DAVID BARKER - 31 MARCH 2012
Democrats and Republicans take turns condemning and piling up debt. For example, while Franklin Roosevelt was president, Democratic Party platforms were mostly silent about government debt, while Republicans regularly condemned it. In 1960 Democrats criticized President Eisenhower for failing to reduce the national debt, but avoided the issue during the 1960s and 1970s.
When President Reagan increased the national debt during the 1980s, Democrats launched the strongest anti-debt campaign in U.S. history, but Republicans stopped talking about it. Democrats criticized a reported comment by Vice President Cheney that debt doesn’t matter, but now that a Democratic president is presiding over debt increases, Republicans are raising the volume, while Democrats downplay the issue.
Are the politics of the national debt just a cynical sham, or are there times when debt matters, and times when it doesn’t?
In 1986, an influential book by Northwestern University economist Robert Eisner, titled How Real is the Federal Deficit?, argued that deficits, the annual difference between revenue and expenses which adds to national debt, had been mismeasured. The primary source of error was a failure to take account of inflation. Inflation erodes the real value of outstanding government debt, and therefore represents a kind of income to the federal government, offsetting reported deficits. Inflation was still substantial during the 1980s, averaging 5.7% per year. Eisner also argued that some federal spending should be characterized as investment instead of expenditure. These investments raise government revenue in the future, so they should not be considered deficit spending. Finally, he pointed out that government debt should be evaluated relative to the size of the entire U.S. economy.
Adjusted for these factors, the deficits of the 1980s appear to have been far more reasonable than many thought at the time. Eisner’s analysis was influential, and eventually convinced many Republicans and Democrats to worry less about deficits. Is it possible that deficits in 2012 are nothing to worry about?
One key difference between the situation of today and that of the 1980s is that inflation is much lower. Over the past decade, inflation has averaged only 2.5%. While this is a good thing in many ways, it worsens the federal budget situation. Another difference is that the share of federal spending classified as investment by the Bureau of Economic Analysis has fallen from 19% in 1987 to 13% in 2011. But the most important difference is that deficits have grown relative to the size of the U.S. economy. Adjusted for government investment and income from inflation, deficits had never exceeded 3.5% of GDP after World War 2 until 2008. The adjusted deficit reached 8.4% of GDP in 2009 and was still 6.2% of GDP in 2011.
Another important difference between the 1980s and today is that high deficits are now expected to continue far into the future. After peaking in 1983 at 3.4%, adjusted deficits almost vanished by 1989. They increased during the recession of the early 1990s, again reaching 3.4% in 1992, but then turned to surpluses from 1997 until 2001. The best forecasts available today show deficits increasing far into the future. Deficits add to the federal debt, which is expected to increase as a percentage of GDP. The Congressional Budget Office’s most realistic projection shows federal debt exceeding 109% of GDP, the level reached for a very short time at the end of World War 2, by the year 2023, and then continuing to increase after that. By the year 2035, the ratio reaches nearly 190%.
There are two reasons why the CBO estimates can be confusing. First, the CBO numbers do not include shortfalls in Medicare or Social Security. These amounts are estimated to be nearly three times the conventionally measured national debt. Second, GDP represents an annual flow of income, while debt is a fixed amount. It is both more accurate and more alarming to compare total federal debt to total national wealth. According to the Financial Report of the United States Government, published by the Treasury Department, the national debt plus entitlement program shortfalls minus assets owned by the federal government comes to $66 trillion. The net worth of the private sector of the U.S. economy comes to $57.3 trillion according to the Federal Reserve. In other words, the federal government owes more than the combined public and private wealth of the country.
It could be objected that the Federal Reserve estimate of private wealth does not include what economists call human capital – the ability of people to earn income through their own skills. Economists have estimated that if they could be sold like a bond or a share of stock, the people of the United States would be worth over $200 trillion. If the value of their non-market work, such as housework, is included, the total would be over $700 trillion. But people cannot be sold, and their income is already taxed, and that tax revenue is insufficient to cover the ongoing expenses of the federal government. Even if taxes are raised, estimates suggest that only another 30% more revenue can be obtained before the increase loses more through avoidance and evasion than it gains in revenue, which would be insufficient to cover ongoing government expenses.
In other words, current deficits are so big that no income tax increase could cover them. Government debt and entitlement obligations are so large that confiscating all private wealth would not be enough to pay them off. Times have changed. Reagan’s deficits were manageable, but now a massive reduction in government spending and/or a huge new consumption tax is the only way to avoid financial catastrophe.
Guest Writer Dr. David Barker received his Ph.D from the University of Chicago where he taught Real Estate, Urban Economics, Industrial Organization, and Corporate Finance. He has also taught at the University of Iowa and has published several academic papers in peer-reviewed journals. He is also author of the new book Welcome to Free America and has recently been featured on MSNBC's The Dylan Ratigan Show and on Yahoo! Finance.
ALAN KARAM - 17 FEBRUARY 2011
Many of my friends began to hate me, the faces of people who looked at me differently at airports and other public places, even my co-workers; making derogatory comments. I apologized to many people over the years, even people that I didn't know. All I wanted to do was to tell the world that I am not a "terrorist."
My family and I fled Iraq with no choice. Saddam Hussein personally organized a team of men in a plot to bury my family alive. The reason for killing my family was vague, it was only understood that my father worked as an informant for the CIA to oust Saddam Hussein in the 80s and 90s.
My family lived in a dangerous world, moving from town to town in fear. While my father's work was classified and dangerous, my family of 7 managed to survive. In 1988, Saddam Hussein put an open contract out on my father's head and the heads of my entire family. Several times, we were shot at and faced the very real threat of being buried alive. Although life was rough and dangerous, my father continued with his job until suspicion was aroused among the Iraqis that my father was working with the U.S. He always supported America in removing Saddam Hussein. And that alone was the Iraqi’s dream.
In November 1996, president Clinton ordered my family to leave Iraq immediately. It was great to see that president Clinton intervened and helped my family! In February 1997, we arrived in the United States, in the state of Utah. Ecstatic and extremely lucky to have survived that tyranny, my family and I were no longer in fear.
It was snowing and freezing when we were dropped off at a one-bedroom house on the evening of February 25, 1997. The electricity wasn't functioning properly and the heater wasn't turned on. At that moment, I thought I was in the freezing dark mountains of Kurdistan, once again. Except, of course without the fear of being killed. Our rent was only half paid, even though the initial agreement, from the Rescue Committee, stated the first three months rent were paid. We needed to find jobs – and soon!
I desperately went on a job hunt. Luckily, I found a job at a nearby college, working in its library. My English was terrible. I was hired to reshelf library books so I didn’t really need to communicate. That job earned me enough money so I could pay the other half of the rent. The landlord seemed to have no patience; he warned us that if this happened again, we could be faced with eviction. In Iraq we would have faced execution.
By mid March of 1997, my father also found a job doing carpentry work. Meanwhile, I wrote numerous letters to our congressman and the state senator about our situation. No response from either.
The immigration department labeled my family as illegal, despite our initial status of “Political Asylum.” In 1998, we applied for our status change to get our Green Cards. Eight months later, they had lost our forms. It didn't make sense! We tried fighting for our rights, but nothing could be done without a good attorney, but we didn’t have the money to spend on high priced lawyers. I wrote several letters to Homeland Security as well as the director of Immigration. I also sent a letter to the Bush Administration. Again, no response!
Shortly after 9/11/2001, my family and I decided to move to Detroit, Michigan to avoid any discriminatory backlash. The reason for our move was simple: Detroit offered "more diversity."
One early afternoon my father and I went for a drive in and around downtown Detroit. It had been a while since we had a father-son talk and one of the topics we discussed was my father’s wish to stay in Michigan and apply for our Green Cards because the Salt Lake office had lost our applications.
While driving on I-75 North, I wanted to exit the highway and go towards downtown when, suddenly, I lost track and took a different exit which led me on I-94 towards Canada. The 8 lane road bedlam was jammed with small vehicles, SUVs and Semi trailers. The only thing I could do was to go straight toward the border. As we approached the border checkpoint, I simply told the man that I had taken a wrong exit. Suspicion sparked when I told him I was from Iraq. He had us wait there for a few minutes while he made his phone calls, and told us to go straight and to make a sharp U-Turn. I was ecstatic!
I drove away as instructed, but more than fifteen border patrol officers with their rifles pointed were waiting for us ahead. This was embarrassing! They had us get out of the car with our hands above our heads. They searched for “bombs” as they combed through the car. Then the K-9 unit arrived and they also searched us. After forty-five minutes in the freezing temperature, we were taken into an office on the border, still handcuffed.
