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Miguel Diaz-Canel: Leader of a new Cuba, or a figurehead for Castroites?

3 hours 41 min ago

Cuba’s new leader is someone who doesn’t have the last name Castro. Parliament named Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel as the lone candidate to replace Raul Castro today. The Independent reported Diaz-Canel is someone who tends to stay out of public view although the Community Party trusts him.

Mr Diaz-Canel has served as vice president of the powerful Council of State since 2013, when he was appointed by party leadership and approved by the National Assembly. The general public knows little about the 57-year-old former engineer, who has granted no interviews to foreign news outlets.

But Mr Diaz-Canel is well-known to Communist Party leaders, having worked his way up the ranks for more than 30 years. He started as a member of the Young Communists’ Union in 1987, and became the first party secretary in Villa Clara province by 1994. He has also served as Cuba’s minister of education, and lead delegations to Russia, China, Japan, North Korea, and several South American countries.

Mr Diaz-Canel was born after the Cuban Revolution – one year after Fidel Castro took office – but has shown no signs of abandoning his revolutionary predecessors’ policies.

“I believe in continuity,” he told reporters who asked about his vision for Cuba’s future, according to CNN. “I think there always will be continuity.”

That last line is obviously going to cause people to say, “Well…so much for normalizing relations with Cuba because they picked another Castroite.” The truth may be a little bit murkier on whether Diaz-Canel will be Castro reborn or chart his own path. He made some very interesting Internet accessibility comments during a 2015 workshop (via Google Translate).

The State will work to make (the Internet) available, accessible and affordable for all.

We must understand what right and responsibility will coexist. There is a responsibility of the State and society to make this effective, but it also presupposes coexistence with other fundamental rights: the right to information, communication, participation, social accountability, together with individual and collective responsibility .

The right to Internet is accompanied, therefore, by the duties of the citizen and of the organizations and institutions towards society. It is, therefore, totally responsible to recognize that the right of everyone to Internet assumes duties in relation to their proper use and in accordance with the law, and also assumes the responsibility of ensuring the defense of the country and its integrity.

The Internet must be a tool at the service of the sustainable human development of the country and its effective insertion in the concert of nations.

The Internet and access to information technologies and communications in general offer opportunities for individuals, organizations and communities to develop their full potential, promote their sustainable development and improve the quality of life.

The Internet does not solve problems on its own, but it can help to support strategies based on social development.

It is the fundamental problems of society, its economic, social and cultural challenges that must be at the center of the strategy and demand its creative and intensive use.

It’s a really good thing the soon-to-be leader of the Cuban government is endorsing Internet access, although it remains to be seen just how extensive the government will allow said access. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the government block certain websites so Cubans can’t see what happens to people who enjoy more freedom than what’s currently in Cuba. It also wouldn’t be surprising at all to see it take decades for the Internet to be completely rolled out.

This doesn’t mean Cuba will suddenly go from a communist wasteland to a free market paradise. Marti Noticias reports via Google Translate Diaz-Canel could end up just being a figurehead.

Antonio Rodiles, an opponent who leads the independent State of Sats project and the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, spoke of his impressions, and also of what the citizens in the Cuban capital are saying about it.

In an interview with Martí Noticias, Rodiles said that in the country there is a total indifference of the people over the person who comes to power, although “everything seems to indicate that the successor will be Díaz-Canel”.

Rodiles believes that if he succeeds Raúl Castro in the post, he will be “a decorative figure, a very gray character without any kind of charisma.”

Everyone in Cuba knows that “it is he who they are going to put on as a decorative figure, but the real power in Cuba is in the military elite that controls the country, among them Alejandro Castro Espín, son of Raúl Castro and in son-in-law Luis Alberto Rodríguez Lopez-Callejas, “said the opposition.

“That emphasizes the idea that in Cuba a tropical dynasty reigns, whose objective is to stay in power,” Rodiles concluded.

In March of this year, santiagueros consulted by the Patriotic Union of Cuba said that either Díaz-Canel or another of the closest to power who will replace Raúl Castro on April 19, “everything will remain the same in the country.”

The jury is going to be out for a while on what happens with Diaz-Canel about to ascend to power, and if he ends up being Nicolas Maduro, Kim Jong-Un, or does some sort of glasnost ala Mikhail Gorbachev. The U.S. could help making Cuba a freer place by re-normalizing relations. It won’t happen (Brookings Institute thinks things will actually get worse between the two countries) but one can hope diplomacy will prevail along with free markets.

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Moon: No, really, Pyongyang wants “complete denuclearization”

4 hours 21 min ago

So what’s the catch on Kim Jong-un’s sudden desire to end all conflicts and achieve Peace In Our Time®? South Korean president Moon Jae-in insisted earlier today that there is no catch. North Korea wants denuclearization without conditions, and just wants to settle all conflicts — including with its historic bête noire, the United States.


North Korea has expressed its commitment to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula and is not seeking conditions, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday, as the United States vowed to maintain “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang.

Moon said big-picture agreements about denuclearization, establishing a peace regime and normalisation of relations between the two Koreas and the United States should not be difficult to reach through summits between the North and South, and between the North and the United States.

“I don’t think denuclearization has different meanings for South and North Korea. The North is expressing a will for a complete denuclearization,” Moon said during a lunch with chief executives of Korean media companies.

“They have not attached any conditions that the U.S. cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. All they are talking about is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security.”

Moon appears to have offered these observations as a reaction to Donald Trump’s pledge to walk out of the Kim summit if it’s not “fruitful.” Moon may be worried that the US is coming into the process with too much skepticism, and that it might sour the mood on the other side of the 38th Parallel. If so, it’s skepticism borne of hard experience with North Korean promises. And these promises seem especially too good to be true.

Moon says that Pyongyang is not seeking “conditions” — preconditions, presumably — but that they do want to do some horse-trading on “guarantees of security” and the cessation of “hostile policies.” What might those hostile policies be? Obviously, North Korea wants the sanctions lifted, and just as obviously, complete denuclearization would make most of them unnecessary, if not all of them. Joint military drills might be a thing of the past, but then again, a permanent peace settlement might make those moot too. After all, the purpose of those drills is to promote readiness in case of an attack by North Korea, and perhaps even more, to demonstrate what a really bad idea that would be for Pyongyang to even consider. Absent hostilities, the South Korean military might feel comfortable on its own.

Guarantees of security might be a little trickier. The US would happily join a permanent peace settlement between the two Koreas that eliminated all nuclear weapons from the peninsula. However, that might not be enough for Kim, who might define “security” as the removal of all nuclear platforms from the region. China would love that too, but Japan’s security is based on American nuclear power. That would be a much different meaning of “denuclearization” than the US has.

Moon’s comments suggest that Kim won’t make that demand, but his assurances have a Lucy-and-the-football feel to them. Kim could have gotten this deal years ago; his father could have gotten it during the Clinton administration. Instead, both Kims violated agreements and UN sanctions to develop a nuclear-weapons and ICBM platform, spending untold billions that could have gone to feeding their starving population. And now that they have apparently succeeded in this program and made themselves a nuclear nation with whom world powers have to reckon, suddenly they’re going to give it up for a deal that the free world would have offered at any time?

Perhaps the latest round of sanctions really did hurt that much. Maybe Kim’s western education gives him a longing for more connection to the world. And maybe Moon’s a sucker who’s getting played, too. Having a skeptic like Mike Pompeo on this is safe approach for the US.

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New air pollution report: California is the worst. So, don’t come here

5 hours 2 min ago

Good news for those of us who think the nation’s most populous state should be a little less populous. Or a lot less.

The American Lung Association has released its annual report on ozone pollution. And would you believe, eight of the worst places in the country for ozone pollution are in California?

So, you definitely wouldn’t want to move here from outside the state. No, sir.

In fact, if you’re already among the 39.5 million folks who try to exist here, you probably want to load up both cars, get on I-15 or I-10 and head out for cleaner air. Get out of here while the getting is good.

Word is, according to the new report, you can find the cleanest air in Casper, Wyoming if you can find it. Or Wilmington, N.C., Bellingham, Wash. or Melbourne, Florida. Burlington, Vermont is a possibility too, though they talk funny there. Grand places all. Less traffic, cheaper housing, cleaner air.

Oh, sure, you won’t have as much time to read in traffic. Fewer freeway police chases monitored from dueling news choppers. And you will have to do without California’s one party state rule and 10 percent sales tax. But the sacrifices are worth it.

Also on the plus side, the snow is free up north. And the air, oh, the air is not to die for.

Of course, the association warns that the city you will most want to flee or avoid is Los Angeles, where I happen to drive. I agree. LA traffic is so bad that half the drivers are trying to get somewhere, while the other half have given up and are trying to get home.

Not one additional person should want to come here. Also Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego. Terrible places for ozone. So, stay the hell out, people.

