Top TSA Official Removed From Duties Over Backlash For Sluggish Security Lines

A top Transportation Security Administration official was removed from his post over the absurdly long lines witnessed by travelers at airports. In some cases, people waited for hours to be screened by TSA agents. Christine wrote Chicago’s Midway International Airport’s lines were a total disaster. Moreover, it only strengthens the argument that such security services should be privatized. Facing mounting criticism, the TSA removed Kelly Hoggan, assistant administrator for security operations, along with establishing a “centralized incident command team at TSA headquarters,” according to NBC News. At a House Oversight Committee hearing, TSA Administrator Peter NEffenger tried to pass off the long lines due to staff shortages, but he had a more difficult time explaining why Hoggan had received $90,000 in bonuses, despite security lines not improving (via CNN):

Kelly Hoggan has been removed from his position as head of security at TSA, following our hearing on May 12 on mismanagement at TSA," the committee tweeted.

The House Oversight Committee conducted a hearing on TSA's operations on May 12. At the hearing the TSA Administrator, Peter Neffenger, was questioned why Hoggan was given $90,000 in bonuses when security lines were not improving.

His agency is on the defensive after three former TSA employees testified that they were retaliated against after "directed reassignments," where employees who have highlighted wrongdoing within the administration are shifted to other assignments.

Neffenger said then that he did not "tolerate" potential retaliation against whistleblowers and pledged to "look into it."

The TSA declined to comment. But in an internal memo from Neffenger on Monday, the TSA announced several changes to its management.

"These adjustments will enable more focused leadership and screening operations at critical airports in the national transportation system," Neffenger wrote in the memo, which CNN obtained from an official within the agency.

Neffenger attributed the long lines to the thousands of employees the administration lost in 2014 that they have yet to replace. But much harder to explain was the $90,000 bonus given to Hoggan following a scathing report by Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth that detailed numerous security failures at airports around the country.

Additionally, the bonus paid to Hoggan was doled out in $10,000 increments, leading the committee to believe that the TSA was attempting to be less than transparent, accusing the administration of "smurfing" the payment.

What a nightmare.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren Criticizes Trump, Sexism in Commencement Speech

While giving the commencement address at Suffolk University, Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a side comment mocking Donald Trump’s high unfavorability ratings among women.

“By the way, President McKenna, how’s this speech polling so far?” she asked, referencing the university’s polling facilities. “Higher or lower than Donald Trump’s unfavorable numbers with women?”

According to a recent Fox News poll, 63 percent of women have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. Many have identified his unpopularity among women as a key vulnerability in his campaign.

Over the past few months, Warren has been a vocal critic of Trump for, among other issues, statements she identifies as sexist. In early May, she tweeted, “We get it, @realDonaldTrump: When a woman stands up to you, you’re going to call her a basket case. Hormonal. Ugly.” She also claimed that he built his campaign on “racism, sexism, and xenophobia.”

The issue of sexism holds personal relevance for Warren, the first female senator of Massachusetts. In her commencement speech, she explained how her mother discouraged her from attending college, saying that she should instead “find a nice man to marry and have him take care of [her].” After Warren graduated law school, employers would not hire her due to her pregnancy. She stayed at home with her children for several years and then worked as a law professor for several decades, until Sen. Harry Reid asked her to chair the Congressional Oversight Panel during the 2008 financial crisis. In 2012, she ran a successful Senate campaign against Republican Scott Brown, becoming one of 20 female senators serving in the 114th Congress.

Warren’s comment about Trump’s unfavorability comes at a time when both presidential candidates have reason to be concerned about their polling with the opposite gender. While, as mentioned, 63 percent of women have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, the same poll shows that 71 percent of men have an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton.

Valerie Jarrett Cites 'Ending Two Wars' as Obama Accomplishments

White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett was tasked with listing some of the ways President Obama made good on his promise to bring “hope and change” to America during her interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” this weekend. She cited a declining unemployment rate, a revived automobile industry and the millions of Americans who now have health care as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Some of those “accomplishments” are debatable, but one was downright false. During her answer, Jarrett had the audacity to say that Obama “ended two wars” during his two-term tenure.

Jarrett’s comments would be news to our military. The president declared he was pulling out American troops from Iraq in 2011, only to send over 4,000 soldiers back. Meanwhile, we are launching thousands of airstrikes against ISIS and assisting Iraqi forces in their new effort to retake the important city of Fallujah.

The Obama administration has had a hard time using the word “combat” to describe our presence in Iraq, despite military serviceman being killed while fighting ISIS. Earlier this month, Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV became the third service member to fall on the front lines of battle.

Oh, and Jarrett’s “60 Minutes” interview aired at the same time our military launched a drone strike against a major Taliban leader.

While the interview may have been conducted before the official Pentagon announcement, her comments coincided with the news that a drone strike had taken out Taliban leader Mansour in the Pakistan province of Baluchistan – the latest sign of the prolonged fight in the Middle East and South Asia.

So, we’ll ask again: What exactly are President Obama's accomplishments?

Coca-Cola: The Latest Victim Of Venezuela's Disastrous Affair With Socialism

Venezuela’s death spiral continues, as its supply of sugar has been depleted. The incident has caused all Coca-Cola production to shut down in the country, which is already reeling from hunger, looting, lack of medicine, rolling blackout, and hyperinflation (via CBS News):

Coca-Cola is halting production in Venezuela of its namesake beverage due to a sugar shortage brought on by the country's grinding economic crisis.

