In one of the least surprising events in recent memory, the Senate has reached a last minute, bipartisan agreement to both avoid default and end the government shutdown after sixteen pointless days.
Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated that the deal wasn’t what their side had hoped for, but it was better than had been feared or proposed by their opponents on the other side of the aisle. This is the language used to prepare constituents on both sides for disappointment when the details are revealed.
And while Senators from the group of 14 who worked to present this deal, seven Republicans, six Democrats and one Independent, took to the floor of the Senate to thank each other for finally working together to craft and end to this nonsense, the party is still a bit premature. The bill now has to go to the House, where the problem started and still lives. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) still has to convince his renegade band of Tea Party conservatives that this is a deal that simply must be done and that their little debacle is over.
To do that, he runs the risk of losing their confidence, and potentially his position as Speaker.
For the record, Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose 21 hour rambling on the floor of the Senate about how the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was set to unravel the very fabric of the United States and how this was the time for true conservatives to stand up to the President and the Democrats set the tone for House Tea Party conservatives to create this pathetic scenario, has said he opposes the deal, but will not delay its proceeding with another mindless rant.
Previously, it seemed as if the concession regarding the Affordable Care Act was going to be removal of the medical device tax that was put in place to assist with funding the law. This of course would have created a scenario by which conservatives could later come back and indicate the negative impact of the law on both the debt and the deficit, which would then rally support behind a situation they created by removing some of the funding to finance the law. Since most people don’t remember what passes in a law from day to day, they would blindly agree with the talking heads and rally further for the repeal of the law.
Now it seems as though the concession will come in a clause that will make people verify their income before they can qualify for tax subsidies for insurance coverage under the new law. It certainly falls short of the total defunding, or the delay in the punitive phase for individuals who fail to sign up in time, so how the Tea Party members in the House will sell it to their narrow base will be interesting.
It also would appear possible that Democrats could have more support for this bill in the House than Republicans, clearly illustrating what everyone already knows, that there is actually two parties within the GOP, and that their ability to actually lead on an issue is impossible since they can’t even agree with themselves.
In the end, this is not a resolution by any means. It funds the government until January 15th and extends the debt limit until February 7th, which means we will most likely revisiting this stupidity again in the new year.
If the 80th Congress from 1947-1949 was labeled the “Do Nothing Congress”, this group of misfits has certainly earned the moniker of the “Kick The Can” Congress, as they have failed to reach a deal on anything comprehensive since they were sworn in January.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
This is an ageless axiom that we all have heard countless times in our lives. Well, the GOP leadership have decided to follow it in launching the new campaign for why the evil Democrats and the Socialist President are responsible for the government shutdown, now in its eleventh day.
Last week, Sen Rand Paul (R-Ky) was caught on an open microphone telling Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) that he didn’t think the Democrats had poll tested the concept of not negotiating when it came to the battle over the government shutdown, which was initiated by House Republicans who submitted a budget bill that included varying levels of defunding or repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
As it turns out, it may have been the GOP who didn’t poll test, as the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll shows. In the poll, 78% of people believe the nation is on the wrong track, with 70% disapproving of the job the GOP is doing in Congress. 60% of people surveyed said they would vote out every member of Congress if they could, while 53% said they believe the Republicans in Congress are responsible for the shutdown, versus 31% who blame the President.
When you compare the blame numbers to the last government shutdown in 1996, also by a Republican Congress with a Democratic President, 44% of people blamed the GOP and 37% blamed President Clinton. The backlash in the following election was overwhelming for the Republicans, as they lost control of Congress.
46% of those polled said the shutdown was extremely serious and 31%, nearly one in three, said that they personally have been impacted by the shutdown in terms of employment, benefits or services. 70% said that the GOP is putting their own political agenda above what is best for the country.
In terms of how those polled shake out politically, 86% are registered voters, and 44% voted for President Obama in the last election, while 35% voted for Mitt Romney.
Former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) recently proposed backing off of the Obamacare debate and having serious discussions about the “entitlement” programs Medicare and Social Security. This method of approach seems to be garnering much more favorable feedback, so it seems to have been handed out as the go to line for GOP members of Congress.
