It’s No Big Deal, But ISIS Might Be In Afghanistan

The Obama administration might have to reassess the strategic situation in Afghanistan after allegations that the horrific suicide bombing in Jalalabad on April 18 was the work of the Islamic State. People waiting to collect their salaries formed a line outside the New Kabul Bank branch, where a man detonated his vest, killing 35 and wounding over 100 people, according to NPR. The Taliban did not claim responsibility; they actually condemned the attack.

While the Afghan president has said ISIS claimed responsibility, this hasn’t been confirmed yet. If true, it complicates the withdrawal plans for the Obama administration, which is trying to draw down American presence in both theaters (via the Atlantic):

Appearing on national television after the attack, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani claimed that a local affiliate of the Islamic State, also referred to by its Arabic acronym Daesh, was responsible.

"Taliban did not claim responsibility, but Daesh claimed responsibility," he said.

The involvement of ISIS has not been independently confirmed. But if Ghani is correct, Saturday's attack is an ominous development in a country struggling to combat a brutal insurgency from the Taliban, an indigenous Afghan group recently strengthened by an influx of foreign fighters.

On Saturday, a Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack. But the group remains a lethal presence in Afghanistan. According to the Council on Foreign Relations,

Taliban violence claimed the lives of over 8,600 civilians in 2013 alone, and the group threatens government control of an estimated 40 percent of the country's 373 districts. A military crackdown on Islamic extremism in Pakistan has caused militants to cross the border into Afghanistan, where they have found refuge with the Taliban. With the onset of spring—the traditional fighting season in Afghanistan—extremist violence will only intensify.

"Considering the influx of foreign fighters in Afghanistan, this fighting season will be the bloodiest fighting season," Atiqullah Amarkhel, a military analyst in Kabul, told the Washington Post.

Afghanistan's violence poses a significant problem for the Obama administration, which seeks to wind down American involvement in the country. In March, Ghani persuaded Obama to maintain around 10,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan through the end of 2015—double the number that Obama had planned. Additional revisions to Obama's plan appear likely.

It may come to a point where another influx of American forces is needed to provide further stability to the region. Moreover, the chances of American forces engaging ISIS are now increased if this does turn out to be an ISIS attack, which is something the Obama administration has been trying to avoid.

While jobs and the economy will be the central issues of the 2016 election, foreign policy looks as if it will play a larger, though not overbearing, role next year.  Another pickle for Hillary who will have to answer to the ongoing failure of Obama's foreign policy, which she presided over as our chief diplomat for much his presidency.  

ISIS Video Claims To Show Murders of 30 Ethiopian Christians

A 29-minute video released by the Islamic State yesterday claims to show the slaughter of 30 Ethiopian Christian prisoners by Islamic State fighters.

The Ethiopian News Agency has confirmed the deaths of 30 citizens, captured in Libya by the Islamic State branch there, and shown to be executed in two groups in the video. The victims are given the choice to convert to Islam, or die, and are then shot in the head or beheaded.

“To the nation of the cross, we are back again,” the narrator says in Arabic, according to CNN. “Muslim blood that was shed under the hands of your religion is not cheap.”

“We swear to Allah... you will not have safety even in your dreams until you embrace Islam,” he continues, according to the Guardian.

The video is titled “Until There Came to Them Clear Evidence,” and primarily focuses on providing justification for the group’s targeting of Christians. The narrator claims that slaughtering Christians is permitted if they refuse to convert to Islam and fail to pay a protection tax to the Islamic State.

People who claim to be Christians are also featured in the video, testifying that they are living happily under the Islamic State in cities like Aleppo and Raqqa, Syria, after paying the tax.

The Guardian explains:

The video... begins with a recounting of the early history of Christianity and an outline of the schisms that led to the creation of the Coptic, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, as well as the development of Protestantism.

The video condemns the doctrine of the Trinity as a form of apostasy, and brands Christians as infidels. The narrator says Christians must pay the “jizya” – a protection tax imposed on them during the early Islamic conquests in Asia and Europe, or face slaughter.

“You pay (tax) with willing submission, feeling yourselves subdued,” the narrator says, according to CNN. “Our battle is a battle between faith and blasphemy, between truth and falsehood, until there is no more polytheism -- and obedience becomes Allah's on its entirety,” the narrator says.

The video mirrors one released by Islamic State showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya.

“We tell Christians everywhere that the Islamic State will spread, God willing,” the narrator says at the end of the video, according to the Guardian. “It will reach you even if you are in fortresses. Those who embrace Islam or jizya will be safe. But those who refuse... will have nothing from us but the edge of the sword. The men will be killed, the women and children enslaved, and the money seized. That is Allah and the prophet’s judgment.”

Pew: Highest Support for Gun Rights in 25 Years

For the first time in 25 years, a majority of Americans say gun rights trump gun control, according to the Pew Research Center.

In a survey conducted in December 2014, it was revealed that 52 percent of Americans believe defending gun rights is more important than gun control, as opposed to 46 percent who believe gun ownership should be restricted.

Another shifting statistic revealed in the poll was the percentage of Americans who believe guns makes homes safer. While 15 years ago 51 percent said guns make a house more dangerous, today only 30 percent believe that, while a majority, 63 percent, say they provide more safety.

Americans are increasingly embracing their gun rights because they recognize firearms are an important resource for self-defense. In March 2013, Americans cited protection as the top reason for purchasing a gun - and it seems the trend has only continued.

These numbers suggest that Americans are rejecting the Obama administration's gun control agenda. Two years ago, after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama showed real remorse for the young lives lost, yet offered a misguided response by trying to push through anti-gun legislation. His gun control measure, which would have expanded background checks and banned "assault weapons," didn't get very far in Congress. Now, it's clear his gun control agenda is just as unpopular outside Capitol Hill. 

The Obama administration hasn't let this failed bill halt their anti-gun plans, however. One look at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) efforts suggests he and his cohorts are more determined than ever to restrict gun access. However, some of his administration's methods are being exposed by members of Congress who are concerned about an unfair rollback of the Second Amendment rights. 

It's time the president stops following his misguided intuition and starts paying attention to the numbers.

Oh My: Graham Says Paul Is ‘Behind’ Obama And Hillary On Foreign Policy

As Dan mentioned, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is 91 percent sure that he’ll run for president in 2016–with Meghan McCain saying he would do well; I'll just leave this here. While the 91 percent comment may have been somewhat facetious, it seems to be another event in the annals of what appears to be a Paul-Graham feud.

Now, Graham has said that his disagreements with Paul isn't personal. Earlier today, he noted on Morning Joe that both of them play golf, and have backed the similar legislation in the Senate, namely reforms bills for Social Security and Medicare. Foreign policy is where this (sort of) professional friendship hits rocky shoals. Graham contends that Paul has “a isolationist view of the world that I don’t share.” 

Joe Scarborough pushed Graham by asking if he supports Rand Paul or Hillary Clinton’s worldview. Graham said he’s more aligned with anyone who feels that America should be leading force in the world, but also said that Hillary backed a president who has led from behind. Then, he circled back to Paul:

Rand Paul is one step behind leading from behind. So yes, even Obama is more aggressive. Obama believes you can kill Anwar al-Awlaki, without getting a court order. Obama believes you can hold enemy combatants, unlawful enemy combatants at Gitmo, without a criminal trial because this is law-of-war detention. So Rand Paul is behind Obama, not just Hillary Clinton.

Earlier this month, Politico  had a piece that charted the clashes between these two men, which at times have become heated; the “Crazy Bastard” fight on the Senate floor over Guantanamo Bay probably serves as the best example of the deep, ideological differences these men have on foreign policy.  As the article mentioned, It's probably the reason why Graham feels compelled to enter the race to stop Paul:

In 2012, Paul’s political action committee began airing TV ads attacking West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who was up for reelection, for opposing a Paul-sponsored bill that would have blocked foreign aid to Egypt, Pakistan and Libya. In response, Graham, who oversees a key Appropriations subcommittee charged with disbursing foreign aid, went so far as to appear on a conference call with Manchin to argue that cutting off the packages could have adverse effects in the region.

