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.