The precarious perch of a potential Pentagon chief
By ROBERT BURNS
AP National Security Writer
Tuesday, February 26
WASHINGTON (AP) — Patrick Shanahan, the former Boeing executive, was in a familiar place — aboard an airplane — when he got word of a bolt-from-the-blue political shot across his bow, an apparent blow to his chances of being nominated as the next secretary of defense.
Sen. James Inhofe, the White House-friendly Republican chairman of the committee that would pass judgment on the nomination, was being quoted in news reports as saying he didn’t think Shanahan would get the nod, and that Shanahan lacked humility.
Within hours, however, the crisis passed as Inhofe backtracked, insisting he had not meant to say he had a problem with Shanahan. “I like the guy. I would support him” if nominated, Inhofe told The Associated Press.
The episode, which played out while Shanahan was flying from Baghdad to Brussels on his first trip abroad as the acting secretary of defense, highlights the precarious position he occupies while waiting for President Donald Trump to decide who he will nominate as successor to Jim Mattis, the retired Marine general who quit in December after nearly two years of leading the Pentagon.
With no other candidate emerging as the clear front-runner, expectations inside the Pentagon are that Shanahan will soon be nominated and that he likely would win Senate confirmation. He would be the first career defense industry executive to serve as defense secretary.
In the two months he has led the Pentagon, Shanahan has avoided public missteps while handling such politically sensitive issues as sending military reinforcements to the U.S.-Mexico border. Shanahan has a less defined track record on policy issues than Mattis, perhaps giving him a more friction-free start with Trump.
Shanahan, 56, grew up in Seattle. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington and two advanced degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined Boeing in 1986, rose through its ranks and is credited with rescuing a troubled Dreamliner 787 program. He also led the company’s missile defense and military helicopter programs.
Some have questioned whether Shanahan’s background amounts to an inherent conflict of interest for a defense secretary presiding over a multi-billion-dollar procurement budget. But Michael O’Hanlon, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, argues that experience in defense industry issues could work to Shanahan’s benefit.
“We need a strong defense industrial base, and so anybody who is reflexively against his association with industry needs to rethink how you build a strong military in a modern society like ours,” O’Hanlon said in an interview.
“In the end, I don’t expect that to be a huge sticking point” to Senate confirmation, should Shanahan get the nomination, O’Hanlon added.
Although a few members of the Senate have rhetorically roughed up Shanahan, he has not generated broad opposition during two months of auditioning for the nomination. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, has butted heads with Shanahan over the administration’s Syria policy, but that confrontation quickly faded after the White House partially reversed course by agreeing to keep a few hundred troops in Syria rather than withdrawing all 2,000.
Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican and a member of the Armed Services Committee, has publicly argued for Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, to be defense secretary. Ernst told the AP that if Shanahan gets the nomination she would revisit his background “just to make sure there’s no conflict of interest,” calling herself undecided.
Sen. Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, called Shanahan “very forthright” but would not say directly whether she thinks he should get the job.
Shanahan was the deputy secretary of defense during Mattis’ two-year tenure. No one thought of him then as a potential No. 1; he had never previously served in government and carried little political sway in Washington or in foreign capitals. Aides say that during his 17 months as deputy, Shanahan was deeply engaged in the full range of policy issues and briefed on military operations. He shares Mattis’s conviction that the Pentagon needs to shift its focus from fighting insurgent wars to preparing for and deterring armed conflict with big powers like China.
“China, China, China,” was his message to senior department officials the day he took over for Mattis, aides said.
Trump installed Shanahan as the acting secretary on Jan. 1 and has since spoken admiringly of him. This is only the third time in history that the Pentagon has been led by an acting chief. The last was William H. Taft, who served for two months in 1989 after President George H.W. Bush’s first choice to be defense secretary, John Tower, became mired in controversy and ultimately failed to be confirmed by the Senate. Dick Cheney, the future vice president under President George W. Bush, then was nominated and confirmed.
Presidents typically take pains to ensure the Pentagon is being run by a Senate-confirmed official, given the grave responsibilities that include sending young Americans into battle, ensuring the military is ready for extreme emergencies like nuclear war and managing overseas alliances that are central to U.S. security.
Trump seemed attracted to Shanahan partially for his work on one of the president’s pet projects — creating a Space Force. He also has publicly lauded Shanahan’s former employer, Boeing, builder of many of the military’s most prominent aircraft, including the Apache and Chinook helicopters, the C-17 cargo plane and the B-52 bomber, as well as the iconic presidential aircraft, Air Force One.
