Saturday, November 7, 2015

Remembering Dad

    During my break from blogging, my father died. As my banner above indicates, he was the inspiration for Speak With Authority, but he was so much more. Here are some edited excerpts from a biography of dad that was read at his funeral:
Jack Bier was born on September 23, 1926 in Belmar, New Jersey, the youngest of three children. 
As a child, Jack was already a business man and entrepreneur. He planned, constructed and then ran his own penny fairs, taxi service and backyard miniature golf course. Sports played a large part in Jack's life--football, basketball and track. On the basketball court, he was so skinny they called him "Bones Bier." 
At age seventeen he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served overseas toward the end of World War II. He supervised the disarming of German soldiers them to prison camps, camps he was placed in charge of. 
After the war he played football at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated from the Wharton School of Business. He met Doris Miller, a kindergarten teacher, at church. They fell in love and were married in 1948. Early on, Doris became Jill. Jack and Jill wanted a big family and they got it. God blessed them with five boys and a girl.  
Jack's career included working for Owens Corning Fiberglas, a position he accepted the day before receiving his acceptance into the FBI! J. Edward Hoover missed out on a good man. Jack's financial training and experience, along with his entrepreneurial spirit and God's direction, led him to start up his own company in 1972.  After spending a few years at a large Christian church and school in Memphis, where he resolved a major financial crisis, Jack and his family moved back to New Jersey and launched BAC, Inc. For forty years, Jack served as financial and crisis manager for one church after another, adding many on as regular clients. Today BAC assists dozens of churches across the country. 
Jack was always a people person and was greatly loved and respected by those he served. Besides his ministry to Christian schools and churches, Jack wore many hats in his own church. Over a span of more than fifty years at Haddon Heights Baptist Church, Jack was a college age youth advisor, a Sunday School teacher and the superintendent, a deacon, a counselor and a pastoral search committee member.  
Although raised in a Christian home, Jack did not personally receive Jesus Christ as his Savior until 1955, under the preaching of Lehman Strauss. He became a new creation in Christ, putting off old behaviors and ways of thinking and developing new ones. His goals for his family became centered in Kingdom work. 
Jack modeled practical love for Christ over the many years by devoting time and resources to world missions. Jack and Jill frequently hosted missionaries. After their home began to be an empty nest, Jack converted a bedroom into a "prophet's chamber", so that missionaries on furlough always had a place to stay. He was generous in sharing his vacation home with several pastors and their families, as well as with his own children and their families. For thirty-five years his shore house has been a home away from home for children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  
In April 1994, Jill, Jack's wife for forty-six years, lost her battle with cancer, and Jack lost the love of his life. But God had planned another love for Jack, and on Veteran's Day 1995 he and Lois Speirs were married. Combining both families, Jack and Lois now have forty-three grandchildren and seventeen great grandchildren, with a few on the way. 
Jack loved songs about heaven and the return of Christ. On October 28, 2015, he was welcomed into the presence of his Savior. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
I also made some remarks at the funeral about dad as a father on behalf of the children. I closed with this:
Dad and Mom are now both in heaven with Jesus their Lord and Savior. But the legacy left by them both is immense and unless the Lord returns will likely endure for many decades if not longer. The Bier family name was on thin ice there for a while when the third and last child was born in the 20s to the Biers, a skinny boy from Belmar. But now, not only is the Bier name secure for the foreseeable future, but far more important than a name, Dad Bier’s legacy is secure in an ever growing number of solid homes and families reflecting that legacy, and committed to passing it down to yet another generation.
Thanks, Dad, until we meet again.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

TSA: A Record 67 Firearms Found in Carry-on Bags Week of 9/11

    The week including the 14th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that spurred rigorous security procedures and numerous restrictions for air travel, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confiscated a record 67 firearms located in passengers' carry-on baggage. On September 11 alone, ten guns were found. Out of the 67 firearms found during the week, 56 were loaded and 26 actually had a round chambered, ready to fire. (The TSA did not note the position of safety catches on the weapons.)
     Below are photos of some of the guns discovered:

     In addition to the firearms, 19 stun guns were among the prohibited items the TSA found during bag searches. Guns were not the only weapons uncovered this week. Belt-buckle knives and even some throwing stars were confiscated:

In Houston, a container of 16 ounces of black powder, an explosive, was found in a checked bag:

The TSA blog post reporting the week's haul includes some reminders about restrictions on transporting firearms and ammunition:
When packed properly, ammunition can be transported in your checked baggage, but it is never permissible to pack ammo in your carry-on bag. 
You can travel with your firearms in checked baggage, but they must first be declared to the airline.
     The previous weekly record of 65 firearms was set in May 2013. The TSA reported in January 2015, however, that the year 2014 holds the record for most firearms confiscated in a year: 2,202, or about 6 per day.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Three ISIS Drones Have Been Destroyed in Iraq, Syria

   The latest official report of a drone in the possession of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is tucked in an August 3rd press release from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the overseers of the air campaign in Syria and Iraq against the terrorist organization.
     The reference is included in a list of targets from the previous day near the Iraqi town of Ramadi: "[T]hree airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL motorcycle, an ISIL drone, four ISIL vehicles and an ISIL resupply truck."
     A CENTCOM spokesperson told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the "remotely piloted aircraft 'RPA' was destroyed on the ground," but that the coalition was unable to confirm whether or not the drone had been armed.
     This drone destroyed in Iraq in August was the third ISIL drone targeted to date by Operation Inherent Resolve and the most recent hit since June. The only ISIS drone destroyed so far in Syria was located near Raqqah and was targeted on June 26th. CENTCOM reported that "five airstrikes struck three ISIL tactical units, destroying five ISIL excavators, an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL remotely piloted aircraft."
    The first instance of an ISIS drone being taken out by Operation Inherent Resolve was reported by the Daily Beast in the spring of 2015 based on a March 18th press release from CENTCOM. The Daily Beast quoted military officials as saying that "they believe the drone in question is one of several owned by ISIS but that fighters only recently started seeing them appear on the frontlines." At the time, it was believed the drone's mission was one of surveillance, not attack, and was described by military officials as "something that could be bought commercially."
     Although the Daily Beast article was entitled "Is ISIS Building a Drone Army?" and noted that experts have said that "ISIS could convert this kind of technology into something deadly," military officials dismissed the idea: "there [is] a big difference between what ISIS could have purchased off of Amazon.com ... and the Reapers and Predators deployed by coalition forces."
     When asked this week if drone use by ISIS was on the rise, a CENTCOM spokesperson told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that "[c]urrently, there is no assessment indicating an increased use of RPA's [remotely piloted aircraft] by ISIL."

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard. Also, The Weekly Standard version of this post was the DrudgeReport's banner headline for about an hour Friday morning:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

DNC Email on LGBT/Same-Sex Marriage: 'Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations'

    Defenders of traditional marriage have long warned about the slippery slope to bigamy and polygamy on which same-sex marriage places the country, but to hear Star Trek star George Takei and the Democratic party tell it, there may be more to come. In an email from the Democratic National Committee concerning its upcoming LGBT Gala and celebrating June's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, Takei writes that he has always appreciated Star Trek's idea of "infinite diversity in infinite combinations":
There's an idea from Star Trek that I've always appreciated: "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations." 
What this means to me is that, whether out in space or here on Earth, there's no set prescription for how to live our lives. We are all unique, and we should celebrate our differences. 
Now, some folks may disagree. They may shake their heads in disapproval or discomfort at all of the beautiful diversity that makes this country great. But when I'm confronted with that kind of close-mindedness, I just look at the incredible progress we've made together. Decades of hard work and passion have brought us where I always knew we could go -- to a place where love is love, and marriage equality is the law of the land. 
My husband Brad and I are going to join the Democratic National Committee -- and President Barack Obama! -- in New York City later this month for its annual LGBT Gala, and I want you to come, too. 
After the Supreme Court's landmark marriage equality ruling in June, we have a lot to celebrate. And I don't know about you, but I want to thank the President in person for his continued support of the LGBT community.
    While direct public statements are hard to come by, both Takei and the Democratic Party have appeared to mock the idea that same-sex marriage could lead to further transformation of traditional marriage. In January 2014 while in Utah, Takei poked fun at Utah's history of polygamy, tweeting, "Maybe if I'd married four husbands instead of one, they'd be more accepting of my marriage here.":

