Monday, June 20, 2011

Collapse of the Democrats

Our shortest President at five feet four, he was thought to weigh in at one hundred pounds and was said to be frequently ill.  He was known to mumble with speech-making skills less than inspiring but James Madison was a Giant of a man.

Acknowledged Father of the Constitution, Madison was the author of the Bill of Rights with a special pride in the First Amendment and a major contributor to the Federalist Papers.  President John F. Kennedy believed Madison to be our most underrated Founding Father.  A widely respected political theorist and scholar with a profound intellect, Madison championed  the concept of separation of powers with the need for checks and balances between three branches of government. Elected as the country’s fourth President in 1809, Madison served two terms and along with his political soul-mate, Thomas Jefferson, were founders of what became the Democratic Party, borne to protect the working class from Alexander Hamilton and his wealthy Federalist tax policies and  National Bank.

With the election of Andrew Jackson in 1824, the Democrats were regarded as ‘guardians of the common man” and as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal saved capitalism in the 1930’s, the Democrats were considered to be the ‘conscience of the nation.’  Since then, middle class American s have counted on Democrats to preserve the country’s social safety net.

It is not without some irony to consider that in 1780 a U.S. population of 2.7 million produced a generation of luminous Founding Fathers and yet a hefty 2010 population of 309 million Americans is almost completely devoid of political intellect or national leadership. There appears to be no Giant among us as an absence of progressive vision and principle is evident in every corner of the country – from government and religion and politics to media and the arts, academia and business and everywhere in between.   It is no wonder that the country finds itself in the unyielding grip of a hedonist me-first culture that thrives on the frivolous and the craven while the American people are starved for truth and quality of purpose.

As the world’s oldest political party, Congressional 'play it safe' Democrats have lost their moral compass    offering little leadership or resistance to the reactionary attempt to takeover government that is reminiscent of the collapse of Social Democrats in Germany in the 1930’s.  With German society in economic turmoil and naively believing in compromise,’ the Social Democrats, who had moved to the political center, grossly underestimated Hitler’s goal to abolish the Reichstag’s Constitutional powers.  On its last day in 1933, Socialist Leader Otto Wels was the sole Reichstag speaker to defend his country’s democratic principles.  As the remaining 96 Socialist Members joined him in voting against the Enabling Act, with all pretense of civil liberties swept away, the Act ended parliamentary democracy in Germany with the banning political parties, labor unions and the dismantling civil government.   

In today’s regressive political environment and its alarming parallels with pre-WWII Germany, it is essential to recognize that a coup d’etat of Constitutional principles may be accomplished slowly over time with a subtle erosion of civil liberties and a less than obvious subversion of egalitarian ethics rather than a Presidential candidate storming the White House or any political party’s overt campaign to dissolve Government.    
Sometime between the Presidencies of Ronald Reagan whose trickle-down plan was based on Calvin Coolidge’s failed economic policies almost a century ago yet still in vogue today and Bill ‘let the good times roll’ Clinton’s open door to NAFTA and Wall Street, saw Beltway neo-Democrats link arms with corporate America and walk away from the Party’s historic promise to American citizens. Losing its edge, its integrity and finally its credibility, generations of faithful Democrats, once nurtured by the New Deal and LBJ”s Great Society,  have been replaced by a lesser breed of Democrat, functionaries more devoted to a bi-partisan yet single political entity based on personality rather than public policy.  

While cold hard cash remains the root of all evil, nowhere is that more evident than the Democratic Party’s willingness to join the free-for-all with the R’s as big-time beneficiaries in exchange for legislative influence, votes and favors. (See   As the role of Congressional Democrats leading up to the 2008 economic collapse is yet to be fully explored, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that the real estate and securities and investment sectors each donated 50% of their campaign funds with the insurance sector donating 44% of its money to Democrats. Both the Senate and House are dominated by millionaire-Members with significant stock holdings, many of which constitute a clear conflict of interest yet never evoke a recusal during any part of the legislative process.

Even as Senate Democrats create a wasteland for bold ideas and bold action, rare heroic moments occur such as Senator Bernie Sanders' (who caucuses with the Democrats) brilliant solitary 8.5 hour filibuster last December against the President’s extension of Bush tax cuts.

It has been decades since Sens. Wayne Morse (OR) and Mike Gravel (Alaska) stood in the well of the Senate and worried about a too powerful Executive dictating to a well-mannered Legislative branch – but as the President initiates military operations in Libya and Yemen without legislative oversight, nothing has changed as the Senate steadfastly ignores Madison’s Constitutional mandate.  

Originally modeled after Britain’s aristocratic House of Lords, the U.S. Senate has now fossilized itself into a total inability to govern.  As the country continues to grapple with economic devastation, Democratic Senators remain eerily absent from MSNBC appearances and silent as the Vice President’s bipartisan budget-debt ceiling negotiations includes ‘everything on the table’ which translates into abandoning the Party’s long-time commitment to the country’s historic People Programs.    

Even with a comfortable majority in the last Session, Senate Democrats last January remained unwilling to reform the archaic filibuster rule which allows a minority to control the Senate’s Floor agenda.  Still unwilling to challenge Republican threats of filibuster with overnight debates and cots in the aisles, Democrats botched a golden opportunity with 35 million uninsured Americans to rally the country in support of a public option for health care.    

With a slight Democratic edge in the Senate, the Finance Committee’s recent hearing with Big Oil CEO’s modestly threatened  to modestly reduce the industry’s current $4 billion annual subsidy, was little more than political grandstanding.   Finance Committee Democrats comfortably nagged the Big Five since Democrats receive only 23% of the industry’s $30 M campaign contributions and knew full well that any cut in industry  subsidy would never make it to the President’s desk.  If Democrats truly wanted to effect gasoline prices at the pump, a more effective tack might have been an oversight hearing with the CFTC (Commodity Futures Trade Commission) demanding their regulatory powers rein in oil market speculators.   

While the House is home to as many as 100 progressive Democrats continue to hold the line (though vastly outnumbered) against the corporate and right-wing invasion, they are mostly marginalized by House Leadership. With a decisive Democratic majority in 2009, House Progressives pledged to support Obama’s industry-negotiated health care legislation only if a public option was included but once the White House weighed in that the President’s credibility was at risk, all House Members fell in line.   

As deficit debates continue, the House Progressive Caucus presented a Peoples’ Budget which offers a credible, comprehensive path to fiscal responsibility yet has been completely ignored by the Vice President’s deficit reduction group as the more demanding, better organized Republicans continue to dominate the political landscape.  Despite the best efforts of House Representatives like Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee on multiple wars, Ed Markey on environment and energy issues, Luis Guiterrez on immigration and Henry Waxman on just about everything, all of whom still remember what it is to be a Democrat, House Progressives can still be bamboozled by a White House that demands unfettered loyalty – which is exactly what Madison and Jefferson feared.    

Two dozen Blue Dogs in the House discovered in 2010 that when Congressional Democrats show limited support for Democratic values, local activists are not motivated to “Get Out the Vote” just because there is a D after their name.  Recent attacks on public workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere drew scant support from Beltway Democrats as Obama, dependent on recreating 2008 voter enthusiasm, faces the same re-election dilemma as Beltway politicians expect the locals to knock themselves out getting them re-elected.

Recent Congressional votes indicative of the continued erosion of the Constitutional checks and balance mandate meant to prevent one branch of Government from dominating continues virtually unabated with little resistance in the Senate.  In the aftermath of 911, the Patriot Act was approved 98-1 in the Senate with Sen. Russ Feingold the sole vote against.  With extension of the Act about to expire, the Obama Administration has broadened the Act to include a new “classified government re-interpretation” of existing laws and statutes that allows, according to Sen. Ron Wyden, ‘unfettered access” to American’s private information.  The Act was reauthorized (72-23) with 18 Senate Democrats against while in the House, 122 Democrats voted No (250-153).

