John Burke was an engineer who was immensely skeptical about God thirty-five years ago when his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but after reading a book about near death experiences, all that changed.
“I was not a follower of Christ. I was not a Christian. I didn’t know what I believed,” Burke told TheBlaze on Tuesday. “My dad was dying of cancer and someone gave him the first book on near-death experiences, and I picked it up off his dresser one night and read it cover to cover.”
That book was “Life After Life,” a 1975 text by psychologist and philosopher Raymond Moody that is credited with helping to ramp up interest in near-death experiences — a term that Moody first coined in the bestselling book.
“I remember sitting there that night and being like … ‘This might be real — and if that’s true I want to be there with [God] if I die,’” Burke recalled thinking after he read the book in 1979.
He not only converted to Christianity and began studying the Bible the next year, but “Life After Life” eventually inspired him to do his own investigation of 1,000 near-death experiences.
Burke covers that very subject in his new book, “Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You.”
Previously an engineer with a “very analytical mind,” he later decided to go into ministry and founded Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, where he currently serves as pastor to a flock of 4,500 members.
“I did a lot of searching [and asked], ‘Are there reasons to believe?’” Burke said. “And found lots of them.”
He’s hoping that “Imagine Heaven” will help those who are skeptical as he once was, as he’s spent decades studying the Bible and closely examining near-death experiences in an effort to try and find commonalities.
Estimating that one in 25 people in the United States have had near-death experiences based on Gallup data from the early 1980s, Burke believes that these purported occurrences are too prevalent to be made-up or to simply be anomalies.
He cited skeptical doctors, too, who have been swayed by patients who claim to have had near-death experiences — people who later share key details about what went on inside of hospital rooms as they were unconscious and medical professionals tried to save their lives.
“What has convinced so many skeptical doctors is the details their describe,” he said. “It gets really hard to just write off as hallucination.”
He included in the book 120 of the 1,000 stories that he has explored over the years — near-death experiences that he said he believes back biblical descriptions surrounding the Bible.
Additionally, Burke said that similarities abound among different cultures, age groups and professions.
“Even if some of these turned out to be falsehoods — for them to all be across professionals, children of different cultures … If it’s not true it’s a pretty amazing conspiracy,” Burke said. “That was the conclusion I came to.”
The preacher said that some of the stories become difficult to recount and that this dynamic can, at moments, create confusion and skepticism about near-death experiences more generally.
“Its kind of like — imagine if we were trying to describe to a two-dimensional, black and white world what it’s like to live in three dimensions and full of color,” Burke said, describing the trouble many people who claim to have visited heaven likely have explaining the experience. “I think they are actually describing [something] beyond our dimensions of time and space.”
He’s not sure why God would allow near-death experiences, but Burke wants readers of “Imagine Heaven” to feel hopefulness after finishing it.
Burke also wants people to prepare for heaven, as he compared being ready for the afterlife to being ready for retirement, encouraging people to take the right steps in their own lives.
The pastor’s views differ from other experts like New Testament scholar Dr. Scot McKnight, who recently posited that those who claim that they have died and visited heaven are experiencing a “mass projection in their mind” that consists of details surrounding what they already believe heaven will be like. Read more about McKnight’s views here.
Front page image via Shutterstock.com.
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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson joined Glenn Beck on his radio show Wednesday to discuss a wide array of issues, including the Islamic State threat, faith and domestic spying.
Toward the end of the interview, Beck conducted a “rapid-fire” Q&A session seeking simple “yes or no” answers in an attempt to get a clear understanding of where Carson stands on some of the most important issues of the 2016 election. Some of the issues are too complicated for one-word answers, so the candidate also explained the context behind his answers.
Here’s a rundown of Carson’s responses on the issues.
Warrantless NSA domestic spying
“Terrible. No, can’t do it.”
“The right kind of fence, yes….What has worked in the past, like in Yuma County, Arizona — a double fence with asphalt so you can get rapidly from point to point.”
Fine companies that hire illegals
“If they qualify as illegals. I would give people the ability to register in a certain period of time and if they have pristine records and they are willing to work as guest workers under the circumstances that we survive, they could stay. But they don’t become citizens and they don’t vote.”
Do you continue the “war on drugs?”
“Absolutely, I intensify it.”
Climate change, is it man-made and can we do anything about it?
Well, climate always changes. It’s either going up or down. We do have a responsibility to take care of our environment. That’s the real issue.”
National standards for education
“Absolutely not. The closer education is to home, the better the education is.”
Should the U.S. remain part of the United Nations
“I do not like the United Nations and unless they change I would not participate, I would defund them.”
Watch the full clip via TheBlaze below:
A video circulating on Palestinian social media showed a masked man demonstrating in meticulous detail how to sharpen a knife and then how to most effectively stab to achieve deadly results.
The video, posted Tuesday, was the latest Palestinian social media incitement to violence, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserts has been fueling weeks of daily terrorist attacks.
The Middle East Media Research Institute reported that the video titled “West Bank Intifada – Preparing a Knife for Stabbing” was posted by a YouTube account called “Free Pal.”
In the video, a man wearing camouflage fatigues, a green beret and a black balaclava over his head sharpens a large knife with a rotating tool sharpener.
He massages the blade against the grinder over and over again, then checks it on his finger and his sleeve. If that weren’t enough, he then takes out a sharpening stone and manually sands it down even more. That process is then followed by the use of a rod-shaped sharpening steel of the kind seen on cooking shows.
To demonstrate the sharpness following the minutes-long process, the man moves the blade along his forearm to shave off arm hairs.
Once the instructor is apparently satisfied with the sharpness he’s achieved, he pantomimes various stabbing techniques, which include: a stab to the gut followed by a turn of the blade; a stab to the chest from above; a stab to the neck from the side; and slicing the victim’s throat from behind.
In the backdrop of his tool-sharpening table were an automatic weapon and a Palestinian flag.
MEMRI reported that the masked man was wearing a uniform of the Palestinian Authority security forces.
Newly released dashcam footage shows the moment a police officer fatally shoots a driver after a traffic stop quickly escalates.
Emerson, Georgia, Police Officer Robert Smith is seen making the stop on Oct. 14 to check on the driver’s expired tag. The video shows Smith getting out of his patrol vehicle and approaching the driver, Brent Andrew Brannon, at the driver’s side window, along an interstate highway.
Smith obtains Brannon’s license and discovers that Brannon is wanted on felony drugs and weapons charges, WXIA-TV reported. The officer then asks Brannon to get out of his vehicle, but Brannon refuses.
