Thursday, December 15, 2016

President-Elect Trump Selling 'Official' 45th President Merchandise

    Donald Trump will not be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States until January 20, 2017, but that isn't stopping the president-elect from selling "President of the United States of America - Trump / Pence" stickers, t-shirts and buttons. The presidential products have similar descriptions, but all of them say "Show your support for the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump."

    The "President of the United States" merchandise is distinct from the "president-elect" merchandise that the Trump Campaign also began selling post-election.  Notably the "President" t-shirt says "2016" even though Trump will not assume the title until next year.
    The Trump is also selling the "Official USA 45th Presidential Hat":

    Although the hat is marketed as the "Official USA 45th Presidential" hat, the funds will fund Trump's campaign, not the USA.
    The president-elect's transition team did not respond to a request for comment on Trump's apparent trading on the office of the president for financial gain.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Kerry: 'I Fault My Country For... Not Stepping Up Sufficiently, Financially and Otherwise'

    Secretary of State John Kerry received the Medal for Leadership from the London-based Benjamin Franklin House last week for his work as a US diplomat, but took the opportunity to scold his country for "not stepping up sufficiently, financially and otherwise" to deal with world problems. The remarks seem curious coming in the context of the closing months of Kerry's fours years as secretary of state and Barack Obama's eight years as president.
    Kerry spoke of population growth, climate change and global "conflict and governance" issues, but assured his audience that "[a]ll of this is manageable if we lead, if we step up, if the Western world will do the things that we have in our capacity to do".
And the world right now is in need of leadership as never before, perhaps. I can’t – hard to say “never before” when you’re in London and Winston Churchill did what he did, but we have serious, monumental kinds of problems that we face, which is a clash of technology and modernity and culture and religion, and a group of people who are so nihilistic that there’s not even an ideology around which they organize themselves. They just want to destroy and take you back to a place where you have to live according to what they say and what they ordain, and it changes. Who knows when or how – there’s no rhyme or reason except for their brutality and their hate for people who represent something different.
So I look at a world where the population is going to go from 6 billion to 9 billion, where the planet is warming at a rate that is beyond alarming, where we see conflict and governance that are deeply troubling, notwithstanding our best efforts to build capacity and so forth. So – but all of this is changeable. All of this is manageable if we lead, if we step up, if the Western world will do the things that we have in our capacity to do. And I fault my country and others for, frankly, not stepping up sufficiently, financially and otherwise. We’re the richest country on the face of the planet. We have $18 trillion economy, yet we put only one penny of every single dollar that we spend into everything we do around the world. It doesn’t make sense when you see millions of children who need to be educated, people who need to be kept out of the clutches of these nihilists. It’s a major challenge. [emphasis added]
    The secretary of state also appeared to take a veiled shot at Britain's decision to leave the European union:
And finally, I’m glad to receive this because I believe that this is a special moment in world history where regardless of how you manage Brexit, we need to show leadership together going forward on every issue from climate change to the oceans, which you mentioned, Sir Bob, to the vexing challenge of religious exploitation and terrorism. [emphasis added]
    Kerry noted he was "really honored to receive this [award] for probably – well, several reasons, but first and foremost the special relationship between [Britain and the US]," and that while he "will soon be leaving being Secretary, [this award] will stay with me as a down payment on the things I need to do with the rest of my life."

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Maryland's Obamacare Website: Female Doctor, Male Patient Examination is... Funny?

    Via Maryland's Obamacare site: Watch this clip and imagine if a male doctor and a female patient were portrayed:

        Funny? Outrage? I honestly don't know currently in our society.

UPDATE: If the video above doesn't work for you, try this link.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Obamacare Website Drops Section on 'How to Keep Your Doctor'

    "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" was President Obama's primary catchphrase he used to sell the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to the American people. Now Obamacare's flagship website, Healthcare.gov, no longer even addresses the issue.
    Ironically, the section in question was the first public (if indirect) admission by the Obama administration that the president's promise was less than a "guarantee." As THE WEEKLY STANDARD first reported in July 2013, the website told consumers that they "may be able to keep your current doctor," in contrast to the president's unequivocal statement: "Here is a guarantee that I've made.If you have insurance that you like, then you will be able to keep that insurance. If you've got a doctor that you like, you will be able to keep your doctor."
    The original website contained a section entitled "Can I keep my own doctor", later revised to "How to keep your doctor." A version of the website as of last October can be seen here:

    Just before open enrollment began last year, however, this section was dropped. Now the same link takes users to a section entitled "How to pick a health insurance plan". (The internet address that contains the words "keep-your-doctor" redirects to an address ending with "plan-types".)

    The closest the website comes to mentioning the president's "keep your doctor" commitment is, "To be certain your doctor is included in your plan’s network, contact the plan or provider for the most up-to-date information."
    Earlier this year, the White House also removed the "Reality Check" from its own website where "Linda Douglass of the White House Office of Health Reform debunks the myth that reform will force you out of your current insurance plan or force you to change doctors."

