Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pinocchio Personified

President Obama was at his eloquent best this week at the U.N. when he said the strongest weapon against hateful speech "is not repression; it is more speech. … We cannot ban blasphemy.”  He apparently was ignoring last week's White House’s request for Google to remove a Muslim film from You Tube (which they denied).  The beloved cartoon character made popular by Disney is more and more human and Mister Geppetto’s head is spinning around. 
Mitt Romney’s no honest Abe Lincoln himself.  The Washington Post actually has assigned the Romney/Ryan campaign 4 Pinocchio’s.  At the Republican convention the campaign said  “we won’t be dictacted by fact checkers.”  Honesty seems to have no place in a Presidential campaign.
There’s no Constitutional right for truth.  CNN outlines how the half-truths are commonplace in this campaign on all sides.  Americans used to aspire to truth and justice. Instead the next six weeks will be a battle to the bottom.
The result of the “he said” / “he said” mentality is that is has become white noise for the electorate.  They both lie.  They both misrepresent themselves and their opponent.  It’s all in an attempt to sway the 5% who describe themselves as “undecided.” 
Romney got some heat for saying that 47% of the country will vote for President Obama no matter what.  He was inelegant, crass and inaccurate in his justification – but the overall point was actually right.  Presidential contests throughout time show - with some rare exceptions – a country nearly evenly divided throughout history.
The difference today is that once the election is done and governing begins – those who didn’t win no longer look for the greater good or service to the country – it’s all about beating the other side the next time.  Thwarting a second Obama term was the Republican’s priority from Inauguration Day.  So much for public service. 
Whether President Obama continues for four more years or there’s a President Romney – one thing is clear:  neither will have a legislative majority.  The country will be gridlocked again.  That might not actually be the worst thing.  Since the country is largely divided it makes sense that Congress too would be divided.  The question is whether there’s an interest in bridging the differences.  Both major parties have evolved to the evangelists passions of take-no-prisoners and to win-at-all-costs.  Without a majority, though, it’s an exercise in frustration because history shows us that Americans have been and will be divided.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have leaders (from both the executive and legislative branches) who found a way to keep their principles while still getting something done?  That’s the real cartoon.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A chilly fall

This weekend is the September equinox – autumn begins.  In many parts of the country leaves are starting to change color:  fall is in the air.   The chill covering the United States has less to do with meteorological patterns than with a technology intrustion.  Three recent events provide an interesting and disturbing view at how little Americans resist the whittling away of freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Congress  last week passed a reauthorization of the FISA Amendment Act, a law that gives unchecked surveillance authority to the government. The National Security Agency is permitted to conduct surveillance of Americans’ emails and phone calls without a warrant and without having to report to any authority.  The Fourth Amendment’s promise of protection against unreasonable searches has not yet even been challenged by a law that’s been on the books for over a decade and is regularly renewed - even in this hyper partisian environment. 
The FBI last month announced that the next generation of technology allows it to match criminal databases and civil databases to gather information on citizens.  The system uses individual biometric data to track each of us within 1,000 meters.  According to the ACLU  a traffic cop can be using biometric binoculars at a stop sign.  When the device recognizes you it records and tracks your presence there.  The same is true with cameras on the streets, cameras in police cars - cameras everywhere.  So what if you’re just out to get a quart of milk and aren't committing a crime?  Your movements are now recorded forever and go into a database.  It’ll certainly makes the real-life version of Law and Order easy, but obliterates the concept of privacy and freedom.  Presumed Innocent is going the way of the horse and buggy, rotary phones and network television.
Google last week denied the White House’s request to remove a Muslim film from You Tube.  Some claim the film has been the cause of recent violence in the Middle East.  It may be a vile video - but the very first protection the framers envisioned was freedom of expression.
One of Government’s roles is to keep its citizenry safe.  Each country has its own rules as to how to do that – what works in America doesn’t necessarily work for Russia or China.  The tension between security and freedom has existed since the dawn of civilization.  The founders of the United States crafted a Bill of Rights, a Constitution and a system of checks and balances to manage the tension.  It has largely worked and Jeffersonian-style democracy has been the ideal worldwide. 
It works when there's an informed and engaged electorate that pushes back against laws that restrict the freedoms promised under the Constitution.  The media is supposed to serve as that provocateur and educator.  Where are these voices?  Sure there’s the ACLU, the Libertarians and other specialized entities that vociferously fight these actions – but the conversation is happening at the fringes and they aren't having any impact, despite public opinion polls.

When Americans are asked by Gallup or others - consistently over the years between 75% and 85% of the population rejects the breaches of privacy.  Yet freedoms continue to be curtailed – with more frequency.  These are just three examples in one small period of time.  The fact that the White House led by a former Constitutional Law Professor asked to have content removed from the airwaves with little uproar from the public indicates that it’s not just a chilly fall – it’s going to be a bone cold winter.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Few. The Proud. The contradictions.