Three Federal Agents awaited our arrival. The agents had photos of alleged terrorists and asked whether we knew any of them. Then my father told the agents, he worked for the CIA before in Iraq. The agents seemed to have no interest about my father's work as an informant. The interrogation went on for 4 hours that evening until they realized we were clean.
It wasn't long before my family moved back to Utah, where the employment rate was very low.
The examples of being treated unfairly abound. In one instance, I was removed from a plane because I sat in the exit row. Another time, my luggage was lost for 8 days. Then, I was nearly attacked by a U.S. Marshal for having a fishing pole on board of the plane. They thought I had snuck a rifle onto the plane!
The Immigration Department as well as the Obama Administration should really focus on those that are legal in the U.S. today and process their documents before moving on to those who are illegal. There are so many refugees and immigrants here in the U.S. legally who are awaiting their status change. I am eager to see some major changes within the Immigration’s processing lines.
Today, my family and I are still fighting with Immigration for denying and delaying our documents. As for my father, he still lives with that disappointment and is determined that some day, he will find justice.
Alan Karam attends the University of Utah and volunteers his time to teach English at The Refugee and Immigrant Center at the Asian Association of Utah. He is currently working on a memoir about his experiences as an “unwanted” Iraqi immigrant during the post 9/11 era.
JOHN ENTINGH - 31 JANUARY 2012
Can moral judgment and decision making be facilitated through censorship? To answer this question we need context. Censorship is defined as: "The change in the access status of material, made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include: exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes," (ALA | Basics). This definition includes a deprivation of intellectual freedom, or a restriction on “the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.” Commonly when one thinks of censorship, the concept embraces some form of media that is being restricted. However, is media the only way that ideas can be restricted? Can one form the argument that many laws passed and many social norms arising from century old religious practices are actually a form of censorship crafted exclusively to shape moral judgment and decision making? Let us spend the next few minutes exploring this argument.
We shall begin with sex, the oldest and most popular human drive that has been heavily censored. Even though recent translations debate the contention that the Christian Old Testament provided temple prostitutes (Stuckey), the New Testament leaves little room for interpretation about Tamar, who committed prostitution with Judah, (Matthew 1:3-5). So why then has a society founded on this very Bible promulgated such strong laws against indencency and prostitution?
The first defense for such laws that comes to mind is that when these laws were made, medical science had yet to provide humane birth control or safe sex practices. This seems like a sound agument given the evidence that the AIDS epidemic in Africa is attributed to these very deficiencies. But these kinds of laws grew in popularity between the advent of contraceptives and protections and the outbreak of AIDS. Also, we have areas of society that have not been restricted in such a manner such as Nevada in the United States and many European countires. The areas where prostitution is legal actually have fewer instances of violent sex crimes and lower rates of sexually transmitted disease. This is because human drives can be regulated when made legal and there is oversight and medical treatment available without repurcussions. Making a basic human urge illegal will never stop it, only force it to continue underground, and under threat of all the associated dangers (Liberator). Arguably the very reason for the widespread epidemic of AIDS in Africa is due to prosititution being illegal and unregulated. There is no rational explaination for prostituion laws except that the reigning powers want to control moral judgment and decision making, even to the fate of public health.
But is this really censorship? These laws certainly seem to be a restriction on “the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.” These laws are also used to legitimize the ban on many forms of nudity in public media, which hinders the expression of art. The very concept brings to mind a humorous argument that music icon Frank Zappa made to the U.S Congress during discussions on rating the music industry. Zappa insisted that wives of wealthy congressmen in Washington D.C. who were pressing for censorship on moral grounds could never know how to raise his children, that is the parent’s duty and responsibility (Siderussianlegsweep).
The second most unpopular form of censorship, as most college students will attest to, relate to seemingly unfair laws on the drinking age. A brief history of legal age limits may put this subject in better context. Until the disasterous attempt at prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s there were few legal age limits on drinking. After proibition the legal age in most U.S States was set at 21. Then with the draft for the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s, both voting age and drinking age limits were lowered to 18. If a young person must go to war and be placed in harms way for the sake of the country, it seems justice demands that solider’s right to vote and drink (A.M.A). The 1970s also brought in the era of an American research society. It seems these days every thing has been researched or studied in some way. It was the 70s research that correlated traffic fatalities with age and alcohol use that supported raising the drinking age once again. By the 1980s neuroscience was making headway in brain imaging and today science has conclusively evidenced that the human brain is not fully developed until approximetely 25 to 30 years of age, with female brains maturing faster than males (Sowell, et al). More specifically, the area of slowest development in the human brain is the frontal cortex which is responsible for one being able to reason abstractly and understand future consequences for today’s behavior. Thus, science seems to support the benefits of raising the drinking age, and lower teen traffic fatality statistics released by the feds back up the laws.
Does this package just seem too neat and tidy? It should, as Adrianna Tehran, writing for the Yale Economic Review points out, the research used to support the higher drinking age ignores a number of confounds. Primarily, teen traffic fatalities had been falling twenty years before the feds passed the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act (FUDAA) due to safety regulations imposed on the auto industry. Furthermore, the teen traffic fatalities used to pass the law included all traffic fatalities and did not separate alcohol related incidents (Tehran). Wagenaar and Toomey (2005) provide a meta-analysis on the research surrounding the drinking age issue in a very objective manner, even recognizing the argument about the lower drinking ages in Europe. This analysis compares the alcohol consumption per capita and considers the fact that Americans have more access to private vehicles than European counterparts, and acknowledge that while lower drinking ages in Europe do not support the contention that lower ages encourage more traffic fatalities, they do point out that health related issues attributed to higher alcohol consumption are indeed far higher where there are more laxed drinking laws.
This brings us to the question of whether alcohol related laws really make a difference. Reports have emerged that alcoholism rates in Italy have tripled since 1996 to the current rate of around 60,000, with just over 10 percent under 29 years of age (Povoledo). However, one must keep in mind that 60,000 instances of alcoholism in a population of 61,016,804 (Index Mundi) is still less than 1% of the total. Compare that to 43% of Americans that have been exposed to alcoholism in their families (Drugs-Rehabs.com). All reports contend that in many countries, like Italy, alcohol consumption is a culture artifact of dining. Instead of sugared tea or soda pop with meals, Italians have historically had wine.
The real issue at hand is whether a legal age for alcohol consumption can be considered censorship. Let us consider the social ramifications by dividing a society. Historically, taverns have served as gathering points where members of the community come together to share ideas, and this represents a key point in censorship, to restrict the free flow of ideas. By rasing the drinking age beyond the voting age, young voters are excluded from the free flow of ideas and debate in these casual settings.
It is a reasonable speculation that the simple prohibition of alcohol for those under 21 and the prohibition of nudity and other sexual expressions are inherently forms of censorship. At the least, they profoundly influence how the young person conceives of the world around them. Drinking and nudity become taboo. They are either negative things to avoid or they are adventurous, mysterious and unknown parts of the world that must be explored-- most often they are both, beginning as the former and ending as the latter. But even a law of prohibition prohibits the free flow of ideas by stating, implicitly, that certain actions are morally wrong. These specific cases even propose that drinking and sexuality should not be openly discussed. Even by existing as laws or social norms, these things appear to be forms of censorship.
Still though, we must approach more liberal norms regarding freedom of sexual expression and alcohol consumption with due care. Certainly the argument is persuasive that a sheltered society breeds ignorant voters. Yet in order to justify lifting the types of censorship that socially excludes young voters, society must alter the socialization of the youths beginning at an early age. Sexual expression and alcohol consumption must be learned as responsible social interactions and the abuse of such as deterimental to the development of the self. In other words, as adolescents form atonomous identities, they need to understand that some freedoms and liberties in life can impede them from becoming all they can be. Perhaps Frank Zappa had it right all along, moral judgment comes down to parenting and not through censorship. If we are to believe the statistics, the current laws intended to guide moral judgment and decision making seem to actually increase what they ban. Can we then conclude that censorship has a latent “gateway” function? I think so. Regardless, as today’s students emerge as tomorrow’s leaders, we must realize the world is ours to change.
A.M.A. "Facts About Youth and Alcohol: Minimum Legal Drinking Age ." American Medical Association. 20 January 2012 <http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/public-health/promoting-healthy-lifestyles/alcohol-other-drug-abuse/facts-about-youth-alcohol/minimum-legal-drinking-age.page>.
ALA | Basics. "Censorship." American Library Association. 20 January 2012 <http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=basics&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=60610.>.
