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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

www.NationalView.org's Note From a Madman

July 9, 2008


The G-8 is Not So Gr-8

When the year 2049 comes, the world community will be in for one heckofa cram session. That's because the G-8 (Group of Eight) industrial nations met this week to set a goal of 2050 to halve the world's carbon emissions.

I'm telling you, there's going to be a lot of work to do in 2049, I hope that, at the age of 80 years, I'll be able to do my part. The whole world will be cramming for this exam.

"This global challenge can only be met by a global response, in particular, by the contributions from all major economies,"
-The G-8 from a statement

In a time when crude oil is being auctioned off like water in a desert; and in a time when more and more nations are driving more and more cars and are using more and more gasoline, just how can anyone take what these nations' leaders take seriously?

Leading the "we-can't-take-anything-he-says-seriously-about-the-environment" fan club is President Bush and his Administration of Diminished Responsibility. You might remember President Bush as the only world leader to say "No" to the original Kyoto Protocol which set real goals for the immediate future when it was signed by everybody else. Let's face it, any global climate change forum without the cooperation of the United States will result in almost no change at all. Our carbon footprint is the largest in the world, regardless of population.

With Orwellian-named programs such as "The Clean Water Act" and "The Clear Skies Initiative" whose enactments did nothing to stem the tide of global warming and climate change, the Bushies have offered only their brand of rhetoric with no muscle (plus a bunch of photo-ops) when it comes to the environment.

Unless, of course, you happen to be talking about the environments around Crawford, Texas or Kennebunkport, Maine, that is.

The new agreement comes without teeth (as we expected any deal the Bush administration supports regarding pollution and the future of a world he won't live in would). There are no timetables, nor are there any real goals for each individual nation to meet.

"To be meaningful and credible, a long term goal must have a base year, it must be underpinned by ambitious midterm targets and actions. As it is expressed in the G8 statement, the long term goal is an empty slogan."
-Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism

And that's just how the G-8 industrialized nations, and President Bush want it.

Some of you might remember that it was President Bush and his "compassionate conservatives" who put up for auction the "right to pollute" our air and water, allowing Global Corporation "A" to sell their polluter's rights to Global Corporation "B".

And, somehow this group is going to save our future and our environment?

I'm skeptical.

As the rest of world joins our "addiction for oil" with car sales in places like China increasing every month; and as we search for new oil rather than invest in emerging technologies and alternative fuels, we are on a road to make things worse, not better.

In other words, we're going to cure our "addiction" and "fix" the global climate change issue by increasing the drug source.


With global population growth being what it is, and with each and every one of these "new people" coming on board with their own carbon footprint, one has to wonder just what "halving" carbon emissions really means. But a goal is a goal, even if it doesn't have any teeth.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal Register Newspapers, Inc.

July 4, 2008 seemed quiet in that birthplace of American liberty, Philadelphia. Perhaps it was the rain after weeks of no rain. Or the heat and humidity. Or perhaps it was that people just didn’t feel as celebratory as usual, with gas prices double what they were a year ago and food prices up 25 percent from January.

It could have been that Philadelphians were also thinking about the men and women lost to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or the ones still fighting.

It could also have been that what had seemed like the most exciting election in many years has turned into more of the same: Two candidates who campaigned on change in the primary are now embracing the status quo daily. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have been outdoing each other trying to equate patriotism with guns and warmongering, with a little bit of faith-based pandering tossed in for good measure.

The Founding Fathers would be ashamed of them both. That is not what they had in mind, 232 summers ago in Philadelphia.

I acknowledge being more disappointed in Obama than I am in McCain. After all, McCain is a Republican and Republicans are the party of guns and war with a little faith-based pandering tossed in to ease the pain of all the killing. It doesn’t surprise me that McCain is still for guns and war, although he doesn’t mention faith nearly as often as Obama, who seems obsessed with the topic.

But wasn’t Obama the guy who kept saying he was a different kind of politician?

Not this week. Nor last. Nor the week before. In three weeks time he’s come out for illegal wiretapping of American citizens (FISA) and for sending more troops to the unwinnable war in Afghanistan. He said he has to re-think his position on Iraq, said he might have been wrong about being so hard on NAFTA after all, said the U.S. Supreme Court was right to overturn the hand-gun ban and wrong to limit the death penalty to just murderers. And then, just for good measure, he said he’d *expand* President Bush’s failed faith-based charities idea *and* allow federally-funded faith-based charities to hire and fire on the basis of religion. Plus, he’s decided that mental illness is not an acceptable reason for a woman to have an abortion. Apparently suicide is better.

