President Obama's State of the Union address will probably be remembered for the "They deserve a vote" moment, when he acknowledged Americans in attendance whose lives had been impacted by gun violence, and the House Gallery filled with emotion. The rebuttal by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will be remembered for his unexpected dive off-camera to get a drink of water. More meaningful is the fact that We the People have twice elected a person of color to give this address, and the Republican party has twice appointed a person of color to give the response.
I was disappointed to see that Rubio's speech was dominated by generic attacks on "government" and President Obama that could have been written by any partisan Republican, and, probably were. He blamed the Wall Street collapse of 2008 on "government" and blamed the enormous hole the Great Recession blew in our federal budget on President Obama. Even when he touched upon immigration, his emphasis, sadly, was on securing the border and enforcing the broken system of laws we have now, not on fixing those laws and bolstering our economy. But toward the end of the speech, when he started to transition into his personal story and (I would hope) content he wrote for himself, Rubio slyly inserted a smart argument for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. He said:
In order to balance our budget, the choice doesn’t have to be either higher taxes or dramatic benefit cuts for those in need. Instead we should grow our economy so that we create new taxpayers, not new taxes, and so our government can afford to help those who truly cannot help themselves. [full text]
In those rare passages where he was given the freedom to speak for himself, he showed that he has an all-American story to share, and that he can be a great communicator.
In the hour leading up to the address, Michael Charney, Annabel Park, and I were on Coffee Party Radio taking calls and offering our own ideas on the condition of our union (see below).
Annabel opened the show by saying that President Obama needs to level with the American people about just how many of us are "hanging by a string," and how many of our children live in poverty. Many who spoke on the program, including Michael and most of our callers, said they hoped the President would talk about job creation through the rebuilding of our roads, bridges, and other aspects of our crumbling infrastructure. Here is where Obama tried to meet those expectations:
But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs - but too many people still can't find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs - but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.
It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class.
It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country - the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.
Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda. But let's be clear: Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs - that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?
America's energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they'd rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America - a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina - has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they'll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I've seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.
Tonight, I propose a "Fix-It-First" program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let's prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let's start right away. [Full text of speech]
Post written in response to backlash against Michael Charney's blog dissenting from a Coffee Party consensus supporting a Constitutional Amendment to deal with "Citizens United."
The Coffee Party was born less than a week after the “Citizens United” decree. It has always been a quest to find the best ways for We the People to counter, not only big money, but also the things that big money buys: lobbying firms, access, political advertising, political advertising disguised as “news,” divide-and-conquer politics, and fear-based populist movements fueled by all of the above.
How do we oppose these things? I don’t think we can offer a single answer to that. But there is one thing that has remained constant through all the fits and starts, triumphs and failures, and trials and errors — through all the arguments about Constitutional Amendments, DISCLOSE Acts, publicly funded elections. In three years of experimentation, the most durable antidote to the corrupting influence of money in politics has been the influence of People in politics — the power of our voices.
So that’s been my focus. Protecting that voice and encouraging everyday Americans to add their voices to our conversation, and/or to others. How do we pursue the Coffee Party mandate to fight “Citizens United” with this in mind? One path I can see is to ensure that this miraculous people-powered microphone — the social media network that is the Coffee Party — is shared.
It can’t be dominated by a single voice. No one voice can be THE voice of the Coffee Party, otherwise we fail to encourage the phenomenon our country most needs to see, and the one I most enjoy seeing: the moment when a disengaged and silent citizen becomes an outspoken, self-motivated active citizen.
In this sense, the strength of our ongoing national conversation is dependent on the diversity of those who contribute to it. If you are an American citizen and you’re talking about politics in a way that is civil, fact-based and solutions-oriented, your opinions are not going to disqualify you. This is how we ensure that the maximum number of people feel welcome enough to begin the process of transition from silent citizen to active citizen. The more diverse we are, the better the chances someone new might join us.
To those people who recently read something someone else wrote on our Facebook page and announced that you are leaving us to seek a forum where opinions adhere more precisely to your own, I say, “I understand why you need to leave, but wherever you go, please continue to exercise your voice.”
Join me and Michael Charney (the guy taking heat for not supporting a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United) tonight for our "State-of-the-Union" pre-game show on Coffee Party radio at 8 pm ET.
