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France arrests five in jihadi raids

France arrests five in jihadi raids

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister

Four men and a woman arrested on suspicion of playing active role in recent recruitment of young women to fight in Syria. 

French police have arrested six people – including two minors – suspected of recruiting female jihadis to fight in Syria.

The arrests were made on Tuesday and Wednesday in a suburb of Lyon. During searches at the addresses raided by police, officers reportedly found various weapons including Kalashnikovs, and other equipment said to be gas masks, flashlights and ammunition.

Police said among those arrested at Meyzieu and Vaulx-en-Velin, on the outskirts of the city, two were minors, including a 13-year-old girl. Two others were a brother and sister suspected of being what officers described as "sergeant recruiters". One of the arrested suspects is linked to the Islamist group Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Pride, which has called for France to become an Islamic caliphate, which was banned in 2012.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, congratulated police on the operation and said the arrested suspects were believed to have "played a very active role in the recruitment and departure of several young women to Syria in recent months".

The French authorities are concerned about the growing number of French women and girls seeking to join Islamic State (Isis). Of the estimated 350 French nationals believed to be currently engaged with the Islamist group in Syria, at least 63 are believed to be female and six are minors.

 
Democrats turn on Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is pictured. | AP Photo

Democrats turn on Debbie Wasserman Schultz

By EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is in a behind-the-scenes struggle with the White House, congressional Democrats and Washington insiders who have lost confidence in her as both a unifying leader and reliable party spokesperson at a time when they need her most.

Long-simmering doubts about her have reached a peak after two recent public flubs: criticizing the White House’s handling of the border crisis and comparing the tea party to wife beaters.

The perception of critics is that Wasserman Schultz spends more energy tending to her own political ambitions than helping Democrats win. This includes using meetings with DNC donors to solicit contributions for her own PAC and campaign committee, traveling to uncompetitive districts to court House colleagues for her potential leadership bid and having DNC-paid staff focus on her personal political agenda.

She’s become a liability to the DNC, and even to her own prospects, critics say.

“I guess the best way to describe it is, it’s not that she’s losing a duel anywhere, it’s that she seems to keep shooting herself in the foot before she even gets the gun out of the holster,” said John Morgan, a major donor in Wasserman Schultz’s home state of Florida.

 
Why Congress is punting on authorizing war against Islamic State

 

Why Congress is punting on authorizing war against Islamic State

By Francine Kiefer

Congress will vote Wednesday on whether to train anti-Islamic State in fighters in Syria and Iraq, but not on the bigger issue of whether to authorize US force. That comes after November's elections.

The US House is voting Wednesday on authorizing the Obama administration to train and arm Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State jihadis. But the big vote – whether to authorize American use of armed force in the fight – has been punted past the midterm elections.

It could come in the lame-duck session after the Nov. 4 vote or even early next year, when the new Congress meets.

The overwhelming reason for the delay – which angers lawmakers in both parties who believe it’s their constitutional duty and right to vote now on the use of force – is political expediency.

 
The Return of the 'Security Moms'

The Return of the 'Security Moms'

In a time of national anxiety, women voters trust Republicans more on issues like terrorism.

Peter Beinart

Suddenly, it feels like 2002. Democrats got creamed in midterm elections that year because the women voters they had relied on throughout the Clinton years deserted them. In 2000, women favored Democratic congressional candidates by nine points. In 2002, that advantage disappeared entirely. The biggest reason: 9/11. In polls that year, according to Gallup, women consistently expressed more fear of terrorism that men. And that fear pushed them toward the GOP, which they trusted far more to keep the nation safe. As then-Senator Joe Biden declared after his party’s midterm shellacking, “soccer moms are security moms now.”

Unfortunately for President Obama, the security moms are back. And as a result, the levee Democrats were counting on to protect against a GOP hurricane is starting to crumble.

 
The GOP’s 2016 Dark Horse: This Guy?!

The GOP’s 2016 Dark Horse: This Guy?!

By Ben Jacobs

It’s that magic time before a presidential election when politicians with a ghost of a dream start visiting New Hampshire. First up: former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich.

It’s the season of hope, new beginnings, and first visits to early primary states for this crowd, and one of the first out of the gate is former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich, who spent the weekend in New Hampshire. A Republican who served four terms in the House of Representatives in a suburban Baltimore swing district and in 2002 became the first GOP governor of his ferociously liberal state in almost 40 years, Ehrlich might seem like a sure fire presidential contender. But he lost his bid for reelection in 2006 to Martin O’Malley and then again in a 2010 comeback attempt.

Still, Ehrlich, who now works at the Washington law firm King & Spalding, harbors aspirations of having “a voice in the party.” So when the former governor received an invitation to appear at a Granite State lobster bake and a local GOP dinner, he took advantage of it—but only after making sure that his two sons’ football teams wouldn’t have particularly tough opponents that weekend.

