Terrific: Attorney In Charge of Releasing Lois Lerner "Lost" Emails Now In Charge of Hillary Clinton's Emails

Attorney Catherine Duval is in charge of handling inquiries from Congress about emails belonging to former IRS official Lois Lerner, the woman at the center of the conservative targeting scandal. Just last week we learned during Congressional testimony from internal government watchdogs that Lerner's hard drive containing emails sent and received when the agency was targeting conservative groups between 2010 and 2012 likely crashed due to "an impact of some sort." We also learned that her hard drive allegedly crashed on a Saturday and that the IRS didn't bother looking for backup tapes. 

“When asked about the possible cause of the hard drive failure, the HP technician opined that heat-related failures are not seen often, and based on the information provided to him, the hard drive more than likely crashed due to an impact of some sort. However, because the HP technician did not examine the hard drive as part of his work on the laptop, it could not be determined why it crashed," written testimony submitted by Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George and Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Timothy P. Camus said.

Now, we're learning that Duval is also in charge of handling the release of emails belonging to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who of course conducted years of government business on a private server hosted in her house. More from CNSNews

“I want to ask you about another name. Have you ever heard of the name Kate Duval?” asked Gowdy.

“Yes sir,” said Camus.

“Who is Kate Duval? Because I think I’ve heard that name before too,” said Gowdy.

“Kate Duval is the chief counsel representative, the IRS’ counselor concerning the production issues to Congress,” said Camus. “She was a lawyer in charge of making sure the counsel made production to Congress.” (The Senate Finance Committee also lists Kate Duval in its timeline of IRS communications with Congress.)

“So she’s in charge of making sure that emails and other matters get produced,” said Gowdy.

“Yes sir,” said Camus.

“Is she still with the IRS?” asked Gowdy.

“She is not, I don’t recall the date that she left, but she’s no longer,” said Camus.

“Do you know where she is now?” asked Gowdy.

“I can get that information for you,” said Camus.

“No, I know where she is now. She’s at the Department of State, in charge of their email productions,” said Gowdy. “Wow.”

Based on the results of Duval's work getting Lerner's emails released, or rather "lost," the American people will never see Hillary's emails. This is a corruption shuffle.

Obama: Opening US Embassy in Cuba "a Historic Step Forward"

On Wednesday, President Obama announced from the White House that the United States and its longtime rival, Cuba, were moving beyond Cold War suspicions and entering a new partnership.

“More than 54 years ago today, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana,” he began. “Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally reestablish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and reopen embassies in our respective countries.”

“This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people,” he continued, “and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”

Not surprisingly, the president also emphasized that such a diplomatic breakthrough was a long-time coming, and therefore will be officially celebrated — and kicked off in style — by his top foreign diplomat.

“Last December, I announced that the United States and Cuba had decided to take steps to normalize our relationship,” he said. “Later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana, formally, to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”

“This is not merely symbolic,” he added. “With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people, we’ll have more personnel at our embassy, and our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island.”

All of which is surely true. However, not everyone is celebrating open diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is perhaps the most vocal critic of such a policy, released a statement today blasting the president's announcement.

“Throughout this entire negotiation, as the Castro regime has stepped up its repression of the Cuban people, the Obama Administration has continued to look the other way and offer concession after concession,” he intoned. “The administration's reported plan to restore diplomatic relations is one such prized concession to the Castro regime. It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President's December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, [in] obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people.”

“I intend to oppose the confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed,” he added. “It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end.”

CNN Poll: Bush 19; Trump; 12

So who are the GOP winners and losers in CNN/ORC’s latest poll? Let’s take a look:

Clearly, the two candidates sitting pretty right now are Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. The former jumped six percentage points over the course of the past four weeks, while the latter quadrupled his level of support during that same period, according to the survey. This is no coincidence: Both candidates recently announced their presidential bids, and therefore both have capitalized on all the free (if not always positive) media attention. A month from now, however, it will be interesting to see if The Donald is still in the top tier, especially since he is still reeling from a bevy of negative attacks after uncharitably stereotyping Mexican immigrants.

On the other hand, several candidates have fallen precipitously since CNN/ORC released a national survey. Most noticeably, Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) status as a frontrunner has all but disappeared. He’s polling at a measly six percent, dropping eight percentage points in just four weeks. No candidate (not even Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who fell just four percentage points to six percent overall) is in as bad shape as Rubio. The silver lining, however, is that it’s much too early for this poll to be a political death sentence. Rubio can still recover.

Finally, and not surprisingly, none of the candidates come close to defeating Hillary Clinton in the general election. The candidate who does best against her head-to-head is Jeb Bush, and he trails her by...13 percentage points. And while not every serious contender was tested against her, if the nominal GOP frontrunner, Jeb Bush, is trailing her by double-digits already, clearly Republicans have their work cut out for them. They must finally begin convincing the public, collectively, that Hillary Clinton should not be the next president of the United States.

Luckily, it's only 2015.

Video: Waiting Times For NJ Gun Permits Range From Six Months To 1.5 Years

NRA News’ Ginny Simone has more on Carol Bowne, the New Jersey woman from Berlin Township who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Michael Eitel on June 3. Bowne’s friends said she did everything to ensure that she would be safe from Eitel. She got a restraining order, had surveillance equipment installed, and filed for a gun permit on April 21. In fact, two days before she was stabbed by Eitel, she had checked in with the police to check on the status of her permit; a permit that is suppose to be issued 30 days upon filing.

Right now, balloons and flowers surround Bowne’s station; she was a hairdresser. Her co-workers are filled with anger, sadness, and disgust over the death of their friend, and the state’s abject failure in protecting her. One of her co-workers said “you could blow your nose on a restraining order.”

Bowne also filed every incident of harassment and intimidation she endured by Eitel with the police and the local prosecutor’s office. One of her co-workers alleges Eitel came to her work and shot up her car windows with a pellet gun. To make matters worse, Eitel had a warrant out for his arrest for violating the restraining order filed by Bowne. Eitel was found on June 8 in a Berlin Township home’s garage; he had hung himself.

This gets back to the egregiousness of New Jersey’s gun laws. In February, a New Jersey man faced 10 years in prison for possessing … a nearly 300-year old flintlock pistol. In Bowne’s case, it was the Garden State’s abysmal permit law that arguably got her killed.

In Jersey, you need a permit to own a handgun (which is absolutely ridiculous). Fingerprinting is involved, but the whole process should only take 30 days. It's explicitly clear in the NJ law books, but testimonies from other NJ gun owners say the real length of time ranges anywhere from three to six months to a full nine months until they get their firearm ID card. In Newark, some folks have waited for as long as a year-and-a-half. Shari Spivack, a firearm instructor interviewed by NRA News, waited nine months for her ID card.

As for concealed carry permits … please–this is New Jersey. You’re more likely to spot a unicorn than to receive a CCW permit if you’re a resident.

SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Case Challenging Compulsory Union Dues

Teachers should not have to pay mandatory union dues that support political agendas they don’t agree with, argues California educator Rebecca Friedrichs, the lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The frustrated teacher is suing the California Teachers Association for forcing her to give $1,000 a year to a teachers union she says is using that money to forward liberal causes that do not represent her. Now, her complaint has reached the Supreme Court of the United States. The high court just granted her petition. 

Friedrichs spoke with Townhall a couple of years ago about her grievance with union dues, explaining that teachers unions often use this money to fund such politically charged items such as Common Core and Obamacare. Her specific union, she shared, was working especially hard against a program she actually supported, the voucher system.

“And I think the unions are against vouchers because, they wouldn’t be able to control so many teachers being in the union, you know if there was more freedom in education. I think it’s a way they are protecting their own organization. They’re not protecting teachers and students – they’re protecting themselves. It’s coming out in a negative way. I would love to have more choice in the schools that I could work at too. I don’t have a choice. We don’t have very many charter schools around here and we don’t have a voucher system in California.”

More egregiously than being forced to indirectly support political causes, educators who pay mandatory union dues may also be fronting money to tenured teachers who have disgraceful pasts.

“I’m sure you’ve heard about all the teachers who are child molesters and other horrific things. The unions come by and support them, well that’s because of tenure and that’s a collective bargaining issue. So I feel like that’s political. At this point we can’t get out of paying them, so I cannot avoid supporting that pedophile teacher with my dues.

