Headache: Three Shiite Militias Withdraw From The Fight In Iraq, ISIS Continues To Skim Millions From Iraqi Government Workers

Three Shiite militias have decided to stop fighting in Iraq, depriving the Iraqi government of thousands of able-bodied fighters in their struggle against the Islamic State. They’re citing American airstrikes as the reason. It’s a trust issue (via NYT):

Three major Shiite militia groups pulled out of the fight for Tikrit on Thursday, immediately depriving the Iraqi government of thousands of their fighters on the ground even as American warplanes readied for an expected second day of airstrikes against the Islamic State there.

The militia groups, some of which until recently had Iranian advisers with them, pulled out of the Tikrit fight in protest of the American military airstrikes, which began late Wednesday night, insisting that the Americans were not needed to defeat the extremists in Tikrit.

Together the three groups represent as much as a third of the 30,000 fighters on the government side in the offensive against the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, analysts said.

“We don’t trust the American-led coalition in combating ISIS,” said Naeem al-Uboudi, the spokesman for Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the three groups which said they would withdraw from the front line around Tikrit. “In the past they have targeted our security forces and dropped aid to ISIS by mistake,” he said.

One of the leaders of the biggest militias in the fight, the Badr Organization, also criticized the American role and said his group, too, might pull out. “We don’t need the American-led coalition to participate in Tikrit. Tikrit is an easy battle, we can win it ourselves,” said Mueen al-Kadhumi, who is one of the Shiite militia group’s top commanders. …

But a pullout by those militias, especially by the Badr Organization, would effectively disband the largest and most effective ground force the Iraqi government has been able to field since the invasion by ISIS last year.

American airstrikes began last night and lasted for about eight and a half hours before the Iraqi Air Force took over this morning.

In the meantime, ISIS has been able to siphon millions of dollars from the paychecks of Iraqi government workers in Mosul and Baghdad. In fact, the figures are in the tens of millions each month, which provides a nice stream of revenue for their various terrorist operations. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the situation has created a headache for the United States who must choose between two awful outcomes of trying to curb this money going into enemy hands. If they cut off the paychecks to workers in those areas where ISIS is skimming from the payroll, it could create a humanitarian crisis for hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. If payments continue unmolested, ISIS will still be able to use the money to rearm, refortify, and launch new offensives. Either way, if nothing is done, ISIS has the potential of raking in hundreds of millions of dollars for their activities:

Islamic State militants are skimming tens of millions of dollars a month from salaries paid to Iraqi government employees in occupied areas such as Mosul, and Baghdad continues to send the cash to maintain local support.

The group is using the money to fund operations, U.S. officials say, underlining the delicate balancing act U.S. and Iraqi governments face in what they know is a hearts-and-minds campaign against Islamic State ahead of a military operation to retake Mosul, for which U.S. officials are training Iraqi troops.

“No decision has been made one way or another as to how the U.S. should engage on [the seized funds],” a senior Obama administration official said. “This is something we are concerned about and continue to look into, but this is a matter that the Iraqi government ultimately controls.”

Money couriers leave places like Mosul and go to Kurdistan or other areas to collect government payments for a large group of Iraqi employees who work in such Islamic State-controlled areas, U.S. officials say.

The courier system is necessary because the Iraqi government has banned money transfers to banks inside Islamic State-controlled territory.

The Financial Action Task Force, an international consortium of government officials focused on blocking illicit finance, issued a report in February estimating Islamic State’s practice of seizing a portion of government employee salaries in areas it controls could bring in hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars annually, citing “several U.S. contacts in Iraq” as the source for the figure. U.S. officials say there are varying estimates, making it hard to put a precise number on the transfers to Islamic State.

U.S. intelligence officials have tried to disrupt the group’s revenue stream since last summer, with some success, U.S. officials say.

Periodically, one person from an office or building will leave Mosul, travel to Kirkuk or another nearby area, collect the salaries of a number of others, and then bring the money back to Mosul, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

Before the money can be distributed to the employees, Islamic State militants take their cut. For example, two Iraqi finance executives said employees would leave Mosul and travel to Kurdistan, receive salaries for numerous people in cash, and then return with the money, paying a portion to Islamic State upon re-entry.

American Humvees Arrive In Ukraine: Poroshenko Thanks U.S. For Support

Ten heavily armored American humvees were delivered by the U.S. Air Force to Boryspil International Airport near Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday as part of the United States’ commitment to send defense aid to the nation in its struggle against Russian separatists.

These ten were the first lot that the U.S. will provide to the Ukrainian military: a total of 230 Humvees will arrive in Ukraine in the next 45 days. The U.S. will also send drones, radios, counter-mortar radars, night vision devices and other equipment as part of the $75 million non-lethal aid package.

The vehicles were welcomed at the airport by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who thanked the U.S. for its support.

“On behalf of the people of Ukraine, I would like to express gratitude to the United States for consistent and firm position on the settlement of the conflict in Donbass,” he said. “For recognizing Russia as a country that carries out aggression against Ukraine.”

The head of state also took to Twitter with thanks:

Poroshenko has met repeatedly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish enforcement of the Minsk Agreement -- which calls for a full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

“Due to constant violations of the ceasefire regime, the enemy makes us intensify the efforts on enhancing our defense capacity,” Poroshenko said during the ceremony at Boryspil. “Still, our resources are restricted. Thus, military-technical assistance from the USA and other countries is timely and increasingly necessary.”

Scattered fighting is still common in the Donbass region, and many are skeptical that a ceasefire would hold, even if fully enforced. 

“We don't like the ceasefire at all. As with the previous ones, it'll only lead to another offensive by the enemy,” Militia Commander Andriy Biletsky told Reuters today while preparing for an expected Russian attack in southeastern Ukraine. “Appeasing the aggressor will only lead to more aggression. This war will inevitably continue - either until our complete defeat or until our full victory and return to our land in all east Ukraine and Crimea. We believe in the second scenario.”

The Humvees will be equipped with weapons from the Ukrainian military, and then deployed to assist the nation’s military in defense against Russian-backed forces in the east. During the ceremony, Poroshenko inspected the vehicles and their new accompanying military unit.

"Behind the wheel, I understood that it is an extremely efficient and powerful military vehicle long-awaited by the Ukrainian army,” Poroshenko said.

BREAKING: US Will Allow Iran to Maintain Centrifuges in Fortified Underground Bunker


Behold, the current state of US-Iran nuclear negotiations. It appears as though President Obama really will stop at nothing to secure an agreement, putting the lie to his administration's "a bad deal is worse than no deal" posturing:






Smart Power. This is looking more and more like a foreign policy catastrophe by the hour.  Team Obama, needless to say, is optimistic -- because if they'd demonstrated one thing, it's the capacity to cut savvy deals with our enemies.

Nationwide Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in the House

A bill to legalize medical marijuana nationwide has been introduced in the House of Representatives as a bipartisan effort between Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK). Marijuana is already legal for medicinal use in nearly half of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. Most states with legal medicinal marijuana limit its prescription to people with certain illnesses, such as glaucoma, cancer, or seizure disorders.

From CBS News:

Cohen and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, unveiled a bill on Tuesday that would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II narcotic, recognizing some appropriate medical uses for the drug. Marijuana is legal for medical use in 23 states and the District of Columbia, but the federal government currently classifies pot as a Schedule I narcotic with no apparent medical utility.

The reclassification would have a variety of effects on how the federal government enforces marijuana laws. It would allow states to set their own medical marijuana statutes free of federal interference, allow medical marijuana dispensaries to access the banking system, and allow doctors at government agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana in states where it's permitted. It could also jumpstart research into the drug's medical uses.

