Thursday, June 30, 2005

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly has some fascinating background to add to the news story about Tom Cruise denying that mental illness is a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain and asserting that, of course, there are aliens. In a posting titled "TOM CRUISE'S DANGEROUS CLOWN SHOW" Drum begins by quoting, then proceeds to nail Scientology:
Hollywood actor Tom Cruise not only battles creatures from outer space in his latest film "War of the Worlds", he also believes aliens exist, he told a German newspaper on Wednesday.
Asked in an interview with the tabloid daily Bild if he believed in aliens, Cruise said: "Yes, of course. Are you really so arrogant as to believe we are alone in this universe?
....Many scientologists feel they are unfairly criticized, arguing that although many believe in the concept of aliens, it is not such an unreasonable proposition.

I'm actually getting a little tired of Cruise — and Scientology — being treated as some kind of cutesy human interest story. If someone wants to really interview Cruise about space aliens they should ask him a few questions like these:
Mr. Cruise, do you believe that 75 million years ago an evil galactic ruler named Xenu deposited trillions of paralyzed alien bodies on earth and then destroyed them with H-bombs?
Mr Cruise, do you believe that the souls of these creatures, known as "thetans," inhabit the bodies of present day humans?
Mr. Cruise, do you believe that "clearing" our bodies of these thetans is the key to mental stability? Is that the reason Scientologists believe that psychiatry and antidepressive drugs are damaging and unnecessary?
This is crackpot stuff, and there's plenty more available on the internet about Scientology and the origins of its decades long crusade against the mental health profession — all accessible with a few minutes of googling to any reporter willing to take the trouble. If the media stopped treating this like a bit of chuckleheaded fun and asked Cruise some real questions, Americans might be a wee bit less tolerant of his dangerous and dishonest clown show.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

If you haven't already, you might want to add Fired Up to your favorites list. The site comments on Missouri politics and Republican hypocrisy, often with style and wit. To wit:
Matt Blunt: "Patient Abuse Has Gone On For Too Long; I'll Stop It--- Next Year."
Remember back in January when Matt Blunt announced that he would close the Bellefontaine Rehabilitation Center to save the state money. Well it turned out that the rookie Governor failed to factor federal funding into the cost saving calculation. After someone did that for him, it turned out that closing the Center would actually cost the state money.
So the Governor That's Never Wrong then shifted his rationale--- the state should close the Center because of... patient abuse.
While the Center has had a spotty record on patient treatment, parents and families rose up and fought to block Blunt's closure plan. They won that fight in the legislature.
But Blunt hasn't given up. A spokesman said Monday that Governor Blunt still intends to propose closing down Bellefontaine in his next budget next year. "There's been just a sad history of violence and abuse committed on the residents of Bellefontaine by the workers there," said Spence Jackson. "And those workers are state employees."
If the Governor were so concerned about patient abuse, wouldn't he be taking steps now to protect them, rather than waiting until the start of Fiscal Year 2007? Blunt's plan looks more and more like a face-saver, rather than a life-saver.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Frank Rich, columnist for The New York Times, believes the proposed fund cuts for public broadcasting are a smokescreen. They'll never happen, because the real aim isn't to "kill off PBS and NPR but to castrate them." The Bush administration wants to turn CPB into a propaganda arm for its ideology. Proving it is as easy as following the money, in this case the relatively paltry sum of $14,170 that Kenneth Tomlinson, Bush's hatchet man on the CPB board, paid to Fred Mann to monitor NOW. Stephen Labaton of the Times reported on the money trail, and Rich asks and answers the pertinent questions that arise:
Now, why would Mr. Tomlinson pay for information that any half-sentient viewer could track with TiVo? Why would he hire someone in Indiana? Why would he keep this contract a secret from his own board? Why, when a reporter exposed his secret, would he try to cover it up by falsely maintaining in a letter to an inquiring member of the Senate, Byron Dorgan, that another CPB executive had "approved and signed" the Mann contract when he had signed it himself? If there's a news story that can be likened to the "third-rate burglary," the canary in the coal mine that invited greater scrutiny of the Nixon administration's darkest ambitions, this strange little sideshow could be it.
After Mr. Labaton's first report, Senator Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, called Mr. Tomlinson demanding to see the "product" Mr. Mann had provided for his $14,170 payday. Mr. Tomlinson sent the senator some 50 pages of "raw data." Sifting through those pages when we spoke by phone last week, Mr. Dorgan said it wasn't merely Mr. Moyers's show that was monitored but also the programs of Tavis Smiley and NPR's Diane Rehm.
Their guests were rated either L for liberal or C for conservative, and "anti-administration" was affixed to any segment raising questions about the Bush presidency. Thus was the conservative Republican Senator Chuck Hagel given the same L as Bill Clinton simply because he expressed doubts about Iraq in a discussion mainly devoted to praising Ronald Reagan. Three of The Washington Post's star beat reporters (none of whom covers the White House or politics or writes opinion pieces) were similarly singled out simply for doing their job as journalists by asking questions about administration policies.
"It's pretty scary stuff to judge media, particularly public media, by whether it's pro or anti the president," Senator Dorgan said. "It's unbelievable."
Not from this gang.

