[Ed. – Delusional]
Despite falling short of the 50% of votes needed to win Tuesday night, ABC’s Good Morning America crowned Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff as the victor of last night’s special election in Georgia. Correspondent Cecilia Vega and anchor George Stephanopoulos gushed over the “rookie” who came “just short” of “winning the whole thing.” GMA used the race’s closeness as a reason to bash Trump while political analyst John Avlon spun that Democrats had “an emotional victory.”
Vega began her report touting this race was a judgement on the president. Its “being called a referendum on President Trump,” she gushed, adding that Democrats hoped to “deliver a knock-out punch to President Trump.” After noting that Trump took credit for helping to stop Ossoff’s momentum, Vega again criticized that Ossoff getting less than 50% of the votes was actually a bad sign for Republicans.
VEGA: But there is no way around it. This once Republican stronghold formerly held by Newt Gingrich is now competitive and Democrats feel they have a strong chance.
Ironically, the ABC chyron was more accurate than what was actually said during the report. It read: “Democrat fails to win after Trump endorsement.”
[Ed. – Hyperbole much?]
Let’s go ahead and file this under “Things That Should Have Never Made It Past the Editor.”
The Nation published an article Tuesday that used the recent gas attacks in Syria, which claimed the lives of approximately 70 people, including children, as an excuse to attack President Donald Trump over the issue of climate change.
The article, titled “The Other Poison Gas Killing Syrians: Carbon Dioxide Emissions,” was written by University of Michigan professor Juan Cole.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the deadly gas attack, according to U.S. officials. In retaliation for the murderous act, and as a warning, President Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian military installation.
The response from the White House is not good enough, Cole argued in an article that actually used the gas attack as an excuse to talk about climate change.
“If Trump and his cronies really cared about children killed by noxious gases, they wouldn’t be trying to spew ever more CO2 into the atmosphere,” the story begins.
It just gets worse from there.
Lawmakers in about a dozen states are considering a bill that would block pornography from all new phones and computers unless consumers pay up.
Backers of the porn tax plan to introduce it on the federal level this month.
State Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) considered sponsoring a version of the bill in Arizona, but the measure was not introduced this session, her staff confirmed.
Supporters say porn is a public health problem and argue that taxing it would help cut down on a range of issues, including sex trafficking.
The Human Trafficking Prevention Act would require that all new internet-connected devices be equipped with a porn filter. Consumers who want to unlock the filter would have to pay a one-time fee of $20 on each device.
The tax would be used to fund groups that fight human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual assault and other issues, according to boilerplate language from the act’s supporters.
“What we know about pornography is that it’s addictive. It actually affects the brain,” said Kathleen Winn of the Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network.
For those seeking proof of Newton’s third law that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, look no further than UnitedHealthcare. The insurance giant saw its quarterly profits skyrocket after drastically downsized its participation in the Obamacare exchanges.
The company’s profit rose by 35% in the first quarter of 2017, and expanded nearly every aspect of its operation, including its participation in Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans, The Associated Press reports. In total, UnitedHealth brought in $2.17 billion in first-quarter earnings, with $48.72 billion in revenue. Shares of UnitedHealth are up 1.08% as of 2:12 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.
UnitedHealth’s operating income also rose outside of its health insurance offerings. The company experienced a 16% bump in operating earnings from Optum, another facet of UnitedHealth. Optum provides it with pharmacy benefits management and technological capabilities, as well as a network of doctor and clinical offices.
Following what amounted to a $475 million loss from participating in the exchanges in 2015, UnitedHealth announced in April 2016, that it would back out of all but a “handful” in 2017. The group expected to lose as much as $800 million in 2016.
“The smaller overall market size and shorter term, higher-risk profile within this market segment continue to suggest we cannot broadly serve it on an effective and sustained basis,” UnitedHealthcare Group CEO Stephen Hemsley told reporters in 2016. “Next year, we will remain in only a handful of states, and we will not carry financial exposure from exchanges into 2017.”
UnitedHealth is not alone. Insurance providers Aetna and Humana are also leaving the exchanges.
Aetna announced in August 2016, that it would stop offering plans on 11 of the 15 Obamacare exchanges where it currently operates. The company reports losing $430 billion through participating in exchanges since 2014.
Humana became the first insurance provider to completely opt out altogether in February, announcing it would no longer offer health insurance plans on state exchanges in 2018.
This report, by Robert Donachie, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.
