Bush’s ‘Policy Shift’ in Afghanistan: Domination, “Relevance”, and Re-Election

Published on commondreams.org, October 14, 2003

A UN Security Council delegation is visiting Afghanistan from now until 8 November, reportedly to decide on the proposed expansion of the International Security Assistance Force from the capital Kabul to the rest of the country. A NATO agreement to expand the force is part of an effort by the US and European powers to enhance their image internationally. On the NATO side, the operation is seen as a way to give the organization a reason to exist; on the US side, it enhances its power in Central Asia at the expense of the United Nations. When ISAF was a UN operation, Russia and China, NATO’s major competitors, as well as other non-NATO countries, had influence in Afghanistan. Now a non-Russian and Chinese force controlled by the US and Europe is taking over a country in the backyard of Russia and China.

NATO officials say the expansion of the ISAF will bring more “relevance” to the organization. From the point of view of the US leadership, NATO being more relevant means it works more in conjunction with US goals. From the point of view of some European leaders, there may be the wistful desire to regain lost imperial glory. In any case, the significance of expanding NATO to Asia is not lost on the regional non-NATO powers Russia, China, India, and Iran.

For Afghans, any form of ISAF expansion is certainly better than leaving things the way they are, but most aid agencies agree that it is too little, too late. The situation in the countryside has been allowed to worsen for the past year and a half. The aid agency CARE just released a study showing that since September 2002, armed attacks against the assistance community have gone from 1 a month to 1 every 2 days. The expanded ISAF is expected to look a lot like the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) that the US, Britain, New Zealand, and now Germany, have been operating. These are not positioned to enhance security, rather they provide services that NGOs are already providing. It’s been admitted that the ultimate goal of PRTs is to improve the Afghan people’s opinion of the central government, and by extension the US campaign in Afghanistan.

This is linked to the Bush administration’s stated “policy shift” towards both Iraq and Afghanistan. The goals are short term and intended to benefit the administration more than the people of either Iraq or Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the concrete goal is to get Hamid Karzai elected next June in the first public elections in the history of the country. Finally, the Bush administration knows that its own chances of election next November depend critically on the US public perception of Bush’s handling of the “War on Terrorism” in Afghanistan and the search for “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. Recent opinion polls clearly show that for the first time since September 11 2001 more people are critical than not of Bush’s approach to international issues.

The same is true of Afghans: frequent protests in Kabul against the US presence, although rarely covered in the US press, show the Afghan people becoming more and more critical of what is increasingly seen as an American occupation of their own country. One villager told Reuters about the behavior of US troops: “On the slightest suspicion they arrest us and treat us like animals. Their treatment is so inhuman that sometimes we even think of joining the jihad of the Taliban against them.” Many Afghans consider the US occupation of Iraq to be equivalent to what has happened to their country. US puppet Karzai “supported the operation in Iraq because we want exactly the same thing for the Iraqi people,” but this view is probably not shared by most Afghans. The Revolutionary Association of the women of Afghanistan (RAWA) held a demonstration last February in Islamabad, Pakistan against the impending invasion of Iraq. Their statement released at the time clearly drew the connections between the US operations in both countries. On the other end of the political spectrum, Taliban and other militant groups are tapping into the anger and desperation felt by Afghans against the imperial behavior of the US and the awareness that the same is going on in Iraq. The result is an upsurge of violence: CARE reports that from June to August 2002 there were twice as many armed attacks outside Kabul as inside the city; from June to August 2003, the ratio was 7 to 1.

The US State Department’s propaganda engine has been working in overdrive to save us from such shocking statistics. From January to July of his year, the DOS has released 12 fact sheets describing the government’s generosity and “successes” in Afghanistan. (The same period in 2002 yielded only 4 such documents.) The DOS often boasts that the US is the “largest single donor” to Afghanistan, but they ignore the fact that the US is the richest country in the world. As a percentage of GDP, US humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan is less generous than that of seven other countries.

