An American Perspective to Global Terrorism

(The following is an op-ed.)

Working in the media, I once again get to watch the aftermath of a terrorist attack in a European city. This time it is Brussels.

It should be noted that there was barely a mention in American media of the terrorist attacks in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey; Maiduguri, Nigeria; Mastaba, Yemen; or Grand-Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire.

Flag-Pins-Belgium-TurkeyThere was no changing of Facebook statuses for the other places or a public outcry of grief. While we publicly announce that we stand with Brussels, we stay silent of standing with the people in these other places that have suffered in the exact same way and from the exact same militant religious extremists.

It all comes down to how we Americans view the world, and how the media reinforces those stereotypes.

During a presidential election year, a terrorist attack takes even more precedent. Opponents instantly claim that the current administration isn’t doing enough to prevent such horrific acts, and it is the same old talking points that seem to be resurrected.

We can blame immigrants and refugees but then we are just scapegoating. Most are escaping from a hellish nightmare that we can’t even begin to imagine in this country. Yes, nothing is 100% fool-proof and some could possibly slip through that shouldn’t but that doesn’t make it right to blame all of them.

And ask yourself this question: Do you know how a refugee comes to the US? They don’t get to pick where they go and very few even leave the refugee camps. For coming to the US, this infographic gives you the steps that it takes. It is a rather lengthy process.

As some would like done, constant government surveillance of Muslim-American communities, including their mosques, would be a violation of the Constitution. I find it interesting that after a mass shooting, these same candidates will start screaming about protecting the Second Amendment, but are willing to violate any and every amendment (with the exception of the Second) when it comes to a terrorist attack.

I’m actually more concerned about mass shootings than terrorism. Both are essentially the same thing. They can be unexpected, violent, and have a great deal of casualties.

And then there is our military. Our military force does not need to be made great again as some might say that it does in order to fight global terrorism. We have the the world’s largest, most technologically advanced military. It would take the next seven countries to equal what we spend on our military. To stand and proclaim that our military needs to be made great again is an insult to the brave men and women that don the uniform and serve throughout the world.

There are no easy answers to fighting terrorism. There is no soundbite from a political candidate that will instantly give us the solution that we seek. We have to see things from a global perspective instead of the narrow-minded American-way. We must get past generalizations and stereotypes of other places, people, and cultures.

I’ve been to Europe a few times over the past decade. I love visiting. And despite the attacks in Paris and Brussels (and anywhere else), I will return. It can be fun to immerse yourself in something different and to get a new perspective.

Working in the media industry can be difficult in times like these. But then I think back to those trips… to those great places and wonderful people. And no terrorist can take that away from me.

The Fourth Estate

Freedom Of The Press And National Security

Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”  Thomas Jefferson~

During the course of this past week, I’ve watched the story unfold of the raid on the Associated Press (AP) by the Department of Justice.  The Justice Department obtained records for 20 different phone lines (both work and personal) from AP personnel.  Under the law, when it comes to a media entity, the Justice Department is to give the media organization advanced notice of a warrant or subpoena unless it is felt that doing so would jeopardize the investigation.  In this particular case, the AP was not given advanced noticed.  So what in particular was the Justice Department looking for?  They are investigating a leak in the department to the media.  The investigation started after the AP ran a story last May about a counter-terrorism investigation in Yemen.

media-buy-NS_NewsflashI’m not here to state that this is a scandal and that something illegal was done.  This is for investigators to seek out and for Congress to question.  Yes, we in the media have the right to question, as well.  But these answers, along with all the factual information, have yet to be released.  So it would be unwise to jump to any conclusions without all of the information that is needed to form an opinion on these instances.  Congress has told the Obama administration repeatedly that it needs to stop the leaks of information related to national security.  With the AP raid, however, Congress is not only calling into question its legality but also if the Justice Department went too far to stop the leaks.  During a recent appearance on Capitol Hill, Attorney General Eric Holder (who had recused himself from the leak investigation prior to the raid at the AP) said the leaks warranted a strong response from the federal government.  Some members of Congress, including Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has said a media shield law would have been needed in this instance to prevent this from happening.  Such a law has been proposed but has been defeated in the past.  And as each congressman has stated this claim, they have not taken notice that in the particular piece of legislation, a national security investigation would have been exempt.  Since 9/11, the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) have often made broad exceptions to the law in terms of national security.

