The Brush-Up: Your Weekly Current Events Cheat Sheetby Kevin Armento on April 20, 2012
Busy week? If you didn’t have time to keep up with the news, our weekly current events cheat sheet will put you in the know so you’ll be a grade-A conversationalist at the bar/on a date/anywhere you might talk to other people.
The Gist: So you may have heard that much of our war-fighting these days is performed by unmanned missile-carrying drones. They’re operated by guys kicking back with joysticks in Nevada. (No joke.) The armed forces use them, but then also — and this is where it gets fun — the CIA uses them, except they don’t. To this day, despite all the almost-daily evidence of it in various countries (upwards of five), and despite the President all but admitting to the program himself on multiple occasions, the official CIA line is still that this program does not exist. So we know pretty much nothing about it!
The news this week is that the CIA is asking permission to expand its authority in Yemen with these missions, so that they can launch strikes even when they don’t know the identities of…those who could be killed. They’d basically be allowed to bomb a target if there’s intelligence showing “suspicious behavior.” Now this is where it’s important to add that civilian casualties have not been an aberration in these drone strikes. Just google “drone” and “civilian.”
One last relevant piece here, which I think opens the door for solid and much needed political discussion: on Sept. 30, 2011, one of these drones struck a vehicle in Yemen, killing Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Two weeks later a second drone targeted his sixteen year-old son. Now the alleged associations and known stances of al-Awlaki were extremist, and the justification for his assassination was that he was inciting terror. But here’s the crucial thing: al-Awlaki was a natural-born citizen of the U.S. His son was too – born in Denver. So you’ve got a covert drone program the public can’t know about killing two U.S. citizens who were never charged with any actual crime. Targeted by the President. No day in court. This is unprecedented.
Conversation starters: Obviously we tend towards the lighter stuff on first and second dates — though for me at least, digging in on the heavier stuff can be totally sexy. Here’s why this story is extremely noteable: Obama is a Democrat! He ran against Bush’s executive overreach and abuse of powers, and now he’s out-droning him like he’s George Lucas! What does this say about our perpetual war state? Some say it’s necessary, some say it infringes on liberty. Have at it.
The Gist: Putting the substantive stuff above aside, Pres. Obama has run one of the most scandal-free administrations in modern history, when it comes to the tabloid-y and small-time stuff the general public gets loudest about. But this week one surfaced that may end up hanging around his neck a little: while in Colombia for the Summit of the Americas, some of his Secret Service detail had encounters with (they always use such passive verbs for these things, like the guys bumped into them) – hookers! Three of them have already resigned, more are expected to follow. Here’s a quote worth remembering:
The revelations that 11 Secret Service agents and at least five military personnel may have been involved with prostitutes have shocked Washington and triggered several congressional inquiries into the scandal.
Washington is shocked — SHOCKED! — that someone in governmental employ would use the services of prostitutes.
Conversation Starters: Did you hear the one about that branch of government with a 12% approval rating spending their time tearing into the Secret Service for sleeping with hookers in Colombia? Did you hear the one where all of the media world covers this story exponentially louder and more in-depth than the above story?
3. Recommended reading: Drift by Rachel Maddow. The former Air America correspondent and current ratings queen of MSNBC has a new book out, and it covers much of the stuff above. “Drift” is a concise, well-researched foray into the post-WWII transition from war being a difficult thing for us to enter into, and requiring sacrifice of the whole country, into…well, drones secretly bombing countries Congress hasn’t actually declared war on. She takes you through each administration, from LBJ, to a long stay with Reagan, all the way up to the Obama years. So how is this relevant to you as a dater? It’s chalk full of fun facts, interesting insights, and something you may want to even recommend after he/she says how “fascinating” it all sounds from across the dinner table.