Friday, April 5, 2013
I'm fond of saying that money buys fashion or freedom. Money can be used to either purchase an appearance, perhaps through a trendy new car or the latest clothes or a house in a certain neighborhood, or it can be used to provide a person with options. Money saved and invested is an enormous benefit on many levels, but it can also be leveraged for the good of our military and our nation. Sound financial and life decisions make for a stronger military.
What do I mean by that? Simply this, financial security makes doing the right thing as military professionals that much easier. Take for example, two people both put in a legally or morally challenging situation. One of those people has a mortgage on their house, credit card debt, a car payment, kids to feed, a spouse that depends on their paycheck, limited or non-existent savings and has a negative net worth. The other person owns several properties outright, has no credit card or other debt, owns a vehicle outright, has no children, is married to a financially independent spouse, and has a positive net worth. Which one is more likely to do the right thing by the nation should they be tested and placed in a position where doing the right thing might damage or even end their career?
Money buys fashion or freedom. Military professionals can increase their chances of remaining faithful public servants, should they be tested, by minimizing concern for fashion and instead making thoughtful life decisions. While the debt ridden person in the example above will justify service-degrading acts of cowardice with their financial situation, or through some notion of providing for their family, the other individual is more likely to do the right thing and to risk bravely on behalf of their nation.
Debt and irresponsible financial decisions are a national security concern. That is just as true at the highest levels of government, as it is down in the trenches where most of us serve. So here is my unconventional financial advice for those just starting to serve in our military.
First, live well below your means. This is where fashion must fall to the wayside, as living cheap is not fashionable. Find the least expensive living situation that you can. Explore low rent apartments and mobile home parks. If you are surrounded by "poor" people and your peers give you odd looks as a result of your living location, then you are on the right track. When your peers tell you, "You save a lot of money and I'd live there too but my wife would never allow it," you will know that you have chosen freedom over fashion. A great deal of money can be saved by leveraging military allowance for housing by living well below your means. Find ways to limit or eliminate all other expenses, too. Make a budget and challenge yourself to find creative new ways to shrink it further and live even more cheaply.
Second, pay off debt as quickly as possible and don't take on new debt. Many of us had to take on debt just starting out our adult lives. Debt is a reality for most of us. Once we are earning money, paying off that debt should be priority number one. Conventional wisdom would have people pay the minimum on student loans or mortgages, and instead invest their money in IRAs or other financial vehicles that earn a higher percentage than student loans charge in interest. There are tax benefits to such an approach, as well. I disagree with this often cited approach. Debt is a claim of ownership and limits a person's freedom. The goal should be to eliminate all debt as quickly as possible and then avoid debt in the future by saving (to include saving for large purchases like land and homes). Make use of military pay allotments to send money to pay off your debt automatically, leaving you just enough money for your living expenses dropped into your bank account each payday. When you get a pay raise, simply increase your allotment size and do not adjust your standard of living. Out of sight and out of mind, while you count down to being debt free.
Third, once you are debt free, save or invest your money. There are a variety of ways to do this and different investment vehicles to choose from. You'll want to put a great deal of thought into where you put your money and weigh the very real risks of our current economic and financial reality. As you see your net worth grow, you can take pride in that fact. As your net worth increases, you can enjoy the fact that the brand new car your buddy just bought with credit...you could pay cash for, if you wanted. As you see your money grow, you may having a burning feeling to purchase something like a sport's car. Instead, purchase a model of that car as a symbol that you could buy it, if you wanted to. You can enjoy the fact that while you live well below your means, you are actually on your way to becoming wealthy. There are those who look rich, and then there are those who are rich. How many of the people you know are actually wealthy? If they were to lose their job today, and the bank took all the things they thought they "owned" but that were actually mortgaged, where would they be? Chances are high that regardless of rank, you know few if any people with an actual positive net worth. As in all things, being exceptional means being different.
Fourth, make smart family/life decisions. My view here will certainly be unconventional. Most who serve have heard multiple stories of those among us who met financial ruin, and ultimately relationship ruin, because the person didn't make wise relationship decisions. These are perhaps the most important decisions a person can make, and yet many people put no real thought into them and instead choose to "go with the flow" like most everybody else. Yoking yourself with a childish spouse in pursuit of the fashionable appearance of a house and white picket fence and family, can prove to be a very costly decision. While you may be tempted to think "I've made it" once you get that first military paycheck, you have not made it until your net worth says you have made it. Simply having a job does not mean that you are in a good financial position, and you must make decisions knowing that your career could end tomorrow. In fact, you should always be willing to lose it to do the right thing for the nation. Likewise, nothing ties hands so much as a person's decision to have children they cannot truly afford to take care of. In my view, you are in no position to have children until you are debt free, own property outright, and have a significant net worth.
Invest in yourself. Military paychecks are not guaranteed, as recent furloughs and recent history should make clear. Free health care for life was a promise made by the military, and then broken as Colonel Bud Day and others can attest. Military retirement is also a promise that comes with no certainty, and there are many current ongoing discussions of changing retirement (and not in a good way). The American populace increasingly sees military retirement as somehow a lavish gift, rather than a benefit earned. Governments and banks are stealing money from bank accounts in western nations, and there are massive financial problems in the world today. This is no time to go with the flow. Invest in yourself, because nobody else will. You have to check six and remember that your job is not a concrete asset!
