Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oppose Government, Lose Citizenship, Go Straight to Gitmo

Barbara H. Peterson
Farm Wars
The question of the day is, does the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, nicknamed the Indefinite Detention Bill, actually call for the arrest and indefinite detention of American citizens on American soil? According to Devvy Kidd, it doesn’t:
I don’t seem to be able to find the text in either the final enrolled House or Senate bills that explicitly says U.S. citizens will be indefinitely detained without charge.
Now, I’m not a lawyer, but I have been reading bills from both the state houses and Congress going on two decades. In both bills (House & Senate), I found language that is plain and specific regarding U.S. citizens. In the original bill (S. 1867) here is the section on page 361 which deals with detainees and U.S. citizens:
SEC. 1032. REQUIREMENT FOR MILITARY CUSTODY continues over to page 362:
(1) UNITED STATES CITIZENS. The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.
Unless I’m missing something, that subprovision says detention by military does not apply to U.S. citizens. Words have meaning in the law and that sentence appears to be easily read. That language remains in the final bill (Enrolled):
Again, page 428 begins section 1032, but here is page 430:
10 (1) UNITED STATES CITIZENS.-The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.
Now over to the House. The full text of the bill passed by the House (Enrolled Bill):
H.R.1540 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012
Page 265:
(e) AUTHORITIES.-Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.
At this link is the Congressional Record for December 12, 2011, beginning on page H8356; the day after the final vote on House bill 1540. Scroll down to page 81 (H8436) on your screen and see this under Sec. 1022:
1. UNITED STATES CITIZENS.-The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.
(Devvy Kidd)
At first glance, it seems that there is a specific clause which eliminates American citizens from the provisions of the bill. However, consider the following bill that Joe Lieberman and Charles Dent are trying to get through called the Enemy Expatriation Act:

S 1698 A bill to add engaging in or supporting hostilities against the United States to the list of acts for which United States nationals would lose their nationality.
Bill Text:
To add engaging in or supporting hostilities against the United States to the list of acts for which United States nationals would lose their nationality.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
This Act may be cited as the ‘Enemy Expatriation Act’.
(a) In General- Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1481) is amended–
(1) in subsection (a)–
(A) in each of paragraphs (1) through (6), by striking ‘or’ at the end;
(B) in paragraph (7), by striking the period at the end and inserting ‘; or’; and
(C) by adding at the end the following:
(8) engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against the United States.’; and
(2) by adding at the end the following:
(c) For purposes of this section, the term ‘hostilities’ means any conflict subject to the laws of war.’.
(b) Technical Amendment- Section 351(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1483(a)) is amended by striking ‘(6) and (7)’ and inserting ‘(6), (7), and (8)’.
Here is a House version link sponsored by Charles Dent.

Who can be deemed as “engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting hostilities against the United States? You tell me. In 2009, USA Today reported that the government’s “Terrorist Watch List” had no specific rules “for who goes on the list, [and] it’s too bloated to be effective, says Tim Sparapani, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.” No specific rules for who goes on the list? What? Oh, okay, I get it. Suspicion. That’s all it takes. Boom, on the list you go.
(HOMELAND SECURITY NEWSWIRE) Now a single tip about a terror link will be enough for inclusion in the watch list for U.S. security officials, who have also evolved a quicker system to share the database of potential terrorists among screening agencies.
The master watch list of individuals with suspected links to terrorism is used to screen people seeking to obtain a visa, cross a U.S. border, or board a plane in or destined for the United States. Officials say they have made it easier to add individuals’ names to the watch list and improved the government’s ability to thwart terrorist attacks, the Washington Post reported. (Federal Jack)
So, who is immune from being labeled a potential terrorist? Only the guys at the top. The ones who are setting up the lists. The ones putting the labels on us. And just how far a leap would it take for this list to lead to accusations, expatriation and indefinite detention for American citizens on American soil?
I’m a RACIST for criticizing Obama. I’m a TERRORIST because I’m not afraid to stand up for what’s right. I’m a LIBERAL for supporting the Constitution. I’m a TROUBLEMAKER for asking unanswered questions. I’m a TRAITOR for blowing the whistle on my corrupt government. I’m a CONSPIRACY THEORIST for presenting documented facts. I’m a TROLL for uploading news, videos, quotes and U.S. atrocities. I’m ANTI-AMERICAN for supporting Constitutionalists. Yep, GUILTY! (Guido)
Connecting the Dots

Are you beginning to get the picture? The Indefinite Detention bill does not have to include a specific provision for indefinite detention of American citizens for it to happen. All that needs to happen is for the Enemy Expatriation Act to go through. Remember what Dirty Harry Reid did to get the Food Safety travesty passed? If not, I’ll remind you:
Then, on the floor of the Senate in the late afternoon, early evening of Sunday, December 19, Senator Reid called the Recycling bill for a vote and there was no objection from the two other Senators who were on the floor. So by unanimous consent HR 2751 was passed. Then Senator Reid moved for reconsideration with the vote to be tabled. This was granted by the same unanimous consent because there was no other Senator on the floor. Then Senator Reid offered without objection amendment number 4890 which substituted S. 510 the Food Safety Bill for the Recycling Bill. Without objection, then the amendment was passed and the Food Safety Bill had been substituted for the Recycling Bill. Reid moved that the bill be read for the third time and asked for the question. Without objection, the bill passed, and the Food Safety Bill was on the way back to the House.” (Fred Kelly Grant)
If history is any indicator, should we expect the provisions of the Enemy Expatriation Act to end up in another bill, and passed by unanimous consent in a one person vote like dirty Harry Reid did? I wouldn’t doubt it for a minute. And if it does, how convenient that these expatriated American “terrorists” can then be subject to Indefinite Detention on American soil.

Tyranny is being implemented in increments, one step at a time, making it difficult to piece together at the time it is happening. One piece of legislation here, another there – links of a chain that when added together on down the road, form the entire unit.

As with everything, a closer look is needed. Add these two bills together – the National Defense Authorization Act and the Enemy Expatriation Act – and American citizens can be stripped of their citizenship, which allows them to fall under the indefinite detention clause. A two-part mix.

Wiretap Suits OKd Against US, Not Telecoms

Friday, December 30, 2011 by The San Francisco Chronicle
by Bob Egelko

The nation's telecommunications companies can't be sued for cooperating with the Bush administration's secret surveillance program, but their customers can sue the government for allegedly intercepting their phone calls and e-mails without a warrant, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

In a pair of decisions, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a 2008 law immunizing AT&T and other companies for their roles in wiretapping calls to alleged foreign terrorists, but revived a suit that accused the government of illegally intercepting millions of messages from U.S. residents.

That lawsuit was partly based on testimony in 2003 by former AT&T technician Mark Klein about equipment in the company's office on Folsom Street in San Francisco that allowed Internet traffic to be routed to the government.

'Dragnet' surveillance

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy-rights organization representing AT&T customers, claimed the company had similar installations in other cities and used them for "dragnet" surveillance of everyday e-mails and phone calls, which the National Security Agency purportedly screened electronically for connections to terrorism.

"We look forward to proving the program is an unconstitutional and illegal violation of the rights of millions of ordinary Americans," said Cindy Cohn, the foundation's legal director.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined comment.

President George W. Bush acknowledged in 2005 that his administration had eavesdropped on calls to suspected foreign terrorists without the warrants required by federal law, but his Justice Department denied the existence of a dragnet surveillance program.

Dozens of suits challenging the surveillance were transferred to San Francisco. In one case, then-Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in March 2010 that federal agents had illegally wiretapped an Islamic organization, which was accidentally sent a copy of the surveillance documents. The Obama administration, which inherited the case, is appealing the ruling.

Obama backed law

Walker also allowed suits against telecommunications companies that allegedly took part in illegal surveillance, but Bush then signed a law, supported by then-Sen. Barack Obama, that immunized companies cooperating in presidentially approved antiterrorism intelligence-gathering.

