Saturday, November 7, 2015

Remembering Dad

    During my break from blogging, my father died. As my banner above indicates, he was the inspiration for Speak With Authority, but he was so much more. Here are some edited excerpts from a biography of dad that was read at his funeral:
Jack Bier was born on September 23, 1926 in Belmar, New Jersey, the youngest of three children. 
As a child, Jack was already a business man and entrepreneur. He planned, constructed and then ran his own penny fairs, taxi service and backyard miniature golf course. Sports played a large part in Jack's life--football, basketball and track. On the basketball court, he was so skinny they called him "Bones Bier." 
At age seventeen he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served overseas toward the end of World War II. He supervised the disarming of German soldiers them to prison camps, camps he was placed in charge of. 
After the war he played football at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated from the Wharton School of Business. He met Doris Miller, a kindergarten teacher, at church. They fell in love and were married in 1948. Early on, Doris became Jill. Jack and Jill wanted a big family and they got it. God blessed them with five boys and a girl.  
Jack's career included working for Owens Corning Fiberglas, a position he accepted the day before receiving his acceptance into the FBI! J. Edward Hoover missed out on a good man. Jack's financial training and experience, along with his entrepreneurial spirit and God's direction, led him to start up his own company in 1972.  After spending a few years at a large Christian church and school in Memphis, where he resolved a major financial crisis, Jack and his family moved back to New Jersey and launched BAC, Inc. For forty years, Jack served as financial and crisis manager for one church after another, adding many on as regular clients. Today BAC assists dozens of churches across the country. 
Jack was always a people person and was greatly loved and respected by those he served. Besides his ministry to Christian schools and churches, Jack wore many hats in his own church. Over a span of more than fifty years at Haddon Heights Baptist Church, Jack was a college age youth advisor, a Sunday School teacher and the superintendent, a deacon, a counselor and a pastoral search committee member.  
Although raised in a Christian home, Jack did not personally receive Jesus Christ as his Savior until 1955, under the preaching of Lehman Strauss. He became a new creation in Christ, putting off old behaviors and ways of thinking and developing new ones. His goals for his family became centered in Kingdom work. 
Jack modeled practical love for Christ over the many years by devoting time and resources to world missions. Jack and Jill frequently hosted missionaries. After their home began to be an empty nest, Jack converted a bedroom into a "prophet's chamber", so that missionaries on furlough always had a place to stay. He was generous in sharing his vacation home with several pastors and their families, as well as with his own children and their families. For thirty-five years his shore house has been a home away from home for children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  
In April 1994, Jill, Jack's wife for forty-six years, lost her battle with cancer, and Jack lost the love of his life. But God had planned another love for Jack, and on Veteran's Day 1995 he and Lois Speirs were married. Combining both families, Jack and Lois now have forty-three grandchildren and seventeen great grandchildren, with a few on the way. 
Jack loved songs about heaven and the return of Christ. On October 28, 2015, he was welcomed into the presence of his Savior. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
I also made some remarks at the funeral about dad as a father on behalf of the children. I closed with this:
Dad and Mom are now both in heaven with Jesus their Lord and Savior. But the legacy left by them both is immense and unless the Lord returns will likely endure for many decades if not longer. The Bier family name was on thin ice there for a while when the third and last child was born in the 20s to the Biers, a skinny boy from Belmar. But now, not only is the Bier name secure for the foreseeable future, but far more important than a name, Dad Bier’s legacy is secure in an ever growing number of solid homes and families reflecting that legacy, and committed to passing it down to yet another generation.
Thanks, Dad, until we meet again.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

TSA: A Record 67 Firearms Found in Carry-on Bags Week of 9/11

    The week including the 14th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that spurred rigorous security procedures and numerous restrictions for air travel, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confiscated a record 67 firearms located in passengers' carry-on baggage. On September 11 alone, ten guns were found. Out of the 67 firearms found during the week, 56 were loaded and 26 actually had a round chambered, ready to fire. (The TSA did not note the position of safety catches on the weapons.)
     Below are photos of some of the guns discovered:

     In addition to the firearms, 19 stun guns were among the prohibited items the TSA found during bag searches. Guns were not the only weapons uncovered this week. Belt-buckle knives and even some throwing stars were confiscated:

In Houston, a container of 16 ounces of black powder, an explosive, was found in a checked bag:

The TSA blog post reporting the week's haul includes some reminders about restrictions on transporting firearms and ammunition:
When packed properly, ammunition can be transported in your checked baggage, but it is never permissible to pack ammo in your carry-on bag. 
You can travel with your firearms in checked baggage, but they must first be declared to the airline.
     The previous weekly record of 65 firearms was set in May 2013. The TSA reported in January 2015, however, that the year 2014 holds the record for most firearms confiscated in a year: 2,202, or about 6 per day.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Three ISIS Drones Have Been Destroyed in Iraq, Syria

   The latest official report of a drone in the possession of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is tucked in an August 3rd press release from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the overseers of the air campaign in Syria and Iraq against the terrorist organization.
     The reference is included in a list of targets from the previous day near the Iraqi town of Ramadi: "[T]hree airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL motorcycle, an ISIL drone, four ISIL vehicles and an ISIL resupply truck."
     A CENTCOM spokesperson told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the "remotely piloted aircraft 'RPA' was destroyed on the ground," but that the coalition was unable to confirm whether or not the drone had been armed.
     This drone destroyed in Iraq in August was the third ISIL drone targeted to date by Operation Inherent Resolve and the most recent hit since June. The only ISIS drone destroyed so far in Syria was located near Raqqah and was targeted on June 26th. CENTCOM reported that "five airstrikes struck three ISIL tactical units, destroying five ISIL excavators, an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL remotely piloted aircraft."
    The first instance of an ISIS drone being taken out by Operation Inherent Resolve was reported by the Daily Beast in the spring of 2015 based on a March 18th press release from CENTCOM. The Daily Beast quoted military officials as saying that "they believe the drone in question is one of several owned by ISIS but that fighters only recently started seeing them appear on the frontlines." At the time, it was believed the drone's mission was one of surveillance, not attack, and was described by military officials as "something that could be bought commercially."
     Although the Daily Beast article was entitled "Is ISIS Building a Drone Army?" and noted that experts have said that "ISIS could convert this kind of technology into something deadly," military officials dismissed the idea: "there [is] a big difference between what ISIS could have purchased off of Amazon.com ... and the Reapers and Predators deployed by coalition forces."
     When asked this week if drone use by ISIS was on the rise, a CENTCOM spokesperson told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that "[c]urrently, there is no assessment indicating an increased use of RPA's [remotely piloted aircraft] by ISIL."

