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  • U.S.-Cuba Aviation Deal Allows 110 Scheduled Flights Daily
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 6:04 pm by Associated Press

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    HAVANA (AP) — The United States and Cuba have struck a deal to allow as many as 110 regular airline flights a day, allowing a surge of American travel to Cuba that could eventually flood the island with hundreds of thousands more U.S. visitors a year, officials said Thursday on the anniversary of detente between the Cold War foes.

    The deal reached Wednesday night after three days of talks in Washington opens the way for U.S. airlines to negotiate with Cuba’s government for 20 routes a day to Havana and 10 to each of Cuba’s other nine major airports, the State Department said. While it will likely take months before the first commercial flight to Havana, the reestablishment of regular aviation to Cuba after half a century will almost certainly be the biggest business development since the two countries began normalizing relations last year.

     In this April 11, 2015, file photo, Cuban President Raul Castro, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama meet at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Saturday. The United States and Cuba publicly say they’re delighted with the state of diplomatic relations a year after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared the end to more than 50 years of official hostility. The two countries have reopened embassies in Havana and Washington; agreed to a pilot program restarting direct mail service; signed two deals on environmental protection; and launched talks on issues from human rights to compensation for U.S. properties confiscated by Cuba’s revolution. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    In this April 11, 2015, file photo, Cuban President Raul Castro, left, and President Barack Obama meet at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, April 11. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    Even a fraction of the newly allowed number of flights would more than double current U.S. air traffic to Cuba but it may take years to reach that number. U.S. travel to Cuba has risen by more than 50 percent this year alongside an even great surge in travel from other countries, overwhelming the country’s outmoded tourist infrastructure.

    Havana’s international airport is barely able to accommodate current demand for flights into the city and virtually every hotel is booked well into next year.

    It seems almost certain that Cuban officials will allow new U.S. flights slowly in order to make sure the government can handle the increase in travel.

    The United States and Cuba publicly say they’re delighted with the state of diplomatic relations a year after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared the end to more than 50 years of official hostility. The two countries have reopened embassies in Havana and Washington; agreed to a pilot program restarting direct mail service; signed two deals on environmental protection; and launched talks on issues from human rights to compensation for U.S. properties confiscated by Cuba’s revolution.

    “We are advancing our shared interests and working together on complex issues that for too long defined — and divided — us,” Obama said in a statement issued Thursday.

    “Meanwhile, the United States is in a stronger position to engage the people and governments of our hemisphere,” he added. “Congress can support a better life for the Cuban people by lifting an embargo that is a legacy of a failed policy.”

    The U.S. secretaries of state, commerce and agriculture and the Cuban-born deputy secretary of homeland security have all made official visits to start discussions on unsexy but vital technical matters like produce inspection and port regulations.

    Sports and cultural activity is heating up too. Havana has been swamped by U.S. celebrities. Music promoters are jostling to hold a U.S. pop concert in the capital early next year. Major League Baseball stars including Cuban-born defectors Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu were warmly welcomed by the Cuban government this week on a goodwill trip meant to pave the way for spring training games in Cuba in 2016.

    But until this week there has been virtually no progress on business ties, a major part of Obama’s new policy on Cuba. When he unveiled that policy on Dec. 17, 2014, Obama delivered a glowing vision of American visitors using debit and credit cards made possible by new banking links. U.S. companies would export a wide range of goods including telecommunications equipment.

    Almost none of that has happened.

    Sprint and Verizon have signed roaming deals with Cuba’s state telecommunications company that benefit a small class of American travelers. The online home-sharing service Airbnb has started operations in Cuba but hasn’t allowed non-Americans to book lodging, making it irrelevant for the majority of travelers from Europe and Canada.

    “On the political and diplomatic plane, and in bilateral cooperation, we’ve seen important progress,” said Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top negotiator with the U.S. “In contrast, I have to say that in the area of economy and commerce the results are barely visible.”

    Flying today requires wrangling with charter airlines that are expensive and difficult to book. Travelers from Cuba must brave long, chaotic lines to buy paper tickets. In the U.S., they are forced to email documents and payment information back and forth with an agent in the absence of online booking. Thomas Engle, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for transportation affairs, told The Associated Press that market demand would determine whether charter flights continue or are replaced by commercial aviation.

    American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines all applauded the agreement and said they will work with the U.S. Department of Transportation to secure rights to fly to Cuba.

    American has been flying to Cuba the longest of any U.S. carrier, starting charter service to the island in 1991. Today, it runs nearly 1,200 charter trips a year to Cuba, or 23 a week.

    The surge in tourism to Cuba this year is making many Cubans relatively well-off but those still earning meager state salaries and waging daily struggles to find scarce and expensive products express a rising sense of impatience and dissatisfaction.

    “I haven’t seen more commerce, really. I haven’t seen products in the stores,” said Paloma Suarez, a 50-year-old office worker in a state-run company in Old Havana.

  • Expert: You Can Expect This Famous Piece of ‘Star Wars’ Technology to Be Available In ‘Near Future’
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 5:58 pm by Josiah Ryan

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    Will we soon be communicating through 3D holograms, like those featured in “Star Wars,” or they still light years away?

    We asked one of the world’s foremost hologram experts, Jason Sapan, or Dr. Laser, who has worked on special effects for major motion pictures including “Vanilla Sky” and “The Matrix.”

    “It’s in the near future,” Sapan told TheBlaze last week. “So we are not talking about what we can do this moment but we are projecting as to, well, years form now what will be possible.”

    Sapan, however, did acknowledge that while this sort of technology is likely in our future it could still take some time.

