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Glenn Greenwald: Bush/Cheney Approach to Civil Liberties Has Been Continued & Embraced by Obama [VIDEO]

3:31 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The Socialism Conference was held in Chicago, IL, over the weekend. On Saturday, July 3, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald delivered a speech on civil liberties in the age of President Obama.

I attended the conference and recorded Greenwald’s speech. Throughout the next couple of days, I will be posting video of his speech and, eventually, a full transcript of it will be made available.

In this first part, Greenwald discusses how it has become conventional wisdom that Obama has continued many of the Bush Administration policies, which were once regarded as policies that shredded the Constitution, but now in Democratic circles it is considered to be “Democratic consensus.”

He describes how one year ago it was “controversial” and “provocative” to utter observations that President Obama had virtually continued “the entirety of the Bush/Cheney approach to the war on civil liberties and terrorism.” It was something people found “repellent.” But, now, it has become “so obvious” and “self-evidently true.”

That it has become so blatantly obvious means one no longer has to spend time proving the existence of continuity between the two administrations, Greenwald argues.

One of Greenwald’s most salient points is made as he highlights how the Bush-following American right has had to acknowledge Bush policies have continued under Obama and thus admit he has been strong and courageous on national security.

“The reason why I find it interesting that even the right wing is willing to acknowledge these policies have continued under the Obama presidency is for decades the Republicans have gained really potently on a political level from accusing Democrats of being weak on national security or soft on terrorism in the age of terror,” Greenwald suggests.

He adds:

Now, weak on national security in American political parlance doesn’t mean that somebody shies away from acts of strength and courage. And similarly, strength and national courage doesn’t mean that one acts strongly or engages in acts of courage. It means the opposite. What strength and national security means is a willingness to send other people’s children off to war to risk their lives to kill large numbers of civilians in foreign countries.

Greenwald cites Jack Goldsmith, former National Security Agency head under former President George W. Bush, Michael Hayden, and former Vice President Dick Cheney as proof that one of Obama’s greatest achievements among the political and ruling elite in America is that he has made what was once controversial, and seen as right wing radicalism, part of a bipartisan political consensus. And, by making this part of a consensus, Greenwald argues, debate is effectively ended; the policies are no longer objectionable to the political class in Washington.

Finally, Greenwald notes liberal professors and leaders of liberal groups like the ACLU have noted the continuity and expressed their disgust and outrage at the fact that the assault on civil liberties has continued and in some cases escalated under President Obama.

Discussion of civil liberties and the Obama administration’s assault has been largely absent from conversations. At liberal conferences, discussion has been pushed to the margins.

Netroots Nation had one panel, “What the Government Wants to Know About You,” that looked at some of the policies expanding under Obama. There was little talk about Guantanamo and lack of accountability for torture. Liberal organizers focused on the right wing attack on the middle class, avoiding outright condemnation of the bipartisan support that President Obama has created on national security (although Kaili Joy Gray of Daily Kos did ask White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer why Guantanamo hasn’t been closed).

In October, the liberal Campaign for America’s Future that holds a “Take Back America” conference each year is rebranding their conference, “Take Back the American Dream.” Led by Van Jones, there will likely be minimal conversation on civil liberties or national security policy, as the focus will involve a much more politically safe discussion on jobs and unemployment.

A key difference between those who attend Netroots and “Take Back America” conferences and those who attend Socialism conferences is the fact that those in attendance seldom consist of people with radical views, which in American history have been openly condemned and in many cases left people with those views open to government smearing and prosecution. Those with socialist views understand what many liberals take for granted, why civil liberties must be protected.

How can one fight a right wing assault on what Democratic Party operatives term the middle class if one’s civil liberties or rights under the constitution have been entirely stripped away or rendered meaningless, especially in cases when one is challenging power?

There’s a Twitter town hall tomorrow at 2 pm ET. This is an opportunity to undermine liberal organization leaderships’ efforts to make nice with the Obama Administration and overlook the Administration’s ever-expanding assault on civil liberties by doubling down on Bush Administration “war on terror” policies.

Purify the Tweet stream for #AskObama with lots of questions and remarks on the continuity between the Bush and Obama Administrations.

*Go here for Part 2 of Glenn Greenwald’s speech.

A Brief History Lesson for Americans on Zimbabwe from Delta Ndou [VIDEO]

3:53 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

More than a week ago, I attended the Netroots Nation 2011 conference. I had the privilege of interviewing Tim DeChristopher and Lt. Dan Choi. Both DeChristopher and Choi are brave and courageous individuals but not as brave and courageous as Zimbabwe feminist blogger Delta Ndou.

Here in America as part of the Washington Foreign Press Center (FPC) reporting tour on Blogging for Social and Political Change, Ndou had the task, as she describes in a blog post, of deciding whether to “silently endure whatever remarks were made about Zimbabwe (which remarks would naturally reflect on me) or whether [to] stand in defense of [her] country and consequently in defense of [herself].”