This morning on the MSNBC show Jansing & Co. Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) started out by telling host Chris Jansing that he wasn’t in Congress to read polls, but to do what the American people called for. When Jansing pointed out that the pools clearly indicate the American people think what they are doing is wrong, Rep. Radel went right to the entitlement card, attempting to sell the idea that this is what the Republicans have trying to address, while the President has continued to say he would not negotiate.
Rep. Radel and the GOP clearly hope the nation has some level of short term memory loss with his attempt to sell the idea that the government shutdown was created because of an unwillingness to negotiate on budget numbers, since a clean budget proposal has yet to be sent to the Senate for a vote.
Showing that he couldn’t resist yet again attacking Obamacare as the real problem with the country, Rep. Radel then said that all they were asking for was to delay the individual fines for people who didn’t sign up for insurance by the deadline of March 2014. He noted that big businesses have been exempted from the penalty by the President, but that individuals have not been exempted from it. Jansing then attempted to ask if it said anything that the sheer number of people who have gone to the website to begin their enrollment process actually reveals that people are encouraged by the prospect of getting “affordable” coverage. Rep. Radel sidestepped the question and once again indicated that the President cut a deal with big business but wasn’t willing to cut the same deal for the general public.
Whether or not the GOP is poll testing their propaganda campaign, it’s clear they have a new line to try and sell the public. If they decide to continue holding the nation hostage to gain their political points, they may well find themselves out of work very soon, and then they can join the 800,000 people they have put out of work for their fifteen minutes of grandstanding.
All week we have looked at what was really behind the government shutdown, who was directly responsible for it and how it might end. Well yesterday, two prominent GOP Senators may have let us in a bit more to how we might ultimately see a resolution in this lunacy.
Thinking they were off mic and off camera, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed some strategy for saving face as they try to back out of the spotlight as the ones who put 800,000 federal workers out of work because they have a political ax to grind with the President and the Democrats over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
Sen. Paul leans in and tells Sen. McConnell “I don’t think they poll tested we won’t negotiate.” He is referring to a couple of different things with this statement. The first is that the commonplace now for any political rhetoric is that you poll test the phrase or statement to see how it plays with the nations as a whole as well as with your base. The second aspect of this statement is the fact that President Obama and the democratic majority in the Senate have stuck to the fact that they will not negotiate modifying or delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as a ransom for putting those 800,000 federal workers back to work.
Paul follows that up by saying “I think it’s awful that they keep saying that over and over again.” McConnell agrees, saying “Yeah I do too.”
Then Paul, who seemingly knows that they are not going to get any victory of substance in this foolish debate, indicates how they may be able to target instead a victory of perception instead. “I think if we keep saying we wanted to defund it (Obamacare), we fought for that, but now we’re willing to compromise on this, we’re gonna win this I think.”
Now let’s be perfectly clear here. This is a junior Senator (and Tea Party favorite) talking independently with the Senate Minority Leader and expressing his thoughts. It could be as simple as that. There’s no specific indication that this is coming down as the party line, and it has been the Tea Party members in the House that have been the ones holding those 800,000 jobs hostage to try and gain political points with their base voters.
But when you look at the totality of the process this debate that is normally over the budget, not a law that has been passed by the House, passed by the Senate, signed into law by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court, it seems clear that this entire nonsense ultimately will be about making a political statement, and in defeat being able to paint themselves as the ones attempting to do the will of the people in the spirit of compromise, will the evil President and his minions refuse to come to the table to solve problems in a bipartisan way.
The troubling thing about this is the GOP used this same technique during the battle to pass this legislation, and they rallied the conservative voters into a frenzy that the totalitarian Democrats were building a Socialistic empire at the expense of liberty and the working class. Clearly they poll tested their rhetoric and at the midterm elections Tea Party candidates from across the nation were voted into office under the premise that they would come to D.C. and focus on debt control and jobs.
Meanwhile, they have voted to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act 43 times, passed numerous pieces of legislation attempting to limit women’s reproductive rights and exactly no bills targeting job creation.
