Daniel Doherty - Terrorist Group Frees U.S. Journalist in Syria
Posted: 8/25/2014 7:30:00 AM EST

After what can only be described as a heartbreaking and tragic week, we finally received some good news on Sunday: an American-born journalist captured several years ago by an Islamic extremist-linked group is heading home:

The U.S. government says an American held hostage for about two years by an al Qaeda-linked group in Syria has been released.

The Obama administration identifies the man as Peter Theo Curtis of Massachusetts. Curtis, a journalist, had been held since 2012 by Jahbat al-Nusrah, an extremist group fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Secretary of State John Kerry released the following statement:

Particularly after a week marked by unspeakable tragedy, we are all relieved and grateful knowing that Theo Curtis is coming home after so much time held in the clutches of Jabhat Al-Nusrah.

For two years, this young American has been separated from his family. Finally he is returning home. Theo’s mother, whom we’ve known from Massachusetts and with whom we’ve worked during this horrific period, simply refused to give up and has worked indefatigably to keep hope alive that this day could be a reality.

Over these last two years, the United States reached out to more than two dozen countries asking for urgent help from anyone who might have tools, influence, or leverage to help secure Theo's release and the release of any Americans held hostage in Syria.

Every waking hour, our thoughts and our faith remain with the Americans still held hostage and with their families, and we continue to use every diplomatic, intelligence, and military tool at our disposal to find them and bring our fellow citizens home.

Indeed. But how, exactly, was Curtis' freedom first brought about? Well, according to the Washington Post, the government of Qatar was intimately involved:

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network, which first reported the release, said Qatar had played a key role in the negotiations. It did not give details, but Qatar has been central to a number of hostage releases in Syria in recent months.

In one release negotiated by Qatar last year, Lebanese captives in rebel custody were exchanged for prisoners held by the Syrian government. Earlier this year, a group of Syrian nuns held by Jabhat al-Nusra also were released in return for prisoners held by the government.

Despite these laudable efforts, however, NBC News reports that almost two dozen journalists are still languishing as hostages in Syria alone:

The release comes just days after the Islamist militant group ISIS beheaded American journalist James Foley and threatened to kill another American journalist in their custody, Steven Sotloff. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 20 journalists are currently being held captive in Syria.

At least some of these journalists, too, are presumed to be prisoners of ISIS -- a fact, as it happens, obviously not lost on the current administration.

“Just as we celebrate Theo’s freedom, we hold in our thoughts and prayers the Americans who remain in captivity in Syria,” the White House said in an official statement. “Notwithstanding today’s welcome news, the events of the past week shocked the conscience of the world. As President Obama said, we have and will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to see that the remaining American hostages are freed.”

Matt Vespa - NYT: A Republican Congress Will Totally Help Hillary
Posted: 8/25/2014 6:50:00 AM EST

It’s been reported that Republicans have a very good shot at retaking the Senate this year. Right now, they have a 65 percent chance in accomplishing that feat and killing what’s left of the Obama agenda. Republicans already have the House majority locked for this year. But have no fear, liberals; a Republican takeover could benefit Hillary Clinton, according to the New York Times (via NYT):

A Republican takeover of the Senate this fall would hurt Mr. Obama for the final two years of his presidency, but it might help Mrs. Clinton if she runs to succeed him.

Republican control of both the House and Senate would provide Mrs. Clinton a clearer target to run against in courting voters fatigued by Washington dysfunction. The longer an unpopular president and his more-unpopular partisan adversaries battle to a standstill, the easier it is to offer herself as a fresh start.

If she were the 2016 Democratic nominee, Mrs. Clinton would have a similar opening to deride Tea Party Republicans in the House even if Democrats keep the Senate this November. But all-Republican control of Congress would magnify it.

But this angle could be effective if Hillary was a good campaigner; she’s not. Remember, an inexperienced U.S. Senator from Illinois that had only served two-thirds of his first term defeated the Clinton machine, one of the mightiest forces in American politics, back in 2008.

