December 28, 2008

Stop Israel's Attacks Against Palestinians

Letter to my Senators and Representative, President-elect Obama and the US State Department in response to Israel's attacks on Gaza.

The US claims to favor a just settlement of the conflict between Palestinians and Israel. However, continuation of billions of dollars of uncritical US aid to Israel is counter-productive. Israel has repeatedly used our aid to launch attacks on Palestinians. The most generous interpretation of their actions is that they have a reckless disregard for civilian casualties. Hundreds have been killed by the bombing of Gaza, but perhaps worse is the effects of the blockade on the people who live there. I do not condone Hamas attacks but Israel's attacks are disproportionate to the provocation. Attacks on civilians are a violation of International Law and US law.

Hamas attacks are a response to the continued illegal occupation of their land and the daily violence the Palestinians experience.

Israel will never see peace unless they are willing to end the occupation, and allow the formation of a Palestinian state with a territory that is not broken up by Israeli settlements. The first step to peace has to be a real and immediate end to settlements and to the so called "security wall", which puts land and water supplies in the West Bank on the Israeli side. Many Israelis agree that their own security is not served by their government's militaristic policy.

I trust that the US will use the leverage we have with our substantial aid to help end the violence by persuading Israel to negotiate a just and lasting settlement.


US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

United for Peace and Justice Palestine/Israel Just Peace Campaign

December 06, 2008

Re: Your plan for Iraq

Message sent to the Obama Transition at 12/6/08

Re: Your plan for Iraq

I would like to see our troops withdrawn from the streets immediately and brought home.

I am concerned that your plan to withdraw troops from Iraq doesn't go far enough. As you know, the presence of US troops is an obstacle to peace. The US lacks any clear mission and is basically one of many militias operating in Iraq. Insurgents will continue to receive support from Iraqis who, quite naturally, object to the foreign soldiers conducting missions, breaking down doors, taking prisoners and dropping bombs, with many innocent victims. Our presence is used to justify the violence that other militias use. We get the blame for that, as well.

Your idea of a residual force is a bad idea because it provides for continued US operations there and therefore will not ease the worries of Iraqis who overwhelming want the foreign troops out. Continuing operations will lead to continuing “collateral damage”, which will only weaken the ability of Iraqis to find reconciliation. You will find yourself in the position later on of being pressured to expand that force and we will be right back where we are now.

Likewise I object to your expansion of military action in Afghanistan. Now is a great time to expand diplomatic efforts instead. People around the world are looking to you to change the way that the US relates to the rest of the world. Elements of the Taliban are ready for negotiations. Lets encourage that trend and be ready to withdraw our troops and increase our reconstruction aid, using local contractors and international organizations to show that our goal is not domination but peace. This will undermine the hardliners.

We have to understand that the US cannot control the people of other countries. If they are not friendly to our government or corporations, I can't say I blame them. We need to earn their trust and we need to trust them. You talk a lot about diplomacy. It is crucial. I hope you don't forget it.

November 13, 2008

My advice to Obama

President-elect Obama is asking us, the American people, to give him some input on what we would like to see in the next few years. He has set up a website for his transition:

President-Elect Obama Transition site- Share Your Vision
Share your vision for what America can be, where President-Elect Obama should lead this country. Where should we start together?

I hope that lots of people take advantage of this opportunity to have our say. Here is what I sent in. There is lots more that could be said, and will be said, but this is a start.

1. We need to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars are draining our economy, killing and wounding thousands of our troops and antagonizing the people we are supposed to be helping. A better approach would be to put some of that money, a substantial amount, into building schools, clinics, housing and infrastructure that is desperately needed. Make the money available for the Iraqi and Afghani governments to spend on their own country. Use local contractors and local workers to get their economies going. Negotiate with all parties to end the fighting. Ordinary people will benefit and support for insurgents will wither.
2. We need universal healthcare here. Lets follow the lead of the rest of the industrialized world in order to insure that everybody gets the healthcare they need. Your plan falls short because it relies on the flawed private insurance system that is failing us now. Even people with insurance are hit with ever rising premiums, deductible and co-pays. Most bankruptcies are caused by healthcare bills, even for people with insurance. We need a single payer system similar to Canada’s.
3. We need to fight the deepening recession with programs to provide jobs for the unemployed, renegotiation of problem debt with predatory lenders held to account and forced to assume their share of the burden, a moratorium on foreclosures and re-regulation of financial markets. De-regulation is a failed experiment. There needs to be strong regulation, not just in the financial sector but everywhere, to moderate destructive boom and bust cycles and rein in shady operators who will inevitable step in to make big bucks at the expense of ordinary people if we let them.
4. We need to reverse the trend towards consolidation and monopoly that is inevitable under unregulated capitalism. Without strong anti-trust laws, big companies will buy out those less strong until we are left with nothing but monopolies and oligopolies. These giants will then be able to blackmail us, as we just saw, because they are “too big to be allowed to fail”. At that point there is no longer competition and corruption takes over. I am disturbed to see the government now using the recession as an excuse to encourage further consolidation of already monopolistic industries. Rather, we should be encouraging a diverse, competitive marketplace.
5. Combat the recession, free ourselves from foreign oil and slow down global warming by investing in alternative energy. Support research and development, commit to using alternative energy in government buildings and fleets and help individuals and businesses convert to more sustainable technologies.

