Friday, November 12, 2010

MAVERICK CHRONICLES: 11/12/2010

This week on Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live at approximately 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WOMM (105.9-LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. The Question: Where do we go from here? A look at November events that changed history – and their implications for today, plus Obama in Asia, Bush rewrites history (again), the NBC-Comcast merger, high speed rail in Vermont, and the rumor of the week.

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WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

In the recent mid-term elections the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, but the Democrats clung to control over the Senate. Afterward Barack Obama continued to talk about reaching across the aisle while Republican leaders said that their top priority is to make him a one-term President. As the warden told Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is failure to communicate.”

The GOP strategy, apparently, is to hold as many congressional investigations as humanly possible, dragging the country into a two-year scandal-watch. Call it Un-Reality TV. There could even be a government shutdown if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. It looks as if we’re moving beyond gridlock to something even more dangerous – a death match that could put the fragile recovery underway at risk.
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So, the question of the week is: What lies ahead? Is the US headed for even tougher times and deeper polarization? Or is there an alternative?

THE REAR VIEW

As a way of thinking about our current predicament, let’s look back at some milestones from the past that happened at this time of the year. We’ve had technological marvels, emerging creatures, landmark films, escalating international conflicts, a government shutdown, and the addition of a new phrase to describe random violence. But first…

Revolutionary Logic

November 12 was a key date in American Revolutionary history. On that date in 1777, a Saturday, the Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation, a form a government that some people seem to favor again. For those who don’t recall, the Articles were the country’s first Constitution. Under this system, states retained control over all government functions not specifically relinquished to the national government. Sound familiar?

People like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton weren’t happy, since they felt confederation wouldn’t allow for affective government. There was no president, executive branch, or judiciary. No tax base. No way to pay off debts from the war years. The idea was an alliance of states with a weak central government. But what happened? Congress couldn’t levy taxes. All it could do was ask the States for help. And they often declined.

When John Adams went to London in 1785 representing the US, he couldn’t get a commercial treaty because there was no way to ensure that the states would agree. Since the national government had no power to regulate navigation, it was each state for itself. When some New England states closed their ports to British shipping, for instance, Connecticut opted to profit by opening its own. Congress couldn’t protect manufacturing, defend borders, or protect frontiers.

In the end, Hamilton organized a group of nationalists, won Washington's endorsement, and petitioned Congress for a constitutional convention in Philadelphia to resolve the crisis. In 1788, with Congressional approval, the Articles were replaced by the US Constitution. Some people saw it as a coup.

Today the Tea Party and nullification groups across the county are arguing for a return to something similar: a limited government with many similarities to the old confederation. Secession groups go even farther, saying there is no hope of improving a broken system.

The Age of Inventions

Speed forward to a century ago… On November 12, 1910 the first movie stunt was performed: a man was filmed jumping into Hudson River from a burning balloon. Now the dangerous part would be swimming in the Hudson. A few days later, on November 15, the 1st airplane took off from the deck of a ship in Norfolk, VA. We were well into the age of flight. Today, if one of the new F-35s took off from an aircraft carrier, it could very well melt the deck. (For more on F-35s, see Maverick Chronicles for 10/22/10- Ed.)

Moving on to the 1920s…. on November 12 in 1927 the first underwater tunnel opened, connecting New York and New Jersey via the Holland Tunnel. A year earlier, on the 15th, NBC became the first Radio network with 24 stations. Communication and transportation improvements were clearly changing the way we related.

In 1933, two creatures were ready for their close ups on November 12. In Germany, the Nazis received 92 percent of the vote. Meanwhile the first known photo of the Loch Ness monster was taken. Six year later, on the 15th, the Social Security Administration approved the first unemployment checks. We’ve had those benefits now for 71 years. Today they are frequently used as a political football.

Seventy years ago Walt Disney’s Fantasia was released on November 13. It was the most trippy cartoon of the era and, you could say, launched a psychedelic filmmaking style.

Showdowns & Shutdown

On November 13 in 1956 the Supreme Court struck down segregation on public buses, a landmark decision. Two days later, the first Elvis Presley movie opened – Love Me Tender. Another kind of landmark. A few years later, on November 15 in 1959 – there was no love when the Clutter Family was murdered in Kansas, leading ultimately to Truman Capote’s breakthrough book, In Cold Blood. This one was a brutal landmark in senseless violence.

In 1965, a Sunday 45 years ago, US regular forces had their first major engagement with the North Vietnamese on November 14. The US War in Vietnam was officially on. Fourteen years later, that war was over but the US was embroiled in another conflict, this one in Iran. On November 12, 1979, in the early days of the Iranian hostage crisis, President Carter announced an immediate halt to all imports of Iranian oil.

