Blog Archives

Hillary Got Bern-ed!

Get out your sunblock, Hillary! (imgflip.com)

By now, I am sure you’ve heard that in yesterday’s New Hampshire primaries, it wasn’t Democratic favorite and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who kicked serious ass. It was the independent senator from Vermont and self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders who took home the victory by a margin of more than 20%.

In other words, it was Hillary’s ass that got kicked, but she wasn’t alone. A host of Republican candidates met similar fates as real estate mogul Donald Trump garnered 35% of the GOP votes, followed by John Kasich (16%) and Texas whack-a-doodle Ted Cruz (12%).

Other GOP hopefuls effectively had some wind taken out of their sails, the most notable of which was the repetitious and robotic Marco Rubio, who along with Jeb Bush pulled in only 11% of the Republican votes. Candidates Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson never even managed to break the 10% mark.

What does all this mean? Your guess is as good as mine since we all know politics is little more than media-fueled horse shit. However, it does indicate one very important point: people are tired of supporting establishment candidates who never seem to accomplish anything in Washington. Clearly, it is time for a change.

And don’t be surprised if we all feel the Bern soon!

Misappropriation

Your tax dollars at work (SIGAR)

Although it comes as no surprise, I just read how the Department of Defense spent roughly $43 million to build a compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan that would have cost less than $500,000 to build anywhere in the world. Apparently, this was one project of many for the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which had a 2010-2014 budget of more than $800 million for projects in Afghanistan alone.

Meanwhile—back in the United States—people were out of work, struggling to make a decent wage, paying tons of money for overpriced health care and generally feeling like complete shit.

Of course, many of them likely felt their government was doing all it could to make life better for its citizens—when in actuality, that simply wasn’t the case.

I realize that criticizing our government is likely a waste of time—since nothing ever seems to change—but does anyone else feel as if $800 million spent stateside could have done some actual good? The $43 million gas station in Afghanistan isn’t even operational, for goodness sake!

These days, people seem to be focusing their attention on the 2016 presidential race and candidates like Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Don’t they realize that it doesn’t matter who is elected or who controls Congress or the House when the whole damned system is screwed up? Is one person or one group of overpaid, vindictive, partisan assholes really going to change things for the better—or are they simply going to give in to the corruption in Washington and line their own coffers at the expense of everyone else in our beloved country?

People always tell you to get out and vote. If this political bullshit and government abuse continues, however, I fear more people will opt for the former rather than the latter.

Better tighten your border security, Canada!

Politics as Usual

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… but not really (Getty Images)

I absolutely love election season!

If you sense sarcasm in that statement, it’s probably because I’m laying it on pretty thick.

Truthfully, politics suck. And they suck worst of all leading up to an election, mostly because once-tranquil front yards get peppered with campaign signs and enjoyable television shows get interrupted by endless campaign commercials… most of which aren’t even sponsored by the candidates themselves!

Of course, what annoy me most of all are the ridiculous claims made by GOP candidates, conservative talk-show hosts and other Republican supporters. Granted, Democrats have their share of problems—as do all politicians—but for some reason, the GOP tends to be more public in their inanity.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Consider these examples and decide for yourself:

  • In Sarasota, Florida on Tuesday night, conservative radio host Dennis Prager claimed the number of sexual assaults on college campuses was little more than an attempt by Democrats to win votes. “It’s a gargantuan lie to get votes,” Prager claimed. “It’s as big a lie as the culture of rape on your campuses. What nonsense.” I guess the fact that one in five women is sexually assaulted on college campuses means nothing, huh?
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie recently supported the quarantine of Kaci Hickox, a nurse returning from West Africa who tested negative for the Ebola virus, yet was forced into isolation at a Newark hospital. When Hickox was finally released on Monday, she threatened a lawsuit and prompted this response from the “big-boned” governor: “Whatever. Get in line. I’ve been sued lots of times before… I’m happy to take it on.” And some people thought this rude and immature jackass should run for president!
  • On Tuesday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker released a campaign video that featured his female lieutenant governor praising his support of equal pay for women. Unfortunately, Walker seems to have forgotten that several years ago he signed a bill that repealed the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act. Can anyone say hypocrisy?
  • Jody Hice, a conservative radio host and Republican candidate for Georgia’s 10th District, recently suggested that removing prayer from schools led to the pedophilia scandal at Penn State University several years ago. “The whole issue is a morally bankrupt nation is where we are,” Hice explained. “You can go back decades as we first kicked the Bible out of schools and prayer out of schools, and we’ve just basically been going downhill since then.” Of course, few people are more “morally bankrupt” than politicians, but as long as they’re praying, why should that matter?

