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ACA’s Medicaid Expansion: Not Good for Your Health

in Economic Liberty, Healthcare, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

ACA’s Medicaid Expansion: Not Good for Your Health

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

In 2010, just a few weeks before Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama said that taxpayers “end up subsidizing the uninsured when they’re forced to go to the emergency room for care…. You can’t get … savings if those people are still going to the emergency room.”

healthcarePart of what the current administration’s signature health law was supposed to do was to increase cost savings so visits to the ER weren’t as common. After helping to pass the law, then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi claimed that “the uninsured will get coverage [so they are] no longer [being] left to the emergency room for medical care.”

Six years have passed since those who supported ACA and its main provisions promised to bring the number of ER visits down and yet, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that assuming ACA would lower the number of ER visits was a mistake.

With the expansion of Medicaid in states like Oregon, ER visits increased. But the increase is not the only consequence of Medicaid expansion. When compared to 2015, this year’s Medicaid expansion spending is 49 percent higher per enrollee than what government had expected.

In order to expand Medicaid in Oregon, officials used lottery to expand Medicaid benefits to a limited number of lower income, non-disabled adults.

According to the study’s authors, “Medicaid’s value to recipients is lower than the government’s costs of the program, and usually substantially below,” perhaps because, researchers found, expanded Medicaid coverage “resulted in significantly more outpatient visits, hospitalizations, prescription medications, and emergency department visits.”

When it comes to how Medicaid expansion pushed individuals to the ER, researchers explain that, during the past 15 months, Medicaid increased ER visits by 40 percent.

Researchers found that even if patients have Medicaid, there’s “no evidence that Medicaid coverage makes use of the physician’s office and use of ERs substitutes for one another.”

What many choose to forget is that Medicaid expansion was made possible because of ACA. And according to the government’s own projections, each Medicaid enrollee cost the taxpayer roughly $6.366 in 2015, 49 percent higher than past predictions. This cost spike is mostly due to the fact the federal government reimburses 100 percent of state spending on enrollees who were added after the expansion was launched.

When ACA became law, states were given enough incentives to pay insurance companies high payment rates so new enrollees were cared for, but the high payment rates could only be covered by the federal taxpayer. Since many physicians are leaving the system altogether, preferring to not accept new Medicaid enrollees due to lower rates, patients continued to use ER at a high rate, even higher than years past. So coverage, in this case specifically, did nothing to help patients in need. The result is higher cost to the taxpayer. Instead of making people healthier and helping individuals who are unable to afford medical care, researchers found that the result has been the exact opposite, invalidating ACA apologists.

Will they continue to ignore these results?

Revolving Door: Google Enjoys Privileged Position within the US Government

in Business and Economy, Economic Liberty, Economics, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Revolving Door: Google Enjoys Privileged Position within the US Government

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Putting an end to the revolving door used to be one of the issues presidential candidate Barack Obama appeared to be most passionate about. In December of 2007, then Senator Obama vowed to close the “revolving door … [in other words] the pattern of people going from industry to agency, back to industry,” as soon as he entered the White House. But by 2016, Franklin Center’s Watchdog.org reports, the practice couldn’t get more popular.

GoogleSince 2009, more than 250 people moved between Google and other related firms and the federal government. According to the results produced by Campaign for Accountability’s Google Transparency Project, there have been 258 revolving door instances associated with Google employees and other related firms. In many cases, these individuals were either involved with national political campaigns or with federal government agencies and Congress.

But according to Watchdog.org, one of the most eye-catching discoveries is that “[m]uch of that revolving door activity took place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where 22 former White House officials went to work for Google and 31 executives from Google and related firms went to work at the White House.”

In many of these cases, the Obama administration appointed these individuals directly.

Many of the Google employees who left the tech giant and its associated firms ended up in the President’s Council on Science and Technology and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, two boards responsible for regulating programs that directly impact Google as a company.

When the other end of the revolving door is analyzed, we also learn that 25 government officials involved with the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, or national security have joined the Silicon Valley giant in the past few years. And at least 18 former State Department officials embraced new positions with Google as well, while five Google staffers were hired by the State Department, and at least three Google executives switched jobs, moving their desks to the DOD headquarters.

According to the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, Scott Amey, the number of people moving between the government and Google is high, raising concerns among anti-revolving door activists. Amey says that precisely because information concerning the quantity of people involved in this revolving-door game is hard to find, the actual scope of this mass migration may not be easy to grasp at the moment. Nevertheless, 250 individuals involved in this activity is “a very significant number.”

Amey told Watchdog.org that, if individuals working inside the government “have access to information on competitors and they go to Google … then you have to wonder if Google is getting an unfair advantage over others in their market.” Interestingly enough, Amey’s comment serves as the perfect example of why crony capitalism or, in other words, the marriage of the state and private special interests, is bad.

Without a government setting the rules, winners are only picked by the market, not the privileged few.

Remember: the FBI Is Still Trying to Have Full Access to NSA’s ‘Unfiltered’ Data

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, National Defense, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Remember: the FBI Is Still Trying to Have Full Access to NSA’s ‘Unfiltered’ Data

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

As the country follows the cries of politicians in Washington doing their best to undermine our security and freedom in the name of the war on terror, don’t forget that, just a few months before the deadly Orlando shooting, the Obama administration was reportedly looking into allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to share data on private communications with other intelligence agencies without the benefit of privacy protections.

NSAOn paper, access to the contents of phone calls, emails, satellite transmissions, and communications between individuals abroad gathered by NSA employees is restricted, meaning that agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are not allowed to use data collected by the NSA without due process. But due to executive order 12333, an order signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 that binds US intelligence agencies to cooperate with CIA requests for information, the NSA may soon be sharing information on innocent Americans with the FBI.

