Thursday, December 3, 2015

Freedom or Safety - You Can't Always Have Both

From the man that curtailed the right of habeas corpus during the Civil War.

Every President, from the time of Washington, has had to curtail certain portions of the Constitution in times of undue duress and national stress. However, that being said, GW Bush and Barack Obama have exceeded that last ditch remedy to the extreme - from Bush's Patriot Act to Obama's mighty E.O. Pen.

THOSE WILLING TO GIVE UP EVEN ONE ACT OF LIBERTY JUST TO FEEL SAFE, HAVE nor DESERVE NEITHER!

Nichols Joins Cast of "Star Trek: Renegades"

One of the dwindling numbers of iconic stars of the original Star Trek series has signed on to star in the independent fan-funded series "Star Trek: Renegades." Nichelle Nichols, the original Uhura - famed communications officer on the bridge of the original NCC-1701 Enterprise, returns to her landmark role as now Admiral Nyota Uhura.

Returning to act alongside his longtime Trek co-star will be Walter Koenig reprising his role of Pavel Chekov, Admiral Starfleet Security, This will be Koenig's final appearance in the role he has played for five decades. Once director Tim Russ shouts "That's a wrap!" Mr. Koenig will hang up his Starfleet uniform and move into full retirement from the character loved by fans worldwide.

Nichols, who suffered from a minor stroke this past year, is doing very well and is looking forward to returning to the franchise that made her and every other main cast member of the original series a household name. Nichols returned to her famous role a few years ago in the independent Tim Russ production "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" and has joined the ranks of NASA scientific exploration back in September when she boarded the SOFIA (Stratospheric Infrared Observatory) aircraft. SOFIA is fixed with a 100-inch telescope that peeks into the universe's ultraviolet spectrum with more clarity than ground-based telescopes. Nichelle sat in the communications officer's seat as the modified Boeing 747 aircraft skimmed the edge of space. This was the first time a living actor from the landmark television series actually graced the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and the beginnings of outer space.

The next two episodes of "Star Trek: Renegades" is currently in production. Here is how you can become a part of this important show that continues the journey will "No one has gone before."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Reviving a Constitutional Congress

Our Constitution is often treated as a reliquary, worthy of reverence but no longer of much practical use. Yet the Constitution reflects, in many deep and subtle ways, the character of the people who established it and have lived and prospered under it for centuries. This is particularly true of its structural features of federalism and separated powers, which vindicate Americans’ democratic nature, our distrust of power, and our taste for open competition.

The struggle for power and advantage is a constant of human society. In democracies, that struggle is organized and advertised through political campaigns and elections. It is equally present within government, but there it is not always observable. In the parliamentary systems of Europe, open competition ends with the election returns and formation of a government. At this point legislative and executive powers are fused. Struggles over policy continue, but they work themselves out in private within ministry offices and leadership councils. A well-led government can present, at least for a time, a unified, dignified, self-confident public face.

That is seldom possible in the American system, where competition in government is exposed for all to see. The two political branches possess separate electoral bases and are assigned powers that are partly shared and partly independent. They are co-dependent and must work out their differences in public. Presidents, executive officials, and members of Congress may bring astute tactics and compelling rhetoric to the task, but in the heat of contention they are also prone to diatribes, bluffs, missteps, backtracking, and humiliations. Dignified the process is not.

Parliamentary systems have their strengths, but open competition is the American way. Checks and balances are important means of policing the corruption and abuse that arise whenever power is monopolized. They are also means for pursuing two things that Americans care about especially: limited government and humble leaders. The sheer cumbersomeness of our constitutional structure usually requires extended negotiation leading to a substantial consensus before the government can act. And the spectacle of continuous public extemporizing makes it difficult for our leaders to pretend that they command events.

Yet our system depends on a reasonable balance of power among the three constitutional branches, and we are losing that. In recent decades power has shifted dramatically away from Congress—primarily to the executive but also to the judiciary.

Part of the shift has resulted from presidents, executive agencies, and courts seizing congressional prerogatives. This part of the story has been much in the news. President Obama has effectively rewritten important provisions of the Affordable Care Act and immigration law, while circumventing the Constitution’s requirement of Senate approval for senior executive appointments. The Environmental Protection Agency has contorted the Clean Air Act beyond recognition to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses—and has done so after Congress declined to embark on such regulation. The Supreme Court has acquiesced in most of these executive usurpations, while taking for itself the authority to decide live political controversies. It played both roles last June, first approving the Obama administration’s unilateral extension of tax credits to persons who purchase health insurance on the federal Obamacare exchange, then declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

But the most important part of the story has an opposite plot: Congress itself, despite its complaints about executive and judicial poaching, has been giving up its constitutional powers voluntarily and proactively for decades. Since the early 1970s, Congress has delegated broad lawmaking authority to a proliferating array of regulatory agencies, from EPA and OSHA in the early years to numerous executive councils, boards, and bureaus under Obamacare and Dodd-Frank in 2010. In the new dispensation, members of Congress vote bravely for clean air, affordable health care, and sound finance, while leaving the real policy decisions to executive agencies.

In recent years, Congress has even handed off its constitutional crown jewels—its exclusive powers, assigned in Article I, Sections 8 and 9, to determine federal taxing and spending. Several executive agencies now set and collect their own taxes or generate revenues in other ways, and spend the proceeds on themselves or on grant programs of their own devising, without congressional involvement. Most members of the current Congress cannot even remember the days when that body passed annual appropriations, agency by agency, often with riders directing how the agencies may and may not spend the funds. More recently, following its hapless efforts to use the debt ceiling to force policy concessions from the administration, Congress washed its hands of the borrowing power, too, telling the Treasury that it may borrow as needed to pay the government’s bills for a set period of time.

Today the consequences of congressional self-enfeeblement are vividly on display. Congress is under management of conservative Republican majorities in both House and Senate, and is facing a left-progressive President with a big agenda. One would think that Congress would be busily reclaiming its constitutional authorities and exercising them to moderate—not check, but at least balance—the President’s actions. But that is not happening.

A harbinger of the current disarray came shortly after last year’s elections, when President Obama announced unilateral revisions to immigration policy. Congressional Republicans promptly announced that the new Congress would forbid those changes with a rider to the appropriations of the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. A few days later came an embarrassed retraction: staff had discovered that the CIS finances itself through fees and is independent of congressional appropriations.

Congress could have put the agency back on regular appropriations, but as things have turned out even that wouldn’t have helped, because Congress is unable to pass any appropriations bills (there are supposed to be 12 of them, covering various sets of executive agencies). Instead, it is obliged to resort once again to a Continuing Resolution (CR)—a last-minute blunderbuss statute that extends the previous year’s entire federal budget with broad percentage adjustments.

The CR surrenders Congress’s power of the purse. When Congress is appropriating individual agencies, it can adjust program spending and policy elements on a case-by-case basis. It doesn’t always get its way in the face of a possible presidential veto, but at least Congress is in the game, with a multitude of tactics and potential compromises in play. In contrast, the threat of shutting down the government is disproportionate to discrete policy disagreements. The tactic would be plausible only in the rare case where congressional opinion amounted to veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Even when Congress thinks it has the President cornered with an unpopular position, as in the wake of the horrible Planned Parenthood revelations, the game of CR chicken always comes down to a national crisis where the President—always at the center in times of crisis and able to control the terms of public debate—has the upper hand.

President Obama’s current strength is complementary evidence of constitutional drift. Since his party lost control of the Senate last November, he has launched a fusillade of aggressive executive initiatives, such as subjecting the Internet to comprehensive regulatory controls. I think he was within his constitutional rights on the Internet matter; but such a monumental change in national policy, almost certainly opposed by majorities of the relevant House and Senate committees, would have been inconceivable in the recent past.

The fact that President Obama is not a lame duck is not due to his popularity. His public approval ratings have been in the mid- to high-40s and lower than his disapproval ratings, and he is widely disliked in Congress by members of both parties. It is rather that the nature of the presidency has changed since the Twenty-Second Amendment limited presidents to two terms. In Presidential Power, a landmark study written during the Eisenhower administration, political scientist Richard Neustadt argued that presidents occupy an inherently weak office, and must devote themselves to continuous persuasion, popularity seeking, and cultivation of Congress in order to advance their agendas. This book became the operations manual for President Kennedy and all subsequent presidents—until now. The evolution of executive branch autonomy has transformed the presidency into an inherently powerful office, regardless of whether its occupant is well liked. President Obama and his advisers are the first to have realized that Neustadt is obsolete—that whatever his polls, the President has the wherewithal, using executive agencies, to make law and policy on his own through noon on January 20, 2017.

* * *

Now Congress could, if it wanted, get back into the action and become a fully functioning participant in our constitutional apparatus, by adopting the following Five-Step Plan for congressional restoration.

First, Congress should retrieve the taxing, spending, and borrowing powers it has delegated to executive agencies, and place all agencies on annual appropriations regardless of their sources of revenues. This will require statutes signed by the President, so the statutes should be strictly matters of constitutional housekeeping, unencumbered by confrontations over divisive policies. For example, the Dodd-Frank Act’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is funded by a share of Federal Reserve profits, entirely free of congressional appropriations. Many congressional Republicans loathe this Bureau and would like to clip its wings, but for constitutional purposes Congress should simply put the Bureau on regular appropriations—initially at the level the Bureau has already set for itself. Similarly, Congress should retake responsibility for the federal debt, now coursing north of $18 trillion, rather than pretending that capping the debt without limiting spending is a good tactic for extracting policy concessions from President Obama. In these cases and others, the immediate need is not to parade conservative bona fides, but rather to be sure that Congress is playing with a full deck in policy contests to come.

Second, Congress should exercise its appropriations power. It doesn’t need a statute for this—it needs only to follow the procedures laid down in the Budget Act of 1974, passing individual appropriations bills for the President’s signature on a regular basis. It would then be in a position to assert Republican priorities on spending levels and to counter selected Obama initiatives with appropriations riders. It could do so with moderately aggressive bills the President might sign, or with highly aggressive ones he would certainly veto—in order to dramatize policy differences, but without shooting itself in the foot with a threatened government shutdown.

