Kurdish officials say the U.S. has vastly underestimated ISIS’s numbers

President Barack Obama, earlier this year, dismissed the Islamic State terrorists making gains in the Middle East as a “jayvee” threat. Kurdish officials say not only is that untrue but that the U.S. has vastly underestimated the terrorists whose numbers are growing rapidly.

ISIS is now comprised of as many as 200,000 fighters throughout the Middle East, according to the Iraqi Kurdish leadership. That’s nearly seven times as many as U.S. intelligence officials estimated.

Kurdish presidential chief of staff Fuad Hussein told Britain’s The Independent that the discrepancy is due to intelligence failures to take into account ISIS’s ability to “to mobilize young Arab men in the territory they have taken.”

In many of the war-torn and impoverished areas where ISIS has taken control, the terror group’s ability to provide a $400-a-month salary to recruits creates major incentive for joining.

“We are talking about a state that has a military and ideological basis,” Hussein told the newspaper, “so that means they want everyone to learn how to use a rifle, but they also want everybody to have training in their ideology, in other words brainwashing.”

According to Hussein, ISIS is already a formidable opponent with a fighting strategy that affects “the morale of everybody, including the Peshmerga.”

The Kurdish Peshmerga fighting force, well-regarded in terms of discipline and fighting ability, has so far kept ISIS at bay. But Hussein said he doesn’t believe the terrorists will relent.

“They will fight until death, and are dangerous because they are so well-trained,” he said. “For instance, they have the best snipers, but to be a good sniper you need not only training on how to shoot, but discipline in staying put for up to five hours so you can hit your target.”

Hussein noted that U.S. airstrikes in the region have helped the Peshmerga defend their 650-mile front line against ISIS but said that U.S. boots and heavy artillery on the ground would be needed to defeat the terrorists.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told members of Congress last week that coalition forces are currently making progress in defeating ISIS — but he added that there is a long struggle ahead.

“[ISIS’s] advance in parts of Iraq has stalled, and in some cases been reversed, by Iraqi, Kurdish, and tribal forces supported by U.S. and coalition airstrikes,” Hagel said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. “But ISIL continues to represent a serious threat to American interests, our allies, and the Middle East … and wields influence over a broad swath of territory in western and northern Iraq and eastern Syria.”

The Pentagon has asked Congress for $5.6 billion to expand the mission in Iraq and send an additional 1,500 U.S. troops to the region.

Lefty Bill Maher says he’d support Rand Paul 2016

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) continued his efforts to expand the GOP’s reach ahead of 2016 on Friday, appearing for an interview on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Maher, an outspoken anti-theist and liberal, said that he admires Paul for being “the one Republican who is willing to go to places Republicans don’t usually speak.”

Throughout the interview, Paul and Maher were largely in agreement on issues such as the War on Drugs, reinstating voting rights for nonviolent felons, how the U.S. should go about defeating the Islamic State and even, to some extent, climate change.

“I am available to the Rand Paul campaign,” Maher said of a potential 2016 presidential bid.

But the comedian warned that some of the broader GOP’s positions on issues like climate change would likely be enough to turn off potential Paul progressives.

Paul, whose district is seated in coal country, pushed back, noting that liberty would give average people more ability to help the environment than burdensome regulations.

“[There is] abundant evidence that carbon is increasing and has been increasing,” Paul said. “All that I ask for is that the solution has to be a balanced solution, and that you have to account for jobs, and jobs lost by regulation. And I’m not against regulation, I think the environment has been cleaned up dramatically through regulations on emissions as well as clean water over the last forty or fifty years.”

The senator also noted that he’s currently working on legislation that would get the government out of the way of people looking to use alternative fuel sources.

“It’s going to be called The De-Regulation of Alternative Fuels [bill],” Paul said. “… I’m trying to get the government out of the way of converting your trucks from diesel to natural gas or from gasoline to ethanol.”

The bill, Paul continued, will allow the market to help the environment.

“Some of these fuels are actually cheaper too,” Paul explained. “And if they’re cheaper, then people will go for a cheaper alternative that also is cleaner for the environment.

There’s plenty of strategic benefit to Paul’s continued efforts to appear before audiences that his GOP colleagues usually ignore as the GOP looks to capitalize disillusioned Democratic voters leading into the 2016 season.

The youth-oriented news outlet Vice illustrated how traditionally Democratic young voters could skew right in 2016 in a piece titled “You Might Be a Republican in 2016.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the magazine that polling numbers make it clear that “there’s a libertarian streak that’s running through young people. And the Republican Party is poised to capitalize on this, if we’re smart.”

The GOP establishment’s blessing of a Paul candidacy has always seemed like a bit of a long shot. But the senator’s outreach efforts combined with the party’s slow march to realizing that its policy have long turned off young people, minorities and all manner of independents could be creating a perfect storm for Paul 2016.

Posthumous gun confiscation underway in New York

Police in Buffalo, New York, have taken the late Charlton Heston’s famed “cold, dead hands” National Rifle Association speech a little too literally and are trolling local obituaries in search of the firearms of deceased gun permit holders.

According to the local WGRZ, Buffalo Police told reporters last week that they are taking on a new effort to identify members who may be holding on to the firearms of deceased residents.

“We recently started a program where we’re cross referencing all the pistol permit holders with the death records, and we’re sending people out to collect the guns whenever possible so that they don’t end up in the wrong hands,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derrenda said.” Because at times they lay out there and the family is not aware of them and they end up just out on the street.”

What’s missing from the police gun-grab scheme, the president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, is information about what residents can do to keep their loved ones firearms out of police custody.

