Matt Vespa - Yemen Unrest Could Spark Regional War
Posted: 3/30/2015 8:30:00 PM EST

Ground troops from the Arab League could be moving into Yemen to fight the Shiite Houthi rebels that have forced President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi from the capital Sanaa and the southern city of Aden. Hadi was reportedly trying to rebuild his power base there after escaping house arrest. The embattled president was able to go to the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to attend an Arab League summit, according to CNN:

[Arab League] Support is already broad. The coalition nations participating in the bombardments make up about a third of the league's membership.

On Saturday, Hadi called the Houthis out: "You violated the sovereignty (of Yemen), and you bear the responsibility for what happened and what is going to happen."

Airstrikes have hit Houthi militant groups, smashed their big air defense guns and crumbled key infrastructure that links major towns with the capital, Sanaa, a Saudi official has said. The coalition has destroyed Yemeni army weapons caches and military facilities.

Saudi naval special forces have also rescued dozens of diplomats, the official said. And many U.N. representatives have fled the unrest.

Saudi Arabia has set up a blockade, effectively cutting off Houthi supply lines, and its air force controls Yemeni airspace. They have threatened to attack ships that might supply the rebels.

Concerning the strategic situation, the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran encapsulates the Sunni-Shiite schism, which often times has led to violence between the competing sects of Islam. Saudi Arabia, which sees the Houthis as being backed by Iran–they did send a delegation to Tehran–can’t have an Iranian satellite state on their border:

Iran and Saudi Arabia are bitter rivals. Having Yemen become an Iranian satellite country on its border would be unacceptable to the kingdom.

Iran has sharply denounced the Saudi-dominated armed intervention.

And two Arab League members, Lebanon and Iraq, have voiced opposition to Determination Storm [the current air campaign against the Houthis], Lee reported. Both countries are majority Shiite.

In all, a force of about 40,000 men from the Arab League could be heading into Yemen. The United States has been providing logistical support for the airstrikes as well (via the Hill):

The Arab League on Sunday decided it would build a joint military force featuring combat units from each of its 22 member nations.

It would likely boast 40,000 elite troops backed by light armor and mechanized air and naval power, he added.

The Al Arabiya network said the league declared any member state could request the joint military if its security was threatened. The league would then act if the situation warranted combat, Al Arabiya concluded.

The league’s first potential battleground might be in Yemen, which is currently tangled in a fierce civil war. Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Tuesday fled his hometown of Aden as Shiite Houthi rebels advanced on his position.

The embattled leader next retreated to Saudi Arabia, another league member, Wednesday. The Sunni government in Saudi Arabia has since conducted air strikes on the rebels, hoping it will prevent the Houthis from partnering with its Shiite rival, Iran.

The Obama administration revealed on Wednesday it is providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi military campaign. It has additionally ruled out direct military intervention, despite its close alliance with Hadi’s former government.

CNN added that Saudi Arabian officials have insisted that if an invasion occurs, they won’t leave Yemen until the rebels’ fighting capabilities are irrevocably crippled. That being said, the publication noted that the Houthis are skilled guerrilla fighters that could turn this incursion into a bloody affair.

Yemen had been used by this administration as a blueprint for future counter-terrorism operations. When the country continued to devolve into chaos, this administration maintained that position. Even Vox knew better, as this post shows, as they pretty much took Obama’s foreign policy to the woodshed.

Guy Benson - The Fact-Free Meltdown Over Indiana's New Religious Freedom Law
Posted: 3/30/2015 6:20:00 PM EST

As you may have gathered via breathless headlines and hyperbolic social media rants, Indiana Governor Mike Pence recently signed into law a draconian attack on LGBT rights under the guise of "religious liberty." This unprecedented assault on equality, or whatever, has elicited strident condemnations and boycott threats from a number of celebrities and organizations.  Almost all of this hyperventilating is rooted in some brew of abject ignorance, mindless alarmism, and ostentatious moral preening.  The latter, anti-intellectual phenomenon is especially widespread: "Look at me, I'm a good person because I'm outraged about this terrible law, about which I know very little. Those who disagree with me are exposing themselves as bad people who support discrimination against gay people, which offends my tolerant and progressive sensibilities, of which I'm reminding everyone right now."  

