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Posts For: December 14, 2012

Gehenna in Connecticut

Gehenna, a synonym for Hell, is a real place, or so the Bible tells us. You can see it today. It is a valley outside Jerusalem, the valley of the son of Hinnom, and it was where worshippers of the idol Moloch sacrificed children to sate their god’s hungers.

Gehenna was revived today in Newtown, Connecticut, where as many as 20 children at last report were slaughtered in an elementary school this morning.

We learn in the book of Kings that in the seventh century BCE, the prophet Jeremiah demanded that King Josiah destroy the idolator’s temple in Gehenna to prevent more sacrifices to Moloch. We can presume from the newsworthiness of this act that child sacrifice was once a relatively common practice in the ancient Middle East, as we know it to have been in other pagan cultures.

The connection between the protection of children and the practice of monotheism dates back to the beginning. After Abraham becomes the first Jew, the first monotheist, he is tasked by God to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, the miracle child of his and his wife Sarah’s old age, and he takes up the task without complaint until God stays his hand. The story of Isaac’s binding, the akedah, is one of the most challenging of the Bible and is often taken to mean God was testing Abraham’s faith with the ultimate demand. But one might also say that at the very dawn of the worship of the One God, the Bible was placing the sacrifice of children outside the realm of the thinkable for the first time.

The idea that civilization is dedicated to the protection and preservation the weak and the innocent, and not about fulfilling evil impulses to defile and destroy innocence, is the root and core of the West. One cannot conceive of anything more monstrous than a person or persons who could look small children in the eye and systematically shoot them dead. Which is why this crime, among the worst crimes in American history, is not just an assault on the children, or their families, or the town of Newtown—though it is all those things.

What the killer(s) did today was nothing less than a contemporary sacrifice to Moloch, in whatever form Moloch manifests himself today—the appeasement of a voice in the head, most likely. Evil, even if it is loosed due to mental illness, is an effort to destroy the common good by making good appear powerless, ineffectual, weak. Today saw a horrifically effective effort to give evil a victory. It has opened a portal and brought Hell to earth.

Gehenna is real again.

Gehenna, a synonym for Hell, is a real place, or so the Bible tells us. You can see it today. It is a valley outside Jerusalem, the valley of the son of Hinnom, and it was where worshippers of the idol Moloch sacrificed children to sate their god’s hungers.

Gehenna was revived today in Newtown, Connecticut, where as many as 20 children at last report were slaughtered in an elementary school this morning.

We learn in the book of Kings that in the seventh century BCE, the prophet Jeremiah demanded that King Josiah destroy the idolator’s temple in Gehenna to prevent more sacrifices to Moloch. We can presume from the newsworthiness of this act that child sacrifice was once a relatively common practice in the ancient Middle East, as we know it to have been in other pagan cultures.

The connection between the protection of children and the practice of monotheism dates back to the beginning. After Abraham becomes the first Jew, the first monotheist, he is tasked by God to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, the miracle child of his and his wife Sarah’s old age, and he takes up the task without complaint until God stays his hand. The story of Isaac’s binding, the akedah, is one of the most challenging of the Bible and is often taken to mean God was testing Abraham’s faith with the ultimate demand. But one might also say that at the very dawn of the worship of the One God, the Bible was placing the sacrifice of children outside the realm of the thinkable for the first time.

The idea that civilization is dedicated to the protection and preservation the weak and the innocent, and not about fulfilling evil impulses to defile and destroy innocence, is the root and core of the West. One cannot conceive of anything more monstrous than a person or persons who could look small children in the eye and systematically shoot them dead. Which is why this crime, among the worst crimes in American history, is not just an assault on the children, or their families, or the town of Newtown—though it is all those things.

What the killer(s) did today was nothing less than a contemporary sacrifice to Moloch, in whatever form Moloch manifests himself today—the appeasement of a voice in the head, most likely. Evil, even if it is loosed due to mental illness, is an effort to destroy the common good by making good appear powerless, ineffectual, weak. Today saw a horrifically effective effort to give evil a victory. It has opened a portal and brought Hell to earth.