The Atlanta-based company said in an emailed statement Friday said that its production of sugar-sweetened beverages will be suspended in the coming days after local suppliers reported they had run out of the raw material. Sugar-free beverages are not affected and the company said its offices and distribution centers remain open in Venezuela.

The move comes as Venezuela's economy is teetering on the edge of collapse with widespread food shortages and inflation forecast to surpass 700 percent.

This is authoritarian socialism, folks. Oh, and those rolling blackouts have been wreaking havoc at what’s left of the nation’s health care system, where dead and dying babies is becoming the norm. Say what you want about capitalism, it’s the only economic force that’s been able to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The same cannot be said for Venezuela’s 21st Century Socialism.

Today is "Beyoncé Day" In Minnesota

Today, May 23, 2016, has been declared "Beyoncé Day" in Minnesota ahead of Queen Bey's Formation World Tour performance tonight in Minneapolis.

A resolution signed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) and Lt. Gov. Tina Flint Smith (DFL)praised Beyoncé for having a positive and inspiring influence on young girls and women.

Beyoncé recently released the album Lemonade. Her performance at the Super Bowl halftime show came under fire for reportedly being "anti-police." Several police departments have threatened to boycott her concerts and refuse to provide security.

FBI Investigating Clinton Pal Terry McAuliffe Over Alleged Foreign Campaign Donations

The FBI is investigating Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe for allegedly taking illegal campaign donations from a foreign donor. McAuliffe's time as a board member for the Clinton Global Initiative is also under scrutiny. CNN has the story

As part of the probe, the officials said, investigators have scrutinized McAuliffe's time as a board member of the Clinton Global Initiative, a vehicle of the charitable foundation set up by former President Bill Clinton.

Among the McAuliffe donations that drew the interest of the investigators was $120,000 from a Chinese businessman, Wang Wenliang, through his U.S. businesses. Wang was previously delegate to China's National People's Congress, the country's ceremonial legislature.

McAuliffe is under FBI investigation. Hillary Clinton is under FBI investigation for public corruption through the Clinton Foundation and for sharing top secret, classified information on an unsecure, private email server. Like McAuliffe, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is under FBI investigation for alleged corruption surrounding his campaign fundraising. Clinton, McAuliffe and DeBlasio are friends and political allies.

In fact, McAuliffe held a fundraiser for Clinton...yesterday.

Are You Ready For...Vice President Newt Gingrich?

Really interesting stuff from National Review's Eliana Johnson, whose latest campaign dispatch sheds light on just how close Newt Gingrich has become with the presumptive Republican nominee -- and how hard the former House Speaker is said to be lobbying behind the scenes for a spot on the ticket. Are you ready for Trump/Gingrich 2016, America?

Gingrich has, in effect, launched his own campaign to secure the nomination. “I think Newt is lobbying to be the vice president, and I think their people are paying a lot of attention to him,” says Ed Rollins, a Republican operative and former Gingrich staffer now working for a super PAC supporting Trump’s candidacy. “It’d be a ticket with six former wives, kind of like a Henry VIII thing,” Rollins says. “They certainly understand women.” Trump’s search for a vice-presidential nominee is underway. The campaign confirmed last week that it had tapped veteran Washington lawyer A. B. Culvahouse to vet potential nominees, and Bloomberg News reported earlier this month that Gingrich is among a handful of people Trump is considering...“I don’t know two other people who can command more media attention than Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump,” says Rick Tyler, who served as Gingrich’s campaign spokesman in 2012. For Trump, Tyler says, naming Gingrich vice president would simply be “doubling down on an already successful strategy: keeping your enemies constantly on defense, constantly off balance, constantly explaining themselves. Newt knows how to do that.”

Let's just pretend Rollins' sarcastic (I hope?) "they certainly understand women" comment never happened, and instead focus on Johnson's details regarding how Gingrich has ingratiated himself with Trump's inner circle, effectively assuming the role of a deeply-trusted daily adviser:

Gingrich has a reputation for insinuating himself into campaigns by firing off dozens of e-mails brimming with ideas that range from brilliant to insane. While it’s a quality that has irritated previous presidential candidates such as John McCain and Mitt Romney, sources say that Trump has come to value the former speaker’s opinions. “They talk every day,” says a source familiar with the relationship, who claims that Gingrich e-mails Trump, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and campaign manager Corey Lewandowski “countless times a day.”...Gingrich’s influence within Trump World is widespread. Inside Trump’s newly established campaign offices in Washington, D.C., his fingerprints are everywhere. “Right from the minute I joined we were told that Newt will have his hand in every major policy effort,” says one Trump aide. “So one of the things I do when I’m researching or writing anything, in addition to looking at what Trump has said about anything, I look at what Newt has said.”

