Friday, December 10, 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/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. The Question: What’s the ransom for America? The tax deal, Wikileaks and the war on liberty, Julian’s “crime,” the real threats, Ted Turner’s rough talk about procreation, Vermont’s new university for the people, and a person of the year.

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“Welcome to another edition of America Held Hostage. This episode –What Price Congress?” It’s good to know that I’m somewhat on the same page with Paul Krugman about the tax deal being put together this week. The Nobel economics prize winner has called the Republican strategy "tax-cut blackmail." But I’m not so sure Obama should reject it. And not likely he will, even though Krugman and others also claim it will cost the US treasury $4 trillion in revenue over the next decade (assuming the tax breaks are extended indefinitely) and prompt a "major fiscal crisis."

Here’s Krugman in The New York Times: "If Democrats give in to the blackmailers now, they'll just face more demands in the future. As long as Republicans believe that Mr Obama will do anything to avoid short-term pain, they'll have every incentive to keep taking hostages."

Good points. Five major progressive groups­—Move On, Democracy for America, True Majority, Credo Action and the Progressive Campaign Change Committee ­– have urged the Senate not to ratify it.

But others say Obama has little choice but to make a deal. We can quibble about the timing, objecting more loudly, even calling the Republican’s Filibuster bluff. But in the end, the votes aren’t there. So, did Obama have to make this deal? What kind of deal is it actually? And what does it mean for politics going forward?

First, concerning who got what here’s a rundown: The GOP got $75 billion by extending tax cuts for the wealthy for two years, and $43 billion in estate tax changes. That’s a total of $188 billion, the current ransom for holding Congress hostage.

But what’s to be gained in exchange? The big ticket item is a one-year cut in payroll taxes, a $120 billion stimulus that could produce jobs. Next, a 13-month extension in unemployment benefits – pricetag $58 billion and good news for millions of people. Also, $40 billion in tax credits for student and parents with kids, and some business tax breaks. That comes to $206 billion. One way to look at this is a net gain for working people.

Like most things in politics, it’s a trade off. Obama negotiated with political terrorists, and gave the richest another two years of lower taxes. He’s giving in on a principle and allowing the deficit to grow. But in exchange working people get a tax break, students get some tuition help, businesses get some help, and the long-term unemployed get a reprieve. It’s not flashy, but actually not that bad a negotiation when you’re up against terrorist blackmailers who are apparently ready to blow up the economy.

Looking forward, the most dangerous aspect of the deal may be that the changes expire in two years, just in time for the next presidential campaign. Dangerous for whom? Given how this round has gone, it could be trouble for the Left. But it’s also an opportunity – the chance to raise tax breaks for the rich as a presidential campaign issue. If unemployment is still above 8 percent then, public anger and insecurity will be deep and more difficult for the Republicans to control. Where will the Tea Party stand then? Will someone be ready to talk at long last about the class struggle we’re in?

For now, remember $188 billion (based on two years, that’s 9 billion a month, or $300 million a day) – the 2010 price for releasing America from legislative captivity – at least until the next time.


At times like these you hear a lot about getting beyond the two-party monopoly on politics. In Vermont we have Bernie Sanders, who has personally made a break – though he’s increasingly chummy with Democrats, as well as the Progressive Party, the pro-Secession Independence Party, Liberty Union, the Libertarians, and more. But what about the country at large?

One hopeful sign is that there were more third party and independent candidates in 2010 that during any midterm election since 1934. Smart Politics looked more than 17,000 US House contests over the last 80 years. This time there were 443 third party and independent candidates on ballots across the nation, up 42 percent from 2008 and up 57 percent from the last midterm election in 2006. In 1994, 260 independents and third party candidates ran for the US House.

In 2010, the Libertarian Party led the way with 153 candidates across the nation, 35.2 percent of all US House seats – or one candidate for every 2.8 districts. In 2008, Libertarians fielded 125 candidates, meaning an increase of 22.4 percent this year. The Green Party fielded the second most candidates this year with 58, followed by the Constitution Party with 39.

What might opposition parties take on as an issue next time? How about saving civil liberties and the Bill of Rights before their right to dissent is taken away?


The Crackdown Gets Serious

So far the official response to WikiLeaks’ big State Department cable dump, at least from the major political figures, has been to go seriously repressive. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says the world’s whistleblower central has blood on its hands while Missouri Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill questions the patriotism of anyone involved. New York Republican Rep. Peter King wants to designate WikiLeaks a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and in Iowa, another GOP King – Congressman Steve – wants to designate Julian Assange an enemy combatant so he can be prosecuted by a military tribunal. At this writing, Assange is under arrest in England.