According to the New York Times, the current administration is interested in expanding the NSA’s reach by giving the intelligence community access to unprocessed information pertaining to countless Americans who were never accused of any crime to begin with. But by augmenting the intelligence community’s access to more information, the haystack becomes much larger, making it harder for officials to find the needle.

According to Alexander Abdo, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, the country should not be allowing the NSA to “spread that information further in the government” if protections on people’s personal information are not being erected. But according to the spokesman for the office of the Director of National Intelligence, the final rules under consideration by the current administration would help to “ensure that they protect privacy civil liberties and constitutional rights while enabling the sharing of information that is important to protect national security.”

Despite the US government’s claims that officials are doing all in their power to protect innocent Americans from the government’s overreach, abuse exists. Giving agencies such as the NSA and the FBI blanket access to the private information of others has and will continue to backfire, allowing employees and officials to abuse their power whenever possible.

The framework under review by the current administration has been under development since when President George W. Bush triggered the change but now, the Obama administration is carrying on with the task of developing a framework to put the changes in motion. And as officials work on a way of continuing the NSA’s involvement with the country’s war on drugs while boosting the agency’s role, progressive and conservative politicians, and even presidential candidates, continue to justify their support for mass surveillance by evoking the war on terror.

Expect to hear more on this and other efforts to boost the surveillance state, especially after the tragic killing of Pulse club goers in Orlando, Florida.

What Mainstream News Sources Get Wrong About Economic Recovery

in Business and Economy, Economic Liberty, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

What Mainstream News Sources Get Wrong About Economic Recovery

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The press, author and philosopher Edmund Burke once argued during a parliamentary debate in 1787, is the “Fourth State,” a “societal force” whose powerful influence makes it the perfect tool of the powerful men. All too often, you see this powerful tool being used to shift the blame from government’s intrusive, unproductive policies to taxpayers, in an attempt to make the idea that government always acts with our best interest in mind popular again.

WaPoIn a recent Washington Post article, Robert J. Samuelson takes American consumers to task for not allowing President Barack Obama administration’s economic recovery plan to work. A comment Zero Hedge’s sassy Tyler Durden does not seem to be very happy about.

In a piece exposing the problems with Samuelson’s article, Zero Hedge claims that Washington Post, or what the author calls an “administration mouthpiece,” goes to the extreme of indirectly accusing Americans of being “stingy” when Samuelson argues that the only drag on the economy is “us.”

Since Americans refuse to go out and buy more stuff, WaPo’s Samuelson claims, “American consumers aren’t what they used to be … and that helps explain the plodding economic recovery.”

But according to Zero Hedge’s author, America’s current economic issues may be traced back to other culprits, such as increasing health insurance premiums and the high cost of property and rentals. Zero Hedge also argues that even when looking at the jobs created over the past few years, it’s easy to see that what has risen recently is the rate of part-time or minimum wage jobs, not full-time work. Should the current administration take pride in that?

Once we look deeper into the issues Americans are currently facing, we become more aware of the roots of the economic problems we, as a nation, have experienced in the past decade, making Samuelson’s claims sound shallow.

Soaring national debt and money printing are two problems that directly affect consumers nowadays, whether they are rich or poor. Both of these problems have been devaluing our dollar, inflating prices, and crushing our money’s overall purchasing power. And both of these issues have been the policies of most of US presidents over the past decades.

While economic intervention is a real problem, it’s not the only thing keeping Americans down. Big government’s overpowering regulations are also adding more fuel to the fire by raising a greater amount of barriers to businesses.

The regulatory burden keeps entrepreneurs with little capital in hand from entering the marketplace, depriving workers and consumers from options. That, Mercatus Center’s Patrick A. McLaughlin argues, contributes to poverty.

Without government’s artificially imposed barriers, the American consumer would have a stronger currency to work with, and the unemployed would have better job opportunities.

Unlike Samuelson claims, Zero Hedge reports, the average American is now broke. Samuelson may miss what was once the “world’s most vibrant middle class,” but he does not know how to get us there.

So instead of asking broke Americans to resort to easy credit—yet another issue with today’s economy—so the current administration’s economic recovery finally “works,” how about taking the individual’s struggle to make ends meet under the thumb of government’s heavy-handed interventionism into consideration next time?

To Resist Tyranny, We Must Celebrate and Stand By Our Whistleblowers

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

To Resist Tyranny, We Must Celebrate and Stand By Our Whistleblowers

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The need for transparency was an important talking point during the 2008 presidential elections, but once the current administration had an opportunity to handle information leaked by whistleblowers such as former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in a constitutional manner, making sure that the National Security Agency’s disregard for privacy was investigated, the Barack Obama administration decided to, instead, start one of the most effective anti-whistleblower campaigns in the history of the United States.

SnowdenAccording to Tech Dirt, the current administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. And what the most recent case of official mishandling of another NSA whistleblower proves is that officials are oblivious of what due process is all about.

Recently, Foreign Policy reported, another NSA whistleblower attempted to “go through the proper channels” in order to report issues she felt that should be addressed by her superiors. Instead of investigating her complaints, the FBI raided her house.

According to Foreign Policy, the FBI suspended the whistleblower’s clearances without giving her any reason. The publication also explained that she “wasn’t allowed at work, and for two years, the NSA made her ‘call every day like a criminal, checking in every morning before 8.’”

The report continues:

“[Elham] Khorasani went to the agency only for interrogations, she says: eight or nine sessions that ran at least five hours each. She was asked about her family, her travel, and her contacts.”

According to Khorasani, the “special” treatment she received from the FBI only came after the NSA whistleblower set up a meeting with Thomas Drake, another whistleblower prosecuted by the current administration. She had decided to meet with Drake in order to learn more on how she should proceed to make an effective complaint regarding what she calls an unfair reassignment. Once she contacted Drake, he explained that too much time had already passed, and that her efforts would be fruitless from that point on.

