To be reminded that you’re human….

May 19, 2016

Do not sigh for Lindbergh’s wonderful luck, but determine to emulate Lindy’s glorious pluck” wrote a young Lyndon Baines Johnson, passionate for what he perceived as a revived American spirit following the disaster of World War 1. In Lindbergh, Johnson saw not just the American spirit, but the human need to explore, the extraordinary feats of progress when deep ideological chains are replaced by politically ensured freedoms (advanced for the time period) combined with individual determination. 
Lindbergh’s achievement may seem so distant to those of us almost 100 years later, but that represents perhaps just two prior generations when the whole picture is examined. Indeed, my grandparents were born in that decade that saw the conquering of the Atlantic by flight, and my dad – not yet at retirement age – was born a decade before LBJ ascended to the Presidency on the death of Kennedy. In the time frame of human history, it is a click of the fingers.

Too often the religious are quick to mock the concept of human evolution from ape-like ancestors, as if it a negative. You’ll hear scorn poured on the idea that we “come from monkeys”. Ed Husain disappointed his legion of liberal fans recently by implying that Darwin’s discovery was necessarily racist (a bizarre conflation of morality and ethics, with nature, when no such thing exists). There is a desire in the mind of the parties of god to deny basic scientific fact if it happens to contradict their official origins story. Yet it is our ape-like ancestors whom we have to thank for everything. It is they who sparked the first controlled fires, it is they who left the safety of the jungle and crossed the World, it is they who purified water, it is they who created the tools that gave us a hunting advantage when threatened with daily starvation, it is they who against the odds fought the elements, came close to extinction & survived, it is they who created the first remedies, it is they who developed language and art, it is they who began to try to explain their place in the universe, contemplate the stars, harness the sun, and whose self awareness was the beginning of the universe trying to understand itself & who invented the gods that are now used to obscure their extraordinary achievements. From those ancestors, we have all the innovations that lead to Lindbergh, and to me sitting on a plane somewhere over France, watching the sunset from a vantage point that so few humans have ever had the privilege of seeing. Indeed, from early humans, to Roman republicans, from Homo Habilis, to Ben Franklin & Rousseau, such a small percentage of we apes have enjoyed this sight. From this vantage point, it is inconceivable to me that we would not honour those ancestors that out of necessity, created & conquered & gave us luxury.

And even if by some miracle, a thesis is produced that thoroughly disproved evolution, instead confirming the story of Adam & Eve, we still wouldn’t have them nor a god to thank for human progress. We’d have the devil snake that permitted free-thought to thank for our ingenuity and survival.

Perhaps our desire to explore comes from the same place as our desire to understand everything immediately (thus creating gods as quick and easy explanations). Perhaps our wonderful sense of touch that permits the wind to take our breath away or the sun in summer to revitalise us after a grey winter persuades us to seek those sensations. Perhaps our fear of death, of existing in a finite speck of time conflicts with our desire to know all and see all. I am now sat watching my fellow apes on the beach with a spectacular view of the Meditarranean sea, the jagged rocks with layers of history, the buildings we have created across the shoreline, the clear and cold water reminding me that I’m alive as it crashes against my legs, placating that desirous sense of touch, and at the back of my mind is the theme that runs through human history, from the moment our species burst onto the tapestry of life right through to Lindbergh & beyond; at some point – any point – I will cease to exist, and never see this beautiful picture, nor feel the sea breeze nor the waves against me again. And so I need to experience it all now. 

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Let Freedom Reign. Nelson Mandela 1918 – 2013.

December 5, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: South Africa The Good News / http://www.sagoodnews.co.za

There are very few names in the history of mankind, that have the ability to unite us in remembrance of such astonishing inner strength, for such wonderful achievements, and for inspiring the human spirit across classes, across borders, and across cultures.
I am humbled to have lived at a time when one of the greatest among them lived.
For those of us who value free, democratic principles, and equality, he is the archetype, the promise, and the inspiration.
His outstanding contribution forever etched in human history, a name forever associated with the cause and struggle for freedom not just for South Africa but for the World, will outlive us all.
A true testament to the strength of the human desire to be free.

Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement
– Nelson Mandela.
1918 – 2013.


Bush White House paid for universal health care in Iraq.

October 15, 2013

In 2011, ex-Wisconsin Republican Governor Tommy Thompson announced his intention to run for the vacated Senate Seat for Wisconsin in 2012. During the campaign, Thompson told a Tea Party gathering:

“who better than me, that’s already finished one of the entitlement programs, to come up with programs that do away with Medicaid and Medicare?”

– Thompson’s inherent desire to ‘do away with’ essential government-run healthcare services was echoed in his earlier campaign press release in which he reads:

“I intend to continue the fight for a fiscally responsible, market-based approach to reforming our health care system that will improve both access and the quality of care.”

