‘Planeloads’ Of U.S. Contractors Flee Baghdad As ISIS Moves South

As the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues its southern sweep across a severely destabilized Iraq, non-government American workers in Baghdad are evacuating to undisclosed areas of the country by the planeload, the State Department told media today.

“We can confirm that U.S. citizens, under contract to the government of Iraq, in support of the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program in Iraq, are being temporarily relocated by their companies due to security concerns in the area,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told media today. “The status of the staffing at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates has not changed.”

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq, a massive city within-a-city opened in 2009 at a cost of more than $700 million, has operated with a reduced (but still sizable) staff since American forces officially withdrew from the country in December of 2011.

The State Department, along with diplomatic offices of several other Western nations, issued a travel warning to civilian nationals in Iraq this week as ISIS-organized militia under the command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took control of key Iraqi cities north of the capital city in a show of force that has elicited mass surrenders from Iraqi forces.

According to The Hill, the State Department disclosed that U.S. citizens were evacuated from the region by the planeload today, with “several hundred more U.S. contractors” in queue to retreat ahead of the expected arrival of ISIS forces.

The Obama Administration resolved Thursday to review possible U.S. military options to bolster the Iraqi government’s feeble resistance to the al-Qaida-spinoff group, with possible air strikes appearing as the most viable option. Psaki said the Administration is not considering a “boots on the ground” operation.

Obama himself said a U.S. response would likely exchange some kind of military assistance for a commitment from the Iraqi government that it will listen to all options in cultivating a stronger defense strategy.

“In our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short-term immediate things that need to be done militarily,” Obama said today. “This should be also a wakeup call for the Iraqi government…There has to be a political component to this.”

Obama Doubles Down On Confiscation By Praising Australia’s Gun Laws

Not wishing to let a tragedy go to waste, President Barack Obama on Tuesday reacted to recent highly publicized shootings in California, Nevada and Oregon by telling an Internet audience the United States should emulate Australia’s infamous “assault weapons” ban.

Responding to a gun control question from a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara — the same school attended by former student Elliott Rodger before he gunned down six people and then killed himself last month — Obama told a Tumblr blog audience that a lack of Congressional action on gun control has been one of the biggest disappointments of his Administration.

“I’ve got two and a half years left,” began Obama. “My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of… of people who… can, can do just unbelievable damage.

“We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens. It happens now once a week. And it’s a one-day story. There’s no place else like this.”

Then Obama brought up Australia, which instituted gun restrictions, a national registry and gun buy-back program following a 1996 massacre in Tasmania that claimed the lives of 35 people.

“Couple of decades ago, Australia had a mass shooting, similar to Columbine or Newtown. And Australia just said, ‘well, that’s it; we’re not doing — we’re not seeing that again,’ and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws, and they haven’t had a mass shooting since,” said Obama. “I mean, our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this.

“Now, we have a different tradition — we have a 2nd Amendment. We have historically respected gun rights. I respect gun rights.”

Obama then went on to outline some of the Democratic Party’s gun control ideas that Congress has so far declined to pass.

It’s worth revisiting the President’s claim that “our levels of gun violence are off the charts.” They do have charts for these sorts of things, and the charts don’t reflect Obama’s claim.

Here’s one from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for 2007-2011 that tracks the overall U.S. rate of violent crime:

VICRIME

And here’s another from the Pew Research Center that shows a general overall trend of decline in the rate of homicide deaths involving firearms since 1981:

PEW

 

Harry Reid Consoles Reeling GOP Establishment: ‘We Need More Lindsey Grahams’

As the GOP establishment tries to close ranks following Tuesday’s stunning primary defeat of six-term incumbent Congressman Eric Cantor (R-Va.), it’s receiving a perverse kind of solace from across the political aisle.

Presumably because it’s in the interest of the Democratic Party’s own establishment to have malleable Republican peers to work with, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday called on voters, if they must elect a Republican, to elect Republicans like establishment darling Senator Lindsey Graham, who sailed through the crowded South Carolina Republican primary on the same day Cantor took his beating.

Reid’s message was one of preaching to the establishment choir.

“I believe the Republicans should follow the lead of Lindsey Graham,” he said. “Lindsey Graham was part of the Gang of Eight to come up with immigration reform. He never backed down, backed up. He kept going forward on this issue.