As Congressional Republicans and their Presidential candidates continue to demagogue the Constitution (which many confuse with the Declaration of Independence), no Democrat of-note has spoken out against the loss of liberty under the guise of the War on Terror just as none have come forward to challenge budget ‘austerity’ as an effective fiscal tool. .   

While on the House floor, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 included an Amendment (187 – 234) to eliminate the Forever War language that would allow Presidential authority to initiate military operations (ie Libya and Yemen) without congressional approval.  The Amendment failed with 166 Democrats voting to exclude the new authority.  The Act also included a narrowly defeated Amendment (204 – 215) with 178 Democrats supporting an ‘accelerated transition of military operations’ out of Afghanistan. The Act was adopted on final passage 322-96 and now goes to the Senate Armed Services Committee for action.  

Presidential rejection of the need for Congressional approval of U.S. military action in Libya as not constituting ‘sustained hostilities’ invoking the War Powers Act has encouraged a round of House votes.  The War Powers Resolution was adopted in 1973 by a bipartisan 2/3 vote of Congress which overrode President Nixon’s veto requiring military interventions to end after 60 days unless Congress votes to authorize. With escalated bombings in Libya and now Yemen, the first three months of U.S. action in Libya (up to early June) has cost $715 million (the same amount as cuts to the 2012 WIC program) and is estimated to cost $1.1 billion by early September.  Dutiful Dems like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi joined Senate Majority Leader Harry “it will be over before you know it” Reid in supporting the President’s position citing ‘no troops on the ground” are not as familiar with the War Powers threshold which includes an “introduction of hostilities.”  Like the Democrats, the Republican’s are split as Speaker John Boehner (OH) warns the White House of a War Powers violation while Sen. Lindsay Graham (SC) sides with the President.  Never regarded as a civil libertarian, it is somewhat mind-boggling to recall that even President George H. Bush sought and received Congressional approval before initiating both Iraq and Afghanistan invasions.          

In  more recent action and after urging by Secretary Clinton, in what might seem a rebuke to Obama's overreach of Presidential authority, the House voted against a Republican-sponsored Resolution authorizing the President to continue military action in Libya for one year while banning ground forces. The Motion failed with 295 against continued US military operations with black and progressive caucuses split as 70 Democrats voted to rein in Presidential authority - 123 (including 115 Democrats) voted in favor of Presidential authority in Libya.    In a second Republican Resolution which Rep. Ron Paul called a 'masquerade'  would have barred drone attacks and air strikes yet at the same time authorized continued U.S. military efforts in Libya, the House voted against defunding U.S. Libyan action 238 (149 Democrats and 89 R's) and 180 (144 R's and 36 Democrats) in favor.

In a warning that Beltway Democrats ignore at their peril, the Firefighters Union, which contributed over $3 Million to Democrats in 2010, summed up the situation by promising to ‘turn off the spigot to Federal candidates and Federal parties” citing “extremist Republicans trying to destroy us and too few Democrats standing up and fighting for us.”  The AFL-CIO later joined the Firefighters offering Democrats no assurance that rank-and-file union members will make Election Day, 2012 a high priority.  An historic pillar of the Party since the 1930’s, Clinton-era Democratic support for outsourcing millions of American jobs overseas not only set the stage for today’s unemployment crisis but has seriously weakened the Party’s strongest base of supporters – proving that political strategy may not be the Democrats strongest suit.  As organized Labor struggles for survival, whether the last bastion of established liberal support will respond to the coming ‘austerity’ budget with a general strike as other countries or whether Labor hierarchy prefers to visit the White House is a foregone conclusion.           

Polls that show overwhelming public support for increased revenues via tax hikes on the rich and strong opposition to Medicare and Social Security cuts make little difference to misguided Senate  Democrats and a White House that focus solely on the deficit while ignoring the massive foreclosure and jobs crisis that show no signs of recovery.   As the Vice President says, he is ‘confident’ that there will be a bi-partisan agreement of more than $1 Trillion in cuts.  Just the fact that Democrats agreed to 'negotiate' with R's early on rather than take a firm principled position with an eye to compromise down the road is indicative of a Party that has lost its voice.  Democrats have not yet learned the lesson of 2010 and appear willing to risk another election fiasco full of voter outrage.  The truth is that the soon-to-be $16.7 trillion deficit which grew as a result of the 2008 economic collapse and ensuing recession, is not the country’s most urgent problem.  Presidential assertions that he is ‘not worried’ about a deepening recession while urging the country to “not panic’ is indicative of a White House seriously out of touch with the suffering of too many homeless American families with hungry children, frightened and alone, deserted by their government and an Oval Office occupant  with no more compassion than his predecessor.  

As House Republicans pushed for a surprise vote on the much discussed debt ceiling to prove that a vote without massive cuts was politically untenable, and with Democrats unwilling to call the R’s bluff, 81 Democrats led by the House Leadership joined 236 R’s against raising the debt ceiling (without accompanying cuts).  This was contrary to the President’s request in April for a ‘clean’ bill without any cuts or changes to the budget.  More recently, however, in a strategic switcheroo with, no doubt, a green light from the now more complaint White House, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sounded like an angry Republican as he urged his caucus to commit parliamentary hari-kari proving that Democrats could be “fiscally responsible” as he warned that a Yes vote to raise the debt limit would be seen as lacking ‘fiscal discipline.”   

In other words, those 81 Democrats siding with Republicans against raising the debt ceiling signaled their willingness to 'share the sacrifice' with Republican demands to put Medicare and other social safety net programs on the chopping block.  Congressional Republicans indicated weeks earlier that increased  tax cuts for the rich were ‘off the table’ and would only consider voting for an increased debt ceiling with trillion dollar cuts they had been unable to achieve through the legislative process. As Republicans draw the Dems into their web of not being the only Medicare vultures, the R’s successfully remove a major potent campaign issue from the Democrats.    
After getting stung on the public option in 2009, 97 progressive Democrats showed some spine repudiating their Leadership to support a 'clean' debt ceiling (w/o any cuts) just as Obama requested in April.   The bottom line reality now appears that the next debt ceiling vote sometime before August 2nd will include unspecified budget cuts including Medicare ‘reform.’ Anyone who believes that the Democrats will not sell-out the American people on Medicare or Social Security in order to save face for a President who has no interest in negotiations, has not been paying attention.   With all discussion centered on preservation of Medicare, liberal lawmakers have pointedly avoided the same commitment to preserve Medicaid whose constituency is less well-organized. . 

With Anthony Weiner’s resignation, after House leadership, some Senators and even the President found time to complain about the ‘distraction’, gone is the (sometimes) only Democrat willing to confront Republicans and willing to challenge the conscience of an overly-cautious political establishment.  Now the Democrats have no excuse to not take back the House in 2012. 

From a spectacular rise as State Senator (1997-2004) to the U.S. Senate (2004 – 2008) including an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2000 and ultimately to the Presidency in 2008,  candidate Barack Obama presented an idealistic version of 21st Century politics in his best-selling and somewhat sophomoric Audacity of Hope.  Based on that writing and campaign stump speeches, expectations for Obama were high.  With a pleasant public demeanor, a friendly open smile, a welcoming approachable manner and obviously a solid family man, Americans found a charismatic, ambitious candidate proficient at charming his way onto the national stage as he promised Change from politics as usual.  After two years in the Oval Office and with super (although impotent) majorities in both Houses of Congress, a profound disenchantment with a Presidential Noble Peace Prize winner who extols war has set in as many Obama supporters in 2008 now see the bloom is off the rose.    

