Talking Heads

“Talking Heads” is an ongoing dialogue among campus political groups that serves as an open forum for discussing major national issues. All political groups are welcome to participate in a respectful manner that is representative of their party’s platform. Each edition of The Point News will feature a new topic of discussion. This edition’s topic is terrorism/national security. Responses were provided by Simon Kolbeck of the College Democrats (D) and Peter Vicenzi of the College Republicans (R).

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TPN: What is your party’s assessment of how the United States is currently handling the issue of terrorism/national security? 

D: In terms of terrorism and national security, we believe that the United States is handling the issue well in certain aspects and not so much in others. In light of the recent terror attacks carried out across the world by ISIS and other terrorist cells, we find that the United States has done well to remain vigilant and to not become unnecessarily paranoid. Where the United States is currently failing, however, is in its effort to intervene in Middle Eastern affairs. Much of the weapons provided to the Iraqi army and Syrian rebel groups by the United States have fallen into the hands of ISIS. Furthermore, drone strikes and excessive military intervention, which includes the sale of weapons, only serves to further radicalize people in the Middle East.

R: The Obama Administration’s foreign policy decisions have contributed to a growth of foreign threats to the United States’ national security. The missteps attributed to President Obama, Former Secretary of State Clinton, and Secretary of State Kerry have weakened the United States’ ability to respond to threats abroad. To illustrate, President Obama responded indecisively to Syrian President Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his country’s citizens, while Secretary Clinton’s lack of foresight destabilized Libya. Both Libya and Syria are now hotbeds of anti-American sentiment, fostering the growth of terrorist organizations. Additionally, Secretary Kerry negotiated a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran, a known state-sponsor of terrorism, which allowed for increased nuclear proliferation. Finally, the current administration has shown little countenance for Ukrainian sovereignty in the wake of the 2014 Russian invasion and ensuing Donbass insurgency. A resurgent and aggressive Russia is a threat to the United States’ national security, contrary to President Obama’s infamous comment during the 2012 Presidential Election.

Domestically, the Obama Administration possesses a worrisome sense of detachment from the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism, demonstrated by the continued ISIL inspired attacks on American citizens. So long as the Obama Administration fails to attribute these attacks to ISIL, national security will be at risk.  

TPN: What changes (if any) should be made to current US foreign policy regarding national security?  Why? What resources would that entail?

D: We think that the United States needs to re-evaluate its approach in the Middle East. US meddling—for example, helping with the ousting of Ghadafi in Libya—generally tends to create unintended consequences like ISIS. Therefore, we believe that we must provide more humanitarian assistance to war-torn Middle Eastern nations, as opposed to weapons and military aid. We also wish to strongly emphasize that ISIS and terrorist cells in general pose relatively little threat to US national security. The chances of one dying in a terror attack are minute when compared to the chances of one dying in a car crash. Furthermore, we believe that more serious threats to the United States are disease and drug abuse, which are both silent killers and claim thousands of lives every year. Efforts to expand healthcare and treatment options should therefore be on the forefront of political priorities.

R: In order to combat terrorism and strengthen national security, the United States needs to take a far more active role in monitoring destabilized regions around the world, and in supporting its allies, particularly Israel and Eastern Europe. The United States should first and foremost provide assistance to its allies through joint military exercises and coordination with our intelligence community. Still, the United States Military should be prepared to enter conflicts when necessary. The United States can also do more to levy economic sanctions on aggressive regimes that threaten the security of the United States or our allies.

The NSA must also undergo extensive reforms to ensure that its methods are both effective and cost-efficient; the constitutionally endowed liberties of United States citizens should never be overstepped. The NSA must be realistically capable of confronting the serious threat of domestic terrorism. Cyber-security is also of growing importance; more resources should be devoted to the field. Moreover, government officials, no matter their position, should be held accountable for negligence when handling sensitive information.

TPN: To what extent should the United States act unilaterally/in alliance with other countries?  

D: We believe that the main threat to national security is posed not by other militaries, but by isolationist rhetoric and the United States’ propensity for unilateral action. By maintaining strong alliances, the United States projects strength.

R: The United States should not be afraid to act unilaterally when there is a direct threat to national security. However, the United States should act in conjunction with its allies when possible, particularly when both parties are threatened by terrorism. Cooperation between the United States and its allies is mutually beneficial.

TPN: What are the United States’ current security shortcomings?  What are their strengths?  

D: Strengths of United States security are undoubtedly the size, scope, and power of its military, which projects power across the world.  As already mentioned, shortcomings of United States security occur when the United States distances itself from its international allies by acting unilaterally.

R: The United States is unable to always effectively identify the red flags associated with potential threats. In addition, the United States Military is in the midst of what is known as a “readiness crisis.” Cuts to defense spending have resulted in a decreased military presence around the world. A continued United States military presence is essential to national security as a means of deterrence.

