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Torturer on the Ballot

Michigan's First Congressional District is cold enough to freeze spit. Half of it is disconnected from the rest of Michigan and tacked onto the top of Wisconsin. A bit of it is further north than that, but rumored to be inhabited nonetheless.

In the recent Congressional elections, incumbent Republican Congressman Dan Benishek was reelected to his third term with 52 percent of the votes. Benishek is a climate-change denier and committed to limiting himself to three terms, a pair of positions that may end up working well together.

Benishek's predecessor in Congress was a Democrat, and a Democrat took 45 percent of the vote this year. Will that Democrat run again in 2016? Some would argue that if he does it should be from prison. Before he ran for office, Jerry Cannon ran the U.S. death camp at Guantanamo and, according to a witness, was personally responsible for ordering torture.

Green Party candidate Ellis Boal took 1 percent of the vote in Michigan's First, after apparently failing to interest corporate media outlets in his campaign, and by his own account failing utterly to interest them in what he managed to learn about Cannon, who also "served" in the war in Iraq.

Now, Congress is jam-packed with members of both major parties who have effectively condoned and covered up torture for years. Both parties have elected numerous veterans of recent wars who have participated in killing in wars that they themselves, in some cases, denounce as misguided. And we've read about the Bush White House overseeing torture in real time from afar. But it still breaks new ground for the party of the President who has claimed to be trying to close Guantanamo for six years to put up as a candidate a man who ran the place, and a man whose role in torture was not entirely from his air-conditioned office.

I would also venture to say that it breaks new media ground for the news outlets covering the recent election nationally and locally in Michigan's First District to not only miss this story but actively refuse to cover it when Boal held it in their faces and screamed. "Despite many attempts," Boal says, "I have been unable to interest any media in it, save for a small newspaper in Traverse City (near me) which gave it cursory attention."

Boal sent out an offer to any reporter willing to take an interest: "I located a witness, a former detainee now cleared and back home in Bosnia, who can testify of an instance of torture visited on him in early 2004, ordered and supervised by Cannon. I can put you in touch with him through his attorney. The details of the incident are here. . . . Without success I tried to make it a campaign issue."

Jerry Cannon, according to both Wikipedia and his own website, first "served" in the war that killed three to four million Vietnamese. He was commander of the Joint Detention Operations Group Joint Task Force Guantanamo from 2003 to 2004. He was Deputy Commanding General responsible for developing Iraqi police forces in Iraq from 2008 to 2009, and U.S. Forces-Iraq Provost Marshal General and Deputy Commanding General for Detention Operations in Iraq from 2010 to 2011. Boy, everything this guy touches turns out golden!

Boal has collected evidence of torture during Cannon's time at Guantanamo, from the Red Cross, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the U.S. Senate, and public reports including in the New York Times, here.

Boal focuses on Mustafa Ait Idir, a former prisoner of Guantanamo who, like most, has been widely written about, and who, like most, has been found innocent of any wrong-doing and been released (in November 2008 after years of wrongful imprisonment).

Mustafa Ait Idir says that soldiers at Guantanamo threw him down on rocks and jumped on him, causing injuries including a broken finger, dislocated knuckles, and half his face paralyzed; they sprayed chemicals in his face, squeezed his testicles, and slammed his head on the floor and jumped on him. They bent his fingers back to cause pain, and broke one of them in the process. They stuck his head in a toilet and flushed it. They stuck a hose in his mouth and forced water down his throat. They refused him medical attention.

Boal communicated with Idir through Idir's lawyer, and Idir identified Cannon from photos and a video as the man who had threatened him with punishment if he did not hand over his pants. (Prisoners who believed they needed pants in order to pray were being stripped of their pants as a means of humiliation and abuse.) Idir refused to give up his pants unless he could have them back to wear for praying. Consequently, he was "enhanced interrogated."

Torture and complicity in torture are felonies under U.S. law, a fact that the entire U.S. political establishment has gone to great lengths to obscure.

