Of Course: Iran Makes Another Last-Minute Demand, West Looking to Achieve 'Narrative'


The 'P5+1' nuclear negotiations with Iran are coming down to the wire, with the Obama administration hellbent on attaining a deal before tomorrow's deadline (which Iran doesn't acknowledge, by the way). As Conn has reported, if an agreement is reached, it likely won't be formalized or written down for a period of months. What Western diplomats are scrambling to "achieve," therefore, is an informal consensus on the principles and outlines of a deal -- struck with an evil, untrustworthy regime. The British Foreign Minister told reporters last week that they're hoping to secure a "narrative," whatever that means:

We envisage being able to deliver a narrative. Whether that is written down or not, I don’t think is the crucial issue,” [British Foreign Minister Philip] Hammond told reporters at the British ambassador’s residence during a visit to Washington. “This will be a political statement, or perhaps political statements from the [negotiating partners] and Iran which create enough momentum to make it clear that we’ve now got this boulder over the hill and we are into the detailed work to produce an agreement.”… Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said he sees no need for a written document describing an interim agreement in advance of the June 30 deadline for a comprehensive deal… “The challenge is: as soon as you write anything down, you’ve got to write everything down,” Hammond said.

Allahpundit notes that (a) Iran and the US have already been wrangling over the terms of the current interim agreement, and (b) just a few days prior to Hammond's comment, other Western diplomats assured the media that of course there was agreement that an oral deal with Iran -- i.e., a "narrative" -- wouldn't cut it, given their history and behavior on the world stage. Leon Panetta, former CIA chief and Obama-era Defense Secretary, agrees: "One thing I’ve learned both at the CIA and as Secretary of Defense is that the Iranians can't be trusted."  Perhaps because they do things like this at the eleventh hour, to exploit Western desperation to extract even more concessions:

With a negotiating deadline just two days away, Iranian officials on Sunday backed away from a critical element of a proposed nuclear agreement, saying they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country. For months, Iran tentatively agreed that it would send a large portion of its stockpile of uranium to Russia, where it would not be accessible for use in any future weapons program. But on Sunday Iran’s deputy foreign minister made a surprise comment to Iranian reporters, ruling out an agreement that involved giving up a stockpile that Iran has spent years and billions of dollars to amass. “The export of stocks of enriched uranium is not in our program, and we do not intend sending them abroad,” the official, Abbas Araqchi, told the Iranian media, according to Agence France-Presse. “There is no question of sending the stocks abroad.” Western officials confirmed that Iran was balking at shipping the fuel out, but insisted that there were other ways of dealing with the material. Chief among those options, they said, was blending it into a more diluted form.

So in addition to being able to maintain their rogue nuclear program's infrastructure, keep thousands of centrifuges spinning, do nothing to renounce or scale back their support for terrorism/regional power plays/human rights abuses, or give up their long-range missile program, Tehran has insisted that they also be allowed to keep their fortified underground enrichment bunkers in operation, and is now backing away from a previously-stated willingness to remove enriched uranium from the country.  (In addition to asking that sanctions relief begin immediately, based upon no evidence of compliance). The US and partners reportedly acceded to the former late-breaking demand, and are seeking ways to accommodate the latter. Remember that tough sanctions forced Iran to the bargaining table in the first place, with their economy in tatters. This deal would lift those sanctions -- with restrictions on the regime beginning to phase out after just ten years. The Obama administration has basically been lying to the public, repeatedly stating that no deal at all is preferable is a bad one. It's becoming entirely clear that they don't believe that to be true. They are frantic to reach an agreement that they can trot out as a historic Smart Power success, and the mullahs understand this. Short of firing missiles at Tel Aviv or New York, or formally stating their intention to build and use nuclear weapons, Iran knows that there's almost nothing they can say or do to drive the Americans away from the table. This is the textbook definition of a hopelessly weak negotiating position. And Team Obama has placed the United States in this mess because they're obsessed with a very strange notion of presidential legacies:

The official offered a hopeful note, adding that a nuclear deal with Iran — which some reports say could come as soon as Sunday — could be a turning point for the region. “The truth is, you can dwell on Yemen, or you can recognize that we’re one agreement away from a game-changing, legacy-setting nuclear accord on Iran that tackles what every one agrees is the biggest threat to the region,” the official said.

Pay no heed to the slow-motion implosion of our entire foreign policy posture; think about the magical, "legacy-setting" effects of an Iran deal. This unnamed State Department source is right about one thing: A terrible deal with Tehran would be a game-changer, just not in the way he or she thinks.  Arab powers in the region would move toward building nuclear programs of their own, the rift of distrust between the US and Israel would grow deeper, and some European allies would lose confidence in America's moral clarity and world leadership.  Meanwhile, Iran would get almost every single thing it wants, most especially keeping their nuclear program intact, but with the bonus of added international legitimacy.  The US might get a dubious promise to allow snap inspections, but most important of all, Barack Obama would get his way in the face of intense criticism.  And that's exactly how administration officials are trying to sell support for the deal to wary Democrats on Capitol Hill:


Ignore the merits. Ignore Iran's prior conduct and uniquely sinister role in world politics. Ignore the national security and geopolitical implications. Ignore Iran's ongoing "death to America" refrain. Focus on beating the Republicans. This is breathtakingly petty, partisan and reckless, even for them. Good Lord.

Latest: Reported Shooting at NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade

Early Monday morning, a shooting reportedly broke out at the National Security Agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland after several unauthorized individuals tried to gain access to the military base:

A driver of a vehicle tried to ram a gate at the National Security Agency building in Fort Meade Monday morning, resulting in a shooting, authorities say.

It is not clear if anyone has been injured. There are two vehicles with damage outside the gate.

Developing…

UPDATE: Several people have been injured:

UPDATE: And one has reportedly been killed:

Authorities say one person is dead and two people have been hospitalized following a shooting during which a vehicle tried to ram the gates of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade.

The incident happened at the NSA building off of Route 32 in Fort Meade around 9:30 a.m.

UPDATE: It appears two people were indeed injured.

UPDATE: The suspects were...two cross-dressing men?

Gunfire erupted Monday morning at the gate of the National Security Agency's facility at Fort Meade in Maryland when two men disguised as women in a stolen car tried to enter, sources said.

A guard intervened and shot at least one of the men in the Ford Escape. A search of the vehicle turned up a gun and some drugs.

UPDATE: Here's a photo of the crime scene:

UPDATE: A single fatality has been confirmed:

A senior U.S. official says preliminary reports from the scene at Fort Meade, Md., indicate one person is dead after a car with two people tried to ram a gate at the base.

The official says a firefight ensued after the car tried to crash the gate, and at least one of the two people in the car is dead. Fort Meade is home of the National Security Agency.

UPDATE: For now, at least:

FBI says shooting at NSA gate at Fort Meade not believed to be related to terrorism.

Video: The Very Worst of Harry Reid


Enthusiasts of honesty, good manners, and functional politics received excellent news on Friday, when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced his decision not to seek re-election in 2016. Reid was expected to be one of the Senate Democrats' most vulnerable incumbents in the coming cycle, with national Republicans taking aim  at the Nevadan early and often. In light of his forthcoming departure, holding that seat could prove challenging for Reid's party, thus imperiling their chances at regaining an upper chamber majority. Though it's true that the caliber of Senate Democrats' top leadership won't improve drastically after Reid's retirement (this guy and this guy will be left to run the show), his exit from the political stage is an outcome worth celebrating in and of itself.  Let's walk down memory lane together and recall some of the incidents that have secured Harry Reid's spot among the most contemptible members of the United States Congress.  This 'top ten' list is by no means exhaustive, but it's a start:

(1) That time he claimed, with a straight face, that paying taxes is "voluntary:"


(2) That time he completely baselessly accused Mitt Romney of tax evasion on the Senate floor -- with the Obama campaign's blessing:


"The word's out!"  Reid also remarked that Romney had "sullied" the Mormon faith, also opining that the Republican's father would be "embarrassed" by him. These nasty attacks proved too much even for Jon Stewart.

(3) Those approximately 17,000 times he ripped the Koch brothers by name, going so far as to call them "un-American," which usually raises gales of protest from the Civility Police when ideologies are reversed:


(4) That time when Reid -- whose party refused to even propose annual budgets throughout most of his time at the helm -- attacked "mean-spirited" (and minuscule) GOP-offered budget cuts as devastating to, uh, cowboy poets:


(5) That time Reid claimed that every single Obamacare horror story was a lie, prompting a furious rebuttal from yours truly. Public polling continues to show that many more Americans were directly harmed by the law than were helped:


(6) That time Reid, a promiscuous player of the race card, praised Barack Obama for being "light skinned" and lacking a "Negro dialect:"


(7) That time when Reid tipped his hand on 'shutdown theater' in 2013, after being asked why he opposed a Republican proposal to re-open parts of the government on a piecemeal basis.  On the subject of NIH funding, CNN's Dana Bash asked, "if you could help one child with cancer, why wouldn't you do it?" To which Reid replied, "why would we want to do that?"


(8) That time Reid got super rich during his tenure as a supposed "public servant" on a government salary, thanks to a series of remarkably successful investments:

Try this thought experiment. Imagine that someone grows up in poverty, works his way through law school by holding the night shift as a Capitol Hill policeman, and spends all but two years of his career as a public servant. Now imagine that this person’s current salary — and he’s at the top of his game — is $193,400. You probably wouldn’t expect him to have millions in stocks, bonds, and real estate. But, surprise, he does, if he’s our Senate majority leader, whose net worth is [now] between 3 and 10 million dollars, according to OpenSecrets.org.

(9) That time Harry Reid wondered how any one with brown skin could be a Republican, echoing President Obama's divisive "punish our enemies" sentiment:


(10) That time when Reid, having detonated the nuclear option on filibuster rules as majority leader, suddenly reclaimed his deep commitment to the practice after being relegated to the minority.  Click through for a fuller accounting of his shamelessness on Senate procedure. 


And as an added bonus, we mustn't forget those times (i.e. right now) when Reid stood in the way of several bipartisan bills, including one designed to combat sex trafficking, in a radical effort to undermine a longstanding precedent against taxpayer-funded abortion -- a practice he claims to oppose. Enjoy spending more time with your beloved pomegranate trees, Senator.

“Ferguson: The Play” Lets Audience Be the Jury

The controversy surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last year is now going to be depicted onstage. While a grand jury declared Officer Darren Wilson was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Brown, riots decrying racial injustice ensued not only through the city, but nationwide. Now, for the first time ever, actors will recreate the events of that turbulent night in a verbatim drama, Ferguson: The Play.

The purpose of FERGUSON is to reveal the truth about what really happened on August 9, 2015 in Ferguson, MO and to look at why and how the Grand Jury came to the decision they did. FERGUSON is a staged version of the Grand Jury testimony exactly as they heard it. But this time the audience gets to be the Grand Jury. The performances in Los Angeles will be dramatized staged readings with interactive voting. Every night the audience will decide who's telling the truth, decide who's lying, and decide if they would indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. How will you vote?

