Posted in Baby Groot

I’m Watching You

Since the Obama administration’s Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) program, there have been countless discussions on the topic of surveillance. The most pressing issue, however, is the surveillance of Muslim-majority communities. Despite the federal government’s denial after denial, civil rights groups have attested to the fact that there is a bias in surveilling Muslims. In fact, the CVE program was advertised to be a “community partnership”; local leaders would be given either grant money or government support so that they may report signs of radicalization or extremism. However, what exactly are signs of these qualities? From the get-go, the policy was too vague to work properly, and so, Muslim communities who pose no danger are now being surveilled.

Now, under the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security wishes to rebrand Obama’s CVE program to “Countering Radical Islam” or “Countering Violent Jihad”. It is bad enough that national surveillance targets Muslims who pose no imminent threat, but now the programs are shifting to focus on just “radical Islam”. Both names offered by Homeland are designed to target a specific form of extremism (“violent Jihad”), and turn a blind eye to every other form of extremism plaguing the United States (need I bring up gun violence and the KKK?).

Of course the federal government holds the right to watch for potential threats and dangers. In fact, some would argue that it is a government’s duty to ensure the protection of its people. However, this is not to say the government should host unnecessary, discriminatory surveillance programs. Obama’s CVE program showed no clear solution —there were no clear “signs” that equaled potential extremism, nor is there any consistent data that states radicalization leads to terrorism. Now, the Trump administration is making matters worse by issuing programs specifically targeting a form of extremism while ignoring all others.

Do you hear that? It’s the government saying, “I’m watching you.”

To read more, please visit: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/16/obama-countering-violent-extremism-muslim-surveillance

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Posted in Star Lord

A glitch in the system

On March 14th, President Trump declared that there is “duplication and redundancy everywhere” and that there needs to be more “efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of the executive branch”. One might think, “our outsider president is wonderful for recognizing how disorganized the executive branch is” or “what a revolutionary idea!”

Except, he’s not and it isn’t.

In fact, there seems to  be a glitch because nearly the same thing was said by Nixon in 1971. And Jimmy Carter in 1978. And Bill Clinton in 1994. And Obama in 2012.

But, let’s backtrack and look at why exactly the executive branch seems so disorganized. One reason behind this supposed “redundancy” is that the federal government has expanded greatly in the past few decades, with new departments manifesting from current events and the influence of interests groups who demanded official attention for their needs. Moreover, getting rid of these departments is met with resistance from Congress because the reconstruction of already established agencies is “too large a challenge to the centrifugal forces within the national government”. Which is to say, it creates division within the federal government in the places that were actually creating unity.

So, what is Trump’s plan?

Reportedly, the new president is giving every executive agency 6 months to prepare a reorganization plan “if appropriate” and submit it the Office of Budget and Management (OBM). Then, the OBM will have 6 months to review the proposals and create a master plan for Trump to review. However, the loophole in this is that not every agency will feel that reorganization is “appropriate”, and it is not guaranteed that these proposals will feature reorganization that suits the executive branch as a whole. Moreover, even if the process goes as planned, Trump will still have to convince Congress to bestow him the authority to administer unilateral reorganization of the executive branch, something that was never granted fully to any president before.

So, will Trump finally whip the executive branch into shape? Probably not. But saying a few words about it will earn him praise from those that do not understand the fundamental workings of the executive branch itself.

Read more at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/03/16/trump-wants-to-reorganize-the-executive-branch-good-luck-to-him/?utm_term=.22660313f869 

 

Posted in Rocket

A Modest Proposal

Rocket, Guardians of Freedom
17 March 2017

One of the key responsibilities of Congress and the President is to pass a budget for the federal government, which ensures that the government continues to function. Well, this week, on Thursday, the Trump administration released a preliminary budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year. The Office of Management and Budget inside the White House is the agency responsible for the budget plan.

Most, about 73%, of the U.S. Federal Budget is classified as mandatory spending, which involves primarily various entitlement programs and servicing the interest on the U.S. national debt, among other items. The recently released budget proposal does not cover the mandatory spending, considering that, as per the name, mandatory spending is determined by existing law. Instead, the budget proposal covers discretionary spending, which makes up about 27% of the U.S. Federal Budget.

