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  • New York Officials Want Everyone To Chill Out About The Ebola Case
    (Politics - October 24 2014 - 12:32 PM:)
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    New York's top officials have a message for those concerned about the Ebola virus: relax.

    "This is not a virus that lives for a long period of time outside of the human body," Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Friday morning. "We're erring on the side of caution but we feel good that we were fully prepared. There's no reason for New Yorkers to panic or feel that they have anything to worry about on the subway system, et cetera. Everything that had to be done was done."

    A New York doctor who had treated Ebola patients in Africa tested positive for Ebola Thursday night. Three people, his fiancee and two friends, have since been quarantined, according to the Associated press. 

    But, speaking on CNN's "New Day," Cuomo vowed to ride one of the subway lines that the doctor recently took in order to demonstrate there is no reason for commuters to be alarmed.

    "We have to separate sometimes … the fear from the reality — or the irrational fear if you will from the reality. And we have a dose of irrational fear. Being in New York, a little anxiety can keep you safe, right?" Cuomo said. "But undue anxiety is unproductive and there's no reason for undue anxiety in this situation."

    New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D) also took the subway Friday morning. One of her aides tweeted a photo of the ride:

    .@MMViverito taking the subway this AM pic.twitter.com/RZp9Ldeioe

    — Joe Taranto (@jtaranto) October 24, 2014

    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) similarly urged calm.

    "But we emphasize again, Ebola is very difficult to contract. Being on the same subway car or living near a person with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk. We are working very closely with our state and federal partners to ensure that we protect the health of all New Yorkers," he said at a press conference Thursday night, according to a transcript.

    In a readout of calls between President Barack Obama, de Blasio, and Cuomo, the White House also praised "the extensive preparations that New York City and, in particular, Bellevue Hospital Center, where the patient is being treated, have undertaken to prepare for this contingency."

    Updated (8:45 a.m.): Included a tweet about Mark-Viverito.

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  • Hillary Clinton Blasts Wall Street
    (Politics - October 24 2014 - 12:20 PM:)
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    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton struck a populist tone in a campaign pitch Thursday night.

    According to Politico, the former secretary of state took multiple shots at "big banks" as she urged voters to support Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota).

    "Al has pushed for more and better oversight of the big banks and risky financial activity," Clinton reportedly said. "And there's more work for him to do."

    Clinton, whom some liberals accuse of being too cozy with Wall Street, proceeded to tick off a laundry list of financial reforms where there's still "a lot of unfinished business."

    "Even before the big [economic] meltdown, a lot of us were calling for regulating derivatives and other complex financial products, closing the carried-interest loophole, getting control of skyrocketing CEO pay, addressing other excesses, and we’ve made progress," she said. "But there's a lot of unfinished business to make sure we don't end up once again with big banks taking big risks and leaving taxpayers holding the bag."

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  • BREMMER: Here's the Thing About Obama's ISIS Strategy ...
    (Politics - October 24 2014 - 10:05 AM:)
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    Anonymous senior US officials began to criticize elements of President Barack Obama's strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). But some analysts believe it's the best possible option.

    Some limitations of the strategy were revealed by officials in The Washington Post on Thursday. The Syrian opposition force that the US will help train and arm in the fight against ISIS will be trained only to defend territory. It will not go on the offensive, because operations of that magnitude would require US ground troop commitments, something Obama has explicitly ruled out.

    But that defensive-minded strategy could also be a significant, if unintentional, boost to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who helped foster the rise of ISIS. The Free Syrian Army, which is made up of the more moderate opposition forces the US will train and equip, is being squeezed by both Assad and ISIS in Syria's largest city of Aleppo.

    "Assad clearly benefits from a US-led coalition fighting against his mortal domestic foe," Ian Bremmer, the president of Eurasia Group, told Business Insider in an email. "But Assad was already winning on the ground before the US bombing started, and there was neither a credible plan nor international willingness to remove him."

    The key limitation of the coalition's strategy has been a general unwillingness to become more involved in Syria's still-deepening, three-plus-year long civil war. The US and other partners backed off airstrikes on Syrian regime targets last September, and they have been unwilling to help the moderate rebels in their fight against Assad.

    Some former administration officials — like Fred Hof, a former special adviser for transition in Syria under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — have argued that the reluctance to get involved contributed to the eventual vacuum that has been filled by jihadists.

    Meanwhile, Assad has used the breathing room allotted by the focus on ISIS to intensify his bombing campaign against Free Syrian Army-held territory, including a campaign of "200 air force strikes"' in 36 hours in recent days. 

    isis militant syria assad

    But given the political constraints and the general unwillingness of partner nations, it might be the best workable strategy. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 55% of Americans oppose sending ground troops to fight ISIS — just 39% support it.

    Bremmer is skeptical the strategy as it stands will accomplish the mission of "degrading and ultimately destroying" ISIS. But he argues there isn't a strategy out there that's both realistic and a better option at this point. The danger, of course, is that by the time Syrian rebels are vetted and trained by late 2015 at the earliest, they may not have much territory to defend.

    "I think the overall US strategy on ISIS is sensible — given the domestic political constraints (a key caveat)," Bremmer said. "Support for US boots on the ground is limited and would quickly grow into opposition over time and given casualties. And if you’re not planning on an actual substantial ground force, you’re left with a strategy that’s part pushback (where you have workable ground forces — for now, the Kurds in Iraq), part containment (west Iraq and Syria). 

    "So if you’re asking is [the] present Obama strategy going to defeat ISIS — the answer is no. If you’re asking is there realistically a better, more workable strategy out there — the answer is also no." 

