In striking down DOMA, Supreme Court does the right thing

Right_Delayed

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.

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Why we need more serial hecklers like Medea Benjamin

Medea_escort

Watch Medea Benjamin interview with Cool Revolution.

Thanks to Medea Benjamin, we’re talking about how U.S. drones obliterated a 16-year-old from Colorado. By accident.

Benjamin repeatedly interrupted President Obama during his speech at the National Defense University. She wouldn’t back down, even when Obama said, “Why don’t you sit down, and I will tell you exactly what I’m going to do.”

Medea Benjamin, founder of the organization CODEPINK, has actually been to Pakistan and seen the results of drone bombing. Obama has not. She had several pointed questions for him, which she yelled from the back of the room even as she was being thrown out.

“Will you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives? Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the families of innocent victims? That will make us safer.”

Right-wing opinion spewer Michelle Malkin called her a “serial heckler.” A conspiracy theory sprang up on social media that Benjamin was planted by Obama to help make him look good.

In my opinion, she derailed him. Obama spent most of the speech justifying the drone program as “legal” and making us safer. He failed to address how the U.N. has said that drone strikes in Pakistan violate its sovereignty. He failed to justify the deaths of three American citizens killed by drones and the maiming and killing of children by drone attacks. Or the terror thousands have suffered in the Mideast anticipating drone attacks on their homes and villages.

Toward the end of his address Benjamin started in and wouldn’t let up. Eventually, Obama was brought to a standstill. “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” he conceded.

Seriously, the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS RIGHT NOW SAYING YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO @medeabenjamin

— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 23, 2013

We get the usual sexism whenever CODEPINK comes to town. They, and Medea, are screeching loonies, freaks, bitches and worse. At least they’re not dressed up like vaginas this time (like they did at the Democratic National Convention). At first Obama called Benjamin a “young lady.”

Right-wingers found plenty to heckle in the heckler. And Obama-worshiping liberals squirmed in their seats and said, “Won’t she just shut up??”

The fact is, disruption and interruption get attention. Passivity doesn’t. Look at what passivity has gotten us for the last decade. Iraq, Afghanistan, financial collapse, unemployment, loss of civil liberties, cuts to education, lack of accountability. And on and on.

Political activity for most people means “being informed,” sadly equated with watching MSNBC. People sitting in front of the TV getting outraged and fearful serves the interests of the powerful. It keeps them paralyzed. To combat impotence and vent rage, you might rant on Facebook, troll on websites, and tweet clever, snarky haikus.

Medea Benjamin, February 2013

My favorite form of pseudo-activism is signing online petitions. From my brief days of fundraising, I know that fifty percent of the time online petitions are a way to scoop up info on potential donors.

You can get involved in “the democratic process” and knock on doors for a candidate. The bravest souls scrawl a slogan on a sign and actually get out on the streets. The hardcore get arrested.

A variety of tactics, from moderate to radical, is important in movements for social change. But the moderate may have little to no effect these days. We’re entering an age  – or maybe we’re long past it – when thousands of people carrying signs make no difference to those wielding power. Post-9/11, crowds are viewed as a threat to maintaining order. It doesn’t take much for law enforcement to break out the teargas and tasers.

During Obama’s speech, Benjamin asked questions that the White House press corps can’t and won’t ask. Maybe the questions don’t occur to them. Even if they did, they don’t dare ask them for fear of losing “access.”

What mainstream media has been good for in the past is investigative journalism. Free press is supposed to be the watchdog of government corruption and wrongdoing. What they didn’t realize when they snickered at Wikileaks was that eventually the Obama administration was going to come down hard on them too. Investigative reporting through whistleblowers is all but impossible now.

So what have we got left? It’s getting cramped in here–less wiggle room to reform the corrupt system, agitate on the streets, expose wrongdoing and hold lawbreakers accountable.

We can go into the halls of power and say fuck dignity and make a ruckus, that’s what we can do.

Every person in power needs to know that prepared speeches and talking points aren’t going to cut it any more. Pushed to the breaking point by unemployment, low wages and illegal foreclosures, ordinary people are becoming radicalized.

Your next interview, Mr. President, ain’t gonna be softball questions thrown by Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes. It’s gonna be Medea Benjamin in your face every day.

