One Veteran's Voice

22 May 2006

VA Security Breach

It appears the VA, the government department tasked to aid and support our soldiers, has experienced a security breach. (See http://firstgov.gov/veteransinfo.shtml)

According to the information release, "The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently learned that an employee, a data analyst, took home electronic data from the VA, which he was not authorized to do. This behavior was in violation of VA policies. This data contained identifying information including names, social security numbers, and dates of birth for up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings. [...] The employee's home was burglarized and this data was stolen."

The VA is working with other government agencies and news media to get the word out. I'm thinking that a rash of websites will soon crop up, claiming that for a minimal fee, the site will identify if the Vet's records were stolen and then provide info to better protect identity. I recommend that before anyone spends money falling for an internet scam, they see the government websites first.

It's great knowing that a failure on the warrior's part could mean a war at home; but then when we come home, a failure on the VA's part means a war on my finances and identity. No worries though, they aren't worth a damn anyway.

21 May 2006

God Hates Fags, Bourbon Street, Abortion, the Iraq War, Soldiers, and YOU!


Pastor Fred Phelps Sr. is the spiritual leader of a small church in Topeka, Kansas. During the 60's he was a civil rights attorney, advocating on behalf of blacks. Inexplicably, he now spends his time protesting the funerals of American servicemembers killed in the War on Terror, asserting that their deaths are divine retribution for the American military's morally ambiguous "Don't ask, Don't Tell" policy towards homosexuality. At the funerals, church members hold signs proclaiming "God Hates Your Tears," "Thank God For Dead Soldiers," "God is America's Terror," "Thank God For 9/11," and "God is Your Enemy," among others. Increasingly, Phelps' church has been met by overwhelming numbers of counterprotesters, a group of motorcyclists calling themselves the Patriot Guard Riders, who block the pickets from being seen by funeral goers.
"At that service for Staff Sgt. Mark A. Wall, who died April 27 of a heart attack in Iraq, riders formed a line in front of the protesters and kept their backs to them. When members of the church group started to sing a doctored version of 'God Bless America,' some riders revved their bike engines."
The protests have led various state legislatures to adopt laws restricting the right of people to picket funerals. Many experts in constitutional law warn that, when challenged, the laws won't hold up in court.
"'Our position is that you don't honor fallen heroes by trampling on the constitution that they swore to uphold,' said Marv Johnson, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union."
As someone who values civil liberties, I have my own reservations about laws restricting protest, but my tolerance has its limits. Phelps incenses me, which means he wins, I suppose, but screw it-- some people need to be rubbed out. People like Osama. People like Pastor Phelps.

Legal Disclaimer-- I do not advocate violence against anyone whom the government does not.


Being a former soldier, I abhor Pastor Phelps' message. It strikes a deeply personal chord and tests the limits of my restraint. The Christian thing to do would be to show only Christ's love and forgiveness to the Pastor and his misguided flock, all of whom seem to have forgotten that fundamental aspect of their religion.

But as I've said here before, I'm not a Christian. I believe in extending the olive branch until the other guy extends the sword, at which point the hand behind my back hiding the sword swings into action and cuts down the other guy before he can cut me. But Phelps hasn't resorted to violence, just preaches it, and so we, who claim to be a free society where such civil liberties are protected, must allow Phelps to continue to exist and protest, even if he disgusts us. Despite the lessons I learned in Iraq, I am still (somewhat) civilized, and resolved to use physical violence only to defend myself from the same. My days of killing for ideology are over. Sometimes I wonder if I was shooting at the wrong color religious wackjobs when I was an ideological killer-for-hire. Maybe I should've concentrated my efforts on the homefront. Too late now--damn humanistic morality compelling me not to kill--always making life complicated. I guess it's easier to blame the fags. It's definitely easy to blame Phelps. Hating dead soldiers isn't too popular these days.

After the rage subsides, I think about the recent statements of other, more respected, American fundamentalists:
Katrina gave us a preview of what America would look like if we fail to fight the war on terror. "Did God have anything to do with Katrina?," people ask. My answer is, he allowed it and perhaps he allowed it to get our attention so that we don't delude ourselves into thinking that all we have to do is put things back the way they were and life will be normal again.

~Charles Colson, former Nixon special-counsel and radio commentator

It seems clear that the prophetic times I have been expecting for decades have finally arrived. And even worse, it appears that the judgment of America has begun. I warn continually that the last days lineup of world powers does not include anything resembling the United States of America. Instead, a revived Roman Empire in Europe is to rule the West, and then the world.

~Hal Lindsey

But have we found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster? Could they be connected in some way? And he goes down the list of the things that God says will cause a nation to lose its possession, and to be vomited out. And the amazing thing is, a judge has now got to say, "I will support the wholesale slaughter of innocent children" in order to get confirmed to the bench. And I am sure Judge Roberts is not going to say any such thing. But nevertheless, that's the litmus test that's being put on, the very thing that could endanger our nation. And it's very interesting. Read the bible, read Leviticus, see what it says there.

~Pat Robertson
These assertions are, unlike those of Fred Phelps, believed by millions of god-fearing American Christians. Reading God's mind and interpreting His will isn't entirely confined to the right wing, either.
And as we think about rebuilding New Orleans, surely God is mad at America, he's sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane and it's destroying and putting stress on this country. Surely he's not approving of us being in Iraq under false pretense. But surely he's upset at black America, also. We're not taking care of ourselves...
We ask black people: it's time. It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans...This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be.

