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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "The Blog"

House Republican proposing carbon tax this week

Westlake Legal Group house-republican-proposing-carbon-tax-this-week House Republican proposing carbon tax this week The Blog tax repeal gas tax Carlos Curebelo carbon tax

Westlake Legal Group GasFlare House Republican proposing carbon tax this week The Blog tax repeal gas tax Carlos Curebelo carbon tax

Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo is getting ready to introduce a bill repealing the gas tax in exchange for a carbon tax. It seems rather odd the Miami Republican wants to chart this path, especially after the House GOP overwhelmingly denounced the notion of a carbon tax last week, but Curbelo isn’t backing down from his proposal. He told Miami Herald his proposal is just a “first step” in the discussion.

When you ask this question in a vacuum, is any tax detrimental to economic growth? It’s usually going to be yes…But when you put it in context and you show how [a carbon tax] can be a component of a broader policy that is focused on winning the future, then it makes a whole lot more sense…

We wanted to make it as fair as possible and that’s why we repeal the gas tax. This is not about punishing consumers or punishing producers, it’s about making sure that we can hand off a clean, healthy planet to future generations while being sensitive to economic realities.

Curbelo vows he’s got GOP co-sponsors, so it will be quite interesting to see exactly who is signed onto the proposal. My guess is it probably includes five of the Republicans who voted against the no carbon tax resolution last week. He did get praise in National Review for his attempt, with Reihan Salam calling it a “quirky, innovative approach” but criticizing the size of the tax.

There are more conservative supporters of the idea of a carbon tax, including R Street Institute’s Josiah Neeley. Neeley opined in The Texas Tribune earlier this month a carbon tax can be conservative, if it falls along certain principles. The first two are the idea only companies who produce carbon emissions will actually have to pay the tax i.e. “personal responsibility” (his words, not mine), coupled with encouraging innovation.

While there are many unknowns in the climate debate, the fact that carbon emissions pose risks is hard to deny. According to a statement unanimously signed by members of the Atmospheric Sciences Department at Texas A&M, greenhouse gas emissions are very likely making the planet warmer, and “continued rising temperatures risk serious challenges for human society.” Unlike the environmental left, which seeks to end all use of fossil fuels, a carbon tax would simply keep emitters from imposing the costs of their actions on non-consenting third parties…

(P)utting a price on carbon would provide a powerful incentive for businesses and entrepreneurs to find cheap, cleaner ways to use energy. That might mean increased use of zero-carbon energy, like nuclear power or renewables. Or it might mean new emissions-control technology that would allow continued use of fossil fuels without adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Give American innovators a price signal and watch them create and sell technologies that make clean energy more abundant and affordable. Then watch the ripple effects stoke decarbonization and end energy poverty. Many businesses themselves recognize this logic; ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, First Solar, Exelon, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and General Motors all support an emissions fee for greenhouse gases.

Uh. Huh.

Neeley continued his defense of a carbon tax by likening to a sin tax and swearing it won’t grow government.

(W)hen you tax something, you discourage it. With the current taxes on income and capital gains, Americans get less of what they want more of — in this case, work and investment. Revenue from a carbon tax could be used to cut or repeal these taxes, thereby encouraging greater economic prosperity. Such “tax swaps” have been a key feature of major conservative tax reforms, from President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax overhaul to last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Economic analysis suggests that using carbon tax revenue to offset more burdensome taxes would boost gross domestic product even before considering any environmental benefits. Arthur Laffer, President Reagan’s economics adviser, calls such a tax swap “a no brainer.”

Finally, a carbon tax is a way to address the risks of climate change without growing government. Whether the government returns revenues to Americans in the form of a tax swap or as a cash dividend, a carbon tax need not grow government. In fact, it could shrink it. Federal and state governments spend billions in subsidies and impose billions in regulatory costs through mandates designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With a revenue-neutral carbon tax, many of these subsidies and mandates would become redundant.

These defenses don’t make sense.

A reminder to Neeley – who is much smarter than I’ll ever be – a tax (much like a tariff) will be passed down to its consumer. Oil and gas companies would be able to avoid taking any hit in the wallet by increasing prices, as would automobile makers. The notion they wouldn’t is rather ludicrous and something David Ricardo noted in The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation when he wrote, “We have already seen, that the effect of a direct tax on corn and raw produce, is, if money be also produced in the country, to raise the price of all commodities, in proportion as raw produce enters into their composition, and thereby to destroy the natural relation which previously existed between them.” There is nothing stopping ExxonMobil or Ford from doing the same.

I can understand why the idea of a tax swap seems appealing, yet I’m reminded when Arizona temporarily raised the sales tax in 2010 to avoid budget cuts. Then Governor Jan Brewer attempted to make the tax permanent, despite swearing she opposed the notion, only to have it rejected by voters in 2013. The government wants to soak up as much money as possible. It’s safe to say Congress would probably find some reason to bring a gas tax (or any other repealed tax) back, under the idea it would pay for one program or another.

