Why Super-Delegates Should Side With Bernie Sanders

Photo Credit: Bernie Sanders for President
Photo Credit: Bernie Sanders for President

As Bernie Sanders has slowly but surely gained momentum from the public in his bid for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency the media has consistently flaunted the fact that so called super delegates nearly all but support Hillary Clinton. Even as Bernie Sanders soars in polls, picks up win after win, state after state, and amasses pledged delegates through the democratic process, the media is all too eager to remind the public that our efforts are in vain because super delegates are disproportionately not feeling the bern.

Defeatist headlines overrun popular internet forums and the front pages of mainstream media outlets like “Clinton has 45-To-1 ‘Superdelegate’ Advantage Over Sanders,” and “Over Half of Democratic Superdelegates Support Hillary Clinton,” and most recently, “Winning Wisconsin Won’t Change Bernie Sanders’ Superdelegate Problem.” These headlines are deliberately confusing with the intention of discouraging young voters, most of whom support Bernie Sanders. Until last month The New York Times was disingenuously combining the number of pledged delegates and super delegates before they began reporting the delegate count separately. As it stands now, Clinton has an advantage of 469 super delegates to Bernie Sanders’ 31.

But, why is that? Why do so many super delegates support Clinton while so few support Sanders? Maybe super delegates back Clinton because they feel she is the stronger candidate (despite evidence to the contrary in most recent national polls and virtually every one on one poll against republicans). Perhaps super delegates support for Hillary Clinton has something to do with her financial ties to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or the fact that nearly 10% of super delegates are lobbyists. Or maybe super delegates just see the virtue in a good pants suit?

When Fox News asked Democratic National Chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) why super delegates are separate (and seemingly more important than pledged delegates) she said, “…we separate those so that we don’t have elected officials and party leaders running against the activists.” Isn’t that inspiring? The head of the DNC openly stated that super delegates exist to keep establishment candidates insulated from democracy. According to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz super delegates function as a buffer between candidates ordained by the elite, and those chosen by the people. Their stated function is to maintain the status quo and protect against insurgent candidates like Bernie Sanders or George McGovern.

However, it doesn’t have to be like this (as the New York Times now reluctantly notes). Super delegates can and sometimes do change their stances. A few examples exist of super-delegates switching their allegiance, especially in states where Bernie Sanders won the caucus or primary by an overwhelming margin. Democratic National Committeeman Pete Gertonson (D-Idaho) from Idaho switched his allegiance after Sanders’ walloped Clinton by over 50% percentage points. After Bernie’s victory in Wisconsin, State Rep. David Bowen (D-Wisconsin) became the first of the states ten super delegates to jump onboard team Sanders. Though not a super delegate, veteran and Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) quit her post as the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee to support the Sanders campaign. Change is possible, it just takes a leap of faith that you’ll be caught on the right side of history.

So my pitch to you super delegates is this — side with us. Vote for Bernie Sanders. It’s true, Hillary can offer you a temporary injection of cash into your campaign coffers. But we can offer you something Hillary cannot, longevity. The average age of a Hillary Clinton supporter is approximately 800 years old. The average age of a Bernie Sanders supporter is seven. Think about who will be around and voting in elections for the next twenty to thirty years. Think about those who are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty when campaigning for candidates that support the ideals of the American people, and against those who suppress the will of the public.

Millennials aren’t as lazy and disengaged as we are portrayed to be. We organize, we create viral content, and we donate. Together, with Bernie Sanders at the helm, we can revitalize the Democratic Party, and elect candidates who support policies like a $15 dollar minimum wage, universal healthcare, and equal pay for women. We are the future of this country and more so than ever before, in this election, we are watching how you vote. As Spike Lee (another Bernie supporter) would say, it’s time to “do the right thing.”

Michael Schirtzer is a comedian and political activist based in Los Angeles, CA. He successfully managed a city council campaign and now spends most of his time telling dick jokes at dive bars.

For more comedic/political musings and other strong opinions follow @MicSchirtzer on Twitter.

