America’s Expanding Surveillance State and Perpetual War

Of all the Obama administrationrelated investigations currently underway, the most disturbing and possibly unconstitutional one is the Justice Department’s seizure of reporters’ phone records and emails at the Associated Press and of Fox News reporter James Rosen, whose comings and goings at the State Department appear to have been tracked by the FBI. A judge granted a search warrant on the basis that Rosen was possibly violating the Espionage Act (1917), a law intended to stop state secrets from being shared with foreign governments.

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson excoriated the Obama administration for these actions in a recent op-ed:

“Before president Obama took office, the Espionage Act had been used to prosecute leakers a grand total of three times, including the 1971 case of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Obama’s Justice Department has used the act six times. And counting.

 Obviously, the government has a duty to protect genuine secrets. But the problem is that every administration, without exception, tends to misuse the “top secret” stamp—sometimes from an overabundance of caution, sometimes to keep inconvenient or embarrassing information to coming to light.”

Fred Kaplan at Slate has a different perspective on Fred Rosen’s responsibility in the reporting of his FOX News story:

“In Rosen’s case, the alarm bells went off not because he reported that North Korea was about to conduct a nuclear-weapons test but because he reported that the CIA learned of this fact from a source inside North Korea. In other words, Rosen revealed that the CIA had a source inside North Korea. It’s unclear whether the source was a human spy or a communications intercept; it’s also irrelevant because, thanks to this story, the source is probably no longer alive or active.”

National security requires a balance between protecting Americans and preserving constitutional freedoms. Ever since the “war on terror” began, Americans have largely accepted that in order to remain safe from terrorists they may have to relinquish some of their civil liberties. This is problematic. If we agree that one minor, intrusive action is okay, and that action leads to incrementally more intrusive actions over time, at what point does the government rein in its own behavior? Can it? At what point do citizens find it unacceptable and push back?

English: President George W. Bush and Presiden...

English: President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama meet in the Oval Office of the White House Monday, November 10, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, many Americans, particularly those on the left, hoped the Patriot Act would be abolished. While I applaud the President’s decision to make torture illegal, he has continued, and in some instances even expanded, many of the Bush national security policies. One example of that expansion is the use of drones. The use of drones began in 2002. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism the Bush administration carried out 52 strikes over both terms. At least 300 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia were recorded during Obama’s first term. Furthermore, Americans would be up in arms if other countries were dropping bombs from drones onto U.S. soil to kill terrorists. Think about that.

These unmanned planes are designed to be highly targeted and aimed at leaders and high-level operatives of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, yet it is regularly reported that innocent civilians, including children, are killed in these attacks. The Obama administration claims the numbers of civilian casualties are low, but many citizens of these countries refute those claims. Not surprisingly, this breeds resentment of the United States and creates terrorist sympathizers.

Drones

Many also hoped the era of warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency would go by the way-side once Obama took office. In 2008, the Bush administration legalized this eavesdropping through the FISA Amendments Act, and part of that bill retroactively granted amnesty to the telecom companies involved, shielding them from prosecution even though what they were doing was illegal. The telecom companies were doing this at the request of the government. Consequently, the FISA Amendments Act, by extension, also shielded the Bush administration from any criminal wrong-doing. Senator Barack Obama voted for this in 2008, and in December 2012, as President, signed a five-year extension of the law.

Then there is the continued use of indefinite detentions for suspected terrorists. Some of these prisoners have been held for years then found to be innocent of any wrongdoing, or found to have had tenuous connections to terrorists, or none at all. Many detainees are currently being held indefinitely without being charged with a crime. This is wrong; it’s a human rights issue. Imagine being locked away, left to rot in a foreign prison, no contact with your loved ones and no trial date in sight. Admittedly, there are bad guys in these prisons too, but that doesn’t mean some rule of law shouldn’t be followed. We are America after all; we should set the standard for human rights.

800px-Pair_of_Omar_Khadr_demonstrators

Photo attributed to: Joshua Sherurcij

Lastly, is the prosecution of government whistleblowers. Whistleblowers only come forward to report fraud, abuse, and crime when they feel safe to do so. The excuse of “national security,” freely used, to punish whistleblowers is chilling. We need whistleblowers. Otherwise too many politicians or government appointees will escape accountability for crimes or misuse of power. That’s not to say that leaking classified information should go unpunished either.

National security is important, but the American people can be protected and freedom of the press maintained without government intrusiveness, particularly in relation to the use of increased surveillance of Americans, which most of us find reprehensible. Technology serves us well and makes our daily and work lives easier, but with technological advances also come security and privacy challenges. These are major issues with which Americans and our leaders are grappling and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. One writer even warns that left unchecked, future presidents could be even worse than Bush or Obama.