The appeals court upheld that law in a 3-0 ruling, rejecting arguments that Congress had interfered improperly in ongoing lawsuits and had delegated excessive power to Bush's attorney general, who certified the companies' eligibility for immunity in a confidential filing.

The Obama administration defended the law and also sought to dismiss the customers' suit against the government, arguing that it was based on speculation about wiretapping and involved political and national-security issues that were exempt from judicial review. The appeals court disagreed.

"Although the claims arise from political conduct and in a context that has been highly politicized, they present straightforward claims of statutory and constitutional rights" of customers who allege their messages were intercepted, said Judge Margaret McKeown in the 3-0 ruling.

Defense Act Affirms Indefinite Detention of US Citizens

by Matthew Cardinale 
ATLANTA, Georgia - Civil liberties groups and many citizen activists are outraged over language in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 (NDAA) that appears to lay the legal groundwork for indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial.

David Gespass, president of the National Lawyers Guild, called it an "enormous attack on the U.S. and our heritage" and a "significant step" towards fascism, in an interview with IPS.

"For a very long time the U.S. has been moving towards what I personally think of as fascist - the integration of monopoly capital with state power, that's combined with an increased repression at home and greater aggression around the world. I don't think we're there yet, but I do see that we're going in that direction," Gespass said. "I think the... act is a significant step in that direction."

"It's quite severe. If this continues, people will not be able to count on constitutional protections at all," Debra Sweet, national director of the group World Can't Wait, told IPS.

Subtitle D of the act contains several controversial provisions on indefinite detention of terrorism suspects.

The executive branch - starting with the George W. Bush administration shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 - began indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
When those detentions were challenged in the courts, the federal government argued that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by the U.S. Congress on Sep. 18, 2001, allowed for the detentions to occur. In 2004, the Supreme Court agreed in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.

"I know a lot of people who voted in favour of it (AUMF) back then didn't think they voted in favor of what ended up happening, but what it said is the president is authorized (to do) whatever is necessary," Gespass said. "The language as I recall it is not at all restrictive."

The current language in the NDAA seeks to legislatively affirm that the U.S. has the right to detain people, even though the courts already ruled, at least in the case of Hamdi, a prisoner captured during armed conflict in Afghanistan, that it already has that power.

Section 1021 defines who can be detained by the military.

The definition of "covered persons" under the provision includes not only those who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011, but also "a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including anyone who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces."

Critics say problems with this language include the vagueness of the terms "substantial support", "belligerent act", or "directly supported".

Moreover, because the act allows for individuals suspected of support or belligerence to be held indefinitely without trial - until the end of the "war on terror", which could be never - there could be no opportunities for these individuals to challenge the vagueness of the charges against them.

Section 1021(e) says the act does not alter any rights of U.S. citizens, meaning that the Bill of Rights of the Constitution remains "intact." It might be up to the courts, however, to eventually determine whether the application of these NDAA provisions to a U.S. citizen would be constitutional.

However, if they are being detained indefinitely with no lawyer, then how does anyone know they are there, to appeal to the civilian courts on their behalf?

Another section says "the requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States". It does not say military custody is not an option; merely that it is not required.

The NDAA, as negotiated between the U.S. House and Senate, passed the U.S. House 283-136 on Dec. 14. It passed the U.S. Senate, in a vote of 86 to 13, on Dec. 15, with both Democrats and Republicans among those opposing it.

The bill was presented to President Barack Obama on Dec. 21 and signed Dec. 31, 2011.

However, numerous members of Congress have raised concerns.

Prior to its passage, on Dec. 12, Representatives Hank Johnson, Martin Heinrich and 30 others sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the U.S. House and Senate's respective Armed Services Committees.

They expressed their opposition to "an expansive authorization for detention of and use of military force against broadly defined adversaries substantially exceeding the scope of such authorizations already in law."

"The expanded authority has no geographical limits, provides authority for open-ended armed conflict, and is unacceptably broad," they wrote.

The NDAA "authorizes indefinite military detention of suspected terrorists without protecting U.S. citizens' right to trial," they wrote.
"We are deeply concerned that this provision could undermine the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth amendment rights of U.S. citizens who might be subjects of detention or prosecution by the military," they wrote.

On Dec. 15, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011 (DPGA), with 15 co-sponsors.

This legislation states, "An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention."

A companion piece was introduced in the U.S. House on Dec. 16; it has 29 co-sponsors.

Meanwhile, in Montana, activists have begun an effort to recall their entire Congressional delegation for supporting the NDAA.

FBI Tracking Videotapers as Terrorists

Saturday, December 31, 2011 by the Los Angeles Times
by Dean Kuipers

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has recommended for many years that animal activists who carry out undercover investigations on farms could be prosecuted as domestic terrorists.

New documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by activist Ryan Shapiro show the FBI advising that activists – including Shapiro – who walked onto a farm, videotaped animals there and “rescued” an animal had violated terrorism statutes.

The documents, which were first published on Will Potter’s website, Green Is the New Red, were issued by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2003 in response to an article in an animal rights publication in which Shapiro and two other activists (whose names were redacted from the document), openly claimed responsibility for shooting video and taking animals from a farm.

The FBI notes discuss the videotaping, illegal entry and the removal of animals, then concludes with “there is a reasonable indication that [Subject 1] and other members of the [redacted] have violated the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, 18 USC Section 43 (a).”

Curiously, the name of the act seems to be an error; the act was called the Animal Enterprise Protection Act until 2006, when it was largely superseded by an act called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The crime named in the original 1992 act, however, was always called terrorism. The penalties for such a conviction can include terrorism enhancements which can add decades to a sentence.

Later, in 2004, Shapiro and a colleague, Sarahjane Blum, working as a group called Gourmet Cruelty, were prosecuted for a different but similar act in which they walked onto a fois gras farm, videotaped the operation and took a few ducks. They were prosecuted for felony burglary and pleaded to misdemeanor trespassing.

“Sarahjane and I and everyone with Gourmet Cruelty – the undercover investigation and especially the open rescue were acts of civil disobedience,” said Shapiro by phone. He is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Science, Technology and Society at MIT. “We openly took credit for the things that we were doing in order to expose the horrific cruelty on factory farms and to educate the public about it. So a trespassing charge seemed like a perfectly reasonable price to pay.”

“However, it’s simply outrageous to consider civil disobedience as terrorism,” Shapiro adds. “Civil disobedience is not terrorism. It has a long and proud place in our nation’s history, from Martin Luther King to Occupy Wall Street, and the AETA takes that kind of advocacy that we celebrate from the civil rights movement and turns it into a terrorist event.”

The FBI declined to comment on the documents, though a public information officer did point out that "the FBI cannot collect or retain information on pure 1st Amendment activities unless the collection is pertinent to a legitimate law enforcement activity." Which would indicate that it is the trespassing and theft of animals that would cause the bureau to open a file. But activists and their attorneys are unsure of this interpretation.

Undercover investigations have been a mainstay of activist work, whistleblower activity and even journalism since before the days of Upton Sinclair and his landmark 1906 work about the meatpacking industry, The Jungle.

“Some of these investigations don’t even break state laws,” says Rachel Meerpol, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who is representing Shapiro in a constitutional challenge of the AETA. “It’s possible to gain undercover footage lawfully. The way the FBI is interpreting this law would allow for prosecution of completely lawful, valuable advocacy efforts as an act of terrorism. It’s an issue of public safety as well as animal cruelty. It’s such a waste of time and resources for the FBI to be spending money investigating folks involved in this work.”

State legislatures, however, are also getting into the act. Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and New York all tried to pass bills specifically outlawing photographing and videotaping animal enterprises in 2011, but failed. Florida state Sen. Jim Norman has already reintroduced his bill, SB1184, for 2012, which is more of an omnibus bill but still contains the prohibitions against recording farm operations.

