and a Signal of ‘Dictatorship’. Or is It?

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 22:07

Hillary Clinton has declared allegations of wrong-doing in the Uranium One deal “debunked.” They’re just a “distraction” from the Trump-Russia investigation. The charges send a “signal that we’re going to be like some dictatorship.” The former Secretary of State made the remarks in a new interview with Mother Jones. 

Her pushback comes as Reuters identified the FBI’s undercover witness to Russia’s efforts to bribe, blackmail and scheme their way to U.S. uranium. William D. Campbell was a lobbyist for Rosatom, the Russian company allowed to buy Uranium One. His evidence reportedly includes recordings of the Russians explaining they were throwing money toward the Clinton Foundation -- a reported $145 million -- to influence Hillary. Campbell will soon testify before Congress.

Debunking Hillary’s Debunking

Hillary told Mother Jones the Uranium One allegations have been repeatedly debunked. You’ll see Politifact cited plenty as one of the debunkers. Only they did no such thing. The best the left-leaning Politifact could come up with was “Clinton Role Still Unclear.” 

Let’s make Hillary’s problem a little clearer. Let’s look at the feeble House of Cards erected to defend her.

Hillary Wasn’t Involved

First, there’s the line that “Hillary wasn’t involved in the decision.” The decision to allow the sale of Uranium One to the Putin-controlled Rosotom had to be approved by CFIUS. That’s the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Clinton, as secretary of state, was a member of CFIUS and had to sign off on the deal. But, said Hillary in 2015, “I was not personally involved because that wasn’t something the secretary of state did.” (If Hillary could pass a football as well as she passes the buck she’d have a job in the NFL quicker than Kaepernick.)

The grunt work, we are told, was done by assistant secretary of state Jose Fernandez. He insisted in 2015 that Hillary “never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter.” 

Unfortunately, for Fernandez, WikiLeaks gave up the goods. Fernandez was in regular contact with Clinton campaign manager and consigliere John Podesta. In one email he declared “I would like to do all I can to support Secretary Clinton.” Podesta put him on the board of his Center for American Progress. As The Daily Caller reported, Fernandez got the gig just before he “personally attested” that Clinton had not influenced his decision. 

Still, you are supposed to believe that Madam Russia Reset had no opinion or input into a major decision involving Vladimir Putin.  

Further, The Podesta Group, founded by Podesta and brother Tom, was paid $200,000 to lobby for the Uranium One deal. You’re Mr. Hernandez. You want to make Hillary happy. The lobbying firm founded by her top honcho and one of her top bundlers -- a firm that is as much a part of Clinton’s political machine as pantsuits -- knocks on your door. “We think you should approve the Uranium One sale,” they say. Really. Does Hillary have to actually be in the room?

Surely, we can check through all of Hillary’s State Department emails and discern her involvement or lack thereof with Uranium One. Oh, wait. We can’t. She deleted 33,000 of them. 

Just One of Nine

Second, there’s the claim that “She was just one of nine department heads on CIFIUS.” Do her supporters really want to argue that Hillary Clinton, who as senator fought against such vital mineral sales, who was the Secretary of State, wouldn’t have ruled the room had she said no?

And anyway: If bookies bribe only one player on a baseball field, does that make the player any less guilty? 

And what of those other eight? Did they know how much money was flowing into the Clinton Foundation from interested parties? About the FBI investigation into Putin’s bribery, kickback, blackmail scheme? Did they know the FBI had an informant smack dab in the middle of the Uranium One deal? One had to know: then-Attorney General Eric Holder. Did he share with CFIUS the Russian efforts to grab our uranium by hook-or-crook? 

Only Four Million

Here’s a third: “But the $145 million was really only $4 million, if you look at the timing.” Politifact says most of the $145 million came from Bill Clinton BFF Frank Giustra. He says he sold his Uranium One stake 18 months before Hillary became secretary of state. If that’s true, “the donation amount to the Clinton Foundation from confirmed Uranium One investors drops from more than $145 million to $4 million.” 

According to the New York Times, an investor named Ian Telfer dropped between $1.3 million and $5.6 million on the Foundation. So even the $4 million figure is suspect. The total could be almost $10 million instead.

Which reminds me: Next time Hillary talks about Uranium One being a Trump administration-generated distraction, keep in mind it was the New York Times that helped break the story in April 2015. That was two months before Trump even announced he was running.

Remember, this notion that it was only $4 million is being used by Clinton supporters as a defense. This is astounding. “The prosecution is lying! My client didn’t stab the victim 145 times! He only stabbed her 4!” Hillary Clinton, supporters admit, got $4 million from investors with a direct interest in the Uranium One deal going through. 

