Republicans had hoped that mandatory sequestration cuts would force Democrats to limit excessive spending; and a 5% reduction across the board would have in theory allowed departments to eliminate programs that had been labeled wasteful. American’s are now three weeks into the sequester and even though Obama’s administration has since withdrawn their apocalyptic government warnings, questionable spending cuts continue to persist.
Earlier this week Fox News reported that the administration had approved $37 million in foreign aid for Pakistan at the expense of a tuition assistance program for veterans. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, plans to introduce a bill that will stop foreign aid funding until military tuition is restored:
“Why are we funding education programs for [Pakistan] when we can't fund -- or don't fund -- the education for our military? And to Pakistan of all places, where hatred for America is at its highest. Washington should watch its spending and prioritize.”
Poe went on to defend the program, claiming that:
“The cost of the program is .1 percent of the Defense Department's budget, and one that has helped graduate 50,000 individuals. The Marines spent roughly $47 million from the program last year”.
Veteran unemployment already hovers around 9.4%, almost two points above the national average. And despite the president’s assurance last year that “no one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job”, the elimination of this program tells a contradicting story. Various departments have already made multiple cuts to make Americans feel the effects of the sequester, though as previously reported, the reasoning is purely political.
The news comes two weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry announced another foreign aid package of $250 million for Egypt. These promises of foreign aid are particularly complexing when factoring in the results of a Pew Research Poll conducted a week before the sequestration deadline, which found that “[f]or 18 of 19 programs tested, majorities want either to increase spending or maintain it at current levels. The only exception is assistance for needy people around the world.”
Unfortunately it appears as if Democrat spending will continue to go unchecked. Money that could be allocated towards supporting troops is being spent on countries that haven’t always had America’s best interest in mind. Yet another example of how far the government is willing to go to fabricate sequester pains.
In what will be viewed as another post-sequestration sacrifice, the Transport Security Administration will begin to permit small pocket knives, baseball bats, and other sports equipment onboard commercial flights starting April 25th. TSA head John Pistole defended the administration’s decision, explaining the need to reduce banned items and decrease wait times.
Proponents argue that there have been significant changes in air travel since 9/11, including reinforced pilot doors and motivated passengers. Douglas Laird, a former security director of Northwest Air, believes the damage that could be inflicted by a small knife is negligible, in a quote from USA Today:
"I don't recall — other than 9/11 — any incident where anybody did anything with a knife on an airplane or a tennis racquet or a golf club," Laird says. "Most of the disturbances on airplanes involved guys having fist fights — not fist-fighting flight attendants, fist-fighting themselves."
Former TSA Chief Kip Hawley applauded the decision, and made his case for lifting the ban on all sharp weapons. Hawley confirmed that he wasn’t exaggerating, and went on to claim:
“They ought to let everything on that is sharp and pointy. Battle axes, machetes ... bring anything you want that is pointy and sharp because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. What are you going to do when you get on board with a battle ax? If you pull out your battle ax and say I'm taking over the airplane. You may be able to cut one or two people, but pretty soon you would be down in the aisle.”
Those that oppose the decision acknowledge that while the inclusion of knives won’t be detrimental to landing the plane, it will affect the well-being of passengers and flight attendants. The Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions called the TSA’s decision “short-sighted” and a threat to undermine aviation security.
TSA officials predict that the measure will save time spent waiting at checkpoints, yet many remain skeptical. A chart created by the administration details the blade sizes that will be allowed on flights, but disputes have arisen in the past between passengers and security over water and gels, knives will be no different. Officials will have to measure blades and conclude that they fall under the 2.36 inch length requirements, negating any positive impact on wait times.
The announcement comes on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement this week that the sequester will make America “less safe”, a puzzling admission in light of this report. Wouldn’t allowing knives on flights make American’s less safe? Yet another example of the administration threatening U.S. lives in order to prove they’re in danger.
When a state shifts along party lines it never happens overnight. Only in rare occurrences can a presidential candidate dramatically change voter turnout (e.g. North Carolina, 2008). Yet this narrative has become a popular topic recently as politicians look towards the upcoming elections.
News broke last week that Democrats could stage a potential takeover of two Republican stronghold states, Arizona and Texas, before the 2016 presidential election. Key strategists pointed to an increasingly diverse population and the impending amnesty deal that would allow over 900,000 Hispanics to vote. The staggering numbers aren’t necessarily tied to Democrat votes, as critics quickly claimed, citing a low turnout among Hispanic voters in addition to an increase in conservatism with Texas/Arizona residents.