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  • Three Major Nations Skipped China's Launch Of A World Bank Rival In Asia
    (Politics - October 24 2014 - 7:31 AM:)
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    China's President Xi Jinping (R) meets with the guests at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launch ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 24, 2014. REUTERS/Takaki Yajima/Pool

    SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Australia, Indonesia and South Korea skipped the launch of a China-backed Asian infrastructure bank on Friday as the United States said it had concerns about the new rival to Western-dominated multilateral lenders.

    China's proposed $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is seen as a challenge to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, both multilateral lenders that count Washington and its allies as their biggest financial backers.

    China, which is keen to extend its influence in the region, has limited voting power over these existing banks despite being the world's second-largest economy.

    The AIIB, launched in Beijing at a ceremony attended by Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei and delegates from 21 countries including India, Thailand and Malaysia, aims to give project loans to developing nations. China is set to be its largest shareholder with a stake of up to 50 percent.

    Indonesia, where President Xi Jinping first spoke of the AIIB during an October visit last year, was not present and neither were South Korea and Australia, according to a pool report.

    Media reports said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry put pressure on Australia to stay out of the bank.

    However, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "Secretary Kerry has made clear directly to the Chinese as well as to other partners that we ‎welcome the idea of an infrastructure bank for Asia but we strongly urge that it meet international standards of governance and transparency.

    "We have concerns about the ambiguous nature of the AIIB proposal as it currently stands, that we have also expressed publicly."

    The Australian Financial Review said on Friday that Kerry had personally asked Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to keep Australia out of the AIIB.

    "Australia has been under pressure from the U.S. for some time to not become a founding member of the bank and it is understood Mr Kerry put the case directly to the prime minister when the pair met in Jakarta on Monday ­following the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo," the paper said.

    South Korea, one of Washington's strongest diplomatic allies in Asia, has yet to say it will formally participate in the bank.

    "We have continued to demand rationality in areas such as governance and safeguard issues, and there's no reason (for Korea) not to join it," South Korean Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said in Beijing on Thursday. 

    STRATEGIC CHOICES

    Earlier this month, commenting on reports that was pressure from Washington to stay out of the AIIB, the South Korean finance ministry said: "South Korea has not delayed its participation but has been negotiating with China because it thinks more consideration is necessary on details of the planned bank such as the AIIB's governance and operational principles."

    The Seoul-based JoongAng Daily quoted a South Korean diplomatic source as saying: "While Korea has been dropped from the list of founding members of the AIIB this time around, it is still in a deep dilemma on what sort of strategic choices it has to make as China challenges the U.S.-led international order."

    The AIIB is expected to begin operations in 2015 with senior Chinese banker Jin Liqun, ex-chairman of investment bank China International Capital Corp, expected to take a leading role.

    Last month, China's finance ministry said Australia and South Korea had expressed interest in the AIIB.

    On Thursday, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) chief said he doesn't welcome a China-backed rival bank that will have a virtually identical aim.

    "I understand it, but I don't welcome it," said bank president Takehiko Nakao. "I'm not so concerned."

    The ADB, created in 1966, offers grants and below-market interest rates on loans to lower to middle-income countries. At the end of 2013, its financing operations amounted to $21.02 billion.

    China has a 6 percent stake in the ADB, and the major shareholdings are held by the United States and Japan.

    (Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Sonali Paul, Jake Spring, Choonsik Yoo and Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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  • The 10 Most Important Things In The World Right Now
    (Politics - October 24 2014 - 6:46 AM:)
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    KobaniGood morning! Here's what you need to know for Friday.

    1. The US military said Thursday that forces in Iraq were "months away from being able to start waging any kind of sustained ground offensive against the Islamic State," while a similar campaign in Syria would take even longer, Reuters reports.

    2. A doctor who traveled to the Ebola-stricken country of Guinea and then returned to New York has been placed in isolation after testing positive for Ebola

    3. Canadian authorities said the gunman who killed a solider at Ottawa's war memorial before being shot dead in the Parliament building was not identified as a threat, "despite his criminal record in three cities, embrace of extremist ideas, and intent to travel to Syria," The New York Times reports.

    4. The 58-year-old guard credited with killing the man who opened fire in Canada's parliament on Wednesday morning received a hero's welcome when he returned to work the following day.

    5. North Korea has barred tourists from entering the country over concerns about the spread of Ebola

    6. The UK has been ordered to pay an extra €2.1 billion to the EU budget by December "because the UK economy is doing better relative to other European economies," The Guardian writes.

    7. Venezuela has placed fingerprint scanners in grocery stores to ration food as shortages of basic goods, like cooking oil and milk, worsen. 

    8. Following a four-day plenary meeting, China's Communist Party unveiled a blueprint for legal reforms as part of its push to stamp out government corruption. 

    9. The European Central Bank will release stress-test results for 130 eurozone banks on Sunday, with many banks expected to fail

    10. Chinese housing prices fell for the fifth consecutive month in September, continuing the country's real estate decline.  

    And finally ...

    These seven innovations will radically transform sex.

    SEE ALSO: The 10 Most Important Things In The World Archives

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  • Researchers At Harvard Discovered A Potential New Treatment For Ebola
    (Politics - October 24 2014 - 2:29 AM:)
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    Click here to see original story.

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  • A Newly Declassified CIA Paper Details A Tense Subplot In The Cold War Arms Race
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 10:34 PM:)
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    nuclear artillery mushroom cloud explosion

    It's one of the great paradoxes of nuclear power politics.

    Strategic missile defense was meant to make inter-continental nuclear warfare obsolete, creating a protective shield that negates an enemy's first strike advantage. The idea is that one side won't even bother launching nukes if they know their missiles can be shot out of the sky en-masse. And the deadly logic of nuclear warfare hopefully collapses once a first-strike becomes an impossibility for one side.

    But that might not actually leave the world any safer. It's impact can be just the opposite. It's conceivable that missile defense could actually make the world less safe.

