Modern Age Revolution

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In the fall of 2012, German-language publisher Steidel announced that it was working with The Gordon Parks Foundation to produce a series of five books that serve as a retrospective of Parks’ photographic career.

The book begins in 1942 with the first professional position Parks held at the Farm Security Administration under the guidance of the program’s director, Roy Stryker. The iconic photograph of Ella Watson from this period, known as “American Gothic,” remains one of Parks’ most important and recognizable images. Aiming to expose intolerance and to fight social injustice, Parks worked for the U.S. Office of War Information and Standard Oil of New Jersey before becoming the first African American photographer for LIFE magazine in 1948. Over the course of more than two decades, Parks produced photo-essays on an exceptionally broad range of topics, including gang wars in Harlem, fashion in Paris, and segregation in the American South, before embarking on his successful career as film director.

The images published in LIFE magazine illustrate in a visceral way what it means to live in a society where you are perpetually “separate but equal.”

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Wayne LaPierre Is A Crazy Person

Crazy insane or insane crazy?

Since 1991, All-World crazy person Wayne LaPierre has been in charge of one of the most loathsome forces plaguing American politics: The National Rifle Association. For over 20 years, LaPierre (who pulls in a yearly salary of $970,000) has served as the NRA’s Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, as well as a thorn in the side of rational Americans everywhere. Following LaPierre’s unhinged press conference in response to the tragic killings in Newtown, Connecticut, many people are just now becoming familiar with LaPierre’s distinct brand of insanity, while also wondering how someone so clearly disturbed could manage to be a predominant force in American politics for so long.

This is the story of Wayne LaPierre, Crazy Person.


For awhile, Wayne LaPierre appeared to be your run-of-the-mill loon, making the standard issue delusional pronouncements about Big Government Coming For Your Guns:

According to the January 7, 1993 Miami Herald, he urged members, “Only with your direct input can we stop President Clinton and his anti-gun allies from RIPPING THE SECOND AMENDMENT RIGHT OUT OF THE CONSTITUTION.”

As time wore on, hints of the LaPierre lunacy we are now depressingly all too familiar with began peeking through the surface:

Much of the annual convention in Minneapolis was devoted to attacks on the press. “Our media has become the master over the very Constitution that created it,” said Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A. leader. “Forget Stalin’s Russia. Forget Hitler’s Germany. The mightiest propaganda machine the world has ever known is right here in 1994 America.” …

But when LaPierre addresses his constituency, he preaches nonaccommodation on guns. “The Final War Has Begun” was the message he delivered in The Rifleman after the House passage of the weapons ban.

But the first real taste of LaPierre lunacy the world at large experienced came on the heels of the Oklahoma City Bombing. LaPierre sent out a NRA fundraising letter describing federal agents as “jack-booted government thugs” who wear “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.”

The six-page NRA letter signed by LaPierre and sent earlier this month singles out lawmakers who are pressing for gun control legislation and says: “It doesn’t matter to them that the semi-auto ban gives jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us.”

It goes on: “Not too long ago, it was unthinkable for federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens.”

LaPierre was initially defiant once news of the fundraising letter became public, as you would expect a man fundamentally detached from reality to do:

The National Rifle Association’s top official defended the inflammatory language his organization has used about federal agents, saying yesterday that references to “jack-booted government thugs” are accurate.

“Those words are not far, in fact they are a pretty close description of what’s happening in the real world,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne La- Pierre said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The NRA’s attack on federal agents, made in a fund-raising letter, has been cited as an example of the kind of rhetoric that creates a climate for violent acts such as the Oklahoma City bombing. LaPierre insisted that is not the case.

“That’s like saying the weather report in Florida on the hurricane caused the damage, rather than the hurricane,” he said.

Former President George H.W. Bush was so infuriated by LaPierre’s statements that he resigned his NRA life membership and unleashed a devastating resignation letter that was a salvo against LaPierre and his radical vision for the NRA:

I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as “jack-booted thugs.” To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as “wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms” wanting to “attack law abiding citizens” is a vicious slander on good people.

Al Whicher, who served on my [ United States Secret Service ] detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City. He was no Nazi. He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country — and serve it well he did.