Potter, who has looked into these state laws in more detail, points out, “There’s no shortage of laws that could be used to prosecute someone who is trespassing or someone who is vandalizing property in the process of an investigation. But these new laws are specifically aimed at mainstream animal rights and environmental groups who investigate abuse, such as the Humane Society, Mercy for Animals and PETA.”

Super PACs, thanks to the Citizens' United decision, face no contribution limits

Saturday, December 31, 2011 by the New York Times
Group’s Ads Rip at Gingrich as Romney Stands Clear
by Nicholas Confessore and Jim Rutenberg

DES MOINES — The attacks began three weeks ago and have not let up since: Television ad after television ad slamming Newt Gingrich for having “more baggage than the airlines,” for being fined by Congress for ethics violations, for his position on illegal immigration, even for admitting that he has made mistakes on the campaign trail.

Super PAC 'Restore Our Future' has spent close to $3 million in Iowa alone. Democrats and Republicans alike have singled out the $2.8 million-and-counting air deluge as the biggest factor in Mr. Gingrich’s precipitous drop in polls of Iowa voters and Mitt Romney’s corresponding rise, reshaping the critical first contest of the Republican primary season to Mr. Romney’s benefit.

The ads, which continue to blanket Iowa days before the caucuses here, were created and paid for by people with deep knowledge of the Romney campaign’s strategic thinking, close relationships with Mr. Romney’s most generous donors, and even research on what television viewers like and dislike most about Mr. Romney himself.

Yet neither Mr. Romney nor his staff has had to lift a finger or spend a dollar to make it happen. In a stark illustration of how last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance has created powerful new channels for outside money to influence elections, the negative onslaught is the work of a group called Restore Our Future.

The most prominent of the “super PACs,” which can accept unlimited donations for purposes of supporting or attacking candidates, it operates independently of the Romney campaign but under the direction of former Romney aides who do not need to be told what the candidate needs.

They include Carl Forti, the political director of Mr. Romney’s 2008 campaign; Charles R. Spies, Mr. Romney’s former chief counsel; and Larry McCarthy, an alumnus of Mr. Romney’s media team who was known for producing some of the more compelling positive spots for Mr. Romney four years ago, but has nonetheless earned a reputation as one of the most fearsome political ad makers in the country — he produced the Willie Horton commercial that devastated Michael S. Dukakis’s presidential campaign in 1988.

Restore Our Future’s fund-raiser, Steve Roche, led the Romney campaign’s own finance team until this summer. He now spends his days meeting with the New York hedge fund managers, Utah businessmen and Boston financiers who have contributed almost $30 million to the group this year, according to people with knowledge of the group’s fund-raising. Among the donors are some conservatives who have a long history of backing attack-oriented outside groups like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which in 2004 went aggressively after Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee that year.

The result: Mr. Romney has effectively outsourced his negative advertising to a group that has raised millions of dollars from his donors to inundate his opponents with attacks — all without breaking the rules that forbid super PACs to explicitly coordinate with candidates. Polls showed Mr. Gingrich’s support in Iowa tumbling immediately after the Restore Our Future ads began running in early December. An NBC News/Marist poll released Friday showed a 19 percentage point increase over the last month, to 35 percent, in the number of likely Republican caucusgoers who said they judged Mr. Gingrich to be unacceptable as the party’s nominee.

“Restore Our Future has been very important,” said Mel Sembler, a top Republican donor and a member of Mr. Romney’s Florida finance team. “They’ve had an impact, there’s no question about it.”

The battle in Iowa has underscored what advocates for tighter campaign finance restraints have warned for months: that the new groups will be deployed to devastating effect, in the primary season and then in the general election.

“Iowa is ground zero of what we can expect in every competitive state for the rest of the presidential election,” said Ellen S. Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks outside money in politics.

“Iowa is ground zero of what we can expect in every competitive state for the rest of the presidential election,” said Ellen S. Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks outside money in politics.

Since they began advertising in earnest several weeks ago, groups like Restore Our Future have spent millions of dollars in the early primary states, rivaling and in some cases surpassing the spending of the candidates they support. While the candidates can raise just $2,500 from each individual donor for the primary, super PACs, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, face no such restrictions.

Speaking on Fox News last week, Mr. Romney played down the significance of Restore Our Future’s advertisements against Mr. Gingrich, arguing that Mr. Gingrich was falling in polls as voters focused on his record. Mr. Gingrich has also been under intense assault from other groups, including Ron Paul’s campaign; Mr. Romney’s campaign itself called attention to Mr. Gingrich’s tumultuous departure from Congress in a mailing it sent to Iowa voters.

But one thing is clear: Restore Our Future has spent more on advertisements in Iowa and elsewhere than any other super PAC, according to tracking by NBC and Smart Media Group Delta. The group has already begun buying television time in two other Republican primary states, Florida and South Carolina, running ads that hammer Mr. Gingrich and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

A super PAC supporting Mr. Gingrich, Winning Our Future, has spent just $263,000 on advertising in Iowa, according to figures from NBC and Smart Media Group Delta, without explicitly attacking Mr. Romney. (Another pro-Gingrich group, Strong America Now, has attacked Mr. Romney in mailings to voters.) Restore Our Future has spent twice as much money in the state as Mr. Romney has, most of it on advertisements savaging his opponents. Meanwhile, Mr. Romney’s campaign has run only positive television ads, featuring sunny portrayals of him and his family, with the occasional jab at President Obama.

That has helped Mr. Romney avoid the classic conundrum of political attack advertising in a nominating battle: Negative commercials tend to harm both the candidate making the claim and the one on the receiving end. One aide said Mr. Romney has apparently suffered “no collateral” damage from Restore Our Future’s negative advertisements against Mr. Gingrich, which are not identifiably connected to Mr. Romney.

In recent days, Mr. Romney has tried to distance himself from the group. “We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs,” Mr. Romney said on MSNBC.

But in July, Mr. Romney appeared before dozens of potential donors to Restore Our Future at an organizational meeting, effectively blessing its work.

Should Mr. Romney win his party’s nomination, the group is poised to play as pivotal a role in a general election matchup against Mr. Obama, whose aides are keeping a close watch on it. (Former Obama aides have also formed a super PAC, Priorities USA Action.)

Restore Our Future will not be required to disclose its most recent donors until the end of January. But in disclosures filed this summer, the group reported $12 million in contributions, much of it from friends and past business associates of Mr. Romney.

Edward Conard, who gave a million dollars to Restore Our Future, is a former top executive at Bain Capital, the private equity firm Mr. Romney helped start. Another donor is J. W. Marriott Jr., chairman of the hotel chain, on whose board Mr. Romney served on until January. The group has also raised money from Sam Fox and Bob Perry, conservative businessmen who helped finance Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The group’s backers appeared to be briefly spooked when word circulated that Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy casino magnate who is close to Mr. Gingrich, had committed $20 million to a super PAC supporting him. One of Restore Our Future’s donors called Mr. Sembler in a panic, he said, and asked him to call Mr. Adelson — the two men are friends — to find out if it was true.

“I did call Sheldon,” Mr. Sembler said. “And he said, ‘I’m not only not giving $20 million, I haven’t given any money at all.’ ”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Colorado asks DEA to recognize marijuana’s medical value

By Stephen C. Webster - RAW Story
Thursday, December 29, 2011
The state of Colorado has become the third in the nation to formally ask the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to reclassify marijuana in such a manner that would recognize its potential for medical value, similar to drugs like morphine and cocaine.

The letter, sent just before Christmas by Colorado’s Department of Revenue, was required by a law passed in 2010 that set up a state regulatory framework for medical marijuana. The law required the state to petition the DEA for reclassification of the drug before Jan. 1, 2012.

Current federal prohibitions mean “[there] is a lack of certainty necessary to provide safe access for patients with serious medical conditions,” director Barbara Brohl wrote.

The state became the first in the nation earlier this year to begin licensing businesses that sell marijuana and products containing the drug, a move that potentially puts them at odds with federal officials.

The Obama administration’s Department of Justice has made a practice of not prosecuting medical marijuana patients in states where the drug has been approved, but it still considers distributors to be fair game for arrest.