The former Maryland governor also talked about the Republican Party’s need to heal its internal divides and make peace between the establishment and conservative wings of the party. Both factions agree on the substances “87 percent of the time,” he said, and “shouldn’t let tactical differences divide.” The lack of unity is “inexcusable and lets our party down,” he said. But that lack of unity may be what gives Ehrlich an opportunity.

 
Poll: Hickenlooper down 10
John Hickenlooper is pictured. | Getty

Poll: Hickenlooper down 10

By JAMES HOHMANN

The Democratic incumbent is badly underwater in the Quinnipiac poll.

Another surprising Quinnipiac poll out this morning puts Republican Bob Beauprez up 10 points over Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper among likely voters, 50 percent to 40 percent.

The Democratic incumbent is badly underwater in the Q poll, viewed unfavorably by 51 percent and favorably by 43 percent. Beauprez, a former congressman, is viewed positively by 49 percent and negatively by 31 percent. Beauprez leads by 13 among independents, 50-37. And he’s neck-and-neck with Hickenlooper among women, edging him out 47-46, while carrying men by 20 points, 54-34.

 
How dirty is President Barack Obama prepared to get in the war to defeat ISIL?

Barack Obama is shown. | Getty

Obama's dirty war

How dirty is President Barack Obama prepared to get in the war to defeat ISIL?

Beating back the brutal Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant may require cozying up to unsavory groups in Syria — including some currently affiliated with the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front — and may collide with existing law if the groups the U.S. wants to train or co-opt have murky human rights records, former officials and analysts say.

Some lawmakers are questioning the wisdom of such alliances, though that doesn’t seem to be slowing down momentum on congressional approval of Obama’s plan to take on ISIL.

Obama administration officials said Tuesday that they would work closely with intelligence sources and regional partners to keep U.S. weapons out of the hands of jihadist groups, but they maintained that ISIL poses such a dire threat that it must be countered despite the dangers.

“We will monitor them closely to ensure that weapons do not fall into the hands of radical elements of the opposition, ISIL, the Syrian regime or other extremist groups,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday. “There will always be a risk in a program like this. But we believe that risk is justified by the imperative of destroying ISIL and the necessity of having capable partners on the ground in Syria.”

Obama has spoken of the moderate opposition that the U.S. wants to aid in fighting ISIL as middle-class professionals who require significant training to become a viable fighting force. The administration wants to put some 5,000 of these Free Syrian Army personnel through a training program in Saudi Arabia at a cost of about $500 million.

Analysts say it’s not clear whether the administration can quickly find that many potential fighters who meet current vetting standards. In public statements, officials have been vague about what those standards are. The White House referred POLITICO’s questions about the vetting standards and any potential changes to the process to the Pentagon and State Department, neither of which responded to queries on the issue.

 
Biden: I was wrong to say 'Shylocks'

Biden: I was wrong to say 'Shylocks'

By KENDALL BREITMAN

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is pictured. | AP Photo

“When someone as friendly to the Jewish community and open and tolerant an individual as is Vice President Joe Biden, uses the term ‘Shylocked’ to describe unscrupulous moneylenders dealing with service men and women, we see once again how deeply embedded this stereotype about Jews is in society,” Foxman said in a statement.

Biden responded in a statement, saying, “Abe Foxman has been a friend and adviser of mine for a long time. He’s correct, it was a poor choice of words, particularly as he said coming from ‘someone as friendly to the Jewish community and open and tolerant an individual as is Vice President Joe Biden.’ He’s right.”

Biden used the term when he spoke at the 40th anniversary celebration for the Legal Services Corporation and referred to his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, and his experience while in Iraq.

“People would come up to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being - I mean, these Shylocks who took advantage of these women and men while overseas,” Biden said.

 
What happens if Republicans win the Senate?

Lamar Alexander

What happens if Republicans win the Senate?

For most of the year, it seemed almost certain that Republicans would win the six additional U.S. Senate seats they need to oust the Democrats from their majority and take control of Congress.

But the outlook has turned murkier in recent weeks. While a GOP majority is still the most likely outcome, it's no longer as sure a bet. Endangered Democratic incumbents in North Carolina and Alaska are waging surprisingly strong campaigns, and a Republican incumbent in Kansas is in unexpected trouble. "We don't have a lock on this thing at all," one GOP strategist told me recently.

One scenario is a Senate in which neither major party wins 50 seats. The next Senate will include two, maybe three independents. Incumbents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, whose seats aren't up this year, may be joined by Greg Orman, a newcomer who leads the polls in Kansas. Sanders, a socialist, would continue to vote with Democrats, but King and Orman, both centrists, would be wooed by both parties — and could instantly become two of the most powerful politicians on Capitol Hill.

