Is domestic law enforcement paranoia turning the US into a police state?
(Posted by Bryana Johnson on November 7th, 2013)
Judging by the way the Department of Homeland Security is spending your money, domestic unrest may be coming soon to a city near you. The DHS has been making purchases lately that seem to signal a federal fear of riots across the nation in the coming months. The obvious question is, what do they know that they American people don’t? A more enduring and chilling question is what will be the end result of America’s increasingly militarized police force?
PressTV reported this morning that the DHS has stated its intentions, via the Federal Business Opportunities website, to spend half a million dollars on 240,000 pepper spray projectiles, 100 pepper spray launchers and 36 “riot expansion kits.”
PressTV explained, “The PepperBall TAC-700 pepper spray launcher ‘features full auto, semi-auto, or 3 round burst providing up to 700 rounds per minute, and is accurate to 60 feet with area saturation up to 150 feet.’ According to a video demonstration, the TAC-700 has a ‘strong psychological influence’ on the people it is being used against because it is so loud and sounds like an automatic machine gun.”
The equipment was designed for use in riot control situations, although the contract on the website states that the purchases are being made for training purposes.
The recent controversy is only the latest in a string of far more alarming incidents involving what many see as paranoid behavior on the part of the federal agency.
In February a ruckus was caused when it came to light
that the DHS was training officers with practice targets featuring photographs of children, young mothers, pregnant women, and disabled elderly people who were depicted as armed with handguns.
The No More Hesitation
campaign was supposedly designed to break down stereotypes associated with generally non-threatening figures, for the purpose of saving officers’ lives. However, judging by the ensuing outcry, the American people seem to feel there are good and noble reasons why civilization has erected these constraints around the lives of the young and the aged and the vulnerable. Furthermore, they don’t want those constraints shot down by the domestic task force that has been constructed to protect them.
Last week, it was revealed that the DHS is set to spend $80 million dollars on hiring armed guards for use at “public demonstrations” and “civil disturbances” in upstate New York. The information was acquired via another posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website.
But it’s not just the policy-makers at the DHS who seem to be developing paranoid habits and an irrational fear of the American people. In recent months, local law enforcement personnel all over the country have drawn fire repeatedly for actions that many insist constitute severe violations of civil liberties.
In August, Sarah Boaz, a Texas resident of Richland Hills, was ticketed for running a stop sign. The New York Daily News reported Boaz lost the ticket and failed to pay it on time. She expected to receive a late fee, but was shocked when a city marshal handcuffed her outside of her house one morning and carted her off to jail, where she was unexpectedly subjected to a strip search that left her overwhelmed and confused – and not a little indignant.
In a similar story, accompanied by outrageous surveillance cam footage, Dana Holmes is suing officers who she claims illegally strip-searched her after jailing her for a DUI arrest. However, the only thing that isn’t entirely certain is whether the search was illegal, since video evidence shows it clearly occurred. In the seriously disturbing clip, three male officers and one female officer jerk Holmes off of wall and onto the ground, drag her into a padded cell and then proceed to remove all of her clothes. “I just felt helpless and degraded… I was actually afraid they might come in and try to rape me,
” Holmes told the local news station. “I just had all kinds of things going on in my head. I was scared and I lay there crying
Holmes’ experience is not the only instance of its kind. The Houston Chronicle reported in August that two Texas women are suing after they were subjected to cavity searches at traffic stops. The women were pulled over for speeding and considered the searches completely unwarranted and inexplicable. Thousands of Americans agreed, and Angela Dobbs, one of the plaintiffs, said she has received worldwide support.
Dobbs also said she’s heard from numerous other women who have experienced cavity searches after being stopped by state troopers, but who were too afraid to come forward. Clearly the outrage that Dobbs and Hamilton suffered was not simply a poor decision made by a rookie officer.
In an article for The Guardian earlier this month that raised questions about the 1033 program, an initiative that allows the Defense Department to donate surplus military equipment to local police forces, Michael Shank pointed to the mounting evidence that suggests the police force in America is looking more and more like the military.
“The growing militarization of the United States appears to be occurring at home as well as abroad, a phenomenon which is troublesome and sure to continue without decisive action,
” he wrote, warning of, “the blurring line between military forces and the local police who are meant to protect and serve.”
Someone is training law enforcement officials in this heavy-handed behavior. The question is why? And what will become of civil liberties in a nation that tolerates these abuses at the hands of domestic officials?
(First published at the The Washington Times Communities)
Syrian Rebel forces training
Are American taxpayers funding the persecution of Christians and murder of civilians in war-torn nations?
(Posted by Bryana Johnson on August 25th, 2013)
Russian President Vladimir Putin made headlines earlier this month when he called on world leaders to unite in fighting anti-Christian persecution. Putin has made significant efforts in recent days to underscore the importance of Christian virtues to the Russian people, and his latest statement condemned the violence that has been perpetrated against Christian people in the Middle East and in North Africa.
President Obama didn’t respond in agreement. Indeed, shortly afterwards, he cancelled a scheduled summit with the Russian President. However, Putin’s statement resonated deeply with many Americans who have been working to call attention to the plight of Christian minorities worldwide.