    A recently declassified paper from Studies in Intelligence, the CIA's internal journal, looks at how Moscow reacted to US missile defense efforts during the Cold War and the decade or so following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The paper's author, whose name is redacted, found that the Soviets, and then Russia, were desperate to undercut the advantages of a future US missile defense system — an objective that led them to act in potentially destabilizing ways. The paper's publication date is redacted as well, but it includes a quotation from Russian President Vladimir Putin from 2000, so it must have been written after that date.

    In the early 1980s, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was a centerpiece of Ronald Reagan's defense policy. It would have relied upon technologies that are still unproven, like space-based Star Wars missile interceptors. The Soviets were worried about what such a tilt in the balance of global power could mean for them.

    "In response to SDI, Moscow threatened a variety of military countermeasures in lieu of developing a parallel missile defense system," the paper states.

    Moscow wanted to improve its negotiating position with the US in order to force Washington to suspend the project. And according to the paper, Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov considered several options for countering SDI, like "increasing the number of missiles, reinforcing missile silos to increase their survivability, using decoys on missiles to make intercepts more difficult," and "developing and deploying an underwater missile that would not be affected by the space-based missile shield."

    Most worryingly, Andropov considered employing a "'forgotten division' concept, whereby Moscow would secretly forward-deploy an SS-20 intermediate-range missile unit only to allow it to be 'discovered' and bargained away in SDI negotiations." 

    All of these potential Russian responses to an SDI would have brought dangerous uncertainty to the Cold War's ever-fragile balance of power.

    A 1987 CIA assessment cited in the paper concluded the Soviets had in fact been researching technologies in preparation for an operational SDI of their own. The SDI never became a reality and the paper implies that one of the initiative's more tangible consequences was forcing a cash-strapped and slowly-collapsing Soviet Union to dedicate scarce resources to an as-yet conjectural problem.

    Though it turns out Moscow might not have had the resources to make missile defense a reality, the dilemma the paper identifies is still a real one: by trying to make itself more safe the US might have altered the strategic environment in a way that actually made the country less safe. Strategic defense didn't end the arms race and instead it threatened to begin another and radically different one, only with dynamics and an internal logic that were unknowable to both sides.

    This was most starkly on display during the US-Soviet "war scare" of 1983, when concerns over SDI might have caused the Soviet military to go on a heightened and possibly quite dangerous state of alert.

    "The argument against [missile defense] is that it disrupts the balance of deterrence," Nate Jones, a scholar at George Washington University's National Security Archive and an expert on the 1983 war scare told Business Insider. "Russia was worried that if there's nuclear parity and one side is suddenly at a disadvantage because of so-called missile defense, it would upsets the decades of money and resources that they put into deterrence."

    This disruption wouldn't even come with the advantage of added security for the US, given how unproven strategic missile defense technology still is.

    "These systems don't provide absolute security," says Jones "and the destabilizing effects quite possibly outweigh the stabilizing effect."

    The Studies in Intelligence paper closes with a quote from Andropov that gets at the troubling flip-side of the advantages that missile defense could offer.

    "All attempts at achieving military superiority over the USSR are futile," the Soviet leader said in March of 1983. "The Soviet Union will never allow them to succeed."

    On SDI, the Soviet Union of the 1980s didn't have the means or the initiative to follow through on this kind of threat. But that doesn't make the mindset behind it any less alarming.

    SEE ALSO: THE EUROPEAN CHESSBOARD: Here's a map of the confrontation between Russia and NATO

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  • Madeleine Albright Had The Perfect Response To Conan's Dirty Joke About Her
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 9:58 PM:)
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    Madeleine Albright

    Don't mess with Madeleine Albright unless you can take the heat right back. 

    Conan O'Brien made a joke at the former U.S. Secretary of State this afternoon, and Albright had the perfect biting response.

    .@ConanOBrien I'm considering going as hunky Conan O'Brien - but that might be too far fetched.

    — Madeleine Albright (@madeleine) October 23, 2014

    Business Insider reached out to a rep for O'Brien who said he wasn't immediately available to respond to request for comment. 

    "He is in rehearsals for tonight's show, won't get to him for a few hours," the spokesperson said. 

    Update (6:51 p.m.): O'Brien made another joke about his "twitter war" with Albright.

    .@Madeleine YES - My first twitter war with a former Secretary of State! You're next, George P. Shultz!

    — Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) October 23, 2014

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  • MSNBC Says GOP Candidate Is Helping 'Disseminate ISIS Propaganda'
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 8:14 PM:)
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    MSNBC is running a hard-hitting story on Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), a leading Republican Senate candidate, after he released a campaign ad that seemed to use footage from a propaganda video made by the jihadist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

    According to a BuzzFeed report published Wednesday, Cotton's ad uses video from a propaganda film called "Flames of War." In the ad, Cotton narrates over the footage, warning voters of the jihadist threat.

    In a blog post Thursday, MSNBC producer Steve Benen said this amounted to helping the terrorists "disseminate" their message.

    "The right-wing congressman claims in the ad that he'll 'make America safer' – and apparently he’ll do so by paying money to help disseminate footage from a terror video that ISIS is desperate to disseminate," his post on "The Rachel Maddow Show" blog said. "I honestly never thought I’d see the day. Far-right politicians, eager to seem 'tough' on terror, are deliberately putting terrorists’ propaganda on the air, on purpose, to advance their personal ambitions.

    The post, which was subsequently circulated by the Arkansas Democratic Party,  said the ad displayed a lack of "basic human decency."

    "Cotton instead used ISIS propaganda, putting the same footage on the air that the terrorists want to see on the air," it continued. "Forget basic human decency for a moment. Which strategic genius in Cotton Campaign HQ decided this was a good idea with the election season nearly over?"

    Cotton is running in a highly competitive race against incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas). The Cotton campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider about criticism of the ad.