California is known for its strict environmental laws and regulations. It’s killing off coal power plants, clamping down on exhaust emissions and supporting the smog-check industry by requiring one every year. Wait, so if California is so strict about the environment, how come it’s the worst place for air pollution?

The association says, well, yes, that’s kinda true. But, see, it would be so much worse without all the government rules.

So, there’s really only one answer to air pollution: More government.

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Pilot who safely landed Southwest flight 1380 had ‘nerves of steel’

15 hours 1 min ago

You’ve probably read about the near-disaster of Southwest Airlines flight 1380, which had to make an emergency landing after an engine exploded at 32,000 feet. It will be months before the NTSB releases a final report, but investigators are already saying one of the blades on a fan inside the engine had broken off. Some piece of shrapnel set loose by the broken blade struck a window leading it to shatter. That led to decompression of the cabin which sucked one woman, Jennifer Riordan, partly out of the plane. Passengers rushed to pull her back inside and then provided CPR but she was later pronounced dead.

Meanwhile, the plane’s captain, a former Navy fighter pilot, remained extremely calm, quickly dropping the plane to an altitude where passengers could breath without masks and asking for a new heading to the nearest airport. From the NY Times:

In an instant, Captain Shults found herself in a situation most pilots face only during training: having to land a plane after an engine goes out.

For the next 40 minutes, she displayed what one passenger later called “nerves of steel,” maneuvering the plane, which had been on its way from La Guardia Airport in New York to Dallas Love Field, toward Philadelphia for an emergency landing.

In the seats behind her, passengers sent goodbye text messages to loved ones, tightened oxygen masks around their faces and braced for impact. Flight attendants frantically performed CPR on the critically injured passenger, who later died at a hospital.

But Captain Shults, 56, was in control. She learned to fly as one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy three decades ago, piloting the F/A-18 Hornet in an era when women were barred from combat missions.

“Can you have the medical meet us there on the runway,” Captain Shults calmly told air traffic controllers in Philadelphia. “They said there’s a hole and, uh, someone went out.”

If you think maybe that “nerves of steel” line is some kind of exaggerated praise, it’s not. The audio traffic between the plane and the ground shows zero indication in Captain Shults’ voice that she is in an emergency situation. In fact, if you listen to the entire clip, you can hear some stress creeping into the voices of the other air traffic controllers but Shults remains polite and calm throughout.

Shults joined the Navy in the mid-1980s and became one of the first women pilots of the F/A-18 Hornet. Shults resigned in 1993 just a few days before the Navy requested that women be allowed to fly in combat.

After landing the plane, Shults greeted every person getting off the plane. Some of them hugged her. This local news report shows some of the praise from passengers who were elated to survive the ordeal.

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Democrats’ lead on generic ballot now smallest in almost a year

15 hours 42 min ago

Note that it’s not any single poll that’s showing this, it’s the RCP average — the “poll of polls.” A single poll can always cough up a strange, unlikely outlier because of an odd sample or a pollster’s “house effect” (ahem) but the poll of polls is supposed to avoid that by incorporating lots of information across various surveys. If you see a trend at RCP, chances are that trend is real, not noise. Behold:

The last time Republicans were as close as 5.5 points on the generic-ballot average was May 9, 2017 — coincidentally the very day that James Comey was fired. Now Comey’s back for his book tour and suddenly the GOP’s within five and a half points again. Takeaway: The more voters see of Comey, the more they like Trump’s party.

Well … no. Correlation doesn’t imply causation. But what *is* the causation in this case? Republicans haven’t passed anything important lately. Democrats haven’t made any sudden moves or loud noises. Why the closing gap? Even Weekly Standard elections guru Jay Cost is at a loss:

Republicans are not really doing anything right now that voters find objectionable. This is perhaps the upside to doing nothing.

— Jay Cost (@JayCostTWS) April 18, 2018

Is that it? The less voters see of Republican politicians, the more easily they forgot how much they dislike them? Julie Kelly of the Federalist has been tracking generic-ballot polling and notes that some data on guns and immigration suggests Republicans may be benefiting from wedge issues. Could be, although if you look back at the graph above you’ll see the GOP’s support actually dipped a bit in the weeks after the Parkland shooting in mid-February.

It’s worth noting that Trump’s job approval in the RCP average is also up a bit lately from the dregs of last year:

Rasmussen is included in Trump’s RCP average and Rasmussen consistently gives him waaaaaay better number than every other poll tracked. They have him at 50/49 approval, slightly above break even. Of the other six most recent polls taken, none have him better than -10 net and some have him in the -18 or -19 range. Still, you can see from the graph that Trump’s polling has been a few points better over the last few months than it was for much of last year, hovering at around 41-42 percent now versus 38-39 through most of the second half of 2017. The fact that he’s gotten a bit more popular has surely helped the GOP on the generic ballot.

Look again at the generic ballot graph and you’ll see that Republicans have also performed better this year than they did in the second half of last year, bouncing around at 38-39 percent (with a dip for a few weeks in March, possibly gun-related) while Democrats have hovered at 45-46. That is, although the difference between the two parties happens to be at its smallest point in almost a year today, there are no dramatic shifts in either’s support. Democrats have become a *little* less popular and Republicans have become a *little* more popular, which, combined, gets you to a 5.5-point gap. As recently at March 25, the gap was almost identical at 5.8 points. Maybe Trump’s Syria attack, which a majority of the public supports, earned his party a little bounce in the last few days?

Whatever explains this, one conclusion seems inescapable: As usual, the things that political junkies and reporters obsess about seem to matter not at all to ordinary voters. The last few weeks of news have been capital-B Bananas in scandal terms but POTUS and the GOP have suffered little, if at all. The headlines roll by — “Raid on Michael Cohen!” “Comey Calls Trump ‘Mob Boss!'” “Stormy Daniels Releases Sketch of Trump Thug!” “Trump May Fire Rosenstein or Mueller — or Both!” On and on we go, with no polling damage to Trump or congressional Republicans. Does that help explain their resilience, counterintuitively? The more the “siege mentality” on the right deepens, the firmer Trump’s and the party’s support becomes? If that’s true, though, why aren’t we seeing Democratic numbers climb as anti-Trumpers rally to *their* side? If the reaction to scandal were driving the numbers, you might expect to see both parties’ levels of support rising. Instead they’re both more or less flat since February with a generic-ballot gap that’s considerably smaller than it was at points last year.

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Karen McDougal freed from “catch and kill” deal as Stormy Daniels lawyer threatens Trump with defamation suit

16 hours 22 min ago

This seems like the worst of all worlds for POTUS and Michael Cohen. They had two routes to choose from on the hush-money stuff. One: Don’t enforce the NDAs. Let Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and whoever else say what they want publicly about Trump. How much could it hurt, really? Maybe warn them publicly that they could be sued at any time, but don’t actually sue. The chief benefit of this approach is that neither Trump nor Cohen nor their friend David Pecker at the National Enquirer would be subject to discovery.

Two: Enforce all the deals. Daniels, McDougal, anyone else who comes forward — they all get dragged into arbitration, not necessarily because what each of them has to say is damaging in isolation but because there *may* be other women under NDAs and the cumulative effect of all of them coming out of the woodwork could inflict real political pain on POTUS. The risk here, obviously, is that each woman would do what Daniels is trying to do, removing the matter from the privacy of arbitration to the public spectacle of a courtroom. That means discovery and lots of dirty laundry potentially aired via discovery. Trump and Cohen would need to assess their jeopardy on that point if they were to go this route. The chief benefit of doing so, though, is that any other woman under an NDA who’s watching all of this play out might be deterred from coming forward. If they know Trump and Cohen will play hardball, if they know they’re going to be buried in legal bills and at risk of paying Trump millions in damages if they lose the arbitration/court case, maybe they decide that silence is golden after all.

Instead we’ve now got a hybrid approach. Trump and Cohen are suing Daniels but the Enquirer’s parent company, AMI, is *not* suing Karen McDougal. They just reached a settlement with her that frees her from the “catch and kill” deal she signed with them in 2016. Now, if you’re a secret former Trump mistress who’s mulling whether to come forward, you can talk yourself into believing that it might work out well for you no matter what happens. Maybe you’ll be let out of your contract because the other party, whether Trump, Cohen, Pecker, or all three, is terrified of the prospect of discovery. Or maybe you’ll get yourself a good lawyer like Stormy Daniels did and go on offense, winning your suit and then cashing in on your story with the tabloids or even recovering money from Trump or Cohen via a defamation claim.

