Sunday, July 29, 2007

What are We going to do about it?

--by Mike Adams

Today’s New York Times article entitled, “Great Lengths taken to fill Jury Box” caused me to reflect on my experiences appearing for jury duty. I’ve been summoned now on four or five occasions, since I have been registered to vote. On most occasions, I never saw the inside of the court room, because the trial was cancelled or something like that…One time however, in California, I spent a day in a Santa Rosa court listening to potential jurors being interviewed and I was the second to last person called for questioning. It was an interesting experience…the case was about a man accused on drunk driving and two officers, who failed to get a blood alcohol or breathalyzer.

My first reaction was that I didn’t necessarily trust the officers…why didn’t they acquire the necessary scientific evidence for conviction…then, the defendant entered the courtroom…late. And after taking one look at him…I thought there would be no problem believing that he had been drunk driving. I concluded that given my prejudice against each party, I should have no problem with being impartial.

Ultimately, when I was questioned, all the jury positions had been filled and they were interviewing me as a potential alternate juror…I admitted that I would feel resentful at listening to a case where I would not be offering a judgment and I was then dismissed.

Most recently…having moved to New Mexico back to the town I grew up in, I was summoned for duty and I ended up serving as a juror in a drunken driving case…it was an interesting and even uplifting experience. Once again, much of the evidence was not present or hadn’t been collected…on this occasion, however, I was a juror, so I heard all the testimony and I was part of jury deliberations. It seemed that every member or the jury took their responsibility very seriously…we questioned each other and asked the judge in to give us direction regarding the specific legal requirements…we re-read the instructions to the jury several times and we rendered a fair and impartial verdict.

The problem is that in my home town, when a person lands in the jury pool…they stay in the pool for six months…so despite having served on a jury…I still find myself being summoned approximately once a month. This experience makes me feel very sympathetic to anyone who will do almost anything to get out of serving. Most of the people living here have jobs, which will pay them when they are on jury duty…I however, don’t have such a job…every time I take a day off, it costs me $240.00, which is almost 25% of my mortgage payment.

That aside…I do appear for jury duty anyway…I consider myself a good citizen and a patriot. I read and research before I vote, I write letters to my elected officials and I try to stay informed about current events, which are important…rather than how things are working out between Brad and Angelina.

This forms the crux of what I have to say on the topic…Here in America, we all want to have a fair and impartial criminal justice system…we want to know that criminals are dealt with appropriately and that there are effective safeguards in place to prevent abuse. The only real problem is that we aren’t willing to do the work in order to have that. According to the NY Times article, only 46% of people summoned even bothers to show up for jury selection. I don’t know what it is like in other counties…but in mine, we are given several weeks’ notice in order to work our schedule out so that we can appear in court. It troubles me that fewer than 50% of people summoned can bestir themselves to even appear for jury selection.

In my previous article, I laid the troubles of our system of governance and our current political crisis square on the shoulders of Mary and John Q citizen…here again, I have to say ‘what is our problem’? Why has America become a country where everyone actually believes that they are entitled to all the benefits of citizen guided governance…but we don’t have to act consistent with the responsibilities of that system?

I mean, come on people…lets go ahead and have our government serve us…lets be responsible for the society we live in. America’s political world of today has arguments about taxation…about welfare…about our government’s role in making the lot of its citizens better. It seems that there have been some important things left out of those discussions…for example, the fact that any entity doing business today depends on our highway system, which was paid for and is maintained by our tax money. The development of today’s internet was funded by tax payers. Libraries, schools, law enforcement and emergency services are funded by tax dollars. Taken all together…isn’t it a little unpatriotic to try and avoid paying taxes…haven’t we benefited from the wise investment of our parents’ and grandparents’ tax dollars? Don’t we owe it to our country and future generations to continue and pay our fair share of taxes and invest it in the future?

Perhaps this all seems unrelated to jury service…but I think it is more related that you might see…we American’s have an unfortunate aversion to making the necessary sacrifices and investments in order to enjoy a government of the people by the people and for the people. That kind of government requires participation from its citizens…from us.

We are the guardians of our government’s values and we are the overseers of her actions…we are responsible for the level of justice, which exists in our criminal justice system and we are in control of our own collective future.

My question is what are we going to do about it?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Local Issues are the Big Picture

--by Mike Adams

The morning of May 7th began in a rather jolting manner for me; I woke cursing the time and wishing for more sleep. I was immediately annoyed with my three children and their morning routine, which requires breakfast, attention, mediation and many other things, which are onerous demands to place on any person who has not yet had even one cup of coffee.

