Here’s a morbid exercise: Can you keep track of which school shooting was the last before Parkland?

Original Article

If you started typing “school shooting” into Google search Wednesday afternoon, you might have noticed that auto-fill took over and anticipated the next word: “today.” So even the bloodless algorithms within Google recognize that, when one tries to find information about a fresh school shooting, the search needs to be narrowed. Because people are still searching the school shooting from last week. And the one before that. And the one before that. We are six weeks into 2018, and so far there have been at least six shooting incidents on school grounds that have wounded at least one person, including the massacre Wednesday, in which 17 people were reported killed at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

When does an epidemic stop being an epidemic and become just a basic part of regular life? It’s been 19 years since the nation was horrified by the carnage at Columbine in suburban Denver. It’s been just over five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Quick: What was the most recent mass shooting incident (at least four wounded) at a school before the one on Wednesday? Here’s the sick part: There have been so many school shootings that it takes a bit of work to answer what should be an easy question.

Already the folks who support gun control (which includes us) are fuming about the ready availability of firearms in our society. Already the pro-gun folks are pooh-poohing those who think guns are integral to shooting deaths. “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” they like to say. The accurate phrasing should be, “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns do.” At an astonishing rate, a depressing rate, a stomach-churning rate.

As a society we tend to become particularly shocked — at least for a few minutes — when someone shoots down children and young adults while they’re attending classes in what should be a positive, nurturing and safe environment. But even if we’re shocked, we tolerate it. Our outrage is more Pavlovian than visceral. We listen to the bleatings of the gun enthusiasts that, well, if those teachers had guns, then this wouldn’t have been as bad.

Been as bad. Think about that. If a pistol-strapping chemistry teacher had grabbed her .45 and unloaded on today’s gunman after he killed, what, one student? Three? Five? That would be good news?

We do not live in the Wild West. Our schools are not the O.K. Corral. Clint Eastwood isn’t in this movie. We are a violent, disjointed, gun-embracing culture. “But wait!” you might say. “Not me! I hate guns! We need more gun control!” As true as that might be, that’s not the belief of the body politic. Because if it was, we wouldn’t be sitting in front of our television sets wondering what the final death tally will be. Feeling our heartstrings tugged by images of bereft parents. Feeling an impotent rage.

This is what America is today: bloody. The Florida shooting too shall pass, as did Columbine, Sandy Hook, Santa Monica College and so on — all allowed to fade into the backdrop of American memory without a thing being done. This is us. Until we decide finally, forcefully, effectively, that it is not.

Putin’s Phone Call With Netanyahu Put End to Israeli Strikes in Syria

Original Article

Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to the confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria and both sides accepted his decision. That’s the apparent conclusion to be reached from the chain of events this past weekend.

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On Saturday afternoon, after the second wave of bombardments by the Israel Air Force against Syrian targets and Iranian installationsin Syria, senior Israeli officials were still taking a militant line and it seemed as if Jerusalem was considering further military action. Discussion of that ended not long after a phone call between Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The official announcement by the Russian Foreign Ministry objected to the violation of Syrian sovereignty by Israel and totally ignored the event that provoked the eruption – the infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace. In the conversation with Netanyahu a few hours later, Putin asked him to avoid moves that could lead to “a new round of dangerous consequences for the region.”

The quiet after the Netanyahu-Putin call shows once again who’s the real boss in the Middle East. While the United States remains the region’s present absentee – searches are continuing for a coherent American foreign policy – Russia is dictating the way things are going. Moscow has invested too much effort and resources in saving Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in recent years to allow Israel to foil its strategic project. One can assume messages of this nature were conveyed during the phone call with Netanyahu.

This doesn’t mean that Israel doesn’t have its own bargaining chips, just from its ability to send the Syrian arena into another dramatic spin, but it’s doubtful that Netanyahu is eager to confront the Russians. His confrontation with the Iranians is enough.

Israeli military attacks the drone's command and control vehicle

A rare vulnerability exposed during an otherwise successful day for the IAF that allowed the hit on the F-16 provided the Iranians and Syrians with their great propaganda achievement. The crew of the plane that was hit was left relatively exposed at high altitude in a manner that allowed the surprise hit by the missile. From Iran’s perspective, it was an impressive success in the first operation that the Revolutionary Guards conducted in this region by themselves, without relying on emissaries like Hezbollah and local militias. This success was immediately translated into an attempt to establish a new balance of power through declarations that it would no longer allow Israel to conduct air strikes in Syria as it pleases.