Beyond the many benefits of financial independence, it is good for the military and the nation when those who serve are financially healthy. Such individuals are in a better position to do right by the nation, rather than simply serving themselves and putting their paycheck and their ability to make a monthly credit card payment, above their duty to defend our nation. Put yourself in the very best position to support and defend the United States of America, by making smart decisions and going against that very same flow that has led our nation to its current financial reality.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
"The thing is, saying that 'I have some superior, secret knowledge is why I'm allowed to kill Americans without any kind of due process,' isn't good enough for me." - Senator Rand Paul
Just the other day, Senator Rand Paul filibustered the nomination of John Brennan for director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Senator Paul did so in order to seek answers to his questions to President Obama, on statements made that indicate the POTUS believes he has the power to use drones to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil, without charge or trial, ie without the due process of law. The comments that gave Senator Paul concern included a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder, and also recent comments from the President during a Google interview. Of course these comments come after the previous Secretary of Defense admitted to assassinating an American citizen without charge or trial, and following a leaked Department of Justice (DOJ) white paper claiming the power to assassinate Americans.
This is an extremely important issue, and in my view is the most important issue in all of American history. It should also be of great importance to every person serving in our military today. The trend has been to turn our tools of lethality inward, and I for one have been blogging about this trend for some time now. I am glad to see this issue finally discussed at length on Capitol Hill. The entire thirteen hour filibuster and discussion of the issue by Senator Paul from Kentucky, Senator Cruz from Texas, Senator Lee from Utah, and others can be viewed online here. I recommend all Americans, but especially those of us commissioned to wield the tools of lethality in the military, take the time to watch the entire filibuster discussion, and those of us commissioned in the armed service ready ourselves to exercise our own constitutionally required check and balance in defense of the Constitution. In other words, we need to be ready to refuse unlawful orders, should some of our elected leaders fail in their duties to defend our nation's highest law and instead decide to turn America's military against the citizenry that funds it.
In my view, it logically follows that if the United States government can legally assassinate Americans on foreign soil (by assassinate, I mean killing an American who is not at the time presenting an imminent threat, ie engaging in combat), then the government can also assassinate Americans on U.S. soil here at home. That is logically valid. The reason is because geography has no import in the contract between an American citizen and his or her government. The Constitution both enshrined absolute rights to not be infringed, and created the government of the United States. Therefore, anywhere on the planet the two shall meet (American citizen and government of the United States), the Constitution necessarily applies and legally limits the actions of the United States government. Geography does not matter.
However, what appears to be lost on Attorney General Holder, John Brennan, Jeh Johnson (before he left the government), and others is that the United States government cannot legally assassinate Americans who are presenting no imminent threat (ie actively engaged in violence). It doesn't matter if in Yemen, or in Seattle, the Constitutional restriction of the Fifth Amendment applies anywhere in the universe where an American citizen and his or her government intersect. The Fifth Amendment's guarantee that the government cannot take life, liberty, or property without the due process of law has no geographic exception. I have previously blogged about my understanding of the law, and also touched on the erroneous legal reasoning of Attorney General Holder, John Brennan, and Jeh Johnson.
During the filibuster, some in the Senate touched on some of these same issues. In essence, what was debated in the Senate the other day was the very existence of America as a free nation, versus changing the government to a monarchy or authoritarian government. That isn't hyperbole. A government that claims the power to kill its own citizens, based on the whim of one government person or a group of persons, without the due process of law that has been the bedrock of justice throughout American history, quite simply cannot be described as the government created by the Constitution. It is not a variation of that government, or that government gone astray, but rather it is a different government entirely, one that is more akin to the government of the Queen of Alice's Wonderland, who twists justice and exclaims "Sentence first! Verdict after!"
While I encourage all to watch video of the filibuster (including the first twenty-two minutes before Senator Paul adjusts his microphone and thereby improves the audio), I will provide below a few points that I found particularly salient as I watched the thirteen hour Senate debate.
First, words are weapons. When it comes to those who wish to sidestep the Constitution while avoiding the charge that they are violating the law, the law must be twisted and that means that words must be destroyed. This is a tactic we have seen used throughout American history, and certainly over the last decade. This tactic is usually employed by government lawyers who sadly use what legitimacy their profession offers, to muddle and "make a case" for "their client." Unfortunately, they make a case using a lack of integrity, and they misdiagnose their client by ignoring the American people who pay their bills, and instead act as propagandists for their immediate supervisors who wish to break the law. Typically a profession is held to a higher standard than a regular job, in part because of a required code of ethics, yet the legal profession is filled with the immoral who provide legitimacy to government law breaking just as priests used to provide legitimacy to Kings. In this recent discussion, Senator Lee from Utah diagnoses the destruction of language in the leaked DOJ white paper, seizing on its dishonest destruction of the term "imminent" to describe an imminent threat. By destroying the term imminent threat, the white paper essentially gives cart blanche to the government killing any American it wants, for whatever reason it wants, without that person actually having to pose an imminent threat or any real threat at all. As Senator Lee says at one point, the white paper's explanation of "imminent threat" is like a peanut-butter jelly sandwich without the peanut-butter or jelly, there is nothing there. I should note that Senator Lee is a lawyer, and a former Supreme Court law clerk for Justice Alito. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, is also a former law clerk for former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist. For those not familiar with the legal community, clerking for a justice is an extremely serious legal credential and we are fortunate to have such amazing legal minds serving in our Senate.
