Sunday, January 31, 2010

Civil Liberties Still Under Attack

Glenn Greenwald
Sunday, Jan 31, 2010 07:32 EST
Nostalgia for Bush/Cheney radicalism
By Glenn Greenwald

(updated below)

As has been voluminously documented here, one of the most notable aspects of the first year of the Obama presidency has been how many previously controversial Bush/Cheney policies in the terrorism and civil liberties realms have been embraced. Even Obama's most loyal defenders often acknowledge that, as Michael Tomasky recently put it, "the civil liberties area has been [Obama's] worst. This is the one area in which the president's actions don't remotely match the candidate's promises." From indefinite detention and renditions to denial of habeas rights, from military commissions and secrecy obsessions to state secrets abuses, many of the defining Bush/Cheney policies continue unabated under its successor administration.

Despite all that, there is substantial political pressure from all directions for Obama to reverse the very few decisions where he actually deviated from Bush/Cheney radicalism in these areas. In the wake of extreme political pressure, mostly from Democrats, the White House just forced Eric Holder to retreat on his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, and numerous Democrats now appear prepared to join with the GOP to cut-off funding for civilian trials altogether, forcing the administration to try all Terrorists in military commissions or just hold them indefinitely. The administration has created a warped multi-tiered justice system where only a select few even get civilian trials -- those whom they know in advance they can convict -- yet there are growing signs that the President will abandon even that symbolic, piecemeal nod to due process.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post is publishing demands from former Bush CIA and NSA Chief Michael Hayden -- who presided over the blatantly criminal warrantless eavesdropping program -- that Obama must even more closely model his Terrorism policies on Bush's, as though the architects of Bush's illegal policies are our Guiding Lights when deciding what to do now. Even Obama's own top intelligence official criticized the Justice Department's decision to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as what he is -- a criminal -- and accord him normal due process. And an internal Justice Department investigation which -- under Bush -- had concluded that John Yoo and Jay Bybee committed ethical violations in their authoring of the "torture memos" and should be investigated by their state bars has now, under Obama, reportedly been changed -- whitewashed -- to conclude that they acted appropriately (even if their written opinions exhibited "poor judgment").

In sum, there is clearly a bipartisan and institutional craving for a revival (more accurately: ongoing preservation) of the core premise of Bush/Cheney radicalism: that because we're "at war" with Terrorists, our standard precepts of justice and due process do not apply and, indeed, must be violated. To relieve ourselves of guilt and of the bad lingering taste left from having such discredited and unpopular leadership for eight years, we collectively pretended for a little while to regret the excesses of the Bush/Cheney approach to such matters. But it's now crystal clear that the country, especially its ruling elite, is either too petrified of Terrorism and/or too enamored of the powers which that fear enables to accept any real changes from the policies that were supposedly such a profound violation "of our values." One can only marvel at the consensus outrage generated by the mere notion that we charge people with crimes and give them trials if we want to lock them in a cage for life. Indeed, what was once the most basic and defining American principle -- the State must charge someone with a crime and give them a fair trial in order to imprison them -- has been magically transformed into Leftist extremism.

To see how radical our establishment consensus in this area has become, just consider two facts. First, look at the Terrorism policies of what had previously been the most right-wing administration in America's history: the Reagan administration. In this post yesterday, Larry Johnson does quite a good job of documenting how Terrorism by Islamic radicals had been a greater problem in the 1980s than it is now. There was the 1983 bombing of our Marine barracks in Lebanon, a 1982 and 1984 bombing of Jewish sites in Argentina, numerous plane hijackings, the blowing up of a Pan Am jet, the Achille Lauro seizure, and what the State Department called "a host of spectacular, publicity-grabbing events that ultimately ended in coldblooded murder" (many masterminded by Abu Nidal).

Despite that, read the official policy of the Reagan Administration when it came to treating Terrorists, as articulated by the top Reagan State Department official in charge of Terrorism policies, L. Paul Bremer, in a speech he entitled "Counter-Terrorism: Strategies and Tactics:"

Another important measure we have developed in our overall strategy is applying the rule of law to terrorists. Terrorists are criminals. They commit criminal actions like murder, kidnapping, and arson, and countries have laws to punish criminals. So a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are -- criminals -- and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against them.

It was also Ronald Reagan who signed the Convention Against Torture in 1988 -- after many years of countless, horrific Terrorist attacks -- which not only declared that there are "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" justifying torture, but also required all signatory countries to "ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law" and -- and Reagan put it -- "either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution." And, of course, even George W. Bush -- at the height of 9/11-induced Terrorism hysteria -- charged attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid with actual crimes and processed him through our civilian courts.

How much clearer evidence can there be of how warped and extremist we've become on these matters? The express policies of the right-wing Ronald Reagan -- "applying the rule of law to terrorists"; delegitimizing Terrorists by treating them as "criminals"; and compelling the criminal prosecution of those who authorize torture -- are now considered on the Leftist fringe. Merely advocating what Reagan explicitly adopted as his policy -- "to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against" Terrorists -- is now the exclusive province of civil liberties extremists. In those rare cases when Obama does what Reagan's policy demanded in all instances and what even Bush did at times -- namely, trials and due process for accused Terrorists -- he is attacked as being "Soft on Terror" by Democrats and Republicans alike. And the mere notion that we should prosecute torturers (as Reagan bound the U.S. to do) -- or even hold them accountable in ways short of criminal proceedings -- is now the hallmark of a Far Leftist Purist. That's how far we've fallen, how extremist our political consensus has become.

Second, consider the company we keep, specifically where our mentality falls on the spectrum that defines the rest of the world. Countries which have been victimized by horrific terrorist attacks over the last several years -- Britain, Spain, India, Indonesia -- have tried and convicted the perpetrators as criminals in their civilian court system, right in their normal courthouses, in the heart of the cities that were the target of the attacks. These countries -- which aren't protected by oceans and (in the case of India and Indonesia) aren't bordered by friendly countries -- didn't invent special military commissions to abridge due process or simply imprison the accused without a trial. They didn't pour water down their throats, freeze them, disorient them with sleep deprivation, or hang them naked from the ceiling. Instead, they followed the Reagan administration's policy for dealing with Terrorists -- "use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against them" -- despite the fact that they had suffered deadly attacks.

By contrast, look at what Libya is doing. The U.S. has, for decades, harshly criticized Libya as one of the most tyrannical and uncivilized regimes on the planet. In 2008, the State Department not only amazingly condemned that country for "torture" (which included such U.S.-embraced methods as "depriving detainees of sleep, food, and water; hanging by the wrists; suspending from a pole inserted between the knees and elbows . . . . threatening with dog attacks"), but also for indefinitely detaining people without trials ("The law stipulates that detainees can be held for investigation after being arrested up to eight days. In practice security services can hold detainees indefinitely. Although the law requires that detainees be informed of the charges against them, it was not enforced in practice. The law states that in order to renew a detention order detainees must be brought before a judicial authority at regular intervals of 30 days, but in practice security services detained persons for indefinite periods without a court order").

Consistent with those abuses, Libya just announced its new policy for how it will treat accused Al Qaeda Terrorists -- a policy that should sound quite familiar to all Americans:

Libya will hold up to 300 al Qaeda members in jail indefinitely after they have completed their prison terms to stop them staging fresh attacks, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Thursday.

"These people are heretics. They are followers of (Osama) Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri. They killed a number of civilians and police," Gaddafi told a gathering of his top legislative body, referring to al Qaeda's two global commanders.

"It is a necessity to keep them in prison. They are very dangerous as they are ready to resume killing people in our streets here or travel to Algeria or Egypt or elsewhere to stage attacks," he said in remarks broadcast on state television and monitored in Rabat.