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard. Also, The Weekly Standard version of this post was the DrudgeReport's banner headline for about an hour Friday morning:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

DNC Email on LGBT/Same-Sex Marriage: 'Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations'

    Defenders of traditional marriage have long warned about the slippery slope to bigamy and polygamy on which same-sex marriage places the country, but to hear Star Trek star George Takei and the Democratic party tell it, there may be more to come. In an email from the Democratic National Committee concerning its upcoming LGBT Gala and celebrating June's Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, Takei writes that he has always appreciated Star Trek's idea of "infinite diversity in infinite combinations":
There's an idea from Star Trek that I've always appreciated: "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations." 
What this means to me is that, whether out in space or here on Earth, there's no set prescription for how to live our lives. We are all unique, and we should celebrate our differences. 
Now, some folks may disagree. They may shake their heads in disapproval or discomfort at all of the beautiful diversity that makes this country great. But when I'm confronted with that kind of close-mindedness, I just look at the incredible progress we've made together. Decades of hard work and passion have brought us where I always knew we could go -- to a place where love is love, and marriage equality is the law of the land. 
My husband Brad and I are going to join the Democratic National Committee -- and President Barack Obama! -- in New York City later this month for its annual LGBT Gala, and I want you to come, too. 
After the Supreme Court's landmark marriage equality ruling in June, we have a lot to celebrate. And I don't know about you, but I want to thank the President in person for his continued support of the LGBT community.
    While direct public statements are hard to come by, both Takei and the Democratic Party have appeared to mock the idea that same-sex marriage could lead to further transformation of traditional marriage. In January 2014 while in Utah, Takei poked fun at Utah's history of polygamy, tweeting, "Maybe if I'd married four husbands instead of one, they'd be more accepting of my marriage here.":

And in a July 2013 blog post on the Democratic Party's website, the party noted derisively that "Ken Cuccinelli [then-Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia] has claimed that allowing gay marriage is a slippery slope to polygamy..."
     Now, with Takei's embrace of "infinite diversity in infinite combinations" in the DNC email, it's unclear if he and the Democratic Party are signaling a new openness towards new "combinations" in marriage. Both Takei and the Democrats have repeatedly used the tagline "love is love", but a search of their Twitter feeds and the party's website failed to turn up any examples with a numerical limit.
     Below is the entire text of the DNC's email, including the fund raising pitch:

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

General: 'We Don’t Truly Understand' Russia's Plans in Syria

     Weekend remarks concerning Russia's current activities in Syria by Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander, are far from reassuring. Speaking to reporters after NATO's Military Committee Conference in Istanbul on Saturday, Breedlove acknowledged, "We don’t truly understand yet what it is that Russia is going to do in Syria." (via EuroNews) He went on to say:
We have heard everything from humanitarian operations to combat operations, so it remains to be seen what this will be in the end," Breedlove said. "What we are most concerned about is any operations that would continue to support the Assad regime and its terrible actions against its own people.
     Breedlove's comments follow reports that Russia has plans to establish an air base in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, which is still under the control of the Assad regime. Russia's path to Syria has also been the cause of some concern and contention involving airspace permission from area countries for Russian aircraft on their way to Syria.
     Gen. Breedlove connected the concerns regarding Syria with Russia's incursions into and occupation of parts of Ukraine. "The issue of a revanchist Russia, which is now changing borders in Europe by force, has sort of brought everybody's attention," he said. However, Breedlove expressed confidence that Russian president Vladimir Putin recognized that violating a NATO border was far different from "crossing those international borders":
Clearly, Mr. Putin has made decisions and they have used force to invade and now occupy Ukraine's Crimea and they have used force to invade and now occupy portions of the Donbas, but I think that crossing those international borders is clearly different than crossing a NATO border.
     Earlier in September, Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama administration deserves credit for spurring NATO and European nations to take action against Russia in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine:
Were we not leading that effort, it would have been another example in this generation of a transgression that is impermissible without the international community responding, leading to more transgressions.  And if this aggression continues, the costs for Russia will continue to climb.
     So far the actions taken against Russia amount largely to economic sanctions and the beefing up of NATO deployments in central and eastern Europe. It is unclear what additional actions might be taken by the United States and its allies should Russian activities in Syria cross the line, and indeed it is unclear what exactly that line might be.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Hillary Clinton Tweets 'Stand with Hillary and Overturn Planned Parenthood'

     In a tweet calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, Hillary Clinton inadvertently invited supporters to "Stand with Hillary and overturn Planned Parenthood". While the main part of the tweet (shown below) says "Overturn Citizens United", the text underneath contains the "Planned Parenthood" reference:

    The tweet is part of a promoted Twitter campaign. It was first posted at 3:14 Thursday afternoon and was still up at least as late as early Friday afternoon.
    Several commenters on the tweet attempted to alert the Clinton campaign of the error, apparently to no avail:

    The tweet links to the Clinton campaign website where users are urged to "Say you're with Hillary" and enter an email address to "Stand with Hillary in the fight to overturn Citizens United and get secret, unaccountable money out of our politics." The Planned Parenthood reference is nowhere to be found.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hillary Clinton Email on Closed Adoption Center: 'Why Does Stuff Like This Stalk Us?'