Senator Wyden spoke during the filibuster, and praised John Brennan for saying that the CIA does not operate in the United States because it does not have the authority. Remembering that words are weapons, I would caution all who hear or read those words from Brennan to ask themselves what Mr. Brennan means by "authority." Does he mean he doesn't have the authority because the Constitution does not provide it? Or does he simply mean that the President has not given him the authority? While Senator Paul takes Brennan at his word, I would remind all that words are weapons and they are often provided to create an illusion for those who hear them.
Second, Senator Paul repeatedly took issue with the claim that assassination of Americans outside the United States was legal if capture was not feasible. The senator pointed out that the statement on feasibility, seemed to imply that killing an American was legal if capture was inconvenient. I share the senator's concern and think it is important to remember that if we can kill an American, we can capture him. Just as we invaded an entire country, and lost the lives of service members, in order to capture and try Manuel Noriega. Noriega was, of course, not an American citizen and today he sits in prison having been afforded due process of law.
Third, we in the military should understand that a targeting process is nowhere even close to the due process required by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Several guys in the executive branch asking themselves if they should kill an American, is not a trial and a jury of peers. Senator Paul touches on this disparity and overemphasis of "targeting process" as if it holds some value in exchange for due process. Senator Lee does a good job explaining the protections afforded to all citizens, wherever they may be located, from the government. Senator Barrasso of Wyoming also sheds light on many questions concerning the targeting "process," asking for example, the number of individuals that have ultimately not been placed on the kill list during secret deliberations due to objections.
Fourth, Senator Paul touches on what I would term "picking battles." He provides a good reminder of what it means to be a public servant, and explains that while we should be civil, we must still must be principled. As public servants we are either serving the public, or we are providing a disservice to them. When we refuse to stand up for those who pay us to do a job for them, out of our self interest or cowardice, we do a disservice to Americans.
Lastly, for those of us in the military, we need to understand that assassinating an American with a drone is no different than pulling out your weapon in a Wal-Mart and shooting a person while they browse the frozen food section. Senator Moran makes this point effectively. It is easy to detach ourselves from behind a console while looking at infared signatures, but it is important that our officership and professionalism not be put on a shelf because we might feel hidden and anonymous while working from a trailer anywhere in the world.
For those who object to the term "assassination," Senator Cruz of Texas disagrees with you, as does this humble blogger.
Ultimately, we in the military are the final check and balance when it comes to using the military against Americans. We never hear ourselves referred to in that manner, but the Constitution is clear when it requires military officers and justices of the Supreme Court, to swear to support the Constitution. Our actions must be lawful. If those above us break the law while pretending their orders to be lawful, we must refuse. At our own peril. Nobody said this job would be easy, and character and courage isn't relegated to the realm of recruiting posters only.
It should also be noted that, as a result of the filibuster, the Attorney General sent a letter of response to Senator Paul saying that the President does not have the authority to kill an American on U.S. soil with a drone. It should be remembered, however, that while it is rare for a President to discount and disagree with his Attorney General on a legal matter, and act on his own legal understanding rather than that of his top legal advisers, it has been done before. In fact, President Obama disagreed with Mr. Holder and acted outside the council of his top lawyers with regards to actions in Libya.
I recommend all those serving today, who are not ready to do right by their nation, find a new job. America has gone down the rabbit hole. We are in the business of risking ourselves for our country, for Americans, and we must be ready to do the right thing. If you do right in the face of wrong, it won't always turn out in your favor, but sometimes it will. Regardless, as military professionals who took an oath to defend the Constitution, it is time we take a deep hard look at ourselves and ask ourselves if our country truly means something to us. Our combat time means nothing, and a wing award and promotion two-below means even less. The typical ways we judge our success in the military are child's play metrics in our serious world, with the very serious threats to our nation. Few are tested these days, but unfortunately that will most definitely change. We must be ready to do right for America, by refusing to do wrong, if and when the time comes, and when we are truly tested as real men were tested in generations past.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Sadly, Ed Rasimus crossed the fence for the final time yesterday. Fortunately for the rest of us, he did his work well while in country. Beyond his military service, and a Silver Star and multiple Distinguished Flying Crosses, Rasimus continued to give back in the realm of ideas in many different ways. He was personally approachable and eager to share his gathered wisdom, and even while talking with him in his later years, it was clearly evident that he never lacked the fighter pilot spirit or the love of flying great war machines. On the professional level, he left behind many books that join the annals of history, with his latest and perhaps most noteworthy being the excellent read on General Robin Olds.
This blog has had the benefits of his contributions from time to time, and fortunately he gave me a few shots on his own blog every once in awhile. He was educated, opinionated, sometimes right and sometimes wrong, but most importantly he cared enough to have an opinion and to engage in worthy ideas in the shared desire to make our nation stronger.
He cared about America. He will be missed. Him.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
I'm currently reading, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William L. Shirer, a man who personally knew Adolph Hitler. In his description of the years prior to Hitler's rise, Shirer mentions the drafting of the Weimar Constitution:
The constitution which emerged from the Assembly after six months of debate--it was passed on July 31, 1919, and ratified by the President on August 31--was, on paper, the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had seen, mechanically well-nigh perfect, working of an almost flawless democracy... The wording of the Weimar Constitution was sweet and eloquent to the ear of any democraticaly minded man. The people were declared sovereign: 'Political power emanates from the people.' Men and women were given the vote at the age of twenty. 'All Germans are equal before the law... Personal liberty is inviolable... Every German has a right...to express his opinion freely...All Germans have the right to form associations or societies... All inhabitants of the Reich enjoy complete liberty of belief and conscience...' No man in the world would be more free than a German, no government more democratic and liberal than his. On paper, at least.I hear critiques from individuals regularly, who denigrate the Constitution of the United States and lay at its feet the failures of government. History is consulted, blemishes rightfully cited - the Alien and Sedition Acts, Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and refusal to recognize states' rights, the internment of 70,000 American citizens into prison camps without charge or trial in the 1940s, and more recently the NDAA and government claimed power to assassinate American citizens at will, without charge or trial. These individuals denigrate the Constitution for the sins that mere parchment was unable to prevent. Still, I hear other individuals who actually justify current and future sins by bringing up sins from the past (internment, Lincoln, etc) - an argument as ineffectual as a child molester justifying his plans to rape a child by pointing out that he has done it in the past.
