Pentagon

Companies working with the NSA could get blanket immunity

National Security Agency HQ

The common American might be at a much more vulnerable spot now that Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, asked lawmakers for more authority in order to offer liability immunity to companies working closely with the National Security Agency in digital defense programs.

The change in law would allow for mistakes to go unaccounted for in case a company hits the wrong target while attempting to block the home base of a suspicious or seemingly threatening source. While this change in the law seems harmless to some, it could offer protection to companies that act on behalf of the agency, and leave innocent consumers without any access to legal recourse.

Congress was left with the duty of rethinking how private companies are held liable. According to POLITICO, a White House official assured that the Obama administration would be willing to accept a change in the law in order to maintain a company protected while participating in defensive countermeasures online. The source remained anonymous.

While many companies still fight to protect their reputation after news regarding the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs broke, the increased immunity would strip a firm’s only incentive to resist government pressure: its good name.

While certain companies still take their consumers’ privacy into consideration, some fear losing their strong presence in the market, which is why they might be welcoming to the change in the law. Some companies may see this as an opportunity to have their assets protected by avoiding being hit with lawsuits over possible target errors.

Sequestration: An Inside Perspective

In two days, the sequestration axe will either drop, or it won’t.  Personally, I am about as close as you can get to the situation, and I have no idea how it will turn out.  While the “national security” argument against sequestration was gradually left behind, the arguments against the cuts have become increasingly economic in nature.  These arguments are problematic at best and disingenuous at worst.

A while back, I proposed a couple of ways to gradually cut more than sequestration does, therefore creating less pain in the current fiscal year; but as dieting often fails, cutting swiftly might be the only surefire method to actually cut spending.  Putting the cuts into perspective, as George Will did in his article this weekend, $85 billion from a $3.6 trillion budget, or 2.3%, is miniscule. The “draconian” cuts merely return us to 2006 levels.

I have been advocating deeper cuts for some time now, and as a defense contractor, am prepared to lose my job as a result (although I don’t expect to). I will try to be as objective as possible herein as I offer a couple of personal thoughts as we draw closer to the actuality of sequestration:

How The Sequester Torpedoed Conservatives’ Credibility

John Boehner

It was a mere tweet, but it summed up the entirety of the modern conservative movement:

It has everything: the source is the preeminent conservative “think tank” in DC, soon to be headed by Tea Party conservative and former senator Jim DeMint; lamenting about spending cuts; the laments are all about a government department that by all rights should not exist; and for good measure, it has a photograph. It shows precisely how the sequester had torpedoed conservative credibility.

We have heard relentlessly these past five years, ever since Obama was elected, that we need to cut spending. (Indeed, another Heritage article is a dorky little bit that specifically notes a “thrifty” House which demands that they have a balanced budget and avoid deficits.) Yet now that there is something which will cut—no, sorry, I can’t type that with a straight face; it will not cut spending, but merely slightly decrease the rate of spending—Heritage is up in arms about it.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Military Contractors) wrote the following in an op-ed:

Drones: Legal, Ethical, and Wise?

Since the first armed drone strike in Yemen 2002, the United States has been leveraging the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, signed on September 18, 2001, presumably for use in Afghanistan, to justify the use of drone warfare in numerous countries.  Drones have since been used in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Mali, but mostly in Pakistan, where strikes began in 2004, and accelerated in 2009; with more than 300 strikes, there have been six times more drone strikes in Pakistan under Obama than under Bush.

Ted Cruz Questions Chuck Hagel’s Patriotism

After hours of debate yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, along strict party lines, with a 14-11 vote.  Hagel is expected to narrowly be confirmed by a full vote in the Senate as soon as Minority Ranking Member Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) says all holds placed on the nomination are cleared.   While reasons such as financial disclosure and – in the case of Senator Graham - information on Benghazi have been given for holding Hagel’s nomination, such holds are essentially due to Hagel’s heterodoxy on foreign policy.

Senate Confirmations: An Opportunity Squandered

President Obama’s foreign policy team is undergoing a makeover, with the nominations of Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State, former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, and the Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan as CIA Director.  All three gentlemen are expected to be confirmed; Kerry already has, Hagel will likely be confirmed (following an abysmal hearing) later this week, and Brennan faces his confirmation hearing this Thursday, which will essentially be the GOP’s final chance to hold Obama accountable for broken national security policies.

