Monday, March 28, 2011

An African-American Organization for the 21st Century

It saddens me that a community discussion of self-described African-Americans is still - in the 21st century - looking to the government of the USA for our salvation.

Yes, we are no longer the largest minority group. Good! What did being number one in that category ever do for us?

Jews are 2% of the population; they have more influence on national and international policy than us.

Catholics are 22% of the population; they boast of how they "allowed" the President to speak at their most prestigious university. We have not a single prestigious university, much less one at which we would deny this - or any president - a platform.

What do those groups - and every other demographic above us on the social ladder - have that we do not?


We are a disorganized, quarrelsome lot. When the first Catholic was elected to the Presidency, it signaled the arrival of Catholics in America and the end of the days when anyone would even think of posting a job with "no Italian need apply" in the text.

When the first African-American was elected President, it is hard to say if the first critiques of his performance came from outside our group or inside. Sure, the Tea Party was there from Day One - but you know that we were too, whining and moaning about this, that or the other.

Meanwhile, where is the work on what we truly need to thrive in this misbegotten land: the organizational development? We are nigh on 100-years after Garvey laid out the template of the UNIA; nearly 500-years since the first African was tossed off of Columbus ship in chains: where is the organization that pervades every aspect of African-American life? One that is present in every community (where are our African Community Centers?) and rolled up to a national level - with which we can present our demands at a peer level to the President and not in our traditional role: as a supplicant?

We have more African-Americans than in any single union and more than in every union combined; and yet it was unions who received carve-outs in the reforms made to healthcare - while African-Americans were left to ride along and collect what benefits we could, with nothing specifically set aside for our interests.

We are ignored because we are unorganized.

We are powerless because we are unorganized.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Our Media Are "Post-Reason," and We Dutifully Follow

This author has a conundrum: he has tasked himself to the yoke of using words to convey the threat of images!

The author falls into the trap of comparing what we have with an ideal - and of course the practice will always fall short of the ideal: the ideal constitutes perfection - or really, the idea of perfection - because it has never existed anywhere but in theory! So we are reduced to taking naught more than the opinion of the theorist, that what is presented as "ideal" is even desirable.

Looks good, on paper.

No, what the author should do is to assess what is with what was: has the internet improved the state of our democratic processes; can it play a role in forming a 'more perfect union'?

Without performing a lengthy proof, I assert the answers to both of the above questions is "Yes"! The internet has provided a platform for this very dialog - one that simply could not have taken place through any prior means of communication. More so, unlike television, which places the imagery the author fears into the hands of a select few, the internet literally transforms everyone into a publisher! Suddenly, the power of the printing press itself has been democratized, as never before!

Welcome to the dawn of the broadest, longest, deepest Age of Enlightenment.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why do our Senators and our Repeesentatives

Why do they have health insurance - every single one of them - when we, the Citizens of the United States of America, are forced into a patchwork maze that includes trap doors, which can be sprung on us at a moments notice?

Our legislators have created a system, whereby we - the citizens - are at the whims of insurance companies, while they - the people who represent us - have the best health care our nation allows.


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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Why Universal Health Insurance Is Better Than Health Care Reform

I have a simple understanding of insurance: the larger the pool of lives insured, the lower the rate paid by each member of that pool.

Is there anyone who works with insurance more directly who can confirm or correct that understanding? Because if that is an accurate understanding, than we should be looking to cover as many people - as many lives - as possible. We shouldn't be looking for silly things like, "this person over here is not a citizen" or "that person over there has a pre-existing condition". Insurance by its nature recognizes that some people will face illness more acutely than others - we just do not know whom. This is the sole purpose for providing insurance: to prepare - in advance - for that risk of the unknown. Once the unknown has become known, is not the time to begin severing people from the commitment. Rather, that is the time to fulfill the promise made: whichever one of us is felled by the random dangers of life, the rest of us will be there for you.

You can count on us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

FISA, continued

In an effort to continue the dialog on what we need to convey to our President, I posted this comment to the blog on Get FISA Right:

I look forward to the call today, during which I hope we will continue to advance the development of our Open Letter to the President.

I was heartened to view President Obama speaking before the press in China, side by side with President Hu; the President of the United States of America and the President of the People's Republic of China - conducting a joint press conference before the media - and this after having held a town hall with students from across China.