In fact, Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) very closely mirrors a federal law cosponsored by Congressional liberals and signed by President Clinton in the early 1990s.  It is also extremely similar to laws enacted in 19 other states over recent decades.  That list of red and blue states includes Illinois, where then-state Senator Barack Obama cast his vote in favor of the legislation, which may help explain why some Democrats are struggling to logically defend their table-pounding over Indiana's law.  In short, the Hoosier State's RFRA isn't remarkable or radical under any fair reading. In a must-read piece today, writer and attorney Gabriel Malor (who is a gay conservative who supports same-sex marriage) sticks to facts in addressing common misconceptions about these laws -- starting with what they are, and the two-pronged balancing test at their core:

This legislation sets the same minimum standard for burdening the exercise of religion. Under the various RFRAs, a state or the federal government—by law or other action—may not substantially burden an individual’s exercise of religion unless the burden is in furtherance of a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. Twenty states, including Indiana, and the federal government have RFRAs.

This was the same test applied by the Supreme Court in its Hobby Lobby ruling on religious liberty and Obamacare's contraception mandate last year.  Malor answers a series of questions about Indiana's law, making clear that it does not codify discrimination whatsoever, nor does it even mention gays or same-sex marriage.  (Separately, Mollie Hemingway profiles a number of Americans whose rights have been protected by RFRA-style laws, including Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Native Americans, and "spiritists" -- none of these cases pertained to gay rights in any way).  Critics of Indiana's measure largely ignore these cases, opting instead to invent hypothetical victims of anti-gay discrimination -- which is not "permitted" under RFRA. An example of the alarmism:

Malor, again:

This big gay freak-out is purely notional. No RFRA has ever been used successfully to defend anti-gay discrimination, not in twenty years of RFRAs nationwide. Why Is Everyone So Mad about Indiana’s RFRA, Then? The fear is that it could be used to deny service to gay people in places of public accommodation like businesses and restaurants. But, as discussed above, no RFRA has ever been used that way before. Also, Indiana does not have a public accommodation law that protects against anti-gay discrimination, meaning there’s no state law in Indiana preventing anti-gay discrimination in businesses even before the state RFRA was enacted. Notably, despite the lack of such a law, nobody can point to any Indiana businesses that were discriminating against gays...It is entirely consistent to favor broad religious freedom protections and also favor gay rights. Many gays are religious, and so themselves benefit from religious freedom protections like RFRA. But even where gay Americans and religious Americans find themselves in conflict, there is ample room in communities to peaceably coexist. That’s the point of a RFRA. No side gets an automatic-victory card. The interests of all sides gets weighed.

So many important points packed into one pull quote: Indiana does not have a public accommodation law on the books that includes sexual orientation as a basis for anti-discrimination protection.  In other words, businesses discriminating against gay customers isn't illegal in the state at present, and yet it isn't happening.  On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of instances of florists, bakers, caterers, etc. getting sued and having their livelihoods threatened for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding.  Malor writes about peaceful coexistence, but that's not what many on the Left really want, even after years of advancing "live and let live" arguments in favor of marriage equality, assuring skeptics that such unions "won't effect you." This coercive shift is a major theme of the book Mary Katharine Ham and I have written, available now for pre-order.  In any case, Malor's distinction is crucial.  RFRAs do not grant blanket immunity for discriminatory behavior rooted in religious faith -- a photographer turning down a job at a gay wedding, for instance.  They simply create a framework in which competing rights and interests can be balanced on a case-by-case basis.  They provide a potential recourse for the party being sanctioned or sued, but no guarantee of victory.