~Recently re-elected Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin
In a strictly logical sense, a sense the faithful don't seem to exercise, Phelps, who identifies the death of Americans in battle as proof of God's disapproval of our military's policy towards homosexuals, is on the same tenuous ground as Nagin, who identifies Katrina as proof of God's disapproval of an immoral war in Iraq, or Robertson, who identifies the same event as proof of God's wrath against legalized abortion. The men who advance these views all claim to know the will of God. Fred Phelps is really no different from Pat Robertson, he's just more in your face. The proof of God's wrath identified by Phelps, dead soldiers, is simply more narrowly defined (and politically unpopular) than Robertson's, which includes entire cities and nations as being potential targets of God's wrath. The premise of these fallacious religio-historical arguments is always the same-- God is angry, I know why, and the proof is [insert catastrophe here].

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their [the clergy's] hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

A portion of this statement (not the part specifically identifying the clergy, of course) is inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial, and the phrase, "sworn upon the altar of God," has been taken literally by conspiracy theorists eager to prove that Jefferson was a member of one of the free-thinking secret societies existent during his day-- all interesting tidbits to consider when religious conservatives invoke the memory of Jefferson and the other founding fathers to justify theocracy. An especially ironic coincidence is Jefferson's choice of the word "abortion" to describe the destruction of the clergy's hopes for an American theocracy. Now, abortion is the great political rally point for Christian fundamentalists desirous to impose theocracy.

Like Jefferson, I hope for the speedy return of our country's good sense. This November, Karl Rove and the GOP will attempt to mobilize Christian fundamentalists with homophobic ballot initiatives that seek to prohibit gay marriage and adoption. I know how Fred Phelps will vote. I know how Pat Robertson will vote. They believe that a vote to allow gay marriage is a vote for immorality, a vote that justifies a vengeful God eager to smite down this country with hurricanes and dead soldiers. If you're a fence sitter, like me, on the issue of whether homosexuality is a result of nature, nurture, or some combination-- consider if you can afford to be a fence sitter when it comes to the more relevant issue of gay rights. Will you vote with Fred Phelps and the other tyrants of the mind, or will you assert your American right to overthrow tyranny in all its forms?

Further Reading:
Behind their hate, a constitutional debate
Riders Shield Military Families
Funeral Protests Force Free Speech Debate
Religious conservatives claim Katrina was God's omen, punishment for the United States
Transcript of Nagin's speech

16 May 2006

...Against all enemies, foreign and domestic

As someone who once swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, I find it troubling that President Bush seems to have such disdain for the rule of law that same document details. I believe he's even expressed it on occasion ("It's just a goddamn piece of paper"). The fourth amendment is not a quaint ideological concept made irrelevant by 9/11-- it is all that stands between the descent of a government of laws into a totalitarian state that may search and seize the "persons, houses, papers, and effects" of its citizenry without probable cause or consent.

There's little doubt in my mind that the government's "Terrorist Surveillance Program" extends beyond anything that's been confirmed thus far by the NY Times or USA Today. Only time will tell, but I would be surprised if the NSA's not keeping databases on email activity and/or sifting through email content to search for key phrases. Who knows if they're wise to the text-messaging trend yet? Nobody knows much, but each new revelation seems to broaden the scope of the domestic surveillance.

The Bush loyalists (I hesitate to use the term conservative, because no self-respecting conservative would tolerate the massive, Orwellian intrusion into the private lives of citizens that is now underway) argue that the changing nature of threats and technology demand domestic surveillance programs such as the NSA phone database. The debate they wish to provoke-- freedom versus security, is an old one, already resolved in America's legal system by the fourth amendment, and it seems besides the point. Lawmakers can certainly debate and redefine the legalities and procedures for electronic searches, but the President does not have the authority to flaunt FISA laws and the Fourth Amendment, regardless of whether he felt those concepts were made obsolete or ambiguous by new technology. By asserting that the executive does have this privilege, even when it involves engaging in illegal activity, the Bush loyalists eventually drift to a new form of Nixon's famous justification, "It's not illegal when the President does it." Except now there is the added corollary, "In a time of war."

Once again, the War on Terror is invoked by Bush, Rove, and Co. to justify domestic policy which flies in the face of the democratic concepts they claim to be fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democracy is the banner I crusaded under, as my own country's government descended into theocracy. The logic invoked to justify the incompetent prosecution of the war is circular, and its tone has degenerated into classic fearmongering. The executive branch of our government now advocates waging preemptive war against threats of its choosing, engages in illegal domestic spying without oversight (other than what gets leaked to the press), and most Republican legislators still refuse to hold the president accountable, for political reasons, even as they distance themselves from him, for political reasons. When the Justice Department attempted to investigate the NSA, in order to determine if the agency is operating within the law, they were refused, the reason given-- that the Justice Department's security clearance wasn't high enough. Whose is?

The Democratic leadership, some of whom have already downplayed or ruled out impeachment in an attempt to appease wishy-washy moderates, would do well to reread the Constitution a few more times, specifically the fourth amendment. Maybe I'm a throwback to 1791, but I'm not willing to give up freedom for security, at least not without probable cause. It is shameful that some Americans, cowed by the fearmongering of their elected officials, apparently are. When these complacent, fear-numbed consumers become a majority, and perhaps they already have, the Orwellian metaphor will be complete, and defenders of the Constitution should beware. Big Brother really is watching you, and the government can get away with anything.