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  • HILLARY CLINTON: Women In America Are Owed Money
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 5:39 PM:)
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    Hillary Clinton suggested women are owed money due to gender income disparities in a fiery campaign speech on Tuesday.

    "Ask yourself why ... we still act as if it's 1955," Clinton said. "The fact that women still get paid less than men for the same work costs them and their families thousands of dollars every year."

    Clinton went on to envision what women could do with the additional income when they are paid as much as men. 

    "Imagine what a working mom could do with the money she is owed. That extra money, she could use it to rent or even buy a better home for her kids and herself. Those groceries she could buy. That car payment she could make," Clinton said.

    Clinton was speaking in a packed hotel ballroom in Manhattan to endorse New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who appears to be easily coasting to re-election and likely does not need Clinton's support to win. However, the two have close ties: Cuomo once served in former President Bill Clinton's administration and Hillary Clinton represented New York in the US Senate from 2001 through 2009.

    Clinton, whose 2008 presidential campaign was unsuccessful, poked fun at herself and said she knows not to expect a win in any race, even when a candidate has a wide lead like Cuomo's.

    "We can't take anything for granted in an election," she said. "I know that from firsthand experience."

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  • THE EUROPEAN CHESSBOARD: Here's A Map Of The Confrontation Between Russia And NATO
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 4:44 PM:)
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    The war in eastern Ukraine is in a state of cease-fire, but if the past seven months are any indication, this halt in hostilities won't spell the end of the most severe geopolitical crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

    In the economic and diplomatic realm, Russia is attempting to choke off Ukraine's supply of natural gas as the EU and the US ratchet up sanctions on Moscow.

    And the fight continues on the battlefield, in spite of the cease-fire — seven Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a separatist attack on Monday, at the same time the Ukrainian army continued its shelling of rebel positions in Donetsk.

    Yet eastern Ukraine is just one hotspot along a larger, continent-wide fault line. The border between Russia and NATO-allied Europe is dotted with pockets of instability including several separatist regions that Moscow and its allies support. The fact that Russia and the NATO states possess all but around 550 of the world's estimated 17,100 nuclear weapons only raises the stakes.

    This map depicts the larger confrontation between Russia and NATO and the possible return to Cold War power dynamics in Europe.

    Russia VS NATO_07

    SEE ALSO: Nine nations have nukes — here's how many each country has

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  • Striking Photo Perfectly Sums Up The Immigration Crisis On The Spain-Morocco Border
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 4:17 PM:)
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    Melilla golf

    The small Spanish exclave of Melilla, a tourist and fishing town on Morocco's northern coast, has long been a beacon of hope to struggling migrant workers traveling from sub-Saharan Africa. Some come for the promise of work, but most come to board ships headed to Europe.

    Both Moroccan and Spanish officials have reportedly abused the border-crossers. The migrants were reportedly rounded up and dumped in the Moroccan desert without food or water, and several men were reportedly killed as they tried to charge the heavily fortified border fence. Those who make it into Melilla often find themselves in bureaucratic limbo, unable to board the ferries to Europe or go back into Morocco. As a result, many are left on the streets. 

    Jose Palazon — a Melilla resident who runs the organization Prodein, which attempts to help these immigrants who entered illegally — took the photo Wednesday as more than 200 migrants attempted to cross the massive border fence. Clashes with police injured nine, though officials say the injuries were sustained from falls. 

    In the photo, the migrants are attempting to escape into the Club Campo de Golf de Melilla, a public golf course where games can cost up to about $28 per 18 holes. The per capita income of Melilla is 15 times more than that of the surrounding areas of Morocco and astronomically higher than many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

    SEE ALSO: Surreal Video Shows Desperate African Migrants Trying To Scale A Border Fence

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  • Chuck Norris Can Get Political Donations Without Even Asking Nicely
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 4:02 PM:)
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    chuck norris

    Chuck Norris, the martial artist and star of "Walker, Texas Ranger," is demanding people give their money to the Lone Star State's GOP gubernatorial candidate, Greg Abbott. 

    Norris, who has spoken out on behalf of conservative candidates in the past, endorsed Abbott on Wednesday. One day later, Norris sent out his first fundraising email to Abbott's supporters.

    It was far from your standard request for donations.

    The message capitalized on the internet meme associated with Norris, which involves descriptions of Norris performing incredible feats of strength that often bend the rules of space and time.

    In the email, which included a gif, Norris suggests donors should give to Abbott "because I said so."

    Check out the uniquely Chuck Norris donation solicitation below.  

     

    [Supporter],

    It’s been said that guns have two enemies… rust, and politicians.

    Anti-gun politicians – like President Obama and his allies.

    Greg Abbott needs your help to protect our Second Amendment rights – and our other rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. Join me in supporting Greg Abbott by making a contribution.

    There are some liberals here in Texas who want to impose restrictive gun control in our state, from limiting concealed carry laws to banning gun shows on city property.

    That’s just backwards.

    But if he’s elected governor, Greg Abbott will make sure that the next four years in Texas don’t look like the last six years under Barack Obama.

    So [Supporter], get out and vote for Greg Abbott – and contribute to his campaign today – because I said so.

    Chuck Norris Gif

    And, because Greg Abbott has the vision and the plan to make Texas an even better place to live for future generations.

    Sincerely,

    Chuck Norris

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  • REPORT: JPMorgan Knew That Something Was Off About Hiring In China
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 3:48 PM:)
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    JPMorgan officials discussed the bank's questionable hiring practices in China over a year before federal investigations started, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing internal emails and sources familiar with the matter.

    The Wall Street Journal reported that the internal emails showed conversations back in 2011 about the "Sons and Daughters" program, an alleged system of hiring the kids of powerful Chinese officials to score deals.

