Living with the Unsolved Mysteries of Modern American Life

by Jim Geraghty

Response To...

The Las Vegas Shooting Is ...

It’s fair to wonder whether the Las Vegas shooting is about to join the ranks of infamous crimes that are solved… but not quite explained.

In 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation formally closed the investigation of the anthrax mailings, having concluded the attacks were carried out by Bruce Ivans, an Army biodefense expert who killed himself in 2008. The mailings infected 22 people and killed five. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, were less than fully convinced by the FBI’s final report. Two independent reviews of the investigation disputed that the bureau’s scientific evidence definitely showed that the anthrax came from the Maryland bioweapons laboratory of Ivins. There’s considerable evidence that Ivins was deeply mentally troubled, but why he chose to commit bioterrorism and how he chose his targets will probably never be answered.

Last year John Schindler reminded readers about the unsolved 1975 bombing of LaGuardia Airport that killed 11 people, and laid out the circumstantial evidence pointing to an obscure Croatian separatist group. The group’s leader was arrested on separate charges, paroled in 2008 and killed himself in 2013.

We know Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed and small pieces of wreckage washed up on Mozambique. We don’t know why the plane crashed, or what happened to most of it. We know what D.B. Cooper did (hijacked a plane and collected $200,000 in ransom) and why (greed) but not his true identity or his fate. It seems safe to assume the Zodiac Killer is no longer murdering people; or if he is, he’s not taunting police anymore. He sent his last known message in 1974.

Hopefully, the investigation in Las Vegas will turn up something clarifying soon. Otherwise, how will Americans come to terms with the most deadly mass shooting in the country’s history… being perpetrated by a man with no clear motive?

The Arch of Titus: A Useful Model

by Jonah Goldberg

Response To...

Knock Down the Taj Mahal?

I liked Kevin’s post about the Taj Mahal, and it reminded me of a point I wanted to make when all of this iconoclasm was erupting over the summer.

I think the Confederate statues put up in the 1960s as a middle finger to the civil-rights movement are hard to defend, and I certainly wouldn’t bother trying. But, as we’ve already seen, the statue topplers are part of a larger war on American history generally. When activists want to get rid of Abraham Lincoln, you know this is more of a fever and fad than an argument.

I keep thinking of the Arch of Titus, the model for similar arches all around the world, including most famously the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. For those who don’t know, Titus — who would later become emperor — led the siege of Jerusalem in the first Jewish-Roman War. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, mostly non-combatants, were slaughtered, and the Second Temple — the holiest site in Judaism — was destroyed. Tens of thousands of Jews were captured and sold into slavery.

The Arch of Titus, which celebrates all this, is a big tourist attraction in Rome. It’s also an important part of Rome’s history. Jews, understandably, did not celebrate the monument. From an article in The Forward:

Jews have lived in Rome for more than two millennia. According to an ancient ban placed on the monument by Rome’s Jewish authorities, once a Jewish person walks under the arch, he or she can no longer be considered a Jew. So, from the time the Arch of Titus was first built, no Jew has ever willingly walked under it, unless he or she was oblivious to its significance.

Until the creation of Israel in 1948, the ban was taken quite seriously. In 1997, it was lifted.

I’m not saying this is a perfect model for how to deal with every monument to some historic villain or crime, real or imagined. But I do think it is a useful one. There are ways to make your dissent known in this life without demanding total victory through the bowdlerizing of the past.

About Those Middle Class Tax Cuts

by Veronique de Rugy

These days, you can’t turn around without hearing someone talk about how the Republican tax cuts shouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class, should cut taxes on the middle class, or will for sure hike taxes on the middle class. Senator Rand Paul has been quite vocal about his concerns about the framework’s impact on the middle class. He isn’t the only one concerned about this, but considering the small margin in the Senate, his vote matters a great deal.

As many have pointed out before, his concerns are premature since in truth we do not know how the middle class will be affected quite yet. The framework is missing some key elements that make it really hard to say who will pay what and whose taxes will go up or down, contrary to what the liberal Tax Policy Center model claims. Ryan Ellis is optimistic about how the middle class will fare under the tax framework. I also assume that the Ways and Means Committee will work out the math to make sure the tax works and provides somewhat of a tax cut to the middle class and more money for low income earners. Also, it appears that the president has now given some guarantees to Sen. Paul that the middle class won’t be adversely affected by the tax reform.

