The Briefing: February 26th, 2014

It’s good to be back. I apologize for my extended absence but Mock Trial is a demanding mistress. Nevertheless, I have an intriguing list for you. Enjoy!


The Domestic

  • The Pentagon is planning a series of cuts to the army that would leave it at its smallest size since before World War II. Budget cuts, the winding down in Afghanistan, and the changing nature of warfare are making the justification of a large land army more and more difficult.

  • A newly released survey indicates that the number of American farms has continued to decline. At the same time, the agriculture market, buoyed by government aid and the foreign market, is doing better than ever. The report is certainly not an excuse to ignore the deficiencies in our subsidy policies, import tariffs, or the abysmal state of rural poverty .

  • The Supreme Court has temporarily halted the consideration of further gun-rights cases. While this is a reprieve, it doesn’t hide the fact that the Supreme Court seems very critical of existing gun regulations and that speculation has focused on what they will knock down rather than what they’ll uphold.

  • Scott Walker (R), the governor of Wisconsin, has gotten himself in a bit of trouble regarding a treasure-trove of emails that were disclosed by a former deputy. The emails don’t seem to be releasing anything illegal yet though the allegations of racism certainly don’t help him or the Republican party. Is anyone really surprised?

  • The Supreme Court is out with a new decision that says if two people disagree over whether to let the police come in and check their home without a warrant, the police may enter and arrest the disagreeing party.

  • Attorney General, Eric Holder, has said in a statement to state AGs that it may be wise for them, after careful review of state gay marriage bans, to disavow defending them in court. It’s the same tactic used by the Obama administration during the legal battle over DOMA but it raises concerns over how far state legal personnel should be able to go if they disagree with the law. My tentative response would be that refusing to defend a law is as much of a policy and legal statement as defending it is, especially when the tide of opinion is shifting so strongly on an issue as it has for gay marriage bans.

The International 

  • Tensions have risen in Ukraine since the ousting of President Yanukovych. Presidential elections are set for this May but worries of Russian intervention and the rise of separatist movements are plaguing foreign policy experts in the European Union and the United States. Russia has already denounced the events in Ukraine and has referred to it as a country-wide mutiny. Mutiny against whom though?

  • Just like we say in Egypt, revolutions and uprisings are never good for the economy. The crisis in Ukraine largely started due to different trade  deal options for Ukraine with the EU or a $15 billion gas deal with Russia. Now, the economy desparetly needs aid if the government is to fund expenses past May and if the possibility of Pro-Russian and Pro-Eu sectarian trouble is to be staved off.

  • The United States has informed the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, that it will prepare to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan unless the Karzai administration agrees to a bilateral security agreement. The BSA, not unlike the one that was proposed for Iraq two years ago, would grant the U.S. permission to stay in Afghanistan with certain legal privileges for U.S. troops. It was the failure of the Maliki government to sign the Iraqi BSA that allowed the U.S. to follow the original Status of Forces Agreement and pull out of Iraq. If that pattern repeats here, we may finally be out of Afghanistan for good.

  • The Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange has failed following a security flaw that allowed for bitcoins to be stolen; indeed, over 700,000 bitcoins did turn up missing. Quartz put out an interesting article detailing that the Mt. Gox firm, which had been one of the largest exchanges for bitcoins, tried to declare itself too big/important to fail. Sound familiar? If bitcoin truly wishes to distinguish itself from the dollar, then perhaps mimicking the behavior of the 2008 financial institutions and pushing aside valid concerns with its stability and security is not the best course of action.

  • Egypt once again has a new Prime Minister as the crackdown on protesters continue and the upcoming presidential election seems set to be one by the overwhelming favorite, Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, the popular defense minister who helped overthrow the Mubarak government. All this does not change the fact that the situation in Egypt will not improve until the economy is put back on a growth footing. Ironically, that may be why the government seeks to put so much emphasis on stability and order, though it comes at the risk of massive human rights abuse.

  • Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda, has signed the extremely controversial anti-gay bill that has been heavily criticized by the West. What with LGBT rights gaining traction in the West, this serves as a depressing reminder of the situation faced by the LGBT community elsewhere in the world.

  • Smog in China has gotten so bad that a man even decided to sue the government over it. Scientists studying the smog in recent years have noted that it may be starting to reach the point where it affects photosynthesis levels among plants; it already poses a serious threat to Chinese agriculture. What’s more, a recent report by the Chinese research organizations even claimed that the smog made Beijing “barely suitable for life.” Perhaps some environmental legislation is order?



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