Bachmann: You Know, I Could Very Well Run for President

Retiring Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) hasn’t ruled out running for president in 2016, she said today in an interview with Real Clear Politics. In her view, there’s lots of chatter about “various men” running, she explained, but virtually nothing about women.

Perhaps, then, she and other conservative women shouldn’t be so easily discounted:

Bachmann made the revelation during an interview, in which she was asked for her view on whether any Republican women might seek the Oval Office in 2016.

“The only thing that the media has speculated on is that it’s going to be various men that are running,” she replied. “They haven’t speculated, for instance, that I’m going to run. What if I decide to run? And there’s a chance I could run.”

Bachmann entered the last presidential race in June 2011 as a long-shot contender but was able to use her sway with elements of the Tea Party and an effective media campaign to rise temporarily toward the front of the Republican pack in a deeply fluid race.

Some Republicans might understandably balk at this suggestion. Yes, she defeated her rivals in the Ames Straw Poll in 2011, but despite this largely feel-good victory, her campaign never really got off the ground after that. What chance realistically, then, does she have? The field in 2016 will presumably be stocked full -- and overflowing with -- solid GOP candidates: former and current governors, youthful senators, and perhaps even a certain world-renowned surgeon. Is there room, in other words, for another tea party candidate in the mix, especially one who flamed out so early during the 2012 cycle?

Then again, Bachmann, by her own estimation, is a prolific fundraiser who has something almost none of the other presumed GOP candidates have: experience.

“Like with anything else, practice makes perfect,” she said. “And I think if a person has gone through the process -- for instance, I had gone through 15 presidential debates -- it’s easy to see a person’s improvement going through that.”

“I haven’t made a decision one way or another if I’m going to run again, but I think the organization is probably the key,” she said. “To have an organization and people who surround you who are loyal, who are highly competent, who know how to be able to run the ball down the field in state after state -- because now I think the primary process will be very different this time. It will tighten up; it will be a much shorter run than it was before.”

To her point, Christie et al. have never debated 15 times in front of a national television audience before...

Parting thought: Since we now know, as of today, that former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) is pretty much all-in in 2016, is a Bachmann/Santorum ticket currently or possibly in the works? Hmmmm.

Federal Judge Rejects Sen. Johnson's Obamacare Lawsuit

A federal judge dismissed Sen. Johnson’s (R-Wis.) Obamacare lawsuit Monday on the grounds that the senator had no legal standing in the case. Johnson filed the suit in January, claiming that the Office of Personnel Management took illegal and bias actions when it allowed congressional members and their staff to continue receiving federal health care subsidies while on the Obamacare health exchanges.

The OPM’s regulation violated Obamacare and also trounced on the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, according to Johnson’s complaint.

“The ACA provides that as of January 1, 2014, the only health insurance plans that Members of Congress and their staffs can be offered by the federal government are health insurance plans “created under [the ACA]” or “offered through an Exchange” established under the ACA…..

[T]he OPM Rule does not treat Members of Congress and their staffs like the Members’ constituents. Instead, it puts them in a better position by providing them with a continuing tax-free subsidy from the federal government to pay a percentage of the premiums for health insurance purchased through an ACA Exchange….”

Judge William Griesbach said the challenge could not be accepted in a court of law due to Johnson’s lack of cognizable injury, or legal standing, in the case:

Federal courts do not have jurisdiction to decide every legal question that may arise. Instead, federal courts may resolve questions only when they are presented in justiciable “Cases” or “Controversies.” U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. “As used in the Constitution, those words do not include every sort of dispute, but only those ��historically viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process.’"

If every judge followed the constraints of the Constitution so affably, the nation might be in a much better position than it is now. Johnson, however, was disappointed that a "legal technicality" stopped the judge from addressing important constitutional issues.

Airlines Indefinitely Suspend Service to Tel Aviv After Hamas Rocket Lands Near Airport


The suspension of service into Ben Gurion International began as an ad hoc precautionary measure by several US carriers, following reports that a Hamas rocket landed within one mile of the airport. Soon after, the FAA instituted a 24-hour ban on US to Israel flights, over the objections and assurances of Israeli officials. European carriers are now following suit:



Germany and France's largest airlines Lufthansa and Air France say they're suspending all flights to Tel Aviv over safety concerns amid the increasing violence. Lufthansa said Tuesday evening that it was suspending all Tel Aviv flights for 36 hours, including those operated by subsidiaries Germanwings, Austrian Airlines and Swiss. The company says it made the decision as a precaution to protect the safety of its passengers and crews. Air France says it was suspending its flights until further notice for the same reason....Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel. Several heading toward the area of Ben-Gurion Airport have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system.


It's unclear as to why the FAA's moratorium only lasts 24 hours; Hamas continues to reject ceasefire terms, and Israelis overwhelmingly support their military's campaign against the terrorist organization. With IDF military objectives still on the table and Hamas' bloodthirsty intransigence, the conflict shows few signs of slowing -- let alone stopping -- in the immediate future. As the death toll mounts, Hamas supporters and sympathizers constantly harp on the "disproportionate" casualty count, noting that far more Palestinians have died than Israelis. They conveniently elide the primary reasons for that gap: Israel's 'Iron Dome' missile defense system and bomb shelter protocols have proven to be extremely effective at protecting civilians. Hamas, by contrast, intentionally and diabolically surrounds its arsenal and leaders with civilians. To recap: Hamas is actively targeting Israeli civilians, and failing. Israel is bending over backwards to protect Palestinian civilians, while Hamas publicly exhorts said civilians to risk their lives to frustrate and complicate attacks against terrorist targets. When Israel's safeguards against civilian casualties fail -- as is inevitable in war -- Hamas gleefully exploits the dead to pummel Israel in the court of public opinion. These tragedies are uniquely inevitable in this conflict because Hamas is knowingly putting innocents in harm's way. The terrorists are storing rockets in schools, using hospitals as their command centers, and reportedly traveling in ambulances "packed with children:"


With this conflict about to enter its third week, winning the PR war is the best Hamas can hope to achieve. Their weapon of choice, however, seems to be the cannon fodder of their own people, performing double duty in also sounding the drumbeat of Israeli condemnation. If you can't beat Iron Dome, then deploy sacrificial children as human shields...There are now reports that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are transporting themselves throughout Gaza in ambulances packed with children. Believe it or not, a donkey laden with explosives detonated just the other day.


