You asked, I answered. I used my night off to research and write a breakdown of the Federal Government shutdown. Read, educate yourself, enjoy.
How can the government shut down?
The government is in many ways a massive business. It makes money through loans, taxes, etc, and it spends many on everything from defense, federal agencies (health, science, defense, parks, etc) and paying the millions of people that work for the federal government. Congress has to agree to fund all of these things by passing a budget.
The budget process is a mess, but here’s the short version:
In February, the President submits a budget to Congress.
There are twelve appropriation committees within the House and the Senate that put together budgets for various government functions and services. They pass their individual budget bills and send them to the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee.
Both the House and Senate budget committees amend and submit their own versions of the twelve appropriation bills.
Usually a committee is needed to reconcile the differences between the two different budgets.
Once the differences are reconciled and the greater budget passes both the House and the Senate, the bill goes to the President, who signs it.
Polarization and policy gridlock have made Congress really bad at this. Each year, Congress is meant to agree on these appropriation bills that fund various federal agencies. But the Republican controlled Senate and the Democratically controlled House of Representatives haven’t, and therefore have been getting stuck on Step 4: Reconciliation. If they can’t agree on the appropriation bills, they can pass continuing resolutions to keep the government running while they bicker like children. These stopgap budgets have been keeping us afloat since 2009.
Like any business, with no budget we have no money to spend. And if we have no money to spend, the federal government enters a shutdown. This time around, Congress has not been able to even agree on a continuing resolution, so we have entered a shutdown.
Back Up. What happened? How did we get to this point?
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (hereafter referred to as ACA) - colloquially known as Obamacare - happened. I broke down the primary tenants of the Affordable Car Act a little while ago. A very long story short, Republicans have not let it go. To date, though doomed to fail in the democratically controlled Senate, Republicans have voted on repealing ACA nearly four dozen times. Though the law was passed, then subject to Supreme Court approval, then approved by the Supreme Court, Republicans have continued to lobby to have it either defunded or shut down.
The issue has come to a head in the last couple weeks. The Republican party initially insisted on attaching a bill to the containing resolution that would defund ACA. They then gave up on that and added a measure that would push back for one year a key tenant of ACA- The Federal Mandate (again, see the previous breakdown). President Obama refused to sign any budget that would diminish ACA, and urged Republicans to pass a “clean” bill with no provisions attached. Republicans refused. The stalemate went past the 30th, and the government shut down went into effect.
What exactly is a government shutdown?
A government shutdown is what happens when the government no longer has money to pay for the various government agencies and services it funds. Essentially, the government goes on auxiliary power, as all quintessential services continue but everything considered nonessential is shut down. All nonessential government employees are furloughed - sent home/temporarily suspended - until further notice. These nonessential services include parts of the National Institute of Health, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Justice Department, the Immigration department, the Department of Agriculture-run Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and a plethora of other government services and agencies, will go on hiatus.
Various “essential” parts of these and other agencies stay open. Most of Social Security, employees that “provide for national security”, employees that “conduct activities that protect life”, etc, remain open. The list of agencies and services that are affected (and precisely which part of said agencies/services) is exhaustive; if you’d like to delve deeper, read this Washington Post article.
So who is affected?
The effect can be devastating. Approximately 800,000 government employees are no longer receiving income. Not only is this painful for those families, it is painful for an immeasurable amount of businesses at which these people will no longer be shopping. Every single sandwich shop, toy store, gas station, grocery store, etc, where these government employees would be spending their money will feel the pinch as those employees and their families tighten their belts. Secondly, the shutdown actually costs America a huge deal of money. The time and resources it takes to shut everything down and keep it safely shut down adds up; according to the Washington Post, the government shutdowns in the ’90s cost America almost $2 billion in current dollars.
Whose fault is it?
That’s the million dollar question. Many - including President Obama - argue that it is the fault of Congress Republicans for refusing to accept the Affordable Care Act as a passed and approved law. Republicans argue that they are fighting in the interest of the American people and their constituents, and blame the president for refusing to compromise. The arguing continues, and the hundreds of thousands affected by the government shutdown continue to suffer.
Black and white does not always equal grey, though. Several polls taken by multiple news and media organizations show that Americans place more blame for the GOP on the shutdown than President Obama. According to a CNN/ORC International Poll released on Monday, most Americans blame Republicans rather than the government for the shutdown. A CBS/New York Times survey released the week before indicates the same. The Republican party has taken a hit to their public image as they are seen holding the budget ransom, demanding that the President accept the hit to Obamacare or face government shutdown. The bluff was called, and the government (partially) shut down.
President Obama has stated that the Republicans refuse to give up their ideological crusade, and are willing to drag down the country with them. “They have shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job,” said Obama. Apparently, a majority of America is inclined to agree.
What do you think?
I think it’s complicated. The full story requires going back years and delving deep into the origins of the Tea Party - a radically conservative group of Republicans within Congress - and their sway over the rest of the party. But I believe that the end result is this: The Affordable Care Act has passed. It was voted into law, it was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. It is not going anywhere, and to damage the lives of millions of Americans for the sake of hurting the law is any way possible is irresponsible and deplorable. A budget must be passed. If Congress Republicans want to fight the Affordable Care Act, that is their right. But it should be done after the government has resumed its function.
Breakdown: Does the President have the Power to Declare War?
I listened to President Obama’s speech yesterday, and the part that struck me the most was his statement that, though he had the authority to issue the military strike against Syria, he had decided to ask Congress for permission instead. This begs the question - who controls the military? Can the President declare war? Why or why not?
Well, let’s break it down.
Just who’s in charge here - Congress or The President?
The framers of the Constitution meant for Congress to have more power than the President. In the Federalist Papers (articles written by the framers of the Constitution to allay fears and convince people the Constitution was a good idea), Madison wrote “..it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates”.
Article I Section 8 of the Constitution, “The Powers of Congress”, spells out seventeen explicit powers of the legislative branch over society, the economy, foreign affairs, and the military, while Article II, Section 2, which details the power of the executive, gives only three relatively vague (though significant) powers: to command the military, make treaties and appoint ambassadors, and to fill up vacancies in the Senate during a recess.
While each branch of the government is meant to have its own place and powers, the framers of the Constitution meant for the legislature to be the predominant branch of government.
Okay..so Congress is meant to be more powerful. So who can declare war?
Congress. The President does not, because the Constitution says he doesn’t.
