The relationship between drug trafficking and terrorism has long existed, and can take many forms depending on the goals and needs of each party. Sometimes hybrid criminal-terrorist organizations form in which terrorist groups become involved in the drug trade to fund operations, purchase equipment, and pay foot soldiers. In return, they provide safe passageways for the drugs and give traffickers tips for circumventing customs and security forces. Other times a localized criminal organization or terrorist group lacks expertise, so increased contacts and business with major drug cartels helps advance the sophistication of their operation. Ultimately, though, both have logistical needs and working with or even talking to each other allows the groups to share lessons learned, important contacts to corrupt officials, and operational methods.
Thus, it’s not surprising to hear that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is already talking to Mexican drug cartels. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), a member of the House Judiciary Committee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, said as much on Newmax TV’s “America’s Forum” on Wednesday when asked if there’s any interaction between the two.
“My opinion is yes,” he replied. “There seems to be at least a talking to each other. How much? I don’t know. But ... drug cartels use the same operational plan as terrorist groups do. They kill their opponents, they behead their opponents, they brag about it and they have operational control of many portions of the southern border of the United States. Mexico doesn’t. The United States doesn’t. Otherwise they wouldn’t be crossing daily with their drugs. They’re as vicious as some of these other terrorist organizations. We need to recognize them that this is an organized international crime group. And we have to deal with them as such.”
Even amid all the domestic and international crises going on at the moment, it’s important that the American people and lawmakers not give up on putting pressure on this administration to beef up border security. The crisis at the Southwest border is about more than just the illegal immigration of tens of thousands of Central Americans—it’s about national security. Criminals, violent gang members, drug cartel members, and yes, terrorists, are also coming in and will continue to do so as long as this administration puts politics and political correctness ahead of security.
During the last election cycle Mitt Romney was crushed by President Obama in the Electoral College and lost by nearly 5 million popular votes. That’s to say, the public overwhelmingly decided that the incumbent president was the better and more qualified of the two candidates, and safely re-elected him.
Still, even if that’s how history ultimately unfolded, the former Republican presidential nominee isn’t putting his disagreements aside -- or rallying to his defense -- during these difficult times. On the contrary, he recently told a crowd of enthusiastic supporters in West Virginia that even he was surprised by how much of a failure President Obama’s second term has become (via The Washington Times):
The former Massachusetts governor has some pointed words for the man who defeated him two years ago, saying President Obama was doing “a good deal worse than even I expected.” He cited the U.S. economy and troubles abroad in such hot spots as Iraq, Syria and Russia.
“I was not a big fan of the president’s policies, as you know, either domestically or internationally,” he said, “but the results of his mistakes and errors, in my opinion, have been more severe than even I would have predicted.”
That’s about as uncharitable as Mitt Romney gets. Still, the past few weeks have been anything but easy for the president and his advisers. The death of Michael Brown and the subsequent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri has only added to the president’s growing list of unresolved problems. Abroad, we’ve also witnessed the slaughtering of innocent civilians in northern Iraq and the execution of the first American citizen by the terrorist organization ISIS. To make matters worse, the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas -- and Ukraine and Russia -- also threaten global stability and security.
Despite these challenges, however, there’s a reason why my colleagues over at Hot Air routinely describe Obama as “semi-retired.” That’s because he often gives off the impression that he is. He frequently delivers concise statements on important subject matters, only to jet off to a fundraiser or hit the links shortly thereafter. Still, even if the president isn’t “semi-retired” as some claim, his actions suggest he’s not totally engaged, either. As ABC News openly wondered: Does he even care about optics anymore?
It’d be one thing if President Obama was merely a floundering president way over his head; it’s quite another (and a real problem perhaps) when nearly half the country thinks he’s “already checked out.”
This certainly would be a surprise if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, runs in 2016. The self-described democratic socialist said last week we shouldn’t “anoint” Hillary just yet.