At least Libya seems to be indefinitely imprisoning those who were at one time convicted; the U.S., by contrast, is doing so with regard to detainees who have never been charged, let alone convicted, of anything. Saudi Arabia has a similar policy of simply imprisoning people in the name of Terrorism without trials or due process.

So that's where the American consensus now lies. The practices used by Britain, Spain, India and Indonesia (and the Reagan administration) of treating Terrorists as criminals and convicting them in normal courts -- with due process -- is too fringe Leftist for the United States, which has spent decades sermonizing to the rest of the world about the need for due process and the evils of arbitrary detention. Instead, our political and media establishment demands that we replicate the policies of Libya and Saudi Arabia: simply hold accused Terrorists without trials or, at most, invent special due-process-abridging military tribunals to ensure they are convicted.

George Bush and Dick Cheney ended up as two of the most despised American political leaders of the last 100 years, so our establishment had to pretend that they, too, found their policies to be distasteful and extreme. But that was clearly a pretense. In those very rare instances where Obama and his Attorney General try to deviate, they're accused (including by leading members of their own party) of accommodating "the Far Left" and being "Soft on Terror." The undeniable truth is that our establishment craves Bush/Cheney policies because it is as radical as they are. That one is automatically accused of being too Leftist merely by literally reciting Reagan administration policy on Terrorists (in words if not deeds) -- and that one can be "centrist" only by standing with the due-process-denying practices of Libya and Saudi Arabia -- reflects just how far the American spectrum has regressed.



UPDATE: According to Mitch McConnell, it's not only Ronald Reagan, but also George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who were too far to the Left when it came to the treatment of accused Terrorists. McConnell said today on CNN that Bush's mistakes were giving civilian trials to some accused Terrorists and releasing too many people from Guantanamo. McConnell likely speaks for the bi-partisan establishment, as he confidently predicts that there are more than enough votes -- from both parties -- for cutting off funds for trying accused Terrorists in civilian courts.

Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush: Far Leftist Civil Libertarian Extremists.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wasserman Assails Loan Gaurantees for Nukes

Published on Saturday, January 30, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
Will Obama Guarantee a New Reactor War?

by Harvey Wasserman

Amidst utter chaos in the atomic reactor industry, Team Obama is poised to vastly expand a bitterly contested loan guarantee program that may cost far more than expected, both financially and politically.

The long-stalled, much-hyped "Renaissance" in atomic power has failed to find private financing. New construction projects are opposed for financial reasons by fiscal conservatives such as the Heritage Foundation and National Taxpayers Union, and by a national grassroots safe energy campaign that has already beaten such loan guarantees three times.

New reactor designs are being challenged by regulators in both the US and Europe. Key projects, new and old, are engulfed in political/financial uproars in Florida, Texas, Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey and elsewhere.

And 53 years after the opening of the first commercial reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is now convening a "Blue Ribbon" commission on managing radioactive waste, for which the industry still has no solution. Though stacked with reactor advocates, the commission may certify the death certificate for Nevada's failed Yucca Mountain dump.

In 2005 George W. Bush's Energy Bill embraced appropriations for an $18.5 billion loan guarantee program, which the Obama administration now may want to triple. But the DOE has been unable to minister to a chaotic industry in no shape to proceed with new reactor construction. As many as five government agencies are negotiating over interest rates, accountability, capital sourcing, scoring, potential default and accident liability, design flaws and other fiscal, procedural and regulatory issues, any or all of which could wind up in the courts.

In 2007 a national grassroots uprising helped kill a proposed addition of $50 billion in guarantees, then beat them twice again.

When Obama endorsed "safe, clean nuclear power plants" and "clean coal" in this year's State of the Union, more than 10,000 MoveOn.org members slammed that as the worst moment of the speech.

The first designated recipient of the residual Bush guarantees may be at the Vogtle site in Waynesboro, Georgia, where two reactors now operate. Georgia regulators have ruled that consumers must pay for two proposed new reactors even as they are being built.

But initial estimates of $2-3 billion per unit have soared to $8 billion and more, even long before construction begins. Standardized designs have not been certified. On-going technical challenges remind potential investors that the first generation of reactors cost an average of more than double their original estimates.

The Westinghouse AP-1000 model, currently slated for Vogtle---and for another site in South Carolina---has become an unwanted front runner.

Owned by Japan's Toshiba, Westinghouse has been warned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of serious design problems relating to hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.

The issues are not abstract. Florida's Turkey Point plant took a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1991, sustaining more than $100 million in damage while dangerously losing off-site communication and power, desperately relying on what Mary Olson of NIRS terms "shaky back-up power." Ohio's Perry reactor was damaged by a 1986 earthquake that knocked out surrounding roads and bridges. A state commission later warned that evacuation under such conditions could be impossible.

Long considered a loyal industry lap-dog, the NRC's willingness to send Westinghouse back to the drawing board indicates the AP-1000's problems are serious. That they could be expensive and time-consuming to correct means the Vogtle project may prove a losing choice for the first loan guarantees.

South Texas is also high among candidates for loan money. But San Antonio, a primary partner in a two-reactor project there, has been rocked by political fallout from soaring cost estimates. As the San Antonio city council recently prepared to approve financing, it learned the price had jumped by $4 billion, to a staggering $17-18 billion. Angry debate over who-knew-what-when has led to the possibility that the city could pull out altogether.

In Florida, four reactors have been put on hold by a plummeting economy and the shifting political aims of Governor Charlie Crist. Crist originally supported two reactors proposed by Florida Power & Light to be built at Turkey Point, south of Miami, and two more proposed near Tampa by Progress Energy. State regulators voted to allow the utilities to charge ratepayers before construction began, or even a license was approved.

But Crist is now running for US Senate, and has distanced himself from the increasingly unpopular utilities. With votes from two new appointees, the Public Service Commission has nixed more than $1 billion in rate hikes. The utilities have in turn suspended preliminary reactor construction (though they say they will continue to pursue licenses).

At Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, the financially tortured Constellation Energy has committed to the French AREVA's European Power Reactor, now under serious challenge by regulators in France, Finland and Great Britain. An EPR under construction in Finland is now at least three years behind schedule, and more than $3 billion over budget.

Meanwhile, at Entergy's 30-year-old Yankee reactor In Vermont, a series of radiation and information leaks have severely damaged prospects for re-licensing. The decision will soon be made by a deeply divided state legislature. "It would be better for the industry to let Vermont Yankee die a quiet death in the Green Mountain state," says Deb Katz of the grassroots Citizens Awareness Network. "With radioactive leaks, lies and systemic mismanagement, Entergy is no poster child for a new generation of nukes."

Meanwhile, New Jersey may require operators of the aging Oyster Creek reactor to install sizable towers to protect what's left of the severely damaged Barnegat Bay, which the plant uses for cooling. Though the requirement may not be enforced for as much as seven years, the towers' high cost could prompt a shut-down of the relatively small plant.

This unending stream of technical, financial and political downfalls could doom the "reactor renaissance" to history's radioactive dump heap. "President Obama needs to remember what Candidate Obama promised: no more taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "Renewables and energy efficiency provide both greater carbon emissions reductions and more jobs per dollar spent than nuclear. Unlike nuclear power, they are relatively quick to install, and are actually safe and clean."

Indeed, despite Congressional and White House support for these latest proposed loan guarantees, the grassroots fight over both old and new nukes grows fiercer by the day.

In the long run, this alleged "nuclear renaissance" could prove to be little more than a rhetorical relapse.

Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at www.solartopia.org. He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for www.freepress.org, where this article first appeared.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Alicia Brody Commentary on Scott Brown Victory

The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in DC.Image via Wikipedia

A Sad, Sad Day for Massachusetts
Wow. I'm still stunned. Not to mention upset. I've been following some of the news coverage of what happened in last week's election, to fill the late Senator Edward Kennedy's seat in Congress, and I think that many of the people who voted for Scott Brown are soon going to realize they made a mistake. I predict that, within the next six months, "Don't blame me, I voted for Coakley" bumper stickers are going to start appearing on cars around the Bay State. If this one vote really means that the entire nation heads back down into the awful mess we were mired in under the prior administration, Massachusetts voters for Brown will feel even worse. I don't think it will, but it will be interesting to see where we go from here.

Based on anecdotal evidence, I think most Democrats and Independents who voted for Scott Brown did so because they wanted to kill this health care bill. That, in my opinion, is short sighted on two counts. First, killing this health care bill because of scary things that have been said, or because one doesn't like parts of it, doesn't fix our problem of 40,000,000 uninsured Americans. Once we have a health care bill in place, we can fix the parts of it that don't work or don't work as well as we would like. If we don't have a bill at all, we are going to have to start from scratch each time this debate comes up.

In addition, a lot of the statements that have been made about the bill (huge amounts coming out of people's paychecks, death panels, the government interfering with treatment) just aren't true. Second, think about all the other things that many Democrats and Independents in Massachusetts believe in: marriage equality, a woman's right to choose, affirmative action, environmental justice, waging peace, and corporate responsibility. Do you really think that Republican Senator Scott Brown will stand up for those issues? Scott Brown did not run as a moderate and was not, again based on anecdotal evidence, elected to help the U. S. Senate's political parties agree on a healthcare compromise. What makes anyone think that he will become a moderate now?

Martha Coakley didn't run the greatest campaign. She, like many politicians, stuck her foot in her mouth a few times. She probably did assume that, having won the Massachusetts Democratic Primary, she was destined to be seated in the Senate. She should not, however, have to shoulder the blame alone. The Democratic Party has not done a good job of educating the public about the healthcare bill. If they had, many citizens wouldn't have voted for Scott Brown just because they feared that legislation.

There is one thing I'm glad I haven't heard in the aftermath of this election. I was afraid that widespread voting irregularities would be revealed and, while I wouldn't mind seeing Scott Brown removed from office if it turned out that he cheated, I'm pretty sure he was elected fairly by voters who were trying to send a message to Washington but went about it the wrong way. My hope is that we learn from this and that the Democrats really change.

We the people need to hold our legislators accountable. Not for being human, but for breaking promises, breaking the law, and acting immorally (and I'm not referring to who's sleeping with whom---I'm talking about doing the right thing). I was reminded recently that I can't have all the power and none of the responsibility. I have to participate and make my voice heard on election day and beyond. I am responsible. We are responsible.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nader Blasts Supreme Court Decision

The current United States Supreme Court, the h...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Thursday, January 21, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
Corporate Personhood Should Be Banned, Once and For All
Outrageous SCOTUS Decision Should Reignite Most Necessary of Debates

by Ralph Nader
Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission shreds the fabric of our already weakened democracy by allowing corporations to more completely dominate our corrupted electoral process. It is outrageous that corporations already attempt to influence or bribe our political candidates through their political action committees (PACs), which solicit employees and shareholders for donations. With this decision, corporations can now also draw on their corporate treasuries and pour vast amounts of corporate money, through independent expenditures, into the electoral swamp already flooded with corporate campaign PAC contribution dollars.

This corporatist, anti-voter decision is so extreme that it should galvanize a grassroots effort to enact a Constitutional Amendment to once and for all end corporate personhood and curtail the corrosive impact of big money on politics. It is indeed time for a Constitutional amendment to prevent corporate campaign contributions from commercializing our elections and drowning out the civic and political voices and values of citizens and voters. It is way overdue to overthrow “King Corporation” and restore the sovereignty of “We the People”!



Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super Wealthy Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Flawed Bill Harms Health of Democratic Party

Description unavailableImage by Jeffrey Guterman via Flickr

Published on Monday, January 18, 2010 by Huffington Post
A Wake Up Call from Massachussetts

by Robert Kuttner

How could the health care issue have turned from a reform that was going to make Barack Obama ten feet tall into a poison pill for Democratic senators? Whether or not Martha Coakley squeaks through in Massachusetts on Tuesday, the health bill has already done incalculable political damage and will likely do more. Polls show that the public now opposes it by margins averaging ten to fifteen points, and widening. It is hard to know which will be the worse political defeat -- losing the bill and looking weak, or passing it and leaving it as a piƱata for Republicans to attack between now and November.

The measure is so unpopular that Republican State Senator Scott Brown has built his entire surge against Coakley around his promise to be the 41st senator to block the bill -- this in Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts. He must be pretty confident that the bill has become politically radioactive, and he's right.

It has already brought down Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, a fighter for health care and other reforms far more progressive than President Obama's. Dorgan championed Americans' right to re-import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, a popular provision that the White House blocked. Dorgan, who is one of the Senate's great populists, began the year more than twenty points ahead in the polls of his most likely challenger, North Dakota Governor John Hoeven. By the time he decided to call it a day, Dorgan was running more than twenty points behind. The difference was the health bill, which North Dakotans oppose by nearly two to one. The fact that Dorgan's own views were much better than the Administration's cut little ice. He was fatally associated with an unpopular bill.

So, how did Democrats get saddled with this bill? Begin with Rahm Emanuel. The White House chief of staff, who was once Bill Clinton's political director, drew three lessons from the defeat of Clinton-care. All three were wrong. First, get it done early (Clinton's task force had dithered.) Second, leave the details to Congress (Clinton had presented Congress with a fully-baked cake.) Third, don't get on the wrong side of the insurance and drug industries (The insurers' fictitious couple, Harry and Louise, had cleaned Clinton's clock.)

But as I wrote in Obama's Challenge, in August 2008, it would be a huge mistake to try to get health care done right out of the box. Obama first needed to get his sea-legs, and focus like a laser on economic recovery. If he got the economy back on track, he would then have earned the chops to undertake more difficult structural reforms like health care.

Deferring to the House and Senate was fine up to a point, but this was an issue where the president needed to lead as only presidents can -- in order to frame the debate and define the stakes.

Cutting a deal with the insurers and drug companies, who are not exactly candidates to win popularity contests, associated Obama with profoundly resented interest groups. This was exactly the wrong framing. This battle should have been the president and the people versus the interests. Instead more and more voters concluded that it was the president and the interests versus the people.

As policy, the interest-group strategy made it impossible to put on the table more fundamental and popular reforms, such as using Federal bargaining power to negotiate cheaper drug prices, or having a true public option like Medicare-for-all. Instead, a bill that served the drug and insurance industries was almost guaranteed to have unpopular core elements.

The politics got horribly muddled. By embracing a deal that required the government to come up with a trillion dollars of subsidy for the insurance industry, Obama was forced to pursue policies that were justifiably unpopular -- such as taxing premiums of people with decent insurance; or compelling people to buy policies that they often couldn't afford, or diverting money from Medicare. He managed to scare silly the single most satisfied clientele of our one island of efficient single-payer health insurance -- senior citizens -- and to alienate one of his most loyal constituencies, trade unionists.

The bill helped about two-thirds of America's uninsured, but did almost nothing for the 85 percent of Americans with insurance that is becoming more costly and unreliable by the day -- except frighten them into believing that what little they have is at increased risk of being taken away.

