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