If this sounds bad, the prospects for future efforts to expose waste, fraud and abuse look even worse. Whether we like it or not, we’re in a civil liberties fight of immense proportions. We already have…

1. LEGISLATIVE BACKLASH Some in Congress are worried that WikiLeaks may not have broken any laws. Solution? Change the laws to enable prosecution. On December 2, Joe Lieberman and others introduced the SHIELD Act (Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination), which would make it a federal crime to publish the name of an intelligence source or information about human intelligence activity (it’s already a crime to leak the information). Senator Diane Feinstein has meanwhile announced her support for re-writing the 1917 Espionage Act to make it easier to prosecute Assange.

2. SELECTIVE PROSECUTION Attorney General Eric Holder has announced an “ongoing” investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange. The Justice Department may seek indictments under the Espionage Act. A side effect of such a prosecution is that, at some point, it will likely be applied to other publishers of controversial information.

Bradley Manning, the 22 year-old Army analyst suspected of leaking the cable (plus video of a US helicopter attack that killed at least 11 Iraqi civilians, and documents relating to the war in Afghanistan) is currently under arrest for leaking classified information. Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has called for Manning's execution.

Keep in mind that WikiLeaks has only posted cables already published on the websites of the New York Times and other papers.

3. INTERNET CENSORSHIP Senator Lieberman’s staff has pressured to kick WikiLeaks off its server and publicly called on all US companies to shun it. PayPal has cut off the site’s primary funding source by freezing its account. went dark when its domain host pulled the plug. You can now find it at This isn't the first time Lieberman, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has tried to censor the internet. In 2008 he tried to get YouTube to take videos off its website. He apparently has an unquenchable desire to shut down websites he doesn't like.

4. SEARCHES AND SEIZURES On November 3, David House, a researcher at MIT and activist with the Bradley Manning Support Network, was stopped at O’Hare Airport on his way home from a Mexico vacation. He was questioned for an hour and a half about his work and why he visited Manning in prison. His laptop, cell phone, camera and USB drive are in FBI custody. The government has virtually unrestricted powers to search and question people at borders without any stated suspicion. Sometimes these stops are designed to intimidate people or gather information about free speech activity. Bon Voyage.
The campaign against WikiLeaks has many facets and also offers many opportunities for response. Here are two: Tell Lieberman and others in Congress what you think about any effort to censor the Internet. Or sign a statement of support for Bradley Manning.

The Set Up

The main charge behind the arrest of Assange is sexual assault. But one of the women accusing him appears to have worked with a group connected to the CIA. This just gets more convoluted by the day.

The charge itself has been misreported. James D. Catlin, a lawyer who represented Assange, says the sex assault investigation is based on a condom malfunction during sex with two Swedish women. Swedish prosecutors have told AOL News
that Assange was not wanted for rape, but for something called "sex by surprise" or "unexpected sex."

Another complication is that at least one of his accusers, Anna Ardin, may have "ties to the US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups," according to
Israel Shamir and Paul Bennett, writing for CounterPunch. While in Cuba, Ardin worked with the Las damas de blanco (the Ladies in White), a feminist anti-Castro group. Professor Michael Seltzer points out that the group is led by Carlos Alberto Montaner, who is reportedly connected to the CIA.

So, the charge – sex by surprise – may well be a set up, making this clever cyber warrior possibly a bit less brilliant than he appears, but also less likely the sexual predator the media is helping to manufacture. As Saturday Night Live put it last week, however he ends up dying, it will be murder.

The Real Threats

The basic argument for sacrificing civil liberties – allowing ourselves to be spied on, searched, questioned, harassed – is the risk of some future terrorist attack. But let’s be brutally honest: just how likely is it? One answer comes to us courtesy of Evan DeFilippis, writing in the Oklahoma Daily:

The odds of dying on an airplane as a result of a terrorist hijacking are less than 1 in 25 million. For all intents and purposes, that’s effectively zero chance. Compared to what, you may ask. By comparison, the odds of dying in a normal airplane crash, according to the OAG Aviation Database, are 1 in 9.2 million. So, chances of biting it in a hijacked airplane 1 in 25 million. Chances on your average commercial flight 1 in 9 million.

Do the math. Pilots are responsible for more deaths than terrorists.

But let’s not stop there. Consider a few stats from the National Safety Council. The average American is 87 times more likely to drown than die in a terrorist attack. Fifty times more likely to die by lightening, and 8 times more likely to die at the hand of a police officer.

Evan DeFilippis sums it up. “The point is this: the risk of a terrorist attack is so infinitesimal and its impact so relatively insignificant that it doesn’t make rational sense to accept the suspension of liberty for the sake of avoiding a statistical anomaly.” Harsh but true.