We could see senators switching sides. Republicans are talking hopefully about persuading Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the Senate's most conservative Democrat, to cross the aisle and sit with them. Manchin has so far dismissed the idea, but that won't stop the GOP from trying.

And the Senate's makeup could be in doubt for months after the election. In Louisiana, if no candidate wins 50%, the state holds a runoff on Dec. 6 — and that's likely to happen, since the "jungle ballot" includes three Republicans running against incumbent Democrat Mary L. Landrieu. In Georgia, if no candidate wins 50%, the state holds a runoff on Jan. 6 — one day after the new Senate convenes. In other tight races, recounts could take months; Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) waged an eight-month recount battle before claiming his seat in 2009.

 
Sarah Palin steps out after family brawl WITHOUT her WEDDING RING

A makeup-free, wedding-ring-free Sarah Palin was spotted shopping in Anchorage on Monday, just days after it emerged that her family was involved in a fight at a snowmobile party. 

Sarah Palin steps out after family brawl WITHOUT her WEDDING RING

BY Adam Edelman 

The former Alaska governor was spotted not looking her best, and without her wedding ring, during a shopping outing Monday — her first public appearance since her family took part in a violent brawl at a snowmobile party last week that left her son with cracked ribs and her husband with a bloody nose.

 
Hannity, Gutierrez battle over ISIL

Hannity, Gutierrez battle over ISIL

Sean Hannity (left) and Luis Gutierrez are pictured in this composite image. | Getty

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Fox News host Sean Hannity got into a fierce exchange over the importance of securing the United States’ southern border.

Gutierrez appeared as a guest on “Hannity” on Tuesday night, and when asked by Hannity whether he would be willing to secure the border to stop illegal immigration before acting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Gutierrez responded, “No, because it would be folly and it would be derelict in my duty to protect America.”

Hannity’s questions suggested that the Fox News host fears ISIL will infiltrate the U.S. through its border with Mexico, an issue that has been raised by a handful of Fox News hosts and others over the past week.

Instead, Gutierrez said securing the border “sounds good, but it isn’t an effective measure.”

“ISIL gets millions of dollars a day, they’re putting them in first class and sending them to America,” Gutierrez said. “And they could be Americans just like yourself.”

Hannity fired back, yelling over Gutierrez and saying that if “something” happens, he will put the blame on Congress members “for not doing their job.”

“Because that helps your ratings every night, I get that part,” Gutierrez said. “I am here to protect America.”

 
In Iowa, attacks on Republican Ernst change dynamics of tight Senate race

In Iowa, attacks on Republican Ernst change dynamics of tight Senate race

 

When Joni Ernst burst into public consciousness here this past spring, she was talking about castrating hogs as a child on an Iowa farm. Another ad showed her wearing a leather jacket and stepping off a Harley-Davidson to point a pistol at the camera.

Well, meet the new Joni Ernst. Iowa’s Republican Senate nominee went on the air this week with an ad in which she sits at a kitchen table, speaks directly to the camera, and says she cares about protecting Social Security, good schools, good-paying jobs and affordable health care.

Ernst’s effort to project a more moderate image reflects what Democrats say is a shift in the dynamic in one of the closest and most contentious midterm campaigns in the country. In Iowa — which Republicans have looked to as a potential insurance policy for taking control of the Senate — the debate increasingly has centered on issues that could give Democrats the edge.

The question is whether Iowa is part of a broader political shift in other competitive states that would allow Democrats to maintain their Senate majority, even if by the slimmest of margins.

Republicans need to win a net of six seats to take control. With seven weeks until Election Day, both parties agree that Republicans will gain at least three seats. They have opportunities to pick up the final three seats in at least eight states. Republicans continue to express confidence that they will get there, but Democrats are finding new reasons to be optimistic.

 
Vox’s guide to the battle for the Senate

Vox’s guide to the battle for the Senate

by Andrew Prokop

FiveThirtyEight's forecast — which, since it launched, has tended to give Republicans the best chances — has now gotten notably closer, showing the party's chances of taking the Senate falling from 64 percent to 53 percent. (Nate Silver elaborates on why here.) The Upshot's forecasthas done the same, resulting in a 50-50 forecast. The Washington Post's forecast, which was so strongly favorable to Republicans this summer, is also now 50-50.

What's behind the change? All these models incorporate "fundamental" factors in their forecasts that tended to advantage the GOP — things like incumbency and presidential approval ratings — but, as the election nears, they're relying more heavily on pure polling, and Democrats are doing surprisingly well in the polls.

Meanwhile, two of the models that most favored Democrats — Sam Wang's and HuffPostPollster's — have moved slightly toward the GOP. (The Daily Kos model has basically stayed the same.) Those models already relied on polls alone. So another part of what's happening is that the models are converging. As more polls come in and give everyone more data to work with, outlier projections are moderated.