The GOP squandered two opportunities to ask proper questions of Kerry and Hagel.  The Kerry confirmation hearing was a jovial affair for one of the first advocates on intervention in the Libyan civil war in 2011, which, by the way, received no congressional authorization.  When Kerry was questioned about congressional authorization, he essentially bragged about his history of support for unilateral Executive action in Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, Bosnia, and yes, Libya.

Real Defense Budget Alternatives

With the “fiscal cliff” behind us, it’s important to remember that in less than two months, the Congress will be dealing with another manufactured crisis: The budget cuts of the 2011 Budget Control Act known as “sequestration.”  The Department of Defense will bear 41% of the prescribed cuts, eliminating an additional $492 billion over 10 years.  Although entitlement spending will also be on the table, the initial fight will be over cuts to the Defense budget.

A new study by the nonpartisan RAND Corporation concludes that the defense budget cuts cannot be taken without altering our overall defense strategy, and that “the department should modify defense strategy to fit the new resource constraints and prepare its course of action sooner rather than later.”

The authors highlight three alternative strategies, which anyone interested in this topic should read and consider.  An accompanying article by the authors states, “Reductions of the magnitude implied by sequestration—some $500 billion over the coming decade—cannot be accommodated without a re-examination of current defense strategy.”

As USS Enterprise Retired, A Question: Why So Many Aircraft Carriers?

enterprise.jpg

Over the weekend, the USS Enterprise—the real one, not James T. Kirk’s ship—was retired in Virginia:

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - The world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was retired from active service on Saturday, temporarily reducing the number of carriers in the U.S. fleet to 10 until 2015.

The USS Enterprise ended its notable 51-year career during a ceremony at its home port at Naval Station Norfolk, where thousands of former crew members, ship builders and their families lined a pier to bid farewell to one of the most decorated ships in the Navy.

“It’ll be a special memory. The tour yesterday was a highlight of the last 20 years of my life. I’ve missed the Enterprise since every day I walked off of it,” said Kirk McDonnell, a former interior communications electrician aboard the ship from 1983 to 1987 who now lives in Highmore, S.D.

The Enterprise was the largest ship in the world at the time it was built, earning the nickname “Big E.” It didn’t have to carry conventional fuel tanks for propulsion, allowing it to carry twice as much aircraft fuel and ordnance than conventional carriers at the time. Using nuclear reactors also allowed the ship to set speed records and stay out to sea during a deployment without ever having to refuel, one of the times ships are most vulnerable to attack.

Notice how the story says that the number of aircraft carriers is only “temporarily” reduced to 10 until 2015. That’s because they’re building more of them, and yes, the next one will be named Enterprise:

More about libertarianism, fusionism, and the Romney campaign

Jason Pye has written a great blog post about libertarians and the Romney campaign already. He asked me my opinion about it, perhaps even with the possibility of a “point-counterpoint” sort of thing. I pretty much agree with what he’s saying, particularly about Ron Paul and the Libertarian Party. We are not a monolithic group; we are a very wide and very diverse range of individuals who just want to increase individual liberty.

What I want to add is that, while Republicans and conservatives complain about us, and want us to support them in elections, they have done nothing to earn such support. Let me show you a few examples:

To which I responded with:

And to which I got this response:

Hypocrite in Chief

//creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cuts to defense and military spending should reflect a principled commitment to reducing wasteful spending, crony capitalism, and the size and scope of the part of the federal government with all the bullets and bombs — it should not be a matter of political convenience.

When congressional leaders sparred over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling last year, the parties agreed that if Congress failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan, automatic triggers would kick in, and would sequester $1.2 trillion in spending across the federal budget (mandatory and discretionary; defense and non-defense). That agreement, which came to fruition almost exactly a year ago to the day, reflected a trade the president made with House Republicans: he gave up demanding revenue increases in exchange for an agreement to include defense spending in sequestration. Speaker of the House John Boehner reluctantly agreed, making sure no triggers would go into effect until January 2, 2013.


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