I shared the information above with Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture, and she replied:

"Torture is a 'non-partisan' practice in this country. It's beyond disgraceful that the Democratic Party would run Jerry Cannon for Congress. Sadly, while most (but clearly not all!) Dems have repudiated torture in words, their deeds have been more ambiguous. Five years after President Obama took office, the prison at Guantánamo remains open, and torture continues there. The Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture has yet to be released. (Perhaps lame duck senator Mark Udall will be persuaded to read the whole thing into the Congressional Record, as some of us are hoping.) We have yet to get a full accounting, not only of the CIA's activities, but of all U.S. torture in the 'war on terror.' Equally important, President Obama made it clear at the beginning of his first term that no one would be held accountable for torture. 'Nothing will be gained,' he said 'by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.' But we know this is not true. When high government officials know that they can torture with impunity, torture will continue."

Noting Cannon's resume post-Guantanamo, Gordon said, "Under the al-Maliki government, the Iraqi police force, and in particular the detention centers operated by the Iraqi Special Police Commandos, routinely abused members of Iraq's Sunni communities, thereby further inflaming the political and social enmity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq. When the so-called Islamic State began operating in Iraq, they found willing collaborators in Sunni communities whose members had been tortured by the al-Maliki government's police. When Jerry Cannon went to Guantánamo, he went as an Army reservist. In civilian life he was Sheriff of Kalkaska County in Michigan. Cannon's abusive practices and contemptuous attitudes towards detainees did not originate in Guantánamo. He brought them with him from the United States. Similarly, in civilian life, the members of the reservist unit responsible for the famous outrages at Abu Ghraib were prison guards from West Virginia. Their ringleader, Specialist Charles Graner, famously wrote home to friends about his activities at Abu Ghraib, 'The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, "I love to make a grown man piss himself."' In fact, if you want to find torture hidden in plain sight, look no farther than the jails and prisons of this country."

The mystery of where torture came from turns out to be no mystery at all. It came from the prison industrial complex. And it's now been so mainstreamed that it's no bar to running for public office. But here's another mystery: Why is President Obama going to such lengths to cover up his predecessor's torture, including insisting on redactions in the Senate report on CIA torture that even Senator Dianne Feinstein claims not to want censored? Surely it's not because of all the gratitude Obama's receiving from former President Bush or his supporters! Actually, it's no mystery at all. As Gordon points out: the torture is ongoing.

President Elect Obama made very clear in January 2009 that he would not allow torturers to be prosecuted and would be "looking forward" instead of (what all law enforcement outside of science fiction requires) backward. By February 2009, reports were coming in that torture at Guantanamo was worsening rather than ceasing, and included: "beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-force-feeding detainees who are on hunger strike." In April 2009 a Guantanamo prisoner phoned a media outlet to report being tortured. As time went by the reports kept coming, as the military's written policy would lead one to expect.

In May 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney forced into the news the fact that, even though Obama had "banned torture" by executive order (torture being a felony and a treaty violation before and after the "banning") Obama maintained the power to use torture as needed. Cheney said that Obama's continued claim of the power to torture vindicated his own (Cheney's) authorization of torture. David Axelrod, White House Senior Advisor, refused repeatedly, to dispute Cheney's assertion -- also supported by Leon Panetta's confirmation hearing for CIA director, at which he said the president had the power to torture and noted that rendition would continue. In fact, it did. The New York Times quickly reported that the U.S. was now outsourcing more torture to other countries. The Obama administration announced a new policy on renditions that kept them in place, and a new policy on lawless permanent imprisonment that kept it in place but formalized it, mainstreamed it. Before long Obama-era rendition victims were alleging torture.

As the Obama White House continued and sought to extend the occupation of Iraq, torture continued to be an Iraqi policy, as it has post-occupation and during occupation 3.0. It has also remained a U.S. and Afghan policy in Afghanistan, with no end in sight. The U.S. military has continued to use the same personnel as part of its torture infrastructure. And secret CIA torture prisons have continued to pop into the news even though the CIA was falsely said to have abandoned that practice. While the Obama administration has claimed unprecedented powers to block civil suits against torturers, it has also used, in court, testimony produced by torture, something that used to be illegal (and still is if you go by written laws).

"Look at the current situation," Obama said in 2013, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike . . . Is this who we are?" Well, it is certainly who some of us have become, including Obama, the senior authority in charge of the soldiers doing the force-feeding, and a human chameleon able to express outrage at his own policies, a trick that is perhaps more central to the mainstreaming of vicious and sadistic practices than we always care to acknowledge.

