What’s in the News

Week in Review

American fighter jets carried out a series of airstrikes in northwestern Syria that sought to kill leaders of a Qaeda-linked militant cell that is plotting attacks on the West, American officials said.
American intelligence assessments call the group Khorasan and say it could pose a more immediate threat to the United States and Europe than the Islamic State.
A United States-led coalition has frequently bombed the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but had not targeted Khorasan since hitting its bases with a barrage of cruise missiles at the start of its campaign in Syria on Sept. 23.
Of greatest interest to the United States government is Muhsin al-Fadhli, a Kuwaiti who is said to have founded Khorasan in Syria and was a senior Qaeda operative close to Osama bin Laden.
After the strikes in September, American officials expressed optimism that the missile barrage had killed at least some of Khorasan’s leaders, including Mr. Fadhli.
Some jihadist sympathizers hailed him on social media as a “martyr.” As intelligence analysts reviewed field reports and intercepted communications, they concluded that the senior members of the group had survived.
“The Khorasan group, we still believe, remains a dangerous entity, that they still have desires and designs to attack Western targets,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters.
In a statement,  the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, said that initial reports indicated that the strikes had succeeded in “destroying or severely damaging several Khorasan group vehicles and buildings assessed to be meeting and staging areas, I.E.D.-making facilities and training facilities.”
Many in the Syrian opposition have expressed skepticism about the existence of the Khorasan group, saying that the United States had created it to justify strikes on Islamist rebels. Some also defend the Nusra Front, calling it a loyal ally in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad.
Fiscal and economic policy is now center stage as a result of Republican electoral victories, with both President Barack Obama and the new congressional leadership expressing hope that deals can be reached to simplify the tax code, promote trade and eliminate the budget deficit.
The president and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the presumptive next majority leader, immediately pointed to tax reform, international trade and budget policy as potential common ground for a divided government.
Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republicans’ last vice-presidential nominee, will seek the House Ways and Means Committee chairmanship to pursue a broad overhaul of the tax code.
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Representative Tom Price of Georgia are expected to take over their chambers’ budget committees. Both are considering turning to a parliamentary procedure called reconciliation to cut costs of entitlement programs like Medicare and to ease passage of a simplified tax code.
“Budgets matter,” said Mr. Price, who is currently the Budget Committee vice chairman, below Mr. Ryan. “The role of the federal government to get our fiscal house in order is important.”
Republicans, now in control of both chambers in Congress, want to show themselves to be a governing party ahead of the 2016 presidential campaigns. Mr. McConnell said he had spoken with President Obama on advancing free trade agreements.
He also acknowledged the fact that the United States now has the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. “He’s interested in that, and we are too,” Mr. McConnell said of the president. “Those are two serious areas of potential agreement.” Mr. Obama, just a few hours later, said, “Let’s get started on those things where we agree.”
The election of Republican governors in closely contested races in Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Maine and Kansas dims the chances of Medicaid expansion in those states. Advocates hoping for Democratic victories in those states were disappointed.
“No one would say it was a good night for the prospects of Medicaid expansion,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University.
Alker said the playing field for Medicaid expansion didn’t shift dramatically. “The debate continues to be within the Republican party – with more pragmatic Republicans saying yes and ideologues driving the opposition. So what happens next is a good test case to see how Republicans will resolve these internal tensions.”
Even if Democrats had been victorious in governor races, they still faced a long shot getting Medicaid expansion through Republican-controlled legislatures. The one exception was Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage, who was re-elected, has five times vetoed efforts by his state’s Democratic-controlled legislature to expand the program.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has supported Medicaid expansion, but has done little to persuade state lawmakers to extend the program to 850,000 residents.
If Democratic challenger Charlie Crist had won, he would have faced strong opposition in the Republican-dominated state House, said Sean Foreman, associate professor of political science at Barry University in Miami Shores. “Scott’s victory means Medicaid expansion is dead the next four years,” he said.
The future of Arkansas’ “private option” Medicaid expansion could be in trouble with the election of Republican Asa Hutchinson as governor and GOP gains in the state House and Senate. Hutchinson replaces Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who had championed the state’s expansion plan and who was barred by term limits from running.
Hutchinson has not taken a position on the program, saying he will assess its costs and benefits to “determine whether the program should be terminated or continued.” Arkansas’ expansion is vulnerable because by law, the legislature must reauthorize it every year with a 75 percent majority.
Since the Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion an optional part of the Affordable Care Act, 27 states and Washington, D.C. have extended the program to individuals with incomes under $16,100. While most of those states expanded eligibility at the beginning of 2014, Michigan and New Hampshire came on later this year and Pennsylvania’s expansion will start in January.
Nationally, Medicaid enrollment has increased by more than 8 million people since last October and has been seen as the biggest factor in reducing the number of uninsured Americans by about 25 percent this year.
State lawmakers have sometimes blocked Medicaid expansion even with a supportive executive. In 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe had campaigned on expanding Medicaid, but after he was elected Virginia governor he was unable to persuade state lawmakers who demanded the program be reformed first.
Caroline Pearson, vice president of consulting firm Avalere Health, said expansion advocates will turn their attention to Utah, whose Republican governor hopes to take a plan to the GOP-controlled legislature, and Wyoming, where Gov. Matt Mead, also a Republican, has expressed interest in widening eligibility for Medicaid. Indiana is also negotiating with the Obama administration to expand Medicaid.
Pearson argued that Arkansas lawmakers are unlikely to unravel that state’s Medicaid expansion, which has helped more than 60,000 gain coverage. “It is incredibly difficult to take benefits away from state residents once they have been granted,” she said.
Sara Rosenbaum, professor of health policy at George Washington University, said it’s hard to tell how big an impact the election will have. “One possibility is that now that a bitterly contested election is over, the governors may be open to discussion,” she said.

