Silent Thunder: Jill Stein’s Absence from the Third Debate

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Well, I watched the final debate last night. Once again, it pointed up the debate format’s limitation and the absence of alternatives to the duopoly of Democrats vs. Republicans.

Specifically, it made me miss the voice of Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.

Her absence on the debate stage prevented voters from hearing her viewpoint on vital issues virtually excluded from the three personality-focused brawls between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton. I’m referring to income inequality, student debt, climate change, public transportation, disease prevention, and the continuing need for 9/11 transparency to blunt its rationale for insane military expenditures and endless war.

Liberal funnyman, John Oliver, recently endorsed such exclusion in a strained barely-comic monologue that merits comment not only because of its shallowness, but because it discouraged expanding the narrow parameters of current political debate. (See Stein’s own response to Oliver here.) In his routine, Oliver attempted to disqualify Dr. Stein because she raised the very issues just indicated. More specifically:

  • She looks too nerdy.
  • Her plan for relieving student debt lacks specific detail.
  • She chose not to explain the intricacies of “quantitative easing” in a press conference.
  • Even as a physician with 27 years’ experience, she (like everyone else btw) is not completely certain about possible connections between vaccines and autism.
  • She agrees that the recently declassified pages from the government’s 9/11 report justify further investigation into that signal event that even Official Inquiry leaders, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, say was “incomplete and flawed.”
  • She was part of a 1990s folk rock band whose lyrics contain a poetic device (paradox) that Mr. Oliver apparently doesn’t grasp – specifically, the apparent contradiction, “silent thunder.”
  • She is not a perfect candidate.

Ignored in all of this is the fact that Jill Stein’s positions are identical with those of Bernie Sanders who (now that he is no longer a candidate) has been nearly canonized by people like Oliver. In fact, Dr. Stein invited Sanders to join her on the Green Party ticket; she would run, she offered, as his V.P.

Ignored too were the actual lyrics of candidate Stein’s songs that (unlike Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton) dared to raise the issue of climate change – as well as specifics about child and maternal health. Instead, Oliver focused on Stein’s voice [which turns out to be about as (dis)pleasing as Bill Clinton’s saxophone on Johnny Carson or Michelle Obama’s dancing with Jimmy Fallon.]

However, the most significant omission from Oliver’s denunciation was the importance of voting for Dr. Stein in red states. If Stein garners only 5% of the national vote, her name can appear on presidential ballots in many states in the next election cycle, Even more importantly, the Green Party will receive millions of dollars in campaign funds in 2020.

So, red state Democrats (like me in Kentucky) concerned about overcoming the dominance of the duopoly, and about continuing the Bernie Revolution should discount Oliver’s shallow criticisms and recognize their vote for Jill Stein as a small, but significant step towards reaching the Green Party’s important 2020 goals.

Last Night’s Debate: Now That Was Really Depressing!

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I was afraid this would happen. Donald Trump actually out-performed Hillary last night. Admittedly, given the sex-tape disaster that had broken two days earlier, the man had nowhere to go but up. But in our media-driven horse-race approach to politics, where issues are ignored, memories and shockingly short and facts don’t matter, he probably did much last night to pick himself up off the floor.

Meanwhile, Hillary was left simply flailing. She seemed nonplussed throughout the whole affair having foolishly chosen (as she put it) to “go high” rather than deliver a knockout blow to an opponent who entered the debate reeling, bloody and battered. She couldn’t put him away.

Trump’s performance truly surprised me. Although he’s clearly an ethical moron, he has proven to be a brilliant debater. As in his spheres of business and taxes, he apparently knows how to manipulate broken systems and their rules. And these debate clown-shows play to that strength. They present him with (1) parameters entirely controlled by the parties of the debate’s participants, (2) an opponent who largely agrees with him on the most important issues, (3) opposing (third party) viewpoints systematically excluded, (4) weak-kneed “celebrity” newscasters who concerned about their own images are easily bullied, and (5) just two minutes to answer each question.

In other words, the whole thing is rigged. And, if nothing else, Donald Trump is a master at gaming rigged systems. By comparison, and despite all her vaunted experience, Hillary Clinton comes off as a rank amateur.

