Thursday, June 27, 2013

Over 2,000 Celebrate Supreme Court Victories in Hillcrest

SAME Alliance’s Event Draws Exuberant Crowd, but “We’re Not Done Yet”

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

March 1

March 2

Party at Adam and Steve’s

Congratulations, Angel & Kim

Mom, no more excuses

Crowd at rally 1

Crowd at rally 2

Cecile Veillard

Kelly Hutton

Eric Isaacson

Alfie Padilla

Kathy Carmack

Rev. Gerald Green

Karen Guzmán

Christina Griffin

Rally co-sponsor Activist San Diego promotes their new radio station, KNSJ 89.1 FM — check out their “Queer Hour” Thurs., July 4, 3 to 4 p.m.

“Win or lose, we’re not done yet!” That was the theme SAME Alliance chose for its rally and march through Hillcrest Wednesday, June 26 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA). Faced with the awkward task of organizing an event without knowing either the day it would take place or the outcome of the cases in advance — many people who received leaflets for the event asked, “What day is it?” — SAME Alliance and its coalition partners nonetheless drew over 2,000 people to a spirited celebration of the Court’s ruling that DoMA’s ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages is unconstitutional and its invalidation of Prop. 8 on procedural grounds.
SAME Alliance was originally called the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality and was formed immediately after California voters passed Prop. 8 in November 2008, bringing California’s 4 ½-month recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages to a skidding halt. Since then it’s organized events around the days of decision in the cases challenging Prop. 8 in both state and federal court. On August 19, 2010 nine of its members and supporters were arrested at the San Diego county clerk’s office for demanding that the officials honor federal Judge Vaughan Walker’s decision declaring Prop. 8 unconstitutional and grant same-sex couples marriage licenses immediately. The case dragged on for over two years before the San Diego city attorney’s office dropped all charges against the so-called “Equality Nine.”
Cecile Veillard, former president of SAME Alliance and one of the Equality Nine, spoke at the June 26 rally and once again called on county clerks to ignore the so-called “stays” — delays — on the anti-Prop. 8 decisions. “I challenge the county clerks to start marrying people by noon tomorrow!” she said. She also boasted that the decision throwing out DoMA’s definition of marriage, for federal purposes, as only between one man and one woman was already having positive effects. “Today, this morning, a New York City immigration judge immediately stopped deportation proceedings against a Gay Colombian man who is legally married to a U.S. citizen,” she said. “Before this, Sean’s and Steven’s marriage did not exist [for the federal government]. Now it does. This is why our struggle matters. For undocumented Queer immigrants, this is a big step.”
“This is more than just about rights,” said Kelly Hutton, SAME Alliance member who MC’d the rally. “Rights have been ours from the beginning, and we are taking them back. It’s about families, health care, jobs, immigration and being safe on our way home. It’s about a healthy and safe environment. It’s sending a message to youth that they don’t have to wait until it gets better. It’s better now!” Hutton also boasted about the wide variety of issues SAME Alliance is involved in besides marriage equality for Queer couples, including immigration, labor and protecting government whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. “At SAME we don’t tokenize,” she said. “All these issues are our issues. An injury to one is an injury to all!”
Attorney Eric Isaacson, who has been involved in marriage equality litigation in California since 2004 — first representing the First Unitarian-Universalist Church and now the California Council of Churches and other religious organizations supporting marriage for same-sex couples — explained the Supreme Court’s two rulings. “One said DoMA violates equal protection under law, and the other said the proponents [sponsors] of Prop. 8 don’t have the right to appeal because they aren’t personally hurt,” he said. “The decisions are narrow. The DoMA case focused on Section 3 [the federal definition of marriage]. It did not address Section 2, which says states don’t have to recognize [same-sex] marriages from other states. The Court says DoMA was motivated only by a desire to ‘express moral disapproval’ of [Queer] American citizens. The Court says the Fifth Amendment withdraws from government the power to defame a group. Justice [Anthony] Kennedy says the differentiation demeans the couples, and humiliates and financially harms the tens of thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples.”
Isaacson acknowledged that “these decisions leave open the right to marry itself. They don’t address the constitutions or the laws of Hawai’i, Nevada and the other 35 states [that still don’t allow same-sex couples to marry]. But I think it points the way to the right decision in those cases. And you know who made the difference? You did! It’s the dramatic shift in public opinion that has headed us in this direction. You need to talk about the injustice. We’re going to get there and it’s going to be because of you.”
Alfie Padilla, a male-to-female Transgender person who moved to San Diego from her native Houston, Texas in 2011, thanked groups like SAME Alliance and rally co-sponsors Canvass for a Cause (CFAC), for which she works, for their example. “I heard about it in Texas because when Prop. 8 passed, you made a ruckus about it. You talked to people you knew and said Prop. 8 was unconstitutional and just wrong. Taking people’s rights away is wrong, and you knew that and did something about it. When I got here from Houston in 2011, I had never seen so much energy. We’ve accomplished a lot, but there’s still a lot to be done. Transgender people don’t have a lot of rights. In some states people can still be fired for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. But keep putting that energy into the struggle, because we are winning.”
“Today we have witnessed a great victory,” said Kathy Carmack, a CFAC staff member and a volunteer with the online video outlet Queer News Now. “I remember when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage [in 2003]. I was only a sophomore in high school and it’s the first positive memory I have of good news about the Queer community. I saved the newspaper that announced it, and every time another state voted against us I would take it out.” Like the other speakers, Carmack said that the victories in the struggle for marriage equality didn’t just happen, and weren’t granted by judges or legislators just because they thought it would be the cool thing to do. “It’s people like you,” she stated.
 Carmack noted how far the Queer community has advanced since the 1960’s and 1970’s, when “you could be arrested in the streets for wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes.” That changed, she said, because “people in the streets yelled louder, engaged together and changed the world we live in.” She said that in her work for CFAC, which reaches out to people on the streets and in public places to ask them for support and donations for marriage equality, “I have met so many individuals whose stories have touched my heart: parents, activists, people who share stories about partners no longer alive. … It should not sadden us that our struggle is not over. It should empower us to continue to fight.”
Rev. Gerald Green of Unity Fellowship Church, a Queer-friendly denomination founded by and appealing mostly to African-Americans, said the victory was what happens “when people stand up and don’t stand down. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said until all of us are free, none of us are free.” Richard Barrera, recently appointed chair of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council, had to cancel at the last minute but sent a statement acknowledging the solidarity between organized labor and the Queer community.
“I’d like to consider myself an activist,” said Karen Guzmán of the San Diego DREAM Team. “Dreamers” has become an umbrella term embraced by young people who were brought to the U.S. as children by undocumented immigrant parents, have grown up in the U.S. and know no culture but ours (and in many cases speak no language but English), but are in jeopardy of deportation because they are technically not U.S. citizens or documented residents. The term comes from the DREAM Act, a proposed bill in Congress that would allow them to apply for legal resident status if they go to college or join the U.S. military. The DREAM Act is stuck in legislative limbo, but President Obama used his executive authority last year to set up a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that was supposed to accomplish the same thing.
“We do a lot of social justice work,” said Guzmán of herself and fellow DREAM Team members. “We promote fairness, justice, equality and treating immigrants with dignity. I am a Queer woman of color. Both my parents are undocumented immigrants. I am also a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. I ‘out’ all these identities because I want them all to be safe and protected under the law. DoMA and Prop. 8 are gone and social justice won this battle. But we still have much to do for all these communities. … What is going to be the next step? Protecting women’s reproductive rights? Solidarity with our Trans brothers and sisters? Homeless youth? What is the next step we need to take? We are not going to reach peace until we have full justice.”
Christina Griffin of the United Domestic Workers and the San Diego chapter of the NAACP was the only speaker who mentioned that while the U.S. Supreme Court had given a major civil-rights victory to Queer people and their allies, the day before it had struck down the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that enabled African-Americans and other people of color in the U.S. to vote and eventually elect their own to office. “We must continue to fight for protection against voting discrimination,” she said. “We must continue to fight against retaliation against workers. We have to fight against the refusal of our county to recognize the rights of its greatest assets, its workers. We must continue to fight the bans on marriage equality in 37 states. A lot of you are allies in more than one cause. You’ve got to stand proud as an ally.”
Cecile Veillard, who closed out the rally and kicked off the march that followed, brought up another issue that usually doesn’t get discussed at Queer events: police brutality. (A year ago Veillard stepped down as president of SAME Alliance to concentrate her activist energies on fighting abusive conduct by police.) “We have to fight against police brutality because when police brutalize the most powerless members of our community, they target all of us,” she said. She also called for continued struggle against bans on same-sex marriage in the 37 states that still have them, and asked people to put pressure on the U.S. Senate to approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban job discrimination against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people nationwide.
The march stepped off onto University Avenue and moved west on University to Fifth Avenue, the site of the Hillcrest neighborhood sign. Then it did a U-turn and came back down University to end where it began, at the Pride flag at University and Normal Streets in Hillcrest. Participants looking to continue the energy had several options. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center at 3909 Centre Street had scheduled their own commemoration of the decision starting at 7 p.m., and various bars and restaurants along the march route had already attracted celebrating crowds who greeted the marchers with enthusiasm as they went by. Rich’s, which donated a stage and some equipment for the rally, announced they were changing the theme of a dance party this Saturday, June 29 from the movie Airplane! (the poster for it used the famous “twisted-plane” logo from the film) to marriage equality.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

