Illinois Senate Race: Some Democrats Fretting Over Drop In Black Voter Turnout

As Democrats prepare to mount a campaign to oust Republican incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois, racial politics are coming into play. Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth has officially tossed her hat into the ring. She’s the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress from Illinois, and the first disabled American elected to the House. Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran, who lost both her legs in 2004 after a rocket-propelled grenade hit her helicopter.

Sen. Kirk had a serious stroke in 2012, but has made a remarkable recovery. He maintains an “energetic schedule," moving throughout the Capitol in a wheelchair, according to Politico. Both candidates have experience with dealing with deep personal struggles.

Yet, despite Duckworth’s impressive credentials to run for the Senate seat in deep Illinois, there’s some concern that black voters might not turn out in 2016 given that she’s not black.

Democratic Party infighting on this issue could be a blessing for Sen. Kirk, who can’t really count on his incumbent advantage in a state dominated by Democrats. Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley has been trying to recruit Andrea Zoop, a former general counsel to Exelon and Sears, to run for the seat (via National Journal):

[O]utside of the Beltway, some Illinois Democrats aren't ready to rally around Duckworth just yet. Looking ahead to the first statewide election without President Obama on the ballot, they say the party needs an African-American candidate to help motivate black voters in 2016, and they think they've found just the woman for the job.

Andrea Zopp—a 57-year-old Harvard law grad with an impressive corporate resume, including time as general counsel for Sears and Exelon—has spent the past four years as president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. Now she's considering a Senate run of her own.

"I've been looking at the race now for probably a couple months, and talked to a lot of people," Zopp told National Journal in an interview Friday. "We're running a poll to test what I'm hearing from people, and if that poll comes out positive, then I have every strong expectation that I am going to get into the race."

Zopp is being recruited by African-American political leaders, as well as former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, to forge an uphill bid against Duckworth, who already has raised more than $1.5 million for her campaign.

"My consideration isn't about the turnout," she said. "My consideration is that as an African-American woman I think I bring perspective that the African-American community and also other communities of color will respond to, and I think that perspective is not represented in the race."

Duckworth, the only declared candidate in the race so far, was born in Thailand to an American father and Thai mother, and has some Chinese ancestry. Daley, who has been urging Zopp into the race, said Democrats would be "idiots" to not worry about a potential drop-off in black voters if there were no African-American candidate on the ballot in either of the top two slots.

Zopp isn't the only African-American candidate considering the race. A spokesman for Rep. Robin Kelly, who recently met with the DSCC, told National Journal that she "continues to weigh a possible Senate bid," and was also undeterred by the recent moves by Zopp or EMILY's List. Additionally, state senator and former NFL linebacker Napoleon Harris is rumored to be exploring his chances.

But Zopp's allies say she's the only one of those candidates to present a real insider-outsider argument against Kirk, at a time when social conflicts like the one in Baltimore are raising the need for more community activists in Congress.

At the same time, Democratic consultants in Illinois don’t think Duckworth is in trouble. Moreover, it’s a bit disturbing that skin color is the first thing that comes to mind concerning driving voter turnout. Both Zopp and Duckworth seem to have solid credentials to run for political office–in Duckworth’s case, higher office; but Zopp is better because she doesn’t carry the threat that black voter turnout will drop. At least Zopp is saying publicly she isn't worried about turnout.

After all, Sen. Kirk has run into trouble speaking about race in the past (via CNN):

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk says he won't talk about race anymore after his comments last week that "we drive faster" through black communities sparked criticism from Democrats.

Kirk made the comments in an interview with the Peoria Journal-Star, when asked his thoughts on encouraging innovation in Illinois. Kirk touted his efforts to foster an "African-American entrepreneurial class," and suggested Illinois could someday be home to a "class of African-American billionaires."

"That would really adjust income differentials and make the diversity and outcome of the state much better so that the black community is not the one we drive faster through," he added.

In a statement issued after Kirk's comments were published, the senator's spokeswoman underscored his work for the African American community.

"Anyone watching network news in Chicago is aware of the frequent killings and violence that affects various communities in the state," said spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis.

"Senator Kirk is active in fighting gang violence, keeping assault weapons of the streets, and works within the African American community to find aspiring entrepreneurs. No one can question Senator Kirk's commitment to the African-American community."

Kirk is seen as Republicans' most vulnerable incumbent this cycle, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wasted little time in pouncing on the comments, calling them "offensive."

You would think Democrats wouldn’t fret so much about–for all intents and purposes–a safe Democratic Senate seat in a presidential year, let alone the race of the person on the ballot.

Marine Set To Be Next Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff

Yesterday, President Obama nominated Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, to become the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing outgoing Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is expected to retire once his term ends (via NYT):

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. took the same punishing combat fitness test the lowest-ranking Marine must pass, and dressed in his formal uniform in Afghanistan to meet with that nation’s president.

The man President Obama nominated on Tuesday to be the next leader of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is known for his ability to maneuver between the disparate roles of battlefield commander and military strategist with a deft political touch.

General Dunford, 59, served as the top American commander in Afghanistan before taking over as commandant of the Marine Corps last fall. If confirmed by the Senate, where his nomination won praise on Tuesday from lawmakers in both parties, he would be only the second Marine to hold the highest leadership post in the armed forces.

Mr. Obama chose General Dunford as his top military adviser to help him juggle a range of global challenges, including winding down one grinding war in Afghanistan and figuring out how to win another conflict against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“I know Joe, I trust him,” Mr. Obama said on Tuesday at a formal ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, where he announced General Dunford’s nomination. “He’s already proven his ability to give me his unvarnished military advice based on his experience on the ground.”

When General Dunford was commanding American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, he impressed Mr. Obama during hundreds of hours of secure video conferences, and an easy rapport developed between the two men — the president seated in the White House Situation Room in Washington and the commander in Kabul. Mr. Obama appreciated the general’s quiet, matter-of-fact manner while he handled numerous crises, administration and defense officials said.

If confirmed, Dunford will continue to counter the growing threats facing the United States, along with the pressing problems facing the state of our military, which were detailed by the Heritage Foundation (via the National Interest):

The report, entitled 2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength: Assessing America’s Ability to Provide for the Common Defense, is modeled on Heritage's widely successful Index of Economic Freedom.

The new index assesses America’s hard power, which is measured in terms of “capability or modernity, capacity for operations, and readiness,” against threats to vital U.S. interests. It also looks at “the ease or difficulty of operating in key regions based on existing alliances, regional political stability, the presence of U.S. military forces, and the condition of key infrastructure.”

The conclusion of the report is not exactly comforting: namely, America only possesses “marginal” military strength to defend its vital interests in the current threat environment. “Overall, the Index concludes that the current U.S. military force is adequate to meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities,” the report states. “But it would be very hard-pressed to do more and certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two, near-simultaneous major regional contingencies,” as successive administrations of both political parties have used as their benchmark for military strength.

The Index also grades each of the services, as well as the Marines and America’s nuclear forces on a five-point scale based on their capacity, capability and readiness. Only the Air Force receives an above-average grade; it is assessed as “strong,” the second-highest ranking on the scale.

There’s also the ongoing problem regarding veterans’ state of mental health and suicide prevention. Regardless, it looks like Gen. Dunford’s confirmation will be a smooth one. He will be the second officer from the Marine Corp, after Gen. Peter Pace, to hold the position.

Gen. Dunford is expected to chart the same course regarding the use of American military power as his soon-to-be predecessor, Gen. Dempsey; namely avoiding rushing into battle (via WSJ):  

Mr. Obama nominated Marine Corps commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. to the Joint Chiefs chairmanship that Gen. Dempsey vacates Oct. 1. Gen. Dunford is largely built from the same mold as Gen. Dempsey, U.S. defense officials said.

Like the current chairman, Gen. Dunford has been unconvinced of the utility of many long-term deployments of American troops. A former top international commander in Afghanistan, he arrived there skeptical of the counterinsurgency mission taken on by his predecessors.

He sped up the transition to having American forces focus nearly exclusively on training the Afghan military, a critical part of the U.S. exit strategy. Gen. Dunford, associates say, has long been wary of having U.S. forces carry out missions that could be done by local forces.

All this squares with the approach taken by Gen. Dempsey in his nearly four years as the nation’s most senior uniformed officer—the top military adviser to both the president and the defense secretary. Like most senior generals active today, Gen. Dempsey was shaped by the long Iraq war.