    “First off, its science fiction,” he said. “It’s in a galaxy far away.”

    Any one can visit his studio-workspace at Holographic Studios in midtown Manhattan

    Follow Josiah Ryan on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram:

    Twitter (@JosiahRyan) and Instagram (@ahhdannyboy.)

    The full episode of The Glenn Beck Program, along with many other live-streaming shows and thousands of hours of on-demand content, is available on just about any digital device. Click here to watch every Glenn Beck episode from the past 30 days for just $1!

    Follow Tré Goins-Phillips (@tregp) on Twitter

  • Clinton Records Video for Trump Supporter Assuring Him She Doesn’t ‘Have Horns’ — Here’s His Reaction
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 5:41 pm by Oliver Darcy

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    Hillary Clinton delivered a simple message Wednesday for a supporter’s father who pledged his support to Donald Trump: “I don’t have horns.”

    The Democratic frontrunner was asked by 22-year-old Kayla Helmers to record a short message to her father, Shawn Starry, following a town hall in Mason City, Iowa.

    “Hi Shawn, I am here with your daughter,” Clinton said in the message. “I hope you can see I don’t have horns. And I really do hope that as this election goes on you will listen to your daughter. Thanks. Bye.”

    In his first interview since the video went viral, Starry told TheBlaze that when he first saw the message he “kind of chuckled.”

    “It came out of nowhere,” he said.

    Starry explained that while he found it great his daughter “had a chance to meet her hero,” he wasn’t particularly moved by Clinton’s message and still plans to back Trump.

    “I have always been a kid of a Trump supporter,” he said, explaining he liked the real estate mogul before he entered the 2016 race. “I like his attitude about life. I like his attitude about pursuing your passion. Being goal oriented. Not being passive aggressive. I like his vision.”

    Shawn Starry and his wife, Hope. (Image source: Facebook)

    Shawn Starry and his wife, Hope. (Image source: Facebook)

    Starry said he previously voted for President Bill Clinton and is a Democrat. But he added that he thinks he needs to “go with common sense” and his “gut feeling.”

    “I think what I am looking at is the character of the person,” he said. “Anybody can go into politics.”

    Nevertheless, Starry said he would be willing to give Clinton a chance to sway his opinion.

    “Let’s have a meeting,” he said. “I have like a million questions. I would like to be able to have an audience with her.”

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  • Man Who Bought Guns Used in San Bernardino Attack Charged With Terrorism
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 5:19 pm by Oliver Darcy

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    LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who bought the assault rifles used by his friend in the San Bernardino massacre has been charged with terrorism-related counts.

    Federal prosecutors say Enrique Marquez was charged Thursday with conspiring with Syed Rizwan Farook to commit terrorism in 2011 and 2012.

    Enrique Marquez via social media post

    Enrique Marquez via social media post

    Marquez also was charged with illegally purchasing two assault rifles used by Farook and his wife to kill 14 people at a holiday gathering of Farook’s health department co-workers on Dec. 2.

    Authorities previously said Marquez had legally purchased the high-powered guns.

    Marquez faces an additional immigration charge for a sham marriage with a member of Farook’s family.

    The 24-year-old Marquez was a neighbor and longtime friend of Farook’s, and the two later became related through marriage. Marquez and Farook’s brother are married to sisters from Russia.

  • Attorney: Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert Suffered a Stroke Last Month, Has Been Hospitalized Ever Since
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 5:17 pm by Kate Scanlon

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    Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) suffered a stroke last month and has been in the hospital since, his attorney said in a statement Thursday to the Associated Press.

    In this June 9, 2015 file photo, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse, in Chicago for his arraignment on federal charges that he broke federal banking laws and lied about the money when questioned by the FBI. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

    Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) arrives at the federal courthouse in Chicago June 9 for his arraignment on federal charges that he broke federal banking laws and lied about the money when questioned by the FBI. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

    Hastert, 73, is awaiting sentencing in a hush-money case. He pleaded guilty Oct. 28 to a felony count of evading bank reporting laws in an effort to pay hush-money to conceal alleged misconduct.

    “We are very hopeful that Mr. Hastert will be released from the hospital in the early part of the new year,” Hastert’s attorney Tom Green said. “The family very much desires that during Mr. Hastert’s continued hospitalization his privacy will be respected.”

    According to the AP, in addition to the stroke, Hastert “has been treated for sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of infection, and had two back surgeries while in the hospital.”

    In Hastert’s written plea agreement, the former Illinois Republican lawmaker wrote that he agreed to pay someone $3.5 million to conceal his misconduct that took place before he was in office.

    Anonymous sources told AP that Hastert “wanted to hide claims that he sexually molested someone decades earlier.”

    According to the AP, Hastert’s sentencing date is Feb. 29 and prosecutors recommend that he serve “no more than six months in prison.”

    Hastert was House speaker from 1999 to 2007.

  • New York State Lawmakers Push for Removal of Donald Trump’s Name From State Park
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 4:57 pm by Chris Enloe

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    New York State lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would change the name of an undeveloped state park named for Donald Trump in New York City’s northern suburbs.

    Image via Buzzfeed/Alan Kroeger

    Image via Buzzfeed/Alan Kroeger

    The legislation, which was titled the “Anything But Trump Act,” was introduced by New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D) and New York State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D).

    In an open letter sent to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Lavine said the 436-acre park, which currently is called “Donald J. Trump” park, should be renamed because “it is our national and state responsibility to act” when “demagogues spew hate.”

