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Archive for the ‘national defense’ Category

Because the Federal Government Has a Say in Everything

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

S. 1918 would impose a fee on air carriers that charge passengers for a first checked bag or a first carry-on bag.

The folks at the Transportation Security Administration think that one of the reasons that airlines are imposing fees on checked bags is because the downstream effect of that is to complicate things for the TSA, not the airlines themselves. When more people carry bags onto planes, that lengthens the TSA’s lines, not the airlines’. So along comes the Department of Homeland Security to get Congress to balance things out by penalizing airlines for charging for bags.

So the checkpoints at the airport aren’t just annoying to travelers. They’re a way for the government to wend its way into how airlines do business in each and every respect.

Congress should probably fix the underlying policy of transportation security excess rather than imposing additional fees on airlines that charge for checked bags.

It’s Almost Like Fort Hood Never Happened…

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Thank you to the men and women serving in our armed forces.

But that appreciation doesn’t mean that every member of the U.S. armed forces has their heads screwed on. Some of them don’t. Which makes H.R. 1801, the Risk-Based Security Screening for Members of The Armed Forces Act, such an interesting bill. It would provide expedited security screenings for members of the armed forces at airports.

Yes, it would base expedited screenings on a review of some profile about the service member and his or her family, but I don’t think you want to open that security hole. And if you do, why not do it for all Americans?

Love our service members and wish them few deployments. Don’t quite get this bill…

What to Do About Libya

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The U.S. military has been engaged in Libya longer than the War Powers Act allows without congressional approval. Bills introduced yesterday provide something of an options memo for Congress:

H. Con. Res. 51 would direct the President, pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, to remove the United States Armed Forces from Libya

S. J. Res. 13 would declare that a state of war exists between the Government of Libya and the Government and people of the United States, making provision to prosecute the same

S. J. Res. 14 would declare that the President has exceeded his authority under the War Powers Resolution as it pertains to the ongoing military engagement in Libya

S. Res. 194 would express the sense of the Senate on United States military operations in Libya.


Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Congress will soon have to decide what to do with some controversial parts of the USA-PATRIOT Act, which were made to sunset, forcing this decision.

Maybe the thing to do is extend the sunset date! So says S. 1022, which would extend USA-PATRIOT provisions until December 31, 2014.

Be sure and do the political math: That’s right after a non-presidential election, so it’s a time when the public is least likely to be paying attention. Now, how that plays politically, who knows?…

Thank You for Killing Bin Laden

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Congress is in an appreciative mood. Four different resolutions have been introduced expressing thanks for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

They are:

  • H. Res. 240, Commending President Barack Obama and the men and women of the military and intelligence agencies for the successful completion of the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden;
  • S. Res. 159, A resolution honoring the members of the military and intelligence community who carried out the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, and for other purposes;
  • H. Res. 241, Honoring the members of the United States Armed Forces, the intelligence community, and the Obama and Bush Administrations whose dedicated service brought the murderous terrorist leader Osama bin Laden to justice; and
  • H. Res. 248, Honoring the members of the military and intelligence community who carried out the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, and for other purposes.

Feel the same way? Or maybe the U.S. reaction has been a little bloodthirsty. Decent people can feel either way.

Express yourself in the comments, or in your votes on the bills linked above…

Osama bin Laden is Dead!

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

What delightful news! Osama bin Laden is dead.

President Obama called him “Al Qaeda’s leader and symbol” in announcing that a team of U.S. operatives had killed bin Laden and taken custody of his body in a firefight at a compound in Abbottabad inside the Pakistan interior.

Coming nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden’s death is a welcome piece of good news for the United States and its western allies, who have been struggling against terrorism on any number of fronts.

This is not the end of terrorism, of course. Bin Laden did not exercise control of the al Qaeda network, and it won’t fall apart because of his loss. A new, lesser leader may emerge, and independent, al Qaeda-branded groups need not look to central leadership for action.

