Posts Tagged ‘United States’

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Why Americans Shouldn’t Fear Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

12.20.10

Before the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” saga took over the headlines this past week, the whole WikiLeaks and Julian Assange drama dominated the news streams, with some labeling him a hero and others branding him a terrorist.  I have yet to write on this complex situation, but I will be shortly.

Until then, though, I have the honor of introducing friend, writer, blogger, human extraordinaire Sean Brown as the first guest blogger on Agree to Disagree; I couldn’t be more proud.  I could also gush on about his talents but, instead, I’ll let his words speak for themselves.

Take it away, Sean:

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Somewhere along the line we lost track of reality, of the ideals make us a truly great country. While there are many tangible things to point to as success, it is a shared belief, a common intangible faith in our system that sets us apart. Somewhere along the line we, as a nation, and more specifically as those interested and engaged in public policy, got caught up in a wave of hysteria. It didn’t start with the terrorist attacks in New York City, but that was the event that blew the top off the mountain and exposed not only the fear of the unknown too common in the American people, but the exploitation that so often accompanies such fear in America.

Julian Assange is not a terrorist. WikiLeaks is not a terrorist organization. More to the point, WikiLeaks is not the enemy. Wikileaks is a reality in the modern world, and Julian Assange is merely the messenger, introducing to the mainstream this new way of life. WikiLeaks is upsetting the established order, the balance between government’s right to secrecy and a thriving investigative media’s responsibility to inform the citizenry. For good, but more likely for ill, after 9/11 and the resulting Patriot Act (which should be pointed out, was heavily endorsed by both parties) the government has grown increasingly more bold in their intrusion into private citizen’s affairs under the guise of National Security.

Enter Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and WikiLeaks. The United States government got sloppy in its control of delicate communications. If the reports are true, Bradley Manning, for one reason or another, stole a massive amount of these communications and gave them to Julian Assange, and WikiLeaks, for publication. Though the publication of the latest batch of documents has proven to be mildly embarrassing rather than detrimental to national security, Bradley Manning (again, if the allegations are proven true) abused his position with the US Government and the US Army when he stole those communications and passed them on for publication. If the allegations are proven factual, he should receive a punishment fit for his crimes against the state.

But then there is the problem of Julian Assange, and WikiLeaks. Neither being US citizens, nor entities. Merely recipients, and at the very worst solicitors, of secrets from nations and corporations, around the world. Seeking to expose the truth, to poke holes in the propaganda fed to us by governments and corporations alike. When the vast majority of media outlets are owned by only a handful of corporations and individuals, the special relationships between players must be examined. This is not the reality in the United State’s media today. Too often do those who report the news seek to influence opinion, rather than allowing an individual to form his or her own opinion based solely on the facts. Often times does the media trade favorable coverage in exchange for access, and this is a detriment to an informed citizenry. One must question whether the true goal of the mainstream media in today’s America is to inform or persuade. Whether to educate or influence. And to whose advantage.

WikiLeaks, among other independent information organizations, seeks to inform only. To offer firsthand sources of information and to allow those accessing the information to form opinions based on fact, rather than the carefully crafted message that is often presented in its place. This is something that we, as Americans, should celebrate. More information is better. Transparency is a good thing. We lose sight of the fact that We Are The Government, that they work for us. If we blindly accept everything they tell us, we allow ourselves to be manipulated toward desires advantageous to their positions and to not our own. I am happy that WikiLeaks and other independent news organizations have the potential to keep not only the government, but other media outlets honest. We must not blindly accept that WikiLeaks is evil, that their work is detrimental to our state, lest we give up more of the freedoms that make us Americans.

The harm will come not from the secrets exposed, but from the complacent erosion of constitutionally guaranteed rights that follows in the aftermath.

By Sean Brown.
You can read more by Sean Brown at his blog, The Anarchist Project
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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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The Republican Party Still Has No Interest in Actual Governance

10.26.10

Sure, if you read this blog, you probably have several notions of why I dislike the current Republican Party.

But leave it to GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to so eloquently explain it for me:

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Seriously? That’s the single most important thing the country needs right now? That’s the single most important thing on the minds of Americans right now?

What a total joke. People can complain about the policy choices of the Democrats in power, but at least they’re focused on actually fixing things, on making our country better.  You might not agree with the health care law (too big, too socialist?) but it’s goal is to help Americans without insurance obtain health care without risky bankruptcy.

What do the Republicans want to do?  They want to get rid of Obama.

