For months intelligence agencies, lawmakers and everyday citizens have been sounding the alarm and voicing concerns about hundreds of Americans fighting for ISIS who still hold valid U.S. or western passports. At this point, the State Department still has not confirmed that passports belong to Americans knowingly fighting for ISIS have been revoked, boosting concerns ISIS fighters will use them to regain entrance into the United States. Now, officials inside the Department of Homeland Security are finally admitting that Americans fighting with ISIS and in possession of U.S. passports do in fact pose a threat.
The admission to the threat came yesterday during a hearing held by the House Homeland Security Committee. Chairman Michael McCaul expressed concerns about Americans fighting for ISIS returning to the United States undetected.
“My biggest concern is we don’t have sufficient intelligence, human intelligence, in particular in Syria, to identify the 100 to 200 Americans that are over there, and that we don’t have sufficient intelligence on these tens of thousands of foreign fighters that could board an airplane and come into the United States,” McCaul said. “When I ask the question ‘Do we have a high degree of confidence?’ as to who these people are over there, I’m not always satisfied with the answer. I think the honest answer is ‘We don’t.’ I would urge this administration - and I’m hopeful that the president tonight will articulate a policy, a strong policy, since we pulled out of Iraq completely without a status of forces agreement and left a vacuum there that has developed into what is one of the biggest threats to the homeland in Iraq and Syria - that we regain that reconnaissance, that intelligence, and also that intelligence on the ground to determine who is over there so that we can stop them from coming back to the United States and killing Americans.”
"As an operational organization, we’re always looking for additional sources of information to help us paint a better picture of a traveler. if we can figure out what their intentions are by having access to additional information and how we would us it, in what circumstances we would use it and how we would protect it,” Assistant CBP Commissioner for Office of Field Operations John Wagner said in response to McCaul's concerns.
“We continue to look at the known terrorists to look at travel patterns, to look at who they’re connected to, to look at some of the data elements that we may be able to utilize to identify future people,” Acting Assistant CBP Commissioner for Intelligence Tony Miller added.
At this point, TSA and Customs and Border Protection have not announced extra security measures for travelers with flights coming from Syria.
Yesterday IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the tax agency follows the law "wherever it can." The comment came during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Capitol Hill about the disastrous and expensive Obamacare rollout. Koskinen was responding to a question from Republican Rep. Kevin Brady about ineligible individuals receiving Obamacare subsidies, who will eventually have to pay subsidies back to the IRS under the law.
Brady: Will you be following the law in that recapture?
Koskinen: Yes, wherever we can, we follow the law.
Brady: [Laughs] Wherever we can? I encourage you to follow the law in all instances.
Try using that excuse next time you fill out your tax returns or go through an audit.
Back in June the New York Times reported hundreds-of-thousands of people who are ineligible for Obamacare subsidies could be receiving them. Eventually if the system gets fixed, those people will have to pay the subsidies back.
The Obama administration is contacting hundreds of thousands of people with subsidized health insurance to resolve questions about their eligibility, as consumer advocates express concern that many will be required to repay some or all of the subsidies.
Of the eight million people who signed up for private health plans through insurance exchanges under the new health care law, two million reported personal information that differed from data in government records, according to federal officials and Serco, the company hired to resolve such inconsistencies.
The government is asking consumers for additional documents to verify their income, citizenship, immigration status and Social Security numbers, as well as any health coverage that they may have from employers. People who do not provide the information risk losing their subsidized coverage and may have to repay subsidies next April.
ISIL and ISIS literally stands for "Islamic State" but the current President of the United States doesn't think they're "Islamic."
"ISIL is not Islamic," Obama said in his speech Wednesday night about ISIL [ISIS]. "No religion condones the killing if innocents. The vast majority of ISIL victims have been Muslim and ISIL is certainly not a state."