Others must have worried about the executive taking control of the military, because once again the framers of the constitution had to quell fears of executive dominance. In Federalist Paper 61, Hamilton writes, “the President will have only the occasional command of such part of the militia of the nation as by legislative provision which may be called into the actual service of the union…the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies..all appertain to the legislature”.
In Section 8, Congress’s power over the military is mentioned five times: the power to call forth the Militia, declare war, raise and support Armies, provide and maintain a Navy, and to organize, arm, and discipline the militia. The executive’s power is only mentioned once, that the President “shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the States…when called into the actual Service of the United States”. Though command of the military is an enormous power, it is only given to the executive when Congress has called the military to service.
Alright! Done Deal. What’s the problem?
The problem is that presidents have been finding workarounds to this since the country began. In most cases, they just blatantly disregard this provision. Presidents have been engaging in hostilities, committing troops, and utilizing the military and then running to Congress to back them up very nearly since the country began.
President Lincoln suspended habeus corpus, approved naval blockades, extenuated military enlistment, and augmented the size of the army and navy, without asking Congress before any permission.
The Korean War was not formally declared.
Neither was the Vietnam War.
Ronal Reagan invaded Grenada without Congress’s permission.
George Bush senior deployed troops to Somalia.
Bill Clinton committed troops to NATo’s action in Yugoslavia in ‘99.
You get the point. The provision that’s meant to keep the executive branch from effectively controlling the military is little more than a joke. Presidents since Abraham Lincoln have claimed that their role as Commander in Chief gives them the right to do what they feel is necessary to protect the United States. Whether they are correct or not is a question for scholars of the Constitution.
But What About the War Powers Act?
Good question. In 1973, Congress got sick of its inability to keep the president from doing what he liked with the military, and passed the War Powers Act. Fun fact: President Nixon vetoed it, but Congress was united enough to overcome his veto with a greater-than-two-thirds majority vote.The War Powers Act requires the president to inform Congress before committing troops abroad in military action. If he does, he has 60 days, with the option of a 30 day extension, to get them out (sound familiar?). In order for the campaign to continue, war must be formally declared by - you guessed it - Congress. The War Powers Act concedes that the President is going to use military force without Congress’s former consent, for good or for ill. But it constrains his ability to do so by giving him a very small window before he must seek Congress’s approval for further action.
So..he does have the authority?
Whether the President has the authority to commit military forces is a tricky question, but history has shown time and time again that he does have the ability.
The War Powers Act tacitly gives POTUSes permission to utilize military force, if only by acknowledging that they’ll do so anyway and constraining them after the fact. "Declaring war" is just a formality, and not particularly important. The most important question is, "Does the President have the ability to authorize military action?", and for better or worse the answer to that question is "yes".
As I mentioned before, whether he should have this ability is a tough question. Strict interpretation of the Constitution would lead to an answer of “no”. Recognizing that the world is complicated, Congress is a mess, and sometimes the executive may have to act quickly to ensure the safety of the United States might lead to an answer of “…maybe”.
Alright, so what about Syria?
The strike against Syria falls into a grey zone. He may not be putting “boots on the ground”, but he is still committing troops and forces to combat operations. Precedent shows that Obama’s statement during his speech was also in the grey zone between right and wrong: though he may have the ability to commit the military without Congress’s approval as other presidents have done, whether he has the authority is a question of Constitutional interpretation.
Just because presidents have always extended the power of their office doesn’t make it right. The checks and balances meant to keep the United States government in equilibrium have become so strained it is a wonder they still work at all (if, indeed, they still do).
Though Obama may have the ability to begin military action without Congress’s consent, as a Constitutional scholar he ought to know that he probably shouldn’t. His choice to go to Congress with the question of military action - though he refused to say he wouldn’t go ahead and authorize military action if Congress voted against him - shows that hey, maybe he realizes this. The Constitution has been stretched and skewed from its original balance of powers continuously for hundreds of years. If power continues to flow inexorably into the hands of the executive, I don’t know exactly where it will lead us, but I’m confident it won’t be to a good place.
The Constitution of the United States.
Rossiter, Clinton, ed. The Federalist Papers. New York: First Signet Classic, 2003.
Kernell, Samuel; Jacobson, Gary C.; Kousser, Thad. The Logic of American Politics.
What do you think we should do about Syria, and why?
Terrible things are happening over there. The government has lots its collective mind and people are dying as a result. The prospect of sitting back our haunches and watching the shoe seems repugnant to me. And yet, nobody wants “another Iraq”, as so many people are beginning to make the comparison to.
Bush was widely criticized for making America the police of the world. Yet I believe that Syria is not the next Iraq. I believe that drawing that comparison is prety goddamned stupid, and I’ll tell you why. Our purported reason for invading Iraq was that they had weapons of mass destruction. They did not. UN Specialists said they did not. Our own team of investigators came back with a report saying they did not. And yet we went in anyway.
Now, the reason for aggression against the Syrian government is that it has slaughtered tens of thousands of its citizens in a brutal civil war. Nobody is disputing this. Whether this is reason enough to attack Syrian military outposts is another question entirely; my point here is that the two situations are not the same.
If we were to attack the Syrian military, I would want UN Support. Yet terrible things are happening and the United Nations is in complete gridlock thanks to the actions of Russia and China. With the formal, official channels impossible blocked and the atrocities mouting day by day, what do we do? And why?
Your comparison between Trayvon with a white teenager in skinny jeans and a tight Hollister t-shirt is laughable. To claim that Trayvon's race was the factor by which Zimmerman profiled him, and then use that comparison shows either a lack of intellectual honesty, or intellectual clarity. You would have to make the claim that Zimmerman wouldn't have followed a white teen wearing the same clothes as Trayvon to claim that Zimmerman profiled him based on race.
Oh hey, never saw this question. You’ve a fair point in that by changing the clothing of my hypothetical subject, I introduce another variable into the equation. Eliminating the variable and putting hypothetical white kid in a hoodie, I’d still happily claim that Zimmerman wouldn’t have followed a sandy blond (or whatever hair color you’d like) white teenager wearing a hoodie with skittles and juice in his hands.
1. When I’m working on a new 3d model? No.
2. When I’m doing some basic stress analysis or sketching a new design in my notebook? No.
3. When I’m sitting cross-legged on my desk, eating a Greek yogurt and checking tumblr on my phone? Naturally.
Is it really "incontrovertible" that Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin? Do you have any evidence to show that?
Hello there! An excellent question.