All Psychology. "Basics of Brain Structure ." All Psychology Careers.com. 20 January 2012 <http://www.allpsychologycareers.com/topics/brain-structure.html>.
Drugs-Rehabs.com. "Alcohol Statistics." Drugs-Rehabs.com. 31 January 2012 <http://www.drug-rehabs.org/alcohol-statistics.php>.
Index Mundi. "Italy Population." July 2011. Index Mundi. 20 January 2012 <http://www.indexmundi.com/italy/population.html>.
Liberator, Mark. "Regulating the Oldest Profession." 8 December 2005. Legalized Prostitution. 19 January 2012 <http://liberator.net/articles/prostitution.html>.
Povoledo, Elisabetta. "Barrage of New Rules Targets Italy's Drinkers ." 4 August 4, 2009 2009. New York Times. 20 January 2012 <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/business/global/05italy.html>.
Siderussianlegsweep. "Part 1 - Frank Zappa at PMRC Senate Hearing on Rock Lyrics ." You Tube. 19 January 2012 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxB-ZePpS7E>.
Sowell, E.R., et al. "In vivo evidence for post-adolescent brain maturation in frontal and striatal regions." 1999. Nueroscience and Nature. 31 January 2012 <http://www.loni.ucla.edu/~esowell/nn1099_859.pdf>.
Stuckey, Johanna H. "Matri Focus: Sacred Prostitutes." 2005 Vol 5(1). Cross-Quarterly for the Goddess Women. 19 January 2012 <http://www.matrifocus.com/SAM05/spotlight.htm>.
Tehran, Adriana. "Does the Minimum Drinking Age save Lives?" Yale Economic Review. 20 January 2012 <http://www.yaleeconomicreview.com/insights/107-drinkingage>.
Wageneer, Alexander C. and Traci L. Toomey. "Effects of Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Review and Analyses of the Literature from 1960 to 2000." 2005. College Drinking, Changing the Culture. 20 January 2012 <http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/supportingresearch/journal/wagenaar.aspx>.
 Editor's Note: Prohibition of alcohol in the United States is a long history. In certain states alcohol was altogether banned in the 19th century for similar durations of time, and it was continuously debated on the national level. Most of the 19th century prohibition effort was led by women's groups and religious groups morally opposed to intoxication for anyone at any level, as opposed to the current under-21 prohibition led by MADD.
A Special Report by Featured Writer Jacob Derr - 29 January 2012
This report available for download in PDF format below:
New York’s Muslim community came out in a show of force Thursday to protest the latest rumbling to emanate from the New York Police Department and its Commissioner, Ray Kelly. Accusing Kelly and his chief spokesman, Paul Browne, of lying to the media and the community over the use of an allegedly racist anti-terror film shown to police in training, the crowd stood on the steps of City Hall to call for Kelly’s resignation.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg took to the press as well and admitted that this wasn’t ideal for the police department, as reported by the Guardian’s Ryan Devereaux: “I think it’s fair to say there is a little bit of embarrassment that this film was made…I think anything like this doesn’t help credibility. Ray’s gotta work at re-establishing the credibility that he has.” [i]
This all comes at the tail end of a months-long investigation by the Associated Press into the largest police department in the world, which revealed the department had been trying to infiltrate Muslim student organizations and had been following partners in anti-terrorism. The public debate resulting from all of this has been virulent. One side says the charges are airtight, the other doubts their veracity. One side says Muslims should have expected this, since that’s where terror “tends to organize,” while others say this community is being profiled unfairly.
All of this debate misses the point. Ultimately, the court of public opinion is what matters, particularly with regard to police departments—if people trust them, they run down leads with help from the community; if people have a reason to mistrust them, their investigations might get significantly harder. Through that lens, then, this is all really about whether Commissioner Kelly and his department, who had (and continue to, among many New Yorkers) been seen as eminently successful in protecting the most popular terrorist target in the United States, need to adjust their tactics to ensure that some of their most valuable sources of information—and the people they are set up to protect—don’t shy away.
This paper begins by looking at the police department built by Commissioner Kelly, which is in many ways a modern marvel of technological fortitude and intelligence analysis. It then moves on to frame the current debate in necessarily broad terms, before moving on to an analysis of the importance of Muslim-American citizens in helping to thwart terror attacks in the past. Finally, there is an analysis of this current situation, which has the potential of going from “bad press” to a fundamentally different relationship between the NYPD and some of the citizens of New York.
A 21st Century Force
To say that Commissioner Kelly has a tough job is an understatement. He is defending what might be the most targeted city in the nation. “That’s the consensus of the intelligence community,” he said in an interview with Scott Pelley for CBS’ 60 Minutes last year for the 10th anniversary of September 11. “We’re the communications capital. We’re the financial capital. We’re a city that’s been attacked twice successfully. We’ve had 13 terrorist plots against the city since September 11th. No other city has had that.”[ii]
And that number jumped to 14 after the arrest of Jose Pimentel on November 20. The terrorist was described as a “lone wolf” by the NYPD, meaning he was acting alone without the aid of a terror cell, though he was said by the NYPD to have been close spiritually with cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whose death accelerated Pimentel’s plans.[iii] The NYPD reportedly arrested him after he was only an hour away from completing his first bomb, after which he was said to be planning larger scale attacks against New York. The questions started quickly after Pimentel’s arrest, particularly given the timing and nature of the threat. Did his background, which included drinking and using drugs, indicate that he was not really as committed to Islam as the department claimed he was? Was his public, high-profile online presence meant to inspire others even if he was arrested, or was it the work of someone who did not believe his rhetoric was against the law?[iv] Did the timing, just hours after the arrest of Occupy Wall Street protesters and their removal from Zuccotti Park, divert the attention of the press away from the negativity against Mayor Bloomberg?[v] And an important question came from the other side: Since when is the apprehension of a terrorist within hours of him being prepared to detonate a pipe bomb a cause for such questions?
These questions have plagued the New York Police Department as of late. The speculation about motives and timing, about whether they are acting on behalf of or against the Muslim community of New York, about whether a metropolitan police department needs the ability to shoot down a plane—all have fallen on the shoulders of Kelly and his department. Even the title of a Business Insider piece, “There’s Something Fishy About Bloomberg’s Latest Big Terror Arrest,” betrays a reaction to an alleged terrorist far removed from the September 11 attacks. It should be noted that most of the press at this time was not writing in a vacuum; the Mayor and the NYPD had effectively ended the Occupy Wall Street protests just hours before. But the questions about appropriateness that come about at the same time as the arrest itself show a jadedness and suspicion in marked contrast to the immediate post-9/11 situation into which Ray Kelly stepped in as Commissioner of the NYPD.
Kelly took office on January 1, 2002, with a mandate from the Mayor and the people of New York to ensure that what had happened four months earlier never happened again. He created a counter-terrorism force that even the federal government did not have in place, especially in a single city: Language specialists speaking all the major languages of the Middle East; surveillance technology that covers most of Lower Manhattan; Special Forces-esque teams who, sometimes with air and sea support, show up with sub-machine guns as a pure show of force. Why did he do all of this? Because no one else was able.
“I knew we couldn’t rely on the federal government,” says Kelly in New York magazine about a year after taking office—his second stint. “I know it from my own experience. We’re doing all the things we’re doing because the federal government isn’t doing them. It’s not enough to say that it’s their job if the job isn’t being done. Since 9/11, the federal government hasn’t taken any additional resources and put them here.”[vi]
For all intents and purposes, Kelly’s police force is one of the most advanced forces anywhere in the world. By the time Scott Pelley and CBS’ 60 Minutes visited him around the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, he was protecting the U.N. secretariat building during the annual meeting of the General Assembly. One exchange between Kelly and Pelley is particularly illuminating as to the extent of the modernization of the department:
Pelley: are you satisfied that you’ve dealt with threats from aircraft, even light planes, model planes, that kind of thing?
Kelly: Well, it’s something that’s on our radar screen. I mean in an extreme situation, you would have some means to take down a plane.
Pelley: Do you mean to say that the NYPD has the means to take down an aircraft?
Kelly: Yes, I prefer not to get into the details but obviously this would be in a very extreme situation.
Pelley: You have the equipment and the training.
Moreover, the police department had learned not only through its own foiled terrorist plots but from what went wrong in other countries. They started searching subway cars and luggage racks after the Madrid bombings and began to start a video layout system for over 700 buildings in Lower Manhattan after discovering police in Mumbai lacked these resources during their own terror attacks.