Though the tidbits and speculation about Newt supposedly maneuvering to emerge victorious in the Veepstakes chase is certainly interesting, Allahpundit is right that the biggest piece of real news out of this piece is that Newt Gingrich is, and has been, playing a fairly major role within the Trump campaign. That's something worth keeping in mind whenever he's seen offering "independent" analysis -- sometimes tellingly obsequious -- on television or over social media. The apparent reality that Newt and Trump speak every day is also newsworthy. If the bolded comment above from a campaign aide is representative, and Team Trump really is relying heavily on Gingrich for guidance on "every major policy effort," that insight could be reassuring to some conservative Trump skeptics. Though Newt is infamous for wandering off the reservation from time to time -- in ways both ludicrous and troubling -- he's generally viewed as a genuine ideas-based conservative. If Trump is willing to afford the former Speaker a major seat at the policy table, if not a perch at the head of said table, that may help reassure recalcitrant righties that a true believer is set to play an outsized role in steering the Good Ship Trump.  To wit, via the NRO story: "On Friday, the source says Gingrich sent five messages after lunch, musing on everything from Fox host Megyn Kelly’s interview with Trump to Trump’s recently announced list of potential Supreme Court nominees to ideas for targeting Bernie Sanders’ voters."

Therein lies the appeal of Gingrich as a potential Vice President, should Trump be elected. As for his utility as a running mate, that's a bit murkier. A Trump/Gingrich ticket would be historically undisciplined as far as campaign messaging is concerned. Perhaps the barely-controlled chaos would play well. Maybe it'd be an epic trainwreck.  One thing is clear: Trump is not remotely averse to following his gut and taking astronomical, almost unthinkable, political risks.  Teaming up with Newt Gingrich could end up being one of them.  To call that ticket "flawed" would be to refer to the Titanic as "no longer operational."  But considering who the two individuals poised to capture their respective parties' nominations are, it seems like "unprecedentedly flawed" is all the hotness with American voters this cycle.  Of course, it sometimes feels like virtually anyone could beat this person.  She's so bad at this:

Of 529 Syrian Refugees Received By US This Month, None Are Christian

All 529 Syrian refugees admitted to the US this month identified themselves as Muslim. More refugees have been received this May than any other month this fiscal year.

The Obama administration pledged last September to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the 2016 Fiscal Year. Since October 1, 2015, 2,265 refugees have been placed in the US. The State Department Refugee Processing Center (RPC) reported that out of these refugees only 21, or less than one percent, were non-Muslims.

The Obama administration has been criticized by both sides for its actions towards the refugee crisis. Officials opposing the admittance of refugees have voiced concerns that terrorists may use the crisis to gain entrance to the US. The low number of Christians has also been a point of contention. According to an article by The Hill, opponents of the refugees’ entry believe the process might filter out Christians.

The United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) stated in December that Republicans’ comments on the disproportionate number of Christian refugees are misinformed. The US is not the only country receiving unexpectedly low numbers of Christian refugees. Jana Mason, senior adviser for government relation and external affairs at the UNHCR, said that out of the 2 million registered Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt, only 1.2 percent were Christian. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, 87 percent of all Syrians are Muslim, and 10 percent are Christian.

Activist group Human Rights First published a report in April highlighting that despite the recent increase in US resettlement efforts, meeting the goal of 10,000 would require the US to admit over 1,400 refugees each month from April to September this year. However, only 451 refugees were processed last month. The group criticized the administration for not promising to admit more.

Halfway through the fiscal year in March, the US had only received 1,285 refugees. Since then the percentage of Christian migrants continued to decline as the number of immigrants increased.

Of the refugees who arrived this month, 525 identified themselves as Sunni Muslims, while the remaining four simply described themselves as Muslims.

Democrat Slams Obama: Lifting of Vietnam Arms Embargo 'Perilously Weakens' Ability to Secure Human Rights

In case you missed it over the weekend, President Obama lifted the long-standing arms embargo against Vietnam. 

President Obama on Monday fully lifted the United States’ 41-year arms embargo against Vietnam.

"At this stage both sides have developed a level of trust and cooperation, including between our militaries, that is reflective of common interests and mutual respect," Obama said at a news conference in Hanoi.

“This change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself and removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War,” he added.

The move is receiving heavy criticism from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who argue the fight for human rights in the communist country jeopardized.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce had a similar response to President Obama's decision.

“The security situation in Southeast Asia is driving several countries to seek closer military ties with the United States. That’s influence the administration could use to press Vietnam to better its very bad human rights record. But that’s now leverage lost with today’s action," Royce released in a statement. "The Obama administration’s ‘pivot to Asia’ should be about security ties, but also standing up for brave Vietnamese believers in democracy when they are under assault in Vietnam.”

President Obama will visit Vietnam this week.

France Surrounds Largest Stadium with 7-Foot Fence, Crowd Chaos Ensues

In an attempt to prevent further terror attacks like the one in Paris in November, France has built a seven-foot fence around its largest soccer stadium and employed 1,700 security officers to help deter future attacks.  

The new measures were installed at the Stade de France as a trial run for the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, which starts in under three weeks.

However, as thousands of fans became trapped as they passed through pat-downs and multiple ticket checks on Saturday, they became restless and ignited fireworks in the densely-packed crowd. 

Marseille supporters even lit a bonfire inside the stadium after their team lost the match 4-2.

Apparently the security measures failed as the fans were able to bring in explosives and flammable materials.  

Local police chief Philippe Gali told French radio Europe1 on Monday that this "proved the searches did not operate as planned … we're going to have to fix what didn't work." He also cited technical dysfunctions at the gates.

Following the failed test run, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve ordered Euro 2016 organizers to meet on Monday.

