Last week NBC reporter Jeff Rossen aired a report on The Today Show and Today.com claiming the company Tannerite, a small business that sells rifle targets, is a threat to national security and that "bombs" are for sale at your local sporting goods store. Rossen added to the drama by telling Twitter followers he was in intense pain ahead of the air date, but implied he was sucking it up because the report was just too important.
But it wasn't just Rossen's back pain that was intense, the lies in his report were too. Rossen's claims about bombs being for sale at your local sporting goods store aren't true. Despite his claims, Tannerite only goes off when struck by a high velocity rifle round moving at more than 2,000 feet-per-second. It isn't comparable to the bomb used in Oklahoma City or those used by terrorists overseas to kill Americans.
Tannerite cannot be set off with a lit fuse, open flame, or electricity. It cannot be set off by dropping it or striking it. It will not go off if shot with a .22LR rifle, or any common handgun caliber.
NBC News and a local affiliate have being slapped with a libel and slander lawsuit for March, 23, 2015 report that aired on Today (also known as The Today Show) entitled, “Bombs for Sale? Popular Stores Sell ‘Dangerous Explosives.'”
Attorneys representing Tannerite Sports filed suit against NBC Universal News Group (NBCU) and Lexington, KY-based WLEX Communications for libel and slander for allegedly defamatory print and video reports from NBC News national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen.
Mendelsohn, Drucker, & Dunleavy, P.C. is the firm representing Tannerite Sports in the case, and alleges the following defamatory claims (PDF) were made by NBC News:
-On March 23, 2015, Defendant NBCU released a defamatory “report” that falsely claimed that Plaintiff’s rifle targets are “bombs for sale.”
-In a related video, Defendant NBCU’s investigative reporter falsely asserted that “I am basically holding a bomb in my hand.”
-NBCU’s report contains one or more written false statements that were intended to impugn Plaintiff’s rifle targets and Plaintiff’s reputation in the hunting industry.
-Plaintiff’s rifle targets are not bombs and are not well-suited for use as weapons.
-A bomb is a weapon that is illegal to make. In the United States, manufacturing a bomb requires numerous federal licenses.
Federal guidelines allow consumers to mix and shoot Tannerite®-brand rifle targets for personal, non-commercial use as targets.
The suit alleges that the NBC report constitutes statements that “were made maliciously, intentionally, and with reckless disregard for the truth,” that NBC News published “defamatory statements with malice,” and that the video and print reports ” have, in fact, directly and proximately harmed,” Tannerite Sports.
Be sure to also check out Owens' post thoroughly debunking Rossen's claims and the NBC report here.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pretty much announced he was running for president on ABC News’ This Week, saying “Let's be honest here, the presidency is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people.” He also said we needed new perspectives and new leadership, leaving host George Stephanopoulos commenting if this was his 2016 announcement.
Right now, O’Malley has zero percent of the vote in Iowa. Yet, if you look at his record, he’s someone who can potentially siphon votes from Hillary, specifically from the progressive wing. Some say he should be taken seriously, though it’s unknown if he has the political infrastructure and fundraising capability to stay competitive with the Clintons. Yet, his middle class upbringing could resonate with Democratic voters turned off by Hillary’s perceived limousine liberal personality. In 2013, the National Journal wrote that he wanted to be part of the “2016 conversation;” his interview on ABC News this morning confirms that:
He was a middle-class, suburban Washington kid who chose to build a political career in one of the grittiest, most troubled cities in America, with all the challenges and risks that entailed. He spent eight years on the Baltimore City Council and seven as mayor before moving to Annapolis to begin two terms as governor in January 2007. O’Malley has been closely identified with statistics-based governing in both of his executive positions: CitiStat to improve management and services in Baltimore; StateStat to do the same across Maryland; even BayStat to revive the Chesapeake Bay. Fusing passion with dispassion, he has deployed numbers to fight crime and pollution, to win approval for gambling casinos and gun restrictions, to pass tuition breaks for illegal immigrant students, and even to repeal the death penalty.
At the same time, over the past few years, he has steadily ascended in national politics—as a key supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton and later Barack Obama in 2008, as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association in 2011 and 2012, and as a prominent media spokesman for Obama and Democrats during the 2012 presidential campaign. He continues in a DGA leadership role as finance chairman, an ideal job for someone who might need to raise a lot of money for a presidential campaign in a year or two.
Whether O’Malley has the charisma and fundraising prowess to make a serious bid is unclear at this point. He does have some noteworthy assets. Maryland is at the top of numerous lists rating metrics such as education and innovation. O’Malley has been on many lists of rising stars over the past decade. In 2009, Governing magazine cited his data-based management style in naming him a public official of the year. This year, in its May/June issue, Washington Monthly called him “arguably the best manager in government today.”