    In 2011, Chris Charnock, a JPMorgan compliance officer in Asia, first emailed five colleagues including one in the legal department to raise a red flag about the hiring, The Journal reported. He reportedly said the bank may have scored an IPO because it hired a senior government official’s child, and he suggested having more disclosures about new hires. 

    In 2013, it emerged that federal investigators had been looking into whether the bank violated anti-bribery laws through its “Sons and Daughters” program. Because JPMorgan may have hired these people to land business deals, it could be in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. 

    One of the first reported cases was JPMorgan's hire of a Chinese railway official's daughter in its Hong Kong office in 2007. Meanwhile, his agency, The China Railway Group, was selected to advise JPMorgan on its IPO.

    The investigations are ongoing. We reached out to JPMorgan and a spokesman declined comment.

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  • US Military Responds To New Allegations Of Civilian Deaths From Airstrikes In Syria
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 3:12 PM:)
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    Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane following an airstrike on October 22, 2014

    Air strikes by the US-led coalition in Syria have killed 553 people since their launch a month ago, the vast majority of them jihadists, a monitoring group said on Thursday. However, a military spokesman said they have "not been able to verify" the report.

    The strikes have killed 464 Islamic State group fighters, 57 militants from Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front and 32 civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    Among the civilians killed were six children and five women, said the Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.

    The US-led coalition against the Islamic State launched air strikes against IS on September 23, expanding a previous aerial campaign launched against the group in Iraq in August.

    Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP the "vast majority" of jihadists killed in the strikes were not Syrians but foreign fighters who had joined IS and Nusra in the country.

    Screen Shot 2014 10 21 at 5.48.29 PMUS Central Command spokesman Maj. Curtis Kellogg told Business Insider on Thursday that the US military is evaluating reports of casualties on an ongoing basis, but has no evidence of civilian deaths at this time. 

    "When an allegation of civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces is determined to be credible, we investigate it fully and strive to learn from it so as to avoid recurrence. That said, we continue to have no operational reporting or intelligence indicating U.S. or coalition airstrikes have caused civilian casualties in Iraq or Syria," Kellogg said in an email, adding, "We are aware of claims of suspected civilian casualties related to U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and we continue to evaluate them. To date, we have not been able to verify any of them. We determine the credibility of each allegation based on information available, including information provided by third parties, and information such as the proximity of the location to an airstrike, and any corroborating evidence presented."

    Kellogg also said the US military takes unprecedented steps to avoid civilian deaths.

    "In regards to civilian casualty allegations, I'd say up front that no other military in the world works as hard as we do to be precise. US forces have implemented significant mitigation measures within the targeting process and during the conduct of operations to reduce the potential of civilian casualties and collateral damage," Kellogg said. "While we strive to avoid civilian casualties in this extremely complex operating environment, we recognize the continued risk inherent in these strikes."

    The US-led coalition has focused most of its efforts in Syria around preventing ISIS from taking Kobane, a Kurdish city on Syria's border with Turkey. The campaign has succeeded in stanching the jihadists' advance on the city, with one Kurdish fighter claiming that ISIS only controlled around 5% Kobane on October 21.

    The Syrian Observatory has not responded to a request for comment from Business Insider about their report.

     

    This post was updated with Kellogg's email at 11:10 a.m.

    SEE ALSO: The fight against ISIS will not succeed without the help of these tribes

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  • ISIS Is Making An Absurd Amount Of Money On Ransom Payments And Black-Market Oil Sales
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 2:58 PM:)
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    According to the US Treasury Department, the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) is garnering wealth at an alarmingly quick pace, with large chunks coming from black-market oil sales and ransom payments for hostages. 

    ISIS earns about $1 million each day in oil sales alone, said David Cohen, the Treasury Department's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. He also said the group has netted approximately $20 million in ransom payments this year. Additionally, Cohen said ISIS has raised funds through local extortion and crime, like robbing banks.

    "To some extent, ISIL poses a different terrorist financing challenge," Cohen said during remarks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington on Thursday.

    "It has amassed wealth at an unprecedented pace, and its revenue sources have a different composition from those of many other terrorist organizations. Unlike, for instance, core al-Qaeda, ISIL derives a relatively small share of its funds from deep-pocket donors, and thus does not, today, depend principally on moving money across international borders. Instead, ISIL obtains the vast majority of its revenues through local criminal and terrorist activities."

    Cohen heads the Treasury Department's efforts to disrupt and diminish the group's finances, which is part of President Barack Obama's strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISISDuring his remarks, Cohen outlined what the Treasury Department knows about ISIS' funds and the department's strategy to undermine them. 

    ISIS has tapped into a sophisticated oil black market in both Syria and Iraq, selling it at discounted prices to middlemen who then transport it out of ISIS strongholds. Cohen also said the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has "made an arrangement to purchase oil" from ISIS. Beginning in mid-June, he said, ISIS has made approximately $1 million a day in oil sales.

    Cohen said the Treasury Department would target with sanctions anyone who deals with ISIS' stolen oil. 

    "At some point, that oil is acquired by someone who operates in the legitimate economy and who makes use of the financial system. He has a bank account. His business may be financed, his trucks may be insured, his facilities may be licensed. All that makes ISIL oil facilitators vulnerable," Cohen said.

    He said the Treasury Department is "hard at work" identifying those individuals. 

    isis oil air strike before and after

    The US military has also begun targeting ISIS oil refineries in its campaign in Iraq and Syria.

    On ransom payments, Cohen said the US would work to make it an international consensus for countries to not pay ransoms for hostages — something that has long been US policy.

    "This policy rests on the sound premise – confirmed by experience – that an explicit and consistently applied no-concessions policy reduces the frequency of kidnappings by eliminating the underlying incentive to take hostages in the first place," he said.