Craven and intolerable. That same Wall Street Journal editorial asks whether many adult Gazans forfeited their right to 'innocent civilian' status by overwhelmingly electing a known terrorist cartel to represent them. It's a difficult, but legitimate, question. But anti-Israel forces will brush all of this highly relevant context to the side, opting instead to morbidly trumpet the number of the dead -- focusing on women and children for PR purposes. They will blame Israel, not Hamas' cynical degenerates, for these deaths. Of course, many of Israel's foes are willfully blind to the truth, and would obstinately ignore it even if it were conclusively presented through evidence. That's because many of Israel's foes irrationally despise Jews, and they're merely using the Israeli government as a proxy target for their bigotry. This isn't a specious smear. It's betrayed by their own actions. I've written pieces over the last two weeks about the sickening anti-Semitism on parade in Paris and Boston. Additional reports pile up by the hour. Canada:


A group of Canadian Israel supporters who were violently beaten last week by a crowd shouting anti-Semitic slurs said they continue to be bullied on the Internet and in the media by those who claim that they were looking for a fight. A family of six pro-Israel supporters demonstrating in downtown Calgary was assaulted late Friday by a crowd of around 100 protestors who were demonstrating against Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip...The pro-Palestinian protestors shoved flags into Hamilton’s face and taunted her with shouts of, “kill Jews, “Hitler should finish you off,” and “baby killers.” “I heard my mother screaming because six or seven guys had jumped on my brother,” who is 19 years old, Hamilton recalled. “He had a Star of David on his shirt and they were ripping it off, biting him, and scratching him, and stomping on him on the ground.”


Germany:



In a video taken at a large anti-Israel rally in Berlin this past Thursday, hundreds of protesters can be seen chanting in German, “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come on out and fight on your own” (“Jude, Jude, feiges Schwein, komm heraus und kämpf allein“).

It is uniquely horrifying that those words -- "Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come on out and fight" -- are echoing in Berlin, of all places. Click through for video of a German Imam caustically praying for the annihilation of "Zionist Jews," asking Allah to "count them and kill them to the very last one. Don't spare a single one of them...make them suffer terribly." As I've written about the disgusting proliferation of anti-Semitic incidents around the globe, Israel critics have responded on Twitter, arguing that pro-Israel counter-protesters provoked the outbursts by showing up. This excuse is not only a laboratory pure example of the "heckler's veto," it also fails to explain the content of the slurs. Many of these barbarians aren't chanting, "shame on Israel." They're shrieking about despising and killing Jews. For them, none of this is about ceasefires, or rockets, or blockades, or land swaps. It's about an ancient, insatiable, and savage hatred. Fortunately, as Dan noted earlier, a large majority of Americans stand with Israel in this hour of terrible hardship. (Democrats are the least likely partisan group to call Israel's actions justified, but a plurality still do). The Jewish state may be a loathed scapegoat in many corners of the world, but not here. In fact, a Pew Research survey released last week showed that Americans' pro-Israel sympathies remain near all-time highs:



Self-described conservative Republicans split (77/4) in favor of Israel; liberal Democrats are the least pro-Israel cohort measured, at (39/21) -- still nearly a two-to-one margin.

Ex-Im Backs $16 Billion in Loans for State-Owned Corporations

Proponents of the Export-Import Bank, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), claim the corporate welfare bank is essential for protecting American jobs, but a new Heritage Action analysis of Export-Impot Bank annual reports show that $16 billions worth of loans have gone to state-owned foreign airlines since 2009 alone.

The Export-Import Bank has inked deals with 34 with foreign government owned corporations since 2009, including deals with China, Egypt, and Kazakhstan.

The biggest of the loan guarantees, at more than $2 billion, went to the National Aviation Co. of India for commercial aircrafts from Boeing, which just happens to be the banks biggest corporate welfare customer. Air China has also signed deals worth $1.8 billion with the Export-Import Bank since 2011.

Defenders of the Export-Import Bank, like Warren, claim the coporate welfare program creates American jobs. But whatever jobs are created for subsidized corporations are just lost elsewhere by non-subsidized American businesses.

This is why President Ronald Reagan proposed shrinking the Export-Import Bank saying at the time, "We’re doing this because the primary beneficiaries of taxpayer funds in this case are the exporting companies themselves–most of them profitable corporations."

Over 75 percent of all Export-Import corporate welfare subsidies go to large corporations, not small businesses.

And the corporate welfare bank is set to cost taxpayers more than $2 billion over the next ten years while bank officials are being investigated for fraud and corruption.

If the Progressive movement and their Democratic Party want to become the part of corporatism, then conservatives and the Republican Party must offer the American people an alternative by fighting corporate welfare in all its forms, including the Export-Import bank.

Rubio: Hillary Clinton Is So 20th Century

Speaking with NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), dismissed Hillary Clinton as an intimidating candidate for president in 2016. First, he challenged her record as Secretary of State:

"The truth of the matter is she was the secretary of state during an administration that has had virtually no successes on foreign policy," he said.

Voters seem to agree. A recent Politico poll reveals that 32 percent deem her tenure as Secretary of State “poor.”

Barring her foreign policy record, Rubio’s second slight against Clinton was a more intriguing one:

"I just think she's a 20th century candidate," he said. "I think she does not offer an agenda for moving America forward in the 21st century, at least not up till now."

The criticism was not supposed to be a jab at Clinton’s age, but that must certainly be in the back of many voters’ minds. The former First Lady is now 66-years-old, meaning she would be well into her seventies were she to reach the White House. What’s more, after Clinton was hospitalized last year for a blood clot in her head, some questioned whether she is healthy enough to run for president.

Rubio, on the other hand, is 43-years-old and has seemingly not faced any major health scares. He has not decided on a presidential run, yet will make up his mind by early 2015, he told NPR.

With Clinton, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren as the only Democratic names being thrown around for 2016, clearly the Republican Party has age on its side this time around.

Krauthammer: Obama Believes "If American Power Is Withdrawn, The World Heals"

"When he doesn't know what to do, he talks."

RNC Initiates #FireReid Campaign

It’s time to fire Harry Reid. Or so says the Republican National Committee -- which today launched its brand new campaign to wrestle control of the upper chamber from Democrats by explicitly targeting the Senate Majority Leader.

RNC National Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski issued the following statement this morning:

Today the RNC launches our #FireReid campaign.

Under the control of Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate has failed to listen to the American people and do what’s in their best interest. In fact, the U.S. Senate has failed to do much of anything that doesn’t serve Harry Reid’s quest to remain in power.

For example, the Republican-led House of Representatives has passed over 290 bills, including 40 jobs bills, that are stuck Harry Reid’s Senate. He won’t put them to a vote, even though they could put Americans back to work.

Likewise, Harry Reid has refused to let his Republican colleagues introduce amendments to legislation, a normal part of the lawmaking process. It’s his way or the highway. Or more accurately, it’s billionaire SuperPAC donor Tom Steyer’s way or the highway.

The RNC has put together a rather long list of all the reasons why Harry Reid must go. Blocking bills, breaking promises, and cutting off debate are only some of the grievances they document. But at the same time, they’re also trying to tie him to what they describe as the president's "failed" agenda; and as a result, will take their message to a dozen or so key battleground states to make their case:

The RNC will take this message to Senate races across the country. Beginning this week, we will launch robocalls in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia. Those calls will tell voters that the only way to stop Obama is to vote Republican and fire Reid. The calls will remind them that a vote for their respective Democrat Senate candidate is a vote to rubberstamp the failed Obama-Reid agenda.

