Special Report Grapevine: Bill Me Later

Bill Me Later: A curious omission from an official White House transcript. The President spoke at a democratic fundraiser in Chicago yesterday. Everyone in the room heard him say "One of the nice things about being home is actually that it's a little bit like a time capsule. Because Michelle and I and the kids --we left so quickly that there's still junk on my desk, including some unpaid bills. I think eventually they got paid, but they're sort of stacked up. And messages, newspapers and all kinds of stuff." 

When the White House put out the transcript it did not include the President's joke about unpaid bills. When the pool pointed out the discrepancy the press office amended the transcript noting that the joke was inaudible to the transcriber...although those in attendance say the remark was made clearly into the microphone. Today White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said it was a problem with the recording that rendered the comments inaudible for transcription.

Bragging Rights: It seems to be a point of pride for the president of Belarus-- there is no toilet paper in his country's sausage. Radio Free Europe reports Alexander Lukashenko made the comment while explaining to reporters that products from Belarus are superior to Russian goods, Quote- "Belarusian food is of substantially higher quality.There is no toilet paper in the salami and never was. Such facts have been discovered at russian enterprises-- toilet paper, soy, all kinds of additives."

In the 1970s, some people theorized that the Soviet government was putting toilet paper in bologna to make the meat go farther.

Let's Play Ball: Finally, game one of the world series is tonight-- San Francisco versus Kansas City. The match-up has prompted some San Francisco radio stations to banish the singer Lorde's hit song "Royals" from their airwaves.

"No offense, Lorde but for the duration of the World Series KFOG Radio will be a "Royals"-free zone. We're sure you understand." But the singer probably is not losing out on too much air time. A Kansas City radio station is playing the song at the top of every hour until game time.

For more fresh pickings, follow us on Twitter @SRGrapevine.



DHS Announces New Ebola Travel Restrictions

David Bastawrous-- Special Report College Associate

The Department of Homeland Security announced today that passengers from three Ebola stricken countries—Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—would be permitted to enter the US through only five airports, each equipped with enhanced screening capabilities: Chicago O’Hare, Washington Dulles, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Newark Liberty, and JFK.

Administration officials recently suggested that those specified airports would already screen 94% of the estimated 150 people per day traveling to the US from the West African countries, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been calling for increased restrictions. Today, they welcomed the decision.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York applauded the move, saying it’s a “good and effective step towards tightening the net and further protecting our citizens.”

Still, others called for more.

Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte said that “President Obama has a real solution at his disposal under current law and can use it at any time to temporarily ban foreign nationals from entering the United States from Ebola ravaged countries,” adding, “the administration must do more to protect Americans.”

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed than more than 70 percent of respondents supported a ban on all civilian travel in and out of Ebola-stricken countries.

President Obama and CDC officials have argued that a travel ban would do more harm than good. But Thursday, Obama made clear that he was not “philosophically opposed” to the ban.

The DHS did not rule out any future restrictions. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson indicated that they “are continually evaluating whether additional restrictions or added screenings and precautionary measures are necessary to protect the American people and will act accordingly.”

Tune in to Special Report tonight for the latest on the travel restriction as well as updated CDC guidelines.


Benghazi terror suspect pleads not guilty to new charges

Ed Henry reports

Just In: Ebola Scare in Washington, DC

Just in: A woman got off a Metro bus this morning at the Pentagon and then boarded a shuttle bus that was headed to the Change of Command ceremony at the Marine Barracks at 8th and I in SE Washington D.C. Before that shuttle bus left the parking lot she got off and became ill. 

The woman is currently quarantined at a Virginia hospital and claimed to have been in Liberia two weeks ago.

The passengers on the bus were held on board for a period of time at the Marine Barracks. All passengers have now been let off of the bus before it drove away from where it had been parked.

All passengers who were aboard were questioned and screened--two of the passengers told our local FOX affiliate they were cleared and told to follow up with their individual doctors. The health department has not confirmed this information. 

More tonight on Special Report and we will bring you the latest on this story as we learn more. 


Turkey, Qatar Complicate Operation Against ISIS

By: David Bastawrous—Special Report College Associate

Turkish and Qatari interests continue to strain the international coalition, while besieged governments in Syria and Iraq depend heavily on Shiite militias on the ground after the deterioration of state forces at the hand of ISIS.

After much delay, US Central Command on Wednesday announced the name of the operation that began with airstrikes in Iraq on August 8th.

“The name Inherent Resolve is intended to reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment of the US and partner nations in the region and around the globe to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community . . . It also symbolizes the willingness and dedication of coalition members to work closely with friends in the region . . . to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” US Central Command Officials stated.

However, the “willingness and dedication of coalition members to work closely with friends in the region” remains largely in question as fundamental divisions among coalition states linger.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that diplomats from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, “have been warning the White House that Qatar is playing a double game in the region—publicly supporting U.S. policies while aiding its enemies.” Adding, “the division largely pits Qatar and Turkey, vocal supporters of Islamist movements, against traditional Arab monarchies in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Amman.”

The clash isn’t a first among these states. Back in March, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar following Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood. The three acted after Qatar violated the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council agreement, signed in November of last year, not to support “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC.”

