He Was a GOP Congressman for 14 Years, Then Went to Work for Obama. Ray LaHood’s Take on Politics.

Genevieve Wood /

While doing a fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, I sat down for a chat with Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman who represented Illinois’ 18th congressional district for 14 years before becoming President Obama’s secretary of transportation in 2009.

We begin our conversation with LaHood’s take on why the increasing polarization between the two political parties is creating a dysfunctional Washington. You can watch the full five and a half minute interview or see his answers to each of my questions by going to the time codes in the video:

A Big Win: Army’s Delta Force Killed Islamic State’s Top Money Man - The Daily Signal

A Big Win: Army’s Delta Force Killed Islamic State’s Top Money Man

Genevieve Wood / Peter Brookes /

As we roll into Memorial Day weekend, commemorating America’s fallen service members—but really all our troops—you can’t help but feel a sense of pride about the U.S. Special Ops raid last weekend that took down a senior Islamic State leader.

In case you missed it: In a daring airborne assault, the U.S. Army’s Delta Force flew from Iraq into eastern Syria and killed the Islamic State’s “chief financial officer,” a Tunisian who went by the nom de guerre, Abu Sayyaf—or “bearer of the sword.”

Abu Sayyaf was the Islamic State’s money man, responsible for running its black market oil and natural gas operation—possibly amounting to millions of dollars a day that go to fund the caliphate and its marauding terrorist army.

Reportedly there was a fierce firefight with the terrorists at the Abu Sayyaf compound, including the Islamic State’s use of “human shields.” But not only were our troops able to get the target, they were also able to whisk Abu Sayyaf’s wife off to Iraq.

Beyond the intelligence that (Mrs.) Umm Sayyaf might spill to interrogators in Baghdad, our operators were also able to scoop up a potential treasure trove of materials at the compound.

From the computers, flash drives, cellphones, papers, etc. that U.S. forces took during the risky raid, we might be able to mine a mother lode about Islamic State operations, plans, resources and leadership.

Not only did we get in and out without losing anyone, senior Islamic State leaders must be very nervous. The Caliph & Co. won’t sleep well knowing that no matter where they hide, they’re not safe.

A big “win” for our guys and gals.

Now contrast this seemingly flawless U.S. operation with the performance of the Iraqi troops in Ramadi where they were run out of town—at about the same time—by the Islamic State, despite U.S. air strikes.

While the final battle for Ramadi likely isn’t over, the loss of the capital city of Anbar province—Iraq’s largest province and a mere 70 miles from Baghdad—is a significant symbolic and psychological victory for the Islamic State.

As long as the Islamic State seems to be on the move, it’ll draw more foot soldiers, followers and funding. It’s likely to be a very long summer in Iraq, straining the current strategy—now hotly called into question.

The point here is that we don’t always realize how lucky we are.

By far, we have the world’s finest, most capable military, populated by courageous men and women who go into harm’s way across the globe to keep us safe as demonstrated by the recent raid.

In fact, we’ve got it so good we easily forget how good we’ve got it.

So this Memorial Day, take a moment from the beach, the BBQ and all the things that say “It’s summer!” to remember those who have died in defense of our country, our living veterans and those who are serving today.

To express a little gratitude through kind deeds, thoughts and prayers on this special holiday is the very least we can—or should—do for our brave American forces past and present who have selflessly given us so much.

Originally published in the Boston Herald 

Should Cars Be Recalled Over Peeling Labels? Looking at How Regulations Affect Our Lives. - The Daily Signal

Should Cars Be Recalled Over Peeling Labels? Looking at How Regulations Affect Our Lives.

Genevieve Wood / Peter Brookes / Ed Feulner /

Say you got a recall notice for your car. You’d naturally be alarmed, especially after reading that the problem involved Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208—“Occupant Crash Protection.”

Is something wrong with the brakes? The air bags? The seat belts?

Nope. You know the airbag warning label on the sun visor? It might peel. That’s why you have to bring your vehicle in.

