Sunday, April 29, 2012

It’s Not Entrapment If It’s Terrorism…

In the post 9/11 world, there is no question that civil liberty has taken a back seat to national security on multiple occasions at an unprecedented rate.  As America has worked to regain it’s coveted position as the undisputed, untouchable world power, counterterrorism and pro-democracy efforts have become a primary concern for American foreign and domestic policy.  Never will the United States be caught lethargically or inattentively protecting it’s citizens or it’s ideals from enemies, domestic and abroad, who seek to destroy what America stands for, regardless of the measures the government must take for security.

This point of view, although not entirely without validity, is a dangerous position that the government has adopted to defend the controversial and downright illegal actions that have been implemented in the wake of 9/11.  From depriving the basic due-process rights of foreign prisoners to most recently creating terrorists plots with the intention of stringing along participants to ultimately arrest them, the United States is creating a chilling precedent in regards to civil liberties and their importance when levied against national security.  

Recently, the FBI has been facilitating and orchestrating false terrorists plots by identifying possible extremists and using undercover officers and informants to communicate and assist them in developing an attack.  As David Shipler comments, in his article regarding the FBI terrorists plots, “… All these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.”  One would assume such intimate involvement, with seemingly every detail of the planning process constructed by the FBI, would clearly foster a legitimate claim of entrapment.  However, case after case has been deemed constitutional because the shear mens rea to commit such an atrocity has been viewed as warranting punishment.

Though I do not disagree that those who plan to attack the United States or murder innocent people should be punished to the highest extent, I do not believe that this fact alone trumps any constitutional or basic human right that every person is privileged too.  Entrapment was created for the exact purpose of flushing out corruption and solidifying the legitimacy of the American legal system.  What the United States is doing now with these fictitious terrorist plots is threatening that very legitimacy.

The United States cannot continue to coerce or facilitate non-existent terrorist plots in order to “prevent” possible attacks on US soil.  Considering the current foreign threat potential within the world right now, it would be unrealistic and negligent to decrease security.  Yet, as the war on terrorism continues, a serious look at civil right infringement must be taken in order to prevent a tyrannical and obtrusive government from committing further human rights violations and further alienating America from the global community. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

How far is too far?

It would not be a stretch to say that Congress has done everything in its power to interfere or block the majority of President Obama’s legislative initiatives and programs.  When first taking office in 2009, President Obama boasted about bipartisan compromises and uniting a divided Congress.  With such a claim came understandable apprehension from the Obama administration to “ruffle the feathers” of Congress and especially the republican core.  However, as his first term unfolded, President Obama managed to be road blocked by Congress for almost the entire first two years. 
Unable to pass legislation or start nearly any of the programs on his agenda, President Obama has had to face an unfortunate and debatably dangerous realization.  This realization, best characterized by the old cliché “If you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself,” has led President Obama to adopt his new political slogan “We Can’t Wait.”
As Charlie Savage of the New York Times comments in his article Shift on executive power lets Obama bypass rivals,
“… Increasingly in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress. Branding its unilateral efforts “We Can’t Wait,” a slogan that aides said Mr. Obama coined at that strategy meeting, the White House has rolled out dozens of new policies — on creating jobs for veterans, preventing drug shortages, raising fuel economy standards, curbing domestic violence and more.
Each time, Mr. Obama has emphasized the fact that he is bypassing lawmakers. When he announced a cut in refinancing fees for federally insured mortgages last month, for example, he said: “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.”