Fans Urge Disney to Give Elsa A Girlfriend

Disney's smash-hit movie Frozen, despite its complete lack of plot and decent-at-best soundtrack, will be getting a sequel in the near future. Some fans of the film are hoping that Elsa will have a female love interest in the new movie, and have started a campaign urging Disney to make this happen.

In the original film, Elsa was unique among Disney princesses/queens in that she did not have a romantic interest--of any gender or species. Instead, the formerly bitter and harsh Elsa realized that the love (in a general, non-eros sense) is the most important thing after her sister Anna sacrifices herself to protect her. Elsa's outpouring of grief for the loss of her sister manages to unfreeze both Anna and Arendelle, ending the eternal winter she inadvertently cursed upon her homeland.

The campaign has reached the actual stars of the film, and Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa, said she was open to the idea of Elsa being in love with a woman--but that it was up to Disney to decide.

“I think it’s great,” the Broadway star and actress told ET. “Disney’s just gotta contend with that. I’ll let them figure that out.” When asked if she’d support the decision if it were to happen, Menzel responded: “No matter what,” as the character “changed my life.”

Given that Disney reportedly recently finished the script for the film and recording is to begin shortly, it's unlikely that the movie will include this plot line.

Personally, I think this is all a bit silly. Shoehorning a sexuality onto a beloved established character won't do anything to change societal attitudes, it will just make people upset that a character they enjoy is being used simply to push an agenda. Further, part of Elsa's appeal is that she's (for lack of a better phrase), a strong independent woman who don't need no man--or woman. It would be pointless for Disney to pull a stunt like this.

Al Gore Says There Is 'Hope' For Trump on Climate Change

Al Gore has proven to be a single-issue voter. For years, all he's been talking about is the weather. It appears, however, that the country’s most famous environmentalist is not yet convinced that Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton would be the best-qualified candidate to take on climate change. He has yet to endorse her – or anyone – in the 2016 race.

Is it possible that Gore, who has linked climate change to the refugee crisis, health and more, likes what he’s hearing from Clinton’s opponent Bernie Sanders? Certainly, it seems the Vermont senator has been more vocal about taking on climate change than his opponent. At a Democratic debate, he even equated it to terrorism.

Gore indicated that he will support the Democratic nominee regardless of who it is during an interview that aired on “Today” Monday morning. Yet, he noted that a Donald Trump presidency may not be the end of the world. Even after “Today’s” Anne Thompson presented Gore with some of Trump’s controversial comments regarding global warming, including the time he called it a “hoax,” Gore was comforted by the GOP candidate’s malleability.  

But he left open the possibility that there could be some "hope" with Trump.

"I'm not Pollyannaish about it, but I do think that there is still some basis for hope," Gore insisted.

It’s been ten years since Gore starred in an “Inconvenient Truth” and many of the film’s dire predictions have not come true. As his climate theories get discredited one-by-one, will a Gore endorsement carry any weight in November?  

Here We Go: New Trump Web Ad Highlights Rape Accusations Against Bill Clinton

With new polling pointing to a tightening general election contest, Donald Trump's campaign is setting its sights on Hillary Clinton's enduring and wide advantage among female voters. The former reality show star is expanding his lead with men, which has neutralized and even overtaken Clinton's "gender gap" edge. If Bernie Sanders supporters prove unwilling to rally to Mrs. Clinton when she finally sews up the nomination -- and if Trump can whittle down her lead with women, who will represent more than half of the overall electorate in November -- he has a realistic shot at beating her. One argument Trump fans offered on his behalf during the rancorous GOP primary was that he would be willing drop rhetorical bombs on the Clintons in ways that other candidates wouldn't ever dream of. Fact check: Mostly true. Here's a short online clip the Trump camp posted on Instagram, signaling that the billionaire fully intends to litigate Bill Clinton's sordid history of sexual misconduct and alleged assault as a means of undermining Hillary's positioning as a champion of women. Watch:

Is Hillary really protecting women?

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

This is a characteristically unsubtle escalation by Team Trump, whose principal has been telegraphing this line of criticism for months. Just last week, the candidate raised the word "rape" in connection to the former president, drawing a swift response from Hillary's camp.  As I've said and written on a number of occasions, even though lobbing this sort of attack may confound Clinton's campaign, dredge up long-dormant ugliness, and throw Mrs. Clinton off-message, it's also rife with political risk for the aggressor.  It's entirely plausible that this tactic may backfire if voters believe Trump is unfairly using the sins (and alleged crimes) of the husband to tear down the wife.  People may see it as mean-spirited, irrelevant and old news; after all, the 42nd president enjoys strong favorability ratings, despite his many known improprieties.  Then again, many younger voters aren't very aware of just how unseemly President Clinton's behavior was.  A whole generation of voters has likely never heard the name Juanita Broderick, whose accusations against Bill Clinton have been emotional, specific and consistent.  She is one of several women who have accused Hillary Clinton's husband of at least unwanted sexual advances, several of whose voices are featured in the video above.  The extent to which she looked the other way or actively aided in the smearing of his accusers ('nuts and sluts') can be fair game -- especially as she postures and preens with statements like this:

The inclusion of Hillary's cackle at the end of the Instagram snippet feels like a cheap shot.  The implication is that she derived maniacal glee from her husband's conduct, and these women's allegations.  Though this will undoubtedly thrill Trump loyalists, it could very well end up being counter-productive.  We'll see whether any sympathy-driven, pro-Hillary blowback materializes.  Then again, if Hillary chooses to go the indignant route in response, many Trump defenders will inevitably point to a separate audio recording to bolster the spirit of this attack.  Nearly two years ago, an irate woman came forward to savage Hillary Clinton for engaging in a blame-the-victim strategy that she said assassinated her character during a 1975 child rape case.  Clinton represented the accused rapist at the time, aggressively challenging the young victim's credibility in court documents.  That girl, now an adult, says Clinton took her "through hell," and lied "like a dog" in making "false allegations," resulting in a drastically reduced sentence.  A contemporaneous interview obtained by the Washington Free Beacon records Clinton chuckling about the resolution of the case.  Though I defended her decision to represent a cretinous client (whom she clearly believed to be guilty) as a necessary component of the US criminal justice system, her ruthless tactics against the alleged victim and weird laughter in an after-the-fact interview are unsettling.  I'll leave you with the presumptive Democratic nominee -- a platinum-level lifetime panderer -- lamenting Trump's "pandering" to the NRA over the weekend:

Now seems like a reasonable time to serve up a reminder that Hillary Clinton hit Barack Obama from the right on guns in 2008, and now has blasted Bernie Sanders from the left on the same issue this cycle.

Portland State Students Donate Hundreds For Hamas to Blow Up Israeli Hospitals, Cafes, Schools, Etc.

On college campuses across the country, Palestinian activists have been deeply involved in pushing the BDS movement, which advocates for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctioning of Israeli products. Filmmaker Ami Horowitz recently visited Portland State University, a hot spot of the BDS movement in America, to see how far students would be willing to go to support the anti-Israel cause. 

Posing as a representative from "American Friends for Hamas," a fake organization, Horowitz was able to raise hundreds of dollars from students by advocating for the bombing of schools, hospitals and cafes. 

"We're not your father's terrorist organization, we're kind of rebuilt and re-branded," Horowitz tells students as they donate money to his cause. "It's BDS at the next level. There's BDS and we're like, BDS plus."

At one point in the video, Horowitz tells a student, "The suicide bomber is all we've got because it's like the poor man's F-16." 

"Right, right," the student says in response. Another woman in the video says she'll donate $27 because that's the amount she gave to Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

You can see more of Ami's work at AmiHorowitz.com.

Thanks To Venezuelan Socialism, A Burger Costs $170

How bad is inflation in Venezuela? The country’s disastrous dalliance with lefty-economic theories has not only led to hospitals lacking basic medical supplies, like soap, food, and electricity, but burgers that now cost $170. Need a place to stay in Venezuela (though I don’t know why you would visit in the first place)? No problem—it’ll only cost you $6,900 a night (via AFP):

If a visitor to Venezuela is unfortunate enough to pay for anything with a foreign credit card, the eye-watering cost might suggest they were in a city pricier than Tokyo or Zurich.

A hamburger sold for 1,700 Venezuelan bolivares is $170, or a 69,000-bolivar hotel room is $6,900 a night, based on the official rate of 10 bolivares for $1.

But of course no merchant is pricing at the official rate imposed under currency controls. It's the black market rate of 1,000 bolivares per dollar that's applied.

But for Venezuelans paid in hyperinflation-hit bolivares, and living in an economy relying on mostly imported goods or raw materials, conditions are unthinkably expensive.

Even for the middle class, most of it sliding into poverty, hamburgers and hotels are out-of-reach excesses.

"Everybody is knocked low," Michael Leal, a 34-year-old manager of an eyewear store in Caracas, told AFP. "We can't breathe."

- Shuttered stores -

In Chacao, a middle-class neighborhood in the capital, office workers lined up outside a nut store to buy the cheapest lunch they could afford. Nearby restaurants were all but empty.

Superficially it looked like the center of any other major Latin American city: skyscrapers, dense traffic, pedestrians in short sleeves bustling along the sidewalks.

But look closely and you can see the economic malaise. Many stores, particularly those that sold electronics, were shuttered.

"It's horrible now," said Marta Gonzalez, the 69-year-old manager of a corner beauty products store.

The Agence French-Presse added that for most middle class families, a simple trip to the movie theater is now a luxury item that’s not affordable, as some are trying to live on $35/month. 

Absurd: NJ Serviceman Denied Concealed Carry Permit Even Though Military Site Is Threatened By Terrorists

We all know New Jersey is a bastion of anti-gun sentiment. It’s a deep-blue Democratic state that accepts carry rights, though you need to show a “justifiable need,” which has been the source of ire and mockery from Second Amendment supporters. Arguably, it’s an unconstitutional provision, one that was recently struck down in Washington, D.C., but the fight to put this portion of many “may-issue (anti-gun)” states’ carry laws in the crosshairs has been a steep climb. The Supreme Court has refused to hear arguments in two cases, where this portion was directly addressed. No dice.

Yet, moving away from the legal sphere, you would think that if you dealt with protecting the nation from terrorism, and working at a site that has been threatened by terrorists, would be good enough reason for one to have a concealed carry permit. Well, that’s not apparently what New Jersey thinks, and for those serving in our military to boot (via NJ101.5):

When it comes to firearms, Lt. Col. Terry S. Russell has more knowledge and training than most people in New Jersey. The 27-year U.S. Army soldier holds a senior position at the Picatinny Arsenal in Wharton.