    “It is time the State of New York sends a message to Donald Trump that his hate speech is not welcome in our great state,” Lavine said in a statement, according to the New York Daily News. “I am confident that the Governor will take our letters into consideration. If he is unable to act, then we are prepared to move forward with this legislation.”

    Squadron echoed Lavine’s sentiment. “The rhetoric and discriminatory proposals we’ve seen from Mr. Trump don’t belong in the presidential election, and don’t belong in New York State Parks,” he said in a statement. “He has dishonored the state, and should not be honored with a state park named for him. I look forward to working with Assemblymember Lavine on this issue.”

    Instead, Lavine says the park should be renamed after Peter Salaam, an American Muslim who fought during the Revolutionary War.

    “Renaming the parkland after a true American patriot is fitting and will send the world a powerful message of the values we Americans and New Yorkers stand for,” Lavine said in his letter to Gov. Cuomo.

    According to Buzzfeed, the proposal also has the support of United States Congressman Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), who’s district includes much of the park.

    Trump donated the land to the state in 2006 after plans for a golf course folded due to “environmental concerns.” However, due to lack of funding, the state stopped funding the park in 2010.

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  • Strange Facts About ‘A Christmas Story’: How the Holiday Favorite Got Its Start in Playboy, Is Connected to ‘Porky’s’ and More
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 4:52 pm by Mike Opelka

    Comments (29)

    The 1983 holiday classic “A Christmas Story” is beloved by many. Did you know the low-budget Christmas film started as a series of short stories published in Playboy magazine? It’s 100 percent true.

    Image source:

    Image source:

    This news and 12 other curious facts about the movie are featured on the website

    Author Jean Shepherd’s book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” which was the basis for the movie, first gained national attention as short stories in the pages of Hugh Hefner’s magazine.

    The family-friendly classic also has ties to one of the raunchiest movies of the 1980s, “Porky’s.”

    In 1982, Bob Clark directed “Porky’s” and the film was a smash, earning more than $100 million, thus giving Clark credibility with studios.

    More than a decade before the Christmas was made, Clark heard Shepherd’s tales of growing up in the 1940s in Indiana on the radio. Clark says he knew the stories in the book needed to be made into a movie and reportedly spent years finding a studio willing to take a chance on it.

    The success of “Porky’s” made it possible.

    Image source: YouTube

    Darrin McGavin as Raphie’s dad in “A Christmas Story” (Image source: YouTube)

    Other strange facts include:

    ● The role of Ralphie’s dad was played by the late, Darrin McGavin. He was not the first choice. Jack Nicholson expressed interest in the role. Hiring Nicholson may have drawn more attention to the movie, but it also would have doubled the film’s budget. So, that never happened and McGavin was in.

    ● The voiceover heard in the movie belongs to Shepherd, who also makes a cameo appearance in the film. Shepherd is seen standing in the line to see Santa and instructs Ralphie to go to the back of the line.

    Image source: Screen capture

    Author Jean Shepherd, left, had a cameo in “A Christmas Story,” which was based on his book, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” (Image source: Screen capture)

    If you have ever wondered whether the scene in which a boy’s tongue is frozen to a lamp post on a cold day could really happen, you are not alone. The Mythbusters television show also thought about it. And they tested it, declaring it to be a real possibility.

    Image source: Screen capture

    “Flick,” one of the boys in “A Christmas Story,” got his tongue stuck to a lamp post. (Image source: Screen capture)

    See the rest of the list of “13 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘A Christmas Story’” here.

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  • New Orleans City Council Votes to Remove Four Confederate Monuments
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 4:29 pm by Associated Press

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    NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans City Council has voted in favor of removing prominent Confederate monuments along some of its busiest streets — a sweeping move by a city seeking to break with its Confederate past.

    The council’s 6-1 vote Thursday afternoon allows the city to remove four monuments, including a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that has stood at the center of a traffic circle for 131 years.

    The decision came after months of impassioned debate. Now, the city faces possible lawsuits seeking to keep the monuments where they are.

    Mayor Mitch Landrieu first proposed taking down these monuments after police said a white supremacist killed nine parishioners inside the African-American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.

    Anti-Confederate sentiment has grown since then around the country, along with protests against police mistreatment, as embodied by the Black Lives Matter movement.

    In this In this Sept. 2, 2015 file photo, the Robert E. Lee Monument is seen in Lee Circle in New Orleans. New Orleans is poised to make a sweeping break with its Confederate past as it contemplates removing prominent Confederate monuments now standing on some of its busiest streets. On Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, the City Council is set to vote on an ordinance to remove four monuments. A majority of council members and the mayor support the move, which would be one of the strongest gestures yet by American city to sever ties with Confederate history. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

    The Robert E. Lee Monument is seen in Lee Circle in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

    Before Thursday’s vote, Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the council and residents who gathered on both sides of the issue that for New Orleans to move forward “we must reckon with our past.”

    Landrieu said the monuments reinforce the Confederate ideology of slavery, limit city progress and divide the city. He used President Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

    The meeting was lively and sometimes disorderly.

    The Rev. Shawn Anglim, a Methodist pastor, is among many clergy members who have spoken out in favor of taking down the monuments. Anglim told those gathered Thursday, “Do the right thing. Do it for our children, and our children’s children.”

    Activist Malcolm Suber called the monuments “products of the Jim Crow era, an era when blacks were hunted and persecuted.” Others said they want the council to go even further and change street names associated with “white supremacy.”

    The most imposing of the monuments the council has voted to strike from the cityscape has had a commanding position over St. Charles Avenue since 1884: A 16-foot-tall bronze statue of Lee stands atop a 60-foot-high Doric marble column, which itself rises over granite slabs on an earthen mound. Four sets of stone staircases, aligned with the major compass points, ascend the mound.