Rich then details the ultraconservative bonafides of this gang, which is determined to make National Pravda Radio fair and balanced.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I admit that when I first read the now famous phrase, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy", I was underwhelmed. Was there any sensible person who didn't know that? Indeed, Eric Mink, a generally left-leaning Post-Dispatch columnist, recently called those of us up in arms about it "hyperventilating liberals". Mink points out that, whatever platitudes Bush may have spouted about diplomacy, nobody took those mouthings seriously:
A lengthy Time magazine story published in March 2003, barely a week after the war's start, opened with this salty Bush quote from one year earlier: "F--- Saddam. We're taking him out." The remark, made in a White House meeting, was the president's dismissive response to talk about coalition-building and possible U.N. actions.

Mink's got a point, but so does Ray McGovern, the former CIA analyst who testified at the Conyers hearing. McGovern knew, of course, about the intelligence fixing because of Cheney's 8-12 visits to CIA headquarters. When asked if it was unusual for a sitting vice-president to come there in person, he replied that "it wasn't unusual. It was unprecedented." But McGovern points out that, whatever people may have suspected about what the administration was thinking, we didn't expect to get it documented like this, and Paul Krugman believes we'd be foolish not to use it:
We need to deprive these people of their ability to mislead and intimidate. And the best way to do that is to make it clear that the people who led us to war on false pretenses have no credibility, and no right to lecture the rest of us about patriotism.

But the hoopla has all been about that one phrase, and Michael Smith, the reporter who uncovered the memos, thinks people are focusing on the wrong sentence. In the L.A. Times he says that the memos:
were most striking for the way in which British officials warned the prime minister, with remarkable prescience, what a mess post-war Iraq would become. Even by the cynical standards of realpolitik, the decision to overrule this expert advice seemed to be criminal.

Despite the prescient advice, and because he knew the war was illegal, Blair fished for a way to bait Saddam:
Downing Street had a "clever" plan that it hoped would trap Hussein into giving the allies the excuse they needed to go to war. It would persuade the U.N. Security Council to give the Iraqi leader an ultimatum to let in the weapons inspectors.
Although Blair and Bush still insist the decision to go to the U.N. was about averting war, one memo states that it was, in fact, about "wrong-footing" Hussein into giving them a legal justification for war.
British officials hoped the ultimatum could be framed in words that would be so unacceptable to Hussein that he would reject it outright. But they were far from certain this would work, so there was also a Plan B.
....Another part of the memo...quotes British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon as saying that "the U.S. had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime." This we now realize was Plan B.
Put simply, U.S. aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone were dropping a lot more bombs in the hope of provoking a reaction that would give the allies an excuse to carry out a full-scale bombing campaign, an air war, the first stage of the conflict.

When ten tons of bombs a month in August didn't work, 54.6 tons were dropped in September, before Congressional approval of war. Smith concludes:
The real news is the shady April 2002 deal to go to war, the cynical use of the U.N. to provide an excuse, and the secret, illegal air war without the backing of Congress.

So instead of focusing only on "intelligence fixed around policy", we need to dish up for this nation large portions of the cold porridge of lies and miscalculation.
In fact, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne deems the self-delusion of Bush and Cheney the most dominant ingredient in the gruel. We see their foolishness in:
recently disclosed documents in which British officials warned that "there was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action." The British worried at the time that "U.S. military plans are virtually silent" on the fact that "a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise."

Dionne contends that the administration believed it was invincible. Just before the war, Tim Russert, interviewing Cheney, painted the possibility of post-war chaos and insurgency. Cheney kept insisting we'd be greeted as liberators.
So maybe they're not liars, only arrogant incompetents.
These egotists thought they could igore facts. Ron Suskind bragged, "When we act, we create our own reality." Suskind et. al. need to take care about turning their backs on other people's reality lest it bite them in the heinie. If Democrats do their job, the G.O.P. ought to be whirling defensively toward every point of the compass to defend themselves over the multitude of lies and miscalculations revealed by the Brit memos. As Eric Mink concluded:
In fabricating a house of cards, there inevitably comes a moment when weight trumps architecture, and the structure falls in on itself. The Bush house of cards is not collapsing, but it is increasingly precarious.
And the wind's picking up.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Republicans are hogs at the trough, as this Washington Post article makes clear:
To the great growth industries of America such as health care and home building add one more: influence peddling.
The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent. Only a few other businesses have enjoyed greater prosperity in an otherwise fitful economy. ...
"There's unlimited business out there for us," said Robert L. Livingston, a Republican former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and now president of a thriving six-year-old lobbying firm. "Companies need lobbying help."
Lobbying firms can't hire people fast enough. Starting salaries have risen to about $300,000 a year for the best-connected aides eager to "move downtown" from Capitol Hill or the Bush administration. Once considered a distasteful post-government vocation, big-bucks lobbying is luring nearly half of all lawmakers who return to the private sector when they leave Congress, according to a forthcoming study by Public Citizen's Congress Watch.

$300,000 for a lobbyist is paltry when you consider the payoff:
Take the example of Hewlett-Packard Co. The California computer maker nearly doubled its budget for contract lobbyists to $734,000 last year and added the elite lobbying firm of Quinn Gillespie & Associates LLC. Its goal was to pass Republican-backed legislation that would allow the company to bring back to the United States at a dramatically lowered tax rate as much as $14.5 billion in profit from foreign subsidiaries. The extra lobbying paid off. The legislation was approved and Hewlett-Packard will save millions of dollars in taxes.