The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic is a joke, at best. Other examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin (which can kill you), bath salts (which can kill you), MDMA (a.k.a. ecstasy, which can kill you), and GHB (a date-rape drug that can kill you). Notably absent from the list of Schedule I narcotics is methamphetamine, a highly-addictive drug that has destroyed communities. Meth is a Schedule II drug.

Meanwhile, it is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana.

The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug is only hurting those who would possibly benefit medically from its effects. A strain of cannabis known as "Charlotte's Web" is extremely effective in treating epilepsy in children. The strain is named after Charlotte Figi, a child with Dravet Syndrome, who saw her seizures reduce in number from over a thousand a month to just three in eight months after she began ingesting a few drops of oil from the plant each day. The strain has a very low amount of THC, meaning that it does not cause a psychoactive "high" typically associated with marijuana consumption. While Charlotte's Web has been regarded as somewhat of a miracle cure for some patients with epilepsy, it is only available to patients who reside in a state that permits medical marijuana. A reclassification of the drug would open up research opportunities, and could help discover additional treatment options for various illnesses.

Despite the fact that more than eight out of ten Americans support medical marijuana, the Senate version of this bill is facing some serious obstacles.

It's clear that the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic is a grave error, and it's absurd that the drug is considered by the federal government to be as dangerous as heroin yet somehow less dangerous than meth. A civilized society wouldn't deny an epilepsy patient access to a potentially life-changing treatment because they happened to live in the wrong state. This bill should pass.

Yes, Ted Cruz Could Repeal Common Core

Since his presidential campaign announcement Monday, the White House press corps has been fascinated with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). 

On Wednesday, that Cruz attention turned to the senator's position on Common Core education standards. A reporter asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, "Senator Ted Cruz -- I know you’ve been fielding a lot of questions about him. He recently said that he wants to repeal Common Core, every word of Common Core. Am I mistaken? I didn’t think Common Core was a federal law? ... I mean, Common Core -- is that correct, Common Core is not something that can be repealed?"

Earnest declined to address the substance of the reporters question, instead promising, "We can look into that for you."

So is Common Core a federal law that can be repealed? The answer is yes.

While it is true that Congress never passed any law that made Common Core the official national education standards for all 50 states, President Obama has been creating brand new federal laws without Congress long before his 2014 executive amnesty program.

Specifically, in August of 2011, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that he was going to use President Bush's 2001 No Child Left Behind waiver process to make states an offer they couldn't refuse: Either they must all adopt Obama's Common Core education standards, or many of their schools would be deemed as "failing" under the NCLB law and would be subject to an avalanche of federal regulation and paperwork.

"It is one thing for an administration to grant waivers to states to respond to unrealistic conditions on the ground or to allow experimentation and innovation," Brookings Institution Director for Education Policy Russ Whitehurst wrote at the time, "It is quite another thing to grant state waivers conditional on compliance with a particular reform agenda that is dramatically different from existing law."

That "particular reform agenda" was Common Core and many states adopted the Common Core standards in large part because of the pressure Obama applied through NCLB.

So, if a President Cruz were to repeal "every word" of the NCLB law, he would functionally be repealing the existing federal Common Core regime by giving states back the freedom to choose their own education standards.

Cyberattacks on Maine.gov, Other State Sites Continue

Maine's official website Maine.gov has been attacked for a fourth time in as many days. As of 10:15 a.m. the site was inaccessible and would not load. The series of cyberattacks began on Monday, and have continued throughout the week.

The attacks have been mostly harmless, and officials have assured Mainers that no personal information has been breached. The attacks the past three days were remedied within a matter of hours.

From WMTW:

Officials said the denial of service attacks overwhelm the state's servers, causing the website to go down. They are a common tactic used by hackers to overload servers with thousands of requests.

Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of GWI, told WMTW News 8 on Tuesday that the denial of service attacks are the lowest threat for cybercrimes and that committing them does not require a skilled hacker.

"It's simply bragging rights," said Glenn Wilson, director of Maine Cyber Security Cluster at the University of Southern Maine.

A hacker going by the name of Vikingdom2015 is claiming responsibility for the cyberattacks. While his original Twitter account was suspended, a new account claiming to be him has been taking credit for the series of attacks on Maine's website and the websites of other cities and states.

Around 10:30 a.m., New York City's website NYC.gov went down, but was back up within 15 minutes.

While the motivations behind this hacker are still a mystery, this has to be a wake-up call for states to improve their cybersecurity. Hackers are getting smarter, and websites need to be secure.

White House Confirms Iran Deal Probably Won't Be In Writing

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed Wednesday that President Obama's impending nuclear weapons deal with Iran may not be in writing.

Following a New York Times story reporting that Iran would not sign any document by the end of March, ABC News White House correspondent Jon Karl pointedly asked Earnest if Obama would settle for an oral agreement instead. Earnest evaded:

Well, Jon, when the President was asked to talk about our ongoing efforts to reach a diplomatic political agreement with the Iranians before the end of March, the President made reference to the fact that we would see and that we, meaning the American people and Congress, would be able to take a close look at the terms of that agreement.

Now, the terms of that agreement are going to be -- it’s a political agreement, right, so they’re making certain commitments to do certain things. The details of those commitments are extraordinarily important and there will be a process for hammering out those details. But the President was clear that the kinds of commitments that we seek from the Iranians are the kinds of things that we would be able to show to members of Congress and show publicly to share with our allies, including Israel, about what kind of commitments Iran has made.

So I don’t want to prejudge the process here at all, or to prejudge sort of the outcome of the talks because there’s the chance that a deal is not reached. But we certainly would want and expect that if a deal is completed, it will include tangible, specific commitments that have been made by the Iranians.

In response to this non-answer, Karl pressed again,"This would have to be a written agreement and it would have to be an agreement that is signed by both sides?" Earnest evaded again:

 Well, again, Jon, we’re going to seek very tangible commitments from the Iranians, and the President made a commitment to sharing those tangible commitments with members of Congress and with our allies.

Karl then asked, "I’m just trying to understand what tangible means," to which Earnest responded, "And what I’m saying is that you can -- that as we move through this process of negotiating with the Iranians and our P5+1 partners, we hope to be able to elicit tangible commitments that the Iranians have made that we can then share with our P5+1 partners, with our allies, and with the United States Congress, all of whom have a legitimate claim to understand exactly what kind of commitments Iran has made in this process, if they make them."

That was three direct chances Earnest was given to confirm that any nuclear agreement with Iran would have to be signed, in writing, and three clear non-answers from Earnest.

So don't be surprised next week when Obama claims to have secured "tangible commitments" from Iran on their nuclear weapons program but is also unable to provide any document with Iran's signature on it.

New Details: Co-Pilot Allegedly Crashed Germanwings Airliner on Purpose

The Germanwings Airbus flight that crashed on Monday killing all 150 people on board did not experience a mechanical malfunction; it was reportedly taken down deliberately:

As officials struggled Wednesday to explain why a jet with 150 people on board crashed amid a relatively clear sky, an investigator said evidence from a cockpit voice recorder indicated one pilot left the cockpit before the plane’s descent and was unable to get back in.

A senior French military official involved in the investigation described a “very smooth, very cool” conversation between the pilots during the early part of the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany. Then the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter.

“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer,” the investigator said. “And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer.”

Absolutely chilling. The captain who reportedly left the cockpit to use the restroom was locked out, despite his best efforts to regain entry. This would explain why the plane, after it reached cruising altitude, slowly began descending over an eight-minute period before hitting the mountain. The co-pilot simply crashed it on purpose.