High Court on Rights: 1 Win, 1 Loss, 2 Draws

By Mark Gabrish Conlan • for East County Magazine, www.eastcountymagazine.org

The sun is shining this Wednesday, June 26 and it’s a beautiful, if rather hot, day in San Diego. I sent my husband Charles off to work this morning after we both got up early to watch MS-NBC broadcast news of the United States Supreme Court’s rulings on two cases involving the rights of same-sex couples to marry each other. It was a personal story to us because Charles and I are legally married. We got hitched on July 4, 2008, during the four- and one-half month “window” between the effective date of the California Supreme Court’s decision granting marriage equality to same-sex couples under the California state constitution and the passage of Proposition 8 that November. We were looking forward to our fifth wedding anniversary and we got about as good a gift as we could have expected from the U.S. Supreme Court: a win on the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” (DoMA) and a qualified draw on the Prop. 8 issue that will allow marriage equality to return to California.
But, just as the passage of Prop. 8 tempered our joy that Barack Obama won the presidency that day and broke a major civil-rights barrier by becoming the first African-American to hold that office, our joy at the fall of DoMA (part of it, anyway — more on that later) and the impending return of marriage equality to California is tempered by the really horrible decision the Court rendered the day before. That was the one that eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act that made possible the election of Barack Obama and many other qualified Americans of color to public office. Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision in that case not only smacks of the kind of “judicial activism” the Right rails against when liberal and progressive judges practice it — he basically said that the Voting Rights Act was constitutional in 1965 but is no longer because it’s been such a success — it keys into a long-standing strategy of the Republican Party to regain and maintain total power in Washington, D.C. by preventing people who wouldn’t vote for them from being able to vote at all.
Already, just one day after the Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina — three of the nine Southern states covered by the “pre-clearance” requirement, struck down by the Court, that said they had to clear any changes in their elections laws with the U.S. Department of Justice to make sure they wouldn’t have a discriminatory effect against voters of color — introduced bills in their legislatures to require voters to show photo ID’s. Like the law at issue back in 1886 in the Court’s case Yick Wo v. Hopkins — passed by the city of San Francisco, it said you couldn’t run a laundry in a wooden building — voter ID laws seem fair on their face but have a discriminatory intent and purpose. The idea behind the law in Yick Wo, correctly held unconstitutional by the Court, was to put Chinese-American owned laundries out of business — and the idea behind voter ID laws is to make it difficult, if not virtually impossible, for poor people, especially people of color and homeless people, to vote.
To their credit, the Court majority’s assault on voting rights had its limits — they invalidated an Arizona law requiring voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship — but the practical impact of ending pre-clearance was to give states with a history of discriminating against voters of color license to come up with new, creative ways of denying the vote to the “wrong” people. This directly affects Queer (so-called “LGBT,” or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people because the states passing laws to make it more difficult to vote are generally Republican-dominated, and most elected officials who support and work to advance Queer rights are Democrats. We got a reminder of that when House Speaker John Boehner responded to the anti-DoMA decision by pledging that under his stewardship, the Republican House majority would continue to do all it could to keep the definition of marriage as one man and one woman.
This is important also because in the Prop. 8 campaign, we let a wedge be driven between us and our natural allies in the communities of color. The first exit polls on Prop. 8 said up to 70 percent of African-Americans had voted for it, and while that proved to be an overestimate it still won 57 percent of the vote from the African-American community, a higher margin of support than any other ethnic group. Later research indicated that religion played a much greater role in determining how people voted on Prop. 8 than race — the more often you went to church, the more likely you were to vote for the marriage ban whatever color you were — but in the meantime a lot of harsh things got said in the Queer community about people of color in general and African-Americans in particular. Now the shoe’s on the other foot; the Supreme Court at least partially upheld our right to legally recognized marriage while, in the words of Congressmember and civil-rights leader John Lewis (D-Georgia), “driving a dagger” through the law that allowed people of color to vote in large numbers and hold office in the U.S. While celebrating our own victory, we owe it to the communities of color and the cause of civil rights in general to mobilize in solidarity with them against efforts to suppress their vote and drive them out of electoral politics.
What did the Supreme Court do, and what didn’t it do, in the final days of its 2013 term? It basically gave civil rights advocates one great victory, the invalidation of the part of DoMA that prevented the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples legally performed in U.S. states or foreign countries. It handed them one severe defeat: the destruction of the most effective part of the Voting Rights Act in preventing states from suppressing the votes of people of color. And it gave us two draws. The Court punted on Prop. 8, ruling that the initiative proponents didn’t have the legal right (so-called “standing”) to take over the case after the state government refused to defend the measure in court — which will most likely mean the return of marriage equality to California but won’t have any effect on the other 37 states that still ban same-sex marriage. And on the fourth important civil-rights case it decided in the last three days, the Court ruled that the University of Texas didn’t do a good enough job showing it needed to use race as a criterion for admission to ensure and ethnically diverse student body, but it did not close the door on race-based admissions policies completely: another draw.