Moments later, the officer is seen opening the driver’s side door while aiming his Taser. The officer then reaches for his firearm, warns the driver to “drop your gun” and shoots about a dozen rounds.
“Shots fired. Shots fired,” Smith radios to other officers.
Smith calls for medical help as another officer arrives on the scene, but Brannon later dies from his wounds.
“He pulled a gun on me,” Smith tells the other officer.
Smith then goes over to the passenger side of the stopped vehicle and breaks a window to retrieve a weapon, which he then puts down on the pavement, as two state law enforcement officials also arrive on the scene.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident to determine whether the shooting was justified.
Smith is now on paid leave from the Emerson Police Department.
(Content warning: Dashcam footage below may be disturbing.)
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Donald Trump’s campaign co-chair and adviser Sam Clovis became indignant toward CNN host Anderson Cooper who asked him about the Republican presidential frontrunner “reversing himself” on policies.
“If he’s going to portray himself as a truth-teller, someone who tells it like it is, shouldn’t he be speaking the truth?” Cooper asked Clovis during Tuesday night’s panel discussion, which included TheBlaze’s Dana Loesch.
“I thought we were gonna have a discussion on policy tonight,” Clovis replied, “and I’m sorry this is where this is heading.”
Cooper responded that such a question is about policy, given that Trump said “he was against going to Afghanistan and now he’s for it.”
“I don’t appreciate this at all,” Clovis continued. “I didn’t have any indication that this was where we were gonna be going with this. I thought we were gonna be talking about policy and where we are in the campaign and our polling.”
“If these are the issues that you want to bring up, that’s fine, and I’ll let the other commentators comment on it,” Clovis added.
Switching the topic to gun confiscation, which Trump has told rally audiences he’s heard Obama is thinking of carrying out, Cooper asked Clovis, “Do you believe the president is really trying to take away guns, that he wants to sign an executive order to take away guns and that’s based on reporting?”
Clovis told Cooper that CNN has reported about Obama speaking about a gun control model “much like that in the United Kingdom and in Australia. That, to me, leads us then to confiscations of guns … so from that perspective, that’s exactly where we’re headed if the president has his way.”
Cooper replied that Obama isn’t talking about revoking the Second Amendment.
This story has been updated.
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Hillary Clinton’s campaign released an extensive list of people who are supposedly endorsing the Democratic presidential candidate, but there’s just one problem — some of the people included on the list have not officially endorsed her.
According to Bloomberg Politics, Clinton announced that she had the backing of 50 current and former black mayors.
“I’ll solicit their ideas and expertise at every step,” Clinton said in the email.
Included among the black mayors is Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams. But Williams’ leads Vice President Joe Biden’s hometown, and he made it very clear that should Biden officially enter the race, he’s throwing his support behind him.
Incorrect info about an endorsement, I've known @VP Biden since I was 12 yrs old, if he chooses to run, He will receive my support!
— Dennis P. Williams (@DennisPWilliams) October 20, 2015
— Anthony S. Goode (@AnthonySGoode) October 21, 2015
According to the Texas Tribune, Clinton’s list also included San Antonio Mayor Ivy R. Taylor. Taylor, a nonpartisan officeholder, is the first African-American and second female to hold her office.
Clinton met with Taylor last week prior to a campaign rally in San Antonio. A person briefed on the meeting told the New York Times that Taylor said then that she would help the campaign however she could.
However, after the list was released, Taylor’s office announced that she had also met with female Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.
“As mayor, Ms. Taylor has had the opportunity to meet recently with Secretary Hillary Clinton as well as Carly Fiorina,” Leslie Ann Garza, Taylor’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “The mayor appreciates the service of Secretary Clinton, Ms. Fiorina and all the candidates for President. However, the mayor of San Antonio is a non-partisan elected office, and Mayor Taylor is committed to remaining non-partisan in the upcoming presidential election.”
— Mayor Ivy R Taylor (@IvyRTaylor) October 19, 2015
The Tribune reported that Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, a Democrat, was also erroneously included on the list.
Calvert told the Tribune that he had recently spoke at a debate watch party that was sponsored by Clinton supporters but told three staff members that he was not endorsing her.
“I don’t know how there could be any confusion,” he said.
Jimmy Kimmel unleashed a series of jokes at Donald Trump’s expense Tuesday after he unexpectedly canceled his scheduled appearance on the nighttime talk show.
Kimmel said that Trump’s campaign staff contacted the show the night before and gave a “cryptic reason” why the bombastic real estate mogul would no longer be appearing.
“I’m dying to find out what this major political commitment was. Usually it means he had to go on CNN and call someone an idiot or something,” Kimmel said. “Why did he cancel? We told him there were cameras here, right?”
“I don’t know what happened,” Kimmel said. “We’re delighted, needless to say.”
“But don’t worry, tonight we’re gonna give everyone in the audience a basketball dipped in cologne so you can fully experience what it would have been like had Donald Trump been here,” Kimmel joked.
The Republican presidential candidate was replaced by comedian Tracy Morgan, who was scheduled to appear on the show later in the week.
According to Politico, Trump did tape a segment with Fox News’ Sean Hannity a few hours prior to Kimmel’s show.
“Mr. Trump has a political obligation and has rescheduled for an in-studio appearance in California to take place in a few weeks,” a Trump spokeswoman said in an email to Politico.
In an interview with CNN earlier this week, Kimmel said plans surrounding Trump’s appearance was going to be “a surprise.”
“I’m not interviewing him… It will be in studio, it’ll be live, and it’ll all make perfect sense when you see it,” Kimmel said then.
When Brandon moved to San Francisco to begin his new job as a software engineer for Google, the rent was just too damn high.
So the 23-year-old came up with an ingenious way to forgo paying rent and save approximately 90 percent of his income — he moved into a 128-square-foot truck.
According to Business Insider, Brandon, whose last name and photo have been withheld for privacy reasons, interned at Google last summer and rented the cheapest corporate house available, which included two bedrooms for four people for around $2,000 per month.
“I realized I was paying an exorbitant amount of money for the apartment I was staying in — and I was almost never home,” he told Business Insider. “It’s really hard to justify throwing that kind of money away. You’re essentially burning it — you’re not putting equity in anything and you’re not building it up for a future — and that was really hard for me to reconcile.”