The Constitution is merely paper for those who do not value the ideas written upon it. It's a contract and a set of instructions born from valuable history and forged to secure the best possible government given the reality of the world that we are forced to inhabit. It is not a magical device that prevents evil, or that restrains the shallow and the ambitious. Immoral people will evade and disregard it - and they will do so with more regularity and boldness when their nation is populated by those who do not value the document or understand the history that gave it birth. I find the breadth of people who devalue our Constitution alarming; from self described anarchists and liberty lovers who insult the Constitution for its failure to magically restrain immoral men, to liberals who wish the document interpreted to mean whatever they want it to mean thereby making it meaningless, to conservatives who pay lip service to the document when it comes to gun rights while denying the document's protection of the rights of others they don't agree with. With so much division, it's strange that one unifying shared belief between these differing world views is a passionate contempt for our Constitution.
Recently, Louis Seidman, a constitutional law professor (a profession that carries as much weight as the Nobel Peace Prize in the eyes of many these days), has come out and stated that the Constitution is worthless. He writes in the New York Times imploring his countrymen, "Let's Give Up on the Constitution."
When the people do not value their Constitution, it is absolutely certain the government will not value it. When our Constitution is ignored and debased, and the liberty of Americans is vanquished and replaced by outright tyranny - it will not be the Constitution that failed. It will be the People who failed. The Constitution, like any set of written instructions or any written contract, is only as useful as the character of the people employed in public service to abide and be restrained by it. If the People are of the opinion that the Constitution is of no value, their public servants will most assuredly faithfully represent them.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
With the horrific recent tragedy in Connecticut, the internet and media has been buzzing over discussions for and against gun control and or gun bans. Some folks have even been so erudite as to acknowledge that we have a Second Amendment, and that it has something important and authoritative to add to the discussion. It's always nice when our Bill of Rights is discussed by Americans, something that is rare these days in my opinion, even among those of us paid and sworn to defend it.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.Here are a couple of my thoughts on the Second Amendment. First, the argument that it is irrelevant because it deals with, and was intended for, militias... The first part of the amendment gives the reasoning behind the right enshrined, ie because the Founders believed a militia was necessary for States to be secure, the people must have the ability to keep and bear Arms. Now, we can agree or disagree with the reasoning behind the enshrined right, but the fact is the right of the people to keep and bear Arms is law. Functionally, had the Second Amendment been written as, "Apples being pleasant to the sight and touch, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," nothing would change legally (ie Constitutionally, and independent of whether or not the government judiciary ruled correctly or not). If it were written that way, we could likely all agree that the reasoning of the Founders would be suspect if not flat out wrong. Apples have nothing at all to do with bearing arms. Still, whether their reasoning was good or poor, the right was still codified into law. People have the right to keep and bear Arms, and that right shall not be infringed, whatever your opinion on apples might be. Again, the first part of the text provides the reasoning for the codified right, and the second part creates the law as a result. It's not unlike the very preamble to the Constitution, that introduces the law of the Constitution by stating that the Constitution was created to form a "more perfect union." You might disagree with the preamble's claim concerning a more perfect union, but that does not change the law of the Constitution. The reasoning in the beginning does not change the law, as a result. Here is a more modern example. Assume that on a deployment as an aircraft commander, and as the ranking crew member, I told my crew, "Hey guys, because alcohol abuse is destroying crew cohesion on this deployment, alcohol is now prohibited and nobody on this crew will consume alcohol until this deployment is over." My crew may disagree with my reasoning that alcohol is destroying crew cohesion, and perhaps nobody had consumed a drop of alcohol on the deployment and I had misdiagnosed the problem and solution...yet the order would still be in effect and would be law, regardless of how wrong my reasoning was. The same goes with the Second Amendment.
As a result, it's not the reasoning but the law that the Founders laid down that matters. In that law, they said the people have the right to keep and bear arms, and that the right would not be infringed. They did not speak of militias (that was in their reasoning). Had the Founders intended the right to only apply to militias (or apples), then the amendment would have said, "the right of militias to keep and bear arms..." It does not. It says the people. There is no way to argue that the Second Amendment does not guarantee Americans the right to keep and bear arms without destroying language and engaging in deception (self or otherwise).
Another argument that is thrown around is that the Second Amendment was referring to muskets and not to AR-15s, and therefore it doesn't apply. Again, basic common sense and the truth of words are instructive. The text says nothing about the types of Arms, it simply says Arms. Even at the time the amendment was being written, there were multiple types of weapons, or arms, employed by the continental army and the militias (ie the people). What are arms? They are weapons - and the text does not limit what kind of weapons the people have a right to keep and bear.
