Friday, June 27, 2008

McCain's Victory Speech

By Ed Smallwood

This is the kind of speech that John McCaint may be giving this November if things don’t start changing real soon.

“My friends, I have just been told that we have achieved victory in our campaign! We have won this battle and will be in the White House this January, as we planned!

“There are some people that I must thank due to their special help! To those who supported Hillary Clinton and voted for me, I give a special thanks! You helped us win this election by an overwhelming mandate of almost 1% of the vote! You made all the difference! To those who refused to vote because Mrs. Clinton lost the primary, you helped by not standing against our mandate! Thank you!

“Your insistence on avoiding party unity helped to ensure that women’s rights will be set back in this country! By throwing a public tantrum through sites like ‘P.U.M.A.’ or ‘Party Unity My A$$’ you made sure I will be able to replace at least two moderate Supreme Court Justices with the most conservative judges I can find! You personally, either through your vote for me, or by refusing to vote for my opponent, made sure I can mend the divisions in our country by reaching across the isle in Congress and bullying the Democrats into voting in step with Republicans on important issues like making sure I can tap your phone conversations at will and without oversight, and ensuring that rich people get permanent and generous tax breaks! We will be able to pass an amendment to the Constitution outlawing all abortions in our country by the end of my Presidency, and it’s all because you couldn’t forgive Obama for not realizing it was a woman’s turn in office!

“Yes, my friends, we do owe these stubborn Hillary supporters a lot! Especially my friends in the financial and energy industries! By throwing the biggest hissy fit in our times, they have ensured that all government regulation of these and other industries will end, allowing fraud and outright thievery to take the pensions of innocent retirees! We will, because of Hillary’s most stubborn supporters, be able to hand Social Security trust funds over to the same people responsible for the current mortgage disaster!

“And we will be able to keep our troops in Iraq for at least the next hundred years, ensuring money flows through there to our friends in Black Water and Halliburton without oversight!

“Because of them and you, my friends, the mass shipping of U.S. jobs overseas will continue unstopped, and at a greater pace than in the past, to be replaced by minimum wages jobs! And if we can get those cowardly Democrats in Congress to back down, we can even get a reduction in the minimum wage to help our struggling industry keep pace with slave wages in communist countries!

“Yes, their help was invaluable to us, and we owe them a huge debt that we can never repay. Except through higher debt to foreign governments.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

“Business as Usual” ends at home

By Ed Smallwood

For the past couple of years I have been publishing my thoughts online in the form of essays. One essay at a time, one thought at a time. They started out as a trickle that I would put on a MySpace page, and have in recent months turned into a virtual deluge (for me) that I have been posting anywhere I can from my personal blog to any news or commentary site I can find.

As I publish more, I’m noticing more people are responding to my thoughts. I have seen many messages, both public and private, from people that are very thoughtful. Those are the comments I cherish.

Some of my essays have been about what I think should be done to improve the world in some small way, whether it be improving the environment by modifying our behavior, to improving communications in this country by acknowledging a problem and fixing it. There is one response to these essays that I have gotten that has gotten me mad: “Not gonna happen.” It is a simple statement of belief, a resignation of what is. A surrender to the inevitable.

Although the people who make this statement may not realize it, it’s also lazy and a way of dodging personal responsibility. “Nothing is going to change, so I don’t have to do anything or feel guilty about it. I can safely sit here in front of my TV and criticize others about how bad things are.”

Every time this happens a lobbyist or legislator smiles. You can almost hear them: “You smell that? That’s apathy. I love the smell of apathy in the morning!”

I decided to ask myself why this thought process made me mad. Why should I be surprised that someone would think this way when, in fact, all of the evidence of the past 40 years or so completely backs them up?

For years we have been told by surveys that Americans are tired of “Business as Usual.” My loose working definition of “Business as Usual” is a government that doesn’t listen to its constituents, but listens very carefully to lobbyists for corporations and special interests. Distilled down to two words: “Money talks.”

So, if Americans are tired of “Business as Usual,” why is it usual? Why has it been usual? How could people put up with it for this long? It’s because true Democracy has not been considered important.

Democracy requires several things to work: Information, participation, consent. These aren’t just optional parts of a democracy, they are vital. For years television news has been our main source of information about our government. Newspapers have been shriveling on the vine from neglect. Newsmagazines used to be staples of the check-out line at supermarkets. Now they have been placed so far down on the racks I thought that they had been removed entirely until a few days ago when I nearly kicked one. The slots that used to be filled with Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Reports have all been replaced by scandal sheets and entertainment magazines, with the newsmagazines being placed so low on the racks that they are below the eye-level of even the smallest child (certainly not their target readership.) “Who cares what’s happening in the real world?” these reformatted racks proclaim. “Read about what’s happening in the soap operas on your favorite television network instead!”