Colorado also allows people who’ve been given a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana to grow their own plants inside their home.

The governors of Rhode Island and Washington have also petitioned the DEA to change marijuana’s classification from Schedule I to Schedule II, more commonly reserved for addictive drugs that have clearly defined medical uses.

Marijuana is known to be helpful to cancer patients grappling with nausea from chemotherapy, AIDS patients with wasting syndrome and people with chronic pain. It also has been shown to reduce the size of certain brain and breast tumors.

Many pharmaceutical companies are also seeking patents on cannabis-based drugs that aim to solve dozens of different medical problems, including a drug that can kill cancerous tumors.

The Obama White House, as well, has admitted that “individual components of the cannabis plant” have at least “some” medical value, but the DEA remains steadfast in opposing any reclassification of the substance.

Occupy Geeks Are Building a Facebook for the 99%

by Sean Captain 
"I don’t want to say we’re making our own Facebook. But, we’re making our own Facebook,” said Ed Knutson, a web and mobile app developer who joined a team of activist-geeks redesigning social networking for the era of global protest.
 They hope the technology they are developing can go well beyond Occupy Wall Street to help establish more distributed social networks, better online business collaboration and perhaps even add to the long-dreamed-of semantic web — an internet made not of messy text, but one unified by underlying meta-data that computers can easily parse.

The impetus is understandable. Social media helped pull together protesters around the globe in 2010 and 2011. Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak so feared Twitter and Facebook that he shut down Egypt’s internet service. A YouTube video posted in the name of Anonymous propelled Occupy Wall Street from an insider meme to national news. And top-trending Twitter hashtags turned Occupy from a ho-hum rally on Sept. 17 into a national and even international movement.

Now it’s time for activists to move beyond other people’s social networks and build their own, according to Knutson.

“We don’t want to trust Facebook with private messages among activists,” he said.

The same thinking applies to Twitter and other social networks — and the reasoning became clear last week, when a Massachusetts district attorney subpoenaed Twitter for information about the account @OccupyBoston and other accounts connected to the Boston movement. (To its credit, Twitter has a policy of giving users the opportunity to contest such orders when possible.)

“Those networks will be perfectly fine — until they are not. And it will be a one-day-to-the-next thing,” said Sam Boyer, an activist turned web developer, turned activist again, who works with the New York City occupation’s tech team.

A move away from mainstream social networks is already happening on several levels within the Occupy movements — from the local networks already set up for each occupation to an in-progress, overarching, international network project called Global Square, that Knutson is helping to build. Those networks are likely to be key to Occupy’s future, since nearly all of the largest encampments in the United States have been evicted — taking with them the physical spaces where activists communicated via the radically democratic General Assemblies.

The idea of an open alternative to corporate-owned social networking sites isn’t novel — efforts to build less centralized, open source alternatives to Facebook and Twitter have been in the works for years, with the best known examples being Diaspora and Identica.

But those developments aren’t specifically focused on protest movements. And the Occupy movement’s surprising rise in the U.S. has added new impetus to the desire for open source versions of the software that is playing an increasingly important role in mobilizing and connecting social movements, as well as broadcasting their efforts to the world.

One challenge that all of the new efforts face is a very difficult one for non-centralized services: ensuring that members are trustworthy. That’s critical for activists who risk injury and arrest in all countries and even death in some. To build trust, local and international networks will use a friend-of-a-friend model in Knutson and Boyer’s projects. People can’t become full members on their own as they can with social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

“You have to know someone in real life who sponsors you,” said Knutson.

To Boyer, it’s more important to identify someone as trustworthy than to ensure that their online name matches a passport or birth certificate.

“I respect pseudonyms as long as they treat them as pseudonyms and not as masks,” said Boyer. In other words, someone shouldn’t hide behind a fake name to get away with bad behavior — in an extreme case, infiltrating the movement to spy on or sabotage it.

Thirty-six-year-old Knutson, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, started the year as an observer of politics before evolving into a committed OWS activist. His metamorphosis started during public-employee strikes in February against proposed policies of Governor Scott Walker that would affect their benefits and collective-bargaining rights.

“Before this year we had the idea that things maybe were starting to improve a little,” he said. “But when things started happening in February we were like, ‘No, no. Things are getting worse.’”

While organizing a “Walkerville” protest camp in June, Knutson met, over Twitter, members of Spanish protest movement 15M. They had just built a web site, Take the Square, to track occupations around the world, from Tunisia to Madrid. He also met Alexa O’Brien – founder of campaign-finance-reform organization US Day of Rage and a co-founder of Occupy Wall Street. After OWS kicked off, Knutson came to the East Coast for a while, visiting New York, Boston and Philadelphia and joining with other techies in those cities.

Through all those connections, Knutson has focused on building the technology for an international occupations network. But the politics are tricky. “Some of the people in Spain are kind of resentful of OWS, because they got all of the credit,” he said, noting that the Spanish occupations started first and are still far bigger.

As a counterpart to Knutson, Sam Boyer focuses on the US occupations, building tech for a collection of interlinked social networks across the country with the working title Federated General Assembly, or FGA. Working on Occupy has brought him full-circle.

When he was an undergrad in 2005, Boyer, who is now 27, took a job at the Student Trade Justice Campaign, an organization focused on trade policy reform. In 2007, he wanted to build an online platform for individual chapters to organize into groups and to link those groups for national discussions – essentially what the FGA is meant to do. But Boyer couldn’t build it, he said. “I didn’t even know how to program at the point that I started with it.”

So Boyer started learning, and falling in love with, Web programming; and he switched from being mainly an activist to mainly an engineer. His specialty is an open-source content-management system for web sites called Drupal, which FGA will run on.

Knutson, Boyer and the other Occupy geeks don’t have to build everything from scratch. “These are standards that have been around for a while, and we are not reinventing the wheel,” said Boyer.

For instance, the projects will rely on set of technologies known as Open ID and OAuth that let a user sign into a new website using their logins and passwords from social networks like Facebook, Google and Twitter. Those technologies let you sign up for a new service by logging into a Twitter or Google account, which vouch for you to the new site without giving over your password or forcing you to get yet another username and password to keep track of.

In the new OWS tech, an activist’s local-occupation network can vouch for a user to another network, and the local networks all trust each other, they all trust that activist. Someone can sign into one network and post and comment on them all.

Some sensitive posts, say about civil disobedience, would be private. Others, like a statement of demands or press release, would be public, but only trusted members of the network could create them.
FGA wants to differentiate itself from the the me-me-me narcissism of Facebook. It has a strong focus on groups — working together on topics like alternative banking or electoral reform.

And there’s a lot of work today. Currently, the group aspects of Occupy web sites are a cacophony.

“You get there, and the first thing you look at is this useless activity feed,” said Boyer. Every comment – whether a brilliant idea, a troll comment or a me-too pile-on – pops into the list as it’s generated. “You’re only guaranteed that one person really thought that post was a good idea – not the whole group,” he said.

In the FGA system, each group has a discussion on what information to push to their home page, such as a description of an event, a blog post or minutes from a meeting. “In the same way that, when you look at Reddit, you know that the articles on top are the most upvoted, the user could know that posts appearing on a front page represent the concerted agreement of the group,” said Boyer.

The activist coders also want to be able to push and pull info to and from the rest of the movement. The idea is that they can have disparate systems that label info with shared tags that will, some day, make it possible to enter a search on any one site and pull precise results from around the world.

Ed Knutson’s job is to get those sites talking to each other, even though the content may be in different languages (English, Spanish, Arabic, etc.) and created with different content management systems, or CMSs, such as Drupal or Wordpress. The Global Square network will connect not through those systems but through “semantic Web” standards designed to link up disparate technologies.

One key standard has the wordy name Resource Description Framework, or RDF, a universal labeling system.