Gehenna is real again.

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Sandy Aid Package Another Excuse for Pork

In the midst of the fiscal cliff negotiations, the Obama administration has provided us with a perfect example of why we’re in this situation in the first place. The president has put together a $60 billion emergency aid package for superstorm Sandy victims, which needs the approval of Congress. As with any large spending package, it’s filled with pork. ABC News first reported on the specifics of the bill, including the most outrageous requests:

$2 million to repair roof damage at Smithsonian buildings in Washington that pre-dates the storm; $4 million to repair sand berms and dunes at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida; and $41 million for clean-up and repairs at eight military bases along the storm’s path, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Small Business Administration is seeking a $50 million slice of the pie for its post-storm response efforts, including “Small Business Development Centers and Women’s Business Development Centers.”

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In the midst of the fiscal cliff negotiations, the Obama administration has provided us with a perfect example of why we’re in this situation in the first place. The president has put together a $60 billion emergency aid package for superstorm Sandy victims, which needs the approval of Congress. As with any large spending package, it’s filled with pork. ABC News first reported on the specifics of the bill, including the most outrageous requests:

$2 million to repair roof damage at Smithsonian buildings in Washington that pre-dates the storm; $4 million to repair sand berms and dunes at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida; and $41 million for clean-up and repairs at eight military bases along the storm’s path, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Small Business Administration is seeking a $50 million slice of the pie for its post-storm response efforts, including “Small Business Development Centers and Women’s Business Development Centers.”

Congressional Republicans concerned about the national debt and spending are now exactly where the Obama administration wants them–stuck between a rock and a hard place. Approving the bill adds unnecessary billions onto a package that was only meant to do one thing–provide emergency support to Northeast victims of the superstorm. Yet stopping the bill in the House would allow the president to portray congressional Republicans as out-of-touch political animals, denying victims of one of the worst storms in U.S. history assistance. The Obama administration’s response to Republican resistance to the package sounds exactly like any individual in debt and confused about how they got there:

“The aid to federal agencies is a very small percentage of the entire package,” the official told ABC News.

Just because the wasteful percentage of the package is quite small in comparison to the overall expenditures doesn’t mean that it should be passed as-is. The only way for Americans to stop digging ourselves into debt is by starting to distinguish needs from wants, and unfortunately that means that we might not have as many “Women’s Business Development Centers” as we might like. By trimming the fat, Americans can ensure that future generations will be at least able to provide for their needs, and maybe one day, their wants as well.

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Hagel’s Atlantic Council Publishes “Israel Apartheid” Column

Here’s the home page of the Atlantic Council today, which is chaired by Obama’s potential secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel (h/t Noah Pollak):

The column, by Atlantic Council member Arnaud de Borchgrave, makes the following argument:

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Here’s the home page of the Atlantic Council today, which is chaired by Obama’s potential secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel (h/t Noah Pollak):

The column, by Atlantic Council member Arnaud de Borchgrave, makes the following argument:

A majority of Israelis recoil in horror at the very thought of emulating the regime of apartheid, a system of institutionalized racial segregation once practiced in South Africa, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Yet that is what Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu considers less threatening than full-fledged Palestinian independence.

Apartheid is what gradually emerged in the West Bank under Israeli occupation since Israel’s victory in the Six Day War almost half a century ago. 

In South Africa during the Cold War, apartheid was seen as the only effective defense against world communism. And the African National Congress saw the Soviet Union as its best bet for dismantling apartheid and establishing black majority rule.

Netanyahu and his Likud Party allies now view continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank as the lesser of two evils.

Critics have long used the debunked apartheid analogy as a way to delegitimize and slander Israel. With the buzz growing over Hagel’s potential nomination, it’s surprising that his organization would publish such a blatant attack on Israel on the front page of its website on today of all days.

At the Daily Beast, Eli Lake provides more details on the pro-Israel community’s opposition to Hagel’s possible nomination:

A senior pro-Israel advocate in Washington told The Daily Beast on Thursday, “The pro-Israel community will view the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel in an extremely negative light. His record is unique in its animus towards Israel.”