Clearing the Air — Israel and Palestine

Gaza "Hell on Earth" Source - Imgur
Gaza “Hell on Earth” Source – Reddit /u/jjlew080

I’m about to do something that anyone who aspires to a political career in the United States ought not do — I am going to criticize the Israeli government. I have been tempered in my response, and my outrage on social media thus far. I haven’t remained totally quiet to the suffering of the Palestinians, I couldn’t, but I haven’t spoken my mind either. I have refrained from posting much on my twitter or this blog because I know there will be ramifications. If not today, then someday. For every action there is a reaction; free speech is not without consequences. But I can no longer be muted by my ambitions. I am and have always been a humanist at my core and if speaking my conscience on the issue of Israeli aggression disqualifies me from public service to the people of the United States then so be it. I’d rather speak freely with a clear conscience than censor myself for the prospect of political gain.

Preface #1: I believe Israel has the right to exist, and defend itself from actionable dangers. As do the Palestinians. I am not, nor have I ever been an anti-semite (though I know accusations will come flying my way simply for thinking of criticizing the Israeli state). I think there ought to be a clear distinction between Zionism as a political philosophy and Judaism as a religious practice. Finally, I have a great many friends who are either dual Israeli-US citizens or simply Israeli citizens. I love them very much, and despite this idealogical difference, I hope to remain close friends.

Preface #2: I am in no way excusing the actions of some Palestinians, I am simply assessing proportionate levels of violence and reacting to what I see on a human level. You may notice I don’t mention Palestinian violence in this post except here. It’s not because I condone it or don’t believe it exists, rather I think it’s a predictable human response to an otherwise hopeless situation. I condemn Hamas violence just as I condemn Israeli violence. There’s just way more violence to condemn on the Israelis side.

As you’re likely aware unless you’re totally out of touch with civilization – there is violence again in the land of milk and honey. More accurately, the people of Gaza are under siege. I would like to take a few moments and clear up some misconceptions I’ve encountered quite frequently, on the internet, in passing conversations, and in talks with my own family.

Israel is our closest ally:

I think this misconception stems predominantly from the fact that so many of our representatives foolishly believe or purport to believe this statement. For instance, imbeciles like Lindsay Graham continue to spout nonsense along the lines of, “they’re [Israel] asking for our help, they’re our best friend in the region, one of our best friends in the world.

Not only is that a childish way to conduct statesmanship, it’s also stupid and inaccurate. Nations are not people, they do not form friendships. Nations have interests, and those interests are suited by strategic partnerships with allied nations. For instance – Bahrain is a US ally in the middle east. It’s function in the strategic partnership is to house the entire 5th fleet as well as most US naval assets in CENTCOM. In return President Obama calls for democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia but looks the other way on human rights violations when the government of Bahrain violently suppresses its peaceful protestors. See Amber Lyon’s documentary that was censored by CNN for more information on this subject.

All one need do to drive home the point that Israel is not our closest ally is listen to the CIA. They consider Israel to be the greatest intelligence threat in the middle east. Hear Dr. Michael Scheuer, formally of the CIA where he led the unit tracking Bin Laden, on the issue.

They are not alone. According to a Stratfor document that was published by Wikileaks:

“Israeli intelligence remains a hostile intelligence agency and is number
1 on the FBI list of intelligence agencies of greatest concern to US
intelligence. However, we can’t say (or out) they are # 1 on the list.”

Is that the kind of behavior one can expect from our closest ally?

While it’s true that the United States does provide Israel with roughly three billion dollars annually in aid (most of which is used to purchase US weaponry), Israel and the United States are not allies as the word is traditionally understood because they do not have a mutual defense treaty — one of the cornerstones of an alliance.

They also took weapons technology that the United States sold them and passed that information onto China! That was our little secret, Israel…

Israel is the most stable country in the region:

This is also patently false. While the bar for stability is set pretty low in the middle east, the Israeli government has managed to earn the title of “biggest threat” to peace among its neighbors. When polled 95% of respondents from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said they viewed Israel as the greatest threat to the region with the United States following closely behind at 88%. Israel is guilty of violating more UN resolutions than any country. They are illegally armed with nuclear weapons and have threatened to use them, if they deem it necessary. 