– Thompson is committed to healthcare as a market. To Thompson, the health of individuals is a commodity. The government cannot provide any meaningful provision of health care according to Thompson. So imagine my surprise when it turns out that in 2004, Thompson was the Bush administration’s top health care official as they signed off on a US funded $950mn universal healthcare plan…. for Iraq.

Following the war, and with redevelopment in mind, the US was instrumental in the framing and passing of the Iraqi Constitution in 2005. The US Institute of Peace reported:

“From the time the Leadership Council [this was a group developed outside of the National Assembly made up of senior Iraqi leaders from all sides in order to fast track negotiations] was formed, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad attended meetings regularly, and U.S. Embassy officials were engaged in less-than-subtle efforts to accelerate a final constitution. Several of the early meetings of the Leadership Council took place at the U.S. Embassy. By August 10, the United States was strongly expressing its views on substantive constitutional issues to reach fast compromises that resembled the terms of the TAL… On August 12, in efforts to accelerate the drafting process, the U.S. Embassy circulated its own draft constitution in English”

– At every stage, the Iraq Constitution was under scrutiny by the US. Nothing was overlooked. And so, along with the funding for a universal health care system, Article 31 of the Iraq Constitution states:

“Every citizen has the right to health care. The State shall maintain public health and provide the means of prevention and treatment by building different types of hospitals and health institutions. “

“Individuals and entities have the right to build hospitals, clinics,or private health care centers under the supervision of the State, and this shall be regulated by law.”

– This article and the establishing of a fundamental right to state-funded healthcare in 2005 to run alongside a well regulated private market, could only have been made possible by the funds allocated by the Bush administration to establish a universal health care system, supported by Republicans in Congress.

One of those Republican Congressman who spoke on the floor of the House in 2004, defending the Bush Administration’s $950mn universal healthcare project in Iraq was ex-Congressman Duncan L.Hunter. Hunter said:

“It is hugely important that we provide this infrastructure, this basic health care need to the Iraqi people”.

– It’s essential to note this, because in 2009, after his tenure in Congress was over, when asked about the Affordable Care Act in the US, the same Duncan Hunter said:

“Well listen, this is an attempt to socialize our country. And it is one that is attempted at what the architects of socialism and Marxism would view as being a “soft exposure” in the American fabric. That is, people are obviously concerned about health care. It is important to them, and they are concerned about having security with respect to health care. The problem is government healthcare doesn’t provide security. And in most of the cases we see around the world, it provides instead a system that is largely dysfunctional and provides inadequate care.”

– By his own standards, Hunter worked to create a ‘socialised’, ‘Marxist’, ‘dysfunctional’, and ‘inadequate’ health care system in another country, paid for by US dollars.

Where was Ted Cruz – the foe of any government interference in health care – you might ask? Well, at that time, Cruz was Solicitor General for the state of Texas, and instead of choosing to fight US funding for universal health care in Iraq, he was busy insisting that the Ten Commandments monument at the Texas State Capitol was in fact Constitutional. So now you know; to stop Ted Cruz threatening the health care of the Nation’s most vulnerable people, and closing down the government… just tell him the Ten Commandments on state buildings are unconstitutional. You’ll never hear from him again.

With Ted Cruz and fellow Republicans either fully supporting universal health care in Iraq paid for by the US taxpayer, or just entirely silent on the issue, Democrats were raising concerns. In fact, one of the few who raised objections to the project was the then Democrat Senator from North Dakota, Byron Dorgan. On the Senate floor in April 2004, Dorgan suggested the Iraqi government should perhaps securitise future production of Iraqi oil in order to raise funds for reconstruction:

“It is their job, not the job of American taxpayers to have a program for housing, health care, jobs, and highways in Iraq. That ought not be the burden of the American taxpayer.”

Another Democrat to raise his concerns, was Tim Ryan (D-OH). On the House floor in 2005, Ryan said:

“So we are cutting health care, increasing premiums, increasing co-pays, and yet we have created a Welfare system in Iraq.”

– So whilst Democrats were raising concerns about a US tax payer funded universal healthcare system for Iraq…. Republicans were eerily silent whilst they accepted it without question.

We should also not forget that whilst the funds provided free training for doctors and nurses in Iraq (rightly so), it coincided with a $278mn cut to the Health Professionals Training Program in the US, and a $93mn cut to community access programs, that same year.

This was happening whilst the number of US citizens uninsured rose from 38.4 million when Clinton left office, to 46.3 million by the end of Bush’s term. Not one Republican Senator of House Representative threatened government, or default on the nation’s debt over the government funded establishment of universal health care for Iraq.