In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty. I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi.

John Magaw, who used to head the U.S.S.S. and now heads A.T.F., is one of the most principled, decent men I have ever known. He would be the last to condone the kind of illegal behavior your ugly letter charges. The same is true for the F.B.I.’s able Director Louis Freeh. I appointed Mr. Freeh to the Federal Bench. His integrity and honor are beyond question.

Both John Magaw and Judge Freeh were in office when I was President. They both now serve in the current administration. They both have badges. Neither of them would ever give the government’s “go ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law abiding citizens.” (Your words)

I am a gun owner and an avid hunter. Over the years I have agreed with most of N.R.A.’s objectives, particularly your educational and training efforts, and your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.

However, your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.

You have not repudiated Mr. LaPierre’s unwarranted attack. Therefore, I resign as a Life Member of N.R.A., said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of this letter. Please remove my name from your membership list.


George Bush

Eventually, LaPierre would apologize, saying, “If anyone thought the intention was to paint all federal law enforcement officials with the same broad brush, I’m sorry.” He even managed to survive an attempt by a rival and more extreme NRA official to oust him from power.

Naturally, it surprised no one when only a few years later, LaPierre again unleashed a deranged attack against the Clinton Administration, this time accusing President Clinton of enabling violence in America in order to pass his gun control agenda:

“I’ve come to believe he needs a certain level of violence in this country,” LaPierre told ABC News on the March 15, 2000 episode of Nightline. “He’s willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda. And the vice president, too. I mean, how else can you explain this dishonesty we get out of the administration?”

Of course, if there is anyone who knows about accountability to the people, it’s Wayne LaPierre. Just check out the way he responded to the father of a student who was killed in the Columbine High School shootings:

A couple of years after his 15-year-old son Daniel was killed in the Columbine high school shooting in April 1999, Tom Mauser bumped into Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, at a charity event.

It was a fortuitous meeting for Mauser. In the months after the massacre, in which 12 students and a teacher died, LaPierre had been seminal in lobbying against a Congressional bill that would have closed the gun show loophole that allows firearms to be sold by private sellers without any background check on the purchaser. The loophole was exploited by the Columbine killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, to procure their weapons.

After the bill collapsed, Mauser had written to the NRA asking why it had so fiercely opposed such a sensible safeguard to prevent future tragedies. “I wrote: ‘Do you have any idea what it’s like to go through this, to lose your son in that way? Why are you doing this?'” Mauser says.

Mauser was surprised by the NRA’s response. Or lack of it. The NRA simply did not reply.

So he raised the matter with LaPierre when he happened upon him, and LaPierre, being the polite and affable character he is widely said to be, promised to find out what had happened to the letter. Months passed, and still Mauser received no reply, so in 2002 he presented a copy of the same letter to the Washington offices of the NRA and picketed outside the front door.

For his pains, the NRA called the police and Mauser was arrested. He repeated the action in 2005, and was arrested again. “It became clear to me, LaPierre would rather have me arrested than talk to me, reply to my letter or even acknowledge me as a human being.”

This is the man who stands between the United States of America being a land where mass killings are a routine part of everyday life or a country where people are free to live without fear that today is the day they become another innocent life extinguished. This is a man who told the Senate in 1999, “We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone,” and now today says, “background checks will never be ‘universal’ — because criminals will never submit to them.”

It is time to end the radical and violent hold Wayne LaPierre has maintained on American culture and society. It is time to contact your elected representatives and tell them that Wayne LaPierre is a crazy person, and no decent human being could possibly support him. Or, to put it in a way even an unbalanced zealot like Wayne LaPierre can understand:

It is time to take our country back.

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As it is a fundamental fact that the Civil War is still very much alive in every aspect of culture and society within the United States of America, it behooves us to have clear terms and identities of the opposition the forces of equality are up against.

As a country, we have long had two identities locked in constant competition for the levers of power. On one side are individuals who believe that our nation should be a place where the long arc of the moral universe bending towards justice exists as a primary fixture in our advancement as a society, not just as an abstraction rarely manifesting itself in our daily lives.

The other side is inhabited by a people who believe that subordination of those without white skin is ordained by Providence and that the assumption of equality between races is principally, socially, morally, and politically wrong.

