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February 25, 2019

An open letter from 23 former GOP lawmakers published Monday urges Republicans currently in Congress to block President Trump's national emergency, which he declared earlier this month to obtain funding for border wall construction.

With signatories including former Defense Secretary and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), the letter "offer[s] two arguments against allowing a president — any president, regardless of party — to circumvent congressional authority." One is the Constitution's investiture of lawmaking power, including the power of the purse, in Congress, not the presidency. To permit the president to usurp that authority, the letter says, is to undermine "true representative government."

The second argument appeals to its readers' self-interest as much as to principles of good governance, warning that Trump's emergency declaration will backfire for the very Republicans who support it now.

"[W]hat will you do when a president of another party uses the precedent you are establishing to impose policies to which you are unalterably opposed?" the letter asks. "There is no way around this difficulty: What powers are ceded to a president whose policies you support may also be used by presidents whose policies you abhor."

The letter closes with an appeal to oppose Trump's declaration; a vote is scheduled in the House on Tuesday and the Senate is expected to take up the issue soon. Trump, meanwhile, issued an opposite plea on Twitter Monday, telling GOP senators to be "strong and smart" and "don't get led down the path of weak and ineffective Border Security." Bonnie Kristian

February 23, 2019

A group of nearly 100 Microsoft workers signed a petition Friday calling on their employer to cancel a $480 million contract with the U.S. Army and to stop developing "any and all weapons technologies."

Microsoft has agreed to sell the military its HoloLens headset, which allows users to see a virtually augmented version of reality. Contract bidding documents indicate the Army intends to use the gear as part of its Integrated Visual Augmentation System for both training and battlefield situations to improve soldiers' "lethality, mobility, and situational awareness."

"We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used," says the employee petition, arguing that when the HoloLens headset is "deployed on the battlefield," it will turn "warfare into a simulated 'video game,' further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed."

In a response statement Friday, Microsoft said it appreciated workers' input but will continue working with the military.

A similar intra-company conflict at Google last year over technology used for drone strikes resulted in the resignation of about a dozen employees and protest from some 4,600 more. Google ultimately did not renew the defense contract at issue, saying it clashed with company values. Bonnie Kristian

February 13, 2019

Apple CEO Tim Cook says the company will "take a look" at a controversial app in Saudi Arabia that allows Saudi men to track their wives and daughters, reports NPR.

Absher, an app which was created by a subset of the Saudi Ministry of Interior, has been distributed on both Apple and Google app stores, with more than one million downloads on the latter platform, per Vice News.

The app says users "can safely browse your profile or your family members, or [laborers] working for you, and perform a wide range of eServices online," NPR reports. App users can also receive a notification whenever one of the people they are tracking attempts to use a passport. All women in Saudi Arabia are required to have a male guardian and need permission to travel, per Vice News.

Human rights groups have taken issue with the app, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called on Apple and Google earlier this week to remove the app. "It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women," wrote Wyden in a letter to the companies, "but American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy."

Cook told NPR he had not heard about the controversy before being asked about it during an interview on Monday. The app has remained available on both platforms as of Wednesday. Marianne Dodson

December 4, 2018

The United States has been involved in conflict in Afghanistan for long enough, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters in India Monday.

"In Afghanistan, it's gone on now — it's approaching 40 years. Forty years is enough, and it's time for everyone to get on board, support the United Nations, support [Indian] Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi, support [Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani, and all those who are trying to maintain peace and make for a better world here," Mattis said. "So, we are on that track."

The United States has been actively at war in Afghanistan for 17 years, but was also involved in proxy fights against the Soviet Union beginning in 1979. U.S. intervention in Afghanistan continued through the 1980s and 1990s.