Over at the Daily Beast, Jonathan Miller also touted O’Malley’s record of accomplishment:
O’Malley’s record as governor of Maryland, and before that mayor of Baltimore, provides plenty of manna to nourish starving progressives. Long before his immigration comments, the Governor punched through a succession of liberal hot-buttons: Marriage equality? Check. Gun control? Check. Death penalty repeal? Check. Decriminalizing pot and legalizing medical marijuana? Check and check. Some might argue that he’s even been too liberal for solid blue Maryland. In fact, some do, and vociferously: Discontented residents of four western counties have been pushing an initiative for months to secede from the rest of the state.
O’Malley has ticked off plenty of liberals as well. Inheriting a $1.7 billion structural deficit and then plunging into the headwinds of the Great Recession, the Governor pushed through more than $9.5 billion in budget cuts, requiring sizable state employee layoffs, and the downsizing of critical health and transportation programs. And the state’s largest public employee unions expressed considerable displeasure with O’Malley’s signature pension reform efforts
Overall, however, O’Malley can point to a fiscal track record that most progressives would embrace: investing record sums in education to produce the nation’s top ranked public schools five years in a row and lowest college tuition hikes since 2007; expanding the earned income tax credit and increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour; and recovering all of the jobs lost in the national recession.
He also has been known to criticize his own party. O’Malley has been hailed as one of immigration’s biggest allies by Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a vocal supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. He disagreed with the Obama White House’s decision to fast track the deportation process for unaccompanied minors that arrived in droves at the U.S. border last year.
Yet, while O’Malley might sound good with Democrats souring on Clinton and how feel the administration hasn’t delivered on immigration, the general electorate might be weary of a hard core liberal record dotted with higher taxes. Oh, and a plurality of Americans felt that those unaccompanied minors should be deported as soon as possible.
Yet, O’Malley could pivot by citing that he’s shrunk the state government workforce to its lowest levels (per capita) since 1973. Still, O’Malley, like Hillary, is a polarizing figure when it comes to his record. As the Baltimore Sun wrote, “O'Malley has either been a charismatic, national leader who pulled Maryland through an economic recession or a tax-and-spend liberal who went too far.”
The latter seems to have been on the minds of Maryland voters last year when they decided to elect Republican Larry Hogan as O’Malley’s successor, who has begun, according to Alec MacGillis of Slate, to dismantle the governor’s legacy:
Hogan is now hard at work seeking to undermine O’Malley’s legacy on any number of fronts—reversing his cleanup policies for the Chesapeake Bay, steering transportation money into highways instead of public transit, and, most of all, proposing deep cuts to the state’s K–12 schools, whose high performance O’Malley invoked in the very first line of his lackluster speech at the 2012 Democratic convention.
O’Malley’s legacy is also at risk in Baltimore in a more particular way. His proudest accomplishment there was the implementation of “CitiStat,” an attempt to bring to all municipal services the kind of data-heavy accountability that transformed policing in New York City and other cities, including Baltimore.
As the Baltimore Sun reported last weekend, CitiStat has seriously atrophied under the city’s current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She has had her own successes as mayor, and Baltimore is by many measures doing even better than it was under O’Malley, but CitiStat has not been a priority for her as it was under him—while he may have raised expectations for city services in a lasting way, his institutional transformation has been less durable.
O’Malley is hardly the first person to run for president when the state or city he once led is under a regime that is leading it in a different direction (Gov. Deval Patrick was running Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was on the ballot in 2012; Gov. Rick Scott, while of the same party as Jeb Bush, is challenging his legacy in Florida.) But the cost of the dismantled legacy is potentially greater for O’Malley, precisely because he is planning to run almost exclusively as a manager-who-gets-results. He won’t be pointing national campaign reporters to his dazzling speeches, his vision for the country, or his inspiring life story (he comes from a solidly middle-class background in the Washington suburbs); rather, he’ll be pointing them to his managerial legacy in the city and state that he led. And if those legacies take a hit—if, say, there is no bona fide CitiStat meeting for the national media to attend in Baltimore—that is a problem.
We shall see what happens, but delivering “dazzling speeches” surely isn’t one of Mr. O’Malley strengths.
10 more minutes of O'Malley and I'll vote for Romney #dnc2012— Peter Beinart (@PeterBeinart) September 5, 2012
Nevertheless, decision time for O'Malley is coming soon.
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.
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.
(a) IN GENERAL- Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b).
(b) EXCEPTION- Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person--
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
Here’s Indiana’s law:
Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. (b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person's exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
Looping back to Hobby Lobby, Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle had a great post noting that there’s–you know–a process to determine if one’s religious beliefs are genuine [emphasis mine]:
1) What can stop a company from arguing that it is against the owner's sincere religious beliefs to pay workers a minimum wage?