These people are known as Confederates.

They currently reside in the Republican Party. (ed. note: Many of them also hide in the Democratic Party under such names as “Blue Dog Democrat” and “being elected as a Democratic Senator in West Virginia.”)

This series will forever serve as a reminder of the Confederacy’s legacy of unleashing brutality and hostility when confronted with the idea of respecting democracy and basic human rights, and its mortal fear of progress and large-scale societal advancement.


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Why Did It Take Us This Long To Uncover That Memorial Day Originated With Former Slaves?

Via Professor David Blight of Yale University comes this amazing revelation regarding the history of Memorial Day, or as it was once known, “Decoration Day”:

After a long siege, a prolonged bombardment for months from all around the harbor, and numerous fires, the beautiful port city of Charleston, South Carolina, where the war had begun in April, 1861, lay in ruin by the spring of 1865. The city was largely abandoned by white residents by late February. Among the first troops to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the Twenty First U. S. Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the formal surrender of the city.

Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters’ horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Yes, that’s right, a contingent of black Americans–most of them former slaves–“conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war.” And what did those commemorations include exactly?

At 9 am on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathering in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens’ choir sang “We’ll Rally around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture.

Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic, and not about state rights, defense of home, nor merely soldiers’ valor and sacrifice.

Now…how is it even remotely possible that such a remarkable aspect of the United States of America’s history could be lost for such an incredible length of time? Would you believe the answer has something to do with institutionalized white supremacy? (Ed. note: Yes. You would.)

According to a reminiscence written long after the fact, “several slight disturbances” occurred during the ceremonies on this first Decoration Day, as well as “much harsh talk about the event locally afterward.” But a measure of how white Charlestonians suppressed from memory this founding in favor of their own creation of the practice later came fifty-one years afterward, when the president of the Ladies Memorial Association of Charleston received an inquiry about the May 1, 1865 parade. A United Daughters of the Confederacy official from New Orleans wanted to know if it was true that blacks had engaged in such a burial rite. Mrs. S. C. Beckwith responded tersely: “I regret that I was unable to gather any official information in answer to this.” In the struggle over memory and meaning in any society, some stories just get lost while others attain mainstream dominance.

The reason Mrs. Beckwith “was unable to gather any official information” is that she was desperately trying to prevent her worldview of institutionalized white supremacy from being destroyed.

On this Memorial Day, let us all strive to make amends for the Mrs. Beckwiths of the world. It is the least we can do to honor the many and varied sacrifices of all those who came before us.

Regardless of their skin color.

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The Exasperation of A Dialogue

I am pleased to introduce a great friend as the first addition to the writing stable here at Modern Age Revolution, the electrifying Humberto Guida.

He might have the talent and charisma to save the world from injustice, but chose a career in media and entertainment instead. He enjoys covering everything from pop culture to politics and has distinguished himself as a writer, producer, and comedian. Humberto is based in Los Angeles by way of Miami, where he first made a name for himself as an alternative columnist after a manic-yet-supportive Cuban-American upbringing.

Welcome to the Modern Age Revolution team, Humberto. Glad to have you on board. — Teddy Tutson

I’m doing stand up in a Marina Del Rey bar the other night. Two tourists – a white, middle-aged, Middle American couple, both of whom have the same short haircut – enjoy the free comedy show during their steak dinner and Coors. I can’t help it. I ask whom they are voting for. “Anyone but Obama,” the crew cut donning, blonde woman replies. “He’s a jerk.”

After assuring the crowd that a black man doesn’t have a chance with them, to which they smirk, I ask why they thought he was a jerk. “He doesn’t have American values,” she says. Now, I’m something of a mind reader. So I playfully exclaim, “You’re not a Newt Supporter are you? I can see it in your face.”

They both nod yes.

I yell, “No!”

I try asking the woman if she sees any conflicting logic in thinking President Barack Obama, a man who is a model husband and father (we know this because if he so much as popped a boner at the thought of another woman or if his kids ever did anything remotely rambunctious, Fox News would have run a marathon news cycle about it by now), a man who by all accounts made a success of himself through his own hard work and talent, a man who rarely even raises his voice when confronted by his enemies, that he could be the antithesis of American values.