By this logic, Islamic State terrorists who kill Muslims because they aren't radical enough or the proper type of Muslim, aren't "Islamic." Obama's asinine statement comes just a few weeks after two American journalists had their heads sawed off in the name of Allah. ISIS has erased the border between Syria and Iraq, has declared an Islamic caliphate and controls territory the size of Michigan.
If we aren't willing to see our enemy for what they are, radical Islamic terrorists, we can't defeat them. Using political correctness to define ISIS helps no one, including millions of peaceful Muslims all around the world.
UPDATE: Republican Senator Rand Paul, who will most likely run for President in 2016, defended President Obama's comment on Hannity Wednesday nightand said civilized Muslims need to step up to fight ISIS.
UPDATE II: Surprise! CAIR, a Muslim advocacy organization with ties to terrorist groups like Hamas, apparently influenced Obama's speech.
CAIR Wants Obama in Speech to Dissociate ISIS From Islam and to Blame ‘Lack of Freedom and Justice’ for its Rise http://t.co/Ti1o4zRjmy— CNSNews.com (@cnsnews) September 11, 2014
Speaking from the White House Wednesday evening, President Obama called on Congress (but did not ask for authorization) to support new airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq and arming fighters in those countries. He is ordering 400 more American advisors to Iraq to help fighters on the ground with strategy and said the United States will lead a broad coalition against the terror army overseas. He also issued reassurances that America will not get "dragged into another ground war in Iraq," snuffing out the possibility for U.S. ground troops.
"America will lead a broad coalition to hold back this threat," Obama said. "If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States."
When President George W. Bush went into Iraq in 2003, he had a coalition of 36 countries. President Obama currently has nine.
In terms of describing the threat ISIS poses to the United States directly, Obama didn't give new details and tried to calm American fears by saying country is safe. He said the objective is clear, to "destroy and degrade ISIL."
"If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," he said. "The United States is meeting them with strength and resolve."
"This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years," he added.
Obama also touted Yemen and Somalia as anti-terror success stories, claims that are at best questionable. He also made sure the world knew the distinction between ISIS and Islam as a whole and would not classify the terror army as Islamic.
"ISIL is not Islamic," he said.
UPDATE: The White House has issued a fact sheet about Obama's ISIS strategy.
Supporting Effective Governance in Iraq: We have made clear that additional U.S. action depended on Iraq forming an inclusive government, because only a united Iraq -- with a government in Baghdad that has support from all of Iraq’s communities -- can defeat ISIL. A new Iraqi government was formally sworn in on September 8 and we will support it in efforts to govern inclusively and to take significant, concrete steps to address the legitimate grievances and needs of all Iraqis.
Denying ISIL Safe-Haven: The Iraqi Government is taking the fight to ISIL, and will ultimately be the one to defeat it in Iraq. But our Iraqi and regional partners need our support and unique capabilities to blunt ISIL’s advance. The President announced that we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. The President also made clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. The President will not hesitate to take direct military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria and in Iraq. We will degrade ISIL’s leadership, logistical and operational capability, and deny it sanctuary and resources to plan, prepare and execute attacks. Simply put, ISIL will find no safe-haven.
Building Partner Capacity: We will build the capability and capacity of our partners in the region to sustain an effective long-term campaign against ISIL. The President announced that he will send an additional 475 U.S. service members to Iraq to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. In addition to providing weapons, ammunition and equipment, U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) will train and advise Iraqi forces, including Kurdish forces, improving their ability to plan, lead and conduct operations against ISIL. Further, the new Iraqi government has asked for help forming National Guard units that would be recruited locally and be responsible for protecting their own communities and securing areas freed from ISIL's control - a step that, along with long overdue political reforms, can drive a wedge between ISIL and Sunnis who have been alienated by their central government.
Enhancing Intelligence Collection on ISIL: Continuing to gain more fidelity on ISIL’s capabilities, plans, and intentions is central to our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy the group. Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance flights and other important efforts will strengthen our ability to understand this threat, as well as to share vital information with our Iraqi and other regional partners to enable them to effectively counter ISIL.