Trump has actually figured out that given the debate format, all he has to do is bob and weave, jab and jive, rope and dope. That means physically dwarfing his female opponent by strutting around the stage in barely-concealed threatening postures, complaining about the bias of is incompetent interrogators, and simply trotting out the old CIA spookstrategy: (1) admit nothing, (2) deny everything, (3) make counter accusations.

Last night it all worked like a charm.

As a result, the whole affair ended up completely mystifying. Candidates were allowed to ignore the actual questions, to answer other ones instead, and to ramble on, talk over each other, and ignore commands to stop their ranting. Most of the time, I was left scratching my head wondering, “Now what was the original question?” And then if I remembered, my follow-up was “What does this ‘answer’ have to do with that?”

Meanwhile our country’s and world’s most important issues were all but ignored. There was nothing about climate change until the last minute and a half (literally). And as usual the phrase itself and “global warming” remained unuttered. There was nothing about student loans, police murders of black people, Black Lives Matter, or voter suppression. And Clinton and Trump basically appeared to agree on “clean coal,” fracking, the need for Muslims to report on each other, privatized health care, military spending, the renewed nuclear arms race, and on how much they like each other.

As for the war in Syria, Trump made much more sense there than Hillary. He did! She’s actually willing to risk nuclear war with Russia to institute an impossible “no fly zone” there. (She practically spit out the phrase “THE RUSSIANS” while discussing the issue.) Trump, on the other hand recognizes that ISIS, not THE RUSSIANS is the real enemy in the Middle East. He advocates dialog with the Kremlin. It made me wonder, is he the peace candidate?

I was also left wondering about Hillary’s ethics compared with Trump’s.  Both of these characters are unsavory to say the least. I wonder who’s worse?

Trump’s actions border on rape. That’s serious. His offense was not “just words” – locker room banter – compared with Bill Clinton’s actions. The sex tape showed Trump bragging about unwanted kissing and groping.  Anyone else but a rich white billionaire would at the very least lose his job over an expose like that. Even Roger Ailes had to step down. (But, of course, Ailes had less money than Trump.)

But Hillary’s problem is lying and warmongering. Except for the justified furor over Trump’s sex tapes, last weekend’s publication of her long-hidden Wall Street speeches by Wikileaks might have mortally wounded her campaign. The leaks have her defending a practice of publicly advocating populist positions and then in private pushing more business-friendly policies. That’s what the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party had warned of all along. Her strategy in dealing with the revelations is to blame THE RUSSIANS – to ramp up the paranoia that melds seamlessly with her willingness to risk nuclear war.

But then, of course, Trump appears totally clueless about nuclear war himself. Isn’t he the one who asked repeatedly, “If we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?”

It’s depressing. Candidates bickering over who’s more corrupt, ignoring the real issues, and despite the public’s yearning for change, both promising business as usual – or worse.

In the face of all this, I’d vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party, were it not for the issue of Supreme Court justices. Instead, I find faint hope in Bernie Sanders’ strategy of voting for Hillary this time around and then working hard for Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, Dr. Stein or whoever steps up over the next four years to help a now depressed and angry populist movement coalesce against the nonsense these two establishment candidates represent.

We also must work to return these debates to control by the League of Women Voters.

The Disappointing First Debate: The Best We Can Do Is Damage-Control

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Like everyone else I know, I watched the first presidential debate last night. I tuned in to “Democracy Now” (DN) to witness the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Afterwards I kept my dial set right there for the après debate discussion.

Then just this morning, I returned to DN to view debate highlights and the space host, Amy Goodman, gave to Jill Stein to answer the questions posed the night before by NBC News anchor, Lester Holt. Ms. Goodman had also invited Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, to participate in her two hour “Expanding the Debate” special. However, Mr. Johnson claimed he was otherwise occupied.

Despite polls that show most Americans would like their participation, both Dr. Stein and Mr. Johnson had been excluded from the previous evening’s debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates entirely controlled by the Democrat and Republican parties.