But the killing of bin Laden is an important symbol to potential terrorists around the world that terrorism is not a mode of action that leads to success. The death of a symbol like Osama bin Laden is an important symbol of terrorism’s failure. Al Qaeda terrorism has certainly suffered a setback with the loss of its founder and nominal leader.

Of course, terrorism has had the intense interest of Congress since the 9/11 attacks. Below is a list of the bills dealing with terrorism that have been introduced so far in the new Congress that began this year. They illustrate the variety of ways that terrorism has affected U.S. policy. The American approach to counterterrorism will change in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, but probably not by much…

  • H.R. 67, To extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 until February 29, 2012
  • H. Res. 28, Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Transportation Security Administration should, in accordance with existing law, enhance security against terrorist attack and other security threats to our Nation’s rail and mass transit systems and other modes of surface transportation; and for other purposes
  • S. 34, The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2011>
  • S. 86, A bill to close the loophole that allowed the 9/11 hijackers to obtain credit cards from United States banks that financed their terrorist activities, to ensure that illegal immigrants cannot obtain credit cards to evade United States immigration laws, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 478, The Military Tribunals for Terrorists Act 2011
  • H.R. 504, The First Responders Fighting Terrorism Protection Act of 2011
  • H. Res. 60, Urging the Secretary of State to remove the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran from the Department of State’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations
  • H.R. 901, The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Security Authorization Act of 2011
  • H.R. 908, The Full Implementation of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Act
  • H.R. 916, The Continuing Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Security Act of 2011
  • S. 473, The Continuing Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Security Act of 2011
  • S. 497, The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Program Act of 2011
  • H.R. 959, The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Program Act of 2011
  • S. 554, A bill to prohibit the use of Department of Justice funds for the prosecution in Article III courts of the United States of individuals involved in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
  • S. 614, The Securing Terrorist Intelligence Act
  • H.R. 1270, To direct the Secretary of State to designate as foreign terrorist organizations certain Mexican drug cartels, and for other purposes
  • H.R. 1506, The Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2011
  • H.R. 1644, To amend section 412(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit the provision of cash assistance or medical assistance to any refugee who, after entering the United States, travels to a country that supports international terrorism

USA-PATRIOT—The Debate Congress Doesn’t Want to Have

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Update: On Tuesday, the House failed to pass H.R. 514 as the Republican leadership had expected. This symbolizes that support for the USA-PATRIOT Act is weaker in their caucus than they thought, but it will not prevent the bill from passing, probably later in the week. The bill was brought to the floor under a procedure called “Suspension of the Rules,” which limits debate but requires a 2/3rds majority vote. When several Republicans broke ranks to vote against the bill, it did not get that 2/3rds majority. The leadership can bring the bill back to the floor and get a majority vote any time. Here’s more from the Washington Post.

eagle_and_american_flag_by_bubbelsJust over a month after the September 11th attacks, Congress passed the USA-PATRIOT Act. It was a time when Americans were still shocked by the images of the World Trade Center towers in New York City collapsing. We don’t know whether another shoe would soon drop.

Even then, many recognized that the new powers being given to the federal government were draconian. So they were made temporary. The USA-PATRIOT Act had “sunset” provisions, recognizing that the peril Americans felt just after 9/11 would give way. Normal life and normal liberties would be restored.

Since then, Congress has extended the sunset several times. Currently, the sun will set on many PATRIOT Act provisions on February 28th.

So the question is joined: Are the emergency powers Congress gave the government still needed? Or is the problem Congress meant to address in USA-PATRIOT largely under control?

Because of the obscurity of USA-PATRIOT, what it does, and how it is used, these are very hard questions to answer. And most people do so with their guts. So go to your gut: Thinking of how you felt after 9/11, is that fear still with you? Or has your confidence in the security of our country increased? Do you prioritize the modern problem of security against terrorism, or the classic problem of security against having a too-powerful government?

These are tough questions to answer—heck they’re tough questions to ask! But it might be time for Congress to actually debate the USA-PATRIOT Act powers rather than kicking the can down the road.