One year later, Brandon was headed back to Google as a full-time employee, and so with his signing bonus, he purchased a 2006 Ford with 157,000 miles on it for $10,000. According to Business Insider, the only fixed cost he has is his $121 monthly truck insurance. He doesn’t require electricity as he says he doesn’t own anything that needs to be plugged in, he eats all of his meals at work, he showers every morning after a workout at Google’s gym and his phone is paid for by Google.
Brandon keeps a “savings clock” on his personal blog, where he says that Wednesday was the day when his net savings went from being in the red to in the black as he’d finally saved enough money to cover the cost of the Ford’s purchase.
“I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions that it’s not entirely about the money, but regardless, it’s an interesting metric to have,” Brandon wrote in his blog, “Thoughts From Inside a Box.”
On his blog, where Brandon chronicles his daily life living inside a truck and even offers tips to others who may want to do the same, he said he has looked up city ordinance laws and there are no concrete regulations on being homeless — which he said he technically is since he’s living in a truck.
“I might just be missing the ordinances in my specific city, but from what I’ve read, it might not actually be illegal,” he wrote in June. “Naturally, these laws only apply to public property. Since I’m in a parking lot owned by my company, it’s well within their power to ‘evict’ me, if they so chose.”
Brandon also details some of the first nights spent in the truck:
Being completely new to the whole process of living in a van, I was pretty anxious for most of the night. I set up the environment on my work computers to my liking, played some Dance Dance Revolution at an arcade (in my office!), grabbed a late dinner with a few friends, and then headed over to my super secret hiding spot. Interestingly enough, the place I picked to park the box truck was already inhabited by more than a few equally sketchy looking vehicles: an RV, a few hippy vans, and a large truck or two. I have a hunch that I’m not the only person doing this.
I felt like a criminal walking across the parking lot. It’s 9:30 PM, a dark truck with tinted windows slowly drives by just as I’m approaching the box truck. My heart is beating out of my chest, I slow down until it drives past, and then open up the back once I’m convinced they’ve passed. I re-lock the door behind me, leaving it slightly open for ventilation and so that no one can lock me in. I spend the next ten minutes quietly getting undressed and unpacking the suitcase I threw in early in the morning, completely paranoid that someone is watching/listening and going to bust in at any second. I shut off my lantern, and spend the next half an hour listening intently to the silence of the parking lot, interrupted only by the occasional thuds of doors closing and squeaks of suspensions going over speed bumps. Eventually I fall asleep, waking up intermittently because of strange truck and security-related nightmares. When my alarm goes off at 5:30 AM, I silence it immediately. I grab my already-packed gym bag, and I start my day.
I did it.
As Business Insider reported, the living space in Brandon’s truck is actually larger than any of the bedrooms he has previously lived in, and he’s really only ever in the truck to sleep anyway.
Brandon hasn’t put a deadline on his truck home, but he did tell Business Insider that he doesn’t see himself giving it up anytime soon.
(H/T: Business Insider)
WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — Speaker John Boehner has scheduled House leadership elections for next week.
Boehner confirmed to reporters Wednesday morning that House Republicans will select their candidate for Speaker October 28 and the full House will choose a new Speaker to replace him October 29.
The announcement came on the same day that House Republicans met behind closed doors. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan said Tuesday he would seek the speakership if the Republicans could unify behind his candidacy.
Republicans have been bitterly divided with hardline conservatives forcing Boehner to announce his resignation last month and scaring off his No. 2, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who suddenly withdrew from the Speaker race.
Florida Rep. Daniel Webster will stay in the race for the country’s third most powerful position.
1/2 Im running for speaker to transform a broken congress based on the power of a few into a principle-based, member-driven congress #sayfie
— Daniel Webster (@RepWebster) October 21, 2015
2/2 I will continue to share my vision of pushing down the pyramid of power and spreading out the base to allow each member to be successful
— Daniel Webster (@RepWebster) October 21, 2015
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz has dropped out of the race and is supporting Ryan.
I am out and supporting @RepPaulRyan for Speaker. Right person at the right time.
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) October 20, 2015
Police in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Monday arrested a suspect who they believe is seen in a viral video brutally knocking a woman unconscious.
Police said Ibn Hunter, 25, attempted another attack while in custody — this time on a police officer. However, the alleged assault didn’t go well for Hunter.
The warden at the Atlantic County Justice Facility told local media that Hunter attacked an officer during a standard strip search, but was immediately taken down by the unnamed officer.
Hunter’s forehead slammed into the ground during the takedown, leaving him with a visible injury seen in his mugshot.
“That’s how these situations are handled, you take their feet out from under them,” Cohen said.
The video that allegedly shows Hunter knocking an unsuspecting woman unconscious went viral earlier this week as viewers shared it hoping law enforcement could make an arrest and bring the attacker to justice.
Hunter now faces charges of aggravated assault and assault on a law enforcement officer.
Amid several weeks of renewed deadly violence in Israel, one Israeli restaurant is getting props for encouraging coexistence by offering half off for Jews and Arabs who eat together at the same table.
The restaurant, Humus Bar, near the coastal city of Netanya, first made the offer earlier this month, but drew international attention this week after a Times of Israel article about the unusual deal.
A message posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page states: “Scared of Arabs? Scared of Jews?”
“By us we don’t have Arabs! But we also don’t have Jews… By us we’ve got human beings!” it reads. “And real excellent Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel! And a free refill for every serving of hummus, whether you’re Arab, Jewish, Christian, Indian, etc.”
“Special discount: 50% discount on hummus dishes for a table where Jews and Arabs are sitting together!”
The offer is valid Sunday through Thursday, which is the work week in Israel.
Manager Kobi Tzafrir told the Times of Israel that the offer has encouraged Arab and Jewish Israelis to dine at the restaurant together.
“If there’s anything that can bring together these peoples, it’s hummus,” Tzafrir said.
Israel has been gripped by weeks of daily Palestinian stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks. Videos emerging from the West Bank and Gaza have urged Palestinians to stab Jews.
The restaurant’s Facebook page is filled with positive comments in response to the gesture, including messages from Taiwan, Canada and the U.S. It also inspired the hashtag #chickpeace.
“From Taiwan with love and respect!!!” wrote one commenter.
“You are truly inspiring people. I hope many others will follow your example. Love and peace to you all,” wrote another.
“’Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.’ Well done Humus Bar,” wrote Carina Ruth.
