Let’s Study It Instead: Commissions Can Be Policy Graveyard 

It’s a time-tested Washington strategy for making a difficult policy question disappear: death by “blue ribbon” commission.

Presidents, Congress and some agency heads set up panels stocked with subject experts to offer sage advice to policymakers. But these panels sometimes are used to slow-walk thorny policy into oblivion. 

President Donald Trump chose what one expert calls “the blue ribbon option” when he assigned a sensitive gun control proposal to a new panel on school safety, part of a package the White House announced Sunday in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. He put Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in charge of the panel and left clues that a key proposal he’s voiced support for — raising the purchase age for some firearms — was now in doubt

There’s “not much political support (to put it mildly),” the president tweeted about the proposal, which is opposed by the National Rifle Administration.

For lawmakers and presidents, creating a commission “represents movement, it’s something that they can report, especially if they’re subject to criticism that they’re taking no action or they’re tone deaf,” said Kenneth D. Kitts, a political science professor at the University of North Alabama and the author of “Presidential Commissions and National Security: The Politics of Damage Control.”

Trump has made it clear he doesn’t think much of such panels, either. 

“We can’t just keep setting up blue-ribbon committees with your wife and your wife and your husband and they meet and they have a meal and they talk. Talk, talk, talk,” the president groused when discussing the opioid crisis at a rally Saturday outside Pittsburgh. “That’s what I got in Washington. I got all these blue-ribbon committees. Everybody wants to be on a blue-ribbon committee.”

Commissions through history have produced important historical information, policy and even material for criminal trials. President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Warren Commission to produce a record of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. President George W. Bush’s 9/11 Commission was established to account for the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.Others were less successful. In 2010, President Barack Obama’s bipartisan debt reduction commission did not win enough votes among its members to send it to Congress for a vote.

In 2001, President George W. Bush created a 16-member bipartisan commission to study the feasibility of “modernizing” Social Security. Its recommendations floundered in Congress.

Critics of commissions say they’re primarily created for reasons other than good public policy: They allow lawmakers and officials to look like they’re doing something about controversial topics without having to take a position that could alienate some constituencies — such as the NRA, in the case of Republicans in this midterm election year. Their members are not elected or accountable to the public.

There’s also no quality control, and they’re expensive. The Congressional Research Service in November 2017 reported that commission costs can range from several hundred thousand dollars to more than $10 million. And after all that, lawmakers can simply ignore a commission’s conclusion.

Trump has had some experience as president with the peril of blue-ribbon commissions.

His unsubstantiated claim that millions of illegally cast ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016 led to his executive order last May establishing a commission on “election integrity.” The panel’s work quickly devolved into squabbling, with states refusing to give up their voting information and critics saying the commission was actually about suppressing votes.

In January, Trump terminated the commission and transferred its duties to the Department of Homeland Security.

His commission on opioids produced limited results. In October, Trump declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency. He announced an advertising campaign to combat what he said was the worst drug crisis in the nation’s history, but did not direct any new federal funding toward the effort.

Trump’s declaration stopped short of the emergency declaration that had been sought by a federal commission the president created to study the problem. An interim report by the commission argued for an emergency declaration, saying it would free additional money and resources.

But in its final report in November, the panel called only for more drug courts, more training for doctors and penalties for insurers that dodge covering addiction treatment. It did not call for new money to address the epidemic.

“Do you think the drug dealers who kill thousands of people during their lifetime, do you think they care who’s on a blue-ribbon committee?” Trump railed on Saturday.

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Let’s Study It Instead: Commissions Can Be Policy Graveyard 

It’s a time-tested Washington strategy for making a difficult policy question disappear: death by “blue ribbon” commission.

Presidents, Congress and some agency heads set up panels stocked with subject experts to offer sage advice to policymakers. But these panels sometimes are used to slow-walk thorny policy into oblivion. 

President Donald Trump chose what one expert calls “the blue ribbon option” when he assigned a sensitive gun control proposal to a new panel on school safety, part of a package the White House announced Sunday in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. He put Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in charge of the panel and left clues that a key proposal he’s voiced support for — raising the purchase age for some firearms — was now in doubt

There’s “not much political support (to put it mildly),” the president tweeted about the proposal, which is opposed by the National Rifle Administration.

For lawmakers and presidents, creating a commission “represents movement, it’s something that they can report, especially if they’re subject to criticism that they’re taking no action or they’re tone deaf,” said Kenneth D. Kitts, a political science professor at the University of North Alabama and the author of “Presidential Commissions and National Security: The Politics of Damage Control.”

Trump has made it clear he doesn’t think much of such panels, either. 

“We can’t just keep setting up blue-ribbon committees with your wife and your wife and your husband and they meet and they have a meal and they talk. Talk, talk, talk,” the president groused when discussing the opioid crisis at a rally Saturday outside Pittsburgh. “That’s what I got in Washington. I got all these blue-ribbon committees. Everybody wants to be on a blue-ribbon committee.”