She’s still a polarizing figure, who has had a precipitous decline since the launch of her book tour. Her approval ratings are sinking–and those less than stellar campaign skills were again displayed with her “dead broke” gaffe.

Even the NYT’s Upshot compared her to Sen. John McCain last June:

Hillary Clinton’s artificially inflated poll numbers have made her seem like an especially strong presidential candidate, but the Clinton bubble is quickly coming to an end.

The most relevant comparison for Hillary Clinton might be Senator John McCain. In the post-2004 period, Mr. McCain seemed like a formidable general election candidate who could help Republicans hold on to the White House despite President Bush’s declining approval ratings. Writing for Slate in 2005, Mickey Kaus joked half-seriously that “in a general election, it seems like Mr. McCain would come close to being elected by acclamation!”

Ron Fournier of The Associated Press also emphasized Mr. McCain’s widespread support among Democrats and independents. Those numbers, however, reflected the fact that Democrats so frequently praised Mr. McCain and used him as a foil for the rest of the G.O.P. — a pattern that dates to his underdog 2000 Republican presidential primary campaign against George W. Bush.

Predictably, once Mr. McCain ran for president again in 2008 and Democrats started sending negative messages about him, the public quickly came to see him as a conventional partisan.

When opposition elites withhold criticism during, say, a presidential honeymoon or a foreign policy crisis, politicians can seem unstoppable, but when normal politics resume, their images — and their poll numbers — quickly return to earth. The same will be true for Ms. Clinton.

2016 is two years away; that’s an eternity in politics. The "elites" have yet to fully get back to business as usual, so it’s a bit premature to say that a GOP-controlled Congress will automatically benefit Clinton. Then again, the New York Times has to spin what’s looking to be a very good year for Republicans into something that keeps their liberal readers blood pressure from spiking too high. Clinton is the only option since Obama is semi-retired.

Sarah Jean Seman - Mugshot Money: Gov. Rick Perry's PAC Selling 'Wanted' Shirts
Posted: 8/24/2014 8:00:00 PM EST

Texas Governor Rick Perry's Super PAC is raising money by selling shirts with his mugshot across the front. The picture shows the governor, suited up and grinning, with the word "wanted" stamped in red above his head. The shirts are going for $25 and are available for a "limited time."

Perry pleaded "not guilty" after a grand jury indicted him for abuse of power. After his mugshot, he went out for ice cream. Breitbart reported: 

Perry wanted Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign from her post after she was arrested for drunken driving. When she refused to step down, Perry vetoed funds for the public anti-corruption unit that Lehmberg headed. Perry has said he would do it all over again and vowed vigorously to fight the charges.

The front of the RickPAC shirt has Perry's mugshot and says Perry is "wanted" for "securing the border and defeating Democrats." The back of the shirt has Lehmberg's mugshot with "guilty" stamped above it and the words "driving while intoxicated and perversion of justice" underneath it.

A very clever move by his political action committee. Let's just hope this fundraising tactic doesn't start trending.

Christine Rousselle - Stolen Consecrated Host Planned for Satanist "Black Mass" Returned to Church
Posted: 8/24/2014 6:31:00 PM EST

An archbishop in Oklahoma City, the site of a planned satanic "black mass" next month, has dropped his lawsuit against a satanic group after the group's leader returned the pilfered consecrated Host he had planned to desecrate during the service.

An attorney representing the head of the satanic group presented the Host to a Catholic priest Thursday afternoon. The lawsuit sought return of the Host following multiple public statements by the head of the local satanic group that they planned to defile and desecrate the consecrated Host during a satanic ‘black mass’ scheduled next month in Oklahoma City.

With the return of the Host and an accompanying signed statement from the satanic group leader that the group no longer possesses a consecrated Host, nor will they use a consecrated Host in their rituals, the archbishop agreed to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice.

