With the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, the war in the Middle East is once again trust into the limelight for the United States. After the so called ‘war on terrorism’ has largely been eclipsed in the public mind by more domestic concerns, like our flagging economy, the news of the death of one of the forerunners of the al-Qaida group has brought the issue to the forefront. And it was done during Obama’s watch. This could prove to be a feather in the President’s cap.
Americans gather to celebrate the news at the White House and Ground Zero while the stock markets get a modest boost from higher moral and confidence. U.S. officials say that the body of the master terrorist has been buried at sea, following Islamic practice and tradition that the deceased be buried within 24 hours. It was hard to get a country to accept the remains of the man who was the face of terrorism, so it was decided to bury bin Laden at sea. (This probably means they dumped the body over the side of a boat in whatever ocean or sea they were closest to. Don’t have any illusions here.)
DNA testing offered a “99.9%” certainty that bin Laden was the man shot dead during the raid and detailed photo analysis by the CIA and matching physical features confirmed the identity of the body. U.S. Blackhawk helicopters ferried about two dozen troops from Navy SEAL Team Six, a top military counter-terrorism unit, into the compound identified by the CIA as bin Laden’s hideout — and back out again in less than 40 minutes. Bin Laden was shot in the head, officials said, after he and his bodyguards resisted the assault.
It is unclear what this will mean. People have already stated that while bin Laden’s death is a great blow to terrorism and a victory for the United States, the war is not over. I fear that we have only cut off the head of a hydra, and two will spring up in its place. Homeland Security and the FDA has already issued travel warnings as the threat of retaliation from remaining el-Qaida members and those with radical sympathies is very real.
A crowd gathered at New York’s Ground Zero right after Obama’s speech announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 1, 2011. Revelers in the crowd scrambled up light poles over the cheering crowd.
TIME contract photographer Dominic Nahr arrived just one day after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting devastating tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan on March 11th. Nahr camped out at a Daiou temple in Minami Sanriku where most of the town had been wiped out by the tsunami. The temple, however, was on top of a hill and was spared. Dozens of survivors are living at the temple after having their homes destroyed. Nahr photographed the Buddhist funeral ceremonies that were being done in groups and in an abbreviated form so they could accommodate all the families that lose loved ones, many without a body to mourn.
Survivor's sleep closely together for warmth at a temporary shelter in a Daiou temple in Minami Sanriku, one of the only locations in the area not destroyed by the tsunami. March 29, 2011
Dozens of urns fill a room for a group funeral at a Daiou temple in Minami Sanriku. March 30, 2011
A member of Japan's Self-Defense Forces searches for survivors on March 14, 2011
Both the House and the Senate passed the budget bill yesterday, with the Senate voting 81-19. Fifteen Republican senators, three Democrats, and one independent voted against the measure. Now the legislation moves on to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law. But the fight over the 2011 budget may have weakened John Boehner when many of his own party abandoned him when voting in the House on the measure took place yesterday afternoon. Without Democrat help, the bill may never have passed. But don’t be fooled into thinking anybody is having fuzzy feelings for the opposite party, 108 of the no votes came from House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.Now Capitol Hill turns its attention to raising the national debt limit but the king of the Republicans may be doing so with a weaker hand. Boehner’s little GOP kingdom has become disenchanted with him. The federal debt ceiling, currently just under $14.3 trillion, is projected to be breached by mid-May and the Treasury Department’s accounting tricks will only last until early July. Conservatives and tea party members are demanding that their leaders shrink the government and are howling at the suggestion of raising the debt ceiling. But they may end up having no choice. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and others have warned of dire consequences to the global financial markets if the debt limit is not extended and the government begins defaulting on its loans.
With debate over the debt limit intensifying, Republicans are discussing attaching some tough statutory language to the bill that would allow the ceiling to be increased only if Congress institutes broad spending cuts in federal agency budgets and in entitlement programs such as Medicare. Those proposals might unify House Republicans for an initial passage of the debt ceiling, but they might also fail in the Democratic controlled Senate. Such an outcome would send Boehner back to the bargaining table with Obama and Reid. This past week’s reaction to the spending bill from GOP conservatives may leave the White House assuming Boehner will not be able to deliver a majority on his own, prompting Obama’s side to not give in to as many of the speaker’s demands.