This congress and its president are handing out goodies at a rate undreamt of by "tax and spend" Democrats:
The Republicans in charge aren't just pro-business, they are also pro-government. Federal outlays increased nearly 30 percent from 2000 to 2004, to $2.29 trillion. And despite the budget deficit, federal spending is set to increase again this year, especially in programs that are prime lobbying targets such as defense, homeland security and medical coverage.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Kevin Drum, blogging at The Washington Monthly, is my new favorite online source.
Donald Gregg and Don Oberdorfer write in the Washington Post that North Korea's Kim Jong Il might be more willing to make a nuclear deal than we think:

"During a visit we made to Pyongyang in November 2002...we were given a written personal message from Kim to Bush declaring: "If the United States recognizes our sovereignty and assures non-aggression, it is our view that we should be able to find a way to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of a new century." Further, he declared, "If the United States makes a bold decision, we will respond accordingly."
We took the message to senior officials at the White House and State Department and urged the administration to follow up on Kim's initiative, which we have not made public until now. Then deep in secret planning and a campaign of public persuasion for the invasion of Iraq, the administration spurned engagement with North Korea. Kim moved within weeks to expel the inspectors from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and reopen the plutonium-producing facilities that had been shut down since 1994 under an agreement negotiated with the Clinton administration."

All we have to do is sign a nonaggression pact? Hell, that's all North Korea has wanted ever since we stopped the "police action" there in 1953. There's still no treaty. Drum speculates about the consequences of signing such a pact and
sees no downside.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Now that Bolton's nomination has been foiled again by Dem senators, Bush is reported to be considering an end run: as soon as Congress goes on recess, he'll give Bolton an interim appointment, good for eighteen months without congressional approval. That would be a shame. If Bolton were to lose the mustache and grow pointy hair, he could give Dilbert's boss lessons in doing it wrong. The Washington Monthly sheds new light on his incompetence.
Good news! Now that John Bolton has left his previous job where he was in charge of arms control, we're suddenly making great progress on arms control! Laura Rozen has the details.
For years, a key U.S. program intended to keep Russian nuclear fuel out of terrorist hands has been frozen by an arcane legal dispute. As undersecretary of state, John R. Bolton was charged with fixing the problem, but critics complained he was the roadblock.
Now with Bolton no longer in the job, U.S. negotiators report a breakthrough with the Russians and predict a resolution will be sealed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international summit in Scotland next month, clearing the way to eliminate enough plutonium to fuel 8,000 nuclear bombs.
The prospective revival of the plutonium disposal project underlines a noticeable change since Bolton's departure from his old job as arms control chief. Regardless of whether the Senate confirms him as U.N. ambassador during a scheduled vote today, fellow U.S. officials and independent analysts said his absence has already been felt at the State Department.
This is really quite incredible. By so many measures Bolton has been a destructive force for stated Bush administration policy objectives. And as taking Bolton out of the loop furthered US policy goals on Russia's loose nukes, so did Rice's taking him out of the loop on Iran help that sensitive negotiation as well, the WaPo report continues:
"But Bolton was shut out of Iran after Rice's ascension, according to two U.S. officials, and his policy was reversed. In early January, officials from France, Britain and Germany flew secretly to Washington for a brainstorming session on Iran. Bolton was not invited, European diplomats said...
'We weren't the ones who wanted to keep the meeting secret,' one European diplomat said. 'It was the American side that didn't want him there.'"
It's almost laughable.

Wonder if Condi will be in hot water with the boss now that word's out she snubbed his boy. Anyway, just so Bush doesn't put him back in charge of arms control. I'm going to rest easier knowing more is being done about those loose nukes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Earlier this month, Dean spoke the truth about Republicans. Last week, Dick Durbin spoke the truth about Guantanamo. Now Maxine Waters, D-CA, is calling the president out for "the Big Lie" (great framing!). She spoke after Conyers' Downing Street Memo hearings on behalf of the newly formed Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus. Fifty representatives have joined in order to "to take on this president in a real way."
Talk about red meat rhetoric. Ms. Waters makes Dean and Durbin look tame.

Your president is a liar. There is now and never was any weapons of mass destruction. Dick Cheney, the chief architect of the big lie, is not only a liar, but he's a thief. He is responsible for the no bid contracts of Halliburton. He is responsible for the fact that Halliburton has been cheating the American public. He is responsible for giving them a big bonus for being thieves. Condoleeza Rice is a liar, a thief, and a betrayer of the public trust.

Hoowhee. And it's even better when you can hear Waters' emphatic speech and watch her jab the air with her finger to punctuate her words.
You'd think her fightin' words would draw Republican fire, but she's not a high enough profile target, at least not yet. But here's the plan:
"The Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus is a newly formed effort whose sole purpose is to be the main agitators in the movement to bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Our efforts will include the coordination of activities and legislation designed to achieve our goal of returning our troops home. Through floor statements, press conferences, TV and radio appearances and other actions, we will provide leadership for the American Public who has been waiting too long for our collective voices against the war."

So if she's lucky, her comments will draw enough media attention to force Republicans to paint a target on her as they've done on Dean and Durbin. Give 'em hell, Maxine.
My Democratic contressman, Lacy Clay, is not a member of the caucus. I will write and urge him to join. If you want to know whether your representative belongs, check the list here.