Yet Newt Gringrich, a man who left one of his three wives, the cancer-stricken one, on her hospital bed to run away with his current, glassy-eyed mannequin, a man who has asked for open marriage, a man who sparked a government shutdown during his term as Speaker. Somehow he’s the one with “values”? The redneck woman just nods.

“I just know this country is going in the wrong direction,” she says.

I can’t do it anymore. I don’t have it in me to get into it with conservatives on any level. Speaking to a brick wall gives me a better chance of getting through to someone. Maybe it’s because brick walls are less dense than today’s conservative thinkers (pardon the oxymoron).

As recent polls show, today’s conservatives are farther to the right than they’ve been since the mid 1800’s. A radical, outer fringe Republican circa the 1970‘s wouldn’t even sniff a primary win these days. Not even in California! Meanwhile, liberals remain as close to the middle as ever. We just want balance.

Republican voters continue to view the political spectrum in this country as far right versus far left. What they fail to see is that the far left is very much a disproved thing of the past. Far left is communism. Only Cuba and North Korea can truly say they’re still embarking on that failed experiment.

Modern day American liberals want a balance between public and private interests, not a totality to one side or the other. We are, by most counts, centrists compared with the current incarnation of the Republican Party. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for making money. I just think it should be taxed at the top to give the bottom some help up, and to keep the middle from falling any further down.

But conservatives, veering to the right like Mario Andretti on the final turn of the Indy 500, increasingly believe in near total privatization. That’s what is radical. And don’t get me into the social conservative angle. That’s just ridiculous. More and more, conservatives continue to purge any sense of moderation in their rank and file. Their absolute aversion to any middle of the road solution is not just stubborn, it’s irrational.

The irony of their contradictions is often lost on them, as displayed when Tea Party members carry signs in one hand that say “Keep your Government hands off my Medicare”, while holding the lever to an oxygen mask in the other hand, paid for by the same government insurance program that gave them the motorized scooter they ride on.

What is the matter with these people? Are they out of their minds? Well apparently, they’re at least stupid. According to a recent article published on the Huffington Post by Jessica Seares discussing the study of IQ’s among conservatives, most of their problems lie in their simpleton minds:

“The study, published in Psychological Science, showed that people who score low on I.Q. tests in childhood are more likely to develop prejudiced beliefs and socially conservative politics in adulthood…

Dr. Gordon Hodson, a professor of psychology at the university and the study’s lead author, said the finding represented evidence of a vicious cycle: People of low intelligence gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies, which stress resistance to change and, in turn, prejudice, he told LiveScience…

Why might less intelligent people be drawn to conservative ideologies? Because such ideologies feature “structure and order” that make it easier to comprehend a complicated world, Dodson said. “Unfortunately, many of these features can also contribute to prejudice,” he added.” — Huffington Post, February 2012

The thing is, when you’re that prone to being dense, there’s no rational argument, no set of facts that will move you off your flawed positions. Recently, Republicans put women’s contraception in their crosshairs. They also want to roll back Roe vs. Wade. You’d think that better access to contraception leads to less abortions, but why let logic get in the way of conservative thinking?

Most conservatives, like the redneck couple at my comedy show, live in a vacuum where no one questions their faith in things like faith and not facts. They want it that way. Which is why they won’t even give the real Obama a chance. These people turn off the TV when he comes on. They brag about not being able to stand hearing him speak. They only read or listen to his sound bytes through the lens of Fox News. They refuse to form an opinion based on the real man. So they make up some abject commie, Muslim, Black Panther dictator to take the country back from.

Here’s what Bill Maher had to say on one of his recent New Rules segments on his HBO show, Real Time:

“You know, Republicans have created this completely fictional president. His name is Barack X. And he’s an Islamo-socialist revolutionary who is coming for your guns, raising your taxes, slashing the military, apologizing to other countries, and taking his cues from Europe, or worse yet, Saul Alinsky!