But so long as you can save face and win the battle of perception, perhaps actual performance doesn’t mean very much.
Today at a construction company in Maryland, President Obama continued to press the Tea Party member of the House and Speaker Boehner to do the right thing and end the government shutdown.
Meanwhile Tea Party members continue to reveal the true cause of the shutdown, and how narrow minded they are.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) made probably the most revealing comment to date, quoted by the President in Maryland today. Talking to NBC’s Frank Thorpe, Stutzman said “We’re not going to be disrespected here. We have to get something out of this and I don’t know what that even is.”
That’s about as clear a message as you could send that the government has been shut down, 800,000 federal employees have lost three days of income thus far, and countless civilian contractors have ceased working on government funded projects so that the Tea Party House members of the GOP can “get respect” by getting something out of this deal, even if their own members don’t know what that something is.
Their target to this point has been the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). They started with the complete defunding of the law as their goal, and have since backed down to delays in varying levels of implementation. There has been speculation that if the Democrats were to be willing to give on anything concerning the Affordable Care Act, it might be on the Medical Equipment tax provision. This tax does not apply to equipment sold over the counter and does not include things like eye glasses or hearing aids.
The interesting thing about this provision is that it is part of the funding for the Affordable Care Act that enabled the law to be debt and deficit neutral. Eliminating this tax then would require revenues to be generated elsewhere or it would have a negative impact on the deficit and the debt, something that the GOP, and especially the Tea Party, swore was their number one goal to avoid.
So here we are three days in. The Senate has passed a clean bill the specifically addresses the appropriations needed to keep the government running. No hidden agendas, no doctoring of the numbers, just the job they are required to do. This bill has been sent to Speaker Boehner and it sits on his desk. If he took the bill to the floor, it would most likely with twenty GOP members in the House already indicating they would votes yes. This is more than the seventeen necessary to carry a vote in the GOP controlled House.
But Speaker Boehner risks losing his party if that happens. And if he loses his party, he could potentially lose his position and the power that goes with it. And despite the fact that the vast majority of rational thinking Americans have called for an end to this stupidity, the Speaker must also be making sure he is not disrespected and making sure he gets something out of this.
Let’s hope that the 800,000+ people who are being immediately impacted by this lunacy will pay attention and cast their votes in November 2014.
President Obama stepped to the podium in the White House rose garden this morning to address both the government shutdown and the opening of the new Insurance Marketplace established as part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
He minced no words about who shut the government down and why.
He indicated that it is one faction of one party in one branch of government that has decided to “demand ransom”.
“They’re shutting down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health care to many Americans. They are demanding ransom just for doing their job,”
The President made it exceedingly clear that the Affordable Care Act “passed the House, passed the Senate, was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court, and it is the law.” Gathered around him were people who were able to sign up for the insurance marketplace starting today, most of whom had no options for “affordable” insurance coverage prior to this new mechanism.
The President indicated that before 7:00 this morning, more than one million people had visited healthcare.gov to begin the sign up process, creating a bandwitdth problem, resulting in slower than usual access to the sites content. He indicated that everyone expects glitches, and that they will be fixed as they arise.
He joked that Apple had released a new operating system in the last week and that it had some glitches, so they released an update to fix them. He said that nobody asked for Apple to be shut down because of the glitches.
President Obama was also very quick to note that while the extreme right wing faction of the House Republicans have decided to put 800,000 people on furlough to make a statement about their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, the insurance marketplace is up and running, as the law does not receive its funding through the same appropriations process as the rest of the government does.
He also took a moment to address the upcoming debate over the debt ceiling, indicating that this is a routine piece of business that has been done 45 times since President Reagan was in office. He took a moment to explain that raising the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending, instead it ensures that the bills already committed to by Congress are paid. He compared it to someone buying a car, then not paying the bill. “you’re not saving any money, you’re just a deadbeat.” he said.
Republicans are still attempting to sell this negotiating tactic as something the American people have asked for, and still attempting to indicate that the Affordable Care Act is actually hurting the economy, but fewer people are buying it as time passes. Anyone who is paying attention can see that the economy continues to grow, however slowly, despite the fact this law has been in effect in varying degrees for two years now.