If an occupier wants to post the minutes of a meeting, for example, they might type them in the appropriate text box in the content management software running the site. That software pushes the information to an RDF database and tags it with some universal label – it could be called “minutes” or any other term that all the occupations agree on. The local occupier might also select “Group: Alternative Banking” from a dropdown list, and that label would be added as well. Using the same labels allows all the sites to trade information. So a search for minutes from an Alternative Banking group would pull up records from any occupation with that kind of group.

With RDF, sites can work together even if they run on different content management software, such as Drupal (as in the FGA) or Wordpress (as in the Spanish M15 group).
“The handoff point is that everything goes through RDF,” said Knutson. “You don’t care if they have a Drupal site or some kind of Frankenstein combination of different stuff.”

The problem the coders face will be the same one that’s faced the web for years – getting people to agree on standards and to then adopt them. One long-running attempt to do this quickly is called Microformats – a way of including markup data in HTML that’s invisible to an human visitor, but which can be understood by their browser or by a search engine.

Examples include marking up contact information so that a reader can simply click contact information to add it to their address book and annotating a recipe so that search engines can let you search for recipes that include ’spinach’.

These linkage and collaboration capabilities would be useful well beyond the Occupy movement.

“I think any type of small or medium-sized group or a team that has one person in eight different cities,” could use it for collaboration, says Knutson. And he sees no reason against spinning off the tech to businesses.

“Every small and medium business owner is a member of the 99%,” said Knutson. “Furthermore, exploring relationships with businesses… is pretty important to having a tangible impact.”

“A lot of what we are tying to do is build a better conversation so that this cacophonous discussion can be more coordinated,” said Boyer. As an analogy, he recounted an OWS workshop from a conference on December 18 in New York City when the moderator asked everyone to shout out their best idea for the movement.

They were probably all good ideas, said Boyer. But he couldn’t hear any one of them through the noise of the others.

The Web of trust among networks, RDF labels that link data across occupations, working-group consensus on what to post – all are designed to help the right people connect to each other and to the right information. “Let the sheer number of people who are interested get out the way of the many things actually happening,” said Boyer.

But for now, all those ideas are just that – ideas. And whatever does emerge will come piecemeal.

Sam Boyer hopes to launch in the following weeks what he calls a stepping stone — a roster of occupations around the world called, for now, simply M15’s Take the Square site has provided something like that since May, as have other sites. But will be unique in using RDF and other technologies to label all the entries. It will also allow people from each occupation to “own” and update their entries.

“The directory should be useful, but it’s not our big debut,” said Boyer. He’s hoping that will be sometime in the spring, when a rough version of the FGA social network launches.

The Global Square Knutson is helping to build is finalizing its tech and will launch, probably in January, with basic linkages for various Occupy sites to trade messages, re-publish articles and allow cross-commenting on them.

“I’d say it would be a pretty major accomplishment to get a couple of the [web site] systems that everyone is using, like ELGG and Drupal and media wiki and maybe Wordpress” to work together, he said.

But even just having the discussion has been a big deal. “It’s hard to get people to even think about that kind of stuff.”

United States as a Global Power: New World Disorder

Corporate Monopolies 'May Dominate Green Economy'

NEW DEHLI - The global push towards a 'green economy' risks being hijacked by large corporate monopolies trying to gain control over natural resources, a report has warned.

A report released earlier this month has warned that global companies, positioning themselves for a post-petrochemical future, may use the idea as a pretext for gaining control over biomass resources, which would eventually replace petroleum as the feedstock for energy and for industrial products. There is a growing emphasis on the concept of a green economy in the run-up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), in June 2012, in Brazil. A green economy is widely seen as a way of tackling environmental challenges including climate change, failing fisheries and water security.

But a report released earlier this month (14 December) has warned that global companies, positioning themselves for a post-petrochemical future, may use the idea as a pretext for gaining control over biomass resources, which would eventually replace petroleum as the feedstock for energy and for industrial products.

The report, published by an international nongovernmental organisation Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Conservation (ETC Group), in Canada, says that most of this biomass is in developing countries, where it is managed by poor peasants, forest dwellers, fishing communities and livestock-owners whose livelihoods depend on them.

The report urges developing countries to craft policies that will protect them from such encroachments.

If they do not, they risk being "seduced" by the promise of quick green techno-fixes, which appear as "a politically expedient" alternative plan to save the climate, the report says, because "techno fixes are not capable of addressing systemic problems of poverty, hunger and environmental crises".

"In the absence of effective and socially responsive governance and government oversight, the bio-based economy will result in further environmental degradation, unprecedented loss of biodiversity and the loss of remaining commons," it says.

The report's authors said they were not rejecting the concept of green economy, but that countries should build sustainable economies based on using new, more socially and ecologically sustainable economic models.

Hoysala Chanakya, principal research scientist, at the centre for sustainable technologies at the Indian Institute of Science, said that the report was right to highlight that there was potential for corporate take-overs in the absence of adequate policy support and that developing countries need to have policies to ensure that public resources do not get monopolised.

He added that the assumption that technological advances in algal or plant-based biofuel systems, for example, would solve environmental problems, is based partly on hype.

"The [biomass-based] technologies are still in a stage of infancy," Chanakya said. They also leave lots of organic waste which can be polluting, he added.

Other sustainable development policy experts in India suggested that a solution to some of the problems forecast by ETC Group was to decentralise food and energy security programmes and push for small, farmer-centred agriculture.

Instead of the "overarching generalised programmes involving blanket application of solar or hydrogen power" developing countries should move towards decentralised, locally-managed food and energy security programmes that are rooted in their unique local environments, said Rajeswari Raina, scientist at National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies.

Ambuj Sagar, professor of policy studies at the Indian Institute of Technology, agreed: "We need a different narrative that places value on the livelihoods of small farmers in developing countries rather than on food production at lowest cost and protecting interests of farmers in industrialised countries through subsidies."

"Private-sector and market-oriented food and agriculture systems are unlikely to deliver this kind of outcome since that is not the primary objective of these actors and institutions."

Link to full report

FDA Draws Criticism After U-Turn on Antibiotics in Animal Feed

Thursday, December 29, 2011 by The Guardian/UK
Environmental groups dismayed after agency drops long-held plan to regulate use of human antibiotics fed to healthy animals
by Karen McVeigh

Environmental and consumer groups have condemned the US Food and Drug Administration's move to renege on its long-held policy to regulate the use of human antibiotics in animal feed.

Last week, the agency quietly announced it was withdrawing its plan to limit the use of antibiotics fed to healthy livestock intended for human consumption.

Critics say the U-turn, which comes amid the FDA's own stated concerns over food safety, is at odds with its obligations to protect the public.

The groups also criticized the timing of the announcement, which was made during the holiday season and disclosed only in the federal register.

The use of low doses of antibiotics in agricultural animal feed contributes to drug-resistant superbugs, according to food and health experts.

One leading food policy writer described the policy reversal as "pathetic" and "dismaying."

"It's dismaying, and obviously something they felt sheepish about, otherwise it wouldn't have been released this week," Michael Pollan, author of the Onmivore's Dilemma and Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, told the Guardian.

"When Margaret Hamburg became the head of the FDA, she indicated this was a high priority for them and that she realized how much of a problem the profligate use of antibiotics was. She said she was going to treat this issue as if her hair was on fire. This isn't the way someone acts when their hair is on fire."

Pollan said there was "no question" that meat could be produced without human antibiotics, as the EU has already banned them.

The FDA first acknowledged in 1977 that the overuse of antibiotics in healthy livestock for growth promotion and disease prevention was unsafe and could promote antibiotic resistant bacteria that could infect people. An advisory committee at the time recommended that the FDA immediately withdraw approval for two drugs, penicillin and tetracycline, for subtherapeutic uses of the drugs in livestock.

Last week, in a statement in the Federal Register, the FDA says it plans instead to allow the industry to self-regulate and "focus its efforts for now on the potential for voluntary reform and the promotion of the judicious use of antimicrobials in the interest of public health".