November 10, 2008

A Mandate for Real Change

Barrack Obama won the Presidential election in a landslide. That landslide was a mandate for the policies that Obama supported.

In his speech on Election Night, Barack Obama said, "This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change."

In the South Carolina Democratic primary debate (held on Martin Luther King Day), Obama said, "I don't think Dr. King would endorse any of us. I think what he would call upon the American people to do is to hold us accountable...I believe change does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up. Dr. King understood that.”

2008 Election: The First Step of a Movement?
By Joe Volk, Executive Secretary
November 6, 2008

Historic Changes Have Not Come Easy

* British MP William Wilberforce didn’t volunteer to lead and win the anti-slavery law, he responded to a grassroots movement to translate protest into policy.
* Eloquent as he was, President Abraham Lincoln wasn’t an eager opponent of slavery, and the Civil War was not fought to free the slaves. That took a grassroots movement to translate protest into policy.
* As we "gray hairs" who watched the signing of the Voting Rights Act recall, President Lyndon Johnson, though he deserves credit, did not lead the way. That took a civil rights movement of people who gave everything they had, including sometimes their lives, so that our country would do the right thing.
* Barack Obama, as he himself acknowledged Tuesday night, didn’t win this election on his own. It took a movement to take him to the White House and to make history.

President-Elect Obama Transition site
Share your vision for what America can be, where President-Elect Obama should lead this country. Where should we start together?

Obama won a resounding victory not just for his charismatic personality, but for his policies. His message of Change captured the mood of America in a single word. A slogan can mean many things to many people but he gave the voters an idea of where that change might happen. He championed Hope when many had just about lost hope after eight years of Bush’s attacks on the Constitution, failed policies and disastrous wars. Before that we had eight years of Clinton, whose tawdry affairs undermined respect for the Presidency, whose pro-corporate policies undermined ordinary Americans’ security and whose sanctions and attacks on Iraq killed hundreds of thousands and set the stage for Bush’s war. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans perfected attack politics and Democrats rolled over and played dead, refusing to hold them accountable.

But Obama didn’t just run against all this. He laid out a series of proposals during the campaign that would make up the change he stood for. First of all was his opposition to the war in Iraq. He opposed it from the start, which set him apart from his Democratic rivals for the nomination. He can be faulted for the details of his plan to end the war, which doesn’t go as far as most Americans would like, but there can be no doubt that they voted for peace, both in 2006 and in 2008.

Obama brought forward a plan for Universal Healthcare. Again, there can be questions about the details but it is the concept that is important. Congress will have to hammer out the details and Obama’s plan will undoubtedly be changed in the process. Polls indicate that most Americans favor a single payer system, similar to Canada’s.

Obama’s rhetoric in response to the economic collapse stressed the importance of helping the middle class, rather than just pouring money into Wall Street’s pockets. He did support the bailout plan but he also called for middle class tax cuts and rolling back Bush’s cuts for the rich. He urged greater governmental oversight and re-regulation of financial markets. He talked about the country as a community in which people used government policies to help each other. He said that those who were better off shouldn’t mind policies that “spread the wealth around” and helped those who were struggling.

The Republicans attacked him mercilessly for these proposals. They said that his modest proposal to draw down our forces in Iraq would throw away victory and help terrorists. They said that his economic policies were “class warfare” and they called him a socialist. These attacks didn’t resonate with the voters, who elected him nonetheless in a landslide. That landslide was a mandate for the policies that Obama advocated and a stinging rejection of the Republican attacks. The President-elect should take note and press forward with his program.

The Republicans ridiculed Obama for being a community organizer but it was precisely his realization that the way to win was by organizing a grassroots campaign that led to his victory. In this he dovetailed with Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean’s strategy. Dean developed his 50 state strategy of grassroots organizing everywhere, rather than just contesting swing states, in his 2004 Presidential campaign. Although that campaign was not successful it did develop a group of committed activists who were able to secure his election as DNC Chair. Their support also helped Obama win election to the Senate, as part of an effort to support progressive candidates across the country.

Of course, Obama also raised an unprecedented amount of money from corporate interests, who will hope for sympathetic treatment from his Administration in return. His proposals aim in the right direction but tend to fall short of public expectations. This sets up a political conflict at the heart of his Presidency. It could go either way. It would be easy for Obama to roll back some of the Bush excesses and return to Clinton era policies. His early appointments tend to point in that direction. On the other hand he has created a huge grassroots movement inflamed with the hope for real change. The question is whether that movement will persist after the election and whether it will be able to push him in a more progressive direction.

Franklin Roosevelt is reported to have told an activist who came to him with a proposal, “I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it.” There are indications that Obama is receptive to that kind of pressure. Time and again he has stressed that change does not happen from the top down, but from the bottom up. That is his community organizing experience speaking. He has even set up a transition website: where people can, among other things, “Share your vision for what America can be, where President-Elect Obama should lead this country. Where should we start together?” I find this a very hopeful sign. Even the “” URL speaks of using the government to help bring about change. And asking for grassroots input invites ordinary people to join the process and stay involved in setting policy. I hope that it is widely used. And I hope that the Obama Administration pays attention to the input they are getting from the bottom up.