    In the 1990s, Hillary Clinton famously accused a "vast right-wing conspiracy" of trying to bring down her husband, President Bill Clinton. Emails from Mrs. Clinton's tenure as secretary of state demonstrate that the specter of a conspiracy of some sort continued to haunt her years later.
    One such email originated with Phillipe Reines, a long-time Clinton aide and spokesperson who joined Mrs. Clinton at the State Department and was eventually promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. In February 2010, Mrs. Clinton gave the keynote address at the 58th National Prayer Breakfast. During her remarks, Mrs. Clinton related how at the 1994 Prayer Breakfast, Mother Teresa had goaded the then-First Lady into using her influence to help open an adoption facility for unwanted babies in Washington, DC, to provide an abortion alternative. The plan came to fruition in 1995, and Mrs. Clinton and Mother Teresa both attended the opening of the facility, an event Mrs. Clinton fondly recalled. What Mrs. Clinton did not mention in her 2010 prayer breakfast speech, and indeed was not aware of, was that the adoption facility closed in 2002, seven years after opening. (Authors Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet confirmed the closing in a 2007 article for Mother Jones and filled in more details in a 2010 article at Religion Dispatches.)
     Reines's concern in his email to Mrs. Clinton was not the 2007 Mother Jones story, however, but an article that appeared in, in Reines's words, "one of those crazy right 'magazines'", World Magazine. Writer Emily Belz reported on Mrs. Clinton's anecdote at the prayer breakfast and her apparent obliviousness to the closing of the facility some eight years earlier. Reines did not dispute the accuracy of the article, but merely sent it to Mrs. Clinton as an "FYI". The text of his email reads as follows:
Just FYI on the below, from one of those crazy right "magazines" - notes that the home you referenced in your Prayer Breakfast remarks has since closed.
I checked in with Lissa & Melanne, they didn't know it closed, which makes sense since it happened in 2002 after you left the White House.
I made it clear that your longtime commitment to this issue - throughout your public career - is well known, and you remain very proud of your work with Mother Teresa in opening this home in 1995. And that your partnership is a success story to be emulated.
Again, this is just FYI
    Although Reines notes that Mrs. Clinton and her aides may have been unaware of the closing "since it happened in 2002 after you left the White House," Mrs. Clinton of course remained in Washington as a senator and then secretary of state during the intervening years. Reines reassured Mrs. Clinton that "your longtime commitment to this issue [adoption] - throughout your public career - is well known," but it is unclear how Reines reconciled Mrs. Clinton's "longtime commitment" to adoption and pride in the adoption center with her lack of follow up for at least eight years. The house that the Clintons purchased in Washington in 2000 was about three miles from the adoption center.
    In the 2010 email, Mrs. Clinton herself confirms she was unaware that the adoption facility had closed and asked Reines "can we find out why." After finding some consolation in that "[a]t least we had it open for 7 years," Mrs. Clinton goes on to voice her frustration with how the issue had come back to bite her, saying, "but why does stuff like this stalk us?"
I didn't know that--can we find out why. At least we had it open for 7 years but why does stuff like this stalk us? 
    In a second reply to Reines's email by Mrs. Clinton just a minute after the first, she recalls that she wrote about the adoption center and Mother Teresa in her book, Living History:
Also, I wrote about it in Living History and no one said a word. Was it still open in some form in 2004?
      Reines replied to Mrs. Clinton almost immediately:
I will look into what happened to it after 2002 (LH [Living History] was released 6/03, so better than 04) 
    At this point, however, the email thread ends and a search of the emails released by the State Department so far does not reveal any further follow up.
    However, in November 2011, Mrs. Clinton addressed some remarks to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute's (CCAI) The Way Forward Project Summit. Mrs. Clinton recounted how she had "worked on behalf of children’s issues for my entire adult life" including "working to improve ... the adoption system." She even recalled visiting "one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages in India – actually, I went to two, one in Delhi, one in Calcutta – and saw beautiful children reaching out their arms to be lifted up." Mrs. Clinton was silent, however, about the then-defunct adoption center she and Mother Teresa had helped open in 1995.
    In an ironic footnote to this story, in her November 2011 remarks, Mrs. Clinton thanked someone who had helped her decide "we needed to raise the emphasis on children worldwide," none other than then-Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs. Just this week, Secretary of State John Kerry named Ms. Jacobs as the State Department's new Transparency Coordinator who will, among other duties, oversee the review and release of the remaining 75% of Mrs. Clinton's emails from her time at the State Department.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Contrary to 'Practice', Hillary Clinton Emailed Aide on Hotmail Account

    As pressure continues to mount on Hillary Clinton to answer more questions about her personal email, the former Secretary of State, while acknowledging some mistakes, is doubling down on some of the claims she has made since the story broke in March. One of these claims is that it was the Secretary's "practice to email government officials on their official .gov accounts so that her messages were preserved within email archives." This claim was made as recently as Tuesday on a new page on her website which was linked by an email sent to supporters Tuesday evening.
    However, a review of Mrs. Clinton's emails demonstrates that this was certainly not always the case. For instance, on October 9, 2010, a Saturday, Mrs. Clinton attempted to email Eric Woodard at the State Department, but used the wrong address. She then forwarded that email to her aide Lauren Jiloty to get the correct address. However, Mrs. Clinton did not use Jiloty's state.gov address that appears in many other emails, but rather Jiloty's hotmail address. Although Jiloty's address is redacted in the copy of the email released by the State Department, Jiloty herself identifies it as Hotmail [highlight added]:

    In the end, it was Jiloty and not Mrs. Clinton who copied a ".gov" account on her reply, contrary to the "practice" Mrs. Clinton says she followed.
    Ironically, Clinton's own website refutes the notion that Mrs. Clinton's email "messages were preserved within email archives" through her practice of emailing government official using their ".gov" accounts. A "Fact Sheet" from July that addressed the email problem says [emphasis added]:
On December 5, 2014, 30,490 copies of work or potentially work-related emails sent and received by Clinton from March 18, 2009, to February 1, 2013, were provided to the State Department. This totaled roughly 55,000 pages. More than 90% of her work or potentially work-related emails provided to the Department were already in the State Department's record-keeping system because those e-mails were sent to or received by "state.gov" accounts.
    Given that only 90% of the emails were already in the State Department system, this leaves 10%, or as many as 3,000, that were not. And yet Mrs. Clinton's latest defense leaves out this caveat, simply asserting "her messages were preserved within email archives," a claim that is demonstrably false.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

StemExpress Website Drops References to 'Financial Profits' for Tissue Harvesting

     Stem Express is the bio-medical company featured in a number of the undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress in connection with its Planned Parenthood exposé on fetal organ and tissue harvesting. StemExpress made several changes to its website last week, some cosmetic but others more substantial. One significant change was to remove references to "financial profits" available to clinics who provide "raw materials", the term StemExpress uses for blood and tissue "usually discarded during procedures," including abortions. The change came during the same week the Center for Medical Progress released a new video showing the CEO of StemExpress acknowledging that a clinic's relationship with StemExpress can be "financially beneficial.
     Until recently, StemExpress's page on "Partnerships" appears as followed (via the Internet Archive):