Catholics believe in transubstantiation, or the belief that consecrated Hosts become the physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. The act of desecrating a consecrated host is akin to desecrating the body of Jesus. Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City filed the lawsuit saying that the consecrated Host is considered to be property of the Roman Catholic Church and that the satanic group was unlawfully in possession.

While Archbishop Coakley is glad that the group no longer plans to desecrate the Eucharist, he is still urging the city to cancel the event as it is greatly offensive to the quarter of a million Catholics who reside in Oklahoma.

“In spite of repeated requests, there has been no indication that the City intends to prevent this event from taking place,” Archbishop Coakley wrote in a letter to the people of the archdiocese, dated Aug. 4, the Memorial of St. John Vianney. I have raised my concerns with city officials and pointed out how deeply offensive this proposed sacrilegious act is to Christians and especially to the more than 250,000 Catholics who live in Oklahoma.”

There are a series of vigils planned to protest the "black mass" ceremony.

Leah Barkoukis - WH Snubbed US General and Margaret Thatcher’s Funerals, Sending 3 Officials to Michael Brown’s
Posted: 8/24/2014 4:06:00 PM EST

The Obama administration announced this weekend that it will be sending not one, but three, officials to attend the funeral of Michael Brown on Monday.

President Barack Obama is sending three White House officials to the funeral service of the Missouri teenager whose death in a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, has sparked days of racial unrest.

Leading the group for Monday's service will be the chairman of the My Brother's Keeper Task Force, Broderick Johnson. My Brother's Keeper is an Obama initiative that aims to empower young minorities. Johnson is also the secretary for the Cabinet.

Also attending will be the deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Marlon Marshall, and an adviser for the office, Heather Foster.

The decision would be highly questionable as is, but when compared to the White House’s presence at, say, the funerals of Maj. Gen. Harold Greene or British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it’s deplorable. 

The White House has been selective in sending representatives to funerals — recall that only a low-level delegation was sent to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s service last year. More recently,President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden skipped the funeral ofMajor General Harold Greene, the 2-star general killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 5.

(In case you were wondering, Obama was golfing during Greene’s funeral.)

Quite predictably, neither close friends nor family will be delivering the 18-year-old’s eulogy; it will be Rev. Al Sharpton.

Kevin Glass - Corporatist Barack: POTUS Pushes Ex-Im Renewal
Posted: 8/24/2014 12:14:00 PM EST

President Obama used his weekly radio address to push the renewal of the Export-Import bank. As the Associated Press reported:

President Barack Obama is trying to rally support for a taxpayer-subsidized bank that he says creates jobs.

The bank provides loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to foreign buyers of U.S. products. But it will cease functioning unless Congress renews its charter before October. Some Republican lawmakers who supported the bank in past years now want to put it out of business.

President Obama has proven time and again he's a friend of big business, and it'd be hard to find a bigger giveaway to big business than the Ex-Im bank. As David Williams wrote for Townhall:

The greatest benefactors of these favorable financial guarantees have been foreign airline carriers. The Boeing Company receives the largest portion of Ex-Im’s loan guarantees, taking 82 percent of its total portfolio in 2012, meaning that foreign airlines often purchase Boeing aircraft at a better rate than American carriers. Obviously, this has economic implications for the U.S. airline industry with The Wall Street Journal recently reporting that the Ex-Im Bank has wreaked havoc on domestic carriers causing them to shed as many as 7,500 jobs and lose $684 million.

As that New Yorker article posited, big business has been one of the major supporters of President Obama. His signature legislative achievement, Obamacare, was a massive sop to insurance companies and got a huge boost from the pharmaceutical industry when they got on board. It's not surprising that President Obama has urged the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank, but the American people need to understand that the Democratic Party has been the bigger friend of big business than the Republican Party.