My impression is that Obama does not feel strong enough to push through the kind of changes Americans want. After all, Congress is still more conservative than the voters and very much beholden to corporate money. He has said that he wants to be President of all the people and not get bogged down in partisanship. Given the history of Republican negativity, that will be a difficult task. Pressure from the voters on a large scale will strengthen his hand and push him towards real change. Activists can help by continuing their work on the issues of peace and justice. It will undoubtedly be frustrating if Obama moves too slowly or not far enough to deal with our problems but there is hope that after the last eight years of being shut out, there is a chance to influence policy. Activists should redouble their efforts, in order to push Obama and the Democratic Congress as far as possible.

This is a representation of the final paragraph in graphic form created at

October 26, 2008

Beware of Election Fraud

"I remember Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, and I am willing to take action in 2008 if the election is stolen again. I support efforts to protect the right to vote leading up to and on Election Day, November 4th. I pledge to join nationwide pro-democracy protests starting on November 5th, either in my community, in key states where fraud occurred, or in Washington D.C.. I pledge: No More Stolen Elections!"

This pledge has been endorsed by a wide variety of activists including Jesse Jackson, Daniel Ellsberg, Medea Benjamin and many more. See their full statement at

I truly hope that this election will be conducted fairly and freely but there are reasons to be concerned. I hope that we all will insist that irregularities are investigated and resolved before we accept tainted results.

*David Swanson, of urges action in the event of a stolen election. A McCain "Win" Will Be Theft, Resistance Is Planned

*Check the Can I Vote website for links to check on your status or register online. This site will link you to the information in your state. You can also check on the voter ID requirements in your state, so you can be sure to have the proper documents to vote when you go to the polls.

My first blog post was a piece I wrote in 2000 analyzing the Florida vote showing that Gore really did win. See Gore Wins and Blame Florida and that was before I knew the half of it. We now know that thousands of poor and black voters were kept from the polls improperly. BBC reporter and author Greg Palast has documented all of this extensively. See Greg Palast’s website for details and to see how these abuses have been continued and expanded since then.

A “Miracle” for McCain?
As we come down to the end of this very long election, the polls show Obama pulling further ahead, with even leading Republicans, including Colin Powell, Christopher Buckley and many more, jumping onto the Obama bandwagon. Yet, John McCain said he can “he can “guarantee” a win on Nov. 4 in a squeaker victory that won’t be clear until late that night.” It would seem that McCain has either lost touch with reality or he knows something that that rest of us don’t about how the votes are going to be counted.

Although most reports give Obama a comfortable margin a few articles like this one seem to be setting up the possibility of an election night miracle for McCain. (McCain guarantees victory (Yahoo 10/26/08);_ylt=AkooC78tXlIvKZ7khtDWozRh24cA)

Democracy Now! ran an interview with Nate Silver, who has been analyzing polling data. He notes that polls try to adjust their results in order to give more weight to likely voters. Depending on the assumptions they make, it can skew the results, producing variations in results from poll to poll. With many polls every day, new analysts may be tempted to cherry pick the polls that support the position they want to take. (

Voter Suppression

A key part of the Republican strategy has been to suppress the Democratic vote. States have become aggressive about purging the voter rolls, eliminating people who have moved or show up on often faulty lists of ineligible voters. Ideally, voters will be notified and allowed to appeal such decisions, but that does not always happen and even so, the burden of proof is on the voter to prove that they are eligible. Often the result is simply that the voter is discouraged from voting or casts a provisional ballot that may never be counted. Misinformation has been circulated on college campuses concerning student voter rights and in poor communities that falsely imply that voting with unpaid parking tickets or misdemeanor convictions could get you in trouble.

In many states there are now requirements to show ID at the polls. Although many types of ID may be accepted, including utility bills, driver’s license or other documents, voters may not be aware of the requirement and therefore could be denied the right to vote when they get to the polls. Those who vote by mail may be challenged if their signature appears different than when they registered. In these cases they are supposed to be given a provisional ballot, but again the burden of proof is on the voter and experience shows that many of these ballots are simply not counted.

Voter Registration drives are called into question. The most blatant example being McCain’s attacks on ACORN for alleged voter fraud. The so-called fraud consisted of a small percentage of the registrations that appeared to be invented out of thin air by lazy canvassers. This is inevitable with any large scale canvassing operation, whether it is a rightwing initiative or a voter registration drive. There is no evidence that anybody turns up to vote as “Mickey Mouse” or any of the other imaginary voters. ACORN has even cooperated with state authorities to investigate and correct these errors. Nonetheless, persistent Republican attacks have made it more difficult to conduct registration drives.

The good news is that it is easier than ever to make sure before election day that your voter registration is still valid. Everybody should do this. Check the Can I Vote website for links to check on your status or register online. This site will link you to the information in your state. You can also check on the voter ID requirements in your state, so you can be sure to have the proper documents to vote when you go to the polls.

Election Day Challenges

Republicans are gearing up to aggressively challenge voters at the polls in Democratic neighborhoods, such as the plan to use lists of foreclosures to disqualify voters who have had to move. They also use address errors to disqualify voters they don’t like. Even if a challenge is factually inaccurate, the common response is to force them to use a provisional ballot and assume the burden of proving eligibility.