A Republican White House, with Republican Congressional support oversaw the framing of the Iraq Constitution that included universal health care as a fundamental human right, provided by the state, and initially funded by $950mn of US taxpayer money, and defended by a Tea Party favourite who now wishes to dismantle all state funded health care provisions.


The Republican Party: Dreams of the Confederacy.

October 15, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: By Donald Lee Pardue (Flickr: Still Waving).

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: By Donald Lee Pardue (Flickr: Still Waving).

Conservatives are out in force on social media this week after a Tea Party protest included protestors waving Confederate flags at the White House of the first African American President. The conservative response has typically taken two directions; either the suggestion that the man with the flag was planted by a devious Democrat Party in an attempt to undermine the Tea Party and paint them as racist…. or that it is just one man who does not represent the Tea Party in general. Both presuppose that this is an anomaly. It isn’t.

In June this year, Rand Paul – potential Presidential candidate for 2016 – had to fire the co-author of his book, and his 2012 campaign blogger Jack Hunter, after Hunter penned an article with the by-line “Abraham Hitler“, in which he compares the Lincoln Presidency to the Third Reich. In it, Hunter neatly rewrites history to make the Confederacy seem freedom loving, State’s rights protecting heroes with a goal to be proud of:

“Dissuading the South from seceding by promising to protect slavery didn’t work, because the issue was secondary to the primary issue of constitutional government and states’ rights.”

– This is simply untrue. The Southern States seceded, because of the issue of slavery. There is no other way to spin it without completely disregarding the actual history itself. Any other ’cause’ was simply a device to win over more moderate forces. We know this, because Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession states:

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world … a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

Perhaps most tellingly of all, is the Confederate Constitution. Section 9 of which states:

“(4) No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

– This shows how little the Confederacy cared about State’s Rights. The State’s have no right to abolish Slavery. No individual State can pass a law impairing the right of property in slaves. The Confederate Federal Government did not care for State’s Rights. They cared only about maintaining and spreading African American slavery.

Hunter isn’t the first to express sympathy for the Confederate cause. In 2009 – and only a month after the inauguration of the United States’ first African American President, Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R) of the Missouri State House said in reference to the Freedom of Choice Act:

“What we are dealing with today is the greatest power grab by the federal government since the war of northern aggression”.

– Yes, a Unite States, State Representative genuinely referred to the war that ended the hideous institution of owning human beings as slaves, as ‘northern aggression’.

Four years later, House Republican for Texas’s 36th District, Steve Stockman invited Ted Nugent to the 2013 State of the Union, noting in a press release:

“I am excited to have a Patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber to hear from President Obama.”

– We should perhaps then examine just what credentials Republican House Representative Steve Stockman believes a ‘Patriot’ must have. In 2012, the ‘Patriot’ Ted Nugent said of anyone that supports President Obama:

“Pimps whores & welfare brats & their soulless supporters have a president to destroy America.”

In a 1995 interview, the ‘Patriot’ Ted Nugent said:

“I’m on top of a real America with working hard, playing hard, white motherfucking shit kickers, who are independent and get up in the morning.”

– In the same interview, when asked why he specifically mentions white people, and if he believe African Americans are equally hard working and independent, the ‘Patriot’ Ted Nugent responded:

“Show me one.”

In 2012, the ‘Patriot’ Ted Nugent told us all just how much he adores the United States, in the Washington Times:

“I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”

In 2000, during controversy over the displaying of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House, Nugent said that those objecting:

“Can take the flag down, but I am going to wear it forever.”

– A “Patriot” to Tea Party Confederates & Republicans like Steve Stockman, wave Confederate flags, wishes the South had won the Civil War (thus upholding slavery), believes African Americans are not hard working, that only white people are true Americans, and anyone who votes Democrat is a “whore” and “Welfare brat”. Sentiments like that spewed by Nugent are not condemned by Republicans as completely unacceptable, offensive, vile, and entirely contrary to the American sense of justice and liberty; but are instead treated with either complete indifference, or promoted as the words of a Patriot.

On January 22nd 2013, whilst Sen. Henry Marsh (D) – a veteran of the Civil Rights era – was attending President Obama’s inauguration, Senate Republicans in the 20-20 split Virginia Senate sneaked through a redistricting bill essentially ensuring a Republican Senate in 2015. Republicans in the Senate went even further that day. Not only did they manipulate the absence of a civil rights veteran to ensure a majority in 2015… they called a halt to the day’s proceedings with the following announcement in the minutes of the day:

“On motion of Senator Stosch, the Senate adjourned in memory or [sic] General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson at 4:10 p.m. to convene Tuesday, January 22, 2013”

– They called a halt to proceedings not because the President had just been re-inaugurated a day before, but instead to honour a Confederate general. Furthermore, Senator Henry Marsh was a lawyer during the Civil Rights days. His law practice focused on civil rights cases. At the same time, Virginia’s Republican Senators were organising resistance to desegregation. That was the 1960s. In 2013, the children of those Republicans use his absence to advance their cause, and pay their respects to a Confederate general. Times change, attitudes and sentiment apparently don’t.