Maybe it takes someone with unlimited wealth to say the unthinkable. For instance, announcing publicly that to save the planet will require some kind of population control. That’s what Ted Turner told people gathered at the Cancun Climate Summit last week.

The first reaction, in some quarters, was to cry hypocrisy. After all, Turner has five kids, a little late to start preaching. But let’s get beyond that. The context was a luncheon at which Brian O’Neil, an economist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, unveiled his study on the impact of demographics on future greenhouse gas emission. A rapidly rising global population is accelerating emission growth, and widespread availability of family planning could reduce the amount of emissions reductions required in 2050 by as much as 30 per cent.

It sounds dry but this is potential political dynamite, which may be why it is so little-discussed. The Roman Catholic Church has condemned any such connection, while developing countries resist prescriptions from the rich that they should limit their populations. Global population, now close to seven billion people, is expected to rise to 10 billion by 2050. Eighty percent of the growth will come in developing countries.

In this context, Turner said that environmental stress requires radical solutions, and suggested following China’s lead in instituting a one-child policy to reduce global population over time. He’s long been an advocate of population control. At Cancun he added, however, that fertility rights could be sold so that poor people could profit from their decision not to reproduce. What to call it, cap and what… Mainstream leaders are worried that such “radical prescriptions” could backfire. Handling population issues the wrong way could divide the world even more deeply. I think I saw this movie, a scifi action flick called Fortress, in which a couple who get illegally pregnant are sent to a corporate-run prison in outer space. Violent hijinks ensue.

China’s leaders claim that the one-child policy has helped limit emissions growth in that rapidly industrializing country. At the Copenhagen climate summit last year, their national planning flak said the policy has resulted in 400 million fewer births since 1979 (population stands at 1.3 billion). The lower birth rate supposedly converts to a reduction of 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. However, critics contend it has not only interfered with reproductive choice, but contributed to high levels of female infanticide and abortions.

O’Neill, the expert whose paper set Turner off, didn’t advocate a particular policy. Either am I. But he does note that global surveys reveal a vast, unmet demand for family planning. Just making contraception universally available on a voluntary basis would drive down the birth rate. A lot to ask? Talk to the Pope.


University for the People

The Vermont Workers Center is launching a school, the People’s University for Learning and Liberation, or PULL. The idea is to pull together all the education work of the Center -- workshops, educational gatherings – VWC calls them “PULL-togethers,” train-the-trainers sessions, and an annual Solidarity School for organizers.

A PULL-Together will be held at various locations in January 2011. The topic is Climate Justice. Organizing committees around the state are working on the links between the global economic crisis and the global environmental crisis. The Center says governments increasingly protect the interest of corporations over the rights of people and the environment. A conversation about this is long overdue.

Two local events are coming up. On January 9th, an Introduction to Social Justice & Organizing at the Vermont Workers’ Center in Burlington, and January 20th the Climate Justice PULL-Together at the same place.


Who will the mainstream pick? Who cares? For me the person of the year – if there is such a thing – is pretty obvious. Who has had the biggest impact, for good or ill? I’ll close with this excerpt from an article by my candidate, Julian Assange, published December 7, 2010 in The Australian:

WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?

Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.

People have said I am anti-war: for the record, I am not. Sometimes nations need to go to war, and there are just wars. But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies. If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it.

If you have read any of the Afghan or Iraq war logs, any of the US embassy cables or any of the stories about the things WikiLeaks has reported, consider how important it is for all media to be able to report these things freely.

WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain ‘s The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables.

Yet it is WikiLeaks, as the co-ordinator of these other groups, that has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes. I have been accused of treason, even though I am an Australian, not a US, citizen. There have been dozens of serious calls in the US for me to be "taken out" by US special forces. Sarah Palin says I should be "hunted down like Osama bin Laden," a Republican bill sits before the US Senate seeking to have me declared a "transnational threat" and disposed of accordingly. An adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister's office has called on national television for me to be assassinated. An American blogger has called for my 20-year-old son, here in Australia, to be kidnapped and harmed for no other reason than to get at me.

And Australians should observe with no pride the disgraceful pandering to these sentiments by Prime Minister Gillard and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have not had a word of criticism for the other media organizations. That is because The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel are old and large, while WikiLeaks is as yet young and small.

RUMOR OF THE WEEK will return. Meanwhile, it’s week 520, 3640 days since the country was taken hostage by un-American terrorists, wealthy corporate pirates and their political stooges in the 2000 election. We’ll be with you until all the hostages are released.