This week, the plan is to kick the can. H.R. 514, which is slated for debate in the House this week, would extend the sunset date on several USA-PATRIOT Act provisions from February 28th to December 8, 2011. If it passes both houses of Congress, we might have a Christmas-time debate about USA-PATRIOT. Or we might have another kicking of the can…

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 514. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill

Countering Terrorism Isn’t Easy

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

This holiday week’s “attempted act of terrorism” on a U.S.-bound flight reveals the difficulty of getting counterterrorism right. Terrorists use the element of surprise—stuff we haven’t thought of, or timing and locations that we can’t defend—to pull off attacks that instill fear.

We’ll learn what kind of explosive or incendiary material Nigerian traveler Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to ignite, and security measures will be installed to better foreclose this attack in the future. But many efforts to thwart terrorism miss the mark or overshoot their goal.

There are dozens of bills in Congress that touch on terrorism one way or another. Two of the most prominent illustrate how tough counterterrorism is.

H.R. 2159, the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists and its Senate counterpart, S. 1317, are intended to let the U.S. Attorney General deny the transfer of firearms and explosives to terrorists. But this can only work against known terrorists, and it can’t work against terrorists when they’re just entering the country from overseas as in this case.

Commenters on these bills argue that they are overly broad and would deny the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens who aren’t terrorists. If they don’t actually prevent a likely attack, and if they undermine rights, that’s a classic example of our country hurting itself because of overreaction to terrorism fears.

Countering terrorism isn’t easy, and there are many more security measures that don’t work than ones that do. It’ll take a little steel in our spines and a little ice water in our veins to continue staring down the terrorist threat. While we do that, it’s important to continue enjoying our American birthright of freedom and opportunity.

One commentator’s take turns away from fear and overreaction in a way that I think is interesting: This episode isn’t something to fear, says Spencer Ackerman. It’s an example of terrorists’ desperate bid for relevance.

Obama’s Afghanistan Strategy

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

afghanistanIt’s a big week ahead. Along with the Senate beginning formal debate on health care legislation, the President will announce his new strategy for Afghanistan on Tuesday. The big quote being circulated is that he will “finish the job.”

According to this Reuters report, the centerpiece of the strategy will be deployment of about 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. They will work to secure population centers and to train Afghan security forces, who will gradually be able to assume control of the country.

Over the next four to nine years, stable conditions in Afghanistan would allow a troop draw-down to occur. That’s a while.

Foreign affairs are an area where the president often gets to act unilaterally, but Congress has not been shy about trying to influence conditions in Afghanistan. Here are a few of the bills floating around Congress that deal with that country.

S. 229 and H.R. 2214 are the Senate and House versions of the Afghan Women Empowerment Act. It seeks to promote the rights and roles of women and girls in Afghan society. Simple peace and stability might be needed to create the conditions for this, of course.

H.R. 1318, the Afghanistan-Pakistan Security and Prosperity Enhancement Act, would provide duty-free treatment for certain goods from “Reconstruction Opportunity Zones” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is an attempt to use trade to bring stability to the region. The Senate version is S. 496.

H.R. 2482, the United States-Afghanistan Security and Stability Act, would require the President to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy and implementation plan for long-term security and stability in Afghanistan. That’s what he’s trying to announce on Tuesday, of course.

H.R. 2404 would similarly require the Secretary of Defense to produce an exit strategy for United States military forces in Afghanistan participating in Operation Enduring Freedom.

With all these good ideas out there, Afghanistan should be fixed up and humming along in no time. Right?

Wartime Internment: A Lopsided Vote

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Manzanar_shrineH.R. 42, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Latin Americans of Japanese Descent Act, has been scored by the Congressional Budget Office. It’s cost is pretty close to zero. (One penny for a family of seven.)

As the name suggests, the bill would set up a commission to study the treatment of Latino and Japanese people during World War II.

When I went to put the cost information in the database, I noticed an unusually high vote against the bill, but no comments indicating why.

I’m eager to learn! Voting against? Why? Or maybe there should just be more votes in favor.

All that is up to you. Here is the current vote on H.R. 42. (At the time of this writing, it was 8% for, 92% against.) Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.