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Words feel pretty useless at a time like this. On Sunday, October 1st, one man with an arsenal of weapons shot hundreds of concert goers in Las Vegas.

A few thoughts:

1) The gunman shot people attending a Jason Aldean concert. That makes me question . While most folks on the coasts probably aren’t familiar with Aldean, he is immensely popular amongst those in the “Flyover States” (which is also the name of a major Aldean hit on country radio). It seems an odd demographic to shoot up if the gunman was simply a conservative “angry white male” striking out at the modern world. There’s something else going on here, which brings me to #2.

2) Look hard at the gunman’s finances. He’s supposed to have been rich, but he really liked to gamble.  A lot.  Maybe he lost a lot more money than those around him realized, and was angry about it.

3) ISIS has claimed credit.  On the one hand, ISIS tends not to claim credit for attacks that aren’t there’s, so it’s worth checking this claim more deeply.  On the other hand, the facts as released so far don’t appear to bear their claim out.  Perhaps ISIS, whose land under control is down to just a sliver along the Iraqi-Syrian border, is trying to change the narrative by claiming this shooting.  But still … worth checking.

4) My guess is that a week ago, most folks had never heard of bump stocks; I know I didn’t.  Fully automatic weapons are for all intents and purposes illegal.  So should be something that operates as a workaround to turn a semi-automatic weapon (which is legal) into a fully automatic one (which is not). I support the Second Amendment fairly broadly, but I think reasonable people across the spectrum ought to agree in the narrow area of bump stocks and another workaround, trigger cranks.

5) He shot from the 32nd floor, making it virtually impossible for anyone to return fire. It’s a scenario I hadn’t considered before. Those of us who are Second Amendment supporters need to think how we address that situation. The shooter has opened a terrifying window. Does anyone think terrorists haven’t noticed? In the short term, perhaps large city police forces may have a sniper on standby or stationed at a high perch over large assemblies. But in the long term, we really need to consider how we are to deal with the high altitude shooter. A bump stock and trigger crank ban is a good start, but don’t expect the bad guys to actually follow the rule. How do we deal with the next one? The idea that we simply accept it as the “cost of freedom” isn’t the right answer. Scrapping the Second Amendment isn’t the right answer either. We’ve got to come up with a better one.

– 1TF

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Yesterday, former acting CIA Director Michael Morrell resigned his position at Harvard to protest the school’s Institute of Politics’ fellowship offer to former Army Private First Class Chelsea Manning, who as PFC Bradley Manning, was troubled by actions of military personnel in Afghanistan and thus passed along secret military information to WikiLeaks.  Late word has come down that Harvard has rescinded that disputed fellowship offer.  I think the school  belatedly made the right decision.

If Harvard is looking to have a transgender fellow for its Institute of Politics, surely the number of transgender individuals is such that Harvard can look a little harder and do better than to hire someone who gave confidential military information to WikiLeaks.  If Harvard is looking to have a Fellow with ground-level knowledge of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are literally thousands of former Marine and Army squad leaders who led troops and interacted with the native population in both peace and war – black, white, male, female, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, etc.  It’s a population large enough that if Harvard looks hard enough, it can pretty much find exactly what it wants ideologically without resorting to someone who gave away secrets.   Plus, they could offer a more granular level of knowledge of what it’s like to be front-line soldier.  Former Private First Class Manning manned a computer at an operations center; it’s relevant, but it’s not front-line knowledge.

I understand PFC Manning’s deep concerns about some ways in which the war was being conducted.  But that’s why there’s an Inspector General in each Army division.  There was a legal way to raise a red flag and it would have been well within PFC Manning’s rights and responsibility to do so.  But PFC Manning chose a path that was illegal and potentially dangerous for fellow American servicemembers.  And that’s just not okay with Director Morrell and the vast majority of American soldiers.

-1TF

 

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Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the nominations of two candidates for positions on the Federal bench. One of them, Notre Dame Law Professor Amy Coney Barrett, was grilled by Democratic members Diane Feinstein and Richard Durbin for being a faithful Catholic. Feinstein, in her best Obi-Wan Kenobi imitation, declared, “the dogma lives loudly in you.” Feinstein, whom I normally respect, displayed a disappointing narrow-mindedness regarding faithful Catholics. She continued, “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I think she’s referring to abortion and forced contraception funding. Perhaps if Barrett had been another, more “in vogue” religion, this line of questioning would be called out on the left. But Barrett’s a Catholic, so she just gracefully had to endure it.