If that constitutes stability I’d hate to see them unstable.

Israel is the only democracy in the region:

Wrong again. Israel is not a democracy, at least not a substantive one. Those aren’t just my words either.

As journalists Arjan El Fassed and Nigel Parry astutely note in their 2003 article:

“For over a decade, the Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI), a non-partisan Israeli research institute founded in 1991 and based in Jerusalem, has been studying the quality of Israeli democracy and how well it functions. The result is “The Democracy Index”, a long-term, comparative study of some thirty-one indicators measuring Israeli democracy against that of thirty-five other democracies. The index includes a public opinion survey component reflecting how Israelis view their democracy.

Today, on 22 May 2003, the IDI will present its 2003 Democracy Index findings at a special conference under the joint auspices of Israel’s President, Moshe Katzav, and the Institute itself.

Describing the 2003 Index’s findings as “alarming,” the IDI asserts that Israel’s political system has not yet acquired the characteristics of a substantive democracy.”’

Disturbing Trends in Israeli Culture:

On August 1st, 2014 an individual by the name of Yochanan Gordon, son of the founder of the Five Towns Jewish Times, penned an article entitled “When is Genocide Permissible.” Now if you’re like me — the answer to that question/statement is a pretty obvious never followed by a healthy sized dose of what the fuck is wrong with you?

The article was quickly taken down. But the fact that it was published initially is disturbing enough. It means that it represents at the very least a fraction of what the public perceives to be acceptable. Taken in context with other stories like the Israeli PM who claimed Hamas is committing “self-genocide” (whatever the fuck that means) and this professor calling for the rape of women whose husbands and brothers are associated with Hamas — it begins to reveal a sickness that is present in some portion of the Israeli psyche. One where Palestinians are viewed as others, less than, dehumanized to the point where any Israeli action is justifiable, including beating children and mass murder, which unquestionably is taking place.

Whether you want to label it genocide is semantics. I have not employed the phrase to describe this situation, I simply quoted an Israeli MP who did and provided an article where someone mused about the justifications for genocide before cooler heads prevailed and the article was pulled (though not before the internet grabbed screenshots and caches). Whatever you want to call it the facts on the ground point to mass murder by cutting edge weaponized technology (provided by the USA) on a virtually defenseless people.

What do you call bombs dropped wantonly on an open air prison that is 11 miles wide and home to 1.8 million people who are blockaded on all sides? What is it called when you target schools and hospitals? It’s as close to shooting fish in a barrel as one could get on the geopolitical stage. Furthermore, Israel has destroyed the Palestinians’ only power plant, leaving many without water or sanitation. Also, when did shelling journalists or first responders become permissible behavior? I’m no international law expert, but these appear to be war crimes.

 

On top of that the Israeli government and military continue to demolish Palestinian homesburn farms, and build 1,500 more settlement homes on occupied territory.

This does not bode well for peace. I can’t imagine a pathway to peace without an immediate end to the blockade, serious and genuine negations about borders, and a long term solution to refugee resettlement.

For disturbing but important pictures about the struggles in Gaza see this link here. But I must warn you — the images are graphic and will upset you.

To see what it’s like to spend an hour in Gaza — see this video.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

 

Reflecting on the Torrance City Council Election

Torrance Election Results (Source: LA County Registrar)
Torrance Election Results (Source: LA County Registrar)

Today I can proudly say that my friend, Tim Goodrich was elected to the Torrance City Council on June 3rd, 2014 (though officially the votes weren’t tallied until June 4th — I know I waited up to see them). I am even more proud to say that I was a crucial part of his success.

He came in second place, of the four council members elected, with 7,976 votes which comes out to roughly twelve percent of the voting electorate. We beat an appointed incumbent by roughly 600 votes.

I have never been prouder or felt more gratification than from seeing Tim’s name jump to second place when refreshed on the screen of the LA County Registrar’s website.

The adrenaline was unlike anything, even jiu jitsu. During the campaign, the daily rituals are grueling. Making phone calls, walking in unfamiliar neighborhoods, knocking on doors to mixed responses, calling and recruiting volunteers, planning events, etc. You almost don’t have time for a moment to take it all in.

