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A Congress Unwilling to Exercise Its War Powers

10:09 am in Government by Kevin Gosztola

Dueling resolutions from Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Democratic House Representative Dennis Kucinich sparked a debate in Congress. The debate centered around the War Powers Act, the US Constitution and whether President Obama had violated the law by taking the United States into a war in Libya.

The Kucinich Resolution (H.R. Con. Res. 251) aimed to direct the president, pursuant to the War Powers Act, to remove all troops from Libya within fifteen days after the resolution was adopted. It was an attempt to force Congress to exercise the authority that it has under the Constitution to decide when and where troops are deployed for wars and whether or not wars should be launched.

In contrast, the Boehner Resolution (H.R. Con. Res. 292) was offered by Speaker Boehner to take the wind out of the sails of the growing bipartisan movement, consisting of anti-war Democrats and anti-interventionist Republicans, who were ready to assert Congress’ legislative authority and oppose the further expansion of the Executive by the Obama Administration that has taken place as a result of the Libya War.

The resolution brought by Rep. Kucinich failed 148-265. Speaker Boehner’s resolution passed 268-145.

The passage effectively stymied Rep. Kucinich’s genuine attempt to bring an end to the shirking of constitutional responsibilities in matters of war and peace in Congress. It aimed to halt the operations that had been initiated by the Obama Administration without congressional approval. But, as evidenced by the debate, despite the near unanimous recognition that seventy-seven days into the war the Obama Administration has the US embroiled in an illegal war and Congress has abdicated its responsibility, the majority of representatives in the House were reluctant to actually exercise the authority, which the Constitution grants them.

Representatives, who understood the weight of the moment, attempted to reason and convince a servile and overwhelmingly deferential majority that there needed to be action. They called out Speaker Boehner for offering a resolution that sidestepped the responsibility Congress is supposed to uphold.
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Financial Services Committee Hearing: Whistleblowers Likened To Bounty Hunters

2:43 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A hearing titled, “Legislative Proposals to Address the Negative Consequences of the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Provisions,” was held today. Focused on proposed legislation from Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), the hearing looked at how to “improve” the Dodd-Frank Act by “preserving” the internal reporting mechanisms or processes that companies have setup for whistleblowers (e.g. hotlines).

Rep. Grimm, who is likely cozying up to securities and investments companies which might fund his re-election campaign, essentially argued that the changes in Dodd-Frank make it highly likely the “floodgate” will open. Frivolous claims and costly penalties will arise from the fact that whistleblowers are now allowed to go to the SEC before reporting fraud or corruption through a company’s internal reporting system.

Marcia Narine, a witness appearing before the committee on behalf of the US Chamber of Commerce, suggested Dodd-Frank provisions aim to treat all companies like criminals and assume if employees bring a tip documents will begin to be shredded to cover up corruption or fraud. She found this to be unfair and argued that companies are being penalized for not doing their job, for not paying attention to a whistleblower that had information on Bernie Madoff and was ignored.

Kenneth Daly of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) asserted that the provisions in Dodd-Frank change the “emphasis from problem solving to getting paid for problem identification.” What developed later in the hearing was this conventional wisdom that whistleblowers could now be rewarded for malfeasance.

Professor Geoffrey Rapp, author of Beyond Protection: Invigorating Incentives for Sarbanes-Oxley Corporate and Securities Fraud Whistleblower indicated that whistleblowers are only able to collect a “bounty” if information they provide to the SEC leads to enforcement action, which reach a certain dollar amount threshold. He also indicated that in cases where securities fraud and tax fraud has been reported whistleblowers have been given very low amounts of money so there is little reason to suggest they will now run to the SEC to collect in what GOP representatives seem to think is some kind of newly established lottery.

Two representatives rightfully addressed the concerns this hearing’s organization raised. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) defended whistleblowers saying, “I don’t think we should reduce whistleblowers to the status of bounty hunters,” and asking, “Who are we trying to protect: corporate interests or are we trying to protect the system and innocent people?”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) appeared to be visibly pissed at the premise of the hearing. She stated, “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle seem to think now that Dodd-Frank is law employees will be racing to the SEC to collect bounties.”

Throughout, one would have been forgiven for thinking the GOP leaders and three of the four witnesses thought corporate employees might as a result of Dodd-Frank transform into people who took after Boba Fett. Representatives on the committee even suggested the employees might try to see if they could get company executives to pay them more money than the SEC so they would stay quiet. Essentially, a suggestion that they might engage in extortion.

Right in the last moments of the hearing, Rep. Waters exposed the hypocrisy and absurdity underlining the hearing. She asked Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) why there was language on the Financial Services Committee site urging whistleblowers to submit information on waste, fraud and abuse.

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Senator Bernie Sanders Filibusters the Tax Cut Deal (Watch Now)

1:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

As I put this together, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is on the Senate floor “filibustering” or giving a long speech on Obama’s politically flawed tax cut deal, which highly favors corporations and the wealthy and rich in this country. He is talking about how this deal includes Republican ideas to divert money from Social Security, which will handicap Social Security and perhaps be the beginning of the end of the program. And, he is also talking about how agreeing to continue these tax cuts now could mean that they become permanent because extending the cuts once will likely put him in a corner where he has to extend them again and again. [WATCH HERE]

Sen. Sanders has been on the floor for a few hours. As TPM reports, “Joined at different times by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sanders has been decrying the Obama tax cut plan for bailing out the wealthiest people in America.”

Here are some of the things he has said so far:

*Reading from Arianna Huffington’s Third World America , he detailed how our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. He shared the following: “Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic.” And said, “Think about that. A cost of $78 billion a year. Think of all the pollution, all of the frustration, all of the anxiety, all of the road rage.”

*He outlined that, in studying car crashes across the country, it has been determined that badly maintained roads are responsible for $272 billion a year in damages. If you want to know why we are seeing car crashes, the problem is bad roads

*On America’s situation with rail, he explained, “Train rides in the 1930s and 1940s took less time than those journeys would take today. In the 30s, 40s, 50s, people were able to get there in less time.” Specifically, he cited  trips like a trip from Chicago to Minneapolis, which used to take 4 1/2 hours and now takes 8 hours.

*He talked specfically about problems with bridges in this country, pleaded with President Obama to invest in bridges at the federal level.

*He said, “With our infrastructure collapsing…We have an agreement which puts zero dollars in infrastructure.” And, mentioned that this country would need $850 billion to get all of America’s bridges into good shape.

*He again read from Huffington’s book and illuminated how are drop to third world status is being sped up by our lack of investment in public education: “Historically, education has been the great equalizer. That has been the incredible virtue of our public school system.” And he lauded the fact that historically we have “given young people millions of young people the opportunity to go to school go to college and fulfill their potential.”

*He shared statistics that many who saw the documentary Waiting for Superman are likely familiar with: Among 30 developed countries ranked by OECD, ranked 25th in math, 21st in science. Even the top 10% ranked only 24th in the world in math literacy.

*He pleaded – “Does anyone believe here in America we take intellectual development seriously?” And he pointed out how we pay millions to sports stars but can only give a small salary to teachers or early childhood education providers.

*”67% high school graduates don’t have enough of the skills required for success in college,” he noted. And said, “When you invest in your kids, you are investing in the future of America.”

*He noted, “If you don’t invest in your young people, they are not going to become productive taxpaying workers. They end up engaging in destructive behavior.” They will be dropping out and ending up in jail at great expense.

*He dropped this statistic: 75% of American youth who apply to the military are unable to serve because of los cognitive ability, obesity, criminal records. A “National Security” issue?