What is going on in our government? The House passed the budget bill that had been created last Friday but House Speaker John Boehner had to turn to Democratic support to get it done. The vote was 260 to 167 (it takes 217 ‘yes’ votes to pass a bill) but 59 Republicans broke with their party to vote against the measure. In turn, 81 Democrats voted for the deal. The budget deal, which makes $38 billion in federal spending cuts, has been criticized by some conservative Republicans as being inadequate in addressing the government’s ballooning debt. Of the 59 GOP defections, 27 were freshmen members, most that had been elected with Tea Party backing. The Senate is poised to vote later today and Obama will certainly sign it into law.
The 2011 spending measure produces its $38 billion in cuts to domestic accounts by including almost $18 billion changes to benefit programs, like children’s health care, highway funding and a fund for crime victims. “This bill is nothing more than a Tea Party checklist targeting programs that help the most vulnerable,” said liberal Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., ticking off cuts to food aid for the poor, grants to local police departments and help for children of inmates. “It’s shameful, a moral disgrace.” Obama, however, was able to ease cuts to favored programs like medical research, family planning programs and education, while largely ridding the bill of conservative policy initiatives to block last year’s health care law and new environmental regulations.
Later today, Republicans dominating the House will launch debate on a 10-year blueprint that promises to cut the long-term budget plan Obama laid out in February by more than $6 trillion. The GOP measure, a non-binding blueprint that sets a theoretical framework for future legislation, would also sharply cut Medicaid and transform it into a block grant program runs by the states. It doesn’t touch Social Security, however, or immediately cut Medicare.
Still, Obama and his Democratic allies accepted $600 million in cuts to a community health centers program, $414 million in cuts to grants for state and local police departments, and a $1.6 billion reduction in the Environmental Protection Agency budget, almost $1 billion of which would come from grants for clean water and other projects by local governments and Indian tribes. The National Institutes of Health, which funds critical medical research, would absorb a $260 million cut, less than 1 percent of its budget, instead of the $1.6 billion cut sought by House Republicans. Family planning programs would bear a 5 percent cut rather than being completely eliminated. Homeland security programs would see their first ever cut, although mostly to first responder grants given to state and local governments, and the IRS budget would be frozen.
About $10 billion of the cuts comes from targeting appropriations accounts previously used by lawmakers for so-called earmarks, those pet projects like highways, water projects, community development grants and new equipment for police and fire departments. Republicans had already engineered a ban on earmarks when taking back the House this year. Republicans also claimed $5 billion in savings by capping payments from a fund awarding compensation to crime victims. According to an arcane bookkeeping rule, this allows the government to claim the entire contents of the fund as budget savings. Renewable energy programs are cut $407 million, almost 20% of their budget, and The Army Corps of Engineers, which funds flood control and inland waterway projects, will suffer a $578 million cut, about 10% of its budget.
Conservative Republicans and Tea Party people are already expressing their displeasure with the budget plan, saying that the almost $38 billion in cuts barely make a dent in the country’s budget woes. They are also upset that policy “riders” added by the Republicans, like those on abortion, were dropped during negotiation. These little add-ons included attempts to block the EPA’s ability to issue global warming rules, moves to stop the implementation of Obama’s healthcare overhauls, new rules to govern the Internet, and an attempt to chop an initiative aimed at catching people running guns to Mexican drug lords off at the knees.
It now seems that due to some tricky maneuvering, Obama may have been able to save several of his favorite programs from biting the dust in the new budget cuts. There has been grumbling that Obama hasn’t been doing enough in regards to the budget war and has been seen not really taking that much of an active part in the negotiations. Although, I don’t think that people understand that much of the work is being done by aids. Boehner and Reid may be the images we’re seeing on the TV but it is their lieutenants that are really swimming around under the surface.
By using some accounting hocus-pocus and left over money from previous years, Obama was able to protect Pell grants for poor college students, health research, and “Race to the Top” aid for public schools. Big holes in foreign aid and Environmental Protection Agency accounts were generally patched and the Republicans also gave up controversial cuts to the Agriculture Department’s food inspection program. These maneuvers allowed Obama to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when they slashed this year’s budget by more than $60 billion. (Remember that? The GOP has been using a weed-whacker for months!) This saved favorites like the Head Start early learning program and maintained the maximum Pell grant of $5,550 and funding for the “Race to the Top” initiative that provides grants to better preforming schools.
