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 Outdated information systems: The storage of information is often antiquated and is usually paper driven.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:


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:



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:


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.

‘Women’s Equality Party’ Could Be a Ballot Line in NY

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act was rejected by Republicans for its pro-abortion language. Now, in light of this blockage and the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, Cuomo and other Democratic leaders in New York are seeking to add a ‘Women’s Equality Party’ to the ballot line in November.

Cuomo’s running mate for Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, the first woman to be nominated for that position, revealed the new ballot line last week during a press conference in New York City, declaring they were going to “mobilize women and supporters all across the state.” The timing is no coincidence, given that left-wing Democrats are anything but happy with the Supreme Court’s recent decision to grant Hobby Lobby religious freedom from having to provide their employees abortion-inducing drugs. Liberals decried the 5-4 outcome as a “war on women.”

Hochul has to receive at least 15,000 petition signatures for the ‘Women’s Equality Party’ to become a reality - a goal which has Democrats already hard at work. If the ballot line is approved, Cuomo would have four spots on the ballot, along with Democratic, Independence and Working Families lines.

The proposed party has received endorsements from figures like Christie Brinkley and Lena Dunham.

Meanwhile, Cuomo’s Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, is accusing the governor of waging the real war on women by trying to push through his pro-abortion Women’s Equality Act. From his strongly worded press release Thursday:

“[Gov. Cuomo] let pro-women legislation die in order to appease radical members of the abortion lobby who contribute resources to his campaigns.”

In that same message, Astorino also pointed out Cuomo’s hypocrisy on women’s rights when he refused to investigate a political sexual abuse scandal in the state:

“[Assembly Speaker Sheldon] Silver covered up sexual abuse of young interns and staffers for years, using hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to pay off victims, and Andrew Cuomo protected him from criminal investigation after Silver got caught doing it,” Mr. Astorino said.

Astorino makes important points. Governor Cuomo’s seemingly selfish agenda of putting politics over women needs to be exposed. And, for all his talk about “equality,” he certainly forgets about that freedom when it comes to unborn children.

The last thing this governor with skewed priorities needs is another line on the ballot.

WH: We Haven't Changed the President's Schedule Amid Crises Because it Might Scare People

On Thursday, we chronicled President Obama's series of decisions to carry on with his public schedule -- a burger joint photo op, a partisan speech on infrastructure spending, and a pair of Manhattan fundraisers -- in the midst of two major international crises. First, Russian-backed and -armed separatists in Ukraine shot down a commercial airliner, killing nearly 300 innocent civilians, including one American. The attack marked a dramatic and lethal escalation of the war in Eastern Ukraine, in which Russia is a malignant and destructive actor. New evidence appears to indicate that Moscow has been highly interested in obtaining the flight's so-called 'black box' recording device, as Moscow-backed separatists restrict access to the crash site. The rebels say they'll turn that evidence over to the UN…at some point. Meanwhile, Israel launched a ground incursion into Gaza, a move that reportedly caught the White House by surprise. The conflict escalated over the weekend, as 13 IDF soldiers were killed by Hamas, and the Israeli military reports that heavily-armed terrorists entered its nation's territory wearing IDF uniforms -- allegedly with the intent of taking hostages. Pro-Hamas protesters are rioting and setting things on fire in Paris (we've already covered their proclivity toward anti-Semitic violence), and Turkey's "moderate" leader stated that Israel has "surpassed Hitler in barbarism" because of its anti-terrorist operations. And yet, the American president has chosen to forge ahead with run-of-the-mill, partisan activities, and is gearing up for a series of star-studded Hollywood fundraisers. The New York Times published a story over the weekend entitled, "Sticking to His Travel Plans, at Risk of Looking Bad -- Obama Maintains Schedule Despite World Crises." The problematic optics are readily apparent:

As smoke billowed from the downed Malaysian jetliner in the fields of eastern Ukraine on Thursday, President Obama pressed ahead with his schedule: a cheeseburger with fries at the Charcoal Pit in Delaware, a speech about infrastructure and two splashy fund-raisers in New York City. The potential for jarring split-screen imagery was clear. Reports of charred bodies and a ground-to-air missile attack from Eastern Europe dominated television screens while photographers snapped pictures of a grinning Mr. Obama holding a toddler at the restaurant. The presidential motorcade was later filmed pulling up to Trump Place Apartments, the Riverside Avenue venue for his first fund-raiser. And yet, White House aides said no consideration was given to abandoning the president’s long-planned schedule, even during the hourlong flight from Delaware to New York, when word suddenly arrived that Israel had begun a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, providing the day’s second international challenge.

The White House's justification for its astounding public attitude nonchalance is the supposed desire to not worry the pretty little heads of the American people:

“It is rarely a good idea to return to the White House just for show, when the situation can be handled responsibly from the road,” said Jennifer Palmieri, the White House communications director. “Abrupt changes to his schedule can have the unintended consequence of unduly alarming the American people or creating a false sense of crisis.

A false sense of crisis? Sure, the US isn't under imminent threat of an alien invasion, but the current crises are no less "false" than the recent spate of administration scandals are "phony." This entire explanation is insulting. I understand that this president's political team tends to hold the public's collective intelligence in rather low regard -- they've counted on it, in fact -- but this is beyond parody. With major and combustible geopolitical events playing out across the globe, the American people are mature enough to understand if Obama had taken his burger to go, while backing out of an unimportant speech and a couple of DNC fundraisers. Such actions wouldn't have touched off widespread panic across the country, Ms. Palmieri's excuses notwithstanding. Citizens would have intuitively internalized that the president's deviation from lesser responsibilities were necessary to handle the difficult job he was hired to do. (Also, shouldn't a Russia-aided terrorist attack and thousands of rockets being fired at our closest ally in the Middle East be alarming to the American people?) This president doesn't appear interested in the hard work of governing or leading in chaotic times. At least that's the impression he's left over and over again. That list, incidentally, is not even close to comprehensive, and was published prior to the events of the last week. Republicans' complaints may be predictable, but don't think our allies and adversaries alike aren't paying attention. President Obama's overwhelming priority seems to be raising money for his political party -- a task with which he's extremely familiar, and quite prolific:

On Thursday morning, President Obama is off to a party fundraiser in New York. Next week, he’s flying to the west coast for another fundraiser with the Hollywood glitterati. When Obama was in Denver last week, he attended no less than four cash-gathering events in the space of 24 hours. In his first term, Obama attended more fundraising events than any other president in recent history. According to author Brendan J. Doherty, from 2008 to 2012 Obama went to 321 events, compared to just 80 for Ronald Reagan. And, as the chart below shows, he’s done 72 events in his second term – 34 this year alone. So far, he’s ahead of the pace of George W. Bush, who had been to 30 events at this point in 2006. In his two presidential terms combined, Bush hosted 318 fundraisers. Obama has already smashed that number with 393 events to date.

Presidents are the de facto leaders of their parties, and fundraising is part of the job. Conservatives shouldn't try to argue that Barack Obama ought not hold these events on behalf of Democrats at all, or reflexively complain when he blows off some steam on the links (which he did again just yesterday, of course). But any American Commander-in-Chief should carefully weigh how his or her public actions and activities appear within a wider context. The Obama White House's pattern of tone deaf scheduling decisions in the middle of crises has been nothing short of astonishing. By the way, those who are most aggressively defending Obama's 'no big deal' posture over the last few days are largely the same group who will never forgive President Bush for taking a few minutes to finish reading The Pet Goat to a group of elementary school students after being informed of the 9/11 attack. I'll leave you with this clip of Fox News' Chris Wallace confronting John Kerry with a 'hot mic' video in which the Secretary of State appears to deride Israel's "pinpoint operation:"

Kerry's response wasn't too bad, considering the potential for embarrassment -- and at least he seems to possess some appropriate sense of urgency. Parting note: It's been reported that Hamas rockets were being stored in a UN-backed school (which apparently handed the weapons right back to Hamas), and that top terrorists have been using a hospital as their base of operations.

UPDATE - Several panelists on MSNBC's Morning Joe burst into laughter this morning over the White House's explanation (via Noah Rothman):

Oh Look! It's The ATF Targeting Minorities In Drug Stings

So, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is back in the news for possibly targeting minorities in drug sting operations. The controversial law enforcement agency has been trying to nab criminals by offering them $100,000 to raid drug stash houses that don’t exist. The problem is the number of people arrested by ATF seem to be overwhelmingly black and Latino (via USA TODAY):

At least 91% of the people agents have locked up using those stings were racial or ethnic minorities, USA TODAY found after reviewing court files and prison records from across the United States. Nearly all were either black or Hispanic. That rate is far higher than among people arrested for big-city violent crimes, or for other federal robbery, drug and gun offenses.

The ATF operations raise particular concerns because they seek to enlist suspected criminals in new crimes rather than merely solving old ones, giving agents and their underworld informants unusually wide latitude to select who will be targeted. In some cases, informants said they identified targets for the stings after simply meeting them on the street.

"There's something very wrong going on here," said University of Chicago law professor Alison Siegler, part of a team of lawyers challenging the ATF's tactics in an Illinois federal court. "The government is creating these crimes and then choosing who it's going to target."

Justice Department lawyers fought to block the disclosures. In one case in Chicago, the department refused to comply with another judge's order that it produce information about the stings. The records it has so far produced in other cases remain sealed.

Because of that secrecy, the data compiled by USA TODAY offer the broadest evidence yet that ATF's operations have overwhelmingly had minority suspects in their cross hairs. The newspaper identified a sample of 635 defendants arrested in stash-house stings during the past decade, and found 579, or 91%, were minorities.

The ATF declined to explain how it selects the stings' targets, other than to say its agents rely on criminal records, police intelligence files and confidential informants to identify people already responsible for violent robberies. Still, court records raise questions about how and where those informants go about finding suspects.

In one case in San Diego, a government informant, identified in court records only by the pseudonym "Tony," testified that he sometimes approached people on the street to see if they wanted to commit a drug robbery. Which streets, defense attorney John Kirby asked.

"Different neighborhoods. I have targeted all kinds of areas," the informant replied.

"Do you do it in La Jolla?" Kirby asked, referring to the well-to-do seaside section of San Diego.

"I'm not familiar with La Jolla," he replied.

"Scripps Ranch?" Kirby asked, referring to another.


Kirby, a former federal prosecutor, said it was clear to him ATF informants were "trolling what was almost exclusively an African-American neighborhood, and there aren't a lot of those in San Diego.

Brad Heath, who wrote the article for USA Today, also noted that this drug sting operation executed by ATF is already under legal scrutiny, with two federal judges in California saying they were unconstitutional. Heath noted that judges who signed off on some of the stings felt unnerved by them. Last year, the chief federal judge in Chicago, U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo, ordered the Department of Justice to release documents relating to these stings since there was "strong showing of potential bias."

This isn’t the first squib load ATF has encountered in their efforts to enforce federal laws. As my colleague Katie Pavlich reported in April, the ATF allegedly targeted the mentally challenged in their storefront operations in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Pavlich also documented another ATF foul-up in Beer City, where agents and the local police forgot to remove sensitive documents after a storefront operation was shut down; those sensitive documents had the names, vehicles, and contact information of undercover ATF agents on them.

Then, there was the case that showed the ATF was losing track of the firearms issued to their agents, with some leaving their weapons in bathroom stalls, movie theaters, and hospitals. In one case, an agent left a government-issued firearm on top of a vehicle and drove away.

So, nice work, ATF; thanks for keeping our neighborhoods safe.