Why not just opt out of paying the dues? Because the process is discouragingly burdensome.

Read more about the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association here. The case will be briefed and argued in the fall, with a guaranteed decision by June 30, 2016.

Mike Huckabee Vows Executive Orders to Protect Religious Freedom

After the Supreme Court ruled last week that gay marriage is a constitutional right, immediate concerns about protections for the First Amendment and religious freedom were magnified. New York Times contributor Mark Oppenheimer called for the tax exempt statuses of churches and non-profits to be stripped in light of the ruling. 

Now, former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is vowing to issue executive orders, should he be elected, protecting religious liberty and those with religious objections to participating in gay marriage. Here's the outline of actions he would take from his campaign: 

1. Sign executive orders in support of traditional marriage that protect businesses, churches, non-profits, schools and universities, hospitals, and other organizations from discrimination, intimidation, or civil or criminal penalties for exercising their religious beliefs.

2. Direct the Attorney General to protect religious liberty and aggressively prosecute any violations of First Amendment rights of individuals, businesses, religious organizations, institutions and civil servants, including those who believe in traditional marriage. The Justice Department will protect and defend the rights of American citizens to follow their religious convictions without discrimination and prosecute attacks on all people of faith and their religious liberty as hate crimes. 

3. Direct the Secretary of Defense to support military chaplains to exercise their faith and not force them to participate in ceremonies they find objectionable on religious grounds. People of faith will not be punished for serving their country and sacrificing to keep us free.

The plan was outlined as Huckabee makes his way through Iowa, a heavy evangelical state.

"While some cowardly politicians wave the white flag and surrender to this unconstitutional, out-of-control act of judicial tyranny, I reject this decision and will fight from 'Day One' of my administration to defend our Constitution and protect religious liberty," Huckabee said in a statement.

It should be noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges ruling gay marriage a constitutional right, dedicated an extensive paragraph to the issue of religious freedom and the ruling. 

"Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex," Kennedy said in the opinion. 

The Obama Justice Department stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act in 2011.

Uh Oh: Survey Shows Hillary Will Have a Tough Time Turning Out Democratic Voters

Liberals are pros when it comes to getting people out to vote, but a new survey shows Hillary Clinton will have major trouble turning out Democrats in 2016. From Real Clear Politics (bolding is mine): 

Americans want change and reforms, but “people don’t think any of this is going to happen,” Stan Greenberg, chairman and CEO of polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, said during a reporter roundtable organized by the Christian Science Monitor.

Their skepticism doesn’t turn on the idea of a Democratic nominee who would follow a two-term Democrat, President Obama. “It’s because the old political system is uniquely corrupted” in their eyes, Greenberg said. “What matters is how deep the critique people have about what’s happening in the country, both politically and economically.”

Voters define corruption as money in politics and Washington power brokers who are self-serving and disconnected from everyday Americans and their concerns. This is why Clinton’s wealth, the Clinton Foundation’s fundraising, her decades lived as a VIP, and her missing emails discourage some voters from accepting the leading Democratic candidate as trustworthy, even if they favor the economic and social policies she stakes out.

The Democratic Party’s strategy to hold control of the White House and win congressional seats next year relies on America’s shifting demographics and on voter turnout. But “if the disparity in enthusiasm is not addressed, that strategy is at risk,” Democracy Corps wrote in a synopsis of the findings that began, “Democrats need to give voters a reason to participate.”

The threat comes down to an enthusiasm gap of 19 points between the Democrats who say they are “extremely interested” in the congressional and local races in 2016, and the much more energized GOP voters.

Meanwhile, while Democratic voters aren't necessarily interested or confident in Hillary Clinton, progressive candidate Bernie Sanders is catching up and leftist darling Elizabeth Warren could end up on the campaign trail to back him.

Will Warren support the new favorite son of the left and hit the campaign trail for him? "Too early to say," she told the Boston Herald on Monday. Warren has so far refrained from endorsing any Democratic presidential candidate, but she sure sounded enthusiastic about Bernie when speaking with the Herald. "These are people who care about these issues, and that’s who Bernie’s reaching," she told the paper. "I love what Bernie is talking about. I think all the presidential candidates should be out talking about the big issues."

Clinton's enthusiasm gap with voters explains her visits to places like Ferguson and her race-baiting language on the campaign trail. It's an effort and strategy to get the same voters who put Barack Obama in the Oval Office twice to do the same for her. It isn't working. Not to mention, if Clinton is already having trouble with Democrats, she's in major trouble when it comes to the rest of the country.

California Governor Signs New Law Effectively Mandating Vaccines in Schoolchildren

California Governor Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law a new bill eliminating religious and personal belief exemptions for childhood vaccinations. California is now the third state to not permit parents to submit a religious exemption from vaccinations and the 33rd state to prohibit "personal belief" exemptions. A child can now only be medically exempt from vaccinations due to reasons like allergy to a vaccine component or immune deficiency.

While the bill was passed by the California Assembly last week, it was unclear whether or not Brown would actually sign it as there was considerable public outcry against the bill.

From the Associated Press:

Brown, a Democrat, issued a signing statement just one day after lawmakers sent him the bill to strike California's personal belief exemption for immunizations, a move that requires nearly all public schoolchildren to be vaccinated. The bill takes effect next year.

"The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases," Brown wrote. "While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community."

California joins Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states with such strict requirements.

Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica introduced the measure after the outbreak at the theme park in December infected over 100 people in the U.S. and Mexico.

The bill likely would be successful in increasing immunization rates and stopping the spread of disease, pediatric doctors said Monday after the state Senate sent the legislation to the governor.

Children who are not vaccinated in California will have to be homeschooled due to this new law. Many doctors are refusing to take on patients who are not vaccinated due to the considerable risk of illness transmission to medically fragile patients in their waiting rooms.

An outbreak of measles traced back to Disneyland re-ignited the vaccine debate in California. A majority of those stricken with measles were either unvaccinated by choice or were too young to be vaccinated.

VIDEO: Let's Change The Name Of The Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

So, this happened (via Richmond Times-Dispatch):

Hillary Rodham Clinton will headline the Democratic Party of Virginia’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner on June 26.

Details still are being finalized, but the event, traditionally held in Richmond, is expected to take place at George Mason University in Northern Virginia — a Democratic vote- and cash-rich region of this crucial presidential swing state.

Last year’s “JJ” dinner speaker was Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C. This year, with several major 2016 presidential candidates up and running, Clinton’s high-profile visit — her first campaign stop in Virginia — could boost her 2016 bid in the commonwealth.

MRCTV’s Dan Joseph appeared to be on the hallowed grounds of George Mason University and found that most people agreed that “JJ” should be renamed to signal a change in the times. One person felt the dinner’s name was grounded in history and didn’t need to be changed, but most seem to have had strong feelings about Andrew Jackson. One woman said if she had it her way, Mr. Jackson would be off the $20 bill. Another man said that the Democratic Party had other prominent leaders that could replace Jackson and Jefferson’s names for the dinner.

Some folks even listed their candidates to replace Jefferson and Jackson for the dinner; some thought Carter-Clinton, Kennedy-Obama, Kennedy–Clinton, and Roosevelt-Johnson were good combinations.

Folks are trying to ban, or erase more or less, the Confederate flag and its impact on our history. It seems the names of dinners are in the cross hairs as well.

Heritage Panel Analyzes Obergefell Decision

The Heritage Foundation hosted policy and legal experts inside the Allison Auditorium on Wednesday to discuss the fallout of Obergefell v. Hodges, where the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is legal throughout the country.

The panelists consisted of Heritage senior research fellow Ryan Anderson, Judicial Crisis Network chief counsel and policy director Carrie Severino, and Gene Schaerr Law Offices principal Gene Schaerr. Roger Severino, the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Society at Heritage, moderated the panel. The panel all agreed that the ruling in Obergefell was incorrect.

Carrie Severino began by saying that Justice Anthony Kennedy's decision was based on the fundamental right to marry. While Severino agrees that there is a right to marry, it based on the precept that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.

"It's dangerous when we redefine the terms that we're actually dealing with because we could easily shift the meaning," Carrie Severino said, pointing out that the term "speech" could then be redefined. "The challenge here is that he redefined the term 'marriage' in the process of attempting to uphold the fundamental right to marry."