The ongoing Fire Reid campaign will use a variety tactics, including research briefings, social media, videos, interviews, and infographics to highlight where Harry Reid, empowered by a Democrat majority, has failed Americans: ineffectual leadership, ethical lapses, gridlock, ObamaCare, Keystone, and more.

The message is simple: if you want to get America moving in the right direction, you have to fire Reid in November.

Perhaps this message will also resonate with swing voters who find Reid’s mindless rantings and hypocrisy too much to bear. We'll see.

North Korea Furious Over Viral Dancing Video Starring Kim Jong-un

The Supreme Leader is not happy.

Kim Jong-un’s latest ire comes from a Chinese-made YouTube video that has North Korea demanding its removal from the internet. The video, which features Kim’s head superimposed onto dancing bodies, shows the dictator waltzing his way through a variety of hilarious situations.

However, North Korea is not quite amused. As the South Korean publication Chosun Ilbo reports, “the North feels the clip, which shows Kim dancing and Kung-Fu fighting, 'seriously compromises Kim's dignity and authority.'" Please.

Via NPR:

The newspaper says that after North Korea asked China to stop the video from spreading, "Beijng was unable to oblige."

In one segment, Kim pirouettes in a dance studio — before being hit with a kick delivered by President Obama. Other world leaders also make appearances, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

And while a couple of sequences make fun of Kim's fascination with weaponry, we'll note that the video doesn't accuse the North Korean leader of not having rhythm.

We should all know by now that Kim Jong-un takes himself very seriously.

The gratuitous anger over this video closely follows North Korea’s fuss about the release of a Hollywood comedy in which two journalists plot to assassinate Kim. North Korean officials even described the release of the James Franco and Seth Rogen film an “act of war” promising “merciless retaliation.”

The Mirror describes the bizarre nature of Kim and his cronies:

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) describes itself as a socialist state based around the country's official ideology of Juche - a philosophy of self-reliance initiated by the state's first President Kim Il-sung.

However, the country is widely viewed by the international community as a totalitarian dictatorship, with an elaborate cult of personality operating around the ruling Kim family.

Among some of the bizarre boasts, it was claimed that Kim Jong-il - father of the current leader - had a supernatural birth, invented the hamburger and in his first ever round of golf shot 38 under par – including five holes in one - before gloriously retiring from the sport.

The truth is that Kim Jong-un is a despot, but often viewed as a figure of fun in the West.

The video has already amassed nearly 900,000 views and counting:

BREAKING: DC Circuit Court Ruling Deals Massive Blow to Obamacare


UPDATE III (See other updates below) - The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled in the opposite direction on this precise issue, increasing the likelihood that we're ultimately headed to SCOTUS.


::Original Post ::


This is big. Really big:




A full-blown Obamacare earthquake. The 'second highest court in the land's' judgment may not be final -- the administration will almost certainly appeal for an en banc hearing before the full court, and there's always SCOTUS -- but for now, it is the binding decision. What does it mean? George F. Will wrote a column summarizing the Halbig case and its potential implications earlier this year:


Someone you probably are not familiar with has filed a suit you probably have not heard about concerning a four-word phrase you should know about. The suit could blow to smithereens something everyone has heard altogether too much about, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (hereafter, ACA)...If [the lawsuit] succeeds, the ACA’s disintegration will accelerate...Because under the ACA, insurance companies cannot refuse coverage because of an individual’s preexisting condition. Because many people might therefore wait to purchase insurance after they become sick, the ACA requires a mandate to compel people to buy insurance. And because many people cannot afford the insurance that satisfies the ACA’s criteria, the ACA mandate makes it necessary to provide subsidies for those people. The four words that threaten disaster for the ACA say the subsidies shall be available to persons who purchase health insurance in an exchange “established by the state.” But 34 states have chosen not to establish exchanges.

So the IRS, which is charged with enforcing the ACA, has ridden to the rescue of Barack Obama’s pride and joy. Taking time off from writing regulations to restrict the political speech of Obama’s critics, the IRS has said, with its breezy indifference to legality, that subsidies shall also be dispensed to those who purchase insurance through federal exchanges the government has established in those 34 states...Some of the ACA’s myriad defects do reflect its slapdash enactment, which presaged its chaotic implementation. But the four potentially lethal words were carefully considered and express Congress’s intent. Congress made subsidies available only through state exchanges as a means of coercing states into setting up exchanges.

Democrats in Congress passed a law that explicitly limited Obamacare subsidy eligibility to consumers who purchased plans on state-level exchanges. They did so in order to coerce and bribe states into setting up their own marketplaces under the law. (Another attempt at coercion, mandatory Medicaid expansion, has been struck down 7-2 by the Supreme Court). Given the controversial law's unpopularity, a majority of states declined to establish exchanges, forcing the federal government to create the infamous federal version -- with Healthcare.gov as its centerpiece. Subsequent New York Times reporting indicated that HHS never expected to have to set up any exchange at all, let alone for 36 states. That's because they were laboring under the belief that the law's sticks and carrots would compel every state to implement marketplaces on their own. Many did not, and the plain text of the law clearly states that anyone buying coverage through any system other than a state-based exchange would not be eligible to receive generous taxpayer subsidies, which relieve much of the heavy cost burden for many consumers (even with the subsidies, many enrollees say they're struggling to pay).


Faced with this predicament, the IRS decided that Congress' true intent was for all exchange consumers to have a shot at subsidies if they were financially eligible, so it simply decreed it to be so in the form of a regulation that effectively rewrote a major provision the law. Today, the Court ruled that the law says what it says, and that the IRS overstepped. This decision, at least for now, plunges Obamacare into chaos -- and furious Democrats have no one to blame but themselves. When you ram through a lengthy, hastily slapped-together, unpopular law without reading it, unintended consequences sometimes arise. And this one's a biggie. Then again, as Will notes in his piece, a strong case can be made that this passage of the law was very much crafted intentionally, even if today's fallout was 'never supposed to happen.' Congress debated how to phrase the subsidy eligibility language, and ended up passing the Senate's version -- a move made necessary by the anti-Obamacare election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts. A previous House version's verbiage had been much more encompassing. But it didn't pass. Obamacare did. If it stands, this ruling not only strips subsidy eligibility from many Americans (which could/will touch off a breathtaking adverse selection death spiral), it liberates tens of millions from the unpopular individual mandate tax. Why?