The trouble is that, far from doing our part to end these atrocities, extant American foreign policy seems calculated to exacerbate them. Rather than making an end of the bloodshed, our influence has been making things worse.
Last week, Syrian rebels opened fire on a Christian village during the celebration of a feast day and killed 9 Christian villagers and 2 others. Women and children were among the dead.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population, know this is no isolated incident. Since the beginning of the conflict between Sunni Muslim rebel forces and Syrian President Bashar Assad, thousands of Christians have been forced from their homes or brutally murdered. Several Catholic priests and clerics have been beheaded or gunned down in their churches.
Radical Muslim groups, who back the rebel Free Syria Army, see Christians as supporters of Assad’s regime and enemies of their religious belief system, even though many Christians who have been targeted took no active part in supporting Assad.
Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra warned in July that young, Christian women are bearing the brunt of the civil war, with widespread reports of rape in Christian communities. Of the war’s 100,000 casualties since 2011, as estimated 5,000 have been children under 16. A disproportionate number have been Christian women and girls.
Earlier this week, a disturbing video surfaced, purporting to show the execution of two young boys by Syrian rebel forces. The boys, who were accused of supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, are shown blindfolded on their knees beside each other as a masked man hastily reads off what sounds like a list of charges behind them. The video then continues to roll as the boys are riddled with bullets and left lying prostrate and immobile on the ground. Viewer discretion is advised.
In another incident in June, a 14-year old boy in the Northern Syrian city of Aleppo, who was accused of blaspheming the Muslim prophet Muhammad, was flogged and executed by rebel forces. Reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claim the boy was first taken by the rebel gunmen to an unknown location where he was beaten and tortured. He was returned with his body slashed with the marks of a whip and a shirt tied around his head. He was then shot repeatedly in front of a crowd. Grisly photos were released of his bloodied body, a gaping hole all that remains of his nose and mouth.
The Islamists claim that the shockingly violent acts which have been committed by their army are nothing compared with the “genocide,” that has been conducted by Assad’s regime, but it seems the gap is narrowing, as the rebels continue to stack up more and more incidents against themselves. And, obviously, these are only the incidents that have been reported to western news outlets. Who can know what is really going on in the dark recesses of the war-torn nation?
Of course, the last thing anyone would expect is that a civil, respectable, tolerant, and progressive society would be willing to fund such a malicious, vengeful war, or take any part in providing assistance to either side of such a vicious conflict. You wouldn’t expect America, a nation already trillions of dollars in debt, to be giving $250 million in defensive combat supplies to Islamist rebels who violate Christian girls and torture young boys and shoot them up in front of their parents.
But you would be wrong.
Catholic Franciscan Friar Pierbattista Pizzaballa warned Vatican Radio in June,
“Unfortunately Syria has now become a battleground not only between Syrian forces, but also between Arab countries and the international community. And those paying the price are the poor, the young and the Christians. The international community must put a stop to all this. The world must know that the support of gunmen by the west is helping extremists in killing Syrians.”
Syria isn’t the only place where “Arab Spring” violence has resulted in increased persecution of Christians. Following widespread violence in Egypt this week, CNN reported over 52 churches have been torched and looted by Islamists since Wednesday, along with uncounted Christian homes and businesses.
The unrest began when supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi launched a protest against the military-imposed state of emergency. The protest, which is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, culminated in a “Friday of Rage” yesterday, which left over 600 people dead and over 4,000 injured.
“What we’re seeing right now in Egypt is literally a pogrom,” said Middle East expert Eric Stakelbeck, “where Christians are systematically being targeted. Right now there is a bulls-eye on the back of every Christian living in Egypt.”
One lawmaker in DC has come to the conclusion that what is occurring is unacceptable. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a longtime critic of US foreign policy and foreign aid spending, introduced a bill at the end of July to redirect approximately $1.5 billion in foreign aid from Egypt and use it to rebuild US infrastructure. “In our hour of need in our country, why are you sending money to people that hate us?” Paul asked.
His remarks are reminiscent of another speech he made in June, when he called for an end of foreign aid to countries that persecute Christian people.
"It angers me to see my tax dollars supporting regimes that put Christians to death for blasphemy against Islam, countries that put to death Muslims who convert to Christianity, and countries who imprison anyone who marries outside their religion," Paul said in June, at a conference in DC. "There is a war on Christianity, not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide. And your government, or more correctly you, the taxpayer, are funding it."
The bill failed to pass, with only 13 Senators voting in favor of it. Senator John McCain argued that cutting the foreign aid to Egypt would harm Israel, and that other nations would quickly step in to fill the “vacuum” left by the cuts. The ponderous list of things Sen. McCain doesn’t understand just got a lot longer. Added to it is the fact that choosing to support a murderous society for the reason that someone else will be sure to step in and do it if you don’t, is no reason at all. The web of the world is a great, impenetrable mass of humanity, ideology, corruption, violence and faith. To attempt to summarize in a few short paragraphs the state of the planet is more than a trifle arrogant. Who of us, out of our limited understanding, can say who is responsible for all of the deaths and the decapitations of the past few months in nations seething with sectarian differences, and violent values systems? Who can tell which side is more evil in a conflict where unspeakable atrocities are being perpetrated by both sides?