Sen. Sanders also isn’t afraid of being called a socialist. And said he had a “damn good platform” for a presidential run (via Yahoo!):
"If the American people understand what goes on in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and other countries, they will say, ‘Whoa, I didn't know that!’” Sanders said, pointing out that health care is considered a right, “R-I-G-H-T,” among even the most conservative politicians in Denmark.
Sanders described his credo as a fight to protect America’s working class from what he sees as the threat of an approaching “oligarchic form of society.”
“You have today in America more income and wealth inequality than any time in this country since 1928 and more than any major country in the world,” Sanders said. “So, you got the top one percent owning 38 percent of the wealth in America. Do you know what the bottom 60 percent own? 2.3 percent.”
“You know what that is?" he said. "That's called oligarchy."
Though Sanders isn’t making any secret of his possible 2016 presidential bid, he said he’s still determining whether he could generate a sufficient level of grassroots support on which to build a campaign.
One of Sanders’ most likely competitors, should he choose to seek the Democratic nomination, is Hillary Clinton. And while Sanders praised Clinton for a successful career, he was critical of the Democratic Party’s seeming coronation of the former secretary of state.
"She has accomplished a lot of very positive things in her career, but I'm not quite sure that the political process is one in which we anoint people,” Sanders said.
Though he stopped short of criticizing Clinton directly, he said she is not a sufficient champion of his message for the middle class.
Well, even “the most conservative politicians” in Denmark would be labeled liberal here in the U.S. Also, the senator should know that conservative means something entirely different across the pond. As for presidential ambitions, Sanders, like Warren, is hinting at making challenges so that more centrist–or perceived centrist– candidates, like Hillary Clinton, make sure their leanings veer towards the left.
Allahpundit made a note of this last June after Sen. Warren’s interview with Huffington Post Live:
What she’s really doing here, I think, is preserving a little strategic ambiguity to keep the pressure on Hillary to pander to the left. She’s not going to run and she wouldn’t win if she did, but if she starts speaking campaign-ese, she can make sure that Hillary invests in plenty of income inequality rhetoric next year that the left can hold her to later.
Alas, Sen. Warren isn’t going to run. But the progressive challenge threat remains. Hillary still hasn’t sharpened her already dull campaign skills from 2008–and don’t expect anything once 2016 rolls around. She’s not a good campaigner, who could struggle if Sanders decides to channel his inner-Warren. Even if he is in the race just to raise the issues adored by the far left of the Democratic Party.
Although, given her recent gaffes, especially about her wealth, and the outrageous demands Hillary makes when making speeches; it's not totally insane (we’re talking Democratic politics here) to say that he could siphon some of Hillary’s grassroots support. At Netroots Nation, the crowd went nuts when Sen. Warren gave her keynote address; a sign that shows she’s where the Democratic base aligns on the issues. And that’s a bit unnerving. Sen. Sanders also fits in with this crowd very well.
Additionally, Hillary also isn’t looking as invincible as she once did in February. The left-leaning Washington Post documented her precipitous decline last week:
A new poll from McClatchy and Marist College documents that decline pretty well. In hypothetical matchups with potential 2016 Republican candidates, Clinton has seen her lead decline from 20-plus points in February to the mid-single digits today. She leads Chris Christie by six points after leading him by 21 points six months ago. She leads Jeb Bush 48-41 after leading him by 20 in February. She leads Rand Paul 48-42 after leading him by the same margin early this year.
But for right now, Sen. Sanders is defending Israel, telling people to “shut up” at town halls about the Gaza conflict. I guess we can assume his position on Israel won’t be a hostile one if he mounts a 2016 campaign, right?
(Warning: mild language)
The fireworks begin around 3:15. One woman says Hamas' tunnels in Gaza were for "survival purposes."
Several members of the grand jury that indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on abuse of power charges are a little hurt that the governor labeled their actions as politically motivated (via Houston Chronicle):
Several members of the grand jury that indicted Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday that his claim the indictment was based more on politics than substance is unfair and disrespectful to the months of work they put in.
