Rule #1: Do not get caught

NSA HQ

In his farewell address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a famous speech that over the years has proved eerily prophetic. Introducing the concept known as the military-industrial complex, Eisenhower warned of the dangers of how the military was evolving:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial [sic] complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

— Dwight D. Eisenhower
January 17, 1961

Today, this unfortunately describes not only our military, but our intelligence community as well. Recent revelations first reported by The Guardian have revealed that the NSA have been storing records of our phone calls and possibly our e-mails and other Internet movements for at least several years. It’s true that the source in the story, whistleblower Edward Snowden, is (was) a contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton, and it’s easy to make the connection to Eisenhower’s address and see that we’re exactly where he warned we shouldn’t be. But it’s worse than that: the intelligence community itself is running like an industry, and since our government is in the market for intelligence, the industry is booming and expanding rapidly.

The Great Emancipator

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln

I finally saw Lincoln tonight. It’s been in theaters for more than two full months and I’ve wanted to see it since it came out, but work, the holidays and other movies kept coming up and I kept putting it off. But finally, tonight, I saw it, and it was worth the wait. And even though the movie is two months old and most people are done talking about it, I haven’t written in a while and it seems pretty relevant in this climate of political divide and identity crisis. Fair warning: I’ll be writing about a movie you may not have seen. While the plot isn’t much of a mystery, you might prefer to be surprised by the director’s and actors’ interpretations. If that describes you, read with caution.

Unthinkable

Candlelight Vigil

It’s been one week since an unthinkable tragedy occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s one of those events that seems to transcend the normal rules of space and time: the emotional wounds are still fresh and raw, like it just happened yesterday, but at the same time, it’s hard to remember what normal American life was like before it happened. I’ve been in a funk since last Friday, unable to think about anything for long without my thoughts drifting towards Newtown. I’ve been searching for words to say, to write, but I keep coming back to “what is there to say?” So as a fair warning, I probably don’t have anything new or profound to add to the discussion. But I think it’ll help me to write some of these thoughts down.

Nanny state

Why Mike Bloomberg actually does know what's good for you

On September 13, 2012, the New York City Board of Health approved legislation that banned the sale of large sugary soft drinks at restaurants. Spearheaded by Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the move was predictably met with some controversy. While one side claimed that the ban of soft drinks was the first step on the road to the Fascist States of America, the other claimed that desperate times called for desperate measures. (I can’t find a quote, but I guarantee you someone used the phrase “with great power, comes great responsibility” at some point.) The controversy was even spoofed on an episode of Parks and Recreation. And in fact, if it weren’t for the cancelled New York Marathon that almost wasn’t, this would have probably been Bloomberg’s most controversial action all year.

This story isn’t new. What is new (or at least, newer) is the cover story in the November 2012 issue of The Atlantic. Mike Bloomberg is on the cover, with a grimace reminiscent my dentist looks at me when I tell him I don’t floss every day, with a caption of “Mike Bloomberg knows what’s good for you”. And for me, it’s a lot like the smoking ban laws passed in several states (including Ohio): I think Bloomberg might be on to something.

Reboot

The state of the 2012 campaigns

With Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, all parties are present and the 2012 Presidential campaign is in the home stretch.

It’s interesting to me that exactly one year ago today, Michelle Bachmann, while far from a shoo-in, looked a lot closer to the White House than Mitt Romney. On August 13, 2011, Congresswoman Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll, an unofficial kickoff to the primary season and an interesting look at what Republicans think of the field.

Needless to say, times changed. Michelle Bachmann barely made it past the Iowa caucus, as she suspended her campaign the day after a disappointing finish there. Other candidates like Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum had their time in the drivers seat, but eventually faded. Whether or not the Republican primary was a war of attrition probably depends on who you ask. But whatever it was, Mitt Romney endured and at the end of this month, will become the Republican nominee for President.

On Saturday, Romney announced that Paul Ryan would be his running mate, which ended a bad week on an extreme upswing. Many analysts have stated, and I agree with them, that Ryan’s entry represents a fresh start to the campaign for Romney, and should really reboot the campaign as a whole.

Spiking the football

The now famous picture of the Obama administration waiting for news on Operation Geronimo.

One year ago today, under the cover of darkness, a Navy SEAL team stormed a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, with intelligence that the man responsible for the September 11th attacks was inside. Less than an hour later, their mission was accomplished: Osama bin Laden was dead. In the days and weeks after, it was revealed that the operation wasn’t an easy one; in fact, there was great risk. As more and more details revealed the mission was more and more treacherous, Americans everywhere expressed gratitude and admiration primarily towards the SEALs who carried out the mission.

President Obama also got some of the credit and some of the gratitude, in the form of an approval ratings boost and a solid (to say the least) foreign policy credential to use in his reelection campaign. But even though the killing of Osama bin Laden was easily his best political victory in over a year, President Obama made sure to raise his voice over the celebrating crowds to caution that “we don’t need to spike the football.”