There is still a lot of work to be done to solve the complicated issues of healthcare costs in this nation, but the importance cannot be overstated. It is not a coincidence that the President indicated 15% of Americans live without coverage right now, and statistics show that the same percentage live in poverty. If you live at 138% or less of the poverty level, you are able to be covered by Medicaid, in part due to the expansion of the program outlined in the Affordable Care Act. When you look at these numbers, it shows you the same group of people that are struggling to get by are also struggling to pay for basic medical care. It’s the group working full time jobs that are paying somewhere between minimum wage and $15.00 per hour, the segment of the population that is growing the fastest, and the segment of the economy doing the most hiring.
So how do the members of the GOP House propose to address this? Add 800,000 more people to the list of underemployed and/or unemployed by shutting the government down to protest healthcare benefits for those who can’t afford to get by as it is.
Stay tuned to see how long this nonsense carries on.
It’s almost fall in 1963. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., already being viewed as a national leader for civil rights, organizes what would be called the “March on Washington”, a call for a peaceful demonstration in our nation’s capital at the Lincoln Memorial. The march would be a chance for all Americans who believe in equality and justice to let their elected officials know they would not continue to stand idly by while inequality and injustice were still commonplace in this the nation that spoke so proudly of freedom.
An estimated 250,000 people flood along the National Mall and up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. People of all ages, races and economic backgrounds gathered together to call for a new America.
And while the March on Washington is credited with shifting the momentum necessary to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we have to look at where we are fifty years later to determine the lasting impact of the most memorable civil rights movement in our nation’s history.
Dr. King noted throughout his speech that true freedom knew no color, and in fact
“….many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”
The idea behind this movement is that civil rights are human rights, just as women’s rights or gay rights are human rights.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
It’s easy to read this statement and suggest that because we elected a black president in 2008 that we have realized this dream. But the dream was not speaking to the elite. It was speaking to the poor, the underprivileged.
The chart below shows how we have progressed in the area of people living at or below poverty.
While median wages have increased just over 20% in the last 23 years, the cost of living has increased 67%. The income of someone making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is $15,080 gross annually. It is estimated that the median gross annual wages needed for basic security is $30,000. This means that for those working in the lowest income brackets, it requires two full time jobs to barely scrape by. Amazingly, the person who makes $15,080 per year is living at 130% of the poverty level, and therefore is not considered in the chart above.
Both of my daughters are taking dual enrollment in high school. This means they are taking classes that give them credit for both high school and college, enabling them to get closer to an AA degree while still in high school. This is a fantastic program that I am extremely grateful for. But then we are told that one of the books for a particular class costs $160. The school offers coupons, and you can search around for used books, and we were fortunate enough to find one for $20, but many of her classmates paid upwards of $80 and a couple had to drop the class because their families couldn’t afford the book.
Education should not be a luxury, and it should not perpetuate income inequality. The children of the lawyer are dramatically more likely to receive a college education, where the children of the janitor have to have everything go perfect for them to consider it. Then there’s the consideration that the debt incurred by those who have to utilize student loans to get a degree will exceed their income potential when they graduate because the job growth at this point of our “recovery” is in low income jobs.
Indeed while the stock market numbers continue to break record highs, we still have 8% unemployment, and closer to 20% underemployed, meaning people who are working a job below their sill or education level. Corporate profits soar, while wages remain stagnant.
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the
difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream
deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the
true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal.”
This dream is not just about black opportunity, or gay opportunity, or women’s opportunity, it is about human opportunity.
The cynical will hold to the blind theory that those who live at or below the poverty line do so because they are lazy or because they lack the drive to achieve better. But the dream is that the person who sweeps the street is valued in the same way the person who designed it is. It’s not that street sweepers should make the same as a CEO, but they should never have to look for a job after they finish the streets so that they can start a family, or buy a small house or put away so their kid can go to college.