So when the U.S. military returned to Iraq in 2014 to combat Islamic State, he pushed for tight restrictions on how American forces could operate, to make Iraqis do more themselves. These are restrictions that defense officials expect Gen. Dunford to continue.

Nevertheless, even as Congressional Republicans and the White House draw lines in the sand over Gitmo in the defense budget, Dempsey reiterated the threats facing the country and the world community.

Latest Revelation: Now-Deceased Pilot "Practiced" Downing Germanwings Flight

Is deceased airline pilot Andrea Lubitz—who suffered from mental illness—a cold and premeditated murderer? Or did he kill himself (and 149 others) impulsively during an international commercial flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf?

Once again, the evidence strongly suggests that he had every intention of flying that aircraft into the French Alps. His deliberated act of sabotage was, it seems, meticulously planned and practiced. The evidence is piling up:

Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz practiced his fatal descent hours before he locked his captain out of the cockpit of their Airbus A320 and rammed it into the side of a mountain, killing himself and everyone else on board in an apparent suicide flight.

A preliminary report published Wednesday by French air accident investigation agency BEA said Lubitz carried out a "controlled descent that lasted for minutes and for which there was no aeronautical justification" during his flight from Dusseldorf to Barcelona on March 24.

In other words, he was fiddling with the controls—and adjusting the altitude of the plane—in preparation for his murder/suicide mission later that day. He knew what he was doing. Unfortunately, however, authorities didn't discover his diabolical plan until after it was carried out. Tragic.

‘Noble’ Biopic Highlights Efforts of Irish Heroine You Should Know

You may not know the name Christina Noble, but thousands of children across Southeast Asia do. Noble lived a childhood that was more traumatic than most. Abandoned by her absent father, Noble grew up in a cruel religious institution, was gang raped as a teenager, faced an unexpected pregnancy and had her newborn baby taken from her by manipulative nuns. Through it all, though, she maintained her faith in God.

Then one day she had a dream about Vietnam – and that is where Stephen Bradley’s “Noble” biopic begins.

The Irish producer spent five years making ‘Noble’ – and it all started with a book Bradley’s wife, Deirdre O’Kane, happened to be reading.

“She had read Christina Noble’s books many years ago and had always sort of been obsessed with Christina’s story and has then gone on to do fundraisers for Christina’s foundation through her stand-up comedy," he said. "One day we sat down to talk and came up with an idea to develop together and she said there’s only one idea I want to do and that’s Christina Noble. That was the start.”

Once the couple nailed down their idea, they sought out Christina to earn her blessing. Bradley and Noble's blossoming relationship is apparent in the picture above.

“The next two years were spent really getting to know Christina and really gaining her trust," Bradley explained. "The best thing was, what happened at the end of that two years when she signed over the legal documents. She just said, ‘Okay I trust you, you go ahead and make the film now. I don’t need to know anything about what you’re doing.’ She actually didn’t see the film until it was completely finished. She gave me complete freedom which was fantastic.”

The cast features O'Kane as Christina, as well as an important supporting role by "Downton Abbey" star Brendan Coyle. 

It’s hard to watch “Noble” without realizing what a huge part Christina’s faith played in her life.

“In a way it’s so integral to the story that you can’t tell the story without the faith-based aspect to it. As you see in the film, there are so many turning points in Christina’s life that her faith has driven her forward. In a sense it was just so natural.”

Christina’s faith seemed to be the one constancy in her life, as she witnessed the rest of her life fall apart. It enabled her to follow her heart to Vietnam, where her impact is still being felt today.

A bit more about the Christina Noble Foundation. She has offices in the States, France, Hong Kong, Australia. In Vietnam, she has over 100 projects across the country that helped over 700,000 children. In Mongolia, she’s built an actual village to help street children.

“She uses her network abroad to channel funds and energy toward Vietnam and Mongolia,” Bradley explained. “Her system seems to work extremely well.”

Just ask the children featured in the film. They’re much more than extras.

“It was great. Most of the children, apart from the kid who plays Lam, all came through the Christina Noble foundation. All are orphans or have other difficulties. Working with them was fantastic because they absolutely understood the story – it was their story. Also, one of Christina’s big emphases when she’s working with the children or looking after the children and through the ethos of her foundation, is discipline. So the children were very disciplined and very able to keep up with the boredom of long hours on a film set. They were really wonderful to work with.”

Bradley’s ‘Noble’ has already inspired people to get involved in her charity and make differences of their own.

“Lots of people have gotten involved in the foundation, have made donations, have helped in other ways, sponsoring a child, or actually connecting with Christina and her foundation. That wasn’t the essence of my dive behind telling what is just an extraordinary story, but the great thing is that audiences react that way and just naturally respond to the film.”

I admitted I hadn’t heard of Christina Noble before watching the film, but that only assured Bradley he had made the right choice.

“That’s why we’ve made the film.”

You can find out more about “Noble” at thenoblemovie.com and you can catch the film in theaters this Friday.

Reminder: Mike Huckabee Granted Clemency to a Criminal Who Murdered Four Police Officers

In case you missed it yesterday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee announced another run for the White House. In an already crowded GOP field, there are many questions surrounding whether Huckabee can successfully make it through the primary. Putting the horse race aside, pundits seem to be forgetting a very important and devastating decision Huckabee made during his time as governor. 

In 2000, despite objections from prosecutors, Huckabee granted clemency to a man named Maurice Clemmons. Background from the Arkansas Leader

Several prosecutors around the state are upset with Gov. Huckabee for grant- ing clemency to violent criminals, but he is blaming the prosecutors for often not seeking the maximum penalty and keeping felons locked up longer.

Until now, Huckabee has refused to comment on his controversial policy of making violent prisoners eligible for parole– they include murderers, armed robbers and rapists, who often return to a life of crime after they’re freed – but in a statement to The Leader this week, he lashed out at prosecutors for not doing more to keep prisoners behind bars – to which Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley had this response: “That’s a load of baloney.”

“I’m offended as a prosecutor and as a citizen. He can blame the prosecutors, but ultimately he’s the man responsible,” Jegley says. “He’s the only one who can sign on the dotted line."

Jegley cites numerous examples of Huckabee’s freeing felons who go on committing more crimes and wind up back in prison.

Maurice Clemmons received a 35-year sentence in the early 1990s for armed robbery and theft. His sentence was commuted in May 2000, and he was let out three months later.

The following March, Clemmons committed two armed robberies and other crimes and was sentenced to 10 years. You’d think they’d keep him locked up after that, but no: He was paroled last March and is now wanted for aggravated robbery.

If Huckabee decides to set these criminals free, Jegley says, at least “he ought to give an accounting. I can’t imagine why in the world they’d want them released from jail. There’s a good reason we’re afraid of them. The sad truth is that a significant number of people re-offend.”

Nine years later, Clemmons was arrested and charged for the murders of four Washington State police officers. The officers left behind husbands, wives and children 

Maurice Clemmons, the 37-year-old Tacoma man being sought for questioning in the killing this morning of four Lakewood police officers, has a long criminal record punctuated by violence, erratic behavior and concerns about his mental health.

This is just one example of many. Huckabee has an alarming record of releasing criminals who end up re-committing serious and violent crimes like rape, assault and murder. That record should be up for scrutiny as he attempts, again, to make it into the White House.

H/T @michellemalkin and @MadStJack

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) Is Running for Rubio's Seat

Now that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has exited stage left the invisible primary for his seat has begun. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has already hand-selected their candidate, which is causing quite a bit of controversy. On the Republican side of the ledger, however, only one big-time candidate has entered the fray thus far: Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).

“America needs a new generation of leaders to address the big issues facing the country: alleviating the middle class squeeze and promoting economic opportunity, confronting the significant national security challenges threatening the safety of our people, and reforming the culture of Washington, DC,” Rep. DeSantis said in a statement today announcing his candidacy.“ As a candidate for Senate, I look forward to offering reforms based on limited government principles that will make our country stronger and more prosperous. I see a bright future for Florida and for America and my campaign will be about the ideas and principles that will help us achieve a more perfect union.”

Significantly, his decision to run has already captured the attention—and indeed the support—of the influential Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF).

"We're proud to support Congressman Ron DeSantis for the Senate in Florida,” SCF President Ken Cuccinelli said in a statement on Wednesday. “He's a strong conservative, he has grassroots support, and he can win. If he is elected, he will stand up to the big spenders in both parties and fight to repeal Obamacare, balance the budget, and defend the Constitution. We hope conservatives in Florida and across the country will quickly unite behind DeSantis because we believe he gives us the best chance in this race to elect a principled leader who will fight for our values. We will immediately begin raising money for the DeSantis campaign and plan to do everything we can to help him get his conservative message out and win this important race."

