Time to ‘turn around’

Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich marks visit with strong words on intrusive JPL background checks

By Joe Piasecki

Photo by Joe Piasecki

Good coach: Elizabeth Kucinich prepares her husband Sunday.

Ohio Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has visited the San Gabriel Valley three times over the past four months.

During his latest visit Sunday in Sierra Madre, Kucinich remained true to form, supporting a progressive agenda while railing against the war in Iraq and his congressional colleagues’ failure to end it.

What was different this time is that more people — about 350 — gathered to listen. Also somewhat different than other times was Kucinich addressed an issue close to home — controversy surrounding plans to force scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to submit to investigations of their financial, medical and sexual histories.

Senior Researcher Robert Nelson and 27 other JPL scientists have sued the government, claiming the program is a violation of privacy rights. Citing “serious legal and constitutional questions,” a panel of three federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges earlier this month granted and later extended an injunction against the program.

The case is set to be heard in early December, either in Pasadena or San Francisco, after scientists file written arguments this week and the government responds. In its Oct. 11 extension of the injunction, Ninth Circuit judges asked the government to show how gathering information about the health, spending practices and sexual behavior of scientists would “advance a legitimate state interest” and be “narrowly tailored to meet that interest.”

The only interest such snooping would serve, Kucinich told the Weekly before describing it to the crowd at Sierra Vista Park as “a destruction of all that is good and right,” would be to undermine democracy.

“This is fundamentally wrong. I want everyone at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to know that not only as president but as a member of Congress I’m going to work to expose this and overturn it. I think what [the government is] doing is unconstitutional. They’re violating people’s rights to privacy,” he said.

Kucinich framed the investigation of scientists, a program developed by the Department of Commerce to satisfy a Homeland Security presidential directive, as part of a larger issue.

“The government’s listening in on people’s phone calls, opening up people’s mail, looking at people’s health records, education records, even trying to determine who’s sleeping with whom. What’s that about? That’s not a democracy; we’re on the road to fascism. We’ve got to turn around. We’ve got to reclaim our core values as Americans,” he continued.

Kucinich was accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth, whose good looks and charm have caught the attention of pundits, and who, like her husband, described America as a nation in trouble.

“We really need to look at things back home before we can speak [to the world] with legitimacy,” she said.

Also on the Kucinch values agenda was impeachment of President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Kucinich is author of a bill to impeach Cheney over his role in engineering the war on Iraq, which will come up for a preliminary vote next month, he said.

Kucinich pleased the crowd by promising to lobby House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has said impeachment is “off the table,” to change her mind.

“We may have to proceed with this to save our nation and the world,” Kucinich said.


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