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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.
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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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:
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.
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
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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