Cartels Fire on Border Patrol in Texas

Over the weekend Border Patrol agents were fired upon by cartels operating on the border in Texas. According to Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who represents Texas' First Congressional District, and Border Patrol agents, shots may have come from a high powered .50 caliber rifle. More from Fox News:

U.S. Border Patrol agents on the American side of the Rio Grande were forced to take cover Friday night when high-caliber weaponry was fired at them from the Mexican side of the river, sources told

The weapons were fired at the U.S. side of the riverbank in the area of the Rincon Peninsula across the Rio Grande from Reynosa, Mexico, at about 8:30 p.m., sources said. Bullets ricocheted into an area where Border Patrol agents were positioned, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, told

Border Patrol sources confirmed Gohmert's account, and said the shots may have been fired by .50-caliber weapons.

"We don't have any armor that can stop a .50-caliber round, so our Border Patrol agents had to take cover when the rounds were richocheting around them," said Gohmert, who has been in the area for the last week to get a first-hand look at the border situation.

Sources said they believe the gunfire came from members of Mexican drug cartels, which include former military members trained in shooting that type of weaponry.

As the influx of illegal immigrants continues to overwhelm Border Patrol facilities and agent resources, cartels are operating with impunity. In Arizona as agents change diapers and change bed sheets, drug runners continue to operate and transport narcotics into the United States.

"We have all of these juveniles so they're pulling agents out of the field to come in and babysit them basically," a source said last month. "They're cancelling some of our specialty details for our crews who go out and work the mountains, calling them back in and telling them they have to work the processing center because there are so many people in there."

As this crisis has gotten worse, illegal immigration has become a top priority for American voters.

Watch: Kerry Talks Ukraine, Gaza on All Five Major News Networks

Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on five Sunday morning talk shows to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the incursion of Gaza, and the escalating crisis in Ukraine following the attack of Malaysian airliner MH17.

He strongly defended the Obama administration's foreign policy decisions during these two international emergencies and repeatedly reiterated the legitimacy of Israel's military action.

Unbeknownst to Kerry, cameras were rolling at Fox before the show, capturing a phone call with an aide in which he sardonically described Israel’s offensive in Gaza as “a hell of a pinpoint operation.” He then added, “We’ve got to get over there. I think we ought to go tonight. I think it’s crazy to be sitting around.” On air, Fox’s Chris Wallace addressed the call, asking Kerry if he thought the Israeli pushback was going too far. He responded, “I think it’s very difficult in these situations. You have people who have come out of tunnels, you have a right to go in and take out those tunnels. We completely support that and we support Israel’s right to defend themselves against rockets that are continuing to come in...”

Catch the full exchange at the 10:45 minute mark:

Fox's "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace

When questioned about enforcing stricter sanctions on Russia, Kerry responded:

“The president imposed a greater cost on Vladimir Putin the day before this shoot down took place. And what we are doing now is trying to bring our European counterparts along because [just] 4 percent of Russia's trade is with the United States. Fifty percent of their engagement is with Europe.

So, we are trying to encourage our European friends to realize this is a wake up call and hopefully they will also join us in these tougher sanctions.

The president is prepared to take additional steps, and we are discussing with the Ukrainians right now what they need, what else we can do...”

NBC’s "Meet the Press" with David Gregory

Kerry spoke to the botched investigation of the MH17 plane wreckage, saying:

"Well, what's happening is really grotesque. And it is contrary to everything that President Putin and Russia said that they would do. There are reports of drunken separatist soldiers unceremoniously piling bodies into trucks, removing both bodies, as well as evidence, from the site.

They promised unfettered access. And the fact is that, right now, they had 75 minutes on Friday, [and] yesterday, three hours. There were shots fired in the area. The separatists are in control. And it is clear that Russia supports the separatists, supplies the separatists, encourages the separatists, trains the separatists. And Russia needs to step up and make a difference here."

ABC’s "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos

When Stephanopoulos mentioned that critics say the president has not been forceful enough regarding America's current role in foreign affairs, Kerry asserted:

"The fact is that the United States of America, George, is more engaged in more places in the world, and, frankly, I think, to greater effect, than at any time in recent memory. And I can't think of a time when the United States has been engaged in more places, where people are worried not about our staying, but they don't want us to leave and they recognize that American leadership is critical."

CNN’s "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley

Note: CNN failed to include in their clip the moment when Crowley asked, "So as I understand it, what you are saying is that the U.S. is comfortable with Israeli actions thus far – but you would like to see a ceasefire?"

Kerry then snapped back, "Candy – Candy, please. No country, no human being is comfortable with children being killed, with people being killed, but we’re not comfortable with Israeli soldiers being killed either, or with people being rocketed in Israel.

So in war, it’s very difficult. There tends not to be a sort of equilibrium in terms of these things. The fact is that we’ve asked Israel and Israel has said we will try to reduce whatever we can with respect to civilian involvement, and civilians have been warned to move well ahead of time.

The fact is that Hamas uses civilians as shields and they fire from a home and draw the fire into the home, precisely to elicit the kind of question you just asked. We need to have a ceasefire."

CBS’s "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer

Schieffer began his interview by questioning Kerry on whether we have definitive proof that the Russians were directly involved in the downing of the Malaysian passenger jet. Kerry said:

"What we have is a lot of evidence that points in the direction, that raises very, very serious questions, including the fact that a few weeks ago, we have [a] 150-vehicle convoy coming from Russia, going into the east of Ukraine with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers, armored personnel carriers, turned over to the separatists.

We know that there are Russians who are leaders of the separatists. Some, not all. Some. And we know that the Russians have armed the separatists, trained the separatists, support the separatists, and have, to date, not publicly called on the separatists to stand down or to be part of the solution."

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has reported that John Kerry will soon travel to Cairo to push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Rick Perry Continues Shoring Up 2016 Support

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who entered the 2012 GOP nomination race but exited with a whimper, has been making moves hinting at a 2016 bid for President. Most recently he's been to Iowa multiple times, and the Associated Press is reporting that he's been shoring up support with donors and strategists:

If Texas Gov. Rick Perry runs for president and loses Iowa to some other Republican again, it won't be for a lack of trying.