Kennedy based the decision off of four principles of marriage derived from previous cases- that it's individual autonomy through personal choice, unique two person union, it safeguards of children and families and it forms a keystone to the social order. Severino believed that Kennedy "cherry-picked" the principles he examined.

"By assuming the conclusion already, he chose the principles that would support it," Severino said. "It's interesting also to see that he didn't actually- in my opinion- choose those principles to overlap perfectly well because he does cite the rights of child bearing, procreation and education, and it is simply difficult to understand how a particular right to procreation has nothing to do with an opposite-sex union when that's obviously how procreation happens."

Severino also pointed out that Kennedy didn't do traditional Equal Protection Clause analysis under the 14th Amendment since he didn't discuss the level of the scrutiny- such as strict or intermediate- that should be applied to this particular case.

The four dissenting judges focused on a few major themes, with one being that the decision is not accurate from a legal matter, according to Severino.

"The Constitution is completely agnostic as to how marriage is defined," Severino said, pointing out that even Kennedy said as much in the Windsor case a couple of years ago.

The dissenters also highlighted religious freedom concerns.

Schaerr said that while Kennedy's majority opinion was the most respectful to religious freedom, his ruling "launched some grenades that are still in the air," saying there are 12 threats to religious liberty from this ruling which he calls the "dirty dozen."

The "dirty dozen" include tax-exempt status, pastors licensed by the state, religious school housing policy, religious school licensing and employment.

During the oral arguments of Obergefell, Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli about how tax-exempt status of religious organizations would be affected if the court were to rule in favor of gay marriage. According to Schaerr, Verrilli responded, "I can't deny Justice Alito that that's going to be an issue."

In order for pastors to have the authority to perform a marriage, they need to be licensed by the state. According to Schaerr, this prompted Justice Antonin Scalia to ask that if a pastor were to refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage, "Are they going to be denied the ability to marry people and have those marriage recognized by the state?"

Religious colleges depend on ability to get accredited in order to receive federal funding and for students to get jobs. 

"If same-sex marriage is the law of the land... isn't there a risk that accreditors will be pressuring religious colleges to recognize same-sex marriage?" Schaerr asked.

Schaerr also pointed out that some religious organizations make decisions on employment based on religion, which would be put into doubt by the Obergefell decision.

When it was Anderson's turn to speak, he said the cultural question is the most important in the long run, and that the pro-marriage movement is in the same position as the pro-life movement was when Roe v. Wade was decided.

"We've never accepted Roe v. Wade as the final word on abortion or the Constitution," Anderson said.

He pointed out that after Roe, there was a movement to protect the consciences of those who didn't want to believe in abortion. There is also the March for Life every year on January 22 and that the list of pro-life groups that have sprung up has been "remarkable."

"The same thing culturally needs to happen with this Supreme Court ruling," Anderson said. 

Anderson said that marriage places a limit on the state, so the state does not have the right to redefine marriage.

Kennedy's philosophy of marriage is a result of the breakdown of the American family, Anderson said. Anderson believes that marriage for a man and woman to commit to each other so a child has a mother and a father.

"How do we as a culture rebuild a strong marriage culture insisting that fathers are essential when Anthony Kennedy has redefined marriage saying that fathers are optional?" Anderson asked.

During the Q&A period, a member of the audience asked Anderson if he believed the government should be taken out of marriage. Anderson didn't like that idea, saying that marriage was never purely a religious institution.

"While your church can marry you, your church can't divorce you or alimony you," Anderson said, also pointing out that custody battles and other legal matters aren't take care of by the church. "You will simply explode the state on the back end."

California Debates Assisted Suicide Bill, Conservatives Rush to Block It

A bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide in California has gained traction in the State Assembly in recent weeks, and it will be considered by the Assembly Health Committee on July 7. Conservative and pro-life activists in the state have been working all hours to stop the bill from being passed.

The California Pro-Life Council is urging constituents in that state to contact their representatives and voice their opposition to the bill.

“We need to contact Health Committee and ALL Assembly Members, as parliamentary ‘sleight of hand’ may be used to wrangle around committee obstacles,” the group said. Pro-life people can use the following link to reach members of the panel to voice opposition to the bill.

Six Latino Democrats recently came out against the bill following a strong public statement from the Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez. Archbishop Gomez vehemently opposed the bill, saying:

“The compassion that doctor-assisted suicide offers is hollow. And this legislation has dangerous implications for our state, especially for the poor and vulnerable. . . There is no denying that in California and nationwide we face a public health crisis in the way we treat patients who are terminally ill and at the end of life. But the answer to fear and a broken system is to fix the system and address the fears. It is not to kill the one who is afraid and suffering.

State Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, a Republican, is also urging his colleagues to oppose the bill:

Senate Bill 128 would legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients in California. Supporters call it the Death with Dignity Act.

In reality, however, the bill should be known as the “Aid in Killing” act. We are asking our health care professionals — the people we hire to care for us and cure us — to now prescribe drugs that will cause our death.

Where is the opposition coming from? Hundreds of organizations and citizens are vehemently opposed to physician-assisted suicide. This includes the American Medical Association and the physicians who treat cancer patients: oncologists. These are the doctors that deal with dying more than anybody.

The bill already passed the California Senate on June 4 and is now left to the State Assembly. Proponents of the suicide law had tried to introduce the legislation for years, without success. But that changed in late May, when the California Medical Association (CMA) removed its formal opposition to physician-assisted suicide. The CMA cited changes in public opinion as its basis for adopting a "neutral" position. The CMA's opposition had been a political roadblock for the assisted suicide movement, and its removal of opposition lent the movement new momentum.

If California were to pass the bill, it would become the sixth state in the nation to legalize some form of physician-assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide is currently legal in four countries.

Uber Executives are in Trouble

Uber, a popular and booming form of transportation in the more recent years now face some serious trouble as the Uber France and company executives will go on trial in September on charges related to misleading business practices, complicit in operating an illegal taxi service, and illegal treatment of personal date.

Because of this, Uber France General Manager Thibaud Simphal and Uber's regional general manager for Western Europe, Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, were taken into custody and may be held for up to a day for questioning.

Uberpop, a sector of Uber that offers a low-cost service is the result of an accumulation of trouble.

"Uberpop matches passengers with drivers who don’t have professional licenses. The new law makes operating such a system punishable with a fine of as much as €300,000 ($332,000) and two years in prison."

In October of 2014, a law was passed that put a ban on connecting clients with unregistered drivers found through Uberpop. However, Uber continued to run Uberpop drivers.

In addition to such trouble is the scrutiny behind taxi drivers leading to protests last week across France where cars were damaged and Uber drivers were threatened. Taxi drivers have long generated anger on behalf of Uber because of their alleged hiring of ineligible passengers arguing that the licenses to get a taxi are extremely expensive, and "[UberPop drivers] do not have to pay any of that. And living here is getting more expensive for everybody — we can't breathe."

Uber has helped many young and technologically savvy people get to where they need to go quickly. Could this be the next negative turn for Uber and its clients?

Here We Go Again: Is The Death Penalty Unconstitutional?

Yesterday, Christine wrote about the Supreme Court’s five-to-four decision in Glossip v. Gross that approved the use of the three-drug cocktail administered during executions by lethal injection. Specifically, whether the sedative midazolam would render inmates who were sentenced to death subject to excruciating pain upon execution. It revisited the standard established in the 2008 Baze v. Rees, which upheld the three-shot cocktail protocol used in lethal injections was constitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Here’s the formal list of questions in Glossipaccording to SCOTUSblog:

(1) Whether it is constitutionally permissible for a state to carry out an execution using a three-drug protocol where (a) there is a well-established scientific consensus that the first drug has no pain relieving properties and cannot reliably produce deep, coma-like unconsciousness, and (b) it is undisputed that there is a substantial, constitutionally unacceptable risk of pain and suffering from the administration of the second and third drugs when a prisoner is conscious; (2) whether the plurality stay standard of Baze v. Rees applies when states are not using a protocol substantially similar to the one that this Court considered in Baze; and (3) whether a prisoner must establish the availability of an alternative drug formula even if the state’s lethal-injection protocol, as properly administered, will violate the Eighth Amendment.

