Friday, July 18, 2014

Arrested Man Orders Pizza to Police Station, Gets in More Trouble

Arrested Man Orders Pizza to Police Station, Gets in More Trouble

Arrested Man Orders Pizza to Police Station, Gets in More Trouble

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:51 AM PDT

A man in Kentucky who was arrested for shoplifting and public intoxication decided to pull a little prank — which totally ended up backfiring.

This jokester — 29-year-old Michael Harp — asked for permission to make a call on his cell phone and then used it to order five pizzas from Domino’s, WKYT reports. The pies arrived under the name of Officer Wilson, who had originally arrested Harp. They tracked the call to Harp pretty easily since, you know, he’d used his own cell phone.

Harp, however, denied the whole thing.

“I’m wrongfully accused on this here,” he told WKYT. “They’ve charged me with two felonies over this pizza deal because I had my phone inside the holding cell. There was about 10 people who probably used the phone, so it’s hard to say. Like I said, I never heard anyone say a word about Domino’s pizzas. Any of it.”

Still, he’s now facing additional charges including theft of identity, theft by deception and impersonating a police officer. Rough.

Why Movies Rely on Science to Get to Spirituality

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:48 AM PDT

In 1985, the famous “Afghan Girl” photograph appeared on the cover of National Geographic. Her eyes captivated the world, but even the photographer, Steve McCurry, didn’t know her name. Nearly two decades later, the magazine announced that they had made a discovery: they knew her name, and they were sure. The woman’s identity had been confirmed by comparing a scan of the eyes in the photograph to an iris scan of her grown-up self; irises are as unique as fingerprints, and a “print” can be taken from a high-resolution photograph if the eye in question is not available.

“I thought this was a really beautiful story,” says filmmaker Mike Cahill, best known for Another Earth. “It felt like a great place to have the conversation between science and spirituality.”

He liked the story so much that it became the inspiration behind his new movie, I Origins, in theaters today. It’s a trippy tale of iris scans, love, genetics and — though Cahill was extremely careful never to say the word during the movie, so that viewers could draw their own conclusions — the possibility of reincarnation. In that, it’s an example of the way that movies can use science to get at the questions their creators care about.

And it’s not alone: Lucy, arriving in theaters next week, on July 25, takes a similar tack. Lucy, from writer/director Luc Besson, is an action-packed fable about a woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, who is, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances and a mysterious drug, able to harness the full power of her brain. Besson’s film was also born of a real-life interaction, a conversation with a young scientist he happened to sit next to at a dinner party. Besson says that he had always wanted to do a film about the concept of intelligence and that this was his chance; he could use some of the ideas from the conversation about the way cells work to say what he wanted to say about how knowledge is power.

“I like this combination, when the science leads to beauty or art or philosophy,” Besson tells TIME. “It’s something very unique and very beautiful.”

But where Cahill and Besson differ is in just how much actual science has to be in the scientific part.

Cahill stresses that the science of I Origins is all fact-based, from the particular genes mentioned to the international uses of iris biometrics to, he says, the theoretical possibility that we may have senses not yet detectable. He also wanted his scientist characters to be accurate representations, so he consulted with his brother, a molecular biologist, and brought the cast down to his brother’s lab at Johns Hopkins to do character research. Besson’s starting point, meanwhile, is famously nonfactual: the idea that humans walk around with 90% of their brains going unused so infuriates some neuroscience fans that they’ve sworn off the movie preemptively. But, though Besson says he did a lot of research before starting, he’s less concerned about those details. For him, the “scientific” part is less about facts than it is about a grounding in reality. For example, he objects to the characterization of Lucy, his heroine, as having super-strength or super powers; instead, he sees the film as a meditation on what might be possible if a person could make her mind and body do exactly what she wished. Staying away from a superhero-esque way of seeing it helps the movie make a point about something real, says Besson, who adds that at this point in his life he’s too old to make an action movie that doesn’t have a deeper meaning.

“Half of the things in the film are true. The other half is not true. But if you mix everything together, everything looks real,” he says. “It's funny because today everybody knows that movies are fake, but in a way we're in such a crisis that everyone is looking for a little piece of truth in it. Politicians are supposed to tell the truth and they're lying all day long. Films are supposed to be fake and sometimes you get some truth.”