The individual mandate tax only applies in jurisdictions where consumers are eligible for subsidies. Thirty-six states are now off the table on that front, if this decision holds. The Court went out of its way to acknowledge the potentially drastic consequences of its ruling, ultimately concluding that it's not the judiciary's job to clean up messes made by legislators via ex post facto revisions:



Halbig will trigger a political firestorm that will feature much gnashing of teeth from Obamacare supporters. They ought to point fingers at Congressional Democrats for passing the law that they did, and at the president for signing it. They shouldn't, but will, berate these judges for their ability to read text as it's plainly written. To paraphrase the former Speaker of the House, they passed the law to find out what is in it. And this is what's in it. For more background on the case and its ramifications read this analysis from conservative healthcare wonk Michael Cannon. I'll leave you with this good question:



And how many of those people's coverage is actually in jeopardy of being much more expensive, or even dropped, because of Healthcare.gov's millions of data discrepancies? What a mess. For these logistical reasons alone, this saga isn't over. Stay tuned...


UPDATE - Relevant point. Harry Reid's filibuster power grab helped stack this full Circuit Court with Obama nominees who may be inclined to reverse the panel's 2-1 decision. Thus, overreach could salvage a migraine caused by overreach, and an appeal is on the way:




Gird your loins, SCOTUS. This storm's blowing your way.

UPDATE II - This is the exact same conclusion the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reached in 2010. The law says what it says, prompting some MSM snark:


Chief POLITICO Columnist: Perry Sending National Guard Troops to Border So They Can Shoot Small Children

POLITICO Chief Political Columnist Roger Simon is accusing Texas Governor Rick Perry of sending National Guard troops to the border so they can "shoot small children."


First off, lets just mark this under most asinine statement of the day. Second, funny how Simon conveniently ignores why Perry is sending the troops: to stop cartels and gang members who actually shoot and murder small children from entering the United States. Here's one example:

Border Patrol documents newly obtained exclusively by Townhall detail the crimes MS-13 and other gang members in the Nogales processing center admit to committing.

In an interview with Border Patrol agents, 15-year-old self admitted MS-13 member with the last name Aguilar said he killed a member of rival gang 18th Street six months ago with a fully automatic Uzi before coming to the United States.

"He claims he walked over to the wounded rival, and emptied the magazine into the rival's body," interview documents show.

Aguilar also admitted to, "being involved in extortion for the gang," and "collecting money from local vendors and threatening them if they refused to pay."

Finally, the smear from Simon that National Guard troops are interested in "shooting small children" is abhorrent and disgusting. Border Patrol alone has gone above and beyond agents' job descriptions to care for children pouring across the border without their parents in a humane way. The National Guard will no doubt do the same.

Poll: Majority of Americans Support Israel's Right to Defend Itself

It’s been almost a week since Israel launched its ground offensive into Gaza. Since that time, scores of IDF soldiers have been killed (including at least two American “lone soldiers”) and the civilian death toll (since the fighting first broke out) has now eclipsed 600. For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strenuously argued that despite the high costs of war, the world’s only Jewish state, surrounded by hostile and malignant actors, has a right to defend itself. This is a sentiment both President Obama and Secretary Kerry have publicly affirmed.

But the politics of the situation became somewhat inflamed over the weekend when Secretary Kerry was caught on an open mic. Speaking to an aide before an appearance on Fox News Sunday, he said Israel’s excursion into Gaza was “a hell of a pinpoint operation.” This has raised suspicions, especially on the Right, that the administration isn’t fully backing Israel. The State Department vehemently denies this allegation.

Nevertheless, it’s abundantly clear that the American public stands firmly behind our Middle Eastern ally. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they believe Israel’s actions are warranted, according to a freshly-released CNN poll:

Monday Palestinians officials reported more killed, bringing the death toll to around 550. It's unknown how many were militants, but the United Nations has estimated that 70% are civilians. Israel announced Monday that seven more of its soldiers were killed, bringing to 25 the number of Israeli soldiers who have died. Two Israeli civilians have also been killed.

According to the poll, 57% of the public said the Israeli actions against Hamas, the Palestinian organization that runs Gaza, are justified, with just over a third saying they are unjustified.

Forty-three percent of those questioned said Israel's using about the right amount of force, with 12% saying they're not using enough. Nearly four in 10 said Israel is using too much force in Gaza.

"Attitudes toward Israeli military action have been extremely stable over the years," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "In 2012, an identical 57% thought that Israel's actions against Hamas in Gaza were justified. And in 2009, the number of Americans who felt that way was only a few points higher, at 63%."

Not surprisingly, Republicans strongly support military engagement in Gaza:

Forty-five percent of Democrats questioned said that Israeli's military actions in Gaza are justified. That number jumps to 56% among independents and 73% among Republicans.

For what it's worth, the poll was conducted last weekend, and more than 1,000 U.S. adults participated.

UPDATE: Read Guy's post over at Hot Air about the appalling rise of anti-Semitism...in the United States.

Vulnerable Senator: Obamacare Cancellation Stories Are Just 'Anecdotal,' You Know


I'll say this for Sen. Mark Pryor, the Arkansas Democrat who votes with Obama 90 percent of the time: At least he didn't go the full Reid by calling millions of Americans liars. No, he merely dismissed the documented phenomena of canceled policies and increased premiums as "anecdotal" evidence against the law for which he cast the deciding vote:



Various polls have shown that Americans who were negatively impacted by the healthcare overhaul far outnumber its beneficiaries. Millions of plans were cancelled due to Obamacare's regulations, including tens of thousands in Arkansas, in spite of repeated promises that consumers would be allowed to keep their preferred plans, with more many more dropped policies looming. The administration itself predicted that as many as 93 million Americans would eventually be stripped of their existing coverage. Also, numerous polls and studies have indicated that most Americans have experienced a rise in costs, including for many of the newly insured. The law was sold by people like Pryor as a robust and across-the-board premium reducer. Both Barack Obama and his eponymous healthcare law are deeply unpopular in Arkansas. Let's review some additional "anecdotes," shall we? Premium increases in Florida:


Florida Blue, the state’s dominant health insurer, snagged more than one in three consumers on the health law’s exchange this year, but many could face rate hikes as the carrier struggles with an influx of older and sicker enrollees, said the company’s top executive...We will be under tremendous financial pressure initially given the age, risk profile and high utilization of the new membership,” he said. “It is far from clear that large enrollment in the marketplace is a financially beneficial place to be.” ... About 23 percent of those who bought exchange policies from Florida Blue this year were in the 18-to-34 age category, Geraghty said. That compares to 28 percent nationally. Initial federal projections were that 40 percent of enrollees nationally would be young adults.


We've been writing about Obamacare's risk pool and demographics problems for months. Now here's a story about a man in Oklahoma who's had a nightmarish experience trying to cancel his Obamacare plan. Thanks to Healthcare.gov's back end data problems (which won't be fixed anytime soon) and lack of customer service (hours of waiting on hold), it took him three months to terminate coverage that he no longer needed, and even then, he was stuck with a bill he shouldn't have owed:



Meanwhile, a legally-mandated and transparency-minded Obamacare database website...isn't working:


A long-awaited federal database designed to reveal doctor payments from the drug and medical device industries is plagued with confusing error messages, according to a report. Physicians told ProPublica that they are seeing long waits and error messages when trying to look up their entries on a preliminary version of the Open Payments website. "Doctors say it is taking them as long as an hour, sometimes longer, to verify their identifies and log in," reported Charles Ornstein with ProPublica. Those who make it through the system and do not have relationships with industry are reportedly met with the message: "You have the following errors on the page. There are no results that match the specified search criteria."