Third, Congress should relearn the arts of legislating, and thereby recover some of the lawmaking powers it has handed off to the regulatory agencies. Congressional Republicans say they want to replace Obamacare with a program that achieves its goals more completely, at less cost and with less coercion. And they profess to be unhappy with the ways that Dodd-Frank, the Clean Air Act, and many other statutes are being interpreted and enforced, and with the inanity of the tax code and other statutes enacted by earlier Congresses. But they cannot be good to their word without stepping up to their responsibility for collective choice. Constructing two legislative majorities for such major reforms is tedious, unglamorous, often frustrating business—but it is the source of Congress’s constitutional might. Doing so in one or two high-profile cases, in the face of a certain Obama veto, would be the most politically compelling means of contrasting their principles with the President’s. At the same time, there are many cases where the Republicans could attract significant Democratic support for legislation to displace specific unpopular regulations of the EPA, FDA, and financial regulatory agencies without rewriting their entire statutes.

Steps 1, 2, and 3 describe a constitutionally engaged Congress and offer a few ideas for how to get there. But Congress’s recent confusion over immigration appropriations suggests that we have a long way to go. The journey will require some reforms of Congress’s internal structure and procedures, and these are the subjects of Steps 4 and 5.

Fourth, Congress should reconstruct an internal policymaking hierarchy. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Congress dismantled its seniority system and structure of strong committee chairmen. Both institutions were in disrepute because the seniors and chairmen were mostly Dixiecrats who had used their powers to forestall civil rights legislation. Following the success of that legislation, northern backbenchers passed reforms that made Congress much more democratic. But the executive branch is specialized and hierarchal along policy lines, and a Congress that can counterbalance it needs to be specialized and hierarchal also. Today’s partisan hierarchies are no substitute—they suppress checks and balances when Congress and the President are from the same party, and replace them with flailing ineffectiveness when the branches are in opposition. Congress needs to complement partisanship with a strong meritocracy that emphasizes mastery of policy fields, devotion to broad political principles (different of course for the two parties), and skill at articulation, debate, and the arts of legislative negotiation. The committee chair in this conception would be powerful and capable of decisive action, but untenured and accountable for achieving results.

Fifth, the Senate should cut back to near abolition the filibuster (which effectively requires 60 rather than 51 votes to pass a bill) and the hold (whereby individual members can prevent scheduled motions from reaching the floor). In times past these procedures were rare and limited to cases of exceptional minority and home-state opposition, because employing them was onerous and discouraged by Senate culture. Today they are frequent, costless, and routinely employed. Conservatives tend to favor the current practices, seeing them as slowing the pace of lawmaking and therefore of government growth. But this construct is out of date. The great engine of government growth is now executive lawmaking, punctuated by spasms of legislation (e.g., Obamacare, Dodd-Frank) that propel new executive exertions which Congress is then helpless to moderate. The filibuster and the hold have become mechanisms of legislative passivity in the face of executive activism, and of the regression of Congress into a collection of solo practitioners.

Congressional lawmaking cannot hope to keep pace with executive lawmaking unless the Senate becomes a majority-vote legislature. Congress as a whole would remain a super-majority institution, due to bicameralism and the different electoral bases of the two chambers; and Senate super-majorities could be reserved for some exceptional cases, such as confirmation of life-tenured judges, in addition to those such as treaty ratification specified in the Constitution. But for regular legislation it would cease to be the kind of minority-veto assembly described by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 22: “Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border on anarchy.”

* * *

Congress has yet to sign up for my Five-Step Plan. Media coverage of Congress suggests a reason: extreme partisanship and Republican disarray. There is something to this explanation, but it is superficial. More deeply, congressional decline is the result of profound changes in modern society and culture.

The representative legislature is the product of social thought and political contention going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, running through the Magna Carta of 1215, and culminating in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and the United States. It became the institutional vehicle of republican aspirations against the prerogatives of kings and despots.

The problem was to devise a source of government authority that was secular, peaceable, and generally accepted as legitimate. The legitimacy criterion meant not only that citizens acquiesced in the government’s power, but also that the government was in some degree representative—that it embodied, defended, and furthered the characteristic values and interests of citizens and society. Representativeness was achieved, at various times and places, through assemblies of all citizens, of some citizens chosen by lot, or of self-appointed elites such as the barons and church officials who forced the Magna Carta on King John. But in the modern era it was increasingly achieved in the form of election by citizens voting in geographic territories. Legislators represented local political jurisdictions such as states in the U.S. Senate and districts in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The contemporary era has not been kind to this great inheritance. The idea that we should be governed by elected representatives of diverse local districts, who gather to make law by hammering out compromises, was conceived and developed when government was naturally constrained by what economists call high transaction costs. When travel and communications were slow and costly, legislative gatherings were crucial occasions for representatives to learn of developments in other regions, to take the measure of far-flung colleagues, and to forge alliances and make deals. When political organizing was costly, interest groups were few and broad-based, and established civic and political elites, including legislative elites, held sway. When surveillance, law enforcement, and program administration were costly, the executive could perforce do only a few things.

Modern affluence and high technology have disrupted all of those functions. Legislators no longer need to go to Washington to find out what is happening around the country, to form positions on political questions, or to plot and dicker with their peers—all of this can be done instantly and at much lower cost through the media, Internet, and direct communications. Well-organized interest groups are able to monitor, reward, and sanction individual legislators with great precision, drastically reducing the legislative space for deliberation and compromise. Multiplying pressures for government interventions have overwhelmed legislative capacities—while falling costs of administration have magnified the executive’s advantages of hierarchy, specialization, and capacity to add new functions. The representative legislature has also been a victim of modern habits of mind, which tend to value identity over locality, rationalism over representation, and decision over deliberation. Each of the three branches of American government has its own distinctive principles of operation and legitimacy. The judiciary’s principles are reason and resolution—courts determine the facts of a dispute, resolve the dispute by deduction and inference from texts and precedents, and explain their reasoning publicly. The executive’s are personality and action—presidents incarnate important features of national character and aspiration, dominate political attention and debate, and take personal actions that settle some matters and redefine others.

The legislature’s principles—representation and compromise—are relatively unimpressive. Representing geographic localities is not what it used to be, because of globalization and increased personal mobility; locality is not without political importance, but many people today care more about representation of their personal values, group identities, and vocational and avocational interests. And individual legislators have little capacity for decisive personal action—their primary assignment is to negotiate with other representatives, leading to collective decisions that no one is entirely happy with or, quite frequently, to no decision at all.

* * *

Restoring Congress to a central position in government will clearly be a heavy lift; but not, I think, impossible. Americans like competition in government—we routinely elect Congresses and presidents of opposing parties, and an all-powerful executive state goes against our principles and traditions. Concentrated power leads to abuse and corruption, of which there is much on display today at the IRS, VA hospitals, and elsewhere. It is easy to imagine a major upheaval paving the way for a congressional resurgence.

Such a resurgence should be of particular importance to those of conservative and libertarian persuasions. This is more than a matter of today’s conservative Congress standing up to today’s liberal President. A government where more decisions are made by Congress and fewer by executive agencies is going to be a smaller government, simply because of the incorrigible cumbersomeness of legislative decision-making. To say that the purpose of congressional reform is to restore constitutional balance is something of a slight: its purpose is also to restore limited government to some degree, because Congress’s sprawling, conflicted membership is itself a bastion of limited government.

Furthermore, Congress is not only a branch of power but also a “selfie” of the nation in full. It not only represents but portrays the populace—not with perfect resolution, but well enough to show each of us where we stand in the throng of fellow citizens who are our legal and political equals. A citizenry that permitted this portrait of its collective self to play a more central role in its government would need to be more classically liberal than ours has become. It would need to be more patient with disagreement, including intractable disagreement; more alert to the improving potential of dialogue, even when no decision ensues; less insistent on comprehensive plans and final solutions and capacious application of state coercion; and more attuned to the relative advantages of imperfect private markets and voluntary ordering.

In 1959, political theorist James Burnham wrote a fine book, Congress and the American Tradition, which identified in an earlier era many of the patterns of congressional decline that we see today. Burnham had many criticisms to level at Congress—don’t we all! But here is his conclusion:

To ask whether Congress can survive is . . . equivalent to the question: Can constitutional government, can liberty, survive in the United States? This equation between Congress and liberty may at first seem paradoxical. Undoubtedly Congress has sometimes acted . . . in ways that have served to undermine both law and liberty, and it has done so both in consort with and in opposition to the other branches of the government. . . . The tie in this century and this nation between the survival of Congress and liberty is . . . historical and specific. Within the United States today Congress is . . . the prime intermediary institution, the chief political organ of the people as distinguished from the masses, the one body to which the citizenry can now appeal for redress not merely from individual despotic acts . . . but from large-scale despotic innovations, trends, and principles.

[Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.]

ABOUT the AUTHOR:

Christopher DeMuth Sr. is a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute. He served as president of the American Enterprise Institute from 1986–2008. A graduate of Harvard College and the University of Chicago Law School, he worked as a staff assistant to President Richard Nixon in 1969–1970 and as an administrator in the Office of Management and Budget and executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief under President Ronald Reagan. From 1976–1980, he taught at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and directed the Harvard Faculty Project on Regulation. He has also practiced law, and was for a time publisher and editor-in-chief of Regulation magazine.

