tideshift

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

National Poll Finds Support for a Good Neighbor Policy

From the International Relations Center:

"Seventy-nine percent of the respondents believed that “the United States should think in terms of being a good neighbor with other countries because cooperative relationships are ultimately in the best interests of the United States.” That same broad majority said that the “United States should coordinate its power together with other countries according to shared ideas of what is best for the world as a whole.” "

The See-Saw of Centrism

I'm in pre-election overload: my inbox is just packed with election e-mails from all the progressive groups and my phone keeps ringing asking for money or votes or volunteer hours. In the back of my mind, the drumbeat goes on: the voters won't turn out, the votes won't be counted and even if they are, the Democrats are just Republicans who forgot to eat their Wheaties...But in whose interest is it to believe that change is impossible, that the status quo is inevitable? - KW

Abandoning the See Saw of Centrism

by Sally Kohn

A few months ago, I saw two little kids — a boy and a girl — playing on a see saw at the park. I'd been pretty sure see saws were obsolete, but not at this park. Here was a see saw in high gear.
I watched the kids go up-and-down, up-and-down for at least five minutes until the little girl abruptly stopped. Her eyes brightened. Clearly, she had a brilliant idea — or so she thought. Promptly, the little girl slid all the way from the far left of the see saw — splinters be damned — to the exact middle of the board.

Nothing happened. As the little girl’s anticipation turned to disappointment, the board not only didn’t move but was more firmly entrenched on the right side than ever. The little boy, for his part, erupted with the broad smile of a bragger across his face.

If you listen closely this election season, you can hear the sound of Democratic candidates scraping their bottoms in a hasty rush toward the center. But the reasoning is unclear. In a political climate where once-preposterous, archconservative ideas are now the status quo, shifting the political center of balance to the middle would only aids that Right-wing tilt. As the center of politics is masqueraded as the new left, the right becomes the new center.

If Democrats seem generally allergic to articulating moral convictions and standing up for what they believe, election season exacerbates this condition. Polls show that three-quarters of Americans support a balanced and humane approach to immigration reform. But neither principles nor polling have stopped Democratic candidates from running in the Right wing direction on this issue.

“I voted for the toughest anti-illegal immigration bill in Congress,” bragged Democratic candidate for Senate in Tennessee Harold E. Ford, Jr. (Incidentally, asked why he voted against similar legislation the year before as a member of the House, Ford said something about this year’s bill being “more comprehensive.”)

In Arizona, Democratic candidate for Congress Bill Johnson has paid for campaign billboards with the tag line, “Stop the Invasion!” Senator Bill Nelson, incumbent Democrat from Nebraska, once opposed crackdowns on undocumented immigrants but, just in time for the election, has introduced his own harsh, anti-immigration measures. “Not a day goes by where one of my Nebraska neighbors doesn’t ask me when we are going to get tough on immigration,” Nelson said in his newsletter to voters. “My bill will provide tougher penalties and give law enforcement the tools they need to stop the flood of illegal immigration.” In fact, Nelson was among the 80% of Democrats in the Senate who voted to support building a medieval, anti-immigrant fence along the border with Mexico. They voted for the bill, and dropped their push for more sensible immigration policies, as the election neared.

But trying to govern with your finger in the air, instead of true convictions and moral leadership, means that political winds can blow Democrats into dangerous waters. Upon appointment to the education committee in the House of Representatives, Right wing Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Co.) revealed his intention to ultimately eliminate public education for all. “It’s a lot easier to kill the beast when you get in the cave,” Tancredo said. Centrist Democrats might take note. It’s far easier for the Right to “kill the beast” when its voluntarily delivered on a silver platter.

Centrism not only alienates the Democratic base but also plays into the Right wing’s ultimate agenda. Charter schools are just one step to abolishing public education. Parental notification laws are just one step to banning abortion. And an anti-immigrant wall is just one step to banning all immigration. In supporting these measures, centrist Democrats don’t seem conciliatory and strategic. They seem short-sighted and spineless.

Centrism is not a “third way”, it’s their way — taking Right wing ideas and trying to pass them off as enlightened Democratic compromise. If centrists really think that plagiarizing conservative principles will somehow turn the country in a better direction, they need only study the science of see saws. Maybe centrism expediently wins a few elections, but in the long term, moving to the center only helps to cement our country’s future on the Right, helping conservatives win in the longer-term contest of ideas and leaving the progressive coalition with nothing but splinters. What we need now is brave and visionary progressive leadership and ideas or the political debate will remain imbalanced and our country will remain stuck in the mud.

As a tactical strategy, moving to the middle didn’t help the little girl on the see saw. What makes us think it will help the nation?

Release the Report

From People for the American Way:

"The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has not yet agreed to release a report drafted earlier this year that reportedly shows right-wing complaints about mass voter fraud – complaints that are used as the justification for restrictive bills that erect barriers to voting – are unwarranted."

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Too Close Not to Call


Call For Change


So, I've put this link on my blog (also in the sidebar, for when this post moves down into the past).

My husband and I have hosted two Call for Change parties at our apartment. To make the calls, you have to have faith. You have to believe, at least a mustard seed's worth, that among all the other people you talk to, you will also encourage the one or two in each district who would NOT vote if you and others didn't call, and whose votes WILL make the difference to help Democrats win back control of Congress.

Then again, you also have to have faith that the voting machines those voters use will actually count their votes - I'm also signed on to be a pollworker in my town, and at the orientation meeting, I didn't gain a whole lot of confidence in the accuracy and auditability of the computerized voting machines. But I feel a little better knowing I and other concerned folks will be on hand, watching out for problems and sounding the alert to the ACLU, PFAW and other watchdog groups.

Beyond that, you have to have faith that if the Democrats win (if Linda Stender kicks out Mike Ferguson here in my district!) and do take control of Congress, putting John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, Henry Waxman and a whole host of other excellent legislators in charge of key House committees, that their leadership (Pelosi and Reid) will actually stand up and take charge and lead America in a new and better direction, and will, most importantly, hold Bush and his co-conspirators accountable for their virtually innumerable crimes against the American people and the world.

Which means, in the end, that you have to have faith that you and other citizens who made the calls before the elections will take a short break after the elections and then keep right on pushing the leaders in the right direction.

So really, it all boils down to faith in yourself, and making that faith contagious to the people you call if you make some Calls for Change.

Please do. Go ahead. Click on the link. That big red button. Right there.

Good luck.

-KW

Bush Opens Outer Space to Combat

by Karl Grossman

It was issued quietly: 5 p.m. on the Friday before the long Columbus Day weekend, a release seemingly designed to get little notice. But what it involved deserves major attention: a new U.S. National Space Policy that could set the stage for the heavens being turned into a battleground.

For decades, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has shaped how nations approach space. Developed by the United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union­and now ratified essentially by all the world’s countries­the landmark agreement sets space aside for peaceful purposes.

But the United States became uncomfortable with the treaty in the 1980s during President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” program. That discomfort was marked in the 1990s by U.S. opposition to efforts (still ongoing) led by Canada­and including Russia and China­to ban all weapons in space; the treaty only bans weapons of mass destruction.

There were bellicose declarations in the 1990s, too, from the U.S. Space Command speaking of “dominating the space dimension of military operations to protest U.S. interests and investment.”

Moreover, as George W. Bush took office, a commission chaired by his defense secretary-to-be, Donald Rumsfeld, spoke of how “in the coming period the U.S. will conduct operations to, from, in, and through space to support its national interests.”

Then the Bush administration began revising the U.S. National Space Policy as issued by President Bill Clinton. A front-page, lead article in “The New York Times” last year reported that the U.S. Air Force was “seeking President Bush’s approval of a national-security directive that could move the United States closer to fielding offensive and defense space weapons.” It told of how one “Air Force space program, nicknamed Rods from God, aims to hurl cylinders of tungsten, titanium or uranium from the edge of space to destroy targets on the ground striking at speeds of about 7,200 miles an hour with the force of a small nuclear weapon.”

The new policy does not explicitly declare the United States will now move ahead with such space weapons­ but it opens the door.

“Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power,” it asserts in its introduction. Under “National Security Space Guidelines,” it says, “United States national security is critically dependent upon space capabilities, and this dependence will grow.” So the United States will “develop and deploy space capabilities that sustain U.S. advantage.”

Also, the 10-page policy says the United States “will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space.”

Further, the policy authorizes the use of nuclear power overhead to “enhance space exploration or operational capabilities…The use of space nuclear power systems shall be consistent with U.S. national and homeland security, and foreign policy interests.”

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, speaks of the document’s “very provocative language…This is the kind of talk that will create a new arms race in space, clearly just what the military-industrial complex wants.” And, he says, “Bush's new space policy enshrines the rejection of an international treaty to ban weapons in space.”

The vision of the Outer Space Treaty­to set aside space as a global commons and to prevent the armed conflict that has marked human history on Earth from extending into the heavens­would be altered by the new U.S. policy.

The United States sees its potential military supremacy in space­and seeks to take advantage of this. But that’s similar to the U.S. attitude in 1945 when we had the atomic bomb and no one else did. It will not take long if space is opened up to war for other nations, notably Russia and China, to meet the United States in kind. We still have an opportunity now to adhere to and strengthen the Outer Space Treaty and, with verification, continue to keep space for peaceful purposes.

Or we can turn the heavens into a war zone and a place for nuclear activity. We are at a crossroads. The policy must not be slipped through quietly. The people of the United States must have a voice and there should be wide public discussion on this fateful decision.