Josh Block, a former spokesman for AIPAC and the CEO and president of the Israel Project, told The Daily Beast, “While in the Senate, Hagel voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, refused to call on the E.U. to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group, and consistently voted against sanctions on Iran for their illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. It is a matter of fact that his record on these issues puts him well outside the mainstream Democratic and Republican consensus.”

In the past, Hagel has even garnered opposition from pro-Israel Democrats who have defended Obama’s Israel record. Ira Forman, who was in charge of the Obama reelection campaign’s outreach to Jewish voters, said in 2009—after Hagel was named co-chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board—that he would have opposed Hagel’s nomination for a more substantive position. (Forman declined to comment on Hagel’s possible nomination Thursday.) 

According to a Hagel ally quoted in the article, he will likely try to mount a charm offensive with pro-Israel senators. If that’s the plan, publishing articles like the one above probably isn’t the best way to go about it.

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How Washington Rejected Susan Rice

I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.

The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.

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I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.

The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.

Barack Obama. We should start with the president, since some have been suggesting that Rice’s withdrawal proves Obama’s weakness. It just isn’t so. If Obama wanted Rice to be his secretary of state, that’s what he’d get. But the president got quite chummy with Bill Clinton just as the former president agreed to try and save Obama’s reelection hopes by giving a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention and then campaigning in swing states for Obama. After the attack in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton had some serious explaining to do. After all, it was her State Department that messed up by not providing enough security to the ambassador’s team and then denying requests for additional security.

Yet Clinton was conveniently enabled to avoid the press, the cameras, and in general the spotlight. Susan Rice’s mistakes after Benghazi pale in comparison to Clinton’s mistakes before Benghazi. Susan Rice took Clinton’s place on the Sunday shows, got herself in some trouble, and Obama decided he didn’t want to spend the political capital to protect her the way he protected Hillary.

Hillary Clinton. Clinton made her opposition to Rice known as soon as the latter landed in hot water over the Benghazi controversy. Clinton told her allies on the Hill and in the press that she preferred John Kerry for the job. Message received.

Liberal opinion journalists. Maureen Dowd and Dana Milbank happily obliged, making the fight against Rice obnoxiously personal. Dowd said Rice “rented” her soul. Milbank said Rice was pushy and rude. Lloyd Grove said Rice had a personality disorder. The vicious attacks from the leftists in political media changed the dynamic of the controversy.

Senate GOP. The role of Republicans in the Senate is obvious, but it’s worth drawing attention to one element of it in particular. President Obama wasn’t the only one protecting Hilary Clinton from the glare of the Benghazi fallout; so was John McCain. McCain and Clinton are friends and were fellow senators before Clinton took the job at Foggy Bottom. McCain protected his friend, and was helping another longtime senator as well: John Kerry, who was expected to be the president’s second choice after Rice for secretary of state. McCain wasn’t the only one. “I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins not-so-subtly said last month after meeting with Rice. “I’d rather have John Kerry,” retiring Senator Jon Kyl had said.

Senate Democrats. John Kerry stayed quiet throughout the debate, and wisely so. He had his fellow Democrats in Washington to critique Rice and complement Kerry. “Sen. Kerry is under consideration for a high position because he’s talented, has tremendous integrity and respect — he also happens to be a senator,” said Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin. “Part of your responsibility in the administration is your relationship with the Senate and House, and obviously Sen. Kerry has an incredible relationship. I think colleagues on both sides of the aisle will tell you that.” Translation: if the White House wants full cooperation from the Democratic-run Senate, Kerry would be a wise choice.

Additionally, Kerry’s nomination would open up a Senate seat in Massachusetts, and Governor Deval Patrick has apparently already reached out to Vicki Kennedy–Ted Kennedy’s widow–to consider taking that seat.

In the end Rice had few allies on either side of the aisle in Washington, and the opposite was true of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. A culture of clubbiness that borders on tribal loyalty was just far too much for Rice to overcome.