And in a July 2013 blog post on the Democratic Party's website, the party noted derisively that "Ken Cuccinelli [then-Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia] has claimed that allowing gay marriage is a slippery slope to polygamy..."
     Now, with Takei's embrace of "infinite diversity in infinite combinations" in the DNC email, it's unclear if he and the Democratic Party are signaling a new openness towards new "combinations" in marriage. Both Takei and the Democrats have repeatedly used the tagline "love is love", but a search of their Twitter feeds and the party's website failed to turn up any examples with a numerical limit.
     Below is the entire text of the DNC's email, including the fund raising pitch:

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

General: 'We Don’t Truly Understand' Russia's Plans in Syria

     Weekend remarks concerning Russia's current activities in Syria by Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander, are far from reassuring. Speaking to reporters after NATO's Military Committee Conference in Istanbul on Saturday, Breedlove acknowledged, "We don’t truly understand yet what it is that Russia is going to do in Syria." (via EuroNews) He went on to say:
We have heard everything from humanitarian operations to combat operations, so it remains to be seen what this will be in the end," Breedlove said. "What we are most concerned about is any operations that would continue to support the Assad regime and its terrible actions against its own people.
     Breedlove's comments follow reports that Russia has plans to establish an air base in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, which is still under the control of the Assad regime. Russia's path to Syria has also been the cause of some concern and contention involving airspace permission from area countries for Russian aircraft on their way to Syria.
     Gen. Breedlove connected the concerns regarding Syria with Russia's incursions into and occupation of parts of Ukraine. "The issue of a revanchist Russia, which is now changing borders in Europe by force, has sort of brought everybody's attention," he said. However, Breedlove expressed confidence that Russian president Vladimir Putin recognized that violating a NATO border was far different from "crossing those international borders":
Clearly, Mr. Putin has made decisions and they have used force to invade and now occupy Ukraine's Crimea and they have used force to invade and now occupy portions of the Donbas, but I think that crossing those international borders is clearly different than crossing a NATO border.
     Earlier in September, Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama administration deserves credit for spurring NATO and European nations to take action against Russia in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine:
Were we not leading that effort, it would have been another example in this generation of a transgression that is impermissible without the international community responding, leading to more transgressions.  And if this aggression continues, the costs for Russia will continue to climb.
     So far the actions taken against Russia amount largely to economic sanctions and the beefing up of NATO deployments in central and eastern Europe. It is unclear what additional actions might be taken by the United States and its allies should Russian activities in Syria cross the line, and indeed it is unclear what exactly that line might be.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Hillary Clinton Tweets 'Stand with Hillary and Overturn Planned Parenthood'

     In a tweet calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, Hillary Clinton inadvertently invited supporters to "Stand with Hillary and overturn Planned Parenthood". While the main part of the tweet (shown below) says "Overturn Citizens United", the text underneath contains the "Planned Parenthood" reference:

    The tweet is part of a promoted Twitter campaign. It was first posted at 3:14 Thursday afternoon and was still up at least as late as early Friday afternoon.
    Several commenters on the tweet attempted to alert the Clinton campaign of the error, apparently to no avail:

    The tweet links to the Clinton campaign website where users are urged to "Say you're with Hillary" and enter an email address to "Stand with Hillary in the fight to overturn Citizens United and get secret, unaccountable money out of our politics." The Planned Parenthood reference is nowhere to be found.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hillary Clinton Email on Closed Adoption Center: 'Why Does Stuff Like This Stalk Us?'