I am sure the intelligence community anticipated this change years ago and so when they heard the president say:

"Finally, as I did yesterday in Shanghai, I spoke to President Hu about America's bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights. We do not believe these principles are unique to America, but rather they are universal rights and that they should be available to all peoples, to all ethnic and religious minorities. And our two countries agreed to continue to move this discussion forward in a human rights dialogue that is scheduled for early next year."

They were well prepared to accept the notion that these are universal rights and "they should be available to all peoples."

It is not our residency or our citizenship in America that bestows upon us the right to not be searched - without cause - by the government of America. No, that is a right that belongs to us as a member of the human family and it has been bestowed upon us - irrevocably - by our Creator. This right is mine through birth - not through citizenship in the United States of America. Now, citizenship in the United States of America provides me with the knowledge that I live in a republic that recognizes this right - and it harms America by acting as though this right is of a political, transitory nature as opposed to one that is eternal and unchanging. That would be taking a top shelf right and placing it on the bar; on which level is it more likely to be broken?

We need not make any change to this letter at all, but if liberals do not support the notion that the all people throughout the world are endowed with certain inalienable rights, then we certainly have no cause to wonder when conservatives choose to ignore that central, organizing principle of our Republic. Conservatives blather on and on about the "power of free markets"; we should seek to take as many of our arguments back to free people as we can. This is how conservatives have taken and tarnished the concept of freedom, so much so that they can pretend to argue for freedom, while arguing to imprison "terrorists" indefinitely.

Liberals must wrest the notion of freedom back from those who have little understanding of the word and we must do so under the auspices of increasing our security: a police state can never be free.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More thoughts on FISA

As a means to developing a common understanding of what is meant by 'Getting FISA Right', Jim Burrows was kind enough to level set the scale and scope of the issue in this post here. I thought I might pivot off his work, to expose my own ideas about broadening the metaphor of our Republic: separation of powers.

At the end of the day, we are tasking our Government with the charge to defend our Republic against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Email may be one form our enemies choose to use for communication of whatever plot they might be developing - but it is still just communication between enemies that is of interest to us. And with that in mind, perhaps we need to return to the first step and assess our initial decisions, for a misstep at the start can lead us down the wrong path in the end - which is the problem we are here to address, no?

Our Constitution seeks to address this thorny issue of surveillance. It says:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

In practice, this has meant that:

"[E]xplicit search warrants based on probable cause and sworn testimony must be used for:

  • Any surveillance by the government within the US
  • Any surveillance by the US government upon “US persons” anywhere in the world.

On the other hand it is relatively well accepted that we allow the government to spy on the nation’s foreign enemies, and that the US courts need not issue warrants for spying on foreigners outside the US."

Is not our problem found right here? These words:

"well-accepted that we allow the government to spy on the nation's foreign enemies and that the US courts need not issue warrants for spying on foreigners outside of the US"

Take us away from the notion that there is an inherent right of People, to be free from unreasonable and invasive searches by Government.

Please note: I am not arguing that this is some new practice, or that this is some change in how the law was applied in the past. Rather, I am arguing that it is because 'this is how its always been done', that we have been led into this hornets nest of an issue.

In the days and nights when our Republic was founded, long distance communication was limited to mail delivery. Approaches that worked well then - assumptions that sufficed at that time - are now foundering on the volume and variety of long distance communication options available today. Additionally - and even more important than the varied communication platforms - is the reality that our world is more interconnected at both an interpersonal level and an international level, across all strata of our society. The transformations that our world has undergone - aided and abetted by our efforts to develop new (and hopefully, better) tools for communication - must also be accompanied by transformations in our understanding of our Laws, especially those we have codified into our Constitution.

So while previously, we have held that the Fourth Amendment only applied to US-persons, wherever in the world they might be, is not now the time to recognize that the better option is to define the scale and scope of those Constitutional protections as universal verities? When we say:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

We must realize that we can actually implement the full meaning of those words, in a world of email and text messages, can we not?