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a blank check to religious groups to do what they want. The law says that the religious belief must be sincerely held, and also that the government can burden the exercise of that belief if it has a compelling state interest that cannot easily be achieved in any other way. That's why no one has successfully started the Church of Not Paying Any Taxes, though people have been trying that dodge for years.
2) How can we tell if a belief is sincere?
Hobby Lobby closes its stores on Sundays and otherwise demonstrates a pretty deep commitment to fairly stringent Christian values, of which opposition to abortifacients is often a part. There will always be some gray area, of course, that allows people to claim special treatment for spurious beliefs, but the government has done a fair job over the decades of sorting out genuine beliefs from obvious attempts to dodge the law. Hobby Lobby seems to fall pretty squarely within the "sincere belief" camp.
To further quell the left's hysteria over this law, here is a pro-gay rights law professor, Daniel O. Conkle, writing for USA Today on why Indiana needs RFRA [emphasis mine]:
I am a supporter of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. But as an informed legal scholar, I also support the proposed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). How can this be?
The bill would establish a general legal standard, the "compelling interest" test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion. This same test already governs federal law under the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. And some 30 states have adopted the same standard, either under state-law RFRAs or as a matter of state constitutional law.
Applying this test, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Muslim prisoner was free to practice his faith by wearing a half-inch beard that posed no risk to prison security. Likewise, in a 2012 decision, a court ruled that the Pennsylvania RFRA protected the outreach ministry of a group of Philadelphia churches, ruling that the city could not bar them from feeding homeless individuals in the city parks.
If the Indiana RFRA is adopted, this same general approach will govern religious freedom claims of all sorts, thus protecting religious believers of all faiths by granting them precisely the same consideration.
But granting religious believers legal consideration does not mean that their religious objections will always be upheld.
In any event, most religious freedom claims have nothing to do with same-sex marriage or discrimination. The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a "license to discriminate," and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.
Keep in mind; Conkle also noted that the courts, even in states with RFRA statutes, have rejected recent claims of religious exemptions amongst marriage-related businesses. But also said that those who disagree with gay marriage should have their day in court as well.
The position that wedding-related businesses having the right to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers based on religious grounds is popular. While a plurality of Americans support gay marriage, they also support religious protections for those who disagree as the Associated Press-Gfk poll showed in February. Though, if you head over to Gallup, you’ll find that a solid majority support gay marriage.
Then again, the former finding is not surprising; it’s the 57 percent figure in AP’s poll that show Americans support gay marital rights, but also religious freedom.
In short, this faux outrage is grounded with folks who didn’t get the memo. Actually, it’s probably folks who refuse to read the memo. A Democrat proposed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and it was signed into law by a Democratic president. It’s a 22-year old law! Forty percent of states have RFRA tests within their state laws, and it’s not a “blank check” to discriminate given that there is a high threshold in determining genuine religious beliefs, satisfying a compelling government interest, and making sure the latter is honored in the least intrusive way possible.
Nevertheless, this silliness has forced Gov. Pence to discuss a “clarification” bill with legislators over the weekend.
It’s not necessary.
UPDATE: Seattle Mayor bans municipal workers from traveling to Indiana on city funds. Yet, it appears his state has RFRA statutes
UPDATE: Then-State Senator Barack Obama voted for RFRA in Illinois, which the White House did not refute (via Weekly Standard):
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago, and it lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given any time government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American," Pence said. "After last year's Hobby Lobby case, Indiana properly brought the same version that then-state senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our legislature."
This Week Host George Stephanoplous later asked White House press secretary Josh Earnest to respond to Pence's claim: "Josh, you just heard the governor say right there this is the same law, he says, that Barack Obama voted for as a state senator back in Illinois."
Earnest didn't dispute the Indiana governor's statement. "Look, if you have to go back two decades to try to justify something that you're doing today, it may raise some question about the wisdom of what you're doing," Earnest said.
UPDATE: Via Allahpundit: Here's the video of Clinton signing RFRA in 1993.
UPDATE: Via HRC: Illinois has a public accommodation law that prohibits discrimination by sexual orientation from private businesses and government entities "that provide services to the general public." Yet, only 21 states have such accommodations. Again, why is this bill controversial? If this law permits somehow permitted a "blank check" on discrimination, which it does not, it would've happened in Indiana and elsewhere long ago, as Ace of Spades' Gabriel Malor points out.
Twenty-one states have public accommo protections for gays. Additionally, some localities have such ordinances. Everywhere else, nope.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) March 29, 2015
Which is why it's hard to imagine the parade of horribles conjured by IN RFRA opponents. You'd think if it happened, it would have already.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) March 29, 2015
RFRAs aren't a free-license-to-discriminate card. It creates a balancing test, weighing on a case-by-case basis interests of both sides.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) March 29, 2015
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.
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.
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.
The other day, D.C.'s Congressional Delegate Elanor Holmes Norton was caught on video failing miserably at parking her car near the Capitol.
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.
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?
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.