These are just a few of the crazy GOP stories floating around out there, but the “best of the bunch” still centers on one very irrelevant political pundit, the great Sarah Palin. Aside from threatening to run for office again—which added even more horror to this year’s Halloween festivities—Palin also compared the “junk science” of climate change to past hysteria over eugenics (the belief and practice of improving the quality of human genetics).

Every time she opens her mouth, the environment dies a little (Addicting Info)

Palin admits that climate change exists, but refuses to accept any of it is man-made. “No one has proven that these changes are caused by anything done by human beings via greenhouse gases,” she said recently. “There’s no convincing scientific evidence for man-made climate change. The climate has always been changing.”

And this woman came close to being our Vice President? What the hell?

Of course, Palin couldn’t be more incorrect in her claim, and I’ll tell you why: politicians are contributing to climate change right now. As they sling their political bullshit, they produce more methane, which in turn leads to global warming.

Want to help with climate change, Sarah? Shut your mouth and I’m sure we will all be better off!

Go “Frack” Yourself!

How fracking dumb can you get? (Passionists International)

According to the website Dangers of Fracking, hydraulic fracturing is “the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.” And at the moment, there are more than 500,000 active natural gas wells in the United States.

Unfortunately, my home state of North Carolina is looking to add more wells to the mix, thanks primarily to Republicans who hope to remove a state moratorium preventing hydraulic fracturing. And on Wednesday, preliminary approval for fracking passed with a House vote of 63-52, which means permits for natural gas removal could begin being issued as early as next year. Oh joy!

To support their efforts, proponents of hydraulic fracturing focus primarily on two perceived benefits of this controversial practice. The first is obviously more abundant fuel, since natural gas pockets are everywhere. And the second benefit—which is equally obvious—is a boost to the local economies of any towns, cities or counties brave enough to incorporate fracking into their energy plans.

Of course, when you examine the potential dangers of fracking, it hardly seems worth the trouble. Consider the following statistics, which again come from the website Dangers of Fracking:

  • Each gas well requires 400 tanker trucks to carry water and supplies to and from the sites.
  • It takes 1-8 million gallons of water to complete each fracturing job.
  • The water used in fracking is mixed with sand and chemicals to create fracking fluid—and approximately 40,000 gallons of chemicals are used during each fracturing.
  • Fracking fluid is created with up to 600 chemicals, including toxins and carcinogens like lead, mercury, uranium, methanol, hydrochloric acid, radium and even formaldehyde. This fluid is pressure injected into the ground through a pipeline—usually down 10,000 feet or more—where it cracks shale rock and creates fissures where natural gas flows into the well.
  • During the fracking process, methane gas and toxic chemicals leak out from the system and can contaminate ground water. In fact, the concentrations of methane in drinking-water wells near fracking sites are 17 times higher than in normal wells.
  • Only 30-50% of the fracturing fluid is recovered, while the rest remains in the ground… and it is not biodegradable, either.
  • The waste fluid is left in open air pits to evaporate and releases harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere, which can contaminate the air, create ground-level ozone and even cause acid rain.
  • To date, there have been over 1,000 documented cases of water contamination near gas drilling areas, as well as cases of respiratory, sensory and neurological damage due to the ingestion of contaminated water.

Sorry, but I’d rather find other ways to provide clean energy—ways that won’t destroy the environment or kill people. Unfortunately, oil companies and other fossil fuel peddlers disagree because ultimately, moving to alternative energies reduces their profits—and we certainly can’t have that, can we?

It’s all pretty sad if you consider that America could run completely on alternative energies and eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels altogether. Combining things like wind, solar, wave, tidal and even geothermal power could make oil and natural gas little more than memories, while also saving an environment that appears to be deteriorating at a much more rapid pace. Of course, all you hear is how expensive it is to fund renewable energy systems, and that’s exactly what lawmakers want you to believe. If we feel we can’t afford them, then we’re far less likely to disturb the status quo or rock the proverbial fossil fuel boat, after all.

The truth of the matter (Khalil Bendib)

Too bad this is a huge, stinky load of horse shit.