The spectre of the Confederacy follows the 21st Century Republican Party everywhere they go. The Tea Party Confederates aren’t just one man outside the White House waving a flag, it is a growing number of Party members in general, with an apparent air of Confederate nostalgia attaching itself to everything they do and everything they say. A man outside of the White House waving a flag, is simply a drop in the ocean of the thoughts, words, and actions of the Tea Party dream of Confederacy.


The Liberty of Balochistan.

October 13, 2013

In his infamous reply to Edmund Burke’s essay on the how he believed the English had no right to overthrow a Monarchy – based on Parliament passing an Act in 1688 that insisted the English submit themselves to the Monarch ‘forever’ – Thomas Paine argued that no one generation has the right to tie any other generation to its laws and declarations, and that:

“Every age and every generation must be free to act for itself in all cases, as the ages and generations that preceded it.”

– It is important when considering the dream of freedom of a community in south west Pakistan, who never wished and never submitted to Pakistan rule, nor to a religious order that wishes to control it, to remember the words of Thomas Paine.

On August 14th Pakistan comes alive with celebrations of their national Independence Day. Parties are held, streets are filled with revellers, pride in the National flag and the struggle for independence is something to behold and echoes in Pakistani communities across the World. But on the same day, on August 14th every year, the Baloch people of south western Pakistan mourn “Black Day”; a day they consider the be the moment their region was occupied by an unwelcome colonial Pakistan.

On August 4th, 1947, ten days before the creation of Pakistan, an agreement was signed between Britain, Balochistan leaders, and Pakistan, that declared Balochistan a sovereign state. On the 12th, Balochistan was declared independent, two days before Pakistan. It was recognised that its people were culturally very different from their Pakistani neighbours to the east and Iranian neighbours to the west, and so a natural right to independence and self determination was carved out

After the creation of Pakistan on August 14th, 1947, the independent Baloch people – who speak their own language, have their own customs, are incredibly pluralist and secular, and are the oldest settlers in that particular region – were suddenly given a choice progressed by Lord Mountbatten and influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru the first Prime Minister of India; either join Pakistan, or India. No independence. This, despite the fact that the Parliament of Balochistan of the time voted against a merger and for their own declaration of independence. That vote was disregarded, and Balochistan soon – on the insistence of the Khan – became a province of Pakistan. And just like that, every future Baloch generation had their right to independence and self determination signed away to a colonial Pakistan. Predictably, the region has been unstable ever since, and recently has become the centre of a violent Pakistan backlash against independence movements, and Islamists seeking to gain an advantage.

In 2006, The New York Times noted:

“One visit makes it clear that, despite official denials, the government is waging a full-scale military campaign here.”

– And they’re not wrong. Independence movements have been violently crushed by Pakistan over the decades following the occupation. In 1973, President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan ordered the dismissal of the entire provincial governments of Balochistan and soon after, martial law was imposed. What followed was a Baloch uprising against the Pakistani regime resulting in the deaths 5000 Baloch fighters and countless civilians. Very little has changed since the 1970s. But the rise of Islamist groups in the area makes the situation more dangerous than ever.

But it is the Pakistan security forces that are the most violent in the region. The Daily Tawar – a newspaper in Balochistan – has reported receiving threats from the security forces for the paper’s pro-independence stance, and several of its reporters have been murdered.

Haji Mohammad Anwar Baloch, a senior member of the Baloch Republican Party, fled Pakistan for Switzerland after his office was raided, and his son – who worked as a volunteer teacher – kidnapped by security forces. His son’s body was later found in Karachi, having shown wounds consistent with being tortured with an electric drill. Countless bodies with similar wounds, have been discovered at the same location in Karachi.

In the last decade, anyone suspected of being a part of Baloch independence movements have been rounded up, thrown into white vans, only to be discovered viciously tortured, murdered, and dumped by the side of roads. Pakistani security forces are relentless and often conduct raids out in the open; they kidnap students, lawyers, doctors, or anyone suspected of ties to Baloch Nationalist movements, and those people seldom turn up alive. One 22 year old student told the Guardian:

“We provide moral and political support to the fighters. We are making people aware. When they are aware, they act.”

– Students make up about one-third of all kidnap, torture, murder, dump victims of the Pakistani armed forces. The unbearable torture is designed to break any resistance to Pakistan’s control over the region. In the past ten years, thousands have disappeared this way.