He allegedly told her that she had “the bull’s-eyes on” her. “You’re done.”

Khorasani’s story may have been covered by Foreign Policy, but countless others haven’t been pursued. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one to have suffered increased scrutiny over her decision to pursue proper channels in order to have her complaints investigated. According to Foreign Policy’s James Bamford, people under suspicion of misconduct such as Khorasani are often given a special red badge, which replaces the blue card used by employees and contractors with access to secure facilities.

This sort of scarlet letter, Foreign Policy reports, often forces employees to live in “purgatory.” During the entire process, they are never told why they are under scrutiny. And in many cases, they are given jobs inside the gardening department or at the NSA’s museum.

To Tech Dirt, the United States doesn’t have enough whistleblowers because the “proper channels” simply don’t work, which is what the Khorasani case shows us.

If more people within the US government had more incentives to speak out and more often, we would be able to hold our officials accountable. “Unrestrained power may be many things,” Edward Snowden wrote recently, “but it’s not American… We, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government.”

If resistance to tyranny is what we’re looking for, Snowden contends, “Change has to flow from the bottom to the top.”

Snowden: Bulk Data Collection is Ineffective, Promotes Insecurity and Oppression

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Snowden: Bulk Data Collection is Ineffective, Promotes Insecurity and Oppression

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

As the country watches the battle between the FBI and Apple unfold, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden uses his notoriety to bring attention to the surveillance problem publicly.

During an interview with the Spanish TV channel Sexta, Snowden gave his two cents on the subject, extending his commentary to the realm of bulk data collection and why it never works.

SnowdenDuring the interview, Snowden claimed that what Washington D.C. believes to be the most effective way to deter terrorists doesn’t pass the smell test.

“In the wake of the revelations of mass surveillance,” Snowden explained, “[US] President [Barack Obama] appointed two independent commissions to review the efficiency of these [surveillance] programs, what they really did and what effect they had in combating terrorism.” What they found, Snowden continued, was that none of the surveillance programs carried out by Washington “stopped a single terrorist attack and never made a concrete difference in a terrorist investigation.”

When looking into how the CIA and NSA have violated the US Constitution for ten years by snooping on Americans’ private communications without ever producing warrants, Snowden continued, “we must ask ourselves: Was it ever worth it?”

With news showing surveillance programs are used for purposes other than fighting terrorism, it’s difficult to ignore the whistleblower’s claims. Especially since the current administration seems unwilling to put an end to its ineffective programs.

Nowadays, bulk data collection is “more aggressive and invasive” than ever before, Snowden told Sexta. “Law enforcement and intelligence structures do not any longer bother to pick up a suspect and hack his cell phone, they cut into all lines and communications” instead. To the whistleblower, this is a clear violation of innocent people’s rights, since federal agents attack the “heart of the society” instead of following tangible evidence.

The debate revolving around privacy and bulk data collection often misses the importance of privacy in a free society. Something that Snowden likes to revisit often. During the interview, he explained this angle of the debate by reminding the reporter that “it is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say, … There are rights that provide value to you even if you’re not actively engaged in them in that moment.”

Currently, Americans are struggling to identify exactly what is and isn’t the best way to go about the surveillance subject. As the public is bombarded with divisive, autocratic rhetoric tied to the presidential campaign, many become oblivious, ignoring their surveillance-related concerns.

Understanding that existing tools like the Internet will always be abused by criminals, and that the federal government is incapable of keeping tabs on what citizens are doing at all times is all part of the problem. Famed economist F. A. Hayek talked extensively about the knowledge problem, explaining that the importance of knowledge of individual circumstances is often minimized by state officials, and the results are often bad to freedom since central planners like to claim they know just what they need to do to solve whatever problem is at hand.

Much like economic problems, which often become much worse as government intervention gets a boost, more surveillance has the same effect, forcing criminals to take part in even more obscure communication methods in order to remain untraceable. The unintended consequences are seldom discussed, but it’s the American individual who pays the price.

If Snowden and many other privacy advocates are right, the federal government’s efforts against terrorism could benefit greatly from a privacy-centered policy. After all, sacrificing freedom in the name of a false sense of security makes us both less safe and less free.

White House Sacks the Treasury in the Name of Corporate Welfare

in Economic Liberty, Healthcare, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Taxes by Alice Salles Comments are off

White House Sacks the Treasury in the Name of Corporate Welfare

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Friday, one day before the President’s day holiday weekend, the Barack Obama Administration announced that $7.7 billion of taxpayer dollars would be allocated to Affordable Care Act insurers through the law’s reinsurance program.

From the Americans for Tax Reform website:

“For 2015 Obamacare reinsurance, the administration will pay out $6 billion raised from a fee on private health insurance and an additional $1.7 billion that under federal law belongs to the Treasury department.”

Seal According to pro-taxpayer organization, at least $1.7 billion of the $7.7 being used to cover insurers is being funneled illegally.

Doug Badger of the Galen Institute explains that ACA’s reinsurance program works by silently taxing every individual in America with health insurance. In 2015 and 2016, each individual with insurance is being allegedly taxed a total of $107. According to Badger, the program is designed to “prop up insurers that have agreed to sell Obamacare policies in the individual market.”

While the administration continues to claim that ACA is working, insurers that participate are losing money. But since the reinsurance program exists to cover the losses of the insurers, the administration seems to think keeping corporations happy with the deal is more important than following the law.

With the failure of the system, and with a growing number of consumers referring to alternative methods to have access to care, the administration is having to get creative.

According to the New York Post, not one dollar out of the $7.7 billion being promised to insurers should be taken from the Treasury under ACA law.

