The media, Congress, and the American people continue to fix to their attention on Brett Kavanaugh and today’s hearings regarding allegations of sexual assault and harassment against him. While these are serious issues and should not be taken lightly, there are numerous other developments that are falling by the wayside as the national conversation remains preoccupied with the Supreme Court nominee.
1. House of Representatives Sneakily Moves to Expand the Patriot Act: In a bill presented as an effort to fight human trafficking, legislators are working to reinforce the basic foundations of the post-9/11 surveillance legislation. Rep. Justin Amash, a staunch civil liberties advocate, tweeted that the “Empowering Financial Institutions to Fight Human Trafficking Act” is “a disguised effort to expand the #PatriotAct.” As Reason explained, the bill “would allow financial institutions, federal regulatory bodies, nonprofit organizations, and law enforcement to share customer bank records between them without running afoul of rules regarding consumer privacy and without opening themselves up to lawsuits.” It mirrors Section 314 of the Patriot Act, which addresses “matters specifically related to the finances of terrorist groups, the means by which terrorist groups transfer funds around the world and within the United States, including through the use of charitable organizations, nonprofit organizations, and nongovernmental organizations, and the extent to which financial institutions in the United States are unwittingly involved in such finances and the extent to which such institutions are at risk as a result.” The bill passed the House on Wednesday.
2. National Security Adviser John Bolton Threatens Iran: In another show of the neoconservatism John Bolton is known for, he warned Iran this week that if the country crosses the United States there will be harsh consequences. At the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he said: “If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens; if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay.” He aggressively said, “Let my message today be clear: We are watching, and we will come after you.” The U.S. re-imposed sanctions on Iran this summer after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear accord, which Iran and other signatories vowed to stay committed to.
3. China Warns Against Growing “Cold War” Mentality: Also at the United Nations meeting in New York this week, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said: “China and the United States can have competition, but should not use a Cold War mentality to view each other, and nor should they slip into the trap of a zero-sum game.” Wang was meeting with former secretary of state for Richard Nixon (and war criminal) Henry Kissinger, who has enjoyed great influence over presidents throughout the decades. Wang complained of the U.S.’ “blackening [of] China’s name, creating [an] antagonistic feeling, which has caused serious harm to the atmosphere of Sino-U.S. ties.” A Chinese state-run paper said this week that the United States planned arms sales to Taiwan, as well as its continued tariffs on Chinese imports, makes one wonder if the American government’s goal is “to permanently damage Sino-US relations,” which continue to deteriorate under President Trump.
4. Congress Works to Approve $850 Billion in New Spending, Mostly Military: Lawmakers just passed the National Defense Authorization Act, approving hundreds of billions of dollars for military spending, but this week they also moved to supply further funds (whereas the NDAA “directs policy and spending plans for the military,” Stripes.com explained, the current defense appropriations bill “is what actually moves money to the Pentagon.”) The funds will go to “the largest boost to servicemembers’ pay in nearly a decade and new gains in the number of troops, equipment, and weapons for the 2019 fiscal year.” The proposed $670 billion for military spending is part of a broader bill to fund $850 billion in government programs, including education and labor. The bill passed the House and Senate and has been presented to the president.
5. Los Angeles International Airport Will Now Allow Travelers to Bring Their Weed: Less than a year after California’s cannabis legalization went into effect, LAX announced this week it will allow travelers to bring up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and eight grams of concentrated marijuana with them through the airport. Though the TSA, a federal entity, can still turn people with cannabis away because the plant remains illegal at the federal level, they will not confiscate cannabis products as long as they are within the state’s legal limits. The new policy reflects continually evolving attitudes on cannabis and the federal government’s inability to contain its popularity and use.
Claims of sexual harassment against Brett Kavanaugh and the selection of a Supreme Court Justice are highly relevant. But as the media’s obsessive focus remains fixed on these developments, it is always important to keep in mind the other, all-encompassing power structures that continue to forge ahead full throttle, from war to geopolitical developments (and, sometimes, even good news).