Yet, I am left wondering if this focus on the middle class tax relief is a wise way to frame this debate. Everyone wants to pay less in taxes, of course. But lowering taxes while government spending is growing is not a good idea in the long run. Instead, Congress and the administration should focus on the most pro-growth elements of their tax plan, such as the reduction of the corporate income tax rate, rather than tax relief for the middle class or the expansion of the child tax credit. Corporate income tax reform, we know, will spur investment, bring foreign earned income back into the country, improve workers’ productivity and grow their wages, and create employment opportunities that didn’t exist before. That is, of course, if the administration doesn’t mess it up with a global minimum tax

Now, I do understand that it would be politically difficult to implement a large reform on the corporate side without doing something for individuals. Still, I worry that continuing to focus on giving the middle class a tax relief could be a golden opportunity for Democrats to extract counterproductive compromises like agreeing to more handouts for the middle class — paid for with a higher corporate income rate. If that’s the case, Republicans will have agreed to more spending through the tax code in exchange for less economic growth.

Then, there’s the minor detail that the middle class isn’t shouldering that much income tax burden in the first place. Most income taxes are paid by higher income earners. As Chris Edwards noted a few weeks ago, the average income tax rate of the middle income quintile was 2.6 percent in 2013. In 2014, the top 10 percent shouldered around 70 percent of the total income tax burden, up from 49 percent in 1980. This means that the bottom 90 percent have seen their share of taxes go down considerably as the weight was shifted to higher income earners. Do we really want to shift even more of the burden to the top? Well, apparently yes, considering that middle-class tax relief is often debated alongside the proposal to slap an extra tax rate on higher income earners.

Also worth noting is the fact that more tax relief for the middle class means that many will be removed from the income tax rolls entirely. I, for one, think this is not a good idea and that it makes the fight for smaller government even harder than it is now. It is also not reasonable if having fewer taxpayers paying the income tax isn’t matched with serious spending cuts.

The bottom line is that Republicans should stay away from the “middle class tax relief” rhetoric and instead focus on the power of economic growth, business expansion and hiring of new employees, and wage growth. They should explain how reductions to the corporate income tax will benefit workers and how their tax reform framework will make filing taxes easier for all, as opposed to the nerve-racking exercise it is now. These points are more inspirational.

Here are Edwards’ charts:

 

In 2009, Fox News Was Told to Apologize for Calling Bergdahl a Deserter

by Philip H. DeVoe

In July 2009, 23 members of Congress signed a letter demanding that Lt. Col. Ralph Peters apologize for stating on a Fox News segment that PFC Bowe Bergdahl “abandoned his buddies, abandoned his post, and just walked off” a U.S. Army base in Afghanistan prior to his capture by the Taliban. Peters’s comments “call into question, without any supporting evidence whatsoever,” the congressmen wrote, “PFC Bergdahl’s patriotism and commitment to his country.” Yesterday, Bergdahl admitted to that abandonment, pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in a military court.

Here are Peters’ original comments, which he made on Monday, July 20:

Nobody in the military that I’ve heard is defending this guy; he is an apparent deserter, reports are indeed that he abandoned his buddies, abandoned his post, and walked off. We’ll see what the ultimate truth of it is, but if he did, he’s a deserter in wartime . . . 

I want to be clear — if when the facts are in, we find out that through some convoluted chain of events, he really was captured by the Taliban, I’m with him. But if he walked away from his post and his buddies in wartime, I don’t care how hard it sounds. As far as I’m concerned, the Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.

His comments quickly attracted criticism for their insensitivity and frankness, and lead to “efforts” made by the show’s anchor, Julie Banderas, to express that Peters’s opinions are not those of Fox News. The next day, Tuesday, July 21, the congressmen – all veterans, 14 Democrats and nine Republicans — published their letter, in which they “demand[ed] an apology to PFC Bergdahl’s family” from apparently both Fox News and Peters — the letter was addressed to then-Fox News chairman Roger Ailes.

To clarify his statements and answer the criticism, Peters joined Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor that night. This is Peters, speaking during the segment:

Let’s lay out what our military knows happened, Bill. First of all, I asked a very senior military leader for a yes or no answer: “Is PFC Bergdahl a deserter?” The answer was yes . . .  Our army also knows that he left his combat outpost he left his buddies in the hours of darkness, left his weapon behind of his own volition.

O’Reilly stopped Peters here to argue this makes Bergdahl “crazy,” saying “there’s gotta be something mentally wrong with [him]” to abandon his weapon and fellow soldiers in somewhere as dangerous and remote as Afghansitan. Peters continues by explaining that the reason for his frustration is grounded in elevations of Bergdahl to “hero” status; the media is celebrating a controversial prisoner of war while ignoring injured soldiers in hospitals or decorated veterans at home:

I do hope for his family’s sake this guy comes back safely . . .  [but] the other networks aren’t doing the investigative work; [they should] say “What’s the circumstances? Can we talk to the guys in his unit?” . . .  It’s also a legal case. As a minimum this is a court-martial offense. Of course, we may just put him on Oprah’s couch when he gets back, we’ll see.