    Above it all, the Virginian stands in his military uniform, with his arms folded and his gaze set firmly on the North — the embodiment of the “Cult of the Lost Cause” Southerners invoked to justify continued white power after the Civil War.

    The council also voted to remove a bronze figure of the Confederate president that now stands at Canal Street and Jefferson Davis Parkway, and a more local hero, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who straddles a prancing horse at the entrance to City Park. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was born in St. Bernard Parish and commanded Confederate forces at the war’s first battle.

    The most controversial is an 1891 obelisk honoring the Crescent City White League. An inscription added in 1932 said the Yankees withdrew federal troops and “recognized white supremacy in the South” after the group challenged Louisiana’s biracial government after the Civil War. In 1993, these words were covered by a granite slab with a new inscription, saying the obelisk honors “Americans on both sides” who died and that the conflict “should teach us lessons for the future.”

    Before the vote, council member at-large Stacy Head asked to keep the large monuments to Lee and Beauregard in place. But her motion received no support from the seven-person council.

  • Glenn Beck: U.S. Elected an ‘Angry Black Man’ as President in 2008
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 4:21 pm by Tré Goins-Phillips

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    Glenn Beck charged President Barack Obama Thursday with being responsible for reversing the United States to “pre-1960s America” in the way it sees race.

    “Why is this country in the situation that it’s in right now? Nine years ago, if you go back and you look at the stories that were printed nine, 10 years ago, they were all saying that this generation is the first generation to not see race,” the radio host said on The Glenn Beck Radio Program. ”So the kids who are now in college and in high school, they were the first ones not to see race.”

    Following the first few months after Obama was sworn in as president in 2009, 66 percent of Americans said race relations were generally good, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll. That same poll showed only 37 percent of Americans felt race relations were generally good in 2015.

    “What’s happened in the last nine years?  What has changed?” Beck continued. “How did a group of people that didn’t see race now all of a sudden be pre-1960s America? How did that happen?”

    According to Beck, racial division intensified in the U.S. because Americans elected a president with an “ideology that has nothing to do with the American psyche.”

    “We elected an angry black man,” Beck posited. “Now, he doesn’t come off as an angry black man. He comes off as a guy who just wants to unite and have hope and everything else, but he surrounds himself — and has his entire life — with people like Jeremiah Wright.”

    Beck said that he believes all of Obama’s policies reflect an ideology similar to that of Jeremiah Wright, the president’s former pastor, and not “the image that he portrays.” Additionally, the radio host charged that “the entire left” works to create racial discord.

    “[Obama's] entire administration, the entire left has gone to stir people up and make them angry at each other based on race,” Beck charged.

    Beck said that in 2016 the U.S. needs to elect a “uniter” and “someone to articulate the American dream.”

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    The full episode of The Glenn Beck Program, along with many other live-streaming shows and thousands of hours of on-demand content, is available on just about any digital device. Click here to watch every Glenn Beck episode from the past 30 days for just $1!

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  • Harvard Republicans Provide Hilarious Alternative to Administration’s Social Justice Holiday Placemats
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 4:14 pm by Carly Hoilman

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    Harvard University administrators took the initiative this week to prepare students for a holiday break full of trigger warnings and difficult discussions.

    In an effort to encourage conversations regarding social justice, the Ivy League school’s Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Freshman Dean’s Office distributed brightly colored dinner placemats covered in detailed notes on how to approach topics like racism and the refugee crisis with friends and loved ones and included “tips for talking to families,” one of which was simply “breathe.”

    Harvard's Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Freshman Dean’s Office distributed brightly colored and laminated Holiday Placemats for Social Justice in the school's dining halls.

    Harvard’s Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Freshman Dean’s Office distributed brightly colored and laminated Holiday Placemats for Social Justice in the school’s dining halls.

    A panel containing the header “Yale/Student Activism” on the politically correct dining flow chart contained this discussion question: “Why are black students complaining? Shouldn’t they be happy to be in college?” The response suggested by the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: “When I hear students expressing their experiences on campus I don’t hear complaining. Instead, I hear young people uplifiting a situation that I may not experience. If non-Black students get the privilege of that safe environment, I believe that same privilege should be given to all students.”

    According to The Harvard Crimson, the placemats received mixed reactions, some of which were rather negative.

    Aaron I. Henricks, a student at the university, characterized the topics noted on the placemats as “highly debatable” and described the political maneuver as “beyond inappropriate and arrogant.”

    Fox News reported that Harvard’s College Republicans chapter responded with its own alternative placemat, parodying the originals.

    The new “Holiday Placemat for Common Sense” includes the description: “A placemat guide for holiday discussions with your Harvard College Administrators.”

    A bright green panel on the parody placemat reads: “Let’s have a real discussion. We want to talk about important issues. That’s why we came to Harvard.”

    The alternate Holiday Placemat For Common Sense was created by the Harvard Republican Club in an attempt to lampoon the original.

    The alternate Holiday Placemat For Common Sense was created by the Harvard Republican Club in an attempt to lampoon the original.

    According to Fox, two Harvard administrators — Stephen Lassoed, dean of student life, and Thomas Dingman, dean of freshmen — apologized for the placemats:

    We write to acknowledge that the placemat distributed in some of your dining halls this week failed to account for the many viewpoints that exist on our campus on some of the most complex issues we confront as a community and society today. Our goal was to provide a framework for you to engage in conversations with peers and family members as you return home for the winter break, however, it was not effectively presented and it ultimately caused confusion in our community.