Friday, October 23, 2015

No "Gotcha"Moment In Latest Benghazi Hearing With Clinton ... But

The liberal press, such as MSNBC, ABC News & others have spinned the latest in the long, never-ending dog-sniffing effort to pin Benghazi failures that ended in the death of Ambassador Stevens and 3 other Americans on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They have stated, ad nauseum, that the efforts of Chairman Trey Gowdy (R), et al on the Republican side failed to present a case against Mrs. Clinton. There were several smoking guns, however, with the passage of time and the ceaseless droning of Clinton ass-sniffers like Rep. Cummins (pun intended) and talking-points pundits such as Rachel Maddow, the smoke from that gun has now drifted into the nethersphere. But, if you actually watched the latest round there were plenty of moments in which the Secretary was brought to task for her inadequate handling of what was already a terrible, escalating situation.

Here is just one of those moments - there were plenty more for those willing to open their eyes and rigid mind-set to see them. However, that being said, the Republicans did fail to make that case as concise and clear as possible for the average give-a-shit American. Why? Because there was no one big "Gotcha" moment and Americans do love their instant gratification drama instead of minutia - even if the accumulated minutia is telling. The Devil is in those tiny details Americans tend to ignore.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Subtitles

Reminiscent of Monty Python

Must watch#clubparada

Posted by Club Parada on Friday, September 25, 2015

[Club Parada]

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Star Trek Continues: "Divided We Stand" - A Review

There is little doubt that Star Trek in any variety is my favorite science fiction franchise. After nearly five decades it has continued to entertain, inform and been the source of much debate and controversy as it steams along at full speed telling contemplative and enjoyable storytelling.

Star Trek Continues (STC), while not the first to offer independent Star Trek programming, has certainly become the new Gold Standard for any independent, fan created and dare I say it - even CBS/Paramount sanctioned endeavor. For those who have read my past reviews for Slice of SciFi and on SciFi Obsession of the vignettes and past four full-length episodes produced by the cast and crew of STC already know that I believe this show to be the finest representation of what creator Gene Roddenberry had in mind for his original saga which first aired those many years ago.

That being said, even the original 1960's series of Star Trek had a few below average episodes over the course of its three season run ("Spock's Brain" anyone?). Fortunately for the next couple of generations those shabby episodes were few and far between, however STC has in its first four escaped that quandary. It was with this idea in mind that I approached this latest STC episode titled, "Divided We Stand" with some reservations. Vig Mignogna and crew have hit the ball out of the park so expertly with a great deal of love and respect for the show that after seeing this title and the official poster release for it I grew to be concerned that this may be the production's first lemon in a fine array of vintage autos.

Boy oh boy was I mistaken and greatly relieved once I actually viewed "Divided We Stand." As my past reviews have shown I truly do love the direction STC is going with the continuing five-year mission of the original series and with each of those past episodes it only got better with each actor becoming more and more comfortable in the skin of those iconic characters. With "Divided We Stand" all the principals and even the periphery characters really do seem to have found that groove. Mignogna and Chuck Huber are so much Kirk and McCoy at this point that I can honestly say I have totally accepted them as those original Roddenberry creations. Todd Haberkorn came into his own Spock in the third episode ("Fairest of the All") and by this fifth one is so relaxed as Spock it's as if he has played him for the last fifty years. Chris Doohan, from day one, has embodied the spirit and heart of his real father (James Doohan) as the veritable chief engineer Mr. Scott. Each of the actors tasked with the monumental burden of wearing the clock of all these icons that have affected the worldwide culture of our time have done so expertly and it's apparent they do it with a great amount of affection and respect for the originals. In fact, as I watched Wyatt Lenhart, the young actor portraying Ensign Chekov, I found myself talking to my TV screen saying, "Hey, you guys are in the fourth year of your five year mission - isn't it time to promote Pavel to Lieutenant?"

"Divided We Stand" puts both Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy in the precarious position of having their consciousness transferred in time to Earth era circa 1862 and in the middle of one of the bloodiest battles of the U.S. Civil War, the Battle of Antietam. What makes matters even worse is Kirk and McCoy find themselves on opposite sides of this landmark battle. How they got there is somewhat of a mystery but it occurred when both were on the bridge investigating a strange viral-like lifeform that had hitched a ride on the old Friendship 3 probe they had beamed aboard the Enterprise several months earlier. The nanite lifeforms downloaded themselves from the probe into the Enterprise computer without the knowledge of Spock or Scotty and have been slowly and unobtrusively infecting the entire system, that is, until it began reviewing the history logs when it was discovered by the crew. As Spock and Scott seek to find a way to remove the contamination both Kirk and Bones are somehow mentally transported to the past on Earth while their bodies remain unconscious in sickbay and suffering from whatever is inflicted on them during that barbaric time in America's past.

The episode stays true to the format established by Roddenberry by addressing the reasons for the war, the divide in the country that brought the new nation to this brink of destruction and the ever constant theme echoed throughout the franchise's history "When even one person is enslaved then all people have lost their freedom."

Like the original show did in the 1960's by addressing contemporary issues with science fiction stories, so too Mignogna, his cast and crew, continue to do so today. This episode, while set in the field of battle outside Sharpsburg, Maryland in 1862, addresses the racial tensions that still divide America today. It also reminds us that while, for the most part, freedom is available to all in the U.S., it certainly isn't the case around the globe and since Star Trek is now a global (dare I say galactic) phenomena the issues of slavery, freedom and standing on principles that free the individual's ability to find compromise while at the same time living up to those benevolent ideals is strongly reflected in "Divided We Stand." Gene Roddenberry must be smiling ear to ear from his Great Bird of the Galaxy perch at what Star Trek Continues has and remains doing with his beloved creation.

I give Star Trek Continues "Divided We Stand" * * * * * out of 5 Stars.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"The Autobiography of James T. Kirk" - A Book Review

This look into the life of one of this galaxy's greatest futuristic heroes, for the most part, are the memories of that hero as reported to author David A. Goodman. Shortly before Kirk's death while inspecting the virginal launch into the cosmos of the NCC 1701 U.S.S. Enterprise-B, captained by the very young and inexperienced Captain John Harriman, Kirk met with Goodman over a period of several months and recounted to him the events of his life from early childhood to his final retirement from Starfleet. This photo-op aboard the new Excelsior-class Enterprise was to be this icon's final journey into that final frontier. Little did anyone realize how final it would be for the famous captain.

Before getting into some of what Goodman related a little about him is important to relate. Kirk picked him to put in writing the gist of his life because he, like Kirk, was no second-rate scribe. David A. Goodman is a well known author and screenwriter who has been responsible for such landmark television series such as "The Golden Girls," "Futurama," "Star Trek: Enterprise," and most notably one of the main producers and writers for the animated hit series created by Seth MAcFarlane, "Family Guy." Goodman has also written several tomes including "Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years."

"The Autobiography of James T. Kirk" is a wonderful addition to the stories of the fabled captain who sat in that center seat aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise for longer than any other leader in Starfleet history. His storied career is well known, feared and respected by millions across the expanse of this galaxy and this autobiography doesn't attempt to retell that narrative. However, what it does do is fill in many of the gaps left untold from the perspective of the man himself, James Tiberius Kirk.

While everyone who has followed his life for the last five or six decades knows the big picture of his life ... some of the details of his cadet days and early postings, as well as his time as Enterprise captain in its first five year mission after refit post the Captain Pike years; what hasn't been told was how Kirk himself actually felt and thought about those periods of his life. What it actually meant for him to lose the friendship of such a long and trusted ally like Ben Finney, or the depths of the guilt and agony he endured over the loss of his mentor Captain Garrovick, the deaths of Edith Keeler and his son David, as well as the emotional hole left in his heart during those early years in Riverside, Iowa when he was being raised on that Iowa farm by his father while his mother was off on Tarsus IV doing her scientific thing. All these, and so many other events helped to form and mold him, the renowned captain-admiral-captain, into the person we have all come to think we knew and certainly loved and admired.

"The Autobiography of James T. Kirk" gives the reader just enough of a peek into the life of this man. His heroism, flaws, faults, strengths, and yes, his weaknesses. With Goodman's editing of the material the reader is left with a more realistic and well rounded picture of the human called Kirk who literally helped shape the galaxy of the 23rd Century.

Those not familiar with the story of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the famous crew of the Enterprise under their tutelage may not follow the story as well as those who do so I recommend watching the episodes of the original series and the first six films in the Star Trek franchise. Once done this book will remain as an important companion piece to what has already been presented about the life and times of Captain James T. Kirk (2233-2371).

I give "The Autobiography of James T. Kirk" * * * 1/2 stars out of 5.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Blocking a Bad Iran Deal

During the month of August, I have traveled around the Third District and talked with Nebraskans at mobile offices and community meetings. In addition to frustration over the growth of government, the most common concerns have involved the Obama administration's deal with Iran – and for good reason. The ramifications of this deal will impact not only our country's future but also the stability of our world.

Since the Obama administration announced its Iran deal in July, I have spent significant time studying it and discussing it with national security experts. Many of them share my deep concerns about how much the United States is conceding to Iran and how few accountability measures are included in the agreement. I am opposed to this deal and believe Congress must reject it and allow U.S. negotiators to go back to the table.

Lifting economic sanctions on Iran would allow global financial resources to flow into a country still included on our list of state sponsors of terrorism. Iran already funnels significant resources to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The billions of dollars in sanctions relief for Iran in this deal would likely come back to the U.S. and our allies not in the form of commerce but with the threat of weapons, which this influx of investment will empower Iran to procure.

Not only does this deal lift the long-held sanctions which have limited Iran's economic growth, but it also lifts arms embargos. The conventional weapons embargo ends in five years under this agreement, and the ballistic missile ban is lifted in eight years. We should be mindful of our closest ally in the region, Israel, whose leaders continue to gravely warn us of the dangers of trusting the Iranian regime and providing easier access to weaponry in the next decade.

Ambassador Susan Rice and Secretary John Kerry have now acknowledged side deals between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but the full details are unknown. Recently, the Associated Press reported one of the side deals will allow Iran to use its own inspectors to investigate its Parchin nuclear site. The main agreement already gives Iran the ability to hold off IAEA inspectors for three weeks after an inspection request has been made, but trusting Iran to inspect its own nuclear sites is a new level of recklessness.

