Posts Tagged ‘NDAA’

“The shaping of the will of Congress and the choosing of the American president has become a privilege reserved to the country’s equestrian classes, a.k.a. the 20% of the population that holds 93% of the wealth, the happy few who run the corporations and the banks, own and operate the news and entertainment media, compose the laws and govern the universities, control the philanthropic foundations, the policy institutes, the casinos, and the sports arenas.” – Journalist Lewis Lapham

The pomp and circumstance of the presidential inauguration has died down. Members of Congress have taken their seats on Capitol Hill, and Barack Obama has reclaimed his seat in the White House. The circus of the presidential election has become a faint memory. The long months of debates, rallies, and political advertisements have slipped from our consciousness. Now we are left with the feeling that nothing has really changed, nor will it.

This is not by accident. The media circus leading up to the elections, the name calling in the halls of Congress, the vitriol and barbs traded back and forth among people who are supposed to be working together to improve the country, are all components of the game set up by those who run the show. The movers and shakers behind these engaging, but ultimately trite, political exercises are the elite, the so-called upper class, who benefit from the status quo. This status quo is marked by an economic crisis with no end in sight, by the slow but steady growth of a police state aimed at the lowest rungs of society, and a political circus which keeps us enraptured long enough that we don’t question what’s really going on.

Meanwhile, this elite, composed of corporations profiting off of our ignorance, avoid being brought to task for their destruction of democratic governance and the economy. These are the corporations who sent our economy into a tail spin and were then rewarded with taxpayer money. These are the corporations who write laws which eliminate real competition in the market in order to secure their profits through lucrative government contracts. These are the corporations who avoid criminal prosecution, and are instead slapped with meager fines which do nothing to halt their felonious activities.

We now live in a two-tiered system of justice and governance. There are two sets of laws: one set for the government and the corporations, and another set for you and me.

The laws which apply to the majority of the population allow the government to do things like rectally probe you during a roadside stop, or listen in on your phone calls and read all of your email messages, or indefinitely detain you in a military holding cell. These are the laws which are executed every single day against a population which has up until now been blissfully ignorant of the radical shift taking place in American government.

Then there are the laws constructed for the elite, which allow bankers who crash the economy to walk free. They’re the laws which allow police officers to avoid prosecution when they strip search non-violent criminals, or taser pregnant women on the side of the road, or pepper spray peaceful protestors. These are the laws of the new age we are entering, an age of neo-feudalism, in which corporate-state rulers dominate the rest of us, where the elite create the laws which can result in a person being jailed for possessing marijuana while bankers that launder money for drug cartels walk free.

Unfortunately, this two-tiered system of justice has been a long time coming. The march toward an imperial presidency, to congressional intransigence and impotence, to a corporate takeover of the mechanisms of government, and the division of America into haves and have nots has been building for years.

Journalist Chris Hedges, one of the few voices to speak against the corporate-state, who has put himself on the line by making a legal challenge to the President’s authority to indefinitely detain American citizens, summarizes the situation at hand:

 “Our passivity has resulted… in much more than imperial adventurism and a permanent underclass. A slow-motion coup by a corporate state has cemented into place a neofeudalism in which there are only masters and serfs. And the process is one that cannot be reversed through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics.”

Indeed, electoral politics are off the table as a means of reforming the system. They are so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that there is no chance, even for a well-meaning person, to affect any real change through Congress.

Just consider the last election cycle. Both parties spent $1 billion each attempting to get their candidate elected to the presidency. This money came from rich donors and corporate sponsors, intent on getting their candidate in office. This massive spending was mirrored at the congressional level, where business lobbying soared in the last three months of the year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone spent over $125 million attempting to influence members of Congress, an 88 percent increase from 2011.

Indeed, lobbyists are the source of much corruption and exchanging of money in Washington, and their attempts to woo Congressmen only exacerbate the problems inherent to the institution. Jack Abramoff should know. Jailed for bribing public officials, the former lobbyist insists that the system is every bit as corrupt now as it was when he was convicted. From job offers for staffers and Congressmen after they leave Capitol Hill, to taking representatives to sporting events and fancy restaurants, there is no shortage of methods of influencing public officials to enact the policies of special interests. According to Abramoff, these tactics are still in use today, and “the system hasn’t been cleaned up at all.”