All of this made things easier for the right, and left people to take seriously even preposterous allegations such as the nonsense about death panels. It got so ass-backwards that the other day Ben Nelson, who successfully held out for anti-abortion language and a sweetheart deal for Nebraska's Medicaid as the price of his vote, found himself facing a wholesale voter backlash.

Nelson began running TV spots assuring Nebraska voters that the Obama health plan is "not run by the government." That's one hell of a slogan for a party that relies on democratically elected government to offset the insecurity, inequality and insanity generated by private commercial forces. If not-run-by-government is the Democrats' credo, why bother?

So we went from a politics in which government is necessary to provide secure health insurance -- because the private insurance industry skims off outrageous middlemen fees and discriminates against sick people -- to a politics in which Democrats, as a matter of survival, feel they have to apologize for government. Thank you, Rahm Emanuel.

The budget-obsessives around Obama also insisted that most of the bill not take effect until 2013, so that all of the scary stuff gets three years to fester before most people see any benefit. Call it political malpractice.

Finally, the health insurance battle sucked out all the oxygen. When Obama made time to work the phones personally, it wasn't to enact serious financial reform (this was left to the tender mercies of Tim Geithner) or to fight for a real jobs program (deficit hawks Peter Orszag and Larry Summers got to blunt that one). No -- Obama got on the phone and met with legislators to round up the last vote or two for a sketchy health reform that crowded out far more urgent issues.

As a resident of Massachusetts, in the last two days I've gotten robo calls from Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Martha Coakley, and Angela Menino, the wife of Boston's mayor -- everyone but the sainted Ted Kennedy. In Obama's call, he advised me that he needed Martha Coakley in the Senate, "because I'm fighting to curb the abuses of a health insurance industry that routinely denies care." Let's see, would that be the same insurance industry that Rahm was cutting inside deals with all spring and summer? The same insurance industry that spent tens of millions on TV spots backing Obama's bill as sensible reform?

If voters are wondering which side this guy is on, he has given them good reason.

Looking forward, one can imagine several possibilities. Suppose Coakley loses. Obama and the House leadership may then decide that their one shot to salvage health reform after all this effort is for the House to just pass the Senate-approved bill and send it to the president's desk. They can fix its deficiencies later. This is an easy parliamentary move. But the bill passed the House by only five votes; many House members are dead set against some of the more objectionable provisions of the Senate bill; a Coakley loss would make the bill that much more politically toxic; there will be Republican catcalls that Congress is using dubious means to pass a bill that has just been politically repudiated; and the House votes just may not be there this time.

Alternatively, let's say Coakley narrowly wins, the Democrats have a near death experience, and the House and Senate stop squabbling and pass the damned bill.

Either way, the Massachusetts surprise should be a wake-up call of the most fundamental kind. Obama needs to stop playing inside games with bankers and insurance lobbyists, and start being a fighter for regular Americans. Otherwise, he can kiss it all goodbye.
© 2010 Huffington Post

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, as well as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the think tank Demos. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week, and continues to write columns in the Boston Globe. He is the author of Obama's Challenge and other books.


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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

Published on Friday, January 15, 2010 by Salon.com
Obama Confidant's Spine-Chilling Proposal

by Glenn Greenwald

Cass Sunstein has long been one of Barack Obama's closest confidants. Often mentioned as a likely Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, Sunstein is currently Obama's head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where, among other things, he is responsible for "overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs." In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-"independent" advocates to "cognitively infiltrate" online groups and websites -- as well as other activist groups -- which advocate views that Sunstein deems "false conspiracy theories" about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens' faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists. The paper's abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.

Sunstein advocates that the Government's stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into "chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups." He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called "independent" credible voices to bolster the Government's messaging (on the ground that those who don't believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government). This program would target those advocating false "conspiracy theories," which they define to mean: "an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role." Sunstein's 2008 paper was flagged by this blogger, and then amplified in an excellent report by Raw Story's Daniel Tencer.

There's no evidence that the Obama administration has actually implemented a program exactly of the type advocated by Sunstein, though in light of this paper and the fact that Sunstein's position would include exactly such policies, that question certainly ought to be asked. Regardless, Sunstein's closeness to the President, as well as the highly influential position he occupies, merits an examination of the mentality behind what he wrote. This isn't an instance where some government official wrote a bizarre paper in college 30 years ago about matters unrelated to his official powers; this was written 18 months ago, at a time when the ascendancy of Sunstein's close friend to the Presidency looked likely, in exactly the area he now oversees. Additionally, the government-controlled messaging that Sunstein desires has been a prominent feature of U.S. Government actions over the last decade, including in some recently revealed practices of the current administration, and the mindset in which it is grounded explains a great deal about our political class. All of that makes Sunstein's paper worth examining in greater detail.

* * * * *

Initially, note how similar Sunstein's proposal is to multiple, controversial stealth efforts by the Bush administration to secretly influence and shape our political debates. The Bush Pentagon employed teams of former Generals to pose as "independent analysts" in the media while secretly coordinating their talking points and messaging about wars and detention policies with the Pentagon. Bush officials secretly paid supposedly "independent" voices, such as Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, to advocate pro-Bush policies while failing to disclose their contracts. In Iraq, the Bush Pentagon hired a company, Lincoln Park, which paid newspapers to plant pro-U.S. articles while pretending it came from Iraqi citizens. In response to all of this, Democrats typically accused the Bush administration of engaging in government-sponsored propaganda -- and when it was done domestically, suggested this was illegal propaganda. Indeed, there is a very strong case to make that what Sunstein is advocating is itself illegal under long-standing statutes prohibiting government "propaganda" within the U.S., aimed at American citizens:

As explained in a March 21, 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service, "publicity or propaganda" is defined by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to mean either (1) self-aggrandizement by public officials, (2) purely partisan activity, or (3) "covert propaganda." By covert propaganda, GAO means information which originates from the government but is unattributed and made to appear as though it came from a third party.

Covert government propaganda is exactly what Sunstein craves. His mentality is indistinguishable from the Bush mindset that led to these abuses, and he hardly tries to claim otherwise. Indeed, he favorably cites both the covert Lincoln Park program as well as Paul Bremer's closing of Iraqi newspapers which published stories the U.S. Government disliked, and justifies them as arguably necessary to combat "false conspiracy theories" in Iraq -- the same goal Sunstein has for the U.S.

Sunstein's response to these criticisms is easy to find in what he writes, and is as telling as the proposal itself. He acknowledges that some "conspiracy theories" previously dismissed as insane and fringe have turned out to be entirely true (his examples: the CIA really did secretly administer LSD in "mind control" experiments; the DOD really did plot the commission of terrorist acts inside the U.S. with the intent to blame Castro; the Nixon White House really did bug the DNC headquarters). Given that history, how could it possibly be justified for the U.S. Government to institute covert programs designed to undermine anti-government "conspiracy theories," discredit government critics, and increase faith and trust in government pronouncements? Because, says Sunstein, such powers are warranted only when wielded by truly well-intentioned government officials who want to spread The Truth and Do Good -- i.e., when used by people like Cass Sunstein and Barack Obama:

Throughout, we assume a well-motivated government that aims to eliminate conspiracy theories, or draw their poison, if and only if social welfare is improved by doing so.

But it's precisely because the Government is so often not "well-motivated" that such powers are so dangerous. Advocating them on the ground that "we will use them well" is every authoritarian's claim. More than anything else, this is the toxic mentality that consumes our political culture: when our side does X, X is Good, because we're Good and are working for Good outcomes. That was what led hordes of Bush followers to endorse the same large-government surveillance programs they long claimed to oppose, and what leads so many Obama supporters now to justify actions that they spent the last eight years opposing.