That relationship between fact and fiction explains why, even though Besson and Cahill don’t feel the same way about how factual their facts have to be, they both use science-y concepts to get at something that couldn’t be examined in a lab. For Cahill, it was that mysteriously romantic feeling of looking in someone’s eyes and feeling like you’ve known her forever. For Besson, it was the more theoretical question of what a person who can know everything should do with that power. For both, it was the idea that human beings may be capable of more than we know. That’s an end goal that may easier for audiences to swallow if it comes from a world that feels like it might be real — but, for Cahill and Besson, that doesn’t make it any less fantastic.

“It’s incredible to think about the fact that the sum total of human knowledge, everything that we know, expands every day, just like the universe,” says Cahill. “And the force behind that expansion is scientific discovery.”

Israel’s Gaza Invasion Could Last Months

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:46 AM PDT

As Israel pushed forward Friday with its first ground invasion of Gaza in more than five years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that a bigger operation was likely to unfold in the coming days and weeks.

"My instructions, and those of the Defense Minister, to the [Israeli Defense Forces], with the approval of the Security Cabinet, are to be ready for the possibility of a significant expansion of the ground operation, and the Chief of Staff and the IDF have prepared accordingly," Netanyahu said in a Friday speech.

Netanyahu used the address to explain to Israelis why he’s moving forward with a ground war that will put Israeli soldiers in harm’s way and is liable to engender already-mounting international criticism for the innocent lives that will inevitably be lost along the way.

"We chose to commence this operation after we had exhausted the other possibilities," Netanyahu added, "and with the understanding that without action, the price that we would pay would be much greater."

The price that both sides will pay is yet unknown. 270 Palestinians have been killed so far in this most recent wave of violence, and more than 2,000 have been injured, while two Israelis have been killed and about 10 Israelis injured. The human cost of the conflict is unpredictable in part because Israel has not yet decided how far it’s going in Gaza, and, therefore, what its exit strategy should be. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Friday that the operation would continue "until it's necessary and until the quiet returns."

The main target of Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza are secret tunnels linking it to Israel, like the one Israel says Hamas militants used this week in an attempt to infiltrate and attack it. Still, Yuval Steinitz, Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs, said that Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" could result in Israel taking control of the entire Gaza Strip.

"The tunnels are the target of this operation, but alongside that, I don't rule out the possibility of addition stages, of Stage B and Stage C, and the expansion of this operation," Steinitz said in a speech following Netanyahu's and broadcast on Israel Radio. "We will weigh all options in coordination with the needs of the operation, and even though we're not interested in it, the possibility of taking control of the entire Gaza Strip to eliminate the possibility of launching missiles from there."

Some members of Netanyahu's cabinet, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been vocal about their assessments that the only solution in Israel's eyes is a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. Israel seized Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War, and didn’t remove its settlers and soldiers from the region until 2005, nearly 40 years later.

But Azriel Bermant, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, says that re-taking control of the Gaza Strip is considered an extreme option among Israel's security policy-making circles, and is probably some combination of bluster and wishful thinking on the part of rightists like Lieberman. Netanyahu, Bermant says, is more "risk-averse" and unlikely to want to make a move that would not only be condemned internationally and lead to casualties on both sides, but could also further complicate things in Gaza.

"The problem with talk of overthrowing Hamas is that you don't want to leave Gaza in a state of chaos, and you have no idea what will replace it. Given what's going on in the region, I don't think anyone really wants to take that risk," Bermant said, referring to ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has taken control of major swaths of Iraq after pouring over from Syria’s border amidst that country’s ongoing civil war.

Netanyahu is seen domestically as having been patient — if not downright dovish — in his reluctance to launch the ground invasion that many politicians and army top-brass had begun to see as inevitable several weeks ago. But an attempted infiltration Thursday, in which the IDF spotted 13 Palestinians who successfully entered southern Israel through an underground tunnel they had dug from Gaza, made it easier for Israel to chose its moment.

"The last straw was this attempted invasion yesterday,” Berman adds. “From that point onward Netanyahu must have felt he couldn't hold back. It was just what he needed, and with rocket strikes continuing, putting almost the entire Israeli population at risk, it all added up to having to start the ground campaign that Netanyahu tried to avoid.”

