Torture

Updated: June 18, 2015

Dianne Feinstein made a good point during her interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN: There is no good time to bring up the topic of torture. However, it was something that needed to be addressed.

I want to stress that the torture report conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee was not designed to damage the Republicans or punish the CIA operatives that carried out these acts, as some people have argued. Rather, this investigation was conducted to demonstrate America’s willingness to confront its past and show that we as a nation are not afraid to admit our mistakes.

What this report showed is that yes, we did in fact torture terror suspects in the wake of 9/11, and mistakes were made in how we conducted our “enhanced interrogation” program. But that’s not really the heart of the debate here. The question now facing the United States is “Was this justified?” I’m here to argue in the affirmative. I realize that this is not a popular opinion, but that has not always been the case. Many Americans have forgotten what the mood was like in the initial months and years following the attacks.

I have a creeping suspicion that what I write here may come back to haunt me later in my professional career, but I will not allow popular opinion to silence my views. Just as Murrow stood up to McCarthy when the rest of the nation dared not speak a word for fear of being labeled a communist, I am here to give voice to those who share my view but are too afraid to speak for fear of being labeled un-American.

The first thing to remember is we are not fighting enemy combatants, we’re fighting terrorists. If we were taking about members of a foreign country’s military then of course torture would not be justified. But the men and women in question do not give a damn about the Geneva Conventions. They fly no country’s flag, they don no uniform, and they kill indiscriminately. I realize that 9/11 was 13 years ago, but isn’t our slogan Never Forget? We should not adopt a softer stance on terrorism simply because no one has flown planes into New York skyscrapers recently.

Let me take a moment to address the arguments that some of my critics would likely bring up. Yes, the investigation into these torture cases showed that we did not obtain enough information from the suspects to prevent any one terrorist attack. But let me ask you this: If there was even the slightest chance of preventing another 9/11 at the hands of amoral psychopaths, isn’t it our sworn duty to protect the lives of the many at the expense of the few by any means necessary? It’s not an easy question to answer, but I stand resolute in saying yes. In the words of Major General Larry K. Arnold in the midst of the 9/11 attacks: “We will take lives in the air to save lives on the ground.”

The second issue is the men who were tortured by the CIA were “suspects” i.e. they were never charged with anything. I admit that this does look bad to the international community, but what so many people fail to realize is that these men are not American citizens, and therefore not protected by the U.S. Constitution (in this case the amendments outlawing cruel and unusual punishment and the right to due process.) And as far as I’m concerned, the few Americans who were alledgedly tortured by the government for acts of terrorism, most prominently Jose Padilla, waved their citizenship rights as soon as they conspired to kill masses of innocent people outside of a war zone.But what about the Geneva Conventions I mentioned earlier? Didn’t the United States violate them just like the terrorists did? Yes. Yes we did.

Torture is strictly outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, but again, these men and women waived their right to the protection of international law the second they decided to commit atrocious war crimes. While it’s true that many people believe that two wrongs don’t make a right, you would be childish to think that such black and white morality applies in extraordinary circumstances such as these. If playing dirty is what it takes to keep this country safe, then I see no problem in leveling the playing field. Doing so does not make us as bad as the terrorists because it is terrorists that we are targeting, not helpless innocents. Normally I don’t agree with the notion that peace can be obtained with both the olive branch and the arrow, but these radical groups have left us no alternative.

Unlike most journalism, topics like this are purely subjective, not objective. So my purpose here was not to inform, but to persuade. I realize that I won’t win over everyone with this article, but I wrote this piece to show that everyone has the right to voice their opinion, no matter how unpopular it may be. If we all speak up for our views, no matter how guarded, we may find that many others share the same beliefs. Once that happens, we can have a proper dialogue about the merits of our actions as opposed to keeping silent for fear of being condemned.

I’m reminded of a political comic I read awhile back that depicted a mushroom cloud towering over the National Mall. The speech bubble in the background read: “For the last time, if you don’t tell us where the bomb is, we’ll be forced to get you a lawyer.”

Photo credit to: aei.org

Can technology end police discrimination?

Updated: June 16, 2015

I’m not going to sit here and try to convince anyone that Big Brother is not watching. The NSA has made it perfectly clear that Americans are no longer entitled to privacy, and we as a people have accepted that. Why? Because of terrorism. Fair enough, but what happens when the threat is not from terrorists, but from our own police officers?

It seems our government has finally realized just how much of a liability our boys in blue have become. In response to the latest incident in Ferguson, President Obama has asked Congress for $75 million to invest in body cameras for our nation’s police officers. Highly controversial and very timely, the topic of police brutality and use of deadly force has become a daily nation-wide discussion.