It should also be remembered there’s no impetus for the government to actually shrink in size because of elections. Politicians want to stay in power, as they are “inferior men,” to quote H.L. Mencken, and they want to stay beholden to their allies inside and outside the halls of government. Would someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Chuck Schumer actually be in favor of a tax swap? My guess is no because they want government to hold onto as much cash as possible. FreedomWorks also rhetorically asked if Americans would end up being billed by the federal government for its carbon footprint.

The key factor in all of this is the fact the government has to cut expenses. Elected politicians refuse to – which is why taxes end up being raised at some point. Curbelo’s forthcoming proposal to repeal the gas tax is laudable, but his idea to replace it with a carbon tax should be rejected.

The post House Republican proposing carbon tax this week appeared first on Hot Air.

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The next woman to try playing in a PGA tourney came up considerably short

Westlake Legal Group the-next-woman-to-try-playing-in-a-pga-tourney-came-up-considerably-short The next woman to try playing in a PGA tourney came up considerably short Women The Blog Sports Golf gender gap

Westlake Legal Group BrittanyLincicome-1 The next woman to try playing in a PGA tourney came up considerably short Women The Blog Sports Golf gender gap

The golf world was watching in fascination as the British Open was drawing to a close, with Tiger Woods still “lurking” within striking distance, and several younger players coming on strong. But as we discussed on Thursday there was some unique excitement taking place at the Barbasol Championship, where LPGA star Brittany Lincicome was teeing off against the men. Unfortunately for her, when the end of Friday’s round came along, Lincicome didn’t make the cut to play on into the weekend. In fact, it wasn’t even close. (USA Today)

Despite shooting 1-under-par 71 in a strong second round Saturday, Lincicome finished 36 holes in 5-over par 149 and failed to make the cut for the tournament’s third round.

“It was cool just to be inside the ropes with the guys, and it’s been a dream come true playing in this event,” Lincicome said. ” A lot of people don’t realize how good (LPGA golfers) are.”

As she prepared to make history this week as only the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, Lincicome received advice from a few of the LPGA greats who had walked the path before her.

Annika Sorenstam told her to stay off social media and watch a movie to relax the night before the tournament; instead, Lincicome scrolled Twitter after eating dinner with her family.

Lincicome did have a fairly solid second round, going one under par thanks to an incredible fairway shot for an eagle on the 17th. But that didn’t make up for her six over par performance on Thursday. And truth be told, even if she had managed to shoot even par on Thursday she would have still missed the cut. She finished the second round at five over par total while the cut fell at two under. That left her a full seven shots behind those who would go on to play on Saturday. She did manage to beat three of the more than 160 male players who completed both rounds. (Technically she also “beat” eight other players who didn’t finish both of the first two rounds.)

In other words, when measured in an unbiased fashion against the rest of the field, that was simply an awful performance. The real question is… why? Lincicome is at the top of her game with multiple LPGA championships under her belt. She’s arguably one of the best women in the game right now. I’ll grant you that some jitters over all the media attention could definitely have been a factor on the first day, but that goes for anyone who steps up to the tee in the PGA to a certain extent.

How did she finish that close to the absolute bottom of a field where basically every decently ranked male player was in Europe playing at the British Open? The answer, as in so many things, comes down to the fact that men are built differently than women. This isn’t a real mystery like why a woman has never won the world chess championships. (And I still have zero explanation for that one.) The men are, on average, taller, with a longer swing length. They develop upper body muscle mass faster and more effectively than women. Their hips rotate differently than women’s, lending to a more full swing. Put all of that together and they’re just going to put the ball further down the fairway, setting themselves up with easier approach shots. (That matters a lot because your average LPGA course is around 6,600 yards total while PGA courses go as long as 7,700 yards. The Masters course at Augusta is 7,435.)

That means that Lincicome could have the best short game going but still be struggling to get a decent shot at a birdie on virtually every hole. Does that mean that LPGA players shouldn’t be allowed to play in PGA tournaments? No. As I said on Thursday, if they can qualify for a spot they should be given a chance. And sponsor invitations (such as the one Lincicome was offered here) are an accepted part of the league rules and men sometimes benefit from them also, so that’s just fine.

But this is one more reminder that we don’t need to pretend that the two genders are somehow interchangeable. Men and women are different in frequently wonderful (or befuddling) ways. When it comes to physical competition we shouldn’t put so much pressure on women to prove they are the same as men. But at least in the case of golf, we should let them try if they wish to.

The post The next woman to try playing in a PGA tourney came up considerably short appeared first on Hot Air.