The area surrounding Assad’s camp suffered serious damage from the weekend bombardments, with almost half the Syrian army’s air defense batteries destroyed. But it seems that from the Iranian and Syrian perspective, the symbolic importance of taking down an Israeli plane makes up for this.

Over the weekend another two precedents were set: Iran launched a drone into Israeli territory, and Israel hit a manned Iranian target in Syrian territory. Israel thus crossed a certain psychological barrier, after months of public (and apparently excessive) threats to stop Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

Missile contrails seen in Israel during overnight strike in Syria
Missile contrails seen in Israel during overnight strike in Syria

But now a new test looms: If Israel won’t allow shipments of advanced weaponry to be brought to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria, what will it do the next time such a convoy sets out, after the enemy has demonstrated its attack capabilities and has threatened that the next Israeli attack will lead to a broad escalation? Even if we assume that next time, IAF planes will set out on their mission with more extensive protection, it’s taking a calculated risk.

The air strikes in the north were part of what the Israel Defense Forces refer to as the “war between the wars,” aimed primarily at undermining the efforts of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah to empower themselves. When he presented the IDF’s annual intelligence assessment last month, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot raised the possibility that the many IDF successes during these interim campaigns could push the enemy to try to respond in a way that could bring the region to the brink of war. That’s essentially what happened over the weekend.

Although things seem to be calming down, in retrospect it seems that we came a hair’s breadth from a slide into war. The security establishment’s assessment is that although this round of fighting has ended, another clash with Iran is only a matter of time.

On the right, one is starting to hear weird ideas about establishing a new regional order; let’s just finish teaching the Syrians a lesson and we’ll be able to go at the Iranians directly, even on their territory. But these are dangerous ideas that Israel would best avoid. In this tough neighborhood, Israel must display strength and determination, but dare not get drawn into illusions about unlimited military strength. It seems that the leadership in Jerusalem understands this.

The Russians are also concerned about the proximity of the Israeli bombings to sites where their soldiers and advisers are serving, including base T-4 near Palmyra, where the Iranian control post from which the anti-aircraft missile was fired was bombed.

 

The IRS Is Coming for Your Passports

Original Article

The U.S. government is building the world’s largest debtors’ prison: the United States. Beginning this month, the Internal Revenue Service will begin denying passports to some American citizens with unpaid taxes and, in some cases, revoking the passports of Americans with tax delinquencies. The government will in effect place those with unpaid taxes under arrest, effectively denying them their right to travel. To be clear: We are not talking about Americans who have been convicted of tax evasion or tax fraud, or who are awaiting a criminal trial on charges related to tax matters. These Americans have not been charged with a crime, must less convicted of one. They simply have unpaid taxes amounting to $50,000 or more. More precisely: They have an unpaid IRS liability amounting to $50,000 or more. The IRS’s aggressive schedule of interest and penalties for unpaid taxes ensures that a relatively small amount of unpaid taxes can turn into a $50,000-plus liability with remarkable speed. The IRS has remarkable investigative tools and collections procedures at its disposal. Say what you will about the Patriot Act, it does not oblige Americans to file detailed paperwork annually with the Department of Homeland Security detailing their personal affairs, business arrangements, housing situation, health-insurance coverage, etc. The IRS has that power, and then some: It can seize assets, garnish wages, put liens on property, and more. Still, there are occasions when it finds itself unable to collect a debt. Sometimes, that is because it is dealing with a crafty person who manages to hide his income and property from the government. More often, that is because it is dealing with a person who simply cannot pay.

