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Archive for the ‘Culture of Corruption’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

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Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.

New Politics

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

People usually can’t tell what I am by looking at me. My skin is white, like my mom’s, but some tints of my dad’s Filipino heritage peek through, making me look equally Cuban, Puerto Rican, Italian, anything but Asian. I’m lucky enough to have never really had any allegiance to a certain race or identified with any specific notions of it. I often joke with my friends about these things, usually bringing up all kinds of offensive, inappropriate comments about certain groups to get a cheap laugh, most probably because it’s more complicated for me to get the same treatment. But being a man without a team – a free-lance race(er), if you will – I have few preconceived notions about them myself, allowing me to find a lot of humor and joy in the differences we have and how they effect our interactions and shape our perceptions. I kid because I love. I love diversity, I love that my children will have roots on 3 different continents and I love this country for giving me, my family and countless others like them a place in the sun. Obama’s speech last Tuesday was given from this perspective, which is probably why it inspired and impressed me more than anything I’ve seen in politics. That something has finally spoken to me in this way has also engendered quite a bit of resentment towards the reaction to it.

He is a politician, one trying to contain a damaging scandal that speaks to the very heart of his campaign, a scandal so grievous that it caused Hillary Clinton to overtake him in national polling for the first time in months. He is a candidate who often gets by on looks and charm, his silver tongue paving the way through a rather charmed candidacy. The allegiance to Wright and Trinity were undeniably instrumental in Obama’s acceptance in the black community of Chicago and subsequently by the national black community – a voting block that has been crucial in many of his primary victories over a white woman. These are all things we knew before he stepped to that podium and it was impossible to forget while listening to his words. Perhaps it is because I support him, because I am a racial mutt same as he, because I have been seduced by that aforementioned silver tongue, but I didn’t care about any of it.

If my Catholic upbringing has taught me anything, it’s that if you look hard enough at anyone, you will see faults, you will see sin – they even make you apologize for it first thing Sunday morning. All any of us can do is mitigate these as best we can through good works and faith in eachother, neither of which come easy or without failure. Barack didn’t hide behind his press secretary or some other surrogate, he didn’t throw out some half-baked sound-byte of appeasement in hopes things would blow over by the next news cycle, he stood there for 30 minutes and talked to us like adults. He told us things we all know, but never hear. He made no accusations, but rather placed responsibility equally among all of us, himself included. He asked us to stop raising our voices and start listening to eachother. If you don’t believe me, watch the speech or read the transcript in its entirety. The motivations behind these words are unimportant to me. Sure, he could’ve been trying to divert our attention to save his own ass, but I don’t care. I don’t care why he said what he said, just that someone finally did so.

A black man running for President put his campaign on the line, stepped up to the plate and spoke about race in a way no other politician has ever done, but you would have never guessed by reading about it. A great deal of reaction and coverage was spent haggling over details. He didn’t go far enough to denounce a man who baptized his children, he didn’t explain how many times he heard these statements or the ways in which he tried to stop a preacher from preaching, he made us feel guilty for slavery and that was mean. It is as if we are at a beautiful restaurant in front of a gourmet meal but no one is eating because they don’t like the fold of the napkins. Obama’s mistake wasn’t that he stood by his preacher, it was that he assumed people would actually pay attention.

Politics is a dangerous game, not just for the candidate but for those who support them. We pin our hopes and dreams on certain people every couple of years and when they fall by the wayside, so does our resolve. We allow these candidates to paint themselves as the magic bullet, as the only answer to our problems; and so in their defeat lies ours. The one thing that really made me jump into this campaign was that Obama asked us, the people, to work for what we wanted, to help him reach our goals. Part of this is obviously tactical. You can’t fight the Clintons with the establishment, they are the establishment. The most powerful political machine cannot be undone from within, so he was forced to look elsewhere for his support. His relative inexperience and lack of accomplishments give him less to run on by himself, so he needs more help and faith from the outside. He has no record, so he forgoes specific policy items in favor of meta-themes. It is also, though, an undeniable return to history.

In his incredible book, The Argument, Matt Bai put much of the focus on the Democrat’s search for a post-Clinton identity. But he also provided amazing insight into political movements at large:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

Barack has often been chastised for a lack of clarity, rhetoric instead of results. But perhaps this is because his movement, his base, has not yet codified their beliefs or their goals. Regardless of why, Obama has caused a progressive awakening in a generation that faces monumental challenges, my generation. One who has grown to see the prosperity of the 90’s – our formative years – become destroyed by forces outside our control: fanatical terrorism, global warming, economic instability. Those in power attempting to fix these problems are not the ones who live with the consequences. It is my friends who are getting laid off, who go to the emergency room for physicals, who are sent off to fight in the desert. We are the most diverse, best educated and technologically advanced generation this nation has ever seen and we must begin to take ownership of it. We can’t afford to be distracted by the horse race, but rather be enlightened by the message. Say what you want about Barack, but you cannot deny that his calls for a recognition of shared responsibility speaks to the best in us, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If it takes inflammatory remarks by a preacher for us to take stock of our treatment of one another, so be it. If an opportunistic, ambitious politician can dupe us all into working for eachother instead of against, we are the better for it.

But we cannot expect one man to do it all. Elections are not the realization of change, they are the beginning of it. If he loses the nomination, if he loses the general election, we cannot retreat into the background in defeat. If he becomes our President, it is our responsibility to hold him accountable and help to fulfill the promises of his potential and our own. Obama has outed us. The success of his platform and the goals he has set will only be met through the efforts we make. The themes he has brought to bear since his introduction of Senator Kerry in 2004 cannot be ignored, especially as we descend into an ever bloodier campaign season. Hillary – an impressive public servant in her own right – has undoubtedly inspired many young women to pursue ambitious careers. John McCain has given credence to sacrifice and centrism in a party that has been known for anything but. Obama’s message challenges us to recognize the nobility in our foes, to respect differences and approach challenges with optimistic pragmatism instead of cynical ideology. His candidacy might fade, but these ideas must not.

