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Matt Vespa - The Deal: Iran Nuclear Talks Approaching The March 31 Deadline
Posted: 3/29/2015 4:15:00 PM EST

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. 

Matt Vespa - Oh Dear: The Liberal Hysteria Over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Bill Has Begun
Posted: 3/29/2015 1:35:00 PM EST

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.

Leah Barkoukis - Not The Onion: 'The Gov't Employees Can't Watch Porn At Work' Legislation Passes Oversight Committee
Posted: 3/29/2015 10:15:00 AM EST

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. 

Matt Vespa - Rumor Mill: Rubio Could Announce His Presidential Run on April 13
Posted: 3/28/2015 4:30:00 PM EST

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.

Matt Vespa - The Clinton Comeback Begins … With The Email Server Being ‘Wiped Clean’
Posted: 3/28/2015 3:21:00 PM EST

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.  

Christine Rousselle - ICYMI: DC's Congressional Delegate Has Some Issues With Parking
Posted: 3/28/2015 2:50:00 PM EST

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.

Cortney O'Brien - When Smoking Is Involved, Liberals Suddenly Care About Unborn Babies
Posted: 3/28/2015 12:00:00 PM EST

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?

Daniel Doherty - Latest: Germanwings Co-Pilot Suffered From "Illness," Ripped Up "Sick Notes" Day of Crash
Posted: 3/28/2015 9:00:00 AM EST

UPDATE: Via NYT: Andreas Lubitz was being treated fro 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.

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.

Conn Carroll - A Conservative Immigration Agenda
Posted: 3/27/2015 8:34:00 PM EST

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.

Matt Vespa - What Is It With Federal Officers Soliciting Prostitutes and Having Sex Parties?
Posted: 3/27/2015 7:35:00 PM EST

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. 

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