Although progressive and proactive, this new way of thinking has effectively further alienated President Obama from his counterparts in the legislative branch.  Such exercise of executive power has left many on both the left and right side of aisle worried about how far this “flex of muscle” will reach. 
Many are worried that President Obama is extending his powers too far by effectively passing legislation by “bypassing lawmakers.”  However, my argument to this is what else is he supposed to do?  With a republican contingent in Congress hell bent on not cooperating or compromising with anything the administration has put forth, it seems the only logical next step for the President is to start doing it his own way.  Instead of viewing this as an overly aggressive executive branch’s play for extended power, I view this as a realization that if Congress refuses to help or even play an active role in the legislative process, than it is the Presidents duty to do what he feels is best for the country within his powers.  President Obama is pragmatically analyzing the political landscape in Washington and has identified a pattern of stall tactics from Congress.  If he is going to accomplish anything of value by the end of this term, sidestepping Congress to enact his own legislation seems the only way.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

America Earns Party MVP at the Conference of the Americas!

As tensions with Iran continue to escalate, trade issues with China maintain a stagnant pattern, North Korea tests active missiles over the ocean, America’s foreign relations have never been so strained. So when the opportunity for the United States, whom have enjoyed a hegemonic presence within the western hemisphere for decades, had the opportunity to attend the Summit of the America’s in Columbia, mending relations with long time allies and asserting American ideals with in the region seemed like a fools chore. Ah, how wrong we all were.

This past weekend President Obama and members of the Administration visited Columbia for the Summit of the Americas, an international convention attended by the majority of countries with in North and South America. The summit symbolized an opportunity for the Obama Administration to regain footing with in the region and show that the United States is still a prominent and influential member in the international community. However, the Summit took a back seat to an unrelated event involving members of the Obama secret service staff and Colombian prostitutes.

Allegedly, members of the secret service enjoyed the company of a select few Colombian prostitutes during a night off at the summit. Because prostitution is legal in Columbia, the standard protocol that these escorts follow involves leaving an identification card at the front desk of the hotel that must be retrieved before the end of the night because of a strict no guest policy implemented by the hotel. However, when a front desk attendant became aware of one card still present, further inquiry was required. What resulted was the discovery that one of the secret service agents had engaged in an argument over payment for one of the prostitutes. Clearly, there was an issue with the “going rate.” Ultimately, after minor police intervention, the agent paid up and the situation was resolved.

Now, although many would view this fiasco as detrimental and undermining to the United States presence at the summit, I say well done America. Not many countries can have eleven secret service men involved in a prostitution scandal and still show up the next morning to the summit with a straight face. As pictures of Hillary Clinton letting loose at a club in Columbia surfaced, it seems that America made the most of their brief stint in Columbia.

What we have here ladies and gentleman is the classic “sorry for partying” precedent that the Obama administration has chosen to go with. To be honest, the Obama crew is just a little overwhelmed right now and they needed some vacation time to get their heads straight. With Obamacare looking to be ousted by the Supreme Court, the re-election campaign beginning to gear up, a looming Iranian conflict, and the lackluster economic recovery, things have just not gone their way.

It’s not as if we count on them to be a representation of our nation right? They are not held to an even higher standard of scrutiny are they? I would not venture as far to say their conduct at such high level meetings is directly proportional to the political clout they can enjoy during negotiations? No, I would never go as far to say that.

But honestly, get it together guys.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Is the Repeal of ObamaCare the End of the Universal HealthCare Debate?

With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, creating massive controversy and political unrest in recent weeks, nearly every political pundit, media commentator, and politician has weighed in on the debate. President Obama has vehemently defended his bill, urging the Supreme Court to let the legislation stand, while Republicans and even many Democrats have responded with criticism that this bill provides too much power for the government and infringes on citizen’s liberty.

At the crux of the issue exist three separate but related judicial questions to be decided by the Supreme Court after the oral arguments have drawn to a close that include a question of standing, a question regarding the constitutionality of the “individual mandate” provision, and a question pertaining to the expansion of Medicaid.

Now, although President Obama has dedicated much of his first term and political clout to the creation and implementation of this bill, the reality of the situation looks as though the Supreme Court will strike it down as unconstitutional. Due to the repeal of this legislation, the opposition, consisting of many Republicans and some Democrats, will view this as a resounding victory and a message to the American public that Government power is limited and in a Democratic society, citizens enjoy full liberty.