[Ed. – Zero tolerance]
A teenager who shaved his unruly hair to raise hundreds of pounds for a cancer charity has been put in isolation on his return to school.
Taylor Jones, 15, lost his locks in a sponsored trim at the weekend and raised £850 for Cancer Research.
But when he went back to Launceston College in Cornwall he was ordered straight into isolation because of his “extreme haircut”.
Taylor, who is due to take his GCSEs in less than a month, has been told he cannot return to lessons until his hair grows back to a more suitable length.
But as a result of the row more people have donated to his fundraising drive and boosted his effort.
His dad Nick Jones accused the school of acting like a “dictatorship”.
He said his son was so upset after his first day in isolation he had to persuade him to go into school the next day.
He said: “He has been growing it for a while and it had got very unruly and most people said his previous hairstyle was more of an extreme haircut than this is.
In the special election for Georgia’s Sixth District Congressional seat, Democrat Jon Ossoff has fallen short of the 50 percent threshold needed to win the seat out-right, triggering a runoff in June.
Ossoff’s candidacy and failure to secure the seat in the first round of voting, despite holding an $8.3 million war-chest, is the quintessential example of why the Democrats’ strategy of resisting Trump at every step is imprudent and that the more effective way to win in a solidly Republican district is with a positive agenda of change.
Today, the Democratic party is deeply fractured. While some pragmatic leaders continue to fight for the traditional Democratic values which have long-defined our party, the “resistance” to President Trump is more concerned with obstructing Republicans and has no plans to enact the economic policies or health care reforms that hard-working Americans deserve.
In his Congressional campaign, Jon Ossoff has generally said the right things, often appears to be positioned as a moderate, and has even suggested that he would not be “campaigning across the district talking about Donald Trump at every event.”
Canadian authorities caught 887 asylum seekers crossing unlawfully into Canada from the United States in March, nearly triple the number in January, according to numbers released by the government Wednesday.
This brings the total number of asylum seekers caught walking across the border to 1,860 so far this year. The new statistics suggest those numbers could rise further as the weather warms.
Canada is on track to see the highest number of asylum claims in six years, given the pace of claims filed so far, as increasing numbers of people cross into Canada to make refugee claims in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s election and his crackdown on refugees and illegal immigrants.
Under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, Canada is required to turn asylum seekers away if they try to file refugee claims at land border crossings. But if people cross the border in between formal crossings, they are taken into custody and questioned by both police and border authorities, then allowed to file claims and stay in Canada while they await the outcome.
Don’t worry about Fox. It’ll be okay without Bill O’Reilly.
The country’s most-watched cable network is doing so well that the departure of the star of “The O’Reilly Factor” isn’t likely to be a huge financial blow. That’s even though the show was the biggest draw on Fox News, which has been 21st Century Fox’s most profitable channel, bringing in what one estimate puts at $200 million annually in advertising revenue.
“The growth in the network is overwhelming any advertiser issues” that will crop up now that O’Reilly is out and Tucker Carlson is stepping into the prime-time slot, said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research LLC who has a buy rating on the stock. O’Reilly took his leave Wednesday afternoon, and Fox shares fell 0.9 percent to $30.39 at the close in New York.
Fox doesn’t break out how much any one channel or program contributes to the bottom line. S&P Global Inc.’s Kagan research unit estimates that Fox News was responsible for about one-fourth of the company’s 2016 operating income, which was $6.6 billion.
O’Reilly’s exit will probably cost just a couple of percentage points in ad sales, before factoring in the network’s expected growth over the next year, Wieser said.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni moderates a ‘Times Talks’ discussion between legendary feminist Camille Paglia and ‘Watch What Happens Live’ host Andy Cohen about life in the Trump era.
Paglia says Bruni’s newspaper and the Democratic Party still have “soul searching” left to do about why they called 2016 wrong. “It is incumbent upon the defeated party to pull itself together, or else we’re going to get the reelection of the present administration,” she said.
“I didn’t take him seriously at all,” she said about the early days of the Trump campaign. “And then, shortly after the very first Republican debate, I saw Diamond & Silk, the African-American sisters doing a pro-Trump attack on Megyn Kelly on their podcast, and… I suddenly saw the populism, and from that moment forward, I could feel the momentum of it.”
“The New York media was in an absolute bubble about this,” she added.
Andy Cohen said he had similar thoughts….
To begin with, here, let’s clarify that “Trump not being an idiot” doesn’t mean “Trump plans to do what you or I want him to do.”
It means he intends to do what he wants to do, and is prepping the battlespace for his campaign.
