Monday, August 18, 2014

Disseminating Mistrust & Confusion: Ferguson, Media and the Police State

We can’t act unjust in the name of justice. We can’t act uncivil, and then cry for civility
-Pastor F. Willis Johnson Jr.

Ferguson, MO – Call goes out about an alleged robbery at either a local gas station, QuikTrip, or a local convenience store, Ferguson Market and Liquor. Ferguson police respond. Officer Darren Wilson, a six-year law enforcement veteran, encounters teenager Michael Brown walking down a street with a friend, allegedly confronting them about blocking traffic. Ultimately, an altercation ensues between Wilson and Brown that results in the fatal shooting of the latter. From varied accounts, he is shot multiple times about 35 feet away from the police officer’s vehicle and may have been either running away, surrendering or acting belligerent at the time. Both peaceful protests and violent riots erupt from the citizenry, some of whom may or may not live in the area; personal property and several businesses are destroyed, vandalized and looted, including the QuikTrip. Local police composed of Ferguson, St. Louis County and surrounding municipalities respond with a heavily armed tactical assault that includes armored vehicles, police dogs, rubber bullets and tear gas. Numerous protesters and rioters are arrested for unlawful assembly and varied misdemeanor crimes. Several media personalities and local politicians are caught in the crossfire, harassed and rounded up as well. Police continue with their heavily armed response.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon intercedes, replacing local command and authority of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments with the Missouri Highway Patrol and Captain Ron Johnson. Miraculously, the situation immediately calms from Johnson's cool and straighforward demeanor, with protests continuing peacefully under the watchful eye of more restrained law enforcement tactics. Despite the turn of events, the longstanding – some would say too longstanding – St. Louis County Prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, is the most vocal opponent of the governor’s alleged overreach, objecting on questionable legal and jurisdictional grounds. Facts leading up to the confrontation between Wilson and Brown also begin to trickle out from the police and into the media, painting a different perspective on both the incident and the teenager himself:  alleged to be a prime suspect in the convenience store robbery and assault – and possibly in a separate incident involving the QuikTrip that now lays burnt to the ground thanks to vandals, “snitches get stitches” engraved with paint on its side. By that narrative, a veteran police officer performing his sworn duty apparently had apprehended the suspect that evolved into an altercation that – despite reports of Brown being unarmed – necessitated the use of deadly force.

Hyperbole aside, police officers have an unenviable job facing violent threats on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the situation has been worsening for years around the nation as criminals have become more heavily armed and crimes more callously brutal. To maintain parity, it has caused an increased militarization of police departments that look more commando unit than public servant – the rioters, looters and vandals destroying their own community singlehandedly reinforcing the idea for such necessity. In such a world, police can find it difficult or outright dangerous to release information in a timely manner concerning on-going investigations. In a similar vein, media in a 24/7 news world competitively vie for a scoop and information that can set them apart from all the other outlets. As such, false storylines and inappropriate disclosures can, and will, be reported, with little remedy in countering them after the fact. Such a mix of law enforcement reluctance and media demands can at times do nothing less than disseminate mistrust and confusion, and muddle questions over justice and guilt.

Then, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson re-ignited the powder keg. In a press conference, he states that Officer Wilson was not aware of Brown's alleged involvement in the aforementioned robbery (or robberies) before their confrontation. Although pertinent information, it does nothing other than lead straight back to square one and renewed anger, protesting, rioting, vandalism and looting for an already devastated community - prompting Governor Nixon to most recently deploy the Missouri National Guard to bolster security efforts in quelling the chaos. Military upon militarization. Even more though, it further calls into question the justification for a police officer to fatally shoot rather than subdue an unarmed kid in the first place – whether a physical threat or not, its relevancy a side note – approached at the time for allegedly doing nothing more than walking down the street and blocking traffic. A topic that has been overshadowed for days by lawlessness that has spun out of control, while a heartbroken family and community still await answers.