Thankfully, it is not the place of the American people or elected officials to make these judgments, or to choose which murderous regime to depose, which to support, and which to instate. When our government does step in to make these kinds of calls, one outcome is guaranteed: the American taxpayer comes out of it with blood on his hands. The blood, perhaps, of young children, of uninvolved bystanders, of peaceful Christian families. The American taxpayer doesn’t want that.
When Americans all across the country found themselves in eager agreement with Putin’s call for an end to the persecution of Christian people, did they realize one of the first steps towards achieving that end might be cutting the funding that we give to the persecutors?
It’s time to realize it.
As a closing note, for those that remain unconvinced of the evils of indiscriminate US foreign aid to troubled war zones and terrorist organizations, one final piece of evidence is shrieking loudly, demanding to be heard.
America doesn’t have any money.
Why are law enforcement agencies requesting practice targets featuring armed women and children?
(Posted by Bryana Johnson on Mar 2, 2013)
Minnesota-based Law Enforcement Targets, Inc (LET) has been awarded $5.5 million in contracts with the federal government, including $2 million with the Department of Homeland Security. In light of this fact, it’s no wonder that the American people were outraged last week when it was uncovered that the firm had released a series of practice targets featuring a pregnant woman, a child, a young mother and grandparents.
This No More Hesitation series includes seven total targets, titled Pregnant Woman, Older Man 1, Older Man 2, Older Woman, Young Mother, Young Girl, and Little Brother. Each of the depicted subjects is armed. The “pregnant woman” is seen in front of the backdrop of a nursery. The “older woman,” is depicted in a bathrobe in her kitchen. The “young mother” is seen on a playground, holding a toddler’s hand. “Young girl” is standing in a driveway with a sack purse slung over her shoulder. “Little brother,” who is a very little person indeed, is depicted in a backyard with a privacy fence behind him. “Older man” stands in his home, in front of a bookshelf.
LET said that the targets were requested by law enforcement agencies and designed in order to “train police officers for unusually complex situations.” In a statement released to Reason’s Mike Riggs, they stated,
“The subjects in NMH targets were chosen in order to give officers the experience of dealing with deadly force shooting scenarios with subjects that are not the norm during training. I found while speaking with officers and trainers in the law enforcement community that there is a hesitation on the part of cops when deadly force is required on subjects with atypical age, frailty or condition (one officer explaining that he enlarged photos of his own kids to use as targets so that he would not be caught off guard with such a drastically new experience while on duty). This hesitation time may be only seconds but that is not acceptable when officers are losing their lives in these same situations. The goal of NMH is to break that stereotype on the range, regardless of how slim the chances are of encountering a real life scenario that involves a child, pregnant woman, etc. If that initial hesitation time can be cut down due to range experience, the officer and community are better served.”
However, the American people didn’t seem to concur, and the ensuing outcry resulted in LET withdrawing the targets from circulation.
"We apologize for the offensive nature of our 'No More Hesitation' products," they posted to their facebook page last week. "These products have been taken offline due to the opinions expressed by so many, including members of the law enforcement community."
While the removal of the targets from the online marketplace may seem like a step in the right direction, the fact that they are being used by our supposed peace officers in the first place is sinister in its own right. The fact that our own Department of Homeland Security may be spending our money on them is disturbing as well.
In the unlikely event that a domestic law enforcement official is faced with the unexpected threat of an armed eight-year-old or a threatening mother in the presence of her toddlers, hesitation is not only the natural response, but the moral and correct response. There are good and noble reasons why civilization has erected these constraints around the lives of the young and the aged and the vulnerable.
The first and most obvious of these is that pregnant women and grandmothers and little boys rarely constitute “threats” to police officers. And if an officer is being threatened by one of these civilians in their own homes or backyards, perhaps he should consider whether it is possible that they have a genuine grievance against him? There is a certain horror accompanying the idea of conditioning our homeland security officers to fire without hesitation or consideration on the women and children and elderly people of their own nation.
LET claimed in their statement about the No Hesitation campaign that hesitation was, “not acceptable when officers are losing their lives.” But a big chunk of the American people begs to differ. As much as we respect and admire our security personnel and police officers, we also understand the impossibility of eradicating suffering from the earth, and we prefer a humane society with traditional constraints and protections for the weak to a nation ravaged by fear and bereft of all codes of conduct. We prefer a society where the life of a child is not taken without hesitation by the officers employed to protect him. And if some – a very small number – of our officers are going to end up honorably sacrificing their lives for the sake of these codes, we prefer that to the alternative of a senseless, robotic police force that will not hesitate to riddle our disabled grandparents with bullets. (This article first posted at The Washington Times Communities)
Senator Rand Paul warns indefinite detention is back: a House-Senate committee led by Sen. McCain has presented a new draft of the 2013 NDAA bill – without the Feinstein-Lee amendment
(Posted by Bryana Joy on December 21, 2012)
Just a month ago, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was making headlines by threatening to hold up the 2013 NDAA bill. The NDAA is a federal law that is passed every year, specifying the budget and expenditures of the US Department of Defense, although each year's act also includes other provisions. Paul’s demand was for a vote on an amendment to secure the right to a jury trial.
