Friday, October 29, 2010

MAVERICK CHRONICLES: 10/29/2010

This week on Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live at approximately 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WOMM (105.9 FM – The Radiator) in Burlington: Does exposing corruption lead to real change? Vermont Scene – Little change expected in state elections, Burlington Telecom’s fragile future. National Scene – Deconstructing the anti-government crusade, NASA’s space colony plans. Special Report: A time traveler on film? Rumor of the Week: A Billionaire Run for the Presidency.

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QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Wikileaks – currently the most controversial media operation in the world – released thousands more documents last week revealing systematic crimes and abuses by the US military during the Iraq War. Somehow, it barely caught public attention. Meanwhile, the most fact-resistant election season in a generation careens to an end. We’ve seen candidates openly lying about themselves and their opponents, hoping to seize power by avoiding public scrutiny and playing the victims of some mythical crypto-socialist elite. It looks as if many people are retreating from reality into a self-reinforcing nightmare.

So, the (existential) question of the week is: Is this a good time to try and persuade people with uncomfortable facts, the truth about corruption in both business and government? Does muckraking help – or just give people more ammunition for the misinformation war?

Does media exposure of corruption and crimes lead to any real change?

VERMONT SCENE

MUNICIPAL MELTDOWN

Burlington Telecom is in deep trouble. Several years ago the city decided to spend $17 million on the new municipal cable company. It also borrowed $33.5 million from CitiCapitol, using BT as collateral for the loan. But it hasn’t been able to make interest or principal payments this year and has hired a firm, Dorman and Fawcett, to negotiate with CitiCapitol.

Now the state Department of Public Service is concerned that if BT can’t make a $386,000 interest payment by this Sunday, the lender might just shut down the whole system. Members of the City Council were briefed last Monday but the details aren’t being made public. BT could, for example, be declared in default and have its assets seized.

Meanwhile, the city continues to work on restructuring the loan and BT’s operations. If the operation isn’t shut down, management should be status quo for the next six months. Acting GM Stephen Barreclough, representing the consulting firm managing BT, met with its Technical Advisory Council – or TAC – last week and told them there would be no changes until a permanent manager is hired. That should be sometime in the first part of next years.

Once new management is in place, the first chance the public will have to play a role is the budget, due to be developed in April and May and passed in June 2011. Right now Barreclough is focusing on what he calls a long list of financial issues – the loan crisis, as well as other matters aimed at saving money and bringing BT closer to sustainability. But he acknowledged that the impact of bad press is keeping the ambitious public enterprise from promoting its services and connections with the community. One of his priorities is to develop relationships with schools like Champlain College and UVM.

Last week the TAC heard from Free Speech TV, which has approached BT to be added to the lineup. Several people, including Sandy Baird and filmmaker Deb Ellis, have spoken in favor of FSTV. But no decisions about lineup changes are expected until the budget comes up next Spring. That’s also likely to be the time when people and political parties hoping to end Burlington’s progressive administration start using Burlington Telecom as a political club. If the current crisis passes, we may still hear talk about selling it.

Meanwhile BT has brought in a team that includes management specialists from a successful municipal cable company in Winona, Minnnesota.

NATIONAL SCENE

THE ANTI-GOVERNMENT HYPE

Two years ago this weekend the US was on the edge of the most consequential election in generations. In less than 24 months we’ve gone from high expectations to deep polarization and a counter-cultural uprising. The country seems up for grabs. What are the stakes? Well, how do you feel about the next two years being about investigating the Obama administration, maybe even an impeachment push?

One of the big charges spurring this uprising is that we have "too much big government!" Virtually any attempt to regulate or tax anything is a government intrusion into our lives. Candidates say they want less government. But what's behind all the anti-government talk?

Government “intrusion” is a powerful propaganda tool that’s been around for a long time, one that big businesses often use to manipulate opinion. As with many other propaganda tools, this one originated largely with the tobacco industry.

Big Tobacco started screaming "too much big government" in the 1970s in response to efforts to pass smoking bans. Even most smokers preferred some restrictions, since such laws at least clarified where they could and couldn’t smoke. After the industry realized it couldn’t win by arguing the health facts about secondhand smoke, they used the anti-government theme – through third parties – to campaign against the bans. The idea was to shift the attention away from the health hazards of secondhand smoke and to a topic more in the industry's favor.

Cut to 2010. Now the anti-government argument is everywhere. Tea Party candidates use the theme constantly. Big businesses also deploy the "too much big government" argument – usually through front groups – whenever people start considering ways to rein in their abuses and protect consumers.

The financial sector screamed "too much government intervention" when Congress was considering the financial reform bill to crack down on Wall Street's excesses. Climate change skeptics, many paid by fossil fuel companies, use "big-government intervention" rhetoric to defeat policies that address global warming.

