FBI Whiffs on School Shooting
This week, Nikolas Cruz killed 17 and wounded another 13 in an assault on the students and faculty of Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. By law, the school is a designated "gun free zone." This ensured that Cruz would be able to fire at will until off-site police arrived, which they did within five minutes of being called. By that time the 19-year-old Cruz had ditched his weapon and blended in with the fleeing students.
Cruz's heinous plan was months in the making. Back on September 5, 2017 Cruz posted a YouTube boast "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." The FBI was alerted to this threat by Ben Bennight, but professed themselves unable to identify the poster despite the fact that he used his real name.
Meanwhile, Parkland police acknowledged that officers had made 39 visits to Cruz's residence over the last several years responding to 9-1-1 calls complaining of a "mentally ill person." Marjory Stoneman High School authorities had also previously expelled Cruz for violent behavior and threats. Nevertheless, Cruz was able to pass an FBI background check and purchase the AR-15 rifle he used in his killing spree.
On January 5 of this year, a person close to Cruz alerted the FBI and provided information about his gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts, and potential to carry out a school shooting. The FBI failed to follow up on this tip.
Fresh from his testimony to congress in which he hailed the FBI as "the finest group of professionals and public servants I could hope to work with," Director Christopher Wray admitted that "I am at a loss to explain this breakdown in the Agency's protocols. It is our responsibility to act quickly and properly when members of the public call our tip line with information regarding a threat of personal harm." Wray promised to "work tirelessly to get to the bottom of this mystifying dereliction of duty."
A possible explanation was offered by FBI Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein's announcement that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had just indicted 13 Russians for meddling in the 2016 election. The meddling is reported to have included using false names while making FaceBook posts denigrating the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and the staging of simultaneous pro and anti Trump post-election rallies.
"While we certainly understand and sympathize with parents whose children were allegedly murdered by Mr. Cruz, the FBI doesn't have unlimited resources.," Rosenstein said. "We have to prioritize and deploy our manpower to deal with what the Agency determines is the greater threat. For more than a year we have been investigating Russian interference in our elections. That more than a dozen Russian-backed Internet trolls dared to make snide comments about a presidential candidate was, in our estimate a more dire peril than the possibility that a deranged lunatic might massacre a few dozen relatively unimportant teenagers."
Whether the indictment of these Russians will accomplish anything seems dubious. The individuals are currently outside the US jurisdiction and are unlikely to be surrendered to US authorities to be prosecuted for posts that would appear to be covered by the Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. Besides, the normal punishment for obnoxious behavior by a foreigner is to expel him from the country.
However, Rosenstein insists that "it's the principle that matters. The Russian government's refusal to allow us to extradite these men will be an indelible and embarrassing stain on their reputation. Even if they do permit extradition, the ultimate formal expulsion of these men will shame them before the whole world."
"The bigger issue is how we will prevent this type of foreign interference in the future," Rosenstein contended. "We have already been working informally with FaceBook, Google, and Twitter to try to get them to screen out unwarranted political content. While this is an encouraging beginning, I think we need to move toward some sort of government procedure that could review all political comments before they are posted to the web. That way we could head off destructive and antisocial remarks before they can damage our democratic processes."
In related news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions absolved himself of any culpability for the FBI's failure to avert the Florida shooting, asking people to "remember that I've recused myself from anything involving law enforcement" and sought to reassure Americans by saying that "I've asked Deputy Rosenstein to handle any further actions related to the FBI's neglect to follow protocols of its various and sundry responsibilities, whatever those might be."
Oprah Says She Won't Run for President
Daytime TV personality Oprah Winfrey's assertion that she will not run for president in 2020 "because if God actually wanted me to run, wouldn't God kinda tell me? And I haven't heard that. I had a lot of wealthy men calling, telling me that they would run my campaign and raise $1 billion for me, but it's just not in my spirit."
Joy Behar, a panelist on ABC's The View talk show, called Oprah's remarks "insane. It's the kind of thing we'd expect to come out of Vice-President Pence's mouth. What can she be thinking putting the imaginary words of some spook in the sky ahead of a billion dollar campaign war chest? I mean, if she were the president she could give everyone a brand new car. To my mind, that would be a winning issue and a great economic program. To take herself out of the running like she has is just plain nuts."
