Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) To Seek Senate Seat

Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) is expected to announce Monday that she intends on running for Senate. Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq War, was the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress from Illinois and was first elected to Congress in 2012.

The Chicago Sun Times had the exclusive:

On Monday evening, Duckworth will gather some of her top donors at a home in the Hancock Center to discuss securing the Democratic nomination to run against Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who is seeking a second term.

In the letter to her best fundraisers about the Hancock meeting, they were told “contributions are encouraged but not required. We realize it is early in the election cycle, but we are asking our top supporters to consider a donation. The maximum an individual can give before March is $5,400. If Tammy decides to not to run for Senate, we will offer you a refund. If she does run, this support will be key in keeping up with Senator Kirk’s $2 million and counting campaign war-chest.”

Duckworth is a new mother to a daughter, Abigail, and recently returned to Congress following maternity leave. Prior to Abigail's birth, a minor controversy erupted over Rep. Nancy Pelosi's refusal to let Duckworth (who was on bed rest) vote by proxy.

Reid: I'd Like to Pass The Leadership Torch to Chuck Schumer

Now that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has done a complete about-face and opted not to run for re-election, questions abound about who will succeed him in his leadership role. Reid, however, has a candidate in mind: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

The Washington Post interviewed the Nevada Democrat this morning:

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has endorsed Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to succeed him after he retires at the end of 2016.

"I think Schumer should be able to succeed me," Reid said in a Friday morning interview at his home in Washington's West End.

Reid predicted that Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat in leadership and a close friend, would win the Democratic leader post without opposition. He said that the other likely contender, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), would stand down for Schumer.

We'll see.

Why Iran Has All The Leverage Over Obama

Sometime next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, President Obama will most likely announce that his administration has reached a political agreement with Ayatollah Khamenei's regime on nuclear weapons.

The deal may not be signed, it may not have any real specifics, but Obama will hail it as the only way to stop a war with Iran and delay them from getting a bomb. 

Whatever the contours of the "agreement" Obama announces next week, it will look far weaker than it was supposed to look just months ago. Over the past week alone, U.S. negotiators reportedly have conceded to Iran: 1) the need for a written agreement; 2) the ability of Iran to use nuclear centrifuges underground; and 3) the need for Iran to disclose the full range of its current nuclear capabilities.

Why, as Lando Calrissian might ask, is this deal getting worse all the time?

The simple answer is that Obama's broader Middle East strategy leaves him with zero leverage over Iran. The New York Times Thomas Friedman explains:

The Obama team’s best argument for doing this deal with Iran is that, in time, it could be “transformational.” That is, the ending of sanctions could open Iran to the world and bring in enough fresh air — Iran has been deliberately isolated since 1979 by its ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guard Corps — to gradually move Iran from being a revolutionary state to a normal one, and one less inclined to threaten Israel.

If one assumes that Iran already has the know-how and tools to build a nuclear weapon, changing the character of its regime is the only way it becomes less threatening.

The only reason Khamenei's regime is negotiating with Obama at all is because they want the world's economic sanctions on Iran lifted. In return for lifting those sanctions, Iran is supposed to give up its ambitions for a nuclear weapon. That's the basic outline of the deal: Iran gets the sanctions lifter and Obama gets an end to their nuclear weapons program.

But read the above Friedman paragraphs again. Obama's Middle East strategy is premised on "transforming" the current Iranian government by ending sanctions on Iran. This means that Obama wants the sanctions on Iran lifted just as badly as Ayatollah Khamenei.

Now, granted, Obama and Khamenei have very different ideas about what the outcome of the end of sanctions will be. Obama believes an Iran without economic sanctions will lead to if not Kamanei's demise, than it least the marginalization of him and his followers. Khamenei, on the other hand, believes an Iran without sanctions will allow his regime to strengthen their control over not just Iran, but also the entire Middle East.

Who has a better understanding of Iran, its politics, its people, and the impact of ending economic sanctions? Is it Khamenei, who has ruled his country for over two decades? Or is it Obama, who honestly thought the power of his own celebrity could save Democrats from crushing defeat in 2010? We'll see.

The answer to that question is ultimately irrelevant though when judging who currently has more leverage in the nuclear weapons talks. Since both Obama and Iran want sanctions on Iran to be lifted, Obama has no way to force any real concessions from Iran on nuclear issues. His threat to continue the current sanctions, or enact new ones, are hollow. Everyone knows he wants the sanctions lifted anyway. Why should Iran concede anything?

That's why they are not.

White House Clears Obama's Schedule For Iranian Nuclear Deal Next Week

President Obama has nothing scheduled after Monday next week, a blank space that just happens to coincide with the deadline Obama set for his nuclear weapons deal with Iran.

"The president's schedule for the rest of the week actually remains pretty fluid," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at the daily press briefing Friday. Asked why he wasn't able to provide any information on Obama's activities next week, Earenst replied, "We've got some more details on the schedule that need to be hammered out."

Earnest did say that Obama will be traveling to Florida on Saturday, but he assured reporters that no news was planned to be made on that trip. On Sunday, Obama will return to Washington before going to Boston on Monday to deliver remarks at the opening of a building in honor of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

But after that, the White House had no information to offer about what Obama would be doing Tuesday or for the rest of the week. That timing just happens to overlap with the March 31st deadline Obama set for a deal with Iran on their nuclear weapons program.

The March 31st deadline is a complete invention of the Obama administration and Iran has made it abundantly clear they feel no pressure to sign any written agreement with Obama until later this June.

Obama, however, would like to have something he can take to the Americans people before then, regardless of firm or verifiable any real agreement with the Iranians actually is.

The Friday Filibuster: Cruzin' for the White House

The Friday Filibuster: The one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about this week in politics.

Closing Numbers


150- The number of people who died in the Germanwings Airliner crash this week, 3 of whom were Americans.

7-The number of pro-lifers arrested while praying outside of Speaker Boehner’s office.

0 inspector general was at the State Department when Hillary Clinton was there.

3- The number of Shiite militias in Iraq that have decided to stop fighting.

37 percent of Americans view Hillary Clinton unfavorably.

Abortion & Human Trafficking

In New York, a pro-abortion provision in a human trafficking bill, which held up its passage for years, has finally been severed, clearing the way for this important legislation to advance. Meanwhile in Washington, Senate Democrats continued to block a vote on legislation meant to stop human trafficking and help victims because of a provision that prevents public funds from paying for abortions. Guy debunks their false talking points here. Reid’s also preparing to block another bipartisan bill over abortion funding.

Obamacare

As we marked the five year anniversary of Obamacare this week, the president said the law is a stunning success: “Every prediction they made about it turned out to be wrong,” he said in Cleveland on Wednesday. “It’s working better than even I expected.” National Journal’s Ron Fournier took conservatives to task over their continued efforts to repeal and replace the law—and things escalated quickly

Campaigns & Elections


Election season has officially gotten underway with Sen. Ted Cruz announcing on Monday that he is running for president, thus becoming the first entrant into the GOP race. Though, like President Obama, Cruz is only a one-term senator and lacks the executive experience, he defended his candidacy on “The Kelly File” this week and stressed the importance of a conservative win in 2016. While there are naysayers, Cruz is constitutionally eligible to be president; even Al Sharpton had to concede he’s “allegable.” Next up to announce their candidacy? Sen. Rand Paul, who will formally declare in early April. He’s also already taking some soft shots at Cruz. And DNC "factivists" are already getting to work. 

And in other election news: Sens. Harry Reid and Dan Coats announced they plan to step down in 2016; the Democratic representative who unseated Allen West will be running for Rubio’s Senate seat; and Boston Globe’s editorial board is practically begging Elizabeth Warren to run. 

