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Taking Back America (ACLU MA Conference 2009)

Panel discussion featuring:
Michael (Wes) Macleod-Ball, ACLU Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel
William Strickland, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Nancy Murray, Directory of Education, ACLU of Massachusetts
Glenn Greenwald (see previous post)
and Moderator Carol Rose (see previous post)

Q: How do Glenn's impediments align with the ACLU agenda?
Wes: Our Lobbying efforts have doubled since we now have a president that is receptive. Restore what we lost and push the envelope on issues to make progress. Might need to cut our losses to get back to where we were. Need single study to look at executive branch abuses over last 8 years. Patriot Act up for review and we should examine how we can fix it. NSL up to 50,000 a year. Need legislative to be equal power with executive and judicial. Should create congressional oversight committee to look at unwarranted increases in executive power. Something like the Church Committee or the Rockefeller Commission (the first having been much more effective).

Q: What are your feelings on the current situation?
Will: Guillotine Bush! There any many great American mythes. Bush was just a symbol of a 40 year scheme to take over government by the Republicans. Europe euphoric over Obama, but Will is pessimistic. We have had previous euphoria, 1836 Emancipation Proclamation and 1991 Nelson Mandella. Still much to be done. Linda Tripp phenomenon is an issue of Republican moles exposing things. Need to itemize these abuses (i.e. EPA, justice department, etc.). Need to note sacrifice black people have made to civil liberties including their lives, labors, and liberties.

Q: Post 9/11 abuses are being fought at the federal level, how to do it as state level?
Nancy: Patriot Act education happened at state level. 30,000 signatures to roll back Patriot Act. 1 of 7 towns in Massachusetts opposed Patriot Act. Had support but no teeth. Organize against DHS surveillance cameras in other communities. Boston is pilot city for a national suspicious activities report initiative. 63 questions to answer for an incident report. Possible iWatch initiative to have citizens report suspicious behavior. Example was a guy arrested taking pictures of trains as part of Amtrack's take a picture of a train campaign.

Q: Reaction to and role of media?
Glenn: Frightened that WIll was more pessimistic. One thing that is obscured, we sometimes believe the hype that we are fringe, don't care that privacy is important, okay if president breaks the law. Look at Cambridge, look at polls. People want Guantanamo closed. Split on prosecuting president. People want eavesdropping only with warrant. This is happening without a political leader advocating them. These core values are learned when young, but maybe dormant.

Q: Where should we should be focusing?
Bill: Can't solve overnight. Fight the visas that are stopping people coming into the country to testify about torture. Bush and Cheny classified 15 million documents including previously unclassified documents. Need comprehensive tally of corruption.
Wes: Information is key to all of it. Need to be smart about targets. Last three months was Obama transition team. Extension of employment verification, will focus on certain people. Used to read Watergate transcripts back and forth for entertainment.
Glenn: Prelude to prosecution is an airing of facts. Some of the worst abuses are probably still concealed. Foundation for popular opinion to proceed with prosecutions.

Q: Book by David Brock about the Republican Noise Machine. Right-wing talking points are covered in media, how can we educate them? Notice that the mainstream media isn't here.
Nancy: Recent case with many op-ed in Boston Globe. Why aren't more people concerned about this?
Glenn: Media isn't lacking in material. It isn't for checking government power, now it is more about safe guarding government. Journalists won't become what we envision them to be, shame into modifying isn't working, need new ways to disseminate information.

Q: Obama fitting into Washington nicely, and the executive orders and how they fall short.
Glenn: Too premature to condemn Obama for fitting into Washington class. His career hasn't been one of challenge, but coveting to advance his career. His political strength comes from the people who elected him. Individuals hold the power to backlash against the president. Executive orders were symbolic statement to repudiate last 8 years and placate this supporters but they leave unresolved all important questions. It was just sandpapering the rough edges instead of really fixing the problem. Steps are preliminary but more is needed.

Q: Economy hasn't been mentioned yet, job loss, retirement issues, obstacle or advantage?
Will: Capitalism has failed and failed globally. 10 trillion dollar plus debt. Bush's stimulus plan wasn't touched, but Obama's is being attacked. Need a new mindset. Ethical capitalism. Bush's tax policies and corporate greed. Spell out causes of crisis. Focus on corruption. Politics and culture are corrupted. Public control and interest of the media. Ridiculous discourse about water boarding instead of focusing on bigger picture.

Q: How to focus talk at state level.
Nancy: Need people stirring themselves to push for change. No safety net in this country. Economy will be primary. It isn't a single issue issue. Holistic treatment to talk to people when there minds are elsewhere. Focus on the "American that can be."

Q: National ACLU against impeachment. How to clean out our own organization?
Wes: Washington office thought impeachment had 0 chance. Needed resources elsewhere. Needed process to include forum to talk about abuses. Making impeachment as the goal instead of as part of the process.

Q: 0 chance shouldn't be the factor.
Carol: Let the central office know what you want, send support.

Q: Polls show people are against the abuses. Why has nothing happened? Maybe silent and what can we do.
Glenn: Public opinion is distorted by established media. Even if they believe some policies are true, politicians ignore the truth or announce it makes no difference. Economy engendering dissatisfaction among people against wall street and politicians, not directed at any political party. Politicians need to fear continuing to ignore public opinion.

Q: Why has it been so silent?
Glenn: Look at both parties reaction to the president violating laws. No one would go on air and take issue with president, say he was breaking the law. Disconnect between public opinion and Washington political class.

Q: Signing statements about how laws can be interpreted. How was this law dismantled, how to prevent it?
Wes: Mixed feelings. It isn't controlling law. The fact that is was created gives you something to look at it, to investigate. Heads up he isn't obeying the law. Usually used to give take on executive branch on the issue. Regulation lite. Would go with statute over law.
Glenn: Bush didn't really have the law. He could say it but didn't really have it. Only his statement of belief about the law.
Will: No leadership has confronted this abuse. Outrageous act, no one.

Q: Extended protections for whistle blowers.
Wes: Legislation in the works to extend protections. Issue with exception for national security departments. Special path for whistle blowers within national security arenas. Issues of insular behavior.

Q: What can we do to get people to care more about constitutional protections?
Nancy: Have been working in schools here. Last 10 years had to fight to get into school. Security more important than rights in schools. Rights Matter booklet into all school. Bill of Rights took individuals and social movements to make it real, started as just a piece of paper.

Q: Criminal investigation of executive branch. Investigate lawyers who wrote the letters? Disbar them.
Glenn: Precedence in Nuremberg trials for German lawyers. Would be too narrow if just against the lawyers. Lawyers capable, but not only the lawyers.

Q: Freedom of speech and power of speech. Deeply disturbed by guillotine Bush comment. Have that be the takeaway?
Will: Believe what I say. Media is corrupt and will take it out of context. Malcolm said law is whatever the white man says it is. Americans have no idea of the crisis that we are facing.
Wes: Power of speech versus freedom of speech.
Glenn: First amendment absolutistic. Excess of passion and deficit of passion, suffer more from deficit of passion.
Nancy: Put comment into historical context, reflected views of another epoch. People need to stir now. They had grievances then and now.

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