For eight years, I have joined my colleagues in the fight to repeal and replace the train wreck that is Obamacare. This was the call heard around the nation for years, particularly leading up to President Trump's historic victory. We promised the American people that if they supported us, help would be on the way. As a conservative, I believe that the federal government should have a limited role in our personal lives, including health care. As a cancer patient, I knew the importance of getting this bill right and replacing Obamacare with a patient-centered solution that also ensures access to care for the nearly 30 percent of Americans with pre-existing conditions. But as the American Health Care Act teetered on the edge of a cliff, it was the Freedom Caucus that helped give it the final push.
Whether it is the food we eat, the cars we drive, the light bulbs we use to light our homes, or the clothing we wear, every American household is impacted every single day by the activity of our ports. This activity accounts for over a quarter of our economy, generating trillions of dollars and bringing in over $300 billion in tax revenue each year. As Co-Chairs of the Congressional PORTS Caucus, it is our privilege and duty to be the voice of one of our nation’s top economic engines.
For years and, we would say, for decades, the United States has acquiesced in a toxic relationship with Pakistan, putting up with this nominal ally whose military and security leaders play a lethal double game. Most dangerously, the “game,” if one can call it that, involves headlong nuclear-weapons production and exporting Islamist terrorism.

Successive U.S. administrations haven’t found a way out of this, playing instead the theater of “shared interests” with Islamabad, even when Pakistan’s links with insurgents imperil American lives in Afghanistan while feeding wider instability in central Asia.
This past summer President Obama threatened to put Britain “at the back of the queue” for a trade deal with the United States should the British vote to leave the European Union and reclaim their independence. Despite such intimidations, on July 23, 2016 the British people spoke. They chose to throw off the EU’s shackles and take charge of their own economic future in the historic Brexit referendum.

With Russia to its north looking to reestablish its empire and terrorists to its south bent on creating an Islamic caliphate, Turkey should have every reason to look west. But under the reign of President Erdogan, Turkey has undergone massive shifts in its foreign policy that NATO has yet to respond appropriately to or even fully appreciate.

If you’re wondering what Erdogan’s current thinking is on Turkey’s relationship with NATO, look no further than his reaction to a failed coup attempt against him in mid-July. In the immediate days that followed the coup attempt, Erdogan spread rumors that the U.S., a fellow NATO member, was behind it and cut off power to the Incirlik Airfield, an airfield that has been critical to U.S. efforts to stage air campaigns against ISIS. Power was eventually restored, but the relationship between these two NATO countries has not recovered as quickly. In the months that followed, Erdogan, who has led the country either as president or prime minister since 2003, suspended or fired over 100,000 judges, police, teachers and soldiers. Erdogan also recalled 149 of Turkey’s military envoys to NATO, most of whom were arrested and imprisoned upon their arrival back in Turkey. Ostensibly, these envoys’ very association with NATO made them guilty of treason in Erdogan’s mind. Such is the lack of trust he has for the NATO alliance.

Over the last few years, one of the biggest threats to NATO members has been ISIS. As a NATO partner on the frontlines of Iraq and Syria, Turkey, perhaps more than any other member of the alliance, has the ability to effectively reduce the strength of ISIS, but Turkey’s actions against ISIS have been frustratingly slow. For years, Turkey was known as the key transit point for foreign fighters who wanted to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS. It was not just people that Erdogan let through, but weapons too. According to a prosecutor and court testimony, during late 2013 and early 2014, Turkey’s state intelligence agency helped deliver arms to ISIS. After four trucks full of rocket parts, ammunition and semi-finished mortar shells were seized by police in southern Turkey, intelligence officials accompanying the cargo threatened police and physically resisted the search, forcing the police to allow three of the trucks to continue into Syria. Erdogan later would comment that the trucks were carrying aid and had those who conducted the search detained. Launched this past August, “Operation Euphrates Shield” was supposed to be Turkey’s way of showing NATO that it was finally serious about fighting ISIS. But beyond clearing a town controlled by ISIS on the Turkish border, the military operation has been more focused on slowing the progress of Kurdish forces who have been beating back ISIS rather than truly targeting ISIS. Turkey, it turns out, still does not view ISIS as a significant threat, regardless of the effect ISIS is having on its fellow NATO members.