I was annoyed that my wife and I had failed to purchase groceries and my limited breakfast choices were quite unappealing. I checked my on-line fax account and discovered that a very important document had not arrived. Now I would have to appear for Jury Duty without a letter from my employer attesting to my essential presence at the job site.

I worried about losing two hundred dollars in wages and resented the idea of spending the day participating in a justice system which was so broken that our executive branch had successfully politicized several top federal prosecutors with impunity.

Rushing out of my house, I considered strategies to get myself excused from service and shook my head with annoyance at my predicament.

As I sat in the courtroom, I took in my surroundings, surprised by the contemporary office furniture instead of the polished wood and banisters I associate with court rooms. I noticed two framed documents hanging on the wall. Both were far enough away that I couldn’t decipher anything except the first few words, written in larger print. On the first document, I read the words, “We the People”. I knew from memory the rest of that short paragraph: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The second framed document started with four words “The Bill of Rights.” As the significance of these two documents slowly seeped into my heart and mind, I began to feel a glimmer of pride at being able to participate in an important democratic process.

In short order, the prosecutor and the defense began questioning prospective jurors. I experienced a shift in attitude when each prospective juror was asked whether or not they could maintain personal integrity in the event that after deliberation, they were the only juror to disagree on a verdict. A few weren’t sure how they would react and when I was asked, my own answer surprised me in its conviction: “I think that is paramount. Our legal system was designed to end unjust practices which had been imposed on millions of people in the years before our country was founded. I think it important that any juror stand true to convictions of guilt or innocence despite peer pressure. I certainly hope that anyone serving would feel the same.” At that point, I conceded to myself that I actually wanted to participate in the proceeding.

In retrospect, I believe that I wanted to assure myself that our system can work, that it can be just and that people do care. I was selected as a juror and, mostly, the experience of listening to testimony about field sobriety and blood alcohol tests was rather boring. However, during deliberation, when we all sat in a room and hashed out the facts in order to collectively determine guilt or innocence, I discovered that everyone else in the room was deeply concerned with maintaining the integrity of our justice system. One juror said “oh…I could easily find the defendant guilty of that…I’m glad I wasn’t on the road with him.” In response, another juror said, “The facts don’t prove guilt, I believe he is guilty, but our job is to assume innocence and let the facts prove guilt.” Again, we read the jury instructions and concluded that on that particular charge the verdict had to be not guilty. We held each other accountable to presuming innocence; we revisited the evidence and asked direction from the judge. It seems that each of us accepted and embraced the awesome duty of providing a fair trial. We maintained our integrity; we walked away with a sense of civic pride and we rendered a fair and impartial judgment.

How you might ask does this relate to local issues being the big picture? My answer is this: because actions we take on a local level can restore faith in our system, in each other and in ourselves. Every day, across this country, citizens serve as jurors. They hear cases against businesses accused of unfair economic practices, damage caused by pollution or unsafe working conditions, cases for domestic violence, cases for child abuse or neglect. On its most basic level, our justice system is composed of citizens like you and like me…Our justice system operates with whatever level of integrity we bring to it.

As with our justice system, many forms of civic policy are determined by our action or lack of action. In California, my wife became involved with a local issue regarding waterway restoration for salmon habitat. She spearheaded a group of concerned community members and scientists, who studied the issue. This group worked with the local government and citizenry to draft a proposal, which would meet the needs of the local environment and the local community, which seemed to be in opposition. The group was ultimately granted close to two hundred thousand dollars to proceed with its efforts and now, several years later, we were informed that for the first time in perhaps decades, endangered Coho salmon have been raised from hatchlings born in the creek and relocated in that waterway.

Other groups have convinced local governments to adopt Kyoto protocols. Local groups have stopped Wal-Mart from building in their community; others have halted local forest harvesting. Berkeley has passed legislation banning space based weapons from their airspace. Recently, several states debated legislation which would call for impeachment of federal executives.

On a local level, people can get involved and make a difference in their community. Those local changes may very well have repercussions which could be felt in Washington DC. Like so many people, I have often wanted to focus on the “Big Picture.” In 2004, I worked to send a pacifist candidate to the White House and while that sort of effort is important, it is no substitute for being involved in local causes. The nuts and bolts of any movement are composed of individual people working to make a difference where they live, work and play. It is frequently easy to get involved at a local level. The system of small local governments is starved for participants and whoever shows up to participate, has an immense impact on that local government.

Many months before being solicited by her local government water board to form and lead the committee on salmon habitat restoration, my wife, who has no special expertise in any relevant field, arrived on a sort of whim at the monthly meeting. She was carrying a diaper bag and my second step-son a babe in her arms. The room was virtually empty…there were a local non-resident landowner, the five elected Board members, two contractors slated to give reports, one or two environmentalists from neighboring communities and two men holding a tape recorder which made a disruptive clickety clacking sound. The most vocal people present by far were the men with the tape recorder who accused the Board members of every misdeed and form of corruptions short of poisoning the aquifer.