These changes shouldn't be overstated — in a probabilistic forecast, 60-40 looks a lot like an ordinary coin flip, as the Upshot's Amanda Cox explained recently. But with this year's battle for the Senate looking so close, small differences like these could end up determining which party has control for Obama's last two years.

 
U.S. Incomes End 6-Year Decline, Just Barely

U.S. Incomes End 6-Year Decline, Just Barely

Americans' incomes ticked up in 2013 for the first time since the recession, and the poverty rate fell for the first time since 2006.

By Nick Timiraos

The median annual household income—the level at which half are above and half below—rose 0.3% in 2013, or a total of $180, to an inflation-adjusted $51,939, the Census Bureau's latest snapshot of U.S. living standards showed Tuesday. The increase, which wasn't statistically significant, leaves incomes around 8% below their level of 2007, when the recession officially started.

"Economic recoveries are taking much longer than in the past to reach the poor and middle class," said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.

Other measures of well-being in the report showed modest improvement. The official poverty rate declined for the first time since 2006 to 14.5%, down from 15% in 2012, amid a large drop in child poverty.

Still, the poverty rate remains well above the 12.5% level of 2007, and at last year's pace, it would take another four years for the poverty rate to return to the pre-recession level. Nearly 45.3 million Americans were living in poverty last year. The poverty level was $23,624 for a family of four.

Tuesday's report also showed the share of Americans without health insurance stood at 13.4% in 2013, the last year before key provisions of the Affordable Care Act aimed at extending coverage to more Americans took effect. A different Census survey showed that the share of uninsured Americans had fallen for the third straight year.

 
Why Rick Scott's Facing a Tea Party Revolt in Florida

Why Rick Scott's Facing a Tea Party Revolt in Florida

By Stephanie Mencimer

Florida's Republican governor can't rally conservative activists without alienating his most high-profile supporter, Jeb Bush.

Rick Scott was a tea party darling when he squeaked out a victory in 2010 to become governor of Florida with the help of an army of grassroots conservative activists. Four years later, Scott, facing a tight reelection race, is having trouble rallying his former soldiers to his cause. That's largely because energizing his old base would require him to take on the state's most popular politician: former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Tea partiers have plenty of reasons for souring on their former star. Things started well for them. Upon taking office, Scott followed up on his campaign promises to oppose Obamacare, cut taxes, and reduce spending. He slashed the budget for education and environmental protection to pay for tax cuts for corporations. He refused to support the expansion of Medicaid in the state under Obamacare, leaving more than 700,000 Floridians without health care. He supported a (failed) bill that would have brought Arizona-style anti-immigration laws to Florida and vetoed a hugely popular GOP-supported bill that would have allowed "DREAMers"—undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children—to obtain driver's licenses.

But Scott soon discovered that governing like a tea partier made him one of the nation's most unpopular governors. Early polls showed him losing reelection to a generic Democrat by wide margins. So he reversed course. Last year, he came out in favor of expanding Medicaid. (His current position on the matter is ambiguous. He changed his stance only after the federal government approved his request to fully privatize Medicaid, and he's never advocated for it in the Legislature, which has not approved the expansion.) This year, he's proposed big increases in education spending and launched a "Let's Keep Florida Beautiful" initiative, promising to restore some of his earlier environmental budget cuts.

 
The Making of a Conservative Superstar

The Making of a Conservative Superstar

Tom Cotton is the ultimate ideological, hard-edged Republican. Is that what Arkansas voters want?

By Molly Ball

Tom Cotton was born in 1977 in Dardanelle, Arkansas, population less than 4,000, where his family had lived for seven generations and his parents tended a cattle farm. His father also worked for the local health department, and his mother was a schoolteacher. From an early age, it was clear that Tom was an unusual boy.

Focused, intense, and serious, Tom impressed adults with his discipline and maturity. He worked hard, studied diligently, and seemed to have little appetite for frivolity. Tall and gangly by his sophomore year, he played on the small school’s basketball team as well as a regional team, where he compensated for a lack of innate ability with a ferocious dedication to practice and became the Sand Lizards’ starting center. Early in his high-school career, friends say, he decided he would go to Harvard. He pursued the goal with single-minded passion. When he arrived in Cambridge in 1995, he was one of two rural Arkansans in his class.

Harvard opened the eyes of the idealistic young man to a new world of intellectual possibility. “At Harvard College, I discovered political philosophy as a way of life,” Cotton wrote, a few years later, on the dedication page that preceded his 92-page senior thesis on the Federalist Papers.