Ferguson is being produced by journalist and filmmaker Phelim McAleer. You may recognize him as the filmmaker behind Gosnell: The Movie, a TV film currently in production which will expose late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s ‘House of Horrors’ abortion clinic. He, along with wife and filmmaker Ann McElhinney and journalist Magdalena Segieda, embarked on the campaign because they were dismayed with the lack of media attention devoted to Gosnell’s evil deeds. Their historic project became the most successful crowd funded movie ever on IndieGoGo.com.

McAleer’s passion to provide audiences with the full story has once again inspired his latest project. Too many times did MSNBC, CNN and the like spin the narrative to suggest Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson aimed his gun at Brown because of his racist prejudices. Lost in these headlines, was the fact that Brown robbed a convenience store right before his encounter with Wilson. McAleer is intent on offering an accurate account of the incident in his new play, one that is not preoccupied with setting an agenda.

“I want to bring the truth about what happened that day to the stage,” says McAleer, a celebrated journalist and filmmaker. “I think audience members will be very surprised, even shocked, when they hear the clear and unaltered truth about the events that took place on Aug. 9, 2014. There are a lot of myths and half-truths circulating about the shooting. FERGUSON is a chance to dispel these once and for all.”

One of those myths was that Michael Brown pleaded, “Hands up, don’t shoot!" before Officer Wilson fired the fatal blow. That turned out to be a flat out lie. In reality, eyewitness accounts report that Brown punched the policeman and tried to grab his firearm.

The incident has left national tension in its wake and therefore this play is already destined to be controversial. Yet, kudos to McAleer for doing the mainstream media’s job and giving audiences the facts, not just “everything that’s fit to print.”

Ferguson will be performed at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles, California from April 26-29. The crowd funding campaign expires May 2.

If the play is successful, McAleer said they may try to bring the play to New York - and even Ferguson itself.

NBC Sued For Libel And Slander After Comparing Tannerite Target Company to Terrorists, Killing Americans

Last week NBC reporter Jeff Rossen aired a report on The Today Show and Today.com claiming the company Tannerite, a small business that sells rifle targets, is a threat to national security and that "bombs" are for sale at your local sporting goods store. Rossen added to the drama by telling Twitter followers he was in intense pain ahead of the air date, but implied he was sucking it up because the report was just too important.  

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

But it wasn't just Rossen's back pain that was intense, the lies in his report were too. Rossen's claims about bombs being for sale at your local sporting goods store aren't true. Despite his claims, Tannerite only goes off when struck by a high velocity rifle round moving at more than 2,000 feet-per-second. It isn't comparable to the bomb used in Oklahoma City or those used by terrorists overseas to kill Americans. 

Tannerite cannot be set off with a lit fuse, open flame, or electricity. It cannot be set off by dropping it or striking it. It will not go off if shot with a .22LR rifle, or any common handgun caliber.

It is not a “bomb” as Rossen and Today Show anchors claimed and Tannerite is suing over it. Bob Owens over at Bearing Arms has the exclusive

NBC News and a local affiliate have being slapped with a libel and slander lawsuit for March, 23, 2015 report that aired on Today (also known as The Today Show) entitled, “Bombs for Sale? Popular Stores Sell ‘Dangerous Explosives.'”

Attorneys representing Tannerite Sports filed suit against NBC Universal News Group (NBCU) and Lexington, KY-based WLEX Communications for libel and slander for allegedly defamatory print and video reports from NBC News national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen.
Mendelsohn, Drucker, & Dunleavy, P.C. is the firm representing Tannerite Sports in the case, and alleges the following defamatory claims (PDF) were made by NBC News:

-On March 23, 2015, Defendant NBCU released a defamatory “report” that falsely claimed that Plaintiff’s rifle targets are “bombs for sale.”
-In a related video, Defendant NBCU’s investigative reporter falsely asserted that “I am basically holding a bomb in my hand.”
-NBCU’s report contains one or more written false statements that were intended to impugn Plaintiff’s rifle targets and Plaintiff’s reputation in the hunting industry.
-Plaintiff’s rifle targets are not bombs and are not well-suited for use as weapons.
-A bomb is a weapon that is illegal to make. In the United States, manufacturing a bomb requires numerous federal licenses.

Federal guidelines allow consumers to mix and shoot Tannerite®-brand rifle targets for personal, non-commercial use as targets.

The suit alleges that the NBC report constitutes statements that “were made maliciously, intentionally, and with reckless disregard for the truth,” that NBC News published “defamatory statements with malice,” and that the video and print reports ” have, in fact, directly and proximately harmed,” Tannerite Sports.

Be sure to also check out Owens' post thoroughly debunking Rossen's claims and the NBC report here.

It Sounds Like Martin O’Malley Is Going To Run For President

UPDATE: Via Mediaite: Pardon the omission; O'Malley gave a really awkward answer to a question about the threats facing the United States.  After trying to dodge the question from host George Stephanopoulos, O'Malley finally said it was nuclear Iran and related "extremist violence," but his delivery didn't exude any confidence. 

Original post below:

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pretty much announced he was running for president on ABC News’ This Week, saying “Let's be honest here, the presidency is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people.” He also said we needed new perspectives and new leadership, leaving host George Stephanopoulos commenting if this was his 2016 announcement.

Right now, O’Malley has zero percent of the vote in Iowa. Yet, if you look at his record, he’s someone who can potentially siphon votes from Hillary, specifically from the progressive wing. Some say he should be taken seriously, though it’s unknown if he has the political infrastructure and fundraising capability to stay competitive with the Clintons. Yet, his middle class upbringing could resonate with Democratic voters turned off by Hillary’s perceived limousine liberal personality. In 2013, the National Journal  wrote that he wanted to be part of the “2016 conversation;” his interview on ABC News this morning confirms that:

He was a middle-class, suburban Washington kid who chose to build a political career in one of the grittiest, most troubled cities in America, with all the challenges and risks that entailed. He spent eight years on the Baltimore City Council and seven as mayor before moving to Annapolis to begin two terms as governor in January 2007. O’Malley has been closely identified with statistics-based governing in both of his executive positions: CitiStat to improve management and services in Baltimore; StateStat to do the same across Maryland; even BayStat to revive the Chesapeake Bay. Fusing passion with dispassion, he has deployed numbers to fight crime and pollution, to win approval for gambling casinos and gun restrictions, to pass tuition breaks for illegal immigrant students, and even to repeal the death penalty.

At the same time, over the past few years, he has steadily ascended in national politics—as a key supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton and later Barack Obama in 2008, as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association in 2011 and 2012, and as a prominent media spokesman for Obama and Democrats during the 2012 presidential campaign. He continues in a DGA leadership role as finance chairman, an ideal job for someone who might need to raise a lot of money for a presidential campaign in a year or two.

Whether O’Malley has the charisma and fundraising prowess to make a serious bid is unclear at this point. He does have some noteworthy assets. Maryland is at the top of numerous lists rating metrics such as education and innovation. O’Malley has been on many lists of rising stars over the past decade. In 2009, Governing magazine cited his data-based management style in naming him a public official of the year. This year, in its May/June issue, Washington Monthly called him “arguably the best manager in government today.”

Over at the Daily Beast, Jonathan Miller also touted O’Malley’s record of accomplishment, which should surely please liberals:

O’Malley’s record as governor of Maryland, and before that mayor of Baltimore, provides plenty of manna to nourish starving progressives. Long before his immigration comments, the Governor punched through a succession of liberal hot-buttons: Marriage equality? Check. Gun control? Check. Death penalty repeal? Check. Decriminalizing pot and legalizing medical marijuana? Check and check. Some might argue that he’s even been too liberal for solid blue Maryland. In fact, some do, and vociferously: Discontented residents of four western counties have been pushing an initiative for months to secede from the rest of the state.

O’Malley has ticked off plenty of liberals as well. Inheriting a $1.7 billion structural deficit and then plunging into the headwinds of the Great Recession, the Governor pushed through more than $9.5 billion in budget cuts, requiring sizable state employee layoffs, and the downsizing of critical health and transportation programs. And the state’s largest public employee unions expressed considerable displeasure with O’Malley’s signature pension reform efforts

Overall, however, O’Malley can point to a fiscal track record that most progressives would embrace: investing record sums in education to produce the nation’s top ranked public schools five years in a row and lowest college tuition hikes since 2007; expanding the earned income tax credit and increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour; and recovering all of the jobs lost in the national recession.

He also has been known to criticize his own party. O’Malley has been hailed as one of immigration’s biggest allies by Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a vocal supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. He disagreed with the Obama White House’s decision to fast track the deportation process for unaccompanied minors that arrived in droves at the U.S. border last year.

Yet, while O’Malley might sound good with Democrats souring on Clinton and how feel the administration hasn’t delivered on immigration, the general electorate might be weary of a hard core liberal record dotted with higher taxes. Oh, and a plurality of Americans felt that those unaccompanied minors should be deported as soon as possible.

Yet, O’Malley could pivot by citing that he’s shrunk the state government workforce to its lowest levels (per capita) since 1973. Still, O’Malley, like Hillary, is a polarizing figure when it comes to his record. As the Baltimore Sun wrote, “O'Malley has either been a charismatic, national leader who pulled Maryland through an economic recession or a tax-and-spend liberal who went too far.”

The latter seems to have been on the minds of Maryland voters last year when they decided to elect Republican Larry Hogan as O’Malley’s successor, who has begun, according to Alec MacGillis of Slate, to dismantle the governor’s legacy:

Hogan is now hard at work seeking to undermine O’Malley’s legacy on any number of fronts—reversing his cleanup policies for the Chesapeake Bay, steering transportation money into highways instead of public transit, and, most of all, proposing deep cuts to the state’s K–12 schools, whose high performance O’Malley invoked in the very first line of his lackluster speech at the 2012 Democratic convention.

O’Malley’s legacy is also at risk in Baltimore in a more particular way. His proudest accomplishment there was the implementation of “CitiStat,” an attempt to bring to all municipal services the kind of data-heavy accountability that transformed policing in New York City and other cities, including Baltimore.

As the Baltimore Sun reported last weekend, CitiStat has seriously atrophied under the city’s current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She has had her own successes as mayor, and Baltimore is by many measures doing even better than it was under O’Malley, but CitiStat has not been a priority for her as it was under him—while he may have raised expectations for city services in a lasting way, his institutional transformation has been less durable.

O’Malley is hardly the first person to run for president when the state or city he once led is under a regime that is leading it in a different direction (Gov. Deval Patrick was running Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was on the ballot in 2012; Gov. Rick Scott, while of the same party as Jeb Bush, is challenging his legacy in Florida.) But the cost of the dismantled legacy is potentially greater for O’Malley, precisely because he is planning to run almost exclusively as a manager-who-gets-results. He won’t be pointing national campaign reporters to his dazzling speeches, his vision for the country, or his inspiring life story (he comes from a solidly middle-class background in the Washington suburbs); rather, he’ll be pointing them to his managerial legacy in the city and state that he led. And if those legacies take a hit—if, say, there is no bona fide CitiStat meeting for the national media to attend in Baltimore—that is a problem.

We shall see what happens, but delivering “dazzling speeches” surely isn’t one of Mr. O’Malley strengths.

Nevertheless, decision time for O'Malley is coming soon.

