PJTTF: Another Frustrating Night
While there were some inspiring high points to last night's long and exhaustive hearings, they once again ended, at least for me, in frustration and despair. Like everyone else who braved this ordeal for the millionth time, I'm still drained this morning, but I want to share some thoughts about it all anyway.
There were some definite differences this time around. First, we all had hope going in, which might be why the end result was such an unexpected blow. But there were other differences as well. Unlike past hearings, under a different mayor, those (very, very few) who supported the PJTTF were expected to offer whatever meager comments they had along with everyone else. They had to wait in line, and they were given the same 3 minutes as any other public citizens. (Those who have attended past hearings will remember that PBA representatives, timber companies, and other supporters were allowed to come up and testify before anyone else, and were not timed. Their testimony was given special privilege then, as if the rest of the people packing the chambers were just a lot of rabble.)
It was also refreshing that Mayor Potter was not glaring wickedly at speakers, as has occurred in past hearings, nor was he cutting people's testimony short each time the 3 minute clock ran out. Instead, he listened respectfully, and only cut in twice that I can recall, and in both of those cases the testimony was dragging on way past what was needed to make the point. (Though I have to say, I really did want to hear the rest of the story about the Rotweiller puppy.)
Much of the public testimony offered was exemplary. I believe that the full audio is going to be posted soon, so people can hear it all for themselves. Several people mentioned the outrageous affair in which Brandon Mayfield was illegally persecuted by the FBI, and asked that the council protect the rest of us from such abuses. Others spoke about the similarities between what is happening in this country now, and what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Still others reminded the council of the long history of racist repression associated with the FBI, and the tendency for secrecy to lead to abuse of power.
Although Saltzman appeared to spend the hearing examining the end of his nose, the rest of the council seemed to be listening intently to most of the testimony. I was heartened to see Erik Sten begin to look like he might have a backbone after all. In one exchange with Jordan, Sten asked repeatedly about whether it would be possible for the Mayor and the PJTTF officers to have the same clearance. And repeatedly, Jordan fumbled around the question without ever actually answering it. After rambling on and repeating answers to other questions but not the one asked, Sten smiled and hissed quietly, "I get thaaaa-aat."
Throughout the evening, Commissioner Leonard and Commissioner Sten admirably defended the crazy notion that the mayor of the city, who is also the police commissioner, should know what officers in his jurisdiction are up to. Again, full audio should be available soon. It's worth listening to.
After a gruelling 4 hours of testimony, at last it was time for the moment we have been waiting for for years. It was time for the people of this city to finally know that they have been heard. After some initial banter between council members, there would be a vote. And from all indications, it appeared that this time, the vote would be favorable. It would not be the same rubber stamp we have been assaulted with all these years. This time, we would not be sold to the beast by shortsighted and self-interested politicians. This time, we would win.
Yes, it would not be a complete victory, because there is still the spectre of Homeland Security hovering over our shoulders, watching. But it was to be a small, and much needed step, at long last, in the right direction. God, I was so tired, I'd have left hours before, except that after all these years of testifying to deaf ears, I wanted to be there when, at last, we were heard.
But it was not to be.
It was Saltzman, of course, who asked that the vote be delayed. There had been 2 or 3 people, connected with the business community, who actually testified against the proposal. It was they who first brought up the idea of a delay. It's not like I didn't expect Saltzman to side with the PBA and against the people. But I remember thinking when this first came up that it was a dumbass notion. This has been a subject of debate and delay and discussion ad infinitum. Clearly, there has been ENOUGH delay. There have been years to negotiate. Now is the time to act.
I expected the winds of change to blow Saltzman's suggestion quietly aside, but to my horror, it all came down to, you guessed it, Erik Sten. Here's how it happened. Saltzman stated that the vote should be delayed. Leonard eloquently argued that it should not. The two argued back and forth for some time, before finally being interrupted by Sten, who noted wryly that both had made their positions clear. Potter said that he would be willing to wait and see, if that was what was required. Still, there were three council members who could force the vote right then and there. Leonard reiterated his belief that the time for a vote was at hand. Adams agreed. The vote was split, 2 to 2. Now, it was up to Sten. This is the part where he was supposed to take the pressure off the mayor, who had executed the politically safe maneuver of appearing to reasonably consider the idea of putting off the vote, knowing that three council members were already on board. If Sten had called for the vote then and there, this would be over now. And the mayor could have rightly stated that he had been willing to wait, but hey, democracy, waddya gonna do.