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Trey Gowdy: If there was any evidence that Trump colluded, Adam Schiff would have leaked it already

Westlake Legal Group trey-gowdy-if-there-was-any-evidence-that-trump-colluded-adam-schiff-would-have-leaked-it-already Trey Gowdy: If there was any evidence that Trump colluded, Adam Schiff would have leaked it already Trump Trey Gowdy The Blog russiagate putin FOX News Sunday collusion Carter Page adam schiff

Westlake Legal Group tg-2 Trey Gowdy: If there was any evidence that Trump colluded, Adam Schiff would have leaked it already Trump Trey Gowdy The Blog russiagate putin FOX News Sunday collusion Carter Page adam schiff

This point has been made many times, sometimes jokingly, sometimes less so, but it remains a good one — particularly coming from Gowdy, who’s reviewed more of the original intel documents than any other House Republican, I believe. He still has no reason to think Trump coordinated with Russia in 2016, and given Schiff’s habit of elbowing his way in front of any camera within 1,000 yards to chatter about Russiagate, the same must be true among Democrats. It’s a safe bet that, after a year of investigating, Congress has nothing on Trump. Whether Bob Mueller has something on him is, of course, a different question.

Do note the flip side to Gowdy’s point, though. If we can draw an inference that Trump is not guilty from the fact that nothing incriminating has leaked, can we draw an inference that the “deep state” isn’t as dastardly as it’s cracked up to be? Peter Strzok made the point during his testimony a few weeks ago that if he was really hellbent on taking down Trump, he would have spilled everything the FBI had on Russiagate to that point — including the dossier — to the New York Times or Washington Post a week before the election. He didn’t. If the “deep state” is as corrupt as Trump implies, Strzok might even have taken it upon himself to manufacture fake evidence whole cloth to implicate the president. He hasn’t. The fact that no evidence of collusion involving POTUS himself has emerged (yet) cuts several ways.

Bret Baier presses Gowdy on the fact that one of his Republican colleagues, Rep. Will Hurd, published an op-ed after the Putin summit this week claiming that Putin is “manipulating” Trump. What made that noteworthy is that Hurd’s not just a backbencher in Congress. He’s a CIA veteran:

Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.

The president’s failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans. By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.

Note how carefully Hurd chooses his words. He’s not claiming collusion or conspiracy, he’s not even suggesting blackmail. You might charitably read his point about “manipulation” as accusing Trump of nothing more than having been charmed by Putin into giving too much credence to Russia’s version of events. But obviously, when a CIA vet accuses the president of the United States (a member of his own party!) of being manipulated by the president of Russia, he’s hinting at something more meaningful than Trump merely being duped. When Baier presses Gowdy to reconcile Hurd’s point with his own insistence that there’s no “there” there on collusion, Gowdy dodges. Hmmm.

The clip below is actually a perfect expression of how heterodox his opinions on the Russiagate clusterfark are. The standard partisan battle lines are “the deep state is heroically uncovering evidence of collusion” on the one hand and “this liberal witch hunt has produced absolutely nothing” on the other. Gowdy won’t be penned in. Among the positions he took this morning in “Fox News Sunday,” in no particular order:

  • Once you’ve seen the evidence, you know there’s not a shadow of a doubt that Russia interfered in 2016
  • If Trump won’t listen to his natsec people about that, maybe they should resign(!)
  • It’s possible to think Russia did wrong but that Trump was legitimately elected
  • The FBI’s FISA warrant application against Carter Page is tainted by the fact that it didn’t specify that the dossier was paid for by Team Clinton
  • Peter Strzok is a weasel whose own texts prove that he was actively looking to take down Trump, and Comey’s recent cheering for Democrats only makes it worse
  • Russia’s crime in 2016 was a crime against all Americans, not just Democrats

You’d think that last point, at least, wouldn’t be contentious, but alas.

He’s made the point before that the FBI’s failure to mention in the FISA application that the dossier was subsidized by Hillary’s campaign was a major, glaring flaw. It was his core defense of the Nunes memo about the application several months ago, in fact. Read this Julian Sanchez thread for the counterpoint, though, as he sifted through the newly released application documents last night. It’s true that the FBI didn’t use the words “Hillary Clinton” but they made it clear to the FISA judges that the dossier was the product of political oppo research against a candidate, just in case the courts wanted to use that fact as grounds to deny the application. The application runs some 50 pages, with large chunks redacted, suggesting that the feds had information beyond the dossier that can’t be made public even now. It’s hard to believe that taking the extra step of including the magic words “Hillary Clinton” would themselves have flipped the court from signing off on the warrant to rejecting it, but that’s what you need to believe to think that the omission Gowdy mentions was some sort of fatal error. Although, in the end, maybe even he’s not suggesting that: He may just be saying that it’s further evidence that the FBI was a little too eager to investigate Trump’s campaign and was willing to be coy in what it revealed to the FISA Court in order to pursue the investigation.