She had to bear the burden of talking to Americans (who likely had no clue where Zimbabwe is located on a map let alone anything about the social or political culture/history in the country). When talking, she had to choose between displaying “fierce patriotism”  or “a desperate desire to repudiate and disassociate” herself from Zimbabwe.

I heard Ndou deliver a keynote speech at Netroots Nation 2011. Her personality came through. There was something authentic about her. When she declared, “When I write, nobody can shut me up,” and added, “I blog because I know I cannot be ignored,” her passion and spirit resonated with me deeply. It reminded me of why I have always had a special place in my heart for anyone who comes from any country on the Africa continent.

Unlike people here in the United States, rarely do you meet someone from an African country that is afraid to defend freedom and actually wage a battle or struggle to reclaim dignity, liberty or rights in society. Americans just think they’ll go out and vote and it will all get better. We buy into the idea that you can export democracy and either people will get it and become democratic or they won’t. If they don’t, they are ungrateful or a culture incapable of understanding democracy. And, we Americans assume our model of democracy is the only model for a just and properly civilized society.

But, as we’ve seen with Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans, there is a conviction and dedication to struggling for justice and liberation. In countries like Morocco, Sudan, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Cameroon there are our movements that seek radical change in their country. Many of these countries have young leaders with passionate minds like Delta Ndou and are taking steps to correct injustice.

Africans have roots in a history of colonization. White Europeans colonized Africa.

Americans have roots in a history of colonization too. We colonized America and drove the Native Americans from their land.

That may be why a person from Zimbabwe would have such a starkly different perspective than an American. Zimbabweans (especially black Zimbabweans) have historically been expected to be subservient to a colonial, white power structure. We Americans (especially whites) have been able to throw power around and get anything unless a minority challenged the colonial nature of white power.

Ndou participated in a panel at Netroots Nation, “Changing of the Guard: Youth Leading Democracy.” She was gracious and granted me some time to talk to her after the panel.

I noted that during her keynote she mentioned that people all over the world had a lot of stereotypes about Zimbabwe. I asked her if she could tell me about what some of them might be. She gave me a look of pity and disbelief and said, “Okay, but you’re going to have to bear with me. This is going to be a bit long.”

Her answer was a narrative of the recent history of Zimbabwe told with great energy and genuine candor.

One of the things that Zimbabwe has received a backlash for is the landgrabs that that took place some years ago when war veterans just invaded farms and took over. That incident, I think, in many cases it has been reported without giving a background or a context to what happened and why it happened and what led to that.

She explained that after Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980 the British promised Zimbabweans a land redistribution program in ten years. Why? Because 2,000 white people owned 70% of the land and a population of 13 million owned 30% of the land, most of it not arable.

I’ll stop there and let Delta finish the story for you in the vibrant way she communicates it in the video.

She ends saying, “Americans have a sense of justice and fairness so it always baffles me that they don’t understand the issue is the land, not Mugabe.”

*

Ndou’s blog can be found here – It’s Delta.

After you watch the video, read her take on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

My stay in America presented me with numerous opportunities and platforms to correct a few misconceptions about Zimbabwe and it was gratifying to realize that my views found a receptive audience in the persons of senior, high-ranking US Government officials because the meetings had an exciting no-holds-barred atmosphere that allows for candid dialogue.

It was this atmosphere of candor that allowed me to quiz the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith McHale on the great amount of blame that I felt America should take for the systematic demonizing and distortion of Zimbabwe and its image internationally that has prevailed in recent years.

My query had been prompted by the fact that she had informed us that, “US Diplomacy involves making efforts to reach out and strengthen relations between the US government, its citizens and people all over the globe. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton appreciate and understand the importance of engaging people and having conversations with them that will move us forward. They are both exemplary by going out and listening and learning and sharing ideas with people everywhere”.

I had wondered whether either President Obama or Secretary Clinton having understood the “importance of engaging people and having conversations with them” had ever held such dialogues with President Mugabe prior to kicking off their administration’s foreign policy by declaring that the US Government intended to extend sanctions in Zimbabwe.

I wondered whether they had afforded President Mugabe the simple courtesy of hearing him out before falling in with the stance assumed by the Bush administration and being aware of the fact that President Obama had given Prime Minister Tsvangirai an audience – I wondered why the same invitation was not extended to President Mugabe – if only to hear both sides of the story.

I wondered too, how President Obama or Secretary Clinton could then authoritatively comment on or form opinions about President Mugabe when they had never even met with him, spoken to him or engaged him in anyway.

I wondered all these things because it is my strong feeling that I will not give credit to the views or opinions anyone expresses about on the basis of hearsay when they have never once sat down to have a dialogue with me.
In my view they become unqualified to comment by virtue of their ignorance of the subject matter – in this case the subject matter would be me.

We Americans often wonder what to do to correct the deeply entrenched problems in American society. I don’t think we need to look any further than young people like Ndou. They’ve been fighting oppression for decades and know what it means to suffer and how to fight to be free.