So it’s necessary to set aside for the moment what you think is the right thing to do, and analyze the operational character of the activity we see from Trump. It’s been a long time since we’ve had an actual strategist in the Oval Office.
It would be too much to try to cinemascope the entire landscape of global crises in one post. But it’s necessary to introduce the very important idea that what you see the Trump administration doing isn’t as random and unconnected as it looks. I’m not saying I know these things for certain, but I am certain that the alternative view merits consideration.
So: consider that Trump and his inner circle see things as interconnected, and have reasons for their actions.
I’ll look just at two events of the last 24 hours. One is the letter Rex Tillerson has sent to Congress, certifying – laughably – that Iran is in compliance with the 2015 JCPOA; that is, the so-called “Iran deal.”
The other is the revelation that the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) strike group hasn’t been headed for Korea as media reporting has indicated for the last week. Vinson is operating in the Western Pacific, yes – after a detour into the Indian Ocean for an exercise with Australia – but was never charging the Korean Peninsula at flank speed, contrary to the expectations raised by the media based on unnamed sources in the administration.
The media are feeling burned by this, er, messaging disconnect. And that’s understandable. The Wall Street Journal’s reporters were at pains on Tuesday to highlight the “jeers from Asia” about the Vinson disclosures, apparently recognizing that the chagrin of the media at being given bad information wouldn’t impress anyone much.
LU’s own DCNF piece by Ryan Pickrell constructed the thoughtful point that the media spun themselves up based on thin clues, and “had everyone expecting another Korean War.” More specifically, the media had a lot of people expecting another Korean War this month – or at least in the very near future.
The underlying conditions that may require military action at some point are still there. The issue of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat is unresolved, so we can expect to revisit the situation of the last few weeks.
But next time, will the media assume they’re getting good information from their anonymous official sources? They’ll be more skeptical, I think.
Breaking the leak factory
I suspect the Great Carrier Caper hasn’t been about sending signals to Asia, so much as about breaking something that wasn’t on anybody’s scope, outside the White House.
One of Trump’s chief requirements – a condition he needs to shape for his battlespace – is a media environment in which he’s not being constantly undercut by preemptive leaks from the bureaucratic opponents of his policy. So far, the biggest sources of such leaks have been the intelligence community and people on the NSC staff.
Consider – just consider – the possibility that the Great Carrier Caper was an op run not against the media, the capitals of Asia, or the American people, but against the leakers.
I did my small bit last week, by biting on the “NBC exclusive” in which intelligence officials leaked that the U.S. was nearing a strike on North Korea. I didn’t actually think a strike was imminent, but I was angry about the apparent faithlessness of these intel officials. And if they thought they were doing something straightforwardly underhanded – leaking a tip, against the interests of the Trump administration – then I stand by my reaction.
But there’s a real possibility that they were being played. Nothing would as surely burn them with their media contacts as being so egregiously wrong about something so big.
Even if a “precision burn” wasn’t possible in this round, the Great Carrier Caper has succeeded in rocking the mainstream media on their heels, and causing them to question what they’re getting from the usual-suspect leak factory. If Trump wanted to set up something like this, DOD would be the place to do it. He can be the most certain of key individual loyalties there.
Remember, Trump’s problem with hostile leaks is far worse than anything his predecessors ever had to deal with. He would be motivated to deal with it in a way none of the presidents in your lifetime or mine has had to be. It’s a problem that will effectively hamstring him in foreign policy if he doesn’t root it out. So the level and kind of action here would comport with the level of necessity.
Certainly, if Trump is to undo the bad JCPOA with Iran, he will need exactly this condition: the ability to take actions without having them leaked and sabotaged in advance from within his National Security Council.
A roundabout approach to Iran
Rex Tillerson’s letter to Congress this week can be seen, I suspect, as a placeholder. Trump isn’t yet ready to move – according to his strategy – on the Iran problem. The simple, linear view would see the letter to Congress as an essential means of stating the U.S. posture and putting pressure on Iran. But there may be a reason why Trump doesn’t want to “strike” by that particular means.
One basic reason is that a prearranged timetable dictates when he has to “strike.” The letter is due at a certain time. That time may not be when he’s ready.
But another is that Trump is already working on the Iran problem in a different way: not frontal, but oblique. He’s systematically lining up conditions to box Iran in and cut off her options for weaponizing a nuke. What is Iran’s main alternative to doing her own warhead detonation, at a test range in Iran? That’s right: doing one in North Korea. The same is true of testing longer-range missiles.