Is it truly incontrovertible (def: indisputable, unable to be denied) that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin? No. However, I posit that if you deny it you are willfully ignoring the obvious. What we do know is that Zimmerman, on the police recording said.
"There’s a real suspicious guy".
"This guy looks like is up to no good".
"He looks like he is on drugs or something".
"These assholes, they always get away".
No, he does not specifically mention race. But play this little mind game, if you would. If Trayvon Martin had been Timothy Martin, and had been wearing a tight fitting Hollister t-shirt and some skinny jeans, do you really think any of the events of that night would have transpired? Now you could respond “yes, possibly”. And if you do, so be it. I won’t argue with you. But as I said before, if you really do believe the answer to that hypothetical and yes, and Trayvon’s race had nothing to do with Zimmerman’s suspicious, you are being willfully ignorant.
The Zimmerman piece is emotion-laden and unconvincing. The crux is that Martin responded "in kind". Speculation. If Zimmerman went up and talked to him, the "in kind" response is verbal. There's an a priori assumption that Zimmerman attacked first. Either that or 17-year-olds (dump the "child" epithet) are granted the right to attack because they just don't know any better. Either one makes "What I am is a rational human being, which is all it takes" a little too too bold and pompous.
False, anonymous reader. The crux has little to do with Martin’s response, and there is absolutely no assumption of who commenced the physical altercation. The crux is that Martin stalked the child (I see no reason to desist in my usage of the appellation), instigating the conflict, and that this needs to be taken into account in the law. A Stand Your Ground law that both does not require de-escalation and allows for provocation and instigation is no better than a license to kill.
The case of the death of Trayvon Martin by the self-styled neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman has been lighting the internet on fire for some time now. With the trial ended, and at request of my few and precious readers I feel the need to weigh in. Let’s get to it.
There are a plethora of minute-by-minute accounts of what happened on the night that Zimmerman shot Trayvon. While I won’t delve into that much detail, here is the broad sweep. George Zimmerman, out running errands, spotted a young man walking around a Florida neighborhood who, according to him, looked suspicious. He called the police, reported the character, and began to follow the young man. Meanwhile, Trayvon Martin, on the phone with a friend, recognized that a “creepy” man was following him. At some point, Trayvon began to run. Zimmerman left his car and followed him. The defense later claimed he was trying to find out which way he went and not follow him, though the distinction seems minimal at best. At this point, the dispatcher on the phone with Zimmerman told him “We don’t need you to do that”, to which Zimmerman responded “Okay” and continued. Here is where things get even more hazy: There was a confrontation. Words were exchanged. A scuffle ensued. Zimmerman claims Trayvon attacked him. The prosecution claimed Zimmerman confronted Martin. At some point, Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman. Zimmerman then shot Trayvon at a distance of 1 - 12 inches from his body, in the chest. Trayvon died minutes later.
The jury consisted of five white women and one hispanic woman. After a long court case and sixteen hours of deliberation, they delivered the “Not Guilty” verdict. Now, I was asked why the jury came back with this verdict. The answer is disturbingly simple: the prosecution first attempted to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, and later, manslaughter became an option to the jury. The definitions are as follows:
Second Degree Murder: Non-premeditated killing, resulting from an assault in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility.
Manslaughter: The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. The unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection.
The prosecution could not prove “without a reasonable doubt” that either of these were the case. There were a number of hazy witnesses who heard shouts, saw a scuffle, or saw the aftermath of the scuffle, but it was essentially Zimmerman’s word against that of a dead child. Without definitive evidence that Martin’s death was not a product of self-defense, and evidence that Trayvon had caused injury to Zimmerman, the jury ruled Zimmerman not guilty of the charges.
The problem is that under current laws the jury’s conclusion is correct. The jury were made familiar with the Stand Your Ground law, which under Florida State 776.013 Section 3, states:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
If you cut out surrounding context and look at the fight between Zimmerman and Martin, Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin seems justified.
The problem is that this is an incredibly stupid thing to do.
It is incontrovertible that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin, then - armed with a gun - stalked the young man on his way home, even though the police told him this was not necessary. I don’t know exactly how the physical altercation started; nobody does. I’ll be the first to admit that the bleeding nose and head lacerations Zimmerman suffered do not make young Martin look like a saint. However, if I were walking back to my apartment one night, and noticed I was being followed by a man in his car, I’d be severely disturbed. If I then attempted to run and the man got out of his car and started following me, I would progress from disturbed to incredibly fearful for my well being. I’d like to think I wouldn’t attack my stalker, but I honestly do not know for certain that, given the exact circumstances, this wouldn’t be the most logical option. Under such circumstances, flight might not seem like the best way to protect myself.
When I looked up the Stand Your Ground law, I was shocked that none of this factored in. Even if Trayvon instigated the confrontation, according to the law Zimmerman had no requirement to de-escalate the situation. In effect, if I feel threatened for my life - regardless of whether my would-be assailant has a weapon capable of ending my life, or whether I started it in the first place - I can pull out my gun and shoot someone. Professor Ari Kohen sums it up well:
A conventional Stand Your Ground law allows a person to use deadly force under threat, after having exhausting other means of defusing the situation or removing himself from it. Florida’s law, on the other hand, doesn’t place any such requirement on the person; he has no obligation to try to escape a dangerous situation before he opts to use deadly force to protect himself.
The problem is that Stand Your Ground allowed a want-to-be hero to manufacture a dangerous situation by instigating a young man, and then to kill that young man when he responded in kind. The problem is that, according to current Florida state law, this isn’t a problem.
There is still not enough evidence to prove that Zimmerman did not shoot Martin in self-defense, but the point is there shouldn’t need to be. There is a surfeit of evidence that Zimmerman instigated the conflict - by profiling and stalking - and with this in mind, self-defense should not be a viable assertion to make.
I am not a lawyer. I am not a laywer. For the last time, I am not a lawyer, and I am not going to attempt to succinctly prove that Zimmerman should have been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. What I am is a rational human being, which is all it takes to know that George Zimmerman is not an innocent man. He profiled, provoked and scared a child, who he then shot when the child responded to his fear. If the law does not take into account this picture, so much larger and meaningful than the physical fight between Zimmerman and Martin, then the law needs to be changed. Immediately.
"The top judge of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmud Mansour, has been sworn in as interim leader, a day after the army ousted President Mohammed Morsi and put him under house arrest. Mr. Mansour said fresh elections were ‘the only way’ forward, but gave no indication of when they would be held.
Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, is under house arrest after what he says was a military coup. The army said he had ‘failed to meet the demands of the people’.