“They’re quick to say they’re going to take the guns,” Tom King told Fox News. “But they don’t tell you the law doesn’t apply to long guns, or that these families can sell [their loved one’s] pistol or apply to keep it.”

The police department’s tactics have been similarly derided by 2nd Amendment supporters online.

“While a family is still reeling from the loss of a beloved mother, father, brother, son, or sister, uniformed officers from the Buffalo Police Department are going to show up at their doors and attempt to bully the family into surrendering their recently deceased relative’s firearms… all of them, if they can,” Bearing Arms Editor Bob Owens wrote of the scheme, adding that the permit issue was merely an excuse to steal the property.

“The Buffalo PD try to get family’s to turn over what may very well be heirlooms, without allowing the family to pass them along to other family members who might appreciate them,” he added.

Rand Paul wouldn’t support current anti-NSA bill

Though some privacy groups have applauded the Senate’s efforts to move forward with Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) USA Freedom Act, stalwart personal liberty advocate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will likely oppose the legislation.

A senior Paul aide told CNN that the senator can’t support the bill because of a number of “significant problems” with the current legislation.

“Sen. Paul does not feel that Sen. Leahy’s reforms go far enough. There are significant problems with the bill, the most notable being an extension of the Patriot Act through December 2017,” the aide said Friday.

The unidentified Paul staffer said that dropping a provision that extends the Patriot Act would be a start to getting the senator to join Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Dean Heller (Nev.) and others in support of the legislation.

The privacy advocating Electronic Frontier Foundation offered support for the legislation on Wednesday, but said it doesn’t go far enough.

“The USA FREEDOM Act is a good first step towards successful surveillance reform. It will limit the NSA’s program collecting Americans’ calling records, introduce a special advocate into the secretive court overseeing the spying, and introduce much needed transparency requirements,” EFF noted. “While this bill is not a comprehensive solution to overbroad and unconstitutional surveillance, EFF urges the Senate to pass the bill without any amendments that will weaken it.”

Debates on the bill aimed at cutting back on some National Security Agency spying activities could occur as early as Tuesday.

Will Keystone XL finally be approved?

House lawmakers on Friday passed a bill to approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The Senate is expected to vote on a similar measure Tuesday.

Lawmakers in the House voted 251-161 in favor of the legislation aimed at circumventing the need for TransCanada Corp. to get the Obama administration’s approval to go ahead with construction of the pipeline. The company has been waiting for the administration to make a decision for more than six years.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the legislation’s sponsor, said he wants the legislation to move quickly through the Senate to” finally get a bill to the president’s desk that approves this long-overdue Keystone XL pipeline.”

“This will create other economic activity. This will ripple out through the economy,” Cassidy also said of the legislation.

If Keystone supporters in the upper chamber gain the 60 vote majority needed to block a filibuster in passing the legislation, it’ll go to the president’s desk. After years of delaying a decision on Keystone, Obama would then be forced to either pass or veto the legislation, without blaming hurdles within the State Department for his indecision.

On Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested that Obama could veto the legislation.

And Obama, speaking from Asia, said that the pipeline would do little to help U.S. energy independence.

“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices,” said Obama, according to USA Today. “If my Republican friends really want to focus on what’s good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy. I’m happy to have that conversation.”

As to whether a filibuster-proof majority is possible for Keystone in the Senate, supporters appeared confident that they had sealed the deal by Friday.

“It is ready for a vote and we have the 60 votes to pass it,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said midweek.

Landrieu is currently battling Cassidy for her Senate seat, which could prove instrumental in helping the conservative state Democrat get her colleagues to help her pass the legislation.

NRA says midterms were best election in a decade

In case it isn’t quite clear how Americans feel about the Obama administration’s gun policies, consider this: The National Rifle Association is touting the 2014 midterms as its best election in more than a decade.

The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard pointed out this week that the NRA, based on numbers from the Sunlight Foundation, scored a 91.2 percent success rate with its midterm campaign spending.

“Our members came out in droves and voted for their rights and their freedom,” Spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told Bedard.

Overall, the NRA spent about $35 million on the elections; and 229 of the 251 of candidates it endorsed won.

Anti-gun fanatic and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, meanwhile, spent about $20 million to promote candidates with gun control agendas who “got walloped,” according to Sunlight.

But as noted earlier in the month by New York Daily News, Bloomberg didn’t suffer total defeat:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: Win.

Bloomberg aides on Wednesday hung their hats on Hickenlooper’s narrow win after the NRA targeted him for defeat due to a background check bill he signed.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy: Win.

Malloy won narrowly. Bloomberg political aide Howard Wolfson on Wednesday noted Malloy had used his support for a stronger state gun laws to draw a contrast with his opponent.

Supported Washington State’s Measure 594 for statewide background checks on the sales of guns: Win.

The ballot initiative passed. Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety group said It spent $4 million on the effort, and also helped a competing referendum backed by the NRA

While Bloomberg did support some successful ballot initiatives, 2nd Amendment supporters must keep in mind that the NRA’s pro-gun candidates are good for gun rights if voters only hold them to their promises.

Executive order immigration reform could appear by next week

Following reports that top immigration activists in Congress are “very disappointed” with President Obama’s handling of immigration reform in the U.S., White House officials told reporters that Obama could reveal a 10-point immigration plan by the end of next week.

The president, according to the White House, is still awaiting final recommendations from his top immigration advisers, but is “nearing a final decision” on his plan to act unilaterally.

Fox News  reported Wednesday that the plan will include “initiatives that span everything from boosting border security to improving pay for immigration officers.”