If you are interested in how I developed my approach, below is an essay I wrote for Coffee Party leaders in 2011 as we were divising our current system of governance with a Board of Directors elected by our members:
Freedom of Authenticity by Eric Byler, updated from an original draft 6/29/11
The Tea Party is organized by powerful players inside Washington, with the backing of oil barons and other tycoons with nearly unlimited resources. Although their agenda, on its merits alone, would appeal only those who fund it (the wealthiest one percent of America), its presentation, with the help of the most powerful media holdings ever known to human kind, and decades of groundwork laid by the same powerful interests under different names, has built a fervent "populist" constituency that organizes itself without needing much direction.
Coffee Party USA is the anomaly, or, rather, a harbinger of an emerging era. Our leaders have never included Washington insiders and oil barons. All of our funding has come in the form of small donations. The most recognizable faces in Coffee Party are habitual volunteers who have never been paid for any political work or activity. Two assets made Coffee Party possible: (a) social media tools, and (b) authenticity.
Social media tools are the delivery system, but it was the authenticity of Annabel Park's voice, her story, her poise, and her vision that appeals to people — it is the authentic interactions that ordinary Americans have had with Annabel, and with one another, that have fueled the Coffee Party.
We need to figure out how to replicate this phenomenon — the viral growth of authentic connections between people, geared toward impact and action — so that there are hundreds of sources, thousands of initiatives, and millions of participants.
The Republican party seems to have two strategies that are incompatible. One approach is to rebrand themselves as an inclusive, forward-looking party and broaden their appeal. The other approach is to abuse power where they still have it, and prevent people of color from voting. The former approach cannot tolerate the latter because voter suppression (in addition to being immoral) narrows Republican appeal in mainstream America. The latter approach cannot include the former for the same reason.
Cue the Virginia General Assembly, which has passed a Voter ID bill that would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of American citizens.
Gov. McDonnell showed leadership a year ago when a similar bill was passed. He made sure that those who did not have state-issued IDs could show proof of residence such as a cable bill. But the electoral result in 2012 was unsatisfactory to the authors of the original law, so, by a party-line vote, Virginia Republicans have passed a new law banning the good-faith efforts made by the governor and others a year ago. This law is clearly aimed at limited the participation of certain communities in Virginia's elections. Targeted in particular: people of color, students, the poor, and the elderly.
Or if you would prefer to use Gov. McDonnell's contact page,CLICK HERE.
Republicans like McDonnell, who plan to run for office, and others, including me, who want the Grand Old Party to appeal to mainstream America again have an interest in seeing the tactics of the Old South stay in the history books where they belong. This is why McDonnell stood in the way a year ago. But now he is under tremendous pressure from extremists and partisans in his party to use his pen to institutionalize voter suppression in this the year that voters go to the polls to choose his successor.
Please write to Gov. McDonnell to ask him to veto Senate Bill 719 and House Bill 1337. And remind him that the longer that tactics like these are employed, the more people like Augustine Carter of Richmond, Virginia will surface to tell their stories:
On Monday, February 11th at 10AM at the National Press Club in Washington DC,Move to Amend will join members of Congress as they introduce Move to Amend’s “We the People Amendment”, an amendment that clearly and unequivocally states that:
1) Rights recognized under the Constitution belong to human beings only, and not to government-created artificial legal entities such as corporations and limited liability companies; and
2) Political campaign spending is not a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.
The “We the People Amendment” is being introduced by Representative Rick Nolan (DFL-Minnesota) and Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin).
How much different was our politics the day before Citizen’s United and the day after? How different would the outcome of the 2012 elections be absent Citizen’s United? It would not be very different.
There are two reasons this is likely the case. The first is that each side uses the same rules to maximize their political dollars and diverging interests are currently relatively equal. The second is that there is a point of diminishing returns. After TV, Radio, print, and online ads are saturated in a relatively balanced manner from both sides, they become simply fog to the average American citizen, and no longer has influence. At that point ideology is the driving factor. For several elections, this country has been voting as a center left country and it continues to vote that way.
What is the concern then? The concern is the same; the corrosive effect money has on our politics. Favors are owed to those big donors on both sides of the aisle. Moreover, big donors usually find a way to have their foot in every door and as such donate to each side.
The Citizens United case in effect equates money and speech. Since we have freedom of speech, it effectively removed the government’s authority to regulate unlimited political contributions.
There is only one solution to this corruption, a constitutional amendment that specifically decouples money from speech and removes corporate personhood. This will ensure that while free speech is maintained, the use of money in politics can be regulated. Moreover it will remove the ability of corporate entities of any kind (corporations, non-profits, unions, etc.) from claiming free speech rights and other rights of living breathing human beings.