Instead, it played out like a bad recording of the last PJTTF hearing. Sten began with sparkling eyes, passionately explaining all the reasons why the PJTTF needs to be reigned in. [At this point, I was almost taken in, when a fellow imcista walked over and whispered in my ear, "This is starting to sound just like last time. He's gonna do it again." And shit if he wasn't right.] After an emotionally charged speech about how important it is to finally hear all those people who have been telling the council to drop the PJTTF, after giving the "I hear your pain" speech about how frustrated people have obviously been after past hearings, that fucker DID IT AGAIN. He pulled the old switcharoo he's so famous for, and voted to delay the vote. And Commissioner Sten's newly formed backbone dissolved before our eyes.
I felt like I had wasted another fruitless night in council chambers. I was angry at myself for being taken in like this again! Like everyone else there, I had so many, many other things I needed to do last night, and I blew everything else off just to be there. If this had been just another rubber stamping, I would not have gone this year. But I was so sure that this time, it would be different. Alas.
When it was over, I was too stunned to move for a minute or two. By the time I composed myself, Sten was already gone from the room. I raced out into the hall to catch him before he could get away, and there he was, slinking away with Saltzman. "Commissioner Sten." I hissed. He turned around. "Not AGAIN," I said. I was fully prepared to give him a verbal spanking. But there's just something so, little brother-ish about him. I just couldn't. To his credit, in spite of my obvious willingness to give him a tongue-lashing right there in front of God and everyone, he turned and came toward me. I could see Saltzman about to arrogantly huff away, but Sten stood his ground. He looked a little sheepish, but he stood there and explained himself, like a public official should do. He seemed so innocently earnest that I could only nod sadly, and secretly will him to finally find that backbone.
He said he did what he did because the mayor had surprised him by saying he would wait. He said, in essence, that he "had to support the mayor." He said that he was certain there would be change, and that the delay would be all right because now maybe the FBI would be more willing to negotiate. A friend who had come out with me pointed out that they likely would have been more willing to negotiate if the council had voted in favor of the proposal. It would have given the people of this city a much stronger hand. Sten didn't really seem to know what to say about that, but assured us that it would all be good and that this kind of political compromise is just necessary, that's all. I asked Erik if he would vote in favor of the proposal when it comes back up. He said that, if the FBI does not compromise, then he will. "But wait," said my friend. "What kind of compromise are you talking about?" Sten indicated that, if the FBI does not accept the provisions of the proposal, then he will vote for the proposal. "Full clearance, then? If they don't grant full clearance then you'll vote for the proposal next time?" I asked. He said yes. "Promise?" I asked. Again, he said yes. Saltzman was standing smugly nearby, apparently waiting for Sten. He seemed amused that Sten would waste his time talking to ordinary citizens. I asked, "What about you? How are you going to vote when there finally is a vote?" Saltzman huffed, cleared his throat, and then said that, if the mayor says it's not working any other way, then he will vote in favor of the resolution.
So, there are three council members who are clearly in favor of the proposal, and one who might vote for it if he can't think of any way out of it. Why, then, was this so disheartening? What's wrong with a short delay? After all, the vote is less than a month from now. Why not just be patient?
Well, frankly, because I've seen all this before. This thing has been stinking like a rotten fish since before Thanksgiving. It's time to just take out the damn trash. But it isn't just that. I'm worried.
The thing is, this proposal was very well written, and Leonard and Potter were very astute. They crafted something that no reasonable person could disagree with. They're asking for a very simple thing: oversight of a rogue operation. The person whom we elected to run this city is simply demanding that he have access to the information needed to determine whether the laws of this state are being followed by those who work for him. Obviously, those who would profit from silencing dissenting voices in this city do not want this. It's too easy, and too much fun to jail and harass radical, liberal, and environmental activists who might make waves. It's too conventient to be able to incarcerate and deport people whose faces are the wrong color. And it's just been too intoxicating to have all that power with no transparency. This proposal would put a big dent in all that, into their ability to carry out spying and harassment that is clearly illegal under the Oregon Constitution (not to mention the US Constitution, but I guess that's a moot point now).
They could think of no way to actually challenge the nuts and bolts of the proposal -- it was too reasonable. So they did the only thing they could do to change the outcome, they asked for a delay. This way, the battle could be waged in the headlines of the Oregonian and the non sequiters of KATU. The corporate media in this city is aligned through like minds, big money, and board afiliations, with those who would prefer to keep the PJTTF rampaging through our community without reigns. Expect a lot of headlines in the days to come about the demon Terror and the need for the PJTTF. This is a poweful tool, considering how many people are still gripped by the urge to sit quietly in darkened rooms and passively soak up the corporate media's hypnotic messages.
Mayor Potter will be under enormous pressure from now until the vote is finally called. Is he strong enough to stand up for what he says he believes? I do not know. And this is why this delay is so frustrating.
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