The next day, Wednesday, July 22, saw a second firestorm, including a separate statement by then-representative Eric Massa (D., N.Y.), titled “Congressman Eric Massa demands that Fox News immediately fire Bill O’Reilly and Lt. Col Ralph Peters and apologize to the family of PFC Bowe Bergdahl.” To be clear, those who critiqued Peters took issue most with the supposed implication that Peters hoped the Taliban executed Bergdahl. But their incredulity was founded in a disbelief that Bergdahl could’ve deserted his post.

On her MSNBC show that day, Rachel Maddow played a clip on her show that day of Paul Rieckhoff, head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, saying Peters “needs to shut his mouth” because “he doesn’t know what happened on the ground.” Maddow then provides her own incredulity:

[Paraphrasing Peters] “I can guarantee you that he ashamed his unit.”

Guarantee us? Really?

Her guest, Jim Miklaszewski, chief Pentagon correspondent for NBC News, then says there’s no evidence that Bergdahl deserted his unit:

Well, you know, as you mentioned a moment ago, senior military and Pentagon officials, not only in Washington but there on the ground in Afghanistan, say there’s no question he’s not a deserter.

Now, he did leave his post by himself. He came off a patrol on June 30th, dropped off his weapon, his body armor, grabbed up a bottle of water, compass and a knife, and took off out on his own. And it was some time after that, apparently, that some local militants grabbed him and turned him over to the Taliban.

Now, should he have left the post alone? Of course, not. But it doesn’t make him a deserter.

Perhaps Peters’s statements were too aggressive, but he was correct that Bergdahl’s capture was due to desertion. Even O’Reilly was right in his assumption that Bergdahl was mentally unstable, which was confirmed following Bergdahl’s return to the U.S.

Poll Puts Gillespie in the Lead in Virginia

by Alexandra DeSanctis

poll out this afternoon from Monmouth University shows Republican Ed Gillespie just edging out Democrat Ralph Northam in the race for Virginia governor, 48 to 47 percent. This is the first poll to put Gillespie in the lead, but recent forecasts of the race have shown the gap between the two candidates narrowing as the Republican slowly gains on his opponent.

According to a Wason Center survey of likely voters out just this morning, current lieutenant governor Northam is leading former Republican National Committee chair Gillespie by only 4 percent — 48 to 44 percent — and 5 percent of Virginia likely voters remain undecided with the race three weeks away. This is the first Wason Center poll of the Virginia race that puts Northam’s lead within the survey’s margin of error. In the group’s benchmark poll from September 25, Northam led by 6 percent.

Of course, no single poll can reliably predict the outcome of an election. But this Monmouth survey should serve as an important reminder for Democrats who are feeling a little too comfortable about Northam’s chances to cross the finish line with a win on November 7. In a race that many are reading as a referendum on Trump and the GOP, pundits and casual viewers alike should remember our current president’s last-minute comeback as October bled into November. It’s not out of the question that Gillespie could pull off something similar in Virginia.

Some Tax Links

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Several good short items about taxes have come out today.

Chris Edwards argues that people should not be required to start withdrawing from their retirement accounts at age 70 ½.

Edward Lazear suggests some changes to the Republican framework’s treatment of business income.

Ernie Tedeschi confirms that how the eventual bill treats the middle-class will come down to how it expands the child tax credit. And Josh McCabe points out that the credit has already lost a lot of value over the last fifteen years.

Update: I forgot to mention my own NRO article, on why Republicans should quit trying to cut tax rates on people making more than $420,000 a year.

Greenhouse vs. the Pences

by Ramesh Ponnuru

I wrote a post yesterday criticizing Linda Greenhouse’s latest column in the New York Times. But I didn’t quite plumb its depths. Here, again, is Greenhouse’s parting thought: “Conservatives, even the publicly pious ones, don’t seem to have a problem with limiting the size of their families. (Vice President Mike Pence has two children, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has three. Need I say more?) The problem they have is with what birth control signifies: empowering women — in school, on the job, in the home — to determine their life course.” Let me make two additional points about this passage. The first is that the Pences have three children. The second, as I am reminded by former colleague Katrina Trinko’s twitter feed, is that Mrs. Pence has discussed her family’s struggle with infertility: “The Vice President and Mrs. Pence tried for six long years to start their family. They tried medical procedures. They joined an adoption wait list and came close to adopting a little boy, when they learned Mrs. Pence was pregnant with their first child. That son was quickly followed by two daughters, answering the Pences’ prayers for parenthood. . .” So Greenhouse’s shot at the Pences is even more baseless than it appeared to be.