The upheaval comes after days of mass rallies against Mr Morsi and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement he comes from. Protesters accused them of pursuing an Islamist agenda and of failing to tackle Egypt’s economic problems.”
Over the last several days, Egypt has seen as much if not more turmoil than that which drove Mubarak out of office more than a year ago. Driving home from several hours at the parkour gym at midnight last night, I was thrilled to listen to live BBC news coverage of events in Egypt, including interviews with both Morsi supports and supporters of the army’s actions, several hours before Mansour was sworn into office. Coasting down California freeways withe the radio turned up, I almost felt like I was there. And being “there”, I felt it very important to form an opinion on the matter:
It is intensely complicated, but unlike some, I will not hesitate to call it a military coup. That is the only way to describe an event where tanks roll down the streets and the democratically elected ruler is forcibly deposed by the country’s own armed forces. The only question is whether a military coup is a bad thing. The answer should unequivocally be ‘yes’ - should being the operative word.
Politics isn’t black and white. Under most any circumstances I would decry the military coup. And yet, it is being said that more than 33 million people took to the streets to call for Morsi to step down from office. That is:
More than a third of Egypt’s total population. Assuming that the majority of the protesters were adults, it is more than half of Egypt’s adult population. (Source: Wiki)
The largest protest in history (Edit: Turns out it may be the largest in history. Jury’s still out on this one. But still. Really freaking big protest).
So large it could be seen from space. Easily.
So here’s the skinny: this clearly does not fall under “most any circumstances”. These are absolutely insane, mind-blowing, historical circumstances. The (possibly) largest protest in human history may not be cause to throw the rules out the window, but it certainly is enough to pause for deep consideration.
Do I support the military coup in Egypt? That I cannot say. I am not Egyptian, I am not well-versed enough in Morsi and the Islamic Brotherhood’s actions that led to such outcry, and I don’t want to lay down a blanket statement without knowing what I’m talking about. I will say that Vox Populi - the voice of the people - was heard in Egypt last night. Passions were stirred, anger was let out, and real change happened because of it. However, keep in mind that (likely for good reason) the American democratic system was specifically desired to account for and control the passions of the people. The Framers of the Constitution laid it out so that a temporary stir of emotion could not change the course of the entire country. But that was hundreds of years ago and these actions were taken by a bunch of old men who once you delve into it, very much wanted to keep the wealthy, aristocratic upper class in power. American democracy may not be a shining paradigm to judge all us by, but it has been incredibly stable and it has lasted, and one of the most important reasons is that angry crowds are not allowed to fundamentally alter the state of the country.
So you can see that my thoughts on the matter are a looping spiral that isn’t going much anywhere. Why? Because like I said at the very beginning, it’s complicated. Very complicated. In the end, whether this military coup is cause for celebration, or cause for horror at the tyranny of the majority, time and history shall tell.
The Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court today. Hacking and slashing from some former breakdowns and my own knowledge, I’ve tossed together a short version of what this means.
Um, I’m out of the loop. What’s DOMA again?
The Defense of Marriage act was passed in ‘96 by Clinton, and defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman at the federal level. The main parts are Section 2, which says that states may legalize gay marriage but another state that does not recognize gay marriage need not recognize that marriage. Section 3 formally defines marriage, at the federal level, as the legal union between a man and a woman.
What’s the significance of no more DOMA?
It’s huge! There are a number of federal benefits denied to same-sex couples married in states where it is legal.
Social Security Survivors benefits
Joint Tax filing benefits
Government employee benefits
Military spouse benefits
Estate tax benefits
All are denied to same-sex couples only married at the state level. By having ones’ same-sex marriage recognized federally, these will no longer be denied. Tax benefits from marriage will be granted. Green cards can now be given to spouses in a same-sex marriage. You can inherit an estate from a deceased spouse without an exorbitant tax.The list goes on.
The court only ruled on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Section 2 was not ruled on and was not struck down. What this means is that all those excellent federal benefits come to pass, but states where same-sex marriage is forbidden do not have to recognize same-sex marriages which took place in a state where it is allowed. So if you and your same-sex spouse drive from New York to Texas, you aren’t married in that state.
How soon till this goes into effect?
To the best of my knowledge, immediately. Many people already filed green card applications to get their same-sex partners into the Unite States in anticipation of the DOMA ruling, and these should begin to be processed within months. Couples are filing jointly this year - the first time anyone’s ever looked forward to doing their taxes, I’ll bet.
Thanks for all the work you do on this blog. A breakdown on the NSA and related stories would be great.
Thanks! I hate that I haven’t been posting for the last six weeks. A full time job + GRE studying saps the free time I had for blogging. I’ll do my best to break down the NSA and the privacy issue as soon as I can.
There is not a problem with Islam. For those of us who have studied it, there is no doubt about its true and peaceful nature. There is not a problem with Muslims in general. Most in Britain are horrified at Rigby’s murder.
But there is a problem within Islam, and we have to put it on the table and be honest about it. There are, of course, Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu ones. But I am afraid that the problematic strain within Islam is not the province of a few extremists. It has at its heart a view of religion – and of the relationship between religion and politics – that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies. At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the worldview goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit. So, by and large, we don’t admit it.
”—An undoubtedly controversial but very interesting article by Tony Blair. Well worth the read.
Breakdown: Everything about the Senate Gun Control Legislation.
Here is everything that you wanted to know - and ought to know - about the Senate gun control legislation, but probably didn’t. Bipartisan gun control legislation put forward by President Barack Obama and largely supported by the Democratic party failed in the Senate this past week, sparking a firestorm of public criticism, public support, presidential fury, and general shitstorminess. But what is going on? What did the bill say, and why and how did it fail in the midst of the seemingly unending spree of gun violence rocking the nation? That’s what I aim to answer.
What did the bill say?
On February 5th the first of the bipartisan gun control bills was unveiled in Congress, by Republican Congressmen Patrick Meehan and Scott Rigell (PA, VA, respectively) and Democratic Congressmen/women Carolyn Maloney and Elijah Cummings (NY, MD, respectively). The legislation would make firearm trafficking a federal crime, and give a hefty jail time to those who bought guns for those prohibited from buying them. Soon after, a full package of gun control measures was unveiled. In total, it included:
Requiring background checks for online sales and sales at gun shows
Substitute for background check bill that increases enforcement and reporting on mentally ill people.
Renew and strengthen a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Limit magazine sizes to ten rounds.