Foreign Policy

Nuclear negotiations with Iran went from bad to worse this week. Just one day after President Obama urged Iran to seize a ‘historic opportunity’ to reach a deal, the country’s supreme leader chanted ‘Death to America’ after telling a crowd in Tehran that it would ‘not capitulate to Western demands.’ And they certainly aren’t. The U.S. not only brushed this off rhetoric, but also agreed to allow Iran to maintain centrifuges in a fortified underground bunker…oh, and any “deal” we come to likely won’t even be in writing. Both Rubio and Walker said that if they became president they’d immediately scrap Obama’s Iran deal. In related news, the White House found out this week that Israeli intelligence had been eavesdropping on our negotiations and then used that information to try to lobby Congress against a deal. Meanwhile, the White House continues to believe we’ve “succeeded” in Yemen even as its president fled rebels and al Qaeda took control of a key city.

Bergdahl

The U.S. Army announced official charges against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl this week, including one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy. If convicted, Bergdahl could face life in prison. After Bergdahl was released this summer in a swap for five Taliban prisoners, members of his platoon came forward with details about Bergdahl’s disappearance. They claimed he violated his oath and left on his own accord. Now, even though their statements have been vindicated, State Department Deputy Press Secretary Marie Harf refuses to apologize to the platoon members for previously dismissing them as non-credible. 

Graphics by Townhall Graphic Designer Feven Amenu. 

Senate Passes Budget on Straight Party-line Vote, Cruz and Paul Vote 'No'

Working late into the early morning on Friday, Republicans in the U.S. Senate narrowly passed a budget that balances, cuts the size and scope of the federal government, and doesn’t raise taxes. Before the measure passed, however, Congressional Democrats predictably described it as “an absolute farce” and “insensitive.” Nevertheless, since Senate Democrats failed to even introduce a budget for years when they controlled the upper chamber (although they did pass a budget in 2013) perhaps a few plaudits are in order:

The 52-46 vote came at 3:28 a.m., after the Senate considered hundreds of amendments and voted on dozens — many of them politically freighted, some of them contradictory, but none of them binding. No Democrats voted for the budget. Among Republicans, only Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is likely to seek the White House, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has announced his intention to do so, voted no.

Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, chairman of the Budget Committee, hailed a plan that he said would “protect the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, strengthen national defense and bring robust economic growth.”

Democrats said it would be a disaster — if it ever happened.

But will it happen? Unlikely, my friends, as it will never reach the president’s desk:

The budgets themselves are nonbinding and do not require a presidential signature. Once each chamber passes its version, the House and Senate will try to agree on a common plan, something that last happened in 2009. Then lawmakers will draft separate legislation to implement the programs.

While the Senate budget is imperfect and therefore did not earn universal GOP support, it is a much better alternative than what the president served up, which was deemed “dead on arrival” by Republicans because of its massive spending increases and failure to balance. Surprise. And unlike Senate Democrats, at least Senate Republicans are following the letter of the law and governing.

“The real fights on the budget will come this summer, as those appropriations bills work their way through a similar process,” Ed Morrissey explains to readers over at Hot Air. “Still, it’s the first time in six years that Congress has done its job at all, let alone on time.”

And that, of course, is commendable. Embarrassingly, the normal budget process was all but jettisoned under the heavy-handedness of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) when Democrats controlled the upper chamber.

Perhaps this is why so few Republican lawmakers will be sorry to see him go.

Amnesty International: Hamas Rocket Attacks Amounted To War Crimes

Yes, you read that right; Amnesty International has declared Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israel amounted to war crimes.

Last summer, the bloodshed began when Hamas claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Soon afterwards, Israel began operations in the West Bank to bring the perpetrators to justice. The “crackdown” prompted Hamas to increase rocket attacks from Gaza, which led Israel to invade the Gaza Strip to prevent further attacks on its citizens last summer. Close to 5,000 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza.

Last November, Amnesty International reported that Israel had committed war crimes, which they rejected. According to the Associated Press, Israel's Foreign Ministry said Amnesty's report"ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas."

"The report does not mention the word terror in relation to Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, nor mentions tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and perpetrate terror attacks," the ministry said.

Well, in this new report, Amnesty says Hamas’ attacks were "unlawful" and "displayed a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law" (via BBC)

Militants displayed a "flagrant disregard" for the lives of civilians during the 50-day war, a report found.

According to UN data, more than 4,800 rockets and 1,700 mortars were fired from Gaza towards Israel between 8 July and 26 August. Around 224 projectiles are believed to have struck Israeli residential areas.

Amnesty said that all the rockets used by Hamas and other militant groups, some of which have ranges of up to 160km (100 miles), were unguided projectiles which could not be accurately directed at specific targets and were "inherently indiscriminate".

The majority of Israel's 8.3 million people live within reach of the long-range rockets, and the report pointed out that as a result the "circle of fear has widened" in Israel.

"Palestinian armed groups, including the armed wing of Hamas, repeatedly launched unlawful attacks during the conflict," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.

"In launching these attacks, they displayed a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law and for the consequences of their violations on civilians in both Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Amnesty's report also detailed other violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian groups during the conflict, such as storing rockets and other munitions in civilian buildings, including UN schools, and cases where armed groups launched attacks or stored munitions very near locations where hundreds of civilians were sheltering.

Of course, Hamas’ spokesperson Tahir al-Nounou said the report was inaccurate, made “false allegations,” and was “based on the Israeli narrative.”

Hamas broke the ceasefire during the war, and was caught by the French Press firing rockets from densely populated areas in Gaza. Gallagher Fenwick, a reporter with FRANCE 24, took advantage of the seven-hour humanitarian ceasefire, which occurred in early August, to “snoop around.” It’s was during this time that he stumbled upon a rocket launching pad 50 meters from the hotel where most of the international press was staying and 100 meters from a UN building, clearly marked with its blue flag.

During the conflict, a network of tunnels used by Hamas were discovered and destroyed by Israeli Defense Forces. Yet, it wasn’t a cheap undertaking. Each tunnel cost between $2-3 million to build; they’re at least 30 of them. It was money that could’ve been spent on medical clinics, infrastructure, schools, and supplies, but Hamas decided to spend it on operations to fund their terrorist activities.

Uh Oh: CBS Poll Shows Hillary Favorability Underwater, Most Say She's Not Honest


A few interesting nuggets in CBS News' new poll, which is all about Democrats' inevitable 2016 nominee:

(1) Hillary Clinton's favorability rating is upside down by double-digits, at (26/37), with a staggering 36 percent of respondents declaring themselves undecided or insufficiently informed to say either way. The less-than-impressive favorables isn't great news for Team Hillary, but I wonder how they view that huge number of uncommitteds. On one hand, she'll pound the First! Woman! President! drum loudly and proudly from wire to wire in an attempt to make the election a referendum -- not on her, per se, but on the idea of having any 'her' as president. There's upside there. On the other hand, Hillary is about as known a commodity as exists in American politics, yet about a third of voters at least claim that they're waiting for someone to help define Hillary Clinton in their minds. That's an opening for Republicans, obviously.

(2) Hillary fares better on leadership qualities (57/38 favorable), meaning that the GOP has a long way to go to discredit her very rocky tenure at State. Voters are more likely to say that she "cares" about people like them than not (56/39), but the gap isn't as comfortable as she'd like it to be. There's fertile ground to attack here, too, given the Clintons' deep Wall Street ties and immense wealth -- to say nothing of Hillary's out-of-touch aloofness, or the controversy surrounding the Clinton Foundation's finances. Barack Obama crushed Mitt Romney on this metric in 2012.

(3) She earns low marks on honesty, with voters splitting (42/47) on whether she's "honest and trustworthy." Those numbers are kept afloat by Democrats overwhelmingly pretending they see her as honest; Republicans and independents break sharply in the other direction. Her performance trying to spin away her reckless and opaque email scheme could not have resonated as forthcoming to any fair-minded person who actually watched that spectacle.

(4) Speaking of emails, nearly two-thirds of respondents say Hillary's use of a private email system to conduct official business was inappropriate, though they split evenly on whether they're satisfied by her "convenience" explanation. I continue to believe that the most potent argument the GOP has at its disposal is to highlight how utterly reckless and risky this practice was from a national security perspective. Sure, they can add that she was breaking the rules, and possibly the law -- and that her State Department sacked an ambassador in part for violating the "clear-cut" rules -- but sacrificing national security for your own "convenience" (her explanation) or to thwart transparency protocols (the real explanation) packs the biggest punch.