Through miseducation our democratic process has been limited much more than simply through our sources of information. “Get out there and vote!” we hear at this time of the election cycle. “Vote!” From some other people you will hear, “If you don’t know the issues, don’t vote!” The implication here is that democracy is simply about voting. You vote or you don’t vote. You vote for one pre-selected candidate or the other; for a proposition or against it. You can work on one candidate’s campaign, or the other, or stay away and choose from the comfort of your living room. That is all that is expected of you, and all of the communication that is wanted from you. All of civics reduced to a single paragraph. Complexities removed. “If you don’t like it, then stay home. We don’t want your opinion.”

There is a saying that I’m sure you’ve heard. It has been around since the founding of our country: “United we stand. Divided we fall.” Well, the citizenry of the United States has been divided up into a nation of individuals, and that’s why democracy is failing. Voter turnout falls when there is no perceived difference in the candidates. Choosing candidates is usually like going to an ice-cream store and being offered vanilla, vanilla bean, or French vanilla. Why is this? Because television networks allow the candidates to portray themselves this way. We are told that we have the choice between the candidate that has experience and will change the way things work, and the candidate that has less experience and will change the way things work. Has television really given us a history of what the candidates have done, or have the networks given the candidates carte blanc to redefine themselves in any way they want? After all, if the television networks want access to the candidates they can’t ask the hard questions.

This has been the way business in Washington has been conducted for decades, and will continue to be until we stop them. If you are waiting to elect someone who will end “Business as Usual,” you will wait forever and never see it end. This will not change from the top. It works much too well for the people that have been elected, as well as the corporations, lobbyists, and News Networks that got them elected. They currently have no motivation to change. As long as you are isolated, sitting comfortably in front of your TV, getting the news they want you to hear and limiting your involvement to voting periodically, they won’t change a thing. Oh, often you’ll hear them loudly talk about campaign finance reform, while messily gutting it out of public view.

The fact is that we cannot come to these people and ask them for meaningful reform. Especially if we are not willing to change ourselves.

You must be wondering by this point what it is that I am asking? Do I really expect people to get out of their couches and march? Do I expect people to start running for office? Should we all write our congresspeople? Should we blog?

I have an idea at this point. It is just the beginning of an idea, fragile and easily destroyed by apathy. If carefully nurtured it could bear the sweetest fruit. It is still very small and will require care to survive long enough, and we cannot do it separately and in isolation.

You see, it is easy to control individuals, to make them feel alone. It is difficult to control people in groups. I am not asking you to join a national organization. I am asking you to start a neighborhood group—a root level group. Some already exist, but many, many more are needed. Your group should get together as often as you reasonably can just to talk. You may want to set-up organized meetings, or unorganized bar-be-ques. You may have a stated agenda, or you may let anything come up as it will. However, you should be willing to get out of your house and go to these meetings, and host them yourself as you can. Do not be afraid to speak out! Let your voice be heard! And most importantly, let your group’s voice be heard. Don’t be afraid to get together as a group and let your representatives in local, state, or national government know how your group feels.

It is easy for a politician to ignore individuals, or categorize them broadly. It is much more difficult to ignore the opinions of a group of people, especially when they vote for your office. All of the lobbyist campeign money in the world is useless if your constituents refuse to vote for you.

My thought is that as these neighborhood groups should invite their representatives in the local, state, and national governments to come to meetings sponsored by these groups and talk to the people who live in the neighborhood. That way, people won’t be relying on news organizations to ask their representatives tough questions—they can ask them themselves. In addition, these neighborhood groups could make their concerns known to their elected representatives directly, instead of hoping that they are covered in some kind of opinion poll, or that their letters make it through the politician’s staffers. These groups may want to publish local newsletters that could be distributed online and to the door of their neighbors. They could endorse candidates who are responsive to the need of the neighborhood, and withhold endorsement of candidates that are not. Or, if neither option is palatable, you could always help one of your own members run for the office!

Also, groups of this kind could get together with other like-minded groups, and pool their resources to get better responses. Multiple groups around a city could work together to set up debates between candidates, or have round-table discussions.

More importantly, your children and grandchildren should see you doing this. It is important not just to participate in democracy, but to teach the next generation how to interact and to know what democracy looks like. Currently, most of them think it looks like talking heads on CNN or C-SPAN. Let them know real democracy looks like people talking to each other, not people talking at each other. Don’t let them be intimidated by elected officials—they’re just people who were elected to office.

While it is probably too late for this kind of organization to have much impact on the current election, it is certain to me that now is the right time to start organizing these groups for all of the elections in the future. Potential recruits for neighborhood groups are self-identifying at this time. How better to know if someone might be interested in joining than to look for signs emblazoned with the name of some politician sticking into someone’s lawn? Is that not an invitation to talk?

If we are to take back our government from the lobbyists and special interests, it is going to be through this kind of local change. By paying attention to our government and closely watching what is going on, we will counter all of that special interest money going into the campaign treasuries. That isn’t just the beginning of campaign finance reform--it’s the beginning of government reform. Most importantly it doesn’t require an act of Congress, it can’t be vetoed by the President, and it can’t be overturned by the Supreme Court. That is true Democracy.