And, Pelley reports, the department started an NYPD cricket league to appeal to Pakistani kids in New York. In all the marveling at the technological advancements and intensive intelligence program being carried on in a city police department, there isn’t nearly as much writing about traditional police tactics—developing sources, following up leads, placing beat cops in neighborhoods—and how they might affect the battle against terrorism in New York. Kelly says this is exactly how some of the attacks have been foiled, so it is possible that this just doesn’t make as good of a story for the media. These tactics, if they are to play a significant role in the future of the department, will have to stay strong, have to stay viable. Unfortunately, recent events have cast doubts on whether Kelly’s department, for all of their technological and intelligence might, could perhaps hurt their relationship with their own people—some of whom might be their greatest assets.
“The Third Jihad”
The most recent flare-up between citizens of New York and Kelly’s police department has been over the alleged use of a film, “The Third Jihad,” in training for police officers. The film is alleged to contain images of “Muslim terrorists [shooting] Christians in the head, car bombs [exploding], executed children [lying] covered by sheets and a doctor's photograph [showing] an Islamic flag flying over the White House.”[viii]
This story came about because the New York Times had reported in January of 2011 on the film itself, and was told at the time the clip was reviewed in the presence of officers doing paperwork, but that it was not ultimately used. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School then filed a Freedom of Information Act request for further information, where it was revealed that almost 1,500 police officers had viewed the film, according to reporting by the Times.
This is merely the most recent allegation against the NYPD, which over the past year has weathered a number of slights against its credibility and protection of civil rights. The Associated Press investigation found that the NYPD had placed under surveillance some of its public “partners” in the War on Terror. Commissioner Kelly visited the mosque of the Pakistani-American man who alerted police to the Times Square bombing, even though they had been suspicious of that mosque in the past. Reda Shada, a sheik who had met with members at the highest levels of government and considered himself a partner, found that they had been closely watching his interactions and daily life. Muslim student organizations at universities in New York were being infiltrated by NYPD agents, who were often watching the personal lives of the students and were wary of the guest speakers for those organizations.[ix][x]
To simplify, it has been revealed over the past year that the NYPD was watching entire Muslim neighborhoods for both general behavior and specific individuals who were said to be persons of interest. Some of these individuals were later praised publicly for their efforts against terrorism or have taken part in public rallies to denounce terrorists.
It is not the aim of this paper to examine whether these actions produced results, which the AP calls into question. Nor is it the aim to discuss whether making someone a “person of interest” is mistrustful, a violation of their civil rights, or merely attempting to fight the War on Terror in a meaningful way without choosing to investigate every citizen in New York. These questions are being hotly debated in the public spectrum, and it is likely that there will be a good deal of scholarship from terrorism experts discussing whether this paradigm is really a violation or a new way of policing. All this paper will concern itself with is what the Muslim community, for all of the suspicion heaped on it, might be able to do for the NYPD.
Our Silent Partners
In late 2009, Umaru Abdul Mutallab contacted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria with information that his son, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had “become radicalized,” and warned officials that his son could be a danger to others around him. This information was passed on to the National Counter-Terrorism Center who said, according to reporting by CNN, that “the info on him was not deemed specific enough to pull his visa or put him on the no-fly list.”[xi] Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab then attempted to detonate a bomb he had placed in his underwear on a flight over the United States. If the bomb had not malfunctioned at the time of his detonation, he would likely have destroyed the plane and killed all on board. Instead, he merely started a fire and was tackled by passengers on the plane.
In May 2010, police found a crudely made weapon involving fireworks and gunpowder in a parked car in Times Square. They evacuated people from the area, and the bomb had not been detonated. Among the street vendors in Times Square who initially saw smoke rising from the car and alerted police were Mohamate and Ali Niasse, two Pakistani-American men. Hamid Dabashi, writing for CNN, called for the President to call these men as well, as they had been overlooked by the media in discussing the Times Square bombing. [xii]
Mohamed Mohamud, a 19-year-old teen in Portland who had attempted to blow up a tree lighting ceremony around Christmas, was taken into custody after being infiltrated by the FBI. He got as far as detonating what he thought was a bomb at the ceremony. It didn’t work, and the FBI revealed an elaborate sting operation. There has not been a public confirmation by his family, but he was prevented from flying in the United States earlier that year because someone close to him had contacted the FBI. He later accused his parents of this, saying that “Allah’s power will ask you about that on the day of judgment.”[xiii] Other members of the Portland Muslim community confirmed that someone close to him in the community first alerted the FBI to his actions and thoughts.
We have here only three cases among many of Muslims turning in other Muslims who they believe to be involved in terrorist activities. A leisurely search of internet archives reveals many more.
Here’s a fourth story: Muslim community leaders in New York are now teaching people about how to spot informants, and telling them not to go to the NYPD with information.[xiv] They are telling them that if anyone who talks to them repeatedly brings up problems with America or Americans, speaks about taking action against them, or other radical talk, not to speak to the police about them. They suspect that person may be an informant.[xv] This approach, based on lack of trust, has been criticized by many members of the intelligence community, and was called by Representative Peter King to be evidence that Muslims aren’t interested in helping to stop terrorism. But to say so misses the real point: people who should be fully supportive of the NYPD’s efforts to keep them safe and stop terrorism are now being given reasons to mistrust those same forces, and they are doing so.
This looks like a spiral, and it probably is. The allegations that the police have spied on Muslims makes them reticent to help in investigations, which increases police suspicions about their unwillingness to help or that they have something to hide. There’s another thing this looks like: The department is losing some of its vital resources. No investigation should proceed without using the silent parnership of the Muslim community.
These events have sparked a wave of debate over the actions of the NYPD. The City Council called for an accounting of the NYPD’s programs and “raised concerns that the NYPD was illegally profiling Muslim neighborhoods through covert surveillance.”[xvi] A group of state senators called on the state Attorney General to investigate the claims.[xvii] Civil rights activists from across the nation have said the NYPD has been systematically abusing the rights of the people it was designed to protect. On the other side, the department has denied that is has done anything wrong. The New York Post wrote on December 25 that the reason the NYPD, in working to protect the city, finds itself in Muslim communities is because that is where the threat often resides—not because the NYPD believes all Muslims to be terrorists. They also call into doubt the claims made by the Associated Press. The New York Daily News calls into question the way the conflict has been framed:
“quite properly and effectively, the Intelligence Division set about mapping areas in the city to which Islamist radicals might be drawn. That these happen to be Muslim neighborhoods is now decried absurdly as ethnic or religious profiling. The division also began identifying community hubs such as restaurants and, yes, mosques, to get a sense of where a potential terrorist from abroad might gravitate – not to suggest that anything illicit was taking place in any particular location.”
This debate isn’t nearly done, and it’s hard to imagine that either side will acquiesce. Some could say that, even if the department’s scouring of Muslim areas wasn’t improper, certainly their surveillance tactics were. The issue of whether this is a violation of anyone’s civil rights will play out in the courts for years to come.
But really, what’s the point? This is not about the courts of the state of New York. In its deepest form, this is not even really about whether the police have done what the Associated Press and other sources have alleged. This is about the court of public opinion. It has been laid out above by details relating to several high-profile terror cases, including one of the 14 instances in New York, that direct action by a Muslim was what helped to make a decisive difference in the case. Furthermore, Kelly himself is aware of the way the police run down leads and look for informants; he said so himself:
“Let’s face it: a lot of this isn’t rocket science. It’s cultivating sources, talking to informants, running down leads, getting search warrants, and following up on every piece of information you get. In other words, it’s good, solid investigative police work. The king of thing New York cops do every day.”[xviii]
It’s really impossible to know the internal calculus in Commissioner Kelly’s head. Through his efforts and those of his department, he has saved New York City from over two dozen attempted terrorist attacks in the past 10 years. The question of “what if?” is very concrete in this case: what if they had failed? What if they had failed just once? Mayor Bloomberg has said that this is a “war we may never win, but we can’t afford to lose.”[xix] No one can predict the way the public discourse would be altered if they had failed in the past decade. But here’s the thing: they have not failed. They have not failed by any standard Commissioner Kelly, Mayor Bloomberg, and the people of New York have placed on them.
In saying this, I am not saying that there is no valid complaint about anything the department did—but merely that Kelly’s efforts are not those of a person who isn’t calculating. He and his department know exactly what the stakes are, and his development of the department has been to ensure, in as close a capacity as one can get to that word, that New York is never a victim again.
But in doing this, he must never forget the people he relies on: the citizens of New York, including the Muslim citizens of New York.