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  • Elizabeth Warren Might Have Just Opened The Door To A Presidential Run
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 1:44 PM:)
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    elizabeth warren

    After months of denying speculation she will think about running for president in 2016, US Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) slightly opened the door to that possibility in an interview with People magazine.

    "I don't think so," Warren told the magazine, when asked if she was "on board" with supporters who are actively pushing her to run. "If there's any lesson I've learned in the last five years, it's don't be so sure about what lies ahead. There are amazing doors that could open." 

    It's a noticeable shift from September, when she told Katie Couric that she was "not running for president," saying it was "critical" for Democrats to focus on holding control of the Senate in 2014.

    She has given some variation of that answer over much of the past year, despite a flurry of progressive supporters who have urged her to run and challenge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is considered the Democratic frontrunner if she decides to run.

    Political analysts, however, still think Warren would only run on the slim chance Clinton decides against it. But that's not "totally out of the question," Potomac Research Group chief political strategist Greg Valliere said.

    "Hillary has stated that she enjoys being a grandmother, and she knows her detractors will dredge up issues from her past — as the Wall Street Journal editorial page did this morning in a scathing comment on the demonization of Monica Lewinsky," Valliere said. 

    "If Hillary runs, she would be the overwhelming favorite for the nomination; if Hillary doesn't run, Joe Biden would enter the race, but his cringe-inducing gaffes this fall probably have disqualified him. The rest of the Democrats' bench is awfully thin; Kirsten Gillibrand [D-N.Y.] is hardly a household name. So Warren has a chance — if Hillary doesn't run."

    SEE ALSO: Obama May Have Just Scored His First Huge Victory In His Battle Against Inversions

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  • Here's Ted Cruz Doing His Best Imitation From 'The Godfather'
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 1:00 PM:)
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    ted cruz bloomberg

    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is looking at running for president in 2016, is apparently a huge fan of "The Godfather."

    At the end of an interview on Bloomberg's "With All Due Respect" on Wednesday, Cruz was asked to either explain which character was "the most compelling" in the movie series or do his best "Godfather" imitation.

    Cruz initially demurred on the imitation request.

    "Well, much to my team's relief, I'll probably resist doing 'Godfather' impressions — although if you get a beer in me I might not," he quipped.

    Instead, Cruz praised the lead role in the movies, Michael Corleone, as the most compelling.

    "The most compelling character is always Michael Corleone because he is engaged in a moral battle, where in each decision he's trying to do the right thing," Cruz said. "He ends up being a mass murderer in every movie."

    Cruz then reversed himself and offered an imitation of a famous scene from the final movie in the series.

    "It's summed up in 'Godfather III' when an older Michael Corleone says," Cruz continued, switching to a raspier voice, "'Every time I get out, they keep pulling me back in!'"

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  • A GOP Governor Tried A Radical Tax 'Experiment' — And Now He's Hanging On For His Political Life
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 12:52 PM:)
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    Sam BrownbackWICHITA, Kansas — Everyone in Kansas will tell you the same metaphor to explain the state's tax policy.

    It's their own take on President Ronald Reagan's three-legged stool, specified for tax policy. The three legs: Income tax, sales tax, and property tax. If all three remain relatively even — if each is about 33% of the puzzle — the stool is balanced. 

    The theory is that as long as the stool is balanced, the tax burden on Kansans will remain remarkably steady for a long period of time.

    It's relatively fair across income groups, and Kansans who support the policy argue it has allowed the state to maintain and improve upon the basic services of state government. The state has good roads and highways. It has good schools. It has a good public-safety system.

    "But if you start to saw off one of the legs ..." starts Wint Winter, a former Republican state senator.

    That's what opponents of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, argue he has done. He has slashed income taxes on small businesses to zero. But property taxes are going up, and the state's sales tax may go up again.

    "The stool," said Christy Levings, a Democrat running for a seat in Kansas' 6th House District, "is falling."

    Brownback's detractors argue the stool is falling because of a self-described "experiment" throughout the governor's first term in office.

    The policies are something straight out of dream playbook of the more conservative side of the Republican Party. With help from a legislative body he helped attain, Kansas passed the largest income-tax cuts in state history. Medicaid has been handed over to private companies. Other measures have made it harder to get an abortion in the state.

    But the tax cuts, which he went on television and called a "real, live experiment," are what is causing the most ire across the aisle in Kansas. Brownback, who has in the past been mentioned as a possible 2016 candidate for president, argues his policies are working. But they are clearly causing a rift in Kansas — even among Republicans, some of who are lining up to endorse Democratic challenger and Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis.

    Kansas' budget, which has to be balanced each year by law, has serious revenue shortfalls. The state's credit rating has been downgraded by two major ratings agencies — Moody's and Standard and Poor's. School funding is being stretched thin, and there are whispers of concerns in rural parts of the state that some will close entirely.

    And now, a governor is in trouble — one who won the governorship of Kansas, a state in which all statewide elected officials are Republicans, by nearly 30 points four years ago. He is, however, defiant.

    "We," Brownback said, "are going to win."

    'It's All Working'

    Sam Brownback pulls out his phone — a Samsung — and boots up his email. On an October day that feels more like August in Wichita, Brownback is dressed down for the occasion in a light-blue button-down shirt and khaki pants.

    Brownback has just announced a $300 million highway expansion the Kansas Department of Transportation says will help reduce congestion along a frequently clogged-up intersection off the Kansas Turnpike in Wichita. It's a project he uses to say all those criticisms about how he's cut spending on infrastructure are bunk.

    "We're funding every project that was listed," Brownback says. "These are just all lies meant to try to disparage the tax proposal — that's what the target is. And me. But it’s all working."

    Still digging through his email, he brings up a study released by Creighton University last week that gave Kansas and its economy some good news. Of nine states in the region, Kansas was given the best economic outlook of them all. Up to 69.7 from 63.8 in August, its index for September was "healthy." Wage growth and construction are expected to remain healthy throughout the end of the year.

