Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Threats from the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board

As the recent spraying of weapons-grade pepper spray of students at UC Davis represents a new element in the attack on public education, important questions need to be asked about how University Administration allowed a safety-security force to morph into a fully-armed paramilitary presence on the campus of a publicly funded educational institution.  As if students are now the enemy, why is it necessary for a police presence to be equipped with lethal battle gear as if going into combat with a highly-sophisticated military adversary as University Administration allowed their campus to become a one-sided battle zone rather than an academic bastion of the First Amendment.  

Consider the highly–problematic creation of the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board (NSHEAB) in September, 2005 by FBI Director Robert Mueller to encourage ”a spirit of cooperation and to promote understanding between higher education and the FBI and other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense.”  The FBI-academic alliance would also “open doors of understanding and cooperation” on ‘national security, terrorism, counter intelligence, cyber threats, and certain other criminal matters’.  

This Mission Statement should alarm every American citizen concerned about the long term implications of an FBI-University collaboration on a democratic society.  The American public needs to know exactly what are the national security threats on campus to justify NSHEAB and to demand that Congress hold oversight hearings on Mueller’s assumption of authority to militarize American college campuses.      

The NSHEAB currently includes over 20 University Presidents or Chancellors from publicly supported Universities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas A&M, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin as well as private educational institutions like Carnegie-Mellon, Cornell, MIT, Purdue and Rice. Given the nature of their highly confidential agendas, all Board members must hold a ‘secret’ security clearance at minimum.  UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi joined the Board in October, 2010 after organizing a comparable quasi-military International Committee on Higher Education in Greece.

Almost one hundred years ago, when University Presidents were held in high esteem, some participated in national debates and even joined the ranks of the anti-imperialist Mugwump party, one wonders if any University President declined the FBI’s invitation to the participate in the NSHEAB.

With major University investments in sustainable energy, agricultural production and nanotechnology, the NSHEAB is concerned with the flow of illicit acquisition and export of sensitive technologies and outright theft of information that might compromise national security.  To date, cooperation with the FBI has resulted in the conviction of at least three University professors from various campuses for violating export control laws and for mishandling ‘sensitive information’ from an Air Force research project.

Since its inception, the Board has met on a regular basis three times a year at FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC where Members receive routine briefings from the Agency’s Counter Intelligence Division and its Domestic Terror Analysis Unit.  Agenda items include ‘current threats’ like the Animal Liberation Front, a group dedicated to the elimination of animal suffering, and environmental ‘extremist’ groups.  The FBI considers the ALF that admits to economic sabotage to be the country’s “number one domestic eco-terrorist threat” with a history of “violent crimes and terrorist actions,” according to John Lewis of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division.

A Freedom of Information request filed at UC Davis revealed collusion between top University administrators and local law enforcement with creation in 2009 of a “Student Activism Response Team.”  The Team has the responsibility to monitor any potential student activity, keep tabs on pertinent Facebook accounts and infiltrate student organizations as it did last spring during peaceful student protests of tuition increases.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why re-elect Senate Democrats?

With Democratic control (53 – 47) of the Senate at risk, twenty-three Democratic Senate seats (including two Independents who caucus with the Dems) are on the 2012 ballot.  By contrast, with only ten Republicans running for re-election, the odds do not look good for Democrats.  Of those twenty-three Democratic seats, six Democratic Senators and two Republican Senators have announced their retirement, leaving eight Senate seats up for grabs without an incumbent candidate.  

With public support for Congress hovering at 10% and a perceived difference between the parties mostly along the edges of inflammatory social issues, Senate Democrats have given the American public little reason to fear a Republican takeover. 

So exactly why are those Democratic seats, held by mostly docile, ineffective officeholders, so important?  If all or any of those 23 Democrats are re-elected, how exactly will ‘We, the People” be better off?  Will any of those deadbeat Democrats be more responsive to the demands of democracy?  Is it too much to expect one Democrat to critically discuss Obama’s inclination for spreading US military around the globe including the truth about Iran’s nuclear capability, the unconstitutionality of the Patriot Act, adoption of a foreclosure moratorium, how ‘real’ health care reform can cut the deficit, restructure of the country’s economic institutions, prosecution of the banksters or the fatal errors of globalization?

