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Murderers, Evil & the Absence of Empathy

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Like so many people this week I was stunned, shocked and sickened by the execution style murders of Roanoke Virginia reporters Allison Parker and Adam Ward by former reporter Vester Flanagan. Then later in the week the same type of murder of Houston Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth by a man named Shannon Miles. The first was particularly upsetting as a local news station had a story on it early in the day with a video, which I thought was their coverage, but instead it was the live video which had been broadcast at the moment of the shooting. Then I saw the pictures published by the New York Daily News taken by Flanagan as he shot Allison Parker. Those pictures which showed Flanagan’s view down his gun sight as he aimed, fired and aimed again were chilling. They are so troubling that I will not post them here.

I think it was so because I have been on the other side of the gun barrel. Back in 1979, when I was first starting to date Judy we were out with her parents and help up at gunpoint. I had a .38 caliber revolver to my head, the criminals took our wallets, the women’s purses and as they left the one on the other side of the car ripped Judy’s glasses off of her face and ground them into the pavement. I thought about trying to get the gun from the man on my side of the car but realized that if I failed fired that Judy or her parents might have been killed. If I had my own gun, which I did not I would have probably not been able to get a shot off without getting them killed. Likewise, on a number of occasions in Iraq, serving as an unarmed chaplain, I was under enemy small arms or rocket fire. Thus when I think about what happened to the victims there is a certain amount of kinship I feel.

They reminded me of a picture that I saw of a member of a Nazi Einsatzgruppe individually killing women who had survived a mass execution in Russia during the German invasion. In one picture a woman, appears to be trying to rise up to crawl away from the piles of bodies, and a tall SS man walking up a few feet away with a sub-machinegun aimed at her.

I wondered how people of any sort could be so cold as to look someone in the eye and commit such brutal crimes. It was horrifying. I was up that night thinking about so many others that have happened in this country in just past few years. Dylann Storm Roof going to a Bible Study at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church and then murdering the people there because they were African-American and he was a White Supremacist. There was Frazier Glenn Cross, a former KKK leader and militant white supremacist that killed three people near a Jewish Community center in Overland Park Kansas on the Eve of Passover, 2014. He claimed, “I had no criminal intent, I had a patriotic intent to stop genocide against my people,” and “I hate Jews…. They are the ones who destroy us.”

Then there was Neo-Nazi Wade Page who walked into a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin and killed six people in cold blood. There was James Holmes who went into a crowded theater in Aurora Colorado and killed twelve and wounded fifty-eight more in a mass killing spree. Holmes was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Of course there was the Boston Marathon Bombing, and other killings committed by the Tsarnaev brothers, and twenty-year-old Adam Lanza who murdered twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. Then there is George Zimmerman, a man in a league of his own, who killed an unarmed black teenager  and got away with it, much like so many murderers of so many others, not just in this country, but others as well.

Of course this is nothing new, we can look back that the 9-11 hijackers who killed almost 3000 people; Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who killed 168 and wounded hundreds more when they bombed the Murrah Federal Building; as well as the terrorists of ISIL who routinely look into the eyes of their victims and then kill them.

The list can go on and on, and the murderers span the spectrum of American. Native born and immigrants, whites, blacks, Latin Americans, Asians, well educated men such as Holmes, children of privilege, Christians, Moslems, Jews, various other religions as well as atheists and agnostics. Some seemed to be motivated by some kind of intense hatred, religion, ideology, race; others apparently with some kind of mental imbalance or sense that they, or their race were the victims of the people that they killed.

Whether people murder others in cold blood, be it in large numbers or by looking them in the eye and pulling the trigger, no matter what their motivation for doing so, there is a common factor. It is not the weapons, though I do think the easy availability of so many lethal weapons is a factor, and that we need to tighten the requirements and even limit the types of weapons and amount of ammunition one can legally have, there were over 11,000 gun related homicides in the United States in 2014, I have left out suicides, which were close to 20,000 and justified defense using a gun which are so few that they don’t hit the chart. That number for one year dwarfs the number of all Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I digress…. I am not against people owning guns, I will probably get myself a carbine for marksmanship practice someday, preferably a bolt action World War II Mauser if I can find one in good shape, but again I digress…. The easy access to guns too, is just a part of the equation.

It is not religion, ideology, or political differences, while that certainly plays a part, they are just contributing factors; the same is true of mental illness.

But there is something else, something that an American Army psychologist assigned to the major war criminals noted at the Nuremburg trials: “In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

If you look at the video evidence provided by the killers, their writings, their Internet postings, or the testimony that any of them who survived long enough to go to trial; there is one thing that comes through loud and clear. None of them, not a one have any empathy for their fellow human beings, and as such when they look the people that they are about to kill in the eye do not feel anything.