     The page contained several references to financial benefits available to clinics: "Financial Profits", "providing a financial benefit to your clinic", "contributing to the fiscal growth of your clinic", "Financially Profitable", and "StemExpress partner program that fiscally rewards clinics." Stem Express also promised "complete professionalism and source anonymity."
     Recently, however, the page was revised and now appears as follows with all references to finances removed:
     In the undercover video released last week, StemExpress CEO has the following exchange with one of the actors in the video (via Daily Caller):
“We’re going into it knowing that it has to be financially beneficial for you,” an undercover actor posing as a fetal tissue buyer tells StemExpress CEO Cate Dyer in the video. 
“Yeah,” Dyer agrees. “Yeah, and both of us for sure.”
    Dyer goes on to say:
“Do you feel like there are clinics out there that have been burned, that feel like they’re doing all this work for research and it hasn’t been profitable for them?” she asks. “I haven’t seen that.” 
     Planned Parenthood has largely defended its practices regarding fetal tissue harvesting, only briefly acknowledging some inappropriate remarks by some Planned Parenthood staff. Stem Express announced earlier this month that the company was cutting ties with the Planned Parenthood clinics with which it had previously partnered.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Hillary Flashback: 'Classified and Confidential Work Can’t Be Outsourced ... to Telework'

     Presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finds herself under growing scrutiny over the classified contents of dozens of emails (perhaps hundreds once the State Department finishes releasing them all) she sent and received as head of the State Department. As it turns out, Mrs. Clinton could have avoided this pitfall by following her own guidance while she was still in office.
     In January 2012, then-Secretary Clinton was questioned at a town hall meeting about workplace flexibility options for women thinking of applying for senior positions at the State Department [emphasis added]:
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I’m on the board of Executive Women at State. Fewer women are applying for senior positions in the Department and women at every level are having difficulty with maternity, childcare, and eldercare issues, and some are resigning. Workplace flexibility options are inconsistent from office to office. How can Executive Women at State and other concerned affinity groups work with you to help address these problems before you leave? Thank you. (Applause.) 
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, this is matter of great concern to me, because obviously balancing family and work responsibilities is challenging, and the challenge falls disproportionately on women in the workplace. And it’s no longer just a question of one’s children. It’s also one’s aging relatives who are often part of the care giving responsibilities that are assumed. And I really want to do more on this this year. 
I think we’ve got a variety of policies in place that are trying to make the Department a more family-friendly work environment. I know some of you have raised on the Sounding Board and through your chains, here, the question about more telework. Pat and I have talked about this. We have to determine which positions are eligible and which aren’t. A lot of the classified and confidential work can’t be outsourced, so to speak, to telework. So we are looking at that, we will continue to look at it, and we will try to support as much expansion of it as is possible. But I don't want to overpromise, because there are inherent challenges.
     Although Mrs. Clinton said in 2012 that she and the State Department needed "to determine which positions are eligible and which aren’t," the secretary had apparently unilaterally determined her own position was eligible for such an arrangement despite the "classified and confidential work" which she herself had been engaged in since assuming office in 2009. Due to her travel schedule, Mrs. Clinton spent many days in various locations around the world, but at times worked from home, as well. Despite her assertion that she used a separate secure system for classified communications, it is increasingly clear that often classified materials found its way into her personal email, passing through and being stored on her private email server in her home in Chappaqua, New York.
     The State Department actually featured Mrs. Clinton's remarks on workplace flexibility and telework in the April 2012 issue of State Magazine, an official publication of the department. The article was entitled "Secretary Clinton Addresses Work-Life Issues, Promotions" and quoted Mrs. Clinton's January town hall comment that "classified and confidential work can’t be outsourced, so to speak, to telework." [highlight added below]

     Coincidentally, the Huffington Post published an article Tuesday entitled "Hillary Clinton’s Emails Illustrate The Difficulties Of Achieving Work-Life Balance," echoing the "work-life" emphasis of the April 2012 State Magazine article. The Huffington Post article seems to indicate Mrs. Clinton's attitude towards work-life balance was somewhat mixed, at times making allowances and expressing concern, while at other times seeming to have little sympathy for "the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they're not happy with the choices they've made... Some women are not comfortable working at the pace and intensity you have to work at in these jobs. ... Other women don't break a sweat."
     From almost the very moment Mrs. Clinton first appeared on the national stage, she brought the work-life issue to the fore with her 1992 comment, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession[.]" However, if Mrs. Clinton is now someone who is "not happy with the choices" she has made, it may have more to do with her email choices than her work-life balance. And given the possible ramifications of the email scandal on her presidential aspirations, she herself may be the one who is beginning to sweat.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Planned Parenthood 2002 Fact Sheet: "Fetal Organs and Tissues Under Definition of 'Human Organs'"

    Secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood staff casually discussing the harvesting of post-abortion fetal body parts are raising disturbing questions about the organization's involvement in the fetal tissue donation market. Planned Parenthood's PR firm, on the other hand, refers to the practice as a "humanitarian undertaking," and in recent days Planned Parenthood has touted the benefits of fetal tissue research. The head of Planned Parenthood even tweeted a quote from a New England Journal of Medicine editorial which says, "Planned Parenthood, its physicians, and the researchers who do this work should be praised, not damned."
     Despite the apparent pride with which Planned Parenthood views its role in the fetal tissue and organ market, the organization's website is strangely silent on the practice. A search of Planned Parenthood's website for information on fetal tissue donation and research reveals only recent comments and statements since the release of the videos. The site includes eight "fact sheets" concerning abortion, but there is nothing about fetal tissue donation/research in any of those nor any of the other fact sheets, either. A special section of the website is specifically designed to answer questions about abortion and the various options and considerations of which women may have questions, but this section is likewise silent about fetal tissue donation. Elsewhere on the site is a nine page document entitled "Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest in Research," but again there is no specific mention of fetal tissue research.
     Planned Parenthood, however, has not always avoided the issue. An archived version of the organization's website from 2002 includes a footnoted fact sheet of some 2,200 words entitled "Donating Fetal Tissue for Medical Treatment and Research." Early on, the fact sheet addresses some of the basic rules that are supposed to apply when a fetal tissue donation takes place [citations excluded here and following]:
A woman's choice to donate to medical research tissue that she has aborted begins and ends with her. Federal and state laws have been specifically written to ensure that her choice to donate tissue from her abortion to medical research is made in an informed and ethical manner. First, she is legally required to give her written consent to have an abortion. Only after she has consented to have an abortion can she provide the necessary written consent to donate the fetal tissue. She cannot be paid for the donation. She cannot know or designate the recipient. 
     Following this is a paragraph that reflects Planned Parenthood's present day "humanitarian undertaking" characterization of fetal tissue donation, suggesting that a woman may mitigate her "sense of loss" with the "social good" of tissue donation from her abortion:
Knowing she can donate tissue from her abortion to potentially lifesaving medical research may help a woman turn an unintended pregnancy about which she may feel a sense of loss into a social good. The choice to donate often gives solace to women who may need to end their pregnancies.
     The document also includes a section entitled "The Medical Promise of Embryonic and Fetal Tissue", which says in part [emphasis added]:
Embryonic and fetal tissue consist of tissue or cells from a nonviable human embryo or fetus that has been obtained through a spontaneous or induced abortion, or stillbirth...
Researchers customarily obtain embryonic cells and fetal tissue through private arrangements with individual, nearby obstetricians. Due to its fragile nature, the tissue must be immediately transported by researchers to their laboratories or some other location where it can be safely stored and kept from deteriorating.
While solid organs are obtained and distributed through the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there is no formal, organized, national network for procuring and distributing embryonic and fetal tissue. Organizations interact directly with private laboratories or pharmaceutical companies that perform medical research with embryonic and fetal tissue. They are often reimbursed for evaluation, preservation, storage and transportation of the tissue.
     Laws that "protect women" and also regulate fetal tissue donation are discussed as well. In this section, Planned Parenthood notes that fetal organs and tissues fall under the definition of "human organs" according to federal law [emphasis added]:
There are two principal federal laws and numerous state laws that apply to the use of embryonic cells and fetal tissue for medical transplantation and research. 
The National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), adopted by Congress in 1984, provides for donations of organs and tissues for research or transplantation. NOTA was amended in 1988 to include fetal organs and tissues under the definition of "human organs" (USCA, 1988). 
     This section also discussed President Bill Clinton's executive order, shortly after taking office, lifting the existing ban on the use of federal funds for fetal tissue research, and also Congress's actions to mitigate the effects of that order:
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act of 1993 specifically authorizes federal support for research on the transplantation of human fetal tissue for therapeutic purposes, whether the tissue is obtained after a spontaneous or induced abortion or a stillbirth. Congress passed this act after President Clinton's executive order lifting the ban on federal funding for fetal tissue research that was put in place during the Reagan administration. The act requires a woman to consent — in writing — to the abortion before the option of tissue donation is discussed. It prohibits her from knowing or restricting the identity of the recipient. It requires that she be informed of her physician's interest, if any, in the research to be conducted with the tissue. It also prohibits the alteration of the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy, if such alteration is made solely for the purpose of obtaining the tissue. Penalties for violating this law include a fine or up to 10 years in prison, or both.
     Some of the videos recently released have called into question whether or not some Planned Parenthood clinics are engaged in an "alteration of the timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy" in order to preserve the quality of the fetal organs and tissue obtained during abortions thereby increasing the value. The Planned Parenthood fact sheet also noted the prohibition on the sale of organs and tissue, with the caveat of "reasonable payments" being permitted to cover expenses:
Both NOTA and the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 prohibit the sale of human organs and tissues for research or transplantation. Both do permit, however, "reasonable payments" associated with the removal, transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, and storage of the tissue.
     Finally, the fact sheet discusses an event from the late 1990s that mirrors the circumstances surrounding the release of the secretly-recorded videos this past July. A pro-life group, Life Dynamics Incorporated, made similar charges about abortion providers profiting from fetal organs and tissue obtained from abortions. While Planned Parenthood considered the accusations largely discredited, the evidence was clear enough to prompt a statement from the organization decrying the "about the attempt by some to profit from the humanitarian contributions of courageous women," a euphemism for selling fetal organs and tissue for profit:
In an attack on research using fetal tissue, the anti-choice organization Life Dynamics Incorporated accused abortion providers of performing abortions to profit from the sale of embryonic and fetal tissue (Life Dynamics Incorporated, 1999). Subsequently, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for congressional hearings to investigate so-called "trafficking in baby body parts for profit" (H.R. 350, 1999). The House Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment conducted a meeting in March 2000. One key witness testifying about alleged abuses was discredited, and another key witness failed to appear and was held in contempt of Congress. Although no actual "trafficking" was conclusively identified in the hearings, Planned Parenthood went on the record to say that "Planned Parenthood supports research using fetal tissue in accordance with legal and ethical guidelines and is deeply concerned about the attempt by some to profit from the humanitarian contributions of courageous women."
     While Planned Parenthood and its allies today continue to deny they are engaged in the sale of fetal tissue for profit, one of the private companies that supplies researchers with the fetal tissue and organs obtained from Planned Parenthood and other clinics is not shy about touting profits from the process. Even after the recent accusations and denials by Planned Parenthood and others, StemExpress, a tissue supplier featured in some of the secretly recorded videos, has not revised the "partnerships" portion of its website that speaks of "financial profits" and their "program that fiscally rewards clinics" who supply the "human tissue products," including "fetal":

     While Planned Parenthood avoids addressing fetal tissue donation on its website, the organization clearly participates in the process with some of its top national officials either appearing in the secretly recorded videos or defending the practice in the media. The 2002 fact sheet noted that "there is no formal, organized, national network for procuring and distributing embryonic and fetal tissue." Statements on the secretly recorded video by at least one Planned Parenthood official seemed to suggest the organization might be interested in remedying that omission. Now that a light is being shined on the present state of this disturbing supply chain, those plans may be scuttled for good.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Latest Item in Hillary Clinton's Campaign Store: An 'H' Cookie Cutter

     Hillary Clinton may be looking to tweak her opposition, or perhaps to turn the page on her infamous 1992 campaign comment, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas" with the latest item for sale in her campaign store. A cookie cutter in the shape of Mrs. Clinton's distinctive H-arrow logo is now available for only $10.