Monday, June 20, 2005

From The Nation magazine:

(July 4, 2005 issue)
Cheney Says Iraq Insurgents Are in 'Last Throes'
Calvin Trillin

When rockets fly and battle smoke is thick,
It's good to hear from "Four Deferments Dick."
He's always sure. He knows what warfare is--
Enough to know it's not for him or his.
Insurgents somehow, though they're in the throes,
Kill more GIs--but no one Cheney knows.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Today's Post-Dispatch devotes an entire page to letters about Howard Dean, mostly in his defense. Here's the beginning of my favorite:
Surely if you are so disapproving of Howard Dean's statements, you must be burning about the Downing Street Memo, a document that proves that our president had planned to go to war with Iraq from the beginning of his term in office and "fixed" the intelligence to support that intention.
I can understand that you may be becoming so used to distortion and falsification on the part of this administration that you believe the Downing Street Memo to be ho-hum and not worthy of comment. However, if I had to pick misbehavior to skewer, I would choose impeachable offenses ....

For your reading pleasure, here's a link to the page.
Now let's see what a professional can do with the topic. William Rivers Pitt of Truthout will delight you even more.
If the leadership qualities of those in charge of the national Democratic Party could be squeezed into a shampoo bottle, the directions on the back of the bottle might read something like this: “Make tentative statement. Offer equivocation to avoid appearing adamant. Scramble for cover when colleague offers stinging critique of opposition. Stab colleague in back in public. Palpitate and fret, hem and haw. Lather, rinse, repeat.”
Quite a recipe for success, yes? Not lately.
For the last several years, the Democratic Party has been, for the most part, leaving skid marks on the street as they have retreated from confrontation after confrontation with the radicals who now control the Republican party. This retreat has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime to the utterly outrageous.
Here and there resistance has been put forth - on the Social Security issue, on the stem cell legislation, on the nomination of Bolton as UN ambassador - but all too often the most effective resistance to these and other disastrous policy initiatives has come from other Republicans, and not from the Democrats. It was the eloquence of Republican Senator Voinovich that threw sand in the gears of the Bolton nomination, and it was Republican Senator Specter’s promised override of any Bush veto of the stem cell legislation that has made that issue a problem for the White House.
And then along comes Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC, outspoken and uncompromising, swinging Willie Stark’s meat ax with a will and a purpose. He dared to say that he hates Republicans, that the leadership of that party hasn’t worked a day in their lives, that the GOP has become a radical hothouse of right-wing Christians, almost all of whom are white, and that House majority leader Tom DeLay should go back to Texas and get his looming prison sentence over with. Insert palpitations. Suddenly, Democrats like Joe Biden and Bill Richardson start knocking over furniture and old ladies in their rush to get to a microphone so they can distance themselves from the wild man.

Please don't deny yourself the pleasure of reading the rest.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

From the June 27 issue of The Nation, I give you first some doggerel by Calvin Trillin:
Though Donaldson came from the Street,
He plainly was policing his beat.
And so they replaced him with Cox.
The henhouse goes back to a fox.

Then the opening paragraphs of an article titled "Surrender at the SEC":
The appointment of Representative Christopher Cox to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission is as shameful as sending John Bolton to the United Nations, and should arouse a comparable swell of objections. Cox is a wholly owned agent of the financial and corporate interests the SEC is supposed to regulate. His political career has been financed by the same sectors--banking, accounting, corporate--that produced scandals like Enron and WorldCom. In return, he's worked to shield his patrons from the scrutiny of the government regulators, whom they duped, and the shareholders, whom they swindled.
Bush and his White House are beyond shame, of course. Their "code of honor" is as straightforward as the Mafia's: Always protect ideological kinfolk; always reward monied friends. What's public policy got to do with it? Or a decent respect for public values? The Bush cynics are assuming they can fog this one past Congress without awakening the public. Many Americans were deeply injured by the criminal collaborations of financiers and money-crazed CEOs. Yet the SEC is not well-known, its crucial role in policing Wall Street not widely understood. If the cynics prove correct and Cox is confirmed, replacing resigning chairman William Donaldson, George W. Bush will become an unindicted co-conspirator in this looting.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

DFA of northern California sent out this message:
Howard Dean is under attack. A few of his comments have been taken out of context and used to discredit him--and by doing so, to keep Democrats and progressives down.
No one can stand the kind of critical scrutiny given to Dean: he's under a microscope where every pore and mole is made to look like a disfigurement, while the President of the United States is viewed through reverse binoculars with vasoline on the lens.
But the worst part, the WORST part is that Democrats have been adding fuel to the fire, criticizing Dean when we need to stand together. Our elected officials are fiddlling about Howard Dean while the Republican party burns America.
We at Sonoma County DFA are proposing an outreach effort to all Democratic activists to make a big splash to enhance our visibility and demonstrate our fund-raising and organizational capabilities: Support Howard Dean Day -- June 15th.
So let's do the following and encourage others to do likewise on or before June 15th:
Give money to the DNC or go to It doesn't matter how you give. They're getting the message.
Call your Democratic elected officials. Let them know that Democrats are tired of making jokes about "the circular firing squad": we stand behind Chairman Howard Dean and expect them to refrain from ripping into him in public. If they disagree with him on strategy or tactics, they should tell it to Dean directly, not air it to a hostile media.
Sign the Dean Speaks for Us Petition.
Write letters to the editor.
Spread the word to your friends and family.
Will Rogers famously said: "I'm not a member of an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Well, that ship has sailed. If we don't become an organized political party right now, this nation is finished. In fact, Democratic change is past due, and Dr. Howard Dean is giving the party CPR. We shouldn't stand by while he's being undercut by the very folks who haven't been speakig up for us against the Republican juggernaut.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

An op-ed piece in USA Today has it right about Howard:
Instead of muzzling Howard Dean, Democrats should give him a bullhorn. Rather than urging him to retreat from his attack on Republicans, party leaders ought to send him off to a political war college — preferably the one the late GOP strategist Lee Atwater attended.
As chairman of the Democratic Party, which is teetering between political renewal and functional extinction, Dean should be making war, not peace. But that's exactly what his critics within the party seemed to be suggesting last week when they admonished him for his tough talk about Republicans.