What’s worse is that there is no appeal, no procedural remedy in the law, no redress for those who have been wrongly targeted — and we know the IRS has a history of wrongly targeting Americans its agents perceive as political enemies. The sole remedy available to Americans who wrongfully lose their passports to the IRS — or who fail to have them reinstated after making good on their taxes — is to file a civil action against the agency under 26 USC 7345. Suing the IRS is an expensive and difficult proposition, especially for people who are likely already to be in a difficult financial situation. When it comes to relations between citizen and state, it’s always a matter of “Show, don’t tell.” Here is a data point for you: Under federal sentencing guidelines, the recommended sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 10 months to 16 months. The average sentence for tax evasion? Seventeen months. The average sentence in a tax case is longer than the average sentence for a car thief (twelve months), a forger (twelve months), or a felon convicted in a drug case (14 months). But that’s tax fraud. We aren’t even talking about that. We’re just talking about Americans with unpaid back taxes. The right to travel is — like the right to free speech, the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievance — a basic civil right. Americans as free people have a God-given right to come and go as they please, irrespective of the preferences of any pissant bureaucrat in Washington. Yes, we curtail people’s rights in certain circumstances — when they have been charged with a crime and convicted after due process. Tax fraud is a crime; having unpaid taxes is not. The U.S. government needs a periodic reminder that it was created by the states and by the people, not the other way around, and that it exists at the sufferance of the people — not the other way around. Suspending passports in the course of a civil dispute — a civil dispute that may well be in litigation or soon to be in litigation — is banana-republic, totalitarian stuff.

Congress did this, and Congress can undo this — and Congress should undo this. Yes, people should pay their taxes. Most people do. But there are limits to what the government may permissibly do to citizens in any situation, and much narrower limits to what the government may permissibly to do citizens who have neither been charged with nor convicted of any crime in the matter — which is not, after all, a criminal matter in the first place. People should pay their taxes, and the people at the IRS should do their jobs honestly and ethically. Most of them do. But not all of them. Lois Lerner, the IRS boss who illegally targeted conservative groups for harassment in the runup to the 2012 presidential election, is happily enjoying retired life in some Washington suburb while collecting a fat federal pension. She didn’t lose her passport. Former IRS commissioner John Koskinen lied to Congress about the situation and oversaw the destruction of evidence. He still has a passport. The crimes — actual crimes — of the powerful and the connected go unpunished, while those who for whatever reason have an unmet obligation to the IRS are treated like East Germans locked behind the Checkpoint Charlie of the federal bureaucracy. If you want to know why faith in our institutions is at such a low point, meditate on that. In the meantime, Congress should repeal the statute enabling the IRS to effectively place Americans under house arrest over unpaid bills. And if Congress fails to act, its members should be made to pay a price. My senators are Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and my representative is Pete Sessions. What say you, gentlemen?

Gus Kenworthy tells VP Mike Pence to ‘eat your heart out’ on Instagram

Gus Kenworthy took a jab at Vice President Mike Pence during the Opening Ceremony Friday. (Reuters)
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Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy sent Vice President Mike Pence a not-so-subtle message from the Opening Ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Pence attended the ceremony as the ceremonial head of the United States delegation. Kenworthy, who is gay, told the vice president to “eat your heart out” in the caption of a picture on Instagram with figure skater Adam Rippon.

“The Opening Ceremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way!” Kenworthy wrote. “I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I’m so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence.”

Kenworthy also tweeted pictures with Rippon, but left out the part including the vice president.

Rippon, who is also gay, made a comment against Pence at qualifying for the Olympics because of a campaign statement made by Pence’s congressional campaign in 2000 that advocated against federal funding being given to “organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” Instead, Pence’s campaign said “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Many, including Rippon, feel that Pence’s campaign was making a reference to the ridiculous practice of homosexual conversion therapy.

Following Rippon’s comments at qualifying, USA Today reported that Pence’s staff tried to set up a meeting with Rippon, which the figure skater refused. Pence’s team publicly has said they did not reach out to the skater in the hopes of a meeting. The skater told USAT that he wouldn’t rule out meeting with Pence … after the Olympics.

“If I had the chance to meet him afterwards, after I’m finished competing, there might be a possibility to have an open conversation,” Rippon said in the interview last month. “He seems more mild-mannered than Donald Trump. … But I don’t think the current administration represents the values that I was taught growing up. Mike Pence doesn’t stand for anything that I really believe in.”

Pence was the governor of Indiana when the state passed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” The widely-criticized law claimed to protect religious freedom in the state, but drew immediate scorn for the ability for people to discriminate under the law. The law was so heavily protested that an amendment was passed not long after that protected LGBT people against discrimination.

The vice president was seated not far from Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un during the Opening Ceremony. Pence also did not stand when the unified Korea delegation walked into the arena in the ceremony.

2 Vets Celebrate Love: ‘If You Came To See The Bride, You’re Out Of Luck’

Jerry Nadeau, 72, (left) and his husband, John Banvard, 100, stand outside their home in Chula Vista, Calif.