But was this an act of terrorism? Too soon to speculate but the co-pilot was not believed to be on any watch lists:

A French prosecutor said the co-pilot of the Germanwings airliner who intentionally crashed the jet into the Alps Tuesday was a German national who was not on any terrorist watch list. …

Lubitz said nothing after the pilot left the cabin and was alive until the plane crashed, Robin said. He stopped short of calling the incident "terrorism" or "suicide."

This terrible and tragic incident raises a number of questions. Why was a man, who obviously was insane, given clearance to co-pilot a commercial jetliner? That is to say, was there anything in his background that was suspicious or suggested he could do something so evil? And more broadly: Isn't it time to rethink the newly implemented cockpit safety protections that were put in place after 9/11?

A video produced by Airbus, maker of the A320 passenger jet used on the Germanwings flight, shows how the cockpit security system was designed in 2002, after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It shows that flight crew members in the cabin can access the cockpit with an [sic] code to open the door, but it doesn't deal with the possibility of what would happen if one of the pilots deliberately tries to lock out the other.

On the Airbus, like virtually every other commercial passenger jet since 9/11, the pilot or whoever has control of the cockpit has the ultimate override power to prevent others from entering from the plane's cabin.

Did the co-pilot wait with bated breath for the captain to leave the cockpit before carrying out his deranged and deadly plan? Or did he crash the flight impulsively and on a whim? Details remain sparse at this time.

Stay tuned for updates.

UPDATE: Three Americans died in the crash.

UPDATE: The co-pilot has been identified and WaPo has more information about him:

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was silent as Germanwings Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf descended for eight minutes before crashing in the French Alps on Tuesday, authorities said. Lubitz, identified by a French prosecutor as the co-pilot of the Airbus A320, appeared to want to “destroy the plane” in the deadly Alpine crash that killed 150 people. …

Lubitz started working for Lufthansa’s budget carrier Germanwings in September 2013, immediately after completing training at Lufthansa’s Bremen facility. He had 630 hours of flight experience, a Lufthansa spokesperson confirmed to AFP.

UPDATE: It's worth noting that U.S. federal law mandates two people must be in the cockpit at all times.

Flashback: Hillary Insists 'It Doesn't Matter' How Bergdahl Fell Into Enemy Hands


We'll get to Hillary soon enough, but first, two more flashbacks. Katie raised one of them yesterday, but we can never get enough of Susan Rice. The administration's hand-picked Benghazi propagandist also praised Bowe Bergdahl for having served with "honor and distinction," even after former platoon mates began sounding the alarm that he was, at best, a deserter. The military reached that same conclusion years prior to Bergdahl's release, for which the US government negotiated with terrorists and agreed to release five high-ranking Taliban commanders. National Security officials say several of those terrorists are likely to rejoin the jihad; one has already openly vowed to do so. Then there were the legions of Democratic hacks who cast aspersions on those who leveled (warranted) misconduct accusations against Bergdahl. White House aides whispered to the media that Bergdahl was being "swift-boated," which was technically true: His former brothers in arms were accurately blowing the whistle on his betrayals and setting the record straight. Here was Donna Brazile claiming that those allegations were nothing more than a Republican conspiracy to make President Obama look bad:


Oops. President Obama does look bad here, but not because of Republican lies, or whatever. He looks bad for effectively negotiating with terrorists, for cutting a bad deal, for releasing five dangerous jihadis, for breaking the law by stiff-arming Congressional oversight, and by dressing up his decision as a patriotic, bold move to bring a hero home. The White House must have known about the cloud hanging over Bergdahl's disappearance, but they must have miscalculated that public joy would far outpace negative rumors, and that Bergdahl's fellow soldiers would sit back and silently watch the victory lap charade unfold. Oh, and Allahpundit is probably right that releasing a bunch of hardened terrorists was actually viewed as a feature of the plan because it helped Obama accelerate the process of emptying Guantanamo. After all, O just recently said that his biggest regret as president is that he didn't just unilaterally shut the detention facility down upon taking office. Think about that. His biggest regret. Then again, those were still the heady early days, when he was still pretending to care about the separation of powers. Finally, we have Hillary Clinton, co-architecht of Obama's failed Smart Power foreign policy, telling a surprised Diane Sawyer last year that the circumstances of Bergdahl's "capture" weren't at all relevant:


"It doesn't matter," she asserts, twice. "We bring our people home." We do? Even if they deliberately abandon their posts and reportedly seek out the enemy, whom they're also suspected of aiding and abetting? And for whom honorable men lost their lives during rescue efforts? And even if the cost entails cutting loose five ruthless terrorists? Of course it matters -- if not on substance (which it does), then certainly politically. That's why the White House unlawfully bypassed Congress to cut the deal, offering laughable excuses after the fact. They knew this was toxic, so they cut some corners and put on a happy face. Hillary's answer calls to mind her infamous response on Benghazi: "What difference, at this point, does it make?" Contrary to some critics' shorthand, Clinton wasn't arguing that the attack itself didn't make any difference. She was arguing that after Americans were murdered and our diplomatic mission sacked, the reason behind that attack wasn't all that important. She was dead wrong about that, too. It makes a big difference. Averting your eyes from the facts doesn't help prevent future bloody fiascos (some lessons weren't learned at State under her leadership). And an unpredictable, "spontaneous demonstration" over an internet video that spun out of control wouldn't make the government look nearly as derelict as a coordinated terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11, and on the heels of multiple requests for added security that were ignored and denied. How often would President Hillary shrug her shoulders and tell Americans that the facts "don't matter" or no longer "make a difference" in the face of national security debacles? She's certainly had plenty of practice.

Great: Houthi Rebels Obtain Yemeni-US Intelligence On Counter-Terrorism Operations, Some Files Handed Over To Iran

Apparently, some files with sensitive intelligence, including names and locations of informants in Yemen, might have been compromised as the Houthi rebels continue their campaign to consolidate power. With the loss of our intelligence networks, the U.S. halted drone strikes, evacuated the embassy, and withdrew the last contingent of Special Operations forces. Yemeni intelligence officers were able to destroy some of the sensitive documents, but were unable to get all of them with the rapidly approaching Houthi forces (via LA Times):

Secret intelligence files held by Yemeni security forces and containing details of American intelligence operations in the country have been looted by Iran-backed militia leaders, exposing names of informants and plans for U.S.-backed counter-terrorism operations, U.S. officials say.

U.S. intelligence officials believe additional files were handed directly to Iranian advisors by Yemeni officials who have sided with the Houthi militias that seized control of the capital of Sana last September and later toppled the U.S.-backed president.

For American intelligence networks in Yemen, the damage has been severe.

But U.S. officials also worried Wednesday about the loss of the Yemeni intelligence files, including the names and locations of agents and informants with information on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP], considered the terrorist network’s most dangerous and resourceful branch.

There was no indication that the Houthis had gained direct control of U.S. intelligence files, so the loss doesn’t compare to more infamous cases, like the takeover by militants of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 or the U.S. retreat from Saigon in 1975.

The U.S. still plans to fly armed drones over Yemen from bases in Saudi Arabia and Djibouti, but officials acknowledged that their ability to identify and locate terrorist suspects has been severely hampered by the loss of the intelligence files, and the collapse of Yemen’s security services.

The article also noted that AQAP might exploit the chaos to re-establish itself in Yemen since the United States can no longer efficiently unleash its silent fury from its drone campaign. They might also ally themselves with fellow Sunnis in Yemen eager to stop the advance of the Shiite Houthi rebels.

