Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 9, 2013

Sometimes it is useful to remember that elections do matter. Thinking about a Mitt Romney presidency provides some perspective. Meanwhile, in light of Russia granting temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, we are already hearing the clarion call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics next year – and why do these call always come from the right? And finally, while we already knew that the Teapublican playbook calls for the dismantling of the federal government, the new playbook calls for making sure that the federal government just doesn’t work.

Elections Do Matter

In the 2012 presidential campaign over $1 billion was spent in order to persuade voters that there was a real difference between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Obviously the majority of voters chose Barack Obama to lead the country for another four years.

But, for those who continue to suggest that there was only a marginal difference between the two candidates (the ever loquacious Tavis Smiley and continuously quotable Cornel West come to mind) think about this: Right now the Department of Justice under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to undo the horrific damage caused by the recent Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act.

This has required the Department of Justice to fight voting rights battles state by state, court by court. What do you think that an Attorney General appointed by President Mitt Romney would be doing?

Some more food for thought: The Department of Justice is reviewing the murder of Trayvon Martin for possible civil rights violations. That would be the U.S. Department of Justice headed by Attorney General Eric Holder who was appointed by President Barack Obama. What do you think that President Romney’s Department of Justice would be doing about the travesty of George Zimmerman’s acquittal last month?

In the weeks and months to come more examples of the difference between a thankfully mythical Romney presidency and the actual presidency of Barack Obama will be offered for your consideration.

We can be assured that Tavis Smiley and Cornel West will be to absorbed with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West to pay any attention.

The Revenge of the Nerds

In 1980 the United States boycotted the Olympics that were to be held in the Soviet Union because of a dispute regarding the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In retaliation the Soviet Union led a boycott of the Olympics held in Los Angeles in 1984.

While this political posturing went forward, the hopes and dreams of thousands of Olympic athletes were obliterated. If they were American they simply could not compete in 1980 and had to compete in a flawed Olympics in 1984 if they were still around. Many other athletes from around the world were caught up in the boycott and there was absolutely no impact on Soviet policies in Afghanistan.

Now Senator Lindsay Graham and other wannabe tough guys in the Senate and House are calling for the United States to boycott the Winter Olympics that are to be held in Russia next year as retaliation for Edward Snowden being granted temporary asylum in that country.

Aside from the fact that boycotting the Olympics would be cutting off the nose of American athletes in order to spite the global face of the United States, logic tells us that such an action would have absolutely no impact on the current Snowden-asylum impasse. The only people that would be hurt would be American athletes many of whom have trained their entire lives for one shining Olympic moment in 2014.

Let us hope that saber rattling will not take the place of sane and sober foreign policy.

Traveling at the Speed of Mud

Approximately two weeks ago the Senate confirmed the head of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau after only………., get this, seven years of delay and obstruction. Approximately three weeks ago the Senate confirmed the Director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau after light speed deliberations of two years!

These delays are part and parcel of a Teapublican strategy to throw enough sand into the gears of the federal government until it simply stops working. On the Planet Teapublican this passes for sound public policy.

Loyal opposition is one thing. Destruction of the federal government itself does not border on treason, it is treason. The sooner it is said the better.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!



Point of View Columns

Somebody is Watching You

Edward Snowden had better hope that his fifteen minutes of fame are worth the next several years of anxiety that he will be experiencing. It is not clear how Mr. Snowden is a traitor or a hero for revealing what most of us already know. But whoever thought it would be a good idea for him to go from China to Russia to Cuba in his flight from prosecution and his quest for asylum might want to have their head examined.

As an employee of a National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden is one of over one million people with Top Secret clearance. The sheer number of individuals with Top Secret clearance reveals that there aren’t very many secrets left in this country or in this world, for that matter.

Ever since Mr. Snowden released the NSA files indicating this gargantuan monitoring system that encompasses everything from phone calls to e-mails, there has been a reprise of that scene from the movie “Casablanca” where the corrupt Inspector is “shocked” that there is gambling going on in a night club while simultaneously receiving his bribe. The American press, civil liberties groups and predictably the right wing of the right wing have excoriated President Obama and his Administration for the continuation of a surveillance program that began during the Bush-Cheney Administration.

But before looking at the technical, strategic and policy issues related to the Prism program it is useful to reaffirm the facts of the world in which we live today. The expectations of privacy in the 21st century are fundamentally different from one hundred years ago or even twenty years ago.

The almost universal use of the internet for communication, commerce and recreation has lulled the global public into the dreamland of expectation – expecting that use of the internet is somehow private. And that delusion has continued even though most sentient beings realize that companies ranging from Google to Amazon to McDonald’s are tracking the use of the internet for various marketing and commercial purposes.

Computer technology is such that nothing is ever deleted and nothing can ever be retracted once that “Send” button has been pushed. Despite the various encryption features related to everything from personal banking to the recording of grades, no one should be surprised that there is no such thing as ultimate, iron clad security when the internet is used. Indeed, even a computer with no connection to the internet has a memory that retains its memory until it is thrown into a cauldron of molten steel.

Given the facts that our expectations of privacy are radically different, it is curious that there is such controversy regarding the NSA tracking patterns – not content – of cell phone calls and internet communications in order to discern possible links to terrorists or terrorist activities. This surveillance program involves the oversight of billions upon billions of messages and calls with an accompanying set of algorithms that allow the NSA to pick up on suspicious links.

To date there has been no assertion that this activity been used to harass or attack political opposition to the current Administration. Further, there has been no record of warrantless review and surveillance of the content of monitored communications. There have been, however, assertions by the NSA that over fifty serious terrorist attacks have been thwarted by reason of this Prism surveillance program.

What is clear is that this surveillance program is not necessarily the first stage of “1984” played out 29 years later. What is also clear is that a war on terror against actors who don’t wear uniforms, who don’t have a flag and who don’t have a home country is not a war that can be fought via conventional means.

President Obama has called for a reassessment of the so-called war on terror and now would also be a good time to reassess the tools for fighting that war.

In the meantime, Edward Snowden might want to hire a new travel agent.