The jury, which met weekly for four months, "really tried to keep an open mind and come to a fair decision given all the testimony that we heard," said Janna Bessin, one of the 12 Travis County residents appointed to serve on the grand jury.
"It's too bad," Bessin said, calling the criticism unfair. "But I guess that his side's job – to really spin it."
Perry was indicted on one count of abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony punishable by five to 99 years in prison; and on one count of coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony carrying a punishment oftwo to 10 years in prison.
The charges are related to Perry's threat to veto funding for the Travis County District Attorney office's Public Integrity Unit unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned following her drunken-driving arrest and the widely-viewed video of her booking in which she was belligerant with police officers. Lehmberg refused and Perry vetoed the $7.5 million in state funding for the Public Integrity Unit.
Gov. Perry turned himself in Tuesday, got his mug shot taken, and said outside the courthouse "I'm here today because I believe in the rule of law. And I'm here today because I did the right thing.”
Gov. Perry has actually seen commentaries and editorials from across the political spectrum saying how this indictment is a gross exercise in overreach. Former White House adviser David Axelrod called it “sketchy.” The New York Times, which isn’t a fan of Gov. Perry, criticized the charges as “overzealous.” Jonathan Chait, former editor of the New Republic, called this whole fiasco “unbelievably ridiculous.”
Oh, as for the jurors speaking out, it seems like you're breaking the law. Bryan Preston over at PJ Media has what Texas law says about the oath of grand jurors:
Now, as to Texas law. Here’s what it says.
Art. 19.34.    OATH OF GRAND JURORS
When the grand jury is completed, the court shall appoint one of the number foreman; and the following oath shall be administered by the court, or under its direction, to the jurors: “You solemnly swear that you
will diligently inquire into, and true presentment make, of all
such matters and things as shall be given you in charge; the
State’s counsel, your fellows and your own, you shall keep secret,
unless required to disclose the same in the course of a judicial
proceeding in which the truth or falsity of evidence given in the
grand jury room, in a criminal case, shall be under investigation.
You shall present no person from envy, hatred or malice; neither
shall you leave any person unpresented for love, fear, favor,
affection or hope of reward; but you shall present things truly as
they come to your knowledge, according to the best of your
understanding, so help you God”.
Bold added. For the grand jury misconduct.
Scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feed hasn't been the same in the last few weeks.
Rich, poor, young, old, Dr. Dre, and your uncle you haven't seen in years have all been participating in the nationwide phenomena known as the "Ice Bucket Challenge." In the name of finding a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease (also known as ALS), the "Ice Bucket Challenge" has raised $31.5 million in just over 3 weeks. The idea is simple: donate to the ALS Association or pour ice water on your head, challenge someone else to do the same, and post to social media.
Governor Jerry Brown of California was challenged by Sacramento mayor, Kevin Johnson and instead of taking on the challenge himself, he volunteered his Welsh corgi, Sutter. Ironically, the bucket of water is poured out in front of the California Capitol Building with what appears to be a water conservation sign in the background. Watch the video here.
The "Ice Bucket Challenge" has been scrutinized by critics in California where the state is experiencing the worst drought in recored history. The Long Beach Post estimates that 6 million gallons of water have been wasted on the challenge worldwide, but any water wasted in California is intolerable. State-mandated fines of $500 are in effect for those wasting water for any reason.
Many people don't understand that the challenge is meant to be a punishment for not donating to charity. Instead it has become an excuse to post a silly video on social media.
Will Oremus of Slate.com wrote:
"As for 'raising awareness,' few of the videos I’ve seen contain any substantive information about the disease, why the money is needed, or how it will be used. More than anything else, the ice bucket videos feel like an exercise in raising awareness of one’s own zaniness, altruism, and/or attractiveness in a wet T-shirt."