Commissions through history have produced important historical information, policy and even material for criminal trials. President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Warren Commission to produce a record of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. President George W. Bush’s 9/11 Commission was established to account for the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.Others were less successful. In 2010, President Barack Obama’s bipartisan debt reduction commission did not win enough votes among its members to send it to Congress for a vote.

In 2001, President George W. Bush created a 16-member bipartisan commission to study the feasibility of “modernizing” Social Security. Its recommendations floundered in Congress.

Critics of commissions say they’re primarily created for reasons other than good public policy: They allow lawmakers and officials to look like they’re doing something about controversial topics without having to take a position that could alienate some constituencies — such as the NRA, in the case of Republicans in this midterm election year. Their members are not elected or accountable to the public.

There’s also no quality control, and they’re expensive. The Congressional Research Service in November 2017 reported that commission costs can range from several hundred thousand dollars to more than $10 million. And after all that, lawmakers can simply ignore a commission’s conclusion.

Trump has had some experience as president with the peril of blue-ribbon commissions.

His unsubstantiated claim that millions of illegally cast ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016 led to his executive order last May establishing a commission on “election integrity.” The panel’s work quickly devolved into squabbling, with states refusing to give up their voting information and critics saying the commission was actually about suppressing votes.

In January, Trump terminated the commission and transferred its duties to the Department of Homeland Security.

His commission on opioids produced limited results. In October, Trump declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency. He announced an advertising campaign to combat what he said was the worst drug crisis in the nation’s history, but did not direct any new federal funding toward the effort.

Trump’s declaration stopped short of the emergency declaration that had been sought by a federal commission the president created to study the problem. An interim report by the commission argued for an emergency declaration, saying it would free additional money and resources.

But in its final report in November, the panel called only for more drug courts, more training for doctors and penalties for insurers that dodge covering addiction treatment. It did not call for new money to address the epidemic.

“Do you think the drug dealers who kill thousands of people during their lifetime, do you think they care who’s on a blue-ribbon committee?” Trump railed on Saturday.

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Immigrants Sue US Over End to Temporary Protected Status

Immigrants from four countries and their American-born children sued the Trump administration Monday over its decision to end a program that lets them live and work legally in the United States.

Nine immigrants and five children filed the suit in federal court in San Francisco alleging the decision to end Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan was racially motivated.

The status is granted to countries ravaged by natural disasters or war. It lets citizens of those countries remain in the U.S. until the situation improves back home.

More than 200,000 immigrants could face deportation due to the change in policy, and they have more than 200,000 American children who risk being uprooted from their communities and schools, according to plaintiffs in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other immigrant advocates.

Salvadoran plaintiff Orlando Zepeda has lived in California for more than three decades and is raising his 12- and 14-year-old children in Los Angeles. He said the change would be daunting.

Zepeda has worked in building maintenance for the past eight years and fears he wouldn’t recognize the country he left during the middle of a civil war when he was just a teenager.

“My home and family are here,” he said in a statement.

A message for the Department of Justice seeking comment was not immediately returned.

It’s the latest lawsuit filed against the Trump administration over its crackdown on immigration. A case filed last month by Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants in Massachusetts also alleges the decision to end temporary protected status was racially motivated.

Both suits came after Trump used vulgar language to describe the arrival of immigrants from Haiti and African countries.

The lawsuit in California alleges that the U.S. narrowed its criteria for determining whether countries qualified for temporary protected status. Since taking office, the Trump administration has ended the program for the four countries.

Choice: Country or family

The program was created for humanitarian reasons and the status can be renewed by the U.S. government following an evaluation.

El Salvador was designated for the program in 2001 after an earthquake and the country’s status was repeatedly renewed. The Trump administration announced in January that the program would expire for El Salvador in September 2019.

At that time, the American children of those immigrants could face the choice of leaving their country with their parents or staying without them, according to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status for the children.

“These American children should not have to choose between their country and their family,” Ahilan Arulanantham, advocacy and legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement.

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Immigrants Sue US Over End to Temporary Protected Status

Immigrants from four countries and their American-born children sued the Trump administration Monday over its decision to end a program that lets them live and work legally in the United States.

Nine immigrants and five children filed the suit in federal court in San Francisco alleging the decision to end Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan was racially motivated.

The status is granted to countries ravaged by natural disasters or war. It lets citizens of those countries remain in the U.S. until the situation improves back home.

More than 200,000 immigrants could face deportation due to the change in policy, and they have more than 200,000 American children who risk being uprooted from their communities and schools, according to plaintiffs in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other immigrant advocates.

Salvadoran plaintiff Orlando Zepeda has lived in California for more than three decades and is raising his 12- and 14-year-old children in Los Angeles. He said the change would be daunting.

