Former Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced his retirement. More details to follow.
Last week, Caleb Howe at Truth Revolt posted a brutal video of an Afghan woman being beaten to death by an angry mob for allegedly desecrating the Koran.
“The crowd can be seen beating and kicking her, hitting her with sticks, and even dropping large bricks and blocks of stone on her. Her body was then burned, and thrown into a river,” he wrote.
The woman, Farkhunda,is known by only one name, and she was in her late 20s to early 30s. Some sites, like the AP, have her being 27 years old, while CBS News reported she was 32. Her family said she was suffering from mental illness.
After an investigation, it’s been confirmed that she was completely innocent for desecrating the Koran:
Hundreds of people gathered in the north of the capital for the funeral of 27-year-old Farkhunda, who like many Afghans is known by only one name.
She was killed late on Thursday by a mob of mostly men who beat her, set her body on fire and then threw it into the Kabul river, according to police accounts.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned Farkhunda’s killing as a “heinous attack”. The authorities are still investigating what prompted the mob assault.
Following allegations that police stood by and did nothing to stop the attack, Ghani said it revealed “a fundamental issue” – the country’s police were too focused on the fight against the Taliban insurgency to concentrate on community policing.
His comments followed widespread condemnation of the killing. In Afghanistan, despite constitutional guarantees of equality, women are generally treated as inferior and violence against them often goes unpunished.
Some Afghan officials and religious leaders sought to justify Farkhunda’s killing, alleging that she had burned a copy of the Qur’an.
But at her graveside, the head of the interior ministry’s criminal investigation directorate, Gen Mohammad Zahir, said no evidence had been found to support those allegations.
“We have reviewed all the evidence and have been unable to find any single iota of evidence to support claims that she had burned a Qur’an,” Zahir said. “She is completely innocent.”
The crowd was reportedly shouting anti-American and anti-democracy slogans as they stomped on her.
Progressive Change Campaign Committee has launched ReadyForBoldness.com, which aims to push Hillary towards the left on policy issues such as Social Security, campaign finance reform, and reining in Wall Street, according to The New York Times. Over 200 Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats, including former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin–a firebrand liberal–, have signed the site’s petition.
Democracy Alliance, a group of the left’s biggest donors, has recently signaled their plans for the future; they want to be the driving progressive force in the Democratic Party. As Politico noted, this group hasn’t had the best of relations with the Clintons. In 2006, Bill Clinton got into a spat with Guy Saperstein, a part owner of the Oakland A’s, over then-Sen. Clinton’s vote over the Iraq War; a vote for which the anti-war progressive wing of the party has yet to offer their forgiveness. Saperstein left the Alliance in 2008, but remains close with its members. Last year, Saperstein gave $1 million to a PAC spearheading a Draft Warren movement. The Alliance has invited Hillary to speak at one of their closed-press gatherings in San Francisco next month, but she declined. It’s around the time she’s expected to announce her 2016 bid for president (via Politico):
An influential coalition of the biggest liberal donors is quietly distancing itself from the national Democratic Party and planning to push its leaders — including Hillary Clinton — to the left.
It aims to steer more than $30 million a year toward groups committed to fighting income inequality, climate change and the influence of political money. A particular focus is on groups fighting those issues at the state level, reflecting a sense among donors that national political gridlock limits chances for progress on their issues, regardless of the specific candidates.
“The Democracy Alliance donors, as I read them, while they are almost all Democrats and they are electorally active, want to be a progressive force independent from the Democratic Party,” said the group’s president, Gara LaMarche. “That’s not about Hillary Clinton as such, or about Barack Obama as such. It’s about standing for certain core concerns on the economy and climate and pushing that in the states.”
LaMarche wouldn’t comment on plan specifics, expected to be completed in early April, except to say that it reflects broad “alignment” among progressive donors on “key economic issues and climate change.”
But other sources with knowledge of the plan characterize it as more aligned with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the dream presidential candidate for many Democracy Alliance members, than with Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate. And for some liberals, it foreshadows an emerging rift that could hamper efforts up and down the ballot in 2016, and possibly lay the groundwork for a liberal version of the tea party, resulting in years of factionalism.
Clinton might have been an uncomfortable fit at the San Francisco meeting because it would highlight issues on which her centrist sensibilities clash with the Alliance’s more liberal views.
For instance, according to a draft agenda obtained by POLITICO, the meeting will feature sessions on reducing the influence of big money politics and reforming the criminal justice system, including ending the death penalty. Clinton, an unparalleled fundraiser, hasn’t led the charge on campaign finance reforms and supports capital punishment — unlike potential 2016 Democratic presidential rival Martin O’Malley.