    On Friday, Kansas' unemployment rate in September dropped from 5.3% to just 4.8% (below the 5.9% national average). Unemployment claims in the state dropped to their lowest levels since 2008.

    This is all, Brownback points out, despite the fact that the aviation industry is still struggling.

    "You’ve got one of your major sectors down, and we’re at record unemployment," he says. "And a lot of that, I believe, is because we’ve got taxes off of small business. Small business is really expanding. This is working. A lot of times, tax policy takes time to work."

    A lot of people, however, would disagree with that assessment. And it starts with members of Brownback's own party in Kansas.

    Sam Brownback

    The Purge

    Brownback came into office in 2010 promising a conservative revolution. But in his way was an obstacle.

    As members of the "moderate" group of Republicans in the Senate tell it, they revolted against Brownback's tax plan. There were 14 members of self-described Republican moderates in the Kansas Senate in 2012. Along with eight Democrats, this allowed them to maintain a relative majority on certain issues they thought went too far to the right.

    In Brownback's tax plan, they opposed a House-passed bill that did the following:

    • Replaced three state income-tax rates of 3.5%, 6.25%, and 6.45% with two rates — 3% and 4.9%. 

    • Eliminated income tax on 191,000 small-business owners of qualified limited-liability corporations, "sub-chapter S" corporations, and sole proprietorships.

    • Doubled the standard deduction for single head-of-household filers to $9,000 from $4,000 and increased the standard deduction for married filers by 50%. 

    Multiple members of the moderate caucus told Business Insider that legislative jujitsu contributed to the original product becoming law. As they tell it, a bill similar to the House's version originally died in the Senate on a 20-20 vote. 

    Steve Morris, then the Senate president, says he got a call from Brownback after the failed vote. Brownback asked him to pass the bill and use it as a starting point for negotiations for a conference committee between the House and Senate. Morris and other members of the caucus say they were assured the bill would never become law. Brownback denies ever handing out such assurances. 

    Either way, Morris obliged Brownback's request. And the House, which is dominated by more conservative Republicans, moved to concur with the Senate's version. 

    "And so," says Dick Kelsey, a former state senator and part of the more moderate caucus, "a bill that we didn't think was ever going to be law is bankrupting the state.

    "It was some real Washington-style legislation. And it is a miserable failure."

    The fighting between Brownback and the moderates didn't end there. As Brownback still smarted from the moderates teaming up with Democrats to thwart his agenda at times, the moderates say he actively supported their "purge" in the primaries — a successful one at that. Eight of the Kansas moderates were taken out by their conservative challengers, sometimes in blowouts. 

    The campaigns were unlike anything they'd ever seen. Groups like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, backed by the Wichita-native Koch brothers, got involved and brought the campaigns to record levels.

    Kelsey, who says he voted with Brownback more than 90% of the time while in the Senate, said he typically spent about $35,000 to $40,000 on his re-election campaigns. During the 2012 race, he said, the spending against him reached more than $200,000. He had no chance. 

    Some of the "smears" against him were direct-mail ads he says weren't true but that he couldn't get past. They involved claims he voted to raise taxes but didn't pay his own. Many of them came in the final weeks of the campaign, and he didn't have the money or manpower to fight them. 

    "The nature of politics in Kansas has been poisoned for the next generation," Kelsey says. 

    Adds Morris, the former Senate president: "None of us were used to that kind of campaigning — the 'maybe it's true, maybe it's not.' It was just an onslaught of despicable attacks. But it didn't surprise me. The guy has a driven agenda, and it's his way or the highway."

    Kansas

    'We Put That Money In Our Pocket'

    Pat Ross is a lifelong Republican. He is a farmer in Lawrence. He is also one of 191,000 small-business owners who does not have to pay income taxes because of the 2012 law that Brownback signed. 

    At the time he signed the law, Brownback used the controversial method of "dynamic" scoring to predict it would create almost 23,000 new jobs. It would lead to an influx of more than 35,000 people into the state. The theory is that the small-business owners who now have more money because of the tax cut will use it to hire more workers.

    But Ross is pocketing the money he's saving as a result of the law.

    "It's not something we need in our business," Ross says. "We put that money in our pocket."

    Ross is a member of Republicans for Kansas Values, a group of more than 500 Republicans — including 180 elected officials — who are endorsing Paul Davis, Brownback's Democratic challenger in the gubernatorial race. The group is led by former Republican state senator and banker Wint Winter, who started it on nothing more than a whim earlier this year.

    Paul Davis Wint Winter

    In January, Winter took a sabbatical from Peoples Bank in Overland Park, having helped restore the bank's financials from the majority of the brunt of the financial crisis. That's when he and former Senate president Dick Bond got the idea to start up the group, in an attempt to either find a Republican who could compete with Brownback in the primary or see what Davis had to offer.

    He spent February through May on the phones. In April, the effort was lagging. He had secured the commitment of just 30 Republicans. By July, the group decided it would have its coming-out party. Less than 24 hours before its first event, it secured its 100th commitment from a Republican. 

    "It was kind of like Tom Sawyer, getting the fence painted," Winter says in an interview from his Overland Park office.

    Winter, a hulking presence who played center at the University of Kansas, and other members of his group argue that Brownback's so-called experiment is not conservative — it's aggressive.  

    Winter sums up Brownback's term with three "I-words" — incompetence, intimidation, and intolerance. All three led to a loss of confidence in Brownback among the group. Incompetence goes along with the "experiment," intimidation with many differences in policy agendas, and intolerance with the purge. 

    "Of course, politics is a grueling activity," Winter says. "There are winners and losers. The winners get to project their policies. They're due a lot of respect.

    "But they aren't generals in a war where they cut off their captives' heads and send everybody to prison camp — in their own army, even. So Sam's view of governing is different than a lot of people's."