President Obama has stated our options are either accepting this deal or going to war, but this rhetoric is irresponsible. Economic sanctions have served as one of the most effective, peaceful methods of suppressing the Iranian regime, but this deal ends those sanctions permanently. When our national security is on the line, reaching no deal is better than advancing a bad deal.

Stopping the Iran deal by voting on the congressional resolution of disapproval, of which I am a cosponsor, will be a top priority on our legislative agenda in September. We must block this bad deal and pursue a stronger agreement which enforces greater accountability measures on Iran and prioritizes the safety of our country and our allies.

About the Author:

Congressman Adrian Smith from Nebraska serves on the Committee on Ways and Means. Congressional Rural Caucus (Chair), Congressional Rural Veterans Caucus (Chair), Modern Agriculture Caucus (Chair), Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, Congressional Western Caucus and Congressional General Aviation Caucus. Smith has been noted for his consistent voting against tax increases, massive government bailouts, and in his opposition of the affordable healthcare act (aka ObamaCare) which is creating massive uncertainty for our nation's job creators.

Smith, a co-sponsor of the Balanced Budget Amendment and a supporter of a Congressional earmark moratorium, has earned a reputation as a solid conservative through his votes to protect the rights of gun owners, efforts to limit the scope of government, and his strong pro-life voting record.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

An Open Letter to Congress - Charlie's Soap Box 8/24/15

I am a proud American who believes that America has held - and still holds - a very sensitive and special place in the affairs of mankind on Planet Earth. I believe that America has been divinely blessed and protected in our two centuries plus of existence.

I believe that America has been a counterbalance that has cancelled out a lot of tyranny, evil and conquest and, admittedly, we have made a lot of mistakes, but on balance we have exerted a certain Pax Americana in the international affairs of mankind.

It took a lot of old fashioned guts for the Continental Congress to stand up to the world's mightiest military and tell them that we demanded our independence, even at the peril of going up against a far superior force on land and sea with a ragtag army of untrained citizens, many who had to supply their own firearms.

It took courage above and beyond for Abraham Lincoln to push the country into a Civil War that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt would divide this nation for decades.

It took guts to give the order for American troops to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, straight into the face of artillery and machine gunfire, wave after wave being cut to ribbons by German shore emplacements.

The history of this nation is written in the blood and courage of men who stood in the face of overwhelming odds, politicians, soldiers, statesmen and ordinary citizens who sought to do the right thing regardless of the cost or the consequences.

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the United States Congress, it seems that that particular pen has run out of ink. The courageous politicians that once championed this nation have been replaced, for the most part, by a breed of milksop, politically correct, scared of their own shadow, pushover, pathetic excuses for public servants who are supposed to be representing a constituency of citizens who have to live with the circumstances of their timid folly.

You don't even have the courage to face down an out of control president, even when he makes a deal with the devil. Don't you bunch of timid capons even care what kind of world you're leaving to your children and grandchildren, not to even mention the rest of us? Are you really party partisans before you're parents and grandparents or even human beings? Be honest with yourselves a minute, go into the bathroom and look in the mirror and ask the person you see this question.

"Do I really believe that Iran will not use the money we're releasing to them to finance terrorists to kill Americans, and, when, not if, but when, the Iranians develop their nuclear device, will they really use it against America and Israel?"

You can’t hide from the truthful answer to that question forever, an answer will be required of you one day.

You have allowed Obama to tilt the Supreme Court so far to the left that they're little more than a shameful extension of the Executive Branch.

You have talked for decades about the porous southern border but have done absolutely nothing about it.

You have allowed cities in this nation to declare themselves sanctuary cities where they protect the worst of the worst criminal aliens, American citizens paying an awful price for your silence.

You watch an impossible National Debt balloon completely out of control knowing full well that a day of reckoning is coming that will seriously curtail the quality of life for coming generations.

You allow corrupt government agencies like the IRS to run over the very people you are sworn to protect and allow the entitlement society to expand exponentially while you actually entertain the idea of raising taxes on those who still work and shoulder the burden.

You compose a third of the constitutionally mandated ruling system and you shirk your duty and allow this nation to move a little closer to the edge every day.

I wish you bunch of sold-out, jaded, burned-out hacks would just go home and let some people who still have some vision and whose consciences haven't been seared past the point of reminding them when they're wrong take over and start to claw this nation back on to the path of sanity.

Your ratings are in the single digits, your morals are in the gutter, your minds are on self-preservation and somewhere along the way you traded your honor for political expediency.

You've violated your oaths, you've betrayed your country you've feathered your nests and you've sat on your hands while an imperial president has rubbed your noses in the dirt time after time.

You're no longer men, you're puppets, you're caricatures, jokes, a gaggle of fading prostitutes for sale to anybody who can do you a political favor.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

What do you think?

Pray for our troops and the peace of Jerusalem.

God Bless America

About the Author:

Charlie Daniels is an outspoken American patriot and musician that has always stood for the greatness of the United States of America.

His politics over the years, while varied, have always stood firmly rooted in the Constitutional Republic stand held by the nation's forefathers signified by the early emblem "Don't Tread On Me."

While his critics have accused him of supporting vigilantism, his true beliefs concerning the dealing with crimes against America by both Americans, those who would do the nation and its citizen's harm and illegal aliens flooding into the country has been solidly founded in the nation's founding documents.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits IDF Northern Command

"The ruler of Iran, Khamenei, said yesterday, and I quote, 'We will take all measures to support all those who fight against Israel.' Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said in Beirut a few days ago, at a meeting with the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and I quote, 'The nuclear agreement has created an historic opportunity to stand against the Zionist entity.' What we have said all along is being seen as correct and accurate. The money that will flow to Iran in the wake of the nuclear agreement will serve it to strengthen the terrorist organizations operating against us, in its name and under its auspices, in the avowed goal to destroy Israel."

"I am here today at IDF Northern Command, along with the Defense Minister, Chief-of-Staff, GOC Northern Command and field commanders to closely observe the IDF's readiness against these threats. I was positively impressed both by the IDF's preparedness and by the determination of its commanders and soldiers. The IDF is strong. The State of Israel is strong. We are ready for any eventuality. Those who try to attack us – we will strike at them."

PM Netanyahu visits IDF Northern Command

WATCH: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits IDF Northern Command (English captions available)Prime Minister Netanyahu: "The ruler of Iran, Khamenei, said yesterday, and I quote, 'We will take all measures to support all those who fight against Israel.' Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said in Beirut a few days ago, at a meeting with the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and I quote, 'The nuclear agreement has created an historic opportunity to stand against the Zionist entity.' What we have said all along is being seen as correct and accurate. The money that will flow to Iran in the wake of the nuclear agreement will serve it to strengthen the terrorist organizations operating against us, in its name and under its auspices, in the avowed goal to destroy Israel.I am here today at IDF Northern Command, along with the Defense Minister, Chief-of-Staff, GOC Northern Command and field commanders to closely observe the IDF's readiness against these threats. I was positively impressed both by the IDF's preparedness and by the determination of its commanders and soldiers. The IDF is strong. The State of Israel is strong. We are ready for any eventuality. Those who try to attack us – we will strike at them."

Posted by The Prime Minister of Israel on Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Friday, August 7, 2015

Elephants!

Right outside Memorial Stadium at the University of Nebraska's Morrill Hall is a large bronze statue of an ancient elephant, affectionately named Archie. You have certainly seen him on your way to a Huskers game. While the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is in the process of constructing a new habitat for elephants, and the Lincoln Children's Zoo does research into high rates of infertility in captive elephants, at this moment, Archie is the only elephant I’m aware of in Nebraska. As Nebraskans, perhaps our main connection to the wild elephant is through our understanding of the importance of proper stewardship of the land and wild habitats.

With our many challenges at home and across the world, endangered elephants are not top of mind for most of us. But I want to take a moment to examine this in greater detail. The problems elephants face are connected to larger crises that range from the funding of terrorism to the destabilization of indigenous peoples. The decline of elephant populations is an indicator of not only ecological problems, but problems related to national security.

The plight of elephants is particularly pronounced in Africa, with decimation threatening entire herds. Although no one is sure exactly how many elephants remain on the continent, experts estimate that African elephants have dwindled to around 400,000, with 100,000 having been killed in just the last few years. Overall numbers across the continent have dropped by half in the last seven years.

Much of this decline results from poaching in ungoverned space, where elephants are shot for tusks that are sold on illegal ivory markets. This deadly harvest has expanded in recent years into violent terrorist activity. Militants from extremist organizations like Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram exchange ivory for weapons, aiming profit from the slaughter of elephants at the slaughter of innocent people. As terrorist networks grow and collaborate from Africa to the Middle East and extend into Western nations, the ivory trade is emerging as a silent killer that makes the entire world less safe. The largest demand for ivory comes from China.

In an effort to help check this grim and dangerous economy, I supported language in the State and Foreign Operations Fiscal Year 2016 budget to enhance wildlife preservation and anti-poaching measures. The legislation combats the transnational threat of poaching and trafficking and prevents U.S. funds from aiding foreign military units that are alleged to have participated in illegal wildlife hunting for profit. All these initiatives promote our national security interests.

The head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently contacted me to discuss their attempt to stop the trade in ivory. Items such as tusks and carved statues would be banned, but certain exceptions would be granted for minimal amounts used in musical instruments, antiques, and decorative firearms. We also discussed a holistic approach that looks at economics, livelihood, and governance. New models of conservation are emerging to help indigenous peoples manage their land, bringing stability and security to environments plagued by lawlessness.

In 1861 the King of Siam wrote to the President of the United States to offer several pairs of elephants that could be "turned loose in forests and increase till there be large herds." President Lincoln politely declined, explaining that our geography and climate were not suitable for the species. Today, elephants grace zoos across our country, and many of us have enjoyed seeing them in person. We might not have a natural elephant habitat, but our desire to preserve this majestic species—and our national security interest—give us reason to pursue the worthwhile goal of helping protect these endangered animals.