Karl Grossman, journalism professor at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, wrote and narrated the award-winning TV documentary: “Weapons in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens”

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bush Pilot

The man behind the President.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Review for Bush and Friends

In America and around the world:

1) All men and women and children are created equal, whether created in America, Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other country.

2) Torture is not okay, because it denies the equal humanity of the tortured, and destroys the humanity of the torturers.

3) Secret prisons are not okay, because no human individual - not even a pacifist - can be completely trusted to properly treat those whom he or she is afraid of, angry with, or hates, when no one with other perspectives and other feelings is present.

4) A democracy in which there is no rule of law and three co-equal branches do not behave as equals, in which one branch has completely unfettered power to write, interpret and enforce the law, and in which one party completely excludes the other party from meaningful decision-making, is not a democracy. It is a dictatorship.

Breaking the Silence

Israeli soldiers speaking up about their participation in the dehumanization of the Palestinian people.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Peace, Defined

Johan Galtung defines peace as “the capacity to handle conflicts with empathy, nonviolence and creativity.”

H.R. 3760

From an editorial on Department of Peace:

"...The extraordinary notion that violence, like disease, may have causes that can be eradicated — that it is not embedded in human nature and therefore inevitable — isn’t in wide circulation yet. It remains barely a pinprick in the national awareness, as manifested by the mainstream media and other outlets of popular culture.

The concept is also dangerous and upsets the powers that be. Violence is not only big business, it permeates the mythology that unites us as a nation..."

Don't Attack Iran Petition

Would that I had the courage to go get arrested with Cindy Sheehan...

Breaking the Violence Cycles at Last

This bit of news from the Department of Peace Campaign is especially interesting to me in light of Gandhi's advice that, if we are to truly create peace, we must begin with our children. I think the only way to stop the generational cycles of violence, both within families, and between cultures and nations, is to make sure that all children are properly cared for, in both physical and spiritual ways. And that means supporting the mothers and fathers who are raising all children, which is what this program is about.

Hope on the Horizon: Introduction

Imagine reducing child abuse and neglect by 79%.
Imagine reducing maternal behavioral problems due to alcohol and drug abuse by 44%.
Imagine reducing the duration of dependency on Aid to Families with Dependent Children by 30 months.

How many tax dollars are these social benefits worth?
$100,000 per at-risk family? $50,000 per family? $10,000 per family?

Now, what if it were possible to save money with such a program?
Imagine a net savings to taxpayers of over $17,000 per at-risk family.

Does this sound like a far off utopia? Well, it’s not. Such success has been achieved by the Nurse Family Partnership. The program has existed for over 20 years and been rigorously assessed by public policy experts. It provides nurses who work with families in their homes during pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life. The program is designed to help women improve their prenatal health and the outcomes of pregnancy; enhance the care provided to infants and toddlers in an effort to ameliorate the children’s health and development; and advance women’s own personal development, giving particular attention to the planning of future pregnancies, women’s educational achievement, and parents’ participation in the work force.

The Washington State Institute of Public Policy estimates the costs of the program at about $9,000 tax-dollars per at-risk family. The benefits, however, it estimates at over $26,000 to taxpayers. These benefits include not only the direct outcomes listed above but also longer term ones, such as reduced dependency on welfare and Medicare, lower rates of incarceration, lower rates of family violence, and improved scholastic attendance. This means fewer tax dollars are spent, accruing a net savings for the taxpayer.

This is just one of many programs that actually help reduce and prevent violence and improve overall well being while saving tax dollars. Other such programs address juvenile delinquency, gang violence, youth and school violence, family violence, hate crimes, and provide less expensive, effective alternatives to the current penal system.

This paper provides a snapshot of the current state of violence in the United States and a sampling of proven, statistically verifiable programs that successfully prevent and reduce violence. While these programs remain hampered by inadequate and inconsistent funding, lack of resources and limited geographic reach, the fact remains that they are beneficial for Americans’ social well-being and for Americans’ financial bottom line.

The good news about violence in the United States is that Americans have found incredibly innovative and resourceful ways to address violence and its root causes. All that is missing is an infrastructure to give these programs more visibility and viability, allocate them more funding resources, and to make them a matter of local, state, and national policy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Faithful America

Letter from Faithful America:

This week a USA today headline read, "War, economy sway election." Our government's efforts to bring peace at the point of a gun is clearly not working. So in an election-season maneuver, the White House and others are shifting focus to what they believe is a winning issue - the economy. The war will rage on, of course, so please continue to pray for all who are affected by this horrendous war. But about that economy...

When the President or a candidate for office claims the economy is growing, ask yourself and your candidates for office this simple question – growing for whom?

· The economy is not growing for Dan in West Virginia, who is barely able to feed his family on the federal minimum wage. (Hear my interview with Dan, who explains how he must hunt and fish not for sport, but as a sole means to feed his son.) Congress has repeatedly refused to raise the federal minimum wage from its shameful low of $5.15 per hour, yet they have raised their own salaries nine times – to about $165,000.00 a year.

· The economy is not growing for the 49 million of our brothers and sisters who are without health insurance, who may be just one illness or operation away from financial ruin. Millions of others who do have insurance are weighed down by the crushing increases in premiums.

· The economy is not growing for the millions of middle class Americans who are drowning in debt. The consumer debt burden has ballooned to more than 33% since 2001, largely to accommodate a 25% increase in the cost of education, and the exploding cost of housing. That, accompanied by skyrocketing increases in the cost of health insurance, and other necessities, has created a false bottom in the economy which simply cannot be sustained over the long-term.

· The economy is not growing for those whose nest eggs are tied up in their houses. Housing prices are starting to fall. That explains why many investors are shifting their capital from housing to Wall Street, but it leaves behind millions of struggling middle-class persons who live in their homes and cannot “flip their assets” as they watch their homes – and their nest-eggs – begin a backward roll.

· The economy is growing for Paris Hilton, Dick Cheney, and other multi-millionaires – less than 1% of the population – who would benefit from a repeal of the estate tax.” The economy IS growing for war profiteers, oil company executives, and all the others who have reaped the benefits of the decisions in Washington over the past six years.

So when you attend a rally for your candidates for office, think about the least among us – those who have no voice to counter the clamor of election season rhetoric – and ask – on their behalf – for whom is the economy growing?

Robert F. Kennedy knew that numbers rarely tell the whole story when he wrote:

"The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Search your heart this election season, ask empowering questions, pray, meditate, and cast your vote in a manner that reflects the highest within you. It is not the clamor of political ads but the “still, small voice” that matters most to people of faith and conscience. May you listen carefully, discern wisely, and act faithfully as you enter the voting booth this November.

MomsRising Documentary Clip!

"The Motherhood Manifesto documentary is a funny, fascinating, informative, and finally infuriating film about motherhood in America. At the end of this one, you'll want to jump out of your seat, rush out the door, and start demanding change immediately!" -- Ann Crittenden, author, The Price of Motherhood.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

They Learned it By Watching Us

Little House in the Big Woods

If we are very, very careful, and very, very lucky, this is what we are headed toward. -KW

Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.

The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them.

Wolves lived in the Big Woods, and bears, and huge wild cats. Muskrats and mink and otter lived by the streams. Foxes had dens in the hills and deer roamed everywhere.

To the east of the little log house, and to the west, there were miles upon miles of trees, and only a few little log houses scattered far apart in the edge of the Big Woods.

So far as the little girl could see, there was only the one little house where she lived with her father and mother, her sister Mary and baby sister Carrie. A wagon track ran before the house, turning and twisting out of sight in the woods where the wild animals lived, but the little girl did not know where it went, nor what might be at the end of it.

The little girl was named Laura and she called her father, Pa, and her mother, Ma. In those days and in that place, children did not say Father and Mother, nor Mamma and Papa, as they do now.

At night, when Laura lay awake in the trundle bed, she listened and could not hear anything at all but the sound of the trees whispering together. Sometimes, far away in the night, a wolf howled. Then he came nearer, and howled again.

It was a scary sound. Laura knew that wolves would eat little girls. But she was safe inside the solid log walls. Her father's gun hung over the door and good old Jack, the brindle bulldog, lay on guard before it. Her father would say:

"Go to sleep, Laura. Jack won't let the wolves in." So Laura snuggled under the covers of the trundle bed, close beside Mary, and went to sleep.

One night her father picked her up out of bed and carried her to the window so that she might see the wolves. There were two of them sitting in front of the house. They looked like shaggy dogs. They pointed their noses at the big, bright moon, and howled.

Jack paced up and down before the door, growling. The hair stood up along his back and he showed his sharp, fierce teeth to the wolves. They howled, but they could not get in.

The house was a comfortable house. Upstairs there was a large attic, pleasant to play in when the rain drummed on the roof. Downstairs was the small bedroom, and the big room. The bedroom had a window that closed with a wooden shutter. The big room had two windows with glass in the panes, and it had two doors, a front door and a back door.

All around the house was a crooked rail fence, to keep the bears and the deer
away.

In the yard in front of the house were two beautiful big oak trees. Every morning as soon as she was awake Laura ran to look out of the window, and one morning she saw in each of the big trees a dead deer hanging from a branch.

Pa had shot the deer the day before and Laura had been asleep when he brought them home at night and hung them high in the trees so the wolves could not get the meat.

That day Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary had fresh venison for dinner. It was so good that Laura wished they could eat it all. But most of the meat must be salted and smoked and packed away to be eaten in the winter.

