Category Archives: National security

Our Carceral State

carceral3

French philosopher, Michel Foucault once famously argued that society operates as a vast prison. While Foucault’s concerns were with an individual’s freedom constrained in such a system, maybe a more direct analogy to our current situation is how our judiciary and police force is used to control and literally imprison a vast swath of our lower classes.

It is no secret that in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, much of the city’s income was derived from fines and court fees for minor traffic violations, essentially converting area police work from “public safety” officers to revenue collectors. These violations disproportionately fell on poorer individuals and minorities who may not have had the money to keep their hedges trimmed and their vehicles perfectly equipped. In effect, the tickets and citations amount to a regressive tax on members of our society least able to afford it.

In the wake of the Brown killing, Governor Jay Nixon signed a broad municipal court reform bill that capped court revenue and imposed new requirements in an attempt to end what the bill’s sponsor called predatory practices aimed at the poor. Good. The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Eric Schmitt, said people have the right “not to be thrown in jail because you’re a couple of weeks … late on a fine for having a taillight out.” He called the current system in place in Ferguson, “taxation by citation.”

“Under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops,” Nixon said.

This is all good, too, and certainly the caps on revenue collection by police is a step in the right direction, but in the larger scheme of things, I’m not nearly as sanguine as Governor Nixon is about “cops going back to being ‘cops.’”

…in Southern states groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same.

For one thing, the historical precedent that they might ‘go back’ toward isn’t exactly edifying, especially in Southern states where groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same; that is, ensuring the safe keeping of property for the wealthy. In the North, police officers often functioned as barriers between the wealthy elites and the immigrant “hordes.” The history of industrialization and unionization in this country is rife with struggles between union supporters and police officers or private firm surrogates operating in their wake (such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency –fun fact, at the height of its existence, the Pinkertons had more agents than the standing army of the United States of America).

We like to think of police officers as neutral arbiters of the law, itself a neutral amalgam of well thought out rules for living, but whether rounding up runaway slaves or busting union organizers, the police have historically found themselves on the side of property owners. What this means in contemporary America is a focus on things like illegal drug use and sale, vehicle violations, public disturbance rules, and zoning laws that disproportionately hit the poorest members of our society first and hardest. If we run back through just the most noteworthy police shootings in the last year (topping 1,000 according to an unofficial list compiled by the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/08/us/fatal-police-shooting-accounts.html?_r=0), most of the precipitating causes involved minor infractions, expired inspection stickers, broken signal lights, or tail lights, unpaid fines or alimony. Public service, protecting humans from harm to themselves or to others might be a nice ancillary outcome of a police officer doing his job, but it’s not the main event.

In fact, the idea that police are here to protect us is not much more than a happy slogan. In its landmark decision DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services,the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “the Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens from criminal harm.” The United States Supreme Court, in the 2005 case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales upheld that decision and extended it to include a state or municipality’s police force– codifying what many folks in poorer neighborhoods had long since suspected: neither the state nor the police have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.

Strictly speaking, the police are law enforcement officers, they are present to make sure the laws as passed by city, county, and state legislators are followed. Towards that end they write tickets, and citations for breaking the law, make arrest and testify in court about their actions. This narrow interpretation of their duties is often clarified in training on the so called ‘public duty’ doctrine that provides that a “governmental entity owes a duty to the public in general, not to any one individual.”

Police are also warned—constantly—to look out for themselves. According to ex-Officer, Seth Stanton, writing in the Atlantic Magazine, “police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.” Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. One slogan that is bandied about squad rooms sums up the mind set: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”

Police are trained to fear the public they are nominally intended to serve. During their training “they are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance.” Writes Stanton, “in most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”

“In most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”

If you happen to peruse Police Magazine, you’ll find that the majority of the stories are about violence against police—and the weapons or tactics they can use to keep themselves safe. This month’s issue features a large photo of an Armalite AR-10 20-Inch Tactical Rifle that was initially designed for the US military. To drive home the point, Police magazine’s logo shows the O in policeman segregated by cross hairs, like a target.

Of course, in addition to the protect-thyself-first attitude, there’s also an underlying racial bias; probably because police officers fear blacks more than whites. In 2015, The Washington Post documented 990 fatal shootings by police, 93 of which involved people who were unarmed. “Black men accounted for about 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police and, when adjusted by population, were seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.”

“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors. “This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on,” Nix said. “Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens.”

The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black…

The report noted that officers may unconsciously develop biases over time. “In other words, the police — who are trained in the first place to be suspicious — become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion,” according to the report.