At the half-way mark with re-election on the horizon, Obama has morphed into a seasoned globetrotter with an obvious love for a Versailles lifestyle within DC’s rarefied bubble.  Seemingly disconnected from the urgency at home and the misery of multiple wars, Obama is our first non-ideologic, non-partisan President with no real allegiance to the Party that elected him.  Even Americans who had hope for Obama’s success find his core values a conundrum providing little real insight into the complex nature of this President’s character.  His moods and temperament and private demons remain obscure, leaving guesstimates on how policy decisions are arrived at as the only real measure of the man’s inner grit and where, when and if he ever draws the line.  For all his privileged education, obvious intellect and soaring rhetoric that now rings hollow, Barack Obama’s election proves that leadership does not come from a textbook and that bare-knuckled negotiation skills require more than an eloquent command of English. 

As a professor of Constitutional Law who promised to ‘lead by example maintaining a highest standard of civil liberties…no more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient,”  it had been expected that the President would be true to his words and make a shape left turn on human rights – but that has not happened. Candidate Obama supported a return to the Rule of Law as he spoke admirably of whistleblowers and civil liberties protections; yet despite concern in Audacity that his predecessor played ‘fast and loose with Constitutional principles in the fight against terrorism” since 9/11, some Obama supporters are justifiably worried that the President’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers and continuation of Bush’s unconstitutional policies as he broadens the national surveillance network, are endangering democracy.  

The deep disparity between candidate Obama and President Obama remains a troubling puzzle raising alarms about a shadow government influencing the President’s policy choices.  Of note: the President's lack of traditional  year-end clemency for American (non-terrorists) prisoners while the family vacations on Hawaii's warm sand beaches,  reveals a remarkably unforgiving nature that may be an alarming metaphor for other areas of  Presidential importance  - as his preference for military action and increased drone attacks rather than diplomacy continues to disturb the public conscience.   His policy of continued rendition “with oversight” which allows transit of prisoners to Jordan, Egypt and Syria for torture and black ops some of which remain beyond Congressional review, assassination of American citizens without due process, continued operation of Guantanamo and suspension of habeas corpus rights allowing indefinite lockups and his most recent assertion of Presidential authority to initiate hostilities are alarming signs of an increasingly insulated Presidency.  If it is still illegal to assassinate foreign Heads of State, are we a more moral country if we only kill the grandchildren?   With the most recent four year reauthorization of Patriot Act increasing FBI surveillance and warrantless wiretaps (which he promised  to stop), is the President aware that the homes of peace activists in six states have been raided by the  FBI?   See  for details on Obama's civil libertarian record since becoming President.

Failure of the Administration to activate the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is cause for concern as civil liberties protections continue to be abandoned.  Established in 2004 to advise the Executive Branch on the civil liberty impacts of laws, regulations and Administration  policies regarding the War on Terror, the Board continues to founder as a non-existent entity.
While Wikileaks’ invaluable revelations have profoundly embarrassed the Administration, Department of Justice prosecution of Julian Assange can be expected to, at minimum, tarnish Obama’s much valued worldwide reputation as his Administration’s attempt to silence and criminalize investigative journalism will be seen as a corrosive attack on the First Amendment.   

A recent San Francisco fundraiser included a song of protest at Bradley Manning’s imprisonment for six months before being charged with ‘aiding the enemy” while a video at the same event caught Obama affirming Manning’s guilt (who has yet to be tried) and later, a White House threat to exclude the San Francisco Chronicle from future privileged presence in the Bay Area for its coverage of the incident.  Soon after, the Boston Herald revealed that Obama’s Press Office had  banned its reporter from attending a Presidential event based on a front page article entitled “Obama Misery Index Hits a Record High.”   As re-election draws closer and the pressure mounts, both instances are unworthy of a Constitutional scholar President who once campaigned on a commitment to transparency and open government. 

The President’s masterful performance at the Washington Correspondents Dinner revealed a rare glimpse of a vindictive spirit as he took an unnecessary swipe at actor Matt Damon for daring to suggest he was ‘disappointed’ in the President’s performance.  As if to answer the question whether he could be tough as nails, Obama went on to unmercifully hammer on Donald Trump (not that he didn’t deserve a good thumping).   One can only hope Obama would treat the R’s, Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce less deferentially with a similar display of hardball when it really counts instead of wasting political capital spanking the handful of progressives who dare challenge his vacillations.    

While a natural adversarial tension frequently exists between any President and the media but this President, known during his tenure in the Illinois State Senate as thin skinned and defensive with reporters (see David Mendell’s From Promise to Power), has successfully charmed a mostly fawning White House press corps into accommodation.  As White House reporters depend on favors and access and collegiality for their livelihood, the White House depends on a Beltway media that is not overly persistent or inquisitive at press conferences with only pre-selected reporters permitted to ask questions.   

According to the American Presidential Project, during his first 27 months in office, President Obama presided over 15 White House press conferences.  By comparison, President George W. Bush, held 8 White House press conferences while JFK held 51 press conferences with Ronald Reagan holding 16 White House press conferences during their respective first 27 months in office. 

Citing an ad nauseum ‘look forward, not backward’ mantra, Obama’s lack of interest in prosecuting the same Wall Street banditos who were the primary engineers of the crisis and Bush neo-cons who shredded Constitutional law, offered no satisfactory explanation for Presidential immunity speaks volumes of where the President’s loyalties lie.  Allowing those responsible for criminal activity to walk free and prosper encourages a national climate of corruption and institutional lawlessness and probably is not the lesson in accountability the President would like to teach his two lovely daughters – or how the President would like to be remembered.

While the author of Audacity assures us he is “angry about policies that consistently favor the wealthy and powerful over average Americans,” millions of Americans who lost their homes, their jobs and their savings are still waiting for some Presidential expression that reflects their own deep-felt anger as FDR did when he said the banks “are unanimous in their hatred for me and I welcome their hatred.”  

As the Weimer Republic discovered to its horror in 1930, the quality of democracy is directly dependent on the quality of politicians.   The dilemma is whether today’s Democrats are capable of a renaissance of constitutional authority and  whether, with an opposition party intent on turning back what has taken 200 years to build - a once-thriving middle class now reduced to chronic unemployment, the nation’s poor that once relied on a compassionate government, a country once proud of its heritage are now betrayed in favor of an international military fortress and obscene wealth - and whether the Democrats are capable of reasserting James Madison’s checks and balances.    

There is an arrogance that comes with unfettered power for any President to assume he has accomplished sufficient progress, that he specifically is necessary to the Nation's well being and deserves to be re-elected. 
As they appear no match for the better disciplined Republicans, there is little evidence that the Democrats are sufficiently motivated or that the President has the necessary leadership skills and professional experience to prevail against the R’s in their rough street game   While  Audacity reminds us that ‘pragmatism can sometimes be moral cowardice,” it is essential to consider that in order to be deemed a Great President, one must be more than a Great candidate and that to act on the courage of one’s convictions, one must first have convictions.  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Redistricting Florida

            With the Mother-of-All-Presidential-Recounts still vivid, current legislative conflict and legal wrangling underway in Florida, dominated by a grand jury-challenged Florida Governor Rick Scott, promises another raucous and rollicking 2012 election in the Sunshine State.   Home to the nation’s fourth largest population, the third most recipients on Social Security, the second largest number of Medicare recipients and with the 2010 census adding two delegates to twenty- nine Presidential electors, Florida is considered a Must Win in 2012.

            As the Washington Post has identified Florida’s redistricting efforts as the No.1 State to watch, a disdainful Republican-led State Legislature was already ‘analyzing’ and stalling implementation of two newly voter-approved Constitutional amendments regarding State redistricting.  With the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 Gore-Bush decision which overturned the Florida State Supreme Court still in mind, Governor Scott and his legislative cronies are now attempting to pack the State Supreme Court with three additional appointments prior to approval of the new redistricting maps.  In addition, a comprehensive “voter suppression’ law and reduction in early voting days, both of which benefit the Democrats, have contributed to Scott’s voter approval rating sinking to 29%.