For winter was coming. The days were shorter, and frost crawled up the window panes at night. Soon the snow would come. Then the log house would be almost buried in snowdrifts, and the lake and the streams would freeze. In the bitter cold weather Pa could not be sure of finding any wild game to shoot for meat.

The bears would be hidden away in their dens where they slept soundly all winter long. The squirrels would be curled in their nests in hollow trees, with their furry tails wrapped snugly around their noses. The deer and the rabbits would be shy and swift. Even if Pa could get a deer, it would be poor and thin, not fat and plump as deer are in the fall.

Pa might hunt alone all day in the bitter cold, in the Big Woods covered with snow, and come home at night with nothing for Ma and Mary and Laura to eat.

So as much food as possible must be stored away in the little house before winter came.

Pa skinned the deer carefully and salted and stretched the hides, for he would make soft leather of them. Then he cut up the meat, and sprinkled salt over the pieces as he laid them on a board.

Standing on end in the yard was a tall length cut from the trunk of a big hollow tree. Pa had driven nails inside as far as he could reach from each end. Then he stood it up, put a little roof over the top, and cut a little door on one side near the bottom. On the piece that he cut out he fastened leather hinges; then he fitted it into place, and that was the little door, with the bark still on it...

Mainstream Media Catching On?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Jimmy Carter on North Korea

A friend sent me a copy of Jimmy Carter's book Our Endangered Values. Starting at page 106, Carter gives an excellent summary of how North Korea's nuclear threat has been handled over the past ten years or so:

In June 1994 the North Koreans had expelled inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and were threatening to process spent fuel from an old graphite-moderated nuclear reactor in Yongbyon into plutonium...

Responding to several years of invitations from North Korean president Kim Il Sung and expressions of deep concern from Chinese leaders, and with the approval of President Bill Clinton, Rosalynn and I went to Pyongyang and helped to secure an agreement from President Kim that North Korea would cease its nuclear program at Yongbyon and permit IAEA inspectors to return to the site to assure that the spent fuel was not reprocessed. The North Korean leader also promised me that he would have full diplomatic discussions with South Korea's president, Kim Young Sam, who immediately accepted the invitation we delivered to him. Kim Il Sung died shortly thereafter, and it was only later that this promise of a summit conference was fulfilled by his son Kim Jong Il.

Following up on these commitments, the United States and our allies subsequently assured the North Koreans that there woudl be no military threat tothem, that a supply of fuel oil would be substituted for power production lost when nuclear production was terminated at Yongbyon, and that two modern atomic power plants would be built, with their fuel rods and operation to be monitored by international inspectors.

The spent fuel at Yongbyon (estimated to be adequate for a half dozen or so bombs) continued to be monitored, but promised construction of the replacement nuclear plants was delayed. Extensive bilateral discussions were held between the United States and North Korea, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang to resolve any difficulties. With his election as president of South Korea, Kim DaeJung initiated a strong effort to work with North Korean president Kim Jong Il to bring peace to the peninsula, and made enough progress to be earn the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.

With the advent of a new administration in Washington in 2001, the entire policy was changed dramatically. North Korea was publicly branded as part of an "axis of evil," with direct and implied threats of military action against the isolated and paranoid nation, and an official policy was established that prohibited any direct discussions with the North Koreans to resolve differences. Shipments of the pledged fuel oil were terminated, along with construction of the alternate nuclear power plants. Both Korean leaders and their ongoing north-south peace efforts were publicly ridiculed in an Oval Office summit meeting with South Korean president Kim DaeJung...

Carter then quotes Selig Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy:

"the ascendancy of the [Korean] hard-liners is the direct result of the Bush Administration's ideologically driven North Korea policy..."

There's much more in the book.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Going Public

As I write this, it’s been two days since President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, nullifying habeus corpus, the Geneva Conventions and many cherished human rights protections. The blogosphere is full of outrage about the new law, the estimated 655,000 Iraqis killed, the imminent 3,000th American soldier to die, how Bush and his cohorts are completely out of touch with reality, how silently acquiescent Americans are in the face of such atrocities, and above all, how excruciatingly limited our power to change things really is, when two-party politicians care nothing for what citizens think, feel, need and want, and where voting has become a computerized gamble.

I’ve also been re-reading Michael Gecan’s book: Going Public: An Organizer’s Guide to Citizen Action. I first read it a couple of years ago and I was profoundly inspired by the fact that Gecan, heir to community organizer Saul Alinsky, writes openly and honestly about power: who has it, who needs it, and how those who need it can create it. As Samuel Freedman describes it, the book “is about doing right and making social change not by playing the pitiable victim but by wielding power against power.”

Gecan’s main points are that there are two forms of power (organized money and organized people) and three public cultures: the market culture of the capitalist business world; the bureaucratic culture of institutions like schools, prisons, municipal governments and federal agencies; and the relational culture of voluntary organizations, like congregations, social clubs and citizen organizations – people of all ages, from teenagers and young parents to arthritic elders, who get together and get things done. For the corporations in the market culture, the bottom line is profit and loss. For the bureaucracies, it’s clients served. For organized community groups, Gecan writes, the bottom line is “expanding pools of reciprocity and trust among people who can act with purpose and power.”

His stories of successful campaigns over the last 25 years are riveting. The East Brooklyn Congregations coalition leaders who were scheduled to meet with housing and sanitation commissioners, scoped out the meeting room a day early, arrived early, and seated themselves on the high dais in “15 plush leather chairs,” leaving the commissioners to sit in “eight or so rickety wooden chairs,” normally the only seating available for the public.

A tense but respectful, and productive, meeting about race, policing and neighborhood security with Mayor Guiliani after the death of Patrick Dorismond in 2000.

Teams of citizens who, unable to get health inspectors to crack down on supermarkets selling them overpriced rotten food, created their own inspection teams, with clipboards, calculators and thermometers, and got the owners to shape up.

Thousands of affordable homes built and then owner-occupied, reviving dying urban neighborhoods.

Living wage laws passed.

Practical solutions to real problems.

Gecan writes: “Effective organization doesn’t begin with furniture, office complexes and snazzy logos. It begins with a team of talented leaders, clear on its mission, and willing to act to try to accomplish that mission. Great companies start this way. Great religious congregations, denominations, faiths originate this way. And a living democracy and vital society start and restart here.”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Be a Poll Worker

Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything. - Joseph Stalin

If you are worried about election manipulation, like what happened in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, plan to take a day off work on Nov. 7, and sign up now to be a poll-worker in your county, whatever state you live in.

My understanding (but check with your county office) is that you need to be a registered voter in the county, you need to go to a training session, and you get paid $200 for working the polling place on election day.

Here are the sites for the 7th Congressional District in New Jersey - Mike Ferguson (Incumbent Republican) v. Linda Stender (Democrat)

Somerset County Board of Elections
For information click here
or call (908) 231-7086

Hunterdon County Board of Elections
For information click here
or call (908) 788-1190

Middlesex County Board of Elections
For information click here
or call (732) 745-3471

Union County Board of Elections
For information click here
or call (908) 527-4123

Keith Olberman

Published on Thursday, October 19, 2006 by MSNBC Interactive
'Beginning of the End of America'
Olbermann Addresses the Military Commissions Act in a Special Comment

by Keith Olbermann

We have lived as if in a trance.

We have lived as people in fear.

And now—our rights and our freedoms in peril—we slowly awake to learn that we have been afraid of the wrong thing.

Therefore, tonight have we truly become the inheritors of our American legacy.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

We have been here before—and we have been here before led here—by men better and wiser and nobler than George W. Bush.

We have been here when President John Adams insisted that the Alien and Sedition Acts were necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use those acts to jail newspaper editors.

American newspaper editors, in American jails, for things they wrote about America.

We have been here when President Woodrow Wilson insisted that the Espionage Act was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that Act to prosecute 2,000 Americans, especially those he disparaged as “Hyphenated Americans,” most of whom were guilty only of advocating peace in a time of war.

American public speakers, in American jails, for things they said about America.

And we have been here when President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted that Executive Order 9066 was necessary to save American lives, only to watch him use that order to imprison and pauperize 110,000 Americans while his man in charge, General DeWitt, told Congress: “It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen—he is still a Japanese.”

American citizens, in American camps, for something they neither wrote nor said nor did, but for the choices they or their ancestors had made about coming to America.

Each of these actions was undertaken for the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And each was a betrayal of that for which the president who advocated them claimed to be fighting.

Adams and his party were swept from office, and the Alien and Sedition Acts erased.

Many of the very people Wilson silenced survived him, and one of them even ran to succeed him, and got 900,000 votes, though his presidential campaign was conducted entirely from his jail cell.

And Roosevelt’s internment of the Japanese was not merely the worst blight on his record, but it would necessitate a formal apology from the government of the United States to the citizens of the United States whose lives it ruined.

The most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

In times of fright, we have been only human.

We have let Roosevelt’s “fear of fear itself” overtake us.

We have listened to the little voice inside that has said, “the wolf is at the door; this will be temporary; this will be precise; this too shall pass.”

We have accepted that the only way to stop the terrorists is to let the government become just a little bit like the terrorists.

Just the way we once accepted that the only way to stop the Soviets was to let the government become just a little bit like the Soviets.

Or substitute the Japanese.

Or the Germans.

Or the Socialists.

Or the Anarchists.

Or the Immigrants.

Or the British.

Or the Aliens.

The most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And, always, always wrong.

“With the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few: Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat?”

Wise words.

And ironic ones, Mr. Bush.

Your own, of course, yesterday, in signing the Military Commissions Act.

You spoke so much more than you know, Sir.