“We need more Republicans who are Lindsey Grahams. Lindsey Graham is a very conservative man, but I’ve worked with him on a number of issues, some of which we don’t even talk about publicly.”

Graham won his State’s GOP primary despite passionate opposition from jaded South Carolina conservatives for siding with the Administration of Barack Obama on controversial partisan issues. Six Republican challengers, all attacking Graham from the right, jockeyed for space on the primary ballot. None was able to distinguish himself against the field, and Graham cruised through the election, even though his popularity among the party’s base is weak.

By contrast, Cantor faced a single challenger Tuesday in the Virginia GOP primary: Tea Party newcomer Dave Brat, a professor of Economics at Randolph-Macon College. While knee-jerk punditry has credited a single issue (immigration) for propelling Brat to a surprise victory, Brat ran to the right of Cantor not only on immigration reform, but also on Federal spending and for going along simply to get along with the Obama Administration.

“Immigration was the surface reason that galvanized the opposition to Cantor, but the opposition could not have been galvanized with this issue had Cantor been a better congressman these past few years,” conservative pundit Erick Erickson wrote Wednesday. “He and his staff have repeatedly antagonized conservatives. One conservative recently told me that Cantor’s staff were the ‘biggest bunch of a**holes on the Hill.’ … Cantor lost his race because he was running for Speaker of the House of Representatives while his constituents wanted a congressman.”

Video: President Obama Rejects All The Absurd Views Held By Political Straw Men

President Obama has a rhetorical gift for absolutely crushing absurd contrarian views that virtually no one holds. This video mash-up, compiled by the staff at The Washington Free Beacon, offers a Presidency-spanning highlight reel of all the phony political adversaries Obama’s taken down in his growing repertoire of straw-man speeches.

One of our favorites is Obama’s courageous firebrand stance against people who think all problems disappear when you ignore them. “I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves,” he boldly asserts.

Who doesn’t reject that view? People with no problems?

H/T: The Washington Free Beacon

U.S. Intelligence Anticipates Four Of The Freed ‘Taliban Five’ Will Return To Terror

According to high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials, the odds strongly favor the eventual re-assimilation into the Taliban terror network of four Taliban members whom the Administration of President Barack Obama released last week in exchange for the freedom of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

At a Senate briefing last week, Deputy Director of National Intelligence Robert Cardillo advised lawmakers that only one of the freed prisoners — former high-ranking Taliban operative Abdul Haq Wasiq — does not appear likely to rejoin a regional militia or terror cell, according to a report Monday at Obama-friendly news website The Daily Beast (TDB).

Although TDB devotes a requisite amount of its story space to a poignant justification for the Obama Administration’s decision to act quickly and independently of the Congressional vetting process required under Federal law to release the five Guantanamo detainees, the site nevertheless acknowledges U.S. intelligence knew what the White House was risking before the deal was done:

According to a pair of U.S. officials, the briefing from Robert Cardillo, a deputy director of national intelligence, represented the latest community-wide U.S. intelligence assessment on these Taliban Five, completed in 2013.

It also means that President Obama was faced with a particularly excruciating choice as he weighed whether or not to swap these five for American hostage Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The government of Qatar, which agreed to look after the five Taliban leaders as part of the deal for Bergdahl, warned that factions within the Taliban were growing impatient, and campaigning to kill Bergdahl instead of trading him.

“Time is not on your side,” they told U.S. negotiators, according to two senior defense officials.

… It all added up to a painful dilemma for the White House: free Taliban leaders who might return to the fight–or risk losing America’s last service member held abroad. Obama ultimately chose to make the deal, despite his intelligence services’ estimate that four of the five Taliban detainees would ultimately resume their struggle against American allies.

Obama himself admitted as much in a remarkably defiant statement when he met with reporters in Poland last week.

“We will be keeping eyes on them. Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely,” Obama said. “We have confidence that we will be in a position to go after them if in fact they are engaging in activities that threaten our defenses.”

That begs the obvious question: If their behavior is so predictable, and so likely to threaten national security, why set them free in the first place?

Obamacare Opt-Out Penalties Will Hit 1 Million Low-Income Americans In First Year

A report last week from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 1 million Americans will be required to pay a penalty to the Federal government by the end of next year as a “tax” for declining to purchase health insurance under Obamacare’s individual mandate provision.

In all, CBO now expects about 4 million people — including the estimated 1 million low-income Americans who live below the government’s 200 percent poverty threshold — to pay the Obamacare penalty for 2016.