At the barest minimum, whatever route Trump and Cohen chose, job one should have been to convey that they knew what they were doing legally. Make any woman under a secret NDA have reason to believe that things might go very badly for her legally if she took them on. They have … not conveyed that. Thanks to their moronic decision to enforce the Daniels deal knowing that there was a potential campaign-finance issue, Cohen’s now the target of a federal criminal investigation. If you’re a woman under an NDA, at this point why wouldn’t you challenge Cohen? By the time it’s over, the doofus will probably end up owing you money.

Under the terms of Wednesday’s settlement, American Media has the right to up to $75,000 of any future profits from [Karen McDougal’s] story about the alleged affair, which Mr. Trump denies. According to her lawyer, Peter K. Stris, Ms. McDougal can keep the $150,000 payment and the publisher will retain the rights to photographs of her that it already has.

“It’s a total win,” Mr. Stris said in an interview. “We got everything we were fighting for — she got out of the contract, gets the life rights back and owes A.M.I. nothing more.”

How strange that AMI would suddenly decided that a deal it signed less than two years ago wasn’t worth the six figures it paid McDougal. I wonder what could have influenced — oh, right:

Mr. Stris said on Wednesday that before reaching the settlement he was prepared to answer American Media’s motion to dismiss Ms. McDougal’s case with a request for a limited version of pretrial discovery, in which both sides would have been compelled to share emails and other records that could have provided information about the deal from inside American Media that would not be available through the material the F.B.I. seized from Mr. Cohen. Mr. Stris said he would ask to submit written questions to Mr. Trump, and ask for several internal documents.

The settlement precludes any of that from happening, at least in Ms. McDougal’s civil case, though Mr. Stris said he expected federal investigators to eventually secure everything they need to fully vet the process behind the deal. “I have tremendous confidence in the men and woman of the Southern District of New York,” he said, referring to the federal prosecutors investigating Mr. Cohen.

Stris and McDougal were about to expose David Pecker’s possible coordination with Trump and Cohen in killing stories that created problems for the president. That could have created legal problems for AMI: If it turned out that the Enquirer was buying up the rights to Trump dirt with no intention of printing it, arguably that would qualify as an undeclared campaign contribution just like the Stormy Daniels payoff from Cohen. At best, it would have exposed communications between AMI and Team Trump that might have embarrassed the latter. (Imagine if there was an email naming other women whose stories AMI “caught and killed” for Trump.) So think about what happened here. Karen McDougal ignored her hush-money deal with AMI, spent a full hour on television chatting with Anderson Cooper about her alleged relationship with Trump, and because of the legal jeopardy to the players on the other side, she’s now off completely scot-free. Why would any other woman out there with an NDA hesitate to speak up, particularly if they signed a deal during the 2016 campaign such that the payment might qualify as an undeclared contribution? Team Trump is over a barrel.

And the mistakes keep coming. Trump tweeted this morning:

A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018

Michael Avenatti, Daniels’s lawyer, rubbed his hands in glee:

FBI search warrants uncovering EXISTING documents and recordings showing con job after con job pulled on REAL people and very REAL American citizens (who didn’t know it). Welcome to the playing field. #whereyoubeen #basta

— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) April 18, 2018

In my experience, there is nothing better in litigation than having a completely unhinged, undisciplined opponent who is prone to shooting himself in the foot. Always leads to BIGLY problems…like new claims (i.e. defamation). LOL. #xmas #hanukkah #basta

— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) April 18, 2018

Here he is this afternoon on CNN (where he’s on the air seemingly every day) claiming that he’s going to sue Trump for defamation over the “con job” remark. The odds that he’ll win, given that Daniels is a public figure: Low. The odds that he can use this to put some new discovery pressure on Trump and maybe force him into a deposition: Better.

Stormy Daniels’ attorney says they’re likely adding a defamation claim against President Trump after he tweeted about the composite sketch, calling it a “total con job”

— The Situation Room (@CNNSitRoom) April 18, 2018

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Poll: Hillary’s favorability at a new low

17 hours 1 min ago

NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released a joint poll today which found that Hillary Clinton’s popularity has declined significantly since the 2016 election and is now at a new low. From the WSJ:

Right before the election, the share of people who viewed Hillary Clinton unfavorably was 10 points larger than those with a favorable view of her, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll — a bigger gap than any other recent losing presidential candidate. Our latest poll is a reminder of just how unusual a figure Mrs. Clinton is in terms of her unpopularity.

Historical WSJ/NBC polling shows that recent losing presidential candidates — Mitt Romney, John McCain, John Kerry and Al Gore — experienced post-election declines in positive sentiment. But Mrs. Clinton’s dropoff is a bit steeper–her positive rating is at a new low of 27%, compared with 52% who have a negative opinion. That spread of 25 percentage points is greater than President Trump’s, who is under water by 18 points.

Her negative numbers make her something of a natural target for Republicans who want to associate their opponents with her as the party heads into a potentially difficult midterm election this fall. In doing so, they have managed to put some vulnerable Democrats in states Mr. Trump easily won, like Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, on the defensive. That was driven home last month when Democrats took distance from comments Mrs. Clinton, attending a conference in India, made about middle-American Trump voters.

So Hillary was 10-points underwater before the election but is 25-points underwater now. What could explain that? I don’t think it’s much of a mystery. Before the 2016 election, Hillary told Vox’s Ezra Klein, “When I have a job, I have really high approval ratings.” She added, “When I’m secretary of state, I have [a] 66 percent approval rating. And then I seek a job, I run for a job, and all of the discredited negativity comes out again, and all of these arguments and attacks start up.”

So even Hillary admits that when she’s campaigning her approval rating tanks. Hillary’s problem is that she never stopped campaigning. I’m being semi-serious about this. After the election, there were public appearances offering a myriad of excuses for her loss. Then she published a book putting the excuses for her loss in writing. Then she went on a book tour regaling her fans with the excuses for her loss found in the book.

She also made clear that she intended to continue having a say in politics through her Onward Together organization. And then there were the campaign-like gaffes, such as her announcement last September that women were succumbing to pressure from men in their lives not to vote for a woman candidate. So much for the ability of feminists to stand up for themselves, I guess. Doug Schoen, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign said last September that it was time for Hillary to step off the stage. She didn’t take the hint.

Just last month Hillary said she won the election in places that weren’t “looking backward” thereby reviving the whole “basket of deplorables” statement which was one of the low points of her campaign. Even Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton’s former campaign manager, threw Clinton under the bus saying, “This was bad. I can’t sugarcoat it.” Doyle warned that elected Democrats were now going to have to distance themselves from Clinton.

When asked when Hillary was going to ride into the sunset, red state Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp said “Not soon enough.” That was tame compared to one Democratic fundraiser who told The Hill that Clinton should, “just shut the f— up and go away.”

And I haven’t even mentioned the revelations in Donna Brazile’s book. The bottom line is that Hillary, by her very nature, wears on people’s last nerves. They can forget about that when she’s in office and not on their television every day, but when she gets out in public, they remember how much they don’t like her. Not everyone of course, she still has her devoted fans, but based on this poll it’s fair to say a lot of people find her hard to take.

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Fresno State: Yes, the tenured professor who cheered Barbara Bush’s death could be fired

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 23:21

So this idiot’s Twitter-puke is officially a news story now, huh? I heard about it last night and shrugged it off on grounds that of course some leftist jackholes would pop the rhetorical champagne upon hearing that a Bush had died, even if it wasn’t a Bush who had any command over policy. Surely there’d be some fringy righties who would high-five for whatever reason if Michelle Obama keeled over tomorrow. Politics doesn’t stop for funerals anymore, assuming it ever did. In fact, I ran across liberals in my own Twitter feed yesterday scoffing at the idea that Grandma Bush should be spared postmortem criticism, even for a few hours, just because people were grieving over her. Their sick burn on a dead old lady is just as important as your tears.

Still, Randa Jarrar’s shots were nasty even by the usual Twitter yardstick. It’s one thing to celebrate a death, it’s another to rhetorically drink the tears of the deceased’s child.

“Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal,” Jarrar tweeted. “F*** outta here with your nice words,” she wrote.

“I’m happy the witch is dead,” Jarrar continued. “Can’t wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million iraqis have.”

She added: “All the hate I’m getting ALMOST made me forget how happy I am that George W. Bush is probably really sad right now.”

When someone tweeted back that she should be fired, she replied, “I work as a tenured professor. I make 100K a year doing that. I will never be fired.” Is that so? The provost of Fresno State, where Jarrar works, held a press conference today to reiterate how strongly the school disapproved of her “disrespectful” comments — which stunned me since, if you followed politics during the Bush years, it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which a university would criticize a left-wing professor for hating the Bushes too much. A reporter asked the provost if Jarrar had been right, that firing her was all but impossible. The reply: “To answer the technical question: Can she not be fired? The answer is no.”

