Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fasten Your Seat Belts

Lately I feel like the Bette Davis character in the 1950 film All About Eve. If you recall, there is her famous line “fasten your seat belts - it is going to be a bumpy evening.” The news yesterday was particularly full of pot holes. The New York Times reported yesterday that an FBI investigation of the September 16th episode concluded Blackwater security personnel killed 14 Iraqis without cause. ‘Without cause’ are two huge words representing the way our government goes to war. The other troubling story is about the 20 bullets fired by five police officers that fatally wounded Khiel Coppin, an 18 year old Brooklyn man with a history of mental illness.

I believe these two tragic events are connected. The new post 9-11 normalcy has sadly become unjustified violence is a reasonable response. Torture, locking up protesters, collateral damage, rendition, suspending habeas corpus, etc. all represent a society losing its moral compass. While we fiddle like Nero in Iraq, violence is being done to the environment. As the Democratic presidential candidates debate tonight in Las Vegas, I wonder if we will ever hear about a less violent vision for our nation or a bumpy night of attack sound bites. To borrow from another movie I’ll predict that we will be ‘shocked, shocked’ to find that the American public receives an obese amount of inconsequential rhetoric.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On the road to taking back democracy

While the goal is to pro-actively set the political agenda rather than react to one set by our elected officials, we are far from being in that position currently. On the road to achieving that goal we have to continue to give voice to what we want and what we need, especially when it is in direct conflict with the behavior, decisions, policies or legislature being proposed or supported by those elected to represent us. And we need to continue raising the profile and decibel of our message by broadcasting it in as many open forums as possible in an attempt to generate enough energy and momentum to create change.

The remainder of this post is the work of a New York State Netroots, a group to which I belong, in reaction to Senator Schumer's declaration to support Michael Mukasey's nomination for Attorney General. It starts with a summary, written by NY NetRooters Sari Joseph and Joanne Lukacher, describing how some emails coalesced into an event and ends with Julie, RagingGurrl's video of the event. It is a great demonstration of people power
Sari Joseph and Joanne Lukacher's written summary
As soon as word came out on Friday afternoon, that Senators Schumer and Feinstein had decided to vote in favor of Michael Mukasey's confirmation, our NY Net Roots group started the barrage of emails to one another that seemed to cause actual wisps of smoke to waft out of our computers. Mukasey's testimony about waterboarding and his "tortured" theory about the scope of presidential privilege was, to say the least, disheartening and alarming. We worked through the weekend on a strategy to try and persuade Senator Schumer to change his mind when he voted on Tuesday. Monday was the one day we could try and reach him when he'd be in NYC before heading back to DC to vote on the nomination.

The efforts of the New York group were augmented by the talents of Selise from Massachusetts who assisted Jill in downloading Mukasey's testimony to the Judiciary committee for a video focusing on the nominee’s statements regarding torture and executive privilege. From Jill’s video compilation it became obvious that Mukasey would become a vehicle for providing retroactive immunity for the crimes of the Bush administration. In an effort to follow protocol as much as possible while insisting on a timely meeting prior to the scheduled Tuesday vote, Joanne worked on a cover letter to fax to Schumer's office requesting a meeting and a list of questions to which we wanted a response. The questions addressed the specific specious assertions in Schumer's statement announcing his vote, demanding answers as to how Mukasey, who had publicly succumbed to the Bush administration’s tortured theories of executive immunity, had demonstrated, in Schumer’s own words, “strength, independence and integrity.” With the assistance of Siun, Lee who would be unable to attend the Monday meeting worked late into the night on Sunday to compose and fax a press release to AP date book and first thing Monday morning while some of our group were driving and training to New York City, Julie made a call to the Senator’s Manhattan office to try to confirm a meeting with his staff for later that day.

When we arrived at Senator Schumer's office there was a very respectable showing with several groups already gathered outside the building for a scheduled vigil. There were some great signs too - medieval drawings of waterboarding and others shredding the Constitution. Although Julie, who was remembered by the Senatorial staff for her exploits with the video camera on our last visit in May 2006, was initially encouraged that we would get a meeting, ultimately we were turned down, the message conveyed to us by the guard on the reception desk. It seemed that the office was taken aback by the turnout of protesters and were in no mood to try and justify Schumer's vote. The phones were ringing off the hook, besieged by outraged constituents and they were probably quite concerned about any press the scene in front of the building might get.