    In the 1990s, Hillary Clinton famously accused a "vast right-wing conspiracy" of trying to bring down her husband, President Bill Clinton. Emails from Mrs. Clinton's tenure as secretary of state demonstrate that the specter of a conspiracy of some sort continued to haunt her years later.
    One such email originated with Phillipe Reines, a long-time Clinton aide and spokesperson who joined Mrs. Clinton at the State Department and was eventually promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. In February 2010, Mrs. Clinton gave the keynote address at the 58th National Prayer Breakfast. During her remarks, Mrs. Clinton related how at the 1994 Prayer Breakfast, Mother Teresa had goaded the then-First Lady into using her influence to help open an adoption facility for unwanted babies in Washington, DC, to provide an abortion alternative. The plan came to fruition in 1995, and Mrs. Clinton and Mother Teresa both attended the opening of the facility, an event Mrs. Clinton fondly recalled. What Mrs. Clinton did not mention in her 2010 prayer breakfast speech, and indeed was not aware of, was that the adoption facility closed in 2002, seven years after opening. (Authors Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet confirmed the closing in a 2007 article for Mother Jones and filled in more details in a 2010 article at Religion Dispatches.)
     Reines's concern in his email to Mrs. Clinton was not the 2007 Mother Jones story, however, but an article that appeared in, in Reines's words, "one of those crazy right 'magazines'", World Magazine. Writer Emily Belz reported on Mrs. Clinton's anecdote at the prayer breakfast and her apparent obliviousness to the closing of the facility some eight years earlier. Reines did not dispute the accuracy of the article, but merely sent it to Mrs. Clinton as an "FYI". The text of his email reads as follows:
Just FYI on the below, from one of those crazy right "magazines" - notes that the home you referenced in your Prayer Breakfast remarks has since closed.
I checked in with Lissa & Melanne, they didn't know it closed, which makes sense since it happened in 2002 after you left the White House.
I made it clear that your longtime commitment to this issue - throughout your public career - is well known, and you remain very proud of your work with Mother Teresa in opening this home in 1995. And that your partnership is a success story to be emulated.
Again, this is just FYI
    Although Reines notes that Mrs. Clinton and her aides may have been unaware of the closing "since it happened in 2002 after you left the White House," Mrs. Clinton of course remained in Washington as a senator and then secretary of state during the intervening years. Reines reassured Mrs. Clinton that "your longtime commitment to this issue [adoption] - throughout your public career - is well known," but it is unclear how Reines reconciled Mrs. Clinton's "longtime commitment" to adoption and pride in the adoption center with her lack of follow up for at least eight years. The house that the Clintons purchased in Washington in 2000 was about three miles from the adoption center.
    In the 2010 email, Mrs. Clinton herself confirms she was unaware that the adoption facility had closed and asked Reines "can we find out why." After finding some consolation in that "[a]t least we had it open for 7 years," Mrs. Clinton goes on to voice her frustration with how the issue had come back to bite her, saying, "but why does stuff like this stalk us?"
I didn't know that--can we find out why. At least we had it open for 7 years but why does stuff like this stalk us? 
    In a second reply to Reines's email by Mrs. Clinton just a minute after the first, she recalls that she wrote about the adoption center and Mother Teresa in her book, Living History:
Also, I wrote about it in Living History and no one said a word. Was it still open in some form in 2004?
      Reines replied to Mrs. Clinton almost immediately:
I will look into what happened to it after 2002 (LH [Living History] was released 6/03, so better than 04) 
    At this point, however, the email thread ends and a search of the emails released by the State Department so far does not reveal any further follow up.
    However, in November 2011, Mrs. Clinton addressed some remarks to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute's (CCAI) The Way Forward Project Summit. Mrs. Clinton recounted how she had "worked on behalf of children’s issues for my entire adult life" including "working to improve ... the adoption system." She even recalled visiting "one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages in India – actually, I went to two, one in Delhi, one in Calcutta – and saw beautiful children reaching out their arms to be lifted up." Mrs. Clinton was silent, however, about the then-defunct adoption center she and Mother Teresa had helped open in 1995.
    In an ironic footnote to this story, in her November 2011 remarks, Mrs. Clinton thanked someone who had helped her decide "we needed to raise the emphasis on children worldwide," none other than then-Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs. Just this week, Secretary of State John Kerry named Ms. Jacobs as the State Department's new Transparency Coordinator who will, among other duties, oversee the review and release of the remaining 75% of Mrs. Clinton's emails from her time at the State Department.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.