So we have a fearful police force, over trained for self-protection with an underlying bias against minorities whose main job is not to protect citizens but to enforce legal codes that order society for the benefit of property owners (that will likely make a poor person’s life more difficult). Add to the brew, the over militarization of our police force (do we really need armored tanks on civilian streets?) and the fact that most police officer shootings are investigated by the police departments themselves and it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand how deeply dysfunctional the whole shebang is. I had one friend suggest that, given the stress our minority communities are under, it was surprising incidents like Dallas hadn’t happened more frequently.

But they haven’t– and perhaps that’s a testimony to what many police departments are coming to recognize—the necessity for retraining and community engagement. In fact, it’s a sad irony that the Dallas Police department has done an exceptional job in just this area. It’s obvious that Police Chief David Brown –whose own life is rife with personal tragedy—is dedicated to a community outreach program. Just hours before the killings began last Thursday night in Dallas, his officers took time to chat with protesters, even taking selfies with them.

“We saw police officers shaking hands and giving high fives and hugging people and being really in the moment with us,” demonstrator Sharay Santora said.

But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting. All of this should tell us that police forces in this country are as diverse as their leaders and the communities that they serve. Our own city, Richmond, Virginia, much like Dallas, has done excellent work in reaching out to the various communities here—including, surprisingly, the LGBT community. So it’s not hopeless, but no one solution will fit all the municipalities across the nation, and maybe one of the questions we should be asking is how well our expectations of police service match the reality? After all, as Chief Brown has noted, “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve”

But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting

Many of our poor neighborhoods have a nearly round the clock police presence—from squad cars anyhow. Police appear, write up infractions, and arrest vagrants, keep an eye on shifty characters, “gangbangers” and the like. They do what they are trained to do. But the result isn’t a working society. The result, as I suggested in the beginning of this essay, is a carceral state.

Right now, if you are an Afro-American male, your odds of being in jail at some point in your life are 1 in 3. I doubt this is because 1 in 3 Afro-American males are genetically predisposed to periodic episodes of violence and criminal behavior. More likely, it has to do with the incredible dearth of job prospects made infinitely worse by a rap sheet and applying while black.

Police officers can’t solve that problem. They aren’t social workers or teachers or medical service personnel, as Brown correctly points out—but the nature of the system we have put in place allows all the problems of our society to flow downward to the cop on the beat whose one job is to enforce the law, but who we mistakenly believe can somehow catch all the detritus of a dysfunctional system and keep it working.

In Michel Foucault’s famous work, Discipline and Punishment, the ruling metaphor is society as a vast prison; a kind of panoptic nightmare—a word derived from Jeremy Bentham’s famous panopticon which was a prison designed so that every cell is view-able from a raised central location, like a watchtower plunked into the middle of a cell block. The point was to understand and react to the behavior of the individuals in the surrounding cells so as to control them. But even at this rudimentary level we are failing, for it’s obvious we don’t understand the individuals caught in our system and we aren’t really controlling behavior, we’re merely holding them in our prison cells precisely because we don’t know what else to do with them.

You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell.

Our criminal justice system is trying to repair something it simply isn’t equipped to mend. You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell. Perhaps if we, as a society, decided that the carceral state was a bad idea; if we decided, instead, to fund jobs programs and provide secure housing for those in need, if, indeed, we provided drug treatment programs instead of felony convictions we might resolve many problems before they become statistics. We can tinker with police community outreach, provide stricter guidelines for engagement and the use of force and institute better ways of policing the police (oh, please let us have a uniform standard for conduct and an external agencies that review police shooting across the nation), but in the end the panacea we are looking for won’t come from a guy or gal on the beat– with or without a gun. They will come from providing adequate resources to all our public workers,  developing jobs programs and training for individuals from all walks of life, and from our own personal engagement with the community in which we live. Maybe it’s time to stop looking to the police to solve the problems of our deeply dysfunctional system. Rather, we should restructure the system so we don’t need the police—or not nearly as much. Maybe it’s time we all signed up.

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Intelligence Gathering 101: Ask the Right Questions

NSA-PRISM

A long time ago, before 9/11, analysts working for the NSA used to quip that the letters stood for “No Such Agency.” Their veil of secrecy was the counterpoint to what they did for years which was to lift the veil of secrecy on everybody else. The aborted program that John Poindexter put forward shortly after 9/11 was slapped down, probably for being too honest about its premise, as honest as the NSA ever is. They called the program ‘Total Information Awareness’ and the image that represented it on the PowerPoint that hit the web was the Masonic Pyramid with the single all-seeing eye. Although rejected, the NSA pretty much went ahead with the program under a new name: PRISM. In CNN’s latest “thought” piece, a leading question frames Edward Snowden’s release of information regarding the NSA’s PRISM program. It asks whether Snowden is a Traitor or a Hero?

But it’s the wrong question. And Snowden, I feel relatively confident, would be the first to tell you that it’s the wrong question.