The US does spend a lot more than anybody else on military operations in Afghanistan. In the current proposed $12.2 billion “aid” package (part of the $87 billion Iraq/Afghanistan package), 90% is intended for the US military. Even the $1.2 billion “reconstruction” portion of the Afghan aid has $400 million, or 30% going to supporting the Afghan National Army and the national police. In other words, the goal of the aid is to enhance the military bargaining power of president Karzai with respect to the warlords (most of whom have also received support from the US), and improve his chances of election in June. The rest of the money is an attempt to accelerate real reconstruction in select areas, again to improve Karzai’s chances of election. It is important for the Bush administration to have the Afghan people ratify Karzai’s presidency and the continued presence of the US in their country.

James Ingalls (ingalls@ipac.caltech.edu) is a founding director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a nonprofit organization that works in solidarity with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. He is also a Staff Scientist at the California Institute of Technology.

Dirty Recall Games: Schwarzenegger and the Media

Published on commondreams.org, September 30, 2003

The latest CNN/USA Today poll in the California Recall Election betrays a dangerous trend: a large majority of Californians now polled think that the recall is a good idea — 63% compared with 59% three weeks ago. So now the candidates running to replace Gray Davis really do matter– not all 135 of the registered candidates whose number seems to be the object of much amusement across the nation — but the top candidates, one of who will most likely be our new governor. This means either Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, or actor and body builder, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger scored the highest in this latest poll which is the second most disturbing aspect of the poll. His popularity is now at 40%, compared to Bustamante’s 25%, a drastic turnaround compared to 25/30 three weeks ago. Not withstanding the sheer power of popular culture to catapult any celebrity onto the political stage, Mr. Schwarzenegger has played a very dirty game, and those who have bent rules to help him, are equally culpable.

The 1934 Communications Act has an Equal Time provision which asserts that any media program, barring purely news programs, cannot provide an unfair share of broadcast time to any single candidate in an election without making available equal time to all other candidates within 7 days of the original broadcast date. To date, Schwarzenegger’s friends in the media have bent over backwards and widely featured him in apparent violations of the Equal time rule. Clearly these media spotlights are much more beneficial to a candidate who has little to say and refuses to debate other candidates unless given the questions beforehand. But if you look closely, it is not simply Howard Stern, Jay Leno, Oprah Winfrey and Larry King who have bent the rules of fair game, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) itself. In a September 9th ruling, the FCC decided that the Howard Stern show was a “bonafide news interview program and therefore exempt…[D]ecisions on format, content, and participants are based on newsworthiness.” It is difficult to see how a show that features banana sucking contests and dates with porn stars as prizes qualifies as news. The FCC justified this by saying that “guests that happen to be political candidates are not selected to advance their candidacies.” It is comforting that the FCC, charged with overseeing our airwaves, places such deep trust in the agendas of Stern, Winfrey and other tabloid talk show hosts.

The Equal Time provision that required Schwarzenegger’s movies to be barred from network TV in the run up to the election has done little to prevent his star power from grabbing Californians’ votes through the idiot box. Cable stations, which are exempt from the Equal Time rule, have routinely run the Terminator movies in anticipation of the elections – only two channels, the Sci-fi and FX channels have chosen voluntarily not to air Schwarzenegger’s films. “People will go on seeing his movie on cable channels anyway,” said Martin Kaplan, professor of communications at the University of Southern California. “In any case he gets so much attention from the media that he is still the person most in voters’ faces” (AFP, 08/14). Schwarzenegger didn’t have to bankrupt his campaign in order to buy publicity – the media are providing it for free.

Even with the free ride from major media and the FCC, the Schwarzenegger “Total Recall” campaign is about 2 million dollars in debt. “Total Recall” is outspending all other candidates’ campaigns on paid advertisements on the airwaves, and incurring the largest debt of any of the candidates. With his rhetoric of cutting spending while keeping taxes down in an already bankrupt state, Schwarzenegger has promised that his business acumen is just what California needs. In a post election California, one hopes that quality schools, hospitals, jobs and elder care are at least as important to Mr. Schwarzenegger as winning an election.

