White House Claims They Don't Need Money For Embassy In Cuba

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed Republican threats to defund President Obama's unilateral Cuban normalization policy today, claiming that the government already has all the money it needs to implement Obama's plan.

"It's not clear to me that additional appropriations will be necessary to establish an embassy in Cuba, principally because there is already a significant diplomatic presence in Cuba," Earnest said. "There is an Interest Section there that represents the United States. So I don't know of any specific appropriations request that has been made. There may be one in the future, we'll see."

Earlier in the day, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave an impassioned speech promising to do all he could stop Obama's "New Course on Cuba." “We are going to have interesting discussions about how they are going to get an ambassador nominated and an embassy funded,” Rubio said. 

Rubio's parents fled Cuba in the 1950s and he has been a consistent voice for maintaining a hard line against the rule of the Castro brothers over the island. 

“Time and again, the Cuban government has manipulated every single concession this country has made to its advantage,” Rubio claimed. “The Cuban government will never allow changes on the island that threaten their grip on power.”

The United States does, in fact, operate a United States Interests Section in Havana. It is in the same building that housed the U.S. Embassy in Cuba before the communist revolution and the U.S. has been operating in the building since the 1970s. You can see a picture of the building here

If Rubio and other Republicans want to stop Obama from turning the US Interest Section, Havana into the US Embassy, Havana, they will have to attach defunding language to separate must pass legislation, just like they will have to do if they want to stop Obama's amnesty.

Asked by Fox News's Ed Henry if Obama was considering normalizing relations with North Korea on the same theory that "opening it up" would put more pressure on the regime to change their behavior, Earnest curtly said, "no."

Another Poll: Americans Say Tough CIA Interrogations After 9/11 Were Appropriate

After days of brow-furrowed, self-righteousness analysis from much of the national media over Senate Democrats' tendentious and dishonest "torture report," poll after poll has shown that the American people aren't eager to join the anti-CIA mob. The latest, from NBC/WSJ:

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Fewer than three in ten Americans are willing to second-guess the intelligence community's use of harsh techniques in questioning captured terrorists in the wake of 9/11's deadly attacks.  Most people's memories of the fear and chaos of that time are fresh enough to give the CIA the benefit of the doubt.  Plus, Dianne Feinstein's squad did themselves no favors by refusing to interview a single person at the CIA who oversaw or carried out the EIT program, an indefensible shortcoming exposed in this op/ed by a group of former high-ranking officials at the agency.  Among those they declined to consult is Jose Rodriguez, a 31-year CIA veteran who ran the agency's clandestine operations at the peak of his career, and who assumed a major counterterrorism role shortly after the devastating attacks of 2001.  Rodriguez will appear on my radio program this weekend, for the full hour.  I will post a partial transcript of our discussion here at Townhall next week.  Other highlights from the NBC/WSJ poll:

(1) President Obama's approval rating has rebounded over to (45/50), much better than other recent polls have shown.  His approval on the economy is slightly underwater, while he remains in deep trouble on foreign policy and immigration.

(2) "[T]he nation shows weariness of President Barack Obama , with more than 70% saying the next president should take a different approach from the current one," the WSJ writes, noting that Republicans now hold a very slight (40/38) edge on 'next president' preferences.

(3) Seventy-one percent of respondents agreed that voters sent Obama a message in November, but a 55 percent majority believes he hasn't received, or has actively ignored, that message.  Only 16 percent say he's changing his policies and behavior in response to Democrats' electoral beating.

I'll leave you with this data point from a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, revealing a significant GOP bounce following the party's resounding midterm victory:

Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party’s image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The spike in the party’s standing comes after Republicans picked up nine seats to take control of the Senate, raised their numbers in the House to the highest level in more than half a century and added new governorships to its already clear majority. In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively. The improved standing reverses a lengthy period in which the public had given Republicans declining and, ultimately, historically low ratings.

Bloomberg has picked up on this trend as well.

WaPo/ABC News Poll: GOP Favorability Rises After Midterms

As Christine wrote today, Republican Martha McSally has won former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ congressional seat. Republicans now have 247 House seats; their largest majority since 1929. With the 2014 midterms now officially over, the GOP has another thing to be happy about–and their approval rating has gone up (via WaPo):

Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party’s image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively.

The improved standing reverses a lengthy period in which the public had given Republicans declining and, ultimately, historically low ratings. Successful elections often give political parties or candidates a boost, though sometimes those improved ratings prove to be a bounce rather than a sustained change.

Public impressions of the Democrats are now a bit worse than those of the Republicans and overall more negative than positive. More people gave the Democrats favorable ratings than they did just before the midterm elections — 44 percent compared with 39 percent. But the percentage rating the Democrats negatively was essentially unchanged at 50 percent, compared with 51 percent earlier.

As for trust in handling the major issues facing the nation, the economy, and immigration, Republicans are more trusted 43/39 on the “main problems;” 47/38 over Obama on the economy, and 48/39 on immigration.

If you break those questions down along gender lines, women trust Republicans more on immigration by a 49/40 margin. On the economy, women trust Republicans by a 48/39 margin–and handling the “main problems” facing our nation; women trust Republicans 45/38.

Women trust Republicans more on the key issues facing the nation. I think I hear the heads of the feminist left exploding.

Men also trust the GOP more on these issues, though only by a slim 40/39 margin on the vague “main problems” crosstab.

So, in the end, the GOP favorability ratings are up, the Democrats are down, and the "War on Women" appears to be dead as female voters are trusting Republicans more on these issues.

Oh, and Obama’s approval rating is at a dismal 41 percent.

"A Concession to a Tyranny": Marco Rubio Absolutely Blasts Obama's New Cuba Policy

Shortly after the news broke, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) had some tough words for the president about his unilateral action to relax diplomatic relations with Cuba.

“No commitment was made to allowing the establishment of political parties or to even begin the semblance of a transition to democracy,” he said about the announcement. “In exchange for all of these concessions, the only thing the Cuban government agreed to do is free 53 political prisoners – who could wind up in jail tomorrow morning if they once again take up the cause of freedom – and to allow the United Nations and the Red Cross to monitor conditions on the island.”

“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie,” he continued. “The lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. All this is going to do is give the Castro regime – which controls every aspect of Cuban life – the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate its sovereign power.”

He also argued this unilateral approach is a kind of capitulation to human rights abusers, a lopsided bargain that will ultimately make it harder to topple the regime.

“These changes will lead to legitimacy for a government that shamelessly, continuously abuses human rights,” he said. “But it will not lead to assistance for those whose rights are being abused. It is just another concession to a tyranny by the Obama administration rather than a defense of every universal and inalienable right that our country was founded on and stands for. In short, what these changes are going to do is they will tighten this regime’s grip on power for decades to come.”

Sen. Rubio, however, acknowledged he was “overjoyed” Alan Gross was a free man and back in United States safely after five years in captivity. Nonetheless, he called the new policy “willfully ignorant.”

“This president is the single worst negotiator we’ve had in the White House in my lifetime,” he said. “[H]e has basically given the Cuban government everything it asked for and received no assurances of any advances in democracy and freedom in return."