That’s it!  9.6 percent unemployment? Not nearly as important.  The war in Afghanistan? Wasn’t a big deal when we invaded Iraq and still isn’t a big deal now.  Climate change? God has that figured out already for us.  Immigration? A wall or a fence or just kick em out I guess… we’ll worry about it later.

Just know that if you vote Republican in the Senate race next week, the possible-future Senate majority leader has already declared what the number one priority is.  And if you’re one of those few who – despite rational thought and factual evidence to the contrary – think that Obama is a socialist, Muslim who was born in Kenya and wants to usher in Sharia law and instill a New World Order with the Amero as the global currency… well, I suppose you should be stoked to hear that your represenatives in Washington are listening to you after all.

As for the rest of us…

(H/T The Daily Dish)

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Stay

10.20.10
President Barack Obama delivers the 2010 State...
Image via Wikipedia

Less than one week ago, a U.S. District Court Judge struck down the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy disallowing gays to serve openly in the military.

Now, the Obama Administration said that they would ask for a stay since Judge Virginia Phillip refused to suspend her ruling that the 17-year-old policy was unconstitutional. All this while simultaneously saying that they disagree with DADT.

Huh? Perhaps this snippet from ABC News can explain it:

The administration has argued that it disagrees with the policy, but that it should be repealed legislatively and not through the courts.

So, it’s now up to the executive branch to decide whether the judicial branch can make a decision on something?  Talk about expanding the presidential powers.  By that reasoning, what’s the point of even bringing a lawsuit to the high courts?  Might as well just write a letter to the sitting president and ask first if you can bring this case forward.  It’s even more frustrating that this is coming from Obama, who announced in his State of the Union address that he wanted to repeal the DADT law yet now that it’s essentially been done, he’s trying to stop it from being so.

Who cares if a wrong is righted by the courts or by the legislature?  Is one truly better than the other?

Well, some on the right consider this to be an act of a liberal, activist judge, in line with a huge push to the left against the will of the people – which would argue that yes, the legislature is better.

“Judge Virginia A. Phillips‘s brazen and error-strewn ruling in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States provides a useful case study of the all-too-familiar phenomenon of liberal judicial activism — in brief, the wrongful judicial overriding of a democratic enactment in order to advance the agenda of the Left,” Ed Whelan of the National Review wrote.

Wrongful judicial overriding. Since when is making a ruling based on the Consitutionality of a law wrongful or overriding?  The judicial branch is a check and balance to the legislature, so that the laws that they sign pass the test of the law of the land: the U.S. Constitution.  Even if a majority of people vote on something, if it doesn’t jive with the first and fifth amendments (as in this case), it can’t be law.  Whelan should understand this since he’s clearly supportive of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision which also involved the first amendment.  If that right extends to corporations, why not to gay soldiers?

But that coming from Whelan is no surprise.  It’s ridiculous coming from Obama.  The whole courts vs. congress argument feels forced — like they want to be able to say they tried to block it while saying they supported its repeal.  I mean, who is that going to please?  No one.

I love that Judge Phillip’s refused to suspend her ruling despite the president asking her to.  She’s standing by her decision as well she should.  It’s nice to see some intellectual honesty somewhere these days.

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How to Start Blogging: Read Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish

10.12.10

Andrew Sullivan’s political commentary blog, The Daily Dish, has just celebrated its 10-year anniversary of existence.

Why is this a big deal?

Well, for me, my own year-plus of blogging here on Agree to Disagree started in large part because of Sullivan’s writing.  His and John August’s eponymous blog are the two blogs that I’ve read since I knew what a blog was (honestly: I can’t remember the first time that I started reading either, it’s been so long) that I never fail to read on a consistent basis — it used to be daily, but now it’s more like every two or three days when I get the chance to catch up on everything, which takes a while since Sullivan is nothing if not prolific.  (Seriously, this guy blogs a TON.)

Why do I read Sullivan (almost) daily?

He’s a phenomenal writer and he has integrity.  He’s one of the few out there in the political realm who is willing to admit he’s wrong and change his mind on something if the facts present a different view than he originally saw. Sure, it helps that I see eye-to-eye with him on many levels — gay rights, Sarah Palin being insane, the intellectual dishonesty of the GOP, the appalling stances on the legality of torture, the legalization of marijuana — just to name a few.

On the other hand, he is a classic conservative while I consider myself a liberal; whatever that means.  If it’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years of reading Sullivan, it’s that those labels mean much less than the actual stances one takes on specific subjects and policies.

I’ve always had trouble with people generalizing and being overzealous about casting aside an entire group of people — whether based on religion, race, sexual or political orientation, etc. —  and Sullivan helped me realize that neither “conservative” nor “liberal” nor “moderate” can truly describe the thoughts and feelings of a person — many in the conservative community don’t even consider Sullivan one of their own.