The truth is that if we all worked together—and put financial concerns aside—we could utilize clean, renewable energy across our great nation and end up saving money, lives and the environment in the process. We could also reduce or eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, which in turn would make military operations like those that occurred in Iraq and Kuwait unnecessary. And we all know why America fought so hard to remove Saddam Hussein from power: to protect its oil!

Sadly, money talks and big business opposes anything that might take cash from their coffers, so alternative energies—some of which have been available for decades—remain just that: alternative. And though I remain optimistic that America will eventually “see the light” and start utilizing things like solar and wind power more frequently, I fear nothing will change as long as we allow corporations and politicians to run our country.

In other words, the time for an energy revolution has come, people. So when supporters of hydraulic fracturing come calling, do us all a favor and tell them to “go frack themselves.” The future is now and if there is any “energy hope” left for humanity, it won’t come from fossil fuels and natural gas; it will come from renewable energy.

Too bad lawmakers in North Carolina are too blind, greedy and self-serving to see that. Crazy bastards…

Apocalypse Now?

How soon is now? (CDC)

Is it just me or does anyone else feel like the zombie apocalypse could be coming sooner rather than later?

Years ago, I proposed a theory that may not have been original—or maybe it was—but that may also be applied to current times. The theory postulated that the government was gradually introducing us to the idea of alien life through the media and popular culture. In film, for instance, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial teaches us to be wary of aliens, yet compassionate, while Independence Day prepares us for more hostile alien encounters.

In my view—and if my theory was correct—this meant the government had evidence that aliens existed, but were hesitant to share it because of the panic it might create for the rest of us. Sure, they also may have hidden it in order to release alien technology to the public in the form of innovative products—like Velcro and Silly Putty—but that’s neither here nor there.

These days, I don’t think many of us would be that shocked if E.T. walked up to us on the street—box of Reese’s Pieces in hand—and asked to borrow our cell phone so he could “phone home,” so in many ways it seems as if the government’s efforts worked.

Zombies, on the other hand, are a different story.

Could “The Walking Dead” help us survive a zombie apocalypse? (AMC)

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a zombie nut—and a cult-like follower of AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead—so there’s a small part of me that not only expects a zombie apocalypse, but also welcomes it. I don’t have a special kit made or a huge stockpile of weapons and canned food, mind you, but I do have plans. And I’ll be ready to execute those plans at a moment’s notice if the undead shit hits the fan.

Of course, we all know the odds of this really happening are slim. Not slim-to-none, just slim. Why the upgrade in zombie danger level, you ask? That’s easy: Mother Nature.

Consider the 2008 M. Night Shyamalan film and box-office bomb The Happening, for instance. Even though the movie generally sucks—and this is coming from a huge MNS fan, mind you—its premise has always intrigued me. Basically, Mother Nature comes to view humankind as a threat, creates an airborne virus that causes people to immediately kill themselves, and “thins the herd” so fewer humans exist to harm the planet.

It’s actually quite creepy, if you think about it, but not outside the realm of possibility, I’m afraid. Just look at the strange viruses that keep popping up all over the world—many transmitted from animals like birds, pigs, monkeys and even camels. I’m referring, of course, to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, otherwise known as MERS.

MERS is a deadly viral respiratory illness caused by a corona virus and first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. Since then, it has spread to 18 countries—including the U.S.—and has a kill rate of roughly 30%. And this Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control reported the first person-to-person transmission of MERS in the U.S.

The deadly MERS-CoV virus (WHO)

In other words, it’s spreading.

The good news is that most people who contract MERS live to tell about it, but viruses—and Mother Nature, for that matter—always adapt. Imagine this happens again and the new MERS virus, which we can call MERS-2, has a slightly different effect: it turns people into zombies!

Suddenly, we’re in the midst of the zombie apocalypse—one brought about by Mother Nature and intended to rid the world of as many human beings as possible. Why, Lord, why could we never truly commit to recycling, sustainability, green energy and the rest of that tree-hugging, granola-chomping lifestyle?

Why, indeed. And I certainly wouldn’t look to the Lord for help. Consider this: if the Antichrist is supposed to come from the Middle East to start the so-called “end of days,” is it possible he could come in viral form rather than human? What better way to cleanse the world of its people than to have them annihilate themselves? You could even label survivors as the Chosen—the ones brave, resourceful and fortunate enough to be worthy of Heaven following the Second Coming.