But never mind all that. Everything is working "incredibly well," we're told. People "love" Obamacare! In fact, I think it was Senator Mark Pryor who once gushed that Obamacare was "an amazing success story." What many Americans wouldn't give for an exemption like the free pass just extended to US territories by HHS -- after years of insisting that they didn't have the legal authority to grant such a waiver. Turns out the administration's definition of what counts as a "state" depends on the political imperative of the moment. Speaking of which, keep an eye on this court decision, which should be arriving any day.

The EPA is Apparently a Huge Fan of Kim Kardashian Game

Last night, an official Environmental Protection Agency Twitter account sent out a rather curious tweet:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

"Kim Kardashian: Hollywood" is currently the top free app in the iTunes App Store. In the game, players create a "celebrity" avatar and attempt to make said character famous.

The tweet was posted for more than an hour before it was eventually taken down.

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle raised an eyebrow to the bizarre tweet. Rep. Dingell (D-MI) was confused as to what a "Kardashian" was:

Whereas Rep. Stockman (R-TX) was a little more blunt:

There has been no further word as to how the EPA's rise to online superstardom is progressing.

UPDATE: Rep. Dingell has been hilariously informed as to what a "Kardashian" is.

Greg Abbott: Many Crossing the Border Are Here to Commit Crimes, Including Rape and Murder

Yesterday Texas Governor Rick Perry announced the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas border with Mexico. Last night in an interview with Greta Van Susteren, Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott stressed that the focus of the troops will be to stop cartels and criminals who have been operating with impunity as Border Patrol resources continue to be overwhelmed.

"This is one of the most important things I can convey. The purpose of adding more boots on the ground is not to address women and children, it's to address this growing reality that a lot of people coming across the border are here for criminal purposes. They're killing, they're raping, they're robbing, they're doing all kinds of harsh criminal activity," Abbott said. "Right now you should consider them [National Guard troops] to be a force multiplier."

Further, Abbott said the federal government and President Obama have "turned their back on Texas," but stressed that this is not simply a Texas issue but instead one that affects the entire country.

"This is a United States of America issue. Look at all of the different states in the country that are reacting to the situation," Abbott said. "The President has turned his back. Remember Greta it was two weeks ago the President was in Austin, Texas just a few hundred miles away from the border and he had his hand out taking money from people for political purposes and he could not trouble himself to go down to the border to see first hand for himself, the catastrophe that he is partly responsible for creating."

Study: Expanded School Breakfast Program Offers Little Benefit to Students

The US Department of Agriculture conducted a large experiment with school breakfast programs in public schools from 1999 to 2003, alternately providing either universal breakfasts or breakfast-in-class programs aimed at both expanding access and eliminating the stigma associated with the school breakfast program. Policymakers have long been concerned with low participation rates in the breakfast program and these experiments were designed to combat that problem.

It worked: participation in the school breakfast programs rose. The problem, a new study finds, is that the expanded participation brought largely no benefit to those it was intended to help.

As authors Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Mary Zaki of Northwestern University write:

Despite the increase in breakfast consumption under BIC, we find no positive impact on most other outcomes. In contrast to the earlier, quasi-experimental literature, we find no positive impact on test scores and some evidence of negative impacts. Similarly, there appears to be no overall positive impact on attendance rates or child health. There is suggestive evidence that BIC may improve behavior and health in some highly disadvantaged subgroups, though.

The authors urge that their results don't speak against the effectiveness of the school breakfast program as constituted, but merely against efforts to expand the program. They find that the increase in participation resulted largely from students who merely substituted school breakfasts for those they were already getting at home - and that a certain percentage of the increase in participation was from some children eating two breakfasts. The authors write that "the realtively modest measured benefits suggest that policymakers should carefully consider how to trade these off against the increased program costs."

Author James Bovard recently noted:

A 2006 Journal of the American Dietetic Association study concluded that "making universal-free school breakfast available" failed to change "students' dietary outcomes" or reduce the number of kids who skipped breakfast. Similarly, a 2006 Journal of Child Nutrition and Management study and a recent University of North Carolina study concluded that providing universal free breakfasts failed to improve academic performance.

This is a relatively small issue - "efforts to expand access to the federally-provided school breakfast program have largely been ineffective" - but it speaks to the challenge conservatives face in the public policy arena. Some children, and especially at-risk children from low-income families, are malnourished and the federal government has attempted to come up with a policy to increase participation rates in a program aimed at combating the problem; who could be against that?! But it turns out that federal efforts in this arena have been largely a waste of money, and sometimes actively harmful to the very children it's intended to help.

Pointing out that a relatively small program with a modest budget aimed at helping poor, at-risk children might be a waste of money is going to be unpopular. But one small, ineffective, well-intentioned program here, another small, ineffective, well-intentioned program there, and suddenly we're looking at a large, ineffective, well-intentioned government leviathan. In an era where the deciding electoral metric is "cares about people like me," it's hard to build a message that all those well-intentioned programs might not actually work well.

1000 National Guard Troops on Their Way to the Texas Border With Focus on Criminal Aliens

Texas Governor Rick Perry is taking the border crisis into his own hands and announced late yesterday afternoon that he's deploying 1,000 National Guard troops to the border in hopes to stem the wave of illegal aliens pouring into the United States with a focus on stopping criminal aliens who are exploiting overwhelmed resources. The troop deployment will bolster the ongoing law enforcement operation known as Operation Strong Safety, which is "focused on combatting criminal activity in the region resulting from the federal government's failure to adequately secure the border," according to Perry's office.

This deployment builds upon Operation Strong Safety by providing additional personnel that will work seamlessly and side by side with law enforcement officials. It also builds on the National Guard's existing border presence, which has been utilizing air assets to patrol the region looking for illegal activity.

The statistics on crimes committed by illegal aliens since 2008 in Texas are staggering.

Since 2008, more than 203,000 criminal aliens have been booked into Texas county jails. Over the course of their criminal careers, these individuals have committed more than 640,000 crimes in the state of Texas alone, including more than 3,000 homicides and nearly 8,000 sexual assaults.

"There can be no national security without border security, and Texans have paid too high a price for the federal government's failure to secure our border," Perry said yesterday during a press conference. "The action I am ordering today will tackle this crisis head-on by multiplying our efforts to combat the cartel activity, human traffickers and individual criminals who threaten the safety of people across Texas and America."

