Monthly Archives: October, 2011

Dangerously Set Aside

Silencing Dissent

I’ve started several posts in the past week, then put them aside hoping a better idea would develop, something more inspiring. But punctuating the news nearly every day is a report that American citizens exercising the right to peacefully express dissent, have been met with an episode of government-sanctioned intimidation or violence. If that’s continuing because people disagree with the protesters, we’re being precariously short-sighted.

Yes, we’re politically polarized and that’s a big issue, but for this – what difference does it make? Violent revenge for expressing one view today will be the same for tomorrow’s variances, and will be fine tuned over time into our government’s unopposed economic and legislative overreach. Bipartisan support for the First Amendment, now, could prevent the fearful, imposed illusion of solidarity in the future.

Whatever our values, beliefs, and principles may be, whether as individuals, small groups or as a people, whether religious, political or societal … we need to be able to express our feelings peacefully without any expectation of violence from our government. We have a guarantee for that, and it has worked just fine for the 30,000 pickets, in all 50 states, in over 500 cities and towns for the Westboro Baptist Church, even though as a society we’re overwhelmingly aligned against their expression.

But we’re so stubbornly partisan over the yet to be defined objectives of recent protesters, that protecting our constitution is being dangerously set aside in favor of petty name calling. If you have surmised the demands of the Occupy protesters and are against them, so be it. But think for a minute about what else you wouldn’t support, or better still, consider something you find completely unacceptable that your great-grandchildren could face. That’s my point … we can’t know right now how the American people will be affected by the seemingly systematic violence used to deny our right to protest what is perceived as corruption or faulty governmental policy.

Enforcing local curfew ordinances? If that’s what you think this is about, step back and take a look at the big picture. Military style attacks on unarmed citizens are taking place across America. For what? It shouldn’t matter.

Willful suppression of the people’s voice is a side issue that has nothing to do with the Occupy movement’s purpose, your politics or mine. Today, we should all have at least two things in common – red blood and the desire for Americans now and in the future to be able to express dissent without being shot at or gassed. It’s that simple, and that should be inspiring enough.

DCKennedy

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The Revolution Will Not Be Anesthetized ~ by John Marshall

This morning, writer, comedian and activist, John Marshall, sent these thoughts after following the tragic, sickening police attacks that took place in Oakland to enforce the eviction of Occupy protesters, wounding many including an Iraq war veteran now in critical condition:

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Gandhi

We have moved on from the ignoring phase and the ridiculing phase to the fighting phase.

The violence that is being inflicted on protesters is being done in the name of health and safety. The authorities, who speak to the protesters in condescending, parental tones – are now positing the notion that violence is not only good, but good for you.

Tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, beatings, arrests without explanation – all of these are now necessary for the smooth functioning of democracy, which, like the proverbial Vietnamese village, must be destroyed in order to save it.

Authorities see protesters’ use of basic Constitutional rights as an attack on authority, which it is. They also see it as an illegitimate use of power, which it is not.

They counter citizens’ legitimate use of Constitutional power with illegitimate violence, because they can – and because the corporations which they answer to demand it.

For a short time this allows them to believe the illusion that the status quo has been maintained and that dissent has been wiped out.

It is regrettable, authority says, that ordinary Americans must be punished so harshly, but tough times call for tough measures. They count on protesters to “come to their senses” and retreat to their normal lives.

This time things are different. This time the battle is everywhere. This time there are no normal lives to retreat to. Everyone knows the status quo is gone and is not coming back.

If the authorities were honest, they would admit this. Right now honesty is hard to find among authorities, when it comes to protesters.

OWS doesn’t have all the answers (or even a list of demands), but they are in the moment and are looking to the future.

The authorities’ thinking is based solidly in the past.

They will lose.

They will lose because a minority that lives in the past cannot control a majority that is committed to the future, even a painful one.

Destroying the rights of American protesters is tantamount to destroying America. I don’t believe this is what authorities want. We are all being subjugated by the corporatocracy. All of us. I believe that we all expect a better country than one which condones violence against its own dissenters.

I believe, to take more inspiration from Gandhi, that in the end, we will win.

Gandhi with Lancastrian cotton mill workers

We thank John Marshall for contributing to our APV blog, and appreciate his work for the Occupy movement. He’ll be performing tonight at Comedy Relief to Support Our Troops at Occupy Wall Street at the Yippie Museum Cafe in New York City, and filming a music video based on the movement in Zuccotti Park for Tyrannosaurus Rocks on Thursday. Join him if you can!

