Sunday, April 16, 2017

On the Mother of All Budgets (U.S. Defense)

  • Last week, after the U.S. dropped the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) aka "Mother of All Bombs" in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson Jr. said, “This was the right weapon against the right target … designed to destroy caves and tunnels, which ISIS-K have been using… it was the right time to use it tactically, against the right target on the battlefield … the weapon achieved its intended purpose."  NOTE: the MOAB 1) is the most powerful non-nuclear U.S. bomb, 2) weighs about 22,000 pounds and 3) has an explosive capacity of about 11 tons of TNT with a blast radius of about a mile.  Estimates suggest that each MOAB costs $16 million, from a program that spent $314 million to produce about 20 bombs.
  • In a quarterly report to the U.S. Congress (Jan.  2017), John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, assessed progress in Afghanistan (a region where the U.S. has spent over $117 billion since 2002) and said “Unfortunately in the nearly five years I’ve been traveling to Afghanistan, I first witnessed the United States put in way too much, way too fast. More recently, I’ve watched the U.S. remove way too much, way too fast. Policy makers both in Congress and the new Trump Administration should take note of this.”
  • In the Sept. 2016 report “US Budgetary Costs of Wars through 2016: $4.79 Trillion and Counting – Summary of Costs of the US Wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan and Homeland Security” by  Boston University Political Science Profession Neta C. Crawford, said “As of August 2016, the US has already appropriated, spent, or taken on obligations to spend more than $3.6 trillion in current dollars on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria and on Homeland Security (2001 through fiscal year 2016). To this total should be added the approximately $65 billion in dedicated war spending the Department of Defense and State Department have requested for the next fiscal year, 2017, along with an additional nearly $32 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, and estimated spending on veterans in future years. When those are included, the total US budgetary cost of the wars reaches $4.79 trillion
  • Regarding the MOAB – While some headlines associated it with nuclear bombs, the MOAB is equivalent to 11 tons of TNT, the “Little Boy,” bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 was equivalent to about 16,000 tons of TNT.
  • Regarding U.S. military spending – Given that U.S. military spending is greater than ChinaSaudi ArabiaRussiaUKIndiaFrance and Japan combined; the potential for inefficiency and corruption are likely to be large as well.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

On Twitter, the U.S. Government. Privacy and Free Speech

  • Last week, Twitter filed a lawsuit related to the U.S.  Department of Homeland Security’s request to reveal the identity for the anonymous account @ALT_USCIS, which posts comments about U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Trump Administration immigration policies. The filing said “Adam Hoffman, an agent within U.S. Customs and Border Protection … [ordered] Twitter to produce certain records pertaining to the @ALT_USCIS account [and] Failure to comply with this summons will render you liable to proceedings in a U.S. District Court to enforce compliance with this summons as well as other sanctions.”  Twitter stated that “The CBP Summons is unlawful and unenforceable because it violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and its users by seeking to unmask the identity of one or more anonymous Twitter users voicing criticism of the government on matters of public concern.”
  • On Friday, the U.S. Government withdrew its action against Twitter and Esha Bhandari, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing the anonymous user said, "Speaking anonymously about issues of the day is a longstanding American tradition, dating back to when the framers of the Constitution wrote under pseudonyms … the anonymity that the First Amendment guarantees is often most essential when people criticize the government, and this free speech right is as important today as ever."
  • The US Constitution’s First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • The action against Twitter is another example of the prominent position that social media platforms have in the debate about free expression.  
  • While “free speech” and “personal privacy” have encountered legal challenges in the past, the actions by the current administration will likely keep the U.S. judicial system very busy.
  • Finally, it seems ironic that the use of Twitter’s messaging platform may play a role in affirming, or changing the path forward for U.S. constitutional law.