She’s right, as Ken White explains. There are circumstances, however limited, in which a public university can boot someone for the things they say, but it sounds like it’ll be an uphill battle in Jarrar’s case. She was speaking on a matter of public interest, she was doing it outside the course of her official duties, and her musings on Mrs. Bush probably didn’t disrupt Fresno State’s workplace so much that that disruption should outweigh her free-speech rights. (Although, notes White, Jarrar did prank her trolls on Twitter by inviting them to call a phone number she claimed was hers but actually belonged to a student counseling hotline. If you’re looking for a “disruption” angle, that’s it.) Seems like a heavy lift legally. And politically, the backlash within academia to the school if it fired a left-wing professor for criticizing a right-wing family might be worse than the backlash Fresno State would get from the public if it just shrugged off Jarrar’s comments. The average joe who’s angry at Jarrar will forget about this soon enough. The average academic who’s angry at Fresno State for being angry at Jarrar and worried about a precedent being set here that might come back to bite them personally won’t.

One question, though: Doesn’t tenure give Jarrar extra protection above and beyond White’s analysis of the constitutional considerations? I dislike tenure for various reasons, starting with the fact that in practice it protects only one ideology, but a professor spouting off crassly about a political enemy would seem to be a straightforward example of the sort of behavior tenure is designed to protect. Academics must be free to pursue controversial ideas without fear of professional reprisal, or so we’re told, even when the “idea” is “LOL BUSH’S MOM DIED *fart noise*.” Jarrar’s not getting fired. Maybe the school could pay her off to go away, though.

Here’s the provost speaking this afternoon. The important stuff comes in the first five minutes.

The post Fresno State: Yes, the tenured professor who cheered Barbara Bush’s death could be fired appeared first on Hot Air.

Quinnipiac poll shows Ted Cruz in trouble in Texas

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 22:41

C’mon, this “Beto!” thing isn’t really happening, is it? He hates the NRA, supports abortion, supports impeachment, and is in striking distance — in Texas?

Note the spread across age groups. Young adults tilt as heavily towards O’Rourke as Hispanic voters do, although of course there’s plenty of overlap in those two groups.

How unusual is it for a Republican to have a race for Senate this tight in Texas?

The last time I can find a poll showing a TX Sen race this close at roughly this point was 02, when a May survey put Cornyn up 46-44 over Dem Ron Kirk

Cornyn went on to win by 12, but…the GOP president in 02 was a Texan w/ a mega-approval rating. Trump's is 43% now…in Texas

— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) April 18, 2018

Eh. I’m still skeptical of O’Rourke’s chances, and not just because Texas is a red state. Scroll down question by question in Quinnipiac’s data and you’ll see that Cruz leads O’Rourke, sometimes comfortably, on issues like the economy, taxes, immigration, and guns. O’Rourke’s rosy numbers are being driven by the fact that much of the state still has no idea who he is. His favorable rating is 40/13, with 47 percent saying they don’t know enough about him to form an opinion yet. Cruz will spend the next six months educating voters about his anti-gun, pro-choice, pro-impeachment stances. Let’s see what O’Rourke looks like after he’s spent three months getting hit.

On the other hand, who’s better equipped to throw roundhouses in this campaign, the incumbent or the challenger?

When U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced his latest fundraising haul earlier this month – a stunning $6.7 million – it was widely expected to surpass what his rival, Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, brought in over the same period. Now it’s clear by how much: roughly $3.5 million.

Cruz raised $3.2 million in the first three months of this year, according to his campaign.

O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, did not outpace just Cruz – he posted one of the top quarterly federal fundraising hauls ever, outside of presidential campaigns.

He more than doubled up Cruz’s financial haul. If you believe, as I do, that political gravity will eventually reassert itself here, that’s good news for Republicans since a dollar wasted on Beto! is a dollar that can’t be spent fruitfully somewhere else. But there’s a dark star lurking that could upset normal gravitational forces in Texas. Namely, if this is accurate, it’s easily the most shocking figure in the poll:

That seems hard to believe, particularly when you remember that Quinnipiac’s national polling consistently has terrible numbers for Trump. But it’s not out-of-left-field crazy. Other polls taken this year have showed Trump’s job approval in Texas surprisingly tepid, and Scott Lincicome notes that Texans may have special reason to view Trump’s lurch towards protectionism dimly. Meanwhile, Cruz’s job approval isn’t so hot either at 47/45. A Texas Republican having to defend his seat during a midterm when the sitting Republican president is unusually unpopular is dodgy territory for Cruz. If Trump were popular, Cruz would win easily regardless of his own numbers. If Cruz were popular, he would win easily regardless of Trump’s. But when the electorate is down on the president and not real thrilled with the guy on the ballot, that seems like a recipe for unpredictability. In fact, note the independent numbers on this question:

Indies want to send Trump a message by sinking Cruz. Imagine if, after all the primary drama in 2016, after Cruz’s famous “vote your conscience” play at the convention followed by him crawling back to Trump that fall, he lost because he was too chummy with the president for voters’ tastes — in Texas.

But like I say, I think gravity will reassert itself. Quinnipiac’s sample seems questionable too: They have a mix of 36I/31R/24D, an unusually large number of independents for Texas. In 2016, the Texas exit poll was 38R/33I/29D. Two years earlier, in the red-wave midterm of 2014, it was 39R/34I/29D. Neither of those elections is a great comparison for this fall since 2016 was a presidential contest and 2014 saw a Democrat in the White House. Even so, Quinnipiac sees a *lot* of indies at the polls this fall. Have that many Texans switched from Republican to independent in the past two years? Cruz had better hope not.

The post Quinnipiac poll shows Ted Cruz in trouble in Texas appeared first on Hot Air.

Pizza Rat 1, Mayor de Blasio 0

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 22:01

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is on a campaign to wipe out the large populations of rats that plague the city and, in particular, some of the city’s housing projects. Yesterday, he gave a presentation on his plan while sitting behind a large sign that read “Watch Out Rats!” “We love our city but our city is associated for many generations with the problem of rats,” de Blasio said. He then outlined a new approach to the problem which involved the use of dry ice to humanely suffocate entire rat colonies in their burrows.

In order to demonstrate this new technique de Blasio and workers from the city’s housing authority went to Brooklyn and dropped dry ice in a burrow. What happened next wasn’t part of the demonstration. From the NY Post:

Mayor de Blasio and workers from the Housing Authority were outwitted by the rodent during a press event at a Bushwick project when it triumphantly escaped their clutches as they attempted to demonstrate a new high-tech extermination technique.

Like a scene from “Tom and Jerry,” workers fruitlessly tried to stomp on the agile rodent when it scurried from a hole in which dry ice had been dropped in an effort to control the furry pests.

One worker even swung a shovel at the plucky rat in a comical whack-a-mole routine.

But no one could lay a hand on the tiny animal, which dodged all the would-be rat-slayers at the Bushwick Houses and scampered to safety at a playground on Humboldt Street.

You can see video of the rat escaping de Blasio’s death squad about 4 minutes into this clip posted by the Mayor himself.

We want to make the greatest city on Earth the worst place in the world to be a rat. Join me in Bushwick for more.

— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 17, 2018

It makes me wonder how good this technique really is. In January I wrote a post about the burgeoning rat problem in Washington, DC. Exterminators there were also adopting the dry ice treatment to kill the rats but made clear that it was a supplement to their regular use of poison, not a replacement. I suspect that’s the case in New York as well.

This was embarrassing but it could have been much worse. If the guy with the shovel had been a little quicker, he’d have cut the rat in half while the mayor looked on. So much for the PR about humanely killing the rats. This was almost a gory mess.

Here’s a local news report on the effort which shows a bit of the escaping rat. And if you don’t remember Pizza Rat, New York’s most famous rat, that clip is here.

The post Pizza Rat 1, Mayor de Blasio 0 appeared first on Hot Air.

Today’s hot topics on Relevant Radio: Cardinal George’s legacy, free speech in Pittsburgh, movie talk, & more!

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 21:21

Once again, I get to step outside the box and guest host on Relevant Radio’s A Closer Look from 6-7 ET today! The Catholic talk-radio network is heard nationwide on the air after its merger with Immaculate Heart Radio, as well as online and through their free mobile app that plays live and podcast shows.

Today’s Relevant Radio show includes:

  • It’s been three years and a day since Cardinal Francis George passed away. Mary FioRito, his executive assistant as well as Vice-Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, reminds of what Cardinal George still teaches us about the spreading of the Gospel.
  • Kevin Theriot of Alliance Defending Freedom updates us on the case of Bruni v Pittsburgh, a suit involving the defense of free speech against censorship zones around abortion centers.
  • Christian Toto returns to give us a look at what’s happening at the box office this weekend, how faith-based films are performing, and why one mainstream film is surprising audiences with its underlying message.

We will also take your calls at 1-888-914-9149You can also listen on the Relevant Radio app no matter where you are in the world, so download it now. I’ll look forward to talking with you!