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Monday, August 4, 2014

Retreat Is Not An Option

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
-Article II, Section 1, U.S. Constitution

Recently, President Obama has spoken of “economic patriotism” to entice and hold responsible businesses in job and market creation. Ironic, as his administration’s own fiscal and economic policies – particularly overregulation and corporate taxation – have not been very patriotic, especially in terms of fiscal responsibility and economic growth. In fact, they have been more hindrance and a heavy burden for a still-ailing and vulnerable economy almost six years into his presidency. While the president likes to tout a rosy picture based more on wisps of hope than facts in his incessant campaign speeches, unemployment, household debt, national deficit and the overall economic outlook are abysmal. Or, is he simply talking about the golf courses he keeps in business as the nation, and world, disintegrates around them? As such, there has been little incentive under his myopic “leadership” for businesses to maintain and confine activities to the United States in a competitive globalized economy.

Let’s talk about patriotism in general, though. No doubt, there is a humanitarian crisis occurring on the U.S. southern border. Yet, it is a manufactured one due, again, to the president’s porous immigration and homeland security policies that, despite Democrats’ delusional proclamations, have failed to secure the border. How patriotic is it to request and spend taxpayer money – and once again advance the fallacious idea of amnesty for illegals – for non-citizens in order to address a politically self-inflicted crisis, while American citizens and veterans continue to suffer hardships with no recompense from their own government? From mandates to executive decisions, how patriotic is it to keep instituting contemptuous policies that maintain that burden and reflect nothing but a general disregard for those same Americans, our inherent values and the rule of law?

Yet, without even detailing the administration’s numerous growing scandals it wishes ignored, these are only but a few examples as far as homegrown issues. There are the broader, global issues as well.

Whether the Obama Administration wants to admit it or not – and they won’t, preferring, again, to spin a fantasy worldview betrayed by facts – the U.S. is still a nation at war on multiple fronts old and new. No matter the amount of rose-colored rhetoric they wish to use as whitewash – or the boorishly tiresome and erroneous predecessor “blame game” – there are those in the world who want nothing less than the destruction of this nation and everything for which it stands. How patriotic is it not to secure our borders against that potential, and persistent, threat? How patriotic is it to abandon allies, like Israel, relentlessly fighting on the frontlines against those very same threats to our mutual existence, by insisting on essentially one-sided negotiations in the face of such barbarism? In every circumstance, unfortunately, lessons always are learned in hindsight – and, typically, by a time when it is too late.

Have we already heard the chimes at midnight though? Or, is it the signal bell for steadfast determination and unfettered patriotism to the cause against the current administration’s executive overreach and failed – upon occasion, outright unconstitutional – policies both domestic and foreign? As Abraham Lincoln stated in his Cooper Union, NY, speech on February 27, 1860:  “Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Friday, July 18, 2014

Violating the Constitution: Impeachment in American History

The Founding Fathers wished to establish a strong central government, yet limit the capacity for the abuse of power. Their goal was to separate power among the branches of government and avoid partisanship in critical issues, particularly in matters such as impeachment. Borrowed from their English forebears, the impeachment process is a tool for the removal of public officials from power as a part of the “checks and balances” system of federalist government. It ensures both continuity and accountability of office holders as a check against those attempting to sway the balance in their favor.

Framing the Process

Under Article II, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment. If the House passes articles of impeachment, responsibility to try the charges and remove those guilty then passes to the Senate. The Senate must concur with a two-thirds majority for a conviction of guilt. The process applies only to the Executive and Judicial branches; Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution outlines the procedure for removing members of Congress. While punishment is restricted to removal and disqualification from holding office, removed office holders can face civil or criminal trial for crimes they committed while in office. Article II, Section 4, reads:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The ambiguity of the latter part has perplexed legal scholars and political analysts since inception. Interpretation includes crimes that threaten national security, as well as non-criminal actions derided solely for their political unpopularity. The issue centers on what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.” With impeachment not a criminal proceeding, as it is strictly a means for the removal of officeholders, there is debate whether one must be guilty of a criminal offense for its occurrence. Many argue that such a broad interpretive context politicizes the process, despite the attempt by the Founders to do otherwise. In Federalist Paper no. 65, Alexander Hamilton expressed the sentiment thusly in 1788:

The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”

The flexibility of “high crimes and misdemeanors” has had mixed results over the course of U.S. history, as what constitutes an indictment of wrongdoing has been re-interpreted to correlate with circumstances of the time. However, the majority agree that any violation or abuse of the public trust injurious to society as a whole is an impeachable offense.