No Big Deal

Finally, Hillary’s inventive (maybe desperate?) supporters just say, “It’s just not a big deal, don’t worry about it.” Former Clinton adviser Richard Goodstein said this Tuesday night on Tucker Carlson. Uranium isn’t even all that valuable or crucial anymore, he said. When Carlson countered that Vladimir Putin sure thought the sale was a big deal, that he had spent millions to help make it happen, Goodstein’s spin was classic. Putin was a bad businessman. 

Let’s put aside the fact that uranium is the stuff used to make nuclear bombs. And the fact that Russia found a way to skirt around the lack of a shipping license, making the claim the uranium never left the U.S. a flat out lie. Let’s just accept Goodstein’s premise that the U.S. mines are meaningless in the big scheme things. 

After all, says Goodstein, “Kazakhstan is the biggest source of uranium on the planet.” He went onto say that Russia is able to exert power over its neighbor and deals heavily with them in that regard. So to Kazakhstan we go. 

Kazakhstan Means Cash for the Clintons

When Russia bought Uranium One, it didn’t just get 20% of the U.S. uranium supply. It got control of Uranium One’s uranium assets in Kazakhstan. And thus, as we can infer from Goodstein’s own remarks, more power over Kazakhstan.

How did Uranium One get the Kazakhstan assets in the first place?

Remember Bill Clinton BFF Frank Giustra? Even though he had little experience in the mining business, he flew over to Kazakhstan with Bill Clinton. Clinton said nice things publicly about Kazakhstan’s dictator. A couple days later, Kazakhstan granted Giustra and his Ur-Asia mining company the extremely lucrative uranium mining rights. Soon after Giustra donated $31 million to the Clinton Foundation, with a pledge to donate $100 million more. 

Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer  says the Clinton sweet talk came with hard ball. He told Fox News Wednesday night how the Kazakh minister of Kazatomprom, the Kazah atomic agency, claims the Clintons blackmailed him. Schweizer summarized what Moukhtar Dzhakishev stated in a video deposition

They granted that concession to Frank Giustra because Hillary Clinton, then a senator, blackmailed and threatened Kazakh officials, saying she would not cooperate with them getting U.S. money; that she would not meet with any Kazakh officials until the concession was granted.

The Washington Post actually reported on Dzhakishev’s claims in 2010:

Dzhakishev said a senior Kazakh official told him to look into the deal after then-Sen. Hillary Clinton canceled a meeting with him. Dzhakishev said he was told that “investors who currently work in Kazakhstan and have ties to Clinton have problems and meetings will be resumed only after Kazakhstan resolves the problems.”

“I called them, and they came. I met them in Astana and then Clinton’s aide, Tim Phillips, began to scream that this deal involves Democrats and is financed by them, and that we were hampering the deal,” Dzhakishev said.

Alert the Post. They are part of Hillary’s new vast right-wing conspiracy.

Army Rescinds Waiver Program for Self-Mutilating Recruits

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 22:00

The Army has decided to abandon plans to issue waivers to recruits with a history of self-mutilation or other mental health problems.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Wednesday to reporters that a September waiver memo, first reported on by USA Today, had been dropped after "terrible" messaging of the policy. However, Milley maintained the memo did not constitute a real change in policy, but rather delegated the ability to issue waivers to a lower authority -- from Army headquarters to Army Recruiting Command.

"There wasn't a change in policy," Milley said, according to USA Today. "There cannot be a change in policy by someone who doesn't have the authority to change policy. I know it sounds circular."

However, Army officials previously told USA Today that the ban on issuing waivers, which was first imposed in 2009 after a spate of troop suicides, had been lifted.

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The original story also attracted the attention of GOP Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, who bristled over the fact that he hadn't been informed of the memo before reading about it in the news. He also questioned whether the Army was the right place for those with a history of self-harm.

"Self-mutilation is something that comes home to roost," McCain said. "Someone who self mutilates, I don't understand the eligibility there."

Milley spoke with McCain on Tuesday and told him the memo would be rescinded.

Moreover, the memo was also condemned by the Center for Military Readiness, a military policy organization, that argued not only should the Army not make it easier to obtain waivers, but the Army shouldn't be handing out any waivers for these conditions at all.

The Army is trying to meet a recruitment goal of 80,000 for September 2018.

 

Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter. Send tips to jonah@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

Copyright 2017 Daily Caller News Foundation

Down Syndrome Abortion Ban Clears the Ohio Senate

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 21:55

The Ohio Senate passed a bill Wednesday banning abortions if a mother receives a diagnosis that her child will be born with Down syndrome.

The lawmakers passed Senate Bill 164 in a 20-12 vote Wednesday, after the Ohio House of Representatives voted in a 63-30 vote to pass its companion bill -- House Bill 214 -- at the beginning of the month.

Like House Bill 214, the Senate bill penalizes doctors for performing abortions on pregnant women who receive a positive test that their baby will have Down syndrome. However, authorities would not fine or punish a woman who aborts her baby after receiving a positive test for the congenital disorder. 

