Free Speech, the NFL, … and what about Security Clearances

To be honest, my nose was never out-of-joint over the protests by NFL players during img_0042-1the  National Anthem.  But in the interest of honesty, I will admit I have been a fan of the NFL (Fly, Eagles fly!) since the 1960s.

It’s not that I agree or enjoy watching million-dollar athletes taking a knee or raising a fist in protest of a Country that enables their lucrative careers. There are quite simply expressions that madden me much, much more, such as the burning of U.S. flags.  However, I do reserve a special level of rage for the sickly Westboro Baptist clowns, who are fond of expressing their Rights in the most insensitive ways at the most inappropriate times.

Maybe I prefer reserving my wrath for the greatest threats to Free Speech. The rage and discomfort we endure is the price one must pay for belief in our Constitution and for faith in the world’s most successful free and open republic.

Amendment I, United States Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Free Speech requires an appreciation for Advanced Citizenship in the U.S. of A.  The more centered and focused you remain on the guiding principle of Free Speech, the more likely you will recognize that such citizenship sometimes requires herculean self-control when someone expresses thoughts and ideas in ways that infuriate.

It’s a concept a lot of people have a difficult time accepting, whether the issue involves a student opting to sit for the Pledge of Allegiance or a couple of knuckleheads burning an American flag.  And sometimes – maybe at when it’s needed most – a remarkable moment unfolds in a way that’s unexpected and ultimately memorable!

And yes, when Rick Monday swooped to the rescue of the national standard, he too was expressing his Right to Free Speech as well!  He spoke with his actions.

Advanced Citizenship – a level of patriotism fewer Americans seem to achieve of late – demands the ability to grit our teeth and chalk your outrage up to a higher national calling. Not that such a thing makes the demonstration any easier to accept. Consider these challenges a test … an opportunity to exercise your appreciation for the ability of those with whom you disagree to exercise their Free Speech, not matter how infuriating.

And no … the excuse that “They do it!” is insufficient.  Let their actions define their character and Patriotism. Don’t let your reactions negatively define yours.

Keep in mind, it’s the lesser of us who choose to shout down or violently suppress Free Speech. It’s a tactic favored by those who would rather tell us what to think or how to vote at the point of whatever weapon might be handy. White supremacists and elements of the Far Left, such as Antifa, have much in common in that regard.

In the case of the National Football League, their recent misguided attempts to rein in the pre-game protests in the face of withering public opinion (more free speech about Free Speech) actually exacerbated the problem. My opinion is that the Players would likely have allowed the protests to die had they not been confronted in such a direct and public way.

But even as I encourage a daunting level of civic sainthood, I cannot give those Westboro Baptist idiots a sliver of accommodation. They are vile, mean-spirited, and unworthy – in my estimation – of even being called Americans.

Yes, if nothing else, I am a flawed American. But I can live with that …

There are nuanced limitations to this Freedom of Speech thing.

  1. You cannot scream “Fire!” in the proverbial crowded theatre.
  2. You cannot express thoughts or opinions under the name of your employer, especially if they serve to somehow conflict with business or embarrass them among consumers of their products.
  3. You cannot defame an individual or organization with false statements. A student’s free speech rights are limited somewhat while in school.
  4. You cannot openly exhort people to violence.
  5. At events deemed to be National Special Security Events (e.g. political conventions, inaugurations, Super Bowl), your Speech can be restricted to specified protest zones.
John Brennan

former CIA Director John O. Brennan

The recent hullabaloo over the National Security clearance of John Brennan, former head of the CIA, appears to fall into several of the above exceptions. Brennan’s security clearance was revoked by the Trump Administration, likely at the direction of President Trump, for – among other things – making wild, unsupported accusations of Treason on the part of The President.