Lt. Dan Choi: Proud to Stand Shoulder to Shoulder with Bradley Manning

9:52 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

While at Netroots Nation 2011, I had the privilege of speaking to Lieutenant Dan Choi, who served in the US Army infantry, went to war in Iraq and graduated from West Point with a degree in Arabic.

Choi was kicked out of the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) about one year ago. At Netroots Nation, Choi celebrated his one year “anniversary or birthday” as a civilian. He also noted that despite DADT being repealed there are still soldiers getting kicked out of the military for being gay.

The US government is putting Lt. Dan Choi on trial August 29 for “demonstrating in front of the White House in November of last year.” Choi refuses to plead guilty or accept any kind of deal.

“I believe this Administration is making a grave mistake in limiting the areas, times and manners that free speech should be allowed,” declares Choi. And adds nobody should be intimidated into not protesting.

I spoke to Choi the day after he had gone with Hamsher to support Bradley Manning Support Network co-founder David House, as he went before a federal grand jury investigating individuals supportive of alleged military whistleblower Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. Choi says House is an “American hero” and “our situations are exactly the same.”

Whenever a government tries to stifle the truth by censoring the people, we sometimes take a look at the people. And that’s what’s going on with Bradley Manning. People have been trying to scapegoat him as someone who is crazy or someone who should not have gone to war but I think that Bradley Manning is a great soldier who did something as far as morality.

This was supposedly one of the first times Choi had expressed solidarity with Pfc. Manning so openly on camera.

He continues:

What the true mandate of the American servant of society is he embodied through his act. It’s no different from what Daniel Ellsberg did with the Pentagon Papers. And, I wonder what this president is about to do to this new hero of American patriotism. He is not antiwar. I want to make sure that everybody knows that. From the things that I’ve heard this soldier signed up because he believed in this country and when he saw things that were unbelievable and were being perpetrated by this country, he wasn’t attacking this country. He was trying to teach this country what this mandate of service really was. So, I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with anybody who speaks up against injustice, against war crimes, against torture and against the reprobate actions of any kind of reprobate government that tries to tell them that power belongs to the powerful.

Choi recently visited Moscow to participate in the Moscow Pride parade and stand in solidarity with gays in Russia. I ask him the United States has some effect on how countries around the world treat their own people, particularly gay people.

The US is a “horrible role model not only on gay rights but progress,” replies Choi.

He doesn’t fault the government entirely for failing to be a good role model and concludes, “I blame our courage inadequacy. The only ingredient that is missing nowadays [among activists] is the willingness to stick to your guns ’til the very day that you achieve what you set out to accomplish in the first place.”

Tim DeChristopher at NN11: Obama Administration Pursues Activists Like Previous Administrations (VIDEO)

1:40 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

While at Netroots Nation 2011, I had the privilege of speaking to some very inspiring and courageous people, who have no qualms about speaking the truth. One of those videos, an interview with climate activist Tim DeChristopher, is now up at TheNation.com.

DeChristopher placed fake bids in a public land auction to disrupt drilling by energy companies. He has been convicted on two felony charges and now could face a number of years in prison.

In the interview, DeChristopher recounts how he disrupted a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas auction at the end of 2008 that the Bush Administration was holding as a “parting gift to the oil and gas industry.” DeChristopher registered as a bidder and wound up outbidding most of the companies’ bidders that were present.

He now is set to be sentenced on July 26.

“Before I was ever indicted, the Obama Administration overturned the auction and admitted it was illegal in the first place, not because of my actions but because the BLM had violated its own rules,” DeChristopher explains. He makes clear the Obama Administration has had the option all along to not pursue him but yet has chosen to push a case against him for the maximum four and a half years. And, he claims that it may not be all the popular to press charges especially since he is a nonviolent climate activist who “was standing in the way of something that was admittedly illegal.”
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The “Liberal” Netroots: An Army Beholden to Democrats or an Independent Political Force to Be Reckoned With?

10:31 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Here at Firedoglake, one blogger, one_outer, has struck a chord with his post on Netroots Nation 2011. And, since I attended as a Democracy for America scholar (and thank DFA immensely for their support), I would like to add more to the discussion by republishing what I wrote about a year ago on Netroots Nation 2010.

First off, here is one_outer’s post, “Beyond Netroots Nation: The Progressive Blogosphere vs. the Democratic Establishment.” One_outer suggested the conference was one presented by organizers as a choice to adhere to “deeply cherished principles and our understandable concern in accidentally empowering an insane and openly fascist Republican Party over a corrupt, ideologically conservative, and fully propagandized Democratic Party” or not. As one_outer ticked off the many aspects of the conference that were perturbing, one_outer concluded with a question that could serve as a call to action: “Will progressives now take the chance to jump ship, chart a new course in keeping with our independent spirit, or will be be subsumed by scare tactics and stern talking to’s?”

As mentioned above, reading this post reminds me of the thoughts I had as Netroots Nation began last year. I was particularly concerned about the sponsorship of the conference by the Democratic National Committee. I recognized that the sponsorship may not be a problem if one focused on the individual people coming together and worked to connect and have conversations with them. But, I noted then the Democrats had gradually become more and more the party of “no” to progressives.