The Israeli ambassador to Sweden has protested after pro-Palestinian demonstrators shouted violent slogans Sunday encouraging terrorism against Israelis including a call to “slaughter the Jews.” A left-wing Swedish lawmaker who attended the rally, however, said she had thought the protesters were simply chanting “freedom, freedom.”
“There were explicit calls in Arabic that urge to ‘slaughter the Jews,’ ‘stab soldiers,’ to carry out ‘terror attack after terror attack’ while referring to the knife killers as ‘heroes’ and urging to ‘start a 3rd Intifada’…!” Israeli Ambassador Isaac Bachman posted on Facebook.
“These are extremely troubling instances of a grotesque but nevertheless very real — and murderous — incitement which must be dealt with by the full force of the law!” he added.
The ambassador posted this excerpt from the rally which was held on Sunday in Malmo:
Two left-wing members of the Swedish Parliament were later criticized for attending the rally.
Hillevi Larsson of the Social Democratic Party, a lawmaker who attended the rally wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf, told Swedish Radio that someone standing next to her at the demonstration told her that the Arabic slogans were calling for “freedom.”
“I was told they chanted ‘freedom, freedom — the holiest word,’” Larsson said.
After learning the violent meaning of the chants, Larsson wrote on Twitter, “I condemn all violence — particularly violence against civilians. I also condemn slogans inciting violence!”
Radio Sweden reported that Daniel Sestrajcic of the Left Party said he left the rally before the chanting began.
“I think it seems awful and it’s not something I, in any way, would stand for,” he said.
Israeli Ambassador Bachman’s wife, Osnat, wrote, “Swedish people: Is this what you believe in? Is this what you bargained for? Are these your morals? Since I know the answers I feel ashamed in your name.”
Apple told a U.S. District Court judge in a brief this week that it is “impossible” for it to assist in unlocking most iPhones.
Apple was ordered to assist in a search warrant issued by the court, the brief posted by the Wall Street Journal stated. Apple’s comments were issued in response to the court asking the company on “whether the assistance the government seeks from Apple is technically feasible.”
“For devices running iOS 8 or higher, Apple would not have the technical ability to do what the government requests—take possession of a password protected device from the government and extract unencrypted use data from that device for the government,” Apple stated. “Among the security features in iOS 8 is a feature that prevents anyone without the device’s passcode from accessing the device’s encrypted data. This includes Apple.”
Overall, Apple said that 90 percent of its devices are running on iOS 8 or higher. It could, however, “extract certain categories of unencrypted data from a passcode locked iOS device” on these other 10 percent using older operating systems, which includes the phone involved in this case running iOS 7.
It makes some other stipulations though.
“Whether the extraction can be performed successfully depends on the device itself, and whether it is in good working order,” Apple said. “As a general matter, however, certain user-generated active files on an iOS device that are contained in Apple’s native apps can be extracted. Apple cannot, however, extract email, calendar entries, or any third-party app data.”
As for the burden performing such a task would place on the company, if the device were in acceptable working order Apple said it should not be a “a substantial financial or resource burden.” Where it does become burdensome is when the number of these requests for data from the government increases.
“Each extraction diverts man hours and hardware and software from Apple’s normal business operations,” the brief stated.
Apple took this opportunity to also address the issue of the government’s request for data as it pertains to user privacy as well.
“[P]ublic sensitivity to issues regarding digital privacy and security is at an unprecedented level,” it said. “This is true not only with respect to illegal hacking by criminals but also in the area of government access—both disclosed and covert. Apple has taken a leadership role in the protection of its customers’ personal data against any form of improper access. Forcing Apple to extract data in this case, absent clear legal authority to do so, could threaten the trust between Apple and its customers and substantially tarnish the Apple brand. This reputational harm could have a longer term economic impact beyond the mere cost of performing the single extraction at issue.”
According to Reuters, a hearing for this case is scheduled for Thursday.
The law the government is leaning on to obtain such data in this and other similar cases is the All Writs Act, a statute dating back to 1789. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization devoted to protecting digital privacy rights, said last week that the All Writs Act “is not a backdoor to bypass other laws”:
The government cannot impose an unreasonable burden on Apple, and it cannot violate the Constitution. If the government truly wanted Apple to decrypt a phone running iOS 8 or later, it would blow past these boundaries. First, unless Apple is lying about how its system is engineered, it simply can’t grant access to the data on a locked phone—not by reflashing the operating system, and not by pushing a backdoored software update—because it’s locked. That should be the end of it. But if Apple in fact has this capacity, or if the government instead tried to require it to prospectively reengineer the operating system on an unlocked device, All Writs is not the means to do so.
Reengineering iOS and breaking any number of Apple’s promises to its customers is the definition of an unreasonable burden. As the Ninth Circuit put it in a case interpreting technical assistance in a different context, private companies’ obligations to assist the government have “not extended to circumstances in which there is a complete disruption of a service they offer to a customer as part of their business.” What’s more, such an order would be unconstitutional. Code is speech, and forcing Apple to push backdoored updates would constitute “compelled speech” in violation of the First Amendment. It would raise Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues as well. Most important, Apple’s choice to offer device encryption controlled entirely by the user is both entirely legal and in line with the expert consensus on security best practices. It would be extremely wrong-headed for Congress to require third-party access to encrypted devices, but unless it does, Apple can’t be forced to do so under the All Writs Act.
At the WSJD event this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company considers ”encryption is a must in today’s world” and also said “no back door is a must.” The government has been pressing companies with encryption to create backdoors for law enforcement purposes.
(H/T: Wall Street Journal)
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly skewered the left for actively opposing “Kate’s Law,” which would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for illegal immigrant felons who return to the U.S. after being deported. Senate Democrats blocked the bill, which also included a provision punishing “sanctuary cities” for not cooperating with federal law enforcement, from advancing on Tuesday.
“There comes a point where the American people are going to have to take back their government,” O’Reilly said. “When a 32-year-old woman can be gunned down by and illegal felon who had been deported five times, and you can’t get a strict law punishing illegal alien felons passed. When that happens, you don’t have a functioning government.”
O’Reilly went on to call the left’s reaction to the proposed legislation “unbelievable” — but quickly clarified that “unbelievable is too gentle a word.”
“Here’s the truth: Juan Lopez Sanchez was convicted of seven felonies in the U.S.A., including selling hard drugs,” O’Reilly said. “He was deported five times; he came back six times; he broke into a car in San Francisco; he stole a gun; he recklessly fired that gun in a public place. And Kate Steinle died.”
O’Reilly said he will not “give up” his efforts to get “Kate’s Law” passed.