From the New York Post:

“The law states a fixed share ‘shall be deposited into the general fund of the Treasury of the United States and may not be used’ to offset insurance companies’ losses.

But the administration gave all of it to the insurance companies last year, and got away with that heist. So now they’re trying it again.”

While the administration projected it would be raising $12 billion for the ACA reinsurance program in 2014, it was $2 billion short. In order to handle the situation, the administration decided to keep the money from the Treasury, using it instead to hand it over to the participating companies.

The administration isn’t a stranger to this type of move. According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at least $8.5 billion in taxpayer money has already been illegally funneled to ACA’s corporate welfare programs.

Another initiative designed to shield insurers enshrined in ACA also seeks to secure the investment of insurers. The initiative is known as the Risk Corridor program, and it has also been tied to scandals in the past.

In 2014, insurers requested $2.87 billion in “risk corridors” payments, but the administration only offered 12.6 percent of that value.

The risk corridor program works by redistributing funds from insurers that make money with the Obamacare exchange to insurers that don’t. Not knowing how sick their customers were going to be due to the new healthcare law and its mandates, insurers were not being able to set premiums realistically, making it hard for companies to turn a profit.

Despite falling short on the risk corridor payments, the administration decided to bail out insurers that weren’t making money off the exchanges last year. ACA chief Andy Slavitt, who’s also the former Vice-President for United Health, made the announcement in December of 2015, saying the federal government was going to bail out insurers and offer them the amount they had previously asked. Later, however, Congress blocked the $2.5 billion “risk corridor” payment. The effort was championed by several conservative and libertarian organizations that came together to urge Congress to act.

If nothing is done this time around, taxpayers will have to foot the bill and cover the $7.7 billion the administration has vowed

ACA’s Bureaucratic Requirements Force Patients to Lose Access to Care

in Economic Liberty, Healthcare, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

 ACA’s Bureaucratic Requirements Force Patients to Lose Access to Care

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The Affordable Care Act has become a joke among conservatives and libertarians.

Since the passing of the law, mandates concerning enrollment requirements pushed the cost of health care up, forcing countless to not only find themselves uncovered, but also unable to have access to the care they had before Obamacare.

DoctorWhile the overregulation of health care in America is nothing new, ACA accelerated a process that was well under way before President Barack Obama took office. Unfortunately, officials didn’t pay attention to the market signals. What the current administration decided to do instead was to focus on pushing laws based on hopes and aspirations, ignoring the potential consequences.

The story of Walt Whitlow is the perfect example of why politicians should always consider the short and long-term consequences of their policies.

According to the Associated Press, Whitlow was under treatment for cancer when he learned that his financial assistance had gotten slashed under ACA. With a premium costing four times what it cost prior to the passing of the new health care law, his deductible went from $900 to $4,600.

Patient Ana Granado also suffered due to the bureaucratic nature of the law.

Granado had undergone a breast cancer surgery and was waiting to undergo breast reconstruction procedures when she was notified that her coverage had been canceled. Under ACA’s new rules, her immigration status became an issue, which forced her insurer to drop her. While lawyers were able to resolve the issue promptly, her financial assistance for premiums were suspended.

Under ACA, Lynn Herrin’s tax credits for premiums were also questioned by the IRS, forcing her to pay $700 to the taxman. Having issues to find a doctor, Herrin decided to cancel her plan, which left her without any assistance when she later found out she had oral and neck cancer.

As countless Americans and residents ditch their plans or pay more for their previously affordable plans because of complex paperwork requirements, many believe that the law was never written to make health care access affordable.

By adding more roadblocks and mandates, ACA forced many Americans to rely on the government for subsidies so they can afford health care. Under a free market system, they would be dealing directly with insurers and providers instead.

By making the cost of insurance an issue, the federal government created a monster that costs the taxpayers and leaves millions of patients without access to quality care when they need it the most.

Currently, 12.7 million people are covered thanks to subsidies created by ACA. But about 470,000 people had their coverage terminated through September 30, 2015 because of complex paperwork requirements. Another 1 million of households had their financial assistance “adjusted” due to what the government calls “income discrepancies.”

By making the process more bureaucratic than it should be, ACA forced countless of consumers to rely on the government for health care. Elizabeth Colvin of Foundation Communities says people have been panicking when they “get that bill for a full-price plan.” This issue is undermining ACA’s insurance markets, simply because the cost to obtain coverage through the government is too high.

As more and more Americans look for alternative ways to have access to health care, the future of ACA is uncertain. Will the next administration take these matters into account when thinking about reforming US health care law?

As Presidential Candidates Promise to Use Torture, Pentagon Releases Photos of Detainee Abuse

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

As Presidential Candidates Promise to Use Torture, Pentagon Releases Photos of Detainee Abuse

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The Pentagon recently released nearly 200 photos related to its investigation into the US use—and abuse—of torture against detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to The Intercept, the released images are the most innocuous of the more than 2,000 images the government has been fighting to keep confidential.

The pictures were taken between 2003 and 2006. Most of them are close-up shots of detainees’ limbs. Some of them show scabs or bruises. Faces are covered with black bars to keep the detainees’ identities under wraps.

Torture

According to government attorneys, the release of the 2,000 photos documenting the abuse would harm national security. Admitting that the actions perpetrated by US forces against detainees are used as a recruitment tool, government attorneys have argued that the release of the bulk of images would be used as propaganda by the Islamic State or al Qaeda.

In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force the Defense Department to release the 2,000 photographs in the agency’s possession. The request was filed after images from the prison at Abu Ghraib leaked.