You may scoff, but this hypothetical is something that actually happened to tens of thousands of owners of Chevy Camaros (model years 2013 and 2014).

General Motors also had to issue a stop delivery order to dealers, notes Diane Katz, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, and instruct them to inspect the label on each sun visor. If the label was prone to peeling, the entire visor had to be replaced.

I bring this up as an example of the real-world impact of regulations. We don’t always see it, but they exact a cost. And according to a new report from Heritage, that cost is growing, along with the number of regulations themselves.

Katz and James Gattuso, a Heritage senior research fellow, found that 27 new major rules were added last year, for a total of 184 over the first six years of the Obama administration. Total cost, as estimated by the regulators themselves: $80 billion annually.

That’s “billion” with a “b.” Twelve zeros. To count from 1 to 1 billion by ones would take 95 years. With $1 billion, you could buy more than 32 million new cars. A “human tower” of 1 billion kids could reach past the moon.

Now multiply that amount times 80. That’s the cost, in one year alone, of the Obama-era regulations we’re discussing here.

And that doesn’t even come close to summing up the full regulatory reach from Washington. Because the cost above, as I noted, is for “major rules,” or ones that are expected to cost the economy $100 million annually. Many other rules fall below that threshold—but that doesn’t mean they don’t cost a lot, especially when added up.

Moreover, Gattuso and Katz say, there are “scores of other rules in the pipeline.” These include “directives to farmers for growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables, strict limits on credit access for service members, and yet another redesign of light bulbs.”

Good. Because those expensive, mercury-filled CFL bulbs have worked out so well, haven’t they?

Unfortunately, the regulators don’t stop at meddling with your light sources. The Department of Energy ranked second in the number of major rules issued in 2014, all of which restrict energy use by various appliances and other electrical gadgets, including adapters for cellphones and laptops, and coolers in ice cream parlors and grocery stores.

When you pay top dollar for a new refrigerator, for example, don’t assume it’s simply that you’re being gouged by the manufacturer. The companies that make refrigerators are operating under stricter energy conservation standards issued by the government last year for commercial refrigeration equipment—and it’s costly to do so.

Regulations are also making it more expensive to use your bank. Rules are still being issued under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010. It’s at 19,000 pages of regulations so far, and counting. Only a little over half of the expected Dodd-Frank rules are out so far, and they’ve already created higher banking costs and fewer investment options.

This regulatory tide will keep surging unless Congress does something about it. Among the common-sense solutions Gattuso and Katz propose: requiring congressional approval of any new major regulations that agencies promulgate, stipulating that all major regulations have an expiration (“sunset”) date, and mandating “impact assessments” of proposed laws before they’re passed.

After all, the economic damage inflicted by the flood of regulation coming out of Washington dwarfs the danger of a peeling airbag warning sticker.

Originally published in The Washington Times 

5 Steps the Next President Could Take to Boost Our Relationship With Latin America - The Daily Signal

5 Steps the Next President Could Take to Boost Our Relationship With Latin America

Genevieve Wood / Peter Brookes / Ed Feulner / Ana Quintana /

For much of the last century, Latin America has seldom been a major focus for U.S. foreign policy. Yet President Obama’s controversial Cuba policy appears to have brought the region back into play. But Obama’s days in the Oval Office are numbered. How will the next occupant of the White House treat our neighbors to the south? Here’s a five-step approach the next president should take to get Latin American relations on a positive track.

Support a principled, human rights-based policy toward Cuba.

President Obama stunned many when he announced his intention to normalize relations with the Castro regime. While the administration gave Havana a cornucopia of concessions—from removing Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism to supporting the ending of the embargo—it appears to have demanded nothing in return. All it has offered, to date, is wishful thinking.

The White House insists that commercial engagement with Cuba will usher in democracy. A brief look at history quickly disproves that notion. Communist regimes in the Soviet satellites fell because of economic weakness and internal opposition supported by Western governments. When freedom-loving leaders such as Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel emerged, the United States enacted policies to support their efforts. As a result, countries like Poland and the Czech Republic are now free and prosperous democracies.