Americans should consider and answer these questions: 1.) How many of our civil liberties are we willing to give up in the name of security and fighting terrorism? 2.) How long is it acceptable for the U.S. to be involved in conflict after conflict in foreign lands? 3.) How much money are we willing to spend to continue feeding the military-industrial complex at the expense of other pressing domestic issues?

On May 23, President Obama spoke about his national security policy and the plans to change it. You can read the transcript or watch it below:

Only time will tell how effective the proposed changes will be. History will be the ultimate judge.

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Hot Topic Triumverate

Dear Left-Leaning Friends[i],

It is no secret that our friends on the Right have a reputation for denying science—evolution, climate change, etc.

But let’s not be foolish. There are left-leaning folks out there who also deny science. Or rather, conveniently ignore it, misinterpret it—sometimes on purpose.

Yes. I said it.

Some self-identifying liberals deny certain scientific studies and facts.

The gmowhole GMO debacle is a great example. Lefties tend to be wary of GMOs, while agribusinesses and the Right tend to favor/push GMOs.

Now, I’m not a fan of Monsanto, but Lefties have been presenting very weak scientific data on the supposed harm GMOs do.  We misinterpret studies to prove our point, whatever our point is.  We did the same in Portland, Oregon, a liberal bastion, who voted once again to not fluoridate their water.
flouride

It was an ugly smear campaign, and both sides of this debate are partially to blame.

vaccineWe, on the left, pride ourselves for thinking critically and outside the box, for trying to see the whole picture–but there’s a damn good reason we have vaccines[ii].

I understand concerns about the timing and spacing of vaccines, and believe that parents in consultation with their pediatricians should decide on the best vaccination schedule for their kids, although ideally it should be within the guidelines recommended by health authorities like the WHO and CDC.

But rejecting vaccines altogether? For one thing, you’re endangering your child by exposing her to potentially serious illnesses. Let me put it this way: when parents of a pediatrician friend of mine ask her if their children should get vaccinated, she says: ‘oh, NO! I haven’t had a good case of measles in years! It would bring back such memories!’

Whew. I’ve managed to touch on three molten-lava-hot-topics—what do *you*, dear reader, think about one or any of these issues? Of the misinterpretation of science, of the left and science, of GMOs, vaccines, and/or fluoridation?

I’m genuinely interested in your opinion and thoughts.

Thanks in advance–  trust you all to be civil, etc.,

ContraWhit

 


[i] Would “comrade” be more fitting? 🙂

[ii] Note the vaccination debate falls into the Right as well.

Invest in your local community

In addition to advocating equal rights and being a feminist activist, I’m also a big believer in buying local as much as possible.

Here’s a pretty infographic that explains how important buying local is [hint: it’s an investment in your community!]:

buying_local_infographThat’s not all, though.  Here’s a little reading for you, too.

The Day after Memorial Day

Yesterday, Americans celebrated Memorial Day. Old Glory blew in the breeze.  Grill covers were removed.  Hot dogs and hamburgers were char-broiled.  Beer was consumed.  Cars and mattresses were purchased.  And those who have perished, in service to this nation, were remembered.

Those things are all fine and dandy.  But why not do something better?  The best way to honor those who have fallen is to support those who haven’t.

Perhaps,..a Call for a National Strategy on Veterans?  An all-encompassing one is needed, if we are to get our service members back on track to becoming members of civilian society.  In the coming weeks, we will discuss what the issues are.  And, there are many!  There are steps we can take, both individually and politically, to support our returning veterans.  But we, first, have to know what we are up against.

Here are startling statistics, as reported by the Center for American Progress:

** Nearly 1 in 7 homeless adults are veterans.

** 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness.

** 30.29% of veterans, aged 18-24, were unemployed as of 2011.

** $31 Million of SNAP/food stamps (2008) were spent at military commissaries.

** 1.2 million veterans used mental health services in 2010.

As if those numbers are not shocking enough, Democracy Now! reports that military vets (including those wounded in service) are being kicked out, due to misconduct.  This causes them to lose medical care and benefits for life.  Young men and women, returning from the horrors of war, find themselves unable to cope.  Many have underlying health conditions, including Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Instead of providing help, they are given a bad discharge, and alienated even from the brothers in arms that they fought and died with.

In another article, the growing epidemic of military suicide, among other things, is addressed.  Every day, in America, 18 veterans are committing suicide.  17% of Afghanistan combat vets are on psychotropic medication.  1/3 of female service members are sexually assaulted.  From Defense Secretary,Leon Panetta, “Despite the increased efforts, the increased attention, the trends continue to move in a troubling and tragic direction.”

imagesCA2JEKMC

As a member of a military family, I am grateful for those who “support the troops”.  I am honored to be among the families who have sacrificed.  I have, in years past, humbly accepted the love and support of friends, family, and strangers.