But of course many people will bring up "well should people be able to have a tank, or an RPG?" In my view, those are Arms and the people have a right to own them if they can purchase them. The reason I believe this is because the Second Amendment was not created to protect the rights of hunters or sport shooters. It was created to protect the people from armies and, most importantly, the armies and forces of our own government. In our post 911 world this argument gets lost and while many understand that is the purpose of the amendment, to protect the People from their own government when it becomes tyrannical and ignores the Constitution, still these folks won't want to publicly admit that fact. In our post NDAA world where our political leaders admit to assassinating American citizens without charge or trial, where whistle blowing is prosecuted at record numbers, there is a real fear to speak the truth. Even when that truth is more American than apple pie, and should be embraced by all Americans. Such as the truth that our Second Amendment exists to protect us from our government. Therefore, if our government is armed with the technology that can be, or is, used against American citizens, then the people have the right to Arms that can counteract and deter tyrannical aggression, assuming they have the resources to procure them. While most citizens won't be able to afford a patriot missile battery, they can afford fully automatic weapons and RPGs.
And they have every right to own them. The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
As military personnel, we must truly think about the Second Amendment and our oaths to support and defend it. History is instructive and teaches us that when tyranny comes, the troops will be ordered to disarm the people. If you value America and your oath before God, you must be willing to refuse to violate the Constitution. The "domestic enemy" of our oaths does not refer to criminals here at home (criminals do not harm our Constitution). We in government service are the potential domestic enemies that we swore to defend our Constitution against.
For those of us who have raised our right hands, don't be a domestic enemy. Instead, measure up to the example of Sgt May when he refused to disarm Americans during Hurricane Katrina. And when the cowards chide you with warnings of how you will get in trouble, in an attempt to lessen the guilt they feel from being cowards, just realize that by having courage and doing right by America...you may come out on top. Don't expect it, but it does happen.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
"There is always a consequence to demonstrating integrity. There's a consequence to that. And we were willing to take that consequence,...otherwise if we compromise that, then we're no better than the enemy that we're fighting."
- Major General Antonio Taguba
Sunday, December 2, 2012
I have previously blogged about a retired colonel who goes by the call sign RainMan, and how long after his retirement he still finds the time to mentor the young hopeful warrior wannabes around internet forums. I think it's great to help the hopefuls and those who currently serve, and to share what you have learned, and to provide wisdom and insight to help make others better military officers. It's a good conversation to be had. Of course, adding to that conversation requires you having something worth sharing.
RainMan certainly shares a lot. He shares his view that women ruined the Air Force, that the oath of office we are required to take is bullshit, that we shouldn't serve out of principle, and he equates risk for the national defense in combat with risk to one's own personal ambitious career progression (he is fond of using the phrase "notch the threat" when discussing queepy self serving career decisions).
While he shares his views on a forum that is known to question the kool-aid and check-the-box requirements of the service (and the leadership that prizes such externalities over common sense), still RainMan enjoys some kind of internet social status while being the poster child for exactly what plagues our service. He enjoys this online status because 1) he has actual combat experience and 2) the hopefuls are those who rightfully aspire to also one day defend their nation in combat and because 3) larger America has a real morality crisis, and so his audience is receptive to a "hero" that encourages cowardice. So many who talk about what is wrong with our service do so on the "bro level" behind closed doors, and when those doors open, they silence their criticisms and feedback and do their part to further the problem. Such people are considered "those who get it" sadly, because they talk the talk when talking isn't risky, yet don't walk the walk.
Combat experience is RainMan's ace of spades. But combat is just one small part of being an officer and it's a very poor indicator of character or value. I've flown a great many combat missions myself, killed many of the enemy, been shot at, and in all my combat experience I have never once witnessed anybody who wasn't eager to get into the fight. I'm glad to know that our military is producing those thirsting to protect our brothers on the ground, and to remove those on the battlefield who would do our nation harm. But combat experience doesn't require a person to be principled, or particularly intelligent, or to have any real character. Armies around the world have been populated with riff raff that fixed bayonets and bravely charged, and even the fascist Adolf Hitler acted with courage in World War I and was awarded two Iron Cross decorations for his combat contributions (he was shot in the leg in one incident, and he suffered wounds after a chemical attack in another). Again, combat is a very poor indicator of the quality of a man and his leadership potential. Principle, character, and intelligence are required for those who wish to help lead America's military outside of combat, and to assist in preparing it to be ready to take on our enemies in the future, and to provide unfettered and honest information to our elected representatives despite corporate and other non-public interests. This is where RainMan fails miserably. It can also be argued that this character disease is the culprit behind the serious challenges our service faces today, as recent articles concerning scandal after scandal from leadership indicate. Unfortunately, RainMan spends considerable time trying to instill and bolster the same cowardice and lack of character in those who serve today, and in those who hope to serve tomorrow, encouraging them to drink the same cowardly saltwater that leaves our service thirsty. He finds a receptive and parched audience.
RainMan is the Big Johnson of BaseOps. He is a caricature like the tiny man from the 80s t-shirt line, working to create an image of "cool" - he has a motorcycle, he uses fighter pilot lingo in every day communication, he insults women (including young cadets), refers to himself as an "Iron Ass Reagan Baby," tells all who will listen that he was a real deal football player growing up, talks tough and touts his combat time. Beyond that, he sprinkles his unsupported conclusions around as though they are infallible, despite his frequent lack of support or evidence, and works overtime from his retirement home to justify his shortcomings with youngsters who will agree or worship him. He finds an unprincipled audience eager to listen, and the cultural reasons are far greater than any one particular online military forum. Reference this forum poll where the majority of respondents admit that had they been ordered to fix bayonets and herd 70,000 American citizens onto trains to send them off to concentration camps (as was done in the 1940s by order of President Roosevelt), that they would have done so despite their American neighbors having not been charged or tried for any crime. The cowardice of the clay makes RainMan's work to sculpt our service with unprincipled men of inferior character, quite easy.