My rationale for accepting the Trump Administration’s action against Brennan comes from the following:

  1. Although precedent has set the standard that former National Security officials keep their clearances in order to assist succeeding officials in consultation during sensitive events, the same precedent forms a link (in my mind anyway) between the former officials and the current Administration. In some ways, the relationship mimics the employee-employer relationship ,,, in a quasi kind of way. If the former official becomes an embarrassment to the Government, the Government should exercise their authority to withdraw the privilege of access to sensitive information.
  2. Brennan was spouting a lot of unsubstantiated viewpoints that in essence defamed the Government and The President. It would be impossible for anyone to successfully argue that Brennan – or anyone else – deserves to retain such access as they openly and continuously cause embarrassment and suggest treason unencumbered by any attempt to factually document the accusation.
  3. Yes, rescinding such access is a bit retaliatory in that it can affect Brennan’s ability to benefit monetarily. Yet that very sentiment underscores in a way that quasi-employer-employee exception to Free Speech. Ask yourself if any Administration (the quasi-employer) should allow a pointed and factually unreliable critic the ability to earn money using the very information managed, controlled, and heavily relied upon by the current Government? Seems like a slam dunk …
  4. Removing his security clearance does nothing to restrict Brennan’s Free Speech. He can still appear in forums, on cable TV, in print media. Brennan can say anything he wants, subject to the restrictions the rest of us are expected to observe. He might not make as much money doing it as he did before (in theory), but nothing about removing his clearance affects his ability to express his views.

And there you have the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of a beautiful Freedom instilled upon a Free People to ensure their freedom prospers and perhaps spreads to freedom lovers the World over!

Sequestration: The President’s ugly Child

obamaHow many people realize sequestration, which The White House continually warns will be a “disaster” for the country and its citizens from Arizona to Connecticut, was actually The White House’s brain-child???

Don’t listen to the hype … or the lies.  The sky, if it falls, will not be the sole responsibility of Congress.  Heck, it wasn’t even their idea.

The Public is a pawn in this chess game.  The political pressure being applied by The White House, in the form of Dire Economic Impacts on individual states and even the victims of Superstorm Sandy, is intended to force Congress (i.e. Republicans) – by portraying them as the troublemakers – to cave in so they can pass to the American people an even bigger financial federal budget burden without cutting a single one of the Democrats’ Sacred Cows.

Sequestration was the gamble suggested by then White House Chief-of-Staff Jack Lew (Secretary of the Treasury nominee) and White House Congressional liaison Rob Nabors.  It was endorsed by President Obama before being presented to the Senate Finance Committee, and proposed as a negotiating strategy to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) during the 2011 negotiations to raise the National Debt Ceiling.

Certainly House Republicans accepted the sequestration as part of those negotiations, but it wasn’t their idea; it wasn’t their gamble.

It was the President’s idea of “leadership” in difficult political times.  Push it off; deal with it later.  Maybe, just maybe it will go away on its own.

Keep that in mind as you continue to hear about how Sequestration will damage your benefits; your income; your local economy!

Remember it when The President shows up on C-Span or the nightly news speaking about the dangers of sequestration and surrounding himself with Emergency Responders, teachers, healthcare workers, and seniors warning about all the damage the sequestration cuts will entail.

Sequestration:  The President’s ugly child!

A Sunday morning at the National Institutes of Health

Dealing with rare health issues is never much fun.  And when the possibilities are shadowy and evasive, it is not only difficult to diagnose, the uncertainty itself becomes a source of anxiety.  With this as a backdrop, we found ourselves spending a Sunday morning in Bethesda, Maryland as guests of the National Institutes of Health.

Yep, not a misprint … a Sunday morning in the monolith to American medical innovation and research just north of D.C., that black hole of Government bureaucracy.

Naturally, on a Sunday morning this huge facility was as quiet as a catacomb with barely a smattering of staff on hand for The Institute’s routine of Sunday sample processing.  Why Sundays are preferred was not clear to us before our trip; but – to be honest – the off hours arrangement reduced our anxiety level by several orders of magnitude.

We were there for only a few hours, performing a rather simple step that could lead to either a much more complex round of testing and probing, or – hopefully – the answer we really want to hear, “No worries.  It’s not THAT.  The indicators were false.”  Not that The Answer would belay all our concerns; but at least we could move on to other less threatening possibilities.