 

 

In Defense of ‘the Generals’

by Victor Davis Hanson

Recently there have been a number of quite different critiques from all political sides of Trump’s generals (Kelly/McMaster/Mattis), and also from a variety of angles (too narrow experience, an unhealthy overdose of military thinking, a “sellout” for working for the likes of Trump, etc.). While it is hard to know who exactly is to be praised or faulted for Trump’s foreign policy (e.g., Secretary of State Tillerson and, of course, Trump himself), the record is so far pretty clear — and pretty good.

Prune away the rumors of cabinet shake-ups, “adult in the room” melodramas, tweets, fake-news accounts, and inter-cabinet spats, and we are left with a once-ascendant ISIS now shattered and in full retreat; a new honesty about NATO and its funding; an unsustainable Iran deal now on hold and sent to the Senate where as a treaty it belonged; honesty in describing the threat of both radical Islamic terrorism and Iranian hegemony; greater security on the southern border; a restored relationship with Israel and the Gulf States, and an improving one with Jordan and Egypt as well; a workable and constitutional immigration scrutiny of would-be entrants from war-torn Middle East countries; a growing deterrent stance toward Russia and China rather than the rhetoric of “reset” and the “Asian pivot”; an active and growing allied response to the North Korean threat; the beginnings of an all-out effort on missile defense (rather than the prior open-mic presidential promises of a “flexible” post-reelection efforts to curb it in Eastern Europe); a determination to rebuild the military (slowly, given the still far too large annual deficits); some recent incremental progress in Afghanistan due to new rules of engagement; the real red line that Assad cannot use WMD against civilians; a far more adult stance toward U.N. hypocrisies; improved autonomy abroad through increasing energy independence and trading in natural gas; an out from a Paris climate accord whose goals the U.S. meets anyway through free-market solutions — and the emerging outlines of a comprehensive doctrine of “principled realism” that restores deterrence.

Of course, the world is in crisis and scary, current U.S. assets and means do not match our strategic obligations, responsibilities, and would-be agendas, and rhetorically the administration often seems at cross-purposes, but nevertheless American foreign policy is already in an undeniable trajectory of restoration, and much credit is due to the advice and conduct of Trump’s three generals.

Knock Down the Taj Mahal?

by Kevin D. Williamson

Americans aren’t the only ones having a dumb national discussion about monuments associated with morally compromised political leaders: In India, people are talking about knocking down the Taj Mahal.

Indian architecture is very old — the Mahabodhi Temple, which is still in use, was built around the time of the First Punic War — but the Republic of India is very young: It is, in fact, younger than Donald Trump. Inevitably, most of the historically important architecture and public monuments were built during India’s long period of domination by alien powers, and often built by those alien powers. This is, understandably, a sensitive subject. India also is having a particularly ugly period of Hindu chauvinism, which has manifested itself in ways that are serious — the emergence of violent anti-conversion campaigns targeting Christians and anti-conversion laws in several Indian states — and in ways that are comical, for instance the exclusion of the Taj Mahal from a government-published guide to historical sites in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. About 10 million people a year visit the Taj Majal, but there is an effort under way to read Islam and Islamic rulers out of India’s history.

Sangeet Som, a legislator with the Hindu-nationalist BJP, made his case in roughly the same way as Americans seeking to raze Confederate monuments: “Many were sad when the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of historical places. What kind of history? What place’s history? Whose history? The history that the man who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father? The history that he wanted to wipe out the Hindus from all of Uttar Pradesh and India?” The Mughal emperors — Babur, Akbar, et al. — were, in his estimate, traitors. Shah Jahan might have been a bad guy, but if you think it’s strange to judge Thomas Jefferson by the standards of the Bryn Mawr College political-science department in 2017, then consider the difficulties of getting a moral read on 17th-century absolute monarchs. “Shah Jahan” means “King of the World,” if that’s any indicator.

Presented with Som’s remarks, another Indian politician, Azam Khan, said: “We should destroy all reminders of slavery that reek of those who once ruled over us. I’ve said this before too. Parliament, Qutab Minar, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Red Fort, Agra’s Taj Mahal . . . all of it.” The Times of India, whose editors are very cautious, added: “It was unclear if Khan was being sarcastic or serious.”

Foreign imperial rule of India frequently was brutal, from the Mughal empire to the British empire. But there’s a practical question: How much of Lutyens’s Delhi do you really want to burn down to irritate the ghost of Reginald Dyer?