“If you don't have a right to trial by jury, you do not have due process. You do not have a Constitution. What are you fighting against and for if you throw the Constitution out?” he pleaded in an address before the Senate on November 30th.
As anyone knows who stayed up into the wee hours of the morning on the night of the 30th with c-span on their screens and their hearts pounding, he seemed to win a quite glorious victory.
Amendment #3018, which was introduced by California Sen. Feinstein and Mike Lee of Utah and enthusiastically supported by Rand Paul, passed the Senate by a wide margin of 67-29 that night. It provided that,
“an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States unless an act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.”
Many embraced this amendment as a solution to the wildly unpopular clause in Section 1021 of the 2011-2012 NDAA, which provided for the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens judged to be involved in terrorism or “belligerent acts” against the US.
Others were not so sure, insisting that the line about an Act of Congress “expressly authorizing such detention” was a loophole allowing for Section 1021 to remain in effect. Congressman Justin Amash stated,
“Well, that Act of Congress is the 2012 NDAA, which renders the rest of the Feinstein amendment meaningless.”
Mike Lee offered his full response countering Congressman Amash’s concern on his website.
On the whole, most defenders of freedom seemed to agree that, if not perfect, amendment #3018 still offered some protections to American citizens. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a practically legendary champion of liberty, wrote on his facebook page,
“I applaud the Feinstein-Lee amendment for moving the debate forward. In the House most Republicans believe that a habeas hearing is sufficient for due process. The Feinstein-Lee amendment makes clear that anything short of a jury trial is not due process.”
Today, Senator Paul had some sad news to announce: A House-Senate conference committee led by Senator John McCain has stripped amendment #3018 from the new draft of the NDAA bill. Senator Levin confirmed this, saying, “The language of the Senate bill was dropped,” but, according to Politico’s Juana Summers, declined to offer any further comments.
"The decision by the NDAA conference committee, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to strip the National Defense Authorization Act of the amendment that protects American citizens against indefinite detention now renders the entire NDAA unconstitutional," Sen. Paul warned.
“When I entered the United States Senate, I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. It is for this reason that I will strongly oppose passage of the McCain conference report that strips the guarantee to a trial by jury,” Paul further elaborated.
The good news is that your senators took that same oath. The bad news is that they need regular and animated reminders of the fact. The good news is that you have the opportunity to give them exactly that.
Now is as good a time as any to dial up both of your two senators at all of their offices and leave your message explaining the latest developments in the struggle for individual liberty. Remind them of their oath. You might also need to remind them that you watch, you listen, you care and you vote. They had better do the same.
(This article was first posted at The Washington Times Communities.)
A woman waits to hear news of her sister, a teacher at Sandy Hook
Why the nightmare school shooting in Newton, CT means we need more guns
(Posted by Bryana Joy on December 15th, 2012)
In an incident that has stunned America, on Friday morning a young man whose mother was a teacher at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton, walked into the school with four guns and brutally massacred nearly thirty people, including his mother, the principal, the school psychologist, and twenty young children. The suspect has been identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza. Officials have stated a dead body was found in the suspect’s home.
After working his will on the defenseless children and staff members of Sandy Hook, Lanza reportedly killed himself inside the school.
There is not yet enough information available about this incident to enable us to form a complete mental picture of the horrific episode, but if it was like the other tragic school shootings that have occurred in our nation’s history, it was a nightmare of unbelievable carnage.
We must imagine the terror of hundreds of students as they learned that their school was going under lockdown and that a gunman was loose on the premises. We must imagine the horror of parents who received the automatic call to their phones, alerting them to the fact that there was a “possible gunman” on the campus where they had deposited their beloved children safely just hours before. We must imagine their acute sense of helplessness as they realized that their children were under lock and key with no defense against a madman. We must imagine the awful understanding that there was absolutely nothing they could do, that they did not even have the opportunity to give up their lives in defense of the children they loved.
Witnesses say they heard at least one hundred shots. We must imagine the acute terror felt by these twenty utterly vulnerable children as they took cover frantic cover and sat motionless, their hearts pounding in their chests, watching their friends lying in blood. We must imagine this because they did not live to tell us about it.
We must imagine the teachers and other adults in the building. We must imagine the way the understanding came to them suddenly that they could in no way defend either themselves or the children that surrounded them.
We must realize the significance of the report that the gunman who lies dead now at Sandy Hook died by his own hand. If this turns out to be true, it means that there was no savior for the students and teachers of Sandy Hook. That no one walked in on the gunman and put a welcome end to his rampage as he lowered his weapon for another shot. From what we are able to discern, there was no armed security guard who came in to cut off the violence. No burly math teacher who utilized his permit to concealed carry, no white knights. No, the shooter at Sandy Hook picked off his victims at his leisure. When he’d had enough, he put an end to the affair himself by turning his weapon on his own body.
But how different this could have been if, instead of discouraging guns on school property, we welcomed them heartily, accompanied, of course, by strict and proper licensing. How different if the report of the gunman on campus had stirred several teachers or staff members to whip out their own weapons and fire before the masked killer had his way with them. How different if after the first shots had been fired by this maniac, felling several of the beautiful youth of Newton, some armed staff member had rushed in and saved the lives of the twenty or so others whom we mourn today. How different if the principal had looked up from her desk into the eyes of her would-be killer and dealt the first – and last – blow herself. How different for dozens of stricken parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents and best friends and husbands and wives.