* * * * *

Consider the recent revelation that the Obama administration has been making very large, undisclosed payments to MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber to provide consultation on the President's health care plan. With this lucrative arrangement in place, Gruber spent the entire year offering public justifications for Obama's health care plan, typically without disclosing these payments, and far worse, was repeatedly held out by the White House -- falsely -- as an "independent" or "objective" authority. Obama allies in the media constantly cited Gruber's analysis to support their defenses of the President's plan, and the White House, in turn, then cited those media reports as proof that their plan would succeed. This created an infinite "feedback loop" in favor of Obama's health care plan which -- unbeknownst to the public -- was all being generated by someone who was receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret from the administration (read this to see exactly how it worked).

In other words, this arrangement was quite similar to the Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher scandals which Democrats, in virtual lockstep, condemned. Paul Krugman, for instance, in 2005 angrily lambasted right-wing pundits and policy analysts who received secret, undisclosed payments, and said they lack "intellectual integrity"; he specifically cited the Armstrong Williams case. Yet the very same Paul Krugman last week attacked Marcy Wheeler for helping to uncover the Gruber payments by accusing her of being "just like the right-wingers with their endless supply of fake scandals." What is one key difference? Unlike Williams and Gallagher, Jonathan Gruber is a Good, Well-Intentioned Person with Good Views -- he favors health care -- and so massive, undisclosed payments from the same administration he's defending are dismissed as a "fake scandal."

Sunstein himself -- as part of his 2008 paper -- explicitly advocates that the Government should pay what he calls "credible independent experts" to advocate on the Government's behalf, a policy he says would be more effective because people don't trust the Government itself and would only listen to people they believe are "independent." In so arguing, Sunstein cites the Armstrong Williams scandal not as something that is wrong in itself, but as a potential risk of this tactic (i.e., that it might leak out), and thus suggests that "government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes," but warns that "too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed." In other words, Sunstein wants the Government to replicate the Armstrong Williams arrangement as a means of more credibly disseminating propaganda -- i.e., pretending that someone is an "independent" expert when they're actually being "prodded" and even paid "behind the scenes" by the Government -- but he wants to be more careful about how the arrangement is described (don't make the control explicit) so that embarrassment can be avoided if it ends up being exposed.

In this 2008 paper, then, Sunstein advocated, in essence, exactly what the Obama administration has been doing all year with Gruber: covertly paying people who can be falsely held up as "independent" analysts in order to more credibly promote the Government line. Most Democrats agreed this was a deceitful and dangerous act when Bush did it, but with Obama and some of his supporters, undisclosed arrangements of this sort seem to be different. Why? Because, as Sunstein puts it: we have "a well-motivated government" doing this so that "social welfare is improved." Thus, just like state secrets, indefinite detention, military commissions and covert, unauthorized wars, what was once deemed so pernicious during the Bush years -- coordinated government/media propaganda -- is instantaneously transformed into something Good.

* * * * *

What is most odious and revealing about Sunstein's worldview is his condescending, self-loving belief that "false conspiracy theories" are largely the province of fringe, ignorant Internet masses and the Muslim world. That, he claims, is where these conspiracy theories thrive most vibrantly, and he focuses on various 9/11 theories -- both domestically and in Muslim countries -- as his prime example.

It's certainly true that one can easily find irrational conspiracy theories in those venues, but some of the most destructive "false conspiracy theories" have emanated from the very entity Sunstein wants to endow with covert propaganda power: namely, the U.S. Government itself, along with its elite media defenders. Moreover, "crazy conspiracy theorist" has long been the favorite epithet of those same parties to discredit people trying to expose elite wrongdoing and corruption.

Who is it who relentlessly spread "false conspiracy theories" of Saddam-engineered anthrax attacks and Iraq-created mushroom clouds and a Ba'athist/Al-Qaeda alliance -- the most destructive conspiracy theories of the last generation? And who is it who demonized as "conspiracy-mongers" people who warned that the U.S. Government was illegally spying on its citizens, systematically torturing people, attempting to establish permanent bases in the Middle East, or engineering massive bailout plans to transfer extreme wealth to the industries which own the Government? The most chronic and dangerous purveyors of "conspiracy theory" games are the very people Sunstein thinks should be empowered to control our political debates through deceit and government resources: namely, the Government itself and the Enlightened Elite like him.

It is this history of government deceit and wrongdoing that renders Sunstein's desire to use covert propaganda to "undermine" anti-government speech so repugnant. The reason conspiracy theories resonate so much is precisely that people have learned -- rationally -- to distrust government actions and statements. Sunstein's proposed covert propaganda scheme is a perfect illustration of why that is. In other words, people don't trust the Government and "conspiracy theories" are so pervasive is precisely because government is typically filled with people like Cass Sunstein, who think that systematic deceit and government-sponsored manipulation are justified by their own Goodness and Superior Wisdom.

UPDATE: I don't want to make this primarily about the Gruber scandal -- I cited that only as an example of the type of mischief that this mindset produces -- but just to respond quickly to the typical Gruber defenses already appearing in comments: (1) Gruber's work was only for HHS and had nothing to do with the White House (false); (2) he should have disclosed his payments, but the White House did nothing wrong (false: it repeatedly described him as "independent" and "objective" and constantly cited allied media stories based in Gruber's work); (3) Gruber advocated views he would have advocated anyway in the absence of payment (probably true, but wasn't that also true for life-long conservative Armstrong Williams, life-long social conservative Maggie Gallagher, and the pro-war Pentagon Generals, all of whom mounted the same defense?); and (4) Williams/Gallagher were explicitly paid to advocate particular views while Gruber wasn't (true: that's exactly the arrangement Sunstein advocates to avoid "embarrassment" in the event of disclosure, and it's absurd to suggest that someone being paid many hundreds of thousands of dollars is unaware of what their paymasters want said; that's why disclosure is so imperative).

The point is that there are severe dangers to the Government covertly using its resources to "infiltrate" discussions and to shape political debates using undisclosed and manipulative means. It's called "covert propaganda" and it should be opposed regardless of who is in control of it or what its policy aims are.

UPDATE II: Ironically, this is the same administration that recently announced a new regulation dictating that "bloggers who review products must disclose any connection with advertisers, including, in most cases, the receipt of free products and whether or not they were paid in any way by advertisers, as occurs frequently." Without such disclosure, the administration reasoned, the public may not be aware of important hidden incentives (h/t pasquin). Yet the same administration pays an MIT analyst hundreds of thousands of dollars to advocate their most controversial proposed program while they hold him out as "objective," and selects as their Chief Regulator someone who wants government agents to covertly mold political discussions "anonymously or even with false identities."

UPDATE III: Just to get a sense for what an extremist Cass Sunstein is (which itself is ironic, given that his paper calls for "cognitive infiltration of extremist groups," as the Abstract puts it), marvel at this paragraph:

So Sunstein isn't calling right now for proposals (1) and (2) -- having Government "ban conspiracy theorizing" or "impose some kind of tax on those who" do it -- but he says "each will have a place under imaginable conditions." I'd love to know the "conditions" under which the government-enforced banning of conspiracy theories or the imposition of taxes on those who advocate them will "have a place." Anyone who believes this should, for that reason alone, be barred from any meaningful government position.
© 2010 Salon.com

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.