Those retaining some sense of decency are currently urging the Obama administration to go easy in its punishment of a nurse who refused to participate in the force-feeding, who in fact insisted on being "who we are."

Things, Not People, You Can Vote For

"Vote. It's the American thing to do!" read an email I received yesterday. Actually it's the just-about-anywhere-else thing to do. U.S. voters lead the world in staying home and not bothering.

There are three schools of thought as to why, all of which I think are largely correct.

1. They don't make it easy. Americans, in many cases, have to work long hours in unlivable cities, go through a hassle to register to vote, wait in long lines, produce photo IDs, and get past intimidation, scams, and fraudulent removal from voter rolls.

2.  Americans are idiots. This explanation is not always thought through, but the U.S. public is constantly indoctrinated with a belief in its own powerlessness, informed that action will make no difference, and distracted from civic engagement by bread and circuses.

3. There's nobody on the ballot worth voting for. The districts have been gerrymandered. The media, the debates, and the ballot-access rules all favor the incumbent or, at best, the two corporate political parties. The candidates flooding the airwaves with often quite accurate negative advertisements about how awful their opponents are have been bribed to hold similarly awful positions by the extremely wealthy interests paying for the show.  And your vote for the greater or lesser evil of the two similar candidates is often counted on a completely unverifiable machine. Why bother?

Well, one trick that candidates and parties have come up with to get more people into voting booths is the public initiative or referendum. If people can vote to make a direct decision on something they're passionate about, many of them will also go ahead and vote for the candidates whose platforms are infinitesimally closer to their own positions. Thus you have Democrats and Republicans supporting placing measures on the ballot that they believe will attract either more Democrats or more Republicans.

In 2004, Floridians put a minimum wage vote on the ballot, meant both to raise the minimum wage and to elect Democrats. But John Kerry opposed Florida's minimum wage initiative. Floridians (assuming, based totally on faith, that the count was accurate) rejected Kerry while, of course, passing the minimum wage. So, as a trick to win votes for candidates, this tool requires candidates who aren't bigger idiots than voters are. But as a positive development on its own, the referenda and initiatives on ballots around the country today offer good reason to vote in some places.

Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, San Francisco, and Oakland will almost certainly raise (that is restore lost value to) the minimum wage.

Alaska, Florida, Oregon, Washington, D.C.; Guam; South Portland, Maine; Lewiston, Maine; and lots of localities in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Mexico will vote on various forms of marijuana legalization.

In 50 localities in Wisconsin and in countless others across the country, people will vote for funding for schools.

In Illinois, voters can vote to tax all income over $1 million an additional 3 percent to fund schools.

Localities in California, Ohio, and Texas will have the opportunity to ban fracking by popular vote.

In Washington state and elsewhere, voters can vote to impose background checks on gun purchases. Betting on passage, the gun companies are urging people (criminals in particular, I guess) to buy now before it's too late.

So, my recommendation is to check out what things, if any, rather than people, you have a chance to vote for. By all means, stop being an idiot who imagines activism is pointless. But don't jump to the conclusion that voting is one of the top priorities. Check whether there isn't perhaps something actually worth voting for, or a way to make there be such a thing next time.

Which Is Worse, a Libertarian or a Humanitarian-Warrior?

Is it worse to put into Congress or the White House someone who wants to end wars and dismantle much of the military but also wants to abolish Social Security and Medicare and the Department of Education and several other departments they have trouble remembering the names of, OR someone who just wants to slightly trim all of those departments around the edges while waging countless wars all over the world in the name of every heretofore imagined human right other than the right not to get blown up with a missile?

Can dismantling the military without investing in diplomacy and aid and cooperative conflict resolution actually avoid wars? Can a country that continues waging wars at every opportunity actually avoid abolishing domestic services? I would hope that everyone would be willing to reject both libertarians and humanitarian-warriors even when it means rejecting both the Republican and the Democratic Parties. I would also hope that each of those parties would begin to recognize the danger they are in and change their ways.