While Mattis has repeatedly spoken of ending the war in Afghanistan, highlighting the need for a diplomatic solution, other recent comments suggest his vision of an end to the war does not include U.S. troop withdrawal. "We are going to stand with the 41 nations, largest wartime coalition in history, who are still committed to this effort," he said at a defense forum in California Saturday. Bonnie Kristian

August 1, 2018

Facebook and Instagram want to take up less of your time. Yes, really.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, the two platforms will soon debut a feature that clocks how long users spend on their apps, Recode reports. It's all part of Mark Zuckerberg's 2018 push to make sure time spent on Facebook and Instagram is "time well spent."

Users got a first look at the "time well spent" features when screenshots were leaked in June, per The Verge. "Your Activity" on Instagram and "Your Time on Facebook" display a graph of users' average time spent on the apps. Users can then set an alarm for when they've reached their daily average. To get even more disconnected, users can also mute Instagram and Facebook notifications for minutes or hours.

The two platforms profit off the time users spend scrolling, making the new features pretty ironic. But Ameet Ranadive, Instagram's product director of well-being, said at a press event that this is a trade Facebook is willing to make. It's in line with Zuckerberg's "responsibility" mantra, which led to a revamped algorithm prioritizing friends' content over pages'. These newest developments will similarly give users "power and control over how and when they want to engage," Ranadive said, per BuzzFeed News.

With Facebook's credibility — and stocks — falling, the company needs all the people-first features it can get. Read more at Recode. Kathryn Krawczyk

July 24, 2018

North Korea appears to be shutting down its primary satellite launch location, the North Korea-focused analysis site 38 North reports, citing satellite imagery taken this month.

Among the facilities being dismantled, 38 North says, are "the rail-mounted processing building — where space launch vehicles are prepared before moving them to the launch pad — and the nearby rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles."

This equipment is thought to have been crucial to the Kim Jong Un regime's development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). However, some analysts caution against overstating the import of this deconstruction: North Korea has not permitted outside experts to verify the shutdown, and this change will have no effect on the regime's current stockpile of long-range missiles. Bonnie Kristian

July 13, 2018

First, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wanted to dictate what President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed during their upcoming meeting. Now he wants it canceled altogether.

After Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced indictments against 12 Russian agents Friday, Schumer quickly called for Trump to pull the plug on the highly anticipated summit.

Trump is set to meet with the Russian leader in Finland on Monday. But Schumer wants the talks called off until Russia makes "demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won't interfere in future elections," he said in an expanded statement released Friday.

The newest indictments in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe allege 12 Russian intelligence officers were involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's emails. About 20,000 DNC emails were stolen and leaked in July 2016 — within days of when Trump called for Russia to hack Clinton's emails.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer jointly slammed the upcoming summit in a Wednesday statement, calling on the president to take "concrete steps toward a full cessation of Russian attacks on our democracy" when he meets with Putin on Monday. Pelosi's post-indictment statement released Friday echoed the earlier message, but diverged from Schumer in declaring that "the stakes for the upcoming Trump-Putin meeting could not be higher." Kathryn Krawczyk

June 19, 2018

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced a bill Monday evening to curtail the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant families at the U.S. border.

Per Cruz's press release, the Protect Parents and Kids Act would prohibit family separations "absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children," authorizing the construction of "new temporary shelters" that can house families intact. It would also require that asylum cases be adjudicated within 14 days and, to that end, nearly double the number of federal immigration judges to a total of 750.

"All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers. This must stop. Now," Cruz said. "The answer is not what congressional Democrats are proposing: simply releasing illegal aliens and returning to the failed policy of 'catch and release.' Rather, we should fix the backlog in immigration cases, remove the legal barriers to swift processing, and resolve asylum cases on an expedited basis."

The Democratic bill Cruz referenced has the support of all 49 senators in the Democrats' caucus. The Keep Families Together Act would also prohibit separation of migrant families within 100 miles of the border except in some circumstances, such as those involving abuse or neglect. It requires development of procedure to reunite families already separated and expressly bans family separations "solely for the policy goal of deterring individuals from migrating to the United States or for the policy goal of promoting compliance with civil immigration laws." Bonnie Kristian

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