*He noted that the deal will provide tens of billions of dollars to wealthy at a time when they have enjoyed tax breaks and that Citizens for Tax Justice has said, for example, if this deal is allowed, Rupert Murdoch, CEO of NewsCorp, would receive a 1.3 million tax break, Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorganChase, would receive a $1.1. million tax break, Vikram Pandit would receive a $785,000 tax break,e etc.

*He read a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. Again, comrades over there, take the lesson from your own experience. Not only did you not grudge, but you gloried in the promotion of the great generals who gained their promotion by leading their army to victory. So it is with us. We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.”

*And he noted that by adjusting the estate tax, as the deal would do, the Walton Family would receive a $32.7 billion tax break. At a time when we supposedly cannot afford to “give $14 billion to people who are struggling” for a $250 COLA check to seniors and disabled veterans, we can give more than double to the Walton Family. He added, “If this makes sense to anybody, please call my office.”

His filibuster continues at 4 pm ET. Sanders is doing what Americans elect their leaders to do — He is defending us. He is speaking up for the people.

Thank you, Bernie.

To see him filibustering, click here.

FBI Continues to Target Activists in Chicago and Minneapolis (VIDEO)

1:02 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

On December 6th, Chicagoans came out for an Emergency Response Rally organized by the Committee to Stop FBI Repression to support activists who have been targeted by the FBI in the past months. Those present stood in the cold and condemned U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been directing the FBI to expand its repression of activists in Chicago.

The rally specifically addressed the recent targeting of three young women who had traveled to Palestine last summer. On Friday, December 3rd, they were given subpoenas to appear before a Grand Jury on January 25, 2011. Since then, two more individuals have been subpoenaed. This new wave of repression came a week after subpoenas for three activists in Minneapolis -” Tracy Molm, Anh Pham, and Sarah Martin -” were re-activated and asked to appear before a Grand Jury again after refusing to speak to a Grand Jury in October.

The father of one of the Chicago women subpoenaed, Stan Smith, appeared at the rally and read a statement from her daughter, Sarah Smith, “Friday morning I received a phone call from an FBI agent. He asked if I had about 30 minutes to sit down and speak with him so he could ask me some questions. I asked about what and he said he was not at liberty to discuss it.”

“I felt there was something suspicious about him telling me he wanted to ask me some questions, but he would not tell me what these questions were,” read Smith. “I reiterated that it would be much easier for me to sit down with him if I knew why an FBI agent wanted to sit down with me. He then said it had to deal with a trip I took this last summer. He emphasized I think you know, which one I’m talking about.”

Smith noted, “I don’t think I need to speak in defense of her character. While she was in high school, Crain’s Chicago Business had a special edition called the “100 Most Influential Women in Chicago” and they chose my daughter as being one of Chicago’s six most influential and up-and-coming women high school students. Crain’s Chicago Business chose her partly because they saw she was willing to travel to different parts of the world and see for herself and to make up her own mind about what was happening over there. Evidently, the FBI thinks that there is something criminal in doing that.”

Subpoenaed activist Stephanie Weiner, who had her home raided by the FBI on September 24th of this year, lamented the fact that more activists were being subpoenaed and explained it was being done to put fear, intimidate and divide members of activist movements in the country. She outlined the fact that they are from many different movements: union, immigrant rights, justice, and Latin American and Palestinian solidarity movements.

Matt Brandon of SEIU Local 73 said, “When people can’t get together and peacefully protest without being threatened by arrest or a raid or a subpoena, it’s a sad state of affairs.” He provided a brief history of how dissent has been repressed in America and why it is important for all movements to come together and fight bac

The hunting down of activists began on September 24th when the FBI raided homes and offices of activists from Minneapolis and Chicago. Computers, phones, documents and other personal items were seized and the FBI officially subpoenaed 14 activists to appear before a Grand Jury. The FBI began to contact members of the “peace community” and ask them what they knew about the subpoenaed activists’ “material support for terrorism.”

The attorneys representing the activists have noted “the current definition of “material support’ can cover just about anything, like providing humanitarian aid that ends up in the hands of a group tagged as ‘terrorist’ by the US government, or posting a link to an informational website. The implications of this law, as it is being used, are troubling to anyone who does community organizing, or anyone who does journalistic reporting or academic research on wars, conflicts or controversial movements.”

Months later, the activists in Minneapolis and Chicago have not been charged with a crime, but they continue to face possible jail time if they refuse to go before a Grand Jury and participate in this “witch hunt.” They have yet to have their belongings, which were seized by the FBI, returned.

In the face of repression, activists across the nation have held actions in cities to show solidarity with activists who have been targeted. In Minneapolis, supporters held a protest outside Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office. And, a delegation of people has visited Congress to inform key House and Senate members of the FBI’s targeting of individuals engaged in activism.

In Chicago, those opposed to the FBI raids plan to meet with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). Members of the Committee have noted in recent weeks that some in Congress have been briefed on the actions of the FBI but, for the most part, few know what is happening to activists in Chicago and Minneapolis.

The Committee to Stop FBI repression designated December 9th as a “Call-In Day” and urged supporters and those concerned to call U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and demand that he end the “witch hunt” on activists in America.

Here is a video from the rally in Chicago on December 9th:

Julian Assange’s Real Crime: Making It Difficult for America to Wage Superpower

6:02 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

WikiLeaks pledges to continue to fight government secrecy despite persecution by the U.S. and other countries. by R_SH

Political leaders like the tyrannical Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and complicit authoritarian Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have come out in full support of prosecuting the now-captured and arrested Julian Assange under the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917. Whether they can do so or not is of no concern to them, and don’t expect that to matter as the press repeats this idea that Assange could be prosecuted.

Sen. Lieberman, Senator John Ensign (R-Nev) and Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass) have introduced a bill that would “stop” WikiLeaks and make it “illegal to publish the names of military or intelligence community informants.” The bill known as the Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination Act (SHIELD) would amend the Espionage Act. The main problem with the act is, as Dave Weigel of Slate wrote, “the information being leaked, while embarrassing, hasn’t been highly classified. It’s been secret, or marked “NOFORN,” but it’s not classified.” Thus, it appears the act might currently be ineffective in “stopping” WikiLeaks or future releases of information by any individual, group or organization.

What these senators aim to do is guaranteed to further reduce the protections for journalists and members of the media in this country. It’s guaranteed to further create a political climate where journalists are faced with the possibility of coercive measures if they actually exercise the rights and privileges granted to them by the First Amendment. And, it’s that climate that ensures more and more individuals will leak materials to WikiLeaks instead of media outlets in America, who cannot give their sources guarantees they will be protected under the law.

Sen. Lieberman appeared on the Fox News Channel on December 7th to express his support for not only prosecuting Assange but also examining the culpability of media organizations like the New York Times, which have referenced in the leaked secrets in their news articles.

HOST: Julian Assange has written an editorial that points out or characterizes his organization as an underdog in the media world. And he’s saying that he is a journalist and he’s saying that he’s just providing information out there for the world’s citizens to see. He mentions that organizations like the New York Times have published his information, which you’re classifying as state secrets. So, are other media outlets that have posted what WikiLeaks put out there also culpable on this and could be charged with something?