According to Vice News, many of the unreleased images show soldiers posing with dead bodies, while others show soldiers punching and kicking prisoners. Many allegedly show detainees stripping naked next to female guards. None of those incidents were documented in the 198 photos released by the Pentagon in response to ACLU’s lawsuit.

To Katherine Hawkins, the senior counsel at the Constitution Project, released images “are only about 10 percent, and presumably the least graphic 10 percent, of the larger set the ACLU sued for.” Despite the lack of graphic content, Hawkins says released photos are enough to prove US forces abused their power.

While the Barack Obama administration initially promised to release the images by 2009, it changed its stance.

The change of heart is reportedly due to pressure from the top US commander in Iraq, Bush-era holdovers at the Defense Department, and the then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

After the change of policy, the administration reported that the publication of the images would not add “any additional benefit” to the public understanding of what happened. The administration reported that abuse was perpetrated by “a small number of individuals.” The administration also confirmed that the release of the images would “inflame anti-American opinion,” which could put troops in danger.

The Defense Department has claimed that the investigations tied to the released images were associated with 14 allegations of abuse that resulted in “some form of disciplinary action.” At least 65 service members were reprimanded in some capacity.

As presidential election debates force candidates to share their views on torture and whether US forces should make use of it in the country’s efforts to combat terrorism, many believe candidates sound somewhat desperate to please the pro-war crowd. Among conservatives, however, many have made the case against torture in the past by claiming that the policy signals that the “beacon of freedom is lowering the legal bar on what it means to be a human being.”

Senator Rand Paul, one of the few Republican presidential candidates who made anti-torture comments in the past, has recently dropped out of the race. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has had different opinions on the use of torture in the past, while Senator Bernie Sanders opposes the practice.

Despite the antiwar rhetoric, candidates like Sanders have voted to fund wars and US bombing campaigns in the past.

Without a consistent voice against torture and intervention in the election cycle, Americans lose the opportunity to hear different perspectives. With so many candidates making pro-torture comments, it’s hard to see the mainstream political discourse shifting any time soon.

Is American Entrepreneurship Dead?

in Economic Liberty, Economics, Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Is American Entrepreneurship Dead?

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Promises of a better future post the 2008-2009 recession injected new confidence in the American economy. With the President Barack Obama administration’s push to use public money to stimulate the economy back to recovery, many believed that a full comeback was in order.

But years after the implementation of the stimulus plan, corporate debt continues to increase due to the federal reserve’s meddling, and the participation rate in the labor force continues to fall.

Entrepreneur

As the current administration claims falling unemployment rates prove the stimulus worked, it’s easy to see why so many believe that things are “back to normal.”

But according to Yonathan Amselem, an asset protection attorney in Washington, D.C., things are far from “normal.”

In an article published by the Mises Institute, Amselem explains that after a market crash, the unemployment rate eventually drops, naturally. He also reminds us that the Obama administration took over after the market crash. And that the so-called “recovery” may have just been a sign of a process that would have happened with or without the stimulus.

He also argues that a review of the type of industries that have been growing since the stimulus plan was put into action prove that the creation of jobs alone has nothing to do with economic recovery.

“We are pumping out an army of waiters, social workers, and associate professors with worthless six-figure degrees they have no hope of paying off in this life or the next,” Amselem argued. Instead of “high value, goods-producing workers,” America is producing workers who do not rely on innovation.

Individuals, Amselem argues, are not being encouraged to start businesses. Instead, they seem to believe that they are perfectly capable of turning “a six-year sociology degree into a job that doesn’t involve bringing people mimosas for brunch.”

But the workforce is not to blame for this shift in leading industries.

Instead, Amselen argues that the lack of incentives tied to entrepreneurship is forcing countless Americans to keep their dreams and aspirations locked away. As businesses now fail at a greater rate than they start, free market advocates like Amselen remind us that people are discouraged to try out on their own.

To the D.C. attorney, America’s structure of production has been disrupted by the political class in a dramatic way, making workers less competitive and forcing the entire nation to carry a very heavy debt burden while keeping the entrepreneurial spirit stuck under a mountain of bureaucracy.

As free market advocates continue to make the case against overwhelming regulations, urging the public to look at government intervention as a means to hinder economic development, media outlets and influencers often accuse them of being against the poor.

But economic growth can only be accomplished when competition and freedom are reinstated. Being against the poor means being pro-government intervention in the economy, which forces those with pauper means to resort to the black market for their needs.

Without a Clear War Strategy, White House Wants to Increase Spending to Fight ISIS, Boost Surveillance State

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, Middle East, National Defense, News You Can Use, War by Alice Salles Comments are off

Without a Clear War Strategy, White House Wants to Increase Spending to Fight ISIS, Boost Surveillance State

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

As the country focused on Iowa, the email server scandal, and Kanye West’s last Twitter feud, the Barack Obama administration geared up for a significant defense budget request.

The factor behind pushing the country further into debt? ISIS.

ISIS

According to Reuters, the current administration wants to add over $7 billion to its 2017 defense budget. The additional funding would provide support to this administration’s military campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). The additional request represents a 35 percent increase from past year’s defense budget.

While Reuters broke the story early Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter had already planned on discussing the current spending priorities publicly during an address to the Economic Club of Washington. The White House will only release the full budget proposal on February 9th.

If approved by Congress, the 2017 defense budget would cost taxpayers $583 billion.

Since 9/11, military spending has risen sharply. But in 2013, military spending declined, going from $671 in 2013 to $619 in 2014.

To critics, the current administration has done everything in its power to “gut” military spending. These critics often suggest that the lack of an inflated military budget will leave America vulnerable, increasing the risk of terrorist attacks on US soil. But in reality, this administration is everything but fiscally conservative when it comes to the defense budget. Despite its strategical shortcomings.