The Deal: Iran Nuclear Talks Approaching The March 31 Deadline

The March 31 deadline for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program is approaching, and the best the parties involved could do in 18 months is draft an outline, according to Reuters. Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that all sides involved have exhibited “flexibility,” but the divides are still deep amongst the negotiating parties. Politico cited British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond saying a deal with Iran would be a “vague, unwritten” agreement. The White House even admitted that the deal probably won't be in writing. Additionally, the United States says it has put the burden of compromise on the Iranians. The Iranians made it clear that the last few hurdles in this developing deal isn’t just for them to resolve alone (via CNN):

“We have come here with very clear decisions that we have made, and we have expectations that our partners also would be deciding likewise on the key issues," said Hamid Baeedinejad, a senior member of the Iranian delegation. "Now basically it is out [sic] partners that should makes those tough decisions that are necessary for concluding this part of the negotiations."

The Hill has a pretty good rundown of the talks that began 18 months ago. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia (P5+1) want Iran to accept caveats to their nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions that have damaged its economy. Iran says the program is for civilian purposes, the other nations think that it’s for building nuclear weapons. Iran would agree to a 10-year freeze to their program if sanctions were lifted immediately; Ayatollah “Death to America” Ali Khameni has agreed to this if the latter is honored. Yet, the other nations want a gradual lifting of the sanctions.

Here are the things to consider:

Iranian leaders face domestic pressure to push for quick sanctions relief. Restrictions on the nation’s energy and financial sectors caused Iran’s gross domestic product to shrink by 5 percent in 2013, the first time its economy contracted in two decades.

But Western nations want sanctions relief to happen slowly. Sanctions are the greatest leverage they have in the negotiations, and experts believe once they are lifted, it won’t be easy to reimpose them if Iran violates terms of the agreement.

Undoing the complex system of sanctions will not be easy. President Obama has the power to lift a limited number of sanctions on Iran on his own. But an act of Congress would be required to lift all of them.

In addition, there are United Nations and European Union sanctions that would need to be waived.

The inspections would last indefinitely, even after the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity expire, national security adviser Susan Rice said earlier this month.

But critics of the deal fear that the inspections are a toothless method to ensure Iran does not build a bomb. In the past, Iran has refused to allow inspectors to examine its nuclear sites.

As Guy mentioned, the U.S. is considering allowing Iran to maintain centrifuges in an underground bunker, which wasn’t the original P5+1 position:

A draft version of the deal obtained by the Associated Press last week would limit Iran to 6,000 centrifuges, the machines that produce enriched uranium, at its main enrichment site at Natanz.

In addition, the U.S. is considering allowing Iran to operate hundreds more at a fortified, underground bunker at Fordo as long as they are not used to enrich uranium, according to the AP. The P5+1 nations initially wanted all centrifuges eliminated from that facility.

Iran currently operates 10,000 centrifuges at Natanz alone.

Oh, and they’ve rejected the U.N. Atomic Energy Agency’s request for snap inspections of its nuclear sites.

We shall see what happens next week, but House Speaker John Boehner isn’t optimistic about the outcome of these negotiations, and said that Congress will move “very” quickly to impose new sanctions on Iran if things fall through:

"I just don't understand why we would sign an agreement with a group of people who, in my opinion, have no intention of keeping their word," Boehner said.

Asked how quickly the House would move to further sanctions against Iran if no deal is reached, Boehner responded: "Very."

"Listen, the sanctions were working," he said. "They would have never come to the table -- and frankly, we should have kept the sanctions in place so that we could have gotten to a real agreement. And the sanctions are going to come and they're going to come quick."

Boehner is set to travel to Israel this week, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's been skeptical of the Iran nuclear negotiations, just won re-election.

As Conn wrote earlier last week, the Obama administration has caved to a multitude of Iranian demands, which has some scratching their heads as to who has leverage in these talks; Obama or Iran?

Over the past week alone, U.S. negotiators reportedly have conceded to Iran: 1) the need for a written agreement; 2) the ability of Iran to use nuclear centrifuges underground; and 3) the need for Iran to disclose the full range of its current nuclear capabilities.

Obama's Middle East strategy is premised on "transforming" the current Iranian government by ending sanctions on Iran. This means that Obama wants the sanctions on Iran lifted just as badly as Ayatollah Khamenei.

Now, granted, Obama and Khamenei have very different ideas about what the outcome of the end of sanctions will be. Obama believes an Iran without economic sanctions will lead to if not Kamanei's demise, than it least the marginalization of him and his followers. Khamenei, on the other hand, believes an Iran without sanctions will allow his regime to strengthen their control over not just Iran, but also the entire Middle East.

Who has a better understanding of Iran, its politics, its people, and the impact of ending economic sanctions? Is it Khamenei, who has ruled his country for over two decades? Or is it Obama, who honestly thought the power of his own celebrity could save Democrats from crushing defeat in 2010? We'll see.

The answer to that question is ultimately irrelevant though when judging who currently has more leverage in the nuclear weapons talks. Since both Obama and Iran want sanctions on Iran to be lifted, Obama has no way to force any real concessions from Iran on nuclear issues. His threat to continue the current sanctions, or enact new ones, are hollow. Everyone knows he wants the sanctions lifted anyway. Why should Iran concede anything?

That's why they are not.

Obama has cleared his schedule next week in preparation of a deal.  

Over at the New York Times, Ross Douthat elaborates more on Obama’s mess in the Middle East:

This administration has been persistently surprised by Middle East developments, and its self-justifications alternate between the exasperated (why don’t you try it if you’re so smart?) and the delusional (as soon as we get the Iran deal, game changer, baby!).

In a Pax Americana system, the United States enjoys a dominant position within a network of allies and clients; actors outside that network are considered rogues and threats, to be restrained and coerced by our overwhelming military might. Ideally, over time our clients become more prosperous and more democratic, the benefits of joining the network become obvious, and the military canopy both expands and becomes less necessary.

Our withdrawal from Iraq and light-footprint approach to counterterrorism, our strange dance with Bashar al-Assad, our limited intervention against ISIS — they all aim at a more “offshore” approach to the Middle East’s problems. Likewise, the long-sought détente with Iran, which assumes that once the nuclear issue is resolved, Tehran can gradually join Riyadh, Cairo and Tel Aviv in a multipolar order.

There are two problems. First, offshore balancing offers the most benefits when your entanglements are truly minimal, but it’s very hard for a hegemon to simply sidle offstage, shedding expectations and leaving allies in the lurch. And when you’re still effectively involved everywhere, trying to tip the balance of power this way and that with occasional airstrikes, it’s easy to end up in a contradictory, six-degrees-of-enmity scenario, with no clear goal in mind.

Second, multipolar environments are often more unstable and violent, period, than unipolar ones.

But in the world as it exists, what we have is an administration that wants to believe it’s getting us out, but a region that’s inexorably, inevitably pulling us back in.

Adding to the sentiment is the fact that Saudi Arabia, Turkey,and–at the time–Mubarak's Egypt would probably start their own nuclear weapons programs if Iran gets the bomb. This means the collapse the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and a renewed arms race in ISIS' neighborhood. That's frightening.

UPDATE: Iranian negotiators say deal is "doable." Two or three things still need to be revolved. 

Oh Dear: The Liberal Hysteria Over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Bill Has Begun

Earlier this week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a religious freedom bill that some think is discriminatory, and could lead to businesses being allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers.  The governor soon found himself under siege by nearly 3,000 angry protestors, according to The Hill. The publication also reported businesses voicing their opposition to the measure, with Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeting his “disgust” over law. Yelp proposed that businesses boycott the state, and said it had cancelled all of its travel there. Angie’s List’s CEO said he plans to cancel a $40 million expansion to their headquarters in Indianapolis, cannibalizing 1,000 jobs over five yeas in the Eastside neighborhood. Oh, and Miley Cyrus called Gov. Pence an “a**hole,” which perfectly captures the hyper- emotionalism exuded by the left that often lends to them taking positions that seek to kill the debate.

Let’s go through the some of the facts about this bill. For starters, 40 percent of states have similar laws (via WaPo):

Indiana is actually soon to be just one of 20 states with a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Here are those states, in dark teal:

Forty percent of U.S. states have something similar to Indiana, as does the federal government.

The Washington Post also mentioned that President Bill Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act … in 1993. It was introduced in the House of Representatives by then-Congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY). By a voice vote, it passed the House, then worked its way to the Senate, where members voted 97-3 in favor of the law. I’m going to bet that these protestors won’t be showing up at Bill Clinton’s residence, or any of the members of the U.S. Senate–current and former–who voted in favor of the bill, to voice their outrage.

This ignorance of the law was exuded during the Hobby Lobby case last summer. Also, it’s worth noting (again) that RFRA isn’t a “blank check” to discriminate.

Here’s RFRA:

(a) IN GENERAL- Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b).

(b) EXCEPTION- Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person--

(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Here’s Indiana’s law:

Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. (b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person's exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Looping back to Hobby Lobby, Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle had a great post noting that there’s–you know–a process to determine if one’s religious beliefs are genuine [emphasis mine]:

1) What can stop a company from arguing that it is against the owner's sincere religious beliefs to pay workers a minimum wage?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a blank check to religious groups to do what they want. The law says that the religious belief must be sincerely held, and also that the government can burden the exercise of that belief if it has a compelling state interest that cannot easily be achieved in any other way. That's why no one has successfully started the Church of Not Paying Any Taxes, though people have been trying that dodge for years.

2) How can we tell if a belief is sincere?

Hobby Lobby closes its stores on Sundays and otherwise demonstrates a pretty deep commitment to fairly stringent Christian values, of which opposition to abortifacients is often a part. There will always be some gray area, of course, that allows people to claim special treatment for spurious beliefs, but the government has done a fair job over the decades of sorting out genuine beliefs from obvious attempts to dodge the law. Hobby Lobby seems to fall pretty squarely within the "sincere belief" camp.

To further quell the left's hysteria over this law, here is a pro-gay rights law professor, Daniel O. Conkle, writing for USA Today on why Indiana needs RFRA [emphasis mine]:

I am a supporter of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. But as an informed legal scholar, I also support the proposed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). How can this be?

The bill would establish a general legal standard, the "compelling interest" test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion. This same test already governs federal law under the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. And some 30 states have adopted the same standard, either under state-law RFRAs or as a matter of state constitutional law.

Applying this test, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Muslim prisoner was free to practice his faith by wearing a half-inch beard that posed no risk to prison security. Likewise, in a 2012 decision, a court ruled that the Pennsylvania RFRA protected the outreach ministry of a group of Philadelphia churches, ruling that the city could not bar them from feeding homeless individuals in the city parks.

If the Indiana RFRA is adopted, this same general approach will govern religious freedom claims of all sorts, thus protecting religious believers of all faiths by granting them precisely the same consideration.

But granting religious believers legal consideration does not mean that their religious objections will always be upheld.

In any event, most religious freedom claims have nothing to do with same-sex marriage or discrimination. The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a "license to discriminate," and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.

Keep in mind; Conkle also noted that the courts, even in states with RFRA statutes, have rejected recent claims of religious exemptions amongst marriage-related businesses. But also said that those who disagree with gay marriage should have their day in court as well.

The position that wedding-related businesses having the right to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers based on religious grounds is popular. While a plurality of Americans support gay marriage, they also support religious protections for those who disagree as the Associated Press-Gfk poll showed in February. Though, if you head over to Gallup, you’ll find that a solid majority support gay marriage.

