Today the lame-duck session of Congress begins. Our legislators have a number of pressing issues to tackle prior to January such as the extension of Bush-era tax cuts, the extension of unemployment benefits, the fate of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the DREAM act, and the New START Treaty.
No consensus has been formed on trade or currency issues at the G-20 conference. Progress stalled as many nations accused the US of hypocrisy for simultaneously accusing China of undervaluing currency while the Federal Reserve buys back $600 billion in bonds which some see as intentionally weakening the dollar.
The recently released Deficit Panel proposal recommends cutting $100 billion out of the defense budget. The co-chairs of the panel, Bowles and Simpson, argue that the defense budget is bloated and filled with unnecessary projects, particularly the production of F-35 fighter jets. Defense Secretary Robert Gates immediately responded that it was irresponsible to cut defense spending in the midst of two wars and that the Defense Department could not absorb fiscal shocks of this magnitude.
The Obama administration has begun to move away from their original pledge to remove ground troops from Afghanistan in 2011. Rather, officials like Robert Gates argue that we should expect to stay in Afghanistan till 2014 when the Afghanistan National Army will be able to, on its own, defend the country.
A UN report, long delayed by Chinese objections, states that North Korea is involved in a highly sophisticated black market that distributes nuclear and ballistic missile technology to other rogue states. The report cites “Iran, Syria, and Myanmar” as some of the countries that are the recipients of these transfers.
The Nigerian government has accused the Iranian government of smuggling weapons through Nigeria after discovering a cache of rockets and explosives. If this allegation is true then the Iranian government will have violated the June 2010 UN sanctions banning Iranian arms exports. Reports indicate that the final destination for these weapons was either the Afghani Taliban or Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Despite claims that the Shia and Sunni blocs had resolved their issues and agreed to elect Maliki as Prime Minster and leader of the new coalition government, the Sunni bloc stormed out of the Iraqi Parliament. They claim that Maliki had not upheld the preconditions that he had promised at the time of their agreement. Most notably they demand the release of suspected Sunni terrorists that were, according to them, wrongly imprisoned and the reinstatement of former, low-level Baath party members that were purged from government office.