Voting Machines

After the 2000 election revealed problems with punchcard voting machines, the so-called Help America Vote Act, promoted even more unaccountable electronic voting machines. They eliminated the hanging chad problem by eliminating any paper record of the vote, thus making recounts impossible. These machines run on software that is kept secret, even from voting officials, but was shown to be vulnerable to vote tampering and prone to error. See Hacking Democracy (

In early voting in 2008 some voters have reported that the machines switched their vote from Obama to other candidates. Without a paper record, there is nothing they can do about it. Citizen pressure has forced some places to require a paper trail but there is little official interest in random audits to check the paper record against the electronic results. Without a verification process to certify the vote, even paper ballots do little good.

September 04, 2008

Border Patrol Checkpoints and the 4th Amendment

I am concerned with the increasing levels of police surveillance and control in our society, as I outlined in The Sovietization of America ( and Dick Cheney’s Bookshelf: 1984 ( This is true on the borders with stepped up patrols and increased documentation required for getting into this country. Passports are now required on the Canadian border, which used to only require a drivers license. Visa requirements have been tightened up and visitors are routinely photographed and fingerprinted as they go through Customs. People have been added to "suspected terrorist lists" and no fly lists with no justification required or provided.. At the Republican Convention hundreds were rounded up in mass arrests that also targeted journalists who were trying to cover the demonstrations. The Bush Administration is working on making it easier for the police to conduct surveillance and infiltrate groups they don't like ( That is why it is so disturbing to see this kind of increased police invasiveness right here in our neck of the woods.

I live in a quiet little corner of Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. We are not far from Canada; it’s just across the water. However, the border is 3-4 hours away by car, including a ferry ride. From the West End of the Peninsula, add another couple of hours to that drive. That is why I was surprised to find out that the US Border Patrol has been setting up highway checkpoints both on the western side of the Peninsula, on Highway 101 near the town of Forks, and on the eastern side, near the Hood Canal Bridge. Whatever its effectiveness or legality, it does slow traffic and inconvenience the vast majority of people who use the roads. It also gives this police agency an opportunity to detain and 'check up' on anybody. That is un-American.

Any other police agency is prohibited from stopping somebody or conducting a search without probable cause, or a reason to believe that that particular person is committing a crime. That is in the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment says:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Now it doesn't say anything about automobiles, but I think it is safe to say that they would have intended cars to be included if they had existed at the time. The police can't just pull you over and search your car for no reason. The Border Patrol thinks that its mission makes it exempt from that in certain circumstances. Since their mission is to patrol thousands of miles of borders in between official crossing points they believe that they can check anybody they find near the border to make sure they are not sneaking in illegally. Mike Bermudez, public affairs officer for the U.S. Border Patrol is quoted in the Port Townsend Leader ( as saying that Federal law allows them to conduct checkpoints within a "reasonable distance" of the border, which he says has been established as 100 miles. I could point out that the distance from Forks to the border by car is almost 200 miles, but then they would point out that the border is actually in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and it is "only" 56 miles from Forks to the ferry to Vancouver Island. Of course they are supposed to be patrolling between official crossings, which leads us to the conclusion that they are worried about illegal aliens sneaking across the border from Canada by boat, getting into cars and driving down to the checkpoints. Now I do believe that rumrunners used that route during Prohibition but I don't think it has been a problem since.

It turns out that, as far as I can tell not one of the people arrested for suspected immigration violations are accused of crossing the border from Canada. They are accused of crossing the Mexican border illegally. In fact when asked about racial profiling at the checkpoint, according to the same article, "Bermudez said it's a matter of demographics and the reality is that "a larger percentage of people who are in the country illegally are Mexican."". But this raises a serious question. It seems that the Border Patrol is using the proximity of the Canadian border (and it is not even that close) to patrol the Mexican Border, which is, what? 1500 miles away? There is no way that is a "reasonable distance". It is a ridiculous assumption. What they are really doing is looking for people who are already in this country. That is a far cry from preventing people from slipping across the border.

The Peninsula Daily News reports that one of the raids caught a recent graduate, with honors, of Fork High School, who has been in this country since infancy, along with another local student (, sparking a protest demonstration that attracted 60 people. Whether or not you believe that it serves the national interest to deport them, I don't understand how apprehending them in Washington state years after they came here has anything to do with patrolling the border.

And as a previous article in The Leader ( points out, at least some of the people actually arrested were allegedly illegal immigrants illegally harvesting salal, which grows in the National Forest, is in much demand by florists but requires a permit. In order to protect the forests from over harvesting, permits are limited and only available by lottery. So, part of their motivation might be to protect the National Forest. If so, they are way off base. They can't just ignore the 4th Amendment in order to protect the environment. It is also a damned inefficient way to do it.

The checkpoints are also an opportunity to nab people who have outstanding warrants. In fact, some of the people stopped were arrested on warrants that were unrelated to the border or immigration or anything that the Border Patrol is supposed to be doing.

Well what is wrong with grabbing people that they come across if there is a warrant out on them? Here is the scenario. The Border Patrol sets up a checkpoint that forces every car that comes by to slow down to a crawl so they can peer into the car. If they see something "suspicious", like maybe brown skin, they make it stop for further questioning, asking who you are and what you are doing. They ask for identification. Then they take the opportunity to run a check for warrants. All of this is without any probable cause that anybody has done anything wrong. As I mentioned, nobody else is allowed to do this. The only reason the Border Control can get away with it is that they say they need to be able to nab people as they are sneaking across the border. But that is not what they are doing with these checkpoints.

One image we all have of a police state is that they can stop you anytime and demand to inspect “your papers”. These checkpoints are one more step in that direction.