DeSantis, for his part, is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. He grew up poor, however, and paid for his education by “sweeping floors, collecting trash, moving furniture, parking cars, serving as an electrician’s assistant, and coaching baseball clinics,” according to his official congressional page.

He also still serves in the Navy JAG Corps as an officer—and is a recipient of the Bronze Star.

Obama's Next Executive Order: Closing Guantanamo Bay

Speaking at the White House Wednesday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked directly by a reporter if President Obama was willing to close Guantanamo Bay through an executive order. Earnest didn't say no.

"Will the President be ready to do an executive order to close Guantanamo?" Earnest was asked by a foreign reporter. 

"The President has indicated a willingness to use as much of his executive authority as he can to try to take the steps that he believes are consistent with the national security interests of the United States and that's closing the prison of Guantanamo Bay. He does not believe that the millions of dollars that are expended every year to keep that prison open is a good use of taxpayer resources. It's not. In fact, it's counterproductive," Earnest said. "Unfortunately, we've not seen cooperation from Congress in this regard. In fact, we've seen members of Congress repeatedly go to great lengths to prevent the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. That's been the source of a lot of disappointment to the president but it hasn't prevented him from continuing to push his team to try to go as far as we can to reduce the population there and ultimately get to a place where we can close that prison."

Earnest is using the same justification for closing Guantanamo Bay that was used for President Obama's executive action on illegal immigration last year. Congress hasn't acted in the way President Obama wants, so he'll do what he wants alone via executive fiat.

Over the past few years the Obama administration has been defacto closing GITMO by releasing prisoners. One of the most controversial prisoner releases happened last summer when President Obama swapped five high-level Taliban commanders for alleged deserter and Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The majority of the prisoners released from GITMO have returned to the terror battle field against the United States.

WaPo: Americans Overwhelmingly Support 'The Right To Offend'

With Muhammad cartoons back in the forefront, it’s resurrected a debate within the media about free speech. So, what are the numbers? In the aftermath of the horrific Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris last winter, 60 percent of Americans said it was “okay” to publish cartoons of Muhammad. Moreover, an overwhelming majority said that people should have “the right to say what they believe even if they take positions that seem deeply offensive to most people.” Yet, there is a caveat (via WaPo):

However, American support for pushing First Amendment boundaries is not absolute. Last year the First Amendment Center found that nearly 40 percent of Americans say the First Amendment "goes too far" in the rights it guarantees, a near-record high. And in 2010 the survey found that while a majority of Americans -- 53 percent -- said people should be allowed to say things in public that are offensive to religious groups, fewer (44 percent) said the same about speech that is offensive to racial groups.

Some in the media seem to be channeling the sentiment of the former in the First Amendment Center Survey. In the aftermath of the Garland shooting, Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times’ Foreign Correspondent, tweeted “free speech aside, why would anyone do something as provocative as hosting a ‘Muhammad drawing contest’?” Keep in mind that Callimachi tweeted about the “touchingABC News story on one of the Hebdo victims in March. 

It's a bit worrisome that some members of the media are more concerned about provocation than the insane reaction from a member of the Islamic community who sees a cartoon, gets angry, and then grabs an assault rifle to engage in the slaughter of innocents. The exercise of free speech is more disconcerting than the reaction to a cartoon; that’s ridiculous. Who knew that cartoons were the mother of all microaggressions?

There are some who feel that there are limits to free speech–and they use the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” argument to demonstrate that point. Yet, the case law behind this statement has horrific origins, and would probably make anyone think twice before using it in a future debate on the subject. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) used this as an example in an op-ed to push for gun control in 2013 since–in his mind–“the First Amendment is not absolute. No Amendment is absolute.” Thus, the same standard is applied to the Second Amendment. National Review’s Charles Cooke broke down why we should stop using the “fire” argument since it’s pretty much proto-fascist:

This fire-in-a-theater jazz is a favorite of the less historically literate among America’s false-compromisers, most of whom know neither that the phrase was a (defective) analogy and not a legal doctrine, nor that the case from which it comes was subsequently overturned with some prejudice. Also generally unknown, but crucial, is what Oliver Wendell Holmes and his colleagues were (unanimously) doing in that case. Nine to nothing, they were upholding the Espionage Act of 1917, that baleful resurrection of the Alien and Sedition Acts that so stained the liberty of the republic during its brief flirtation with fascism. In doing so, Holmes and Co. were endorsing the half-year prison sentence that had been inflicted upon the plaintiff, Russian exile and secretary of the Socialist party Charles Schenck, for having the temerity to oppose in public his new country’s involvement in World War I.

It is a detestable irony that in exchange for handing out anti-draft leaflets reading, “Do not submit to intimidation” and “If you do not assert and support your rights, you are helping to deny or disparage rights which it is the solemn duty of all citizens and residents of the United States to retain,” Schenck was not only put in prison but used as a symbol to signal the court’s pusillanimity in the face of the Wilson presidency: a majority upholding a majority against the little guy. And on what grounds? Because the United States, whose nearest border lay more than 3,000 miles away from the horrors of the Western Front, was ostensibly in “clear and present danger,” and Schenck’s leaflets — not even written in English — were such a mortal menace to the war effort that they had to be repressed. “Because the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic,” the Court reasoned, the Wilson administration could imprison anti-war types whose words damaged recruiting, or even just “morale.”

Again, I certainly do not agree with Schenck’s politics, but he had every right to oppose our entry into World War I.

Recently, CNN’s Chris Cuomo put his constitutional acumen to the test where he tweeted that hate speech wasn’t protected. Oh, and that we should read the Constitution, or something. Of course, he found himself besieged for this rather idiotic interpretation of the First Amendment. Even Glenn Greenwald, who is not a conservative in the slightest, commented that Cuomo’s tweet was “painfully dumb.” Not backing down, Cuomo said we should all Google “Chaplinsky,” a reference to Chaplinsky V. New Hampshire

In this case, Walter Chaplinsky, a member of Jehovah’s Witness, was distributing literature on a public sidewalk; the crowd were upset that he was describing all other organized religions as a “racket;” he was thrown in jail, but not after he called the town marshal a “damned fascist;” the Supreme Court upheld that New Hampshire’s law barring "any offensive, derisive or annoying word to any other person who is lawfully in any street or other public place” or "call him by any offensive or derisive name" did not violate free speech. Yet, it has no relevance with Charlie Hebdo, the Garland shooting, or Cuomo’s supposed, “look, I was right” moment.

In fact, a better case to demonstrate free speech within the context of hate speech is the 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio case:

Appellant, a Ku Klux Klan leader, was convicted under the Ohio Criminal Syndicalism statute for "advocat[ing] . . . the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform" and for "voluntarily assembl[ing] with any society, group or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism." Neither the indictment nor the trial judge's instructions refined the statute's definition of the crime in terms of mere advocacy not distinguished from incitement to imminent lawless action. Held: Since the statute, by its words and as applied, purports to punish mere advocacy and to forbid, on pain of criminal punishment, assembly with others merely to advocate the described type of action, it falls within the condemnation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

So, yes, all forms of speech–even those fraught with hate–have some form of protection.

Drawing cartoons of Muhammad in the United States have yet to incite rioting or lawless behavior. Even at events that are openly racist, such mayhem doesn’t ensue since the vast majority of Americans do not agree with the views of Nazis or white nationalists. In fact, at times, such events organized by racists are cancelled since the counter protests are so much greater, police cannot guarantee security.

Heck, even the White House is with us on this one. I mean, I would hope everyone would be since Garland was an ISIS-linked terror attack.

Free speech is free speech. I may not like people burning the American flag, advocating far-left views, or calling members of my race a “chink, gook, or slope,” but they have every right to make such remarks–and I have every right to stand right there next to them and say they’re wrong.

Last Note: Congratulations to Bosch Fawstin, winner of the Garland Muhammad cartoon drawing contest, on his $10,000 prize. 

AllahPundit has more over at Hot Air on this matter. Oh, and the "fighting words" standard Cuomo references when citing Chaplinksy with regard to hate speech was more or less settled in 1992 with R.A.V v. St. Paul. Spoiler alert: Minnesota's fighting words ordinance was ruled unconstitutional. 

Oh, and again ... No. 

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey noted the SCOTUS upheld speech from Westboro Baptist Church.