It would be naive to say we have not made some progress. But that progress has been too attached to wealth and not to potential. To status and not to character. It would be equally as naive to say the dream is realized. Our nation’s greatness should not be measured by the accumulation by the elite, but by the opportunity afforded the least of its citizens. This doesn’t mean welfare, it doesn’t mean housing and childcare assistance. It means real opportunity to hold a job they can make a living at without having no life to live. It means having access to healthcare without having to have a second job to pay for it. It means having the opportunity to see their children get the education to allow them to exceed based on their ability to perform, not their ability to pay.
Fifty years later, the dream still lives, but the fight is still just as real as it was then.
It seems all but determined that sometime this week, the United States military will join with our allies in some level of strike on Syria after their military used chemical weapons on civilians in their ongoing civil war. The chemical strike reportedly killed as many as 1,500 civilians, including scores of children last week in Damascus, according to numbers by Syrian Rebels and activists.
President Obama and each of our allies have made their obligatory statements condemning the use of chemical weapons, action that has sent Syria’s government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, across the supposed red line. The red line was the point at which the U.N. Security Council would have no choice but to authorize a coalition assault on the Syrian military.
President Assad and his ministers have spent the past week calling the accusations preposterous, outright lies, and even going so far as to say that if there was chemical attack, it was staged by the rebels themselves in order to rally the western world to their cause. They have threatened to defend their position and stated that an attack by the United States and its allies would be a losing effort.
Iran and Russia have come to the defense of Syria, opposing any military action against the nation. This should come as a surprise to nobody, as Iran looks for anyone to join them in a rally against the western world and Russia seems to follow them to the podium these days.
But as usual, our stance on the use of chemical weapons reveals a hypocrisy on how we handle these kinds of accusations.
A report released by Al Jazeera America cites documents declassified by the CIA acknowledging that in addition to offering financial and weapons support in their war against Iran in the 1980s, The United States was aware that Iraq used chemical weapons on Iranian forces, as well as their own people.
As part of the rhetoric used to justify our invasion of a sovereign nation under the guise of weapons of mass destruction in 2003, we cited Saddam Hussein and his military’s use of chemical weapons on his own people, but what they failed to reveal is that we knew about that at the time as well, but since our methodology says that the enemy of my enemy is my ally, we overlooked this atrocity for the better good.
If you look back over the last generations of our relationship with countries in the Middle East and North Africa, you will find that we were perfectly fine to prop up dictators and support their regimes while it supported our greater interests, then call for those dictators to step down, or simply invade and capture them for execution when they no longer met our needs or demands.
With each of these hypocritical actions, the size of the two headed serpent grows, and radical groups like Al Qaeda recruit more and more. Children whose families were “collateral damage” in “strategic strikes on calculated targets” line up to see how much revenge they can extract against a nation that proves the adage that when you go to war with a dictator, it’s the civilians that lose.
The difference between this Administration and previous ones is now we prefer to exert our influence without getting our hands dirty. We send drones and hope they are accurate, we arm rebels and hope they are the lesser of two evils. As long as we can avoid “boots on the ground” we can pacify the left, while exerting our military muscle and pacifying the right.
We don’t want to see civilians killed by their government using chemical weapons. But we don’t want to see civilians killed by their government using any weapons. Killing more people simply isn’t a viable answer to the problem. When you look at the geography, Syria is bordered on all sides by nations that are at least considered tacit allies. Encampments could be created in four nations, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq & Saudi Arabia where refugees and rebels could seek safe passage while the offending remnants are isolated and forced to resign or comply.
You heighten the pressure by eliminating any incoming or outgoing commerce, shutting their economy down completely. You freeze any assets anywhere, cutting off their resources and ability to wait you out. You utilize the United Nations Security Council to establish and enforce no fly zones on all borders, ensuring their isolation from allies like Iran & Russia.
Power is an incredible thing when you have dominion over powerless masses. When those masses are removed and your power is neutered, you become the scared child you have been all along.
Assad maintains power because we let him. And we only deepen the divide by attacking them with our military. That is fighting on his terms, and it’s simply stupid and sophomoric. At some point, we need to stow away the bravado that tempts us to show the bully how big our stick is. There is adequate enough economic pressure and isolation that can be applied to break any totalitarian regime, but that requires too much effort in this new world when you can fire up the video screen and order the assassination of lives along with ideals.