Again, have no fear because the Obama administration thinks we’ve “succeeded” in Yemen, which elicited this response from ABC News’ Jonathan Karl –“That’s astounding.”

Partial transcript courtesy of Real Clear Politics: [emphasis mine]

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: I know you're asked this every time something terrible happens in Yemen, but now that we have essentially complete chaos in Yemen, does the White House still believe that Yemen is the model for a counter-terrorism strategy?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: Jon, the White House does continue to believe that a successful counter-terrorism strategy is one that will build up the capacity of the central government to have local fighters on the ground to take the fight to extremists in their own country...

KARL: That's astounding. You're saying that you still see Yemen as the model, that building up the central government which has now collapsed, a president who has apparently fled the country, Saudi troops have amassed on one boarder, the Iranians supporting the rebels. You consider this as a model for counter-terrorism?

EARNEST: Again, Jon, what the United States considers to be our strategy when confronting the effort to try to mitigate the threat that is posed by extremists is to prevent them from establishing a safe haven. And certainly in a chaotic, dangerous situation like in Yemen, what the United States will do and has done is work to try to support the central government, build up the capacity of local fighters, and use our own technological and military capabilities to apply pressure on the extremists there.

Look -- I -- there's no doubt that we would like to see a functioning central government in Yemen -- we don't see that right now -- and that is why we are supportive of the U.N.-led process to try to put an end to the violence and instability.

UPDATEVia AP – Saudi military forces began air operations in Yemen last night.

Obama Administration: Trading Deserter Bergdahl For Five Taliban Commanders Was "Absolutely Worth It"

Tuesday afternoon the U.S. Army officially announced desertion charges for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who allegedly left his platoon in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban in 2009.

The United States Army announced this afternoon from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be charged under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice with one count of desertion with intention to shirk important and hazardous duty and one count of misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place. If convicted, the first charge of desertion carries a potential maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge, rank deduction, forfeiture of paid allowances and maximum confinement of five years. The second charge of misbehavior before the enemy carries a potential maximum penalty of reduction in rank, forfeiture of paid allowances, confinement for life.

Under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, a preliminary Article 32 hearing has been scheduled and will be held at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. When the hearing will take place will be announced at a later date. A court marshal for Bergdahl will be pursued.

Last night State Department Spokeswoman and incoming White House Communications Director Jen Psaki defended the decision to trade Bergdahl, towing the same line that the administration has been using for nearly a year: we don't leave men and women behind.

"Was it worth it? Absolutely," Psaki said, while denying the swap had anything to do with emptying Guantanamo Bay. "We have a commitment to our men and women serving in our military, defending our national security everyday that we're going to do everything we can to bring them home if we can and that's what we did in this case."

"We look at Sgt. Bergdahl as someone who served his country as many men and women have," she said.

But one key point Psaki fails to mention is the smear job the State Department and Obama administration tried to run on Bergdahl's platoon mates, who came forward publicly to accuse him of desertion after he was celebrated by the White House. Psaki's colleague, State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf, went so far as calling his platoon mates not credible and painted them as liars. National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on national television that Bergdahl served with "honor and distinction." And who could forget President Obama touting Bergdahl's release in exchange for the enemy, who have since attempted to return to the battlefield, in the White House Rose Garden with Bergdahl's parents. 

With the new charges officially announced for Bergdahl, the White House is still only committed to Bergdahl, not the real heroes in his platoon who he deserted in Afghanistan. At the very least, the men in his platoon are owed an apology by the administration.

Hispanic Activists Fight For Tougher Immigration Laws in Texas

There’s a growing number of people in Texas who are standing up for immigration enforcement and the rule of law: Hispanic Americans. While this may come as a surprise to some, it shouldn’t. They are proud Americans first and foremost, and as such, believe in the rule of law.

Pedro Rivera is 53 years old, Hispanic, and a retired military man. He's also part of a growing number of Hispanic Texans pushing for stronger immigration enforcement, including the passage of SB 185, which would stop cities from implementing policies banning local cops from asking immigration-related questions.

“I'm an American citizen and I believe in the rule of law,” Rivera said, reports FOX26. “And being Hispanic, I should not be granted special privilege in avoiding the law. We need officers to have all the tools available to them to keep us safe. That includes asking the question, when you're being detained for a crime or being arrested for an offense, ‘ are you here illegally? Are you a US citizen?'”

The new initiative is being led by Maria Espinoza of The Remembrance Project, a group dedicated to honoring Americans who’ve been killed by illegal immigrants.

Espinoza's new group, which isn't exclusive to people of Hispanic origin, traveled to Austin last week and asked lawmakers to stop Texas cities, like Houston, from adopting their own immigration related policies. It's not a new fight. The Texas Senate actually passed a similar measure in 2011. It prompted protests, then stalled before becoming state law. Espinoza says a lot has changed in four years.

“We have more Latinos who are behind this issue and also law enforcement,” she said. “We have (four) sheriffs who testified with us to remove sanctuary city policies.”

In an interview with Townhall last year, Espinoza explained that it’s wrong for government officials and public servants to place the interests of non-citizens ahead of Americans’.

“We just want basic laws to be upheld so that we can protect our families,” she said. “We can’t afford to not be victorious because losing this battle means losing America.”

White House Says We Have ‘Succeeded’ In Yemen, As Its President Reportedly Flees Rebels

After Houthi rebels took over the capital of Sanaa, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his cabinet resigned. He was placed under house arrest, but escaped in Feburary and established a new power base in the city of Aden. Now, he’s on the run again as Shiite Houthi rebels approach the city, taking an air base that was used by American forces for counterterror operations in the process, though Hadi Chief of Security says he’s still in Aden (via NBC News/AP):

Yemen's president fled his palace in Aden to an undisclosed location Wednesday, five Yemeni officials told The Associated Press, as the advance of Shiite Houthi rebels plunged the Gulf nation further into crisis.

Witnesses also told the AP they saw a convoy of presidential vehicles leaving President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's hilltop palace in Aden. However, Hadi's chief of national security denied to Reuters that the president had fled his home.

"He's here, he's here, he's here. I am now with him in the palace. He is in Aden," Maj. General Ali al-Ahmadi told the news agency.

The developments came just hours after Houthi rebels seized an air base formerly used by the U.S. and Europe in the fight against al Qaeda, both the AP and Reuters reported.

That air base is only 35 miles away from Aden — and the developments plunged the city into a state of "chaos," one Yemeni official loyal to Hadi told NBC News.

Reportedly, Hadi had to flee the coastal city by boat.

The Houthi rebels are a minority, but allegedly have ties to Iran (they sent a delegation to Tehran last week), and have an alliance with Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh was Yemen’s president from 1990-2012; he couldn’t survive the Arab Spring. Nevertheless, as The New York Times reported, Saleh has given the Houthis control of most of Yemen’s military, including the air force. He’s reportedly still popular with the military.

The United States evacuated the last of its forces–about 100 Special Forces personnel–last week. Yet, somehow as we’ve left and Yemen descends closer to civil war, the Obama White House contends that Yemen serves as a counter-terror "template that has succeeded."

Frankly, it’s a disaster. Yet, it’s a movement that could face obstacles in expanding their base of support. Yemen is the poorest Arab country, which has a severe water shortage problem. As New York Times video journalist Mona El-Naggar documented when she was embedded with the Houthi rebels, the tap sometimes flows once a month. Oh, and they chant “Death to America, Death to Israel, damnation to the Jews, and victory to Islam.” But have no fear, El-Naggar says because the Houthis distance themselves from Sunni terror groups, like al-Qaeda and ISIS. That point shouldn’t make anyone sleep better. Yet, she does capture how this fledgling political movement is still unfocused.