The post Trey Gowdy: If there was any evidence that Trump colluded, Adam Schiff would have leaked it already appeared first on Hot Air.

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New York using facial recognition software at bridges, toll roads

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Westlake Legal Group AndrewCuomo New York using facial recognition software at bridges, toll roads The Blog speed cameras Software New York governor facial recognition cameras Andrew Cuomo

Anyone who has been reading this site for a while can tell you that it’s a rare day indeed when I find some area of agreement with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. (And that’s putting it mildly.) But I’m still more than willing to give credit when credit is due and law enforcement policy in New York is no exception. In a recent announcement, Governor Cuomo stunned (or even angered) many of his progressive supporters when he announced that cameras with facial recognition software were being installed to spot criminals in some of the state’s traffic tunnels, bridges and other choke points. This is a trend that’s been spreading across the nation of late, but it’s still rather surprising to see it in a liberal bastion like the Empire State. (NY Post)

Facial-recognition cameras at bridge and tunnel toll plazas across the city are already scanning drivers’ visages and feeding them into databases to catch suspected criminals, Gov. Cuomo revealed Friday.

“When it reads that license plate, it reads it for scofflaws . . . [but] the toll is almost the least significant contribution that this electronic equipment can actually perform,” Cuomo said at a press conference outside the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

“We are now moving to facial-recognition technology which takes it to a whole new level, where it can see the face of the person in the car and run that technology against databases.

“Because many times a person will turn their head when they see a security camera, so they are now experimenting with technology that just identifies a person by their ear, believe it or not,” he continued.

As you would expect, the Civil Liberties Union of New York was immediately up in arms. They chastised the governor for adopting technology which they claim is notoriously inaccurate at recognizing “people of color, women and children.” Really? I have heard that facial recognition software has trouble identifying children over periods of time because their features change so rapidly. But when it comes to adults, I had been under the impression that it was mostly a psychological trick of the trade to say that people of one race (usually whites) are unable to recognize or differentiate between people of another race. If that problem is built into our software it would be really shocking. In fact, one might almost call the claim racist.

The NYCLU went on to make the typical “Big Brother is watching” case.

“Government should not be casting a dragnet to track everyone going about their day through the state’s bridges and tunnels, especially not when that data could be shared with other law-enforcement agencies, including immigration authorities.”

We’ve heard it so often now that most people involved in this debate can probably recite it by heart. But the fact is, the government isn’t tracking everyone going about their daily business. There’s a database of people who are already known and sought by the police. The cameras take pictures of people passing through these traffic channels and compare the pictures to the people in that database. If they match one of the suspects in the database an alarm goes off. If not, the person is not flagged.

New York City (and the rest of the state) has seen a remarkable decrease in violent crime even as other cities have surged back to levels not seen in decades. One reason is smarter policing even when they don’t have more police. The Mayor of New York City is no friend to the cops and doesn’t provide them with much support, but overall they still get the job done. So take this as a tip of the hat to Governor Cuomo for risking some political damage by agreeing to make these tools available to law enforcement.

The post New York using facial recognition software at bridges, toll roads appeared first on Hot Air.

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Should somebody hire Carter Page a lawyer? (video)

Westlake Legal Group should-somebody-hire-carter-page-a-lawyer-video Should somebody hire Carter Page a lawyer? (video) warrant The Blog Russia Jake Tapper FISA Court CNN Carter Page

Westlake Legal Group page Should somebody hire Carter Page a lawyer? (video) warrant The Blog Russia Jake Tapper FISA Court CNN Carter Page

If you missed CNN’s State of the Union this morning there was a rather remarkable interview with Carter Page. Jake Tapper spent pretty much the entire segment bringing up the recently released FISA warrant (or at least the smidgens of it not redacted) and asking Page about his previous involvement with the Russians. Of key interest are Tapper’s questions about Page’s previous boasts of having been an “informal adviser” to the Kremlin back in 2013. He also repeatedly asks the guest whether not he was in contact with certain Russian officials and if they ever discussed the 2016 campaign, Russian information which might be damaging to the Clinton campaign and all the rest. As you’ll see in this video, Page repeatedly attempts to deflect the question by saying, “let’s see what [the government] has to say.” But finally, Tapper corners him into claiming that he’s never even met or had any contact with the two officials named in the warrant.

The Hill pulled some of the early highlights and features Page’s answers about how crazy of an idea it is that he was ever involved.

“This is so ridiculous it’s just beyond words,” Page told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Page during the interview repeatedly sought to cast information laid out in the documents as “spin,” and often dodged direct questions about his connections to Russian officials.