The writer, DeWayne Wickham, contrasts Democratic cowering over Dean's remarks with how Republicans embraced Lee Atwater after his Willie Horton ads deep-sixed Dukakis.
Ironically, Dean's negative talk is something Atwater, who managed the 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush, turned into an art form. When the story broke that Willie Horton, a black convicted murderer, raped a white woman and assaulted her fiancé while on a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison, Atwater went on the attack. He vowed to link Horton so closely to Bush's opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, that people would think the career criminal was the Democratic candidate's running mate.
Republican leaders, eager to extend their party's control of the White House beyond the eight years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, didn't chastise Atwater for playing to racial fears and stereotypes in linking Horton to Dukakis. Instead, they made him party chairman. ...
The time has come for Democrats to give as good as they get.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

On May 22, I wrote:
When three million people, including many conservatives, lobbied the FCC last year to protest new rules allowing more conglomeration, we stopped it. The board members didn't think there were three million people in this country who even knew the FCC existed. Who would have believed that such a geeky topic as FCC rules changes would attract such widespread attention? Internet communications drove that protest, and they can do so again.

Now is the time. We need to apply that same pressure, on the House of Representatives in this instance, over another geeky, crucial issue. Free, which sponsored the recent National Conference on Media Reform, sent me this notice:
A bill just introduced in Congress would take away the right of cities and towns across the country to provide citizens with universal, low-cost Internet access.
Giant cable and telephone companies don’t want any competition -- which might actually force them to offer lower prices, higher speeds and service to rural and urban areas.
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) -- a former telephone company executive -- has introduced a bill (HR 2726) that would let cable and telecom companies shut down municipal and community efforts to offer broadband services.
You can stop this outrageous bill. Send a letter to your representative now.
Next, forward this message to everyone you know ...
No less than the future of all communications is at stake. In a few years, television, telephone, radio and the Web will be accessed through a high-speed internet connection. Low-cost alternatives to telephone (DSL) and cable monopolies are emerging across the country, as cities, towns, nonprofits and community groups build low-cost "Community Internet" and municipal broadband systems.
Companies like SBC, Verizon and Comcast have been introducing laws state by state that would prohibit municipal broadband, undercut local control and prevent competition. But we've been fighting back -- and winning.
An alliance of public interest groups, local officials, high-tech innovators and organized citizens have defeated anti-municipal broadband measures in nine of the 13 states where they've been introduced this year.
What the industry couldn't pass in the states, they're trying to push through in Washington. Sessions' bill -- the "Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act" (an Orwellian title if there ever was one) -- would prevent state and local governments from providing "any telecommunications service, information service or cable service" anywhere a corporation offers a similar service.
Congressman Sessions worked for telephone giant SBC for 16 years, and his wife currently serves as a director of Cingular Wireless, an SBC subsidiary. SBC and its employees have been Sessions' second-biggest career patron, pouring more than $75,000 into his campaign coffers.
We can stop this legislation and send a clear message to Congress that local communities -- not the giant telephone and cable companies -- should determine their own communications needs. But you must act now.
Please send a letter opposing HR 2726 -- and forward this message to everyone you know, asking them to do the same.
Josh Silver
Executive Director
Free Press

Free Press is right when it says, "Media IS the issue." And progressives are finally catching on. We aim to forestall these ruinous bills rather than find out eight years later that we let Congress royally screw us.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Common Dreams has a first-class BUYCOTT suggestion:

Published on Monday, May 16, 2005 by
Buy Your Gas at Citgo: Join the BUY-cott!
by Jeff Cohen
Looking for an easy way to protest Bush foreign policy week after week? And an easy way to help alleviate global poverty? Buy your gasoline at Citgo stations.
And tell your friends.
Of the top oil producing countries in the world, only one is a democracy with a president who was elected on a platform of using his nation's oil revenue to benefit the poor. The country is Venezuela. The President is Hugo Chavez. Call him "the Anti-Bush."
Citgo is a U.S. refining and marketing firm that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. Money you pay to Citgo goes primarily to Venezuela -- not Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. There are 14,000 Citgo gas stations in the US. (.Click here to find one near you.) By buying your gasoline at Citgo, you are contributing to the billions of dollars that Venezuela's democratic government is using to provide health care, literacy and education, and subsidized food for the majority of Venezuelans.
Instead of using government to help the rich and the corporate, as Bush does, Chavez is using the resources and oil revenue of his government to help the poor in Venezuela. A country with so much oil wealth shouldn't have 60 percent of its people living in poverty, earning less than $2 per day. With a mass movement behind him, Chavez is confronting poverty in Venezuela. That's why large majorities have consistently backed him in democratic elections. And why the Bush administration supported an attempted military coup in 2002 that sought to overthrow Chavez.
So this is the opposite of a boycott. Call it a BUYcott. Spread the word.
Of course, if you can take mass transit or bike or walk to your job, you should do so. And we should all work for political changes that move our country toward a cleaner environment based on renewable energy. The BUYcott is for those of us who don't have a practical alternative to filling up our cars.
So get your gas at Citgo. And help fuel a democratic revolution in Venezuela