     Mrs. Clinton made the comment on the campaign trail during her husband's 1992 presidential campaign. Nightline's inclusion of the clip in a March 1992 show entitled "Making Hillary Clinton an Issue" caused the remark to go viral back in the days before going viral was even a thing. Mrs. Clinton's full comment was:
 I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life. 
      The description accompanying the cookie cutter reads:
You’ll be the life of the Hillary house party when you bring a plate of homemade cookies to your next campaign event. 
     The cookie cutter joins the Grillary Clinton Spatula and the Chillary Clinton Koozie Pack in the campaign store.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Update: Cost of Hotels for President Obama's Ethiopia Stay Likely Tops $1 Million

     The cost of lodging for President Obama and his entourage for his recent visit to Ethiopia has more than doubled to $837,000 with the addition of two more hotel contracts. Last week, THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported on a $412,000 contract for 1,280 sleeping room nights at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. However, at least two other hotels were booked for the visit, and a fourth hotel was also used, although no contract has yet been posted.
     One of the additional hotels was the Elilly Hotel. The contract total was estimated at $246,877.06 for 120 sleeping room, but the number of nights covered is not revealed in the paperwork:

     Another of the additional hotels was the Capital Hotel and Spa. The estimated total for that contract was $178, 433.71 for 1000 room nights:


     According to the hotel's website, the Capital Hotel and Spa was awarded Ethiopia's first five-star rating just days after the president's visit.
     The total of the three posted contracts comes to $837,700. However, according to official White House photographer Pete Souza, the president actually stayed in a suite at the Sheraton Hotel, a 294-room hotel in the Ethiopian capital. Souza shared this information in an anecdote on the White House Medium site:
During that same trip in 2006, the Senator [Obama] had also visited the Republic of Djibouti. We weren’t able to accompany him on that leg of the trip. So instead we had to stay overnight at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My colleague at the time, Jeff Zeleny — the king of hotel points — was able to secure a suite at the Sheraton hotel. Nine years later, when we returned to Addis Ababa this week, President Obama stayed in the very same suite.
     A Florida-based businessman who was in Addis Ababa during the president's visit provided confirmation during an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The businessman stayed in the Hilton which "was crawling with support staff and security", but "the President stayed across the street at the Sheraton. The US locals I was working with told me that the US Government had bought out the entire Sheraton while Obama was in Addis."
     The Sheraton was also the host for at least two meetings the president participated in during his stay, a "multilateral meeting on South Sudan and counterterrorism issues with Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the African Union and Uganda" and "a meeting with Ethiopian civil society activists."
     The value of the Sheraton contract would likely push the total cost of lodging for the Ethiopia leg of the trip over $1 million, but as noted earlier, it has not yet been posted. Contracts for the Kenya stop have not been posted either. The president spent two nights in Ethiopia and two nights in Kenya during his trip to Africa.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Government Websites Vulnerable to Phishing Scams

     The websites of several federal government agencies, including the National Weather Service (NWS), are unprotected from scammers looking to exploit a security weakness to fool potential victims. The sites in question allow what are known as "unvalidated redirects." An unvalidated redirect is a link to an external website that appears to be sanctioned by the sending website, but in reality can be created by anyone, including scammers and identity thieves. In many cases, the redirects do not even require an additional click; users are taken to the external website automatically after a short pause as an exit message is displayed.
     The website for the National Weather Service, www.weather.gov, has been a favorite target for those seeking to exploit the unvalidated redirect vulnerability. A Google search shows an extensive list of hundreds of websites linked with an automatic redirect. Some are legitimate, such as one on lightning strikes, but more common are those hawking website hosting, insurance, and even herpes cures:

     The links begin with the legitimate address of the National Weather Service, www.weather.gov. Clicking on these links, which can be embedded in other websites or included in an email, first brings up a page alerting users that they are exiting the NWS website and that the link does not constitute an endorsement of the site. However, the page also says, "NWS provides a link to this site because it may contain related information of interest to you." Following is a screenshot of the page that appears for about 10 seconds before, in this case, the user is taken to a video extolling the virtues of a natural cure for herpes:

     This is not the first time the federal government has exposed itself this way. In March 2014, an investigation by THE WEEKLY STANDARD found that the website of the US Senate, along with several others, were susceptible to this vulnerability. Soon after that story was published, the Senate website changed the exit message to include a more explicit warning and also to require an additional click. However, the website script still allows any web address to be entered as a redirect.
     The biometrics.gov website is another favorite platform for those seeking to exploit the unvalidated redirect. This website, pointed out in the 2014 story, is still being utilized more than a year later by dozens of external websites including a Turkish LGBT site, a site for diet pills, a poker blog, a site touting "manly yoga", and even a Bible study.
     Some sites are greater risks than others. For example, a subdomain of the website for the National Institutes of Health (nhlbi.nih.gov) is vulnerable. A malicious programmer could provide users what appears to be a legitimate NIH website address, but use a redirect to a website that could harvest personal and health information from unsuspecting victims. The NIH exit page contains some warnings, but since the page is only visible for 10 seconds before the automatic redirect kicks in, there is too little time to actually read the entire page. Serve.gov is yet another website with a complicated exit page that could misdirect those looking for opportunities for community service to a scammer's site instead.
     Many websites contain links to external sites, but the scripts to handle these links can be configured to prevent this type of manipulation. Due to the presumed authority of government websites, the unvalidated redirect vulnerability is particularly pernicious. The Open Web Application Security Project, a non-profit group that seeks to improve software security, lists the unvalidated redirect in its top ten list of security vulnerabilities, noting that "[w]ithout proper validation, attackers can redirect victims to phishing or malware sites, or use forwards to access unauthorized pages."