This essay is not about Arnold’s accent, or his physical appearance, or even his extra-marital affairs. Recent comments from the left or Democratic Party on such issues are spiteful personal attacks that have little to do with Schwarzenegger’s fitness for office. His past life is relevant only in as much as it reflects his attitudes toward women and people of color. Schwarzenegger’s notorious bragging of sexual and otherwise degrading assaults on women have clearly struck a deep chord in women who have largely rejected this candidate. His persistent use of the “n” word, now publicized by two black fellow body builders, far overshadow the Lieutenant Governor’s similar mishap. His assertion that he is a poster child for immigrants, while opposing drivers’ licenses for undocumented workers and supporting the racist Proposition 187, speaks volumes about the race and class privilege he will undoubtedly preserve if he wins.

Having a pro-choice, pro-gun control position, Schwarzenegger is an anathema to the traditional conservative Republican, and yet most Republicans back him, not necessarily because he has specific ideas on how to run the fifth largest economy in the world, but because “he can win”. Mr. Schwarzenegger imagines that talking down to the public through clichés based on his movies will be enough to sell his qualifications. This is what he has to say when he is not engaging in Terminator-speak:

“The mass [sic] wants to hear one thing and wants to see one thing: Do I trust this guy? Does he have answers? How does he handle himself with the media? How does he handle himself out there? And this is someone that I can rally behind him and say, yes I want to go with this guy, he’s bringing me hope. And that’s what I want to bring to the table here, not the details. … ” (AP, 09/04).

Schwarzenegger has certainly figured out how to “handle himself with the media”. State-wide and national media have done little to challenge this type of condescending and self-serving rhetoric, choosing instead to hold Schwarzenegger’s hand all the way into Sacramento.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and producer of KPFK Radio’s ‘Uprising’, a daily drive-time morning public affairs program in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. KPFK is part of the Pacifica Radio Network. Sonali is also the co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a non-profit that works in solidarity with Afghan women.

A Green Party Unlike Others

Invited Talk at Green Party of Orange County event, GEM Theater in Garden Grove – September 2002

I’d like to start with a subversive thought – a quote from a Jello Biafra poem entitled, “I Blow Minds for a Living”. He said:

How many out there think this country is a Democracy? Or is it more of a one party state masquerading as a two party state? The Democrats are on the inside what the Republicans are on the outside. Each having almost identical financial backers. . . Did you vote for the Pentagon? (NO!) Did you vote for Wall Street? (NO!) Did you vote for a nuclear arms race? (NO!) Did you vote for the CIA? (NO!) Ever try reading the Bill of rights to a cop? (No, LOL.) People didn’t vote for star wars, people didn’t vote for drug wars, no one voted for acid rain, no one voted for being homeless.

I think Jello hit it on the head. We didn’t vote into place so many of the ills in today’s America.

There are two major parties, and, on the national level at least, these two parties work very well in preserving the status quo. In other countries where the Green party has a lot of power on the national level, such as in the case of Germany, they do so because of the coalition style government allowed by the state. In effect, the party, Republican or Democratic, is a coalition for the purpose of campaigning for office. With two major parties of similar views and of approximately equal strength competing for control of a government, it is possible for governmental control to alternate between the parties without shifts in policy so radical as to incite minorities to resistance. And we see that to be true in the US.

Well, so much of that is mirrored on the state level with the Republicans and Democrats duopolizing almost all the power in the form of state senate and assembly seats and of course, the governor’s seat. But, there is a little more promise on the state level for positive change. And so we are here today. I think it is crucial that in today’s world where in the state of California we are seeing a housing crisis, an education crisis, a state where the prison system is better funded than the school system, and where in Los Angeles, a 2 year old baby has breathed more carcinogens than the threshold for an entire lifetime because of a smog filled atmosphere resulting from a car-centric corporatized society, it is crucial that we provide some good alternatives than what those in power provide.