Run down the list of complaints about “fantasy Obama”: he wants to raise your taxes, even though he’s lowered them. Confiscate your guns, even though he’s never mentioned it. And read terrorists their rights. Yeah, like he did [to Somali pirates]

You see, the difference is the Republicans’ hatred of Obama is based on a paranoid feeling about what he might do, what he’s thinking, what he secretly wants to change.” –- “New Rules”, February 2012

So where does it come from? Why have conservatives flipped their collective lid? Why does it seem all Republicans are white, Middle Americans who “want their country back” from some evil villain? Did you know some of these people even used to be Democrats? It’s true. But as many of them say, “I didn’t leave the Democratic party, the Democratic party left me.”

Understand what they mean by that? You see, these conservatives aren’t really against government funding infrastructure, supporting workers rights, hell, even issuing “entitlements”. That’s what the Democratic Party was all about back in the day. It was about helping the little guy against those greedy Scrooges who crapped all over Jimmy Stewart’s venerable town in It’s a Wonderful Life.

They understood it’s the Democrats who helped shape the America we have today, a country where people who aren’t rich, or white, or male, can have an opportunity. Where the old are taken care of, and the poor and immigrants are treated with dignity and respect. Where women and minorities, and gays, and (God forbid) Muslims have rights.

And there’s the rub. That’s where we lost these people who today rant and rave a backwards ideology about freedom and liberty, while assailing a woman’s right to choose, gays’ right to marry, or anti-discrimination laws that prevent restaurants and hotels from turning away someone who is black or brown. When government began to look out for those “other” people, groups who were once stepped on by the rich white class with impunity, that’s when government became the problem and not the solution it had been from the New Deal through the Great Society.

President Lyndon Johnson famously said after signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “We have just lost the South for a generation.” Hippies didn’t help. But the notion that the South is bought and paid for by Republicans thanks to the rise of social liberalism is still true today of course, as one-time Southern Democrats who’d vote for liberal things like protections of miner unions, now run Republican. And with that, they’ve turned over their minds to the ideas that with less government, more can be done about the infestation of poor, non-white, non-Christian people in this country. It’s not something they acknowledge, even among themselves. But sometimes it comes out. Mostly, though, they’re in denial.

Matt Tiabbi puts it best in his telling look at the Tea Party in the November 2010 issue of Rolling Stone:

You look into the eyes of these people when you talk to them and they genuinely don’t see what the problem is. It’s no use explaining that while nobody likes the idea of having to get the government to tell restaurant owners how to act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the tool Americans were forced to use to end a monstrous system of apartheid that for 100 years was the shame of the entire Western world. But all that history is not real to Tea Partiers; what’s real to them is the implication in your question that they’re racists, and to them that is the outrage, and it’s an outrage that binds them together…

The world is changing all around the Tea Party. The country is becoming more black and more Hispanic by the day. The economy is becoming more and more complex, access to capital for ordinary individuals more and more remote, the ability to live simply and own a business without worrying about Chinese labor or the depreciating dollar vanished more or less for good. They want to pick up their ball and go home, but they can’t; thus, the difficulties and the rancor with those of us who are resigned to life on this planet.

I have a family member who represents a lot of conservatives to a tee. He is actually someone I’m very close to, and he helped shape my liberal leanings. Yes, like many of today’s Republicans, he used to be a Democrat. A bleeding-heart, JFK-revering, anti-Reagan, environmentalist, vegetarian, liberal! Until, that is, the 9/11 catastrophe. That’s when he flipped. Just like Dennis Miller. Exactly like Dennis Miller.

All of a sudden, my family member went from a guy who voted for Bill Clinton (twice) and Al Gore in 2000, to a George W. Bush supporter, who believed Muslims should be dealt with militarily before they get him and his kids. But it went beyond the national security concerns. Little by little, he began to digest the conservative Kool Aid so many men his age drink. It wasn’t just Muslims, it was the welfare queens living off his hard-earned wages through excessive taxation. It was environmental activists somehow keeping him from driving an SUV. It was the queers indoctrinating his kids into God-knows-what kind of depravity.

He began believing the bullshit one must believe to live inside the conservative bubble. Where he felt safe. He bought into the unfortunate ruse that if you defend the rich and white from whiny poor people and minorities, than trickle down economics will reward his middle class existence with a well-performing 401-K or some shit. Oh, and he’ll be safe from the boogeyman too.

