On Tuesday, a landmark immigration bill that would put 11 million undocumented immigrants on the path to U.S. citizenship cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, but not before Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) added an amendment requiring additional screening for immigrants hailing from an unspecified number of countries that pose a heightened terrorist threat. As Hayes Brown reports over at ThinkProgress, the Graham amendment mandates additional review for those who are from "a region or country known to pose a threat, or that contains groups or organizations that pose a threat, to the national security of the United States."
"[I]t's pretty clear what I'm trying to do," Graham said during a markup of the bill. "I'm trying to make sure that in addition to looking at your criminal background, when you adjust status, that if there are certain parts of the world or countries -- like Yemen -- that you're adjusting from, I want to know a little more about you, given the world we live in."
The Graham amendment declines to name specifically which countries would trigger the additional screening, but leaves the determination up to the secretary of homeland security in consultation with the secretary of state.
When reached for comment, Graham's office reiterated that the decision would rest with the Department of Homeland Security but confirmed that the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organizations list could conceivably serve as a guide. "The DHS Secretary can simply use the list maintained by State but is free to go beyond it," a spokesman for Graham told FP in an email.
If the State Department list were to ultimately serve as the guide, however, Graham's amendment might apply to an exceptionally broad class of applicants. The list, which identifies foreign terrorist groups that threaten "the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States," catalogues 52 organizations operating in dozens of countries, including many not ordinarily associated with terrorism.
The irony of the Graham amendment is that it's been billed by critics as an attempt to resurrect the post-9/11 National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which forced immigrants from 24 Muslim countries to undergo additional scrutiny until it was mostly abandoned by the Obama administration in 2011. But by targeting immigrants from states that "contain groups or organizations" that threaten the United States -- assuming the State Department list is used to make such determinations -- Graham's amendment would go far beyond the NSEERS, applying to immigrants from dozens of countries on virtually every continent.
Far from only applying to Muslim or Middle Eastern countries, the amendment would apply, for example, to immigrants from Greece, Ireland, and Spain, all of which have terrorist organizations that appear on the State Department's list operating within their borders. It would also apply to immigrants from India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Indonesia, to name just a few. Countries "where terrorists operate," as Graham put it during the markup, actually make up a sizable chunk of the planet.
Graham's amendment, which passed by voice vote and was inserted into the bill, will most likely face opposition from Democrats when it's debated on the Senate floor next month. Whether or not they take issue with its extraordinary breadth remains to be seen.
I don't know what it is about 3-D printing, but the nifty new technology seems to reliably bring out the Internet's silly side. There's Cody Wilson, the Camus-loving anarchist and his electronic gun-making blueprints. Then there are the awesome 3-D printed Christmas cookies that, according to Gizmodo, "kick the crap out of sugar cookie snowmen." There's even the iSwattr, a "radical new" iPhone case that brings the "latest smart phone technology to bear on the killing of menaces such as disease carrying flies, icky cockroaches, and scary spiders," according to the contraption's designers. O, wonder! What other marvels await us in this brave new world?
Apparently, however, the buck stops at Quartz, which abandoned these frivolities in favor of an earnest story on the potential for 3-D printing technology to feed astronauts on multi-year missions and even support a planet inhabited by 12 billion people. I almost couldn't believe the article wasn't killed in favor of something on mini 3-D printed "you" action figures -- or maybe the nexus beetween 3-D printing and high fashion. But here it is nonetheless: Anjan Contractor, an engineer at the Texas-based Systems and Materials Research Corporation, has been awarded a $125,000 grant from NASA to create a 3-D food printing system that enables long-distance space travel. Here's more from QZ:
His initial grant from NASA, under its Small Business Innovation Research program, is for a system that can print food for astronauts on very long space missions. For example, all the way to Mars.
'Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life,' says Contractor. 'The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.'
But Contractor has his eye on a more terrestrial application for his 3-D printing design:
He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth's 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store. Contractor's vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years, so that each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would be fully exhausted before being returned to the store.
Ubiquitous food synthesizers would also create new ways of producing the basic calories on which we all rely. Since a powder is a powder, the inputs could be anything that contain the right organic molecules. We already know that eating meat is environmentally unsustainable, so why not get all our protein from insects?
If eating something spat out by the same kind of 3D printers that are currently being used to make everything from jet engine parts to fine art doesn't sound too appetizing, that's only because you can currently afford the good stuff, says Contractor. That might not be the case once the world's population reaches its peak size, probably sometime near the end of this century.
'I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can't supply 12 billion people sufficiently,' says Contractor. 'So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.'