Iran’s principal power-projection engagement, meanwhile, is in Syria and Lebanon, and has been for decades. There are other foreign adventures (e.g., Yemen) from which Iran could draw back if she absolutely had to, and wait to reengage at a more propitious time. But Iran cannot, under any circumstances, let go of Syria and Lebanon.
Everything about Iran’s 1979 revolution fizzles and goes for naught, if the mullahs lose their stake on the Mediterranean: adjacent to Israel; established between a neo-Ottoman Turkey and Israel; with as much military-strategic access to Israel as any Arab nation has; and with a tenacious toehold on the West’s doorstep.
Hitting Iran in Syria is hitting Iran where she lives.
Trump’s movements to merely put North Korea and Syria in play – to make the U.S. a real, and still unpredictable, factor again – are the movements most surely designed to knock the complacency out from under Tehran. In Syria, if the U.S. and our local partners are effective against ISIS (in the east), Iran will have to commit more than she’s had to for years, to prevent the loss of strategic access she once took for granted. The U.S. can drive up the cost of Syria to Iran, and even bleed her dry.
Will we? I don’t know. But suddenly, Iran can’t count on not having to face that problem. The more successful the U.S. partnership is, the more all Iran’s calculations will have to change.
Iran can’t count on being able to get nuclear business done in North Korea either. Trump’s America is too interested and alerted there now. I don’t know what we’ll do in North Korea. But Trump has already changed the facts on the ground in South Korea, moving in forces in the teeth of strenuous opposition from China, and showing no disposition to negotiate the new posture away.
The next four years will not be a time when Iran can expect to furtively detonate a nuclear warhead there, or use Pyongyang’s launchpad to test rockets. I wouldn’t dismiss that as a significant change of conditions, and we can be sure Iran won’t.
Would I love to have all these things being done under cover of proper statesmanlike communications? Sure. I’ve written about that many times. But it’s not Trump who evacuated us all from Stately Wayne Manor. It was his predecessor, on whose watch American power well and truly lost its Pax Americana-era meaning.
There is no going back to 2008 now. The only way through is forward. We can get to a statelier basis for national security policy again, but our only option now is to forge a new path.
Originally published by The Washington Times on April 18, 2017.
Congress wisely declined to bail out Puerto Rico when its leaders turned to Washington with hat in hand for help with its $70 billion debt. Instead, they created an oversight board to compel the island commonwealth to solve its self-inflicted fiscal mess. Unfortunately, both the oversight board and the territory’s government have failed to adhere to congressional requirements and are not taking the bold steps necessary to spur economic growth and fix Puerto Rico’s finances.
The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) was passed by Congress last year and aimed to restore fiscal responsibility to the commonwealth. In addition to creating the oversight board and tasking it with overseeing the island’s finances, the act provided a stay on litigation in order to give the government time to negotiate with bondholders. Crucially, it also mandated that any fiscal plan would “respect the lawful priorities or lawful liens, as may be applicable in the constitution, other laws, or agreements of a covered territory.”
Some debt restructuring is a necessary component of any realistic solution for Puerto Rico. How exactly that is accomplished makes a big difference, however. The island will eventually need access to bond markets again, which means excessive haircuts aren’t going to work. Nor can it play favorites and advantage certain debt-holders over others or ignore the legally established priorities. There won’t be many willing to lend to Puerto Rico in the future if rules are ignored.
Unfortunately, the government and the oversight board have not attempted to work with debt-holders in good faith. Instead, they’ve put forward a plan that ignores PROMESA’s requirement of respect for lawful priorities by advantaging certain interests over the general obligation debt that is guaranteed by the island’s constitution. The plan also only provides $800 million in debt service per year while keeping nearly 94 percent of revenue for other expenditures. There is virtually no fiscal reform — in fact, the budget plan calls for significant increases in payroll and operational expenses over the next decade — and no significant changes to the island’s pension system with its whopping $48 billion debt.
The plan does not represent the serious reforms that PROMESA was designed to bring about.
To make matters worse, the plan proposes a side deal to creditors of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), that would limit its bondholders to a 15 percent haircut while other debt-holders are likely to face haircuts of 77 percent under the current plan. A recent agreement reached between PREPA and its creditors imposing the 15 percent haircut and a new charge on consumers should likewise be rejected by the oversight board.