There is more troubling news. Just ten months after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that had encroached upon Turkey’s airspace, Erdogan and Vladimir Putin met in Moscow on August 9 and seemed to have buried the hatchet as they emphasized their desire to rebuild ties and called each other “dear friend” and a “valued ally”. If this summit meeting does indeed presage a real rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow, it would represent a dangerous new threat to NATO. After all, it is no secret that Putin wants to weaken Turkey’s attachment to NATO.

Turkey is its own sovereign nation. It has the freedom to pursue whatever alliances and foreign policy objectives it sees fit. However, NATO must be clear to Erdogan about the consequences of his decisions. From military cooperation to intelligence sharing to having a seat at the table about the future of the region, there are still many ties that bind NATO and Turkey together. But Erdogan has frayed these ties, and NATO must wake up to the fact that someday soon Erdogan could cut them altogether. Before that day comes, NATO must be ready. And that’s just the way it is.

Al Qaeda on the Rise

December 12, 2016

With its gruesome beheadings, control of broad swaths of territory, inspiration of attacks on the West, and ability to recruit thousands of foreign fighters, it is no wonder that ISIS has been the terrorist group getting all the attention in the media. But there is a cold, hard reality that we must recognize: al-Qaeda is back.

After 9/11, the target fell squarely on al-Qaeda’s back. The US and its allies brought the full force of their military power down on bin Laden and his henchman, immediately putting them on the run in the mountains of Afghanistan. Knowing he could no longer run al Qaeda like he had in the past, bin Laden flattened the organization out, giving more sovereignty to its affiliates in places like Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. But in 2011, bin Laden’s luck ran out when US Special Forces eliminated him in his hideout in Pakistan. Without its founder and leader, many speculated the organization would no longer pose a threat to the United States. In fact, President Obama himself said as much in a May 2013 address to the nation, arguing that America was at a “crossroads” and the time for “continual warfare” had come to an end.

Soon thereafter, the world’s gaze shifted off of al Qaeda an on to ISIS, an old al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq that broke off because it did not believe al Qaeda was aggressive enough. ISIS was set on establishing the Islamic caliphate now, while al Qaeda thought that doing so was premature. When ISIS gained more and more land in Iraq and Syria and began bringing in millions of dollars of revenue from oil and extortion, recruits flocked to it, believing the caliphate was here to stay. For radical Islamic terrorists, ISIS was the new, cool kid on the block. Al Qaeda, it seemed, was destined to irrelevance if not strategic defeat.

This played right into al Qaeda’s hands. With the spotlight no longer on it, al Qaeda took advantage of being able to operate much more openly than before. In Afghanistan, al Qaeda worked with its longtime ally the Taliban to take advantage of the complete withdrawal of foreign combat troops. Today, it controls more territory than at any time since 2001. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, known as AQAP, successfully seized and held territory for the first time in years. Al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate, al-Shabaab decimated its ISIS rivals in the country and continued to wage war against the government. Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, is completely entrenched in the Syrian civil war, where it holds territory and is one of the most lethal fighting forces in the country, ensuring its presence and relevance for the foreseeable future. In Libya, the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia is quietly building durable alliances with various tribes and extremist groups while enjoying safe haven thanks to a lack of government control of the country.

Al Qaeda also used ISIS’ rise as an opportunity to rebrand itself as the ‘reasonable’ organization compared to the more ‘extremist’ ISIS. It has started focusing more on winning over local populations and even engaging governmental authorities about how they could work together to counter ISIS. Al Qaeda was successfully becoming more mainstream.

Today, the trend lines have shifted. ISIS is losing territory in Iraq and Syria. With less people under its rule to extort, its revenue stream is falling, as is the rate of foreign fighters coming into ISIS’ ranks. It turns out, ISIS may be the flash in the pan compared to the slow boil of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is playing the long game.

Whatever may be the future fate of ISIS or al Qaeda, what is clear is that al Qaeda is not decimated or even on the run, as the President has claimed. The events over the last five years have exposed the President’s tactic of “decapitation” of al Qaeda’s leaders to be a woefully insufficient strategy to defeat al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is back. We better get ready.

TribTalk

By Congressman Ted Poe

One hot summer day in Houston, a single mother (we will call her Amy) met a man. At the time, Amy was lonely and struggling to make a life for her young children. He was charming, funny and a talented member of the music industry. He told her he loved her and it made her feel valued and safe.