"We are continuously encouraged by how Ohio is on the forefront of protecting the unborn," Ohio Right To Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a statement, according to Cleveland.com. "All Ohioans regardless of the gender, skin color or disability deserve the right to live out their God-given potential and purpose."

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Not everyone is enthused about the ban. "It's ironic that those who claim they believe in limited government are once again choosing to insert themselves in a relationship that is sacred between that practitioner and their patient," said state Sen. Charleta Tavares, a Columbus Democrat who fears the bill will discourage doctors from practicing in Ohio.

"This bill sends a very clear message, that some disabilities are more worthy of life than others and that one disability -- Down syndrome -- is the most worthy," Jane Gerhardt told lawmakers on Tuesday. Her daughter has Down syndrome, but she thinks the bill divides the disability community by selecting what disabilities warrant protection.

"This is a sideways step and does not reach the ultimate goal," said Ohio state Sen. Matt Dolan, a Republican. Dolan voted against the bill  and thinks it should be rejected because the law would not treat all life equally and is likely unconstitutional. 

The Ohio General Assembly will have to send one bill to GOP Gov. John Kasich's desk to get enacted into law.

 

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Copyright 2017 The Daily Caller News Foundation

Clinics Offer Abortions to Women Who Aren’t Even Pregnant

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 21:39

Private clinics in Mexico City are providing "abortions" for women who aren't even pregnant by giving them false positive tests, an investigative reporter discovered after visiting the clinics.

The clinics falsely told the women that they were pregnant by conducting ultrasounds which showed tiny specks or thickened lining of the uterine wall. Doctors would then inform the women that they were pregnant and should abort. The clinics failed to conduct any urine or blood tests to confirm the supposed pregnancies, as is standard procedure at abortion clinics and hospitals, according to BuzzFeed News.

An undercover BuzzFeed reporter went to two private clinics and told the doctor her period was late and that she'd taken a home pregnancy test and had seen a faint line. Without asking any further questions or taking blood and urine samples, the doctor told the reporter she was pregnant because he had seen a small speck on her ultrasound, and asked her which form of abortion she'd like.

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BuzzFeed also spoke with a group of psychology students that had gone to 12 private clinics -- some of which offered free abortions and some which did not -- in Mexico City and told doctors their periods were late and their home pregnancy tests were positive. After providing that information, six of the clinics offered the students abortions. These six clinics also told students they were between four and six weeks pregnant, and if they didn't abort they would faced potential miscarriage.

At all of the clinics, the women were charged for both the appointment and ultrasound, and at clinics where abortions were not free, the women had to also pay up front for the cost of a medicinal abortion, aspirin, and some kind of sedation or anesthesia.

This is business and gynecological fraud, the regional director at Latin America Women's Health and Progress told BuzzFeed.

Abortion has been legal in Mexico City since 2007, but is illegal everywhere else in Mexico. A high demand for abortions paired with the small geographical location wherein abortion is legal has prompted more private clinics to open, and current estimates place the number of abortion clinics in Mexico City at 55. The local government provides free abortions at 13 clinics.

 

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Copyright 2017 The Daily Caller News Foundation

House Passes Sweeping Tax Reform Bill

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 20:00

The House passed a comprehensive tax reform bill Thursday in a significant step toward fulfilling the GOP leadership's goal of placing a bill on President Donald Trump's desk by the end of the year.

The bill passed 227 to 205, with 13 Republican defectors and no supporting votes from Democrats. The House version slashes the corporate rate from 35 to 20 percent, collapses the existing seven income brackets down to four and eliminates a plethora of popular deductions, resulting in a total of $1.4 trillion in individual and business tax cuts over the next decade.

"For the first time in 31 years we are wiping the tax code clean and replacing it with one that is fairer and simpler for everyone," GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, told the New York Times.

Republican leadership was ultimately unable to win over lawmakers from high tax states like New York and New Jersey, who remained opposed to the bill because of its elimination of the state and local tax deduction, a provision that compensated residents of high tax states by granting them deductions on their federal income tax. The House version keeps the property tax deduction, but caps it at $10,000, a concession that proved insufficient in winning over the New York and New Jersey delegations.

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Under the House plan, individuals will be taxed at 12, 25, 35 and 39.6 percent respectively. The bill nearly doubles the standard deduction and also increases the child tax credit, in an effort spearheaded by Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner, from $1,000 to $1,600.

In addition to lowering the corporate rate by 15 percent, the bill also moves the U.S. toward a structure that taxes companies based solely on their U.S. revenue, rather than their total global earnings. A measure designed to incentivize multinational corporations to return profits to the U.S. rather than keeping them in offshore tax shelters.