This story has been updated.
Atheists are suing the state of Florida and two faith-based halfway houses over the claim that the government is violating the state’s constitution by doling out money to religiously affiliated private programs.
The Center for Inquiry filed a motion for summary judgment in the Circuit Court of Leon County earlier this year in an effort to stop public funding from going to Lamb of God and Prisoners of Christ, two Florida-based drug and substance abuse rehab providers.
The atheist group, which has been pushing back against the government partnership since 2007, is arguing that it is a violation of the state constitution to allow public money to flow to these Christian organizations.
“Their rehabilitation methods are based on biblical principles and Christian teachings,” the Center for Inquiry said in a statement. “Their use of the funds they receive via the Florida Department of Corrections are not monitored by any government overseer, as public money and private donations are commingled in a common bank account, and are used for both general expenses and explicitly sectarian ministerial activities.”
Atheist activists are basing their arguments on Article 1, Section 3 of the Florida state constitution, which reads, in part: “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
Since both Lamb of God and Prisoners of Christ are religious organizations, the Center for Inquiry sees an inherent conflict.
Center for Inquiry president Ronald A. Lindsay said in a statement earlier this year that the public “shouldn’t have their tax dollars used for religious purposes,” proclaiming that such a prospect is prohibited under the state’s constitution.
“That money would be far better spent on secular, evidence-based rehabilitation programs,” he said. “We trust that the court will see what a clear-cut case this is, and rule in our favor.”
A hearing that will feature atheists’ oral arguments in the case is scheduled at the Circuit Court of Leon County on Wednesday afternoon.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a religious liberty firm, is representing the defendants — the state of Florida and the two halfway houses in question — in the ongoing legal battle.
According to the Becket Fund, Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries ”have provided a host of services, including transitional housing, food, job search assistance, and other basic needs to former prisoners for over a decade.”
Both groups provide no cost substance abuse counseling and also offer voluntary faith-based services to former prisoners who wish to take part, though the state does pay a portion of the costs for the other transitional and job assistance programs, according to the Becket Fund.
“Our goal is to encourage our clients toward independent living within the first six months after their release from prison so that we can make a significant reduction in the recidivism rate in Florida,” reads the website for the Prisoners of Christ.
Front page image via Shutterstock.com.
LONDON (AP) — U.S. officials say the pilot of a U.S. military jet was killed when it crashed near a British air base Wednesday.
— BBC Look East (@BBCLookEast) October 21, 2015
The U.S. Embassy in London said the plane was a supersonic F-18. The Air Force said it was investigating.
Cambridgeshire Police said the plane had taken off from the Lakenheath air base in eastern England. “There is believed to have been one person on board, and there has been one confirmed fatality,” the force said.
— BBC News England (@BBCEngland) October 21, 2015
Cambridgeshire Fire Services said its crew was called to farmland in Redmere in Cambridgeshire, about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from Lakenheath, after reports of the crash.
The twin-engine F-18 Super Hornet comes in single-seat and two-seat versions.
A year ago, a U.S. Air Force F-15 crashed in a field near the air base. The pilot was not seriously hurt.
In January 2014 four U.S. Air Force crew members based at Lakenheath died when their helicopter hit a flock of geese and crashed during a training mission
Conservative legal group Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the National Archives and Records Administration to access draft indictments of Hillary Clinton over the Whitewater scandal, the group announced Tuesday.
Judicial Watch said in a statement that the National Archives confirmed such documents exist but “refused to release the records, evidently in order to protect Mrs. Clinton’s alleged privacy.”
In March, Judicial Watch said it submitted a FOIA request seeking all draft indictments of Clinton from Hickman Ewing, Jr., who served as deputy independent counsel from September 1994 to January 2001, adding that Ewing testified in 1999 that he wrote a draft indictment of Clinton three years earlier.
Ten days after submitting its FOIA request, Judicial Watch said the National Archives found 38 pages of records in a folder titled “Draft Indictment” and about 200 pages of records in a folder titled “Hilary Rodham Clinton/Webster L. Hubbell Draft Indictment” — but the FOIA request was “denied in full under Exemption (b)(7)(C), which provides protection for law enforcement information, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
Judicial Watch added that the National Archives responded Tuesday to a May administrative appeal with no word on access to the Clinton documents.
More from Judicial Watch:
Judicial Watch believes the records include an evolving set of draft indictments, written between 1996 and 1998. The draft indictments reportedly arose out of the Office of Independent Counsel investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in an allegedly fraudulent transaction, Castle Grande, involving the assets of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan. Mrs. Clinton was alleged to have drafted an option agreement that concealed from federal bank examiners a fraudulent $300,000 cross-loan to the Castle Grande project. Mrs. Clinton’s grand jury testimony — and her alleged concealment of her role in this fraudulent transaction, including the hiding of her Rose Law Firm billing records concerning her legal work for Madison — reportedly became the subject of an obstruction of justice and perjury investigation.
“Judicial Watch has confirmed the existence of draft indictments of Hillary Clinton for her lies and obstruction in the Whitewater bank fraud investigation,” Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said in a statement. “The Obama administration is refusing to release these records out of concern for Hillary Clinton’s privacy. Hillary Clinton’s privacy cannot be allowed to trump the public’s interest in knowing more about whether she obstructed justice and lied to a federal grand jury.”
Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential frontrunner, is set to testify Thursday before the House Benghazi committee regarding the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, during which four Americans were killed. Clinton is also under fire over her use of a home-based, private computer server while she was secretary of state that transmitted classified emails.
(H/T: National Review)
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Officials have determined that San Francisco will remain an immigration-related sanctuary city, despite criticism after a woman was killed by a Mexican national who had been released from jail even though federal agents wanted him detained for deportation.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday that urges the sheriff not to participate in a detainer-notification system that asks jails to let Immigration Customs and Enforcement officials know when an inmate of interest is being released.
The action sent a strong but symbolic message to critics who had lambasted San Francisco after the July 1 waterfront shooting of 32-year-old Kate Steinle.
Earlier in the day, Senate Republicans in Congress tried but failed to push through legislation punishing sanctuary cities.
The death of Steinle cast an uncomfortable spotlight on the city that proudly declares itself a refuge for immigrants. As outrage mounted nationally, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, criticized San Francisco’s sheriff, saying that suspect Juan Francisco Sanchez-Lopez should have been detained.
Sanchez-Lopez says he found the gun under a bench on the pier, and it accidently fired when he picked it up.