Now, after being present at Netroots Nation 2011 and witnessing the reaction of some progressives or liberals to the “What to Do When the President is Just Not That Into You?” and Dan Pfeiffer’s conversation with DailyKos’ Kaili Joy Gray, I think some progressives have become the people of “no” to fellow progressives.

A sizeable segment of the “netroots” is servile to the president and does not find it comfortable to challenge or criticize the president. They see criticism as sabotage and not part of holding his feet to the fire.

They cheer loudly when people like former Sen. Russ Feingold or Howard Dean say we need to hold Obama’s feet to the fire. They stand up on their feet when Van Jones (whom the Obama Administration threw under the bus) declares we need to “liberate our president” from himself but, when they see people who are essentially doing what could be characterized as “holding Obama’s feet to the fire,” they work to shut down those people. And, in some cases, they write blogs and try to turn opinion against individuals or groups in a way that could turn those individuals or groups into pariahs for even daring to offer viewpoints against the Administration.

Where do those who want progressives to be managers of democracy instead of citizens of the United States who have a right to dissent think we are to get momentum or energy if they are working to silence or stifle criticism? Because, it is exactly the criticism and pressure from the far left and left-liberals that counterbalances the most vocal and reactionary conservatives. It is their voices that tugs the center to a place where Obama can have cover to make the type of policy decisions on issues that we would be more likely to support—if Obama and his administration had the guts to make such decisions.

I enjoyed the conference. I walked way with several good video interviews that I will be sharing over the next few fays. But, the conference did lead me to further realize that we do have to decide which side we  are on.

We have to understand that Obama works for the very interests, which destroy and disembowel the social fabric of American communities. We have to realize that on issues of civil liberties, the law & technology there is power being granted to the few who govern to control the many. And, we have to decide whether we want to work with power or to influence power.

Working side by side may be next to impossible anymore. We have to remain a separate entity and not form coalitions with agencies or agents of government if we expect to win real change. Leaders running for political office may be able to offer great assistance but they should not be chief sponsors we rely on to get closer to our goals.

It is stunning but perhaps unsurprising that one year later most of what I wrote on Netroots Nation 2010 could be copied and pasted into an article and titled something that had to do with Netroots Nation 2011. That’s why I invite you to look back, reflect on this post. And then, I encourage you to keep commenting on one_outer’s insights to keep this conversation going on how to continue to build momentum in the face of a Democratic Party content and dead set on undermining advancements for social justice, liberty and equality.

***

Published to OpEdNews on July 19, 2010

Each year, for the past five years, members of what has become known as the “netroots” [a term that almost exclusively means progressives, liberals or Democrats that regularly blog and organize on the Internet] have come together for an annual convention known as Netroots Nation to participate in a forum for progressive activists and candidates to strengthen communities online and grow the progressive movement. It has attempted to inspire action and help those in attendance grow new ideas to affect change.

As the “netroots” prepare to meet in Las Vegas to once again discuss what they could be doing (and have been doing) to “amplify” their “progressive voice” by using “technology to influence the public debate,” one wonders if this convention will have any potential long-term value at all to movements in this country desiring more change from the Obama Administration.

David Lightman of McClatchy Newspapers aptly presents the dilemma the “netroots” currently face, “Activists in the liberal blogosphere face a crossroads: They had tremendous success in 2008 helping to turn voter anger into votes for Democrats, but persuading Congress and the White House to adopt their agenda is much harder.”

Lightman adds during the convention “members will quiz House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., among others, about why Washington doesn’t move more quickly to end the Afghanistan war or give more help to the millions who are out of work” and the “netroots” will likely be told ” (a) Washington works in complex, deliberate ways, and one should be happy to achieve 80 percent of one’s goals, and (b) since Democrats took control of Washington 18 months ago, they’ve won the enactment of historic legislation on health care, economic stimulus and financial regulation — no small achievements.”

Lightman’s preview of Netroots Nation indicates the convention will be another Democratic exercise in the lowering of progressives’ expectations of what is possible in terms of change in this country. There’s also indication that the focus will not be on Democrats at all. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), who reassures readers in the McClatchy article that the party is in “no danger of being a captive of the left” believes in unifying “this year’s congressional candidates behind an anti-Republican message: that if the GOP were in charge, things would be much worse.” The DCCC is a sponsor of Netroots Nation.

Rep. Van Hollen appeared on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Here’s a glimpse at the story the Democratic Party will likely be promoting as it seeks to ensure Americans will vote for them in November:

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, what you’re, what you’re hearing is–as, as Bob said, look, we know that we have a long way to go on the economy. People are still hurting, that’s absolutely clear. But we also know what the American people know, which is the day George Bush lost–left office, we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. And during the full eight years of the Bush administration we lost private sector jobs. We are now beginning to climb out. And what we are saying is yes, let’s focus on the policies, because why in the world would we want to go back to the same economic agenda that created that mess, that, that lost jobs for eight years? And I think the challenge that our colleagues have here, Pete and John, is to say to the American people, how do you expect to do the same thing and get a different result? I mean, that, that’s Einstein’s definition of insanity, right? [emphasis added]

 

Such a message hinges upon whether or not the financial reform legislation can be viewed as shifting the country away from the same economic agenda that created this mess. Robert Reich, who was the Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and is a fairly outspoken progressive voice, asserts, “Congress has labored mightily to produce a mountain of legislation that can be called financial reform, but it has produced a molehill relative to the wreckage Wall Street wreaked upon the nation.”