"It's been approximately a month since I visited a federal detention facility in McAllen and saw first hand the human tragedy unfolding on our southern border. The plight of these unaccompanied alien children has rightfully captured national attention as we learn details of their harrowing journeys," Perry said. "Equally as concerning however is the fact that unaccompanied children only make up 20 percent of those apprehended crossing the border illegally. As the brave men and women of the Border Patrol are pulled away from their law enforcement duties to give humanitarian aide, drug cartels, human traffickers, individual criminals are exploiting this tragedy for their own criminal opportunities."


It has been extensively reported at Townhall that violent gang members from MS-13 and 18th Street are being housed at federal Border Patrol processing centers and that they are exploiting overwhelmed resources in order to recruit more members and to gain easy access to the United States.

Good News: Lois Lerner's "Lost" Emails Might Not Be Lost

The IRS may be changing its tune a little bit when it comes to former head of tax exempt groups Lois Lerner's "lost" emails. IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Thomas Kane testified yesterday on Capitol Hill that all of the emails may not have been destroyed and that IRS officials need more time to look into what emails they still have.

According to Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, they're not sure yet what emails are still available for review and that further investigation is necessary. However, Issa said in an interview with Greta Van Susteren last night that there are more crashed hard drives at the IRS and that many questions surrounding Lerner's correspondence with other IRS officials and employees remain.

"They don't know what they should know because they haven't even looked and even today they're giving us ambiguous answers," Issa said.

Yesterday former advisor to President Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis, called for a special prosecutor to look into the IRS scandal.

It’s Not Just the VA: Systemic Weaknesses Plague Government Agencies Across the Board

Headlines broke in April surrounding an investigative report that revealed 40 veterans had died waiting for appointments at the Pheonix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. Further examination affirmed that this was not a singular instance, but rather a widespread case of bureaucratic corruption.

Between the falsification of waiting lists, the retaliation against whistle blowers, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, all eyes have been on the VA the past few months. Should it come as a surprise, then, that numerous commissions, GAO investigations, hearings, and IG reports previously spoke to the inefficiencies of the VA? Nothing was done about this deep, institutional problem until it was too late.

Peter Schuck, Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School, has written a book titled “Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better” which chronicles the deep structural flaws that undermine the vast majority of federal agencies. Though the VA is a perfect case study for what he describes in his book, Schuck analyzes a large number of domestic programs and develops criteria for assessing their effectiveness.

At last week’s “Fixing the US Department of Veterans Affairs” panel at the American Enterprise Institute, Schuck outlined several features that contribute to the defective nature of large government service programs:

1. Ever-increasing budgets: In the case of the VA, the budget has doubled in real terms over the past 10 years. Big government agency budget hikes are often driven by demographics and interest group politics.

2. Little to no evaluation of cost effectiveness: Less than one percent of the federal budget is devoted to evaluating the effectiveness of the other 99 percent of the federal budget.

3. Outdated information systems: The storage of information is often antiquated and is usually paper driven. Record keeping is chaotic and files are lost. Additionally, the data relied upon to formulate policy is almost invariably much poorer than the data private market actors use to inform their decisions.

4. Rigid conditions for workforce: Schuck describes these government programs as having “rules so rigid, they would make a strong union blush.” It is very difficult to discipline workers and nearly impossible to fire them. If a problem arises, employees are often simply relocated.

5. Workforce size: The number of employees in these programs are not commensurate with the demands that are placed on them. Demand for service increases as qualifications for benefits ease.

6. Benefits take the form of entitlements: This reduces the amount of discretion that policy makers can exercise when adjusting benefits to accommodate emerging needs and changing costs.

7. Growing resistance of private actors to participate as contractors or workers: The programs are poorly managed and the reimbursement formulae are too often outdated and inflexibly managed.

8. Strong resistance to change: Implementation of reform is impeded by systematic obstacles that are deeply embedded in our governmental system. In terms of the VA, it is almost impossible to relocate a hospital to an area where veteran needs are far more pressing.

9. Fraud, waste, and abuse: Corruption as an extreme form of fraud is endemic and occurs in all of these agencies to some considerable degree.

10. Incentives: The incentives that drive these agencies are often very perverse. The objective of officials is often not to serve the goals of the program, but rather to achieve “bureaucratic objectives that are congruent only on occasion with the public interest that they’re supposed to serve.”


These problems are structural and have little to do with which party is in charge in Washington. Schuck aims to identify the endemic pathologies at large government agencies in order to take appropriate steps toward reform.

Watch Peter Schuck discuss his book on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart:

Additional reading: Check out Jim Geraghty's new book, "The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits."

Econ Prof: America Should Focus Less On Income Inequality

Actors in the political arena often wield the buzz term “income inequality” to describe how the system can be unfair for hard working Americans. In December, President Obama even called it “the defining challenge of our time.” While the term may be a useful emotive tool, a recent study revealed it may not be a very burning policy issue; in fact, income inequality has actually been shrinking globally for the last 20 years.

George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen explained more on the subject Saturday in the New York Times:

“The economic surges of China, India and some other nations have been among the most egalitarian developments in history.

Of course, no one should use this observation as an excuse to stop helping the less fortunate. But it can help us see that higher income inequality is not always the most relevant problem, even for strict egalitarians. Policies on immigration and free trade, for example, sometimes increase inequality within a nation, yet can make the world a better place and often decrease inequality on the planet as a whole.

The evidence also suggests that immigration of low-skilled workers to the United States has a modestly negative effect on the wages of American workers without a high school diploma, as shown, for instance, in research by George Borjas, a Harvard economics professor. Yet that same immigration greatly benefits those who move to wealthy countries like the United States. (It probably also helps top American earners, who can hire household and child-care workers at cheaper prices.) Again, income inequality within the nation may rise but global inequality probably declines, especially if the new arrivals send money back home.

From a narrowly nationalist point of view, these developments may not be auspicious for the United States. But that narrow viewpoint is the main problem. We have evolved a political debate where essentially nationalistic concerns have been hiding behind the gentler cloak of egalitarianism. To clear up this confusion, one recommendation would be to preface all discussions of inequality with a reminder that global inequality has been falling and that, in this regard, the world is headed in a fundamentally better direction.”

The study’s authors, Christoph Lakner, a consultant at the World Bank, and Branko Milanovic, senior scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center, mulled over the political implications of their findings. They suggest that it could weaken our democratic system to hollow-out the “vibrant middle class” that is so largely correlated with democracy.

Rather than focus on inequality within the nation, lawmakers ought to be focusing on wealth-maximizing policies, Cowen noted. The system ought to be fostering overall growth, not redistribution:

“If our domestic politics can’t handle changes in income distribution, maybe the problem isn’t that capitalism is fundamentally flawed but rather that our political institutions are inflexible. Our politics need not collapse under the pressure of a world that, over all, is becoming wealthier and fairer.”