We Americans like to talk about our diversity, but consider navigating the cultural minefields of a country with: Thirty languages having at least 1 million native speakers each (and maybe 1,599 languages in total, depending on who is doing the counting) and no consensus national language; a Muslim minority that composes only 14 percent of the population but which is in gross numbers as populous as the United Kingdom, France, and Spain combined; a besieged Christian minority; a Sikh minority that was as recently as the 1980s fighting for independence, having assassinated a sitting prime minister and then suffering thousands of deaths in the ensuing retaliatory pogroms; a legal and political system largely adopted from an alien power; remote tribal areas where you can still encounter the occasional headhunter; 2,000 ethnic groups; and only 70 years of formal national history.

There were some 22,000 slaves employed in building the Taj Mahal.

The folks in Dallas are at the moment having a dispute over renaming Stonewall Jackson Elementary School. Members of the community complain that they have not had enough time to consider the question and think through the ramifications of the name-change. To stop and think is usually good advice. In India, they’re still fighting over the legacy of a mosque built in 1528. If the vandals take a more Taliban-esque view and turn their attention to Buddhist monuments, the stupa constructed over the relics of Siddhārtha Gautama at Sanchi was built around 260 b.c.

But, if we take the Buddha at his word, he condoned slavery, so no complaints about knocking that down.

Help Support Those with Intellectual Disabilities

by Shannen W. Coffin

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, as President Trump recognized in a beautiful statement earlier this month, in which he renewed “our Nation’s strong commitment to promoting the health, well-being, and inherent dignity of all children and adults with Down syndrome.” This genetic condition affects more than 250,000 Americans, but as President Trump correctly acknowledged, these individuals “embody the great spirit of our Nation. They inspire joy, kindness, and wonder in our families, our workplaces, and our communities.” As Jack Fowler, who may try to hide his tenderness (though is full of it), likes to say, “God has almond shaped eyes.”

In the last several years, my family and I have been moved to do what we can to give a hand to those individuals and families affected by Down syndrome and similar intellectual disabilities. Every year, for the last half dozen, I have biked and walked to raise money for Best Buddies, a terrific charity that provides fellowship, leadership training, and job opportunities for individuals affected by serious intellectual disabilities, including Down syndrome and autism.

This year, I’m privileged to serve as chairman of the Capital Region Best Buddies Friendship Walk, a walk to raise funds for Best Buddies school-aged and adult programs. The Walk is this Saturday morning on the Capital Mall. We have over 1,200 students and adults walking to raise money and raise awareness. There’s still room for more. You can sign up to walk here. It’s free to do so, but you get a free T-shirt if you raise or donate $50 or more. If you can’t walk but want to support our mission, you can donate in support of my fundraising efforts here. We’re close to our goal of $370,000, but need a little help in the final days before Saturday’s walk.

If you signed up because of this posting, please look for me at the Walk! And if you want to support Best Buddies, there are similar walks and events throughout the country.

New Russian Nuclear Scandal Raises New Questions About Clinton Foundation

by Dan McLaughlin

The Hill this morning broke what could be a very big news story, if anyone is willing to follow up on it. As is often the case with these kinds of stories, it bears watching if the reporting falls apart somehow, but as of yet, it seems there’s almost no pushback out there. You can see why Democrats would not be eager to talk about this one:

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews….[Federal agents] obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

This was back during the period when the Obama Administration and Secretary Clinton were touting a “reset” of relations with Russia; it was years before Obama mocked Mitt Romney’s concerns about the Russian threat with his famous “the 80s called” sneer. Yet, it now appears that the Obama Administration knew a lot more than it let on, 

leaving the American public and Congress in the dark about Russian nuclear corruption on U.S. soil during a period when the Obama administration made two major decisions benefiting Putin’s commercial nuclear ambitions.

The first decision occurred in October 2010, when the State Department and government agencies on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States unanimously approved the partial sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom, giving Moscow control of more than 20 percent of America’s uranium supply…In 2011, the administration gave approval for Rosatom’s Tenex subsidiary to sell commercial uranium to U.S. nuclear power plants in a partnership with the United States Enrichment Corp. Before then, Tenex had been limited to selling U.S. nuclear power plants reprocessed uranium recovered from dismantled Soviet nuclear weapons under the 1990s Megatons to Megawatts peace program.

“The Russians were compromising American contractors in the nuclear industry with kickbacks and extortion threats, all of which raised legitimate national security concerns. And none of that evidence got aired before the Obama administration made those decisions,” a person who worked on the case told The Hill, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by U.S. or Russian officials.