Sadly—of course—the distance of history will recognize that the threat this generation of Americans needed to take seriously was you.

We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus, that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow.

You, sir, have now befouled that spring.

You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order.

You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom.

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And — again, Mr. Bush — all of them, wrong.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has said it is unacceptable to compare anything this country has ever done to anything the terrorists have ever done.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who has insisted again that “the United States does not torture. It’s against our laws and it’s against our values” and who has said it with a straight face while the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison and the stories of Waterboarding figuratively fade in and out, around him.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens “unlawful enemy combatants” and ship them somewhere—anywhere -- but may now, if he so decides, declare you an “unlawful enemy combatant” and ship you somewhere - anywhere.

And if you think this hyperbole or hysteria, ask the newspaper editors when John Adams was president or the pacifists when Woodrow Wilson was president or the Japanese at Manzanar when Franklin Roosevelt was president.

And if you somehow think habeas corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an “unlawful enemy combatant”—exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this attorney general is going to help you?

This President now has his blank check.

He lied to get it.

He lied as he received it.

Is there any reason to even hope he has not lied about how he intends to use it nor who he intends to use it against?

“These military commissions will provide a fair trial,” you told us yesterday, Mr. Bush, “in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney and can hear all the evidence against them.”

"Presumed innocent," Mr. Bush?

The very piece of paper you signed as you said that, allows for the detainees to be abused up to the point just before they sustain “serious mental and physical trauma” in the hope of getting them to incriminate themselves, and may no longer even invoke The Geneva Conventions in their own defense.

"Access to an attorney," Mr. Bush?

Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift said on this program, Sir, and to the Supreme Court, that he was only granted access to his detainee defendant on the promise that the detainee would plead guilty.

"Hearing all the evidence," Mr. Bush?

The Military Commissions Act specifically permits the introduction of classified evidence not made available to the defense.

Your words are lies, Sir.

They are lies that imperil us all.

“One of the terrorists believed to have planned the 9/11 attacks,” you told us yesterday, “said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America.”

That terrorist, sir, could only hope.

Not his actions, nor the actions of a ceaseless line of terrorists (real or imagined), could measure up to what you have wrought.

Habeas corpus? Gone.

The Geneva Conventions? Optional.

The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.

These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be “the beginning of the end of America.”

And did it even occur to you once, sir — somewhere in amidst those eight separate, gruesome, intentional, terroristic invocations of the horrors of 9/11 -- that with only a little further shift in this world we now know—just a touch more repudiation of all of that for which our patriots died --- did it ever occur to you once that in just 27 months and two days from now when you leave office, some irresponsible future president and a “competent tribunal” of lackeys would be entitled, by the actions of your own hand, to declare the status of “unlawful enemy combatant” for -- and convene a Military Commission to try -- not John Walker Lindh, but George Walker Bush?

For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons.

And doubtless, Sir, all of them—as always—wrong.

Amish Compassion Has No Borders

by Sally Kohn

On October 2, Charles Carl Roberts entered a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He lined up eleven young girls from the class and shot them each at point blank range. The gruesome depths of this crime are hard for any community to grasp, but certainly for the Amish — who live such a secluded and peaceful life, removed even from the everyday depictions of violence on TV. When the Amish were suddenly pierced by violence, how did they respond?

The evening of the shooting, Amish neighbors from the Nickel Mines community gathered to process their grief with each other and mental health counselors. As of that evening, three little girls were dead. Eight were hospitalized in critical condition. (One more girl has died since.) According to reports by counselors who attended the grief session, the Amish family members grappled with a number of questions: Do we send our kids to school tomorrow? What if they want to sleep in our beds tonight, is that okay? But one question they asked might surprise us outsiders. What, they wondered, can we do to help the family of the shooter? Plans were already underway for a horse-and-buggy caravan to visit Charles Carl Roberts’ family with offers of food and condolences. The Amish, it seems, don’t automatically translate their grieving into revenge. Rather, they believe in redemption.

Meanwhile, the United States culture from which the Amish are isolated is moving in the other direction — increasingly exacting revenge for crimes and punishing violence with more violence. In 26 states and at the federal level, there are “three strikes” laws in place. Conviction for three felonies in a row now warrants a life sentence, even for the most minor crimes. For instance, Leandro Andrade is serving a life sentence, his final crime involving the theft of nine children’s videos — including “Cinderella” and “Free Willy” — from a Kmart. Similarly, in many states and at the federal level, possession of even small amounts of drugs trigger mandatory minimum sentences of extreme duration. In New York, Elaine Bartlett was just released from prison, serving a 20-year sentence for possessing only four ounces of cocaine. This is in addition to the 60 people who were executed in the United States in 2005, among the more than a thousand killed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. And the President of the United States is still actively seeking authority to torture and abuse alleged terrorists, whom he consistently dehumanizes as rats to be “smoked from their holes”, even without evidence of their guilt.

Our patterns of punishment and revenge are fundamentally at odds with the deeper values of common humanity that the tragic experience of the Amish are helping to reveal. Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done in life. Someone who cheats is not only a cheater. Someone who steals something is not only a thief. And someone who commits a murder is not only a murderer. The same is true of Charles Carl Roberts. We don’t yet know the details of the episode in his past for which, in his suicide note, he said he was seeking revenge. It may be a sad and sympathetic tale. It may not. Either way, there’s no excusing his actions. Whatever happened to Roberts in the past, taking the lives of others is never justified. But nothing Roberts has done changes the fact that he was a human being, like all of us. We all make mistakes. Roberts’ were considerably and egregiously larger than most. But the Amish in Nickel Mines seem to have been able to see past Roberts’ actions and recognize his humanity, sympathize with his family for their loss, and move forward with compassion not vengeful hate.

We’ve come to think that “an eye for an eye” is a natural, human reaction to violence. The Amish, who live a truly natural life apart from the influences of our violence-infused culture, are proving otherwise. If, as Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” then the Amish are providing the rest of us with an eye-opening lesson.

A Way Forward in Iraq

I wrote this in March 2002, but when I was posting it today over at Letters to George I thought it would be good to put it here too. I'm especially intrigued by the references to rebuilding Germany with the support of the five surrounding nations, and how that strategy may soon be adopted in the Middle East, as Bush reluctantly comes around to seeking help from Iran and Syria in providing security and reconstruction leadership for Iraq and Afghanistan, and as Israel and Palestine attempt to emerge from their tight war embrace into some relationship with more breathing room for everyone. -KW

Dear George,

“There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”-Abraham J. Muste

Today I heard the second part of a very interesting speech given at Pace University over the weekend. The speaker was Johan Galtung. He is the founder of the academic discipline of Peace Work and a group called Transcend, and he is regularly involved in conflict resolution projects around the world.

After going through a description of September 11: who was involved, the US response, the goals of non-state and state terrorism, the stated and unstated goals of the response, the effects of the response on the people in the Middle East (95 percent of Saudi Arabian youth are now in favor of Al Qaeda, having seen the US slaughter Afghani civilians), the views of some of the people working to create a new government in Afghanistan, etc.

He suggested that three things are going on: The US government is making “an effort to identify and locate Al Qaeda and crush it, serving military and economic interests,” and pursuing the “old geopolitical goal of encircling Eurasia, with India and Pakistan temporarily exempt.”Then he suggested three possible results, “where this will lead us.”

1. “Endless war by the United States, for at least the next 100 years, with the likelihood of use of nuclear weapons,” and with “no light at the end of the tunnel, because the methods used [to oppose terrorism] will create more of the problem.”

2. “Economic boycott of the United States ... being whispered all over the world...And drones, mini-nukes and missile shields will not be effective against this, because the decision is made by the individual in the shop. He picks something up, looks at it, turns it over, sees where it comes from, puts it back on the shelf.”

3. Starting with the premise that an act of violence is about the relationship between A and B, and using the example of a man beating his wife, he said that it is possible to say that the man beats because of the nature of men, or the woman is beaten because it is in the nature of women. But you can also start by asking “What happened yesterday?” And if you ask that, and find that the relationship has a problem, you can work to make the relationship better. He referred to Buddhist practice, in which people in conflict start with inner dialogue, or meditation, and then outer dialogue, talking with each other about what went wrong.

Bringing the World Trade Center back into the discussion, he suggested that “something went wrong” in the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia (where 15 of the 19 hijackers were from). Then he referred to Osama bin Laden’s reference: “Now you see what we went through 80-plus years ago.”

Then the speaker, Galtung, outlined what happened in 1916, when the French and British governments told the people of Saudi Arabia that if they stood up against the Ottomans, they would get their freedom, and outlined a plan dividing up the territory, apparently allotting single geographic regions to the control of more than one group.

After the Arabs, under Husayn Ibn Ali, did provide assistance, they got colonialism instead: the carving up of Muslim lands (many thought to be holy), through French and British documents, including the 1917 Balfour Declaration by a British Foreign Secretary endorsing the creation of a Zionist Jewish state (Israel) within the borders of Palestine. This is referred to among Arabs in the Middle East as the Sykes-Picot Treason.

Rhetorically asking why the hijackers hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon rather than the Foreign Office in London, the speaker said that US aggression has been more overwhelming in recent years, ever since Franklin Roosevelt arranged in 1945 for the US to have free access to Saudi oil (discovered in 1936) with no oil to Germany and Japan, in exchange for US military protection of the increasingly unpopular Saudi royal family.