TPN: How do you think other nations perceive US foreign policy towards terrorism?  To what extent should we take into consideration those perspectives?

D: We believe that foreign nations have mixed perceptions of the United States’ policy towards terrorism. Western nations tend to have a more favorable view, until the United States starts acting unilaterally, as was the case with Iraq.

R: Most countries agree with the United States that terrorism poses a major security threat. The continued cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts demonstrates that the United States and its allies share similar objectives.

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Stay tuned for the next installment of “Talking Heads” when the topic will be immigration.

40 Years of Leonard Peltier: Innocent Scapegoat or Murderer?

In 1977, Leonard Peltier, a Native American, was convicted of murdering two American FBI agents at the Jumping Bull compound on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.  This year, 2016, marks the 40th year Peltier has been in prison, and many still believe that he is innocent. Some claim that the United States government used Peltier as a scapegoat, imprisoning him for a crime he did not commit.  He is currently serving two life sentences in prison.  However, supporters of Peltier are calling for President Obama to grant him presidential clemency, which is a pardon issued when the prisoner’s guilt is in question.  At 71 years old, Peltier has been diagnosed with an aortic abdominal aneurysm, thus calling attention to his health and well-being in prison.  President Obama only has a few months left in office to grant the pardon, and Peltier’s supporters, including Amnesty International, have been calling for his timely release.

In 1975, two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, entered the Pine Ridge reservation, allegedly following who they thought was Jimmy Eagle, who was wanted for stealing cowboy boots.  The FBI agents supposedly followed Eagle in his red pickup truck.  However, it was never confirmed that they were following the correct red truck, nor was it confirmed that Eagle was in or driving the truck.  Soon after stopping within the reservation, a firefight ensued, and both agents were killed by gunshot wounds at close range.  Peltier was found with Bob Robideau and Dino Butler soon after the shooting in nearby Tent City.  Robideau and Butler’s fingerprints were found at the scene and they were subsequently arrested.  Robideau and Butler were found not guilty, but Leonard Peltier was arrested for murdering the two agents, and he still claims that he never shot either agent.

At the trial, Myrtle Poor Bear was brought forth to testify.  She claimed to be Peltier’s girlfriend and stated that he was capable of doing such a violent act, yet Peltier said that he had never met her before.  According to the defense team, Myrtle Poor Bear was unstable and unbalanced, and believed anything anyone told her. This implied that someone told her that she was in a relationship with Peltier, thus causing her to immediately believe the story.  Despite her inconsistent testimony, her story was used as a key piece of evidence against Peltier.

Another unfair piece of evidence used against Peltier was witness Mike Anderson.  Anderson is said to have been on the reservation the day of the shooting.  He claimed that he was on the roof of a house and saw Peltier shoot at the agents, yet people throughout the reservation said that Anderson was never on the roof at the time of the shooting – he was at one of the tents helping fellow tribal members.  Even with the inconsistency of Anderson’s story, his account was also very influential in determining Peltier’s fate.

Both of these two witness accounts, among many other factors, influenced Peltier’s sentence. However, in 2009, new evidence was presented in hopes of getting Leonard released.  A shell casing found stuck in the agent’s car was determined to be a mismatch for Peltier’s rifle.  Also, a few witnesses claimed that the shots were heard coming from the red pickup truck, which was parked at the top of the hill looming over where the agent’s car was parked.  Peltier owned a red van, not a red pickup truck.  Even with newly presented evidence, Peltier was denied parole, thus causing Amnesty International to raise concerns over the fairness of the case.

Because 2016 marks the 40th year of Peltier’s imprisonment, the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee mounted another campaign to get Peltier released from prison.  The committee wants President Obama to grant Peltier clemency.  However, the committee’s many attempts and petitions have not yet been successful.  The committee cites Peltier’s poor health as a major driving factor of his needed-release.  Peltier’s long-time spiritual adviser, Lenny Foster, spoke to a crowd of Peltier’s supporters, saying, “Leonard belongs to us.  We don’t want our brother to die in prison.”  Foster is growing increasingly concerned about Peltier’s health ever since he had been diagnosed with an aortic abdominal aneurysm.  An aortic abdominal aneurysm is when the major blood vessel is enlarged, potentially causing the aneurysm to rupture.  If it does rupture, Peltier could “bleed out before receiving the adequate medical treatment the Bureau of Prisons is required by law to provide,” says journalist Frances Madeson.  These health concerns, along with allegations that the trial and conviction were unfair, are the primary driving forces behind the demand for Peltier’s release.