De Blasio Takes Inspiration from Newt Gingrich for New 'Contract with America'

The Contract with America is getting a progressive makeover. In his attempt to address income inequality, liberal mayor Bill de Blasio is unveiling a new progressive plan on Tuesday that takes some surprising inspiration from former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

During the Clinton administration, Speaker Gingrich, along with more than 300 Republicans in the House of Representatives, made a pledge with the American people to establish a balanced budget amendment, offer real welfare reform, job creation, and a stronger national defense, among other conservative promises. Probably the last person you’d expect to take cues from Gingrich’s contract is Bill de Blasio. Yet, he is now borrowing the Republican’s idea to push forward progressive policies. Contract with America 2.0, or the Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality, includes 13 points, including a 15 percent minimum wage, universal pre-kindergarten, and “tax fairness,” an increase on the tax on carried interest.

Why is De Blasio seeking such significant national changes? He insists we need a new FDR.

The New Deal was a series of bold, experimental actions to address people's reality, and they could see and touch and feel the response in their lives. Today, there's literally nothing. This is the anti-New Deal.

"A serious national debate would start with that. It goes beyond Hillary, it goes beyond the presidential campaign. We're having to restart the discussion and bring it back to the reality of people's lives."

De Blasio’s new plan is just another indication that this mayor is more radical than your average liberal. Among many of his progressive policies, De Blasio has scaled back New York’s effective stop-and-frisk policy, launched a program that allowed undocumented New Yorkers to easily open bank accounts and rent apartments, and has even tried to ban those historic horse drawn carriages that have made New Yorkers smile for over 150 years.

The mayor’s full plan will be revealed next week in front of the U.S. Capitol. Let's hope it doesn't "progress" far.

Why Conservatives Should Think Twice About the Death Penalty

His torso had deep lacerations, his arteries, organs, and skin cut and sliced, his body was badly burned and riddled with shrapnel, and his spine was nearly severed. This is how the medical examiner who testified in the sentencing trial for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev described the autopsy results for the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombings, 8-year-old Martin Richards. Lingzi Lu and Krystle Campbell suffered similar fates that day, he explained; and more than 160 others were badly maimed.

The gruesome details from the Boston Marathon bombing were meant to drive one point home to the jurors: He deserves to die for what he did.

Tsarnaev is “America’s worst nightmare,” the prosecutor would go on to say, and an unrepentant one at that. Moreover, no doubt remains over whether or not he’s guilty.

On an emotional level, many would agree with the prosecution in the Tsarnaev case and for perpetrators of other heinous crimes, especially when the case evidence is as clear as this. But as a policy, should conservatives support the death penalty?

If we believe in limited government, fiscal responsibility and pro-life policies unilaterally, it’s time to give capital punishment a second thought. And on a state-by-state basis, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, a national “network of political and social conservatives who question the alignment of capital punishment with conservative principle and values,” is leading the charge.

Fiscally Irresponsible

While capital punishment may seem like the most fiscally prudent form of justice for state, local, and the federal government, the reality is that the cost to taxpayers is much higher than a sentence where the death penalty is not sought. In Washington, for example, capital punishment cases cost on average $1 million more than similar cases where it was not sought, a Seattle University study found—a trend that’s seen nationwide.

"It’s the fiscal aspect of the death penalty that presents one of the strongest cases against capital punishment," Marc Hyden, national advocacy coordinator for CCATD, told Townhall.

“I can point to Richardson County, Nebraska, [where] they tried to execute two people and when they ran out money they decided to mortgage all their ambulances,” he explained.

“I know in Lincoln County, Georgia, they ran out of money, they raised taxes multiple times and eventually the county commissioner said ‘we’re not paying any more on this death penalty program’ and the judge said ‘you can’t renege on your debts’ and they threw the whole county commission in jail until they approved appropriations,” he continued. “It’s causing tax increases, it’s millions of more dollars per case than life without parole, that’s really what made me start to question the death penalty and whether or not it represents conservative principles.”

Could the cost be justified if it served as a major deterrent? Perhaps, but the truth is it doesn’t.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology found that 81 percent of the nation’s top criminologists do not believe capital punishment serves as a deterrent to murder. Moreover, as a Forbes article notes, “States which impose the death penalty continue to report the highest murder rates in the country with only three states without the death penalty ranked in the top twenty five (Michigan, New York and Alaska).”

Is a policy that has exorbitant costs, producing dubious returns really one worth fighting for?

Big Government At Its Worst

Being in favor of limited government is one of the hallmarks of conservatism, yet capital punishment represents Big Government at its worst.

Since 1973, there have been 152 exonerations from death row, the most recent of which was just last month.

And many others on death row, Hyden noted, have been executed when there’s been serious doubt regarding the veracity of their verdict.

“There’s a compelling case out there that perhaps some people may deserve to die for some of their crimes but it’s whether you trust the government to exercise the authority involved in capital punishment fairly and efficiently with proper efficacy,” he said. “This is the same government that many don’t trust to shovel snow, fill potholes, or create a website for Obamacare.”

By giving the government this much power, how much collateral damage are we willing to accept?

The answer for many pro-lifers is zero.

A Consistent Pro-Life Stance

“I don’t think there’s anything more important than life,” Hyden expressed, “so for a lot of my fellow conservatives that are also prolife, this is a big issue, we don’t want to see innocent U.S. citizens being killed by the state, we know there’s a risk because humans and governments are fallible, so when you give them the power to kill people, guilty people, inevitably innocent people will fall through the cracks.”

And from a religious perspective, more and more Evangelicals are beginning to realize supporting the death penalty is incongruent with their religious beliefs, CCATDP national advocacy coordinator Heather Beaudoin, whose outreach background includes working with Evangelicals and law enforcement, told Townhall.

“I think 10 years ago it would’ve been hard to find a group of Evangelical folks who were against the death penalty … but we are seeing a real shift in that now,” she said. “What resonates with them is redemption—that if we believe that God can transform any person and that he is created in God’s image, we can’t support a system that takes away life, even from a person that commits a terrible crime.”

Concern for Victims’ Families

All these reasons aside, debates about the death penalty must also include thoughtful consideration for the families of the victims, who, like Bill and Denise Richards, do not wish to relive the horrific events of the day their son was murdered and daughter maimed.

In an op-ed published in The Boston Globe, the Richards’ explain why they are in favor of the government taking the death penalty off the table for Tsarnaev in exchange for life in prison without parole.

“We understand all too well the heinousness and brutality of the crimes committed. We were there. We lived it,” they wrote. “The defendant murdered our 8-year-old son, maimed our 7-year-old daughter, and stole part of our soul. We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives. We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.”

Is the Time Ripe?

There’s no denying an overwhelming percentage of Republicans still favor the death penalty. That does not mean, however, that attitudes aren’t shifting. According to Gallup’s most recent survey on the issue, 76 percent of Republicans favor the practice for convicted murderers. But compared to when polling firm asked the same question 20 years ago, Republican support is down 9 points.

What’s happening in Nebraska, where Republican lawmakers are pushing to end the death penalty, is also a good indication support for the broken government program may be waning. If the death penalty is repealed in The Cornhusker State, it would become the first “red” state in more than 40 years to do so.

“If any other system in our government was as ineffective and inefficient as is our death penalty, we conservatives would have gotten rid of it a long, long time ago,” said Sen. Colby Coash, a Republican from Lincoln, reports The Wall Street Journal.

While Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has vowed to veto the measure, the effort led by Republicans signals change, across America, may be coming.

“We have a lot of conservatives in our camp who still do believe that [if you kill someone you should forfeit your life], they believe it in principle, they believe the philosophy behind the death penalty,” Beaudoin explained, “however, they’ve been willing to take a look and they agree that it’s just not worth it anymore, so I think when you look at the system and the way it’s functioning I think you come to a different conclusion.”

Good News: IRS Sent Billions in Education Credits to People Who Aren't Qualified to Receive Them

According to a new report from Treasury Inspector General J Russell George, the IRS paid out $5.6 billion in education credits to more than 3 million people who aren't qualified to receive them. 

First, some background

The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 created two permanent education tax credits, the Hope Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 temporarily replaced the Hope Credit with a refundable tax credit known as the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The AOTC was initially set to expire at the end of Calendar Year 2010 but has since been extended through Calendar Year 2017.

Education tax credits help taxpayers offset the costs of higher education and have become an increasingly important component of Federal higher education policy. The amount of education credits individuals claim each year has increased from more than $3 billion for Tax Year 1998 to almost $19 billion for Tax Year 2012. Figure 1 shows the amount of education credits taxpayers claimed for Tax Years 2009 through 2012.