That is why the Green Party is so crucial today. A real viable alternative, on a practical level alone, makes enormous amounts of good sense and provides the institutional basis for a progressive agenda. The huge apathy on a local and national level when it comes to voting is based necessarily on the belief that we have no power to change anything. I think one of the greatest challenges to the Green Party and any other third party, is how to reach out to those most affected by the abuses of power by the two major parties. That includes youth, people of color, low-income folks, etc. How will they be engaged in a process to build the Green Party and represent their communities, while balancing their lives, working from day to day. So many people who are marginalized today work two jobs, and have little or no time to spend on building a movement based party. How will those people be engaged in this process? In other words, how do you convince enough people to put faith in a process that will truly work only when enough people put faith in that process?

But of course, the true power of a third party can be manifested well before winning elections. The Green Party must be a tool for movement building, rather than simply building power.

What do I mean by movement building? I mean that foundation of ideology that is perpetuated, that multiples and diversifies and upholds values common to us. A movement based on progressive values that continually builds between elections, and not just before elections. There has to be a serious movement upholding the ideology behind the Green Party or else it will simply mimic the major parties.

What does it take for a gubernatorial candidate in California to actually win a seat? Some would argue the same as it does for a presidential candidate to become president – money, money and more money. The more money the more power. According to state records, since 1998, Gray Davis has taken in $550,000 from Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric — that’s his share of the $7 million the state’s top utility companies have doled out to politicians from both parties during that time. Of course, Davis’ spokesman said “There is no connection between contributions and policy.” Right.

Ariana Huffington in an article about the power of influence of big money over Davis’s campaign said, “.. the governor’s office proudly announced that Davis had turned down an offer by a group of independent energy producers to hold a fund-raiser for him last month. Putting aside the ludicrousness of painting the rejection of a fund-raising opportunity as an act of great strength and moral leadership, why would Davis stop accepting utility contributions if, as he claims, there’s “no connection between contributions and policy”? And if he wants credit for turning the money down when the lights — at least the media ones — are on, why won’t he accept the implications of taking the money when they were off?” Good question. In fact as of mid-February Davis had already raised $29 million. Raising money is obviously his strength. So, should third parties such as the Greens simply join in the game, or work to change the rules? If Gray Davis’s track record is any indication, I think the answer is obvious.

When we critique our own institutions, marginalized as they may be at the moment, we emerge all the stronger. Hence, I ask those of you gathered here to reflect upon the question, what should the green party be doing to ensure it doesn’t reproduce the same power structures that the democrats and republicans have now, once it gets into power? This is a legitimate question to ask. Just look at the country where the Greens do have some power. Germany, where the Green party supported the bombing of Afghanistan, supported the transportation of radioactive nuclear waste through residential communities, supported the latest bombing of Afghanistan in the US’s so-called war on terrorism! Enough to make a Green blush pink.

So if Peter Camejo wins this gubernatorial election, and I do hope he does, as unlikely as it may be, we need to be asking the question about what Peter and other Green candidates will do once elected. Because winning an election is just the beginning of the battle. Take this example. So California supports one of the largest defense, aerospace and technology industries in the country. The economy of California is based on an industry which fuels war and the push for war. How would the Green Party handle this aspect of running the state, if they were in power? It would mean reconciling the machine that drives this economy with the ideology of the Green Party. I don’t know the answer to this, but I think we really need to ask the question and other difficult ones like it. California has one of the largest economies in the world! And yet we have so many disempowered people. We need to contemplate these issues now, before the Green Party gets into power.