Cam Buker for StoryCorps

When John Banvard, 100, met Gerard “Jerry” Nadeau, 72, in 1993, neither of them had been openly gay.

“When we met, we were sort of in the closet, and I’d never had a real relationship. Now, we’ve been together almost 25 years,” Jerry tells John during a StoryCorps interview.

“What would it have been like if you didn’t meet me?” Jerry asks John.

“I would have continued being lonely,” John says. “I’d been absolutely lost.”

Both are veterans, having served in World War II (John) and Vietnam (Jerry), and when they moved into the veterans home together in Chula Vista, Calif., in 2010, Jerry says people there wondered what their relationship was.

“Well, when we got married, they knew what our relationship was,” Jerry says, laughing.

The couple married in 2013, and John says he was surprised by the warm reception they received. “I was expecting we’d be ridiculed, and there was very little of that,” he says.

“We’d gotten married at the veterans home, and we said, ‘If you came to see the bride, you’re out of luck.’ Do you remember that?” Jerry asks John.

“Yes, of course,” John says. The two indulge in the memory of a casual wedding — a frank display, if you will, of their unabashed love — featuring hot dogs as a main course, which, John says, “is hardly wedding food.”

Later, their achievement was affirmed by a simple introduction. “I was with you in the cafeteria, and somebody came up with their family, and they said, ‘This is Gerard Nadeau, and this is his husband, John,’ ” Jerry recounts. “I’d never heard that before.”

“Yes, that was very nice,” John says.

“You’ve made my life complete,” Jerry tells John.

“I could say the same to you,” John replied. “I think we’re probably as happy together as any two people you’re likely to meet.”

Produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

This Guy Paints the Sex He Allegedly Has with Aliens

All images courtesy of Brad Abrahams. Detail from First Time by David Huggins (left); Film still of Huggins from Love and Saucers (right)

Losing your virginity is supposed to be memorable. Most people look back on the act with affection and, probably, a little embarrassment. But David Huggins says the first time he had sex was more—er, out of this world—than most.

“When I was 17, I lost my virginity to a female extraterrestrial,” the 74-year-old says in a documentary about him called Love and Saucers. “That’s all I can say about it.”

The coitus in question allegedly went down in 1961, when Huggins was a teenager living on his parents’ farm in rural Georgia. It wasn’t the first time extraterrestrials had appeared to him; he’d been seeing strange creatures since he was eight. But on this day, as he was walking through woods near his house, an alien woman appeared and seduced him. “I thought, if anything, I’d be losing it in the backseat of a Ford—something like that. But it didn’t work out that way,” he says in the film.

Film still from Love and Saucers, picturing Huggins holding his painting First Time

According to Huggins, these visits from extraterrestrials, and his sexual relationship with them, continued into adulthood. When I interviewed him for this story, Huggins told me his last encounter with Crescent, his name for the woman in the woods, was six months ago. “I was sitting down in a chair, and the woman, Crescent, was behind me, and she put her arms around me,” he said. “And that’s about it. I don’t know anything else outside of that.”

Huggins is unnervingly matter-of-fact when he talks about his encounters. It sets him apart from what most of us expect from truthers and UFO enthusiasts. He’s not in it for the notoriety and doesn’t care if anyone believes him. When Huggins talks about fathering hundreds of alien babies—and yes, that’s another facet of his encounters—he sounds about as even-keeled as a farmer explaining crop rotations.

It’s one of the things that drew filmmaker Brad Abrahams to track Huggins down in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he lives now. Abrahams heard Huggins’s story on a podcast about UFOs and the paranormal. “In a sea of outlandish claims, there was one that rose to the surface,” he said. “And that was David’s story.”

Huggins was born in rural Georgia in 1944. In Love and Saucers, he talks about hunting for arrowheads in nearby fields for fun and not liking the evangelical Baptist church his grandparents took him to sometimes. When strange beings that no one else could see started appearing to him around the farm, he thought he was losing his mind.

“I am sitting under a tree, and I hear this voice say, ‘David, behind you.’ And I turned around and there is this little hairy guy with large glowing eyes coming straight towards me. I thought it was the bogeyman. I didn’t know what to think of it,” he says in the film. Another day, an “insect-like being” that reminded Huggins of a praying mantis appeared. “I was very terrified,” he says. “It was like, ‘What in the world am I looking at?’ And for an eight-year-old, you don’t know what to think.”

