This is your Moment of Clarity #235: The Pentagon's funding of memory erasing pills raising a difficult moral question. Do you think anyone at the Pentagon thinks so?
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This is your Moment of Clarity #235: The Pentagon's funding of memory erasing pills raising a difficult moral question. Do you think anyone at the Pentagon thinks so?
By Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica
We've updated our sequestration explainer to reflect new developments. It was originally published on April 11, 2013.
When the annual White House Easter Egg Hunt faced cancellation this year due to the package of mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration, the National Park Service kicked into high gear. It rescued the event — held since 1878 — with money from "corporate sponsors and the sale of commemorative wooden eggs," according to the Washington Post.
The nation's airline passengers also caught a break last month when Congress passed (and President Obama quickly signed) a bill allowing the Federal Aviation Administration to shift some funds and halt the furloughs of air traffic controllers that had been blamed for long flight delays around the country.
But other programs haven't been so lucky. Children in Indiana have been cut from the federally funded Head Start preschool program, and one Head Start program in Maine is being cut altogether. Furloughs have begun for employees of agencies from the U.S. Park Police to the Environmental Protection Agency. And cuts to Medicare have forced cancer clinics to turn away thousands of patients who are being treated with drugs the clinics can no longer afford.
We've taken a look at what's actually happened in the two months since sequestration took effect.
Remind me, what is sequestration again?
Remember the clash over the debt ceiling back in 2011?
When Republicans and Obama struck a deal to raise it, they created a "super committee" of six Democrats and six Republicans and gave them three and a half months to hash out $1.2 trillion worth of cuts to the federal budget over the next decade. If they failed, a package of automatic cuts designed to slash funding to programs dear to both parties (military spending, in the Republicans' case, and Medicare and other domestic programs in the Democrats') would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
Needless to say, the super committee failed, leading to the cuts we're seeing now.
Asked what America could do if a meteorite like the one that hit Russia last month was three weeks away from hitting New York, NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr.’s answer was “pray.” And we probably wouldn’t even get three weeks’ warning. NASA currently lacks the ability to find and track “small” meteors like the 55-foot one that hit Russia. If we did see one coming and it was still far enough away, apparently the current plan is to ram a spacecraft into it and knock it off course. NASA has only $20.5 million budgeted to detect near-Earth objects, and Bolden suggested at today's House Committee hearing that Congress isn’t taking the problem seriously enough.
The New York Daily News highlights the full exchange that prompted Bolden's response of "pray":
"What would we do if you detected even a small one like the one that detonated in Russia headed for New York in three weeks? What would you do?" Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) asked.
The witnesses turned to look at each other.
"Bend over and what?" Posey pressed, drawing chuckles from the hearing room.
"The answer to you is, if it's coming in three weeks, pray," Bolden said.
Not too comforting.
And, Ruh roh:
He said Americans might want the government to be able to zap asteroids -but the government has not provided the money to do so.
"We are where we are today because you all told us to do something - and between the Administration and the Congress ... the funding did not come," he said.
The United States and the rest of the world simply do not have the ability to detect many "small" meteors like the one that exploded over Russia, which has been estimated at roughly 55 feet long. Donald Yeomans, Manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office and the author of "Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us," told CBSNews.com that there are a lot of these small meteors in orbit, and little early warning system in place to detect them.
Yeomans said the most efficient way to find them would be a space-based infrared telescope. This has two benefits: One, the sun would not serve to prevent detection of some objects, and two, the infrared nature of the telescope would mean it would be effective in detecting them. (Part of the reason there was no warning for the Russia meteor is that the sun blinded the satellites.) CBS News contributor and City University of New York physics professor Michio Kaku calls such a telescope a "no brainer," in part because it comes at the relatively low cost of a few hundred million dollars.
"In Russia, if that asteroid had held intact for a few more seconds, it would have hit the ground with the force of 20 Hiroshima bombs," he said on CBS This Morning Tuesday, arguing the investment was worth it. Yeomans also called for ground-based wide field optical telescopes that could scan vast regions of the sky each night.
Another more costlier solution was also discussed, it involved mining asteroids in space, a potential for investment deals and would cost "billions." Talk revolved around landing on and mining this particular asteroid: "An asteroid known as Apophis, which is about 1,000 feet wide and has the potential to wipe a nation off the face of the planet in a direct hit, is expected to come within 20,000 miles of Earth in 2029."
A note of some comfort, again, from the Daily News:
"The good news is that the biggest, kilometer-plus objects — like the one suspected of killing off the dinosaurs — typically only hit once every 20,000 years."
By Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica
President Obama has directed the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence as part of his legislative package on gun control. The CDC hasn't pursued this kind of research since 1996 when the National Rifle Association lobbied Congress to cut funding for it, arguing that the studies were politicized and being used to promote gun control. We've interviewed Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who led the agency's gun violence research in the nineties when he was the director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
We talked to Rosenberg about the work the agency was doing before funding was cut and how it's relevant to today's gun control debate. Here's an edited transcript.