Disrupting ISIL’s Finances: ISIL’s expansion over the past year has given it access to significant and diverse sources of funding. The U.N. Security Council resolution that passed unanimously in August demonstrated the broad international consensus to disrupt ISIL’s finances. We are already working aggressively with our partners on a coordinated approach that includes: reducing ISIL’s revenue from oil and assets it has plundered; limiting ISIL’s ability to extort local populations; stemming ISIL’s gains from kidnapping for ransom; and disrupting the flow of external donations to the group. Our domestic laws also provide additional tools in this effort, enabling us to sanction or prosecute those who fund ISIL’s activities.
Exposing ISIL’s True Nature: Clerics around the world have spoken up in recent weeks to highlight ISIL’s hypocrisy, condemning the group’s barbarity and criticizing its self- proclaimed “caliphate.” We will work with our partners throughout the Muslim world to highlight ISIL’s hypocrisy and counter its false claim to be acting in the name of religion.
Disrupting the Flow of Foreign Fighters: Foreign terrorist fighters are ISIL’s lifeblood, and a global security threat—with citizens of nearly 80 countries filling its ranks. Over 100 foreign fighters from the United States have traveled or attempted to travel to the conflict. On September 24, the United States will convene an historic Summit-level meeting of the UN Security Council, focused on this issue.
Protecting the Homeland: We will continue to use the criminal justice system as a critical tool in our counterterrorism toolbox. Federal criminal laws provide a sound basis to prosecute those who provide material support to ISIL or who conspire with ISIL to plot attacks at home or abroad. With respect to aviation security, we will work with air carriers to implement responsible threat-based security and screening requirements, and provide additional screening to individuals suspected of affiliation with ISIL. Finally, we will counter violent extremism here at home, including tailored domestic programs to prevent violent extremism and radicalization in order to intervene with at-risk individuals before they become radicalized toward violence and decide to travel abroad to Syria and Iraq to join ISIL.
Humanitarian Support: We and our partners will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the displaced and vulnerable in Iraq and Syria. We will also continue to work with host governments to mitigate the humanitarian and economic effects of the conflict in neighboring countries, recognizing that the refugee crisis calls on our common humanity and presents a significant challenge to regional stability. As ISIL seeks to destroy the diversity of the territories it terrorizes, we will continue to work to help prevent mass atrocities, particularly against vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities.
This post has been updated.
The desperate need to secure quality healthcare for America's veterans is more important than ever and the VA finally has some big plans to make it happen.
Recently appointed Veteran Affairs Secretary, Bob McDonald, said at a news conference that the VA is hoping to hire around 28,000 healthcare workers "as quickly as possible". Last June, reports were released that said the VA's broken system could have been responsible for more than 1,000 deaths, tarnishing both the department and the Obama administration.
"Including clinicians and other employees, we're in the process of going through a big recruiting effort," McDonald told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
McDonald was spouting out estimates, not precise numbers, on what the VA is going to do. When government officials toss around "plans" or "pledges" I tend to be a little skeptical. This one I hope will come true.
These lofty claims are echoes of President Obama's pledge to solve the many problems veterans experience at VA hospitals nationwide. He said at the American Legion conference two weeks ago that he will "get to the bottom of these problems," calling them, "outrageous and inexcusable." Hiring competent healthcare providers to serve our vets would be a good start.
Today, Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide bases to train anti-ISIS forces at the request of the United States. This comes prior to Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Saudi Arabia tomorrow as he plans to meet with Turkish, Iraqi, Egyptian, Jordanian, and Lebanese officials on how to combat the growing threat emanating from the Islamic State. These forces will also confront Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army as well (via NYT):
Saudi Arabia has indicated that it would agree to an American request to provide bases to train moderate Syrian opposition fighters, American officials said on Wednesday.