At a minimum, as Noah Rothman notes, the involvement of key members of the current Trump-Russia probe in conducting this investigation will play right into Trump’s hands in his campaign to discredit the investigation, and Democrats thus far seem likely to just circle the wagons against any further inquiry for that reason as well as how this reflects on the Clintons, Eric Holder, and the Obama Administration’s Russia policy. But the national security implications run deeper than that, and as Ed Morrissey observes, Congress ought to dig in further to see what else it wasn’t told:

House Intelligence chair Mike Rogers claimed to the Hill that no one ever mentioned the case at all to him, despite already-extant concerns over the Uranium One deal on Capitol Hill.

That smells like a political cover-up of the first magnitude. Rather than hyperventilate over Facebook ads and Twitter trolls, perhaps Congress and the current Department of Justice should look into what the FBI found in 2009-10, how much of it benefited Bill and Hillary Clinton — and why the DoJ and the Obama administration never briefed the intelligence committees on this Russian collusion operation. 

Washington has an unfortunate tendency to back off investigations when there are skeletons on both sides of the partisan aisle. But a thorough airing of Russia’s multifaceted efforts to penetrate and disrupt American institutions (including the media) over the past decade is necessary in order to counter the threat of the Kremlin’s “war by other means” doctrine. Let the chips fall where they may.

 

Contraception Mandate Litigation: DOJ Settles

by Wesley J. Smith

The nuns have won. Well, not quite yet. See Update below.

So have others who opposed the Obamacare contraception mandate based on religious objections. From the National Catholic Register story:

A week after issuing new religious-freedom guidelines to all administrative agencies in the federal government, the U.S. Department of Justice has settled with more than 70 plaintiffs who had challenged the controversial HHS contraceptive mandate.

The Oct. 13 agreement was reached between the government and the law firm Jones Day, which represented more than 70 clients fighting the mandate. Made public Oct. 16, the agreement states that the plaintiffs would not be forced to provide health insurance coverage for “morally unacceptable” products and procedures, including contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

The settlement may go farther than the new bureaucratic rules:

Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college in California and another plaintiff against the HHS mandate, also celebrated the protection the settlement brings.

“While we welcomed the broadening of the exemption from the HHS mandate last week by the Trump administration, we have under our agreement today something even better: a permanent exemption from an onerous federal directive — and any similar future directive — that would require us to compromise our fundamental beliefs,” said Thomas Aquinas College President Michael McLean in an Oct. 16 statement.

“This is an extraordinary outcome for Thomas Aquinas College and for the cause of religious freedom.”

Many on the left and the NeverTrump right wonder how faithful people would vote for a man whose personal life has not lived up to the moral principles they espouse.

This is why. For many conservative and orthodox Christians, voting for Trump was an act of self defense against a prospective Clinton Administration that they feared would be utterly antithetical to religious liberty and would attempt to crush them into lifestyle submission.

In contrast, Trump made a specific appeal to this community, promising to protect their right to act in the public sphere in a manner consistent with their faith. With this settlement, he continues to keep that promise.

Update: I heard from the law firm representing the Little Sisters of the Poor. They were not a party to the settlement described herein. Hence, the DOJ has not (yet, I hope and  trust) officially dropped the case against the nuns. Sorry for the confusion.

A Contender for the Silliest Decision of the Year Award

by George Leef

The Americans with Disabilities Act has produced a lot of absurd decisions, but it’s hard to top a recent one by the Third Circuit.

A man who is deaf and blind insisted that a Cinemark theater that was showing the movie Gone Girl had to accommodate his disability by providing him with a sign-language tactile interpreter. When the theater declined to do so, he sued, claiming a violation of the ADA. The district court ruled that Cinemark did not have to provide him with an interpreter, but on appeal the Third Circuit reversed and sent the case back. Unless Cinemark can show that having to provide interpreters for patrons who demand them would be an “undue burden,” this case will set another law-expanding precedent.

I discuss the case and the problems with the ADA in this Forbes article.

It’s too bad that Bush 41 signed this vague and in my view unconstitutional law. I’m afraid we are stuck with it and activist judges will keep pushing it further and further.

Uncommon Knowledge: Genocide: A World History Featuring Norman Naimark

by Peter Robinson

Norman Naimark, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an expert on Eastern Europe and genocides throughout history, brings his considerable expertise to Uncommon Knowledge to discuss the history of genocides from ancient to modern times. Peter Robinson sits down with Naimark to discuss his latest book, Genocide: A World History. Naimark argues that genocides occur throughout history, from biblical to modern times across the world. He considers genocides to be “the crime of crimes, worse than war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

Johnny Carson > Jimmy Kimmel

by Rich Lowry

I wrote about Jimmy Kimmel kissing off Republicans today:

Jimmy Kimmel deserves credit for frankness, if nothing else. In an interview over the weekend, the ABC late-night host said he doesn’t care about losing Republican viewers. 