From the report:

“CBO and [the Joint Committee on Taxation] JCT’s estimates of the number of people who will pay penalties account for likely compliance rates as well as the ability of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to administer and collect the penalty payments.

All told, CBO and JCT estimate that about 4 million people will pay a penalty because they are uninsured in 2016 (a figure that includes uninsured dependents who have the penalty paid on their behalf). An estimated $4 billion will be collected from those who are uninsured in 2016, and, on average, an estimated $5 billion will be collected per year over the 2017-2024 period.

Of the 1 million Americans the government regards as “low-income,” roughly 200,000 will earn gross income of less than 100 percent of the government’s poverty baseline; another 800,000 will earn less than 200 percent of the gross income poverty line, which places them in a category of low-income earners eligible to receive a host of Federal poverty entitlements. For a breakdown of how the Department of Health and Human Services assesses “poverty” as a ratio of household size to annual income, see the department’s 2014 poverty guidelines.

The CBO graph below illustrates the Obamacare penalty forecast as a function of income demographics:

Obamacare opt-out graph

“In general, households with lower income will pay the flat dollar penalty (with adjustments to account for the lower penalty for children and the overall cap on family payments), and households with higher income will pay a percentage of their income,” the report indicates.

The Obamacare opt-out penalty is the greater of a flat “tax” ($695 in 2016 and pegged to inflation thereafter) or “a percentage of a household’s adjusted gross income in excess of the threshold for mandatory tax-filing” (2.5 percent in 2016 and beyond). The CBO is expecting most people living beneath the 200 percent-of-poverty line to pay the $695.

Last week’s report represents a marked downward revision of the CBO’s 2012 prediction that roughly 6 million people would end up paying the Obamacare tax. If that sounds like a good thing, it’s a function of your point of view: CBO is also anticipating a commensurate drop in expected Obamacare funding, thanks to the drop in penalty payments. And many Americans who the CBO originally predicted would have to pay the penalty have since been lumped into the entitlement group of low-income Obamacare recipients who qualify for exemptions.

“The decrease in the number of people who are projected to pay the penalty largely stems from an increase in CBO and JCT’s projection of the number of people who will be exempt from the penalty,” the CBO stated. “That increase is attributable in part to regulations issued since September 2012 by the Departments of Health and Human Services and the Treasury and in part to technical updates and changes in the economic outlook.”

More Selective Enforcement Of Obamacare As States See Key Provision Delayed

Eighteen States are getting a reprieve from the Obama Administration in rolling out an Obamacare provision that requires their State-managed insurance markets to offer an array of coverage to small business employees.

In granting the delay, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) did not decline any of the 18 States that petitioned for more time to deploy the employee choice feature of the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), according to The Hill.

“The delays mean that small-business employees seeking to buy health insurance in the SHOP system will only have one option in those 18 states,” The Hill reported today. “The Affordable Care Act intended to allow customers on the SHOP exchange to pick from a variety of options, but the rollout of that feature has been delayed several times.”

The delay represents the latest in a long line of unilateral decision by the Obama Administration to forestall or selectively implement portions of the Affordable Care Act following its poorly-received and problem-plagued rollout last October.

Most of the States that petitioned CMS to delay the employee choice feature are those that declined to expand Medicaid coverage under Obamacare’s Federal matching-funds program, along with six that have accepted the expanded Medicaid program.

They include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

Woman Files Federal Lawsuit Over Naked Pepper Spraying Ordeal At Indiana Jail

An Indiana woman is preparing a Federal lawsuit following a March ordeal in which she allegedly was pepper sprayed, stripped and paraded by police through a local jail after being detained on a pair of misdemeanor charges. Video from the incarceration shows the woman was pepper sprayed in her cell and left without clothes for almost an hour before being allowed to wash out her eyes.

An attorney representing Tabitha Gentry, the alleged victim, told local media that Gentry will file the suit next week against officers with the Floyd County, Ind., Sheriff’s Department. She alleges the officers violated her Constitutional rights while she was in their custody.

Gentry, who lives in New Albany, Ind., was brought to the jail in the early hours of March 30 on charges of resisting and disorderly conduct after police responded to a domestic call at a residence. Her attorney, Laura Landenwich, said things escalated quickly once she arrived at the jail.