Make “straw purchasing” (buying a gun for someone prohibited from doing so) and trafficking a federal crime.
Reauthorize and improve mental health programs.
Impose penalties on states for releasing gun ownership data.
State reciprocity for the carrying of concealed firearms.
Allow only a judge to deem veterans mentally incompetent to own a gun.
This was the gun control legislation on the table. To me, it seemed logical and downright obvious. In fact, I was shocked some things like background checks for those attempting to buy a weapon designed to take human life did not exist in the first place.
Many of these measures were introduced jointly by Republicans and Democrats, as number five was. Out of all of these measures, of which background checks were arguably the most important, only six and seven were passed by the senate. Something as seemingly obvious as background checks was rejected, as was banning high capacity magazines and assault weapons. We are left only with improving mental health programs and the penalizing of states for releasing information on those who own guns. Nothing immediate or concrete is happening; the most vital measures all failed. On top of everything, six and seven will not be going into effect. They were attached to the bill at large, and since the bill at large did not pass, no new gun control legislation is going into effect. After Newton, after Aurora, after MIT - nothing.
Just WHY did these measures fail?
That is the million dollar question. In short, the bill did not receive enough votes. It needed more than 60 Senators’ support to avoid a filibuster; of the 55 Democrats and 45 Republican Senators, 52 Democrats supported the bill and only 4 Republicans. As is obvious, the gun control legislation received virtually no Republican support. President Obama, in a statement yesterday, accused Republican senators of falling prey to political pressure by the NRA instead of doing what was right. He went as far as accusing the NRA and Senators of willfully misleading the American public as to what the effects of the gun contra legislation would be. The NRA - National RIfle Association - put powerful pressure on the government to not increase gun control. According to the New York Times, they spent half a million dollars on Wednesday alone on advertisements criticizing the gun control legislation.
The senators who voted against the bill, of course dispute the President’s claims. Ohio Senator Rob Portman, like others, claims he followed his principles and his support of the Second Amendment - the right to bear arms. Republican Senator Jon Coryn of Texas claims he voted as his constituents would and not because of any NRA pressure. Polls do show, however, that 90% of Americans are in favor of the more stringent background checks. And the reasons given are confusing at best. Senator Flake of Arizona said it would require checks when a gun sale is posted on an office message board (false), while Senator Coburn of Oklahoma said it would raise taxes (what?). Senator Grassley of Iowa said that criminals would not submit to background checks, which apparently invalidates the idea of background checks entirely (?). As Jon Stewart so aptly pointed out, according to this logic it makes sense to not pass a law because hey, criminals are just going to break it anyway.
So what happens now?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used his power as majority leader to effectively “pause” the bill. The filibuster will not happen, which would take the bill off the table. Effectively, a “time out” was called, which gives those in support of the bill additional time to convert the critical number of senators necessary to approve the legislation. At any time a vote can be called again.
Now you now a bit about the gun control legislation that failed in the Senate. You know it’s main provisions, you know a bit about the excuses as to why it did not pass in the Senate. Do you think it should have, or should not? Now that you’re informed, the decisions is yours to make. I only encourage you to act on it once you make it.
Personal Opinion Alert: I support the gun control legislation. Why? Because gun violence is out of control. It is no longer the “other” in my life; it is a part of my life. Someone was murdered several days ago only a handful of blocks from my apartment. I have good friends at MIT, where a policeman was murdered only a few hours ago. Thank goodness my friends are okay, and I can only imagine the state that policeman’s family is in right now. This is real, and this is now. Gun violence will only skirt around us for so long. It is only a matter of time before someone we love gets hurt, and it becomes more real than we could ever imagine. Before that happens, I believe we need to take immediate, powerful action to curb it.
But the fact is most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun. There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this. It came down to politics — the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections. They worried that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-Second Amendment.
And obviously, a lot of Republicans had that fear, but Democrats had that fear, too. And so they [Republican Congressmen] caved to the pressure, and they started looking for an excuse — any excuse — to vote “no.”
…So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.
- President Barack Obama
Speaking yesterday on the failure of Congress to pass a bill that would have extended background checks for those attempting to buy a gun. Ninety percent of Democrats in Congress voted in favor of the bill. Ninety percent of Republicans voted against it.
I wanted to write about this, but sometimes others just say it better. I’ve had a lot of faith in the American government, but this - this is unconscionable.
Those senators, 41 Republicans and four Democrats, killed a bill on Wednesday to expand background checks for gun buyers. It was the last, best hope for meaningful legislation to reduce gun violence after a deranged man used semiautomatic weapons to kill 20 children and six adults at the school in Newtown, Conn., 18 weeks ago. A ban on assault weapons was voted down by 60 senators; 54 voted against a limit on bullet magazines.
Boston Marathon: The final toll is three killed and more than 140 hurt by bombs at the Boston Marathon. The youngest victim was eight-year-old Martin Richards. Two bomb blasts detonated twelve seconds apart at approximately 2:40PM EST time yesterday. No suspects have been detained yet.
Earthquake: A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Iran near the Iran-Pakistan border and was felt across the Middle Eastern region. At least 45 people have been reported killed. One government official described it as “the biggest earthquake Iran has felt for forty years”.
Strike: Many prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, a United States military prison where many suspected of being “foreign combatants” have been held prisoner for more than a decade without trial, have been hunger striking for months. Almost a dozen are being force fed. On Sunday, prisoners and guards clashed as auhtorities moved striking inmates out of communal cellblocks. Lawyers for the prisoners say the strike reflects a growing disillusionment and lack of patience with a government failing to treat inmates correctly.
Update 3: As of 5:59PM EST hospitals report they are treating 69 wounded from the Boston marathon bombing.
Update 2: President Obama is to address the nation in ten minutes, at 3 PM PCT / 6PM EST.
Update 1: Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino has arranged a telephone hotline for worried friends and relatives: +1-617-635-4500.
If you’re late to the news like me, here is what we know:
Two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon have left at least two dead and 23 injured. The first occurred at 2:50PM local time.
Police have found and are dismantling at least two other explosive devices.
Video and photographs from Boston show a scene of confusion, with emergency services descending on the scene and bloodied spectators being taken to a medical tent.
"There are a lot of people down," said one runner quoted by AP news agency.
Police have arrested no suspects; the news that it was a “Saudi National” is patently false.
Google has created a Runner Finder if someone you know was running the race.
The BBC News has a full photo album of stills of the tragedy. Be advised, it is not for the faint of heart. Please keep the victims in your thoughts. May justice be served swiftly and mercilessly to the perpetrators.