The post Today’s hot topics on Relevant Radio: Cardinal George’s legacy, free speech in Pittsburgh, movie talk, & more! appeared first on Hot Air.

Meghan McCain to Comey: You present yourself as apolitical but you sound like a political commentator to me

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 20:41

This criticism has been made often on the right but rarely (ever?) to Comey’s face. The guy all but endorsed the 2020 Democratic candidate for president, sight unseen, in his Stephanopoulos interview three days ago. It’s not about politics, says Comey in reply to McCain’s criticism in the clip below, it’s about values. But he’s presented his values as a political choice, calling for Trump to be voted out and lambasting the GOP as a value-less party without regard to the foibles of the other party or its eventual nominee. That’s tough to digest for the many millions of Republican voters who viewed their vote in 2016 as a hard choice between two, shall we say, problematic candidates.

At one point during the interview he agreed that in hindsight he should have left out the descriptions of Trump’s appearance since that’s become a distraction from the book’s message. But I wonder if he should have left out the lectures about norms and values too, given how inevitably they would be politicized, and just written a straightforward “here’s what happened, here was my thinking” account of 2016-17. I know what Comey would say to that: If stating that Trump has little regard for the rule of law is “politicized” because one party can’t bear to face the truth, it’s the party that has a problem, not him. Fair enough, but negative partisanship is what it is. If you’re going to inveigh against Trump and reminisce about getting teary in front of Obama, part of your prospective readership will suspect a partisan agenda and discount your critique, never mind Comey’s role in having sunk Hillary’s candidacy just before election day. Comey constantly emits a sense of bewilderment that his earnestness in all things isn’t taken at face value. McCain’s trying to tell him why.

So no, there probably won’t be much of a right-wing audience for his book. Will there be a left-wing audience? There’ll be a media audience, certainly:

DC’s book nerds didn’t turn up for James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty.” At least not in the masses booksellers might have expected.

At around midnight at Kramerbooks on Monday, the bookstore on DC’s Dupont Circle was mostly filled with reporters carrying cameras and notepads…

Another journalist asked the room: “Is anyone a normal person or is everyone a journalist?”

Only one person — reluctantly — identified himself as a “normal person.”

Sounds like a blockbuster in the making. As for “The View,” let me make one gentle correction to McCain, who scolded Comey at one point for details he included in the book by saying, “I think maybe J. Edgar Hoover is rolling over in his grave at the things you’re revealing.” In any discussion about ethics, J. Edgar Hoover is the wrong benchmark to use. (Whoopi Goldberg noted that herself in an aside.) In a contest of ethics between Hoover and Comey, take Comey every time. In fact, in a contest of ethics between Hoover and *Trump*, take Trump every time. That’s how bad Hoover is. He did more from his FBI perch to subvert the norms Comey likes to chatter about than Trump will end up doing as president, I’d wager. And there’s a good reason he never wrote a tell-all: He didn’t need to. Fifty years of presidents were afraid to fire him because he had dirt on all of them, he would have used it, and they knew it. He was the “deep state” personified. Not a comparison that’s will, or should, shame Comey.

Here he is agreeing that he probably should have scrapped the bits in the book about Trump’s hair and hands, since everyone seems to have misread his intentions — again. (Why does that keep happening to him?!) Exit question: What did Trump mean this morning when he tweeted that Comey wasn’t fired because of the Russia investigation? We’re not back to pretending that POTUS was steamed at him for breaking with FBI protocol in sending the fateful Emailgate letter in late October 2016, are we?

The post Meghan McCain to Comey: You present yourself as apolitical but you sound like a political commentator to me appeared first on Hot Air.

Actually, Comey had good reason to announce the Clinton email probe wasn’t over

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 20:01

Now that James Comey is on a book tour trashing President Trump, it’s easy to forget that for most of last year the left was furious with him. Indeed, despite his current trashing of Trump, many on the left are still furious with him. They believe his announcement, 10-days before the election, that the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server wasn’t quite over derailed her campaign. The consensus view, endorsed by Hillary in public appearances and in her book “What Happened,” is that if Comey hadn’t made that one decision, she’d have won the election.

Part of the lingering anger at Comey comes from the sense that he should never have made the statement in the first place. It was an inexplicable bit of freelancing, maybe even an abuse of power. But is that really true? Today, Rolling Stone published a piece based on Comey’s recent interview with ABC News which argues Comey has a pretty strong case that he made a reasonable decision given the potential significance of the cache of emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

The reason that the FBI did not recommend felony prosecution…is that investigators never found “a smoking gun,” Comey says. They lacked an email or other record that established criminal intent – perhaps a warning to Clinton that she shouldn’t use a private server or any “indication of her obstructing justice.” Absent such a damning piece of evidence, there was no precedent to prosecute. And so, in a decision that became the president’s pretext for his firing, Comey staged a press conference in July of 2016 denouncing Clinton’s carelessness in risking classified information, even as he let her off the hook, as a criminal matter.

Of course, as we’ve argued here at Hot Air several times, it’s not clear that Comey couldn’t have charged Clinton anyway. The statute in question doesn’t require an intent to harm national security, just “gross negligence.” But putting that aside for the moment, even looking at this as Comey did at the time, i.e. Clinton was just a confused grandma who didn’t know better, all it would take to undercut her innocence is one email showing she’d been warned or was aware what she was doing was wrong. On October 27th, there was no way for Comey to know whether or not that one email might turn up in the cache discovered on Weiner’s laptop. From the ABC News transcript:

So we’re now less than two weeks from the election. The deputy director emailed me at about 5:30 in the morning and said, “The midyear team,” which was the code-name for the Clinton email investigation, “needs to meet with you.”

And it’s unusual to email me at 5:30 in the morning. And so I arranged to meet with the team. And I walked in with a stupid smile on my face, I think, and said, “The band is back together.” ‘Cause they were sitting in the same seats they’d sat in so many times.

And I didn’t smile again for a long time like that — after that. And what they told me was, “We have found, for reasons we can’t explain, hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. And something much more important than that. Thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton’s Blackberry domain.”

She used a Blackberry for the first three months or so of her tenure as secretary of State before setting up the personal server in the basement. And the reason that matters so much is, if there was gonna be a smoking gun, where Hillary Clinton was told, “Don’t do this,” or, “This is improper,” it’s highly likely to be at the beginning.

And we never found those emails. And so now they’re telling me, “For reasons we can’t explain, thousands of those Blackberry emails are on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.” And so I said, “Okay. We gotta go get ‘em. How fast can you review these?” And the answer was, “We can’t possibly finish before the election because we have to read tens of thousands of emails.

We can’t ask recruits to come in and review them because you have to know the context.” And so I’m sitting there on the morning of October 27th, they’re telling me there’s material that may change the conclusion in this case. We all agree, including the Department of Justice, we’ve gotta get a search warrant to go get these.

And then the question for me now is, “So what do we do now?” Remember the– the standard is, the norm is, “If you can avoid it, you take no action that might have an impact on an election.” And I’m sitting there, on the morning of October 27th, and I can’t see a door that’s labeled, “No action here.” I can only see two doors, and they’re both actions. One says, “Speak,” the other says, “Conceal”–

At this point in the transcript, George Stephanopoulos tries to argue with Comey suggesting he could have stayed quiet until he knew whether or not there was something important in the newly discovered emails, but Comey rejects that:

Well, we know there are hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails there, including Blackberry emails. And so there is reason to believe that this is evidence in our case, and may change the result. And so maybe what you do is gamble and say, “I’ll be quiet about it,” but that comes back to my doors.

That’s an affirmative act of concealment, right? Because I’ve told Congress and the American people– the whole point of July 5th was transparency. “Look, American people, what we’ve done. We did it carefully, we did it well. There’s no there there.

You can take that to the bank. You can rely on the FBI. We’re done. Everybody can get on with their lives.” It’s October 27th, that’s not true anymore, in potentially a huge way. So you could speak about it, or you could not speak about it. But the not speaking about it is an action.

It really could have been there. And if it had been, the FBI might well have reversed course and recommended that the DOJ prosecute Clinton for mishandling classified information. Here’s the conclusion from Rolling Stone:

In short: the decision to reopen the investigation may not line up with the spin that it was a mop-up exercise or preening due-diligence, where the FBI was sorting through likely innocuous emails they’d probably already seen before. The bureau had uncovered, thanks to Weiner’s perversions, a new cache of emails from the critical period before Clinton began mishandling classified information that could demonstrate what Comey calls “corrupt intent” and reverse the recommendation not to prosecute.

It seems to me a lot of Clinton’s defenders start from the presumption that, of course, there was nothing to this, and therefore the outcome seems foreordained to them. Meanwhile, Clinton critics (myself included) suspect she knew all along that she was stretching the boundaries of what was legal but was either a) smart enough not to talk about it on email or b) deleted those incriminating emails when her attorneys sorted through them. But there was some genuine jeopardy for her here and Comey’s decision highlights that fact.