The thesis, whose contents are revealed here for the first time, provides a window into a political candidate who is otherwise something of a cipher. Cotton, now a 37-year-old first-term congressman challenging Arkansas’ incumbent senior senator, Mark Pryor, has largely been defined by his résumé: the impressive credentials, from Harvard to the elite echelons of the military, and the conservative philosophy, illustrated by a record of votes in Congress that puts him on the rightward extreme of today’s Republican Party. He unites the factions of the Republican civil war: The establishment loves his background, while the Tea Party loves his ideological purity. The Weekly Standard’s editor, William Kristol, considers him one of the GOP's most promising new faces; Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus calls him one of the party’s top recruits; conservative bloggers long to speed the day when he appears on a national ticket. Yet Cotton retains an air of impenetrability, a blankness that has puzzled voters and pundits alike. And his failure to dominate the race has prompted prominent Republicans to worry that something is missing.

Cotton’s thesis fills in some of these gaps—in ways some might find disturbing. A cogent and tightly argued document, it reveals the depth and intellectual roots of his reverence for American traditions. It also reveals a contrarian devotion to some ideals that seem out of date today. Cotton insists that the Founders were wise not to put too much faith in democracy, because people are inherently selfish, narrow-minded, and impulsive. He defends the idea that the country must be led by a class of intellectually superior officeholders whose ambition sets them above other men. Though Cotton acknowledges that this might seem elitist, he derides the Federalists’ modern critics as mushy-headed and naive.

“Ambition characterizes and distinguishes national officeholders from other kinds of human beings,” Cotton wrote. “Inflammatory passion and selfish interest characterizes most men, whereas ambition characterizes men who pursue and hold national office. Such men rise from the people through a process of self-selection since politics is a dirty business that discourages all but the most ambitious.”

 
Isis video threatens White House and US troops

Isis video threatens White House and US troops

Matthew Weaver

Flames of War Isis video

Video purports to be trailer for film entitled Flames of War with strapline 'fighting has just begun'

Islamic State militants have threatened to target the White House and kill US troops in a new slickly made video response to Barack Obama's campaign to "degrade and destroy" the organisation.

The video, in the style of a blockbuster movie trailer for what is "coming soon", depicts a masked man apparently about to shoot kneeling prisoners in the head. Towards the end of the clip there is shaky footage of the White House filmed from a moving vehicle, suggesting the building is being scoped out for attack.

It was released on Tuesday after US defence chiefs suggested that American troops could join Iraqi forces fighting Isis, despite Obama's assurance that US soldiers would not be engaged in fighting on the ground.

 Screengrab showing militant apparently about to shoot kneeling prisoners in the head

The only words on the 52-second clip are those of Obama making that pledge. "American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq," it quotes him saying. This comes directly after footage of US troops being shot at, injured and taken away in an armoured vehicle, threatening what will happen if troops are redeployed to Iraq.

The video was released by the al-Hayat Media Centre, Isis's English-language propaganda arm. It includes the now-familiar high-production hallmarks of an Isis video, including super-slow motion footage of jihadis in combat, jump-cutting, and CGI explosions.

 
Obama and The 'Momentum' of War

The 'Momentum' of War

President Obama describes "a fever" rising in Washington, D.C.—which he has helped spread.

By Conor Friedersdorf

There are hawkish groups in Washington that exert pressure in favor of intervention regardless of the president. It is nevertheless frustrating to see Obama casting himself as a passive agent of external momentum, not only because he could be a decisive voice against intervention if that's what he wanted, but because his own actions contributed greatly to the interventionist atmosphere.

What else did Obama expect when he staffed his administration with hawkish Iraq War proponents? Any attempt to measure the momentum for war must include Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling ISIS "beyond anything we've ever seen," heated rhetoric from Secretary of State John Kerry, and Vice President Joe Biden vowing that the United States will follow ISIS "to the gates of hell." Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also been a prominent hawk.

 
Can Obama Keep His Generals in Check

top-box

Can Obama Keep His Generals in Check

 

The president promised no combat troops to fight ISIS, but his top general says he may recommend them. Why Obama and his commanders are not on the same page for the new war.

In his major address explaining America’s new war against ISIS, President Obama pledged that there would be no U.S. combat troops. On Tuesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he may recommend ground forces in the future.

The White House is seeking to gloss over the rift between the president and his top general, but it is clear that just below the waterline Obama is not on the same page as the commanders who will be leading the new fight. U.S. military officials and members of Congress have complained privately for weeks that Obama appears unwilling to commit the resources necessary to achieve his aim of defeating ISIS.

The Washington Post reported this week that Gen. Lloyd Austin, the general in charge of the military command that includes Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, recommended a war strategy with a small contingent of special operations forces fighting alongside Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. But Obama rejected that advice. Obama travels to Tampa Wednesday to meet with Austin about the ISIS strategy on his own turf.

Then there was the Dempsey episode. After Dempsey acknowledged that he may recommend some ground forces in the future, the Pentagon issued a rare correction. In an email forwarded to reporters from the National Security Council as well as the Pentagon’s press office, a spokesman said Dempsey “believes the current strategy to counter ISIL is appropriate,” using the administration’s preferred acronym for ISIS. The statement added, “The context of this discussion was focused on how our forces best and most appropriately advise the Iraqis and was not a broader discussion of employing US ground combat units in Iraq.”