Our next President should model his or her Cuba policy off of these experiences. Rarely are we granted the unique opportunity to simultaneously uphold democratic principles and ensure U.S. national security. Our future president must recognize that freedom doesn’t flow from normalizing relations with a dictatorship. It flows when the seeds of political change sprout and are then properly nourished.

Reassess the Obama administration’s “U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.”

In response to last summer’s humanitarian crisis on the southwest border, the Obama administration developed the absurdly overpriced “U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.” This $1 billion request triples current foreign assistance levels to countries in which there is little government accountability. The overwhelming majority of the funds requested would be dedicated to economic development assistance—an area riddled by waste and corruption. Meanwhile, the strategy calls for no boost in funding activities of the Department of Defense, the principal agency in maritime and aerial drug interdiction.

The United States cannot afford to ignore the region’s deteriorating security conditions. This does not mean the future president should blindly support increasing foreign assistance. Questions remain about these governments’ capacity to use assistance effectively and their political will to implement and sustain economic and rule of law reforms. Without buy-in and commitment from the Central American governments, increased assistance will have negligible effect in improving conditions there.

Push for a responsible outcome in Colombia’s negotiations with the FARC terrorist group.

Twenty years ago, Colombia was on the verge of failed-state status thanks to the predations of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), an internationally designated terrorist organization. Now, in 2015, the Colombian government is a few steps away from fully defeating the terrorist group. Yet for the last three years, Bogota has been engaged in conciliatory “peace talks.” FARC negotiators have essentially extorted concessions from the Colombian government, issuing a host of demands, including impunity for war crimes and the legal right to run for political office. All the while, the FARC has violated cease-fires and continued its illicit activities, which run the gamut from narcotics to kidnapping. Most recently, FARC slaughtered 10 Colombian soldiers. Unfortunately, the White House has given the Colombian government’s appeasement agenda its seal of approval.

The future of these negotiations matters greatly to the United States. On top of high levels of bilateral trade, since 2000, almost $10 billion in U.S. military and economic assistance has gone toward combatting the FARC and the illicit narcotics industry. Plan Colombia is regarded as the United States’ most successful endeavor in security cooperation. As such, the next president should be wary of any deals that grant the FARC impunity, particularly FARC members on our Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals List.

Prepare for a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s unraveling has been two decades in the making. A legacy of socialist mismanagement and corruption has destroyed the once-wealthy nation’s economy and its political system. Sky-high inflation rates and decreased oil revenues have forced the most oil rich country in the world to ration electricity, food, and even toilet paper. The security situation is also spiraling out of control. Venezuela now has the world’s second highest homicide rate, and you are more likely to be kidnapped in Venezuela than in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Yemen. The ongoing political crisis complicates the situation as well. Last year, massive anti-government protests rocked many parts of Venezuela. As a result, political opponents, including members of the government, were jailed.

There is little doubt Venezuela is a powder keg, and the looming crisis will have far reaching implications for the Western Hemisphere. PetroCaribe nations dependent upon Venezuelan fuel subsidies find themselves particularly vulnerable. The government’s support for illicit activities and its intimate relationship with Iran, Russia and other U.S. adversaries have also spawned imitation among its regional allies. Mitigating the coming crisis should be a priority.

Revitalize the idea of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Two decades ago, the noble effort to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas began. Initiated at the first ever Summit of the Americas in 1994, the plan sought to integrate the economies of the Americas. Led by the United States and supported by regional allies, the initiative was derailed by Hugo Chavez, the former president of Venezuela, in the mid-2000s.