A pro-Hillary front group, meanwhile, is already warning people that they're going to be on the hunt for sexist criticisms of their candidate, with "sexism" being very broadly defined:




Why, it's almost as if the Left's Outrage Circus wants to shut down debate by delegitimizing opponents' arguments, rather than having an open and robust discussion. Someone should really write a book about that insidious phenomenon. Over on the GOP side of the world, a Wall Street Journal analysis suggests that the 2016 may be the longest and most expensive Republican primary in recent memory:

The candidate field looks unusually crowded, with more than a dozen contenders appealing to different slices of the GOP. The rise of super PACs allows candidates to stay in the race longer than before. And nominating rules meant to compress the process may complicate a front-runner’s ability to amass the delegates necessary to win…The potential for an extended primary stems from what many Republicans believe to be a positive development: a crowd of viable candidates expected to run in 2016 and a set of GOP donors who appear eager to finance their bids...The size of the GOP field and the absence of an obvious front-runner means campaigns will have to devote more time and money to the often-grueling hunt for individual delegates, veteran strategists say. Some warn that if three or four candidates emerge from the early nominating contests in February and early March with a significant share of convention delegates, none may claim the roughly 1,100 to 1,200 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

This is why some smart folks like Sean Trende are talking about a brokered convention as a potential reality, not a farfetched, dream-come-true scenario for political nerds. For what it's worth, here are the latest numbers out of New Hampshire:

There’s about ten months to go before New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary, but a new poll in the Republican race was released Thursday. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush leads the Suffolk University poll of likely GOP Primary voters with 19-percent. Scott Walker was second with 14-percent and Rand Paul was third at 7-precent. Donald Trump had 6-percent. Chris Christie and Ted Cruz were tied with just 5-percent.

Trump is ahead of Christie and Cruz? Yeesh.

‘The Weaker Sex?’ Girls Are ‘Outclassing’ Boys In Education

The “boy crisis” has been the subject of debate amongst educators, policy wonks, and feminists. Yet, when you look at the data, girls have been getting better grades than boys for years. And by years, I mean for nearly a century. Feminists contend that while there is a double-digit gap between eighth grade boy and girl scores, the “crisis” disappears in the real world, where men are paid more [insert shoddy 77¢ statistic here] regardless of their grades, their alma mater, or their field of study. Then again, an education system where boys underperform, or lag behind, shouldn’t be taken seriously because they, you know, end up coming out on top in the real world isn’t a serious argument. Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom. In math, a new study shows that boys are about three months ahead of girls in schooling. In science, the genders are about equal, but when it comes to reading; the female gender is supreme (for now). And that lack of reading for boys is the root of the problem (via the Economist):

The OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] deems literacy to be the most important skill that it assesses, since further learning depends on it. Sure enough, teenage boys are 50% more likely than girls to fail to achieve basic proficiency in any of maths, reading and science.

To see why boys and girls fare so differently in the classroom, first look at what they do outside it. The average 15-year-old girl devotes five-and-a-half hours a week to homework, an hour more than the average boy, who spends more time playing video games and trawling the internet. Three-quarters of girls read for pleasure, compared with little more than half of boys. Reading rates are falling everywhere as screens draw eyes from pages, but boys are giving up faster. The OECD found that, among boys who do as much homework as the average girl, the gender gap in reading fell by nearly a quarter.

Once in the classroom, boys long to be out of it. They are twice as likely as girls to report that school is a “waste of time”, and more often turn up late. Just as teachers used to struggle to persuade girls that science is not only for men, the OECD now urges parents and policymakers to steer boys away from a version of masculinity that ignores academic achievement.

Boys’ disdain for school might have been less irrational when there were plenty of jobs for uneducated men. But those days have long gone. It may be that a bit of swagger helps in maths, where confidence plays a part in boys’ lead (though it sometimes extends to delusion: 12% of boys told the OECD that they were familiar with the mathematical concept of “subjunctive scaling”, a red herring that fooled only 7% of girls). But their lack of self-discipline drives teachers crazy.

Perhaps because they can be so insufferable, teenage boys are often marked down. The OECD found that boys did much better in its anonymised tests than in teacher assessments. The gap with girls in reading was a third smaller, and the gap in maths—where boys were already ahead—opened up further. In another finding that suggests a lack of even-handedness among teachers, boys are more likely than girls to be forced to repeat a year, even when they are of equal ability.

What is behind this discrimination? One possibility is that teachers mark up students who are polite, eager and stay out of fights, all attributes that are more common among girls. In some countries, academic points can even be docked for bad behaviour. Another is that women, who make up eight out of ten primary-school teachers and nearly seven in ten lower-secondary teachers, favour their own sex, just as male bosses have been shown to favour male underlings. In a few places sexism is enshrined in law: Singapore still canes boys, while sparing girls the rod.

Once reading proficiency is dropped due to the perception that reading is girly, amongst other things, the female advantage over their male peers, unsurprisingly, continues into higher education. Changing social factors has contributed to the deluge of women entering higher education, but men still dominate the fields that maximize the income from their degrees, such as computer sciences and engineering:

According to the OECD, the return on investment in a degree is higher for women than for men in many countries, though not all. In America PayScale, a company that crunches incomes data, found that the return on investment in a college degree for women was lower than or at best the same as for men. Although women as a group are now better qualified, they earn about three-quarters as much as men. A big reason is the choice of subject: education, the humanities and social work pay less than engineering or computer science. But academic research shows that women attach less importance than men to the graduate pay premium, suggesting that a high financial return is not the main reason for their further education.

At the highest levels of business and the professions, women remain notably scarce. In a reversal of the pattern at school, the anonymous and therefore gender-blind essays and exams at university protect female students from bias. But in the workplace, says Elisabeth Kelan of Britain’s Cranfield School of Management, “traditional patterns assert themselves in miraculous ways”. Men and women join the medical and legal professions in roughly equal numbers, but 10-15 years later many women have chosen unambitious career paths or dropped out to spend time with their children. Meanwhile men are rising through the ranks as qualifications gained long ago fade in importance and personality, ambition and experience come to matter more.

So, is this the “end of men?” Hanna Rosin, the author who delved into this topic, thinks that women are ahead of the curve educationally and professionally. She uses the cardboard man/plastic woman model to describe the changing economic dynamics between the genders. In short, women are adapting more efficiently.

A multitude of social factors has allowed this to happen:

The Pill and a decline in the average number of children, together with later marriage and childbearing, have made it easier for married women to join the workforce. As more women went out to work, discrimination became less sharp. Girls saw the point of study once they were expected to have careers. Rising divorce rates underlined the importance of being able to provide for yourself. These days girls nearly everywhere seem more ambitious than boys, both academically and in their careers. It is hard to believe that in 1900-50 about half of jobs in America were barred to married women.

Additionally, we’ve become a more technologically focused economy, thus the beginning of a steady loss in the job opportunities for men without higher education degrees. For decades, America’s strong manufacturing base has allowed men with no college education to succeed and work their way into the middle class, usually through back-breaking work.

Though it’s really not the end of men. Jessica Bennett, formerly of the Daily Beast, mentioned that it might be the end of the “Don Draper” type of dude:

In the end, what it may well be is not the end of men at all, but the end of a certain kind of man: the Don Draper, bringing-home-the-bacon, gender role–specific kind of guy who refuses to do the laundry, pick up the kids, and can’t quite come to terms with his wife being behind an executive table, and not a blender. And perhaps it’s that kind of man that we’ve said goodbye to a long time ago.

Rosin says her goal is to help men and women learn to navigate these changes, not draw battle lines based on gender. Which is a noble effort … as long as you can get past that pesky title.

Indeed, that is true. America is a majority two-income household nation. Yet, back to the “boy crisis,” some say it’s really not happening at all–and that all-male classrooms, male teachers, and “boot camp” style teaching are not the solutions (via WaPo):

[S]ome are advocating boys-only classrooms in which boys would be taught in boot-camp fashion. In a recent Newsweek cover story, Houston neurologist Bruce Perry described today's co-ed classes as a "biologically disrespectful model of education." In the New Republic, Richard Whitmire wrote of a "verbally drenched curriculum" that is "leaving boys in the dust." New York Times columnist David Brooks suggested that boys ought to be given books about combat, to hold their interest. (Forget Julius Caesar, give them GI Joe?)

