There are several controversial topics that are likely to not be on the agenda during President Obama's annual address
During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment “The Week Ahead,” Richelle Carey explored issues that the president is not likely to address, but that are equally important for the American people, including defense reforms, privacy issues, and gun control laws.
Al Jazeera had reporters across the country to shed light on the issues. Jamie McIntyre in Washington, DC says the Pentagon budget continues to grow despite the end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at over $500 billion, nearly half of all federal discretionary spending.
Jacob Ward touched on personal privacy, saying laws that came into place under President George W. Bush opened public lives to increased government scrutiny, but it’s under President Obama that the technology came online to implement surveillance.
And Diane Eastabrook in Chicago says gun violence is a huge problem in that city, with six people being shot, one fatally, in the first weeks of this year. The President and Democrats are advocating for tougher gun laws, but they’re facing stiff opposition from Republicans.
And there have been recent developments on each of these issues. Earlier this week, the National Academy of Sciences released a report saying the Obama administration wants to develop special software to target individuals rather than collecting data in bulk, but it also said that’s not possible yet, allowing data collection on a mass scale to continue.
Also this week, there were more lawsuits filed seeking to weaken local gun laws. The National Rifle Association sued the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Lancaster in Pennsylvania contending that local gun-control measures cannot go beyond what’s permitted at the state level.
And an article in “The Atlantic” Magazine questioned the way the military spends its budget, focusing on hi-tech weapons at the expense of maintenance, training, pensions, and veterans’ care.
To discuss the issues further, Carey spoke to Jenn Rolnick Borchetta, a civil rights lawyer at Demos; and to Mark Rom, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, who joined the discussion from Washington, DC.
In terms of defense spending, Rom says, “you don’t see public demand for reducing defense spending, but rather public demand for strong defense to make America safer; on the other hand, those who benefit from defense spending, especially defense contractors, will fight tooth and nail to protect that funding.”
On the issue of privacy, Rolnick Borchetta agrees that it’s not likely the President will bring the issue up during his speech. She says there are two cases scrutinizing the constitutionality of the NSA programs that collect bulk data on people and whether or not it violates our fourth amendment rights to be free from unreasonable government searches and seizures. “The courts need to ask ‘do we, as a society, expect our government to be investigating all of the calls we make,’ and of course the answer is absolutely not.”
Rom says in some ways the Obama administration is trying to skirt around the issue of privacy. “They like to talk about protecting the rights of the American citizen, and protecting free speech rights against unreasonable searches and seizure, but at the end of the day, politicians are very weary of terrorist attacks.”
Finally, when it comes to gun laws, Rom predicts the probability of Obama addressing the issue is zero. “I think he believes this will be a non-starter politically, and he sees no political pay-off in terms of the changes of getting policies enacted to tighten gun control.”
“The gun laws in the United States are unhinged, says Rolnick Borchetta. “The reason that the horror continues is in part because our policies reflect not public preferences, but the preferences of those who are funding our campaigns.”