Similarly, rebel groups are accused of campaigns of murder, with civilian settlers from Punjab murdered in an attempt to deter them from settling in the region. In 2011, the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (one of whom’s main leader is an ethnic Balochi named Dawood Badini – the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad) claimed responsibility for the Mastung bus shooting in which 26 innocent people were gunned down. Their desire is a 7th Century-style Caliphate enforced on a secular, and pluralist people. This is imperialism, and cannot be described as anything else.

Balochistan is an economic and strategic goldmine for Pakistan. And so freedom for Balochistan isn’t likely to come about without active resistance to the regime in Pakistan. The people matter little. The copper, oil and natural gas is their main concern, this is evident because despite the region being rich in natural resources, it remains deep in poverty. In 2005, a report into areas of Pakistan with populations living in a high degree of deprivation shows Punjab region 28% living in a high degree of deprivation, Sindh on 35% and Balochistan on 91%. It is held in poverty whilst its natural wealth is exploited, and its people lacking basic welfare, as well as basic rights. The Pakistan security forces do this, whilst – according to the London School of Economics among others – providing funds and training to a Balochistan-based military group; Quetta Shura… the Taliban.

Amidst the chaotic nature of the conflict, is an independence movement that desires not only independence for Balochistan, but secular, democratic citizenship rights for all who live there. It is a beacon of hope in a region torn apart by dreams of violent imperialism. It is a movement engaged in conflict not just against the Pakistani government, but against a rising violent Islamist movement within the region. The Baloch people are not religious conservatives by nature, and have long been secular and very pluralistic in their cultural structure. It is a distinctive culture – though split into many tribes – that has survived for centuries, with even the dress sense traced back hundreds of years. The fight for independence and the preserving of their ancient cultural heritage and way of life is fought by both Baloch men and women. The Pakistan Development Fund interviewed the ‘Women of Balochistan’ group fighting for their independence. The group said:

“Women are part of Baloch society, so their demands are no different than demands of the rest of the Baloch people. Baloch women in the past have also taken part in the liberation struggle in one way or other. This time as the struggle is more organised and expanded in all four corners of Balochistan…the involvement of women is also more obvious. Baloch women demands have always been education for women, equal rights and status in society.”

“Baloch are quite tolerant and secular. We believe that religion should be separated and kept personal. It should not be mixed with politics.”

– A feminist movement, dedicated to secularism, and equal rights, is a movement that should have the full support of nations across the World that enjoy similar protections and standards. Especially given that women in Balochistan are increasingly falling victim to acid attacks by Islamic extremists who seek to impose a tough Theocratic, Patriarchal system upon the female population they consider to be inferior. At the moment it seems the plight of those pursuing liberty in Balochistan goes largely unnoticed throughout the rest of the World.

The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Abdul Malik Baloch – of the National Party – is spearheading the fight for a secular, democrat, liberal Balochistan. He echoes the thoughts and sentiments of the majority of Baloch people whose wish is for a secular Balochistan, and who fear the rise of Islamism in the region, as much as they disapprove of Pakistan. Christian Congress leader in Pakistan, Dr. Nazir Bhatti said of the radical Islamist group:

“Baloch political giants like the late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the late Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo, Sardar Ataullah Mengal and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, through their secular politics had kept the religious extremists out of the Baloch political landscape. The Jama’at-ud-Da’wah will destroy the politics and history of Balochistan.”

– There is a real fear that Islamism could pose the biggest threat to the Baloch way of life and culture that has endured happily for centuries.

The promise – and the fundamental issue – is that of a historically secular and democratic population that has managed to remain so, despite attempts by Pakistan to destroy their heritage and all resistance, and attacks by Islamists to impose a radical religious agenda. For a secular democratic state to ever emerge as an independent Balochistan, would of course prove to be a counter in a region that is increasingly, and dangerously Theocratic & oppressive. There is no justifiable reason for Balochistan to be any part of a Pakistan that the people do not feel their culture and heritage belong to, nor overpowered and subdued by an Islamist onslaught that bears little resemblance to the lives of the Baloch people.

Liberty for Balochistan can only be secured by insisting upon a secular, and democratic framework. The ethnically Baloch people are not the only people in Balochistan, and those from other ethnic groups should be afforded equal political and social rights under the law. Liberty for Balochistan also requires control of its own resources. And so to my mind, I see no reason why the Baloch people in 2013 are under any obligation to respect the annexation of their homes 65 years ago to a state power that none of them wanted to submit to. The Baloch people have a far stronger claim to the right of independence, self determination and fundamental political and social rights than Pakistan has to controlling the region for itself.

