JFK Gave Baby Boomers Responsibility to Protect Our Freedom. They Failed.

Eternal_Flame_Next_generation

The Eternal Flame has burned continuously since Jackie Kennedy lit it in Arlington Cemetery on November 25, 1963 during her husband’s state funeral. Today, fifty years to the day after it was lit, hundreds have come to take photos of the flame flickering in a cold breeze, while others stand silently watching flowers laid at its granite base.

At his inauguration, President Kennedy spoke of a “torch” passed to a “new generation”:

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Fifty years after his assassination, this torch has been neglected, and the flame has nearly gone out.

Since JFK was killed, the Civil Rights movement has achieved important successes. But the present state of freedom and human rights in the U.S. is like a wound left unattended, and every day the hemorrhaging grows worse. Our government is systematically eviscerating our freedoms and those of people around the world. There are several signs of this: the police state, the huge numbers of citizens incarcerated, illegal NSA surveillance, and drone warfare. Continue reading

50 Years Later, We Still Have a Dream

For the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the NYC Light Brigade, Veterans For Peace, Get Equal, and activists from across the country have illuminated the message: “We Have A Dream – Jobs Not War.”

We need a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom every bit as much today as we did fifty years ago.

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Miranda case shows, anti-terrorism laws used against us, not terrorists

Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was held on August 19 for nine hours of questioning at London’s Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Although it was clear that Miranda posed no terrorist threat, his cell phone, laptop, game consoles and camera were confiscated. Under the UK’s controversial Terrorism Act, anyone can be detained for up to nine hours of questioning before they clear customs.

A spokesperson for the Guardian said, “We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities.”

According to the UK’s Home Office, “The government and police have a duty to protect the public and our national security.”

Translation: “Protect the public,” “national security” and variation “keep you safe” is doublespeak for “we’re watching you.”

International Big Brother is usually more discreet, but the Snowden revelations have driven him out of the shadows. The security services of the US and our allies are driving us inexorably towards the dystopian society predicted in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The rationale for anti-terrorism laws is public safety, a trade-off between protection and rights. Yet the anti-terrorism laws which empower security authorities are being abused. The NSA often violates even the secret regime of law established by the FISA Court. GCHQ used the Terrorism Act as a pretense to detain David Miranda at Heathrow. Glenn Greenwald calls it “a failed attempt at intimidation.”

Disregard for the law is not only a betrayal of trust and principle, it nullifies hundreds of years of struggle to secure our civil rights. And what’s more, it’s not keeping us safe either.

In reality, protection and surveillance have little to do with each other. In the military, we learned that there is a difference between guarding and surveilling. Guarding is providing that no harm will come to who or whatever you’re protecting. Surveilling is watching, observing and recording.

The NSA and GCHQ maintain that surveillance is a tool to protect the people from terrorists, when in fact they watch the people like we are the enemy. The laws that our government has put into place serve more to shield itself from public scrutiny than to protect the public.

The question is, when will we recognize that laws disguised as protection from terrorists are actually being used to surveil, gather unlimited information and track us? Lost rights can’t be regained when those in power believe no one is willing to fight for them.

Activists Identify DC Cop Who Infiltrated Bangladesh Sweatshop Protests

Earth First! Newswire

Left: Still photo from a video of the May 15 protest at Children’s Place. Right: Photo from @snufftastic Twitter account.  by Mike Elk / In These Times

Rumors have flown for many years that DC police routinely infiltrate and spy on the frequent protests in the nation’s Capitol. But until now, activists have never been able to identify a specific undercover cop at a protest. Now, after months of piecing together evidence, attorneys Jeffrey Light and Sean Canavan working with United Students Against Sweatshop (USAS) have confirmed that under an assumed name, Metro police officer Nicole Rizzi has participated in USAS protests against companies doing business in Bangladesh who refuse to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh following the death of as many as 1,129 workers in the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

USAS and its lawyers have numerous pieces of evidence placing Rizzi at…

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Freedom makes me anxious and the NSA beats Xanax

At Sheremetyevo Airport Edward Snowden reportedly passed the time reading Russian literature, including Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. To my knowledge he hasn’t read Brothers Karamazov, but this quote from a famous section called “The Grand Inquisitor” seems appropriate:

Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.

What else can explain the wholesale embrace of the “keep you safe” NSA surveillance industry among a significant part of the population?