"Today by conceding to the oppressors, this president and this administration have let the people of Cuba down,” he added.

McSally (R) Wins Recount in Arizona CD-2, Officially Declared Winner

Martha McSally (R) has been officially declared the winner in Arizona's second congressional district by a razor-thin 167-vote margin over incumbent Rep. Ron Barber (D). This was the final race of the 2014 election that was yet to be decided, as Arizona law mandates a recount if an election is decided by fewer than 200 votes.

Member-elect McSally released the following statement thanking everyone who worked on her campaign and the people of southern Arizona:

"We're grateful to everyone who devoted their time and resources, especially during the extended vote and recount processes, to get us over the finish line," said McSally. "With the results of the recount now official, we can move forward as one community to bring Southern Arizonans the strong representation they deserve."

"There's no getting around that this was an incredibly close and hard-fought race. After what's been a long campaign season, it's time to come together and heal our community. That's why my focus will be on what unites us, not what divides us, such as providing better economic opportunity for our families and ensuring our country and community are kept safe."

"I sincerely thank Congressman Barber for his service over many years to Southern Arizona. I'll be seeking his input to continue strong constituent services and help ensure a smooth transition. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I know that we're a community dedicated and united in our love for Southern Arizona - And, together, we can make a positive difference."

McSally is a retired colonel who served in the Air Force. She was the first female fighter pilot to fly a combat mission and was the first female in U.S. history to command a fighter squadron in combat. Her victory puts the Republican majority in the House of Representatives at 247 to 188, a gain of 13 seats.

Editor's note: this post has been updated with the correct number of seats the Democrats have in the House of Representatives. They have 188, not 118.

So, Joe Biden Might Run For President In 2016

Joe Biden does not have the best track record when it comes to mounting presidential campaigns. He ran in the 1988 campaign, but dropped out after it was discovered that portions of his speech were similar to those given by UK Labour Leader Neil Kinnock. In 2007, he managed to clinch a whopping 1 percent in the Iowa Caucuses, but he’s now the Vice President of the United States; a role he reportedly revels in at the Obama White House.

Regardless, Politico reported back in October that there are some on his staff who are convinced he would run after 2012–and there are some who think otherwise. As for presidential ambitions regarding his various trips across the country, it’s very hard to read the tea leaves there as well:

He’s made appearances in Florida, South Carolina and New Hampshire, but they’ve been brief. Three days after Clinton headlined Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry last month, Biden jumped on a plane to Des Moines to join a dozen sisters kicking off their “Nuns on the Bus” cross-country voter registration and social-justice tour. His office said the trip was an official event, nothing to do with politics or Clinton’s visit. In Washington and in Iowa both, he came across as not wanting to leave Clinton unanswered in Iowa.

He’s worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic National Committee to coordinate some of his travel. Sometimes, people don’t know what he’s up to at all. When Biden arrived two weeks ago in Columbia, South Carolina, for a get-out-the-vote rally and state Democratic Party fundraiser — catching up with an old commitment to the DNC to do some voting rights events in the South — a number of key Washington operatives learned about the stop from news reports once he was already there.

Or Biden stops come together like this: Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley is friends with his son Beau from their work together as AGs, so her campaign calls Biden’s office directly to work out the campaign schedule that generated a fundraiser at the Banshee Pub in Cambridge. Or he’s in Los Angeles with one candidate for a House seat and another for California secretary of state, and jumps up to Portland for a walk through town with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that was most memorable for the unplanned but instantly viral photo of him with an ice cream cone, those aviator glasses and a fistful of $10 bills.

Biden’s not the kind of person to think much about things like a field director when making his decisions, and he appears to be working under the assumption that he’d be able to put together another late-breaking staff, like he did in 1987 and 2007. He toyed with the idea of a leadership PAC, but that never came together in large part due to concerns it would play too much into the prospective presidential narrative.

Biden tells a story he’s told before, a lesson he says he learned in his earliest days in the Senate, when candidates kept asking him his secret to winning.

Simple, Biden remembers saying.

“You have to figure out what’s worth losing over.”

Biden will be close to his mid-70s if he mounts another bid for the White House in 2016. He’s the vice president, a former U.S. Senator, and oodles of experience in public life. After his VP stint, Biden will probably slip into political and historical obscurity–along with the vast majority of U.S. Vice Presidents–after he leaves office. So, what does he have to lose? Nothing.

If he wins, he wins. If not, it’s one last hurrah in public life before retiring after decades of service. Whether you agree with his political positions in that regard is a different story. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of you haven’t taken too kindly to his liberalism; you’re not alone.

If he does run and challenges Hillary’s potential campaign to a debate, she would have to oblige him. While former Sen. Jim Webb thinks he can beat her, she could ignore him and starve him of oxygen, forcing Webb to drop out. With a former Vice President of the United States, that’s not an option.

Then, you get two candidates whose gaffes have been widely reported in the media on the same stage together. That’s quite the popcorn moment.

Biden, who’s seen as a good surrogate, could tap into the neo-populist mood with this pro-middle class messages, but the GOP actually won or was competitive with those voters. Another thing going against him is that Clinton is trouncing him in the polls. Yet, that didn’t stop Barack Obama, but Obama was also young; Biden is not.

At Politico’s recent Women Rule event, the vice president said he really has not made up his mind on the issue of running for the presidency (via the Hill):

"I honest to God haven't made up my mind,” Biden said…

The one thing that moves me — I think that I have the ability to bring the sides together,” he added.

Biden’s daughter Ashley appeared on stage with him at the event, and called his potential presidential aspirations a “family decision.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is far and away the Democratic presidential frontrunner, leading her rivals by more than 50 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

Obama To Unilaterally Normalize Relations With Cuba

President Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba today, including opening an embassy in Cuba.

"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests," Obama claimed, "And instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries."

Specifically, the White House took three major steps today as part of their "New Course on Cuba":

  1. Initiating discussions to reestablish diplomatic relations, including a U.S. embassy in Havana, and a Cuban embassy in the United States.
  2. A review, by the State Department, of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
  3. Relaxing of regulations to facilitate the flow of travel, commerce, and information between the United States and Cuba.

In conjunction with the "new direction for U.S. policy," the White House also announced the release of United States Agency for International Development subcontractor Alan Gross who had been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. The White House insisted that Gross's release was not related to the release of three Cuban spies held by the United States. Senior Administration Officials insisted that those three Cuban spies were traded for a "U.S. intelligence asset" that had been imprisoned in Cuba for 20 years.

Asked if the White House was planning on working with Congress to remove the embargo on Cuba, Senior Administration Officials stressed that was not the focus of today's announcement.

"Again, we're not focussed today on legislative action. We are focussed on what the president can do so he's not sought to initiate any process with respect to the lifting of the embargo," a Senior Administration Official said. "We're not focused today on calling on Congress to take any particular action, we're focussed on communicating this new direction for U.S. policy."

Obama's unilateral actions on Cuba today are just the latest in a series of unilateral actions he has taken without consent of Congress. Just last month Obama announced he would grant temporary amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States and he announced a deal to cut U.S. carbon emissions with China. His administration has also signaled he will not seek any input from Congress as Obama tries to broker a nuclear weapons deal with Iran.