“The free press is the mother of all our liberties and of our progress under liberty.”  Adlai E. Stevenson~

The Founding Fathers included within the First Amendment to the Constitution our right to freedom of the press.  As each branch of government was a check on the others, the press was given the freedom to check on all of them and to make those answer to the public.  State-run media only propagates the government’s actions to make the public believe such actions and laws are necessary.  The press of our new republic needed and required freedom from government censorship in order to keep the government in check rather than the people.  Without the ability to know information… without the ability to question our elected leaders… then democracy can’t survive or progress.  It will just deteriorate into despotism.  As stated in the Stevenson quote above, freedom of the press is essential to any democratic (or republican) form of government.  The final say should always lie with the people, and the people have the right to be informed.

The raid at the AP does seem excessive.  Surely, there were other ways to find out the necessary information.  One of the biggest assets with our press is the ability to speak anonymously.  Could people now fear that this is under threat?  That their cover could be blown?  Yes, we should not have leaks in regards to national security… unless there is wrongdoing.  However, could this raid have a trickle down effect that could keep people from talking on any range of subjects?  Without the ability to keep people’s identity secret, the press would have a difficult time doing its job.  In its quest to find a government leak, what else could the Justice Department uncover during its search of the phone records?  Wouldn’t that be classified under a privacy violation?  In regards to a government leak, this is not the media’s problem or responsibility.  This is the responsibility of the government to find it on its own end.  This does not mean that a journalist cannot be called in front of a grand jury if required to do so.  In Branzburg v. Hayes (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did not protect a journalist the right to refuse a subpoena by a grand jury.  However, this is a particular individual and not a raid of an office and obtaining information from several different journalists… both work related and private.  Though the government did at least have a subpoena for the records, they still need to walk the fine line between national security and freedom of the press.  They need to remember that that particular burden falls on them and not upon us.  In the meantime, I shall continue to watch as this unfolds.  The freedom of the press is vital to our society, to our government, and to our nation.  We cannot allow it to be trampled on.

“To the press alone, chequered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.”  James Madison~

NDAA: The Threat to Our Rights

In the closing days of the 112th Congress, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA) despite threatening to veto the legislation over prohibitions on closing Guantanamo Bay prison camp.  Back in 2008, then-Senator Obama ran promising to close the prison camp there and even signed an Executive Order after being sworn into office doing just that.  The problem?  No one wanted the people we were holding there in their states.  In reversing course and signing the NDAA of 2013, the President said that it contained the budget for the armed forces… $633 billion.  It might be worth noting that that wouldn’t have been necessary if the President and Congress had passed a budget.  It’s a two-pronged effort since it must get through both chambers of Congress plus the president.  However, neither side seems to be able to come up with one that is suitable.  The last time President Obama submitted a budget, even his own party rejected it.

nullify-the-NDAA-300x258The NDAA is nothing new.  There has been one the past few years.  At the end of 2011, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012.  This is the same Congress that passed the one for 2013, as well.  It is a huge document that most people really paid no attention to when it was signed into law.  However, there are some parts to the legislation that the citizens of the US should be greatly alarmed at… in particular Section 1021, (b-2).  This particular part of the legislation gives the President of the United States the right to be judge, jury, and executioner of any American citizen living overseas that the president sees as a threat to our country.  Let me reiterate that… judge, jury, and executioner of any American citizens living overseas.  American citizens, regardless of where they live, are protected by the US Constitution when it comes to US laws.  This is clearly a violation of the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution, and it gives the president authoritarian power in terms of this.  This particular thing has been legal since long before the NDAA of 2012.  In fact, according to an article in the New York Times, this goes back to at least 2010, and the public (and the media) has paid no attention to it whatsoever.

Imagine that you are a US citizen living in a foreign country.  Yes, you are bound to follow the laws of that foreign country while you are living there, but you are also protected under the US Constitution.  The President of the United States now has the authority to determine if you are guilty of being a threat to the United States and has the right to issue an order to have you killed.  You do not get a trial and there is no jury of your peers.  The president has sole authority without any checks and balances, and usually the person will be eliminated in a drone strike if it is possible.