Frankly, I suspect the only way Clinton was going to get caught for this was for the FBI to charge her close advisers, including Cheryl Mills, and get them to flip on her. Mills served Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State and once Clinton left office immediately became her attorney again. During her FBI interview, Mills claimed she wasn’t aware of Clinton’s private server until after she left office. In other words, any conversations she had with Clinton about the server were privileged attorney-client communication. As the Daily Caller‘s Chuck Ross pointed out last year, there was evidence that wasn’t true.

A review of those documents conducted by The Daily Caller shows that Mills and Abedin told Strzok and Laufman that they were not aware of Clinton’s server until after she left the State Department…

But undercutting those denials are email exchanges in which both Mills and Abedin either directly discussed or were involved in discussing Clinton’s server.

“hrc email coming back — is server okay?” Mills asked in a Feb. 27, 2010 email to Abedin and Justin Cooper, a longtime aide to Bill Clinton who helped set up the Clinton server.

Why wasn’t Mills charged with lying to the FBI? Comey brushed off that question when asked saying sometimes people misremember things. Well, yeah, especially when they’re lying.

Bringing this back around to Comey, he approached this case with one hand tied behind his back. He could have gone after Mills (or Abedin) and tried to make them flip on Clinton. He could have recommended charging her based on gross negligence. Instead, he held out for a smoking gun email. Even though he gave her every chance to escape accountability, he’s still being blamed for her loss.

The post Actually, Comey had good reason to announce the Clinton email probe wasn’t over appeared first on Hot Air.

Schiff: Let’s put some real oversight on Trump’s … pardons?

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 19:21

Looks like Congress  picked the wrong week to give up publicity stunts and pointless gestures. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, announced today that he’s proposing a bill that will prevent “this President or any other from abusing the pardon power for their own personal benefit or to obstruct justice.”

It also looks like some in Congress picked the wrong week to read up on the Constitution:

NEW: Rep. Adam Schiff introduces bill to prevent any president "from abusing the pardon power for their own personal benefit or to obstruct justice."

— ABC News (@ABC) April 18, 2018

California Rep. Adam Schiff (D) has introduced a bill that would give Congress oversight on any pardon granted by President Trump to a subject of the Russia investigation or any other criminal matter involving his family members.

In a press release Tuesday, Schiff announced the Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act, which would force the Justice Department to turn over case files for any investigation involving a member of the president’s family to the House Judiciary Committee if that family member is granted a pardon.

The catalyst for this, according to Schiff’s statement, was the pardon of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. What that has to do with Trump’s personal benefit is anyone’s guess. Trump has no love for the Bush administration or the Iraq War that Libby helped create. It was obviously a political statement, but most pardons are political statements. Obama used the pardon power sparingly until his final two years, but then focused his clemency actions mainly on his campaign to reform federal sentencing guidelines for non-violent crime. He also commuted the sentence of Bradley/Chelsea Manning, presumably to push back against the use of the Espionage Act for presumed “whistleblowers,” and then granted clemency to notorious FALN terrorist Oscar López Rivera, who never exhibited genuine remorse for his crimes.  Those were just as political, and Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich was notoriously corrupt, to which we’ll return in a moment, but Democrats didn’t seem too interested in probing that in early 2001.

After the Libby non-sequitur, Schiff told USA Today that the purpose is to deter Trump or a future president from the temptation to pardon his way out of a scandal:

If a pardon is granted under those circumstances, the attorney general would have to turn over the case files from the investigation to the House and Senate Judiciary committees and — if the probe involves intelligence or counterintelligence matters as it does in the Russia investigation — to the House and Senate Intelligence committees.

Congress could release information from the files to the public and possibly use it as the basis to impeach the president.

“It would allow Congress to determine whether a pardon is an effort to obstruct justice,” Schiff said in an interview. “I think it would have the effect of discouraging a pardon used for the purpose of shielding the president or his family from prosecution.”

There are a number of issues with that argument and Schiff’s bill. Let’s start with the pragmatic. There is zero chance that this will get considered in committee, let alone on the House floor, so it’s clearly unserious to its core. Even if by some miracle both Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell took it up and passed it, guess who’d have to sign it into law? In that way, it’s just as silly as the Operation Protect Mueller bill that McConnell scotched last night.

The real problem for Schiff here, though, is the Constitution, about which Schiff seems oddly unfamiliar. The power of the pardon is plenary and fully resides in the executive, according to Article II Section 2. The only limitations on the pardon power is that it relates to “offences against the United States” (ie, not valid for violations of state and/or local laws), and that it cannot undo impeachment by the legislature. The inclusion of that exclusion is significant, too; the Constitution explicitly delineates the legislative interest in pardons, excluding it from any formal role at all in overseeing it.

That plenary authority strengthens any claim to executive privilege for materials relating to a president’s deliberations on pardons, too. Congress can demand materials on investigations from the Department of Justice already as part of its existing oversight, but a president would be able to shield any notes related to discussion of the pardon easily, Schiff’s bill notwithstanding. Congress can’t pass a statute limiting executive privilege, just as it can’t limit pardons by statute either. They both originate from the Constitution, not statute.

That doesn’t leave Congress with no options, however. If a president abuses his power to obstruct justice, Congress has the power of impeachment and removal. The House has the plenary power to decide what constitutes an impeachable offense, and the Senate has the plenary authority to remove a president if and when impeachment occurs.

When it comes to pardons, though, that would be a tough argument to sustain. Any president can pardon anyone at any time, and doesn’t even have to provide a reason for it. It’s very uncertain whether a lawful exercise of a constitutionally provided authority can ever be considered in a legal sense an act of obstructing justice. Still, all it would take is 218 House members to agree that it is to impeach a president, and 67 Senators to agree that it constitutes grounds for removal.

All Schiff is doing here is a smoke screen for his own impotence. He can’t do much other than propose constitutionally ignorant legislation, but by golly, Schiff will run with what he’s got and hope it impresses his constituents.

The post Schiff: Let’s put some real oversight on Trump’s … pardons? appeared first on Hot Air.

NYT: Mattis pushed for Congressional vote on Syria strikes, but denied

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 18:41

Secretary of Defense General Jim Mattis was hoping the Trump Administration would get Congressional approval before launching last week’s attack on Syria. The New York Times reports Mattis pushed President Donald Trump on going to Capitol Hill for authorization but obviously failed.

Mr. Trump, the officials said, wanted to be seen as backing up a series of bellicose tweets with action, but was warned that an overly aggressive response risked igniting a wider war with Russia.

Friday night’s limited strikes on three targets, which lasted under two minutes, were the compromise.

The debate reflects a divide between Mr. Trump and the defense secretary, who, like no other member of the cabinet, has managed to maintain a cordial relationship with the president even while reining him in…

As he pressed his case last week, before the allied strikes with Britain and France, Mr. Mattis lost the battle over getting congressional authorization. But he won the larger war.

Mr. Mattis prevailed in limiting the strikes to three targets that did not risk endangering Russian troops scattered at military installations around Syria. Nor did the 105 missiles hit Syrian military units believed to be responsible for carrying out an April 7 suspected chemical weapons attack on Douma, near Damascus.

At least one person in the White House is interested in actually following the Constitution when it comes to going to war, albeit only because Mattis wanted public support before launching any offensive. It should be pointed out ‘Mad Dog’ and Trump did disagree on what to do with troop levels in Syria earlier this month after the President suggested it was time to remove the military from Syria. So Mattis is still a hawk but a cautious one who’d prefer making sure no other animal- like say a Russian bear- will get its fur up in a dander should the hawk decide to swoop down on prey.

What will be very interesting to see in the next few months is whether there will be more of a push in certain circles in Washington to delve further into Syria. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker attempted to get a new war declara-um-Authorization for Use of Military Force introduced in Congress this week which Ed noted didn’t really go so well. Corker’s reasons for the new AUMF push can be seen in two lights: he wants to follow the Constitution, but he still wants the U.S. to be Team America: World Police or at least Team America: World Buffer. Via AFP:

A frustrated Corker spoke after exiting a classified briefing by Secretary of Defense James Mattis and top generals, who explained the Pentagon’s strategy to lawmakers following last weekend’s missile strikes on Syria.

“Syria is Russia and Iran’s now. They will be determining the future,” he said.

“We may be at the table, but when you’re just talking and have nothing to do with shaping what’s happening on the ground, you’re just talking.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, expressed alarm about a lack of US engagement in the country where insurgents have waged a brutal civil war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Everything in that briefing made me more worried, not less,” he said.