“Obama phone” is the widely used — and misleading — nickname of a 28-year-old federal program known as Lifeline. It provides discounts, averaging $9.25 a month, on phone service for 13.3 million low-income subscribers.
In the three and a half years after false rumors started that the Obama administration was giving free cellphones to poor people — and six months after a racially charged video about it went viral — a once-obscure phone service subsidy is getting renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill…
..Lifeline was begun not by President Obama but under Ronald Reagan. It expanded to include cellphone service during the presidency of another Republican, George W. Bush. In Obama’s first term, amid evidence of widespread fraud, the Federal Communications Commission moved to crack down on the program, saving what it predicts will be $400 million this year, on top of $214 million in 2012.
Never mind all that. “Obama phone” has stuck.
Washington Post, “'Obama Phones' Subsidy program draws scrutiny on Capitol Hill”
Sometimes I wonder if the people that laud Reagan and look to him as the ideal President actually know anything about what he did.
Gun Control Resurrection: It has been announced that the Senate will hold a vote on Thursday on whether to debate a gun control law. The vote is not on the bill, but whether the Senate will discuss the gun control bill. Conservatives have been blocking the vote, but as their coalition splinters under the pressure to augment gun control, the 60 votes they need to filibuster may not be forthcoming. Though the legislation to be voted on on Thursday would expand the background checks and make gun trafficking a federal crime among other things, the assault weapons band and limits on ammunition magazine size have been dropped from the bill.
Escalation: North Korea has warned foreigners in South Korea to exit the country, ostensibly because they are going to begin bombing it. A statement that apparently came from Pyongyang (capital of North Korea)’s Asia Pacific Peace Committee warned the situation in the Korean peninsula is spiraling towards thermonuclear war. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is warning the crisis may escalate out of control if it continues to develop.
The Daily Breakdown is a new series I’m trying out where I’ll post a few headlines of American and international news every workday morning. The idea is to keep you - and myself - knowledgeable on the important issues of (literally) the day. Let me know what you think. Oh, and if anyone is curious, we won the robotics competition.
Immigration: The Gang of Eight - the eight senators working on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, including Marco Rubio, John McCain, and Chuck Schumer - believe the bill will be finalized this week. An attempt at immigration reform was made in 2007 but collapsed when the two parties and interest groups could not come to a compromise.
Sexism?: The political blogosphere is awash with opinions on US President Barack Obama’s comment that California attorney general kamala Harris is the “best looking attorney general in the country”. The White House has apologized, calling the comment “distracting” and “inappropriate”. This comment was preceded by Obama saying she was “brilliant and dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anbyody with is administering the law”.
Censorship: Uganda is considering introducing a law that would bann skirts above the knee, citing it as “indecent” and “provocative”. Filsm and TV dramas that violated these rules would be banned from the country. There is a huge backlash from women’s rights groups at the talk of the measure.
Gun Control: Though the federal assault weapons ban may be dead, Connecticut is taking matters into their own hands. Lawmakers will vote on a comprehensive set of gun restrictions that would - among other things - ban high-capacity magazines, require background checks on all gun sales, and further expand the states’ assault weapons ban to include one hundred new types of firearm. The proposal, which will be voted on tomorrow, is expected to pass with bipartisan support.
Brain Mapping: President Obama announced a one hundred million dollar investment in brain mapping research, in order to furhter understanding of how the brai works and come closer to cures for conditions such as Alzheimers and epilepsy. The project is called Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, which is shortened to - you guessed it - BRAIN.
Escalation: North Korea is continuing the escalation by announcing today that it will restart a nuclear reactor it shut down more than five years ago. By doing so they are reneging on an agreement reached in October 2007 with the United States and other nations. North Korea is already believed to have four to ten nuclear weapons.
US Immigration Reform: Senator Marco Rubio (Republican, Florida), the Cuban darling of the tea party hoped to bring Latinos to the side of the Republican party, has issued a statement saying that a legislative proposal for immigration reform is not yet complete. He is part of a bipartisan Senate group of eight (known as the “Gang of Eight”) working on a bill that would overhaul immigration reform, offering a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants. Rubio is toeing an extremely fine line as he attempts to please his hyperconservative base and also work towards reform.
Drug Patent: In a landmark decision, India’s Supreme Court will not allow drug company Novartis AG to patent a new version of their cancer drug Glivec. This has a tremendous impact: the generic version of the drug will still be available for the many poor cancer patients who would be unable to afford the Novartis version. India’s generic drug industry provides a great deal of the cheap medicine used in the developing world.
North vs. South: Tensions continue to rise between North and South Korea. South Korea has promised a “strong response” to North Korean aggression. On Saturday, North Korea stated it was entering a “state of war” with its southern neighbor.
I’m trying something new - a daily breakdown of a few relevant facts going on in the world today. Predominantly but not entirely based around the US. Read and enjoy.
Private Funding: In a move driven in part by Republican oppposition to increase government spending, President Obama is appealing to private sources to find infrastructure projects. The administration will propose tax breaks and other incentives for foreign funds that invest in US infrastructure.
Growing US Economy: The US economy is growing! In the fourth quarter of 2012 the economy grew at .4%, according to the Department of Commerce. Only 0.1% growth was expected. Still, this was a slowdown from last quarter due to a decrease in government spending brought about by sequester.
North Korea Rocket: North Korea is still being crazy. Leader Kin Jong Un apparently approved a plan to put rockets targeting mainland U.S. on standby. However, many remain skeptical of North Korea’s abilities to actually launch an international strike.
The Error in the Growth and Opportunity Project Report
The RNC Growth and Opportunity Project report (released several days ago by the RNC) is a blistering, hundred page long self-critique of why the GOP lost the 2012 election and how it needs to change. It included a widespread plan to transform itself into a modern party; according to the Washington Post, the plan called for Republicans to change their views on immigration reform and spend millions of dollars putting “boots on the ground” to reach out to minority voters.
Thrilling, isn’t it? In an article I titled “Why the Republican Party Lost”, I posited that the election would force the GOP into a contemplative internal assessment, which would conclude with them becoming a tolerable party. Does it look like this is coming to pass? Maybe, but I have my doubts.
