Sky Links 1-12-19

Trump plan would improve current border situation
-Byron York

First, the Department of Homeland Security says there is currently some sort of barrier on 654 miles of the 1,954-mile border. Some of it is high-quality fencing that greatly discourages illegal crossing. But some of it is so old and dilapidated that it is not really a barrier at all. Some is fencing designed to stop vehicles but allow pedestrians to walk right through.
For almost all of its proposed construction, the administration has settled on a steel bollard design, or what the president has called "steel slats." It is a hybrid of a fence and a wall, and either word could reasonably be used to describe it. But since Democrats object so strongly to the word "wall," Trump has taken to calling it a barrier.
Homeland Security says it has already finished erecting about 35 miles of the barrier and is on track to increase that to 40 in the next few months. About two miles have been put in place at the El Centro Sector in California. (DHS divides the border into nine sectors, and that is how it cites the locations of new barriers.) Another 20 miles has been finished in the El Paso Sector in New Mexico. Fourteen more miles in the San Diego Sector in California are set for completion in May, with another four miles in El Paso slated for completion later this year.
Then, there are another 75 miles that DHS says are under contract or for which the contract and design process is underway. Those areas cover parts of San Diego, El Centro, the Yuma Sector in Arizona, and the Rio Grande Valley Sector in Texas.

Put it all together, and that is about 115 miles. It is all being done, according to DHS, with money that was available in fiscal year 2017 and 2018 appropriations.
All of that work replaces and upgrades existing fencing. It's the kind of work that in an earlier era might have been entirely uncontroversial.
The current fight between Trump and Democrats in Congress is over money for next year — $5 billion to build more barriers. If the administration were to actually get the $5 billion, officials say, it would allow DHS to build up to 215 additional miles of barrier, with about 65 miles being replacement barrier and 150 miles being new construction in areas that currently have no barriers at all.

Furloughed Federal Employees Still Paid More Than You

 -Ryan McMaken

Whether its CNBC, or The New York Times, or NPR, the mainstream media is clearly committed to using the current partial government shutdown to portray federal workers as beleaguered victims of the American political system.

But, in all cases I've encountered, these reports neglect to mention that on average, civilian federal workers make 17 percent more than similar workers in the private sector, according to a 2017-2018 report by the Congressional Budget Office. That's total compensation, so we're including both wages and benefits.

Considering that a year is 52 weeks long, an average federal worker would need to be completely without any income for nearly 9 weeks in order to just be reduced to equal standing with a similar private-sector worker. (17 percent of 52 weeks is 8.84 weeks.)

The real cost to the private sector is in the form of industries that are paralyzed as a result of understaffed federal regulatory agencies. (As mentioned in this article about craft beer.) When the private sector isn't allowed to function without regular certification and inspection from federal agents, that means shutdowns prevent the private sector from functioning. This, of course, isn't an argument for more government spending. It's an argument against a vast federal regulatory apparatus that can't be counted on to perform the bare minimum of tasks it has promised to perform.

All of this is just a good reminder that these jobs should never have been federal jobs in the first place. After all, many of these positions are already by definition "non-essential," and from the national parks to the airports to the FBI, the federal workers are doing jobs that could easily be taken over by state and local authorities, or by the private sector.

Were that the case, no nationwide, system-wide shutdown all of countless nationwide agencies would be of any noticeable impact. The system would become less fragile, more flexible, more diverse, and less costly.

Also, many of the workers who now rely on federal paychecks would already be working in the private sector had the federal government not crowded these jobs out of the marketplace to begin with. Every time the federal government inserts itself as a monopolist regulator or service provider, federal agencies suck resources (in terms of both capital and human resources) out of the private sector. That means fewer new hires in the private sector, and it means lower wages for the employees left in the private sector who must foot the bills for federal agencies and employees. It also means higher prices for the private sector as government agencies bid up prices on everything from steel to petroleum.

Ultimately, all of the problems we're being told about as a result of the government shutdown are problems caused by a federal government itself, which has inserted itself into every nearly every corner of daily life nationwide.

Requests to bring in child brides OK'd; legal under US laws

-Colleen Long

Thousands of requests by men to bring in child and adolescent brides to live in the United States were approved over the past decade, according to government data obtained by The Associated Press. In one case, a 49-year-old man applied for admission for a 15-year-old girl.
The approvals are legal: The Immigration and Nationality Act does not set minimum age requirements for the person making the request or for that person's spouse or fiancee. By contrast, to bring in a parent from overseas, a petitioner has to be at least 21 years old.
And in weighing petitions, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services goes by whether the marriage is legal in the spouse or fiancee's home country and then whether the marriage would be legal in the state where the petitioner lives.