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Friday, January 15, 2010

Opeyemi Parham Decries Treatment of Women and Children

Afghanistan, March 2002 - Afghan girls sing at...Image via Wikipedia

Local Bias Blog:
NOT for the faint at heart
I speak for women and children of this world. We have been sold down the river.
That is a phrase that comes out of the uniquely African-American experience of slavery. It means you go from a difficult situation (like Kentucky, two hours walk from freedom in the North), to one that seems IMPOSSIBLE (like Mississippi).


I respect my president, and he has sold women down the river.
My heart broke, as I heard the words of war he chose to speak, as he accepted the Nobel Peace prize.  I remember the Afghani women and children who pleaded for us to help them by leaving their country:
Here is a quote from the essay, above:
Withdraw all troops," Roshanak says… "First, the U.S. should negotiate with the Taliban and ask them to participate in government. If you think it’s impossible to talk with Taliban – that’s not true." Second, she says, "Everyone knows the center of insurgency and training camps is Pakistan. If you don’t give money to Pakistan for one year, the fighting will finish in Afghanistan." Third, she says, "Instead of sending troops, send engineers, doctors, teachers."  (italics mine)
My security wobbled more, as the Stupak-Pitts amendment took away women’s rights to abortion:
For full text of the amendment, see:
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/15284081/Stupak-Amendment-to-HR-3962-Rev-108
Here is Planned Parenthood’s summary of its effects:
The Stupak-Pitts Ban would restrict women’s access to abortion coverage in the new private health insurance market, undermining the ability of women to purchase private health plans that cover abortion, even if they pay for most of the premiums with their own money. This Ban reaches much further than the Hyde Amendment, which has prohibited public funding of abortion in most instances since 1977.”
Then came Copenhagen.
I took a deep breath.  I remembered the words of the Hopi vision about the Earth Changes:
“….and, do not look outside yourselves for the leaders...WE ARE THE ONES WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR”.
As we Do The Work I call in the spirits and elders of this world who have been women, exploited and manipulated, abused and enslaved.
What better archetypal image represents this, than that of the Black woman slave, sold down the river?
Use this image, to explore YOUR connection to your own creativity. We need to use our imagination. And let us do ALL the work. Even the shadow pieces.
Because here is the rest of the story:
we the enslaved, the women, have LOVED the men who have done this to us. Nursed you, fed you, born your children…
Read about Sally Hemmings
What better archetypal image represents this story?
How about that of the INDIGENOUS women of this world, as they encountered TAKER culture?
So see the movie, “Avatar”. For its beauty, and for the eye opening potential to help you white boys WAKE UP AND STAY AWAKE.
And, if you are really, really feeling courageous, come to Greenfield, to see “What a Way to go” on Jan 9 or 10, 1 to 5 p.m.





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Thursday, January 14, 2010

California Consumers To Benefit Directly From Emissions Permits

Top: Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide lev...Image via Wikipedia

Reaping the Dividends of Reduced Emissions

California residents stand to gain a lot from the state's efforts to cap greenhouse gases: less pollution, greener infrastructure, and a yearly check in the mailbox.

by Mike Sandler
 Copenhagen produced practically nothing. Congress seems paralyzed. Powerful lobbies say we should delay responding to the climate crisis until after the economy recovers. But some good news recently came out of California, where a state advisory committee recommended a policy that caps greenhouse emissions and sends money back to the people.
As part of its implementation of AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, the California Environmental Protection Agency convened a panel of economists, academics, and legal experts to form the Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee (EAAC), which presented its findings on January 11th, 2010. Despite intense pressure from utilities and petroleum lobbyists, who asked for free allowances and tons of questionable offsets, the EAAC recommended that the state sell (auction) 100 percent of emissions permits, requiring polluters to pay for the emissions they produce and to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit over time.
The Story of Cap And Trade screenshot

The Story of Cap & Trade
:: Annie
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The revenues collected would be used in a variety of ways, but the majority of the money would be returned to California households through either cash "dividends" or tax cuts. The EAAC states that climate dividends could be sent to Californians as checks in the mail or through an electronic funds transfer system, and cites the precedent of the Alaska Permanent Fund, which sends revenues from fees on oil companies back to Alaskans each year.
The EAAC report notes that dividends provide several benefits. They preserve public ownership of a common asset-the air we breathe-which we all share equally. And returning the bulk of allowance value to households helps residents afford energy-saving reforms like retrofitting their homes. It's also a boon to low-income people who can least afford increases in energy and fuel prices.
The EAAC proposes the cap and dividend approach for "roughly 75 percent" of allowance value, with the remaining 25 percent "devoted to financing investments and other public expenditure," including research and development of clean energy technologies. The EAAC estimates that if the 75 percent dividend recommendation were implemented, each California family of four would receive an annual dividend of $388 in 2012, rising to $1,036 in 2020, adding a total of $7,004 to family incomes over the eight-year program.
The 75-25 split between consumers and investments is also found in a bill being considered in the U.S. Senate, the Carbon Limits and Energy for American Renewal (CLEAR) Act, introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). The Cantwell CLEAR Act provides an alternative to the climate bill that passed the U.S. House, known as Waxman-Markey. Groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace criticized Waxman-Markey for giving away free allowances to the utilities (once again "on behalf" of consumers) and for allowing too many iffy offsets that dilute the market for permits. The Senate version of Waxman-Markey has not moved for several months. If the Senate remains stalled, then California's AB32 will proceed, and in 2012 Californians will face a carbon price, but perhaps also receive dividends in return.
But don't go to the ATM just yet. Numerous political obstacles remain. Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay who is now running for Governor, has called for the suspension of AB32 due to fears of impacts on the state's ailing economy, and State Assemblyman Dan Logue is collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to halt the emissions reductions as long as state unemployment is above 5.5 percent. The utilities still want handouts, and will be pressuring the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and elected officials to provide them with free allowances, or to run the consumer "rebates" through their utility bills (prolonging the low-carbon transition by shielding consumers from the price of carbon).
The EAAC recommendations also offered the option of tax cuts to consumers instead of dividends. Unfortunately, tax cuts favor wealthier families, and provide a less visible (and therefore less politically popular) use of allowance value. Dividends could also be hijacked by legislators who would prefer to spend the money on other projects or fill the State's gaping budget deficit. Spending the revenues on other uses is tempting, but by neglecting consumers, it could accidentally help build the constituency for Whitman, Logue, and other enemies of the carbon cap. Dividend supporters prefer to reserve a majority of permit revenues for consumers to help households deal with potential price impacts. With political support for AB32 solidified, the private sector will respond to the escalating carbon price by investing in new technologies, and legislators can fund worthy energy projects by instituting carbon fees and diverting subsidies away from fossil fuels.
Although it faces obstacles, the EAAC recommendation is remarkable in that it puts people first, bypassing powerful lobbyists and special interests. Perhaps such linking of climate solutions with household economics will counteract the economic scare tactics of climate deniers, give some momentum to the cap and dividend approach in the CLEAR Act, and help climate activists get past their post-Copenhagen blues.
Mike Sandler wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Mike is co-founder of the Climate Protection Campaign, based in Sonoma County, California.
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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Common Sense in Short Supply Regarding Terrorism