Democrats should consider this: States within the United States are developing better and worse wages, labor standards, environmental standards, healthcare systems, schools, and civil liberties. The Washington Post is advising people on which foreign nations to go to college in for free -- nations that both tax wealth and invest between 0 and 4 percent of the U.S. level in militarism. A federal government that stopped putting a trillion dollars a year into wars and war preparations, with all the accompanying death, trauma, destruction, environmental damage, and loss of liberties, begins to look like a decent tradeoff for a federal government ending lots of other things it does, from its very minimal security net to massive investment in fossil fuels and highways. Of course it's still a horrible tradeoff, especially if you live in one of the more backward states, as I do. But it begins to look like less of a horrible tradeoff, I think, as we come to realize that representative democracy can work at the state and local levels, and the major crises of climate and war can only be solved at the global level, while the national government we have is too big to handle our local needs and is itself the leading opponent of peace and sustainability on earth.

With that in mind, consider a leading face of the Democratic Party: Hillary Clinton. She's openly corrupted by war profiteers. She was too corrupt to investigate Watergate. Wall Street Republicans back her, and she believes in "representing banks." She'd be willing to "obliterate" Iran. She laughed gleefully about killing Gadaffi and bringing Libya into the liberated state of hell it's now in, with violence having spilled into neighboring nations since. She threw her support and her vote behind attacking Iraq in 2003. She is a leading militarist and authoritarian who turned the State Department into a war-making machine pushing weapons and fracking on the world, and she supports the surveillance state. There's a strong feminist argument against her. The pull of superior domestic rhetoric is strong, but not everyone will see a candidate who backed a war that killed a million dark-skinned Iraqis as the anti-racist candidate.

Republicans should consider this: Your star senator, Rand Paul, can be relied on to talk complete sense about the madness of war, right up until people get scared by beheading videos, and then he's in favor of the madness of war, if still so far short of all-out backing of war-on-the-world as to horrify the Washington Post. He has backed cancelling all foreign aid, except for military foreign "aid" up to $5 billion, mostly in free weapons for Israel. He used to favor serious cuts to military spending, but hasn't acted on that and now has John McCain's support as a good "centrist." He supports racist policies while hoping not to be seen doing so, and was against the Civil Rights Act before he was for it. He thinks kids should drive 10 miles to find a good school or get educated online.

Everyone should consider this: Candidates like the above two are so horrible, and end up moving ever closer to each other's positions, that the real choice is between them and someone decent. If the choice ever really arises between a libertarian who opposes war (many self-identified libertarians love war and are only against peaceful spending) and a humanitarian warrior with something to offer domestically (many humanitarian warriors don't have much of an upside elsewhere) it could shake up some people's blind partisanship. By why wait? Why not shake it up now? Why not start now investing energy in activism rather than elections, including activism to reform elections and how they are funded? Why not start now voting for candidates we don't have to hold our noses for? Six years into the Obama presidency, we have peace groups -- not all of them, thank goodness -- but we have peace groups putting everything into electing Democrats, after which they plan to oppose advocating for peace, instead backing limited war. It isn't the lesser-evil voting that kills us; it's the lesser-evil thinking that somehow never gets left behind in the voting booth.

57 Candidates and Nothing On

I was lucky to attend a debate among the candidates for Congress from Virginia's Fifth District just before game 7 of the world series. This was the kind of event you can write about while drinking beer and yelling at a television with your family. In fact, I'm not sure there's any other way you could write about it.

Here are our choices for the House of Misrepresentatives:

The incumbent Robert Hurt, a fairly typically horrendous Republican, if a bit less of a warmonger than his Democratic predecessor, didn't make a fool of himself at all on Wednesday evening. On the contrary, he disgraced himself by not showing up. Of course, the debate was in the left-leaning corner of a district gerrymandered to keep him in Washington for life, barring a mass movement of a few thousand people for one of his opponents. He would have answered most of the evening's questions as badly or worse than anyone else there, and that's saying something. One of the questions, submitted by me on a 3x5 card, was this:

Roughly 53% of federal discretionary spending goes to militarism. How much should?

I doubt very much that Hurt would have answered the question clearly and directly had he been there.

Ken Hildebrandt, an Independent Green who spoke often if vaguely about cutting the military, answered my question by offering arguments that UFOs had visited Roswell. Asked about climate change, he argued that chem-trails from airplanes are manipulating our weather. Pretty much all the other questions he answered: "Hemp." Hildebrandt is a bit of a mixed bag. He wants progressive taxation but no gun laws. He wants single-payer health coverage but calls it "public option" and claims that life expectancy in the United States is in the 40s. (During the whole debate, neither the moderator nor any candidate ever corrected another's factual errors, and the opportunities were plentiful.) Hildebrandt wants to stop subsidizing Lockheed and Boeing, but has nothing to say on a lot of topics, seems to think the two men sitting next to him would be about as good in office as he would, runs for office every two years as a routine, has a wife running in the next district, and -- less peacefully than one might wish -- calls the incumbent a "monster."