The problem according to the report:

Based on our analysis of education credits claimed and received on Tax Year 2012 tax returns, we estimate more than 3.6 million taxpayers (claiming more than 3.8 million students) received more than $5.6 billion ($2.5 billion in refundable credits and $3.1 billion in nonrefundable credits) in potentially erroneous education credits.

So how did this happen? First, you can thank the stimulus package of 2009. Second, the IRS hasn't taken the advice and recommendations from the inspector general to fix this problem in the past and therefore the agency is still paying out billions in bogus claims. 

"Prior TGTA audits have reported that taxpayers have claimed billions of dollars of erroneous education credits. TIGTA has made a number of recommendations to the IRS to help reduce the number of these erroneous claims. This audit was initiated to assess the IRS's efforts to improve the detection and prevention of questionable education credit claims," the report states. "The IRS still does not have effective processes to identify erroneous claims for education credits. Although the IRS has taken steps to address some of our recommendations, many of the deficiencies TIGTA previously identified still exist. As a result, taxpayers to continue to receive billions of dollars in potentially erroneous educations credits."

Keep working America.

Huckabee: Actually No, I'm Not a Big Government Conservative

Former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee isn’t the first GOP hopeful to speak with Megyn Kelly shortly after announcing his campaign for president. Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Rand Paul did as well. And while Ms. Kelly didn’t lob softball questions at any of them, all four were given the opportunity to test their message and begin courting center-right voters.

To summarize, Huckabee made several arguments justifying his candidacy. First, he argued that he didn’t just win evangelicals during his ill-fated run for president in 2008, clearing up the misinformation. “That narrative isn’t exactly accurate,” he said. On the contrary, he claims that he won a broad coalition of working and middle class voters who were disenchanted with the status quo—and felt like they were being squeezed by the policies and enablers of Big Government.

It is for these devoted supporters, he argued, that he felt compelled to run again.

Huckabee, for his part, also challenged the notion—propagated by the Cato Institute and others—that he is a so-called “Big Government conservative.”

“State government actually grew only a half a percent [per year] during the 10 and half years that I was governor in the most Democratic state in America,” he said. “I didn’t have a Republican legislature that walked in every day saying ‘Governor, what would you like us to do to make you look good?’”

“It’s a miracle I got elected, even greater miracle I got re-elected, and the greatest miracle of all was that I never got less than 90 percent of my legislative package passed against all the headwinds,” he added.

Finally, and perhaps most convincingly, he argued that unlike many other Republican hopefuls in the race he knows how to make divided government work.

“Bill Clinton was governor for 12 years [before me],” he reminded the audience. “When I came into office—first as lieutenant governor and then as governor—every agency was populated with the people he had hired and appointed.”

“I would get on an elevator and people would get off,” he added, explaining how every single day he felt like a persona non grata inside the state capitol. “It was brutal. But I learned how to govern.”

Watch the full clip of the interview below:

Carly Fiorina Perfectly Handles Website Gaffe on Late Night With Seth Meyers

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina jumped in to the 2016 ring on Monday, and it quickly became clear that her team neglected to buy every possible domain for the campaign--including CarlyFiorina.org, which was purchased by someone who is decidedly not a Fiorina supporter. While it's kind of head-scratching that someone with an extensive tech background would fail to register every domain name for her campaign, these things do happen.

Anyhow, addressing this gaffe on Late Night with Seth Meyers last night, Fiorina revealed that until earlier that evening, SethMeyers.org was up for grabs, and she had purchased the domain in the green room ("It was really cheap, Seth") prior to her appearance on the show. SethMeyers.org now redirects to Carly Fiorina's official campaign site.

To sum that exchange up in a gif:

Other candidates, take note. That is how you handle an awkward situation.

With Moore’s Funeral Approaching, JetBlue Offers Free Flights To Visiting Police Officers

As the NYPD plans to lay fallen Officer Brian Moore to rest, visiting police officers that plan to attend the funeral will have their airfare covered by JetBlue. The service is set to be held on Friday. JetBlue did the same courtesy for when NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were gunned down last December (via Newsweek):

Moore, 25, had been with the NYPD for five years and came from a police family. His funeral will be held on Friday and all law enforcement who wish to attend will be able to do so for free, thanks to JetBlue.

JetBlue is providing free airfare for officers who wish to show their support for Moore’s family and the NYPD by attending the funeral. In December, JetBlue provided free airfare to the families of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were shot in their police car.

“We are honored to help now just as we have in the past,” a spokesman told Newsweek. “We have a long history of supporting public service professionals in our hometown of New York as well as the many other places JetBlue crewmembers live and work.”

On Monday, Officer Moore succumbed to his injuries he sustained last weekend. Demetrius Blackwell shot Officer Moore as he, along with his partner, approached Mr. Blackwell on the suspicion that he had a weapon. Blackwell, who has since been arrested and will now be charged with first-degree murder, opened fire on the officers, striking Moore in the face.

JetBlue should be praised for providing this service to traveling police officers from across the country planning to attend the funeral.

Surprise: ER Visits Still Going Up Despite Promises Obamacare Would Bring Them Down

When Obamacare was being debated years ago, proponents of the legislation argued that if passed, the bill would decrease emergency room visits due to more people having health insurance and going to regular doctors instead. Since Obamacare was passed in 2010, we've seen an increase, not a decrease in ER visits and according to a new poll, the problem is getting worse. More from the Washington Times

Doctors say emergency room visits have increased since the advent of Obamacare, undercutting one of the key selling points of President Obama’s health care law, which was supposed to ensure a healthier population by pushing consumers to rely on their primary physicians rather than emergency trips to the hospital.

Three out of four ER doctors said they have seen a rise in the number of patients since January 2014, when Obamacare fully kicked in, according to a survey conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians. More than a quarter of the doctors said they have seen a major surge, and 47 percent said the rise has been slight.

The doctors said they fear a spike in visits could overwhelm their resources: Seven out of 10 said their departments aren’t prepared for a significant increase in patient volume.

So why is there a surge in emergency room visits as more people obtain health insurance? Because Obamacare is wiping out the primary care doctor industry, once again proving "if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor" was a big lie.

The biggest cause is a lack of primary care doctors to treat the increased number of patients with health care coverage, so the patients are turning to the emergency room instead — exactly what wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Just because people have health insurance does not mean they have access to timely medical care,” said Michael Gerardi, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

A 2013 Deloitte Center For Health Solutions Survey found 60 percent of doctors plan to retire early due to Obamacare. This is just the beginning of the ER room crunch, but opponents of Obamacare have been warning about this problem for years.

Of Course, Hillary Plans To Support A Pathway To Citizenship For Illegal Immigrants

Is this smart politics or just pandering? Hillary Clinton announced today that she supports a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. On the other side, Republican Jeb Bush has supported a pathway to citizenship, calling it the “grown up” plan on immigration. Mrs. Clinton plans to make the announcement in Nevada (via NYT):

Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday will call for a path to citizenship for immigrants who are living in the country illegally, an apparent attempt to set a clear contrast with Republicans while appealing to a crucial bloc of Hispanic voters.

Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, will make the call in a round-table discussion at a Las Vegas high school that her campaign said has a roughly 70 percent Hispanic student body.

The students include “Dream Act-eligible young Nevadans who are personally affected by our broken immigration system,” a campaign official wrote in a memo briefing reporters.

Mrs. Clinton will endorse border protections, but will “say that the standard for a true solution is nothing less than a full and equal path to citizenship,” the campaign official said.

Though Mrs. Clinton did better with Hispanics in 2008 than Barack Obama, the immigration issue has been fraught for her. In an October 2007 Democratic presidential debate, she was tripped up on the subject of providing driver’s licenses for immigrants who are living in the country illegally.

Last September, Hillary dodged questions about immigration at then-Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) annual steak fry in Iowa.

As Clinton walked slowly by signing autographs after speaking at the gathering in Indianola, which is named after outgoing Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the activists told her that she’s an Iowa DREAMer, one of many young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children.

Yay!” Clinton replied, holding a thumbs up.

Also, it’s not 2008 anymore. Hispanic activists are irked that Obama hasn’t delivered on immigration, and they’re skeptical that Hillary would be any different if she were elected president in 2016. In fact, some are describing the Democratic attacks blaming Republicans the impasse on immigration as old news, or a piece of “stale bread” (via WaPo):

Cesar Vargas has a message for Hillary Rodham Clinton as she blames Republicans for a broken immigration system and seeks Hispanic support: We’ve heard it all before.