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McCain Could Be Key for Old Friend Hagel

It looks like Senator John McCain’s strong opposition to Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination set off a chain of events that could end up leading to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for the top role at the Pentagon.

You can’t exactly blame Republican critics of Rice; they had legitimate concerns about her role in Benghazi. But some have speculated McCain’s long-time friendship with John Kerry–now the most likely candidate for secretary of state–may have also played a role.

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It looks like Senator John McCain’s strong opposition to Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination set off a chain of events that could end up leading to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for the top role at the Pentagon.

You can’t exactly blame Republican critics of Rice; they had legitimate concerns about her role in Benghazi. But some have speculated McCain’s long-time friendship with John Kerry–now the most likely candidate for secretary of state–may have also played a role.

McCain has also been very close with fellow Vietnam veteran Hagel, though it’s not clear how much that relationship was strained by the 2008 election, when Hagel became a vocal critic of McCain’s foreign policy.

Now that McCain has decided to stay on the Armed Services Committee, he will obviously play a role in the next secretary of defense confirmation hearings. As a hawk on Iran and a supporter of U.S. intervention in Syria, McCain could provide crucial cover for Hagel, who is considered soft on Iran and opposed to foreign intervention. Or McCain could do to Hagel what Hagel did to him in 2008. He repeatedly whacked McCain on foreign policy during the election, and promptly joined Obama’s national security advisory board once it was over.

“In good conscience, I could not enthusiastically—honestly—go out and endorse [McCain],” Hagel told the New Yorker in 2008. “when we so fundamentally disagree on the future course of our foreign policy and our role in the world.”

Hagel better hope his old friend doesn’t feel the same way.

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The Murder of Birgitta Almby

Who, you ask? Were it not for the valiant agency Morning Star News, which specializes in documenting the persecution of Christians around the world, even fewer news consumers would know the name of this angelic-looking, 71-year-old Swedish lady who was gunned down in the Pakistani city of Lahore:

Shot by two armed men outside her house in Lahore’s upscale Model Town as she returned from her Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA) office in the Kot Lakhpat area, Almby died at about 10 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, FGA Bible School Principal Liaqat Qaiser told Morning Star News.

Almby, director at the FGA Technical Training Institute and also a teacher at the FGA Bible School, was shot in the chest, and the bullet damaged her left lung. Initially she was taken to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where doctors removed the bullet and said her condition was critical because of excessive bleeding.

She had served the Pakistani Christian community for 38 years.

“Almby will be missed dearly,” Qaiser said. “She spent a long time serving the poor and downtrodden Christians in Pakistan, and every Christian is very sad at her demise. But she is in a much better place now.”

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Who, you ask? Were it not for the valiant agency Morning Star News, which specializes in documenting the persecution of Christians around the world, even fewer news consumers would know the name of this angelic-looking, 71-year-old Swedish lady who was gunned down in the Pakistani city of Lahore:

Shot by two armed men outside her house in Lahore’s upscale Model Town as she returned from her Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA) office in the Kot Lakhpat area, Almby died at about 10 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, FGA Bible School Principal Liaqat Qaiser told Morning Star News.

Almby, director at the FGA Technical Training Institute and also a teacher at the FGA Bible School, was shot in the chest, and the bullet damaged her left lung. Initially she was taken to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where doctors removed the bullet and said her condition was critical because of excessive bleeding.

She had served the Pakistani Christian community for 38 years.

“Almby will be missed dearly,” Qaiser said. “She spent a long time serving the poor and downtrodden Christians in Pakistan, and every Christian is very sad at her demise. But she is in a much better place now.”

Who would commit such a monstrous act? According to the local police superintendent, Ijaz Shafi Dogar, the lack of witnesses means that it’s hard to figure out the motive behind Almby’s murder. But Qaiser, Almeby’s colleague, is in no doubt that the responsibility lies with Islamist terrorists. “Who else would want to murder someone as apolitical and harmless as Almby, who had dedicated her life to serving humanity?” he asked. Superintendent Dogar, meanwhile, is making every effort to dampen speculation over the Punjabi Taliban’s involvement in the murder, on the grounds that “there was no word from them regarding the attack on the Swede.”