Then again, the former finding is not surprising; it’s the 57 percent figure in AP’s poll that show Americans support gay marital rights, but also religious freedom.

In short, this faux outrage is grounded with folks who didn’t get the memo. Actually, it’s probably folks who refuse to read the memo. A Democrat proposed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and it was signed into law by a Democratic president. It’s a 22-year old law! Forty percent of states have RFRA tests within their state laws, and it’s not a “blank check” to discriminate given that there is a high threshold in determining genuine religious beliefs, satisfying a compelling government interest, and making sure the latter is honored in the least intrusive way possible. 

Nevertheless, this silliness has forced Gov. Pence to discuss a “clarification” bill with legislators over the weekend.

It’s not necessary.

UPDATE: Seattle Mayor bans municipal workers from traveling to Indiana on city funds. Yet, it appears his state has RFRA statutes 

UPDATE: Then-State Senator Barack Obama voted for RFRA in Illinois, which the White House did not refute (via Weekly Standard):

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago, and it lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given any time government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American," Pence said. "After last year's Hobby Lobby case, Indiana properly brought the same version that then-state senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our legislature."

This Week Host George Stephanoplous later asked White House press secretary Josh Earnest to respond to Pence's claim: "Josh, you just heard the governor say right there this is the same law, he says, that Barack Obama voted for as a state senator back in Illinois."

Earnest didn't dispute the Indiana governor's statement. "Look, if you have to go back two decades to try to justify something that you're doing today, it may raise some question about the wisdom of what you're doing," Earnest said.

UPDATE: Via Allahpundit: Here's the video of Clinton signing RFRA in 1993.

UPDATE: Via HRC: Illinois has a public accommodation law that prohibits discrimination by sexual orientation from private businesses and government entities "that provide services to the general public."  Yet, only 21 states have such accommodations. Again, why is this bill controversial? If this law permits somehow permitted a "blank check" on discrimination, which it does not, it would've happened in Indiana and elsewhere long ago, as Ace of Spades' Gabriel Malor points out.

UPDATE: Gabriel Malor answers all your questions here, folks.

Not The Onion: 'The Gov't Employees Can't Watch Porn At Work' Legislation Passes Oversight Committee

Earlier this week a bill prohibiting federal employees from looking at porn on government computers and devices passed through the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It’s quite a sad commentary on the state of government affairs that this bipartisan bill’s advancement is news, let alone good news. 

So, why was it necessary to begin with? In May of 2014, an IG report on federal employees watching pornography at work revealed that a top level employee was watching up to six hours each day while on the clock. A refresher:

An employee at the Environmental Protection Agency allegedly downloaded over 7,000 files of pornography on a government computer and watched them two to six hours per day, the agency's investigative unit revealed Wednesday.

"When an OIG special agent arrived at this employee’s work space to conduct an interview, the special agent witnessed the employee actively viewing pornography on his government-issued computer," Allan Williams, deputy assistant inspector general for investigations at the EPA, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"Subsequently, the employee confessed to spending, on average, between two and six hours per day viewing pornography while at work," he added.

The improper conduct emerged as a result of a broader investigation into the agency following the 2013 conviction of senior EPA official John Beale, who falsely claimed to have been working for the CIA and defrauded the agency out of almost $900,000 in pay and benefits.

Worse yet, thanks to the civil service protection program, the EPA couldn’t fire this top-level official and he remains on paid leave collecting a roughly $120,000 salary--courtesy of taxpayers, of course.

All of this absurdity prompted Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), sponsor of the Eliminating Pornography from Agencies Act, to put an end to it.

“Over the last several months it has become far too obvious that the type of behavior that was first highlighted at the EPA has been discovered over and over again, across a host of agencies. To ignore this issue would not only condone an abuse of taxpayers’ dollars, but also embrace an unhealthy workplace. Today's action should send a clear message that it is time for zero tolerance of this kind of behavior,” Meadows said in a statement.

“While there are rules in place at most agencies to ban this kind of unprofessional and unacceptable workplace behavior, it continues to take place. There is absolutely no excuse for federal employees to be viewing or downloading pornographic materials on the taxpayers’ dime,” he continued.

Meadows introduced similar legislation in the last session of Congress, but it was not enacted. 

Rumor Mill: Rubio Could Announce His Presidential Run on April 13

Dan has been following the 2016 rumblings being made by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. He’s reportedly “frustrated” with the Senate, and doesn’t plan to run for re-election. Polling shows the young Republican can be a formidable force next year. He’s also been courting Romney and his donor network, which–if successful–could shift things in his direction.

Now, the Freedom Tower in Miami has been reserved for an event on April 13, which could be where Sen. Rubio makes his 2016 intentions official (via Tampa Bay Times):

A Rubio adviser stressed nothing has been nailed down for any kind of announcement, but the timing makes sense: Likely presidential candidate Rand Paul is expected to make things official April 7, to be followed by a five-day, five-state announcement tour, so Rubio presumably would not want to share the spotlight during that period.

All-but-announced candidate Jeb Bush appears to be in no rush to shift more formally into campaign mode, but Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made his announcement this week and Democrat Hillary Clinton is expected to make her campaign announcement in April as well, though nothing has been set.

Rubio, 43, has been preparing for a potential presidential run for at least a year. While behind in most early polls, he has generated considerable buzz as a top-tier contender who offers the party a fresh face, foreign policy experience, charisma and substance.

The Freedom Tower, a Mediterranean Revival landmark beside Biscayne Bay, is apparently one of several venues under consideration by Rubio, but it could be an ideal postcard setting to kick off a presidential campaign promoting the promise and greatness of America by the son of Cuban immigrants.

The building is reserved for 5:30 p.m. that Monday, which also happens to be Thomas Jefferson's birthday.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver wrote that Sen. Rubio has a path to the nomination, noting that his numbers in Iowa aren’t bad, and that his relative anonymity with the general electorate allows him to shape his image. He also has some of the best approval ratings in the 2016 field, which overall, aren’t good. At the same time, Gov. Scott Walker has many of the same qualities as Rubio:

There’s still plenty of room for Marco Rubio. Two years ago, I described the Florida senator as the “electable conservative.” While Rubio has taken fewer tangible steps toward officially running for president than rivals like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, he still does reasonably well by that rubric. Perhaps along with Walker, he can make the most credible case for meeting William F. Buckley’s standard as the most viable conservative candidate.

He’s quite conservative, but not ultraconservative — instead he’s close to the median of Republicans who have been elected to Congress in recent elections.

Another way is to talk to Republican voters directly — or at least to poll them, as The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics recently did in Iowa. That poll asked potential Republican caucusgoers whether they saw each of their candidates as “too conservative,” “too moderate” or “just right.” I’ve re-created that data below, removing voters who said they weren’t sure about the candidate from the sample.

These numbers look really good for Walker. Among voters with an opinion about him, 85 percent rated his ideological views as “just right,” the highest in the Republican field. But Rubio isn’t far behind; 74 percent of voters described him the same way, placing him in a tie for third place with Perry.

Rubio and Walker, being lesser known, have more chance to shape their image. And they can make some electability arguments of their own. In Rubio’s case, it’s about being a Hispanic candidate from a swing state with a good life story; in Walker’s, it’s about having been elected in a blue-leaning swing state three times in four years.

They also have vulnerabilities. Walker so far has not gotten a great reception from the mainstream media, which is fond of playing up the “crazy tea partyer” characterization of him. Pushing back against alleged or actual media bias is a part of the Republican playbook, but it requires some dexterity; it worked well for George W. Bush but not so well for Sarah Palin in the end, for instance. Rubio, for his part, has not shown a lot of political dexterity either, having lost more than he gained when he advocated for immigration reform.

Silver ends his analysis by saying that Republican primary voters could push Bush to the side easily in the primaries, leaving Rubio and Walker fighting for the nomination.

We shall see what happens. Then again, Rubio and Cruz running in 2016 undercuts the narrative we’ve been disseminating about Obama, which centered on him being a one-term senator with no experience before he ran and won in the 2008 election.

Regardless, with Cruz and the probable Rubio and Paul presidential announcements coming shortly next month, the Tea Party GOP is the point of the lance for the GOP in 2016–for now.

The Clinton Comeback Begins … With The Email Server Being ‘Wiped Clean’

Chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi has received an answer from Clinton’s lawyers about turning over her server to an independent third party for review; it’s not worth it because everything on it was deleted. That’s including the backup systems connected to the server as well. In short, her legal team said that all work-related emails between 2009-2013 have been turned over and are in the State Department’s possession (via AP):

Hillary Rodham Clinton wiped her email server "clean," permanently deleting all emails from it, the Republican chairman of a House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks said Friday.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said the former secretary of state has failed to produce a single new document in recent weeks and has refused to relinquish her server to a third party for an independent review, as Gowdy has requested.

Clinton's attorney, David Kendall, said Gowdy was looking in the wrong place.

In a six-page letter released late Friday, Kendall said Clinton had turned over to the State Department all work-related emails sent or received during her tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

"The Department of State is therefore in possession of all Secretary Clinton's work-related emails from the (personal email) account," Kendall wrote.

Kendall also said it would be pointless for Clinton to turn over her server, even if legally authorized, since "no emails ... reside on the server or on any backup systems associated with the server."

Kendall said in his letter that Clinton's personal attorneys reviewed every email sent and received from her private email address — 62,320 emails in total — and identified all work-related emails. Those totaled 30,490 emails or approximately 55,000 pages. The material was provided to the State Department on Dec. 5, 2014, and it is the agency's discretion to release those emails after a review.

The committee had subpoenaed Clinton’s emails relating to the Benghazi terrorist attack in 2012 on March 4, but Kendall noted that the 300 emails, which amounted to 900 pages, Clinton had turned over satisfied the order.

“Secretary Clinton failed to provide a single new document to the subpoena issued by the Committee and refused to provide her private server to the Inspector General for the State Department or any other independent arbiter for analysis,” he said his statement yesterday.

“We learned today, from her attorney, Secretary Clinton unilaterally decided to wipe her server clean and permanently delete all emails from her personal server. While it is not clear precisely when Secretary Clinton decided to permanently delete all emails from her server, it appears she made the decision after October 28, 2014, when the Department of State for the first time asked the Secretary to return her public record to the Department.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member on the committee, said:

This confirms what we all knew—that Secretary Clinton already produced her official records to the State Department, that she did not keep her personal emails, and that the Select Committee has already obtained her emails relating to the attacks in Benghazi. It is time for the Committee to stop this political charade and instead make these documents public and schedule Secretary Clinton’s public testimony now.

So, while some are reporting the makings of a Clinton comeback are in the works, this fiasco has done damage to her numbers. Guy dissected the CBS News poll showing that two-thirds of the respondents felt it was inappropriate for the former Secretary of State to use a private email account to conduct official business, she scored low marks on honesty, and her favorables are under water by double-digits.

As RNC Chairman Reince Priebus aptly noted, “Even Nixon didn't destroy the tapes.”

Addendum: Theoretically, 90 percent of the emails Hillary turned over should've been preserved by the State Department since they were correspondences with its workers, but they were not.  State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said they started archiving emails for senior officials in February, which was before the story about Hillary's private email account and server broke.  Also, the State Department IG confirmed that its workers aren't preserving government emails properly.  