            Despite a 700,000 voter registration margin, the Democratic Party has been largely unable to turn that advantage into electoral success with Florida considered a Republican-leaning State. One look at its convoluted map of State and Congressional Districts with thin ribbons of contiguous parcels creating incoherent districts, ranked by Redistricting the Nation as among the least ‘compact’ in the Nation, explains a Democratic loss of power since the 1990’s in favor of a Republican-dominated State government and a lopsided U.S. House delegation of 19 R’s and 6 Democrats.   The State’s 3rd (Brown), 18th (Ros-Lehtinen) and 22nd (West) Congressional Districts have been identified among the ten most gerrymandered Districts in the country. 

            By 1990, with Democrats asleep at the wheel, Republican National Committee Chair Lee Atwater initiated a brilliant National redistricting strategy to elect more Republicans that twenty years later, still dominates the country’s political landscape. 
            While the U.S. Constitution established the national standard for Congressional districts assuring political equality with the ‘one (wo)man, one vote” concept that all States adhered to, Republican operatives found a clever way to subvert that Constitutional principle.  Shrewdly recognizing every politician’s ultimate goal of self-preservation, Atwater’s strategy was to offer big city urban Democrats a safe District with the combination of voters that would assure re-election in exchange for locking up suburban Districts for Republican candidates thereby removing both urban and suburban Districts from truly competitive races.   While the agreement created urban big city districts for minority Democrats many of which would have
gone Democratic anyway, the long term advantage of removing what had been viable Districts went to the Republicans.   

            One prime example cited in One Party Country (Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten) is that of Corrine Brown, then a member of the Florida State House.  Brown negotiated a new Congressional seat that began in Jacksonville and ran 150 miles south to Orlando and in 1992, won that seat.  She has been re-elected every two years since and is now legally challenging Florida’s new redistricting amendments.   

            The result of Atwater’s redistricting efforts in Florida resulted in Republican control of the State Senate in 1994, the State House in 1996 and the election of Jeb Bush in 1998 which set the stage for the 2000 Presidential coup.  In addition, the national Republican sweep of the House of Representatives in 1994 was less of an ideological shift than a success of Atwater’s redistricting strategy across the country. Time has proven Atwater’s prescient scheme correct leaving just two dozen House races, out of 435 Congressional Districts, truly up-for-grabs every two years. . 

            Like most States, the Florida Constitution allows the State Legislature to perpetuate an undemocratic process as it re-apportions itself while the U S. Constitution requires the States to reapportion the House of Representative seats every ten years.  Florida’s reapportionment history has been in turmoil since passage of Voting Rights Act of 1965 with violations leading to a State Supreme Court intervention in 1992 which created three black and two Latino-majority House Districts.  By 1998, the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission included a proposed Redistricting Commission until pressured by the Republican Party and minority elected officials to withdraw the measure from the 1998 ballot.  As a result, ten uncontested House races in 2000 brought another Voting Rights Act challenge in 2002. 

            In 2010, FairDistrictsFlorida, a non-partisan coalition including the AARP, League of Women Voters, NAACP and Democracia Ahora collected 1.7 million signatures supporting a Constitutional change for Congressional and State Legislative seats which set tighter guidelines on the State Legislature’s ability to gerrymander districts restricting any political party from designing favorable districts.     

            By Election Day, Florida voters had been paying attention as Amendments 5 (State legislative districts) and 6 (Congressional districts) were approved by 63% as they rejected a confusing Republican-initiated Amendment 7.   That same day, Rick Scott, who was a co-owner of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush, was elected Governor with 1.1% of the vote.  

            If the Amendments function as designed, Republicans fear they might lose as many as five U.S House seats.   With a 2010 State population increase of 2.8 million residents (17.6%), Florida will gain two seats during reapportionment which, according to the Pew Hispanic Center is mostly due to an increase in the State’s Latino population. 
            With a tight timeline to meet the compliance schedule, the State Legislature will convene earlier than usual in January, 2012 and, under FairDistricts, must adopt a new reapportionment map by March 15th after which the State Supreme Court and the Department of Justice must sign off.    While State-wide and Congressional Candidates are required to file nominating petitions by June 22,  it is possible that new District line will not yet be finalized thereby, once again, favoring incumbents and preventing party primaries.    

            If the Court determines that the State Legislature maps (Congressional and State Districts) are not sufficient, the State Legislature may hold a Special Session to approve a new plan.  If a second try fails, the Court has two months to design its own plan.  In other words, final authority for approving Florida’s new redistricting maps to take effect in 2012 rest with basically the same State Supreme Court as 2000.   

            After election day, FairDistrictsFlorida morphed into FairDistrictsNow which is now embroiled in an on-going challenge as the Republican legislative super-majority use all their wily tricks to undermine the Amendments.

            Because of Florida’s history of voter disenfranchisement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that the U.S.  Department of Justice review and issue a ‘pre-clearance’ for any new voting-related process  Upon passage of the two Amendments in November, then-Governor Charlie Crist formally filed that request to the DOJ before leaving office.

            In what some see an act of brazen presumptuousness four days after taking the oath of office, Scott quietly directed his newly appointed Secretary of State, who had been president of a political action committee dedicated to defeating Amendments 5 and 6, to withdraw the popular Amendments from DOJ review.  There is good reason for concern here since Florida’s Secretary of State in 2000, Katherine Harris, who double-dutied as George Bush’s state-wide campaign Chair, used her position to avoid a full state-wide recount which ultimately elected her favorite “Godly man.”

            After FairDistrictsNow sued Scott and sat-in at the Governor’s office in early February, Scott relented and Republican legislative leaders resubmitted the State’s request for pre clearance approval to the Justice Department including a dissent requesting Justice to disapprove the Amendments as ‘detrimental’ to minority voters.  In addition, as the State House was making deep cuts in education and other social safety net programs, allocated $800,000 of public funds to a legal suit to block the publicly-approved Amendments as an ‘unlawful” abrogation of the State Legislature’s authority.

            Proponents of the Amendments see further obfuscation and delays as State Senator Dan Gaetz, Chair of the Senate’s Redistricting Committee, promises up to 30 public hearings on the already-voter-approved Amendments around the State, Gaetz’s son, Rep. Matt Gaetz sponsored legislation to allow draft redistricting maps to be kept secret until they are introduced as formal bills.  Without proposed new district maps to comment on, FairDistrictsNows questions the  purpose of unwarranted costly public hearings. 

            Scott’s Judicial ‘reform’ proposal which came as a surprise to the State’s Judicial Branch and the Florida Bar Association are seen as an effort to rein in an independent Judiciary.   The proposal would add three Justices appointed by the Governor and split the Court into civil and criminal divisions with a Governor-appointed Chief Justice, strip rulemaking from the Court and hand it to the Legislature, pay Judges based on how many cases they decide, allow Senate confirmation of Governor-appointed Justices but automatic appointment if the State Senate does not act and allow the State Legislature to repeal a Court rule.

            Retired Supreme Court Justice Ken Bell who was appointed by Republican Governor Jeb Bush in 2002 predicted that the proposal would "dramatically alter the separation of powers" in State government adding that "these measures will, no doubt, lessen the independence of the Judiciary."

            Democrats allege that Republicans are still angry with the State Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to remove  three redistricting amendments from the ballot that Justices found “confusing and misleading.”   Court reform opponents have challenged Republican efforts as threatening the country’s historic separation of powers and its checks and balances concept designed to protect citizen civil rights and freedoms.

            Meeting the legally mandated timeline for new reapportionment maps and to accomplish Scott’s Court packing gimmick will be a challenge as amendments to the State Constitution must have voter approval and the approval process for the reapportionment maps is also legally mandated.

            The only potential for Republicans to put these measures on the ballot before the November, 2012 Presidential election would require a three-fourths vote of the Legislature which would necessarily include Democratic votes.  To hold the line, the woefully outnumbered Florida Legislative Democrats must develop a built-in BS detector and strategic smarts, together with the courage to go down swinging in the face of  a nationally coordinated drive to dismantle the core foundations of civil government.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA Appropriation (HR 2112) of 2012

            With little media scrutiny, the week before Father’s Day the House of Representatives spent 25 hours during a three day period debating over 60 amendments to a $125 billion Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA Appropriations (HR 2112) for 2012.  

            The spending bill included a massive $700 million cut to the once sacred WIC (women, infants and children) program which offers nutritional assistance to 10 million at-risk pregnant women and postpartum mother and children up to five years of age. With an estimated 350,000 recipients in jeopardy of losing benefits including very young malnourished children, Republican funding for WIC is inadequate to provide for the existing need, especially during the current financial debacle.   The proposed Ryan budget (of Medicare voucher fame) would cut WIC $833 million. 

            Suffering cuts as to render some programs effectively dysfunctional, the spending bill included a devastating $285 million cut to the FDA jeopardizing food safety inspections.  A Democratic-sponsored amendment to restore $1 million to fund the FDA's new regulatory authority over raw and processed food industries was defeated 193 - 226 with 12 Republicans voting with the Democrats.  Additional cuts included  a  $170 million cut to Emergency Food Assistance which provides groceries to food banks serving low income citizens including seniors, a $20 million cut to rural development low income housing and small business loans, a decimated cut for the fledgling Rural Energy for America program,  a $40 billion cut to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program which provides emergency food assistance, a $354 million cut to the Agriculture Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture which funds food safety research and University extension Ag programs and blocks implementation of new school lunch standards adopted in the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act. 

            On occasion, House Democrats with a strong progressive caucus are capable of heroic action and this time, they stepped up to the plate citing ‘reckless’ cuts to anemic children who are familiar with hunger as a constant way of life while reciting numerous Biblical quotes. Democrats offered a vigorous defense of WIC citing the moral responsibility of elected officials and the expected dire consequences to the country’s most vulnerable children as Federal and international nutrition programs were on the chopping block.   

            While the Appropriations bill was in the full Committee, Rep. Rosa deLauro (CT) offered a successful amendment with bipartisan support to increase WIC $147 Million.  Just prior to Floor consideration of the bill, the Rules Committee stripped out deLauro’s already adopted amendment setting the stage for a robust Floor debate.  Rep. John Conyers (MI) citing four decades in Congress summed up the Democrat’s passionate resistance to WIC cuts as “an all time low” as he challenged ‘anyone with a conscience” that would result in more hunger for the poorest and neediest children already suffering from malnutrition. It is simply un-American,” Conyers said “immoral, heartless and unconscionable to take food away from the mouths of hungry children in the name of deficit reduction.  Ladies and gentlemen have we no shame.” 

            In an example of politics at its finest, Democrats with short-term memory loss repeatedly made the point that one week of Bush tax breaks for the wealthy would pay for one year of WIC payments.  With a pitiful maximum payment of $42 a month in some states, a 6 – 12 month eligibility period and a politically vulnerable constituency, WIC is an easy target for balancing the budget by politicians of both parties.   

            Republicans whose children have full bellies responded about ‘low priority programs’ as if the subject of debate were inanimate objects rather than the lives of American mothers and their children repeated their talking points as ad nauseum mantras - “stop spending money we don’t have,”  “we’re borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar we spend,” and ‘we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”  

            In a squabble that weaved through the debate, Republicans took delight in reminding  Democrats that in 2010 $562 million was deleted from the WIC budget by the Obama Administration. Democrats responded that the fund transfer was due to fewer participants with unspent funds at year’s end and that no recipients lost their benefits.  R’s argued that it was the Democrats who drained the contingency fund of any carryover monies for future use.    

            With no reference to Scripture, Rep. Paul Brown (GA) distinguished himself as a first class Doofus by offering multiple amendments including further cuts to WIC, reduced funding for the Food for Peace program, elimination of international food and child nutrition programs and cuts to USDA office rent, building maintenance and vehicle fleet.  Broun, who was a General Physician before election to the House, was challenged by Rep. Norm Dicks (WA) for actions incompatible with the Hippocratic Oath to ‘do no harm.’  Fortunately, Broun’s Republican colleagues joined Democrats in voting down every one of Broun’s amendments. 

            The Food for Peace program (which feeds an estimated 5 million children in foreign countries) survived at least three more amendments from Republican budget-cutters.

            Neither did Rep. Virginia Fox (NC) who bears a striking resemblance to Mrs. Doofus quote the Bible when her first amendment to cut $82 million from breast feeding programs lost in a bi-partisan vote (306 – 119).  Her second amendment to eliminate funding for locally grown food programs (ie farmer’s markets) narrowly succeeded with 17 R’s voting with Democrats, 201 against 212 amendment supporters.

            Not to miss an opportunity to deprive women their constitutionally-protected right to choose, Rep. Steve King (Iowa) offered an amendment banning telemed communication funds from being used to prescribe RU486, known as the ‘abortion pill.”  King’s amendment passed with 240 votes including 13 Democrats and 178 against including 9 R’s.   Just when you might think that King could not outdo his reputation as mean-spirited, he offered an amendment to ban payment on the final settlement to black farmers who had been discriminated against by USDA.  The suit had been settled long ago although some payments remain to be distributed.   King’s amendment lost 262 -156. .

 .          In another attempt to use a budget bill to legislate policy, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana offered a successful amendment to ban Federal funds to implement the USDA’s climate change plans with 238 (including 10 Democrats) vs 179 against.  The voice vote accepting Rep. Don Young's (AK) amendment to prohibit FDA funds from approving genetically engineered salmon showed that Republicans can appreciate the health benefit of Omega 3. .     

            There were no hallelujahs as amendments offered by Rep. Shirley Jackson Lee (TX) addressing ‘food insecurity’ issues and ‘food deserts’ with a lack of access to fresh healthy foods for rural and big-city urban Americans affecting 24 million Americans were turned back.  Amendments in support of urban community gardens and cooperative farm programs for low income farmers were also defeated.       

            One explanation for irrational Republican intransigence on issues that no thoughtful legislator should oppose, besides loyalty to their Corporate donors and in some cases a racial bias, is plain and simple politics.   Petty and small-minded, it is not in the best interests of the R’s to agree with or do anything that makes the Democrats or the President look good.  That is how our political class functions today and why it is virtually impossible to accomplish anything of importance in Congress.    

            The Ag Appropriation included a 50% cut to the Commodity Future Trade Commission (CFTC) which rarely shows signs of life yet has oversight authority on the speculative oil market, regulation of the derivative market and new regulatory authority in the President’s financial reform legislation approved in 2010.   Not content with a budget reduction from $308 million to $172 million, Rep. Garrett (NJ)'s amendment to delay regulation of the derivative market and blocked funding for the CFTC in response to banker complaints passed on a 230 - 189 vote.

            The final amendment was introduced by newly elected Rep. Kathy Hochul from New York’s overwhelmingly Republican 29th District.  In her initiation on the House floor, Hochul did a great job attempting to restore funds to the CFTC citing the need for ‘law and order’ on Wall Street and oversight of the oil speculation market.   Rep. Kingston called her amendment ‘unnecessary’ as R’s defeated the rider 233 to 185.  

            After Hochul’s Amendment, the Agriculture spending bill was adopted on final passage 233 – 200.   Sixteen R’s voted against passage and 1 Democrat voted in favor.   .

            While the President has raised some objections to the House bill, he has given no indication of a veto.  The Bill now goes to the Senate where frightened Democrats who would not know how to fight if they were given boxing gloves will be in damage-control mode after which the House and Senate bills will go to a conference committee (behind closed doors) for Reconciliation before proceeding to the President's desk for a signature or veto.  

The Politics of Abortion

            As Congressional abortion critics focus their relentless assault on a woman’s right to choose, one consequence of the 2010 elections has been coordinated attacks on Planned Parenthood at both the State and Federal level.  Up-close observers know the debate to be more than just a divinely-inspired reverence for life. With House control firmly in Republican hands and a narrow, unreliable Democratic margin in the Senate, Planned Parenthood funding is at its most vulnerable to a testosterone-laden Congress than ever.  