There's actually not much evidence that most boys lack verbal skills. In 2005, University of Wisconsin psychologist Janet Hyde synthesized data from 165 studies on verbal ability and gender. They revealed a female superiority so slight as to be meaningless. And psychologist Diane Halpern of Claremont McKenna College looked at many studies of verbal and math abilities and found that, overall, the gender differences were remarkably small.

Judith Warner at Time wrote in 2013 about gearing schools to stress academic achievement and–on the domestic front–emphasizing the importance of fatherhood:

Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann, sociologists at Columbia and Ohio State universities respectively, spent 10 years digging through all the data on boys’ and girls’ academic achievement, trying to figure out what’s true and what’s false in the boy-crisis story. Drawing together all the best research, they found that, indeed, girls now take more advanced college-preparatory classes than boys, and earn higher grades in those classes. They go on to earn more bachelor’s and master’s degrees than men.

Yet they also found that the academic discrepancy isn’t new. Surprisingly enough, girls have been outperforming boys in school for a century — so much so, Buchmann tells me, that when the first U.S. colleges and universities began admitting young women and quickly saw that they were winning the lion’s share of academic honors, some actually reversed their co-educational policies. What has changed, they say, isn’t the relative status of boys (a devaluing of maleness in the classroom) or a feminization of education (that much cursed need to shut up and sit still) or a dearth of men in the teaching profession (boys, it turns out, do equally well with female and male teachers). Instead, they say, there has come to be a real discrepancy in boys’ and girls’ attitudes and effort — backed up by the messages that boys and girls are getting about academic achievement at home.

Girls, it turns out, spend more time studying than boys do and are more likely to say that good grades are very important to them. Boys, on the other hand, particularly if they’re from working-class or low-income backgrounds, often suffer socially if they work hard to get good grades. They’re considered “fags” if they do the things that are associated with higher academic performance — participate in music, art or drama, for example. And while girls are hearing the message loud and clear that their hard work in school will lead to success in college and, later, in the workplace, that lesson just isn’t getting through to boys, particularly boys whose fathers didn’t go to college.

“When you look for differences among boys, rather than just differences between boys and girls, the boys who are achieving well are different. They’re more likely to come from families where a father is involved and the father is highly educated and has a white-collar job. The fathers are so important because they help boys understand that being a man isn’t just about acting tough or showing physical prowess but that academic achievement is something that’s very desirable for men, and they make that connection between doing well in school and doing well in today’s economy,” Buchmann says. “These boys haven’t gotten the message or have gotten the wrong message about what it takes to be successful.”

How to fix this? Ten years of research shows that change won’t come through all-male classrooms or more male teachers or a more boy-centric curriculum, the authors say. We need instead to change our schools so that they consistently promote a culture of high academic achievement — a goal that should be obvious but is clearly lacking in many of our sports-obsessed learning institutions. Schools need to promote that culture consistently and evenly for all students. Set high standards and expect students to reach them — and provide extra support for those who need it.

So, while women are academically dominating the education scene, that’s mostly grounded in historical precedent. It’s nothing new. At the same time, reforms need to be made to ensure boys are able to more or less catch up to girls, especially when reading becomes a larger part of the curriculum. It’s not feminization of education, but the problem is not going to be solved any sooner unless we tackle the disintegration of the family, particularly the rise of fatherless homes.

Yet, as George Will wrote in 2010, these reforms could be hard to institute since 90 percent of a school’s performance–and success–revolves around the family structures of the student body:

In 1966, the seismic Coleman Report concluded: "Schools are remarkably similar in the way they relate to the achievement of their pupils when the socioeconomic background of the students is taken into account." (Emphasis added.)

Subsequent research suggests that about 90 percent of the differences among the proficiency of schools can be explained by five factors: days absent from school, hours spent watching television, pages read for homework, the quantity and quality of reading matter in the home -- and the presence of two parents in the home.

Rebuilding family structures is a problem that can't be fixed with a new federal law, nor any direct action by the federal government.  

Vindicated: Bergdahl Platoon Members React to Desertion Charges, Obama Administration Smears

Earlier this week the U.S. Army officially announced desertion charges for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was traded by the Obama administration for five Taliban commanders last summer after five years in captivity. Shortly after the prisoner swap, which was celebrated by President Obama with a White House Rose Garden ceremony, Bergdahl's platoon mates started to publicly come forward with desertion allegations. They were quickly dismissed and smeared by the administration. Now, they're speaking out about the new charges. 

"The truth has been out there the entire time. We've been telling everybody that wants to listen what the truth is from shortly after Bergdahl disappeared to the initial Army investigation to when he was traded back last year. Everybody that was around him, knew what the truth was and it's just a relief that the United States Army did the right thing in charging Bergdahl with desertion and misconduct," former Army medic Josh Cornelison, who served in Bergdahl's platoon, said last night on The Kelly File.

"If they would have brought him back, and we had an American soldier back and they had released a statement or a memo saying, 'Hey we got him back, there's some circumstances that are surrounding him, we're going to investigate them,' that would have been great. We got him back and we're going to seek justice, but instead they parade his parents out in a Rose Garden ceremony and you have cabinet members come out and say he served with honor and distinction, basically calling him a hero, when they knew that wasn't true. The facts have been the same for five years, but yet you have solders that are missing limbs or paid the ultimate price over there and they don't get a Rose Garden ceremony. They served honorably," Army Specialist Cody Full, who also served in Bergdahl's platoon, added. 

Army Team Leader Evan Buetow said charges represent a step toward closure. 

"We came forward to let people know what really happened," Buetow said.

Yesterday State Department spokeswoman and incoming White House Communications advisor Jen Psaki doubled down on the Obama administration's decision to trade Bergdahl for the enemy, saying it was "absolutely worth it."

Under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, a preliminary Article 32 hearing has been scheduled for Bergdahl and will be held at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. When the hearing will take place will be announced at a later date. Bergdahl faces up to life in prison for his actions if convicted.

BREAKING: Former Majority Leader Harry Reid Announces Retirement

In a video message released on Twitter this morning, former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced his retirement after 30 years on Capitol Hill. He has served five Senate terms and will leave the Senate in 22 months at the end of his current term.

"We've got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than us and as a result of that, I am no I'm not going to run for re-election," Reid said in the announcement. “My life’s work has been to make Nevada and our nation better. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.”

Reid stressed in the announcement that his retirement has nothing to do with recently sustained injuries from a workout accident when a piece of equipment broke, causing him to fall. He suffered broken ribs and lost sight in one of his eyes. 

Reid will leave the Senate with a controversial legacy. In 2010 he was a key component in the passage of Obamacare, when he changed the Senate rules to get the legislation through. He also got rid of the filibuster during his tenure, something Republicans have said they want to bring back.

This post has been updated with additional information.

Afghan Woman Who Was Beaten To Death By Mob For Allegedly Desecrating The Koran Was Innocent

Last week, Caleb Howe at Truth Revolt posted a brutal video of an Afghan woman being beaten to death by an angry mob for allegedly desecrating the Koran.

“The crowd can be seen beating and kicking her, hitting her with sticks, and even dropping large bricks and blocks of stone on her. Her body was then burned, and thrown into a river,” he wrote.

The woman, Farkhunda,is known by only one name, and she was in her late 20s to early 30s. Some sites, like the AP, have her being 27 years old, while CBS News reported she was 32. Her family said she was suffering from mental illness.

After an investigation, it’s been confirmed that she was completely innocent for desecrating the Koran:

Hundreds of people gathered in the north of the capital for the funeral of 27-year-old Farkhunda, who like many Afghans is known by only one name.

She was killed late on Thursday by a mob of mostly men who beat her, set her body on fire and then threw it into the Kabul river, according to police accounts.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned Farkhunda’s killing as a “heinous attack”. The authorities are still investigating what prompted the mob assault.