The data raises questions about whether the immigration system may be enabling forced marriage and about how U.S. laws may be compounding the problem despite efforts to limit child and forced marriage. Marriage between adults and minors is not uncommon in the U.S., and most states allow children to marry with some restrictions.
There were more than 5,000 cases of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and nearly 3,000 examples of minors seeking to bring in older spouses or fiances, according to the data requested by the Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2017 and compiled into a report. The approval is the first of a two-step visa process, and USCIS said it has taken steps to better flag and vet the petitions.
Some victims of forced marriage say the lure of a U.S. passport combined with lax U.S. marriage laws are partly fueling the petitions.
"My sunshine was snatched from my life," said Naila Amin, a dual citizen born in Pakistan who grew up in New York City.
She was forcibly married at 13 in Pakistan and later applied for papers for her 26-year-old husband to come to the U.S. at the behest of her family. She was forced for a time to live in Pakistan with him, where, she said, she was sexually assaulted and beaten. She came back to the U.S., and he was to follow.
"People die to come to America," she said. "I was a passport to him. They all wanted him here, and that was the way to do it."
Amin, now 29, said she was betrothed when she was just 8 and he was 21. The petition she submitted after her marriage was approved by immigration officials, but he never came to the country, in part because she ran away from home. She said the ordeal cost her a childhood. She was in and out of foster care and group homes, and it took a while to get her life on track.
"I was a child. I want to know: Why weren't any red flags raised? Whoever was processing this application, they don't look at it? They don't think?" Amin asked.
Fraidy Reiss, who campaigns against coerced marriage as head of a group called Unchained at Last, has scores of similar anecdotes: An underage girl was brought to the U.S. as part of an arranged marriage and eventually was dropped at the airport and left there after she miscarried. Another was married at 16 overseas and was forced to bring an abusive husband.
Reiss said immigration status is often held over their heads as a tool to keep them in line.
There is a two-step process for obtaining U.S. immigration visas and green cards. Petitions are first considered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. If granted, they must be approved by the State Department. Overall, there were 3.5 million petitions received from budget years 2007 through 2017.
Over that period, there were 5,556 approvals for those seeking to bring minor spouses or fiancees, and 2,926 approvals by minors seeking to bring in older spouses, according to the data. Additionally, there were 204 for minors by minors. Petitions can be filed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
"It indicates a problem. It indicates a loophole that we need to close," Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told the AP.
In nearly all the cases, the girls were the younger person in the relationship. In 149 instances, the adult was older than 40, and in 28 cases the adult was over 50, the committee found. In 2011, immigration officials approved a 14-year-old's petition for a 48-year-old spouse in Jamaica. A petition from a 71-year-old man was approved in 2013 for his 17-year-old wife in Guatemala.

 How the U.S. Immigration System Encourages Child Marriages

-Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

3 Mistakes Worship Leaders Should Avoid This Sunday 

-Matt Tolander

Our responsibility as worship leaders is to help the people in our churches communicate with God in musical corporate worship. We do this by creating an environment of participation.
The individuals in your church may have internal spiritual walls that keep them from engaging in worship — it’s not your job to tear those down. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to do that. It is, however, your responsibility not to throw up any additional barriers to their participation in corporate worship on Sunday.
Here are three ways I’ve seen worship leaders unknowingly undermine participation in corporate worship:
1. Playing the songs in keys that are unsingable for the congregation.

Have you ever wrapped up a worship song by dropping out for a voices-only chorus, only to hear a sea of voices that is distinctly female? I used to wonder why men seemed disengaged in corporate worship. Maybe it’s because men don’t like expressing their emotions, I thought (wrongly).

I was a worship leader for ten years, but it wasn’t until I stopped leading worship to focus on other ministry that I started to understand why men weren’t singing during worship: the songs are too stinking hard to sing.
Worship leaders are good singers. Guys who lead worship know how to sing high. But the next time you‘re leading your church in singing “Cornerstone” pay attention to what happens when the melody jumps up an octave during the second verse: nearly half the room just might stop singing. Why? Because the men in your church don’t want to have to shout to be able to match the notes you’re singing. Worship leaders often operate under the assumption that the people in their congregation sing as well as they do — don’t assume that.
Make it as easy as possible for the people in your church to participate. Consider dropping the songs at least a whole step from whichever recording you’re using.