  • Poisoning of 14 People at Paris Synagogue Linked to Substance ‘Deliberately Placed to Cause Harm’
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 3:27 pm by Kate Scanlon

    Comments (38)

    Photo credit: Shutterstock

    Fourteen people were injured after coming in contact with poison that had been applied to an electronic lock in a synagogue near Paris, according to Le Parisien.

    The Times of Israel reports that the members of the Jewish community Bonneuil-sur-Marne were treated for poisoning after complaining of “a sudden strong burning sensation in their eyes and itchy rashes on their skin.”

    Authorities traced the symptoms to a “non-lethal irritant” that had been placed on a lock in the building.

    The Times reports that local authorities are protecting the synagogue and that the incident is under investigation.

    French police believe the attack was anti-Semitic in nature and the “substance was deliberately placed there to cause harm.”

  • ‘Islam Is a Doctrine Spawned in Hell’: Pastor Fights Back in Court After Being Charged for Fiery Sermon Calling Islam ‘Satanic’
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 3:22 pm by Billy Hallowell

    Comments (103)

    The three-day trial has concluded for an evangelical pastor in Northern Ireland who is under fire after delivering a 2014 sermon during which he called Islam “satanic” and “spawned in hell,” with the presiding judge reserving his verdict until after Christmas.

    Pastor James McConnell, 78, found himself in legal trouble for uttering “grossly offensive” words in the sermon, which streamed on the Internet, though he has vocally fought back against the charges that were brought against him, defending himself on the stand this week.

    McConnell, who previously preached at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before retiring, made his comments — which included calling Islam “heathen” — in a sermon delivered at the church in May 2014, the BBC reported.

    “The Muslim religion was created many hundreds of years after Christ. Muhammad, the Islam Prophet, was born around the year A.D. 570, but Muslims believe that Islam is the true religion,” he preached. “Now, people say there are good Muslims in Britain. That may be so, but I don’t trust them.”

    McConnell continued, “Islam’s ideas about God, about humanity, about salvation are vastly different from the teaching of the holy scriptures. Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”

    Watch the fiery sermon below:

    The pastor’s legal team argued that the preacher didn’t intend to offend anyone with his remarks. Interestingly, the comments that seemed to most frustrate the prosecutors were the words he uttered about not trusting the “good Muslims in Britain,” the BBC reported.

    It was that portion of the sermon that the prosecution said violated the Communications Act 2003, calling it “grossly offensive,” but it’s a stance against the majority of Muslims that McConnell wasn’t willing to back down from, repeating his distrust of Islamic adherents before the court, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

    “He is preaching a sermon, he is instructing, he is wishing people to listen. There is clear evidence that he intended to use those words,” prosecutor David Russell said in court. “They were not a slip of the tongue. It is a straightforward case.”

    Here’s how the Telegraph framed the back-and-forth:

    He was asked by prosecuting barrister David Russell which Muslims he excluded when he referred to a “majority”.

    Pastor McConnell replied: “I don’t know.”

    Mr Russell pointed out a quote from an interview the pastor gave to the Stephen Nolan Show, where he said: “I don’t trust them.”

    Pastor McConnell again said: “Because of their Sharia law.”

    The judge later clarified: “You do trust a minority of Muslims?”

    “Of course, yes,” Pastor McConnell responded.

    Before the trial unfolded, a representative for the Public Prosecution Service in North Ireland had said that McConnell offense was “one of sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.”

    Watch McConnell discuss the case:

    Judge Liam McNally will issue his opinion on January 5. Read more about the case here.

    (H/T: BBC)

  • ‘Apples and Oranges’: DHS Official Goes Against White House on Using No-Fly List to Block Gun Purchases
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 3:16 pm by Kate Scanlon

    Comments (50)

    A Department of Homeland Security official testified before Congress Thursday that he believes it would be “apples and oranges” to use terror watch lists for gun control measures.

    “My concern with this is there has been a lot of talk recently about using these watch lists for purposes other than they were intended, for instance, in determining whether or not Americans are able to exercise their rights under the Second Amendment,” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said during a House Government Oversight Committee hearing, referring to multiple calls from gun control advocates to use terror watch lists and no-fly lists to determine whether Americans should be able to purchase firearms. “Do you think it is appropriate that these lists be used outside of what they were designed for?”

    “I have not heard that, and I don’t believe that it would be,” Assistant Homeland Security Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin said, adding, “I believe it would be apples and oranges.”

    Some lawmakers have proposed preventing those on the Transportation Security Administration’s no-fly list from purchasing firearms.

    During an interview with CBS News earlier this month, President Barack Obama suggested that using the no-fly list to control gun purchases could be a step toward making Americans “safer.”

    “People can’t get on planes but those same people who we don’t allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them,” Obama said. “That’s a law that needs to be changed.”

    Critics of the proposal have argued that the list was not only not designed for such purposes but also frequently includes innocent citizens who should not be on the list and that, therefore, the policy would infringe upon Second Amendment rights.

  • Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson Endorses Ted Cruz
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 3:05 pm by Leigh Munsil

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    Conservative leader James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and Family Talk Radio, has endorsed presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the campaign announced today.

    “Ted Cruz’s record on religious liberty, life, and marriage is second to none in this Republican field,” Dobson said in a statement. “I have met with the senator on multiple occasions: he is brilliant, articulate, and informed. Shirley and I have been praying for a leader such as this, and we are confident that Ted Cruz has the moral and spiritual foundations to lead our nation with excellence. Speaking as private individuals, we urge conservatives and people of faith to join us in supporting his race for the presidency.”