Since then, Latin America has essentially been divided into two groups following two different models of economic development. On one side are the Bolivarian Alliance countries that have followed Venezuela. In these nations, inward looking, state-centric led development has resulted in low levels of economic freedom and declining levels of prosperity. On the other side is the trade and economic integration bloc, the Pacific Alliance. Composed of Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru and soon, Panama, the PA has become the poster child of successful economic integration. Its countries have much higher levels of economic freedom. As a result, the peoples of these countries enjoy higher per-capita incomes, and the countries of the PA are more attractive to foreign investors.

It would be futile to try to revive the FTAA at this moment. But that does not mean the principle of increasing economic integration should be lost. Eleven of the U.S.’s current 20 free trade agreements are with countries in Latin America. The next president should add more to the list. Additionally, the United States should work at developing open market policies in Latin America. Currently, we are only a PA observer state. Full membership would benefit all involved.

Originally published in The National Interest 

Newly Released Emails Cast Doubt on Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi Claims - The Daily Signal

Newly Released Emails Cast Doubt on Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi Claims

Genevieve Wood / Peter Brookes / Ed Feulner / Ana Quintana / Sharyl Attkisson /

Newly reported emails indicate Hillary Clinton was personally made aware of security dangers in the months leading up to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya. That’s according to the House Benghazi Committee, which has obtained 300 long-sought emails from the State Department among tens of thousands under subpoena.

The Benghazi Committee says there are a number of emails in which State Department personnel specifically passed along security issues to Clinton in 2011 and 2012 before the attacks. An August 2012 email to then-Secretary of State Clinton from one of her top aides, Jake Sullivan, referred to “some warning signs” regarding the deteriorating security situation.

>>> Benghazi Bombshell: Clinton State Department Official Reveals Details of Alleged Document Review

Clinton has long denied being in the loop about mounting dangers in Benghazi and her agency’s rejection of security requests from U.S. personnel, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the attacks. Though Clinton was sent multiple cables about security prior to the assaults, she explained that she got far too many to read.

“They are all addressed to me,” Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January 2013. “They do not all come to me. They are reported through the bureaucracy.”

Hillary Clinton testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Benghaz, Jan. 23, 2013. (Photo: Ron Sachs/Newscom)

Hillary Clinton testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Benghaz, Jan. 23, 2013. (Photo: Ron Sachs/Newscom)

The newly reported emails differ from the cables in that they were sent directly to Clinton’s personal email server and, in some cases, were from one of her top aides.

Another question raised by the newly provided emails is whether there was any improper handling of sensitive government information on her personal server. Experts say personal servers lack the strictest level of security and risk being compromised by U.S. enemies.

Hillary Clinton has long denied being in the loop about mounting dangers in Benghazi.

Last March, Clinton told reporters, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.”

But today, it was reported that a portion of at least one email provided to Congress is considered so sensitive that the FBI has since classified it to prohibit its public release.

Today, Clinton responded by saying, “I’m aware the FBI has asked that a portion of one email be held back … but that doesn’t change the fact that all of the information in the emails was handled appropriately.”

>>> 26 Ways the Media Botched Their Reporting on the Latest Benghazi Report

Clinton also told reporters today, “I’m glad the emails are starting to come out. … I’ve asked to be done for a long time. … I want people to be able to see all of them … it is the fact that we have released all of them that have any government relationship whatsoever.”

Gowdy says he is not confident the committee will get all relevant material, because Clinton has acknowledged deleting 30,000 emails that she said were personal in nature.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. (Photo: Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom)

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. (Photo: Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom)

“To assume a self-selected public record is complete, when no one with a duty or responsibility to the public had the ability to take part in the selection, requires a leap in logic no impartial reviewer should be required to make and strains credibility,” said Gowdy in a statement today.

Gowdy added that there are “inexplicable gaps” in the secretary’s emails during key times of her involvement in Libya policy including:

Four Americans, including Stevens, Tyrone Woods, Glen Douherty and Sean Smith, were killed in the Benghazi attacks.