Wait, they’re trying to start a liberal tea party? Wasn’t that Occupy Wall Street? Yet, while it’s been reported that Warren’s biggest donors won’t turn their backs on Hillary, it seems that Warren has a potentially large reserve of campaign cash she can tap into, along with her reported Hollywood faction that would support her if she runs. Then again, it could be just a pipe dream.
“Hillary did not fare well in the Democracy Alliance eight years ago, and I don’t think there is going to be much more support for her this time, other than people thinking that she is the horse we’ve got, so we better not criticize her because it could weaken her,” Saperstein told Politico.
It seems for now; both groups are more focused on influencing and shaping Hillary’s 2016 platform than actively searching for candidates to challenger her in the primaries. Though, I’m sure a lot of people in the progressive wing want someone to challenge the Clintons. Then again, a Republican victory in 2016 would put much of what Obama has accomplished in jeopardy, which is why Team Obama–though aghast at the fact she deleted over 30,000 emails willy-nilly because she deemed them private–want her to win next year. So, that logic could be factored into this “we don’t really like her, but oh well” attitude the left has toward Hillary.
Regardless, Hillary is projected to raise over $1 billion for her campaign, but is only focused on raising for the primaries at present:
Clinton's campaign-in-waiting is developing a stable of fundraisers and finance aides for a race likely to exceed the more than $1 billion President Barack Obama raised for his 2012 re-election. If Clinton announces in April, as expected, her campaign would be required to release its first fundraising report in July.
The Democratic National Committee plans to set up joint fundraising committees with any primary campaign that wishes to do so, as it did in 2008 with Clinton and Obama. The joint events will allow donors to give money to both the campaign and the DNC, one of the Democratic officials said.
The ex-secretary of state's finance team will be led by Dennis Cheng, a former top fundraiser for the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Under Cheng, the planned finance operation is making changes from its previous incarnation.
The Democrats familiar with the planning said Clinton's campaign is expected to focus on raising checks of $2,700-per-person for the primary and is not expected to create a single finance chair or national co-chairs.
Instead, the campaign is likely to have a merit-based national finance committee of top donors that will be similar to the arrangement under Obama. The campaign also plans an early focus on online fundraising, the officials said.
So, for those hoping that Hillary might veer to the left, it appears she doesn’t need to with regards to raising campaign cash. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that there will be a reeducation of Hillary Clinton. Yet, the notion that she’s running from her true self (a progressive liberal vs. a centrist Democrat) remains a point with Republicans, as Mike Murphy noted in 2000 on Meet The Press; it’s also a reason why he doesn’t respect her since she opts to be a centrist Democrat when he feels she's not. He said Clinton veered into that "doctrinaire liberal" territory a little bit when she said there's a "vast right wing conspiracy" against then-President Clinton in 1998.
It's going to be the same ole' Hillary, folks. For conservatives, we already knew this, but for progressives; hey, it's the only person you've got.
As for Clinton, some are reporting she's undergoing what her family has done before in American politics: mounting a comeback. Though we shouldn't take much stock in polls this early in the game, Clinton is assembling a campaign team that's highly respected, has experience, and has good relations with the press. And while I thought the email scandal might have her limping out of the gate, that seems to have dissipated in the media. Then again, the emails can make their way back into the forefront once the 2016 campaign season get serious.
Current incarnation of the Hillary email story is going, going, gone. pic.twitter.com/bb2DpaZL4l— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) March 23, 2015
Thanks to the efforts of Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), as part of the larger budgetary process, Senate Republicans have passed an amendment giving all states the right to refuse to implement the Common Core curriculum in their schools. The amendment, however, will be one of many provisions included in the Senate's final budget, which will be voted on by the full Senate at a later date:
Victory for local control of Ed. Passed my amendment to allow states to opt out of #CommonCore without penalty, prohibit federal mandates.— David Vitter (@DavidVitter) March 26, 2015
The measure passed by a margin of 54 to 46.
I'll leave you with this statement from Vitter's office:
“Parents, along with local teachers, principals, and education leaders in our communities, know best on how to best educate our kids,” Vitter said. “We should reduce the size and scope of the federal government in our classrooms and return curriculum decision-making and use of taxpayer dollars to those closest to the students – and my legislation would do just that.”
The Obama administration granted states that adopted Common Core standards waivers from No Child Left Behind mandates. Vitter’s legislation would ensure that any state with an existing waiver will keep its No Child Left Behind waiver without penalty if the state opts out of Common Core. His bill would also make these states eligible for Race to the Top grant funding, which has only been offered to states in compliance with Common Core standards.