Most controversial provision for Republicans would be the inclusion of a deferred action provision that could give 4.5 million illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children legal status in the U.S.

Lawmakers who oppose amnesty legislation could also face an expansion of the president’s “dreamer” program, which expands deferred action to all illegal immigrants meeting certain age and status requirements.

Discounted naturalization applications for a limited number of immigrants and expansions in technology visa programs may also be on the horizon.

Some of the major immigration reforms Obama is expected to roll out were touted in a letter vocal immigration proponents Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) sent to the president this week.

“We hope that your actions will prevent the separation of undocumented family members of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and DACA beneficiaries and offer protection to others who have long worked in the United States and have established strong ties with our communities. We further hope that they will make our immigration enforcement efforts more sensible and humane,” they wrote in a draft obtained by The Washington Post.

The Democrats also contend that Obama has a “clear and substantial” legal basis to act on immigration reform.

That, however, is not how some of their Congressional colleagues on the other side of the aisle feel. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), writing for Politico this week, said Obama’s action would “void the election results — and our laws — by moving forward with his executive amnesty decree.

“This decree would operate much like his unlawful ‘Deferred Action': conferring work permits, photo IDs, and Social Security numbers to millions of individuals illegally present in the U.S. — allowing them to take jobs and benefits directly from struggling American workers,” Sessions said. “It is a scheme the Congress has explicitly refused to pass.

“The President will arrogate to himself the sole and absolute power to decide who can work in the U.S., who can live in the U.S., and who can claim benefits in the U.S. — by the millions.”

Survey: Americans remain concerned about digital spying

New figures out from Pew Research illustrate that Americans are increasingly concerned about their privacy from government and corporate snoops.

Eighty percent of American adults, according to the survey, believe that citizens should be concerned about the government’s efforts to monitor phone calls and digital communications. And 70 percent said that they are at least somewhat worried about government collecting information on social networks.

From Pew:

More than a year after contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents about widespread government surveillance by the NSA, the cascade of news stories about the revelations continue to register widely among the public. Some 43% of adults have heard “a lot” about “the government collecting information about telephone calls, emails, and other online communications as part of efforts to monitor terrorist activity,” and another 44% have heard “a little.” Just 5% of adults in our panel said they have heard “nothing at all” about these programs.

Just 36 percent said they agree that it is “a good thing for society if people believe someone is keeping an eye on the things they do online.”

A majority of 64 percent of respondents said that instead of spying on Americans digital communications, government regulators should do more to protect individuals’ personal privacy from advertisers.

According to Pew’s figures, 91 percent of Americans feel that they’ve lost control of how companies use their personal information.

Former Obama campaign chief: Rand Paul would be ‘most right-wing’ presidential candidate ever

If you have disagreed with just about everything former top Obama campaign manager Jim Messina has ever said, you ought to be trying to get Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul appointed as the next GOP presidential nominee.

Messina, in an interview published by the online magazine Ozy.com, said that Paul would be “the most right-wing” presidential nominee in the nation’s history.

“I think if you look at his statements and you look at his record he would be the most right wing candidate that any major party has nominated, including Barry Goldwater,” Messina said before adding. “He is that far off the spectrum. I think his chances of winning swing votes in battleground states are my chances of being the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos.”

The former Obama campaign official jokingly said that he’d fully support Paul or Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) for the GOP nomination. He said a potential matchup between Cruz and Hillary Clinton would be a “wonderful gift.”

Messina, who is currently involved with the left leaning Priorities USA super PAC, also said that Republicans shouldn’t be too encouraged by their 2014 midterm victories ahead of the forthcoming presidential election.

“They are having a fight for the soul of their party, which I think is going to be devastating to them,” he said.

“If you look at the battleground states, more states are coming on the map for us. States that weren’t competitive like Virginia, like North Carolina, Arizona’s going to come in ’16. I think [Clinton’s] a good candidate in some of these places and can make Georgia competitive.”

Warfare fanfare is about to get a Washington makeover

With a sympathetic Republican Congress on its way into Washington, it appears voices in and outside of the Beltway are beginning to call for national security spending increases.

A Wall Street Journal “Think Tank” piece published Wednesday announced that defense spending could — and should — shake out to be a primary point of compromise between President Obama and a Congress under GOP control.

Authors Michael O’Hanlon and Ron Haskins, both senior fellows at the Brookings Institution, note: “Already in fiscal 2015, the base defense budget has been reduced nearly to sequestration levels. Full return of sequestration would chop $50 billion off annual Pentagon spending, beyond the $50 billion reduction intended by the 2011 Budget Control Act — which we support — and the ongoing cuts for overseas contingency operations that have reduced the supplemental budget from $160 billion in 2010 to around $70 billion in 2015.”

The two say these cuts are unsustainable despite the more than $600 billion spent annually by the U.S. on the military. They also, helpfully, acknowledge that the current inadequate figure represents “nearly 40% of the world total and $100 billion more than the U.S. average during the Cold War.”

While the piece concedes that any major budget maneuvers, things that would “replace the austere framework of the 2011 Budget Control Act, as well as address entitlements and tax reform,” will likely come only after the 2016 election cycle, its authors encourage Obama and lawmakers to work out a military spending deal “later this fall or early in 2015.”

“It should add about $25 billion annually, relative to sequestration levels, to the defense budget in 2015, 2016, and 2017,” O’Hanlon and Haskins reason.

The WSJ column appeared (unsurprisingly) on the same day that Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told returning members of Congress that lest they want the nation’s fighting force to be unprepared for future conflicts, Washington must eliminate last year’s half trillion dollars in Pentagon cuts.

