Monday, April 22, 2013

Is Tsarnaev an Enemy Combatant?

In the aftermath of last week’s terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, proponents of treating suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant are rightfully distraught over today’s White House announcement. Citing Tsarnaev’s United States citizenship, Press Secretary Jay Carney released the decision to prosecute him through the civilian system of justice after noting several successful terrorist cases that have brought US citizens to justice since the 9/11 attacks.

Representative Peter King was the first to call for labeling Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant citing the potential intelligence the suspect might possess about future attacks. In being tried as a US Citizen, Tsarnaev was read his Miranda Rights, which includes the right to remain silent, leaving authorities with many unanswered questions about his potential connections to terrorist groups. Proponents of treating the suspect as an enemy combatant called on authorities to institute the public safety exemption which would prevent the suspect from being read his Miranda Rights.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham strongly criticized the Obama Administration for coming to a decision prematurely in treating Tsarnaev as a civilian despite the potential vital intelligence information he may possess. Graham also noted that while the suspect would ultimately be tried in a court of law, “the last thing we should do is limit our ability to gather intelligence.”

Senators Graham, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte rationalized the designation by arguing that Tsarnaev is not a “common criminal”. In a press release over the weekend, the trio declared:

It is clear the events we have seen over the past few days in Boston were an attempt to kill American citizens and terrorize a major American city… The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise, but terrorists trying to injure, maim and kill innocent Americans.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged with using a weapon of mass destruction that resulted in 3 civilian deaths and over 200 injuries in front of a federal magistrate judge. His older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police shortly after he shot a Campus Safety Officer on the MIT campus in Boston.

The White House is holding firm in their decision to try Tsarnaev as a civilian and announced that the entire national security team was in agreement with this assessment. Let’s hope they are not mistaken.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Missing Impact of Scandals

The discovery of a scandalous affair that makes the daily headlines historically indicates the end of a political career. After all, we elect officials who in a representative democracy are supposed to take into account the views of their constituents in order to draft legislation that is consistent with our fiscal and moral values. It would seem logical for our politicians to be held to a higher standard of scrutiny. When acts of malfeasance that demonstrate clouded judgment are discovered, a public apology and resignation from office usually follow.  
Despite these tendencies, a recent study conducted by political scientist Scott Basinger suggests a relatively short shelf life for politicians caught in scandal. Of the 250 instances analyzed since Watergate, over 60% of incumbents survived their scandal. On average, incumbents running for reelection only lost approximately 5% of their voter share in the general election and 15% in primary challenges, but the numbers vary according to the type of scandal and the strength of the candidate’s opponent. Ironically, scandals related to marital infidelity and political finance violations were least impactful on voters at the polls, while corruption caused the largest declines on Election Day. Although Basinger’s research fails to account for politicians who enter retirement in the aftermath of public embarrassment, it underscores the relatively small impact that scandals have on the political futures of incumbents. 

Earlier this month, former Governor Mark Sanford won the GOP nomination for the congressional seat vacated by Tim Scott in South Carolina’s 1st District despite admitting to an extramarital affair in 2009. Another former congressman Anthony Weiner is reportedly contemplating his candidacy for Mayor of New York City. Polls of likely voters indicate a favorable view of Weiner in spite of the “sex-ting” scandal that resulted in his resignation from Congress. Even the infamous Monica Lewinsky affair which threatened to derail Bill Clinton’s political legacy seems to have been forgiven by the American public. In fact, Barack Obama’s successful White House re-election bid heavily relied on the former president’s capacity as a surrogate, especially in parts of the country where Bill Clinton enjoys unusually high approval ratings.

In reviewing Basinger’s research, I submit that the extent to which a politician will emerge from a scandal with political success is determined by the effectiveness of the messaging explaining the candidate’s malfeasance. Especially when it comes to non-political matters like sex scandals, incumbents can successfully win re-election if they are honest with the public and can convince them that they are still the best person for the job, regardless of the scandalous discoveries. It is for that reason that I believe an American war hero like General David Petraeus may be in an ideal position to win public office if he chooses to announce his candidacy in the near future in spite of his extramarital affair.

