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Archive for the ‘national defense’ Category

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.

“Screw that dumb old boat.”

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

That’s the message Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is sending when he ridicules this earmark, according to Huffington Post reporter Jason Linkins. The earmark would accelerate the renovation and replacement of the pier historically used to berth the Coast Guard Training Vessel EAGLE at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

Requested at $7,700,000 by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), this project is funded at $300,000 in the homeland security appropriations bill.

“[T]he ‘Eagle’ is an an old ‘three masted barque,'” writes Linkin, “that is the only ‘active (operational) commissioned sailing vessel in the U.S. maritime services.’ . . . [T]his sounds like a cool thing to fund.”

What do you think? Is $300,000 dollars for a pier for a fancy boat an extravagance we can’t afford with so many other priorities before the government? Or is it, as Linkin says, a cool thing to fund?

Here is the current vote on the earmark request Senator Dodd put in. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the earmark.

Earmark Funds Going to “Scam Artist”?

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

advenovationThat’s the allegation made by a commenter on Rep. Bart Stupak’s (MI-1) requests for $1,900,000 to go to Advenovation, Inc.

The money would fund “research to combine robotics technology, machine vision and sensors with software to create platform-independent robots with advanced vision and sensing capability.” Sounds neat!

But is the proposed recipient a legitimate, reliable business? The public is entitled to investigate.

A comment posted yesterday—apparently by the owner of Advenovation—argues that the allegations about the company are false and that another company is at fault for alleged nonpayments.

What more can we learn about this earmark and the proposed recipient? That’s up to you, America. Anyone who knows something about this is welcome to comment or edit the wiki article about the proposed earmark.

In the meantime, here’s the current vote on it. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article.

Is Congress Crazy? And Other Important Questions

Monday, July 13th, 2009

A WashingtonWatch.com user and subscriber to the email list wrote in and asked the following questions:

Hello — I am a total “newbie” to your site — but I am trying hard to become educated about what goes on in Congress — my question is: every week I receive your updates listing these various bills and their associated cost per family (thank you very much) — are these costs in addition to the “budget”? or have these costs per family already been included in the “budget” — if it is all new spending, how is this possible? Are these people crazy? Where will the money to pay for these things come from?

These are good questions. The workings of Washington, D.C. are pretty obscure to normal people out there in the real world. So, in case it helps others, here is the response I sent:

There are basically two types of bills, authorizations and appropriations.

Authorization bills create programs or allow existing programs to continue. Every year or every few years, Congress reauthorizes programs and agencies that are already in place. These bills say that agencies and programs can do what they do, and how they can do it.

So this week, for example, the Senate is debating the National Defense Authorization Act, which will tell the Department of Defense to keep on defending. We don’t have the amount of spending that bill authorizes yet, but you’ve seen those numbers before.

Appropriations bills cause the actual spending to happen – they say that money can come out of the U.S. Treasury to pay the salaries, buy the pencils, pay the contractors, etc. The Defense Appropriations bill will actually spend the money on defending the country. (The Defense approps bills for FY 2010 haven’t been introduced yet.)

Before the appropriations bills get moving each year, Congress passes a budget. The budget sets the total amount it is supposed to spend in all twelve appropriations bills. The budget isn’t a spending bill – it’s a planning document. We give it an estimate and follow it on the site because budget-setting is an important step in the process.

As we emphasize on the “about” page, you can’t add up these different kinds of bills to get a reliable number indicating what Congress is spending.

You can get a rough sense of what Congress is spending in fiscal year 2010, which starts October 1, on the FY 2010 Spending Tracker page. The authorization bills show how much Congress is proposing to spend over several years by starting or continuing programs.

So there may not be as much spending as it looks like – but, yes! They’re crazy! There aren’t enough tax revenues to pay for all the stuff the government is doing, and it’s going to the national debt.

$1,000 per U.S. Family in War Spending Up for a Vote Today

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

[Update: The Senate counterpart to this bill has been introduced as S. 1054.]

Today, the House is scheduled to debate a supplemental spending bill, mostly for funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill would spend about $1,000 per U.S. family. (OK, the precise figure is $988.)

H.R. 2346 is the bill. If you want to speak with your Member of Congress about it, you can dial (202) 224-3121 to reach the Capitol switchboard. When you’re put through, be polite.

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 2346, The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.