Galtung then went on to talk about how, in 1945, Europe had “a problem.” Nazi Germany, which had occupied 18 countries and genocidally murdered millions, was geographically unmoved even when the war was over. Rather than isolate the country, world leaders decided to allow Germany into a federation of European nations with its five nearest neighbors, insisting that Germany “keep quiet and foot much of the bill” for European reconstruction. As a result, Germany and Europe have successfully rebuilt, and even are part of the European Union created in 1991 after decades of work.

Israel, like Germany, is surrounded by five countries: Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. There is a movement, in the area, to create a similar federation of nations, with porous borders, cooperation on trade, tourism, and other economic projects, and decisions made by consensus.

“This is what reasonable people are dreaming of,” he said. “There are many dreams of that type being dreamt all over the region.” He envisions Sharon and Arafat retiring to Florida, to make room for young moderates in the West and in Islamic nations, in governmental and non-governmental agencies, to get connected and get the power to forge stronger connections, and cool off militant fundamentalism in each culture.

These moderates are thinking in terms of a “Swiss-type” constitution, which is “the only multinational country in the world with dignity for all its members.” He said these moderates also want UN cooperation, but not with a Security Council comprised of four Christian nations and one Confucianist nation. These moderates want the coalition to be “basic needs oriented,” which is why they are not opposed to some (but not all) Taliban representatives in government, because the Taliban was able to provide many basic needs for civilians.Galtung himself supports option number three, neither endless war nor a global economic boycott of US produced goods and services.

I find myself agreeing with him, even while I find the idea of the boycott excellent as a non-violent way to both help the West see the benefits of supporting regional self-determination, and as a way for regions to build up their self-determination capacities.Endless war I find completely unacceptable, because killing is wrong.As Thich Nhat Hanh put it: “Observing the Ten Commandments in daily life is also the concrete practice of prayer and meditation. Prayer of the Heart is not possible for one who does not consistently observe the commandments. If you do not observe, for example, “Thou shalt not kill,” how can “Thou shall love the Lord thy God” be possible?”

In hope, and love,

KW

Robert Scheer at Truthdig

I've been pondering the "Pottery Barn" analogy - you break it, you buy it - that if America entered Iraq and created a security mess, America would be responsible for staying until the mess was cleaned up. Well, there is a mess.

But a country is not a glass vase glued with little bits of colored mirrors. A country is comprised of real living, dying people, who have thoughts and feelings and the capacity for organized and disorganized, violent and non-violent actions and reactions.

I've also been re-reading Michael Gecan's book Going Public, and I strongly believe it is one of the most important books for people who want to reclaim citizen power to read, digest, share and use. I'm planning a local initiative to create a community coalition - Plainfield Power & Light - comprised of individuals and community groups who can agree on two or three shared goals - such as increasing local voter participation and protecting voter rights, and increasing the open-ness of local government decision-making - and persist in creatively pursuing and achieving them.

More later. Don't forget to vote Nov. 7. And whatever your political party, be a poll worker or poll monitor if you can swing a day off work somehow. We are all losing our political voices and we all need to join in the effort to find and use our voices again. -KW

By Robert Scheer

Martin Luther King Jr., shortly before his assassination, grieved that his own nation was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He was referring to the U.S. quagmire in Vietnam, but were he alive today, his prophetic voice would no doubt similarly question the bloodbath in Iraq. In response to the 9/11 killing of 3,000 Americans by a gang of mostly Saudi Arabian terrorists with no links to Iraq, the president has rendered that country a veritable killing field. An occupation initially advertised as a “cakewalk” war to disarm a tyrant is now, according to our politically desperate president, a fight for the soul of the world—good versus evil, democracy versus tyranny.

But the carnage we have visited upon Iraq represents nothing of the sort. We are not building democracy, we are creating mayhem.

The evidence arrives daily in the form of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of mutilated bodies. But even the few ghastly images that actually make it onto the television actually underestimate the horror. And it is getting worse, not better: The killing of innocents is now 10 times higher than a year ago.

The most thorough appraisal of Iraqi deaths, done by British and American epidemiologists using accepted norms for public health research and published in the respected medical journal The Lancet, puts the number of war- and occupation-related dead at an appalling 650,000.
The authors, being serious scientists, concede that counting the dead in a country turned into a war zone is a difficult enterprise, but even the lowest figure in their estimate, more than 300,000 dead, is shocking enough.

Perhaps most important, it is not only the derided “cut and run” domestic critics of the president’s policy who recognize that our continued presence is part of the problem rather than of the solution, but 90 percent of the Iraqi people we are supposedly trying to help, according to recent U.S. government and scholarly public-opinion surveys.

Even more shocking: Six in 10 believe it actually is acceptable to target U.S. troops for assassination. And while President Bush on Monday once again reassured the impotent puppet government in Baghdad that the United States is prepared to “stay the course,” the vast majority of both Shiite and Sunnis want us to leave within the next year.

That is not because, as the president insists, they want the outcome of an Al Qaeda-dominated Iraq; on the contrary, all of the polling data shows that Osama bin Laden remains enormously unpopular in Iraq. It is rather that they feel strongly that they could do a better job of providing security on their own, and they are afraid that the destabilizing U.S. presence, the main recruiting poster for terrorists, threatens to be permanent.

This makes the relevance of King’s earlier condemnation of a pigheaded stay-the-course policy in Vietnam all the more relevant. The point is that it is time for the Iraqis, like the Vietnamese, to make their own history. They can hardly make a worse mess of it.

One cannot predict with any certainty the future of Iraq, or the region, in the face of a U.S. military withdrawal, but clearly Bush is wrong in insisting that our continued occupation of Iraq lessens rather than increases the likelihood of future terrorist attacks on the United States. Iraqis, like the Vietnamese, are most of all nationalists, preoccupied with the future of their own country rather than, as the president insists, challenging America’s way of life. We still have not a single example of a disgruntled Iraqi carrying the battle to U.S. soil, but the longer we stay, the greater the likelihood of just such blowback.

Staying the course is a prescription for disaster. That is why a commission backed by Bush and led by the former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican and a longtime aide to the Bush family, intends to propose—against the repeatedly stated wishes of the president—significant changes in the administration’s strategy by early next year, according to the Los Angeles Times and other papers.

“Two options under consideration would represent reversals of U.S. policy: withdrawing American troops in phases, and bringing neighboring Iran and Syria into a joint effort to stop the fighting,” reported the paper. At least one commission participant says they have already decided Bush is dead wrong: “It’s not going to be ‘stay the course,’ ” the participant told the Times. “The bottom line is, [U.S. policy] isn’t working.... There’s got to be another way.”

In other words, Bush’s critics were right all along.

Creators Syndicate Inc.

On Not Counting Chickens Before They're Hatched, and Watching the Foxes in the Henhouse

I have signed up to be a pollworker in my town this November. You can too, by calling your county elections board to ask for an application and the dates and times of training sessions. -KW

By Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman

The polls all point to a Democratic sweep in November. The news pours in about pedophile Republicans and Team Bush contempt for their fundamentalist bedmates. Iraq implodes. Deficits soar. Katrina lingers. Scandal is everywhere.

On the other hand, there are rumors of an "October Surprise." An attack on Iran. A new terror incident. Osama finally captured.

Gas prices are down, the stock market up.

None of it dampens the Democrats' euphoria. They think they are about to win. In conventional terms, they should.

But think again. Please.

It will take just two Biblical fixes for the GOP to keep the Congress, and thus solidify their power in this country, possibly forever: a loaves and fishes vote count, a Holy Ghost turnout.

We coined the phrase "loaves and fishes vote count" to describe the tally in Gahanna, Ohio, 2004. This infamous precinct in suburban Columbus registered 4258 votes for George W. Bush where just 638 people voted. The blessed event occurred at a fundamentalist church run by a close ally of the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

These numbers were later "corrected." But they reflect a much larger reality: the 2004 election was stolen with scores of dirty tricks for whose second coming the Democrats have yet to fully prepare.

In the two years since the fraudulent defeat of John Kerry, we've unearthed an unholy arsenal by which that election was stolen. They include: outright intimidation, wrongful elimination of registered voters, theft, selective deployment of (often faulty) voting machines, absentee ballots without Kerry's name on them, absentee ballots pre-punched for Bush, absentee ballots never mailed, touch screens that lit up for Bush when Kerry was chosen, lines for black voters five hours long while white voters a mile away voted in fifteen minutes, tens of thousands of provisional ballots pitched summarily in the trash, alleged ex-felons illegally told they could not vote, Hispanic precincts with no Spanish-speaking poll workers, deliberate misinformation on official web sites…and that's not even the tip of an iceberg whose bottom we may never see.

Thanks to a federal lawsuit, we have finally been able to look at some of the actual ballots from Ohio 2004. Just for starters, researchers Stuart Wright and Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips have found a precinct in Delaware County where 359 consecutive voters allegedly cast ballots for Bush. Dr. Ron Baiman found another precinct in Clermont County where a random inspection found 36 straight replacement ballots, a phenomenon that can be accomplished only by divine intervention or outright fraud.

These initial snippets have been unearthed with no cooperation or participation from the Democratic Party. The official Democratic spin is that they have "looked into the matter." But public records indicate that they have yet to visit the actual ballot storage facilities to examine the public records from the 2004 election.

In sum, we see no indication that the Democrats are prepared for the inevitable…that Karl Rove will steal again, and more, in 2006.

In Ohio alone, four election boards have already eliminated some 500,000 voters since the 2000 election---ten percent of the state's electorate---from the registration rolls in four Democratic counties. No similar purges have occurred in rural Republican counties. The Democrats have said or done very little about it.