Less than a year ago at a Senate hearing, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden asked James Clapper, nominal director of the hydra-headed National Intelligence Service, another question. “Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” To which Clapper replied: “No, sir.” After a head scratching pause (one helluva tell, I must say) he also added, “Not wittingly.”

At another hearing, General Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., denied fourteen times that the agency had the technical capability to intercept e-mails and other online communications in the United States.
Of course, they were both lying.

Here’s another question. At what point do constraints of secrecy become lies in spy bureaucracies like the NSA or in our government in general?

Let me explain. At least one way the PATRIOT Act can subvert your average American is by forcing them to lie. The Act allows the FBI to not only request your records without a warrant but to forbid the provider of the records from ever revealing that the request was even made. This is 1984 territory: you must tell the truth to us, but you must never tell the truth to anyone else about us. Put less abstractly, it turns librarians and internet company officials into liars and stool pigeons under a legal seal of silence; a kind of legal blackmail. The threat to democracy lies not only in the evisceration of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, the rights against self-incrimination and coerced confessions, and other rights that form the backbone of the criminal justice system, but also in eroding freedom of the press, seeing journalists and reporters as “aiding and abetting” the criminal telling of government secrets. Secrets, by the way, that shouldn’t even be secret. Steven King’s assertion that Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian should be jailed for his article on Snowden is but a crude manifestation of the ultimate logic of such ‘rules’.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has known about PRISM for some time and been appalled, but could not speak openly about it because it is classified, and his pleas to fellow senators to do something about it were shamefully deep-sixed by his colleagues.

Here’s yet another question. Who actually benefits from all this ‘intelligence’? The Boston Bomber plot appears to have come off without a hitch, despite multiple emails, Facebook posts, tracking of Jihadi websites and the like. They left a trail your average Cheetos huffing hacker could have tracked with his eyes closed. Yet we have amputees and at least three dead. Hello, NSA? Seems we have a problem. You might make the argument that Osama bin Laden was successfully assassinated thanks to our super surveillance state, only that’s a lie too. His compound was a digital black hole, no internet access from there at all. Why? Because they knew all about electronic intercepts and wisely didn’t believe a word of James Clapper’s testimony. In some ways, the PRISM program is an exercise in intellectual masturbation. One ex-intelligence official, Coleen Rowley, put it succinctly, “it does not make it easier to find a needle in a haystack if you continue to add hay.”

Programs like PRISM and the tautologically named Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) don’t work because the hard work of analysis to figure what information is relevant and what is dross becomes continuously more difficult and longer with each new scoop of excess data. According to Rowley, “Researchers long ago concluded that the NIMD-type promise of detecting and accurately stopping terrorists through massive data collection was simply not possible.”

So why continue? Because there’s another answer to the question of who benefits from this intelligence.

Consider the following: Roughly 9-10 billion dollars a year are spent on the NSA’s electronic surveillance capabilities. That money doesn’t go to Federal employees however, or at least not the lion’s share. No, the vast majority, about 70% of that kingly sum goes to private firms, like, for example, Booz Allen Hamilton for whom Snowden worked. James Clapper, that magnificently lousy poker player, just happens to be the pioneer who helped Michael Hayden oversee this amazing privatization campaign.

Here’s a little history. According to the Nation, in the late 1990s, faced with a telecommunications and technological revolution that threatened to make the NSA’s telephone and radar-based surveillance skills obsolete, the agency decided to turn to private corporations for many of its technical needs.

The outsourcing plan was finalized in 2000 by a special NSA Advisory Board set up to determine the agency’s future and was codified in a secret report written by a then-obscure intelligence officer named James Clapper.

“Clapper did a one-man study for the NSA Advisory Board,” recalls Ed Loomis, a 40-year NSA veteran who, along with William Binney, Thomas Drake, and J. Kirk Wiebe, blew the whistle on corporate corruption at the NSA.

(By the way, they too are being prosecuted by Eric Holder and the Attorney General’s office.)

“His recommendation was that the NSA acquire its Internet capabilities from the private sector. The idea was, the private sector had the capability and we at NSA didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
Hayden, who was the NSA director at the time, “put a lot of trust in the private sector, and a lot of trust in Clapper, because Clapper was his mentor,” added Loomis. And once he got approval, “he was hell-bent on privatization and nothing was going to derail that.”

Clapper, of course, has denounced Snowden’s Guardian leaks as “reprehensible.” He called the disclosures, “literally gut-wrenching” and said they had caused “huge, grave damage” to US intelligence capabilities. But this is dubious at best: Al Qaeda was well aware US intelligence service intercepts. Really, even the extent of domestic spying isn’t a surprise to those of us who have been paying attention.