Unless Republicans in Congress show they are willing to stop Obama's actions through the appropriations process, Americans can expect many many more unilateral executive actions over the nest two years.

"Senators should also make clear that they will not allow the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba to proceed until there have been changes on the island," The Heritage Foundation's Michael Gonzales advises. "And look into the possibility of using policy riders in the upcoming Department of Homeland Security appropriations debate in February and the fiscal year 2016 appropriations process to deny the president funds for setting up relations."

Surprise: Insurers Extend Another Obamacare Deadline, Costs to Spike in 2016

The law. It's working, you guys. It's working so well that one entire year into its full implementation, insurers feel compelled to extend yet another alleged deadline because the so-called 'back end' of the program's website is still a hot mess.  That big "re-branding" campaign can't come soon enough, in order to allow supporters to keep on highlighting Obamacare's unparalleled success:

Trying to head off a new round of consumer headaches with President Barack Obama's health care law, the insurance industry said Tuesday it will give customers more time to pay their premiums for January. America's Health Insurance Plans, the main industry trade group, says the voluntary steps include a commitment to promptly refund any overpayments by consumers who switched plans and may have gotten double-billed by mistake. Though the HealthCare.gov website is working far better this year, the industry announcement highlights behind-the-scenes technical issues between the government and insurers that have proven difficult to resolve. Last year's enrollment files were riddled with errors, and fixing those has been a painstaking process. As a result, renewing millions of current customers is not as easy as it might seem.

Renewals and logistics:

Renewing coverage each year is standard operating procedure for the industry, but 2015 is the first renewal year for the health law. The process involves a massive electronic data transfer from the government to insurers, happening right around the holidays. Insurers then have to use that data to generate new cards for their customers. Normally, premiums for January would be due by Dec. 31. The industry's grace period for 2015 could vary among different carriers, so consumers should check with their plan...Making matters more confusing, open enrollment actually runs for another two months, until Feb. 15. People enrolling by that date will get coverage starting March 1. Current customers can still make plan changes through Feb. 15. Based on early numbers, it's looking like the majority of the roughly 6.7 million current customers have opted to stay with the plans they have now and be automatically renewed Jan. 1.

The good news about automatic renewals from the administration's perspective is that the process puts a lot of coverage on autopilot.  At least in theory.  The problem for them is that with Healthcare.gov's back end still under construction, the 'autopilot' reconciliation machinery still isn't working properly. Those bugs and flaws have resulted in improper subsidy payments for an untold number of consumers, which could lead to a nightmarish tax season for those victims of federal incompetence. Another problem that will impact even more Americans results from "benchmark" plans changing in 2015, meaning that auto-re-enrollment will, in many cases, result in unexpected rate increases for unsuspecting customers.  Most new consumers selected these "baseline" plans last year, based on cost considerations -- but many of the most popular 2014 plans will experience double-digit premium increases in the new year, and are being supplanted by fresh, less-expensive 2015 baseline plans.  People who simply stick with their existing plan to avoid hassle will get slapped with higher bills; avoiding that unpleasantness requires switching plans again, which comes will all of the access/network headaches that have dogged many Obamacare customers.  Meanwhile, even as many Americans are experiencing higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs, some average rate increases aren't as steep as critics predicted.  That will change next year, argues economist Stephen Parente:

Americans visiting Healthcare.gov to purchase 2015 health-insurance plans are finding a nice surprise: Average premiums for the cheap “bronze” plans have increased only by 3.4% and premiums for the middle-of-the-road “silver” plans are rising by 5.8%, according to the American Action Forum. Where are the double-digit premium increases that so many predicted? Check back around this time in 2016. That’s when you’ll see the real spikes. The Affordable Care Act includes two temporary programs that make compliant health-care plans temporarily appear far cheaper than they are: Risk corridors and reinsurance. Both programs will expire on Jan. 1, 2017. By November 2016, consumers will know how that sunset will affect their plan’s premium. Risk corridors and reinsurance are simple concepts: They subsidize insurance companies with taxpayer money. With the former, the taxpayer is covering the difference when patients spend more on health care than insurance companies predicted...The taxpayer’s generosity allows insurance companies to hide the true costs of the plans. But this will likely end when both programs expire in two years. At the same time, the exemptions issued by the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services—including the exemptions that allowed millions of consumers to keep noncompliant plans that would have been canceled—will also expire on New Year’s Day, 2017.

Millions of Americans are already feeling stymied by Obamacare's lack of affordability.  As rough as it's been for some, many experts predict things will only get worse as the law's pain-masking gimmicks expire.  How do you think these folks will feel upon discovering the "good" news that their costs are "only" going up by, say, six percent over last year's rates?

As Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber has admitted, Obamacare's "cost containment" promises were all about telling people "what they want to hear."  In reality, he explained, the law is an expensive wealth redistribution scheme, which "would not have passed" if advertised honestly.

At Community Forum, Buffalo Police Explain Patrols Are not Racist, They’re ‘Data-Driven’

Buffalo, NY is a more than 6-hour drive to New York City, where Eric Garner died at the hands of the New York Police Department. Yet, community members felt compelled to attend a local forum with police officers to try and bridge the relationship between authority and citizens.

This line pretty much sums up how it went:

“While the forum's setup was meant to avoid chaos, it didn't take long for things to deteriorate in to a shouting match.”

At one heated moment, an attendee asked Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda why it seemed like the police were most often present in African-American communities.

"It's not stereotyping, it's where we respond to complaints," Derenda said. "It's data-driven. Every day we look at where the crime is occurring, and where the reported crime is occurring. It's not White or Black, it's not anything, it's data. If you're reporting a crime or robbery in your neighborhood, or shootings are happening in your neighborhood, people want to see us in those neighborhoods."

However, that explanation didn’t stop some attendees from shouting, “I can’t breathe!” before leaving the forum, echoing the last words Garner uttered before dying in a police choke hold earlier this year.

I have a suggestion: Enough with the forums, enough with the protests. Let the police do their job. Fatal cases like Eric Garner and Michael Brown are tragic, but they are rare. The majority of the time, our authority figures are doing their darnedest to keep us safe, putting themselves in harm’s way so we can get home safely at night.

My friend told me she was at a dinner in downtown Washington, D.C. last week, when a group of "police brutality" protesters starting shouting at the diners inside. Can anyone tell me what this accomplishes? Whether blocking I-395 traffic or, in the most egregious examples, looting stores and committing arson, these loud and sometimes violent and dangerous disruptions do more harm than good. Even Michael Brown’s parents have asked for peace after a grand jury decided not to acquit the officer who killed their son in Ferguson, Missouri.

Chants of “F*** the police” do not honor anyone.

Bombshell Report: US, Cuba to "Normalize" Relations

This is an historic diplomatic breakthrough, or so it would seem:

American officials say the U.S. and Cuba will start talks to normalize full diplomatic relations as part of the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades.

Officials say the U.S. is also looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months. The moves are part of an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba that also includes the release of American Alan Gross and three Cubans jailed in Florida for spying.