The 1.2 million "Ice Bucket" videos shared on Facebook show little knowledge of what ALS is (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) from their creators. They mostly consist of "Hi, my name is so-and-so and I challenge so-and-so." Giving a little education on the disease would at least justify those who are doing the challenge and not donating, which is what many younger people are doing.
While there is probably people who do the challenge and donate to ALS research, the "Ice Bucket Challenge" is being called a ploy by those who claim to support a cause and aren't really doing anything. Some call it "slacktivism," a play-on-words for people who don't do much for the cause they are supporting (post a Facebook video, for example) and claim to be an activist for.
The debate is over; fracking doesn’t cause destructive earthquakes. The highly non-controversial way of extracting natural gas, which has been used since 1947, has been a focal point of some absurd claims that they’re a threat to the environment (via Associated Press) [emphasis mine]:
Man-made earthquakes, a side effect of some high-tech energy drilling, cause less shaking and in general are about 16 times weaker than natural earthquakes with the same magnitude, a new federal study found.
People feeling the ground move from induced quakes — those that are not natural, but triggered by injections of wastewater deep underground— report significantly less shaking than those who experience more normal earthquakes of the same magnitude, according to a study by U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Susan Hough.
Fracking and natural gas exploration has been a huge issue for the environmentalists. They claim fracking contaminates water, which was disproven by the Environmental Protection Agency when they tested the water in Dimock, Pennsylvania in 2012. They said the water was safe to drink (emphasis mine):
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today [July 25, 2012] that it has completed its sampling of private drinking water wells in Dimock, Pa. Data previously supplied to the agency by residents, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot Oil and Gas Exploration had indicated the potential for elevated levels of water contaminants in wells, and following requests by residents EPA took steps to sample water in the area to ensure there were not elevated levels of contaminants. Based on the outcome of that sampling, EPA has determined that there are not levels of contaminants present that would require additional action by the Agency.
Between January and June 2012, EPA sampled private drinking water wells serving 64 homes, including two rounds of sampling at four wells where EPA was delivering temporary water supplies as a precautionary step in response to prior data indicating the well water contained levels of contaminants that pose a health concern. At one of those wells EPA did find an elevated level of manganese in untreated well water. The two residences serviced by the well each have water treatment systems that can reduce manganese to levels that do not present a health concern.
As a result of the two rounds of sampling at these four wells, EPA has determined that it is no longer necessary to provide residents with alternative water. EPA is working with residents on the schedule to disconnect the alternate water sources provided by EPA.
Overall during the sampling in Dimock, EPA found hazardous substances, specifically arsenic, barium or manganese, all of which are also naturally occurring substances, in well water at five homes at levels that could present a health concern. In all cases the residents have now or will have their own treatment systems that can reduce concentrations of those hazardous substances to acceptable levels at the tap. EPA has provided the residents with all of their sampling results and has no further plans to conduct additional drinking water sampling in Dimock.
Dimock became the epicenter for the drinking water contamination hysteria thanks to Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary Gasland.
Right now, environmentalists and green energy advocates have to solve a few problems with their own pet projects, specifically in solar fields where 28,000 birds are bursting into flames over the intense heat emitted from the plants. Additionally, wind turbines are killing hundreds of thousands of migratory birds and turning nearly a million bats into burgers (via NRO):
California’s massive Ivanpah solar power plant can produce enough electricity for 140,000 households — but the environmental cost is nothing less than an avian slaughter.
Temperatures near the towers can reach up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, heat certainly sufficient to fry a fowl.
That’s a common occurrence, the AP continues; federal investigators saw a bird burn roughly every two minutes. Ivanpah owner BrightSource estimates that “about a thousand” die each year, and one environmental group says the plant kills up to 28,000 birds each year.
Ivanpah isn’t the only green darling with a lot of bird blood on its hands, either. The American Bird Conservancy estimates wind turbines slay 440,000 birds each year, and the an analyst writing in the Wildlife Society Bulletin says it’s closer to 573,000 — in addition to 888,000 bats.