In short, he’s reversed himself on all the major issues he ran on in the primary, except taxes.

All of which made me think about the hot July 232 years ago when a bunch of smart guys–much smarter than either Obama or McCain, smart as they both are–sat around and tried to find ways to maintain their own political integrity while also finding a way to safeguard the country from politicians like Obama and McCain forever.

Founding a nation and crafting a Constitution is a tall order. They haven’t had much success with it in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But it did happen here. And despite the efforts of the current president to gut that Constitution and suspend the rights of the citizenry, the fact is, we are still the most solid democracy in the world.

That does not mean we should all act like everything’s fine in America. Everything is not fine. The fact that Obama and McCain, who both claim to be running against the track record of President Bush, are now in agreement with one of the most egregious Constitution-gutting elements of Bush’s presidency–FISA–is a cause for real concern.

The fact that the two political parties we have seem more and more interchangeable is also a cause for concern.

But is the country about to implode? Is our democracy on the ropes? Is it, as one hysterical acquaintance of mine said last week when referring to Obama’s support of FISA, “The end of America”?

Not by a long shot.

Americans have little knowledge or sense of history–their own or anyone else’s. It’s one of our worst flaws, because it leads us to repeat the same mistakes again and again. It also leads us to make hyperbolic statements like the one above.

FISA is bad. Really bad. That both candidates for president, all the Republicans and a fair number of the Democrats support it is even worse. The Founding Fathers didn’t anticipate telephones and email, but they surely didn’t want the government spying on the citizenry.

But bad as FISA is, it’s still not the end of our democracy.

Historical context is important. America has seen far darker days–as difficult as this may be to believe–than the era of the Bush presidency. No one can rationally dispute that George W. Bush will go down as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. But it’s been worse.

As hard as Bush tried to shred the Constitution, he didn’t succeed. He’s failed at everything, even his attempts to destroy the country.

That’s the good news. Our nation is tough enough and resilient enough to withstand Bush. Our Constitution and the system of checks and balances so painstakingly put in place by our Founding Fathers in this very city 232 years ago was so formidable, that even the evil genius of Dick Cheney and the arrogant stupidity of George Bush have not been able to ruin the Republic.

The bad news is, under the Bush Administration, dissent has become synonymous with being unpatriotic. Worse news is that politicians fear being called unpatriotic more than anything.

But here’s more good news: Dissent *is* patriotic. In fact it’s so patriotic that it was the predicate upon which the Founding Fathers built the Constitution.
The Constitution, like the Declaration of Independence, is all about dissent. The Constitution is all about safeguarding the citizenry from the excesses, cynicism and power-mongering of politicians.
It’s easy in rocky economic times and war time to be cynical. With a president who seems incapable of doing anything right and who seems unable or unwilling to care for the citizens of America, it’s easy to believe that all is lost, that the Republic is foundering.

But it isn’t. Look at Zimbabwe. Reformer and opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai claimed to have won the March election. But the corrupt dictatorial president of the past 28 years, Robert Mugabe, who has wrecked the country and instigated a reign of terror over Zimbabweans, asserted that the election was in fact too close to call and demanded a run-off election.

Then he had the Tsvangirai arrested, and had his top men tortured or killed. Opposition supporters–and their children–were tortured and murdered. The election was held June 29th and Mugabe won–because Tsvangirai, fearing for his own life and those of his followers, withdrew from the election and urged his supporters not to risk their lives to vote for him. Tsvangirai said he knew what was in their hearts, but that he could not have their blood on his hands.

In January, violence erupted in Kenya after a similar problem with the elections there. Thousands were killed.

In Egypt, in November 2007, secret police rounded up the spouses and children of several groups plotting against the government and tortured them. Egypt is a one-party state.

In May, former Russian President Vladimir Putin hand-picked his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who then appointed Putin Prime Minister. (Putin was ineligible for a third term as president.) Under Putin’s “democracy,” dissent was quashed. Journalists are murdered regularly in Russia, particularly those who question the government.