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Hotel for President Obama's Ethiopia Visit Cost $412K

     President Obama visited Kenya and Ethiopia during his recent trip to Africa, and the hotel bill for the president and his entourage totaled approximately $412,390.86 for the Ethiopia stay alone. A contract with the Hilton in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa was posted online Tuesday:

     The president arrived in Addis Ababa on Sunday, July 26 and departed on July 28. The government also spent $7,540 for cell phones for the president's Ethiopia visit. The White House did not respond to a request for an explanation.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Feds Seek Dance, Poetry, Art, Music Therapy For Parolees

     The federal agency that oversees individuals on probation, parole or supervised release in Washington, DC is looking to expand options for "counseling and behavioral interventions" for offenders under its charge. The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia (CSOSA) is seeking a contractor to conduct "expressive therapies" in an "integrated way to foster human growth, development, and healing" to offenders who may also be involved in "group interventions focused on changing criminal thinking, anger management, substance use, education, and employment skills development."
     Contractors offering therapies utilizing art, music, dance, drama, poetry and creative writing are expected to help develop a "variety of verbal and non-verbal expression in order to assist participants in exploring and potentially transforming emotional and social issues" that may be impediments to a successful transition back into society.
     CSOSA has provided extensive descriptions of the therapies under consideration:
Art Therapy - encourages clients to use art media, images, sound, digital photography, videography, computer-generated images, and the creative process as part of a therapeutic process to reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, develop social skills, manage behavior, solve problems, reduce anxiety. 
Music Therapy - provides clients with activities geared toward creating music, music production, singing, moving to, and or listening to music.  These activities provide clients with opportunities to express themselves in verbal and non-verbal ways in order to increase motivation to change and engage in activities that promote education or healing. 
Drama Therapy - uses a drama/theater process, products and associations to achieve therapeutic goals.  Drama therapy provides clients with opportunities to tell his or her story to solve a problem, achieve a catharsis, extend the depth and breadth of inner experience, and increase flexibility in ways to address personal challenges. 
Dance/Movement Therapy - uses movement, dance, and other forms of physical activity to help clients draw a connection between body and mind.  These techniques are intended to help clients increase mind-body awareness so that they may use movement to facilitate healthy feeling, cognition, and behavior. 
Poetry/Creative Writing Therapy - relies on reading, discussing, and creating poetry or other forms of literature to help clients gain understanding of their feelings, develop empathy, enhance motivation, clarify personal goals, and identify alternative solutions to common challenges in personal behavior and relationships. 
Integrated arts (also known as multimodal) therapy - involves two or more expressive therapies to foster awareness, encourage emotional growth, and enhance relationship with others.  While it emphasizes the interrelatedness of the arts, it integrates a variety of activities that may consist of any of the aforementioned types of expressive therapy.
     CSOSA is an executive branch agency that handles offender supervision for Washington, DC, coordinating with the DC Superior Court and the US Parole Commission.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Old Fashioned Crime: One-Quarter of Federal 'Security Incidents' are Non-Cyber

     While cyber-security incidents and computer system breaches such as the recent Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack grab the headlines, a recent government reports shows that more mundane non-cyber incidents have skyrocketed as well. A graphic in a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report illustrates that a full 25% of "Information Security Incidents" are actually non-cyber in nature. This percentage represents 16,879 incidents in 2014 alone:

     When asked to explain the nature of these "non-cyber" incidents,  Gregory C. Wilshusen, Director, Information Security Issues for the GAO told THE WEEKLY STANDARD [emphasis added]:
The non-cyber incidents are those pertaining to the spillage or mishandling of personally identifiable information which involve hard copies or printed material as opposed to digital records. While my statement focused on cyber threats, it also touched upon data breaches which can be effected through cyber and non-cyber means.
     The GAO report indicated that in 2006, the total number of "information security incidents reported by federal agencies" (cyber and non-cyber) were 5,503. (The breakdown of cyber versus non-cyber for 2006 was not available.) But even using these figures, the number of non-cyber incidents alone in 2014 (16,879) is more than three times the total number of security incidents in 2006.
     Although cyber incidents have the potential to do widespread damage due to the nature of computer-based crime, the rapid increase in paper-based incidents involving personally identifiable information is worrisome as well. As bureaucrats and policy makers focus on high-tech mischief and crime, a growing number of criminals appear to be content to steal information the old fashioned way.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Had Unprotected Sex? Planned Parenthood Will Pay You $70...And You Could Win $500!

   Although Planned Parenthood's most recent controversy revolves around "fetal tissue" trafficking, the organization is no stranger to eyebrow-raising activities. A recent solicitation for participants for Planned Parenthood's Sexual Health Evaluation (SHE) study promised at least $70 with a chance to win up to $500. Interested parties who had had unprotected sex were encouraged to visit the website to "get the deal on what the study is all about, the gift cards you'll earn, and how you can win additional big prizes — then sign up and get started!"
     Although enrollment for the study is now over (2,317 participants signed up), Planned Parenthood used the following page to invite site visitors to learn more about the study:

    Clicking through to learn more presented potential participants with a video explaining the study and the various incentives, including cash prizes and gift cards for retailers such as Apple, Starbucks, Target and H&M.

     The entire video can be seen here:

     The study, as the acronym SHE indicates, is targeted at women. Although the solicitation refers to "unprotected sex", the scope of the study covers all of Planned Parenthood's online resources and seeks to learn through four 10-minute surveys over three months how women use those resources:

     Planned Parenthood assures participants that the organization will keep "personal health information... 100% private", promising to "do everything we can to keep others from learning about your participation in this study" through the use of identifying code numbers.
     The study is a joint project of Planned Parenthood and New York University Silver School of Social Work. Two drawings were planned for the contest portion of the study, one in the Spring/Summer of 2015 and the second for Fall/Winter 2015.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Feds Spend $7,540 for Cell Phones For President Obama's Trip to Ethiopia

     When the president of the United States travels, the White House and the Secret Service bring along a tremendous amount of communications equipment. Not only does the Secret Service set up a command post to coordinate communications for the visits, but secure connections are also needed for the president to keep in touch with Washington and the military around the world in case of emergencies. Despite all of these arrangements, however, a total of $7,540 was spent for foreign-made cell phones for President Obama's recent trip to Ethiopia.
     The phones were obtained via a contract signed on July 13, 2015 with a company in Ethiopia identified only as "Miscellaneous foreign awardees", the typical identifier for many overseas contracts with the US government. The contract was handled by the State Department through the US embassy in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. A compilation of screenshots from the contract is shown here:

     It remains unclear exactly who used the cell phones during the Ethiopia visit, or what happened to the phones when the visit was over. After an initial response from the press office of the State Department about the contract, a state department spokesperson subsequently deferred to the White House, saying, "After speaking with my colleagues we think you should contact the WH Press Office for any comment on the President’s trip to Ethiopia."
     The White House press office did not respond to a request for an explanation of the cell phone contract.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Day Before Hack Announced, OPM Released 'Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination' Guide

     The day before the Office of Personnel Management first announced a massive data breach of personal information, now former OPM director Katherine Archuleta's attention was focused elsewhere. Archuleta published a blog post on June 3 entitled "Celebrating Every Member of Our Federal Family" in recognition of "LGBT Pride Month." The White House reposted Archuleta's article the same day.
     In her post, Archuleta announced the release of an updated guide called "Addressing Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination in Federal Civilian Employment: A Guide to Employment Rights, Protections, and Responsibilities."