It would send a bad signal to credit markets if the commonwealth is able to renege on its constitutional pledge to prioritize general obligation bondholders. It shouldn’t be too much to ask that negotiations proceed fairly with all of the different creditor groups. They also must look at real spending reform and not try to balance on the backs of creditors alone.
Unfortunately, the government has sought to game the system by defining the vast majority of its budget as “essential services.” When it likely later invokes Title III of PROMESA, a court-supervised debt restructuring mechanism intended to be used only after negotiations with creditors fail to reach a satisfactory agreement, this designation will allow most spending to remain intact and unfairly put the bulk of the cuts on creditors. It would be bankruptcy by another name that Congress specifically sought to avoid.
And despite not attempting to negotiate with creditors, Puerto Rico has asked for the stay on litigation to be extended past its May 1 expiration. It’s not that costly litigation is desirable, of course, but an extension would only encourage the continued disregard of PROMESA’s requirements. Instead, Puerto Rico should be pressured to bring all bondholders to the table and negotiate honestly, and to make hard choices about spending cuts.
Ultimately, what the commonwealth needs is economic growth. With a stronger economy there will be more for everyone, and with common-sense fiscal restraint, the island will have a chance to grow out of its debt. There are actions Congress can and should take to make that growth more likely, but in the meantime, it must insist that the commonwealth’s government and the oversight board follow the requirements of PROMESA and respect the rule of law. Puerto Rico can’t afford to savage creditors to the point that investors lose confidence and jeopardize its ability to borrow, hopefully at more reasonable levels, in the future.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has long advocated redistribution. Apparently that principle goes for both wealth – and quotes.
Sarah Palin is calling out the liberal Massachusetts senator after Warren tweeted the catch phrase “fight like a girl” on Tuesday, below a picture of her posing with the “Fearless Girl” statue in New York City.
Fight like a girl. pic.twitter.com/qGTn46jS9W
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) April 18, 2017
Problem is, the same quote has been used repeatedly over the years by the former Alaska governor. And the Republican firebrand says it doesn’t have the same punch coming from Warren.
“I don’t know. Coming from liberals who urge women to claim victimization, ‘Fight like a girl’ just doesn’t sound the same as when legit fighters for equality say it, mean it, live it, and will never give it up,” Palin told Breitbart News.
According to the New York Times, the manhunt for Steve Stephens, the “Facebook killer,” ended partly because of his love for McDonald’s french fries, McNuggets, and the quick thinking of their employees.
The horrendous murder that was broadcast via Facebook terrified the country and spurred a nation-wide search for the killer. It ended in Erie, Pennsylvania, where Stephens stopped at a McDonald’s.
Employees noticed the man matched the description of the killer and tipped off the police. Stephens used the drive-thru to order a 20 Chicken McNuggets and a large order of French fries for $5.35. Workers gave him his McNuggets, but told him he’d have to wait for the fries – they were stalling in hopes that it would give the police time to get there.
Instead, he drove off without the fries. Police caught up with him soon after, and after a short chase, Stephens stopped his car.
When a police man approached the vehicle in hopes of apprehending him alive, Stephens fatally shot himself.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday night, Fox News is preparing to cut ties with Bill O’Reilly. The news came on the heels of a number of reports suggesting that O’Reilly’s days are numbered at the cable channel. According to an earlier report from CNN, representatives for Fox and O’Reilly have started conversations about an exit for the embattled host, who has been on vacation. Sources in O’Reilly’s camp denied that this was the case, according to CNN. However, the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox will hold a board meeting Thursday in which O’Reilly is expected to be discussed. The Murdoch family, who control 21st Century Fox, is not commenting on the matter. The recent O’Reilly problems stem from a New York Times report that detailed undisclosed settlement payments that O’Reilly, Fox News, and 21st Century Fox paid to women who accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment….
United Airlines executives said Tuesday that it’s too soon to know if last week’s dragging of a man off a plane is hurting ticket sales. The chief executive said no one will be fired over the incident.
CEO Oscar Munoz and other executives apologized again on Tuesday before discussing the airline’s latest financial results with analysts and reporters.
Munoz said he takes full responsibility “for making this right” after the April 9 incident aboard a United Express plane at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. He said the airline will have more to say later this month after it finishes a review of its policies on overbooked flights.
Munoz started the call with an apology to David Dao, the 69-year-old Kentucky physician who was dragged off the plane by Chicago airport officers who had been summoned by United, and to all other customers.
“You can and should expect more from us, and as CEO I take full responsibility for making this right,” Munoz said. He and other executives vowed to treat customers with dignity, and said that what happened to Dao will never happen again.