As a pre-note to this article, Bradley Manning announced today that he is seeking gender reassignment therapy and seeks to live as a woman named Chelsea. Because of his courage at the hands of incredible injustice, we will honor his request in this and all subsequent articles.
Private Chelsea Manning was sentenced yesterday to 35 years in a military prison yesterday, pending final military review of the sentencing. With credit for the three years already served, additional credit for “harsh treatment” he suffered while incarcerated, and parole possibilities, it’s possible that Manning could only serve 8 more years. She also was given a dishonorable discharge, and demoted in rank, with subsequent loss of pay and benefit.
Essentially, Chelsea Manning was sentenced for exposing our government’s foreign policy hypocrisy and for embarrassing the Obama Administration for continuing many of the policies that were ridiculed in President Bush’s Administration.
Manning was convicted of releasing just under 700,000 classified documents(video, audio, memos, etc), including video of airstrikes against civilians, diplomatic cables that implicates China in computer hacking schemes and in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton orders diplomats to obtain credit card numbers and frequent flier numbers of foreign members of the United Nations Security Council.
The Iraq War Logs revealed that we had in place, at the minimum, a tacit understanding that torturing prisoners was to be overlooked. Medical evidence in the logs revealed that prisoners had been whipped, had holes drilled into their legs with electric drills, were urinated on and sexually assaulted.
These clear instances of torture were overlooked because of an order that was also revealed in the released data. That order was Frago 242. Frago is a term for a fragmentary order. This particular order “orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition”. This is a direct violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the United States ratified in 1994.
The Afghan War Log contained information that DynCorp, a U.S. defense contractor that was receiving almost $2 billion per year in revenue from U.S. tax dollars, was throwing lavish parties and paying traffickers to supply boys for “entertainment”. This report resulted in tighter oversight of civilian contractors, and has prompted calls for all such contractors to be pulled from Afghanistan.
The airstrike captured on video and released by WikiLeaks shows the view from an Apache helicopter gun sight as two journalists working for Reuters and a dozen civilians are gunned down without provocation. This senseless action was later deemed consistent with the military’s “Rules of Engagement”.
This is simply a scratch of the surface of what the leaks contained, and just what I’ve mentioned is enough for Chelsea Manning to given a medal, not a prison sentence.
Each of us as citizens have a moral and ethical obligation to speak out against injustice, regardless of who carries out that injustice. It’s easy to say that, and who among us knows what we would do had we been in Private Manning’s shoes, but her actions are not criminal. She will spend at least the next 8 years in a military prison, now with the knowledge in the public that she wants to live her life as Chelsea Manning, not Bradley Manning. Imagine the ridicule she faces. Imagine already the torture she has endured while in military prison. Torture that was significant enough for them to cut time from her sentence.
What about the sentencing for those who issued Frago 242? What about the sentencing for those who committed torture of prisoners, acts that will only deepen hatred against the western world, increasing the risk of terrorism, not reduce it? What about the sentencing for those who deemed the unprovoked slaughter of more than a dozen civilians in the dark of night by attack helicopter consistent with rules of engagement?
And now that Cheslea Manning has revealed her intentions to live as a woman, the public ridicule at the hands of a narrow minded insecure population will deepen the injustice. Policies change because of actions like those Manning took. Injustices are exposed, and the public demands better treatment of humans, prisoners or not. Hypocrisy is revealed, mocking a pious leader from standing in front of a camera and chastising other nations for violations of United Nations agreements.
If we ever want to take meaningful steps toward stemming the tide of terrorism, then maybe we should stop acting like terrorists, and stop imprisoning those who call us out when we do.
As of the posting of this article, the death toll in Egypt’s ongoing struggle for democracy is at or above 700 people, with more than 4,000 injured. These numbers reflect 48 hours of intense conflict to determine the future leadership of a nation that has spent generation under totalitarian rule.
As we watch from here, we find it barbaric, like cavemen fighting over fire with clubs and rocks. What we fail to realize is that history has shown us that no democratic republic is established without intense conflict.