Zepeda has worked in building maintenance for the past eight years and fears he wouldn’t recognize the country he left during the middle of a civil war when he was just a teenager.

“My home and family are here,” he said in a statement.

A message for the Department of Justice seeking comment was not immediately returned.

It’s the latest lawsuit filed against the Trump administration over its crackdown on immigration. A case filed last month by Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants in Massachusetts also alleges the decision to end temporary protected status was racially motivated.

Both suits came after Trump used vulgar language to describe the arrival of immigrants from Haiti and African countries.

The lawsuit in California alleges that the U.S. narrowed its criteria for determining whether countries qualified for temporary protected status. Since taking office, the Trump administration has ended the program for the four countries.

Choice: Country or family

The program was created for humanitarian reasons and the status can be renewed by the U.S. government following an evaluation.

El Salvador was designated for the program in 2001 after an earthquake and the country’s status was repeatedly renewed. The Trump administration announced in January that the program would expire for El Salvador in September 2019.

At that time, the American children of those immigrants could face the choice of leaving their country with their parents or staying without them, according to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status for the children.

“These American children should not have to choose between their country and their family,” Ahilan Arulanantham, advocacy and legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement.

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Trump Blocks Broadcom Takeover of Qualcomm

U.S. President Donald Trump is blocking Singapore-based Broadcom, maker of computer and smartphone chips, from taking over U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm.

Trump cited national security grounds in stopping the takeover, following the recommendation of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The committee reviews national security implications when foreign entities purchase U.S. corporations.

The president’s order said there is “credible evidence” that the takeover “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.”

Broadcom made an unsolicited bid last year to take over Qualcomm for $117 billion.

The company has been in the process of moving its legal headquarters from Singapore to the United States to help it win approval for the takeover.

Qualcomm, which is based in San Diego, has emerged as one of the biggest competitors to Chinese companies, such as Huawei Technologies, making it an attractive asset for potential buyers in the semiconductor industry.

Companies in the industry are racing against each other to develop 5G wireless technology to transmit data at faster speeds.

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Trump Blocks Broadcom Takeover of Qualcomm

U.S. President Donald Trump is blocking Singapore-based Broadcom, maker of computer and smartphone chips, from taking over U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm.

Trump cited national security grounds in stopping the takeover, following the recommendation of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The committee reviews national security implications when foreign entities purchase U.S. corporations.

The president’s order said there is “credible evidence” that the takeover “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.”

Broadcom made an unsolicited bid last year to take over Qualcomm for $117 billion.

The company has been in the process of moving its legal headquarters from Singapore to the United States to help it win approval for the takeover.

Qualcomm, which is based in San Diego, has emerged as one of the biggest competitors to Chinese companies, such as Huawei Technologies, making it an attractive asset for potential buyers in the semiconductor industry.

Companies in the industry are racing against each other to develop 5G wireless technology to transmit data at faster speeds.

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World Wide Web Inventor Says Big Tech Must Be Regulated

The inventor of the worldwide web, Tim Berners-Lee, called on Monday for powerful internet platforms and social media companies to be regulated to prevent the internet from being “weaponized at scale.”

The British computer scientist, in an open letter published on the 29th anniversary of the creation of the web, said a “new set of gatekeepers” was now dominant, controlling the spread of ideas and opinions.

“The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponize the web at scale,” he wrote.

“In recent years, we’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections and criminals steal troves of personal data.”

The intervention by the 62-year-old MIT professor comes as some European governments turn to legislation to curb “fake” news and hate speech that they fear is undermining the basis of their democracies.

In Germany, a law entered force on January 1 that foresees fines of up to 50 million euros ($62 million) on internet platforms that fail to remove hate speech — which is illegal — within 24 hours.

French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile plans legislation that would empower judges to order the removal of fake news during election campaigns.

And in Brussels, the European Commission has served notice to internet platforms that they must find a way to remove extremist content within one hour of being notified, or face legislation compelling them to do so.

Berners-Lee, whose Web Foundation campaigns for a more open and inclusive internet, doubted that companies that have been built to maximize profits can adequately address the problem on a voluntary basis.

“A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those problems,” he said.

Expressing concern over how big internet platforms handle users’ data in targeting advertising, Berners-Lee said a balance needed to be found between the interests of companies and online citizens.

“This means thinking about how we align the incentives of the tech sector with those of users and society at large, and consulting a diverse cross-section of society in the process.”

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What Happens at SXSW?

Afro hip-hop musician 9ice has traveled thousands of miles from Nigeria to central Texas for an event unlike any other.

Musicians, film promoters and tech companies from around the world are gathering in Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival.

“It is to network. It is to make more fans, you know? Introduce my music,” said 9ice.

What originally started as a music festival in the 1980s has evolved into an event that is much bigger and harder to define.