Behind Curtain 2 is Paul Jones, a Libertarian. He said he'd cut military spending in half immediately, that it's not defensive. "Who's going to attack us?" he asks. "It's ludicrous! The reason they would attack us is that we're over there all the time. . . . Nobody ever wins a war." Not bad, huh? He wants to end the surveillance state too. Of course, you had to be there to hear him mumble it all. But here's the downside. He wants that $500,000,000,000 to all go into tax cuts. He also objects to the term "discretionary spending." It's all discretionary, he says, no matter what some politician says (such as in a law putting Social Security out of his government-shrinking reach). Also he'd like to cut most of the rest of the government too, including eliminating a bunch of departments -- although, unlike Rick Perry, he didn't attempt to name any of them. He also wants to pay off the debt, use the free market for healthcare (while assisting the poor) and get immigrants to start paying taxes (huh?). He claims no laws can keep guns from criminals or the mentally ill. He claims that India produces more greenhouse gases than the United States.

Last up is Democrat Lawrence Gaughan. He was the most professional, articulate presence. He said he agreed with the other two gentlemen a lot, but it wasn't clear what he meant. He said he agreed "100%" with Jones on military spending. So, does he want to cut it by 50% right away? Will he introduce a bill to do that? He criticized Hurt for supporting the new war in Iraq. He called the Pentagon a "Department of Offense." But he said repeatedly that he would cut $1 trillion in military spending, which obviously meant $1 trillion over some number of years, probably at best 10 years, which would mean $100 billion a year. He claimed that the Democratic Party opposes war. And he claimed that his pro-war predecessor Tom Perriello is working with President Obama to reduce overseas bases. (All of this with a very straight face.)

That combination of comments makes Gaughan by far the best Democratic or Republican candidate in this district in living memory, but a bit of a question mark in terms of follow through. Hildebrandt said he wouldn't have compromised on "public option." Gaughan said that he both favored "public option" (clearly meaning to say "single payer") and would have sought a "more bi-partisan solution." Wow. Gaughan is not even in DC yet and he's talking as if we're bothered by "gridlock" more than bad healthcare. He wants to tax corporations and billionaires. He mentions "the 1%" a lot. But he favors a "leaner, more efficient government." Hildebrandt mentioned publicly financed elections. Gaughan said he wanted to "get the money out of elections" without saying how. He wants immigrants to have a path to citizenship, and he wants to "tighten borders." He sees the top problem as the concentration of wealth and power, but he sees the root cause of that as low voter turnout (what?). He's for background checks on guns and recognizing the reality of climate change, but one doesn't sense a major push for radical transformation. He talks about saving the climate by creating a better America, not a better planet.

Gaughan said he wasn't taking money from the Democratic Party in Washington. That makes him different from Perriello, who proved very obedient to his "leaders." No doubt the DCCC isn't offering money because they don't think any Democrat has a chance in VA-05. If we were to elect Gaughan, he might not lead Congress toward peace and justice, but he'd come a lot closer to actually meriting the praise that liberal groups gave Perriello, and he just might be answerable to the people who elected him rather than the party that didn't buy his ticket to Washington. A liberal Democratic Party elections group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, is basing its national elect-Democrats work out of Charlottesville, but none of the candidates they're backing are from Virginia.

Talk Nation Radio: Brad Friedman on the State of War, Earth, and Democracy

https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-brad-friedman-on-the-state-of-war-earth-and-democracy

Brad Friedman is the investigative blogger, journalist, broadcaster, trouble-maker and muckraker from BradBlog.com. He is a regular contributor to Salon.com and elsewhere; host of KPFK/Pacifica Radio's BradCast and the nationally-syndicated Green News Report with co-host Desi Doyen. We discuss war and peace, the environment and its destruction, and voting and everything done to prevent it. As Michael Moore says: It's a comedy!