Also, should we be so certain that the Republican’s are following “Einstein’s definition of insanity”? What they are doing may not be working out for certain sections of the American population, but it is most certainly, politically, paying off. As a tactic, crafting a debate on issues that ranges from what the Tea Party is not willing to accept to what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street and other private interests fear will infringe on their precious free enterprise system today has effectively defanged every piece of legislation that has come up for debate in Congress.

Representatives like Rep. Van Hollen ignore the tactic that the Obama Administration has practiced, the courting of Republican votes for legislation the party will continue to oppose no matter what concessions the Administration grants them.

The Administration has decided Republican voices are more important than any liberal or progressive voices in the Senate or House that might be making demands.Instead of seeking to silence the conservative echo chamber that effectively skewers any progressive agenda items that could potentially be put on the table, the Administration has gone out of their way to assure and reassure Republicans that they can move the debate in their direction.

Progressives, on the other hand, have learned that they will incur the wrath of those in the Administration like the brawny and rugged Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other Obama advisers if they dare to oppose the Administration’s attempts to sterilize legislation on behalf of the corporations they are attempting to regulate.

Given the record of scorn displayed toward progressives who organize with their own agenda in mind (e.g. Emanuel calling liberals “fucking stupid” as they ran ads against Democrats opposing the public option), it’s no surprise that progressive voices would be reluctant to tug the conversation in their direction. Instead of incurring the fire of the Obama Administration, many probably would rather focus on the reactionary Tea Party faction growing within the Republican Party and simply tackle that instead of the failures of the Democratic Party during Obama’s first two years in office. Unfortunately, this ignores the reality that Democrats have failed to rebuff the growing rancor of anti-government sentiment in the GOP and offer an alternative message; in fact, that Tea Party message is effectively dragging the Democrats toward supporting a political agenda more conducive to a vastly unregulated free market system that Democrats admit has gotten us into the mess we are in today.

Democrats have gradually become more and more the party of “no” to progressives. Their admission of running on a message that is anti-Republican is an indication that their campaign strategy for these elections will also be a strategy of “no.” How is this any different than what Republicans have been doing as they claim Democrats are the party of “no”?

What we have in this country is a political establishment discourse that has devolved into discussions from Democrats on why the population should reject Republicans and a discussion from Republicans on why the population should reject Democrats. It does not allow for real talk on the issues any more than a domestic dispute between a husband and wife allows for real discussion on who was responsible for escalating the situation and why there was yelling and screaming in the first place.

To some extent, both parties are right: neither offer an agenda for a future that will go to the root of the problems this country faces and take on the private and powerful interests that are further entrenching these problems in the fabric of American society.

This failure produces a “trickle-down” effect that has a detrimental impact on the “netroots.” Articles and postings like Eric Alterman’s recent essay are published and proclaim that America cannot have a progressive presidency right now. They debilitate, demoralize and produce comments demonstrating an acquiescence to this meme.

The “netroots” will meet and focus on primaries and electing better Democrats, using blogs, Twitter and other social networking technologies to turn “red states” “blue”, how to improve online organizing, the current state of progressive media, etc. There is no doubt that many will take home some valuable knowledge and insight they did not have before they attended. And most likely they will network with other people who are part of the “netroots” community and gain the opportunity to be more effective at what they do. However, this is an event receiving sponsorship from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which contribute to the maintenance and polishing of the Democratic Party’s image.

There would be nothing wrong with these committees supporting this event if wedding this event to those committees did not automatically limit the scope of debate at a time when the dimensions of discussion in politics need to be expanded.

Only in America do political activists (especially ones who call themselves progressives) limit their visions for change to what can be passed legislatively this year or the next. Only in America do those committed to organizing consistently coach themselves to accept terms for organizing that will not alienate the very politicians who have contributed to the situations organizers seek to address.

An event that organizes those who are the most vocal section of society has great potential. But, the dominance of politically-safe sessions (in the aftermath of the Citizens United v. FEC decision, no abolish corporate personhood now workshop), the absence of any sessions on reforming the broken electoral system, and the lack of discussions around the very few differences between Republicans and Democrats and what to do about that reality warrants skepticism.

If the “netroots” leave ready to do more to defend Obama and Democrats from Republicans, this convention will have massively failed. But, if they leave ready to advance small-d democratic policies and items that often appear on proposed progressive agendas, if they leave committed to creating space in the public sphere for real progressive organizing to take place, there is a chance that this event will not have just been an opportunity for Democrats to revitalize support for their increasingly stale politics in this country.