To date there is no logical explanation from John Kerry as to why he conceded with 250,000 votes still uncounted while Bush's alleged margin was just half that. Nor have we heard about Democrat plans to monitor the ever-larger numbers of electronic voting machines deployed throughout the United States with no paper trail and no transparency for programming codes and memory cards that are privately owned, with no public inspection allowed.

Which is brings us to the Holy Ghost turnout. As Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., has reported in Rolling Stone Magazine, in Georgia 2002, U.S. Senate incumbent Max Cleland went into Election Day with a very substantial lead in the polls. He proceeded to allegedly lose by a substantial margin. Church-state operatives like Ralph Reed attributed this astonishing turn-around to an alleged last-minute mass turnout of evangelical voters.

Similar things were said about Florida and Ohio 2004.

But it never happened. There are no visual reports or other reliable indicators of extraordinary lines or massive late-in-the-day crowds at the polls. Throughout all those election days, it was every bit as quick and easy to vote in rural precincts that gave Bush his miraculous victory as it was impossible to do so in your average black neighborhood. But there was no extraordinary turnout of last-minute Bush voters.

What happened instead hearkens to the Holy Ghost, made manifest in electronic voting machines that cannot and will not be monitored. The miraculous pro-Bush margins give new meaning to the phrase "ghost in the machine." While the Democratic vote count was slashed and trashed in urban precincts, the rural voting stations, through the miracle of untrackable electronics, materialized just the right number of GOP votes to keep the Men of God in the White House (where it's recently reported they dare to mock those earthly evangelicals who allegedly gave them their margin of victory).

There's absolutely nothing to prevent this from happening again in 2006. Major studies from the Conyers Committee, the Government Accountability Office, Princeton University, the Brennan Center, the Carter-Baker Commission, and esteemed others, have all come to the same conclusion: it takes just one individual with inside access---or even just a wi-fi machine---to change the outcome of any election anywhere.

Electronic voting machines can be pre-programmed, re-programmed, re-calibrated, electronically adjusted, hacked, jimmied, jammed or otherwise blessed with a few well-placed electrons and---LO AND BEHOLD!---a Democratic landslide can be born again to a Republican deliverance.

We already see the signs. The corporate bloviators predict a last-minute surge for Bush. The Fox/Rove media machine has planted suggestive stories at the New York Times and elsewhere about the alleged hidden powers of the GOP juggernaut. They will, they say, once again turn out those invisible legions of evangelical voters when and where necessary.

Every two years, Rove leaks some story that is implausible and easily refuted: four million new evangelical voters are identified nationwide; or, a late surge of homophobic Old Order Amish rush to the polls in Ohio; or shy and reluctant right-wing Republican women flood the polls at closing and slip out unseen without speaking to exit pollsters (but, they are only shy in the early evening in Republican counties).

And the Democrats? They say they are also turning out voters. But what happens when their names are miraculously gone from the new electronic registration rolls? When there aren't enough machines in their precincts on which to vote? When they press a Democratic name on their touch-screen and an anointed Republican's lights up? Or when techno-gods from private partisan vendors barge in unchallenged to "adjust" the e-machines in the middle of the voting process.

So far, the Democrats have heaped abuse on those who dare to warn of all this.

But as it is written, so it shall be: unless there are armies of trained, dedicated citizens prepared to monitor this upcoming election, electronic and otherwise, the Holy Ghosts will vote, the loaves & fishes will multiply and be counted, and the GOP will once again emerge with total control of the checks and the balances---this time, perhaps, for all Eternity.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

30 More States Could Opt for Nuclear Arms

Of course they're hedging their bets. Man, Jesus did not set up an easy path when he said the best way to disarm your enemies is to disarm yourself.

Net Neutrality Editorial

Net neutrality is very, very important.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Paradoxes in CounterInsurgency Tactics

Do unto others...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Amnesty International Peacemakes On

"Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming..." -Dorie-the-Fish-With-Short-Term-Memory-Loss

Abbott Districts, School Funding, Property Taxes

I attended a meeting last week at the Washington School in Plainfield, regarding the Abbott school funding issue.

The main speaker was David Sciarra, Director of the Education Law Center, the organization that brought the Abbott v. Burke case in 1981 on behalf of 320,000 New Jersey children in 31 poor school districts. The case was tried in the mid-1980s and reached the NJ Supreme Court in 1990. Then it took another seven years for the Court to order, in 1997, that “an intransigent legislature” cough up the money for the districts to finally implement new programs for the 1999-2000 school year. By the time funding actually began to bring meaningful help to kids in poor districts, the kindergarteners from 1981 were about 24 years old.

People are focusing on this issue right now because of a July 28, 2006 special legislative session looking at property tax relief for New Jersey residents; taxes are too high, and they’re driving many middle-class families out of the state. It’s a perfect storm scenario: Abbott districts finally got the money to make long-overdue improvements just as federal war costs and tax cuts for the wealthy shredded state budgets. Both budgets have been (partially) balanced on the backs of all children by cutting federal and state education funding, which has left municipalities to make up the difference by raising property taxes. As State Assemblyman Joseph R. Malone III (R) said last April: unless school funding is addressed comprehensively, only "the filthy rich and the obscenely poor" will be able to afford to stay in New Jersey.

In July, the legislature formed four committees to look at possible remedies, such as reducing health and pension benefits for state employees; consolidating municipalities and school districts; and changing both school funding formulas (the court-mandated Abbott formula, and the CEIFA formula, used for all other NJ public schools). Since August, the school funding committee has held hearings to gather expert and public input; these hearings will continue until the committee reports back to the full legislature with recommendations in mid-November, just a few short weeks from now. Under the circumstances, Abbott funding is at risk, unless the grown-ups who love the Abbott district kids speak out now, loud and clear, for the whole state to hear.

The Abbott money has been directed primarily toward preschool and elementary programs; the Court mandated “whole school reform in elementary schools, full-day kindergarten, preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds…with substantive educational standards, certified staff, [and] a maximum student/teacher ratio of 15:1;…a comprehensive facilities effort, after-school programs, and summer school,” according to this summary.

Six years ago, the first preschoolers began learning with good teachers who were finally being paid salaries competitive with suburban districts, helping staff retention. The kids had sufficient books and other materials, and strong support, like tutoring and parent liaisons. They needed all these things to help their communities emerge from decades of public neglect. Sure enough, six years later, positive changes continue to emerge – not only in the enthusiastic energy teachers and students are creating in their schools as kids learn reading, writing, math and curiosity-satisfying skills, but even in test scores.

According to Dr. Lillie Sipp, Chief Academic Officer for the Plainfield Public Schools, in May 2005, only one out of the 10 elementary schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind Act. But just one year later, in May 2006, when the first of those Abbott-funded preschoolers were in 4th grade, nine out of ten schools made AYP.

“It’s not that the kids can’t learn. It’s that they haven’t been given the opportunity,” said Richard Shapiro, special counsel for 16 of the 31 districts.

“There has been some substantial success and improvements, turning things around after 50 years of neglect,” Sciarra said. “More remains to be done.”

For example, because the court mandate focused on preschools and elementary schools, middle and high schools are still struggling. But help is on the way even there, as plans to increase the rigor of the curriculum and restructure schools to make smaller learning communities, to help kids form stronger supportive connections with teacher-mentors – gain political and fiscal momentum.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We know that,” said Agurs Linwood Cathcart, President of the Plainfield Board of Education. “But we have turned the corner.”

Interestingly, the state has conducted a study to put a real dollar number on the per-child cost of a good education, but hasn’t yet released the study to the public despite requests from the Education Law Center and other advocacy groups. Sciarra believes the reason is that good education is expensive, and thus incompatible with property tax relief unless school funding is completely uncoupled from property taxes. Sciarra’s guess is that the study probably shows that Abbott district per-pupil spending is “just about right,” given the high needs of the children; wealthy districts should continue spending what they already spend; and more money is needed to fill the gap for middle-income, lower-income and rural districts that aren’t covered by Abbott.
It’s also worthwhile noting that the significant improvements have been made even though, for three of the last seven years, the state has flat-funded education, not allocating funding based on the educational needs of the children, and not even including overhead increases for rising utilities, salaries, health insurance and other costs. Gov. Corzine even tried to ax districts’ right of appeal, but the Court stepped in to protect it, after school districts again litigated for New Jersey children’s right to education.

Following that decision, Plainfield appealed state cuts, when submitting its flat budget back in May, asking the state to reinsert funding for “programs, services and positions demonstrably needed” by the kids. As of October 5, there was still no response from the state, according to Victor Demming, Director of Finances for the district.

Much public attention focuses on financial mismanagement in Abbott spending at the state and district levels, sometimes as a prelude to suggesting that Abbott should be scrapped. Whether those accounts are exaggerated or accurate, we don’t need to scrap the program, because it’s working. We need to make public education for all kids a a top fiscal priority, while dramatically increasing citizen involvement in planning, implementing and providing fiscal oversight to the programs, so that the money will be well-spent in a transparent and accountable way.

“This issue about Abbott transcends all of us,” Sciarra said. “This is about kids today and generations of kids that are going to grow up in this community.”

Politically, I’m more or less a communitarian (no, not a communist). The communitarian viewpoint holds that social networks, not individuals, are the cornerstone of healthy societies; that communities provide their members with the basic necessities of life; that there is such a thing as the public good, which calls upon stronger members of society to care for weaker members; and that everyone has positive rights to such things as food, housing, education, health care, safety and a clean environment.