And yet, it all comes flashing back like lightning as we were waiting for the initial projections that night at Tim’s house. His abode filled with people, food, and drinks, all of them mingling with an anxious feeling in the air. The mood was positive but pensive. When the first projections came up Tim was in 4th place. This terrified me and relieved me simultaneously. I could breath a sigh of relief because he had made the cutoff and was going to be elected to city council. The only factor was for how long. Had he placed fourth as the initial projections showed, he would have had to start running for reelection in the next year.

As the night wore on, people filtered out. However, a second wave of people came to pay their respects. Policemen, city commissioners, other officials, all came to congratulate Tim on the effort.  By the end of the night we had jumped to third place, and finally to second — where we finished.

I started on the campaign as a volunteer. I remember Tim asked me to donate $100 dollars because that’s the extent to which he thought I was interested in participating. Little did he know within a few months I would be managing his campaign. I did donate the money, but more importantly I quickly integrated myself into the routines of the campaign. At one point I realized volunteer was an insufficient title and I asked Tim what I ought to call myself when contacting constituents or other volunteers. I was initially given the title of Field Director. After another month or so I was at a Pho restaurant, Saigon Dish in Hawthorne, with Tim and his wife Meav when Tim surprised me by asking if I wanted to be the campaign manager. I was humbled, and extremely grateful for the opportunity. I took him up on it and even cut down on the frequency with which I attended jiu jitsu. Anyone who knows me would understand this as an immeasurable sacrifice.

As a campaign manager I got to work with phenomenal volunteers, (Will, Lindy, Alonso and so many more) who I became close with. We worked, we laughed, we sat in suspense together waiting for the results. It was a beautiful process and I could not be happier with the results.

There is so much that goes into a campaign and so many people to thank for the success. This victory is not so much Tim’s victory, or even my own, so much as it is a victory for collective action and for the people of the city of Torrance.

I am extremely proud of this endeavor and look forward to seeing Tim lead in the city of Torrance.

 

Torrance Election Graph (Source: LA County Registrar)
Torrance Election Graph (Source: LA County Registrar)

Victory in California!

Wolf Pac Victory! (Graphic Credit Todd Erickson)
Wolf Pac Victory! (Graphic Credit Todd Erickson)

Just last week California became the second state in the nation, following Vermont, to call for an Article V Constitutional Convention in order to address the issue of money in politics.

There are two ways to amend the Constitution. One of them is introducing and passing legislation through Congress — something they do stupendously. Or two thirds of the state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention where three fourths of the states must ratify any amendments to the Constitution. Harvard Professor, scholar, and activist Lawrence Lessig has argued in support of a Constitutional Convention.

On June 23, the California State Senate voted to adopt such a resolution and in doing so became the second state in a historic effort to unravel the influence of capital on Congress and our republic.

Assembly Member Mike Gatto (D) of the 43rd district in Los Angeles initially introduced the resolution, AJR-1 (or Assembly Joint Resolution 1) on December 3rd, 2012. However, the bill was almost immediately sidelined in committee and from there it did not seem as though it would ever see the light of day again.

But that is not the beginning of this story. What started everything in motion was that Cenk Uygur, in conjunction with his popular online news show, “The Young Turks” decided that they were fed up and would not take it anymore! They decided to put together an organization of people from all across the political spectrum all with the same dream of having free fair and open elections. In order to convey how dissatisfied and determined the group was, they adopted the name, Wolf-PAC. That’s where it all started, with the people.

The people at Wolf-PAC met with Assemblyman Gatto in 2012 and because Gatto was sympathetic he introduced the bill. However, he did not have the political capital to fight for it, and there were heavy interests against it with only minimal organizing supporting the bill. It was easily sidelined. This is how the bill stayed until early 2013.

What had happened in the intervening year? Wolf-PAC became a serious force to be reckoned with. Cenk was extremely successful at recruiting people through his online news show, which is where I became affiliated with the organization as a volunteer. In the year between when the bill was sidelined and when it started on its way through committees to the floor a popular movement materialized at the grassroots level. The type of which, in my opinion, we have not seen in the United States since the Populist party of the early 1900’s.