According to The Hill’s reporting on Work’s remarks from Center for Strategic and International Studies, the U.S. military is falling behind military advancements in Russia and China “at a rapid pace.”

“Our technological dominance is no longer assured. The fact is we’re under-investing in new weapons, given the investments of our closest competitors,” he said.

While calling for spending increases, Work also encouraged lawmakers to rethink some of their defense spending (read political) priorities by ending programs that the Pentagon doesn’t need but that lawmakers keep alive because of military-industrial benefits to their regions and constituents. As a specific example, Work discussed the military’s fleet of A-10 aircraft which, despite the Pentagon’s desire to scale back, lawmakers have protected in military budgets.

Military spending has long been a sacred cow in Congress, especially among Republicans. And electoral shifts to the right in the 2014 midterms, which hinged partly on voter frustration over the current president’s handling of matters overseas, have created fertile ground for arguments to strengthen the nation’s fighting force at a time when the world is, or at least appears to be, increasingly unstable. Rasmussen currently reports that about 38 percent of likely voters would like to see military spending increased.

Given the climate, Americans can expect President Obama and Congress to come up with a military spending compromise.

In fact, it may not even be much of a compromise as the Democratic Party comes to terms with the new image it is destined to take on leading into 2016 if Hillary Clinton, notably more willing to sound hawkish than Obama has been, becomes its nominee. It’ll be more of a pre-emptive shift, to the detriment of the anti-war segment of Obama electorate the current president has already been forced to abandon.

In that case, both sides of the political establishment win — and the world will probably continue to look like it’s on fire.

But at least the defense industry is a better-tested creator of shovel-ready jobs than green energy.

Young voters relate to youthful Hillary Clinton

More than half of young voters in America believe that Hillary Clinton is “either in her 50s or younger,” ignorance her campaign machine will surely capitalize on if she runs for president in 2016.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is currently being taken to task by the left for a comment he made in a recent Politico interview suggesting that 67-year-old Clinton may be not be in shape for the rigors of a presidential campaign.

“It’s a very taxing undertaking to go through. It’s a rigorous physical ordeal, I think, to be able to campaign for the presidency,” he said.

MSNBC picked up on Paul’s comments, noting that he is one of many Republicans who’ve made comments about Clinton’s age.

“Rick Santorum called the former secretary of state ‘old,’ Sen. Mitch McConnell compared her to a cast member from ‘The Golden Girls,’ and Bobby Jindal called her an ‘old, tired candidate,” the report noted. “Meanwhile, longtime Clinton foe Matt Drudge accused Clinton of using a walker during a magazine cover photoshoot, and the conservative Free Beacon has had plenty of laughs at the expense of Clinton’s age.”

As the 2016 campaign season heats up, Clinton’s age and past health problems are likely to become a bigger topic of discussion.

MSNBC also pointed out another interesting fact about perceptions of Clinton’s age and ability to handle presidential duties:

Young people don’t even perceive Clinton as particularly old. According to a recent Pew survey, an incredible 69% of 18-29 year olds think Clinton is either in her 50s or younger. Just 27% accurately place her age as between 60 and 69, while only 2% say she’s older than 70.

That misconception will be quickly corrected if Republicans have anything to do with it. But as Rollins noted, they also run the risk of backlash if they go after her age too hard. Karl Rove was roundly condemned for attacking Clinton’s health this summer.

Rove was attacked by the left last spring for bringing up a Clinton medical mishap that occurred as all eyes were on her during the height of the Benghazi scandal.

“Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that,” he had said.

The left pounced immediately, accusing the longtime political operative of everything from misogyny to sexism.

And young voters’ misconceptions about her age are part of the reason the left makes such a big deal when the former first lady’s fitness for a return to the White House comes into question. Her political machine has put a lot of work into attempting to remake a former first lady hip with the young demographics that helped President Obama’s election numbers.

Remember how the left so loved that stupid meme of Clinton texting on an airplane?

The New York Time’s Maureen Dowd wrote about it in a 2012 column titled “State of Cool”:

The Hillary flurry is telling.

During the 2008 Democratic primary, Barack Obama had a lock on young people, technology chic and the press. Hillary was regarded by kids as the lady who’d been around a long time, wearing headbands and pantsuits. She had a paranoid relationship with the press and an antiquated take on technology.

Now she’s quick to laugh at herself and take advantage of the positive buzz, even posting her own captions with trendy argot on the “Texts From Hillary” site.

As Jonathan Darman, who covered Hillary’s campaign for Newsweek, noted: “The speed with which she’s embraced it suggests something has really changed in her…

Clinton’s camp has doubled down on trying to maintain a hip, youthful public image since then. And they certainly don’t need a vast right-wing conspiracy out there reminding voters that Clinton is just another nearly 70-year-old Washington relic with a power complex.

IRS lawyers admit they never actually looked for Lerner emails

Former IRS official Lois Lerner’s “lost” emails are actually just emails that no one within the agency bothered to try to find.

Judicial Watch, a conservative nonprofit which is in the midst of an ongoing legal battle with the IRS over the emails, reported last week:

[T]he Internal Revenue Service (IRS) admitted to the court that it failed to search any of the IRS standard computer systems for the “missing” emails of Lois Lerner and other IRS officials. The admission appears in an IRS legal brief opposing the Judicial Watch request that a federal court judge allow discovery into how “lost and/or destroyed” IRS records relating to the targeting of conservative groups may be retrieved. The IRS is fighting Judicial Watch’s efforts to force testimony and document production about the IRS’ loss of records in Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation about the IRS targeting of Tea Party and other opponents of President Obama (Judicial Watch v. IRS (No. 1:13-cv-1559)).  The lawsuit is before U.S. District Court Judge Emmett G. Sullivan.