Following allegations that police stood by and did nothing to stop the attack, Ghani said it revealed “a fundamental issue” – the country’s police were too focused on the fight against the Taliban insurgency to concentrate on community policing.

His comments followed widespread condemnation of the killing. In Afghanistan, despite constitutional guarantees of equality, women are generally treated as inferior and violence against them often goes unpunished.

Some Afghan officials and religious leaders sought to justify Farkhunda’s killing, alleging that she had burned a copy of the Qur’an.

But at her graveside, the head of the interior ministry’s criminal investigation directorate, Gen Mohammad Zahir, said no evidence had been found to support those allegations.

“We have reviewed all the evidence and have been unable to find any single iota of evidence to support claims that she had burned a Qur’an,” Zahir said. “She is completely innocent.”

The crowd was reportedly shouting anti-American and anti-democracy slogans as they stomped on her.

The Re-Education of Hillary Clinton? – Not Really

UPDATE: Maybe it's really not a comeback at all

Progressive Change Campaign Committee has launched ReadyForBoldness.com, which aims to push Hillary towards the left on policy issues such as Social Security, campaign finance reform, and reining in Wall Street, according to The New York Times. Over 200 Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats, including former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin–a firebrand liberal–, have signed the site’s petition.

Democracy Alliance, a group of the left’s biggest donors, has recently signaled their plans for the future; they want to be the driving progressive force in the Democratic Party. As Politico noted, this group hasn’t had the best of relations with the Clintons. In 2006, Bill Clinton got into a spat with Guy Saperstein, a part owner of the Oakland A’s, over then-Sen. Clinton’s vote over the Iraq War; a vote for which the anti-war progressive wing of the party has yet to offer their forgiveness. Saperstein left the Alliance in 2008, but remains close with its members. Last year, Saperstein gave $1 million to a PAC spearheading a Draft Warren movement. The Alliance has invited Hillary to speak at one of their closed-press gatherings in San Francisco next month, but she declined. It’s around the time she’s expected to announce her 2016 bid for president (via Politico):

An influential coalition of the biggest liberal donors is quietly distancing itself from the national Democratic Party and planning to push its leaders — including Hillary Clinton — to the left.

It aims to steer more than $30 million a year toward groups committed to fighting income inequality, climate change and the influence of political money. A particular focus is on groups fighting those issues at the state level, reflecting a sense among donors that national political gridlock limits chances for progress on their issues, regardless of the specific candidates.

“The Democracy Alliance donors, as I read them, while they are almost all Democrats and they are electorally active, want to be a progressive force independent from the Democratic Party,” said the group’s president, Gara LaMarche. “That’s not about Hillary Clinton as such, or about Barack Obama as such. It’s about standing for certain core concerns on the economy and climate and pushing that in the states.”

LaMarche wouldn’t comment on plan specifics, expected to be completed in early April, except to say that it reflects broad “alignment” among progressive donors on “key economic issues and climate change.”

But other sources with knowledge of the plan characterize it as more aligned with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the dream presidential candidate for many Democracy Alliance members, than with Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate. And for some liberals, it foreshadows an emerging rift that could hamper efforts up and down the ballot in 2016, and possibly lay the groundwork for a liberal version of the tea party, resulting in years of factionalism.

Clinton might have been an uncomfortable fit at the San Francisco meeting because it would highlight issues on which her centrist sensibilities clash with the Alliance’s more liberal views.

For instance, according to a draft agenda obtained by POLITICO, the meeting will feature sessions on reducing the influence of big money politics and reforming the criminal justice system, including ending the death penalty. Clinton, an unparalleled fundraiser, hasn’t led the charge on campaign finance reforms and supports capital punishment — unlike potential 2016 Democratic presidential rival Martin O’Malley.

Wait, they’re trying to start a liberal tea party? Wasn’t that Occupy Wall Street? Yet, while it’s been reported that Warren’s biggest donors won’t turn their backs on Hillary, it seems that Warren has a potentially large reserve of campaign cash she can tap into, along with her reported Hollywood faction that would support her if she runs. Then again, it could be just a pipe dream.

“Hillary did not fare well in the Democracy Alliance eight years ago, and I don’t think there is going to be much more support for her this time, other than people thinking that she is the horse we’ve got, so we better not criticize her because it could weaken her,” Saperstein told Politico.

It seems for now; both groups are more focused on influencing and shaping Hillary’s 2016 platform than actively searching for candidates to challenger her in the primaries. Though, I’m sure a lot of people in the progressive wing want someone to challenge the Clintons. Then again, a Republican victory in 2016 would put much of what Obama has accomplished in jeopardy, which is why Team Obama–though aghast at the fact she deleted over 30,000 emails willy-nilly because she deemed them private–want her to win next year. So, that logic could be factored into this “we don’t really like her, but oh well” attitude the left has toward Hillary.

Regardless, Hillary is projected to raise over $1 billion for her campaign, but is only focused on raising for the primaries at present:

Clinton's campaign-in-waiting is developing a stable of fundraisers and finance aides for a race likely to exceed the more than $1 billion President Barack Obama raised for his 2012 re-election. If Clinton announces in April, as expected, her campaign would be required to release its first fundraising report in July.

The Democratic National Committee plans to set up joint fundraising committees with any primary campaign that wishes to do so, as it did in 2008 with Clinton and Obama. The joint events will allow donors to give money to both the campaign and the DNC, one of the Democratic officials said.

The ex-secretary of state's finance team will be led by Dennis Cheng, a former top fundraiser for the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Under Cheng, the planned finance operation is making changes from its previous incarnation.

The Democrats familiar with the planning said Clinton's campaign is expected to focus on raising checks of $2,700-per-person for the primary and is not expected to create a single finance chair or national co-chairs.

Instead, the campaign is likely to have a merit-based national finance committee of top donors that will be similar to the arrangement under Obama. The campaign also plans an early focus on online fundraising, the officials said.

So, for those hoping that Hillary might veer to the left, it appears she doesn’t need to with regards to raising campaign cash. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that there will be a reeducation of Hillary Clinton. Yet, the notion that she’s running from her true self (a progressive liberal vs. a centrist Democrat) remains a point with Republicans, as Mike Murphy noted in 2000 on Meet The Press; it’s also a reason why he doesn’t respect her since she opts to be a centrist Democrat when he feels she's not. He said Clinton veered into that "doctrinaire liberal" territory a little bit when she said there's a "vast right wing conspiracy" against then-President Clinton in 1998. 

It's going to be the same ole' Hillary, folks. For conservatives, we already knew this, but for progressives; hey, it's the only person you've got. 

As for Clinton, some are reporting she's undergoing what her family has done before in American politics: mounting a comeback.  Though we shouldn't take much stock in polls this early in the game, Clinton is assembling a campaign team that's highly respected, has experience, and has good relations with the press. And while I thought the email scandal might have her limping out of the gate, that seems to have dissipated in the media. Then again, the emails can make their way back into the forefront once the 2016 campaign season get serious. 

Common Core Opt-Out Included in Senate Budget

Thanks to the efforts of Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), as part of the larger budgetary process, Senate Republicans have passed an amendment giving all states the right to refuse to implement the Common Core curriculum in their schools. The amendment, however, will be one of many provisions included in the Senate's final budget, which will be voted on by the full Senate at a later date:

The measure passed by a margin of 54 to 46.

I'll leave you with this statement from Vitter's office:

“Parents, along with local teachers, principals, and education leaders in our communities, know best on how to best educate our kids,” Vitter said. “We should reduce the size and scope of the federal government in our classrooms and return curriculum decision-making and use of taxpayer dollars to those closest to the students – and my legislation would do just that.”

The Obama administration granted states that adopted Common Core standards waivers from No Child Left Behind mandates. Vitter’s legislation would ensure that any state with an existing waiver will keep its No Child Left Behind waiver without penalty if the state opts out of Common Core. His bill would also make these states eligible for Race to the Top grant funding, which has only been offered to states in compliance with Common Core standards.