“All of us in this room agree that the death of Kathryn Steinle was senseless and tragic, but what many of us disagree on is the role – if any – that San Francisco’s existing sanctuary and due-process-for-all” ordinances played in the event, Supervisor Malia Cohen said to cheers from the crowd that gathered for the meeting.
Supervisors said they wouldn’t let hateful commentary undermine a long-standing policy that improves public safety and embraces immigrants.
“I’m so proud of San Francisco,” Supervisor David Campos, who co-sponsored the nonbinding resolution, said after the vote. “I’m so proud that notwithstanding the climate at the national level of scapegoating immigrants that San Francisco went against that.”
Roy Beck, director of NumbersUSA, which calls for limiting immigration, said it’s frightening that supervisors sided with immigrants who are in the country illegally – even violent ones – rather than public safety.
San Francisco declared itself a sanctuary city in 1989, passing an ordinance that bans city officials from enforcing immigration laws or asking about immigration status unless required by law or court order. A follow-up ordinance in 2013 allows detention only under a court order targeting violent felons.
San Francisco and other cities and counties have routinely ignored requests from ICE to keep people in custody. The jurisdictions say they can’t hold arrestees beyond their scheduled release dates without probable cause.
However, more than half of the roughly 340 jurisdictions that previously declined to cooperate with ICE are now doing so in some form, as long as they don’t have to keep immigrants in custody.
The shift came after outreach by federal immigration officials and several high-profile cases, including the one in San Francisco.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said on Tuesday through a spokeswoman that the unanimous vote by the board validates his policy.
Supervisors voted to table another resolution urging the sheriff to revoke a department-wide memo prohibiting communication between his staff and federal immigration authorities, saying it would send the wrong message to people living in the city illegally.
LOS ANGELES (TheBlaze/AP) — The future is today – if “Back to the Future” is to be believed.
The celebration of the so-called “Back to the Future” Day on Wednesday marks the date – Oct. 21, 2015 – that the characters Marty McFly, Emmett “Doc” Brown and Jennifer Parker famously journeyed from 1985 to 2015 in the sci-fi film trilogy’s second installment in 1989.
So how did the film do in predicting what 2015 would look like?
“Back to the Future Part II” envisioned a colorful 2015 with flying cars, hover-boards and self-tying shoelaces. While those doodads are hardly prevalent today, the film did accurately tease the rise of such technology as flat-screen televisions, biometric scanning and hands-free gaming.
It also predicted the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series – an actual possibility with the Cubs contenders in the real-world playoffs, although maybe not for long.
On the flip side, we still haven’t quite got the hovercraft technology down and people were still using fax machines and phone booths in the movie’s 2015 imagining.
“Back to the Future” Day is being celebrated Wednesday with an appearance by the original cast at a Lincoln Center screening in New York, as well as several fan-centric events and more than 1,700 theaters hosting screenings across the country.
Universal Pictures also released a new video Wednesday titled, “The Future Is Now!- 10/21/15 – A Special Message From Doc Brown.”
“Back to the Future” filmmaker Robert Zemeckis’ trilogy has left a lasting impression on pop culture in the 30 years since the original film debuted, spawning a theme park attraction, video game and animated series.
Beginning Wednesday, the town of Reston, Virginia, is ceremoniously changing its name to Hill Valley, McFly’s fictional hometown. The Washington West Film Festival will feature a marathon screening of the trilogy Wednesday and a Sunday screening of the original film, with appearances by stars Christopher Lloyd and Claudia Wells, as well as screenwriter-producer Bob Gale.
“Back to the Future” Day will be celebrated in Southern California during the four-day “We’re Going Back” fan event. The festivities will occur at locations featured in the film series, including a tour of the Hill Valley town square on the Universal Studios lot, an “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance at the Hollywood United Methodist Church and a screening in the parking lot of the Puente Hills Mall, where McFly famously blasted off in Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean.
The “We’re Going Back” fan event will also host the premiere of “Back in Time,” a documentary about the franchise’s legacy featuring interviews with such notables as Michael J. Fox and Steven Spielberg. The documentary will also be released digitally Wednesday.
Other celebrations include a re-creation of Hill Valley on Thursday in Fillmore, California, where part of the franchise was filmed, and Million McFly March, a gathering of fans dressed as McFly that will begin at the Burbank, California, location of Burger King depicted in “Back to the Future.”
For those who don’t want to leave home, the trilogy is exclusively streaming on Amazon Prime, and Universal is releasing a special edition trilogy box set in light-up packaging resembling Doc Brown’s flux capacitor.
A Virginia couple had millions of people crying and celebrating with them after their pregnancy announcement video went viral late last month. Now, they’re asking for prayers as their baby was born 16 weeks early.
Dana Griffin-Graves filmed the surprised reaction of her husband, Arkell Graves, in September when she revealed to him with a package of buns in the oven (a play on the popular saying that describes a pregnant woman) that they were expecting a child. In her description of that video, Griffin-Graves wrote that she and her husband had already suffered four miscarriages and one stillborn and had “given up on the idea of having babies of our own, especially at our age.”
Watch the pregnancy announcement that has more than 9 million views:
Three weeks after posting the video on YouTube, Griffin-Graves gave birth 24 weeks into her pregnancy, 16 weeks earlier than what is considered full term.
The couple announced the early delivery Tuesday on a Facebook page devoted to keeping followers updated on their “baby bun.”
“Today, our baby will have to be delivered, at 24 weeks and one day. As Dana is in critical care, her body has endured all it can take,” a post read. “We are believing God. It’s always been in His Hands, so we hold on to Him. Please keep us in your prayers today and always. We apologize that we are unable to answer every call, text and message, but please know that we appreciate you. Help us thank Him in advance for the miracle that is about to happen. “
A post 10 hours later revealed that their son, Kaleb, had been born.
“Caleb was one of the spies sent by Moses to spy out the land of Canaan. Only Caleb and Joshua advised the Hebrews to proceed immediately to take the land; for his faith Caleb was rewarded with the promise that he and his descendants should possess it,” the post read, citing the Bible’s book of Numbers. “Well our Kaleb has spied out his place he will call home and will be rewarded with this promise call life!”
Melanie Griffin-Hamlin, Kaleb’s aunt, asked people on Facebook to not stop praying.
“Now that the miracle has arrived, continue to keep Kaleb, Dana Griffin-Graves and Arkell Graves in your prayers,” she wrote.