As the inimitable Charles Pierce has noted, “All Snowden did was tell us what we’d been paying for, and (maybe) remind “our adversaries” to use disposable cellphones, which they could have picked up from any episode of Law And Order after 1995. Maybe we should indict Jack McCoy for treason.”

None of this has to do with ‘effectiveness’ of responding to ‘threats’ or gathering information against those threats. It has to do with the appearance of effectiveness, and, naturally, money. Privatization is an ideology which is also a path to riches for pliant officials–one reason they have such a fervent faith in the free market. And, as with Wall Street, the officials feeding at the trough are entirely bipartisan.

According to the New York Times: “As evidence of the company’s close relationship with government, the Obama administration’s chief intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., is a former Booz Allen executive. The official who held that post in the Bush administration, John M. McConnell, now works for Booz Allen.”

That’s the revolving door in its purest form, flipping between private and public troughs, depending on the party in power. And there’s a lot of money to be made. Last February Booz Allen Hamilton announced two new contracts with Homeland Security, worth a total of $11 billion, for “program management, engineering, technology, business and financial management, and audit support services.”

Yet Booz Allen is only eighth on the list of the top 100 government contractors. Think about that.

Dana Priest and William Arkin conducted an intensive two-year investigation of national security for the Washington Post. They identified 1,931 private companies working in “about 10,000 locations” around the country, with 854,000 of their employees holding top-secret clearances.

They also found enormous redundancy and waste, along with an inability for human beings to effectively absorb and use all the information produced. Analysts were then publishing some 50,000 intelligence reports each year. And since this report was completed nearly three years ago, things can only have grown worse.

The huge drain on public coffers is only one of the downsides of this intelligence behemoth. Another is the lack of accountability when private employees do government work. According to the New York Times:

“The national security apparatus has been more and more privatized and turned over to contractors,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that studies federal government contracting. “This is something the public is largely unaware of, how more than a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive matters.” Even the process of granting security clearances is often handled by contractors, allowing companies to grant government security clearances to private sector employees.

All this is significant and should raise concerns, but it’s not the important question. The important question came from a writer named David Foster Wallace who in 2007 began to see the shape of things to come and asked this:

Is it worth it?

“What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?”

Wallace goes on to argue that we willingly accept 40,000+ domestic highway deaths each year as the price of a mobility in our society. In terms of concrete deaths for abstract ‘rights’, we appear to love the Second Amendment to such a degree that we’ll accept 30,000+ deaths by guns and still not demand a simple universal process for background checks, much less a gun registry.

Wallace continues: “Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?

Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?”

There was no debate because no one asked permission. Because the relevant agencies kept their program shrouded in secrecy (No Such Agency!), even when their first efforts were soundly rejected. But now we have an opportunity to have this discussion. To answer this last question:

Are we willing to sacrifice our constitution on the altar of a dubious national security state in a pyrrhic effort to feel safe?

The question isn’t whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor. The correct question is, what are we?

Of Boston, Narratives and 9/11

Photo, Eric Thayer

About twelve years ago, shortly after 9/11, a series of writers ‘meditated’ on the event for a New York publication. Robert Stone, ex-beatnik and author of Dog Soldiers, a novel about Vietnam and heroin running, was one of them. In a work entitled “9/11: When Narratives Collide” he noted that narratives rule us—or, conversely— we allow ourselves to be ruled by narratives spawned by our culture. A novelist, Stone understood the impact of what happened through the lens of language, and language, as he noted can never separate itself from moral perspective because–tautology of tautologies – the imperatives of language are necessarily moral. Even something like humor is moral. To be sure, this is generational, but it’s also cultural. And if individuals raised in the same household can have such diverging tastes in matters of low importance like humor, imagine the disparity that moves across classes, cultures and generations when it comes to matters of religion and politics. The miracle really is that we don’t have more frequent events like 9/11—catastrophic as they are—not fewer.

One reason we have been lucky is a simple technical fact—the world is closer. Because of advances in technology we are more easily able to communicate, to bridge the gulf in narratives and cultures. I know now the phrase Allahu Ahkbar means ‘God is Great’…. I also know, thanks to friends who practice Islamic praying, that there are recitative prayers like the Al-Wird, portions of which are repeated over and over (100 times, for example). Just as Catholics might say a Holy Mary or Our Father on their rosary beads, so, too, those who practice the Al-Wird count their utterances and repeat them by a set standard. Thanks to modern technology (and friends) I know the sound of these prayers and find them haunting and refreshing in the same way Handel’s Messiah is evocative at Catholic Midnight Mass. They are meant as offerings to cleanse the heart so that one might come closer to God, Allah, etc.. and I suspect that for believers, they probably do.