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” 5th Amendment

Let’s look at the case of Bradley Manning who is accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks.  These included videos, diplomatic cables, and army reports.  Manning is currently being held in Fort Leavenworth waiting for his trial in February 2013.  He was transferred to Fort Leavenworth after several American legal scholars claimed that his detention at the Marine Corp Brig in Virginia violated his Constitutional rights.  Now Manning is going to have a trial for his accused crimes.  But the NDAA also sets up another dangerous precedent in that it would criminalize anyone who leaks anything and any journalist who receives a leak and publishes it.  So now we have this same document violating the Freedom of the Press that falls in the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.  Yes, there is information that is classified as it would be detrimental to current situations.  And yes, leaking that information is wrong and should be punishable… unless there is wrong-doing and leaking that information makes people aware and holds those perpetrating those wrong actions accountable.  Regardless though, the government does not have any right to dictate to the press what it can and cannot print, and it has no right to hold any journalist accountable for printing any information that is leaked.

ndaa-2012bIn the election of 2008, then-Senator Obama ran against the Patriot Act that had been signed by President George W. Bush in 2001.  Since then, he has expanded the Patriot Act and has signed off the National Defense Authorization Acts.  The power that the government had that he opposed, he now supports and has expanded.  According to The Atlantic, the military has the right to hold American citizens in indefinite detention without trial as terrorism suspects.  The key words there, again, are “American citizens.”  It would seem as though Congress is purposely going out of its way to bypass the 5th Amendment which was designed to protect us from this.  And President Obama is going along with it, and is the main person benefiting from the power the NDAA has written in it.  It’s interesting how the Patriot Act (or previous National Defense Authorization Acts) didn’t get any attention in the previous election after it had received so much in the 2008 election.

The NDAA allows the president to launch drone attacks where a threat is detected.  In 2009, we were the sole owner of drones.  Not so much these days.  And since 2009, we have expanded the number of countries we are launching drone attacks in… some even without the consent of that country which means we are now violating international laws.  If we aren’t careful, history just might remember this time period as The Drone Wars.  We are setting a dangerous precedent with these laws and with our actions.  At the top, no one person should ever have the authority… the sole authority… to be judge, jury, and executioner.  The US Constitution says, “provide for the common defense,”  but that is turning out to be the excuse that is used to strip away our rights and concentrate power at the top of our government.  Our entire government was set-up to prevent that from happening, and we the people were given guaranteed rights to protect us from it.  But here we are confronting that very thing, and most of us aren’t paying attention to even see it happening.

SIDENOTE:
President Obama has nominated John Brennan to lead the CIA, which the Senate must now confirm.  Brennan helped shape the strategy for drone attacks and has sharply increased their use especially in Yemen and Pakistan.

Throwing Away A Vote

If you were to go tell someone at this moment that you were voting for a third-party candidate in the upcoming presidential election, most people would give you a dumb look which would be followed by a couple of different responses.  Some would say that you are throwing your vote away by doing that while others would say that you just shouldn’t vote since it wouldn’t count anyway.  The most audacious response is that you are taking away a vote from one of the main candidates… the democrat or republican and that’s why you are voting for that person and even why that third-party candidate is even running.

But let me ask it this way.  How is it throwing your vote away by voting for the candidate you want to win?  We will use our current election and candidates for examples.  So we have Obama (Democrat), Romney (Republican), Johnson (Libertarian), and Stein (Green).  According to a recent CNN poll that actually included the two main third-party candidates (most polls only give the two main choices), Johnson is getting 4% of the vote with Stein getting 2%.  When looking at the numbers with and without the third-party candidates listed, it would seem that Johnson is getting votes off Romney and Stein is getting them off Obama.  But that’s just going by the numbers and not the people behind them, and I’m not about to delve into that data on that.  So don’t worry.

For our example, we have a 1 in 4 chance of picking the winner.  So you have a better chance of picking the losing side.  So if you are basing the claim that voting for a third-party candidate is throwing away a vote because that person can’t win, then shouldn’t your vote be automatically switching to whoever is in the lead?  Otherwise, you are throwing away your vote for the candidate that is trailing.  There is a flaw in that overall thinking.  Besides, wouldn’t it be throwing away a vote if I was voting for Obama because I didn’t want Romney to win (or vice versa)?  Maybe the person voting for the third party doesn’t want either main party candidate to win.