2. Talking too much.
 How many times have you been moved by the Holy Spirit during a sermon, and then eagerly anticipated responding to God in corporate worship, only to have a worship leader come onstage and go on for several minutes clumsily re-hashing what the speaker just said? It’s awkward, it’s distracting, and it kills the spiritual momentum in the room. Even the most well-intended worship leader can throw up a hurdle to participation because of a simple lack of self-awareness.
As a worship leader you will be tempted to shoulder responsibilities that aren’t yours. It’s not your responsibility to explain the text from the sermon — that’s the speaker’s responsibility. It’s not your responsibility to do your people’s thinking for them — it’s their responsibility. And it’s not your responsibility to motivate the hearts of people — it’s the Holy Spirit’s responsibility.
When it comes to speaking between songs, less is always more. Songs speak for themselves. You don’t need to add very much to them. Resist the urge to sermonize between worship songs.

3. Using guilt to motivate your people.

Let me paint you a picture:
A worship pastor has been leading at a church for a year, and he’s frustrated because he doesn’t see visual cues of participation — singing, arms raised, etc. Based on the body language of the congregation, he draws the assumption that they’re not giving themselves fully to the worship moment. In an effort to motivate them, he says something like this:
“We worship a God who is so good, and so loving, and so powerful, and who has blessed us so richly — how could you not be moved by that?”
He might even wrap the sentiment up in coded spiritual language:
“I want you to surrender yourself fully in this moment.”
If he’s desperate, he might even give an instruction:
“We’re all going to lift our hands together for this next chorus.”
Worship leaders who demand a specific response from their people in worship and try to manifest that response through spiritual coercion demonstrate several things:
They are comfortable with insincerity in the worship setting as long as the physical demonstrations they desire are present.
They are putting their confidence in their ability to motivate people, not the Holy Spirit’s power to move people.
They are willing to spiritually or emotionally manipulate the people they lead.
The people in your church are perceptive. When they sense that you are trying to use guilt to motivate them it creates an environment of distrust and robs you of your greatest asset as a worship leader: your authenticity. When worship leaders desperately try to get their people to behave a certain way in worship, it communicates to those people that the leader is insecure and wants to manipulate and use them to feel validated.

Your job as a worship leader is to create a worship environment that is conducive to participation — that’s it. Don’t put up a barrier to that participation by selecting unsingable songs. Don’t distract your people from hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice by filling the room with your own. And don’t ever give in to the temptation to guilt or manipulate the people you lead. Instead, encourage participation by bringing powerful songs that are accessible for your people. If you can’t find them, write them. Leave room for the the Holy Spirit to speak to your congregation. And trust Him to do what only He can do, which is move in the hearts of people.

The PA Grand-Jury Report: Not What It Seems It’s Inaccurate, Unfair & Misleading
-Peter Steinfels

This is a long article (11,700 words), and these are some excerpts. H/T Nicholas Frankovich

...the report makes not one but two distinct charges. The first one concerns predator priests, their many victims, and their unspeakable acts. That charge is, as far as can be determined, dreadfully true. Appalling as is this first charge, it is in fact the second one that has had the greatest reverberations. “All” of these victims, the report declares, “were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all.” Or as the introduction to the report sums it up, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”
Is that true?
Almost every media story of the grand-jury report that I eventually read or viewed was based on its twelve-page introduction and a dozen or so sickening examples.