VIDEO of exchange between Obama and Benjamin.

Cool Revolution interviews Medea Benjamin.

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

Family

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:

Baltimore City Government: Stop treating homeless like trash

Baltimore City Council, March 4, 2012
Baltimore City Council, March 4, 2012

by Rob Brune

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore City Council are treating human beings like trash. They’re about to raze the third encampment of homeless along the Jones-Falls Expressway, just like they’re sweeping out the trash.

Most of the fifteen people at Camp 83 will have nowhere else to go if the City “cleans up” on Friday as it has promised.

Yesterday, Baltimore City Council had an opportunity to treat the residents of Camp 83 with a little bit of dignity but passed it up. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke introduced a resolution with two options: either to postpone the eviction of the camp by three months or provide alternative temporary housing for the residents until permanent housing can be arranged. About thirty advocates for the homeless showed up in support of the resolution.

Council shuffled the resolution into a Housing Committee hearing on Thursday, and for several reasons the postponement makes it dead in the water. First of all, with an impending snowstorm the hearing may not even take place. Secondly, according to Councilwoman Clarke, she doesn’t have the votes to pass the resolution in committee. And thirdly, according to Bonnie Lane of Housing Our Neighbors, even if passed by the Housing Committee, the resolution wouldn’t come before the full Council again until April.

There are reasons that many of the homeless avoid the shelters. With impossible hours and challenging conditions, the City’s shelters are less welcoming than the streets. Many prefer to sleep in the cold than endure loud, crowded shelters where their belongings will be stolen and they may contract communicable diseases as serious as tuberculosis. Some even allege that shelter staff have sexually assaulted them.

“The shelters have failed them,” says Bonnie Lane of advocacy group Housing Our Neighbors.

A big snowstorm is on the way. Normally the police give the homeless two options when storms of this magnitude come through the city. They can go either to a shelter or to a jail cell. Under the pretense of the residents’ safety, there’s a possibility that residents of Camp 83 could be forced out as soon as tonight when the storm hits.

In his response to the City’s rationale for clearing out the homeless along Jones-Falls Expressway, Jeff Singer, former CEO of Healthcare for the Homeless, points out a historic parallel. In the early 20th century, Mayor James Preston declared Gallows Hill a “health and safety hazard” based solely on the fact that African-Americans lived there. Their homes were condemned and Preston Gardens built in their place. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has declared Camp 83 a health and safety hazard too.

It’s only right that we stand up for the little guy, the weak and most vulnerable. Only a handful of homeless and affordable housing advocates are standing up for the homeless at Camp 83, which could be the third such camp swept away by the City in two months. The people there don’t deserve to be kicked to the curb. Tell Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to stop this eviction and place Charlie, Venus, Rich and all the rest in temporary housing until we can get them in homes of their own.

You can reach Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office at 410-396-4900.

Video of Baltimore City Council hearing on Resolution 13-0097R that didn’t happen:

Life as War

THERE IS NO NATURE, THERE IS ONLY TECHNOLOGY

Many are familiar with the seminal 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, or “Life Out of Balance.” Fewer know that it is the first of the Qatsi trilogy, visual tone poems all accompanied by Philip Glass’ minimalist but powerful music. Naqoyqatsi, “Life as War,” followed Powaqqatsi, “Life as Transformation,” to round out the exploration of human beings, nature and technology:

Naqoyqatsi is a Hopi word (more correctly written naqö̀yqatsi) meaning “life as war”. In the film’s closing credits, Naqoyqatsi is also translated as “civilized violence” and “a life of killing each other”. While Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi examine modern life in industrial countries and the conflict between encroaching industrialization and traditional ways of life, using slow motion and time-lapse footage of cities and natural landscapes, about eighty percent of Naqoyqatsi uses archive footage and stock images manipulated and processed digitally on non-linear editing (non-sequential) workstations and intercut with specially-produced computer generated imagery to demonstrate society’s transition from a natural environment to a technology-based one.

Technology is not in itself evil, nor do I think the film implies that. But divorced from nature, it becomes soulless. When our perception about ourselves is that we are not part of nature, we lose our integral connection to nature and thus to our souls. Somehow, in isolating ourselves from the natural environment, we have decided that we are something apart from it, above it even.