Many have belittled the thinking man in these times, but the consequences of looking tough and acting stupid are keeping us from what we can become. Harsh crime legislation and unyielding drug policy have stopped neither and added non-violent, first time offenders to the ranks of the incarcerated, now accounting for 1 out of every 100 of our citizens. Elliot Spitzer’s demise at the hands of a call girl might have been cheered by the Wall Street firms he savaged as Attorney General, but considering the greed and deception they perpetuated to bring down our economy – with no jail time in sight – one wonders who really got off and who got screwed. If we could have seen the facts in Iraq for what they were, free from agenda, fear or spin, we would have $1.3 Trillion more in our pockets, we would be without 29,000 wounds and be able to hold over 4,000 of our sons and daughters that have been lost to ignorance. We are waging war against an ideology instead of a nation, so it must be considered that our ideas and culture can and must fight as effectively as our military. If we continue to distill these complex issues down to sound bytes and slogans, deny the due process of debate and discussion and pigeon-hole the myriad points of view into mere black and white we run the risk of turning into the same fanatics that seek to destroy us. If we cannot decide the proper course of action through argument, we must find a way to do so through conversation. Obama or Hillary, Democratic or Republican, we all share the same fate. If there is one thing I hope this Presidential race will teach us, it is that there are more important things than winning elections.

Obama Doubletalk on NAFTA?

In Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, International politics, International Trade, Progressive Politics, US Politics on March 1, 2008 at 1:24 pm

MSNBC News report says that Obama’s campaign called the Canadian ambassador last month to warn that NATFA would “become part of the debate in the democratic primaries, and that Obama would take some heavy swings at the trade deal, but told the ambassador: ‘Don’t worry, its just plain rhetoric. Its not serious.'”

A 7 Mile March to the Polls in Texas (2008)

In Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Direct action, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, US Politics on February 20, 2008 at 4:05 pm

An incredible story popped up on Crooks and Liars today describing a beautiful answer to a disgusting act in an escalating primary battle:

Early voting starts today in Texas. In Waller County, a primarily rural county about 60 miles outside Houston, the county made the decision to offer only one early voting location: at the County Courthouse in Hempstead, TX, the county seat.

Prairie View A&M students organized to protest the decision, because they felt it hindered their ability to vote. For background, Prairie View A&M is one of Texas’ historically Black universities. It has a very different demographic feel than the rest of the county. There has been a long history of dispute over what the students feel is disenfranchisement. There was a lot of outrage in 2006, when students felt they were unfairly denied the right to vote when their registrations somehow did not get processed.

1000 students, along with an additional 1000 friends and supporters, are this morning walking the 7.3 miles between Prairie View and Hempstead in order to vote today. According to the piece I saw on the news (there’s no video up, so I can’t link to it), the students plan to all vote today. There are only 2 machines available at the courthouse for early voting, so they hope to tie them up all day and into the night.

Yes, we’re talking about this election – 2008 – where black students are forced to these lengths to exercise their rights and draw attention to these abuses. This is early voting in a primary, mind you, I can’t wait to see what these kids will do for the general election. By the way, don’t think Yankees are invulnerable to this, either. A little publicized story in the New York Times has uncovered a drastic underreporting of Obama votes in several counties in New York’s primary – in some cases, not registering a single ballot cast in his favor. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an Obama man, but these are problems that have persisted since the clusterfuck of the 2000 election. No matter who you’re voting for, your vote deserves to be counted and no one – not Obama, not Clinton, not McCain and certainly not appointees to local election boards – should be allowed to destroy or steal them. Federalism has its place, but shouldn’t there be some sort of standard in national voting and election oversight? Shouldn’t we at least use the same machines and meet the same requirements to use them? How can the world’s most successful democracy tolerate these kinds of problems? If there are aspects I am ignoring, please, educate me.

Thanks again, Dennis

In civil, Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Freedom of Information, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., Progressive Politics, Technology, US Politics on January 17, 2008 at 1:33 am

American politics is so dirty and that it is usually a downer, but every time Dennis Kucinich makes the news he gives us something to smile about. Not long ago, he introduced a proposal for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. More recently, he managed to see past himself enough to urge his supporters at the Iowa caucus to move to Obama’s corner if he didn’t make the 15% required to be counted in a dictrict. And a few days ago, he asked for a recount in New Hampshire. Now I’m not saying I think New Hampshire was miscalculated, stolen, etc. But in light of certain questionable electoral maneuvers over the past decade (i.e. 2000, florida and 2004, ohio), I have come to the conclusion that asking for a recount can only be a good thing, and that it should be done more often. Candidates have to pay a fee to have a recount done, and Kucinich has chosen to pay for it from his own pocket: beautiful. This, mind you, is a hand recount, meaning that even the votes taken by computerized voting machines will be counted by hand, from the vote printouts they produce.

From TheHill.com,

The lawmaker said he does not expect his own vote count to be significantly affected by such a recount but he added that it is “imperative that these questions be addressed in the interest of public confidence in the integrity of the election process and the election machinery.”

In his request for a recount, Kucinich alleges that there have been “unexplained disparities between hand-counted ballots and machine-counted ballots.” […]

“This is not about my candidacy or any other individual candidacy,” Kucinich said. “It is about the integrity of the election process.”

Let me just be one to say: Thanks again, Dennis!

Obama’s Mistake

In Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Media Criticism, Progressive Politics, US Politics on January 9, 2008 at 1:00 am

Obama just lost the New Hampshire primary when he should have won it.

Why should he have won it? Because he has better policies, more charisma, and more intelligence than Clinton. Additionally, he has the benefit of having an opponent who is alternately nasty and sacharine, and that is never truly appealing.

In the last debate, though, he commited a fatal mistake. Clearly angry at Clinton for leveling unfair attacks at him, he defended himself artfully, with help from Edwards. Later, Gibson’s guest moderator referred to the “double team” Clinton had faced earlier, in which Edwards and Obama both suggested that Clinton represented the “status quo,” and was a force opposing change. Clinton responded oddly, and seemed to be looking for assurance. Here’s the exchange I’d like to highlight:

SPRADLING: My question to you is simply this: What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight who see a resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more?