Kelly has staked himself on the success of the department—a success that, if complete, will mean no one ever knows how close they’ve come to the edge. First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney said in 2003, “He’s leaving himself open to be second-guessed and criticized if things don’t go well. So he’s making decisions that may benefit the city but be detrimental to him personally.”[xx] So far, things have gone well. But if he risks losing the cooperation of the people in the neighborhoods where these terrorists operate—the same people David Petraeus relied upon to turn the tide in Iraq, the same people the Obama Administration and Attorney General Eric Holder have held up as instrumental in fighting this war, the same people Kelly himself has said help them to run investigations—then he might have the biggest intelligence apparatus of any city in the country; he might have the capacity to watch every public space in Manhattan and log the data; he may have people stationed overseas to see what they can learn from foreign attacks; but he will have placed his own city in a compromised position. If they should ever fail, people are going to ask why. If the tech is the answer, so be it. But if it is because their resources turned on them, all the years of digital archive, the decade of safety, and the prior successes might not matter as much.
------------------------- WORKS CITED -----------------------------
[i] Devereaux, R. "Rally calls for NYPD commissioner to quit over anti-Muslim training film." The Guardian UK, January 26, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/26/nypd-commissioner-kelly-anti-muslim-film (accessed January 27, 2012).
[ii] Pelley, S., Anderson, R., Milton, P., & Young, N.. "The counter-terrorism bureau." CBS 60 Minutes. Performed September 25, 2011. CBS News. 2011. Web, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/09/25/60minutes/main20111059.shtml.
[iii] Herrera, T. "NYPD busts lone-wolf terror suspect on verge of finishing bomb." AM New York, November 20, 2011. http://www.amny.com/urbanite-1.812039/nypd-busts-lone-wolf-terror-suspect-on-verge-of-finishing-bomb-1.3336025 (accessed January 27, 2012).
[iv] Martin, A. "The Problematic Details of the Latest NYPD Terrorism Arrest." The Atlantic Wire, November 21, 2011. http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2011/11/problematic-details-latest-nypd-terrorism-arrest/45257/ (accessed January 27, 2012).
[v] Miller, Z.`. "There's Something Fishy About Bloomberg's Latest Big Terror Arrest." Business Insider, November 21, 2011. http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-11-21/politics/30424463_1_pimentel-jose-pimentel-pimentel-was (accessed January 27, 2012).
[vi] Horowitz, C. "The NYPD's War On Terror." New York Magazine, February 3, 2003. http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_8286/ (accessed January 27, 2012).
[vii] Pelley, S., Anderson, R., Milton, P., & Young, N.. "The counter-terrorism bureau." CBS 60 Minutes. Performed September 25, 2011. CBS News. 2011. Web, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/09/25/60minutes/main20111059.shtml.
[viii] Powell, M. "In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims." The New York Times, January 23, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/nyregion/in-police-training-a-dark-film-on-us-muslims.html?pagewanted=all (accessed January 27, 2012).
[ix] Sullivan, E. "NYPD spied on city’s Muslim anti-terror partners." Associated Press Wire, October 6, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/APeae6c489a6d742f18329653e87bb084a.html (accessed January 27, 2012).
[x] Associated Press, . "NYPD Infiltrated Muslim student groups for intel." CBS News, October 11, 2011. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/10/11/national/main20118485.shtml (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xi] CNN Nigeria, . "Source: Terror suspect's father tried to warn authorities." CNN.com Justice, December 26, 2009. http://articles.cnn.com/2009-12-26/justice/airline.attack_1_umar-farouk-abdulmutallab-no-fly-list-nigeria?_s=PM:CRIME (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xii] Dabashi, H. "Obama, please phone the Muslim "street vendor hero" too." CNN.com Opinion, May 11, 2010. http://articles.cnn.com/2010-05-11/opinion/dabashi.muslim.vendor.hero_1_muslim-times-square-vendor?_s=PM:OPINION (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xiii] Brooks, C. "Portland's Bomb Plot: Who Is Mohamed Mohamud?." Time Magazine, November 28, 2010. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2033372,00.html (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xiv] Associated Press, . "Angry Muslims declare: 'Don't call NYPD'." New York Daily News, . http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-11-14/news/30399180_1_muslim-community-muslim-groups-angry-muslims (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xv] Goldman, A., E. Sullivan, and M. Apuzzo. "NY police spying programs produced mixed results." AP Newswire, December 23, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/23/nypds-spying-programs-pro_n_1167273.html (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xvi] Hennelly, B. "City Council Pushes Back on NYPD Intelligence Programs." WNYC 93.9 FM, October 7, 2011. http://www.wnyc.org/blogs/wnyc-news-blog/2011/oct/07/city-council-pushes-back-nypd-intelligence-programs/ (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xvii] Associated Press, . "Angry Muslims declare: 'Don't call NYPD'." New York Daily News, . http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-11-14/news/30399180_1_muslim-community-muslim-groups-angry-muslims (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xviii] Horowitz, C. "The NYPD's War On Terror." New York Magazine, February 3, 2003. http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_8286/ (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xix]Herrera, T. "NYPD busts lone-wolf terror suspect on verge of finishing bomb." AM New York, November 20, 2011. http://www.amny.com/urbanite-1.812039/nypd-busts-lone-wolf-terror-suspect-on-verge-of-finishing-bomb-1.3336025 (accessed January 27, 2012).
[xx] Horowitz, C. "The NYPD's War On Terror." New York Magazine, February 3, 2003. http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_8286/ (accessed January 27, 2012).
MATTHEW BISHOP - 25 JANUARY 2012
Demos Kratos, in the original Classical Athenian dialect, translates into our modern English as The Sovereign Hand of the People. The Sovereign Hand of the People is conceived as something by the people, for the people, and of the people-- it is democracy. It was the demes united, and for the most part each deme had a population relatively equal to the next. Each deme was represented equally in Pan-Athenian councils, and each male of middle or older age who was a land-owning citizen represented himself in the assemblies upon Pynx Hill. Democracy evolves with time. In our time, in our America, we have a government that includes the votes of women and non-landowners, which are advancements the Greeks lived without. But in one serious and terrible way our own government is not as democratic as the Athenian government of so many centuries gone by.
This paper's argument can be summed up in a single dilemma: The individual person, the human being, should be the base unit of democratic government. In today's America this one condition of democracy has yet to be met. The U.S. Senate and the Electoral College fundamentally and institutionally prevent the individual human being from being the base unit of American democracy.
More than 37,000,000 people live in the State of California. The State of Wyoming has hardly more than 500,000 residents. In the U.S. Senate, both of these states have only two representatives each. A single Senator from California represents roughly 18,500,000 individuals. A single Senator from Wyoming represents almost 300,000 individuals. In basic democratic theory every individual's voice is meant to be as powerful as any other individual voice. In America, such a basic concept remains a far-off dream.
A citizen of Wyoming is more privileged than a citizen of California. The Wyoming citizen's voice has more than 55x the power of the California citizen's voice when considering Senate representation. The Wyoming citizen is 55x more likely to be heard. The Wyoming citizen's opinion on any given political matter carries 55x the weight of a Californian opinion. It would, if we consider this theoretically, require fifty-five Californians advocating a certain stance to match the power of one single individual from Wyoming advocating a different stance. This disgusting imbalance of power dynamics creates not a healthy democracy, but a misrepresentative "republic" that accordingly passes laws that are not representative of the public will or the public good.
The Senate was created in a time of turmoil. It was a tool to bring together a set of separate states each on the verge of establishing their own sovereignty. Our colonies were united by a common self-identity and, more than anything else, by their common Revolution. The Senate was an institution intended to keep the newly independent states together in a confederated network of government in the post-revolutionary world. In 1790, the Senate was necessary. In 1865, the Senate was necessary. When the states were closer to independent tribes than to one common nation, it was necessary.
We are now a single nation, and there remains no valid reason why we have not established for ourselves a more valid democracy.
Majority opinion is repressed in America through the institution of the Senate in the manner described above. It is also repressed through the institution of the Electoral College.
The Electoral College is a tool of oligarchy. It does not enable democracy, it prohibits it, obscures it, invalidates it. In 2000 Al Gore won the presidential race by more than 50,000 votes. But George Bush, Jr. became our president despite having lost the election. The people made the decision that they wanted Al Gore to lead our country-- the vote was not even debatably close. But we do not live in a democracy. Our popularly elected officials are not, as it turns out, always elected.
The current institutions were created for several valid historical reasons. All of these reasons are outdated and have become invalid. There remains no use for the archaic remains of our outdated government structure. The "democracy" that we now inherit from our ancestors and pass down to our children is the oldest static "democratic" government in the world. It remains provincial, outdated, and in need of radical structural reform. Our Constitution is the oldest because other nations have the common sense to adapt to the times and to evolve into a higher state. We, likewise, must evolve.