While scandals are never helpful to political careers, they certainly are not the death sentence that they appear to be when news first breaks of a politician’s misconduct.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Israel has a Sovereign Right to Self-Protection

The State of Israel has a sovereign right to exercise all diplomatic and military options to protect her borders. Period. This includes, but is not limited to, the security fence and unilateral action against the Iranian nuclear regime, which has openly called for the destruction of the Jewish state. Fresh off of his first overseas trip as a second-term president, Barack Obama's latest attempt to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table has reinvigorated debate regarding the feasibility of a two-state solution.
Throughout her brief sixty-five year history filled with frequent existential threats from international leaders and terrorist organizations, Israel has always been willing to offer "land for peace" in order to appease her Arab neighbors. In 1967, when Egypt, Syria and Jordan failed to destroy the Jewish state, Israel gained control of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula in a decisive land war. It was only through acts of aggression on the part of her foes that the Israelis came to control these controversial territories that have been predicated as the land for a future Palestinian state. The Arab world came together on June 1, 1967 and issued the three famous “no’s” in the Khartoum Resolution: No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiation with Israel.
In the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, Israel immediately withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula - a territory larger than the entire Jewish state - in exchange for peace with Egypt. More recently, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew all Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005. With an opportunity to elect a free and democratic government, the Palestinians chose Hamas, a designated terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department to control the territory whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders how the world expects Israel to find a partner for peace in a government that does not recognize its right to exist.
In response to a heavy influx of terrorist attacks and suicide missions from 2000-2005 known as the Second Palestinian Intifada, Israel erected a fence along its borders. This move has been heavily criticized by the international community, but it was carried out in response to a barrage of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians in coffee shops, pizzerias, malls and even public transportation. Israelis lived in fear even as they boarded the nearest city bus not knowing whether they would make it off alive. Despite all its international criticism, the fence successfully minimized the number of attacks carried out against Israeli civilians. Moreover, the only portion of the fence which separated Palestinians from their land was effectively re-routed in compliance with an order from the Israeli Supreme Court. The fence was not erected out of ill-will; it was erected out of necessity to protect innocent Israeli civilians from belligerent adversaries.
Actions taken by the Israeli government to protect her people is not a privilege; It is a right. No other nation on earth is held to the same standard of scrutiny for merely trying to protect her peoples and it is time for the international community and the Arab-dominated United Nations in particular to accept the existence of a peaceful, democratic Jewish state that if given the opportunity to guarantee the protection of its civilians will be the first to accept a two-state solution with the Palestinian people as it has demonstrated on so many occasions in the past. Until that time comes, the Israeli government has a sovereign, inalienable right to exercise whatever means it deems necessary to secure her borders and protect her people against any domestic and international threat.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Personal Experiences in Politics

3-2-1 Jump! At 120 miles per hour, I was suddenly falling 13,000 feet in a tandem jump from a 1964 charter jet. Upon reaching terminal velocity, exhilaration and adrenalin took over the hesitation that had encompassed my thoughts in every moment leading to the jump.  Fearful of even the children’s rides at Disneyland, I was not only overcoming a lifelong trepidation of heights, but I sensed a freedom that I had never experienced. Overlooking the freeways and mountain tops of Southern California gliding through the sky was the most enriching adventure of my life. All other worries were absent as I soaked in the moment, one that I would recommend to anyone who is hesitant of extreme sports. A brief clip of my first skydive can be found here.
You might be wondering why on a blog about political communication I am posting thoughts about my first skydiving experience. Aside from the sheer exhilaration, it actually provokes an interesting aspect of how politicians connect with the electorate.  Check out the biography of any public official’s website and there will certainly be a section about interests and hobbies. This is no accident. Throughout my political studies, I have come to understand the importance of connecting with voters on a personal level. Policy positions are substantive, but without making a personal connection, politicians are far less likely to be successful on Election Day. In evaluating campaign announcements in particular, one will find that a substantial portion of those speeches are dedicated to highlighting aspects of their personal lives.
Where did you come from? What was your upbringing like? And most importantly, what is your motivation for running for public office? Without answering these questions, one appears to be little more than another politician in a fancy suit. Barack Obama mastered this concept in his rapid rise to the presidency. Even in office, he continues to connect with the public in a way that has never been done before. By releasing a “March Madness” bracket for example, he offers young voters a way to connect with Barack, not Mr. President. The connection that he has successfully forged offers the White House an important tool in swaying public opinion on budding political issues by widening the window of opportunity to engage the electorate.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Welfare Reform is an Existential Necessity