What the Court didn’t do was declare a nationwide right for same-sex couples to marry. It didn’t give us the sweeping decision it had in 1967 when it ruled that bans on interracial marriages were unconstitutional. It also didn’t rule on the other main section of DoMA — the ability of states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states or foreign countries — because neither of the cases before it presented that issue. But the Court got some things triumphantly right. Not only did it throw out the clause of DoMA that prevented the federal government from granting marriage benefits to legally married same-sex couples, it did so on the basis of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The Court could have declared DoMA unconstitutional on states’-rights grounds, which would have given a boost to future states defending their bans on marriage equality. Instead, throwing out part of DoMA on equal protection grounds provides a precedent for future lawsuits against marriage bans and increases the chance that a later Court might rule laws against same-sex marriage unconstitutional if a case comes to them without the “standing” snarls that allowed them to duck a definitive ruling on Prop. 8.
It’s also interesting that while the vote on the DoMA case followed a familiar pattern — as with the Court’s two other major cases upholding Queer rights, Romer v. Evans (1996) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003), Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Court majority and Antonin Scalia filed a scathing and snotty dissent — the Prop. 8 case broke the usual divisions between so-called “liberal” and “conservative” justices. On Prop. 8 it was chief justice John Roberts who wrote for the court, joined by Scalia and three of the so-called “liberals” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. This time Kennedy wrote the dissent, joined by “conservatives” Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito and “liberal” Sonia Sotomayor. Kennedy, the only current Justice from California, wrote that “the Court’s reasoning does not take into account the fundamental principles or the practical dynamics of the initiative system in California, which uses this mechanism to control and to bypass public officials — the same officials who would not defend the initiative, an injury the Court now leaves unremedied.”
Though the Prop. 8 decision doesn’t say one word, pro or con, about marriage equality, it certainly looks like a win for marriage equality and its advocates in California. Governor Jerry Brown said on his Web page, http://gov.ca.gov/home.php, “After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California. In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay” — the delay in their decision against Prop. 8 they imposed pending the Supreme Court’s appeal — “is lifted.” It’s not clear when that will be, but it’s likely to be within a month or two because of the way the Supreme Court’s decision was framed. The Supreme Court basically said the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals shouldn’t have taken the case because the proponents of Prop. 8 didn’t have standing to defend it under federal law. They could have said they didn’t have standing in the trial court, either — which would have thrown out the entire case and thus left Prop. 8 in place — but they didn’t. Instead now-retired Judge Vaughan Walker’s sweeping and luminous destruction of every shred of argument against granting same-sex couples the right to marry is now the law of the land … in California, anyway.
I’m glad that the Supreme Court ruled the way it did on DoMA. I’m optimistic, based on the reasoning behind Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion on DoMA, that once the Court hears a challenge to the other half of DoMA — the part that says states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages legally made in other states — they’ll throw that out too. If that happens, then marrying your same-sex partner will become like marrying your first cousin or marrying a 13-year-old; some states will allow it, some won’t, but if you marry in a state that allows it and then move to one that doesn’t, your marriage will still be recognized. That won’t be anywhere near as good as a ruling striking down all bans on same-sex marriage nationwide, but as a practical matter it will establish the U.S. as a marriage equality nation because for all but the poorest Americans, it will be relatively easy to travel to a state that has same-sex marriage and then return to your home state and demand that your rights as a married couple be recognized.
I’m also glad that, even though the decision was more a draw than a win, the outcome of the Prop. 8 case means that same-sex marriage equality is once again the law in California, or at least will be after the last legal i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. I’ve said publicly on more than one occasion that Charles and I are tired of having “special rights” — the dreaded “special rights” the opponents of Queer equality are always accusing us of wanting — because we had the political savvy to jump through the hoop and marry while the clock was still ticking. Prop. 8 made California the first (and still, I think, the only) jurisdiction anywhere in the world to grant same-sex couples the right to marry and then take it away again — leaving Charles and I in a weird limbo in which, at least until the California Supreme Court ruling in 2009 upholding Prop. 8 but also certifying that the marriages before it passed were valid, our only honest answer to the question, “Are you married?,” was, “We don’t know.”
The fall of Prop. 8 ends this bizarre state in which Charles and I were entitled to legal marriage in California, and so were the estimated 18,000 other Gay and Lesbian couples who took advantage of the “window,” but other same-sex couples weren’t. We joked at times that our marriage was like a Popeil commercial — “Order now, before midnight tomorrow!” That, blessedly, will end. But as the flyer put out by SAME Alliance, the grass-roots marriage equality and Queer rights organization I’m involved with that’s putting on the big rally and march in Hillcrest tonight to commemorate the decision, says, “We’re not done yet!” We’re not done until marriage equality is an above-ground, officially recognized reality in all 50 states in the U.S. — and even then we won’t be done as long as Queer people in countries like Russia, Uganda, Iran and others face imprisonment, execution or murder simply for being who they are and loving whom they love.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

NSA: America's STASI

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • for East County Magazine, www.eastcountymagazine.org
 