**

Narratives haunt us, too. Sometimes, literally–especially if the belief is strong and culture wide. In Vietnam, the ghosts of ancestors who die violently continue to haunt the living until they are put to rest. Although treated with deep skepticism by many Westerners, there are clinical cases where young daughters or grandsons of lost relatives have been tormented by ghosts whose lives had been cut short by the decades long Vietnam war. The object of the ghost entreaties is to be re-united and properly buried by their family. Heonik Kwon, who has spent decades studying the war ghosts of Vietnam, tells this story:

A man saw his late wife and children in the early morning on his way to the paddy. This was in the spring of 1993, and by this time some villagers had begun to remove the remains of their relatives from improper shallow wartime graves to newly prepared family graveyards. The apparition was at the site of the man’s old house. The house was burned down during the tragic incident of a village massacre in early 1968, which destroyed his family. His wife, seated on a stone, greeted him somewhat scornfully. The three children were hidden behind her back, afraid that their parents might start quarreling.

The meaning of the apparition was immediately clear to the man: he must rebury the remains of his lost family without delay. If he had no means to do so, according to the local interpretation of the apparition, the spirits would help him find a way. The man decided to spend the small sum of money that he had saved in the past years from selling coconuts and negotiated to obtain a loan from a neighbor. At that moment, a wealthy businesswoman and a relative of his wife arrived from a distant city and offered to share the cost of reburial. On the day of the reburial, the woman told the visitors how the family of spirits had appeared to her in a dream and urged her to pay a visit to their home.

What’s interesting about this from a Western perspective is the ease with which the story of the ghosts are accepted. For us to really understand what this means in the context of contemporary Vietnam, you have to understand that the ghosts in a Vietnamese village are supposed to be attentive to the social affairs among their living neighbors, just as the villagers are interested in the existence of the ghosts—they are distinct and alien to each other just enough so that explanations are, in fact, necessary. In short—the ghosts want to explain themselves to the living as much as the living want and need to explain themselves to their dead ancestors.

One instance which surprised me was the story of an American soldier who had lost a leg in the same area where a North Vietnamese man had lost his life. He became haunted by the ghost of this dead Vietnamese soldier to the point of being possessed, at least nocturnally. He woke in the night, speaking in a high falsetto tongue. He was actually speaking a North Vietnamese dialect which he had never learned. His wife (a young Vietnamese girl) could barely cope with the strange possession and they sought the advice of a Shaman or spirit medium. The medium advised them to return to the place where the young soldier was wounded. Once there, they met with relatives of the man who had been killed in the area and his bones were finally re-interred near his family’s ancestral spot. The American soldier’s nightmare stopped almost immediately.

I say this all by way of emphasizing the point that Stone initially brought up: we live and die by our narratives, and the stories we tell ourselves as a culture are some of the most powerful forces on Earth.

Considering this, maybe the most important thing that happened twelve years ago wasn’t the disastrous attacks on the World Trade Center, the downed flight in Pennsylvania or the attack on the Pentagon, but the new narrative that was unleashed after the attack. There were at least two possible stories we could have told ourselves.

The first: we have been attacked and must unite to rescue the people we can and prosecute the individuals responsible. If possible we must find the reason for the attack and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

The second: we have been attacked and now we must attack in turn, not just the individuals directly responsible, but an entire country. And, if that should prove insufficient, we should attack more than one country, perhaps an entire culture needs to feel our pain. Ultimately, we must seek to remake and dominate any narrative but our own.

We chose the second narrative. We girded our loins, donned our armor and attacked two countries—one of which was innocent, the other guilty perhaps, but by proxy only. We changed our laws to make us less free, suspending Habeas Corpus, and allowing military confinement of citizens on US soil. We institutionalized torture. All of this we did to ensure ourselves some sense of security, seeking a kind of ruthless certainty in our narrative. Like a child watching a confusing television show, we had to know immediately who was the good guy and who was the bad.

Three days ago, another event, similar in purpose, if not in scale, blew through the Boston Marathon. No one knows yet who is responsible, but we do know that none of our wars stopped those explosions. None of our simplistic faith in good guys vs. bad guys helped. Our lost liberties didn’t keep us safe. Our starving prisoners in Guantanamo have brought us no peace. We still live with uncertainty and that ultimately is the nature of narratives. They are there to stand in for reality, explain it. At the end of the story they resolve and cease to move forward, either because they no longer have a purpose, or they dissolve into incoherence. They can only be propped up or vanquished with bullets or bombs for so long; eventually, they die from a lack of belief.

Today, twelve long years later, I suspect we have lost our faith in the narrative we chose on 9/11. I see signs of a different story forming, something like that first narrative: we have been attacked and must unite to rescue the people we can and prosecute the individuals responsible. A civilized reaction befitting a civilized country. Let’s hope so.

– by Jack Johnson

American Pie

If you don’t want apple pie, quit giving apples to the baker.