However, is this the true message that this decision is sending? Does this precedent ultimately silence the universal healthcare debate? For the sake of America’s future, I genuinely hope not. Healthcare must become an essential right and policy makers need to continue their zealous battle to create a sustainable, efficient system where that vision becomes realty.

Over 40 million Americans live every day afforded no health insurance coverage. Therefore, whenever a member of this deprived minority visits an emergency room, the American taxpayers foot the bill and the already overwhelmed and inadequately resourced health insurance industry continues to flounder. Consequently, it seems logical the Supreme court, given the current state of the health care industry, would be compelled to push this bill forward but this is not entirely the case.

In order to adequately comprehend the complexities of the three judicial questions the Supreme Court is considering, as step back must be taken to further articulate the issues. First, in regarding the question of standing, because the bill has not been put into effect yet, some argue the constitutionality of the bill cannot be decided. The Supreme Court has been empowered with Judicial Review (i.e. Marbury v. Madison) but the scope of that review extends to deciding issues that have already happened, not potential issues. Second, and most importantly, there is the issue of what has been coined as the “individual mandate” provision. This provision stipulates that those who have neither employer nor government-funded health care must obtain minimum health insurance coverage or face fines from the federal government. Lastly, the judges will decide on the constitutionality of the expansion of Medicaid, which increases benefits and coverage for those deemed to have pre-existing conditions, increases coverage to 30 million Americans through reformed funding from the government, as well as modifies certain aspects of both private and public health insurance programs.

Where the issue has found national controversy lies in the implications of the answer to the second question of the “individual mandate.” Opponents of this argue the government has no right to tell Americans they must buy healthcare. Many view this as a fundamental invasion of American’s civil liberties and a slippery slope for government intervention on individual’s lives. Conversely, the Obama administration, as well as many other countries and international organizations, feel that health care is a fundamental right that should be protected and regulated by the government, just as any other liberties like free speech and the right to privacy have been protected and overseen.

However, the semantics of the Obamacare bill aside, universal health care, which is the true concern, is something this country desperately needs. Adversaries to universal health care claim people should not be forced to pay for others but the unfortunate reality of the situation is that they already do through taxes, welfare, Medicare/Medicaid, and higher insurance premiums. Everyone deserves health care and it is the government’s job to take care of the mentally ill, children, the elderly, veterans and the millions of others who have found themselves immersed in a minority class without health insurance or adequate treatment. Health care must find it’s way into everyone’s lives.

With that said, just because the Obamacare legislation may be overturned that does not mean the discussion is over. No matter the outcome, health care reform is the most pertinent and potentially destructive social issue facing the country today. A blind eye cannot be given to this problem; this problem will not fix it self. Only through reform and universal coverage will the millions of unhealthy and ignored Americans receive justice the adequate civil liberties provided to them in the constitution.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Attention! Republican Candidates, Keep Running for President?

I have always supported and advocated for the old cliché: the glass is always half full. Therefore, my inner optimist has to interject and shed some positive light on the ludicrousness that has become the Republican Presidential Primary. However, when considering every debacle that has consumed this campaign season, I found it far more difficult and arduous of an endeavor than I previously prepared for. With that said I was able to find one positive aspect that many of these candidates can hang their hat on, and that lovely word is… resilient? It’s not great, but it will have to work considering that is one of the only positives to be pulled out of this primary season.

Tonight, Mitt Romney swept the Wisconsin, Maryland, and District of Columbia primaries, inching that much closer to the necessary delegate count of 1,144 required to acquire the nomination. The former Massachusetts Governor effortlessly broke the 600-delegate mark, doubling that of increasingly far off contender Rick Santorum and further solidifying his position as the top contender.