You know, I’m new at this, I don’t have the right to vote, I’m an immigrant – what they call a resident alien. So I have not paid as much attention in the past to state laws, except of course when they become very politically charged and are so egregious like some of the propositions that people get to vote on (187, 21, etc). Now that I find myself a journalist of sorts, I spend my time researching ways in which people can make a difference in a variety of ways from organizing demonstrations, to using the power of their vote. So you know I recently did a show on the large number of state bills that were on Gray Davis’s table for him to sign into law. It seemed to me to be the educational and important thing to do – educate his constituency on the bills that had passed the California Senate and Assembly and were all but law except for this one little signature. Wow – that’s a lot of power for one individual. Way too much power. And that is just one example of his power. I think that when we talk about introducing alternatives to the two parties, we need to also think about introducing alternatives to the structure of political power in order to ensure that there is no reproducing of the same corruption of power that currently exists.

To close, I want to talk a bout this play that I recently watched which is based on one of my favorite books: Animal Farm by George Orwell. You may know the story. The animals on the farm who were oppressed initiated a revolution to change their lives and professed, “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad”. Before long however, since there wasn’t any attempt to distribute the power, after the revolution, the exact same power structure was rebuilt and the animals in power began saying, “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better”. I think there is a lesson in there for all of us, no matter what struggle we are talking about. Whether it is about how to break into the two party system, whether it is about the serious labor struggles in KPFK where I work and the attempts to rebuild Pacifica, or whether we are talking about how to counter the world’s greatest superpower. Thank you very much.

The Real Constituency of Government

Published on 16th July 2000 on the D2KLA website, in preparation for the mobilization against the Democratic National Convention

Why are so many people organizing protests during the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles? Isn’t the Democratic Party supposed to be a left-wing party? Not according to columnist Jim Hightower: “Both national parties now exist as wholly-owned subsidiaries of corporate America, selling two brands of the same corporate agenda.” The major complaint shared by all the organizations involved in protesting the Democratic National Convention is that moneyed interests, not those of democracy and justice, are the prime forces to which both Democrats and Republicans succumb. This rings true when one considers the LA City Council’s stated eagerness to please “downtown merchants” when they voted to deny the Convention protesters an official permit to use Pershing Square, a public park in the middle of a business district.

Meaningful Participation, but for whom?

The Democratic Party Convention will be a tremendous boon to Los Angeles businesses. Convention organizers and city officials estimate that the Convention will bring $135 million to business. All infrastructure needs of the Convention will be served by lucrative contracts to local and other businesses. In addition, the 35,000 official Convention visitors, including 5,000 delegates and 15,000 journalists, will have to be housed, groomed, and fed, and their shopping and entertainment whims will need fulfilment. The Convention Committee is taking seriously their job of attracting first-rate contracts. A 90-page “Convention Vendor Directory” is available from the official Convention web site (http://www.dems2000.com/), which lists firms in fields ranging from construction to graphic design to security. The Committee has formed a Business Development Department, “to engage the local business community and keep it apprised of convention-related opportunities and vendor contracts.” The Committee considers itself, “committed to promoting the meaningful participation of local companies in the business opportunities to be generated by the Convention.” “Meaningful participation” by activists and labor is, however, not on the agenda.

Bailing out the Convention

Who pays for this bonanza for “downtown merchants,” which Convention organizers describe as, “giving back” to the Los Angeles community? The money for the Convention comes from a number of sources, including corporate sponsors such as AT&T, the “official web hosting and Internet services provider for the Convention.” AT&T has donated $1 million in communications equipment, services, and cash, to both the Democratic and Republican Conventions. Holly Bailey of the Center for Responsive Politics asserts that it is AT&T’s need for Congressional approval of its merger with MediaOne, rather than civic duty, that fuels this largesse. Originally, $35 million of the projected $58 million cost of the DNC was intended to be paid for by private donors. Democratic National Committee Chair Joe Andrew boasted that, “the citizens of California will get the benefit and not the burden” of having the Convention. Entertainment mogul David Geffen, insurance and construction magnate Eli Broad, and Ron Burkle, chairman of “Ralph’s” and other supermarket chains, had taken it upon themselves to raise most of the money. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican, has personally raised over $6 million for the Convention, including $1 million of his own money. But private donations still ran short of costs, even factoring in the $13 million convention subsidy from the Federal Election Commission, given to both parties, and the $10 million in transportation and police costs which Los Angeles city officials promised to donate.