According to Reuters, the current request to increase defense spending by $7 billion is mostly due to the administration’s campaign against ISIS. Despite the lack of details concerning the administration’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State, experts like former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford have been vocal in their opposition to one of this administration’s most questionable strategies: to arm and train rebels in Syria.

To Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) who was also against the strategy to arm Syrian rebels, the current administration’s efforts against ISIS are insufficient. Mostly because the so-called war against the militant group was never authorized by Congress. Putting the issue up for discussion first could have helped the administration find a different approach to its campaign in Syria and Iraq.

To Russian President Vladimir Putin, the focus in Syria should have always been to target ISIS. Instead of telling the Syrian people who their leader should be, Putin told CBS’s “60 Minutes,” world powers should come together to eliminate ISIS. But for most of the past year, the Obama administration reassured the media that the only way to make Syria safe was to make sure President Bassar al-Assad was out of the picture.

While the White House’s most pressing concern is ISIS, the militant organization is not the only issue listed as a priority in the 2017 defense budget proposal. According to Reuters, the administration also hopes to increase spending to “reassure European allies following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.” Former Republican congressman Ron Paul has been warning against further intervention in the region since the first signs of turmoil in Ukraine hit the news.

The 2017 defense budget proposal also includes a request to fund a new Air Force bomber, which has replaced the Ohio-class submarines used to carry nuclear weapons. If Congress approves the proposal, the Obama administration is also hoping to use the extra funding to increase cybersecurity, electronic warfare, and US satellite security.

Could that mean that the surveillance state will get a boost?

State of The Union Address: What this Administration Got Wrong About Obamacare

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State of The Union Address: What this Administration Got Wrong About Obamacare

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During President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address, this administration’s signature healthcare law was seldom brought up. As a matter of fact, little time was dedicated to healthcare overall. But the few references to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been mostly ignored, suggesting that little to no attention is dedicated to healthcare law as the media focuses on the 2016 presidential election.

But to Brian Blase, Senior Research Fellow with the Spending and Budget Initiative at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the administration’s claims deserve a second look.

In an article for Forbes, Blase looks at how the current programs are performing. With the hopes of helping Americans have a better understanding of ACA and its consequences, the scholar analyses the administration’s claims and reports on his findings.

cooperative

According to the current administration, ACA was designed to fill “the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.” To Blase, however, things aren’t that simple.

If the administration had made the portability of coverage a main priority, the law would not have to be as complex as it is.

Blase also argues that portability as a main goal would have prompted a piece of legislation that would have attracted considerable bipartisan support. Why? Because most healthcare experts on the right and center have always advocated for increased portability, urging lawmakers to severe the ties between insurance and employment.

To Blase, the primary purpose of ACA couldn’t be to keep Americans covered through the several changes they experience if the law standardizes health insurance and ups the requirements concerning coverage levels. By implementing a complicated tax and subsidy system to support ACA, the Obama administration forced consumers to fall prey to distorting price controls that make insurance coverage actually less affordable.

If the administration’s main goal with ACA was to keep people covered no matter what, the law wouldn’t also have been written in a way that increases gross premiums so radically, making low-income earners less likely to get good coverage.

While Blase spent a good deal of time focusing on this particular claim, another subject also caught his eye.

During the address, president Obama claimed that ACA has helped businesses to create jobs, not eliminate them. To Blase, this particular claim is troubling mostly because it’s not necessarily wrong. It’s misleading instead.

Claiming jobs were created because of the enaction of ACA is not a fact, since job growth naturally increased after the deep economic recession the country had just been recovering from when ACA became the law of the land. During the recession, millions of people were kicked out of their jobs, but as confidence grew, more jobs were inevitably created. That’s just a natural consequence of the labor market dynamics and is not at all connected to the enactment of ACA.

If the current administration is, indeed, concerned with how its healthcare programs are performing, Blase suggests, its review of ACA would lead to its repeal. Why? Because ACA is actually a negative pull on the economy.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, ACA will actually shrink the labor market in America. If the congressional projection is correct, two million full-time jobs will be lost due to ACA alone.

What About this Administrations’ Militaristic Policies and their Victims?

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What About this Administrations’ Militaristic Policies and their Victims?

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

During most of the day Tuesday, the day President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union Address, the Internet went ablaze with the White House’s announcements concerning empty gallery seats.

According to the White House, one seat will remain vacant during the entire address “for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.” But to author James Bovard, seats should be left vacant to remind the public of the victims of the president’s militarism instead.

doctors without borders hospital bombed

The Washington Post keeps a database of incidents involving police’s deadly use of force. According to its findings, 986 people were killed in 2015 alone during encounters with police officers. While the president has been pushing for tougher, more restrictive gun control measures to curb gun violence in America, the US Justice Department has been supporting officers every time the Supreme Court agrees to hear an excessive-force case.

Recently, Bovard noted, Attorney General Loretta Lynch claimed that federally-funded police agencies should keep the number of people killed in encounters with the police under wraps.

And despite the efforts of several US states willing to put an end to the drug war at home, Obama’s policy in Mexico continues to fuel the drug war in the neighboring country, increasing the number of victims abroad.

But this administrations’ militarism is not only responsible for death and destruction in the American continent.

To Bovard, a few seats should also stay vacant to remind us of the 30 French medical staff, patients, and other victims of the US attack against a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

To Bovard, the twelve Yemenis killed during a US drone strike while celebrating nuptials on December 12, 2013 shouldn’t be ignored. But neither should the 30 people splattered to death during a 2012 drone strike in Afghanistan.

Prior to the deadly incident, a group of Taliban insurgents reportedly entered a house where a family was holding a wedding ceremony. As Afghan and American forces surrounded the house, firing broke out. As both sides struggled, the 18 members of a single extended family feared for their safety.