            My interest is more than passive since many years ago, my sixteen year old sister gave birth to Brian, a beautiful baby boy born ‘out of wedlock’

            Not unlike today’s self-proclaimed pro-lifers who attempt to legislate morality via the budget process, the Comstock laws of 1870 targeted “lewd and lascivious” literature through the mail including educational information about abortion, contraception, family planning and sexually transmitted disease with twenty four States adopting similar laws.           

            Having seen her own mother struggle with 18 pregnancies and 11 children and die at 40 years of age, Margaret Sanger opened the country’s first clinic in Brooklyn in 1916 dedicated to reproductive health services for women and men including contraception and family planning. A nurse who founded the American Birth Control League in 1921 and organized a World Population Conference in 1927, Sanger was arrested in a police raid for disseminating birth control information and arrested a second time for violating the Comstock laws.  By 1937, a New York State Court lifted the Comstock ban and Planned Parenthood was on its way to becoming a respected and steadfast voice on behalf of women’s reproductive health .                     

            It is no accident that Congressional Republicans, devoid of intellectual purpose and lacking anything remotely resembling a domestic policy, have found it politically advantageous to stir the anti-abortion-Planned Parenthood pot with vigor.  As the Republican’s routinely whip their base to a fine froth of distraction to cover the absence of policy ideas, the Beltway media remain oblivious to the charade.   Having found a vocal if irrational element in American society who become easily aroused at the mention of public employees, National Public Radio and climate change, Planned Parenthood finds itself in the eye of a perpetual storm that promises to not go away anytime soon.    

            Democrats, however, are not relieved of their role to defend a woman’s constitutionally protected right to make her own health choices and to keep her patient-doctor relationship private.  Even as Democrats were protecting Planned Parenthood during the recent threat of a government shutdown in early April, Congress and the President agreed to ban the use of local government funds to pay for abortions in the District of Columbia.  In a protest the next day, DC’s Mayor Vincent Gray and six City Councilors were arrested in front of the Capitol.

         Too often, Congressional Democrats have provided the margin of victory for the Hyde Amendment which was adopted in1976 as a rider to the Appropriations bill funding the Department of Health and Human Services.  The lack of Democratic leadership on a wider variety of issues is a larger systemic problem which has allowed the Hyde amendment to survive annual authorizations for the last 30 years - even when Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress.  Denying all Federal funds for abortion, the Hyde amendment makes its way each year through the legislative labyrinth to passage without benefit of  Congressional committee public hearings, without witnesses or medical testimony as well as too little factual evidence.   

            Our Founding Fathers were well aware of the dangers of a strong Church and religious influence on public policy thereby setting the stage for the First Amendment which guarantees the separation of Church and State. In 1776, both the States of Virginia and Pennsylvania identified freedom of religion (including freedom from religion) as a personal choice directed only by reason, conviction and conscience without Government or Church intervention.  

In 1973, the Supreme Court upheld the Fourteenth Amendment ruling in Roe v. Wade that the Constitutional guarantee of the right to privacy extended to reproductive choice.  By 1975, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Catholic Conference to lobby for the overturn of Roe as it collaborated with other conservative and evangelical organizations such as the National Right to Life Committee and the Moral Majority.  

With an unbelievably long and violent history, the Catholic Church has always been more than a little apprehensive about sex and politics.  In flagrant disregard for the Constitutionally protected separation of Church and State, the Bishops issued a Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities which called for all church related organizations to pursue a "pro-life legislative plan" including support for criminalization   As the Catholic Conference continues to openly influence public policy at both the State and Federal level, the Plan’s apparent success has seen many Catholic elected public officials, some threatened with excommunication,  cross the ‘separation of powers’ line in acquiescence to the Church.
Any Church foray into partisan politics while conducting a massive pr campaign to influence public policy oversteps itself as it attempts to have religious dogma accepted as government policy obligating all citizens to subscribe to beliefs against their own conscience.  Use of the pulpit on behalf of public policy is exactly what Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were worried about.   Abortion is particularly unique in this regard as divorce is considered a private matter of personal choice. 

During Congressional consideration of health care reform in 2009, it was reported that Church representatives who openly lobbied both sides of the aisle threatened to kill the entire bill if offending abortion language were not removed.
            With legal abortions available in predominately Catholic Germany, France and Italy since the mid-1970s, it is curious that abortion in the U.S. remains such a politically hot-button – even after Roe v. Wade presumably settled the issue.  Such is a commentary on Congressional willingness to protect the Constitution against all threats – foreign or domestic.               

At the center of the anti-choice movement is an irrational male-dominated opposition    who will never find themselves pregnant.  Exploitation of abortion has become the showpiece for a patriarchal agenda that encourages an open disdain for women; - hectoring men and, in some cases, psychologically disturbed men, who believe they are imbued with a God-given right to impose their beliefs on a woman’s intimate life choices. While honest differences of opinion may exist, if those differences are dictated by religion or superstition purporting to be science, those opinions lose all credibility.  Such institutions of chaste malehood, all of which receive generous Federal tax exemptions worth billions of dollars, have no authority to dictate others’ moral behavior.

            While opposition to abortion is defined as a traditional conservative value, the Roe decision was based on protecting each individuals’ right to privacy, a Constitutionally protected right to be free from unwarranted government intrusion.  Yet abortion opponents remain blind to their own hypocrisy as they argue against Obama’s health care mandate as an unprecedented expansion of government sovereignty into the private lives of Americans dictating citizen choices.

            There are, of course, abortion opponents with intelligence and sensitivity just as there are good men of conscience who care about women, all are a distinct minority and drowned out by the shrill of the politically inspired.         

            After her delivery, my sister was taken to a Home of a particular theologic persuasion for unwed mothers.   Her son, a perfect baby unlike many newborns who resemble a wee version of Winston Churchill, with a small angelic face framed by his parent’s dark hair, captured our hearts immediately.   Brian’s father, still a high school student, as was my sister, came from a ‘good’ family with adequate financial resources, wanted to marry but the idea was rejected as impractical. 

            The Home required that, after birth, the new mother and her baby remain for two weeks during which  time, the baby slept in a small crib next to his mother’s bed where she would assume all the 24-7 duties of a new mother.  During that time, Brian’s father visited and helped with his son’s care.  For two weeks she nursed her baby, changed his diapers, bathed him and bonded with her child as any new Mother would.   At the end of those two weeks, the mother would hand over her child for adoption.   

            That morning, we waited, as my sister, grim and in shock, appeared to have stopped breathing, numb with the horror of  what was about to take place.  We were aware that Brian’s new parents were waiting in the next room when suddenly the door opened.   A woman, quiet and confident, entered, walked to my sister, wordlessly took Brian from her arms, and walked back out the door.  The psychic pain at that moment, physical and emotional, was indescribably crushing.  We watched helplessly as her child left her life.  No one cried, no words were spoken, we were left with the agonizing finality and a wound that has never healed.   We would never see Brian again.

            In the eyes of the Church, the rationale for the two-week residency was necessary to reinforce the consequences of the evil deed that these wild, bad girls had committed, young women with no life experience to understand the possible life-long impacts to their young lives, to drum home the message that pre-marital sex and pregnancy must not happen again – ever.

            Such pregnancy homes may provide an important support network for those young women who lack the maturity or resources to assume an adult responsibility but the haunting  dilemma of whether sacrificing her child to strangers was the ‘best’ solution for my sister, Brian’s father or their son has not dimmed over the years.   The immeasurable tragedy for my sister, her lost boy and perhaps millions of other women who relinquished their babies, did not end the day their children were taken.  In those days, the Church was omnipresent and teenage girls were not well enough informed to know the benefit of  Planned Parenthood’s contraceptive and sex education counseling beforehand.