Move forward another decade and, on November 14, 1991 a Postal Service employee went on a rampage, killing 4 people and ultimately himself. A new phrase was born – “going postal.” On the same date 15 years ago (1995), a budget standoff led to closing national parks and museums, the beginning of a government shutdown. It looks like we may be headed that way again.

NATIONAL SCENE

Barack’s Trip, Bush’s Book, Conan’s Comeback &
a Mystery Missile

Some of the big stories this week were Obama’s Asia adventures, Bush’s Decision Points, a mysterious missile launch off the California coast, and Conan O’Brien’s return to television.

On Monday, O’Brien, who was squeezed off NBC when Jay Leno reclaimed his Tonight Show gig, returned on TBS at 11 p.m. Early ratings indicate that he crushed the competition, including The Daily Show. But it may have been the novelty factor at work.

Also on Monday, a missile was launched over the ocean about 35 miles west of Los Angeles. At first, the Pentagon couldn’t – or wouldn’t -- explain where it came from. Later they said that the strange streaks people saw in the sky were probably just contrails from some airplanes. Sure.

The President was on the road, notably to India and Indonesia. In India, he said he was promoting American jobs and India on the UN Security Council. In Indonesia, he reflected on his childhood there, giving the wackos another reason to talk about why he’s a Muslim. Obama lived in Jakarta from 1967 and 1971. The strangest revelation was that he grew up with a gay transvestite male nanny in the house. The New York Times reported:

“His nanny was an openly gay man who, in keeping with Indonesia’s relaxed attitudes toward homosexuality, carried on an affair with a local butcher, longtime residents said. The nanny later joined a group of transvestites called Fantastic Dolls, who, like the many transvestites who remain fixtures of Jakarta’s streetscape, entertained people by dancing and playing volleyball.”

Meanwhile back at home, George W. Bush rolled out his memoir, Decision Points, still promoting the idea that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. When some interviewers tried to nail him down, he claimed that he was really just trying to sell a book. But he was also trying to sell something else: a version of history in which he was actually in charge of the government and cared about places like New Orleans.

VERMONT SCENE

Speeding up the Rails

The largest rail project in Vermont since Amtrak was created kicked off last week – a $50 million high speed rail connection that is supposed to reduce the travel time from St. Albans to New York City by an hour and a half. The new tracks between St. Albans and Vernon will make it possible to travel at around 80 miles an hour. Vermont has also received a planning grant to look into restoring services in the Bennington area.

Governor Douglas took credit for the project, but Bernie Sanders also had something to say. "Today if you want to go from St. Albans to Boston, you have to drive," he noted. "We can do better than that." Typically, he posed it as a choice between giving tax breaks to billionaires and investing in improved transportation. "Needless to say I say we invest in projects like this."

Bernie vs. Big Media

Bernie also had something to say about the pending $30 billion merger of NBC and Comcast, which hopes to acquire a majority share of NBC Universal from General Electric. He’s circulating a petition to stop it. If the merger does happen, some experts say subscribers will pay at least $2.4 billion more for their services – unless regulations are put in place to control this behemoth. Companies that compete with NBC-owned cable channels fear that Comcast will relegate them to hard-to-find channel locations. The Justice Department and the FCC are expected to weigh in before the end of the year.

RUMOR OF THE WEEK: $200 million a day for Obama’s Junket

This one started with an Indian official who claimed (he was just guessing actually) that the cost of the president’s recent trip to Asia would be $200 million a day, or a total of $2 billion. An Indian Website picked it up. Without bothering to check, some Republicans and the usual talking heads ran with it. Fox News added impressive graphics and a growing bunch of bizarre stats. For example, 10 percent of the Navy was being deployed for backup – 34 ships and an aircraft carrier. The Pentagon called that “absolutely absurd.” But it didn’t stop the rumor mill.

Obama was renting 870 rooms in India’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the crazies claimed. The hotel actually has only 560 rooms. Thousands of people were going with him, they charged. Also not true.

If the rumors had been true, it would mean that the trip had cost more per day than the war in Afghanistan, which reportedly comes in at $190 million every 24 hours. Not that presidential trips are cheap. A similar 12-day trip to Africa in 1998 cost $42.8 million, or about $3.6 million a day. That includes Air Force One and the other planes, hotels and other expenses, communications and vehicles rented in other countries.

So far we have no final figure on the price of Barack’s excellent adventure. We do know that the rumors are off by a mile. But will that make a difference to those who already think the president is a Muslim Manchurian candidate? Hardly.

We have learned one other thing. Some news media will run with anything that fits their story line. Fact checking – that’s just too 20th Century.
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