    The Reality Check link now directs visitors to a more generic "Health Reform" page that includes no mention of the promise regarding keeping your doctor. An August 2009 blog post called "Facts are stubborn things" can still be found on the website, but is not linked from the new Health Reform page. In that post, the White House asserted, "For the record, the President has consistently said that if you like your insurance plan, your doctor, or both, you will be able to keep them."
    Open enrollment for the 2017 coverage year under the Affordable Care Act begins on November 1, 2016. New enrollees with questions keeping their doctors will face their own reality check with little in the way of answers.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Iran Received $1.3B Balance Within Two Months of Initial $400M Cash Payment

    Less than two months after Iran received $400 million in foreign currency in January, the top state sponsor of terror in the world acquired another $1.3 billion in cash from the United States, based on statements of US government officials. A state department official confirmed to THE WEEKLY STANDARD via email that the payment occurred before March 17, and President Obama, while addressing the initial $400 million payment, acknowledged on August 4 that payments to Iran must be made in cash because "we don't have a banking relationships with Iran... We could not wire the money."
    Until last week, the Obama administration would not even confirm that the $1.3 billion balance had been paid. However, once the Wall Street Journal broke the story that the initial $400 million cash payment had coincided with the release of five American detainees by Iran, more details were revealed. But the State Department continued to decline to provide the "tick-tock" on the payment schedule.
    As it turns out, the State Department had already revealed back on March 17 that the $1.3 billion payment had been made at that time. On February 4, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding a detailed explanation of the entire $1.7 billion agreement including the timing of payments.
     On March 17, Julia Frifield, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, replied to Royce's letter (a month after Royce's requested deadline.) Frifield wrote, "Iran received the balance of $400 million in the Trust Fund as well as roughly $1.3 billion representing a compromise on the interest.”
    Monday, a state department official responded to THE WEEKLY STANDARD via email, saying "I can confirm that the payment was made before Assistant Secretary Frifield’s letter on March 17, 2016, in which she said the payment had been made."
    Though the official would not confirm the "mechanics" of the payment, the August 4 statement of President Obama leaves no other alternative than that the $1.3 billion was also paid in cash.
    Assistant Julia Frifield also wrote in her March 17 latter that “[t]he payment for the compromise that was reached on interest, of approximately $1.3 billion, has been provided out of the Judgment Fund.” A search of the Treasury Department's Judgment Fund website, however, lists no such payment. The Treasury Department had not yet responded to a request for an explanation of the missing information.

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hillary Supporter Calls Her 'The Devil We Know'

    Under the category "with friends like these", Jack Moss, founder of the Black Hat and DefCon hacking conferences, called Hillary Clinton "the devil we know" while headlining a Las Vegas fundraiser for the Democratic candidate for president Wednesday night. Moss's comments echoed remarks Donald Trump made earlier this week when he used the expression "deal with the devil" in connection with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
    Jack Moss's comments came in an interview with NPR where he gave his take on the Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump matchup:
If Hillary is sort of almost status quo and the devil we know versus complete crazy unknown, I'm not will to risk the country on complete crazy unknown.
    THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported the "cybersecurity fundraiser" on Monday. Though the Clinton campaign said this was not an "official" campaign event, tickets could be purchased through the campaign website.

    Donald Trump drew widespread attention earlier this week when he suggested Bernie Sanders "made a deal with the devil" when Sanders threw his support to Hillary Clinton. "He made a deal with the devil. She's the devil," Trump said.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard on August 4, 2016.

2015 Flashback: State Claimed No 'Big Suitcase Full of Cash' in Iran Deal

    The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the transfer of $400 million in cash for Iran in January coincided with not only the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, but with the release of American detainees as well. The cash came not from sanctions relief, but from the settlement of a decades-old dispute over cancelled arms shipments in the 1970s. The Journal says the money was delivered via cargo plane:
Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane, according to these officials. The U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland, they said.
    Although the administration announced the settlement at the time, including the amount of $400 million, the timing and details of the delivery were not publicly revealed until now. In fact, the administration downplayed the immediate benefits that Iran would enjoy. When the state department was pushing for the Iran deal in September 2015, a state official pooh-poohed the idea that Iran would get a "big suitcase full of cash":
[T]here’s a common misperception that on implementation day a big suitcase full of cash shows up in Tehran and all of a sudden they have all this money, which I think is really – does a disservice to what actually is going to happen.
    Just days before the deal was implemented, state department spokesman John Kirby remarked that "nobody is handing [Iran] some sort of windfall of cash", though he was specifically addressing sanctions relief and not the arms dispute settlement. Administration officials on a conference call on January 17 also skirted the issue of the cash delivery when describing the timing of the Iran deal, the dispute settlement, and the Americans' release.
    Some Republican lawmakers, including Senator John McCain, are accusing the Obama administration of trading hostages for cash.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard on August 3, 2016.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Military Won't Reveal Scope of Coalition Ground War Against ISIS