On the 4th July 2006, a blogger for freedom in Balochistan wrote:

When Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death”, he wanted independence and liberty of a country that did not yet exist. Your Founding Fathers tried to do something that no colonial people had ever achieved before – to break away from the mother country and create their own country. They were willing to risk everything to achieve it. They were not concerned with what was going to happen in the long haul.

But, in our case, Balochistan was a sovereign country until Iran and Pakistan took away our freedom. Through brute force, the Iranian and Pakistani governments suppressed the aspirations of the Baloch people to liberate Balochistan. Our sense of nationhood was systematically crushed. But, the seed of freedom remained in our hearts. Today, that seed has sprouted and we have risen again to challenge the occupation of Balochistan by Iran and Pakistan. We want liberty or give us death, and we are willing to risk everything to achieve the independence of Balochistan.

– I find it increasingly difficult to argue with his point. We in the UK, Europe, and the US enjoy the protections of laws and constitutional frameworks that our ancestors fought centuries ago for the same liberty and rights that the people of Balochistan now wish for themselves. Principle, and consistency dictate that they must have our support in that fight for the victory and implementation of shared values and goals that we know to be the height of human brilliance.


Painting Congress Blue 2014: Focus on Candidates V.

October 12, 2013

Florida's 19th Congressional District Race. April Freeman

At the time of writing the first four in my series of articles on Republican House incumbents and their Democratic rivals for the House in 2014, it seemed that for Democrats to pick up the necessary seventeen seats was going to require a significant political disaster by the Republican Party. If the most recent Gallup poll is anything to go by, it is apparent that the Republican Party may have inflicted a wound upon themselves that they might not recover from in 2014.

Florida’s 19th Congressional District:
Florida’s 19th is currently represented by Tea Party favourite, Republican Trey Radel. On his Facebook page, Radel posted this:

Trey Radel misleading Kentucky Obamacare Stats
– As part of his maniacal effort to defund the Affordable Care Act regardless of the courts or the outcome of elections, Radel is happy to use any PR tactic possible to drum up support for his failing cause. I say that, because the claim in the picture above omits crucial information: The claim relates to a story put out by Fox (obviously) of the Mangione family of four in Kentucky whose monthly premium apparently rises from $333 a month to $965 a month, from private insurer Humana, a few weeks before Kynect (the healthcare exchange) opened. What the story doesn’t tell you, is just who Andrew Mangione – the father – actually is. As it turns out, there is quite the conflict of interest with this story: Andrew Mangione is:

“…the Vice President, Government Relations, for AMAC. Andy’s career spans the medical device, pharmaceutical and managed care sectors of health care. He has held senior and executive sales positions with organizations including Humana, Inc., Pfizer, Inc. and Invacare Corporation. Andy serves as the lead legislative and government contact in Washington, DC for AMAC, and is also responsible for national grassroots outreach and developing strategic relationships. Andy earned a B.A. in Management from Malone University and his Master of Business Administration from Lake Erie College.”

– Not only did he hold senior/executive position in his insurance company, the website that he is now the Vice President of Government Relations for, has spent almost all its energy – prior to his appearance on Fox – fighting the Affordable Care Act. This man is one big agenda, so it is predictable that both Fox and Trey Radel decided not to mention his credentials. And $300 a month for a family of four? That’s a hell of a lot cheaper than most pay. Nevertheless, The New Yorker argues that under the new rules, the Mangione family might actually benefit.

So with that in mind, it is no shock to discover that despite moderate Republicans taking to the airwaves to pin the blame for government shutdown at the door of the Republican Party and its small group of extremists, Radel has decided that those extremists are in the right. Radel told CNN:

“This entire place is failing the American people”.

– He’s right. When a Freedom Works memo (The Freedom Works Website lists Radel as a signee of Sen. Mike Lee’s letter to use the CR to defund Obamacare) demands a willingness on the part of the Republicans the group funds, to use the threat of shutdown and its implications to win a policy battle that the Republicans couldn’t win via the usual electoral process, that is a massive democratic failure. One that Thomas Jefferson noted was a threat to the American system of governance:

“I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

– But this isn’t what Radel meant. Radel thoroughly disagrees with Jefferson. He seemingly had no issue with the fact that an agreement had already been reached on funding the government, an agreement that hugely favoured Republican demands, only to be reneged on by House Republicans whose corporate backers weren’t happy enough, who now demand the complete defunding of a law they couldn’t repeal through the natural democratic process. Instead, he says:

“The adults need to come to the table, as Republicans are asking…”

– The typical spin, to deflect attention from the fact that they caused this. He then goes on to blame the Affordable Care Act for all the nation’s woes. Later in the same interview, and without a hint of irony, Radel says:

“When you hear the President say he isn’t going to negotiate…. I’m sorry but this is democracy.”