On the basis of reading the report’s vast bulk, on the basis of reviewing one by one the handling of hundreds of cases, on the basis of trying to match diocesan replies with the grand jury’s charges, and on the basis of examining other court documents and speaking with people familiar with the grand jury’s work, including the attorney general’s office, my conclusion is that this second charge is in fact grossly misleading, irresponsible, inaccurate, and unjust. It is contradicted by material found in the report itself—if one actually reads it carefully. It is contradicted by testimony submitted to the grand jury but ignored—and, I believe, by evidence that the grand jury never pursued.
These conclusions are dramatically at odds with the public perception and reception of the report. Obviously they must be substantiated. To do that it is essential to examine, step by step, how this report was produced, organized, and presented; what it omits as well as includes; and finally whether a careful sampling of its contents supports its conclusions.
I realize that for many people, especially many angry and dismayed Catholics, such an inquiry flies in the face of almost overpowering headwinds. To question let alone challenge the report is unthinkable. It borders on excusing the crimes that bishops and other church leaders are accused of committing.
This resistance is understandable. The report came on the heels of revelations about ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse of both adult seminarians and two minors. Ten days later, accusations from a former Vatican official, Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ², essentially enlisted the abuse scandal into the ongoing war between Pope Francis and his critics. Lurking in the background were other abuse scandals in Ireland, Chile, and Australia. And lurking at a much deeper level are years of often confusing but always mortifying reports of sexual abuse by priests, inevitably reinforcing whatever doubts and disappointments Catholics have experienced.
Then there is the hard reality that not many people have actually read the report, let alone read it critically. That includes, I wager, even many of those publicly registering their outrage or privately nursing their spiritual distress. It includes, I can pretty safely add, the journalists on whose news accounts most of these people relied. Almost every media story of the grand-jury report that I eventually read or viewed was based on its twelve-page introduction and a dozen or so sickening examples the introduction and the report highlight, written in a language that Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court later called “incendiary.”


I am looking only at the Pennsylvania report’s ringing charges about the handling of abuse:
Are they true?

Yet something even more basic triggers the resistance to any questioning of the Pennsylvania report—what is popularly labeled binary thinking. To question the report’s conclusions is to affirm the very opposite. If it is not true that all victims were “brushed aside,” then it must be true that no victims were ever brushed aside. If it is not true that church leaders routinely acted to protect their priests and institutions, then it must be true that no church leader ever did that.
That is not my claim. I believe that the grand jury could have reached precise, accurate, informing, and hard-hitting findings about what different church leaders did and did not do, what was regularly done in some places and some decades and not in others. It could have presented ample grounds for at least three of its four rather unoriginal recommendations without engaging in broad-brush denunciations. It could have confirmed and corrected much that we think we know about the causes and prevention of the sexual abuse of young people.


Then, in a 569-page “Appendix of Offenders,” the report profiles, diocese by diocese, all priests, deacons, or seminarians against whom the report concludes credible allegations of abuse have been found. The report calls those profiles of more than three hundred priests possibly its “most important” and “final” section. Indeed, in some PDFs of the report online, including, shockingly, the one on the website of the attorney general’s office, the document ends there, at page 884. In fact, more than 450 pages follow. These consist of photocopied responses from dioceses, former bishops, other diocesan officials, and even some accused priests protesting their innocence. Many of these documents raise important questions or present substantial criticisms. Although the report states that dioceses were invited to submit statements about their recent policies, there are no substantive grand-jury comments or replies.

What does the report document? It documents decades of stomach-churning violations of the physical, psychological, and spiritual integrity of children and young people. It documents that many of these atrocities could have been prevented by promptly removing the credibly suspected perpetrators from all priestly roles and ministry. It documents that some, although far from all, of those failures were due to an overriding concern for protecting the reputation of the church and the clergy and a reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of children. It also documents that a good portion of these crimes, perhaps a third or more, only came to the knowledge of church authorities in 2002 or after, when the Dallas Charter mandated automatic removal from ministry. It documents, well before 2002, many conscientious attempts to determine the truth of accusations and prevent any further abuse, often successful though sometimes poorly executed or tragically misinformed. It documents significant differences between dioceses and bishops and time periods in the response to allegation of abuse. It documents major changes in vigilance and response in some dioceses during the 1990s and, as far as the evidence shows, dramatic changes after 2002.

What does the report not document? It does not document the sensational charges contained in its introduction—namely, that over seven decades Catholic authorities, in virtual lockstep, supposedly brushed aside all victims and did absolutely nothing in the face of terrible crimes against boys and girls—except to conceal them. This ugly, indiscriminate, and inflammatory charge, unsubstantiated by the report’s own evidence, to say nothing of the evidence the report ignores, is truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for impartial justice.
Why the media were so amenable to uncritically echoing this story without investigation, and why Catholics in particular were so eager to seize on it to settle their internal differences, are important topics for further discussion.

