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RELIGION … NEVER A GOOD TOPIC TO ARGUE

I’ve never been one to argue about religion.

I will share my beliefs with you, and they are essential to my faith, but I’m not interested in arguing over religion — even if we are of the same religion.

So, I’m not going to debate what an Oklahoma minister did, but I do have an opinion.
Five years ago, this minister sued, claiming the Oklahoma license plate is an affront to his Christian beliefs. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled the minister’s case can proceed.

The plate features a young Apache warrior shooting an arrow skyward as depicted by Allen Houser’s “Sacred Raid Arrow”.
The pastor says,”I think it’s important to understand that whether it was a Native American symbol or a symbol of any other faith, the issue would be the same.”

The minister’s attorney says his client isn’t trying to force the state to get rid of almost 3 million license plates with the image … only that he be given another option … without having to pay for a vanity plate.

Oklahoma has 200 specialty plates … one even features the phrase: In God We Trust. Each does carry an additional fee from $18 to $35 each year.

The curator for sculptor Allan Houser’s estate says: The piece isn’t worshipping a rain god…it is, in a sense, an offering of prayer.
The minister’s attorney says his client is not criticizing Native Americans nor their rich history in Oklahoma. He says the plate “communicate(s) a religious belief that he doesn’t hold.”

I haven’t told you the minister’s denomination because it really doesn’t play a role in this story, but I will say that I haven’t seen a vast number of religious leaders siding with the minister.

It is his personal belief and if he considers the plate an “affront” to his belief… that is the right of the First Amendment.

Still, since this is truly a “federal case” … I just have to say … with all due respect for the minister’s personal belief … I just can’t see the reason for the argument.

My personal opinion is … I don’t find the license plate offensive to my religion, but then, I’m not a man of the cloth and I’m a terrible sinner in constant need of forgiveness and mercy.

I am reminded of author Robert Fulghum who wrote: Arguing over the correct name for God is like fleas arguing over the name of the dog.

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TRAITOR OR HERO?

Edward Snowden admits he leaked details of a secret government program collecting massive phone and Internet data.
He immediately triggered a major news story that is still growing; in fact, there are reports that even more information will be coming.
Snowden was a contractor with the National Security Agency and decided the public needed to know how the NSA was spying on Americans.

So, now as the story unfolds, the government is preparing criminal charges against Snowden while the nation debates what he did.
There are those who say that he is a traitor and should be fully prosecuted for releasing how the NSA works; at the same time, there are those on the other side who are defending Snowden.

The debate is creating strange bedfellows.

Reportedly, the Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore and Conservative commentator Glenn Beck … both tweeted that they think Snowden is a “hero”.

So where do you stand?

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AN AMERICAN STORY

A HawkI appreciate that so many of you have asked if I would resume the Friday tradition of AN AMERICAN STORY. I’m glad that you have enjoyed them and this is the first on this new FB page. In the future, I might repeat someprevious stories knowing that now I’m also reaching a new audience; so those who have been long time readers, I hope you will understand.
Today’s story is different than any previous because it involves something that happened just this week to me, and I wanted to share it with you.
Dawn was breaking and I was already at the computer working on a FB post. My eyes were buried in my research and then for some reason I raised my head and turned to look at the balcony.
There was a Red-Tailed Hawk … at least 20 inches tall, perched on the railing.
I slowly picked up my phone and got the best pictures I could. He didn’t move. Slowly, I stepped out of the room and woke my wife so she could see it; she got a few more shots with her camera.
Then, I slowly moved closer and closer.
The hawk swiveled his head in search of prey; a couple of sparrows and even a Mockingbird dived at him, but he remained steady.
I got less than 10 feet from him; it is possible that with the reflection from the glass he couldn’t see me; he remained perched for several more minutes before taking flight.
My wife said, That is clearly a sign … a good sign for us at this time in our lives.
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I did some research and found several sources about the meaning of a hawk appearing in your life:
It is a time to be less distracted by details and focus on higher perspective
Relying on the hawk’s power … you can fly high above troubles and see what’s ahead
The hawk is a bird of prey and emphasizes your ability to lead and influence others
A hawk appearing in your life can signify a time to take more initiative
It can give you strong visions … clairvoyant skills to support your goals in life and communicate to others
Hawk Totem people aim to initiate and lead, but sometimes may be shunned or feared by those frightened by their power.
Hawk Totem people have: Awareness, Perspective, Insight, Truth, Visionary Power, Guardianship, Strength, Initiative, Decisiveness, Creativity, Messenger, Caution, Maneuvering, Leadership
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So, how much do I believe in all of those descriptions?
There are many which are certainly desirable; some make perfect sense, and others are baffling.
I believe in God’s power, not hawks, but I also know that God uses different ways to reach us with a message.
I’m sure many of you have experienced similar events with hawks or other of God’s creatures.