President Obama promised an immigration overhaul that hasn’t come, said Vargas, co-director of Dream Action Coalition, an advocacy group for young Latinos. And while Obama has made some progress on slowing deportations and other issues, he said, Clinton will have to show how she will get farther.

“That type of rhetoric is already stale, especially to the Latino community,” Vargas said. “It’s like a piece of stale bread.”

Vargas was among several activists and Hispanic leaders who spoke to Clinton political director Amanda Renteria ahead of Clinton’s trip to Nevada. His organization was also included on a conference call that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta held with Hispanic leaders shortly after she announced her campaign last month.

“We saw President Obama, who promised the world to us and had a record number of deportations — more than any other president in history,” Vargas said. “If a timid President Obama won’t do it, what would a bold Hillary Clinton do?”

Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit noted that Hillary might be open to expanding Obama's executive orders on immigration if Congress fails to act. Yet, he did mention how Bush and Rubio fare better than Romney with Hispanics; a point the Rubio crowd will surely play up on as 2016 begins to pick up steam.

Yet, all of this falls into the whole Hispanic voter monomania on both sides. Is it in Republicans’ best interest to go after Hispanic voters? Yes, in general, they should go after every voting bloc, but as I’ve mentioned before from others in previous posts; the lion’s share of Hispanic voters live in states that aren’t competitive in national elections. Moreover, Hispanic voters were just 10 percent of the 2012 electorate. On average, whites will make up, as they do in many elections prior, around 75 percent of the electorate in 2016. So, yes, Republicans should inject steroids into their minority inclusion operations for Hispanics–and Asians (they’re now the largest demographic of new immigrants), but let’s not forget that it’s policy that matters.

In fact, immigration isn’t even a top concern for Hispanics–it’s education followed by jobs and the economy. Moreover, the fact that Hispanics are in the working/lower class provides Republicans with an opportunity to go beyond their usual economic theory of tax cuts to spur economic growth. Granted, it works; the Bush tax cuts saw 52 months of uninterrupted economic growth. Yet, what’s possibly driving working class voters to the Republicans is their anger over Democrats for being so fixated on the “undeserving poor.”

These voters make enough not to be recipients of the welfare state, but have to pay taxes to subsidize those government programs for the “undeserving poor.” What are they getting out of Democratic economic policies? Not much, as indicated by the support of working class whites across the country, who have the same economic anxieties as anyone in that socioeconomic group.

As Reihan Salam wrote in Slate last month:

To win Latinos, GOP candidates can’t just get behind immigration reform and hope for the best. They must speak to the economic anxieties of working- and lower-middle-class Americans of all ethnic backgrounds. If Republicans believe that increasing taxes and public investment are not the best strategies for building a flourishing society [he mentions that Hispanics have leaned this way since the 2008 financial crash] that lifts the economic fortunes of the poor as well as the rich, they need to actually make an affirmative case for a more conservative approach. If Bush fails to do just that, Marco Rubio has an opportunity to steal his thunder.

Rubio’s advantage is that more than almost any other leading Republican, he’s dedicated himself to thinking about and talking about how conservatives can advance middle-class economic interests. Not all of Rubio’s proposals are fully baked. His signature tax reform proposal has been criticized (justifiably) on the grounds that it’s a huge revenue-loser that promises all things to all people. Yet Rubio has pushed a number of promising ideas, like higher wage subsidies for low-income workers, a new child credit to make it easier for middle-income parents to make ends meet, and modest higher education reforms designed to steer students toward high-quality, cost-effective colleges and away from diploma mills that produce more dropouts than graduates.

Yet, Salam noted that before the crash, Hispanics were very receptive to Bush’s idea of an “ownership society” when they were “climbing up the property ladder.”

So, in a sense, the way to win Latinos might not be as fraught with danger as some might think, though the accusations of pandering from the mainstream media would surely be directed at Republicans. That’s not to say that Republicans risk being mocked for having a new list of policies that speak to the concerns of America’s working class–they do. These folks are looking for an economic populist, and I’m not quite sure Clinton has much capital in the authenticity bank. There’s an opportunity here.

Last note: As Allahpundit mentioned, Clinton was probably going to back pathway to citizenship anyway since she supported it in 2008 as well.

No, Mandating Vaccines is Not Like Nazi Germany

A lawmaker in Maine has proposed a bill that would prohibit discrimination by employers, schools, or other entities against people who voluntarily chose not to receive vaccinations. The bill is titled "An Act to Prohibit Discrimination against a Person Who Is Not Vaccinated" and is sponsored by Rep. David Sawicki (R-Auburn).

Maine already permits philosophical exemptions from vaccinations (as opposed to medical or religious exemptions) and has one of the highest opt-out rates in the country.

Sawicki claims that humans are born with an immune system suitable for protection against most disease, and that vaccines have been around for "just a blip" compared to the relative existence of humanity. He also said that children who have been vaccinated have nothing to worry about from unvaccinated peers. (Parents of infants killed by whooping cough before they were old enough to be vaccinated against pertussis were apparently not available for comment.) Then, perhaps most shockingly, Sawicki, who apparently has never heard of Godwin's Law, said that mandating vaccines was reminiscent of "the horrors of Nazi Germany."

From the Bangor Daily News:

He also said the idea that people could be forced to take a vaccine they don’t want conjured visions of “the horrors of Nazi Germany, forced sterilization, interment, execution and involuntary medical experimentation.”

I can't believe I have to write this sentence, but here goes: mandating that someone (who is otherwise medically able to receive a vaccine) be protected against deadly diseases that were decimating a population less than a century ago has virtually no resemblance to the actions taken by the Nazis. None.

As I've previously written, the United States was home to an outbreak of diphtheria in 1921, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of (mostly) children and teens, including my great aunt. Thanks to incredibly successful vaccination programs, diphtheria has effectively been eradicated from the developed world. These vaccines are invaluable in protecting people against the disease. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia's healthcare system was in tatters and children were not regularly vaccinated against diphtheria--and this has resulted in a resurgance of the disease. While Sawicki is technically correct that vaccines have existed for "a blip" of human existence, this kind of arrogant thinking could potentially cost people their lives.

While it may not seem nice to say, sometimes "discrimination" against the unvaccinated is necessary to preserve the safety of others. A person working in close contact with infants or the immunocompromised should most definitely be vaccinated to avoid spreading diseases to vulnerable populations. Many doctors will refuse to see patients who are not vaccinated in order to protect their sickest patients from catching vaccine-preventable illnesses. This would presumably be considered illegal under the proposed law.

Vaccines are safe. Vaccines save lives. This should not be up for debate.

Harry Reid's Plan To Block Trade Deal Met With Bipartisan Frustration

The debate over renewal of fast track trade authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has caused a rift within the Democratic Party. The Partnership is the latest free trade agreement ten years in the making between the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam–and it received a chilly reception from Democrats at the State of the Union this year. Democratic concerns include giving the president “fast track” authority, which would allow the president to negotiate the deal faster, give it to Congress for approval, but prevents them from amending the deal. That's one of the points of contention. 

It’s a big deal. The nations involved with the agreement constitute 40 percent of the world’s GDP and while large constituencies of the Democratic Party–labor unions, environmentalists, etc.–are against it due to its impact on American workers; the Economist noted that the North American Free Trade Agreement really didn’t impact the labor market–the same goes for TPP. Nevertheless, some of the biggest names on the progressive wing of the party, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have noted the deal would exacerbate income inequality. Obama has flatly said that she’s “wrong.”

Luckily, a deal over the TPP regarding fast track was made in April, Congress will have more access to the language of the deal, and those who support it received invites to the State Dinner when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Washington D.C. last week.

Yet, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is digging in on his “hell no” opposition to TPP–and it’s beginning to irritate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle (via Politico):

Pro-trade lawmakers in both parties expressed irritation with Sen. Harry Reid on Monday after the Nevada Democrat said he would block any new trade deals until Republicans approve new infrastructure legislation and reform the PATRIOT Act.

The Senate minority leader said in an interview with The Huffington Post that he isn’t “willing to lay over and play dead on trade” until he has assurances that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will deal with deadlines on transportation and surveillance legislation, both of which expire at the end of the month.

“McConnell said he wanted to move to trade in the next two or three weeks … but I don’t think he’s going to have an easy time doing it, because I will not let him do that,” he said in the interview. “He’s going to have to work around me and the caucus.”

