Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Madam Speaker

Dear Madam Speaker,

With all respect for the reasons you expressed this morning, with respect to impeachment of executive branch officials within the current administration, I call on you to moderate your stance with respect to impeachment.

You are not Speaker of the Democrats, but Speaker of the House of Representatives, which has a sacred duty to uphold our Constitution's system of checks and balances.

If a President, Vice-President, or cabinet member is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, it is the job of the United States Congress to intervene. Failure to do so is a failure in one of your fundamental duties.

To begin with, Rep. Inslee's motion to investigate Attorney General Gonzalez for impeachable offenses merits your support. This is not a partisan rush to sack a Republican. Rep. Inslee is calling for an orderly procedure in accordance with our law. Please, madam Speaker, support this process and let us consider the conclusions.

As for higher officials, Madam Speaker, I beg you not to worry about the appearance of partisanship. To fail to defend our Constitution against a figure such as Richard Cheney, for fear of how it might be used against Democrats in an election, WOULD be partisanship at its worst.
Please be courageous and take the long view of history. Do not let this Congress be the one that had an opportunity to defend the Constitution against a tyrannical force - and failed to do so.

Most Sincerely,

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Empty Studio Part II

Another Saturday sitting in an empty studio. My cushions and my sandals parked by the door, a bag with a notebook and some other items potentially useful for teaching an acting class that incorporates the stillness of Zen meditation and the release of energy into creativity and action.

Sounds like a great idea. Many people tell me that. Sort of like Zen practice itself - people love to read about it or hear about it; yet starting a sitting group is a very lonely proposition. You have to show up, and show up, and keep showing up. Do the sitting even if no one is there. And in the acting studio, that's what I do: fold up my legs, hold my hands softly in position, breathe and listen. Sangha is a precious jewel indeed. Precious, and rare.

Perhaps the only one who is really interested in practicing this is me; and maybe my business right now is in the zendo doing my practice, and not improvising with performing arts and outer path improvisations. Who am I kidding? There is nothing to proclaim. I have offered something, maybe something that really is only interesting to me - anyway, there is no pressing need for it. Clear, clear.

Maybe the problem is, I don't want to say goodbye to acting. Even though acting has said goodbye to me. The empty studio is an echo of a door that shut years ago. Yes, that's possible.

If you want to figure out what's going wrong in a situation, start by following what you want. That's the trail that will lead you to the fuckup eventually.

At Casey's downtown, Chris buys me a pint and tells me I need to shut up and listen to him. Meanwhile I'm thinking maybe we both ought to shut up.

Goodness, I've wandered for away from home. Maybe time to rest my voice for a while and let my scalp feel the sunshine.

Maybe He's Just Jealous

Live Earth, the 24-hour, intercontinental musical event taking place today has its detractors, of course.

Many people, for instance, have brought up the hypocrisy that this concert is being powered by electricity. That's because of course if environmentalists really practiced what they preached, they'd be living naked in caves.

That way, we wouldn't have to feel challenged by them.

Among the other notable critics of Live Earth is Bob Geldof, who said:

"...why is (Gore) actually organizing them? To make us aware of the greenhouse effect? Everybody's known about that problem for years. We are all [expletive] conscious of global warming."

Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Geldof, who only organizes concerts that publicize things the rest of us don't know about!

For instance, Live Aid, which informed us for the first time that there is hunger in Africa; and Live 8, which informed an unsuspecting world that lots of people live in poverty.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Entrepreneurial advice:

Don't start a business with your friends.

Run, Dan, Run

On April 22, Long Beach lost its Congressional representative to colon cancer. Her name was Juanita Millender McDonald, a Democrat. She represented her district in the United States Congress from 1996 until her death. Some say she would have been Secretary of Transportation if John Kerry had become President.

To replace her, a special election took place two months after her death. The Democrats vying to replace her spent their time and money fighting each other. Meanwhile, one young man - a clinical social worker in Long Beach who has worked with the mentally ill and youth in trouble - kept bringing the conversation back to the occupation of Iraq, energy and the environment, and health care. Health care, health care, health care.

We're supposed to believe that a candidate like that can't win an election. Yet Daniel Brezenoff, who comes from a family of political organizers and has it in his blood, who has himself organized many campaigns before his own, earned enough votes to get into the runoff election in August.

I haven't met Daniel yet, but I hope to very soon. This is the sort of person, and the sort of plan, we need in our Congress. To achieve that, we need to work for it. I can't vote for Dan, since I live in another district, but I can help him and somehow I will.

Starting with this endorsement. Please visit his campaign page. Let us follow his progress. And let me know if you'd like to join me for one of his musically-inclined fundraisers.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tom Paine Whispers To Our Generation

"Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions."
--Thomas Paine, (1737-1809), a champion of American democracy

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Where Congress Fears To Tread

Madam Speaker,

On the 4th of July, 2007, I am calling on you as Speaker of the House to reverse your position on impeachment proceedings against the President and Vice President of the United States.

For the good of country, and putting that greater good ahead of partisan advantage, I call on you to put impeachment back on the table.