Netroots Nation: The Confrontation with Breitbart & the Grilling of WH Comm. Dir. Pfeiffer

6:06 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Progressive activists, many who primarily use the Internet to raise their voice and work to influence politics, gathered at Netroots Nation 2011 for three days of discussion and deliberation. Many attended issues-based panels, others went to panels focused on beating back the right wing attack on the middle class in America and quite a few spent time at panels highlighting how the Obama Administration has not been the “fierce advocate” on progressive issues like the “netroots” thought he would.

Two episodes, which took place during the conference, deserve scrutiny and further consideration: a liberal blogger and Netroots Nation attendees swarming Andrew Breitbart and his posse as they tried to get into the Exhibit Hall at the conference and the Q&A session with White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer who was interviewed by DailyKos’ Kaili Joy Gray. They merit further discussion especially because of the reaction from many of the conference attendees.

Days after getting another scalp—the head of Rep. Anthony Weiner, Breitbart came to crash the conference and irk the liberal netroots with his presence. He accomplished his goal and was aided with the support of liberals, who swarmed him with cameras and proceeded to badger him with questions.

A blogger with 100 Proof Politics got his 15 minutes of fame asking Breitbart “tough questions” like whether an employee of his was arrested last night for harassing young Muslim women in the streets of Minneapolis, whether he has done cocaine and whether he has slept with a prostitute.

Engaging him gave Breitbart and his shock troops what they wanted: attention.

It created a scene for the corporate media, an instance of liberals versus conservatives with both shouting at one another. It provided an example of a petty battle that can play out between liberal and conservative bloggers. And, it looked like the kind of thing that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” particularly aimed to condemn because of the fact that it does nothing to help either person get a better understanding of the other.
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Obama DOJ’s War on Free Speech and Activism

7:12 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A few days ago, rallies were held in cities all over the United States in support of veteran Chicano activist Carlos Montes, who had his home raided by the FBI on May 17. The rallies coincided with Montes’ arraignment hearing for felony charges, which were filed against him by the LA County Sheriffs and FBI after the raid.

The target of an ever-expanding government investigation into antiwar and international solidarity activists, Montes demanded that his charges be dropped. The District Attorney denied his request. Montes asked to see the search warrant and police report on the raid of his home. The District Attorney initially refused the request but then agreed to release heavily edited versions of the documents. Montes was also told he would not be allowed to show the documents to the press.

Tom Burke, a spokesperson for the Committee to Stop FBI Repression and a subpoenaed activist, explains that Montes allegedly was found to be in possession of a weapon that was not properly registered. Burke believes that if Montes hadn’t been a political activist or organizer he would have been contacted about a problem on the gun permit. But, the LA sheriffs chose to make an example of Montes.

Burke also notes, like twenty-three other activists subpoenaed thus far, Montes has a link to the organizing of marches at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

The FBI raided the Antiwar Committee office in the Twin Cities in Minnesota in September 2010. On the warrant for the raid there were seventeen names. Burke says Carlos Montes’ name appears on the warrant.

When Montes’ home was raided by the FBI & SWAT team, they smashed Montes’ front door, rushed in with automatic weapons while Montes was sleeping and proceeded to ransack his home, “taking his computer, cell phones and hundreds of documents, photos, diskettes and mementos of his current political activities in the pro-immigrant rights and Chicano civil rights movement.” They did this at 5 am in the morning.

“For people who have had their homes raided, it’s worse than being robbed because it’s the government coming in and taking the things that are nearest and dearest to you – your own writing, your own diary,” says Burke.

Rallies in eighteen cities were held in support of Montes and against ongoing FBI repression of activists. And because the judge did not drop the felony charges against Montes, another round of rallies will be held July 7 to again call for the charges to be dropped.

Recent articles in news publications like the Washington Post has given the repression against activists greater attention. At the Netroots Nation 2011 conference, a member of the audience asked at a panel session titled, “What the Government Wants to Know About You,” if he could get more information on what he read on the recently published Post article.

Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake, one of the speakers on the panel, described to the audience how the activists are alleged to be “material supporters of terrorism.” She outlined how the grand jury investigation has been opened and recounted how an informant infiltrated the Antiwar Committee. She noted the activists are alleged to have connections to groups in Palestine and Colombia that perhaps have engaged in terrorist activities but concluded, “Chiquita has far closer ties to terrorism than any peace activists but nobody from Chiquita has gone to jail.”

Essentially, the FBI now has all this data and is able to use it to start investigations. The FBI can turn over any rock that they want to turn over and they can seek out whatever they want to find and piece together a case.

With the FBI moving to expand surveillance powers, it is cases like this investigation into activists that the new powers will effectively make legitimate.

Burke reacts to the news that the FBI is claiming new powers, “The FBI has been violating their own guidelines and their own standard operating procedures and instead of saying we violated what we set out ourselves, they decided to expand what they were allowed to do.

Why does the government want these new powers? Why does the Justice Department under Obama support a growing investigation into activists?