Trump seemed to tire of Mattis’ reputation as the administration’s moderating influence on national security issues. But when he quit, there was no sudden rush of candidates to fill his shoes.
Shanahan “may be not so bad an option,” O’Hanlon said.
“You get a person who’s got some of the Mattis world view now inculcated inside of him but without that kind of star power,” he added. “That may actually be what Trump wants. So, whether it’s my own recommendation or my own prediction, I see no reason not to lean in Shanahan’s favor.”
Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
In the Battle Against Opioids, Saving Lives Needs to Come First
Safe injection sites and medication-assisted treatment may be controversial, but they work. We need them now.
By Alexis Pleus | February 25, 2019
As a New York State Trooper was handcuffing me at our State Capitol, I told him, “I lost my son. This is for him.”
Jeff was an amazing kid, a chef, who was 28 when he died of a heroin overdose. I was willing to face arrest at an Albany protest because our elected officials know what they can do to save lives like Jeff’s — including providing resources for longer rehabilitation and after-care, freeing doctors to prescribe addiction treatment medications, and setting up safe injection sites in the event of relapse.
But they don’t. Instead, they stick to old-fashioned rehabilitation models that aren’t working.
When Jeff was alive, no one told us how hard it is to beat an opioid addiction. No one offered us Suboxone or other proven treatments. No one told us about Naloxone, which can reverse an overdose. Give him “tough love,” treatment providers told us, so we did.
Doctors are able to prescribe unlimited amounts of opioid pills for pain, but few of them understand the addiction this creates, nor offer help for it. And none are allowed to prescribe Suboxone or Methadone, which help overcome opioid dependence, without a specialized waiver.
Addiction is an illness. Any patient should be able to say, “I have an addiction,” and hear a doctor say, “I have medicine that can help you.” It should be that simple.
After much struggle, Jeff finally got inpatient treatment, but our private insurance tried to send him home after two weeks. He begged to stay. When he got another week, I naively thought that was all he needed. But with less than four weeks of treatment, only one in 10 avoids relapse. No one told me that.
Jeff was heroin-free for 20 months — more than a year and a half — before he died. I had stopped worrying. Looking back, I can see he tried to tell me he needed a lot more support than three weeks of rehabilitation. He had real knowledge to share, and we should have listened.
If I could have my son back and give him a safe place to use without dying, I would certainly do it.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo touts addressing the opioid epidemic aggressively. One of his recent boasts was a proposal to have insurance companies provide 21 days of care — up from 14 days currently. But under 28 days, the success rate is still one in 10. So Cuomo’s action wouldn’t even move the needle.
Cuomo could take real action to save lives, to end this “raging grassfire” as he likes to call it. He could open safer consumption sites, increase harm reduction funding, and expand access to the medicines that treat addiction. Instead he continues to support failing old-school styles of treatment, most of which require abstinence from all substances.
That isn’t possible for everyone. Keeping people healthy and alive needs to be our priority. They cannot recover six feet under.
As another member of our group was being walked out in cuffs, the state trooper guiding her spoke in her ear. “My family has really been impacted by addiction,” the trooper said. “I feel for you all, and I appreciate what you’re doing.”
The opioid crisis affects us all. These are our family and friends. We need to change systems if we want to save their lives.
Small steps like the ones Cuomo takes, and other half-measures all around the country, aren’t enough. Overdose deaths continue to rise as elected officials try to sway public perception that things are getting better. It’s not better.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
This is such a time. We can’t be concerned if a tactic that saves lives is controversial, or because the message is uncomfortable. We have to prioritize saving lives. We must move forward with courage.
Alexis Pleus is the founder of TruthPharm, a nonprofit that raises awareness and reduces the stigma associated with substance use disorders. Her story appeared first at OurFuture.org. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
United Methodist delegates reject recognizing gay marriage
By DAVID CRARY and JIM SALTER
Wednesday, February 27
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination, faces a likely surge in defections and acts of defiance after delegates at a crucial conference voted Tuesday to strengthen the faith’s divisive bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.
Emotions were high throughout the third and final day of the UMC’s meeting. Some supporters of greater LGBT inclusion were in tears, while others vented their anger when, midway through the session, delegates defeated a proposal that would have let regional and local church bodies decide for themselves on gay-friendly policies.