Casualty figures from the Revolutionary War vary widely, based in large part by the fact that as many or more people died from disease in those times than in combat. The numbers range from 8,000 – 50,000 soldiers killed during the battle for our freedom from British rule.
The American Civil War cost us 2% of our entire population, an estimated 620,000 people. This war was initiated over the issue of whether or not we would continue to allow the barbaric practice of slavery in our young nation.
By comparison, the struggle in Egypt is barely in its infancy, and they are battling for their freedom as a nation.
On February 11th, the people of Egypt gained a remarkable victory by forcing the resignation of totalitarian leader Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt since 1981. On June 3, 2012, Egypt held its first democratic election and Mohammed Morsi was elected president. Morsi is considered to be a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world’s oldest and most influential Islamic movements.
Unfortunately, President Morsi started by “temporarily” granting himself unlimited authority to legislate without judicial authority or review. He said this was to “protect Egypt from a Mubarak style power structure”, but it was viewed as exactly a Mubarak style power grab.
The people took to the streets on June 30th, demanding that President Morsi, in office for just over a year, step down. The military sided with the populists, and Morsi was unseated on July 3rd.
This prompted a rebellion from Morsi supporters and the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that the democratically elected leader was being ousted in an action that equaled no less than a tyrannical coup by radicals who seek to suppress true freedom.
Tensions are incredibly high as both sides can taste their version of freedom and their version of returning to oppression. After spending 30+ years under a corrupt oppressive regime, nobody wants to go back to that life. Much as we in the U.S.A. see in our politics on a daily basis, there are at least two incredibly strong opinions on how to achieve the freedom they all seek. Neither side believe the other has their best interests at heart, and speak out vehemently against the other side.
Egypt doesn’t have Political Action Committees (PACs) with unlimited funding by the wealthiest people in the nation to wage a propaganda war to swing an electorate to vote for their party at the next election. If they did, they would focus on spreading rumors and distorting statistics to suit their party’s political agenda, counting on a vastly uneducated and/or ideologically polarized public to blindly follow the rhetoric sold to them by the highest bidder.
The more than 700 people who have died in Egypt felt it was worth risking their lives to speak out in the hope they would live to see their nation run in a mostly democratic fashion, not exactly like the western world, but their version of it, the way truly free nations should operate.
As usual, we are using the conflict in Egypt as a political tool here. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has called for all funding sent to Egypt to be stopped in light of the unrest. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), meanwhile, has called for the President to not only condemn the military action on the pro-Morsi demonstrators, but call for the Muslim Brotherhood to demand calm from the protesters. Many outspoken conservatives have decried the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization that tacitly supports radical Islamic groups, charges they can’t support, but use as a nice rallying point against the President and his support of the democratically elected party in Egypt.
The images and video coming from Egypt are sad, disturbing, and tragic, and the use of military force against your own citizenry is absolutely unacceptable, but we have to accept to a degree that when you hear the slogan “freedom isn’t free”, this is what it means.
We hope that this struggle for freedom results in what our struggles have resulted in, the ongoing shaping of a more perfect union.
Edward Snowden is in hiding somewhere, probably trying to ascertain if what he is seeing on the television, hearing on the radio and reading in the papers is really happening. He has said he expects he will never see his home country again, has expressed fears that his family and loved ones could be in danger.
But he also said he simply “didn’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things.”
What he is referring to is the National Security Agency (NSA), the largest spying organization in the world, and their PRISM program. Unlike most of the clever acronyms used by official government programs, PRISM doesn’t actually stand for anything. The closest thing to a definition is the comparison of an actual prism and its ability to refract light into multiple directions simultaneously.
But the NSA isn’t working on new sources of intelligence using light beams. Instead the comparison is drawn that from a single stream of data, many agencies can see if they have need to be concerned about the individual or group that has been monitored. A chat on an internet forum by a member of an extremist group can be deciphered by any relevant organization, and a massive collection of data can be compiled, leading to actionable intelligence that theoretically prevents acts of terrorism against the United States and our allies.
But it turns out the NSA isn’t being very selective in who it is monitoring.