While, not surprisingly, the event was not covered by the local or national press, we came prepared to be our own media.

Julie interviewed and videotaped the people in front of Schumer's building. The range of folks was great - we had orange jump-suits, black hooded protesters and other folks, young and old, some of whom had traveled long distances to be there. Everybody interviewed in the video is articulate and compelling and pretty fed-up with the "opposition" party which seems to enable Bush and the Republicans at every opportunity.

Enjoy the video - these folks speak for all of us.

Schumer's Constituents Speak Out!
Julie, (RagingGurrl) shot and edited the video

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ron Paul, at the very least he's sparking debate

The Ron Paul post on Glenn Greenwald's blog generated over 800 comments, which I believe is a record for; at least he is getting people talking. It is interesting how people jump to the conclusion that a small, non-interventionist federal government means no government at all. Given how our federal government has been failing us for years I actually find the concept of putting all the power back to the state and local government a refreshing and positive way forward. Democracy, at a local level is a lot easier to achieve than at a national level. And it is much more conceivable that local governments and citizens can forge relationships and interact much more effectively and efficiently. And while this might seem a totally ridiculous notion but what is to prevent citizens from organizing in some way to bring pressure upon corporations so that they take some responsibility and start contributing to the maintenance of this country. Why does it only have to be through a federal government? Capitalism doesn't mandate a company make double digit profits each quarter.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ron Paul the self described "champion of the constitution"

As many of you may already know Ron Paul, one of the Republican presidential nominees has received record breaking donations via the Internet in the past few days. In the more sane circles this is provoking discussions about the implications of a candidate who positions himself as "the champion of the constitution" and categorically opposes big government, expanded executive power, federal taxes, the Iraq war along with all wars and actions used to impose, interfere and/or police the world. Ron Paul's significant and rapid gains in popularity and support is yet another clarion call to our government to STOP what they are doing and pay attention to what the citizens of this country want.

As Glenn Greenwald points out in his post today The Ron Paul phenomenon it almost becomes irrelevant whether or not you agree or disagree with every aspect of Ron Paul's candidacy or policies. The fact that his words and behavior are so firmly rooted in and shaped by our constitution makes his candidacy an anomaly and presents an option not offered by any other candidate, on either side of the aisle. Ron Paul is offering citizens another choice and it is to our own advantage to hear what he has to say. This video does a great job of introducing Ron Paul to those of us who are not too familiar with him. And if you're interested in pursuing more information do an on-line search, for as Glenn also points out, the story of Ron Paul and now his sudden popularity isn't something traditional media is feeling particularly compelled to report on.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

This is not democracy

By definition, we are not functioning as a democracy when, across party lines, 2 out of 3 citizens don't think elected officials care what they think, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

While partisanship is a factor, the current negative trends exist across party lines -- frustration with government and elected officials is growing among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.

If anyone sees this study cited in their local paper they should write a letter to the editor asking why they are not writing about this obvious complete break down of our democracy.

Bringing the debate on coercive techniques to the court of public opinion

Kaj Larsen, a journalist for Current TV, a former military officer, and a student of public policy was dismayed that the use of torture could be decided in government without every being debated in a broader public sphere. So, he volunteered himself to be waterboarded again, this time on national TV. He previously underwent waterboarding in his SERE training (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) when he was a Special Forces operative.

Kaj explains the catalyst for this decision

Then, in mid March I traveled to Cambodia for Spring Break. While there I visited the Tuol Sleng (also known as S-21) prison in Phnom Penh. The Tuol Sleng prison had been converted to a museum and memorial for the victims of the Cambodian Genocide under the Pol Pot regime. As I walked through the museum and saw the photographs of the victims of the genocide, I was shocked to see a picture of the Khmer Rouge Water-boarding a Cambodian villager. At that moment I saw a throughline between the debate we were having domestically and the picture I was standing in front of. I was spurred into action, and upon my return to the United States, I decided to have myself water-boarded, this time on national TV, as a public service, so that this controversial technique could be judged in the court of public opinion.