Are there not sufficient grounds to measure high crimes and misdemeanors when the President intentionally misleads the Congress and the public to justify his invasion and occupation of Iraq, in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 1001; and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States in connection with the war against Iraq in violation of Title 18 United States Code, Section 371;

When the President admits - nay, proudly announces! - to ordering the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance of American civilians without seeking warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, duly constituted by Congress in 1978, in violation of Title 50 of the United States Code, Section 1805;

When the President conspires to commit the torture of prisoners in violation of the UN Torture Convention and the Geneva Convention, which under Article VI of the Constitution are part of the "supreme Law of the Land"; and enacts a policy of extraordinary rendition of these prisoners to hidden facilities in other lands to avoid the conscience of our great republic;

When the President subverts civil law by ordering indefinite detention of citizens, without access to legal counsel, without charge and without opportunity to appear before a civil judicial officer to challenge the detention, based solely on the discretionary designation by the President of a U.S. citizen as an "enemy combatant";

When the President fails to ensure the competent functioning of emergency agencies, and even praises officials whose undisputed incompetence caused unnecessary deaths as one of our great historic cities was destroyed;

And when the President commutes a standard sentence for a close political aide convicted in a jury trial of lying under oath and obstructing an appropriate investigation into the Administration's activities;

When the President has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President, subversive of constitutional government to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of this republic?

Please tell me, in the face of this, what is the sacred duty of the people's branch of government?

Madam Speaker, put patriotism over political expediency. Do what is right and impeach this President and this Vice-President.

Or else, pray persuade the people why Congress should not.

A Letter On The Fourth of July

Early this morning, I found my way to watching the Prime Minister's Questions in the British Parliament. Every week, the leader of the government presents himself to the legislature, where he may be asked questions about any topic and must answer. In response to an unsatisfactory answer or dodge, the chamber does not hesitate to howl in protest or heckle. It may be raucous. It may be passionate. There are often displays of admirable wit. What is always present, in the very tradition itself, is accountability. The executive leader of this government is accountable to the people's representatives, and is held accountable - in person - on an ongoing basis.

In that one important conviction - the accountability of its leaders - Britain has surpassed our democracy. In the United States partisanship and cynicism continue to prevail over the common good, over truth, over justice, over sound policy. And who in our republic expects anything better anymore? Who in our country values the words of our Declaration of Independence enough to feel personally insulted by our politics, and to demand something better with a deep conviction that the United States is better than this?

Partisan politics are always part of the process, and a competition of ideas is necessary for the health of a democracy. At the right time, however, politics must yield to truth and to justice. We are a nation of laws, not of men - and not of political parties. Or are we?

Last night, Keith Olbermann opened his dramatic call for Bush's resignation by quoting the actor John Wayne, who was a right-wing conservative. Upon learning that his choice, Richard Nixon, had been beaten for the presidency by John F. Kennedy, Wayne reportedly said, "I didn't vote for him, but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job."

There it is in a single sentence. Partisanship has a vital place, and at other times, we have to concede partisanship and put country first. In turn, presidents - who are also leaders of political parties - must do the same. There is a time for politics, and a time to put them aside and focus on what is truly best for the republic and her people.

The fourth of July is a day that commemorates a fateful choice: the choice to be independent of tyranny, to govern ourselves in a manner that is accountable, to hold our own government accountable. Where is that spirit today, when tyrants prevail in the executive branch, overruling civil law, our Constitution, and international law whenever it suits their partisan advantage? Where is that revolutionary spirit now that the opposition party, having been elected to lead Congress, fails to provide the check on executive power run amok, which is so clearly needed? Where are America's citizens, as they turn out to vote in fewer numbers and give up on the promise and the sacred duty enshrined in our founding documents, and the moving words of our Declaration?

The leaders of our government do not have to answer to the people's branch or to the people. What is far worse, is that few of us really expect them to. We abide, shaking our heads, while expensive and unproductive wars are launched over deliberate lies. We abide as boys young enough to be my son are shipped home dead or maimed, for no ultimate good and with no end in sight. We abide when a great, historic American city is destroyed in a flood, and the president fails to ensure that our emergency relief agencies are functioning effectively - and, indeed, when the president praises officials whose undisputed incompetence cost lives. We abide one disappointment after another, as the institutions of justice are put to political purposes over and above the dictates of blind justice. Finally, just before the fourth of July, the President commutes the sentence of a close political aide who was rightfully and properly convicted of lying under oath to obstruct an enquiry into our government's actions.

James Madison said, "If the President be connected in any suspicious manner with any person and there be grounds to believe that he will shelter him, he may be impeached." As if we hadn't enough other causes already.

Yet there is no proceeding. Only the solemn shaking of heads as the rival party - putting its own political ambitions for 2008 first - plays safe, steps back, and allows the debasement of our republic to continue. Yes, the Democrats also put partisan politics first, and as the disappointments mount and fewer people bother to vote, political ascension is a matter not of excellence but of funding and marketing.

I read the words of Declaration on the 4th of July and imagine the frustration, the suffering, and the aspirations of colonists who wanted liberty and self-determination, a chance to survive and prosper in their own right, and their audacity in rejecting tyranny in favor of self-government, a kind of representative democracy that must have felt like a precarious experiment.

What can I imagine those people would say of us today? What would Madison say of our current president, who has insisted he has a mandate to rule as a monarch; and what would he say of us, who have permitted it?

What we celebrate on the fourth of July is a fateful choice. It is the choice of people who risked their very lives on what was an audacious idea: that they somehow had the right to say no to tyranny and govern themselves. Their successors, two centuries later, can hardly be bothered to vote in regular elections - and certainly cannot be counted on to howl and heckle and hold their leaders personally accountable.

On this fourth of July, I would like to celebrate rare citizens such as Harry Taylor, who hold our top leaders personally accountable. And I would like to share, for those who haven't seen it, Mr. Olbermann's commentary, which aired on MSNBC last night, who notes that even Richard Nixon - a man tragically obsessed with partisan politics, to the point of doing crazy and illegal things - finally subordinated politics to what was best for his country.