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Concerned about the pummeling its reputation has taken lately, Wal-Mart has designated half of its ads for PR that shows happy employees talking about their wonderful careers there. Wal-Mart execs have been making soothing "we want to do the right thing" noises, but, in fact, "Wal-Mart is as concerned about doing the right thing as Tobacco companies are concerned about the health of Americans," says Paul Blank, director of the Wake-Up Wal-Mart Campaign.
Only by exposing its execs' smug lies can we turn its customers in another direction and put the hurt on its sales figures. Unless we can affect their bottom line, none of their behavior will change, but it won't be easy. Even union laborers are addicted to saving pennies on Charmin and Tide at the smiley face place. Thirty second sound bytes are inadequate to convince them that the motto of Wal-Mart ought to be "Always High Costs. Always."
The first step each of us should take is the obvious one: Don't shop there. There's an upside to swearing off Wal-Mart. Not only will you be helping local businesses and almost surely getting better service, you'll be spared the depressing ambiance and cart traffic snarls in the narrow aisles. Boycotting W-M is a relief, even sometimes a joy. A friend of mine cut up her Sam's card and presented the pieces of it to the clerk at the service counter at Costco. They both got a laugh out of it. (See the Jan. 12, 2005 blog for info on Costco.)
As far as a broader strategy, the Wake-up Wal-Mart Campaign is pursuing a variety of strategems. First, some legal jockeying could lay the groundwork for a more effective campaign. For example, it would be useful to pass laws in as many states as possible requiring that the state report how many workers of a given company are on any government assistance program. Such reporting would enable citizens to quickly assess how much taxpayers are subsidizing Wal-Mart.
Pop quiz: Where is the most effective place to find Wal-Mart customers so as to inform them of Wal-Mart's real costs? Umm, at Wal-Mart? Of course. But the corporation deems its parking lots to be private property and keeps activists off its land. The Wake-up Wal-Mart Campaign plans to research which parking lots were partly paid for with public money (say, for the lighting, for example). If taxes paid for the lights or any part of building the lot, then it's public space, and activists could make a case for being allowed to leaflet there.
Another possible legal tactic, to be used against Supercenters, is getting them declared "out of classification". There's a limit on how many groceries a department store can carry.
In short, those going after the megaretailer realize that the task will require not only persistence but also craftiness.
Until now, St. Louisans have been spared the worst ravages of the Biggest Box because the corporation considered St. Louis too unionized and unfriendly. That's changed, and Wal-Mart considers St. Louis friendly enough now so that it plans to open two Supercenters in St. Charles. As a result, it's likely that the Wake-Up Wal-Mart Campaign will target St. Louis. UFCW officials hope to meet with Charlie Dooley to discuss limiting Wal-Mart's inroads. The campaign also plans to doorknock throughout St. Charles County to inform residents about the true costs of the pending Supercenters. It will be looking for grassroots activists to help, so if you've been missing knocking on doors since last October, pine no more.
If you're willing to help out with this campaign, it's easy to sign up.
Despite the fact that recent attacks have made Wal-Mart skittish enough to begin fighting back, I'm sure Goliath feels cocky. It's our job to take aim with the pebbles from thousands of slingshots.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Wal-Mart executives are so versed in duplicity that you'd think they'd leave a trail of slime like a slug when they walk.
H. Lee Scott, the CEO, as part of Wal-Mart's PR campaign to combat the rising tide of bad publicity, visited Good Morning America and denied all company wrongdoing. He averred, for example, that there's no evidence of any company policy to pay women employees less than men. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show smirked over that one and agreed there was no written policy as such, "just a rich oral tradition." Scott also insisted that Wal-Mart pays every worker for every hour worked. That's not how the workers tell it:
KANSAS CITY, Mo. After finishing her 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift, Verette Richardson clocked out and was heading to her car when a Wal-Mart manager ordered her to turn around and straighten up the store's apparel department.
Eager not to get on her boss's bad side, she said, she spent the next hour working unpaid, tidying racks of slacks and blouses and picking up hangers and clothes that had fallen to the floor. Other times after clocking out, she was ordered to round up shopping carts in the parking lot.
Some days, as soon as she walked in a manager told her to rush to a cash register and start ringing up purchases, without clocking in. Sometimes, she said, she worked for three hours before clocking in.
"They wanted us to do a lot of work for no pay," said Ms. Richardson, who worked from 1995 to 2000 at a Wal-Mart in southeast Kansas City. "A company that makes billions of dollars doesn't have to do that."

