30.8.13

My Case Against Bombing Yet Another State in the Middle East

Nicholas Farrar

Thursday was one of those days where I had trouble keeping up with everything that was going on in the news.  Some of the many headlines included Mr. Edward Snowden striking again with the Washington Post reporting about a secret $52.6 billion "black budget" for fiscal year 2013 on U.S. intelligence programs, the Justice Department announcing it would allow Colorado and Washington to implement their newly passed laws on marijuana legalization ("allow"?), and the Internal Revenue Service now recognizing all homosexual couples for tax purposes, regardless of whether their state actually recognizes same-sex marriage.  Each of these stories are worthy of their own blog post in my opinion, but alas, I do not have time to write that much, for I am a busy college student.  Therefore, since there were many updates relating to this topic today, I decided just to focus my ranting solely on the Syrian civil war, which seems to be on everybody's minds at the moment (and for good reason).

In anticipation of U.S. strikes in the battered country, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations (UN) secretary general, ordered his inspection team to leave Syria and report its findings to him a day earlier than scheduled about whether chemical weapons have been recently used in the civil war.  Meanwhile, in our nation's capital, some of the Obama administration's top officials met with selected members of Congress to brief them about possible future missile strikes against the Assad regime.  In total only 26 out of 535 members were actually briefed, which is a very low number considering how serious this issue is.  At the same time, Iran and Russia are apparently working side-by-side trying to prevent any Western military attack that may happen against their Middle-Eastern ally.  To prove they are not joking around, Russia has even sent warships to the Mediterranean where U.S. navy ships are already in position and awaiting for an order to strike.  In addition, Iran has said that any attack against Assad equivalently "means the immediate destruction of Israel", which is a close partner of the United States.
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U.N. chemical weapons experts at one of the sites where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used. / Image by Reuters/Mohamed Abdullah.

Possible intervention in Syria has been a very heated debate in Washington as well as across the nation.  My thoughts?  I agree with the majority of Americans, who believe that intervention in Syria could end up having disastrous effects for us in the long-term, as interventions have normally done in the past (does anyone remember the Soviet war in Afghanistan?).  According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, only 9% of the nation approves of the Obama administration intervening in Syria, a rating even less than the scum-filled Congress, which had a 15% approval rating.

Yes, more than likely chemical weapons were used, and more than likely they were deployed by the Assad regime against the rebels in an effort to suppress the revolution.  But that is all it is, a chance.  We have no idea who deployed them, and whether they were even chemical weapons to begin with.  The UK parliament was smart enough today to vote against any possible military action mostly because there simply is currently not enough evidence to prove such a notion, especially since the UN has not revealed its results from its investigation yet.  What our administration is doing is jumping the gun, plain and simple.  If they launch a strike before they see the UN's findings, they might make the same grave mistake George W. Bush made when invading Iraq.

Furthermore, they are not even bothering to seek approval from either the U.N. security council, which is required by international law, or Congress, where approval is required by the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution, since the Syrian conflict is absolutely no threat to the United States or its citizens whatsoever.  To me this is very typical of the Obama administration, where arrogance and pretension are rampant.  "It doesn't say in the Constitution that leadership and the chair of three committees shall declare war," said Thomas Massie, a representative out of Kentucky.  He wants Congress to come back from recess and vote on the military intervention.

But let's say that our president is correct, and that chemical weapons were indeed deployed by Assad.  Okay, so what?  Yes, it's a terrible crime against humanity, but that does not mean we have to intervene.  The world has always been a very complicated and chaotic place; because of this, no government has ever been omniscient about what to do regarding any international issue. It's one thing to give humanitarian aid like food, water, clothing, etc. indiscriminately to those in dire need (which I would support as long as it's emergency aid and not development aid). However, the idea that our administration believes it has the power to completely solve a deeply convoluted crisis half-way across the world with a few bombs here and there at no risk or cost to the United States is a bunch of utter rubbish. This is a classic case where militarily supporting one side in a foreign conflict would end up resulting in disastrous consequences for the intervening country, whether it be support for the rebels or support for the Assad regime.
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There simply isn't any way an intervention can end up having positive repercussions for the U.S. / Image retrieved from unescoheritagesites.blogspot.com

27.7.13

Verdict of "Aiding The Enemy" in Manning Trial Would Set Dangerous Precedent

Nicholas Farrar

UPDATE: Judge Army Col. Denise Lind has found Bradley Manning to be "not guilty" of aiding the enemy, but still convicted him of violating most of the lesser charges. (30.07.2013)