I’d still like to hear from Graham and Corker why the U.S. has to even be involved in Syria since Bashar al-Assad isn’t exactly a danger to America. A couple friends of mine have argued the U.S. was right to bomb Syria without Congressional approval because there are American citizens in the region trying to assist refugees. I understand the argument but disagree, because the bombing was an offensive action. This isn’t the early 1800s, when President Thomas Jefferson had military forces defensively protect citizens near Tripoli until Congress authorized war. Louis Fisher from The Constitution Project expounded on this during testimony in 2008 before the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight.

In your hearing on March 13, a question was raised whether President Thomas Jefferson exercised unilateral power to engage in military actions against the Barbary powers in the Mediterranean…his actions were of a defensive nature. He reported to Congress on what he had done, asking for legislative guidance. He told Congress that he was “unauthorized by the Constitution, without the sanctions of Congress, to go beyond the line of defense.” Congress passed ten statutes authorizing Presidents Jefferson and Madison to use military force against the Barbary nations, resulting in a series of treaties in 1815 with Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli.

This is why Congress needs to vote on whether America should get more involved in Syria should the White House decide it’s time to hit Assad again. Mattis isn’t such a crazy pooch for wanting Congressional approval. It’s too bad no one listened to him this time before the attack was launched.

The post NYT: Mattis pushed for Congressional vote on Syria strikes, but denied appeared first on Hot Air.

WaPo: White House told Russia to ignore Nikki Haley after she said more sanctions would be coming

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 18:01

Lots of Haley fans were high-fiving last night after Larry Kudlow accused her of being confused about the policy and she sniffed in retort, “I don’t get confused.” No one messes with Haley!

Having the West Wing dial up Moscow and tell them that the UN ambassador doesn’t know what she’s talking about seems to be a pretty effective way of messing with her, though. Particularly her credibility as a diplomat charged with speaking on behalf of the United States.

Also, if Haley never gets confused, how do you explain her thinking Marco Rubio was going to win the primaries in 2016? Zing!

The Russian government was given a backdoor assurance on Sunday that no more sanctions were coming and to just ignore Nikki Haley.

— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) April 18, 2018

Karen Townsend noted in an earlier post that there may be a rational explanation for Haley announcing the wrong policy on “Face the Nation.” Simply, Russia was more conciliatory after Trump’s Syria attack on Friday night than the White House expected. After a week of rumblings in American media that Trump wanted a more aggressive response to Assad this time, replete with new sanctions for Russia, Putin may have worried that direct confrontation with the U.S. would soon be unavoidable. James Mattis won the internal debate among Trump’s advisors, though, pleading for more limited strikes in the name of avoiding a wider war. That’s what ended up happening — another wrist slap for Assad, to Putin’s relief. Russia might have let the White House know on Saturday that they were grateful for the restraint and reiterated Putin’s hope for better relations. (“Putin is ready to make numerous, deep concessions, but he has to appear like he’s not losing,” said one analyst who consults with the Kremlin.) Maybe Trump appreciated the conciliation and decided at the last minute to scrap new sanctions, with someone forgetting to alert Haley before her Sunday morning TV appearance.

That’s one theory, that POTUS had good reason for a last-minute policy switch and Haley was accidentally left outside the loop. Another theory: Trump hadn’t made an official decision yet on sanctions but Haley raced ahead, hoping to set hawkish policy on Russia before the president had signed off. And not for the first time, per the NYT.

President Trump was watching television on Sunday when he saw Nikki R. Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, announce that he would impose fresh sanctions on Russia. The president grew angry, according to an official informed about the moment. As far as he was concerned, he had decided no such thing

This official said that the State Department called an aide to Ms. Haley shortly after she appeared on the show, to suggest she issue a correction. Ms. Haley’s aide replied that her office was considering a correction, but none was ever released. Instead, the White House was left to say the next day that no sanctions had been approved…

At one point recently, he saw Ms. Haley on television sharply criticizing Russia over its intervention in Ukraine. “Who wrote that for her?” Mr. Trump yelled angrily at the screen, according to people briefed on the moment. “Who wrote that for her?”

The White House apparently sent talking points mentioning new sanctions on Russia to other surrogates on Saturday, so Haley may not have been the only deputy who raced ahead of POTUS in readying a hawkish response. This may not be a “Trump vs. Haley” thing on Russia, in other words, so much as a “Trump vs. his entire staff, yet again” thing. Still, the Trump/Haley relationship is obviously strained. And the case could be made that no member of the administration has done as much to raise tensions publicly with Russia as Haley has, regularly unloading on them in UN Security Council speeches that get passed around among conservative media types. I’m not sure why he keeps her on when he’s been willing to endure churn in other cabinet spots in search of finally finding a team he’s comfortable with. If the Times’s reporting is right, he’s clearly not very comfortable with Haley. Why not go with a more Russia-friendly UN ambassador?

But then we’re back to the mystery of why he hired her in the first place. She didn’t endorse him. She didn’t have any foreign policy experience. She doesn’t agree with him on his core diplomatic belief, detente with Russia. She’s a bizarre choice for the role she’s in. The Machiavellian view is that Trump fears Haley and wants to keep her inside the tent to prevent her from making trouble for him outside of it, but I’ve never bought that. She’s a Rubio Republican. What evidence is there that there’s any demand for that outside of the 10 percent of the party that’s Never Trump? Cutting her loose would make sense for him, especially given the silly Pence/Haley 2020 whispers which you and I don’t believe but which Trump might.

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FBI is making progress investigating those sonic attacks in Cuba

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 17:21

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Sen. Marco Rubio revealed that he had recently been briefed by the FBI on the investigation into the mysterious attacks in Cuba which left some American and Canadian diplomats with serious health issues. Rubio says some of the victims of the apparent attack are now permanently disabled and will never be able to work again:

“I was briefed last Wednesday by the FBI. They have been investigating this and they have made a lot of progress,” Rubio said Saturday in Lima, where he’d traveled to attend the eighth Summit of the Americas.

According to the Florida senator, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the FBI “has been able to rule out several theories in terms of the technology that was used and I think there will come a time when we will know a little more.”

“We are talking about Americans and their relatives who are suffering today with what is typically seen after a traumatic car accident. Many, more than six or seven, will never be able to work, and [there are] others who cannot work, who are disabled and work five or six hours a day,” Rubio said.

Last month some computer scientists from the University of Michigan suggested they may have an explanation for what the victims experienced.

Most of the victims said they heard a shrill sound coming from a specific direction before experiencing the ailments.

Fu and his team used recordings of the sound obtained by The Associated Press and applied reverse-engineering to replicate what was heard by diplomats. By combining various ultrasound signals, they discovered that the resulting distortion produced an audible sound similar to what was heard in the original recording.

“When a second inaudible ultrasonic source interfered with the primary inaudible ultrasonic source, intermodulation distortion created audible byproducts that share spectral characteristics with audio from the AP news,” the university report said.

In other words, this could have been an unintentional byproduct of placing two listening devices too close together. Sen. Rubio isn’t buying that explanation. He notes that the attacks seem to have been targeting specific individuals (and their families).

As for who is behind it, Rubio tells the Miami Herald, “On the subject of how they did it, that is progressing. On the issue of who did it, I think the first question is going to answer the second one.” Cuba has said from the beginning that they were not responsible for this but in a dictatorship, there aren’t a lot of outside actors who could do something like this without the knowledge of the Castro regime. Former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes told the Center for Democracy in the Americas that he believed Russia might be working with rogue elements within the regime. But again, Rubio isn’t buying that. “It is impossible to think that in Havana they are going to attack Americans and that the Cuban government does not know it,” he said.

My own take is that we’re never going to really know unless some Cuban (or Russian) defector tells us what happened. While it’s possible all of this was a rogue element looking to scuttle the thaw with the United States, or an accident caused by bad placement of listening devices, I wouldn’t be too quick to overlook sheer malice. America has been the secular equivalent of the Great Satan in Cuba for a long time. Maybe they just wanted one last shot at us for old time’s sake.

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Parkland survivor files first victim lawsuit, pledges to go after “every single person responsible”

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 16:41

The Iron Man has filed the first victim lawsuit stemming from the Parkland massacre, but it certainly won’t be the last. Fifteen-year-old Anthony Borges took five bullets while barricading the door to save his classmates, and will have to use a wheelchair for the foreseeable future. Borges and his family argue that the shooter’s future was foreseeable too, and that mental-health professionals had plenty of opportunity to stop him before he killed 17 and wounded many others:

The complaint, filed Tuesday in Broward Circuit Court, lists seven defendants, including Cruz, the family who housed him after his mother died, his mother’s estate, and several mental health centers that treated him before the massacre. All parties except the gunman are accused of acting negligently and failing to stop the 19-year-old from taking his AR-15, walking into his former high school, and killing 17 people.