Fittingly, Contractor plans to start with pizza "because it can be printed in distinct layers, so it only requires the print head to extrude one substance at a time." Thank goodness QZ could get the term "pizza printer" in there somewhere.
There are a lot of crazy sports out there -- the Ironman triathlon, volcano boarding, and crocodile bungee jumping all come to mind -- and then there's this: The New York Times has a story today about the Battle of the Nations, an insane, full-contact, medieval combat reenactment that ends only when all the participants have been bludgeoned into the ground.
More from the Times:
The Battle of the Nations consists of four fighting formats: 1 on 1; 5 on 5; 21 on 21; and all against all, in which some opposing squads join forces. Winners of each match are decided by which side has the last fighter, or fighters, standing. A combatant bows out when three body parts, which include the feet, are touching the ground. Matches involving fewer fighters are usually over within a couple minutes, while the all-versus-all match can last up to 10 minutes....
Weapons must be blunted. Stabbing or thrusting, which [U.S. team executive officer Jaye] Brooks defined as repeatedly delivering excess force to the same point of contact, is not allowed. Fighters can hit any region in the "kill zone," which excludes the feet, back of knees, groin, back of neck and base of skull. Vertical strikes to the spine and horizontal strikes to the back of the neck are forbidden.
Injuries have included dislodged teeth and broken or severed fingers. In the United States, the athletes also undergo baseline testing to check for the possibility of concussions.
This year's competition will be the United States' second (last year the U.S. team finished 4th out of 14 teams), and it will be looking to knock off top-ranked Russia, which has dominated the sport since its inception in 2009. Here's a video of Russia beating up on the United States in 2012:
So what kind of person tries out for the Battle of the Nations, you ask? Here's what one U.S. team member told the Times: "This is the perfect sport for someone who wishes to participate in one of the roughest sports on earth, has a love of armor and weapons and Western martial arts, and a desire to be as close to being a knight of old as is possible in this modern age."
Who's ready to sign up?
After a concerted effort to walk back -- or at least soften -- its "red line" on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, it looks as if the Obama administration may have just gotten off the hook. According to Reuters, U.N. human rights investigators now have evidence that rebel forces used sarin gas -- a revelation that, if confirmed, would vindicate the president's studied approach to the Syrian conflict and reduce the political pressure on him to act immediately.
In an interview Sunday with a Swiss-Italian television station, Carla Del Ponte, a former prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and a current member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that testimony gathered by U.N. human rights researchers reveals "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas." She added: "This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities."
After the Obama administration reluctantly acknowledged on April 25 that the Syrian regime had most likely used chemical weapons, it looked as if the president had backed himself into a corner. In August 2012, Obama declared the use of chemical agents a "red line" for U.S. involvement in the conflict, later reiterating that it would be a "game changer."
How exactly the administration would respond was never made explicit, but most assumed it would trigger deeper U.S. engagement, whether by directly arming members of the opposition or instituting a no-fly zone. After all, the president warned in December: "If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."
But when Britain, France, and Israel all claimed that the regime had indeed crossed the red line, the White House responded cautiously, downplaying what one official called "low-confidence assessments by foreign governments." Even after acknowledging in a letter to Congress that the U.S. intelligence community believes "with varying degrees of confidence" that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons "on a small scale," the president resolved to conduct further investigations before taking action.
The United States should not rush to judgment without "hard, effective evidence," Obama said in an April 30 press conference in which he appeared to shift responsibility for the U.S. red line to the international community. "When I said the use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer, that wasn't a position unique to the United States...The use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. Not simply for the United States, but for the international community," he said at one point.
Despite such efforts to blur the red line -- which the New York Times reported Saturday was never intended to trap the president into "any predetermined action" -- the White House announced that it was rethinking its position on arming the rebels, a sort of least-worst option that would shield the president from charges of inviting rogue states like Iran and North Korea to defy the United States.
My guess is that this latest report will give the administration enough space to put plans for arming the opposition on hold. After all, what business does the United States have arming rebels who are violating international law? Even if the testimony turns out to be unreliable -- something the Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy points out is entirely possible -- it plays into the administration's fog-of-war narrative that calls for a measured and methodical approach to a crisis that is increasingly difficult to read.
How Israel's apparent success in striking Syrian missile sites over the weekend will impact the debate remains to be seen. Critics of the president, like Arizona Sen. John McCain, are spinning it as proof-positive that the United States could take out Syria's air defenses, easy peasy, like it did in Libya. The reality is no doubt more complicated than that. Armed with additional reasons to err on the side of caution, my bet is that the administration, which has shown no interest in getting dragged into another conflict in the Middle East, isn't about to change its mind.