It does not matter if they are men who perpetrated genocide or killed, or enslaved hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in the name of their religion, ideology, or political-economic systems; or if they are mass murderers or terrorists not connected with a state; who kill in the name of God, race, or ideology; or simply those who hate others and kill to avenge a real or perceived wrong against them. or even those who can look their victim in the eye and then murder them, they all lack the ability to feel for their victims.

The lack empathy, the totality of narcissism, the inability to see others as valued human beings; that it the definition of evil; and there is so much of it in our world. When I saw those pictures that the New York Daily News posted I was reminded of that; and I have had a hard time sleeping since.

I realize all too well that Gustave Gilbert was right; evil is the absence of empathy. The fact is that almost anything else is solvable, but the absence of empathy is the one characteristic that cannot be solved by humanity, and it may be the instrument of our demise as a species.

I say that because there are men and women who would not hesitate to unleash the hell of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons of mass destruction on their enemies and the world. Despite their differences of their belief systems, religion or ideology, these people all display a certain absence of empathy; and that my friends makes them dangerous. Those who can look a single person, or a number of people in the eye and kill them are no different than those who have the ability, or desire the ability to kill millions; for none of them truly believe that their victims are worthy of life. Life unworthy of life, that is how the Nazis referred to their victims, and how those without empathy see their victims.

I’m hoping that his will not be the case and I’m hoping that I will be able to sleep,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, History, Political Commentary, terrorism

The Dangers of the Expanding National Security State: The Drumhead

 

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Lieutenant Worf: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”


Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”

Back in 1991 when I was still in seminary I spent every Saturday evening glued to my television set to watch Star Trek the Next Generation.  Even today I enjoy watching the human drama that Gene Roddenberry and his cohorts created on the small screen.  Of all the Star Trek series my favorites are TNG and Deep Space Nine. Those series often touched on very pertinent social, political, medical, and technological and dare I say national security issues. In fact I have used some Deep Space Nine episodes in my previous posts about the NSA leak situation and the War on Terrorism.

One of the most chilling episodes regarding national security and potential terrorism or sabotage is called “The Drumhead.” In light of the the ever expanding National Security State and the ability of governments, private industry and even individuals to use technology to gather information on almost anyone and to abuse that power, The Drumhead is an episode that remains as relevant today, perhaps even more so, than when it first aired in 1991.

The episode is about an investigation that takes place on the Enterprise following an explosion in its engineering spaces.  Suspicion centers on a Klingon exchange officer. However, the investigator, the retired Starfleet Judge Advocate General, Nora Satie and her Betazed assistant soon casts a wide net which eventually brings charges against a crew member and eventually Captain Picard.

At first Admiral Satie’s investigation seems reasonable. After all the Federation faced danger from the Romulans, who were always trying to use Klingons unhappy with the Federsation-Klingon peace treaty, to further their interests. The initial situation raised the possibility that the Enterprise, was sabotaged and that the Klingons or others might be involved.  Thus as Sati began her investigation she was welcomed by the Captain as well as the Security Chief, Lieutenant Worf, the only Klingon serving as a Starfleet officer.  Satie, assisted by Enterprise security officers then discovered how the Klingon scientist smuggled classified information off the Enterprise.

The Chief Engineer of the Enterprise, Lieutenant Commander LeForge determined in his investigation that the explosion thought to be “sabotage” was caused by a flaw in a recently replaced dilithium chamber.  Although she was convinced that the Klingon was not the saboteur Satie believed that another saboteur was aboard the Enterprise.  Satie and her assistant uncovered a piece of information that a crewman lied about his family background on his enlistment contract. They then used it to connect the crewman to to the Klingon spy by supplying false information about the explosion in an attempt to get the crewman to admit guilt.

As the investigation widened Picard discussed it with Lieutenant Worf. I find this dialogue to be quite relevant to today thirteen years into the war on terror and about the same amount of time since the Patriot Act was passed.

Lieutenant Worf: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”


Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”

When Picard objected to the grilling of the crewman, Admiral Satie and her chief assistant began an investigation of Picard.  As she informed him that he was now a subject of the investigation, the normally calm Picard erupted, telling Sati;  “Admiral! What you’re doing here is unethical; it’s immoral. I’ll fight it.” Admiral Sati then laid down the gauntlet, and told Picard, “Do what you must, Captain. And so will I.”

Admiral Satie called on the Director of Starfleet Security, Admiral Henry, to watch her interrogate Picard who she had by now labeled a traitor.