LIEBERMAN: I have said that I believe the question you are raising is a serious legal question that has to be answered. In other words, this is very sensitive stuff because it gets into America’s First Amendment, but if you go from the initial crime–Private Manning charged with a crime of stealing these classified documents, he gives them to WikiLeaks, I certainly believe WikiLeaks has violated the espionage act. But then what about the news organizations, including the NYT, that accepted it and distributed it? I’m not here to make a final judgment on that. But to me the New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime I think that bears very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department. [emphasis added]

In his appearance, Sen. Lieberman called the release of documents by Assange and WikiLeaks “the most serious violation of the Espionage Act” in America’s history.

Sen. Feinstein, in her editorial published by the Wall Street Journal , wrote, “When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released his latest document trove–more than 250,000 secret State Department cables–he intentionally harmed the U.S. government. The release of these documents damages our national interests and puts innocent lives at risk. He should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.”

She claimed the authority to decide whether Assange is or is not a journalist, a power she and nobody in government holds. She promoted the idea that the release has hurt people, when there is absolutely no proof that anyone has been harmed as a result of these leaks. And, she concluded, “As for the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has held that its protections of free speech and freedom of the press are not a green light to abandon the protection of our vital national interests. Just as the First Amendment is not a license to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, it is also not a license to jeopardize national security.”

This is where we get into the real crime that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are guilty of committing. They are guilty of posing a threat to American superpower.

They have made it more difficult to wage a secret propaganda campaign to manufacture false cases for any future wars. They have made it harder to mislead Americans and other citizens of the world to believe a country poses an imminent threat to the United States. They have made it more problematic for America to use illegal detention, torture, and rendition on the world’s citizens when prosecuting the “war on terror.” They have made it more complicated for America to use spying and blackmailing when engaging countries in diplomacy. And, they have made leaders of countries in the world less willing to upset the sensibilities of people whom they govern and lie to them to prevent them from demonstrating their disapproval and outrage for going along with a ruthless superpower.

Political leaders and media pundits are disinforming the public when they talk about prosecuting Assange. Leaders like Sen. Feinstein are cherry-picking portions of a Congressional Research Service report to suit their worldview on what can and cannot be done to “protect” America. Indeed, an October report did claim there exists “ample statutory authority for prosecuting individuals who elicit or disseminate the types of documents at issue, as long as the intent element can be satisfied and potential damage to national security can be demonstrated.” But, as Evan Harper commented on one of Glenn Greenwald’s posts:

“In Feinstein’s WSJ op-ed, she claims “That he is breaking the law and must be stopped from doing more harm is clear. I also believe a prosecution would be successful,” citing a Congressional Research Service report which wrote that “there is ample statutory authority” for such a prosecution. But she very badly cherry-picked the report, which goes on to say:

‘…we are aware of no case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure by a government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it. There may be First Amendment implications that would make such a prosecution difficult, not to mention political ramifications based on concerns about government censorship. To the extent that the investigation implicates any foreign nationals whose conduct occurred entirely overseas, any resulting prosecution may carry foreign policy implications related to the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction.’

Essentially, CRS found that a plausible reading of the Espionage Act, by itself, might find some grounds to charge Assange — but that precedent, the Constitution, and jurisdictional issues all weigh against a successful prosecution. Feinstein was grossly dishonest in eliding this.”

It’s quite telling that they would fall back on the Espionage Act as the tool that could prevent Assange and WikiLeaks from causing more damage to America’s image in the world. The Espionage Act was signed into law by Glenn Beck’s least favorite president, Woodrow Wilson, shortly after America entered World War I. The act was intended to only apply during wartime, but, like many expansions of executive power in recent American history, the act continued to be applied to dissidents who were getting in the way of military recruiting or efforts to prosecute wars.

As Neal Rockwell points out on NYC Indymedia, “Its first major test case was with a Socialist named Charles Schenck, who received a six month sentence for passing out leaflets denouncing the draft, which was upheld by the Supreme Court. There have been a number of high profile Individuals prosecuted or threatened with this law over the years. In 1918, the famed Socialist organizer Eugene Debs was given a ten year sentence for delivering an anti-war speech on the grounds that it obstructed recruitment and the war effort. His sentence was later commuted by Warren Harding in 1921, and he was released after spending thirty two months in prison. The poet E E Cummings spent a few months in jail under the Act, for speaking openly about his lack of hatred for the Germans. The Post Office was also instrumental in using this law, in that it refused to deliver materials which were deemed to violated it, thus suppressing many radical newspapers.”

Julian Assange has brought out the true spirit of America. Visa and MasterCard refuse to process donations to WikiLeaks or Assange. PayPal refuses to allow WikiLeaks to use the service for donations. Amazon censors the Wikileaks website. Tableau opts to prohibit WikiLeaks from using its graphics service for data visualizations. The School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University warns students to refrain from commenting on the leaked diplomatic cables on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter and not post links to the documents if they hope to ever work for the State Department (while at the same time pledging to host World Press Freedom Day in 2011). And, the Obama Administration and the Department of Defense orders hundreds of thousands of federal workers to not view the once secret cables.

The U.S.-led “war on WikiLeaks” has tacitly endorsed censorship of the Internet and taken steps that will move it further away from being an arena where all citizens of the world can act openly without fear of being met by unchecked political power. The crew of WikiLeaks has demonstrated that America is more interested in being a closed, conspiratorial, inefficient and totalitarian country instead of using the document dumps WikiLeaks have brought to the world to become more open and honest in government operations. And, those who have supported, aided or abetted WikiLeaks should be aware of how this all could steamroll into a situation where Americans are increasingly asked to take “loyalty oaths” in order to take jobs or use services on the Internet and face surveillance that will lead to persecution if found to be engaging in suspect political activity (indeed, a new round of witch hunts aimed at “disloyal” Americans is already being mounted by the FBI in this country).

Ask yourself: Will there be an agent at your door asking you, “Are you or are you not working in cooperation with Julian Assange and others associated with WikiLeaks?” And, if so, do we intend to stand up and mobilize and raise our voices high and defend our right to disseminate now-public information and utilize our First Amendment rights without threat of intimidation or criminalization?

Whether Julian Assange is guilty of rape or sexual molestation allegations is for the Swedish courts to decide. If he did in fact commit a crime, he will suffer the consequences. But, the charges increasingly appear to be part of a campaign of political persecution that is being endorsed and sponsored by a nation that wishes revenge on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for daring to challenge American superpower.

Restoring Sanity to Our Elections: Are We Managers of Democracy or Citizens?

1:07 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Many of the people who energized support for Barack Obama in 2008 gather at the Lincoln Memorial for the “One Nation Working Together” rally.  by Kevin Gosztola

Our electoral and political system is broken, co-opted by corporate and military interests. That is why we are talking about restoring sanity. That is why we see people, Republican and Democrat, wishing the polarization of politics stops.

A vacuum has grown in American politics thanks to Democratic Party leaders who have abandoned the notion of waging crucial debates and putting forth new ideas. They now instead behave like staff members of a marketing communications or public relations firm. They handle the president’s agenda and message to the people and finesse arguments to justify timidity and spinelessness, which favors the wealthiest three or four percent of Americans and endangers the bottom ninety percent. This also endangers innocent civilians all over the world who continue to fall victim to wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Liberals and progressives who form the base of voters for the Democratic Party have failed to muster the courage to make Democrats bear the consequences of their transformation over the past decades into a corporate party. Upset, instead of offering a different vision, they defend politicians in the party hoping to curb Republican, Tea Party, and free market enterprise organizations who have gone on the offensive.

Choosing to do nothing more than defend the idea of voting or supporting Democrats, failing to fill the vacuum with a language for something other than a society that lauds the individual and loathes the notion that “we are all in this together” is why the Tea Party has enjoyed prominence.