These are but two very tangible institutions among a very lost list of things that prohibit our government from becoming an actual democracy. The next challenges are more complex and not as simple to address.
The structural security of the two-party system stifles important debates and sweeps important issues under the rug when the two parties decide they would rather not discuss those issues. The reality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the reality of Pakistani domestic politics, the reality of our own domestic economy and the sacrifices that are necessary to revive it, the reality of international commercial policy and how it relates to domestic subsidy policies-- all of these issues are largely ignored. The fundamental flaws which are the U.S. Senate and Electoral College are also glossed over, as both Democrats and Republicans rely on these flawed institutions to maintain power. As as long as both parties in an exclusively two-party state deem it unnecessary to discuss any of these issues, none of them will be addressed.
As it is, no third party can challenge the two-party state. State political party registration requirements differ so much between the states, and are at times so arbitrary, that for a party to be registered in every state in the union is essentially impossible. Widespread American apathy further inhibits the possibility of third party emergence by not providing the avenues necessary for structural change in party registration. A political monopoly has been established in this country, in which change generally comes slowly and in small increments even when immediate and fundamental structural reform is more prudent.
The lack of political knowledge of many Americans means that even if America were to become a legitimate democracy, it would be an unhealthy one. The apparent inability of news channels to educate the public means that very active and engaging steps would need to be taken were America to attempt to become both a legitimate and a healthy democracy. This means helping citizen journalism groups secure funding, helping NPOs or other under-funded but popular interest groups with publicity, and leveling the playing field in regards to lobbyists and insider professionals. Limits on lobbyists that reflect the number of individuals committed to an effort rather than how much cash an effort can offer up would be ideal. Interest group strength should reflect number of people, not number of dollars.
In our mainstream news, opinions, assumptions, misgivings, or outright lies are often accepted as facts at face value. Censorship is not the answer. Open honesty is the answer. TV media especially need to specify when they are speaking in terms of opinion and when they are speaking in terms of fact. Fact-checking services, several of which have already been independently established, should be given more attention by the government and by the public. When a news outlet is incorrect or has outright lied to the American people that outlet should be made to apologize publicly and to set the record straight. Allowing opinionated news stories into our mainstream has polarized American citizens from one end to the other and has made obtaining cold, hard facts a difficult task.
Those are more amorphous and ambiguous challenges which this paper should only begin to call into question. Serious policy discussion on how to address those two problems, and of how to abolish or radically reform the Electoral College and U.S. Senate, needs to take place in a public forum accessible to all. That is, after all, what democracy should be about.
Our nation is blessed with stability. There is no popular call for revolution, and even if there were the preconditions necessary for revolution do not exist in this country, so such a call would be doomed to fail. There is no widespread violence, no states warring against one another, no city calling for the invasion of another city, etc. The majority of Americans do not experience physical violence or worry for their lives on a daily or even on a weekly basis. Our Senate, our Electoral College, and our other misrepresentative institutions are relics of an age when this stability was not yet secured. They recall an 18th-century form of government and have changed little over the years, despite great obstacles overcome in the past decades regarding civil rights. The time to remove these relics and to replace them with more modern, democratic, and enduring structures is now.
A rough plan of how to encourage legitimate democracy is outlined below. These are crude and unreformed ideas intended to stimulate discussion, and this paper's primary function is to raise questions and encourage critical thought and debate, with the answers in this paper delivered as a starting point for that debate:
+ Abolish the Electoral College and begin direct election for the President
+ Abolish the Senate and allow for each individual's voice to be equal in strength by channeling legislative power into the House
+ Standardize party registration and fundraising requirements under federal law and prohibit individual states from changing, obscuring, or manipulating this standardization. This will allow for a more natural process of party life and party evolution.
+ Prohibit news-giving and media organizations from obscuring or using news in an exclusive and biased way for the purpose of furthering a given political agenda unless that information is presented in a form similar to the "op-ed" article style, in which case the organization must explicitly state that the material presented is opinion rather than fact. Logical or rhetorical fallacies intended to deceive the public should be suitable material for media watchdogs.
These may sound like serious or radical reforms, and they are. Our situation requires it. It should not be the case that because a citizen moves from one state to another they must forfeit their political power. It should not be the case that the voice of one individual citizen is stronger on one side of a state border than the other. Each American should be equal to each other American-- that is an idea we all identify with, but a reality we live without.
JOHN ENTINGH - JANUARY 19 2012
One of the most formidable weapons in any political arsenal is censorship. According to the American Library Association (ALA), the definition of censorship is: "The change in the access status of material, made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include: exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes," (ALA | Basics). The ALA captures the essence of censorship as a deprivation of intellectual freedom, or a restriction on “the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.”
Being prolific is the key to censorship being persuasive as a political tool. For example, in February of 2011 the chairwoman of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Classification and Rating Administration, Joan Graves, defended the ratings of movies in the United States: “The ratings system exists for one purpose: to inform parents about the content of films. Our ratings reflect how we believe a majority of American parents, not just from large cities on the coasts but everywhere in between, would rate a film,” (emphasis added)(The Hollywood Reporter ). Filmmakers and media critics charged that R ratings resulted in children being prevented from being exposed to important, educational films simply because of real life footage that included drug use, bad language, and improper dress. These are some of the very same things most inner city children see on the way to school each day. Rather than explain to the children why these things are going on and educate them in why not to behave this way, governments would rather marginalize the existence of deviance in society. These types of censorship ratings exist in every media outlet, all with the same justification: “to reflect what we believe;” so we will not belabor the point. With that said, some argue that responsible censorship has been implemented, namely the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (FCC), that considered a "harmful to minors" standard for internet providers and users. At this time many parents were not internet savvy, and restrictions allowed Americans to become updated on exploding internet usage, (i.e. Johnson). The language in this legislation has served as a warning for ISP providers to watch their act, but more importantly these laws consistently “reflect what we believe” American culture should access while reminding mainstream media of how prolific censorship can be; which begs the question of why news broadcasts have not also been held to the “harmful to minors” standard, especially in gruesome terrorist reports.
We now turn the corner and ask why censorship (or lack thereof) is salient when dealing with terrorism reports. Take the recent demise of Osama bin Laden that would have been foiled if the intelligence leading to his location had not been responsibly censored, and the information gathered from his location could still be detrimental to ongoing terrorist activities if released (Strohm). Another instance some contend as responsible censorship was on the refusal to release Bin Laden’s death photos. CIA boss Leon Panetta was quoted immediately after confirmation of bin Laden’s death that the "gruesome"photos would be released (Pearson, Alpert, and Hutchinson); however, in a taping for 60 Minutes the following day, U.S. President Barack Obama explained to the world why he was censoring the release of the pictures: "It is important to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool" (Montopoli).
The evil here is that governments exploit censorship to act irresponsibly by failing to censor their own propaganda , as was the case with the WMDs in Iraq (i.e. Angle & Kehnemui-Liss) that was used to rally the American public to war when there existed opposing intelligence reports indicating that no such weapons existed(AP). This is but one instance of where censorship has become a sharpened propaganda tool itself for surgical strikes within the media. Since the case of Bush and Iraq, Obama has become a master surgeon with the blade of censorship. He both violated and extended philosophical principles of democracy in his single act of censorship on the death photos, the essence of which is: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition: for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. ” (Thomas Paine, Dissertation On First Principles Of Government).
As dire as censorship issues may seem to Americans who stand firmly on personal freedoms and liberities, their grievances pale in comparison to the censorship issues on the international scene. Take for example Hangzhou-based veteran journalist and blogger Zan Aizong who reports that his accounts on the popular Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo services had been deleted and microblogging accounts frozen by authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang. Zan claims authorites justified the censorship due to the posting of “uncivilized” content. Zan’s problems began when he published articles on the 2010 award of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, which forced him to migrate across blogging accounts. The recent “uncivilized” content was discourse on the millions of Chinese who died in the famines of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), which defines a transitional period from an agarian society to Communism through industrilization and collectivism. “This is how it is on the Internet,” contends retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang, “They must control it . . . China’s propaganda department now exerts tight controls over all forms of media,” (Sean). The Chinese government attempts no illusions though, as in an October 2011 communique from the party central committee plenum, Beijing vowed to “strengthen guidance and administration of social Internet services and instant communications tools, and regulate the orderly dissemination of information,” (Sean, a).