On 23 June the Los Angeles City Council agreed to “bail out” the Convention Committee, approving a $4 million public subsidy. The deciding vote came from Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, “a frequent antagonist in the Council,” who agreed to the payment on three conditions: (1) that Riordan and other donors who had pledged million-dollar letters of credit to the Convention pay up, (2) that public protests be allowed in Pershing Square, and (3) that members of the Police Department meet with an ad hoc Council committee before and during the Convention, “to avoid any [police] overreaction to the protests.” After “warnings and complaints from the police and downtown merchants,” the City Council voted 12 to 1 (Goldberg was the only no vote) to nullify their decision, backtracking on allowing Pershing Square protests, as well as the $4 million gift. After heavy lobbying by Riordan, the LA City Council voted two weeks ago to reinstate $2 million to “the cash-strapped convention host committee,” and voted back the remaining $2 million, to be paid after the Convention if the budget is still in arrears. The subsidy would have been denied, were it not for the vote of Councilman Mike Feuer. He switched his vote, saying, “We have to keep our promises … Once the … convention planners for the DNC were relying on that action, I think one shouldn’t undo it … a city can’t function that way.” No comment was given on how a city can function after the Council rescinded its promise to protesters, perhaps because they cannot offer $135 million in profits to “downtown merchants.”

Labor quieted by “friends”

In siding with business, the Mayor and City Council are acceding to the same interests that caused Governor Gray Davis, Al Gore’s California campain chief, to get a court order preventing transit workers from going on strike during the Convention. The Governor reasoned that a strike would “disproportionately affect the poor,” who wouldn’t be able to get to work, but perhaps a more important consideration for politicians is that the strike would deny the LA business district $1.5 million per day in expected profits. Davis also neglected to mention that the Convention organizers were counting on a $4 million gift from the public to pay for the more than 300 buses to get the delegates to and from their hotels. It might cause an embarrassment if the bus drivers didn’t show up for work.

The injunction against a transit worker strike is one of many tactics which city and state officials are using to prevent labor unrest during the DNC. Approximately 300,000 worker contracts in the LA area are up for renewal this summer, including those of concession workers and engineers at the Staples Center arena, where the Convention will be held. Many labor unions have already announced plans to strike downtown during the DNC. In order to keep Staples Center workers from joining in, a “peace agreement” has been worked out between labor officials and Democratic Party officials. According to the New York Times, “the involvement of Staples Center workers [in strikes] would have been an embarrassment for Democrats, who consider themselves a friend of labor.” Unfortunately, Democrat Gray Davis’s obtaining a court injunction to stop transit workers from striking is not considered an “embarrasment” to his own status as a “friend of labor.”

Riordan’s warning

In a 13 July Op-Ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, Mayor Richard Riordan justifies the Council decision to deny protest permits, warning protestors not to “disrupt our city.” Citing concern for the “safety of our residents, our visitors and our businesses, as well as the reputation of our city,” the Mayor cautions, “it is important that city leaders not play into the hands of anarchists. We must not handcuff police …” An ironic metaphor, for of course it will be the police who, he tells us, will use “a strategy of restraint and containment” against demonstrators who get out of line.

Labeling as “anarchists” those demonstrators against whom “the police will have to be tough,” betrays more than a lack of understanding of political theory. It displays a lack of appreciation for the tremendous political scope of the more than 70 groups involved in the protest movement. Riordan advertises the main website for the protest organizers (http://www.d2kla.org), urging readers to observe for themselves how the “anarchists” disseminate “their methods of malice.” Has Riordan seen the website? It is doubtful, since if he did he would find that the groups endorsing the protest range from radical environmental organizations like Earth First!, to community organizations like the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, to political parties like the International Socialist Organization and the South Central Green Party. These groups are to the left of the political spectrum, to be sure, but many of them would cringe to be called “anarchist.” According to the web site, “D2K NETWORK is composed of groups and individuals working to coordinate and support events and nonviolent protests during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles,” hardly a malicious credo.