            Today, America has the least generous maternity leave in the industrialized world , a WIC (women, infant and child) program that is inadequately funded and as Save the Children statistics show, American women are at-risk to death from pregnancy related causes.    Planned Parenthood can count on continued challenges to its existence by an obsessed right-wing and religious establishment not easily deterred. 

            Today, Brian would be an adult man perhaps with a family of his own and we pray he knows that somewhere there is a Mother and an Auntie who think of him often with great love. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quote of the Month

"When I first entered on the stage of public life, I came to a resoluition never to engage, while in public office, in any kind of enterprise for improvement of my fortune, nor to wear any other character than that of farmer."
Thomas Jefferson, 1820

Intervening Women

In the 1970’s, there was a national ferment against the construction and operation of commercial nuclear power reactors with many being built in geologically vulnerable and/or highly populated areas.  At the root of that controversy, unknown to the general public except bureaucrats at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry‘s high priced lawyers, were a handful of exceptional women who became ‘intervenors’ against utility applications during the NRC’s licensing process.  

Created by Congress in 1974, the NRC’s mission was for "the development, use, and control of atomic energy to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise."  Nowhere in its Mission is mention of protecting the public health and safety while the aforementioned goals have long since been deemed a failure.

In order to participate in an NRC licensing hearing, an individual must file a petition to intervene within 30 days of public notice, identify an ‘interest’ that may be affected and include at least one “admissible” contention which the person seeks to litigate. Once granted ‘standing,’ the petitioner becomes a legal party to the proceedings. The NRC further states that in order to “participate, the public must explain the nature of their interest and set forth the reasons and bases for their concerns.”

The NRC’s Adjudicatory Process identifies the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board as administrative judges who are “employees of the NRC” yet have the peculiar distinction of being “independent from the NRC staff. The judges have no stake in the outcome of a proceeding and reach objective decisions based on the record.”   The ASLB conducts public hearings, makes rulings on the proceedings and ultimately makes a license recommendation to the full Commission   

As the NRC staff discovered almost 40 years ago, none of these intervening women were deterred or intimidated despite an NRC public participation process that contained considerable hurdles not designed for easy public access.  Candidate Obama’s opinion in a 2008 interview with the Keene Sentinel editorial board that “the NRC is a moribund agency that needs to be revamped and has been captive of the industry it regulates” remains as true today as it did in the 1970’s.    

They were all middle aged women or older and most had been housewives much of their adult lives.  All educated, they had no experience, with one exception, of dealing with government bureaucrats or nuclear energy issues yet all displayed highly developed built-in BS detectors.  Each was feisty and knew a dog-and-pony show when they saw one.  With not a shrinking violet among them, none succumbed to deliberate efforts to confuse them or intimidation by snooty Ivy League law degrees. 

Most worked from their dining room tables interpreting lengthy, complex interrogatories from utility attorneys and funded their interventions at great personal expense – both monetarily and emotionally.  Each innately exhibited leadership qualities as they understood their role to educate an uninformed public and an often apathetic media to the immediate and long term health and safety hazards of nuclear reactor operations. 

            *   Already in her 70’s when she organized the Citizens Committee for Protection of the Environment in 1966, Irene Dickinson easily became the heart-center of the “Intervening Women’s” network.  With the energy of a teenager, Irene opposed Consolidated Edison’s plans at the Indian Point location, 34 miles north of New York City with vigor and as her efforts spread around the country, she was readily available for strategic consultation and technical advice as well as a valuable resource on anticipating tactics from the NRC and nuclear industry.   

Under the pressure of reams of NRC inspection reports and depositions to be answered, Irene became a savvy, proficient intervener and a persistent questioner who would not be denied.  She introduced a multitude of State and Federal officials to more than they ever wanted to know about the hazards of nuclear pollution, radioactive spent fuel, seismic faults, inadequate evacuation plans and ‘abnormal occurrences.’    

By 1979, she turned over voluminous files containing over 6,000 pieces, all alphabetized and catalogued in 22 boxes, to Columbia University’s archival collections.   Thanks to her efforts so many years ago, former Governor Mario Cuomo, then Senator Hilary Clinton and current Governor Andrew Cuomo have all called for a shutdown of the Indian Point plant..   
            *   In 1973, Carrie Barefoot Dickerson was 56 years old and the grandmother of five when she became aware of plans to build two GE nuclear reactors near her farm in northeast Oklahoma, setting for the musical Oklahoma and near Will Rogers’ childhood home.  A former school teacher and later author, Dickerson formed the Citizen’s Action for Safe Energy and the legal challenge to the proposed Black Fox Power Plant was on.  As a registered nurse, Dickerson questioned the health effects of nuclear waste and the daily release of radioactive emissions during routine operations that has been linked to birth defects and an epidemic of cancers.
In 1982, after an arduous nine year battle with 500 citizens arrested at the site in 1979, her retirement savings depleted and her farm mortgaged, Black Fox became the first nuclear reactor to be canceled due to a combination of legal and citizen action during construction.  Until her death in 2006 at 89 years old, Carrie Barefoot Dickerson continued to actively promote safe, renewable energy sources.

.           *   In 1967, when 48 year old Midland, Michigan resident Mary P. Sinclair’s letter to the editor questioning the safety of a proposed nuclear reactor along Lake Michigan stirred considerable heat, she knew she had a tiger by the tail.  A former technical writer for the Atomic Energy Commission, armed with a home fax machine and full size photocopier, Mary Sinclair became an NRC intervener.  By the early 1980’s, the sinking and cracking of buildings designed to contain the plant’s twin reactors was discovered.  By 1983, Dow Chemical pulled out of the project; by 1984, Consumers Power backed out of its contract after spending $4 Billion with construction 85 % complete and by 1987, the Midland nuclear project was converted into a natural-gas fueled power plant.  

During her years as a nuclear intervenor, Sinclair endured considerable community ire when the family car’s brake lines were cut, their mail box bombed, her husband’s business boycotted, receipt of life- threatening letters and being spat upon while grocery shopping.  In commenting on Sinclair’s role in cancellation of the Midland reactor, a spokesman for Consumers Power said, “I want to blame her but I don’t want to give her any credit.”  In 1994, Mary Sinclair earned a PhD in Environmental Communications at 75 years of age and continued to question the storage of spent fuel at-reactor sites 300 yards from the shore of Lake Michigan until her death in early 2011.   

            * In 1967, Vermont Yankee Power Company announced plans to construct a nuclear power reactor along the Connecticut River.  By 1971, Atomic Energy Commission’s (forerunner of the NRC) public hearings began as Esther Poneck organized the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution to intervene against construction.  Since the plant was situationally-located, formal interveners included the States of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts with NECNP attracting scientists of national stature from neighboring universities as expert witnesses.  The following year, the utility, citing an emergency lack of electrical capacity (with no supporting documentation), was granted an ‘interim’ operational license. The AEC rejected nuclear waste as a relevant issue in a licensing proceeding since storage of nuclear waste would be resolved “at a later time,” presumably by the Federal government. 
Descendant of a Quaker family that dates back to (almost) the country’s founding and owner of a 500 acre farm 20 miles north of the proposed reactor, Poneck, a psychologist and member of the first graduating class of the New Jersey College for Women in 1918, was joined by her equally-formidable daughter Diana Sidbotham, a 1954 Vassar College graduate and classical singer.  The mother-daughter tag team continued their opposition to nuclear power including the Seabrook reactors which continue to operate without an approved emergency evacuation plan.     
Poneck, known as a Grand New England Lady, continued to oppose nuclear projects throughout New England until her death in 1991 at 91 years of age.     
            *  Dr. Judy Johnsrud established the Environmental Coalition on Nuclear Power in 1970 when she became the original intervener against Three Mile Island construction in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Johnsrud went on to participate as an intervener against construction of the Limerick nuclear power plant and the proposed Peach Bottom reactor, both located in high population density areas. With a Ph.D in Geography and a brilliant analytical mind, Johnsrud analyzed the features of each site and today, the Limerick plant is considered to be the third highest earthquake risk in the United States  

A longtime citizen activist who criss-crossed the country speaking to safe energy groups and testifying before the NRC and State regulatory commissions, Judy is considered an expert on all aspects of nuclear power and remained active until health considerations forced her recent retirement at 80 years of age.  
             *   With a BA in Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 1954, Kay Drey made her first speech against nuclear power in 1974 before a Missouri State Senate Committee.  In 1976, Drey became state-wide coordinator of the Citizens for Reformed Electric Rates which sponsored Proposition 1, a successful ballot initiative against a rate increase to finance construction of the Calloway Nuclear power plant in Fulton, Missouri which passed with 65% of the vote.  