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Strongest Antiwar Statement Yet from a Congressional Candidate

In this local TV news interview (video), we see Virginia Fifth District Democratic nominee for Congress Lawrence Gaughan say, "We need to get back to the Constitution on the issue of war, and I will never authorize the executive to use force when there is no direct or imminent threat to our national security here on our soil."

I'm not aware of a stronger statement from any candidate for Congress. 

Virginia's Fifth District is currently misrepresented by Republican Robert Hurt who on Thursday voted against blocking funds for a new war on Iraq:

Lee (D-CA)- Amendment No. 31 - Prohibits funds from being used to conduct combat operations in Iraq. – REJECTED 165 – 250

Twice:

Lee (D-CA)- Amendment No. 33 - Prohibits funds from being used pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution of 2002. – REJECTED 182 – 231

Prior to Hurt, VA-05 was misrepresented by Democrat Tom Perriello, an enthusiastic warmonger who recently moved to the State Department from the Center for American Progress, which is advocating for missile strikes on Iraq.

Prior to Perriello, this district was embarrassed and disgraced by Democrat turned Republican Virgil Goode.

When people voted for Perriello (and Obama) in 2008, many blindly followed a party line, and many fantasized that they were electing an anti-war representative. 

Many imagined Hurt was hopeless in this regard, although he did prove willing in the end to oppose missile strikes into Syria.

Now, as it happens, there appears to be an opportunity to vote for someone who is actually running on an antiwar platform, not just a platform of being from a different party than Bush and Cheney.  And what a platform!

It's quite common to say you'll only back wars when "U.S. national interests are at stake" or when the U.S. is threatened, but those phrases can usually be defined to mean anything at all, including U.S. troops halfway around the globe getting into a shoot out.  That's not what Gaughan has said.  He has said there must be a threat to the United States in the United States.  That's a rejection of at least the past 70 years of U.S. war making.

It's also common to claim that one will take a decent position against wars if asked by the President.  That's not what Gaughan has said.  He has said that he will abide by the Constitution, which does not allow presidents to make wars, and that he will not permit the executive to wage wars except under the narrow circumstances described.

We're not going to find better than this around here for a long, long time to come, and I doubt anybody can find better elsewhere in the country. 

I therefore suggest that wherever you live, you consider supporting putting this man in Congress.

United We Stand and Shout and Dance and Make it Better

I'm looking forward to speaking on Saturday, May 10, at the United We Stand Festival in Los Angeles (and at an earlier event) where dozens of speakers and musicians will be standing together against such evils as: "the PATRIOT Act, NDAA, NSA, war on drugs, drones, ... war, GMO, ... central banks, corporatism," and in favor of "Internet freedom, election reform, honest media/music/art, education/student leadership, the environment, ...."

This is nice timing, with Vermont having just become the first state to call for a Constitutional Convention to strip legalized bribery out of U.S. politics, and with the U.S. Senate planning a vote on a Constitutional amendment to allow Congress to limit said bribery. Sixteen states have urged Congress to act, which remains a quixotic pursuit. Even more disturbing than Congressional dithering is the failure of each of those 16 states to tack on a few words to do what Vermont has done and create a work-around should Congress members choose not to bite the greasy hand that feeds them.  Think about what must motivate that failure to add a call for a Constitutional Convention.

There's also the problem that should Congress and the states ever pass an amendment allowing Congress to limit campaign "contributions," Congress would still have to take the additional step of actually doing so. And you can guess as well as I can what Congress considers a reasonable limitation -- just look at the minimal limitations that Congress was imposing before the Supreme Court outrageously attacked those limits in Citizens United and McCutcheon, after which the impeachment of some justices, or the legislative removal of some powers from the Supreme Court would have made more sense than accepting that the Constitution needed changing. 

The Constitution was not intended to give rights to corporations or to equate bribery with the protected act of free speech.  But it's going to take a massive movement of public pressure to compel our government to read or rewrite the Constitution well.  So, perhaps we're just as well off rewriting it.  And that opens up all sorts of possibilities, most of which can't possibly be worse than what we've got now.  We could end the presidential system, the Supreme Court's unaccountability, gerrymandering, corporate monopolies -- including of communications media -- and the pretended legality of war.  We could create a guaranteed income and mandate environmental sustainability.

But without even diving that deeply into creating a better Constitution, we could add something like this:

<<The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.

Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law. The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.

The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.