White House: Pope Francis, Obama To Discuss "Shared Values" During Papal Visit

Pope Francis will visit the United States on a papal visit in late September and his itinerary is already chalked full of events. Naturally, the official announcement was made public months ago. Today, however, we learned that the Bishop of Rome was also invited to the White House to meet with President Obama and the First Lady—an invitation he has evidently accepted.

“The President and the First Lady will welcome His Holiness Pope Francis to the White House on Wednesday September 23,” the White House press secretary said in a statement today. “During the visit, the President and the Pope will continue the dialogue, which they began during the President’s visit to the Vatican in March 2014, on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues, including caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities. The President looks forward to continuing this conversation with the Holy Father during his first visit to the United States as Pope.”

Of course, these are all issues Pope Francis and President Obama broadly agree on. It will be interesting to see, however, if they discuss issues that divide them—as they did during the president's first encounter with Pope Francis in Rome roughly a year ago.

“During the cordial meetings, views were exchanged on some current international themes and it was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” the Vatican said in a statement following the world leaders’ first face-to-face meeting. “In the context of bilateral relations and cooperation between Church and State, there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform. Finally, the common commitment to the eradication of trafficking of human persons in the world was stated.”

Will these issues be raised again? In all likelihood, yes.

After all, during their last in-person discussion, Pope Francis reportedly expressed grave concern that taxpayer dollars were funding abortion services under Obamacare—which studies show is inevitably happening. So don't be surprised if he does again, as this is an issue very close to the hearts of (conservative) American Catholics.

For what it’s worth, Pope Francis will also deliver remarks in front of Congress and the United Nations, attend a Catholic conference, and hold a public Mass in Philadelphia during his papal visit.

Click through to learn more.

Rubio, Walker: Yep, I'd Immediately Scrap Obama's Iran Deal As President


A no-brainer on politics and substance alike. President Obama's rumored deal (which got worse today) with Iran's terroristic regime is causing bipartisan heartburn on Capitol Hill, is worrying even typically skittish allies, is viewed as unacceptable across the board in Israel (and certain Arab capitals), and isn't likely to find a receptive audience among American voters. Leaked details reveal that Iran's nuclear program will gain international legitimacy under the bargain, which keeps the country's nuclear infrastructure in place, as well as 6,000 centrifuges spinning. It demands nothing of Iran on its illegal missile program, its sponsorship of terrorism and outsourcing of chaos in the region, or its abysmal human rights record. It reopens the money spigot to pump money back into Iran's economy, which has been battered by sanctions (the primary reason they're at the negotiating table in the first place). And its restrictions begin to phase out after ten years, regardless of Tehran's behavior. Also, Iran's team is now insisting on more immediate sanctions relief, before they've demonstrated any meaningful or lasting compliance. In return, the West gets the world's leading exporter of terror to essentially press the "pause" button on their rogue nuclear weapons program, and the mullahs might agree to so-called "snap" inspections, which they're currently calling "illegal."  Of course, Iran agreed to those intrusive inspections after the US invasion of Iraq, then reneged a few years later and forged ahead in hot pursuit of nukes.  First up, Marco Rubio -- last heard from mounting a stirring defense of Israel on the Senate floor -- chatting with Hugh Hewitt:


Rubio says that as president, he'd "absolutely" vitiate any agreement Obama strikes with Tehran without Congressional approval. Allahpundit wonders if geopolitical realities would allow the next president to just summarily flush the deal down the toilet, which goes to the heart of Obama's myriad executive power grabs: Take actions that may not have the binding force of law beyond January 20, 2017, but that would be politically difficult to roll back. What a President Rubio could do here is urge Congress to pass a brutal battery of sanctions that would be triggered by any amount of Iranian cheating, "accidental" or otherwise. He could also seek to expand the terms of the deal to shut down Tehran's long-range missile program, then use their furious objections as a very good excuse to walk away and lower the sanctions boom. Here's Scott Walker, also with Hewitt, torching the reported deal:


Questions for Hillary: Does she support the reputed terms of Obama's deal with Iran, in full?  Does she believe Iran deserves to keep its nuclear infrastructure in place, and that Western restrictions should begin to sunset after a decade?  Does Iran's ICBM program have any legitimate purpose, and if not, should it be permitted to exist under any US deal?  Does she agree with the White House that Yemen is still an American foreign policy "success" -- even as Iran-backed rebels have overthrown the government (hello there, Iran), ISIS is bombing mosques, Al Qaeda is seizing cities, American special forces are being evacuated, and US intelligence is being compromised?  It would be instructive to hear her answers on these, and many other, topics.  Alas, her appearance before a room full of journalists this week featured jokes about her insecure secret email server and destruction of official emails, but no questions:



‘He’s Had His Run’: Group Wants to Replace Andrew Jackson with Influential Women on Twenty Dollar Bill

How would you like to keep a picture of Rachel Carson in your wallet? Womenon20s.com is a new campaign effort to replace our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, with women who have somehow influenced society. 

I’m not kidding.

Here’s Tuesday’s CBS News report:

"There's a movement afoot to see that women get their fair share of money."

We can thank Barbara Ortiz Howard for the new effort to boot Jackson from the twenty.

"There are no women on the money and I thought gee this is a crazy omission," said Howard.

That’s when Howard, who works near New York City maintaining apartment buildings, decided it was time for President Jackson to move over. 

Why is she targeting our seventh president?

Andrew Jackson was celebrated for his military prowess, for founding the Democratic party and for his simpatico with the common man. But as the seventh president of the United States, he also helped gain Congressional passage of the "Indian Removal Act of 1830" that drove Native American tribes of the Southeastern United States off their resource-rich land and into Oklahoma to make room for white European settlers. Commonly known as the Trail of Tears, the mass relocation of Indians resulted in the deaths of thousands from exposure, disease and starvation during the westward migration. Not okay.

In other words: because of his sinful, racist past.

The Womenon20s list to replace Jackson includes some admirable trailblazers. For instance, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Susan B. Anthony are figures I’d be proud to see on our currency. Yet, there are a few controversial figures included on the list as well - perhaps none more so than Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. Pro-life groups have often exposed Sanger’s obsession with eugenics, which went hand-in-hand with her racist beliefs. (Jackson doesn’t seem so bad now, huh?) Oh yeah, and the organization she is responsible for is now the country’s biggest abortion provider. As for other candidates, I’m sure more than a few people would grimace to carry around bills featuring radical environmentalist Rachel Carson.

I’m all for acknowledging the amazing efforts of our country’s most iconic female figures. But why do we have to kick one of our presidents to the curb? Surely, there are other ways to notice our female heroines without undermining the accomplishments of our Founding Fathers and Commanders-in-Chief.

Womenon20s is asking people to vote for who they want to see on the twenty dollar bill. Once they’ve narrowed it down to one, they’ll ask President Obama to put the winner on a new bill by 2020, which will mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

I doubt their campaign will make it past the survey, but if Sanger happens to make it onto the twenty, let’s just say I’ll be getting a whole lot more credit card statements.

Headache: Three Shiite Militias Withdraw From The Fight In Iraq, ISIS Continues To Skim Millions From Iraqi Government Workers

Three Shiite militias have decided to stop fighting in Iraq, depriving the Iraqi government of thousands of able-bodied fighters in their struggle against the Islamic State. They’re citing American airstrikes as the reason. It’s a trust issue (via NYT):

Three major Shiite militia groups pulled out of the fight for Tikrit on Thursday, immediately depriving the Iraqi government of thousands of their fighters on the ground even as American warplanes readied for an expected second day of airstrikes against the Islamic State there.

The militia groups, some of which until recently had Iranian advisers with them, pulled out of the Tikrit fight in protest of the American military airstrikes, which began late Wednesday night, insisting that the Americans were not needed to defeat the extremists in Tikrit.

Together the three groups represent as much as a third of the 30,000 fighters on the government side in the offensive against the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, analysts said.

“We don’t trust the American-led coalition in combating ISIS,” said Naeem al-Uboudi, the spokesman for Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the three groups which said they would withdraw from the front line around Tikrit. “In the past they have targeted our security forces and dropped aid to ISIS by mistake,” he said.