“I’ve never been an agent of a foreign power by any stretch of the imagination,” Page said.

The President was weighing in early on the subject and it’s no surprise how he interpreted it all.

I mostly just wanted to share the interview with everyone, but there are at least two questions that come to mind. First of all, so much of that warrant is redacted that is seems tough for either side to be celebrating very much. And Carter Page obviously has no more of an idea what’s in the redacted portions than the rest of us do. If there’s really “no there, there,” then much of the case (at least in the court of public opinion) starts to collapse. But it strains credulity to think that the government would cite specific meetings between Page and named Russian officials if they have nothing to back it up but that dossier. Something has to give on that point and if Page comes up on the short end of the stick he’s in deep trouble.

The other, parallel point which some of us were batting around on Twitter this morning was the question of why Page was on television at all. I understand the desire for Tapper to get the interview and make him stand against the wheel, but does Carter Page have a lawyer? He’s facing some potentially devastating charges which no amount of good PR in the press is going to affect in a court of law. Shouldn’t there be somebody telling him to keep his mouth shut and refer all questions to his attorney? That seems to be the position Rick Wilson was taking.

If they’ve got the goods on Page meeting with those specific Russians and he’s going out on a PR tour flatly denying the claims, he’s buying himself more and more trouble. And I somehow doubt there’s going to be a pardon in it for him down the road. But we still have to recognize the possibility that he’s telling the truth – even a watered down, heavily spun version of it – and the government was overplaying their hand. (Unlikely in my opinion, but nobody is releasing enough verifiable information to say either way just yet.)

So does anyone still believe this entire investigation is going to be wrapped up in August? If you ask me, we’ll be lucky if it’s August of next year.

The post Should somebody hire Carter Page a lawyer? (video) appeared first on Hot Air.

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The Shepherd of shepherds: Sunday reflection

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Westlake Legal Group jesus-shepherd-galla-placidia The Shepherd of shepherds: Sunday reflection The Blog Sunday reflection religion Christianity

This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 6:30–34:

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

One of the earliest images of Christ in the church was that of the Good Shepherd. Icons in the Holy Land and in Rome depict Christ with a lamb across his shoulders in places that date back to the first centuries of the church. However, as we see in today’s readings, the image of the Lord as a shepherd goes back as far as David’s time, and even back as far as Joseph, another boy shepherd who became a great leader of Israel centuries before David’s anointing.

In our first reading today, the prophet Jeremiah talks explicitly of a great ruler to come who will shepherd Israel again. By Jeremiah’s time, the kingdom of David has torn itself in two, and the northern kingdom has already fallen to the Assyrians. The southern kingdom of Judah has already begun to fall into the Babylonian exile; Jeremiah prophesies the fall of Jerusalem unless Judah repents, but is largely ignored. The fall of both kingdoms resulted from the decision to pursue worldly power rather than to fulfill the mission of God’s people to serve as a nation of priests and to remain holy and true to the covenant. The Lord had called both kingdoms to be shepherds to the Israelites and Judeans.

Instead, the shepherds had betrayed the flocks, Jeremiah warned, and the Lord’s wrath would be on them:

Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name they give him: “The LORD our justice.”

The people of the Lord had been led astray, and the power of those shepherds had to be destroyed. This was a lesson that the Lord had to teach over and over again — that the power of shepherds comes from Him, not from themselves and certainly not for themselves. A shepherd’s duty is to lovingly care for each of its members, to protect them from all dangers, to keep them from going astray, and to lead them to safe pastures and then back home.

Today’s reading from the most well-known of all psalms, Psalm 23 (Psalm 22 in some arrangements), is a poem of comfort for the flock. David’s six-verse psalm expresses joy in the Lord as a shepherd, but it’s also an instruction on shepherding for those who would serve the Lord. Such a shepherd should provide food, water, protection, and loving care.

Jeremiah promises that the Lord will provide a great Shepherd from the House of David to fulfill the mission of God’s people. Zechariah does as well in the time of the first return from Babylonian captivity, more than a century after Jeremiah. The promise of a new shepherd for Israel was well known by the time Mark’s Gospel makes reference to Jesus as shepherd in dealing with the crowd, and by the time Jesus uses the image pointedly in His parables.

In this Gospel reading, Jesus fulfills that prophesy in two ways. Mark makes explicit reference to the image in His love and care for the crowd.  However, Jesus’ sheltering of the disciples hearkens back to Jeremiah’s promise from the Lord to provide new shepherds to Israel, too.

Consider what it must have been like for the disciples. They took no provisions at all, relying on the charity of those they visited. We do not know how long or far they traveled, but it had to have been some time and distance in order to effectively spread the word. Unlike those of us traveling these days with smartphones and Internet connections, they had no way of communicating back to a home office until they themselves returned to Jesus. The disciples had to do this in a land under foreign occupation, where the people were at times very unreceptive to the message, as the Nazarenes were just before they left. Just the mere act of going on this mission was an act of tremendous faith, not knowing for certain when they would return or even whether they would all meet again.