Richard Durbin chimed in asking, “Are you an orthodox Catholic?” Sen. Durbin himself apparently attends Mass at Old St. Patrick’s, a liberal parish in Chicago, and frequently votes at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. He acted confused, saying he hadn’t heard the term “orthodox Catholic” before. That surprised me, because I’ve heard it a fair amount. I suspect he’s heard it, too. He appeared to be feeling out just how conservative Barrett was. She parried his jab by praising Pope Francis, which Durbin appreciated. She also did her best to explain, as if it were necessary, that while she is a faithful to her religion, she is also faithful to the Constitution.

The bottom line is that progressive members of the Senate see Professor Barrett as a threat. She has served as a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, and may (or may not) be a pro-life judge. Scalia tended to hire one liberal clerk per term, thinking it sharpened his thinking. Barrett was quoted in a 2013 Notre Dame Magazine article as saying scholars on both side of debate had criticized Roe v. Wade for unecessarily igniting a political firestorm, but she also said she found it very unlikely the core finding of Roe would ever be overturned.

Even if Barrett were pro-life, as a federal circuit judge she would be obliged to follow the precedent set down in Roe. But I suspect the deep concerns and probable opposition of Feinstein, Durbin and other progressives isn’t really about Seventh Circuit. Some readers may recall the campaign to destroy Miguel Estrada’s chances of serving on the federal bench. That was because Democrats were afraid the conservative Estrada would later be nominated to the Supreme Court, and they didn’t want to fight against the possible first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee. That time it worked out for them; Estrada was rejected and the honor of being the Court’s first Hispanic justice went to the more progressive Sonia Sotomayor. A similar calculus may be working here, with them trying to avoid opposing a smart and reasonable female Supreme Court nominee by stopping her at the federal level.

-1TF

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I’m going to do something I didn’t expect to when I first learned of this story. I’m going to defend ESPN’s decision regarding sportscaster Robert Lee.

For those who aren’t aware, the story goes that sportscaster Robert Lee had been assigned to work September 2nd’s William & Mary at University of Virginia football game. After the recent troubles in Charlottesville, the powers that be called Mr. Lee in and raised the idea of moving him to another game. The reason was because Mr. Lee, an Asian-American, happens to have the same first and last name as Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was a decision to take down General Lee’s statue, along with General Stonewall Jackson’s, that was the focus of the protests.

At first glance, the whole thing is ridiculous. It’s highly unlikely anyone would care one way or the other that Mr. Lee, an Asian-American whom no reasonable person would confuse for the general.

But look at it from ESPN’s view for a second. You’ve got a young sportscaster calling a second-rate matchup; it’s probably not that strange to switch young talent from one game to another. You have a very small chance of the sportscaster’s name causing any problem, but last week’s fighting indicates there were at least a few unhinged people hanging around Charlottesville, so the odds are small, but not miniscule. If perchance, lightning strikes and something happens to Mr. Lee, you’ll be blamed and sued. It may seem ludicrous to think anything might happen, but if it does, then everyone will forget how small the odds were and focus only that it happened. If it’s a 1,000 to 1 shot, but it happens, then in retrospect armchair quarterbacks will think it was a far better shot to happen; more importantly, some judge or jury will likely agree. Many of the same people laughing at you for making the switch will then blame you for not having done so.

A more likely scenario is that there is a bit of commentary about some guy named Robert Lee covering a game in Charlottesville shortly after the protests. That’s more innocuous, but it takes away from the game itself.

Finally, the game you’re switching him to, Pittsburgh hosting Bo Pellini’s Youngstown State, is arguably a better game anyway. It’s at least comparable. So there’s little upside to keeping him in Charlottesville, but potentially (highly unlikely, but potentially) a huge downside to keeping him there.

Now, I don’t think they had to move him, or even should have. I think the odds are really, really small of it causing more than a raised eyebrow. But it’s not indefensible. ESPN’s a private business, trying to protect its bottom line; it’s understandable that it would want to reduce its exposure to a distraction or an embarrassing situation or worse.

One postscript – This decision never should have seen the light of day. I’m curious why someone would leak it.