The organization is bare bones. It only had one or two employees to begin with, Mike Monetta, the National Director of Organizing was the only one I knew of personally. He put together online training seminars that could be easily administered once a volunteer had been through the training themselves. More like rabbits than wolves, our ranks multiplied. Ordinary people who had little or in some cases no political experience stepped up to the plate to become the leaders of this movement. One in particular, Alison Hartson, is a school teacher who initially started training other volunteers, then became a regional organizer, and would eventually rise to the position of statewide organizer for California!

Under Alison’s leadership (and a few others) California citizens put on the full court press. We contacted legislators directly, met with their staff, and representatives and lobbied on behalf of the bill. I personally met with my state Senator at the time and asked him to vote yes on the bill (he did!). We organized phone banks to people inside of the representatives districts and on a human level explained why they should be concerned about money in politics. We asked that they contact their representative. It’s extremely easy to conduct outreach when 90% of the population agrees with the reason you’re calling.

In addition to organizing phone banks, Wolf-PAC CA organized a rally at the capital during the Judiciary Committee where they had roughly 60 volunteers come and express support for the resolution. Nobody dared to speak out against the bill. It was an amazing turn of events. The bill went from being effectively silenced without ever seeing the floor of either chamber for discussion to sailing through committees like a seagull over the ocean.

Volunteers of Wolf-PAC could be heard rejoicing immediately after the vote, much to the chagrin of legislators. Cenk, of cooooourse, covered the success of the bill on The Young Turks. And with that — there are two down and thirty two to go. One more in the books for the good guys. Many other states already have resolutions introduced, and many more are on the way.

These were my immediate reflections upon hearing the news. I am supremely impressed at the ability of everyone involved as citizens to recognize the need for action and to answer the call. Let it be known that civic duty and social responsibility in the United States is not dead, it is alive and well!

The organizing and leadership skills displayed by Mike, Alison, Kathy, Will etc. is reminiscent of the populist movement. This was a true grassroots effort embarked upon predominantly by people who are not and in some cases have never been involved in politics. People who saw a fundamental problem in our system and assembled as is their first amendment right to receive the ultimate redress of their grievance. Not only did this group get a bill introduced into the legislature — which is an impressive feat in and of itself – Wolf Pac CA (and those from other states that helped out) managed to get a resolution passed in both chambers! We are the populists of our day, and we are making moves to reinstate one of the most important pillars of government — free, fair, and open elections.
I remember a conference call, probably a year or so ago, where Alison playfully posed the hypothetical question, “what you do to celebrate AJR1 being passed by both chambers?” At the time, it seemed so far away — an unattainable dream, an oasis in our desert of desperation. Now that we have climbed to mountain top, now that the promise land is still 32 states and a convention away but close enough to see there is time to pause for celebration. But we must also redouble our efforts to allow other states to liberate themselves from the chokehold of the elites. Together we will win, and we will reform this country. I am so proud to have had even the slightest part in the effort. My only regret is that I did not do more.

Three Issues Facing California

Photo Source: Forbes
Photo Source: Forbes

 

  • Problem 1: Detrimental Impact of California’s Large Prison Population

Too much of California’s scarce resources are being spent on incarcerating people, particularly nonviolent drug users. Spending at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) went from 3% of the states annual budget in 1980 to 11% in 2009. Since 1980 the CDCR budget has grown by an astronomical 436 percent. A large part of the problem is due to the policy of mass incarceration of nonviolent drug users for petty possession charges, also known as the ‘war on drugs.’

Prisons are more than overcrowded. They are a human rights issue violating the 8th amendment to the constitution. There is inadequate space, medical treatment, sanitation, nutrition, and that doesn’t account for solitary confinement, inmates on death row or the abuse by prison authorities. Filled prisons are a destabilizing socio-economic force, perpetuating cycles of poverty and single parent households especially in lower income communities. People of color are disproportionately targeted for arrest and drug prosecution. We must rectify these societal injustices and reduce our spending in this sector even more than the Governors’ 2013-2014 Budget proposal of nine billion dollars to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The Supreme Court agreed when they ruled that California had to reduce prison crowding to 137.5% of capacity by June 2013. Governor Brown’s Justice Department readily acknowledges they will be unlikely to meet the deadline.