A study from the Emory University School of Medicine in September found that the survival outcomes for extremely premature infants has improved over the last 20 years. Here’s more on that research from the university:
Overall survival increased most significantly in infants born at 23-24 weeks, but survival without major health problems identified prior to hospital discharge increased most in infants 25-28 weeks. The study found an increase in one complication of prematurity, however — bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
Overall survival to discharge increased between 2009 and 2012 for infants born at 23 weeks (27 percent to 33 percent) and for infants born at 24 weeks (63 percent to 65 percent), with smaller relative increases in survival for infants born at 25 and 27 weeks, and no change for infants born at 22, 26 and 28 weeks.
Survival to discharge without major health problems increased approximately two percent per year for infants born at 25-28 weeks, with no change for infants born at 22-24 weeks.
According to Buzzfeed, the Virginia couple has been married for 17 years and started trying to have children soon afterward.
After several heartbreaking complications, Griffin-Graves told Buzzfeed they “kind of gave up.” She went on to say that she and her husband were not trying to have children and when she was having trouble losing weight recently, she went to the doctor and learned she was already five months along in pregnancy.
(H/T: Daily Mail)
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday endorsed a landmark nuclear deal reached with world powers, but warned the government to be vigilant, saying the United States cannot be trusted.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, endorsed the deal in a letter to moderate President Hassan Rouhani that was read on state TV. Until now he had declined to publicly approve or reject the deal while expressing support for Iran’s negotiators.
The agreement reached in July with the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany would curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions.
Western nations have long suspected Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons alongside its civilian program, charges rejected by Tehran, which insists its program is entirely peaceful.
The agreement has been the subject of fierce debate within Iran, with hard-liners arguing that the negotiators gave up too much ground. They also fear the agreement could lead to a broader rapprochement with the United States, which they still deride as the “Great Satan.”
Khamenei’s expression of support largely resolves the debate in favor of Rouhani’s moderate camp, handing them a major victory ahead of parliamentary elections.
But Khamenei also warned that the agreement “suffers from multiple structural weaknesses and ambiguous points that can lead to present and future great harms to the country in the absence of precise and constant vigilance.” He added that “any remarks saying the structure of sanctions will remain in place are considered a breach” of the agreement.
Christian singer Matthew West was a guest host on The Church Boys podcast this week, where he discussed faith, current events, his career — and the most bizarre fan experience he’s ever had.
West, who appeared for the show’s entire episode, revealed a fan interaction that stands out in his mind as the weirdest experience that he’s had on the road to date.
“There was a concert a few years back where this woman comes through the autograph line with her friend, and she’s sort of like sticking her belly out with her hand like on her waist — kind of like how a pregnant lady would walk,” West said. “But she didn’t look pregnant.”
He said that it was clear that the woman wanted him to acknowledge the pregnancy, and so he politely congratulated her.
But it didn’t end there.
“The lady goes, ‘Would you lay your hand on the baby and bless the child?’” West recalled. “I’m sitting at this table and I’m like, ‘Um, I don’t want to touch this woman’s belly … what do I do?’ So, I just said I’d be happy to pray.”
With 100 people waiting in line behind the woman, West said that he closed his eyes and started to pray for the unborn child.
“I just put my hand out in front of me … in the direction, and I close my eyes and I pray, ‘Lord, I just pray for the health of the child,’” he said. “And as I’m praying, I feel a belly. She climbed up on the table and leaned her belly into my hand so that I could officially bless the child.”
Listen to West share this comical story and comment on current events while co-hosting The Church Boys below:
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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — President Bashar Assad has traveled to Moscow in his first known trip abroad since war broke out in Syria in 2011, meeting his strongest ally Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The two leaders stressed that military operations in Syria — in which Moscow is the latest and most powerful addition — must lead to a political process.
The surprise visit Tuesday reflects renewed confidence from the embattled Syrian president after Russia and Iran, another staunch ally, dramatically escalated their support recently as Moscow began carrying out airstrikes on Syrian insurgents and Tehran sent hundreds of ground forces.
A Syrian official confirmed Wednesday that Assad had returned to Damascus. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Putin said he had invited Assad, thanking him for “coming to Moscow despite a tragic situation in your country.”
Assad flashed wide smiles as he shook hands with Putin and other officials. “We thank you for standing by Syria’s territorial integrity and its independence,” Assad told Putin.
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 after the government cracked down violently on largely peaceful protests against Assad’s rule. The protests gradually became an armed insurgency and a civil war that has killed a quarter of a million people in the past five years.
Moscow, a traditional ally of the Assad family, started an air campaign on Sept. 30 against what it said are terrorist groups threatening Syria and Assad’s rule. It became the latest international power to deepen its involvement into the increasingly intractable conflict that saw a mushrooming of armed groups, including the militant Islamic State group and al-Qaida.
Russia says it is targeting militants. But critics including the U.S. say the Moscow military intervention helps props up Assad and is likely to fan the violence.
Assad said Russia’s intervention was in line with international law and praised it as an effort to rid Syria and the region of terrorism.
A statement posted on the Syrian presidency’s official Facebook page said Assad had three separate meetings in Moscow: talks with Putin and his foreign and defense ministers, a closed meeting between the two leaders and a working dinner.
Russian television showed footage of Putin and Russia’s foreign and defense ministers meeting with Assad. Syrian government officials didn’t say if anyone traveled with Assad and photos from the meeting didn’t show a delegation accompanying the Syrian leader.
The statement said the meetings were to discuss the continuation of the military operations against terrorism in Syria. The aim of the military operation is to eradicate terrorism that is obstructing a political solution, the statement said.
“Terrorism which we see spreading today could have been more widespread and more harmful if it weren’t for your decisions and steps, not only in our region,” Assad said in remarks carried by Arab media.
Putin said that along with fighting militants, Moscow believes that “a long-term settlement can only be achieved as part of a political process with the participation of all political forces, ethnic and religious groups.
“The Syrian people have been putting up a fight against international terrorism effectively on its own for several years, sustaining sizeable losses but it has achieved positive results recently,” Putin said.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in comments carried by Russian news agencies, declined to comment on any specific outcome of the talks.
Since June, Russia has played with the idea of a political transition that would envisage setting up some sort of interim government, and has discussed the issue with the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the Syrian opposition and others. Moscow’s diplomatic efforts have brought no visible results so far, but Putin has insisted that a political solution for Syria remains his top goal despite the military action. He recently met with Saudi officials, staunch critics of Assad and supporters of the rebels fighting against him.
