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Democracy Protection Act Counters "Authoritarians"

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
http://www.btlonline.org
----------------------------
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release April 2, 2007

Coalition Puts Forward Democracy Protection Act to Counter "New Authoritarians"

Interview with Mark Green, president of The New Democracy Project, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:
http://www.btlonline.org/green040607.ram

A coalition of progressive organizations came together recently to announce a legislative agenda called the "Democracy Protection Act: 40 Ways Toward a More Perfect Union." The initiative -- put forward by the New Democracy Project, New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, Demos and The Nation magazine -- is a proactive response to what the groups sees as a threat to America posed by "new authoritarians who show enormous contempt for the value of democracy." Their agenda includes public funding for federal election campaigns, creating national voting standards, securing the flawed machinery of elections, making CEOs more accountable for excessive corporate compensation and restricting presidential signing statements.

The coalition of groups view the election of a new Congress in 2006 as an opportunity to put forward an agenda that will both repair and strengthen the institutions of democracy so weakened, particularly over the past six years of the Bush presidency.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Mark Green, New York City's first public advocate and past candidate for mayor of New York City and attorney general of New York state. He currently serves as president of the New Democracy Project and is the newly named president of Air America Radio. Here, Green summarizes the Democracy Protection Act and discusses his vision for his progressive radio network.

MARK GREEN: Voting rights, rule of law, democratizing Congress, all of them are indispensable to a functioning democracy. You have to encourage the franchise, you have to inform people, you have to follow the rule of equal justice under law. This administration has been so lawless, so hostile to expanding the franchise, so really authoritarian when it came to treating Congress when they controlled the White House and the House and Senate, which they no longer do. So, you want voting by mail, over three weeks before Election Day, so you don’t reduce turnout if there’s a rainy Tuesday. You want to make sure that you have electronic voting machines that are secure and with a paper trail. You want campaign finance reform so money alone doesn’t buy races and merit counts for more; free TV for bona fide candidates.

Second, you have to open up Congress, so you have more committee hearings than the last six years. Gee, my goodness, the House and Senate were like West Wings of the White House and all the things we’re finding out now about Iraq, about Halliburton, about (Attorney General Alberto) Gonzales, about contracting and Katrina were swept under the rug.

Finally, there’s an area called economics of democracy. You know, we’re a private economy, and if you’re smarter or more skilled, you’ll make more money. That’s fine. But when 90 percent of the wealth is owned by the top five percent of Americans, when 90 percent of the productivity gains goes to the top one percent of Americans, when the average CEO earns 500 times more than the average line worker, then the entire middle-class and those who aspire to it are getting left behind. So, if you add up all these positive solutions, we think we can save our democracy and I think and hope a lot of the 2008 election will turn on that.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mark, this is quite an exhaustive list of issues and legislative measures that many people I know listening to this program would like to see voted into law. But what are the chances that the Democratic-controlled House and narrowly Democratic-controlled Senate is going to pass this legislation -- or any of it, advocated by your coalition?

MARK GREEN: The House and Senate are Democratic means that these ideas will all get an airing. For example, Sen. Durbin of Illinois, last week proposed a sweeping public finance bill. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York has proposed a Count Every Vote Act. So, it doesn’t help if people vote, and then votes aren’t counted, which is what's happened of course in Florida in 2000 and elsewhere.

These ideas will all have hearings and maybe even votes, but they're not going to be enacted so long as there’s a Republican president who doesn’t believe in it and can veto it, you need two-thirds to override him. It all comes down to '08. And if, after '08, there’s a more progressive president, and both chambers -- my guess politically -- is that both the House and Senate will be more Democratic, because the unmitigated disaster called Iraq will absolutely have many Republicans losing in ' 08, then these ideas in the Democracy Protection Act won’t just be pie-in-the-sky, I think they’ll be enacted.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mark, I wanted to ask you about how you came to become America’s only progressive commercial radio network’s president. I know your brother Steven and you have worked together to secure the network. But, tell us a little bit about the story of how that came about.

MARK GREEN: Three years ago, Air America was founded because the right-wing not just dominated, but nearly monopolized, talk radio. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly -- and clearly the country was roughly split politically. It was a big great idea, that had missteps, mismanagement and misspending and it went into bankruptcy, Chapter 11 in October 2006. My brother bought it out of bankruptcy. I’m now the president of Air America Radio. And the goal is to make it profitable and influential. Hell, it can’t be influential if it’s not profitable.

So, Air America 2.0 now has new owners, new capital, a new management combination, and will have an even better line-up, which we’ll be announcing over time. And if we can’t make the progressive equivalent of Limbaugh and Hannity successful in the ' 07-'08 swing to progressive patriotism, we never will.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How closely do you want to have Air America identified with the Democratic Party? What are the dangers in that? Is there some distance you want to keep between the network and the party?

MARK GREEN: Well, there is a distance -- we are not an arm of the DNC (Democratic National Committee.) I don’t get their talking points. They can’t call me and tell me what to air. Then we’re not an authentic medium. We have to be a business. And that means being blunt about Republicans and Democrats alike. There's no "party line"; I don’t tell the talent on air what to think. Some of them condemn different Democrats on different days. That’s quite different than Fox, actually. We have to maintain our journalistic integrity while we have a point of view. I will say that Air America is run by me, and I’m a proud Democrat, and COO who’s been a Republican his whole life because he’s an honorable, effective person. That’s who you want running a business.

Read the Democracy Protection Act online at http://www.newdemocracy.org
. Visit Air America's website at http://www.airamerica.com.

*************

Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending April 6, 2007. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.

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