Homeland Insecurity

Updated: June 2, 2015

It may be just a coincidence that both Canada and the U.S. have experienced serious breaches in homeland security in the last month, but it is very important not to miss the underlying significance of it all. Let’s start from the top. One month ago Omar Gonzalez scaled the walls of the White House, ran across the lawn, forced his way into the building, and made it all the way to the East Room before finally being tackled by security (oh, and Gonzalez was armed.) And now our neighbor to the north has suffered an even more serious breach.

Omar Gonzalez
Omar Gonzalez (photo curtesy of the Washington Post)

As most of you have no doubt already heard, lone gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot Canadian soldier Nathan Cirillo to death on Wednesday in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (near Canada’s Parliament building.) Zehaf-Bibeau then entered said building and opened fire on security guards before being fatally shot. In both the American and Canadian incidents the assailants were subdued, but not before causing great alarm in their respective countries. You would think the measures used to protect important assets such as the Canadian Parliament building and the White House would be a bit tighter, especially in this age of global terrorism. I’m aware that the shock of 9/11 faded long ago, but the danger of terrorism never did; it was only temporarily disrupted.

Unfortunately, terrorism is something that will never be defeated. It only takes one person to cause a major incident, as we’ve seen firsthand in recent months. That’s why it is all the more important to stay vigilant at home and not allow these egregious breaches in homeland security occur. But in every tragedy lies a valuable lesson to be learned. Let’s examine the parallels and contrasts between Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Omar Gonzalez. Both men are thought to be mentally unstable, but for different reasons. Authorities believe that Zehaf-Bibeau was disgruntled due to a delay in receiving his passport.

According to an informative article from NBCNews.com, Zehaf-Bibeau is a radicalized Canadian who’s next move was to get to Syria in order to join ISIS. http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/canadian-parliament-shooting/ottawas-parliament-hill-reopens-public-after-deadly-shooting-n233821. Omar Gonzalez, on the other hand, is an American veteran of the Iraq war suffering from PTSD. His family was quick to rush to his defense in the aftermath of the incident, explaining how he was reduced to living out of his car prior to the incident. A detailed piece on Gonzales and his personal history can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/09/30/alleged-white-house-intruder-omar-gonzalez-is-a-veteran-does-it-matter/.

Now, what is the most prominent trait these men share? They’re both natural-born citizens of the countries they attacked. This is further proof that domestic terrorism is alive and well. We as a nation, and indeed every nation in the world, must constantly keep an eye peeled for one of our own that could snap at any moment. I don’t want this to sound hysterical, because there is actually good reason to be concerned. Far from the fearmongering-for-ratings game that every major news network has played at some point over the years, this article is designed as a warning and a reminder: our government needs to keep a firm finger on the national pulse. Both of these incidents are repeats of previous incidents very similar in nature, and the people in charge need to start recognizing the patterns.

Michael Zehef-Bibeau
Michael Zehef-Bibeau (photo curtesy of thepunditpress.com)

Not only our government, but average citizens as well. No one can predict with 100% accuracy when the next catastrophe will strike, but it’s evident that in times of international crisis (brought on by things like Ebola and ISIS) the average person is more likely to suffer some kind of breakdown, private or public. In the case of Zehaf-Bibeau and Gonzalez, it was public. Very public. And while their’s is an extreme example, the truth is that it can happen to anyone who has experienced similar hardships. I’m not excusing their actions by any means, but I am saying that both Canada and the U.S. have to learn from these incidents and provide more help for people under physiological duress.

Think of this whole situation in terms of a mother and her toddler. If the toddler doesn’t get enough attention, he’s going to act out. If the U.S. had solved the embarrassing VA fiasco, maybe Gonzalez wouldn’t have been so disgruntled. Same applies to the bureaucracy in Canada that delayed Zehaf-Bibeau’s passport. Again, I’m not excusing the actions of either of these men. I’m simply pointing out solutions that may very well prevent future incidents of a similar nature.  While the mother/toddler metaphor may be a bit too juvenile for the seriousness of the situation, it is apt none-the-less. I believe said metaphor applies to every country, even well-established democracies.

Congress and its never-ending incumbencies

Updated: June 29, 2015

They say that to improve is to change, and to perfect is to change often. There’s no question that we’ve improved greatly as a nation in the 238 years since our founding. Senators are no longer elected indirectly through state legislators, presidents no longer have unlimited terms, and other barriers to democracy have been abolished in favor of gateways to the voting public.

