MA House says No to transparency

Yesterday the Massachusetts House voted overwhelmingly against three House rules amendments which would have required legislators to actually read bills before voting on them, and which would have published roll call votes and testimony so the public knows how representatives vote. While the amendments were sensible and democratic, the votes against were a bitter reminder of one lobbyist’s remark: “Don’t mistake what happens in [the Massachusetts State House] for democracy.”

The lobbyist quoted was Phil Sego, who penned a piece in Commonwealth Magazine last month deeply critical of a loyalty-based spoils system in Blue State Massachusetts that could just as easily be run by Mitch McConnell as Robert DeLeo. The amendment votes were strikes against transparency, to be sure, but they were also intended to preserve Robert DeLeo’s grip on the House.

Another Commonwealth article that appeared on the 30th pointed out that Democrats with cherished committee assignments voted to keep things as-is, while freshman legislators were put in the awkward position of having to vote with Republicans for a change in The Way Things Work.

In addition to the transparency votes, the House voted 43-113 against a proposal to impose term limits on Speaker Robert DeLeo.

Today Progressive Massachusetts (PM) published the results of the votes on three of the amendments:

  1. 72 hours to read the final language of any bill the House is voting on;
  2. 30 minutes for the House to read any amendment submitted on the floor to be voted on;
  3. publication of hearing testimony and roll call votes

Click the images of vote tallies below to see how your representative voted — and feel free to give him or her an earful:

https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator

Amendment #1 – 72 hours to read text of a new bill

Amendment #2 – 30 minutes to read floor amendments

Amendment #3 – publication of testimony and roll-calls

The Monroe Doctrine

Americans love invasions. Trump and his Republicans are on the warpath this week against Venezuela. We’ve heard precious little criticism from either party of Donald Trump’s recognition of “self-declared” president Juan Guaido. Democrats generally remained silent in 2009 when Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, supported a coup in Honduras. And today the “liberal” press still loves US interventions. The New York Times is all but calling for a US coup in Venezuela (“That Mr. Maduro must go has been obvious for some time.”) and the Washington Post ran an editorial by Guaido calling Maduro a “usurper.”

So it was really only a minor, and extremely temporary, aberration in 2013 when Secretary of State John Kerry told the Organization of American States (OAS) that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” As the UPI reported: “Kerry’s declaration of the end of the Monroe Doctrine era was greeted with hesitant applause among the OAS delegates.”

The OAS had every reason to be suspicious.

It may be useful to recall what the Monroe Doctrine really was — just a few sentences in President James Monroe’s 1823 message to Congress:

“We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintain it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

Students are taught that the Monroe Doctrine declared that American interests in the Western Hemisphere consisted mainly of the benevolent protection of smaller countries from aggression by the world’s colonial superpowers — France, England, and Spain. Monroe’s assertion that “we have not interfered and shall not interfere” was as quickly abandoned as it was declared. Scarcely twenty years later the United States invaded Mexico. Monroe’s Doctrine, seen in historical light, was actually a declaration that the US fully intended to get into the superpower business itself.

Since then the Doctrine has been interpreted to mean that the US has every right to interfere in its neighbor’s affairs — and the protection of neighbors has nothing to do with it. As the list below shows, there hasn’t been a decade in which the United States didn’t interfere by invasion or imposition of dictatorships.

And we wonder why we have so many refugees at our southern border.

Still not convinced the US is a malevolent imperialist nation? Stephen Kinzer’s book The True Flag is an account of the moment the United States fully embraced Imperialism and never looked back.

One scholar has documented exactly how we have lived up to Monroe’s promise that “we have not interfered and shall not interfere.” I’ll bet you didn’t learn this in Social Studies class:

Period Location Intervention Comments on U.S. Role
1823     Monroe Doctrine – “shall not interfere”
1846 Mexico War Mexican-American War – US takes a third of Mexico
1890 Argentina Troops Buenos Aires interests protected
1891 Chile Troops Marines clash with nationalist rebels
1891 Haiti Troops Black workers revolt on U.S.-claimed Navassa Island defeated
1894 Nicaragua Troops Month-long occupation of Bluefields
1895 Panama Naval, troops Marines land in Colombian province
1896 Nicaragua Troops Marines land in port of Corinto
1898 Cuba Naval, troops Seized from Spain, U.S. still holds Navy base at Guantanamo
1898 Puerto Rico Naval, troops Seized from Spain, occupation continues
1898 Nicaragua Troops Marines land at port of San Juan del Sur
1899 Nicaragua Troops Marines land at port of Bluefields
1903 Honduras Troops Marines intervene in revolution
1903 Dominican Republic Troops U.S. interests protected in Revolution
1906 Cuba Troops Marines land in democratic election
1907 Nicaragua Troops “Dollar Diplomacy” protectorate set up
1907 Honduras Troops Marines land during war with Nicaragua
1908 Panama Troops Marines intervene in election contest
1910 Nicaragua Troops Marines land in Bluefields and Corinto
1911 Honduras Troops U.S. interests protected in civil war
1912 Cuba Troops U.S. interests protected in Havana
1912 Panama Troops Marines land during heated election
1912 Honduras Troops Marines protect U.S. economic interests
1912 Nicaragua Troops, bombing 20-year occupation, fought guerrillas
1913 Mexico Naval Americans evacuated during revolution
1914 Dominican Republic Naval Fight with rebels over Santo Domingo
1914 Mexico Naval, troops Series of interventions against nationalists
1914 Haiti Troops, bombing 19-year occupation after revolts
1916 Dominican Republic Troops 8-year Marine occupation
1917 Cuba Troops Military occupation, economic protectorate
1918 Panama Troops “Police duty” during unrest after elections
1919 Honduras Troops Marines land during election campaign
1920 Guatemala Troops 2-week intervention against unionists
1921 Costa Rica Troops  
1921 Panama Troops  
1924 Honduras Troops Landed twice during election strife
1925 Panama Troops Marines suppress general strike
1932 El Salvador Naval Warships sent during Faribundo Marti revolt
1947 Uruguay Nuclear threat Bombers deployed as show of strength
1950 Puerto Rico Command operation Independence rebellion crushed in Ponce
1954 Guatemala Command operation, bombing, nuclear threat CIA directs exile invasion and coup d’etat after newly elected government nationalizes unused U.S.’s United Fruit Company lands; bombers based in Nicaragua; long-term result: 200,000 murdered
1958 Panama Troops Flag protests erupt into confrontation
1961 Cuba Command operation CIA-directed exile invasion fails
1962 Cuba Nuclear threat, naval Blockade during missile crisis; near-war with Soviet Union
1964 Panama Troops Panamanians shot for urging canal’s return
1965 Dominican Republic Troops, bombing Marines land during election campaign
1966 Guatemala Command operation Green Berets intervene against rebels
1973 Chile Command operation CIA-backed coup ousts democratically elected Marxist president
1981 El Salvador Command operation, troops Advisors, overflights aid anti-rebel war, soldiers briefly involved in hostage clash; long-term result: 75,000 murdered and destruction of popular movement
1981 Nicaragua Command operation, naval CIA directs exile (Contra) invasions, plants harbor mines against revolution; result: 50,000 murdered
1982 Honduras Troops Maneuvers help build bases near borders
1983 Grenada Troops, bombing Invasion four years after revolution
1987 Bolivia Troops Army assists raids on cocaine region
1989 Panama Troops, bombing Nationalist government ousted by 27,000 soldiers, leaders arrested, 2000+ killed
1994 Haiti Troops, naval Blockade against military government; troops restore President Aristide to office three years after coup
2002 Venezuela Command operation Failed coup attempt to remove left-populist president Hugo Chavez
2004 Haiti Troops Removal of democratically elected President Aristide; troops occupy country
2009 Honduras Command operation Support for coup that removed president Manuel Zelaya
2019 Venezuela Unfolding Support for coup

New Senate legislation

The Massachusetts Senate is open for business and a whopping 2,202 pieces of Senate legislation await co-sponsorship, dismissal, or eventual votes. It’s a daunting challenge to be well-informed on new legislation. Please look at this list I’ve put together and let me know your thoughts on particular bills.

You can’t claim to live in a democracy if it doesn’t have strong and widely-observed civil liberties. What we have instead is overwhelmingly a police and prison state sitting atop a playground for Capitalists. Many of the bills before the Legislature concern criminal “justice” reforms, including decarceration, treating substance abuse in jail, parole and probation reforms, and more accountability for guards and police. Not everybody behind bars is an animal, and not everybody with a badge is a saint. With a shocking 50% of all American families affected by prison, probation, parole, or the cruel stigma of prior incarceration, this and white supremacy are the top crises now afflicting America — not the lack of a border wall.

Speaking of which. Civil liberties don’t stop at the border. Over decades American “interventions” have created the human rights abuses, the collapse of democratic governments, and the economic and political chaos that asylum-seekers from Central America are now fleeing. We’ve had racist immigration and border patrol polices for generations and, to be honest, I’d much prefer to throw Trump and his tax-cheating, wife-cheating, white supremacist buddies out of the country — instead keeping hard-working Central Americans who may be here “illegally” but actually pay taxes and contribute to the Social Security system I depend on. And I don’t want to pay for my racist county sheriff to get to play ICE agent on the state dime. It turns out that by supporting the re-filed Safe Communities Act we also strengthen everyone’s Constitutional rights.

Over time I’ve noticed that the police and military seem to be the only constituency of importance to some legislators — mostly Republican, but some Democrats as well. These guys file bill after bill that scream — Blue Lives Matter! Khaki Lives Matter! To hell with teachers, garbage men, and anyone else who provides an essential service. This year’s Senate bills include legislation to make harming one of them a more serious offense than harming any other citizen. Some bills unfairly move vets to the front of the hiring line or eliminate training and age requirements for them. Or they give away state tax money for awards and allowances for federal military service.

Well, I’ve had it with the veneration of all things militaristic. It’s time to say no to all this legislation. The phrase “thank you for your service” has become a completely hollow slogan. Do we ever ask about the nature of the actual service rendered by a mercenary army or its true value? Does an unemployed or aimless guy who heads over to the local Army recruiter bear any responsibility for war crimes he wittingly or unwittingly participates in? Did he ever question what he was signing up to do? Does anyone really believe that a generation of wars and invasions has kept us safe? Are we not in fact guilty of destabilizing much of the Middle East and creating much of Europe’s refugee crisis? In the face of such weighty questions, these giveaways must be seen for what they really are — blood money.

The Massachusetts House has not published the text of any of its legislation, though only a week remains during which you can urge your representative to co-sponsor the mystery bills. As with so much that is wrong with the Massachusetts House, I’m inclined to blame it all on Bob DeLeo.