There is much that can be said about the significance of Almby’s murder. To begin with, it is a particularly horrific example of the violence meted out towards Christians in the Islamic world, whether natives or foreigners, from Egypt to Indonesia. Additionally, Superintendent Dogar’s statements are yet more confirmation that, whether through fear or collusion or a combination of the two, every Pakistani security agency appears to crumble at the mere mention of the Taliban. As The Washington Post reported this week, a new report on Afghanistan issued by The Pentagon “included stark language on Pakistan,” noting the country’s “passive acceptance of insurgent sanctuaries [and] selectivity in counterinsurgency operations that target only Pakistan militants.”

Yet what stands out most of all is the media silence around the killing of Birgitta Almby. Outside of Swedish press outlets like Aftonbladet, which published a heart-rending photograph of Almby with one of her young charges, no media organization of any significance has yet picked up the story.

There is no need, here, for a detailed reprisal of the arguments as to why the slightest offense against the Quran garners world headlines. Nor is it necessary to ask why those Western commentators who hang on every syllable of Muslim anger continue to ignore the plight of Christians in the same part of the world. However, as someone who follows this issue closely, I have to ask whether atrocities like the Almby murder are no longer considered newsworthy.

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The Difference Between a Concession and a Confession

One of the arguments some intelligent conservatives are making is that if Republicans agree to increase rates on the top earners in America, it will do irreparable damage to the GOP. The basic case goes like this:

If Obama succeeds and ends up getting a confession from Republicans that tax cuts are the problem, tax cuts are the cause, what happens to the next Republican who campaigns on tax cuts? Not going to have a prayer.

Now it may well be that raising tax rates will do significant damage to the Republican Party. It may be substantively unwise. And I’m certainly sympathetic to Republicans not wanting to play a role in something they think is bad policy.

But here’s where I think this analysis is wrong.

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One of the arguments some intelligent conservatives are making is that if Republicans agree to increase rates on the top earners in America, it will do irreparable damage to the GOP. The basic case goes like this:

If Obama succeeds and ends up getting a confession from Republicans that tax cuts are the problem, tax cuts are the cause, what happens to the next Republican who campaigns on tax cuts? Not going to have a prayer.

Now it may well be that raising tax rates will do significant damage to the Republican Party. It may be substantively unwise. And I’m certainly sympathetic to Republicans not wanting to play a role in something they think is bad policy.

But here’s where I think this analysis is wrong.

If Republicans agreed to raise the rates on the top income earners in America, it would not be a “confession” that tax cuts are the problem. It would be a concession–one done in order to (a) keep something worse from happening (e.g., higher taxes on everyone, not just the top 2 percent of income earners; and/or the economic damage caused by going over the fiscal cliff) or (b) extracting something better in return (for example, entitlement reforms).

Whether the concession is worthwhile depends on the details of a deal. But conservatives should bear in mind that even a politician as principled as Ronald Reagan agreed to tax increases as part of broader deals. Indeed, Reagan agreed to what at the time was the largest tax increase in American history (the TEFRA tax).

It’s true that Reagan came to regret that decision. But the reason is that he never got the spending cuts he asked for in exchange for the tax increase he reluctantly agreed to. If he had, Reagan would have defended his decision on the grounds that the tax increases, which as a general matter he strongly opposed, were worth what he was able to get in return (spending cuts). And even though Reagan had agreed to tax increases in 1982, he and his party were still able to champion tax cuts in 1984. 

My guess is at the end of the day, Speaker Boehner will (wisely) not agree to raise the top rates, given how obstinate and unreasonable President Obama has shown himself to be. But even if Boehner does agree to an increase in the top rates, it will be a concession, not a confession.

Ronald Reagan agreed to tax increases and in the process didn’t ruin the GOP brand, and neither would John Boehner. 

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