When they return, the disciples had to have been exhausted, but they still wanted to tell Jesus all about their travels and successes. Jesus, however, is more concerned for them. Rather than have them continue to work, He leads them to a place where they can rest and recover from their journey. In the words of Psalm 23, Jesus leads them to a “green pasture,” where he gives them rest. The purpose of this seems to be to refresh their bodies, but perhaps also to refresh their souls.

However, having drawn a crowd, Jesus realizes that He must now shepherd them as well. After having spent several hours teaching them, the disciples remind Jesus that the people will need to eat before leaving and ask what they should buy. Rather than have the disciples provision for food, Jesus performs the miracle of the Multiplication, making five loaves of bread and two fish into more than enough food for thousands. Once again, He has provided a pasture and the refreshment of both body and soul, this time for the crowd as well as the disciples.

When Jesus sent the disciples out on their mission, He made them into shepherds themselves, looking for the lost sheep and helping them to return home. Jesus then refreshed the shepherds so that they could participate in providing “green pastures” through the Multiplication. Jesus “appointed” these shepherds over His flock precisely as Jeremiah prophesied, so that we “need no longer fear and tremble.”

Jesus shepherds the shepherds, as well as all of us. He appointed them to act in His stead after the end of His mission on Earth. In turn, they all found lost sheep to be gathered into His flock, into His church, as Paul did in a number of cities. As he wrote to the Ephesians, “through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father,” who promised that all who desire green pastures and rest will be gathered to Him. They continue that mission to this day.

That is why the image of Christ the Good Shepherd is so enduring. It brings not just hope, but comfort and an end to fear. Even those who have been led astray can still find their way home, as the Shepherd of shepherds will keep calling us all back home.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

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George H.W. Bush’s cardiologist murdered in Houston Medical Center

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A respected Houston cardiologist was murdered Friday as he rode his bicycle to work in the Medical Center. Dr. Mark Hausknecht, age 65, was shot and rushed to the hospital but died. The murderer was also riding a bicycle. He rode past Dr. Hausknecht before turning and firing two shots at him. The shooter then rode off.

This is a bizarre story. Dr. Hausknecht treated former President George H.W. Bush in 2000 for an irregular heartbeat. Bush released a statement of his appreciation for the doctor’s care.

In 2000, Hausknecht appeared at a news conference at Methodist with Bush after the 41st president was treated for an irregular heartbeat.

A spokesman for the former president offered prayer and condolence to the doctor’s family, colleagues and supporters.

“Mark was a fantastic cardiologist and a good man,” Bush said in a statement. “I will always be grateful for his exceptional, compassionate care. His family is in our prayers.”

The Houston Medical Center is a huge complex of world-class hospitals and medical offices. One well-known hospital there is MD Anderson Cancer Center which consistently is ranked as the best in the country.

The hospital said Hausknecht was an important member of the Houston Methodist staff and the DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV reports.

The area where the shooting took place is part of a 1,345-acre complex of hospitals and medical institutions, including the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and is busy with traffic and pedestrians during the day.

This act of violence happened about 9:00 A.M. on a sidewalk as Dr. Hausknecht made his way to work. He normally rode his bicycle to work and he was a fitness buff. As I write this late Saturday night, a motive still isn’t known for the murder. Was it a random act of violence or was it a targeted hit? Police are asking for the public to keep an eye out for the suspect. Described as either a white man or a Hispanic man, he is about 30 years old and was wearing a grey warm-up jacket, khaki shorts, and a tan baseball cap.

Sadly, murders are not uncommon in our nation’s fourth largest city but this one is odd. Adding to the unusual case, in my opinion, is a statement released by the doctor’s widow on Sunday. Instead of focusing on law enforcement’s efforts in catching her husband’s killer, she is advocating for gun control. My intention is not to be disrespectful to a grieving widow, an emergency physician, but dang, that sure didn’t take long.

His widow, emergency physician Dr. Georgia R. Hsieh, put out a statement mid-day Saturday, as her family and the tight-knit medical community reeled from the crime.

“‘Senseless’ has become a trite adjective to describe these tragedies, but what IS senseless is the misguided notion that any society with more guns is a safer society,” Hsieh wrote. “When students cannot go to school without fear, and teachers need to arm themselves, what has this country come to?”

“So many have asked what can be done to help,” she wrote. “While law enforcement has given you their focus on finding the criminal, I am asking you to use your vote and your voice to stem the tide of this growing public health epidemic. Write, email or tweet your congressman urging sensible gun laws. We owe it to future generations to leave a safer environment.”