About the Author:

JEFF FORTENBERRY has served as the U.S. Representative for Nebraska's 1st congressional district since 2005. He is the Chairperson for the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and has a seat on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

He is a member of the following Caucus groups: Civil War Battlefield Caucus - Congressional Biofuels Caucus - Congressional Farmer Cooperative Caucus - House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus - International Conservation Caucus - Sportsmen's Caucus.

Congressman Fortenberry has become the most knowledgeable representative on Capitol Hill for nuclear security issues.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Concerns About Negotiating with Our Enemies

We live in an era when our enemies are often difficult to identify and track, but some nations and their leaders have made well-known their desire to defeat America. Despite the growing global dangers to our country, President Obama has chosen to negotiate with nations which have openly threatened America and our allies. Not only has he met them at the negotiating table, but he has also given in to a disturbingly large number of their demands. Adding to the concern about these deals is the way President Obama has pursued them by bypassing Congress.

Details are trickling down about the nuclear agreement with Iran. In this deal, long-held sanctions against Iran would be lifted, allowing global financial resources to flow into a country still included on our list of state sponsors of terrorism. Unfortunately, the agreement appears to contain few mechanisms to ensure Iran holds up its end of the bargain.

Though the full agreement has not yet been made available to Congress, I am deeply concerned by reports of concessions we are giving to Iran such as lifting arms and missile embargoes and not securing the release of the Americans imprisoned there. Under the terms of the deal, Iran can keep International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors out of suspected nuclear sites for at least three weeks after the request is made. Ambassador Susan Rice and Secretary John Kerry have also now acknowledged a side deal between Iran and IAEA, but the details are unknown.

These negotiations with Iran bear many similarities to the deal recently struck by the Obama administration with Cuba. This week, the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Embassy in Havana formally reopened after President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro came to an agreement in December to resume diplomatic relations. President Obama called it a "historic step forward," but getting to this point required the U.S. to give much more than we received in the deal.

Castro has made it clear he does not intend to change any of his country's oppressive socialist policies. There are no indications Cuba's rampant human rights abuses will subside or even lessen. Cuba maintains its close connections to countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela, and continues to harbor terrorists and fugitives. Meanwhile, President Obama has removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Even these concessions by the U.S. are not enough for Castro. At the reopening ceremony for the Cuban Embassy in Washington, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez not only advocated for an end to the embargo but also called for the U.S. to compensate Cuba for the embargo's effects and to dismantle our naval base at Guantanamo.

With both Iran and Cuba, President Obama adds to his lengthy track record of ignoring Congress and taking unilateral executive action to pursue his agenda. He moved forward with reopening embassies and normalizing relations with Cuba without engaging Congress in these decisions. On Iran, the Obama administration took the deal to the United Nations before Congress even had a chance to review it. These actions are disturbing and show a continued disregard for the American people and their elected representatives.

Despite President Obama's determination to expand his executive authority, the Constitution mandates a crucial oversight role for Congress in these types of agreements with foreign nations. Congress has 60 days to disapprove the Iran deal, and only Congress can lift the Cuba embargo. My top priority remains ensuring any deal is in the best interest of the U.S. and our allies, as well as giving Nebraskans a voice in these decisions which will greatly impact our country's future.

About the Author:

Congressman Adrian Smith from Nebraska serves on the Committee on Ways and Means. Congressional Rural Caucus (Chair), Congressional Rural Veterans Caucus (Chair), Modern Agriculture Caucus (Chair), Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, Congressional Western Caucus and Congressional General Aviation Caucus. Smith has been noted for his consistent voting against tax increases, massive government bailouts, and in his opposition of the affordable healthcare act (aka ObamaCare) which is creating massive uncertainty for our nation's job creators.

Smith, a co-sponsor of the Balanced Budget Amendment and a supporter of a Congressional earmark moratorium, has earned a reputation as a solid conservative through his votes to protect the rights of gun owners, efforts to limit the scope of government, and his strong pro-life voting record.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Damon/Affleck Project Coming to Syfy

"Incorporated" is a new series coming from the minds of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The last time these two put their heads together for a major project resulted in the Academy Award winning film "Good Will Hunting." This time the writing/producing team are focusing on cable television, specifically the Syfy Channel.

The TV movie, which will likely lead to a regular series, is set 47-years in the future where the world is teetering on disaster as a result of continued climatic changes, mega corporations completely out of control and city landscapes that range from the heavenly elegance to complete chaos and nearly medieval living conditions. One man tries to do what has never been attempted — bring about the downfall of one of the largest and most powerful corporations on the planet named Chrysalis which is responsible for much of the world's dilemma.

Damon and Affleck will executive produce while Alex Pastor (Self/less) is set to direct the pilot film and is the script's co-writer with his brother David Pastor (The Last Days).

"Incorporated" has a young leading cast including Sean Teale (Survivor), Georgia Haig (Once Upon A Time) and Eddie Ramos (Teen Wolf).

The project is currently in its prep-production stage. Syfy has yet to announce a premiere date.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Iran Agreement

An Iranian diplomat once told me, “We have more reasons to be friends than enemies.” In a necessary diplomatic dance, I responded, “It is sad that we have taken divergent paths.”

Now a complex and controversial agreement over Iran’s nuclear development is dominating the news. As a matter of first principle, Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. An Iranian bomb would threaten America, our ally Israel, and other friendly countries in the Middle East. The key question to ask is whether this potential agreement will stop, verify, and reverse Iran’s current course. All three points are debatable. Any agreement must move Iran away from the nuclear precipice.

For years Iran has developed the fuel necessary for a nuclear weapon, and the United States must recognize that Iran has a level of mastery over the process. Congress will now undertake the difficult task of unpacking the components of the agreement. The agreement’s architecture offers Iran relief from economic sanctions as long as it significantly scales back its nuclear program. There are two risks involved: the risk of an agreement, and the risk of no agreement. Iran could use it as a ruse to develop a nuclear weapon, but I think this is unlikely. However, the agreement confers upon Iran a status as a threshold nuclear state, an unprecedented dynamic in international affairs for a country with such problematic entanglements.

Rather than look at the technical details here (a summary of the agreement can be found on my website) let’s examine the various options before us. First, we could do nothing. The United States and the international community could continue the deteriorating trajectory without an agreement. Second, the international coalition could demand a better deal by continuing or tightening sanctions. However, other countries involved in the agreement, including the Russians and the Chinese, are not likely to be reliable partners at the negotiating table, and they have already signed this agreement, making further negotiation virtually impossible. Third, we could take the current agreement—but this decision has many implementation and compliance risks, including lifting an international arms embargo on Iran. The fourth option is military strikes, which have multiple negative consequences. All options have significant downsides.

Some people tend to regard Iran monolithically. But Iranians are not all the same. The Iranian regime is led by hardliners and theocrats who envision an Islamic Revolution spreading across the Middle East. On the other hand, a majority of the country is under age 30 and more oriented toward the West: interested in openness, dialogue, and opportunity. Like many people, Iranians face difficult economic circumstances that they hope to change. The tyranny of decades past still controls the country, but new dynamics exist that could chart a better way forward. In a perfect scenario, the agreement could ultimately open a gateway for Iran to have a better relationship with the United States and the world. In any event, the country’s cultural and political contradictions cloud the view of the future.

After a 60 day period of intense review, Congress will confront an up or down vote of approval or disapproval. Many Members of Congress are already expressing deep skepticism about the agreement. Reservations stem from a combination of varied factors. Widespread distrust of Iran is more than justified, and the verification mechanisms could become a cat and mouse game. Added to this, President Obama’s heavy handedness on issues like healthcare and immigration has created a divisiveness that has alienated many Members of Congress and undermines the trust needed for such a delicate diplomatic initiative. Congress should be circumspect about the limits of what we can achieve with—or without—an agreement.

One thing is clear: the dilemma is gravely serious and does not lend itself to sound-bite foreign policy. Prudential judgment about how to keep ourselves and the rest of the world safe requires statesmanship and a solid diplomatic footing, and any resolution must be firewalled from unnecessary political acrimony. We have the responsibility to scrutinize the details of the agreement, debate the merits, and examine added options. The consequences of an agreement will frame the geopolitics of the 21st century.

About the Author:

JEFF FORTENBERRY has served as the U.S. Representative for Nebraska's 1st congressional district since 2005. He is the Chairperson for the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and has a seat on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

He is a member of the following Caucus groups: Civil War Battlefield Caucus - Congressional Biofuels Caucus - Congressional Farmer Cooperative Caucus - House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus - International Conservation Caucus - Sportsmen's Caucus.

Congressman Fortenberry has become the most knowledgeable representative on Capitol Hill for nuclear security issues.

Monday, July 6, 2015

New Tax Sham Designed To Rob Viewing Public

Politicos' Never Ending Search For "Mo Money, Mo Money, Mo Money!"

The digital streaming tax has arrived with all its ugly glory. Chicago, a town infamous for its dirty politics, is the first U.S. city to institute this made-up tax as a way to take more money away from those seeking alternative sources for receiving entertainment.

Chicago is calling their streaming theft of people's hard earned dollars a “cloud tax.” Its first introduction will be a whopping 9% on every movie, video, music download, video gaming, online commerce and online gambling. Video and music streaming avenues such as Netflix and Spotify will be the first to see this tax which officially hits customer’s pockets beginning September 1, 2015.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times the expected revenue for the city should come to around $12 million (USD) annually. However, we all know how ravenous politicians are — especially the low-down and dirty found in the Windy City — it won't be long before that 9% rate will skyrocket and roll through city after city across the country destroying yet another innovative approach to mass marketing a product to the entire public.