CLINTON: Well, that hurts my feelings.

(LAUGHTER)

SPRADLING: I’m sorry, Senator. I’m sorry.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: But I’ll try to go on.

(LAUGHTER)

He’s very likable. I agree with that. I don’t think I’m that bad.

OBAMA: You’re likable enough, Hillary.

CLINTON: Thank you…

(LAUGHTER)

What Obama doesn’t get is that this is war. Hilary is treating it like one, and she has shown that she is not above getting nasty to win. Obama was not being called upon to speak at this moment, Clinton was floundering, and silence from his corner would have left her to respond without assurance. This is something Obama should have left her to.

By alleviating the gravity of the situation with this little utterance, Obama moved away from his own frustration, which would have provided a platform for some powerful statements towards the end of the debate.

You will say, “but this is so insignificant.” Yes, deceptively so. The real outlines of a situation between people are in these small gestures. Obama is trying to be all things to all people, even a friend to Hilary. That is fine, but I think there were some beefs to settle first, which Obama ignored in favor of social grace. By doing this, Obama gave Clinton a platform that she wouldn’t have had otherwise.

It is worth noting that Obama did not make a very strong showing towards the end of the debate, and Clinton seemed to find her voice a bit more.

For comparisons, see Kerry’s response to Bush’s aggression in the Town Hall debate in ’04, when Bush refused to let a question go when his time was up. Kerry replies to what Bush is saying, but skirts the more effective (and necessary) approach of taking Bush’s aggression head on and calling him out in it. Does anybody else see any parallels between the Obama-Clinton battle and the Bush-Kerry battle in ’04? I do.

Aggression tends to win the day in American politics, and Obama will have to learn not to lose sight of the realities of his opponent if he wants to win this race. Softening to create a contrast is not a good option here. The American public tends to prefer the aggressive side of that contrast. There is no need to be nice when the other guy would gladly bash you to kindgom come. That’s not to say he should go negative, but that he shouldn’t forget that Hilary has done so.  She is serious about it and will take every pawn left unprotected. This is not about friendship for her.

Dime Bags of Viagra: Follow Up, Pt. 2 – Oxycontin-tale

In Consumerism, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Misc., The War On Drugs on May 10, 2007 at 2:56 pm

A few months ago, I wrote a post on the increasing rate of prescription drug abuse in this country and around the world. The New York Times this morning reported that Purdue Pharma, the manufaturer of the strong painkiller Oxycontin, will pay a settlement of $600 Million as part of a plea deal for misleading the public on the risks of addiction associated with the drug.

Purdue Pharma heavily promoted OxyContin to doctors like general practitioners, who had often had little training in the treatment of serious pain or in recognizing signs of drug abuse in patients.

…Purdue Pharma acknowledged in the court proceeding today that “with the intent to defraud or mislead,” it marketed and promoted OxyContin as a drug that was less addictive, less subject to abuse and less likely to cause other narcotic side effects than other pain medications.

For instance, when the painkiller was first approved, F.D.A. officials allowed Purdue Pharma to state that the time-release of a narcotic like OxyContin “is believed to reduce” its potential to be abused.

But according to federal officials, Purdue sales representatives falsely told doctors that the statement, rather than simply being a theory, meant that OxyContin had a lower potential for addiction or abuse than drugs like Percocet. Among other things, company sales officials were allowed to draw their own fake scientific charts, which they then distributed to doctors, to support that misleading abuse-related claim, federal officials said.

The crime they pleaded guilty to is termed “misbranding”, basically putting a misleading label on a box of pills or allowing it to be prescribed for uses other than the one it was intended. What happens when you push an extremely powerful drug to unsuspecting doctors and patients without the correct safegaurds?

…both experienced drug abusers and novices, including teenagers, soon discovered that chewing an OxyContin tablet or crushing one and then snorting the powder or injecting it with a needle produced a high as powerful as heroin. By 2000, parts of the United States, particularly rural areas, began to see skyrocketing rates of addiction and crime related to use of the drug.

…Between 1995 and 2001, OxyContin brought in $2.8 billion in revenue for Purdue Pharma, a closely held company based in Stamford, Conn. At one point, the drug accounted for 90 percent of the company’s sales.

Just to recap, here, a major drug company was allowed to issue false documents and information to both government regulators and the public in order to make a large fortune by pushing a dangerous narcotic that resulted in an epidemic of abuse and crime; and all they have to do is pay out a mere 20% of their earnings to escape prosecution. This is not a case of “misbranding”. On the contrary, it is a blatant attempt to sell hazardous narcotics for profit, or, how do you say?…..ah yes…..DRUG DEALING.

Let’s say Purdue wasn’t a corporatoin, but rather a successful street-level drug dealer, or “private entrepreneur” as we classify them. Purdue obviously moved some serious weight in New York state, so he would be subject to the Rockefeller Drug laws, some of the harshest legislation passed against any crime, let alone the War on Drugs. Since, as the Times stated, Oxy is as powerful as Heroin, let’s say our man Purdue was pushin Heroin. What would be his sentence if he was arrested, tried, and convicted?:

Under the Rockefeller drug laws, the penalty for selling two ounces (approximately 56 grams) or more of heroin, morphine, “raw or prepared opium,” cocaine, or cannabis, including marijuana (these latter two being included in the statute even though they are not “narcotics” from a chemical standpoint), or possessing four ounces (approximately 128 grams) or more of the same substances, was made the same as that for second-degree murder: A minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.

This is just for selling the shit, mind you. Purdue was a big time, national cat, so he also committed several other crimes in order to commit this one (trafficking, conspiracy, etc.) so at this point he’s looking at a few decades in Rikers. We prosecute drug dealers because they distribute harmful narcotics to our children and commit crimes in order to facilitate their business. If a pharmaceutical company is found guilty of the same actions on a larger scale, but given a fraction of the punishment, how is that possibly justice? If Purdue the dealer got off like Purdue the corporation, there would be community leaders and politicians falling over themselves to denounce our justice system, government, and godless society for perpetuating such an intolerable failure. What you wanna bet we hear anything close to this on Purdue Pharma?