“Devastation,” was how former Methodist pastor Rebecca Wilson of Detroit described her feelings. “As someone who left because I’m gay, I’m waiting for the church I love to stop bringing more hate.”
After several more hours of debate, the conservatives’ proposal, called the Traditional Plan, was approved by a vote of 438-384. Opponents unsuccessfully sought to weaken the plan with hostile amendments or to prolong the debate past a mandatory adjournment time set to accommodate a monster truck rally in the arena. One delegate even requested an investigation into the possibility that “vote buying” was taking place at the conference.
The Traditional Plan’s success was due to an alliance of conservatives from the U.S. and overseas. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly supported the LGBT bans.
If the bans were eased, “the church in Africa would cease to exist,” said the Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia. “We can’t do anything but to support the Traditional Plan — it is the biblical plan.”
Council of Bishops President Kenneth H. Carter, speaking at a news conference after the session, said the meeting was necessary “because if the impasse we found ourselves in” over questions of human sexuality.
“I would just simply say that we have work to do. We did not accomplish that in these three days,” Carter said.
Carter said he is concerned the plan will cause progressive churches to leave the denomination. He said church leaders “will be doing a lot of outreach” to those churches.
“Persons will feel harmed,” Carter said.
The deep split within the church was evident in several fiery speeches opposing the Traditional Plan.
“If we bring this virus into our church, it will bring illness to us all,” said the Rev. Thomas Berlin of Herndon, Virginia. He predicted many Methodist churchgoers and some regional bodies would leave the church, while others would “stay and fight,” performing same-sex weddings even if it meant punishment.
Many supporters of the more liberal plan stood in support as Berlin spoke. Some wore rainbow-motif garments or sat behind rainbow banners. After the vote, a small group of protesters carried a cross to the stage at the conference and sat around it. Another group of about 200 people staged a peaceful sitdown protest while about two dozen police officers watched.
The Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, a pastor from Portland, Maine, pledged defiance of the Traditional Plan, tweeting: “I will not participate in your bigotry, sin & violence.”
An association of Methodist theological schools warned that if the Traditional Plan passes, the church “will lose an entire generation of leaders in America.”
Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States.
While other mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches, have embraced gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still bans them, though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied. Many have performed same-sex weddings; others have come out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit of their churches.
Enforcement of the bans has been inconsistent; the Traditional Plan aspires to beef up discipline against those engaged in defiance.
The Rev. Tim Bagwell, 64, pastor at a UMC church in Macon, Georgia, had opposed the Traditional Plan and called the outcome “deeply painful.” But he said his church will stay with UMC until at least 2020, when the next major conference is scheduled. He’s hopeful new delegates will be elected and change course to a more inclusive church.
“I am deeply sad,” he said. “The Methodist church has always been mainstream, reaching out to people. This sends a different tone … one of exclusion, not inclusion.”
The Rev. Scott Hagan, 45, a pastor from Bonaire, Georgia, supported the Traditional Plan, saying the liberals’ alternative would have sent a mixed message.
“To have each church — possibly in the same town — offering a different perspective and practice would surely be confusing to the public that comes to the church looking for guidance,” Hagan said.
Crary reported from New York.
Mother and adult daughter charged with killing 5 relatives
By MIKE CATALINI
MORRISVILLE, Pa. (AP) — A mother and her adult daughter killed five of their close relatives, including three children, and were found “disoriented” after child welfare authorities arrived for a surprise visit to their trashed apartment outside Philadelphia, police and prosecutors said Tuesday.
Shana Decree, 45, and her daughter Dominique Decree, 19, were charged with five counts of homicide and one count each of conspiracy. The motive and how the five family members died are unclear; their bodies were found Monday night.
“As confusing as it was last night, we are no closer to understanding that in the harsh light of day,” Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said at a news conference Tuesday. “We will continue to pursue every lead and to work this case to its just conclusion.”
The victims were Shana’s children, Naa’Irah Smith, 25, and Damon Decree Jr., 13, both of Morrisville; Shana Decree’s sister Jamilla Campbell, of Trenton, New Jersey; and Campbell’s 9-year-old twin daughters, Imani and Erika Allen.
Authorities discovered the scene after a Bucks County child welfare officer arrived Monday evening for an unannounced visit and was let into the building by someone who works there, according to court papers.