Picard forced to testify at an open hearing where Sati began to attack him. However, the tables are turned during Picard’s testimony. The dialogue is riveting as Sati attempts to use anything that she can to prove Picard a traitor the the Federation.

Admiral Satie: Tell me, Captain, have you completely recovered from your experience with the Borg?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Yes, I have completely recovered.
Admiral Satie: It must have been awful for you… actually becoming one of them. Being forced to use your vast knowledge of Starfleet operations to aid the Borg. Just how many of our ships were lost? Thirty-nine? And a loss of life, I believe, measured at nearly 11,000. One wonders how you can sleep at night, having caused so much destruction. I question your actions, Captain; I question your choices, I question your loyalty!
Capt. Picard: You know there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…
Admiral Satie: [stands up in anger and interrupts Picard] How dare you! You who consort with Romulans, invoke my father’s name to support your traitorous arguments! It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets. My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle. You dirty his name when you speak it! He loved the Federation. But you, Captain, corrupt it. You undermine our very way of life. I will expose you for what you are. I’ve brought down bigger men than you, Picard! [Admiral Henry gets up and leaves the room]

With Sati obviously unhinged, Admiral Henry ends the investigation and sends Admiral Satie home.

Of course this is fiction but the mindset and attitude of Admiral Satie seems to have been embraced by some in our government and security agencies, including the TSA and the NSA. But the talk is out there, former Senator and Secretary of Defense William J. Cohen said: “Terrorism is escalating to the point that Americans soon may have to choose between civil liberties and more intrusive means of protection.”

Well the choice has been made and I don’t think that there is any going back despite the posturing of politicians on both sides of the political divide. The fact is that polls show that the majority of Americans are willing to sacrifice freedoms for security.
Sati had become so consumed with “defending liberty” that she was willing to trample the rights of anyone that she suspected of disloyalty to the Federation.  

Sati’s questioning of Picard by is fascinating and thought provoking, because there are people that think and act just her fictional character. People who believe, that they too are defending “freedom.”

Frederick Douglass once said: “Find out just what the people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

The balance has to be found in this effort; right now the pendulum is so far to the security side that it seems freedom is no longer even a concern at least for the vast majority of the population and our political leadership, and not just the Executive Branch, the Congress seems to love making new laws that further limit freedom, local governments have militarized their police forces and the courts don’t seem to mind. Unless we undertake a real debate in the issue it is very likely that it will fade away and the national security state that we have become will grow even stronger with the inevitable loss of even more civil liberties.

One only has to look at what politicians on both sides of the political chasm have said about “protecting the homeland” to realize that this is only the beginning and that if we do not have a spirited public debate that we risk our Constitutional liberties under the 4th Amendment as well as potentially the 1st Amendment. Prosecuting actual wrongdoers is one thing, but prominent legislators on important committees dealing with national security suggest prosecuting reporters for doing their job, something that would be a crushing blow to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The fact that some suggest this shows how just how close we are to surrendering even more freedom in the name of security.

The last scene of The Drumhead is enlightening. Lieutenant Worf, who had so eagerly embraced the investigation, goes to Picard to let him know that Admiral Satie and Admiral Henry have left the Enterprise. Worf is apologetic about his rather overzealous role in the investigation. He tells Picard about Sati: “after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.” Picard replies “Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.”

Eternal vigilance in the face of both terrors from abroad and self imposed tyranny designed to protect us from the terrorists. Yes James Madison, was absolutely right when he said “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” However I fear that those that warn of such dangers will themselves be labeled the enemy.

Henry Steele Commager said “Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.” This, my friends is the reality that we live in and the danger that we face.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Game Six: Fenway, Big Papi and Greatness

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Game Six of the 2013 World Series is now underway and though I am not a Boston Red Sox fan I do find the story line of this World Series fascinating.

Fenway Park is one of the most storied ballparks in the land and is part of a dying generation of old parks. Old Yankee Stadium is gone, as are Tiger Stadium, Ebbets Field, the Old Comiskey Park in Chicago and many other legendary ballparks some most built after Fenway. In fact the only ballpark as storied as Fenway remaining is Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

Tonight the legendary park will is hosting what could be the deciding game of this series with the Red Sox leading the series against the St Louis Cardinals three games to two. If the Red Sox win tonight or tomorrow and take the series it will be the first time since 1918 that the Sox won the deciding game at home. In 1975 they played and won game six in an epic series against the Cincinnati Reds in 1975 before losing game seven to the Big Red Machine.

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However the ballpark is only one part of the story. The other big part of the story is Red Sox Designated Hitter David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Ortiz has been part of the Red Sox since he signed as a Free Agent before the 2003 season after spending the early years of his career with the Twins.