ICYMI: DC's Congressional Delegate Has Some Issues With Parking

The other day, D.C.'s Congressional Delegate Elanor Holmes Norton was caught on video failing miserably at parking her car near the Capitol.

Yikes.

In response to becoming the laughingstock of the internet (at least in the D.C. area), Norton has promised that she will take a refresher course on how to properly park a car.

She told FOX5 that she was running behind for a TV interview and that she doesn’t normally park in that area. Construction, she said, also caused her to make an unfamiliar move.

“Don’t worry! I have signed up for parking lessons, and I’m even thinking about upgrading to one of those self-parking cars,” Norton said.

This isn't Norton's first snafu with a vehicle. In 2014, she accidentally hit the "kill switch" on a demonstration driverless car and forced the vehicle to reboot, ending the demo.

To be fair to Del. Norton, parking in the District of Columbia can be a challenge, especially on those diagonal spaces. Let's hope she's got a good teacher lined up so she can avoid this embarrassment in the future.

When Smoking Is Involved, Liberals Suddenly Care About Unborn Babies

It has taken a pack of cigarettes to convince pro-abortion liberals that unborn babies are not just fetuses without feelings. A study produced by England's Durham and Lancaster Universities has put a face to the negative effects of smoking during pregnancy. The researchers produced ultrasound scans of unborn babies shielding their eyes and moving their faces uncomfortably as their mothers smoked. It is this batch of telling images that suddenly has liberals up in arms about the well being of the preborn - you know, those tiny lives they had previously dismissed as “masses of cells?”

Here were the study's findings:

Observing 4-d ultrasound scans, the researchers found that fetuses whose mothers were smokers showed a significantly higher rate of mouth movements than the normal declining rate of movements expected in a fetus during pregnancy.

The researchers suggested that the reason for this might be that the fetal central nervous system, which controls movements in general and facial movements in particular did not develop at the same rate and in the same manner as in fetuses of mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy.

It's interesting that one group especially outraged over this research, is the liberal media. Cosmopolitan, a women’s publication unapologetic about its pro-abortion agenda, responded to the study with this article, “Disturbing Ultrasounds Show How Unborn Babies React When Their Mothers Smoke.” 

Why all of a sudden do liberals care about unborn babies? Some would argue it’s only politically expedient now because it fits their anti-smoking agenda. It’s hard for anyone to defend the health effects of smoking, but it is nonetheless an unfortunately apt opportunity for Big Government liberals to promote a nanny state culture. In 2009, President Obama made this demographic happy by signing an anti-smoking bill that gave the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco the same way the government regulates cereals and pharmaceuticals.

So, I have a hard time believing liberals are suddenly sincere in their concern for unborn babies. This new study simply gives liberals more ammunition in their anti-smoking campaign.

Smoking endangers an unborn life, but abortion ends one. It’s obvious that if liberals truly cared about protecting innocent lives, they’d direct more of their outrage toward the latter.

The unborn babies in this study shielded their faces from smoke. Shouldn't the ubiquity of abortion make us all do the same thing?

Latest: Germanwings Co-Pilot Suffered From "Illness," Ripped Up "Sick Notes" Day of Crash

UPDATE: Via NYT: Andreas Lubitz was being treated for vision problems that could have ended his career as a pilot

UPDATE: The French Air Force scrambled a Mirage jet fighter to the area where contact was lost with Germanwings Flight 9525, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Tragically, it arrived too late to offer any assistance.

*Original Post*

Another twisted turn in the curious case of Andreas Lubitz, the unstable German airline pilot who purportedly crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 into the side of a mountain in southeastern France on Monday. For days, authorities and investigators have been trying to figure out (a) why Lubitz deliberately locked the captain out of the cockpit and (b) subsequently and slowly took the plane off course. Perhaps, however, they're getting closer. New details suggest that Lubitz was excused from flying the day of the crash for health reasons, even obtaining a series of doctors notes which he subsequently and reportedly ripped up and kept secret:

Torn-up sick notes for the day of the crash "support the current preliminary assessment that the deceased hid his illness from his employer and colleagues," Duesseldorf prosecutors' office spokesman Ralf Herrenbrueck said Friday. Such sick notes from doctors excusing employees from work are common in Germany, even for minor illnesses.

Prosecutors didn't say what type of illness — mental or physical — Lubitz may have been suffering from. German media reported Friday that the 27-year-old had suffered from depression.

The New York Times also reports that officials have not yet determined a clear motive, but several hypotheticals have already been taken off the table:

The German investigators said they had not found a suicide note or “any indication of a political or religious” nature among the documents from Mr. Lubitz’s apartment. They also played down the possibility that his actions were the result of a romantic breakup, saying he was in a long-term relationship at the time of the crash.

“However, documents were secured containing medical information that indicates an illness and corresponding treatment by doctors,” Ralf Herrenbrück, a spokesman for prosecutors in Düsseldorf, said in a statement.

Even more strange, by all outward appearances Lubitz seemed to be a normal person, according to The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Lubitz’s motive for crashing the plane remain unclear. People who knew him described him as quiet, pleasant and responsible, and Lufthansa said it had no indication why he would have deliberately crashed the aircraft. People who saw him recently said he didn’t appear burdened.

But clearly he was; otherwise, he would not have allegedly murdered so many innocent people.

Meanwhile, this tragic act of mass murder has convinced the airline to overhaul it’s safety regulations; from now on, at least two "authorized persons" will be required to be “in the cockpit at all times”:

The disclosure of torn medical documents at the co-pilot's home came shortly before Germanwings' parent company, Lufthansa, announced that it would be changing company policy to require two crew members remain in the cockpit at all times during the flight, in light of the finding that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz apparently stopped the captain from re-entering the cockpit and forced the plane to crash.

Implementing this change is a no-brainer, of course. And yet it's profoundly tragic that such regulations weren't already in place before this reported killer got behind the wheel.

A Conservative Immigration Agenda

When it comes to immigration reform, we all know what conservatives are against. We are against the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. We are against the 2013 Gang of Eight bill. And we are against the 2014 Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program.

But what are we for? The system is clearly broken. It takes way too long for law-abiding immigrants to become citizens, the wealthy and powerful game the system for their friends, and, now that the economy is revering, the number of illegal immigrants is rising again.

Sure every conservative wants to "secure the border." But when it comes to how that should be done (a wall, mandatory e-verify, doubling the border patrol, etc.), consensus quickly falls apart. And don't even ask about what to do with those illegal immigrants already in the country.

Establishment Republicans are locked into the amnesty-for-enforcement model. Details may vary but the plans are still fundamentally the same: Devote more resources to some border security efforts now ("secure the border") and then grant legal status to the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States.

There are two main problems with this position. 

First, border security is not a one-and-done proposition. It is not like going to the moon. "Securing the border" will always be an ongoing process. You could build a wall. But then that wall has to be maintained, improved, and monitored. Even then, roughly 45 percent of illegal immigrants currently in the United States entered legally with a visa, and then overstayed that visa. A wall to keep illegal immigrants out is worthless if you let half of them in legally. 

Second, it is not fair or credible to pick some arbitrary date and say every illegal immigrant in the United States before said date will be put on a path to citizenship, but every immigrant who comes after said date will be deported. Such a policy is not fair to those immigrants who are patiently going through the existing legal immigration process and potential immigrants have no reason to believe that if we don't have the political will to deport people today, we will somehow magically find the will to do it tomorrow.

So if amnesty-now-for-enforcement-later is not a workable immigration solution, what is?

Before we get to what the specifics of such a policy could look like, here are some principles which should guide us.

Security - The first duty of any government is to protect its citizens. That is why security must be the first principle of immigration reform. The federal government must prioritize preventing national security threats from entering the country and deporting them when they are found already in the country. Threats to public safety (like violent criminals and felons) must also be deported whenever they are found as well.

Equality - We must treat all immigrants equally no matter what country the come from or when they arrived. Treating all nationalities equally is part of our founding creed, and it is simply not credible public policy to treat some immigrants differently based solely on when they arrived in the country.

Family - Nobody likes to break up families. Everyone has empathy for those who are in this country already and are struggling to keep their families together. Deporting otherwise law-abiding family members of legal U.S. residents, who present no threat to national security or public safety, is simply not politically sustainable. The American people just do not have the political will to do it. It is time everyone admitted this, especially proponents of legalization who claim they want to deport illegal immigrants who fail to pay a fine, fail an English test, or lose a job

Prosperity - Our immigration policies should help all Americans prosper, not just employers looking for cheap labor. That is why it is important that we raise the costs for employers to hire illegal immigrants. But we must also seek to minimize the regulatory costs for employers who do want to hire U.S. citizens.

Simplicity - Lawyers, lobbyists, and community activists are the only ones who gain from a complicated immigration system. The simpler the rules are, the better everyone understands them and the more likely it is that everyone follows them.

The challenge of immigration policy is finding the most politically sustainable way for raising the cost of entering or staying in the United States illegally without unduly burdening our economy 

For centuries the Atlantic and Pacific oceans mostly did this job for us. It was expensive to get here and information about where to go once you got here was hard to come by. But, as technology has improved, it is now far easier and cheaper to travel great distances. Thanks to technology it is also far easier to find jobs in the United States from thousands of miles away and it is also far easier to send the money earned in the United States back home. Since technological growth shows no signs of slowing, especially on the transportation and communications fronts, the trend of more people trying to enter, live, and work in the United States will only grow.

This is yet another reason why the amnesty-now-for-enforcement-later policy framework is destined to fail again as it already failed after it was tried in 1986. The main mechanism that we have for controlling illegal immigration, deportation, simply isn't working. Except for demonstrable national security or public safety threats, the political will just isn't there to deport anyone.

There is no comprehensive package of policies that can solve this problem. But there are some incremental steps we can take to better align everyone's incentives.

Turn Unauthorized Immigrants Away At The Border - One of the driving forces behind the 2014 border crisis was the Bush administration policy of turning away illegal immigrants from Mexico at the southern border, but taking in immigrants from all other countries. Smugglers figured out that if they could overwhelm a section of the border with illegal immigrants from a country other than Mexico, then Customs and Border Protection would be forced to release those illegal immigrants in the United States. That is why you had illegal immigrants flagging down border patrol agents. They wanted to be caught! You can have the biggest wall in the world but it is worthless unless we treat everyone equally and turn all illegal immigrants away.

Require Visa Holders To Post Bond When They Enter The Country - Not only did more than 40 percent of all illegal immigrants currently in the United States first enter on a legal visa, but visa-overstayers are also the driving force behind the recent rise in illegal immigration. The Department of Homeland Security should absolutely develop a comprehensive system for tracking visa holder entry and exit, but that is not enough. Who will track all the visa overstayers down? Who will deport them? How do we know if future presidents will be diligent about updating the system and tracking overstayers down? Conservatives can improve the chance that immigrants will honor their visa terms by making them or their sponsoring employer or educational institution post a bond, say $50,000 when they enter. When said visa holder then leaves, they, or their sponsoring institution, can get their money back. But if they don't then taxpayers get to keep the money.