As I've noted in the past, most Americans now favor gay marriage, and an overwhelming majority believe gay people should be treated fairly and with respect.  People are not okay with anti-gay discrimination or bigotry, but a substantial majority also believes that private businesses run by religious people should be able to opt out of actively participating in the weddings of same-sex couples.  These attitudes are not in conflict; indeed, they embrace the very definition of tolerance and coexistence.  RFRA-style laws help codify a specific platform from which people can assert their religious rights in the face of countervailing government interests or legal challenges.  One more big point: Some opponents of Indiana's law say that it's not quite the same as other RFRAs because it applies its protections to businesses (which adheres to SCOTUS' Hobby Lobby precedent), as well as to private lawsuits in which the government isn't directly involved.  A law professor writing at National Review Online points out that "four federal courts of appeals and the Obama Justice Department have all taken the position that RFRA can be used as a defense in private suits involving the enforcement of laws that substantially burden free exercise of religion."  Again, Indiana's law isn't some unprecedented, thinly-veiled effort to trample gay rights.  It's quite 'precedented,' actually -- and nearly identical measures have been in place across the country for decades without touching off an awful carnival of bigotry and discrimination.  The hysteria and absurdity of this whole "debate" was perhaps best encapsulated by Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy's self-righteous executive order banning official state travel to Indiana. Surprise:

Davis explains that assertion in greater detail here, later swatting aside red herring push-back from Lefties trying to excuse Malloy's embarrassing tantrum, and exposing a blatant lie the governor's office is now circulating in his defense.  I'll leave you with video of Bill Clinton signing the federal version of RFRA into law back in 1993.  If you skip ahead to the 14:15 mark, you might notice two liberal heroes standing behind him and smiling as he puts pen to paper.  The same hand-wringers who routinely complain about the Republican Party's supposed rightward lurch never seem to mention that the center of the Democratic Party has moved so far to the left that Hillary Clinton feels compelled to effectively denounce her own husband's law:

Daniel Doherty - Obama Speaks at Dedication of 'Edward M. Kennedy Center' in Boston
Posted: 3/30/2015 6:00:00 PM EST

On Monday, President Obama traveled to Boston to speak at the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Center Institute for the U.S. Senate. Remarkably, the center’s ambitious design will give students -- and the general public alike -- greater understanding and an inside look at an indispensable American institution: the U.S. Senate.

“The centerpiece of the EMK Institute is a full-scale representation of the Senate Chamber,” according to its official website. “Visitors and students participate in experiences and programs giving them insight into, and appreciation, for the role of the Senate in our participatory democracy.”

It was apparently a concept that the late senator devised himself, brought to life by his surviving loved ones and friends six years after his death.

“We live in a time of such great cynicism about all our institutions,” President Obama said at the dedication after making the trip, emphasizing the importance of the new building. “And we are cynical about government and about Washington most of all. It’s hard for our children to see in our noisy, and all too often trivial pursuits of today’s politics the possibilities of our democracy, our capacity together to do great things.”

“This place can help change that,” he continued. “It can help light the fire of imagination, plant the seed of noble ambition in the minds of future generations.”

The president also reminded the audience that the institution's design was fitting, given Kennedy's compassion and willingness to champion bipartisan reforms.

“What if we worked to follow his example a little bit harder?" he intoned. “He understood that differences of party or philosophy could not become barriers to cooperation or respect. He could howl injustice on the Senate floor like a force of nature…but in his personal [dealings] he answered Edmund Randolph’s call to keep the Senate a place to restrain, if possible, the fury of democracy.”

“I did not know Ted as long as some of the other speakers here today,” he later added, more solemnly. “But he was my friend. I owe him a lot. And insofar as I can tell it was never ideology that compelled him. Except insofar as his ideology said ‘you should help people, you should have a life of purpose.’”

The Institute will be open to the public tomorrow.

Vivian Hughbanks  - Majority Leader and Armed Services Chair Visit Kiev: European Leaders Increasingly For U.S. Arms to Ukraine
Posted: 3/30/2015 5:00:00 PM EST

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) met with Ukrainian officials in Kiev Monday.

"The United States and international community can and should do more to support Ukraine's efforts to stabilize its economy, build democratic institutions, and defend its territory from ongoing Russian aggression," McCarthy said in a statement Monday.

"I believe this international support should include the provision of defensive weapons, training, and intelligence to the Ukrainian military," he added.