Once their foot is in the door, these lobbyists then offer up language for legislation that is “so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise” as to make passage as easy as possible. This legislation cements the privilege of the corporations to do as they please, making all of their dubious activities “legal.”

This lobbying is buoyed by a congressional lifestyle which demands that our representatives spend the majority of their time fund raising for campaigns, rather than responding to the needs of their constituents. In November 2012, the Democratic House leadership offered a model daily schedule to newly elected Democrats which suggests a ten-hour day, five hours of which are dominated by “call time” and “strategic outreach,” including fund raisers and correspondence with potential donors. Three or four hours are for actually doing the job they were elected to do, such as attending committee meetings, voting on legislation, and interacting with constituents.

When half of one’s time is devoted to asking for money from rich individuals and special interests, there is no way that he can respond to the problems which pervade the country. And yet, even Congressmen in safe seats are expected to fundraise constantly so as to support their colleagues in competitive districts. As Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) put it, “…this is the mother’s milk of what [Congressmen] need to do to try to sustain their campaigns, and it’s the only system they have to work with.”

Thus, even well-meaning Congressmen face a Catch-22 where they are pushed to fundraise to secure their seats, but then once in office, it is basically impossible for them to do their jobs. The full ramifications of this are laid out by Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC):

“Any member who follows that schedule will be completely controlled by their staff, handed statements that their staff prepared, speaking from talking points they get emailed from leadership… It really does affect how members of Congress behave if the most important thing they think about is fundraising. You end up being nice to people that probably somebody needs to be questioning skeptically… You won’t ask tough questions in hearings that might displease potential contributors, won’t support amendments that might anger them, will tend to vote the way contributors want you to vote.”

The influence of corporate money on Congress is exacerbated by how out of touch Congressmen are with the daily struggles of most Americans. In February 2012, the median net worth of Congressmen was $913,000 as compared to $100,000 for the rest of the population. Aside from being immediately wealthy, Congressmen also weathered the tribulations of the financial crisis much better than the average American. An analysis of Congressional finances by theWashington Post in October 2012 revealed that the wealthiest one-third of Congress was largely shielded from the effects of the Great Recession. While the median household net worth of the average American dropped by 39 percent between 2007 and 2010, the median wealth of Congressmen rose 5 percent. It rose 14 percent for the wealthiest one-third.

At a time when most people in the country are suffering, Congressmen are profiting. This alone should demonstrate how out of touch our elected leaders have become. Members of Congress, entrusted to represent the best interests of the average American, instead play out a stilted, ineffective soap opera on our TV screens, complete with phony discussions of fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings which take the place of real proposals for meaningful change in the country.

There is no voice for the working American in the halls of Congress, the American who was promised a life beyond taxes, debt, and unemployment. There is no voice for the peace loving American, the American who understands that America’s military might is meant for defense of the homeland, not looking for trouble in faraway lands. There is no voice for the American who expects his representatives to abide by the Constitution, who laments the way Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court work together to take away our rights piece by piece. — John W. Whitehead

 

 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”―  Martin Luther King Jr.

As one who came of age during the civil rights era, I was profoundly impacted by the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. He taught me so much more than just what it means to look beyond the color of a person’s skin—he taught me that life means nothing if you don’t stand up for the things that truly matter. And what are the things that matter? King spoke of them incessantly, in every sermon he preached, every speech he delivered and every article he wrote. Freedom, human dignity, brotherhood, spirituality, peace, justice, equality, putting an end to war and poverty—these are just a few of the big themes that shaped King’s life and, in turn, impacted so many impressionable young people like myself.

Fast forward 40 years, and we find ourselves living through historic times, with the nation’s first black president embarking on his second term in office. The comparisons between President Obama and King have been inevitable and largely favorable, helped along by Obama, who spoke at King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2008, a year before taking office—accepted the Democratic nomination on the anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech—presided over the installation and dedication of a national monument to King in Washington, DC—and took his oath of office using one of King’s Bibles on the national holiday dedicated to King.