We’re a long way from Johnny Carson, whose Tonight Show was a national institution that enjoyed a broad audience — and was conducted like one. Carson steered clear of politics and kept his views to himself because it would “hurt me as an entertainer, which is what I am.”

 Kimmel may be an entertainer, but has no such inhibitions. He is willing to say “not good riddance, but riddance,” as he put it in the CBS News Sunday Morning interview, to Republicans put off by his headline-generating editorials in recent weeks.

Once a down-the-middle comedic voice who co-hosted the unapologetically vulgar The Man Show on Comedy Central, Kimmel uttered what could be the epigraph for our times, saying of viewers who strongly disagree with his political views, “I probably won’t want to have a conversation with them anyway.”

The Las Vegas Shooting Is Still Very, Very Strange

by David French

Before I begin, let me re-emphasize what I stated in a post the afternoon after the shooting. Do not read this post as implying any sort of conspiracy theory. In fact, even now — more than two weeks after the terrible event — we don’t even know enough facts to concoct a conspiracy. We do know, however, that the story keeps getting more bizarre. 

Remember the heroic security guard who allegedly helped stop the shooting? He appears to have, well, vanished. Here’s the Los Angeles Times:

The story seemed straightforward: The unarmed security guard approached Stephen Paddock’s room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, distracting the gunman and potentially saving lives.

With a gunshot wound to his leg, he helped point officers to the gunman’s location and stayed behind to evacuate hotel guests.

He was hailed a hero by many, even as the story changed. Twice.

Now, the man that many want to honor and who can help bring clarity about the timeline of the shooting has vanished from the public eye, less than two weeks since the Oct. 1 massacre, which left 58 people dead and more than 500 others injured.

Just before Campos was scheduled to appear at numerous media interviews, he allegedly went to a “Quick Care” health care clinic and hasn’t been seen since. There was an armed security guard outside his house, and now that guard is reportedly gone. No one seems to be suspecting foul play, and as the president of his union notes, “Somebody knows where he is.” But this elusiveness is obviously not quite normal.

Campos’s disappearance is but one odd element in the story. Another, of course, is the shifting timeline of the shooting. Last week, the sheriff’s office released a chronology indicating that Campos was shot six minutes before the gunman opened fire at the crowd, thus raising a host of questions about the timeliness of the police response. Within days, however, the timeline shifted again — this time indicating that Campos was shot around the same time the shooter began his attack:

Friday, however, Lombardo said that he now believes the security guard received his wounds close to the time the shooter started firing. Lombardo said Friday that the initial time he gave of 9:59 was when the security guard attempted to breach a door nearby the shooter’s . . . This comes after Mandalay Bay officials on Thursday disputed the timeline and whether six minutes actually passed between the first gunfire in the hallway and the start of the concert rampage. They said Paddock may have wounded the security guard within 40 seconds of firing into the crowd.

Finally, we still don’t know the shooter’s motive, and this is after police (and the media) have interviewed family members and friends and after the police have “searched Paddock’s homes, scoured his computers, assessed his finances and explored his travel history.” Finding a motive does more than merely help us make sense of a devastating night, it helps us shape policy and culture to prevent future attacks.

The fact that a man could plan one of the worst mass murders in American history and do so without leaving the typical trail of clues and intentions is deeply unsettling. Time and again when mass shooters strike, they leave a trail of bread crumbs — whether they’re deteriorating mentally or radicalizing (or both), the warning signs are often obvious and warnings have often been given. Not this time. 

To be sure, the police know more than the public, and perhaps they know or strongly suspect the motive and haven’t yet disclosed it, but to experience this level of ignorance so many days after a mass shooting is highly unusual. There’s no cause for conspiracy theories, but there’s ample cause for curiosity and confusion. A strange shooting remains very, very strange. 

Who Chooses to Run a Twitter Poll About the Holocaust Death Toll?

by Jim Geraghty

Do you know anyone who is a Holocaust denier? Or is, shall we say, “Holocaust-denial curious”?

Short-lived Trump administration staffer Anthony Scaramucci is receiving criticism for an odd and disturbing Tweet put out by a social media account bearing his name that polled followers on how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust:

Laifer subsequently Tweeted, “The intent of the poll was to highlight ignorance of the basic facts of the Holocaust. I take full responsibility for it.” What kind of social media consultant puts out a Holocaust tweet without consulting his client? Is it too cynical to think that this was some sort of veiled effort to attract neo-Nazi or anti-Semitic followers?