This is happening:

No doubt this is some kind of quid pro quo agreement:

Sit tight for updates.

UPDATE: President Obama is going to make the announcement official at 12:00 EST. We will cover his remarks.

UPDATE: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) weighs in:

UPDATE: Very interesting:

UPDATE: At least one Democratic Senator is not happy about the news:

UPDATE: This is what "full diplomatic relations" looks like:

UPDATE: I might end my post on this note -- but we'll see:

UPDATE: I spoke too soon. This is worth noting:

UPDATE: As is this:


UPDATE: He's returned safely.

New Poll: Romney, Clinton Lead for 2016

Get ready folks, 2016 is here. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush officially announced yesterday that he is actively exploring the possibility of running for the White House and Florida Senator Marco Rubio is meeting with mega-donors.

But a new Fox News poll shows former Massachusetts governor and two time presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are the top choices of Republicans and Democrats for the next election.

First, the Republican side: 

Romney dominates the field for the 2016 Republican nomination. He comes in at 19 percent among self-identified Republicans, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 10 percent. No other candidates garner double-digit backing.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul each receive eight percent. Next, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker captures seven percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan each at six percent and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at five percent.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (four percent), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (two percent), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (two percent), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (one percent) and former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum (one percent) each receive the backing of less than five percent of Republicans.

Voters who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement are most likely to back Paul (13 percent), Cruz (12 percent), Romney (11 percent) and Carson (10 percent).

The top choices among white evangelical Christians include Romney (14 percent), Paul (10 percent), Bush (9 percent) and Carson (9 percent).
And over to the Democrats:
On the Democratic side, Clinton is still 50 points ahead of her nearest rival -- even though support for her is down somewhat from previous polls. Clinton receives the backing of 62 percent of self-identified Democrats. That’s down from 64 percent in July and a high of 69 percent in April.

The support Clinton has lost since April appears to be going to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who captures 12 percent. That’s up from 9 percent in July -- and double the 6 percent she received in April. Vice President Joe Biden comes in close behind at 10 percent. All other possible Democratic candidates tested garner three percent or less.

While the Republican side is somewhat close in terms of decisions on candidates, Democrats aren't even forcing a competition between potential candidates. It becomes more clear every day that Clinton will be the nominee on the left side of the political aisle. That being said, if Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren decides to run (she has said repeatedly she won't), Clinton could be in trouble next year. 

Federal Judge on Obama's Illegal Immigration Executive Action: It's Unconstitutional

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Schwab has issued an opinion classifying President Obama's executive action on illegal immigration as unconstitutional based on a list of violations, including the separation of powers. 

The opinion was issued in United States vs Juarez-Escobar, a case in which an illegal immigrant was sentenced for deportation after being arrested for driving under the influence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The immigrant did not ask for relief through Obama's amnesty program since illegal immigrants with drunk driving convictions were not eligible for Obama's first amnesty, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and are not eligible for Obama's most recent amnesty either.

Schwab, not the defendant, sought guidance from the federal government to see if Juarez-Escobar qualified for Obama's latest amnesty. The government said no. 

Schwab then opined on Obama's latest amnesty anyway, writing, "On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced an Executive Action on immigration, which will affect approximately four million undocumented immigrants who are unlawfully present in the United States of America. This Executive Action raises concerns about the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government. This core constitutional issue necessitates judicial review to ensure that executive power is governed by and answerable to the law such that “the sword that executeth the law is in it, and not above it," Schwab wrote.

"President Obama contended that although legislation is the most appropriate course of action to solve the immigration debate, his Executive Action was necessary because of Congress’s failure to pass legislation, acceptable to him, in this regard," Schwab continued. "This proposition is arbitrary and does not negate the requirement that the November 20, 2014 Executive Action be lawfully within the President’s executive authority. It is not."

"This Executive Action “cross[es] the line,” constitutes “legislation,” and effectively changes the United States’ immigration policy. The President may only “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed . . . ”; he may not take any Executive Action that creates laws," he continued. "President Obama’s unilateral legislative action violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution as well as the Take Care Clause, and therefore, is

Since the government never claimed the defendant qualified for Obama's amnesty, Schwab's opinion is not binding on the government in anyway.

Separately, twenty-four states have filed lawsuits against President Obama's executive action and a variety of polls show the majority of Americans are against the move.

Conn Carroll contributed to this report.

RNC Debuts "Hillary Clinton's Letter to Santa"

In a few hours, the Republican National Committee (RNC) is going to publish -- and blast out to all its supporters -- a rare document never before seen and intercepted on its way to the North Pole: The Christmas letter Hillary Clinton "wrote" to Santa Claus this year.

Townhall, we’re pleased to announce, got our hands on it first.

For those interested, the entire (satirical) missive is below, which among other things not-so-subtly touches on Hillary Clinton’s greatly diminished heir apparent status, her breathtakingly absurd demands and requests on the speaking circuit, and her refusal to state her positions clearly and openly on controversial issues. We hope you get a kick out of it. We sure as heck did.


Dear Santa:

I have only one wish this year: no primary opponents. Please, I don’t want any competition for the Democrat nomination. We all know I should be inevitable, but some people in my own party are starting to say I’m too out-of-touch, too cozy with Wall Street, too closely tied to Barack. They even say I’ve been in politics too long. Can you believe that? When you think new beginnings, you think Hillary!

I know a lot of Democrats like Elizabeth Warren more than they like me. MoveOn.org is trying to recruit her to run against me. Excuse me? MoveOn should move over. It’s my turn, but even Biden is starting to look better to some people. Biden?!

So, can you please make sure Warren doesn’t run? And Biden and O’Malley and Webb and Bernie Sanders and…well, anyone. I don’t want Democrats to think they have a choice. That didn’t work out so well for me last time. On second thought, Bernie can run. He’ll make me look moderate for the general election, and he won’t force me to answer tough questions like Warren would.

(By the way, I have always regretted not writing you before that campaign. I’m a believer now. Did Barack write you before ’08? I mean, how else would someone so inexperienced beat me?)

By the way, I do want to say “thank you” for what you got me last year: the lucrative speaker’s gigs. Even cash-strapped public universities shelled out a quarter million dollars to hear me speak about nothing in particular! On top of the speaker’s fees, people give into all my demands—from the private planes to the crudités backstage. I know you had something to do with it: no one in their right mind would throw away that kind of money for speeches in which I don’t even take positions on important issues.

That reminds me. There’s one more thing on my list. Can you help me get away with not taking positions on issues like Keystone and the CIA report for at least another year? That would be a big help. I find people like me more when they don’t remember what I stand for.

I’m ready for…Santa!



P.S. Is Bill still on the naughty list?

Check out the whole thing here:


Retribution: Pakistan Hammers Perpetrators With Air Strikes

The horror of this morning can hardly be overstated. In an act of pure evil, several Taliban cowards ascended the walls of a Pakistani army school and indiscriminately murdered an unconscionable number of children. It took several hours to suppress the intruders, but in the end, Pakistani military personnel finally sent these barbarians to their maker.