    Cruz has been surging in polls in Iowa and nationwide and has picked up a number of key endorsements over the past few weeks, but he still trails businessman Donald Trump.

    Christian evangelical leader James Dobson is pictured at the National Religious Broadcasters 2008 Convention in Nashville, Tenn.  (AP/Charles Dharapak)

    James Dobson (AP/Charles Dharapak)

    The endorsement from Dobson, who stepped down from the presidency of Focus on the Family in 2003 but remains an influential faith leader, may help Cruz win the support of undecided conservative and evangelical values voters.

    “Dr. Dobson has mentored and encouraged three generations of American families,” Cruz said. “Dr. Dobson’s wisdom and common sense have inspired health and healing in millions of lives. He has rallied people around the world with a vision for happy marriages and beautiful home life. I am deeply grateful for Dr. Dobson’s gift to the world — he has been a voice of hope and a guide to many of us, and I am thrilled to have his support.”

  • Obama National Security Briefing: No ‘Specific’ Terror Threats Against U.S., but Americans Must Remain Vigilant
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 2:55 pm by Fred Lucas

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    President Barack Obama said there is no credible evidence of a terrorist threat against Americans now but added that the country must remain vigilant and united.

    “One of our greatest weapons against terrorism is our own strength and resilience as a people,” Obama said Thursday at the National Counter Terrorism Center. “If you see something suspicious, say something to law enforcement. It also means staying united as one American family, remembering that our greatest allies in this fight are each other, Americans of all faiths and all backgrounds.”

    Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) look on as US President Barack Obama delivers remarks after a national security team meeting at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia, December 17, 2015. Obama said Thursday that there was no 'specific' terror threat to the United States but urged Americans to remain alert over the holiday period. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

    Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, left, and Secretary of State John Kerry, right, flank President Barack Obama during remarks after a national security team meeting at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia, Thursday. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

    Obama’s comments seemed subtly aimed at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called for barring Muslim immigrants from entering the United States.

    “When Americans stand together, nothing can beat us,” the president said. “Most of all, we cannot give in to fear or change how we live our lives, because that’s what terrorists want. That’s the only leverage that they have. They can’t defeat us on a battlefield, but they can lead us to change in ways that would undermine what this country’s all about.”

    The president met with his national security team at the NCTC just days after a similar meeting at the Pentagon. The speech comes after he was roundly criticized for his response to the San Bernardino terrorist attack that killed 14, first suggesting it could be “workplace violence.”

    “Our intelligence and counterterrorism professionals do not have any specific and credible information about an attack on the homeland,” Obama said.

    But, in light of recent events, the president said he understood why the country is on edge about terrorism. “After the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, I know a lot of Americans were anxious. and that’s understandable. It’s natural,” Obama said.

    He assured the country, before setting off on a two-week vacation to Hawaii on Friday, that the country is in good hands.

    “What the world doesn’t always see are the successes, those terrorist plots that have been prevented, and that’s how it should be,” Obama said. “This work oftentimes demands secrecy, but as Americans, we should not forget how good these patriots are. Over the years, they have taken countless terrorists off the battlefield, they have disrupted plots. they’ve thwarted attacks, they have saved American lives.”

  • Republicans Push More Than $600 Billion in Compromise Tax Cuts Through House
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 1:59 pm by Associated Press

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    WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans whipped more than $600 billion in compromise tax breaks for businesses, investors and families through the House on Thursday, as Congress tried capping 2015 with a flurry of accomplishments before the partisan collisions certain to dominate the coming election year.

    The House voted 318-109 to approve the measure, which is part of a bipartisan pact that includes a $1.1 trillion bill financing government agencies in 2016.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined by, from left, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La.,, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks to media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

    House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined by, from left, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La.,, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks to media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

    Some uncertainty arose Thursday over the separate spending measure as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested there might not be enough Democratic votes to push it through the chamber. Congressional leaders hope to ship both bills, a 2,200-page legislative bundle, to President Barack Obama on Friday for his promised signature and adjourn for the year.

    The tax bill would mostly renew scores of existing breaks that have lapsed or are about to, but its scope was impressive, with victories for both parties. Tax breaks for companies that buy equipment and invest in research would be made permanent, as would credits for millions of families with lower incomes, children or college students.

    “This is a pro-growth bill,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “This permanent tax relief will make it easier for employers to plan ahead, hire new workers, grow their businesses.”

    Most Democrats opposed the tax package, complaining that it would worsen federal deficits and make it harder to find money for the domestic programs they favor. They also said it was imbalanced, with 60 percent of its permanent reductions going to business and just 40 percent to families.

    “Middle-class wages are stagnant or in decline,” said Rep. Rose DeLauro, D-Conn., an argument that Democrats are sure to press in the 2016 campaigns. “We need to do whatever we can to support working people.”

    Tax credits for college expenses, child costs and lower-earning families are set to become permanent, as would cuts for companies that do research or buy equipment. The measure would make permanent or at least extend reductions for some charitable contributions, builders of energy-efficient homes, producers of Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands rum and owners of auto race tracks.

    Coupled with tax provisions that House leaders stuffed into the spending bill to attract votes, the legislation would cost the government an estimated $680 billion over the next decade. That would pump federal deficits over that period, already projected to total an astronomical $7 trillion, even higher.

    “It’s a significant tax relief measure and of course you know how Republicans like to cut taxes,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told The Associated Press.

    This June 3 2014 file photo shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

    This June 3 2014 file photo shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

    As if they needed more encouragement, Republicans said the tax bill would make revamping tax laws next year easier by clearing away those extensions now. GOP leaders hope to produce tax and health care overhaul measures next year, fully expecting vetoes from a Democratic president but savoring the campaign-season opportunity to fire up conservative voters.