Number of terrorist incidents for 2009 (Januar...Image via Wikipedia

Anti-Terrorism Officials Are Regulating Us, Not Terrorists

You didn't get a virgin when you drew me as one of your political commentators, for I've been through the fires of Texas politics, including having been elected state agriculture commissioner. Among other duties, this office made me the regulator of such matters as pesticide use, the accuracy of gas pump gauges and even the sizing of eggs.
I can tell you from experience that wielding regulatory authority is both a blessing and a curse for political officials. You can do some real good for the public, but your best efforts can also make fast enemies of the regulatees.
So my general instruction to the staff was that we should not regulate just for the hell of it, just because we could. Rather, any rules we imposed should respond to a real need and should actually work - work in the sense that they would deliver the protection the public needs.
We had a little internal slogan to guide us: "When in doubt, try common sense."
I'd like to loan this slogan to the national authorities in charge of protecting us from terrorist attacks, for they seem determined to restrict the American people rather than actually to stop terrorists. In response to the deranged Nigerian who tried to blow up a passenger jet with his underwear on Christmas Day, they've done a collective regulatory knee-jerk that is kicking us ever deeper into the wilds of security silliness.
This was not their first knee-jerk. Thanks to the fizzled shoe bomb incident aboard a 2001 flight, they still require all of us who fly in our Land of the Free to bow to the gods of global terrorism before entering the terminal by removing our booties and putting our tiny tubes of toothpaste in little zippy bags. This ridiculous ritual, we're told, will fend off another shoe bomber.
But terrorists seem to be somewhat adaptive (gosh, who could've imagined it?), so the latest attack comes not from shoes, but from an al-Qaida guy's shorts.
The only way to stop this, cry the knee-jerkers, is to have authorities peek under every passenger's skivvies.
To allow airport screeners to do just that, corporate profiteers are peddling super-sophisticated x-ray machines with "superman eyes." You will have to stand in the scanner, and spread your legs and raise your arms in the arrest position to give your friendly screener a front-and-back, full-body look right through your clothes. Supposedly, faces will be blurred out, but body contours of every man, woman and child who flies will be on the screen - and some images almost certainly will pop up on Internet postings. "So what?" bark the authorities. Freedom comes at a price, and this new rule is all about us protecting you.
Really? Let's note that one of the big backers of the full-body technology is former homeland security honcho Michael Chertoff. In dozens of interviews he gave after the Christmas incident, Chertoff demanded nationwide deployment of these machines to stop more underwear attacks by terrorists. Now, guess whose Washington consulting firm represents Rapiscan Systems, one of the major contractors selling the machines to the government. Right. Chertoff's firm.
Rather than searching every one of us, officials need to be searching for actual terrorists, using old-fashioned intelligence-gathering and common-sense coordination to stop assailants before they even get to an airport. The Christmas Day bomber should never have gotten near that plane, for he was known by U.S. officials to be a terrorist threat.
How did they know? His own father told our officials about him last November! Yet, in a gross failure of inter-agency communications, no official revoked his visa or put him on the "no fly" list.
Our authorities want us to pay (in cash and liberties) for a whiz-bang technological gimmick that will enrich a couple of corporations, but will do nothing to stop the next thing the terrorists come up with. Let's raise common sense to high places. One group fighting this latest technological silliness can be reached at flyersrights.org.
National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.
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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Web Based Video Endangered by Cable

TV Competition Nowhere: How the Cable Industry Is Colluding to Kill Online TV

Comcast Launches "TV Everywhere": Say Goodbye to Free Online Television

by Josh Silver
On Monday, public interest groups called on federal authorities to investigate a plan by the largest cable, satellite and phone companies that threatens the future of Web-based video. "TV Everywhere" gets programmers like TNT, TBS and CBS to keep their content offline unless a viewer also pays for TV through a traditional company like Comcast or AT&T (phone companies are starting to offer TV service, too).
TV Everywhere is designed to protect the current cable TV subscription model and block competition from upstart online video ventures like Vuze, Roku and Hulu. Cleverly marketed as a consumer-friendly product, TV Everywhere is really a desperate bid by old media giants to crush the emerging market for online TV. Cable giant Comcast just became the first company to launch TV Everywhere under the brand "Fancast Xfinity," and the other dominant cable, satellite and phone companies have announced plans to follow suit.
At its core, TV Everywhere is about ensuring consumers don't cancel their overpriced cable TV subscriptions that provide companies like Comcast with huge profits ($6.7 billion in 2008 alone.) But the current scheme also prevents competition between existing TV distributors. Instead of being offered to all Americans, including those living in Cox, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable regions, Fancast Xfinity is only available in Comcast regions. The other distributors plan to follow Comcast's lead, meaning that the incumbents will not compete with one another outside of their "traditional" regions.
Statements made by cable executives indicate that backroom deals are being cut without asking for permission by regulators --- the kind of permission that the nation's major newspapers recently sought before entering into discussions about a coordinated online "paywall." So TV Everywhere not only threatens the Net's potential to break open access and distribution of video content, it also appears to be an illegal collusion meant to block competition. Any way you slice it, it's bad for consumers. On Monday, public interest groups released a major report at the same time that they sent a letter to federal regulators requesting an antitrust investigation of TV Everywhere.
New online-only TV distributors and independent channels are excluded from TV Everywhere. The "principles" of the plan, which were published by Comcast and Time Warner (a content company distinct from Time Warner Cable), clearly state that TV Everywhere is meant only for cable operators, satellite companies and phone companies. By design, this plan would exclude new entrants and result in fewer choices and higher prices for consumers.
This deal threatens to stifle the freedom and innovation that are shaping our new media marketplace. The Internet is enabling people to watch video how and when they want it. The programs we watch on TV are increasingly available on your computer: on-demand through Hulu, Fancast and other streaming sites. And the online video you can see on YouTube, Miro, Fancast, Vimeo and other portals are available on televisions and portable devices. Stranded at the airport, sitting in a coffee shop, on vacation or at work, we can view programs from basically anywhere. And thanks to the Internet's open, neutral platform, anyone can create and share video, meaning we're no longer confined to the programs that media executives choose to offer. TV Everywhere represents a defining moment in the future of radio, television and other media. In one scenario, we break from history and achieve more consumer choice and an explosion of innovative content. We may need to pay for video online, or continue to watch advertisements, but we won't be forced to buy a traditional cable TV subscription that we don't want or need.
In another scenario, we allow the big cable, satellite and phone companies to use anticompetitive ventures like TV Everywhere to protect the status quo, and make the Internet more like cable television: where they, not you, pick and choose what you can watch, how and when you can watch it, and how much you pay for it.
The central tenet of TV Everywhere is that it can only exist through collusion among competitors. Our federal antitrust authorities and Congress must launch an immediate investigation. The Internet offers an unparalleled opportunity to democratize the TV screen now controlled by a handful of powerful media companies. This revolution is televised - and we should be able to view it online, too. Antitrust authorities should start enforcing antitrust laws and protect the public interest.
Josh Silver is the Executive Director of Free Press a national, nonpartisan organization that he co-founded with Robert McChesney and John Nichols in 2002 to engage citizens in media policy debates and create a more democratic and diverse media system.
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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Obama Burnt by FireDogLake's Bmaz