Regardless, statements from the Obama White House on how this is a successful template for fighting terror when the governing body was virtually overthrown, and our troops have been withdrawn due to deteriorating security conditions, is just an exercise in a lack of self-awareness. Are we “asleep at the switch?” It appears that we are–and this administration pleas to the rebels to stop creating instability is just pathetic. They might as well have added “pretty please with a cherry on top.”

Right now, Saudi forces are massing at the Yemeni border.

Again: Reid Prepares to Block Another Bipartisan Bill Over Abortion Funding


The US Senate's popular anti-trafficking bill remains stalled in its tracks, President Obama's Attorney General pick hasn't received a vote on her nomination, and now the fate of a bipartisan Medicare reform effort is in peril -- all thanks to Harry Reid and his obstructionist Democratic caucus.  We'll address that last point in more detail shortly, but first, some background: Whenever Democrats screamed about Republican obstructionism in recent years, they inevitably failed to mention that many GOP 'filibusters' were retaliation for Reid's unprecedented use of a method called "filling the amendment tree." This parliamentary maneuver is designed to block votes on any amendments to legislation under consideration. Unable to even get a hearing on desired changes to bills, Republicans answered Reid's control freak dysfunction by objecting to votes. By contrast, Mitch McConnell allowed more amendment votes in the month of January alone than Reid did in the entirety of 2014. Even with the new GOP majority, though, Democrats have blocked almost everything coming down the pike, capped off by President Obama's indefensible veto of the popular Keystone Pipeline project. This is Obama's Washington: Polarized, angry, inept.  Which brings us back to the proposed Medicare fix, forged in lengthy negotiations between John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, and endorsed by everyone from Think Progress to Paul Ryan.  Here's the new House Ways and Means Committee Chairman making the conservative case for the deal:

In 1997, Congress tried to put a lid on Medicare's costs by capping doctor payments with a formula called the "sustainable growth rate." Under the law, if Medicare spent more than the cap in one year, it would have to compensate by cutting doctor payments in the next. But this quick fix was no fix at all. Costs continued to soar as doctors performed more treatments to make up for the pay cuts. And when the threat of automatic cuts loomed, Congress simply postponed them — 17 times. Meanwhile, doctors took time away from patients just to keep watch on Congress...So my colleagues and I have come up with a bipartisan plan to replace these arbitrary cuts with real reforms. Our plan would strengthen Medicare by encouraging better care and rewarding doctors for better results...Right now, Medicare pays doctors for every single treatment they perform — with no regard for the patient's overall health. It rewards quantity, not quality, of care. And 10,000 baby boomers are joining Medicare every day, so costs are growing out of control. Our plan would start to move us to a patient-centered system. We would cancel the cuts and instead give doctors a modest increase for the next five years. Every year after, doctor payments would grow to depend more and more on results. Our plan would set up one streamlined program that would reward doctors who met performance goals and improved seniors' health. Over time, Medicare would reward quality over quantity, and seniors would get better care because of it.

Ryan goes on to list two additional structural reforms the bill would implement: Means-testing for wealthier seniors, and limiting "Medigap" insurance to make sure that seniors aren't completely insulated from the costs associated with overusing healthcare, which costs taxpayers big time.  These changes won't fix Medicare's enormous unfunded liability problem (Ryan's bipartisan solution, included in this year's GOP budget blueprint, would advance that ball much farther), but they're better than nothing.  Some conservatives have raised specific policy objections to the proposal, but the plan has won support from quite a lot of righties, who see it as an opportunity to reject allowing the perfect to become an enemy of the good -- and as a constructive way to adopt needed smaller-scale reforms.  Despite the careful negotiations and cross-partisan support, Harry Reid and company are threatening to derail the whole thing, pitting themselves against House Democratic leadership.  Why?  Abortion.  Reid, at the abortion lobby's behest, is complaining that the compromise goes too far in restricting taxpayer funding of abortion -- a practice that's been generally barred for decades, and is deeply unpopular with the public.  This abortion obsession is the same snag that has prevented a bill to help sex-trafficking victims from becoming law.  As I've noted previously, Reid has lurched to Nancy Pelosi's left on this issue, abandoning his long-time posturing as a "pro-life" Democrat.  Here's what he said in support of an anti-abortion-funding provision in Obamacare: "My belief in the sanctity of life is why I have repeatedly voted against using taxpayer money for abortions."  Now he's blocking two important, bipartisan bills in defense of unpopular abortion funding. Planned Parenthood's well-financed, extreme agenda is in control of the United States Senate.  I'll leave you with a web ad the NRSC is running against Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet, hitting him for joining the radical Reid filibuster of anti-trafficking legislation:


Republicans have also deployed robocalls against Reid and others on the issue.  The contemptible Senate Minority Leader is up for re-election in Nevada next year.

Flashback: State Department Spokeswoman Refuses to Apologize to Bowe Bergdahl's Platoon

When Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released in a swap for five Taliban prisoners three weeks ago and celebrated by the White House as a hero, his fellow Army platoon leaders came forward with details about how he was "captured" as a prisoner. Bergdahl was accused of being a deserter who violated his oath and left on his own accord by the men who served with him. At the time of their statements, State Department Deputy Press Secretary Marie Harf was asked during a press conference about the knowledge the platoon members had surrounding Bergdahl's alleged desertion. She dismissed their statements as non-credible and the men were framed by the administration as liars. Obama White House allies went so far as to call the platoon members "psychopaths."

Last night Harf made an appearance on The Kelly File to talk about the ongoing crisis in Iraq but near the end of the interview, Megyn Kelly asked if she wanted to apologize to the platoon members, who took offense to her classification. Harf refused to apologize. The relevant portion of the video starts at the 9:45 mark.



State Department: Three Americans Killed in Germanwings Crash

An important update to my item from yesterday: Tragically, it has officially been determined that two American citizens lost their lives after a German airliner unexpectedly crashed yesterday in a remote area of the French Alps.

NBC News reports:

A mother and her adult daughter from suburban Washington, D.C., were identified Wednesday as the two Americans aboard the Germanwings plane that plunged into a French Alps mountainside.

Yvonne Selke and daughter, Emily, of Nokesville, Virginia, were named as the Americans on doomed Flight 4U9525, NBC News has confirmed. The plane crashed Tuesday en route from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany, killing all 150 passengers and crew, officials said. Investigators found one black box and the frame of another black box from the Airbus A320, which was pulverized upon impact in a remote area of the Alps.

The U.S. State Department, for its part, released a statement yesterday offering condolences to those affected by the tragedy:

We are saddened by the news that Germanwings flight 9525 crashed in southern France on its way from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany. We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the 150 people on board. We are reviewing whether any U.S. citizens were aboard the flight. The United States stands ready to offer assistance and support to the Governments of France, Germany, and Spain as they investigate this tragedy.

After conducting their review, however, the State Department announced more grim news today:

A third U.S. citizen was on board the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps this week, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said officials have confirmed that Americans Yvonne Selke and her daughter, Emily, were among those killed in the crash. Psaki said the third U.S. citizen is not being named at this time.

All in all, there were citizens from more than a dozen different countries aboard that flight. Horrible. Meanwhile, little progress has been made about why the flight went down in the first place:

Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, has characterized the crash as an accident. But as investigators reviewed one of the plane’s so-called black boxes, questions remained, including why the aircraft had descended for eight minutes before crashing, and why an aircraft with a good safety record had crashed in largely clear weather.

At least for now, the cause of the crash remains a baffling mystery.