The most disturbing fact of all of this is that the F.D.A., by standing idly by for 6 years, is more or less complicit in all of this. It’s true, they were provided with misleading information and all the rest, but you honestly mean to tell me that they can find a fatal chemical in Chinese pet food and be unaware as to the risks of a prescription pain medication? Glad to see our government is looking out for us a little less than our domestic animals.

“What Happens When Bush Vetoes?”

In Afghanistan, Culture of Corruption, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Policing, Terrorism on April 4, 2007 at 7:34 pm

From an e-mail sent to me by Chris Dodd for President, which, I suppose, is an organization trying to get Dodd elected president.

If President Bush delays funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by vetoing the war supplemental passed last week, how will Democrats react?

One course of action would be to capitulate and immediately write the President another blank check, devoid of benchmarks and accountability.

But that’s not the right choice, nor is it what Democrats were elected to do on November 7, 2006.

Assuming a veto, Senator Russ Feingold and Majority Leader Harry Reid plan to introduce legislation next Tuesday mandating that President Bush begin troop withdrawals one hundred and twenty days after passage.

The bill also serves notice that funding for the war will end by March 31, 2008.

Senator Dodd has signed on as one of the first co-sponsors of the Feingold-Reid bill.

Will you lend your support to this important piece of legislation and ask your personal networks to do the same?

http://chrisdodd.com/stopthewar

It looks like they want us to sign something supporting this legislation, which will only be introduced after Bush has smacked down some other legislation.  Well, ridiculous or not, I suppose I’ll sign it.  Feel free to do the same.

Iraq and Immigration Meet in Mass.

In Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Global War On Terror, Immigration, Iraq War, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 8, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Two festering cancers of America’s policy collided yesterday at a New Bedford, MA manufacturing plant. A small army of Immigrations and Customs Enforcements agents (ICE) executed a massive raid at a Michael Bianco, Inc., netting 327 illegal workers – out of 500 overall – and the company’s management. Though they are now prosecuting the company, our government had also awarded Bianco in the neighborhood of $90-$100 Million in contracts to manufacture quality goods for our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; this includes around $8.5 Million and $36.1 Million for backpacks and portage equipment in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Many words came to mind when I first read about this, and it will probably take a few paragraphs to get to them all, so please, bear with me.

There are many victims in this story, but I’d like to start with the innocent ones. The majority of the workers at Bianco were women, and while they were being handcuffed a rounded up with helicopters for working a $7 an hour job, their children were left stranded. From the Boston Globe:

About 100 children were stuck with baby sitters, caretakers and others, said Corinn Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts. The state Department of Social Services found at least 35 children whose families were affected, authorities said.

“We’re continuing to get stories today about infants that were left behind,” she said. “It’s been a widespread humanitarian crisis here in New Bedford.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that no children were stranded and that authorities released 60 detainees for humanitarian reasons, most related to child care issues. Spokesman Marc Raimondi said that the agency coordinated with the state officials Monday afternoon, and that those still in custody were given the option of letting their children stay with a guardian or putting them in state care.

“We had an agreement in place,” he said. “We are not aware of anyone who had any children that weren’t being cared for.”

Social service officials said they were working with local authorities and community activists to help families.

Since their parents – all but the 60 the ICE mercifully released – spent the night detained in a nearby Army Base, one wonders just exactly where these children were and what kind of care they were given. It is important to note that most of these children are, by birth, American citizens, and as such, are entitled to care in this country. Despite this, a majority of deportees choose to leave with their children, preferring to keep the family together in uncertain poverty rather than burden the state and tear their lives in two. The former, though, will most likely be difficult if not impossible to accomplish given that these workers are now in custody and caught in the unrelenting tide of bureaucracy on their way out of the country. Just what kinds of rights they are granted during processing – most specifically phone calls to loved ones and legal consel – is also suspect:

At Fort Devens, federal agents began a second round of interviews with detainees, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said.

He said the majority will be flown to detention facilities outside of Massachusetts, where they will appear before an immigration court judge for deportation proceedings.

Depending on the judge’s decision, the detainees will either be deported to their home countries or allowed to return to New Bedford, he said.

The length of stay at the detention facilities depends on where the immigrants are from, Mr. Rocha said. Deportation to Mexico is quicker than those to other countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, he said.

This effectively puts these estimated 100 children in indefinite limbo for doing absolutely nothing. Give me one Minute Man who says this is justice, this is American values, and I’ll write in George Bush on my next Presidential ballot.

The second tier are the workers themselves. Whatever, your opinions on immigration are, it is important to understand the conditions in which these people work:

Investigators said the workers toiled in dingy conditions and faced onerous fines, such as a $20 charge for talking while working and spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.

“The whole story will come out, and at that point it will be a very different scenario,” said Insolia’s lawyer, Inga Bernstein.

I’m sure it will, Inga. The pay they received – $7 an hour – and lack of benefits is, unfortunately, not that much different than many low-skilled jobs US citizens are forced into these days. But the simple fact that these people are without rights negates any inkling of fair, honest, and even humane treatment by their employers as they risk imprisonment and deportation for reporting mistreatment. I say again, whatever your thoughts on this issue, the plain fact is that these people risk life and limb to come here and be exploited all so that their children can escape the burdens they endure. We are also led to believe, over and over, that these people come to this country to do the jobs American’s won’t. An excellent Op-Ed piece from a local paper stated that the raid happened “on the same day that the state reported that the city’s unemployment rate was the highest in the commonwealth and just one day after a historic copper company founded by patriot Paul Revere announced it will close its historic plant in New Bedford” When a big time factory can beat it’s competitors while still keeping it’s local work-force in unemployment, it’s a Red-Letter day for American business. With the closing of any plant, fingers start pointing all over the place over who is responsible for the lost jobs. Is it the fault of the immigrant for working the sub-standard wage, or the employer for offering it?