    Winter and the other Republicans in the group disagree with Brownback's view that the "experiment" is working. He says there are two possibilities — either he really thought it would work, or it's working exactly as he intended, wherein government is shrunk in a massive way. 

    So far, the numbers show the tax cuts are causing massive revenue deficits. In fiscal-year 2014, which ended in June, the state collected about $330 million less in taxes than it had forecast. The results in fiscal-year 2015 haven't been much better: In September, for example, the state collected a whopping $53.6 million less in tax revenues than it had predicted.

    "I can't imagine any Republican, anywhere, looking at what he's done and saying, 'Gee whiz, that's a good idea!'" Winter says. 

    Regret?

    Kansas City is a unique city in that it spans two states — Kansas and Missouri. The discrepancy between Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, is one that Brownback likes to point out.

    "Kansas City is a great place to look. You’ve got two cities on either side," he says. "The Kansas side is growing private-sector jobs three times faster than the Missouri side. I think the people that pick on my economic policy generally look at public-sector jobs, and we are down on public-sector jobs."

    There's some data to back that up. For one, Kansas' state unemployment rate has diverged from Missouri's over the past two years and is now nearly 2 points lower. For another, looking more specifically at Kansas City with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of the job growth in the metro area has come on the Kansas side:

    Kansas City

    This is the crux of Brownback's argument for a second term: It's starting to work. Just give me a bit more time. In the end, he argues, the three-legged stool will be back to balance — it may not be through an equal distribution of tax revenue, but Kansans will be able to sit down.

    There is one word — that dreaded "experiment" — that he wishes he hadn't used, though.

    "I always could’ve been more artful in my wording," he says. "But it’s working. This is working. If you objectively look at the numbers, it’s working." 

    But others like Winter are more skeptical. After all, isn't a politician's main goal usually looking to get re-elected? Doesn't he know he has a four-year window? What kind of politician would risk a program that may not work for five or six years in full?

    "You don't commit political hara-kiri by rolling the dice on an experiment and when you roll the dice say, 'You know, it may not work for a while. I may look like crap at the end of four years,'" Winter says. 

    "No. He thought everything would be good and flowery right away. And it's still not today."

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  • Senior US Officials Describe The 'Big Disconnect' In Obama's ISIS Strategy
    (Politics - October 23 2014 - 11:14 AM:)
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    obamaSenior US officials have provided new details of President Barack Obama's plan to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State in Syria, along with ideas as to why the strategy is fundamentally flawed.

    Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post reports that the Syrian opposition force to be recruited, vetted, and trained by the US military and its coalition partners over the next year or so will defend territory held by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as opposed to taking the fight to areas controlled by the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL).

    That's because an offensive force would require help of forward-deployed US combat teams, which Obama has ruled out in Syria.

    “We have a big disconnect within our strategy," a senior US official involved in Syria and Iraq operations told The Post. "We need a credible, moderate Syrian force, but we have not been willing to commit what it takes to build that force."

    Furthermore, the FSA — which Obama considers to be made up of doctors and pharmacists — is fighting for survival in Syria's largest city of Aleppo amid assaults from both ISIS and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    Hussam Marie, the Free Syrian Army spokesman for northern Syria, told The New York Times last month that the loss of FSA positions in and around Aleppo would be "unrecoverable" and "a blow to our shared goals of a moderate Syria."

    Basically, the two obvious weaknesses in Obama's plan are being fully exposed: The US is not willing to partner with current FSA rebels on the ground and is also no longer willing to actively back the rebellion against the Assad regime.

    Consequently, Assad is using the breathing room to intensify his bombing campaign on FSA areas, including "200 air force strikes"' in 36 hours recently. So it's unclear how much territory the FSA will actually hold when the US-backed force is ready in late 2015 or 2016.

    2000px syria8

    “You cannot field an effective force if you’re not on the ground to advise and assist them,” a senior US military officer with extensive experience in training the Iraqi and Afghan militaries told The Post.

    The US plans to train at least 5,000 moderate Syrian fighters, drawn from refugee populations, to fight ISIS.

    The fighters would receive “basic training to secure their villages,” according to Lt. Gen. William Mayville, the director of operations for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Mayville added that the force “won’t have the decisive effect” in the battle against ISIS.

    Critics of the plan say that the lack of commitment to oust Assad will hinder the recruitment effort.

    “It’s immoral to ask these young men to fight and die when we’re not going to protect them from Bashar Assad’s barrel bombs or from ISIS,” Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said recently. “You’re not going to get people to volunteer to do that.”

    The CIA estimates that ISIS has as many as 31,000 fighters. US airstrikes in Syria have killed about 464 ISIS fighters since September, according to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    It's unclear how the plan as described would serve to "destroy" and "eradicate" ISIS. As experts have noted since the beginning of the campaign, the elimination of ISIS would require a much stronger commitment.

    "If destroying ISIL becomes the near-term policy goal — which seems the likely outcome of saying you are going to 'roll back' the group — then 10,000, 15,000 troops vastly understates the true commitment, which will actually require years, direct military action on both sides of the Iraq/Syria border, tens (if not hundreds) of billions of dollars, and many more than 15,000 troops," counterterrorism expert Brian Fishman said in August.

    However, despite the stated goal of the strategy, Obama and US officials are thus far unwilling to put American combat troops in harm's way in Syria (on top of Iraq).

    "Thus far, senior military leaders have concurred in public with Obama’s decision not to send ground combat troops to Syria and Iraq," Chandrasekaran writes, "but the country’s top military officer, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has said that if he determines that it is necessary for US advisers to accompany local forces on attacks against Islamic State targets, he would make such a recommendation to the president."

    SEE ALSO: The 2 Big Weaknesses In Obama's ISIS Plan Are Being Fully Exposed

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