Paul steamed. “I don’t see myself campaigning against a Republican in a general election ever, that’s why I think it’s extraordinary that Graham is supporting a Democrat in a general election,” he said at the time.

A month later, Graham and Paul appeared on the Senate floor to debate whether to close the Guantánamo Bay terrorist detention facility. What ensued would soon become known as “The Crazy Bastard Fight.”

“Simply stated,” Graham said, “the American people don’t want to close Guantánamo Bay, which is an isolated, military-controlled facility, and bring these crazy bastards who want to kill us all to the United States.”

“I want to make formal objection to the ‘crazy bastard’ standard,” Paul swung back. “If we’re going to lock up all the crazy bastards, for goodness sakes would you not want, if you’re a crazy bastard, to have a right of trial by jury?”

In 2013, Graham appeared on the floor to lash Paul for his nearly 12-hour protest over the Obama administration’s drone policy — which the South Carolina senator labeled a “disservice.”

The most recent flareup came on Sunday, when Graham, appearing on Fox News, said Paul’s “foreign policy is to the left of President Obama.” He added that any Republican candidate would have struck a better Iran deal than Obama. “Except maybe Rand Paul.”

The publication added that Graham’s aides are saying the South Carolina Senator is setting himself up as “foil” to be used to attack Rand’s views, especially during the debates. Paul supporters have refused to comment thus far, fearing it will only add fuel to a Graham candidacy. Then again, Jesse Benton, a former Paul campaign manager who is helping running point on a pro-Rand super PAC, told Politico, “Punching down third-tier candidates doesn’t often make a lot of sense.”

If Graham decides to run–and it sounds as if he's more than willing–his 2016 game plan is to “exceed expectations in Iowa, finish in the top-tier in New Hampshire, and win South Carolina.” He figures by then, only three of four candidates would be in a condition to move on with their presidential aspirations–and he think he can be in that group.

It’s a becoming a mighty crowded field, Senator. That’s all I’ll say.

NARAL Colorado Not Fans of Bill That Would Criminalize the Murder of a Fetus

The nation was stunned by the vicious assault on Michelle Wilkins, a 26-year-old woman in Colorado whose unborn child was ripped from her womb while she answered a Craigslist ad for baby clothes. Even though her unborn child was killed in the attack, the attacker, Dynel Lane, would not face murder charges as it was uncertain whether or not the infant was alive outside of the womb. People were furious with this development, and a YouGov poll showed that vast majorities of people say that they feel the attack should have been classified as a murder. Colorado's legislature is considering the "Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act," which would allow for murder charges to be filed in a case like the attack on Wilkins.

Apparently the people of NARAL Colorado are not among the 76 percent who think that the attack was more than an assault. Earlier today, they tweeted this:

Call me crazy, but I'm not seeing how this is exactly a bad thing. Even trying to see the bill from the point of view held by NARAL's employees, I'm at a loss as to how someone could be against a murder charge for someone who literally ripped open a woman's body to extract her baby during an assault. This isn't even close to the same thing as a woman going in for an abortion--this was an assault that resulted in the death of a person.

NARAL Colorado followed up their tweet with this one, which didn't do much to explain their point of view:

Again, this simply isn't true. Wilkins' infant was seven months along, and had the baby been born in a hospital instead of in a bathtub following a botched Cesarian section, he would probably still be alive today. Despite this life that was snuffed out, Lane won't be charged with murder because Colorado law won't allow this. That's absurd.

It's also interesting that NARAL chose to use the term "mother" in their first tweet. What, pray tell, is the woman a mother of if (in NARAL's view) they are not a person until they are born?

Revealed: How Partisan Prosecutors Harassed and Intimidated Wisconsin Conservatives

Those of you who've followed the Left's crusade against Scott Walker in Wisconsin are probably at least passingly familiar with the secret "John Doe" investigations that were launched by abusive prosecutors, then egregiously misreported by the media.  With Walker safely re-re-elected and his budget victories won, observers can now examine the truly frightening treatment of the governor's friends and allies at the hands of an out-of-control, partisan prosecutor, free from the passions and urgency of a contested election.  Make no mistake: The Left's tactics were aimed squarely at achieving partisan ends, not serving the interests of justice.  But just because they failed to destroy Walker doesn't make their actions any less heinous, nor does it mean that conservatives should drop the issue because the immediate political threat has passed.  Writing at National Review OnlineDavid French interviews some of the victims of the "John Doe" persecution, giving voice to those who were simultaneously targeted, humiliated, intimidated and muzzled. Here's one of several terrifying vignettes:

Cindy Archer, one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill,” it limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions — was jolted awake by yelling, loud pounding at the door, and her dogs’ frantic barking. The entire house — the windows and walls — was shaking. She looked outside to see up to a dozen police officers, yelling to open the door. They were carrying a battering ram. She wasn’t dressed, but she started to run toward the door, her body in full view of the police. Some yelled at her to grab some clothes, others yelled for her to open the door. “I was so afraid,” she says. “I did not know what to do.” She grabbed some clothes, opened the door, and dressed right in front of the police. The dogs were still frantic. TOP STORY: Carly Fiorina Has Hillary Defenders Worried “I begged and begged, ‘Please don’t shoot my dogs, please don’t shoot my dogs, just don’t shoot my dogs.’ I couldn’t get them to stop barking, and I couldn’t get them outside quick enough. I saw a gun and barking dogs. I was scared and knew this was a bad mix.” She got the dogs safely out of the house, just as multiple armed agents rushed inside. Some even barged into the bathroom, where her partner was in the shower. The officer or agent in charge demanded that Cindy sit on the couch, but she wanted to get up and get a cup of coffee. “I told him this was my house and I could do what I wanted.” Wrong thing to say. “This made the agent in charge furious. He towered over me with his finger in my face and yelled like a drill sergeant that I either do it his way or he would handcuff me.” They wouldn’t let her speak to a lawyer. She looked outside and saw a person who appeared to be a reporter. Someone had tipped him off. The neighbors started to come outside, curious at the commotion, and all the while the police searched her house, making a mess, and — according to Cindy — leaving her “dead mother’s belongings strewn across the basement floor in a most disrespectful way.” Then they left, carrying with them only a cellphone and a laptop.

Click through to read similar accounts from "Anne" and "Rachel," both of whom were similarly instructed not to contact their lawyers, and not to share the details of their ordeal with anyone:

Don’t call your lawyer. Don’t talk to anyone about this. Don’t tell your friends. The kids watched — alarmed — as the school bus drove by, with the students inside watching the spectacle of uniformed police surrounding the house, carrying out the family’s belongings. Yet they were told they couldn’t tell anyone at school. They, too, had to remain silent. The mom watched as her entire life was laid open before the police. Her professional files, her personal files, everything. She knew this was all politics. She knew a rogue prosecutor was targeting her for her political beliefs. And she realized, “Every aspect of my life is in their hands. And they hate me.”