In Congress, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif) charged God with racism. "Why is God telling the greatest black woman in America not to run for president? He let a white woman run." Waters vowed to introduce legislation to remove the phrase "in God we trust" from US currency. "How can any right-thinking American trust God after the horrible message he gave Oprah?"
Court Says Muslim Travel Ban Unconstitutional
This week the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 9-4 to overturn President Trump's anti-terrorist travel ban from eight countries on the grounds that "it violates the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. The President's assumption that the Muslim call for jihad from its adherents empowers him to block the immigration of practitioners of this religion into this country is mistaken. The protection of the First Amendment is absolute. It allows no exception for religious practices that entail violence. To single out one religion merely because it commands the coercion or murder of unbelievers is, therefore, unconstitutional."
Chief Judge Roger Gregory admitted that "the potential dangers of an attack from within by persons motivated by pure religious tenets was unforeseen by the Framers. Ironically, the Constitution explicitly bars the government from taking actions against the free exercise of any religion in this country. Thus far, the defenders of Islam have focused only on the admission of Muslims from abroad. It could be argued, though, that since jihad is a genuine component of their religion, the government is even barred from taking any measures to interfere with the efforts of any Muslims within US borders to convert or eliminate those who resist its entreaties to surrender to Allah."
"It could also be argued that since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized the Satanic rite of human sacrifice it would be discriminatory to deny the roughly equivalent Islamic rite to slay infidels," Gregory added. "After all, what's good for the goose ought to be good for the gander."
Judge Paul Niemeyer, one of the four dissenting votes, called the majority's decision "a serious mistake in both law and common sense. In essence, what they are saying is that if a man wants to kill someone for religious reasons the US government is constitutionally barred from intervening to prevent it. There is no way the Framers intended this result when they wrote the First Amendment. Freedom of religion does not entail allowing one person to harm another no matter what a religion's particular dogma or rituals might prescribe. Fortunately, the Second Amendment still allows the would-be victim of the religious zealot to defend himself."
In related news, Swedish police officer Peter Springare is in deep trouble for objecting to "the cultural phenomenon of gang rapes carried out by Muslim immigrants." Secretary General of Sweden's Law Society Anne Ramberg characterized Springare's remarks as "almost racist" and "not up to the standards we expect of our civil servants. As I understand it, these behaviors by Muslim men are considered justified in their religion if women appear in public unaccompanied by a male relative. For us to object is cruel and insensitive."
Dems & Pubs Battle Over Food Stamps
In a proposal dubbed "America's Harvest Box," President Trump's new budget calls for replacing half of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) vouchers with actual food for 80% of the program's recipients. The "box" would contain allotments of shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables.
Democrats were quick to attack the plan. Michigan Sen Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the agriculture committee, labeled it "not a serious proposal." Rep Jim McGovern (D-Mass) called it "a cruel joke. It unfairly limits the choices of those dependent on the government for their living. We've been moving toward expanding the options for those in the program. The vouchers can and often are exchanged for cash that could be used to buy cigarettes or beer. The distribution of food would make these types of exchanges more difficult. It would be a step backward. Why should government dependents have fewer choices than the rest of society?"
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue defended the plan as a "cost saving measure. The vouchers must pay for food at retail prices. We can buy the food at bulk rates and get more bang for the taxpayers' money."
Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) was cool to the idea. "I'm drafting a bill that will save billions in the SNAP program by tightening eligibility and requiring able-bodied recipients to work. Statistics show that fewer than half of the able-bodied in the program have jobs. This unforced dependency is both an unnecessary burden on taxpayers and ensnares millions in a perpetual cycle of idleness and dependency."
McGovern also denounced Conaway's idea that recipients ought to have to work if they are able. "It's petty for a country as rich as America to force people to work if they want to eat," he argued. "We abolished slavery more than 150 years ago. I find it reprehensible that Republicans are trying to sneak it back in as a budget economy measure."
In related news, former New York City police officer Jose Vega is suing the Police Department for making him obese. Vega is currently living on a $4,000 per month disability pension. "My goal was to become a first-grade detective and homicide detective,'' he said. "But they made me walk a beat where many of the vendors and restaurants expressed their support of law enforcement by giving me free food. I ballooned from 180 to 395 lbs. and couldn't work anymore." Vega is demanding that he be "taken back on the force part time for $6,200 a month. I could be kind of a 'Nero Wolfe' and solve crimes without ever having to leave my apartment."