Trump has proposed cuts to all but three federal departments and agencies: the Department of Veterans Affairs,  Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security. In cutting funding in all other departments and agencies, Trump seeks to balance increases in the budgets of those three departments. As a given, suddenly the budget deficit and $19 trillion debt do not really matter as much as they did during the campaign. Trump’s budget simply retains current level of spending as a whole, for the most part.

The increase in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs by more than $4 billion dollars, a 6% increase is a welcome sight, and fulfills a campaign promise to help suffering veterans. However, the increase in spending alone is not an adequate measure of success in addressing the problems of veteran care, but rather a good sign. The increase in the budget of the Department of Homeland Security is mostly targeted at the construction of a border wall/fence — another campaign promise. Mexico is seemingly not paying for it, though. Finally, the Department of Defense is also getting a sizable boost of $52 billion dollars. However, the figure falls short of the historic boosts promised on the campaign trail.

Who is going to pay for these increases in spending? (Not Mexico)

The proposal eliminates funding for 19 federal agencies. Every other department is receiving a cut in funding to offset the increase in spending. Trump promised to invest in the deteriorating infrastructure of the country. Instead, the Department of Transportation is getting a 13% cut of $2.4 billion. The IRS has one of the largest rates of return of any federal agency. It spends approximately 35 cents for every 100 dollars it collects as tax revenue. What has the government done with that information? The budget of the IRS has been on a downward trend for years. Trump’s budget proposal, in the $0.5 billion cut to the Treasury Department, cuts the budget of the IRS by another $239 million. What is the easiest way to make climate change go away? Deny its existence and live in a fake reality. The cuts proposed to the EPA, NASA, Energy Department, and State Department all represent a shift towards climate change denial and inaction. Of course, there are multiple other cuts in various other departments and agencies of useful governmental programs that benefit a lot of people. The money from those programs is now going to finance unnecessary chunks of metal and a pile of bricks in the middle of a dessert. I admit that building the wall and staffing it or building new ships or increasing the number of army personnel will provide jobs and stimulate the economy too. However, those increases are coming at the expense of government programs that also help millions of people. The right investment is an investment in education, science, health, housing, trade, and international cooperation, not in war.

 

 

Posted in Gamora

Bearer Of Two Crowns- Baktiar

As leader of the Executive Branch, President Donald Trump now takes on the ceremonial position of “Chief of state” as well as “Chief policy maker”. He has tried to balance both crowns on his head during a recent meeting with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The event was covered by Mark Landler in a recent New York Times article. As “Chief of State,” The Donald tried to foster a friendly relationship with the foreign leader by dictating the similarities between them. This similarity is, of course, the fact that both leaders were victims of former President Barack Obama’s wiretapping. This act of appeasement was not taken well by the Chancellor who simply shuffled her notes and gave a very thin smile.

As “Chief of State,” The Donald tried to foster a friendly relationship with the foreign leader by dictating the similarities between them. This similarity is, of course, the fact that both leaders were victims of former President Barack Obama’s wiretapping. This joke, or in Trump’s case, issue of great urgency did not sit too well with the Chancellor who simply responded with a thin smile. 

Then came the “Chief policymaker.” Throughout his campaign, The Donald has criticized NATO’s infrastructure by advocating for members to increase their own military spending in order to prevent themselves from becoming heavily reliant on America. The Donald made sure to bring this topic up during the press conference and it seemed to be successful when Mrs. Merkel responded to such policies. She stated that Germany was doing its best to increase military spending however also indicated that NATO had more compelling priorities such as developing regions within Africa.

What gets to me, however, is that the meeting was falsely symbolized as “The great disrupter confronting the last defender of liberal world order.”

This notion undermines leaders such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who si currently trying to preserve a liberal political atmosphere. He recently responded with the following tweet “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcomeToCanada” after Trump placed a temporary ban on all refugees from Syria and other nations. Justin Trudeau also advocates for free trade. He recently presented an economic policy to the European Union entitled The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Within the proposal, he defined the benefits that the middle class within Europe and Canada will experience if free trade is upheld between the two regions.

From a strictly political perspective, I would say that Trump is doing a well enough job of being both the “Chief policymaker” and “Chief of the state.” He made sure to confront the Chancellor on issues that he finds important such as Germany taking advantage of the US through trading, but doing so in a respectful manner. For example, he did not blatantly attack Germany’s acceptance of refugees but instead made a remark that “Immigration is a privilege, not a right.”