Megan McArdle sums things up:

Read the whole thing (and here's what SWATing is, for those who haven't heard of it).  French's reporting identifies the chief culprit in all of this as hardcore Democrat and Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisolm, who was skewered in this lengthy piece by Stuart Taylor last year.  Taylor quoted a former prosecutor explaining how Chisolm, at the prodding of his wife -- a fanatical Walker opponent -- made bringing down Walker his "personal duty."  Posters depicting the pro-union 'blue fist' emblem hung on the walls of Chisolm's supposedly nonpartisan office.  Milwaukee's top prosecutor became the Democratic Party's top hatchet man, abetted by a rubber-stamp judge (who has since recused herself), and vested with the full powers of the state.  His partisan thuggery was carried out by men with badges and guns, all under the pretense of a legitimate criminal investigation.  The probe has gone nowhere, incidentally, having been halted by two separate court rulings; it's has been the subject of legal wrangling ever since.  French notes that the intense dispute is approaching its denouement, on two separate tracks:

Largely hidden from the public eye, this traumatic process, however, is now heading toward a legal climax, with two key rulings expected in the late spring or early summer. The first ruling, from the Wisconsin supreme court, could halt the investigations for good, in part by declaring that the “misconduct” being investigated isn’t misconduct at all but the simple exercise of First Amendment rights. The second ruling, from the United States Supreme Court, could grant review on a federal lawsuit brought by Wisconsin political activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the first conservatives to challenge the investigations head-on. If the Court grants review, it could not only halt the investigations but also begin the process of holding accountable those public officials who have so abused their powers.

Sooner than later, we'll know if John Doe's targets will finally be freed from this unnerving legal purgatory, and if they'll be afforded a path to seek legal relief against their tormentors.  I'll leave you with another piece of political news out of the Badger State:

White House on New Clinton Donor Revelations: President Obama is Proud of Hillary's Work at State

A new book by investigator Peter Schweizer and set to be published May 5, Clinton Cash, will reportedly show that Hillary Clinton traded political favors for donations from foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation during her time as Secretary of State.

“We will see a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds,” Schweizer writes in the book.

The White House is calling that accusation "spurious," lacking in evidence and is reassuring the press that President Obama is "proud" of Clinton's work at the State Department. Further, Press Secretary Josh Earnest refused to say if foreign governments received preferential treatment in return for donations as part of the administration. 

"I know there's been a lot of accusations made about this but not a lot of evidence," Earnest said Monday. "The president continues to be extraordinarily proud of the work that Secretary Clinton did as the Secretary of State."

"There are lots of accusations like this but there's nobody that's marshaled in an evidence to indicate this," Earnest continued. "I'm not sure there's anybody that has any tangible evidence to indicate that it did [happened. I'm not going to be in the positions here that anytime somebody raises a spurious claim that I'm going to be the one who says it's not true...for these specific accusations that are presented without any evidence I'd refer you the political types who are more well versed in those types of things."

The New York Times reported yesterday. Bolding is mine:

"Clinton Cash” is potentially more unsettling, both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book.  

He writes mainly in the voice of a neutral journalist and meticulously documents his sources, including tax records and government documents, while leaving little doubt about his view of the Clintons.

His reporting largely focuses on payments made to Mr. Clinton for speeches, which increased while his wife served as secretary of state, writing that “of the 13 Clinton speeches that fetched $500,000 or more, only two occurred during the years his wife was not secretary of state.”

Is the White House really going to go against statements from the New York Times that the book is well researched, investigated and documented? That appears to be the case. The bigger question is whether Hillary Clinton, who is now running for president, was bought and paid for by foreign governments.

White House Won't Require Iran to Release Americans As Part of Nuclear Deal

Speaking to reporters at the White House Monday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the release of American journalist Jason Rezaian, who works as a correspondent for the Washington Post, will not be required as part of a deal over Iran's nuclear program. 

"On the Jason Rezaian case, why can't you just say to the Iranians on a condition of making this deal final you've got to free Jason Rezaian? I understand you're not going to resolve all of your issues with Iran exporting terrorism throughout the region, all of those issues that are very complicated perhaps? Some would argue maybe not but here you have one case of an American who has been held prisoner since July of last year now brought up on what you just said are absurd charges, why not say, 'Look we're  not going to sign a deal until you let him go,'" ABC's Jon Karl asked.

"The effort to build the international community's strong support for a diplomatic resolution or a diplomatic agreement that would shut down every pathway Iran has for a nuclear weapon is extraordinarily complicated and so we are trying to focus on these issues one at a time and that's why you continue to see regular, consistent and pretty forceful statements from the United States that these Americans should be released," Earnest responded.

Rezaian has been held by the Iranian regime since July 2014. Today his attorney told CNN he has been charged by the Iranians with four different crimes, including espionage. The White House is calling the charges outrageous, but still won't include his release in the upcoming nuclear deal with the terror state.

Other Americans being held by Iran include American Marine Amir Hekmati and Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini.

Graham: There's a '91 Percent' Chance I'm Taking the Plunge in 2016

That statement might seem a little bizarre at first blush. Ninety-one percent? But I think context is important here.

Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace prefaced his question about whether or not Lindsey Graham is running for president by reminding him that Carly Fiorina recently noted on his show that her chances of running were “higher than 90 percent.”

“What’s the percent chance that you’re going to get in?” he then asked him.

“91 percent ... I think I got a good message, I think I've been more right than wrong on foreign policy ... I've been a problem-solver in Washington. And I think I've got something to offer the party and the nation. I’ll make that decision in May [and] if I can raise the money, I’ll do it.”

Presumably, however, if you ask grassroots conservatives what they think of Lindsey Graham running for president in 2016, the responses would range from mild amusement to intense anger for all the reasons Wallace brings up. But maybe he’s got two things going for him: First, he would likely be running for president at a time when national security issues are at the forefront. Consequently, as a foreign policy hawk, this would be a distinct advantage, especially as ISIS continues its murderous atrocities and Iran moves closer to the bomb. Second, he’s also a deft and savvy campaigner. Graham, as he points out in the interview, soundly defeated six primary opponents in 2014 when he was largely viewed as extremely vulnerable. It also doesn’t hurt that South Carolina is conveniently situated as a key early primary state—a state he thinks he can win despite what the polls say.

“If I’m on the ballot, I’m going to win South Carolina,” he told Chris Wallace.

Perhaps. But where does he go from there? Newt Gingrich won South Carolina in 2012—and flamed out shortly thereafter. Graham therefore would not only need to win South Carolina, but not lose any momentum (or deplete his coffers) for months afterwards. And how likely is that?

In any case, he’s going to run, or so it seems. So I guess a reasonable question might be why shouldn’t he?

Hell, everyone else is.

Polls: Rubio Rises Among GOP Voters, Leads Hillary in Florida

Marco Rubio's strong campaign launch week has propelled him into the top tier of contention for the GOP nomination, according to a new CNN poll. Despite his strong favorability numbers among Republican voters, the Florida Senator had been stuck in the mid-single digits on 2016 primary ballot questions. That's changed, at least for now, as Rubio has bounced into double-digit territory and is tied for third place:

Overall, 17% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents back Bush for the GOP nomination, while 12% support Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Paul and Rubio stand at 11% each, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 9% and Cruz at 7%… On one metric, however, Bush has an emerging challenger. While 18% see Bush as the candidate who best represents the future of the Republican Party, the same share say fellow Floridian Rubio is the best representation of the GOP’s future. Paul, at 10%, is the only other candidate in double digits on this question…

Rubio also fares best in CNN's national head-to-head numbers against Hillary Clinton, "only" trailing her by...14 points.  He's the only Republican who breaks into the 40's against Hillary, with most others mired in the high 30's.  Ted Cruz fares worst, pulling in 36 percent against Hillary's cool 60 percent.  Three caveats: CNN's general election polling has been especially unfavorable to Republicans so far, Hillary Clinton has universal name recognition (unlike virtually every Republican in the race), and swing-state polling has been much more competitive -- in Iowa, Colorado, and now Florida, too:

Both leading Republican candidates from the Sunshine State now lead Democrat Hillary Clinton in Florida. Statewide, former governor Jeb Bush leads Clinton 47%-43% and Senator Marco Rubio, who trailed Clinton in January, has a slightly larger 49%-43% advantage. Predictably, support divides sharply along partisan lines, with Bush and Rubio holding strong leads among Republican voters and Clinton well ahead among Democrats. Bush and Rubio are ahead because both are running stronger with independents. The gender gap, which Clinton hopes to exploit in her quest to become the first female president, is present. However, that gap exposes that her deficit among men is a stronger force than her advantage among women.