Now, I haven’t read the Growth and Opportunity Project document in full, yet, though I’m working on it. But from the synopses I’ve read and the excellent NPR coverage of it I’ve listened to, the document focuses largely on the negative perception of the Republican party by American citizens. How so many citizens share its values but are hesitant to vote for the party because it is perceived as against most everything. Jed Bush, in his speech at CPAC several days ago, echoed similar sentiments. He said:
“All too often we’re associated with being ‘anti’ everything,” he said. “Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates even though they share our core beliefs, because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party.”
At first glance, this reads as plausible and okay. But as soon as I thought about it, I realized the fatal flaw. There was a massive break between the rhetoric and the reality. After all, Jeb Bush was talking about how the Republican party was unfortunately perceived as anti-gay, while speaking at a convention where the gay Republican organization GoProud was banned because they were perceived as not being conservative enough. The irony is beyond laughable, it is simply overwhelming. The Republican party is not “associated” with being anti-everything, it very nearly is.
I thought this critique would be a step in the right direction, but it looks like it may be another Republican attempt at self-delusion. The Republican party does not have a perception problem, as Jeb Bush and the well-intentioned but I believe, ultimately ill-fated Growth and Opportunity Project report seem to espouse. They have a policy problem, and a big one. Boots on the ground won’t matter when at the end of the day the policies of the Republican party are still anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-gay, “anti-everything”, as Jed Bush so aptly said. Until the Republican party accepts that it must change their stance and policies on issues such as immigration, women’s rights, and gay rights, and not just their rhetoric, they’ll remain doomed to fail.
At a time when controversy over the Obama administration’s drone program seems to be cresting, the CIA is close to taking a major step toward getting out of the targeted killing business. Three senior U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast that the White House is poised to sign off on a plan to shift the CIA’s lethal targeting program to the Defense Department.
The move could potentially toughen the criteria for drone strikes, strengthen the program’s accountability, and increase transparency. Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures. The CIA would maintain a role, but the military would have operational control over targeting. Lethal missions would take place under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs military operations, rather than Title 50, which sets out the legal authorities for intelligence activities and covert operations.
..Brennan, who has presided over the administration’s drone program from almost day one of Obama’s presidency, has grown uncomfortable with the ad-hoc and sometimes shifting rules that have governed it..The recent nomination of Brennan to head the CIA became a kind of proxy battle over targeted killings and the administration’s reluctance to be more forthcoming about the covert program.
It looks like the White House may now be preparing to launch a campaign to counter the growing perception - with elites if not the majority of the public - that Obama is running a secretive and legally dubious killing machine. For weeks, though the White House has not confirmed it, administration officials have been whispering about the possibility that Obama would make a major speech about counterterrorism policy, including efforts to institutionalize - but also reform - the kinds of lethal operations that have been a hallmark of his war on terrorism. With an eye on posterity, Obama may feel the time has come to demonstrate publicly that his policies, for all of the criticism, have stayed within the law and American values.
The US state of South Dakota has enacted a law allowing school districts to arm teachers and other school staff.The law’s backers say it will prevent mass school shootings like a December massacre in Connecticut that killed 26.
Amid a push by the White House to strengthen gun laws, the bill reflects a growing divide in the US over whether more or fewer guns keep people safe. The measure does not force school districts to arm teachers and will not require teachers to carry guns. But it allows each school district to choose if staff could be armed. It takes effect in July.
Under the Republican-sponsored bill, school staff given permission to carry firearms on campus will be known as “school sentinels”. The state has given a law enforcement commission the task of establishing a training programme for the sentinels.
BBC News, “South Dakota to allow armed teachers in schools”
"Sentinels"? What is this, a video game? A sci-fi book? Giving everyone guns is not the answer.
The day after the election, I wrote a well-received opinion article called “Why the Republican Party Lost”. In it, I espoused that reflection over the abysmal loss would lead the Republican party to make some desperately needed changes in order to put forward viable candidates for governance once again.
The Republican Party lost the election last night because they were appealing to a country that no longer existed…the country has changed. Latinos are now the biggest minority in the country. The Asian-American birthrate just exceeded that of the Latinos. Gay rights is going to continue to progress - get over it. And what could possibly make you think we’re going to regress to a point where a woman can be told what to do with her own body?
I am thrilled that President Obama won last night’s election, for reasons far more important than because his stances line up with my personal sociopolitical beliefs more closely than those of his opponent. I am happy because the Republicans will be forced to accept the fact that they lost touch with the keystone of the democratic system: compromise…In order to receive power, one had to moderate their views and compromise with opposition to make their base powerful enough to win an election. Somewhere in the din of Karl Rove, Donald Trump, and Bill Maher, the Republicans forgot this. They thought if you shouted loud enough, you can win. Thank God this isn’t how our country works.
Every year the doyens of the Conservative Political Action Conference issue a series of indirect proclamations on who qualifies as an echt conservative. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie? Not one of us; too chummy with the president during Hurricane Sandy and too squishy on gun control. The gay conservative group GOProud? We’re open to sinners—Newt Gingrich is a scheduled speaker, after all—but not ones who have contempt for the institution of marriage. Donald Trump? A sinner too, on wife No. 3 and pro-abortion rights to boot, he believes that President Obama might have been born in Kenya. Nevertheless, Trump is an “American patriot” popular with conservatives, said one conference organizer.
It’s hardly surprising that CPAC is interested in ideological purity, considering the right-wing confab is organized by the American Conservative Union, a group that provides “legislative rankings” to those in Congress who insist on differentiating between those “who protect liberty as conservatives and those who are truly liberal.” As its website explains, “ACU defines conservatism” (emphasis in original). And that definition seems rather narrow these days.
Granted, CPAC hardly speaks for all conservatives. Moynihan makes it clear that it is not just Democrats disturbed by CPAC’s rhetoric, but many Republicans as well. Still, it shows that my post-election optimism for the GOP may have been somewhat…optimistic.
Chávez presided over a political epoch flush with money and lorded over a society riven by fear, deep political divisions, and ultraviolence. Consider the latest crime statistics from Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia, which reckons that 2012 saw an astonishing 21,692 murders in the country—in a population of 29 million. Last year, I accompanied a Venezuelan journalist on his morning rounds at Caracas’s only morgue to count the previous night’s murders. As the number of dead ballooned, the Chávez regime simply stopped releasing murder statistics to the media.