(Occupy Oakland will reconvene every day at 6pm at 14th & Broadway until the camp is reestablished.)
DCKennedy

For Our Teacher Friends, Students, and Those Who Care about Education in America

A strategy of the policy-makers in favor of high stakes testing is to pit victim against victim, so that resistance appears as a punishment by the hands of those in our own communities. Make no mistake – this is intentional and it is vicious … and it is working. ~ United Opt Out

To update recent posts about the destruction of public education (here), yesterday I was delighted to see Stan Karp’s video and article, Challenging Corporate School Reform and 10 Hopeful Signs of Resistance. I was encouraged by the spreading national efforts by teachers, parents and academics who are working to save our American public school system. He offers background information, administration complicity, privatization schemes, and changes clearly imposed from curricula formulated by the private business sector.

Citing proposals that punish children and malign educators “currently being promoted by reams of foundation reports, well-funded think tanks, a proliferation of Astroturf political groups and canned legislation from the rightwing American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC)”, he further exposes the ill-framed neoliberal plan to decentralize, destabilize, re-segregate and privatize our public schools to enrich and empower corporations to dominate and control education across America.

Alongside these efforts to change the way schools and classrooms function, a larger social/political goal is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining rights, union rights, and the permanent crisis of school funding across the country. These policies replace with a market-based system that will do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and the labor market, produce fabulous profits and give opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many.

Stan Karp is an author and the director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey’s Education Law Center. He taught English and Journalism for 30 years, and has written widely on school reform for Education Week, Educational Leadership, and other publications, as well as co-editing several books. His esteemed opinion in this article is linked with local and national organizations who are showing that with solidarity and the exposure of misinformation and pertinent data, we can push back the corporate education “reform” movement.

One such link is for United Opt Out, an organization understanding of the intimidation tactics used by those who wish to silence teachers and prevent collective resistance. “For those educators who wish to support our efforts but are concerned over being identified with the United Opt Out movement we extend our support by advocating for actions in many other forms.”

Their mission “is to use various methods of opting out as a means to end punitive high stakes testing in public education before the right to a meaningful and EQUITABLE public education is dismantled by policies that benefit textbook companies, testing companies, and private corporations more than the communities that submit to these abusive and unconstitutional demands.”

They also endorse Occupy Wall Street with ACTION, and will occupy the Department of Education in DC from March 30th to April 2nd, equipped with a list of independent demands! Please join in their effort to make big changes in education for all Americans.

Our Demands for Public Education

We, administrators of United Opt Out National (www.unitedoptout.com), wish to collaborate with the Occupy Wall Street Movement and offer our vision for CORPORATE-FREE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

We believe that QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION is a democratic right for all persons. It is through vibrant and fully funded school communities that all children have the opportunity to develop and grow into happy, successful, free, and active citizens. High stakes testing functions in opposition to QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION, as it is used to punish children, to malign educators, and to provide financial gain for testing corporations and their political sponsors.

THEREFORE, WE DEMAND AN END TO THE FOLLOWING:

ALL high stakes testing and punitive policies that label schools, punish students, and close public community schools

ALL high stakes testing that ties teacher evaluations, pay, and job security to high stakes test results

Corporate interventions in public education and education policy

The use of public education funds to enact school “choice” measures influenced and supported by the corporate agenda

Economically and racially segregated school communities

“Model” legislation that provides special rules to charter schools that are forced upon public schools

Corporate run for-profit charter schools that divert public funds away from public schools

Mandates requiring teachers to use corporate approved, scripted programs that sublimate and negate authentic
meaningful learning experiences imparted by varied and rich curricula

FURTHERMORE, WE DEMAND RESTORATION AND/OR IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FOLLOWING:

Libraries and librarians to all schools and communities

Teaching force educated through accredited college teacher education programs only

School buildings in ALL neighborhoods that meet health codes including clean drinking water, heat and air conditioning

Developmentally appropriate, problem-based, literacy-rich, play-based and student-centered learning, with the
return of nap, play, and snack time for kindergarteners

Smaller student-to-teacher ratio (25 or fewer to one)

Wrap around services for schools that offset the effects of poverty and social inequality, including but not limited to:
school staff such as nurses and health providers, social workers, community organizers, family counselors; free
quality community daycare and preschool programs, healthy food availability, safe and healthy housing options,
community social facilities, and after school programs to enhance learning and provide safe recreational spaces for
all  students

Fully funded arts and athletics programs

Recess and adequate time allotted for lunch

New national funding formulas that ensures EQUITY in funding to ALL public schools regardless of zip code

Requirement that a significant percentage of textbook or testing company PROFITS go BACK TO public education

Requirement that all DOE positions are filled with qualified and experienced educators

Requirement that Superintendents and school administrators have exceptional, extended teaching and
school-based experience

Bonus!
A friend just sent this gutsy Tourette’s Du Jour article from November. Killing Public Education names names and tell tales out of school. Thanks, Polly.