    Though Pelosi opposed the tax measure, Democrats were divided over the overall budget deal.

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the budget agreement was “a good compromise.” The White House, in a letter expressing support, said the deal would “help to grow the economy and build middle-class economic security.”

    Tucked into the two bills were provisions trimming some of the taxes that help pay for Obama’s prized 2010 health care overhaul. The White House opposed the rollbacks, but Republicans and many Democrats savored them. A tax on medical devices would be suspended for two years, a levy on health insurers would stop for one year and, in a victory for unions, a tax on higher-cost insurance policies would be postponed two years until 2020.

    Democrats failed to block GOP language restricting federal reimbursements to insurers losing money on federal and state exchanges where people buy coverage. Many say that’s helped destabilize some markets.

    Republicans won an end of the four-decade ban on U.S. crude oil exports. The industry said lifting that prohibition would create jobs and lower gasoline prices – outcomes that opponents said were flat-out wrong.

    In exchange, Democrats secured extensions of tax breaks for alternative power sources such as solar and wind energy.

    The tax bill also takes a shot at the Internal Revenue Service, which Republicans have not forgiven following its admission that it subjected conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to unfairly tough investigations. The measure would make it easier for people to get information from the IRS about their cases and for groups to appeal agency decisions against them.

  • Texas School District to Shed Its Status as ‘Gun-Free Zone’
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 1:26 pm by Chris Enloe

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    Keene Independent School District, which is just south of the Dallas/Fort-Worth area, voted Wednesday to allow select teachers to carry guns in the classroom and on school campuses.

    The vote, which passed 6-1, will allow a “very select few” teachers who are identified as capable candidates to be invited to undergo training by the newly created Keene ISD Police, according to KDFW.

    Handguns are displayed during the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits. April 10, 2015. (Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

    Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

    However, Keene ISD Police Chief Tim Kosar told KFAA-TV that the program will be completely voluntary. For safety reasons, it will not be disclosed how many teachers or which teachers will be armed. In addition, the teachers that will be armed will have their firearm on their body the entire school day, so no students will have access to their weapon.

    Kosar also said that those chosen to carry will undergo extensive firearm training.

    “We’re going to do a minimum of 80 hours a year of training,” he said. “We’ll do it at least quarterly, and three of four times we train a year will be at a range.”

    Some parents fear that students could overpower a teacher carrying a weapon, but Keene ISD Superintendent Ricky Stephens said that will not be an issue because teachers in higher grades will not carry guns.

    The policy is set to go into effect next year, possibly as early as February or March.

    View the story below via KFAA:

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  • One GOP Candidate Says He Would ‘Very Likely’ Serve Only One Term if Elected President
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 1:19 pm by Tré Goins-Phillips

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    If he were elected president, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson believes he would serve only one term in office because his policies would be unpopular, eliminating the possibility of getting elected a second time.

    Ben Carson speaks to guests at a barbecue, November 22, 2015. (Getty Images/Scott Olson)

    Ben Carson speaks to guests at a barbecue Nov. 22. (Getty Images/Scott Olson) 

    “If I’m successful in this endeavor to become president of the United States, it’s very likely I would be a one-term president,” Carson said at a Republican gathering in Las Vegas Wednesday. “Because there are some tough things we have to attack.”

    The GOP hopeful’s comments seem to indicate he does not believe the policies he would enact would be politically correct or popular. However, Carson insisted that the U.S. “cannot continue down this path.”

    Carson also took aim at Republicans who hold to an all-or-nothing ideal, according to CBS News. ”Republicans have this mental disorder sometimes that says, ‘A person doesn’t agree with me 100 percent, I’m not with them, I’m going to go and sit down,’” Carson said.

    Carson took his comments a step further, saying such a mentality is a “disease that was implanted by the Democrats,” adding that as long as conservative voters hold to an all-or-nothing ideal, Democrats have elections “in the bag.”

    Though the retired neurosurgeon has dipped in the polls since his rise to the top last month, he has maintained his reputation for being politically incorrect.

    “We have to get rid of all this PC stuff,” Carson said during Tuesday night’s GOP debate. “And people are worried about if somebody’s going to say that I’m Islamophobic or what have you. This is craziness because we are at war. That’s why I asked Congress, ‘Go ahead and declare the war.’”

    According to the latest national poll, Carson is tied for third place with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at 12 percent, behind Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and front-runner Donald Trump.

    (H/T: CBS News)

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  • Disney, Universal, SeaWorld Parks Announce Significant Changes to Security Procedures
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 1:00 pm by Dave Urbanski

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    Ahead of the busy holiday season, Disney, Universal and SeaWorld’s Florida theme parks are adding enhanced security measures — including metal detectors — inside and outside of venues, park officials told the Associated Press.

    Image source: Disney World website

    Image source: Disney World website

    Disney will be randomly selecting guests for secondary screening, the AP reported, but wouldn’t disclose how long the measures would be in place. Universal told the outlet that its metal detection is a test but wouldn’t comment on future plans. SeaWorld guests will undergo bag and wand metal detector checks, officials there said.

    In addition, Disney will no longer allow guests 14 and older to wear costumes into its parks, and it’s ending the sale of toy guns at its Florida and California parks and will prohibit such items from being brought in, the AP reported.