When San Diego Veterans for Peace member Joe Cruz told the crowd at a June 1 support rally for Bradley Manning, who’s currently being tried in a court-martial for turning over U.S. diplomatic secrets to the now-defunct Wikileaks Web site, that the U.S. had become “a security state, a surveillance state … worse than East Germany,” he probably had no idea just how right he was. Four days later, on June 5, the British newspaper Guardian revealed on its Web site that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had obtained a court order on Verizon demanding records on every cell-phone call made in the U.S. on Verizon’s network. They published the actual text of the order, which demanded so-called “telephony metadata” from the company and also forbade anyone at Verizon from revealing that the government was getting this information.
This was just the first in an electrifying series of revelations that showed just how much the U.S. has moved from a constitutionally limited government to an authoritarian state along the lines of the one described in George Orwell’s 1984. (Not surprisingly, sales of Orwell’s book have zoomed up since the story broke.) Though the order the Guardian obtained covered only three months — April to July 2013 — Obama administration officials and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, revealed that the program has been in effect at least since 2006 and it’s been aimed at all the major cell-phone carriers. It even has the James Bond-ish name “Mainway.” Later the Washington Post broke the news that another NSA program, called “Prism,” was looking at every single e-mail sent over all the major U.S. Internet service providers (ISP’s).
At least two additional NSA surveillance programs have been revealed since the initial story broke. “Nucleon” intercepts telephone calls and routes their contents to government listeners, and “Marina” spies on foreign computer users’ e-mails and other Internet communications much the way “Prism” does domestically. Americans now rival the Chinese and other people living in out-and-out dictatorships as among the world’s most spied-on people by their own government. And what’s especially ironic is that all this espionage is made possible by the Internet, which we’ve been told ad nauseam is going to be a liberating force that brings down dictatorial governments and ensures that governments can no longer hide secrets from their own people.
The Internet allows the NSA to do what agencies like the Soviet Union’s KGB, East Germany’s STASI and their equivalents in other Eastern Bloc countries could only have dreamed of: maintain 24/7 surveillance on an entire nation’s population. STASI and the KGB could announce that they were recording everyone’s phone calls, but most people were rational enough to realize that nobody could listen to that amount of intercepted communications every day. Indeed, unlike the NSA, STASI and similar agencies were quite open that they were recording everything because the way they controlled people was by instilling fear. If you were aware of the spying, you instinctively edited your phone calls because you never knew that today yours might be one of the calls they actually did listen to.
With modern computer technology, the NSA and its personnel don’t have to listen to or read every word of every phone call or e-mail. All they have to do is set their equipment to pick up on certain “key words” which their “algorithms” tell them are associated with people who just maybe, might be, kind of possibly, potentially inclined to commit an act of terrorism. The Internet, the cell phone, and especially the modern-day “smartphone” that marries them, have become the real-world equivalents of the telescreen in Orwell’s 1984. They constantly monitor us through phones that contain GPS trackers and computers we obligingly never turn off. They keep track of everything we say, write, or buy, and endlessly feed information about our most personal habits, including where we are every moment of every day, both to the government and to the private companies that offer us these “services.” Big Brother is not only watching us; we’ve invited him in and we’re paying him through the nose for the privilege.
Don’t believe me? Read what the CEO’s of major computer and Internet companies have had to say about the subject. In 1999, when the Internet was far less of a mass phenomenon than it is now, Scott McNealy, then CEO of Sun Microsystems, said that in the age of the Internet, “You have zero privacy anyway — get over it.” Ten years later, in an interview on CNBC, Google CEO Eric Schmidt justified Internet-based espionage in intimidating language a STASI bureaucrat could well have used to justify their actions:
I think judgment matters. If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines — including Google — do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, [to remember] that we are all subject in the United States to the PATRIOT Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities. (Emphasis added.) [http://www.osnews.com/story/22603/You_Have_Zero_Privacy_Anyway_—_Get_Over_It]
Remember that in 2009, when Schmidt said that, the NSA’s domestic surveillance program had been in effect for at least three years. What’s more, as CEO of a major Internet company, he would have known about it. Of course, he would have been ordered not to tell anybody about it, and judging from his ringing endorsement of the surveillance state he wouldn’t have broken the story even if he had been allowed to. But he well knew that it was not only “possible” that information on people’s Google searches “could” be made available to the government, it was happening automatically, day after day after day. Just as former President Eisenhower warned against “the influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” we now face the growing power of an intelligence-information complex in which government and private corporations have come together to monitor our lives 24/7, both to sell us merchandise and to control our political and social thoughts and actions.
After the initial stories broke in the Guardian and the Washington Post, the first polls that came out indicated that most Americans were just fine with being spied on by the NSA as long as it was in the name of preventing future terrorist attacks. More recent polls, however, expressed considerably more skepticism about the government’s case for the surveillance. In a poll released June 17 [http://www.people-press.org/2013/06/17/public-split-over-impact-of-nsa-leak-but-most-want-snowden-prosecuted/], the Pew Research Center announced that 49 percent of their respondents believed the leaks served the public interests, versus 44 percent who thought they harmed it. What’s more, unlike previous polls on national security issues, there wasn’t a partisan split between Republicans, Democrats and independents: all supported the leaks by margins of 5 to 6 points, well within the poll’s margin of error.
Nonetheless, the same poll revealed an overwhelming sentiment for prosecuting Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old data analyst for a private contractor at the NSA who has claimed responsibility for the leaks. Of the Pew respondents, 54 percent thought the government should pursue a criminal case against him versus 38 percent who said they shouldn’t. Curiously, sentiment for prosecuting Snowden was weaker among political independents (48 to 43 percent) than either Republicans (59 to 37 percent) or Democrats (59 to 35 percent).
What’s more, younger people (18- to 29-year-olds) were more likely than anyone else in the poll to say the leaks served the public interest — 60 percent said they did, 34 percent they didn’t — and they were the only ones with a plurality against prosecuting Snowden (50 percent said he shouldn’t be, 44 percent he should) and the only ones with a majority against the NSA’s data collection efforts in general (55 percent disapprove, 43 percent approve). That may be the most hopeful sign from the entire controversy. The generation that, more than any other in our society, has grown up with the Internet and taken its convenience for granted — and that has actually produced the leakers (Snowden is 29 and Bradley Manning is 25) — is more skeptical about government than any other and less inclined to believe official proclamations that these programs have actually helped prevent terrorist attacks.
The Tea Party is also looking good in the aftermath of the NSA revelations. I’d long written off the Tea Party as just another incarnation of the radical-Right movement that began in the late 1930’s in response to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and its vast expansion of government power to deal with the Depression, but on this issue a lot of Tea Partiers are breaking with the Republican Party and its acceptance of the national security state. Indeed, according to the Pew poll Tea Partiers are more likely to be opposed to the NSA’s screening than any other political group. By a margin of 65 to 29 percent, Tea Party Republicans disapprove of the programs. All other political subgroups in the Pew poll supported the NSA: non-Tea Party Republicans by 50 to 46 percent, moderate to conservative Democrats by 61 to 36 percent, and liberal Democrats by 52 to 45 percent.
And Tea Partiers aren’t just sharing these views on the Q.T. with opinion pollsters. As Elspeth Reeve recently revealed on the Atlantic Wire [http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/06/tea-partiers-feel-vindicated-about-obama-nsa-surveillance/66207/], the Tea Partiers are making connections between the NSA domestic espionage, the Internal Revenue Service singling out grass-roots Tea Party organizations for special scrutiny of their claims to tax-exempt status and the subpoenas against the Associated Press and Fox News over their alleged receipts of government leaks.

The NSA revelations, Reeve wrote, are “leaving the Tea Party feeling vindicated. ‘They say that those of us in the Tea Party wear tinfoil hats and we’re out there and all that,’ Tea Party Tribune editor Ken Crow tells the Daily Beast’s Michelle Cottle. ‘But take a look around!’ FreedomWorks communications director Jackie Bodnar says, ‘This is definitely not an isolated thing. … It’s part of a huge list of Fourth Amendment violations that have been happening for years.’ The Tea Party told-ya-so’s show the split between establishment Republicans and the conservative activists. House Speaker John Boehner called NSA leaker Edward Snowden a traitor. Rep. Peter King [R-New York] is even calling for Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter Snowden leaked to, to be prosecuted for treason. But on Tea Party Facebook pages, Snowden is a hero.” And with mainstream Democrats like Dianne Feinstein joining mainstream Republicans in defending the NSA, the one U.S. Senator who has so far dared to question the program is also the one U.S. Senator who filibustered against the Obama administration’s drone strikes in Pakistan: Tea Party darling Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

Of course, a lot of the people in Pew’s poll — including the majority of so-called “liberals” who endorsed the NSA’s internal espionage — are probably buying the profuse apologias being churned out by the Obama administration and the officials in charge of the spying programs themselves. They insist that they’re not actually listening to people’s phone conversations — even though they have the technology to do so — but are merely collecting the so-called “metadata.” That means everything about a phone call — who places it, who receives it, how long it lasts and, most importantly from a surveillance point of view, where the parties are when it takes place — except what is being said during it.