Drey participated in the intervention against the Calloway reactor which began operation in 1984 and the cancellation of the Marble Hill nuclear plant in Indiana and provided expert testimony on operating safety issues at the Dresden reactor in Joliet, Illinois.   Now 77 years old, Kay continues a 25-year effort to clean up nuclear waste from the uranium purification sites located in downtown St. Louis.  

            *  A music and English Literature major at the University of Vermont in 1950, June Allen organized the North Anna Environment Coalition in Virginia when she learned from a local geologist that the proposed nuclear reactors at North Anna, 86 miles south of Washington, D.C., sat astride an existing geologic fault.   

Soft-spoken and well-dressed, Allen’s investigative talents and ability to cut-through utility and NRC double-speak were apparent as she became an eloquent, hard-nosed intervener in 1972 pointing out what she saw as collusion between the NRC and Virginia Electric Power Company.  A classical pianist who wore pearls, Allen testified before Congress identifying the “nuclear-industrial complex” as an inherently unsafe technology and frequently attended VEPCO stockholder meetings. On one occasion, when spied in the audience, VEPCO’s Chairman stopped the meeting, extended an arm,  pointed a finger directly at June and announced with great indignation, “There is Mrs. Allen.”   

After the reactors at North Anna began operation, June continued to expose the health effects of radiation and as she succumbed to breast cancer in 2010 which she she believed to be caused by  radiation exposure.

            *   A graduate of the University of North Carolina with an English major in 1949 and once part
of Walter Cronkite’s staff at CBS in New York City, Faith Young first learned of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to build the world’s largest nuclear complex from the morning edition of the Nashville Tennessean.   Young’s 150 acre beef cattle ranch was one mile from the site of the proposed four GE reactors to be built at Hartsville, 50 miles northeast of Nashville along the Cumberland River, and amidst a historic rural farming community of Dixon Springs with antebellum homes that date back to 1787.

One-half of a southern belle duo, Steel Magnolia #1, Faith organized the Concerned Citizens of Dixon Springs and intervened with the NRC in 1973 as construction began at Hartsville in 1975.  As a result of President Carter’s direction to review TVA’s planned reactors, all reactors at Hartsville were cancelled by 1984 as too expensive and unnecessary with a $2.5 billion ‘white elephant’ cooling tower. still visible today from Young’s farm.   

In 1985, Young was arrested while speaking at a TVA meeting on the Watts Bar reactor and held in Knoxville County Jail until the hearing concluded at the end of the day.  The next morning’s headline read “TVA Arrests Two Grandmothers.”
            *   While not a formally designated intervener but as a direct result of the Hartsville intervention, Steel Magnolia #2 Jeannine Honicker, who was arrested with Young in 1985, filed a 92 page Petition with the NRC in 1978 to shut down the entire nuclear industry based on excessive radon  emissions from the milling and mining of uranium (with a half life of 4.5 billion years).  The Petition was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982.
A leukemia diagnosis for Honicker’s 19 year old daughter as she read Dr. John Gofman’s book “Poisoned Power” was enough to motivate the Nashville native to become an anti-nuclear activist.   Today a 78 year old Mary Kay hostess, Honicker continues her efforts for a safe energy future, she recalls that her daughter’s illness was ‘too high a price to pay for electricity.” 
            *          *

            After the first nuclear chain reactor split the atom in 1942, it was only a matter of time before an industry would figure out how to create an extremely complex, danger and expensive way to boil water courtesy of U.S. taxpayer subsidies.  The Intervening Women were quick to discover an ingrained NRC resistance to ‘abnormal events’ as evidence of recurring safety problems and ‘isolated incidents’ were “lacking specificity.”    Touted today by President Obama as a ‘clean’ non-polluting energy,' nuclear reactors are known to release radioactive gases and liquids during routine daily operations.  In the wake of Fukushima, the NRC and nuclear industry representatives continued to offer faulty assurances of immunity from Japanese radiation which has since been declared the world’s most catastrophic nuclear accident.   

The Intervening Women were the first American citizens to publicize the scientific consensus that radiation damages cellular DNA, that there is no safe dose of radiation, that even low-level radiation exposure is cumulative and that our children are most vulnerable.

Today, exposure to radiation is a well-known risk factor for thyroid cancer as a 2009 National Cancer Institute Report cited an “alarming” unexplained 6.5% increase in thyroid cancers from 1997 – 2006.   As an increase of 11,000 childhood thyroid cancers have been traced to Chernobyl and a recent UK study found ‘significant excess’ of childhood leukemia near nuclear energy sites, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences is currently conducting a study of cancer risks near NRC licensed facilities.

Four of the Intervening Women are gone - yet all remain legends within the safe energy movement that continue to spread their message of safe energy across the country.  In the aftermath of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima, their legacy has grown, each a true American Heroine, extraordinary women with extraordinary accomplishments, as they followed a sometimes lonely and bitter path. 

Almost half a century later, the Intervening Women deserve to be honored for their pioneering efforts, their diligent research and analysis and their persistent commitment to a safe and secure planet for all the world’s children. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Recommended Reading

"One Party Country"  by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten

"A Covert Affair:  Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS"   by Jennette Conant

Friday, June 3, 2011

Congressional Votes - May 2011

With the Obama Administration in support, the Patriot Act Reauthorization continues its assault on American civil liberties with approved roving wiretaps on varying communication devices, continued monitoring of library records and other personal information as well as require businesses to turn over private personal information.  

Needing a 2/3 vote, the House of Representatives voted to approve Reauthorization  250 (including 54 Democrats) – 153 (including 122 Democrats)  

In the Senate, Sen. Ron Wyden cited alarm at a secret “classified government reinterpretation” of existing laws and statues that would allow unfettered access to American’s private information.

Senate vote 72-23 to reauthorize the Patriot Act with the following Democrats in opposition:

Akaka (D-HI)                                                              Lautenberg  (D-NJ)
Baucus (D-MT)                                                            Leahy (D-VT)
Begich (D-AK)                                                            Merkley  (D-OR)        
Bingaman (D-NM)                                                       Murray (D-WA)
Brown (D-OH)                                                            Sanders (I –VT)
Cantwell (D-WA)                                                         Testerl (D-MT)
Coons (D-DE)                                                             Udall (D-CO)
Durbin (D-IL)                                                               Udall (D-NM)
Franken (D-MN)                                                         Wyden (D-OR)
Harkin (D-IA)

National Defense Authorization Act of 2012  HR 1540 – included

  • Forever War Amendment to remove language which would allow Presidential authority to initiate military operations without Congressional Approval and negate the War Powers Act.   The Amendment failed 187 (with 166 House Democrats) – 234.
  • Narrowly defeated an amendment to ‘accelerate transition of military operation’ out of Afghanistan on a vote 204 (with 178 Democrats) – 215
 The Act also
      Defunded the U.S. Institute for Peace (at the same cost as 4 hours of the Afghanistan
      Established a new military holiday honoring the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
      Required suspected foreign terrorists to be tried by military and not civil courts.

The Act, adopted on final passage vote of 322 – 96 (90 Democrats) now goes to the Senate Armed Services Committee for action.