Perhaps party loyalty can as well. New polling numbers from Pew show that major shifts in opinion against NSA surveillance programs and for civil liberties are occurring, except among one group:

The largest changes toward demanding civil liberties protections have occurred among liberal Democrats, Tea Party Republicans, independents and liberal/moderate Republicans. Only self-identified “moderate/conservative Democrats” – the Obama base – remains steadfast and steady in defense of NSA surveillance. The least divided, most-pro-NSA caucus in the House for last week’s vote was the corporatist Blue Dog Democrat caucus, which overwhelmingly voted to protect the NSA’s bulk spying on Americans.

Unwavering devotion to Obama and the Democratic Party leads to a blind, childlike faith capable of rationalizing almost anything.

All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.  -George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Message to DOJ: “Justice for Trayvon” means pursuing civil rights case

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by John Zangas

Activists from the Light Brigade of Maryland, GetEqual, and Code Pink sent the Department of Justice an unmistakable blue light message tonight: “JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON”

The light display was set up just after dusk to tell the county’s leading law officials that George Zimmerman’s acquittal was not acceptable. Petitions have been circulating to demand that the DOJ charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations in the shooting death of the teenager.

Annell Mungo, 25, an activist with GetEqual, said, “The verdict of [the] George Zimmerman murder trial was sickening [and] a clear example of the miles and miles that our country has to go before we live up to our promise of liberty and justice for all.”

She spoke while other activists held the lettered light panels which spelled out their demand for justice for Trayvon Martin. “This week–from Sanford Florida to Austin Texas, and here in Washington, DC–has been a harsh reminder that this country is a dangerous place for people of color, for queer people, for youth and immigrants, for women, and for all those who continue to be devalued and dehumanized.”

“We have much work ahead of us to achieve a fully equal and inclusive America,” Mungo said, “and our commitment to a pathway to social justice for all continues.”

Fort Meade cops pull over Wikileaks Truck for distributing “Top Secret WikiLeaks Info”

Who knew that the WikiLeaks Truck was chock full of Top Secret Info? Just like it says in bold lettering on the side!

Clark Stoeckley was pulled over this evening while driving the WikiLeaks Truck–no connection to media group WikiLeaks–after a long day at Fort Meade covering whistleblower Bradley Manning’s trial. Stoeckley is a cartoonist who has published a book about Manning’s pre-trial hearings.

His tweets recounting his chat with the Fort Meade officers speak for themselves. It was Stoeckley who got pulled over, but the punchline is how someone pulled one over on these two cops for a laugh.

In striking down DOMA, Supreme Court does the right thing

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by John Zangas

SCOTUS did the right thing today when it struck down DOMA, finding it unconstitutional. The decision gives citizens like plaintiff Edith Windsor equal access under the law. After all, she is a tax-paying American and should have full the privileges and benefits which are bestowed on others.

Other countries such as France and Spain already recognize marriage rights for gays. There are 11 countries that recognize gay marriage. People will look back on it decades from now and wonder what took us so long for us Americans to change the law.

The SCOTUS decision in effect recognizes the LGBT community as a class. It is an evolutionary decision in the history of our country. Still, I find it strange that any Justice would dissent from the overall decision.

SCOTUS also punted on Prop 8–they found that the plaintiffs had “no standing” and declined to rule on the larger issue of gay marriage as a right. That means the right to marry has been restored in California, but other states don’t have to recognize gay marriages.

Every state should follow suit in allowing gay marriage, because it is the inevitable conclusion to a protracted struggle for gay rights. LGBT activists will be unable to retreat from the marriage issue, until this last momentous task is complete.

Fortunately, the mountain to climb to equal rights in marriage may not be as hard to ascend as it used to be. The Department of Defense, one of the most conservative power structures in our society, has already moved in the right direction by removing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) from its regulations, thus allowing gays to come out of hiding. They also recognize gay married couples for benefits, and most recently, endorsed open Pride festivities.

Overall, I see the Supreme Court’s decisions as a huge step forward for the LGBT community. I feel a sense of relief for all of my gay activist friends who fought for years for this decision. Now other branches of the government should finish the work of implementing the rights of everyone.