But neither his expertise — nor the fact that he works at a military site that has been under threat of terrorist attacks — were enough for the state to grant him a concealed-carry permit.

In denying his application for a concealed-carry permit, Oceanport Police Chief Daniel W. Barcus said Russell was unable to demonstrate “justifiable need” because there had been no specific attacks or threats made directly on him.

To legally carry concealed firearms in New Jersey, residents have to apply to their local police for a permit demonstrating such a need. But critics of the state’s strict gun laws say this results in very few people other than acting and retired law enforcement officials getting approval for such permits.

[…]

“I have been fully trained and qualified, at a minimum annually, to skillfully employ handguns and rifles,” Russell explains.

In addition, he’s been “vetted through the Department of Defense security office every five years for the past 25 years” to have Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance.” An attachment to his application shows that he already holds a concealed carry permit in Texas.

This is absolutely ridiculous. The radio station added that New Jersey’s Attorney General, Robert Loughy, had eased the state’s stringent carry law provisions for those facing “serious threats.” This was after an abusive ex-boyfriend murdered Carol Bowne in Berlin Township last year. She had obtained a restraining order and installed a security system at her home, but was waiting for months to be issued a firearm identification card, which is required for a firearms purchase in the state.

Terrorism doesn’t meet the requirements of the justifiable need provision in New Jersey—just think about that.

UPDATE: Scheduling Conflict Cited; IRS Commissioner Bails on Congressional Testimony as Impeachment Looms

UPDATE: Koskinen is citing a scheduling conflict for the no-show. 

Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee will hold one of two hearings examining misconduct of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen surrounding the IRS targeting of conservative groups. The Committee will also consider an impeachment resolution for Koskinen, which was introduced by House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz late last year. Koskinen was invited to testify tomorrow, but won't show up. 

"The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has investigated the targeting of conservative groups for several years and many of the Committee’s members have found that Commissioner Koskinen failed to comply with a congressional subpoena which resulted in destruction of key evidence, made false statements during his sworn congressional testimony, and did not notify Congress that Lois Lerner’s emails were missing," the Judiciary Committee website states.

Last week a censure resolution was introduced for Koskinen, giving him the option to resign from his position or be removed through impeachment proceedings.

“The resolution seeks Commissioner Koskinen’s resignation or removal, and requires the forfeiture of his pension. Censure affords Congress additional consequences to consider in identifying appropriate penalties for the Commissioner’s misdeeds. Mr. Koskinen must be held accountable for his misconduct. I am committed to using every tool at my disposal to hold Mr. Koskinen responsible for his offenses toward Congress and toward the American people. I view censure as a precursor to impeachment as it allows the House the opportunity to formally condemn Mr. Koskinen,”Chairman Chaffetz released in a statement Wednesday. 

The second hearing evaluating Koskinen's wrongdoing will be held in June.

VA Secretary Compares Wait Times for Hospitals to Waiting At Disney

It's no secret that wait times at the VA's hospitals have been out of control, to the point where people have died as a result of the delays. To VA Secretary Robert McDonald, however, this is no big deal. After all, Disney doesn't judge its success by wait times at its parks, so why should lifesaving hospitals?

From the Washington Examiner:

"When you got to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what's important? What's important is, what's your satisfaction with the experience?" McDonald said Monday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. "And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure."

First off, this is absolutely insane. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has died from waiting in line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or to get Anna or Elsa's autograph. Those things aren't necessities--healthcare is. A person can deal with a long wait to see Mickey Mouse. For a lifesaving surgery or mental health care? Not so much.

Further, Disney absolutely cares about how long its guests wait in line for attractions--that's why programs like FastPass+ exist--to help people combat wait times. There's also an app that will display waits in real time. (The VA, to the best of my knowledge, has neither of these things.) If guests aren't satisfied with their park experience, they won't return--so Disney has a vested interest in keeping waits short at its parks. Unlike the VA, however, a theme park attendee has several choices about where to go: SeaWorld, Knott's Berry Farm, and Universal Studios exist, for instance. The VA is the only option for veterans.

This is disturbing and out-of-touch rhetoric from someone who should know better. The VA isn't Disney. There's no comparing the two.

Baltimore Mayor Braces For "Disturbances" After Officer Acquitted

Monday morning, Baltimore Police Officer Edward Nero was acquitted by a Judge of charges surrounding the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore last year. As a result, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is bracing for "disturbances" around the city. 

When the Freddie Gray case broke last year, it was Rawlings-Blake who gave rioters a "space to destroy" and told police to back off. Criminals took advantage and burned down businesses in the city and caused other severe damage.

"We also gave those who wished to destroy, space to do that as well," she said.

Rawlings-Blake's response was slammed as a "disaster."

A "disaster." A failure to confront "thugs." A failure to prepare despite plenty of warning.
These are descriptions of how Baltimore handled riots Monday night, coming from local officials and some law enforcement experts.

Assessing the streets that looked like a war zone Tuesday morning, some community leaders accused Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of letting violence take over.
"I think it was a disaster," said Delegate Jill Carter, who represents Baltimore in Maryland's House of Delegates, the lower chamber of the state legislature.