“Almost immediately upon entering the jail, she’s assaulted by four officers. They grab her around the neck; they grab her body,” Landenwich told WDRB News. “They hold her down. There are two male officers and two female officers and they forcibly remove her pants, her shoes, her underwear and her shirt and bra.”

From the video, Gentry appears to be unruly (she was reportedly very intoxicated when taken into custody), but she does not appear violent. Without an accompanying audio track, the surveillance video doesn’t reveal what Gentry said that prompted the team of officers to throw her to the floor and drag her into a padded cell, strip her of her clothing and leave her naked and begging for something to wear.

Landenwich said Gentry attempted to escalate her demands for clothing by banging on the cell door, and that officers responded by pepper spraying her and leaving her alone in the cell for another 45 minutes before allowing her to wash the spray from her face. After she finally was provided an opportunity to clean herself up, she was placed back in the cell for another five hours.

“There is no justifiable law enforcement purpose to treating someone this way,” Landenwich told WAVE News. “There is no officer safety issue that is implicated by her having clothing. What this is, is humiliation.”

There was a standard-issue smock in the padded cell. At one point, the video shows Gentry draped in the loose cover. Isn’t that “clothing?” Doesn’t the smock ensure detainees’ Constitutional rights remain intact?

Maybe, but Landenwich insinuates that this incident reflects a larger pattern of detainee abuse by the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department. In a similar case last year involving one of Gentry’s relatives at the Floyd County jail, the county ended up settling with a plaintiff who alleged officers had withheld clothing in order to humiliate her. And she points out an obvious, but overlooked, fact: Detainees aren’t convicts. Unless and until they’re found guilty of crimes, treatment of the kind that Gentry allegedly received amounts to a form of punishment.

“Now this is a woman, who under our system of law, is innocent until proven guilty,” Landenwich said. “She’s charged, and she’s charged with a misdemeanor crime that’s not a violent crime…What we also see on the video is, there is another inmate also being held naked prior to her entering that cell. These are egregious Constitutional violations.”

Hillary’s Hard Choices Is Hard To Praise, Say Critics

Boring. Politically correct and eager not to offend. Devoid of critical thought. Not insightful. Of little news value.

Those aren’t assessments of Hillary Clinton, the person. But they are assessments of her new book, Hard Choices, an in-her-own-words revisiting of her time as President Barack Obama’s first-term Secretary of State ghostwritten by Ted Widmer. Hard Choices releases today, but advance reviews of the book by critics and pundits alike have been dismissive — at best.

POLITICO’s Mike Allen went off on the book, calling it a “newsless snore.”

TRUTH BOMB 1: “Hard Choices” is a newsless snore, written so carefully not to offend that it will fuel the notion that politics infuses every part of her life. In this book, like in “The Lego Movie” theme song, everyone is awesome!

Allen also quotes a Republican acquaintance who read the book and found it less than compelling. “Honestly, it is so vanilla and picked over. They leaked out the very few interesting anecdotes in the [656] pages to make it seem more interesting than it is… There is no insightful Obama stuff beyond the ’08 part that’s been discussed a lot already.”

Slate’s John Dickerson had trouble finding scintillating-sounding adjectives to capture the book’s (evidently) essential tepidness. “Clinton’s account is the low-salt, low-fat, low-calorie offering with vanilla pudding as the dessert. She goes on at great length, but not great depth,” he wrote. “Even Condoleezza Rice, one of the most loyal [George W.] Bush aides on the planet, was more candid in her memoir about the inside workings of power relationships than Clinton.”

Then there’s The New York Times, the authoritative voice for so many literates seeking a North Star to guide their general well-roundedness. Here’s what The Times’ Michiko Kakutani had to say:

There is little news in the book. And unlike former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s rawly candid memoir “Duty,” this volume is very much the work of someone who is keeping all her political options open — and who would like to be known not only for mastering the art of diplomacy, but also for having the policy chops to become chooser-in-chief.

“Hard Choices,” like Mrs. Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, does not evince a grand, overarching foreign policy vision, as Henry A. Kissinger’s 1994 book “Diplomacy” did. Rather, Mrs. Clinton displays a pragmatic, case-by-case modus operandi.

And that’s considered praise. New Republic’s Isaac Christopher griped that The Times’ review is too sunny; that it is, in fact, not “a ‘book review’; it’s a press release.”

“Keeping all her political options open” is the book’s likely endgame for Clinton. Other pundits more explicitly connect the strategic dots between the timing of the book’s release, its relative political banality and the ticking of the clock as it winds toward the 2016 Presidential campaign season.