It's every diplomat's worst nightmare: being summoned back to the mother country after getting trounced in a supermarket slapfest. But that's exactly what happened, at least temporarily, to Rodrigo Riofrío, Ecuador's ambassador to Peru, who on April 21 in Lima was caught on a supermarket video camera swatting a number of women with a rolled-up magazine as they slapped and yanked his hair.
Riofrío appears to have fallen into an argument with the women in the checkout line, where he allegedly struck and insulted them with racist slurs. (The YouTube video below shows the ambassador getting some pretty impressive extension as he goes on the offensive.)
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the story, however, is that Ecuador is standing behind its diplomat. Despite being temporarily recalled, Riofrío will apparently remain at his post. According to a statement issued by Ecuador's Foreign Ministry, there is no reason to replace the ambassador: "If this happened, it would set a terrible precedent that would involve punishing someone who, as in this case, is the victim of an assault." That's right, Ecuador is claiming that Riofrío was the victim of an assault (the AP is reporting that the women involved in the clash were a mother and daughter, and that the daughter slapped Riofrío's wife first in reaction to an insult before the ambassador turned on them).
Even Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, has weighed in on the fiasco, saying that the video clearly shows that the women were the aggressors. One of the women was "very young," according to Correa. "And you know, the ambassador is no longer a young man."
Peru's minister for women, Ana Jara Velásquez, isn't buying it, however: "There is no single argument that justifies violence against women," she fired back on Twitter.
No existe argumento alguno q' justifique actos de violencia y menos contra la mujer! Confío en las acciones q' adoptará nuestra Cancillería.— Ana Jara Velásquez (@anajarav) May 2, 2013
Perhaps this kerfuffle has yet to run its course.
With its "national information network" nearing completion, Iran may soon be able to seal itself off from the World Wide Web. The ambitious project to create a second, Halal Internet -- launched eight years ago at the beginning of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first term -- is already up and running in government ministries and state bodies, where it shields users from what Iranian Minister of Communication and Information Technology Reza Taqipour has called "untrustworthy" material controlled by the "hands of one or two specific countries" (presumably, Israel and the United States). Now, it could be on its way to households and Internet cafes across the country. The BBC reports:
For months now, Iranian social media sites have been full of postings about slow download speeds and intermittent access...
While some put the blame on the country's overloaded and outdated internet infrastructure, others have a more sinister explanation for what is going on.
'When we get old we'll be able to tell our grandchildren about the time when a demon came along and nationalised the internet,' wrote Habil, an angry internet user from Tehran.
What Habil was referring to was the Iranian government's plan to create what it is calling a 'national information network' -- in effect a sort of corporate intranet system for the whole country.
The Wall Street Journal has more on why the regime is following in the footsteps of Cuba and North Korea:
"The leadership in Iran sees the project as a way to end the fight for control of the Internet, according to observers of Iranian policy inside and outside the country. Iran, already among the most sophisticated nations in online censoring, also promotes its national Internet as a cost-saving measure for consumers and as a way to uphold Islamic moral codes...
The unusual initiative appears part of a broader effort to confront what the regime now considers a major threat: an online invasion of Western ideas, culture and influence, primarily originating from the U.S. In recent speeches, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top officials have called this emerging conflict the "soft war."
No doubt, the 2009 post-election protests, which were at least partly enabled by Internet communication, are also on the supreme leader's mind heading into this year's electoral contest. That said, officials seem to be doing their best to sell the regime's story: Over the weekend, the news website YJC quoted one Internet police official as saying that Facebook, a "dangerous and disgusting spy tool," is responsible for a third of all divorces in Iran.
It's been an exciting month for the funniest man in Egypt. Not only was Bassem Youssef, a heart surgeon-turned-satirical television host, briefly detained for "belittling" President Mohamed Morsy and "insulting" Islam, he was also named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine (here he is giving a toast at the Time 100 gala). Bassem found himself at the center of a minor international incident as well when the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted a link to the Daily Show's Jon Stewart taking Morsy to task for arresting the satirist, prompting the Egyptian president's office to accuse the American mission of spreading "negative political propaganda."
Tonight, the "Egyptian Jon Stewart" will be back with the American Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, no doubt reflecting humorously on what has turned out to be a not-so-humorous time in Egypt's history. In anticipation of his appearance, here are five obscenely funny clips from his own wildly popular show El Bernameg (The Program), which premiered in Egypt back in 2011.