As the Super Committee fails to agree on $1.2 Trillion cuts thereby kicking the can into the 2012 campaign for further budget cuts in 2013 and a pseudo-liberal media is uncertain whether to heap praise or scorn, are any of those incumbent Democratic Senators willing to abandon the herd mentality and step outside the box to solve the country’s problems?  

There was once a reasonable expectation that Democrats, considered the ‘conscience of the nation,’ would offer a bold vision as they better represented the 99%ers than Republicans who are still proud descendants of Calvin Coolidge.  Instead, 2012 incumbent Democratic Senators pretend to be what they are  not - spouting populist slogans as they cut $78 billion out of Social Security in 2009, unable to deliver enough Democratic votes for Obama’s anemic American Jobs Act and caving on the debt ceiling to allow $2.5 trillion cuts instead of going the 14th Amendment route.  When neo-liberal multi-bazillionaire Democratic Senator John Kerry unabashedly brags that it was Democrats on the Super Committee who put forward the President’s ‘grand bargain’ of $4 Trillion worth of cuts, with deep reductions to the country’s favorite Big Three social programs, as if it were a heroic gesture and expressed willingness to ‘expedite’ tax reform, it should come as no surprise that the suffering of the American public is far from over.

Never meant to be exclusively a legislative body like the House, the Senate, with its quasi-executive functions, has relinquished its claim to the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”  An incompetent institution, Senate Democrats offer no resistance as they blame Republican obstructionism for every failed vote, portraying themselves as powerless while the ‘tyranny of the minority’ is allowed to prevail as though no legislative remedy were available. 

Even as George W. Bush sought the formality of Congressional approval for the invasion of Iraq, it was clear that Senate Democrats had lost their Constitutional fervor as a ‘check and balance’ on the Executive Branch.  For example, one special advantage of holding the majority is its abiilty to conduct oversight hearings on issues like the aforementioned; if for no other reason than assurance that the Senate still understood its Constittuional preorgative.  Now, with a faux-liberal non-partisan Democrat in the White House, Senate Democrats have further acquiesced their statutory role as Obama’s foreign policy initiatives include combat troops in Africa and a new US ‘permanent’ base of marines in Australia.  Democrats in the Senate remain mute with the collapse of Constitutional democracy close at hand. 

In 2008, Democrats controlled the Senate by a 60 – 40 margin but without reliable party discipline, Republican demands for a ‘filibuster-proof’ majority of 60 votes thwarted public policy debates.  Inexplicably unable to convert a 20 vote spread into legislative victories, the Democratic Senate failed to act on hundreds of pieces of worthwhile legislation referred from the House for final action.  As the Democratic majority shrunk to 53 with the 2010 election, the party of Jefferson and Jackson remained as impotent as it was with its 2008 majority.  Yet, at the start of the 112th Session of Congress last January, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid convinced Democratic Senators to stifle necessary ‘reform’ of the Senate’s subversive filibuster rule in defense of someday they will be the minority.    

Once ‘move the previous question’ language (in effect since 1789) was removed from Senate rules in 1806, lengthy, unlimited speeches degenerated into ‘talking (a bill) to death’ or sometimes to express passionate beliefs as Sen. Bernie Sanders did, standing alone during an 8.5 hour filibuster last December in opposition to tax cuts for the rich.  In 1917, the ‘cloture’ rule was adopted after twelve anti-war Senators successfully filibustered the Armed Ship Act, delaying US entry into WWI.  Since then, cloture was used (albeit rarely until 2008) to prevent a minority of 41 from thwarting the majority of 59 with unbridled speechifying as ‘reform’ centered on how many cloture votes were needed to shut down a filibuster. 