Lawyers representing Judicial Watch concluded that the IRS “did not undertake any significant efforts to obtain the emails.”

IRS attorneys haven’t disagreed, saying that the agency’s servers hadn’t been searched because they believed “the servers would not result in the recovery of any information.”

Furthermore, the IRS attorneys said that the agency’s internal disaster recovery tapes because they had “no reason to believe that the tapes are a potential source of recovering” the information and didn’t attempt to locate the emails in a broader government information backup system because they had “no reason to believe such a system… even exists.”

The lawyers had previously told Judicial Watch that all government computer records are backed up in case of a government-wide catastrophe.

“The Obama IRS couldn’t care less about the federal court’s orders to provide full information about the ‘missing’ Lois Lerner emails,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Instead, the IRS, with the help of a compromised Justice Department, has engaged in a series of transparently evasive distractions.”

Fitton believes that the IRS is trying drag the process out in hopes that Americans will forget about the scandal.

“The IRS would have Judicial Watch wait for years before we can ask questions about the cover-up that is going on now. The IRS thinks it can game a federal court, Congress, and the American people,” he said. “Having delayed accountability for over two years, the Obama administration is prepared to stonewall on the IRS targeting of Obama’s ‘enemies list’ until after the 2016 presidential election.”

Condoleezza Rice: The world needs stronger American leadership

In an interview that aired Monday, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the world has stopped listening to the U.S. on foreign policy matters because the Obama administration has failed to exhibit strong leadership.

“What we’re seeing is that when the United States steps back and speaks softly, nobody listens. I don’t say that we need to go back to the way we were right after 9/11,” she said on Fox. “I understand that the American people perhaps want a more modest foreign policy. They say they do not want to be as involved in the world.

“But do you know what we’re seeing? We’re seeing the American people also do not like the world they get when the United States is not engaged,” Rice said, “a world of beheadings, a world of lone wolves walking into the Canadian parliament, a world of Vladimir Putin annexing his neighbors.”

The bottom line, according to the former top diplomat: “[T]he American people are ready, I think the world is ready, for stronger American leadership.”

Rice also criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the Islamic State terror threat in Iraq and Syria, calling for the U.S. to regain control of the region where ISIS has proliferated with “sustained, significant airpower” and a continued relationship with Iraqi forces.

AP CEO lashes out at FBI for impersonating journalist

Following the FBI’s admittance that agents impersonated journalists as part of an investigation, the CEO of The Associated Press is criticizing the agency and asking for “assurances that this won’t happen again.”

FBI Director James Comey recently admitted that his agents had pretended to be an Associated Press journalist and created a false Seattle Times news website as part of an investigation to catch a suspect the agency was pursuing for bomb threats.

The Seattle Times reported late last month:

The FBI sent a link to a 15-year-old suspect’s MySpace page to lure him into opening the article. When he did, it downloaded law-enforcement malware that revealed his location and Internet Protocol address to agents investigating the threats that had led to several evacuations at Timberline High School in Lacey, Thurston County.

That link led to a bogus Associated Press story about the bomb threats, said FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams.

Internal FBI documents obtained by The Seattle Times through the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco contained a reference by an agent to an “email link in the style of The Seattle Times,” with a headline “Technology savvy student holds Timberline High School hostage.”

AP CEO Gary Pruitt reportedly wrote to the FBI director Monday, saying that the news agency’s “legacy of objectivity, truth, accuracy and integrity” had been harmed by the FBI’s actions.

“In stealing our identity, the FBI tarnishes that reputation, belittles the value of the free press rights enshrined in our Constitution and endangers AP journalists and other newsgatherers around the world… This deception corrodes the most fundamental tenet of a free press — our independence from government control and corollary responsibility to hold government accountable.”

Comey, in a New York Times op-ed last week, defended the FBI’s actions.

“Every undercover operation involves ‘deception,’” he wrote, “which has long been a critical tool in fighting crime. The F.B.I.’s use of such techniques is subject to close oversight, both internally and by the courts that review our work.”

Pruitt, meanwhile, said that the incident is “yet another example of the Department of Justice overreaching” to the detriment of journalistic free speech.

Dubya says he wants political dynasty versus political dynasty in 2016

During a recent interview promoting a book he’s written about his father, former President George H.W. Bush, former President George W. Bush said that he likes the idea of a 2016 ballot pitting Democratic former first lady Hillary Clinton against his little brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

According to Reuters, the former president is actively encouraging Jeb to mount a presidential campaign in 2016 in an attempt to put a third Bush in the White House.

George W. Bush contends that his brother’s two terms as governor in Florida have proven Jeb as leader who “can appeal to different voter groups in an attractive way.”

Asked by the news publication whether the Bush name could hurt Jeb’s chances, the former president said that running against Clinton would be a major plus.

“There are some people that’ll say there’s no way I’m going to vote for somebody with that name,” said Bush. “Of course if he were to run against Hillary Clinton then I think the name issue would somewhat dissipate and then people would pick which one would be the leader. But neither one of them has declared and I really don’t know if Jeb is going to run.”

As for whether his brother, or Clinton, will decide to run, Bush offered this during a separate interview with NPR: “I mean, the environment is what it is. You don’t get to rewrite the environment, and so Jeb has to think about whether or not he wants to be president, just like Hillary Clinton has to think about whether she wants to be president.”