In 2004 Ortiz really came into his own as a MVP and World Series MVP as well as All Star and recipient of the Silver Slugger Award. His performance in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees when it appeared that down 3-0 and facing elimination the Sox came back defeated the Yankees and then defeated the Cardinals. Since that time he has endeared himself to Boston Fans, was part of the Red Sox 2007 World Series team and after the Boston Marathon bombing early this year Ortiz delivered a some short remarks before the Red Sox game on April 20th. He fired up the crowd with “This is our fucking city! And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.” Despite his remarks being carried on live television even the FCC refused to censure Ortiz.

In the final game of the ALCS against the Tigers Ortiz hammered a Grand Slam home run to give the Red Sox the victory. During the first five games of the World Series Ortiz is 11 for 15, has hit two home runs, two doubles and six RBI hitting .733 compared to the rest of the Red Sox who are hitting .144 for the first five games.

Those are amazing stats and an amazing performance by the 38 year old slugger who many people thought was on the downside of his career after several less than impressive years after the 2007 World Series win. However since 2010 he has been dominant. A nine time All Star, 5 time MVP and 5 time winer of the Silver Slugger award he has the most hits of any player at the designated hitter position.

I like Big Papi. He is real. He is a leader and committed to his city, team and family. You don’t have to be a Red Sox fan to appreciate him or just to like him. I like him a lot and I’m an Orioles fan.

If the Red Sox can finish off the Cardinals Ortiz will have to be the Series MVP. The only other competitor could be pitcher John Lester who in two games has shut down the Cardinals lineup.

All that being said I hope the Cardinals win tonight. I am not ready for baseball season to end. I want the series to go seven games. If the Red Sox win tonight it really won’t matter to me since I don’t have a dog in the fight I really don’t care who wins. I just want it to be a great series and for Big Papi to keep up what he is doing.

Right now in the bottom of the 4th the Red Sox are up 5-0 and Cardinals starter Michael Wacha is out of the game. I think that the way the Cardinals have been hitting that the Red Sox have a very good chance at winning it all tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The NSA Leaks, Star Trek the Next Generation and the War on Terror: Revisiting the Drumhead

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“But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.” Captain Lean Luc Picard to LT Worf in “The Drumhead” 

Back in 1991 when I was still in seminary I spent every Saturday evening glued to my television set to watch Star Trek the Next Generation.  Even today I enjoy watching the human drama that Gene Roddenberry and his cohorts created on the small screen.  Of all the Star Trek series my favorites are TNG and Deep Space Nine. Those series often touched on very pertinent social, political, medical, and technological and dare I say national security issues. In fact I have used some Deep Space Nine episodes in my previous posts about the NSA leak situation and the War on Terrorism.

One of the most chilling episodes regarding national security and potential terrorism or sabotage is called “The Drumhead.” In light of the current charges and counter charges around the NSA leaks, Edward Snowden, the Boston Marathon bombing and the overt politicization of the terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi Libya it is an episode that remains especially pertinent.

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The episode is about an investigation that takes place on the Enterprise following an explosion in its engineering spaces.  Suspicion centers on a Klingon exchange officer but the investigator, the retired Starfleet Judge Advocate General a woman named Nora Satie and her Betazed assistant soon casts a wide net which eventually brings charges against a crew member and eventually Captain Picard.

At first Admiral Satie’s investigation seems reasonable. After all the Federation was in danger and there was a possibility that Flagship of Starfleet was sabotaged and there was the possibility that the Klingons or others might be involved.  Thus as she began her investigation she was welcomed by the Captain as well as the Security Chief, Lieutenant Worf, the only Klingon serving as a Starfleet officer.  Satie investigation which is assisted by Enterprise officers find out how the Klingon scientist smuggled classified information off the Enterprise.

Lieutenant Commander LeForge determines in his investigation that the explosion thought to be “sabotage” was caused by a flaw in a recently replaced dilithium chamber.  Although convinced that the Klingon is not the saboteur Satie is convinced that another saboteur is aboard the Enterprise.  Satie and her assistant uncover a piece of information that a crewman lied about his family background on his enlistment contract. They then use it to attempt to connect the crewman to to the Klingon spy by supplying false information about the explosion in an attempt to get the crewman to admit guilt.

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As the investigation widens Picard discusses it with Lieutenant Worf. I find this dialogue to be quite relevant to today in the twelfth year of the War on Terror and the passage of the Patriot Act.

Lieutenant Worf: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.” 

When Picard objects to the grilling of the crewman, Admiral Satie and her chief assistant begin an investigation of Picard.  He confronts the admiral saying:  “Admiral! What you’re doing here is unethical; it’s immoral. I’ll fight it.” And the Admiral replies “Do what you must, Captain. And so will I.”