I don’t mean to give him such high praise as if he’s perfect and unerring.  Far from it, just like the rest of us.  But, the candid quality of his writing is immediately relatable and inspiring — even when I disagree with him — because I know it’s coming from an honest place.  He doesn’t take a stance just for the sake of being sensational.

It’s because it’s how he feels.  It’s because it’s what he thinks.

What does this mean for you?

Probably nothing.

Other than that you read me (thank you!) and probably have seen me quoting Sullivan frequently or giving him hat tips for providing source material for my own blogs.  He’s been a huge inspiration to me and it’s blatantly evident in how I write in these posts. I have no shame.  Might as well learn (read: imitate) from the best.

Here’s to you, Andrew and the team at The Dish: many thanks for your continued excellence in adding quality content to the blogosphere.  I hope to one day hold a candle to what you’re able to do.

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Why Restricting Westboro Baptist Church’s Protests Wouldn’t Harm Free Speech

10.06.10

Westboro Baptist Church could be one of the more offensive groups in the country today.  These people protest fallen American troops’ funerals to promote their anti-homosexual message.  To most anyone outside their congregation, it’s beyond appalling.

The lawsuit brought on by one of those deceased soldier’s families has caused the question of whether or not these protesters have the right to do what they’ve been doing.  The original verdict found in favor of the family, awarding them millions of dollars in the judgment.  However, this was then overturned by an appeal, citing that the Church’s right to free speech had been infringed upon.

Now it’s at the Supreme Court.  And they’re not having an easy time figuring it out, either.  Where is the line?  At what point do you say that your free speech is not allowed because other people find it offensive?

I’m a huge fan of the First Amendment and despite finding the actions and teachings of the Westboro Baptist Church outrageously wrong, offensive, heartless, and cruel, I worry about depriving citizens of free speech simply because I disagree with their stance on homosexuality.  I wouldn’t want my right taken away to voice my opinion on homosexuality — I mean, that would pretty much take away this entire blog!  The right to free speech is maddening at times because it requires us to hear things that we may not find acceptable whatsoever.

Take for instance pornography.  It was illegal for years — adult performers actually jailed for their participation in these films — due in part to the moral stance of the majority against promiscuity and what was deemed perversion.  Agree or disagree with porn, but it’s a person’s right to engage in that form of expression due in part to the freedoms in the First Amendment.

That said — you can’t just express your freedoms by stripping down and getting busy in front of a cemetery — regardless of whether or not a funeral is going on.  I imagine that would break some lewd conduct laws, no doubt (my lawyer friend feel free to chime in here for just what laws would be broken), just like I can’t walk down the street naked claiming that I’m expressing myself.  In that case, why can’t there be a law that restricts protesting at cemeteries during funerals? Isn’t the emotional sensitivity owed to those mourning the death of a loved one worth restricting free speech in a limited capacity? Surely if we accept that people must wear clothes when in public spaces, we can accept that people must keep their opinions to themselves while people do something as sacred burying their dead.

And on a final note, I just had to include this baffling reasoning by the WBC:

Church members say their broader message was aimed at the unspecified actions of the military and those who serve in it. They believe U.S. soldiers deserve to die because they fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality.

What does it say about them that they live, work, and are active, taxpaying (I’m assuming) citizens of this same country for which our troops fight? How are they somehow separate? The amount of cognitive dissonance is mind-numbing — that is, if any thought is even going into their rationale to begin with.

Image courtesy of NoHoDamon’s Flickr Photostream.

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Getting Fired for Medical Marijuana Use: Why Should Employers Drug Test At All?

09.15.10

Many people are affected by the drug war.  Just take a look at our southern border.

But those aren’t the only ones.

While the states work the whole federalism angle on the legality of marijuana use, there’s bound to be some snags.  And in the case of some people, it’s costing them their jobs.

Glenn Greenwald:

In some cases, workers have been fired for failing drug tests despite having prescriptions saying, in effect, that what they are doing is legal according to the laws of their states.

Here’s the thing: for an employer, you want your employees to be efficient, dependable, and hard-working. If an employee can accomplish all of this while smoking weed — legally prescribed or not — then what’s the issue? If he’s a total wastoid (yeah, wastoid, I said it, bringing it back along with high-tops and snap braclets), then his piss-poor performance should be enough to warrant disciplinary action, regardless of its cause.

