Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Failed Drug War Is Expanding

by Laurence M. Vance, February 8, 2011

There is no question that the war on drugs is a failure. In spite of decades of prohibition laws, threats of fines and/or imprisonments, and massive propaganda campaigns, drugs are available and affordable. The Mental Health Services Administration — a government agency — has reported that marijuana, ecstasy, and methamphetamine use has recently increased. The government’s GAO has even said that the D.A.R.E. program has had “no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use.”

There are, however, some things that the war on drugs has accomplished. It has drained $40 billion a year from the federal treasury. It has made criminals out of hundreds of thousands of Americans (754,224 Americans were arrested for marijuana possession in 2008). It has destroyed financial privacy. It has unnecessarily swelled prison populations (over half of the federal prison population is because of drug charges). It has turned America’s inner cities into war zones. It has greatly eroded civil liberties. It has corrupted law enforcement. It has ruined more lives than drugs themselves.

The war on drugs enjoys wide bipartisan support on both the federal and state levels. Sure, some states have relaxed marijuana laws and made marijuana legal for medical use, but always under the watchful eye of state regulators and tax authorities.

But in these days of budget crises, on both the federal and state levels, the war on drugs is expanding. The latest addition to the list of controlled substances will be bath salts.

White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske has issued a bath salt alarm because the synthetic stimulants mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) are being sold as bath salts. It turns out that instead of using these bath salts in the bathtub, people have taken to swallowing, snorting, injecting, smoking, and otherwise ingesting them.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) plans to introduce legislation to ban these drugs disguised as bath salts as federally controlled substances. “The longer we wait to ban the substances, the greater risk we put our kids in,” said Schumer.

Several states have already banned or are considering legislation to ban the dreaded bath salts. In my state of Florida, the attorney general, Pam Bondi, has banned them for ninety days of her own accord because the Florida attorney general has the power to temporarily ban a substance if it is found to be an immediate threat to consumers. It will now be a third degree felony to sell products containing MDVP. According to Bondi, energized bath salt is “right up there with cocaine and heroin.” She claims that MDVP makes you “think you’re seeing monsters and it also makes you think that you can fly, and there are a lot of balconies out there for spring break.” Health effects supposedly include increased heart rate, nosebleeds, hallucinations, severe paranoia, seizures, and kidney failure. Florida Senate president Mike Haridopolis says that Florida legislators would work to ban the substance this spring. That is a mouthful coming from a man who claims he “has stood up for Floridians against more government.”

The issue here is not how high one might get from the use of these bath salts, how many monsters one might see, how many ways a person might damage his health, how easy it might be to purchase the bath salts, how cheap it might be to infuse the bath salts with the stimulants, how many spring breakers in Florida might jump off hotel balconies, or even if one sniff of bath salts might kill you.

The case against the banning or regulating of narcotic bath salts is the same as the case against banning or regulating marijuana, crack cocaine, or crystal meth.

First of all, the federal government has no constitutional authority to ban or regulate drugs. Drug warriors may wish that it did, but no amount of wishing, desiring, or wanting the federal government to have that power can override the Constitution.

Two, government in general should not have the authority, constitutional or otherwise, to ban or regulate drugs. Period. The reason for the government intervention, whether it be for public health, child safety, moral sensibilities, or community standards, is irrelevant. It is just not the business of government to intervene in this fashion.

Three, to be consistent, government at all levels should, and drug warriors should support, the banning of alcohol and tobacco since they are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. It is the height of hypocrisy to call for drug prohibition and not the prohibition of other harmful substances.

Four, recreational drugs are far less likely to kill you than physician-prescribed drugs. According to some articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association, over 100,000 people die every year from drugs prescribed and administered by physicians. Over two million Americans a year have in-hospital adverse drug reactions. The war on drugs is completely misdirected.

Five, drug prohibition and regulation are incompatible with private property, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and free markets. Indeed, drug prohibition and regulation are anathema to a free society. The war on drugs is a war on liberty.

The libertarian case for drug freedom is consistently straightforward: There should be no laws at any level of government for any reason regarding the buying, selling, growing, processing, manufacturing, advertising, use, or possession of any drug for any reason.

This does not mean that libertarians advocate the use of hallucinogenic drugs. This does not mean that libertarians don’t think that employers could require that their employees not use drugs. This does not mean that libertarians don’t think that parents have the right to forbid their children from using drugs. This does not mean that libertarians don’t think that using drugs could be harmful to one’s health. This does not mean that libertarians don’t think that getting stoned is immoral. This does not mean that libertarians don’t care if someone has a drug problem.

The real issue is not even about drugs.

It is just not the business of government to ban or regulate what someone decides to put into his mouth, nose, or veins. It doesn’t matter if it’s immoral, unhealthy, sinful, hazardous, stupid, disgusting, or death inducing. The legislators and bureaucrats who make the decisions to ban or not to ban and to regulate or not to regulate are not parents, nannies, doctors, priests, psychologists, guards, monitors, or gods — or are they?

Once you elevate government to such a level that you allow it to determine what you can and can’t ingest or regulate the circumstances under which you can lawfully ingest something, there is no stopping its reach, as Ludwig von Mises explained over fifty years ago:

If it is true that government derives its authority from God and is entrusted by Providence to act as the guardian of the ignorant and stupid populace, then it is certainly its task to regiment every aspect of the subject’s conduct. The God-sent ruler knows better what is good for his wards than they do themselves. It is his duty to guard them against the harm they would inflict upon themselves if left alone.

Although the war on drugs doesn’t need to be expanded, it likewise doesn’t need to be scaled back, made more consistent, made more effective, or made more efficient. For the sake of freedom, it needs to be ended — completely, quickly, and permanently.

Banks and Bankers

by L. Neil Smith 

Banks are the means by which European aristocracy regained control of America once again following what we thought had been our Revolution.
—L. Neil Smith
I have been saying for years that, exactly like like lawyers and literary agents, bankers somehow seem to have forgotten who's the boss.

I'm not an economist (a fact I could wake up every morning and thank the gods for, if I were religious, which I'm decidedly not), but I've been dealing with banks since I was a little kid in the 1950s, and I have never liked the "cut of their jib" or the way they do business.

As I say, I'm not an economist and although I am, in nearly every sense of the expression, a "student of Ayn Rand", my interest in the subject is pretty severely limited. I have never bothered to learn the ins and outs of formal economics, of "M-1", "M-2", "M-23", and so forth, nor do I care to do it now. Money is money is money, or—in the case of the worthless slips of paper issued by governments—it's not.

I am, however, sufficiently educated in physics to understand perfectly well that you can't make something out of nothing. It's too damned bad that most politicians and voters seem to lack that simple understanding. Money today literally isn't worth the paper it's been printed on because it's been spoiled by smearing all that ink all over it.

In any case, economics is not nearly as complicated a discipline as many—especially academics and politicians—would prefer you to believe. At the dawn of modern civilization, back when individuals like Galileo Galilei began peering upward through their newly- invented telescopes, they discovered that the mechanics of the sky were not exactly as they had been described by the authorities of the day.

Instead of every visible celestial body circling around the Earth, they found that the Earth—along with several other planets—were circling around the sun. One of those planets, Jupiter, had four small worlds circling around it the way the Moon circles around us. And the stars were so remote that they didn't seem to be circling anything at all.

We learned better later.

Supporters of the old theory, including the Church, fought back, threatening the life, liberty, and physical wellbeing of supporters of the new theory. As for those they couldn't reach, they argued that the old theory needed revising slightly. The Sun, Moon, and planets didn't circle directly around the Earth, but around a line around the Earth, "explaining" why Mars appeared to travel backwards from time to time.

They called these extra circles "epicycles", and each time some modern astronomer shot their theory down, they added another layer of epicycles to the one that had preceded it, until the planets were doing circles around the circles around the circles, and so on, each iteration postponing the eventual, inevitable collapse of their position. Much more importantly, however, the contrived complexity discouraged ordinary individuals from studying the situation and seeing through the smoke and past the mirrors to a simpler and grander truth.

Economics today is in much the same state as astromomy was in the Renaissance, its complicated vocabulary and complex theorizing meant mostly to keep non-economists from seeing certain simple truths about it.

Take banks, for instance.

People seem always to have had trouble, one way or another, with banks. And, one way or another, banks seem always to have had trouble with people. It's always been an uneasy relationship which bankers and their symbiotes, the politicians, have never hesitated to exploit to the hilt. The first bank records appear to have been written on clay tablets in cuneiform. In their primeval beginning, banks were little more than fortified warehouses in which, for a reasonable fee, you could store your valuable assets—usually consisting of gold, silver, jewelry, and grain—a bit more securely than you could at home.

After a while, somebody realized—maybe it was the bankers, maybe it was their customers, tired of paying that "reasonable fee" which slowly ate away at their savings—that nobody was getting any richer with all that wealth just sitting there in the warehouse. There ought to be some way to put it to work, preferably making even more wealth.

Bankers began lending their customers' wealth, for which borrowers paid a "reasonable fee" (now we call it "interest") which the bankers split with their customers. When cultural and religious taboos didn't interfere with the process, everybody made out, and capitalism was born.

It was at this point, however, somewhere around the Middle Ages, that everybody made a couple of really tragic mistakes. The first one occurred because people are basically lazy. Most of the time, this is a wonderful thing, the primary source of all human progress. The great Thomas Edison, for example, invented the electric light bulb because, as a kid, he'd detested cleaning kerosene lamp chimneys for his mother.

Apparently people got tired of carrying all those heavy gold and silver coins around in the little leather bags you see in paintings of the times and in the movies (although a little gold and silver went a long way back then, and the real bags couldn't have been all that big and heavy). There was also considerable physical risk involved: Sam Colt wouldn't come along to make men equal for another five or six hundred years. And women, although they often carried little daggers themselves—and really intimidating pairs of scissors—unless they were accompanied by a competent bodyguard, were at the mercy of the first thug who ran across them, especially if he happened to have a sword.

Instead of lugging all those big, nasty, heavy coins around, folks took up pen and parchment instead, and started writing instructions, of a kind. If they happened to owe their local apothecary a silver florin for his sovereign remedy against tansy or gleet (which don't seem to be quite the problem today that they apparently were in times past), they would dash off a short note to their bank, saying "Please give this apothecary guy one of the silver florins from my personal hoard, [signed] Luigiano the Fairly Resplendant, Gonfaloniere of Podunchio."

History would come to call it a "bank draft" or "check".

Later on, the bank began to write such letters for their lazy customers to carry around instead of all those nasty old heavy coins. (Observe that this innovation left bodyguards fully employed.) These were called "bank notes" and they represented real wealth, for which they could be exchanged whenever someone who had them wanted coins. They were the first paper money, and later would lead to nothing but trouble.

The invention of paper money made inflation possible. The tragic, life-destroying process of inflation is often dealt with by the media—as well as by government officials—as something natural and unpredictable, like the weather, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Inflation happens whenever the amount of stuff—printed paper, for example—people use instead of real money increases, without an increase in the real money—gold, silver, etc.—it claims to represent.

One of the fundamental laws of economics (okay, so I have studied it a little bit) and of human psychology as well, observes that the more there is of anything, the less any single bit of it is worth. If there's a trillion paper dollars in circulation, and the government suddenly prints another trillion, then the paper money we've saved up is halved in value—although if the government and their pet banks spend it quickly, they can enjoy the full benefit of it before that effect gets noticed. By the time it gets to us, however, it takes twice as much money to obtain the things we need or want. In effect, half our savings have been taken away by what amounts to an invisible tax.

Interestingly, the first inflating wasn't done with paper money. I have handled a good many ancient Roman coins that were polygonal in shape instead of round, because, whenever they passed through the hands of an unscrupulous banker or merchant, their edges were clipped off, to be added to a horde of such clippings which could then be melted down to make more coins. (That's why coins today have "milled" or decorated edges, to prevent such a practice.) The coins left dishonest hands at face value, although they were actually smaller, lighter, and worth less. Thus was the Roman money supply "watered down".

The great libertarian teacher Robert LeFevre told the story of England's King Henry VIII, who loved fighting foreign wars more than anything else, and was always looking for money to pay for them. All the historic fuss over his divorce, his various wives, and the Church of England was a smokescreen, according to LeFevre. What he really wanted to do—and did—was loot the holdings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Even that money soon ran out, however, and to pay for his men and horses and golden armor, he finally instructed the treasury to make coins out of junk metal (just as we do today), give them a gold or silver wash, and get them out into the marketplace. Henry's advisors were aghast, and fearful that such a fraud would cause rioting and revolution.

Yet when the advisers checked the marketplace, after a little while, they noticed two things: first, that the phony coins were being exchanged quite briskly, even when the coating had worn off and the dull gray of their base metal could be seen clearly; and second, that there were no real gold or silver coins in sight. These were being hoarded, not circulated. Hence the observation, which came to be known as "Gresham's Law" that "bad money drives out the good" from the marketplace.

In Germany, before World War II, and in Hungary, immediately afterward, inflation with paper currency became so extreme that it's said people took their wages home in wheelbarrows, that the money would hardly pay for a loaf of bread, and that workers were paid twice a day and immediately went out and bought food before prices rose even higher.

When I was young, a common thing for kids born in the shadow of World War II, to trade back and forth were fifty million Deutschmark bills their G.I. dads had brought back from Germany. A few years later, a gold Hungarian pengo was worth thirteen trillion paper pengoes.

A possibly apocryphal story holds that the great economist Ludwig von Mises was walking with some officials past a building where the money presses were rumbling day and night. Asked what they could do to stop the terrible storm of inflation that was tearing their country apart, Von Mises simply pointed at the building and said, "Stop that noise".

Today, government and its symbiotic banks don't need printing presses. Thanks to a shady practice called "fractional reserve banking", they can lend out many times the amount of money they actually have, creating what I've called "air credit". During the Carter Administration, and then again during the Clinton Administration, banks were encouraged—even compelled—to lend non-existent money to would-be homeowners who had no way of paying it back.

Eventually, the banks, which had been promised that the government would back them up with regard to these rotten loans, got into serious trouble and had to be bailed out—with trillions more in air credit—which was the beginning of the economic mess we find ourselves in today. When other businesses began to fail—the automobile industry comes to mind—they had to be "rescued", too, with even more funny money.

Today, the dollar is worth only a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago, affecting trade and our relative position in the world.

What can be done?

From the time you are a little child with pennies, they stop at nothing to keep your money out of your hands. First, they make sure that half of it disappears in taxes. Then they convert what remains into paper and make half of that evaporate as inflation. Next, they convert what paper you have left into entries in a ledger. Finally, they convert those ledger entries into electrons, scattered into space.

There's only one way to stop them, with copper, silver, and gold, and platinum, with wealth that can't be counterfeited and that won't evaporate.

Banks and bankers must be put back in their proper place as simple guardians of the wealth of individuals. Exactly like government, they must forever be kept small and weak. There must be no special laws, no special powers or privileges for banks. Government commissions, state oversight committees, and so on soon become packed with former bankers or future bankers working overtime to make sure their businesses enjoy every government advantage possible—always to the detriment of their customers—while preventing the entry of potential marketplace competition.

Whether it's a simple burglary, mugging, rape—or fractional reserve banking—theft is theft, and fraud is fraud. Nor are any special laws required to deal with such crimes when they're committed by banks, which shouldn't be regulated any differently than, say, a filling station or a grocery store, which shouldn't be regulated at all.

Certain common sense reforms are called for.

At present, it costs a bank customer twenty or thirty or forty or fifty dollars whenever he or she bounces a check. (Retailers often add their own fees, as well.) This amounts to kicking an individual when he or she is already down, since the person didn't have enough money to begin with to cover the check. It can end up costing him or her ten or twenty times the amount of the check they bounced, simply to feed the bank's insatiable, greedy maw. Add the factor of hard times, like those we all happen to be going through at present, and these fees become a major profit item. The bank's position as a bottom-feeding scavenger on human misfortune quickly becomes clearer—and more nauseating.

Another dirty banker's trick is what might be termed the "serial overdraft" scam, in which they invariably post charges against your account before they count your deposits, resulting in a cascade of fees.

I have asked several computer-savvy individuals who have worked for banks what the actual cost of processing a draft on insufficient funds amounts to, and in no case has that amount exceeded a couple of dollars. The rest of what they charge is illegitimate, punitive, and paternalistic. It is not now, nor has it ever been, a bank's place in the scheme of things to fine their customers or punish them. They have a choice: they can lecture them or collect a reasonable fee, but not both.

Yet another corrupt practice that needs a closer examination is the way that banks will happily accept a deposit—but then deny you the use of your own money until they have "confirmed" that it's really there.

In the electronic age we live in, when data flash straight across the country and around the world at the speed of light, the practice of holding a customer's transferred funds for "confirmation" for a week, for a day, for a minute, or even for a nanosecond is nothing more than baldfaced crooked larceny. During the period when you can't enjoy free access to your money, they feel free to lend it out to others, collecting interest on it that they don't share with you. It's a scam called "the float": your money, multiplied times the money of tens of millions of other suckers being worked over the same way, amounts to millions in ill-gotten gain for the bankers every single day.

Billions every year.

And what ever happened to interest-bearing savings accounts?

Lately banks have been finding ways to force employers to deposit their employees' salaries electronically. In some situations, having a bank account has become compulsory, a condition of employment. The banks' highest objective is that you never get to see your own money. Government, of course, loves this idea, because it feeds their sick, perverse obsession with monitoring everything that individuals do, every penny they earn, everything they spend it on, everything they eat.

And every time they go to the bathroom.

At the same time banks gleefully cooperate in violating their customers' natural and Constitutional right to privacy, dignity, and individual sovereignty, fundamental concepts that appear to have disappeared altogether from both the corporate and the governmental universes.

If banks were truly private enterprises, then they would be free to do as they liked in many of these respects. Facing competition, it would pay them well to defend their customers' interests from the predations of the lawless state. Unfortunately, however, they are not private enterprises, but merely another tentacle of government, twice over: the are organized as corporations, and specially chartered as banks.

As long as they remain tentacles of government, banks must be bound, as government is supposed to be, by the Bill of Rights, and regulated within an inch of their corporate lives to prevent the abuses, petty and otherwise, that they regard as doing business as usual.

I have half-jokingly considered advocating that bank officers be compelled to get themselves tonsured, their tellers to wear monkish robes or nuns' habits, if I believed that it would improve their general attitude and encourage some humility. But clearly that would violate the Zero Aggression Principle, and it would probably only make banks and bankers even more self-righteous than they are already. Hats that were once silly in Europe are now the stuff of pomp and circumstance.

Although I invariably favor laissez-faire economic policies, and wouldn't interfere with or limit any genuinely private enterprise, I do remember a time when it seemed much nicer to do business with banks, a time when branch banking was forbidden here in the state of Colorado. The battle for individual freedom against the state must be a battle against its corporate symbiotes—especially banks—as well.

Huge, impersonal, international banking conglomerates must be broken up—within principle—and a business model much more customer-oriented substituted, instead, mostly through the process of open competition, which banks have assiduously avoided for something like 300 years. As institutions of trust, banks must be discouraged from automatically taking government's side against their customers in matters such as private records disclosure and lockbox searches, and encouraged, whenever any doubt arises, to take their customers' side, instead.

The power to create money must be taken from the government backed banking cartel called the Federal Reserve. Lawful money, as mandated by the Constitution—precious metal coins and nothing else—must be substituted for the wastebasket trash that we've become accustomed to.

Putting an end to limited liability—and the pernicious doctrine of the corporation as a person in and of itself—will aid us in this fight. Banks will be smaller, more local, and more respectful of their customers.

That means you and me.

Huge Supervolcano under Yellowstone Park rising

(When/if this thing goes boom, we are done, toast, charbroiled and vaporized. No human has ever seen a super volcano erupt because it is in all likelihood, an extinction event.--jef)


By Brett Israel
updated 2/9/2011

The huge volcano under Yellowstone National Park has been rising at an unprecedented rate during the past several years, according to a new study.

In the ancient past, the Yellowstone volcano produced some of the biggest-known continental eruptions, but the recent rising doesn't mean another doomsday eruption is looming, scientists say.

The recent rising is unprecedented for Yellowstone's caldera — the cauldron-shaped part of the volcano — but it's not uncommon for other volcanoes around the world. The new study has simply revealed a more active caldera at Yellowstone than scientists realized.

"It's pretty exciting when you see something that's five times larger than what you've seen in the past," said Charles Meertens, director of the nonprofit UNAVCO facility in Boulder, Colo., which aids geoscience research. Meertens is a former postdoctoral fellow under one of the study's authors, Robert Smith of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

In 2004, the caldera was swelling at 2.8 inches a year in some parts, but the uplift has since slowed to a low of 0.2 inches a year, according to the study, which was published in the December edition of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Calderas rise just like an inflating bubble. The inflating could either be caused by magma rising and pushing up on the caldera, or the magma could be heating gases and hydrothermal fluids (the same fluids that spew from Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser) and pushing them against the caldera, Meertens told OurAmazingPlanet. Whatever the exact mechanism, a rising caldera is not enough to signal an eruption.

"It's not a portent of doom," said Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, who was not involved with the study. "It seems like these restless calderas are always sort of rising and falling, but that by itself doesn't mean it's about to erupt."

Volcanologists look at several indicators when deciding whether an eruption is looming, Klemetti said. Warning signs typically include an increase in earthquakes under the volcano, changes in the gases being emitted, change in the volcano's shape, and steam and heat escaping from the top, all of which have happened to some degree recently.

White House to Cut Energy Assistance for the Poor

( A president OF the corporations, BY the corporations and definitely FOR the corporations. Screw the little guy, screw the poor.--jef)


Budget proposal would cut billions from aid program.
By Marc Ambinder
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget will cut several billion dollars from the government’s energy assistance fund for poor people, officials briefed on the subject told National Journal.

It's the biggest domestic spending cut disclosed so far, and one that will likely generate the most heat from the president's traditional political allies. Such complaints might satisfy the White House, which has a vested interest in convincing Americans that it is serious about budget discipline.

One White House friend, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier today that a Republican proposal to cut home heating oil counted as an "extreme idea" that would "set the country backwards." Schumer has not yet reacted to Obama's proposed cut. On Wednesday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., declared: “The President’s reported proposal to drastically slash LIHEAP funds by more than half would have a severe impact on many of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens and I strongly oppose it." A spokesman for Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., declared similarly: “If these cuts are real, it would be a very disappointing development for millions of families still struggling through a harsh winter.”

In a letter to Obama, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., wrote, "We simply cannot afford to cut LIHEAP funding during one of the most brutal winters in history. Families across Massachusetts, and the country, depend on these monies to heat their homes and survive the season."

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, would see funding drop by about $2.5 billion from an authorized 2009 total of $5.1 billion. The proposed cut will not touch the program's emergency reserve fund, about $590 million, which can be used during particularly harsh cold snaps or extended heat spells, three officials told National Journal.

In 2010, Obama signed into law an omnibus budget resolution that released a total of about $5 billion in LIHEAP grants for 2011. Pointing to the increasing number of Americans who made use of the grants last year, advocates say that LIHEAP is already underfunded. The American Gas Association predicts that 3 million Americans eligible for the program won't be able to receive it unless LIHEAP funding stays at its current level.

How many people, if any, might actually lose the assistance is difficult to determine. Officials were quick to point out that LIHEAP spending has grown significantly over the past several years as the government tried to keep up with rising gas prices. In 2008, the government spent $2.6 billion on LIHEAP. In 2009, the figure jumped to $8.1 billion. So the cut from that high level restores LIHEAP to something close to where it was before Obama took office. Other circumstances, such as the weather and fuel prices, could affect the distribution of benefits.

"In real terms, under our budget, LIHEAP funding will be at levels similar to the Clinton Administration," a senior administration official said.

Still, despite the uncertainties surrounding the proposed cut, it is dramatic. LIHEAP has been semi-sacred for most Democrats and many Republicans--a program that carries an emotional resonance as it was designed to keep poor people, particularly older poor people, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. “A lot of people in the Northeast are going to be unhappy,” an administration official briefed on the budget said. That's one reason why Republican Senators like Scott Brown of Massachusetts plus Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine would probably join Democratic efforts to keep funding levels higher.

Critics say that the program is poorly administered and that, contrary to intentions, it’s become a subsidy for energy companies, most of whom are prohibited by law from turning off services to delinquent bill-payers during weather emergencies. About 10 percent of LIHEAP funds are transferred to “weatherization” programs, according to a government study.

Obama tapped the LIHEAP discretionary fund in January during a record-shattering cold snap in the Northeast.

News of the cut comes on the very day that the National Fuel Funds Network, a coalition of energy groups and community advocates, holds its “Washington Action Day” on Capitol Hill to call on Congress to increase funding by at least $1 billion.

The president’s budget is due next Monday, and the administration has been bracing traditional Democratic allies for cuts to favorite programs. The White House understands that Americans are skeptical of Obama’s willingness to tackle the estimated $1.5 trillion budget deficit and believes that he must cross a threshold of seriousness in their minds.

Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a partial list of items they’d cut from the resolution that funds the current budget year. Obama won’t cut nearly as much.

Beyond the LIHEAP cut, many of Obama's proposed cuts will come from federal programs where new incentives and increased competition could provide the service more cheaply, or where a lack of oversight has created waste and inefficiency, the officials said.

Since Obama’s State of the Union speech, the White House has been eager to show it’s serious about deficit reduction. It has begun to outline the cuts that would offset more spending for education, infrastructure, and research. These cuts include a $300 million reduction in community development block grants, $350 million for programs that support “grassroots” community groups, and $125 million from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Collectively, those three reductions will barely make a dent in the budget, which is projected to run a deficit of at least $1.5 trillion this year.

Obama has said that his proposed five-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending will save the government $400 billion.

Officials were quick to stress that while LIHEAP was being trimmed, many other Department of Health and Human Services programs, particularly those funding early childhood education initiatives, will see their funding rise.

Administration officials said that government departments and agencies were asked last summer to identify ways to reduce to their top-line budget by 5 percent.

Those proposals were forwarded to the Office of Management and Budget and the White House in the fall, and Obama and his team have spent the past two months targeting the least efficient programs. The OMB was particularly interested in programs that distribute money to secondary groups but lack mechanisms to evaluate how it is spent, officials said.

Obama seeks longer PATRIOT Act extension than Republicans

(Obama is such a freaking hypocrite! What the hell is wrong with him? Does he think we all just forgot his campaign promises?--jef)


Obama seeks longer PATRIOT Act extension than Republicans
By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Faced with a looming vote on a planned one-year extension of special powers authorized in the USA PATRIOT Act, the Obama White House did not object or propose reforms, as the president vowed to do as a candidate.

The Obama administration instead asked Congress to grant those powers for an additional three years.

As a US Senator and candidate for the presidency, Barack Obama never actually argued for a repeal of the Bush administration's security initiatives. Instead, he's consistently argued for enhanced judicial oversight and a pullback on the most extreme elements of the bill, such as the use of National Security Letters to search people's personal records without a court-issued warrant.

While many in his own party opposed the PATRIOT Act outright, as president Obama has said repeatedly that the emergency measures remain a valuable tool for law enforcement engaged in national security prerogatives.

On Tuesday, ahead of a House vote to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act for another year, the White House did something unexpected: they asked for even more.

A prepared statement issued Tuesday afternoon said that President Obama "would strongly prefer enactment of reauthorizing legislation that would extend these authorities until December 2013."

The move was likely aimed at avoiding the potential conflation of national security legislation and an election year's hyper-partisan atmosphere.

The House voted last night 277 to 148 in favor of the single-year PATRIOT Act extension, falling 23 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass it. Some two dozen tea party-backed Republican freshmen ended up joining with a majority of Democrats in voting against it.

The power-shift caught Republican leadership off guard. Even after keeping the 15-minute vote open far longer than the rules permitted, they did not have a two-thirds majority.

Some suggested that the House's most liberal member, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), might have played a role in the sudden spurt of rebellion. He issued a challenge on Tuesday aimed at Tea Party Caucus members in the House, urging them to join him in standing up for civil liberties by resisting the PATRIOT Act's extension.

"I am hopeful that members of the Tea Party who came to Congress to defend the Constitution will join me in challenging the reauthorization," he wrote.

While the brief alliance might not be enough to stave off the extension, as the PATRIOT Act was expected to return after its unexpected defeat, it could be the first inklings of a political common ground between libertarian-leaning tea party Republicans and progressive Democrats, especially since both groups are largely seen as disillusioned with the two-party system and partisan gridlock.

The only significant proposal to reform the PATRIOT Act came from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who proposed last month that Congress add greater judicial oversight to the bill. Leahy's bill would have also extended the PATRIOT Act's powers until 2013, shifting the extension away from 2012's election season.

When the act was first signed into law, "sunset" provisions were employed to quiet the concerns of civil libertarians, who were largely ignored once Congress set about on their successive extensions of the emergency powers.

Unfortunately, the concerns of civil libertarians proved to be well founded, and a 2008 Justice Department report confirmed that the FBI regularly abused their ability to obtain personal records of Americans without a warrant.

The only real sign of strong opposition to the act was in 2005, when a Democratic threat to filibuster its first renewal was overcome by Senate Republicans.

How Small, Mostly Conservative Towns Have Found the Trick to Defeating Corporations

By Tara Lohan, AlterNet
Posted on February 4, 2011

California's treasurer just announced that the state may need to begin issuing IOUs if the governor and legislature can't close the budget gap. And California's not the only place that's hurting. The Great Recession, hit not only businesses and individuals, but governments as well. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that 31 states are facing a combined shortfall for fiscal year 2011 of nearly $60 billion.

So, what's being done? "Cities and states across the nation are selling and leasing everything from airports to zoos -- a fire sale that could help plug budget holes now but worsen their financial woes over the long run," the Wall Street Journal reports. "California is looking to shed state office buildings. Milwaukee has proposed selling its water supply; in Chicago and New Haven, Conn., its parking meters. In Louisiana and Georgia, airports are up for grabs."

If this seems shocking, it shouldn't. For the past 30 years, there has been a deliberate effort to deregulate industry and to choke off federal support for public services and public spaces, paving the way for greater corporate control. The push to privatize is nothing new, it's just that our economic crisis is the latest opportunity. This fire sale is ignited during times of crisis -- what Naomi Klein referred to in The Shock Doctrine as "disaster capitalism," courtesy of Milton Friedman and his Chicago school disciples. "For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy," she wrote, "waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the 'reforms' permanent."

The goal is the same as it's been for decades: "The elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending," writes Klein. One of the places where this strategy can be most detrimental is the corporate takeover of public water sources and infrastructure, which is elemental to our survival.

But there's a glimmer of good news. Across the country, small, disparate groups of people are wising up and taking action to combat corporate control by using a new strategy. And these citizens are winning. One of the first rallying calls has been against the privatization of public water infrastructure and attempts by corporate water bottlers to pilfer spring water, as well. Communities are welcoming "Democracy Schools," run by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, into their towns, in an attempt to better understand the laws that protect corporations and the ways to defeat them.

It's too early yet to call these small revolutions a movement, but something is afoot, mostly in America's rural towns, and if it continues to grow it may very well prove transformative.

Water For Sale

Falling on hard times, Coatesville, Penn. decided to sell off its drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in 2001 and invest the money in a trust fund to be used for city services. But privatization hasn't been the economic boon the city was hoping for. After even tougher economic times hit Coatesville, the trust has already been drained by two-thirds and residents have seen their water and sewer rates jump 85 percent since American Water, the larger water corporation in the country, took the helm. Last year the company even proposed a 229-percent rate hike for sewer services, forcing the city to cobble together money for legal fees to fight back.

The story of Coatesville is a wake-up call of sorts. Most of us don't think too much about where our water comes from, and it's usually one of our least expensive monthly bills. And right now, the vast majority of us (80 percent) get our water from a public utility. But this figure has multinational water corporations drooling -- the U.S. is a huge market that could be exploited if Americans can be persuaded (or tricked) into giving up control of their most important resource.

For decades private companies, mostly multinational corporations, have made inroads in the U.S. (and they've had great success elsewhere in the world). But their progress hasn't been major and an inspection of municipalities that have gone from public to private shows that consumers usually end up seeing higher rates and crappier services. And while those facts don't seem like they're changing anytime soon, more and more communities are contemplating privatization, thanks to disaster capitalism.

In a new report, "Trends in Water Privatization," Food and Water Watch found that from 1991 to 2010, private companies bought or leased about 144 public water systems -- an average of about seven deals a year. But since the economic collapse, things are changing. As of October 2010, at least 39 communities were considering whether they should sell or lease their water infrastructure. And the reasons for privatization are changing. Corporations used to swoop in to try and "rescue" communities when they couldn't afford expensive upgrades, but now, even cities with well-functioning, in-the-black water systems are looking to sell or lease them in hopes that privatization will bring an influx of cash to pay for other programs.

Sadly, that's not usually how it pans out. "It's always the same false claim: Private is more efficient than public. The public unions are impossible to work with, they'll say, and we have a corporation that can save us dollars," Jack E. Lohman, author of Politicians: Owned and Operated by Corporate America, wrote in the Capital Times. "Rarely is that true, especially after they add all of the exorbitant salaries, bonuses, shareholder profits, marketing and political bribes that must be passed on to the taxpayer. These costs usually far exceed government waste, unless offset by egregiously low salaries that further harm the economy."

Any sane financial adviser would know that selling off a recurring revenue stream for a one-time boost to the budget doesn't make sense in the long run. After looking at the 10 largest sales and concessions of public water systems, Food and Water Watch found that rates went up an average of 15 percent a year in the 12 years following a privatization deal.

Not only it does it end up being an economic loss for residents and their governments, but it is a huge abdication of power. Water is the lifeblood of our communities. By turning this over to corporations, whose first responsibility is to shareholders, how can we guarantee safe and affordable drinking water for everyone? Should corporations, whose short-sighted drive for profit brought our economy to its knees, really be trusted with our most vital resource?

Communities Revolt

From big cities like Atlanta, Georgia to small towns such as Felton, Calif., communities have fought back to regain public control after water privatization deals went sour. But it's not just drinking water infrastructure that has towns concerned -- water bottling companies, run by multinationals like Nestle, have also been targeting rural communities' spring and well water.

In the small town of McCloud, Calif., a former logging town in the shadow of Mount Shasta, Nestle quietly signed a 100-year deal to bottle 200 million gallons of spring water a year and unlimited amounts of groundwater without any public input and without an environmental impact statement. Concerned community members joined together to fight back, and six years later they succeeded in sending Nestle packing. While residents may have been successful in McCloud, their battle was resource- and time-intensive. Across the country, similar fights were also going on, as small towns worried about depletion and degradation of their water resources fought back against bottling companies, but only sometimes emerged victorious.

Thomas Linzey knows of an easier way to do things. Instead of trying to beat out corporations by fighting the regulatory system, Linzey has helped people to see a different path forward. A founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Linzey and his colleagues help "communities to draft and adopt legally binding laws in which they asserted their right to self-govern," according to the organization's Web site.

"We think today's contemporary activism is the wrong frame, and in addition it is aimed at the wrong thing," Linzey said. "Most of it's federal and state activism. We think those things are pretty much dead. The only place where there is a window to operate is at the local level and then that can be used to up-end the state and federal to build a new system of law, which I think our communities are recognizing is needed."

Essentially, Linzey believes, the last 40 years of environmental activism hasn't accomplished very much, and by fighting within the regulatory system, we've been barking up the wrong tree.

His colleague Gail Darrell, an organizer in New England, explains, "Under the regulatory structure you're not allowed to say no to anything permitted by the state -- water withdrawals, sewage sludge, biomass plants, toxic waste dumps, landfills -- all of that is regulated and permitted by state agencies and they issue permits to industry guided by their regulatory statues that allow them to cause harm to the environment within in certain limits. But that structure doesn't allow a municipality to say no to any of those practices. Your feet are cut off at the beginning. When an industry goes to the regulatory agency and gets an application, once that application is administratively complete that permit must be issued by right."

Combine this regulatory bias with corporate rights being ingrained in our Constitution (yes, long before Citizens United) and the tables are stacked against ordinary folks. "Corporations have the same rights as people -- the first, fourth, fifth and fourteenth amendments," said Linzey. "They also have rights derived from the Commerce Clause of the Constitution that allows them to sue communities to overturn laws dealing with commerce." Before Citizens United there were 80-100 years of cases ingraining corporate rights, he said.

To even the playing field a bit, CELDF has helped around 120 communities pass binding ordinances that give them the ability to say no to corporate control. Ordinances they've helped to draft have given towns the right to eliminate corporate personhood -- to say no to water bottling companies drilling for water in their towns, for instance -- and to assert the rights of nature.

"Any citizen can stand in the shoes of that river or other piece of nature and advocate for it -- we don't have to own that piece of property" said Darrell. "And if there is a gas spill that happens from a tanker crossing the bridge and it dumps into our river, we can use our rights of nature language to force that corporation to recover the damages and those are paid to the town to restore the river."

Most of this work has been successful in small, rural towns. The organization has its roots in Pennsylvania, working first with communities that wanted to ban corporate factory farms and then with towns that didn't want sewage sludge being dumped where they lived. Later the work branched out to help communities fighting water bottlers, like Nestle, and most recently with towns concerned about the natural gas drilling process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The towns where they've been successful, Linzey says, are not liberal enclaves by any stretch; in fact, it's been just the opposite because it started out as a rights issue -- a conservative Republican issue.

"The hardest places to work are the liberal progressive communities because they think we have a democracy and they are intent on working within the existing structure to try to find a remedy rather than tossing it and working on something from scratch," said Linzey. "What's been fascinating to me is when you have south and north-central Pennsylvania towns passing binding local ordinances that refuse to endow corporations with constitutional rights in their communities. But in the liberal progressive bastion of Berkeley, they were passing non-binding resolutions urging Congress to do something about it. I think that difference in approach has become clear to me over the last decade. Here are rural conservatives passing things saying we won't let our rights be taken away and are using a local law as a municipal, collective civil disobedience tool to actually push up against the state to say 'fuck you.' Whereas in Berkeley people get in a huff and do some hand-wringing and pass a resolution which begs and pleads Congress to do something about corporate rights, which is never going to happen, at least in the next 20-30 years."

While most of CELDF's work has been in small towns, this fall the city of Pittsburgh became the largest municipality they've worked with to ban corporate personhood, establish the rights of nature and tell gas drillers interested in fracking to get out of town.

This big victory comes on the heels of many smaller wins that have gone under the radar.

Darrell lives in the town of Barnstead, New Hampshire. After spending years watching a neighboring town try to prevent a bottling company from extracting water in their community (it's going on nine years now), folks in Barnstead got together to find a different solution. They ended up working with CELDF, attending the organization's Democracy School, and passing an ordinance that protects them from bottling companies and corporate control and also establishes the rights of nature. Soon, other nearby towns followed suit.

The idea is pretty simple, but it's also radical. "We're the first folks to talk about really the need to rewrite the Constitution itself, to create a new constitutional structure and most folks aren't touching that," said Linzey. "You can't talk about it in polite company. People talk about amendments, we think the thing is archaic in many ways other than the Bill of Rights. We need a new constitutional structure that recognizes community local self-governance as well as the rights of nature. We can't get there with the document we have which was written in the 1780s. The question is, will enough people come together across the country to actually rise up to demand a new structure?"

Linzey and Darrell both believe the answer is a long way down the road -- perhaps 20 or 30 years. "We need a complete revolt of sorts from the local level," said Linzey, adding that communities in Pennsylvania and New England were already teaming up to try to influence change at higher levels. "I think all that is positive but it is too early, I don't think it's a movement at all, it's just disparate people in disparate places trying to grapple with what this structure delivered to them and figure out what they need to do to fix it."

As the campaign of disaster capitalism marches on, we may begin to see a groundswell of communities rising up to reclaim the rights of people against the advances of corporations. In many places it may spring from a desire to protect what is most critical -- such as water -- but it always, Linzey says, "takes real imminent harm -- that's the only thing powerful enough to get people to rip off the blinders."

Introducing: The Conservabot 9000

Looking for a coherent aggregation of conservative opinion on the Egyptian uprisings?
By Tom Tomorrow

Political Payments Explained

by Pat LaMarche
Wednesday, February 9, 2011 by the Bangor Daily News (Maine)

This week, I was copied on an e-mail that a faithful BDN reader sent to about 20 people. A number of the co-recipients were prominent Maine politicians, and several of the other names appeared to be his family.

Here’s part of what he wrote, “I just noted the Federal Election Commission has raised the limits on campaign contribution to candidates and political parties committees as an inflation adjustment for the next election cycle. As an individual on social security I was informed because there was no inflation last year … and there would be no increases in social security benefits this year. Well, what is it, 0 percent as declared by the Social Security Administration, or the 4.166 percent inflation increase adjustment declared by the Federal Election Commission for politicians?”

If anyone got back to him, they didn’t “reply all” because it didn’t reach the rest of us.

Seeing no response from his elected officials, I thought this faithful reader deserved a larger audience for his outrage at the double standard he so adeptly exposed.

And for Charlie — his name is Charlie — I looked for some answers. According to the Federal Election Commission, those cost-of-living increases in donation amounts are automatic. The law mandates the increases happen every odd year, no matter what the economy actually does. The new limits are $2,500 for candidates or $30,800 to national party committees.

But really, Charlie, you shouldn’t worry your pretty senior head about the contributions. That increased donation won’t affect you because on your miserly Social Security income you can’t afford to be a maximum donor anyway.

Because I don’t know your finances, Charlie, I did a little research on the Internet to see what the average Social Security recipient is facing and just pictured you as that guy.

If you’re ordinary, Newsweek says you get $1,170 each month as your benefit payment. AARP says that even though more than 10 million seniors have nothing to live on but Social Security, the average senior adds to his or her income by about 20 percent each month from what was basically his or her life’s savings.

That’s still less than 1,500 bucks a month, Charlie. So you’re not going to donate more than six weeks’ pay to a candidate or almost two years’ pay to a national party committee this year.

Charlie, practically speaking, you don’t matter. Congress would have to double your Social Security to get you to even consider maxing out on a political contribution and really, they have much bigger fish to fry.

Charlie, remember Citizens United? This is from the FEC website. It’ll put into perspective why no candidates or elected officials got back to you in your semipublic forum, “In Citizens United v. FEC, issued on January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court held that the prohibitions in the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) against corporate spending on independent expenditures or electioneering communications are unconstitutional.”

Poof! No need for cost-of-living increases on limits now. No limits! If someone’s got gobs of money, it can all go to engineer any election he chooses. Well, that won’t do you much good, Charlie. You’re on Social Security. But if you were the CEO of a Wall Street bank or defense contractor, imagine the fun you’d be having.

But Charlie, that’s not all. That zero inflation rate has got to be sticking in your craw. Our high unemployment has wages down, and I’m sure you know the price of yachts has plummeted during the past two years. And says the cost of a cruise is off a whopping 11 percent.

But after you pay your rent, you’re probably thinking about food and heat, not yachts. Sadly, Charlie, those two are way up. If the crumbling prices of extravagances and all those unemployed neighbors of yours hadn’t flattened the inflation statistics, you might have seen an increase of 2 or 3 percent. That’s what the Consumer Price Index says your food costs will increase by this year, and the Energy Information Administration says you’ll pay about 20 percent more for heat this winter.

Maybe that’s why Wall Street-financed politicos aren’t talking about Social Security’s zero inflation much — because a simple Web search and a little common sense prove what liars they’d have to be.

No More Mr. Nice Autocracy

Democrats and Republicans alike have long wished that U.S.-allied Arab states would forever remain docile dictatorships.
by Chris Toensing
Wednesday, February 9, 2011 by OtherWords

Egyptian current events prove one point for good: Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, U.S. presidents wish their favored Arab states would forever remain nice, docile autocracies.

Of course, the Obama administration protests loudly to the contrary. President Barack Obama has gone on national television twice during Egypt's amazingly courageous popular uprising to profess his admiration for the pro-democracy protesters in the streets. He praised their stand for "universal" human rights. Addressing them directly, he expressed his "unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren."

Nice words, even inspiring. In the next breath, however, Obama undercut them. He called for an "orderly transition" to a new government "grounded in democratic principles." But he entrusted this transition to the quasi-military regime faction that took control of Egypt amidst calls for the removal of the long-time dictator, President Hosni Mubarak. Headed by newly named Vice President Omar Suleiman, this is a bunch of foxes guarding the proverbial henhouse.

Suleiman and his backers in the army and security services have adopted the phrase "orderly transition," because it suits their authoritarian purposes. By "orderly," they mean a rapid restoration of normal life in Cairo and across Egypt. Far from seeing their revolution through to its conclusion, the protesters are told to go home and mind their own business. If they don't, they risk being beaten up or shot by the regime's hired goons. By "transition," they mean a deliberate handover of presidential prerogatives from 82-year-old Mubarak to Suleiman or someone comparable. This transfer of power will be democratic in name only. It may happen in the shape of an election, but that election will be anything but free and fair.

The White House's paeans to people power notwithstanding, the Obama administration doesn't mind the Suleiman gang's plans for subverting the will of the Egyptian street. In line with its predecessors of both parties, this administration fears true self-determination for the long-suffering Egyptian population.

It's not just that unfettered elections could bring Islamists to power, scaring Israel and other U.S.-allied Arab governments. It's that any Egyptian government that genuinely represents the ideas and aspirations of the people won't be as friendly to strategic U.S. objectives in the Middle East: keeping the oil flowing to the world market at artificially low prices and keeping Israel at peace with its Arab neighbors even as its colonization of Palestinian land proceeds.

Under Mubarak and Anwar al-Sadat before him, Egypt has been a cornerstone of U.S. dominion in the region. Sadat was the first Arab leader to sign a non-aggression pact with Israel. Not only has Mubarak maintained the resulting "cold peace," but he has--to the fury of ordinary Egyptians--helped Israel blockade the Gaza Strip to punish the Palestinians for electing Hamas.

Egypt itself has limited oil reserves, but the Suez Canal, which lies between the two parts of Egypt, provides a crucial conduit for the tankers bearing the Persian Gulf's hydrocarbon treasures to Europe and beyond. Last but not least, the Egyptian secret police have routinely carried out the dirty work of the U.S.-led "war on terrorism." More than one detainee who was later proven innocent has been tortured in Egyptian dungeons.

The Obama administration is loath to disturb this convenient arrangement. Sure, Mubarak himself can go, if need be. But the regime has been too reliable and useful a partner to abandon to fate. The White House will continue to talk out of both sides of its mouth, urging real reform at the microphone even as it restrains its demands over the telephone.

Only two forces can shake this bipartisan policy consensus about democracy in Egypt and the Arab world: Egyptians or another Arab people could succeed in revolutions, forcing the United States to change its tune. Or the American people, in the name of life, liberty, and human decency, could demand a policy that stops making a mockery of everything the United States is supposed to represent.

The Stink in the Super Bowl

by Robert Shetterly
“Part of the main plan of imperialism… is that we will give you your history, we will write it for you, we will re-order the past…What’s more truly frightening is the defacement, the mutilation, and ultimately the eradication of history…”

--- Edward Said
It would be hard to imagine any ardent advocate of the military/industrial complex not reveling in what the Super Bowl has become --- a veritable marketing orgy of violence and consumption --- advertisers spending millions per minute to pander to our desire to own more stuff while fighter jets roar overhead reminding us of how the right-to-stuff is protected. Why must a football game become a vehicle for materialism and the power that defends it? I like football, played it pretty well in high school, and still think that in spite of the performance enhancing drugs & obscene salaries, the game itself is one of the few more or less honest of our mass cultural diversions. But the integrity of the game itself drowns in the toxic soup of values being dished up.

However, I have no need to belabor what should be obvious to anyone.

Instead, something far more insidious was presented to the world minutes before the opening kick-off. A short video, 111 seconds, narrated by the actor Michael Douglas, portrayed The Journey of American History --- its culmination being Super Bowl XLV.

The video consisted of a quick series of icons, both events and people, from our history, each one meant to strike a chord of collective pride, courage, triumph or suffering. In quick succession we saw in black and white the Statue of Liberty, suffragists marching, an image from the Dust Bowl, a landing craft at D-day, John Lennon’s image on a peace poster, JFK at his inaugural saying, “Ask not….,” MLK, Jr. intoning, “I have a dream…,” Rosa Parks, the Challenger lifting off, someone pick axing the Berlin Wall, the floods of Katrina, FDR speaking, Muhammad Ali gesticulating over a downed opponent, Ronald Reagan smiling, Lindbergh, the flag raising at Iwo Jima, a similar flag raising at 9/11, Amelia Earhart, Ray Charles, the moon landing, a scene from the Depression …. I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Michael Douglas’s minimal narration began by saying that this was our journey. And after Dr. King’s image, Douglas picked up the theme of the dream, our dream & our belief in that dream. With the images of 9/11, he said that this was our darkest day…. But the flag as still there! He said, “We never give up. How could we?”

And then the video shifted to the teams in the Super Bowl. Douglas said that tonight we are united in the journey of these teams as quick images of chicken packers in Green Bay and a steel mill in Pittsburgh flashed by. Douglas said that dreaming and believing have brought us to this moment of collective celebration and that that is Our Journey.

That’s our journey? It began with the Statue of Liberty? Not with the genocide of Native Americans, slavery and the crucial assumption that nature was to be feared, conquered and exploited? If I claim that I am telling you about my journey, and tell you only the good parts, what have I told you? What have we learned about the nature of journeys?

If I tell you that my darkest day was the time I was victimized and fail to mention the time I victimized someone else, what do you think I have learned from my experience?

More importantly, the video portrayed a series of American moments and heroic people and equated them with the Super Bowl as though they are all on a continuum of social progress and equally indicative of our finest character. In the parlance of our time, it was simply a portrayal of connecting the dots: Statue of Liberty, suffragists, FDR, D-day, JFK, Rosa Parks, MLK, Jr. … Super Bowl. All on the same line, of equal weight. If this is the trail of dots we need to follow, it’s a trail that leads us deeper into the dark woods, not out of it.

Obviously the Super Bowl is an excuse to celebrate materialism and militarism. Weren’t those two of the “triplets” (the other being racism) that Dr. King identified as being the forces that were destroying the values of this country and leading us to spiritual death? Many of the dots in that time line figure one way or another in the struggle for some kind of justice. How does the Super Bowl do that? It does, but only if you consider the real triumph of this country not its democratic values but its economic system, capitalism. And you can’t tell the difference.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King described the American Dream as consisting of the “riches of freedom and the security of justice.” The blatant message of Super Bowl is the freedom of riches and the justice of security. Very different things.

People, like many of our students today, who know little history except for the façade of history, and people, like many students today, who have not been taught to think deeply, would accept the message of Michael Douglas’s version of our journey. Without any critique, it felt good.

Who wrote that script for him?

Clearly its intent was to equate the apotheosis of violence and consumption with the struggle for social justice. Its intent was to drain the real courage and meaning of our most important and most necessary social struggles by equating them with corporate power --- corporate power being the same force that did and does impede social and economic justice. The video’s intent was to show that the behavior and interests of Halliburton are on the same moral timeline as the behavior and interests of Rosa Parks.

We generally think of imperialism, as Edward Said was when he made the comment above, as the military/economic process of one country exploiting another. Imperialism, though, is the same within a country. Propaganda and false history, combined with poor education and a corporate press, are used to subjugate people to the benefit of their own powerful elites. It stinks. It stinks in Iraq and it stinks in Wichita.

Douglas said, “We never give up. How could we?” Give up what? Fighting for justice or fighting for profit? His choice of words reminded me of another person who asked the same question. Dorothea Lange went into internment camps in the western US during WW II where our government had imprisoned Japanese Americans. She photographed what was being done to these people in the name of the freedom of security. She went to bear witness. Most Americans had no idea nor wanted to. Fear justifies most anything and denies the consequences. After being there & witnessing this crime against humanity, Dorothea Lange said, “This is what we did. How could it happen? How could we?”

What is our journey?

I know little about Michael Douglas except that he is a fine actor and that he recently survived a bout with serious throat cancer. I suspect that both of those factors made him a good choice as the narrator for this bit of dangerous propaganda. Conquering a deadly disease tends to add credibility to one’s professed integrity. But with this video he was helping to proliferate a cultural cancer that is destroying us all.

I noticed that he was sitting right behind George Bush and Condoleezza Rice in the luxury boxes.

The Levers of Power


As we mark the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, his most important legacy has gone largely overlooked. Reagan helped to put a caricature of politics at the center of the national debate and it remains there to this day. In Reagan's caricature the central divide between progressives and conservatives is that progressives trust the government to make key decisions on production and distribution, while conservatives trust the market.

This framing of the debate is advantageous for the right since people, especially in the United States, tend to be suspicious of an overly powerful government. They also like the idea of leaving important decisions to the seemingly natural workings of the market.

It is therefore understandable that the right likes to frame its agenda this way. However, since the right has no greater commitment to the market than the left, it is incredible that progressives are so foolish as to accept this framing.

In reality, the right uses government all the time to advance its interest by setting rules that redistribute income upward. As long as progressives ignore the rules that are designed to redistribute income upward, they will be left fighting over crumbs. There is no way that government interventions will reverse a rigged market. For some reason, most of the people in the national political debate who consider themselves progressive do not seem to understand this fact.

To take the most obvious example, fighting inflation has come to be seen as bakerthe holy grail of central banks; a policy that it is supposed to be outside of the realm of normal political debate. On slightly more careful inspection, the inflation fighting by the Fed and other central banks is actually a policy that is designed to ensure that the wages of ordinary workers do not grow too rapidly.

When central banks jack up interest rates to tame inflation, the CEOs at Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan won't be out on the street. The people who lose their jobs will be factory workers, store clerks and other less privileged workers. Raising unemployment among the group of less-educated workers keeps their wages down.

In other words, controlling inflation is about making sure that the wages of less-educated workers don't rise relative to the wages of more educated workers. And, the central banks have a license to push as hard as they like in this direction.

Incredibly, the vast majority of progressives go along with this central bank squeeze. They accept the absurd notion that this upward redistribution by the central banks is simply apolitical monetary policy and agree not to criticize the central bank. As a practical matter there is nothing that Congress could plausibly do in the way of downward redistribution that would offset the upward redistribution from the Fed's tightening.

This is not the only policy lever that progressives are happy to turn over to conservatives. The exchange rate has enormous impact on the relative wages of workers who have been subjected to international competition through trade policy. If the dollar is over-valued by 20-30 percent against other currencies, then this is giving a subsidy to foreign producers relative to domestic ones of this magnitude.

Doctors and lawyers are smart enough to know that this sort of competition will drive down their wages and incomes. This is why they maintain strong barriers that prevent them from being subject to international competition in the same way as autoworkers and textile workers.

Unfortunately, the people who represent ordinary workers fail to understand this simple point. Therefore, exchange rate policy rarely is featured prominently in political debates, even though it is another huge cause of the upward redistribution of income that we have seen over the last three decades.

Similarly, patent and copyright policy lock off large areas of the economy in monopolies assigned to large corporations and wealthy individuals. The United States now spends more than 2 percent of GDP, $300 billion a year, on prescription drugs that would likely cost less than one-tenth this much if they were sold in a competitive market. The $270 billion handed to the drug companies each year through government-provided patent monopolies is five times as much money as what was at stake with the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Yet, here as well progressives largely ignore patent and copyright policy.

The battles that occupy progressives' energies are almost invariably trivial in their impact relative to these three fulcrums of the economy. In effect, conservatives have managed to gain control of the most important levers of economic activity and left the crumbs for progressives to fight over in the political sphere.

It would be very hard to challenge the right's control over these levers, but the first step is to simply recognize them. Unfortunately, there is little appreciation among progressives of their importance. Instead we get great histrionics over policies that really won't have very much impact, even if they might be wrong-headed.

It seems that progressives have taken a pledge to be the Washington Generals of national politics. The policies that have led to the most massive upward redistribution of income in the history of the world go largely unchallenged, while we instead fight endlessly over the Reagan-Bush tax breaks to the rich.