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This brings about the final confrontation where Admiral Satie calls a Senior Admiral from Starfleet to watch her interrogate Picard who she has labeled a traitor. The investigation ends with her interrogating him and in the process revealing that she has become so consumed with “defending liberty” that she is willing to trample the rights of anyone that she suspects of disloyalty to the Federation.  The questioning of Picard by the Admiral is fascinating and thought provoking because there are people that think and act just like the Admiral, believing like her that they are defending the United States or in her case the Federation.

Admiral Satie: Tell me, Captain, have you completely recovered from your experience with the Borg?

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Yes, I have completely recovered.

Admiral Satie: It must have been awful for you… actually becoming one of them. Being forced to use your vast knowledge of Starfleet operations to aid the Borg. Just how many of our ships were lost? Thirty-nine? And a loss of life, I believe, measured at nearly 11,000. One wonders how you can sleep at night, having caused so much destruction. I question your actions, Captain; I question your choices, I question your loyalty! 

Capt. Picard: You know there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…

Admiral Satie: [stands up in anger and interrupts Picard] How dare you! You who consort with Romulans, invoke my father’s name to support your traitorous arguments! It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets. My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle. You dirty his name when you speak it! He loved the Federation. But you, Captain, corrupt it. You undermine our very way of life. I will expose you for what you are. I’ve brought down bigger men than you, Picard! [Admiral Henry gets up and leaves the room]

Admiral Henry ends the investigation then and there and sends Admiral Satie home.  Of course this is fiction but the mindset and attitude of Admiral Satie seems to have been embraced by some in our government and security agencies, including the TSA and the NSA. But the talk is out there, former Senator and Secretary of Defense William J. Cohen said: “Terrorism is escalating to the point that Americans soon may have to choose between civil liberties and more intrusive means of protection.” Well the choice has been made and I don’t think that there is any going back despite the posturing of politicians on both sides of the political divide. The fact is that polls show that the majority of Americans are willing to sacrifice freedoms for security.

Frederick Douglass once said:Find out just what the people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” 

I contend that we must fight this war but in the process not lose who we are as a people and surrender the ideals, principles and freedoms that made us the envy of people everywhere.  While Edward Snowden may have acted illegally and for all we know may now be attempting to work some kind of deal with the Communist Chinese to keep himself out of the United States justice system. Since what he revealed to Glenn Greenwald actually is a matter that needs serious debate by Congress, the administration and the body politic I think it would be better for him and the country if he came back and stood trial rather than hiding out in a country that repeatedly attacks us with cyber warfare. I think that Snowden damages his credibility by fleeing and in the process will derail the debate that is needed on how we balance legitimate security concerns without destroying our political system and hard won freedoms in the process.

The balance has to be found in this effort; right now the pendulum is so far to the security side that it seems freedom is no longer even a concern at least for the vast majority of the population and our political leadership. The current situation has raised the issue but unless we undertake a real debate in the issue it is very likely that it will fade away and the national security state that we have become will grow even stronger with the inevitable loss of even more civil liberties.

One only has to look at what politicians on both sides of the political chasm have said about “protecting the homeland” to realize that this is only the beginning and that if we do not have a spirited public debate that we risk our Constitutional liberties under the 4th Amendment as well as potentially the 1st Amendment.

The latter is a real possibility not in the matter of Snowden, but Greenwald and other reporters who did their job reporting the story. Republican Representative Peter King has urged that charges be brought against the reporters. Prosecuting Snowden is one thing, should we be able to get him back because he did break the law, even if one agrees with his reasoning for doing so. However prosecuting reporters for doing their job is something that would be chilling. I cannot see that happening, but the fact that a prominent legislator on important committees dealing with national security would suggest it shows how close we are to surrendering even more freedom in the name of security.

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The last lines of “The Drumhead” are interesting. Lieutenant Worf comes to Picard to let him know that Admiral Satie and Admiral Henry have left the Enterprise. Worf is apologetic about his rather overzealous role in the investigation and realizing the danger says: “after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.” To which Picard replies Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.” 

Eternal vigilance in the face of both terrors from abroad and self imposed tyranny designed to protect us from the terrorists. Yes James Madison, God bless him was absolutely right when he said The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” However I fear that those that warn of such dangers will themselves be labeled the enemy.

Henry Steele Commager said Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.” This, my friends is the reality that we live in and the danger that we face.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Security and Freedom the Precarious Balance: Looking at the NSA Leaks and Terrorist Threats in Light of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

ds9-homefront

Odo: Am I the only one who’s worried that there are still Changelings here on Earth?