 
Ebola Is New Challenge for U.S. Military

Ebola Is New Challenge for U.S. Military

By Betsy McKay and Dion Nissenbaum

President Barack Obama's plan to contain the Ebola outbreak in Africa presents the U.S. military with a logistical challenge with few precedents, one that it will be under pressure to execute quickly.

Mr. Obama on Tuesday warned that the epidemic could not only infect "hundreds of thousands of people,'' but carry wide security implications, even though chances of an outbreak in the U.S. are "extremely low.''

"It's a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic," Mr. Obama said after a briefing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has deployed more than 100 staff to the affected countries, one of the largest deployments in its history.

 
How a Kansas ballot dispute could determine control of the US Senate

How a Kansas ballot dispute could determine control of the US Senate

By Amanda Paulson

 

Kansas Democrat Chad Taylor asked to have his name taken off the ballot, likely damaging prospects for Sen. Pat Roberts to hold his seat. The Kansas Supreme Court decides the issue this week.

A Public Policy Polling poll released Tuesday shows Orman ahead of Roberts 41 percent to 34 percent. Six percent said they'd vote for Taylor, 4 percent chose Libertarian Randall Batson, and another 15 percent were undecided. Interestingly, the pollsters did not disclose to respondents that Taylor had left the race – meaning that even if his name stays on the ballot, the momentum seems to be shifting toward Orman, who has not said which party he would caucus with in the Senate. When asked to choose between just Roberts and Orman, Orman's lead increased to 10 points, 46 percent to 36 percent, with another 17 percent undecided.

 
How Gangs Took Over Prisons

How Gangs Took Over Prisons

Originally for self-protection, these groups now keep order behind bars—and run crime on the streets.

By Graeme Wood

On a clear morning this past February, the inmates in the B Yard of Pelican Bay State Prison filed out of their cellblock a few at a time and let a cool, salty breeze blow across their bodies. Their home, the California prison system’s permanent address for its most hardened gangsters, is in Crescent City, on the edge of a redwood forest—about four miles from the Pacific Ocean in one direction and 20 miles from the Oregon border in the other. This is their yard time.

Most of the inmates belong to one of California’s six main prison gangs: Nuestra Familia, the Mexican Mafia, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Black Guerrilla Family, the Northern Structure, or the Nazi Lowriders (the last two are offshoots of Nuestra Familia and the Aryan Brotherhood, respectively). The inmates interact like volatile chemicals: if you open their cells in such a way as to put, say, a lone member of Nuestra Familia in a crowd of Mexican Mafia, the mix can explode violently. So the guards release them in a careful order.

“Now watch what they do,” says Christopher Acosta, a corrections officer with a shaved head who worked for 15 years as a front-line prison guard and now runs public relations for Pelican Bay. We are standing with our backs to a fence and can see everything.

At first, we seem to be watching a sullen but semi-random parade of terrifying men—heavily tattooed murderers, thieves, and drug dealers walking past one of five casual but alert guards. Some inmates, chosen for a strip search, drop their prison blues into little piles and then spin around, bare-assed, to be scrutinized. Once inspected, they dress and walk out into the yard to fill their lungs with oxygen after a long night in the stagnant air of the cellblock. The first Hispanic inmate to put his clothes on walks about 50 yards to a concrete picnic table, sits down, and waits. The first black inmate goes to a small workout area and stares out at the yard intently. A white guy walks directly to a third spot, closer to the basketball court. Another Hispanic claims another picnic table. Slowly it becomes obvious that they have been moving tactically: each has staked out a rallying point for his group and its affiliates.

Once each gang has achieved a critical mass—about five men—it sends off a pair of scouts. Two of the Hispanics at the original concrete picnic table begin a long, winding stroll. “They’ll walk around, get within earshot of the other groups, and try to figure out what’s going down on the yard,” Acosta says. “Then they can come back to their base and say who’s going to attack who, who’s selling what.”

Eventually, about 50 inmates are in the yard, and the guards have stepped back and congregated at their own rallying point, backs to the fence, with Acosta. The men’s movements around the yard are so smooth and organized, they seem coordinated by invisible traffic lights. And that’s a good thing. “There’s like 30 knives out there right now,” Acosta says. “Hidden up their rectums.”

Understanding how prison gangs work is difficult: they conceal their activities and kill defectors who reveal their practices. This past summer, however, a 32-year-old academic named David Skarbek published The Social Order of the Underworld, his first book, which is the best attempt in a long while to explain the intricate organizational systems that make the gangs so formidable. His focus is the California prison system, which houses the second-largest inmate population in the country—about 135,600 people, slightly more than the population of Bellevue, Washington, split into facilities of a few thousand inmates apiece. With the possible exception of North Korea, the United States has a higher incarceration rate than any other nation, at one in 108 adults. (The national rate rose for 30 years before peaking, in 2008, at one in 99. Less crime and softer punishment for nonviolent crimes have caused the rate to decline since then.)