Daniel Doherty - "I’d Drive His Bus if He Asked Me"
Posted: 8/24/2014 9:00:00 AM EST

That, dear reader, is how excited Paul Ryan would be if his old running mate ran for president again in 2016. No really:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) dodged questions about his 2016 plans Wednesday but said he would be a big backer of Mitt Romney if he were to make another run for the White House.

I’d drive his bus if he asked me to,” Ryan, who ran alongside Romney for vice president in 2012, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Ryan said that he believed that a lot of voters now had “buyer's remorse” about giving Obama a second term.

“A lot of the things [Romney] said in the campaign, projections he made ... were true,” he said.

Ryan's correct and I admire his enthusiasm here, but it seems highly improbable that his wishes will ever come to fruition. Guy explained why last spring:

He's not running. In the documentary Mitt, which was released late last year, it was made painstakingly clear to viewers that Romney had to be lobbied heavily to run in 2012. After the frustrating crucible of his 2008 campaign, he didn't want to put his family (especially his wife with MS) through another ordeal. Nevertheless, the Romney's scaled that mountain one last time, and fell short of the summit. It is nearly impossible to imagine Romney putting Ann through all of that again. His words don't just leave the same impression -- they adamantly confirm it.

Those are reasons enough, I think, to be persuaded that Mitt Romney is done with electoral politics forever. But rumors he’ll throw his hat into the ring a third time simply won’t die. For example, here’s Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) only a few weeks back:

“I happen to be in the camp that thinks he’s actually going to run and that he will be the next president of the United States."

Well, then, there you have it, folks. If Chaffetz is right on the former point (and I daresay he isn't) Paul Ryan might very well find himself employed part-time in a new profession: Bus driver.

Cortney O'Brien - A Closer Look at the Botched Common Core Results
Posted: 8/23/2014 7:30:00 PM EST

Misleading title aside, the Buffalo News report was not good. “Students in Buffalo statewide make modest gains in math,” declared an article in the New York newspaper detailing the results from the second year of Common Core implementation. Well yes, math scores did overall improve. But, the rest of the report was not quite so rosy:

Despite another full year of preparation by schools after the rollout of state Common Core tests in 2013, there were no dramatic, across-the-board gains in English this year. Large-city districts saw slight year-to-year improvement, but wealthier suburban districts statewide actually saw overall declines on the English exam.

The detailed grade proficiency results in New York from 2012 through 2014 are downright embarrassing. Even the most successful schools weren’t spared from Common Core. Take Ledgeview Elementary School, for example. This school boasted a 91.2 percent proficiency in 2012 for third grade math. The next year, those scores slid down to 76.3 percent. It ticked back up slightly in 2014 to 82 percent, but that was small consolation.

City Honors School, a top rated school in the state, had an impressive 90.2 percent proficiency in eighth grade ELA in 2012. That shot down to 80.4 percent in 2013. 

Orchard Park Middle School experienced a swift decline as well. Eighth grade ELA in 2012: 77 percent proficiency, 2013: 58.1 percent, 2014: 52 percent.

Most tragically, the schools already struggling were hit hardest by the new program. The Harriet Ross Tubman Academy, which had a 25.7 percent in third grade math, is now down to two percent.

While Buffalo had minor gains overall, the main issue is worth repeating:

The minor gains in Buffalo were carried by a relatively small number of schools, with the vast majority showing little to no improvement.

Many suburban schools saw significant declines in their eighth-grade scores this year. In Clarence, 52 percent of eighth-graders were proficient in English this year, compared with 64 percent the previous year. The decline was more dramatic in math – 30 percent were proficient this year, compared to 59 percent last year.

Despite these undeniably poor results, State Education Commissioner John King said this year’s statewide scores are “encouraging.”

I guess these students have to bring home ‘F’s to their parents before King dares to criticize the new program.

Unlike King, many parents and teachers are now rejecting the new Common Core standards. In a new poll released by PDK International and Gallup, 60 percent of those surveyed said they oppose the educational standards. What’s more, an education journal named Education Next found that 76 percent of teachers supported Common Core last year, but in 2014, that number has dropped to 46 percent.