Due to the various justice concerns, Amnesty International hopes that Peltier will be released on humanitarian grounds.  Peltier will not be eligible for parole for another eight years, and his release date is set for the year 2035.  Peltier’s supporters claim the United States government used Peltier as a scapegoat because of the lack of facts presented in the case, and that he has been wrongfully accused of murdering the two FBI agents.  The evidence behind the trial and conviction has always been considered questionable at best, which seems to demand the Peltier case be awarded another look.

Since this is the 40th year of his incarceration, Peltier has spent over half of his life in captivity, and, using Peltier’s own words from his letter after his parole was denied: “Given the complexion of the three recent federal parolees, it might seem that my greatest crime was being Indian. But the truth is that my gravest offense is my innocence. […] My experience should raise serious questions about the FBI’s supposed jurisdiction in Indian Country.”

Going Green in Politics: An Interview with Margaret Flowers

On November 8th, more than 100 million people will make their way to various schools, community centers, and religious buildings in order to cast their ballots. They will vote for who should lead this nation and become one the most powerful people in the world. The general consensus is that there are two options: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. When prompted “Who are you voting for?” most people respond with one of those two names. Yet there will be plenty of other names on the ballot screens next month. Margaret Flowers is one of those names. She is running to fill a Senate seat, soon to be vacated by Barbara Mikulski. Dr. Flowers, a member of the Green Party, who feels she is the best candidate to join the more selective arm of the United States Congress. The Point News was grateful to speak with Dr. Flowers earlier this semester. That conversation is transcribed here:

The Point News [TPN]– What would you like voters to know of your experience and qualifications for Senate?

Dr. Flowers [F]– I am a physician by training; I did my medical schooling here in Baltimore,  at the University of Maryland, and I did my pediatric residencies at [Johns] Hopkins, after practicing for 17 years. I left to advocate for health reform. My main area of expertise is in health policy. I have written legislation, I have testified in hearings, I have educated congressional staff and members about health policy. In my work to do that I really started to understand the connections to so many other issues that we face, so I really now have a pretty broad range of experience working on a variety of issues from reducing wealth inequality, fighting for international fair trade, (trade) that protects workers and protects the planet. I have worked on climate issues. Obviously other types of environmental health issues as well.  [I] fought for net neutrality. I feel like I have a wide range of experiences. I also know how power works. Through my work at Popular Resistance, we have actually won some campaigns that we were told were not winnable. And we have learned how to actually put our issue on the table and then fight for it, and I think that is critical in Congress.

[TPN]– You mentioned your background in health care policy, so what sort of legislation could we expect a Senator Flowers to author or co-sponsor?

[F]– So I have worked for a long time with the House [of Representatives] so H.R. 676 which is called the “Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act” I have also worked with Senator Sanders and his staff on his health [care] policy. I will introduce the Senate version of H.R. 676 and fight for that. Senator Sanders has been great at introducing his bill which is not quite [ours]. It is a state by state system. H.R. 676 is the gold standard and so that’s one of my priorities when I get in. The health care crisis is getting worse, and the ACA deal [commonly known as “Obamacare”] is not the solution. It didn’t hit the root causes of our healthcare crisis. So we really now more than ever have to fight for a solution.

[TPN]– Because you mentioned him, your effective party leader Jill Stein has had a prominent role alongside the Bernie or Bust campaign. What are your thoughts on that movement?

[F]– I think it’s really exciting. My son Jack was involved. I think it has been amazing to see so many young people become politically active for the first time. To use their skills of self-organization and social media savviness really pushed the campaign much further than anyone thought it would go. For those who have been involved in the political scene for a while, [we] knew that the Democratic Party was never going to allow him [Senator Sanders] to actually get the nomination, but he made it farther than any other insurgent Democratic candidate. The other thing that has been exciting to see is that a lot of the people who supported Senator Sanders got a real up close view of the corruption in the Democratic Party. They didn’t do what has happened in the past which is when the insurgent candidate, like Howard Dean or Jesse Jackson loses the nomination and then the [nomination] is handed to the establishment candidate. Sanders followers, a lot of the young Sanders followers didn’t go to the Hillary [Clinton] Camp it has been exciting to see that energy come to the Green Party.

[TPN]– I have to ask, because voters will be interested in hearing your thoughts, how do you feel about the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees?

[F]– I think they are both terrible. What we’re seeing is decades of what’s called “lesser evil” voting. They’re not really voting so much for what they want; they’re voting against what they don’t want. So that’s just causing a race to the bottom, and now we have the two most un-liked presidential candidates ever. While Trump is really scary, he doesn’t seem to be that stable. Who knows what he would do if he were President. The reality is that the system is set that he’s not going to be the next president. Hillary Clinton is also pretty bad. We know what she’ll do and we know that she will bring more wars, and her economic policies will favor those who are wealthy. I think this year it is really not about voting for the lesser evil, because both of them are greater evils. We have to vote for something different and build up political power by doing that.

[TPN]– How do you distinguish yourself from your opponents: Representative Van Hollen and delegate Kathy Szeliga?