The three-drug cocktail is detailed in the certiorari of the U.S. Court of Appeals For the Tenth Circuit:

(1) sodium thiopental (a barbiturate) to induce a state of unconsciousness, (2)a paralytic agent to inhibit all muscular-skeletal movements, and (3) potassium chloride to induce cardiac arrest.

Baez ruled this combination wasn’t an unconstitutional form of punishment, but the writ added that anti-death penalty opponents forced pharmaceutical companies to prevent sodium thiopental and pentobarbital from being used in executions. Furthermore, European companies won’t ship sodium thiopental to the U.S. if it was to be used in executions.

Hence, the 500-milligram dose of the sedative midazolam, which Oklahoma’s death row inmates argued wouldn’t incapacitate them to the point of not feeling pain. The Court disagreed, citing that the petitioners “failed to established a likelihood of success of their claim…failed to established that any risk of harm was substantial…[and that] evidence suggests that a 500-milligram dose of midazolam will induce a coma.” You can read the whole opinion here.

On the liberal wing, they’re wondering whether it’s time to reconsider if the death penalty is unconstitutional in its entirety … again.

Via Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment—the chemical equivalent of being burned alive. But under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated. But see Baze, 553 U. S., at 101–102 (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment) (“It strains credulity to suggest that the defin­ ing characteristic of burning at the stake, disemboweling, drawing and quartering, beheading, and the like was that they involved risks of pain that could be eliminated by using alternative methods of execution”). 8 The Eighth Amendment cannot possibly countenance such a result.

Via Justice Stephen Breyer:

Nearly 40 years ago, this Court upheld the death penalty under statutes that, in the Court’s view, contained safeguards sufficient to ensure that the penalty would be applied reliably and not arbitrarily. The circumstances and the evidence of the death penalty’s application have changed radically since then. Given those changes, I believe that it is now time to reopen the question.

In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those constitutional problems.

Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed.

Today’s administration of the death penalty involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.

As you would expect, Scalia also wrote a concurring opinion to his majority decision, which took Breyer to task for his dissent [emphasis mine]:

Mind you, not once in the history of the American Republic has this Court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible. The reason is obvious: It is impossible to hold unconstitutional that which the Constitution explicitly contemplates. The Fifth Amendment provides that “[n]o person shall be held to answer for a capital . . . crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury,” and that no person shall be “deprived of life . . . without due process of law.” Nevertheless, today JUSTICE BREYER takes on the role of the abolitionists in this long-running drama, arguing that the text of the Constitution and two centuries of history must yield to his “20 years of experience on this Court,” and inviting full briefing on the continued permissibility of capital punishment, post, at 2 (dissenting opinion). Historically, the Eighth Amendment was understood to bar only those punishments that added “‘terror, pain, or disgrace’” to an otherwise permissible capital sentence. Baze v. Rees, 553 U. S. 35, 96 (2008) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment). Rather than bother with this troubling detail, JUSTICE BREYER elects to contort the constitutional text. Redefining “cruel” to mean “unreliable,” “arbitrary,” or causing “excessive delays,” and “unusual” to include a “decline in use,” he proceeds to offer up a white paper devoid of any meaningful legal argument.

Even accepting JUSTICE BREYER’s rewriting of the Eighth Amendment, his argument is full of internal contradictions and (it must be said) gobbledy-gook. He says that the death penalty is cruel because it is unreliable; but it is convictions, not punishments, that are unreliable.

Scalia also hit Breyer for the long delays and “penological purpose” section of his dissent:

JUSTICE BREYER’s third reason that the death penalty is cruel is that it entails delay, thereby (1) subjecting in- mates to long periods on death row and (2) undermining the penological justifications of the death penalty. The first point is nonsense. Life without parole is an even lengthier period than the wait on death row; and if the objection is that death row is a more confining environment, the solution should be modifying the environment rather than abolishing the death penalty. As for the argument that delay undermines the penological ration- ales for the death penalty: In insisting that “the major alternative to capital punishment—namely, life in prison without possibility of parole—also incapacitates,” post, at 24, JUSTICE BREYER apparently forgets that one of the plaintiffs in this very case was already in prison when he committed the murder that landed him on death row.

Now, midazolam has been used in botched executions that were particularly grisly, which cannot be ignored when deciding these capital punishment cases.  Both the Tenth Circuit and the Supreme Court acknowledge that capital punishment is constitutional. Justice Scalia aptly noted that the death penalty was an appropriate form on punishment since the founding of our nation; the methods may have changed­–hanging was the optimal choice in the era of maize and breeches–but never has the U.S. Supreme Court “invalidated a State’s chosen procedure for carrying out a sentence of death as the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.  Lastly, if society feels otherwise about the Eighth Amendment with regards to the death penalty, Scalia writes they are free to pass a law and ban it outright.

So, yes, it seems the death penalty is constitutional. And if there’s a consensus to abolish it–and they succeed– that’s perfectly acceptable. The same goes for abortion rights. In a 60 Minutes segment on Scalia, he mentioned at the Oxford Union in 2010 that the Constitution says nothing about the right to an abortion. If you want to create a right to abortion on demand (a horrific thought), we’re free to pass a law to accommodate that change. He’s said ad nauseam that it’s the legislatures, not the Constitution, that keeps society up to date. The Constitution, in his words, simply doesn’t prohibit us from passing laws that deal with the controversial issues of the day (abortion, capital punishment, gay marriage etc.):

Time and again, the People have voted to exact the death penalty as punishment for the most serious of crimes. Time and again, this Court has upheld that decision. And time and again, a vocal minority of this Court has insisted that things have “changed radically,” post, at 2, and has sought to replace the judgments of the People with their own standards of decency. Capital punishment presents moral questions that philosophers, theologians, and statesmen have grappled with for millennia. The Framers of our Constitution disagreed bitterly on the matter. For that reason, they handled it the same way they handled many other controversial issues: they left it to the People to decide.

If Breyer and company feel that the death penalty is unconstitutional, they may not need to delve into law books in order to eliminate it.  They might just have to wait for a growing consensus among the electorate that it's wrong, and wait for lawmakers with similar views to hold a vote to abolish it.  There's a growing group of conservatives that are having mixed feelings about the death penalty, ranging from abolition to its non-essentiality (though they maintain it's still constitutional).  National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru said, "The state has the legitimate authority to execute criminals, but it should refrain if it has other means of protecting people from them. Our government almost always does.”

Nineteen states–both red and blue–have already abolished it, with Nebraska joining that club this year. Forget the moral and ethical problems within this form of punishment, it's also incredibly expensive to maintain, as my colleague Leah wrote in her feature in May.

What do you think?

Oklahoma Supreme Court: Take Down That 10 Commandments Statue

In a recently issued opinion that could have widespread implications, the highest court in Oklahoma determined that the state’s Ten Commandments statue, located near the capitol, cannot stay where it is. The AP reports:

A Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is a religious symbol and must be removed because it violates the state's constitutional ban on using public property to benefit a religion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

Oklahoma's highest court said the Ten Commandments chiseled into the 6-foot-tall granite monument, which was privately funded by a Republican legislator, are "obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths." The 7-2 ruling overturns a decision by a district court judge who determined the monument could stay.

Interestingly, the statue did not actually violate federal law, the judges ruled. And yet, it is not constitutional, either:

Attorney General Scott Pruitt had argued that the monument was historical in nature and nearly identical to a Texas monument that was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Oklahoma justices said the local monument violated the state's constitution, not the U.S. Constitution.

But how, exactly, did the statue violate Oklahoma’s governing document?

“[The] court said the placement of the monument violated a section in the state's constitution, which says no public money or property can be used either directly or indirectly for the ‘benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion,’" Reuters reported.

So because the Ten Commandments statue clearly espouses Christian and Judaic teachings on public lands, the justices concluded, its placement is therefore unlawful. Meanwhile, this might also help explain why the justices were so eager to throw out the attorney general’s central argument:

Lawmakers have argued that the monument was not serving a religious purpose but was meant to mark a historical event.

That opened the door for other groups, including Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to apply for permission to erect their own monuments on Capitol grounds to mark what they say are historical events.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked the justices to reexamine the case.