Among people who participate in political discussions, it is increasingly difficult to nuance one’s support for Democratic or Republican politicians. Many think you either must be with one side or the other. This is what America’s two-party system does to its citizens.

Instead of focusing on what actions politicians have taken or failed to take, concerned citizens fight each other and accuse people who dare to vote outside the two parties of being responsible for enabling crimes or dark trends in society. Citizens beat each other into lining up behind one of the two parties, which for at least three elections have dealt with an American population wary of re-electing incumbents.

The two most prominent parties are co-opted by moneyed interests that neutralize our votes, they allow the dominance of money in politics to increase, and instead of breaking away and making reasonable calls for reforms to voting or elections, citizens fret about the possibility of spoilers. They fear being good to themselves and voting their conscience on Election Day.

Fear of “Purism” Bringing America Closer to Ruin

People especially Obama supporters are good and ready to argue a number of things will happen if Republicans are elected. But, how many of these things that are feared are already manifesting themselves in politics, government, or society in America?

One could say the Tea Party will be bad for gay people, but Democrats and President Obama have done very little to shift the consensus on rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in America. Obama has contradicted himself by expressing his view that he is a “fierce advocate” for gays and lesbians and then asserting that he is opposed to same-sex marriage because marriage is between a man and a woman. Even worse, in a legal brief filed in June 2009, Obama’s Justice Department “compared gay unions to incestuous ones and that of an underage girl in the sense that states have the right to not recognize marriages that are legal in other states or countries.” This happened days before the Democratic National Committee was to hit up the LGBT community for cash in a fundraiser featuring Biden (perhaps, he told them to “stop whining” then, too).

President Obama’s Department of Justice continues to obstruct a rescinding or repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That’s as conservative pundits like Bill O’Reilly and John Stossel genuinely or opportunistically express condemnation for the Obama Administration’s continued legal defense of the anti-homosexual military policy.

One could say the Tea Party will ensure that future-eaters continue to reign over America and imperil a world’s population because the Tea Party does not “believe” in the science of global warming. That supposes that Democrats would take steps that would begin to truly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Lawyers with the Environmental Protection Agency, Laurie Williams & Allan Zabel, wrote in the Washington Post on current legislation on the table:

“The House and Senate climate bills are not a first step in the right direction. They would give away valuable rights in cap-and-trade permits and create a trillion-dollar carbon-offsets market that will not lead to needed reductions. Together, the illusion of greenhouse-gas reductions and the creation of powerful lobbies seeking to protect newly created profits in permits and offsets would lock in climate degradation for a decade or more. The near-term opportunity to create an effective international framework would also be lost.”

One could say the Tea Party will privatize Social Security. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has already opened the door for privatization by allowing Alan Simpson to lead a “Catfood Commission” or Deficit Commission to find ways to reduce America’s deficits. Simpson has displayed sharp ignorance about Social Security by promoting the Republican idea that Social Security is going bankrupt and is a burden on government. How could anyone have faith in an Administration’s effort to fight the privatization of Social Security when a man who said Social Security is “a milk cow with 310 million t-i-ts” is involved in putting together policy recommendation that will determine Social Security’s political future?

One could say the Tea Party will put food stamps programs at risk, but Democrats have already cut food stamps. They made cuts to fund education and health care. They chose austerity and cut the social program instead of taking money from defense, which is about 57% of the federal budget and could be significantly reduced.

On jobs and the economy, the top issue in the midterm election, the Tea Party’s gospel of free markets with a twist of Ayn Rand ideology would surely be bad for Americans. The GOP plan would raise the deficit $4 trillion. But, the Democrats are not a guaranteed panacea for fixing unemployment and making the economy work for all Americans instead of just the top 1%.

The Democrats are split on the Bush tax cuts, despite a Moody’s Investors Service report that “U.S. companies are hoarding almost $1 trillion in cash” and “are unlikely to spend on expanding their business and hiring new employees due to continuing uncertainty about the strength of the economy.” Lest you be optimistic about the split, the last time Democrats were this divided the people lost the public option or a Medicare buy-in. Conservative Democrats or Blue Dogs won the battle over what would be in health reform and would likely win the battle over tax cuts.

Finally, Obama supporters greatly fear a government shutdown or impeachment proceedings against Obama. Why the consternation? Democrats should welcome a shutdown. The shutdown Newt Gingrich briefly engaged in back in the 1990s likely contributed to President Clinton’s re-election in 1996. If Republicans displayed their obstructionism even more prominently, it would probably be easy for Democrats to sell themselves to voters in 2012 unless a number of Democrats became involved or complicit in the shutdown to win votes in their districts (not beyond the realm of possibility, many Democrats have run ads against supposed accomplishments of the Obama Administration).

The Democrats should also welcome endless investigations of Obama. What with Birthers, the Tea Party, and the fact that a poll has been released suggesting Bill Clinton is America’s most popular politician, the Democrats could on a daily basis remind Americans of how Republicans engaged in a hunting of President Clinton and stalled change and that is exactly what they are doing now. It would resonate because a significant amount of Americans remember the Clinton Years as being good years compared to the Dubya Years.

And, alas, there is little reason to fret about the possibility of a paralysis of government. Senate Democrats struck a bargain with Senate Republicans to block Obama nominees and prevent President Obama from making any recess appointments while senators were back home campaigning for the midterm elections. This means Republicans and Democrats are willing to either push for or be complicit in the paralysis of government.

Plus, in the run-up to the election, Democrats have failed to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and pass a 9/11 First Responders health care, a small business bill, and a defense supplemental. They also struggled to get jobless benefits extended. All they were able to get through were measures comparable to resolutions commending the University of Southern California men’s tennis team or acts to provide for the issuance of a Multinational Species Conservation Fund Symposium stamp.

Change Takes Time, Give Obama a Chance

Loyal Democrats and Obama supporters call reasoned debunking of fears disloyal, unforgiveable, and even criminal because they argue such thoughts enter the echo chamber of political debate, mesh with reactionary Tea Party outrage toward President Obama and make it harder for President Obama. That notion should be challenged. There is a key difference between the type of criticism offered above and that of the Tea Party, which Democrats are rightfully committed to defeating: it isn’t malicious nonsense based in racism or unfounded fears of socialism.

Also, as Robert Scheer, Truthdig editor-in-chief and journalist, said in a Live Chat earlier this year, criticism of the president would only strengthen the Obama Administration if it came from the grassroots and the people around him had to deliver to the people who vote.

Those who discuss what to do in politics and how to vote in elections are members of the informed citizenry, which Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson understood would be the “true repository of the public will.” People willing to engage each other are those who understand their responsibility toward shaping a political and social culture that will contribute to a society where all people share in setting the agenda and bear the consequences for agendas which jeopardize the wellbeing of the country.

Not just during elections, this citizenry is expected to not leave the most pressing issues untended. It is not to allow suffering or let profit-driven competition-oriented ethics pervert democratic culture. Yet, the nature of elections has us all behaving as pundits, strategists, or managers of democracy.

Saturated with advertising or political party propaganda filtered through print, radio, television, etc, the citizenry or grassroots that the experiment of democracy depends upon to survive begins to think and operate like the very bums it increasingly wishes to see out of power. It lets “electability” get in the way of supporting candidates, a corporate idea that primarily rests upon whether that candidate can raise millions or billions of dollars and demonstrate support from the private sector.

At the nation’s peril, those who most care about this country devalue elections by letting pundits choose the issues that matter. In this election, jobs and the economy became the top issue and how economic problems were framed. What if the framing had been unemployment and privatization? Or corporate power and accountability?