Pitting raw power politics against Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, the “Senate shall appoint judges of the Supreme Court..et al” should be the undisputed guiding language for all judicial nominees until Senate Rules reinterpreted the Constitution with filibuster and cloture procedures favoring a partisan adaptation.  As a result, there are an estimated 150 Obama judicial appointments awaiting Senate confirmation.  Article II contains no reference to a specific number of votes required (with the exception of two-thirds for approval of treaties), implying a simple one-vote majority for all other purposes.  Despite a brief precedent in the 1970’s when the one-vote majority for cloture was adopted, a two-thirds (67) vote required in 1917 was amended to a three-fifths (60) vote in 1975 which continues today.   

Even President George W. Bush believed a filibuster of judicial nominees to be inconsistent with the Senate’s Constitutional responsibilities as outlined in Article II pointing out that “The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to hold an up-or-down vote on every judicial nominee, and throughout its 216-year history, the Senate has held an up-or-down vote on every Supreme Court nominee with majority Senate support." 

Always aware of their options, Democrats remain unwilling to challenge Republican running rough-shod over the Constitution.  To call the Republican bluff and ‘bring in the cots,’ Democrats have the choice to show a willingness to fight for the Rule of Law as they maintain an on-going all-night debate.   Yet, in deference to their own corporate masters, Democrats have chosen to capitulate as the country’s most urgent problems continue to fester. 

The American public understands that neither party has shown the capacity to govern and that both have failed to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.  The net effect leaves both parties complicit in Congressional gridlock with the Democrat majority arrogant in their willingness to squander the Obama Administration’s first two years of opportunity.         

The age-old question of why Senate Democrats deserve to be re-elected frequently boils down to fear of Supreme Court nominations falling into Republican hands yet the record shows that Democratic votes are equally responsible with Republicans for the appointment of Justices to the Court who have done their best to shred the Constitution as they undermine democracy.  Here is a summary:  

*   In 1986, Antonin Scalia’s nomination was approved on a 98-0 Senate vote including all Democratic Senators despite Scalia’s well-known aggressive right wing views.  

*   Clarence Thomas was confirmed in 1991 on a 52 – 48 vote including 11 Democratic votes in support and eight votes short of the 60 vote threshold.    

*   In 2005, John Roberts was confirmed to become Chief Justice with a 78 – 22 vote including 22 Democrats in support.

*  In 2006, Samuel Alito was confirmed on a 58 – 42 vote, two votes shy of the 60 vote threshold. Like Thomas, Roberts and Scalia, Alito’s right wing politics were well known and led to an abbreviated Democratic filibuster to block his appointment.  A cloture vote to shut off debate was adopted on a 75-25 with 19 Democrats providing the margin.  

*  Obama’s two Supreme Count nominations, Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, were both held to the 60 vote standard garnering 68 – 31 and 63- 37 votes, respectively.

The impact of the Senate’s filibuster policy goes far beyond the appointment of Supreme Court Justices as it has become a standard legislative ploy to manipulate all public business scheduled for the Senate floor allowing a more vocal, more aggressive minority to derail a progressive legislative agenda.  The Democratic Senate majority continues to sing their ‘sorry, we just don’t have the votes’ song while millions of Americans continue to lose their homes, their jobs, their health care, their life savings and their peace of mind.

Reliance on a hypothetical filibuster has had the effect of rescinding the ‘one vote majority’ principle implicit in the Constitution that has guided American democracy for more than 200 years as today’s Senate continues to operate in an illegitimate manner, unacceptable for a democratically-elected body.  A universal basis for every parliamentary democracy, the ‘one vote majority’ represents a stabilizing element that provides a strong incentive for minority Members to participate in the legislative process – currently not a factor in today’s Senate.  Without a firm ‘one vote majority’ threshold, elections become meaningless and erosion of the Rule of Law translates into the deterioration of a Constitutional government. 

Despite the lack of strong, clear progressive voices in the Senate, the luxury of giving up on electoral politics because of past disappointments is no longer an alternative.  Our teetering democracy is in urgent need of a new crop of courageous, independent, tough-minded, progressive Senators with an inner grit unafraid to speak out against corruption, who care more about the future of democracy than the future of Wall Street and are willing to turn the Senate on its head. Republicans have Senators like that.  Why don’t Progressives?  