At President’s Synagogue Speech, American Jews Defend Obama’s Support to Israel - The Daily Signal

At President’s Synagogue Speech, American Jews Defend Obama’s Support to Israel

Genevieve Wood / Peter Brookes / Ed Feulner / Ana Quintana / Sharyl Attkisson / Josh Siegel /

In a step to reassure American Jews that he supports Israel, President Obama today became the fourth president to speak before an audience at a U.S. synagogue.

Wearing a white kippah, Obama stood on the bimah of Washington’s Adas Israel—a prominent synagogue of conservative Judaism—and declared that he, and the United States, indeed has Israel’s back despite divisions between the two countries’ governments.

After the remarks, in which he called himself  “an honorary member of the [Jewish] tribe,” a crowdful of American Jews asserted they were happy to have him.

“He’s got Israel’s back and appreciates Jewish values,” said one attendee, Ruthanne Miller, of Obama. “He’s a cool president. He gets a bad rap because he sometimes disagrees with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. But that’s what friends do. Friends are honest and are going to disagree.”

At the synagogue, Obama “forcefully” objected to criticism that his disagreements with Netanyahu shows a lack of support for Israel. Echoing those words, American Jews who watched the president speak insisted in interviews with The Daily Signal that defending Jews means criticizing Israel when necessary.

“It was a very positive and reassuring address,” said Howard Marks, as he clutched two bags of challah bread. “This president has helped Israel’s security more than any other. The poor relationship he has with Netanyahu has hurt Obama’s image. But there’s plenty of blame to go around on both sides.”

“Of course, allies disagree,” Marks added. “Just like we disagree with the French, and the British. Even within families, people disagree. At the end of the day, the alliance is strong and we have shared values that strongly bind us.”

The American Jewish attendees felt that Obama didn’t use the speech to convince them to back his Middle East policies—though all who spoke with The Daily Signal support the president’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran and for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rather, they believe the president tried to strike a personal, emotional connection with his Jewish listeners.

“It is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel,” Obama said, “that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think would lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland, and I believe that’s two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine living side-by-side peacefully.”

Miller, a lifelong Adas Israel congregant, agrees.

“For Israel to thrive as a democracy, it has to be a two-state solution,” Miller said. “But it’s hard. This is a dangerous neighborhood we are walking into.”

Patricia Levy, another attendee of the speech, cares “deeply” about Israel and the Jewish community.

She has family, including a brother, who live in Israel, and when they talk, they rarely speak about the politics of Obama and Netanyahu.

“The image of Israel is getting so torn apart in the world’s view and it’s upsetting,” Levy said. “But [Obama] understands that fundamentally we are a good people. He knows that Jews value all human life and that we have Israel’s back when it comes to their existence.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Marc Sellem/Newscom)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Marc Sellem/Newscom)

Like the others, Levy believes there’s room for disagreement in the U.S.-Israeli alliance. For instance, she believes that Israel should back off its settlement building in the West Bank.

“It’s a tricky, delicate issue,” Levy said. “I feel that too many people say that because he [Obama] disagrees with Netanyahu, he is not a friend of Israel. I don’t go that far. I think Netanyahu sometimes has been a bit of a d***. There’s no clear solution.”

Nowhere is that unclarity more true than over the best way to handle Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

For American Jews, hanging above the optimism surrounding Obama’s commitment to them is a persistent worry regarding the unresolved Iran deal.

Obama sought to allay the anxiety.

“I will not accept a bad deal,” Obama said. “[Because] this deal will have my name on it.”

Meanwhile, Marks acknowledged he’s “very concerned” about the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon under the deal, though he’s encouraged that Congress will have the authority to hold off on removing some sanctions.

Samara Langsam, a student at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md., who attended Obama’s speech with her grandmother, realizes that the result of the Iran nuclear deal will be especially relevant for her generation.

“Diplomacy needs to be tried before war,” Langsam said. “I’m happy that Congress had a chance to debate it. A policy this important needs to be debated by many and not decided by one person.”

Levy, who wears a Star of David necklace, doubts she can trust Iran’s anti-semitic regime.