The White House, which never misses an opportunity to push its particular agendas, jumped on the supposed “policy implications” of the incident, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney saying there would be time later for a discussion of policy implications – but immediately declining to wait until later by adding the observation that Obama remains committed to trying to renew a ban on assault weapons.
This statement by Carney, however, sounds uninformed and opportunist in light of the fact that Connecticut already has some of the most stringent laws in the nation regarding assault weapons. Michael Hammond, a legislative consultant to the organization Gun Owners of America, has stated that Connecticut "basically banned semi-automatics.” But then, when has the legality of an action ever done much to deter killers and criminals?
Although it’s not at all clear yet how the gunman involved in the Connecticut killings obtained his weaponry, the history of school shootings in America shows that many of these tragic occurrences have involved weapons which were illegally obtained in the first place, including the infamous Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
Until this story unfolds more completely, the shape of the narrative remains to be seen.
Obama waives sanctions on four of six nations that use child soldiers in their armed forces, including Libya and South Sudan
(Posted by Bryana Johnson on October 5th, 2012)
“When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world. Now, as a nation, we’ve long rejected such cruelty.”
President Obama uttered these stirring words at the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York last week. He was making reference to the appalling practice of recruiting young children to serve in military action, a practice that has long been prevalent in various African and Middle Eastern countries. From the infamous Joseph Kony of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army to the Libyan youths recruited by both sides in the recent rebellion in Libya, to middle-school aged boys conscripted into the Free Syrian Army, the plight of child soldiers has gained widespread attention over the past few years, with humanitarian organizations working hard to keep the issue in the public eye.
In 2008, Senators Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., introduced the Child Soldier Prevention Act, (CSPA) a bill to restrict the US government’s military support of nations that fail to stop recruiting child soldiers into their armed forces. This bill passed both houses of Congress unanimously and was signed into law by former President Bush, making it a federal crime to recruit or use soldiers under the age of 15. The law also gave the US authority to “prosecute, deport or deny entry to individuals who have knowingly recruited children as soldiers.” Needless to say, international human rights organizations applauded the bill enthusiastically.
On Sunday afternoon, President Obama signed a Presidential memorandum waiving the sanctions that the CSPA imposes on the nations of Libya, Yemen and South Sudan, and partially waiving the sanctions imposed on the Congo, thus authorizing the US to sell weapons to four nations that would not be eligible to receive military aid from the US under the CSPA. Four of only six nations on the State Department's list of foreign governments that recruit and use child soldiers. That’s two-thirds.
President Obama states in the memo,
I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen; and further determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to allow for continued provision of International Military Education and Training funds and nonlethal Excess Defense Articles, and the issuance of licenses for direct commercial sales of U.S. origin defense articles; and I hereby waive such provisions accordingly.
Jesse Eaves, a senior policy advisor for child protection at World Vision, expressed disappointment over this action by the President, saying, “At a time when Congress is locked in one of the most difficult budget battles I’ve ever seen, it is shameful that a portion of federal funding continues to help support governments who are abusing children. At its core, this is a missed opportunity to show leadership on this issue and protect thousands of vulnerable children around the world. Frankly, we expected more from our nation’s leaders.”
Given his statement earlier this week hotly condemning child soldiery and branding it “slavery,” it does seem odd to find the President taking this action which seems to betray his own ideals. Unfortunately unbeknownst to many, this is in fact the third straight year that President Obama has granted waivers to countries using child soldiers. When Obama granted the waivers in 2010, his administration explained that they were a one-time deal, but when he again granted them in 2011, humanitarian organizations were incensed. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry tried to pass new legislation requiring Obama to notify Congress before issuing the waivers again, and called the decision an "assault on human dignity.”
Every now and then, some absurdity enacted behind closed doors in Washington is uncovered which should leave the people of the US with the uncanny feeling that all is not as it appears to be on the surface of things. Some actions are simply too inexplicable – or point to horrible and frightening explanations. Some decisions on the part of our leaders and lawmakers make it all too obvious that what they are saying is not what they are doing and that what they are doing cannot be explained by what they are saying.
We like to think of America as a nation dedicated to ideals. Liberty, justice, freedom. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that the majority of our nation’s leaders allow pragmatism to eclipse their ideals on most occasions when the two come into conflict. Principles are only good until they get in the way of allowing the US to take action. If Libya is working to overthrow Gadhafi and our leaders don’t like Gadhafi, they are going to back his attackers regardless of whether they employ child soldiers or not.
Rand Paul’s lonely foreign aid filibuster on the Senate Floor last week showed us that most of our supposedly conservative senators cannot necessarily be expected to vote for foreign aid restrictions to Islamic countries that disrespect our ambassadors and our flag. President Obama’s disturbing memo of Sunday shows us that US weapons sales for controversial rebellions in Islamic countries are more important than curbing our own national bankruptcy and more important than putting an end to the nightmare of child soldiery. And that is an assault on human dignity.