The defense attorney for Pfc. Bradley Manning, David Coombs, has said that a decision on the Manning trial from Judge Col. Denise Lind will be heard probably next Tuesday or Wednesday at the earliest.  The leaker has plead guilty to 10 of the lesser charges in the case back in February, which carries a possible 20 years in prison.  He has plead not guilty, however, to 12 other charges, most notably "aiding the enemy" – that he knowingly aided al-Qaeda by allowing the classified materials to be published on the internet.  He also denied he had "reason to believe such information could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation" by leaking the documents to WikiLeaks.
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An artist's drawing of the trial. / Image retrieved from activistpost.com

In my humble opinion, I have to agree with the former Private First Class that he should not be charged with Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), "aiding the enemy."  Now don't get me wrong, I am not a supporter of Manning by any means.  He said back in February that he hoped his leaks "...could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general," however the way he went about it put many of our diplomats and soldiers in danger.  If Manning only released discrete pieces of information that the public probably deserved to know about, then I might have a different opinion on him.  But he did not do that; he indiscriminately gave gigabytes upon gigabytes of information, including numerous diplomatic cables, to a shady organization that put all the materials on the internet for everyone to see.  This is precisely why he should go to prison and get punished for the very reckless behavior his military training distinctly taught him not to engage in.  But aiding the enemy?  I find that incredibly hard to believe.

Article 104 of the UCMJ outlines the criteria for "aiding the enemy":
Any person who—

(1) aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things; or

(2) without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to, or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly;

shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct. This section does not apply to a military commission established under chapter 47A of this title.
If you look at the past court cases in our country involving "aiding the enemy" charges, almost all of them regarded direct or indirect physical contact with the enemy.  There has only been one case in American history that involved someone giving information to a third party and then that party making the information available to the enemy.  This was in 1863 where a Union officer gave a newspaper rosters of Union soldiers, and was later sentenced to three months of hard labor.  With each case, though, one thing was always clear: the intent to aid the enemy.  Did Manning intend for the leaked material to end up in al-Qaeda's hands?  He has completely denied this claim, but if Judge Lind rules that giving classified information to the press is indeed on par with intending to "aid the enemy", then that would set in motion a very slippery slope for honourable whistle-blowers and journalists in the future.

To say that giving sensitive information to WikiLeaks means intentionally giving it to the terrorists would be an immensely broad interpretation of an already vague law.  Yes, WikiLeaks is very distasteful, incredibly anti-American, and has abhorrent morals and motives, but they are no less of a journalistic organization than The New York Times, The Guardian, or Der Spiegel are.  The work of journalists like Neil Sheehan and Glenn Greenwald would be implicated with such a verdict; their first amendment rights would be hindered if publishing potentially damaging documents to the public has the legal equivalent of intentionally giving information to the enemy.  If Manning ends up being charged with violating Article 104, then the ability of the press to perform as a watchdog would be threatened, and whistle-blowers, even those who expose corruption and unconstitutional acts, would more likely be considered traitorous for just doing their jobs.

27.6.13

Well Done SCOTUS, Well Done

 Nicholas Farrar

Only one American organization had filed briefs on the winning side of each of the four most covered Supreme Court case rulings that took place this week, concerning 1) affirmative action in university acceptance criteria; 2) section four of the Voting Rights Act of 1965;  3) most of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); and 4) an appeal on the district court's decision to strike down California's Proposition 8.  Which organization was it?

If you guessed the CATO Institute from Washington D.C., then you are most certainly correct.  Part of the think-tank's stated mission is "to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace," and the rulings on the four major cases I mentioned each reflect principles from this mission statement in some way or another.  In my opinion, CATO's briefs were right on-point, as well as the Supreme Court's, which did great wonders for our country this week, and for the future to come.