Nevertheless, the state government is not letting such a despicable act go unpunished. In fact, it’s already taken military action. The Guardian reports:

The Pakistan military has launched massive air strikes in its remote border region against the Taliban in retaliation for the massacre in a Peshawar school on Tuesday morning that left at least 141 dead, 132 of them children.

The attack in Peshawar was one of the most horrific incidents in the country’s troubled history of the last decade, prompting an outcry at home and abroad – mainly because so many children were killed.

The assault began on Tuesday morning when seven attackers dressed in army uniform and wearing suicide vests stormed the school, which is attended almost exclusively by the children of army personnel.

Witnesses described the attackers shooting students at random and taking others hostage. Firefights with Pakistan commandos continued for four to five hours before the school was cleared and the last of the attackers killed. Pakistan’s major general, Asim Salim, said 960 students and staff were rescued.

Quite rightly, the killings have been condemned by political and moral leaders everywhere, from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to President Obama to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Targeting children for slaughter is self-evidently immoral, indefensible and abhorrent.

Let's hope these terrorist get what's coming to them.

All Apologies: NY Mag And Rolling Stone End 2014 With Botched Stories

Rolling Stone wasn’t the only magazine that needed to apologize its readers over discrepancies in their reporting. New York Magazine offered its readers an apology after their story about a whiz kid investor turned out to be a complete fabrication (via NY Observer):

Monday’s edition of New York magazine includes an irresistible story about a Stuyvesant High senior named Mohammed Islam who had made a fortune investing in the stock market. Reporter Jessica Pressler wrote regarding the precise number, “Though he is shy about the $72 million number, he confirmed his net worth is in the “’high eight figures.’” The New York Post followed up with a story of its own, with the fat figure playing a key role in the headline: “High school student scores $72M playing the stock market.”

And now it turns out, the real number is … zero.

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Islam and his friend Damir Tulemaganbetov, who also featured heavily in the New York story, the baby faced boys who dress in suits with tie clips came clean. Swept up in a tide of media adulation, they made the whole thing up.

The Observer contacted Islam who said that he has no idea where Pressler got the $72 million figure. “The number’s a rumor,” he said.

When the story’s integrity began to disintegrate, it seems that Pressler tried to take credit for debunking her own story. Yet, her tweets, which are now protected, show that she insisted her story was true and that she saw a bank statement confirming the figure. “I'm comfortable with what's in the piece,” she tweeted on December 15.

Well, we now know this story is false. Here’s their apology:

In the most recent edition of New York, its annual Reasons to Love New York issue, the magazine published a story about a Stuyvesant High School senior named Mohammed Islam, who was rumored to have made $72 million trading stocks. Islam said his net worth was in the "high eight figures." As part of the research process, the magazine sent a fact-checker to Stuyvesant, where Islam produced a document that appeared to be a Chase bank statement attesting to an eight-figure bank account.

After the story's publication, people questioned the $72 million figure in the headline, which was written by editors based on the rumored figure. The headline was amended. But in an interview with the New York Observer last night, Islam now says his entire story was made up. A source close to the Islam family told the Washington Post that the statements were falsified. We were duped. Our fact-checking process was obviously inadequate; we take full responsibility and we should have known better. New York apologizes to our readers.

Yet, this isn’t the latest version of the apology. Apparently, there was a little doubling down on behalf of NY Mag saying that she saw the statement–and that Islam confirmed it on the record.

 What’s the harm in admitting you’re wrong? We’re human we make mistakes; I’ve made a few of them in my blogging career. The best thing is to do is own it, move on, and learn from it. It’s what our parents teach us when we make mistakes as kids for heaven’s sake.

Additionally, you damage your own credibility by refusing to immediately apologize for a story that’s ends up being something akin to one’s imagination.  In this case, the price tag was $72 million...in Monopoly money.

As for Rolling Stone, it’s a different story; it’s a story about a brutal gang rape that has since been eviscerated for its shoddy journalism and multiple inconsistencies in the accuser’s recollection of events; things that could’ve been addressed if they, you know, dug around a little more.

It’s rational to be more cautious in a sensitive case like this, but not contacting the alleged attackers for a statement, or the three friends that saw Jackie–the alleged victim–on the night of the attack? Just. Wow.

Oh, and as for botching apologies, Rolling Stone wins this month; they actually tried to pass the blame onto Jackie in their initial note to their readers, citing “misplaced” trust. The buck stops with you, Rolling Stone.

Families Of The Victims Of Newtown Sue Bushmaster

The families of nine victims of the horrific Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary are suing Bushmaster, the gun manufacturer whose AR-15 model rifle was used by Adam Lanza to murder more than 20 people in December of 2012, most of them children.

The lawsuit, which is frivolous to say the least, citing negligence and wrongful death, was filed yesterday–the day after the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting (via Associated Press):

The complaint says the gun allows shooters to inflict "unparalleled civilian carnage."

"In order to continue profiting from the sale of AR-15s, defendants chose to disregard the unreasonable risks the rifle posed outside of specialized, highly regulated institutions like the armed forces and law enforcement," the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint.

The so-called AR-15 rifle was first built by Armalite for military use, but the design was later acquired by Colt, which in the early 1960s began marketing the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle as the civilian version of its fully automatic M-16.

Many other companies have since begun manufacturing and selling AR-15-type rifles. The weapons are popular in shooting competitions due to the light weight of the gun and ammunition and the weapon's accuracy.

Bill Sherlach, whose wife, Mary, was killed in the shooting, said he believes in the Second Amendment but also that the gun industry needs to be held to "standard business practices" when it comes to assuming the risk for producing, making and selling a product.

"These companies assume no responsibility for marketing and selling a product to the general population who are not trained to use it nor even understand the power of it," he said.

Jacob Sullum of Reason wrote that the victims’ families are dodging the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) by trying to stretching the “negligent entrustment” clause of the law:

[T]he plaintiffs argue that they are guilty of "negligent entrustment" because they made a gun with no legitimate civilian uses available to the general public. Joshua Koskoff, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told The Wall Street Journal "there is so much ample evidence of the inability of the civilian world to control these weapons that [it] is no longer reasonable to entrust them to [civilians]."

Over at Bearing Arms, Bob Owens points out why this lawsuit will fail, but also documenting a brief history of the AR-15–“AR” standing for Armalite– which been manufactured since 1957. As for the reloading mechanism, it’s no different from a handgun; both are semi-automatics. Points that pretty much undercut Mr. Koskoff’s claim that the super spooky AR-15 cannot be entrusted in civilian hands:

The claim of the Sandy Hook families that the AR-15 design is “is a military weapon unsuited for civilian use” is an unsolicited and uneducated opinion, nothing more.

Purely as a matter of fact, the American gun purchasing public has found the platform to be incredibly well-suited for civilian use, and because of this fact, the AR-15 is the most common centerfire rifle sold in the United States year in and year out.

It has become so popular because the AR-15 is a mature technology that is lightweight, is reasonably powerful, has good ergonomics, and has great aftermarket support.