This man promised her a better life, saying that with her help, the two of them would start a thriving record label together, but in order to do this they would need to move away for awhile. He said this would be good for her future and, more importantly, her children's future. She was vulnerable, financially hurting, looking for a better life, and she trusted him. The plan was to move away for three months, and so they went.

Once they moved, the man immediately changed his tune. He isolated Amy from her family and friends and became hostile and abusive. It quickly became clear to Amy that that there was no record label. Instead, she had found herself in a dangerous situation. She spent her days trapped in a dark room where men would come in one by one. She was used and abused, treated like a prostitute. She was no prostitute. She was a victim of human trafficking being held against her will. The "appointments" with men continued to increase. It became clear quickly to this mother that she was now a sex slave.

One day, one of Amy's fellow captives being held by this man had a nervous breakdown to the point where she could no longer be physically controlled. She was a threat to his secretive business. The trafficker became distracted, and Amy was able to escape back to Houston. Her family picked her up and she returned home, but she was not the same woman that left months before. Her life was forever changed.

Amy was one of the lucky ones who got away, but her story of captivity is all too common in America. Traffickers prey every day on vulnerable women, from the insecure teenager at the mall to mothers like Amy looking for a better life for their children. This modern-day slavery happens right here in Texas in plain sight at our motels, cantinas and massage parlors. The victims live among us in our communities, but behind closed doors, they are slaves living in fear. They totally lose their identity. Meanwhile, their slave traders are able to keep their lives, committing this horrendous crime anonymously and continuously. Buyers and sellers of humans want to remain anonymous because they can. Those days need to end.

As a former criminal court judge in Texas, I successfully used public punishment for two purposes. First, I wanted to make sure defendants did not end up back in my courtroom. Second, I wanted to instill fear in would-be criminals to deter them from committing crimes in the first place.

I believe this form of public shaming can be successful in combatting human trafficking. That is why I have introduced The SHAME Act in Congress. This legislation will give federal judges the ability to publish both the names and the photographs of both convicted human traffickers and buyers of trafficked victims.

The second part of that is important — in order to effectively combat trafficking, we must go after the customers. The bill is designed to allow the public to easily access the pictures and information of those living among them in society who have purchased sex from victims. That way the buyers will no longer be able to hide in plain site under the cloak of anonymity.

Furthermore, I hope the SHAME Act strikes fear in those who think about purchasing young women for sex. Perhaps the fear of having their face on a billboard will make them think twice about participating in the modern day slave trade.

Traffickers and sex abusers run a global business second only to the slave trade. Like any business, this trade is successful because of its customers and the continuous demand they provide. It is time to SHAME these horrible humans out of the business.

Our children are not for sale.

Houston Observer

By U.S. Representative Ted Poe

Like superwoman, Simone Biles bounds down the runway, sprinting at full speed. She throws herself into a back handspring over the vault, and manages to add a two-and-a-half twisting layout off of it, and sticks the landing.

While she makes it look almost effortless, it’s the second hardest vault performed in the world.

Biles’s successes read like an action story book: three-time World All- Around Champion. Four-time U.S. All-Around Champion. A record-setting 10 World Championships wins, the most in U.S. history. Sound impressive? Well, that’s because it is. Now, Houston Texas’s own superwoman is set to make the history books again.

Four-foot-nine Biles is the overwhelming favorite to not just represent Team USA at the 2016 Olympics, but to bring home the All-Around gold for Team USA Gymnastics. For many young athletes, the Olympics is a far off dream. But for Biles, it’s a dream turned into true accomplishment.

As Rio is about to kick-off on Friday, Biles has trained with her fellow members of the “Fantastic Five”, ready to represent Team USA over the next few weeks. In fact, many say that she is practically unbeatable, and in a league all of her own. Many of us remember the ’84 Olympics when American starlet Mary Lou Retton won the first ever gymnastics Olympic gold for the U.S. Retton, who first set the US standard for Olympic excellence in gymnastics, said “[Simone] may be the most talented gymnast I’ve ever seen in my life, honestly. And I don’t think she’s tapped into what she can really do. I think she’s unbeatable.”

