If you are like me, you are dissatisfied with your government because you feel no connection to it. Nationally, the Bush regime has eaten out the heart of the process by which Americans are supposed to elect leaders, administer public services, and represent the values of the majority while respecting the liberty of the individual. This has awakened and energized a great "backlash" which is becoming more involved and aware of the entrenched powers exploiting our resources and good name.
As detached as we may feel, we should recognize that we do have some power, not just as voters, but as donors, consumers and activists. We may get only one vote in the Presidential election, but contributing to causes amplifies our influence. The things we buy or invest in also can signal endorsement. Volunteering, blogging or participating in e-democracy allows us to organize and aggregate strength, as MoveOn and others have demonstrated by the millions.
Our voice becomes even more powerful in local politics. The distractive media complex has us so focused on the presidential races and dumb news, we ignore terribly our own backyards. Bush's unpopular, ham-handed war would have been de-funded in early 2007 if not for the Democrats in Congress who promised change to get elected and later caved. With this derelict media, it's up to the people to shine a light on the current Congress in advance of the November elections.
If we each were to adopt our Member of Congress to report on their positions, votes and activities, we could have this information organized and accessible in one place. This would inform voters searching online during the election season. This Congress has shown we need strong anti-war candidates who will fight for election reform and advocate for the middle class. In doing this myself, I have been just appalled to learn how my Representative, Congressman Eliot Engel has been representing NY's 17th, a Democratic stronghold:
I contacted Rep. Engel shortly after moving to the district because I learned he was willing to allow corporations to create web access tiers, essentially packaging the internet for profit and introducing editorial control over what has been a free and open information superhighway for a decade. But Engel knows how to negotiate controversy after ten terms - he cleverly supported a specific "net neutrality" amendment (which failed) but he supported the larger COPE bill (Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006) which passed. This way he could feign defense of net neutrality to outraged constituents while okaying giveaways to big cable and telecom who in turn contributed generously to Engel's reelection fund.
His Congressional Priorities
As a member of the "pro-business" New Democrat Coalition, Engel pro-actively cheered on the mega-merger between the satellite radio titans XM and Sirius on taxpayer time. I wrote Rep. Engel when Congressional support for impeachment hearings was still building. He replied Bush has had the country headed in the wrong direction, but, he said, impeachment hearings would be too divisive - he put off my inquiry by stating "the fabric of the nation was torn" when President Clinton was impeached. This contradictory in-eloquence led me to really mistrust Engel so I dug further:
After voting to allow Bush/Cheney to invade Iraq, he changed this position for re-election, yet has voted to continue funding Bush. Engel is extremely hawkish in defense of Israel, active in AIPAC and has used his various committee seats to advocate for sanctions against Syria and Lebanon for opposing Israeli aggression.
Surprisingly, Engel is a scheduled speaker at a conference held by controversial Reverend John Hagee's organization CUFI (Christians United for Israel), described as an "influential Christian Zionist organization with close ties to the Bush administration and key members of Congress, former members of Congress, and policymakers." Also scheduled to speak at CUFI's upcoming July summit in Washington are William Kristol, Senator Joseph Lieberman and former Senator Rick Santorum who was exposed for herding right-wing lobbyists into policy positions in exchange for performance.
Engel spoke at a previous CUFI rally in response to the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon, joining Hagee and Reverend Jerry Falwell, Senator Sam Brownback, Rod Parsley and over 3,500 "energized" Evangelicals spreading the message that the conflict in the Middle East is a "war of good versus evil".
Moonlighting for Israel?
Last month, in advance of Bush's trip to Israel, Engel invited pro-war Israeli lobbyists to DC to address the House Foreign Affairs Committee to theorize that "a future Palestinian state will be firmly allied with North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Iran, Chavez's Venezuela, and Hezbollah, the forces that are seen as threats to the US and which are linked to world terror...precisely because these states publicly challenge and express loathing for the US".
Just last week Engel hosted a meeting of pro-Israel lawmakers from the EU, South Africa, Switzerland, Japan, Philippines, Brazil, Uruguay and Canada in a congressional office building in DC to denounce the two-state solution long favored by Bush, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, instead touting the plan of Benny Elon, chairman of Israel's National Union Party (and the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus), which would give the West Bank to Israel while making its Palestinian citizens of Jordan (Jordan opposes this idea).
Is Engel joining the dark side?
In January, Engel and a delegation of Congressional Democrats joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a junket to Medellin, Colombia. Just days later, Bush announced a trade deal with Columbia in the State of the Union address (Engel was one of the first to shake Bush's hand as he headed for the podium). By far, most Democrats in Congress oppose the deal. The Teamsters recently began running radio spots in opposition of the bill, pointing out how that Columbia leads the world in the murder of labor leaders.
In July 2007, I blogged about published reports of US corporations backing Columbian deathsquads to silence union organizers, as well as a desperate call for help coming from an American human rights group whose Bogota office was ransacked, compromising years of sensitive evidence compiled against participants of paramilitary operations. The group, Fellowship of Reconciliation, headquartered in Engel's district, also opposed the trade deal as well as military aid to Columbia due to "documented collaboration between Colombian military and civilian officials at the highest levels - and paramilitaries". Engel is one of few Democrats who support Bush's trade deal, while most oppose it as a tactic used by Bush solely to defy Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez via buying favor in the region.
Ponderously, Engel also fought for Bush's right to invade Iran without Congressional approval, demanding that Speaker Pelosi remove language from the March 2007 war appropriation freeing Bush to okay military operations in Iran on his own.
No One Else In Sight?
Rep. Engel has little opposition currently in sight for his 2008 reelection. He was challenged in the 2004 Democratic primary by Jessica Flagg, an anti-war candidate in the Dennis Kucinich mold who received 11% of the vote after being vastly outspent by Engel. Flagg ran again in 2006, receiving 18% of the vote but is not expected to run this year, suggesting the need for a serious Progressive candidate to run against Engel in NY's 17th. What choice do we have?