Which is why I was surprised to find him doing just that for cheap political points.

Change from the change you can believe in

An overview of the 2012 Republican Presidential candidates

The 2012 Republican presidential race started, for all intents and purposes, on November 5, 2008, the day after Barack Obama was elected. Since then, a lot of partisan bickering, speculation and rumor-mongering, and nearly three years later, we have what looks to be the final Republican field before primary season begins. The field isn’t demographically diverse: only Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain break the trend of white males. But the diverse backgrounds, ideas and viewpoints among the candidates leave something for just about everyone; everyone, that is, who doesn’t plan on voting for President Obama. My overview of the candidates, after the break.

Ten years gone

A retrospective of September 11, 2001

Three thousand, nine hundred eighty-one days ago, on October 17, 2000, a small water craft slammed into the side of the USS Cole, killing seventeen American sailors and injuring thirty-nine. While Americans mourned the loss of their sailors, there’s no way we knew – there’s no way we could have known – that the attack on the Cole was an ominous harbinger of a far more deadly attack to come. Nearly eleven months later, on September 11, 2001, four airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and a remote field in Shanksville, PA. Ten years later, as the country continues the long healing process, seems an appropriate time to reflect. I’m not really sure why I’m writing this: around this time last year I decided I’d try to write it, but I’m not sure anyone else but me will find it useful. Maybe it’ll offer closure. Or maybe it’s so I don’t forget.

Thoughts on an undeserved acquittal

Casey Anthony

I only really started following the Casey Anthony case after the trial started earlier this year. I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a grandfather, I’m not a mother… heck, I’m not even a daughter, so I am in no way qualified to offer judgement on the verdict of “not guilty” that took place today. But being a blogger, I’ll try anyway.

As I reflected on the case this evening, I reflected on how our justice system, despite not being perfect, worked today. Most of us “felt like” Casey Anthony was guilty because she wasn’t “acting right” after the disappearance of her child, or because her father had no motive to cover it up, or even because her lawyer seemed like a sleazeball (I’ll concede that point; he is a sleazeball). Hunches and instincts aren’t and shouldn’t ever be enough to convict anyone of a crime, particularly a capital crime. As the saying goes, “better a hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man be killed”. The evidence simply wasn’t substantial or definitive enough to convict Anthony.

The other thing that came to mind was the penultimate scene of my favorite movie, Saving Private Ryan. In the scene, John Miller (Tom Hanks), dying, is being tended to by James Ryan (Matt Damon) after shooting at a tank with a .45. Ryan, the point of the mission, the point of the movie, a seemingly insignificant soldier given great significance as the majority of a squad of soldiers dies trying to save him, leans in to hear Miller’s last words: “Earn this. Earn it.” The movie skips ahead to the present day, where an aged Ryan asks his wife if he’s been a good man and tries to convince Miller’s grave he did the best he could.

Earn this.

Those are the words I’d say to Casey Anthony today, given the opportunity. By some sort of freak circumstance, the lack of just a minute piece of evidence that would have turned the case towards the prosecution, Casey Anthony will likely walk free within the next year, and will have to figure out how to live the rest of her life knowing that most of the nation thinks she killed her child.

She could retreat into isolation, and try to stay out of trouble for the rest of her life (like O.J. Simpson did, years ago, only he couldn’t figure out how to stay out of trouble). But she could also figure out a way to, at least partially, redeem herself. No one’s going to let her adopt a child, so that’s out. But there’s always ways to give back: thinking small, she could volunteer at a local hospital, or thinking big, she could go around the country speaking to underprivileged teens about her experiences. Michael Vick did this after his dogfighting conviction (became a spokesperson for PETA) and was able to reinvent himself both on and off the field. No one has forgotten what Vick has done, and no one will ever forget what Casey Anthony probably did. Admitting the full details of her crime (assuming she did it) is probably not a great idea, but some level of admission, confession and contrition would certainly help her win, if not affection, at least some sympathy (advice she should have taken during the trial). This doesn’t even mention Casey’s parents, who hurriedly left the courthouse after the verdict today because of the questions they now face. Now that Casey’s been acquitted, how about dispelling the accusations of sexual abuse and trying to repair those bridges?

The point is no longer that Casey Anthony has managed to evade justice. The point is that the least she can do, in memory of her daughter, is to try to earn the second chance most convicts never receive, the second life that her daughter never received.

Freedom means love without condition

On September 11, 2001, four airliners crashed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a rural field in Pennsylvania. The coordinated terrorist attack resulted in the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, irreparably changing the skyline of New York and the world forever. Within hours of the attack, Muslim extremists were suspected, and by less than a month later, the FBI released the names and photos of the attackers: Muslim extremists, working for Osama bin Laden.