The Alliance for Progressive Values supports public education, our teachers, their right to collective bargaining, and the Occupy movement. Please use this information to help strengthen our schools by forwarding it to teachers, educators and friends. Thank you!
DCKennedy

Bated Breath

On Tuesday night, as if Thomas Jefferson had been waiting to exhale for 235 years, we seem to have won a debate that would give him the go-ahead. The question posed was: Is the US Declaration of Independence illegal?
In the winning argument, American lawyers concluded:

Under basic principles of “Natural Law”, government can only be by the consent of the people and there comes a point when allegiance is no longer required in face of tyranny.

The legality of the Declaration and its validity is proven by subsequent independence movements which have been enforced by world opinion as right and just, based on the fundamental principles of equality and self-determination now reflected in the UN Charter.

For this century, though, a better question might be: How is independence declared at all, and especially in a way that does not involve violence?

Resulting from a deportation conflict with the U.S. government in 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono tried it this way:

Looking back at their agenda and the motive behind the deportation effort, uncomfortable thoughts of negligence and procrastination came to mind and I wondered if anything has changed at all.

Injustices around the world prompted Lennon to use “his popularity for fund raisers, voter-registration drives, and anti-war rallies and concerts. These activities were planned to take place in many of the presidential primary states in 1972, and this deeply troubled Richard Nixon and the Republican Party. Consequently, many Republicans feared that Lennon, through these motivated activities, would jump-start the anti-war movement, resulting in the majority of young Americans voting against Nixon in the upcoming election.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, it was revealed that on February 4, 1972, Senator Strom Thurmond wrote a memo, classified as secret, citing Lennon as a danger to the Presidents’ 1972 reelection campaign. So what could the Republicans do to prevent this? Easy they thought – just revoke Lennon’s visa. Thurmond said further that “if Lennon’s visa is terminated, it would be a strategy counter-measure.” He further advised that “caution must be taken with regard to the possible alienation of the so-called 18-year-old-vote if Lennon is expelled from the country.”

[…] Was John Lennon successfully deported – no. However, in 1975, the chief counsel of the INS resigned, and after doing so, publicly stated that the United States government, i.e., the Republican Party, spent millions of tax dollars, and conducted a more vehement attempt to deport John Lennon than it did in trying to throw out Nazi war criminals. It should be noted too, that all activities involving Lennon, or his intended activities, were protected under the First Amendment, which extends this protection to both citizens and non-citizens alike. John Lennon broke no laws in trying to fight for the many injustices he believed in. ~by John T. Marck, I Am The Beatles, John Lennon the Immigrant


(click to enlarge FBI files)

So … in spite of taxpayer-funded dirty tricks, they were actually successful – a comparatively irrelevant gain, though, ending in the tragic loss of a dearly precious life. But can we conclude that John Lennon’s deportation experience and the declaration of Nutopian independence demonstrate that standing symbolically and nonviolently against injustice, corruption, secrecy and abuses of law enforcement is a noble endeavor worthy of us all? I believe so. And I think we’re headed in the right direction.

But what about entire nations declaring independence? According to one American historian:

The source of the powers of congress is to be sought solely in the acquiescence of the people, without which every congressional resolution, with or without the benediction of popular conventions or state legislatures, would have been a mere brutum fulmen; and, as the congress unquestionably exercised national powers, operating over the whole country, the conclusion is inevitable that the will of the whole people is the source of national government in the United States, even from its first imperfect appearance in the second continental congress.. Cyclopædia of Political Science. New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co., 1899.

In theory, then and now, the people rule collectively – at least in America. As surely as the American lawyers argued Tuesday night, “Under basic principles of “Natural Law”, government can only be by the consent of the people….” We either legitimate our congress, our popular government, or their decisions are mere inert thunder.

That’s a nice theory, but unfortunately somewhere along the line, and especially with corporate personhood, the rule of the people was given over to the rule of the money, and inert thunder is accepted as the law of the land.

Looking to the Tibetan people’s struggle for independence (a people who have positively moved in the direction of non-violence), returning to an independent sovereign state has proven to be a futile effort in the “principles of equality and self-determination” that validate a Declaration of Independence – this also argued by our lawyers.

“China’s policy of occupation and oppression has resulted in no more or less than the destruction of Tibet’s national independence, culture and religion, environment and the universal human rights of its people. But having no representation in the United Nations, the world largely stood by and allowed China’s occupation and destruction to happen.” Issues facing Tibet* today describes the human rights and environmental atrocities that afflict a nation of once proud and self-determining people – and frankly, some of it is way too close to home.

And so, our lawyers argued for validity on the basis of “subsequent independence movements which have been enforced by world opinion as right and just”, and are “now reflected in the UN Charter”, but that was more or less a convenient and exclusive argument reserved for the elite nations backed by a document that is neither abided by nor enforced by our own government. It was certainly not a point inclusive of what is “right or just” for the people of Tibet.