Here's Bassem declaring his complete and utter support for President Morsy ... 55 percent of the time. Later in the episode, he talks about some of the challenges facing the media in Egypt, at one point quipping that every episode "can either take you toward fame" or "to Abu Zabal Prison."
In the clip below, Bassem pokes fun at Islamists for claiming that the opposition is only opposed to the new constitution because they're "jealous." (He also takes a swipe at Morsy for apparently ordering his bodyguards to protect his shiny new car.)
Here's Bassem taking Morsy to task for claiming that the solution to all of Egypt's problems is ... love. (The president at one point ludicrously claimed that "I no longer have power over anyone, except the power of love.")
Bassem on the "purification" of the media...
"Yo, yo, yo. Ikhwan G in the house, baby." Yep, you're just going to have to watch this one yourself.
Last week, I blogged about some of the exciting technological advances Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, predict in their new book, The New Digital Age, which comes out on April 23. Today, I want to focus on one of their more sobering predictions -- what they see as the future of news reporting.
On a very basic level, Schmidt and Cohen just put into words what deep down we already knew: that the proliferation of technology has turned everyone into a reporter and that media organizations will only lag further and further behind platforms like Twitter and Facebook, both of which are now regularly the first to serve up important breaking news. "If everyone in the world has a data-enabled phone or access to one -- a not-so-distant reality -- then the ability to 'break news' will be left to luck and chance," the authors write.
In a hyper-connected world, the mainstream media will have to get out of the business of breaking news (with the exception of investigative reporting) since "people will have little patience or use for media that cannot keep up." To survive, the authors predict, established media organizations will "report less and validate more." With huge amounts of unverified data floating around, readers will increasingly look to these outlets to identify what is important and separate rumor from fact. Analysis and contextualization will also become increasingly valuable, as more and more stories appear in the form of disjointed 140-character vignettes.
So far so good. But Schmidt and Cohen also foresee a far more frightening prospect. In one of the more distressing passages of the book, they suggest that celebrities might one day start their own "news portals" focused on pet issues that compete head-to-head with established news media. "[L]et's call it Brangelina news," they write, with no trace of irony. "In short order, they become the ultimate source of information and news on the conflict because they are both highly visible and have built up enough credibility in their work that they can be taken seriously."
Such outfits would effectively subsidize coverage of an issue area -- be it the conflict in Darfur or the hunt for Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony -- displacing established news outlets whose coverage is sparse, whether because of insufficient funds or lack of interest. Some of these new media outfits "will be solid attempts to contribute to public discourse," the authors write, "but many will be vapid and nearly content free, merely exercises in self-promotion and commercialized fame." (One might easily imagine other outlets that are explicitly pernicious, established solely for the purpose of obscuring the truth or countering narratives seen as detrimental to sponsors' interests.)
But Schmidt and Cohen don't think the rise of Brangelina news is cause for particular concern: "If a celebrity outlet doesn't provide enough news, or consistently makes errors that are publicly exposed, the audience will leave," they write. In this, I'm not sure they're right. Consistently bad (or fictitious reporting) from celebrity tabloids -- of which these new outfits would be a logical extension -- is clearly good for business. (People magazine is reportedly the most profitable publication in the world.)
Even news organizations that style themselves as more serious outlets appear to benefit from facts-free reporting. In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, for example, both CNN and the New York Post did remarkably well despite shoddy coverage. (CNN managed to attract one of its biggest audiences of the decade on Friday, April 19, after four days of hit-and-miss coverage that earned it a shout-out on the Daily Show.)
I couldn't find any hard data on how traffic to the New York Post's website fared during the week, but according Google Trends, searches for "New York Post" spiked to roughly five times the typical level (it's hardly an exact proxy for web traffic, but I think it's revealing nonetheless).
Here's the same data for CNN.
Meanwhile, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, both of which did standup jobs covering the bombing, saw more modest spikes in their Google Trends data.
Of course, the Google Trends data for the Boston Globe -- which also did a solid reporting job -- blows my whole theory out of the water, but I'm going to chalk it up to people wanting to hear what the local papers had to say.
Long story short, Schmidt and Cohen paint a believable picture of where news media is headed, but I'm not sure they recognize just how destructive it all might be. Even the business model they describe for Brangelina news is one that militates against substantive coverage. ("[T]hey might not even need to compensate reporters and stringers, some of whom would work for free in exchange for the visibility.") This model will no doubt be successful -- assuming no one asks Nate Thayer to contribute -- but it's certainly not a recipe for high-quality copy.
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