Archive for November, 2015

You won’t be surprised by which presidential candidate Americans think would ruin Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling has released a light-hearted survey that asked Americans several holiday-themed questions—including which presidential candidate would be most likely to mess up everyone’s Thanksgiving.

“Donald Trump leads PPP’s newest poll by a wide margin,” said a statement on PPP’s website, “…on which candidate Americans think would be the most likely to say something inappropriate at the table and ruin Thanksgiving Dinner.” According the poll, 46 percent say Trump would be the candidate likeliest to make a Thanksgiving dinner an uncomfortable affair. Trump’s numbers registered higher on this question than all of the other candidates combined.

Despite the fact that nearly half of Americans believe Trump would make an uncouth dinner guest, he continues to lead the Republican primary field, with 24 percent according to the latest poll from Bloomberg. As far as Thanksgiving goes however, PPP also found that there’s a partisan divide over Obama’s decision to pardon two turkeys rather than the longstanding Thanksgiving tradition of extending the privilege to only one.

PPP has also revealed that there’s a generational gap on the question of cranberry sauce, with seniors saying they like it by a 63 point margin. Younger voters however, dislike it by a 6 point margin.

Could cranberry sauce be a tradition that dies out with time?

Another generational gap exists on the issue of macaroni and cheese as an appropriate Thanksgiving side, with over 70 percent of voters under 45 saying it’s fine but only 49 percent of seniors saying it’s okay.

One issue Americans seem to agree on despite partisan affiliation or age: Cool it on the Christmas music until we at least get through Thanksgiving. 54 percent of voters think Christmas music is being played too early, and the results are similar across independents, Republicans, and Democrats.

It’s nice to know that despite all of the partisanship and divisiveness we see in today’s world, there are still some things surrounding American traditions that we can agree on!

Let’s Get Past the Refugee Rhetoric and Look at the Facts

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe

The flame wars of this past week lend themselves to the assertion that nothing kills civility like the confluence of terrorism and immigration. The level of hysterical shrieking and moral posturing on all sides of the debate around how to treat refugees in the wake of mounting concerns about terrorism has reached peak mob rule. We’ve been treated to sweeping pronouncements that anyone seeking to stop – or even just pause – the resettlement of displaced Middle Easterners are xenophobic bigots. Arguably more absurd are the neo-fascist calls to shut down mosques and place Muslims in camps, reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt’s racial-roundup that imprisoned Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Instead of breathlessly playing into this parade of the horribles, everyone concerned about the refugee issue would do well to take a deep breath and keep an open mind as the facts unfold. If the world as viewed through social media is any indication, it seems as though we genuinely need to remember that well-meaning people can diverge, even on highly emotional and complicated issues, without being evil. If we can at least agree on that basic premise, it might be possible to consider two of the most difficult issues we face politically in a rational light.

Immigration was already a hot button issue within the 2016 presidential campaign before the attacks in Paris tied it much more closely with concerns around terrorism. Virtually all Republican candidates have said from their campaign’s inceptions that we need a tighter border, expressing national security concerns about the matter, even amid disagreements about how immigrants here illegally ought to be treated. Mix this already complicated, emotional issue with legitimate fears surrounding terrorism, and you’ve detonated political dynamite.

As the dust clears in Paris, officials have confirmed that one of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France entered Europe by way of Greece with a fake Syrian passport. The Washington Post reported that, “He disembarked with 197 desperate migrants on the isle of Leros, where harried police processed the man whose Syrian passport named him as Ahmad Almohammad, a 25-year-old from Idlib.” The man’s true identity remains unknown – he may not be Syrian at all – but officials confirmed that his fingerprints matched those of “Almohammad,” who entered Europe on October 3rd.

This has led to a justifiable fear among Americans. As President Obama calls for the United States to take in 10,000 refugees, people want to know how their elected officials will prevent another “Ahmad Almohammad” from forging his way into our country. And the concern goes beyond fake passports: What if ISIS terrorists are, as they claim, embedded in refugee camps? If they can enter Europe so easily, can’t they get into America? These are legitimate concerns that have sparked action among many politicians.

More than half of all governors have said their states will not accept Syrian refugees for fear of endangering their citizens. Every Republican presidential candidate has said we should at least put a pause on if not outright ban Syrian migrants – particularly if they’re not Christians, according specifically to both Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush. Three days after the attack in Paris, Rand Paul introduced a bill reminiscent of one he had filed in 2013. According to a statement from Paul’s Senate office:

“This legislation that would suspend visa issuance for countries with a high risk of terrorism and impose a waiting period for background checks on visa issuance from other countries until the American people can be assured terrorists cannot enter the country through our immigration and visa system.” In addition, the bill would make sure that immigrants already in the U.S. via countries that pose high terror risks are being monitored, and would make sure that the Department of Homeland Security’s entry-exit system is 100 percent complete, ensuring that people are not overstaying their visas. Paul also introduced an amendment that would block welfare benefits for any new refugees that enter the U.S.