ISIS Suicide Attack Kills 80 in Syria, Iraqi Forces Heading Back to Fallujah

Multiple blasts in Syrian pro-government cities Monday morning have killed 80 and injured over 200 others.  This news comes just hours after Iraqi coalition forces launched an offensive into Fallujah, Iraq to retake the pivotal city from ISIS.  

The morning attacks in the cities of Tartus and Jableh were the first of their kind targeting pro-government civilians.

In all, seven explosions carried out simultaneously in both locations, six included suicide bombings and two were carried out by car bombs. 

Coincidentally, earlier on Monday morning, it was announced that the United States will commence air-support for an attacking Iraqi coalition aimed at retaking the city of Fallujah.  

The commander of the Fallujah operation, Lt. General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, could not say how long the offensive would take, citing terrain and the number of civilians in the city.  This is not the first time that the Iraqi leadership has used terrain as a potential excuse for their hardships. Last month, in an attempt to retake the ISIS capital of Mosul, the Iraqis commenced a full retreat and blamed the harsh terrain

The confusion in the Middle East continues to mount as the game of musical chairs takes another turn.  When one city is retaken, another falls.  American lives and trillions of U.S. tax dollars continue to be spent on a war with no end.

Not Guilty: Officer Nero Fully Acquitted in Freddie Gray Trial

Officer Edward Nero, one of six police officers who were charged in the death of Freddie Gray last year, has been acquitted of all charges after a hearing in Baltimore on Monday. 

Fox News reporter Peter Doocy said he could hear protesters chant, “No justice, no peace!” outside of the courthouse after the ruling.

Of course, the concern is whether or not the unrest will escalate into the violence we witnessed last year. Last April, angry mobs torched the city of Baltimore on the day of the funeral for Freddie Gray, an African-American man who died while being transported to jail in police custody. Reports revealed they had failed to strap him into a seatbelt in the police van, leaving him vulnerable to spinal cord injuries. The incident was described as reckless endangerment.

The first trial, involving Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury last December. Five more trials for the officers involved are expected in the coming months. 

Polls: Voters Face 'Mr. and Mrs. Unpopular,' As Trump Gains

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll released over the weekend delivers dreary news to both major parties' presumptive nominees -- which nets out in Donald Trump's favor. Both he and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are quite unpopular among the national electorate, drawing nearly identical unfavorable reviews. The Post writes that the new data portends a "hard-fought, competitive and negative" partisan battle between the two candidates between now and early November. This graphic may not look very positive for Trump, but it actually is:


This deep unpopularity stalemate represents a significant improvement for the billionaire provocateur. He's still underwater, of course, but his overall favorability score has improved by ten percentage points over this polling series' March and April findings, in which Trump was viewed negatively by two-thirds of voters.  The latest numbers also show Trump pulling ever so slightly ahead of Clinton (46 to 44 percent) among registered voters, well within the margin of error, but a marked improvement over Clinton's a nine-point advantage in March.  Trump's surge is attributable to a Clinton's gender gap problem, wherein she holds a large lead among female voters (+14) but trails badly with men (-24), as well as a shift among independents.  He now leads the latter group by 13 points.  A peek at some of the survey's internals:

There's plenty of bad news in there for Democrats -- including that generic ballot deadlock, despite the survey's D+8 partisan sample.  But the news isn't all bad by any stretch: Nearly 60 percent of respondents agree with Hillary Clinton that Trump is "unqualified" to be president.  On candidate characteristics, she leads him on honesty (+2), empathy (+11), temperament (+30), experience (+43) values (+11), and ethics (+9).  Just to reiterate, Hillary Rodham Clinton is viewed more positively on honesty and ethics than her GOP opponent-to-be.  Trump has slim leads on ability to change Washington (+6) and leadership (+1).  When it comes to policy, Clinton is tied or favored nearly across the board.  She's got the edge on the economy (+1), national security (+3), trade (+3) immigration (+9), defending the middle class (+17), international relations (+23), and "women's issues" (+44).  Trump only leads on the issue of taxes (+5).

Large majorities also say Trump should release his tax returns (67 percent) -- he's repeatedly equivocated on this point -- and that he does not show sufficient respect for those who disagree with him (76 percent).  And despite all the talk of 2016 being the "year of the outsider," an eight-point majority would prefer an experienced leader in the White House over someone from "outside the establishment."  All of these data points underscore two points.  First, Hillary Clinton is a repellent political figure.  The D+8 sample and her many issue- and character-based advantages over Trump would seem to tilt the playing field decidedly in her direction, yet she's virtually tied with the widely-disliked Trump.  It's almost impressive.  Second, with that being said, after the current Democratic ugliness is sorted out and her party eventually coalesces (which they're in a pretty strong position to do), she's likely poised for a rebound.  I'll leave you with the new NBC/WSJ poll's brand new topline result:

NBC News' write-up refers to the two likely nominees as "Mr. and Mrs. Unpopular," citing their (-29) and (-20) favorability scores, respectively. Clinton holds wide leads among women non-white voters and young people, while Trump beats her with men, whites and seniors. Independents break narrowly for Trump.  Elsewhere, a recent Fox News poll measured a three-point Trump lead, while a NYT/CBS survey showed Clinton up by six.

UPDATE - In its original infographic (embedded above) WaPo inverted its results on the 'third party' question. That number is still quite high; the NBC/WSJ poll pegged openness to an independent ticket at 47 percent.