As Guardian reporter James Ball explained in a sidebar to their original story [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/phone-call-metadata-information-authorities], “Groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation say that by knowing who the individual speaks to, and when, and for how long, intelligence agencies can build up a detailed picture of that person, their social network, and more. Collecting information on where people are during the calls colors in that picture even further.” Ball noted that the information the Justice Department was demanding when they subpoenaed the records of 120 Associated Press journalists over a story about an anti-terrorist campaign in Yemen, “which led to clashes between the media and the White House over what was widely seen as intrusion into a free press … was telephony metadata: precisely what the court order against Verizon shows is being collected by the NSA on millions of Americans every day.”

Ball conceded that “the primary purpose of large-scale databases such as the NSA’s call records is generally said to be data-mining: rather than examining individuals, algorithms are used to find patterns of unusual activity that may mark terrorism or criminal conspiracies. However, collection and storage of this information gives government a power it’s previously lacked: easy and retroactive surveillance. If authorities become interested in an individual at a later stage, and obtain their number, officials can look back through the data and gather their movements, social network, and more — possibly for several years … In essence, you’re being watched: the government just doesn’t know your name while it’s doing it.”

Another galling part of the government’s defense is that the NSA’s universal surveillance over every American who uses a cell phone or the Internet is “lawful.” It may be under the USA PATRIOT Act, that heap of repressive, authoritarian dung pushed through Congress in the wake of 9/11 — when almost nobody dared to vote against it and virtually no Congressmember even bothered to read it — but it sure ain’t under what is supposed to be the supreme law of this land, the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment couldn’t be clearer: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Electronic communications may not have existed when the Founding Fathers wrote that, but a nationwide data collection program that swept up millions of people and recorded who they talked to, when, where and for how long, without any “probable cause” to believe any of them were actually engaged in something illegal, was exactly the kind of sweeping, dictatorial abuse of power the Fourth Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights were designed to prevent. Under its own rules, the government of the United States can’t gather massive haystacks of information about innocent people in search of a few criminal or terrorist needles — and neither can any other country that wishes to remain a republic.

Oh, but the government’s apologists continue bleating, the NSA’s universal surveillance of Americans is “effective.” President Obama himself went on the Charlie Rose Show on TV to say so. NSA director Keith Alexander appeared before Congress and said that the massive surveillance had stopped 50 potential terror attacks in 20 countries. Not that we have any way of knowing whether that’s true, because the programs are secret. So are the results. In the one case where Obama actually named an alleged terrorist whose plot was supposedly stopped through the NSA’s scrutiny — Najibullah Zazi, arrested in late 2009 for plotting to bomb the New York subway system — it turned out, according to the Miami Herald [http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/11/3445498/nyc-bomb-plot-details-settle-little.html], that Zazi’s al-Qaeda contacts had been so extensive and above-ground, “the e-mail that disrupted the plan could easily have been intercepted without Prism.”

The whole attitude of the U.S. government — “we need to spy on you 24/7 to find the terrorists who want to kill you” — underscores just how absurd the whole idea of a “war on terror” is. Ordinarily, when a country is at war, its citizens recognize the need for secrecy about its troop movements, locations and battle plans because the military needs to conceal that from the enemy until the battle is fought. After the battle happens, its outcome usually is pretty widely known. A government can try to lie and say it’s doing better on the battlefield than it really is, but enough servicemembers who actually fought either write, call or come home with the actual story that cover-ups like that don’t last long. The “war on terror” is different in that not only the maneuvers leading up to the battles but the battles themselves are secret, and so are their outcomes.

Indeed, by creating the “war on terror,” the Republican and Democratic Parties of the U.S. have brought us the kind of “perpetual warfare” George Orwell described in 1984. The dictatorship in 1984 kept itself in power indefinitely not only by continually spying on its own citizens but by keeping the country in a state of “war” that, like the “war on terror,” could never definitively be won or lost. As Orwell explained, “While wars could be won or lost, no ruling class could be completely irresponsible. But when war becomes literally continuous … there is no such thing as military necessity. Technical progress can cease and the most palpable facts can be denied or disregarded. … Efficiency, even military efficiency, is no longer needed. Nothing is efficient in Oceania except the Thought Police. … The war … if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. … But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the supply of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special internal atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs.”

When Osama bin Laden’s 19 minions slammed those hijacked airliners into those buildings on September 11, 2001, they gave the U.S. military-industrial complex a precious gift that has kept on giving. They not only provided a so-called “existential threat” to replace the one that had been cruelly snatched from them a decade earlier when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, they created an incident that could be used to set up the entire repressive apparatus Orwell had conjured up for his fictitious “Oceania,” and in a way through which the government could tell the people they were doing it to preserve democracy instead of destroy it.

Under the lash of the 9/11 trauma, Congress enacted a so-called “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” that has been used by both Presidents Bush and Obama to go to war anywhere in the world and to order the death of any human being based solely on the President’s say-so — including, in Obama’s case, United States citizens. Congress also passed the USA PATRIOT Act, a blatantly unconstitutional piece of legislation that, among other things, essentially turned the U.S. into a police state by giving the federal government unprecedented powers to collect information on us in total secrecy. The courts have joined the abdication of responsibility by refusing even to consider most of the lawsuits that have been brought against these policies, buying the government’s “state secrets” arguments that the actions of the national security state are based on information so secret they can’t even share it with judges to let them evaluate their constitutionality.

More than 3,000 people died on 9/11. So did the whole notion that the United States of America is a democratic country and that the Constitution is anything but window dressing. The National Security Agency’s program of spying on every American who uses a cell phone or the Internet is just the latest indication of how far we have retreated from any idea of “a government of laws, not of men.” Indeed, according to Edward Snowden, your liberties are at the mercy not just of the NSA itself, but of every individual analyst looking over the data the NSA collects: “Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But, I sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a Federal judge, to even the President, if I had a personal e-mail.”

The aftermath of 9/11 has been to turn the U.S. into a federal police state, and if we want to win back our democracy it will take a far more aggressive and broad-based response than we’ve seen the American people willing to make so far.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

SAME Alliance to Sponsor Militant Action for U.S. Supreme Court's "Day of Decision" on Marriage Equality

SAME Alliance (formerly San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality) is sponsoring a militant rally and march through Hillcrest on the day the U.S. Supreme Court announces its decision in the marriage equality cases challenging California's Proposition 8 and the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DoMA) passed by Congress in 1996, by which the federal government refuses to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in a U.S. state or foreign country.

Regardless of which decision, DoMA or Prop. 8, is announced first, please meet at the Hillcrest Pride Flagpole (University Ave and Normal St. SD, CA. 92103) starting at 5 p.m.

