Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thoughts on WikiLeaks

This started out as something I did for an online class assignment, and with some minor modifications, I thought it was worth re-posting:

As citizens of a democracy, we have responsibility to supervise the government bodies that act in our name. One of the major difficulties with official secrecy is that it transforms the relationship between citizens and government. When the government keeps secrets, I am no longer able to fulfill my responsibility as a citizen. Secrecy might allow government officials to perform necessary tasks -- but it might also allow them to support foreign dictatorships or collude in the murder of civilians. Without transparency, I simply have to trust them to do the right thing. Secrecy allows the government to become my master rather than my servant.

But it seems to me that this is a question of fact as well as of theory. In other words, what are the actual effects of the WikiLeaks disclosure?  Have catastrophes resulted from this release of classified information, or has it enhanced the functioning of democracy? I suspect that some of you will disagree with me, but so far I think the results have been encouraging.

For instance, documents found on Wikileaks may have helped inspire the overthrow of the corrupt and authoritarian government of Tunisia. In a sort of chain reaction, the uprising in Tunisia seems to have inspired pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt. It looks to me as if the controversy surrounding WikiLeaks inspired the Guardian in the UK to collaborate with al Jazeera TV to release the Palestine Papers. (Controversy is good business for journalists. It increases readership.) The Palestine Papers, in turn, have offered important new information about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and inspired new hope for resolution of that conflict. Finally, the WikiLeaks controversy has opened up much needed discussion of the issue of government secrecy, as evidenced by this Time magazine article and also by this thoughtful post.

Julian Assange may not be an admirable person, (and I think that the rape charges against him are worthy of investigation) but on the whole, it seems to me that WikiLeaks has done good work.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Unions help counter corporate power

Ellen Dannin persuasively demonstrates the need for workers to have unions in this post on Truthout. Dannin points out that
Today, we are reliving the dynamics of unchecked corporate power that led to the Great Depression. The Great Recession could not have been a surprise to anyone who was paying attention to the erosion of pay and working conditions and to the steady increase in poverty and unemployment.

We make a grave mistake when we blame unions for doing their job - for being a counterbalance to corporate power. Unions have a legal obligation to be the disloyal opposition. When there is no check on the steady growth of corporate power, we lose the balance and equality necessary to democracy. In fact, unions promote citizenship in the workplace and in their communities. Unions give workers rights of due process and equal protection in their workplaces.
The whole post is well worth reading.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Think globally, act locally March 1

 Some of my best friends don't vote as a matter of principle. They say they that voting merely decorates an oppressive system with the illusion of popular consent. If you have a philosophical objection to voting, well then, don't vote. I have no argument with you. In fact, about 47 percent of the time, I'm inclined to agree with you.

On the other hand, I have other friends who would read the paragraph above and disagree with it so strongly that they would jump up and down in frustration. They would cite the history of people of color and women who fought difficult and dangerous battles to gain the right to cast a ballot. Friends, I have no argument with you, either. In fact, if you live in Oklahoma City, I am writing this post specifically for you, to let you know about the City Council elections scheduled for March 1.

If elections really are important, local elections are possibly the most important elections we have. City governments deal with issues that affect the lives of ordinary people on a day-to-day basis. City governments are potentially easier to reach and to influence than governmental bodies on a state or national level. And in Oklahoma it seems--at least in Oklahoma City--the city government attracts very little attention and draws very little participation. For instance, the vote on the MAPS III tax proposal--which taxed the city's poorest citizens to benefit the most affluent citizens--drew 31 percent of the vote, according to This was about twice the usual turnout for a city election.

Business as usual in city government means government by the rich, for the rich. If we want that to change, we need to participate. And given the abysmally low number of people who vote in city elections, if progressives were to educate ourselves about local candidates and issues and make an effort to get ourselves to the polls, we would have a chance of creating real change.

So, here's a little bit of information to start out with. As I said, the next City Council election is March 1, with seats from wards 2, 5, 6, and 8 up for grabs. If you need to know which ward you live in, you can check out this handy ward map. If you would like to find out who your current City Council member is, you can check this page. If you think you might like to run for the City Council yourself, you can find the information about how to do so here. But you need to get cracking. The deadline is coming up very soon.

If you aren't already registered to vote at your current address, you will need to register by 24 days before the election. If I counted right, the deadline would be February 4. But don't trust my ability to count. Get it done as soon as you can. You can download a registration form here. If you're planning to be out of town on March 1, you can sign up for an absentee ballot.

I'll try to write more about this issue as the time approaches. But don't wait for me. Go find some stuff out and report back.

Thank you, and good night.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Is this 2011 or 1984?

The rulers of the dystopian society portrayed in George Orwell's 1984 had a talent for using language that turned reality on its head. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery, and so forth. We know that such unfortunate manipulation of meaning is not confined to the world of fiction. Today's electronic news brings two examples:

Spinifex Press has discovered an alarming blog post suggesting that Pope Benedict considers child sexual abuse to be "normal." The blog reposted a December 21 article from the Belfast Telegraph. “In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said, according to the Telegraph. “It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than' and a ‘worse than'. Nothing is good or bad in itself.” The Telegraph further reports that victims of sexual abuse by priests were outraged by these remarks. One can only imagine.

Meanwhile, the National Partnership for Women and Families reports that US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia doesn't believe that the 14th Amendment prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. At least, that's what Scalia told California Lawyer magazine:
In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
The NPWF notes that the New York Times found this view "jarring." The Times went on to note that
No less dismaying is his notion that women, gays and other emerging minorities should be left at the mercy of the prevailing political majority when it comes to ensuring fair treatment. It is an “originalist” approach wholly antithetical to the framers’ understanding that vital questions of people’s rights should not be left solely to the political process. It also disrespects the wording of the Equal Protection Clause, which is intentionally broad, and its purpose of ensuring a fairer society.
On the other hand, should Scalia's strange view of the 14th Amendment prevail, it would all of a sudden become crystal clear that we really do need the Equal Rights Amendment.