Skarbek’s primary claim is that the underlying order in California prisons comes from precisely what most of us would assume is the source of disorder: the major gangs, which are responsible for the vast majority of the trade in drugs and other contraband, including cellphones, behind bars. “Prison gangs end up providing governance in a brutal but effective way,” he says. “They impose responsibility on everyone, and in some ways the prisons run more smoothly because of them.” The gangs have business out on the streets, too, but their principal activity and authority resides in prisons, where other gangs are the main powers keeping them in check.

Skarbek is a native Californian and a lecturer in political economy at King’s College London. When I met him, on a sunny day on the Strand, in London, he was craving a taste of home. He suggested cheeseburgers and beer, which made our lunch American not only in topic of conversation but also in caloric consumption. Prison gangs do not exist in the United Kingdom, at least not with anything like the sophistication or reach of those in California or Texas, and in that respect Skarbek is like a botanist who studies desert wildflowers at a university in Norway.

Skarbek, whose most serious criminal offense to date is a moving violation, bases his conclusions on data crunches from prison systems (chiefly California’s, which has studied gangs in detail) and the accounts of inmates and corrections officers themselves. He is a treasury of horrifying anecdotes about human depravity—and ingenuity. There are few places other than a prison where men’s desires are more consistently thwarted, and where men whose desires are thwarted have so much time to think up creative ways to circumvent their obstacles.

Because he is a gentleman, Skarbek waited until we’d finished our burgers to illustrate some of that ingenuity.

 .............................................

The prevalence of cellphones in the California prison system reveals just how loose a grip the authorities have on their inmates. In 2013, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confiscated 12,151 phones. A reasonable guess might be that this represented a tenth of all cellphones in the system, which means that almost every one of the state’s 135,600 inmates had a phone—all in violation of prison regulations. “Prison is set up so that most of the things a person wants to do are against the rules,” Skarbek says. “So to understand what’s really going on, you have to start by realizing that people are coming up with complicated ways to get around them.” Prison officials have long known that gangs are highly sophisticated organizations with carefully plotted strategies, business-development plans, bureaucracies, and even human-resources departments—all of which, Skarbek argues, lead not to chaos in the prison system but to order.

 .............................................

 Among the fundamental questions about prison gangs—known in California-corrections argot as “Security Threat Groups”—is why they arise in the first place. After all, as Skarbek notes, California had prisons for nearly a century before the first documented gang appeared. Some states don’t have prison gangs at all. New York has had street gangs for well over a century, but its first major prison gang didn’t form until the mid-1980s.

The explanation, Skarbek says, can be found in demographics, and in inmate memoirs and interviews. “Before prison gangs showed up,” he says, “you survived in prison by following something called ‘the convict code.’ ” Various recensions of the code exist, but they all reduce to a few short maxims that old-timers would share with first offenders soon after they arrived. “It was pretty simple,” he explains. “You mind your own business, you don’t rat on anyone, and you pretty much just try to avoid bothering or cheating other inmates.”

But starting in the 1950s, things changed: The total inmate population rose steeply, and prisons grew bigger, more ethnically and racially mixed, and more unpredictable in their types of inmate. Prisons faced a flood of first offenders, who tended to be young and male—and therefore less receptive to the advice of grizzled jailbirds. The norms that made prison life tolerable disappeared, and the authorities lost control. Prisoners banded together for self-protection—and later, for profit. The result was the first California prison gang.

That moment of gang genesis, Skarbek says, forced an arms race, in which different groups took turns demonstrating a willingness to inflict pain on others. The arms race has barely stopped, although the gangs have waxed and waned in relative power. (The Black Guerrilla Family has been weakened, prison authorities told me, because of leadership squabbles.) The Mexican Mafia was the sole Hispanic gang until 1965, when a group of inmates from Northern California formed Nuestra Familia to counter the influence of Hispanics from the south. Gang elders—called maestros—instruct the youngsters in gang history and keep the enmity alive.

What’s astonishing to outsiders, Skarbek says, is that many aspects of gang politics that appear to be sources of unresolvable hatred immediately dissipate if they threaten the stability of prison society. For example, consider the Aryan Brotherhood—a notoriously brutal organization whose members are often kept alone in cells because they tend to murder their cell mates. You can take the Brotherhood at its word when it declares itself a racist organization, and you can do the same with the Black Guerrilla Family, which preaches race war and calls for the violent overthrow of the government. But Skarbek says that at lights-out in some prisons, the leader of each gang will call out good night to his entire cellblock. The sole purpose of this exercise is for each gang leader to guarantee that his men will respect the night’s silence. If a white guy starts yelling and keeps everyone awake, the Aryan Brothers will discipline him to avoid having blacks or Hispanics attack one of their members. White power is one thing, but the need to keep order and get shut-eye is paramount.