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EXTORTION 17

I want to call your attention to an article this week (June 5) by Jude Eden for The Western Center for Journalism.
Extortion 17 was the call sign of a special operations mission in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011; the mission was responding to backing up an Army Ranger unit engaged in a firefight with the Taliban.
An antiquated (1960s) Chinook helicopter was sent into that firefight; that chopper is very slow and is a very big target.
17 Navy SEALs and 23 other American servicemen were on board and all were killed when the Chinook was shot down.
Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, called Extortion 17 “perhaps the biggest disaster since 9-11 as far as Naval and Special Ops operations.”
On May 9, 2013, families of those killed, some military experts and others held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington and cited various concerns about the decision to send the Chinook and our servicemen on a mission that had death marked all over it.
The group complained that SEAL Team 6 and other servicemen “literally had targets on their backs” … because the Administration had revealed that SEALs killed Osama bin Laden; the Chinook was shot out of the sky just three months later.
There are still several unresolved questions: Who gave the order to dispatch our troops … especially in the Chinook? Did Afghans play a role in that decision? Were some of them working for the enemy?
Klayman also says that standard ramp ceremony at Bagram Air Base before the remains were sent home was conducted by an imam. Klayman says no priest, pastor nor rabbi gave any prayer or said any words: “The funeral that was held in Kabul where you couldn’t even mention the name of our lord and savior Jesus Christ, but yet a Muslim cleric gets up and damns these fallen heroes to hell as infidels. Unbelievable that our military brass would allow this to happen!”
Klayman also said, It is standard practice that all parents of the fallen are given a transcript from the military of that ceremony, the families of Extortion 17 were not.
I encourage you to read the full article: http://www.westernjournalism.com/were-american-servicemen-in-afghanistan-set-up-for-sacrifice/
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JOURNALISTIC BALANCE

JOURNALISTIC BALANCE: how does the public “right to know” compare to “victim privacy”?

A standard rule in journalism is … no rape or sexual assault victim will be identified unless the victim chooses to have the publicity. One other exception comes into play if the victim was murdered and the sex crime is among the charges.

Now, comes the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
Twenty 1st graders and 6 educators were killed in the December massacre.
Some parents started a petition on Change.org … asking Connecticut lawmakers to pass legislation which will block release of all crime scene photos … and 911 audio of that tragic day.
News organizations and “sunshine” groups say all evidence should be released to the public.

I am a staunch defender of the First Amendment … even when it can be abused, and while I personally see no value to publishing or broadcasting crime scene pictures of those children and their teachers — I can’t agree with the petition.

I don’t take this position lightly. In fact, I do it somewhat in fear.

IF … and I stress, IF, I knew that the pictures would be handled with proper respect, I would have little complaint or concern, but I know that once those pictures are public, they can be used to build ratings, increase subscriptions while feeding the “sick members” of the public who get some twisted pleasure.

In 5 decades of covering similar tragedies, I have seen news reporters/photographers cross the clear line of “decency” … as they feed on such events.
One case comes to mind where a young boy was struck by a car and killed in front of his home. The news crew in this case did not show the victim … didn’t even show the victim covered with a sheet, but the photographer shot some video and the station used it. So, the tv audience saw a police officer using a garden hose to wash blood off the pavement.
I was reading the story and saw the video for the first time as the audience saw it. When I saw that blood being hosed from the street, I got so angry that I pounded the desk and immediately apologized for such coverage. When the newscast was over, I went direct to the News Director and said, I don’t ever want to see that video or anything like it on our air again.