Individuals who report business earnings on their personal tax returns, such as sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations, would have their top rate lowered to 25 percent under the bill, rather than being taxed at the current top individual rate of 39.6 percent.

The GOP still faces the ominous task of reconciling the now passed House version with a Senate draft that is working its way through the Finance Committee and diverges from its counterpart on a number of key issues.

 

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Copyright 2017 Daily Caller News Foundation

New Jersey Sen. Menendez’s Bribery Trial Ends in a Hung Jury

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 19:44

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The federal bribery trial of Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez ended in a mistrial Thursday with the jury hopelessly deadlocked on all charges against the New Jersey politician and a wealthy donor. Prosecutors did not immediately say whether they plan to retry the lawmaker.

U.S. District Judge William Walls declared a hung jury after more than six full days of deliberations that had to be re-started midway through when a juror was replaced.

Outside the courthouse, a choked-up Menendez fought back tears as he blasted the prosecution and thanked the jurors "who saw through the government's false claims and used their Jersey common sense to reject it." He added: "I've made my share of mistakes. But my mistakes were never a crime."

Juror Edward Norris said that 10 jurors wanted to acquit Menendez on all charges, while two held out for conviction. Norris said that after the prosecution rested, “in my gut I was like, ‘That’s it? That’s all they had?'”

The inconclusive end to the 2 1/2 -month trial could leave the charges hanging over Menendez as he gears up for an expected run for re-election next year to the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slim edge and the Democrats want every vote they can get.

Menendez, 63, was accused of using his political influence to help Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for luxury vacations in the Caribbean and Paris, flights on Melgen’s private jet and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to organizations that supported the senator directly or indirectly.

Prosecutors said Menendez, in return, pressured government officials on Melgen’s behalf over an $8.9 million Medicare billing dispute and a stalled contract to provide port screening equipment in the Dominican Republic, and also helped obtain U.S. visas for the 63-year-old doctor’s girlfriends.

The defense argued that the gifts were not bribes but tokens of friendship between two men who were “like brothers.” In Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell’s closing argument, he used the words “friend,” “friends” or “friendship” more than 80 times.

Menendez’s lawyers contended also that the government failed to establish a direct connection between Melgen’s gifts and specific actions taken by the senator.

Prosecutors said that didn’t matter. Melgen, they said, essentially put Menendez on the payroll and made the politician his “personal senator,” available as needed.

The two men faced about a dozen counts each, including bribery, conspiracy and honest services fraud. The most serious charge against Menendez, honest services fraud, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. He was also charged with making false statements in failing to report gifts from Melgen on his financial disclosure form.

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Menendez smiled and embraced his son and daughter when it appeared the trial had reached a dead end. Then, as the judge announced the mistrial in the courtroom, the senator looked up at the ceiling and extended his hands, his palms facing upward.

Afterward, Menendez’s political adviser, Mike Soliman, said “all things indicate” the senator will run for re-election and an announcement will probably be made in the coming weeks. Menendez, who has been under indictment for 2 1/2 years, has already raised more than $2.5 million this year.

In a statement, the U.S. Justice Department said it will consider its next steps.

The jury deliberated most of last week, then restarted on Monday with an alternate after a member was excused because of a long-planned vacation. The jurors also said on Monday that they couldn’t agree on a verdict, but the judge asked them to keep trying.

This time, the jury said in a note that it had reviewed all of the evidence “slowly and thoroughly and in great detail.” ”We have each tried to look at this case from different viewpoints, but still feel strongly in our positions,” the jurors said, adding that they were “not willing to move away from our strong convictions.”

Melgen is already facing the possibility of a long prison sentence after being convicted in April of bilking Medicare out of as much as $105 million by performing unneeded tests and treatments.

The last sitting senator convicted of a crime was Ted Stevens of Alaska, a Republican found guilty in 2008 of concealing more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts. His conviction was later thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct, and he died in a 2010 plane crash.

The Menendez case was the first major federal bribery trial since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 threw out the conviction of Republican former Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia and narrowed the definition of bribery.

In recent months, the McDonnell ruling led judges to overturn the convictions of at least three other public officials, including a former Louisiana congressman. Menendez’s lawyers had likewise hoped to get the case against the senator dismissed, but the judge refused.

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, served in the House from 1993 until he was appointed to fill a Senate vacancy in 2006. He has chaired the Foreign Relations Committee and was a major player in the unsuccessful bipartisan “Gang of Eight” effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws in 2013.

More recently, he drew the ire of some fellow Democrats when he opposed President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and efforts to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

___

Contact Porter at https://www.twitter.com/DavidPorter_AP.

___

Associated Press writer Anthony Izaguirre in Newark, N.J., contributed to this story.