Her worries are especially profound considering the resurgence of anti-semitism in Europe.

But she trusts Obama and believes that if there were any other way, he would pursue it.

“In theory, diplomacy is the right track,” Levy said. “Maybe he is being naive and idealistic. But I don’t think anyone can do better.”

Hillary Clinton Announces Support for Export-Import Bank Reauthorization - The Daily Signal

Hillary Clinton Announces Support for Export-Import Bank Reauthorization

Genevieve Wood / Peter Brookes / Ed Feulner / Ana Quintana / Sharyl Attkisson / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn /

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton joined the debate over the Export-Import Bank’s reauthorization today and came out in support of the embattled 80-year-old agency.

Clinton is the latest 2016 candidate to take a stance publicly on the Export-Import Bank, and she reaffirmed her backing of the bank at a campaign stop with residents and small business owners in Hampton, N.H.

While speaking at the Smuttynose Brewery, Clinton criticized the GOP for jeopardizing 164,000 jobs supported by Ex-Im. Clinton also touted the millions of dollars in exports from New Hampshire small businesses that Ex-Im has supported over the years.

“They should know better,” she said of the Republicans opposing the bank. “It’s embarrassing.”

Clinton previously spoke of her support for the bank at an event in November, where she said Ex-Im helps the United States remain competitive in the global market.

>>> A Key Conservative Group Is Opposing the Export-Import Bank. But Some of Its Members Continue to Support It.

Many of the bank’s backers, including Clinton’s fellow Democratic 2016 candidate Martin O’Malley, argue Ex-Im supports jobs in the United States. But, the argument is often a point of contention for those who believe the bank’s life should end.

A 2011 report from the American Action Forum contended that while Ex-Im creates jobs in specific industries, it “redistributes” jobs across the economy. Additionally, a 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office found that Ex-Im’s methodology for calculating job creation makes it difficult to determine how the bank’s financing affects employment.

The agency’s charter expires June 30, and the issue has become the topic of discussion not only on Capitol Hill, but also on the campaign trail, where a number of Republican and Democratic prospective presidential candidates are addressing Ex-Im’s future.

On Capitol Hill, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas is one of Ex-Im’s staunchest opponents. Hensarling, whose committee has jurisdiction over the bank, spoke out against Clinton’s defense of Ex-Im.

“Hillary Clinton is a natural cheerleader for the Export-Import Bank,” he said in a statement. “After all, Ex-Im’s biggest beneficiaries are foreign governments and giant corporations. Conveniently, these just happen to be among the biggest donors to the Clinton Foundation as well as major underwriters of the speaking fees that added millions of dollars to the Clinton bank account.”

ExIm_2016_v5

Obamacare Abortion Drug Accommodation: A Bit of Paperwork or Complicity in Sin? - The Daily Signal

Obamacare Abortion Drug Accommodation: A Bit of Paperwork or Complicity in Sin?

Genevieve Wood / Peter Brookes / Ed Feulner / Ana Quintana / Sharyl Attkisson / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Elizabeth Slattery /

The Obamacare mandate requiring non-profit religious employers to facilitate health care coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and devices for employees may be heading to the Supreme Court soon.

This mandate—which exempts formal houses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries like church-run soup kitchens—requires non-profit religious employers to provide this coverage or notify the Department of Health and Human Services that they have a religious objection.

This notification initiates the process of the government forcing insurers and third-party administrators to provide the mandated coverage to employees. Federal law, however, prohibits the government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion unless it can show that the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.

Since the Obama administration issued the abortion drug mandate in 2011, employers such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, Geneva College and Ave Maria University have attacked it in court. They argue that the causal link between notifying the government and the resulting provision of objectionable drugs and devices substantially burdens their religious exercise.

You don’t have to agree with the Little Sisters (and many others) or share their views on abortion to recognize that the government should not be able to force Americans to choose between their religious beliefs and the law.