Florida is a must-have for the GOP in 2016.  Take a gander at this map:

You can play around with various states (flip New Mexico/Colorado/Nevada to Blue, and Florida to red, for example, and Republicans win), but without the Sunshine State's 29 electoral votes, the GOP's path to victory is basically nonexistent.  And then there's the small matter of winning back Ohio and Virginia, too.  In any case, it'd be wise not to get too excited or alarmed by any 2016 polling at this stage.  Current surveys tend to reflect several trends that aren't likely to budge anytime soon: Hillary Clinton, despite staggering flaws, will be formidable.  The Republican nominating contest features a deep field and will be very competitive.  And the GOP electorate is far from settled in its preferences.  The good news for Rubio is that his announcement made a splash and moved the needle.  He helped himself, broke through with primary voters, and reportedly made a good impression on the big money class to boot.  But with a parade of announcements scheduled over the coming weeks, it won't necessarily be surprising to see his surge subside a bit, as future news cycles showcase new entrants.  Meanwhile, while the Obama/Hillary foreign policy continues to crater, young Muslim Americans try to join ISIS in disturbing numbers, the national debt churns ever higher, Obamacare harms millions of consumers, and the economy limps along in its historically tepid recovery, the media is busy tallying which Republican candidates would attend a loved one's same-sex wedding.  Rubio got the question first, and handled it well.  He's a "yes" (adding that he believes sexual orientation is innate, not chosen).  Rick Santorum is a "no," Ted Cruz dismissed the hypothetical and instead addressed the Constitutional and policy questions, and now Scott Walker weighs in with a, "yes, and I already have, actually."  At some point, Republicans are going to need unify and address "gotcha" questions with a hybrid Rubio/Cruz approach.  Address the underlying issue succinctly and smartly, then emphasize how frivolous some lines of questioning have become.  And while the whole GOP field is getting quizzed on hypotheticals involving the potential nuptials of roughly three percent of the population, the effective Democratic nominee is taking zero questions, period.  I'll leave you with CBS News asking if President Rubio would sign the 'Gang of Eight' immigration bill he co-sponsored in the Senate:

Horror: CBS News’ 60 Minutes Airs Footage Of The 2013 Sarin Gas Attack In Syria

Last night, Scott Pelley’s segment on CBS News’ 60 Minutes aired some of the most graphic footage in the program’s history. Pelley returned to the 2013 sarin gas attack that happened in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, 2013; an attack that killed over 1,400 people, including 426 children. Pelley noted how it’s been a year and half since UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared the attack a “crime against humanity,” but no one has been held responsible.

Partial transcript below [Warning: graphic content]

About two in the morning, August 21st, 2013, hundreds in the suburbs of Damascus were awakened by the panic of their last breath stuck in their throats. Neighbors carried neighbors to makeshift clinics.

Victims were stripped and washed. Everything was tried but nothing could be done. There was no forcing life into lungs that could not accept it. Their nerves, electrified by sarin, fired non-stop. Muscles seized until death released them.

Sarin has no color, no odor. Often the dead drop never knowing what happened. But their eyes bear witness. The seizures draw the pupils tight. And the world goes dark--which might be a blessing.

This father had willed his daughters through months of hunger. Now he's shouting, "Do you know what they said before going to sleep? I gave her food. She said, 'Dad it's not my turn to eat, it's my sister's...,'" he goes on, "What should we do good people? What are we to do? Look at that face, look at that face."

The history of sarin begins in the 1930s. It was a Nazi weapons program. The name is an acronym of the scientists' last names. In 1997, sarin, and other chemical weapons were outlawed. And, the world set up the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Scott Cairns is a chemist and lead inspector for that organization.

Scott Pelley: A person who is exposed to sarin, what do they experience?

Scott Cairns: A number of physical symptoms and some psychological effects. You get this overwhelming sense of doom and hopelessness and fear.

Scott Pelley: And what causes death?

Scott Cairns: Typically, it's the paralysis of the respiratory system eventually. Your muscles don't work. You lose the oxygen to your brain. It just puts you into overload. It's a very horrible way to die.

Scott Cairns: I'd just gotten up and what I thought I'd heard was another regular bombardment of conventional weapons to the east of Damascus.

He had heard the rockets in route to the largest sarin massacre of civilians since Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 1988. Cairns demanded access. They raced in, in U.N. trucks and the shooting started.

Scott Pelley: What happened?

Scott Cairns: The gunman was firing on the first two vehicles.

Scott Pelley: So, the vehicles were hit?

Scott Cairns: Oh, the vehicles were hit. The first vehicle was disabled.

Scott Pelley: Did you find out who was shooting at you?

Scott Cairns: No.

Scott Pelley: Why do you think they were shooting at you?

Scott Cairns: They were shooting at us just to tell us, send us a message. If they wanted to kill us, they would've killed us. At no point was there any interest in the turning around and going back to the hotel.

Scott Pelley: Finding and documenting the truth was worth risking your life for.

Scott Cairns: Yes.

Scott Pelley: How'd you go about your work?

Scott Cairns: Very quickly. We didn't have a lot of time. We had places where we could set up our interview stations. We could take samples. Biomedical samples from people. Blood, urine, hair.

They also collected cellphone videos and swabbed samples from mangled rockets. Days later, in a community called Zamalka, they discovered the rockets were much larger and had delivered even more gas. Never before had investigators arrived at a chemical crime scene so soon.

Scott Cairns: Well over 90 percent of the samples that we took tested positive for Sarin.

With the threat of airstrikes, President Obama forced Assad to give up his chemical arsenal. But if Assad was the triggerman there is one thing odd about the timing.

Scott Pelley: Why would anyone launch the largest chemical weapons attack in decades while chemical weapons inspectors are in town?

Scott Cairns: I ask myself that a lot. I don't know.

Scott Pelley: We don't know why.

Scott Cairns: No. I don't think we'll ever truly know.

Pelley said he revisited this story because it’s “not the kind of thing you want to report on for a couple of days and then walk away and never remember again." The images are truly horrifying. As to the situation in Syria, it’s equally dire. Over 200,000 people have been killed, and besides dealing with the nation's dictator–Bashir al-Assad–the Islamic State has been able to establish a foothold in the country. Last August, Joint Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey said the United States couldn’t defeat ISIS without confronting them militarily, diplomatically, and economically in Syria–“all the tools of national power.” He also said a successful strategy would also require assistance from our allies in the Middle East.

As for training the Syrian rebels, the process has been slower than molasses. It was initially reported by Josh Rogin of Bloomberg that Major General Michael Nagata, who’s been leading the mission, was leaving his post. He updated his article after Central Command informed him Nagata would remain with the Syria mission. Yet, one of the problems the mission is facing is that we aren’t currently projected to hit our goal of training 5,000 men [emphasis mine]:

The nascent program has a slew of other problems. For one, the U.S. has not been able to recruit enough fighters to achieve the goal of churning out 5,000 battle-ready Syrians to fight against the Islamic State in the first year. The U.S. is also not sure it can convince the fighters, once trained and armed, to actually fight the jihadists instead of their prime enemy, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The theory is that the fighters will be dependent on the U.S. military for logistical and intelligence support, and therefore will have to obey U.S. instructions to point their guns only at the terrorists. But nobody knows if that will play out as envisioned.

In addition, there’s no real agreement with the countries that are supposed to host the training camps, which include Jordan and Turkey, as to what the program's goals are. The Turks, in particular, still want the force to fight the Assad government. Until the U.S. agrees to broaden the mission, Turkey is limiting its overall involvement in the coalition fighting inside Syria.