While these are arguably common sense measures, especially seeing as the terrorists who executed 9/11 entered the U.S. through visas, it’s equally important to make sure we as citizens aren’t driving politicians to legislate through fear absent rational thinking. Most reasonable people would agree that instituting a more stringent screening process is wise. But does that mean we cannot admit any of these suffering Syrian refugees at all? Is President Obama’s modest proposal of 10,000 truly too much for the United States to handle?

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst for the Cato Institute, wrote a compelling piece that delves into the processes around our refugee system, and convincingly contrasted the situation in Europe with what takes place here. As he explained, “There are many differences between Europe’s vetting of asylum seekers from Syria and how the United States screens refugees. The geographic distance between the United States and Syria allows our government to better vet those seeking to come here while large numbers of Syrians who want to go to Europe show up at their borders and are less carefully vetted. A lax security situation there does not imply a lax security situation here.”

Nowrasteh also presented some sobering statistics, explaining that of the 859,629 refugees admitted into the U.S. since 2001, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks, all on targets outside of the United States, and none of the plots were successful. (As Nowrasteh notes, the Boston Marathon bombers were from a family that sought asylum, a distinction with a major difference). “That is one terrorism-planning conviction for a refugee for every 286,543 of them who have been admitted. To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014,” wrote Nowrasteh.

Of course, these statistics don’t mean that Americans have no right to be alarmed by the prospect of terror on our shores. After all, ISIS has made it abundantly clear that they seek Western targets, the United States included. It seems however, amid our justifiable concern, that pointing fingers at refugees as it pertains to how terrorists actually enter the U.S. may be misguided. As Paul noted and many other politicians have long pointed out, the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. on business, tourism, and student visas and overstayed them as a result of insufficient policing in this arena.

This is not to say that ISIS operatives embedding themselves in refugee camps isn’t a new type of threat. The federal government should in no way be lax in its vetting process, and there are legitimate concerns around whether the agencies in question are properly following their own rules on this. But as Nowrasteh explained, “Few ISIS soldiers or other terrorists are going to spend at least three years in a refugee camp for a 0.042 percent chance of entering the United States when almost any other option to do so is easier, cheaper, quicker.” Refugees are simply not pouring onto our shores and allowed to enter with a cursory look at a passport, as was the case with the Paris bomber in Greece.

Europe has a major problem on its hands, but their troubles don’t quite mirror what we’re facing in the U.S. The flame war over displaced Syrians has obscured the point that refugees themselves are rarely the problem. As of this writing, the man with the forged passport does remain a mystery, but all of the terrorists identified in the Paris attacks were either Belgian or French nationals. As we move forward with this debate, all sides ought to extend each other grace, consider the facts, and ideally, work toward a solution that will allow refugees who are truly in need to seek the American Dream.

Rand Paul says we shouldn’t allow new refugees until we figure out who is already here

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

In the wake of terror attacks in Paris that have Americans concerned about their own security, Rand Paul has proposed two legislative fixes. On a call with reporters Thursday, Senator Paul explained that he’s focused on pushing measures that will help allay fears and keep us, as he put it “safe at home.”

“One of the most important ways we assure safety is by carefully scrutinizing the people who come to our country, whether that’s refugees, immigrants, visitors, or students,” explained Paul, making note of a bill he introduced this week that would suspend the issuance of visas to individuals from countries with high risks of terrorism.

This temporary suspension would last until a system is in place that ensures militants cannot enter the U.S. through the visa system, as the 9/11 hijackers did.

Paul also explained that he introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would cut off taxpayer funded welfare and housing to future refugees while the program is being reevaluated. “My amendment was blocked by both parties, and as a consequence, Congress has left town on the senate side without addressing this,” said Paul.

Rare asked Paul what specifically about the vetting process for refugees concerns him, to which he answered that it’s dangerous to bring thousands of new people from terror-prone countries into the United States when our government can’t keep up with who is currently within America’s borders.

“I don’t think we have a certainty over who has come into our country, whether they’re still here, or what they’re doing,” said Paul. “We have rules around whether you’re here on a one month visa, a six month visa, if you’re here as a refugee, if you’re here as a student,” he explained. Paul further noted that the government has done a poor job of keeping track once people have entered the country and highlighted the national security issues it raises.

Paul is correct in saying that the 9/11 terrorists exploited holes in our visa system. All nineteen of the hijackers arrived through either tourist, business, or student visas. Paul’s view is that it’s only practical to fix the system we have in place before allowing new entrants from a war-torn and terror prone country like Syria.