It got worse. A few years after he re-registered Republican, he began to think climate change was a hoax, public schools should be done away with, Mexicans are over-running this country (keep in mind my anti-immigrant family member is an immigrant himself), and–I couldn’t believe this one–he recently questioned evolution saying, “You expect me to believe we came from some slime in the ocean.” He’s not even religious!

The evolution denying was like a punch in the gut to my respect for the man. The conservatism was infecting his train of thought. I thought it was sad because he slowly but surely disavowed most if not all of his remaining liberal beliefs. He became a different person. He literally used to be smarter when he was liberal. And more likable too! He was fun and adventurous, now he’s bitter at and fearful of the world.

A string of contentious emails going back to the last presidential election broiled into an all out shouting match last Christmas. It began after a few whiskey straights, Then he starts with the rant against Obamacare and Medicare and Social Security. Mind you, he’s in his 50’s, and has a hip condition. Those things he hates are all things he’ll be depending on in the years to come. I couldn’t let it pass.

I cut in the conversation. And I explained that thanks to Obamacare, his pre-existing condition will not prevent him from obtaining insurance coverage should he lose his job and need to switch his insurer. He talks over me and continues to rail against the abject socialism and infringement on his God-given American liberty that Obama and the Democrats have embarked on in his lifetime. To my discredit I raised my voice and it went downhill from there.

Most of us have a similar situation with conservative friends and family. It’s hard to fight with someone you love. It’s hard to have contempt for half the people in this country. I like people. I really do. I’d also like to think blood is thicker than politics. But after a yelling at my beloved family member at the top of my lungs during Christmas dinner, and after dropping more than few of my conservative Cuban friends from Miami from my Facebook account so I wouldn’t have to deal with being called a commie (not cool for a Cuban) or a fag every time I questioned a Republican move or defended Obama, I’ve decided to sing to the choir for a while. If I interact with conservatives I wll finally listen to my mom and not talk politics or religion.

Maybe I’ll be ready to scrap in the coming months of this very important election year. But for now, a moment of brevity, a moment of sanity.

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Clarification On The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

On Wednesday, December 14, 2011, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law by President Obama after passing both houses of Congress. The Defense Authorization Act is the name of a defense spending bill that has been enacted for each of the past 48 years to specify the budget and expenditures of the United States Department of Defense. The Obama Administration initially came out against the National Defense Authorization Act with a veto threat, out of concern regarding provisions included in early versions of the bill that included the following:

The detention provisions in the Senate version of the defense spending bill authorize the indefinite military detention of American citizens, and requires that any non-citizen terrorism suspect be held in military custody. It also forces the Secretary of Defense to personally approve transfers of detainees out of Gitmo*. When the bill was introduced, it created a rare moment of consensus between former Bush administration officials and civil liberties advocates who warned against constraining the president’s “flexibility” in counterterrorism operations.

After changes were made to the legislation regarding the indefinite detention language, the White House backed off its veto threat. The nature of the changes to the bill have become a point of great contention, which is entirely justified. Adam Serwer of Mother Jones has been doing tremendous work in terms of researching the language of the bill and determining what it actually says:

So what exactly does the bill do? It says that the president has to hold a foreign Al Qaeda suspect captured on US soil in military detention—except it leaves enough procedural loopholes that someone like convicted underwear bomber and Nigerian citizen Umar Abdulmutallab could actually go from capture to trial without ever being held by the military. It does not, contrary to what many media outlets have reported, authorize the president to indefinitely detain without trial an American citizen suspected of terrorism who is captured in the US. A last minute compromise amendment adopted in the Senate, whose language was retained in the final bill, leaves it up to the courts to decide if the president has that power, should a future president try to exercise it. But if a future president does try to assert the authority to detain an American citizen without charge or trial, it won’t be based on the authority in this bill.

So it’s simply not true, as the Guardian wrote yesterday, that the the bill “allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.” When the New York Times editorial page writes that the bill would “strip the F.B.I., federal prosecutors and federal courts of all or most of their power to arrest and prosecute terrorists and hand it off to the military,” or that the “legislation could also give future presidents the authority to throw American citizens into prison for life without charges or a trial,” they’re simply wrong.