As with everything in today’s hyper-partisan political environment, it looks like even grief has been politicalized. Nothing is known yet about this case. Was the killer mentally deranged? Was it a murder of revenge? We don’t even know if he legally purchased the gun used in the murder. This call to political action just sounds premature.

A man who saved countless lives lost his unexpectedly in a blink of an eye. Rest in peace, Doc. Here’s hoping the killer is found quickly and swift justice is served.

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Is this finally the end for Julian Assange?

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This story has been in the making since 2012, but according to Glenn Greenwald, the asylum of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in Ecuador’s London embassy is coming to an end, possibly as soon as this week. Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno is in London where he is allegedly meeting with British officials to discuss the end of Assange’s asylum and the details of turning him over to British authorities.

So with Assange having been a “guest” at the embassy (if a very troublesome one at times) for so long, what’s changed now? Kimberly Leonard at the Washington Examiner explains that the breaking point has little to do with England, the United States or even Sweden (where he was originally charged with sexual assault, starting this entire mess), but instead is being driven by Spain.

During the last three months, Assange has been blocked from accessing the Internet, with officials saying that he violated an agreement not to intervene in state affairs. He angered Spanish officials when he tweeted support for separatist leaders in Catalonia who sought to secede last year.

Moreno, who was elected in May, has called Assange an “inherited problem” and a “stone in the shoe.”

Ecuador has a very close relationship with Spain in matters of both trade and diplomacy and wants to remain in their good graces. Moreno isn’t quite as fearful of ticking off the governments of the United States or Great Britain as he would be of getting under the skin of Madrid. But he’s also said to be more amenable to working with western governments than his predecessor. After Assange started publicly criticizing Spain’s handling of the Catalan independence movement, he went from being an inconvenience to a serious diplomatic problem.

So what happens next? That’s an open question for now and Greenwald has some rather wild and wooly theories about it. The Brits don’t have much in the way of outstanding charges against Assange aside from a “Failure to Surrender” case. (Which should be worth only a few months in jail and a modest fine at best.) The bigger question is whether or not the United States would seek to extradite him. We’ve been unable to get our hands on Edward Snowden because we don’t have an extradition agreement with the Russians, but we do have one with the Brits.

Since Assange could challenge any such extradition in court it could take months or even years to sort out, and given Trump’s lack of popularity in England right now, Assange would likely have a lot of public support. But that doesn’t make it impossible for some American agents to be waiting when Assange emerges, ready to start cutting a deal with the Brits. Since Assange is a demonstrated flight risk, he’d probably wind up sitting in an English jail while all this plays out.

But would President Trump greenlight such a plan? He’s been a fan of Wikileaks at times in the past, particularly when it helped with his presidential campaign. But Assange is also the only person who really knows where he got the DNC emails he published. He’s claimed from the beginning that he didn’t get them from the Russians, but rather from a disgruntled DNC worker who was upset over the way they were treating Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primary. Having Assange’s voice chiming in to further muddy the waters of the Russia investigation might be some tempting fruit for Donald Trump.

An attempt at prosecuting Assange would be a bloody mess in U.S. courts. He released secrets (first stolen by Chelsea Manning) but should he be treated as a “journalist” for publishing them at Wikileaks or as a co-conspirator in the mishandling of classified information? Technically a journalist publishing such material is also guilty of a felony but the government has been hesitant to prosecute anyone on those grounds. Assange is more of a “quasi-journalist” however and might make for an easier case to sell.

It’s going to be interesting to be sure. But I don’t think we should expect a quick resolution. It may be years before Assange is ever either entirely free to go about his business or on trial either here or in the U.K. Odds are that the only difference between the past six years and the immediate future is where he’ll be locked up.

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Killer robot developers promise not to develop killer robots

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After years of scaring the pants off of the world’s human population with plans which obviously seemed designed to change the Terminator movies into documentaries, the larger companies working on developing artificial intelligence (AI) seem to have gotten the message. Thousands of researchers from more than 160 tech companies recently signed on to a pledge saying they wouldn’t support the creation of killer robots. To put it in slightly more technical terms, they were rejecting the development of autonomous machines with the ability to kill human beings. The first obvious question is… that wasn’t already a thing? But in any event, the agreement has been made so I’m sure you can all sleep better tonight, right? (NY Post)

Over 160 companies working in artificial intelligence have signed a pledge not to develop lethal autonomous weapons.

The pledge, which was signed by 2,400 individuals including representatives from Google DeepMind, the European Association for AI and University College London, says that signatories will “neither participate in nor support the development, manufacture, trade, or use of lethal autonomous weapons.”

The pledge was announced by Max Tegmark, president of the Future of Life Institute, which organized the effort.