Perhaps most disturbingly, the White House has not yet decided if and how it will protect the newly trained Syrian rebels when Assad's forces attack them, as the Syrian leader has promised. The current plan is to keep the rebels in areas where the Syrian regime has no ground forces. But this won't protect them from Assad's air forces, infamous for using crude "barrel bombs" filled with explosives.

In previous years, when the CIA armed and trained Syrian rebels, the program was secret and nobody was able to judge success or failure, although most of the U.S.-supported groups have now been defeated. This new program, run by uniformed military, was supposed to be more transparent. Yet the administration holds close any details about its progress or trajectory.

This has led some in Congress to doubt whether White House is really serious about it in the first place. The suspicion is that the administration no longer thinks Assad’s departure is good, at least in the near term, and worries the rebels will fight Assad no matter their U.S. overseers tell them. Yet the administration benefits by keeping the program alive, if only because it is Obama’s alibi when people accuse him of not having any strategy in Syria at all.

Sen. Manchin: I'm Running For Re-election, Not Governor

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who previously served for six years as the governor of West Virginia, was widely considered to be taking a serious look at running for his old job again once it becomes vacant in 2016.

On Sunday on Face the Nation, however, he threw a curve ball: He will run for re-election instead in 2018:

West Virginia is a crimson state, once nearly voting for a convicted felon over President Obama during the 2012 Democratic presidential primary. (That is not a joke, my friends). But Sen. Manchin, perhaps because he represents such a conservative electorate, is one of the few Senate Democrats ready and willing to break with his own party. For instance, he is in favor of bringing the ‘controversial’ anti-human sex trafficking bill up for a vote (stalled in Congress by Senate Democrats) and even vowed to repeal the president's illegal executive amnesty. He also has spectacularly high approval ratings and isn’t afraid to criticize his own party or fellow Democrats. Running for re-election, therefore, will improve his party’s chances of retaining the seat, while also giving him an opportunity to continue, as he put it in the clip above, “[serving] the people of West Virginia, the most patriotic people in the country” at the national level.

Of course, I wouldn't say he is necessarily a shoe-in for re-election. But based on how he performed during the 2012 election cycle, I imagine Democrats are resting a little easier knowing he isn't giving up his seat voluntarily, right?

The 'Meticulously' Documented Look Inside The Clinton Foundation–Yes, Team Hillary Should Be Worried

UPDATEOh geez: One of the Clinton Foundation’s biggest donors–Ukrainian Victor Pinchuk–possibly violated US sanctions policy on Iran by trading with them. 

** Original Post**

It’s not a long book, but it’s one that should shed some sunlight into the Clinton Foundation–and its donations from foreign governments. The book by Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, is a 186-page long investigation into these dealings, according to The New York Times. The release date is May 5 [emphasis mine]:

The book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, asserts that foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return.

“We will see a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds,” Mr. Schweizer writes.

His examples include a free-trade agreement in Colombia that benefited a major foundation donor’s natural resource investments in the South American nation, development projects in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and more than $1 million in payments to Mr. Clinton by a Canadian bank and major shareholder in the Keystone XL oil pipeline around the time the project was being debated in the State Departmen

…“Clinton Cash” is potentially more unsettling, both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book.

Knowing this will supply conservatives with more ammunition to use against Hillary, her team is preparing their defenses:

A [Clinton] campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, called the book part of the Republicans’ coordinated attack strategy on Mrs. Clinton “twisting previously known facts into absurd conspiracy theories,” and he said “it will not be the first work of partisan-fueled fiction about the Clintons’ record, and we know it will not be the last.”

Mr. Schweizer and a spokeswoman for HarperCollins, which is owned by News Corporation and is publishing the book, declined to comment.

The timing is problematic for Mrs. Clinton as she begins a campaign to position herself as a “champion for everyday Americans.”

From 2001 to 2012, the Clintons’ income was at least $136.5 million, Mr. Schweizer writes, using a figure previously reported in The Post. “During Hillary’s years of public service, the Clintons have conducted or facilitated hundreds of large transactions” with foreign governments and individuals, he writes. “Some of these transactions have put millions in their own pockets.”

The Clinton Foundation has come under scrutiny for accepting foreign donations while Mrs. Clinton served as secretary of state. Last week, the foundation revised its policy to allow donations from countries like Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and Britain but prohibit giving by other nations in the Middle East.

Mr. Schweizer’s book will be released the same day former President Bill Clinton and the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, will host the Clinton Global Initiative gathering with donors in Morocco, the culmination of a foundation trip to several African nations. (A chapter in the book is titled “Warlord Economics: The Clintons Do Africa.”)

Now, while the Clinton Foundation has restricted donations from foreign governments to mainly our close allies, National Journal’s Ron Fournier noted, “You can’t be a little bit pregnant.” While Clinton resigned from the Clinton Foundation’s board, it’s still obviously an ethics issue, given that friendly governments are still able to give money to a family-owned non-profit with ties to someone who could potentially be the next President of the United States.

The Boston Globe’s Shira Center also said of all the attacks against Clinton, this is the one that has “legs.”

The foundation has been the subject of some controversy regarding revelations that it hasn’t disclosed its donors since 2010. In 2008, Hillary Clinton said the non-profit would disclose the names of their donors in an effort to be transparent–and to show she was not beholden to foreign interests. Additionally, President Clinton had an agreement with the Obama administration that the foundation would not accept donations from most foreign governments while Hillary served as Secretary of State, though it doesn't appear to have been extended to foreign individuals, some of which had ties to their own government–and they gave generously.  Also, foreign governments did give to the foundation while Hillary served as our top diplomat, with one donation from Algeria violating the ethics agreement with the Obama administration. Concerning the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), which spends most of the foundation's money, the arrangement that "any new or increased" donations from foreign governments would be subjected to a State Department review does not appear to have been honored, according to Reuters.  And her position on the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement appears to have switched after some checks were made out to the Foundation from Frank Guistra–a Canadian financier–who helped found the oil company Pacific Rubiales (who also gave money), which has interests in Colombia. Guistra now sits on the board of directors of the Clinton Foundation.

Here comes the sun.

Last note: As Guy mentioned, the Times noted it’s a thorough investigative piece, with government documents and tax returns being “meticulously" cited; a point buried until virtually the second to last paragraph.

Uh Oh: Largest Donor to Clinton Foundation Has An Iran Problem -- UPDATE: New Bombshells

UPDATE: It looks like Hillary's foreign donations headaches are just beginning. Via the New York Times, oh my:

The book, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, asserts that foreign entities who made payments to the Clinton Foundation and to Mr. Clinton through high speaking fees received favors from Mrs. Clinton’s State Department in return. “We will see a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds,” Mr. Schweizer writes...“Clinton Cash” is potentially more unsettling, both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book…[Schweitzer] writes mainly in the voice of a neutral journalist and meticulously documents his sources, including tax records and government documents, while leaving little doubt about his view of the Clintons.