Her remarkable talent has brought gymnastics to an even higher level of difficulty. For example, the 19-year-old already has her very own skill named after her, appropriately named a “Biles.” To compete a Biles, a gymnast must perform a tumbling pass, consisting of a double back layout with a half-twist. Not to mention, stick it. To get such a skill named after her, Biles had to not just perform the skill during competition but also be the first person ever to do so.

Texas has a long tradition of producing Olympic-caliber gymnasts, including Marry Lou Retton, Kim Zmeskal, Dominique Moceanu, Nastia Liukin, and Carly Patterson. The Lone Star State

is also home the most famous of the national team training centers, Bela Karolyi’s Ranch. Soon, Biles name will be added to the list of Texas gymnasts who have brought home gold for Team USA.

Off the mat, nineteen-year-old Biles serves as a role model and inspiration to many young girls and athletes throughout America. Not surprisingly, she displays extreme focus in her everyday life. Her humble attitude exhibits the mark of good sportsmanship. Her family has instilled in her the confidence to succeed and the drive to accomplish her dreams, something that every young Texan should strive to exemplify.

With Biles in Rio, we are enthusiastically excited to have a hometown hero representing Team USA and her neighborhood of Spring. We’ll all be glued to our TVs, watching her compete on the international stage and rooting her in her quest to bring home the gold. Simone! Simone! — This firecracker has captured the hearts of our community, Texas and the red, white, and blue. Simone’s determination and character is an example of the best of the American Spirit.

And that’s just the way it is.

The NCAA Men’s Final Four is a time of excitement, suspense, and this year, it’s an opportunity to display Houston’s hospitality to the hundreds of thousands of people who will travel to our great city for the games.  We welcome each and every visitor with open arms, friendly competition, our world famous Tex-Mex food and a cautionary message about an important topic that impacts too many in our community: human trafficking.

An increase in human trafficking can come with any event that brings in a large amount of people from around the country and the world. Traffickers view these events as a golden opportunity.  In recent years there has been more awareness of this heinous crime surrounding the Super Bowl.  Houston will also host the Super Bowl in 2017, and preparedness efforts are already underway, but this is not an annual effort unique to major sporting events. The buying and selling of human beings happens every day in Houston and throughout the United States.  Unfortunately, our city has become a national hub for human trafficking.  The good news is that many are fighting to end this scourge. We have come a long way already, but there is still a long way to go to eradicate modern day slavery in our city.

Combatting human trafficking is a priority at the local, state, and federal levels of government.  Law enforcement agencies are working together to ensure that our city is safe not only during popular events like the Final Four and Super Bowl 51, but also every other day.  When it comes to human trafficking law enforcement, government at all levels and nonprofit organizations that serve victims are coordinating and deploying proven approaches. What we really need more of is heightened awareness and participation from the community.  Houstonians can continue to help by making calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (1-888-373-7888) if they suspect human trafficking is occurring. In recent years, Texas has unfortunately had the second highest amount of calls to this hotline. While it is a good thing that the public is engaging, it is unfortunate that so many calls come from our state. With the public’s continued help, we can make sure that Texas is no longer one of the national ‘hotspots’ for this heinous crime.

Last year, we were able to obtain passage and enactment of the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.  This federal law gives law enforcement additional tools to take down human traffickers. It targets the buyers - those predators who purchase humans - helps to ensure that those who have been sold into slavery are treated as victims, and creates a fund primarily paid for by the perpetrators themselves to serve trafficked victims.  Locally, a brand new position dedicated to combatting trafficking was created within the Office of the Mayor.

This year, we’ve also seen city, county, and state law enforcement, government and non-profits working together to breakup trafficking rings and rescue trafficking victims.  This is not done hastily.  It requires time, collaboration and tremendous work.  Texans have been on the front lines in the national fight against human trafficking. In January and February, an innovative sting, Operation Traveling Circus, brought together multiple law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, courts, and victims’ services in order to arrest traffickers, buyers, and provide victims with resources.  In total, 259 buyers and 6 pimps were arrested.  A hallmark of this sting was the important decision to not publicize the photos of the women arrested or rescued.  After all, it can take time to determine the circumstances of those billed as “prostitutes,” as many actually may be victims of human trafficking.