The 64-year-old Perry is on his fourth trip to the state in eight months, meeting Saturday and Sunday with veterans and conservative activists in the northern Iowa communities of Algona and Clear Lake.

Although he hasn't said if he'll seek the White House in 2016, Perry has been raising funds for GOP candidates and seeking advice from political insiders since November.

Perry entered the 2012 presidential race with much fanfare, but quickly stumbled. He finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses in early 2012 and quit the race two weeks later.

As Real Clear Politics' 2012 polling shows, Rick Perry had a comfortable but brief lead in the GOP nomination chase , putting a dent in Mitt Romney and flattening the other candidates. He soon stumbled in debates, though, and fell back to the pack and out of the race for good:

Perry may contend with a broader and deeper GOP field this time around, as all the candidates will be longtime politicians with established track records. If he's to make a serious run he'll need to have a better showing than last time.

Minnesota Governor Spells "Minnesota" Wrong on Campaign Material

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is learning that spelling can sometimes be quite challenging:


Dayton, a member of the Democrat-Farmer-Labor party, was a member of the U.S. Senate from 2001-2007. In 2004, he shut down his office for a full month citing a "terrorist threat" on the nation's capital. (No other senator saw fit to close their office in spite of this "threat.") In 2006, Time labeled Dayton as one of the worst senators. He was elected governor of Minnesota in 2010.

WH Officials Were Warned About Looming Border Crisis, Dismissed as ‘Local Problem’ in 2013

The White House initially claimed to be surprised by the influx of illegal immigrants crossing the Southwest border, but a January 29 employment ad placed by DHS looking for contractors to escort roughly 65,000 unaccompanied alien children challenged that assertion. Now, there's even more evidence to suggest the administration knew about the impending problem well in advance.

Fox News reports:

The Obama administration ignored a report to the Department of Homeland Security last year which predicted that a large number of unaccompanied children would arrive at America's southern border in the coming months, according to a published report.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that a team of experts from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) submitted the 41-page report in August of 2013 after discovering a makeshift transportation depot manned by Border Patrol agents at the Fort Brown station in Brownsville, Texas. The report detailed how thirty agents were assigned to perform such tasks as washing the children's clothes, driving them to offsite showers, and making them sandwiches.

The report said that an average of 66 children were taken into custody each day and more than 24,000 cycled through patrol stations in Texas alone in 2013.

Former-Border Patrol station chief Victor Manjarrez Jr., who led the study, said the government dismissed the situation as a “local problem,” reports the Post. A crisis of this magnitude was “not on anyone’s radar,” he continued, although it was “pretty clear this number of kids was going to be the new baseline."

President Obama’s chief domestic policy adviser, Cecilia Munoz, told the Post that it was only this past May that federal officials realized the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border would exceed the Border Patrol’s original estimate.

Senior officials challenge that statement, however.

[O]ne former senior federal law enforcement official told the Post that Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement had warned the White House of the potential for a significant surge of migrant children at the border as early as 2012.

The paper reported that warnings came from outside the federal government as well. The Post reports that the first ladies of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico cited "worrisome statistics" showing an upswing in unaccompanied minors in April of that year. That same month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrote a letter informing the president that the number of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing the border was up 90 percent from the previous year.

"Every day of delay risks more lives," Perry's letter read, in part. "Every child allowed to remain encourages hundreds more to attempt the journey."

One former government official told the Post that the warnings were definitely given, but were overshadowed by the Obama administration’s push for comprehensive immigration reform.

"Was the White House told there were huge flows of Central Americans coming? Of course they were told. A lot of times," the official said, reports the Post. "Was there a general lack of interest and a focus on the legislation? Yes, that’s where the focus was."

Video: Elizabeth Warren Asked Loaded Question, Runs Away

Some weekend fun for you.

Asked by Capitol City Project’s Joe Schoffstall on Friday whether or not she had a stated position on Israel's recent foray into Gaza, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) couldn't be reached for comment. Instead, she did exactly what she did two years ago at Netroots Nation when facing tough questions from reporters: she ran away.

In a sense, one might call this the Gov. Chris Christie approach. That is, if you're a politician, never answer loaded questions about sensitive political issues unless you absolutely have to (although, in fairness, Gov. Christie doesn't always follow his own advice).

Nevertheless, better to be pilloried for running away from a question than saying something you might later regret. Right?

UPDATE: Thought you might enjoy this. If this song doesn't brighten your weekend, I don't know what will:

‘Lone Star America’ Author: Rick Perry is ‘Seasoned and Prepared’ to Run for President

Perhaps no state claims the sense of pride that is evident in Texas. Author Mark Davis talks about this shared sentiment in his new book "Lone Star America." This week, he spoke with Townhall about how Texas is excelling and taking the lead on just about every issue from jobs to energy to the Second Amendment. He shared some insight into policies that allow Texas to thrive economically, as well as his thoughts as to which Texans could be in the White House in 2016.

Why write this book now?

In 30 plus years of doing radio talk shows, conservatives always have the same questions: ‘What’s the best kind of leadership? How can we get to smaller government? How can we convince people that low taxes are a good idea? Or sensible regulation? Government closer to the people?’ All those good, conservative questions. For the last 20 years, I’ve had the joy of living in the state where I was born where all of these things actually are happening and they are actually working. So, the field of candidates in the 2014 elections, and a field of presidential candidates in the 2016 elections, are all going to get out there under the Republican banner and make various points about why conservatism is good and why it will work. The evidence of it is right here in Texas and has been for these past 20 years. We are a shining example of how conservative policies can lead to growth and prosperity and success.

What kinds of policies allow Texas to have such a thriving economy?