We ended up at the NIH because local specialists could not nail down the existence of a condition indicated by routine tests, yet elusive to medical imagery technology.  A nationally renown expert was the next logical step; and referral to the NIH was suggested.  As is the norm for bureaucratic networks, it took us six months to get to the point where patient-specific variables were addressed to the satisfaction of both patient and specialist.  Once the arrangements for our visit were finalized, our family physicians were so impressed with our pending NIH visit, you could tell they almost asked if they could go along with us!

And so we found ourselves making a Saturday trip to my sister’s house in Bowie, Maryland for our 8:00 AM NIH appointment for the simple task of drawing blood samples.  One would think such a routine medical procedure could have been done locally, as so many of us do for a variety of health-related issues.  Not so for the purposes of the NIH … Controls in process and technique are understandably crucial when participating in a diagnostic study.

Our experience at the National Institutes of Health, aside from the necessity of travel, was nowhere near as inconvenient or irritating as we had feared.  Part of that was undoubtedly the result of visiting this sprawling facility on a quiet, unobtrusive Sunday morning.  But by far, the experience was made relatively painless by the helpful administrative and professional employees we encountered there.

To say I was pleasantly surprised with our NIH visit would be an understatement!  From the guards responsible for the physical security of the NIH facility; through the painstakingly thorough, well-organized registration process; to the nurses who administered the sample collection, we were impressed with the professionalism and friendliness exhibited throughout our visit.  (I even had the opportunity to argue the merits – and shortcomings – of NFL QBs RG3, Michael Vick, and Tony Romo with both a Redskins fan and a Cowboys fan just hours before Vick played the Steelers as though the football itself had contracted an infectious disease!)  In roughly three hours time we completed the entire exercise and were on our way out.

Our biggest problem?  Trying to solve the cheese-at-the-end-of-the-maze challenge of finding an open exit from which to escape the monstrous facility.  We were convinced it was part of the evaluation process … some form of intelligence assessment.  How long would it take these rubes to find their way out?  All that was missing from making the test a viable reality show concept was a back seat full of over-dressed, pruning dance moms or elimination challenges at each inaccessible gate!

As a moderate political conservative, who eschews the huge footprint of Big Government, most would expect me to look at an organization like the National Institute of Health as a monumental example of bureaucratic excess.  I like to think I’m more pragmatic than that.

There are several valid arguments for the benefit of federally funded footprints on basic social functions.  Some are glaringly obvious … National Security, Emergency Management, Social Safety Nets, Interstate Commerce, Transportation Safety.  Others may not be so obvious, yet are just as important to a well-functioning society that is  responsible for maintaining and improving the health and welfare of its citizens.

The National Institutes of Health’s mission statement reads as follows:

NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.

The goals of the agency are:

  • to foster fundamental creative discoveries, innovative research strategies, and their applications as a basis for ultimately protecting and improving health;
  • to develop, maintain, and renew scientific human and physical resources that will ensure the Nation’s capability to prevent disease;
  • to expand the knowledge base in medical and associated sciences in order to enhance the Nation’s economic well-being and ensure a continued high return on the public investment in research; and
  • to exemplify and promote the highest level of scientific integrity, public accountability, and social responsibility in the conduct of science.

In realizing these goals, the NIH provides leadership and direction to programs designed to improve the health of the Nation by conducting and supporting research:

  • in the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and cure of human diseases;
  • in the processes of human growth and development;
  • in the biological effects of environmental contaminants;
  • in the understanding of mental, addictive and physical disorders; and
  • in directing programs for the collection, dissemination, and exchange of information in medicine and health, including the development and support of medical libraries and the training of medical librarians and other health information specialists.

The NIH performs research in a number of fields including obvious ones, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, aging, and infectious disease, and less familiar studies in human genome, bioengineering, and environmental health sciences.

Health and medical research are vital contributions to the advancement of societies.  It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where social development can be successful if the overall health of its members are left to the vagaries of commercial research and the lure of The Almighty Dollar.  Having a nationally recognized hub for research that ensures growth in knowledge, better health, and healthier behaviors is a benefit to everyone.

Now, from my scant exposure to the NIH, I can’t claim to be in a position to know everything the NIH does or to judge the merits of all they do. But from the point-of-view of a citizen seeking the relief of knowing what’s on the horizon, it’s comforting to know that medical frontiers are being explored.