 
What’s Behind Germany’s New Anti-Semitism

What’s Behind Germany’s New Anti-Semitism

Europe is living through a new wave of anti-Semitism. The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews calls it the worst the Continent has seen since World War II. He may well be right. Attacks on synagogues are an almost weekly occurrence, and openly anti-Semitic chants are commonplace on well-attended marches from London to Rome. And yet it is here, in Germany, where the rise in anti-Semitism is most historically painful.

On Sunday, thousands of people marched through Berlin in response, and heard both Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck denounce the resurgence in anti-Jewish hatred.

We’ve seen this before, of course. But there’s an important difference this time. The new anti-Semitism does not originate solely with the typical white-supremacist neo-Nazi; instead, the ugly truth that many in Europe don’t want to confront is that much of the anti-Jewish animus originates with European people of Muslim background.

Until recently, Germany has been unwilling to discuss this trend. Germans have always seen Muslim anti-Semitism as a less problematic version of the “original” version, and therefore a distraction from the well-known problem of anti-Jewish sentiment within a majority of society.

And yet the German police have noted a disturbing rise in the number of people of Arabic and Turkish descent arrested on suspicion of anti-Semitic acts in recent years, especially over the last several months. After noticing an alarming uptick in anti-Semitic sentiment among immigrant students, the German government is considering a special fund for Holocaust education.

Of course, anti-Semitism didn’t originate with Europe’s Muslims, nor are they its only proponents today. The traditional anti-Semitism of Europe’s far right persists. So, too, does that of the far left, as a negative byproduct of sympathy for the Palestinian liberation struggle. There’s also an anti-Semitism of the center, a subcategory of the sort of casual anti-Americanism and anticapitalism that many otherwise moderate Europeans espouse.

But the rise of Muslim anti-Semitism is responsible for the recent change in the tone of hate in Germany. Until recently, the country’s anti-Semitism has been largely coded and anonymous. Messages might be spray-painted on walls at night; during the day, though, it would be rare to hear someone shout, as protesters did in Berlin in July, “Jews to the gas!” Another popular slogan at this and other rallies was “Jew, coward pig, come out and fight alone!” — shouted just yards from Berlin’s main Holocaust memorial. And this is the difference today: An anti-Semitism that is not only passionate, but also unaware of, or indifferent to, Germany’s special history.

Talking to Muslim friends, I can’t help but believe that the audacity of today’s anti-Semitism is in part a result of the exploitation of a “victim status,” an underdog sentiment that too many European Muslims have embraced enthusiastically. This is not just the sort of social-science explanation we often hear for hatred, as racism from people who are themselves the victims of racism and discrimination.

 
Are Democrats now winning the culture wars?

Are Democrats now winning the culture wars?

Karl Rove.jpg

Greg Sargent

A new Karl Rove ad blitz tries to change the subject.

In multiple Senate races, Democrats are hammering Republican candidates over contraception and “Personhood,” a development that many observers interpret as a sign that Dems are now the ones on offense in the culture wars.

A new ad blitz from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS nicely captures the emerging dynamic. Colorado GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner has been treated to the most direct and sustained assault over Personhood of any GOP candidate, and a new Crossroads ad appears designed to defend Gardner against it with an appeal to female voters.

 
Democrats now have 51% chance of holding Senate

Democrats now have 51% chance of holding Senate

Chris Cillizza  / THE FIX

  The latest model is a huge change from a few months ago, when Republicans had a better than 80 percent chance of taking control.

Democrats are now (very slightly) favored to hold the Senate majority on Nov. 4, according to Election Lab, the Post's statistical model of the 2014 midterm elections.

Election Lab puts Democrats' chances of retaining their majority at 51 percent --  a huge change from even a few months ago when the model predicted that Republicans had a better than 80 percent chance of winning the six seats they need to take control.

(Worth noting: When the model showed Republicans as overwhelming favorites, our model builders -- led by George Washington University's John Sides -- warned that the model could and would change as more actual polling -- as opposed to historical projections -- played a larger and larger role in the calculations. And, in Republicans' defense, no one I talked to ever thought they had an 80 percent chance of winning the majority.)

Colorado: On August 27 -- the last time I wrote a big piece on the model -- Election Lab said Sen. Mark Udall (D) had a 64 percent chance of winning. Today he has a 94 percent chance.

Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight model now has Republican chances of winning the Senate at 55 percent, down from 64 percent 12 days ago. "The two states with the largest shifts have been Colorado and North Carolina — in both cases, the movement has been in Democrats’ direction," writes Silver. "That accounts for most of the difference in the forecast."

 
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