I will give him credit for his combat time. It's good that he role models hanging it out for America. But it bears repeating that combat is a small contribution, and miniscule compared to the negative contributions of RainMan's cyber role modeling. Like the Big Johnson caricatures, the stick figure image of the tough guy fighter pilot who's "been there and done that" cannot sufficiently disguise the fact that underneath his bravado, RainMan is actually a small pale little kid trying to look cool. The courage checkbox doesn't change that fact.
RainMan dazzles his audience with his unremarkable contributions with one hand, and with the other hand encourages officers to look out for their career over doing what is right for the service or the country. He suggests that officers "play the game" (because a nuclear equipped profession is a game, right?), that airmen never stand up for principle, and he provides a continuous reminder that the oath to the Constitution is just some silly muttering of words that officers should ignore. He purports to be a fan of Robin Olds, and while it is true that RainMan has mastered the art of digital swagger from his computer keyboard to impress the youngsters long after his retirement, it's also true that RainMan hasn't yet figured out what made General Olds great. Character. Instead, RainMan treats military service and the role of a military officer as if he's back playing football. He's on the team and that is all that anybody needs to know. Thinking and character not required. Just run the ball where you're told (even if it's into your own end zone) and enjoy the after party.
My contempt for RainMan and his efforts to weaken our service aside, I should be gentle with RainMan. He remains my number one fan, even after having me banned from the BaseOps.Net forum because he couldn't handle the feedback I gave him there. He expected the same adoration and idolization that he typically gets from the youngsters and the less accomplished pilots, and so he didn't appreciate my feedback. He has been smarting ever since, and never passes up an opportunity to make some ridiculous claims about your humble blogger. I think I touched a nerve. Yet even after I was banned from the BaseOps conversation (after they had read my blog and invited me over there to discuss), they still love to talk about "PYB.edu." Since my banning, they have referred to your humble blogger dozens of times, with RainMan himself bringing up my blog in the majority of those instances. One moment RainMan is telling others to stop talking about this blog, and in the next he's the one bringing it up. It's a love hate relationship, and the mark of a real fan. It makes me all warm inside.
So, thanks for being my number one fan, RainMan.
Friday, November 9, 2012
It has been a truly great week. The police officer I am suing requested the court issue a summary judgement (ie dismissing my case), in my lawsuit against him after he unlawfully pulled me over (in violation of the Fourth Amendment), and then unlawfully arrested me because I pointed out he had broken the law (in violation of the First Amendment). He cited the typical "qualified immunity" argument. Instead, the court just denied his motion for summary judgment on both of my amendment claims. This was the big hurdle in this civil rights lawsuit, we have successfully jumped it, and that means we are going to trial.
I feel very good about this lawsuit. Very good! I will keep my comments here limited, as the lawsuit is ongoing. But it has been a great week for defending our Constitution.
Happy Veterans Day weekend to all.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
I spent yesterday in a complete daze after I read an Air Force document that absolutely filled me with joy and pride, and restored a good measure of my trust in our service. After so many years of watching Air Force accountability processes shamefully fail me in various battles to make our service and our country stronger, I read something yesterday that stunned me. An agency, high up in the Air Force ether, made a correct decision and issued a report that showed a great deal of respect for our Constitution and our rule of law.
I should back up. For just over a year now I have been fighting an enormous battle that I haven't previously discussed, with the exception of one vague post about a poem my wife shared with me. I'm not going to get into anything more specific here, and it's quite possible I may never do so publicly, but suffice it to say I stood up for the Constitution in an extremely meaningful way, and as a result I was facing separation from the Air Force with more than fifteen years of service and possibly even graver consequences. For doing the right thing. For being principled and honoring my oath to support and defend our Constitution, and for forsaking my own convenience and personal gain in favor of our nation. There is one thing, however, that must be shared, and that is this - there can be justice in our service. It can do the right thing, and that means airmen can do the right thing in terrifying circumstances, with no apparent allies, standing alone - and yet be vindicated in the end. There can be justice in the Air Force.
And it's a beautiful sight to see.
In my latest battle, not only did a high level organization find in my favor, but they made it clear with their words that they would not punish me for honoring my oath. Beyond that, they essentially vindicated my years of service that led to so much "derogatory" information in my file. During this process- all of the numerous reprimands I have collected over my career were used against me as evidence, to include the most recent addition. My encounters with unlawful law enforcement were offered up as evidence, and even this blog was used as evidence against me, though no specific comments or posts were cited.