Sixteen of Americas intelligence agencies have reaffirmed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, and yet the chest-beating war mongers in the media and congress are all but counting their money from betting against efforts to work toward peace and diplomacy with a nation full of innocent people who are probably as baffled by some of their state policies as I am with ours.

The American people pay dearly so our leaders can afford to have a smart, effective, representative State Department, foreign policy and military equipped to make friends with the people of other nations, promote peace and defend the American people against … whatever, and somewhere in that mix, somebody is responsible for strategy. So, what’s going on with our policy toward Iran and why aren’t we being consistent in our war against terrorism?

Stipulating for the point, say the Iranian government, not the people, but the state – is doing something that could result in killing people and that’s what we don’t want them to do – kill people. That’s the bottom line, right? Say we also know that there are terrorists in Iran, non-state actors, angry and itching to kill Americans and Israelis. Now say somebody, not America, starts murdering scientists in Iran and the Iranians think we’re involved in that terrorism. What’s the best strategy for our war on terror to protect and defend Americans, and prevent another war … or … terrorist attack involving the people of the Middle East?

Posing here with his young son is Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, a scientist, an Iranian university professor and chemical engineer who worked on procurement for the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. He was 32 years old and buried recently after having been murdered by a terrorist.

Although the United States claims to be looking for terrorists, all we’ve done about this is to deny our involvement in these concerted attacks – several in the last years killing Iranian scientists. We didn’t so much as send a flower arrangement for the funeral service, let alone a diplomat to convey our condolences and assure the Iranian people that we are striving to end this sort of terrorism around the world. That is what we’re doing, right?

The Iranian people, who obviously need international cooperation to find these terrorists, just as we would if it were happening here, have had no help from the U.S. nor have we used our influence to garner support for them among other nations. When their Human Rights Secretary-General wrote to the U.N. asking for help, he was told that these illegal “extrajudicial executions” must be investigated by Iran. And here’s what U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: “We have some ideas as to who might be involved. But we don’t know exactly who was involved.”

That’s the level of interest and concern we’re showing for terrorism while leading a global war on terrorism. Rather than seizing an opportunity to help, win friends, or influence the Iranian people in our fight against these murderers, here’s what happened instead:
[“Death to America! Death to Israel!” roared the crowd streaming away from weekly prayers at Tehran University, where the dead man was hailed as a martyr in the tradition of Imam Hussein, a revered figure for Iran’s Shi’ite branch of Islam.

“Nuclear energy is our absolute right!” young men chanted.]

If the people in Iran held anti-American sentiments before this funeral, how do you think they’re feeling now?

But furthermore, what danger to the people in America and around the world has been exacerbated by our apparent strategy to exclude the people of Iran from our otherwise hell-bent war on terror? The answer to the first question is easy: Not illogically under the circumstances, we’ve been branded as the terrorist.

Whatever our strategy in the war on terror, it would seem we need to stand against terrorism. Wherever it happens, we should treat the people of nations the way we were treated after 9/11, with compassion and support.

If we’re not standing against the senselessness of reacting to state policy by murdering innocent people who live in the country, what are we doing?

Knowing everything our government knows about terrorism (and I’m sure it’s a boatload whether the intelligence is right or wrong), they seem to be unmindful of the danger of further enraging an already enraged populace that supposedly includes elements of non-state acting crazy people who want to kill us – and who now, if not before, probably have the ear of some very capable scientists.

That serious consideration has been analyzed by CSIS, a Foreign Policy think tank that informs Washington with strategic analyses on security issues. While we often think of 9/11 as the type of attack we could face again, these assessments involve attacks that require less organization and expense, and focus on the broad spectrum of our population. Our media never calls attention to the very real possibility of our being the recipients of a weapons grade “hazard” that spreads uncontrollably across America, but I think the possibility increases with time and strategy that creates enemies of state and non-state players rather than allies.

Click pictures to enlarge. (CBR = Chemical, Biological and Radiological Hazards, N = Nuclear)

Personally, I don’t think we’re headed for war with Iran, but that wouldn’t mean the coast is clear. There are people in Iran who believe, and with good reason, that their nation is under attack, that their people are in danger, and that either we are part of it, or protecting the culprits. And while we may have some control over the actions of the Iranian government and their military, we will never have control over all their people, or other people around the world who think our “war on terror” is evil.

Any good strategy to provide for the safety of Americans would not include the callous indifference we’ve shown to the people who live in Iran while they have been under attack. Looking the other way while our “allies” are murdering innocent citizens of another nation is clearly a breach in our stated objective. It shows our intentions are without integrity and attracts the ire of would-be terrorists world-wide.