So, does this mean we should all live in teepees?
President Obama has held more press conferences this year than all of 2013 in light of constant national and international turmoil that has plagued the president's second term. Republicans believe it is due to Obama's record-low approval rating, which according to Real Clear Politics reached an average of 41.8 percent.
For a president that has been criticized for being out of touch and hard to reach, Martha Joynt Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University, told USA TODAY that Obama has held 16 press conferences up until July of this year, more than 2013, which totaled 14 appearances.
Kumar in USA TODAY said:
"You need to have the public know who you are...That's an issue for him."
The White House is quick to say that the trend is more about the issues and less about the president making a renewed PR stunt to slow his bleeding legacy.
Republican strategist Rich Galen told USA TODAY:
"They're looking for anything that can stop the slide...If you don't define yourself, your opponents will do it for you."
Even while on vacation, President Obama has made five press statements during his time at Martha's Vineyard. Earlier today, he spoke on the tragic beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants.
Many analysts subscribe to the theory that the Congressional GOP is the main source of all dysfunction on Capitol Hill. Their monolithic will to block progress, this theory goes, impedes legislation on Capitol Hill and there's really nothing anyone can do about it but ask constituents to apply pressure.
Vox's Ezra Klein writes that Capitol Hill Democrats' frustrations with President Obama are "ridiculous." This is in reference to a New York Times article that described those frustrations. While the NYT got multiple Democrats on the record with those complaints, Klein cites "a lot" of conversations he has with members of Congress, saying that all of them agree that their voting pattern has not been changed by President Obama's behavior.
Putting aside one obvious thing - no legislator wants to admit that their ideals that underlie their voting behavior is so shallow and malleable that a cup of coffee with POTUS will change it, especially to a member of the press - we could find a myriad of examples in which President Obama's lack of sway within his own party may have impeded legislative action on the Hill.
Just this year, Democrats on the Hill led action against a bipartisan piece of trade legislation that the White House was publicly in favor of. As the Financial Times reported, Sen. Sherrod Brown and other pro-labor Democrats helped block legislation sponsored by Max Baucus and Dave Camp for the Trade Promotion Authority.
Now, this is a relatively small-bore issue, and it might be that no amount of Obama politicking would have caused Democrats to back off their opposition to trade legislation. Democrats can be quite monolithic and uncompromising when it comes to free trade agreements. (Why, one might be surprised that Democrats are often just as monolithic and uncompromising as one thinks Republicans to be!) But it's not just here. President Obama's relationship with Harry Reid has proven to be fractious, and it's not hard to imagine a better working relationship resulting in Harry Reid himself working harder for Democratic comity. Obama politicking might not be enough to pass gun control measures (though some have said that a more shrewd White House might have found victory on extended unemployment benefits extension), but to point out that Republicans have a few pet issues on which they won't compromise is not to excuse the White House.
As Joe Manchin told the New York Times, sometimes a little introspection is a good thing. It might be possible that there is literally nothing President Obama could have done over the previous six years that would have resulted in a better working relationship and more of his pet legislation passed. But no amount of anonymous conversations that Klein has with unnamed legislators will change that legislators, by and large, do think Obama could do better.
Just as Democrats are shying away from “War on Women” tactics since American women see them as too divisive, Republicans are shifting away from attacking Obamacare directly in attack ads. Now, they’re pivoting towards the law’s impact on the economy (via Bloomberg):
The shift -- also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana -- shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.
“The Republican Party is realizing you can’t really hang your hat on it,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. “It just isn’t the kind of issue it was.”
In April, anti-Obamacare advertising dwarfed all other spots in North Carolina. It accounted for 3,061, or 54 percent, of the 5,704 top five issue ads in North Carolina, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. By July, the numbers had reversed, with anti-Obamacare ads accounting for 971, or 27 percent, of the top issue ads, and the budget, government spending, jobs and unemployment accounting for 2,608, or 72 percent, of such ads, CMAG data show
It is a recognition that there’s more going on in this state and also nationally than just frustration over Obamacare,” said Jordan Shaw, Tillis’s campaign manager. “We have never had an approach to make this campaign all about the Affordable Care Act. You can’t have a conversation about Obamacare without talking about its impact on the economy.”