***THE DECISION WILL MOST LIKELY COME DOWN MONDAY JUNE 17 OR MONDAY JUNE 24!***

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to make its decision on the legality of CA's Prop 8 and the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The date is unknown at this time, so be prepared to mobilize and join us at the Hillcrest Pride Flag for a rally with speakers and a march on the day when they are announced. Then stay at the Pride flag for an open mike or join us afterward at the San Diego LGBT Center at 7:30 p.m. for more activities in response to the decision.

Please help publicize this action by printing out one or more of the flyers below and distributing them. For more information, please visit the SAME Alliance Web site at www.samealliance.com




Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Manning Support Demo Draws 100 to Hillcrest June 1

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Bradley (a.k.a. Brianna) Manning

“Truth-Telling Is Not a Crime”

Manning’s face in the banner

Nemo in the pen

Anokai Casey with chalk

March leader Cecile Veillard

“Hero”

“Arrest war criminals … ”

“Free Manning” banner

Veterans for Peace flag-bearer

A support demonstration for U.S. Army private first class Bradley Manning, who is being charged with “aiding and abetting the enemy” by providing extensive information about U.S. foreign policy and military actions to the now-defunct Web site WikiLeaks, drew 100 people to the streets of Hillcrest in San Diego June 1. The action was part of an international day of support for Manning timed to commemorate the third anniversary of his arrest on June 1, 2010, and also to come on the eve of his court-martial, which began June 3.
“This day of protest began 13 hours ago in Canberra and Sydney, Australia,” said Joe Cruz of San Diego Veterans for Peace at the start of the rally. “Then it moved to Korea, where freedom fighters demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy. Then it moved west to Heidelberg, Germany, where I was stationed when I was in the U.S. military, and to Amsterdam, London, Wales, and then across the ocean to Hartford, New York, Boston, Maine and even Tampa, Florida. Then it came west to Phoenix and then to California, in San Diego, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and now San Diego.”
Manning’s plight has gripped anti-war activists and other progressives worldwide despite minimal coverage by the corporate media. It was dramatized as part of the San Diego action. Organizers set up an outdoor pen of wooden standards and cord made to look like barbed wire, and a volunteer activist named Nemo stood inside the pen in an orange garment that resembled a prison jumpsuit. The pen was 6’ by 8’ — the size of the cell in which Manning has been held in solitary confinement for much of the time he’s been in custody. But since the event was outdoors and in a public place, they could not have Nemo be naked — as the real Manning was forced to through much of his incarceration, supposedly to keep him from killing himself.
The action began with Nemo reading some of the 10,000-word statement Manning himself presented in court on February 28, when he acknowledged providing WikiLeaks with U.S. military and State Department cables but denied aiding and abetting the enemy. Manning explained how his job as an intelligence analyst for the Army gave him access to State Department communications.
“With my insatiable curiosity and interest in geopolitics, I became fascinated,” Manning recalled. “I read not only the cables on Iraq, but also about countries and events I found interesting. The more I read, the more I was fascinated by the way we dealt with other nations and organizations. I soon began to think the documented back-door deals and seemingly criminal activity didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world. … The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion this was the type of information that should become public.”
“This is one American solider,” Joe Cruz said of Manning. “We have over 5,000 [U.S.] soldiers killed [in Iraq and Afghanistan] and we have killed up to 1 million Iraqis. Why all this fuss about one man? It’s a symbolic case. It’s because we are all Bradley Manning. The war against Manning is a war against all of us, against a security state, a surveillance state.” Cruz compared the Obama administration’s war against whistleblowers and their subpoenas for information from the Associated Press and Fox News to the tactics of the East German intelligence agency STASI, which spied on everybody in the country (or tried to) and let them know it in order to intimidate them into silence.
“Just three months ago, our media felt Bradley Manning was not a major story,” Cruz said. “Then they found out at the AP, Fox News and CNN that they were being targeted for doing their duty as journalists. It’s about more than Bradley Manning. It’s about the principles we hold dear.” Cruz also noted that the oath one takes to join the U.S. military — which hasn’t changed between his enlistment in 1962 and Manning’s in 2006 — “is not an oath to the Commander in Chief, nor to Congress, nor to God. It’s an oath to the U.S. Constitution, to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And that Constitution has been violated by the fascist war parties in Washington, D.C.”
A number of speakers cited other individuals who have attempted to resist U.S. militarism and the growing power of the American surveillance state and have suffered for it. Pat Grayson of the San Diego Coalition to Free Manning mentioned the late Aaron Swartz, Internet entrepreneur and inventor of the RSS data-management system, who killed himself last January while facing up to 35 years in prison for allegedly hacking into the database of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to steal articles from medical journals. She also mentioned another Internet activist, Jeremy Hammond, who is currently being held in prison pending trial for allegedly exposing the activities of Strategic Forecasting, Inc., also known as Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation that Barron’s magazine called “the shadow CIA.”
Grayson noted that, like Manning, Hammond is being held without bail, “which is unheard of, because the government doesn’t want them to defend themselves. Jeremy Hammond is in jail for stealing e-mails from a secret corporation that is monitoring private e-mails and selling information to other corporations and the government. … This corporation was going after civil-rights, animal-rights and Occupy activists.” According to Grayson, the judge in Hammond’s case, Loretta Preska, has a conflict of interest since her husband, Thomas Kavaler, had one of the e-mail accounts Hammond is accused of disclosing and also shares clients with Stratfor, but she has refused to remove herself from the case.
Alfie Padilla, who identifies as a male-to-female Transgender person and works as volunteer coordinator for the Hillcrest-based Queer rights organization Canvass for a Cause (CFAC), focused on Manning’s own gender identity. Though most accounts of Manning’s case — including the official Bradley Manning Support Group and its Web site, www.bradleymanning.org — refer to him as a male and use Bradley as his first name, Manning made contact with a gender-identity counselor on the Internet in November 2009 and discussed his desire to transition to female. Other chat logs indicate that Manning decided on “Brianna” as her feminine first name, which has led some of Manning’s supporters not to identify Manning by a first name at all and to use gender-ambiguous language like the ordinarily plural pronouns “they” and “them” to describe Manning.
“One of the most emotional times in my research on Manning was when I read a quote that they didn’t mind going to jail but they didn’t want pictures of themselves as a man plastered all over the media,” Padilla said. She called Manning’s incarceration and trial “an intentional attack on Queer and Trans people by the state. The state wants to make it seem like a random person did this, but Manning is one in a long line of Queer people who stood up for the truth. The Queer movement is not just corporate people and celebrities.”
Long-time San Diego peace activist Lynn Gonzalez talked about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and told the story of Omar, a former Marine she became acquainted with when he called the hotline she staffs for disaffected servicemembers. When he was sent to Iraq in the early years of the war, Omar “got off the plane in Baghdad and was shipped right to Falloujah and put under constant combat stress for three weeks,” Gonzalez recalled. “He didn’t even have a chance to shower. He was in the trenches as a sniper when a woman darted out. He shot her before he realized she was a woman. Then he had to listen to her scream for hours before she finally died. No one in his unit could risk coming out for her body.”
Omar’s PTSD first kicked in in 2004 when he was still in Falloujah, Gonzalez recalled. “He was sleepwalking, breaking bottles and cutting himself with the edges,” she said. “He was sent home, and at first he just wanted to go back to his unit. Then I finally got him to go to the psych ward at Balboa Hospital, and when he got out he wanted nothing to do with the Marines anymore. In fact, he even gave me the keys to his car so I could pick it up for him at Camp Pendleton, since he didn’t want to go back there.”
According to Gonzalez, servicemembers who get PTSD generally get it from guilt feelings over innocent civilians they killed. “War is an aberration,” she said. “We are not meant to be killing each other. It’s hard for a lot of people [in the peace movement] to maintain sympathy for the soldiers because they’re the ones doing the killing, but all those in war are victims. Wars are fought by the 99 percent for the benefit of the 1 percent.” Gonzalez closed by mentioning another victim: Kimberly Rivera, a U.S. war resister who fled the military, went to Canada, then was deported to the U.S. by the Canadian government and is now in the Miramar brig in San Diego County awaiting charges. She’s also separated from her four children, two of whom are Canadian-born.
Attorney Charlie Pratt, a long-time Queer activist, talked not only about Manning and Rivera but also fellow attorney Lynne Stewart, whom he’s known for 40 years — and who is currently in prison for violating so-called “special administrative measures” in connection with representing Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, convicted of masterminding the first attempt by terrorists to blow up the World Trade Center in New York in 1993. The “special administrative measures” were supposed to prevent her from relaying any communications between her and Rahman, ostensibly to keep him from using her as a conduit to relay instructions to his followers to commit terrorist acts — but Stewart pointed out they also prevented her from telling Rahman’s followers not to get involved in terrorism.
Stewart is suffering from severe breast cancer, and her supporters have alleged that her cancer was allowed to become terminal after she was refused medical treatment in prison. Pratt called the government’s attack on her, and their refusal to give her compassionate release, “pure persecution” and part of a campaign to silence all dissent against the U.S.’s war policy. “Everyone has a time in their life as an activist when you have to stand up,” Pratt said. “We have to stick to our principles, suck it up, be brave and understand not to separate Bradley Manning, Lynne Stewart and Kimberly Rivera from the rest of us. We owe them. We can stand up and we must stand up.”
After the rally, participants staged a march to the military recruiting office near the Uptown District shopping center. They marched in the street and, to make it difficult for the police to push them back to the sidewalks, marched against the direction of traffic. The action ended at about 3:30 p.m., though some people reconvened later that night for an Overpass Light Brigade display of lights spelling “Free Manning” from the 10th Street Bridge, aimed at the drivers on the 163 freeway below.