 

Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sex Scandals, Evangelicals, Donald Trump, and Roy Moore

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 18:41

Over the last 18 months, evangelical Christians have been asked how they could vote for a serial adulterer like Donald Trump while condemning the alleged serial adulterer Bill Clinton as unfit for office. The general response has been:

Trump was certainly not our ideal candidate and we do deplore his past. He seems to have made some changes and is open to our input. It was either him or Hillary Clinton. And for the sake of the unborn, for the sake of our religious liberties, and for the sake of our security, he got our vote.

Has this compromised our moral authority in the eyes of many Americans?

On the one hand, it certainly has. Our vote for Trump is thrown back in our face on a regular basis. We are linked to anything he says or does that is untasteful.

On the other hand, it really has not. We have been mocked and vilified and called hypocrites and haters for years now. Do we really think that if many of us did not vote for Trump, the society in general would be more open to hear our views about homosexuality and abortion? Hardly.

We All Have Biases -- Are We Being Fair?

When it comes to Judge Roy Moore, we are being asked how any of us could not immediately recognize his guilt, since the mounting evidence against seems overwhelming. Plus, we seem to believe the bad reports about Hollywood moguls and celebrities and leftwing politicians. Why the double standard here?

First, all of us have biases, conscious or otherwise. It's all too natural to defend people who are close to us and question people who are distant from us. For example, a devoted liberal Democrat would be far less likely to entertain an accusation against Barack Obama than against Ted Cruz. Conversely, a staunch conservative Republican would be much more likely to entertain an accusation against Obama than against Cruz.

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This is reminiscent of the intense drama that unfolded when Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of crass and abusive behavior. Liberals rallied around Hill and conservatives stood with Thomas.

As much as we try to avoid partisan emotions, it's only human nature to have them. We must always check to see if we're even making the attempt to be unbiased. Are we? Do we do our best to ask critical questions? Do we give the presumption of innocence to all, even if our first reaction is to condemn those we don't like? Do we weigh all accusations fairly?

Different Experiences, Different Assumptions

Second, when it comes to Judge Moore, we're not just dealing with the possibility of double standards. We're also dealing with extreme skepticism towards leftwing media and extreme suspicion of the political system. It may appear to be an extraordinary display of hypocrisy, as conservative evangelicals stand by a man accused of abusive sexual contact with minors. But it could really be a display of distrust of the left.

Think back to the O. J. Simpson trial, which largely divided Americans between white and black. To many white Americans, the evidence against O. J. was absolutely damning, right down to his DNA all over the crime scene. How is it that so many black Americans didn't see it? Were they ignorant? Did they wink at murder? Was it impossible to think that a black hero was guilty?

Today, President Trump shouts "Fake News" on a regular basis and millions of Americans agree. So when a story starts with the Washington Post, red flags immediately go up.

Not at all. Instead, they deeply suspected the legal system, from the police to the courts to the jails. They had witnessed unequal treatment under the law. They had seen people framed. They had seen the innocent convicted and the guilty set free, hence their deep-seated suspicion.

Today, President Trump shouts "Fake News" on a regular basis and millions of Americans agree. So when a story starts with the Washington Post, red flags immediately go up. And when one of the most conservative senatorial candidates in decades comes under fierce attack right before the elections, a man with great loyalty among his followers, it's very easy for some to question his accusers rather than sympathize with them.

More to the Story

As it stands, we are nearing the tipping point in the charges against Moore. More accusers are coming forward by the moment. His supporters are becoming more desperate. And it's understandable why the Babylon Bee, a Christian satire site, posted an article titled, "Evangelicals Announce They Will Withdraw Support For Roy Moore Should Three Or Four Dozen More Women Come Forward."

But before you condemn Moore's Alabama supporters, and before you write off other conservatives who have stood with him, bear in mind that double standards are not the whole story. (Or, perhaps, even part of the story.) Rather, there is extreme suspicion of the left. And there is deep recognition of how many enemies someone like Judge Moore really has. With some claiming clear evidence that the yearbook signature is a forgery, everything else becomes questionable.

For those on the left who think I'm trying to excuse the inexcusable -- meaning, giving Moore any benefit of the doubt even for a moment -- just ask yourself how you would have responded if Fox News and Rush Limbaugh claimed to have evidence of Barack Obama sexually abusing minors. To my readers on the left, what would your first reaction be?

We all agree that if the charges against Moore are true then what he did is terribly ugly and evil. Especially since he did so as a professing Christian and as someone in power. But let's not get carried away with double-standard accusations right now, especially against conservative Christians in Alabama. There's a lot more to the story that must be factored in.

Political Character, Church Character, and Taking Real Responsibility

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 16:48

Roy Moore had a bad reputation. Alex Chediak has written here on The Stream of credible reports saying that when he was in his 30s, he was known for hanging out in the mall and flirting with high school girls. It's been "common knowledge" around those parts for 30 years, and "not a big secret," according to an Alabama newspaper.