Now look, I have friends who happen to be cops. I have friends who are cops-in-training. They’re college students who’re still wide-eyed and optimistic about the world waiting on the other side of their diploma. What’s their opinion on this, you ask? Simply put, it’s a mixed bag. These guys (and gals) are the future of law enforcement, and they’re smart enough to know that something has to be done about the declining public view of police officers in America. This is good, especially considering the ever-sensitive issue of race has been at the forefront of nearly every one of these cop-on-kid cases.

Think about it. Which would the American people prefer: a dead teenager in the street, or a speeding ticket? This may be a loaded question, but a valid one none-the-less. Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, both proof that the race issue in he U.S. is far from settled, especially when police are involved. And thanks to 24-hour cable news networks and the omnipresent internet, these incidents are no longer isolated.

Can you imagine how much more galvanizing the civil rights movement would have been if pedestrians with camera phones had been in the streets of Birmingham when cops were blasting blacks with fire hoses? What about if YouTube was around for the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago? Or the Watts Riots in LA a few years prior? Something tells me all of the above would have gotten more than a few hits.

The night the grand jury announced that Officer Wilson would not be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown, there were massive demonstrations and protests in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and of course, St. Louis. And thanks to the miracle of modern media, the whole world got to see it as it was happening. Now imagine that Officer Wilson had been wearing a body camera on that fateful day in August. Would Brown still be alive? Would Wilson still have walked free? There’s no way to know for sure, but the implications are far too significant to ignore.

Equipping our nation’s police with body cams is one of the smartest moves our government can make. Sure, some may call it federal overreach, others may call it a waste of taxpayer money. But consider the amount of money in damages caused by the people of Ferguson when they burnt the city to the ground. I think $75 million worth of body cameras is a very sound investment both fiscally and morally.

One only has to go so far as to look at surrounding literature for further insight on the implications of race and police. A brilliant example of such literature is the 2000 book Driving While Black by Kenneth Meeks. In this bold book, Meeks lays bare the nature of race relations in the United States, and how profiling by police is not only possible, but occurs on a regular basis. “In 1999 in the wake of a national outcry by civil rights officials and leaders of color against the police practice of racial profiling across the country, the New Jersey state Attorney General’s office initiated an investigation into the allegation that its state troopers engaged in the practice.”

Sound familiar? That’s because it’s yet another example of history repeating itself. Take the Eric Garner incident for example. Garner was placed in a chokehold and wrestled to the ground by four police officers because he was allegedly “selling loose cigarettes.” An obese man, Garner died as a result of the altercation and the lack of oxygen it caused him. What makes the Garner incident so prominent? There was videotape. Yes, someone was recording the tussle between the cops and Garner, and the video soon got widespread media attention.

This incident shows that racial discrimination by police is not only a long-standing practice, but also an ongoing problem in our communities. Will constant video surveillance prevent deaths like those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner? Some say no, after another grand jury acquitted all four police officers who where involved in Eric Garner’s death. But I say equipping our nation’s cops with a little supervision is still a good idea.

While this may be viewed as a punishment, officers themselves may actually support the measure after conflicting reports surfaced regarding whether or not Michael Brown had his hands up during his altercation with Officer Wilson. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Police officers understandably object to the notion that one of their own would shoot someone with his hands up.” Politicians at both the national and local levels support the implementation of body cams. Most notably, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “We’re going to see the officers’ perspective, literally. I think that’s powerful.” And I agree. After all, who polices the police?

Photo credit to: abcnews.go.com

Procedure overshadows policy in immigration “battle”

Updated: June 5, 2015

How petty are we getting? I was under the impression that if Democrats and Republicans agreed on something, then it would get done (the few things they actually do agree on, that is.) But apparently this doesn’t apply to the crucial issue of immigration. Both Dems and the GOP have said that they are in favor of immigration reform, and yet they have completely halted any actual progress on passing a bill because they have slightly different ideas on how they would like to see it done.

To be accurate, a bill did pass the Senate 500 days ago, but it stalled out in the House, leading to President Obama threatening executive action in order to address the issue. And that brings us to tonight’s national address.

Honestly, I don’t even see why the mainstream media and politicians are making such a fuss over this executive action. We all knew it was coming, the president told us so himself multiple times. But of course we can’t even pass a budget anymore without shutting down the government for two weeks, so naturally Obama’s announcement is now undergoing the standard transformation from presidential duty to tyrannical power-grab.

This is Obama’s 193rd  executive order since taking office, which is nearly 100 less than his predecessor George W. Bush issued during his presidency (although you’d never know it by the way the Right have been talking.) Don’t think I’m only coming down on Republicans, either; this issue could have been handled better by both sides.

But when you get down to the most basic facts, the bare truth is that Republicans killed the immigration bill in the House, and that’s why tonight’s announcement was necessary.

The president approved of the bill that the Senate passed, and it also had the approval of all the Democrats in the House (not to mention a few House Republicans.) But thanks to the radical factions within the GOP, the bill was unable to pass the House and into law. These are the people who were bent on seeing Obama lose reelection in 2012 and are now determined to make him a lame duck president for the last two years of his “rule.”