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who worked with ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on trade promotion authority legislation that’s drawn some Democratic support, said if Reid follows through on his threat to whip against the measure he will only be hurting President Barack Obama.

Reid will need to keep a tight grip on his caucus to fend off approval of the fast-track trade bill, and not all Democrats are ready to filibuster the measures. Republicans need to pick off at least six Democrats to break a filibuster, possibly against the wishes of Reid’s whipping operation later this month.

“That’s not my preference,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) of Reid’s strategy. He added that he will vote to break a filibuster on the fast-track bill.

Reid had told Politico last year that he’s “not going to stand in the way” of the president in trying to get trade deals sealed.

Yet, it’s still a minefield for the Obama White House, who will owe Republicans a huge favor if this deal is approved. For one, 151 House Democrats–more than half the caucus–signed a letter opposing fast track and the TPP, according to the Washington Post:

The resistance could complicate things for Obama on two fronts. First, any sign of serious opposition in Washington will make countries involved in the talks nervous that the American president can't seal the deal back home. But second -- and more importantly for The Fix's purposes -- Obama has to balance his desire to get a deal with the political needs of congressional Democrats, dozens of whom run the risk of losing their seats in November.

In the Senate, all eyes are on Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). While theoretically Republicans need six seats, they’re down a few votes on their own side; Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who’s running for re-election in 2016, opposed the bill in committee, according to Politico, citing the possible detrimental impact on the state’s textile industry.

Also, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Al), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-NC) have opposed it before during the Bush administration. The publication noted that Sessions and Graham could vote nay again; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) has yet to make up her mind. Still, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) is confident that 65 votes will be there for TPP.

So, while there are divisions over this bill, it’s mostly on the Democratic side, it certainly carries a more bipartisan flavor than past bills, and Republicans–overall–are supportive of the deal.

Still, there are some grumbles about environmental policy and transparency (via the Economist):

Other parts of the TPP will irk greens. In recent months America seems to have softened its language on the environment, possibly to win over poorer trading partners.

The TPP might not be so controversial if talks were conducted openly. Jeffrey Schott of the Peterson Institute, a think-tank, argues that although negotiators need input from those who will be affected—including businesses and trade unions—making the negotiations public might make it difficult to balance the demands of competing interest groups. However, secrecy may now be so strict that it ends up irritating everyone. In an attempt to make the plan stick, senior Democrats say that a final trade agreement must be subject to public consultation before Congress votes.

Many Democrats also grumble that the TPP says little about “currency manipulation”, by which countries deliberately hold down their currencies to boost exports. According to a paper from the Peterson Institute, currency manipulation may be responsible for half of America’s ���excess unemployment” (joblessness above what economists call “full employment”). Among the countries the paper designates as “currency manipulators” are Japan and Singapore. Some simple, even lax, rules on currency manipulation would appease many of the sceptics, though such manipulation is fiendishly hard to define.

Economists worry that cluttering up trade pacts with rules about labour, greenery and currencies dilutes the benefits of free trade and gives its opponents extra tools to block the deals entirely. However, there is scant chance of getting any deal through Congress without such sweeteners.

Yet, while there might be an argument that free trade and globalization have hamstrung wage increases for the middle/working class, the publication also noted that it has increased Americans’ purchasing power by $10,000, and given us better, cheaper goods.

Congressional Democrats wondered where Hillary stood on TPP.  She has apparently sided with Sen. Warren

Last note: Reid told the Huffington Post that he has never supported a trade agreement in the 33 years he's been in Congress.  "They're not good for the American people. They're not good for working men and women. It puts us at a disadvantage," he said. 

Just wanted to clarify his staunch opposition to the TPP.

Whaddya Know: Dems To Host 2016 Primary Debates After All

Why? Haven’t they already crowned a nominee?

Democrats will announce Tuesday six presidential primary debates, giving long shots a potential opportunity to share the debate stage with frontrunner Hillary Clinton, CNN has learned.

The Democratic National Committee has plans for debates to occur in the early-contest states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The two other locations will be decided at a later date.

If the polls are any indication, my friends, this thing is over. It’s a point we've emphasized in the past. Barring some unexpected entrant into the race—someone, say, not unlike Barack Obama with charisma, charm, and star-quality appeal—Republicans will face Hillary Rodham Clinton in the general election in 2016, period.

But for the sake of appearances, perhaps it’s for the best that the Democrats will keep up formalities and host a half dozen debates this election cycle, even if HRC is contemplating skipping them. Presumably, no one likes a presidential candidate (and likely nominee) who thinks he or she is entitled to the American presidency.

Hosting primary debates, therefore, will give potential ‘challengers’ the opportunity to lay some rhetorical blows against Mrs. Clinton—and inch her more to the Left—without jettisoning tradition. Amazingly, while the Republican nomination remains very much up for grabs, the Democratic presidential primary effectively ended last month.

It was, as they say, fun while it lasted.

White House: No, We Can't Guarantee Money From Iranian Sanctions Relief Won't Go To Funding Terrorism

There are just 57 days days before the June 30 Iranian nuclear deal deadline. Negotiations are ongoing and debate about the lifting or easing of economic sanctions is getting louder. More on that from CSM:

In public statements, Mr. Obama said the sanctions would be phased out after Iran’s steps were verified, while Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said they would be lifted immediately with the signing of the agreement.

Two months before the final deadline for Iran and the so-called P5+1 powers to conclude a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful uses, the detailed “parameters” made public in Lausanne have revealed sensitive negotiating positions and compromises, and left US and Iranian negotiators politically exposed.

Among the most contentious issues: the timing and scale of sanctions relief.

The American document states that US and EU sanctions meant to force Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program will be suspended only after “Iran has taken all” key nuclear steps, which Mr. Kerry has said could take from four months to a year, and could quickly “snap back” if Iran violated the deal.

But Ayatollah Khamenei said the US fact sheet was “wrong about many things” and a further example of the “obstinate and deceitful [and] backstabbing” nature of the other side.

Putting aside the conflict over when sanctions will be lifted, if in fact the sanctions are lifted

or eased, will the deal guarantee an influx of money into the country will not be funneled to terror groups like Hezbollah or Hamas? The answer appears to be no and the White House isn't planning on doing anything about it. (bolding is mine) 

"Most importantly I think it's the hope of the Iranian people that the influx of resources will be devoted to meeting the needs of the population there and to strengthening the economy that has taken a terrible toll on the daily lives of millions of Iranians. We've talked before about how the significant pressure that our sanctions regime has placed on Iran has had a negative impact on their economy and that poorly performing economy has added to some pressure inside of Iran for the Iranian leadership to consider a change in policy and we're gratified by that because it's created an important diplomatic opportunity for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," White House Press Secretary told reporters Tuesday in the Briefing Room. "But the fact is, there are two things I would point out. Even while these sanctions have been in place we have not seen Iran significantly scale back their support for terrorism or their destabilization activities in the region. The second thing is the pressure that they are feeling is not primarily rooted in the idea that they need to get rid of the sanctions or at least get the international community to relax these sanctions so that they can invest additional resources in those activities."

"I wouldn't be in a position to predict exactly what the Iranian reaction will be and I'm certainly not going to be in a position to mandate what kinds of economic decisions they'll make," Earnest continued. "A common sense analysis would be that they would use those additional resources to try and relieve that economic pressure [not to fund terrorism] that they're feeling. But again, I'm not going to make any predictions about what they're going to do and certainly I'm not going to be in an position to prescribe what they should do. This is a sovereign country that will make their own decisions.

Iran is the largest state-sponsor of terrorism in the world. Before 9/11/200 Hezbollah, funded and sanctioned by Iran, was responsible for more American deaths than any other terror group in the world. Iran is also a sponsor of Hamas, the same terror group responsible for launching 10,000 rockets into Israel last summer. 

Funding and promoting terrorism is common sense to the Iranian regime. The White House has repeatedly made clear it won't be asking Iran to stop their terrorist activity in return for a nuclear deal.

White House: There Is No Justification For Terrorism Over Expression, Including Muhammed Cartoons

Speaking from the White House Tuesday, press secretary Josh Earnest said there is no justification for terrorism in response to expression. He made a similar statement yesterday in response the terror attack on a Muhammed cartoon exhibit in Texas on Sunday. 

"There is no act of expression, even if it's an offensive expression, that can justify an act of terrorism or even an act of violence," Earnest said. "There is no room in our society, and it certainly doesn't reflect a commitment to universal human rights, to try to use an act of expression to justify an act of terrorism."