The problem, said Pollan, boils down to a lack of political will in the face of powerful industry interests. "There's a lot of corporate money in politics these days," he said. "Here you're going up against not just one powerful industry, but two. This administration has had enough trouble going after individual powerful industries. That they would prevail against two of them joined together was too much to hope for."

Livestock consume about 80% of the antibiotics sold in the US.

The FDA's decision comes after a number of high profile meat recalls. In August, 36m lbs of turkey meat were found to have been contaminated with drug-resistant salmonella that caused one death and 76 people to become ill.

When approached by the Guardian, a spokesman for the FDA could not provide anyone for comment.

A statement, taken from the Federal Register, said: "FDA continues to view antimicrobial resistance as a significant public health issue. Today's action should not be interpreted as a sign that FDA no longer has safety concerns about the use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals, or that FDA will not consider re-proposing withdrawal proceedings in the future if necessary."

But Avinash Kar, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), described the move as a "step backwards" for the FDA.

Kar believes the move is an attempt to get around a lawsuit filed by the NRDC to force the FDA to withdraw approval for the practice of mixing human antibiotics into animal feed. The lawsuit, filed in May, asked the court to declare that the FDA had violated federal law by failing to withdraw approval of using penicillin and tetracycline in animal feed when animal health is not at stake.

"This action by the FDA is a response to our lawsuit" said Kar. "The findings in 1977 were included in the notice for opportunity for a hearing, and they think they can get around the lawsuit by withdrawing the notices for opportunities for a hearing. But we will not allow the FDA to ignore public health."

In response to the FDA's reliance on voluntary regulations, Kar said: "We don't believe that the industry will voluntarily regulate itself, because for the last 33 years the approach has been voluntary and the use of antibiotics in livestock has not gone down but – based on estimates – has gone up."

"The science has only gotten stronger."

Stephen Roach, of the Food Animals Concern Trust, a group also involved in the lawsuit against the FDA, said he believed the FDA was putting public health at risk.

"It is totally at odds with their mission to protect the public. This month we had a salmonella outbreak in the north-east that was resistant to penicillin and the drug that replaced penicillin, cephalosporin. We are going to continue to have multi-drug resistant salmonella outbreaks and E.coli drug-resistant outbreaks."

Roach said the use of low doses of antibiotics in animals over a long period of time created the ideal conditions for bacteria to develop drug resistance.

A growing number of scientific and medical institutions have urged action on antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organization devoted a WHO day to microbial resistance.

In September, several institutions, including the American Medical Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, wrote a letter to Congress, calling for them to to reiterate the link between antibiotic resistance and the overuse of antibiotics in food animals. Some of the same health groups took ads out in Politico and The Hill.

"Hundreds of scientific studies conducted over four decades have shown that feeding low doses of antibiotics to healthy food animals leads to drug-resistant infections in people," they wrote in the ad. "In fact, America's leading medical, scientific and public health organizations have been warning of the danger for years."

Politicians also expressed dismay at the FDA's move.

In a statement on her website, Democratic congresswoman Louise Slaughter, the author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), a legislative framework aimed at tackling antibiotic resistance, said: "Every year, 100,000 Americans die from bacterial infections acquired in the hospital and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Seventy percent of these infections are resistant to drugs commonly used to treat them. I wonder how many lives could have been saved if these proposals were adopted in 1977 as they should have been.

"We need to get our head out of the sand and start taking public health advice from scientists rather than industry lobbyists."

The Rise of the Tea Party

by Kevin Young 
US press coverage has usually cast the Tea Party as an authentic expression of popular anger against Washington insiders. Anthony DiMaggio’s new book, Rise of the Tea Party, shatters such myths, demonstrating that the Tea Party has never been a genuine social movement or political outsider but rather an elite-dominated group that was closely linked to the Republican establishment from its inception three years ago. The Tea Party’s goal has been to aid a struggling Republican Party in its efforts to further roll back the social safety net and funnel more wealth and power from workers to the rich. The book’s relevance extends well beyond just the Tea Party, though. DiMaggio uses the group as a case study to explore broader issues of corporate media bias, the rightward shift of US politics in recent decades, and the effects of material and non-material factors in shaping people’s attitudes.

The study is really two books in one: an authoritative examination of the Tea Party phenomenon and “a grand theory of public opinion and the larger social forces that influence it” (p. 29).

The first two chapters critically analyze the Tea Party’s emergence and growth in 2009-10, showing that the organization has never been an independent or mass-based movement. 

DiMaggio refutes the typical depiction of the group as maverick agitators who cause headaches for Democrats and Republicans alike: from the start the Tea Party and its affiliate groups had close institutional ties to the Republican Party and billionaire Republican sponsors like the Koch brothers. Common claims about the effect of the Tea Party on Congressional Republicans are also misleading. The shift of the Republican Party toward ever more extremist positions cannot be attributed to the influence of the Tea Party faction (and certainly not, as some claim, to any shift in public opinion). As DiMaggio observes, the Republican Party’s rightward shift has been underway for decades. Moreover, there is strong agreement among Tea Party and “moderate” Republicans in Congress on the vast majority of policy questions, belying characterizations of Tea Partiers as challengers to the Republican establishment. The Tea Party’s primary purpose has been to “rebrand” the Republican Party as a populist force and channel votes to Republican candidates in an era when the electorate views the Republican Party (even more so than the Democratic Party) with ever-increasing scorn.

Chapter 2, co-written with DiMaggio’s frequent collaborator Paul Street, offers a ground-level look at Tea Party campaigns in the greater Chicago area, often considered a Tea Party stronghold. The two observed local Tea Party meetings and events throughout 2009 and 2010. The chapter’s provocative title—“The Tea Party Does Not Exist”—conveys two key points: that the Tea Party has very little local presence and that it has never been an independent party but rather “a covert Republican operation” (p. 92). DiMaggio and Street’s research found that most of the typical features of a genuine social movement were lacking. Few chapters were active on the local level, few held regular open meetings, and there was little or no commitment among chapter leaders to movement-building and member empowerment. Meetings that did occur were conducted in a highly authoritarian manner with little open discussion. Chapter leaders engaged in outreach mainly in order to generate turn-out at periodic events that served as thinly-veiled campaign rallies for Republican candidates. Most chapter work was “dominated by partisan electioneering interests” (p. 89). (On these themes see also Street and DiMaggio’s study Crashing the Tea Party[Paradigm, 2011], which complements the current book.)

The US press has played an essential role in creating the illusion of a massive Tea Party uprising, as DiMaggio shows in Chapter 3. In mid-2011 one Tea Party leader admitted that “there would not have been a Tea Party without Fox” (quoted on p. 224). Right-wing outlets like Fox News have been crucial in promoting Tea Party events to increase turn-out and by providing a steady stream of favorable coverage. But centrist and liberal media share the blame. Even when featuring criticisms of it, they have consistently mischaracterized it as an authentic movement anduprising, thus legitimating it, while ignoring the facts presented in Chapters 1 and 2. DiMaggio’s quantitative analysis of press coverage also shows that media have systematically favored the Tea Party over antiwar, anti-corporate, and women’s rights protests, which unlike the Tea Party represent genuine grassroots movements. This pattern of coverage confirms the predictions of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s “propaganda model” regarding media treatment of “worthy” versus “unworthy” protesters.

Another chapter on media coverage focuses on the Tea Party’s obsession in 2009 and early 2010, the healthcare reform debate. DiMaggio finds that media reports on the issue overwhelmingly echoed right-wing propaganda themes—focusing on the alleged costs, debt, and budget deficits that would result from Democratic reform proposals—while failing to acknowledge the real reasons for right-wing opposition. The modest reform proposal of the “public option” received far less media attention, particularly after Congressional Democrats stopped advocating it. Discussion of single-payer or universal healthcare, meanwhile, was virtually absent from news coverage.