Wars are determined to be unimportant to Americans or unworthy of being a key election issue, a crude victory for the military industrial-complex or war profiteers who sap American taxpayer dollars and continue to waste the blood of US soldiers and civilians for their own gain. Three to four trillion dollars will be expended on Iraq, hundreds if not trillions more on Afghanistan, and, so, the wars are most certainly important and should be a part of any discussion of jobs and the economy.

Another key problem is the catnap the collective takes between elections. The late Howard Zinn understood how a people could truly bring hope and change to a country having seen an inspirational civil rights movement make huge gains in the Fifties and Sixties. In a still relevant article, “Election Madness,” he wrote:

“Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war.

Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”

Corporate executives and business managers are and have been waging direct action. They have foreseen what many of us have thought to be the unexpected and engaged in “crisis management” at the expense of Americans (e.g. the economic crisis of 2008). They have been ready to contain any change that citizens and politicians might deem fit for this country so that their enterprise does not face consequences for misconduct. They have even taken opportunities for change and aggressively turned those opportunities into chances to leverage power over government so they can reap huge financial or monetary advantages in the long run.

They have it easy with a revolving door spinning between their offices and the halls of power. But, that doesn’t mean citizens should go cynical and give up. It doesn’t mean they should let the failures of the Democratic and Republican Parties turn Americans cynical and pessimistic. And, it doesn’t mean it is required that citizens abbreviate or modify their condemnations of government to suit the so-called politics of the possible.

Voting one’s conscience wouldn’t be such a problem if one could point to key movements that are out in force making gains independent from the two political parties in between Election Days. Unfortunately, unions and civil rights organizations have been bought off by Democratic Party operatives and all the Republican Party is interested in is maximizing the efficiency of fake grassroots organizations, which are front groups for corporate and special interests in America.


There’s something insane about American elections, that’s for certain. But, it isn’t the Tea Party. It isn’t that we get candidates like Christine O’Donnell or Alvin Greene. It isn’t even that guys like the “Rent Is Too Damn High” candidate in New York somehow manage to get into debates. It’s the idea that only two candidates are allowed to run against each other and all other candidates, even if they win ballot access, are off limits to voters that is insane.

People who wish to restore sanity: having more than two candidates means society gets more than a party of “no” in power or a party of no ideas in power. It means a third or fourth person can cut through arguments that deepen division and offer input that may lead to democratic consensus necessary for true progress in society.

Open, free and fair multi-party elections won’t come now, but let this election be a teaching moment. Support for a third party alternative in politics is between fifty and sixty percent each time organizations poll Americans. And, surprisingly, Howard Dean has come out in favor of ranked choice voting, something that would do away with winner-take-all elections that have contributed to conflict among liberals or progressives.

Obama may not be able to change the culture or process of politics in Washington, but absent our involvement, we shouldn’t expect him to.

As Stewart said to President Obama, “Are we the people we were waiting for or does it turn out those people are still out there and we don’t have their number?”

There probably are phone calls to be made, but Americans do hold the answers to their future and can continue to push for a society supportive of all people, if they want it.

One Nation Working Together to Keep the Democrats from Losing the Midterms

10:35 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Tens of thousands of Americans will gather in front of the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow to stand for jobs, education, equality, and justice and put forth a distinct alternative to the Tea Party narrative that the media has become captivated by | Photo by wikimediacommons

Organizers of a liberal event called "One Nation Working Together" expect a hundred thousand Americans to gather in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, October 2nd, to advocate for jobs, education, equality, and justice. One month before the midterm elections, hundreds of organizations–many of them major organizations the Democratic Party needs to help them get-out-the-vote (GOTV) for November–will send a message to Democrats: No matter how much you beat upon the base for raising its voice and offering healthy criticism, progressives will still vote for you.

NAACP President, Ben Jealous, expressed the main concern of the organizers and told the Associated Press, "It’s critical that as we stand there on Oct. 2, that people think about Nov. 2, that they own the fact that what happens on Election Day is up to them"We need people to stand up now, at this key moment in this country, when there’s so much at stake."

There is definitely much at stake. But, as each year progresses, it becomes less and less clear why Americans think they can squeeze any sort of meaningful reform out of a political or electoral system, which continues to be increasingly controlled and influenced by corporate and special interest organizations (most recently, shadowy organizations like American Crossroads that use millions to go after true advocates for the people like Sen. Russ Feingold).

The lead organizers have chosen to organize under the belief that all Americans "deserve a just and fair chance to achieve the American Dream" and America’s "national identity is rooted in the ideal that all people regardless of race, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, heritage or ability should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential." That is a belief, one that a number of Americans unfortunately would quibble with.

It is a belief worth defending and entrenching into policy proposals and agenda items that progressives can advocate for and push President Obama and Congress to support. Yet, the coalition says, "One Nation Working Together will chart a bold, pragmatic path toward a more unified, sustainable, prosperous future by building support for these core principles and policy ideals." [emphasis added]

In other words, it seems like the coalition seeks to extend the political culture, which has diminished the capability of the Obama Administration so greatly. It hopes for compromise or consensus to create a way forward when there are certain ideas, like the ones this coalition purports to stand for, that Republicans and Democrats will fashion to suit corporations with boards who will never let shared ideals get in the way of profit. It seems like the coalition wishes to uphold a rationale for tolerance and diversity and apply checks and balances to efforts to make ideas correspond with reality.

Organizations endorsing this event break down into categories: environmental, GLBT, education, unions, college, immigrant rights, and peace and justice. Each of issues-based organization within each category likely has a mission that they wish to achieve. And, each likely understands the importance of attaining certain objectives especially since there are very few among non-profit organizations that would say they are in it for the money.

It is hard to accept that any organizations in any of these categories would be pragmatic in their endeavors especially in these times.

Environmental organizations share a commitment to the preservation of the planet and taking measures to prevent further environmental destruction. They understand the science of global warming and intend to contribute to human efforts to curb the impact global warming. They can never find common ground with those in the Christian Right and those who work for energy corporations or free market enterprise think tanks paid to produce pseudo-science to create support for their conscious destruction of the Earth.

GLBT organizations share a dedication to achieving equality for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. They understand that America’s Constitution does not prohibit them from loving and marrying someone who is the same gender as they are. And, they believe they should enjoy the equality that most Americans especially white Americans have always enjoyed. They can never compromise with military generals that would prevent them from serving in the military or Mormons who would use theology to prevent gay and lesbian couples from having a family.

Education organizations share a pledge to preserve access to education for all Americans. From history, education organizations know public education has been the very system that ensures all Americans get an education. They understand the way to improving education is through enriching public schools and not charter schools or merit-pay proposals that have proven to little to improve the education of students. They can never compromise with for-profit education institutions or Secretary of Arne Duncan and President Obama, whose Race to the Top schemes pit students and teachers against other students and teachers in America.

Union organizations share an allegiance to the workers who are members of their organization. Presumably, those who fill their ranks need them to stand up to Big Banks, fight for moratoriums on foreclosures, health care for all, and living wages for all, preserve the right to collective bargaining, be on the offensive when it comes to expressing the value of unions to a free and democratic society, etc. They cannot compromise with business executives on Wall Street, free market think tanks like the American Enterprise Foundation, or even the officials who work for regulatory agencies and the political leaders who fail to stick up for unions when they are most in need.

College organizations function under the idea that every young American has a right to a college education. They believe that all banks should be able to provide loans to students so students can go to school. They also believe in colleges being affordable. They cannot compromise with banks that refuse to give money to students, political leaders that cut funding to grant programs that help students pay for college, or universities that are more interested in profit than education.