American action to arm Ukrainian forces is a fierce debate: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has repeatedly requested U.S. assistance with lethal force to defend Ukrainian territory. While U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and many key members of Congress support the measure, President Obama firmly opposes sending arms, instead implementing economic sanctions against Russia.

"Economic sanctions are ill-advised and counter-productive," German MEP Beatrix von Storch told Townhall. "Political behavior cannot be changed by sanctions. Instead, politicians will be even more firmly in power, because they have the ability to put the blame for the suffering on the 'foreigners' who impose the sanctions."

According to Von Storch, there is much sympathy within the European Parliament toward arming the rebels, even though most members consider themselves advocates for peace.

"The European Parliament has, luckily, neither competence nor power to arm the Ukrainians," Von Storch said. "It could only endorse such an armament by some meaningless resolution. The real power is with the European nation states."

Most European states, however, have not taken measures to arm Ukraine.

While McCarthy and Thornberry met with officials in Kiev, Russia announced that it has restored its forces in Crimea to full strength. President Vladimir Putin ordered that a "self-sufficient interdepartmental force" be deployed in the region to defend Russian National Security.

On March 26, Thornberry and several colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to President Obama "with urgency and alarm," warning him of "deep apprehension that Moscow may invade eastern and southern Ukraine…and also seek land grabs in the Baltics."

On the same day, the House voted in overwhelming bipartisan support (348 to 48) of a resolution to urge President Obama to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend territorial integrity, but the legislation has not yet seen further action.

Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov confirmed Monday that 900 Ukrainian troops will participate in a training program with U.S. paratroopers in April.

"It is clear that any effort to support Ukraine must also be accompanied by a strategy to confront Vladimir Putin's regime in Moscow and its systematic violations of the Minsk agreements, its aggression and destabilizing activities abroad, and its repression at home," McCarthy said.

Matt Vespa - Hypocrisy Alert: That Time Sen. Clinton Said The Bush Administration Might Have ‘Something To Hide’ By Refusing To Turn Over Documents
Posted: 3/30/2015 3:15:00 PM EST

We all know Hillary Clinton used a private email address and server for official business when she was Secretary of State. She said she turned over her work-related emails to State, and deleted the ones she deemed personal. Her lawyers said they wouldn’t honor the request by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, to turn over the server to an independent arbiter for review, and that it’s been wiped clean, along with any back up systems connected to the server.

This private email scandal has been a nightmare for the Clinton team since it has rehashed all the negative things people associate with them, and elicits questions about transparency. Clinton has said she has gone above and beyond what has been asked over her regarding turning over her work-related emails to the State Department, citing that she used that private email address out of convenience because she didn’t want to use two devices; a claim that Gawker’s John Cook said was “preposterous.” Cook described Clinton’s email setup as “Nixonian.”

This is all the more interesting given that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton criticized the Bush administration in October of 2003 for refusing to turn over documents to the 9/11 Commission chaired by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean.

In her remarks at the Center for American Progress’ New American Strategies for Security and Peace Conference, then-Sen. Clinton touched upon America’s war on terror, criticized the Bush doctrine, and the lack of transparency exuded by the Bush administration during the 9/11 Commission’s investigation into those horrific terror attacks [emphasis mine]:

I feel absolutely without doubt that our citizens, particularly my constituents, deserve to know all the facts of how the government was prepared or not. Yet, over this weekend, we learned that the 9/11 commission, an independent commission, charged with the important task of investigating how 9/11 happened, complains that it is not getting access to all the documents it needs.

This is a hugely important issue. And it’s not just important for this commission, but for these larger questions about access to information and how this government maintains the trust of the American people.

The lack of transparency on the part of the Bush administration has forced Governor King [sic; it’s Kean], former Republican Governor of New Jersey, to threaten subpoenas. This should not be happening.

As bad as it was for Vice President Cheney to keep secret how the administration developed its energy policy, this is far worse. The 9/11 commission is not trying to embarrass this president or any former president or anyone else. It is trying to learn what happened, what went wrong. In hopes that we can be better prepared to protect ourselves from any future attacks.