My wife still insists that she was selected to lead this influential committee simply because she showed up consistently, was polite, respectful and interested in the concerns and problems of the local board…but most importantly, she offered to be helpful.

If the vast majority of municipalities passed legislation to adopt the Kyoto protocols, would our federal government’s refusal to participate be as relevant as it is now? Often there seems a “disconnect” between elected officials and those they serve. A strong message being sent by citizens can turn a leader around. Remember Arnold Schwarznegger’s four pet ballot initiatives in 2005? Even “the Governator” could not fight against nurses, teachers and firefighters…all four of his initiatives were soundly defeated and he wasn’t heard from for a couple of years. Suddenly, this year, Mr. Schwarzenegger re-emerged into public view as a champion of environmentally friendly legislation.

Other benefits of local work are that seeing the fruits of our labor can leave us gratified and renewed. Ready for what ever work comes next. Local causes allow us to be of service to people we see, to influence people’s opinions through our actions and values. We have the opportunity to transform our communities, our neighbors and ourselves.

Friday, July 27, 2007

GW has fallen into long term disfavor with the American Public

--by Mike Adams

Alright, so for two years GW Bush has had a disapproval rating of sixty percent or higher. What went wrong? He is a war President…why don’t the American people love him anymore?

From my perspective, this is a good thing…sort of anyway. After all, it was the American people who allowed him to steal the 2000 election. It was the American people who questionably re-elected him in 2004. Now all of the sudden, the American people don’t like him…why not? Why the sudden rush of distrust and why is it that Congress has such low approval ratings particularly Democrats in Congress?

I don’t know what to make of it all…it disturbs me on a personal level, that the American public is so flakey and ready to follow a goof ball into the gates of hell, but then turn on that same imbecile along with the pseudo opposition party, because we don’t like the heat.

I often suffer from the niggling suspicion that most of the American Public decide about political elections based solely on information presented in political advertisements reinforced with some network television news like fox “news” and occasionally, someone might even read a few news articles from nationally circulated periodicals. What this means is that the American public makes political decisions based on lies and half truths.

To be honest, I can’t stand GW Bush…I haven’t ever been able to stand him though…I voted for his ‘opponent’ in 2000 and in 2004. I raised money to get other people elected President and I campaigned in my local sphere. The troubling thing to me is that despite GW having been a miserable, anti-democracy, crony pandering, dishonest, anti-constitutional excuse for a President, I can’t bring myself to like the Democrats much more than I like the Republicans.

I know that many of the most egregious activities that our government has committed under Republican rule would probably not have happened or at least it wouldn’t have been exposed under Democrats and we wouldn’t be in a position of either being outraged or embarrassed or both…but really are the Democrats much better?

Why hasn’t any Democratic Presidential Candidate been willing to champion fair and free elections, real Universal Health Care, investment into our educational system? The answer is because they answer to the same special interests that the Republicans do…I hate to admit it, but I am starting to think that Ralph Nader was right…I suppose that even a megalomaniacal election ruining rabid individualist can be right on the big questions…go figure.

I’m not saying that we should vote for Ralph Nader in 2008…I intend to vote for the Democratic Candidate. But I also intend to keep writing letters to my elected officials and try to have them make some political decisions which will result in a positive change for my family and other American families. I don’t know that it makes any difference…but I keep writing the letters anyway…it certainly doesn’t hurt.

While I don’t particularly admire Democratic law makers…I don’t believe our current dysfunction with regards to Governance is the fault of Congress…instead, I lay that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the American public. Voting is a civic duty…which requires a little more effort than simply watching TV. We make incredibly important decisions at the voting booth…our decisions chart a course which will have a profound impact on our own lives and the lives of millions for years to come. We ought to stop acting as if voting requires the same level of care that buying a new car does…our elections may very well be, the most important decisions we make...and we can't even bother to know what we are voting about.

In 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006, a fraction of the American people went to polling places to participate in a sacred duty. Many of us arrived at voting locations without having done any real research on the various people and/or issues that we would be voting on. We make decisions which in reality have the power of life and death. In Iraq, several thousand Americans have died and nearly one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have been confirmed dead…that happened because of decisions we made over the last few years.

I say it’s time to wake up America…grow up America…take voting seriously and at least have a clue of what you are voting about and who you are giving power to.

If this article offends I offer a very small apology and I suggest that you read a self improving book.

Thank you!