The former president also addressed the political dynasty element of the potential matchup in that interview.

“Some guy at one time said to me, ‘You know, I don’t like the idea of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Bush.’ I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ I said, ‘How do you like the idea of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton?’ And the point is that these may be the two best candidates their party has to offer.”

A Rand Paul 2016 presidential bid is looking increasingly likely

After campaigning vigorously for his GOP colleagues in the 2014 midterms, Senator Rand Paul (Ky.) appears to be swiftly turning his attention to looming 2016 election battles of his own.

A widely cited Politico piece published Monday details the groundwork being laid for a Paul presidential bid, announcing that the freshman senator will meet Wednesday with top GOP leaders and longtime allies to discuss 2016 prospects.

From the report:

Paul reiterated his long-standing assertion that he won’t officially decide about a presidential run until the spring, but his advisers have already laid out a timetable: They expect the campaign will be a “go” by mid-April, with an announcement as quickly after that as his staff can put together a fly-around to the early states.

Before zeroing in on Louisville as Paul’s likely campaign headquarters, advisers reached out to veterans of 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign to consult on the advisability and specific requirements of running a national campaign from outside Washington, deciding the symbolic importance of basing the campaign in his home state outweighed any concerns about easy access for Washington-based staffers and political operatives from across the country.

Politico also notes that, in addition to his presidential ambition, Paul plans to simultaneously run for re-election to the Senate in 2016, a challenge complicated by a Kentucky law that prevents candidates in the state for running for multiple offices at once.

Though, Politico reports, “Paul advisers believe they have found multiple ways around the restriction without changing the law or challenging it in court, including exploring changing the state’s GOP primary to a caucus.”

With that in mind, American voters can expect to see a lot of Paul over the next year as he attempts to broaden the reach of a Republican Party increasingly accused of ignoring minority voters while also working to convince his GOP peers that he has a clear foreign policy vision.

Speaking at the Liberty Political Action Conference hosted by his father in Alexandria, Virginia, in September, Paul tackled the first of those challenges, criticizing his GOP peers for poor outreach.

“So many times, Republicans are seen as this party of, ‘We don’t want black people to vote because they’re voting Democrat; we don’t want Hispanic people to vote because they’re voting Democrat,’” he said the time. “We wonder why the Republican Party is so small. Why don’t we be the party that’s for people voting, for voting rights?”

He added, “The bottom line is we’re not winning — at least the big office, the presidency. We’re often not winning the statewide races, and we’re not winning because we don’t have enough people.”

Often at risk of being mocked by pundits on the left who accuse him of disingenuous pandering, Paul has backed up his call to make the GOP more appealing to minority voters by making speeches at venues in areas with large minority populations and strong Democratic support.

Over the past couple of years, Paul has spoken to an audience of African-American business leaders at a gathering of the Detroit Economic Club and visited the National Urban League in Cincinnati. In April 2013, Paul was ruthlessly mocked by the left for a speech he gave at Washington, D.C.’s historically black Howard University, where he misspoke about the GOP’s civil rights record.

But with Politico noting Monday that Paul intends to increase “the Republican share of the African-American vote from 6 percent in 2012 to 33 percent in 2016,” the left’s mocking isn’t likely to stop his outreach efforts.

On the foreign policy front ahead of 2016, Paul has already unleashed what will likely be an unrelenting cannonade of criticism of the U.S. actions overseas under the Obama administration. Though that is another area where Paul is going to have to carefully manage his message.

In an op-ed published by The Daily Beast Monday, Paul managed to skewer President Obama’s handling of the Islamic State situation in Iraq while calling for a strong but Constitutional plan to neutralize the terror threat.

And much like his messaging on minority voters, the senator didn’t hold back any criticism for conservatives who appear to pick and choose when they’d like the president to follow the law of the land.

From the piece:

Conservatives have rightly decried President Obama’s unconstitutional executive action on Obamacare — and his promises to do the same with immigration. With both branches of Congress now under Republican control, we should act to halt those power grabs, too.

But conservatives can’t simply be angry at the president’s lawlessness when they disagree with his policies. They should end their conspicuous silence about the president’s usurpation of Congress’ sole authority to declare war — even if (especially if) they support going after ISIS, as I do.

This is important. We can’t be for the rule of law at our own convenience. It matters how we act both when we agree and when we disagree with the president.

Paul contends that he takes exception not with the view that the U.S. must use its military force around the world from time to time (as has been the accusation from some more hawkish Americans), but with the idea that the president has unlimited power to determine when, where, why and how much.

And even as Paul will have to battle with his party’s past and present policy positions as much as Democrats leading up to 2016, he already has at least one high-profile GOP endorsement creating buzz.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that his fellow Kentuckian would have his support in a White House bid.

“I don’t think he’s made a final decision on that. But he’ll be able to count on me,” McConnell told the Lexington Herald-Leader Thursday. “Obviously, I’m a big supporter of Rand Paul. We’ve developed a very tight relationship, and I’m for him.”

Nancy Pelosi’s leadership position under threat as she remains in midterm denial

California Democratic Senator Nancy Pelosi is unwilling to admit voter rejection of her party’s policies had anything to do with the GOP’s gain of Senate control this week. Instead, the senior Democrat is blaming poor voter turnout.

According to the message relayed in a 75-minute conference call Pelosi had with her caucus Thursday, her colleagues in Congress had failed to do their “moral responsibility” and get voters to the polls.

“Next year has to be the year to expand the universe of people who vote,” Pelosi said, according to a source on the call who spoke to The Hill. “I’m concerned that eligible voters did not vote in the election this year. We have the magic and the resources to have massive voter registration over the country — not just the places that might benefit the Democrats.”