Immigrant rights organizations operate under the notion that they have just as much right to citizenship in the United States as other Americans do. They deserve to be given human rights just like other hard working Americans. They cannot compromise with architects of state and federal laws like SB1070, defenders of ICE raids which tear apart families, and bigots who cling to a brand of nationalism that does not include them.

Finally, peace and justice organizations share the idea that wars should not be prosecuted especially when they involve the investment of money that could be put toward fueling an economy. They especially understand that wars waged on false pretenses, that entail incidents that violate laws and treaties are unacceptable. They cannot compromise with the military-industrial complex, Pentagon leaders and military generals craving victory in the Middle East, or political leaders who haven’t the moral fortitude or courage to end funding for wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan now. They also cannot compromise with agencies, which spy on and seek to infiltrate them, or leaders that support spying and infiltration by agencies like the FBI as they seek to organize.

Pragmatic tactics have been what has dragged this Administration’s approval rating down. It and President Obama’s failure to, as Rabbi Michael Lerner of the Network for Spiritual Progressives pointed out, "consistently speak the truth, tell us and the country what was really happening in the corridors of power and what the constraints are that he was facing," has made it impossible for changes to get through unscathed by obstructionist Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans, lobbyists, and corporate interests.

All Americans hoping this event brings forward new changes or revitalizes the prospect of real change under an Obama Administration should ask leaders of this event what they mean when they use the word "pragmatic." They should ask them to explain what they expect to get out of Democrats and how they expect to get it especially since, recently, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" failed to be repealed, the DREAM Act, a small business bill, and a 9/11 First Responders health care failed to pass and a vote on a climate change bill or middle class tax cuts failed to happen. And, all because the Democratic Party leadership refused to stand up against moneyed interests and be champions for the people.

Organizers have unfortunately been swept up in another election frenzy. It is, therefore, reasonable to re-read the fine words of the late Howard Zinn and commiserate over the fact that we still have yet to "free ourselves from the election madness engulfing the entire society, including the left" and the reality that "we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

It is an understandable reaction to wonder why organizers are not willing to give Americans who are discontent with this country’s two-party system an outlet for expression. After all, nowhere in the organizers’ list of policy principles is there any mention of advocating for instant run-off voting or other electoral reforms that might make it possible for Americans to vote for what they believe in instead of always voting against individuals in elections.

I will be at the "One Nation" event tomorrow. I intend to post updates, which feature interviews with people. While I am skeptical of the tactics organizers want to use to achieve these ideas, I wholeheartedly support the values and principles that the coalition has come together to support. I am especially pleased to see the economy being connected to peace and justice groups.

I look forward to reaching out to all those who are working to create change from the bottom up and hope to see tens of thousands of people in front of the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow.

Faced With Mosque Madness, Democrats Invert Frederick Douglass’ Key Rule for Change

9:09 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola



The response to developers and supporters with connections to the Muslim community in New York City, who wish to construct an Islamic cultural center that many now refer to as the "Ground Zero Mosque," has a toxicity that is repulsive and entirely objectionable. Unfortunately, Democrats have shown an utter lack of leadership and continue to fail to confront the right wing’s whipping up of hysterical patriotism that has translated into fear and hatred toward Muslims.


This isn’t the first time they have been spineless or weak on an issue (which is why they should consider changing their mascot from a donkey to an invertebrate). And, normally, one may want to suggest that they are actually in agreement with Republicans so their words in opposition to the GOP are to appease Democratic voters because in the end they know they won’t be able to build political support in Congress to stop Republicans from getting their way. However, with leaders like Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Howard Dean out in front on this, it’s quite clear that many Democrats empathize with the Muslim community but subscribe to an inversion of a key belief that American abolitionist, orator, writer, statesman Frederick Douglass had about change.


Douglass is remembered for saying, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."


Howard Dean, who clearly subscribes to inverting this Douglass’ quote, suggested that the "mosque" be moved:


"This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are "justified" or not. No doubt the Republic will survive if this center is built on its current site or not. But I think this is a missed opportunity to try to have an open discussion about why this is a big deal, because it is a big deal to a lot of Americans who are not just right-wing politicians pushing the hate button again. I think those people need to be heard respectfully, whether they are right or whether they are wrong"


Dean’s position subverts the tradition of progress in America. Glenn Greenwald suggested to Dean that is position was similar to if African-Americans, who wanted to sit at the front of the bus, had been told to be sensitive because some people weren’t ready for equality so why not compromise and sit in the middle of the bus. Certainly, if people like Dean had handled the situation during the civil rights era, they would have sought to minimize the struggle being waged against white supremacists by those who were for equality. And how much change would have taken place? What important conversations would have been avoided? What injustices would not have been corrected?


But, this is typical Democratic Party gutlessness and not surprising; it’s how Democrats approached the debate on health care. They maintained Democratic politicians needed to compromise with politicians promoting fear of a government takeover of health care and the notion of "death panels." They allowed Republicans to obstruct their health care agenda and, ultimately, Republicans won because no public option or Medicare buy-in made it into the final legislation.


This is also the same frail and hapless ideology Democrats have adopted in the face of the conservative media echo chamber who have won victories and hung the scalps of Van Jones, Dawn Johnsen, and Shirley Sherrod on their "hunter’s wall" as a testament of their power over Democrats. They’ve also successfully imposed career barriers for Yosi Sergeant, Shepard Fairey, Patrick Gaspard, Cass Sunstein, John Holdren, and Mark Lloyd all people who were going to be part of the Obama Administration until the right wing began to make insane claims about what the aforementioned people stood for.


The Democrats have treated this as a problem. Rather than work to shift the anti-Islam consensus growing in this country, party leaders have negligently hoped the resistance to the "mosque" would go away (liberal op-ed writers have even promoted this hope).


Sen. Reid (D-NV) has stated, "The First Amendment protects freedom of religion" but "the mosque should be built some place else."


Jeff Greene, a Democrat running for the Senate in Florida, has claimed, "President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged [about] and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers." He makes a distinction between the right to build the mosque and the need for common sense and respect for those who lost loved ones in 9/11.


Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) has said, "There should be some discussion about what is right morally, as well as just what you’re allowed to do"I think that the people who are supportive of putting the mosque there are missing the point of the impact and the devastation that [Sept. 11] had to us as a country."


A number of New York Democrats have chosen to not stand up to those opposed to the project, who advance the belief that Islam is an entirely objectionable religion (as some in the movement against the "mosque" would contend, a "cult" religion from "the pit of Hell").


Rep. Mike McMahon has said, "Muslim Americans deserve the right to practice their faith — as we all do. I believe a new location is the right compromise so that Muslim Americans can worship without eliciting feelings that push us away from our country’s basic tenet of religious acceptance while the families of 9/11 victims obtain the peace of mind they deserve."


Rep. Steve Israel has explained, "While they have a constitutional right to build the mosque, it would be better if they had demonstrated more sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims. I urge them to do so before proceeding further."


Rep. Tim Bishop, has asserted, "As a New Yorker, I believe ground zero is sacred ground and should unite us. If the group seeking to build the mosque is sincere in its efforts to bring people together, I would urge them to seek an alternative location which is less divisive. I dispute the wisdom of building at that location, not the constitutional right."