I have often said that I am more proud of my reprimands than I am of my medals, because they paint the most accurate picture of my courage and service to this nation. There is a word that seems to be a common thread throughout all of my reprimands. Constitution. Fortunately, this Air Force agency saw that same picture. In their finding, they mentioned each of my reprimands in detail and then summed them up, stating:
On the surface, it would appear that receipt of multiple letters of counseling and reprimands would indicate questionable judgment and an unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations. However, when each incident is reviewed on its own merit, it would appear Subject is fully aware of the U.S. Constitution and has openly challenged what he perceives to be a violation of either his own rights or those of other American citizens.They mentioned interviews with people during an investigation and, minus the review of one who brought the action against me, all were favorable. One of those interviewed "indicated Subject has a good work ethic; holds very strong views and opinions which he readily expresses; particularly strong views about the Constitution and how it should be interpreted..." The agency also mentioned my encounters with law enforcement, and that charges were dismissed in court, and it even noted that I had filed a civil suit against a police officer who violated the Constitution. The agency discussed the substance of my most recent battle and concluded that, "It is the opinion of this [redacted] that Subject's objections to what he believes are violations of the U.S. Constitution, as reflected in the documents associated with [this action], do not represent a...concern." With that conclusion they halted and reversed a significant punitive action that was being taken against me.
We shouldn't fight righteous battles for our nation only if we think victory is assured. We're in the business of courage and service, so shirking our responsibility to our nation for our own personal gain or for a supervisor's approval is not an option. That doesn't mean it will be easy, and for those few who are truly tested, it can be absolutely terrifying. But what this latest act of service has taught me is this - if you do the right thing, you may just find that there are those much higher than yourself who will also do the right thing. Imagine if our service was populated by such people. Imagine how much stronger our service and our country would be. It might just start with you. Do the right thing by God and taxpayer, as you swore an oath to do, and let the chips fall where they may. Don't count on it, but it might just work out.
Something to consider this Veterans Day weekend.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Over the last several years, I have spent a considerable amount of my time and resources defending the Constitution from government actors who have violated it. One of those battles involves a string of violations at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Uvalde, Texas. While stationed nearby, I traveled through that checkpoint nearly every weekend to go from one American town to another American town, without crossing any border. The first of those incidents involved Border Patrol agents punishing me for not telling them my intended travel destination, by fabricating that their drug dog had hit on my vehicle, and then demanding I exit it so that they could search my two-door car. They tore through my vehicle and threw my property onto the pavement, including my laptop computer. Of course after their ten or so minute search, with the drug dog inside my car, they found no drugs. After I collected my belongings off the pavement and put them back into my vehicle, I went on my way. That was Veterans Day weekend. I filed a complaint with the Border Patrol headquarters.
But the harassment didn't end there. Finally, after several more incidents and after an incident with a dishonest police officer, I installed cameras in my vehicle to document any further unlawful activity by law enforcement officers. Much as a convenience store owner who suffers a string of robberies might install a surveillance system, the cameras were put in place to provide some measure of accountability in a location that was was filled with unlawful activity. It paid off greatly.
It allowed me to capture a thirty-four minute detention and a violation of the Fourth Amendment at that same checkpoint. Many don't understand the law surrounding these checkpoints, so I'll provide what I have learned over the years. It should be noted that we are talking about interior checkpoints that can be located up to 100 miles from any border, on highways where there is no border crossing. This is an important distinction, as the law governing these checkpoints differs greatly from checkpoints that are actually on an international border. So what is the law that applies? Let's start from the beginning.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the people the right to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures." The United States Supreme Court stated, "It is agreed that checkpoint stops are 'seizures' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment (U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte)." The reason the High Court maintained that these checkpoints are seizures, is because all traffic is required to stop at these checkpoints. As such, for the time a vehicle is stopped at the checkpoint, both it and its passengers have been "seized" by the government and cannot depart the checkpoint without permission from the government. The question then becomes, is that seizure reasonable or not?
The Supreme Court ruled that, "A search or seizure is ordinarily unreasonable in the absence of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing (Indianapolis v. Edmond).” In other words, if a government agent has suspicion that a person has violated a law, they can seize that person in order to begin an investigation. This is the standard used, for example, when a police officer pulls over somebody speeding. They develop the suspicion through a radar gun or other mechanism, and can then make the individual stop and issue a citation, which then has to be proved in court. If a police officer pulls somebody over without suspicion that they have committed a crime then, according to the courts, they have conducted an unreasonable seizure and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment.
Border Patrol checkpoints not on the border are often referred to as suspicionless checkpoints. That is because all people have to stop and are seized, despite the lack of suspicion that any crime or violation has been committed. So while the Supreme Court has historically ruled such seizures a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the High Court did make an exception for these checkpoints. In doing so, however, they laid down specific parameters that must be followed for the seizure at these checkpoints to remain reasonable. Namely, the Supreme Court required that these checkpoint seizures be limited to, "brief questioning" to inquire into immigration status (U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte).
Further, the courts have ruled that these checkpoints cannot be "catch all" checkpoints, that operate looking for any and all types of violations, but rather that they are limited to immigration status. Anybody who has much experience with these checkpoints knows they routinely stray outside these lines and are effectively in place to also look for drugs. Drug dogs are not gifted in the art of smelling citizenship (they're also prone to false alerts especially when handled by a dishonest dog handler). But legally, these checkpoints are limited to briefly inquiring into immigration status, and they are not allowed to investigate into anything else unless they have reasonable suspicion for a non-immigration violation. The reason for this is because these suspicionless seizures are an intrusion into the lives of law abiding citizens who are forced to stop there, and the courts have reasoned that as long as they are limited to brief inquiry into immigration status, then the intrusion is minimal and therefore justified. As an aside, Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan vehemently disagreed with this view that such an intrusion would be minimal and therefore did not think them reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. In fact, they argued that the ruling allowing these checkpoints to seize motorists, no matter how brief, did not justify the intrusion upon citizens suspected of no wrong doing who were simply traveling down the highway. They wrote:
The starting point of this view [the majority opinion] is the unannounced assumption that intrusions are generally permissible; hence, any minimization of intrusions serves Fourth Amendment interests. Under the Fourth Amendment, however, the status quo is nonintrusion, for, as a general matter, it is unreasonable to subject the average citizen or his property to search or seizure. Thus, minimization of intrusion only lessens the aggravation to Fourth Amendment interests; it certainly does not further those interests (U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte).The majority of Supreme Court justices found otherwise, and made an exception for suspicionless checkpoints, but required the seizure to be brief and limited to inquiring into immigration status. The Supreme Court stated that “[A]ny further detention . . . must be based on consent or probable cause (U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte).”