Purchasers of AR-15s like the fact that they can be fired by people of any size, are accurate and easy to modify for specific kinds of shooting using a wide range of aftermarket products. They are required or optional firearms in many target shooting disciplines, are increasingly used (in various calibers) as hunting firearms for most game animals in the United States. Many firearms experts also hold the opinion that the AR-15 is arguably the best self-defense firearm platform that a civilian may readily own in the United States.

Put bluntly, the Sandy Hook parents don’t have a viable case. They are acting on powerful emotions, but not on logic, and not on the law.

Expect for a judge to toss this case as being without merit almost immediately.

Let’s hope so!

As the AP noted, the PLCAA protects gun manufacturers from these sorts of lawsuits–and rightfully so. Overall, the law prevents litigation by individuals against gun manufacturers whose product was unknowingly used in a criminal act.

As Walter Olson over at Cato wrote that even liberal justices agreed it was constitutional. It also should be noted that Bushmaster and the gun dealer where the late Mrs. Lanza purchased her AR-15 did not break any laws.

Sullum, who’s written about objections to the PLCAA on federalist grounds, added that the law:

Does include an exception for “an action brought against a seller for negligent entrustment.” But in this case the plaintiffs are stretching that concept to cover an entire segment of the firearms industry, without regard to the individual characteristics of gun buyers or the seller's knowledge of those characteristics (except for the fact that they are neither soldiers nor police officers).

To give you a sense of how far-fetched that claim is, the Journal reports that Dennis Henigan, former director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, "said the lawsuit would test the limits of the negligent-entrustment legal theory." Henigan, a leading advocate of the litigation that provoked the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, explained that "the issue in this case will be whether courts are willing to construe the doctrine of negligent entrustment so broadly as to encompass a theory of liability that is based on the sale of a particular gun to the general public instead of to a potentially particular dangerous individual."

So, we shall see how this plays out, although it’s more than likely that a judge will toss this suit.

Olson also wrote “the PLCAA for the most part codified the common law treatment of gun liability as it had stood for centuries, thus advancing both a constitutional liberty and the legitimate freedom of interstate commerce against efforts to obtain a radical change in doctrine.”

He also noted that litigation is part of the strategy by anti-gun liberals to squeeze gun-related businesses that cannot afford long-term legal fees.

“We may hope that the courts are alive to the ongoing importance of PLCAA, and willing, as appropriate, to apply the tool of sanctions against legal strategists and campaigners who would seek to circumvent its provisions in the name of ideological grandstanding, profit, or revenge,” he added.

Amen to that, sir.

As a nation, we should grieve with these parents, but that all comes to an end when you begin a campaign to infringe on the civil rights of others. As Katie wrote, two years after Sandy Hook more Americans support gun rights that gun control. Gun-related homicides are down 39 percent according to Bureau of Justice Statistics; violent crime continues to go down. In 2013, Pew compared 1993 (the peak in U.S. gun homicides) to 2010 and found such crimes were down 49 percent. Additionally, the “victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993.”

Despite the tragic shooting near Philadelphia recently, there is no gun violence epidemic; it’s just media feeding into the hysteria that there is one.

This lawsuit is more far-reaching on our freedom tat the surrounding areas of Newtown; any freedom-loving American should hope it’s tossed in the days to come.

Sandy Hook Complaint

Fmr. CIA Counterterrorism Director on "Torture": "We Were CRUSHING al Qaeda!"

"Hell Yeah!"

70 Years Later: The Battle of the Bulge

Perhaps like most people my age, I first became aware of the Battle of the Bulge when I saw the award-winning, HBO miniseries Band of Brothers as a teenager. As it happens, my late grandfather (a World War II veteran himself) was given a copy of the show from his son (my uncle) for Christmas. After some unsolicited pleading, he eventually let me borrow it. In many ways, watching this show was almost certainly when my interest in military history first began.

For those who haven’t seen it -- why haven’t you? -- the show follows "Easy Company" all the way from Camp Toccoa, GA to Hitler's Eagle’s Nest -- and beyond. Most memorably, perhaps, the show gives a dramatic retelling of their struggle in the Ardennes Forest towards the end of the war. Trench foot, illness, fatigue, lack of medicine, and despair are only some of the challenges American GIs faced that bone-chilling winter, to say nothing of the moribund yet-still-unrelenting enemy they were tasked with defeating. For many soldiers, it was perhaps the darkest period of the war.

Some background on the battle:

Starting on Dec. 16, 1944, and for nearly six weeks, more than 600,000 American soldiers, fighting in freezing conditions and often hungry and dog-tired, took part in desperate efforts to contain, then throw back, a surprise German counteroffensive masterminded by Adolf Hitler himself.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill hailed the ultimate result as "an ever-famous American victory." But it came at a high cost: 80,987 U.S. casualties, including 10,276 dead, 47,493 wounded and 23,218 missing, according to the U.S. Army's official history.

Total German casualties are estimated at 81,834, including 12,652 dead and 30,582 missing.

After the end of the battle, on Jan. 28, 1945, Allied forces attacked Germany in unison, eventually leading to the Nazi surrender and the end of World War II in Europe.

Today is the 70th anniversary of this storied battle. For obvious reasons, it is important -- and incumbent upon all of us -- to remember it and all the soldiers who fought there. I'll leave you with this:

Obama is Not Going to Get His Wish This Christmas

Another Obamacare deadline has passed. Yesterday marked the final day that individuals could re-enroll for coverage starting on Jan. 1.

“It's a good Christmas present for people,” President Obama said when he spoke On Air With Ryan Seacrest Monday.

Obama claimed that the website, “which now works flawlessly,” offers a cache of “good deals” for the American people. Seacrest (yet another Hollywood actor who promotes, but will never use, Obamacare) and the president even closed the segment with a cute holiday jingle remix: 

“All I want for Christmas is you to sign up for healthcare on Healthcare.gov.”

But the odds are not in their favor.

According to the latest Rasmussen Reports poll, 78 percent of likely U.S. voters are very happy with their health insurance. Considering only 6.7 million people are currently covered through the Affordable Care Act, it is safe to say that they are enjoying quality care outside of the president’s utopian system. They likely will not be switching over anytime soon either.

Fifty-three percent expect the national health care system to get worse under Obamacare. This number is essentially the same as last year’s results (52 percent).

Additionally, a mere 29 percent believe the system will improve via the new law, a three-percentage point drop from 2013.

White House Touts Economic Gains As Median Wealth Continues To Decline

White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman dropped by the White House Daily Press Briefing today to tout President Obama's economic record.

"On nearly every economic measure, our economy is stronger today then it was the day President Obama took office," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest claimed while introducing Furman.

"The U.S. economic recovery took a major step forward in 2014," Furman continued. "This is the year in which we broke the record for the longest streak of private sector job growth, now 57 consecutive months and counting."

Pressed by CBS News' Major Garrett to explain why median incomes have not yet risen under the Obama recovery, Furman claimed that they did not rise under the Bush recovery either.

"We've had a challenge in this regard for decades," Furman said. "That challenge was particularly acute between 2001 and 2007 when we saw reasonably strong economic growth, but median incomes actually fell over the course of the expansion." 