-- Original Post --

A new thread emerged over the weekend pertaining to the controversy over the Clinton Foundation's ongoing acceptance of foreign donations throughout Hillary's time at State and during her presidential run. We already know that the organization took large sums of money from foreign governments that were lobbying the US government, and that many of those contributions were not vetted by the Obama administration. Allegations of quid pro quos  have surfaced, as have accusations of hypocrisy on women's rights. And now there's this, via Newsweek:

Enemies of Hillary Clinton waiting to discredit her bid for the White House are likely to seize on news that one of the biggest benefactors to the Clinton Foundation has been trading with Iran and may be in breach of US sanctions imposed on the country. Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, 54, has courted the Clintons for at least nine years – in the United States, the Alps and Ukraine. Earlier this year, he was confirmed as the largest individual contributor to the Clinton Foundation...Newsweek has seen declarations and documents from Ukraine that show a series of shipments from Interpipe to Iran in 2011 and 2012, including railway parts and products commonly used in the oil and gas sectors...Among a number of high-value invoices for products related to rail or oil and gas, one shipment for $1.8m (1.7m) in May 2012 was for “seamless hot-worked steel pipes for pipelines” and destined for a city near the Caspian Sea. Both the rail and oil and gas sectors are sanctioned by the US, which specifically prohibits any single invoice to the Iranian petrochemical industry worth more than $1m. However, US sanctions laws are complex and, in certain areas, ill-defined. Interpipe may qualify for penalties due to the mere presence on American soil of North American Interpipe Inc, its United States subsidiary. The US authorities can also penalise non-American companies with no base in the US at all which it judges to be working counter to its foreign policy…"

Note well how this report leads with a "Republicans pounce" narrative.  Literally the very first sentence in the story speculates about how Clinton's "enemies" would "seize upon" the news that the article hadn't even reported yet:

In any case, one wonders how this revelation will impact the debate over the Clinton Foundation's questionable policies.  It should certainly raise questions about Hilary's judgment and ethics.  One also wonders if the Secretary of State exchanged any "personal" emails with Victor Pinchuk.  We may never know, of course, given her lawyers' unsupervised deletion of tens of thousands of emails from Clinton's private, under-secured server, the very existence of which was highly improper.  The server has since been wiped clean, according to Congressional investigators, whose 2012 inquiries on the matter were ignored by Clinton. Given the update above, reporters and voters must wonder how many relevant emails pertaining to the Clintons' lucrative favor bank were permanently destroyed.  Back on the political front, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd told Hugh Hewitt that Team Hillary "swung and missed" on her presidential launch:

He's referring to Clinton's continued refusal to take questions from reporters -- as a declared presidential candidate! -- as well as her ludicrously micromanaged "spontaneous" meetings with "average" voters:

Nothing conveys down-home authenticity like having your staff pick reliable liberal activists in advance, truck them around to undisclosed locations, then confiscate their personal devices prior to The Audience commencing.  I'll leave you with this:

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) says she's still planning for primary debates, in expectation of a challenge to presidential contender Hillary Clinton. “I expect the voters who believe we should have a Democratic primary will get their wish,” Wasserman Schultz told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” during a video interview from Manchester, N.H. Party officials were thus mapping out a “series of sanctioned debates that we expect our presidential candidates to participate in,” she added.

The DNC appears to be complicating Hillary's rumored plan to skip primary debates, at least for the moment. Also, at what point does Clinton start to loom flawed enough that real Democratic opposition springs to life? Is it too late? Stay tuned.

Watch Taya Kyle Introduce Garth Brooks and Honor The Troops at The 2015 ACM Awards

Last night at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Dallas, Taya Kyle, widow of American Sniper Chris Kyle, was invited to introduce legend Garth Brooks and to express the importance of supporting the military

Brooks was given a Milestone Award for his decades of work during the event and performed his song "All-American Kid," which is about young men and women joining the armed forces and heading off on deployment.

The 2015 ACM Awards set a new record last night as the largest live audience in U.S. history. Chris Kyle's funeral, which was attended by thousands in 2013, was also held at Cowboys Stadium. 

Hillary And The $1 Million Question … For Environmentalists

For years, Clinton has headed into the bunker when people asked about her position on this policy question. It’s something that has the environmental left sort of uneasy as the 2016 season begins to pick up the pace.

It’s the Keystone Pipeline.

Some in the green corner are torn between pushing the former secretary of state to state her opinion on the multi-billion dollar project, and supporting Clinton based on her overall record in fighting global warming (via Politico):

Major environmental groups are prepared to go easy on Clinton over the issue, looking to her overall as a champion on their issues, especially climate change. But the outside-the-Beltway grassroots groups that the pipeline fight has awakened see Keystone as just the first of a series of fossil fuel disputes where they want Clinton to declare her allegiance, including future battles over fracking, Arctic drilling and natural gas exports.

They more adamant activists say the green base is a force that she can’t afford to ignore.

“Activists who are the ones that will turn out for her events and donate money are the ones who will also see the gap of her talking about climate change and yet (if she does) supporting tar sands and fracking,” said Jane Kleeb, founder of the anti-Keystone group Bold Nebraska. She added that Clinton “needs to visit with us and hopefully not listen to some of the DC lobbyists who I just know are saying ‘they will vote for you anyway, what other option do they have?’”

Bill Snape, senior counsel of the Center for Biological Diversity, said his group is not “taking any electoral stands” on Keystone. But it wants Clinton to declare her position, calling the pipeline “a microcosm of other fossil-fuel issues where she might cave.”

“What we are saying is: the public has a right to know where the leading Democratic presidential contender stands on the greatest American fossil fuel flashpoint ever,” he said by email. “Keystone is the pivot: we are moving either toward or away from these types of dirty oil pork barrel projects.”

The publication also mentioned the pickle Al Gore found himself in during the 2000 presidential election. It concerned an airport project near the Everglades. Gore chose not to comment on the project until the Clinton administration finished their review. The administration did reject the project, but not after Gore’s response caused uproar among greens in Florida­, prompting over 90,000 of them to vote for Ralph Nader in protest. Even Gore admitted his cautious position might have cost him the state.

Yet, it was probably gun control that truly cost Al Gore the election. If you take the electoral votes of West Virginia, Arkansas, and Tennessee–Gore’s home state–the then-vice president would have won 288 electoral votes with Bush still winning Florida. Those three states were ones credited to voting for Bush due Gore trying to unnecessarily out-gun control New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley in the 2000 primaries.

Yet, unlike the airport scenario Gore faced, maybe Clinton could continue to remain silent on Keystone. After all, if the pipeline isn’t built, its energy yields are still be transported by rail, as Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute wrote in Slate two years ago:

When it comes to the flow of northern crude to U.S. refineries, here’s the reality: No Keystone XL? No problem.

While opponents of the pipeline have been rallying their supporters, U.S. and Canadian railroads have been hauling record amounts of oil. Last year, the volume of oil delivered by rail in the United States jumped by about 46 percent compared with 2011. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil-related rail traffic increased in Canada by 30 percent. In December, U.S. and Canadian railroads were hauling about 1.9 million barrels of oil and refined products per day, double the volume moved in 2009. Of that total, about 1 million barrels per day is being railed in the United States.

The Keystone XL is designed to transport 830,000 barrels per day. Over the past two years or so, domestic railroads have increased their transport capacity by an amount equal to about 55 percent of what Keystone is supposed to provide.

There’s nothing new in moving oil by rail. In the late 1860s, John D. Rockefeller began investing in railroad tanker cars, a move that saved him the cost of building barrels to hold his product. The oil baron’s control over the Cleveland-area refining market allowed him to negotiate favorable shipping rates with the railroads.

U.S. and Canadian oil producers aren’t waiting for the Keystone XL or other pipelines; they are building rail-car terminals so they can ship their product to market. In North Dakota alone, oil producers have built rail terminals capable of handling nearly 1 million barrels of oil per day.

Still, transport by rail increases greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 30 percent, whereas the pipeline virtually has no environmental impact. Also, it's "very unlikely" the Ogallala Aquifer, a vital source of freshwater for the Plains states, will be affected. This was all included in the State Department report, which “raised no major environmental objections,” according to the Associated Press. While it will only create 50 jobs once it’s operational, the pipeline would create 42,000 construction jobs over a two-year period. The project stretches over a thousand miles.

So, given that the oil is already getting here by rail, it’s possible the Clinton camp faces more risk in speaking for it than against it, whereas Republicans can strongly say they’re for its construction, and the tens of thousands of jobs this project will create–even if they’re temporary–since it will not bring about the apocalypse.

National Mall Trashed After Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day Concert

Oh, the delicious, delicious irony.