The US Treasury Department has long criticized Qatar for funding Hamas, and expressed concern that Qatar may be funneling money to groups such as al Qaeda, Nusra Front, and even ISIS.

Despite this, former officials say that Qatar is a uniquely capable asset in the region. It was Qatar who largely brokered the deal for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and recently, along with Turkey, pressured Hamas into talks with Israel at the urging of Sectary of State John Kerry. “American diplomacy has seen utility in having an ally who brokers with the bad guys when necessary,” said Juan Zarate, a senior White House and Treasury official in the Bush administration. 

Still, Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi officials have objected to reliance on Qatar, contending that Doha would be encouraged to further strengthen ties with extremist groups.  

And while Qatar has provided surveillance from the air, it has yet to actually conduct airstrikes on ISIS militants.

After much pressure from the US, a coalition nation that did recently conduct airstrikes is Turkey—but not on whom Washington had anticipated.

On Monday, Turkish warplanes in southeastern Turkey struck strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK, a US and Turkey recognized terrorist group. Though recently removed from a three-decade civil war with Turkey, the PKK also comprises part of the Kurdish ground force struggling to defend the Syrian city of Kobani from ISIS militants just 300 yards from the Turkish border.

Additionally, Turkey barred the PKK and other Turkish Kurds from transporting reinforcements across the border to Kobani to aid their embattled comrades. Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and Turkish expert bluntly opined, “I think they are happy to have [ISIS and the PKK] kill each other.”

Turkish officials in Ankara, sympathizers of Islamist movements such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, have been reluctant to take a more decisive military role in the effort to defeat ISIS. The hesitance continues to trouble the US, whose strategy could benefit from NATO’s 2nd largest military as well as a border with both Iraq and Syria.

Hope appeared to spring for the coalition on Sunday after US National Security Advisor Susan Rice announced that Turkey had agreed to allow the coalition forces to use Turkish bases for launching airstrikes as well as a training ground for Syrian rebels. But it didn’t take long for Turkish officials to deny that such an agreement had been made.

And while addressing Istanbul’s Marmara University on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “The Assad regime should be the target for the real solution in Syria.” The Turks have long called for a broader strategy that would soon topple the Assad regime.

Such strategic disagreements continue to hinder coalition operations.

On Tuesday, military officials from 22 nations met at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to further discuss the operation. President Obama made an appearance and indicated that it would be a “long term campaign” with “periods of progress and setbacks.” Rear Adm. and Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby declined on Thursday to disclose the details of the discussions. 

Coalition states have yet to offer ground troops for the operation.

And though the conflict largely arose from sectarian strife—states are, for now, relying on more sectarian strife to control the conflict on the ground.

Along with both extremist and moderate Kurdish groups, the AP reports that Shiite militias have stepped up in Iraq and Syria after state forces have collapsed at the hand of Sunni ISIS militants.

In Iraq, Shiite militias, many of whom allied with Iran, have rallied to defend the government. However, Amnesty International suggests that these militias have also been responsible for killing and abducting Sunni civilians.

In Syria, the Lebanese Shiite militant group, Hezbollah, has fought alongside pro-government militias to defend the Assad regime from ISIS overthrow.

Ebola has reached the United States—now what?

By: Katy Ricalde

Exactly one month ago today President Obama took to the podium at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to assure the American people that U.S. would be prepared to handle an Ebola outbreak in the “unlikely” event that someone with Ebola made it into the country.

There have now been three diagnosed cases of the Ebola virus in the United States. The first patient, Thomas Duncan, died and two nurses who cared for Duncan have tested positive for Ebola. Dozens of other healthcare workers in Dallas are being monitored for the virus.

Duncan was treated at Texas Health Presbyterian, but they did not quarantine him right away. The hospital has come under fire in the past and even lost federal funds because of its high discharge rates of patients who later had to return for treatment. They were also penalized in Dallas under a three-year program designed to reduce the number of patients readmitted for care.

Nurses at the same hospital have come forward stating protocol was not followed while caring for the patient. They claim their protective gear left their necks exposed, medical waste was allowed to pile up, they did not have access to proper supplies, and that they did not receive proper hands-on training.

The head of the CDC is assuring Congress Ebola is not a significant threat to the U.S., but lawmakers are accusing hospitals of being unprepared, health care workers not properly trained, and bureaucrats guilty of making false assumptions.

Hospital officials in Dallas are admitting they made serious mistakes in dealing with the first Ebola patients to be diagnosed in the U.S.  

The first nurse to test positive, Nina Pham, is being taken to NIH outside of Washington, D.C., where she will be transferred to a biohazard infectious disease isolation area. She received a potentially life-saving blood transfusion from Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly.

The second nurse, Amber Vinson, has already been moved to isolation at Emory University Hospital. Vinson flew commercially the day before testing positive for Ebola. The CDC said that Vinson called the agency before flying to alert them she had a fever of 99.5 degrees, but because it was below the 100.4 degree mark she did not fall into a “high risk” group and was allowed to fly.

Officials are now trying to ease fears as they alert the passengers who were on board that flight and as concerns over air travel increase.