September 01, 2008

The Sovietization of America

I remember reading about the old Soviet Union. How protesters would show up in Red Square and get hauled away by the police just for being there. How the official press only carried the official story and how anybody with a different viewpoint had to pass literature from hand to hand. I remember reading about the Gulags. And I never thought that I would see the day when America would start to look like that.

But it does. Are we as bad as the Soviets were? Well, I guess it depends who you are. If you are in Guantanamo or one of the other secret prisons maintained by the US intelligence services, possibly tortured and held indefinitely without trial, you might find it hard to tell the difference. If the federal government is spying on you because you exercised your First Amendment rights, you might wonder. Or if you are a non-violent demonstrator violently attacked by the police, what are you supposed to think? If you are a journalist detained to keep you from covering a story, you might be justified in making a comparison. On the other hand if you keep quiet and do as you are told, you will probably be OK, but then the same could be said of the Soviet Union. Seriously, I know that things aren't as bad here, now, as they were over there, back then, but it seems more a matter of degree than anything else.

These abuses are not isolated instances. They happen with startling frequency all over the country. It is not just a few bad cops taking off their identification and suppressing dissent; there is a pattern of systematic abuse. And I don't think it is a coincidence that police in riot gear no longer wear any identification. Without a way to identify them, they can't be held accountable.

Now you may say that this is nothing new. Police have been busy breaking up union meetings and arresting "subversives" for years. The Nixon Administration brought phony conspiracy charges against activists. They infiltrated, spied on and actively tried to destroy opponents with programs such as Cointelpro. Japanese Americans were interned in violation of their Constitutional rights during WWII. Conscientious Objectors to war have been, and still are, imprisoned for their beliefs. During the McCarthy era, witchhunts against so called "Communist Front organizations" were rampant. So, no, it isn't new. It is sad and it is infuriating.

More Links:

Attacks on the media:

Amy Goodman & Two Democracy Now! Producers Arrested at RNC Protest (9/2/08 Democracy Now)

I-Witness Video Members Detained En Masse by St.Paul, Minnesota Police in Advance of the 2008 Republican National Convention

Videographer Joe Le Sac's video of his own detention for documenting a demonstration in Tacoma, WA. Joe was also arrested at the Republican Convention in St Paul for the same "crime".
"Film is Not a Crime"

Government surveillance of protesters and "pre-emptive detentions".

Massive police raids on suspected protesters in Minneapolis (

Federal government involved in raids on protesters (

Exposing Bush's historic abuse of power (
This article talks about widespread and systematic government spying on Americans.

ACLU page on Unchecked Government Surveillance

Police Spied on Activists In Md. (Washington Post)

Police Violence against demonstrators

Police use Pepper Spray at point blank range against Port Militarization Reisitance demonstrators blocking the street in Olympia, WA. Note the total non-violence even in response the the police brutality. After the assault began, onlookers did use some "bad" language.

Testimony to Olympia WA City Council on police violence against protesters

As Democratic Convention Kicks Off, Massive Security Presence Clamps Down on Dissent in Denver

Denver Police Arrest 91, Fire Pepper Spray & Pepper Balls at Protesters

Critical Mass Bicyclist Assaulted by NYPD (youtube)
Do I need to mention that the bicyclist was then arrested for assault on an officer? This is standard procedure. The police generally justify their unprovoked attacks by arresting the victim.
without video like this they often get away with it.

Democracy Now! interview with video activist and archivist Eileen Clancy about the Critical Mass incident and why the city is subpoenaing her organization, I-Witness Video, for hundreds of protest videos shot during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Police Violence Shocks Activists, Others at Port of Oakland Protest

Have Taser, Will Torture, by Pierre Tristam

Overkill: The Latest Trend in Policing (Washington Post)

Testimony of Police Brutality Across the Nation

And For a little history

We now know about the details of the Cointelpro program from the 60s and 70s.

However, you can bet that this sort of thing still goes on. We don't usually find out about these things until after the fact. Then we are supposed to rest assured that it just happened in the bad old days, not now. A few years later, another scandal reveals a bit more, but again we get the same old spin. It never goes away, just sometimes it gets more blatant, like it is now.

March 11, 2008

War Profiteers!

Opening Title:
A war profiteer is any person or organization that improperly profits from warfare or by selling weapons and other goods to parties at war. The term has strong negative connotations.


Opening Scene: A street in Haditha, Iraq. A Marine patrol rolls down the street. Marines sweat in heavy body armor as they nervously scan the area. People on the street eye the patrol suspiciously. 80 percent of Iraqis want the US to leave because they think that the occupation is making the security situation worse. Suddenly, a bomb in the road explodes. A passing humvee is disabled by the blast. One soldier lies dead. The Marines leap from their vehicles, guns at the ready. One spots a car nearby with “military age men”. Thinking they might be insurgents, he fires and kills 4 or 5 men. Local people later say they were students in a taxi, just trying to get home. Others storm into nearby houses, with grenades and guns blazing. If there had ever been insurgents there, they were gone now, leaving as many as 24 dead civilians; men, women and children. (