This morning I was relieved to find the Washington Post supporting my own judgment. It detailed a nearly unanimous verdict that Secretary Clinton had trounced Mr. Trump even according to conservative media outlets.

For me, the debate’s most important question addressed to both candidates was “If you happen to lose the election on November 8th, will you support your opponent as President of the United States?” Of course, both candidates answered in the affirmative.

If the question were posed to me – will I support either candidate? – my answer would be negative.

As many have pointed out, Donald Trump is entirely unqualified to be POTUS. Last night he came off like some guy you’d meet in a bar –  or your nutty uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, who after one too many, rants on in broad generalizations without any rational argument or factual support. At times he seemed completely incoherent.  He definitely generated more heat than light.

Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton had the opposite problem.  Yes, she was coherent. And yes, she had done her homework.

But she promises nothing more than continuation of the status quo. That in turn means perpetual war, more bombing, drone attacks, and regime change fueled by nostalgia for the 1990 Clinton years where “My husband did a pretty good job.”

That’s a reference to the same Bill Clinton who betrayed his working class base by ramming through what Mr. Trump correctly called the “worst trade deal in history” – the North American Free Trade Agreement. It’s the same president who sponsored the Omnibus Crime Bill that filled U.S. prisons with (largely black and Hispanic) perpetrators of victimless crimes. Mr. Clinton’s the one who gutted “Welfare as We Know It” eliminating Aid to Families with Dependent Children and replacing it with the punitive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The Clintons are responsible for lowering the minimum wage in Haiti from 60 cents an hour to 40 cents.

What I’m saying is that Mrs. Clinton represents a depressing continuation of the status quo that millennials and other progressives have largely repudiated.

Forgotten in all of this is the fact that the alternative to business as usual was stymied by Hillary and her minion, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Under Shultz, the Democratic National Committee worked in concert with the Clinton campaign to discredit Bernie Sanders and, it seems, to prevent accurate vote tallies. In other words, Hillary is very likely where she is because of election fraud – one of the causes of voter apathy in relation to this Democratic candidate – and to elections in general.

With all of this in mind, I’m voting for Jill Stein, just as I did in the last election.  That’s because as a citizen of Kentucky, I’m disenfranchised by our current dysfunctional electoral system. So in my irredeemably Red State, my vote carries no weight at all, except as a protest. My protest vote then will be for the Green Party candidate.

As she showed this morning on DN and in other interviews I’ve seen, Dr. Stein is on top of issues and offers a truly progressive agenda largely ignored last night. That agenda includes:

  • A Green New Deal that amounts to a huge jobs program that will turn the tide on climate change.
  • For debt-ridden students (43 million of them), a bail-out analogous to the Bush-Obama 2008 $1.3 trillion Wall Street bail-out.
  • Tax increases on the 1% and on corporations to fund such programs.
  • The end of foreign policies whose guiding principle entails global dominance, imperialism, and regime change. (That policy, in turn, generates and feeds the problem of terrorism.)
  • Corresponding and substantial cut-backs in military spending that currently consumes nearly half of the U.S. budget.
  • Community-controlled policing with Citizen Review Boards for U.S. police departments. These boards would have investigative and subpoena power and authority to fire and hire police chiefs.
  • The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address racism, its causes and remedies including reparations for slavery.
  • Halting the Obama $1 trillion plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and replacing it with world-wide nuclear disarmament negotiations.
  • Dismantling nuclear power plants which with the likelihood of a 9-foot rise in sea levels by 2050 are in line to “go Fukushima” by then.

Absent the Electoral College nonsense, I’d hold my nose and vote for Hillary. But that would only be a “damage control” measure on my part. This time around we have no choice – just two highly defective corporate candidates. And Trump is clearly unqualified for Dog Catcher.

Between now and 2020, we have to work with Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and others to implement a program with features like the ones just listed.

What do you think?

How Was Your Election Day? This Was Mine

Nov. 6, 2012

6:00 a.m.  My first thought this morning is the same as my last before dropping off to sleep last night: Election Day.   This is it. It’s been such a long campaign season. I’m glad it’s finally almost over. I’m sick of it all. Are we actually about to elect as president one of those plutocrats who crashed the economy four years ago? Only in America . . . .