But the Census data does not back Furman up. According to this Census web page, in constant 2013 dollars, the median U.S. income rose from $55,562 in 2001 to $56,436 in 2007. That may be a meager $874 rise, but it does beat the $2,120 drop in income from when Obama took office in 2009 ($54,059) to today ($51,939).

Furman, however, is optimistic. "The last Census numbers we have are from 2013. We haven't gotten the 2014 numbers, and I expect those to be considerably better. Unfortunately we will not get those until next August." 

Furman also did not mention the latest findings from Pew which show that median wealth is still falling in the United States, from $82,300 in 2010 to $81,400 today. This lost wealth during the Obama recovery has been particularly acute for black families who have seen their median wealth drop from $16,600 in 2010 to $11,000 today. 

Requiem For The Southern Democrat…Or Is It?

On December 6, Louisiana voters showed Sen. Mary Landrieu the exit by a 12-point margin. Cortney has been covering this race extensively–and noted how the use of taxpayers’ money to subsidize traveling expenses, not owning a home in Louisiana, and calling voters in her state racist and sexist probably played in her defeat by Rep. Bill Cassidy.

So, how significant is her defeat? Well, for starters, a Republican will occupy her seat for the first time in 132 years–and her defeat only leaves two statewide offices in Democratic hands.

Landrieu gave her farewell address on Dec. 11, saying she will devote her time to addressing children’s issues, the environment, and coastal restoration in her home state. She also said it was “highly, highly unlikely” that she’ll ever run for elected office again.

That’s it. The Republicans have virtually wiped out Democrats in the South–and pretty much confined them to the coasts and their urban strongholds. Yet, this isn’t permanent; nothing ever is in our system of government. So, before we break out the champagne to celebrate the “extinction” of southern Democrats, Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende says this demographic shift wasn’t inevitable–and that Democrats could claw their way back in the South (via RCP) [emphasis mine]:

The problem Southern Democrats had is that many of their elected officials adopted more liberal voting records over the past decade, giving up their unique, centrist brands. The Almanac of American Politics collects 12 key votes for each Congress. If we go back to the edition covering 2001-02, we can see what Southern Democrats’ voting patterns used to look like. A Northern liberal like Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts aligned with a conservative like Jon Kyl of Arizona on just one of these 12 votes. Mary Landrieu, however, voted with Kyl on five, while John Breaux of Louisiana voted with him on eight. Perhaps more importantly, the votes that these Democrats cast with Kyl tended to be on the most crucial issues: the Bush tax cuts, ANWR drilling, military-force authorizations, and barring cooperation with the international court, for example. The differences tended to come on issues where the Democratic position was broadly popular or of low salience: The Patient’s Bill of Rights, funding hate crime prosecutions, and allowing homeland security personnel to unionize.

Fast-forward to 2009-2010. Mary Landrieu voted with Jon Kyl on only two of the key votes, while Pryor voted with him on four. Hagan voted with Kyl on three. Moreover, these votes weren’t on “big-ticket” items: measures such as a repeal of D.C. gun laws and stopping EPA climate regulations weren’t salient enough to overcome votes for the stimulus, confirming Justices Kagan and Sotomayor, passing the health care bill and financial regulation reform.

What had kept Southern Democrats in the game for so long was that, on popular, major items, they tended to vote like Republicans. This changed over the past decade, especially 2009-10, when national Democrats needed their votes to move anything tied to the Democratic president’s agenda. Southern Democrats went into their 2002 and 2008 elections being able to point to important, defining issues where they’d broken with their national party. In 2010, 2012 and 2014, they couldn’t really do the same. It’s a combination of these factors, really, that led to the wipeout.

The good news for Southern Democrats is that, because this didn’t just sort of happen, it really is reversible. There are no permanent majorities in politics. An unpopular Republican president would move the needle. A Democratic fundraising base that chose not to go nuclear on a Democratic candidate who opposed Obamacare or the stimulus would have done it. A more culturally “red” Democratic nominee would help. The voters who elected Phil Bredesen governor of Tennessee by 40 points are largely still around, as are the people who elected Mike Beebe governor of Arkansas by 30 points in 2010 and 14 points in 2006. The same goes for the folks who sent Landrieu and Hagan back to the Senate in 2008, or Blanche Lincoln in 2004. The people who elected a swath of moderate-to-conservative Democrats in 2006 and 2008 are still there. The party just has to try to appeal to them, or at least give more latitude to its candidates to appeal to them, as Rahm Emanuel did in 2006.

The bad news for Southern Democrats is that Democrats aren’t likely to do this anytime soon, and if they did, they’d pay a price.

Right now, Democrats are bleeding votes in these areas, especially within white working class America. For now, as with any endangered species, they can mount a comeback in good conditions. We shall see if Democrats want to make that happen south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Hmm: 'Team Marco 2016' to Huddle With Major GOP Donors Next Month

As 2016 buzz builds around one prominent Florida politician today, another is generating some attention on the same front, albeit in a more muted and cryptic way.  As you already know, former Governor Jeb Bush has effectively jumped into the presidential race; his timing suggests that he's concerned about the Mitt Train gaining steam, with the former Republican nominee's once-adamant denials gradually evolving. Jeb understands that the center-right money game is going to get very serious, very quickly -- so he's made his move.  Ball's in your court, teams Romney and Christie.  An early gauntlet has been thrown.  But while Jeb sucks up the political oxygen, his Floridian protege is   quietly maneuvering too, via the New York Times:

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida will gather over 100 Republican donors, fund-raisers and other supporters at a luxury hotel in Miami next month for a two-day strategy session about Mr. Rubio’s political future, according to an invitation obtained by The New York Times. The conference, scheduled to begin Jan. 23 at the Delano hotel in South Beach, will be hosted by Mr. Rubio’s leadership political action committee, Reclaim America, and it is expected to draw supporters from Washington and South Florida. The event comes as Mr. Rubio and other potential 2016 candidates are quietly but aggressively jockeying for the allegiance of the Republican Party’s leading donors and fund-raising “bundlers” … Mr. Rubio’s get-together will include a welcome reception on Friday and a “political update” on Saturday morning, led by the senator and Terry Sullivan, his political adviser and the director of his political action committee. The invitation’s letterhead reads “Team Marco 2016.” Should Mr. Rubio decide against a presidential campaign, he would still need to run for re-election. “Marco’s made it clear he’ll be on the ballot in 2016,” Mr. Sullivan said. “We just have to decide for what office.”