We are constantly making choices as a society about technology and our course into the future. To say that the “market” best determines our fate is not only irresponsible, it’s just inaccurate. We opened Pandora’s box with nuclear weapons and drone warfare. Life as war. We declared war on the planet as well–every energy policy our governments implement is a choice whether to make war or to make peace.

messagefromearthThe Keystone XL Pipeline is yet another Pandora’s box, one which might tip the balance toward irrevocable warming of the planet. We must make a conscious decision yes or no. We can’t leave it up to the energy industry to bully us into it.

It’s a horrifying vision, life without nature. It’s one reason why so many steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that global warming is happening–it’s just too overwhelming. It simply can’t be true that we’re headed toward such a nightmare future. The people rising up against Keystone XL and the fossil fuel economy are courageous in their refusal to look away. They refuse to accept “Life Out of Balance” or “Life as War.” Let us make this era Powaqqatsi, Life as Transformation–and move toward Life in Balance.

Occupy DC eviction at McPherson: Reflections on one year ago

by John Zangas

I stood by my tent late at night gazing up at the Tent of Dreams, its blue tarp billowing in the cold wind. Another occupier approached me. He said that police planned to raid the camp later that night. Just five days before, U.S. Park Police had warned us that they would start enforcing the statute against sleeping or possession of sleeping bags and blankets. Uneasily I went from tent to tent spreading the news. What would happen to our camp if there was a raid?

The warnings proved true: police arrived in legions before dawn and began cordoning off K Street and surrounding areas in every direction. It was February 4, 2012, the day that an overwhelming police force mobilized to evict Occupy DC from McPherson Square.

We occupied McPherson Square to protest structural socio-economic inequality. We didn’t camp to create conflict with police or local businesses, although the media portrayed us that way. It was easy for them to define us by appearance and not by purpose. We had carefully articulated our concerns, both from socio-economic and ecological standpoints, in our December 1st declaration.

Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Ethics committee, had called a hearing to question the National Park Service’s handling of the McPherson Occupation. But even if Congress had been friendly to our cause, it alone couldn’t resolve our concerns on behalf of the people. The very edifice of banking, Wall Street, commerce and government was the problem, we believed.

Published reports of bank and Wall Street misconduct and legal actions against them justified our actions: up to 90% of foreclosure transactions were fraudulent, according to whistleblower accounts. Rampant mortgage fraud and misconduct during the 2008-2010 foreclosure crisis resulted in a $25 billion settlement by five major banks. They did not have to admit wrongdoing.

Banks across the U.S. and Europe were involved in the LIBOR scandal, which fraudulently valued trillions in assets by fixing bank to bank loans while cheating borrowers in 2007. With knowledge of LIBOR irregularities, the U.S. Federal Reserve still loaned banks billions in interest-free TARP money in 2008.

Another major issue we stood for was action on global warming. There is ever-increasing scientific evidence of world climate change–catastrophic storms and new temperature records across the U.S. Meanwhile, measurements in ice-flow melting rates in Iceland and the Antarctic are accelerating at rates never before seen.

We were protesting all this and more and believed the people supported us, yet mainstream media was neglecting the vital issues.

We didn’t want to confront police, but when they came to McPherson Park to take down Occupy DC–as police had earlier that year evicted every Occupation in a major city–we couldn’t stop the freight train approaching at full speed.

That morning they stationed a tactical command center truck, positioned sharp shooters with scopes on rifles on building rooftops, deployed a fully armed paramilitary squad with tasers and automatic weaponry, and sent a horse cavalry onto the green. They erected truckloads of metal barricades around the perimeter and strung yellow tape. It was as if they came to fight a battle against a domestic terror group. But we had no weapons; we were a non-violent movement and they knew it.

They immediately removed the Tent of Dreams tarp from the statue of General McPherson and arrested four protestors at its base for “failure to obey” police orders. Several scuffles broke out and there were injuries, as police in full riot gear strategically moved throughout the camp dissembling tents, overwhelming the camp and its occupiers. Workers in white hazmat suits threw away most of the tents, and vehicles tore up rain-soaked ground. The park ground was ripped to tatters, mostly by the operation itself.