Solution: I recommend the following: release the 24,959  nonviolent drug offenders, prioritizing those exhibiting good behavior; focus incarceration efforts on violent and sexual crimes; allot a portion of the money currently spent on imprisonment towards intensive drug treatment; and conduct research on lowering the cost of prisons while improving services.

  • Problem 2: Is our education system working?

In many schools, California’s public education system is failing its students, particularly impoverished students and students of color. Impoverished children are less likely to graduate from high school, go to or graduate from college. Of the 72,320 high school dropouts this past year, 42,129 were Hispanic. Students who do graduate college find themselves with a crippling average debt of $19,000 and unprecedented unemployment rates. The cost of education rises as services, infrastructure, and the quality and availability of instruction diminishes. There are insufficient funds for special needs, integrated technology, and blended learning programs. Standardized testing as a metric to evaluate students does little to foster critical thinking, writing abilities, or useful skills for life, future education, and employment. The Economic Policy Institute warned of damaging consequences to test-based evaluation systems or merit pay based on test scores.

  • Problem 3: Water Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Water is the most essential resource for survival on this planet, and California is running out. Regrettably, California’s water system is in grave peril. We face serious obstacles in keeping up with water demand for our current population and we will be unable to meet future increased demands. Experts agree our systems are in need of major upgrades. Climate change and droughts diminish snow reserves California needs in order replenish reservoirs. The integral hub of California’s water system, the Delta is endangered by levee failure, and sea-levels rising as native fish populations fall. Twenty million California residents rely on the Delta for water. Sea –level rise would corrupt the existing freshwater supply and flood the homes, farms, and other Delta residents’ private property. Without a stable and secure source of freshwater Californian’s could find themselves without constant access to food and water in the very near future.

Sources: Problem 1 Detrimental Impact of California’s Large Prison Population


1. “The Future of California Corrections – A Blueprint to Save Billions of Dollars, End Federal Court Oversight, and Improve the Prison System”  http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/2012plan/docs/plan/complete.pdf

2. Winners and Losers: Corrections and Higher Education in California

3. BROWN, GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA, ET AL. v. PLATA ET AL. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-1233.pdf

4. Geurino, P., Harrison, P. M., & Sabol, W. (2011). Prisoners in 2010. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p10.pdf

5. 2013-2014 Governor’s Budget Summary, Edmund G. Brown Jr. Governor, State of California — http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/pdf/BudgetSummary/FullBudgetSummary.pdf

6. American Psychological Association – Psychologists offer ways to improve prison environment, reduce violent crime — http://phys.org/news168967098.html

7. Prison Fellowship International – beyond crime and punishment http://www.pfi.org/cjr/downloads/ten-keys-to-improving-conditions-in-overcrowded-prisons

Sources: Problem 2: Education

8. California Department Of Education Cohort Graduation and Dropout Rates 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 — http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr12/yr12rel65.asp

9. Project On Student Debt, California – http://projectonstudentdebt.org/state_by_state-view2012.php?area=CA

10. Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers – Economic Policy Institute — http://www.epi.org/publication/bp278/

 

Sources: Problem 3: Water Water Everywhere and not a drop to drink

11. California Water Today – Public Policy Institute of California —http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_211EHChapter2R.pdf

12. Association of California Water Agencies —  http://www.acwa.com/spotlight/california-water-2012-water-bond

 

 

Three Problems Facing the United States

Image Source: NYPost
Image Source: NYPost

1.     The National Security Agency (NSA)

In addition to the 2005 New York Times article, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts”, the recent disclosures by Edward Snowden reported by Glenn Greenwald (formerly of the Guardian) have cemented the fact that the NSA is conducting bulk surveillance on the civilian population of the United States, and the world.