Transcripts of Lisa Page’s Closed-Door Testimonies Provide New Revelations in Spygate Scandal
-Jeff Carlson

This is another long one (8,240 words).  H/T Praying Medic

Transcripts of two closed-door testimonies by Lisa Page, the former assistant general counsel at the FBI, have provided new insights into the actions of the FBI, DOJ, and others—including CIA Director John Brennan—regarding their investigation into Donald Trump.
Included in the transcripts provided to us is information suggesting Brennan was aware of the so-called Steele dossier in early August 2016, and that he included information regarding the dossier in a briefing given to then-Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Other key points in Page’s testimony before Congress:
  • The FBI appears to have considered investigating President Trump for obstruction of justice both before and after FBI Director James Comey was fired.
  • Page says the DOJ refused to pursue “gross-negligence” charges against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server to send classified information.
  • FBI agent Michael Gaeta, head of the Eurasian Crime Squad, who received the dossier from former MI6 spy Steele in July 2016 is referred to in the transcript as Steele’s handler.
  • The FBI maintained a previously unknown verification file for the Steele dossier. Congressional investigators did not previously know of its existence.
  • John Carlin, the head of the DOJ’s National Security Division, was kept abreast of the FBI’s investigative activities through contact with then-Deputy FBI Director McCabe.
  • Page worked directly for DOJ official Bruce Ohr for at least five years and had met his wife, Nellie, once.
  • The role of FBI Agent Jonathan Moffa and DOJ official George Toscas may have been greater than initially assumed.
The interviews with Page were conducted by Congressional lawmakers on July 13 and 16, 2018, in an unclassified setting, with the appropriate agency counsel present to ensure that classified information did not enter into the unclassified setting.
Page testified that she joined the team of special counsel Robert Mueller around May 18, 2017—and that FBI Agent Peter Strzok was considered for inclusion shortly thereafter. Page’s role was to “bridge the gap and transition between what we as a team knew and the evidence that we had gathered to date on the collusion investigation and sort of imparting that knowledge to the new special counsel team,” she said.
Page, who acknowledged her personal relationship with Strzok at several points during the interview, noted that initially, Strzok was not “brought over as the senior executive to run the investigation. Another individual was, and that was not successful. It was not a good match with Mr. Mueller. He did not really have the sufficient counterintelligence background to be effective.” That individual would later be identified as John Brown.
Page agreed to work for a 45-day trial period, but at the end of that time, she left to spend more time with her children, by her own account. Page left of her own volition and before Inspector General Michael Horowitz notified Mueller (and then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe) of the texts between Page and Strzok.
Page noted that she only traveled abroad once while she worked for McCabe, in December 2016, on official business in London. Strzok traveled with her, as did three other unnamed individuals. One individual that Page specified as not being part of the trip was Bill Priestap, the FBI’s head of counterintelligence. Page was prohibited by FBI counsel for detailing the purpose of her visit.
Prior to her work for Deputy FBI Director McCabe, Page worked within the DOJ—where Bruce Ohr was her direct supervisor for five to six years. Page also met Nellie Ohr, Bruce Ohr’s wife, at a summer barbeque that Ohr held for the office in 2011.
One particularly interesting bit of information is that Page read the memos written by then-FBI Director James Comey almost in real time. As she stated in testimony, “I reviewed most of them within a day or on the same day that they were created.”

Democrats double down on abortion rather than heed Claire McCaskill's sage advice
-Maureen Ferguson

Now that Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives and ushered Nancy Pelosi in as speaker, they would be wise to listen to the voice of another (once) powerful Democratic woman, former Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Fresh off her election loss, McCaskill has some advice for her party: Back off on abortion.
In an unusually candid New York Times podcast, she warns that the party’s over-emphasis on abortion is a “dumb” strategy and that they need to “shut up” on the issue: “It was not an issue that was going to bring me more votes.”

Pelosi, however, has made abortion rights part of her battle cry right out of the gate. Day one of her speakership included a fierce abortion fight, as Democrats insisted on the inclusion of funds for the international abortion industry as a condition in their bill to end the government shutdown. Rather than “shutting up” on the divisive issue of abortion, Pelosi is promoting abortion in our foreign policy as a priority over funding our own government.
Worse, this policy cannot even be reasonably described as “pro-choice” since it includes funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which supports coercive population control measures in China, including forced abortion and compulsory sterilization in some provinces.

Following God's Call: Kay Warren Interview
-Ed Stetzer

Having a front row seat in God's handiwork can bring both great joy and exhaustion to a pastor and his wife. Kay Warren of Saddleback Church calls being a pastor's wife a "sacred privilege." Ed Stetzer talks with Kay about what she's learned in the last 40 years of ministry -- and the hope and encouragement she's found in her calling.

Milo Yiannopoulos Interview with Eric Metaxas