Yesterday was Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day, which was celebrated with a concert and other festivities on the National Mall. While the concert itself was powered by solar energy, the attendees could have learned a lesson or two about taking care of planet Earth.

For instance, check out these trash and recycling cans I spotted near the National Mall, close to the Washington Monument:

Disgusting. Granted, there should have been more attention to detail/park workers actually emptying the trash cans, but this is just gross. This is the National Mall, not a dumpster. There was a definite failure to plan for the estimated hundreds of thousands of people who would be coming in to the area for the concert, and that is concerning.

I was hardly the only person to notice the disgusting state of the Mall:

Earth day concert. #GlobalCitizenEarthDay

A photo posted by Eric Kmetz (@erickmetz) on

While I think it's fine that the concert itself was powered by solar energy, there were dozens of incidental factors to the concert that essentially wiped out any benefit to the planet the solar power provided. People traveled to get to the concert in non-"green" ways, and when they got to the show, there were dozens of food trucks (which are not solar-powered) there to sell food that was packaged in styrofoam. None of that is particularly "good" for the environment. Plus, trash was everywhere.

It's great to care about the environment (and people probably should), but it's incredibly hypocritical to go to a concert celebrating the environment and leave the area a trash-strewn mess. Simply going to a concert is not an indulgence to litter in the future.

Former Maryland Gov Takes Shots at Hillary Over Gay Marriage, Immigration

Hillary Clinton may be her party’s frontrunner right now but that doesn’t mean Democrats and Independents are happy about it. In fact, according to a recent Bloomberg poll, 72 percent of Democrats and Independents want to see a serious challenger jump in the ring on the left. Could it be former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who on Thursday took shots at the former secretary of state for flip-flopping on immigration reform and gay marriage? 

O'Malley was asked about his potential rival's stances on those issues at an event hosted byThe Guardian newspaper at Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

“I’m glad Secretary Clinton’s come around to the right positions on these issues,” O’Malley said, according to a report in The Guardian. “I believe that we are best as a party when we lead with our principles and not according to the polls.

“Leadership is about making the right decision, and the best decision before sometimes it becomes entirely popular," he added.

During her 2008 White House run, Clinton was reluctant to take a firm stand on the issue of giving a driver's license to illegal immigrants.

But earlier Thursday, a Clinton campaign official told The Washington Post she "supports state policies to provide drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants."

She also did not endorse same-sex marriage during that earlier run. But in 2013, she announced her support for gay marriage in a video message for the Human Rights Campaign. On Wednesday, Clinton also urged the Supreme Court to recognize a right to same-sex marriage nationwide.

And this isn’t the first time he’s made such remarks. Last month, referencing Clinton and Jeb Bush, O’Malley said the "presidency is not some crown to be passed between two families.”

But is he the serious challenger Dems are looking for? Not at this point, at least. O'Malley consistently ranks poorly (if he ranks at all) in the polls and it doesn't look like we're going to see a drastic reversal anytime soon. 

Regardless, O’Malley said he will make a decision as to whether or not he’ll run for president by late May. Stay tuned.

Huckabee To Make 2016 Decision On May 5

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will announce his 2016 intentions on May 5 in his hometown of Hope, Arkansas, which is also where former President Bill Clinton grew up. Are we trolling, Mr. Huckabee? I think so (via Reuters):

Huckabee said in an interview on Fox News that he will announce his plans in his hometown of Hope, Arkansas.

Huckabee, who left office in 2007, first ran for president in 2008. He hosted a Fox News television show but quit early this year to weigh another run at the Republican nomination.

Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, is known as an unabashed culture warrior on issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage. But he could struggle to win support beyond his social conservative base this year.

He would join a crowded field if he does decide to run. U.S. Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have all announced their candidacies, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also are expected to jump in.

A super PAC has already been established to support his candidacy–and the former governor will probably tout his ability to defeat the Clinton machine since he’s done so many times before (via WaPo):

Speaking with reporters in Washington earlier in the day, Huckabee insisted he had not made a decision yet about running, although he said that "things are progressing along" in his preparations. He sounded like an all-but-declared candidate, saying a super PAC has been formed to support his likely candidacy and touting his supporter network in Iowa, home to the nation's first presidential caucuses, which Huckabee won in 2008.

Huckabee highlighted what he called a unique ability to beat "the Clinton political machine," pointing to his electoral success as Arkansas governor, a job he held between 1996 and 2007.

“There’s only one person I know in the Republican field that has consistently run against the Clinton political machine, the Clinton political money," Huckabee said. "Most all of my races, both Bill and Hillary Clinton came back to Arkansas to campaign for my opponents. So I know the process quite well -- and the good news for me is that I’ve defeated that political machine.”

Yet, if Huckabee does jump in, the reports of a feud are probably overstated according to Suzi Parker of The Daily Beast. Nevertheless, if Bill Clinton hadn’t run for president in 1992, its possible Huckabee would have never been elected governor:

Huckabee became lieutenant governor in a special election in 1993 after Clinton became president. In 1996, Huckabee ascended to the governor’s office when then-Governor Jim Guy Tucker resigned after his conviction in the Whitewater scandal.

Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., said that the 1993 special election set the stage for a long-standing connection between Huckabee and the Clintons.

“In that campaign, beginning a theme that he would use throughout his Arkansas career, Huckabee said his campaign was about ‘unplugging the [state Democratic party] machine’ at a moment of exceptional unpopularity for Clinton nationally,” Barth said. “While there really was no ‘Dem party machine,’ the theme resonated with voters and helped Huckabee eke out a very close win.”

Newspaper articles highlight the long-standing feud between Huckabee and the Clinton machine. A 1993 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled “Bill’s Backyard,” said: “Mr. Huckabee ran against a Democratic machine that pulled out all the stops against him.”

Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, said that while there is a long history between Huckabee and the Clintons, the feud has been blown out of proportion.

Before Huckabee’s 1993 Lt. Governor’s race, the Clintons' track record back home was somewhat unstoppable. After winning a rematch with then-Gov. Frank White in 1982 with 54 percent of the vote, Bill won his 1984 re-election bid with over 62.5 percent of the vote–and won again in 1986 with almost 64 percent. That year, the governor’s term was extended to four years. Bill Clinton would win re-election in the 1990 race with 57 percent of the vote.

So, yes, Huckabee has been able to beat the Clintons by proxy and became governor in 1996, but that point might be neutralized by a rather solid 2016 GOP field.  Additionally, as Parry noted, “Governor Huckabee has tremendous political talent: he’s good one-on-one and working a room. But he hasn’t yet parlayed those talents to the world stage. Hillary has, and for far longer, meaning she probably perceives Huckabee as only a slightly more interesting competitor than any of the apparently dozens of others.”

Medical Marijuana Comes to Georgia

On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed a law that legalizes the possession of a low-potency form of cannabis oil for medicinal uses. Patients suffering from cancer, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, seizure disorders and sickle cell disease will now be allowed to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil with a doctor's permission. The law goes into effect immediately.

The bill was dubbed "Haleigh's Hope Act," after a five-year-old Georgian named Haleigh Cox, who suffers from a seizure disorder that used to cause hundreds of seizures a day that did not respond to conventional drugs. Haleigh's parents were told last year that marijuana may be effective in treating her illness, but that it was not able to be prescribed in Georgia. When Haleigh's parents were informed she may only have months to live, they packed up and moved to Colorado as a last-ditch effort to save their daughter's life. Since the move and subsequent regiment of cannabis oil treatments, she has far fewer seizures and has begun talking once again.

House Bill 1, which took effect immediately, makes it legal for people who suffer from cancer, sickle cell disease and other illnesses to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil if a physician signs off. The state estimates hundreds of thousands of residents could be eligible for the drug, and at least 17 Georgia families have had to temporarily move to places like Colorado where the cannabis oil is legal.