The University of California at Berkeley’s College Republicans have received several death threats in recent weeks, with unidentified vandals posting stickers across campus calling for members of the group to be beheaded or lynched.
But the most recent round of sticker threats comes less than two months after students, protesting the College Republican’s speaking event for Milo Yiannopoulos, caused $100,000 in damage on campus.
A spokesman for the group told the student newspaper that the College Republicans have long received threats, dating back even before the November election.
A College Republicans spokeswoman also said that members had been “pepper sprayed, sucker-punched and verbally and physically assaulted for voicing their opinions and beliefs” on campus. And in March, members caught another student destroying one of the College Republicans’ signs, posting video of the vandalism to their Facebook page.
By deadline, neither UC Berkeley nor the university’s police department responded to Heat Street’s queries about how many individual reports they had received about threats or vandalism targeting the College Republicans.
Two horrific suicide bombings, in two different cities, two hours apart — this is how Egyptian Christians began Holy Week.
In the cities of Tawra and Alexandria, Muslim terrorists stormed Coptic churches where they proceeded to blow themselves to a fine pink mist while taking 44 worshipers with them. These two attacks followed last December’s horrific suicide bombing at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Cairo that killed 29.
Does Egypt have a problem with Islamic violence? Not according to Egypt’s most prominent clergyman, Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb, who holds the prestigious title of Grand Imam of al-Azhar. At a conference in Cairo last month, al-Tayeb said that the incidence of Muslim violence around the world is rather unremarkable: “There is an obvious double standard in the world’s judgment of Islam on the one hand, and [its judgment of] Christianity and Judaism on the other, despite the fact that all are guilty of one and the same thing, that is, religious violence and terrorism.”
The point al-Tayeb is trying to make is pretty straightforward: that people are quick to chide Muslims for terrorism when in fact the terror problem cuts across religious lines. Clearly all of this talk about terrorism must be a cloak for bigotry. If people were truly concerned with eradicating terrorism, they would condemn it wherever it’s found. The fact that they don’t exposes their hypocrisy.
Christian and Jewish violence is a cool and casual matter for the West, which never besmirches the image of these two religions. Only their third brother [Islam] stands trial alone on the dock, where his image is constantly marred.
Here the imam skillfully employs the language of familial ties, comparing the Abrahamic religions to three brothers. One of these brothers is singled out for scorn although he is no more guilty than the others. Clearly, that brother has been unjustly maligned.
Unfortunately, al-Tayeb is not easily dismissed as a crank. As the Grand Imam of al-Azhar he commands respect in Egypt and throughout the Muslim world. When he speaks, people listen.
In order to bolster his claim that all religions are equally guilty of terrorism, he cited a few examples — the 1980s abortion clinic bomber Michael Bray, cult leader David Koresh, and the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh. Besides the fact that abortion clinic bombings are very, very rare (al-Tayeb reached back a full 32 years to find one), that Koresh was not actually a terrorist, and that McVeigh was a political terrorist and a very lapsed Catholic, his comparison is on solid footing. OK, not really.
The “double standard” accusation is a serious one that was likely intended to disarm Westerners who are notoriously sensitive about treating others with bias. But is there really a double standard in the way we perceive Muslim violence compared to other kinds? Yes, there is — just not in the way that the Grand Imam suggests. Each time a Muslim terror attack occurs, journalists attempt to lead the public through what can only be called a coping ritual. The ritual has four stages.
The first of these is the “let’s not jump to conclusions” stage in which reporters take great pains not to assume that the attacker is a Muslim just because his name happens to be Abdul or Muhammad or even because he yelled “Allahu Akbar” moments before his killing spree began. (In describing the actions of a Muslim killer in Fresno yesterday, the Associated Press couldn’t even bring itself to admit the lunatic screamed “Allahu Akbar” as he pulled the trigger, instead translating the Arabic chant into the more ecumenical, innocuous-sounding “God is great.”)
Then, when it turns out that the attacker is a Muslim, reporters wonder if his religious affiliation might have been incidental to the attack — which it rarely ever is.
In the second stage, the shortest of the four, reporters actually acknowledge the attack and its motive before quickly moving on to the third stage. I’ll call this the “Muslims fear backlash” stage, and it’s characterized by stories about hijab-snatchings (that usually turn out to be hoaxes) or Muslims getting dirty looks in the street. It isn’t even necessary to find any actual incidents of backlash after an attack because the fear of a backlash, not the backlash itself, is the real story.