One of the leaders of the biggest militias in the fight, the Badr Organization, also criticized the American role and said his group, too, might pull out. “We don’t need the American-led coalition to participate in Tikrit. Tikrit is an easy battle, we can win it ourselves,” said Mueen al-Kadhumi, who is one of the Shiite militia group���s top commanders. …

But a pullout by those militias, especially by the Badr Organization, would effectively disband the largest and most effective ground force the Iraqi government has been able to field since the invasion by ISIS last year.

American airstrikes began last night and lasted for about eight and a half hours before the Iraqi Air Force took over this morning.

In the meantime, ISIS has been able to siphon millions of dollars from the paychecks of Iraqi government workers in Mosul and Baghdad. In fact, the figures are in the tens of millions each month, which provides a nice stream of revenue for their various terrorist operations. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the situation has created a headache for the United States who must choose between two awful outcomes of trying to curb this money going into enemy hands. If they cut off the paychecks to workers in those areas where ISIS is skimming from the payroll, it could create a humanitarian crisis for hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. If payments continue unmolested, ISIS will still be able to use the money to rearm, refortify, and launch new offensives. Either way, if nothing is done, ISIS has the potential of raking in hundreds of millions of dollars for their activities:

Islamic State militants are skimming tens of millions of dollars a month from salaries paid to Iraqi government employees in occupied areas such as Mosul, and Baghdad continues to send the cash to maintain local support.

The group is using the money to fund operations, U.S. officials say, underlining the delicate balancing act U.S. and Iraqi governments face in what they know is a hearts-and-minds campaign against Islamic State ahead of a military operation to retake Mosul, for which U.S. officials are training Iraqi troops.

“No decision has been made one way or another as to how the U.S. should engage on [the seized funds],” a senior Obama administration official said. “This is something we are concerned about and continue to look into, but this is a matter that the Iraqi government ultimately controls.”

Money couriers leave places like Mosul and go to Kurdistan or other areas to collect government payments for a large group of Iraqi employees who work in such Islamic State-controlled areas, U.S. officials say.

The courier system is necessary because the Iraqi government has banned money transfers to banks inside Islamic State-controlled territory.

The Financial Action Task Force, an international consortium of government officials focused on blocking illicit finance, issued a report in February estimating Islamic State’s practice of seizing a portion of government employee salaries in areas it controls could bring in hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars annually, citing “several U.S. contacts in Iraq” as the source for the figure. U.S. officials say there are varying estimates, making it hard to put a precise number on the transfers to Islamic State.

U.S. intelligence officials have tried to disrupt the group’s revenue stream since last summer, with some success, U.S. officials say.

Periodically, one person from an office or building will leave Mosul, travel to Kirkuk or another nearby area, collect the salaries of a number of others, and then bring the money back to Mosul, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

Before the money can be distributed to the employees, Islamic State militants take their cut. For example, two Iraqi finance executives said employees would leave Mosul and travel to Kurdistan, receive salaries for numerous people in cash, and then return with the money, paying a portion to Islamic State upon re-entry.

American Humvees Arrive In Ukraine: Poroshenko Thanks U.S. For Support

Ten heavily armored American humvees were delivered by the U.S. Air Force to Boryspil International Airport near Kiev, Ukraine Wednesday as part of the United States’ commitment to send defense aid to the nation in its struggle against Russian separatists.

These ten were the first lot that the U.S. will provide to the Ukrainian military: a total of 230 Humvees will arrive in Ukraine in the next 45 days. The U.S. will also send drones, radios, counter-mortar radars, night vision devices and other equipment as part of the $75 million non-lethal aid package.

The vehicles were welcomed at the airport by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who thanked the U.S. for its support.

“On behalf of the people of Ukraine, I would like to express gratitude to the United States for consistent and firm position on the settlement of the conflict in Donbass,” he said. “For recognizing Russia as a country that carries out aggression against Ukraine.”

The head of state also took to Twitter with thanks:

Poroshenko has met repeatedly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish enforcement of the Minsk Agreement -- which calls for a full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

“Due to constant violations of the ceasefire regime, the enemy makes us intensify the efforts on enhancing our defense capacity,” Poroshenko said during the ceremony at Boryspil. “Still, our resources are restricted. Thus, military-technical assistance from the USA and other countries is timely and increasingly necessary.”

Scattered fighting is still common in the Donbass region, and many are skeptical that a ceasefire would hold, even if fully enforced. 

“We don't like the ceasefire at all. As with the previous ones, it'll only lead to another offensive by the enemy,” Militia Commander Andriy Biletsky told Reuters today while preparing for an expected Russian attack in southeastern Ukraine. “Appeasing the aggressor will only lead to more aggression. This war will inevitably continue - either until our complete defeat or until our full victory and return to our land in all east Ukraine and Crimea. We believe in the second scenario.”

The Humvees will be equipped with weapons from the Ukrainian military, and then deployed to assist the nation’s military in defense against Russian-backed forces in the east. During the ceremony, Poroshenko inspected the vehicles and their new accompanying military unit.

"Behind the wheel, I understood that it is an extremely efficient and powerful military vehicle long-awaited by the Ukrainian army,” Poroshenko said.

BREAKING: US Will Allow Iran to Maintain Centrifuges in Fortified Underground Bunker


Behold, the current state of US-Iran nuclear negotiations. It appears as though President Obama really will stop at nothing to secure an agreement, putting the lie to his administration's "a bad deal is worse than no deal" posturing:






Smart Power. This is looking more and more like a foreign policy catastrophe by the hour.  Team Obama, needless to say, is optimistic -- because if they'd demonstrated one thing, it's the capacity to cut savvy deals with our enemies.

Nationwide Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in the House

A bill to legalize medical marijuana nationwide has been introduced in the House of Representatives as a bipartisan effort between Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK). Marijuana is already legal for medicinal use in nearly half of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. Most states with legal medicinal marijuana limit its prescription to people with certain illnesses, such as glaucoma, cancer, or seizure disorders.

From CBS News:

Cohen and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, unveiled a bill on Tuesday that would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II narcotic, recognizing some appropriate medical uses for the drug. Marijuana is legal for medical use in 23 states and the District of Columbia, but the federal government currently classifies pot as a Schedule I narcotic with no apparent medical utility.

The reclassification would have a variety of effects on how the federal government enforces marijuana laws. It would allow states to set their own medical marijuana statutes free of federal interference, allow medical marijuana dispensaries to access the banking system, and allow doctors at government agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana in states where it's permitted. It could also jumpstart research into the drug's medical uses.

The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic is a joke, at best. Other examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin (which can kill you), bath salts (which can kill you), MDMA (a.k.a. ecstasy, which can kill you), and GHB (a date-rape drug that can kill you). Notably absent from the list of Schedule I narcotics is methamphetamine, a highly-addictive drug that has destroyed communities. Meth is a Schedule II drug.

Meanwhile, it is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana.

The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug is only hurting those who would possibly benefit medically from its effects. A strain of cannabis known as "Charlotte's Web" is extremely effective in treating epilepsy in children. The strain is named after Charlotte Figi, a child with Dravet Syndrome, who saw her seizures reduce in number from over a thousand a month to just three in eight months after she began ingesting a few drops of oil from the plant each day. The strain has a very low amount of THC, meaning that it does not cause a psychoactive "high" typically associated with marijuana consumption. While Charlotte's Web has been regarded as somewhat of a miracle cure for some patients with epilepsy, it is only available to patients who reside in a state that permits medical marijuana. A reclassification of the drug would open up research opportunities, and could help discover additional treatment options for various illnesses.

Despite the fact that more than eight out of ten Americans support medical marijuana, the Senate version of this bill is facing some serious obstacles.

It's clear that the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic is a grave error, and it's absurd that the drug is considered by the federal government to be as dangerous as heroin yet somehow less dangerous than meth. A civilized society wouldn't deny an epilepsy patient access to a potentially life-changing treatment because they happened to live in the wrong state. This bill should pass.

Yes, Ted Cruz Could Repeal Common Core

Since his presidential campaign announcement Monday, the White House press corps has been fascinated with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). 