For years, the government has been called “Big Brother”, an overseer who is always watching and listening. Edward Snowden released data that indicates the Patriot Act mission to loosen restrictions on domestic surveillance has been successful. His information reveals that all of our actions online, our tweets, status updates, posts, comments, e-mails and browsing patterns are being recorded, reviewed and shared by various departments in the intelligence community.
Oddly enough, however, the shock and outrage of that revelation shifted rapidly to accusations of treason against Edward Snowden.
Treason is the only crime specifically defined in the Constitution, in Article III, Section 3;
“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.”
This is about as serious a crime as can be imagined, even leading to the debate as to whether or not your entire family line would be tainted legally by a person’s treason.
23 people have been convicted of treason in the United States, with 10 of them being executed. The last execution for treason was in 1953, when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for sharing information about the atomic bomb with the Soviet Union. This was right in the middle of the McCarthy era, a period when the FBI was accused routinely of domestic surveillance under the fear of Communists posing as Americans. Another 6 people convicted were ultimately pardoned or released.
There was even a female radio broadcaster named Mildred Gillars convicted of treason in 1949 for spreading anti-american propaganda when she worked for a German radio station. Nicknamed “Axis Sally”, Gillars hosted a show that was intended to make American soldiers homesick. She spent 12 years in prison, and was paroled in 1961.
Now some in Congress want Edward Snowden’s name added to the list of those convicted of treason because he used classified documents to tell the American people that their government is spying on them. Not spying on specific targets with a specific narrow band profile, but instead casting a wide net in whatever direction the wind blows. If you don’t have any “terrorists” on the radar at the moment, let’s go find some people who oppose the foreign policies of the United States, monitor all of their digital communications and interactions and see if we can classify them as “enemy combatants”.
But Snowden is the traitor because he saw something that was a clear injustice and chose to act on it, knowing it would ruin his life as he knew it. I guess one person’s traitor is another person’s patriot.
Every time the gun control debate rises to the front page, you see people posting colorful pictures with the quote from Benjamin Franklin that reads;
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
The argument is that agreeing we don’t need AR-15 assault rifles or armor piercing ammunition in the public hands is somehow a violation of essential liberty. But where is that same argument when it is revealed that some government agent is looking through your Facebook account, your e-mails, the websites you look at or the purchases you have made online with no documented justification?
In April of last year, I posted a blog that talked about a shiny new ultra high tech facility the NSA was building in the Utah desert, a building that would become the headquarters for data collection, the resting place for all surveillance, in a readily accessible database in our ever developing war on terrorism.
In that blog post, I made the following assertion;
“If I were to post a threat to our nation or one of its leaders online, please arrest me, if for no other reason than because I am an idiot. But to say that because my articles or my belief runs against the paranoid delusion of the industrial military complex you have the right to police my e-mails and my internet habits is simply wrong, and borders on what I would call treasonous.
But that’s because I am a liberal and don’t just preach individual liberty where the acquisition of wealth and possessions are concerned, I actually believe it is more important to have the liberty to think and speak as the sentient beings we are.”
Edward Snowden released confidential documents that indicate the government has decided it needs to police our e-mails, along with any and all digital communication, to satisfy their need to go before Congress and seek more money in the name of National Security so they can see if I am just a separatist, or if I am plotting some asinine coup against the most powerful and psychologically compromised industrial military complex the world has ever seen.
I am the United States of America. A descendant of immigrants seeking freedom from the church and the crown. A taxpaying citizen who demands my right to autonomous thought, whether I agree with my nation’s leaders or not. A voter in this Representative Republic, someone who believes that every now in then we need to remind our elected officials that they work for us, not the other way around.
I would like to believe I would have done the same thing Edward Snowden did if I were in his position and saw the evidence of a clear abuse of power being used against the citizens of this country. But man, it’s a lot to give up in the name of patriotism.
Snowden is waking up to that realization every day. But who is really the traitor? If he released information that a private corporation were committing crimes against society, Snowden would receive protection under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, an act that was further enhanced in 2007.
But when the company you blow the whistle on is the NSA, well, let’s just say being prosecuted for a “crime” is probably the least of his concerns.