A travesty against the Constitution?

Many critics rightfully denounce the City Council’s decision to deny demonstrations in Pershing Square as a denial of First Amendment rights. But it is dangerous to imagine that at some enlightened time in US history the situation for those critical of powerful institutions and people was any different. It was not. The framers of the Constitution were themselves (white) men of privilege, who brooked little challenge to that privilege. Most were lawyers, most were wealthy and owned land, slaves, manufacturing, or shipping. Half of them had money loaned out at interest. The majority of them were well aware of the need to preserve that privilege, and tried to justify it. Alexander Hamilton, aide to George Washington and member of the Constitutional Convention, wrote:

All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and the well-born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; … [but] it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government.

During the framing of the Constitution, the fifty-five men “conducted their sessions in complete secrecy with armed sentinels posted outside convention doors,” in a manner similar to the affairs of modern global financial institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. (Indeed, many people are aware of some continuity between the DNC protesters and the groups that were so vocal in criticizing the WTO at Seattle last November, and the World Bank/IMF in Washington in April.) In the founding years of the United States, many Americans were not happy with the Constitution. Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786 was an uprising by mainly poor farmers, who resented among other things the strict property requirements for voting in the new government. After public criticism of the original Constitution, the amendments known as the Bill of Rights were passed by the first Congress.

The Bill of Rights: often ignored in practice

On paper, the Bill of Rights was an impressive document that granted unprecedented freedoms to US citizens. Unfortunately, as historian Howard Zinn writes, “What was not made clear … was the shakiness of anyone’s liberty when entrusted to a government of the rich and powerful.” In 1798, just seven years after the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, was passed, Congress passed the Sedition Act, which mandated prison for those who expressed sentiments that were “false, scandalous, and malicious against the government, Congress, or the President, with intent to defame them, bring them into disrepute, or excite popular hatreds against them.” Surely this was against the First Amendment, yet the law was passed, and enforced for two years.

Similarly, in 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act, which imposed prison sentences of up to twenty years for “Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall wilfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military,” controverting the Thirteenth Amendment, which stated that “involuntary servitude” was outlawed in the United States. When Eugene Debs, a socialist candidate for president, criticized US policy in World War I, saying, “Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder,” he was arrested for violating the Espionage Act and sentenced to ten years in prison.

In his op-ed piece, Mayor Riordan mentions Martin Luther King Jr. He cautions that like King, the DNC protesters “must be prepared to pay stiff fines and face arrest and jail,” if they engage in civil disobedience. It is understandable that Riordan might want to maintain “order” in Los Angeles, so as to please the constituency that counts. Perhaps he is just playing a role, but the protesters also have a role to play, highlighted many times by Dr. King himself. In 1963, when King was in prison in Birmingham, Alabama for participating in nonviolent civil disobedience, he wrote, “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” In practice, the Bill of Rights cannot be taken for granted; it must be fought for.

Proposition 21: Further Degrading a Flawed System

Published in the California Tech on March 3rd 2000

What is Proposition 21?

Proposition 21 is the “Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Initiative” on the ballot for California this March. This 25 page initiative details new laws that are all aimed at Californian teenagers between the ages of 14-16, specifically to allow teenagers charges with crimes to be treated as adults within the legal system. It also expands the targeting of “gangs” and increases penalties for felonies. Despite it’s “tough on crime” appeal to Californians, Proposition 21 is a dangerous initiative which would further degrade a flawed justice system.