Okay. This religious angle is kind of a stretch, but MERS certainly could become MERS-2 given the right set of circumstances. Again, the odds are slim, but I was a little concerned by some news I heard recently—news intended to be funny, but which could also veil a more serious message.

Check out the Pentagon’s zombie preparedness plan (US Government)

It came from the Pentagon as CONPLAN 8888, also known as Counter-Zombie Dominance—a detailed plan of how the military should respond when a zombie apocalypse occurs. Read it for yourself by going HERE. It’s pretty hilarious.

“The document is identified as a training tool used in an in-house training exercise where students learn about the basic concepts of military plans and order development through a fictional training scenario,” a spokeswoman for U.S. Strategic Command said recently. “This document is not a U.S. Strategic Command plan.”

Despite being a very creative way to train soldiers—albeit a fictional one—I wonder if my old theory about the government, aliens and pop culture can be applied here. If so, then it stands to reason that this “training document”—and perhaps everything pop culture about zombies and the undead—is supposed to prepare us for what’s coming… namely the zombie apocalypse, which may or may not be MERS-induced.

It could start after some space germ jumps off a meteor that just crashed to Earth and starts spreading through the heartland… or in some secret government lab where the testing of a new chemical weapon goes horribly awry… you just never know, but you can be ready.

Bring it on, zombies!

Safe Carry, Very Scary

Guns in bars? Great idea… not! (Washington Post)

Last month, Georgia’s Republican governor Nathan Deal signed the state’s Safe Carry Protection Act—otherwise known as the “guns everywhere bill”—into law. In essence, this gives Georgia gun owners with concealed weapons permits the right to be “strapped” in bars, schools, churches… basically everywhere you hope not to see firearms.

I mean, have we learned nothing from Columbine, Newtown and every other gun-related tragedy in recent years?

The new law goes into effect on July 1, but that hasn’t stopped gun lovers from carrying their gats everywhere NOW. Three days after the ill-advised bill was signed, a Forsythe County man was seen walking through a public park—filled with children and their parents—showing his gun to passersby, waving it in the air and screaming things like “I got a gun and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

What’s next, Georgia? Armed children? (EIGA SEISAKU IINKAI)

Within minutes, police received dozens of 911 calls and dispatched officers to the scene. Fortunately for this gun-crazed maniac, he had a legal permit to carry his weapon and since he made no verbal threats or gestures, he couldn’t be arrested. Police couldn’t even ask him to leave, for goodness sake.

The same couldn’t be said for some of the parents, though, who immediately grabbed their kids and hauled ass.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but how can a law like this be a good thing? Am I supposed to believe that armed customers getting hammered in some pub should be trusted not to discharge their firearms if a fight breaks out? I used to be a bartender and—believe me—even the most well-mannered, seemingly stable people can become impulsive and volatile under the influence of alcohol. Hell, I’ve seen customers come to blows over the stupidest things. Thankfully, none of them were armed or things could have been much, much worse… kind of like they’re likely to get in Georgia as time passes.

I guess I won’t be visiting that state anytime soon, at least not without a Kevlar body suit!

Selling Out for Jack and Lee

Jack and Lee (Veterans Today)

Jack and Lee (Veterans Today)

Okay. I give up.

Despite yesterday being the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—one of the defining moments in our nation’s history and arguably the most controversial event of the 20th century—I thought I could escape without writing about it. After all, there are millions of shows, books, newscasts, documentaries, films, magazine articles, federal documents and other resources devoted to the minutiae of that tragic day in Dallas. Why even attempt to join the conversation, especially a day late?

I’ll tell you why: because I’m a huge skeptic and conspiracy theorist in my own right. And the JFK assassination is the Great White Whale of conspiracies—or at least alleged conspiracies.

Don’t worry, though. The 1991 Oliver Stone film JFK only sparked my curiosity. Since then I have read extensively on the subject and even though I still believe there was some kind of conspiracy involved, I am capable of seeing both sides. Of course, that’s not why I’m writing today. Covering one conspiracy theory after another seems too much like beating a dead horse, so instead I’ll share some facts I learned along the way.

And yes, some of these come from a marathon evening of History Channel specials about the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination. I hope you enjoy them nonetheless!