Despite this, there are still many flaws in the American democratic process, one of the biggest being career politicians. The majority of Congress usually surfs to reelection every two years because of unlimited term limits and high barriers to entry for new candidates.

Look at the track record that Congress has with electing new members. As I’ve mentioned before, 90-91% of the 112th congress were re-elected to the 113th. This is terrible for a legislative body that has passed fewer laws than any other Congress in U.S. history. An even greater shock comes when one takes a look at some of the most tenured members of Congress.

John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), John Conyers Jr (D-Mich.) and Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) are the most egregious examples of career politicians. Between them they have 154 years in Congress. Let me say that again – 154 years. Their combined incumbencies predate the end of slavery.

It’s not just seemingly unending congressional terms that threaten our democracy. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get the attention of our representatives. Case in point: I tried contacting my congressman – Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) – no less than four times over the past two weeks via phone and email. The only thing I accomplished was being re-directed by various members of his staff and then forgotten about altogether.

If we are ever going to see an end to the gridlock in Washington, we’re going to have to overhaul the legislative branch. So I’m calling on you, the average voter: Don’t reelect your congressman/woman in the next election cycle. Bring someone else to Capitol Hill. I know this may be hard to hear, and I know many of you may not trust a fresh face, but it will be those fresh faces that jettison the dead weight from the body of Washington politics.

To see a full list of Congress’s longest-lasting members, and to get a better idea of how they’ve managed to stick around so long, check out this page: http://www.rollcall.com/politics/houseseniority.html.

Sources:

https://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/elec_stats.php?cycle=2012

http://www.rollcall.com/politics/houseseniority.html.

Photo credit to: timeboostapp.com & shutterstock

AZ Republicans in danger of clipping own wings

Updated: May 26, 2015

Last week reports started surfacing about Arizona republicans forming a committee to study the effects of barring indipendants from their primaries. Nothing is official yet, but before the GOP make such a bold decision, it’s very important that they consider all the ramifications. Independents have become the largest voting bloc in the state, which is a good and bad thing for republicans. But it’s also a good and bad thing for democrats. If republicans can’t manage this double-edged sword without cutting themselves, then they don’t deserve to get the independent vote in the first place.

The “problem” is independents are allowed to vote in either primary (democrat or republican) and many conservatives are worried that allowing independents to do so will hurt their platform. Essentially what they’re saying is they’re worried about the more open-minded voter “diluting” the hardcore republican candidate pool. But have any of these conservatives stopped to consider that this may be what they need? Look at Mitt Romney. He actually had a good chance of winning the White House until his fellow party members convinced him to adopt a far more conservative image.

If Arizona republicans decide it is a good idea to bar independents, it will only serve to hurt them in the long run. But it seems they haven’t put too much thought into it. Arizona GOP Communications Director Tim Sifert said in a phone interview, “No work will be done [on the committee] untill after November 4th. We’re focused right now on winning the election.”

And what about the democrats? What’s their take on this? I know independents can just as easily insert more conservative-minded candidates into democratic elections if they choose to go with blue primaries, but are the Dems just as afraid of this diluting their base as republicans are? According to Arizona Democratic Executive Director DJ Quinlan, “I think in an age where independents are the largest voting bloc in Arizona, for one of the major political parties to block them from their primaries is absolutely ludicrous. It sends the wrong signal to independents and taxpayers, since primaries are publicly funded. We have to come to terms with how we are going to engage citizens and voters, and you certainly don’t do that by excluding people.”

Quinlan went on to say that as far as the republican’s authority to exclude independents from their primaries is concerned, there is a legal precedent. “In 2013 the Libertarian party was able to limit their primaries to libertarian voters,” he said. But he was quick to add, “There is no one kind of independent, and we [democrats] welcome them to vote in our primaries.”

If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, this isn’t just about protecting the republican base in Arizona. This is about the right to free speech and the representation of an entire group of people. What right do the republicans (or any group, for that matter) have to prevent people from voting in party primaries? It’s the right of every American to vote for who they want to represent them, whether it be in a general or primary election. Denying them that right for any reason other than being a convicted felon is a violation of the First Amendment and the Constitution in general.

(Photo credit to WN.com)

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