Alarmed by a report a decade ago that one of its airbags had ruptured and spewed metal debris at a driver in Alabama, the Japanese manufacturer Takata secretly conducted tests on 50 airbags it retrieved from scrapyards, according to two former employees involved in the tests, one of whom was a senior member of its testing lab.
The steel inflaters in two of the airbags cracked during the tests, a condition that can lead to rupture, the former employees said. The result was so startling that engineers began designing possible fixes in preparation for a recall, the former employees said.

But instead of alerting federal safety regulators to the possible danger, Takata executives discounted the results, and ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflaters in the trash, they said.
The secret tests, which have not been previously disclosed, were undertaken after normal work hours and on weekends and holidays during summer 2004 at Takata’s American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., the former employees said.
That was four years before Takata, in regulatory filings, says that it first tested the problematic airbags. The results from the later tests led to the first recall over airbag rupture risks in November 2008.
Today, 11 automakers have recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide because of the rupture risks. Four deaths have been tied to the defect, which can cause the airbag’s steel canister to crack and explode into pieces when the device deploys in a crash.
The airbags are inflated by means of a propellant, based on a common compound used in fertilizer that is encased in the canister which together is known as the inflater.
Complaints received by regulators about various automakers blame Takata airbags for at least 139 injuries, including 37 people who reported airbags that ruptured or spewed metal or chemicals. Takata is one of the world’s largest suppliers of airbags, accounting for about one-fifth of the global market.

Honda spokesman, Chris Martin, said in a statement, “This is a serious allegation about actions taken by Takata. It is our intention to determine whether anyone at Honda has any evidence that these claims are credible.”
Separately, materials reviewed by The New York Times cast doubt on Takata’s claims to federal regulators that it had resolved manufacturing and quality control problems with its airbag propellant in the early 2000s.
But as recently as April 2009, Takata engineers scrambled to repair a flaw in a machine at another factory in Monclova, Mexico, that made the airbag propellant more volatile, according to materials from a company presentation given that year.
More than 600 American service members since 2003 have reported to military medical staff members that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq. But the Pentagon failed to recognize the scope of the reported cases or offer adequate tracking and treatment to those who may have been injured, defense officials say.
The Pentagon’s disclosure abruptly changed the scale and potential costs of the United States’ encounters with abandoned chemical weapons during the occupation of Iraq, episodes the military had for more than a decade kept from view.
This became public after an investigation by The New York Times revealed that while troops did not find any active weapons of mass destruction program, they did encounter degraded chemical weapons from the 1980s that had been hidden in caches or used in makeshift bombs.
American Security, called the Pentagon’s failure to organize and follow up on the information “a stunning oversight.” Paul Reickhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the military must restore trust by sharing information.
“We need total transparency and absolute candor,” Mr. Reickhoff said, and noted the military’s poor record in releasing information about its use in Vietnam of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant linked to an array of health problems, and in sharing data about troops’ presumed chemical exposures and other medical and environmental risks during and soon after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.


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