The Executive Branch, and members of the Legislative Branch have consistently misled the public with respect to these programs. It even appears the Executive Branch has “substantially” misled the Judicial Branch on numerous occasions, according to a recently declassified FISA Court opinion.

A few excerpts from the decision and the Washington Post article where I saw the following quotes:

“For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe,” John D. Bates, then the surveillance court’s chief judge, wrote in his Oct. 3, 2011, opinion.

Bates continued in a footnote, “the court is troubled that the government’s revelations regarding NSA’s acquisition of Internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program.”

In response to these developments – we must begin an indictment and prosecution of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper; and the Director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, for perjury to the Congress of the United States of America. Any prolonged failure to act in response to the deliberate misdirection of elected officials will only embolden future National Security figures to more boldly (if possible) obfuscate and mislead the Congress with impunity.

If we are truly a nation that respects the rule of law – we must begin by enforcing it in the halls of our own legislature.

Conclusion:

There must be swift and decisive actions to challenge the system of dragnet surveillance. Officials who misled the Congress, the Judicial Branch, and the public must be punished appropriately, and the gap between legal intention and execution must be bridged with comprehensive NSA Surveillance reform.

If you are interested in minimizing the amount of data that can be collected on your internet activity — see Prism Break.

Source: Yes Magazine
Source: Yes Magazine

2.The Trans Pacific Partnership

Aside from the disproportionate corporate influence and unprecedented secrecy under which these trade agreements are being negotiated, these two statements made by elected officials accurately represent my grievances with this trade deal.

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “…if transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.” Source
  • Representative Alan Grayson stated, “what I saw was nothing that could possibly justify the secrecy that surrounds it…It is ironic in a way that the government thinks it’s alright to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not alright for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away…Having seen what I’ve seen, I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty.” And finally he said, “it’s all about tying the hands of democratically elected governments, and shunting authority over to the nonelected for the benefit of multinational corporations…It’s an assault on democratic government.”

Any attempt by the Executive Branch to skirt the Legislative Branch by enacting a ‘fast-track’ (formally called Trade Promotion Authority) must be challenged. Such measures would allow President Obama to sign the agreement prior to congressional approval, before legislators read the final text. Congress would have to vote within ninety days to approve the deal retroactively, but debate would be limited and no amendments would be allowed. Source

Conclusion:

Congress should not grant the Executive “fast-tracking” authority. Congress should only approve the TPP if the content of the negotiations has been transparently discussed and debated on the floors of the Legislature and found to be beneficial to the public interest.

Some of the text of the negotiations have been leaked to the public. You can access them here.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has done a phenomenal job analyzing the leaked text of the negotiations.

If you are interested in organizing/protesting against the TPP — see the wonderful folks over at Flush the TPP.

Image Source: MN Progressive Project
Image Source: MN Progressive Project

3. Syria

It is widely acknowledged that the United States intelligence agencies are covertly assisting the Syrian rebels. United States allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding, training, and funneling weapons to the Syrian rebels. Quite recently Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, moved four destroyers into Syrian waters. Prior to the conclusion of the UN Investigation, Secretary of State John Kerry stated he, and the Administration, believed Bashar Al-Assad was responsible. We have since weathered that storm and found a diplomatic solution, no matter how clumsily.

But we must forcefully and vocally discourage any future attack and assert the (Article I, Section 8, Clause 11)[1] authority of the Congress to declare war. Congress needs to reassert that the War Powers Resolution does indeed apply to the current Administration, and any military intervention on a country that does not pose an immediate threat to the security of the United States is an act of aggression. Such measures are a gross violation of international law and of the public trust. We ought to push back against the Administration’s legal interpretation of the AUMF. It should not be a blank check for global military intervention.

Conclusion:

If we have learned anything from the prolonged occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that United States involvement in the Middle East increases violence and adds to the destabilization of the region. Any strike by the US will further discourage a peaceful diplomatic solution. As guardians of the public interest, we must be a vigilant voice of reason amongst the cacophony of calls for pre-emptive war.


[1] [Congress shall have Power…] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water. – Article I, Section 8, Clause 11; United States Constitution. Cornell University Law School.