“In response [to the ruling], my office will file a petition with the court for a rehearing in light of the broader implications of this ruling on other areas of state law,” he said in a statement. “In the interim, enforcement of the court’s order cannot occur. Finally, if Article 2, Section 5, is going to be construed in such a manner by the court, it will be necessary to repeal it.”

Chelsea Clinton Paid Over $1,000 a Minute to Appear at a College

After discovering that Hillary Clinton charges exorbitant amounts to appear at events (actual quote: "Yikes!"), administrators from the University of Missouri at Kansas City decided to go with a slightly cheaper member of the Clinton family to headline their lunchtime gala for the opening of a women's hall of fame: Chelsea. Chelsea, a relative bargain at $65,000 compared to her mother's fee of $275,000, spoke for a whole 10 minutes, did a moderated Q&A for 20 minutes, and took pictures with VIPs for a half hour.

$65,000/60 = $1,083.33. Chelsea Clinton was paid over a thousand dollars per minute.

The event raised $38,500, but organizers claim fundraising was not the goal of the event.

While a spokesperson for Chelsea stated that the money went to the Clinton Foundation, there is apparently no reference to this in any email communication between UMKC and Chelsea's representatives nor was there any reference to this in the contract for the speech.

Is it really a question why college costs are skyrocketing?

Christie: Unlike These Other Guys, I'm Not Running To Be "Prom King"

After speaking passionately and movingly about the people in his life who’ve made his rise to national prominence possible, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) finally announced, from his high school alma mater on Tuesday, that he was running for president of the United States.

And of course, he began his remarks by touting his record as the Governor of New Jersey

“When I became governor six years ago, we had a state that was in economic calamity,” he said. “A state that had its taxes and fees raised on it 115 times in the eight years before I became governor. A state that no longer believed that any one person could make a difference in the lives of the people of this state.”

“And so we rolled up our sleeves, and we went to work,” he continued. “We balanced six budgets in a row, we refused to raise taxes on the people of this state for six years, we made the hard decisions that had to be made to improve our education system.”

And yet, he went further than merely listing his conservative credentials. At a time of immeasurable dysfunction on Capitol Hill, he also played up his reputation as a fair-minded — and effective — chief executive.

“Americans are filled with anxiety,” he said. “They’re filled with anxiety because they look to Washington, D.C., and they see a government that doesn’t even work anymore; it doesn’t even talk to each other anymore; it doesn’t even try to pretend to work anymore. We have a president in the Oval Office who ignores the Congress, and a Congress that ignores the president.”

“We need a government in Washington D.C. that says ‘you went there to work for us, not the other way around,’” he added.

Interestingly, however, he also criticized his own party, both in characteristically harsh and strong terms.

“Both parties have failed our country,” he declared. “Both parties have led us to believe that in America, a country that was built on compromise, that compromise is somehow a dirty word.”

“If Washington, Adams, and Jefferson thought compromise was a dirty word, we’d still be under the crown of England,” he added.

Similarly, too, unlike most politicians, Christie also pledged to continue being open and honest with his constituents — which is, arguably, his greatest and most refreshing quality as a presidential contender.

“We must tell each other the truth about the problems we have, and the difficulty of the solutions,” he said. “But if we tell each other the truth, we recognize that truth and hard decisions today will lead to growth and opportunity tomorrow for every American in this country.”

That line, as it happens, touched on the two overarching themes of his campaign announcement: inclusiveness and optimism. Towards the end of his remarks, however, he took a parting shot at the current occupant of the White House — and issued a warning to America.

“After seven years of a weak and feckless foreign policy run by Barack Obama, we better not turn it over to his second mate, Hillary Clinton,” he intoned. “In the end, leadership matters. It matters for our country and American leadership matters for the world. But if we’re going to lead, we got to stop worrying about being loved and start caring about being respected again, both at home and around the world.”

“I am not running for President of the United States as a surrogate for being elected Prom King of America,” he said “When I stand up on a stage like this, in front of all of you, there is one thing you will know for sure: I mean what I say and I say what I mean — and that’s what America needs right now.”

Millennials in Shock Over Hillary's Cribs

Last year, when Hillary was then just a presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, a majority of voters, 55 percent, felt she was relatable. Who knows, maybe they hadn’t heard about her exorbitant speaking fees, or, they actually fell for her ‘dead broke’ comments. But either way, the reality is she couldn’t be more unrelatable to the average American if she tried, no matter how many campaign road trips she takes in a Scooby Doo van.

To that end, Campus Reform’s Cabot Phillips decided to play a little game with millennials called “Candidates' Cribs.” Phillips stopped young people in our nation’s capital to see if they could guess which presidential candidate had lived in a series of mansions he had displayed on a poster.

A number of youngsters guessed Marco Rubio—I don’t know, maybe they heard about his “luxury speedboat”. None, however, pegged Mrs. Clinton as having been privileged enough to live in the lavish abodes displayed. And when Phillips told them the truth, the resounding response was, “What?!” and “Are you serious?!”

Check it out:

“Well, now, you’re changing my opinion on the election a little bit,” one young woman said.

HRC’s not so relatable after all.

GOPAC Returns To Its Roots In Prepping For 2016

As stated in their history, GOPAC was founded in 1979 to recruit and elect new Republican leaders at the state and local level. This was after then-Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont noticed that Republicans were sort of a dying species in 1978. Well, it’s 2014–and the GOP is stronger than ever at the state and local level. With Republicans controlling the two-thirds of the governorships and the most state legislatures since 1920, the work of GOPAC shows that the new talent is derived from the local elections that don’t get much attention in the press. It’s starting to now given that Democrats’ talent pool is shrinking rapidly.

Yet, we have a huge presidential election coming up against a huge, though flawed, political machine that’s being helmed by Hillary Clinton. Republicans at every level need to be ready for the assault. To prepare, GOPAC is returning to its roots with a series of videos called Imagine. Share. Impact, which is a throwback to the organization’s instructional tapes made by GOP leaders between 1986-1994 (via Library of Congress):

The tapes inform the public and aspiring politicians of conservative positions and assist them in articulating and honing their language and message on a wide array of issues, as well as providing "how-to" primers on everything involved in running an effective political campaign. The recordings have proved to be extremely influential in shaping political discourse from the 1980s to the present.

At the same time, no one is listening to audiotapes, so YouTube will have to suffice.

The first of these “how-to” videos from GOPAC’s Educational Fund was released today featuring conservative radio host and commentator Hugh Hewitt, where he discusses the “S’s” of winning in 2016.

Hewitt called on politicians and public figures to embrace specificity since we’re all tired of talking points. He noted how he knows nothing about net neutrality, but all he gets from people on the subject is that they’re for or against it, and then they dole out a talking point; no one explains to him what it’s about. Another issue that will require more than talking points is reforming the tax code.

Another point he made was speed; the nation is moving a bit too slow on critical issues. Hewitt asked, “Why does government move like molasses?” Hewitt noted that he, along with the vast majority of Americans, is constantly moving. Hewitt has four jobs–and he wonders why the government simply doesn’t put forward important legislation early–and deal with it early–instead of the usual protocol of having committee hearings, maybe a dinner, and then adjourning for a recess. While government moving slowly is not necessarily a bad thing–our Founders emphasized safety over efficiency–it’s killing us regarding some important issues, like in the Middle East and the Islamic State. Hewitt mentioned that this slow speed is “ingrained” in our history since ideas took some time to reach the frontier regions of the United States in the early 19th Century. Then, there had to be time to debate these ideas that were eventually returned to Washington over an extended period of time. Maybe it’s time to retire this mindset, especially on issues that need immediate attention.

Dovetailing with the discussion bit, Hewitt also mentioned sacred spaces, especially after the same-sex marriage decision. In the aftermath, he says, we will have to debate whether people can hold certain beliefs without shunning. We don’t have time to dabble in such nonsense since the “barbarians are at the gate.” And we need to return to the notion that we can live together and disagree. Hewitt noted that he has a 33-year rule in his household regarding his sister-in-law, who’s a hard-core liberal, that they do not talk politics at the dinner table. Yet, he loves her, she’s the de facto grandmother to his children, and “that’s the way America ought to be” with regards to these issues.