– Here, Radel, like fellow Tea Party members, has apparently redefined the word ‘democracy’. I am struggling to understand how it is possible to lose the Presidency twice, to lose the Senate, to lose the popular vote for the House, to lose a Supreme Court case, to watch your ratings plummet, when 21 of your own House members are willing to vote to reopen government, and still think that by shutting down the government until you get your way, that the path you have chosen represents “democracy”.

It is presumably also “democracy” in action when, at 10pm on September 30th, House Republicans voted to amend House rules, by taking away the right of every member of the House of Representatives to bring a clean CR vote to the House floor, and to bestow that right to Eric Cantor only, to ensure a shutdown went ahead.

According to opensecrets.org, Trey Radel’s 9th biggest donor, is Koch Industries. How surprising. His number one donor is “Every Republican Is Crucial PAC”. This particular PAC is the 2nd biggest donor to the 20 or so dissident Republicans in the House. They are instrumental in propping up support for those who have used the threat of shutdown unless their demands are met. And Radel is doing their bidding. In 2012, his website read:

“Our country has prided itself on freedom and liberty. Regulations like ObamaCare not only place severe restrictions on our freedom and choice but also threaten the economic livelihood of this country. ObamaCare in particular essentially forces individuals to buy a private product just because they are American. This is another example of the government excessively interfering in the lives of private citizens. This law is not only costly, but will also cause great inefficiencies in the medical industry, and have negative ripples throughout the economy. On Trey’s first day in office, Trey would offer a bill to repeal all parts ObamaCare (regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision).”

– The phrase ‘regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision’ should be enough to shock anyone who appreciates the system of American governance, as should the Tea Party section of the Republican Party’s complete lack of respect for the outcome of elections that don’t go their way. It is quite incomprehensible, and very anti-democratic. Let’s not be under any illusions. Trey Radel is one of the small group of Republicans responsible for the government shutdown, and backed by very wealthy donors.

Trey Radel – a man who genuinely believes that Public Enemy’s track ‘Fight the Power’ reflects the message of Tea Party Republicans – is so concerned about the health and wellbeing of his constituents, that he voted ‘NO’ on reauthorising the Violence Against Women Act. Not only does women’s health and rights not concern Radel, but he also voted ‘NO’ on the Sandy Relief Fund and voted in favour of cutting SNAP. I can find no redeeming feature of Radel’s incumbency, it appears to have been a year of making life as difficult for the most vulnerable as possible. Florida’s 19th can do better than that.

The Democratic challenger to Radel, is April Freeman. Freeman’s website identifies exactly what Florida’s 19th District is currently lacking:

“Real people, honest and intelligent leadership, hard working and caring public servants, and more independent women.”

– Honest, intelligence, caring and independent women. Those are the words all progressives would use to describe exactly what the House of Representatives requires more than anything at the moment.

Freeman has impressive credentials to back up the tagline on her website. She was awarded “2005 Business Woman of the Year” by the Business Advisory Council at a White House Dinner; she is the founder of a company that works for no profit to highlight the lives and memory of gifted individuals who died too soon as a result of mental illnesses, and she’s currently obtaining her law degree. Intelligence, and caring, are two traits that Congress desperately requires, and desperately lacks at the moment.

Freeman is right to highlight that voter suppression is a dangerous re-introduction to the democratic landscape, and must be a priority to secure fundamental political rights regardless of race, or wealth. Freeman sets out her position to deal with it:

THE PLAN – Educate local voters in a grassroots effort so they are taught the importance of the early vote & vote by mail in order to relieve the immediate issue of excessive wait times on election days.
THE RESOLUTION – Support Legislation that would make it illegal for the wait time to exceed 1 hour during Federal elections.

Whilst 30 years of anti-union, pro-market fundamentalist rhetoric and policy has seemingly lead to very little other than stagnating wages, poverty increases, recession, and jobs off-shored to the detriment of the lives of real human beings, April Freeman recognises the need to rebalance the scale:

“We need a steady growing economy in SW Florida thus relieving our sole dependence on seasonal residents.
THE PLAN – Support Unions to bring secure jobs with benefits while strengthening collective bargaining ability in order to build our local economy.
THE RESOLUTION – Introduce and Support Legislation that will give tax incentives to small business and corporations in right to work states for merging with unions to provide a living wage and benefits, while penalizing for outsourcing jobs to foreign countries.”

– Freeman’s plans put people right at the centre of policy, and that’s a breath of fresh air for Congress.

If you value women’s rights, ending violence against women, LGBT rights, the right to vote, economic growth and fairness, campaign finance reform, Protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, Veterans issues; then there is absolutely no reason to vote Trey Radel, he fails miserably on all of those issues.