The scene shifts: The Chevron Board of Directors celebrates $18.7 billion in profits in 2007, up from $17.14 billion in 2006. Before she joined the Bush Administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat at this table, in fact she even had a oil tanker named after her (it has since been renamed the Altair Voyager). The directors note that rival ExxonMobil is doing even better, with a record setting $40.6 billion profit for the year. (,1,5140747.story) Chevron CEO David O’Reilly has no complaints. Executive compensation is complicated but his 2006 salary of $1.6 million was just the beginning. He earned far more from stock options, incentives and other benefits, coming to about $30 million for the year. (

Oil company profits have soared as worldwide oil prices have climbed. When the war in Iraq got underway in 2003 oil prices climbed sharply from $25 a barrel to over $100 today. ( Gas prices in the US are now approaching a record $4 a gallon. Pundits may argue over whether the Iraq War was begun in order to seize control of the world’s third largest oil reserves for American companies, but the fact remains that they have been the big winners so far, as instability in the area has contributed to rising prices and profits. That is without the Iraqi Oil law, which would allow western oil companies to lock in very favorable terms for decades to come. Last I heard, the oil law has been stalled in the Iraqi parliament despite heavy pressure from the US to pass it as one of the “benchmarks” of progress. ( Although the law has been promoted in the United States as a means to share oil revenue between regions, and supported by most Democratic and Republican politicians, most Iraqis see it as a giveaway of Iraq’s wealth.

The scene shifts: A refugee camp in Syria. Thousands of people arrive everyday, hoping to find a respite from inescapable violence at home. They have narrowly escaped death or fled after death threats because they were Sunni, or Shiite, or worked with the Americans, or were in Saddam Hussein’s army, or they had enough money to be worthwhile kidnapping for ransom, or they are haunted by ethnic cleansing back home that will make it impossible for them to return to their homes, or friends and family have been killed. Conditions here are better than in Iraq, but there aren’t enough resources to take care of them. In some of the camps, people live in squalid, crowded conditions without clean water or electricity. (
2 million Iraqis have fled the country and 2.2 million more are refugees within Iraq, out of a total population of 25 million. ( Syria alone has over a million. Lebanon, Jordan, Iran and other countries account for the rest. Host countries receive little outside help and are stretched thin trying to help.

The scene shifts: Vice President Dick Cheney opens his Halliburton deferred compensation check. Although he claims to have severed his ties with the company, he holds Halliburton stock and stock options and receives deferred compensation dating to his days as CEO. When he was Defense Secretary under the first President Bush, he hired Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root to study the feasibility of outsourcing military support services to private corporations. When they recommended privatization, Cheney awarded them the contract. After he left government service, Cheney was named Halliburton’s CEO, serving there until he returned to government service as Vice President. ( At the beginning of the Iraq War, Halliburton was awarded no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq’s oil industry and Kellogg Brown and Root provides support services for US bases there, despite scandals involving millions of dollars of overcharges and underperformance.

The scene shifts: Nissour Square in Baghdad. A convoy protected by private security contractor Blackwater drives into the square and opens fire. 17 civilians are killed. Eyewitnesses say that there was no provocation and that the gunfire was indiscriminate. ( Private security companies like Blackwater are not part of the military, are not bound by military rules of engagement and are not answerable to military discipline. They are not covered by US law because they operate outside the US. The thing is, they are also not subject to Iraqi law, thanks to an Order issued by Paul Bremer before turning over sovereignty to the Iraqi government in 2004. The 100 Orders he issued ( remain in effect as the basis of Iraqi law. They remake Iraq in the Neo-Cons image, as a free market haven for multi-national corporations. Bremer Order 17 exempts foreign contractors from Iraqi legal process. All in all there are 180,000 private contractors in Iraq, most of them doing work that used to be the responsibility of the military.

For providing security services worldwide in the State Department’s Worldwide Personal Protective Service (WPPS(is that pronounced whoops?)) program, the Bush Administration has paid Blackwater over $320 million in just two years. That’s not bad, especially considering that the original agreement was $230 million over 5 years. ( Blackwater is a privately held company, so executive earnings are hard to come by, but over the years, Blackwater Chairman, Erik Prince, has given over $230,000 to Republican candidates, $5,000 to the Green Party and nothing to Democrats. (

Vice President Cheney has always been upbeat about the war. He says that things are going great. Many in the anti-war movement put this down to propaganda and an unwillingness to admit error, but I wonder if he really is sincere in this belief. If you believe, as he seems to, that what’s good for giant corporations is good for America, then the suffering of Iraqi people, and US troops, is irrelevant, as long as the corporations are doing well. By that standard, the war is indeed a big success.

Closing scene: January 17, 1961: Outgoing President and former WWII 5 Star General Dwight D Eisenhower gives his farewell address:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

In my dreams: Angry citizenry rises up brandishing pitchforks. Profiteers are tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

The End

February 03, 2008

Sticking with Kucinich

Congressman Dennis Kucinich dropped out of the Democratic race for President last month. But that doesn't mean that his campaign is dead. I'm sticking with him going into the caucus here in Washington on February 9, and the primary February 19, and there are plenty of others who will also be voting for him in primaries and caucuses. In fact, supporting him is more important than ever. In my town, lawn signs for Kucinich outnumber all other candidates. Ron Paul has some and I have seen one Obama sign.

Conventional Wisdom, this week, is that the Democratic Race for President is down to Obama and Clinton and we had better choose one or the other because it will be all over soon. With many of us voting in primaries or caucuses this week, we are told that the only way to have a say in the matter is to jump on one of their bandwagons. I disagree. I think it is more important to influence the policies that the winning candidate and the party will campaign on and enact if they are elected.