While Democrats celebrate a far off victory in the Lone Star state, there is potential trouble looming in a stronghold of their own, in California. The Wall-Street Journal reports that over 3.4 million people (net average) emigrated from California to other states. And the migrants aren’t wealthy conservatives either:
“Most of California's outward-bound migrants are low- to middle-income, with relatively little education: those typically employed in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. Their median household income is about $40,000—two-thirds of the statewide median—and about 95% earn less than $80,000. Only one in 10 has a college degree, compared with 30% of California's population. Roughly 40% of the people leaving are Hispanic.
Even while California's Hispanic population has grown by more than 1.5 million since 2005, thanks to high birth rates and foreign immigration, two Hispanics have moved out for every one that has moved in from another state.
It's not unusual for immigrants or their descendants to move in pursuit of a better life. That's the history of America. But it is ironic that many of the intended beneficiaries of California's liberal government are running for the state line—and that progressive policies appear to be what's driving them away.”
High energy and labor costs have pushed workers away, killing jobs and forcing lower-class families to stay dependent on social welfare programs. California is also one of the highest costs of living states, which has led to a rise in companies taking their business elsewhere. Even if a family makes the decision to move inland, where rent/housing prices aren’t as high, unemployment hovers around 15%, further hampering economic growth.
Democrats that are focused on stealing Texas and Arizona might want to refocus their attention on California, where residents are tired of living off welfare in a system of dependency that’s been created by the state’s government.
Amidst all the divisive talks that have occurred over sequestration, one fact has become abundantly clear: Democrats want to increase revenues. With Friday’s budget cuts set to take effect and a looming government shutdown March 27th, notable Dem leaders have hinted that any progress will have to start with more taxes, Politico reports:
"’Reid was noncommittal on the CR, but he insisted his party would seek new taxes as part of a deal to reverse the sequester.
’We cannot solve the problems of this country with cuts, cuts, cuts. We’ve cut $2.6 trillion. We need to do more. But we’re going to do it with — in a balanced approach.’”
Reid’s comments may not come as a shock, but rather, an unfortunate glimpse into the upcoming talks to renew the stopgap continuation.
In an estimate put forth today by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, economists recommended changing to a new, lower inflation adjustment known as the chained consumer price index. If the proposal went through, the government would curb federal spending by $198 billion incrementally over the next ten years.
The resolution garnered support from Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who suggested the plan during his multiple sequestration talks with President Obama. However Democrats have been reluctant to support shifting the inflation index, citing a need for broader tax increases before considering any changes to inflation.
This will mark the third proposed solution that the party has rejected in order to force Republicans to pass tax reform legislation. Unlike today’s budget cuts, a government-wide shutdown would have an immediate impact on the livelihoods of American citizens, yet Democrats still insist on gambling with an already fragile U.S. economy.
Republicans and Democrats voted against both proposed solutions to the sequester on Thursday guaranteeing that the scheduled budget cuts will take effect on Friday. The Democrat sponsored alternative would have replaced the $85 billion in cuts with tax increases on the wealthy and cuts on defense and farm spending, it failed 51-49. The Republican backed proposal would delay the sequester until March 15th, and provide President Obama with the discretion to make appropriate budget cuts. The plan also failed 38-62.
The ensuing week will be consumed with pointed rhetoric assigning blame amongst both parties. Unfortunately, another proposal by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H, wasn’t even considered for a vote:
“My proposal won’t get a vote today. I think this is a time, frankly, when we need to bring more ideas to the floor, not less ideas. I firmly believe that we should have a vote today on every proposal, and I think anything less is a disservice to the American people, who are demanding that we start governing. It is time for us to pass a budget to prioritize spending.”
Sen. Ayotte’s bill, entitled the “2013 Sequester Replacement and Spending Reduction Act”, would target unemployment benefits for the wealthy, as well as overpayments to Medicaid and Medicare. In addition the legislation included non-detrimental defense cuts that have been considered wasteful by both parties.
The draft included numerous provisions that both Democrats and Republicans supported, such as requiring federal employees to pay more into their pensions, a plan that the Obama administration has already proposed:
“Federal agency contributions for currently accruing costs of employee pensions would decline, these employers would pay an additional amount toward unfunded liabilities of the retirement system that would leave total agency contributions unchanged over the 10-year budget window.”
President Obama continues to assign blame to Republicans claiming that they’ve been “unwilling to compromise”. Yet when another solution gets sent to the floor, it isn’t even considered for a vote. It would appear that the Democrats are content to let the sequester take effect and hedge their bets that the blame will fall on Republicans; another regretful display of partisan politics.