 

Posted in Rocket

Congressional Oversight in the Trump Era

Rocket, Guardians of Freedom
3 March 2017

In light of the revelations about communications with Russia within the Trump team, Congress has launched a series of wide-reaching probes to investigate possible risks. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is in all practical terms a standing committee, has called upon and questioned FBI Director James Comey about investigations into any Russian meddling in the U.S. election. According to the committee ranking member, U.S. Representative Adam Schiff (D), Comey has been less than willing in providing detailed responses to questions and is hiding information. Comey, who was so willing previously to ignore FBI policy and disclose information about an ongoing investigation into Hillary Clinton right before the election, declined to answer question before a congressional panel. Congress has the authority, in our system of checks and balances, to conduct oversight over the various executive agencies of government, including the FBI. The House Intelligence Committee is being stonewalled by the FBI in its attempt to fulfill one of the key designated duties of a committee. The White House is only further infringing upon the investigative process by flatly denying blatant evidence of suspicious activity that should at least be investigated.

On top of all that, the committee itself is largely split across party lines. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, sees nothing to be concerned about with regard to Russia and Trump. In fact, according to Nunes, “U.S. intelligence officials had not yet presented the committee with evidence of contacts between Trump campaign staff an Russian intelligence.” Perhaps that is because the FBI is being uncooperative with the investigation. Or perhaps Nunes chooses to ignore evidence that has come out over the past couple of weeks that even the administration itself has admitted to. Republicans in Congress are refusing to carry out their duty of oversight over the executive branch out of party loyalty. A lack of oversight over the possibly illegal and treasonous actions of the new administration might have serious retributions on the American people. It opens up the possibility of the Trump Administration further colluding with Russia or engaging in corrupt behavior. Republicans need to end their hypocrisy and investigate into the wrongdoing of Trump and his team; they need to listen to their own angry constituents. Right now, they are the ones who have the majorities in the committees and thereby the power to investigate.

Posted in Baby Groot

Congress: the Meddler in Forbidden Love Affairs

As the 115th Congress of the United States settles, both new and old topics of discussion have been brought forth. One of these topics is the US’ relationship with Russia, and those connected with the nation. One would assume that Congress would give a pass to the First Family, but Congress is con-gruesome.

As the members of legislative branch investigate the ties between Trump’s administration and the Russian government, even the First children will be looked into. California representative and ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Adam Schiff states, “I don’t think anyone is beyond the scope of what we need to look at.” Specifically, Schiff is regarding Donald Trump Jr.’s appearance at a French think tank which nominated Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize.

What is even more peculiar is that the White House refuses to acknowledge any questions regarding Russia. In fact, meetings such as that which Trump Jr. attended are often concealed and kept under the rug.

Perhaps the 115th Congress will expose exactly how connected the Trump administration and Russia are, and to what extent this forbidden love affair will continue. Will the Montagues and Capulets get along, or will Romeo and Juliet have to separate?

To read more, please visit: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/russia-probe-congress-casts-wide-net-including-family/story?id=45899451

Posted in Gamora

“Republicans need a band-aid”- Baktiar

Remember the months-long public hearings conducted in 1997 by the Republican-led US Congress on whether China helped Clinton win the 1996 elections?

Yes?

Well, then you probably think that a similar investigation will take place by the current Republican-led US Congress on the basis that the current Trump appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions conducted meetings with a Russian Ambassador during Trump’s campaign for the presidency and lied about it to a Congressional Confirmation Hearing.

WRONG!

The author of a recent New York Times article, Carl Hulse states that being in the majority matters, both in starting an investigation and in stopping one. This opinion is out of context however given the fact that many Republicans are in fact strongly pushing for an investigation on Jeff Sessions.

Of course, this opinion is out of context given that both the Democrats and Republicans are pushing for an investigation on Jeff Sessions.

The difference is that Democrats want a special bipartisan inquiry into the issue whilst Republicans’ want the Senate Intelligence Committee taking things into its own hands. One would have an open investigation televised live on cable news and C-span with witnesses deemed important by both parties, while the other would be behind closed doors being led by a Republican Chairman. The Senate Intelligence Committee offers the latter.

Republicans make a claim that it does not matter whether the hearings are done privately. The Senate Intelligence Committee is subjectively at a location that would take any other new investigation 6 months to locate. They also state that daily communications of a bipartisan committee would never equal to the success of the Intelligence committee.