 

“It is a giant party. It is a music festival. It is an entertainment festival. It is a tech show,” said reporter Raymond Wong who is covering SXSW for the Mashable website.

The festival has evolved and grown over the years to reflect changes to the economic landscape of the city.

 

“Austin is associated with primarily music, but now we are really in the tech world. I have a lot of friends that work for film studios, and so, Austin is growing in all those aspects. So, it makes sense the festival would too,” said Meghan Berry from Austin, who has attended SXSW for the last 10 years.

 

The event now includes technology demos, pitches and panels, interactive “experiences” and film screenings.

“It’s sort of the diversity of the different topics. You can go hear a film director. You can hear a politician. You can hear someone working on artificial intelligence and do all those things in the space of a morning, which is really interesting,” said Jesse Needleman, who works in the fashion industry and is attending SXSW for the second year.

A favorite of many attendees are lounges scattered throughout downtown Austin, where attendees can let their hair down and socialize.

 

“People from all walks of life just hanging out at parties together, and a lot of them have free alcohol and free food, and so, it is definitely a perk,” Berry said.

 

These so-called “parties” are networking opportunities, where musicians, techies and film promoters from seemingly very different industries can meet and find connections and new ways of thinking about their own industry.

 

“It is a giant opening of the city to expose people to new ideas and new products and get them thinking about how they can apply that to their business,” said Needleman.

9ice sees this type of convergence across industries every day in his music business.

 

“We have gone away from analog now to digital — mixing, mastering, recording. It is all about technology. Without technology, you cannot do music these days,” he said.

 

From live music, to making music in virtual reality, technology and its applications in different types of art forms can be seen everywhere at SXSW. Attendees from around the world will get a chance to experience it all in Austin.

 

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What Happens at SXSW?

What originally started as a music festival in the 1980s has evolved into an event that is much bigger and harder to define. Imagine networking and partying for more than a week. That is what is happening in Austin, Texas. Musicians, film promoters and tech companies from around the world are gathering for the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details from Austin.

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Trump to Help States Arm Some Teachers, Backs Off Gun Buyer Age-Limit

The White House pledged Sunday to help individual states provide “rigorous firearms training” to some teachers and endorsed a bill to tighten the federal background check system for gun purchasers, but backed off of President Donald Trump’s earlier endorsement of raising the minimum age to purchase some guns.

In a conference call with reporters, administration officials said Trump will urge states to give law enforcement the power to temporarily seize guns from people or preventing them from purchasing the weapons if they demonstrate a threat. The president will also support expanding mental health programs.

WATCH: Student walkout

​Trump earlier expressed support for raising the minimum age for buying assault weapons from 18 to 21, but the plan announced Sunday does not include that. 

There has been an increased national focus on gun control policy following last month’s mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead. Authorities have charged a 19-year-old with the killings, saying he used a semi-automatic rifle.

Many students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have been vocal in calling for state and national leaders to take actions to ensure another such shootings do not happen again. Students across the country are planning a walkout Wednesday, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, as well as a march in Washington on March 24.

Trump wants to help states train specially qualified school personnel who volunteer to carry firearms and to encourage military veterans and retired police officers will be encouraged to seek new careers as teachers.

The idea of arming some teachers has been controversial and has drawn sharp opposition from the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers lobby, among other groups. NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia has said teachers should be focused on educating students and that there need to be solutions that will “keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators.”

Under the White House plan, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will chair a commission on school safety and violence that will report recommendations to Trump, probably within a year, according to administration officials. The panel will focus on a number of areas, including existing rating systems for “violent entertainment,” effects of press coverage of mass shootings, campus security best practices and the effectiveness of “psychotropic medication for treatment of troubled youth.”

DeVos characterized the administration’s efforts as “a pragmatic plan to dramatically increase school safety.”

“We are committed to working quickly because there’s no time to waste,” DeVos told reporters. “No student, no family, no teacher and no school should have to live the horror of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine again.”

Senator Chuck Schumer criticized the White House plan in a tweet Sunday night, saying the administration “has taken tiny baby steps designed not to upset” the National Rifle Association gun-lobbying group while a gun violence epidemic “demands giants steps be taken.” He pledged Democrats will push for stricter steps, including universal background checks for gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence was also critical of the Trump administration’s plan.

“Americans should be able to expect President Trump to follow-through on the critical measures he acknowledged were needed, but today’s announcement was woefully inadequate and showed a profound lack of leadership that is crucial at this time,” said the group’s Co-President Avery Gardiner.

Gardiner said the group also wants universal background checks, bans on new assault weapons and allowing court-issued restraining orders to prevent people who represent a threat to themselves or to others from having access to guns.

Florida enacted its own law last week banning the purchase of firearms by anyone under the age of 21.

The NRA has filed a lawsuit challenging the law, calling it “an affront” to the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, which many believe enshrines gun ownership.

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