Tuesday, February 16, 2010

1984 in 2010: Hijacking Democracy to Spy on Americans

Nearly a decade ago, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) stood alone as the Senate's constitutional conscience. Casting the only dissenting vote against passage of the PATRIOT Act in 2001, he was powerless to stop an opportunistic power grab by neo-conservatives who had long sought, well before the tragedy of 9-11, to expand our government's reach into the lives of law-abiding Americans.

Today, the draconian authorities foisted on an unsuspecting public by the PATRIOT Act once again place the Constitution in the cross-hairs of a complacent Congress, acquiescing to another administration whose political agenda lies at conspicuous odds with its leader's oath to defend the Constitution.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

About Miranda Rights/Richard Reid/Newt Gingrich/Abdulmutallab

There has recently been a flap over Newt Gingrich's Daily Show interview (and subsequent comments, along with others by various Republicans) related to the Obama administration's handling of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man who attempted to blow his underwear up on a flight to Detroit. The GOP criticism is basically that the Obama administration read Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab and generally treated him like he was an American citizen. They argue that this is completely unacceptable behavior...he's a foreign terrorist, and shouldn't get the benefits of our legal system. Stewart raised the issue of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, with Gingrich - Reid was also read his Miranda rights and largely treated within the rules of the U.S legal system. Gingrich's response was that Reid was a U.S. citizen - other Republicans have been making this point as well. Of course, this is not true at all - Reid was a British national. The left has been arguing that this is proof of hypocrisy - Abdulmutallab basically was treated like Reid, but the GOP didn't go after President Bush. This is, of course, entirely true, but I think we're missing the bigger point. We got good intelligence from Abdulmutallab. Why isn't this the central point of discussion?

Yeah, look, today's Republican party is a hypocritical one, and I think it is important to point this out (note: I think the same standard applies to the Democrats, too - I'm an equal hypocrisy hater). But why is this the central point of discussion? The Abdulmutallab case is really a testament to the effectiveness of normal legal practices. Gingrich talked about how the Obama administration's treatment of Abdulmutallab was wrong because he's not a U.S. citizen and because it makes America less safe. Well, that last point is kind of the crux of the argument, and the one we really should focus on. Apparently, the US got a lot of useful intel from Abdulmutallab, Mirandized and all. Is there reason to believe treating him more harshly, say, waterboarding, would have gotten us more info? We've already discussed this on the Spoon here, and here, and, at the very least, we don't see that being likely. We're not exactly going out a limb with that view. A hell of a lot of experts agree that harsh interrogation techniques don't get you good information. So, the flap over treating Abdulmutallab "lightly" seems to be problematic in that, by making such an argument, the GOP leaves itself open to being rightly accused of pushing harder interrogation to appear tougher, while actually making us LESS SAFE. You know, because harsher interrogation might actually get us less intelligence. Now, if only that point could be discussed more often, so as to finally kill this dangerous tough-guy debate. And by the way, the "tough-guy" lawmakers who want harsher interrogation look like kids that got beat up for lunch money growing up. So, you know, just throw a punch at them every now and then. Like calling them out for their discourse on this that makes America less safe.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thank you, Howard

"Everything we do is important. Every little thing we do, every picket line we walk on, every letter we write, every act of civil disobedience we engage in, any recruiter that we talk to, any parent that we talk to, any GI that we talk to, any young person that we talk to, anything we do in class, outside of class, everything we do in the direction of a different world is important, even though at the moment they seem futile, because that’s how change comes about. Change comes about when millions of people do little things, which at certain points in history come together, and then something good and something important happens." - Howard Zinn, 1922-2010.

There are a lot of really beautiful and thoughtful tributes to the People's historian. We here at the Spoon just wanted to offer our profound thanks to Howard Zinn for everything he did. He taught us about empathy. He taught us about connecting to others, learning from them, and organizing with them for a more just world. He taught us how important each thing each one of us does is, since we never really know what actions end up causing major policy shifts.

On a personal level, I was fortunate enough to get to know him while in college, and it changed my life. I went from a science kid to a politics kid. I went from being (sort of) interested in biochemistry and physiology to organizing on welfare reform, poverty, Iraq sanctions, and eventually, health care policy and foreign policy. His friendship literally transformed my life, and his words have done the same for thousands, if not millions, of others. While many call him a "radical" or "leftist" historian, I dispute those terms - he simply offered the voices of those history had conveniently left out. As a former WWII bombadier, he learned to detest war, knowing that innocent civilians will always bear the brunt of any conflict. As a former shipyard laborer and professor at Spelman college during the Civil Rights movement, he found poverty and racism unacceptable and things worth fighting against at all times. Howard spoke for the marginalized at all times because he believed all people deserve the opportunity to participate in politics. There is nothing leftist or radical about that. As Bob Herbert said, Howard being veiwed as a radical reflected more about about our society than him.

I am very happy he got to see The People Speak finally make it to TV - he told a few of us his initial thoughts about turning A People's History of the United States into a documentary of sorts about a decade ago. The show got a lot of great reviews, and was seen by many, including scores of people who had never read or heard of Zinn before. Naomi Klein is right...there has been a revival of interest in Howard Zinn the past few years (he never really went out of fashion, but yeah, definitely increased interest lately). He has now left us, but so long as we keep fighting for the things he did, he'll always be close by. After all, he was one of us.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reprint of "Boxing, Wrestling, and the American Dream"

What follows is an unpublished essay written in March of 2006. It was written long before Barack Obama announced his candidacy for presidency of the United States of America. Reading this essay four years after it was written makes me summons an ironic adage: "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Indeed, it seems that in one regard the essay was quite prescient in its assertion that the American People were demanding fairness to return to the "ring." I do not think the author could have expected, however, just how in tune with the future his discussion about Jack Johnson's pardon at the end of the essay was in regards to the historic election of the first African American President. Unfortunately, the promise of change may end there. It seems even the calm and collected Barak Obama can only do so much to change the politics of this country. The middle class continue to get squeezed and pushed further down the ladder of consequence; the War in Iraq will soon replace Vietnam as the longest running war in American History; oil still rules our existence even as the promise for unlimited renewable energy lies at our finger tips; and the richest 2% still control 98% of the world's wealth.

Although the essay makes references to the politics and entertainment of the time in which it was written (i.e. former President Bush, Rocky VI, etc,) it is really intriguing to see how similar everything looks. The one minor difference seems to be a marginally better opinion of Americans amongst the rest of the global citizenry.