This is a great example of how democracy should work, in terms of the involvement and awareness of citizens and their opinions being included in the debate

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Working on a post

The relatively limited curriculum in our schools for "applied democracy;" understanding the actual process and how to participate in the day-to-day practice, begins to explain why we are so relatively clueless about how to use democracy in this country. It also raises questions, i.e., who wouldn't think it was in the best interests of the country for every citizen to understand just how much power they had, or the responsibility to oversee congress and set the political agenda?

I'll have more on understanding why we aren't better informed on how to participate in the process and practice of democracy in my next few posts. And if you have your own point of view you can always share it with us in the comment section. It's like democracy, we want everyone to participate.

See you soon

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Talk clock time

Listen to Chris Dodd in tonight's debate to hear a politician who understands democracy is for protecting the interests of the citizens, not the government or corporations.

Democracy is a process citizens need to engage in, not a belief system that is part of our ethos!

Representing the people

Chris Dodd has announced that he will not support nominee Michael Mukasey's confirmation as Attorney General in light of his refusal to denounce the use of waterboarding, a form of torture.

From Huffington Post:
Dodd Sets Pace on Dunk...

Dodd became the most prominent Democrat, and the first among
the presidential candidates, to declare he will vote against Bush nominee Michael Mukasey's confirmation as Attorney General.Angered by Mukasey's Senate testimony last week in which the former federal judge and prosecutor floated a legal "theory" that the President of the United States could, indeed, stand above constitutional statutes, Dodd declared on Monday:

"That is about as basic as it gets," Dodd said. "You must obey the law. Everyone must."

This, along with his fight to prevent telecoms from being granted amnesty for their participation in the illegal spying of American citizens, are the only things coming out of congress that feel anywhere close to representing my interests in any way. If you'd like to make calls to members of the senate judiciary panel to implore them to vote against granting the telecoms amnesty you can get all the information you need here

Dodd is the only one to actually acknowledge and make the wholesale dismissal of the constitution, over the past 7 years, part of his presidential platform.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Welcome to Democracy Daily, officially

Welcome to Democracy Daily, a non-partisan blog, dedicated to inspiring citizens of this country, in other words all of us, to recognize that the only way we can stop our descent further down the slippery slope we’re on and restore the constitution and this country’s previous stature is by retaking the proper place, power and control granted to us in a democratic political system. Before you dismiss this believing “people don’t have the time or don’t care” or “what can we really do anyway” consider the following. The current penetration of Internet and mobile means that on virtually a national level everyone can have almost immediate access to people, places and data. Given the use of current technology and the potential of future technology it is not hard to imagine that programs, software, features, functionality couldn’t be developed that would allow everyone to easily keep up to date with or track of every public decision made by anyone in any of the three branches of government. As well as provide a feedback mechanism so we could rate, review, and comment on those decisions. Given this, you can begin to see how we could easily modify our behavior, within our current lifestyle, and play a much more active role in our political process, otherwise known as democracy. In terms of “people not caring” don’t be deceived; there is a wellspring of anger, resentment and frustration, on both the right and left, waiting to be channeled into a positive, productive way forward. The response “what can we really do anyway?” gets to the crux of the issue. In a fully realized and functioning democracy citizens have real, sustainable power. The following three points come from 2 presentations What is Democracy? and Some basic principles of Democracy made to the Iraqi people by Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the right leaning Hoover Institute at Stanford University, in preparation for their foray into a Democratic society.

The active participation of people, as citizens, in politics and civic life is one of four key elements of a democratic system of government

"Government authority flows from the people and is based upon their consent. "

“The people are sovereign—they are the highest authority—and government is based on the will of the people. Elected representatives at the national and local levels must listen to the people and be responsive to their needs."

And a strong, functioning democracy serves to safeguard a country’s constitution making it much more difficult to violate. When you realize that the needs of the citizens or national security are the only two things that should be driving any or all of elected officials actions, it becomes ridiculously apparent that our democracy is in serious disrepair.

We all know democracy is part of the fabric of this country and our birthright and as long as we vote every couple of years, less often for some, to fill the empty seats of retiring politicians or departing felons, democracy will continue. Beyond that our perceptions or understanding of it starts to diverge. Surveys asking basic questions about our political system show a significant lack of awareness for the basic fundamental principles. For the past 40 years there has been a downward trend in citizen’s voting and participating in civic life. We keep moving further and further away from the political process and yet despite that distance, or maybe because of it, we have been steadily handing over more and more of our power to elected officials. In fact we have taken “representation” to a new height by essentially giving our elected officials “power of attorney” allowing them to make decisions about and for us based on their own judgment of who and what we are and need.

