American Politics 2013 Part #2: The Bad

The Marathon Bombings — On the afternoon of April 15th, terrorists Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. These bombs killed three people and injured over 260, many of whom had severe injuries and limb amputations.  After a three-day investigation, the Tsarnaev brothers shot an MIT police officer, thus drawing the attention of the authorities and instigating a massive pursuit—this pursuit ended with Tamerlan being shot and run over, and with Dzhokhar eluding authorities. For an entire day, a shelter in place order shut down the city of Boston and several suburbs (ex. Watertown) and hundreds of state and federal authorities searched the small segment of Watertown at the end of the pursuit. Eventually, Dzhokhar was discovered in a boat, parked in a Watertown driveway, and was brought into custody with serious injuries.

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Currently, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in federal custody and is facing terrorism charges; barring some bizarre turn of fate or twisted miracle, he will be spending the rest of his life in a federal maximum security prison.

As a Boston resident, I saw first-hand just how significant this terrorist attack was. Not only was it the first such attack in years, but it managed to shut down a major metropolitan area for more than a day. People were terrified and the city—for all intents and purposes—was paralyzed by the actions of two disturbed young men.

The Destruction of the Voting Rights Act — On June 25th, the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act by invalidating a vital section of the law. The Shelby County v. Holder ruling invalidated the 4th section of the Voting Rights Act, thus eliminating the method by which pre-clearance requirements are determined—in short, states and counties can still be required to pre-clear voting law changes, but the Supreme Court has eliminated the means by which the federal government decides which jurisdictions will be given additional scrutiny.

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If the federal legislature does not act, the Voting Rights Act will lose one of its most effective clauses. States with a history of voter disenfranchisement have already begun to implement discriminatory voting laws that were previously blocked—it took Texas less than 12 hours to start implementing its voting law changes—and this is a problem that will not go away.

The Shelby County v. Holder decision is yet another absurd 5-4 decision (alongside Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. FEC), where the Supreme Court’s conservative majority pulls a falsified legal argument out of its collective ass in order to justify a pro-conservative ruling.

Ever since it was passed in 1965, the Voting Rights Act has protected minority voting rights from those who would disenfranchise people to win elections. The hobbling of this law is extremely significant and we will only know just how much damage has been done once the next election cycle comes around (2014 or 2016).

NSA Spying — Over the latter half of 2013, Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed numerous domestic and international spying programs to the American public—most of these programs are almost certainly unconstitutional (there are currently two federal court rulings which contest this point) and all of them are extremely disturbing.

For the last few years, the NSA has been collecting metadata (date, time, location and phone number) on hundreds of millions of phone connections. These connections have been entered into a massive database that can be used to spy in on the activities of anybody who has been caught up in the dragnet.

nsa-spying-logoTo supplement its metadata collection, the NSA has been spying on the content on thousands of phone calls, including the personal correspondences of foreign leaders and diplomats. We currently do not know the upper limits of this spying, but we do know that the NSA has been spying on at least 35 world leaders including Germany’s Chancellor and the presidents of Brazil and Mexico.

In addition to spying on phone calls and metadata, the NSA has been collecting digital information and emails, in secret, from major service providers. Among other things, the NSA has been reading emails, collecting information on porn habits (for the purpose of discrediting targets), and recording web activity for millions of people, both American and foreign.

The revelations that the NSA is breaking international law by spying on world leaders and absolutely shredding the 4th Amendment by spying on Americans without a specific warrant are arguably the largest stories of 2013. Not since the Pentagon Papers have we seen such expansive leaks of such toxic information and it is almost certain that Edward Snowden’s leaks will find their way into the history books.

The Government Shutdown — In October of 2013, the federal government was shut down for 16 days by the GOP in an attempt to compel a defunding of ObamaCare. Ultimately, this shutdown was completely unsuccessful and the GOP walked away empty-handed with massive damage to their poll numbers (at one point, the House GOP enjoyed an 8% approval rating).

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The 2013 government shutdown resulted in the interruption of many programs, including research by federal scientists, and disruptions in the work-schedule of over 2 million federal workers—of these 2+ million affected workers, approximately 800,000 were put on furlough while approximately 1,300,000 were forced to work with only the promise of payment. In addition to its effect on workers, the government shutdown cut $24 billion dollars out of the economy in lost economic activity.

CO2 Hits 400PPM — Even if you are a relatively well-informed person, you can be forgiven for not remembering this story hitting the news this year—that said, this is probably the most important story that you never heard about in the mainstream media.

In May 2013, measurements of atmospheric CO2 surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years. Large amounts of certain gasses (ex. CO2) in the atmosphere causes global warming because a thickening of the atmosphere traps ever more solar energy in our environment. 400 PPM is a milestone for atmospheric CO2 that indicates a nightmare scenario for global warming.

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If something is not done immediately, we will be facing a global environmental catastrophe that will harm virtually every human on the planet. To put this catastrophe into perspective, the 2013 UN report on climate change predicts an increase in sea level as large as 3 feet by the end of this century, accompanying severe weather events, famine, drought, and conflicts over resources.

Chelsea Manning’s Conviction — In August 2013, Chelsea (Bradley) Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his leaking of classified information to Wikileaks and the media. Manning was found guilty of 20 out of 22 possible offenses, including several charges under the Espionage Act.

Bradley Manning

A 35 year sentence is extremely harsh, even when compared with the sentences regularly handed down to people accused of espionage. For example, infamous CIA agent David Barnett only received 18 years for selling the identities of numerous American intelligence agents out to the KGB over a period of years.

Ultimately, this verdict is a tremendous miscarriage of justice. Manning released information of war crimes perpetrated by American troops—specifically the targeting of civilians and first responders by American gunships—and should have been protected as a whistleblower. In fact, Manning was the only person involved in the handing of these war crimes who did not break the law, as concealing war crimes is itself a crime under international law (regardless of classified statuses given to information by individual states).

George Zimmerman’s Acquittal — In July 2013, George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges related to his shooting of Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Zimmerman was initially charged with 2nd degree murder, but voluntary manslaughter was added into the indictment at the end of the trial in order to give the jury an option other than murder or acquittal.

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Put plainly, there was easily enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of voluntary manslaughter and the decision by the jury to acquit is unfathomable. Not only was Zimmerman proven to have lied numerous times to investigators (ex. getting out of his car because he didn’t know the street name, Martin jumping out of the non-existent bushes, etc.), but he was an armed and MMA trained person with a history of violence following an unarmed minor. Given the preponderance of the evidence and the inclusion of the lesser charge of manslaughter, I simply have no idea how the jury decided to let Zimmerman walk away.

The acquittal of George Zimmerman is a miscarriage of justice and failure of the law to achieve justice, but it is also demonstrative of an extremely dangerous legal precedent—several other shooters (ex. Raul Rodriguez of Texas and Michael Dunn of Florida) have also tried to use the stand your ground defense in what appears to be a pattern of killers trying to hide behind an overly-broad self-defense statute. In stand your ground cases, the shooter just needs to ensure that there are no witnesses to the shooting and to kill their victim in order to avoid punishment; as there is nobody to contradict their narrative, the police are often legally forced to take the shooter’s word for the events surrounding the shooting.

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The “stand your ground” statute is incredibly dangerous, and the publicity surrounding the Zimmerman trial has only exacerbated its potential for harm. Now that everybody has heard about the Zimmerman defense working, ill-intentioned people in certain states now have a very clear blueprint of how to kill somebody and get away with it.

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