Well, it was fun while it lasted but the Net is now officially just another revenue Ponzi-Scheme for dear old Uncle Sam and his crooked State and local offspring.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Freedom

This week marks the 239th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our free and sovereign nation. We all know well the Declaration's chief passage:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our nation’s philosophical foundation, unique in the history of the world, is reflected in these profound words. The Declaration provides a framework for a vibrant American society by outlining the notions—ever ancient and ever new—of who we are as a people. Rooted in the fundamental concepts of liberty and justice, the United States has grown and prospered across time. Our strength is drawn from our values: the dignity of all persons, the importance of community, and the responsibility of freedom—the cherished first principle of human life.

As we celebrate this Independence Day, we are also reminded that our freedoms are under some duress. Cultural discord, economic hardship, and political dysfunction are wounding our country, and different accounts of how to preserve our freedom often clash harshly in the public square. Some turn to either the government or the market, hoping Washington or Wall Street can solve our problems. While we must work toward both proper government and economic dynamism, the answer to our troubles lies in a third way: promoting a strong society.

Society is the space where individuals can flourish in strong families and communities—the space where liberty is sustained. It is the place where persons can pursue genuine freedom, which is the ability to do what we ought for ourselves and one another. As we navigate a particularly turbulent period of national affairs, we might consider the words of the second stanza of America the Beautiful: "Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law." Freedom is best secured and practiced when it is ordered toward that which is good.

As we spend the holiday with families and loved ones, enjoying the festivals, parades, and fireworks displays in our communities, we celebrate our blessings as Americans: that our home is built on such enduring higher truths. The clear and powerful ideals of the Declaration offer a reminder of our nation's capacity to overcome the greatest challenges. May we remember those who have sacrificed before us and our obligation as citizens to protect and pass forward in time the great virtues of our nation.

I wish you all a happy and safe Independence Day!

About the Author:

JEFF FORTENBERRY has served as the U.S. Representative for Nebraska's 1st congressional district since 2005. He is the Chairperson for the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and has a seat on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

He is a member of the following Caucus groups: Civil War Battlefield Caucus - Congressional Biofuels Caucus - Congressional Farmer Cooperative Caucus - House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus - International Conservation Caucus - Sportsmen's Caucus

Congressman Fortenberry has become the most knowledgeable representative on Capitol Hill for nuclear security issues.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Killjoys" — A Review

After two episodes of the new Syfy Channel series “Killjoys” I think it might be safe to say that if the writers and/or suits doesn't screw this one up then the cable network will have themselves a new hit show somewhere on the order of “Defiance.”

To give an idea of what “Killjoys” is about for those who have yet to view the show, it can be summed up as Browncoats with a license to misbehave and badges to boot.

“Killjoys” follows the escapades of three space-faring bounty hunters. However, the term bounty hunter has been replaced with the title of Killjoys, which seems appropriate to the task they are hired to perform. Killjoys are bound to no individual, no government, no military and no corporation but are an entity totally self-governed and self-policed. Their only allegiance is to tracking and bringing back whatever they have been hired to secure, be it human, animal, tech or just about anything someone or something holds as valuable.

The series stars Aaron Ashmore ("Warehouse 13," "Smallville"), Tamsen McDonough ("Lost Girl," "The Incredible Hulk") and Luke Macfarlane ("The Night Shift"). It is the creation of Michelle Lovretta ("Lost Girl").

I made the comparison to the Joss Whedon series “Firefly” because the first two episodes shown so far have that Whedonesque feel and look to it and unless Syfy pulls a Fox this show should fare better than “Firefly” when it comes to number of episodes and seasons.

I can recommend the series based on what I have seen so far and will continue giving it a chance to improve.

I give “Killjoys” a solid * * * our of 5 Stars.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Supreme Court Decision Reinforces Need for Patient-Centered Solutions in Health Care

This week, the Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated ruling in King v. Burwell. Americans have awaited the Court's decision for months, and many hoped this case could serve as a needed check on the Obama administration's health care overreach. Unfortunately, the Court dealt a setback to both the rule of law and the American people by ruling in favor of the administration.

In King v. Burwell, the Court had to determine whether the insurance subsidies provided by the President's health care law to those who purchased plans on the federal exchange were unlawful. The law as written says subsidies are available to individuals who purchase insurance through state exchanges, but the administration expanded these subsidies to include those who purchased insurance from federally-operated Healthcare.gov.

By a 6-3 ruling, the Court upheld Obamacare's subsidies. I am disappointed with the Court's decision, and I remain committed to finding solutions for Nebraskans who are suffering under Obamacare's regulations, price increases, and broken promises.

President Obama insists his health care law is working, but he chooses to ignore the millions of Americans struggling to pay rising premiums and all those who lost their insurance after being told they could keep it. Despite my multiple inquiries to the administration, there is still no resolution for the 80,000 Nebraskans impacted by CoOportunity Health's liquidation. This certainly does not reflect a working law.

The collapse of CoOportunity Health, a Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan created under the President's health care law, left tens of thousands of Nebraskans once again searching for insurance with even fewer options. At a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, I raised questions about CoOportunity Health with Julie McPeak, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Tennessee's Community Health Alliance, also an Obamacare Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan, was given permission to suspend enrollment when warning signs of insolvency arose. For unknown reasons, CoOportunity Health was not allowed to do the same. I am still working to get answers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as to why this happened and what can be done to help those impacted by this Obamacare failure.

In the meantime, I will also continue working to roll back Obamacare's regulations and restore consumer choice in health care. Over the past couple weeks, the House has passed two major health care reforms which I cosponsored and supported in my role on the Ways and Means Committee. One of these bills, the Protecting Seniors' Access to Medicare Act, would repeal Obamacare's Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) to prevent a panel of unelected bureaucrats from determining the types of care seniors can receive. Secondly, the Protect Medical Innovation Act would repeal the medical device tax and encourage investment in life-saving medical advancements. These bills have been sent to the Senate for consideration.

Though the King v. Burwell ruling is a setback, it only reinforces the need to find patient-centered solutions for the issues Americans across the country are facing with their health care. In the wake of the Court's decision, we will continue our efforts to help those impacted by Obamacare's rising insurance costs, burdensome regulations, and bureaucratic mismanagement.

About the Author:

Congressman Adrian Smith from Nebraska serves on the Committee on Ways and Means. Congressional Rural Caucus (Chair), Congressional Rural Veterans Caucus (Chair), Modern Agriculture Caucus (Chair), Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, Congressional Western Caucus and Congressional General Aviation Caucus.

Smith has been noted for his consistent voting against tax increases, massive government bailouts, and in his opposition of the affordable healthcare act (aka ObamaCare) which is creating massive uncertainty for our nation's job creators.

Smith, a co-sponsor of the Balanced Budget Amendment and a supporter of a Congressional earmark moratorium, has earned a reputation as a solid conservative through his votes to protect the rights of gun owners, efforts to limit the scope of government, and his strong pro-life voting record.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Advantageous" - A Film Review

I was able to catch a limited Netflix screening of a new science fiction film written by Jacqueline Kim and Jennifer Phang titled “Advantageous.” Kim produces and stars as the film’s protagonist named Gwen. Phang directed the feature. Kim is best known by sci-fi fans as Demora Sulu, the daughter of Captain Hikaru Sulu of Star Trek fame. The film co-stars James Urbaniak (Agent Carter), Jennifer Ehle (Fifty Shades of Grey), Ken Jeong (Hangover) and Freya Adams (The Slap).

“Advantageous” follows Gwen and her 13-year old daughter played by Samantha Kim as they face a more than likely future of hardship and poverty after Gwen loses her high profile job with a health and plastic surgery conglomerate. She once held the position of spokesperson for the plastic surgery division but with the onset of middle age the company is looking to replace her with a younger face to reach that growing demographic.

Although this near-future society is quite opulent the decline is beginning to set in even though humankind has reached its zenith in technological advancement. However, with more and more jobs now being performed by robotic human-like androids work is becoming more scarce. With few openings available women in the workplace are becoming a rarity with all the advancements women had achieved over the last 100 years prior to this age being dwindled away with more women joining the ranks of the unemployed and homelessness. Only those women lucky enough to be self-employed in a business that still has demand are free from the overshadowing economic hardship. Gwen, being an employee of a large corporation now finds herself among the unemployable.

To make it even harder for Gwen, her daughter is a virtual genius and highly gifted artist with a promising future if able to attend the best schools. However, the cost is now totally prohibited and without the right connections almost impossible to surmount those hallowed halls of advance learning.

All this leads Gwen to make a decision that will drastically and forever change her relationship and close-knit bond with her daughter but will ensure her daughter a future unfettered by the growing problems now being shared by most women in society.

“Advantageous” isn't your typical science fiction film found coming out of Hollywood these days. There are no over-the-top special effects, except perhaps the downtown skyscrapers that have beautiful cascading waterfalls oozing from their top floors — that was pretty cool. There are no big explosions, aliens invading, or outer space adventures. This is one of those rare kind of sci-fi movies that is designed for the thinking person looking to have their mind and heart challenged without the need to put aside their rational brain. Even the concept of the transference process revealed in the movie isn't beyond logical comprehension.

I liked this movie. It was well written, exquisitely delivered. Jacqueline Kim was exceptional. Even though the film moves at a snail’s pace in some parts it more than makes up for that with real thought provoking ideas about humanity, its future and relationships in a highly technological society.

I give “Advantageous” * * * 1/2 out of 5 Stars.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Sense8" - A Review

There are times in life when a work of art from a piece of music, a film, episodic television, novel or on the canvas can make such an impact on a person that it literally alters their thinking making that person reevaluate certain preconceived notions, or even set their mind on a completely different path. These times are so rare that in the lifetime of an individual they can usually be counted on one hand.

Until recently there were three such times in my own personal life in which something I read and viewed changed my way of thinking and life’s course. The first occurred when I was still quite young, eight or nine years old. It was an episode of a Playhouse 90 special in the 1950’s. This weekly program was an anthology series on CBS with a new episode each week presenting entertainment and thought provoking stories using famous actors like Charlton Heston or Kim Hunter. On this one particular episode it dealt with racism in a New York ghetto in which a young Puerto Rican boy of about 12 or so was accused of rape and murder, a crime he never committed but was hanged in a back alley by a vengeful, racist crowd who were his own neighbors. This was my first awakening to the shame and destructive hatred racism presents and forever altered my thinking so that it would never play a negative role in my own life.