The fourth and final stage is when reporters begin to ask how the right-wing might “exploit” the story. This serves as a warning that taking action to stave off civilizational demise is somehow letting the terrorists win.
So yes, there’s a double standard. No other kind of terrorist attack is reported this way.
But that’s not what Ahmed al-Tayeb meant by a “double standard.” What he meant was that Muslims, Christians, and Jews commit proportional amounts of terrorism, but Westerners seem only to notice or care about the Muslim variety. This is a truly extraordinary theory and one that I have often tried to test. Every time there is a Muslim terrorist attack anywhere in the world — and they’re happening now at a rate of several per month — I ask myself if there were other attacks committed in the name of other faiths that the media failed to report or I failed to notice.
Let’s start with the Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt. Have there been any comparable attacks carried out by Christians against mosques? Nope. Muslims blow up Coptic churches but Copts don’t blow up mosques. That’s not a thing.
That doesn’t mean that mosques are never attacked, though it is very rare. The only one that I could find occurred this January not in Egypt but in Canada. The alleged perpetrator, Alexandre Bissonnette, appears to be an anti-immigrant nationalist and a fan of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen but not particularly religious.
To be sure, the Canadian mosque attack was terrorism, but it was also anomalous and not religiously inspired. There is no equivalence between Bissonnette and the suicide bombers who attacked two churches on Palm Sunday, and even if there were it wouldn’t begin to balance out the countless other terror attacks that have occurred in recent weeks. In the past thirty days a Muslim attacked the Palace of Westminster in London with his car and a knife, killing four and wounding 50. A Muslim blew himself up in the St. Petersburg metro, killing himself and 14 others. A Muslim stole a beer truck in Stockholm and plowed through the downtown area, killing four. Finally, two suspected Muslims planted roadside bombs in Dortmund, Germany in an attempt to murder members of a Borussia Dortmund soccer team. Thankfully, no one was killed.
Presumably all of these attacks have proportional counterparts committed in the name of other faiths, right? No, they don’t. Though Lutherans represent the largest religious group in Sweden, there has never to my knowledge been a Lutheran terrorist attack in that country or any other. Likewise there are no Russian Orthodox suicide bombers. There is no Anglican approximation of ISIS. If the Muslims don’t have a complete monopoly on religious terror, they’re pretty darned close.
Yet terror-deniers never tire of trying to draw some kind of false equivalence between Muslim terrorism and other kinds, no matter how much of a stretch it is. They often deny or downplay Muslim terrorism, or they assume that every white terrorist is both Christian and religiously motivated, or they blame Christians for Muslim terrorism.
This strategy of drawing equivalence where none exists seems to be having some success. A recent CBS News poll found that a full 66% of registered Democrats believed that Islam was no more prone to violence than other religions. Nine percent believed it was actually less prone to violence! These people must believe that every incident of Muslim violence has an equivalent counterpart out there somewhere. The media (which they control, by the way) must be creating misperceptions in the public’s mind by covering up all the violence committed by non-Muslims.
This fallacy of equivalence cannot be the product of rational minds thinking the issue through. What could explain it then? For starters, most Democrats these days are not very religious themselves. The idea that religion in general makes people into violent zealots appeals to them precisely because it strokes their egos and places them above the fray. Another explanation is that Democrats are generally uncomfortable saying that any particular demographic group (except white males) is disproportionately responsible for societal problems. So, for the sake of evenhandedness, they pretend not to see any disparity in dysfunctional behavior among groups. The cliché that “Terror Knows No Religion” sums up this vapid sentiment pretty well.
Yes, it’s true that not all Muslims are terrorists. And, yes, it’s true that not all terrorists are Muslim, though an absurdly high proportion of the religious variety are. What cannot be denied, however, is that the overlapping between these two groups — Muslims on the one hand and terrorists on the other — is very real. Those who choose not to see it are willfully blind, which isn’t a virtue.
Fundamental tax reform such as a flat tax should accomplish three big goals.
The good news is that almost all Republicans believe in the first two goals and at least pay lip services to the third goal.
The bad news is that they nonetheless can’t be trusted with tax reform.
Here’s why. Major tax reform is based on the assumption that achieving the first two goals will lower tax revenue and achieving the third goal will generate tax revenue. A reform plan doesn’t have to be “revenue neutral,” of course, but politicians would be very reluctant to vote for a package that substantially reduced tax revenue. So serious proposals have revenue-raising provisions that are roughly similar in magnitude to the revenue-losing provisions.