What value did that scene have to the story?
What value will pictures of the Sandy Hook shooting have?

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, favors restricted legislation which would allow law enforcement to withhold pictures unless families give written permission.
The Society of Professional Journalists and other media groups wrote to Malloy opposing his proposal. One reason cited: if documents are hidden from public, then the public has no way of knowing whether police did their jobs correctly.
I think that’s a BS argument to say the pictures of the dead children have to be provided; if you can’t tell whether police acted properly without seeing those pictures, you aren’t doing your job as a journalist. And, if you do have to see the pictures, then you don’t have to print or air them.
Another argument from media groups: this restriction would harm government transparency and set a bad precedent and would encourage other crime victims to limit disclosure of records now routinely released to the public. Those are legitimate issues, but I don’t think keeping photos of these dead children and their teachers from the public will affect either concern … as there will be plenty of other “transparency” tests and “disclosure of records” will remain a case by case decision.

Still, I have to stand by the First Amendment and go against any restriction. I have no issues with releasing the 911 calls from that day.

I just hope that the individuals behind “news organizations” would follow one simple creed: How would you want your family’s tragedy covered?

((In support of the First Amendment, I want you to know that you can join the parents’ petition. Go to Change.org. When I last checked, more than 70,000 have signed.))

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IRS INVESTIGATION

Watching developments about the IRS this week will be like watching a train wreck … and both sides of the political aisle will be demanding more answers.
Today (June 3) the new acting commissioner of the IRS is scheduled to appear before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Danny Werfel will be answering questions after a weekend of more bad news for the IRS.
The Treasury Department released a preliminary report showing the IRS spent about 50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees from 2010 to 2012.
About $60,000 was spent on team-building videos that spoofed the TV shows “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island.” Another video shows IRS agents learning a “line dance”.
Another issue, where there had been reports that only a couple of Cincinnati IRS “rogue” agents targeted conservative groups and individuals, there are now reports that almost 90 agents had been involved in such actions.
Still another development involves an agent in the Cincinnati office telling congressional investigators that a supervisor ordered a search for Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status and that “Washington, D.C., wanted some cases.” The agent says this happened in March 2010.
The agent said that by April the office had held up roughly 40 cases and at least seven were sent to Washington. In addition, the agent said, a second IRS employee asked for information on two other cases.
The agent is quoted as saying: “As an agent we are controlled by many, many people. We have to submit many, many reports. So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen. … They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.”
That certainly appears to contradict White House Press Secretary Jay Carney as the Administration has denied any prior knowledge that some conservative groups/individuals were “targeted”.
Yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, California Republican Darrell Issa blasted Carney: “Their paid liar, their spokesperson … he’s still making up things about what happened and calling this a local rogue.”

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Houston Firefighters

There’s deep grief for 4 firefighters killed in the line of duty. They were in Houston, but firefighters all over the nation are a family, so I know local departments are also feeling the pain.
Firefighter EMT Robert Garner, probationary firefighter Anne Sullivan, Engineer Operator EMT Robert Bebee and Capt. EMT Matthew Renaud were killed while searching for victims they feared for trapped.
The fire started a restaurant but quickly spread to the attached motel. When fire teams arrived, they had every reason to believe that guests had to be in danger.
So, when everyone else runs from a fire, firefighters rush in … hoping to save lives.
Part of the building collapsed and the 4 firefighters were trapped. Others tried in vain to reach them; as one Houston firefighter said, There were several heroic stories.
14 other firefighters were rushed to the hospital; at last check one remains in critical condition.
This was the deadliest fire in the 118 year history of the Houston Fire Department.
35 year old Capt. Renaud had been with department for 11 1/2 years. 41 year old Bebee served almost 12 years; 29 year old Garner joined 2 ½ years ago.
24 year old Anne Sullivan had graduated from the Houston Fire Department Academy … about a month ago. Her father said, Anne wanted to be a firefighter since she was a little girl.