The second life altering experience happened at age 14 while reading a copy of “All Quiet on the Western Front” in my high school library. The stark realism that book painted of war allowed me to never see the glory in the gory bloodbath of battle with human beings pinned against each other over such trivial matters.

The third and, until most recently, last event to change my life was watching Stanley Kubrick’s feature cinematic adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel ”2001: A Space Odyssey.” My view of the universe and the unlimited possibilities for life beyond the confines of this small blue planet took on an expanded panoramic design as a result of seeing that movie in 1968.

It’s been a long trip from 1968 until now (2015) and I haven't had anything near the metamorphose that these three artistic events made in my existence. There have been many that came close. Many that held out the promise. However, nothing so cultivating.

That is until now.

I just finished watching J. Michael Straczynski’ and The Wachowskis' Netflix series “Sense8.” I didn't binge watch this one like I do with so many other Netflix, Hulu or Amazon offerings. After viewing the first episode I was immediately aware of the jewel this show would be and instinctively knew that this piece of art was something that would need to be absorbed slowly, deliberately, delicately and with purpose. Straczynski has always been one of my favorite writers but what he has created with “Sense8” is more than good or even great, it is quite literally a character-driven masterpiece into the human psyche.

His sense of what makes for interesting television and movie making has never been lost on him as “Babylon 5,” “Changeling” and “Jeremiah” have proven. And, as good as those may have been they are like the work of a third grader compared to the genius found in “Sense8.”

These first 12-episodes of season one should be held up as a university master class in writing, character development, story building, arching and knowing exactly when and where not to place the action.

“Sense8” from its opening musical theme to its closing credits is one of those rarities that when it is over you are left sitting still staring at the screen with your mind fixated on what your eyes just saw, ears just heard and brain tried to comprehend.

Unlike many other popular shows the discussion around the water cooler the next day won’t be about this or that action or sex scene but will revolve completely about how this character interacted with that one and how the exquisite dialogue between them elevated the thought processes of you, the viewer.

My only complaint about this show is the first season was limited to 12 episodes. I could have watched 12 more and then 12 more. Season two cannot come soon enough.

I give “Sense8” * * * * * out of 5 Stars.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Remembering Christopher Lee

A legend of film and stage has made his last curtain call. Sir Christopher Lee, best known for his villainous roles in horror and science fiction has died at the age of 93.

One of the most prolific actors in the business Lee began his career in 1946 on British television after serving in the military during World War II but soon found himself in great demand on the big screen and the London stage. With well over 200 film and TV appearances Lee's face and powerful Shakespearean bravado is one of the most recognizable on the planet.

Some of his most famous performances include early television programs such as “Tales of Hans Andersen,” “Rheingold Theatre,” “The Errol Flynn Theatre” and “Assignment Foreign Legion.” It was on these early 1940’s and 1950’s British television shows that Lee honed his craft which would eventually move him onto the big screen where he became one of the most unique and sought after talents in the industry.

His first real creature feature was 1957’s “The Curse of Frankenstein,” a film that gave him a flair for horror that would never leave him. From there he went on to star in “Horror of Dracula,” “Corridors of Blood,” “The Mummy,” “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” and so many other classic fright films.

By the early 1960’s he started becoming recognizable by American audiences and made several televised appearances in the colonies like the award winning series “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” Then came the film that would forever set him in the archives. In 1965 he starred as the lead character in “The Face of Fu Manchu” and his path was set. He went on to star in several Fu Manchu sequels cementing his place as one of the kings of the genre.

By the mid 1970’s Lee’s name became synonymous with horror films right up there with Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and longtime British friend and actor Peter Cushing.

In 1974 he received another big boost to his career that allowed him to move away from pure horror into the category of film villain when he took the role of Scaramanga in the James Bond film “The Man with the Golden Gun.”

Even more success was to follow Lee in the latter half of his life with roles in such iconic franchise films like “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies, as well as his unforgettable role of Count Dooku for the Star Wars films and animated television series.

Lee was the recipient of various awards including a BAFTA Film award, an ACCA, Bram Stoker and Cinema for Peace Awards, just to name a few.

Sir Christopher Lee will be greatly missed by all those who loved watching him do what he did best - performing.

Evangelizing the Jews: The New Techniques

To bring about the Second Coming, fundamentalist Christians believe they must convert the Jews. Having failed in the past, they are now armed with a new arsenal of deceptive techniques. No Sunday services take place here; this congregation meets only on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. You will never see a cross or an altar; there is an Aron Hakodesh (holy ark) with a star of David adorning its velvet cover, and a Bimah (stage for prayer services) in the center of the sanctuary. The majority of the men who worship here wear kippot, and their tzitzit hang down the sides of their pants. This congregation's rabbi, among many other functions, reads from the Torah and makes Kiddush every Shabbat. Most of the women are modestly dressed. Joyous shouts of "Shabbat Shalom" and "Baruch Hashem" can be heard as young couples greet each other. The sanctuary pulsates to a modern Israeli musical beat.

If this sounds like a description of a traditional Jewish house of worship, think again. The above is actually a description of any one of the hundreds of Messianic "synagogues" which flourish throughout the world.

Confused? Many are.

Such congregations are designed to appear Jewish, but they are actually fundamentalist Christian churches which use traditional Jewish symbols to lure the most vulnerable of our Jewish people into their ranks. Messianic "rabbis," many of whom are Jewish by birth, are committed to bringing the Jewish people to know Jesus. Their agenda is to make Christianity more palatable to the uneducated Jew, and to the astonishment and horror of the Jewish community, their marketing ploys are proving to be successful.

Twenty-two years ago, twelve Messianic congregations existed in the United States. Today, more than 300 actively attract and recruit Jews who, because they lack a sound Jewish education and support system, are buying the manipulative rhetoric and persuasive techniques of the Hebrew-Christian missionary movement.

Additionally, there are over 600 Christian missions dedicated to converting the Jewish people. It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 Hebrew-Christians in North America and Israel. As an exit-counselor who works with families to reclaim their Jewish family members from these churches, I can testify that the cost in terms of Jewish souls is dear.

WHO ARE THESE MISSIONARIES?

In order to understand the dynamics of the missionary problem, we must first understand who exactly these missionaries are.

To the Jewish community, the word "missionary" is a charged word, with a multitude of misconceptions attached to it. Typically, the word "missionary" is associated with those people who stand on street corners, annoyingly and ubiquitously distributing literature that tries to persuade individuals to believe in Jesus. When we think of missionaries we might think of an organization with members, mailing lists, secretaries, and buildings to which we can point and say, "You see that building on 31st street, between Lexington and Park (New York headquarters of Jews For Jesus)? They are the missionaries."

This is merely one of a variety of misconceptions we have about missionaries and how they operate.

A number of years ago I lectured at a large university campus in Ohio. In my conversation with a dean we began to discuss the work I do. He immediately reassured me that at his university, they did not have a missionary problem. He recalled how years earlier there were indeed missionaries on his campus who distributed pamphlets and misused traditional Jewish symbols for the purpose of evangelizing. "But we don't have that here anymore," he insisted. "Tell me, are there any fundamentalist born-again Christians on your campus?" I asked. He quickly snapped, "What? Are you kidding? This is the Midwest! We're packed with them!" I then told him that indeed he had a serious missionary problem on his campus because, in reality, fundamentalist, born-again Christians are dedicated to the idea of bringing every Jew to a belief in Jesus.

Our second mistake is that we tend to view the Christian world as a monolithic group of gentiles who all essentially believe the same thing. In fact, the Christian world -- with hundreds of variant denominations that differ on numerous fundamental theological issues -- is far more diverse than the Jewish world. At a baseball game, it is sometimes difficult to know who the players are without a scorecard. Let's break down the Christian world for a moment so that we know precisely to whom we are referring.

THE COMPLEX CHRISTIAN WORLD

The Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest denomination in Christendom. Yet despite its past often-bitter relationship with the Jewish people, today Catholics are for the most part not interested in converting Jews. I need not worry that a Catholic priest is going to evangelize any of my patients at a hospital. If anything, he is one of the people who will show me where I can secure a kosher meal. Another significant segment of the Christian world, especially in North America, is the Protestant community. For our purposes, we will over generalize and divide the Protestant world into two groups. One group, the mainline or liberal Protestants (Methodist, Unitarian, etc.), is not at all interested in converting Jews. Liberal leaning Protestant denominations tend to shy away from any form of Jewish evangelism. It is, however, the other highly motivated and vocal segment within the Protestant community -- the fundamentalist, born-again Christians -- who are unyielding in their staunch commitment to convert the Jews.

There are two rules about Jewish evangelism that must always be kept in mind:

The first rule is that the Christian who makes the very first critical and successful contact with the Jew is never a professional missionary. It will not be a paid staff member of Jews for Jesus or Chosen People Ministries. Rather, it is almost always a layperson -- perhaps a secretary at the office, a roommate in college or someone on the same swim team -- who makes that initial connection. Only after the lay evangelical Christian has made this preliminary contact will the professional missionaries step in to the conversion process.

Secondly, the Christian layperson who makes that all-important first contact with the Jew is invariably a gentile. It is extremely rare for a "Hebrew-Christian" to successfully make that initial contact with a Jew. The perceived betrayal of the Jewish people by the Hebrew-Christian's apostasy sullies his message in the mind of a Jew. Only after the lay gentile born-again Christian has made that first crucial and successful encounter with a Jew will the Hebrew-Christian missionaries step in to finalize the conversion.

In essence, the central role that Christian missions like Jews for Jesus plays is to act as a clearinghouse and support system for evangelical churches around the world. As a result, these "Jewish missions" spend much of their resources and manpower teaching lay missionaries in gentile churches.

