The One Country You'd Expect to Reject Syrian Refugees Wants to Take 30,000 of Them Instead

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 1:45 PM EST

A growing number of politicians in the United States have used last Friday's terrorist attacks in France to argue for tighter restrictions, if not an outright halt, on accepting Syrian refugees. But in France itself, the government is keeping its doors open.

French President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday at a meeting of French mayors that France will accept 30,000 refugees over the next two years, calling it his country's "humanitarian duty." The announcement earned a standing ovation from the mayors, according to the Washington Post.

France had already committed to take in just over 24,000 refugees under the terms of a mandatory EU quota plan that was adopted in September. Extending that commitment to 30,000 is one of the few positive signs for the EU's efforts, largely led by Germany, to spread refugees more equitably across the continent. The plan was opposed by Eastern European and Balkan countries through which large numbers of refugees have crossed in recent months, and opposition has increased following the Paris attacks. The government of Hungary announced on Wednesday that it will sue the EU to overturn the quota plan. "Most of Europe's population doesn’t agree with the quota. Its social legitimacy is lacking," said Laszlo Trocsanyi, the Hungarian justice minister.

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Health Update

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 1:20 PM EST

I'm afraid the news can't always be good on the health front. I got my latest lab work yesterday and it wasn't encouraging. My immune system, after stabilizing last month, weakened again. My neutrophil count is down to 1500, which isn't quite in the danger zone but is mighty close. At the same time, my M-protein marker, which measures the level of cancerous cells in my bone marrow, went up from 0.55 to 0.61. It looks like 0.55 might be as good as it gets, and that's nowhere close to zero. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that I can try a higher dose of my current chemo med with my immune system already so compromised.

Any single month can be an outlier, so there's no need to panic yet. I'll have another set of lab work in December, and I'll see my oncologist shortly after that. If the numbers haven't improved, I'll try a little harder than usual to drag some actual information out of her.

Medicaid Provides Pretty Good Health Coverage for Children

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 12:30 PM EST

Via Harold Pollack, here's an interesting study of children's health care. The researchers investigated how good Medicaid coverage was, and the results were surprisingly positive. I have painstakingly modified the chart so that higher numbers are always better, and as you can see, reported satisfaction with Medicaid was equal to or better than private insurance on most measures, and very close on the others.

Now, this is only for children, and the results might be different for adults. Still, a lot of people—including me—generally think of Medicaid as fairly lousy coverage. If this study is correct, we need to rethink this.

Could Obama Have Prevented the Rise of ISIS in 2012?

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 11:44 AM EST

Back in 2012, Fred Hof was President Obama's advisor for Syria. Today, Zack Beauchamp asks him if there was anything we could have done back then to prevent the rise of ISIS:

In mid-2012, President Obama's key national security officials — Clinton, Panetta, Petraeus, and Dempsey — all recommended a robust training and equipping effort designed to unite and strengthen nationalist anti-Assad rebels. One of the justifications for the recommendation was that they were beginning to see the rise of al-Qaeda-related elements in Syria.

Had that recommendation been accepted and then implemented properly, the ISIS presence in Syria would not be what it is today. Had the US been able to offer Syrian civilians a modicum of protection from Assad regime collective punishment — barrel bombs and all the rest — a major ISIS recruiting tool around the world and inside Syria could have been diluted and even neutralized.

That bolded phrase is doing a helluva lot of heavy lifting here. I wish Beauchamp had followed up and asked Hof if he thinks the US intelligence and military communities could, in fact, have implemented this policy effectively. Their recent efforts, which produced something like five trained rebels, don't inspire a ton of confidence. My guess is that Obama listened to their recommendations but concluded that in the real world, it wouldn't have worked. I suspect he was right.

We'll never know, of course, which means this can be a subject of debate pretty much forever. But there's sure nothing in the recent historical record to inspire a lot of faith in our ability to carry out a plan like this.

New York Daily News Compares the NRA to Jihadists

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 11:01 AM EST

In three words, the front page of Wednesday's New York Daily News launched one of the boldest attacks on the National Rifle Association in recent memory.

The tabloid's cover denounced "NRA's Sick Jihad," in characteristically huge typeface. The story inside accused the gun rights group of tacitly abetting the arming of terrorists by blocking a proposed bill that would make it more difficult for terror suspects to buy guns in the United States. The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015, formally known as H.R. 1076, was introduced in February, and includes a ban on the "sale or distribution of firearms or explosives to any individual whom the Attorney General has determined to be engaged in terrorist activities."

The earliest version of the legislation was originally introduced under President George W. Bush in 2007, but it has yet to be signed into law. According to the Daily News, more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI's Terrorist Watchlist have been able to purchase weapons in the United States in the last 11 years.

The story begins, "The NRA—and their gun-loving Republican cohorts—are refusing once more to stop terrorists intent on getting armed in the U.S.A."

These Senators Want To Break the NRA’s Stranglehold on Gun Violence Research

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 10:00 AM EST

For years, Congress has blocked funding for research into the impacts of guns on public health. On Wednesday morning, twenty Senate Democrats demanded a necessary first step to upset that status quo, by asking the Government Accountability Office to audit what health programs exist to make guns safer.

"With more than 300 million guns in American homes, we write to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a study to assess the efficacy of public health and safety programs designed to impact gun safety, including the storage and security of guns in households throughout our country," they wrote in a letter to Gene Dorado, Comptroller General of the United States.