Over 700 March Against Monsanto in Balboa Park

Action Targets GMO’s and Seed Patents

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
  
“When they own food … ”

Jeffrey Smith with U.S. Senator Tom Harkin

Makeda

Dr. Lori Robbins

Nick Barnaby

Tom Eden

Eva Roufé

Local activist Cathy Mendonça (right) with other participants

The March

“Mankind will stop … ”

 “Monsanto Owns FDA”

“No food … ”

“Not lab rats … ”

“Right to Know”

“Righteously Raw”

“Sleeping with Monsanto”

It might seem strange that over 700 people would come out to the Balboa Park fountain on a bright, sunny day, listen to speakers for over an hour, march all the way down to Little Italy and then return to Balboa Park to listen to speakers for over an hour again just to target one corporation. But Monsanto isn’t an ordinary corporation. According to protesters, Monsanto’s dominance of the worldwide seed industry, its aggressive promotion of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and its legal strategy of forcing farmers to sign agreements to buy new seeds every year instead of saving some for future planting indicate that the company will stop at nothing until every atom of food consumed by humans everywhere on earth is a proprietary Monsanto product.
“It’s easy to be angry at Monsanto,” said Jeffrey Smith of the anti-GMO group Institute for Responsible Technology, who addressed the afternoon rally from Denver via Skype. “We can tell stories all day about why they’re the world’s most hated corporation. Three of the Monsanto scientists who did the ‘safety’ studies on rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone, used to get cows to give more milk, which was linked to breast cancer and other human health hazards in some studies) refused to drink milk afterwards, and one bought his own cow. We’ve caught Monsanto doing research that hides problems with their products. Monsanto withholds seeds from other scientists, and if the scientists get them anyway from other sources, Monsanto goes after them in court.”
According to Smith, Michael Taylor was an attorney for Monsanto when he got a job with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where he signed the paper certifying that foods containing GMO’s were chemically identical to foods without them. “The overwhelming consensus of the scientists at the FDA was that [foods containing] GMO’s were different — and dangerous,” Smith explained. Nonetheless, Taylor, an attorney with no scientific background, made it official U.S. law that GMO’s were harmless and therefore foods containing them didn’t have to be labeled as such. Taylor was rewarded with a higher-paying job at Monsanto — and now he’s returned to the FDA, newly appointed by President Obama to oversee all food-safety regulation.
“In 1999, a Monsanto spokesperson said their goal was to make sure 100 percent of all the world’s seeds came from them,” Smith said. “Their plan was to take over from God. They want to genetically engineer all life and eliminate the products of billions of years of evolution. So when we stand up against Monsanto we are protecting all future generations. We cannot clean up all the self-propagating genetic pollution already released by Monsanto. No ancestor of ours has ever had the opportunity to do this much because no technology has ever been long-lived than theirs.”
How could Monsanto literally take over the entire human food supply? The process began in 1980, when the U.S. Supreme Court first ruled that life forms could be patented. Monsanto got into the business of genetically engineered seeds to protect their patented herbicide RoundUp, which they sold to farmers as a weed killer. When the patents to RoundUp were about to expire in the 1990’s, Monsanto hit on the strategy of genetically modifying soybeans and other crop seeds so RoundUp wouldn’t affect them. But these so-called “RoundUp Ready” seeds came with a catch: you could only use them if you signed a contract with Monsanto saying you’d only use RoundUp with them — not a competing herbicide — and you had to buy your seeds anew from Monsanto each year instead of saving seeds from your harvest for next year’s planting.
What’s more, Monsanto’s legal department aggressively went after farmers whose crops contained genes from Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds, whether the farmers had deliberately planted Monsanto seeds or not. One victim was Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, interviewed by this reporter in 2001, who had spent over 20 years building up seed lines of organically grown soybeans and rapeseeds (the source of canola oil). Unfortunately for Schmeiser, one of his neighbors was a Monsanto customer, and seeds containing Monsanto’s patented genes drifted over into Schmeiser’s fields and cross-pollinated his plants. Monsanto sued him and won when the Canadian court said it didn’t matter that Schmeiser hadn’t planted Monsanto’s seeds or wanted their genes in his plants; as long as they were there, no matter how they got there, he was violating Monsanto’s patents. As a result, he not only had to pay Monsanto a hefty judgment, he also had to destroy many of his laboriously bred seed lines.
With legal precedents like that, Monsanto could conceivably take over the world’s entire food supply and claim ownership of absolutely everything we eat or drink. All they have to do is get enough GMO seeds of every food crop in distribution and let nature do the rest for them. If they can demand royalties from every farmer who grows a crop Monsanto makes a seed for, they will own not only every form of edible plant life but every food animal as well — since many GMO crops, including corn, are not only consumed by people directly but are fed to livestock. The power Smith says Monsanto wants is not only to control evolution in their laboratories, but to loose their patented genes on the world’s fields so they incorporate themselves into every farmer’s crop — and thus every farmer has to pay a royalty to Monsanto and no one can eat without enriching Monsanto’s coffers.
One result of Monsanto’s strategy that’s already affecting the world is an increase in chronic diseases Smith and other GMO opponents think are associated with the consumption of genetically modified foods. “Thousands of doctors are now prescribing non-GMO diets, and their patients are getting better,” Smith said. Among the health hazards of consuming GMO foods, Smith said, are allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, migraines, skin conditions, problems with fertility, anxiety, depression, other mental issues, kidney disease, hypertension and diabetes. (For more information on the health hazards of consuming GMO’s, visit http://www.responsibletechnology.org/health-risks.)