In addition, just last week, Operation Batman led to the arrest of an acclaimed United Airlines pilot—Bruce Wayne Wallis.  While many knew him as an aviator, authorities say he was a hard-nosed pimp, running brothels throughout Houston, selling up to 60 women at a time. In a joint operation of the Houston Police Department Vice Division and Texas Department of Public Safety, Wallis was arrested along with others believed to be involved with the ring of brothels.

Houston should serve as a shining example to the rest of the country in battling modern day slavery.  In fact, the HPD Vice Division just won the Law Enforcement Innovation Award from the Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Network.  This work will not stop.  We will do all that we can to deter human trafficking, arrest those who buy and sell humans, and rescue and restore victims, not just during the big events in our city, but each and every day for as long as it is necessary. 

A satellite flying in space over the American Super Bowl, unprovoked missile launches, the test of a so-called hydrogen bomb and threats to destroy Manhattan. This is just a snapshot of what North Korea has been up to this year alone.  Although the circumstances and truth surrounding each of these actions remain murky, it’s probably safe to assume that Iranian experts were on site to witness these latest violations of international law. Why? Because Iranian scientists have been present at nearly every major North Korean missile test for decades.

The history of the strategic alliance between Iran and North Korea stretches back decades to the aftermath of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Sanctioned by the Carter administration, the newly founded Islamic Republic turned to North Korea to replenish its military arsenal with Scud missiles during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. By the end of the decade, North Korea and China were supplying Iran with 70 percent of its arms.

Fast forward to the 1990s and Iran and North Korea moved on to collaborating on development of long-range ballistic missiles. North Korea’s nuclear-capable Nodong missile became the basis for the Iranian Shahab missile series which currently threatens Israel, our other Middle Eastern allies, and even Central Europe. By the beginning of the 2000s, the Iranians were returning the favor, giving North Korea sensitive data from their own tests to improve North Korean missile systems.

Sunday’s long-range ballistic missile test coupled with the alleged first test of a North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in May represent a major threat to U.S. national security. North Korea does not need these kinds of capabilities to attack its traditional rival to the south – Pyongyang already possesses missiles that can strike anywhere in South Korea. The development of SLBMs and long-range missiles are intended to directly menace the United States – both Pyongyang and Tehran’s common enemy.

This dangerous alliance does not just end with ballistic missiles, however. There is growing evidence suggesting long-term nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea. Media reports dating back to the 1990s indicate collaboration between the two rogue countries in the nuclear field. Reports from 1993 claimed that the Iranians financed North Korea’s nuclear program to the tune of $500 million in return for nuclear technology. South Korean news outlets rang the alarm in 2011, alleging that hundreds of North Korean nuclear and missile experts were working in Iran, including at the facility in Natanz where centrifuges will continue spinning under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Intelligence provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency appear to corroborate reports of nuclear collaboration, indicating that North Korea transferred “crucial technology” to Iran including mathematical formulas and codes for nuclear warhead design. Over the summer, an Iranian opposition group claimed that nuclear expert delegations from North Korea had traveled to Iran three times in 2015 alone, meeting with high-level Iranian officials including those responsible for nuclear warhead design. In early 2016 North Korea made headway in its nuclear program, conducting its fourth nuclear test “in the face of nuclear threats and blackmail by the United States,” according to Pyongyang.

In the aftermath of the JCPOA, the danger from the Iran-North Korea strategic alliance is even greater. Iran has already begun to receive billions of dollars as the result of this deal and cash-strapped North Korea would be more than willing to continue this covert relationship. North Korea can also possibly supply Iran with a nuclear backstop – a method to covertly continue nuclear research and development restricted under the deal through their tried and true secret procurement channels. Iran can then follow in the footsteps of its North Korean partner – agree to the deal for sanctions relief and then breakout when convenient.

In eight years’ time, Iran will also be able to freely work on its ballistic missile program. If Iran was able to develop its ballistic missile in secret thanks to its North Korean friends, one can only imagine what it will be able to achieve after the ban on its ballistic missile program is lifted.

We must also remember that this strong relationship between Iran and North Korea was forged in secrecy – we do not even know the full extent of their collaboration. What we do know, however, is that now that the world has given the Iranian nuclear program a stamp of approval, officials in both Tehran and Pyongyang are cashing in. The questions remains – how long will we let these two enemies of the United States inch closer to nuclear wear? And as developments keep coming out of the Korean Peninsula, we can only ask: what’s next?

Poe has represented Texas’ 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary committees