The allegations have substance. Now let's add two known facts to them:

Around that time, Moore made his first run for public office, a judicial bench that he lost in 1982 but was installed in ten years later. Moore was a churchgoer at the time.

I've been asking myself why it's been so hard lately to find a politician Christians can really get behind: a man or woman whose policies and character are both solid. And I wonder whether these allegations and facts, put together, tell a lot of the story. Let's suppose for argument's sake the allegations are true. Did anyone in Roy Moore's church know of his reputation? Did they do anything about it?

I don't know, but I doubt it.

The Bible and Church Discipline Galatians 6:1 teaches that if someone is caught in sin, those who "are spiritual" should restore that person, though always looking to themselves, lest they too be tempted.

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus instructs us to confront sin progressively, starting in private, but potentially escalating, if there's no repentance, to a church-wide statement that the person has chosen not to live as a member of the body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 we see Paul specifically instructing the church to do that very thing. (The passage is somewhat hard to interpret, but that’s probably the best way to understand it.)

This is church discipline. It’s simply a way of saying, “To be a member of this local body of Christ, one must not persist in living contrary to the way of Christ.”

Compromise in the Church

I doubt it partly because I've seen too much compromise in Christian churches. The Bible gives the Church authority to call Her people to a high standard. I've seen few churches exercise that authority.

I've seen a church look the other way when its two youth leaders, a single man and a divorced woman, openly shacking up together. I've seen an otherwise doctrinally solid leadership team stand in silence when a church member supported homosexuality from the pulpit.

So just by the odds, it’s unlikely Roy Moore's church did anything at the time. But it's not just that.

Let’s suppose they'd done the right thing and called him on it (based on the reports of his reputation). If Moore was innocent, He could have publicly repudiated the charges based on the facts. As a public figure, a public statement would have been appropriate. We know of no such statement.

Or suppose his church had initiated discipline and he wasn’t innocent. He could have repented and renounced his shameful actions. We know of no such repentance.

Or suppose the church had done its job with discipline, and he were guilty but refused to repent. In that case the church’s next prescribed step would have been to say something like this: "You can keep doing what you're doing, but don't consider yourself associated with us if you do. We'll continue to love you. You're welcome back in our membership any time you want to give it up and return. But until then, your behaviors cannot have a home here."

A Lesson For All Churches

Of course all this is based on the supposition that the allegations are true. But there's a lesson here regardless: If we Christians want men and women of well-formed character to elect to political office, we'd better start making character formation a real priority in our own midst.

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There are wrong ways to do this -- to appear self-righteous and judgmental, or to condemn a person prematurely. But there are right ways to do it, too.

It won't come just by preaching. Not even by good preaching. Leaders have to set the example in their own lives. If the Church won’t form good character, then who will?

From Prayer Books to Play Area, Bible Museum Opens New Views into Ancient Text

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 15:04

Thousands of guests are expected when Museum of the Bible opens its doors this weekend, only two blocks from the National Mall. Upon entering past the 40-foot bronze Gutenberg Gates, two things strike most visitors.

One is the digital ceiling with rotating images of stained glass windows and natural landscapes. Measuring 140 by 15 feet and created with 555 LED panels, it often showcases iconic religious art such as the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The other first-floor draw for many guests is the children's experience. With pinball-style games, a "walking on water" illusion, bean-bag toss and other high-touch activities, it resembles a less frenetic version of Chuck-E-Cheese. As parents and now grandparents, museum co-founders Steve and Jackie Green were among the first to see how it played with kids.

"A few days ago, we had 32 of our family members here for a sort of first look at the museum before it opens," says Jackie Green in an interview with The Stream. "Our four grandchildren were here, as were all our children -- we have one son and five daughters. They all interacted with it in different ways."

"Some got on a digital board and they're doing a quiz about what they know of the Bible," she recounts. "In the children's area, my eleven-year-old was Samson and she's pushing the pillars over. My little grandsons are throwing those balls into the lions' mouths. It's just very interactive."

Making the Bible Clear By All Means

Even museum scholars share Green's enthusiasm for the kid-centric spaces. "If families have young ones, they will likely most enjoy the children's area," says Brian Hyland, an expert on medieval manuscripts. "I had my grandkids here on Saturday and they loved it."

He joined the museum team last year as an associate curator. Hyland has taught medieval history at the University of Maryland and several academic subjects at a Catholic school in his home state of New York.

This ecumenical approach enhances every aspect of the museum, leaders say.

Media coverage he's seen of the museum differs with his experience, Hyland notes. "These media reports in advance -- so much has been innuendo, putting things together without context, and the like," he says. "Being on the inside, it's been kind of fun to see how wrong they've gotten what this museum really is about."