In those terms, I don't see much difference in substance between the two of them. Sure Obama radiates charisma and talks of change but he seems awfully vague when it comes to specifics. Likewise Clinton has shown herself to be malleable when it comes to policy positions, drifting left and right depending on where the political advantage lies at any moment. They both fall short when they criticize aspects of the war but repeatedly vote to fund it; and in their support for NAFTA and the WTO. The funny thing is that they run counter to public opinion on both of these issues. Perhaps this is a case of the political donor class having more clout than the rest of us. Kucinich, on the other hand, represents my views very well. He favors a quick and total withdrawal from Iraq and an end to free trade agreements that send jobs overseas to countries that allow exploitation of workers and degradation of the environment for the profit of megacorporations.

I know, its a lost cause, it has always been a lost cause, but I'm not just interested in backing a winner. I want to send a message to the politicians. I may be deluded but I think that a lot of people agree with me. This country is in bad shape. We all know that. The Bush regime has screwed things up so badly that the country is desperate for an alternative. That is why the motto of the month is "Change".

Danny Westneat, writing in the Seattle Times put it succinctly, "More than any I can remember, this year's presidential race seems less about issues or actual governing than it is a mass cry for help."

So lets look at the situation. In Washington, all the Democratic delegates are chosen through caucuses. There is also a primary, but it doesn't actual determine anything, except maybe the mood of the voters. In the precinct caucuses, people divide into groups for each candidate. If there are enough Kucinich supporters there they can elect one or more delegates. Then everybody gets a chance to persuade each other to switch sides in order to achieve the best outcome possible. Any Kucinich delegates will carry a strong message of support for the issues that he has been talking about to the County Conventions, where the same process will repeat to send delegates to the State and then the National Conventions. If the race is really decided at the Convention, then Kucinich delegates may be able to use their leverage to promote their issues. In any case, support for Kucinich at all levels will be seen as support for a strong, populist, progressive stance.

The same reasoning holds for the primary. A vote for Kucinich is a vote for his positions. I fear for a Democratic party that skirts the issues the way that it has been doing. They run the risk of angering voters who put them in power in 2006 with a mandate to end the war and repudiate the Bush administration's policies. In that they have been inexplicable timid. Who could blame the voters for either turning to a so called straight shooter like McCain, or just staying home in disgust. With the country up in arms against Bush, this election is the Democrats to win, or lose.

Impeachment Resolution

Whereas President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have violated their oath of office to protect the Constitution, violating the rights and liberties of the American people and;

Whereas they have violated Federal laws against warrantless wiretapping and torture and;

Whereas they have violated International laws against waging wars of aggression, targeting civilians and mistreatment of prisoners and;

Whereas they have shown their contempt for Congress and the democratic process by refusing to cooperate with Congressional Investigations and;

Whereas a Congressional failure to respond to these abuses sets a precedent that future Presidents will rely on to take similar actions to the detriment of our liberty, security and democracy;

Therefore be it resolved that Congress ought to Impeach President Bush and Cheney and;

That in order to facilitate that process we urge the House Judiciary Committee to begin Impeachment Hearings immediately and;

That we urge our Congressional Representatives to use their influence to get impeachment hearing started and;

That we support HJM 4027 and SJM 8016 in the Washington Legislature, which ask Congress to begin the impeachment process and urge its quick passage.

Submitted by Dan Goldstein 2/9/08

End the Occupation of Iraq Resolution

Whereas President George W Bush led us into war in Iraq under false pretenses, asserting an imminent danger from Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorism, which did not, in fact exist;

Whereas terrorists such as Al Qaeda hope to inflame passions against the United States and are benefiting through increased recruitment and support as a direct result of the destruction and suffering caused by the war, thus increasing the threat of terrorism;

Whereas hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and injured and millions displaced;

Whereas close to 4,000 US troops have been killed and additional thousands injured;

Whereas the occupation is not moving Iraq towards democracy and stability but into a cycle of violence and counter violence in which American troops are opposed by a large majority of Iraqis;

Whereas the hundreds of billions of dollars that are being spent on the war increases the US budget deficit, harms the economy and diverts funds from beneficial purposes and

Whereas the United States lacks the moral authority and the trust of the people of Iraq necessary to participate in the process of restoring normality to Iraq;

Therefore be it resolved that we urge the United States government to immediately implement a plan to:

•End the Occupation of Iraq;
•Withdraw all American troops and contractors from Iraq;
•Support international efforts for national reconciliation in Iraq;
•Provide US funding for reconciliation and reconstruction efforts by the Iraqis and international agencies.

Be it further resolved that until the administration initiates such a plan, we urge Congress to refuse to provide any more funding for the war.

Submitted by Dan Goldstein 2/9/08

Global Warming Resolution

Global Warming

Whereas Global Warming is causing the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, degradation of agricultural areas, and increased number and severity of storms, among other negative effects, all of which have a potentially devastating impact on our health, safety and wellbeing and;

Whereas the emission of greenhouse gases contribute to global warming and;

Whereas the use of fossil fuels is the major contributor to the production of greenhouse gases and;

Whereas the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has not been ratified by the United States and;

Whereas individuals, companies and governments at all levels can take meaningful action to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gases;

Therefore be it resolved that The United States should ratify the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming and take immediate action to meet the goals set forth in that treaty and;

Individuals, companies and all levels of our government should implement policies to move towards a sustainable energy policy, relying on renewable energy sources and a reduction in resource use.