So far, both Israeli and Palestinian sources say that Israeli soldiers have not made their presence felt in highly populated areas, but have instead focused on destroying tunnels that are along the perimeter of Gaza and Israel. The IDF said in its Hebrew Twitter feed that the ground campaign had some 150 "terror targets" on its list, and Israel Radio reported that 18 tunnels were foremost among these.

The stage B and C that Steinitz referred to could include going into urban areas – Gaza City as well as the strip's many refugee camps – in search of rocket launchers and rocket stockpiles. Israeli soldiers were sent to do this kind of high-risk, house-to-house combat during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, and also in the West Bank during the Second Intifada. Few want to get to a Stage C, which could mean a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip for a period of months, says Dr. Jonathan Spyer, an analyst at the Gloria Center at the IDC Herzliya.

"As of now, they're not headed that far into Gaza. If it stays focused on the tunnel openings, then they might stay quite close to Gaza’s border. But my sense is that if the rocket fire on Israel continues, it raises the possibility of a further incursion.

"A large element of this is punitive: to punish Hamas in order to build deterrence," Spyer adds. "But I don't think there's any intention of reoccupying Gaza and bringing down Hamas as an authority. Israel has no realistic options in that matter – I don't think that [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas can just receive the Gaza Strip from Israel on a silver plate. We're also not going back to 1992 with an open occupation of the Gaza Strip."

After all, regime change has been tried in the region before – and looking east to Iraq, it seems it rarely turns out well.

3 New Plague Cases Confirmed in Colorado

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:43 AM PDT

Three new cases of plague have been identified in Colorado for a total so far of four, the state health department announced Friday.

The four people diagnosed all had contact with a dog that died of the plague. The initial patient remains hospitalized but the three infected later "all had minor symptoms, were treated with appropriate antibiotics, recovered and are no longer contagious," the health department said in a release.

Plague is spread from rodent—in this case prairie dogs—to other animals, including humans, by rogue fleas.

Of the 60 cases of plague in its various forms that Colorado has seen in recent years, nine people have died from the disease, according to a Bloomberg report. Doctors recommend keeping a safe difference from any rodents, alive or dead.

It’s Not Too Late to Get Into Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:40 AM PDT

Trust us on this: Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 was a tragically underappreciated comedy.

The modern, sharp-tongued, gender-swapping take on The Odd Couple was cancelled when ABC pulled the plug midway through its second season in 2013. While shows get cancelled all the time, the move was especially irksome to fans, because there were still eight episodes remaining in the season. That’s right — eight completed, ready-to-air episodes filled with Chloe’s viciously witty barbs, June’s wide-eyed horror and James Van Der Beek being James Van Der Beek, were in the can and ABC never aired them. Sure, they were released on Netflix, but they didn’t get the primetime attention and real-time Twitter love they deserved.

Now, Logo is correcting that problem. The network has acquired the eight unaired episodes and will air them Saturdays at 10 p.m./9c beginning on July 19th. Leading up to it, they will be running a Don’t Trust The B— marathon starting this Saturday starting at 1 p.m..

The icing on the already delicious cake? When ABC originally aired the show, they chose to run many of the episodes out of order, making it difficult for fans to keep up with what happened week to week and undercutting the show’s storyline. Logo will air the episodes in order, which will help the series’ craft its narrative arc, while staying true to the show’s Seinfeld-ian no hugging, no learning leanings.

Despite its dismal on-air ratings, the show is definitely worth watching. Krysten Ritter’s brilliant, titular “b—-”, Chloe, was the perfect lovable sociopath, a breed that’s tragically under-represented on television (House being the notable exception). Dreama Walker’s June was the perfect foil for Chloe’s vitriol, as she seemed to never quite believe the things that Chloe was saying while also accepting them wholeheartedly. The show also introduced the wider world to the talent of Eric AndrĂ©, who went on to star in his own show on Adult Swim, and somehow convinced Dawson — er, Van Der Beek — to play a washed-up teen idol version of himself, gamely poking fun at himself again and again. The ensemble cast was like a softer It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, that managed to be primetime friendly while pushing boundaries and without pulling any punches.