It’s easy to go first to the notions of low taxation and sensible regulation and those are good nuts and bolts reasons why our state is doing well and why we are growing while America is stumbling. But, it’s a deeper answer. It’s about the spirit in the way our state is run. We hold up high the notion of individual rights, self reliance, not turning to government to attach ourselves from cradle to grave. Texans, by and large, view the role of the citizen as to do what we can do with our talents. To work hard, and have government exist only to prevent chaos, only to provide for our basic needs, only to provide a system of laws that maintains order. Beyond that, we want government to stay out of our lives so we can rise as far as we can go. Or, if we stumble, we stumble, learn from that and move on. It is the opposite of almost every lesson that liberalism teaches.

I spoke with Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX), who said that Texas is not the place to go if you want to be on welfare. Why is that?

Texas has the same humanitarian concept - the caring for the truly needy that any society should have. But, we are governed by a sense of ethics that says you don’t want to be on the public dole for the rest of your life. That is one of the things that made our state great - the story of the birth of our state. People coming here, working hard, and crafting this magnificent land from some very rough territory. That took a strong work ethic. That’s the kind of thing that made America great - a strong work ethic. We’re going to do everything we can to our maximum effort to make a great state. We’re going to do everything we can to make a great country. The last thing you want to do is set up a framework of government reliance - a culture of dependency that sucks away people’s desire to work, that erodes their sense of self-worth. The better way to do this is to create an environment where people can come in and succeed, work hard and see the fruits of their labors. So, there are places in America and places around the world where you can absolutely go and the government will take care of you for the rest of your life. You don’t have to do much to earn that kind of care. That’s not the way Texas is run.

A lot of people, when they think of Texas, can’t help equating it with guns. What are some of the misconceptions about Texans and their guns?

The misconception is that somehow our embrace of gun culture makes us a less safe state. The opposite is quite true. We have concealed carry - we have open carry. The resulting lesson is that criminals probably think a little more deeply about committing crime in our culture than they do in any part of the state that has a lot of gun-free zones. Guns don’t kill people, gun-free zones kill people. The image of Texas as a gun-embracing state is accurate. We have more gun ownership here than most other states. A ton of our residents have more than one. One of the great answers to a recent poll came in a question asking how many do you own. Some said ‘none,’ some said ‘one,’ some said ‘two to five,’ some said ‘more than five.’ A good percentage of the respondents in that poll said essentially, ‘none of your business.’ What a perfect Texas answer that is. Because, not only do we believe in the right to own guns, but we believe in the right to own guns without the government messing around with us - even knowing when we acquire them, or how many we have, because we don’t consider that to be government’s business. We are a safer, saner society because we are the Second Amendment. And we spend our days cherishing that amendment, knowing that without the Second Amendment, the rest of the Bill of Rights aren’t worth a nickel.

You said that Texas challenges the environmental “alarmists.” Could you explain this?

We love our land, we love our air, we love our water. We want to live in a clean state and a clean country. But, we will be damned if we will allow extremists and tyrants from Washington to tell us how to get there. I trust Texas environmentalism, which I call high regard for the land and a proper balance between keeping the land pristine and allowing human productivity. The environmental extremism of the current federal government and other administrations at times has led to job-killing initiatives that favor the environment at the expense of human productivity. There’s no one in Texas who wants industries to run rampant over the cleanliness of our air and our water. We want to be able to live in a clean state and have clean water, clean air, and we’re doing a very good job of that, while doing regular battle with the EPA. Our big belief is, returning to the very closely held notion of states’ rights, that every state should be allowed to be able to craft its own environmental policies, but that there should not be much federal oversight at all and if Texans are left to our own devices, we will have a thoroughly clean, and wonderful and enjoyable and livable state and will actually have job creation too.

How likely is it that our next president will hail from Texas?

From the Republican Party, one of the most talked about names is Ted Cruz and one of the guys out there doing the most to make people think he’s running, is Rick Perry. So, you take those together, Perry and Cruz probably occupy fully 25 percent of the presidential buzz right now, as Chris Christie’s star fades and other people are just sort of operating on a second tier. It’s impossible to read minds, and neither gentleman is going to telegraph in the summer of 2014 what he’s going to be doing for a presidential campaign, but I’ll tell you, as soon as the midterm elections are done, anybody thinking about running for president had better have a campaign up and running. The interesting thing about Governor Perry is that some people feel that he might have come in late and he wasn’t seasoned enough at the presidential level. He’s certainly seasoned now, he’s certainly prepared now. He just wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post taking Rand Paul to task on isolationism and foreign policy and the war on terror. He is clearly marking out territory. It goes way beyond Texas issues and even way beyond states’ rights, on which he is perhaps our foremost champion. This is not a guarantee that he will run. Maybe he’s just setting himself up to write more good books after he finishes up being governor in January 2015. But, if he were to run, I can guarantee you it would go better than it did in 2012. He will guarantee you that, and he will be right. Will he be the nominee? I have no idea. Maybe his fiercest competition would come from another Texan, and that’s Ted Cruz, who is the proper recipient of an enormous amount of love, admiration, even hero worship among conservatives, because he will step out with a courage that few other people have. Does this translate to a desire to be president? I don’t know. The feeling I get from Senator Cruz in talking to him is that he loves legislating, loves being in the Senate, loves being one of the most significant politicians in America right now, without having to endure the meat grinder of a presidential campaign. He may well want to stay right where he is, but if he decides to run for president, I know a ton of people who’d be enthusiastic about it - and I would be one of them.

Did the RNC miss out by choosing Cleveland over Dallas?