Take the example of a Sender and Recipient: is not the thorny issue of whether or not to get a warrant resolved by always getting a warrant? In this scenario,

  1. The Government (represented in example by the form of the Spy) has a reason behind his or her desire to intercept the communication of one or both: Sender and Recipient;
  2. The Spy - presumably an Agent-member of the Executive branch - operates under a set of rules codified into law by;
  3. The Legislators, one of which requires him or her to present that reason to a member of our Judiciary, as a request for a warrant to intercept and search the communications sent from/to the aforementioned Sender and Recipient;
  4. The Judge approves or denies the request for a search warrant, guided by the knowledge of past history fully presented by the Agent of the Executive.
Why is this not the better approach? If the Executive can be convinced of the rationale for a search, why cannot the Judiciary be convinced as well? And there can be no concern within the Executive about sharing this information with the Judiciary: just as Patriots can be found to serve within the Executive, so to can Patriots be found to serve within the Judiciary. Rather than search for exceptions to the rules, why not attempt to apply the rule more broadly?

Our Republic was founded under the principle of balancing Federal authority amongst three separate, but equal branches of government. What we have today is an Executive that frequently says to the other two: "Trust me". This should be abhorrent to us, as we know historically that this is what the Executive always says (in truth - it's what the Legislature and the Judicial powers always say as well). We need to force our Legislators to codify the rules of the road into laws, such that search warrants are always required for the interception of communications; we need to force our Judges to develop processes based upon these laws whereby they can support the volume and velocity of these requests; and we need to force our Executives to faithfully conduct themselves according to these laws, under the guidance of our Judges and the supervision of our Legislators. This will unite our Federal authority in common cause, but it will imbue them with separate responsibilities. This separation of concerns, will allow each of them to responsibly fulfill their duties, while preventing any one branch from asserting some inherent and innate position of dominance over the other two.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Do's and Don'ts of FISA Reform

So, the fine folks over here - are working to hold our President's feet to the fire, on comments he made during the campaign and even once in office. They have made great stride on the letter being composed by an interested group of individuals and I have made some small - minor, really - proposed changes.

Recommended changes:

Paragraph One, sentence one - replace 'executive' with 'Executive'

Paragraph Three, sentence one - restructure the sentence so that the specific date can be included, as in: "Two bills were the subject of the House Judiciary Committee Patriot Act hearing on Wednesday, XX/XX/2009"

Paragraph Four, sentence one - include the specific month, after the phrase: "last month"

Paragraph Seven, sentence one - can we just say: "In the House Judiciary Committee Hearing of XX/XX/2009, "?

Letter overall: let the word 'liberty' stand by itself. Preceding it with 'civil' just weakens the word; we have a Statue of Liberty, not a Statue of Civil Liberty. This is the 'sweet land of liberty' and that is what gets people out of the chairs to sing about!

These may all seem to be at the level of a nit-pick and perhaps they are; so herewith:

We need this letter to make clear in no uncertain terms, that the trade-off between security and liberty is false. Can we include the Franklin quote, even just by reference or allusion? Before our Republic was even Declared, much less founded, Franklin was in the Pennsylvania Assembly, noting -

Yet this is the very tradeoff that FISA asks us to make? We must always question the Executive, when it attempts to usurp authority from the other, co-equal branches of our federal authority! How can it be, that lawyers in the Executive branch can be completely convinced of the necessity for a search and yet lawyers in the Judicial branch cannot be similarly convinced? And lawyers in the Legislative branch need not even be consulted or informed? How is that possible?

And we cannot be cowed by exigent circumstances - not in a world in which I can get 24/7/365 answers to questions as mundane as "who was the Red Sox first baseman in 1987"; not when children as young as four have cell phones; not when people read tomes as lengthy as 'War and Peace' on screens that fit in the palm of their hands - no! 'Exigent circumstances' is naught but a process question and any society that has a 911 system to reach police officers at any hour of the day, is surely adept enough to divine a means to reach a judge from anywhere at anytime!

So, I hate to say: "Take it back. Make it stronger." - but there it is. We did not knock on doors and cajole our neighbors, so that this president might stand by and acquiesce to all of the inane ideologies that pass for conventional wisdom, within the confines of the four corners that are the design of our nation's capital - if no longer the practice. We put in that work, to elect this President, as we had some specific actions we needed him to take. One of those actions - just one and perhaps the most important one - was to restore our republic to a nation made of laws and not of men. We have bourn the brunt of what it means to be led by the hearts of men and we know that even the heart of the best of us can be turned by the darkest of circumstance. We did not vote for that.

No, we voted for a republic (if not a Republican) and a republic that holds dear and uplifts the notion of liberty.