The show also frequently called out gender stereotypes to point and laugh at them. Take for instance, when Van Der Beek lamely stated that he didn’t know what girls eat; guest star Busy Phillips deadpanned, “Oh, sweetie, we don’t. We don’t eat. We just live in caves, having our periods, until it’s time to have sex with the first guy who buys us a wine cooler and reminds us of our dad.” The dialogue never failed to be sharply sardonic.

But it’s the titular B who was the real star. Chloe is aligned with some of the other driven, grumpy women who populate primetime, from Nurse Jackie to Julia Louis Dreyfus’s Selena on Veep to Aubrey Plaza’s April on Parks & Recreation to Girls‘ Shoshanna, none of whom suffer fools lightly. And, really, why should they? Chloe would give a fool an earful and a smackwich and move on with her life.

If you don’t know that the best way to take over a company is to just walk in and start firing people or don’t know the perverse joy of a smackwich, you should definitely spend Saturday on the couch with the B— in Apartment 23:

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Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Who Shot Down Flight MH17?

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:28 AM PDT

The White House has confirmed that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over the Ukraine Thursday, but who launched the missile remains a mystery.

Ukrainian officials believe Russian separatists fired a ground-to-air BUK missile that downed the plane, but in an interview with TIME, separatists leaders claimed they had nothing to do with the incident.

Vladimir Putin tiptoed around the subject, not openly blaming Ukraine for shooting the plane down, but saying they are responsible for creating a climate of political unrest.

MH17 Ukraine Crash: Commercial Pilot Explains Why Airlines Fly Through Conflict Zones

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:23 AM PDT

It's looking more likely that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile from a separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine. This tragedy occurred 131 days after the disappearance and loss of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Both aircraft were models of Boeing's 777.

In the wake of such aviation catastrophes, questions arise about the aircraft capabilities and the procedures by which it's operated. Is the Boeing 777 aircraft safe? Why was this airline flying over eastern Ukraine, where the government is currently fighting Russia-backed separatists?

Airlines routinely fly over areas of conflict if they deem it safe and reasonable to do so. The reason is simple: it's the shortest route and saves fuel. Some U.S.-based airlines regularly transit Pyongyang's airspace near North Korea, and have done so without incident. To my knowledge, no U.S.-based carrier would avoid that route, if available.

Some decisions affecting flight safety are made by governmental agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration in response to obvious threats. Most, however, are made internally by the Captain and other qualified personnel of the airline, but there are no universal standards among airlines. One can read the headlines this year and see the results of some of those differences. There are large variations in culture, experience, philosophy and conservatism. Some airlines hire pilots with little or no professional experience. Major U.S. and European-based airlines tend to have the mindset and resources to pursue a high level of safety and attract highly experienced pilots. That experience level factors greatly into the ability to recognize and manage risk.

Airlines have departments to monitor areas of possible risk, such as hostile activities in overflown countries. Flight risks evaluated include areas of regional conflict, moderate or severe turbulence along the flight route and weather hazards. The Captain, dispatcher and flight crew discuss areas of possible threat prior to any flight and agree upon an alternate route if needed, avoiding the risky areas. This is a normal and routine process. When the 2011 volcanic eruptions in Iceland threw ash into the path of jets transiting the area, flights planned around the affected airspace.

In early April, U.S.-based airlines voluntarily agreed to a FAA request to avoid operations near the Russian border. Shortly thereafter, the FAA issued a notice prohibiting U.S. flights over Crimea and some parts of Ukraine. A few days prior to Thursday's reported shoot-down, the Ukrainian government restricted the airspace over eastern Ukraine between 26,000 and 32,000 feet. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, operating at 33,000 feet at the time of its destruction, skimmed just above this zone and was technically "safe," according to the Malaysian Transport Minister. As a result of Thursday's crash, Eurocontrol, the European air traffic management organization, has now instructed pilots to avoid the area of conflict in eastern Ukraine.