Famous Cases

In 1797, the House voted to impeach Senator William Blount despite his earlier expulsion from the Senate. However, the Senate dropped the charges against him, citing his removal from office as due punishment. It set the precedent with regard to the limitations of action Congress could take against its members. Blount was the first ever expelled from the Senate under the Constitution. Nevertheless, the majority of impeachment proceedings have involved judges. The most famous – Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in 1804 – involved charges of political bias. Defenders argued that Chase’s actions, while extreme and immodest, were not impeachable. Many regard his acquittal by the Senate in 1805 as preserving the independence of the judicial branch.

In the history of the United States, four Presidents – John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and William Clinton – have faced impeachment. The resolution against Tyler in 1843 never passed the House, while Nixon resigned in 1974 before a near guaranteed impeachment and conviction by the full Congress. The only two ever impeached by the House – Johnson in 1868 and Clinton in 1998 – were eventually acquitted by the Senate following bitter partisan trials. President Gerald Ford, who succeeded Nixon upon his resignation, later issued a controversial pardon for any offenses Nixon may have committed while in office. At the time, many criticized it as a politically motivated bargain struck between the two; scholars and historians have since concluded that it promptly restored the integrity of the Presidency during a critical period in U.S. history.

Given the current administration’s numerous scandals over the past 5 ½ years that have been more the rule than the exception – and that thus far outweigh those of its four predecessors combined – could another sitting president face the same fate? With falling poll numbers and failing policies plaguing President Obama and Democrats in general, the prospect exists should Republicans gain control over the full Congress – and has the leadership and votes in place to pursue it – following the mid-term election in November.

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Friday, July 4, 2014

Denying Access to a Singular Belief

On a lazy Sunday night while flipping channels on the television, I came across The Matrix on a basic cable channel. Watching for a bit, I noticed a line of dialogue had been changed from “my own personal JESUS CHRIST” to “my own personal JUVENILE DELINQUENT.” When did “Jesus Christ” become censorable wording? Why must politically correct sensitivity favor those bothered by such words without consideration to those who hold them in reverence? As the United States has gradually transformed into a more secular society away from its religious roots, it increasingly seems to be losing its tolerance for them as well.

Then, the Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby case sent liberals into delusional hysterics. From the beginning – at least, for anyone who truly believes in the U.S. Constitution – the one and only reaction to the case should have been that religious freedom had to be tested and, ultimately, upheld in the first place. As stated in their argument, Hobby Lobby – despite conflicting with the owner’s religious beliefs – already provided 16 of the 20 federally mandated contraceptive methods because it would violate those same beliefs not to provide such health-related benefits. The four they objected to are, in their opinion, non-health related for use more as birth control (i.e. an “aborticide”) than anything else, and, thus, opposed on religious grounds. In its certiorari petition to the court, the Obama Administration even suggested as such in citing the FDA concerning intrauterine devices (IUD), Plan B and ella that “may prevent the [fertilized] egg from attaching (implanting) in the womb (uterus)” – thereby ending the life of the unborn at conception in opposition to religious beliefs held by Hobby Lobby’s owners.

Whether you agree with that argument or not, religious freedom nevertheless has been a fundamental right of Americans as guaranteed in the Constitution since the founding of the United States. Is it a contentious precedent for business entities in terms of the “separation of church and state” – simply meant as no establishment of a state religion, rather than no religion in governing – as some contend? Perhaps, but millions of Americans still conduct their lives based around their religious beliefs; that fact cannot be easily trumped in favor of acquiescence to values that conflict with them. Doubly, it is hypocritical to single out and condemn one company for making a business decision based on moral grounds while praising numerous others for the same simply because the latter aligns with personal ideology.

Furthermore, employer-based health insurance never has been a guaranteed entitlement in the first place. Rather, it always has been an incentive benefit designed to attract employees. Forcing employers additionally to provide what employees believe they are entitled to – especially something that violates particular beliefs – eschews the generosity of what already is given freely to them. And not all companies are equal in that generosity even still today. Therein lays the rub. Despite the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), universal still does not equate to complete healthcare coverage. In fact, the ACA is anything but affordable, universal or complete; in many instances, access to healthcare has been made worse and more expensive in terms of rates and deductibles for fewer services than in the pre-Obamacare era. This is particularly true concerning the “you can keep your doctor” lie, as many insurance plans continue to dump doctors from their rolls to comply with mandates of the law.