Over the past two weeks members of Obama’s Cabinet have come to the administration’s defense, claiming that sequestration cuts will result in a chaotic, gutted government incapable of providing necessary funding. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan added his name to the list on Sunday in an attempt to generate outrage over teacher layoffs:
“As many of 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs,” Duncan warned on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices they can’t come back this fall.”
Critics were initially skeptical of Duncan’s claims, as they severely contradicted a White House report that estimated layoffs of roughly 10,000. Yesterday during a press briefing, Sec. Duncan was asked to specify which counties were handing out pink slips.
“We think as many as 40,000 people will lose jobs. The only other way you don’t do that, again, I think is you would reduce school days. You could go to three-day weeks or four. Again, you have people and time -- those are your only variable factors, and unfortunately, everything else is gone. So, still early, but you’ll see, unfortunately, across the country a steady drumbeat of these notifications going out, which folks have a legal obligation to do.”
“There’s a district where it’s happened. But again, it’s just because they have an earlier union notification than most -- so Kanawha County in West Virginia. But the vast majority of them will be rolling out over the next two months.”
Almost immediately following the briefing officials from Kanawha County told The Washington Post that the layoffs weren’t related to the sequester:
“They don’t necessarily mean a teacher has been laid off”, said Pam Padon, director of federal programs and Title 1 for the Kanawha County public schools.
“The major impact is not so much sequestration,” she said. “Those five or six jobs would already be gone regardless of sequestration.”
Interestingly, these layoffs are coming from a previous Obama-led cut that labeled Kanawha County’s Head Start program “deficient”, forcing them to compete for funding. Sensationalist sequestration reporting isn’t surprising when it involves the media, but for the White House administration to actively participate in providing false information, it’s unprofessional and an abuse of U.S. executive power.
Despite earlier reports this year that insurgent attacks in Afghanistan were on the decline, new information suggests that the ISAF, a U.S.-led coalition, has misrepresented data regarding the current Taliban conflict. Figures suggested that attacks from 2011 to 2012 had seen reductions of 7%, but the numbers were later corrected to 0%:
“The 7 percent figure had been included in a report posted on the coalition's website in late January as part of its monthly update on trends in security and violence. It was removed from the website recently without explanation.
“[C]oalition officials said they were correcting the data and would re-publish the report in coming days.”
ISAF spokesperson Jamie Graybeal couldn’t identify when the errors in data began or who discovered them, when asked about the coalition’s mistakes:
"During a quality control check, ISAF recently became aware that some data was incorrectly entered into the database that is used for tracking security-related incidents across Afghanistan.”
This report threatens to undermine months of exit strategy promotion by the current administration, who argue that a drop in insurgent attacks warrants the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. During the State of the Union address, President Obama announced plans to withdraw half of the current U.S. forces, signaling the return of 30,000 soldiers. And by 2014 the U.S. is hoping to transition security responsibilities to Afghan forces, leaving the country without a U.S. military presence.
Contrary to that announcement, NATO plans emerged last week suggesting some-15,000 soldiers will remain. The briefing preceded the release of the ‘correct’ Taliban attack numbers by a few days.
“Only 5,000 of the 10,000 American troops foreseen by the plan are to be made available for the training mission. The other half will be earmarked for targeted operations against terror cells and al-Qaida camps as well as for the protection of US facilities in the country such as the embassy in Kabul. In total, the post-2014 training mission is to encompass 15,000 troops.”
Military leaders will be reluctant to commit to major withdrawals if there aren’t guarantees that the region is becoming safer, and that the Afghanistan government can handle a large departure of American forces. Until the conflicting reports are sorted out, Obama’s plan for an America-free Afghanistan faces indefinite postponement.
Earlier this morning news broke that Cuban President Raul Castro would be retiring at the end of his current term, set for 2018. For the first time in over 54 years Cuba will be led by someone other than a Castro, as Raul selected Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 52-year old professor to serve as the country’s vice-president.
The Associated Press reports that Cuban exiles are skeptical that the news will result in any change in the country’s communist ideology:
""It's no big news. It would have been big news if he resigned today and called for democratic elections," said Alfredo Duran, a Cuban-American lawyer.”
"I wasn't worried about him being around after 2018," he added.
Still, those familiar with Diaz-Canel remain optimistic that the future president could soften Cuba’s steadfast refusal of democracy.
“He’s a much more flexible type than he seems, open-minded and above all intelligent,” said one official who has known Diaz-Canel since the 1980s”.
The succession of his brother Fidel Castro in 2006 led Raul to make numerous social and economic changes, including lenience on travel constraints and the promotion of private businesses. With Cuba’s growth limited by U.S. trade embargoes, new talks are emerging to stop additional restrictions.