Here’s the problem. Notwithstanding lip service, Republicans are not willing to go after major tax loopholes like the healthcare exclusion. And that means that they are looking for other sources of revenue. In some cases, such as the proposal in the House plan to put debt and equity on a level playing field, they come up with decent ideas. In other cases, such as the border-adjustment tax, they come up with misguided ideas.
This is why it would be best to set aside tax reform and focus on a more limited agenda, such as a plan to lower the corporate tax rate. I discussed that idea a few weeks ago on Neil Cavuto’s show, and I echoed myself last week in another appearance on Fox Business.
Lest you think I’m being overly paranoid about Republicans doing the wrong thing, here’s what’s being reported in the establishment press.
The Hill is reporting that the Trump Administration is still undecided on the BAT.
The most controversial aspect of the House’s plan is its reliance on border adjustability to tax imports and exempt exports. …the White House has yet to fully embrace it. …If the administration opts against the border-adjustment proposal, it would have to find another way to raise revenue to pay for lowering tax rates.
While I hope the White House ultimately rejects the BAT, that won’t necessarily be good news if the Administration signs on to another new source of revenue.
And that’s apparently under discussion.
The Washington Post last week reported that the White House was looking at other ideas, including a value-added tax and a carbon tax… Even if administration officials are simply batting around ideas, it seems clear that Trump’s team is open to a different approach.
The Associated Press also tries to read the tea leaves and speculates whether the Trump Administration may try to cut or eliminate the Social Security payroll tax.
The administration’s first attempt to write legislation is in its early stages and the White House has kept much of it under wraps. But it has already sprouted the consideration of a series of unorthodox proposals including a drastic cut to the payroll tax, aimed at appealing to Democrats.
I’m not a big fan of fiddling with the payroll tax, and I definitely worry about making major changes.
Why? Because it’s quite likely politicians will replace it with a tax that is even worse.
This would require a new dedicated funding source for Social Security. The change, proposed by a GOP lobbyist with close ties to the Trump administration, would transform Brady’s plan on imports into something closer to a value-added tax by also eliminating the deduction of labor expenses. This would bring it in line with WTO rules and generate an additional $12 trillion over 10 years, according to budget estimates.
Last but not least, the New York Times has a story today on the latest machinations, and it appears that Republicans are no closer to a consensus today than they were the day Trump got inaugurated.
…it is becoming increasingly unlikely that there will be a simpler system, or even lower tax rates, this time next year. The Trump administration’s tax plan, promised in February, has yet to materialize; a House Republican plan has bogged down, taking as much fire from conservatives as liberals… Speaker Paul D. Ryan built a tax blueprint around a “border adjustment” tax… With no palpable support in the Senate, its prospects appear to be nearly dead. …The president’s own vision for a new tax system is muddled at best. In the past few months, he has called for taxing companies that move operations abroad, waffled on the border tax and, last week, called for a “reciprocal” tax that would match the import taxes other countries impose on the United States.
The report notes that Trump may have a personal reason to oppose one of the provisions of the House plan.
Perhaps the most consequential concern relates to a House Republican proposal to get rid of a rule that lets companies write off the interest they pay on loans — a move real estate developers and Mr. Trump vehemently oppose. Doing so would raise $1 trillion in revenue and reduce the appeal of one of Mr. Trump’s favorite business tools: debt.
From my perspective, the most encouraging part of the story is that the lack of consensus may lead Republicans to my position, which is simply to cut the corporate tax rate.
With little appetite for bipartisanship, many veterans of tax fights and lobbyists in Washington expect that Mr. Trump will ultimately embrace straight tax cuts, with some cleaning up of deductions, and call it a victory.
And I think that would be a victory as well, even though I ultimately want to junk the entire tax code and replace it with a flat tax.
P.S. In an ideal world, tax reform would be financed in large part with spending restraint. Sadly, Washington, DC, isn’t in the same galaxy as that ideal world.
P.P.S. To further explain why Republicans cannot be trusted, even if they mean well, recall that Rand Paul and Ted Cruz both included VATs in the tax plans they unveiled during the 2016 presidential campaign.
An MSNBC contributor wrote Tuesday on Twitter that he hoped the Islamic State would bomb President Donald Trump’s property in Turkey.
Counterterrorism analyst Malcolm Nance was responding to a tweet of an image of Trump Tower Istanbul that was alleging the property was the reason Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to congratulate him on his controversial referendum win over the weekend.