Senator Fulbright warned JFK about Texas (Corbis Images)

Senator Fulbright warned JFK about Texas (Corbis Images)

Please don’t go: Before he left for Dallas, President Kennedy received warnings urging him to reconsider. One came from U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, who described Texas as “dangerous.” The other came via letter through Kennedy’s press secretary from a Texas resident. It read simply “Don’t let the President go to Texas. Texas is too dangerous.” Oh well. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

The Bad Seed: According to the former owner of the Bronx apartment building where Lee Harvey Oswald lived as a child, the young Oswald always had a violent streak. He once got a BB gun for Christmas, perched himself in a window and used it to target neighbors’ windows… and sometimes even the neighbors themselves!

A young Oswald in trouble with the law (US National Archives)

A young Oswald in trouble with the law (US National Archives)

Killer Practice: Nearly seven months before the Kennedy assassination, Oswald tried to murder former U.S. Army major general Edwin Walker as he sat in the dining room of his home. A self-proclaimed Marxist, Oswald objected to Walker’s militant ant-Communist views and fired several shots through his window. The shots were deflected by the window frame, shattered and injured Walker in the process. Oswald only became a suspect in the April 10, 1963 shooting after being arrested for murdering President Kennedy the following November.

Walter Cronkite covers the story (Getty Images)

Walter Cronkite covers the story (Getty Images)

Round-the-Clock News: Following President Kennedy’s assassination, the three major television networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—covered the story non-stop and commercial-free for nearly four days. Prior to the events of September 11, 2001, this was the longest uninterrupted news event in American television history!

What Would You Say: JFK’s last words were spoken to Nelli Connally, the wife of then-Texas Governor John Connally. “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you!” she told him. The president replied, “That is very obvious.” And those were the last words he would ever speak again.

JFK en route to his death (Wikipedia Commons)

JFK en route to his death (Wikipedia Commons)

Sit Up Straight: On that fateful November day, the president was wearing a back brace that kept his spine straight—he often struggled with a sore back—but also forced him to sit upright. This limited his mobility—as well as his ability to take cover—and made him an easy target for the fatal headshot to come.

Shaken, Not Stirred: President Kennedy was known to be a huge fan of British Agent 007 James Bond and was supposedly writing his own spy novel. It centered around a coup d’état led by none other than—wait for it—Vice President Lyndon Johnson! Take that and run with it, my conspiracy theorist brothers and sisters!

A Slap on the Wrist: Believe it or not, but killing or attempting to kill the President wasn’t even a federal offense in 1963—and wouldn’t become one until several years later. Had Oswald lived long enough to stand trial, it would have happened in Texas according to state law. One way or another he would have died, though. I’m fairly certain of that.

Famous home filmmaker Abraham Zapruder (Getty Images)

Famous home filmmaker Abraham Zapruder (Getty Images)

I’m in the Money: The now infamous home movie of the Kennedy assassination—shot by clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder near the so-called “grassy knoll” in Dealey Plaza—was purchased by Life magazine for $150,000. The American public wouldn’t see it until 12 years later or—if you’re like me—until 1991, the year the film JFK was released.

Getting Technical: Lee Harvey Oswald was never arrested for the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Instead, he was taken into custody for shooting Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit roughly 45 minutes later. Oswald wasn’t charged with Kennedy’s murder until later, despite the evidence against him being largely circumstantial. Of course, none of it mattered since JFK’s alleged killer was gunned down by nightclub owner Jack Ruby before he could face any of the charges against him.

Please Come In: In the days leading up to Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder, Jack Ruby can be seen numerous times on the third floor of the municipal building where the suspected assassin is being held. He was never checked for identification—despite there being no need for the services of a nightclub owner—and even reached the door of the room where Oswald was being held. On the morning of Oswald’s transfer to county jail, Ruby visits a nearby Western Union office—to wire some money to one of his strippers who is behind on her rent—and then manages to slip into the basement of the police station… a mere moments before Oswald is escorted to his death!

The infamous stills from Zapruder's film (Life Magazine)

The infamous stills from Zapruder’s film (Life Magazine)

The Lady Had Class: Shortly after the murders of both JFK and Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, First Lady Jackie Kennedy wrote Tippit’s widow a heartfelt note. In it, she expressed her deepest condolences, insisted that neither death was more important than the other—despite the publicity for the President overshadowing Tippit’s death—and said the eternal flame burning in Washington for Kennedy also burned for her husband. I can understand why our nation loved Jackie so much. What a classy lady.