The senators note that other federal public health campaigns, such as those to reduce drunk driving and smoking, have been hugely effective. But for nearly 20 years, Congress has pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to steer clear of firearms violence research. "I'm sorry, but a gun is not a disease," said former House Speaker John Boehner this summer, after the House Appropriations Committee voted to block funding on gun research to the CDC.

"Prevention of gun deaths and injuries should be an essential component of the federal government's commitment to public heath and safety along with other efforts such as background checks on gun purchases and closing other gun loopholes," the senators wrote.

A Mother Jones investigation, inspired by the lack of research on the matter, found that gun violence costs Americans a whopping $229 billion each year. In 2013, Mother Jones found that at least 194 children were shot to death in the year following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  A Washington Post investigation earlier this year found that Americans are getting shot by toddlers on a weekly basis.

The senators' request was lauded by gun control advocacy groups. "The American people have had enough of gun violence and this is an important step," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Read the full letter below:


Watch part of our investigation into the costs of gun violence here:


This post has been updated to include more gun crime statistics.

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Two Dead and Seven Arrested in Raid Targeting Paris Attacks "Mastermind"

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 8:42 AM EST
Police forces prepare in St. Denis, a northern suburb of Paris, Wednesday.

Update, 8:30 a.m. EST: Paris's chief prosecutor announced on Thursday that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian-born terrorist believed to be responsible for Friday's attacks in Paris, was killed in the St. Denis raid.

Update, 12:56 p.m. EST:  Big questions remain concerning the identities of those killed and arrested in the early morning raid carried out in Saint-Denis. The Washington Post reports Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected "mastermind" behind last Friday's attacks on Paris, had been killed. However, France's chief prosecutor said in a press conference that the identity of those killed and arrested could still not verified.


Two terror suspects, including one female suicide bomber who detonated herself using an explosive vest, were killed in an early morning raid in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on Wednesday. Seven people were also arrested in the seven-hour standoff.

The raid was targeting Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian-born terror suspect believed to be the "mastermind" behind the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. Authorities have yet to determine the identities of the terror suspects arrested and killed in Wednesday's raid.

According to some reports, the woman who blew herself up may have been Abaaoud's cousin.

A heavy police presence remains in the city. The Guardian reports that residents have been told to stay inside and roads have been blocked off.

Speaking to mayors around the country on Wednesday morning, French President Francois Hollande pointed to the violent raid as a sign the country was at "war with ISIS." He also reaffirmed France's commitment to taking in 30,000 refugees, despite fears that terrorists may try to enter Europe with the flow of migrants. 

Here's What the Latest Investigation of Planned Parenthood Just Revealed

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Government investigations of Planned Parenthood in response to a series of deceptive videos produced by anti-abortion activists continue to lead to nothing.

On Monday, a 48-page report released by Washington state's Attorney General Bob Ferguson stated that his team's investigation into allegations about Planned Parenthood profiting from sales of fetal tissue "found no indication that procedures performed by Planned Parenthood are anything other than performance of a legally authorized medical procedure."

After undercover videos filmed by David Daleiden and his anti-abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, went viral, legislators across the country called for probes of Planned Parenthood operations. So far, none of these investigations has turned up any wrongdoing.

They have, however, had a chilling effect on important research into cures for diseases including diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's, as Mother Jones reported last month. That Planned Parenthood was cleared of any misconduct in Washington is particularly notable because Washington is one of only two states that allow patients to donate tissue to scientific research. (California is the other.)

Despite the lack of evidence from these state investigations, Republicans in the US Senate continue their attempts to defund Planned Parenthood; they are currently working to pass a fast-track "reconciliation" package that aims to dismantle key components of Obamacare and rescind Planned Parenthood funding.

Science Says: Drink Your Coffee

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Coffee is one of the pleasures of existence. It's also really good for us, an ever-expanding body of research suggests. The latest: an analysis of three large population studies by a team of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They concluded that regular consumption of between one and five cups a day is associated with significantly lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and brain disorders like Parkinson's. (For those who drink more than five cups per day, the association unravels.) 

Interestingly, the benefits are roughly the same for regular and decaf coffee—suggesting that something in the beloved beverage besides caffeine is the trigger. "Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation," the study's lead author, Ming Ding, said in a press release. The authors make clear that their results are consistent with "numerous" previous studies.

Now that coffee's health-giving value is well established, we should probably think harder about an always-vexing problem: how to ensure that the people who tend and harvest this tropical crop get their fair share of the profits generated from it.

Here's Yet More Posturing From Republicans on National Security

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 1:10 AM EST

Here's the latest from congressional Republicans:

Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday his panel will launch a review of encryption use. Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) introduced a bill to extend a sweeping telephone data-collection program due to expire at month’s end.

“It is likely that end-to-end encryption was used to communicate in Belgium and France and Syria,” Mr. Burr said. He said encryption was likely because no direct communication among the terrorists was detected....Mr. Cotton’s bill would pause the expiration of a broad phone data-collection program run by the National Security Agency, which is set to end Nov. 29, until the president certifies that a planned replacement is equally effective.

This is crazy. Anyone smart enough to use end-to-end encryption isn't going to use a package from Microsoft or Google. They'll find an open-source app instead. There are plenty of them around, and there's nothing the US Congress can do to stop people from using them. As for the NSA's metadata program, it's always had the authority to collect surveillance on overseas users. Nothing about that has changed.

Neither of these proposals seems to be related in any serious way to the Paris attacks. Instead, the attacks are just being used as a handy excuse to push legislation these guys have wanted all along.

Someday we're going to get Republicans to take national security seriously. I don't know when. Hopefully it won't take as long as it does to get them to admit that climate change is real.