Battleground Poll: Obama Disapproval Climbs to 57 Percent


Politico's latest public opinion survey of competitive 2014 states and districts is reminiscent of NPR's similarly-designed poll released a month ago. President Obama's job approval rating is underwater by double digits (43/57), while the GOP owns a two-point edge on the generic Congressional ballot (which typically favors Democrats), and a seven-point lead on foreign policy. A 45 percent plurality of battleground voters support repealing Obamacare, with an additional 38 percent backing changes to the law. Fewer than one in five favor leaving Democrats' signature healthcare experiment intact. For all of their "fix, don't nix" rhetoric, Congressional Democrats' 2015 budget proposed zero changes to Obamacare, as liberal Senators and pundits alike continue to blindly extol its implementation:


politicobattlegroundJuly


The Washington Post, meanwhile, adds yet another data point to the very long list of worrisome 2014 turnout indicators for Democrats:



What's perhaps most notable, though, is the partisan difference. Republican primary turnout overtook Democratic turnout for the first time in 2010, and that difference is even bigger this primary season. This is hardly the first warning sign when it comes to Democrats' turnout problem...But if it portends anything close to what's coming in the 2014 election, that's really, really troubling for Democrats.

I'll leave you with one last tidbit from the poll:


politicoHRC

(42/53).

U.S. Territories Suddenly Exempt from Major Obamacare Requirements

Good news for the residents of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, et. al: according to a memo quietly posted on the HHS website last Thursday, Obamacare's coverage provisions no longer apply in these areas.

After a careful review of this situation and the relevant statutory language, HHS has determined that the new provisions of the PHS Act enacted in title I are appropriately governed by the definition of "state" set forth in that title, and therefore that these new provisions do not apply to the territories. This means that the following Affordable Care Act requirements will not apply to individual or group health insurance issuers in the U.S. territories: 1 guaranteed availability (Act section 2702), community rating (PHS Act section 2701), single risk pool (Affordable Care Act section 1312(c)), rate review (PHS Act section 2794), medical loss ratio (PHS Act section 2718), and essential health benefits (PHS Act section 2707). Specifically, under this interpretation, the definition of "state" set forth in the PHS Act will apply only to PHS Act requirements in place prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, or subsequently enacted in legislation that does not include a separate definition of "state" (as the Affordable Care Act does).

Naturally, this is a complete 180 from the rhetoric espoused by the HHS last year. Under Obamacare, insurance companies operating in America's territories had to accept every insurance applicant, but residents of the territories were not subject to the individual mandate and did not have to actually purchase insurance while still healthy. Additionally, subsidies were not available to residents of territories; only for people living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. As a result of the law, insurance companies threatened to stop selling new plans altogether in American territories.

When territory officials asked for government leniency last year, they were told that there was nothing possible to remedy this problem:

"HHS, at the request of and with full support from territories, confirmed the Affordable Care Act's market reform provisions that are incorporated into the PHS Act, including the guaranteed availability provision, are applicable to the territories," Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight director Gary Cohen wrote in a July letter to territorial governors.

"However meritorious your request might be," Cohen continues, "HHS is not authorized to choose which provisions...might apply to the territories."

While it is certainly a good thing that the insurance market in these areas isn't going to be completely destroyed, it is somewhat troubling that the administration is continuing to pick and choose its definition of a state depending on the situation. Congress is supposed to write and change laws--not the Department of Health and Human Services.

Lena Dunham’s Book Tour May Be Coming to a Local Church Near You

Lena Dunham isn’t exactly the first person you’d expect to see singing hymns in the pew behind you. Starring in the raunchy HBO show ‘Girls’ and bragging that voting for President Obama during the 2012 election for the “first time” was like losing her virginity are just a couple examples of Dunham’s racy behavior that would make any Christian blush. But, the controversial actress is embarking on a tour for her new book, “Not That Kind of Girl,” coming out in September, that will take place in some churches around the country.

On her tour, Dunham will be reading excerpts from her book, and answering questions from the audience and specials guests, according to the official website. A few stops on her tour include Book People at Central Presbyterian Church, Vroman's at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, and University Bookstore at University Temple United Methodist Church.

There are a few problems with these locations. Dunham’s book seems to be full of sexuality and, judging from the language she uses off screen, it’s likely to be laced with profanity as well. Not exactly appropriate material for a house of God, is it? Here’s just part of her description:

This book contains stories about wonderful nights with terrible boys and terrible days with wonderful friends, about ambition and the two existential crises I had before the age of twenty. About fashion and its many discontents. About publicly sharing your body, having to prove yourself in a meeting full of 50 year old men, and the health fears (tinnitus, lamp dust, infertility) that keep me up at night. I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you with this book, but also my future glory in having stopped you from trying an expensive juice cleanse or having the kind of sexual encounter where you keep your sneakers on.

In addition to the book’s controversial content, Dunham will also be promoting Planned Parenthood during the events:

Plus, you’ll learn more about organizations close to Lena’s heart, including a special partnership with Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is the country’s largest abortion giant - a fact which is no secret to Townhall readers. To promote the organization in church is cruel and out of place, for several bible verses condemn abortion as a sin (“Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3).

Sadly (shockingly?), most of Dunham’s book tour events are sold out.

Churches should be filled with Bibles - not Lena Dunham’s sexually explicit books.

Evidence: Russia Implicated in MH17 Attack, Europe Weighs Tougher Sanctions


Officials at the US Embassy in Kiev took the extraordinary step of releasing to the public a great deal of intelligence on the downed airliner attack this weekend, which clearly points the finger at Moscow. The case against Russia was built in a strikingly candid and prosecutorial blog post on the embassy's official website. Damning:


We assess that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. We base this judgment on several factors. Over the past month, we have detected an increasing amount of heavy weaponry to separatist fighters crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine. Last weekend, Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles including tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers to the separatist[s]. We also have information indicating that Russia is providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in southwest Russia, and this effort included training on air defense systems. Pro-Russian separatist fighters have demonstrated proficiency with surface-to-air missile systems and have downed more than a dozen aircraft over the past few months, including two large transport aircraft. At the time that flight MH17 dropped out of contact, we detected a surface-to-air missile (SAM) launch from a separatist-controlled area in southeastern Ukraine. We believe this missile was an SA-11. Intercepts of separatist communications posted on YouTube by the Ukrainian government indicate the separatists were in possession of a SA-11 system as early as Monday July 14th. In the intercepts, the separatists made repeated references to having and repositioning Buk (SA-11) systems...

Shortly after the crash, separatists – including the self-proclaimed “Defense Minister” of the Donetsk People’s Republic Igor Strelkov – claimed responsibility for shooting down a military transport plane on social media. In an intercepted conversation that has been widely posted on the internet, a known-separatist leader tells another person that a separatist faction downed the aircraft. After it became evident that the plane was a civilian airliner, separatists deleted social media posts boasting about shooting down a plane and possessing a Buk (SA-11) SAM system. Audio data provided to the press by the Ukrainian security service was evaluated by Intelligence Community analysts who confirmed these were authentic conversations between known separatist leaders, based on comparing the Ukraine-released internet audio to recordings of known separatists.


CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is struck by how unusual the move was:


The post also noted that the SA-11 missile system was seen being spirited back into Russia on Saturday -- and that it was missing a single missile from its arsenal, "suggesting it had conducted a launch." A Business Insider piece lays out much of the same information, including photographic evidence (which Russia denies), screenshots from since-deleted social media posts, and partial transcripts of several incriminating separatist phone conversations, intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence and authenticated by the United States. One such discussion demonstrates how keen the Kremlin was to get ahold of the jetliner's "black box:"


When a rebel, Oleksiy, says he doesn’t know who has them, the leader responds: “Do it really quick. Urgently. Moscow asks where the boxes are." The rebel at the site says monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe are there. The leader tells him they are interested in the black boxes. “They must be under our control,” he says. In the second tape, the rebel leader again alludes to outside influences: "Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the 'black boxes.' I mean people from Moscow."


The Moscow-backed rebels restricted access to the crash site for days, scrubbing the scene of evidence, and treating human remains with appalling disrespect. While many European leaders were reluctant to participate in heavy sanctions against Russian interests following Moscow's invasion-by-thinly-veiled-proxy of sovereign Ukrainian territory earlier this year, the MH17 bloodbath appears to have stirred strong passions on the continent. The Washington Post reports that world opinion is shifting swiftly and decisively against Russia:


In the global court of public opinion, the verdict appears to be rendered. Vladimir Putin is guilty. The Russian president could once claim a semblance of a role as a global statesman. But with the downing of a commercial airliner by what U.S. and Ukrainian officials suggest was a Russian missile, supplied to pro-Moscow rebels, Putin was facing a personal barrage of worldwide condemnation that threatened to result in further sanctions on Russia if it did not rapidly change course in Ukraine. Australia has raised the prospect of banning Putin from a meeting of the Group of 20, the world’s most powerful nations, in November if he did not exert more pressure on the rebels who left corpses strewn on the ground for days, contaminated the crash site and hampered an international investigation. Britain, meanwhile, openly accused the Russian leader of sponsoring “terrorism.” ... Particularly in Europe — a continent long leery of going too far to pressure Moscow over its support of separatists in Ukraine — initial shock was quickly gathering into outrage and action. On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron held a joint phone call on Russia. A Downing Street spokesman said the three leaders agreed that the European Union “must reconsider its approach to Russia and that foreign ministers should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia when they meet on Tuesday.” ... It suggested a possible turning point in the way Europe — the region with the most economic leverage over Russia — has tactically managed Putin to date...The change was spurred by horrific scenes of dead bodies left uncollected at the crash site, and, later, by the unceremonious loading of corpses onto trains.


With the UK explicitly calling for stepped up sanctions -- much to the chagrin of Russian oligarchs -- the separatists/terrorists have finally relented, granting international observers "nearly unfettered" access to the crash site. But those monitors are still struggling to gain access to the black box, and pro-Russia militias have detained reporters seeking to gather facts about the status of the dead. So what's next? Though President Obama's statement this morning did virtually nothing in the way of answering the critical "or else what?" question, Canada has announced a fresh round of sanctions against Russia, and the EU appears to be mobilizing:



I'll leave you with video of Obama's toughest talk yet in laying the MH17 attack at Moscow's feet. But he doesn't even hint at consequences -- leading a number of media analysts to publicly wonder what the point of the statement was:



UPDATE -

Former Clinton Advisor Lanny Davis: Time For a Special Prosecutor to Look Into IRS Scandal

For months Republicans on Capitol Hill have been calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the IRS targeting of conservative groups. Those calls got louder in June when IRS officials claimed they "lost" thousands of emails belonging to Lois Lerner, the woman in charge of tax exempt organizations at the agency during the time tea party groups were singled out for extra scrutiny.

Now former Clinton advisor Lanny Davis is also calling for a special prosecutor, albeit for a different reason.

First, It's refreshing to finally see a Democrat call for a special prosecutor considering Democrats on the Hill have been offering a full-throated defense of the IRS for month, even after hardly credible claims of lost emails and recycled hard drives. That being said, Davis' claim there is no evidence to show the IRS targeting was politically based is just not true. In fact, the vast majority of evidence we have so far shows the opposite. Lerner herself admitted in email that she couldn't think of liberal groups that were being looked at for extra scrutiny, only conservative groups came to mind. Further, considering officials from the Department of Justice were working with the IRS on ways to criminally charge conservative groups, I have no doubt a special prosecutor would hurt Attorney General Eric Holder, not help him as Davis argues.

Second, it's unfortunate Davis only wants a special prosecutor for the sake of optics rather than getting to the truth, but we'll take what we can get I suppose.

Obama: It's Time for Russia to "Get Serious"

There are lots of moving parts to the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. Over the weekend, the US government released considerable evidence that the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 was almost certainly perpetrated by pro-Russian separatists. Since the beginning, of course, the evidence has always pointed back to Moscow, but now, it seems, we have circumstantial proof. This is significant. At the same time, western leaders are taking increasingly pointed measures to ensure a fair and impartial investigation still comes to fruition. An Australian-proposed UN resolution that would put its own organization in charge of those efforts, thus removing Moscow-backed separatists from tampering with -- and blocking off -- sections of the crime scene, is up for a vote later today.

Meanwhile, from a humanitarian perspective, the victims of this heinous crime have been treated with anything but dignity and respect. This is why the Netherlands is demanding the bodies be returned to them immediately, some of whom have reportedly been neglected, pillaged, and left to rot in the sun. The remains of at least 200 victims still languish on “refrigerated boxcars” outside the crash scene.

It is through this backdrop, then, that the president of the United States addressed the nation today from the southern lawn of the White House.

“It’s now been four days since Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down,” he said. “Over the last several days our hearts have been absolutely broken as we’ve learned more about the extraordinary and beautiful lives that were lost.”

“Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost,” he added. “We have to make sure the truth is out and accountability exists. “

He also explained that personnel were already deployed to Ukraine to commence a full-scale investigation.

“International investigators are on the ground -- I’ve sent teams, other countries have sent teams,” he said. “What they need is full and immediate access to the crash site.”

“Recovery personnel have to do the solemn and sacred task of recovering those who are lost,” he added.

“Unfortunately, the Russian-backed separatists continue to block the investigation,” he continued. “All of which begs the question, what are they trying to hide?” he said.

He noted that Russia has “extraordinary” influence over the separatists, and urged President Putin to use that influence to help broker an “unimpeded” investigation.

“More broadly, as I’ve said through this crisis and the crisis in Ukraine directly -- and I’ve said this to President Putin and publicly --I want to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine,” he explained. “Now is the time for President Putin and Russia to pivot away from the strategy they’ve been taken and get serious.”

“The world deserves to know exactly what happened,” he said.