Burke suggests with the economy getting worse the American people are getting more frustrated, with the Congress’ approval rating getting lower and lower, the war in Afghanistan failing, stability in Iraq not being maintained and troops not being sent home, the Colombia war stagnating with no defeat of the insurgency—This “cumulation” is leading to more state repression against those fighting for change in the system.

The war on free speech and activism is apparent here at Netroots Nation as people like Lt. Dan Choi and Tim DeChristopher speak on panels and as individuals like David House are discussed during panel sessions.

Lt. Dan Choi, a soldier and gay rights advocate who engaged in an act of civil disobedience at the White House fence last year to push the Obama Administration to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is facing federal charges for exercising his right to demonstrate. While most people receive misdemeanors for protesting, for the first time since 1917, the Department of Justice under Obama is taking him to trial this August for speaking out.

Tim DeChristopher, a climate activist who placed fake bids in a public land auction to disrupt drilling by energy companies, has been convicted of a crime. Although the land auction was ultimately declared illegal, the Obama Administration has gone ahead and pursued a case against DeChristopher. The prosecution pushed the jury in his trial to not consider his conscience but rather that he broke a law. They nudged the jury to obfuscate facts and, in fact, many key details on the auction were kept from the jury. And so, DeChristopher now faces up to ten years in prison.

And, David House, co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, has been embroiled in a grand jury investigation that seeks to embroil him in espionage charges for being linked to WikiLeaks. House has been targeted consistently by the government for the past months. His lawful association with the Bradley Manning Support Network, which was created to raise funds for the legal defense of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks now being held at Ft. Leavenworth, has led the Department of Homeland Security stop him at airports and seize his laptop, camera and USB drive.

What is at stake with the targeting of activists is an American’s right to protest against the government and sometimes take bold action that could be regarded as adversarial. Those who believe in free speech and support a person’s right to protest must not ignore the cases the Department of Justice is pursuing against individuals in this country, who are being made examples to send a message to others that if they draw inspiration and display courage in the face of power they too might face the same punishment or harassment as these people.

*For video of Montes speaking at the rally on June 16, go here.

The “Liberal” Netroots: An Army Beholden to Democrats or an Independent Political Force to Be Reckoned With?

2:57 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Fmr. Pres. Bill Clinton speaks at the 2009 Netroots Nation Convention in Pittsburgh, PA | Flickr Photo by kyleshank

 

 

Each year, for the past five years, members of what has become known as the "netroots" [a term that almost exclusively means progressives, liberals or Democrats that regularly blog and organize on the Internet] have come together for an annual convention known as Netroots Nation to participate in a forum for progressive activists and candidates to strengthen communities online and grow the progressive movement. It has attempted to inspire action and help those in attendance grow new ideas to affect change. 

 

As the "netroots" prepare to meet in Las Vegas to once again discuss what they could be doing (and have been doing) to "amplify" their "progressive voice" by using "technology to influence the public debate," one wonders if this convention will have any potential long-term value at all to movements in this country desiring more change from the Obama Administration.

 

David Lightman of McClatchy Newspapers aptly presents the dilemma the "netroots" currently face, "Activists in the liberal blogosphere face a crossroads: They had tremendous success in 2008 helping to turn voter anger into votes for Democrats, but persuading Congress and the White House to adopt their agenda is much harder."

 

Lightman adds during the convention "members will quiz House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., among others, about why Washington doesn’t move more quickly to end the Afghanistan war or give more help to the millions who are out of work" and the "netroots" will likely be told " (a) Washington works in complex, deliberate ways, and one should be happy to achieve 80 percent of one’s goals, and (b) since Democrats took control of Washington 18 months ago, they’ve won the enactment of historic legislation on health care, economic stimulus and financial regulation — no small achievements."

 

Lightman’s preview of Netroots Nation indicates the convention will be another Democratic exercise in the lowering of progressives’ expectations of what is possible in terms of change in this country. There’s also indication that the focus will not be on Democrats at all. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), who reassures readers in the McClatchy article that the party is in "no danger of being a captive of the left" believes in unifying "this year’s congressional candidates behind an anti-Republican message: that if the GOP were in charge, things would be much worse." The DCCC is a sponsor of Netroots Nation.

 

Rep. Van Hollen appeared on "Meet the Press" on Sunday. Here’s a glimpse at the story the Democratic Party will likely be promoting as it seeks to ensure Americans will vote for them in November:

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, what you’re, what you’re hearing is–as, as Bob said, look, we know that we have a long way to go on the economy. People are still hurting, that’s absolutely clear. But we also know what the American people know, which is the day George Bush lost–left office, we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. And during the full eight years of the Bush administration we lost private sector jobs. We are now beginning to climb out. And what we are saying is yes, let’s focus on the policies, because why in the world would we want to go back to the same economic agenda that created that mess, that, that lost jobs for eight years? And I think the challenge that our colleagues have here, Pete and John, is to say to the American people, how do you expect to do the same thing and get a different result? I mean, that, that’s Einstein’s definition of insanity, right? [emphasis added]

 

Such a message hinges upon whether or not the financial reform legislation can be viewed as shifting the country away from the same economic agenda that created this mess. Robert Reich, who was the Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and is a fairly outspoken progressive voice, asserts, "Congress has labored mightily to produce a mountain of legislation that can be called financial reform, but it has produced a molehill relative to the wreckage Wall Street wreaked upon the nation."