In other words, members of a society have significantly better lives than individuals who live alone in the woods, and therefore all citizens can reasonably be required, non-violently, to make meaningful contributions to the public good from whatever resources in time, energy and money remain after providing a basic living for themselves and their dependents. From that communitarian perspective, I propose:

Federal Taxes: New Jersey should opt-out of the federal tax program, on the grounds that, as Founding Father James Otis said: “taxation without representation is tyranny,” and the federal government, from Congress to the President to the federal judiciary, is failing to provide and protect access to the basic public services Americans need and deserve.

Property Ownership: Revalue every home in New Jersey at $120,000 – about three times the average annual per capita income ($41,626) – and turn the deeds over from the banks to the homeowners: no more mortgage payments.

Property Taxation: For owner-occupied property, collect property taxes at one-half the national average rate. For non-owner-occupied property, collect property taxes at three times the national average, to provide incentives for home-ownership, and disincentives for the hoarding of affordable shelter.

Wages: The minimum wage for a 35-hour workweek in New Jersey should be raised to $30,000 per year. A maximum wage should be established, at $100,000 per year.

Personal Income Taxation: Do not tax individual income up to the state average of $41,636. Tax all individual income over the state average at 95%. (There is precedent for this – during the World War II era, personal income over $400,000 was taxed at 91%; it’s currently taxed at 35%).

Corporate Income Taxation: Tax all corporate profits at 95%.

Accumulated Personal and Institutional Wealth: Personal fortunes should be taxed at 95% upon the death of the individual, and non-financial incentives should be offered for those who voluntarily return their fortunes to their communities before their deaths. Institutional endowments should be managed to continually reinvest the proceeds in programs and services, not to accumulate more wealth for accumulation’s sake.

State Budget: Immediately release all non-violent offenders from state prisons, and abolish the costly death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without possibility of parole.

Local Budgets: Move ahead with consolidating nearby school districts and municipalities to cut administrative costs, provide non-financial incentives for strong citizen oversight to improve accountability, and ensure that citizens of each community still have relatively easy access – by foot, bicycle or bus – to public services.

Prioritize all state revenue to support public-private-nonprofit partnerships, with extensive volunteer citizen management, fully supported by employers through flexible schedules to accommodate employee participation at civic meetings, that provide:

Public Education: day care, preschool and kindergarten through bachelor’s degree, plus continuing adult education for all ages; well-supported public libraries;

Public Health: universal basic health care (nutritional and community garden programs, annual check-ups and routine sick-care for all ages, vaccinations, prenatal and maternity care, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs);

Public Safety: emergency services such as police, fire and EMS departments; environmental protection and renewable energy programs; public works, parks and recreation programs;

Public Pensions: guaranteed stipends ensuring an adequate, not luxurious, standard of living for all retirees and disabled workers;

Public Transportation: improve and expand bus, train and van-pool programs, bicycle and walking paths.

Whatever your political beliefs and vision for the future, if you want to get involved in citizen support for education, through meetings with local and state officials in Plainfield and Trenton and at public hearings around the state, call education activist George Edward Rivera at (908) 561-5976. As he put it at the meeting: “Everybody wants to talk, talk, talk. Nobody wants to walk, walk, walk.” If you need a ride to any of those meetings, the Plainfield Board of Education will arrange one upon request.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Is the Current Occupant the Columbus of Our Time?

By Garrison Keillor

October 12th, the traditional Columbus Day, is a day to reflect on the nature of celebrity. Columbus was a pirate and tyrant who sailed off and bumped into the Bahamas, had no idea where he was, and to his dying day believed he had reached the Indies. By the time he arrived in the New World, America was old news to the Vikings. They already had that T-shirt.

Five hundred years before, the Vikings had been sailing the Atlantic with confidence, making new friends and influencing people. Thorvald Asvaldsson sailed to Iceland in the 10th century with his son Erik the Red. After they'd been banished from Norway for manslaughter — if you've ever been in an argument with Norwegians, you probably considered manslaughter, too — and from Iceland, Erik explored the icebound continent to the west, which he named Greenland, for promotional purposes.

In 986, Bjarni Herjulfsson and his men sailed along the coast of New England. Around the same time, Leif Eriksson, the son of Erik the Red, sailed over and may have landed on the island of Manhattan. Did he come ashore and try to buy it for $23 worth of junk jewelry? No. And do we celebrate Bjarni Herjulfsson Day? No, we do not. The Vikings weren't into self-promotion, and Reykjavik was not a world media center at the time.

The Vikings were not out to lord it over the Indians or bring democracy here or teach folks about Nordic gods. They were free spirits, sailors, explorers, so they left some carved stones here and there, relished the exhilaration of the voyage and the sight of new lands, and went home and composed sagas for the amusement of their friends and families. That arrogant fool Columbus, who demanded 10 percent of all the gold the Spanish stole in the New World, got the holiday, a town in Ohio and another in Georgia, a major river in the Northwest, a university in New York. But who cares? Scandinavians don't.

Their history after Leif and Eric and Bjarni has been tangled, of course. The Norwegians suffered under the Danes and then the Swedes. The Danes suffered under the delusion that they were French. The Swedes suffered under Strindberg and Ingmar Bergman, neither of whom was the life of the party. All of them suffered from the long gray winters with twilight at noon.

But Lutheranism urged them toward kindness, industriousness and self-effacement, and this is not a bad strategy for contentment.

Look around today and you will find the Viking descendants, a calm and stoical and somewhat formal people, by and large, not given to extremes of fashion or chanting "We're Number One" or writing memoirs that hang out the family underwear. Walter Mondale is pretty much the prototype. He lost the presidency by one of the biggest landslides in history to an aging actor whose grip on reality, never firm to begin with, was becoming hallucinatory. Mr. Reagan was sort of the Columbus of our time, a better PR man than sailor, but so be it.

Mr. Mondale is a buoyant man with a sense of humor who enjoys his life in Minnesota, where people are happy to see him, and when you do, you see that losing is far from the worst thing that can happen to a man.

What's worse is the likely fate of the Current Occupant, who is contending with Pierce, Buchanan and Warren G. Harding for the title of All-Time Worst President. He's got a good shot at the title if only because he's had so much more to be worst with. (Any young persons who have been inspired by Mr. Bush to take up public service should be watched very closely.)

I propose that we change Columbus Day to Bush Day, a cautionary holiday, like Halloween, a day to meditate on the hazards of ambition. We could observe it by going through the basement and garage and throwing out stuff we don't want or need. Also, by not mortgaging the house to pay for a vacation, and not yelling at the neighbors, and not assuming that the law is for other people.

A day to honor kindness, industriousness and modesty.

Department of Peace Update

"This has been a phenomenal year for The Peace Alliance and the Department of Peace Campaign. As you know, there are currently 75 Congressional co-sponsors, 2 Senate co-sponsors, over 50 endorsing organizations and 16 cities whose City Councils have officially endorsed the legislation (representing a collective population of more than 3,752,000 people). The political buzz has begun, and you and other Dept. of Peace activists around the country have made this possible. We have become a significant voice for peace in almost every district of the country.

At the same time, of course, the world is vulnerable to the most incredible forces of conflict. From Iraq to Amish Pennsylvania to North Korea, we face deeply troubling forces of violence. Those of us involved with the Dept. of Peace campaign have searched our hearts during this painful time and have prayed long and hard on these issues. The strong message we received was that if we truly want the Department of Peace legislation to become a law, it is important that The Peace Alliance become a presence in Washington, DC. We need to be in proximity to congresspeople, aides, other national organizations, etc. in order to raise the conversation and highlight the nonviolent solutions that we have researched and begun to articulate and facilitate in many different arenas.

And so we have done it! We are now the proud renters of office space in Washington, DC. It is, coincidentally, just one block from the U.S. Institute of Peace..."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

North Korea

I've been chewing over the nuclear test for a couple of days now, and I'm thinking I don't really see what all the fuss is about. If North Korea has 13 nuclear warheads and a crazy leader with his finger on the button, America has 10,000 and the same crazy leader with a different name.

Israel has its undisclosed number. India and Pakistan can play chicken over Kashmir. Iran can work on getting them, if they don't have them already.

But really, everybody just wants them to keep the other guys from using them on their home country, and I can't say that, in a crazy world like ours, that's an unreasonable position to take.

I say: let North Korea into the nuclear club, make room at the table, hear what they've got to say, help their people as much as possible, and suck it up: non-proliferation failed this go round.

Until it doesn't make sense for a country to want nuclear bombs, they're all going to try to get them. So that's where the real work lies, and neither bombs nor economic sanctions are going to remove the current incentives. Bombs and economic sanctions are the current incentives.

Monday, October 09, 2006

If the End is Nigh, Let's Go with Grace

It may well be that all we can do, all we have ever been able to do, is keep faith with the truly loving, truly wise leaders of history by continuing to speak our truth quietly right up to the end, and refuse to participate in hate-mongering and life-destruction.

We may all be implicated in the violence by our mere existence and conscious participation in violent societies. But if that's so, then our peace participation is also registering somewhere in the cosmos, and even if can't stop the bitter end from coming, by moving toward it clear-eyed, maybe we can make it slightly less bitter.

If we're not all consumed with dark visions of hatred and destruction at the moment when we go up in flames, then the human experiment has just that little bit much more chance of not having been an unmitigated waste of time.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mother, the Job

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Seven Weeks to Save Iran

On September 17, speaking to a group of peace activists, former CIA official Ray McGovern offered a dire warning: “We have about seven weeks to try and stop this next war from happening.”

Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate, argues that Iran policy may be moving along parallel tracks—one involving force as a form of pressure and the other involving plans for an actual military attack. He imagines the current situation as a dangerous game of highway chicken in which two drivers speed toward each other, head on. The winner is the one who doesn't veer off the road, and it's a tie if both drivers steer off the road. “If they both keep driving straight on, pedal to the metal, certain of victory, opposed on moral principle to backing down, the outcome is mutual catastrophe,” Kaplan writes. “And in this case, we're all sitting in those cars.”

Strapped

"Strapped offers a groundbreaking look at the new obstacle course facing young adults-the under 35 crowd-as they try to build careers, buy homes and start families."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Meaningful Work

A friend, who is also taking my Introduction to Generation X class, sent me the following poem about the workers of the Great Depression.

My Father Teaches Me to Dream
by Jan Beatty

You want to know what work is?
I'll tell you what work is:
Work is work.
You get up. You get on the bus.
You don't look from side to side.
You keep your eyes straight ahead.
That way nobody bothers you - see?
You get off the bus. You work all day.
You get back on the bus at night. Same thing.
You go to sleep. You get up.
You do the same thing again.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
There's no handouts in this life.
All this other stuff you're looking for -
it ain't there.
Work is work.

I wrote back to my friend:

Thanks for the poem. I think that attitude made a ton of sense when work really was work, making something that people could use, or growing something that people could eat, or being something that mattered, like a doctor or a nurse or a teacher. Now the entire economy is built on imaginary jobs in finance, information technology, marketing/advertising and weapons. And that's why my generation is always so stuck on meaningful work. We're sick of living in a pretend world of numbers and computer blips that do nothing human - just make the income numbers, in the form of computer blips, go up and up and up for rich people.

I do ponder this issue, all the time. Would I have the physical and emotional strength to get up every day at the crack of dawn and raise my children while tending to a large garden and several farm animals, while making soap and canning fruit and making cheese and butchering chickensuntil nightfall? I don't know if I could handle that kind of back-breaking work, but it seems much more likely I could make an easy connection between my labor and the survival and thriving of my family and community, and that's a connection wage labor in an information/service economy makes very hard to see. That's actually why I've chosen, with Josh's full financial and emotional support, to do what I do now, even though it pays our family nothing in dollars. It's abundantly clear to me that child-rearing, social justice, community person-to-person education and connection-building is going to be the cornerstone of the next phase of human civilization (if we make it there) so I want to get started as early as possible.

I think we're headed back to mid-19th century standards of living, as the oil dries up, so I'm trying to prepare myself and anyone interested for making that transition. Plus, I think that it's possible we could set things up to be more like a combination hunter-gatherer-farmer culture, whose people, anthropology tells us, wind up doing an average of 4 hours of labor per day - more during the growing season, less during the off season, but still with a ton more time and energy for human connection than any of us have in America today.

Good News

One of my long-term projects is to write an urban gardening blueprint to give to the town councils in my area, from locating sunny spots to put neighborhood kitchen gardens and designating a Seed Center to store seeds and teach seed saving techniques, to digging and planting schedules based on last frost, to how many people will be needed to dig and tend, plus canning instructions, composting plans, community kitchen plans, farmers market plans and much more.

From the Bill McKibben interview in this month's Sun Magazine:


Interviewer (Alexis Adams): You've said that the central notion of consumer society is that "each of us is useful precisely to the degree that we consider ourselves the center of everything." Do you think it's possible for Americans to break this habit of putting ourselves at the center?

McKibben: I don't think it will be easy, but I do think it's possible. The Achilles heel of consumer society is that it hasn't made us as happy as it promised it would. Although Americans have trippled their prosperity since the mid-1950s, the percentage who say they're "very satisfied" with their lives has declined. In fact, only about a quarter of Americans now say that they're "very satisfied." When you think about it, this is pretty sad, considering the unbelievable amount of resources and energy that we've consumed - and waste we have produced - in the last fifty years. We've pursued the American Dream to no real apparent end.

There are signs that we're beginning to wake up to this, however. The number of farmers markets in this country has doubled and then doubled again in the last decade. It's now the fastest growing part of our food system. SOme people shop at them because they understand that you can use ten times less energy by buying local food, but many people shop there because they want food that actually tastes like something, or because they want a connection with the world around them. Sociologists last year studied both supermarkets and farmers markets and found that people had ten times as many conversations at farmers markets. These are not subtle differences: ten times less energy and ten times more community - and better food to boot.

Congressional Summary

This is a summary of recent legislation in Congress, from People for the American Way. I find myself wondering, about the 700-mile fence, is it to keep the Mexicans out, or the Americans in? So many of us are already in prison, mostly for non-violent drug offenses, that we may as well just put a fence around the whole country and recognize the ways in which we're all prisoners.

It also took me far too many hours to figure out that the Foley sex scandal was probably leaked by Republican operatives, as a way to divert public attention from these legislative outrages, more bloody news from Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Intelligence Estimate, the July 2001 Tenet briefing of Rice regarding Osama bin Laden, and other major stories that broke last week.


CONSTITUTIONAL LIBERTIES:

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 – License to Torture?
S. 3930 PASSED
After a much-publicized disagreement between some prominent Senate Republicans and the White House over the president’s proposed bill on military detainees, the so-called “mavericks” on the Senate Armed Services Committee capitulated and allowed passage of a bill – The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (S. 3930) – that undermines Sixth Amendment rights granting the accused access to the prosecutorial evidence, leaves the Bush administration wide latitude in interpreting Geneva Convention mandates, and abandons Habeas Corpus rights that date back to the Magna Carta. This unconstitutional legislation comes as a response to Supreme Court decisions rebuking the Bush administration’s detainee and military tribunal policies, and legitimizes the un-American practices of indefinite detentions and the harsh mistreatment of detainees, more characteristic of oppressive dictatorships than a free society. The House had already passed similar legislation granting President Bush his requested expansion of executive power.

The Cheney-Frist Warrantless Wiretap Whitewash
S. 3931 STOPPED
Last month, Vice President Cheney negotiated a bill with Senator Arlen Specter that would legitimize the NSA’s illegal domestic spying program by gutting FISA and authorizing electronic surveillance in violation of Fourth Amendment probable cause requirements. The bill faced opposition from a small number of Republicans who, after the bill was adopted by Majority Leader Frist and subjected to changes that actually made it worse, decided to support the bill. Sen. Frist had threatened to attach S. 3931 to the detainee bill in order to increase its chance of passage, but that disaster was averted and the Senate failed to take any action on the bill. Thank you for your activism – your phone calls and letters over the last few months denied this bill the support it needed to pass and Frist chose not to bring it to a vote.

Unprecedented Restrictions on Efforts to Uphold Civil Rights and Liberties
H.R. 2679 Passes House, Not Brought Up by Senate
The House of Representatives last week passed H.R. 2679, the so-called “Public Expression of Religion Act.” The legislation would make it harder for Americans to challenge religious coercion and stand up for their First Amendment rights in court by limiting damages that could be awarded to plaintiffs who prove their rights have been violated. This “punish the victim” bill has not been taken up by the Senate, but it’s indicative of the flood of right-wing legislation that has been pouring out of the House for the last several years.

VOTING RIGHTS:

Reprehensible Voter Disenfranchisement Bill
H.R. 4844 Passes House, Not Brought Up by Senate
Right-wing members of the House continued their assault on voting rights by passing H.R. 4844, “The Federal Election Integrity Act.” This bill, aimed at partisan advantage in future elections, would place extremely onerous voter identification requirements on voters, forcing them to obtain ID’s that prove their citizenship. Disguised as a measure to combat voter massive fraud that simply does not exist, it would disenfranchise possibly hundreds of thousands of primarily elderly, poor, minority, disabled and student voters. We feared congressional leaders would try to sneak this through the Senate by attaching it to a must-pass appropriations bill for either Homeland Security or Defense, but that did not happen – in part because of the action taken by activists like you.

IMMIGRATION REFORM:

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Still Not a Priority
Senate Commits to Building Massive Fence, Does Not Take Up Anti-immigrant House Bills
The House passed several harsh enforcement-only immigration measures this session – measures that would do nothing to achieve comprehensive reform. The Senate did not take these anti-immigrant bills up, but House leaders were threatening to insert provisions of these bills into the must-pass Homeland Security and Defense appropriations bills. Luckily, these harmful provisions that would allow for the indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants and encourage local law enforcement to enforce immigration policies (wasting vital resources and hindering law enforcement efforts in immigrant communities) were not included in the final appropriations conference reports, but the Senate did approve funding for a massive border fence. The fence’s construction will cost taxpayers a fortune and will not solve the problems that have led to a broken immigration system. Effective reform must take economic and human realities into account and address the situation of hardworking immigrants living here now.

REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM:

Women’s Health Expendable for Political Gain
S. 403, the “Child Custody Protection Act” Passes House, Fails to Gain Cloture in Senate
Last week, the House recycled its intrusive Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA), and passed it again, this time with minor modifications and under the guise of the Child Custody Protection Act (CCPA). Both CIANA and CCPA make criminals out of adults, such as grandparents or religious counselors, who accompany minors across state lines for the purpose of obtaining a legal abortion outside of the parental consent or notification laws of their home states. This type of legislation abandons young women who choose not to involve a parent or guardian, often because they feel they cannot do so for reasons of family violence or a fear of being forced to leave home. Congressional leaders no doubt chose to bring it up to stoke the passions of their extreme right-wing base a month out from the elections.