Knowing the whereabouts and intentions of all non-state actors is impossible. All our surveillance, black ops and intelligence gathering is of little use against even one really enraged scientist who would unleash a chemical, biological or other uncontrollable weapon to spread across our country. George W. Bush said it: They only have to be right once. Ironically, and regardless of why he said it, that’s the best reason I know of for the sort of diplomacy and foreign policy that he was not recommending – one that embraces and helps the people of other nations.

9/11 should have taught us that, and how to treat our global neighbors. Instead, we continue to push our luck in every conceivable way. Our reputation around the world gets worse with every drone that drops a bomb in a neighborhood killing innocent bystanders. Our military does that with impunity, including in nations we’re not even at war with. Under those circumstances, we should all be able to understand anti-American sentiment.

War is political failure, not success. And it’s always the people, not the state, who pay the price for that failure whether it’s here, there, or somewhere else. When I look out my front door and think about my neighbors and my community, especially when I think about the stealth involved with chemical and biological weapons, I know that any foreign policy that attracts terrorism is dangerous and not a strategy designed to defend or protect the people. Americans are as divided on this as they are about everything else, which stands to inhibit the public outrage necessary to change it. But one thing’s for sure, if we keep giving apples to the baker, we’re just begging for apple pie, and it’ll find its way over here sooner or later.
DCKennedy

(all photos in Iran – Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Image)
(all graphics – CSIS, http://csis.org/files/publication/110916_Iran-US-IsraeliPerspII.pdf)

Iran – Stardate: 3192.1

Eminiar VII

In 1967, I saw the Star Trek episode, Taste of Armageddon. Kirk and Spock beamed onto Eminiar VII, were informed that the Enterprise had been annihilated in a computer simulation, and that the crew were obliged to be executed.

Trying to avoid the destruction of their planets, the inhabitants had decided to have a computer war instead of a real one. When a “hit” by the computer was scored, those living within the strike’s radius went willingly into “antimatter chambers” to be vaporized, making the casualties legitimate. That gives new meaning to save the planet, right? You gotta love Star Trek.

It was a good thought experiment, though. Even today, efforts to desensitize the reality of war leave me cold. I want to see the ugly. Anything else seems condescending or manipulative, neither of which serves the people on this planet. Reality has all its glory and shame in full view.

A seemingly innocent example is Steve Mumford’s work in Iraq as an embedded artist. But Robert Shetterly called him out saying, objectivity is “to present many sides of an issue, and let the viewer try to make sense of the complexity and live with the uncertainty.”

Uncertainty gives rise to choices.

There’s a lot of extra news lately about Iran’s nuclear energy program, so it’s time to ratchet up the fear level and make sure our military has enough money to protect us from the people who live in Iran.

If the supper committee doesn’t do its job of further slashing and dashing the hopes of Americans, the agreement laid out by a “previous congress” was for deep and automatic cuts that included the military. But of course, military spending cuts are frowned upon by some lawmakers just like tax sharing for the wealthy. Therefore, at [a recent meeting of the deficit reduction panel, Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, sought assurances that nothing would prevent Congress from changing the mechanism for automatic cuts in military spending. Douglas W. Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, replied, “Any Congress can reverse the actions of a previous Congress.”] And there we have it. The built-in “out” has been revealed.

As for Iran, word has it today out of Tel Aviv, Washington and London that the IAEA will deliver breaking news soon – an already well leaked report that is reminiscent of the pre-Iraq war claims with an ISIS satellite photo of a bus sized metal bomb testing room (think mobile biological weapons labs). France and Russia have both warned Israel against a military strike, warning of irreparable damage to the region – the understatement of a decade.

Looking for an Intelligence Estimate, I found a report from three weeks ago by CSIS, a foreign policy think tank with heavy influence in Washington. It goes through September, but does not end two or three weeks ago. It takes its blazing strategy and analysis into the future. With diagrams, charts and possible scenarios, it describes what might happen if ….

It’s another thought experiment. I looked through the pages and saw what THEY think could happen. It’s ugly. And I think if we stay on this course, if we don’t force our governments to settle their differences without sizing up the people for annihilation, our planet stands to be assessed one country at a time, one city at a time, just like Tehran:

This is a PDF and it’s not for sissies:
Iran’s Strategic Competition with the US and Arab States – Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Capabilities

Update: Here’s the IAEA Iran Nuclear Report. I see too much hype and stale information, and not enough critical thinking or factual explanation for assumptions. I remain concerned about our political persuasion and our recent tendency to rush to judgement in matters of war against the people of other nations. What I consider reasonable breakdown of it can be found here and here.

Find a better way. Save the planet. Peace.
DCKennedy

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

Thought Experiment 2007

Here’s a short but thoughtful piece that’s nice for today by the late David Wallace.

The Future of the American Idea
November 2007
Atlantic Monthly
by David Foster Wallace
Just Asking

Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price? Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin’s time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?