Last month, China’s government threatened parents of children killed in the massive May earthquake. Parents–most of whom lost their only child–had complained that schools their children attended had not been built to code and that the buildings collapsed because of this failure.

In other countries claiming to be democracies, dissent will kill you. Not here. So why is everyone so afraid of it?

I’ve spent much of my life dissenting. Maybe it’s because I was born in the birthplace of American dissent. My grandfather would take me to Independence Hall as a child and tell me stories about the men who crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and imbued in me a sense of the importance of maintaining what they had done. One of the first books he gave me was a reprint of Thomas Paine’s *Common Sense,* a defining tome of early America, an essay, essentially, on the importance of dissent.

In the days leading up to July 4th, there was a lot of talk about patriotism and how important it is. I consider myself intensely patriotic. I love America. I’ve lived other places and I know this one is best for me as a woman, a writer, a leftist and a dissenter.

I’d like it to stay that way. I’d like Americans to begin to demand dissent from their political leaders, not rote politics.

This is a great nation–we had a rough primary but there was no rioting, no bloodshed. In 2000, we didn’t have a final decision in the presidential election for weeks, yet again–no rioting, no bloodshed. In fact, the transfer of power happens incredibly smoothly here, one more testament to the strength of our Republic.

The men who sweated through that July in Philadelphia were trying to build something different, unique, better. They were smart enough and dedicated enough to figure it out. And 232 years later, our Republic has withstood a revolution, slavery, a Civil War, a Great Depression, other wars, several assassinations, civil rights changes for African Americans and women, George Bush and Dick Cheney and it has survived.

It survived because of the dissenters, not because of the followers.

Next July 4th, we’ll have a different President. Either of the two men currently running would be better than the current president, yet that says little. Both those men–Obama, who asserts he is the candidate of change, and McCain, known as a maverick–have spent the past month avoiding all hint of dissent. They have embraced everything *but* change or maverick ideas.

I don’t want status quo government. I want the questioning and the dissent that founded this nation. I want the Constitution intact as the living, breathing document it was meant to be. I want Independence Day to mean something real. I want us to live up to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

As I watched the fireworks on July 4th, I thought about what it meant to be here, in Philadelphia, the birthplace of all those ideas that are still stunningly good and vitally important. I thought about how much I want to see a president who believes in something yesterday, today and tomorrow, without concern for polls or focus groups or voting blocks.

I want leaders to dissent, to break free of centrism and safe politics and take on the hard issues and fight for the citizenry the way the Founding Fathers fought for us. I want us to be grateful that this isn’t a failed democracy like Zimbabwe or Kenya or Egypt or Russia and to show our gratitude with dissent. If we are patriots–whether it’s you or me or Obama or McCain–we all have the same duty: to make America better for the entire citizenry. That’s what our Constitution demands. And that’s what we need to demand of our leaders. Our Republic deserves nothing less.

In response to the Iraqi government's statement, "We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq," Robert Scardapane writes:

Madman, how many different ways do the Iraqi people have to tell the NeoCons to get out of their country? In an April 24, 2007 interview with Charlie Rose, Chimpy McFlightsuit (Bush that is) said he would remove troops if asked by Iraq but he predicted that Maliki would not ask. Hey Chimpy, once again Maliki asked for a withdrawal timetable. What doesn't Chimpy and the elder Chimp McCain, Mr. 100 year Iraq occupation, not understand?


And in response to McCain's economic team, Joy Matkowski writes:

Don’t forget Meg Whitman! Look how eBay’s done under her tenure, both the sunken stock and the fortunes of eBay sellers! Long-time Republican eBay sellers vow to vote against any campaign she advises.

Blogs for sellers such as http://blog.auctionbytes.com/cgi-bin/blog/blog.pl often elicit pitiful tales, vituperation, and more.

On Barack Obama's possible move to the center, Kelly Taylor writes:

I agree with Victoria Brownsworth. What the HELL is up with Barack Obama?? I'm utterly astonished and fearful! Democrats.com (which has a huge national following) has come up with a very compelling way to ensure that Obama lives up to his promise to deliver "change we can believe it." Many are signing on to hold contributions for Obama in escrow until he comes to his senses! See link: http://www.democrats.com/obama-escrow-fund Come on people - make NOISE, don't bury your head in the sand. There is something very wrong here!

What kind of noise should those who do believe with Senator Obama's move to the center do? -NG

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-Noah Greenberg