Top 10 Reasons Why YOU Should Vote NO on Proposition 21

10. Proposition 21 could increase your taxes. The California Department of Corrections estimated that this initiative requires 22,000 new prison spaces over the next 30 years at a cost of nearly a billion dollars. The Initiative provides no resources to pay for these prisons, and the burden will ultimately be borne by taxpayers.

9. Proposition 21 has been undemocratic from its inception. This initiative has NOT been the result of grass-roots campaigning. Rather it has been bankrolled and sponsored by former Governor Pete Wilson who spent $1 million (from a remaining presidential campaign fund) on professional signature gatherers to qualify this Initiative after the state legislature rejected his initial juvenile crime package.

8. Proposition 21 pledges more jails than schools. 20 years ago California pledged to be a leader in public education but today it is ranked 41 out of 50 states in education spending. Since 1984, the state has added 21 prisons and only one university campus, and is the #1 state in prison spending in the country.

7. Proposition 21 strengthens an out-of-control incarceration rampage. In February 2000, the prison population of the United States reached 2 million (more than any country in the world). While US prisoners comprise 25% of the world’s prison population, Americans comprise only 4.5% of the world. Proposition 21 is in the spirit of California’s existing draconian Three Strikes Law which requires citizens to serve life sentences upon their third conviction, most of which are non-violent offenses, better addressed by rehabilitation.

6. Proposition 21 will strengthen the corporate-sponsored prison labor industry. In addition to state-owned enterprises, private corporations have begun taking advantage of the low-production costs of prison labor. “Currently more than 90,000 state and federal convicts work in a variety of public and private enterprises while serving time.” (Washington Times, April 96). Those private corporations include Boeing, Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, Planet Hollywood, etc,who hire a non-unionized work force for a tiny fraction of normal wages. It is no surprise then than some of the sources of funding for Proposition 21 include huge corporations like Chevron, Union Oil, TransAmerica, etc (California Online Voter Guide) in whose interests it is to expand cost-cutting prison labor by increasing the prison population.

5. Proposition 21 will destroy the lives of convicted Californian youth. If Proposition 21 passes, 14 year-olds will be tried as adults subject to the death penalty and sent to adult prisons where youth are 5 times more likely to be raped and 8 times more likely to commit suicide than adults. Proposition 21 will eradicate due process for juveniles and weaken confidentiality rules making it more difficult for reformed juveniles to acquire jobs after serving prison sentences.

4. Proposition 21 gives police more power. Proposition 21 requires youth to be tried in adult courts if the prosecutor CHARGES the youngster with certain crimes and prosecutors will rely on the police to determine those charges. Proposition 21 will extend the three-strikes law, grossly expand wiretapping rights, and allow police units such as the corruption-ridden LAPD CRASH unit to identify any group of youth from the same ethnic background and wearing similar clothing to be labeled a “gang” (This definition will not extend to mostly white college campuses such as Caltech).

3. Proposition 21 will support an already racist justice system. 2/3 of the two million imprisoned Americans are black or latino Americans who comprise less than 1/4 of the US population. If this is not enough evidence that the justice system has a racist bias, a recent Color of Justice study in California shows that after transfer to the adult system, black youth are 18.4 times more likely, Asian youth are 4.5 times more likely, and Latino youth are 7.3 times more likely than white youth to be sentenced by an adult court for similar crimes.

2. Proposition 21 just isn’t necessary. Crimes by minors in California declined 30% over the last decade and 7% in 1998 alone, while adult offenses dropped by 6% in 1998. Yet news reporting of crime stories has steadily gone up. For example, while homicides declined by 13 % between 1990 and 1995, on the network news during the same period, coverage of murders increased by 326 % (Center for Media and Public Affairs).

1. Proposition 21 is relying on Californians to blindly vote yes. The Proposition 21 initiative is one of the longest ever proposed. Its framers are confident that Californians will not read through the tedious details and will blindly vote yes. Exercise your democratic powers and send a message to the likes of ex-governor Wilson that you don’t believe in creating a future of hopelessness to California’s youth. Vote NO on Proposition 21!