This is very frustrating to see for someone such as myself, who voted a straight republican ticket in the midterms (no, really.) More importantly the people, the politicians and the president know that the reforms which will be pushed though the executive branch are both limited and temporary.

The only way to have long lasting and comprehensive reform is for Congress to pass a bill.

In truth, I voted a straight republican ticket in the hopes that the GOP would take back the Senate. Not because I think Republicans do a better job than Democrats, but because I knew that the GOP had a much better chance of winning back the Senate than the Dems had of winning back the House. I also understand that nothing would have gotten done in these next two years if the chambers remained devided.

Now the GOP has no excuse not to pass some sort of immigration bill (especially with the Supreme Court blocking parts the president’s executive action twice in the last six months.) If the Republicans continue with their policy of inaction, they’re going to show up to the 2016 presidential election empty handed, and that won’t resonate well with the voting public. People will look at the president and his party and say “Well, at least they tried something.”

From a purely objective standpoint, the president’s decision to push ahead with executive action was the right course to take, not just politically but also for the nation. Think of it as a tool to get the reform ball rolling. The president’s immigration strategy will go into effect this spring, and that will give the republican-controlled congress time to come up with a proper reform bill.

And the GOP will pass an immigration bill soon. How do I know? Because we’re talking about the people who’ve attempted to repeal Obamacare over 50 times since it was passed. The Republicans are going to want Obama’s reforms to go sooner rather than later.

This all may sound rather anti-GOP, but I actually believe this is a good thing. Republicans have a lot of good ideas when it comes to reforming our broken immigration system, and I believe they are going to pass a solid reform bill. Now that they won back the Senate, all they needed was for the president to give them a kick in the pants to get them moving. And Obama’s executive action will do just that.

Source(s): http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/wbush.html

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/obama.html

Photo credit to blog.oup.com

“Dark Money” and its impact on recent midterm cycle

Updated: June 3, 2015

Dark Money is more than just a catchy phrase- it’s an emerging industry. Dark Money is a name given to 501(c)(4) organizations, which is the IRS code for nonprofits. The ingenious thing about these nonprofit organizations is they have been able to contribute unlimited amounts of money directly to political campaigns without having to reveal themselves as a donor. They can stay in the shadows because they are not being taxed on these contributions due to their nonprofit status with the IRS.

Let’s say (hypothetically) that Best Buy is a republican institution. The owners and CEOs at Best Buy have the power to set up a small nonprofit organization (a bakery for breast caner research, for example) and funnel massive amounts of money through said organization and into the war chests of republican candidates; all of which is legal.

If you think back to the previous midterm election cycle in 2010, the total amount of money brought in from sources outside the campaigns totaled $205,519,230. But as the popularity of Dark Money grew among private business owners and more organizations realized that they would not be audited by the IRS, the amount of revenue given to 2014 midterm campaigns by Dark Money groups came in at $545,605,510.

That’s a 376% increase in spending in just four years.

Now imagine what the Presidency will cost in 2016. Political scientists estimate that if a candidate were to enter the race for the White House today, they wouldn’t be taken seriously unless they already had at least $150 million in their coffers.

See what the experts at OpenSecrets.org have to say about Dark Money: https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/nonprof_summ.php

It’s important to keep in mind that not all candidates who spend the most money on the campaign trail emerge victorious (the Tom Harkin/Joni Ernst race being the most pronounced example.) But in order for lesser-funded candidates to actually win these elections, the voters have to be willing to go the extra mile and do some independent research.

A good way to start would be looking at outside sources- internet, newspapers, public records at the library -for additional info on the candidates in question. This is a great alternative to relying entirely on campaign ads, where 5-10% of Dark Money groups can be found spending their dollars.

As my old PoliSci professor once explained to me, today’s voters have the power to change our entire political system from the outside if they really wanted to, but it would take a lot of work. The choice is ours, people. If we want to stop the influence of Dark Money spending, then let’s show the corporations and special interest groups that what they’re doing will no longer stand. Let’s elect candidates that we personally have found to be best suited for the job, not candidates who look/sound the best in TV and radio ads.

Another excellent way to get involved as a voter would be to visit your local IRS branch- easily found through a google search -and demand to know why they are only auditing 1% of all 501(c)(4) organizations (Dark Money groups.) A favorite saying of mine plays well at a time like this: “We used to live in a country where the voters picked the politicians. Now we live in a country where politicians pick the voters.”

But it dosn’t have to stay this way.

If you’re tired of corporations and wealthy special interest groups controlling everything from the White House to your Mayor’s office, then use your power as a voter to do a little independent research. If the big spenders start losing elections, Dark Money groups will vanish and it will be much easier for the average voter to be heard.

Statistics from Al Jazeera America and OpenSecrets.org were used in this report.

Photo credit to watchdog.org

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.

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