Class action and individual lawsuits in 28 states allege that such pay cheating is common. And until the court stopped the practice a couple of years ago, some Wal-Marts locked overnight workers in, not allowing them to leave even for medical emergencies.
Nevertheless, CEO Scott insists that the company has lots of good jobs and that 74 percent of its workers have full time jobs. Of course, he fails to mention that at Wal-Mart 28 hours a week is considered a full time job. That works out to less than $12,000 a year.
In addition to its shabby treatment of its employees, Wal-Mart makes a habit of strongarming its suppliers. Holton Meat is a local company that provides a typical example. Holton signed a contract to make hamburger patties for Wal-Mart. A year later, Wal-Mart dictated a price for the patties that was below Holton's cost. Only by cutting corners with sanitation and safety regulations could Holton have made any profit, so its management refused to continue working with Wal-Mart. Overnight the company went from 400 employees to seventy. Now it's back up to 500 employees and was recently offered another contract with Wal-Mart. No day, no way, Holton said.
Wal-Mart has bilked its workers out of millions, stiff-armed its suppliers and, oh yes, pretty much destroyed the fabric of small-town America.
Tomorrow's blog will describe ideas for making people aware of all this perfidy.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Today's blog is quoted straight from AMERICAblog.
Why is it that Democrats just love to attack their own? Howard Dean makes a fairly innocuous criticism of Republicans. The response? He gets dumped on by leading Democrats, John Edwards and Joe Biden, both of whom are (surprise, surprise) thinking about running for President themselves. The "controversy," such as it is, is over these remarks, as reported by AP:
While discussing the hardship of working Americans standing in long lines to vote, Dean said Thursday, “Republicans, I guess, can do that because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives.” Dean said later his comments did not refer to hard-working Americans, but rather to the failure of Republican leadership to address working-class concerns.
Dean also said he thinks Tom DeLay should be in jail. So what's the problem? The GOP doesn't care about working class concerns and Tom DeLay probably will be in jail (and certainly should). So, again, what's the big deal?
This looks like another one of those cases where the Right Wing media machine ginned up over Dean's comments... fed them to the media.... who then got Democrats (who conveniently are running for president, so they want to knock Dean out of the picture) to bash Dean. Seriously, the GOP must just sit back and laugh over how easy it is. Our people fall for it every time. They got this headline from AP: "Dems Blast Dean For GOP Remarks".
Joe Biden, appearing on "This Week," jumped on Dean.
Dean “doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats,” Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday on ABC's “This Week.”
John Edwards got on the Dean-bashing bandwagon, too:
Responding to Dean's initial remark, Edwards said Dean “is not the spokesman for the party.”
Meanwhile, as we posted below, judges are under attack. Leading Republicans and their top allies have condoned violence against the Judiciary... now THAT is harsh language most would consider very serious. And what's the GOP response. Pretty much nothing.
The GOP will hardly criticize each other over really vital life and death issues. Democrats leap to eat their own every chance they get. It's easier. And, if you're John Edwards or Joe Biden, criticizing Dean keeps your face on the TV.
Here's an idea for Democrats. Stick together for a change. It's what the Republicans do... and they control the White House, the Senate and the House. You might be better off standing up to the right wing and even the media, instead of beating the crap out of your own party chair.

I sent Biden a short, irate letter about his behavior. Maybe you'd like to do the same. Here's his contact info:
phone: 202-224-5042

Saturday, June 04, 2005

There are no free lunches, they say. The hell there aren't, I say. Wal-Mart rakes in $2.5 BILLION a year in tax and insurance breaks from the federal and state and local governments. Okay, their lunch isn't completely free. Wal-Mart contributes to plenty of Republican campaigns, a little over a million dollars last year. But hey, those donations are a pittance compared to the payoff. You couldn't even liken it to just paying the tax on their free lunch because sales tax is seldom less than 5 percent. Their campaign contributions come to less than a tenth of a percent of $2.5 billion. If their lunch isn't free, then you'd have to call it a steal.
And the freebies are only part of the problem. Most of their employees get poverty wages, and 52 percent of them have no health insurance. Unfortunately, the giant's business model is a greedy inspiration to other corporations. If Wal-Mart can get away with it, so can we, they reason. In fact, if we don't behave the same way, Wal-Mart will sink us. In only one case so far has the biggest Box of them all faced serious resistance. Wal-Mart is currently the defendant in the largest class action lawsuit ever filed against a private company. A sex discrimination suit has been filed on behalf of its 1.6 million current and former women employees. Last year, it was thought that the possible payout could exceed a billion dollars. I don't know whether the tort "reform" (read "corporate bottomline protection") act will affect the size of damages.
In any case, something has to be done about Wal-Mart. Unions would love to get a toe in Wal-Mart's door, but they have to be realistic. A drive to unionize the retail behemoth is not practical at this point. Union-busting is almost a religion among Wal-Mart executives. I wrote as much last June:
Managers are taught how to screen potential employees to weed out the union troublemakers of the future. And before anyone is hired, she must sign a paper saying she'll never try to organize a union. That's illegal, but nobody's enforcing the laws against it. Inevitably, of course, some employees do try to organize. When that happens, a "'labor relations team'" is sent out by private plane to the offending store, "often the very day the call comes in." The only successful group ever to organize in the States was in Jacksonville, Texas, in 2000. Ten meatcutters voted 7 to 3 to unionize. Two weeks later, Wal-Mart switched to prepackaged meat in all its stores and assigned the butchers to other departments.