I am, also, all too aware of the difficulties such families face.  PTSD is not an acronym to me.  The psychotropic drugs, the therapy…are all too real.

We, as a nation, accept the sacrifice…physical, spiritual, or mental…of our young men and women.  We take them from their families.  We spend millions training them for combat.  We place them in unimaginable situations, and we ask them to do unimaginable things.

Isn’t it time we do more than pay them lip service?

The most important thing we can do is provide meaningful employment opportunities.  We must stop looking at the hiring of military veterans as charity.  These men and women have any number of combat skills that translate well in the civilian world.  VetJobs is an excellent resource that we can pass along to those men and women still seeking work.

Equally important is making sure our veterans are receiving necessary medical and mental health care.  The Wounded Warrior Project is a wonderful program that brings much-needed attention to the needs of returning vets with physical and/or mental health issues.  The project provides a myriad of services for returning veterans, through donations and fundraisers.  Visit their website to see how you can help.

Finally, we must not forget the spouses and families.  They are often invisible in discussing issues concerning veteran’s affairs.  If we are to successfully integrate these warriors back into civilian society, spouses and families must also have support.  Learning to live with an entirely different person is no easy task, let me tell you.  I have found that Military OneSource provides invaluable talk therapy for spouses adjusting to their new unfamiliar circumstances.  The National Military Family Association is a wonderful resource for financial concerns.  There are opportunities to donate to both these wonderful organizations and information can be located on their websites.

Supporting our troops isn’t simply a ribbon.  It would be wonderful if it was.  Our brave men and women need, and deserve, our support.  Sure, holidays are great.  They deserve those, too.  But our country can do so much better.

Take a look at the links.  Make a contribution.  Donate your time.  Put pressure on your representatives.

That is supporting our troops.

As Syria Burns

Big news this Memorial Day. As the US stops to BBQ and remember its fallen Vets, the situation in Syria is still one of civil war. However, the Foreign minister of Syria, Walid Muallem, said that Syria would agree ‘in principle’ to attend Geneva talks! The round of talks (called Geneva 2) will take place next month, and were a joint proposal by the US and Russia. What do these talks mean? Well, the Syrian National Coalition (the organized part of the opposition) said they were willing to participate, on the condition that Assad step down. Assad so far has refused to step aside or leave the country.  The talks haven’t even been scheduled yet, due to what Russia is calling a ‘lack of unity within the opposition’.

 

The Syrian National Coalition is meeting in Istanbul, Turkey currently, and has yet to ‘officially’ reach a decision on whether or not to join in the talks. If they refuse, there will be little chance in holding them. John Kerry and his Russian counter part, Sergey Lavrov, are to meet in Paris today to continue to discuss the Syrian situation.

There seems to be little chance to end Syria’s 26 month war with Assad staying in power. Either he will step down (not likely), be overthrown (a chance), the opposition will fail (perhaps possible), or the war will continue to drag on in its current form. With over 80,000 dead and over 1.5 million displaced, the situation in Syria is tragic, and not likely to get any better any time soon.

Catching Up

For those of you who have been reading Everblog for some period of time, this might be a little repetitive. Please pardon the staff for a moment while we “go meta.”

We’re thrilled to have lots of new visitors to the blog, and we hope you’re enjoying what we’re doing here.  Let’s take a quick walk around the place by way of introduction, shall we?

You might want to give the “About” page a read.  There you’ll get a little introduction to what we’re all, well, about.   As you might surmise there, we have a team of writers and editors – all volunteers, we’re not making a buck off this – who are working hard to bring you new content six or seven mornings a week.  Some weeks we provide afternoon and evening content, but not always.  Weekday and Sunday mornings, you can count on Everblog.

Speaking of our team, we’re pretty proud of our group.  Here’s a list of what you can expect from them, keeping in mind that we’re all  wildcards and will stray from our core topics:

Bobby Daniels is our go-to on matters of the economy.  Deborah Ludwig often focuses on the nuts-and-bolts of our electoral system. Seyyal Edibe covers a lot of ground – don’t miss her work on race by way of her own journey of genealogical research.  Tamsworld talks politics in general, and she packs a wallop.  Eahauck writes excellent work about the world outside America. Hlward (yeah, that’s me) considers himself a political generalist as well, but he’s righteously pissed-off about the state of poverty in America. Speaking of pissed-off, check out occasional contributor Tim Rockwell‘s work on the news of the day.  Contrawhit has written some powerful stuff on feminism and gender issues, among other things. Doctor Floyd writes on a variety of topics, and is working on an overview of state terrorism you won’t want to miss.  He also heads up our “Evergreen Up-Late” team, which takes a lighter look at the world around us. While we’re talking about Up-Late, Cherubic Adonis and Abstract Reindeer round out that group, among other things. Ozarks Blue provides perspective from time to time, and our newest contributor, Samantha Imperiatrix, will bring you some great work very soon.