Tax Remittances - How did Jeb Bush put it? Illegal immigration is "an act of love." "They come to our country because their families, the dad who loved their children," Bush said, "was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table." And he's right. Most illegal immigrants do come to this country to earn money that they can then send back home to their families. But when illegal immigrants take those jobs, they drive down the wages for U.S. citizens with similar skills. And when they send their earnings home, that is money that is escaping the U.S. economy and helping another country's economy. U.S. immigration policy should serve U.S. workers and the U.S. economy. Immigrants sent more than $120 billion a year back to their home countries. We should raise taxes on remittances out of the United States and use that revenue to cut the payroll tax for all working Americans.

Allow Injured Parties To Get Compensation From Employers Who Hire Illegal Immigrants - E-Verify is a highly successful program that empowers employers to check the legal status of their potential employees. Any conservative immigration policy should make E-Verify mandatory. But even in states that already have mandatory E-Verify laws, compliance is often spotty. And enforcement would depend entirely on whoever was in the White House. A president controlled by the Chamber of Commerce and/or amnesty activists wold not enforce an E-Verify law. That is why U.S. Citizens must be empowered to hold employers who hire illegal immigrants accountable. A federal cause of action could be created allowing anyone who could show they were harmed by the hiring of an illegal immigrant, through a loss of job or decreased wages, to collect damages from an employer who is proved to have hired an illegal immigrant.

Create a Z Visa For Non-Security Threats - No border security system will be perfect. No visa tracking system will be perfect. No E-Verify system will be perfect. As long as the United States is the best country on Earth immigrants will always come here in greater numbers than the system can handle. So what should we do with those that are here illegally? The easy answer is "deport them all" but history has shown that that is just politically and practically impossible. The current establishment answer, both on the right and left, is for serial amnesty. We give those in the country here now a path to citizenship, promise to deport all illegal immigrants in the future, and then when we don't deport those future illegal immigrants, we give them amnesty too. Wash, rinse, repeat. This approach is dishonest and undermines the rule of law.

Instead, we should create an alternative to deportation. Every illegal immigrant would still have to go through a deportation process, and those who were found to be threats to public safety or national security would still be deported. But for those who were not threats to public safety, they could be issued a Z Visa granting them protection from deportation. This new Z Visa would not entitle anyone to a work permit, a Social Security number, or a driver's license, but it would allow them to remain with their families.

None of the above policy ideas are dependent on one another. All could be implemented one-by-one in a piecemeal process. Even if they all became law our immigration system would still not be perfect. But it would function far better than it does today.

What Is It With Federal Officers Soliciting Prostitutes and Having Sex Parties?

Federal law enforcement seems to have an accountability problem within their ranks regarding allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. The fact that internal affairs within these departments have a history of refusing to investigate these allegations is bad enough, but it reached a whole new level when it was discovered that agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reportedly participated in soliciting prostitutes; a throwback to the Secret Service’s scandal in Cartagena, Colombia. A report from the Department of Justice’s Inspector General released a damning report citing sex parties, and agents accepting money, gifts, and weapons from the drug cartels (via WaPo) [emphasis mine]:

Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by local drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department’s watchdog.

The report did not specify the country where the parties occurred, but a law enforcement official familiar with the matter identified it as Colombia.

Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in the gatherings — most of which took place at an agent’s “quarters” leased by the U.S. government — admitted to having attended the parties, the report found. The agents, some of whom had top-secret security clearances, received suspensions of two to 10 days.

Former police officers in Colombia also alleged that three DEA supervisory special agents were provided with money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members, according to the report.

“Although some of the DEA agents participating in these parties denied it, the information in the case file suggested they should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds,” according to the 131-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.

The findings were part of a much broader investigation into the handling of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct from fiscal 2009 to 2012 at federal law enforcement agencies — the DEA, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Horowitz said the investigation was “significantly impacted and unnecessarily delayed” by repeated difficulties his office had in obtaining relevant information from the FBI and the DEA. When he did receive the information, he said, it “was still incomplete.”

At the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, the internal-affairs offices “chose not to investigate” some allegations of sexual misconduct, the report said. At the FBI, in 32 of 258 accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, supervisors failed to report the allegations.

The DEA’s internal-affairs office did not always fully investigate allegations of solicitation of prostitution. There were 26 allegations involving DEA agents soliciting prostitutes abroad between 2009 and 2012, the report said.

“We found that the DEA lacks clear policy on whether to report alleged misconduct to headquarters and the DEA provides supervisors discretion when deciding whether to do so,” the report concluded.

In one case that also appeared to be based in Colombia, a DEA regional director, an acting assistant regional director and a group supervisor failed to report to their superiors repeated allegations of special agents paying prostitutes for sex and “frequenting a brothel while in an overseas posting,” treating the accusations as “local management issues.”

Over at the Washington Examiner, they report that DEA agents were also cited for arranging prostitutes for two Secret Service agents.

In 2012, the Secret Service’s PR nightmare began when agents from the advanced security detail were caught with prostitutes at the five-star Hotel Caribe, where members of the White House Staff and Press Corps would eventually stay as well. Business Insider  had a great breakdown of the incident that took place amongst this group of agents that arrived a week in advance of the planned Sixth Summit of the Americas. Drinking heavily throughout the week, the hotel staff noticed the agents’ solicitation prostitutes when one of them wasn’t paid. When confronted by the hotel manager, the agent refused to cooperate prompting a call to the police.

In all, 22 members of the Secret Service, including five members of U.S. Special Forces were reportedly involved in this night of fun gone awry, according to Insider. As you could imagine, there were some personnel changes, and the secret Service affirmed that the president’s security had not been compromised.

In an ironic twist on the whole incident, the investigator from the Department of Homeland Security, David Nieland, resigned his position last year over allegation that he visited … a prostitute (via NYT):

Sheriff’s deputies in Broward County, Fla., saw David Nieland, the investigator, entering and leaving a building they had under surveillance as part of a prostitution investigation, according to officials briefed on the investigation. They later interviewed a prostitute who identified Mr. Nieland in a photograph and said he had paid her for sex.

Mr. Nieland resigned after he refused to answer a series of questions from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general about the incident, the officials said.

A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general said in a statement that he could confirm only that Mr. Nieland resigned in August. But the spokesman added that department officials “became aware in early May of this year of an incident in Florida that involved one of our employees.”

While prostitution is quasi-legalized in Colombia, I honestly have no words. The DEA is accepting gifts and sex parties with the help of local drug cartels. The Secret Service solicited prostitutes in Cartagena, and their failure to stop Omar Gonzalez when he jumped the White House fence, which led to the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson; only added another embarrassment to their history. They dodged a bullet with the White House gate incident, where it appears that they didn’t crash into the gate–the agents more or less tapped it–and they weren’t drunk. Still, it's probably not the best time to be asking for $8 million to build a fake White House in Maryland in order to properly secure the real one.

It's really not a good time for federal law enforcement. 

Hillary Just Avoided The 'Pepsi Throwback' Of Presidential Primaries

Hillary’s email trainwreck has some of Hillary’s staunchest supporters “really freaked out,�� according to National Journal’s Ron Fournier. He said on CNN earlier this month that he got calls from Democrats in awe of the email development and unimpressed with how the former first lady conducted herself at the UN presser explaining her actions. Even die-hard Clinton supporters, people who want her to run unchallenged for the Democratic nomination, are worried, or at least very uneasy about the whole situation. As Cortney aptly noted, some Democrats are saying this is what happens when you “put all your eggs in one basket.”

So, does Clinton’s email flap mean Democrats are lining up to challenge her? Well, sort of -- there’s some folks trying to motivate California Gov. Jerry Brown, Al Gore (I’m not kidding), Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Vice President Joe Biden to consider 2016 runs. Yes, it’s quite the motley crew of people who’ve never been successful in mounting national campaigns for president and one senator who won because her state is insanely Democratic.

First, let’s go to every progressives favorite, Sen. Warren. In February, Warren sent a rather enigmatic letter to Democrats through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) saying, The question is whether enough Democrats will stand up -- stand up to corporate money and powerful interests and stand up for regular people, working families, and progressive values…I’m in — what about you? Will you donate by midnight to take back the Senate?" Many on the left, like Moveon.org and Democracy for America are taking this as a sign that she could be swayed to run in 2016. Hillary’s ties to the financial industry has drawn the ire of the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and this email fiasco has given them fuel to fan the flames of a potential Clinton challenge–with Warren leading the way:

Democracy for America, MoveOn.org and Ready for Warren all issued statements within minutes of each other, touting Warren’s record as a middle-class advocate and urging her to run.

Timing notwithstanding, the three groups disavowed any interest in the ongoing email flap, but instead said their efforts to draft Warren were driven by the issues. And they all agreed that Warren’s harsh criticism for Wall Street and middle-class advocacy is the right prescription for the party.

“Primaries are decided on the issues, not where candidates store their emails,” said Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America.

“The draft Warren movement is less concerned with the frenzy surrounding Secretary Clinton's emails than we are with standing up, on behalf of millions of working families, to those who are rigging the system in favor of the rich and powerful,” added Erica Sagrans, campaign manager for Ready for Warren.

“A contested nomination will strengthen the Democratic Party by holding candidates accountable,” said Ready for Warren’s Sagrans. “Senator Warren is already shaping the national conversation on key issues, but not having her in the race would weaken our chances of having a real warrior for working families in the White House.”

Well, for starters, Warren has said she isn’t running for president. Though she has friends, many will simply not give the money necessary to mount a successful challenge. Why? They won't leave Hillary. Then again, it's reported that Warren could split the moneyed interests in Hollywood; a lot of folks in the business have soured on Hillary, thinking she's too centrist. David Frum noted that the Senate isn’t an institution designed for a raging progressive like Warren. So, she could toss her hat into the ring.  As Dan wrote earlier today, The Boston Globe wants her to mount a challenge to Clinton. Clinton knows her growing influence in the party given that she and Warren had a sit down in February to discuss, amongst other things, policy ideas. Is this the beginning of Clinton/Warren 2016?  

In a throwback to the 1990s, California Gov. Jerry Brown, who’s pushing 80, was giving off 2016 vibes of his own until this Sunday’s Meet The Press. Citing his age, Brown said if he were 10 years younger, he would mount a campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Bad blood reportedly still exists between the two camps; Brown accused then-Gov. Bill Clinton of funneling money to Hillary's law firm for state business in the 1992 presidential election, which drove Bill into a rage.

Al Gore was creating buzz. Noah wrote about it. Ezra Klein of Vox  had a post saying the former vice president should run, citing his ability to fundraise his possible 2016 bid thanks to his resume as a credible candidate:

Hillary Clinton is crushing her rivals in the invisible primary. The result will be a lopsided race once the campaign turns visible: her likely challengers don't have the name recognition, party support, campaign organization, or funding necessary to force a real contest.

Gore does. He begins with a powerful asset in presidential politics: credibility. As a long-serving senator and a two-term vice president, Gore has more direct political experience and at least as much claim to the triumphs of the 1990s as Clinton. He's also won more elections than Clinton — including the popular vote in a presidential campaign. There are few Americans who don't at least know his name. There is no one in the Democratic Party who won't at least take his call.

But Gore's experience and contacts now reach beyond politics — and into venues that would be enormously helpful to him if he wanted to fund an expensive race. He serves on the board of Apple, as a senior adviser to Google, and at the mega-venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. He's also carved a path through finance and telecommunications, becoming fabulously wealthy — richer, even, than Mitt Romney — as an investor and mogul.

