Posted by CODEPINK Staff
by Janet Weil
Even by the low standards of what passes for democratic process on Capitol Hill, May 22 -- with the FY15 NDAA, the NSA “reform” bill and David “Killer Drone Memo” Barron under consideration, virtually simultaneously -- was a very bad news day for those who cherish the rule of law, not partisan party politicking.
In the House of “Reps” Speaker Boehner thwarted a vote on an amendment to the NDAA, to repeal the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, aka “blank check for war.” Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) among others got to their feet to denounce this subversion of process, as did California Congresswoman Barbara Lee. But then, without further fuss, the House voted 325 – 98 FOR spending $600.7 billion of the people’s hard-earned tax dollars for more war in Afghanistan, 1000+ military bases overseas, “modernized” nuclear weapons, drones, the F-35, the NSA, and more. The indefinite detention provisions in FY13 and FY14 National “Defense” Authorization Act still stand after an amendment to repeal it by Congressman Adam Smith“failed on a vote of 191 to 230.”
As members of the House were embracing and patting shoulders at the conclusion of the vote (I stared dumbfounded at C-SPAN 1) Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, former G-man and NSA surveillance enthusiast, urged his colleagues to view classified documents on the NSA before voting on a so-called “Freedom” Act (nicknamed Freedumber on twitter) which every digital privacy and constitutional rights group suddenly decided was too eviscerated for them to support any longer. Rogers reminded members of the House, who have sworn an oath to the US Constitution including the 4th amendment, that they had to sign a “no leaking to the public” promise before viewing the classified docs.
I switched to C-SPAN 2 for coverage of the Senate, and who was making a calm yet forceful explanation of what “due process” really means, with regard to assassination of US citizens by US drone strikes? (We know of at least 4 who have been murdered this way, including 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki.) Not Chair of the Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy. Not “progressive leaders” Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. And certainly not Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Dianne Feinstein. No, the senator explaining that due process means in public, with 2 adversarial sides, and not just in the executive branch of the government – not secret, one-sided, and only involving Obama and his advisors – was Republican libertarian Rand Paul of Kentucky. He was arguing against the nomination of David Barron to a federal judgeship, a nomination which CODEPINK strongly opposed. I – and CODEPINK as a national organization -- will never agree with Senator Paul on most of his positions, including on abortion, coal mining or immigration, but I have to say I was impressed with his defense of elementary principles of constitutional law, and his plea to his colleagues to vote as if a president of “the other party” were ordering these drone strikes.
The Senate voted to confirm Barron, 53 – 45. Only 2 Democratic senators had the independence to vote against the wishes of their president, who is rewarding Barron for services rendered with a lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary, a step below the Supreme Court.
So where do I go for inspiration, the intake of fresh air and renewal after mentally living in the windowless chambers of Congress? To the grassroots. I turn to news from the Walk for Peace between San Francisco to Beale Air Force Base, home of the world’s largest surveillance drone, the Global Hawk. To photos and accounts from around the world of people protesting the continuing atrocities and denial of due process in Guantanamo’s torture facility. To this joyous, funny, celebratory music video from Yemen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ISArE-H0cY.
And I look forward to walking outdoors this weekend in the newest US national park, Pinnacles, where I hope to see a California condor, brought back from the brink of extinction and now soaring over the chaparral.
Reading part of "The Earth Path" by Starhawk for inspiration this morning, I found this in the "Creation" chapter:
"...this air that we breathe is a gift of the early ancestors [who evolved to breathe oxygen] ...life by its very nature is a great power of creativity and transformation, a power that will prevail. And when I doubt, all I need to do is take a breath, in and out, and receive the gift of the ancestors." (p. 48)
I wonder if the debates, deliberations and votes in Congress would be different if those chambers and hearing rooms had windows open to the sky, the wind, birds, clouds, and the voices of the people outside. Do closed spaces lead to closed minds and hearts?
Postscript: The FY15NDAA and the “Freedom” Act are not yet law – the battles over these bills will now be taken up in the Senate, and there’s much to do to oppose and/or amend them.