  • ‘Let Me Explain, You Uber-Rich Pseudo-Socialist Buffoon’: Conservative Author and Liberal Actor Clash in Hostile Exchange
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 12:57 pm by Carly Hoilman

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    Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt took to Twitter shortly after Tuesday’s GOP debate came to a close, voicing his dissatisfaction and pleading for Bernie Sanders’ help. Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of, offered a quick response to Oswalt’s cry, initiating a ruthless back-and-forth that ended with Shapiro accusing the stand-up comedian, writer and actor of being anti-Semitic.

    At one point, Oswalt compared Shapiro to neoconservative thinker, Irving Kristol. It was after this that the writer proceeded to call Oswalt’s reference “anti-Semitic.” Things got ugly fast, and they stayed ugly, even after Oswalt insisted that Shapiro and Kristol’s shared Judaism was “incidental.”

    After over half an hour of no reply, Oswalt persisted in his taunting tweets, inviting Shapiro to engage. Oswalt’s efforts were rewarded with a few more haughty jabs from Shapiro, who criticized what he believed to be Oswalt’s socialist leanings. He even “went there” and referenced Oswalt’s role in the animated blockbuster, ‘Ratatouille’.

    There there was this profane rebuttal from the comedian:

    The next day, Salon took sides, praising Oswalt for shooting down Shapiro’s cries of anti-Semitism and dismissing them as “absurd.”

  • Get a First Look at the ‘Full House’ Spin-Off — See the Trailer Here
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 12:51 pm by Billy Hallowell

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    Netflix unveiled the trailer for the highly anticipated “Full House” reboot this week, just two months ahead of the show’s Feb. 26 release.

    The 13-episode, family friendly show, titled “Fuller House,” will star Candace Cameron-Bure, Jodie Sweetin (who played Stephanie) and Andrea Barber (who portrays Kimmy Gibbler) — all members of the original cast.

    An official description of the show from Netflix reads, “The Full House adventures continue when D.J. Tanner-Fuller calls upon her sister, Stephanie, and her friend, Kimmy, to move in and help raise her three boys.”

    The brief trailer takes viewers back inside the beloved Tanner home. And while characters cannot be seen on camera, they can be heard speaking with one another outside the front door as they attempt to come inside. Before the door opens, the camera cuts away.

    Watch the “Fuller House” trailer below:

    As TheBlaze reported earlier this year, the show is expected to be friendly for all ages — an intentional effort to maintain the scope and feel of the original series.

    “We want to protect the image of ‘Full House,’” Bure, who came of age on TV as D.J., told TheBlaze back in April. “We’re all going into this with the understanding that we’re going to give the fans what the original show gave, which was good family programming that you’ll want to watch with your children.”

    As for the decision to retain the show’s positive vibe, Bure said the producers and cast have talked about it for quite some time, and she believes this type of family show was attractive to Netflix.

    “It is a family show,” she said. “I’m not concerned about the show taking a turn that the fans would be disappointed in.”

    Candace Cameron-Bure arrives at the 2015 Entertainment Weekly Pre-Emmy Party at Fig & Olive on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

    Candace Cameron-Bure arrives at the 2015 Entertainment Weekly Pre-Emmy Party at Fig & Olive on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP)

    Bure said viewers will laugh, cry and learn important lessons by watching the beloved characters face and overcome modern-day scenarios — much like they did during the show’s original run from 1987 to 1995.

    “The show is so nostalgic. It’s still so relevant today, because it is one of the few shows that has never been off the air in 25 years,” she said. “They still learn lessons from it.”

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  • Sheriff’s Deputy Resigns After He’s Suspended Without Pay Over ‘Inappropriate’ Facebook Comment
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 12:29 pm by Chris Enloe

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    A sheriff’s deputy in Thomas County, Georgia, Jason Shierling, resigned from his position this week, following backlash for an “inappropriate” comment he made on Facebook.

    The comment in question was posted Monday at 12:15 p.m on a video that depicted two African-American fast-food workers engaged in an altercation.

    Image source: WCTV-TV/screenshot

    Image source: WCTV-TV/screenshot

    “Lolz, these are the same people that want 15 an hr, the same people screaming ‘black lives matter’ it’s very clear they matter to you!” Shierling said, according to a screenshot of the comments. “I would’ve loved to have rolled up on this. If you aim right you could’ve gotten both of them on the same cartridge, let them ride it together!”

    The Thomas County Sheriff’s Office did not find any humor in the comments.

    “We have a strict policy against this type of social media postings,” Capt. Steve Jones said. “Anything that would bring any type of doubt or mistrust to the office is not tolerated — period.”

    As a result of the comments, Shierling was suspended without pay for three days Wednesday — but he chose to resign instead.

    Shierling had been with the Thomas County Sheriff’s Department for 18 months and had no prior history of misconduct.

    (H/T: WCTV-TV)

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  • What Happens After She Grabs Her Violin and Steps Onto the Subway Platform Will ‘Wow’ You
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 12:21 pm by Billy Hallowell

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    Famed violinist Lindsey Stirling is once again wowing millions with her rendition of “Hallelujah” — a tune that is accompanied by a video showing her performing the song on a New York City subway platform; images of a miniature nativity are interspersed throughout.

    Stirling, a Mormon who is known for dancing while playing the violin in astounding fashion, concludes the video by sharing a powerful message about the power of the gospel and Jesus Christ.

    “This is the time of year that we have the opportunity to celebrate [Jesus'] birth, and he was the greatest gift that we’ve ever been given,” she proclaimed. “His gospel allows us the knowledge to know that we can be with our loved ones forever.”

    Stirling continued, “And in my darkest moments, Jesus Christ has given me hope.”

    Watch her video, which has attracted more than 2.6 million views in recent days, below:

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