All of this could have been predicted, and wasn’t particularly surprising from a president who believed that one must take the side of any enemy of the “empire.” That Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe was a “freedom fighter,” or that Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko presided over “a model of a social state.” Saddam Hussein was a “brother,” Bashar al-Assad had the “same political vision” as the Bolivarian revolutionaries in Venezuela. He saw in the madness of Col. Gaddafi an often overlooked “brilliance” (“I ask God to protect the life of our brother Muammar Gaddafi”). The brutal terrorist Carlos the Jackal, who praised the 9/11 attacks from his French jail cell, was “a good friend.” He praised and supported FARC, the terrorist organization operating in neighboring Colombia. The list is endless.
His was a poisonous influence on the region, one rah-rahed by radical fools who desired to see a thumb jammed in America’s eye, while not caring a lick for its effect on ordinary Venezuelans. In his terrific new book (fortuitously timed to publish this week) Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, The Guardian’s Rory Carroll summed up the legacy of Chávez’s Venezuela as “a land of power cuts, broken escalators, shortages, queues, insecurity, bureaucracy, unreturned calls, unfilled holes, uncollected garbage.” One could add to that list grinding poverty, massive corruption, censorship, and intimidation.
This was Chávez’s reign and his legacy; extralegal, vindictive, and interested in the short-term gesture rather than the more difficult, long-term solution. From his revolutionary comrades in Cuba, he borrowed the slogan “patria, socialismo o muerte”—fatherland, socialism or death. The fatherland is a shambles, Bolivarian socialism has failed, and Comandante Chávez is dead. May the “revolution” die with him.
Michael Moyniham, “Hugo Chavez”
This is why I find the defenses of Hugo Chavez here on tumblr to be suspect at best, and completely uninformed at worst. Have a hard time understanding how you defend such a man.
I have a hard time understanding the vitriol many display when it comes to the topics of both drones and “killer robots”. As a political scientist and roboticist, I feel like I have a unique perspective into both worlds. So for me, the questions that first come to mind are:
1) I completely understand detesting war, detesting bombing, detesting civilian deaths. Why is it that the unmanned aspect is what seems to raise your ire?
2) Would you be happier if there were a pilot in the bomber instead of it being unmanned? Would it somehow, intangibly, change the situation?
Unmanned war is coming. Just as spears replaced fists and guns replaced spears, so will a superior weapon - precisely controlled robotic weapons - will replace a scared grunt with a gun. If you want to end violence, if you want to end war, don’t waste your time being against the weapon. Go for the source: be against the war. Be pro-diplomacy and hold your leaders accountable.
A plausible argument might go as such: “But if gun control has a place in ending domestic gun violence, shouldn’t weapons control have a place in ending violence in the international system”? Yes and no. First, domestically we have a government. We have authority. We are not in a state of anarchy. The same cannot be said for the international system. Though organizations like the United Nations have helped encourage diplomatic solutions, there is no true overarching authority. There is going to be conflict, and if war arises, our species may be in danger with the weapons at our disposal now. Not going to war will be the only way to save us.
Worse, even if there were an authority, it may not help. There is unprecedent security between the big countries in the system who should be hacking each other to bits every fifty years or so. I could digress completely into global collective security (if you’re curious, shoot me a message) but let me focus on the second point: most of our future enemies will not be big countries. Traditional warfare is dying out. They will be the occassional radical country, and more likely, small cells operating outside of the country system. In the next fifty years, these cells will have access to the type of weapons previously only available to large governments. Scary thought. If and when that time comes, data and prevention may be the only way to save ourselves, and a great deal of that data will likely come through unmanned systems.
What was I talking about again? Right, technology. Not developing it isn’t an option. The only option is to develop it responsibly with defense and prevention in mind.
“Every so often in history, you get a technology that comes along that’s a game changer," [Singer] says. "They’re things like gunpowder, they’re things like the machine gun, the atomic bomb, the computer… and robotics is one of those."
“When we say it can be a game changer”, he says, “it means that it affects everything from the tactics that people use on the ground, to the doctrine, how we organise our forces, to bigger questions of politics, law, ethics, when and where we go to war.”—Peter Singer, “Robot Warriors”
The budget cuts, known in Washington DC as the sequester, were devised in 2011 as an intentionally painful cudgel to encourage Democrats and Republicans in Congress to strike a deal to reduce the US budget deficit.
Now, House Republicans say reduced spending should be the focus of any deal, while Mr Obama and the Democrats want a package to include new tax revenue by closing tax loopholes for wealthy Americans.
With no deal in sight, on Sunday the Obama administration released fact sheets highlighting the threatened economic impact of the automatic cuts on a state-by-state basis…
…Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are each trying to make sure the public blames the other side, should the automatic cuts take effect.
”— "Sequester: Obama urges governors to prod Congress to deal"
Breakdown/Update on the sequester situation coming soon. For information, look back to last fall’s Breakdown: The Fiscal Cliff.
The US Senate has cleared the way for the confirmation of former Senator Chuck Hagel as defence secretary. In a critical test vote, the chamber agreed to hold a final vote on Mr Hagel’s bid later on Tuesday, when he is expected to win confirmation easily.
The Senate move comes 12 days after Republicans delayed a vote, questioning his past positions on Israel and Iran and his qualifications. But critics dropped their delaying manoeuvre after a week-long recess.
Just after noon on Tuesday in Washington DC, the US Senate held a procedural vote to end debate on the confirmation of Mr Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the Pentagon.
The motion passed 71-27, easily overcoming the 60-vote threshold. A final majority vote on the nomination is expected at 16:30 local time (21:30 GMT). Mr Obama’s Democratic Party holds a 55-45 edge in the chamber.
Among other sticking points in Mr Hagel’s nomination process was a remark he made in a 2008 book that the “Jewish lobby” intimidated decision-makers on Capitol Hill. Republican senators also said they feared Mr Hagel would be too lax on Iran, and Ted Cruz, an outspoken conservative freshman senator from Texas, suggested without evidence that Mr Hagel had accepted payments from North Korea.
During a confirmation hearing this year, Mr Hagel sought to reassure the Senate armed services committee that he was “fully committed” to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and apologised for the “Jewish lobby” comment, saying he could not be defined by any single quote.
Mr Hagel’s Democratic Party supporters produced other remarks and evidence they said showed he would stick to existing US policy on Israel and Iran.
The White House warned of great risks in leaving the Pentagon without a leader at a time of budget challenges and while the US has troops in Afghanistan.
BBC News, “US Senate Clears way for Hagel Defense Secretary vote.”
About bloody time. I simply don’t know what the problem was. Once conservative senators started suggesting ridiculous notions like he was in league with North Korea, it seems Republicans realized that further delaying tactics - like most everything the party seems to do these days - would only hurt their public opinion further.