In fact, the only occasion on this continent where a store voted the union in was in Quebec recently. Wal-Mart immediately closed down the store.
So rather than beat their heads on the union-organizing wall, United Food and Commerical Workers (UFCW) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) plan instead to wage a PR campaign to educate Americans about how expensive it actually is to shop at Wal-Mart. Specifically the campaign will focus on health-care. Scrooge would nod approvingly over Wal-Mart's stingy health-care benefits, but taxpayers everywhere should be irate. In Montana, for example, forty percent of its employees are on Medicaid. The state of Arkansas--small as far as population and far from rich--spends $17 million a year on Medicaid for Wal-Mart employees alone.
The cost of public assistance for its employees and lost taxes because of TIF arrangements must be figured into the price of goods at Wal-Mart, and I, for one, am galled that I have to buy five-star lunches for the Walton heirs even though I refuse to shop at their stores. This campaign intends to inform Americans that Wal-Mart rakes in $10 billion a year in profits. It can afford and should be expected (or forced) to behave like a responsible corporate citizen.
Dave Cook of the UFCW spoke at the St. Louis meetup Wednesday night. He emphasized that taking on Wal-Mart cannot be just a union initiative. Wal-Mart would jump on a union drive as a chance to paint itself as a victim and win public sympathy. No, this drive must be supported by a broad grassroots coalition, and so the unions are moving to forge alliances with grassroots groups like DFA to challenge Wal-Mart about its dismal health-care policies.
I'm far from being through with this topic. In blogs to come, I'll be describing further cause for our indignation with W-M and offering suggestions for how you can help loosen the grip of this leech on our body politic.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Today is another of those times when my blog is a letter I just e-mailed to the Post-Dispatch. Amy White's column today raised my blood pressure sufficiently to merit an answer:

Somebody needs to clean the fairness filter in Amy White's brain because it is currently allowing only right-wing propaganda to pass through. She muses smugly about the growing distrust of the media among Americans, a distrust that the Bush administration fosters and delights in, and she criticizes media blunders by Dan Rather and Newsweek. White never mentions, though, the deliberate, constant lies and attempts to mislead from the right.
Here's an abbreviated list of items that couldn't get past her clogged filter: Unlike the lively British press, the American (supposedly liberal) press has ignored the Downing Street Memo, which recently came to light in London. That memo describes meetings between top level American and British figures in 2002, and it states that Bush was deliberately manipulating intelligence to justify attacking Iraq. All those lies we heard about WMD were exactly that--lies. British headlines have been screaming about the memo. Our press, on the other hand, not only failed to adequately investigate Bush's WMD claims before the war, but is currently failing to report this important information. And yet our media is still not tame enough to suit him or Amy White. Only Fox News and the like, which report his every distortion as scripture, are considered sufficiently "truthful".
So this administration deems it necessary to undermine what little press independence remains. They planted an operative named James Guckert in the White House press corps--even gave him an alias, Jeff Gannon. His assignment was asking softball questions to divert attention from any embarrassing questions other reporters might ask. On the Q.T., they paid Armstrong Williams $250,000 of taxpayer money to spew propaganda about the failed No Child Left Behind program. Bush even used millions in taxpayer funds to produce fake news segments which were frequently aired on TV stations across the country with no disclaimer that they were administration propaganda.
Amy White's unquestioning bias over the past couple of years has further sullied the reputation of the media, but she dares criticize the integrity of Bill Moyers? The woman lacks an irony gene.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

William Rivers Pitt of Progressive Democrats of America just saved me a time consuming task. Last week I promised to summarize two articles from The Progressive Magazine, one speaking for the necessity of remaining in Iraq, one calling for withdrawal. I knew the best course of action lay somewhere in between and PDA is asking us to sign a petition backing Rep. Lynn Woolsey's (D-CA) House Resolution calling for an exit strategy. Woolsey has pinpointed a workable "somewhere in between".
Pitt lays out the dangers inherent in rushing our of Iraq in a cloud of dust:

Last week, DNC Chairman Howard Dean stated that the United States must remain militarily engaged in Iraq. "Now that we're there, we're there and we can't get out," Dean told an audience of nearly 1,000 at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Wednesday, April 20th, as reported in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "The president has created an enormous security problem for the United States where none existed before. But I hope the president is incredibly successful with his policy now that he's there."
Potential Security Threats
Chairman Dean cited three potential threats to American security that, in his opinion, require a continued American presence in that nation. The threats he enumerated were that an American withdrawal could open the door for a fundamentalist Shiite theocracy which could be worse than that which currently controls Iran; could precipitate the creation of an independent Kurdistan in the north and destabilize the neighboring Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iran, and Syria; and could cause Iraq to become an operational base for terrorist organizations in the fashion of pre-war Afghanistan.
Threats Self-created?
Clearly, these are well-reasoned concerns that cannot and must not be dismissed out of hand. The Bush administration's catastrophic Iraq policy, beginning with their wide-ranging disinformation campaign regarding weapons of mass destruction, to their wildly inaccurate belief that American invasion forces would be welcomed with open arms, to their ham-fisted and massively corrupt handling of the occupation, has created the threats we now face.
Simply put, Iraq was not a hotbed of terrorism and threats to American security until the invasion and occupation. We were told Iraq was a threat to us, which was a lie. The invasion and occupation, which was supposed to destroy those threats, has in fact created those threats where they did not exist before. This reality, and the threats to our security that have been created by Bush's disastrous policies, cannot be ignored. ...
Other Credible Options
We at Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) do not agree with Chairman Dean's assessment of the situation. The three scenarios outlined by the Chairman which, in his opinion, require our continued presence in Iraq would come to pass only if the United States fled willy-nilly out of that country and left it in its current chaotic state. There are other options besides 'Remain indefinitely' and 'Withdraw immediately.'

You can read the four points in Woolsey's resolution and sign a petition which will be delivered to Chairman Dean this week.