6:15-7:15: A mighty struggle this morning to keep thoughts of the election out of my mind during meditation and spiritual reading. I keep directing my mind back to the words of my “passage meditation”: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought; we are formed and molded by our thoughts . . .”

7:30: On my way to the gym, I go over the list of people I pray for each day. I stumble over the last inclusion – the prayer for President Obama.  I’ve been praying it over the last four years: “May the president be remembered as the best the United States has ever had. May he be filled with loving kindness. May he be safe from dangers, internal and external. May he be well in body, in heart, and in mind. And may he find peace and be truly happy.”

8:00-8:30: I’m on the elliptical machine at the gym now. I think about that Obama prayer. A lot of good it’s done! This guy has been such a disaster: droning, torture, a Bush-like “surge” in Afghanistan, renewal of the Patriot Act, restrictions on civil liberties, extension of tax cuts for the wealthy, surrender on the public option in healthcare, refusal to explain and defend himself in the face of relentless Republican attacks and GOP rejection of bipartisanship . . . . If he’s reelected, he’ll probably immediately abandon his base again. I feel so angry about that. He just failed to grasp which side his bread is buttered on? Maybe he’s not as smart as we thought.

8:50-9:00: I’m walking home now. Obama actually called us “professional leftists” and “whiners.” I can’t get that out of my mind.  And now he’s ever so cooperatively begging for our vote! What gall!  How arrogant! I feel so insulted, I could almost vote for Romney!

9:15: Now I’m preparing breakfast. Would things really change that much if Obama lost? Can Mitt Romney be much worse? Well, there are those Supreme Court nominations in the offing. All we need are more Clarence Thomases. . . . I’m confused.

9:30: While eating breakfast, I tune in to Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now.” Election Day focus is on the Republican campaign to suppress the vote. Their crusade strikes me as outrageous, unpatriotic, and treasonous. Why didn’t the Democrats do something about reforming the electoral process when they had the chance? The whole thing is so corrupt, what with “Citizens United,” voting machine conflicts of interest, redistricting, and voter suppression aimed at minorities and Democrats? Why are we still discussing these things on Election Day? The electoral system should have been reformed immediately after the 2000 “hanging chad” disaster. Obama really screwed up by not taking advantage of the mandate for change and the super majority he enjoyed in Congress in 2008. I’m so pissed.

10:00: I’m off to vote in the Madison Southern High School gymnasium. It’s busy there. This is a Red State. I catch myself thinking harsh thoughts about Kentuckians. Then I see some friends. We exchange pleasantries. I approach the desk to sign in to vote. They ask for my ID. I search my wallet for one without a photo – I just don’t want to give in to this voter ID nonsense. I’m white, so the ID works.  I guess they don’t require a photo of whites.

10:15: I sign in to vote. The ballot is a single page and surprisingly uncomplicated – nothing like the 12 page ballot they’re using to suppress the vote in Florida. I’m directed to a desk (with privacy shields) alongside two other voters. This is different from what we used to do in Madison County. In 2000 and before we went into a curtained booth and voted via Diebold machine. I never did trust those things; still don’t.

10:25: I fill out votes for City Council members – searching for names I recognize, most of them former colleagues at Berea College where I used to teach. They’re all “liberal” enough, I guess.

10:27: I VOTE FOR GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE, JILL STEIN. I’m thinking, the Democrats and Obama simply have to get the message that they’ve lost people like me. Anyway, since Kentucky’s such a red state, my vote for president is otherwise meaningless. Now if I were in Ohio or Florida, it would be a different story. I would vote for Obama there. (In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon phoning Ohioans to get out the vote for Obama. That’s how conflicted I am.)