There's been coverage recently about how Congress cut funding for gun violence research, but not much about what the agency was actually researching and what it was finding. You were in charge of that. Tell us a little bit about what the CDC was doing back then.
There were basically four questions that we were trying to answer. The first question is what is the problem? Who were the victims? Who was killed? Who were injured? Where did they happen? Under what circumstances? When? What times of the year? What times of the day? What was the relationship to other events? How did they happen? What were the weapons that were used? What was the relationship between the people involved? What was the motive or the setting in which they happened?
The second question is what are the causes? What are the things that increase one's risk of being shot? What are the things that decrease one's risk of being shot?
The third question we were trying to answer is what works to prevent these? What kinds of policies, what kinds of interventions, what kinds of police practices or medical practices or education and school practices actually might prevent some of these shootings? We're not just looking at mass shootings, but also looking at the bulk of the homicides that occur every year and the suicides, which account for a majority of all gun deaths.
Then the last question is how do you do it? Once you have a program or policy that has been proven to work in one place, how do you spread it? How do you actually put it in place?
So what were you were able to find before funding got cut off?
One of the critical studies that we supported was looking at the question of whether having a firearm in your home protects you or puts you at increased risk. This was a very important question because people who want to sell more guns say that having a gun in your home is the way to protect your family.
What the research showed was not only did having a firearm in your home not protect you, but it hugely increased the risk that someone in your family would die from a firearm homicide. It increased the risk almost 300 percent, almost three times as high.
It also showed that the risk that someone in your home would commit suicide went up. It went up five-fold if you had a gun in the home. These are huge, huge risks, and to just put that in perspective, we look at a risk that someone might get a heart attack or that they might get a certain type of cancer, and if that risk might be 20 percent greater, that may be enough to ban a certain drug or a certain product.
But in this case, we're talking about a risk not 20 percent, not 100 percent, not 200 percent, but almost 300 percent or 500 percent. These are huge, huge risks.
I understand there was also an effort to collect data on gun violence through something called the Firearm Injury Surveillance System. What did that involve?
We were collecting information to answer the question of who, what, where, when, and how did shootings occur?
We were finding that most homicides occur between people who know each other, people who are acquaintances or might be doing business together or might be living together. They're not stranger-on-stranger shootings. They're not mostly home intrusions.
We also found that there were a lot of firearm suicides, and in fact most firearm deaths are suicides. There were a lot of young people who were impulsive who were using guns to commit suicide.
So if you were able to continue this work, what kind of data do you think would be available today?
I think we'd know much more information about what sorts of weapons are used in what sorts of firearm deaths and injuries.
By Kim Barker, ProPublica
A former Illinois congressional candidate and a government watchdog organization have teamed up to sue the Internal Revenue Service, claiming the agency should bar dark money groups from funding political ads.
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by David Gill, his campaign committee and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, is the first to challenge how the IRS regulates political spending by social welfare nonprofits, campaign-finance experts say.
As ProPublica has reported, these nonprofits, often called dark money groups because they don't have to identify their donors, have increasingly become major players in politics since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in early 2010.
Gill, an emergency room doctor who has advocated for health-care reform, including a single-payer plan, was the Democratic candidate for the 13th district in Illinois last year. After a tight race, Gill ended up losing to the Republican candidate by 1,002 votes — a loss the lawsuit blames "largely, if not exclusively," on spending by the American Action Network, a social welfare nonprofit.
It's impossible to say for certain why Gill lost. He had lost three earlier races for a congressional seat.
But the American Action Network, launched in 2010 by former Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, played a role. It reported spending almost $1.5 million on three TV commercials and Internet ads opposing Gill, mainly in the weeks right before the election. That was more than any other outside group spent on the race, and more than Gill's principal campaign committee spent on the entire election, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Though Gill had never held public office, the American Action Network ads described him as "a mad scientist" who supported sending jobs to China, channeling money to the failed green-energy company Solyndra, and making a mess out of health care and Medicare.
Gill said he ran into people every day who said they weren't voting for him because of claims he would destroy Medicare.
"I think that certainly the money put forward — they saw that they could have an impact here," Gill said of the American Action Network. "They wanted to put their money where it could make a difference between victory and defeat."
Dan Conston, spokesman for the American Action Network, described CREW as a "left-wing front group" in an email. He said Gill was a "failed candidate with an extreme ideology, looking to blame anyone but himself for losing his fourth-straight congressional election."
Nonprofits like the American Action Network have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into political ads in the last two election cycles. Like super PACs, these groups can accept unlimited donations. But super PACs must identify their donors, allowing voters to see who is behind their messages.
The Gill lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, alleges the IRS failed to properly regulate the American Action Network, citing seemingly contradictory definitions the agency has applied to such groups for years.
The statute governing social welfare nonprofits says they should be operated "exclusively" for promoting social welfare. But the IRS paved the way for political spending by these groups by interpreting "exclusively" as meaning the groups had to only be "primarily" engaged in promoting the public good. Some groups have taken this to mean they can spend up to 49 percent of their money on election ads.