Now, I do understand that there are HR costs involved with the hiring of a new employee so companies will want to best determine whether or not this applicant will be a quality addition to their team before they hire him — but, why test current employees?  You already hired them! They already passed your rigorous interview process (so, if they’re sucking at work then you might want to look into revamping your HR department, not firing your employee cause he takes a few puffs to ease his anxiety).  They’re doing their jobs competently, otherwise you could just drag them onto the carpet for their poor job review and cut the dead weight that way.   It’s pointless.

The problem with drug testing is that – NEWS FLASH!!!not all wastes-of-office-space take drugs and not all druggies are inept at work, despite what our current drug war culture would like you to believe. (Total mindblow, I know.)  It’s the whole “well, some pot smokers are lazy and don’t get anything done at work so we’re going to punish them all regardless of their individual aptitude” way of using a gravity bong when a simple one-hitter would suffice.

But since companies fancy themselves as some sort of moral authority now, why stop at drug testing?

  • Why not require me to bring in my hard drive so they can scan it for pirated software and music?
  • Why not scour my glove box to make sure that I indeed have proof of car insurance?
  • Why not stop by my apartment to make sure I’m not illegally leeching some wireless Internet from my neighbors?

I mean, all of those morally questionable practices could affect my job performance, believe you me. Without loads of music to fill my iPod, I’ll go insane at my desk and take my co-workers with me, kicking and screaming. Without car insurance, I could get into an accident, not be able to get a new car, be stuck taking public transport, and consistently arriving late to work irritable and making everyone around my desk miserable as a result.

And without the Internet at home… well, let’s just not imagine that dark, dark world, okay? I just had a glimpse into that lifeless hell when WordPress glitched up, forcing me to re-write this blog, nearly leading me into a total meltdown at my desk — a complete over-reaction, sure, but I almost went social (the post-modern version of going postal).

But, hey. At least I’m not smoking medical herb for my migraines, right?

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Do You Like Capitalism? Then, You Should Love Gay Marriage.

08.24.10

Marriage is big business.

Sure, it’s about love and being together forever and all that jazz, too.  But, let’s be real: it’s a serious moneymaker.

I just went to a wedding of one of my best buddies out in Rochester, NY this past weekend and it was on the second leg of my cross-country flight that it really dawned on me just how much money I was spending on his wedding.

First, there’s the flight from LAX to ROC.  It’s the summer and while Rochester is no resort town, it’s still on the other side of the continent.  I brought my girlfriend along, so multiply that by two.

Then, there’s the hotel. We went cheap and stayed at a Microtel.  But, since I was in the wedding, I arrived a couple days early to make sure I was there for all the festivities and the rehearsal dinner and everything else.  So tack on a couple extra nights.

And there’s also the rental car, the gas for the rental car, eating out for several meals, bar tabs. You can see how it adds up.  And that’s just for one guest and a plus-one.

I can’t even begin to compute how much the actual wedding cost — renting out the event center for the reception, the dress, the suit, the transportation, the hotels, the flowers, the two huge meals, the entertainment, the booze.  And this wasn’t even an overly extravagant affair; it wasn’t tiny, but it wasn’t huge.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining at all. I gladly would spend it all over again in an instant to be there with one of my best friends on his wedding day.  It’s a unique, joyous occasion to celebrate love and the expansion of friends and family.  It’s moving.  It’s hilarious.  It’s inappropriate.  It’s something you don’t forget.  You make all sorts of new memories while revisiting all of the old.

But, still.  It costs everyone involved a small fortune.  Receiving that welcomed honor of being in a wedding comes with its price tag.  And while you can’t put a dollar amount on being able to sing and dance and laugh with friends that you only get to see maybe once a year if you’re lucky, you kind of can.  The flight. The hotel.  The car.  The gas.

It all adds up.

And then it made me think about all of the different industries that I, along with my fellow weddingers, were helping sustain for this four-day excursion into upstate New York in August.  The flight attendants, the fast-food-joint workers, the caterers, the chefs, the gas station clerks, the airlines, the DJs, the waiters and waitresses, the photographers, the flower arrangers, the chauffeurs, the hotel staffs.  I’m sure I’m missing plenty more, but you get the idea.

Given the state of our economy, local businesses and big businesses alike could use the help.  And even though times might be tight for everyone, it’s a lot easier to swallow some big expenditures when its in the name of something as happy and joyous as a wedding.

Let’s forget the obvious reasons to support marriage equality on an emotional level for the moment.  Instead, think of it from the capitalist mentality. This is, after all, America, so might as well speak to the language of the land: the dollar.

If marriage is already reduced to being a thousand federal benefits anyway, what harm could it to do just talk about it like it is?  A cash cow for multiple industries.  What could be more American than that?