11:30: I Skype a friend of mine in Amsterdam. He’s a self-exiled former priest who holds dual citizenship in Great Britain and in the U.S. He’s chosen to boycott this election.  Over the last few weeks he’s been chiding me for supporting Obama. “How can you do that? he’s been asking. Didn’t you watch the third debate? On foreign policy, Obama and Romney are on the same page. It’s absolutely selfish to vote for Obama because he’ll somehow protect your Social Security. The man’s a war criminal – droning, torturing, eliminating civil liberties, suspending habeas corpus. . . . The Democrats are as corrupt as the Republicans. The whole system has to come down, and that means going through a period of purgation that will be hard as hell, but it has to happen.” My friend is pleased when he hears I’ve voted for Stein.

12:00: I have to break away from the Skype conversation to answer a knock on the door. It happens to be another ex-priest. (Our parish is loaded with them – four of us.) We sit on our front porch and talk politics. My friend agrees that the system must come down. What form do you think it will the disintegration take, I ask? “Last week answered that question,” he says. He was referring to Hurricane Sandy. “That even woke up the business suits,” he says. “Did you see that Bloomberg’s magazine ran a headline last week, ‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid’?  Once the suits wake up like that, you’ll see changes.”  He continues, “The dollar’s going to be devalued; the European Union’s going to hell, and simple demographics are running against the fascists. I mean, the whole thing’s disintegrating before our very eyes. And you’re asking ‘what form will it take?’ Open your eyes, man.  And hang on to your seatbelt!” Then he added with a nod towards our status as septuagenarians, “I don’t think you and I will live to see this particular ‘Berlin Wall’ fall. Thank God.”

1:00-5:00: All afternoon I compulsively check my Kindle Fire for . . .  I’m not sure for what. Am I hoping for some news about “who’s winning?” I know the polls won’t close for hours. Still, there might be something about exit polls. All I find though are more last-minute appeals for money from Move-On and others. They’re still asking for telephone calls to undecideds on behalf of Elizabeth Warren. Those appeals have been making me feel guilty for months. Instead of phoning, I watch the end of “Platoon.” It reminds me of Obama’s broken promises about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and the likelihood that no matter who wins, we’ll soon be attacking Iran at Israel’s behest.

5:30: I go for supper to the home of a friend of mine (also a former priest!). We warm up with Manhattans. Then a spaghetti dinner with my friend’s famous meatballs. Always a treat. My friend, yet another one of us ex-priests, is a self-identified curmudgeon. He’s claims he has given up completely on politics. He’s convinced that nothing in the world ever really changes. Romney and Obama are essentially the same. Life goes on no matter what. The best we can do is tend our own gardens. I think about “Platoon” and find myself thinking he may be right.

7:30: The first returns are coming in now. We keep switching back and forth between FOX, MSNBC, and CNN. The reporters are obviously enamored of their “magic boards” and high tech gadgets. By 9:30 Romney has a lead in electoral votes. But a subtext of the evening (except on FOX) is that Obama will close the deal in Ohio and even, it seems, in Florida. We’ll see.

10:00: I return home and tune into Amy Goodman’s Election Night Coverage. She’s interviewing Green Party candidate, Jill Stein along with Ohio Congressman, Dennis Kucinich. Instead of simply reporting on the “horse race,” they discuss the need for a third party in the U.S.

10:30: Still on Amy Goodman, Lee Rowland of the Brennan Center for Justice along with author Greg Palast report on voter suppression efforts in Florida and Ohio. Palast talks about his experience in Toledo where voters waited in a line of more than a thousand people. Once they got to their destination, they were not allowed to vote, but were given applications for absentee ballots. Incredible!

11:15: They’ve called the election for President Obama. Reportedly, his camp is already talking about a”Grand Bargain” with the Republicans. Bob Herbert of Demos says it’s going to hurt the most vulnerable. Incredible!

12:00: I finally go to bed.

Thanks Amy Goodman For Breaking the Sound Barrier

Like 69 million other Americans, I watched the second presidential debate from Hofstra University last night. And I must confess I was pleased to see President Obama “win.” This was the Obama so notably absent from the first debate. He came out swinging, was feisty, incisive and smart. He clearly won, and was the more able of the two debaters. That made me feel better – but only because President Obama is the lesser of two evils and only because the parameters of debate were so narrowly set.