Submitted by Dan Goldstein 2/9/08

January 13, 2008

What Do The Voters Want?

I have been trying to ignore the 2008 Presidential election since 2004. I kept muttering to myself that presidential politics is just a huge distraction from the big issues we should be working on, like ending the war and universal healthcare. But at this point, ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. In fact, the nominees will probably be decided within the next few weeks. Or it might take a little longer. In any case, your state will be voting sooner or later, and with everybody scrambling for early primaries, it will probably be sooner. So I guess it is time to think about it.

I am more interested in actual results than in rhetoric. There is plenty of rhetoric to go around. My number one problem is believing that the candidates will do what they say. Breaking campaign promises is as American as waving the flag and making them vague enough that the candidate can deny actually breaking them is even more so.

In 2006 the voters swept the Democrats into their first Congressional majority since 1994 on the basis of they weren’t President Bush. Specifically, every post election poll cited a desire to end the war. During the past year, constituents have been pressuring their Representatives and Senators to take a stronger position against the war. In response, Democrats have stepped up their criticism of the President and have proposed linking war funding to a withdrawal plan. However, they have consistently backed down in the face of Republican opposition.

Most of the Democratic candidates for President have followed a similar pattern of behavior. All of the candidates who are in Congress, except Dennis Kucinich, voted to authorize the war and have voted to continue funding it (Barak Obama wasn’t in Congress in 2002 when the war was authorized but since he was elected to the Senate, he has voted for the funding.) To be fair, most of them have also made opposition to the war important parts of their campaigns. But again, they tend to hedge when pressed for specifics. They may say they want withdrawal, but further questioning reveals that they will leave some troops in Iraq, or ready to go back at a moments notice, to deal with “terrorism”. NEWS FLASH! That is actually continuing the occupation with inadequate troop levels. It’s the worst of both worlds.

The number one message to emerge from Iowa in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses was “Change”. That slogan brought Obama victory, along with the perception that among the Democratic candidates, he was the furthest removed from Washington politics as usual. Huckabee’s Republican victory appears to run along the same lines.

So, in the 5 days between Iowa and New Hampshire, every candidate in both parties incorporated the word “Change” into their campaign. The news media reported the new slogans at face value, with hardly a comment on the opportunism this change in rhetoric represented.

Hillary Clinton parlayed this new attitude, and a misty eyed moment, into a narrow victory in New Hampshire, earning her the “comeback” label. Expectations change so fast it makes my head spin. Before Iowa, she had been expected to win New Hampshire handily and to have the nomination all but wrapped up. For five days after Iowa, Obama was in the same position.

And, just as I had feared, all this horse race talk has pretty much driven the issues off the table. How are we who care about the issues going to get them back? I think that we have to fight the trend and concentrate on fighting for the end of the war, and the other issues we care about. One way to do that and still participate in the Presidential campaign is to support Dennis Kucinich. Rep. Kucinich has been consistently marginalized in the media and has consequently not gotten a lot of votes so far. However, he is the one candidate who is clear on the issues, and clearly progressive. He is for bringing all of our troops home, now. He is for truly universal healthcare. And he introduced a resolution to impeach Vice President Cheney. As a result of these stands and disgust with the waffling of the other candidates, Kucinich has placed first in a string of straw polls among progressives. The list includes Democracy for America, a spin-off of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, Progressive Democrats of America, and The Nation magazine. He also won the Washington State Democratic Party straw poll.

The way I figure it, the more votes Kucinich gets, the more likely it will be that the other candidates will start to pay more attention to the issues in response. I may earn demerits with Kucinich loyalists, but I don’t expect him to win, no matter how much his positions agree with the stated opinions of the majority of the voters. I just hope that supporting him will help promote the issues I believe in. Besides, I just don’t see any other viable candidates that I can trust to stand up for me.

I happen to live in Washington, whose caucuses are coming up on February 9. We will have a primary too, but the Democrats will ignore those results in choosing delegates and rely on the caucus results. Republicans will use the primary to choose some delegates. I happen to like caucuses because they allow activists like me more influence than in a primary. With fewer people turning out, caucus results show who is more effective in organizing on a grassroots level, which can be crucial in the general election. Of course, primaries show the effectiveness in reaching the general voters, which is also important.

The other reason I like caucuses is that they escape the one vote, winner take all mentality that pervades the rest of our election system. If your candidate doesn’t have the votes to get a delegate, you can switch to a second choice who does. This allows you to vote for who you really like the first time around. That is why I like instant runoff voting and other systems that allow you to rank your choices, rather than having to vote strategically for a second choice, because you think they will do better.

I am going into the caucus for Kucinich. I am also bringing some resolutions for consideration to highlight my focus on the issues. I think that my precinct will be able to send a Kucinich delegate to the county convention, but if not, then I can choose which other candidate will be almost as good. The same goes for the county, state and national conventions. I would rather have a Kucinich supporter there pushing for the most progressive candidate possible and for the best platform we can get.

The voters want change, but will they get it? I am reminded of a story about FDR. Somebody came to the President asking him to take some action. Roosevelt agreed that it would be a good thing, but added, “I’d like to see that happen but now you have to make me do it. That is the reality of politics.”

We will get change if we make the politicians do it.