I actually kind of called this. I won’t have a ‘I told you so.’ But, the arguments were, ‘the Dallas-Fort Worth area is just a better place to hold a convention in Cleveland - and that’s true. That Texas is just our area and our state is more Republican-friendly than Ohio - and that’s true. And thirdly, how wonderful would it be to have a Rick Perry or Ted Cruz nomination take place on Texas soil - and that’s true. However, none of those things were the deciding factor. The RNC going to Cleveland - you have to remember where Cleveland is - it’s in Ohio, an enormously important state. I have no idea whether holding a convention in a state is worth one or two or five percentage points come November of the election year - it’s probably not worth a thing. It allows a lot of Republicans to go into Ohio, be heard in Ohio, say nice things about Ohio. It was probably a PR move. And I don’t disagree with it. Texas is going to do just fine. We get plenty of convention business.

White House: A Huge Number of Illegal Immigrants Crossing Border Are Actually Adults, Families

With all eyes on the crises in Israel and Ukraine this week, the administration thought Friday would be the perfect time to mention that they’ve portrayed the unaccompanied child crisis at the border a bit, shall we say, inaccurately. Turns out this isn’t just a problem of unaccompanied children coming in--very large numbers of entire ‘family units’ are crossing over the border, too.

The Daily Caller reports (emphasis mine):

The data, which was dumped by the U.S. border patrol late Friday afternoon, shows that inflow of youths and children traveling without parents has doubled since 2013, to 57,525 in the nine months up to July 2014.

But the number of migrants who cross the border in so-called “family units” has spiked five-fold to 55,420, according to the border patrol’s data, which came out amid a storm of news about the shoot-down of a Malaysian aircraft in Ukraine, delays in failed U.S. nuke talks with Iran, and on Hamas’ continued war against Israel.

In the Rio Grande area where most of the migrants are crossing the border, the number of so-called “unaccompanied children” was actually outnumbered by the inflow by adults, parents and children in “family units,” according to the data.

The much-faster growth in “family units” has been hidden by White House and agency officials, who have tried to portray the influx as a wave of children fleeing abuse and violence.

Top officials, such as Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, has explained the influx as a child migration, and justified the government’s welcoming response as acting “in the best interests of the children.” […]

However, that effort has largely failed. Most of the unaccompanied youths say they’re aged 14 to 17, and many are seeking jobs.

By downplaying the number of family units and emphasizing the unaccompanied children, administration officials have been able to deflect blame by simply pointing to the Bush-era Wilberforce Act of 2008, which is aimed at curbing human trafficking, as the reason they A) can’t simply repatriate the Central American children and B) are transporting them across the nation until immigration judges decide whether they can stay (that is, if they ever show up for court).

But is this law really the problem? Jessica Vaughan over at the Center for Immigration Studies says no because the Act, which was never intended to deal with an immigration crisis of this magnitude, shouldn’t even cover the majority of new illegal immigrants. The Central Americans that are crossing into the U.S. are neither victims of trafficking nor unaccompanied, she explains, since they’re coming with family units or are being reunited with families already in the U.S.

Funny how the administration insists they follow the law to the letter in this case, even if it may not really apply to the vast majority of illegal immigrants crossing our border right now.

I’ll leave you with this exchange between Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson at a House Homeland Security hearing in June:

"I've been down to Nogales, where they have the large detention facility and I've seen the folks that we detained be debriefed, cleaned up, put on a bus and sent back," Rogers said. "Why aren't we doing that with these children?"

"Well, first of all, Nogales is being used as a processing center for the unaccompanied children," Johnson replied. "They are leaving Nogales and they're going to HHS custody for shelter and then placement."

"Well, why aren't we putting them on a bus like we normally do and sending them back down to Guatemala?" Rogers asked.

"Because the law requires that I turn them over to HHS, sir," Johnson answered.

"Well, the law required Obamacare to be kicked in two years ago," Rogers said. "And that hasn't stopped the administration before when it wants to do something different. This is a humanitarian crisis. It's a national security crisis for our country."

Townhall Media Trio Shines in Star-Studded Western Conservative Summit Lineup

The 2014 Western Conservative Summit kicked off in Denver, Colorado last night, where thousands have gathered to hear from a star-studded lineup of high-profile speakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Dr. Ben Carson, Salem Radio’s Hugh Hewitt, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and Sen. Mike Lee, among many others. Also included in the summit’s list of influentials were Townhall Media’s own Guy Benson, Katie Pavlich, and Mary Katharine Ham.

Radio personality James Golden joined the trio in a Saturday morning discussion on “Who’s winning the fight on the right?” where the commentators thought through whether conservatives are causing a fatal self-inflicted wound by fighting among themselves instead of focusing a majority of efforts on challenging liberals.

Program Chair and Summit Founder John Andrews said WCS14 was excited to welcome back Guy and Mary Katharine for their second and third summits, respectively, and to introduce Katie for the first time in their lineup. Andrews commented that not only were all three excellent journalists and commentators, but he was happy to include them because they are “all such wonderful role models” for the younger crowd that attended as part of the Young Conservatives Leadership Conference.

In addition to the panel discussion, Benson will be the opening speaker for the Conservative Persuasion Boot Camp – a training workshop that shies away from internal messaging and focuses, instead, on how conservatives can effectively communicate messages with those outside of the party.

Pavlich will be on site to sign books and discuss her latest work, Assault & Flattery: The Truth About the Left and Their War on Women, which hit bookstores last week.

The Summit is celebrating its 5th year with the largest turnout to date. More than 2,500 people are expected to participate in this weekend’s events across several venues in Denver, Colorado – up from the 900 who gathered for the original summit in 2010.

This year’s theme is “America at Its Best,” and Andrews took some time to talk to Townhall about just what that means:

“We think it’s very important for conservatives not just to stand firm on what we are opposed to – and we are opposed to amnesty, or open borders, or unrestrained spending - there are lots of things we are opposed to - but unless we offer a positive, optimistic, practical, forward-looking vision of what kind of America it will be as conservative ideas and leaders take charge, we’re always going to be on the outside looking in. The theme of ‘America at Its Best’ is intended to cast that kind of a positive, practical, optimistic vision, in addition to drawing a bright line against the liberal progressive agenda we want to resist.”

To learn more about the Western Conservative Summit or to live stream this weekend’s events, check out their website here.

