Insecurity (May 4, 2010)

National Security

What do Arizona’s new immigration law, the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast, South Park, President Ahmadenijad of Iran’s address to the UN, and the weekend bombing attempt in Times Square, all have in common? Well according to this blogger, these are all issues which expose the weaknesses of our national security. Until recently, I have not paid the attention to this overarching issue that it deserves. I have spent time chasing the “sexier” topics of elections, banking reform, the economy and the repeal of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell,” but national security is not a conversation so easily digestible. It is slippery, hard to pin down, and for that reason I believe, fails at times to hold the notice of myself and other Americans.

But in truth, most issues facing the U.S. today can be directly correlated to some national security concern. We can’t just wait for catastrophes like 9/11, Shoe Bombers, or Christmas Day granny panty wearers from Yemen, to make us focus. The cluster of current events which I mention above are a live testament to this truth in the following ways:

1. Arizona went rogue and created its own immigration laws, in part, because there has been inadequate response to protecting our borders at the Federal level. I am in no way defending the plan the State came up with, but there is a real sense of frustration out there on both sides of the political aisle, and across the nation. Obama has quite the full plate right now, but we need to prioritize reform. Or one day, it won’t be just jobseekers hopping the fence, but sinister people who have figured out that our porous boundaries are a great way to do us harm.

2. The BP oil spill, and the company’s completely lackluster response to stopping and cleaning up the leak, does a lot more than harken us back to the Exxon Valdez disaster of the late 80s. It creates more chaos in an already vulnerable region – highlighting the downside to remaining an oil-dependent nation. The lost oil supplies damage our environment, and leave us more prone to remain under the thumb of “black gold” – rich Middle East nations.

3. Which brings me to South Park and the Times Square bombing plot. Recently, in honor of the show’s 200th episode, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker did an irreverent sendup of the Muslim religion by depicting the Prophet Mohammed – in disguise. Nothing is safe with these guys, and anyone with a sense of humor ought to know that. Jon Stewart and myself were more than a little miffed when Comedy Central chose to censor the episode without the creators’ consent. And I maintain that free speech requires more bravery than the network showed. But then…..Faisal Shahzad drove a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder loaded with amateur explosives into Manhattan and parked it guess where? Very close to Comedy Central’s New York headquarters.

4. And finally we have President Ahmadenijad of Iran, an asshat of epic proportions. I am glad that 95% of the world can come together to agree on that. But since UN headquarters are located in the U.S. (and again in Manhattan – poor folks), we have to deal with the indignity of letting this man deplane and tread on our land, so he can spout the garbage that spews from his hate filled mouth. Yesterday, reports had it that Iran’s leader attempted to escalate the nation’s “nuclear showdown” with the U.S., even with the looming threat of economic sanctions. As long as this man remains in power in Iran, no one is safe. Walkouts from his fiery rhetoric won’t accomplish anything – not with a man who violently puts down civilian protests at home.

As stated at the opening of this post, I am no national security expert, and do not have any good ideas for a comprehensive plan to ensure the protection of our nation and its citizens. I just think it’s pretty clear that we need one. Like 10 years ago. Up to now, we look like the proverbial boat that started springing leaks in the late 1990s, with nothing more durable to plug them up than a cork here and there. Corks pop, and the sounds I’ve been hearing when I turn on the television or surf the web are the noises of a thousand little bursts.


SCOTUS Tells Arizona’s Anti-Abortion Crusaders to Suck It Up (January 13, 2014)


I’d like to take a break from obsessing over the real-time demise of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to offer some counterprogramming. It feels especially incumbent on me to contribute something else to our national political dialogue. It was just about three months ago  that I made the mistake of characterizing Christie as an elected leader unwilling to “waste time and taxpayer money on a battle he can’t win.” Yikes. ‘Tis the curse of the pundit to be haunted by the unpredictably crazy.

In any case, Christie’s developing cautionary tale of the overreach should not be permitted to overshadow the host of other challenges facing America in the New Year. From stalled Democratic efforts to extend unemployment insurance benefits for long-term job seekers, a possible reboot of immigration reform and the run-up to November’s midterm elections, voters have much about which to think and debate.

And one issue that I want to ensure never disappears from the headlines and our consciousness is the continuing Republican assault on female reproductive rights. The white male-dominated right has proven rather tireless in its quest to render family planning decisions for us womenfolk, while preaching about libertarian freedoms from the other side of the mouth. If there’s any party awareness of the hypocritical conflict of these positions, it is well hidden.

Fortunately it appears that both voter and court system are growing tired of these patronizing and patriarchal efforts to foist an impertinent ideology on the private lives of American citizens. Early in the week, writer Adam Liptak of the New York Timespublished a piece entitled, “Supreme Court Won’t Hear Arizona Appeal on Abortion Ban.” At issue is a Grand Canyon State law, passed in 2012, that prohibits most abortions, except in medical emergencies, after 20 weeks. Naturally, the legislation’s definition of “medical emergency” is so narrow as to render the attainment of a legal abortion nearly impossible.

This past May, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, located in San Francisco, deemed the law unconstitutional. But supporters were not ready to relent and opted to press the SCOTUS to review the case – to no avail.

Liptak writes, “Arizona officials conceded that the law covered abortions before fetal viability, currently about 24 weeks as measured from a woman’s last menstrual period. But they argued that the law did not amount to an outright ban, only to a permissible regulation, one they said was justified by the state’s interest in preventing fetal pain and the increased risk to women as their pregnancies progress. The appeals court rejected both arguments.”

Though the Supreme Court declined to comment in their repudiation of Arizona’s appeal, it can be inferred that the justices chose to accept the conventional wisdom of the medical community. As Liptak observes, “The law’s sponsors claimed that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, a contention that has been disputed by major medical groups.”

The last few years have been a confusing epoch in which proponents of reproductive freedoms have had to assume the defensive crouch of so many hockey goalies, protecting rights that were definitively affirmed over 40 years ago. But don’t expect the GOP to relent. The article quotes Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s spokesman Andrew Wilder as framing the high court’s decision as “‘wrong, and is a clear infringement on the authority of states to implement critical life-affirming laws.’ He said the governor would ‘keep her options on the table,’ but would not specify what those might be.”

Whether that declaration is face-saving bluster, or a statement of genuine intent to get creative about finding novel ways to violate woman’s rights, remains to be seen. But 2014 is going to require vigilance from those who believe that control over our own bodies is part and parcel of the right to “liberty” that Republicans love to promote – when it suits their agenda.