 

Also, should we be so certain that the Republican’s are following "Einstein’s definition of insanity"? What they are doing may not be working out for certain sections of the American population, but it is most certainly, politically, paying off. As a tactic, crafting a debate on issues that ranges from what the Tea Party is not willing to accept to what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street and other private interests fear will infringe on their precious free enterprise system today has effectively defanged every piece of legislation that has come up for debate in Congress.

 

Representatives like Rep. Van Hollen ignore the tactic that the Obama Administration has practiced, the courting of Republican votes for legislation the party will continue to oppose no matter what concessions the Administration grants them.

 

The Administration has decided Republican voices are more important than any liberal or progressive voices in the Senate or House that might be making demands.Instead of seeking to silence the conservative echo chamber that effectively skewers any progressive agenda items that could potentially be put on the table, the Administration has gone out of their way to assure and reassure Republicans that they can move the debate in their direction.

 

Progressives, on the other hand, have learned that they will incur the wrath of those in the Administration like the brawny and rugged Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and other Obama advisers if they dare to oppose the Administration’s attempts to sterilize legislation on behalf of the corporations they are attempting to regulate. 

 

Given the record of scorn displayed toward progressives who organize with their own agenda in mind (e.g. Emanuel calling liberals "fucking stupid" as they ran ads against Democrats opposing the public option), it’s no surprise that progressive voices would be reluctant to tug the conversation in their direction. Instead of incurring the fire of the Obama Administration, many probably would rather focus on the reactionary Tea Party faction growing within the Republican Party and simply tackle that instead of the failures of the Democratic Party during Obama’s first two years in office. Unfortunately, this ignores the reality that Democrats have failed to rebuff the growing rancor of anti-government sentiment in the GOP and offer an alternative message; in fact, that Tea Party message is effectively dragging the Democrats toward supporting a political agenda more conducive to a vastly unregulated free market system that Democrats admit has gotten us into the mess we are in today.

 

Democrats have gradually become more and more the party of "no" to progressives. Their admission of running on a message that is anti-Republican is an indication that their campaign strategy for these elections will also be a strategy of "no." How is this any different than what Republicans have been doing as they claim Democrats are the party of "no"? 

 

What we have in this country is a political establishment discourse that has devolved into discussions from Democrats on why the population should reject Republicans and a discussion from Republicans on why the population should reject Democrats. It does not allow for real talk on the issues any more than a domestic dispute between a husband and wife allows for real discussion on who was responsible for escalating the situation and why there was yelling and screaming in the first place.

 

To some extent, both parties are right: neither offer an agenda for a future that will go to the root of the problems this country faces and take on the private and powerful interests that are further entrenching these problems in the fabric of American society. 

 

This failure produces a "trickle-down" effect that has a detrimental impact on the "netroots." Articles and postings like Eric Alterman’s recent essay are published and proclaim that America cannot have a progressive presidency right now. They debilitate, demoralize and produce comments demonstrating an acquiescence to this meme.

 

The "netroots" will meet and focus on primaries and electing better Democrats, using blogs, Twitter and other social networking technologies to turn "red states" "blue", how to improve online organizing, the current state of progressive media, etc. There is no doubt that many will take home some valuable knowledge and insight they did not have before they attended. And most likely they will network with other people who are part of the "netroots" community and gain the opportunity to be more effective at what they do. However, this is an event receiving sponsorship from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which contribute to the maintenance and polishing of the Democratic Party’s image.

 

There would be nothing wrong with these committees supporting this event if wedding this event to those committees did not automatically limit the scope of debate at a time when the dimensions of discussion in politics need to be expanded.

 

Only in America do political activists (especially ones who call themselves progressives) limit their visions for change to what can be passed legislatively this year or the next. Only in America do those committed to organizing consistently coach themselves to accept terms for organizing that will not alienate the very politicians who have contributed to the situations organizers seek to address.

 

An event that organizes those who are the most vocal section of society has great potential. But, the dominance of politically-safe sessions (in the aftermath of the Citizens United v. FEC decision, no abolish corporate personhood now workshop), the absence of any sessions on reforming the broken electoral system, and the lack of discussions around the very few differences between Republicans and Democrats and what to do about that reality warrants skepticism.

 

If the "netroots" leave ready to do more to defend Obama and Democrats from Republicans, this convention will have massively failed. But, if they leave ready to advance small-d democratic policies and items that often appear on proposed progressive agendas, if they leave committed to creating space in the public sphere for real progressive organizing to take place, there is a chance that this event will not have just been an opportunity for Democrats to revitalize support for their increasingly stale politics in this country.