When people’s rights, values and money are consumed by states and corruption, of course the pattern for violence is more concentrated in recovery efforts well after the fact than in efforts to regulate and prevent a corrupt government’s economic and legislative overreach.

Of the many examples of violent recovery efforts from such overreach, the people of Southern Sudan have been plagued with civil war on and off since 1955. Two million are dead and four million have been displaced since 1983, resulting overall in the mass destruction of a lovely people and culture. Whether or not nonviolence will last in a nation fraught with war for generations of citizens is questionable, as also exemplified in areas like Israel and Palestine. Attrition ensures that the people themselves have no standard for living in peace. Chronically bad situations during the prolonged catastrophe of war with its societal disorganization, malnutrition and disease, crime and overwhelming fear, often result in a people characterized as living almost for safety alone. The natural rhythm and balance afforded a life in peace and safety is unrealized, and even after the danger subsides, our human preference for the familiar tends to render the people of those war-torn nations as unsafe children in their desire for safety, and in that way they remain vulnerable, abused children of violence and war.

On the other hand, and more recently, a better result will come for the people of Iceland, who have been standing up together to face the economic and social injustices brought on by their corrupt state. Being progressive, they’ve taken “the bull by the horns”, and their noble and nonviolent correction is ending that economic injustice and the ruining debt imposed on the nation’s people in a way that will serve and protect generations to follow. And the Icelandic people have written a new constitution, independent of their parent country, Denmark.

When social and economic injustice come to the people of a nation and they do not stand together and act to correct it, if inequality results in abuses and the exploitation of social weaknesses, if the flow of information is controlled, if the validity of elections is questionable, if the allegiance of elected officials can be purchased, … and all while knowing that violence and war can be the default result of the people’s negligence and procrastination in facing those abuses, then generations to come, tomorrow’s children and theirs, are not being given a fair opportunity to live in peace … whether or not a congress or a declaration of independence is legal or approved by the oppressors.

DCKennedy

We Can’t Avoid Change ~ by Lawrence Swan

WELCOME TO THE NEW PARADIGM ~ OWS banner in Washington Square Park, October 15, 2011

I love that people everywhere are expressing their ideas about the Occupy movement. I don’t have to agree with every point a person makes to know that the best ideas and creative solutions will come to, for and by the people as we brainstorm our way out of the mess we’re in … together. The following is one such opinion by Lawrence Swan shared on Facebook yesterday in response to an earnest question about the movement’s validity.
DCKennedy

Tuesday, October 18, at 7:28am:

Lawrence Swan

Whenever I’ve gone down to Zuccotti Park I’ve found a remarkable variety of viewpoints. One might wonder what they all have in common. I believe capitalism is destroying itself and the people in the streets today are refusing to be the victims.

Free market fundamentalism is delusional utopianism, at best. At worst, it’s just propaganda to justify the widening gap between rich and poor. The system isn’t working. The economy is collapsing in Europe and here and people are angry. They are asserting that rule by the 1% wealthiest is unacceptable. We claim the 1% have been making the decisions, as well as accumulating the wealth. We want to spread the wealth and democratize America. As to who should decide what a just society entails — who would decide in a “democracy?” — this is an experiment in participatory democracy. The governments have failed and the free market has failed. Who do you think should decide?

I don’t understand what some people have against this. As to being specific, institutions were named in the NY march I was involved in – Chase and Citibank — and the specific goal was to advocate the mass closing of accounts in the big banks and moving of money to credit unions and regional banks.

The movement’s ideas and goals have seemed formless because it is in creative flux and considering the alternatives. I imagine it will break into many subgroups with competing agendas, but that is good. A multiplicity of interests is how democracy works. Social media has been central to the new democracy movements and has been the means to organizing and coordinating activities. Videos on YouTube, Vimeo, and elsewhere contribute to spreading the message. On October 15, global protests hit 950 cities in 82 countries.

I am a philosophical utopian but I think a practical grassroots politics aimed at transforming the parties we have is the best course. The Democratic party should be democratized and become a party for the people. Obama should fire Geithner and other financial industry creeps who share responsibility for the destruction of the economy. But that might not be enough, because the situation in this country could suddenly change in ways we can’t anticipate right now. We know that the world economy is at a critical phase and the powers-that-be seem to be at a complete loss as to what to do, or are paralyzed by electoral politics. The movement is a mass response to a crisis in capitalism that is analogous, and probably related to the crisis that bought about the collapse of communism twenty years ago. It’s a mass response that appears to me to indicate a collective willingness to change things, because change is necessary and unavoidable. What I find at Zuccotti Liberty is a lot of individuals looking for community, and that is the definition of democracy.

Those quaint old documents from 200 years ago assert that people are right to rise up and change their governments, and create governments that serve them. Most people who claim to be against government turn out to receive some kind of government service or even assistance they don’t want to lose, but we also see that the corporate state has been in the service of the 1%. We recognize that the time of change is here and we agree creativity is necessary – collective creativity.