Cuban: I'm Open to Being VP...For Either Trump or Clinton

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban has expressed an interest in serving as vice president, but he didn’t seem to care whether it was for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Cuban, a self described independent, told host Chuck Todd, "If [Trump] asked me, I'd be like, 'OK, Donald. That's great. Let's talk about it. But we're both going to have to dig in and really look and understand the issues so we can come up with solutions.'"

But he also said he’d “absolutely” entertain the idea of being Clinton’s running mate, although “she would have to go more to the center,” he said.

Hillary, for her part, said she “appreciates” Cuban’s “openness” to being her vice president, and that in looking at potential running mates, she will be searching “widely and broadly.”

“It’s not just people in elective office. It is successful business people … [who] have a lot to offer,” she said, “as opposed to pretend successful.” 

Cuban's name was suggested as a possible third party candidate last week, but he declined, saying "there's not enough time, and it just wouldn't work." 

Though in the past Cuban has said he would make a better president than Trump, he does seem encouraged by his success in the race. 

Trump has "opened the door to non-traditional candidates, which is a great thing," he said, adding that he's more willing to run for public office now because "you don't have to be the perfect Stepford candidate like you would've in the past."

Obama Lifts Decades-old Vietnam Arms Embargo

President Obama on Monday fully lifted the United States’ 41-year arms embargo against Vietnam.

"At this stage both sides have developed a level of trust and cooperation, including between our militaries, that is reflective of common interests and mutual respect," Obama said at a news conference in Hanoi.

“This change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself and removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War,” he added.

But the move also comes as a means of boosting the communist nation’s defenses against China, although President Obama denied this.

“The decision to lift the ban was not based on China or any other considerations,” he said. “It was based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving towards normalization with Vietnam.

“I want to emphasize that my decision to lift the ban really was more reflective of the changing nature of the relationship.”

Washington partially lifted the embargo on arms in 2014, but Vietnam wanted full access as it tries to deal with China's land reclamation and military construction in the disputed South China Sea. Vietnam has not bought anything, but removing the remaining restrictions shows relations are fully normalized and opens the way to deeper security cooperation.

In Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry outwardly praised the move, with a spokeswoman saying China hoped "normal and friendly" relations between the U.S. and Vietnam would be conducive to regional stability. China itself remains under a weapons embargo imposed by the U.S. and European Union following 1989's bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Obama said the United States and Vietnam had mutual concerns about maritime issues and the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. He said that although Washington doesn't take sides on the territorial disputes, it does support a diplomatic resolution based on "international norms" and "not based on who's the bigger party and can throw around their weight a little bit more," a reference to China.

While the announcement is certainly a big step in terms of normalizing relations with Vietnam, Obama added that the country will not immediately be receiving a flood weapons. Each U.S. arms sale, he said, would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

“As with all our defense partners, sales will need to still meet strict requirements, including those related to human rights,” he said.

Activists and members of Congress had hoped the president would wait to fully lift the embargo until Vietnam improved its human rights record.   

Chairman McCaul: Trump's Muslim Ban Proposal Would Help ISIS Recruiting Efforts

Hours after the doomed EgyptAir flight 804 disappeared on Thursday, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul spoke on the issue of national security at George Washington University. With the new tragedy in context, McCaul described the unfortunate state of affairs in our fight against terrorism. The president is wrong when he says ISIS is on the run, the chairman insisted. “They are on the march.”

McCaul issued the same warning in his appearance on Fox News Sunday this weekend.

“Is the White House not getting it?” host John Roberts asked. 

“I don’t think the president’s got it from the beginning of ISIS,” McCaul said.

Not only is the president’s language misleading, the chairman noted, but his policies - or lack thereof - have left regions vulnerable to terrorism. Libya, McCaul explained, is “a failed state and becoming a launching pad for terrorism,” while other external operations are being conducted from a record number terrorist safe havens.

In the instance of EgyptAir, which has not yet been confirmed to be the result of terrorism but seems like the ever likely conclusion, McCaul remarked on the inept status of Cairo’s airport security. The facility is “very vulnerable” to inside and outside threats, he said, specifically pointing out that the airport has no full body scanners and intruders can easily get past magnetometers. 

The incident has demanded the need to bolster aviation security in the U.S. Yet, McCaul described how he and his colleagues’ efforts are being ignored. Two bills that could bolster airport security are currently just sitting in the Senate, he said. This legislation, the chairman said, could assist airlines with equipment, etc. Moreover, McCaul has introduced the SAFE Act to properly vet refugees, but it got nowhere thanks to the president's veto.

“Aviation security is the biggest threat,” he continued, and the country is on higher alert than pre-9/11. “We now have a new generation of terrorists using the internet” to recruit people to their cause. The terror cell has managed to recruit 40,000 foreign fighters.

While McCaul insists on tighter national security, he stops short at a temporary ban on Muslims from entering the U.S., as presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump has suggested.

“I don’t think you can ban an entire population,” he said. Instead, he said we must focus on specific threats and ramp up our vetting process. He went on to say an outright ban on the Muslim community would "cause a backlash" and would help with terrorist recruiting efforts.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was also a guest on Fox News Sunday. Asked to respond to McCaul’s assessment of the president’s failed leadership, Johnson said the chairman was “right to be concerned” about airports in the region.