Saudi willingness to host a training program comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to fly to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday morning for a high-level strategy session on how to counter to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The meeting that is being hosted by the Saudis will also include senior officials from Arab states in the Persian Gulf region, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
A senior State Department official said a number of initiatives to weaken ISIS would be stepped up, including efforts to stop the flow of money to the terrorist group by cracking down on oil smuggling and curtailing contributions from private donors.
On the military front, the State Department official said regional defense ministers would meet soon to discuss expanded basing and over-flight rights so the United States and other nations could broaden their airstrikes against ISIS.
Plans for training and arming moderate Syrian rebels so they can confront ISIS and the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus are also expected to be discussed in Jeddah.
The Arab League has condemned ISIS an its members have agreed to confront ISIS “militarily and politically.” President Obama will deliver his speech on ISIS later tonight around 9pm. Here’s a preview from Katie.
In just under three hours President Obama will speak the the American people from the White House about his administration's plan to deal with the brutal terror army ISIS. The White House has released excepts of Obama's speech which show the President will call on a strategy to "degrade and destroy" ISIS without deploying U.S. combat troops on the ground. He is also expected to announce airstrikes in Syria and won't ask Congress for authorization.
“So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” the excerpt reads. “But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”
President Obama will speak at 9 p.m. ET.
On Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell called for a ceasefire in the fight over Obamacare. "The Affordable Care Act is clearly working," she said. You might have seen some semi-positive news that Obamacare’s premiums for employer-based plans only went up 3 percent this year. But, as Guy pointed out today, individual market premiums went through the stratosphere by an average of 49 percent. This was based on a 3,137-county analysis over at Forbes. Guy added that they’re expected to grow by 8 percent next year, with some facing double-digit increases to pay for their health insurance. Oh, and a fresh round of cancellation notices are looming. This is hardly good news for the President or Democrats as they enter the last stages of the 2014 campaign season.
Guy mentioned the new Kaiser Health Tracking poll, which to no one’s surprise; shows that Obamacare (aka Affordable Care Act) is still unpopular. Forty-seven percent of registered voters having an unfavorable opinion of the president’s signature domestic achievement compared to the 35 percent who like it. That figure has remained the same from previous levels. For Independent voters, Obamacare’s favorability is even lower at 30/49. With likely voters, Obamacare’s unfavorable opinion increases 51/35. For Democrats and Republicans, opinion falls along party lines
In terms of personal impact of the Affordable Care Act, the partisan divide is the same, but a decent chunk of independents–31 percent–told Kaiser that the law has hurt them or their families compared to 10 percent of Democrats. Yet, the number of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who said the law hasn’t hurt them is high at 63/55/50.
Yet, in Guy's post where he broke down the latest polls, of those who had been affected by Obamacare, twice as many had been hurt than helped. The figure is above.
When it comes to repeal versus improve, 63 percent wish to see Congress work to improve the law compared to 33 percent who want to see it vanish from American socioeconomic life. Almost every Democrat polled favors improvement over repeal 89/9, with independents strongly backing the same policy route 59/38. Republicans overwhelming favor repeal 61/35.
While Obamacare has been a huge source of material for attack ads, these figures also could show that Obamacare has a limited impact with voters, hence why a lot of GOP campaigns are starting to talk about other issues. Even Charlie Cook wrote that “GOP strategists began telling their candidates and campaigns six months ago that they had milked that cow [Obamacare] for all they were going to get, and that they needed to broaden and diversify their attacks on Obama and congressional Democrats.” If Republicans are attacking Obamacare, it’s in ways that focuses on its impact to the economy, instead of the repeal and replace narrative. Lastly, about half of voters–48 percent–are tired of hearing about Obamacare in political ads; 47 percent still think it’s still an important issue worth debating.
