What’s Wrong with “We,The People”? Are we abraded raw, hard-callused, hungry? Is this just manipulation?

“We, the People,” are upset and angry.  And we’ve been this way throughout recent years at least since Bush vs. Gore in 2000.  That decision, however much we may doubt its legitimacy as a proper exercise of the judicial function, verified by reputable post-election analyses as accurately indicating how the election would have turned out in any case.  Concerning as that is to some, we’ve moved on and covered much.  Right now we have a smorgasbord to dine on.

Rolling Stone covers, Salon commentaries, jury verdicts, state “nullifications,” ALEC, “Tea-Partiers,” Left-wingers, Right-wingers, Treyvon Martin and George Zimmerman victimizations, “Stand Your Ground,” “Self-Defense,” Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Bradley Manning, NSA, CIA, FBI, any Cheney, Obama, Obamacare, The Mainstream Media, Fox News, The New Media…

Take your pick and don’t leave the table hungry if you want more or bring your own if I’ve left something out, either because I didn’t think of it off the top of my head or just missed it completely on a Sunday morning before checking the news to see if something new is out there to add to the list.

Opinions fly about, some well-reasoned but many if not most just angry assertions about the motives of people holding contrary opinions and many of these expressed in vulgar terms not intended to persuade but to insult.  These are usually read only by those who hold much the same opinions.  Few of these opinions, even the most thoughtfully developed ones, are actually making it across the divide to be scrutinized and evaluated by those who think differently.

This back and forth within each side is described as the positioning of the “bases” of a side’s supporters.  The participants know from the outset that they aren’t persuading anyone new, just maintaining strength through unity.

There are a number of factors easily identified as contributing to all this anger:  the economic near-collapse in 2008, the slow recovery, bailouts, foreclosures, job losses, a growing sense among some of privilege and among others of an unscrupulous and unconcerned elite as well as the election of an inexperienced and not well-known senator to be the nation’s first African-American president in a country that still has race problems and the, to my mind even more insidious problem, an unconscious racism among some of those most committed to the ideal of equality before the law for all Americans.  A sense of frustration at the ending of two wars as no clear cut desired end result was obtained from the first and that is the most likely outcome of the second, even as events in other parts of the world demand that the US play a leadership role, if not pre-emptively as some would have, at least as the last major power.  Alongside it is the concern that the homefront itself is in need of serious attention if the US is to remain the country most of us have seen as offering the best environment for achieving one’s personal goals and living a good and satisfying life.

We, the People, have much to dine upon but we seem to have decided to throw the food at each other rather than eat it, chewing thoroughly.  We are mad at the banquet.

I think there are two possible explanations, neither of which is very useful except as a check on how we are to respond to the future we face how we deal with what appears to be our appetite.

One is that we are just “raw,” skinned by all that has happened.

Anything that touches us anywhere hurts or at least is perceived as a possible hurt.  We react immediately, thoughtlessly and angrily against anything that comes our way and displeases us or has that potential.  We don’t sort out moral, legal, philosophical, scientific bases for our reactions and think through their consequences or what the implications of our feelings might be for other feelings we hold equally but that are not in play on the current issue (This is hard to do when not abraded, the more so if in pain.)  We personalize without thinking.  If the Koch brothers could have done in their lifetimes all the harm to the country that has been attributed to them, they would be the two most effective figures in the last 60-plus years and would not have had a chance to build their fortune.  If the Mainstream Media had so distorted the truth as claimed there would be no-one left to know it.  If Rolling Stones using a widely used picture of one of the Boston bombers so “glamorized terrorism,” why was that not true when other publications used the same picture?  Are we “judging a book by its cover?”  Is there no ethical obligation to read the article before pronouncing on the editors’ decision to use the picture?  No, we are angry and we want to be and we don’t want some damn Sunday morning blogger pronouncing on what our ethics should be either!

The other explanation is that we have become hard callused by recent years and crave to feel something, anything, that restores us to the basically good people we had thought we or at least most of us were.