Paul’s position has been echoed by over half of the nation’s governors, who have said that they will not accept any of the 10,000 refugees President Obama has proposed we allow into the U.S. At this time, when refugees will enter the country, and where they will settle if they do, remains unanswered.

Tom Cotton uses the Paris attacks to try to strengthen the NSA

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican senator from Arkansas, is one of the most hawkish members of Congress. True to form, he’s now trying to capitalize on the Paris terror attacks by introducing a bill that would delay reforms to the NSA’s metadata collection program. Those reforms were ushered in by the passage of the USA Freedom Act and are scheduled to take place on December 1. Senator Cotton’s bill is called the “Liberty Through Strength Act.”

The USA Freedom Act, which many civil liberties advocates—including Senator Rand Paul—turned against because it was too watered down, tweaks but does not eliminate the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ metadata. According to Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center:

After a six-month transition period, the USA Freedom Act shifts the burden of keeping the phone records to private companies; and the NSA must get individualized permissions from the secret FISA court to get relevant, targeted information from a phone company storing the records. It also provides for an adversarial advocate in the secret FISA court and the release of certain FISA court decisions publicly. The Freedom Act also restores a roving wiretap provision and a lone-wolf provision from the Patriot Act. Surveillance will certainly continue under other parts of the act and under other government programs designed to combat terrorism.

Senator Cotton’s legislation would delay the Freedom Act’s reforms until January 31, 2017, and would require certification from the president that the way in which they’re implemented won’t impact operations. It would also permanently reinstate the Patriot Act’s “lone wolf” and roving wiretap provisions.

In a statement released on his official U.S. Senate website, Cotton said:

The terrorist attacks in Paris last week are a terrible reminder of the threats we face every day. And it made clear that the President’s empty policy of tough talk and little action isn’t working against ISIS. Regrettably, these policy follies also extend to the Intelligence Community, whose hands were tied by the passage of the USA FREEDOM ACT. This legislation, along with President Obama’s unilateral actions to restrict the Intelligence Community’s ability to track terrorist communications, takes us from a constitutional, legal, and proven NSA collection architecture to an untested, hypothetical one that will be less effective.

Critics believe Cotton is missing the point by focusing on the reforms contained in the USA Freedom Act. As Marcy Wheeler wrote at Slate:

The United States and United Kingdom’s metadata collection that focuses on the Middle East and Europe is far more extensive than the phone dragnet being shut down later this month, and its use has far more permissive rules. This dragnet is mostly limited by technology, not law. And France—which rewrote its surveillance laws after the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year—has its own surveillance system. Both are in place, yet neither detected the Nov. 13 plot. This means they failed to alert authorities to the people they should more closely target via both electronic and physical surveillance. In significant part, this system appears to have failed before it even got to the stage at which investigators would need to worry about terrorists’ use of encryption.

That Cotton is using the climate of fear around the attacks in Paris to push for a policy prescription he’s always supported isn’t surprising. But his critics are right to say that the USA Freedom Act’s reforms aren’t the root of the problem.

Whether Senator Cotton will have any luck moving his bill forward remains to be seen. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a reluctant supporter of the USA Freedom Act once it was watered down enough to pass the Senate. Given the heightened state of alert surrounding Paris, McConnell might be willing to green light Cotton and smother the Freedom Act until 2017.

The hacker group Anonymous is getting ready to stick it to ISIS

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

The “hacktivist” group Anonymous has “declared war” on ISIS in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris.

The organization, which uses hacking as a means to cause disruption against organizations or individuals it opposes, released a video of a man speaking about “Operation Paris” in a French accent. As is standard of Anonymous, the man is wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.

“We are tracking down members of the terrorist group responsible for these attacks. We will not give up. We will not forgive. And we will do everything necessary to end their actions,” says the masked man in the video, which is flanked by an #OpParis hashtag. “During the attacks of Charlie Hebdo we had already expressed our determination to neutralize anyone who would attack our freedom. We’ll be doing the same now because of the recent attacks.”

As David Gilbert explained at the International Business Times:

The group says it wants members of Anonymous to avoid its typical tactic of launching distributed denial of services (DDoS) attacks against ISIS websites, but instead to attack to hack into the sites to steal valuable information and lead it online. According to the main Twitter account associated with the campaign, the group has already successfully taken over 2250 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts offline.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Anonymous hackers successfully took a pro-terror French website offline. Gilbert notes at IBT, however, that Anonymous isn’t without its critics. “The group has in the past been accused of leaking misleading information and as part of OpISIS earlier this year, a number of the accounts it claimed were associated to ISIS were shown to be inaccurately grouped with those belonging to ISIS sympathizers,” writes Gilbert.

A Twitter account specifically for the purposes of #OpParis has been created, and the “hacktivists” are posting updates, engaging with supporters, and working to organize.