The problem, Klein notes, is Gore. Oh, and the fact that he’s probably not running for president.

Lastly, there’s Vice President Joe Biden. Though he hasn’t made any of his 2016 intentions known, Draft Biden is up and running. It’s also “appropriately unpolished,” according to National Journal:

The new Draft Biden 2016 effort is a PAC and a fledgling website, RunBidenRun.com, with a full-time staff of two. When the site went live, an unfortunately cropped photo of the vice president's chest—cutting off his head—greeted viewers, and the "Donate" page trumpeted a goal of just $5,000, while showing that $5 had been raised by Tuesday afternoon.

What the effort does have, though, is a network of former Obama for America volunteers who are resolved to boost someone with a last name other than Clinton or Bush to the White House. That includes Draft Biden PAC's organizing director, William Pierce, a 26-year-old who has worked as a field organizer for Democrats, most recently Chicago mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti.

Despite the vice president's lack of a campaign operation, Draft Biden hopes to persuade him to run. For starters, there's a petition—which currently has roughly 2,000 signatures—urging him to get in the race. The group plans to build on what Pierce said is Biden's grassroots support throughout the country, eventually hiring field staff in key primary states "who can mobilize the grassroots army that we're going to have in those states."

Draft Biden isn't deterred by the millions raised by other candidates. With a stated fundraising goal of just $5,000, the group isn't planning to produce "glitzy TV commercials" or an expensive bus tour, because, Pierce said, "money is the root of all evil, we feel."

Allahpundit wrote, “It’s not capital-C Crazy” if Biden runs, though he aptly noted that we should probably drink some special Kool-Aid if he–in some bizarre alternate reality–becomes an unstoppable juggernaut in the general. At the same time, despite being saddled with Obama’s baggage, there really isn’t a reason for Biden not to mount a 2016 bid. Yes, he’s old, so this would be his swan song–win or lose. Vice presidents are usually lost to history after their service, and seldom does the vice president achieve a higher office than having the honor of being a pulse away from occupying the Oval Office.

Last December, I wrote that if he does run, Hillary has to debate him, whereas she could sit idly by and let her would-be opponents asphyxiate from a lack of oxygen from the media and donors. You can’t say the same for the Vice President of the United States, even if he’s trailing you. Also, can you imagine that debate? “Dead broke” lady vs. “butt buddy” Biden; where’s the popcorn?

Lastly, Biden has often told this to his colleagues about his secret to winning.

“You have to figure out what’s worth losing over,” he says. In 2016, he really has nothing to lose by running other than one last stab before probably retiring from public life.

So, in the end, the fledgling 2016 Democratic field (Biden/Brown/Gore) that was mostly a throwback to the 1990s has died a quick death.

With Biden, it’s a wait and see, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he just decides to bow out. With Warren, despite her firm statements to the contrary, we shouldn’t be surprised if she does toss her hat in the ring. This is her only window of opportunity. She will probably be considered too old after the ’16 cycle.

 At the same time, she pales in comparison to Barack Obama when gauging the two as insurgent candidates:

Think back to this time in 2007. Mr. Obama already had emerged as a strong candidate. He had announced his candidacy in February 2007, and surged to about 25 percent in the polls. His early rallies drew large crowds. By April, he was already tied with Mrs. Clinton in Iowa (although John Edwards led them both), and he matched her first-quarter fund-raising tallies.

The numbers, if anything, underestimated his position. His political identity, intentionally or not, was forged from anti-Clinton kryptonite. Early opposition to the war in Iraq positioned him to challenge Mrs. Clinton on her biggest liability. His youth, unifying message and relentless criticism of special interests contrasted perfectly with Mrs. Clinton, who was seen as a polarizing, transactional candidate tied to the past.

The enthusiasm for Ms. Warren’s candidacy on the left is real, but it probably doesn’t compare with the support for Mr. Obama. She isn’t as sharp a contrast with Mrs. Clinton, particularly when it comes to youth. Ms. Warren may be a new face, but, at 65, she doesn’t represent generational change against Mrs. Clinton, who is 67.

And Mr. Obama had an advantage that Ms. Warren can’t replicate: the possibility of becoming the country’s first black president. Ms. Warren’s similar appeal as a possible pathbreaking president, as the first woman to win, would be matched by Mrs. Clinton.

Again, Clinton/Warren 2016 could help Hillary shore up the progressive elements skeptical of her on policy. Myra Adams wrote in National Review that it also has the added bonus of removing Warren from the Senate should this highly hypothetical ticket win in 2016. As a result, progressive obstructionism by Warren to Clinton's pragmatic, sometimes secretive, approach to policy can be avoided. What say you?

**Crossposted over at Hot Air**

Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) To Seek Senate Seat

Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) is expected to announce Monday that she intends on running for Senate. Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq War, was the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress from Illinois and was first elected to Congress in 2012.

The Chicago Sun Times had the exclusive:

On Monday evening, Duckworth will gather some of her top donors at a home in the Hancock Center to discuss securing the Democratic nomination to run against Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who is seeking a second term.

In the letter to her best fundraisers about the Hancock meeting, they were told “contributions are encouraged but not required. We realize it is early in the election cycle, but we are asking our top supporters to consider a donation. The maximum an individual can give before March is $5,400. If Tammy decides to not to run for Senate, we will offer you a refund. If she does run, this support will be key in keeping up with Senator Kirk’s $2 million and counting campaign war-chest.”

Duckworth is a new mother to a daughter, Abigail, and recently returned to Congress following maternity leave. Prior to Abigail's birth, a minor controversy erupted over Rep. Nancy Pelosi's refusal to let Duckworth (who was on bed rest) vote by proxy.

Reid: I'd Like to Pass The Leadership Torch to Chuck Schumer

Now that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has done a complete about-face and opted not to run for re-election, questions abound about who will succeed him in his leadership role. Reid, however, has a candidate in mind: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

The Washington Post interviewed the Nevada Democrat this morning:

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has endorsed Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to succeed him after he retires at the end of 2016.

"I think Schumer should be able to succeed me," Reid said in a Friday morning interview at his home in Washington's West End.

Reid predicted that Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat in leadership and a close friend, would win the Democratic leader post without opposition. He said that the other likely contender, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), would stand down for Schumer.

We'll see.

Why Iran Has All The Leverage Over Obama

Sometime next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, President Obama will most likely announce that his administration has reached a political agreement with Ayatollah Khamenei's regime on nuclear weapons.

The deal may not be signed, it may not have any real specifics, but Obama will hail it as the only way to stop a war with Iran and delay them from getting a bomb. 

Whatever the contours of the "agreement" Obama announces next week, it will look far weaker than it was supposed to look just months ago. Over the past week alone, U.S. negotiators reportedly have conceded to Iran: 1) the need for a written agreement; 2) the ability of Iran to use nuclear centrifuges underground; and 3) the need for Iran to disclose the full range of its current nuclear capabilities.

Why, as Lando Calrissian might ask, is this deal getting worse all the time?

The simple answer is that Obama's broader Middle East strategy leaves him with zero leverage over Iran. The New York Times Thomas Friedman explains:

The Obama team’s best argument for doing this deal with Iran is that, in time, it could be “transformational.” That is, the ending of sanctions could open Iran to the world and bring in enough fresh air — Iran has been deliberately isolated since 1979 by its ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guard Corps — to gradually move Iran from being a revolutionary state to a normal one, and one less inclined to threaten Israel.

If one assumes that Iran already has the know-how and tools to build a nuclear weapon, changing the character of its regime is the only way it becomes less threatening.

The only reason Khamenei's regime is negotiating with Obama at all is because they want the world's economic sanctions on Iran lifted. In return for lifting those sanctions, Iran is supposed to give up its ambitions for a nuclear weapon. That's the basic outline of the deal: Iran gets the sanctions lifter and Obama gets an end to their nuclear weapons program.

But read the above Friedman paragraphs again. Obama's Middle East strategy is premised on "transforming" the current Iranian government by ending sanctions on Iran. This means that Obama wants the sanctions on Iran lifted just as badly as Ayatollah Khamenei.

Now, granted, Obama and Khamenei have very different ideas about what the outcome of the end of sanctions will be. Obama believes an Iran without economic sanctions will lead to if not Kamanei's demise, than it least the marginalization of him and his followers. Khamenei, on the other hand, believes an Iran without sanctions will allow his regime to strengthen their control over not just Iran, but also the entire Middle East.

Who has a better understanding of Iran, its politics, its people, and the impact of ending economic sanctions? Is it Khamenei, who has ruled his country for over two decades? Or is it Obama, who honestly thought the power of his own celebrity could save Democrats from crushing defeat in 2010? We'll see.

The answer to that question is ultimately irrelevant though when judging who currently has more leverage in the nuclear weapons talks. Since both Obama and Iran want sanctions on Iran to be lifted, Obama has no way to force any real concessions from Iran on nuclear issues. His threat to continue the current sanctions, or enact new ones, are hollow. Everyone knows he wants the sanctions lifted anyway. Why should Iran concede anything?

That's why they are not.

White House Clears Obama's Schedule For Iranian Nuclear Deal Next Week

President Obama has nothing scheduled after Monday next week, a blank space that just happens to coincide with the deadline Obama set for his nuclear weapons deal with Iran.

"The president's schedule for the rest of the week actually remains pretty fluid," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at the daily press briefing Friday. Asked why he wasn't able to provide any information on Obama's activities next week, Earenst replied, "We've got some more details on the schedule that need to be hammered out."

Earnest did say that Obama will be traveling to Florida on Saturday, but he assured reporters that no news was planned to be made on that trip. On Sunday, Obama will return to Washington before going to Boston on Monday to deliver remarks at the opening of a building in honor of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

But after that, the White House had no information to offer about what Obama would be doing Tuesday or for the rest of the week. That timing just happens to overlap with the March 31st deadline Obama set for a deal with Iran on their nuclear weapons program.

The March 31st deadline is a complete invention of the Obama administration and Iran has made it abundantly clear they feel no pressure to sign any written agreement with Obama until later this June.

Obama, however, would like to have something he can take to the Americans people before then, regardless of firm or verifiable any real agreement with the Iranians actually is.

The Friday Filibuster: Cruzin' for the White House

The Friday Filibuster: The one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about this week in politics.

Closing Numbers


150- The number of people who died in the Germanwings Airliner crash this week, 3 of whom were Americans.

7-The number of pro-lifers arrested while praying outside of Speaker Boehner’s office.

0 inspector general was at the State Department when Hillary Clinton was there.

3- The number of Shiite militias in Iraq that have decided to stop fighting.

37 percent of Americans view Hillary Clinton unfavorably.

Abortion & Human Trafficking

In New York, a pro-abortion provision in a human trafficking bill, which held up its passage for years, has finally been severed, clearing the way for this important legislation to advance. Meanwhile in Washington, Senate Democrats continued to block a vote on legislation meant to stop human trafficking and help victims because of a provision that prevents public funds from paying for abortions. Guy debunks their false talking points here. Reid’s also preparing to block another bipartisan bill over abortion funding.