Lashing out about racism over a jury verdict, indicting “Stand Your Ground” laws passed by legislatures properly elected by we, the people, rubbing Mitch McConnell’s nose in his pronouncement about making Obama a one-term president, pro-gun control people as experts on TV saying that the Constitution says nothing about self-defense as if the Constitution were the sole or even the major basis of most of the laws of the land, questioning jury verdicts on the basis of one juror’s anonymous interview about how she understood what was happening in the jury room within the minds of all six, whether or not we think the jury came to the right conclusion (and often neglecting that a close following of the TV coverage gave a viewer more information than the jury was allowed to have because it was sent out of the room frequently), pronouncing people with whose views we disagree to be “stupid” when all evidence is that they are anything but stupid, they simply have a different purpose they are pursuing from that which we think is right as in “Ted Cruz is stupid.”  These make us feel better, superior, more like we are the north star for what should and shouldn’t be than we have been able to feel through so much that was difficult to understand or even get reliable information about in recent economics, world affairs, 9/11, terrorist attacks, homeland and national security, cyberwar, Wikileaks, “enhanced interrogation methods,” torture, “state secrets doctrine” and more that we had no say about and when we asked we were told to go away, it would be dangerous if “We, the people” knew these things.

Of course, it is possible to suffer from both abrasions and calluses and feel little need to make the distinction.  What does seem true is there there is anger and now nearly every news event contains something to provoke it.

We, the people, might rightly, I think, be angry at ourselves.  We vote less, we leave elections in the hands of people whose positions we don’t know or often even bother to ask.  They act for themselves because they have seen how little We, the people, care what they do if it doesn’t affect us negatively and how generous we will be if we think they are doing something that will positively affect us.

The time has come I hope that We, the people, will begin to hold ourselves accountable for being so angry.  We will investigate for ourselves through the amazing array of resources available to us how our leaders have behaved with respect to the issues we believe to be of highest priority for the ‘general welfare’ before they became our leaders.  However good or bad we may find them in what we learn of their personal lives before presenting themselves for leadership positions, we will refrain from allowing those feelings to affect our judgements about what they have done that has public importance.  When they are in office, however much we like them personally and however enthusiastically we supported their candidacies, we will hold them to account for what they do, not what they say or how likeable they are.  We can and must do it civilly and politely or we will lose our country and our system.  We are only responsible for what we say and do in this regard, not for how uncivil or impolite others are, we are not charged with policing others on this score.

We will learn about the items on the buffet table of issues before us so that we can spot an “expert” who really isn’t one and listen to one who is.  We will take seriously what we learn, even what we learn that we do not like, if the source is truly reputable.  We will hold media of all types accountable for stirring up emotions without adding substance or content and steer them to items of substance above all.  (We will use our remote controls to ensure they get our message and move back and forth to check on their progress.)

We will “read, mark and inwardly digest” the Constitution and what it says and doesn’t say.  Where today’s practice seems at odds with what it says we will inquire deeper into the history of its interpretation to discover how we got from its words to today’s practices.  We will accept that there is more to the law than the Constitution, state legislative action or executive action provide.  We have a deep common law background for most laws that we encounter and few of us have ever actually had to confront a constitutional question.  When something about the law “looks funny” to us we will probe history before pronouncing, cf a commentator saying on cable news that the Constitution says nothing about “self-defense” as if that right had no pre-constitutional existence in law or that the Constitution was the sole source of our laws.  The law is not always obvious but it is almost always a result of history and what we say about it should reflect that awareness.

We will stop using the word “politics” pejoratively.  Of course what we are talking about is politics and politicians, political operatives, political parties, etc.  That is what this is about for both those we define as the “good guys” and the “bad guys.”  Its respectable but that is beside the point:  300-plus million people cannot function in a democratic system without politics.  Tyrannies, dictatorships, autocracies can often be without politics; democracies require politics.

We will stop talking about “special interests” when we mean the interests other groups have that we don’t share.  It would be nearly impossible to find someone whose interests are not represented by some organized group that employs lobbyists and even more difficult to find a representative or senator who did not need to hear what those lobbyists have to say about important issues before casting an informed vote.

We, the people, will recognize that if it is not as we think it should be, we may have to seek out people to run for office, vet them thoroughly, work diligently for those we select according to their needs and our gifts, from providing strategy to planting yard signs and ringing door-bells, sometimes only to have the latter slammed in our faces.

The duty of citizens is not outrage and anger, it is participation and engagement.  It is tougher work than most of us have done.  Most of our political leadership has had at best only our vote but more is required.  The candidate may be able to bring about “hope” but he or she cannot bring about “change” so long as we are content to think we are participating by hurling epithets at people with whom we disagree.  The election of 2014 is important in and of itself but also as the initiation of the setting for the larger election of 2016.  It is a good time to begin a more active participation than most of us have undertaken previously.  Our values may not prevail – clearly some won’t – but the experience of participation and engagement will find its use almost immediately.