KY Senator Rand Paul
Senator Rand Paul's lonely foreign aid filibuster shows Senate Republicans' true colors
(Posted by Bryana Johnson on September 26th, 2012)
Dr. Shakil Afridi, the CIA informant sentenced to 33 years in prison for his role in hunting down Osama Bin Laden, spoke to Fox News in an exclusive interview earlier this month, describing the brutal torture and interrogation he has undergone at the hands of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Dr. Afridi stated that he was burned with cigarettes and subjected to electric shocks while in the custody of the ISI. He was also blindfolded for eight months and handcuffed with his hands behind his back for 12 months.
In addition to providing these disturbing details, Dr. Afridi made some sobering claims regarding the ISI’s attitude about America. “They said ‘ The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’ he told Fox News. “I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance -- but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies.’ It is…indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI. Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It’s just to extract money from America,” Afridi said. Pakistan has received over $20 billion from the US since the 9/11 attacks.
This is a state of affairs that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul wants to remedy. On the day that Afridi’s interview with Fox News was released, Sen. Paul issued a statement declaring that he meant business.
"I will continue to work tirelessly to keep this issue front and center. America should not give foreign aid to a country whose government is torturing the man who helped us kill Osama bin Laden. We should not be giving foreign aid to any country that is not clearly our ally. This must end, and this week I will renew my push for a vote on this issue, including holding up Senate business to accomplish this goal.”
Sen. Paul also sent a letter to Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, asking Reid to work with him on scheduling a vote for his bill S.3576, which would have placed restrictions on foreign aid and effectively cut aid to Libya, Egypt and Pakistan in the event that those countries do not agree to abide by terms set forth in the bill. The terms for Pakistan included the release of Dr. Afridi.
Sen. Paul, however, was not able to get what he wanted without a filibuster. The result was twofold. A skewed schedule for the Senate, which ended up holding a midnight vote in the dark hours of Saturday morning. And an epic, hour-long speech on the Senate floor for Sen. Paul, who delivered a compelling and resounding address exploring the disastrous failures of unconditional foreign aid, and tugging at the hearts and minds of Americans who stayed up late to watch the performance on c-span.
This fascinating and eloquent speech began with the tragic story of Zairian dictator Mobuto who embezzled billions of dollars from his own government throughout the course of his 32-year reign and yet was funded by U.S. taxpayers. Mobuto subjected many of his personal enemies to horrific tortures and took elaborate shopping trips to Europe while his own nation was without basic energy provisions.
Paul then went on to cite similar examples of dictators who were supported by the US in their oppression of their own people, including that of Saddam Hussein.
“It’s sad to contemplate what despots and dictators have done and are doing to their people,” said Sen. Paul. “It’s sadder still to realize that they’re being subsidized in this behavior with your money. Those who say, ‘Oh, I just simply want to help people. I want to help poor people around the world by sending them money,’ – it is stolen by their leaders. It doesn’t get to the poor people. And besides, you may have heard, we’re a trillion dollars short in our own budget here. How are we sending money overseas?”
Paul said that while supporters of foreign aid assert the aid is necessary to ensure good behavior on the part of foreign powers, he doesn’t see that unconditional aid is bringing about those results or can even be reasonably expected to. Instead, he suggested that aid, when it is provided at all, should be a reward for loyal allies of the US.
In further remarks that seemed calculated to appeal to the patriotism of fellow conservatives, he stated,
“I think the real question and the image that you have to have in your mind is, when you see ten thousand people outside the embassy in Pakistan, burning the US flag, can you imagine that we would send them more money? Can you imagine that we would not place restrictions on this money?”
Despite the magnificence of this impassioned speech, Paul didn’t seem to be harboring any illusions as to how his bill would be received by his colleagues in the Senate.
“Foreign aid is a bipartisan project,” he said near the beginning of his talk. “If I get this vote, you watch, the vast majority of the Senate is going to vote for unlimited, unrestricted foreign aid. I will probably lose this vote. But if you go home and ask your friends, ‘should we be sending money to countries that disrespect us? To countries that burn our flag?’ I think you’ll find that eighty to ninety percent of the American people wouldn’t send another penny. But that may also be why congress has about a ten percent approval rating…in fact, many people who claim to be conservatives are for foreign aid.”
When it came time to hold the vote, Senators John Kerry and John McCain stood to oppose Paul’s bill, while South Carolina Senator and Tea Party leader Jim Demint rose to speak on behalf of S.3576. Demint was particularly incensed at what he considered shockingly unfair treatment of Sen. Paul by Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Demint explained that earlier in the day he had met with Paul to discuss some of his misgivings about the wording of the bill. Demint shared that Paul had been very willing to accommodate him and had spent some hours re-writing the bill to make it even narrower in scope. However, when the two had come up with an amended bill that they were both pleased with, Reid refused to allow Paul to amend the bill. Demint said that Senators had always been allowed to amend their own bills and that the practice was common in the Senate. He said that although he didn’t think the bill without the amendments was perfect, he would still be voting for it and encouraged his colleagues to join him.