The Republican approach, long defined by a “repeal and replace” mantra, is also challenged by a policy void, said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “You can’t really repeal it without creating a mess,” she said, “and the problem is they’re not entirely sure what to replace it with.”
The reason for pivoting on the Obamacare ads could be Gallup noting that “the rate of uninsured people has dropped in all except five states. Two critical states, Arkansas and Kentucky, had the biggest declines. In Arkansas, the rate of people without health insurance fell from 22.5 percent in 2013 to 12.4 percent in mid-2014,” according to Bloomberg.
As more people enroll under the Affordable Care Act, the harder it’ll be for conservatives to campaign against Obamacare. Whether we like it or nor, the larger electorate will see these ads as Republican attempts to take away their health care. That problem will be magnified once more Americans are enrolled under the ACA by 2016. Will our 2016 GOP nominee really campaign on a platform that seeks to take away insurance from millions of Americans–or at least that’s how the media will frame it? If that’s the case, Election Day 2016 will be a short night, with a Democrat back in the White House.
Yet, that doesn’t mean conservatives should just stop fighting Obamacare legally on what are legitimate constitutional issues. The second front in that war is having a replacement plan; something to tell voters besides “repeal it!”
Avik Roy released his white paper of the subject last week. It’s worth a read. But, Republicans have had alternatives to fix our health care system since the Clinton administration. Chris Conover at Forbes provided a history of Republican health care alternatives last summer, most notably Bushcare.
In 2007, President Bush had a “reform plan that would have replaced the current tax exclusion for employer-provided coverage with standard tax deductions for all individuals and families,” Conover wrote. “The Bush plan called for a tax deduction that would have applied to payroll taxes as well as income taxes. Moreover, if one were worried about non-filers, the subsidy could easily have instead been structured as a refundable tax credit in which case even those without any income taxes would have gotten an additional amount.”
If Democrats were willing to work with Republicans back in the day, the reward could’ve been reducing the number of uninsured Americans by 65%, compared to Obamacare’s 45% when the law is fully-implemented by 2016. Oh, and the Bush plan had no mandate.
Right now, Republicans could continue to bash the president’s signature domestic achievement; the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is still having trouble getting the Open Payments database off the ground. But what will get independents to tilt towards the right come Election Day is focusing on the law's impact on jobs and the economy, according to Republican pollster Whit Ayers. It’ll probably get even better once Republicans reach a consensus on how to replace Obamacare. There's plenty of ideas out there.
Speaking from Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, President Obama delivered a somber yet moving speech eulogizing the life of the late American journalist James Wright Foley, who U.S. intelligence officials confirmed today was beheaded by ISIL.
“Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the civilized world,” the president said before eviscerating the evil and gruesome tactics of his killers.
“Let’s be clear about ISIL,” he said. “They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocent civilians.”
“They’ve murdered Muslims [by] the thousands,” he continued. “They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes whenever they can.”
He also noted that ISIL massacres, rapes, tortures, and even enslaves their victims -- describing their ideology as both “bankrupt” and of no “value to human beings.”
“ISIL speaks for no religion,” he said. “No God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day.”
Curiously, the president didn’t address how the U.S. would fight this growing terrorist threat. He did say, however, that the U.S. has no illusions about the dangers ISIL poses to the West and civilized societies everywhere.
“We will continue to confront this hateful terrorism,” he said. “We will do everything we can to protect our people and the timeless values we stand for.”
Still, the president didn’t take any questions from reporters, nor comment on the fact that an American journalist is almost certainly still being held prisoner by ISIL.
Instead, after reading his prepared remarks, he went "straight to the golf course."
Editor's note: This post has been updated.