The old ideologies and parties are inadequate, and that’s why the alternative movements are looking for common ground. And they really are. We can’t avoid change. I don’t know if we will like what we get, but change is coming.
God save us.

Here’s a great video of protester interviews at OWS in New York, also by Lawrence Swan:

As always, APV thanks and appreciates our writer friends who contribute to this blog.

Matt Taibbi’s Short List

My Advice to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters

Hit bankers where it hurts

Matt Taibbi, a big fan of the Occupy movement, admits that his life has been consumed by the corruption on Wall Street for years. He’s convinced that “the movement’s basic strategy – to build numbers and stay in the fight, rather than tying itself to any particular set of principles – makes a lot of sense early on.” But when the time comes to focus on demands and solutions, he has a short list in mind that he feels should be considered. Mainly, he wants to force “all their cards on the table”, and with that done, his optimism is better than encouraging – he sees overwhelming public support and an opportunity for real reform. His ground work and study of the misaligned financial sector make his five favorite demands something to think about and discuss.
It feels a bit strange and so liberating, even though it’s very early on and anything could happen, just to be “thinking” about where we might go from here as the American people with a sharp new edge. I guess we just really need to play our cards right – but a little mild weather wouldn’t hurt, as well.
DCK

US to Withdraw All Troops from Iraq

This is the right move for the wrong reason. The troops are coming home only because Iraq’s government would not give legal immunity to the remaining forces in the field.

via US to Withdraw All Troops from Iraq | FDL News Desk.

‘Truth Telling’ ~ by Jack Johnson

Stop the presses. Last Sunday on Christine Amanpour’s This Week, George Will made what appears to be an accurate statement. He declared that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street were two distinct groups. Tea Party, he argued, was an essentially bourgeoisie phenomena content to work within the electoral structure to affect the changes they wanted, like gutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and slashing taxes. Curiously, all of these ‘changes’ fall well within the scope of Wall Street’s own wish list. Conversely, Occupy Wall Street stood outside electoral politics. I have to say it: George Will was right. Do not worry; it did not last long. He went on to suggest that Occupy Wall Street could hurt Democrat’s chances at the polls in 2012. That may or may not be true, but it is hardly the point.

The more I watch the Occupy Wall Street movement, the more I believe it operates as a kind of Rorschach test for many, allowing them to see whatever they want to see. Democrats no less than Republicans are subject to the phenomena. Democrats try to leverage the populist rancor of the movement and call it their own; despite many of them swimming in cash contributions from the very Wall Street entities the 99% are decrying. Republicans caste the peaceful and specifically non-violent protests as a riotous mob of unthinking Lefties. Neither assertion is honest, of course. In fact, both Republicans and Democrats are purchased entities: the former just a tad more transparent in their willingness to destroy the middle class. But the Democrats aren’t far behind. Here’s a fact that should be front page news. That Super Committee of twelve members, chosen by either party to close the deficit on pain of severe automatic cuts has been saturated by Wall Street money—to the tune of 41 million dollars in campaign contributions. Democrats are as likely to be recipients of these campaign funds as Republicans. The New Bottom Line, a financial industry accountability coalition has produced a report showing the influence enjoyed by Wall Street banks on Capitol Hill. The two top recipients are on the Democratic side: Max Baucus, chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and John Kerry, former Democratic Presidential nominee, averaging a little over six million dollars each.

Wall Street is clearly the most powerful lobbying force on Capitol Hill. According to Bernie Sanders, from 1998 through 2008, the financial sector spent over $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions to deregulate Wall Street. More recently, they spent hundreds of millions more to make the Dodd-Frank bill as weak as possible, and after its passage, hundreds of millions more to roll back or dilute the stronger provisions in that legislation.

Given this, most pundits ought to know that current ‘reform’ policy ideas such as a financial transaction tax, re-enacting Glass-Steagall, breaking up ‘too big to fail’ banks or repealing the 1986 Tax Reform laws will never see the light of day without a movement like Occupy Wall Street. The current saturation of Wall Street money to committee members ensures this outcome. It also shows in microcosm the true nature of our broken political system. Medicare will suffer losses, and the poor will bear the brunt of a ridiculous set of austerity measures because our politicians have been effectively purchased. The only other word for this is less kind: they have been bribed.

So, yes, the entire Occupy movement remains decidedly wary of working within the current electoral system to effect change. The reasons should be obvious as a heart attack.

But if they will not work within the current electoral system, how will they effect change? By highlighting the corruption and injustice of the current economic and electoral system. That’s part of what their presence at Liberty Park and across the nation is about. As an example, if you were to hit their website today you would see that they are asking for a moratorium on auctions of foreclosed homes in New York City. They write:

Every week in New York City, in all five boroughs, homes are put up for auction and sale. Speculators purchase homes at discounted rates and flip them. Banks buy back homes to balance their books, evicting the homeowners and letting the homes lie vacant.