I could go on talking about this, and will, in subsequent posts but for now let’s talk about the solution. In order for us to seize democracy it needs to be redefined and reframed. Right now democracy lives in a conceptual space, we need to ground it, make it tangible so people can see it and understand how to employ it, engage with it, and participate. As well as make it clear that the citizens own democracy, not the politicians. It is designed to serve citizen’s needs and purpose and allowing them to set the political agenda.

Democracy currently engenders passive, reactive participation
• Citizens wait passively for elected officials to come home to their districts to solicit information from about what citizens need or want
• Citizens react to their elected officials actions, often after the fact, by sending signing petitions, demonstrating, etc.
• Citizens passively wait until elections to send a message of dissatisfaction

The objective is to create daily pro-active participation
• Citizens pro-actively inform/educate their elected officials about what they need and want.
• Citizens set the political agenda
• Citizens pro-actively track the voting record of their elected officials and give them feedback on how they’re doing

Democracy Daily was started to engage people in this thinking and encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas, to start a conversation. To provide a place where people can talk about what is going on in their towns and cities and promote the exchange of ideas, programs and tactics to generate awareness, excitement, interest, talk about redefining and reframing democracy. We hope to encourage the development of additional ideas, tools, groups, and mechanisms to help bring this all to fruition.

We intend to operate on a hybrid social networking model. We will start off with regular bloggers, from both the left and the right, posting based on their own schedule and then at certain intervals the current round of bloggers will invite someone from their own “network” to join in. After a while this next group will invite someone from their ‘network” and so on and so on. In addition if someone wants to contribute a post or be a regular blogger they can either mention that in comments or email us. We’ll gladly put up additional posts. We are hoping people with all different backgrounds and interests and political affiliations join in the conversation. For this idea to take root it requires people bring ideas and thinking that can manifest in many different ways. It needs people to develop software programs, tools and mechanisms to allow citizens to interact with their elected officials and track relevant information regarding them and the legislature they are working and/or voting on. It requires communities find ways to work together and for people to remain engaged and informed about their immediate world and the larger world around them.

We look forward to your comments, ideas, suggestions, point of view, etc. The only request or requirement is that you don’t engage in or try to engage anyone else in badmouthing, trashing or denigrating any affiliation or group. No gratuitous negativity. You can say something negative if you feel you have to, as long as it is in the context of a legitimate point you are trying to make. We all need to take responsibility for what we say and how we behave.

Thanks for stopping by, hope you stick around to help make democracy the new American pastime.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

joining the Democracy Daily blog

Paul Stetzer - A child of the '50's and '60's, I grew up in a perfect America that revealed itself as wanting. During and after college I went to Mississippi to work for civil rights and to spend too much time resisting the draft and to oppose the US war in Vietnam. After graduation I was a taxi driver and social worker back in Philadelphia where I was raised. Then I turned to education for a career: first with Head Start, then as an environmental educator at a nature center, and finally as a science teacher at a Quaker school. I helped raise two amazing daughters with my first wife. After she died I married my childhood sweetheart and moved to NYC where I have the pleasure of helping to raise two step-daughters. In NYC I am a free-lance photographer, and I work with a cooperative photography gallery, Soho Photo. 
I look forward to contributing to - and learning from - this blog when I return from an extended trip in November. 

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Blog posts officially start Tuesday

Democracy Daily will be a hybrid social networking blog (New bloggers will continue to join a growing base of regular bloggers) dedicated to re-defining Democracy. Posts will officially begin Tuesday so please stop back then to join in the conversation, offer a post, get involved. Readers will be able to offer posts either through comments or email.

In the meantime "What is Democracy?" Please scroll to the bottom and take a series of very short, quick polls to get a read on how we all, individually, interpret Democracy. Thanks.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Citizens taking back our Democracy

If you'd like to help promote the idea of Citizens taking back our Democracy please leave a note in comments, including a way to get in touch with you. Thanks!