In taking their action to evade or avoid providing information, the administration unnecessarily raises the suspicion that it has something to hide, that it might use the claim of national security to hide mistakes that are literally questions of life and death for Americans.

As mentioned in her remarks, Gov. Kean was ready to issue subpoenas over documents the commission felt were being withheld. At the time, the Bush administration turned over 2 million pages of documents to the commission, and President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would have a three-hour session with 10 members of the investigatory board. Critics will certainly mention that Bush and Cheney were not under oath during this session, and that no official record exists since no stenographers were allowed to participate in the meeting. The commission would say the session was “forthcoming and candid;” two things that cannot be said about Clinton and her history of secrecy.  Also, even James Carville mentioned that her email system appears to be set up to avoid congressional oversight, the man who ran point on implementing FOIA throughout the executive branch–Dan Metcalfe–noted that her email was set up to avoid such requests.

As Rep. Gowdy noted in his statement, Hillary decided to wipe her hard drive sometime after October 28, 2014 when the State Department asked for her public record of service. The committee issued the subpoena for the emails relating to Libya on March 4; Clinton’s lawyer sent a letter on the status of the server on March 27.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus aptly noted that even Nixon didn’t destroy the tapes. It appears Hillary destroyed those emails while under a subpoena; a point that threw the Meet The Press roundtable into “chaos” over the weekend.

Yes, Mrs. Clinton turned over emails, which they say was done after reading all of them, despite this statement coming after Time reported that her lawyers only used a keyword search to conduct their review.  If they read every email, then why hit "Control + F?" 

Lastly, in the interests of transparency, a State Department Inspector General might have been able to catch the private email address Clinton was using during her tenure as Secretary of State. The problem is that there wasn't a permanent IG the entire time she was there. 

Cortney O'Brien - Congressman’s STREAM Act Seeks to Reign in Anti-Coal Mining Agency
Posted: 3/30/2015 2:35:00 PM EST

Coal is pretty important to West Virginia. Coal-fired electric power plants accounted for 95 percent of West Virginia's net electricity generation in 2013 and the state produces about 15 percent of all fossil fuel energy in the US. What’s more, the Mountain State leads the nation in underground coal mine production. One government agency seems poised to slow these miners down, but not if Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) can help it.

“West Virginia is blessed to be abundant in natural resources," Mooney said. "Unfortunately, the President is intent on destroying coal as a domestic energy source.”

Rep. Mooney introduced the Supporting Transparent Regulatory and Environmental Actions in Mining (STREAM) Act on Thursday in an attempt to protect a coal industry that is under threat from overbearing environmental regulations demanded by the Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM).

A fact sheet provided by Rep. Mooney’s congressional office offered some context for his proposed legislation.

In April of this year the administration is expected to issue Stream Buffer Regulations aimed directly at shutting down surface coal mining operations. The proposed regulations would essentially ban mining operations within 100 feet of anything the Department of the Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) defines as a “stream.” Even worse, the proposed new regulations are expected to prohibit mining underneath a stream, making underground coal mining very challenging.

These unnecessary burdens on coal production encouraged Mooney to introduce the STREAM Act, which will do three key things:

1. It will require OSM to use existing funds in their budget to conduct a study of industry impact from them and then the bill specifies that once they’re done with that study, they have to wait a year to actually implement the rule.

2. It will prevent OSM from enforcing regulations that are duplicative from other agencies. Specifically, it can’t enforce anything that’s already being regulated to through the Clean Water Act by the EPA.

3. It will require OSM to publicly release all the data they used with their final version of the rule.

OSM’s latest regulation appears designed to end surface mining. Its anti-coal agenda is just another indicator that the Obama administration is trying to close down the industry for good.

The STREAM act marks the second battle in Mooney’s war against these debilitating environmental regulations. He first charge was successfully getting a provision included in the House budget to defund implementation of the stream buffer zone rules. Mooney is particularly adamant about this bill, for he recognizes the significant blow the OSM rule could have on West Virginia's economy.