It’s well that they are making this call – but that’s not the only injustice they want to highlight. Two weeks ago, they disrupted Sotheby’s auction decrying the billionaire dollar art auction’s use of underpaid scab workers in violation of union rules. Two days ago they placed checks in front of the home of billionaires in New York City in a “Billionaire’s March”. The objective of the procession was to protest the expiration of the “millionaire’s surcharge” tax enacted by the New York State legislature under Governor David Paterson in the spring of 2009. The tax was designed to “temporarily raise taxes on New York’s highest earners in order to close the state’s yawning budget deficit”. According to the New York Times, march leaders carried oversized checks, symbolizing the “millions in tax cuts” the millionaires are slated to receive “on behalf of us, the 99%” when the tax hike lapses at the end of this year.

For their efforts, thus far, well over one thousand of their members have been arrested, they have been pepper sprayed, and beaten. Compare this to George Will’s favored ‘Tea Party’ movement whose acolytes carried weapons—shotguns, rifles, pistols, side arms — to Presidential conferences and Congressional Town Hall meetings, they advocated violent revolution, spit on legislators (Cleveland) and yet no one was arrested? That’s because they weren’t a real threat to the current electoral nor the current economic system. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Tea Party members are part and parcel of the electoral and economic system. Indeed it’s well documented that they received funding from the infamous Koch brothers who tried to destroy the Unions of Wisconsin. Here’s one blushing member on the wonders of the Koch Brother’s munificence. “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it [the Tea Party]. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!”

No one at Occupy Wall Street has the funds or the ideological inclination to play this kind of game. They are truly 99%–which is to say largely middle class and blue collar workers and students. They are all the rest of us.

While they highlight economic injustice at Wall Street and across the country, we should be aware of the forces arrayed against them. One thing that should be more widely known: the ‘police’ that are doing the ‘arresting’ in many instances are actually hired guns of Wall Street. In New York City, where the vast majority of the arrests have been made, it is no secret that JP Morgan recently donated 4.6 million dollars to the NYPD. That buys a lot of favors, especially within the officer corps. But it goes beyond a simple one time contribution. For those who have been watching the excruciating videos of white shirted ‘supervisors’ abusing the marchers (the quintessential example is Officer Bologna’s gratuitous pepper spraying of innocent female protestors), it is obvious that the white shirts are the aggressors. Pam Martens in Counterpunch suggests many of the ‘white shirts’ are likely hired guns. She describes a program which allows private firms to pay the city to put a cop on the street to police for them. The program has its origins in 1998 when Rudy Giuliani developed the so called ‘Paid Detail Unit’. This allows the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street corporations, including those repeatedly charged with crimes, to order up a flank of New York’s finest “with the ease of dialing the deli for a pastrami on rye.” The corporations pay an average of $37 an hour (no medical, no pension benefit, no overtime pay) for a member of the NYPD, with gun, handcuffs and the ability to arrest. The officer is indemnified by the taxpayer, not the corporation.

In this endeavor, despite false arrests by a hired ‘privatized’ police force, the 99% have unilaterally declared non-violence. To the extent that they hold to their ideals: participatory democracy, non-violence, faith in the human conscience, in justice, I suspect they will be successful. They will ultimately prevail, not because they have bought the police officers, or purchased the media, or paid for the politicians. Those are the old methods of the old power structures. They have neither a Koch brother sponsor, nor a favorable media environment nor a hundred ‘think tanks’ ready to write clever talking points for them. All of that is a given. They are powerless in the ways that we typically understand power. But I suspect they will prevail because they will not stop telling the truth; and as long as that truth is faithfully recorded and decimated so that others will understand it, those who have a conscience will ultimately side with them. That is the meaning of Gandhi’s Satyagraha or Truth Insistence. They will prevail because we all have a conscience – that is also the reason Martin Luther King said that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice. Someone else long ago said something very similar: something about the truth that will set you free.

 

 

Election Integrity ~ Gone to Spam?

Okay, this might have been funny at one time:

Critical election process and validity issues today are anything but humorous, and yet it seems to be getting worse. The bottom line is simple: If we want America to be the Grandest Banana Republic on earth, we’re on the way. But without a valid democratic election process in place, we can not be considered a Democratic Republic.

Absentee voting – 7 million and growing

No one disagrees that eligible American voters living abroad should be able to vote in our elections without undue complication, yet year after year, and war after war, they are the most disenfranchised group of voters since before the civil rights movement in the 1960s. While soldiers in the field, especially wounded and disabled soldiers, present obvious challenges, timely inclusion of their votes seems like a mission impossible. Any voting process that is problematic for an estimated seven million Americans needs an overhaul – but convenience should not trump election integrity. At this time, all forms of electronic voting equipment and cyber ballot returns are less than secure.