Joseph Sisko: Worried? I’m scared to death. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let them change the way I live my life.

Captain Sisko: If the Changelings want to destroy what we’ve built here, they’re going to have to do it themselves. We will not do it for them.

The current leaks of FISA documents regarding NSA data phone and internet collection programs including the PRISM program by ex Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden have provoked a long needed debate. That debate is less about Snowden then it is about the broader issues that have been shunted to the side in the wake of the 9-11-2001 attacks and the passage of the Patriot Act.

Of course much of the debate right now is about Snowden himself, his actions, his loyalties, his motives and institutional questions regarding how he was given such broad access to Top Secret documents not directly related to his job. As important as the later is, the more critical issue is how we as a republic governed in a democratic manner balance legitimate security needs and individual liberty.

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I wrestle with these issues all the time as a Priest, historian, theologian, ethicist and Naval Officer. I am a civil libertarian who also happens to know a thing or two about National Security policy. The fact is that as much some pundits and politicians are ready to jump off the edge entirely on one side of the divide or the other, their previous political differences notwithstanding we see men and women lining up to praise or condemn Edward Snowden with little regard to the deeper issues involved.

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The real question is how we balance the legitimate need for security with freedom and regard for Constitutional liberties. The fact is there are terrorists in our midst. The Tsaraev brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing are a case in point. There are others who I am sure are interested in or capable of much more devastating attacks. Somehow we have to attempt to protect our people and way of life without destroying the Constitution and our liberties in the process.

In the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost four Changelings from the Dominion reach Earth and in a series of relatively minor terrorist attacks create a chaotic situation. In response Starfleet officers take drastic action to convince the Federation President and Council to declare what amounts to Martial Law and the suspension of civil liberties on Earth.

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One of the Changelings takes the form of Chief O’Brien and contacts Captain Sisko, who due to his experience in the Dominion War and with Shape Shifters was recalled to Earth to assist Starfleet Command. The Changeling engages Sisko in a conversation near Starfleet Headquarters.

Changeling: Let me ask you a question. How many Changelings do you think are here on Earth right at this moment?

Captain Sisko: I’m not going to play any guessing games with you.

Changeling: Ah. What if I were to tell you that there are only four on this entire planet? Huh? Not counting Constable Odo, of course. Think of it – just four of us. And look at the havoc we’ve wrought.

The thing it it doesn’t take many terrorists to disrupt a society but at the same time the society’s response can dictate how deep the impact of the terrorists are on it. Terrorists create suspicion and tend to make people distrust others, in fact anyone that might be different than them. The response to terrorist attacks or threats is frequently disproportionately felt by regular citizens, anyone who has flown on a commercial airline in the United States since 9-11, the passage of the Patriot Act and formation of the TSA can testify.

While security at airports may be an inconvenience the fact is that the Patriot Act also gives Law Enforcement, Intelligence and Military agencies tremendous powers to collect human and electronic data on almost any citizen. Likewise the act increased the powers of these agencies under existing counter-intelligence laws. Some say that they have actually gutted the protections 4th Amendment and that may actually be a valid point.

The conversation between Sisko and the Changeling ends when the O’Brien Changeling comments “We do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.”

I think that really is what we have to watch out for in this War on Terrorism. It is far too easy to in our quest for security to destroy the very foundations of our governmental system. The sad thing is that history shows us how this can happen, wars without end and suspicions of enemies within and without have destroyed civilizations and transformed republics like Athens and Rome into tyrannies.

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Fear is an amazing thing. It triggers responses that are almost predictable. In the Homefront episode were civilian family members of Starfleet personnel are forced to give blood samples to prove that they are not Changelings masquerading as them Captain Sisko’s elderly father Joseph objects and eventually is able to avoid being tested, over the objections of his son who in in charge of the program.

Joseph Sisko: Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, what the hell has gotten into your head? You actually thought I was one of them, didn’t you?

Captain Sisko: I don’t know. I wasn’t sure.

Joseph Sisko: This business has got you so twisted around, you… you can’t think straight. You’re seeing shapeshifters everywhere! Maybe you ought to think about something for a minute. If I was a smart shapeshifter, a really good one, the first thing I would do would be to grab some poor soul off the street, absorb every ounce of his blood and let it out on cue whenever someone like you tried to test me. Don’t you see? There isn’t a test that’s been created a smart man can’t find his way around.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of what happens with Edward Snowden that we really need to look at and have a real discussion of what in the name of security we are willing to give up and what we are not. Technology has increased in ways that most people never imagined that it would be able to do, and that we could not imagine non-state terrorist enemies using against us.