So … if you like what you find here, we hope you’ll keep reading.  You might want to subscribe – there’s a box on your right where you can do exactly that, so you don’t miss a single post.

Also, if you enjoy Everblog, you probably know someone else who might.  Don’t be afraid to click one of those social media share buttons below this – and every – post.  Or just forward the links to a friend.

Thank you for reading.  See you again tomorrow.

In the News…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  – U. S. Constitution, First Amendment

The past few weeks have been interesting, to say the least.  For me, they have been thought-provoking.  Not being a professional journalist, I admit to only a cursory knowledge of protocol concerning the media and national security.  Current events have cured me of that.

The Associated Press and Fox News scandals are huge.  This is not like Umbrella-gate, which was ridiculous.  Even the IRS intrusion takes a back seat to this debacle.  The intrusion into the rights of the media to gather and report important information should concern us all.  Not because we finally have some conspiracy to pin on Obama, but because it is a possible infringement of rights.

Whenever there is a clash between an administration and the media, “national security” is at stake.  While national security has no official definition, we believe it to mean the protection and safety of our citizens and our secrets.  This safety is secured through economic, political, diplomatic, and military power.  In essence, each administration is allowed the freedom to determine what places “it” at risk.

So, let’s take on the Fox scandal first.  The national security in this case involved North Korea, and its plan to respond to U.N. sanctions with more nuclear tests.  The CIA, allegedly, learned this information from a source within North Korea.  James Rosen’s (Fox News contributor) story was reported online the same day that the top-secret report was revealed to a small group within the intelligence community.  Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a government advisor, was among that small group.  The FBI used security badge data, phone records, and email exchanges to tie the two men together.  The pair spoke/met on several occasions, even going so far as to use code names.  Kim was charged, in 2010, with disclosing national defense information.  Rosen, while not charged, has been labeled a “co-conspirator”.

This case is disturbing.  While I am no fan of Fox news, the labeling of Rosen as a co-conspirator is unacceptable.   The nature of a reporter’s job is to uncover information (whether a current administration likes it or not) and report it.  Rosen conspired to do nothing, but his job.  My issue here is with the administration.  When a trusted advisor chose to leak top-secret information, the Justice department should have dealt solely with him.  Rosen was well within his rights, as a reporter, to “solicit” information.  The ownership belongs to Kim.  My issue is not so much the investigation, but the attack on Rosen for reporting the news provided to him.

The AP story is a little more complex.  With the help of foreign intelligence agencies, an undercover informant infiltrated the leadership of al-Qaeda. “The spy in question infiltrated AQAP, retrieved its latest non-metalic underwear bomb and delivered it to U.S. authorities”.  Our government had hoped to be led to Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the bomb’s creator.  Officials claimed that the opportunity was destroyed and the informant was compromised when the story of the foiled plot was reported.  There are reports that AP sat on the story, for days, at the request of the CIA.  Once given clearance, the story ran.

This case disturbs me, as well, but for an entirely different reason.  For me, it is not open and shut.  True, the AP story never revealed the name of the informant, like Cheney’s office outed Valerie Plame.  But, it is possible that an opportunity to locate and/or capture al-Asiri was lost.  It appears as though John Brennan’s (then counter-terrorism advisor) “inside control” comments propelled the story and revealed the more intimate details of the plot.  If security was at risk, an explanation of how should have been provided, and the source of the leak addressed.

I am bothered that the MSM has become a way to turn a profit, making whistleblowers like Julian Assange necessary.  Security leaks are not new, and in fact, have become quite necessary.  Without unofficial accounts, we might be woefully uninformed, as conventional media has become more sensationalism than facts.  However, I am uncomfortable with the surveillance of media, by any administration.  I am equally uncomfortable with the public’s feeling of entitlement where news is concerned.  Around the clock news has encouraged this mentality.

This is a time to question.  Do we have a right to know all?  And, if we do, how soon should we learn it?  What constitutes a national security threat?  And, in cases where applicable, should a member of the press be held accountable for taking what was given?  How far are we willing to go in the name of fighting terrorism?  What is an appropriate balance between security and liberty?

Any administration using national security as justification for surveillance warrants investigation.  In the wake of 9/11, fear introduced us to warrantless wire taps, restrictions of individual rights, and unconstitutional imprisonment.  Rights of the people vs national security is a delicate balance.  We expect our rights to be uncontested.  Yet, we expect our government to keep us as safe.

Keeping our citizens safe is not an implied duty.  Our constitution gives that power to the government.  That being said, our constitution gives us power, as well.  The actions of the last two administrations set a dangerous precedent moving forward.  We have accepted infringement too many times in the past, without question, because we were afraid.   So, we must question.

And, we must DEMAND answers.