He offered a recent Washington Post story as an example. It gave the museum high marks but only after recounting controversies, he says. “The museum, which will be among the largest in a city chock-full of museums, presents ... the Bible through cutting-edge technology and immersive experiences,” stated the Post.

Hyland divides his time between the history floor -- where he ensures the accurate display of medieval materials -- and exhibit areas like the Vatican Library art gallery. "I taught for a long time," he says. "Over the years, it became clear that kids have less and less real knowledge of what's in the Bible."

A Prayer Book Even Protestants Should See

With a teacher's zeal, Brian Hyland shares about one item among thousands featured at the museum. "One of my favorite manuscripts is up on the fourth floor," he says. "It's the prayer book of Charles V, made for him when he was about 16 years old. He later became Holy Roman Emperor and Luther's opponent at the time of the Reformation."

One of the first manuscripts featuring northern Renaissance elements, the prayer book is acclaimed for its use of icons. Having taught at both the high school and university level, Hyland explains how it gives a window into world history. Young Charles assumed a rule over Spain when still in his teen years, he notes.

"What I love about it is it's a prayer book for a young boy," he continues. "It's written in a hand that is very simple, elegant and easy to read. The imagery is very Catholic, dealing with sacrifice, preparing young Charles to assume the role of Holy Roman Emperor."

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Religious leaders worldwide recently marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The stand Martin Luther took in 1517 against certain practices continues to reverberate today.

Charles V played an infamous role in those events. Museum visitors may be surprised to find voices offering diverse perspectives on this pivotal era.

"Luther was trying to reform and improve the Catholic Church, to get rid of some of the abuses," states Hyland, a devout Catholic. "That's his starting point and we see that in his 95 Theses. So we represent all sides of the Reformation here."

Welcoming People of All Faiths -- Or None

This ecumenical approach enhances every aspect of the museum, leaders say.

Professor Gordon Campbell, historian at the museum, gives one example. "If you look at the Bible in art, there's an exhibit on the Madonna and Child," he says. "That's of no interest to Protestants, but it's dear to the heart of Catholics and Orthodox."

Another highlight for families will be the Stories of the Bible floor, which retells key events from Scripture. "The way we tell stories recognizes the Jewish angle, which is educational for everyone," says Campbell. "Christians would otherwise not understand it."

The floor is divided into three distinct areas. These include a 40-minute narrative journey through foundational stories and a 12-minute film introducing the New Testament. In addition, Nazareth Village recreates eight scenes of everyday life in first-century Israel.

"We don't refer to the Old Testament, we speak of the Hebrew Bible," he says, noting input from Jewish scholars. "We're eager that anyone come to this museum and feel welcome, whatever their religious identity is -- or none."

The Synergy of Accuracy and Imagination

The museum team brought on creative agency BRC Imagination Arts to produce the lion's share of the stories floor. The firm has created films and experiences across the nation, notably at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando. 

Taking up nearly half the stories floor, The Hebrew Bible begins with a fast-paced animated film on the origins of the world. An accurate portrayal of Genesis, it includes a bright flash of light to signify the supernatural act of creation.

"The purpose is for every person to engage with the Bible and become more familiar with it."

"It's actually not a strobe, it's just a bright light," says Matthew Solari, creative director at BRC Imagination Arts. "Young kids have all remarked that is their favorite part. It pulls them into the story!" He notes their tests reveal it is below the threshold to be unsafe for most people. Guests are also notified in queue.

The Hebrew Bible experience further reveals key events in the lives of Abraham, Moses, Ruth and David. The five films are all produced in distinct animation styles and projected in unexpected ways. Visitors walk through immersive environments before and after each video, with sounds, sculptures, light effects and water used to tell the stories.

Narratives unfold fluidly, fusing various media. In one film scene, a woven basket floats on the Nile. Moments later, a bush blazing with bright colors lights up a dark area of the theater. Museum guests venture past it into the next chapter.

Responding to Doubters -- and the Faithful

Skeptics of the museum abound, as media gives outsized coverage to an artifacts incident resolved earlier this year. Yet the Bible may prove to be a continual source of scandal, perhaps even for families.

"We set out to be authentic to the Hebrew text," says Solari, asked about brief nudity in a Garden of Eden scene. "You can't do this without getting a response from somebody somewhere. Through a lot of work with scholars and the museum, we found a style and approach that works for the broadest audience possible."

Manuscripts expert Brian Hyland hopes the curious take time to visit. "If people come and see what the museum is about, it's what we're saying it is," he states. "The purpose is for every person to engage with the Bible and become more familiar with it."

 

Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., opens to the public this weekend. Watch for further articles in this series.

Drain the Swamp? What Swamp?

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 14:50

Politicians love to rev-up their supporters by promising to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D.C.

Nancy Pelosi promised to do this in 2006. Throughout his campaign, President Trump promised to, as well. The phrase has become a standard line in campaigns, right up there with "if elected, I'll represent all Americans" and "good jobs at good wages."