In spite of these efforts, there still exists a great discrepancy in terms of the public’s understanding of the effects of the National Defense Authorization Act. A dear friend of mine and soon to be contributor to this site, Sam Sero, has done a yeoman’s job of working to better understand exactly what is contained in the National Defense Authorization Act. Thanks to his efforts, we now have responses on the record from two United States Senators, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), explaining the contents of the bill. The responses from both senators are published in their entirety below, in an effort to further the dialogue regarding the National Defense Authorization Act.

A few important things to note related to the National Defense Authorization Act is that the bill apparently contains a pay raise for the troops requested by President Obama, important improvements to military health care benefits, and that the Senate is currently working on a piece of legislation entitled the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011, which would “clarify that an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States.”

First, the response from Sen. Barbara Boxer:

Dear Mr. Sero:

Thank you for writing to me about provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) concerning the military detention of enemy combatants. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

I was deeply disappointed that the final version of the NDAA did not include important language authored by Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) regarding detainees that would have protected civil liberties while helping to keep us safe. During floor consideration of the NDAA, I voted for an amendment offered by Senator Udall that would have replaced the detainee provisions in the bill with a requirement for the Administration to report to Congress on detention authorities. Unfortunately, this amendment failed by a vote of 38-60.

I also voted for an amendment offered by Senator Feinstein that would have clarified that mandatory military detention would apply only to terrorist suspects captured outside the United States. This amendment also failed by a vote of 45-55.
I have now agreed to be a co-sponsor of S.2003, the Due Process Guarantee Act. This important bipartisan legislation would protect American citizens arrested within the United States from being held indefinitely by the U.S. military.
I strongly oppose any expansion of military detention authority that erodes our civil liberties. However, I voted for the National Defense Authorization Act because it includes a number of provisions for our troops and their families, including a pay raise requested by President Obama and important health care benefits.

Again, thank you for writing. Please feel free to contact me again about this or other issues of concern to you.


Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

And the response from Sen. Bob Casey:

Dear Mr. Sero:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. I appreciate hearing from you about this issue.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes policy and annual expenditures for the Department of Defense. The House of Representatives and the Senate recently passed the final version of the 2012 NDAA with broad bipartisan support. It is currently awaiting the President’s signature before it becomes law.

The Department of Defense is responsible for overseeing the United States Armed Forces and ensuring that our Nation is able to effectively respond to threats. It is critical that Congress provides the Department of Defense with sufficient funding to protect American lives, defend our Nation and support our servicemembers and their families. While our overseas military engagements continue, it is particularly important to provide the resources our servicemembers need to successfully conduct operations and ensure their own safety.

As your United States Senator, I am committed to ensuring the safety and security of all Americans. Since 2001, United States counterterrorism efforts have helped to ensure our national security. Our brave servicemembers and intelligence personnel work tirelessly to protect our nation against the threat of terrorism. However, it is essential that the executive branch operate with transparency and ensure that our counterterrorism efforts do not infringe on the civil liberties of American citizens. We must not sacrifice our fundamental values and ideals in the face of this critical threat.

The custody and detention provisions in the NDAA are the result of thorough consideration and bipartisan agreement. These provisions, including Sections 1021 and 1022, will allow the United States to deal effectively with the threat posed by al Qaeda, a terrorist group that has inflicted devastating harm on our Nation and continues to seek to attack our citizens, our allies, and our interests both here at home and around the world.

Section 1021 of the NDAA does not expand the executive branch’s authority to detain suspected terrorists. This section states explicitly that it is not intended to limit or expand the authority that Congress granted the President in the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The definition of a “covered person” in this section is “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” This is the position that has been adopted by the Obama Administration and upheld in U.S. courts since 2001. In addition, it requires the executive branch to brief Congress regularly on the individuals and groups to whom this authority is being applied.

It is important to note that Section 1021 does not create any “new” or “unprecedented” presidential power, nor does it create any “permanent” detention power. The legislation explicitly states that Section 1021 shall not “affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.”