My point is that there were only two candidates on stage.  As a result, there was a remarkable convergence of assumptions and positions between the two. That convergence might have been avoided had other candidates been allowed onstage with the two corporate spokespersons now posturing before us as candidates presenting us with “stark differences.”

Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” has tried to remedy the situation in a series of debates she calls “Breaking the Sound-Barrier” (http://www.democracynow.org/).  The title’s reference is to her show’s inclusion of opinion beyond that endorsed by the corporate interests that shape public debate – that set the “limits of perception” more effectively than blinders on horses.

So this morning on Ms. Goodman’s program, she added three other candidates’ voices to the debate mix: Jill Stein of the Green Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. The three took part just as if Candy Crowley’s questions had been presented not only to Messrs Obama and Romney, but to them as well. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer. And by the way, Ms. Goodman was far more successful at imposing time limits than Jim Lehrer, Martha Radatz or Candy Crowley.

The upshot of breaking the system-imposed “sound barrier” was to remarkably soften the differences between candidates Romney and Obama.

For instance, both candidates sparred with each other over who was more the champion of dirty energy, drilling, and pipe lines. Yes, they mentioned “green technologies.” But with both Romney and Obama it always seemed an afterthought. Mr. Romney evoked “drill, baby, drill” memories with his emphasis on more drilling and on the XL Pipeline. Apparently, Mr. Obama was afraid to even mention that while reserving his decision on the XL Pipeline till after the elections, he’s very quietly allowed construction of the U.S. portion to actually begin.

Had Ms. Stein been admitted to the Hofstra debate, Americans would have been reminded of the impact of fossil fuel consumption not only on prices at the gas pump, but on the environment and global warming. (In fact, the notion of climate change received not a single mention in last night’s contest. And this even though it certainly represents the greatest threat to not only U.S. national security, but to life as we know it.) Ms. Stein’s presence would have made Obama and Romney define their positions on the topic, as she would have had the chance to make her case for a “Green New Deal” which draws connections between the consumption of fossil fuel and environmental deterioration, oil wars, and healthcare.

Rocky Anderson’s presence on stage would have brought front and center the concerns of his Justice Party. Without him the words “poverty” and “poor” crossed no one’s lips, even though poverty rates in the United States are at their highest rate since 1965. Similarly, Mr. Anderson would have raised questions of breaking up the “too big to fail” banks and the prosecution of fraudulent bankers not one of whom has yet been brought to trial.

Mr. Anderson would also have made the Republicans, Democrats and public at large reframe the “jobs debate.” Without him, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney could avoid facing the fact that the digital revolution of the last twenty-five years has rendered obsolete conventional ways of thinking about work. Robots have displaced people. As a result, it’s imperative to reframe questions of employment. Available jobs must be shared; it’s as simple as that. Work days, weeks, months, and years need shortening. Vacations need extensions. And the wealth the new technology is currently concentrating in the 1% needs redistribution.

Perhaps no question in last night’s debate more highlighted the need for “breaking the sound barrier” than the one about the differences between Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama, and George W. Bush. In his answer, candidate Romney talked about differences in personality and context, championing small businesses, and cracking down on China. Mercifully for him, Mr. Obama did not have to answer the question.

Neither Ms. Stein nor Mr. Anderson would have allowed such question-dodging to pass. The fact is, both Stein and Anderson agree, there is very little important difference between either the Romney or Obama positions or that of former President Bush. In fact under Obama, Bush policies have been exacerbated, and they promise to get even worse under Romney. The list of policy similarities is long: use of torture, promotion of free trade agreements, spying on U.S. citizens, detention of “terrorist” suspects with charge or trial, extra-judicial (drone) executions, championing dirty energy, off-shoring of jobs, misleading agreement that Social Security and Medicare are in crisis, refusal to prosecute Bush era war crimes . . .

Yes, Mr. Obama rose to the occasion last night. And I’m happy that he won. I’ll vote for him in November. But my vote is only a stop-gap measure. During the next four years I’m going to devote my political energies to working for the Justice and Green Parties so that in 2014 they won’t be excluded from presidential debates.

Even if their winning the presidency might remain a remote possibility, their inclusion in the debates will serve us all. Thanks, Amy Goodman!