Likewise, what may seem trivial to one person may give rise to a serious religious dilemma for another. Though one judge called the accommodation process “a bit of paperwork,” the Little Sisters and others challenging the accommodation view it as complicity in a grave moral wrong.

And the Supreme Court has held that even an indirect burden may substantially infringe on free exercise rights. In Thomas v. Review Board (1981), the Supreme Court stated, “[I]t is not within the judicial function and judicial competence to inquire whether [someone] correctly perceived the commands of [his] faith. Courts are not arbiters of scriptural interpretation.” Thus, courts should not be in the business of line-drawing when it comes to theological questions.

But this type of line-drawing is just what two federal appellate courts have been up to this week. In Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled against Priests for Life, which sought a preliminary injunction from the Obamacare mandate and accommodation. They asked the full D.C. Circuit to rehear the case, but on Wednesday, the court rejected that request over the protest of two judges. Judge Janice Rogers Brown (who would have granted the request to rehear the case) explained why the 3-judge panel got it wrong:

“What amounts to ‘facilitating immoral conduct’ … or ‘impermissible cooperation with evil’ … are inherently theological questions which objective legal analysis cannot resolve and which ‘federal courts have no business addressing.’”

Though the government (and a majority of judges on the D.C. Circuit) may believe this accommodation is sufficient to distance these religious employers from acts they find morally objectionable, Priests for Life and many others clearly do not agree. As Judge Brown pointed out, “Pontius Pilate, too, washed his hands, but perhaps he perceived the stain of complicity remained.”

In another case, University of Notre Dame v. Burwell, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit found that, like Priests for Life, the university was not entitled to a preliminary injunction from the Obamacare mandate and accommodation.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court instructed the appeals court to reconsider its ruling, which was issued before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014). Earlier this week, the panel again ruled against the university in a 2-1 decision. The majority claimed that it is federal law—not the university’s signing of a form—that triggers provision of the objectionable drugs and devices. But as Judge Joel Flaum noted in his dissent, the majority “in effect tell[s] the plaintiff[ ] that [its] beliefs are flawed.”

Priests for Life and Notre Dame may now take their cases to the Supreme Court.

North Korea Claims Miniaturized Nuclear Weapons - The Daily Signal

North Korea Claims Miniaturized Nuclear Weapons

Genevieve Wood / Peter Brookes / Ed Feulner / Ana Quintana / Sharyl Attkisson / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Elizabeth Slattery / Bruce Klingner /

Pyongyang claimed on Wednesday that it already has developed nuclear weapons small enough to fit on missiles. The powerful National Defense Commission declared “it is long since [North Korea’s] nuclear striking means have entered the stage of producing smaller nukes and diversifying them.” It also highlighted its ability to put miniaturized nuclear warheads on short-range, medium-range, and long-range missiles. The term “diversified” may refer to the regime possessing both plutonium-based and uranium-based nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang’s proclamation occurred shortly after its successful first underwater ejection test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), refocusing attention on the regime’s growing nuclear and missile threats to the United States and its Asian allies.

Though some Western media tout this as North Korea’s first such claim, Pyongyang has been making the assertion since at least its third nuclear test two years ago. In March 2013, Kim Jong-un declared, “The United States is now most fearful of our miniaturized, reduced-weight, and diversified nuclear deterrent.” The Korea People’s Army Supreme Command also bragged of its “lighter and smaller nuclear weapons [able to] attack the US with diversified precision nuclear strikes.”

In recent years, U.S. and South Korean officials have increasingly concluded that North Korea has achieved warhead miniaturization. This year, the four-star U.S. commanders of U.S. Forces Korea, Pacific Command, and NORAD have all publicly stated their assessment that Pyongyang possesses nuclear weapon–equipped missiles.

As The Heritage Foundation concluded in a research study last year,

[A]vailable unclassified evidence indicates North Korea has likely already achieved warhead miniaturization, the ability to place nuclear weapons on its medium-range missiles, and a preliminary ability to reach the continental United States with a missile. As such, the United States and its allies face a greater threat today than is widely construed.