Netroots Nation: Attendees Fight For Taxing Wall Street, Demand Detroit Stop Messing With Water Rights

On the second day at Netroots, which was held in Detroit, Michigan, about 300 attendees at this liberal conference took to the streets to protest the proposed water shut-offs. The city has begun cracking down on residents who haven’t been paying their water bills; 42,000 have seen their water turned off since July of 2013.

The Atlantic reported on July 17 that residents are paying plumbers $30 to turn their water back on illegally. Although, while Netroots participants were there to be the voices for these people, the folks affected are remaining quiet:

Residents targeted by the shut-off campaign have been reluctant to speak up. Some have stayed quiet because they’ve resorted to illegally hiring plumbers, and others—who are without water and relying on neighbors and friends for drinking water and showers—are afraid child-protective services may intervene, as a lack of running water is grounds for social services to immediately take children out of parents’ care.

Even those without children remain reticent. Some feel tarred by a general notion of shame and culpability for not being able to meet such a bare necessity as water.

According to a leaflet handed to me at the rally by the Detroit Workers’ Voice, which describes itself as a “Marxist-Leninist Study Group” below its header, the water shut-offs are a concerted effort to hurt the poor.

“And while [Kevyn] Orr tries to tighten the noose around city workers, the water department authorities, with his blessings, have launched a new phase in their attacks against the poor, the leaflet read. “In the past couple of months, the city has cut water service to over 11,000 residents and threatens cuts to tens of thousands more. The main victims are those with financial hardships who may owe as little as $150 dollars for a 60 day period.”

Kevyn Orr is Detroit’s emergency manager who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, to handle Detroit’s awful financial situation. Last July, he recommended the city file for bankruptcy. In an interview with Michigan Live, he said “I am not gonna miss the public scrutiny.” Detroit is projected to be out of bankruptcy by October.

Nevertheless, we hit the streets, with actor Mark Ruffalo giving a brief speech to rally the troops, which was inaudible from my vantage point since a woman with a megaphone kept shouting right next to me “Fight! Fight! Fight! Water is a human right!”

As the water protest commenced, one protestor from behind me facetiously said that she was “so f**king thirsty,” while marching towards City Hall amidst the chants of “we got sold out, banks got bailed out.”

According to some folks, the real reason Detroit residents are having their water shut off is because of Wall Street, or something.

Hard-core liberals have every right to say that, but it could also be the exodus out of the city, government mismanagement, corruption, 13th month bonuses to city workers, seemingly endless tax increases, failures to get the pension and health care benefits in line, and borrowing more and more money to close budget shortfalls.

UPDATE: Digitas Daily was able to film Rep. John Conyers (D-MI 13th District) at the protest warning the head of Detroit's Water and Sewage Department, Sue McCormick, to "keep your paws off the water!"

UPDATE: RedState's Dan Spencer was able to film Mark Ruffalo's speech before the march.

How Hamas Blew It

Last week, Nathan Thrall wrote in the New York Times (surprise!) that basically Israel and the West are to blame for the situation in Gaza. He wrote, “The current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliation agreement. The road out of the crisis is a reversal of that policy.”

Does that warrant Hamas firing rockets into Israel? Oh wait; Hamas is a terrorist organization with an expressed goal of destroying Israel. So, yeah, I guess it fits the narrative.

On July 13, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote about why Gaza is in such a shambles – and how Hamas blew it:

Dead Palestinians represent a crucial propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse, but true. It is also the best possible explanation for Hamas’s behavior, because Hamas has no other plausible strategic goal here.

The men who run Hamas, engineers and doctors and lawyers by training, are smart enough to understand that though they wish to bring about the annihilation of the Jewish state and to replace it with a Muslim Brotherhood state (Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood), they are in no position to do so. Hamas is a militarily weak group, mostly friendless, that is firing rockets at the civilians of a powerful neighboring state.

There is no doubt that Hamas could protect Palestinian lives by ceasing its current campaign to end Israeli lives. The decision is Hamas’s. As the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said earlier this week, "We face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable—and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing."

I understand that this latest round in the never-ending Israel-Gaza war was, in many ways, a mistake. Israel was uninterested in an all-out confrontation with Hamas at the moment, and Hamas, which is trying to manage a threat to its control of Gaza from—believe it or not—groups even more radical and nihilistic than it is, is particularly ill-prepared to confront Israel.

The politics of the moment are fascinating and dreadful, but what really interests me currently is a counterfactual: What if, nine years ago, when Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza, the Palestinians had made a different choice? What if they had chosen to build the nucleus of a state, rather than a series of subterranean rocket factories?

This thought is prompted by something a pair of Iraqi Kurdish leaders once told me. Iraqi Kurdistan is today on the cusp of independence. Like the Palestinians, the Kurds deserve a state. Unlike most of the Palestinian leadership, the Kurds have played a long and clever game to bring them to freedom.

This is what Barham Salih, the former prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, told me years ago: “Compare us to other liberation movements around the world. We are very mature. We don’t engage in terror. We don’t condone extremist nationalist notions that can only burden our people. Please compare what we have achieved in the Kurdistan national-authority areas to the Palestinian national authority. … We have spent the last 10 years building a secular, democratic society, a civil society.” What, he asked, have the Palestinians built?

So too, Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, once told me this: “We had the opportunity to use terrorism against Baghdad. We chose not to.”

Goldberg added that Israel encouraged Gaza’s economic development; it didn’t blockade the Gaza Strip until it became known that it was being used as a launching pad for attacks against them. Additionally, Gaza is situated in place where it could’ve received billions in economic aid.

He also mentioned how some American Jewish donors paid $14 million for greenhouses left behind by expelled Israeli settlers and donated them to the Palestinian Authority. They were destroyed shortly afterwards.