With a modern day Democratic Party so far removed from what Jefferson and Madison envisioned as to be indistinguishable and unworthy of trust with real political power, the country’s ruling bi-partisan establishment has rigged the electoral system against any third party effort in favor of their own interests. And as dissatisfaction with the existing political structure spreads, the image of a new political paradigm appears on the horizon, a new political strategy not beholden to the old partisan structure.  As an insurgent force against the status quo, the Democratic party offers the best existing political structure to begin the process of reclaiming democracy and the transformational work of rebuilding a newly aligned national government devoted to People’s needs.

The bottom line is that electoral politics is the most immediate vehicle available for a powerful progressive political movement to bring about meaningful structural change.  Elections matter.  Elections have consequences.  Elections are where life-changing decisions are made – and this country is worth fighting for.

*      *      *      *      *

The eight States with open Senate seats are Arizona, New Mexico, Connecticut, Virginia, Wisconsin, Hawaii, North Dakota and Texas.  Democratic incumbents seeking re-election in 2012 are  Sens. Menendez

of NJ, Feinstein of Calif., both Nelsons one from Florida other Nebraska, Stabenow of Michigan, Klobuchar of Minnesota, McCaskill of Missouri, Sherood Brown of Ohio, Whitehouse of RI, Cardin of Maryland, Gillibrand

of NY, Cantwell of Washington, Casey of PA, Carper of Del, Tester of Montana,  Manchin of WVa and Sanders who caucuses with the Democrats.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Quote of the Month

"Give me control of a nation's finance and I care not who makes its laws."
                                                        Meyer Amschel Rothschild

Sixty Democrats Sign Letter to Super Committee

The 100 House members including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who signed a letter asking Congress' debt-reduction committee to consider all options including cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security:

Democrats: Robert E. Andrews (N.J.), John Barrow (Ga.), Timothy Bishop (N.Y.), Dan Boren Okla.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), John Carney (Del.), Kathy Castor (Fla.), Ben Chandler (Ky.), Emanuel Cleaver II (Mo.), Gerry Connolly (Va.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Jim Costa (Calif.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Danny K. Davis (Ill.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Diana DeGette (Colo.), Norm Dicks (Wash.), Chaka Fattah (Pa.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Brian Higgins (N.Y.), Jim Himes (Conn.), Steny Hoyer (Md.), Dale Kildee (Mich.), Ron Kind (Wis.), Rick Larsen (Wash.), John Larson (Conn.), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), David Loebsack (Iowa), Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), James Moran (Va.), William Owens (N.Y.), Bill Pascrell (N.J.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Chellie Pingree (Maine), Jared Polis (Colo.), David Price (N.C.), Mike Quigley (Ill.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Mike Ross (Ark.), Steven Rothman (N.J.), Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), Adam Schiff (Calif.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), Terri Sewell (Ala.), Heath Shuler (N.C.), Adam Smith (Wash.), Mike Thompson (Calif.), Niki Tsongas (Mass.), Peter Visclosky (Ind.), Tim Walz (Minn.), Mel Watt (N.C.), Peter Welch (Vt.), John Yarmuth (Ky.).

Republicans: Charles Bass (N.H.), John Carter (Texas), Howard Coble (N.C.), Tom Cole (Okla.), Ander Crenshaw (Fla.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Robert Dold (Ill.), John J. Duncan Jr. (Tenn.), Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.), Michael Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Jeff Fortenberry (Neb.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Gregg Harper (Miss.), Mike Kelly (Pa.), Peter King (N.Y.), Jack Kingston (Ga.), Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Billy Long (Mo.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Thomas Marino (Pa.), David McKinley (W.Va.), Patrick Meehan (Pa.), Devin Nunes (Calif.), Ron Paul (Texas), Tom Petri (Wis.), Todd Platts (Pa.), Tom Reed (N.Y.), Reid Ribble (Wis.), Phil Roe (Tenn.), Tom Rooney (Fla.), Mike Simpson (Idaho), Marlin Stutzman (Ind.), John Sullivan (Okla.), Lee Terry (Neb.), Bob Turner (N.Y.), Ed Wh