Many organizations are already working on constitutional amendments purported to solve the problem. Most solely concentrate on the overturning of "Citizens United" or codifying that money is not speech. Again the question must be asked, what is the difference pre and post Citizens United. The organization Move to Amend (http://movetoamend.org) is the only one currently working on an all-encompassing amendment that will solve the corruption, once and for all as it covers both the decoupling of money and speech, as well as removing corporate personhood.
Move to Amend, by means of its over 160 affiliates have already gotten resolutions passed at the city, county, and state levels. Following the grassroots method of building awareness through the resolution process is likely the most effective way of generating popular support for real change in our electoral and political process.
This is how the process of real change begins. It is the engagement of the grassroots and electoral politics.
Eric Byler and I have set up a series of Virtual Townhalls on Coffee Party Radio, each designed to hear from you. Our latest was about immigration reform. In his recent blog, Eric Byler began the conversation by explaining some of the reasons why there is broad consensus that immigration reform would be a huge boost to our national economy.
What could be more important that boosting the economy? We heard some interesting arguments during our town hall, mostly centered around the notion that undocumented immigrants have committed a crime, and for every crime there must be a punishment.
As many of you know, Eric and I co-directed 9500 Liberty, a critically acclaimed documentary about the politics of immigration policy which followed what happened in Prince William County, Virginia when the county government passed a SB1070-type law 3 years before Arizona. You can watch the film for free here.
Until recent weeks, the focus on changes to immigration laws had been at the local and state level with the introduction of Arizona's SB1070-type restrictionist laws. Now, there is real hope that Congress will pass immigration reform.
Immigrants are already integrated into our economy. As Eric said at the end of our virtual townhall, when the basis for a policy argument comes from resentment toward a part of the whole, the damaged caused by the policy might spread beyond the targeted group. This was the lesson we learned from9500 Liberty. Has America learned its lesson as well?
This story is about people who spend a lot more than 5 minutes being involved as citizens. And their actions will impact everyone. I thank them for their dedication and service to me. To us all. Specifically today, I'm thanking Tangerine Bolen and Dan Johnson, whom I interviewed on LUNCH WITH LOUDEN a few weeks ago.
NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, funds the military. In this long, arduous bill are some additions that fundamentally challenge our freedom in the name of "safety." Among them, our right to face our accuser and speedy trial. Folded into the two most recent versions of the NDAA are provisions for the government to arrest and detain, on suspicion alone, ANYONE who they deem a threat to the United States.
That could be me. Or you. Or any number of activists and protestors who are seeking a "righting of the ship" as we sway towards totalitarianism. Our Constitutional protection against unlawful search and seizure, to a speedy and fair trial of our peers is countermanded by NDAA. And it must be stopped.
Tangerine Bolen is a co-plaintiff in Hedges v. Obama, the court case making its way through the system, headed to the Supreme Court, challenging the NDAA provision of unlawful detention case. Tangerine is my hero. Through RevolutionTruth, she works daily to support democracy around the world.
Dan Johnson is a 19-year-old political science major and now political activist. Upon learning about NDAA, Dan started People Against National Defense Act or PANDA. Dan works at the state level to pass legislation that supports our constitutional rights and weakens the NDAA. Dan is another hero of mine for jumping in to politics early and caring so much.
We all lead busy lives. Please take a look at their websites and see how you can support the cause to protect our rights. Thanks.
Tangerine Bolen, founder of whistle-blower support organization Revolution Truth and another lead plaintiff in the suit, said Wednesday that the government was being “disingenuous” with its “conflation of the powers of indefinite detention given under AUMF and the NDAA.” She echoed a concern highlighted by Hedges last year: that the introduction of provision 1021(b)(2) in 2012 could be an attempt by the government to retroactively legalize the fact that the government has been overly broadly using indefinite detention powers outlined in AUMF — or at least that is the hypothesis of the plaintiffs. As Hedges responded during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session last year commenting on Obama’s swiftness in staying Judge Forrest’s injunction:
Since they [the Obama administration] were so aggressive it means that once Judge Forrest declared the law invalid, if they were using it, as we expect, they could be held in contempt of court. This was quite disturbing, for it means, I suspect, that U.S. citizens, probably dual nationals, are being held in military detention facilities almost certainly overseas and maybe at home.
Karl Rove has a new Super-PAC designed to give wealthy donors more say in GOP primary races. The Tea Party and others in the Republican party are angry about it.