The most unnerving thing, in my opinion, is that all this was done with the full knowledge, if not complicit action of the government. Not just the Department of Defense, who awarded them the contract, but several government agencies turned the other way to continue the flow of cheap goods Bianco dolled out to our troops. From the Op-Ed piece:

As early as February 2002, the Social Security Administration found that there were problems with the paperwork of nearly one in four of Bianco’s 83 employees. Over the next several years, state and city police stops turned up Bianco employees who said they had purchased fraudulent documents.

And report after report, filed over a four-year period, to Social Security found wholesale problems with Bianco Inc.’s work force, including Social Security cards whose numbers matched those of dead people.

And yet, the company was awarded more than $100 million in federal contracts to manufacture gear for U.S. soldiers. To meet the demands of the federal contracts, Bianco quadrupled its work force from 151 in February 2005 to 646. The company even received tens of thousands of dollars from Massachusetts, apparently to train illegal immigrants how to do taxpayer-supported jobs for the U.S. military that should have gone to U.S. citizens.

Most of what we eat, be it livestock or produce, has been given off the back of illegal labor for years, so I guess it was only a matter of time before the government stopped riding shotgun and started actively working to engorge American business with cheap labor. While we were being pummelled with the “debate” on these issues going on throughout the halls of government, while walls and fences were being built to keep these dastardly illegals out of our country and rhetoric flew like electrons from our elected officials, hundreds of workers – just counting Bianco, mind you – were being ignored if not encouraged to keep quiet and meet their quotas. The Senate felt it appropriate to demonize these workers while ignoring the employers that brought them here in the first place; these captains of industry who supplied Mexicans, Brazilians, Guatemalans and Jamaicans – just to name a few – with false identification and denied them any rights whatsoever in order to avoid the labor laws and civil rights that come with a legitimate workforce. But hey, that crap’s expensive and we live in a global economy. However encouraging it is to see Francesco Insolia, Bianco’s owner, and the rest of the company’s management being led away in the same cars as the their victims, it is merely window dressing when compared to monumental task at hand. It will take much more than raids to cure the culture of corruption we have let infect our economy through lax oversight and an unwillingness to face the issues at hand. It will be curious to see if the new Democratic leadership will be able to cut the bullshit and find a solution, be it amnesty or prosecution, to this festering problem. There are many who believe that they would rather wait out this supposed lame-duck administration and deal with the problem on their own terms come ’08 instead of working with Bush to solve it, thereby reinvigorating his languishing term. How many millions of workers will be prosecuted from now until then? What will be the human cost of all of this useless politcal posturing?

The fact that many of our troops are now equipped with the products made by this company is nothing short of poetic irony. At the very least, corners have been cut and rules have been bent in countless ways to keep this war afloat. The complete and total lack of responsible oversight and accountability that has been so well documented in Iraq has finally been revealed to us at home, and one can only wonder how much more of our military is being supported by these illegal and unethical companies. We have been told that we wage this war for the people of Iraq to have a taste of the freedom we take for granted here, that it is our job to cast away the darkness of oppression with the enduring light of liberty. Yet here we are, oppressing our own people with unemployment and foreigners with much worse, supplanting the equipment our troops deserve with that which is cheapest and orphaning scores of children without any consideration to their future, all in the broad daylight of this liberty we take for granted. My mother was born of Polish and Czech immigrants who arrived here at the turn of the century and my father came here from the Philippines in his twenties, which makes immigration a very personal issue for me, and probably why I’ve written more of a manifesto than a post. Most immigrants don’t come here for themselves, they do so for their families and their children, seeking to spread the apparent overflow of prosperity upon those they love. This was the founding principal of our nation, it was the reason why George Washington didn’t want to pay his taxes and why Jose’ worked 3 jobs with no insurance, they both wanted to be citizens of the United States. Should people come here legally? Yes. Regulating this, though, must start within our own borders by prosecuting the companies perpetuating it. The fact remains that there are millions of people who have spent year after year toiling in sheer exploitation that deserve, if not the name, at least some of the rights guaranteed by citizenship. By instead putting them in shackles and tearing apart their families, we relive another notorious and shamefull period of our history. If we cannot enforce our laws equally across tax brackets, guarantee the well being of our citizens and the humane treatment of those who are not, we scar the traditions that built this country. If we can’t fulfill our promises here, how are we supposed to fight and die to fulfill them elsewhere?

Bush Continues Anti-Regulatory Efforts with Industry Nominee to CPSC

In Civil Liberties, Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, International Trade, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 7, 2007 at 11:37 am

Just another re-post

In nominating Michael E. Baroody Mar. 1 to be chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), President Bush demonstrated yet another example since the 2006 elections of his efforts to slow down or roll back government regulation. CPSC is the independent regulatory agency charged with protecting the public against injury and death from a wide range of consumer products.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Baroody currently serves as the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), an industry trade group which often works to ease regulations on manufacturers of consumer products. Baroody has been at NAM since 1990, except for a year when he worked for the Republican National Policy Forum. While at NAM, Baroody built a powerful lobbying and communications arm, which has had a very strong anti-regulatory agenda. He appeared to be next in line to get the top job at NAM until former Michigan governor John Engler was appointed president and CEO…

The Los Angeles Times reports that, for example, Baroody fought against ergonomic standards that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration recommended in 2000, and he spoke on behalf of NAM when the Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted constitutionally when it issued air pollution limits in 2001. Baroody’s nomination goes to the Senate Commerce Committee where Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has vowed to scrutinize the nominee…

As we watch our nation’s inability to respond to a range of challenges, whether it’s regarding the quality of our national parks, our veterans’ health care quality, the readiness of the National Guard, Hurricane Katrina, or the regulation of our food supply, Bush continues to nominate people not to govern the country, but to achieve ideological ends and protect corporate interests.