So what is brief, and what is further detention? According to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over the checkpoint in Uvalde, Texas), a stop of “a couple of minutes” is “within the permissible duration of an immigration checkpoint stop (United States v. Machuca-Barrera).” That Circuit has also ruled that Border Patrol officers may “ask questions outside the scope of the stop,” ie questions that are not related to immigration status, but they may do so “only so long as such questions do not extend the duration of the stop (United States v. Machuca-Barrera).”
What about an order to exit the vehicle? Do individuals have to exit the vehicle if requested to do so during the brief immigration inquiry? The answer is no. Regardless of whether requested in primary or requested in secondary, an individual has no legal obligation to exit their vehicle. Certainly such action is not required to briefly inquire into immigration status, and further, the Border Patrol has no authority to order a person to exit their vehicle. Why not? Yet again, it's because there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing. The Supreme Court has ruled otherwise in the case of suspicion based stops by law enforcement, such as a traffic stop for suspicion of speeding (Pennsylvania v. Mimms). In that case, the Supreme Court has said law enforcement can order vehicle operators out of their vehicles for "officer safety." The High Court chose, during suspicion based stops, to value the safety of government actors during routine traffic stops over the safety of American citizens. However, agents of the Border Patrol have no such authority at suspicionless checkpoints.
So what questions are individuals required to answer at these Border Patrol stops, if any? The answer is none. Cooperation during suspicionless checkpoints is not required. Individuals have a right to not answer questions, and there is no law that requires them to provide any identification. Further, cooperation with an investigation/inquiry is not required even in stops that are based on suspicion, so they are most certainly not required in a stop where there is no suspicion of wrongdoing. Still further, choosing not to cooperate with government actors who intrude into your life at a suspicionless checkpoint, cannot be used against you as a basis for suspicion. The Supreme Court ruled, "We have consistently held that a refusal to cooperate...does not furnish the minimal level of objective justification needed for a detention or seizure (Florida v. Bostick). The Fifth Circuit that holds jurisdiction over the checkpoint in Uvalde, Texas agrees stating, “[I]t would make a mockery of the reasonable suspicion and probable cause requirements if citizens' insistence that searches and seizures be conducted in conformity with constitutional norms could create the suspicion or cause that renders their consent unnecessary (United States v. Machuca-Barrera).” An individual does not have to cooperate with agents at these checkpoints, and after the "couple of minutes" required to "briefly inquire" into immigration status, agents who have developed no reasonable suspicion for any violation, must release the motorist in order to comply with the Fourth Amendment. Even if the individual chose not to answer questions or cooperate.
The Fifth Circuit has also stated, "Our decisions have held that police violated the Fourth Amendment by extending a stop by even three or five minutes beyond its justified duration (United States v. Machuca-Barrera)." As such, I am extremely confident that my lawsuit will be victorious as I was detained for nearly thirty-four minutes, after agents failed to ask me any questions related to immigration status until more than ten minutes into the detention, and only did so after I had provided my driver's license, military ID card, and even offered my passport (an offer the agent ignored). Beyond that, when the supervisory agent even later finally asked for both of my passports, I quickly provided them to him. Still, he put them in his shirt pocket and detained me for another fifteen minutes while he called my military chain of command to verify that I was actually in the military--questions and actions that had nothing to do with my immigration status, but rather demonstrated a desire to punish me for recording the incident. The agents repeatedly lied, saying that they had asked me my immigration status in primary, and that I had refused to answer the question. The video shows that I answered every single question asked of me, with the one singular exception of providing the identity of my commanding officer, which I was not required to provide and which was information irrelevant to my immigration status. Beyond extending the detention to call my military employer, their intent to harass was further demonstrated several weeks later when they wrote a letter to my military commander and claimed that my conduct was "unbecoming."
The law is clear, and even if I were to have to appeal my case to the Fifth Circuit that ruled in Machuca-Barrera, I am very confident that the Fourth Amendment will be vindicated.
These checkpoints are intrusions into the lives of law abiding American citizens who simply wish to travel unmolested. Agents at these checkpoints require no suspicion of any wrongdoing to force themselves into your lives, but the Supreme Court has made it clear that they must remain limited intrusions. It is important for us, especially for those of us who have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, to not blindly acquiesce to unlawful demands agents might make. If we do so, we unwittingly train them to expect all who pass to likewise give up their constitutional rights or be harassed. Even those who answer all relevant questions, as I did, and who provide four forms of identification including two passports, as I did.
If we don't support and defend the Fourth Amendment, what will be next? Government agents able to enter our homes without any suspicion of wrongdoing and without a warrant? Government agents who seize us during a walk to work without any suspicion of any wrongdoing? Let's not allow the further eradication of our rights. Not on our watch.