UPDATE: Fox News reports that (a) human remains and debris are scattered across the length of "two stadiums" and (b) investigators can only access the crash site via helicopter. Hence, it is expected to take several weeks, if not longer, for officials to conclude their investigation.

Obama Fully Backs Immigration Official Who Gave Special Benefits To Democrat Donors

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest firmly backed Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Wednesday, despite a DHS Inspector General's report released Tuesday that found Mayorkas gave "favoritism and special access" to wealthy Democrat donors including Hillary Clinton's brother.

"Mr. Mayorkas is still at the Department of Homeland Security because he is a decorated public servant and an effective leader of that organization," Earnest said at a White House press briefing. "We certainly value the kind of contribution he has made to the effective management of the department and he has played an important role in implementing needed reforms in that department."

The IG report described Mayorkas' "important role" at the DHS a little differently:

After receiving allegations from career U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employees that Alejandro Mayorkas, then-Director of USCIS and current Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was exerting improper influence in the normal processing and adjudication of applications and petitions in a program administered by USCIS. Specifically, we were told that Mr. Mayorkas was in contact, outside the normal adjudication process, with specific applicants and other stakeholders in the Employment-Based Fifth Preference (EB-5) program, which gives residency preference to aliens who agree to invest in the U.S. economy to create jobs for U.S. citizens. We were also told he was exerting influence to give these individuals preference and access not available to others.
...
In three matters pending before USCIS, however, Mr. Mayorkas communicated with stakeholders on substantive issues, outside of the normal adjudicatory process, and intervened with the career USCIS staff in ways that benefited the stakeholders. In each of these three instances, but for Mr. Mayorkas’ intervention, the matter would have been decided differently.
...

The juxtaposition of Mr. Mayorkas’ communication with external stakeholders on specific matters outside the normal procedures, coupled with favorable action that deviated from the regulatory scheme designed to ensure fairness and evenhandedness in adjudicating benefits, created an appearance of favoritism and special access. As a result of his deviation from the normal process, applicants and stakeholders with whom he had just been in contact received a specific benefit

(emphasis added) The Obama White House, however, not only seems to see no problem with Mayorkas using his government office to provide "special benefits" to Democrat donors, they seem to believe that is how government is supposed to work. From Earnest Wednesday: 

What I'm telling you is that the questions that were raised were about how effective this EB-5 visa process works. And these are exactly the problems that Deputy Secretary Mayorkas was trying to address. 

The EB-5 program has long been a source of fraudcriminality, and profiteering, but this is the first time a leader as high up as Deputy Secretary has been implicated in using the program to provide special benefits to the politically connected.

BREAKING: Bowe Bergdahl Offically Charged With Desertion, Faces Life in Prison

UPDATE 3:35 pm: The United States Army announced this afternoon from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be charged under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice with one count of desertion with intention to shirk important and hazardous duty and one count of  misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place. If convicted, the first charge of desertion carries a potential maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge, rank deduction, forfeiture of paid allowances and maximum confinement of five years. The second charge of misbehavior before the enemy carries a potential maximum penalty of reduction in rank, forfeiture of paid allowances, confinement for life.

Under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, a preliminary Article 32 hearing has been scheduled and will be held at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. When the hearing will take place will be announced at a later date. A court marshal for Bergdahl will be pursued.

--------------------------------------------------------------

According to the Associated Press Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was traded last summer by the Obama administration for five Taliban commanders, will be charged with desertion. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in June 2009. The Pentagon will hold a press conference at 3:30 eastern time to give details. 

Last year President Obama held a ceremony in the Rose Garden with Bergdahl's parents and touted the swap of Bergdahl as an important moment in U.S. history, arguing no American should be left behind on the battlefield. National Security Advisor Susan Rice said during an interview with ABC News that Bergdahl served with honor and distinction. 

But shortly after the swap was released, many members of Bergdahl's Afghanistan platoon came forward to accuse him of desertion. Allies of the administration questioned the integrity of the men for doing so. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Brandon Friedman suggested publicly that the platoon might be full of "psychopaths." State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf portrayed the allegations of platoon members as not credible and the men as liars. She refused to apologize for doing so.

 

Not a single member of Bergdahl's platoon came forward to defend him against desertion allegations

"I think the Army needs to do what's right here and abide by the Army values and he [Bergdahl] needs to face consequence for his action," Army Specialist Cody Full said on Hannity in July 2014. "Not only is it a slap in the face to all the men and women who have served honorably, who upheld their oath and it's also a bad precedent to set toward future service members."


Stay tuned for updates to this story.

This post has been updated with additional information and will be updated with information. The year in the last sentence of this post has been corrected to 2014, it previously said 2015. 

Woman Arrested for Throwing a Molotov Cocktail at a Pro-Life Prayer Group

A woman in Austin, Texas has been arrested and charged with aggravated assault after throwing a "Molotov cocktail-type device" at a group of pro-lifers holding a prayer vigil outside of a Planned Parenthood. The flame in the bottle was stamped out before the wick could ignite the fuel inside, preventing the device from exploding.

From KVUE:

Police said 52-year-old Melanie Maria Toney threw the object out the passenger side window of her car where two anti-abortion protesters standing outside of the clinic at 201 East Ben White Boulevard around 6:30 p.m. Monday.

One of the protesters, Ruth Allwein, said she was praying in the grassy area as a volunteer with Texas Alliance for Life when she saw Toney throw the bottle.

"It looked like some sort of bottle, and it had an ignited wick in it, so my first instinct was backing away," said Allwein.

First and foremost, thank goodness nobody was hurt and it's incredible that someone had the presence of mind to extinguish the device before it exploded. Secondly, it goes without saying that there are appropriate ways to discuss the legality of abortion...and this was definitely not one of them. Tossing Molotov cocktails does not promote any kind of productive dialogue.

Seven Pro-Lifers Arrested While Praying Outside of Speaker Boehner's Office

Seven pro-life activists were arrested just before noon today while praying peacefully outside of the office of Speaker John Boehener (R-OH).

Wearing shirts reading “pre-born babies feel pain,” the protesters – including Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, President of Operation Rescue Troy Newman, and former nurse Jill Stanek – conducted the demonstration to bring attention to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

“The pro-life movement needs to instill a sense of urgency in the fact that this bill must be passed,” Newman said, before the demonstration. “We're here to sacrifice just a little bit of freedom, stand in solidarity with these children, and to help Speaker Boehner grow a spine.”

The demonstration was held to put pressure on House Republicans to pass the bill, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks -- the time an unborn child can feel pain. Mahoney described the behavior of the House GOP as a betrayal of the support of the pro-life community.

“The pro-life community in the midterm elections spent hours manning phones, walked hundreds of miles passing out literature, donated millions of dollars to candidates to give Speaker Boehner the historic majority he has in the House today,” Mahoney said. “And for all that incredible hard work, we were promised on January 22 that a vote would be held banning abortions after 20 weeks. On the eve of the Roe v. Wade memorial, that vote was shelved."

“We were told yesterday that this is the most pro-life Congress that has ever been installed,” Newman added. “And yet a ban on late-term abortions – which the vast majority of Americans believe should be passed immediately – has languished in the House.”

After making statements to the gaggle of press that gathered, the seven knelt and prayed the Lord's Prayer. Capitol Police kept a watchful eye on the group from just down the hall.

“It should be very peaceful on our part – very quiet, very peaceful,” Mahoney's wife, Katie, said before the event. “They know we're coming. We met with Boehner's office last week.”

Whilst Newman prayed a psalm, an officer approached with a loudspeaker warning that the group was engaging in illegal activity and if they did not leave the area they would be arrested.