Third-party candidates tend to be more toward the center.  I’m not saying all of them are, but the major ones tend to be.  While the two main parties (Democrats and Republicans) continue to move away from each other, it’s leaving a vast void in the center where many voters are.  In that void, we can plug in both the Libertarian Party and the Green Party.  Already, more than 1/3rd of Americans are wanting a major third party.  The Democrats and Republicans seem to be more polarized and more focused on making the other side lose the next election rather than coming up with sensible solutions to the major issues.  Why has this become even worse in that past few years?  Because the moderates of both parties are either being voted out or they are choosing to get out because of how bad it is. At a time when we need them even more than ever, they are jumping ship.  The moderates were usually the ones that kept the extremists in each party in check.  They usually worked across the aisle to get things done.

We, the voters, have been brainwashed from the beginning to think that there are only two political parties worth considering.  The only thing that the two main parties can agree on is that they don’t want a viable third-party to be included, and they go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Even now, the Romney campaign is attempting to keep Johnson off the ballot in several states.  The Johnson campaign is fighting these attempts, but it is costing them money that they can’t replace as easily as the Romney campaign can.  Political parties were never envisioned as part of our political sphere when our Founding Fathers set everything up, but they developed as a result of different ways of thinking (i.e. strong central government vs. states rights).  Over time, these would develop into the Democratic and Republican parties.  There have been others throughout our history… including the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party which ran Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.  And here’s your shocker.  That third-party candidate (Roosevelt), actually came in second place… beating out incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft.  The Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, won the election.  The Progressive Party would eventually fold back into the Republican Party within a few years though.  In more recent times, Ross Perot in 1992 received 18.9% of the vote.  Some say he cost George H. W. Bush reelection, but that’s assuming that all the votes that Perot received would have gone to Bush had Perot not been running, and we can’t assume that.  Same as we can’t assume that Ralph Nader tipped the balance in 2000 for George W. Bush by taking away votes from Al Gore in Florida.  Our mentality is set to assume that since it makes up the difference, then those votes must have gone there.  How many times have you heard that a certain third-party candidate is running just so the Democrat or Republican loses?  These are usually partisan voters who can’t see beyond their own candidate to realize that this is someone running to oppose both main candidates with different ideas.

For the first time this year, the Green Party is receiving matching funds.  This means they are getting money from the government that the Democratic and Republican parties are already entitled to each election.  If the Democratic and Republican parties were only allowed to use their matching funds and nothing else, then this would put them on a level playing field, but the two main parties won’t be doing that.  To even be included in the debates, the parties must poll at least 5% in several polls.  Here’s the catch, most media outlets don’t even include them in the polls to begin with.  So the dumb question of the day is how are these parties supposed to achieve 5% in the polls if they aren’t even included.  The CNN Poll that I listed earlier was the first one I’ve seen that has actually done so.  The Democrats and Republicans have rigged the system so that you only think there are two candidates until you get into the voting booth, by which time you’ve usually made up your mind.

If we absolutely must choose between two parties, then why not pick the Libertarian or Green parties?  It’s never been said which two parties we have to choose between.  In most democracies, there are more than two parties.  We are the rare one that only has two.  Any less, we’d practically be a dictatorship.  It’s time Americans realize that there are more than two parties out there and that you might be voting for the wrong one.  We keep complaining about how things are done in Washington, but we keep switching back and forth between the two parties that are creating the problems.  The pendulum just swings back and forth.  Maybe it’s time we throw a kink into it and make it go a third way… or at least stop in the middle somewhere.  I encourage all voters to make sure that they are voting for the candidate that best matches where they stand on the issues.  Don’t assume that you do.  Do the research.  If you are just willing to continue to vote for the same two political parties (despite where you might stand on issues) because they are the only two serious contenders, then you have only yourself to blame for the continued problems and the slow pace at which we attempt to solve them.

Does it mean that a third-party candidate will win in November?  Probably not, though anything is possible in politics.  But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen down the road.  We must make a stand somewhere at some point, and with the way things are going, why not let it be now.  Major third-part candidates such as the Libertarian and Green parties should be included in any national election poll, and they should be included in the debates.  The American people have the right to hear what these candidates have to say.  The media outlets also need to step up and start including them in interviews and political segments.  It’s time the mentality regarding these third parties changes.  They should be serious contenders.  Throwing away a vote?  That only applies if you are voting by determining the lesser of two evils.  How do you know you aren’t voting for the better of two liars?  Third-party voting isn’t throwing a vote, it’s making a loud and clear statement that no longer will we be subject to the duocracy that has crippled our government and our politics.

NOTE:
For the sake of this entry, major third-parties were any third-party that has access to at leas 270-Electoral votes.

LINKS:
Election 2012 (Indeclaration)
CNN

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