– 1TF

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So Sean Spicer is out as White House Press Secretary and Anthony Scaramucci is in as Communications Director.  Well, good for Sean. I suspect he’ll finally be able to slash his evening whiskey budget. The guy had to have taken a few stiff ones after some of those briefings. He was a regular Republican, not a President Trump loyalist. He was trying to please a demanding, distrustful, unappreciative boss.  And yet …

Spicer did see the legitimacy of some (not all, but a fair amount) of President Trump’s complaints about the White House press corps, and saw at least part of his job as pushing back against manifest unfairness. While it’s a safe bet that the majority of the press room hasn’t voted Republican in at least thirty years (and probably far longer), there was at least some modicum of evenhandedness , if only as a requirement of professionalism, when covering previous Republican administrations. Trump’s victory seemed to unleash a visceral reaction from the press corps, the members of which occasioanlly seem most concerned with impressing their colleagues in the room by being the most aggressive and/or confrontational with Spicer or his deputy (and presumed successor) Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Spicer gave them the rope to hang him with at that first press conference when he (at the President’s prompting) insisted that the Trump inaugural crowd was larger than Obama’s crowds – a statement that was demonstrably false to anyone who with functioning eyes. But that day aside, Spicer’s not Trump, and over the past six months, he tied mightily to square the circle of being straight with the press while aggressively defending his oft wayward boss. Alas, that was a task he could not accomplish. Maybe no one can.

Mr. Scaramucci is going to try. It’s almost defies belief that for his Communications Director, Mr. Trump chose a guy whose name translates to “little skirmishers”, and the singular of which was used for an Italian clown puppet with an expendable neck. You, dear reader, probably think I’m making that up; I’m not. Plus, Mr. Scaramucci has no press secretary experience, although he does have some skill at self-promotion on various business TV channels pushing his mediocre hedge fund.  I’ll be praying for him, but folks, this is unlikely to end well.

It has at least ended at last for Sean Spicer, and I’m actually happy for him. He’ll pick up what’s left of his reputation – (and that’s not nothing; most reporters know he was in an impossible position) and probably move on to the land of corporate communications, where hopefully he can find a position that will allow him to feel good about going to work again. This writer wishes him well.

1TF

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Last night, I learned the sad news that Senator John McCain has a glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. While McCain is 80 and has already lived a remarkable life of consequence, it still makes the breath catch a little in surprise. McCain’s a fighter, and he’ll answer the bell on this one too, but there’s no getting around the fact that a glioblastoma is usually fatal.  It is just such a malady that felled McCain’s former colleague, Sen. Ted Kennedy.

McCain’s condition appeared to manifest itself last month during his awkward questioning of former FBI Director James Comey. Listening to the questioning is painful; something was clearly not right. Were McCain well, he and Comey probably would have hit it off. The two have distinct similarities. Both are pragmatic Republicans originally from the northeast (McCain’s family background is really more Pennsylvanian than anything), mainline Protestants (one formerly Catholic and the other nearly became one as a child), somewhat religious but not especially so. Both have been accused of moral narcissism on occasion, because both are apt to follow their conscience, party loyalty be damned.

Opinions on both from partisan members of both parties have careened from approval to disgust and back again. My own opinion of both, however, has remained steadfast – while each has his flaws, both are principled, pragmatic men far better than the average public servant. In an age where society and its issues have become so complicated that many people just throw up their hands and retreat to their own corners, McCain and Comey have wrestled those issues head-on, engaged and found common ground with people different than them. And each has worked out his philosophy for himself, so each arrives at a final position from a strong philosophical foundation, not from the herd mentality of the intellectually confused and politically frightened that habitually roam DC. Those who bounce back and forth in their opinion of McCain and Comey say more about themselves than of those two lions. The government is the lesser for Comey’s forced departure from it. It will be reduced further when McCain’s health forces him to take leave of it.

1TF

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The death of Otto Warmbier is an outrage. Mr. Warmbier was a University of Virginia student, apparently with some wanderlust and a sense of curiosity. So he arranged to go on a tour of North Korea. The North Korean government made him out to be an enemy. For what? For briefly considering stealing a poster.

I’m not sure what the right answer is with North Korea. But the “strategic patience” route. doesn’t appear to be working. There needs to be a serious consequence for Mr. Warmbier’s senseless death, and I don’t think simply tightening economic sanctions on the whole country would be effective. It’s not the government that gets hurt by those sanctions, it’s millions of innocent, already abused people. I’ll leave it to others to speculate on what specific actions we could take, but I’m sure the State Dept. and the Pentagon have a menu of measured, proportional responses – without resorting to overt military conflict that would needlessly harm innocent people – to get America’s point across to a man with a luxurious private island and a $7 million yacht. I recognize this is complicated by the fact that the North Koreans have other prisoners, but doing nothing or doing something weak, will only invite further outrages. The North Koreans must learn that thuggishly beating one of our citizens to death over a poster is not worth it. This is not how civilized countries act.

Mr. Warmbier was a young man, full of promise, and empty of malicious intent. Kim Jong Un chose to send a message to our government by murdering him. We need to send a strong message back that even he can understand.

1TF

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