Colombia’s Death Squads and Another Forgotten War

In Culture of Corruption, Global War On Terror, International politics, Terrorism on February 28, 2007 at 3:30 pm

With everything going on in the Middle East, it is easy to get foreign policy blinders and neglect our approach to the rest of the world. Recently, one of George Bush’s most staunch political allies in Latin America, Colombia’s 2nd term President Álvaro Uribe, has come under fire for supposed connections to paramilitary groups and death squads operating throught the country. Considering the $4.7 Billion in aid we’ve given to the country since 2000 – not to mention all of it in the ’80s during the D.A.R.E./War on Drugs Regan years – this has our name all over it at a time when we’ve already got enough policy blunders under our belt. Columbia’s government is obviously in a state of upheaval:

“Eight pro-Uribe congressmen have been arrested for collaborating with paramilitaries, and dozens of national and regional politicians, some of whom have apparently fled the country, are under investigation. Pro-Uribe legislators, as well as the opposition, have called for special elections to “cleanse” Congress and erase suspicions that many may have won because of support from paramilitaries. A decorated colonel has been relieved of his post, and other former military officials are also under investigation.

On Feb. 19, Uribe’s foreign minister,María Consuelo Araújo, resigned after the Supreme Court arrested her brother, an Uribe-allied senator, in connection with the kidnapping of a political rival. Her father, a former governor, another brother and a cousin are also under investigation.

On Feb. 22 came the worst blow. Jorge Noguera, who served as Uribe’s campaign manager and later as head of the secret police, was arrested by the attorney general. Noguera is accused of giving a hit list of trade unionists and activists to paramilitaries, who then killed them.”

This is even more troubling when one looks at his approval ratings (in the mid 60s – 70s) among Colombia’s citizenry, and his decent progress towards peace and stability in the country. Losing a popular incumbent leader to a scandal as pervasive and ugly as this could create a serious backlash in a region already foaming with anti-Americanism, to say nothing of undermining the credibility of the Colombian government as a whole. Execution lists and subsidized murder reek of Pinochet, and though we’re not taught about these moments in our own history, be damn sure they aren’t forgotten:

“Representative William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat active in Latin American affairs, said evidence of the right-of-center government’s links to death squads ‘evokes memories of the 1980s in Central America. I think you’re going to see hearings on these issues.’

Aside from the problems in Colombia, Delahunt said that ‘what we have is a Latin America policy that is an afterthought.’ “

There really isn’t much separating this from Afghanistan, where the Taliban – remember them? – has come back in a big way even before they started takin pot shots at Cheney. I guess starting one war before finishing another has unintended consequences. Despite our financial aid and the strings holding up Mr. Karzai, neither he nor the outnumbered NATO force seem to have the muscle or authority to keep this house in order and yet another terrorist group has reaped the benefits of our folly. In Colombia’s case, it might have started as a domestic conflict between the Government, FARC and ELN, but it’s been perpetuated and escalated with our money and our War on Drugs. Plan Colombia certainly isn’t doing them any favors, and it’s ineffectiveness underscores our troubling history in the region as well as our nasty habit of starting wars but not having the ability to finish them.

Whether funded by Opium or Cocaine, it seems as though warloads and guerrillas can continue to operate well out of our reach as long as we’re tied down – militarily, financially, politically and diplomatically – in Iraq; yet another half-assed war. And just as the Afghanistan has fallen back under the thumb of the Taliban, so too is Iraq slipping more and more into the sphere of influence of Iran. If the Uribe’ administration collapses under the weight of it’s own bloody corruption, a similar power vacuum might open it’s mouth over Colombia, in which case Ahmadinejad’s best friend, the great consolidator Hugo Chavez, will be ready to make room for another country in his grand designs for domination. How many more situations like these are waiting for us? When are we truly going to know the cost of our forgotten wars?

Redistricting Prisoners

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, The War On Drugs, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 11:21 am

Another one that isn’t a new conversation, but good to see Schneiderman keeping it on the table…

Where prisoners are counted as population for redistricting purposes is an urgent issue for New York to deal with before 2010 Census redistricting, especially considering the Community Service Society of New York reports that,

“Approximately 80% of New York State’s prison population consists of Blacks and Latinos from New York City’s predominately Black and Latino communities, including Harlem, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side, the South and East Bronx, Central and East Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens. When released, the majority of the former prisoners return to these communities.”

This, from today’s Albany Times Blog,

Eileen Markey’s article in City Limits alludes to another parallel. The majority of our state’s prisoners come from downstate (New York City), but virtually all the state’s prisons are upstate. More importantly, those prisoners are counted as “residents” of upstate towns in the decennial census, but they are unable to vote. Thus, for the purposes of reapportionment and redistricting in NY, prisoners are like seat fillers at the Oscars: they give districts the appearance of being full, but they have absolutely no clout.

This practice has meaningful economic and political consequences. The resources diverted to districts upstate do little to aid prisoners, while the actual residents get a disproportionately large slice of the pie. In turn, less money is directed to downstate districts that already lack resources and support returning prisoners upon their release. Politically, this method has favored Republicans, who are heavily concentrated upstate. By allocating prisoners up north, redistricters respecting one-person/one-vote doctrine must create more districts upstate; these puffed-up districts have tended to elect GOP candidates.

There are simple ways to change New York’s method of counting prisoners. Some states simply do not count prisoners when redistricting. Others, including Sen. Eric Schneiderman have proposed creating a database with the last known addresses of prisoners, and counting them there. Either proposal would bring more fairness to the system and help end the current practice in NY which heaps insult onto injury: not only are prisoners being used for partisan gain, but their home districts suffer as well. Or, put another way, not only are they little more than nominees with no chance at a statue, they’re left without the coveted swag too.

Income Inequality: Income of 1.2m on top = Income of 45.5m on bottom

In class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Laws & Regulation, Progressive Politics, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 10:39 am

In case you need a good pick-me-up with your cup o’ joe, here are some tid-bits the Wall Street Journal pulled out from a recent CBO report. Nothing too new, but good to stay motivated:

…Before taxes, the bottom 40% of U.S. households got 13% of the nation’s income in 2004; after federal taxes of all sorts they got about 15%, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimates. Because of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a cash bonus the government offers low-wage workers, many Americans at the bottom get money from the government, rather than having to pay income taxes; they still face payroll taxes on their wages.