“We pray for the day that all abortions end within America,” Mahoney prayed. “We pray for the day that everyone is treated with dignity and justice and humanity.”

Police established a perimeter and put the seven in zip tie handcuffs before leading them away.

“This house refuses to pass a bill that would save innocent human lives,” Newman called down the hall while being arrested.

“We may forfeit just a little bit of our freedom, but that is nothing compared with 1,200 to 2,000 babies that die every single day here in America,” Newman said.

Friendly Reminder: There Was No Inspector General At State When Hillary Was There

Recently, the State Department’s Inspector General issued a report that its employees weren’t following federal guidelines regarding the preservation of emails. It wasn’t deliberate, most employees don’t have a lot of clarity regarding what should be saved for the public record and what should not. Yet, the gap is massive. In 2011, 1 billion State Department emails were sent, but less than 62,000 were saved. How did the Inspector General miss the Hillary email trainwreck? Well, as Bloomberg reported, the State Department didn’t have one when she served as Secretary of State.

Moreover, this incident has government accountability groups somewhat hopeful as it raises the issue concerning Inspector General vacancies in government. Then again, not every Inspector General is of a good character:

For five years, including all of Clinton’s time as secretary, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General never had a confirmed inspector. Instead, it was lead by acting inspector Harold W. Geisel, a former ambassador who was accused of being too cozy to agency leadership by transparency groups like the Project on Government Oversight. Throughout the first half of President Obama’s first term, the absence of a State Department Inspector General while internal scandals and Benghazi rocked the department drew bipartisan criticism.

“For no one to raise concerns, it’s almost impossible to believe,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director for POGO.

For years POGO has been highlighting “the frequency and the longevity of vacancies in Inspectors General offices,” as Brian put it. She added that while it was ironic that the Clinton story broke so close to last week's Sunshine Week—a time for open government advocates to raise awareness of transparency issues—it was also an opportunity to highlight the importance of why open government issues like Inspectors General vacancies.

The Inspector General Act of 1978 established independent watchdog offices for every major federal agency, led by an official nominated either by the president or the agency. There are currently 11 inspector general positions open—either because President Obama or the agency have yet to nominate anyone, or because a presidential nominee has yet to be confirmed by Congress.

Some positions have gone without nominees for years—according to a database maintained by POGO, the Department of Interior hasn’t has a permanent inspector, or presidential nominee, since early 2009; the Agency for International Development’s OIG hasn’t had a leader or presidential nominee since 2011. The National Archives and Records Administration hasn’t had an inspector since September 2012, when Inspector General Paul Brachfield was put on administrative leave while being investigated for racial and sexual comments.

The State Department’s permanent inspectors haven’t been above reproach—in 2007 then-IG Howard J. Krongard resigned over allegations that he’d impeded investigations into Blackwater and corruption in Iraq—but the work of vetted and confirmed officials carry more weight.

Even with an interim IG, as Ed wrote over at Hot Air two years ago, several of the investigations from Geisel’s office were being “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off.” In some cases, members of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Diplomatic Security Service detail engaged in soliciting prostitutes while on official trips, according the CBS News. Another incident involved an underground drug ring near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that provided members of the security detail there with narcotics.

Obviously, with a proper IG in place, the private email address would’ve come up.  Also, the fact that she never submitted several donations for her foundation for review might have been picked up as well. Bill Clinton and President Obama had an agreement that the Clinton Foundation would not accept any new donations from most governments while she was Secretary of State, and that any new, or increased, donations would be subject to State Department review. Of course, that didn't really happen, and Clinton has failed to disclose the foundation's donors since 2010, despite a 2008 promise to do so on an annual basis.

Yet, the Obama White House knew that House Republicans uncovered Clinton’s private email address last August, and admitted to corresponding with her using that address. A nugget that some folks in both camps probably wanted to bury at the time since it only adds to the negative narratives that surround the Clintons.  Again, having such vacancies for positions that ensure accountability and transparency for this length of time at State–and theory agencies–isn't indicative of an administration that takes either of these issues seriously. 

Wait; who am I kidding with that statement? 

VIDEO: Cruz Defends His Candidacy For President on 'The Kelly File'

Perhaps the most biting criticism of then-Sen. Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign was his lack of executive and managerial experience. Nevertheless, he easily won that election and subsequently went on to win re-election four years later. Questions about his resume and past friendships were largely brushed aside, in part, because of the enthusiasm and support his candidacy generated. And yet, given the many failures of the current administration, real and perceived, party elders are already issuing dire warnings to Republican voters heading into 2016: Let’s not make the same mistake Democrats did in 2008.

Speaking of which, Cruz appeared in-studio on The Kelly File Tuesday night to defend his decision to run for president as a one-term Senator. Addressing the flurry of attacks directed at him personally and professionally, he had a couple of good one-liners, including this one:

“There’s nothing like the warm embrace of the mainstream media.”

Cruz assured his audience that there were “marked differences” between himself and the president of the United States. He explained that while President Obama was a “backbencher” during his years in the upper chamber, he himself had been a vocal and active participant "in the arena." He had stopped bad legislation from becoming law and passed good legislation—sometimes with almost universal support. He also reminded Kelly that he had previously served as the Solicitor General of Texas for nearly six years before running for the office he currently holds. He did not mention explicitly, however, the treasure-trove of awards he received or the impact he had as Texas' top lawyer.

Interestingly, Kevin Williamson points out that the exact same things critics are saying about him today are the exact same things they said about Ronald Reagan before the 1980 campaign. Bear that in mind. Cruz, meanwhile, is articulate and deeply accomplished—and apparently raised over $1 million in less than 24 hours after announcing his bid. And while the GOP field will indeed be crowded in 2016, few candidates can electrify and rouse the conservative base like Ted Cruz.

This is an asset, my friends—not a liability—as the last two Republican presidential nominees, unfortunately, know all too well.

Obama's Iran Deal Probably Won't Be In Writing

One might hope that a President of the United States would at least get a written agreement from the leader of a country that chants "Death to America" on any nuclear deal. But President Obama is not just any President of the United States. And his quest for a second term legacy accomplishment may just force America into a handshake agreement on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

The New York Times reports:

If an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear capability is reached by deadline in the next seven days, one thing may be missing: an actual written accord, signed by the Iranians.

Over the past few weeks, Iran has increasingly resisted any kind of formal “framework” agreement at this stage in the negotiations, preferring a more general statement of “understanding” followed by a final accord in June, according to Western diplomats involved in the talks.

For anyone who has been following the negotiations between the Obama administration and the Ayatollah Khamenei regime, this minor "there will be no actual written agreement" detail should come as no surprise. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has been downplaying the supposed March "deadline" for months. His response to a question last Friday about what happens if there is no deal by the end of March was typical:

One thing I do want to clarify about one aspect of your question, though, is what we would anticipate at the end of this year is essentially -- or at the end of this month, pardon me -- at the end of this month, we would anticipate a political agreement. And what that means is it means some very specific commitments from the Iranians about their nuclear program and about how some of their nuclear facilities are run. It would also include very serious commitments by the Iranians to agree to a set of historically intrusive inspections. ... What, however, we’ll be required though is then for the technical experts to get together and to talk about how those political agreements are technically implemented. ... And so what we have said is that we would anticipate that those technical negotiations and discussions would also take a little bit of time too, but that we would anticipate that those kinds of technical conversations would be resolved by the end of June.

(emphasis added) So whatever the Obama administration announces in the coming days won't be a real written binding agreement at all. Instead, it will just be a "political" document for domestic consumption here in the United States. In fact, the NYT reports, the Khamenei regime doesn't even acknowledge that the March deadline exists:

A senior administration official who was in Lausanne for the talks last week told reporters there that the United States still hoped to agree on specific limits by the end of March that define the parameters of a more detailed, comprehensive agreement that is scheduled to be completed by the end of June.