Anger will subside for lack of time for it.  We are not citizens for the purpose of expressing our anger at other citizens but for the purpose of ensuring that the important items on the smorgasbord of issues we are angry about is thoroughly consumed by the processes of our democracy and well-digested.

The consequences of our not “upping” our level of actual political engagement to secure our values is that the people who are now past that anger point and into effective action, whether “Tea-Partiers” or “left-wing of the left wingers,” will continue to decide who makes and enforces our school board policies, city ordinances, county ordinances, state laws, and federal laws employing our “food throwing” as a cheap megaphone to secure their purposes among others who won’t engage in more than voting either.  Beyond the anger stage, the people we are railing about have left We, the people, way behind.  We must catch up with them and put ourselves to the real test of citizenship, acting the part.

If, “We, the People” are the inheritors of the American Revolution, we must see it passing us by and take our leave from anger to get in front of that revolution once more.  And with that, enjoy your lunch.  I’m sure there is more to eat coming…

Razor-edge politics as played by Republicans in Obama’s first term

What is the difference between planning to win the next election and conspiring to intentionally collapse the American economy, if necessary, merely so the conspirators’ party can regain the Office of the Presidency?   On such razor sharp edges the Republicans decided to dance.”

Taken from Wassup This Week, the blog written by a friend, Folke Tyko Kihlstedt, which I commend to your attention.

This Stands Well for Steps in a Cyberstrategy

Journalist Rebecca MacKinnon. Crop of original...
Journalist Rebecca MacKinnon. Crop of original source photo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is, best I recall, unprecedented for me to rely on another publication to express my views on this blog but this item in Foreign Affairs summarizes the history, situation, stakes, ironies and a possible set of steps forward that can stand for my view.

The U.S. global Internet freedom agenda will only succeed in the long run if the United States can find a way to live up to its own values and offer a vision — in practice — of what a digital future based in civil liberties can provide. So long as confusion reigns, there will be no successful global Internet agenda, only contradiction.

“A Clunky Cyberstrategy” by Rebecca MacKinnon in Foreign Affairs

Assassination by Executive…A slippery slope we are already sliding down rapidly

The New York Times carries a story on the legal justification for killing rather than capturing al-Awlaki.  Link below I hope but I’m not sure.  If not, search Times for “Secret US Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen, it is worth reading.

While the legal case determines that capture would be impossible or at least highly impractical and the story emphasizes that this was a one-time, one person opinion, who can doubt the appeal of the rationale for killing people determined to be “bad guys” by a president and his key advisers?

Consider:

The Patriot Act and subsequent legislation when being considered by Congress included a multitude of ways in which established legal principles protecting individuals’ rights were diminished or eliminated.  These diminished protections required the police and intelligence agencies to meet high standards for carrying out their activities against you.  The 9/11 attack and the justifiable public fear and outrage provided enough public support to assure the Patriot Act’s prompt passage without serious review and discussion.  The police and agencies took advantage of that environment to seek and obtain lower standards in areas that made adherence to the standards highly inconvenient for them.  At the time, no one knew if any of them were of any importance in the ill-defined conflict that had begun on 9/11, but they were of general “convenience” to police and the agencies.

Thus far, there has been no public appetite to look carefully at the implications of these laws and more that are proposed.  Civil libertarians are a group at the margin of legal debate currently (although there do seem to be a few more voices of concern lately).

Drone and missile technology advances apace with precision increasing dramatically from what it was early in the Afghanistan War.  How precise it can be is, I’m almost certain, both classified and increasing rapidly.

One might easily enough make the case that the risks to the SEALS associated with killing Bin Laden were justified by his prominence in the events of 9/11 and the same case for his successor who was then his deputy, if or when that happens, as necessary for the public to satisfy its retributive passion as well as be satisfied that he is not out there somewhere planning another big attack on us.

What becomes more difficult as time passes and the identity of significant terrorist leaders is less well-known generally is the risk of American lives to capture and/or kill them if capture is impossible at the point of engagement.