As it is, the massive overhaul of the entire private healthcare industry has failed to address, tweak and fix the flaws of the old system while creating new ones in their wake. The Hobby Lobby case never would have occurred if not for Obamacare and its penalty-laden mandated healthcare coverages forced upon employers – which, as successfully argued, in part violate the religious beliefs of the company's owners. As alternatively proposed, a system tailored around individual choice and personal responsibility should have been, and still can be, implemented. Most notably is the example of the Health Savings Account (HSA), in which employees are free to use for whatever purpose whether to pay insurance premiums or doctor visits and employers would be mandated to pay into unconditionally. Under such a system, employees would have more choice in their healthcare decisions in choosing their own private insurance – with whatever desired or needed coverages, including mandated requirements for pre-existing conditions, contraceptives and prescription drugs – while essentially maintaining employer-based insurance coverage upon which employers would have no say.

It is distressing, if not poignant, that in the midst of this controversy, in which Christians have been attacked with
liberal exaggerations and outright lies concerning women’s health rights, President Obama hailed intolerant and repressively anti-women Islam on the occasion of Ramadan. Think there is a “war on women” in the U.S., as alleged by those on the left who ironically inflict and exploit it? Try protesting healthcare access and contraceptive coverage under sharia law, let alone obtaining it. Although agnostic and by no means religious by any measure myself, all of this should be troubling, and a wake up call, to anyone endowed with an ounce of common sense – clearly lacking in liberals who attacked SCOTUSblog, an independent blog that covers the Supreme Court, on social media for the Hobby Lobby decision as opposed to the actual U.S. Supreme Court – and tired of the “tolerance” hypocrisy continuously displayed by the liberal agenda. 

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sacrificing Horatius Triumphant

To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods.”

In recent days, pictures from various news outlets and on social media have shown the atrocities committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These include several of children who had been beheaded. Let me state that again…BEHEADED CHILDREN. If that description alone does not churn your stomach, you are no better than the monsters who did it. Perhaps worse. Even al-Qaeda – which carried out the worst terrorist act in modern history with the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001 – called them “too extreme” when cutting ties with them. Although the “blame Bush” crowd has tried, this is not the time for such nonsense or even accurate; if anything, blame President Obama for withdrawing troops and support from Iraq before ensuring its security, and failing to follow General George S. Patton’s standing orders of constant advance against the enemy. There is little doubt that a comparable situation could occur in Afghanistan, especially with Taliban and al-Qaeda resurgence.

My Spanish ancestors fought similar Islamic fundamentalists centuries ago, and they were as fanatical then as now. They are not “misunderstood”; they hate and seek to destroy non-Islamists and Western society as a whole. Theirs too is a real war on women, where it is considered rights of men to brutalize, mutilate, rape and put to death women for not obeying their husband, family and societal rules that dictate behavior. The only way to confront such evil is to annihilate them before they can annihilate you – something we have failed to do with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and innumerable terrorist sponsors and organizations around the world. If you disagree with that strategy, thank the architects of the United States that we live in a country that allows it; if that does not satisfy, then continue living with rose-colored blinders securely in place while screaming about pseudo oppression and self-righteous entitlement…but think of those beheaded children whose voices have forever been silenced. Where is the call to arms for them?

The United States may not have been born of perfection, but we have come a long way in two centuries. If we are no longer willing to sacrifice for the good of so many, who will? The Useless Nations? Russia, China or Iran? (Seriously…IRAN???!! They are as much a contributor to the world’s problems rather than a solution.) Maybe the hipster doofus in a penis thong and fedora spouting end-of-the-world climate change nonsense unless we have a meaningful dialogue about redistribution while living under the protective umbrella of innovative capitalism! Despite our domestic differences, international infamy and exaggerations of demise, the United States is still the world’s last, and only, beacon of hope. At least, we were once not that long time ago, holding the bridge against fearful odds.

©2014 Steve Sagarra