Obama’s Royal Scam and The Iron Fist Of Rahm

by FireDogLake's Bmaz
Audacity To Hope Change We Can Believe In
Rule of Law
Accountability
Freedom From Lobbyists and Special Interests
Privacy
Harm From Illegal Surveillance
Constitutional Scholar
Transparency
Predatory Business Practices
Closing Guantanamo
Withdrawing From Iraq and Afghanistan
These are but some of the major buzzwords, issues and concepts Barack Obama based his candidacy and campaign on to convince the American electorate to sweep him in to office. Mr. Obama, however, has gone significantly in the opposite direction on each and every one since taking office. As Frank Rich noted, there is a growing "suspicion that Obama's brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger's public image - a marketing scam...".
Is there support for this allegation other than anecdotal evidence? Yes, and Micah Sifry has an excellent piece out detailing the basis:
After all, the image of Barack Obama as the candidate of "change", community organizer, and "hope-monger" (his word), was sold intensively during the campaign. Even after the fact, we were told that his victory represented the empowerment of a bottom-up movement, powered by millions of small donors, grassroots volunteers, local field organizers and the internet. .... The truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied. And this is the big story of 2009, if you ask me, the meta-story of what did, and didn't happen, in the first year of Obama's administration. The people who voted for him weren't organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests-banks, energy companies, health interests, car-makers, the military-industrial complex-sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting. .... Should we really surprised that someone with so much early support from Wall Street and wealthy elites overall might not be inclined to throw the money-changers out of the temple? .... When it came to planning for being in government, it turns out that Plouffe, along with David Axelrod, was a chief advocate for bringing in then Rep. Rahm Emanuel as Obama's chief of staff. He writes, using a baseball analogy: "Rahm was a five-tool political player: a strategist with deep policy expertise, considerable experience in both the legislative and executive branches, and a demeanor best described as relentless." (p. 372) Note that nowhere in that vital skill-set is any sense of how to work with the largest volunteer base any presidential campaign has developed in history. Rahm Emanuel came up in politics the old-fashioned way; organizing and empowering ordinary people are the least of his skills.
It is an extremely interesting piece by Sifry, and I recommend a read of the entirety. For those that have not read David Plouffe's book on the campaign, The Audacity To Win, or one of the other long form reports of the Obama 2008 campaign, Sifry lays open the hollowness of Obama's "grass roots". Use em and lose em appears to have been the Obama modus operandi. The American people were desperate for something to latch onto, and Obama and Plouffe gave them a slickly tailored package.
As Digby notes, this line by Sifry really sums it up:
Now, there is a new enthusiasm gap, but it's no longer in Obama's favor. That's because you can't order volunteers to do anything-you have to motivate them, and Obama's compromises to almost every powers-that-be are tremendously demotivating.
I think that is exactly right, and the needle in much of the activist base is moving from "demotivated" to downright demoralized and antagonistic. Yet Obama and his administration, notably Rahm Emanuel, indignantly continue to poke sticks in the eyes of the activist base and boast about it; and it is not from necessity, it is from design and pleasure.
Quite frankly, the seeds of this should have been seen coming. I have never forgotten the shudders I felt when I read two interrelated articles by Matt Stoller and David Dayen discussing how, heading into the 2008 general election, Obama was not just benefitting from, but devouring and commandeering broad swaths of Democratic base activist groups and their power, and actively working to marginalize and cripple those that didn't assimilate into his Borg.
From Stoller:
This isn't a criticism; again, Obama made his bet that the country isn't into ideological combat and wants a politics of unity and hope, and he has won at internally. In terms of the ‘Iron Law of Institutions', the Obama campaign is masterful. From top to bottom, they have destroyed their opponents within the party, stolen out from under them their base, and persuaded a whole set of individuals from blog readers to people in the pews to ignore intermediaries and believe in Barack as a pure vessel of change. ... All I'll add is that it's time to think through the consequences of a party where there is a new chief with massive amounts of power. I've been in the wilderness all my political life, as have most of us. The Clintonistas haven't, and they know what it's like to be part of the inside crew. We have a leader, and he's not a partisan and he can now end fractious intraparty fights with a word and/or a nod. His opinion really matters in a way that even Nancy Pelosi's just did not. He has control of the party apparatus, the grassroots, the money, and the messaging environment. He is also, and this is fundamental, someone that millions of people believe in as a moral force. When you disagree with Obama, you are saying to these people ‘your favorite band sucks'.
And DDay:
There's nothing shadowy about this - it's an extension of what the Obama campaign has been doing since he entered the race. He's building a new Democratic infrastructure, regimenting it under his brand, and enlisting new technologies and more sophisticated voter contacting techniques to turn it from a normal GOTV effort into a lasting movement. The short-term goal is to increase voter turnout by such a degree that Republicans will wither in November, not just from a swamp of cash but a flood of numbers. The long-term goal is to subvert the traditional structures of the Democratic Party since the early 1990s, subvert the nascent structures that the progressive movement has been building since the late 1990s, and build a parallel structure, under his brand, that will become the new power center in American politics. This is tremendous news.
However, despite his calls that change always occurs from the bottom up, these structures are very much being created and controlled from the top down.
Stoller and DDay, although both seemed to have a nagging question or two, both thought that the gathering "Obama Nation" was a good thing and that once he took office the immense consolidated power and organization would, in fact, as Obama was jawing, be used to end the age old grip of corporate money and influence and propel good new and different policies into action. This pie in the sky was directly defied by passages in their own articles though. Not only was Obama consolidating Democratic power to serve only him from the top down, he was taking out people and groups that didn't step in to his line.
Stoller:
I have heard from several sources that the Obama campaign is sending out signals to donors, specifically at last weekend's Democracy Alliance convention, to stop giving to outside groups, including America Votes. The campaign also circulated negative press reports about Women's Voices Women's Vote, implying voter suppression. ... He has bypassed Actblue, and will probably end up building in a Congressional slate feature to further party build while keeping control of the data. ... The campaign has also, despite thousands of interviews with a huge number of outlets, refused to have Obama interact on progressive blogs. ... I'm also told, though I can't confirm, that Obama campaign has also subtly encouraged donors to not fund groups like VoteVets and Progressive Media. These groups fall under the 'same old Washington politics' which he wants to avoid, a partisan gunslinging contest he explicitly advocates against.
DDay:
But wresting away ALL the power and consolidating it is I think a misunderstanding of how inside and outside groups can be mutually reinforcing and part of a more vibrant cultural and political movement, and how the culture is moving toward more decentralized, more viral, looser networks to organize. Obama's movement, based on unity and hope, is working because politics is of the moment, a fad, Paris Hilton. To sustain that, you must institutionalize engagement, civic participation, awareness and action, even in a non-horse race year, as a necessary facet of citizenship. And there's no reason to shut down reinforcing progressive structures that can keep it fun and interesting and vital.
Shutting down Democratic and progressive structures that do not toe his line is exactly what Obama and his right hand man, Rahm Emanuel, have done since the election. As Stoller and DDay noted, they actually started even before the election and accelerated after it. The deal was sealed when, immediately after the election, Obama chose the iron fist of DLC strongman Rahm Emanuel to lead his administration, immediately dumped Howard Dean and began shuttering Dean's wildly successful fifty state apparatus.
There was only one reason to do that, and it was not to germinate a new grass roots policy force; it was to consolidate power and kill off any other voices and/or authority within the party. As Micah Sifry demonstrated, consolidation and exclusion were always a part of the Obama plan. Almost more disconcerting than Obama's singular cornering of all the power and movement is his refusal to use it to propel new policies. Not even on healthcare did Obama even attempt to truly energize and mobilize the vaunted Obama network, preferring instead to leave it up to the lobbyists, in the bag Congressmen like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and corporate interests.
This is exactly what has made the progressive campaign and voice of Jane Hamsher, Cenk Uygur, Firedoglake and other awakening progressive movements so critical. It is crystal clear the Obama Presidency is less than it was advertised to be; the only route to correction is through power and action; assertion of independent power is the only thing they will respect and acknowledge. The change will not come through old school Washington politicians beholden to corrupt financial institutions, the insurance lobby and corporate interests. Politicians like Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel.
Bmaz is an attorney in Phoenix, Arizona practicing criminal defense, civil rights and civil trial law. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, both undergraduate and School of Law, and covers legal and political issues for Firedoglake and sister site Emptywheel. Bmaz is a fan of sports, music, automobiles and margaritas and can be reached at bmaz22@gmail.com
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