Those are hard questions and they require a serious discussion. If we don’t have that discussion we will be the ones that destroy our way of life and republic and not any terrorist.

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As the Paradise Lost episode comes to its climax Captain Sisko confronts the Starfleet Admiral who has implemented the martial law degree on earth.

Admiral Leyton: You’ve always had a strong sense of duty.

Captain Sisko: My duty is to protect the Federation.

Admiral Leyton: That’s what we’re trying to do.

Captain Sisko: What you’re trying to do is to seize control of Earth and place it under military rule.

Admiral Leyton: If that’s what it takes to stop the Dominion.

Captain Sisko: So you’re willing to destroy Paradise in order to save it?

I think that Sisko’s final question is something that we need to ask those that would use the law, even bad laws to gain security but which ultimately could destroy us.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Madness, Evil, Disaster, Haste and Uncertainty: Poison, Bombs, Fire and Reckless Reporting Shape A Strange and Tragic Week

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“Truth is confirmed by inspection and delay; falsehood by haste and uncertainty.”  Tacitus

It was a strange and surreal day and week. It was a day where people sought answers but only found more questions. Questions about evil, madness and of accidental disaster. Questions ultimately about truth and responsibility.

Madness?

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Today the FBI announced the apprehension of an Elvis impersonator named Paul Kevin Curtis in relation to a number of letters containing the deadly poison Ricin to Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker, President Obama and a judge in Mississippi. According to his family Curtis had a long history of mental illness, specifically that he is diagnosed as Bi-Polar. Evidently he was quite a talented entertainer and had been a finalist in a number of Elvis impersonation contests in Las Vegas. Senator Wicker said that he has met Curtis and had once hired Curtis to perform at a party. Wicker noted that Curtis “was very entertaining.”

Disaster

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Meanwhile in the small town of West, Texas near Waco emergency crews and citizens were sifting through the rubble of a fertilizer storage facility, homes, apartment buildings and a nursing home. Yesterday evening a fire broke out at the facility triggering a massive explosion that registered 2.1 on the Richter Scale, was felt 70 miles away. Casualty figures are still unclear. The town’s mayor is reporting tonight that as many as 35 people, 10 being fire fighters and other first responders died in the blast and that about 160 were injured. The town is devastated, large areas are destroyed or heavily damaged. Governor Rick Perry has asked President Obama to declare the county a disaster area.

Evil

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In Boston, as the city mourned and people gathered at an ecumenical prayer service in memory of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing the FBI released pictures and video of the two suspects in the case. The FBI as well as city and state officials have asked citizens for their help in identifying the men who are believed responsible for the killing of three people and the wounding of more than 170 others.

Haste and Uncertainty

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Hasty and False Accusations

In all of these events there is an underlying element of uncertainty that unsettles people, and not only those directly affected but those who are exposed to them even from afar. In the midst of the unfolding tragedies people have a need for answers. After all such events, especially coming so closely on the heels of one another are unsettling and bring about in some the desire to find an answer immediately, to act with haste and recklessness to find an answer.

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Ricin Letter

Unfortunately haste and reckless attempts to find answers usually compound already tragic situations which could still be open ended. That may not be the case in the situation of Mr Curtis who has been taken into custody and linked directly to the poisoned letters. But let us suppose for a moment that even a mentally ill man could be falsely accused, or that he could have been working with others who are still on the loose. This does not appear to be the case, but there are many instances where people have been falsely accused.

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In the case of the explosion in Texas things appear to point to an accidental fire which spread and set off a massive explosion. Of course that is the presumption but even here officials have to rule out an act of malfeasance or criminality, even as they continue recovery efforts and the search for victims. The fact that the area was a storage area for the volatile Ammonium Nitrate, the same substance used by Timothy McVeigh to destroy the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

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Murrah Federal Building and Timothy McVeigh

In a bizarre twist of irony the worst industrial accident ever, the Texas City disaster of April 16th 1947.  On that day an explosion of Ammonium Nitrate being loaded onto a ship killed over 600 people and injured another 5000. Several ships were sunk, the port destroyed and hundreds of homes and businesses devastated.

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Texas City Disaster

The sad thing is that while the West disaster is probably not a criminal act, it was something that might have been preventable had any outside safety regulations or inspection regime been in place. The last Federal safety inspection of the plant took place 28 years ago. The plant was cited and fined in 2006 for not having a risk management plan in place, despite the presence of an elementary school a very short distance away. The management self reported that risk was minimal.