Trial and error attempts to make voting more convenient have been expensive in more ways than one.

A little background: Convenience results in compromise.

A 2001 congressional order for a “specific provision” by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, moved the ballot transit issue away from the mail and into cyberspace. “The project shall be carried out with participation of sufficient numbers of absent uniformed services voters so that the results are statistically relevant.”

“We find the report quite troubling.”

Security consultants at Johns Hopkins University went public with this news release. The same security experts who authored the 2004 report had to issue another statement three years later in response to a 2007 DOD report expressing their continued concerns over the lack of security for proposed Internet voting. And yet, the Development Guidelines for the program still clearly state (pdf):

“• Spring, 2013 – Lessons Learned Analysis: After the 2012 election, FVAP … will provide information to EAC and its advisory boards on the results of the pilot, including the success and shortcomings of the pilot and lessons learned.”

Public right to authenticate and public right to self-govern are basic and essential principles of a democratic election – and not possible with Internet voting.

Cyber attacks are part of our own routine military espionage, and blow-back from that continues to demonstrate that the Department of Defense cannot even insure the Pentagon’s classified information. If that’s the best we can do to protect military secrets at the Pentagon, so be it – but should we be throwing our elections into this cyber and electronic hacking madness that no one can control? No.

Another bad trend is the diminishing right to a secret ballot. Whether secrecy is waived as a convenience for timely receipt of overseas ballots, or whether voter identification is covertly linked to voted ballots, it corrupts the democratic process and needs to be stopped.

When our government and the vendors it hires are concealing their ability to know and store our voting records, it should be headline news in every paper and news broadcast. That doesn’t happen with our media, but fortunately we have well-respected election and voting reform activists, like Bev Harris, executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc., an advocacy group committed to restoring citizen oversight to elections. She keeps us apprised of important developments like her recent post which begins, “Public officials now admit they can see how you voted and link it to your name. This issue affects Colorado, almost all of Washington State, as well as some locations in California, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia and likely other states as well.” 2/12 – CITIZENS SUE TO FORCE GOVERNMENT TO STOP LINKING VOTES TO VOTER –

PBS NEWSHOUR has also reported on some of the dangers we’re facing in this video- Internet Voting: Will Democracy or Hackers Win?

Electronic voting equipment is not a viable option for secure elections, a well-known fact for many years, though we continue to replace safer methods across the country with this vulnerable, hackable, corporately controlled equipment. Incredibly, we even allow the data “coding” that instructs the equipment, to be kept secret by the corporate owners as protected intellectual property.

GAO compliance analysis reviews (pdf) like the following from Ohio’s 2004 election are always disturbing, but the point is, the problems can’t be corrected to prevent future malfunctions. Where electronic equipment and hackers are concerned, it’s not a question of ‘if’ – the question is ‘when’ and the answer is ‘now’.

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Report to Congressional Committees, June 2006 ELECTIONS
The Nation’s Evolving Election System as Reflected in the November 2004 General Election:
“… in Ohio that allowed one DRE machine’s ballots to be added to the
canvas totals multiple times without being detected. In another instance,
our report notes that a malfunction in a DRE system in Ohio caused the
system to record approximately 3,900 votes too many for one presidential
candidate in the 2004 general election.”

“Election officials in a large Ohio jurisdiction … told us that readiness
testing had been conducted by local officials. However, election
officials stated that certification and acceptance testing were not performed …. They also said that neither parallel testing nor audit testing of voting systems was performed.”

Election officials are a known vulnerability in every aspect of election integrity. Every facet of their jobs needs to be closely scrutinized; publicly witnessed, recorded and reported; videotaped whenever possible; and all records of their activity must remain accessible to the public and not allowed to be destroyed.

Those in a position to game our system are boldly imposing criminal activity on the election process as evidenced by the indictments, prosecutions and guilty pleas that are becoming more and more common.

There are numerous examples of these convictions, most recently including West Virginia, Indiana, and in Pennsylvania – Feese gets 4 to 12 years, where “A Dauphin County jury convicted Feese [Republican] of all 40 counts in a case that involved the misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars by hiring out-of-state consultants and diverting legislative employees to develop customized computer software to help elect more Republicans to the Legislature. (…) Twelve Democrats, including longtime House leader state Rep. Bill DeWeese, have been convicted or pleaded guilty in the investigation.”

Is it collusion when officials of both parties are indited and found guilty in an election fraud scheme? I don’t know, but another thing that comes to mind when “software” is mentioned with election fraud is Themis, the vast, nationwide database and voter file set up by the Koch brothers a while back. I’m not sure what that implies, but it gives me an icky feeling.

And the evidence just keeps on coming ….