And, Democratic Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-NY) actually forced Republican challenger Richard Hanna to flip-flop. Hanna had said, "It’s extremely easy to understand why people are upset by this, but this country was founded by people who were running away from religious persecution." But, Arcuri asserted, "The pain felt by many Americans from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is still very real, and I can understand how the thought of building a mosque near Ground Zero could reopen those wounds. For the sake of the victims and their families, I think another location should be chosen."


Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) lack of leadership has muddied the situation by writing a letter with an incoherent position saying he supported the "constitutional protection of religion from the overreach of government" but that he wanted sensitivity and concern for 9/11 families to be displayed.


One Democrat from New York, Jerrold Nadler, has been sharp in his statements in favor of the Islamic cultural center. Nadler said on CNN’s "State of the Union":


NADLER: [W]hat they are saying essentially is how can you put a mosque there when, after all, Muslims attacked us on 9/11, and this is ripping open a wound? Well, the fallacy is that Al Qaida attacked us. Islam did not attack us. Islam, like Christianity, like Judaism, like other religions, has many different people, some of whom regard other adherents of the religion as heretics of one sort or another. It is only insensitive if you regard Islam as the culprit, as opposed to Al Qaida as the culprit. We were not attacked by all Muslims. And there were Muslims who were killed there, there were Muslims who were killed there. There were Muslims who ran in as first responders to help. And we cannot take any position like that. [emphasis added]


Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) has been out in front on this. So has House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, but she didn’t help. Her statement, which was a call to investigate the "mosque opposition," was red meat for the wolves, who likely heard Pelosi and immediately thought Pelosi should be investigated to see if she is funded by radical Islamic charities.


The two Muslim-Americans in Congress have voiced support. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has urged Americans to not let those opposed to the Islamic cultural center "write the recruiting script" for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups. And, Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) supports the "mosque" and asked, "Are we a country of laws and principles? Or are we a question who will be moved by the winds of emotion each and every time there are issues that come up to divert us from the true meaning and intent of the Founding Fathers?"


Americans have heard Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rep. Peter King, Rudy Giuliani, Rick Lazio, Carl Paladino, Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, William Kristol, and a plethora of members from the anti-Islam industry who have appeared on FOX News and CNN (all supporters of the group,, which has made this a controversy. Unfortunately, when Democrats fail to provide a distinct position and alternative to the agenda of hate being put forth by right wing leaders and scholars, they become complicit and partly responsible.


The seething and venomous mob that has taken over the discussion on what Muslims will do if a cultural center is built near Ground Zero will not accept compromise. They don’t deserve any sympathy or understanding. They will never sit down and listen to the reasons why Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and others want to build the center. They will only make more citizens in the world think America supports a war on Islam.


Democrats, and, more importantly, Americans must use this struggle as opportunity to make progress. It is a chance for truth and reconciliation with the Muslim community in America, something Americans desperately need so they can abandon the post-9/11 mentality that has shackled this nation in chains of fear and anxiety and produced phobic movements like the one we are witnessing in New York against a so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" and other Islamic places of worship in the country.


The following is from the "Stop the Islamization of America" Rally held against the "Ground Zero Mosque" on Sunday, August 22nd. It shows protesters mistaking an African-American man for a Muslim, a prime example of the hatred fueling this movement against Islam.

Oil Leak Press Conference: Must Domestic Oil Production Continue?

2:50 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

President Obama held a press conference this afternoon and gave the White House press corps an opportunity to gain more information on the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama announced four key oil explorations/operations moratoriums (both temporary and possibly permanent) during the press conference. He did not, however, announce a permanent end to offshore drilling or an end to domestic oil production.

The four key "moratoriums" announced were: a suspension of planned exploration of two locations off the coast of Alaska, the cancellation of a pending lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico and the proposed lease sale off
the coast of Virginia, a continuation of the moratorium on the issuance of permits to drill new deepwater wells for six months, and a suspension of action on 33 deepwater exploratory wells being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico.

While such action is commendable and a necessary response to the disaster, how long will these "moratoriums" last?

The way Obama framed the situation, it seems like the future of the oil industry and when these "moratoriums" are lifted or not lifted will rest in the hands of the independent commission the

Obama Administration is organizing (former Sen. Bob Graham and former head of EPA William K. Reilly were recently appointed to head the commission; five more members will be added to the commission soon).

Obama repeated four times the reality that domestic oil production was "important" and not going to become a thing of the past as a result of the disaster.

After outlining failures of oversight among members of the Minerals Management Services (MMS), the federal regulatory agency taking the fall for most of the negligence within government prior to this disaster, Obama said, "I continue to believe that oil production is important, domestic oil production is important. But I also believe, we can’t do this stuff if we don’t have confidence that we can prevent crises from — like this from happening again."

Obama did not discuss the reality that accidents will happen again. He did, however, suggest that something must be done to ensure that "worst-case scenarios" do not happen again. But, how can government reasonably assure that something like this will not happen in the future? What does federal government have to do to
regulate the wider oil industry properly?

Obama and others involved in the response effort are presumably aware of what went on between BP and government. Obama said during the conference, "the oil industry’s cozy and sometimes corrupt relationship with government regulators meant little or no regulation at all." Members of the administration may not publicly admit it, but they know such a cozy relationship cannot continue if accidents are going to be prevented (and, right now, there is little sign that the close ties government enjoys with oil companies like BP are going to be severed).

And, supposing the MMS, Environmental Protection Agency, and other regulatory agencies involved in regulating did bring an end to their practices of negligence and facilitation, which contributed to the BP oil disaster, is that really enough to ensure future disasters do not happen? All too often the leadership in government is willing to let corporations like BP practice self-regulation, a dangerous policy as evidenced by it’s decisions to take cost-cutting measures over safety measures that would have contributed to the prevention of the disaster.

Capitol Hill has been teeming with hearings, which anyone can watch on C-SPAN. Executives and lawyers affiliated with Transocean, Halliburton and BP (and other companies with connections to the disaster and cleanup effort) have all been appearing before political leaders to answer questions about what their company
did and did not do. Many are forcing executives to address the $75 million liability cap, a cap that is part of a law known as the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, which was passed after the Exxon Valdez disaster. Political leaders want to know if BP and all those involved are going to pay damages over the cap to people most affected by the disaster.

Of course, all are willing to commit to pay over. They’re willing to make that corporate promise. They’re even willing to change the law so the companies they work for will have to give up more of their profits. How surprising…

Congressmen ask what they would suggest the law be changed to and executives indicate that they have suggestions on what would be good alterations to the cap and the entire law.

Isn’t this backwards? Why should the corporations responsible for this get to suggest what the new laws should be? But, that’s the way it goes and why corporate promises to pay "legitimate claims" over the liability cap in the law deserve a certain level of skepticism. What’s to say that these tacit commitments become anything more than tacit commitments? What keeps these executives and politicians from going to a back room to negotiate ways to externalize the costs and pass it off to Americans, the consumers and

Obama was unwilling to ask citizens to consider the costs of oil consumption or oil as a key energy source used in America. Instead, he said, "And in the meantime, I should also say that Americans can help by
continuing to visit the communities and beaches of the Gulf Coast. I was
talking to the governors just a couple of days ago, and they wanted me to
remind everybody that, except for three beaches in Louisiana, all of the Gulf’s
beaches are open, they are safe and they are clean."

Obama would rather citizens be consumers than conservationists conscientious and concerned about their impact and America’s impact on the globe.

People know the corporations are willing to take risks. Like corporations on Wall Street, they find it entirely acceptable to gamble and let citizens suffer the consequences of their greedy or negligent business practices. And, if government is going to have such a "cozy relationship," they know their will be no repercussions for their behavior.