Pope Francis will visit the United States on a papal visit in late September and his itinerary is already chalked full of events. Naturally, the official announcement was made public months ago. Today, however, we learned that the Bishop of Rome was also invited to the White House to meet with President Obama and the First Lady—an invitation he has evidently accepted.
“The President and the First Lady will welcome His Holiness Pope Francis to the White House on Wednesday September 23,” the White House press secretary said in a statement today. “During the visit, the President and the Pope will continue the dialogue, which they began during the President’s visit to the Vatican in March 2014, on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues, including caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities. The President looks forward to continuing this conversation with the Holy Father during his first visit to the United States as Pope.”
Of course, these are all issues Pope Francis and President Obama broadly agree on. It will be interesting to see, however, if they discuss issues that divide them—as they did during the president's first encounter with Pope Francis in Rome roughly a year ago.
“During the cordial meetings, views were exchanged on some current international themes and it was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” the Vatican said in a statement following the world leaders’ first face-to-face meeting. “In the context of bilateral relations and cooperation between Church and State, there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform. Finally, the common commitment to the eradication of trafficking of human persons in the world was stated.”
Will these issues be raised again? In all likelihood, yes.
After all, during their last in-person discussion, Pope Francis reportedly expressed grave concern that taxpayer dollars were funding abortion services under Obamacare—which studies show is inevitably happening. So don't be surprised if he does again, as this is an issue very close to the hearts of (conservative) American Catholics.
For what it’s worth, Pope Francis will also deliver remarks in front of Congress and the United Nations, attend a Catholic conference, and hold a public Mass in Philadelphia during his papal visit.
A no-brainer on politics and substance alike. President Obama's rumored deal (which got worse today) with Iran's terroristic regime is causing bipartisan heartburn on Capitol Hill, is worrying even typically skittish allies, is viewed as unacceptable across the board in Israel (and certain Arab capitals), and isn't likely to find a receptive audience among American voters. Leaked details reveal that Iran's nuclear program will gain international legitimacy under the bargain, which keeps the country's nuclear infrastructure in place, as well as 6,000 centrifuges spinning. It demands nothing of Iran on its illegal missile program, its sponsorship of terrorism and outsourcing of chaos in the region, or its abysmal human rights record. It reopens the money spigot to pump money back into Iran's economy, which has been battered by sanctions (the primary reason they're at the negotiating table in the first place). And its restrictions begin to phase out after ten years, regardless of Tehran's behavior. Also, Iran's team is now insisting on more immediate sanctions relief, before they've demonstrated any meaningful or lasting compliance. In return, the West gets the world's leading exporter of terror to essentially press the "pause" button on their rogue nuclear weapons program, and the mullahs might agree to so-called "snap" inspections, which they're currently calling "illegal." Of course, Iran agreed to those intrusive inspections after the US invasion of Iraq, then reneged a few years later and forged ahead in hot pursuit of nukes. First up, Marco Rubio -- last heard from mounting a stirring defense of Israel on the Senate floor -- chatting with Hugh Hewitt:
Rubio says that as president, he'd "absolutely" vitiate any agreement Obama strikes with Tehran without Congressional approval. Allahpundit wonders if geopolitical realities would allow the next president to just summarily flush the deal down the toilet, which goes to the heart of Obama's myriad executive power grabs: Take actions that may not have the binding force of law beyond January 20, 2017, but that would be politically difficult to roll back. What a President Rubio could do here is urge Congress to pass a brutal battery of sanctions that would be triggered by any amount of Iranian cheating, "accidental" or otherwise. He could also seek to expand the terms of the deal to shut down Tehran's long-range missile program, then use their furious objections as a very good excuse to walk away and lower the sanctions boom. Here's Scott Walker, also with Hewitt, torching the reported deal:
Questions for Hillary: Does she support the reputed terms of Obama's deal with Iran, in full? Does she believe Iran deserves to keep its nuclear infrastructure in place, and that Western restrictions should begin to sunset after a decade? Does Iran's ICBM program have any legitimate purpose, and if not, should it be permitted to exist under any US deal? Does she agree with the White House that Yemen is still an American foreign policy "success" -- even as Iran-backed rebels have overthrown the government (hello there, Iran), ISIS is bombing mosques, Al Qaeda is seizing cities, American special forces are being evacuated, and US intelligence is being compromised? It would be instructive to hear her answers on these, and many other, topics. Alas, her appearance before a room full of journalists this week featured jokes about her insecure secret email server and destruction of official emails, but no questions:
Hillary speaks to "journalists," jokes about secret email server, doesn't take questions, leaves to standing ovation http://t.co/ZYKii2oSE6— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) March 25, 2015
How would you like to keep a picture of Rachel Carson in your wallet? Womenon20s.com is a new campaign effort to replace our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, with women who have somehow influenced society.