This article in Salon exposing Diebold equipment vulnerability did not cause the outrage it should have. The reporting of this critical information was short-lived if the media reported on it at all. If our voting equipment is so easily hacked, and the media treats that like a flash in the pan story, moving quickly to report on some sensational, inane non-issue, what does that tell us … and what else matters if bogus voting equipment and the media work in tandem to silence the people’s voice?

For the sake of convenience, or possibly something more sinister, we have reinvented the nice round wheel that rolled through our election process with some confidence – and we’ve turned it into a no-go item. Secret paper ballots and well supervised hand counting with unlimited public transparency is the only way to go at this time – and maybe forever.

Here’s a good rundown of what we should be expecting from our states regarding election law, and why. Pertinent, too, in gauging progress, this article from OEN in 2009, also by Bev Harris, recognizes the state of Maine’s election processes as the best in our nation. Black Box Voting names Maine best in nation for voting rights

Time tested state and local chaos and corruption

Another major, overall and undisputed problem for voters is the myriad of state and local laws for voting and ballot deadlines that complicate our entire election process. These challenges are already overwhelming, but they’re being used and exacerbated by the effective, step by step, state by state interference by The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) whose templates for legislation aim to disenfranchise voters and suppress the people’s voice in an effort to promote corporate interests. This proposed legislation written by corporations is being passed; they are manipulating state politics and the 2012 presidential race in a big way.

Worse still is that states hire private companies to run their elections and tally the results.

We have a lions share of election problems already, and these issues will become more intense as the 2012 general election nears. Now is the time to stop it. Privatizing the responsibility to companies with political and monetary agendas invites corruption. In this Truthout article, Project Censored named the outsourcing of Ohio’s 2004 election votes “as one of the most censored stories in the world.” It is obviously too late seven years after the fact to investigate a possibly botched election, or recover from the damage that may have been done to our country as the result of one, which is why our corporatized media censors the information.

Seemingly, ALEC “urges legislators to fight the [federal takeover] of state election procedures, objecting in particular to universal standards for voting procedures.” However, as John Nichols explains further, “ALEC is not [really] opposed to uniformity in election procedures as such. It just wants the rules to be set by CEOs, campaign donors and conservative legislators. Restricting voting and direct democracy while ensuring that corporations can spend freely on campaigning makes advancing the conservative agenda a whole lot easier. “Once they set the rules for elections and campaigns, ALEC will pretty much call the shots.”

Secure voting is more a matter of national security than anything our military will ever do. Whether our election process is handled by the states, or even if they evolve into a consolidated Federal effort, convenience to voters will never be as important as a valid outcome controlled by the people.

We need a trustworthy, top-notch special committee investigating our failing election processes, and we need it now. The temptation to tamper with election results will always be irresistible to those who are so inclined, and competent hackers can be purchased around the world as easily as our lawmakers have been purchased by corporate America. Monied stakeholders with interest in the outcome of our elections are widespread in this global economy and they will spare no expense to gain advantage.

Fighting for legitimacy in our right to a meaningful vote, like many other critical safety issues, means that we have to change with the times. Regulatory changes to protect the people’s rights are necessary – whether that means more regulations, different regulations or a complete overhaul of the election process.

Recent history would suggest that we long consider the consequences of court decided elections, and to explore and debate our options including those congress has granted the federal government to override state privilege and consolidate the process. It’s highly debatable, and would be a big pill for states to swallow, but a big pill may be exactly what we need, IF it could be done in a way that secures and validates our secret ballot “one person, one vote” democratic process.

Such power has continually been reiterated by the Supreme Court. In 1932, the Court again reviewed the Election Clause‘s grant of power to Congress to regulate the time, place, and manner of federal elections and stated:

It cannot be doubted that these comprehensive words embrace
authority to provide a complete code for congressional elections,
not only as to times and places, but in relation to notices,
registration, supervision of voting, protection of voters,
prevention of fraud and corrupt practices, counting of votes,
duties of inspectors and canvassers, and making and publication of
election returns; in short, to enact the numerous requirements as
to procedure and safeguards which experience shows are necessary in
order to enforce the fundamental right involved. And these
requirements would be nugatory if they did not have appropriate
sanctions in the definition of offenses and punishments. All this
is comprised in the subject of “times, places and manner of holding
elections. (45)

Here’s the latest on the Maine caucus fiasco. They seem to have moved past the “dog ate my homework” excuse saying that the emails reporting their vote tallies had gone to spam – a priceless example of who and what we’re dealing with in the quest for process integrity.

The clock is ticking and the 2012 election is speeding toward us. Maybe it’s the Doppler effect giving the illusion that we have lots more time to think about all this. We don’t.
DCKennedy

Cold Turkey ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all? ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

Here’s a great page from In These Times:

Features » May 10, 2004

Cold Turkey

BY Kurt Vonnegut

 

 

DCK