11 years ago this week the attacks of September 11 forever changed the United States and the world.  One year ago next week the U.S. military joined the rest of the western world by allowing lesbians and gays to serve in the military without lying.  The first academic study was released the other day that shows that the repeal “did not harm the military, and if anything made it easier for the Pentagon to pursue its mission.”  A new book by the pseudonym Mark Owen "No Easy Day," gives an inside account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden that differs from the official narrative.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the Navy Seal should be disciplined.  It’s all rather contradictory.
Osama bin Laden and his followers executed the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor.  (We assume it was bin Laden, there actually hasn’t been any trial – military or civilian – that proves it.)  President Bush then launched a series of military engagements authorized by Congress to retaliate and protect the country from further attacks.  (Congress never officially declared war, as it is constitutionally required to do.) 
According to Face the Facts USA “The United States spends 58 percent of the total defense dollars paid out by the world’s top 10 military powers, which combined for $1.19 trillion in military funding in 2011.  With its unparalleled global reach, the US outspends China, the next-biggest military power, by nearly 6-to-1.”  What’s that buy?
13,650 people were discharged under President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy – 6,245 during the Bush 43 administration.  Millions were spent training people to then not use them.  During that time soldier’s deployments were being extended due to a lack of personnel.  With the release of the study this week the 20 years of hand wringing and proclamations that GLBT people would undermine military readiness has been debunked.  A President Romney would reinstate the policy.
On May 1, 2011 U.S. Navy Seals executed Osama bin Laden.  The country and the world were told that the Seals had no choice but to kill him.  From  Wikipedia: "White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan stated after raid: 'If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that.'  CIA Director Leon Panette stated on PBS NewsHour: 'The authority here was to kill bin Laden...Obviously under the rules of engagement, if he in fact had thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn't appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But, they had full authority to kill him.'”
"No Easy Day" written by a Seal tells the story that bin Laden didn’t represent any threat.  It was an assassination pure and simple.  Now this brave soldier is to be disciplined for honesty.
Breaching military protocol and confidentiality is a punishable offense.  It needs to be to maintain morale and orderly conduct.  But where’s the consequence for military and civilian leaders who took it amongst themselves to assassinate somebody without evidence or a trial and in contradiction to the Geneva Convention and the military’s own rules of engagement?  Where’s the accountability for leaders who lied about what happened?  Isn’t the cover-up supposed to be the worse offense? 
The greater good has been served by the Seal who told the truth…one of the few who have.  And isn’t “the truth and justice” what the 'wars' have been about protecting and promoting?  Isn’t that what justifies spending 6 times more than anybody else?  Perhaps a future anniversary of 9/11 will be marked by the bravery of telling the truth rather than punishing the one who practices it.  Americans deserve fewer contradictions and more truth.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Third Wheel or Third Way?

I remember being on vacation with a good friend who then "connected" with somebody. Their holiday romance was exactly what those sorts of things are: fun, festive and fleeting. For me it was much like being a third wheel. Being the extra add-on in a world of duos is awkward. As a single person it’s not uncommon for restaurants to tack on an extra chair with a table for two rather than give up a four top. With all of the hoopla surrounding the major party conventions these past few weeks, I can’t but help feeling a bit like that third wheel again.

The Libertarian party held its convention last Memorial Day. C-Span covered it. Each of the major networks gave the pro-forma coverage to Gov. Gary Johnson being selected as the Presidential nominee. The pundits and press coverage of Libertarian politics tends to include qualifying phrases (“extreme”) that diminish any value of what the substance of the issue might be.

The party is the third largest in the U.S. and (as it has since its founding in 1971) it will have its candidate on enough ballots to win the Electoral College, a fact that no other ‘third’ party can claim. There are hundreds of elected Libertarians in positions in Government and the party has generated millions of votes in its four decades.

With the clutter of issues and punditry and the gamesmanship of the debates that exclude third party candidates, it’s easy to think that any party other than the Republicans or the Democrats is just fanciful.

The Democrats made history this week as they approved their Party Platform. While each Party’s positions are often a reflection of the candidate, and they are not binding for governing – they do provide a window into each party’s approach to an issue. Let’s look at this historic language – and how each of the parties tackles the issue:

Democrats: Freedom to Marry. We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference. We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act

Republicans: The institution of marriage is the foundation of civil society. Its success as an institution will determine our success as a nation. It has been proven by both experience and endless social science studies that traditional marriage is best for children. Children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to use drugs or alcohol, engage in crime, or get pregnant outside of marriage. The success of marriage directly impacts the economic well-being of individuals. Furthermore, the future of marriage affects freedom. The lack of family formation not only leads to more government costs, but also to more government control over the lives of its citizens in all aspects. We recognize and honor the courageous efforts of those who bear the many burdens of parenting alone, even as we believe that marriage, the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage. We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity.

Libertarians: Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government's treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws.

I applaud the Democrats for including equality in their platform. Welcome to the world that Libertarians have experienced for 41 years as GLBT respect and freedom has been part of the LP platform all along.  This position is absolute consistent with the LP Statement of Pinciples that I carry in my wallet: 

We hold that all individuals have the right to excersise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.
Today, more than ever, Americans deserve to hear as many approaches to the vital issues of the day as possible. There is a third way which isn't a third wheel: it's the third largest political party in the US.