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Finally in the case of the Boston Marathon bombing many people and some media outlets rushed to judgement before the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that are part of the Joint Task Force investigating released its pictures and videos. The New York Post misidentified two young men, one a high school student as suspects on its front page. Numerous bloggers and others posted photos of people in many cases calling them suspects or even guilt parties based on their very limited powers of observation and more than limited knowledge of the event, area and circumstances of the attack. The Post and those others have caused great distress in the lives of innocent people by acting in haste and rushing to judgement. It should be noted that neither the Post or any blogger has apologized to the people that they have falsely accused who are not considered suspects by law enforcement.

I think as I watched the coverage of all of these events this week and looked back at other terrorist attacks and industrial disasters that have taken place in my lifetime I was struck by how surreal they all appeared, especially since they happened in such a short period of time. When one adds in other events such as the continued tensions in North Korea surrounding its nuclear program and ongoing threats to South Korea, Japan and the United States.

It is a strange time, but if we are to find the truth in all of these cases we have to be careful not to jump to conclusions. History shows time and time again how when people and nations rush to judgement that many times much greater tragedy unfolds.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Day After the Boston Marathon Attack: No Answers and Many Questions

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Two bombs. Three dead. 177 wounded. Many questions and no answers. That is what we know. The attack on the Boston Marathon yesterday was certainly an act of terrorism. The questions though are who did it and why?

We now know something about the devices used in the attack. Pressure cookers loaded with smokeless gunpowder, ball bearings and nails placed in back packs or gym bags. Crude yet powerful and deadly. Improvised explosive devices designed to kill and maim innocent, unsuspecting people. The FBI is taking the residue from the devices to reconstruct them.

Such devices have been used in terrorist attacks both overseas and in this country before. They are crude but effective. They could be the product of any terrorist group, foreign or domestic as well as a “lone wolf” attack of a person with no connection to an organized terrorist group.

Motive of course will be determined once someone or a group claims credit for the attack. Since no one has yet claimed credit we can only speculate who they are and why they did this. Obvious suspects include Al Qaeda or one of its affiliate groups, other terrorist groups affiliated with a foreign government opposed to US policies, a domestic terrorist group with any number of possible motives or a lone wolf terrorist with no direct connections to any group. As of right now we have no idea who might be the responsible group or individual. All is speculation at this point. Thus we must not jump to any conclusions and let a careful and thorough investigation examine all the forensic evidence and discover the leads needed to find the responsible parties and bring them to justice.

There have been some that have been quick to name certain groups at the perpetrators. Unfortunately without solid evidence or any claim of responsibility such charges only serve to stir emotions and create a situation where justice could be impressed and innocent people blamed.

Some of the most popular theories posited by some involve Al Qaeda or any number of other Islamic terrorist groups. There is good reason for this because of the history of such groups behavior. However the thing that makes me doubt that is that no Islamic group has claimed credit. Normally these groups are quick to claim credit for attacks on the “infidels” and justify the attacks using past American attacks or insults to them or Islam. Since no claims of credit from any Al Qaeda linked group have been forthcoming I believe that the chances become less likely every day that this is the case.

There are numerous other possibilities, foreign and domestic, affiliated with a known terrorist group, organization or hostile government or an individual acting on his own accord. Thus before jumping to a conclusion it is important to let the FBI and other law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies do a thorough investigation. That is the only way to solve the case and being those responsible to justice. The inane allegations of conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, Eric Rush and Glenn Beck be damned. Will the investigation take time? Probably, especially if the attacker or attackers covered their tracks and do not want to be found in order that they can attack again.

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Such a scenario is a district possibility and could involve any group, Islamic, anti-government, anarchist, left-wing, right-wing or an individual bent on the death of innocents to satisfy their needs for retribution or vengeance. Unless they are found and caught the probability that they strike again is a real possibility. Thus it is unwise to promote speculation and conspiracy theories in the interregnum of the attack and the discovery of the actual person or persons responsible. Likewise to make allegations against the government or media simply to promote such conspiracy theories, or to counteract the possibility that their pet theory is wrong is not only unwise but dangerous.

I want the murderous terrorists responsible for this attack brought to justice, no matter who they are, foreign or domestic and irregardless of their religious, ideological or political affiliation. No matter who they are or what they believe they are murderers and terrorists. The killing of innocent civilians is criminal.

I pray that whoever did this is not an American regardless of their politics, religion or ideology. For me the thought that this could be the work of a countryman is frightening, much more so than a foreign terrorist group or government agent.

I do hope and pray that those responsible, regardless of who they are will be found and either arrested and prosecuted, or failing that killed. I have seen the results of what happens when neighbors and countrymen turn on each other both in Iraq and the Balkans and I for one do not want to see that happen here. We went through that 150 years ago during our Civil War and we still haven’t fully recovered.

That is enough for tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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