With such a staggering deficit facing Santorum and an even worse one draping over the always-eccentric Newt Gingrich, one would assume that a possible resignation from the race would be on the horizon. However, startling both pundits and proletariats within the political landscape, it seems both candidates have pledged to keep fighting. Although this declaration may be viewed by some as commendable, one has to wonder how long will these two underdogs continue to wade in the rising tide that has become the Romney Machine and at what detriment will their persistent participation have on Romney’s success in the general election.

Suffice it to say, the Republican’s need every iota of support and party consolidation possible to beat the tyrannical President Obama. With Santorum continuing to churn the Tea Party bus and rally conservatives everywhere, it would be remiss of the party leaders to not caution against a possible backlash when Romney receives the nomination. The situation could adversely affect the conservative turnout for Romney in the general election and ultimately cost the Republicans a legitimate shot at the presidency.

As the general election creeps upon the constituency, the continually misaligned and disheveled Republican Party could be in for an up hill battle against President Obama. Only time will tell if this potential issue comes to fruition, but for now Santorum and friends seem content with hanging on by a thread.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Occupy Anything!!... Literally, Anything

On Tuesday, the Weekly Standard covered a story of yet another occupy movement in Washington D.C. However, instead of pertaining to a tax loophole or bank debacle, the target of this Occupy group was the tyrannical and villainous wind turbine industry! Now, I know many of you are thinking, wind turbines? You surely mean the big oil industry or some foreign policy legislation that the government has made with oil rich countries, right? Sadly, my uninformed citizens, all of these hypotheses are incorrect. Occupy’s sniper scope of justice has landed on the true culprit for corporate fraud and big government corruption: the environmentalists. And rest assured, occupy is sticking up for pheasant’s rights everywhere.

The protest took place at Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. and was led by the anti-Occupy Wall Street movement, appropriately (redundantly) named Occupy Occupy D.C. Now, this group is actually an “Anti-Occupy” group, which means many of these protesters are right wing conservatives; many of whom are also involved in the tea party movements. Daniel Harper explained the focus of this protest in his article “Anti-Occupy Protest Takes on Bird Killing Wind Turbines,”

The target of today's protest are environmentalists who believe wind energy is a viable substitute to other forms of energy, such as coal or nuclear energy.

The National Center for Public Policy Research "estimate[s] that wind turbines kill approximately 100,000 birds every year. The American Bird Conservancy claims the number could be triple that estimate -- affecting the songbird community most of all."

That's why the environmentalists' approach is wrong, according to today's protesters.

Simply put, this group of conservative “protesters” created an issue and lashed out against the environmental party. Once seen as a pinnacle of liberal, almost untouchable ideals, now has begun its tragic fall from grace. But is there validity in that statement? I think not. What is taking place here is this idea of “Occupy the World.” There have been countless Occupy movements that pop up every day and last for a week before dropping out of the trending news cycle. The country has fallen into a quagmire of “gotcha moments and issues” for both conservative and liberal groups. Here is an ideal example of picking a random, albeit benevolent cause, and creating a protest with equal minded (equally dumb) people.

How is it possible that everything can be “Occupied?” And by going after the environmentalists for wind turbines that kill birds every year? I’m so sorry, I was unaware of the global catastrophe that is the bird genocide. The bourgeoisie Wind Turbine industry has identified its victim and must be stopped in the eyes of these protesters.

It is time to call protests like this what they are, a publicity stunt for the conservative party to say “yeah, we support the environment, but let’s keep drilling because wind turbines kill birds.” Protests such as these undermine the integrity of our right to assemble and demonstrate as citizens and dilute even further the cesspool that has become our American political environment.

Ultimately, this protest, like many before and many soon to come, will fade out in a week or two when the next ridiculous issue becomes a national movement and dominates our news cycle. The clear course of action now is to humbly sit back and enjoy. I can see it now, the Aflac duck and Big Bird teaming up to create a coalition. The Bird community is on the rise and fighting back. Watch out Ban Ki-moon, these feisty pheasants will be pounding on the doors of the UN security counsel in no time at all. As the executive director of this protest, David Almasi, said, “If I was a bird, I'd be an angry bird right now.”