Reporting not on the book itself but its role in laying some groundwork for a Hillary 2016 candidacy, POLITICO’s Todd S. Purdum explains how the book can, maybe, win a few Hillary converts by showing Hillary at her best — while simultaneously pulling double duty as the vehicle for critical research into voter demographics:

She has 100 percent name recognition, prohibitive political support in the polls — and more money than most ordinary people could ever dream of. So why does Hillary Clinton need another book, much less one that’s pre-sold a million copies and dominated news coverage even before its official release?

The answer: Her forthcoming book tour and the attendant multiplatform media blitz are about everything but the book and the bucks. To begin with, the rollout of “Hard Choices,” which officially begins Tuesday, presents a perfect way to gather priceless retail consumer data that can later be put to political use.

…Personal appearances will drive book sales, which could eventually drive voter turnout, and Clinton has data resources available to her in the age of social media that Powell and his would-be backers could only dream of.

“They can really take advantage of all these new tools with her, because she has a huge social media following,” said Gretchen Crary, a veteran book publicist who now runs February Media, her own public relations and marketing firm. “Authors really should take a page from politicians’ playbooks, because you build an audience the same way you build a constituency: You have to go to these anemic coffee klatches where three people show up, and turn them into your ambassadors.”

But the little people have to like the book for that to happen, across the country, thousands of times over.

More problematic for the Hillary 2016 pep squad, the little people have to want to read Hard Choices in the first place.

“[E]ven if the book is a guaranteed best-seller (the initial printing of 1 million copies has already sold out to retailers), some in Clinton’s circle nevertheless confess a certain anxiety about sales,” wrote Purdum, “if only because the book’s commercial performance will inevitably be viewed as yet another straw poll of Clinton’s political prospects.”

Don’t say we didn’t do our part: Here’s where you can rush out to buy Hard Choices.

Why Do Police In New Mexico Need 42 MRAPs?

The New York Times has a lengthy Sunday piece on the continuing militarization of America’s municipal police, which you can read here.

The article questions the need for, and the possible motives behind, the wholesale adoption of military tactics and gear in cities and communities whose violent crime problems, where they exist at all, typically don’t gibe with comparisons to war zones.

“The [decommissioned military] equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units,” The Times laments. “Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of ‘barbering without a license.’”

People who read websites like Personal Liberty Digest™ likely already know all that. But the story included an infographic from the Department of Defense that offers a breakdown of the number of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles (MRAPs) currently in service in every State — and, even if you accept the premise that armored tank-cars are an acceptable addition to our new era of militarized policing, the proportions in several cases seem to be a little out of whack.

mrap_map
Take New Mexico, the 36th most-populous State in the U.S. with slightly more than 2 million people. If we’re counting the little square boxes on the DoD graphic correctly (the graphic bears a strong resemblance to some Common Core math puzzles), the Land of Enchantment has 42 MRAPs, making it No. 1 among all the States for MRAP-owning bragging rights.

Oklahoma, the 28th most-populous State, is a very close second, with 40 MRAPs in service. South Carolina, 24th on the population charts, has seven more MRAPs (28) than California, which is the most populous State in the Nation.

How many MRAPs do the populous States have? California has 21; Texas has 37; New York has 16 and Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio have 10, eight and eight, respectively.

For some strange reason, local authorities in Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, New Hampshire (which isn’t too far down the population list from New Mexico) and Rhode Island haven’t hopped on the MRAP/military surplus gravy train — or, at last count, they hadn’t done so successfully.

Law enforcement agencies offer a predictable variety of reasons to justify their rush toward militarization, with the appeal of free stuff that local taxpayers don’t have to pay for typically topping the list.

But we like the alternate-universe myopia earnestly reflected in the comments of Pulaski County, Ind., Sheriff Michael Gayer, who (presumably while wearing a straight face) told the Indianapolis Star over the weekend that we live in a Nation that’s all war, all the time — even tiny Pulaski County (pop. 13,124):

“The United States of America has become a war zone,” Gayer told the Star. “There’s violence in the workplace, there’s violence in schools and there’s violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments going to a semi-military format because of the threats we have to counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Jeez, now we’re afraid to get in our cars at the end of the day and brave the public streets.

Unless…

Can private citizens get in on the free MRAP racket, too?