Police say they found Shana and Dominique Decree “disoriented” inside the apartment, where furniture had been turned over, drywall was cracked and glass lay around. Police initially said they found four bodies, but they discovered a fifth underneath another that was next to a bed.
The mother and daughter were taken to a hospital and at first told authorities they didn’t know what happened.
Before telling authorities about their involvement in the slayings, Shana Decree said her sister Jamilla’s boyfriend and two unknown men killed the five family members but left Shana and Dominique alive, according to an affidavit.
Shana Decree then told police that “everyone at the apartment … wanted to die” and talked about suicide, according to court documents. She said that she killed one of the victims, that she and her daughter Dominique killed another together, and that Campbell killed two other victims before she herself was slain by Dominique.
Shana Decree was arraigned early Tuesday, while Dominique Decree was arraigned in the afternoon. It isn’t clear whether either woman has a lawyer to speak for her. Court papers show they have not requested a public defender, and no attorney information is listed.
Authorities who had been looking for Campbell’s 17-year-old son Joshua found him not far away in Willingboro, New Jersey, where he was staying with friends, Police Chief George McClay said.
Weintraub stressed the teen is not a suspect, saying authorities just wanted to make sure he was safe.
The apartments are in Morrisville, which sits on the Delaware River northeast of Philadelphia and across from Trenton, New Jersey. The three-story, red-brick apartment complex is on a busy road lined with auto repair shops, a safe-and-lock shop and a bail bonds agency nearby.
Thai Hall, 24, of Bristol, Pennsylvania, said she attended Morrisville High School with Smith and spoke with her about three months ago. Hall, whose mother lives in a neighboring apartment, said Smith was attending cosmetology school. She remembered Smith warmly.
“She was a happy person, happy person and cared for people,” Hall said.
Judge was wrong to halt Keystone pipeline construction
By Drew Johnson
A District Court judge in Montana recently ordered a halt to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which could transport 800,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast each day once completed. Judge Brian Morris, who was appointed by President Obama, ruled that the Trump administration approved the pipeline without adequate consideration of the project’s environmental impact. His ruling will force the administration to once again research whether the pipeline is safe and environmentally sound — even though six previous government studies conducted by the Obama and Trump administrations confirm it is. The judge’s ruling is flagrant political grandstanding. Environmentalists’ concerns about the pipeline have been repeatedly debunked. An additional review would merely squander time, resources, and tax dollars. Green activists warn that Keystone XL, or “KXL,” will sharply increase greenhouse gas emissions, boost demand for fossil fuels, and put communities along the pipeline’s roughly 1,200-mile path at risk of oil spills. These warnings are pure fearmongering. All studies of the pipeline — even those conducted under the Obama administration, which repeatedly delayed construction to curry favor with activists — concluded KXL would have a negligible impact on the environment. Any increase in CO2 emissions would constitute less than one percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Nor would KXL increase fossil fuel consumption. Previous State Department reviews determined that Canada would continue to extract oil at the same rate, no matter whether KXL operates at full capacity or ceases to exist entirely. The only thing that would change is the method of transportation. If KXL isn’t completed, Canadian energy producers will use trucks and trains to send the crude to refineries. Those methods are actually less safe than pipelines. Transporting oil via truck results in nearly 20 serious incidents per “billion ton-miles.” Transporting it via rail results in 2.08 incidents per billion ton-miles. Pipelines experience just 0.58 incidents per billion ton-miles.
This nearly impeccable safety record explains why energy companies transport more than 70 percent of all petroleum products via pipelines, compared to just 4 percent via truck and 3 percent via rail.
Environmentalists’ worries about oil spills are also overblown. Accidents do happen — no one denies these incredibly rare events. But most “pipeline accidents” don’t even occur in the pipelines themselves, but at refineries and other facilities with comprehensive backup safety measures in place. Nearly 90 percent of pipeline mishaps result in spills under one cubic meter or no spills at all — and 99 percent don’t affect the environment. Accidents are far rarer and less harmful than critics allege.
The recent ruling makes a mockery of the justice system. It’s unacceptable that activist judges are stalling America’s economic progress. KXL would generate 42,000 jobs, $66 million in sales and tax revenue, $2 billion in wages, and enlarge the economy by $3.4 billion.
It’s time to end the delays.
Drew Johnson is a Madison County, Montana, resident who serves as a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.