In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Patriot Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it? Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?

FOOTNOTES:
1. Given the strict Gramm-Rudmanewque space limit here, let’s just please all agree that we generally know what this term connotes—an open society, consent of the governed, enumerated powers, Federalist 10, pluralism, due process, transparency … the whole democratic roil.

2. (This phrase is Lincoln’s, more or less)

And here’s an answering piece you may have seen, but one that follows with grace, the essence of universal connection.

DCKennedy

Grassroots and Solidarity ~ “Let’s roll.”

I believe we have to think about how to create spaces for people to experience the solidarity that bolsters our courage to explore new ideas and to take risks to challenge power. ~ Robert Jensen

I’m feeling very solution oriented today. After yesterday’s political show – a continuation of the bullheadedness of our elitist leaders, Robert Jensen’s Combatting Ignorance, Avoiding Arrogance gave me some extra determination. It seems at first like an ‘I told you so’ piece, but develops into a strong case for the patience, humility and tenaciousness that we should find and foster in grassroots organizations if we plan to succeed in reversing our course of economic destruction. It’s a confirming sort of pep talk with thoughtful reasons for everyone to get involved with a group like our Alliance for Progressive Values. The people still have the strength to turn things around, but only with a meaningful collective voice. Once you find a good group to join, that group will link with other like-minded groups to form an effective foundation for the changes we all want to see.

Time for Americans to Participate in Power by Kevin Zeese backs it up nicely. This well sourced Labor Day piece includes a lot of statistics that are often misreported. His strong arguments for raising taxes on the rich and reducing military spending seem especially supportive now that the super committee’s Jon Kyl is threatening to quit over military spending reductions and other neoliberals on the committee are refusing to raise taxes. That, in addition to the predictable breaking news of a one week old terrorist threat that challenged football for the domination of our American nightly “news” immediately following the president’s important (but planned to be rejected) jobs speech.

Zeese’s conclusion is like that of Jensen’s in that we “need to look honestly and deeply into the corruption of government by economic and political elites and demand that we participate in power,” but he suggests a stronger stand of active participation and solidarity in an upcoming event: October2011.org, which advocates “Fifteen Core Issues the Country Must Face.”

October 2011 is the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan and the beginning of the 2012 federal austerity budget. It is time to light the spark that sets off a true democratic, nonviolent transition to a world in which people are freed to create just and sustainable solutions.

I think it’s going to be an important event – it has certainly been well-organized.

There are lots of reasons why America is seemingly being steered into a deep ditch and we all have different views about the causes – but at this point, there are enough groups and activities promoting solidarity that everyone should be able to find a good fit, and that’s definitely the tack we should take.

In 9/11 hero Todd Beamer’s last words, “Let’s roll.”

For APV members: Here’s some information on the APV Fall 2011 Lobby Trip to Washington D.C. Don’t forget to sign up! It’s going to be a great one!
DCKennedy

One Washington Devouring the Other

“So here’s a question at a moment when financial mania has Washington by the throat: How would you define the state of mind of our war-makers, who are carrying on as if trillion-dollar wars were an American birthright, as if the only sensible role for the United States was to eternally police the planet, and as if garrisoning U.S. troops, corporate mercenaries, and special operations forces in scores and scores of countries was the essence of life as it should be lived on this planet?” ~ Lowering America’s War Ceiling?

Tom Engelhardt makes a good case for two faces of Washington vying for the control of our decline – each with the same master and ultimately working in tandem. Comparing the dilemma first to a stage production – and then a mental illness, he suggests the game “What’s Wrong With This Picture” as if we are overlooking something very elementary.

Separating Americans into those willing to watch “the show” through the last act, and those who see the “insanity” of war profiteering and want to do something about it, is an inevitable part of the solution when “one Washington is devouring the other”.

The power behind our military and political dysfunction is draining the life out America. At this point everybody should be ready for less game playing and better leadership.

Greeted as if World War II had been won, the killing of Osama bin Laden should have been a reminder of the success of the Global War on Terror for a man with few “troops” and relatively modest amounts of money who somehow managed to land Washington in a financial and military quagmire.

DCKennedy

Slug Slow Equality

Our military has decided at long last that including gays won’t compromise our national security, and today they will meet to advise president Obama that they’ll be ready for inclusion in September.

Equality in America is a slug slow process at the end of a steep uphill fight for rights long ago provided for in the constitution and its amendments. Step by slow step, the LGBT community continues to climb, gaining ground, widening the path of civil rights activists and easing the way for other groups long discriminated against. Maybe one fine day we will see a similar announcement providing EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK.

In the mean time, congratulations to those Americans working to change policies of discrimination and exclusion. May the wind be always at your back.

DCKennedy