However, giving this investigation solely to the committee would allow the republican party to dissolve the accusations laid on Jeff Sessions with the highest form of secrecy. This is clearly their interest given that another Russia tie to the Trump Administration would mean another blow to the GOP. The media has already taken off claiming that the GOP knew about Trumps connection with Russia. Such accusations could hurt the GOP’s grasp on the White House in future years. The GOP needs Jeff Sessions to be found truthful just as much as Trump does.

The Republican party is bleeding, and the Committee may turn out to be a band-aid. Instead of a “behind the doors” investigation, there needs to be an open bipartisan inquiry.  

Posted in Star Lord

Congress gets sporty

On February 28, lawmakers in the House of Representatives conducted a hearing for the strengthening of anti-doping controls in international sports in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The Oversight and Investigations subcommittee that hosted the hearing is under the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over sports. Some of the witnesses that spoke at the hearing were Olympic gold medalist and record-breaker Michael Phelps, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency Travis Tygart, and Medical Director of the International Olympic Committee Richard Budgett.

Measures for tightening anti-doping control have been in the works since the last Olympic Games, held in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2016, when global sports officials called for the exclusion of Russia from the Olympics after learning the nation had blatantly violated anti-doping controls at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Following the report of Russia’s systematic cover-up by the nation’s former anti-doping lab chief, a Senate subcommittee questioned the top official of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the global regulator of drugs in  international sports. Since WADA relies on the funding from national governments and the Olympic committee in order to operate, and receives over 2 million dollars from the US, the agency has been very vocal in recent months about working with Congress to reform the anti-doping system so similar events do not occur again.

In addition to action from Congress, the International Olympic Committee has also created two new committees of its own to investigate doping in Russia and pursue further sanctions against the country. In light of the current relationship that the Trump administration is having with Russia, this hearing grants some assurance that Russia is being held accountable for its actions in at least the athletic sphere.

Posted in Baby Groot

She used to hunt antelope. Now she hunts Boko Haram.

Despite the Marvel and DC worlds have few female superheroes, the real world is having more and more. One such heroine is Aisha Bakari Gombi.

When seven women and children were abducted by Boko Haram — the world’s deadliest terrorist group — Bakari Gombi received a phone call by an army commander asking her to track the group. A woman who used to hunt antelope, baboons, and guinea fowl is now hunting the group that took over 6,644 lives in 2014 alone.

While hunting, the 38-year-old hunter leads a group of men aged 15 to 30 using sign language, animal sounds, and birdsongs. Because of her success, Bakari Gombi has earned the title “queen hunter”. In fact, the queen hunter claims, “Boko Haram know me and fear me.”

Along with Bakari Gombi is Hamsat Hassan. After the terrorist group kidnapped Hassan’s sister over two years ago, Hassan states, “I couldn’t fire a gun when I asked to join the Hunters’ Association in a town also called Gombi, but all I knew was that I wanted to avenge the people who abducted my sister.”

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Along with physically saving the lives of many, these women are role models to young girls across the world. Their story serves as an example that a woman can lead, and that when she does, she’s a queen at it. So the next time someone asks for a female superhero, don’t give them a comic book. Give them the news.

To read more, please visit: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/08/antelope-hunter-boko-haram-nigeria

Posted in Baby Groot

A Massacre Happened and No One’s Talking About It

Massacres happen much more often than we would like to think, but rarely are they recorded. This past week, a disturbing video shows a mass killing occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The video beings with soldiers (dressed in the uniform of the national army) walking towards a group of civilians, when all of a sudden, guns are raised and shots are fired. One of the soldiers states, “Look they are dying. Watch how they get killed like animals.”

And one by one, each person falls to the ground. None attempted to run away.

As the footage goes closer to the group, it is evident that the victims were mere civilians posing no imminent danger. Not only were there no weapons near the bodies, but many of the victims look young and some were women.

Human rights activists and the United Nations are now looking into the video and its source. The Congo has a history of government-led atrocities, so it would come as no surprise if this massacre was also sponsored.

Unfortunately, these incidents are common. The Congo is not merely lawless, but rather reported as “the most deadly conflict since World War II.” From 1998 to 2007, nearly 5.4 million Congolese have been killed.

Clearly, more action needs to be taken, and it needs to be taken before another massacre occurs.

To read more, please visit: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/17/world/africa/democratic-republic-congo-massacre-video-.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fafrica