Moscow also has sought to alleviate the concerns of Turkey, a major economic partner and the second-biggest importer of Russian natural gas, which has been critical of Russia’s intervention in Syria. Ankara also supports rebels fighting Assad.
Answering questions about Assad’s visit to Moscow, Turkey’s prime minister took a jab at the Syrian leader, reiterating his country’s position that Assad should not have a role in Syria’s future.
“If only he could stay in Moscow longer, to give the people of Syria some relief; in fact he should stay there so the transition can begin,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters.
Davutoglu insisted that efforts to find a solution to the Syrian crisis should focus “not on a transition with Assad, but on formulas for Assad’s departure.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu who was present at the talks and dinner with Assad on Tuesday said in remarks carried out by Russian news agencies on Wednesday that Moscow is not going to halt its military operation in Syria.
“With our support, Syrian government forces have turned from a retreat to an offensive, liberating a part of their territory from Islamic State militants,” Shoigu said. “We are going to continue rendering the assistance to the legitimate Syrian authorities and create preconditions for a settlement of this conflict.”
A week after Russia launched its airstrikes, Syrian ground troops, aided by allied fighters from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, pushed their way into central and northern Syria in an attempt to drive out rebel and militant groups in control of territories there. So far, Syrian forces have seized a few villages but there has been no strategic victory. Many of the attacks have hit western-backed rebels and al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, but not the Islamic State group, with a stronghold in eastern Syria.
The Russian airstrikes have allowed Syrian troops and their allies to launch multiple ground offensives in northern, central and southern Syria as well as in the rebel-held suburbs of the capital, Damascus.
Dmitry Trenin of the Moscow Carnegie Center said that Putin’s meeting with Assad signals Russia’s willingness to seek a political solution in Syria – but on its own terms.
“By summoning Assad to Moscow, Putin seeks to convert an early military success into political capital, by launching a political transition on his terms,” he said.
A video released by the Russian Defense Ministry this week taken by one of its own pilots in Syria shows a U.S. drone make a pass above.
“Recently, the presence of different aircraft in the air space of Syria has increased,” the ministry stated in a news release Tuesday. “These are civil airliners, military transport aircraft, combat aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles of different size including strike ones.”
While Russia said its air group “coordinates every flight with the Syrian service for air traffic control,” the ministry went on to state that “all the other manned and unmanned aircraft with the exception of the civil airliners are present in the Syrian air space without any accordance and with their transponders switched-off.”
“It is not infrequent that there are over 30 aircraft in one area at the same time. Undoubtedly, all that creates risks for aviation in the skies over Syria,” the news release stated.
Watch one such close encounter filmed by a Russian pilot of what Popular Science identified as a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone:
ABC News aviation consultant Stephen Ganyard described this as a “controlled intercept, very routine,” the news outlet reported.
“These are the kinds of intercepts that all fighter pilots practice,” he told ABC.
On Tuesday, the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement to minimize the risk of air collisions between military aircraft over Syria.
A Russian defense official in Moscow said the “memorandum of understanding” suggests a potential for U.S.-Russian counterterrorism cooperation, but U.S. officials said it was a narrow arrangement that does not lessen Washington’s concern about the Russian military campaign.
There is no plan to establish zones of cooperation in the parallel air campaigns or to share intelligence or target information in Syria, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
The Pentagon has cited several instances when Russian aircraft came too close to U.S. warplanes over Syria in recent weeks. More broadly, Washington has complained that instead of hitting Islamic State fighters, Russian airstrikes are mostly targeting rebel forces fighting the Syrian government. Russia also deployed ground troops and land-based weaponry, including multiple-launch rocket systems, in support of the Syrian government.
The arrangement “does nothing to assuage our concerns about Russian military activities in Syria,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
Cook said Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, signed for the U.S. side Tuesday. At a Pentagon news conference, Cook gave a broad description of the document but said the U.S. had accepted a Russian request that the text be kept secret.
After several rounds of talks that began more than a week ago, the two sides agreed to a number of air safety protocols including “maintaining professional airmanship” and the use of specific aircraft communications frequencies, Cook said. They agreed to keep a “safe distance” between aircraft, Cook said, but he would not say whether specific distances were written into the memo.
The two sides also agreed to establish a “communication line on the ground” as a backup of military-to-military communication, Cook said, although he would not say whether this would be a telephone line or where it would be located. A U.S.-Russia working group will be formed to deal with any implementation issues that arise, he added.
The discussions that led to the protocols “do not constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia’s policy and actions in Syria,” Cook said. “In fact, far from it, we continue to believe that Russia’s strategy in Syria is counterproductive, and their support for the Assad regime will only make Syria’s civil war worse.” He was referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the U.S. says is an illegitimate leader and must leave office.
In Moscow, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that signing the memorandum was a positive step that has “important practical meaning.”
“The memorandum contains a complex of rules and restrictions aimed at preventing incidents between Russian and U.S. aircraft,” Antonov said, adding that Russian and U.S. military officials will set up round-the-clock communications channels and “determine the mechanism of interaction, including mutual assistance in crisis situations.”
“The Americans have promised to get the agreed rules to all participants of the anti-IS coalition they lead, so that their pilots proceed from those agreements,” he said, referring to the U.S. coalition that includes Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Antonov added that the memorandum “shows a big potential for cooperation between Russia and the U.S., including in the fight against terrorism, which we are ready to expand and deepen.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Vatican has denied an Italian media report that Pope Francis has a small, benign brain tumor, releasing a statement proclaiming that the claim is “unfounded” and that the pontiff is continuing, as always, with a rigorous events schedule.
“The pope is carrying out his activity with his usual high level of intensity,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, according to Reuters. “Spreading unfounded news is gravely irresponsible and is not worthy of attention.”
The response came after Italian newspaper Quotidiano Nazionale published a front-page report on Wednesday claiming that Pope Francis, 78, was found to have “a small farm spot on the brain” — but that the tumor is curable.
The newspaper cited unnamed sources in reporting that the pontiff had visited the San Rossore di Barbaricina in Pisa, Italy, to see specialist Dr. Takanori Fukushima, who reportedly discovered the spot and recommended surgery, the Associated Press reported.
Quotidiano Nazionale is standing by its story.
This isn’t the first time that rumors have swirled about Pope Francis’ health, as speculation raged after the Vatican curtailed his public appearances in the summer of 2014, though nothing came of those previous reports of potential medical woes.
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