Fever screenings at major international airports began for anyone coming from West Africa and some lawmakers are questioning whether a travel ban should go into effect.  

A CDC official tells Fox News that in order for a travel ban to be effective, it would have to be universally adopted by all nations where travelers from West Africa come through. If the U.S. adopted a travel ban it would still be possible for a person infected with Ebola to enter the country if the traveler came in contact with a person with Ebola somewhere outside of West Africa.

Another concern is the rate at which the virus spreads. The reproduction number, or “R nought,” is a mathematical term that tells you how contagious an infectious disease is—aka the number of people who, on average, catch the disease from one sick person. The rate for Ebola is around 1.5-2.0—relatively low, however it has proven to be true with Duncan infecting two others.

Political arguments over Ebola have already begun and it has become yet another issue that will be a fixture ahead of the midterm elections. A new Fox News poll shows that nearly half of Americans believe the government is hiding information on Ebola.

What are your thoughts? How do you think this will play out in the midterm elections?


Ebola Fact vs. Fiction: Dr. Mary Schmidt, Infectious Disease Expert

Dr. Mary Schmidt is board-certified in infectious diseases and internal medicine. She has practiced infectious diseases in the northern Virginia community for 22 years. She also has a  Master’s Degree in Public Health  from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  She is an associate professor of medicine at George Washington University, Virginia Commonwealth University and is an associate professor in the Department of Public Policy at George Mason University. She has published in major journals and has given presentations at national specialty meetings.


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Turkey Idle As Kobani Under Siege

By: David Bastawrous—Special Report College Associate

Both US and Turkish officials acknowledge the impending ISIS siege of Kobani, a Kurdish Syrian border town just 300 yards outside Turkey. Yet Turkey, NATO’s second largest military force, remains idle, as US-led airstrikes and outgunned Kurdish ground forces have failed to thwart ISIS advances.

While US officials downplay the importance of Kobani, others disagree. Retired Marine Lt. Col. Bill Cowan writes, “Strategically, Kobani’s capture provides a territorial link across a span of land ranging from Allepo on the west to the outskirts of Baghdad off to the south east.”  ISIS would control a large region on the border through which hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled to Turkey, and trucks and trains have driven from Turkey into Syria. Another big gain could also boost ISIS recruiting efforts.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s hesitance to play a more direct military role for the coalition forces may stem from a US strategy that does not soon include taking on the Assad regime, which may benefit from initial degradation to ISIS. Turkey’s absence from US-led coalition forces have largely been excused in recent months. Dire security concerns arose from the over 40 Turkish government officials held hostage by ISIS since mid-June, who were released a few weeks ago.  

And though last Thursday Turkish lawmakers did approve the use of ground forces in Syria and Iraq, Turkish tanks along the border with Syria remain steadfastly inactive.

Retired General John Allen, special envoy and coordinator of the international coalition, and Brett McGurk, deputy assistant Secretary of State, traveled to Turkey Thursday to discuss Turkey’s role in the effort to “defeat and degrade” ISIS.  But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier insisted that it was not “realistic” to expect a Turkish ground operation against ISIS in Kobani.

Within the Turkish border, domestic politics may encourage inaction. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whom the US and Turkey recognize as a terrorist organization, handles much of the ground battle against ISIS in Kobani. They also just ended a three-decade civil war with Turkey. Thus, most Turks oppose intervening on behalf of their recent adversaries. And now in peace talks with the PKK, Turkish officials hope to use the battle as leverage, a Western diplomat and analysts say.

Unfortunately for Turkey, non-intervention hasn’t kept the domestic peace. Kurdish Turks make up the majority of the southeastern part of Turkey and continue to protest inaction, which has so far ended in at least 25 dead and nearly 150 wounded. 

In spite of the discord, Turkish officials spoke of their concern.

“Turkey will not be content with the fall of Kobani into the hands of terrorist organizations,” Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said Tuesday. “Our government and related institutions have underlined the necessity to intensify aerial bombings in a more active and effective way...”

Though US-led aerial bombings around Kobani have intensified in recent days, US officials conceded their limitations and implied defeat.

“Airstrikes alone are not going to do this, not going to fix this,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, said Wednesday. “They’re not going to save the town of Kobani, we know that.”

Secretary of State John Kerry pointed to the long term goal: “As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening to Kobani . . . you have to step back and understand the strategic objective.”

What’s yet to be determined is just how many more cities coalition forces can allow to fall to ISIS without major disruptions to the “strategic objective.”

It would take up to a year to recruit, vet, and train 5,000 Syrian rebel fighters in Saudi Arabia, which may not get underway for another five months, General Dempsey indicated. Many question the potential of President Obama’s plan, among them recently included former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and even former President Jimmy Carter.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post editorial board weighed in: “For now, the US Operation in Iraq and Syria is defined mainly by its limitations. The restrictions Mr. Obama has imposed on his commanders are not compatible with the objectives he has asked them to achieve.”



On The Show

President Obama is hitting campaign trail, rallying for Senate Governor races in MD and IL after canceling trips last week to manage Ebola. We'll cover the balancing act of handling Ebola and ISIS, along with perception and reality of the White House's dealing of the crises.

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