I’m not kidding.
Here’s Tuesday’s CBS News report:
"There's a movement afoot to see that women get their fair share of money."
We can thank Barbara Ortiz Howard for the new effort to boot Jackson from the twenty.
"There are no women on the money and I thought gee this is a crazy omission," said Howard.
That’s when Howard, who works near New York City maintaining apartment buildings, decided it was time for President Jackson to move over.
Why is she targeting our seventh president?
Andrew Jackson was celebrated for his military prowess, for founding the Democratic party and for his simpatico with the common man. But as the seventh president of the United States, he also helped gain Congressional passage of the "Indian Removal Act of 1830" that drove Native American tribes of the Southeastern United States off their resource-rich land and into Oklahoma to make room for white European settlers. Commonly known as the Trail of Tears, the mass relocation of Indians resulted in the deaths of thousands from exposure, disease and starvation during the westward migration. Not okay.
In other words: because of his sinful, racist past.
The Womenon20s list to replace Jackson includes some admirable trailblazers. For instance, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Susan B. Anthony are figures I’d be proud to see on our currency. Yet, there are a few controversial figures included on the list as well - perhaps none more so than Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. Pro-life groups have often exposed Sanger’s obsession with eugenics, which went hand-in-hand with her racist beliefs. (Jackson doesn’t seem so bad now, huh?) Oh yeah, and the organization she is responsible for is now the country’s biggest abortion provider. As for other candidates, I’m sure more than a few people would grimace to carry around bills featuring radical environmentalist Rachel Carson.
I’m all for acknowledging the amazing efforts of our country’s most iconic female figures. But why do we have to kick one of our presidents to the curb? Surely, there are other ways to notice our female heroines without undermining the accomplishments of our Founding Fathers and Commanders-in-Chief.
Womenon20s is asking people to vote for who they want to see on the twenty dollar bill. Once they’ve narrowed it down to one, they’ll ask President Obama to put the winner on a new bill by 2020, which will mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
I doubt their campaign will make it past the survey, but if Sanger happens to make it onto the twenty, let’s just say I’ll be getting a whole lot more credit card statements.
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.
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.
?? ?????? HMMWV ? ???????, ?? ?? ??????????? ????????? ?????? ??????, ??? ???????? ??????? ? ???????????? ???????. https://t.co/Z34vD3dzTL— ????? ????????? (@poroshenko) March 25, 2015
"Behind the wheel, I understood that it is an extremely efficient and powerful military vehicle long-awaited by the Ukrainian army,” Poroshenko said.
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:
BREAKING: Officials: US considers letting Iran run nuclear centrifuges at fortified underground bunker.— The Associated Press (@AP) March 26, 2015
Our rogue nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes, but we insist on continuing enrichment in our underground blast-proof bunker.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) March 26, 2015
"Iran upbeat as nuclear talks hit final stretch" http://t.co/eeavwCLBe2— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) March 26, 2015
Negotiating with the Iranians in Switzerland, bombing their allies in Yemen, bombing their enemies in Syria and Iraq. Makes sense.— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) March 26, 2015
IN PARIS, sources tell me that France thinks the US has given too many concessions to the Islamic Republic on the nuclear issue.— Amir Taheri (@AmirTaheri4) March 26, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
A Republican PR firm has been publicizing accounts that Bergdahl might have gone AWOL just to make the President look bad.— Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile) June 8, 2014
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.
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.
UPDATE: Via AP – Saudi military forces began air operations in Yemen last night.
BREAKING: Saudi ambassador: Saudi Arabia has begun military operations in Yemen.— The Associated Press (@AP) March 25, 2015
BREAKING: Saudi ambassador: To have Yemen fail 'is not an option for us'— The Associated Press (@AP) March 25, 2015
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.
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.”
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.”
BREAKING: White House calls on Houthi militia forces to stop fomenting instability in Yemen.— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 25, 2015
BREAKING: Yemen's Aden airport captured by troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh: local officials— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 25, 2015
BREAKING: White House says not in a position to confirm whereabouts of Yemen President Hadi— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 25, 2015
BREAKING: Yemeni President Hadi left residence voluntarily: U.S. State Dept. spokeswoman— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 25, 2015
BREAKING: Residents are looting Yemeni presidential compound in Aden vacated hours earlier by President Hadi: witnesses— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 25, 2015
Right now, Saudi forces are massing at the Yemeni border.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 fraud, criminality, 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.
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.