Oil companies in America involved in domestic oil production and offshore drilling will always be cutting corners. In this moment, Obama and most politicians are content with reassuring concerned citizens that from now on the federal government will be properly enforcing regulations. Unfortunately, this has been said before and warrants skepticism.

If government regulation of oil corporations is what stands between us and another worst-case scenario oil disaster, than it’s perhaps necessary to rethink the notion of drilling and producing oil in this country altogether.

So, on domestic oil production and the idea that it must be part of the energy mix in America, is that really how it has to be? This editorial — "12 Steps to Get U.S. Off Oil" —offers some ideas worth considering. And, this
from the National Journal titled, "How Can the U.S. Wean Itself Off of Oil?" has some good insight too.

Unfortunately, in the same way that shopping wasn’t an acceptable citizen response to 9/11, going to the beach is not an acceptable citizen response to this disaster. Finding the collective will within our country to get off oil so as to actually help prevent future BP oil disasters is a much better response instead.

Media Coverage of Reid Deepens America’s Illiteracy, Fear, and Anxiety Toward Race

10:11 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr photo by Vermin Inc


The media spent a full day on Monday, January 11th, dissecting and reconstructing the surface meaning of Sen. Harry Reid’s remarks on Obama, which most pundits and political leaders have characterized as racist. It’s a good thing the media was given this distraction because with health care slipping into oblivion and the CIA bomber in Afghanistan and the botched bombing on Christmas Day the media was probably getting uncomfortable (one wonders how far away some newsrooms were from exploring the real motivations of the CIA bomber more closely or discussing how an "Israeli firm "failed to detect would-be bomber").


The remarks from Reid became the subject of discussion over the weekend as it became evident that Reid was quoted saying that Obama was a good choice because he was "light skinned" and described him as someone "with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one" in Mark Halperin’s and John Heileman’s Game Change, a book that provided the media a fantastical opportunity to divert attention away from real issues to personalities they long and yearn to cover once again but can’t because the 2008 Election is over.


Reid’s remark was almost immediately placed alongside Trent Lott’s remark on Strom Thurmond that contributed to his political demise. Lott said in 2002, "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either."


The discussion became focused on whether Lott’s "racist remark" and Reid’s "racist remark" were comparable or not. And, the debate was trotted out and rehashed on all the biggest and best news shows.


On January 9, 2010, Mark Preston, CNN’s Political Editor, appeared on CNN Newsroom at 5 pm ET and said, "This is a huge embarrassment. It’s a big deal because it will always dog him." Preston added that he would be in "deep trouble of not winning re-election" as a result of this remark.


Author of The Breakthrough, Gwen Ifill, was on NBC News at 7 am ET and agreed with Matt Lauer that dark-skinned African-Americans who speak in a way that some would consider more stereotypical would not be electable." Ifill added, "If the person is very much different from who they are or what they perceive," it’s almost a political science that "they [Americans] are less likely to vote for that person."


As a member of Sean Hannity’s "Great American Panel," Tucker Carlson essentially agreed that what Reid had said was true. But, then the panel had a problem because if it was true they would have to explore whether America was a racist country or not so the discussion quickly took a turn in another direction more comfortable for Deirdre Imus, whom Hannity had on the panel to remind Americans of the insanity that Don Imus faced after he made a racist remark.


Eugene Robinson appeared on Countdown on MSNBC and said, "I don’t think I would disagree with what he said about light-skinned versus dark-skinned African-Americans and their acceptance by the larger society. But, clearly he didn’t—whatever he was trying to say—he didn’t say it the right way. " 


A commonality from these discussion emerged. Lott’s statement was racist but Reid’s was only racist to a point. Actually, it wasn’t really racist because it was a comment on political reality in America. So, Reid wasn’t necessarily wrong but he said it in the wrong way. What a lousy idea for Americans to think about?


Thinking about how Reid said what he said "the wrong way" does nothing to advance the conversation on race in America. And, perhaps, that was the intention. Certainly, the media has become trained at talking about race in a manner that conveniently skirts the inequalities that all people of color face when it comes to jobs, housing, education, voting, etc.


The way markets and other systems in our society take advantage of poverty prevalent among African-Americans can easily be supported with facts and figures that one might find in Tim Wise’s Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama or Paul Street’s Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.


But, the media are probably more comfortable with exploring the advantages of a "color-blind society," the kind of society that the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s Communications Director Brian Walsh would like to "one day live in" but feel they cannot so long as people like Harry Reid are out making public remarks that allude to racial inequality in America.


Media pundits would rather pontificate on what’s a racist remark and what isn’t. And, in that case, what is a racist remark? Was Reid’s comment even close to a racial slur, as many would suggest?


Well, since Reid’s remark doesn’t come close to equating Obama to a porch monkey, spook, spade, moolie, jigaboo, or nig-nog, it’s not overtly racist. He wasn’t like George Allen and didn’t use the word "macaca" to describe Obama.


Was the remark subtly racist? No more racist than the census, which will give African-Americans an option to classify themselves as "Negro" when they fill out the 2010 Census.


No more racist than Joe Biden’s comment on how Obama was the "first mainstream African-American who [was] articulate and bright and clean and a nice-talking guy" to be successfully campaigning for the White House.


It’s certainly not as racist as Newt Gingrich’s comment that "We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country, and so they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."


Or, this comment from MSNBC Political Analyst Pat Buchanan:

"White men were 100 percent of the people who wrote the Constitution, 100 percent of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100 percent of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100 percent of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks. If I look at the U.S. track team in the Olympics and they’re all black folks, I don’t automatically assume it’s discrimination."


Or, this comment from Vice President Joe Biden, "You cannot go to a 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian Accent."


This nation hasn’t just been exposed to a range of racist remarks from political leaders and political pundits in recent years (which Rachel Maddow incorporated into her segment on Reid’s remark on January 10), but this nation has heard football commentators like Howard Cosell liken football players to monkeys and heard people like Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder complain about how black people were taking coaching jobs from white people.


This nation has seen Michael Richards become enraged and go off on a seemingly racist rant after he could no longer take the heckling coming from a table of four African Americans and heard Don Imus remark on "nappy-headed hos" and Rush Limbaugh comment about slavery and how the streets were safer 100 years ago.


If I have to pick one comment that sticks out from the media coverage of Reid’s remark, Brown University African Studies Department Chair, Tricia Rose, wins.


After Maddow played a montage of racist comments on her show January 10, Rose responded, "I’m actually kind of flabbergasted by the degree to which these vastly different statements with entirely different meanings, contexts, and intents can be collapsed. And it’s really quite dangerous, frankly. It’s only enhancing what is already a deep level of illiteracy and fear and anxiety about really addressing race."


I wholly agree with it and think all Americans should consider what she said.


To the extent that we define our understanding of racism in this country by what people say and what we think we mean, we fail to recognize the real elements of racism in America. We miss the underlying subtle structures that have elements of institutional racism, which managed to survive after the civil rights movement in the 1960s and which have perhaps became more strong and robust after Third Way president Bill Clinton made his changes to welfare and other social policies in the 1990s.


As a culture, we miss the way these elements of racism now ensure the production of non-white political leaders who care more about their careers and the corporations that will be funding their election and re-election campaigns and less about the social and environmental injustices, which eat away at the soul of communities filled with low-income and unemployed Americans, particularly Americans who are people of color.


We also doom ourselves and ensure we will fixate on why people like Reid are cosmetically wrong to say what they say on race instead of allowing the ideology of such comments on race to supersede the remarks’ cosmetic failings.