"There is no justification for an act of violence and an attempted act of terrorism like the one that we saw," he continued.

The terror attack is being investigated by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. Earlier today ISIS publicly took responsibility for the attack.

Yemen: Arab Coalition Puts Boots On The Ground

The Associated Press has reported that Arab coalition troops are on the ground in Yemen to complete a “reconnaissance” mission. Egypt has also admitted for the first time that it had deployed ground forces to the region, as they are expected to be participants in any future ground offensive against the Shiite Houthi rebels that ousted President Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi over the winter (via AP):

With helicopter gunships hovering overhead, at least 20 troops from a Saudi-led Arab coalition came ashore Sunday in the southern port city of Aden on what military officials called a "reconnaissance" mission, as fighting raged between Iranian-backed Shiite rebels and forces loyal to the nation's exiled president.

It was the first ground landing by coalition forces since the start of the Saudi-led air campaign against the rebels and their allies — forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh — who have captured most of northern Yemen and marched on southern provinces over the past year.

In Cairo, meanwhile, Egypt, a key coalition member that has been named as a likely participant in any ground offensive in Yemen, acknowledged for the first time that it has deployed troops in the Gulf region and the Red Sea as part of the Saudi-led coalition.

The objective of Sunday's landing was not immediately clear, but Yemeni military officials said the coalition troops would help train forces loyal to the country's internationally recognized leader, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has been in exile since he fled Aden in March. They would also try to identify an area that could serve as a "green zone" from which Hadi and his government could operate when they return to Yemen.

At the top of that list, said the officials, is the al-Bureqah area west of Aden, which stretches for about 15 kilometers (about 10 miles) along the coast and is home to a major oil refinery and large fuel tanks.

The Western-backed Hadi fled to neighboring Saudi Arabia in March, just a few weeks after he fled the capital, Sanaa, which was captured by the rebels, known as Houthis, in September.

Saudi officials declined to immediately comment on Sunday's landing. However, military and security officials have repeatedly said a ground operation would follow the Saudi-led air campaign that began on March 26, after the military capabilities of the Houthis and their allies had been sufficiently weakened.

On Sunday, the Yemeni officials said that streamlining the militiamen fighting the Houthis in Aden was a key step toward establishing a coherent force that a coalition expedition in Aden could lend support to.

Huckabee: "I Am a Candidate For President of the United States”

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), the fiery social conservative and winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, announced today at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope that he is once again running for president in 2016.

“Folks, it is a long way from a little brick rent-house on Second Street in Hope, Arkansas to the White House,” he began. “But here in this small town called Hope, where a person started [doesn’t determine] where he [ultimately has] to stop.”

Huckabee, who was born and raised in small town America, reflects its values and traditions, having lived there most of his life.

“So it seems perfectly fitting,” he declared, “that it would be here that I announce I am a candidate for president of the United States of America.”

Shifting gears, Huckabee painted an astonishingly grim and dismal picture of American life in the early 21st century, and was extremely critical of the current occupant of the White House.

“It was eight years ago that a young, untested, inexperienced and virtually unknown freshman senator made great speeches about hope and change,” he said. “But eight years later, our debts more than doubled, America’s leadership in the world has completely evaporated, and the country is more polarized than ever in my lifetime.”

“Ninety-three million Americans don’t have jobs,” he said. “And many of them who do have seen their full-time job—with benefits they once had—become two part-time jobs with no benefits at all. We were promised hope, but it was just talk. And now we need the kind of change that really could get America from Hope to higher ground.”

Significantly, however, he also shined a fluorescent spotlight on the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs, pledging to clean up (and root out) its deadly corruption and greed.

“Our veterans should be getting the first fruits of our treasury, not the leftovers,” he said. “And my friend, when I am president our veterans are not going to be left on the streets, or in waiting rooms to rot; they are going to be treated with the dignity they have earned and deserved.”

Naturally, he also touted his resume and the many reasons why he is qualified to lead the nation in the post-Obama era.

“No Republican governor had more Democrats and fewer Republicans,” he averred, referring to his decade-long stint as the governor of Arkansas. “I challenged the deeply entrenched political machine that ran this state. My friend, it was tough sledding. But I learned how to govern and I learned how to lead. And even in that environment, we passed 94 tax cuts, rebuilt our road system, saw dramatic improvements in student test scores, and fought the corruption of the ‘good old boy’ system so that working class people would finally be given a fair shake.”

“And we saw family income increase by 50 percent during my tenure,” he added.

Finally, tapping into his social conservatism and Christian faith, he blasted the organizations—and judicial activists—who are committed to redefining marriage and extinguishing innocent life under the banner of ‘choice.’

“Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy,” he said. “My friend, the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being—and they cannot overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God.”

Huckabee, for his part, is a dark horse candidate for president. A recent poll finds he is polling at roughly five percent nationally.

VA Governor, AG Seek to ‘Expand’ Abortion Services by Easing Clinic Regulations

In July 2013, important regulations were put in place for Virginia’s 21 abortion clinics. The law, SB 924, required clinics to be held to the same standards as hospitals, requiring new hallway widths and equipment standards, for instance. Because of the new regulations, three abortion-providing centers that were not up to par were shuttered. Yet, despite the progress the law has made in protecting women from unsafe or unsanitary abortion centers, Attorney General Mark Herring has just declared that the state Board of Health need no longer enforce the regulations, insisting they are “medically inappropriate.”

After exhaustive and careful review, Attorney General Herring has concluded that:

"...in 2011 and 2013 the Board did not have the authority to apply the design-and-construction section of the regulations to facilities built before the regulations took effect, nor does it have the authority to do so now."

Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who has warned the Board of Health to not dismiss these standards, told Townhall that Herring knew full well that these regulations were adopted in a common sense, across the aisle effort.

“In this case, the General Assembly’s intent to protect women in Virginia's abortion clinics was clear and bipartisan at the passage of the bill, and Attorney General Herring knows it as he was on the floor as a Senator for the long debate on the bill," he said. "The main complaint during the debate, repeated over and over, was that the regulations would shut down abortion clinics. Such a position would be ridiculous if the law did not apply to existing abortion clinics, as there would be nothing to shut down. Our office provided legal advice intended to effectuate the clear bipartisan intent of the General Assembly. Sadly, Herring is now substituting his political preference for a law legitimately passed. Herring's abuse of his office is particularly unfortunate as it relates to an issue of such sensitivity to so many Virginians.”

Perhaps the issue is so sensitive to Virginians because of the danger unregulated clinics pose to women. Just one look at Mollie Hemingway’s unnerving report at The Federalist detailing Virginia’s “blood spattered” abortion clinics in 2013 proves that planned inspections are necessary to keep these businesses accountable.

Unfortunately, Governor McAuliffe (D-VA) sides with Herring in putting abortion rights over safety standards.

“These regulations were designed not to keep Virginia women safe, but to limit their constitutional right to make their own decisions,” McAuliffe said in a statement Monday. “I have pledged to prevent any further political effort to limit women’s access to health care, and I am committed to ensuring that Virginia is in the business of expanding access to safe and affordable care, not limiting it.”

McAuliffe and Herring’s rejection of Cuccinelli’s urgent advice puts the women of Virginia in danger. Instead of protecting them, the reversal of these regulations will permit women to walk into clinics that lack oversight and are left to operate under substandard conditions.

The Board of Health will reconvene June 4 to discuss the current regulations. For the sake of Virginians, I hope they put the needs of women over pro-abortion politicians.

Winner of Muhammed Cartoon Contest: "Once Free Speech Goes, It's Over"

The winner of Sunday night's draw Muhammed art contest, which was attacked by terrorists influenced by ISIS, is speaking out and pleading for the West to fight back against attacks on free speech. 

"We can't be cowed by this because once this goes, once free speech goes, it's over," Bosch Fawstin said during an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren. "I've been drawing Muhammed for years and I heard about the contest and I took it upon myself to take part in it. I think it's an important thing. It's about freedom of speech, which is deadly important, especially right now. It's under siege by the enemy, the Islamic enemy, by the left, by some on the right and it is a constant attack. We are being told that we 'shouldn't do this' or we 'shouldn't do that,' and we have the right to do that and we need express that right especially right now." 

"I understand the threat that we face and that's why I do what I do," he continued. "I don't refuse to do it because of the threat, I do it because we're being threatened. This has to be fought head on." 


Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch and an organizer of the art contest, also made an appearance on The Kelly File last night to discuss not just the attack from the terrorists, but attacks from those who say the group had it coming by "provoking" Islam.