    Since August 2014, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has reported on what quickly became daily coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and later in Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. The number of strikes each day has ranged from just a few to as many as several dozen. However, the daily press releases also include the following statement: "Ground-based artillery fired in counter-fire or in fire support to maneuver roles are not classified as a strike as defined by CJTF-OIR."
    While CENTCOM gives detailed reports on the number of airstrikes, intended targets (fighting positions, IEDs, warehouses, mortar positions, erc.), and the apparent success or failure of strikes, CENTCOM does not provide details on strikes involving ground-based artillery.
    When questioned about the frequency of such actions and the conditions under which they take place, a CENTCOM press official replied that CENTCOM does not provide such information because the "use of ground-based artillery for counter-fire and support to maneuver forces reflects the conditions on the battlefield" and too much "detail could potentially provide useful information to the enemy."
    To give an idea of the ground-based activity, however, the CENTCOM official did say that in the thirty days preceding June 13, "[c]oalition artillery has fired four times into the city of Fallujah in support of Iraqi Security Forces operations." During the same time, CENTCOM reported no fewer than eighty-one air strikes in and around Fallujah. The Iraqi armed forces launched an effort to retake Fallujah from ISIL on May 23 backed by coalition strikes.
    CENTCOM did not indicate where the ground-based artillery taking part in the Fallujah operation is located, but in March, the Military Times reported that "U.S. troops in Jordan launched a GPS-guided rocket artillery attack into Syria" using a "truck-mounted, guided-missile system with a range of up to 185 miles." The long range of such ground-based system gives the Obama administration room to continue to assert that the fight against ISIL does not include "boots on the ground" even though coalition forces are clearly part of the ground war targeting the Islamic State.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Email to Hillary Clinton: 'Be a good person like you almost are...'

    After Hillary Clinton ended her time as Secretary of State but before she launched her presidential campaign, Clinton set up a website (hillaryclintonoffice.com) to maintain an internet presence. The site was never fully developed and contained a few links, some contact information, and a few speeches.
    More recently, however, the site has been expanded and now includes a section reprinting emails from supporters. One such email contains what appears to be a somewhat backhanded encouragement to the Democratic frontrunner:
    Well, at least her loves her anyway.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

State Department Press Release on Missing Robert Levinson Contains Typo in 'Tips' Email Address [UPDATED]

    This morning, John Kerry and the State Department commemorated the ninth anniversary of the disappearance of Robert Levinson in Iran with a press release reminding Iran that it has "committed to cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Levinson" and calling for information about his whereabouts.
     Secretary Kerry says in the press release that "I want to underscore our commitment to locate Bob and bring him home."
     However, the email address provided in the press release (archived here) contains an extra period after "gov" that prevents possible tipsters from being able to directly respond when clicking on the link:

     Two hours after the press release was posted on Twitter and also emailed to reporters, the error had not been corrected.

UPDATE: At 12:38 PM, the State Department responded to a request for comment with: "Thank you for flagging this inadvertent error. We've alerted our colleagues who manage the website, and we'll make the correction. Our thanks again, and our best wishes."

UPDATE 2: State's first attempt to fix was unsuccessful. Removed wrong period.

UPDATE 3: After another email, State has the correct email address link now.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Trump's New Clothes

    In the classic tale The Emperor's New Clothes, a little boy ends up being the only one to point out the emperor's embarrassing lack of attire. Presidential candidate Donald Trump, on the other hand, has virtually been shouting for months, "I'm buck naked, you fools!", and yet the crowd (at least 30-40% of poll respondents, anyway) continues to envision a beautiful Republican Presidential Robe of the Future. Could any serious candidate really say "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" and it actually be true?
    I've been arguing for months on Twitter that Trump doesn't want to win the Republican nomination, much less be president. Nothing else can account for the deliberately outrageous, self-destructive behavior he regularly engages in on the "campaign trail", a euphemism in Trump's mind for an extended screen test/contract negotiation. Trump is never happier than when he's on camera being Trump, and what better place to do that than on his own show?
    The Apprentice was a triumph for Trump, earning him a reported $213 million dollars over fourteen seasons (granted, Trump is the source of that figure.) Trump will turn seventy in June. Another TV show could carry him well into his eighties and secure the legendary status he desires (after all, what's left after being inducted into the WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, Hall of Fame?)
    Who needs four (or eight) years of constant headaches, having someone else dictate your schedule and itinerary twenty-four hours a day? His tweeted reaction to his Iowa loss ("Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!") is his last ditch effort to sabotage his chances in New Hampshire and grease the skids for a graceful (?) exit from the race and back to the studio.
    The only thing Donald Trump wants less than being elected president of the United States would be the humiliation of being selected as vice president. Trump is a political Peter Pan - he loves being a candidate, but growing up into the adulthood of office-holder would be the equivalent of the-boy-who-wouldn't-grow-up wearing a business suit or punching a clock every day. This is not to say Trump is not disciplined. He's had his share of success and failure and has so far has ended up back on his feet. Sheer force of personality has taken him far. But president? Not even Trump himself wants to go that far.
    But a lucrative, long-term TV contract to showcase his larger-than-life ego and personality? Now you're talking. When the right one comes along, Trump wants nothing better than to call together his senior campaign staff, point his finger at them, and yell, "You're fired!"