Michael Charney, my usual co-host on The Middle Ground, was not able to join me for Tuesday's show, but this is what he had to say about Rove's new initiative:
Can I sit back and justify—somehow—the use of money in politics in this way?
No. I can’t.
It’s not just because I’m less than enamored with Rove (and have an admitted difficulty in trusting his motives). And it’s also not because I believe the tea party implosion is already well underway and will likely continue with or without Rove’s machinations. It’s because there are a few underlying, fundamental political principles that I hold dear, ones that, in my mind, supersede any partisan arguments, any “okay, but” justifications. Of these, the most important to me is the concept that each vote is worth the same as any other vote and that the use of money—big money—to sway opinion is always wrong—regardless of my feelings about the real or potential outcomes.
The bottom line for me is that there must be a free marketplace for ideas; the country I want to live in is one where people can weigh such ideas without undue influence, reach their own conclusions and, hopefully, better all of us. I’m personally confident that the destructive ideas of the far right are no more than a temporary aberration, a pendulum swung too far but now, thankfully, settling. I don’t believe we need Karl Rove—or any SuperPAC with an agenda—grabbing that pendulum and forcing it into a position desired by those with money. Instead, letus choose where it rests. It is, after all, our pendulum in the first place.
Well said, Michael. I am torn on this one. CLICK HERE to listen to my devil's advocate reply. On last night's show, I revealed myself to be somewhat encouraged by this development, because it might result in better outcomes for the American people, and a better relationship between the People and our government. Our country does need more moderate candidates to emerge from the GOP primaries. A Super-PAC could tip the scale. With a more moderate GOP, perhaps the partisanship and obstructionism in Washington would be less debilitating.
One of our regular callers, Neal from Ft. Lauderdale, was more concerned about gerrymandering, and tinkering with the electoral college. I referred to this video from the new film project with Annabel Park in response to his call. In it, you see an 85-year-old woman dealing with the other Republican option — voter suppression.
They'll be spending that money anyway — at least until we succeed in overturning Citizens United and passing other campaign finance and disclosure laws — isn't it better that they spend it to prod Republican media consumers to integrate themselves into 21st century America, rather than push them to the verge of insanity with fact-free propaganda?
As much as I am against the corrupting influence of money in politics, I prefer that the GOP use its money to try to pursued Republican hardliners to vote for more mainstream candidates, rather than using their positions as elected representative of the People to try to abridge our Constitutional right to cast a ballot on election day.
The U.S. Economy shrank for the first time since 2009. There are many technical reasons beyond the scope of this post why the 0.1% drop is not as bad as it may initially seem. That said, this could be a mini-preview of the upcoming cliff. Sequestration, the severe and draconian cuts to both social programs and defense would make the United States, Europe on steroids as our downturn could trigger cataclysmic world financial events only surpassed by that which was inflicted by the doings of the titans of finance, during our most recent financial crisis in 2008. If massive cuts to education, public safety, and high-tech research that occurs automatically under the sequester go into effect then the real cliff is a certainty.
After already forcing trillions in cuts, causing layoffs, and strangling our economic growth, Republicans in Congress want to force European-style austerity on America -- inviting another recession. Cutting investments in our home front takes work away from companies that do business with our government and money out of the pockets of regular people who keep our stores thriving and hiring. We should cut waste, not jobs. Cut what we don't need like corporate tax loopholes, Pentagon pork, and Big Oil subsidies -- instead of dragging down our economy by cutting the things we do need.
Given that money borrowed under current rates are minimal, now is the time to start massive infrastructure rebuilding which will restart our economy, increase the tax base, and move the country towards the future. America use to be the bastion of modernity. America was the place where its vast technology benefitted the middle class. Why then are foreign cities like Shanghai where one goes to see technological prowess in action?
It is time that America gets a peace dividend. Even disparate defense think tanks, some conservative thinkers, and some Republicans in Congress reached common ground on defense cuts. The process of reducing the military budget needs to happen in a responsible way that supports affected families and communities. There's no shortage of valuable work that our country needs done -- from repairing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools, to spurring high-tech work like designing and building a smart grid and renewable energy technology. As such, investments in transitioning the workforce to a domestic modal is essential.
Instead of reshaping the Pentagon to fight 21st century threats, Republicans in Congress are insistent on protecting million dollar CEO salaries and millionaire tax loopholes. At the same time they are pushing for draconian cuts in our home front by laying-off more Americans dollar-for-dollar than on Pentagon projects.