Clearly, there are similarities between the two men. As a McClatchey news article noted: “Both battled enormous odds to build historic multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalitions—one to advance the cause of civil rights only to be assassinated in 1968, the other to win the nation’s highest office. Both won the Nobel Peace Prize. Both could use soaring rhetoric to inspire millions. Both also had to overcome critics who accused them of socialist or communist sympathies, as well as black activists who maintained that they weren’t strong advocates for African-Americans.”

Yet as Fredrick Harris, the director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, reminds us, “it is easy to assume that the president is an extension of King’s legacy and the civil rights movement. For black America, in particular, Obama has already joined the pantheon of great African American leaders, alongside Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X and, of course, King. He has joined their ranks not for his activism or his efforts to break down racial inequality, but for the symbolic weight of being the nation’s first black president.”

We’d be doing King and his legacy a profound disservice, however, if we do not insist that Obama do more than pay lip service to the man he credits, alongside Abraham Lincoln, as being one of his two heroes. Indeed, Obama spent much of the last four years campaigning for re-election and will likely spend the next four attempting to establish a lasting legacy for his presidency.

If Obama wants to be remembered for anything more than the color of his skin, he would do well to brush up on King’s teachings, which were far more radical than the watered-down pap about him being taught today. The following key principles, largely absent from Obama’s first term in office, formed the backbone of Rev. King’s life and work.

Practice non-violence, resist militarism and put an end to war.

I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his murder, King used the power of his pulpit to condemn the U.S. for “using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.” Insisting that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America can ignore its part in the Vietnam War, King called on the U.S. to end all bombing in Vietnam, declare a unilateral cease-fire, curtail its military buildup, and set a date for troop withdrawals. In that same sermon, King warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Contrast this with Obama’s use of the power of his office to expand America’s military empire at great cost to the nation, authorize drone strikes which have wreaked havoc on innocent civilians, and defend indefensible police tactics used in SWAT team raids and roadside stops. Obama’s national security budget for 2013, which allots a whopping $851 billion to be spent on wars abroad, weapons and military personnel, significantly outspends the money being spent on education, poverty and disease.

Stand against injustice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”― Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963)

Arrested and jailed for taking part in a nonviolent protest against racial segregation in Birmingham, Ala., King used his time behind bars to respond to Alabama clergymen who criticized King’s methods of civil disobedience and suggested that the courts were the only legitimate means for enacting change. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which makes the case for disobeying unjust laws, points out that “a just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

Contrast this with Obama’s ongoing endorsement of clearly unjust laws and government practices, some of which he has publicly acknowledged to be problematic or altogether wrong. For example, Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act, which respectively authorize the military to indefinitely detain American citizens, as well as spy on Americans who communicate with people overseas, whether they are journalists, family members, or business associates. Obama’s Justice Dept. has also urged the U.S. Supreme Court to grant police more leeway to strip search Americans and raid homes without a warrant. As King warned, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

Work to end poverty.

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

Especially in the latter part of his life, King was unflinching in his determination to hold Americans accountable to alleviating the suffering of the poor, going so far as to call for a march on Washington, DC, to pressure Congress to pass an Economic Bill of Rights. In recounting a parable about a man who went to hell because he didn’t see the poor, King cautioned his congregants: “Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich… Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.”

Prioritize people over corporations.

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

With roughly 25 lobbyists per Congressman, corporate greed largely calls the shots in the nation’s capital, enabling our elected representatives to grow richer and the people poorer. One can only imagine what King would have said about a nation whose political processes, everything from elections to legislation, are driven by war chests and corporate benefactors rather than the needs and desires of the citizenry.

Stand up for what is right, rather than what is politically expedient.

“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at National Cathedral (March 31, 1968)

Five days before his murder, King delivered a sermon at National Cathedral in Washington, DC, in which he noted that “one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

As King recognized, there is much to be done if we are to make this world a better place, and we cannot afford to play politics when so much hangs in the balance. It’s time, Mr. President, to wake up. To quote your hero: “[O]ur very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.” — John W. Whitehead