The Chinese government is not alone in state sponsored censorship, as the Arab Spring stands in testament of. And following the October 2011 bloody crackdowns in Syria on public demonstrations, reports came out that the Syrian government was using American made software to track and block internet usage, in violation of U.S. laws (Valentino-DeVries, Sonne and Malas).
From the outside looking in, it seems that irresponsible censorship creates more unrest than it settles. When the spring uprisings in Eygpt peaked, one could argue that it was in immediate response to the government shutting down most media outlets. But several months later with the old government outsted and national elections legitimizing a new regime, censorship reports continue to flow out of Eygpt. According to British jornalist Alistair Beach of The Independent: "A censorship row has broken out at the country's newest newspaper after staff were ordered to shelve an entire print run of 20,000 copies over an article that suggested the leader of the governing Military Council could go to prison." The “row” began when political science professor Robert Springborg had suggested that "resentment" might be growing in the ranks of the military against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Egypt's current de-facto leader Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi, who may now share in former President Mubarak's fate (Chammah).
Lebanon, another country with new leadership and a history of oppression, continues its own battle against irresponsible censorship. As recently as December 2011, reports came out of Lebanon that a film titled Beirut Hotel had been sternly censored. The justification for that censorship is an issue of debate. An anonymous General Security source said the film was banned “because it mentions the 2005 assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.” However, Mustapha Hamoui, author of Beirut Spring, wrote: “It seems to me that the film was banned from Lebanese movie theaters…because it features a double-whammy of a taboo: Explicit sex between a Lebanese woman and a foreign man,” adding that censorship always follows the “whims” of religous leaders (Farrell and Elali).
From rating systems that “reflect how we believe” in every type of artistic endeavor to war rallies, censorship is indeed a prolific political tool, perhaps in a manner we do not normally understand as censorship, but access to ideas and information is nonetheless colored to complement an agenda at every instance.
With the exception of very few exceptions that may be construed as responsible censorship such as the location of bin Laden or a cyanide gas plot on New York subways (Nacos), irresponsible censorship of media has actually furthered terrorist goals and objectives by providing hyped-up coverage (Seib and Janbek); and has also allowed oppression in general to reign unchecked. Research suggests that hyped-up media exposure on terrorism during the Bush administration had a two-fold effect in the United States; first it makes the public feel national security is at a greater risk; and secondly, that republicans were the knights in shinning armor that could save the country (Pew Research Center Publications), even to the extent that terrorism coverage is believed to have persuaded the 2004 national election (Nacos 189). As Nacos explains, research indicates that hyped-up media coverage of terrorism threats, and not even actual attacks, increases the public concern “and elevates the president's approval ratings,” (190). Unless we are naïve enough to believe the politicians are deprived of this same knowledge, responsible and irresponsible censorship is not really so responsible or irresponsible as it is a political tool to further agendas, and unfortunately terrorist agendas and oppression in whole and part, which does not really “reflect how we believe.”
PAUL J. NOTO - 12 JANUARY 2011
The recent announcement by the U.S. Army that several officers and enlisted men were being charged in the death of Private Danny Chen illustrates the problems that can occur when there is a breakdown in command discipline in a military unit. Poor leadership and a tolerance of racism toward Asians created an environment that failed Private Chen and the U.S. Army.
According to relatives, Chen’s fellow soldiers harassed him by taunting him with ethnic slurs and one time pulled him out of bed and dragged him across the floor; they forced him to crawl on the ground while they pelted him with rocks and called him names. They then ordered him to do pull-ups with a mouthful of water- while forbidding him from spitting it out. Not long after that he was found dead in a guard tower, from what the military said was “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.” All this while Private Chen was serving his country in a forward outpost in Afghanistan. Military prosecutors have charged Chen’s tormentors with an array of charges ranging from manslaughter to negligent homicide.
This is not the first case of hazing of Asian-American soldiers by military personnel. In October, 2011, several Marines were ordered court-martialed for their roles in the death of an Asian-American marine, Lance Corporal Harry Lew, from California, who killed himself in April in Afghanistan after being subjected to what military prosecutors said was hazing.
The Army and Marine Corps deserve credit for taking the claims of harassment seriously and bringing charges against those who they believe are responsible for these incidents. If those on trial are convicted and punished it will go a long way towards sending a powerful message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated by our armed forces.
How did hostility towards Asians become so powerful in these units that they engaged in acts of such cruelty it drove the victims to commit suicide? Racism as a tenant of military policy is not new. Dating back to the nineteenth century when Americans feared the “yellow peril,” a code word for Asian dominance of the world, hostility toward Asians was pervasive. During World War II the Allies often used racist code words and imagery to advance their cause. For example they constantly referred to the Japanese as “subhuman” often turning to images of apes and vermin to convey this. Ernie Pyle, the famous American war correspondent wrote, “ In Europe we felt our enemies horrible and deadly as they were, were still people. But out here I soon gathered that the Japanese were looked upon as something subhuman and repulsive; the way some people feel about cockroaches or mice.”
In 1942 hundreds of thousands Japanese-Americans were relocated to internment camps for the duration of the war. Many were American citizens and yet this official sanction of racial stigma exacerbated anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States. No such action was taken against German –Americans. References to the Japanese as “nips” and “gooks” became part of the slang commonly used during World War II.
After fighting another Asian foe in Korea in the 50’s the United States became mired in Vietnam in the 1960’s. The emotional distance between the American soldiers and the Vietnamese they were supposed to be fighting for was enormous. Many American soldiers in Vietnam were notoriously disrespectful of the Vietnamese. Vietnamese were often referred to as “gooks”, “dinks” and “slants.” This cultural arrogance was exacerbated by the body count mentality that permeated the entire military command. One veteran said this permitted him to think that killing the NVA and Viet Cong was like “stepping on ants.” While many American soldiers appreciated the Vietnamese culture, others were often isolated and felt that the Vietnamese they saw were only ever trying to kill them. This gave rise to the suspicion and hatred. One veteran said that to him the Vietnamese “were less than animals.” This cultural distance was part of the desensitization process that military trainers used to train soldiers to kill. It is much easier to kill someone if they look distinctly different from you. If your propaganda machine can convince your soldiers that their opponents are not really human but are “inferior forms of life”, then their natural reluctance to killing will be reduced.
Old habits die hard. While the military has made great strides in trying to eradicate racism from its ranks these incidents illustrate the need to improve on those efforts. The advent of an all volunteer military and the fact that our soldiers today are among the best educated and trained in the world is extremely important. The Chen and Lew incidents are certainly the exception and not the rule. However, one is one too many. Our civilian and military leaders must remain vigilant in rooting out racism in the military so as to not compromise one of our most enduring values. When we project our military power abroad we should be fighting to promote freedom and tolerance.
Historian, Attorney, and Guest Writer Paul J. Noto's upcoming book "At The Crossroads of Justice: My Lai and Son Thang" explores U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and enduring anti-Asian sentiment. World Report News's CFO and Featured Writer on Race Relations Allison Hight will be providing a review of the book later this winter.
ALLISON HIGHT - 16 November 2011
Called “the toughest immigration law on the books in any American state” by the New York Daily News, Alabama’s House Bill 56 has managed to keep a relatively low profile since its passage on June 2nd, 2011, despite the fact that its effects throughout the state have been widespread. Though lengthy and complex, the most hotly debated section of the legislation is its call to make a valid birth certificate part of the enrollment process for K-12 education and to further collect proof of citizenship from already enrolled students. This move has left as many vacancies in public schools as it has in Alabama’s fields, as workers and families flee the state for fear of deportation, or simply in response to the resultant increased racial profiling.
Though the media attention to HB56 has been sporadic, the attention of one grassroots organization has not wavered in the last five months since the bill’s passage: DreamActivist.org, an alliance composed of six core individuals committed to the cause of immigration reform with a specific concentration on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, has for the last month been steadily planning a rally against the components of Alabama’s new bill. This Tuesday, those plans culminated in Montgomery in a full-scale protest.
Composed of activists from over twenty states, some coming from even as far as California, youth and parents alike recently arrived in Alabama, ready to actively reject the blatant profiling HB56 encourages. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr.’s words that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” the hundred-some protesters circled the state’s capitol building armed with only their picket signs and their courage to stand up for justice. As many of the gatherers were undocumented themselves, they risked both arrest and deportation at the hands of ICE officials.
Despite the relatively small size of the protest, media forums have covered the day’s events extensively, demonstrating that although the effects of HB56 have not recently been prevalent in people’s minds outside of Alabama, people’s outrage at the audacity of the bill resides close to the surface. One hundred DREAMers, then, were all that were needed to reignite the flame of activism.