The oil cannot contain more than five percent THC, the compound that causes the "high" associated with smoking marijuana. The average THC content of marijuana is 13 percent.

Despite the law, significant hurdles remain for patients who want to be treated with cannabis oil. It is currently illegal on a federal level to possess the oil, and it is illegal to grow or purchase marijuana in Georgia.

Georgia must now set up a permitting system for physicians and patients in order to distribute and prescribe cannabis oil.

Legislators Reintroduce FIREARM Act to Expose ‘Race, Ethnicity’ Requirements for Gun Purchases

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) currently requires potential gun owners to provide their race and ethnicity when purchasing a firearm. If gun retailers fail to enforce this law, the federal government can put them out of business.

Reps. Diane Black (R-TN) and Ted Poe (R-TX), two legislators who recognize and appreciate Americans’ right to bear arms, have reintroduced the Freedom From Intrusive Regulatory Enforcement of Arbitrary Registration Mandates Act in response to the ATF’s superfluous regulations.

“This requirement by the ATF is another example how this administration continually makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to possess firearms,” said Congressman Ted Poe. “Forcing citizens who are lawfully purchasing guns to disclose race and ethnicity with the threat of federal prosecution if they fail to disclose is completely unnecessary. Bottom line, if a law-abiding citizen is lawfully purchasing firearms, race and ethnicity are irrelevant. It is time to stop punishing those who are following the law.”

Black expounded on Poe’s statement, adding that it’s not just a gun owning issue, but a privacy concern.

“The government has no legitimate reason to collect this information in the first place. That is why my bill would ban the ATF from requiring Americans to list their race or ethnicity in order to purchase a firearm.”

Both the NRA and Gun Owners of America are applauding Black’s and Poe’s efforts. Here is an excerpt from a grateful letter GOA sent Rep. Black.

“It should be of interest to both conservatives and liberals that this law enforcement agency is snooping into the racial and ethnic identity of gun owners without just cause. Your legislation will protect gun buyers’ privacy, prevent the federal government from needlessly putting gun retailers out of business, and ultimately strengthen Americans’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

So, how did the race and ethnicity requirement get passed in the first place? The answer is: quietly.

With little fanfare, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2012 amended its Form 4473 — the transactional record the government requires gun purchasers and sellers to fill out when buying a firearm — to identify buyers as either Hispanic, Latino or not. Then a buyer must check his or her race: Indian, Asian, black, Pacific Islander or white.

The Obama administration is not always so subtle in its disregard for the Second Amendment. In February, for instance, the ATF sought to ban the sale of AR-15 ammunition. Right now, members of Congress, like Diane Black and Ted Poe, are exposing the White House's gun control agenda loud and clear–and that is good news for gun owners.

Panic Time: Rubio Edges Bush in New Florida Poll

There are worse weeks to have when announcing a presidential bid.

A new poll conducted in the Sunshine State finds that Marco Rubio has a slight (if statistically insignificant) lead over perhaps his biggest rival in the hunt for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination: Jeb Bush.

Politico reports:

Sen. Marco Rubio’s splashy presidential-campaign announcement and his subsequent media blitz has likely helped him catch up with friend and former mentor Jeb Bush in their home state of Florida, according to a new poll of 400 registered Republican voters.

Rubio garnered 31 percent support from Republicans and essentially tied Bush’s 30 percent, according to a Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey conducted Tuesday through Thursday and shared exclusively with POLITICO. The other likely and announced presidential candidates polled in the single digits and 17 percent were undecided.

Rubio’s slight edge is statistically insignificant, in part, because it falls easily within the margin of error. But the poll is instructive nonetheless.

One of the greatest and most pressing concerns for Rubio before taking the plunge, I assume, was whether or not he could secure enough donors and supporters to lock up his home state—a state that he just so happens to share with establishment juggernaut Jeb Bush. If he can't win Florida, so the argument goes, he might as well sit this one out. So, of course, the skeptics urged Rubio stay in the Senate, defer to his mentor, and keep quiet presumably because Bush is unbeatable in Florida, and thus launching a presidential campaign undercutting him would inevitably go down in flames.

Ultimately, however, Rubio refused to back down.

“I've heard some suggest that I should step aside and wait my turn,” Rubio said earlier this week when announcing his presidential bid. “But I cannot. Because I believe our very identity as an exceptional nation is at stake, and I can make a difference as president.”

He has a compelling message that moves people to open their wallets—and their minds, too. Thus, as this poll seems to demonstrate, perhaps Rubio didn’t make a mistake after all giving up his Senate seat.

Perhaps—and this might be news to Team Bush and everyone else watching—the state of Florida is very much up for grabs.

Oh My: Some People Support A $50 Minimum Wage

Dan Joseph is on a mission. Who supports a $50/hour minimum wage? What better place to put forward such a bold initiative than in the free speech zone on the sanctified grounds of George Mason University in Virginia.

Now, while Joseph was able to find a few supporters, some students on campus knew that raising the minimum wage will lead to job losses and increased pricing for some goods. One man called the law racist and he’s not the only one. The late economist Milton Freidman described minimum wage laws as the most anti-African-American law on the books, as he explained in his 1966 op-ed for Newsweek:

Does a merchant increase his sales by raising prices? Does higher pay of domestic servants induce more housewives to hire help? The situation is no different for other employers. The higher wage rate decreed by Congress for low-paid workers will raise the cost of the goods that these workers produce—and must discourage sales. It will also induce employers to replace such workers with other workers—either to do the same work or to produce machinery to do the same work or to produce machinery to do the work.

Some workers who already receive wages well above the legal minimum will benefit—because they will face less competition from the unskilled. That is why many unions are strong supporters of higher minimum-wage rates. Some employers and employees in places where wages are already high will benefit because they will face less competition from businessmen who might otherwise invest capital in areas that have large pools of unskilled labor. That is why Northern manufactures and unions, particularly in New England, are the principal sources of political pressure for higher legal minimum-wage rates.

The groups that will be hurt the most are the low-paid and the unskilled.

Women, teen-agers, Negroes and particularly Negro teen-agers, will be especially hard hit. I am convinced that the minimum-wage law is the most anti-Negro law on our statute books—in its effect not its intent. It is a tragic but undoubted legacy of the past—and one we must try to correct—that on the average Negroes have lower skills than whites. Similarly, teen-agers are less skilled than older workers. Both Negroes and teen-agers are only made worse off by discouraging employers from hiring them. On the-job training—the main route whereby the unskilled have become skilled—is thus denied them.

The shockingly high rate of unemployment among teen-age Negro boys is largely a result of the present Federal minimum-wage rate. And unemployment will be boosted still higher by the rise just enacted. Before 1956, unemployment among Negro boys aged 14 to 19 was around 8 to 11 per cent, about the same as among white boys. Within two years after the legal minimum was raised from 75 cents to $1 an hour in 1956, unemployment among Negro boys shot up to 24 per cent and among white boys to 14 per cent.

Nevertheless, Joseph was able to receive more signatures than any other video in which he tried to get folks to support insanely liberal policy initiatives.

Rubio Running

On this week's Townhall Weekend Journal:

Dennis Prager on Hillary Announcement. Michael Medved on Hillary announcing. Hugh Hewitt with Carly Fiorina on Hillary running. Bill Bennett with Steve Hayes on Rubio running. Hugh Hewitt with presidential candidate, Marco Rubio. Bill Bennett and Pete Wehner on social issues. Prager on Iran. Hewitt with John Bolton on Iran as it relates to Obama and Hillary. Prager on the Pope's climate change agenda.

Feel Good Video Of The Day: Stranger Saves Man In Metro

Let’s take a few moments to appreciate this wonderful act of courage and kindness. Weasel Zippers caught the video:

Have a nice weekend, everyone.