Before taxes, the top 1% got about 16% of income; after taxes they ended up with 14%. (Yes, you read that right: The 1.2 million best-off households got about as much income, even after taxes, as the 45.5 million worst-off.) That top 1%, by the way, pays about a quarter of all federal taxes.

…The Treasury benefits more when CEOs get bigger raises than when ordinary workers gain, and that, along with the buoyant economy, is a big reason for today’s surge in federal revenue.

Immigration Detention Centers Privatize Food (PS: Food’s top reason for rioting)

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Food Justice, Global War On Terror, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Race, Terrorism, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 10:26 am

Whew… Could turn into an underreported mess

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau has decided to hire an Alaska Native corporation to take over detention center food service work currently performed by dozens of federal employees.

Fifty-six ICE food service employees at detention centers in Miami; Los Angeles; Los Fresnos and El Paso, Texas; Florence, Ariz.; and El Centro, Calif., will be replaced by ANC workers, according to a notice posted earlier this month on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. The decision was made after the agency conducted a streamlined public-private job competition, in which officials decided after completing market research that it would be best to outsource the work.

Officials then announced in the notice early this month that, rather than soliciting proposals from all interested private sector companies, they would give the work to an Alaska Native firm. These companies are considered disadvantaged and allowed to bypass some of the normal competitive procedures required to win federal contracts.

…”ICE is not required to even show that this type of contractor is cheaper or better than federal employees, so the results of the … competition don’t matter, much less the way it was conducted,” said one person at the Homeland Security Department, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. ICE is part of DHS.

…A separate agency source predicted that officials may have a difficult time making a smooth transition to a contract workforce.

“I foresee disturbances likely to occur after the new contractors take over,” said the source, who also spoke under the condition of anonymity. “One of the primary reasons inmates [and] detainees riot is the quality of the food service. Contract employees will be held to strict time limits, [and] the quality and quantity will surely suffer as a result.”

The Music Wars: Here’s One for Their Side

In Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Misc., Music, Technology on February 16, 2007 at 5:41 pm

The International Herald Tribune reported today that Universal Music Group is narrowing in on a negotiated settlement with the website Bolt.com over – what else – copyright infringement. For those not in the know, Bolt is basically a hybrid MySpace/YouTube site that allows users to create profiles, message, and upload and share various types of media. Seems like the standard story from the last couple of years, but there are some ominous overtones nonetheless:

To pay for the settlement, which will combine cash, stock and advertising credits, Bolt has agreed to sell itself to GoFish, a smaller rival, for as much as $30 million in GoFish stock.

“This deal is economically painful to Bolt shareholders,” Cohen said. “It is setting a precedent that companies that violate copyright at minimum risk litigation.”

Universal, a unit of Vivendi, hopes the settlement will set a precedent that will help its ongoing case against MySpace, the vast social network owned by News Corp., and against Grouper, a video sharing site owned by Sony. Universal has sued both for copyright

Bolt.com had about 8 million visitors last year which accounted for a minuscule fraction of Universals potential revenue from royalties in it’s fiscal year, and that’s being overly generous. Yet by bankrupting this little no-name site, they’re gaining a powerful tool to use in future lawsuits. Once the deal is done, it’s fairly likely that we’ll be seeing more of this in the coming months and years. There is no dearth of small media sites that have neither the representation, nor the resources to defend themselves against the onslaught of litigation wrought by these multi-national conglomerates. Given any “infringement” case the sharks over a the legal departments of UMG , Warner Bros., Paramount, Conde Nast, or any large media company can basically waltz in and dictate whatever terms they see fit and waltz out with a precedent that not only would have cost them ten times the manpower if they’d have picked on someone their own size, but can also be used to deal a crushing blow to their larger enemies.

It seems that the Music “Business” has come to rely less and less on the content created by their artists while increasing its reliance on lawyers and settlements to replace their “lost” revenue. Granted, whats the point spending to produce content if it’s simply going to be stolen anyway, but did it ever occur to these people that the answer to their prayers might have something to do with their actions and not ours? Case in point, UMG is suing MySpace because their songs are on people’s pages and their not getting a piece of the action. Their resident mouthpiece, Pete Lofrumento, took it a step further:

“…copyright law doesn’t give people the right to engage in the massive infringement of our content to build a thriving business and then, after the fact, avoid exposure by saying they will prospectively start to filter.”

Where does one begin? The copyright law he invokes is actually the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which will no doubt become a defining piece of legislation of our generation. I’m not well-versed enough to speak on his legal issues, but I find it the highest kind of arrogance to believe that UMG’s content, or any mainstream media content for that matter, had a major role to play in the success of MySpace. Murdoch’s billions went to purchase an already vibrant network of DIY websites that were mostly populated by user-generated content. Not to say that there aren’t Jay-Z songs on people’s pages, there are tons of people who upload their favorite songs to their profiles. That being said, these tracks and already existing content is not the main event of anyone’s profile; they’re window dressing on an already lush environment of personal pictures, comments, music and video. Big media wasn’t giving us what we wanted so we made it for ourselves. The notion that the creators of MySpace somehow hijacked someone else’s products to create a phenomenon is bogus, as is the Major Label contention that they are somehow owed something now that the site is successful. If anything, Majors should be encouraging and facilitating access to their catalogs on MySpace, not actively working to have them removed or “filtered”. The fans are online by the millions, all craving content on an unprecedented scale. Until these suits are willing to trade old hang-ups for new money, they can shut the hell up about their royalties and keep their lawsuits to themselves.

Cheney formed fourth branch of government… years ago

In Blogs we like, Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on February 15, 2007 at 10:51 am

From the good folk at Free Government Information (“Because government information has to be free”):

The Office of the Vice President (OVP) is refusing to cooperate with a government directory known as the “Plum Book,” which lists government employees. Federal agencies have to comply by listing staffers in the directory, but Dick Cheney’s office claimed an exemption for itself, arguing that the “Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch.” But it’s not just the phone book with which the OVP refuses to cooperate. Evidently, the OVP is not part of the executive branch and so need not comply with ANY disclosures.