During the protest, thirteen were arrested, two for declining to leave a state office building, and eleven for forming a picket line across a capitol street. Dreamactivist.org, which anticipated such a response based on the results of their past rallies, is already in the process of raising money for their bail. For the first time, the DREAMers arrested were composed not only of youth, but of parents as well, such as fifty-five year old Martin Unzueta and thirty-nine year old Belen Rebelledo. The fight, then, is no longer limited to college-age youth and DREAM Act qualifiers, but has spread to encompass people of all ages, and is showing no sign of backing down.
So tense is the current situation in Alabama, that this small-scale protest inspired even President Barack Obama to take a stand on HB56. For the first time, he publicly opposed the legislation, bluntly stating that “[i]t’s a bad law. The idea that we have children afraid to go to school, because they feel afraid that their immigration status will lead to being detained…It’s wrong…. This makes the law, not just anti-immigrant, but I believe it doesn’t match our essential values as a country.” Because he made the comment to a Spanish newspaper, some have criticized his words, claiming that he should have made a stronger demonstration of his support by professing it in English; others are touched by the fact that he specifically reached out first to the Latino community, the obvious targets and victims of HB56.
Regardless of context, his words have been translated and quoted enough to make his position on the issue well-known. Further, he has promised to make the DREAM Act and immigration reform a key part of his campaign platform over the next year. Whether Obama’s actions will be enough to cancel out people’s deeply-running hurt from the record number of deportations over his presidency thus far, many of them of youth with no criminal record, remains to be seen.
Members of Congress, too, are actively demonstrating further support for the DREAMers and their opposition to Alabama’s bill by scheduling their own campaign to deal with its effects. Eleven Democratic congress members, including Silvestre Reyes of Texas and Raul Grijalva of Arizona, plan to stand in solidarity in November 21st in front of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. This church, appropriately, is the same one at which the 1963 racial bombing occurred that resulted in the deaths of four young girls. The congress members’ decision to meet at this significant site, then, marks not only their unity against racial hatred, but serves to designate DreamActivist.org, DREAMers, President Obama, and the congress members themselves as integral parts of the civil rights’ movement of the twenty-first century: the fight for immigrants’ rights, legal or illegal.
To the relief of many, official legal complaints have been filed against HB56 to the Civil Rights Division, from which a decision is still pending. The U.S. Justice Department has also taken action to challenge the law. In the meantime, though, officials are still stopping Latinos on the basis of appearance alone, and children continue to be absent from school.
It is the illegality of denying education to schoolchildren, whether in the country legally or illegally, around which many arguments center, a stance cemented by the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v Doe. Though technically HB56 does not directly deny Alabama’s children access to the school system, instead claiming that the data being collected is for purely analytical purposes, for most, the line between collection and deportation is far too fine. Since the bill’s passage, thousands have poured out of the state for fear of harassment, racial profiling, and deportation. The subsequent devastating effects that this mass emigration has had on the state’s economy and commerce has caused even more people to protest the bill than under ordinary circumstances.
For one especially, Alabama has gone too far. Mohammad Abdollahi, undocumented since he and his mother moved to the United States from Iran when he was a child, now co-founder of DreamActivist.org, professes that “[Alabama] is ground zero for hatred and discrimination” and that “now more than ever” is the time to join the fight to end the injustice that is plaguing the state. Abdollahi, a DREAMer who has had his ambition and his future plans put on hold multiple times from the end of high school onward, has dedicated his time to leading the undocumented youth faction in the charge for immigration reform in the hopes that future generations will not have to endure the hardship and frustration of he and his family.
Encouraging people to be “undocumented and unafraid,” his efforts result in rallies like the one held in Montgomery this Tuesday. With the movement behind him growing constantly, there is little doubt that his courageous future actions, and the actions of DreamActivist.org, President Obama, and his fellow DREAMers, will snowball into a movement that will leave both immigrants and the immigration system of the United States completely transformed.
(You can read more about Abdollahi and his work at http://www.dreamactivist.org.)
A Guest Article by Peter Leeds - 10 November 2011
The faster anything rises, generally the faster it falls. Occupy Wall Street may be another example of this, as media coverage, social media activity, and activist numbers have all started dropping off. This is only expected to continue, especially with the onset of winter.
According to Google Trends, searches for Occupy Wall Street have fallen by 60% from their October 15th peak to October 30th. This is reinforced further by the Factiva news database, which cites media mentions of "Occupy Wall Street" declining by 19% in a week, ending on October 23rd.
With several other major events arising, such as the death of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, the end of the NATO mission there, and European debt struggles, Occupy Wall Street may be facing an increasingly crowded media coverage environment. According to the Pew Research Center's weekly news index, Occupy Wall Street enjoyed 10% of the total coverage across their dozens of outlets at their October 1st peak. That same index now has Occupy Wall Street sitting at 4%.
Trendistic, which tracks total Twitter activity, showed tweets peaking at 0.3% on October 1st. Since then, the same metric has fallen to one third of that peak, to levels of 0.1% on October 31st.
Even a casual observer passing the protest sites would note that the presence of media crews has fallen off significantly, while the number of protesters also seems to be waning. Now, the toughest test of their will is about to arrive. That test is the winter, and it chase away all but the most resolute.
This is not to imply that the protesters have lost any of their resolve, or the issues have gotten any less serious. Rather, Occupy Wall Street could use these obstacles as an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment, and separate the die hards from the "tourists."
Keep in mind that any large-scale movement will have a lot of marginal players among its masses, people who are boosting the numbers by being involved, but who aren't adamant enough to remain for the long haul. This type of supporter will be the first to fade away, able to say they were part of the movement, but eventually being pulled back into their former life.
Remember that all peaceful uprisings end in one of two ways - either they disperse and are forgotten (even by their activists in some cases), or they stop once they achieved their goal(s).
The problem with this, however, is that Occupy Wall Street's goals may not ever be accomplished. The targets of much of the activism are not being hurt or in any significant way affected by the protests. Until that happens, Manhattan and global bankers are more than happy to watch the crowds from a safe distance, with a mildly curious eye, while they close their latest ultra-risky $20 million credit default swap deal with the European Union (taking home another massive commission in the process).
I think that just about everyone would agree - a CEO being fired, but walking away with $10 million (as did Hewlett-Packard's Leo Apotheker) is nearly preposterous. This is especially true considering that during his time at the helm, the company's share price fell over 40%. Perhaps that's why he got fired.
The scope and activities of the Occupy Wall Street movement, in their current form, will almost certainly not be enough to change the way Hewlett-Packard competes for top CEO talent. They won't impact what contractual decisions the corporation must make to get the contract signed by the leader they want.
Perhaps they should protest for change on the steps of Washington? It's also difficult for the government to regulate how a company decides to spend its money in the course of doing business, and how it pays out salaries, bonuses, and severances.
This would be a different situation if there were two dozen protesters in each corporate board room as deals were closed, but to the members of the board of the major corporations, the activists are a world away. Even if they are just a few floors down, on the other side of the glass.
The lack of clear goals has plagued Occupy Wall Street from an early point. One protester whom I spoke with, Brian (his real name withheld by request), admitted that the movement needed to clarify some realistic and actionable goals. This process took place slowly, and by group decision, but has done little to clarify anything to most observers.
A clear mission with a rock-solid result could do a lot for the change that Occupy Wall Street is trying to bring about. This is evidenced by all the great movements that came before, and enjoyed tremendous success: No War, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Racial Equality.
Without a clear end result that can be understood by even a disinterested party, Occupy Wall Street is coming across to some observers as being about "complaining" rather than offering solutions. I certainly do not agree that the activists are complaining, and I do think they are offering solutions, but as it stands you may get six different answers from six different activists about what specific outcomes they are working towards.
Being a leaderless organization has served them well up to this point. However, they may really benefit in the future by having a spokesperson at least, if not a central leadership group. A leader could clarify goals, generate endless media coverage, and stand as a representation of the movement. He or she could also rally and organize the supporters, and help maintain morale for what's about to come. Specifically, a further drop off in media coverage, third-party interest, and activist numbers. And, of course, winter.
While the world is currently being "Occupied," it remains to be seen how much longer this will play out. The trends are going against the movement. However, if Occupy Wall Street does endure throughout the toughest months to come, perhaps with a strong leader, or refined goals, it will be very hard to ignore their plight.
Investment analyst Peter Leeds is the owner and founder of Peter Leeds Penny Stocks, one of the most popular financial newsletters in North America and the author of the new book Invest in Penny Stocks: A Guide to Profitable Trading available for purchase at www.wiley.com or www.amazon.com
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