That is essentially what Mr. Kerry had envisioned last November — a two-step process that would demonstrate concrete progress to Congress and keep the process with the Iranians moving. At the time, the Iranian negotiators seemed on board.

But in early February, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has taken his own negotiators by surprise several times, said there would be only one agreement. That left the United States and its allies — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — in an uncomfortable place. What was the March deadline all about if it was no longer a deadline in the Ayatollah’s eyes?

What the March deadline is all about is giving Obama the opportunity to declare victory on "ending" Iran's nuclear before any actual deal is made. The liberal media can then all heap praise on Obama and accuse anyone who questions the deal of wanting war with Iran. Then by the time the actual agreement is signed in June, Obama's legacy will be far too tied up in its "success" for any Democrat, even Hillary Clinton, to oppose it. 

Ugly: Journalist 'Debates' Conservatives on Obamacare, Things Escalate Quickly


Ron Fournier is a columnist for National Journal and a cable news mainstay who served as the Associated Press' Washington bureau chief for years. In his new opinion-based role, he's worked to carve out a niche as a 'pox on both houses' purveyor of common sense, a detector of BS, a practitioner of intellectual honesty, and Chief of the Civility Police.  In that last capacity, Fournier expended much indignant energy denouncing Rudy Giuliani's acerbic commentary about President Obama's patriotism -- wrongly asserting that Obama would never say such nasty things about his political opponents.  Regardless of that particular blind spot, Fournier would likely tell you that he feels obligated to blow the whistle on ad hominem slanders hurled from either side of the aisle, because such tactics are unseemly and poisonous to our politics.  Falsely impugning motives isn't acceptable. He recently noted on Twitter that his antipathy runs especially deep for racially-tinged attacks:


Playing the race card is terrible, except when it's not. As Sen. Dick Durbin repeatedly invoked Jim Crow-era imagery to demonize GOP slow-walking of Obama's Attorney General nominee (a black woman) on legitimate ideological and tactical grounds, Fournier served up some "real talk."  Not for Durbin -- the obvious uncivil culprit -- but for Republicans:


Don't like being baselessly slimed as racists? Well, hurry up and do exactly what your cheap, bad-faith accusers demand. Pay that moral ransom, regardless of the principles and outcomes actually at stake, and the meanness will go away. For awhile, at least. The Civility Police have an uneven concept of justice, it seems. Or perhaps Fournier simply has a soft spot for vicious insults that reference segregation. This week, he was beating the drum about how Republicans are wrong in their ongoing efforts to oppose and repeal Obamacare. It's the law now, so everyone should just suck it up and help make it work, he intoned.  (Obamacare, I should add, is a law that Fournier himself has conceded was constructed upon a "foundation of lies"). Several conservatives immediately challenged him on this logic, noting that Fournier's "it's-the-law-so-deal-with-it-and-move-on" posture surely doesn't apply in all circumstances. Would Fournier have thrown up his hands and recommended that opponents of, say, the Fugitive Slave Act abandon their convictions? Fournier didn't take kindly to such questions, berating his inquisitors for "comparing" Obamacare to an issue like slavery. That's not what they were doing, of course. They were proving the point that not all laws must be automatically accepted and embraced once they've been passed. Obamacare happens to be a law that has never enjoyed the consent of the governed, has violated almost every core pledge made in its marketing campaign, and that continues to harm far more people than it's helped.  When Sean Davis, a writer for The Federalist, jumped into the discussion with a provocatively-worded rebuttal, an exasperated Fournier went straight for the jugular:


Shut up, he explained.  Lacking an argument, Mr. Civility went with, "oh yeah, well don't talk to me about segregation, since that's your thing."  Appalling, but revealing.  In one fell swoop, Fournier effectively walks away from the substantive debate, shamelessly going the racial route as a last-ditch means of bullying his critics into silence.  (This is exactly the sort of thing Mary Katharine Ham and I write about in End of Discussion, available for pre-order here).  In executing his low class surrender, he also demonstrates how he -- and no doubt many of his mainstream media colleagues -- view conservatives. The self-appointed referees of politics will never call a truly fair game because they see one of the teams as populated by bad, anti-women, racist people.  Davis, a thirty-something conservative who was born long after this country's worst racial days, has never breathed a word remotely in support of the rank immorality of racial segregation.  But because he's on the Right, and segregation is (note the present tense) the Right's "gig" (never mind the Democrats' sordid racial history), clubbing Davis with this conversation-ending slander was apparently fair game in Fournier's mind.

In fairness, everyone is susceptible to lashing out in anger or frustration occasionally, and Twitter is a venue that sometimes invites rhetorical excess. But even after having some time to reflect on the implications of what he'd said, Fournier adamantly refused to apologize.  The Civility Police Chief decided that his casual segregation smear was justified.  Lest you think I'm overblowing a single tweet, Mollie Hemingway reminds us that Fournier isn't a stranger to indulging in race card politics.  Though he wouldn't condemn Dick Durbin's overt racial demagoguery (and in fact counseled Republicans to capitulate to it), he's invented "problematic" racial angles to GOP stances on other issues -- including their…citation of  nonpartisan CBO data regarding Obamacare's negative impact on the labor force.  That smacked of racism to Fournier; Durbin's explicit antics received a quasi-endorsement.  One can't help but wonder how these sorts of underlying attitudes may have colored the Associated Press' coverage of Washington when Fournier was at the helm.  How many others in the establishment media share his deep-seated bias and ugly assumptions about what guides and animates conservatives?

I don't know Ron Fournier, but I have grown to respect him.  He is sometimes willing to buck conventional wisdom and take Democrats to task in ways that many other center-Left writers won't touch.  See, for instance, his tough takes on Hillary Clinton's conduct.  But earning and sustaining credibility across the spectrum doesn't just entail knocking both sides from time to time.  It involves respecting people's worldviews enough not to assume the worst about them.  If Ron Fournier has decided that racial animus is lurking around every corner on the Right, and is willing to nuke strangers with grotesquely unfair calumnies during public debates, I suppose that's his prerogative.  But he shouldn't expect his targets and their friends to continue taking him seriously, which is how I presume he'd prefer to be taken.  And he should permanently surrender his Civility Police badge.  One final note: Mr. Fournier, if you're reading this, I'd imagine you might be tempted to retreat into a comforting, "if both sides are upset, I must be doing something right" mentality.  That aphorism has some truth to it, and it may even apply to you sometimes.  Before you congratulate yourself and dismiss this post as just another criticism from an ideologue, however, please consider this specific critique's substance, even if you're inclined to disregard its source.

Cornell Assistant Dean: Why Yes ISIS Is Welcome on Campus To Train Students "Like a Coach"

In the latest investigation by Project Veritas, Assistant Dean of Student Activities Joseph Scaffido is shown approving a "humanitarian group" on campus that wants to sent care packages to ISIS freedom fighters in Iraq and Syria. 

"Programs like that really have a good place here at Cornell," Scaffido is shown saying.

Scaffido even goes so far as agreeing that bringing an ISIS fighter to campus to train and talk with students would be a great idea and that funding from the university would be available to do so. 

"It's just like bringing in a coach, to a do a training on a sports team or something," he said.

I'm going to give Scaffido the benefit of the doubt and assume he has no idea what ISIS is...I hope that's the case.

Meanwhile, college campuses around the country remain extremely hostile to conservative student groups and speakers on campus.