The reality is that the swamp cannot be drained. Or, put another way, the swamp as it is seen by ordinary Americans is a myth.

Lobbyists

Wait! I agree that corruption needs to be fought, hard. Breaking the law, making shady deals, and plain old graft are never acceptable.

And without question, money talks. Corporate donations to candidates and elected officials influence votes and policy decisions. But as often as not, those donations are given to support people whose convictions about the free market and economic growth motivate them to vote for bills that create jobs, lower taxes, and rein-in government. Bills corporations like, for the most part.

But more broadly, just what is the so-called "swamp?"

Work for a company of any size? It's more likely than not that your firm has representatives in Washington, DC. They might be corporate lobbyists, people who are employees of the same company as you.

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They might be lobbyists who work for themselves or for a lobbying firm and who are hired to represent your company.

They might be lobbyists who work for a business association or trade group your company belongs to. Say, the National Grocer's Association or the Balloon Council (yes, it exists, and lobbies on helium issues). Or any one of thousands of other such organizations.

In total, there are about 11,000 lobbyists in your nation's capital. Most of them are not cigar-smoking fat-cats who lurk in the shadows. Most make middle to upper-middle incomes, ride the subway to and from work, live in the suburbs and mow their lawns on Saturdays.

A handful are corrupt, ethically if not legally. They schmooze and flatter and wheedle and manipulate. But so do people in every sphere of business in every city in every state in the union. That doesn't make their occupation corrupt or fake in itself.

Why They Lobby

So, why are people paid to lobby?

Because the federal government taxes businesses so much, for so many things, and in such a complicated way. Lobbyists seeking tax advantages often do so because without tax relief, the companies or industries they represent would decline.

In 2016, the IRS "revised its estimated paperwork burden for the Business Income Tax Return by roughly 2.5 billion annual hours (from 360 million hours to 2.8 billion)," reports Dan Goldbeck of the American Action Forum. "On December 31, 2015, the nation's cumulative paperwork burden was slightly more than nine billion hours. Once the IRS paperwork imposition was processed, the nation's paperwork burden grew to more than 11.5 billion hours."

High and complex taxes on businesses of all sizes injure them as they try to create new jobs and market new products. Congress is often oblivious to the realities of what it takes to make the economy tick, so lobbyists spend their time trying to shake some fiscal sense into the House and Senate.

And remember, companies are taxed as persons. The very term "incorporate" comes from a Latin term meaning to "to create a body." Corporations exist legally as persons. They have legal rights and duties.

If they are going to be taxed as persons, they have the same right as every other citizen: No taxation without representation.

Lobbyists exist to fight the regulation that spews forth from Washington at a rate no one person can ever account for.

Lobbyists also exist to fight the regulation that spews forth from Washington at a rate no one person can account for. In 2015 alone, the Obama Administration added "43 new major rules (that) increased annual regulatory costs by more than $22 billion, bringing the total annual costs of Obama Administration rules to an astonishing $100 billon-plus in just seven years," according to James Gattuso and Diane Katz of The Heritage Foundation.

A 2012 study by the National Association of Manufacturers states that "the average U.S. company pays $9,991 per employee per year to comply with federal regulations. The average manufacturer in the United States pays nearly double that amount -- $19,564 per employee per year. Small manufacturers, or those with fewer than 50 employees, incur regulatory costs of $34,671 per employee per year."

That's not all, folks. The Federal Register is the daily record of all existing and proposed federal rules and regulations. In total, at the end of last year, "the number of Federal Register pages stood at 95,894, 19.4 percent higher than the previous year's 80,260 pages."

They’re People, Too

Lobbyists fight regulations. Yes, some regulations are beneficial. Some rules about food and drug quality and that prevent concentrations of economic power (read: monopolies) are among the regulations that make sense. But those that encumber job-creators with unnecessary, nannying, "Washington knows best" demands and duties need to be fought. We can be glad there are advocates making this case on Capitol Hill and in the Administration.

I have not yet touched on litigation reform, and won't now take the time. Just this: Does anyone really think that any company or industry exists just to be a cash cow for trial lawyers?

There are down-sides. The so-called "revolving door" -- work in government, go back to the private sector, bounce back into government, get a great-paying job because of your contacts in government and knowledge of federal policy -- can be dangerous. But do you want to be governed by people who don't know anything about the companies they regulate? Who create laws affecting people who struggle to earn a living? Or whose lack of institutional knowledge prevents them from knowing where, in the vast maze of the federal government, pressure needs to be brought?

Lobbyists aren't saints. Nor are they incarnations of evil. They're people. They have jobs that need doing. They don’t dwell in a swamp. We need to drain that image from our minds to understand what really happens in Washington, DC.

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