I stood in front between police and protestors, perhaps foolishly, in the role of a reporter taking pictures and videos until the last of my phone memory ebbed. The police ignored me. Teams of strong men slid metal barricades into place like fake movie props. As dusk approached and a drizzle fell, occupiers stood together as one at the People’s Library, singing songs of camaraderie, such as “I shall not be moved” and “We shall overcome.” Then there was a sudden push as police forced us out of the park and onto K Street. The Occupation had ended, or so we thought.

We held a spontaneous General Assembly and testified to the day’s experiences late into the rainy night. Washington D.C. now had dozens of new homeless on its streets. Word came from Luther Place Memorial Church that they would give us a place to stay.

I returned to the park early the next morning to an unrecognizable landscape. A few police were still there standing watch. I looked to where my tent one stood and found nothing but a deep furrow of mud dug by truck wheels. Nearly every tent and sign was gone. But the beloved People’s Library still stood! The books were untouched, still organized on their shelves.

I felt resignation and wondered how the movement had come to this. We believed the people supported us, especially those hurt by the repressive system of banks, Wall Street brokers, selfish CEO’s and a government corrupted by cozy relationships with them. But yesterday, where was our cavalry, where were the people? Had we failed?

I thought about our efforts to make the change our society so desperately needed: the meetings we held, the discussions, the classes, the hundreds of free meals prepared in our kitchen, the extraordinary time we put into the declaration of societal wrongs, and wondered if anything we had done had made a difference.

We challenged institutions and authority in a pitched battle of wills for four long months. Their final response was to send in a paramilitary force to shut us down. We had no weapons with us that day or any other day other than our will and perseverance.

In the coming months we continue to occupy the park in a limited way. We weren’t allowed to camp, but our library remained open and even a few tents stayed until June.

Noam Chomsky said that the Occupy movement “lit a spark” of awareness. Although we were evicted from the park, I believe that ultimately we had made a difference. We prevailed by standing up to the authors of a broken system. We showed others that it could be done.

NDAA lawsuit shows lengths DOJ will go to cover Obama’s tracks

After presenting arguments to the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Hedges v. Obama, plaintiffs and their lawyers participated in a panel discussion. The lawsuit challenges the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), a pernicious law allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens without due process.

Plaintiffs were found to have standing because they could be targeted under the NDAA for “substantial support to an organization associated with terrorism”–support being so vaguely defined that it could encompass their work as journalists and activists.

The judge hearing the case imposed a stay on the NDAA in December 2012.

Judge Katherine Forrest determined last year that the provision of the NDAA—Section 1021—was unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction. The government not only appealed the ruling but also asked Forrest for an emergency stay. She denied the request and the government went to the Second Circuit and obtained a stay so that it could continue to use the provision to its full extent as it is being challenged.

The Justice Department went beserk, filing an appeal on the injunction on a Friday afternoon, as Chris Hedges describes in the panel discussion. The appeal was successful, and the NDAA is in effect.

The AUMF (Authorization of Military Force) of 2001 gave the president the power to snatch up accused terrorists during combat and hold them without due process. Now under the NDAA, the president can not only detain accused terrorists but their supporters as well–however the president might choose to define them–including U.S. citizens.

Carl Mayer, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, says,

Almost with each passing year, the government keeps pressing the outer boundaries of who they can target. First it’s Al Qaeda, then it’s quote “associated forces.” They’re expert at making up these squishy terms like co-belligerents. They keep expanding the target for the government.

In the lawsuit the government claims it doesn’t have any citizens in detention. But Hedges thinks that the administration “aggressively” sought to appeal to the injunction imposed on the NDAA precisely because it is holding those with Pakistani-American dual citizenship in Bagram. If the injunction remained in place, the government would have been in contempt of court.

What if the DOJ has an even bigger legal problem to solve? Tangerine Bolen of RevolutionTruth says it might. The broad sweep of the NDAA looks like “a retroactive attempt to legislatively fix the fact that they didn’t have these powers [of indefinite detention of American citizens], and they’ve been using them all along.”

Like preemptive warfare and drone warfare, it may be the case that our government does what it wants and makes up legal justification for it after the fact. By passing laws like the AUMF and NDAA, both parties of Congress seem happy to give unchecked powers to the President. Will the third branch be so compliant?

As Carl Mayer says, this case comes down to the question, are we going to have a civil justice system or a military justice system?