DiMaggio goes beyond most studies of media coverage by measuring the effects of propaganda and other forces on public attitudes. In Chapters 4 and 6 he uses poll results to analyze the importance of nine separate factors, both material and “intangible,” in shaping individuals’ attitudes toward the Tea Party and healthcare reform during the period under study. Material factors like race and income play a key role, with whites and the more affluent more likely to support the Tea Party and oppose healthcare reform. Yet DiMaggio concludes that intangible forces like exposure to corporate media and partisan affiliation are ultimately more important in determining people’s opinions. Republican voters, those who watched Fox News, and those who followed Washington-related news reports more closely were much more likely to support the Tea Party and oppose healthcare reform.

One of the most pressing questions regarding the Tea Party phenomenon is why many working-class people have expressed support for it. During 2010 the group grew in popularity among most sectors of the population, not just among the affluent. By August 2010 over half the US public expressed “sympathy” with the Tea Party. DiMaggio is careful to distinguish between the motives of the Tea Party’s elite leadership and those of the ordinary working people who have been attracted to it. The Tea Party may be “a false populist force,” but “the group would be nowhere near as successful if it were not for the legitimate grievances and anger of a general public” (p. 31). Falling real wages, rising inequality, and unresponsive government have all fueled the Tea Party’s popularity, even if its false solutions would intentionally exacerbate such problems. Moreover, many of the people who have expressed support for the Tea Party in fact hold progressive values. One explanation DiMaggio offers for this paradox is that factual ignorance (largely created by media coverage) results in disjunctions between people’s values and attitudes toward specific policies, on one hand, and their opinions of politicians, institutions, and abstract ideas like “healthcare reform,” on the other. For example, individuals may strongly support welfare programs like Medicare or Social Security—as most of the public does—but oppose “welfare” due to the racist and classist propaganda offensive mounted against the idea since the 1970s.

A similar pattern seems to apply to public opinion on a wide range of issues. Most of the public thinks workers should have more income and power, but is more ambivalent toward the idea of unions. The public supports a binding treaty to combat climate change, but over half of Bush voters in 2004 were under the erroneous impression that Bush supported the Kyoto Protocol. To take a recent example, the public overwhelmingly agrees with the Occupy Wall Street movement’s goals of reducing inequality, taxing the rich to fund social programs, and ending corporate domination of government, but stated support for the Occupy movement itself is lower (though still substantial). DiMaggio’s argument about how elites and media coverage “manufacture dissent” against policies that might otherwise enjoy widespread support helps to explain such paradoxes, although further research—particularly at the ethnographic level—will be necessary to more fully understand the reasons for working-class support for the Tea Party and other right-wing forces (working-class racism, sexism, and nationalism are surely important here).

At the same time, DiMaggio also cautions that the cooptation or “false consciousness” of workers and the poor is not as pervasive as analysts like Thomas Frank (the author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?) have implied. Support for Republicans among the white working class is far from universal, and ordinary people frequently see through elite propaganda. Yet the challenge to Frank’s argument is only partial: DiMaggio recognizes “that the less privileged are regularly manipulated into supporting policies that run directly counter to their material interests” (p. 179). Successful manipulation just isn’t as common as some liberals and leftists suggest.

My critiques of the book are few and minor. Though hardly the author’s fault, the book was written too early (November 2010) to take into account interesting recent developments like the Tea Party’s decline in popularity during 2011 or the resurgence of a progressive movement in the United States as embodied in the fall’s Occupy protests (the book’s conclusion, written in August 2011, does address the February union protests in Wisconsin).

A more important critique involves the relative lack of attention to the role of the Democrats in fueling the political discontent upon which the Tea Party has capitalized. For instance, I think the statement that “Republicans successfully took universal healthcare and the public option off the agenda” (p. 192) attributes too much power to the right; top-level Democrats also rejected the idea of universal healthcare and were at best half-hearted advocates of a robust public option. Even prior to late 2009, when Democratic proposals still included the public option, it was by no means clear that the progressive aspects of the legislation would outweigh the negative ones. Public opposition to Democratic healthcare reform seems to have derived not just from right-wing propaganda but also from the corporate-friendly nature of the reform proposals. In a January 2010 CBS News poll, 43 percent of respondents said that “the reforms do not do enough” to restrain private insurance companies (only 27 percent said they “go too far”). DiMaggio does note that Democratic proposals gave huge gifts to insurance companies and that Democrats’ right-wing policies have “contributed to the popularity of the Tea Party” by alienating the public (p. 126), but more attention to this dynamic might have further enriched the analysis. Additional research in the future could help illuminate the process by which right-wing populists appeal to workers disillusioned with Democrats’ unwillingness or inability to pursue meaningful reforms.

The Rise of the Tea Party is the most insightful study of the topic to date (alongside Street and DiMaggio’s Crashing the Tea Party), and usefully situates the Tea Party phenomenon within a broader analysis of public opinion, corporate media, and the US political system. It is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand recent US political history as well as the larger dynamics of domination and hegemony in the United States.

Lesser Evilism, 2012

At this time of year it is not uncommon to become wistful and look back at the time that has passed, but oddly enough, I find myself becoming nostalgic for the time of the last Bush administration. I remember it as a time when people still expressed opposition to a regime that had contempt for them. It was scarcely possible to be in any social setting without people grumbling about Bush and expressing their disgust, even people of an apolitical nature.  How freely the “F”-word, fascist, was bandied about!  Anti-Bush sentiment permeated the culture to such an extent that there were even books written discussing the merits of assassinating the president……and that was just the pacifists!*

Now, even mild expressions of disapproval are largely absent. These days who is saying she is ashamed to be from Hawaii, Chicago, Kansas, Indonesia? Or that Obama doesn’t care about black people? Who is singing “Let’s Impeach the President”?  Occupy Wall Street is putting up a struggle and there are other pockets of resistance, but within the electoral system:
the citizens
don’t want to put up a defense
they enroll in accelerated courses
in falling to their knees**
Almost weekly, progressives and liberals are faced with some new “betrayal”, but they appear unable to rebel, bound by the self-imposed limits of the concept of the lesser of two evils.  Obama may be bad, they say, but the Republican will be much worse.  Many people appear to be absolutely committed to this pessimistic short term approach to a bleak situation and so will always vote for whomever they consider to be less damaging: Pinochet versus Duvalier, Suharto versus Saddam, Idi Amin Dada versus Mobutu Sese Seko. No matter how bad the choices, the doctrine of lesser evilism compels them to choose, they cannot opt out.  It seems appropriate to refer to this group as “purists”.

I suspect that many who claim to make such a clearheaded appraisal actually possess a predetermined bias, and so believe the Democrats’ evil, as if an equation from a calculus text, can approach ever closer, but can never cross the Republicans’ axis. In order to effectively engage these people, however, one must take them seriously and try to answer the question of who is actually the lesser evil. I would begin by suggesting that although it used to be taken for granted that Bush was the worst president ever, in those areas in which the president is able to operate without the need for 60 senators, Obama has actually been worse.  To test this notion, a simple question for the purists: Can you name one country on the planet where the policies of Obama have been less militaristic than those of Bush?

(Expect either Iraq[hah!] to be offered in response, or a very long pause.) In the area of civil liberties we can echo Obama’s hero and ask: Is the Bill of Rights better off today than it was 3 years ago? This should “frame” the discussion for introducing as much detail as you desire, or, given the level of ire so many of this group possess, is allowed.

In these two areas most at the mercy of the unitary executive those at the outer edges of dissent among the Democrats seem to have it precisely backwards—Bush was Obama lite.  But we must remember that George W. Bush is not running in 2012, that unless Dick Cheney makes a last minute entrance into the race, Obama will be competing with someone who has not prosecuted illegal wars, rained down missiles on the heads of civilians, had people incarcerated and killed without trial. So many of the Obama loyalists rely on the subjunctive mood to carry their argument about who is the lesser of two evils. It would be prudent to follow the lead of another president, who also received rather too much credit for being slicker than the Bush who preceded him, and pay strict attention to what the meaning of “is” is. By doing this, who is the lesser of two evils becomes quite clear.

But I should try not to be so rigid; let’s play along and try to divine what the Republican candidate would do. Let’s imagine that the favorite, Mitt Romney, wins the election. Will he be a greater or lesser evil that our current president?  Their similarities have been often mentioned, most notably their health care plans. Similarities exist also in outward characteristics: Romney is seen as a slickly packaged empty suit with little of substance to offer; Obama has been frank that this applies to him as well, confessing in his writings to being a “blank slate”. There really aren’t so many ways we can be sure about Romney’s eventual policies– after all, it isn’t very wise to believe what any politician says.

This fact of life actually would be slightly to Romney’s advantage—Obama lied to get the support of those to his left, whereas Romney is seeking support from those on his right, so it is probable that he would be not quite as evil in reality as he is promising on the campaign trail to be.  Liberals could also feel proud for supporting him and striking a blow against religious bigotry, regaining the good feelings they had in 2008.  In those matters where the president needs the support of congress, Romney would have to move to the left in order to get anything passed. In the seemingly unrestrained role as commander-in-chief we have no way of knowing what the real essence of Romney is that ultimately would be revealed if he were to reach the position of near absolute power.  It is feasible, I suppose, that he will turn out to match or even surpass the icy viciousness, the elegant brutality of Obama, but it is far from certain. What is certain is that, given what we know at this time, a vote for Obama in 2012 is a much greater evil than it was in 2008.

Failure to Reflate

For the second time in three years, the banking system has collapsed, which means that the banks are no longer able to fund themselves through the normal means, the wholesale markets. This same thing happened in July 2007 when two Bear Stearns hedge funds defaulted and trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities–which US banks had been holding–began to sharply decline in value. In a matter of months, most of America’s big-name banks were technically insolvent although the charade continued for a full year before Lehman Brothers blew up and the rot within the system became apparent to everyone. Now the same thing is taking place in Europe.

The banks do not get the bulk of their funding through their regulated activities of taking deposits and issuing loans, but by exchanging assets for short-term loans. Naturally, when doubts arise about the quality of these assets, then trading slows to a crawl and the banks are left high-and-dry. In other words, banking has transformed itself into an unregulated multi-trillion dollar pawn shop that can shut down at a moment’s notice leaving the entire industry dead-in-the-water.

When crisis strikes, alarms go off at the central banks who then ride to the rescue with lavish taxpayer-funded bailouts. We’ve seen this play many times before, the script never changes. The central bank chiefs claim that they are just offering liquidity assistance for “temporarily” impaired assets, but, of course, that’s not true. Two years after the Fed began its purchases of toxic MBS from US banks, all of those same assets are still on the Fed’s balance sheet. The Fed’s has become a “bad bank” where the stinkpile of unmarketable dreck the banks created via financial alchemy is housed. Eventually, the losses will be passed on to the taxpayers.

Imagine if the $350,000 home that you bought at the peak of the bubble in 2005 was suddenly “unsellable” at any price. This is the situation EU banks are in. No one wants to do business with them because there are doubts about their solvency as well as questions about the value of their assets. So, the system has shut down forcing the banks have to depend more and more on funding from the ECB. Of course, it doesn’t work this way for the average working guy. When the value of his house falls or his credit score gets slashed, he just has to suck-it-up and live on less because no one will give him a loan. It’s different for bankers.

EU Banking System: How bad is it?
Last week, the ECB lent 523 banks a total of 489 billion euros for three years at 1 percent. On Wednesday, those same banks parked all of the money they borrowed (except 37 billion euros) back at the ECB in overnight deposits. (That’s 452 euros, a new record) Think about that for a minute. In other words, the system is not just broken; it is completely broken.

There’s no lending,  no exchange of assets for short-term loans,  no credit expansion, no nothing. Zilch. All there is is hoarding and a lot of PR gibberish about “emergency liquidity”, “long-term refinancing”, blah, blah, blah. The average Joe doesn’t want a bunch of excuses; they want the facts. And the fact is, this unregulated, volatile, crisis-prone system has collapsed for a second time in three years which is why the central banks are committing trillions (just look at the ECB’s exploding balance sheet) in public money to bailout speculators who’ve gamed the system. That’s all people want to know.

So what is the ECB trying to achieve by pumping all this money into the banking system?
First of all, ECB chief Mario Draghi is trying to reflate the bubble in the bond market. You see, during the boom years, capital flows into Greece, Portugal, Spain etc, boosted the value of the sovereign debt by many orders of magnitude. The main buyers of these bonds were EU banks, so they are loaded to the gills with this junk-paper. Since Greece started teetering, the value of these bonds has plunged leaving many of these banks in the red.

And the situation is even worse than it sounds, because the banks have borrowed more money than the original value of the bonds themselves. In other words, they have posted this same collateral many times over greatly increasing their leverage and their exposure. It would be like if you or I took our prize racing bike down to the pawn shop and exchanged it for a short-term loan of $3,500. Only–in this case–the pawn shop owner allowed us to hold on to the bike. Then we went to another pawn shop, and a third and a forth; posting the same bike for the same short-term loan over and over again. Pretty soon, the debt is so huge, that any disruption in the flow of business, and the whole Ponzi-debt pyramid comes tumbling down. Presently, the ECB is trying to keep that pyramid in place by inflating the value of the dodgy bonds with injections of 3-year liquidity. These loans will never be repaid.

Now take a look at this from the Wall Street Journal:
“Even after the European Central Bank doled out nearly half a trillion euros of loans to cash-strapped banks last week, fears about potential financial problems are still stalking the sector. One big reason: concerns about collateral.
The only way European banks can now convince anyone—institutional investors, fellow banks or the ECB—to lend them money is if they pledge high-quality assets as collateral.
Now some regulators and bankers are becoming nervous that some lenders’ supplies of such assets, which include European government bonds and investment-grade non-government debt, are running low.
If banks exhaust their stockpiles of assets that are eligible to serve as collateral, they potentially could encounter liquidity problems. That is what happened this fall to Franco-Belgian lender Dexia SA, which ran out of money and required a government bailout.” (“European Bank Worry: Collateral”, Wall Street Journal)
So, the banks don’t have money and they don’t have good collateral. And the reason they don’t have good collateral is because they’ve been posting the same collateral over and over again to increase leverage. So, it’s all a sham; they’re upside down and headed for trouble. Here’s more from the same article:
“In addition to fears that the banks might simply run out of eligible collateral, some bankers and regulators worry that the banks’ growing reliance on “secured lending” will make it harder for the industry to return to its past practice of funding itself by issuing unsecured bonds. That could result in a permanent funding scarcity…..
Since this summer, it has been virtually impossible for banks to issue unsecured bonds, because investors view European banks as risky investments.
In the second half of 2011, European banks issued a total of about $80 billion of senior unsecured bonds, according to data provider Dealogic. That compares to $240 billion in the same period last year and $257 billion in 2009.” (“European Bank Worry: Collateral”, Wall Street Journal)
Financial journalists love to make this stuff sound harder than it really is. Look, this is simple. No one is trading with the banks because everyone knows they’re broke. When the author says that the banks’ “growing reliance on “secured lending” will make it harder for the industry to return to its past practice of funding itself by issuing unsecured bonds”; what he means is that the banks funding-model is kaput, because the bonds the banks own are losing value and no sane person will accept them in exchange for cash-money. So, the banksters are out of luck; they have to take their begging bowl to the ECB for handouts. And that’s where we are right now.

So, what’s the bottom line? What do these new developments (Draghi’s $600B Long-Term Refinancing Operation) tell us about the condition of the EU banking system and the probability of another financial crisis?

That’s the question I asked a friend of mine who works in the credit markets. Here’s what he said:
“Ask yourself one question, what has materially changed relating to solvency issues for banks in Europe in general and solvency issues for European countries in particular?
A credit crunch is unavoidable, and a meltdown is a possibility.”
You can’t sum it up any better than that.