The Bridgegate Investigation to Nowhere

Last time we checked in on the 'Bridgegate' story, an internal investigation commissioned by Christie's office -- and conducted by a team of former federal prosecutors -- had just confirmed the governor's consistent account of events. Christie had previously apologized for two close aides' wrongdoing, having promptly fired them both. Upon the release of the first investigation's findings, he held a press conference to claim vindication. "I think the report will stand the test of time," he said of the inquiry. "But it will be tested by the other investigations that are ongoing.” One of those ongoing probes is the US Attorney's investigation, which is in the news just today as the chief prosecutor slapped down media rumors about looming indictments. The other is a stacked, partisan legislative panel, which has been toiling away for many months, trying to implicate the governor. Despite the occasional breathless and discredited allegation, and a few attempts by hostile media sources to resuscitate and broaden the controversy, they've turned up nothing. The joint committee's high-profile leader, John Wisniewski (former Chair of the state Democratic party), admitted as much on Meet The Press in February, and hasn't had any reason to alter his assessment. The Daily Beast offers a new glimpse into the flailing investigation's progress, or lack thereof, with the subhead blaring that the inquiry is "going nowhere." One of the heavily outnumbered Republican members of the group gripes to reporter Olivia Nuzzi -- who has an interesting claim to fame -- that the probe has been spinning its wheels for some time:

Asked what the point of the committee was, Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, a Republican member and former Christie rival, said: “I’m glad you’re on the same page as I am, because I’ve been trying to figure that out for about six months.” … Carroll told me he initially joined the committee to investigate the Port Authority and figure out how to reform it—but the group has, much to his dismay, instead focused solely on the lane closures. “There just doesn’t seem to be a there there,” Carroll said. “If they’ve got a ‘gotcha!’ moment, it certainly hasn’t appeared. They found one email from Bridget—the ‘gotcha!’—and after that, everything’s been sort of on hold. Some of it doesn’t look good, but it certainly doesn’t look like it was corrupt or a crime.”

Christie, whose ratings back home have stabilized above water, is busy criss-crossing the country in his capacity as the Chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He's been an exceptional fundraising force for the organization and if he decides to run for president, he'll have collected a number of chits in important states. Recent polls from two presidential battlegrounds, Iowa and Colorado, show him locked in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical general election match-up (only Rand Paul fares better at this stage). But if he aims to test that proposition, he'll have to convince primary voters that would make for an acceptable national nominee, which may not be an easy task. In the positive column, the governor is a talented and effective communicator; when he applies those skills to defending and promoting conservatism, he has the capacity to remind some disgruntled grassroots conservatives why he was once a darling. Take, for example, his performance during a forum moderated by John Harwood of CNBC and the New York Times. Christie turned a question about the controversial Common Core curriculum into a stirring defense of tenure reform and merit pay, slamming teachers union bosses for "putting the comfort of adults ahead of the protection of children." When Harwood challenged Christie on whether Republicans have been proven wrong about Obama's economic policies, Christie pointedly reminded him of the failed stimulus and rightly backhanded the current "recovery" as the weakest in decades. Take note of how the governor ably handles Harwood's attempt to interrupt him early on in that answer. He adroitly asserts himself and takes Harwood down a peg while drawing a laugh from the audience (via the Washington Free Beacon):

As I've said from day one, quite literally, if Christie's version of 'Bridgegate' events is contradicted by the evidence, he's in deep trouble. I stand by that. It's also fair game to ding him for welcoming the two implicated staffers into his inner circle -- personnel is policy, etc. But after a lengthy review, dominated in some quarters by his political opponents, he himself has remained in the clear. At some point, the relevance of this issue should recede almost entirely. Barring major revelations, I'd imagine it will be a non-issue in a hypothetical GOP primary. If anything, it might be a net positive among conservatives, given the cast of characters that has worked feverishly to take him out -- MSNBC and the New York Times first among them. Then it's up to Christie to convince righties that he can be trusted on issues. He has major policy vulnerabilities: Medicaid expansion, guns, and judges, just to name a few. Those questions, along with the governor's positive attributes and accomplishments, should serve as the primary basis for evaluating a potential Christie candidacy. Not a stale scandal that has been investigated ad nauseam and in which he hasn't been implicated.

Israel Uses Rockets To Protect People, Hamas Uses People To Protect Their Rockets

On this week's Townhall Weekend Journal:

Mike Gallagher turned to Meir [mayor] Weingarten, President of Ariel Tours to discuss events in Israel. Hugh Hewitt spoke with Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer. Dennis Prager on the disturbing worldview of Hamas. Bill Bennett gained a perspective from Mark Kirkorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Dennis Prager interacted with an opinion piece from Charles Krauthammer’s that simplifies the whole border matter. Michael Medved on Obama's foreign affairs record. Bill Bennett turned Mark Mills, an energy expert and Sr. Fellow with the Manhattan Institute to discuss the U.S. passing Saudi Arabia in fossil fuels. Hewitt and Marco Rubio on the Senate's proposal to repeal the legislation that was the legal basis for the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision.

Report: NSA Employees "Routinely" Pass Around Intercepted Nude Photos

Former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed in an interview with The Guardian that NSA employees "routinely" share nude photos that were intercepted from text messages or emails.

“You've got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old,” Snowden said. “They've suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising position. But they're extremely attractive.

“So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and show their co-worker. The co-worker says: ‘Hey that's great. Send that to Bill down the way.’ And then Bill sends it to George and George sends it to Tom. And sooner or later this person's whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It's never reported. Nobody ever knows about it because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communications stream from the intended recipient and given to the government without any specific authorization without any specific need is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in a government database?”

Snowden then continued to say that this practice happened on a "routine" basis. Snowden's allegations are in line with the NSA's own reporting.

Regardless of ones' opinion about Snowden's actions, these allegations are disturbing. The Fourth Amendment did not become null and void with the advent of the internet and the telephone—and there's no valid reason for NSA employees to be sharing nude photos amongst themselves.