An important legal ruling is pending over Vice President Cheney’s refusal to disclose statistics on document classification and declassification activity. The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is responsible for the policy and oversight of the government’s security classification system and declassification, has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to direct Cheney’s office to disclose these statistics. According to Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, “for the last three years, OVP has refused to divulge its classification statistics to ISOO, despite a seemingly explicit requirement that it do so. Prior to 2002, such information had routinely been transmitted and reported in ISOO’s annual reports to the President.”

Hmmm, the OVP doesn’t want the public to know who’s working there or how many documents they’re classifying. What’s going on there?

Jack Bauer fills post-9/11 torture void, and then some

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 5:30 pm

well put, Political Animal

GOOD GUYS vs. BAD GUYS….Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece about Joel Surnow, the right-wing producer behind 24, has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention. The use of torture on the show has become so routine and so outlandish that even some Army officers are unnerved by the effect it’s having. In a scene she describes, an Army interrogator tells the show’s staff that “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”

But here’s another observation about TV torture. It’s alluded to in passing in Mayer’s article, but an LA Times piece spells it out:

From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture [in prime time television], according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said.

….The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer’s identity was more likely to be an American hero like “24’s” Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days.

Pre-9/11: torture is used by bad guys. That’s one of the ways you know they’re bad guys.

And today? Actually, nothing’s changed. It’s still how you know who the bad guys are. We just seem to have temporarily forgotten that.

FTC Let’s Industry Write The Rules (Sounds Like Bush’s Energy and Banking Regulators)

In Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Food Justice, Freedom of Speech, International politics, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., US Politics on February 12, 2007 at 10:21 am

Subject matter may be a bit odd to some, but it’s just another example of Bush Administration letting industry “self-police.” Banking and energy are two very clear parallels where the Administration has let industry police itself by turnig a collective blind eye to its own misgivings.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has written to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to ban cheese advertising during children’s TV shows… Cheddar cheese gets 73% of its calories from fat, the PCRM claims, and thus is not an acceptable food to be promoted to kids during the obesity epidemic… The PCRM wants the FTC to copy the United Kingdom, which has recently banned cheese and other fatty foods from British kids TV. Kellogg and Kraft in the U.S. in November became part of a coalition of food marketers who pledged to devote 50% of their advertising targeting kids to only healthful products… In a recent interview with Brandweek (Feb. 5), FTC chief Deborah Platt Majoras said she would rather see the industry regulate itself than force the FTC to act.

Domestic Spying: Errors Cloud Data Mining

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Netroots, Technology, Terrorism, US Politics on December 21, 2006 at 10:58 am

Every once in a while the Cato Institute makes an intelligent statement (from Washington Technology):

Data mining’s high error rate makes it wrong for fighting terrorism, according to a new report.

The report by Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, and Jeff Jonas, chief scientist with IBM Corp.’s Entity Analytic Solutions Group, said that data mining results in false positive rates of more than 90 percent. The error rate cannot be reduced substantially, they said, because the underlying analysis depends on the existence of terrorism patterns. These are nearly impossible to discern, because such a small amount of data is available.

“The statistical likelihood of false positives is so high that predictive data mining will inevitably waste resources and threaten civil liberties,” they wrote.

Bush Censors Science

In civil, Culture of Corruption, Environment, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, Technology on December 15, 2006 at 1:56 am

A very interesting article from the associated press. I found it here. Seems they’re no longer satisfied denying science’s findings: they’ve graduated to tooling it. A shame when you have to police “truth”. That’s usually a sign of weakness, I think.

The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest agency subjected to controls on research that might go against official policy.

New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Top officials at the Interior Department’s scientific arm say the rules only standardize what scientists must do to ensure the quality of their work and give a heads-up to the agency’s public relations staff.

 

“This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way,” Barbara Wainman, the agency’s director of communications, said Wednesday. “I don’t have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow.”

Some agency scientists, who until now have felt free from any political interference, worry that the objectivity of their work could be compromised.

“I feel as though we’ve got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do. And to me that’s a very scary thing. I worry that it borders on censorship,” said Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS field station at Santa Cruz, Calif.

“The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research,” said Estes, a researcher at the agency for more than 30 years. “But to me it feels like they’re doing this to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they’re afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration.”

The new requirements state that the USGS’s communications office must be “alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature.”

The agency’s director, Mark Myers, and its communications office also must be told, prior to any submission for publication, “of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.”

Patrick Leahy, USGS’s head of geology and its acting director until September, said Wednesday that the new procedures would improve scientists’ accountability and “harmonize” the review process. He said they are intended to maintain scientists’ neutrality.

“Our scientific staff is second to none,” he said. “This notion of scientific gotcha is something we do not want to participate in. That does not mean to avoid contentious issues.”

The changes amount to an overhaul of commonly accepted procedures for all scientists, not just those in government, based on anonymous peer reviews. In that process, scientists critique each other’s findings to determine whether they deserve to be published.

From now on, USGS supervisors will demand to see the comments of outside peer reviewers’ as well any exchanges between the scientists who are seeking to publish their findings and the reviewers.

The Bush administration, as well as the Clinton administration before it, has been criticized over scientific integrity issues. In 2002, the USGS was forced to reverse course after warning that oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would harm the Porcupine caribou herd. One week later a new report followed, this time saying the caribou would not be affected.

Earlier this year, a USGS scientist poked holes in research that the Interior Department was using in an effort to remove from the endangered species list a tiny jumping mouse that inhabits grasslands coveted by developers in Colorado and Wyoming.

Federal criminal investigators are looking into allegations that USGS employees falsified documents between 1998 and 2000 on the the movement of water through the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. The USGS had validated the Energy Department’s conclusions that water seepage was relatively slow, so radiation would be less likely to escape.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists and advocacy groups alike are worried about closing libraries that contain tens of thousands of agency documents and research studies. “It now appears that EPA officials are dismantling what it likely one of our country’s comprehensive and accessible collections of environmental materials,” four Democrats who are in line to head House committees wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson two weeks ago.

Democrats about to take control of Congress have investigations into reports by The New York Times and other news organizations that the Bush administration tried to censor government scientists researching global warming at NASA and the Commerce Department.