Following the her party’s losses this week, Pelosi wasted no time announcing her intentions to run for another term as the lower chamber’s top Democrat.

But grumblings within the Democratic Party suggest that Pelosi may be in danger of losing the leadership position she’s held for a dozen years.

Via POLITICO:

The House Democratic leadership elections will be held on Nov. 18, a week after the GOP formally chooses its leadership, said Democratic sources.

Nearly a dozen senior aides and Democratic insiders said there is a desire for a broader election message from party leaders. There are complaints about Pelosi focusing so strongly on women without a broader message that could play to other groups, such as older voters and men.

And Dan Schnur, a veteran Republican campaign strategist, told the San Francisco Gate, “[Pelosi was] almost certainly the most valuable asset Democrats had in this election cycle, but it’s looking less and less likely that she may be House speaker again in her career.”

60 percent of Americans say guns make homes safer

A pair of recent polls illustrate that many Americans have reason to fear becoming a victim of crime in their homes and are increasingly willing to protect themselves by keeping a firearm on hand.

According to numbers out from Gallup, 26 percent of Americans report that they or another member of their household “were the victim of some type of property or physical crime in the last 12 months.”

The polling agency conducts an annual crime poll that asks Americans if they have been the victim of one or more of seven crimes: burglary, property theft or larceny, car theft, vandalism, robbery, physical assault and sexual assault.

“Since 2000, the percentage of households that have been victimized by crime has ranged narrowly between 22% and 27%,” Gallup notes. “The percentage of Americans who have been personally victimized has ranged from 14% to 19%.”

The most common crimes reported were property crimes (15 percent) and vandalism (14 percent). Six percent of respondents reported having been burglarized, and 3 percent reported having a vehicle stolen.

Among those who reported being the victim of a violent crime or robbery, 3 percent said they had been physically assaulted and 1 percent reported having been robbed at knife or gunpoint or by some other means of physical threat.

A separate Gallup poll shows the number of Americans who believe having a gun in the house makes its residents safer has nearly doubled since 2000.

Sixty-three percent of Americans told the polling agency that having a gun in the home makes them feel safer, compared to 30 percent who said guns make homes more dangerous.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans are about twice as likely to believe guns make homes safer by a margin of 81 percent to 41 percent.

“Americans own guns for a wide array of reasons, but the increase in the perceived safety value of owning them suggests that guns are taking on more of a protective role than they have in the past,” Gallup reports.

Tax Watchdog: Lame-duck lawmakers setting up ‘single biggest’ attack on taxpayers of this Congress

An Internet sales tax expected to be pushed through Congress by the end of the year has been dubbed the “single biggest anti-taxpayer act in this Congress” by Pete Sepp, head of a leading American taxpayer advocacy group.

The Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) was conceived by lawmakers and certain business groups as a way to level the playing field for brick and mortar retailers competing with Internet sales giants. One of the most contentious measures in the legislation would allow states to collect sales tax revenue from online retailers based outside their borders.

Current law, backed by Supreme Court rulings, dictates that state and local governments have no right to levy sales tax against purchases made through catalogs or online if the business selling the good has no presence within the borders of the purchaser’s state.

Sepp’s National Taxpayer Union (NTU) estimates that the new tax law could cost U.S. taxpayers more than $340 billion over the next 10 years.

In a recent report on the tax proposal, NTU laments that there has been little effort from policymakers to fully understand the potential impact on the MFA.

From the report:

Despite the fact that MFA could authorize one of the largest tax burden increases in U.S. history, it appears that no studies have comprehensively analyzed the policy and economic implications of this legislation.

At the same time, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced his intention to enact the MFA during the December 2014 “lame-duck” session of Congress, meaning that the economic impacts would be felt immediately, in 2015.

If the law passes this year, the taxpayer advocacy group says that the average American household can expect to spend an additional $360 in state and local taxes in 2015.

Reid has called the Internet sales tax “long overdue” and vowed to do “whatever it takes to get that done” by the year’s end.

There has however been opposition to the MFA from both sides of the political aisle.

Conservative groups and establishment Republicans, along with members of Reid’s own party like Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden have voiced strong opposition to the tax.

Wyden, in September, accused lawmakers of attempting to “hold the Internet economy hostage” by tying the MFA to other online sales legislation.

GOP lawmakers taking on the EPA

Following midterm election victories, GOP lawmakers are preparing to take on the Environmental Protection Agency, which conservatives say has grown out of control under the Obama administration.

Later this month, House Republicans are preparing to vote on a pair of bills which would increase the transparency in how the agency sets its regulatory agenda.

Rep. David Schweikert’s (R-Ariz.) Secret Science Reform Act would prevent the EPA from issuing regulations based on scientific backing that isn’t available to the public.

“The Secret Science Reform Act ends costly EPA rulemaking from happening behind closed doors and out of public view,” Schweikert had said with the bill’s introduction earlier this year. “Public policy should come from public data, not based on the whims of far-left environmental groups.”

Another bill, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, is aimed at creating a more balanced group of scientific experts tasked with implementing new environmental regulations.

“Through the EPA, the Obama administration is aggressively pursuing costly regulations that impact nearly every sector of the American economy,” the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), said last year of his legislation. “Most of these rules are based on controversial scientific assertions and conclusions, so it is critical they be reviewed by a balanced panel of experts in an open and transparent manner.”

Republicans in the House are also scheduled to vote on the Promoting New Manufacturing Act later this month. Supporters of that legislation say that it would reduce hurdles for companies attempting to comply with EPA air pollution regulations.