All elections for President and members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate shall be entirely publicly financed. No political contributions shall be permitted to any federal candidate, from any other source, including the candidate. No political expenditures shall be permitted in support of any federal candidate, or in opposition to any federal candidate, from any other source, including the candidate. The Congress shall, by statute, provide limitations on the amounts and timing of the expenditures of such public funds and provide criminal penalties for any violation of this section.

State and local governments shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for state or local public office or any state or local ballot measure.

The right of the individual U.S. citizen to vote and to directly elect all candidates by popular vote in all pertinent local, state, and federal elections shall not be violated. Citizens will be automatically registered to vote upon reaching the age of 18 or upon becoming citizens at an age above 18, and the right to vote shall not be taken away from them. Votes shall be recorded on paper ballots, which shall be publicly counted at the polling place. Election day shall be a national holiday.

Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.

During a designated campaign period of no longer than six months, free air time shall be provided in equal measure to all candidates for federal office on national, state, or district television and radio stations, provided that each candidate has, during the previous year, received the supporting signatures of at least five percent of their potential voting-age constituents. The same supporting signatures shall also place the candidate's name on the ballot and require their invitation to participate in any public debate among the candidates for the same office.>>

I'm confident that there are thousands of people who can draft this reform that well or better, that Congress will only scrape the surface (and that only if a Constitutional Convention is looming), that such a Convention actually happening would be a big step forward, and that people who are ready for serious change are starting to stand united: https://unitedwestandfest.com

Why Andy Shallal Should Be Mayor of D.C.

It would make a tremendous difference nationally and internationally to have a real activist, progressive, populist, and democrat as mayor of our nation's capital.  Imagine a leading opponent of war as mayor of the world center of war making.  Imagine major public initiatives to address the massive poverty and racial disparity in the headquarters of the greatest wealth machine on the planet.  Imagine the model set in Washington for school systems elsewhere based on public community schools rather than corporate commodification of mis-education. 

Imagine Congress forced to work in a place with living wage laws, wise environmental practices, free mass transit, perhaps a public bank -- a place where the quality of life rises for all and trickledown propaganda can't utter its first syllable without being mocked.  Imagine the home of the U.S. government as a living breathing counterexample to every acontextual ahistorical anti-intellectual claim for the benefits of violence over diplomacy, monopolistic capitalism over the social good, and brutal pigheadedness over civic engagement and innovation.

I hardly ever promote candidates.  We're not going to vote our way to peace and justice -- much less vote our way to clean, open, verifiable elections with public financing and free, fair media time.  But Washington, D.C., is actually a place where Andy Shallal has a chance to get himself elected.  He's in a 7-way race, and people want a newcomer. 

Andy Shallal! Most of you know who this is.  Andy has been a leading opponent of wars and militarism, of racism, and of extreme materialism.  Andy has testified before Congress, rallied crowds, and gone to jail for justice.  He's helped keep Northrop Grumman from living off DC taxpayers.  He's pushed for higher wages from Wal-Mart, and paid them at his own restaurants.  He's the owner of four -- soon to be six -- Busboys and Poets restaurants, the places where all the best organizations and campaigns find a free space to meet, strategize, communicate, and entertain -- spaces that always seem a bit more integrated by age, race, and background than anywhere else in DC.

Andy is not just a personality, not just a backstory, not just an aura or a brand name.  He has proposals ready to work on.  He wants a moratorium on school closings.  He wants money put back into the minimum wage (what's commonly and misleadingly called "raising" it).  He wants the voting age dropped to 17.  Andy is on the board of trustees of the Institute for Policy Studies.  That's like having your own cabinet already formed, but formed by geniuses and actual small-d democrats. 

I can think of another major city where a mayor was recently elected with great fanfare and great expectations, but the disappointments came quickly.  I don't know how that will work out, but I know that Andy won't disappoint. He also would not want public activist pressure to go away.  We'll need to pressure Andy and the D.C. City Council, we'll need to organize and educate and listen to and learn from our neighbors.  We'll need to keep doing what we do, but we'll do it with the mayor on our side, the mayor of an international city, a city with sister cities on every continent, a city with great influence on public discussion at home and abroad.

This is a campaign for us all, no matter where we live.

Andy is the guest this week on Talk Nation Radio.  Listen here.

His own website is at http://Andy4DC.org

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