[B]- Kathy is kind of your bread and butter Republican: free market, small government type of person. I certainly do not agree with that. I am the opposite of her in terms of believing in a strong social safety net. Believing in respecting  human rights, and believing in a government that actually works for the good of the people. I think that Chris Van Hollen has done a very good job leading people to believe that he is a progressive. We know that he is also a Wall Street Democrat. He has raised over $9 million so far in this campaign. He was the head of the DCCC for two terms. The DCCC, or Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is really kind of the body that goes between the Wall Street funders and the members in the House [of Representatives]. The person who is the head of that is kind of the big man that hands out money from the big finances, big industry to members of Congress. So he’s very well connected to that. And he has shown that in his time in Congress, he is: One, not willing to really push the system to what we need, and two, [he is] willing to be limited by what the Democratic establishment tells him he can do, so he’s never supported a single payer healthcare system. He did not support a real solution to the climate crisis. He is supporting a market solution that kind of gives incentives and hopes the market will solve our problems.  I support a real rapid major mobilization like an Apollo system or World War II style mobilization to really take immediate action. We really have to plan to solve the planet crisis with clearer goals of, you know, getting off of carbon fossil fuels and having a just transition for workers, and taking the other steps we need in terms of transit and changing our culture and all that. So those are some of the ways, I mean a lot of the ways that I’m different, those are some of the major ways.

[TPN]– So you spoke about the power of the Democratic Party in Congress.  I mean, I might be paraphrasing incorrectly and obviously I try not to do that, but we can both agree that the Democrats and Republicans have a stronghold on the House way more than the Green Party. How would your party work to try to break that gridlock in Congress and “break” the two party system once you’re in office?

[F]– Well I think that the Senate is a really critical place for me to be because in the Senate you are one of 100 members in the Senate. There are mechanisms by which you can actually exert that power. People may not realize that I worked with Senator Sanders back in 2009 during the Health reform process and we were able to get a single payer legislation to the floor of the Senate for the first time in the history of the United States actually. We were there for three hours on December 16th, and you can look that up if you want to get the report. That was because he was an independent member of Congress, he kind of had that little bit of wiggle room and freedom to do what he thought was right.  What I’ve seen too much in my experience looking at Congress– and I have  spent a lot of time in there–is that it’s really the leadership that determines what is going to happen before the hearings happen, before the bill gets voted on, all that’s been negotiated. It’s not a big surprise what happens on the floor. You need people that are in there that are willing to speak out, to speak the truth, and ask the hard questions in the hearings. I have attended so many hearings that are practically scripted. [We need to] open a door for people to come in–not a lobbyist–but people to come in and fight for the solutions that they need. Also the Senator has other abilities like calling for investigations and reports of things that are going on and holding town halls and other events where we can bring these issues and really hear people because there’s a lot that a Senator can do.

[TPN] So the final question I’d like to ask is, a representative of Van Hollen got 470,000 some votes in the primary and delegate Szeliga got 135,000–what steps has the Green Party taken to get your name out there and compete against these relatively well-known candidates?

[F] Can you repeat that?

[TPN]– I just mentioned that the amount of votes that Representative Van Hollen and Delegate Szeliga have gotten are pretty substantial. I am wondering in what way is the Green Party working for candidates to get their names better known?  Everyone seems to now know Jill Stein’s name, and I am just wondering what steps your party is taking in order to advertise [down ballot candidates]?

[F]– Right thanks, so the Green Party–one of the reasons that I ran is partly because I believe that to build local power we have to go outside of the mainstream parties, because when you vote with Democrats you end up giving all your power to them. They take it for granted, and so when you vote outside the party, you actually have power; they have to work for your vote. One of the big reasons why I wanted to strengthen the Green Party and run as a green party candidate. We’re building better infrastructure now than we’ve had in the past. We have a lot of candidates running in Baltimore City and statewide in Maryland. All summer long, we have lots of volunteers going out to public events, passing out literature.  We’ve also been taking advantage of social media, and that’s something I’ve learned to do as an accident because many of our issues don’t get covered in the commercial media. We’ve learned how to reach people through social mediaWe’ve also been taking advantage of social media, and that’s something I’ve learned to do because many of our issues don’t get covered in the commercial media. Also I am fortunate, because Dr. Jill Stein and I are good friends… [But] I don’t have any illusions. I know that the system is usually pretty rigged in favor of Chris Van Hollen.  It would be a pleasant surprise if I won somehow, but this is really about a long game.  It’s about building political power so we do the best that we can do this year. We build the best infrastructure that we can. You know, November 9th, we’re not going away. We’re going to keep building and keep growing and running more candidates in 2018 and 2020 and beyond, and that’s how political change occurs.  You lose a lot before you win, but you have to put in that hard work and run hard to build that power.