A few moments after US and Afghan troops were wounded in the fight, a jet was called to help, dropping a 500-pound bomb on the house.

At least nine of the innocent victims were children.

Other victims Bovard urges the White House to recognize include the four Americans killed in the 2012 Benghazi attack and the hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of Libyans who lost their lives during the civil war triggered by Hillary Clinton and Obama’s bombing campaign against Moammar Gadhafi.

Another seat should also remain vacant in the name of the 16-year-old Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was killed in yet another US drone strike under this administration.

Due to the White Houses’ militaristic policies here and abroad, people are losing their lives.

Unnecessary conflicts produced by bad policies should require more attention not only because they are killing people, but because of the Obama administrations’ hypocritical stances show they have never been serious about living up to the expectations raised during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Something tells me the next Commander in Chief will have to tackle the same issues. Unsuccessfully, of course, since every single US president appears to focus on implementing the same bad policies.

NSA Spied on Israel to Counter Criticism of Iran Deal, Communications with U.S. Lawmakers Intercepted

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NSA Spied on Israel to Counter Criticism of Iran Deal, Communications with U.S. Lawmakers Intercepted

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The National Security Agency is bracing for another heavy round of criticism. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the controversial intelligence agency spied on Israeli leaders while the United States was ironing out a nuclear agreement with Iran. But the spying apparatus also captured communications between Israeli and members of Congress.

NSA

President Barack Obama and the NSA have already come under fire for spying on leaders of countries that are allied with the United States, such as Brazil, Germany, and Mexico. The White House was reportedly unaware of the NSA’s activities, which came to light in the summer of 2013.

President Obama, in early 2014, pledged to stop snooping on the United States’ allies. “The leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to learn what they think about an issue,” he said, “I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance.” The only exceptions to the prohibition were countries that served a national security interest. Among them was Israel.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the NSA has continued to spy on Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a fierce critic of the nuclear agreement that the United States worked out with Iran. Netanyahu brought his concerns against the deal to Washington in March during a speech to a joint session of Congress.

The intelligence received by the NSA, according to the report, was used to “counter” Netanyahu’s criticism of the agreement with Iran. Inadvertently or not, the NSA “also swept up the contents of some of [Israel leaders’] private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”

The intercepts revealed that Israel was coordinating with U.S.-based groups to criticize the Iran deal. “The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. [Israeli Ambassador Ron] Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal,” the report explained.

It’s unclear which lawmakers’ communications were intercepted by the NSA. But the report could reignite the already fiery debate in the halls of Congress and on the campaign trail over the intelligence agency’s snooping, as well as renewed criticism of the Iran deal and the Obama administration’s already stressed relationship Israel and Netanyahu.

Will Republicans Allow an Obamacare Bailout?

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Will Republicans Allow an Obamacare Bailout?

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One of the few bright spots in the government-funding bill passed last December was the inclusion of a provision that barred the Obama administration from using taxpayer dollars to bailout a little-known Obamacare program. Known as “risk corridors,” the program receives contributions from health insurance companies that make money from plans sold on the exchanges required by the law and redistributes it to those that experience losses.

Health Care

Congressional Republicans had targeted the program for repeal. In November 2013, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced legislation, the Obamacare Bailout Prevention Act, to do just that. “The American people are sick of Washington picking winners and losers, especially since the chosen losers often end up being taxpayers who foot the bills for Washington’s mistakes,” Rubio said at the time. “Washington’s bailout culture must end, and eliminating Obamacare’s blank check for a bailout of insurance companies is a common sense step to protect taxpayers when Obamacare fails.”

Lobbyists for insurance companies worried about congressional action against the program, which, according to the administration’s propaganda, is supposed to be deficit-neutral. Without the program, insurers’ lobbyists said, premiums would rise and drive consumers away from the exchanges, possibly leading to a dreaded “death spiral.” While the bill didn’t see any action in the Senate, Rubio reintroduced it in January at the beginning of the new Congress.

The language prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds for the risk corridors program that was included in the government-funding bill applied only to fiscal year 2015. It would have to be inserted into the bill for fiscal year 2016 for it to continue to apply. This is where it gets interesting. Insurers have filed more in claims than money that’s available in the program.

“On October 1, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced the total of collections and payouts under the risk corridor premium stabilization program for 2014. CMS announced that insurers have submitted $2.87 billion in risk corridor claims for 2014. Insurers only owe, however, $362 million in risk corridor contributions,” Health Affairs reported in October. “Thus payments in 2015 for 2014 will be paid out at 12.6 percent of claims, assuming full collections of contributions owed.”

In other words, the risk corridors program faces a more than a $2.5 billion shortfall. The only way to fill the gap is to transfer funds – i.e., taxpayer money – to cover the payments owed to insurers.

The House of Representatives is in the midst of working on the government-funding bill for fiscal year 2016. The current funding agreement expires on Friday, though lawmakers will likely pass an extension to give themselves more time to hammer out a framework. But without a specific language prohibiting the administration from using taxpayer money to make the risk corridors payments, taxpayers could be on the hook for what is, ostensibly, a $2.5 billion Obamacare bailout.

Address Security Concerns But Let Syrian Refugees Come to the U.S.

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Address Security Concerns But Let Syrian Refugees Come to the U.S.

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America’s governors are playing right into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, the governors of 30 states have called on the Obama administration to delay its plans to allow refugees from Syria to be placed in their states.

The concerns aren’t without merit. One of the Islamic radicals who participated in the terrorist attacks had a passport, using a phony name, showing that he entered Europe from Syria. This revelation has raised concerns about holes in the security screenings of the refugees who may enter the United States as the flee from a bloody civil war that has ravaged their country and left tens of thousands dead.

syrian-refugee-crisis

Similarly, congressional Republicans are poised to push legislation to “pause” the program. Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in the first major test of his nascent speakership, said, “This is a moment where it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a bill of his own to temporarily halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

“The time has come to stop terrorists from walking in our front door,” Paul said in a statement. “The Boston Marathon bombers were refugees, and numerous refugees from Iraq, including some living in my hometown, have attempted to commit terrorist attacks.”