The Democratic base in Florida’s 19th has to grow if April Freeman is to pose a serious challenge to Trey Radel. But with the public at large placing the blame for shutdown on Tea Party Republicans like Radel, there will not be a more perfect time for Freeman and Democrats in Florida to grow that base. Freeman certainly has a chance to turn Florida’s 19th blue in 2014.

Vote April Freeman for Florida’s 19th Congressional District in 2012.

See here for FD’s focus on Florida’s 2nd, and Illinois’ 13th Congressional Districts.
See here for FD’s focus on West Virginia’s 2nd, and Colorado’s 6th Congressional Districts.
See here for FD’s focus on California’s 1st, and California’s 25th Congressional Districts.
See here for FD’s focus on Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District.


The Throne of King Cantor: How House Republicans changed the rules.

October 11, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Mjw23.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Mjw23.

It seems democracy isn’t an obstacle, the Constitution isn’t an obstacle, the judiciary isn’t an obstacle, and now House rules aren’t an obstacle to the Tea Party juggernaut steaming its way across the American political landscape, flattening everything its path.

As we’re all aware, the Bill for a Continuing Resolution complete with defunding Obamacare attached to it passed the House, and was subsequently rejected by the Senate, thus ending up back at the House on the evening of September 30th. At this point, under House procedures, any member of the House can bring forward a vote on the Senate’s amended Bill in order to end the impasse:

“When the stage of disagreement has been reached on a bill or resolution with House or Senate amendments, a motion to dispose of any amendment shall be privileged.”

– This exists to prevent the minority extorting the majority with threat of shutdown, for policy they weren’t able to achieve through regular democratic process.

But that rule was soon to change. Late on September 30th – with only two hours remaining until the government shut down began – an Amendment was quickly passed – H.J. Res. 59: Continuing Appropriations Resolution – by House Republicans, to the procedural rules of the House. The Amendment ensures:

“Section 2 of the rule provides that any motion pursuant to clause 4 of rule XXII relating to H.J. Res. 59 may be offered only by the majority Leader or his designee.”

– Meaning that the only person who can now bring a vote to the House floor on a clean resolution during an impasse in Congress, is Eric Cantor. Eric Cantor has assumed powers traditionally assigned to all members of the House. They have all lost a right that has guaranteed to them, and transferred to the Republican Minority Leader. This not only disenfranchises House Democrats, it does so for moderate House Republicans too. It is as if Tea Party House Republicans have voted to bestow ’emergency’ powers on the Majority leader, to ensure continued shutdown.

When pressed on this in the House by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD 8th District), the Speaker pro tempore didn’t seem to want to answer:

Van Hollen: “Mr. Speaker, under the regular order of the House, would any Member of the House, including myself, be able to call up a motion to immediately send the CR to fund the government to the President of the United States, to immediately call up and have a vote on that?”
Speaker: “The Chair will not respond to a hypothetical.”

Van Hollen: “Mr. Speaker, the rule that has now been placed over the House in substitute for the standing rules of the House gives only the majority leader or his designee the ability to move up and ask for a vote on the clean Senate bill that would go to the White House; is that correct?
Speaker: “The Chair will not respond to a political characterization and will state again: Under section 2 of House Resolution 368, that motion may be offered only by the majority leader or his designee.”

Van Hollen: “Mr. Speaker, it seems pretty clear that we have taken the normal rules of the House, Mr. Speaker, and substitute in its place a provision that says, ‘only the Republican leader can make a decision’…”
Speaker: “The gentleman has not stated a proper parliamentary inquiry.”

– Van Hollen is quite right, House Republicans have wilfully rigged House rules to prevent anyone from opening the government, other than the Majority Leader. House Republicans have vested more power over the running of the US Government in Eric Cantor, than the President, the public, the entire legislature, and the judiciary.

So, since 2010 Republicans have been beating the drum of shutdown to win major policy concessions that they were not able to win electorally. Since early 2013 at the very least, a memo circulates from Freedom Works, signed by major Tea Party donors that reads:

“Conservatives should not approve a CR unless it defunds Obamacare. This includes Obamacare’s unworkable exchanges, unsustainable Medicaid expansion, and attack on life and religious liberty.”

– And when that plot was doomed to fail due to the lack of moderate Republican support in the House for such a dangerous tactic, the extreme wing of the Republican Party resorted to changing the rules of the democracy that they live, in order to force a shutdown that would have been prevented under regular House rules.

It is quite horrifying the lengths the far right of the Republican Party are willing to go to circumvent the democratic process when it provides results that they don’t like. For Republicans, the American people, the ballot box, and the law of the land, are simply obstacles that the Elephant has every right to trample.