As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month, I want to proudly reinforce my continued commitment to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of our federal family, and recognize the incredible contributions this community has made in service to the American people...

That’s why I’m so excited to announce that the Office of Personnel Management is joining our partners at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Merit System Protections Board, and the Office of Special Counsel to release an updated guide titled “Addressing Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination in Federal Civilian Employment: A Guide to Employment Rights, Protections, and Responsibilities.” This informative resource will help LGBT federal employees make more informed choices about how best to pursue their individual claims when they believe they have suffered from discrimination.
    On the OPM website, the agency has seven "top priorities" listed. The first two are "Honoring the Workforce" and "Build a More Diverse and Engaged Workforce". Number four on the list is "IT Improvement" to "streamline and update IT systems" and number five is "Background Investigations" to "lead efforts to strengthen the background investigations program across government." The priorities list does not include any direct references to "security."
    When reporters questioned White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on June 17 about calls for Archuleta's resignation over the data breach, Earnest said that Archuleta had made cyber security a priority and that the president had "confidence" in her to do the job:
[T]his is an issue that they’ve been working on for some time; that Director Archuleta, in one of her first priorities that she identified after taking that job, was to upgrade the OPM computer network, particularly their cyber defenses.  And this is obviously an ongoing process, and the President does have confidence that she is the right person for the job...
OPM, under the leadership of Director Archuleta, recognizes that this does need to be a priority and that there is significant and important work that needs to be done to make sure that they’re fulfilling their responsibility to protect the data of federal workers... 
[A] number of senior White House officials have been in touch with the senior leadership at OPM.
     As further information came to light that the OPM breach was far worse than first revealed, Director Archuleta initially said she had no intention of resigning (via Federal Times):
"When I took office in late 2013, one of my priorities was to upgrade OPM's antiquated legacy systems," she said during a call with reporters Thursday. "It is because of the efforts of OPM and its staff that we've been able to identify the breaches."
      Friday, however, news broke of Archuleta's resignation.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hillary Contest 'Winner' Hand-Picked for 'Views, Backgrounds, and Interests'

     Hillary Clinton is offering a chance for one lucky person and a guest to join her for dinner. The campaign is inviting supporters to "chip in" to be automatically entered in the contest, although no contribution is required:

     However, it's not all luck and "chance." In the end, the Hillary for America (the "Sponsor") campaign will hand-pick the winner from a pool of 100 "potential winners" based on "views, backgrounds, and interests." A look at the contest fine print (which in reality is not that fine, but must be accessed on a separate webpage) reveals the following paragraph:
One hundred (100) potential winners will be selected by a random drawing from all eligible entries received during the Promotion Period to be held at Hillary for America Headquarters no later than August 3, 2015...  Sponsor will, in its sole discretion, then select one winner from the list of eligible potential winners from the Promotion Period on the basis of criteria determined and applied by Sponsor to provide for an appropriate range of views, backgrounds, and interests among the winners selected.
     It is unclear from the rules how the campaign will determine what the "views, backgrounds, and interests" of the potential winners are. The rules do, however, allow for a background check on potential winners, although that check presumably has more to do with security than anything else:
Sponsor may, at its option, conduct a background check on each potential winner. Sponsor reserves the right to disqualify any potential winner from receiving any prize based on such background check if Sponsor determines, in its sole discretion that awarding any prize to such potential winner could result in a safety or security risk to any person or persons or could result in the disruption of any event associated with the Promotion... Winner must then identify potential guest to Sponsor, and Sponsor may, at its option, conduct the same background check and process applicable to potential winners.
     The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for an explanation of the process to determine the "views, backgrounds, and interests" of the potential winners.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Clintons' Caribbean Vacation Cost Taxpayers At Least $211K

     Bill and Hillary Clinton vacationed in the Dominican Republic around New Years, visiting at least two exclusive resorts, Punta Cana and the Casa de Campo. The once-and-possibly-future first couple spent the week, of course, under the watchful eye of the U.S. Secret Service, but the security required for the trip didn't come cheap. Five contracts for the Secret Service for lodging and vehicles totaled more than $211,000, not including food or transportation to and from the island for the agents on duty.
    The trip was first reported by THE WEEKLY STANDARD in April, but since that time more contracts have come to light, one as recently as June. The initial contract for hotels rooms for SS agents was $104,093, as shown in this composite screenshot of contract details:

     However, a second contract was subsequently posted, this one for $87,786.  This contract specifically mentions the hotel at Punta Cana, one of the resorts where the Clintons stayed:

     Besides the hotel contracts, there were three separate contracts for vehicles, one for $1,430, a second for $5,530, and a third for $12,560, bringing the vehicle total to $19,520. The description for each of the vehicle contracts reads "VEHICLE RENTAL FOR US SECRET SERVICE (FPOTUS/ FFLOTUS CLINTON)". Total hotel and vehicle costs came to $211,399.
     The Clintons each appeared in some photos during the trip, Mrs. Clinton at Punta Cana and Mr. Clinton at Casa de Campo:

     Mrs. Clinton reportedly discussed her decision to run for president during the Clintons' Caribbean vacation during a meal with sugar tycoons the Fanjul brothers and businessman Rolando Bunster, friends of the Clintons and participants (Alonso Fanjul and Bunster) in the Clinton Foundation’s Future of the Americas conference in New York in December 2014.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.