Democratic Congressman: GOP won the Senate because of racist Southerners

According to Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), the GOP’s senatorial gains in the 2014 midterms have nothing to do with voter frustration at President Barack Obama or failed policies from his party. Republicans won, Rangel contends, because Americans are racist.

Last week, Rangel claimed that Southern Republicans still believe in slavery and think the Confederates won the Civil War. That, he said, is why voters in the South would reject progressive Democratic candidates.

According to the lawmaker, voter ID laws and other GOP causes relate directly to lingering Southern racism.

Rangel had said during a Democratic campaign rally in New York: “We have to win, and we’re going to be able to send a national message. … And the thing is, everything we believe in, everything we believe in they hate! They don’t disagree, they hate!

“They think that if you didn’t come from Europe 30 years ago, we shouldn’t have immigration! Some of them believe that slavery isn’t over, and that they won the Civil War!”

Following the GOP victories Tuesday, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Rangel if he would like to clarify his statement.

“I meant that they used to call themselves ‘slave-holding states.’ They’ve been frustrated with the Emancipation Proclamation. They became Republicans, then Tea Party people. These are the people that are trying to frustrate people from voting, changing the voting rights that we fought so hard for. And all I’m saying is, if you want to challenge the statistics, find out where the slave-holding states are, find out where the tea party is,” Rangel said.

Blitzer asked Rangel if he was doubling down on his earlier comments.

“I’m just saying that it’s unfortunate America doesn’t deal with the problem of racism,” Rangel said. “Until we acknowledge that it exists and fight hard to eradicate it, then we still have to be frustrated by people. They all come from the south and they all have these feelings about superiority and that’s true whether you’re picking cotton or you’re president of the United States.”

GOP wins Congressional control. Now what?

Now that Republicans control both the House and Senate, it’s time for lawmakers to get busy making the legislative changes that a majority of Americans want. Where should they start? According to new polling data, fixing Congress and the U.S. economy is paramount.

Polling data out from Gallup suggests that Americans’ primary concern for newly elected lawmakers is improving the legislative process to eliminate gridlock and make sure constituents’ voices are heard.

“Nearly a third of Americans, 31%, say their newly elected representatives should not focus on a specific issue, but rather on fixing the way Congress operates, including paying more attention to constituents, compromising and getting things done,” Gallup reported Wednesday.

Beyond improving legislative efficiency, Americans want their elected officials to improve the economy, with 20 percent of respondents reporting that lawmakers should focus on “creating jobs and increasing employment, raising wages, balancing the budget and lowering taxes.”

The Republicans who now control both of the nation’s legislative bodies are already making moves to let voters know that the GOP is serious about getting things done.

The Washington Post, on Wednesday, reported that House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are already in the process of creating a legislative plan that shows voters that conservatives are ready to get down to business.

Via The Post:

With the 2016 presidential campaign already looming large, McConnell (Ky.) and Boehner (Ohio) are both eager to shed the party’s image as an unruly collection of obstructionists and far-right ideologues.

The remedy, they have decided: Act quickly to send President Obama bills with bipartisan support to fast-track international trade agreements, repeal an unpopular tax on medical devices and approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

With Republicans in control of the nation’s legislative machine, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has asked the question that could define the remaining two years of the Obama presidency: “Is he going to work with us?”

Alabama voter arrested for open carry at polling place

Despite having the law on his side, an Alabama voter was arrested Tuesday and held for a “voting violation” for showing up at a Pelham polling place open carrying a .357 Magnum Taurus revolver.

According to reports, gun rights activist Robert Kennedy Jr. arrived at the polling site Tuesday morning when he encountered a Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy who ordered him to surrender the firearm before searching the voter and placing him in a patrol car.

Kennedy, a founding member of the gun rights group BamaCarry, had previously been turned away from the polls in June when he tried to vote while wearing his firearm, but had been allowed to vote while armed during a runoff in July.

Officials, in an effort to thwart Kennedy’s gun rights in the midterm election, recently announced than “no firearms” signs would be placed at polling sites in the county.

“Each polling location in Shelby County will have a ‘No Firearm’ sign posted at the entrance of the precinct, at the requests of the private property owner or governing body of the property. This will be enforced in accordance with Alabama law,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement last week.

“Our goal is to allow every registered voter in Shelby County the right to vote in an influence-free environment,” Sheriff Chris Curry said in the statement last week. “Voting is a constitutional right and it is our job to facilitate the process effectively and efficiently.”

But the Alabama Attorney General’s Office recently issued an opinion that Alabama polling places cannot issue a blanket ban on Alabama voters open carrying at polling sites, according to AL.com.

And the Alabama Constitution’s Section 192 provides that there are very few reasons a voter in the state can be arrested at the polls, stating: “Electors shall in all cases, except treason, felony, or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at elections, or while going to or returning therefrom.”

Sheriff’s officials told local media that Kennedy was arrested for a “voting law violation.”

Sheriff’s Capt. Ken Burchfield emailed AL.com: “It shall be unlawful for any person to obstruct, intimidate, threaten, or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he or she may choose, or for the purpose of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate for state or local office or any other proposition at any election. Any person who violates this section shall be guilty, upon conviction, of a Class A misdemeanor.”

A representative of the campaign to elect Democrat Joe Hubbard as Alabama’s attorney general called the incident an example of voter suppression in Alabama.

“Shelby County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested a Pelham voter as he was attempting to exercise his right to vote, because he was also exercising his right to lawfully carry a firearm in accordance with the Alabama and United States Constitutions,” the statement said.