Only nine of his colleagues joined him in the vote to support the bill, one of these being Sen. Paul himself. Only nine votes for the American taxpayer, for fiscal conservatism, for sanity in foreign affairs. Only nine votes for ending aid to the sworn enemies of the American people. Only nine votes for cutting payments to oppressive rulers in third-world countries, for removing the burden of foreign dictators’ debts off of the backs of American children. Only nine votes for justice, for political prisoners suffering in confinement, for friends of freedom serving jail-time in their homelands. Only nine votes for Dr. Shakil Afridi.
It sounds to me like there 90 seats in the US Senate that are in need of new owners. (First posted at the Washington Times Communities.)
Americans are giving up their liberties to the TSA and aren't even getting security in return
(Posted by Bryana Joy on July 10, 2012)
The TSA, which has attracted much attention over the past few years for coercive and idiotic behavior, continues to behave coercively and idiotically. The agency has also added a number of new behaviors to their repertoire, making headline news repeatedly in recent weeks for behaving callously, disrespectfully, inefficiently, and indecently.
Last week, Indianapolis resident John Gross underwent a painful and emotionally exhausting experience at Orlando Airport in Florida when a TSA agent opened the sealed jar containing his grandfather’s ashes and spilled them on the floor of the terminal. Gross says the agent, a woman, spilled up to a third of the contents and then laughed as he frantically tried to pick up the bone fragments. He also later found out that according to TSA's policies, a crematory container in carry-on baggage must pass through the X-ray machine at the security checkpoint but should be opened under "no circumstances."
“I want an apology,” Gross told The Indy Channel. “I want an apology from TSA. I want an apology from the lady who opened the jar and laughed at me. I want them to help me understand where they get off treating people like this." But how can an apology fix a system that flaunts such blatant disregard of privacy rights and human dignity?
In February, a Dallas woman complained when she was told by TSA agents that she had a “cute figure” and was scanned three times by the controversial full-body x-ray machine. According to the rather shocking results of an investigation by CBS 11 in Dallas, the passenger, Ellen Terrell is only one of many women making similar complaints about TSA scanning procedures. Many women say they felt sexually harassed by the agents.
Last year female novelist T.P. Alexanders was arrested for reciting the Constitution of the United States during a TSA inspection at the airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has since been hassled and harried in an alarming manner. In April a disturbing video surfaced revealing a woman sobbing during a pat-down at the airport in Madison, Wisconsin. In May, a new mom was forced to show security her freshly pumped breast milk before she could board a plane with a breast pump. In January, two TSA agents admitted to stealing $40,000 from a checked bag at JFK Airport in New York. In April, a TSA screener admitted to accepting $1,200 in bribes from drug traffickers. In December, rapper Freddie Gibbs claimed he got away with smuggling some marijuana on a flight. The TSA agent who checked his bags left him just a note which read: c’mon son.
You’ve doubtless heard other tales of horror and high surprise: grandmothers in walkers and wheelchairs being strip-searched, infants and toddlers being subjected to lengthy pat-downs, and countless reports of stolen items, from cake to ipads.
Yet another controversy has erupted this week, with passengers displeased by the TSA’s recent decision to randomly test beverages which passengers in the secure area of the airport have purchased in the secure area of the airport. Even travelers who don’t object to the TSA’s other controversial screening measures are confused and disturbed by this new development . "I'm always glad that my safety is a priority, I just think testing drinks after they've already been bought might be a little extreme," Jennifer Smart told radio KJTC8. Passengers want to know just what it is that the TSA is testing for in drinks that come from the secure area of the airport, but the agency has declined to explain themselves.
The TSA is outrageous. And the important factor is they are not outrageous only or even primarily because of outrageous breaches of protocol. They are not outrageous only because they have had the misfortune to hire a ridiculous number of incompetent and even criminal employees. They are not outrageous because these employees violate the agency’s policies on a regular basis. The TSA is outrageous because their policies are intrusive and inappropriate from the get-go.
It is not good enough to have a policy against gratuitous or voyeuristic exploitation of scanner images. The problem lies in the fact that passengers are subjected to this humiliating imaging process in the first place. It is not good enough that the TSA apologizes for employees who make inappropriate comments about passengers’ personal belongings. The problem lies in the fact that these personal items should be scrutinized and uncovered in the first place. The TSA’s arrogant and unconstitutional intrusion into our lives is wrong based on principle, not on individual horror stories – although those horror stories do a lot to demonstrate the consequences of such widespread misappropriation of authority.
Sadly, it appears that Americans are undergoing this degradation to no real purpose. On multiple occasions over the past few years, passengers have accidentally boarded planes or have passed through security with loaded guns in their luggage. ABC News shares some alarming reports of security test failures at major US airports:
“Federal agencies have conducted random, covert ‘red team tests,’ where undercover agents try to see just how much they can get past security checks at major U.S. airports. And while the Department of Homeland Security closely guards the results as classified, those that have leaked in media reports have been shocking. According to one report, undercover TSA agents testing security at a Newark airport terminal on one day in 2006 found that TSA screeners failed to detect concealed bombs and guns 20 out of 22 times. A 2007 government audit leaked to USA Today revealed that undercover agents were successful slipping simulated explosives and bomb parts through Los Angeles's LAX airport in 50 out of 70 attempts, and at Chicago's O'Hare airport agents made 75 attempts and succeeded in getting through undetected 45 times.”