If a drone can simply remove completely the risk of American (and allied) casualties and the leaders are many, distributed, and having information to yield about their small group only, well, send the drone to kill them.

At this point killing them becomes purely convenient and unrelated to capture.  And, if they are Americans, the justification for killing them remains in the hands of the executive and secret from the public.

We have seen the new “convenience” powers of the government divorced from exclusively “terrorist” suspicions and made available for more general criminal use against Americans domestically without suspicion.

Who can imagine that, with a few tweaks here and there, the “one-time-only” opinion can permit killing of people domestically, for no better reason than capturing risks police casualties?  Police casualties are risks and police operations are often “inconvenient.”

I think it can be “tweaked” and, unless Americans show greater concern about these issues, if not sooner, then later, it will be.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/world/middleeast/secret-us-memo-made-legal-case-to-kill-a-citizen.html?_r=1&seid=auto&smid=tw-nytimes&pagewanted=all

Follow-up to calling the White House

Having pressed others to call, I thought I should call and I did.  The first time the line was busy.  I kept calling until I got a “volunteer” who took my call.  She politely but quickly asked me what I wanted to tell the president and I told him to veto any Patriot Act provisions coming to him for signature.  I also urged him to take advantage of the current situation to re-evaluate and modify the Patriot Act and related legislation on the basis of the ten years experience we have gained since it was originally passed shortly after 9/11 and in great haste.  She thanked me and hung up.

I know they are busy and if they are using volunteers the number available is probably small.  I later learned from the organization that implored me to call that over 7,000 calls got through and the lines were tied up all day.  I am not certain that tying up the lines with 7,000 calls is indicative of anything other than the limited number of volunteers, or possibly telephone facilities, available.  Nor am I sure that tying up the lines will be understood as a reflection of how many people are concerned about civil liberties.

How many days a month do you suppose the lines are tied up by a particular interest group?  My guess would be that it is a high number, at least 15, and the reports to Obama or whoever actually reviews the issues presented by the calls simply sends copies of the report to various political advisors who make what they will of them.  It is difficult to think that this practice has more than a minimal marginal effect, if any.

If I had it to do again, I’d do it again on the grounds that not doing it may reflect a lack of interest to someone advising the president.  But that’s a very strongly conditional “may.”

Call the White House TODAY about the Patriot Act extensions…

Call 202-456-1111 between 9:00 and 5:00ET and ask to speak to someone working on renewal of the Patriot Act.  If the line is busy, please keep trying.  When you speak to someone, urge them to have the president veto the provisions coming to him and to take additional steps to revise the act in light of ten years of experience to restore rights the Act usurped in the first heat of 9/11.  Whatever modifications in procedures may be needed to confront our enemies, ten years experience is enough to allow for the crafting of something more fitting and more like a scalpel than the axe that the current Patriot Act is as used against enemies and citizens.  Ask the person to use the Bill of Rights as a guide for new legislation.

When the government stokes fear, it lays the groundwork for stochastic terror…

I just put on this blog a post by Kos about commentators whose comments can trigger “lone wolf” terrorists.  But those opinion sources often have a friend in the US government.  Janet Napolitano’s rock hard statements about dangers to the public, the TSA boss’s apparently limitless imagination for ways one might blow up an airplane, seemingly unqualified by experience or probabilities, and the President and White House willingness to support positions that arouse public fear all give the Becks, Hannitys, Limbaughs, et. al. presumably authoritative statements from “people who ought to know” from which to work.

In  particular, I want to point to the President’s saying that his first priority was “the safety of the American people.”  Nowhere in his oath of office are there words suggesting a priority to public safety.  His first obligation is to “protect and defend the constitution of the United States.” yet much of what he has done has reduced the force and power of the constitution and he has said he has done it to provide safety to the people.  The constitution provides them safety, that’s why we have the bill of rights and some colonies refused to ratify the constitution without it.  Yet we are behaving as if the safety of the people was at odds with the constitution and bill of rights.  I don’t buy that and I hope you don’t either.

Laws, read by the legislators, not just their staff members, affecting individual rights deserve thoughtful debate.  The Patriot Act was an initial reaction to 9/11 and the lack of debate can be justified only by the fear generated by the events of that terrible day.  Subsequent undebated amendments and those provisions soon to be renewed as they are or amended as proposed by some are no credit to our legislators but even more, no credit to us for our unwillingness to be brave enough to live in a free and open society.