Lastly, he mentioned Spanish; the vast majority of the Spanish-speaking public in this country reads media in their native language. The same goes for every single ethnic group that arrived in this country. Figuring out a way to get into this market will establish a critical foundation to expand on the GOP’s inclusion operations, especially in states like Colorado.

While Clinton has her flaws, this could be a hard fight next year. Regarding the long game, it’s possible that Democrats could have trouble finding a new deep bench of candidates after the Nancy Pelosis, the Clintons, and the Harry Reids have long passed. State-based Democratic Party apparatuses have “atrophied (especially in rural America),” and Hillary Clinton has made it her pet project to rebuild such party operations if she’s elected president. That’s a direct challenge to GOPAC’s mission.

“Ideas unite individuals to take action on a common cause. The Imagine. Share. Impact. series will keep us at the forefront of educating elected officials and their constituents on the path which leads to healthy, growing economies that create opportunities,” said GOPAC Chairman David Avella.

Let’s see if adding YouTube to their arsenal can keep the enemy from climbing the walls … for lack of a better term.

Instead of Taking Dangerous Birth Control Device Off Market, FDA Adds a Warning Label

"These symptoms, these problems are not in our heads," said Essure user Claudia Castellanos. "They are real. Our pain is real." 

A birth control method called Essure has prompted serious side effects such as hair loss, debilitating pain and constant bleeding and has even been associated with five deaths, reports MyFoxDC. Because of the unwanted threats the device poses, women fully expected the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take it off the shelves when they voiced their concerns. The government agency had other plans: a public hearing in September and a warning label will suffice.

MyFoxDC first reported on Essure’s dangerous side effects in November. Here were a few of their unnerving findings:

But more than 10,000 women are accusing the maker of an implantable birth control device of ignoring complaints from users that the product was unsafe, even before it was approved by the FDA . The women claim they've had perforated organs, chronic pain, excessive bleeding, pain and other adverse side effects from the device. Some report they've been forced to have hysterectomies to solve the problems.

At the time, Bayer, the company that produces the birth control device, dismissed these concerns as what’s to be “expected.” So uncontrollable bleeding and chronic pain are totally normal when using Essure? How comforting.

Now, months later, as the complaints persist, Bayer has offered another not so reassuring statement regarding the drug:

“Patient safety is Bayer's top priority. Given there has been a great deal of interest in the safety of Essure among some patients, we welcome this open dialogue with healthcare providers, patients, researchers, representatives from professional societies, and other members of the public to review and discuss available data regarding the benefits and risks associated with Essure.

Well-founded fear over a product’s safety is defined down by Bayer to “a great deal of interest.”

MyFoxDC spoke to three women, Claudia Castellanos, Ana Fuentes and Janet Ramirez, who were victims of Essure's painful side effects, and who now call themselves The Essure Sisters, holding rallies in protest of the device and writing to the FDA. Ramirez offered an especially emotional plea to the agency:

"Listen to the evidence and please, please remove this off the market," she said. "It is not safe." 

Despite what Bayer says, this is not just a time for “discussion.” This dangerous situation demands action. Until Bayer and the FDA at least figure out what’s causing these threatening and sometimes deadly side effects, they need to pull the product before even more damage is done.

Surprise: Iran Negotiations Miss Deadline, 'Major Disputes' Remain


Actually, blowing through deadlines is a staple of these talks, so nobody's the least bit surprised by NBC News' report from late Monday:

A senior U.S official in Vienna said negotiators will not make tomorrow's deadline on an agreement on Iran's nuclear program. And while those involved in the talks are willing to spend a few more days hammering out details, no one will agree to a long term extension. They are also not willing to renegotiate what they say Iran agreed to in April. The U.S. and five other world powers have crafted a framework of a deal with Iran to keep it from developing nuclear weapons. Despite recent statements from the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei indicating Iran could be backtracking from the "framework" agreement negotiated in Lausanne in April, the official said "the agreement will be based on the Lausanne parameters. Period." The White House echoed a similar hardline. "If the Iranians refuse to agree to final agreement that's not consistent with framework there won't be an agreement," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Monday.

Those so-called Lausanne parameters -- which Iran has subsequently undermined and rejected -- weren't nearly as robust as the Obama administration's original demands.  Nevertheless, the ongoing talks persist as "major disputes" continue to hamper progress, reportedly over Iran's stubborn resistance to offering concessions on inspections, sanctions relief timelines, and full transparency regarding the military dimensions of the regime's rogue nuclear program.  In recent weeks, a string of damaging revelations have cast a dark shadow over the prospects for an acceptable deal: (1) Two European intelligence reports spelled out how Iran's nuclear cheating has continued during the negotiations, (2) experts determined that Iran's nuclear stockpile has increased significantly during this period, during which Tehran's program was ostensibly "frozen" with its stockpiles reduced, (3) the State Department once again affirmed Iran's continued status as a major state sponsor of international terrorism, concluding that the regime's malignant activities have carried on "undiminished," and (4) a prominent nuclear expert warned that President Obama's assurances about a potential deal's capacity to greatly extend Iran's "breakout" horizon have been  hugely exaggerated.  The potential agreement already makes enormous concessions to Iran, including permitting the regime to maintain a vast nuclear infrastructure, phasing out Western-imposed restrictions after one decade, and effectively acknowledging Iran's impending status as a threshold nuclear state. A powerful and bipartisan group of foreign policy heavyweights, including several former Obama administration officials, wrote a letter last week warning that they would oppose any Iran accord struck by the White House unless the West secures a series of robust concessions from Tehran:

A group of influential U.S. foreign-policy strategists, including five former confidants of President Barack Obama, warned the White House Wednesday they would oppose a nuclear agreement with Iran if tough terms weren’t included in a final agreement. Among the requirements identified by the former diplomats, military officers and lawmakers were intrusive snap inspections of Iran’s nuclear and military sites, a resolution of questions surrounding secretly developed nuclear-weapons technologies and a phased reduction of international sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The group also called on the White House, in a public statement, to make clear to Iran the U.S. would use military force if Tehran moved to assemble the materials and technologies for a nuclear weapon...Among the signatories were some of Mr. Obama’s closest foreign-policy advisers from his first term, including Dennis Ross, a White House Middle East strategist; David Petraeus, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Gary Samore, once the National Security Council’s nonproliferation czar. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top adviser on nuclear proliferation issues, Robert Einhorn, also signed the statement, as did retired Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011.

Meanwhile, in Syria,  this is happening

U.S. intelligence agencies believe there is a strong possibility the Assad regime will use chemical weapons on a large scale as part of a last-ditch effort to protect key Syrian government strongholds if Islamist fighters and other rebels try to overrun them, U.S. officials said. Analysts and policy makers have been poring over all available intelligence hoping to determine what types of chemical weapons the regime might be able to deploy and what event or events might trigger their use, according to officials briefed on the matter...Last year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad let international inspectors oversee the removal of what President Barack Obama called the regime’s most deadly chemical weapons. The deal averted U.S. airstrikes that would have come in retaliation for an Aug. 21, 2013, sarin-gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people. Since then, the U.S. officials said, the Assad regime has developed and deployed a new type of chemical bomb filled with chlorine, which Mr. Assad could now decide to use on a larger scale in key areas. U.S. officials also suspect the regime may have squirreled away at least a small reserve of the chemical precursors needed to make nerve agents sarin or VX.

The Assad disarmament plan was accidental US policy, forged on-the-fly after Secretary of State John Kerry accidentally misspoke. Syria's murderous dictator and Russia's Vladimir Putin took advantage of this flash of American weakness, hailing the "solution" as a diplomatic breakthrough that staved off the specter of war. At the time, you'll remember, President Obama was considering bombing Syria due to that regime's repeated and flagrant violation of the US' so-called "red line" on chemical weapons -- which had gone unpunished for more than a year. Assad proceeded to miss deadlines (sound familiar?), then routinely violate that exact same red line, forcing Kerry to concede that the White House policy had failed utterly. Now US intelligence officials are worried that Assad is about to step up his deployment of WMDs to an extraordinary levels, using the very sorts of WMDs he allegedly surrendered. Turns out he couldn't be trusted. And that the White House's self-congratulation was totally and humiliatingly misplaced.  Team Smart Power is still going full steam ahead with the Iran negotiations, though. What could go wrong?

Here We Go: Chris Christie To Enter 2016 Race

The AP reports:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who spent three years as president of his high school class, is returning to his alma mater to announce he's running for president of his country.

The Republican governor is set to launch his campaign Tuesday in the old gymnasium of Livingston High School in the town of Livingston, New Jersey, where he experienced some of his first political victories. Christie remains close to many of his former classmates, who had inklings even then that a career in politics was in his future.

Christie, who was strongly urged to run for president in 2012, perhaps missed the political opportunity of his lifetime when he decided not to. And unfortunately for him, scandals, persistent economic struggles at home, and sagging approval ratings have not aided his presidential dreams four years later.

As a matter of fact, many Republican primary-goers simply refuse to hear him out:

[T]oday, a staggering 55 percent of Republican primary voters say that they cannot envision voting for Mr. Christie, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, a remarkable deficit from which to embark on a national campaign. The only candidate less palatable: Donald J. Trump, the bombastic developer-turned-reality television star.

With two pillars of his presidential run — his record and his judgment — looking wobblier than ever, Mr. Christie must build a campaign around his most raw and prodigious asset: his personality.

Agreed. And yet, as the governor of a blue state, Christie has already earned plaudits from moderate Republicans — and conservatives — for his plain-talking, no-nonsense style of governance. For example, he became a kind of hero on the right after telling a parent on live television “it’s none of your damn business” where he educates his children. He also famously told New Jerseyans to “get the hell off the beach” shortly before Hurricane Sandy hit, and even called the cast of the Jersey Shorelosers.” And so perhaps one aspect to like about Christie is that he handles hostile media, and ‘gotcha’ questions, remarkably well. He's also good on late-night television. Thus, if he can raise his profile and polling numbers a little bit after today, maybe Republicans will finally look past some of the more annoying and controversial things he's said and done in the past, respectively.

Christie, for his part, will launch his candidacy today at 11:00 AM. Stay tuned.

No, Sen. Murphy, There Has Not Been One School Shooting A Week Since Sandy Hook

After the horrific church shooing in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, anti-gun liberals somehow think this is a green light to start a dialogue about curbing sales on so-called assault weapons, despite reports saying that Roof used a .45 caliber handgun to commit his senseless act of violence that left nine people dead. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has also called for a new assault weapons ban. We’re not going to litigate the failures of the assault weapons ban again; we all know it did next to nothing to curb gun-related homicides when the sale of such beautiful rifles was erroneously banned between 1994-2004. Heck, even the New York Times published an article admitting to that fact. Regardless, that still hasn’t stopped Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) from making ridiculous, and factually inaccurate remarks regarding school shootings in the United States to garner support for his failed narrative against the Second Amendment:

Since Sandy Hook there has been a school shooting, on average, every week. How on earth can we live with ourselves if we do nothing?”

Sen. Murphy said this on the Senate floor on June 24, but is it true? According to the Washington Postthis warrants four Pinocchios. Why? Well, because Murphy used shoddy information, and as a sitting U.S. Senator–it’s incumbent upon himself and his staff to not disseminate propaganda talking points from the anti-gun left. Yes, looking at you, Everytown.

This list comprises a variety of shootings at or near a school, including: attempted and committed suicides, accidental discharges, armed robberies, gang fights, shootings resulting from altercations, and shootings similar to the rampages at Sandy Hook or in Charleston, where a person intends to kill multiple people.

When Everytown first released its tally in 2014, media organizations gave it a lot of publicity — but then had second thoughts once it became clear it was such a broad list. CNN, for instance, initially reported the “74” figure but then determined that only 15 cases were similar to Newtown.

The Fact Checker analyzed each case included in the updated list. Of the 126 cases, 25 were attempted or committed suicides. The majority of the shootings on this list were targeted attacks against individuals stemming from altercations or ongoing conflicts.

There were at least 10 incidents that were similar to shooting in Newtown, with one shooter opening fire with the intent to kill or injure multiple victims. A separate incident in June 2015 involved a couple that shot and killed a cat on a school campus, but had told law enforcement officials they would have shot students if it were “God’s will.” We did not include that in the list of 10 incidents.

Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, said he has not seen an authoritative data source or universal definition on “school shootings.”

“Federal and state statistics tend to grossly underestimate the extent of school crime and violence. Public perception tends to overstate it. Reality exists somewhere in between these two, but in terms of actual real numbers, nobody honestly knows exactly where this ‘somewhere’ is,” Trump said.

Chris Harris, Murphy’s spokesman, said it all comes down to how one defines “school shooting,” and that Murphy defines it as “gunfire on school property.”

There are many ways to define school shooting. But applying the “reasonable person” standard, as is the standard at The Fact Checker, it is difficult to see how many of the incidents included in Everytown’s list — such as suicide in a car parked on a campus or a student accidentally shooting himself when emptying his gun and putting it away in his car before school — would be considered a “school shooting” in the context of Sandy Hook.

Lawmakers have a responsibility to check out the facts in the reports they use, especially ones that come from advocacy groups. If they are aware there are definitions that are disputed, or that are defined in other ways depending on who uses them, it is incumbent on lawmakers to clarify exactly what they are talking about and not mislead the public.

Nevertheless, Murphy tweeted an unsourced figure that guns kill 86 Americans every day.

The truth is that gun-related homicides between 1993-2011 are down 39 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. If you peruse Pew Research’s numbers, which used roughly the same time frame, the figure shows a 49 percent decrease in gun-related homicides, including a 75 percent decline in the victimization rate for other crimes (assaults, robberies, and sex crimes) where a firearm had been used also dropped by 75 percent within the same period (1993-2011). This doesn’t bode well for a narrative based around the notion that America has a gun violence epidemic, and that America’s schools are becoming shooting galleries. In fact, the frequency of school shootings is at the same rate as that of the 1990s.

So, where’s the fire? Surely more can be done regarding gun safety to ensure children know what to do if they come across a firearm in a public setting. More can be done to ensure that the mentally ill cannot obtain firearms, though that’s a serious ongoing debate that involves doctor-patient and constitutional issues. But we’re not drowning in our own blood due to gun violence. In fact, overall violent crime has continued to decline.

If liberals want to venture down this rabbit hole that has led to political defeat time and again, then we should all welcome it. I don’t mind expanding pro-gun, Republican representation in every level of government, do you?

U.S. Could MOP Up Iran’s Nuclear Program If Talks Disintegrate

It’s no surprise that the Iranian nuclear program talks are shaky; Guy has detailed the long, tedious, and sometime frustrating timeline of these diplomatic talks. So, given that we’re approaching the June 30th deadline–with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei issuing demands that the U.S. could never agree to–what’s the military option, if there is one? The answer is MOP, or “Massive Ordnance Penetrator;” the largest and most powerful nonnuclear bomb we have in our arsenal (via Politico):

…at least three times in the past year, a B-2 stealth bomber has taken off from an Air Force base in Missouri and headed west to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. For these missions, the $2 billion plane was outfitted with one of the world’s largest bombs. It is a cylinder of special high-performance steel, 20 feet long and weighing 15 tons. When dropped from an altitude likely above 20,000 feet, the bomb would have approached supersonic speed before striking a mock target in the desert, smashing through rock and burrowing deep into the ground before its 6,000 pounds of high explosives detonated with devastating force.

“It boggles the mind,” says one former Pentagon official who has watched video of the tests.

Iran’s facility, known as Fordow, houses 3,000 centrifuges that can enrich uranium to a purity suitable for nuclear weapons. Fordow is not Iran’s only enrichment facility, or even its largest. But it is the best protected. And it would be all Iran needs to develop a nuclear weapon.

The mock desert target was almost certainly meant to simulate Fordow.

When Obama officials say that “all options are on the table” to stop Iran from getting a nuke, they are in effect speaking in code about the MOP. The MOP is what Secretary of State John Kerry was clearly referring to when he recently told Israeli TV that the U.S. has “designed and deployed a weapon that has the ability to deal with Iran's nuclear program.” When CNN recently put the question directly — can the MOP destroy Fordow? — to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, he was succinct: “Yes. That’s what it was designed to do.”

So, we have something on the military menu to deal with Iran in case things talks collapse, but will Obama actually use this option? Some think it’s probably best for his successor, preferably a Republican one. Yet, if the president–either Obama (let’s say he approves this for argument’s sake) or his successor–green lights this operation, it will take multiple runs to ensure that the centrifuges are destroyed at Fordow. Moreover, the Iranians know we have this capability, and might just build new nuclear sites deeper into the mountains. If that’s the case, then the United States will just build bigger, more effective bunker-busting bombs:

If the order came from the White House, it would most likely summon Whiteman Air Force Base to action. Crews there would load the internal weapons bays of several B-2 bombers with MOPs. The giant stealth planes would then depart for their nearly 7,000-mile flight to mountainous western Iran. By the time the planes actually took off, the mission would likely be old hat to the pilots: A massive flight simulator at Whiteman includes a full-size replica of a B-2 cockpit mounted on hydraulics to mimic flight motion. Its realistic wraparound cockpit computer screen can be preloaded with highly detailed graphics showing the topography and target areas the flight crew would see during the flight, allowing them to practice the bomb run—or even the entire flight—under different weather conditions or times of day.

Once over Fordow at an altitude of 20,000 feet or more, the bombers would release their massive payload. As the enormous bombs fell, they would accelerate to phenomenal speeds of perhaps 700 miles per hour or more. Guided by satellite positioning, flexible tailfins would steer the MOP to a very precise impact point likely identified by the UFAC. The bomb would strike the rock with the tip of its sharply pointed nose. Its supremely reinforced casing would protect the fuse and explosives inside from the initial impact. In effect, a 15-ton, 20-foot nail would pound into the earth at the speed of sound.

Violent as that impact may be, it would hardly be enough to get the job done. The goal is for the MOP to drill dozens or even hundreds of feet through rock before exploding. That is made possible by smart fuses, whose blasts are triggered not by impact but by conditions like time, depth, or the presence of a void indicating that the bomb has broken through an interior ceiling.

Fordow is buried deep enough that a single MOP probably would not penetrate to the centrifuge hall deep inside. That’s why several bombers would likely drop their ordnance in succession, gradually smashing a tunnel of devastation towards mountain’s soft interior. GPS precision would enable several MOPS to be landed on virtually the exact same spot in rapid succession: the most powerful jackhammer in history.

Politico also added that the capabilities of this weapon system have been constantly upgraded and refined in its ten-year lifespan. In 2012, the U.S. military didn’t have the ability to destroy an installation in Fordow; we’ve spent $100 million to retrofit our fleet of B-2 bombers to carry the 30,000+ bomb; new smart fuses set to trigger the explosives based on time and depth; and new GPS countermeasure to block Iranian jamming systems.

Here’s the Fox News and CNN reports on MOP from 2012.

SCOTUS Ruling Keeps Texas Abortion Clinics Open Without New Regulations

Just when Texas pro-lifers thought they had finally shaken off opponents to a bill that threatens the state's abortion clinics, SCOTUS has halted their celebration.

In another confusing turn of events for House Bill 2, a pro-life bill that bans abortions at 20 weeks and strengthens regulations for the state's abortion clinics, the Supreme Court of the United States just sided with the clinics and granted a stay in the case, allowing them to remain open for the time being.

The justices voted 5-4 to grant an emergency appeal from the clinics after a federal appeals court upheld new regulations and refused to keep them on hold while the clinics appealed to the Supreme Court.

More information on that "controversial" bill:

Abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013 — and set to go into effect Wednesday — would have required Texas' abortion facilities to meet hospital-like standards, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other infrastructure.

The new restrictions would have shuttered 10 of the 19 remaining abortion clinics in Texas. 

Former Texas Governor and current Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry excoriated SCOTUS for their decision:

“The Supreme Court’s stay unnecessarily puts lives in danger by allowing unsafe facilities to continue to perform abortions. I am confident the court will ultimately uphold these commonsense measures to protect the health and safety of Texas women.”

Live Action President Lila Rose was similarly frustrated with the law's newest hurdle:

"Women and babies are being denied protections with the Supreme Court blocking pro-life legislation. Contrary to what big abortion organizations would have us believe, the possible closure of abortion facilities is due to the refusal of these corporations to adhere to sensible and ordinary medical precautions. We look forward to the day that both the legislature and the Courts use their power to protect the most vulnerable among us."

The timing of the case makes it especially significant, for it could have national implications.

The court's decision to block the regulations is a strong indication that the justices will hear the full appeal, which could be the biggest abortion case at the Supreme Court in nearly 25 years.

If the court steps in, the hearing and the eventual ruling would come amid the 2016 presidential campaign.

Pro-abortion activists who claim to be concerned about women's health continue to oppose a law that would only ensure better safety standards for patients who visit these clinics. Abortion clinics are unsafe enough considering their goal is to end unborn lives. Unregulated abortion clinics? Shudder. 

Because of HB2's common sense standards, current Texas Governor Greg Abbott expects the Supreme Court to ultimately do the right thing for the women of Texas.

“HB 2 was a constitutional exercise of Texas’ lawmaking authority that was correctly and unanimously upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Texas will continue to fight for higher-quality healthcare standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable – the unborn, and I’m confident the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold this law.”

SCOTUS: Religious Freedom Must Bow to New Rights

Last Friday's landmark Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage has set the stage for the new legal battle to be waged in the coming years: the battle for religious liberty. Now that same-sex marriage has been declared a constitutional right, those who conscientiously object to affirming same-sex relationships will soon find themselves in the same legal category as the Jim Crow racists who denied African-Americans fair treatment.

The core ideal that has been proffered in the gay rights movement — and which the Supreme Court cited in its ruling — is the ideal of equality. In the law, "equal treatment" is a principle that only applies to things that are fundamentally the same in nature. It means treating things that are the same, the same; but things that are different should, of course, be treated differently. In the debate over same-sex marriage, the left's position had been that same-sex marriage and male-female marriage are qualitatively the same thing. Consequently, they should both receive equal treatment under law. Opponents of same-sex marriage did not deny "equality" per se; they simply held that same-sex relationships were fundamentally different from male-female marriages, and therefore are not entitled to the same treatment.

But that debate is now over, at least legally speaking. The Supreme Court has declared same-sex marriages and traditional male-female marriages to be qualitatively the same, and therefore entitled to equal protection under law. Whether right or wrong, this puts all dissenters in the same legal position as the old Jim Crow racists: they are bigots whose ways cannot be tolerated.

The key question now before the courts is: Are religious objectors to same-sex marriage entitled to act publicly in ways that do not abide the Court's expanded definition of marriage? The likely answer to come from this Court, given its recent opinion, is "No."

In issuing the Court's opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote briefly of religious liberty protections. Yet he seemed to define religious liberty in terms of speech, not of public action or "free exercise." He writes:

The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

Yet he also says:

Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.

Chief Justice John Roberts took issue with Kennedy's omission of the right to "free exercise":

The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses. Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples . . . There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.

Justice Clarence Thomas added:

Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons . . . as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.

The Court's conception of religious liberty, as reflected in Kennedy's opinion, is one that would neuter religion of all public consequence and press it into the private sphere. It would restrict the influence of religion to "pews, homes and hearts." Justice Alito expressed concern over this limiting of religious liberty, particularly as it regards opposition to same-sex marriage:

I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.

The fallout to come for religious liberty is, of course, not yet determined, and it is possible that Kennedy—often the Court's deciding swing vote—will show wiggle room for some religious objectors, depending on the case. But the key upshot from the Court's ruling is clear: when push truly comes to shove, the free exercise of religion must give way to the new sexual orthodoxy that is now enshrined in law.

Meanwhile, Evangelicals and other religious dissenters are preparing to pay the cost of theological faithfulness. Gov. Mike Huckabee anticipates that many pastors, university presidents, and Christian businessmen will be forced to choose between following God's will and obeying the state. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is advising churches about the legal implications of this ruling and how to navigate future waters. We have seen the curtailment of religious liberty in other highly secularized western countries, like Canada. This SCOTUS ruling looks to sets the stage for a similar curtailment of religious liberty.

When Christians are forced to choose between God and Caesar, the answer is not a difficult one. But it's a shame that here in America, this once-idealized haven for religious minorities, the awful choice between God and Caesar will likely be thrust upon millions.