Some experts, however, continue to downplay North Korea’s nuclear warhead capabilities, asserting that Pyongyang is still “several years” away. Ironically, they have been asserting this for several years. In the past, experts frequently underestimated North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs due to ideologically driven analysis, political expediency, and the belief that a technologically and economically backward nation could not achieve the necessary breakthroughs.

Skeptics initially dismissed evidence of North Korea’s plutonium-based nuclear weapons, highly enriched uranium program, involvement in constructing a Syrian nuclear reactor, and ability to develop long-range missiles. U.S. intelligence estimates of these programs were dismissed as politically motivated, until they were proven indisputably correct. North Korea’s latest nuclear claims generated analytic debate over whether the SLBM had been from a submarine or a submerged test barge, missing the more important point that the test confirmed Pyongyang’s intent to expand its nuclear arsenal with new threat capabilities.

Recent U.S. expert studies assess a higher North Korean arsenal than previously predicted. Dr. Siegfried Hecker, former Director of the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, concluded that North Korea could have 20 nuclear weapons by 2016. The Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) predicted a worst-case scenario of Pyongyang having 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.

Given Pyongyang’s repeated rejections of U.S., South Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian attempts at engagement, Washington and its allies should take the necessary steps to defend themselves against the growing North Korean nuclear threat, such as deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile defense system to South Korea.

U.S. Should Support Media Freedom in Africa - The Daily Signal

U.S. Should Support Media Freedom in Africa

Genevieve Wood / Peter Brookes / Ed Feulner / Ana Quintana / Sharyl Attkisson / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Elizabeth Slattery / Bruce Klingner / Helle Dale /

The state of media freedom in Africa is “grim,” according to the media freedom group Reporters Without Borders, which took stock of the situation recently on World Press Freedom Day. Outside the traditional bastions of democracy—North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan— the media in much of the world are increasingly troubled.

In the Middle East and North Africa, destabilization and the rise of radical insurgencies after the Arab Spring present imminent danger to the media. Journalists in sub-Saharan Africa also face numerous hardships, including imprisonment, censorship, and harassment. In sub-Saharan Africa, some governments fighting terrorist insurgencies ensnare journalists in their legal machinery. According to the human rights organization Freedom House,

Recent years have seen backsliding among both the top performers, such as South Africa, and the more repressive countries, such as The Gambia and Ethiopia. Lack of adherence to the rule of law, infringements on the freedoms of expression and association, widespread corruption, and discrimination against women and the LGBT community remain serious problems in many countries.

Freedom House rates sub-Saharan Africa as 12 percent free with a media that is just 3 percent free. In sub-Saharan countries, where conflict is tearing apart the fabric of society in the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and South Sudan, free media have declined steeply as the issue of security and the fight against terrorism has given governments a new excuse to crack down on media.

In Ethiopia, six bloggers and three journalists have been in prison for over a year. In Cameroon, anti-terrorism laws allow journalists to be tried under military jurisdiction. In Burundi, Radio Publique Africaine (African Public Radio) was closed down by the government in order to keep the radio station from reporting on anti-government demonstrations.

A further challenge, though also an important opportunity, is offered by social media. Citizen journalists communicating through social media constitute a budding trend in Africa. However, according to the nonprofit organization Intermedia, which assists the growth of independent media in developing countries, the key challenge regarding social media is to curtail the rampant spread of rumors, and help empower journalists to sort fact from myth.

There is some good news, though, regarding the media in sub-Saharan Africa, as measured by Freedom House. In Russia and China, where the full weight of the government is brought to bear on the media, media is simply “not free.” In sub-Saharan Africa, the state of media freedom is at least more mixed. Some countries are allowing free media to develop, while in others, laws that suppress the media are not airtight.

The bottom line is that journalists throughout Africa, struggling to cover everything from terrorism to civil wars and Ebola, need all the help the United States can provide, from training in journalistic practices to equipment and material support.