On Wednesday, that Cruz attention turned to the senator's position on Common Core education standards. A reporter asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, "Senator Ted Cruz -- I know you’ve been fielding a lot of questions about him. He recently said that he wants to repeal Common Core, every word of Common Core. Am I mistaken? I didn’t think Common Core was a federal law? ... I mean, Common Core -- is that correct, Common Core is not something that can be repealed?"

Earnest declined to address the substance of the reporters question, instead promising, "We can look into that for you."

So is Common Core a federal law that can be repealed? The answer is yes.

While it is true that Congress never passed any law that made Common Core the official national education standards for all 50 states, President Obama has been creating brand new federal laws without Congress long before his 2014 executive amnesty program.

Specifically, in August of 2011, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that he was going to use President Bush's 2001 No Child Left Behind waiver process to make states an offer they couldn't refuse: Either they must all adopt Obama's Common Core education standards, or many of their schools would be deemed as "failing" under the NCLB law and would be subject to an avalanche of federal regulation and paperwork.

"It is one thing for an administration to grant waivers to states to respond to unrealistic conditions on the ground or to allow experimentation and innovation," Brookings Institution Director for Education Policy Russ Whitehurst wrote at the time, "It is quite another thing to grant state waivers conditional on compliance with a particular reform agenda that is dramatically different from existing law."

That "particular reform agenda" was Common Core and many states adopted the Common Core standards in large part because of the pressure Obama applied through NCLB.

So, if a President Cruz were to repeal "every word" of the NCLB law, he would functionally be repealing the existing federal Common Core regime by giving states back the freedom to choose their own education standards.

Cyberattacks on Maine.gov, Other State Sites Continue

Maine's official website Maine.gov has been attacked for a fourth time in as many days. As of 10:15 a.m. the site was inaccessible and would not load. The series of cyberattacks began on Monday, and have continued throughout the week.

The attacks have been mostly harmless, and officials have assured Mainers that no personal information has been breached. The attacks the past three days were remedied within a matter of hours.

From WMTW:

Officials said the denial of service attacks overwhelm the state's servers, causing the website to go down. They are a common tactic used by hackers to overload servers with thousands of requests.

Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of GWI, told WMTW News 8 on Tuesday that the denial of service attacks are the lowest threat for cybercrimes and that committing them does not require a skilled hacker.

"It's simply bragging rights," said Glenn Wilson, director of Maine Cyber Security Cluster at the University of Southern Maine.

A hacker going by the name of Vikingdom2015 is claiming responsibility for the cyberattacks. While his original Twitter account was suspended, a new account claiming to be him has been taking credit for the series of attacks on Maine's website and the websites of other cities and states.

Around 10:30 a.m., New York City's website NYC.gov went down, but was back up within 15 minutes.

While the motivations behind this hacker are still a mystery, this has to be a wake-up call for states to improve their cybersecurity. Hackers are getting smarter, and websites need to be secure.

White House Confirms Iran Deal Probably Won't Be In Writing

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed Wednesday that President Obama's impending nuclear weapons deal with Iran may not be in writing.

Following a New York Times story reporting that Iran would not sign any document by the end of March, ABC News White House correspondent Jon Karl pointedly asked Earnest if Obama would settle for an oral agreement instead. Earnest evaded:

Well, Jon, when the President was asked to talk about our ongoing efforts to reach a diplomatic political agreement with the Iranians before the end of March, the President made reference to the fact that we would see and that we, meaning the American people and Congress, would be able to take a close look at the terms of that agreement.

Now, the terms of that agreement are going to be -- it’s a political agreement, right, so they’re making certain commitments to do certain things. The details of those commitments are extraordinarily important and there will be a process for hammering out those details. But the President was clear that the kinds of commitments that we seek from the Iranians are the kinds of things that we would be able to show to members of Congress and show publicly to share with our allies, including Israel, about what kind of commitments Iran has made.

So I don’t want to prejudge the process here at all, or to prejudge sort of the outcome of the talks because there’s the chance that a deal is not reached. But we certainly would want and expect that if a deal is completed, it will include tangible, specific commitments that have been made by the Iranians.

In response to this non-answer, Karl pressed again,"This would have to be a written agreement and it would have to be an agreement that is signed by both sides?" Earnest evaded again:

 Well, again, Jon, we’re going to seek very tangible commitments from the Iranians, and the President made a commitment to sharing those tangible commitments with members of Congress and with our allies.

Karl then asked, "I’m just trying to understand what tangible means," to which Earnest responded, "And what I’m saying is that you can -- that as we move through this process of negotiating with the Iranians and our P5+1 partners, we hope to be able to elicit tangible commitments that the Iranians have made that we can then share with our P5+1 partners, with our allies, and with the United States Congress, all of whom have a legitimate claim to understand exactly what kind of commitments Iran has made in this process, if they make them."

That was three direct chances Earnest was given to confirm that any nuclear agreement with Iran would have to be signed, in writing, and three clear non-answers from Earnest.

So don't be surprised next week when Obama claims to have secured "tangible commitments" from Iran on their nuclear weapons program but is also unable to provide any document with Iran's signature on it.

New Details: Co-Pilot Allegedly Crashed Germanwings Airliner on Purpose

The Germanwings Airbus flight that crashed on Monday killing all 150 people on board did not experience a mechanical malfunction; it was reportedly taken down deliberately:

As officials struggled Wednesday to explain why a jet with 150 people on board crashed amid a relatively clear sky, an investigator said evidence from a cockpit voice recorder indicated one pilot left the cockpit before the plane’s descent and was unable to get back in.

A senior French military official involved in the investigation described a “very smooth, very cool” conversation between the pilots during the early part of the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany. Then the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter.

“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer,” the investigator said. “And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer.”

Absolutely chilling. The captain who reportedly left the cockpit to use the restroom was locked out, despite his best efforts to regain entry. This would explain why the plane, after it reached cruising altitude, slowly began descending over an eight-minute period before hitting the mountain. The co-pilot simply crashed it on purpose.

But was this an act of terrorism? Too soon to speculate but the co-pilot was not believed to be on any watch lists:

A French prosecutor said the co-pilot of the Germanwings airliner who intentionally crashed the jet into the Alps Tuesday was a German national who was not on any terrorist watch list. …

Lubitz said nothing after the pilot left the cabin and was alive until the plane crashed, Robin said. He stopped short of calling the incident "terrorism" or "suicide."

This terrible and tragic incident raises a number of questions. Why was a man, who obviously was insane, given clearance to co-pilot a commercial jetliner? That is to say, was there anything in his background that was suspicious or suggested he could do something so evil? And more broadly: Isn't it time to rethink the newly implemented cockpit safety protections that were put in place after 9/11?

A video produced by Airbus, maker of the A320 passenger jet used on the Germanwings flight, shows how the cockpit security system was designed in 2002, after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It shows that flight crew members in the cabin can access the cockpit with an [sic] code to open the door, but it doesn't deal with the possibility of what would happen if one of the pilots deliberately tries to lock out the other.

On the Airbus, like virtually every other commercial passenger jet since 9/11, the pilot or whoever has control of the cockpit has the ultimate override power to prevent others from entering from the plane's cabin.

Did the co-pilot wait with bated breath for the captain to leave the cockpit before carrying out his deranged and deadly plan? Or did he crash the flight impulsively and on a whim? Details remain sparse at this time.

Stay tuned for updates.

UPDATE: Three Americans died in the crash.

UPDATE: The co-pilot has been identified and WaPo has more information about him:

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was silent as Germanwings Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf descended for eight minutes before crashing in the French Alps on Tuesday, authorities said. Lubitz, identified by a French prosecutor as the co-pilot of the Airbus A320, appeared to want to “destroy the plane” in the deadly Alpine crash that killed 150 people. …

Lubitz started working for Lufthansa’s budget carrier Germanwings in September 2013, immediately after completing training at Lufthansa’s Bremen facility. He had 630 hours of flight experience, a Lufthansa spokesperson confirmed to AFP.

UPDATE: It's worth noting that U.S. federal law mandates two people must be in the cockpit at all times.