The lawsuit claims the IRS' interpretation of the law "is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law," and asks for an injunction prohibiting the agency from using it.
Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, blamed the IRS for sitting on its hands as social welfare nonprofits have been formed specifically to run negative ads paid for by anonymous donors.
"Now the IRS can explain its deplorable inaction in federal court," she said.
The IRS didn't respond to requests for comment Tuesday. It typically doesn't comment on issues related to individual taxpayers.
The American Action Network has been one of the more controversial dark money groups active in politics. Conston said the American Action Network's primary focus was on non-electoral activities and called the dispute over the group's election spending a "tired long-since settled argument."
In filings to the IRS, the group said it spent $25.7 million in its 2010 tax year. In separate filings to the Federal Election Commission, it reported spending about $19.4 million over the same period on political ads, or about 76 percent of the total expenditures reported to the IRS.
If the group stays on its current schedule, American Action Network won't file its taxes covering the 2012 election until May 2014.
Official White House Response to Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.
This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For
By Paul Shawcross
The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:
The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
The President does not negotiate with Imperialists!
We haven't seen the last of Big Bird--or his Muppet friends. Around a thousand protesters turned out for the Million Puppet March on Capitol Hill on Saturday to demonstrate against Mitt Romney's promise to cut funding to Public Broadcasting Services. There were Big Birds, Kermits, Elmos, and Miss Piggies in attendance, along with some humans holding signs like “Puppets for Peace” and “Keep Your Mitts Off Big Bird.” “We’re just making it clear that public media matters, and it’s something that we want to see supported and we still want to see federal funding of,” said co-organizer Michael Bellavia.
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Indiana can’t cut off funding for Planned Parenthood just because the organization provides abortion, contrary to a 2011 law signed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. That law was the first time a state denied Planned Parenthood Medicaid funds for general health services, including cancer screenings.
Indiana stepped between women and their physicians when it enacted a law that blocked Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood just because the organization provides abortions, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago effectively upheld decisions by a district judge and a Medicaid review panel that found the 2011 law denied patients the right to choose their own health care provider.
"This is not about an abortion case. This is a case about Medicaid services - non-abortion-related services - and the attempt by the state of Indiana to punish Planned Parenthood and its clients from receiving non-abortion health services merely because Planned Parenthood, without any sort of state or federal money or any Medicaid funds, also provides abortions," Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said at a news conference in Indianapolis following Tuesday's decision. The ACLU argued the case on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
A federal judge in Phoenix last week blocked Arizona from applying a similar law to Planned Parenthood. A similar law in Texas also is the focus of a court fight.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) acknowledged on Wednesday that House Republicans had consciously voted to reduce the funds allocated to the State Department for embassy security since winning the majority in 2010.
On Wednesday morning, CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien asked the Utah Republican if he had "voted to cut the funding for embassy security."
"Absolutely," Chaffetz said. "Look we have to make priorities and choices in this country. We have…15,000 contractors in Iraq. We have more than 6,000 contractors, a private army there, for President Obama, in Baghdad. And we’re talking about can we get two dozen or so people into Libya to help protect our forces. When you’re in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices. You have to prioritize things.”
During the past two years, House Republicans have continued to deprioritize the security forces protecting State Department personnel around the world. In fiscal year 2011, lawmakers cut $128 million off of the administration's request for embassy security funding. House Republicans drained off even more funds in fiscal year 2012, cutting back on the department's request by $331 million.
Consulate personnel stationed in Benghazi had allegedly expressed concerns over their safety in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Chaffetz and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have alleged that those concerns were ignored.
A Yemeni man was shot and killed by gunman on his way to work at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa early Thursday morning. The car carrying Qassem Aqlan, who headed an embassy security team, was shot at by masked attackers on a motorcycle. “This (assassination) operation has the fingerprints of al Qaeda which carried out similar operations before,” a source told Reuters. Assassination attempts have been frequent since Yemen’s army cleared Islamist fighters out of many towns earlier this year, while the U.S. has been high alert for its embassy staff overseas since the ambassador to Libya was killed with three others on Sept. 11 in Benghazi.
[Caution: Contains graphic images.]
A Sardinian miner has slashed his wrist in a live TV address, in protest against the closing of a local facility. Some 100 workers barricaded themselves in front of the mine, which is packed with almost 700 kilograms of explosives.
The incident took place during a press conference held underground.
"If someone here has decided to the kill miners' families, ladies and gentlemen, we'll cut ourselves, we'll cut ourselves," 49-year-old Stefano Meletti said as he slashed his wrist in front of reporters.
"We cannot take it anymore. We cannot! We cannot! It’s what we have to do," Reuters quoted him as saying.
The miners have staged an underground protest of government funding for the coal industry, which has cost them their jobs amid the deep recession in the region.
Government officials are scheduled to meet in the coming week to discuss the Sardinia's plight.