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Disappearance of True Conviction

To acknowledge and legitimize every political trend, every bandwagon, every interest group, every tea party, in today’s political climate would be nothing short of insanity. Why is that? This is because every week there is a new movement or cause or issue that is stirring up the political pundits and party extremists. It seems that week in and week out people throw themselves, without hesitation, investigation, or consideration, at every trending political issue that is affecting the American political landscape. Between the mainstream media’s 24-hour news coverage of every small detail to the Super PAC parties rallying people to support every small issue, Americans are constantly supporting or protesting something. How can it be that the entire country is relentlessly going through a revolution and everyone is on the extreme of every issue? The simple answer is that Americans have lost their “conviction.” In America, with a past flooded with the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, and women’s suffrage, it is a shock and a travesty that the mass of society has taken to such minute and fleeting causes. No one takes the time to research, comprehend, contemplate, or even consider something before making a decision and spewing out ill-informed opinions. It is not the literal definition of conviction that is being argued (God knows there is too much of that) but the idea of a “true conviction.” This “true conviction” does not mean being close-minded to other’s beliefs or staunchly advocating one thing; this “true conviction” is a mind state where people identify with issues they care about, research every side of the issue, and then make an informed opinion about it. No political party or talk show host can change what someone with “true conviction” is thinking. It is the loss of “true conviction” that has put American politics and the mainstream media in its current disastrous state.

To probe further into this issue would actually require a step back to consider the psyche of those with staunch, unwavering conviction. The extremists of the political parties are the embodiment of this type of conviction. Linda Skitka of the University of Illinois at Chicago did research on people’s moral conviction and related it to politics. In her paper The Psychology of Moral Conviction, she writes:

People experience attitudes held with moral conviction as absolutes, or universal standards of truth that others should also share, and are therefore more likely to project their moral beliefs on others. People may realize that there are differences of opinion on issues they see as moral imperatives, but seem to believe if they just could explain the ‘facts’ to those who disagree, these others would be certain to see the light and come around to the perceivers’ point of view.

Although, this description does give credit to the fact that those who hold “moral conviction as absolutes” may entertain the existence of an adverse opinion, this is rarely the case. The vast majority of people who think like this do not leave room for compromise or consideration and the sad truth is that these are the people who are the most vocal about their positions. It is these staunch advocates who go onto Fox News and voice their opinions about what one candidate said in one off the cuff remark that stirs the media up and creates a chasm in society. Now, the hope would be that the average American would sift past all of the caddy banter and boisterous remarks and go research what the argument, if one exists at all, would be about. However, this is not reality. The harsh reality of the situation is the generally lethargic public is ill informed since the source of much of their information comes from talk shows with slanted viewpoints. The alignment created by this bias is known so well as American political parties.

There is no big secret or hidden issue as to why people lean on political parties for support. These parties make the decisions for their constituents. The parties tell them who to vote for, what issues to stand for, and most importantly, who to hate. Opposition fuels political parties and as P.J. O’Rourke, a political satirist and journalist, put it in his article, The Problem is Politics, when referring to this opposition, “…we need gridlock. I love gridlock. Gridlock means government can’t do things. The two most frightening words in Washington are ‘bipartisan consensus.’ Bipartisan consensus is when my doctor and my lawyer agree with my wife that I need help.” O’Rourke, although candidly, highlights the need for politicians to find opposition. It seems ironic than that an institution and process that is meant to create solutions actually actively goes out and seeks problems. In addition, if this “gridlock” were not enough to evoke torturous frustration with the political party system, than the inevitable conflict of supporting candidates solely on the lines of their political affiliation must. Michael Todd, a political blogger, comments on this conundrum,

I often like to call the whole Democrat vs. Republican thing – Team Politics. Another way of describing it though, is choosing the concept of party politics, over the concepts of freedom and liberty. This party first concept creates quite a paradox too in which you find yourself supporting a party or Politician, even when their acts violate your personal beliefs.