We are trading our privacy, our rights, and our liberty, and we’re not even getting security in return.
We can talk and complain and fume about invasive pat-downs and intrusive baggage checks and naked-body scanners, but unless we actually take action against the tightening noose, all of our anger and our words are wasted. I’m not suggesting a we won’t fly campaign, as we obviously will fly, but something less demanding and perhaps even more effective.
As election season rolls around, it’s a great time to put pressure on candidates and incumbents at all levels of your state and federal government. Perhaps this year you might consider taking time to make a few calls to your representatives and let their offices know exactly how you feel about the TSA and how their stance will affect your vote. Don’t let them get away with stating generically that they oppose the agency, but ask them what they’ve done to curtail it and how they plan to fight it in the future. It’s very painless to make these calls and you will probably speak with a sympathetic and polite secretary who will do his or her best to help you. There are a number of tools online to help you find out who represents you.
Unfortunately, the furor and the uproar over the TSA’s overreach has not been sustainable. People have to fly. They have to work. They have to see their aging parents and grandparents, go to funerals and weddings, and take vacations. It’s unrealistic to expect them not to. It is not, however, unrealistic to ask them to object and to do it courageously and regularly. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We all fight tyranny in different ways, but the important thing is: are we fighting it, or are we just complaining?
Law-abiding citizens concerned about the government's most recent belligerent actions -- against them
(Posted by Bryana Joy on March 1, 2012)
A facebook user who posted a negative comment about a presidential candidate to a private page found himself in a whole mess of trouble when authorities showed up at his workplace and later arrived at his home to interrogate him. According to Jason Brashear of Citizen Wars who reported Sunday that the facebook user, also named Jason, had contacted him with the story, a local police officer and two sheriffs showed up at his home, explaining, “We are here because of a possible threat to Senator Santorum based on your Facebook comment.”
The comment in question? “I wish there was a magic wand to make Senator Santorum disappear,” Jason had posted to a private political thread.
The officer explained he had made his appearance at Jason’s house, “to view the home and make sure that there were no pictures of the former Senator Rick Santorum or evidence that Jason was planning something against the former Senator. The officer explained the US Government has a system to monitor and scan all social sites like Facebook for key words that might raise suspension [sic] of ill intent. The officer stated that Jason was ‘flagged due to his post on Facebook.’ Chris Frierson said, “we are here to warn you that there is a very fine line between freedom of speech and a threat.” He told Jason “Be thankful that it is just the Austin Police Department here and not the secret service as they would be going through your entire house and documents.”
The officer said that he concluded Jason was not a threat and reported that in his statement.
This disturbing story coincides with reports from last week that The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been paying a defense contractor $11.4 million to monitor social media websites and other Internet communications to find criticisms of the department’s policies and actions. Noel Brinkerhoff reports that a government watchdog organization, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), obtained hundreds of documents from DHS through the Freedom of Information Act and found details of the arrangement with a contractor, General Dynamics. The company was contracted to monitor the web not only for “potential threats and hazards,” “potential impact on DHS capability” to accomplish its homeland security mission, and “events with operational value,” but also for “reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS, or prevent, protect, respond or recovery government activities," including sub-agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In a testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s Open Government Project, stated that, “the agency is monitoring constantly, under very broad search terms, and is not limiting that monitoring to events or activities related to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or manmade disasters.”
EPIC wasn’t able to acquire these documents for a song, though. When they first asked for access to them in April, under the Freedom of Information Act, they were denied, and were only able to obtain the documents months later, after a lawsuit. You can read their full report here.
In another episode that has infuriated concerned citizens, the FBI released a flyer earlier this month which outlined methods for internet café owners to identify potential terrorists. Included on the list were such tell-tale behaviors as,
1) repeatedly paying for coffee with cash
2) trying to shield the computer screen so that others can’t see personal or credit card information
3) using web search engines to look up information about “police” or “government”
4) obtaining photos, maps or diagrams of transportation, sporting venues, or populated locations
What do these three stories all have in common? Law-abiding Americans who are active online are afraid that these reports indicate a paranoid governmental system which may have an unhealthy obsession with repression of dissent. Many are pointing to the Obama administration’s extensive exploitation of the 1917 Espionage Act, said David Carr in the New York Times on Sunday,
“The Obama administration, which promised during its transition to power that it would enhance ‘whistle-blower laws to protect federal workers,’ has been more prone than any administration in history in trying to silence and prosecute federal workers.”
Indeed, the Espionage Act, which was enacted in 1917 for the purpose of cracking down on spies who provided information to foreign powers at war with the US, was used only three times in all of the prior administrations to bring cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media. It has been used six times since the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“In case after case,” Carr argues, “the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business.
Jesselyn Radack, director for national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, weighed in on the issue, saying that, “the Obama administration has been quite hypocritical about its promises of openness, transparency and accountability. All presidents hate leaks, but pursuing whistle-blowers as spies is heavy-handed and beyond the scope of the law.”Do you think that spending $11.4 million on a program to track your internet activity is a good use of your money? You be the judge. After all, it’s your money. (Originally posted at The Washington Times Communities)