When flying over areas of potential conflict, clear, effective communication is important, as is precise navigation and adherence to local air traffic control procedures. Navigation errors are increasingly rare because cockpit procedures are standardized and modern aircraft navigation systems are amazingly accurate. The Boeing 777 is a fly-by-wire aircraft, which means there are no direct mechanical connections or cables between the flight controls in the cockpit and the various control surfaces on the wings and the tail. The flight controls are controlled electronically, with multiple layers of backup in case of electrical failures. Yet the aircraft is always completely under the pilot's control. Most modern large airliners in normal international operation navigate by GPS satellites, laser gyro platforms so accurate that they can sense Earth's rotation, and ground-based navigation beacons. Such navigation systems can keep a large jet within a few lateral feet of its planned flight routing, even after several thousand miles of being airborne.

Deviations or mistakes are usually a result of poor voice communications or procedural error. International procedures require aircraft transiting foreign airspace to identify themselves near the specific country's boundary prior to entering. But according to a company statement, Malaysia Airlines lost contact with the plane at 14:15 GMT, approximately 50 kilometers from the Russia-Ukraine border. The radios aboard modern aircraft like the Boeing 777 can also send electronic position reports to some air traffic control facilities. If normal procedures are followed, there should be no surprises in terms of airspace entry.

As a Captain experienced in international flight, I would have been uncomfortable flying in that region of conflict. Military aircraft had been shot down in the recent past, so at least one of the combatants obviously had that capability. Weather deviations might force my aircraft even further into the region of conflict. Flying a route that avoided the conflict zone would have required some additional fuel and time, but would have been the safer course of action in light of the warnings issued by the Ukrainian government and the FAA.

As recovery and investigative efforts begin, speculation will abate and the facts will emerge. Airlines, pilots and governmental agencies will probably become more conservative in their risk assessment and choice of aircraft routing. Procedures will be altered to adapt to yet another threat. That is the nature of aviation, constantly evolving and adapting in pursuit of safer flight.

Capt. Rick McCullough, working for Aero Consulting Experts, has held a variety of managerial, instructor and evaluator positions on Boeing jets and currently flies the B-747-400 internationally.

Russian Media Blame Ukraine For Plane Disaster

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:18 AM PDT

In televised comments this morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that responsibility for the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on Thursday lay with “the government of the territory on which it happened.” He stopped short of directly blaming the Ukrainian military for launching the missile – but Russia's many state-controlled media outlets have been only too happy to do that for him. On Friday morning, as the world tried to make sense of the crash in separatist-controlled Ukraine, the Russian spin machine was already doing damage control. Gruesome images of the wreckage were splashed across this morning’s papers under headlines blaming Kiev for the attack.

“The leadership of Novorossiya considers the destruction of the liner a planned provocation by Kiev,” wrote daily Izvestia, in its lead news story, employing the resurrected term used frequently in Russian media to describe the region of Eastern Ukraine stretching from Odessa to Donbass. Rebel assertions that the plane was hit by a Ukrainian BUK missile ran across the cover of tabloid Tvoi Den under the headline “Echelon of Death.”

The theory that seems to be making the most traction throughout Kremlin-backed media is that the Ukrainian military shot down the passenger jet, either as part of a sinister plan to frame the separatists and galvanize the West against Russia, or alternately, after mistaking the Malaysian jet for a plane transporting Putin, who was on his way back to Moscow from Brazil. Citing the Interfax news agency, Kremlin-funded network RT described the similarity of the flight paths of MH17 and the presidential plane above a split-screen graphic intended to show the visual similarities between the two aircraft. Many Russians have taken to Twitter and Facebook both to voice their sympathy for the victims and often, to echo the theory that it's all Ukraine's fault.

Several news sources drew comparisons to 2001, when the Ukrainian military mistakenly shot down a Russian passenger jet over the Black Sea. The accident, which killed 78 people on board, is now being trumpeted as evidence of the Ukrainian military's culpability in the Malaysia Airlines crash. "According to experts, military equipment used by the Ukrainian army was acquired during the Soviet era, and its use in the course of military operations could lead to a repetition of the tragedy," wrote Russia's leading news agency Ria Novosti on Friday.

Leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, the pro-Russian breakaway group that currently controls parts of Eastern Ukraine, as well as purported arms and aeronautical experts like celebrity test pilot Anatoly Kvochur, have been making the rounds on Russian television to attest to the fact that the shooting couldn’t possibly have been the work of the rebels. The rebels themselves, of course, have denied all involvement in the crash, which occurred in territory under their control. At first, the rebels denied possessing the BUK missile launchers believed to have been used in the attack, despite the fact that the news agency of the Russian Ministry of Defense aired a report in June stating that a BUK had been taken by the separatists. Later on Friday, however, a reporter for Russian state-controlled channel Rossiya-24 reported that the militia does possess the launchers, but that they’re "all undergoing repair." More recently, the rebel claims took a turn for the grotesque, with Donbass separatist commander Igor Strelkov telling militant site Russian Spring that he believes the plane may have been filled with dead bodies before it crashed, saying workers who cleared the site told him the bodies were "stale – [like] people who had died several days ago."

Yet as the Kremlin advances its narrative, Russia's small and ever-shrinking pool of independent media outlets have countered with blistering critique. In the independent daily Noviya Gazeta, columnist Pavel Felgenhauer pointed to the probable culpability of the rebel forces and criticized the scramble to dodge blame. "It would be better if the separatists and the Russian authorities would stop lying, fantasizing and 'making Ukraine take responsibility,' and would as quickly as possible acknowledge their own guilt insofar as it exists," he wrote.

Appearing this morning on the independent TV Rain channel, Ukrainian military analyst Dmitry Tymchuk also placed blame for the incident squarely on the Russian government. Since the end of last week, he said, "little green men, that is, Russian servicemen," had joined the flow of military equipment from Russia to Eastern Ukraine. The rebels and the authorities in Moscow “are busy trying to cover up the tracks of their monstrous crime," Tymchuk wrote in a post on his own website.

Yet as international consensus mounts that Russia's role in arming the separatists makes Moscow at least partially accountable for the disaster, the Kremlin is struggling to control the narrative. Early Friday afternoon, Russian watchdog blog Gospravki reported that someone had attempted to alter the Russian Wikipedia entry on the Malaysia Airlines crash from an IP address linked to Kremlin state-media holding VGTRK, changing the assumed perpetrator from "terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic" to "Ukrainian military." The passage has since been changed to a murky statement that "Russian and Ukrainian authorities, as well as representatives of the self-proclaimed republics of eastern Ukraine, have denied any involvement in the tragedy and blame each other for what happened."

Apollo 11′s Rarely-Seen Outtakes

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:18 AM PDT

After 45 years, you’d think there is no picture of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing that hasn’t been seen a thousand times—but you’d be wrong. Like all travelers, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins shot a whole lot of frames, and not all of them were keepers. NASA did keep every one of them, of course. Here a few of that are rarely published—mixed with some of the iconic ones that capture best just how extraordinary that long-ago mission was.

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Tragedy Fuels the U.S. Intervention Machine

Posted: 18 Jul 2014 11:13 AM PDT

Apart from the probable cause of its destruction, we know almost nothing about the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 that was "blown out of the sky" yesterday over eastern Ukraine, according to Vice President Joe Biden. President Obama confirmed today that one American was among the dead and that separatists with ties to Russia are allowing inspectors to search the wreckage area. In today's press conference, Obama stressed the need to get real facts — as opposed to misinformed speculation — before deciding on next steps.

Yet even with little in the way of concrete knowledge — much less clear, direct ties to American lives and interests — what might be called the Great U.S. Intervention Machine is already kicking into high gear. This is unfortunate, to say the least.

After a decade-plus of disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people (including almost 7,000 American soldiers) and constitutionally dubious and strategically vague interventions in places such as Libya, it is well past time for American politicians, policymakers, and voters to stage a national conversation about U.S. foreign policy. Instead, elected officials and their advisers are always looking for the next crisis over which to puff up their chests and beat war drums.

Which is one of the reasons why Gallup and others report record low numbers of people think the government is up to handling global challenges. Last fall, just 49 percent of Americans had a "great deal" or "fair amount" of trust and confidence in Washington's ability to handle international problems. That's down from a high of 83 percent in 2002, before the Iraq invasion.