Even prominent Republican leaders such as former vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan support lifting the embargo, the Cato Institute reports:
“The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy. It was probably justified when the Soviet Union existed and posed a threat through Cuba. I think it’s become more of a crutch for Castro to use to repress his people. All the problems he has, he blames the American embargo.”
Conservative politicians looking to repair their fractured message to constituents could benefit from lifting the embargo. An end would demonstrate America’s approval of Cuba’s progress, and a willingness to support Cuba in transitioning away from socialist policies. As it stands this policy costs the U.S. over $1 billion dollars in trading each year and prevents Cuban’s from experiencing the benefits of capitalism.
This isn’t the same Cuba of thirty years ago. Diplomat Wayne Smith predicts “[a] younger, more liberal generation of Cuban Americans with no memory of life in Cuba is coming to the fore. For the first time in years, maybe there is some chance for a change in policy.”
Rising gas prices are beginning to approach May 2011 levels, signifying that the economy hasn’t grown much in the past two years. Despite the recent drop in crude oil barrel prices, state governments and environmentalists are actually pushing for an increase in gas taxes. The federal gas tax currently sits at 18.4 cents per gallon, but recent proposals are looking to raise the tax 2 cents annually over the next five years.
Environmentalists see the gas tax as a way to promote green energy standards. In the New York Times, proponents argue that:
“[I]f our goal is to get Americans to drive less and use more fuel-efficient vehicles, and to reduce air pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases, gas prices need to be even higher.”
American’s have already seen increases in income taxes and insurance premiums. A gas tax would further limit purchasing power. Raising the price of gas might not hurt cities that have reliable public transportation, but a majority of the country's commuters will feel the impact immediately.
Even numerous green failures haven't deterred the movement from promoting electric cars as an alternative to buying gas. Billions of stimulus dollars have been pumped into companies such as Tesla. But in a recent review, critics doubt its reliability as a commutable car.
“I discovered on a recent test drive of the company’s high-performance Model S sedan, theory can be trumped by reality, especially when Northeast temperatures plunge. Nearing New York, I made the first of several calls to Tesla officials about my creeping range anxiety. The woman who had delivered the car told me to turn off the cruise control; company executives later told me that advice was wrong. All the while, my feet were freezing and my knuckles were turning white.”
America’s infrastructure admittedly needs repair, and if further developments on the Keystone Pipeline progressed, the country would be able to handle incremental increases in gas prices. Until then, any changes to gas taxes will only hurt lower and middle class families.
In anticipation of security firm Mandiant’s report detailing over six years of Chinese hacking espionage, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to questions that the U.S.’s measures may not be working by…reaffirming those same measures:
“I can tell you that we have repeatedly raised our concerns at the highest levels about cyber theft with senior Chinese officials, including in the military, and we will continue to do so.”
This isn’t the first time Obama’s administration has taken the path of passivism when dealing with foreign affairs. The Benghazi crisis and current dealings with North Korea immediately spring to mind.
But this isn’t about dealing with threats. Multiple attacks have been launched against America. If China conducted a military invasion, the country would be at war right now. Why isn’t more being done?
Simply put, American’s don’t view cyber-attacks as a major threat. Two weeks ago, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave a speech to Georgetown University, warning students about the potential threat of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor”. Panetta has received a lot of criticism for this statement over the years, but if Mandiant’s report is any indication “cyber-Pearl Harbor” isn’t too far off.
Hacking isn’t just an issue that occurs among private corporations; nearly every government institution has been penetrated to some degree. Security experts told The Washington Post that “[t]he list of those hacked in recent years includes law firms, think tanks, news organizations, human rights groups, contractors, congressional offices, embassies and federal agencies.”
But those same experts aren’t worried about the data hackers continue to steal. Thomas Fingar, a China expert and former chairman of the National Intelligence Council had this to say:
“Most of us aren’t very interesting most of the time. You can waste an enormous amount of time and effort puzzling over something that is totally meaningless.”
As meaningless as this data might be, if China or other countries for that matter have the capability to hack into America’s federal agencies, what’s preventing them from hacking into power grids? The resulting chaos would be detrimental to America’s infrastructure. The U.S.’s dependence on computers has increased significantly over recent years, but net security continues to lag behind.
If the government is unable to provide necessary parameters to prevent future threats, lawmakers should look towards privatized companies such as CrowdStrike and Mandiant, to provide security.
"The government doesn't have the capacity," said Shawn Henry, a former FBI executive assistant director who works for a Mandiant competitor, CrowdStrike. "There are a lot of people working hard. But the structures aren't there."