“According to industry estimates, the expected rule from OSM would shutter tens of thousands of jobs in West Virginia and hundreds of thousands nationwide," Mooney explained. "The impact of such a serious hit to the coal industry would have the secondary effect of increasing home-energy prices for families and businesses. This bill protects the ability of Americans to seek prosperity from our nation’s natural bounty and is good policy for hardworking families.”

Now that the STREAM Act has been introduced in the House, over the next few weeks it will be debated in subcommittee. It will then move to a full committee vote, where Rep. Mooney’s office expects it to be voted on on the floor. They expect it to be at least a 2-month process.

It’s perhaps superfluous to say that it is unacceptable for a government agency to so closely regulate coal production and regulate anywhere running water can be found.

Matt Vespa - There’s A ’90 Percent’ Chance Carly Fiorina Will Run In 2016
Posted: 3/30/2015 2:15:00 PM EST

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has made it official. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are expected to make their 2016 intentions known next month. Now, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is pretty sure she’ll run for president in 2016 as well. Over the weekend, she said the chances of her tossing her hat into the ring are at least 90 percent (via WaPo):

Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, said her chances of running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 are “very high.”

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” the 2010 California gubernatorial candidate said she is “higher than 90 percent” likely to enter the race, with an announcement coming in late April or early May.

Fiorina said she could appeal to voters with a “deep understanding of how the economy actually works, having started as a secretary and become the chief executive of the largest technology company in the world.”

She added that she has relationships with “many of the world leaders on the stage today” and that she understands executive decision-making, as well as how to change large bureaucracies for the better.

Discussing the economy, Fiorina said the government has “tangled people up from a web of dependence from which they can’t escape.” She also said the government is “crushing small businesses now.”

Yet, Fiorina has never held an elected office. She ran against Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010, and lost by a ten-point margin. Nevertheless, we’re grading on a curve; this is deep blue California. It could’ve been worse. One could make an argument that a ten-point loss isn’t catastrophic in such a liberal state with such an entrenched incumbent; Boxer announced that she would not run in 2016 after serving nearly a quarter century in the Senate. Oh, and she did this while fighting breast cancer, which she beat in that same year.

Still, Fiorina has a great narrative with her rise in the business world.

"I have a deep understanding of how the economy works, having started as a secretary and become the executive of the largest technology company in the world," Fiorina said.

This statement doesn’t come without risks. Democrats will certainly highlight her reportedly controversial tenure at Hewlett-Packard, which began in 1999. It was turbulent due to the dot COM bust, with the board of directors eventually dismissing her Fiorina in 2005.

Nevertheless, Katie interviewed Fiorina at CPAC in February, where the former CEO exuded confidence in her 2016 prospects and took on Hillary Clinton. She said she plans to make an official announcement in April or May.

Here's her full CPAC speech, where she touts her record at HP in growing its net worth and innovation:

Vivian Hughbanks  - Obama To Visit Kenya
Posted: 3/30/2015 2:00:00 PM EST

President Barack Obama is well-loved in Kenya.

Natives laud his Kenyan heritage, call him “brother” and “cousin,” and claim to know his grandmother, who still lives in the southwest region. Nairobi streets are dotted with passport photo advertisements, emblazoned with Obama’s face.

But despite three trips to sub-Saharan Africa in more than six years of his presidency, Obama has still never visited the land of his father’s birth -- a disappointing truth for Obama fans.

“If in three years and seven months I am not in Kenya, then you can fault me for not following through on my promise,” Obama said at a town hall in South Africa during his 2013 tour.

This morning, the White House made an announcement that Obama will make good on this promise, finally visiting the nation to attend the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit this July.

The trip will “continue our efforts to work with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security,” according to the White House statement.

This will be President Obama’s fourth trip to sub-Saharan Africa during his presidency.

Guy Benson - Of Course: Iran Makes Another Last-Minute Demand, West Looking to Achieve 'Narrative'
Posted: 3/30/2015 1:02:00 PM EST

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.

Daniel Doherty - Latest: Reported Shooting at NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade
Posted: 3/30/2015 10:50:00 AM EST

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.


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.

UPDATE: More details:

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