All sorts of AI eggheads who signed the agreement were offering quotes about how important this is. One of them stated that decisions over life and death can not be handed off to machines because “they do not have the ethics to do so.” That’s a fairly solid assumption as far as I can tell. How can we predict what the “ethics” of an autonomous machine intelligence would be or even if the concept of ethics would have any meaning to it?

None of this spells the end of the development of either AI or increasingly powerful robots. In fact, we’re still wrestling with the question of whether or not artificial intelligence might be developing itself. Some of the experts studying AI and all it portends in university settings have placed the chances that artificial intelligence has already arisen but not revealed itself to us as high as 20%. Others who don’t think it’s happened yet give us roughly 50 years at the outside before AI will be on the verge of taking over. The technology has already established beachheads everywhere, including in our homes. The vacuum cleaners, the televisions and the refrigerators are already talking to each other. In many smart homes, the software can lock the doors on you. (Keeping you either in or out.) All it needs is the “brains” to come in over the Internet of Things.

Of course, a pledge such as this sounds great on paper, but it comes with some inherent flaws. What if somebody changes their mind and decides that there’s some good money to be made with autonomous mechanized soldiers? And then there’s the fact that not everybody has signed the pledge. In fact, the people who might be most likely to cause this sort of disaster are probably the ones who would be least likely to sign it.

Allow me to give you an example. You know who didn’t take the pledge? Boston Dynamics. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. When the robot revolution comes to destroy us all, it will begin with mechanical nightmares crashing through the doors of Boston Dynamics. Have you seen what they’ve been up to with their robot dog called SpotMini?

Take a look at this video and tell me if it doesn’t make you want to move off the grid immediately. At the very end of the video, after what seems to be the closing credit screen, they’ve inserted what I assume was meant to be a humorous “blooper” where the robot dog is supposed to get a beer out of the fridge and bring it to its human master. Watch that scene and picture just how wrong it could go from there.

The people signing the pledge seem to be talking primarily about robotic soldiers or “thinking tanks.” But AI really doesn’t need any guns. Those robotic dogs in that video could squash your skull like a grape if they ever woke up and decided they didn’t feel like cleaning up your apartment after your next party. (And if you skipped the video, yes… the robot dog is loading the dishwasher and tossing out the trash in the apartment.) And the vacuum cleaner already told the dog your daily schedule.

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Nikki Haley: For peace, we need to tell the truth about Hamas

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UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, along with presidential adviser Jared Kushner, ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and assistant to the president Jason Greenblatt, published a piece today at CNN arguing that peace in Gaza will require telling the truth about Hamas. Haley recounts a recent vote in the UN when it seemed, for the first time, a majority of other nations might actually agree:

On the surface, everything about the General Assembly session on June 13 appeared to be business as usual. Algeria offered a grossly one-sided resolution blaming Israel — and Israel alone — for the recent violence in Gaza. The resolution blatantly ignored the facts.

Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, has been inciting the violence at the Israeli boundary fence for months, using Palestinian civilians as human shields. And Hamas and other terror groups have fired more than 100 rockets and sent untold numbers of flaming kites, some displaying swastikas, into Israel in the past month, hoping to kill as many Israeli civilians and destroy as much property as possible. And yet the Algerian resolution not only failed to hold Hamas terrorists accountable for their role in the violence, it failed to mention Hamas at all.

In response, the United States proposed a simple amendment to the resolution that called out Hamas for its role in the skirmishes. A minimum fealty to the truth demanded that the United Nations condemn Hamas by name for firing rockets into Israel and for allowing other terror groups to do the same…

When the amendment came to a vote, a miracle by UN standards happened. Although the measure ultimately failed for technical reasons, more nations voted for holding Hamas accountable with the US amendment than against it.

For the first time in the United Nations, more nations than not acknowledged that peace between Israel and the Palestinian people must be built on a foundation of truth regarding Hamas.

Haley goes on to say that this kind of realism will be part of any U.S. sponsored peace proposal. If you haven’t been keeping up with what is going on in Gaza, Israel unleashed a string of attacks on Hamas outposts after an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper:

On Friday, a Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier along the border — the first casualty it has sustained in four years — and Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters. Four Palestinians were killed, of which three were Hamas militants.

“The attack delivered a severe blow to the Hamas’s training array, command and control abilities, weaponry, aerial defense and logistic capabilities along with additional military infrastructure,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that the strikes “will intensify as necessary.”…

In a brief statement early Saturday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the movement accepted the cease-fire brokered by Egyptian and United Nations officials and that calm had been restored. Later, the Israeli military announced a return to civilian routine along the volatile border.

So, further escalation of the conflict has been avoided for now but there’s no telling how long it will last. While Hamas lacks the military strength to make significant strikes on Israel, its leaders continue to talk in terms of ethnic cleansing. It’s difficult to imagine making peace so long as these people are in control:

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