Scaramucci may not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body, but it’s particularly odd and unlucky to have Tweets that appear to doubt the Holocaust put out under your name.

(For what it is worth, at the time the poll was pulled, 32 percent of the 4,776 respondents were giving incorrect answers below 5 million.) Those who doubt the scale of the horror need to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum as quickly as possible. 

 

MLB: No White Men Need Apply

by Roger Clegg

Major League Baseball recently announced a “Diversity Fellowship Program” that is explicitly limited to “person[s] of color” and women.

What can I say? This is of course worse than the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which is also illegal, but which at least does not bar people on the basis of race from applying for and obtaining a position. This does.

There is no legal justification for this; Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex in private employment. Bizarrely, MLB’s announcement includes at end this boilerplate: “Individuals seeking employment at MLB . . . are considered without regards to race, color, . . . national origin, . . . sex . . . ”

Brown Vetoes Obama-Era Campus Assault Rules, Tax Return Disclosure, Gender Pay Data

by Jim Geraghty

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Jerry Brown Concurs with DeVos on Campus Due Process Rules

Conservatives find themselves in the unexpected position of cheering some of California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent vetoes.

Most significantly, the Democrat-dominated state legislature wanted to effectively keep the Obama-era standards on sexual assault on campus in place within their state. The Obama administration guidelines, which were never subjected to public notice and comment, triggered some far-reaching changes:

… [they] lowered the burden of proof to a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which meant that accused students could be found responsible for sexual misconduct if administrators were only 51 percent convinced of the charges; it discouraged allowing the accused and accuser to cross-examine each other, reasoning that this could prove traumatizing for survivors of rape; and it stipulated that accusers should have the right to appeal contrary rulings, allowing accused students to be re-tried even after they had been judged innocent.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in September she was withdrawing those rules and beginning the process of establishing new guidelines.

While vetoing the bill, Brown wrote:

…thoughtful legal minds have increasingly questioned whether federal and state actions to prevent and redress sexual harassment and assault — well-intentioned as they are — have also unintentionally resulted in some colleges’ failure to uphold due process for accused students. Depriving any student of higher education opportunities should not be done lightly, or out of fear of losing state or federal funding.

Given the strong state of our laws already, I am not prepared to codify additional requirements in reaction to a shifting federal landscape, when we haven’t yet ascertained the full impact of what we recently enacted. We have no insight into how many formal investigations result in expulsion, what circumstances lead to expulsion, or whether there is disproportional impact on race or ethnicity. We may need more statutory requirements than what this bill contemplates. We may need fewer. Or still yet, we may need simply to fine tune what we have.

It is time to pause and survey the land.

Brown also vetoed legislation that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns for the past five years in order to qualify for the California ballot, legislation obviously designed to pressure President Trump. Brown wrote, “Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?” (Interesting irony: Brown failed to release copies of his tax returns during campaigns for governor in 2010 and 2014.)

Brown also vetoed “a bill that would have required companies with more than 500 employees to report median and mean salary data on male and female exempt employees, which would have been published online by the Secretary of State.”

Of course, conservatives won’t like all of the Democratic governor’s recent decisions. Brown signed a slew of other bills, including one to allow Californians to select “gender-neutral” on their driver’s licenses, and a ban on K-12 teachers carrying firearms in schools.

Perhaps most significantly, he signed a “sanctuary state” bill into law that will “limit communication between California police officers and federal immigration agents about people detained by police or in jail awaiting trial. Exceptions include those who have been convicted of at least one of hundreds of serious crimes within the past 15 years and suspects in serious crimes punishable with prison time for which a judge has found probable cause. It also prohibits California officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.”

 

Tuesday links

by debbywitt

It’s Rita Hayworth’s birthday: here’s an excellent compilation of her dancing, set to Stayin’ Alive.

John Quincy Adams’ Obsession with Weights and Measures.

How Will Martian Laws Differ From Earth’s Laws?

Here’s A Giant Drunk Puppet Roaming The Streets Of An Irish City. Related, an 1860s series of photos illustrating the ’5 stages of inebriation’.

Nathan Straus and the Milk Stations That Saved the Lives of New York City Kids.

We ate the world’s spiciest chip, cried for 45 minutes, then wrote this article about it.

ICYMI, Friday’s links are here, and include the anniversary of the 1066 Battle of Hastings, a part-time monarch who’s also a full-time auto mechanic, White House leaks from Abe Lincoln’s presidency, and a joyful rock version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.