Then again, that’s not to say that the law will have no impact on how people will vote this year. Additionally, the poll found some interesting numbers regarding the minimum wage and pathways to citizenship for illegals [emphasis mine]:
Almost four in ten (38 percent) say that if a candidate voted for the health care law, they would be less likely to vote for that candidate, while 29 percent say they would be more likely to vote for them. The numbers are almost exactly opposite when it comes to a candidate who voted to repeal the law: 41 percent say they would be more likely to vote for that candidate and 30 percent say they would be less likely to vote for them. To put the ACA in context with other issues, nearly half (48 percent) of voters say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports increasing the minimum wage, and over four in ten (44 percent) say they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Of course, the GOP should continue to slam Obamacare, but it seems that they already have the anti-Obamacare vote locked up. What to do about Obamacare is an ongoing issue; the 2014 midterms will be over soon.
Overall, amongst registered voters, jobs and economy is their top concern followed by health care. When broken down along party lines, jobs and the economy is the top issue for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. With the exception of independents, Democrats and Republicans have health care as their second most important issue; independents are concerned about foreign policy and fighting terrorism, which is another issue where the president is under water in his approval numbers.
The Phoenix VA, where dozens of veterans died waiting for care and were placed on secret wait lists, was in total "chaos" with patients needing urgent care and often unable to get it, officials from the VA's Inspector General's Office testified at a Senate hearing Tuesday. What's more, these officials said some 3,526 patients at the Phoenix VA still "may be at risk" for receiving poor urologic care, according to an ongoing investigation by the IG's office.
The problems of very long wait lists for veterans and serious scheduling issues go well beyond Phoenix and exist in many VA facilities, Inspector General Richard Griffin and members of his staff told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Nearly 70 VA hospitals or clinics have "knowingly and willingly" altered or manipulated their wait lists and schedules to obscure problems, testified Dr. John D. Daigh Jr., assistant inspector general for health care inspections.
This raises questions. How on earth, for example, could the IG report fail to “conclusively” determine that veterans died from (as the sitting VA secretary once put it), “the absence of timely quality care,” when veterans at the Phoenix facility clearly died and are still at risk? As it turns out, according to CNN’s Drew Griffin (who first blew the lid off this scandal months ago), it has everything to do with the way the report was phrased:
By my count, Griffin lists at least two people, just in the course of this interview, who he’s certain died from negligence. And yet the VA itself can’t put two and two together?
“There is a growing chorus of people who are really questioning the veracity of this report, especially given this confusion over the fact that they list so many who waited for care and died, and yet can’t conclusively say this caused the deaths,” he said.
All in all, the whole thing sounds pretty fishy to me. In fact, it sounds a lot like the federal agency is trying to save its own ass, and failing spectacularly.
The popular websites Reddit, Netflix, Tumblr, and Etsy (among many others) took a stand for Net Neutrality today and changed all or part of their websites to the "spinning wheel of death" to symbolize what life could be like if access to the internet was regulated so some pages loaded faster than others. The movement has been dubbed "Internet Slowdown Day," and while pages aren't actually loading slower than normal, the members of "Team Internet" insist this may be the case if "Team Cable" is successfully able to charge websites with higher traffic more money to load their pages.< p>
The dashboard of Tumblr shows the loading wheel instead of its usual icons.
The battle for "open internet" began after the FCC proposed rules that would allow internet providers to charge larger sites (Amazon, Netflix, etc.) for access to customers. Understandably, larger websites were not happy with the idea of a "fast lane" and "slow lane" for the internet.
Reddit also posted a blog urging users to contact their congressman to urge them to fight for net neutrality.
The time for defending the open internet and net neutrality is now.
We are joined by a large number companies to figuratively "slow down the Internet" to make clear that an open & neutral Internet is the only way to go. reddit itself has been working and engaging with congressional representatives and FCC official to tell them to support net neutrality.
Right now, people have sent over 1 million comments to the FCC. Congress and officials at the FCC have taken note and are now listening.
Now is the time to contact your congressional representative and tell them to support an open and neutral internet now. Be sure to call them and then tweet them publicly to make sure your voice is counted. If you are an international redditor, you can join the action as well.
The public comment period on "net neutrality" ends on September 15.