Jackie's note to Mrs. Tippit (NBC News)

Jackie’s note to Mrs. Tippit (NBC News)

So ends my foray into the 1963 assassination of 36thU.S. president John Fitzgerald Kennedy by the lone gunman and pro-Communist supporter Lee Harvey Oswald… or the mob… or the Russians… or the CIA… or whoever the hell was responsible. Sadly, the truth of that tragic fall day in Dallas may never be known. Oliver Stone’s film helped since it forced the declassification of 97% of the federal documents related to Kennedy’s assassination. The other 3% could be declassified in 2017, as long as our next president allows this to happen.

Personally, I’m hoping for another Democrat since a Republican president seems far less likely to share this information with the American public. Or maybe just a young, level-headed president, regardless of political affiliation… someone like JFK!

Pop-Up Post: Shut It Down!

An employee hangs a sign on the door of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington on November 14, 1995, marking the start of the government shutdown.

Is a government shut down on the horizon? (Doug Mills/AP)

Only one week remains before the U.S. federal government faces yet another possible shut down. Why? Because true to form, Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on a damn thing.

It’s the same old song-and-dance, of course, but one that I as an American am getting pretty tired of hearing.

Oh, how I long for the days when the government served the people rather than the special interests of every jackass politician in Washington. People seem much more focused on their own needs than those of the citizens they were elected to serve. And instead of collaboration, teamwork and actually doing what needs to get done, politicians would rather bicker and whine about everything that crosses their desk.

It’s enough to get Americans packing as they seek out a country—and a government—that is less contentious and more helpful… a government that functions more as it was intended to function, in other words.

Does such a government exist, though? I seriously doubt it, so perhaps a different approach is needed.

I say shut the federal government down, but only after you lower the salaries and “kickbacks” to politicians so they can actually experience what the rest of us experience… for a change.

The economy is slowly turning around, more people are being employed and generally, things seem to be looking up in this country. Granted, we still have a ways to go, but we seem to be off to a good start.

Or at least we did.

I know the feeling (Some E-cards)

A government shut down would erase all this progress and replace it with a host of other issues: closed national parks, furloughs for federal workers, no gun permits (which actually seems like a good thing), the inability to obtain a passport for international travel and much more.

Of course, the biggest consequence will be financial. During the two previous shut downs in 1995 and 1996, the cost of getting our government back up and running was roughly $1.4 billion.

Does this seem like an amount our struggling economy can afford to lose, especially with millions of people out of work and fighting for their day-to-day survival?

We all know the answer to that question. I only hope our elected officials can figure it out before they dig the hole a little deeper for the rest of us.

Snowden Leaks Again

NSA leaker Edward Snowden: Traitor or Patriot? (bauderart.deviantart.com)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Russian President Vladimir Putin say he would only grant asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden if he stopped releasing confidential information about American intelligence programs to the media?

I ask because earlier this morning, I heard that Snowden’s application for political asylum had been approved for one year and that he was now on Russian soil at some undisclosed location—as opposed to simply kicking it at the airport in Moscow.

Almost in the same breath, I heard Snowden had again leaked information to the British newspaper The Guardian, this time about an NSA data collection program known as XKeyscore.

Apparently, intelligence agents can use this program to search through the entire online history of an individual without a warrant, court clearance or even a signature on some authorization form. Things like browsing histories, emails, chats, searches and any other Internet-related data are only a few keystrokes away. And for a single query, agents can access information for as many as two million people.

It’s kind of like the analogy we all hear about sexually transmitted diseases and sexual partners. Health officials say that when you have sex with one person—especially unprotected sex—you are having sex with anyone they ever came into contact with, anyone those people ever came into contact with, and so on and so forth. This means that having sex with only one person could be equivalent to intimacy with hundreds or even thousands of others.

NSA data mining works essentially the same way since investigating one individual also connects intelligence agents to all of their contacts, all of their contacts’ contacts… you get the picture. So when the government claims that programs like XKeyscore rarely gather information on more than a handful of people each year, what they really mean is they perform only a handful of queries each year. The results for each, however, could be very extensive and much more detailed than the NSA likely cares to admit.

Watch out… you never know who might be listening (Daniel Kurtzman/About.com)

Last month, I published an article entitled “No Home for Snowden” and wrote the following line, which pissed some people off: “I also can’t help but wonder if Snowden has his own agenda, one that the public is not yet privy to.” This was intended to show how we all have secrets and hidden motivators we don’t necessarily share with others, but that may influence our actions and decisions nonetheless. Granted, I could have worded this differently, but misunderstanding is one of the unfortunate risks of blogging. And honestly, sometimes people accuse you of being unfair, too political or uninformed when clearly that is not the case.

Like many others, I initially gave into the media hype about Snowden and viewed him not as a traitor, necessarily, but as a rule-breaker who could potentially put innocent people at risk—not to mention a media hog on every news site, newspaper and newscast in the world. Then I started reading up on him, his situation and the secret government programs he revealed and realized something: this man isn’t a traitor; he’s a hero!

I don’t know Edward Snowden and I probably never will, but that didn’t prevent me from developing great respect for this courageous young man. He learned about secret government surveillance programs used to invade the privacy of innocent Americans and chose not to ignore them, but to expose them. Snowden knew the potential consequences of his actions—which are now playing out in the media almost daily—but decided the public’s right to know far outweighed any personal risk. And for that, I commend him.

Who knows what the next chapter in the Edward Snowden saga will bring. For now, he is safely in Russia and can remain there for the next year before moving to his next destination—wherever that might be. Is this fair for someone many—including myself—believe to be a government whistle-blower and patriot? Certainly not, but at least it’s a start.

I hope that someday Snowden can return to America not in handcuffs and in danger of being imprisoned as a traitor for the rest of his natural life, but as a patriotic American who noticed government wrongdoing and took action to expose and hopefully stop it.

After all, who can we trust to share this kind of information with us if our government isn’t willing to do it themselves?

No Home for Snowden

Snowden is on the run (courtesy of Reuters)

Edward Snowden—the former government contractor responsible for leaking documents and other information about the U.S. National Security Agency‘s secret intelligence and surveillance programs—is a man without a country.

At the moment, he is hunkered down at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, where he has been hiding since he left Hong Kong more than a week ago. According to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks—which has been assisting Snowden in his efforts to avoid American persecution for espionage—as many as 19 asylum requests have been sent to countries ranging from Austria and Finland to Brazil and Ecuador (incidentally the same country now harboring WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in its London embassy). Unfortunately, no one has stepped up to help the internationally known fugitive.

At least not yet.

There were rumors that Snowden would attempt to stay in Russia, but they were quickly dispelled on Monday when President Vladimir Putin said he could remain only if he stopped “his work aimed at harming our American partners.”

The NSA is not happy (courtesy of the NSA)

Apparently, Snowden has more information about the NSA that he feels should go public, so keep your eyes peeled for more “revelations” in the near future.

Like many Americans, I have been following this story a little—mostly because it’s impossible to switch on the news without hearing something about Snowden and his globe-trotting ways—but I also find myself wondering what all the fuss is about.

Wasn’t it made clear after the events of September 11th that some privacy would have to be sacrificed in order to prevent future acts of terrorism? Is this not the basis of the Homeland Security Act and, by design, the Department of Homeland Security?

To think the government of any country is guilt-free when it comes to monitoring their citizens, infringing on people’s privacy and collecting personal information is naive at best. This kind of thing has been happening for decades or longer, so nothing revealed by Snowden thus far is very surprising. At most, it is simply an embarrassment to the U.S. government, but not that much of one, if you ask me.

Of course, I do give Snowden credit for doing something so dangerous, all in an effort to keep the American people informed and to provide greater transparency of the federal government. Here’s how he put it when he was first interviewed by The Guardian newspaper in Great Britain:

“I’m willing to sacrifice… because I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

Commendable, to be sure, but his methods may have been ill-advised. Releasing information anonymously—perhaps through WikiLeaks—could have prevented all this trouble, which now includes the revocation of Snowden’s passport, effectively making him a citizen of the world but a resident of nowhere.

I also can’t help but wonder if Snowden has his own agenda, one that the public is not yet privy to. One lesson that I learned long ago is that regardless of how selfless an act may seem, the person behind it almost always has something to gain from it. Granted, I can’t figure out what Snowden’s angle is, but I’m confident that he has one. And serving the public good may not be his only intention.

The good news is that details about this story continue to emerge on an almost hourly basis, so we should all know more very soon. And honestly, I hope this situation is resolved soon because I can already feel media fatigue setting in.

That almost never happens!

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