Many of the cuts agreed to on Friday and that will be voted on on Thursday are one-time savings and the shifting of money from one place to another that is being scored as a “cut”. (Yes, it’s a game. Whoever can use the word “cut” the most, wins, even if the money is just going somewhere else.) One-time cuts include a $350 million program enacted in 2009 for dairy farmers then suffering from low milk prices and $650 million from simply not repeating a one-time infusion into highway programs passed the same year. Actual cuts are far tamer and include cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs and $3.5 billion from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income family. (So, what you are saying is that very few cuts were actually made and that somewhere, somehow you are just finding extra money? Did the Easter Bunny leave it for you to find on the White House lawn?)
Another aftershock has rattled Japan on the one-month anniversary of a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake that spawned a deadly tsunami on March 11th. Like the aftershock last week, this one is also a magnitude 7.0 quake and resulted in a tsunami warning for 3 foot waves. Officials are hoping that like last week’s aftershock, no new tsunami will be produced. Monday’s (it is now Tuesday in Japan) aftershock did not endanger operations at the tsunami-flooded Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, where power was cut but quickly restored. The epicenter was just inland and about 100 miles north of Tokyo.
This aftershock came only hours after Japanese citizens bowed their heads in ceremonies to mark a month since the original earthquake and tsunami killed up to 25,000 people and set off radiation leaks at the nuclear plant by knocking out its cooling system. The March 11th earthquake and tsunami flattened communities along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline, causing what the government estimates could be as much as $310 billion in damage. About 250,000 are without electricity, although some of them because of the latest two quakes Monday and last Thursday.
(A what point can you stop calling them “aftershocks” and start admitting that they are a series of strong and serious earthquakes in their own right?)
So, the shutdown of the government was averted just in the nick of time. The Cherry Blossom Festival went on in DC over the weekend despite fears that the parades would be canceled and, except for a car pulling a balloon that burst into flames and had to be towed away, everything went off grandly. Our dear Federal rats (and I call them rats because they acted just like rats would when they realize the ship they are on is sinking – stupidly and desperately) were able to seal a deal just an hour before midnight. Well, sort of. What actually happened was that Congress approved a short-term spending measure to keep the government from shutting down until next week. The final agreement will not in fact be voted upon until Thursday. (Just enough time for someone to change their minds.)
The proposed measure would cut $37.8 billion from the federal budget through the end of September, a little more than half of the $61 billion the Republicans were originally playing for. The Democrats wanted to cut billions less but agreed to the larger figure when the GOP agreed to drop demands to take federal funds away from the group Planned Parenthood. The cuts, if passed, would add up to the largest budget reduction for federal agencies in U.S. history. But it’s clear that the Republicans have the power in this situation. They have managed to upset what is still a predominantly Democratic held government. Remember, the Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate.
Some Tea Party conservatives have expressed their displeasure with the smaller figure and said GOP leaders should have held out for the $61 billion worth of cuts. The Republicans now have set their sights on the 2012 budget and, from the looks of it, are planning to propose even more cuts. (They’ll eventually just slash themselves out of existence. Won’t that be nice!) This is the first test of their strength since taking over the House and it looks like they may have come out on the top of the pile.
The list of services the potential government shutdown will affect keeps growing and citizens of the United States are none too happy about it. Along with many offices, national parks would be closed, leaving some 800,000 daily visitors high and dry. About $32 million a day in national parks revenue would stop during the shutdown. Places such as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona would be closed. The Smithsonian National Museums in Washington would lock their doors and the National Cherry Blossom Festival parades, which draw roughly 1 million visitors, would be canceled. Park service employees, about 17,000, would be furloughed.
The threat of lost revenue from tourists is staggering, worrying those participating in the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War and the reenactment in Charleston, South Carolina. The reenactment of the battle will happen Tuesday regardless of the shutdown but the hundreds of re-enactors in blue or gray uniforms will be unable to camp at the historic Fort Sumter as usual. If the shutdown does happen, trash service in the DC area will stop as well. This prompted a Facebook event by angry residents pledging to take their trash to House Speaker John Boehner’s house. The organizers of the event, Jonah Goodman, who is listed in the Democratic National Committee network, and Nolan Treadway, the political and logistics director for the liberal group Netroots Nation, plan to continue the event even if a shutdown doesn’t occur.
10 things that could ruin your day if the government shuts down – CNN
Facebook event: Let’s dump trash at Boehner’s pad – Politicalticker
Shutdown would take away $32 million a day from national parks – CNN