Section 1022 of the NDAA requires that persons who are members of al Qaeda and have participated in planning or carrying out an attack against the United States or its allies be held in military custody. However, the executive branch can exercise a waiver of this requirement if the President certifies to Congress that holding a particular suspect in civilian custody will better serve U.S. national security interests. In addition, this provision applies only to non-US citizens and non-lawful resident aliens who are al Qaeda operatives and who plan or carry out attacks against the United States. It explicitly does not apply to American citizens and those who reside here lawfully.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California proposed an amendment which would have limited the requirement of military custody in Section 1022 to suspected terrorists captured abroad. This proposal was rejected in the Senate by a vote of 55 to 45. I voted against this amendment because the waiver provision provides flexibility to the executive branch to determine whether a suspected al Qaeda operative captured on U.S. soil should be transferred to civilian custody.

Senator Mark Udall of Colorado offered an amendment to remove the detention provisions in Section 1021 from the bill altogether. This amendment would have essentially allowed the executive branch to continue to engage in existing detention practices without codification in law. By codifying the detention practices already in use, Congress is exercising its critical responsibility to oversee and create a legal framework for executive branch action. For this reason, I joined a majority of Senators in voting against this amendment.

Senator Feinstein also offered an amendment to explicitly prohibit the indefinite detention of American citizens. I voted in favor of this amendment out of concern that authorizing the government to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens was at odds with fundamental American values. Unfortunately, this amendment was rejected by a vote of 55 to 45. Finally, Senator Feinstein proposed an amendment to clarify that nothing in the bill “shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities, relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” I also voted for this measure, which passed the Senate by a vote of 99 to 1 and was included in the final version of the bill.

On December 15, 2011, Senator Feinstein introduced S. 2003, the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011. This legislation would clarify that an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States. S. 2003 would also require Congress to make a “clear statement” about the limitations on authority to detain U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. This legislation has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, of which I am not a member. Please be assured that I will examine this legislation closely.

Nothing in the NDAA authorizes the U.S. military to patrol our streets, detain ordinary Americans in their homes or conduct any law enforcement functions inside the United States. Section 1022 says only that a specific group of persons, narrowly defined as those who are “a part of or substantially supported al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners” should be subject to military custody, unless the executive branch determines that civilian custody is more appropriate in a particular case. The NDAA does not address when or where a person may be captured, and does not authorize the military to exercise unprecedented powers on U.S. soil.

In addition, the NDAA will not disrupt ongoing interrogations, intelligence gathering functions and surveillance activities, and it does not require military commissions in terrorist prosecutions. The administration raised concerns that certain provisions would limit its ability to collect vital information and limit its prosecutorial options. In response, the Senate Armed Services Committee clarified that no such limitations would be placed on the President’s authority.

The NDAA absolutely does not authorize torture of detainees, irrespective of citizenship. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire proposed S. Amdt. 1068 to the NDAA to authorize certain enhanced interrogation techniques. However, the U.S. Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments,” and we must not tolerate the use of torture under any circumstances. I believe strongly that the United States has a moral obligation to uphold its commitments under the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners. We must, therefore, hold all executive branch officials accountable for alleged violations of these commitments. I am pleased that S. Amdt. 1068 was not included the final version of the NDAA that passed the Senate. Please be assured that I support efforts to prohibit the use of “enhanced interrogation” practices, and that no such practices have been endorsed in this bill.

The NDAA also does not change the fundamental, constitutional right of habeas corpus review. The writ of habeas corpus is a legal doctrine that allows individuals to challenge their detention in a court of law. The U.S. Constitution explicitly provides this right to American citizens, and the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld its applicability, even with respect to suspected terrorists. Any American citizen or lawful permanent resident held in U.S. custody will have the right to habeas corpus review. Similarly, the courts have established that persons detained under the Authorization of the Use of Military Force, including those held at Guantanamo Bay, have the right to such review. Nothing in the NDAA undermines this critical right.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future about this or any other matter of importance to you.

If you have access to the Internet, I encourage you to visit my web site, I invite you to use this online office as a comprehensive resource to stay up-to-date on my work in Washington, request assistance from my office, or share with me your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you and to Pennsylvania.

Bob Casey
United States Senator

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