Time is now for pathway to citizenship, say immigrant supporters at Capitol

“Citizenship–the time is now!” rang from Capitol Hill yesterday at the Immigration Reform Rally. Thousands packed the West Lawn to tell Congress that comprehensive reform of immigration policy–and a pathway to citizenship–is needed now.

They couldn’t have picked a better time. Although planned for months by a large number of organizations, the rally coincides with Obama’s push for immigration reform and a Senate committee haggling over a new bill. Harboring regrets over the 2012 election, Republicans seem poised to defy their base intent on deportation and finally make some concessions to get a bill passed.

It’s the first time since 2007 that Congress has taken on the reality of 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S.–many of them well-established in communities with their families. According to a Pew Research study, the majority of undocumented immigrants arrived in the U.S. before 2000. Only 1.6 million of the total number have entered the country since 2005.

Protestor Joyce Tarnow of Florida

Immigrants with citizenship and work permits who attended the rally were eager to express their support. Luís from Stafford, Virginia said he came to the U.S. from El Salvador illegally. Now a citizen, he’s worked for the same landscaping company for 25 years.

Standing alongside his friends and co-workers Alcía and Arturo, he said, “We didn’t come over here because we are criminals. We came over here because they are poor in our country.”

People came to Washington, DC from all across the U.S. bearing signs and flags from their home states, as well as flags from their homelands such as Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Venezuela.

Although Hispanics made up a large portion of rally attendees and speeches from the stage were delivered in Spanish, many people were immigrants from Mideast countries such as Syria, Libya, Tunisia, and African countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, and Mali.

A few protestors against “amnesty” for immigrants clustered by the Reflecting Pool. One of them, Joyce Tarnow from north Florida propped up a huge sign saying, “12,000,000 out of work.” She and rally attendee Johar Ali, a Canadian, engaged in a civil debate about the immigration issue. In spite of the focus of Tarnow’s sign, the discussion pivoted more around the environment and scarce resources than jobs.

“Our water table has been going down in the the central part of the U.S. for decades. There has been less water available, there will be less production,” she said, expressing her concern for rising population growth.

Ali, on the other hand, saw problems arising for countries with stagnating population growth. China, for example, is in “big trouble” because of their one-child policy. Workers are retiring, he said, and “you don’t have enough [people] to fill in their shoes.” Without population growth from immigration in the U.S., he argued, “Social Security will disappear.”

Federal benefits are often a sticking point in the immigration debate. But conservative proponents for immigration reform are countering the traditional argument that immigrants are a drain on resources. They point to a report by the American Action Forum which says that legitimizing undocumented workers will boost GDP and tax revenue over the long term.

For many people at the rally, however, changing immigration policy is not about macro-economics but keeping their families together.

One girl at the rally wore a t-shirt saying, “My Dad deserves citizenship.” An estimated 5.5 million children in the U.S. have one or more parents who are undocumented immigrants, according to a report released in 2011 by the Applied Research Center.

Luís, the landscaper from El Salvador who gained citizenship, feels for children in this situation. “Children suffer from this,” he said. “I see the news, the breaking heart news, all the little kids living in the U.S. without any parents.”

The eight senators working to draft the legislation may have cleared a hurdle by agreeing to measures related to border security. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, one of the members of the bipartisan group, told the rally crowd that they were nearly ready to present the bill.

John Zangas contributed to this article.

Dispatch from the steps of the Supreme Court: Outsiders asking to be let in

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On Wednesday, March 27, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Windsor v. United States, a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. With two hearings on successive days related to the polarizing issue of same-sex marriage, there has been a frenzy of activity outside the Court. John Zangas has been there to report.

by John Zangas

As the Supreme Court hears the DOMA arguments, I’m reflecting on the historic events outside the Court over the past few days. What has struck me most is the spirit and resolve of the families I met on the Court steps.

The voices of their children were especially moving to me. They just want their parents to be happy and to live like other families do. They said they are as ordinary, plain, and real as anyone. They got a moment to speak their truth, and I got to record and photograph it.

These families eclipsed the inequality embedded in laws like DOMA and Prop 8 just by their presence, compassion and humanity during two days of hearings.

Every element on the steps of the Court–the activists’ posters, the police, press, even the ugly hate slogans–was necessary to tell a story about this country. Right now it’s a story about being on the outside and knocking on the door to be let in.

The question is, will the Court finally let them into our house?

Interview with Kathy, Carey and their son: