Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mormonism Seems Like a Cult to These Agnostic Eyes...

 Taking a look at the cult of Mormonism. Since religion has no place in government, it stands to reason that religious extremism to the point of cult status is a no-brainer as something not to stir into the melting pot of government policy. Religion takes rationality and discards it in favor of the irrational, mythical and ridiculous. Cults, even moreso...

(culled from several different sources, mainly Wikipedia, whose Mormon entries are surprisingly pro-Mormon)

Mormon Magic Underwear

the garment "when properly worn...provides protection against temptation and evil"

Mormons once declared war on the United States of America.

Mormon scripture teaches that this earth is just one of many inhabited worlds, and that there are many governing heavenly bodies, including a planet or star Kolob which is said to be nearest the throne of God. According to something called the King Follett discourse, the Supreme Being, the Father--God, himself, once passed through mortality like Jesus did, but how, when, or where that took place is unclear. Mormons are taught that God was once a mortal man who has completed the process of becoming an exalted being. The prevailing view among Mormons is that God once lived as a mortal on a planet with his own higher god. The goal of each adherent is to achieve "exaltation," and, as a result, they inherit all the attributes of God, including godhood. Mormons believe that they will become gods and goddesses in the afterlife, and will have "all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge".  It is a belief system that says Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer.

In Mormonism, an ordinance is a religious ritual of special significance, often involving the formation of a covenant with God. Ordinances are performed by the authority of the priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. The term has a meaning roughly similar to that of the term "sacrament" in other Christian denominations. Because Mormons believe that everyone must receive certain ordinances to be saved, Mormons perform ordinances on behalf of deceased persons.  These ordinances are performed vicariously or by "proxy" on behalf of the dead. Mormons believe that the deceased may accept or reject the offered ordinance in the spirit world. Ordinances on behalf of the dead are performed only when a deceased person's genealogical information has been submitted to a temple. Only saving ordinances are performed on behalf of deceased persons. a living person, acting as proxy, is baptized by immersion on behalf of a deceased person. After giving a short prayer that includes the name of the deceased individual, the proxy is immersed briefly in the water, then brought up again. Baptism for the dead is a distinctive ordinance of the church and is based on the belief that baptism is a required ordinance for entry into the Kingdom of God.

Fundamentalists within the Mormon tradition see religious authority as inerrant and unchanging, but tend to locate this authority within their view of "Priesthood", which is conceived of as more of a charismatic authority and often physical lineage than an external organization. In this view, ordination lineage becomes all-important and an external organization such as a church may "lose" its theological authority while the "priesthood" (conceived in this abstract and individualistic sense) may continue via an alternative lineage. Mormon fundamentalists frequently assert that priesthood is prior to the Church.

Mormon prophets declared that anything written outside church documents was suspect and anti-Mormon, fabricated for the sole purpose of destroying faith. (and hard evidence toward proving Mormonism is a cult--jef)

In addition to baptizing dead people, wearing magic underwear and the belief they will become gods, themselves when they die, Mormon fundamentalists believe in:

According to mainstream Mormons, the Seven Deadly Heresies, which are doctrine, it is heresy to believe the following:
1. God is progressing in knowledge and is learning new truths.
2. Church members can harmonize evolution and doctrine.
3. Temple marriage assures us of an eventual exaltation.
4. The doctrine of salvation for the dead offers men a second chance for salvation.
5. There is progression from one kingdom to another in the eternal worlds.
6. Adam is our father and our god, … he is the father of our spirits and our bodies, and … he is the one we worship. (which is counter to what fundamentalists believe)
7. We must be perfect to gain salvation.
There are many sites making valid claims that Joseph Smith was a scam artist who translated the Book of Mormon while looking at a stone inside of a hat. And that the Book of Mormon is a complete fraud or hoax. And there are plenty of stories of an accelerating exodus from the Mormon church.

Clues that your Mormon religion might just be a cult:
  1. Teaching that the doctrine of the Mormon Church is reality, the doctrine is to be accepted, not understood. 
  2. Reality is black and white, good and evil, spiritual world versus physical word. As an example, the Mormon Church cult is the only true church on the face of the earth. 
  3. Mormon Church members are taught to feel part of an elite corps. Following and accepting church doctrine insures members eternal life and a delightful life in heaven. 
  4. The Mormon Church promotes a sense of community with love and friendship, with special flattery and attention to new members 
  5. Mormon Church members are manipulated through fear and guilt, fear that if they don’t practice church doctrine faithfully, that they will fail to reach the highest levels of heaven, fear that if they don’t wear their garments, that they will not be protected by God. 
  6. Mormon Church members are taught that any problems that they may have are due to their own inadequacies. If they are having marital, financial or other difficult problems, it is because they are not following church doctrine, or are not praying enough. Guilt, fear and shame are present in the minds of Mormons, if they are not loyal, and fail to follow the church doctrine. 
  7. Unlike non-cult organizations, Mormon Church members find it difficult to leave, when they find out that church teachings are false, or otherwise become disenchanted with the church. Terrible things may happen to them, and their family if they leave. Those who do leave, often lose their family, friends and other social contacts within the Mormon community.


While I'm out on pretty much all of mankind's attempts at defining "God" via religion through various explorations of dogma, guilt, deprivation, mythology, harsh judgment, superstition, puritanism, and the fear of dying, I have always believed that having the freedom to believe whatever you want to believe and having the right to do so openly and without fear of persecution is a fundamental human right to protect and keep intact. And for the most part, these various religions are relatively benign. But across the board, the demon of every religion that fucks with believers and non-believers alike, is fundamentalism. And its devil is extreme fundamentalism. I think those with extreme fundamentalist views should not hold positions in government because they believe their lives and fates to be preordained by a higher power, a supreme being, a god. It's not rational as a matter of public policy. Believe what you want, but the problem with your beliefs if they are fundamentalist is that you are so sold on your beliefs, you think God wants everyone to comply with your indoctrination--whether we want to or not. And the fundies consider themselves tools for God's will in the hands of God.

When fundamentalism of a particular religion becomes so extreme that it breaks away from its more grounded--yet extreme in their own right-- denominations and beliefs, that is when a denomination morphs from a sect into a cult. And what I gather from a layman's understanding of cult behavior and dogma, Mormonism is no different from, say, Branch Davidians or the Jim Jones Ministry as far as their cult status is defined. I don't doubt or question their faith, or even that they are Christians--but their views and practices are more extreme than mainstream Christianity, which can be annoying and troublesome enough on its own. Everyone ,who was ever in a cult, denied that their cult was a cult while they where members of the cult. When they leave the cult, they almost invariably use the term "cult" to describe their former religious affiliation.

Admittedly, I view all religions--particularly, as I said, fundamentalist factions of those religions--with a suspicious eye. But I view cults with even more drastic suspicion because they are obsessed, preoccupied--however one would prefer to define their attention to it--with the end of the world. And Mormons are no different from other doomsday cults. Their prophecy (paraphrased) states:

...when America degenerates to the point where “the Constitution hangs by a thread” -- which most TV pundits agree we’re there already -- a Mormon will be elected President of the United States, triggering the end of the world as we know it; the overthrow of “gentile” rule; and the long-promised Second Coming of Jesus Christ in Independence, Missouri.

Mitt Romney was raised to believe that if he is elected president, Mitt Romney will rule the world (or whatever is left of it) as the Mormon gods’ Viceroy.
~~A Mormon President, a documentary made by a Mormon

So, Romney was raised to believe that if he's elected president, he'll be fulfilling the Mormon doomsday prophecy. I don't care what he believes, but I DO care how he acts on those beliefs, and let's face it, cult members don't have a very strong track record of responding rationally when faced with extreme circumstances. Just the fact they believe in the power of prayer to magically whisk their troubles away or to verify God's fatal refusal to help is bad enough.

Politically Romney and Obama are more alike than they differ--despite the differences each's loyalists claim to the contrary. But the dangerous difference---beyond having Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers, et al, constantly pushing bad policy on Romney all the time---or having Eric Holder, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Monsanto the devil executives as cabinet members or advisors to Obama---is the fact that Mitt Romney's religious faith is in a doomsday cult which believes and practices the things I described above. Anyone's free to believe it, knock yourself out--but that steaming pile of bullshit affects the way he governs, and if he believes simply by being elected president in November, he's fulfilling his doomsday cult's doomsday prophecy, it's not any significant stretch to assume that will affect the way he governs. What a fucking disaster!

And that's piled on top of the fact that Romney will say anything, including the opposite of something he might have just said, in order to be elected. And he makes no attempt to hide the fact he lies constantly--Obama doesn't either, I know, but Obama isn't a member of a doomsday cult. And if choosing the lesser of 2 evils is the philosophy a voter uses to determine for whom they will vote, "cult member" ALWAYS trumps "socialist," "suspected Muslim," and "questionable citizenship status" as the "worst" of of those supposed "evils."--jef

In the interest of fairness, here are some graphics which show Mormons in a more positive light than I have shined on them so far in this blog entry:

Supreme Court Leaves Romney in the Cold

by Robert Scheer
Mitt Romney is an idiot or, even worse, is pretending to be one. His tantrum of a response on Thursday to the Supreme Court’s health care decision was pure playground: As president I will own the ball, and the game will be played by rules that leave me a winner.

That game has already been called in a decision written by the top-ranking conservative jurist, and shorn of the constitutional objection; Barack Obama’s health care plan now will be judged by its practical outcomes. Romney’s promise that “I will act to repeal Obamacare” from “my first day as president of the United States” is a prescription of destructive gridlock for a program already well under way. 

By immediately committing to reverse a health care reform based on the very program he implemented as governor of Massachusetts, Romney has gone to war with himself. Obviously, neither he nor his advisers has yet grasped that the decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts has changed the terms of the debate.

The issue is no longer one of states’ rights. That would have been the case if the court had relied on the Constitution’s commerce clause, leaving Romney to argue that it was legal for his state to have required a mandate but is illegal for the feds to do so. However, the court decision, based as it is on the right of the government to raise taxes to pay for a public need, makes the states’ rights claim irrelevant. 

The issue faced by the court was the same on the federal level as it was on the state level; if the public, through its government, must ultimately bear the cost of caring for the uninsured—as would be so in any society possessed of even a modicum of shared social responsibility—then it can vote to levy taxes to finance that effort.

Why did Massachusetts under Romneycare have a right to tax to pay for mandated health care but the federal government would have no such right? All the Obama campaign needs to do is play that video clip from April 12, 2006, when Romney signed into law a Massachusetts mandate, justifying his tax penalty on those who failed to comply by saying it would help “hundreds of thousands of people ... have healthier and happier lives.” President Obama could claim correctly that he added 30 million Americans, not blessed to be living in Massachusetts, to the healthy and happy category.

Clearly the Romney campaign staff was not prepared for what it must now view as Justice Roberts’ betrayal. Based on the oral proceedings of the court, Romney’s aides felt assured that Justice Anthony Kennedy would join his four conservative colleagues in voting to reverse the law.

“My guess is that they’re not sleeping real well at the White House tonight,” Romney chortled the day before the ruling. With egg on his face the morning after, a subdued Romney, standing behind a podium sign promising to “Repeal and Replace Obamacare,” committed to sinking into a political swamp of winless contradictions.

The danger for Romney is in the word “replace,” for there is no way he will persuade even a Republican-dominated Congress to get rid of the obviously popular requirements of the new law, now declared constitutional. While the mandatory aspect—pay for insurance or pay a fine—remains unpopular, not so the programs that expand medical coverage to the uninsured. Three-quarters of those polled by The Associated Press said they wanted Congress, instead of sticking with the status quo, to come up with a new plan if the court threw this one out.

Romney’s devil is now in the details. What exactly in this massive overhaul, much of it widely popular although costly, would he shed? The court already has limited federal pressure on the states to increase assistance to the poor. Bereft of that handy demagogues’ argument, Romney and his fellow critics are left with eviscerating programs that assist the struggling middle class through obviously fairer access to heath care than has been provided previously by the insurance industry.

If Romney now dares to oppose the popular items in the bill, such as requirements for the insurance companies to cover young adult children or people with pre-existing medical conditions, he is finished as a candidate before he begins. And if it is the universal coverage mandate that he would eliminate, he is left with the government stepping in to fund the good stuff, and that is what the Republican right derides as socialized medicine.

This is the petard that now hoists Romney.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Obama administration eyes executive action to combat online piracy

By Stephen C. Webster - RAW Story
Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Obama administration is soliciting recommendations for internal policy changes, or possibly even an executive order, that would be aimed at combating online piracy in the U.S. and abroad, Raw Story has learned.

After the failure of the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) earlier this year, congressional efforts to reform intellectual property laws have remained largely stalled. However, the administration still holds some power in this realm. A little-noticed solicitation for public comment published Tuesday in the federal register (PDF, see pages 99-101) seems to indicate that, like recent changes to immigration enforcement priorities, President Barack Obama may just go it alone on increasing IP enforcement measures.

In particular, the Executive Office of the President wants to know if the public has any recommendations for copyright reforms via “legislation, regulation, guidance, executive order, Presidential memoranda, or other executive action including, but not limited to, changes to agency policies, practices or methods.” Put bluntly, this means the Obama administration will consider pitches for unilateral executive action on copyright enforcement reforms, among other possible course of action.

While the solicitation does not directly propose any specific action, it sets out objectives for the Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) as approved by Congress in the PRO IP Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008.

The PRO IP Act established an executive-level “copyright czar,” created a new division within the Department of Justice dedicated exclusively to tracking down intellectual property offenders and raised the penalties for copyright offenders. It was strongly supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The IPEC states that its objectives include: setting up a new international regulatory framework to combat online piracy; helping facilitate law enforcement information sharing between agencies and countries; reducing the number of countries that ignore or fail to enforce U.S. copyright laws; disrupting networks in the U.S. and abroad seen as dedicated to copyright infringement; and providing assistance and training to countries willing to enforce U.S. intellectual property laws.

The copyright czar’s solicitation reads like is directed specifically at the big content industries, and notes that they welcome “submission on the economic costs of enforcing intellectual property rights.” It also asks several very pointed questions that only industry bigwigs would be equipped to answer, such as:
1. How can international regulatory and law enforcement collaboration and information sharing be enhanced to address cross-border intellectual
property infringement?
2. What legal or operational changes might be made, or collaborative steps undertaken between federal agencies and the private sector, to streamline or improve the efficacy of enforcement efforts directed at protecting intellectual property rights?
Many of those same goals were shared by copyright enforcement legislation that failed earlier this year after the Internet’s largest-ever work stoppage protest clogged the congressional switchboard with angry calls from lawmakers’ constituents. (Disclosure: The Raw Story’s management participated in that protest.) Nearing the end of that debate, President Obama’s aides announced that he was opposed provisions in those bills that critics said could lead to Internet censorship.

The solicitation directs interested parties to send recommendations via The window for public comment is set to close on July 25.

The IPEC did not respond to Raw Story’s request for comment.

A Bigger, Better Supreme Court: The Case for Reform

A string of key decisions decided by 5-4 split effectively makes it a 'court of one'. It's time to debate a less dysfunctional future

by Jonathan Turley
This week, the country awaits the blockbuster ruling of the supreme court on the future of national healthcare in the United States. Citizens have waited anxiously every Monday morning for weeks for the next pronouncement – whether on immigration, free speech or, now, healthcare – to be handed down from the highest court. It has left many uneasy about the hold that such a small number of unelected jurists have on the nation.

Chief Justice John Roberts (centre, front row) poses with fellow justices,
(from left) Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas;
(back row) Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.
(Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Once again, many important decisions were the result of a court of one – 5-4 decisions, with "swing Justice" Anthony Kennedy deciding the issue for the nation. Healthcare is just one of a litany of cases that are reshaping the country in an image dictated often by just five members of the court. This has included sweeping changes in the political process from the Bush v Gore decision in 2000 (where the supreme court effectively chose the next president), to the Citizen's United case (where the court struck down campaign finance limits for corporations).

Also expected on Thursday is the decision in a free speech case, which many civil libertarians fear could deliver a huge blow to free speech in the United States. It is also expected to be a close vote.

While I support national healthcare, I have long opposed Obamacare on federalism grounds – denying states their constitutionally protected authority over such matters. Most experts are now predicting that the conservatives will likely carry the day in striking down critical parts of the law, or the law in its entirety. Despite being on the expected winning side of that particular case, I still believe that it is wrong for such a small group of jurists to make the decision for the country as a whole. In my view, the supreme court is demonstrably and dangerously too small.

Over ten years ago, I proposed a reform of the supreme court that would expand it to 19 members. A review of high courts around the world shows that most large nations have larger courts that avoid the concentration of power in the hands of so few jurists: Germany has 16, Japan 15, the United Kingdom 12, India 31, and Israel 15. Some use far greater numbers of justices who are divided among different divisions, like the 74 jurists in the Spanish high court or the 124 judges and deputy judges in France.

Again, while these systems have important structural differences, they do not have the concentration of power that characterizes the US supreme court. Canada does have a court that is the same size as the US supreme court, but the court has a mandatory retirement age of 75 that guarantees a higher turn over rate.

In drafting the US Constitution, the framers relied heavily on historical and contemporary models in other countries. So, today, a review of the function of larger courts around the world offers a better model for the modern court. The larger size of these courts does not produce administrative problems, while they allow greater diversity in experience and viewpoints.

The constitution itself does not specify the number of justices, and that number has actually fluctuated through the years. The nine-member court is a product not of some profound debate or study, but of pure happenstance. In fact, when the court first convened in 1790 in New York, at the Royal Exchange Building, it had six members. After that time, the size of the court expanded and shrank – largely with the number of federal circuits. Since justices once "rode circuit" and actually sat as judges in lower courts, Congress would add a justice when it added a circuit – or reduce the court with the elimination of a circuit. Thus, when a 10th circuit was added in 1863, a 10th justice was added at the same time. In 1869, the court happened to have nine members for the nine circuits. That is how we ended up with this size of a court.

Ever since the supreme court rested at nine members, we have repeatedly had problems of 5-4 splits, with one or two swing justices dictating the outcome of cases. With the increasing longevity of justices, such divisions have become stagnant and bitter. We often find ourselves captive to the idiosyncratic views of a couple of justices' views on privacy, or federalism, or free speech.

A national poll this month showed the public overwhelmingly opposed to how the court functions. Only 44% of citizens approved of how the court operates and 60% believe that "appointing supreme court justices for life is a bad thing because it gives them too much power."

The current controversy could not come at a more symbolic moment. This year is the 75th anniversary of the famous "court packing" effort of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As today, the country in 1937 was in the midst of a profound economic crisis, and Roosevelt was saddled with four conservative justices – known as "the Four Horsemen" – who opposed his New Deal legislation. Roosevelt decided to introduce a bill to allow him to appoint up to six additional justices on the court. The crisis was averted when Roberts voted to support a critical New Deal case and "Horseman" Justice Willis Van Devanter retired – the famous "switch in time that saved nine" moment for the court. Roosevelt, though, may have had the right idea, for the wrong reason.

We can certainly debate the optimal number for the court, but we should finally have that debate after over 200 years. I believe a 19-member court would be ideal – roughly the average size of a circuit court. Appellate circuits are often divided between liberal and conservative judges. Yet, it is rare that one or two of those judges are consistently the swing votes on all issues when they sit "en banc" (or as a whole).

While appellate courts generally sit in three-judge panels, they sit as an en banc court in cases of great significance – the highest level of appeal short of the supreme court itself. In such cases, they function well as a whole and show greater diversity of opinion and experience. More importantly, the power of the judges themselves is diluted by the number. Experience has shown that a 19-member court is small enough to be manageable and would not present a significant burden in terms of confirmations.

Just because we settled on nine arbitrarily does not mean that any number is as good as any other. It is not enough to simply retort "why not 29 or 99?" One could just as easily ask "why not three or six?" The point is that we trying to decide on the best size for the court and should be able to look at other models objectively.

Both the recent polls and proposed reforms reflect a common concern that nine people should not wield such concentrated and sclerotic power. Even if we were to accept an elite court of just nine, these would not be the nine justices that most legal experts would choose. While clearly intelligent people, most justices are selected for their confirmability – a process that tends to favor formula nominees with a narrow range of experience and a short paper trail. The irony is that, because there are so few positions, confirmation fights have become increasingly bitter, so presidents have become increasingly risk-adverse. The result is that nominees are selected because they have never said or written anything remotely provocative – or even interesting. The chances that we could have again a Louis Brandeis or Joseph Story on the supreme court in the current system would be, at best, accidental.

If Congress ordered the proposed expansion, we'd get to a bench of 19 gradually, with no president allowed to appoint more than two new justices in a term. Once fully staffed, the court would have a more regular turnover. This would allow a broader range of diversity and more consistent opportunity for each president to add members to the court.

The expansion of the court might also allow Congress to force justices to return to the worthwhile practice of sitting on lower courts for periods of time. One of the greatest complaints heard from lawyers and judges alike is that justices are out-of-touch with the reality of legal practice and judging. A 19-member court would allow two members to sit on an appellate court each year by designation – and so actually be forced to apply the rulings that the court sends down to lower courts. Every five years, justices would be expected to sit as trial or appellate judges. The remaining 17 justices would sit each year to rule on cases.

Our experience with larger courts, both domestically and internationally, suggests that there is a better model for our highest court. Our respect for the court as an institution should not blind us to its flaws. It is time to reform – and expand – the US supreme court.

House Votes to Put AG Holder in Contempt of Congress

The Republican-led House of Representatives voted on Thursday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for not turning over documents related to the "Fast and Furious" program.

Some Democratic members led a walk-out in protest of the vote, which passed by a 255-67 vote.

Robert Beckhusen writes in Wired's Danger Room blog that the vote is nearly meaningless, as "what Congress is asking the Justice Department to do is to prosecute itself." The Hill notes that the House may also pass a second "resolution allowing the GOP House to pursue civil court action against Holder."

Who doesn't have contempt for congress, I ask you?!?! --jef

Supreme Court Upholds “Obamacare”

(Mitt Romney, the bill's original author, says, "No Comment...")
Today's ruling was a win for the Obama administration, and will likely lead to a fundraising bonanza for corporate front-groups opposed to the law.
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
June 28, 2012

The Supreme Court made conservative heads explode and lots of legal experts look clueless today when Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's moderate wing to uphold ObamaCare in its entirety – with a few twists (most legal observers had predicted that if Roberts upholds, Justice Anthony Kennedy would as well, but Kennedy voted to strike down the entire law). It was a historic win for Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration.

Both CNN and Fox "News" had 'Dewey Defeats Truman!' moments when they reported, immediately after the ruling was handed down, that the mandate had been struck down as unconstitutional. (An Associated Press editor later sent around a memo telling AP staff to "stop taunting" their competitors who'd blown the call.)

That was based on a partial read. The majority effectively upheld the controversial mandate requiring people to carry coverage or pay a modest penalty, but Roberts wrote that it couldn't be sustained under the Constitution's Commerce Clause because, in his view, Congress can regulate economic activity, but not inactivity. Rather, he ruled that the penalty for not carrying insurance was kosher under Congress's taxation powers.

This was probably a bone thrown to 'states rights' conservatives, and will prevent Antonin Scalia from giving him dirty looks for the rest of his tenure. It also means the government cannot force you to buy broccoli. Justices Kagan, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Breyer maintained that the mandate was sustainable under the Commerce Clause.

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog writes that it's “not immediately clear whether the Court’s approach will produce as large a pool of new customers” because “the ACA’s key provision now amounts to an invitation to buy insurance, rather than an order to do so, with a not-very-big tax penalty for going without.”

But functionally, Roberts' distinction probably doesn't mean much. Despite the media's intense focus on the mandate, it never represented a terribly onerous burden on those who refused to carry health insurance – the penalty, after all, was pretty small and many poorer Americans were exempted from the requirement (according to the Congressional Budget Office, the mandate will impact only 16 percent of Americans). At the same time, it was easily demagogued as tyrannical, so you had a lot of fear factor without a lot of compulsion. That's still true – it may be an invitation rather than an order, but the not-very-big-penalty remains the same.

It's possible that the Roberts' chosen path of “splitting the baby,” as they say, will have some impact on the federal government's ability to regulate interstate commerce in other areas, but the outcome again doesn't seem that significant as the Congress is unlikely to regulate other kinds of “inactivity” – ObamaCare isn't an everyday regulation.

The other half of the decision related to the expansion of Medicaid eligibility for people making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line. Here the justices, in a decision split in several ways, found that: the government could offer the states a boatload of money to cover their poor and uninsured; it could place conditions on that pile of cash; but it can't threaten to withhold all of a state's existing Medicaid money if it refuses to go along with the program.

It is entirely possible that governors of some red states will reject the funds out of spite, and based on that perverse Ayn Rand theology that has infused the GOP. That would essentially screw some poor people in conservative strongholds, resulting in fewer people getting Medicaid than the ten million that had previously been projected. But, historically, red state governors tend to go the hypocrisy route – condemning federal meddling and loudly decrying creeping socialism while they quietly pocket the dough. In any event, if states do opt out of the program in order to punish poor people for the crime of being poor, that move will likely come with a high political cost.

Ultimately, today's ruling was an enormous victory for the Obama administration, and will likely lead to a fundraising bonanza for conservative politicians and corporate front-groups opposed to the law. The ruling is also a credit to John Roberts, who, it appears, simply couldn't find it within himself to strike down a law that Congress had spent a year crafting, and that an overwhelming majority of constitutional scholars believed to be a valid exercise of Congressional power.

Republicans vowed to fight harder to repeal the health-care reforms in their entirety, promising to tell the American people what they would replace it with at some point down the road.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed reports that dozens of patriotic Americans are vowing to flee to Canada – with it's tax-payer funded universal health-care system because “the United States is entirely too socialist.” At the time of this writing, there are no reports yet of Canadian authorities moving to shut down their Southern border.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Money, Power and Politics

There has been much talk recently about the impact of money on politics, especially in the wake of the Citizens United ruling that has ratcheted up the role of corporate money in political campaigns. Organized labor was quick to blame this ruling for its defeat in Wisconsin. And many have assumed that the relation of money to politics is like a law of nature: the more money one has, the more political power one can wield.

There is some truth to this claim. In a recent editorial (Money Rules, April 19, 2012) The New York Times noted that “big donors to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party are far more likely to be welcomed at the White House than those who gave smaller gifts.”

The editorial continued: “And, despite decades of money abuses and scandal, neither presidential candidate [Obama nor Romney] has shown any interest in reforming the system.”

Of course, politicians always deny that there is any connection between campaign donations and their policy decisions, swearing that the strong statistical correlation between the two is entirely coincidental. However, given their fixation on “the bottom line,” it is inconceivable that corporations would continue to donate billions of dollars a year to politicians if they did not expect to get a “return” on their investment.

It should not be surprising that money and power tend to converge. Capitalism is not just an economic system that places profit above all other concerns; it breeds a culture in which money is the “bottom line” in every transaction. Money opens the doors to the best education available, to quality health care and spacious homes in crime-free neighborhoods, not to mention “attractive mates.” Money buys leisure time and can allow people to avoid work altogether. Money commands respect. When Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan appeared before a Congressional committee after having lost billions of dollars in risky investments, he was bombarded by obsequious questions by members of Congress, who probably would have preferred asking him for investing advice. And although not a sufficient condition, money is a necessary condition for winning political elections and is usually the determining factor. Finally, with individuals placed in perennial competition with one another under capitalism, social and community ties are weakened, leaving only money to fill the void.

Within the system of capitalism, the more money and power one has, the easier it is to acquire still more money and power. When the billionaire Warren Buffett recently invested $5 billion dollars with Goldman Sachs, he was guaranteed a 10 percent rate of return, meaning he will make $500 million a year without lifting a finger. Even worse, much of this money is acquired simply by the rich taking from everyone else. In their recent book, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson argue that much of the new wealth enjoyed by the rich has resulted from their success at lobbying politicians to change the tax laws and business regulations to their advantage. Hence, when left to its own devices, capitalism tends to concentrate money and power in the hands of a few while allowing inequalities in wealth to grow ever greater.

Unions were created to combat these tendencies and to protect workers from their employers’ avid pursuit of money.  While employers want to maximize profits, workers want enough to pay their bills and lead a comfortable life. Hence, there is a power struggle between workers and employers over how much of the company’s profits will go to wages and benefits and how much to the owners. Given that the owners have far more money at their disposal than the workers, one might assume that they hold the reins of power in their hands and can dictate the outcome.

But there is a limit to the role that money can play. Unions operate on their own unique principles that provide the potential for a far greater exercise of power than what their employers can command, even with far more money at their disposal. Rejecting competition, workers organized unions on the principle of solidarity. It was a logical course for workers to pursue: while an individual worker is powerless in the face of a domineering employer and while workers who are competing against one another are collectively powerless in relation to the employer, workers quickly learned that power shifts in their direction when they join together and engage in coordinated action. If one person tries to conduct a strike, that person is simply fired. When the entire workforce conducts a strike, they bring the business to a grinding halt and become a force to contend with.

Because of this need to stand together and work for a common goal, unions generate their own culture. When they have successfully struggled together, camaraderie develops among the union members. They take care of one another, cover for each other, and form lifetime friendships in much the same way as soldiers who have endured battles together.

For this reason, union struggles can change the entire political and cultural landscape. When workers decide to take a stand in order to break the cycle of growing inequalities in wealth, when they fight for a decent standard of living that includes a living wage, job security, health care, access to quality education, homeownership, and retirement with dignity, not just for themselves but for everyone, they inspire all working people and create the possibility of a massive social movement that has the potential to forge historic changes, as was done in the 1930s. People are inspired by movements that aim at creating a better world for everyone, where those who need help are given what they need, where people contribute according to their ability, and where no one advances at the expense of others. This more ennobled sense of humanity engenders inspiration in a way that money never can. And people are inspired when workers wage a real fight, as opposed to the current ever so prevalent practice of organizing fake fights that involve porous picket lines that no one takes seriously or demonstrations of several hundred workers when the workforce includes thousands.

When these social movements achieve momentum, money no longer plays the deciding role. People shed their disconnected isolation, become engaged and talk with one another, become knowledgeable of the issues, and derive strength in their numbers. And massive numbers of people demonstrating for a common goal has proved time and again to be the prevailing factor.

At this time in history, organized labor, however, seems content to rely on money for power. Unions spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to elect Democrats to office, leaving the vast reservoir of power of their membership untapped. Of course, corporations have even more money at their disposal and give generously to both political parties to hedge their bets, easily outspending labor in the process. When it comes to money, simple arithmetic is all that counts: because corporations give far more than labor, they get far more than labor, and the inequalities in wealth continue to grow.

As a result of the unions’ current orientation toward the Democratic Party, one must look long and hard for compelling examples, aside from the 1930s, when unions put up a valiant struggle. But in 1958 the unions relied on themselves instead of the Democrats, mobilized their members to defeat a right to work law, and won a stunning victory. The local newspaper reported: “Ohio voters rejected the ‘right-to-work’ proposal by the biggest margin ever recorded on an issue on the ballot in the state’s history.”

More recently, United Electrical workers conducted a sit-down strike in a Chicago windows and doors factory, demanding their severance pay from the Bank of America. Because of the outpouring of public support from across the country, Bank of America, one of the most powerful corporations in the world, backed down, and the workers won their demands.

When it is a question of the efficacy of money in politics and workers fail to put up a fight, money prevails. The moral is: money counts – but only if we let it.

A Free Pass for Financial Predators

The American plutocratic revolution is now complete. The proof is: There are no criminal charges for the housing bust and financial meltdown of 2008. Starting with Reagan in the 1980s, as of today the Right has won their decades-long overthrow for complete control of America. An elite corps of wealthy now runs the country. Their bloodless rebellion, a coup d’etat whereby the Left was nullified by a tripartite (bankers, academia, and politicians) cabal’s tour de force, is a sharp contrast to the old-fashioned traditional bloody coup d’etats were accustomed to in South America, e.g., the Chilean September 1973 military coup against President Allende conducted by ultra right wing General Pinochet, who, after bombing the presidential palace, massacred the Left (See: the film Missing, by Costa-Gavras, Universal Pictures, 1982.). Of course, Pinochet’s old-fashioned coup had the advantage of speed and efficiency, completed within hours, whereas America’s bloodless coup took decades to accomplish, but on the other hand, America has not yet condoned military occupation on domestic soil.

The proof of a successful coup by the plutocratic elite is everywhere on display because it is absolutely remarkable how much we know about their unethical and/or criminal behavior behind America’s 2007-08 financial meltdown without knowing what to do about it!

As Charles H. Ferguson, winner of the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Inside Job, says, “There is overwhelming evidence of massive criminal behavior” in the 2007-08 real estate bust and financial meltdown, but nobody has been charged with a crime. This, in part, is why he recently published Predator Nation, Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America, Random House, 2012, which book footnotes/documents the virulent combination of unchecked greed and criminal behavior behind the financial collapse of 2008. Ferguson identifies leading bankers, academics, and politicians who collaborated to pillage the American public. The book has been called a “roadmap for prosecution,” naming the culpable, stating the crimes, referencing laws that were broken.

How this tragedy occurred right under the country’s collective noses is a lengthy and nefarious story. Charles Ferguson’s new book covers this story with remarkable detail. Ferguson’s diatribe is laced by a book cover depicting a one hundred dollar bill folded into the image of a hand, flipping the bird, an obvious reference to the perpetrating financial, political, and academic elite’s haughty attitude towards the general public, emphasizing the dauntless, depraved lawlessness behind their theft committed in broad daylight. And, part of Ferguson’s thesis is exactly that, i.e., criminal acts led to, and were the cause of, one of history’s worst financial meltdowns. He also paints the picture of how America has been hijacked by a financial elite, an oligarchy that operates at the expense of the entire American population: “The financial sector is the core of a new oligarchy that has risen to power over the past thirty years, and that has profoundly changed American life.”

Ferguson’s ingenious work is, without a doubt, on target because we, as a nation, know it is true. Not only have oodles of articles and books already flushed out this repugnant story but intuitively, the citizens of the country know it is true because of how the disaster came down, namely: Governmental policy and Wall Street chicanery turned the housing industry into a gigantic Las Vegas craps table and dispensed free playing chips to beginners. Millions of unsuspecting Americans bought into this deal-of-a-lifetime, and when the house of cards tumbled, unsuspecting American taxpayers rescued the culprits, but the bankers already tucked away gargantuan fees.

We also know it is true because it happened in broad daylight, right before our eyes, caught on camera was the U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, on one knee before a stern-faced, but dismayed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, pleading congressional approval for $700 billion (taxpayer funds) to bail out his buddies (so sorry Richard S. Fuld, Jr., CEO, Lehman Brothers, no jerks allowed.) Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve turned the SWIFT international wire system white hot, spreading trillions of US Dollars around the globe to foreign banks and multinational corporate interests in order to keep the worldwide ship of state afloat, and surrounding these horrifying events, the housing market crumbled apart like broken tinker toys, credit dissipated, and Wall Street crashed with the durable S& P Index registering a nasty, and ominously devilish, 666 low print early in March 2009.

As of today, people who are not normally schooled in the language of the Wall Street know names of people and of programs, like Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Lehman, Freddie Mac, credit default swaps, and derivatives. Wall Street and big banks are the butt ends of crass jokes on late night TV, and inequality of income/wealth has never been so obvious. According to a recent Survey of Consumer Finance by the Federal Reserve, median family net worth fell 40% from 2007 to 2010. Meanwhile, according to Forbes magazine, billionaires and multi-millionaires set all-time records. The discrepancy between Middle America and Wall Street has never been so radiantly exposed, and the general public has finally learned how Wall Street makes a killing off their backs. Most likely, Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein, whose firm bet against (short sales) toxic securities they sold to other institutions, would not survive a stroll down Main Street in certain parts of the country.

The American public is overly informed about how and why one of the most corrupt and stupidest-ever financial schemes body-slammed the world economy, but as Charles Ferguson astutely declares, “Nobody has gone to jail” (poor ole Bernie Madoff must feel like he’s carrying the burden for everybody.)  Mortgage brokers, Wall Street investment bankers, commercial bankers, credit rating agencies, accountants, and politicians are complicit in the world’s biggest-ever ponzi scheme, taking advantage of the entire population of the country and sticking it to foreign banks/institutions by selling them toxic housing securities. The pure ugliness, brazenness, and gall of the perpetrators is enough to turn one’s stomach. As for CEO Fuld, he was attacked shortly after it was announced Lehman was bankrupt: “He was on a treadmill with a heart monitor on. Someone was in the corner, pumping iron and he walked over and he knocked him out cold.” (The Telegraph, October 7, 2008.)

According to Ferguson, there is overwhelming public evidence in (1) lawsuits, (2) depositions, (3) government investigations, and (4) whistleblowers of highly illegal conduct in the housing bubble and financial crisis. There is a staggering amount of evidence that CEOs of Wall Street firms, like Lehman Brothers, were warned that their financial controls were inadequate and their accounting was wrong, or to put in it in plain English: ‘their books were cooked’. A prime example is a memo warning to top Lehman executives by Senior Vice President Matthew Lee, “I feel it is my ethical and legal responsibility to point out to you that there are billions of dollars of unjustified assets on our balance sheet.” (To see the memo, Google: “Matthew Lee and Lehman.”) A month later Lee was dismissed from the firm and the CEO of Lehman continued to stand by the firm’s financial statements even though warned of extreme problems, inaccuracies, and overstatements, e.g., ‘Repo 105’ transactions artificially boosted the firm’s balance sheet by $50 billion! This is illegal corporate behavior of the first order, but where are the criminal charges?

Furthermore, according to Ferguson, “Over the last thirty years, in parallel with deregulation and the rising power of money in American politics, significant portions of American academia have deteriorated into ‘pay to play’ activities. The sale of academic expertise for the purpose of influencing government policy, the courts, and public opinion is now a multibillion-dollar business,” academia has become embedded within the finance industry and its greatest apologist, Exhibit A, is Lawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary, former President of Harvard, former Head of the Council of Economic Advisors, former Mister Everything Economics, a proponent of the deregulation of financial services, i.e., elimination of the Glass-Steagall Act, which kept commercial bankers out of the risky securities business ever since 1933, stating, when significant parts of Glass-Steagall were overturned: “With this bill, the American financial system takes a major step forward towards the 21st Century.”  Thus, Summers was directly behind the entire meltdown, but as a highly endorsed hedge fund/banking consultant raking in millions, before and after his stint with Clinton, he had to follow his true conscience, i.e., benefactors, and push to kill the 1933 Act, which successfully, and responsively, protected bank depositors from risky commercial bank shenanigans for over 60 years.

Summers is the one who dressed down Raghuram Rajan (Finance Professor, University of Chicago; Chief Economist IMF), who presented a paper about credit default swaps at the Federal Reserve Jackson Hole 2005 Conference titled Has Financial Development Made the World Riskier? accusing firms of “goosing up returns” with latent risk, which proved to be precisely what cratered A.I.G., asking the prescient question: “If firms today implicitly are selling various kinds of default insurance to goose up returns, what happens if catastrophe strikes?” Rajan’s critique was thoughtful, balanced, and very obviously on point; it is indeed a sad commentary that Summers immediately stood up, lambasting Rajan and calling him a “Luddite,” but on the other hand, since Summers planned to be or was/is in the pockets of hedge funds and Wall Street, he flippantly overlooked the most obvious of dangers to the entire financial system in concert with the “profits now” mentality that bends to Wall Street’s every wish.

The real mystery is how and why they get away with it when their crimes and/or despicable ethical behavior prove so hideous… and so obvious, and thus, many astute progressive mouths dropped wide open with dismay when President Obama insanely appointed Summers as the Director of the National Economic Council, which only goes to prove what a tight clique exist amongst academia, politicians, and Wall Street whereby bad judgment and/or unethical practices are overlooked in favor of companionship-to-profits.

Nobody has gone to jail and as Ferguson explained in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, “There is overwhelming evidence of massive criminal behavior.” Ferguson says: “the American people need to take their country back.” He suggests some kind of nationwide movement but without stating specifics. Indeed, the stench of the entire cabal, including academia, politicians, Wall Street, and rating agencies is so loathsomely squalid, and rotten to the core, it would not surprise if perpetrators are dragged into the streets in the middle of the night, stripped naked, tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail, assuming some daring citizens become so fed up with the ‘system’ they take matters into their own hands.

Otherwise, and because nobody has been criminally charged, one can bitterly assume the country is now firmly in the hands of a wealthy elite, including academicians who, similar to guns for hire, will say or publish anything for a buck. With 20/20 hindsight, it is now clear the citizenry of the country cannot trust, but also cannot do anything about (other than revolt in the streets), the tripartite cabal that stole their country in broad daylight right under their noses. And, really…  isn’t it a crying shame the intelligentsia, who we trust to educate our society, is so deeply involved… but… come to think about it, they probably saw what happened to their colleagues in Chile under Pinochet, concluding life is much better, and easier, when one is part of the Inside Job.

By definition … if no criminal charges are filed, the coup is complete.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Mon, Aug13 @OAK (ESPN)  7:00 PM
Sat, Aug18 @San Diego (CBS)  8:00 PM
Sat, Aug 25 ST. LOUIS (CBS)  7:00 PM
Wed, Aug 29 MIAMI (CBS)  7:30 PM
Wed, Sep 5 @ NYG (NBC)  7:30 PM
Sun, Sep 16 @ SEA (FOX)  3:05 PM
Sun, Sep 23 TB (FOX)  NOON
Mon, Oct 1 CHI (ESPN)  7:30 PM
SUN, Oct 7                  BYE
Sun, Oct 14 @ BAL (FOX) NOON
Sun, Oct 21 @ CAR (FOX) NOON
Sun, Oct 28 NYG (FOX)  3:15 PM
Sun, Nov 4 @ ATL (NBC)  7:20 PM
Sun, Nov 11 @ PHI (FOX)  3:15 PM
Sun, Nov 18 CLE (CBS)  NOON*
Thu, Nov 22 WAS (FOX)  3:15 PM
Sun, Dec 2 PHI (NBC)   7:20 PM*
Sun, Dec 9 @ CIN (FOX) NOON*
Sun, Dec 16 PIT (CBS)   3:15 PM*
Sun, Dec 23 NO (FOX) NOON*
Sun, Dec 30 @ WAS (FOX) NOON*

ACTA: An International SOPA

By Sandra Fulton, ACLU Washington Legislative Office

While the Internet community came out in force to protest the free speech and privacy threats posed by the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), an international trade agreement with the same stated goals—and potentially greater threats—was being negotiated behind closed doors. While the First Amendment can be served by intellectual property protections that incentivize content creation, IP laws can easily be misused. Like PIPA and SOPA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (“ACTA”) is another misguided and overbroad attempt to crack down on counterfeiting and piracy over the Internet. There has been excellent analysis of the issue by sources including EFF, Tech Dirt and Ars Technica, but we have also been watching this issue and wanted to summarize what’s at stake.

While many of the worst provisions of ACTA were ultimately watered down (mainly due to pressure from outside groups reacting to leaked drafts), many issues remain, both procedural and substantive. There are four primary problems with ACTA.
  1. Tying Congress’s Hands on Copyright Law
     While supporters of ACTA insist it does not change U.S. law (were it technically to change existing law, it would require Senate ratification) opponents have different concerns—namely, that it will reinforce current copyright laws in an area that is changing rapidly and many believe should be updated. Opponents fear that signing the agreement will make it unnecessarily more difficult for Congress to update copyright laws while staying compliant with our new “international obligations.”
  1. Lack of accountability
     Unlike PIPA and SOPA, ACTA would establish a new international body to enforce certain IP rules. This body would be made up of unelected members acting outside the purview of any current international institution. So, while SOPA and PIPA at least would have been enforced by U.S. agencies and subject to constitutional checks and balances, ACTA could be used for worldwide crackdowns on Internet activity by a coordinated authority that could work at cross-purposes with the laws and policies of the participating countries.
  1. Negotiated in secret
     Despite the fact that such world-wide e-regulation has the potential to impact everyone with a computer, ACTA was negotiated in secret by a small, exclusive group of countries and a few private companies. The first the public heard about the talks was when WikiLeaks released a discussion document in May 2008. Both Presidents Bush and Obama rejected calls from advocates and members of Congress to make ACTA negotiations public, claiming that such disclosure would cause “damage to the national security.” However, a 2009 FOIA request found that the draft had been shared with Google, eBay, Dell, Intel, the Business Software Alliance, News Corporation, Sony Pictures, Time Warner, the Motion Picture Association of America, and Verizon under a nondisclosure agreement. Once the agreement was finalized it was posted to the United States Trade Representative’s website here.
  1. Evading Senate approval
     To keep the negotiations secret and avoid having to obtain the Senate’s approval, the president is claiming that ACTA was negotiated within his presidential powers as a “sole executive agreement.” A sole executive agreement is one that the president may enter if the terms will not change U.S. law. However, the extent of the president’s authority to completely bypass Congressional approval and enter into a sole executive agreement is controversial. Earlier this month 50 leading U.S. legal scholars sent a letter to members of the Senate Finance Committee stating,
     the Administration currently lacks a means to constitutionally enter ACTA without ex post Congressional approval. The present issue reaches far beyond the topical matters covered by ACTA, into the fundamental Constitutional issue of separation of powers. If Congress allows the executive to claim that ACTA was authorized by language that clearly does not authorize the agreement, it will be ceding unprecedented power to the executive."
     Senator Wyden (D-OR) has also questioned the president’s authority to treat ACTA as a sole agreement. “There are questions of constitutional authority surrounding whether the administration can enter into this agreement without Congress’s approval,” he said. “Either way, when international accords, like ACTA, are conceived and constructed under a cloak of secrecy it is hard to argue that they represent the broad interests of the general public. The controversy over ACTA should surprise no one.”
     Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) warned participants at the World Economic Forum that ACTA was more dangerous than SOPA and PIPA and.then called into question the president’s authority to negotiate the agreement. He said, “It’s not coming to me for a vote. It purports that it does not change existing laws. But once implemented, it creates a whole new enforcement system and will virtually tie the hands of Congress to undo it.”
International opposition
To date the United States, the European Union (and 22 of its member states), Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea have all signed ACTA but none have formally ratified the agreement yet.

At the grassroots and at the highest levels of government, ACTA has sparked protests. In Poland, tens of thousands of people protested across the nation and activists attacked government websites when that country signed the agreement in January. Members of the Polish Parliament wore Guy Fawkes masks to demonstrate their disapproval. Since then, protests have been organized throughout Europe including in Sweden, Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, and the United Kingdom. Notably, Kader Arif, the first "rapporteur" for ACTA in the EU parliament (the member who prepares the official recommendation to the parliament on a legislative proposal), quit his role in disgust, stating,
I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, exclusion of the EU Parliament's demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly.

This agreement might have major consequences on citizens' lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade.

Arif’s successor, David Martin, recommended against adoption of the agreement, fearing unintended consequences and overbroad enforcement (though he also asked the parliament to consider a replacement).

Post-ACTA: The Trans-Pacific Partnership
Since ACTA’s completion we have learned that part of a new massive trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), aims "to ensure an effective and balanced approach to intellectual property rights among the TPP countries.” Talks on the TPP are currently being held between nine Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States. Like ACTA all negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors with details shared only with Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITAC). The U.S. ITAC is called ITAC 15 and includes top executives from AT&T, Verizon, the RIAA, the pharmaceutical lobby, and Cisco. All anyone else knows about the agreement comes from a leak of the "intellectual property chapter" that surfaced about a year ago. EFF’s international IP director, Gwen Hinze, told Ars Technica, “I would say it’s ACTA-plus, not ACTA redux,” Secret international trade agreements negotiated between only government and industry is not a trend we want to see catch on.

Healthy democracies depend on transparency and public debate. Good policies are created through the input of experts, advocates, industry, policy makers, and citizens. Circumventing basic checks and balances to fast-track policies that have already been defeated by the public—often called policy laundering— is not how representative democracy is supposed to work. Many fear that agreements made in ACTA and TPP will put our civil liberties at risk. At the very least, the president should allow a free and open debate on the measures.

2012 Texas GOP Platform: Turning Back the Clock

Since the religious right took control of the Texas Republican Party back in the early 1990s, writing the state GOP’s platform has been an exercise in promoting extremism every two years. This year wasn’t any different. A Texas Freedom Network analysis shows how the 2012 Texas Republican Party turns back the clock by seeking to erase long-established protections for religious freedom, civil and voting rights, women’s health and public education.

Click here for our analysis of the party’s platform, but following is a sampling of the extremism promoted by Texas Republicans at their convention this month in Fort Worth. That platform:
  • Declares separation of church and state is a “myth” and calls for Congress to withdraw federal court jurisdiction over cases involving religious freedom and the Bill of Rights
  • Calls for teaching creationist arguments in public school science classrooms
  • Opposes the sale and use of emergency contraception and backs the Legislature’s war on women’s health programs
  • Rejects “any sex education other than abstinence until marriage” in public schools
  • Adopts a radical position that would essentially bar abortion even in cases of rape, of incest or to save a woman’s life
  • Advocates for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, minimum wage laws and the Endangered Species Act as well as the abolishment of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Attacks LGBT Texans as a threat to families and objects to laws that would protect them from job discrimination and hate crimes
  • Calls for further funding cuts for public schools following draconian cuts by lawmakers in 2011
  • Seeks to change the 14th Amendment to limit citizenship by birth only to those born to a U.S. citizen
  • Threatens federal judges with impeachment if they don’t toe the far right’s line in controversial court cases
Alarmingly, the party platform also seeks to increase the authority of the highly politicized and dysfunctional State Board of Education over what Texas students learn in their public schools.

TFN’s analysis of the 2012 platform as well as the 2010 and 2008 platforms are here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Actor Gary Oldman "takes a stand" against acting athletes

More than half of every dollar we pay into taxes goes toward military spending

Clear Channel Pays $40/Hr To Call Into Limbaugh, Hannity, & Beck--Obama uses shills to call into same shows with his talking points

Both the Republicunts and Democraps LOVE to out each other on tactics they use themselves. Dig these two articles noting that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck et al use paid callers on their shows, and Obama uses shills to call into those very shows with Obama talking points. That pretty much covers the call-in portion of their shows--none of it is real. None of it. Quit listening to them, quit buying into their definition of what this country is all about. Wake up!

Radio Daze

(Liel Leibovitz)  Last year, a young man called in to a radio station with a problem. He’d recently attended a bachelor party, he said, and a friend of the groom-to-be, clueless of the unwritten etiquette of maledom, brought his girlfriend along, derailing what was supposed to be a weekend of gambling, girls, and general debauchery. The caller told his story with passion and verve, and then asked the station’s listeners for their advice on how to treat his clueless pal.

Or at least he would have, had this been a real conversation. The young man—who asked to remain nameless in order to protect his chances for future employment—was an actor, and the staged call an audition. A short while later, he received the following email: “Thank you for auditioning for Premiere On Call,” it said. “Your audition was great! We’d like to invite you to join our official roster of ‘ready-to-work’ actors.” The job, the email indicated, paid $40 an hour, with one hour guaranteed per day.

But what exactly was the work? The question popped up during the audition and was explained, the actor said, clearly and simply: If he passed the audition, he would be invited periodically to call in to various talk shows and recite various scenarios that made for interesting radio. He would never be identified as an actor, and his scenarios would never be identified as fabricated—which they always were.

“I was surprised that it seemed so open,” the actor told me in an interview. “There was really no pretense of covering it up.”

Curious, the actor did some snooping and learned that Premiere On Call was a service offered by Premiere Radio Networks, the largest syndication company in the United States and a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, the entertainment and advertising giant. Premiere syndicates some of the more sterling names in radio, including Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity. But a great radio show depends as much on great callers as it does on great hosts: Enter Premiere On Call.

Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service,” read the service’s website, which disappeared as this story was being reported (for a cached version of the site click here). “We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we’ll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won’t hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners.”

The actors hired by Premiere to provide the aforementioned voice talents sign confidentiality agreements and so would not go on the record. But their accounts leave little room for doubt. All of the actors I questioned reported receiving scripts, calling in to real shows, pretending to be real people. Frequently, one actor said, the calls were live, sometimes recorded in advance, but never presented on-air as anything but real.

Michael Harrison, the editor of Talkers Magazine, the talk-radio world’s leading trade publication, said he knew nothing of this particular service but was not altogether surprised to hear that it was in place. There was, he said, a tradition of “creating fake phone calls for the sake of entertainment on some of the funny shows, shock jocks shows, the kind of shows you hear on FM music stations in the morning, they would regularly have scenarios, crazy scenarios of people calling up and doing pranks.”

Rachel Nelson, a Premiere Radio Networks spokesperson, defended the Premiere on Call service and said that responsibility for how it is employed falls ultimately to those who use it.
“Premiere provides a wide variety of audio services for radio stations across the country, one of which is connecting local stations in major markets with great voice talent to supplement their programming needs,” Nelson wrote in an email. “Voice actors know this service as Premiere On Call. Premiere, like many other content providers, facilitates casting—while character and script development, and how the talent’s contribution is integrated into programs, are handled by the varied stations.”


Organizing for America building army of talk radio ‘seminar callers’

by Kathy Shaidle

Remember Organizing for America (OFA)? It used to be “Obama for America,” an offshoot of the Democratic National Committee that assembled a vast volunteer army of Obama supporters. But when the election was over and won, “Obama for America” went through a slight transformation:
Another factor that motivated the Obama administration to create OFA was the fact that after the new President had taken his oath of office, his White House was, by law, barred from using (for subsequent political purposes) the 13-million-name e-mail list of supporters it had compiled during the 2008 presidential race. Thus the administration established OFA within the structure of the Democratic Party, which was not bound by such restrictions; OFA is free to use the aforementioned list as it pleases. (…)

As one of its strategies for influencing public opinion, OFA seeks to exploit the power of the Internet as a networking and communication medium. Whereas previous U.S. presidents communicated with the American public chiefly by recording a weekly speech and then releasing it for radio stations to air on Saturday mornings, President Obama regularly disseminates his messages via popular websites…
OFA’s latest web-based project involves inundating talk radio shows with callers pushing Obamacare. Here’s part of the relevant page on the OFA site:
Each day, millions of Americans turn to talk radio as a trusted source of news and opinions on the big issues of the day.
Getting thousands of OFA supporters to call in to these shows in support of health reform and President Obama’s agenda will have a dramatic impact — and will help shape public opinion.
But we need you to make it happen…
OFA goes on to ask folks to sign up, get assigned a station in their area, and starting phoning in during talk shows, to push Obamacare talking points.

The trouble with this strategy is: it won’t work.

Rush Limbaugh coined the word “seminar callers” to describe people like this, because leftists used to train would-be talk radio callers in special seminars. These trained callers learn to begin by saying, “I listen to your show all the time, and normally I agree with you/I’m a lifelong Republican/but…” then recite memorized liberal talking points. (Here’s an IndyMedia how-to.)

It’s just another form of astroturfing, and it stopped working years ago.

All big time talk radio shows have peerless call screeners who usually detect these frauds before they get on the air.  If these astroturfers do get through, a smart host can make them look pretty foolish, pretty fast.

Seminar calling is going the way of that other leftist tactic, the boycott. Boycotts don’t work anymore because a) leftists target companies that leftists don’t patronize anyway (like WalMart), b) older leftists have boycott fatigue, and younger ones only pay lip service to them, and c) boycotts can’t harm certain modern day businesses, like cable TV (as I’ve explained before.)

And I think OFA knows this. (If they don’t, then the good news is, the Democrats are dumber than we thought.)

This campaign, and their other internet efforts, are just a way to harvest email addresses, so they can tap the suckers for donations later on.

Nothing says “progressive” like that patented hybrid of idealism and cynicism.


Disdain drips from every word in the second article, as if the writer is blissfully unaware her heroes hire callers to call their shows. It goes both ways. The sooner people realize this the better. Your heroes are not heroes, they are actors who follow a script. Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh would be liberal talkshow hosts if there were a market for them. Liberals don't listen to talk radio but conservatives do, so that's the role they play. Dennis Miller got into the con, too. Saw where the money was, and dipped himself in red state hothead red. Money, money, money. Not principles--MONEY. 

This information, when considered with the fact Glenn Beck used Vick's in his eyes for his crying game scenes on his former TV show, just exposes the whole political/talkshow industry as the fake propaganda it is. If you watch or listen to these shows, no matter what your affiliation is, you never get anything real or truthful, and if you base your political views on these talkshows and the views of their hosts, then your views aren't real either. You're just a cardboard cut-out and by being so oriented, you're the result of their lying game being successful. How does that make you feel?