“The terrorist attacks in Paris underscore this concern that I have been working to address for the past several years. My bill will press pause on new refugee entrants from high-risk countries until stringent new screening procedures are in place,” he added.

Prohibiting Syrian refugees from entering the United States, which is what some seem to want, may not be at all like the retaliatory attacks being carried out against mosques and Muslim-owed businesses in France in the aftermath of the attacks, but the anti-Islam sentiment is what ISIS thrives upon in its twisted eschatology.

“This is precisely what ISIS was aiming for — to provoke communities to commit actions against Muslims,” University of Maryland professor Arie Kruglanski told the Washington Post. “Then ISIS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies, and the enemies of Islam.”

Governors and lawmakers must tread carefully and keep in mind that history shows that refugees are overwhelming unlikely to be terrorists. A temporarily halt to the Syrian refugee program is understandable until security concerns are addressed, but we shouldn’t shut the door to people who are seeking safety by conflating it with the other hot-button issues, such as immigration.

Surprise! The IRS Audited Campaign Donors

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Surprise! The IRS Audited Campaign Donors

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By now, just about everyone knows the Internal Revenue Service targeted Tea Party and other right-leaning nonprofit groups because of their ideological beliefs. But the latest wrinkle in the story, one that hasn’t been widely reported, is the IRS audited donors to right-leaning nonprofits based on the reports they submitted.

IRSAccording to documents obtained by Judicial Watch, in 2010, then-Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, D-MT, urged the IRS to “survey major 501(c)(4), (c)(5) and (c)(6) organizations .” The IRS complied, in 2011.

“In 2010, after receiving Baucus’s letter, the IRS considered the issue of auditing donors to 501(c)(4) organizations, alleging that a 35 percent gift tax would be due on donations in excess of $13,000. The documents show that the IRS wanted to cross-check donor lists from 501(c)(4) organizations against gift tax filings and commence audits against taxpayers based on this information,” Judicial Watch explained. “A gift tax on contributions to 501(c)(4)’s was considered by most to be a dead letter since the IRS had never enforced the rule after the Supreme Court ruled that such taxes violated the First Amendment. The documents show that the IRS had not enforced the gift tax since 1982.”

“But then, in February 2011, at least five donors of an unnamed organization were audited,” Judicial Watch adds.

One of the groups specifically mentioned as targets by the IRS was Crossroads GPS, which was founded by Karl Rove. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was also mentioned as an organization that could be subject to scrutiny. Lois Lerner, the disgraced former IRS official who became the subject of congressional inquiries into the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups, approved of the gift tax auditing scheme.

“These documents that we had to force out of the IRS prove that the agency used donor lists to audit supporters of organizations engaged in First Amendment-protected lawful political speech,” Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said in a press release. “And the snarky comments about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the obsession with Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS show that the IRS was targeting critics of the Obama administration.”

“President Obama may want to continue to lie about his IRS scandal,” he said. “These documents tell the truth – his IRS hated conservatives and was willing to illegally tax and audit citizens to shut down opposition to Barack Obama’s policies and reelection.”

The IRS is, perhaps, the most corrupt agency in the federal government – and that’s saying something. The Tea Party scandal and the documents uncovered by Judicial Watch only skim the surface of recent problems. If there’s one federal agency that deserves to be torn apart, brick-by-brick, it’s this one, folks.

Obama Administration Spends $500 million to Train Only 60 Syrian Rebels

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As the Obama administration tried to convince Congress to support intervention against the dictatorial regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the summer of 2013, officials insisted that only a quarter of Syrian rebels had ties to Islamic extremist groups. That turned out to be inaccurate. An estimate produced by IHS Jane’s found that nearly half were Islamic extremists.

Fast-forward to June 2014, when the administration asked Congress for $500 million to train and equip to several thousand so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels to, now, fight the Islamic State, which operates in Syria, as well as Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. Congress approved the funding request in December.

CNN reports, however, that the only 60 rebels have been vetted to participate in the program. Recruits cannot have any ties to terrorist organizations. “We make sure that they, for example, aren’t going to pose a green-on-blue threat to their trainers; that they don’t have any history of atrocities,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee of the vetting process on Tuesday.

“I expect that number to improve,” he said, “but you deserve to know the truth.

The plan was to train some 15,000-rebel fighters over three years. Although 7,000 potential recruits are currently being vetted, Carter’s testimony didn’t sit well with members of the committee, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a prominent foreign policy hawk who has criticized the administration for its handling of the Islamic State, as well as not ousting Assad in 2013.

“I’ve got to tell you after four years [since the Syrian Civil War began], Mr. Secretary, that’s not a very impressive number,” McCain told Carter. McCain suggested that U.S.-trained fighters be allowed to target Assad’s forces, whom they aren’t trained to engage.

The numbers may be low because many would-be fighters are more interested in toppling Assad and taking control of Syria than fighting the Islamic State, which is just one extremist group fighting the regime. Others include al-Qaeda and Hamas. Hezbollah and Iran are supporting Assad.

The foreign policy venture in Syria is already proving to be a failure, and yet, it’s amazing that some, like McCain, want to United States to get further involved by allowing fighters to go after Assad’s forces in addition to fighting the Islamic State. It may not be as sordid of an affair as Iraq, but it could be.

If there’s anything our history of intervention has taught us is that we’re not very good at it. Perhaps we would be better served if, for once, we stayed out of the fight.

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