Once the shock wore off, Huggins says his encounters were weird, but not all that threatening. When he left Georgia in the mid 60s for art school in New York City, the beings followed. Nocturnal visits from Crescent, the ET who deflowered him, became routine. “My relationship with Crescent was warm and friendly. A little strange. What do I mean, a little. Very strange. She was my girlfriend, really,” Huggins says in the film. “A very unconventional relationship,” he adds.

Floating Up, David Huggins (left); Huggins in his studio with a painting of an alien woman he says he had sex with (right)

One of the first paintings Huggins ever made was of him and Crescent, having sex. “[The painting’s] not really all that good. She was on top of me, I reach my climax, then she and the insect being leave,” he says. Similar paintings fill his apartment. They’re surreal and a little childlike, dominated by deep blues and greens.

This is another thing that sets Huggins apart from most people with alien abduction stories: He paints his encounters. It started in 1987, when Huggins started remembering details from early visits. He says the deluge was triggered by Budd Hopkins’s book Intruders: The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods.

“It was like a compulsion. I was being led to the book,” he says in the film. “There is this chapter ‘Other Women, Other Men,’ and I start reading it. And I go, Oh my God, this is the woman I never told anyone about. As I was reading it, memory upon memory came flooding back. It was image upon image. They wouldn’t stop. I think what bothered me the most is I didn’t know what to do with it. I was so scared.”

“It seemed like he was almost going crazy… from not being able to process these experiences that happened to him. What were they? Why him? It really sounded like he was losing his grip on his life and reality,” Abrahams told me. “And then, apparently, he got this message from [the beings] that he should paint the experiences, and as soon as he started doing that, it changed him.

“He said it was a release. He was able to sleep for the first time in weeks. And since then, he has painted every single detail of every encounter. A hundred-something paintings. It is art therapy. I don’t know if that’s how David would describe it, but that was a big part of what I wanted to show, too. Once he found a way to show the rest of the world, or even just himself, [what happened] visually through art, he was able to process, make sense of, and come to peace with whatever it was that happened to him,” Abrahams said.

David Huggins works on a painting (left); Caught, David Huggins, oil on canvas, 1989 (right)

What makes Love and Saucers a very good documentary about a man who paints himself having sex with aliens is that Abrahams lays out the details of Huggins’s story and lets viewers come to their own conclusions. At its core, Love and Saucers is a film about belief. The first half is Huggins telling his own story, but the second half is interviews with his friends and neighbors. Some of them weren’t aware of Huggins’s encounters beforehand. But they all believe him.

Then there is Jeffrey Kripal, a professor of philosophy and religious thought at Rice University in Texas. He spent the early part of his career studying erotic mysticism, which led him to study alien abduction literature. “The whole history of religions is essentially about weird beings coming from the sky and doing strange things to human beings, and historically, those events or encounters have been framed as angels or demons or gods or goddesses or what have you. But in the modern, sort of secular, world we live in, they get framed as science fiction,” he says in Love and Saucers.

Kripal believes Huggins. He says the mix of terror and euphoria Huggins describes lines up with age-old descriptions of humans encountering the sacred. Plus, details of Huggins’s abductions mirror those described by other people Kripal has interviewed who believe they’ve had supernatural experiences. “I’m completely convinced they’re not lying; they’re being very sincere. But again, what it is is an entirely different question, and that’s where I think we need a lot more humility,” he says.

Her Eyes, David Huggins

Whether or not you think Huggins has really been having sex with aliens for the past 50 years, what’s apparent is that Huggins himself believes it. “Consider that this man isn’t lying and that he’s communicating something that he’s experienced, but it doesn’t have to be taken literally. Someone can not be crazy but still claim to have these completely unexplainable experiences,” Abrahams said.

What I think is more fascinating than whether or not “the truth is out there” is what stories like Huggins’s say about the impulse to explain away what we do not understand, and our limited ability to interpret all the sensations, experiences, and randomly firing neurons that come with being human.

When I asked Huggins why he thinks the beings appear to him, he said, “I have a feeling that tens of millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions, have had [similar] experiences. Mainly as children. That’s all I can really say, but I think as children we are so open to things, that these beings can appear to us. I know I never closed up on it, because it has continued through my whole life.”

Love and Saucers is available to watch on a number of platforms here.