So what is Smith suggesting we do about GMO’s? The government isn’t going to solve the problem, he said, not with Monsanto virtually owning the process that supposedly “regulates” them. The answer, he said, is simply don’t buy them — and don’t shop at stores that carry them. It’s because no one is forced to buy GMO’s — at least so far, alternatives to most GMO products still exist in the marketplace — that Monsanto and other companies invested in GMO’s are fighting tooth and nail against laws that require that foods containing GMO’s be labeled as such. In Europe, where products containing GMO’s do have to be labeled, major companies like Nestlé, Unilever, McDonald’s and Bayer have stopped selling GMO products because no one will buy them.
It’s worked in the United States, too, Smith said. Enough consumers became aware of the health hazards of milk containing rBGH that they stopped buying it — and Walmart stopped carrying it. Deprived of a market in the stores of the world’s largest private corporation, dairies stopped using it. (Smith didn’t mention that a key player in the story was Alta-Dena Dairy, which had to go to court to win the right to label their milk as not containing rBGH.) Though Smith and other anti-GMO activists lost a major battle in California in 2012 — they put Proposition 37 on the ballot to require that foods containing GMO’s be labeled, but a multi-million dollar corporate-funded campaign and flaws in the initiative’s wording led to its defeat at the polls — Smith said the Prop. 37 campaign brought the U.S. closer to a “tipping point” at which people will demand non-GMO foods — and the major food companies and grocery stores will have to comply.
Smith’s speech was the final act of a nearly five-hour event that contained a rally in the morning outside the fountain in Balboa Park, a march to the farmers’ market in Little Italy, then back to the park for the afternoon program at the World Beat Center. Makeda Cheatom, also known as Makeda Dread, founded the World Beat Center in the 1970’s in one of two unused water towers in the park — the Centro Cultural de la Raza is in the other — and both have faced ongoing battles with the city ever since for the right to stay there. Makeda boasted that she started San Diego’s first vegetarian restaurant, The Prophet, and at the World Beat Center she offers classes on how to live entirely on raw foods.
Makeda talked about how GMO seeds and foods are being “dumped” in Third World countries, how activists there are fighting back and how we need to take them as an example. “We have to get more First World people in this movement,” she said. “I don’t want to have divisions between Black, white and Brown people. It’s all one people, and y’all come from Africa anyway.”
San Diego State University (SDSU) food sciences professor Dr. Lori Robbins spoke at the morning rally at the fountain about Monsanto’s power in the political system and the health hazards of glyphosate, the key active ingredient in RoundUp. “Why doesn’t our government protect us?” she said. “Monsanto stuffs so much money into the ears of our government that they can’t hear us. We’re paying with our money, our lives and our future. That’s why we’re in the streets — so our government can hear us. Maybe we need a new government.”
“Or no government!” responded a member of the audience.
“Telling you everything that’s bad about Monsanto in three minutes is impossible,” said Hugh Moore of the Green Party of San Diego County. “There’s only one way this gets into us: the government allows it. Internationally, the U.S. government is the lobbying arm of Monsanto. When France decided not to let GMO’s into their country, Monsanto sent the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, to talk to the French government to try to get them to change their minds.” Moore said that 270,000 farmers in India have committed suicide in the last 15 years because they’ve gone broke due to Monsanto’s requirement that they buy new seeds every year instead of saving them from previous plantings — as farmers have been doing since agriculture existed.
“I want to talk about the role of the media in activism and in the situation we’re in in this country,” said Nick Barnaby, one of the organizers of the event. He and other speakers talked about Section 735 from the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act.” Enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in March 2013 as part of one of the big “compromise” budget bills, Section 735 allows Monsanto and other companies that make GMO’s to keep manufacturing them even if they’re sued.
According to Barnaby, the U.S. media are complicit in Monsanto’s takeover of the worldwide food industry because they aren’t reporting on Section 735 and other issues exposing the risks of GMO’s. “How many of you heard about the Monsanto Protection Act on TV?” Barnaby said. “How many of you heard about this march on TV? Nobody. … I found out about [Section 735] in December. We find these bills and put together campaigns to stop them. If the TV would actually cover these stories, it would be different.”
Barnaby said that anti-GMO activists need both to grow their own food and start their own media on the Internet. “This is just the start of the new food revolution,” he said. “We have to network locally. We’re going to do a lot of activism, including your Senators and Congressmembers. The other thing we need to do is make real-time changes in our own lives. There are a lot of new techniques to grow your own food. I’d like you to grow food and not lawns.”
A number of speakers at both rallies are doing just that in various ways. Tom Eden gave a pitch for aquaculture — a system of underwater farming in which plants and marine animals live, nurture and sustain each other, creating consumable food for humans. He also urged people to visit the Web site http://healthyfoodlocalearth.wordpress.com, which offers help for would-be food growers in San Diego. Another speaker put in a pitch for the Organic Consumers’ Association, http://www.organicconsumers.org, which among other things is launching a worldwide campaign to ban nicotinoid pesticides and Monsanto’s Mon810 genetically engineered corn, which have been linked to the mass death of bees (see http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=8662).
At the afternoon rally, Eva Roufé showed a PowerPoint presentation promoting an organically grown vegetarian diet. “Organic food is more expensive,” she conceded, “but it’s natural and it’s more nutrition-dense, which means you can eat less. And the more we buy it, the more they’re going to grow it.” She offered tips for storing vegetables, including soaking them in water to keep them fresh longer, and said when you buy organic you can save your own seeds and use them to grow your own food for next year.
Turner Bell of City Farmers’ Nursery also offered advice for people interested in growing their own. “You just need to keep clean and be aware of safety,” he said. “You can find unique ways of doing things. Grow your own foods and learn to eat seasonally. When you’re in the garden, you’re around a lot of oxygen-producing plants. There’s a lot more to a garden than just food. Being in a garden is stress-reducing. I am really blessed to be able to live and work in my garden, to have fresh eggs and honey, and to be able to make my own olive oil.”