Nicknamed the “Iron Man,” the high schooler will be confined to a wheelchair for the foreseeable future and will need intensive, constant care as he heals.

“We said from the onset that we are going to sue every single person who is remotely responsible for this happening, from the ground up,” Arreaza said. “This was the perfect storm of negligence.”

Some might wonder why the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and Broward School Board aren’t named as respondents to this lawsuit. After all, they had dozens of opportunities to intervene and passed on them repeatedly, despite warnings from students about threats, violence, and strange behavior. Don’t worry, though — they’re only off the hook temporarily. They’ll be getting plenty of attention from attorneys:

Borges, who survived the shooting, is one of a handful of victims to indicate an intent to sue the Broward School Board and the Broward Sheriff’s Office for failing to protect the students of Stoneman Douglas. Arreaza has said he intends to focus that lawsuit on a school discipline agreement that he says codified a reluctance to turn problem students over to the criminal justice system.

State agencies are entitled to six months’ notice before lawsuits are filed, so the first litigation naming the school district, the sheriff’s office and the Department of Children and Families as defendants are still months away.

Borges and fellow survivor Kyle Laman were the first to file notices of intent to sue those agencies. They were followed by survivors Elizabeth Stout and Fernanda Gadea and by the family of murdered victim Helena Ramsay.

The Ramsay family told the Sun-Sentinel that they will wait to file a suit until they can name everyone at once. Other families may choose to do the same, but Arreaza wanted to get a start on the court proceedings. It seems unlikely to come to trial before the six-month delay expires, so in the meantime Borges can put pressure on the mental health facilities and the Cruz family to come up with a settlement. The latter may have to wait, though, as all of the victims and families of the deceased will have a claim on the Cruz estate.

The Sneads have already issued a public response through their attorney:

Jim Lewis, the attorney for the Snead’s, said the couple told Cruz to lock up his gun and the family thought they had the only key. Lewis said the Sneads did nothing wrong.

“We feel so sorry for what happened at Stoneman Douglas,” Lewis told CBS Miami. “But the Sneads are not responsible — not morally, ethically or legally.”

Lewis worries about the chilling effect a lawsuit like this might have.

“What is this gonna say to anybody else out there who might think about taking in a troubled youth, to try to help them? They’re not gonna do it — not if they’re gonna be legally responsible for what they might do,” Lewis said.

That’s certainly one concern, but doesn’t taking in a troubled youth include a responsibility to address those troubles? And aren’t guardians and parents typically responsible for those issues? However, bear in mind too that Cruz was an adult at the time of this shooting, being 19 years old, a point at which the legal responsibility for parents of children and wards has already ended.

It seems that the inclusion of the Sneads is likely just some box-checking, though. The Sneads don’t have deep pockets; Broward County is the main target here through the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Scott Israel, and the school board. They’re going to pay through the nose — and they’ll deserve to lose every single dollar that these plaintiffs get.

Speaking of deep pockets, though, does anyone else notice who’s been left out of the lawsuit? It doesn’t appear that Borges will attempt to go after gun manufacturers or the NRA. It’s tough to do anyway, but it’s also tough to sue government agencies. The latter has real responsibility for this tragedy.

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NYT: Republicans “whisper” about Pence/Haley ticket in 2020

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 16:01

I’ll bet they’re whispering, but their relative closeness to the White House seems more debatable. Buried deep in a New York Times report on the disagreement over further sanctions on Russia is a strange nugget about presidential ambitions in 2020 of people not named Donald Trump:

A former governor of South Carolina, Ms. Haley has assumed a more prominent role than most of her predecessors, at times eclipsing the secretary of state. And along the way, Mr. Trump has grown suspicious of her ambition, convinced that she had been angling for Mr. Tillerson’s position and increasingly wondering whether she wants his own job.

Republicans close to the White House whisper about the prospect of an alliance between Ms. Haley and Vice President Mike Pence, possibly to run as a ticket in 2020.

Aides to both scoff at such suggestions, but the slightest hint of such a pairing would be likely to enrage Mr. Trump, who has made it clear that he plans to run for re-election. The talk was exacerbated in recent days when Mr. Pence named Jon Lerner, Ms. Haley’s deputy, as his new national security adviser, while allowing him to keep his job at the United Nations.

Which way would the ticket go? Alex Griswold wonders, too:

wow, I can't believe Pence wants to be vice president again

— Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) April 18, 2018

Aides scoffed at the suggestion? So would everyone else, which leaves the question as to who exactly is “whispering” about Pence/Haley 2020. If they’re in the White House, they owe their jobs to Donald Trump. If they’re not in the White House, they should realize that Haley, at least, also owes her job to Donald Trump. Pence was directly elected into his position, but Pence has also made it very clear that he owes Trump loyalty for selecting him as a running mate.

And, in fact, Lerner’s out for that reason:

“Tonight Jon informed the vice president that he was withdrawing from coming on board as national security adviser. Vice President Pence holds Jon Lerner in the highest regard and expressed his deep gratitude for Jon’s willingness to consider joining our team,” said Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary, in a statement.

Pence had tapped Lerner, who currently serves as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley’s deputy, to serve as his national security adviser. But, according to a report from Axios, Trump learned of Lerner’s background with the conservative Club for Growth, which ran anti-Trump ads in 2016, and was “furious” Pence wanted to bring Lerner onto his team.

Fortunately for Lerner, he’s staying on with Haley. But back to this “whisper” campaign for Pence/Haley — or is it Haley/Pence? — and its provenance. One could make an assumption about the latter based on the fact that it comes twenty-three paragraphs into the piece. If this was a serious conversation, it wouldn’t have gotten buried below the fold. This kind of wishful thinking seems so unserious that one has to wonder why it was included at all.

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Comey: I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me

Wed, 04/18/2018 - 15:21

It’s my privilege to announce that Salon Conservatives Club now has a frontrunner for its presidential nomination in 2020.

The only debate: Will the ticket be Flake/Comey or Comey/Flake?

Either way, I’m sold on this as the campaign slogan: “Norms. F***ing norms.”

“I just think they’ve lost their way and I can’t be associated with it,” Comey said in an interview on the ABC News podcast “Start Here,” adding that he no longer considers himself a Republican.

He said he believes the Republican Party began to change during the 2016 presidential campaign and has continued to change with President Donald Trump in office. It wasn’t until he was fired by Trump that Comey started to focus more on politics and realized, “These people don’t represent anything I believe in.”…

“I see the Republican Party, as near as I can tell, reflects now entirely Donald Trump’s values,” Comey told host Brad Mielke. “It doesn’t reflect values at all. It’s transactional, it’s ego-driven, it’s in service to his ego. And it’s, I think, consoling itself that we’re going to achieve important policy goals — a tax cut or something.”

He told ABC he’s reluctant to campaign for any presidential candidate in 2020 “but he hasn’t ruled it out.” Can you imagine this guy, whom many Democrats still hate for costing them the election and whom many Republicans hate for his criticism of Trump, thinking any candidate would regard him as an asset on the trail?

The only part of his spiel I disagree with is the idea that the party started to change in 2016. By “party,” does he mean the leadership? Because the leadership hasn’t changed much substantively since Trump’s election. They’re toadies to Trump in public and they’ve gotten more careful about flirting with amnesty now but they’re still strongly anti-Russia, anti-protectionist, nominally social conservative (just don’t ask them about presidential former mistresses), etc. They’ve dropped most of their rhetoric about cutting spending and shrinking government from the tea-party era but they never cared much about that, as the GOP’s record during the Bush presidency will remind you.

I don’t think the base has changed much either. Their enthusiasm for populism was apparent in the ovations Sarah Palin got in 2008 and in the standoffishness towards Romney four years later. The cult of personality that developed around Palin circa 2009-11 also presaged Trumpmania. Tea-party populists sang from the small-government hymnal during the Obama era, which makes their attitudes post-Trump feel like a major shift, but polls at the time showed grassroots Republicans in favor of protecting entitlements and skeptical of free-trade deals. “Smaller government!” was never about enacting a Republican agenda, it was about thwarting a Democratic agenda. That’s the common thread pre- and post-Trump: With a few exceptions, the only thing the party really agrees on or stands for is that Democrats can’t be trusted and their attempted transformation of America should be opposed at every turn. The way to do that during Obama’s presidency was to demand smaller government. The way to do it during Trump’s presidency, with Democrats out of power, is to protect Trump from their attacks at all costs. Every day it seems less strange to me that the GOP nominated Trump and more strange that they nominated Romney. How the hell did that guy end up on the ticket? With Paul Ryan, of all people!

In lieu of an exit question, if the thought of President Comey makes you shudder, here’s a reminder that it could be worse. Much worse.

Is Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder running for president?

"Yeah, I'm thinking about it," he tells @chrislhayes


— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 18, 2018

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