In addition to hurting test scores, Common Core is threatening children's educational foundations with its misleading lessons. Take, for instance, the program's take on American history. Rebecca wrote about Common Core’s new standards for the AP US History exam, which leaves out inspiring details about our Founding Fathers and portrays America in a negative light.

Every state should take Governor Bobby Jindal’s (R-LA) lead. The Louisiana governor is fighting to delay Common Core implementation in his state. Although a judge recently ruled  against his efforts, Jindal is taking the right steps to try and defend these educators' freedom to teach as they wish, without worrying about these government standards.

Common Core is not in the best interests of students or teachers. How many more bad grades do children have to receive before the program is scrapped?

Ky Sisson - "Black Ribbon Day" Commemorates Victims of Communism
Posted: 8/23/2014 6:00:00 PM EST

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which divided Europe and helped start the Second World War. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation wants to remember this infamous day by commemorating August 23 as "Black Ribbon Day" to remember those lost to totalitarian dictatorships. 

The foundation, along with members of Congress, ambassadors, and human rights leaders laid a wreath in the Freedom Foyer of the U.S. Capitol. Congressman John Shimkus (R- Ill.) was in attendance and sponsored the bill (H.R. 4435), which passed the House. If the Senate passes a matching bill, the United States will join more than a dozen countries in making August 23 the official "Black Ribbon Day." 

"In the future, we hope 'Black Ribbon Day' will become a better known day and that more people would use the [Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact] anniversary to remember all of the victims of communism and fascism in Europe," said Marion Smith, executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.  

With approximately 20 percent of the world's population, or 1.5 billion people, still under totalitarian dictatorships, the VOC's mission "is to educate this generation and future generations about the ideology, history, and legacy of communism."

"We see that Communism is alive and well in five countries and in some places where we thought it was dwindling can see signs of it coming back," said Smith. "We have work to do and it is largely because of an ignorance to the reality of Communism." 

There are plans to build a museum on the history of communism on the National Mall starting in 2017.

Leah Barkoukis - Sen. Inhofe: ISIS Developing Plan to Blow Up Major US City
Posted: 8/23/2014 4:10:00 PM EST

The administration can deny that the Islamic State (ISIS) is not at war with America all it wants, but their rhetoric, numerous threats, and recent beheading of an American journalist suggest otherwise. And according to one senator,  they’re already developing a plan to blow up a major U.S. city.

It is a serious warning coming from Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe as he warns of the potential of another attack on American soil. The senator sat down with Fox 25 to talk about a variety of topics, but as ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the top issue was national security.

“We're in the most dangerous position we've ever been in as a nation,” Senator Inhofe told Fox 25's Phil Cross.

“ISIS, they are really bad terrorists, they're so bad even Al Qaida is afraid of them,” Inhofe said reflecting on the recent beheading of American journalist James Foley. Beyond the beheading, Inhofe said the current terror organizations are not going to stay contained to the Middle East. “They're crazy out there and they're rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city and people just can't believe that's happening.”

Inhofe blames policy decisions from the Obama administration and cuts in defense spending for putting the country in what he calls a dangerous situation.

“He's [President Obama] going to have to come up with something that we're going to do because they're holding another hostage in place and the problem is, the President says all these things and he never does them,” Inhofe said.

Chicago has been named as a “top potential target” for international terrorists. According to Ross Rice, a former FBI agent in Chicago and CBS 2 security expert, many terror organizations refer to the Windy City as “Obama Town.” 

Meanwhile, the White House said on Friday it was considering air strikes in Syria against ISIS. “We’re not going to be restricted by borders,” said Ben Rhodes, White House national security adviser to the president. “We’re actively considering what’s going to be necessary to deal with that threat.”

ISIS was recently described by one senior regional diplomat as “the most capable military power in the Middle East outside Israel,” reports The Guardian.