Week of 3/17/13


If you haven’t heard much about the sequester budget cuts lately, don’t be surprised. A recent Gallup poll reveals that most Americans still don’t know enough about the sequester to determine if the cuts are a good or bad thing for the country. In fact, no one seems to really knows what’s going on. However, that hasn’t prevented the political jockeying in Congress as potential amendments to the automatic cuts are considered. So far, nearly 100 amendments have been filed by Senators on both sides of the aisle hoping to rearrange the reductions so that their own special interests aren’t affected. Some filings regard shifting funds to keep air traffic control towers open — a public safety concern that would affect airliners and private owners alike — while others appear less prudent in nature, such as diverting funds to keep White House tours open to visitors. These attempts are stalling an expenditures bill that is supposed keep the government running past March 27th, since any new amendments must also be reapproved by the House which initially passed the bill. Given the limited time until the government shutdown, the Senate is unlikely to vote on every amendment that has been filed. But if the number of amendments don’t dwindle before the deadline, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has threatened to force a vote on the overall spending bill without any amendments. So what does this mean? It will take some time to evaluate how grave the budget cuts will be on certain government regulations, such as FDA meat inspectors and air traffic control. But until more data is collected, expect continued debate in the near foreseeable future as Democrats continue to emphasize any deficiencies in government programs as the result of unnecessary cuts while Republicans stick to the same cry for fiscal responsibility. (Link: http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-senate-sequester-cuts-goverment-shutdown-20130318,0,5333576.story)


Efforts for more comprehensive gun control may have hit a hiccup this week as legislation aimed at banning assault weapons will likely fail to make the Senate floor as part of a larger gun control package. The bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) received less than 40 votes out of a necessary 60 to clear a potential GOP filibuster, crippling any hopes of outlawing the category of guns that have been associated with many of the shootings that occurred over the past year. An unwavering advocate for stricter gun regulations, Sen. Feinstein’s persistence has been mostly attributed to her experience as a San Francisco Board Supervisor when she found Mayor Harvey Milk shot dead in his office by a rival politician. Part of the reason for the lackluster support for the bill stems from the fact that it was too controversial to ever have any real chance of passing the Senate. Many of the Democrats from red states face reelection in 2014 and can’t risk upsetting their gun-friendly constituents by voting on controversial items. Gun rights advocates have argued that banning a particular class of weapon will do little to resolve the larger problem at hand, and have viewed this type of legislation as part of an assault by Washington to further restrict the Bill of Rights. Voting on the general gun control package, which includes more moderate provisions such as tighter background checks, sanctions against gun traffiking, and school safety measures,  is expected to take place next month. (Link: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/Decoder-Wire/2013/0319/Assault-weapons-ban-now-unlikely-to-pass.-What-happened?nav=87-frontpage-entryNineItem)


The chimney of the Sistine Chapel filled the air with white smoke on Wednesday as the Catholic Church confirmed its newest leader, Pope Francis. Born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the pope is the first elected Jesuit in the history of the Catholic Church, as well as the first person from the Americas, and the first individual from the southern hemisphere. While crowds of the faithful erupted into joyous celebration, the new pope has had a questionable career that goes back to his position as a Cardinal in Argentina. At issue is his stance on same-sex marriage, which has been responsible for the dichotomy between his native country’s government and its religious institutions. He has also been criticized for his lax handling and possible involvement in the 1976 abductions of religious leaders by military extremists,  though past testimony by the pope has denied any involvement in the ordeals. The newly elected pope has also ushered in feelings of renewed conservatism from the Church, despite recent progress on issues pertaining to contraception. In 2012, Pope Benedict XV made headline news by promising to reverse the Church’s stance on contraception, viewing it as necessary to combat the AIDS epidemic and protect human life. It is unlikely that the new pontiff will offer any similar compromises anytime soon, but with a progressive world and the onset of globalization even the most staunch of conservative views can be privy to change. (Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/20/world/europe/installation-of-pope-francis.html?_r=0)

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