Should we worry about big government? When is it a valid argument, and when is it propaganda? Let’s take Tea Party candidates Sharron Angle ( Nevada), Ken Buck (Colorado) and Rand Paul (Kentucky). All claim to be against big government. But all also support strict anti-abortion laws that would restrict the personal, medical choices of women. They can't be against big government and simultaneously argue that government should control such personal decisions – at least not without being complete hypocrites.

And what about the corporations backing the anti-government crusade? Well, no one screams about “big government" more than Koch Industries, run by oil billionaire brothers David and Charles. The Kochs claim to support a free-market system free of government regulation. Yet they profit from government programs. The Matador Cattle Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch, benefits from a federal program that allows the ranch to graze cattle on public lands basically for free. Two thirds of the ranch's 300,000 acres of grazing land belong to the taxpayers.

The Kochs also own the Georgia Pacific paper company, which logs in public forests. Taxpayers cover the cost of creating new logging roads for Georgia-Pacific to access forest lands – a corporate welfare deal that benefits the Kochs financially and that costs taxpayers more than $1 billion a year. The Kochs are also involved in the ethanol industry – one of the most highly subsidized in the US. Their energy companies operate tens of thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines that exist only because the government used eminent domain to seize private property. So the Koch's argument against "too much big government" is also pure propaganda.

Using the "too much big government" argument is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. It makes people so angry that they become blind to the facts. They accept it without asking questions. So, if you don't have time to investigate who's making the argument – and why—the safest thing may be to disregard it and move on to more verifiable facts.

Thanks to PR Watch for much of the information in this report.

But now a little good news…

NASA AIMS FOR SPACE SETTLEMENTS

A senior NASA official has promised to deliver a spaceship that will travel between alien worlds "within a few years." Speaking at a conference in San Francisco, NASA official Simon Worden said his division has started a project with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency called the "Hundred Year Starship.”

The project was kicked off recently with $1 million funding from DARPA and some seed money from NASA. The hope is to use new propulsion ideas being explored by NASA. Worden said the space program was "now really aimed at settling other worlds.”

“Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired…. I think we’ll be on the moons of Mars by 2030 or so," he said. "Larry (Page) asked me a couple weeks ago how much it would cost to send people one way to Mars and I told him $10 billion, and his response was, ‘Can you get it down to 1 or 2 billion?’ "So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price.”

SPECIAL REPORT

TIME TRAVELER SPOTTED ON FILM

While watching the DVD extras for Charlie Chaplin’s classic The Circus, Irish filmmaker George Clarke recently spotted something breathtaking – a woman who appears to be using a mobile phone 50 years before their invention. Clarke, who lives in Belfast, uploaded the clip to YouTube where it has received more than 1.5 million views. The footage shows the outside of the theater premiering The Circus. A woman walks past holding her left hand to the side of her face while moving her lips.

The original clip lasted only seconds, but it has been looped, zoomed and slowed down for the online version. Clarke claims the footage hasn’t been tampered with and looks convinced this is evidence of time travel. Others aren’t so sure. Explanations range from the woman holding a block of ice to take away the pain of a dental appointment to the clip itself being a fake. Judge for yourself at… http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8093870/Charlie-Chaplin-time-traveller.html

RUMOR OF THE WEEK: A BILLIONAIRE PRESIDENTIAL RUN

Michael Bloomberg will run as an independent in 2012, peeling off enough votes and states to hang the electoral college and deliver the White House to Sarah Palin.

Scary stuff. But the problem with this rumor, which was launched last week by John Heilemann on the New York Times blog, is that, to make the scenario work, Bloomberg would have to win states like New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, with a combination of moderate Republicans, centrist Democrats and progressives who are disappointed with Obama. In a vacuum, this sounds plausible — but not if Sarah Palin is the Republican nominee.

How many progressives would consider voting for a third-party candidate if they knew it might put a woman they fear and loathe in the White House? Not many. In fact, probably nothing could rally the Obama coalition quite like the prospect of a Palin presidency.

For Bloomberg to have any chance in 2012, the Republicans would have to nominate someone who makes some voters uneasy but doesn’t terrify people – someone like Mike Huckabee. Some liberal Republicans would be uncomfortable if he were the GOP nominee, creating an opportunity for Bloomberg. At the same time, Huckabee is unthreatening enough that he wouldn’t send progressives into rally around Obama mode. It’s still an implausible scenario, but it is possible to imagine some Democrats justifying a vote for Bloomberg while telling themselves that a Huckabee presidency wouldn’t be that bad. It’s harder to imagine the same voters taking a chance on Bloomberg if that means the Momma Grizzly-in-chief – apparently a shape-shifting Alaskan Barracuda – might end up in the White House.
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