Obamacare

As we marked the five year anniversary of Obamacare this week, the president said the law is a stunning success: “Every prediction they made about it turned out to be wrong,” he said in Cleveland on Wednesday. “It’s working better than even I expected.” National Journal’s Ron Fournier took conservatives to task over their continued efforts to repeal and replace the law—and things escalated quickly

Campaigns & Elections


Election season has officially gotten underway with Sen. Ted Cruz announcing on Monday that he is running for president, thus becoming the first entrant into the GOP race. Though, like President Obama, Cruz is only a one-term senator and lacks the executive experience, he defended his candidacy on “The Kelly File” this week and stressed the importance of a conservative win in 2016. While there are naysayers, Cruz is constitutionally eligible to be president; even Al Sharpton had to concede he’s “allegable.” Next up to announce their candidacy? Sen. Rand Paul, who will formally declare in early April. He’s also already taking some soft shots at Cruz. And DNC "factivists" are already getting to work. 

And in other election news: Sens. Harry Reid and Dan Coats announced they plan to step down in 2016; the Democratic representative who unseated Allen West will be running for Rubio’s Senate seat; and Boston Globe’s editorial board is practically begging Elizabeth Warren to run. 

Foreign Policy

Nuclear negotiations with Iran went from bad to worse this week. Just one day after President Obama urged Iran to seize a ‘historic opportunity’ to reach a deal, the country’s supreme leader chanted ‘Death to America’ after telling a crowd in Tehran that it would ‘not capitulate to Western demands.’ And they certainly aren’t. The U.S. not only brushed this off rhetoric, but also agreed to allow Iran to maintain centrifuges in a fortified underground bunker…oh, and any “deal” we come to likely won’t even be in writing. Both Rubio and Walker said that if they became president they’d immediately scrap Obama’s Iran deal. In related news, the White House found out this week that Israeli intelligence had been eavesdropping on our negotiations and then used that information to try to lobby Congress against a deal. Meanwhile, the White House continues to believe we’ve “succeeded” in Yemen even as its president fled rebels and al Qaeda took control of a key city.

Bergdahl

The U.S. Army announced official charges against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl this week, including one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy. If convicted, Bergdahl could face life in prison. After Bergdahl was released this summer in a swap for five Taliban prisoners, members of his platoon came forward with details about Bergdahl’s disappearance. They claimed he violated his oath and left on his own accord. Now, even though their statements have been vindicated, State Department Deputy Press Secretary Marie Harf refuses to apologize to the platoon members for previously dismissing them as non-credible. 

Graphics by Townhall Graphic Designer Feven Amenu. 

Senate Passes Budget on Straight Party-line Vote, Cruz and Paul Vote 'No'

Working late into the early morning on Friday, Republicans in the U.S. Senate narrowly passed a budget that balances, cuts the size and scope of the federal government, and doesn’t raise taxes. Before the measure passed, however, Congressional Democrats predictably described it as “an absolute farce” and “insensitive.” Nevertheless, since Senate Democrats failed to even introduce a budget for years when they controlled the upper chamber (although they did pass a budget in 2013) perhaps a few plaudits are in order:

The 52-46 vote came at 3:28 a.m., after the Senate considered hundreds of amendments and voted on dozens — many of them politically freighted, some of them contradictory, but none of them binding. No Democrats voted for the budget. Among Republicans, only Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is likely to seek the White House, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has announced his intention to do so, voted no.

Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, chairman of the Budget Committee, hailed a plan that he said would “protect the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, strengthen national defense and bring robust economic growth.”

Democrats said it would be a disaster — if it ever happened.

But will it happen? Unlikely, my friends, as it will never reach the president’s desk:

The budgets themselves are nonbinding and do not require a presidential signature. Once each chamber passes its version, the House and Senate will try to agree on a common plan, something that last happened in 2009. Then lawmakers will draft separate legislation to implement the programs.

While the Senate budget is imperfect and therefore did not earn universal GOP support, it is a much better alternative than what the president served up, which was deemed “dead on arrival” by Republicans because of its massive spending increases and failure to balance. Surprise. And unlike Senate Democrats, at least Senate Republicans are following the letter of the law and governing.

“The real fights on the budget will come this summer, as those appropriations bills work their way through a similar process,” Ed Morrissey explains to readers over at Hot Air. “Still, it’s the first time in six years that Congress has done its job at all, let alone on time.”

And that, of course, is commendable. Embarrassingly, the normal budget process was all but jettisoned under the heavy-handedness of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) when Democrats controlled the upper chamber.

Perhaps this is why so few Republican lawmakers will be sorry to see him go.

Amnesty International: Hamas Rocket Attacks Amounted To War Crimes

Yes, you read that right; Amnesty International has declared Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israel amounted to war crimes.

Last summer, the bloodshed began when Hamas claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Soon afterwards, Israel began operations in the West Bank to bring the perpetrators to justice. The “crackdown” prompted Hamas to increase rocket attacks from Gaza, which led Israel to invade the Gaza Strip to prevent further attacks on its citizens last summer. Close to 5,000 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza.

Last November, Amnesty International reported that Israel had committed war crimes, which they rejected. According to the Associated Press, Israel's Foreign Ministry said Amnesty's report"ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas."

"The report does not mention the word terror in relation to Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, nor mentions tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and perpetrate terror attacks," the ministry said.

Well, in this new report, Amnesty says Hamas’ attacks were "unlawful" and "displayed a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law" (via BBC)

Militants displayed a "flagrant disregard" for the lives of civilians during the 50-day war, a report found.

According to UN data, more than 4,800 rockets and 1,700 mortars were fired from Gaza towards Israel between 8 July and 26 August. Around 224 projectiles are believed to have struck Israeli residential areas.

Amnesty said that all the rockets used by Hamas and other militant groups, some of which have ranges of up to 160km (100 miles), were unguided projectiles which could not be accurately directed at specific targets and were "inherently indiscriminate".

The majority of Israel's 8.3 million people live within reach of the long-range rockets, and the report pointed out that as a result the "circle of fear has widened" in Israel.

"Palestinian armed groups, including the armed wing of Hamas, repeatedly launched unlawful attacks during the conflict," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.

"In launching these attacks, they displayed a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law and for the consequences of their violations on civilians in both Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Amnesty's report also detailed other violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian groups during the conflict, such as storing rockets and other munitions in civilian buildings, including UN schools, and cases where armed groups launched attacks or stored munitions very near locations where hundreds of civilians were sheltering.

Of course, Hamas’ spokesperson Tahir al-Nounou said the report was inaccurate, made “false allegations,” and was “based on the Israeli narrative.”

Hamas broke the ceasefire during the war, and was caught by the French Press firing rockets from densely populated areas in Gaza. Gallagher Fenwick, a reporter with FRANCE 24, took advantage of the seven-hour humanitarian ceasefire, which occurred in early August, to “snoop around.” It’s was during this time that he stumbled upon a rocket launching pad 50 meters from the hotel where most of the international press was staying and 100 meters from a UN building, clearly marked with its blue flag.

During the conflict, a network of tunnels used by Hamas were discovered and destroyed by Israeli Defense Forces. Yet, it wasn’t a cheap undertaking. Each tunnel cost between $2-3 million to build and there were at least 30 of them. 
It was money that could’ve been spent on medical clinics, infrastructure, schools, and supplies, but Hamas decided to spend it on operations to fund their terrorist activities.

Uh Oh: CBS Poll Shows Hillary Favorability Underwater, Most Say She's Not Honest


A few interesting nuggets in CBS News' new poll, which is all about Democrats' inevitable 2016 nominee:

(1) Hillary Clinton's favorability rating is upside down by double-digits, at (26/37), with a staggering 36 percent of respondents declaring themselves undecided or insufficiently informed to say either way. The less-than-impressive favorables isn't great news for Team Hillary, but I wonder how they view that huge number of uncommitteds. On one hand, she'll pound the First! Woman! President! drum loudly and proudly from wire to wire in an attempt to make the election a referendum -- not on her, per se, but on the idea of having any 'her' as president. There's upside there. On the other hand, Hillary is about as known a commodity as exists in American politics, yet about a third of voters at least claim that they're waiting for someone to help define Hillary Clinton in their minds. That's an opening for Republicans, obviously.

(2) Hillary fares better on leadership qualities (57/38 favorable), meaning that the GOP has a long way to go to discredit her very rocky tenure at State. Voters are more likely to say that she "cares" about people like them than not (56/39), but the gap isn't as comfortable as she'd like it to be. There's fertile ground to attack here, too, given the Clintons' deep Wall Street ties and immense wealth -- to say nothing of Hillary's out-of-touch aloofness, or the controversy surrounding the Clinton Foundation's finances. Barack Obama crushed Mitt Romney on this metric in 2012.

(3) She earns low marks on honesty, with voters splitting (42/47) on whether she's "honest and trustworthy." Those numbers are kept afloat by Democrats overwhelmingly pretending they see her as honest; Republicans and independents break sharply in the other direction. Her performance trying to spin away her reckless and opaque email scheme could not have resonated as forthcoming to any fair-minded person who actually watched that spectacle.

(4) Speaking of emails, nearly two-thirds of respondents say Hillary's use of a private email system to conduct official business was inappropriate, though they split evenly on whether they're satisfied by her "convenience" explanation. I continue to believe that the most potent argument the GOP has at its disposal is to highlight how utterly reckless and risky this practice was from a national security perspective. Sure, they can add that she was breaking the rules, and possibly the law -- and that her State Department sacked an ambassador in part for violating the "clear-cut" rules -- but sacrificing national security for your own "convenience" (her explanation) or to thwart transparency protocols (the real explanation) packs the biggest punch.

A pro-Hillary front group, meanwhile, is already warning people that they're going to be on the hunt for sexist criticisms of their candidate, with "sexism" being very broadly defined:




Why, it's almost as if the Left's Outrage Circus wants to shut down debate by delegitimizing opponents' arguments, rather than having an open and robust discussion. Someone should really write a book about that insidious phenomenon. Over on the GOP side of the world, a Wall Street Journal analysis suggests that the 2016 may be the longest and most expensive Republican primary in recent memory:

The candidate field looks unusually crowded, with more than a dozen contenders appealing to different slices of the GOP. The rise of super PACs allows candidates to stay in the race longer than before. And nominating rules meant to compress the process may complicate a front-runner’s ability to amass the delegates necessary to win…The potential for an extended primary stems from what many Republicans believe to be a positive development: a crowd of viable candidates expected to run in 2016 and a set of GOP donors who appear eager to finance their bids...The size of the GOP field and the absence of an obvious front-runner means campaigns will have to devote more time and money to the often-grueling hunt for individual delegates, veteran strategists say. Some warn that if three or four candidates emerge from the early nominating contests in February and early March with a significant share of convention delegates, none may claim the roughly 1,100 to 1,200 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

This is why some smart folks like Sean Trende are talking about a brokered convention as a potential reality, not a farfetched, dream-come-true scenario for political nerds. For what it's worth, here are the latest numbers out of New Hampshire:

There’s about ten months to go before New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary, but a new poll in the Republican race was released Thursday. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush leads the Suffolk University poll of likely GOP Primary voters with 19-percent. Scott Walker was second with 14-percent and Rand Paul was third at 7-precent. Donald Trump had 6-percent. Chris Christie and Ted Cruz were tied with just 5-percent.

Trump is ahead of Christie and Cruz? Yeesh.