In today's comments, President Obama said that he currently doesn't "see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing in working with our NATO partners and some of the Baltic states." Such caution is not only wise, it's uncharacteristic for a commander-in-chief who tripled troop strength in Afghanistan (to absolutely no positive effect), added U.S. planes to NATO's action on Libya without consulting Congress, and was just last year agitating to bomb Syria.

Despite his immediate comments, there's no question that the downing of the Malaysian plane "will intensify pressure on President Obama to send military help," observes Jim Warren in The Daily News. Russia expert Damon Wilson, who worked for both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, says that no matter what else we learn, it's time to beef up "sanctions that bite, along with military assistance, including lethal military assistance to Ukraine.” “Whoever did it should pay full price," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the head of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, says. "If it's by a country, whether directly or indirectly, it could be considered an act of war."

The immediate response of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2012 Republican presidential, was to appear on Fox News' Hannity and fulminate that America appears "weak" under the leadership of President Obama and to imply that's why this sort of thing happens. If the Russian government run by Vladimir Putin or Russian separatists in Ukraine are in any way behind the crash — even "indirectly" — said McCain, there will be "incredible repercussions."

Exactly what those repercussions might be are anybody's guess, but McCain's literal and figurative belligerence is both legendary and representative of a bipartisan Washington consensus that the United States is the world's policeman. For virtually the length of his time in office, McCain has always been up for some sort of military response, from creating no-fly zones to strategic bombing runs to boots on the ground to supplying arms and training to insurgents wherever he may find them. He was a huge supporter not just of going into Afghanistan to chase down Osama bin Laden and the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks but staying in the "graveyard of empires" and trying to create a liberal Western-style democracy in Kabul and beyond.

Similarly, he pushed loudly not simply for toppling Saddam Hussein but talked up America's ability to nation-build not just in Iraq but to sculpt the larger Middle East region into something approaching what we have in the United States. Over the past dozen-plus years, he has called for large and small interventions into the former Soviet state of Georgia, Libya, and Syria. He was ready to commit American soldiers to hunting down Boko Haram in Nigeria and to capturing African war lord Joseph Kony. In the 1990s, he wanted Bill Clinton to enter that Balkan civil wars early and often.

In all this, McCain resembles no other politician more than the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, whose hawkishness is undisputed. Like McCain, Clinton has long been an aggressive interventionist, both as a senator from New York and as secretary of state (where her famous attempt to "reset" relations with Russia failed spectacularly when it turned out that the "Reset" button she gave her Soviet counterpart meant "overcharged" rather than the intended conciliatory term). In the wake of Flight MH17 being shot down, Clinton has already said that the act of violence is a sign that Russian leader Vladimir Putin "has gone too far and we are not going to stand idly by."

For most Americans, the failed wars in the Iraq and Afghanistan underscore the folly of unrestrained interventionism. So too do the attempts to arm rebels in Syria who may actually have ties to al Qaeda or other terrorist outfits. Barack Obama's unilateral and constitutionally dubious deployment of American planes and then forces into Libya under NATO command turned tragic with the death of Amb. Chris Stevens and other Americans, and we still don't really have any idea of what we were trying to accomplish there.

No one can doubt John McCain's — or Hillary Clinton's — patriotism and earnestness when it comes to foreign policy. But in the 21st century, America has little to show for its willingness to inject itself into all the corners of the globe. Neither do many of the nations that we have bombed and invaded and occupied.

Americans overwhelmingly support protecting Americans from terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. They are realistic, however, that the U.S. cannot spread democracy or preserve human rights through militarism.

When the United States uses its unrivaled military power everywhere and all the time, we end up accomplishing far less than hawks desire. Being everywhere and threatening action all the time dissipates American power rather than concentrates it. Contra John McCain and Hillary Clinton, whatever happened in Ukrainian airspace doesn't immediately or obviously involve the United States, even with the loss of an American citizen. The reflexive call for action is symptomatic of exactly what we need to stop doing, at least if we want to learn from the past dozen-plus years of our own failures.

President Obama is right to move cautiously regarding a U.S. response. He would be wiser still to use the last years of his presidency to begin the hard work of forging a foreign-policy consensus that all Americans can actually get behind, not just in this situation but in all the others we will surely encounter.


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