Admittedly, this concept is simple and by no means novel, but the logic behind it is sound. Far too often voters go to the polls and vote with their political party throughout the entire ticket without any knowledge of the candidates or issues. Further, what is even more jarring is how often people vote for candidates they do not support in order to support the political party. This allegiance to party lines is dragging down the electorate into a divide between two political machines. The “party-first” idea has managed to trump even the most basic of individual opinions. Both political parties find ways to create conflict and stir up issues in order to divide the general public because, as they well know, it is the countries division that creates them.

A brief pause is needed now to delve into the further issue of constant opposition and lack of compromise within American politics. Obviously, or at least it should be obvious, people have an obligation to obtain real information so they can understand these disputes and come to a common ground. However, each political party finds a way to pit one side against each other instead of finding a place where both sides will come out with an even shake. Now, consider the Socratic Method of logic. This method uses questions to find places of balance to help people open their mind to a concept or view that normally they would not accept. Through this progression of logic, people agree on certain things, and from a place of common ground, can find a compromise or even open their thinking completely. Advocates of this type of logic and reasoning understand that only by finding common ground can two people of different ideas come to a compromise. Unfortunately, thinking like this goes against everything that drives the current political system. Colin Powell commented on the no-compromise thinking that has flooded politics, and particularly the tea party, stating,

The media loves this game, where everybody is on the extreme. It makes for great television . . . So what we have to do is sort of take some of the heat out of our political life in terms of the coverage of it, so these folks (Congress) can get to work quietly . . . But the Tea Party point of view of no compromise whatsoever is not a point of view that will eventually produce a presidential candidate who will win."

Even though this was said within the context of the Tea Parties ability to produce a presidential candidate, a greater message needs to be taken from this. The political system within the United States has become so bogged down in idealism and party lines that nothing can be done. Where the issue turns its ugly head is the affect it has on American society. The horrible custom of siding with one side of an issue without considering the complexities or opposition has become a plague that has gripped most Americans.

Now that the context has been formed, the questions at hand can be attempted. Where has the “true conviction” of people gone and can it be resurrected? It seems quite clearly to have fallen into the hands of those who wear their conviction on their sleeve. As stated before, this conviction is of a different breed. People with “true conviction” do not simply hear or read something and immediately formulate their idea. These people research and contemplate the severity of an issue. How can one immediately “hate” what the other side stands for? How does your political affiliation instantaneously put you at odds with others? Those who are pro-choice must at least understand and appreciate the pro-life group’s ideas. Everyday and in every sphere of society there is always the person who considers themselves “informed” and spews out an answer that they regurgitated from the latest talk show they watched the night before. These people do not have “true conviction.” It is the individual in the back of the class; the one who listens for an hour and half in a two-hour class, and finally speaks with resounding knowledge who demonstrates true conviction. Their argument is well thought out, addresses the counter arguments, has actual factual basis for their claims, and acknowledges the presence of opposition. It is within this person’s “true conviction” that the reformation of society lies.

To some it might seem that society has gone too far off the deep end to be remedied. Others might say this idea is a utopian state that is unrealistic. Most political elites would say that the average American is not capable of understanding the issues. In response to this opposition it seems only fitting to quote Michael Carpini in his article In Search of the informed Citizen,

An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will; that, given the incentive, education, and opportunity, the general public is capable of exercising political power in an enlightened way; and that the context in which citizens operate – the social, political, and economic structure – is a critical factor in determining whether or not they are motivated and capable.

It is under this idea that I find my “true conviction.” Only through a collective movement of citizens willing to educate themselves on issues that are relevant and vital to them, can America begin to repair the damage that has been done. This damage done by the extreme activists and political parties is not irreparable. It starts with something as simple as taking a step back to contemplate what is truly important and worth advocacy. From that, reform is possible. This is a platform to begin something new and this is a call to action, a call to change, and a call to thought for everyone.