Nails In The Coffin?

This story is a must-read from Yahoo News:

More than four dozen former Republican foreign policy officials have signed a letter declaring they are not voting for Donald Trump because it would put national security at risk.

“None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” reads the letter, signed by 50 veterans of the George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush and Richard Nixon administrations and published Monday by the New York Times. “From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander in Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.

“Most fundamentally,” the letter states, “Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be President. He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world. He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws, and U.S. institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary.”

Those who signed the letter include former Homeland Security Secs. Thomas Ridge and Michael Chertoff; former NSA and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden; ex-Deputy Secretaries of State John D. Negroponte and Robert B. Zoellick; and Eric S. Edelman, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser and was a top aide to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump, their letter continues, has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values.” What’s more, the real estate mogul and former “Celebrity Apprentice” host “has shown no interest in educating himself” on crucial foreign policy issues.”
Yahoo News Now: Former acting CIA director Morell calls Trump a threat to national security
On Friday, August 5, 2016, Yahoo News Deputy Editor Dan Klaidman and Yahoo News Chief Washington Correspondent Olivier Knox join Yahoo News Guest Anchor Alexis Christoforous on Yahoo News Now to discuss the recent op-ed piece in the New York Times former acting director of the CIA Mike Morell wrote. Endorsing Hillary Clinton, Morell called Donald Trump “a threat to our national security.”
“He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood,” the letter adds. “He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”

The stinging assessment of Trump’s national security proposals came on the heels of several apparent foreign policy gaffes, most notably the GOP nominee’s vow that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not invade Ukraine, despite the fact that Putin seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

“He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand,” Trump said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”

“He’s already there, isn’t he?” Stephanopoulos responded.

Trump later clarified to say he was talking about Russia’s future actions under a potential Trump administration.
Donald Trump tries to clarify his previous statements on Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin
On Aug. 1, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump took to Twitter in an attempt to clarify remarks he made on “This Week” about Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in the region.
The Times noted that absent from the list of signatories are former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George P. Shultz, James A. Baker III, Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Earlier this year, Trump met with both Kissinger and Baker, telling the paper he “came away with a lot of knowledge” from the pair.

In March, more than 100 national security advisers signed a similar letter blasting Trump as a “fundamentally dishonest” candidate who “would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe.”

Monday’s missive was even more blunt.

“We understand that many Americans are profoundly frustrated with the federal government and its inability to solve pressing domestic and international problems,” the letter concludes. “We also know that many have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us. But Donald Trump is not the answer to America’s daunting challenges and to this crucial election. We are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless President in American history.”

The Cost of National Security

I have already said far too much about the dreaded drone strikes our president continues to send against “targets” in the middle East in the name of “national security.” I cannot possibly improve on the words written by Matt Sledge for HuffPost after he read an interview with several of those who live under the constant fear of those so-called “signature strikes.” I will simply include several paragraphs from that article since the words require little in the way of comment.

Jalal Manzar Khail was at home on March 17, 2011 as dozens of men from two bickering tribal groups met a couple of miles away to settle a dispute.

All day long, American drones loomed in the sky above. “It’s very normal,” Khail said, speaking in Urdu through a translator with the United Kingdom legal charity Reprieve. “You see them during the day, you see them during the night — they’re always hovering.”

In Waziristan, the restive region of Pakistan where Khail lives, such drones have become commonplace over the past several years, always holding the possibility of near-instant death. Increasingly, Central Intelligence Agency drones have killed men without knowing their names, simply because from the perspective of a Predator drone’s video feed they look and act like members of the Taliban or al Qaeda or some other group considered associated with them.

Such so-called “signature strikes” are one of the most controversial practices in the drone war. When first elected, President Barack Obama was highly skeptical of such attacks, begun under former President George W. Bush in 2008. With time in the Oval Office and advice from military leaders, however, Obama came to accept their use as a vital part of the fight against terrorism.

Those signature strikes and their anonymous victims fall under Obama’s definition of targeted killings. Unnamed U.S. officials have told The New York Times the signature strikes will continue in Pakistan. In a major national security speech in May, Obama acknowledged that drones sometimes make mistakes, but said their work must carry on.

Think about that: Increasingly, Central Intelligence Agency drones killed men without knowing their names, simply because from the perspective of a Predator drone’s video feed they look like members of the Taliban or al Qaeda. . .” And the determination is apparently made by a teenager sitting at a desk somewhere in Nevada or North Dakota. All of this in the name of  “national security,” even though it has cost us our nation’s soul.

Who’s The Traitor?

Despite a Congress that seems unable to function we can still count on its members to issue forth with unsettling remarks from time to time. Their hands may be tied by their unwillingness to cooperate, but you can’t tie their tongues. Unfortunately. The latest profound utterance comes from House Speaker Boehner:

House Speaker John Boehner today called NSA leaker Edward Snowden a “traitor” who put Americans at risk by releasing classified information to the media.

“He’s a traitor,” the highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said in an extensive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Boehner endorsed President Obama’s characterization of two programs, which allow the NSA to gather information about phone calls made in the U.S. as well as information on foreign suspects collected from major internet companies, as critical to the government’s ability to fight terrorism. He said that there are “clear safeguards” built into the programs to protect Americans.

You may recall that Snowden is the man who decided that it was in his country’s best interest to know what sorts of shenanigans their government is up to. And from what we read more revelations may be forthcoming. The man is consequently regarded as a traitor by this hard-line Republican who apparently knows what constitutes loyalty to one’s country — even though he is part of the contingent that has brought government to a virtual halt and seems to be bound to party, rather than the common good.

There are several problems with this story, of course. We might begin with the fact that this Republican leader is siding with a “liberal” Democratic president — strange bedfellows, indeed. Only a tad stranger is the fact that Democrat Dianne Feinstein has joined Boehner in calling Edwards a “traitor.” Talk is cheap.  If only they would cooperate on such vital issues as the economy and climate change. But more important is the fact that this sort of comment by Feinstein and Boehner clouds the issue of what constitutes true patriotism, loyalty to one’s country. When one is privy to information that one is convinced his fellow citizens are better off knowing — such as information about what their armies and navies are doing in the name of “Iraqi freedom”  — as in the case of Bradley Manning — or, as in this case, what their government is doing in the name of “national security,” then they feel a responsibility to tell what they know. And this despite the fact that they know they will be pilloried by people like John Boehner. Or they might even be court-martialed as is the case with Manning.

It is a tough call to determine what sort of information should and should not be made available to ordinary citizens who are probably better off being shielded from most of the ugly things the government is forced to do. And it may turn out, as Matt Miller suggested in a recent story in the Washington Post, that Snowden has a private agenda and is simply “indulging his precious conscience.” But as a general rule I tend to side with those who show the courage of their convictions and are willing to suffer serious consequences because their “precious” consciences demand that they do what they regard as the right thing. Given the stench that so often seems to come our way from the halls of government, one suspects that this country can withstand the fresh air that has been sent its way by the revelations about phone-tapping in the name of national security. Is it indeed the case that our nation is not secure? Really? After all, who is it exactly we fear? One senses that our leaders, not to mention self-styled “centrist” journalists like Matt Miller, are becoming a bit paranoid.

The Right To Privacy

In all the brew-ha-ha about our “right to bear arms” under the second amendment to the Constitution we hear very little at all about our right to privacy. Strictly speaking, that right is not mentioned in the Constitution, but it is a basic human right and it has been regarded as implicit in the Constitution in a number of Supreme Court cases — specifically Pierce v  Society of Sisters, Roe v Wade, and Griswold v Connecticut. In defending the right to privacy Louis Brandeis, the great constitutional scholar, noted in an article in the Harvard Review that “the government [is] identified as a potential privacy invader.” This view has been echoed in the decisions mentioned above and reflects the attitude of the majority of the founders of this nation who all worried about the abuses of power. The right to privacy is universally regarded as a basic human right. Indeed, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights endorsed by the United Nations it couldn’t be more explicit:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Having said that, it is interesting to note the ways in which our right to privacy has been gradually invaded in a variety of ways. Moreover, it has been done so slowly and almost imperceptibly — usually in the name of “national security — or for purposes of commercial profit.  I have blogged in the past about the way we are quite willing to trade our freedom for greater security and the fear that is fostered by the media that makes it easier for the government, or indeed any public agency, to simply collect information about us that we may not be pleased to give up.  But it’s not just the government that is collecting information about us and thereby invading our privacy: it’s the data collecting companies that collect and sell information about virtually everyone in this country who has ever bought anything. As a recent article on the subject mentions:

Other than certain kinds of protected data — including medical records and data used for credit reports — consumers have no legal right to control or even monitor how information about them is bought and sold. As the FTC notes, “There are no current laws requiring data brokers to maintain the privacy of consumer data unless they use that data for credit, employment, insurance, housing, or other similar purposes.

What this means, of course, is that these data are collected, sold, and employed for marketing purposes; the data are collected from previous sales, credit card applications,  and also the social media we use, including the internet sources we connect to. It’s all “out there” and someone is taking it in and using it to find out as much as possible about the buying public in order to sell that information to anyone who wants to profit from it. So it is not just the government that is a “potential privacy invader” as Brandeis suggested. It is also commercial data collectors. The problem Brandeis explored is simply compounded in an economic system in which profit trumps privacy, though in many ways the invasion of privacy in the name of “national security”may be most disturbing.

We know, for example, that in the name of “homeland security” our computers and even our phone lines are subject to prying if there is any reason to suspect that we are up to no good. And we are told the day will soon come when drones fly about collecting information about us and storing it for future use, should we give the government any reason to suspect anything. This smacks of the presumption of guilt: a violation of the fundamental principle of law going back to Rome that declares a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is a brave new world that we are experiencing, and it is one in which the notion of privacy and even individual liberty, are increasingly on hold.