If you are a patriot, a person who believes in the United States and spreading democracy, then you have no excuse for not starting a neighborhood political group or joining one that already exists. Now is the time. Join in real Democracy and do more than just vote.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The TV Networks Owe Us An Apology

Scott McClellan has done his first good deed to the people of the United States in the last 8 years. He has pointed out in his new book that the Bush White House manipulated the media to get a war that they knew was unnecessary, and that the television media in the U.S. was completely complicit in this deception.

We know that the White House lied to get us into the war. There is no reasonable point of debate on this issue any longer. We know that Congress allowed the White House to dominate this issue, and gave them the war they wanted without any significant debate. Even under the Democratic Leadership, Congress has been unwilling to reign in the White House’s excesses. We are painfully aware of how the Supreme Court has largely allowed the White House to do what it will, with only token disagreement by allowing Civil instead of Military trials of U.S. Citizens captured within the U.S. as terrorists.

Now, with McClellan’s and other voices being heard, there is no longer any doubt that the television media in the United States at best allowed the White House to completely have its say, and at worst actively suppressed dissent of a war that would kill thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Before the war former weapons inspector Scott Ritter came to the college I was attending to give a talk about his experiences. He made it absolutely clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because he and his team found and destroyed them. He also told us, as a former Marine, that he believed that invading Iraq would be a huge mistake. He believed that invading Iraq and taking Saddam out would mean that we would be mired in the country for decades. He said that he believed that Iraq would break out in civil war. He said all of this before we set one foot over the Iraqi border. Perhaps the President had bad information about how the Iraq war would go, but that means I had better information available to me. The sad thing is the media had the same access to this information I did, and ignored it.

Before we went into Iraq, CNN news chief, Eason Jordan, went so far as to say of Mr. Ritter, “Well, Scott Ritter's chameleon-like behaviour has really bewildered a lot of people…U.S. officials no longer give Scott Ritter much credibility..." Perhaps U.S. Officials didn’t, but CNN should have. Not long after, Paula Zahn said on her show that Scott Ritter had “drunk Saddam Hussein’s Kool-Aid.”

In the final weeks of the run up to the war, MSNBC fired Phil Donahue from his highly rated show because he was willing to book guests that were speaking out against the war. A memo from MSNBC stating this explicitly surfaced at soon after the firing that confirmed the reasons.

Perhaps it’s this mind set that explains why, as reported by The New York Times, these news bureaus didn’t carefully check the connections that their military experts had with the Pentagon. The vast majority of the military experts seated in all of the networks were working directly for the Pentagon or for military contractors. If the analysts said anything the Pentagon didn’t like, then they were denied access to the Pentagon and threatened with being fired. This means that all military analysis that was seen on U.S. television was approved by the Pentagon. Considering that the White House fired any dissenters in the Pentagon prior to the war, for all intents and purposes all military analysis of the war shown on TV was approved by the White House. We got no differing views. The reporting was anything but fair and balanced. And this was happening at all of the networks.

There is no other way to say this: The “Fourth Branch of Government”, the one given its existence in the First Amendment, failed us completely and spectacularly, at least as badly as the three traditional branches of government.

The framers of our Constitution knew that Democracy requires a well informed citizenry. That is the reason why they created an independent press in the First Amendment. For at least the last decade, television news has completely fallen down on their responsibility to keep us well informed by making sure we know and understand all points of view.

Newspapers, the main source of news when the Constitution and the First Amendment were written, are no longer the main source of news in this country. Television surpassed newspapers decades ago. Those who work for television news have done everything they could to become the most important news source for us, without realizing that there is an enormous responsibility that comes with it. The use of the limited public airwaves, whether directly to the home, via satellite link, or over the internet, obliges them to help with the nurturing of our democracy. Becoming the primary source of news to the average citizen clinches that responsibility. This is a responsibility that cannot be disregarded. Doing so will guarantee that democracy in this country will fall into despotism, and even the television news organizations will not be immune to that.

In order for us to regain our trust in television news, it is necessary for the news organizations to apologize to us, directly and publicly. This is not optional, and the failure to do so compromises the integrity of those news organizations. The longer it takes to get that apology, the more serious the breach of trust.

All of us need to demand this of our news organizations, including all of the ones mentioned in this essay, as well as all of the others in this country. There has been a major breach of trust, and it needs to be fixed. An apology is the least that they can do, and it should be done now.


CNN’s attack on Scott Ritter:

CNN's Hatchet Job on Scott Ritter, by Antonia Zerbisias, originally in The Toronto Star, archived at:

MSNBC Fires Phil Donahue over liberal, anti-war bias:

Commentary: The Surrender Of MSNBC, by Rick Ellis, Wednesday, February 25th, 2003,

Some Critical Media Voices Face Censorship, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting), 4/3/03,

Pentagon’s Control of TV Military Analysts:

Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand, By DAVID BARSTOW, Published: April 20, 2008 in The New York Times,