Let me start off with the two same-sex marriage cases, since I paid particular attention to those compared to the rest.  United States v. Windsor, the more crystal clear case of the two, had to do with the legality of section 3 of the DOMA, the federal definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.  To the pleasure of all gay and lesbian couples across the United States, it was struck down in dramatic fashion, in a 5-4 vote.  The main result that came from this ruling was that federal benefits and treatments can now finally be given to all married couples equally, not just restricted to heterosexual ones.
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A crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court yesterday. Someone I knew from my high school years is holding the "WE ARE YOU" sign. / Image credit to Andrew Aylward of the Wall Street Journal.
Now, the ideal situation would be for government to not get involved in the marriage business at all.  Marriage, throughout most of history, has been in fact nothing more than a private contract, so why should the government ever give any form of benefits to any couple, straight, gay, or polygamous?  The reason why they should is this: over the past century, government has involved the institution of marriage into an abundant amount of its policies. The tax code is a fine example, but you can also look at property laws, divorce settlements, health care, children, wills, and so on.  Can we truly get the government out of marriage for good?  Sure, but by doing so, you would have to reduce the institution of marriage as defined by the state to become nothing more than a social relationship. As a result, couples would have little to no legal value whatsoever.

Now, in contrary to what many Americans understood from this ruling, same-sex marriage is still not fully legal.  Section 2, the section that was not decided on, is still in tact, which allows states to not recognize gay marriages from outside jurisdictions, including other states.  At the surface, this may seem disappointing, but this is where the Hollingsworth v. Perry comes into play.  In 2010, the district court struck down Proposition 8 because there was no rational basis for the law; it violated the the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution, both found in the 14th amendment.  There was a subsequent appeal, but on Wednesday the SCOTUS determined that the district court's decision lacked standing to appeal since the state government refused to appeal the ruling to begin with.  Basically, the district court had proper jurisdiction while the court of appeals had not.

The Supreme Court did not set any formal precedents for other states, but Hollingsworth v. Perry is still a historic moment for gay couples not living in the Golden State.  If I were a psychic, I would predict that gay marriage restrictions in other states will be challenged to the fullest extent in the next decade, citing the ruling on Proposition 8 as the primary reason why.  Why am I so sure that more progress will be made in the near future?  Americans, as well as the entire globe in fact, have become more accepting to the idea of same-sex marriage and to letting consenting adults do what they want with their own lives---as long as it does not inflict on the rights of others.  Recent proof of this comes from the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, conducted on June 11-13 with the sampling error being plus or minus three percentage points, where 55% of Americans (as opposed to 44% from five years ago), back gay marriage.  In ten years, I will be shocked if not all fifty states have yet given equal rights to gay and lesbian couples, rights that should have been given to them years ago.

Watch former gay Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank as he reacts humbly to the SCOTUS rulings:



Moving on from gay rights, Fisher v. University of Texas (UT) was decided on Monday.  It was about the insanity of affirmative action being an available criteria for admitting prospective students into colleges and universities across the nation.  The case began in 2008, when Abigail Fisher claimed that the university denying her admission because of her race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the fourteenth amendment.  The district court unfortunately backed the college with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the ruling, finding that the standards set in Grutter v. Bollinger from 2003 had been upheld.  The SCOTUS had different ideas, thankfully.  They voided the lower court's decision with a 7-1 vote on the basis that strict scrutiny had not been applied, and punted the ruling altogether (which CATO hoped would happen when they filed their brief last year).  While defenders of affirmative action can claim partial victory since UT's policies had not been changed, Fisher sees this ruling in a positive light as well.  Since the appeal court's ruling was deemed void, subsequently remanding the case, the fight for her is far from over.  I will keep following this case in great detail in the hope that affirmative action will eventually have an affirmative end in university admissions.

Another case this week, Shelby County v. Holder, had to do with Section 4-b of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, where southern states that implemented discriminatory voting laws decades ago were required to seek approval from the Justice Department if they ever wanted to change their voting laws.  This was all based on a formula, and the point was to prevent racism at the polls.  The intent was equitable in the 1960s when discrimination against black voters was rampant, however right now in 2013 there is absolutely no reason for such a law.  Racism is extremely rare to find in the United States today, which was why five out of the nine justices made the right decision by striking the section down on Tuesday.  Any observant individual should notice that if a law-abiding citizen wants to vote, they are able to do so with no problem.  That is not to say federal clearance is never justified; if a state gets out of control and tears up the Constitution, Congress has a reason to act.  By doing so, however, they would have to provide a legitimate reason(s) for acting in the first place.  Besides, why would anyone want to require states to seek permission from Eric Holder anyways?  With "Fast and Furious" and the Associated Press scandal, one would think that his reputation has been more than tarnished by now.  Yet, somehow he is still in power.  I love our administration.
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Why leave firearms in the hands of law-abiding Americans when you can give them to drug cartels? / Image credit goes to Independent Journal Review.