How serious a problem are these Protestant fundamentalist Christians? How many born-again Christians are there in the United States? Their numbers are not small. According to most estimates, there are well over 50 million Americans who identify themselves as born-again Christians. That is, approximately one in five Americans is part of this army of lay people dedicated to "share" their faith with a Jew. When I spoke in Nashville a number of years ago, an Assemblies of God minister bluntly told me that he would rather convert one Jew than 50,000 gentiles.

WHY THE JEWS?

A question that naturally comes to mind is: Why the Jews? Why are these fundamentalist Christians so consumed with bringing the Jewish people to "know Jesus?" Why has the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, passed numerous resolutions encouraging more than 15 million American members to target and evangelize the Jewish people?

There are several reasons:

Firstly, the New Testament specifically prioritizes Jews for conversion. In the book of Matthew (10:5), when Jesus is instructing his apostles, he warns them, "Go not into the way of the gentiles ... but only go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The Apostle Paul echoes the identical sentiment in the first chapter of the book of Romans when he declares, "Go to the Jew first, then to the Greek (i.e. gentile)."

We find a recurrent and unique emphasis on reaching the Jews in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels, almost to the exclusion of the gentiles.

A second reason for this obsession relates to the Church's fascination with eschatology, the study of the End of Times. Fundamentalist Christians are consumed by the prophecies surrounding the end of days. They want to know when the Messiah will come/return. How will this take place? To which nations did the prophet Ezekiel refer when he described how apocalyptic nations would wage war against Jerusalem before the final hour leading to the messianic age (Ezekiel 38-39)? Christian bookstores typically set aside an entire section dedicated to eschatological inquiry.

How does all this apocalyptic speculation and discussion relate to our subject? At the end of the book of Matthew (23:39), Jesus is quoted making a very important statement. He says, "I will not return until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Because Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience at the time he made this statement, Christians have always understood this statement to have one meaning: Jesus will not make his second coming until the Jews are converted. The Jews, therefore, are holding up the show.

Fundamentalist Christians also believe that Jesus is going to make his second coming in or about the year 2000 (counting from Jesus' birth); therefore, the Jews must be converted by then, en masse, in order to enable Jesus to return. (Bear in mind that there remains considerable controversy among Christians as to the year of Jesus' birth. Many Christians -- largely based on Luke's narrative -- place the 2,000th year from Jesus' birth in the year 2007).

Finally, the most significant reason for the church's preoccupation with the Jews stems from the credibility problem that the faith of a Jew presents to Christendom.

THE MESSIAH COMPLEX

Jesus was a Jew and Christians claim that he is the promised Messiah about whom the prophets spoke. The idea of the Messiah -- who will come at the end of days to usher in a utopian society of love, peace, and the universal knowledge of God -- is exclusively Jewish. Fundamentalist Christians insist that if the Jews would only look in their own Hebrew scriptures they would find Jesus literally bouncing off every page. It, therefore, stands to reason that the Jews should have been the first to embrace Jesus and his teachings, if in fact Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Yet, the Jews were the very people who did not accept Jesus.

This has always been a troubling reality to the Christian Church since its inception. It is for this reason that only the conversion of a Jew to Christianity can lend credibility -- never the conversion of the gentile.

Peering back into world history, it would probably be quite difficult for any of us to think of another program that has been a more miserable failure than the church's persistent effort to convert the Jews to Christianity.

Bear in mind that Christianity swept through Europe almost overnight. The same is true for Latin America. Yet the Jews, with all their problems of persecution and forced exile, still would not convert. With the approach of the end of the second millennium, evangelicals were faced with a serious dilemma: How were they to finally bring the Jewish people to accept Jesus? This quandary was no small theological challenge to the church. With the year 2000 in sight, two critical conferences were convened a little more than a quarter of a century ago. The first was held in Switzerland and the other in Thailand. The main questions that were asked at those two symposiums was: Why has the Church been so unsuccessful in their past efforts to convert the Jews, and what new techniques can be employed to attract masses of new Jewish converts to the church by the turn of the century?

It was at these two unlikely locations that devout evangelists placed the Jewish people under a microscope. Indeed, it was at these symposiums that those Christians understood that the church had a number of serious challenges with respect to converting the Jews.

PUBLIC RELATIONS PROBLEM

The first problem they discovered was that the church had a significant public relations problem. They concluded that Jewish people historically tend to equate Christianity with persecution. Jewish people often feel somewhat uncomfortable just hearing the words "Jesus Christ," and when they see a cross or a church icon, it rarely conjures up warm, affectionate feelings. On the contrary, whereas Christians tend to feel quite comfortable in synagogues, or observing Jewish ceremonies, Jewish people tend to feel alienated by churches and their icons.

Taking this public relations problem head on, these evangelists initiated a unique approach. It goes something like this, "You're Jewish? We Christians just love the Jewish people! Persecution? Oh, no! Any Christian who persecuted a Jew in the name of Jesus couldn't be a real Christian. A real Christian only loves the Jewish people!"

This novel technique enables Christians to freely evangelize Jews by distancing themselves from their Christian forbears. In this way, potential Jewish converts will not feel alienated by Christendom. These evangelists realized, however, that simply smothering us with love could not in itself be totally effective. Jews would not simply start converting to Christianity en masse because evangelicals loudly condemned anti-Semitism. They understood that the essential reason why Jews do not convert is because they do not want to stop being Jewish, and Jews view Christianity as antithetical to Judaism. With this realization, these highly motivated missionaries developed an entirely new and remarkably simple approach to Jewish evangelism. It goes like this, "When you're becoming a believer in Jesus, you are not converting to another religion. On the contrary, you're becoming a 'fulfilled Jew' or a 'completed Jew.' After all, Jesus was a Jew and his followers were Jewish; therefore, believing in Jesus must be the most Jewish thing you can do."

Messianic "synagogues" do not observe Christian holidays. You will never find a Christmas tree or blinking colored lights around December in a Messianic congregation. Instead, these missionaries celebrate Jewish holidays with a "Christological" spin. Throughout the world, Messianic congregations hold elaborate and well-publicized Passover Seders.

A MESSIANIC "SEDER"

At first glance, a Messianic Seder table appears quite traditional, with all of the customary essentials: Seder plate, matzah, and wine. Once the ceremony begins to unfold, however, even the most uninitiated will immediately realize that something is askew. Participants are told that the wine at the Seder table represents the blood of Yeshua/Jesus, and the matzah represents his body. Do you know the real reason why Jews have three matzoth at the Seder table? To represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Do you know why the matzahs are perforated? Because Jesus was pierced through when he was crucified.

Why does the matzah have stripes? Because Jesus had stripes across his back as a result of the beating he endured during his trial. Why is the middle matzah broken? Because Jesus was brutally broken on the cross. Why is the matzah wrapped in a white towel? Because Jesus was wrapped in a white burial shroud. Why is this middle matzah hidden? Because Jesus was hidden away in the tomb following his crucifixion. Why is the matzah brought back at the end of the meal? Because Jesus will return in the Second Coming at the End of Days.

Messianic congregations will never be listed in the Yellow Pages under churches. They are always listed with the synagogues. Additionally, the Messianic movement has created a remarkable tool for Jewish evangelism called a "communications card." This card carefully guides evangelicals on how to talk to a Jew in a manner that will not alienate them as potential converts. A two-column card which is usually wallet-sized for easy transport and access reads:

"Don't say Jesus Christ; Do say Messiah Yeshua,"

"Don't say convert; do say "Messianic, completed, fulfilled Jew."

Don't say "Christian; do say Bible believer," etc.

In essence, the Messianic movement's fundamental approach seeks to blur the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist a straightforward Christian message. To the horror of the Jewish world, it is a tactic that has achieved remarkable success with the most vulnerable segments of our community -- the very young, the very old, and our Russian brethren.

Some of the men will be wearing yarmulkes, and the women, all modestly dressed, will be dancing in the isles to the rhythmic sound of an Israeli musical beat. Shouts of "Shabbat shalom!" will be heard as participants joyfully great each other under colorful banners filled with Hebrew words and Stars of David. If this all sounds like an upcoming Zionist convention, think again. And although Jews who don't believe in Jesus are not invited, we are the subject of this entire symposium.

The Messianic movement, whose churches and membership have grown exponentially over the past three decades, seek to blur the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity. They call Jesus "Yeshua," their churches "synagogues," and their ministers "rabbis" in order to lure vulnerable Jews who would otherwise reject a straightforward Christian message. To the horror of Jewish communities worldwide, it is an effort that has been enormously successful, and the cost in terms of Jewish souls is dear.

The practitioners of Jewish evangelism are aggressive spiritual predators that will stop at nothing to harvest the Jews for the Cross. They may love our Jewish state, but they abhor our Jewish faith. And although they consider Judaism defective, they will freely borrow from our Jewish symbols and traditions in order to set us straight on their narrow path to fundamentalist Christianity.

As Jews work with Christians in our effort to strengthen Israel , we must make it clear to our evangelical friends that our new-found relationship can only flourish on a firm foundation of genuine mutual respect and understanding. The repeated Christian proclamation "We love the Jewish people" must include "and we respect your Jewish faith" in order for our two peoples to stand together for Zion 's sake.

About the Author:

Rabbi Tovia Singer is well known as the Founder and Director of Outreach Judaism, an international organization dedicated to countering the efforts of fundamentalist Christian groups and cults who specifically target Jews for conversion. As a world renowned public speaker, Rabbi Singer addresses more than 100 audiences a year.

Rabbi Singer is widely regarded as one of the leading voices countering the efforts of missionaries that target Jews. He has had numerous interviews on radio and television over the years and continues to teach thousands, bringing many back to Judaism.

He also hosts a radio program, The Tovia Singer Show, which launched in January of 2002 on Israel National Radio. This new talk radio program has become a powerful and provocative voice of reason on current Jewish issues.