One of the percolating rumors in DC is that Rubio will not challenge his long-time mentor for the GOP presidential nomination.  Whispers of a gentlemen's agreement, in which either one or the other will run -- but not both -- will be put to the test now that Jeb is formally in.  (For what it's worth, I've heard similar things about Paul Ryan and Scott Walker in Wisconsin).  Rubio's scheduled high-level meeting isn't necessarily unusual or dispositive, though it does follow a pattern among other 2016 aspirants. The Times piece notes that Romney, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have held similar confabs this year, citing an "especially keen" competition "because so many candidates with strong ties to Republican donors are considering White House bids — and relatively few donors have made formal commitments."  Rubio, still in his early 40s, first needs to decide whether to focus on his Senate re-elect two years from now.  He's a relatively popular incumbent, but he'd still be running in an expensive swing state, in an uncertain political environment.  On the presidential question, he also enjoys the luxury of youth.  Unlike Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, or any number of potential GOP entrants, Rubio could wait a full decade before pulling the trigger on a White House bid...and he'd only be 53.  In the interim, he could continue to burnish his credentials in the Senate, or maybe even turn an eye toward a gubernatorial run in 2018.  Plus, he'd remain an attractive Vice Presidential option along the way, which is another mechanism for staying relevant.  Rubio's presidential calculus is two-pronged, and fairly straightforward: Am I willing to potentially give up a Senate seat to run this year, and is 2016 an unique moment in time for me?  Part of the latter consideration involves his positioning in a crowded 2016 field.  He'll have candidates to his right (perhaps most notably Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and arguably Paul) and several to his Left (think the Bush/Romney/Christie set).  Does Rubio have what it takes to thread the needle and prevail as a consensus-type candidate?  And is he better equipped to be that guy than, say, Walker or someone like Mike Pence?

What's clear is that Rubio has been boning up on policy, delivering a number of serious and well-received speeches over the last few months.  He's discussed national defense and his economic vision, with a focus on the middle class.  He's also emerged as a leading critic of President Obama's executive amnesty, possibly trying to turn the page from his tumultuous period as a 'Gang of Eight' negotiator on the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform package.  The bill, which upset many conservatives, passed the upper chamber, then hit a wall in the House of Representatives.  This is someone who is working hard to position himself as a major player in Republican politics for the foreseeable future.  He needs to determine whether this is the moment he must seize, or whether it would be wiser to step back from the brightest lights this round.  Stay tuned.  I'll leave you with video of that aforementioned economic policy address, delivered at Hillsdale College in June:

Parting thought: Let's say Jeb and Romney and Christie all run.  Do they slice and dice up the moderate/center-right vote, clearing the path for a more conservative nominee to consolidate the votes to win?  (One could argue that the reverse dynamic has played out in recent cycles, resulting in McCain and Romney).  Or will the grassroots/Right vote be just as fractured?

The Man Who Busted Gruber Speaks Out, Reveals $250 Billion Obamacare Tax Grab

The man who dug up the now infamous videos of MIT professor and Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber talking about a lack of transparency and "stupid Americans" is speaking out about a hidden agenda in the legislation that hasn't been fully exposed yet.

During an interview with Project Veritas' James O'Keefe, little known Philadelphia financial advisor Rich Weinstein makes three main points: 

-Obamacare is a $250 billion hidden tax grab per year on individual Americans and their families

-Obamacare advocates make it seem like costs are shifted onto insurance companies, when really they're shifted onto healthcare consumers. Further, Weinstein points out that so-called "cadillac tax" isn't reserved for expensive plans, but instead eventually hits all plans. The "cadillac tax" in Obamacare is not applied directly to the consumer but indirectly through the insurance companies. This way, the consumer blames insurance companies for increased costs instead of the government for a massive tax grab hidden in Obamacare. 

-Obamacare isn't a "mess" or a "disaster" of a bill, but rather a brilliant, well structured piece of legislation with very deliberate language and components.

Be sure to watch the whole thing, it's well worth your time.

"I just wanted the American people to know what's going on," Weinsten said. 

Editor's note: The original version of this post stated Obamacare is a $250 billion tax grab. "Per year" should have included after the $250 billion figure. It has been added.

Awesome: New Bullet That Can Change Direction Developed For Military

Afghanistan’s climate can be a tough place for members of the military to work. And for snipers in particular, the wind and dusty terrain can make their job all the more challenging—but maybe not for long.

California’s Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, LLC has developed a technology that allows .50 caliber bullets to change direction after they’ve been fired. The EXACTO program, or Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance, was developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“The objective of the EXACTO program is to revolutionize rifle accuracy and range by developing the first ever guided small-caliber bullet,” DARPA officials said in a statement this summer accompanying a YouTube video. “The EXACTO .50-caliber round and optical sighting technology expects to greatly extend the day and nighttime range over current state-of-the-art sniper systems.”

Stars and Stripes has more:

DARPA’s statement announced that testing had been successful, a historical first. The video shows two rounds of testing, in February and April. A bullet was deliberately fired off target both times, then changed path. In the second test, it appears to have struck the intended target.

Snipers generally operate in two-man teams — a shooter and a spotter — who have to make adjustment for a number of factors once they’re in position. […]

The Defense Department thinks it is “critical” that snipers engage targets faster and more accurately, which will likely increase safety by concealing their location longer.

DARPA hopes to give them EXACTO soon.

The program’s second phase, completed over the summer, provided a number of improvements, and the current phase will focus on a system-level live-fire test and further refinements, the statement said.

While this top-secret technology may be helpful in taking down more terrorists, weapons experts do have concerns about the new program.

[Ted Gatchel, professor emeritus at the Naval War College and expert in amphibious warfare, fortifications and small arms] also saw potential pitfalls in inserting technology into an arena marked by rough terrain, rain and sand. He used the analogy that a map will still work with a bullet hole in it, while a tablet or a computer might not.

“You still need to train these snipers in the traditional methods,” he said. “Right now, sniping is a real precise art.” […]

The ability of the enemy to come up with effective countermeasures must also be taken into consideration.

In World War II, the Germans employed a radio-controlled bomb called the Fritz X, Gatchel said, that sank the Italian battleship Roma and damaged a number of ships during the Allied landing at Salerno. Within just a few months, the Allies had developed a means of jamming the radio controls, thus rendering the bombs ineffective.

And some weapons are so lethal that fears over the enemy capturing them and either reverse engineering or developing countermeasures can limit, or outweigh, their use.

While the concerns about EXACTO are certainly valid, the new program is worth a shot nonetheless. The fewer terrorists the better. 

‘Mittmentum’ Part VII: Ready For Romney

As Christine wrote earlier this morning, Jeb Bush announced that he’s "actively" exploring a possible presidential run in 2016. Now, there’s more news on the “Mittmentum” end; he will have a super PAC to back his third shot at the White House.

The Ready for Romney PAC launched last night, but CNN’s Alexandra Jaffe noted that nothing is on paper yet–and that this effort is in its “infancy.” Nevertheless, they did name an executive director (via CNN):

If encouragement from major GOP donors and favorable polling isn't enough, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney now has a super PAC launched by an unknown benefactor urging him to run.

No filings for the super PAC are yet posted on the Federal Election Commission's website, however, and no one with that name has contributed to any Massachusetts races.

And the website suggests the effort is still in its infancy. An "about" page pitches Romney to run because he "is not a career politician," and has rather "spent most of his life in the private sector, giving him intimate knowledge of how our economy works."

It says that "in one chapter of his distinguished career, he reversed the decline of a state mired in recession," a reference to his time as governor of Massachusetts, and also lauds his efforts to turn around the 2002 winter Olympics.

It seems as if an Establishment storm is brewing for 2016.  After all, Bush and Romney at the top of the 2016 GOP field.  Yet, we'll have to wait for the announcements of other potential 2016 candidacies from solid candidates, namely Scott Walker who will make his ambitions known by the summer of 2015.