“Sequester” has become a big, evil word in Washington these days. The proposal issued by President Obama to congressional Republicans at the end of August 2011 in exchange for a debt limit increase trimmed $85 Billion from the budget, a mere 2% across-the-board reduction in federal spending. Nonetheless, the White House calls these cuts “draconian” and has spent the last several months campaigning to the American people to lobby their members of congress to come up with an alternative to save entitlement programs. Now that the reductions have started to take place, the justification for how and why we fund some of these programs deserves a second look. On balance, the welfare program in this country is in dire need of fundamental reform, not just for financial stability, but because the system is wrought with fraud and abuse.
Why do we spend so much of the federal budget on welfare? The answer lies in the American Dream, the notion that the American social, economic and political system makes success possible for every individual.  As a patriot, I could not be prouder of the opportunities that this country affords those who are willing to work hard, play by the rules and get ahead. After all, I come from a family of immigrants. When my parents moved to Philadelphia in the late 1980s, they lived in a one bedroom cockroach-infested apartment, ate Ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner, used the bottom of a cardboard box as their kitchen table and worked 16 hour days to make ends meet. Flash forward a quarter of a century later, my father became the lead anesthesiologist at a Southern California hospital and my mother finished her pharmacy education on nights and weekends and now manages a large pharmacy district in Orange County. This is the American Dream and only in the greatest country on earth is their story possible.
Why is it then that I have such a problem with our country’s welfare system? It is not the idea of helping hardworking individuals get ahead that I have a problem with. On the contrary, I applaud those intentions. Rather, it is the rampant fraud that permeates the system that I have such qualms over. My motivation for writing this piece was prompted by a childhood friend of one of my roommates who has lived in our townhome for the last month and a half. Ironically, the friend came from an underprivileged neighborhood in Philadelphia (the same region where my parents first arrived to the United States) and grew up with the roommate who agreed to take him in. Despite the fact that this friend continued to live in our place rent free while he “looked” to improve his circumstances, I cannot think of a single time in the last sixty days when I heard the words “thank you” come out of his mouth. Instead of looking for a job, signing up for classes or finding an apartment within the original two weeks he had said he would need a place to stay, this individual spent his days couch surfing, making regular trips to Wendy’s and McDonald’s and spent his monthly government check buying the latest $300 pair of Jordan limited edition sneakers. Surely I do not know this person’s entire background and perhaps I might feel differently if I knew more about his upbringing. Yet, here comes an individual from the other side of the country claiming that he wants to better his life. He is given the opportunity to do so on a silver platter, rent-free for over a month and a half. After a silly argument over the television remote, he storms off, packs up his things, called his childhood friend who had been hosting him words that are too inappropriate for me to include in this blog and moved on to the next friend who he hopes to live with for an extended period of time while he continues to spend his welfare check on the latest pair of basketball shoes.
I wish this story was unique, that this friend was a rotten egg in the batch. Unfortunately, stories like these are not unique because the problem is not individual, it is systemic. The notion that our country – the land of opportunity that made my parent’s story possible – provides assistance to those in need fits well on my moral compass. Yet, the very structure of America’s welfare system as it is with its insufficient checks in place and its unintended disregard for encouraging opportunity over complacency requires fundamental reform from the bottom up. Only when our welfare system starts to be thought of as an investment into stronger, prosperous communities rather than vulnerable charity will it live up to its intentions. I am a proud American patriot and I love the country that has given my family the opportunity to succeed. I want every individual who wants to work hard and play by the rules to enjoy the same success we have been so fortunate to appreciate. As Washington continues to wrestle with the sequester, a deeper look into reforming the welfare system is not an option. It is an existential necessity.