Friday, December 3, 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: Has the big dump revealed anything new? The Wikileaks revelations, a less religious America, Willy Nelson’s latest bust, Kentucky’s Pot King, scanning hypocrisy, an instant runoff progress report (plus why Burlington dropped it), and the rumor of the week.

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It’s hard to discuss what’s been going on in the US this week without using analogies to bodily functions -- actually one in particular. From congressional constipation to the largest document dump in history, it’s been a post-Thanksgiving rectal crisis of epic proportions.

First congress, in which Republicans pledge to let nothing pass until those who don’t need the money get an extension of their decade-long tax break. The military has made it plain that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should go, and millions are losing unemployment benefits, but the GOP – which should now stand for Greedy Old Punks – won’t let anything out – not the START arms treaty, not even benefits for 9/11 responders – until the wealthiest 2 percent get a bit more spending money. That’s legislative constipation at its most worst, a brutal form of blackmail.

At the same time the country and the world have been virtually flooded with documents that expose the dirty secrets of US foreign policy. There’s a saying that sunlight is the best disinfectant. But the Wikileaks dump of State Department documents is more like a powerful laxative that has right-wingers howling for the head of mastermind Julian Assange.

Much of the media blah-blah has centered on whether Assange should be hunted down, jailed, or even executed. Much less has been shared about the actual contents of the big dump. So, what do the 250,000 cables show? So far we’ve learned about…

* Use of US embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats gathering not only information from people they meet, but personal details like frequent flyer numbers, credit card details, even DNA.

* Spying on the leadership of the UN and their staffs, including private VIP networks used for official communication, passwords, and personal encryption keys.

* Arab regimes urging the US to bomb Iran and destroy its nuclear program, and the strong possibility of an Israeli attack within the next year.

* Attempts by the US to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor. Pakistan’s regime fears that if the media learned about it, they would portray it as the US grabbing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Actually, that’s already a widespread rumor.

* A diplomatic version of “Let’s Make a Deal” in which various countries are promised aid and access to President Obama in exchange for accepting detainees. The contestants include Slovenia, the island nation of Kiribati and Belgium.

* US support for the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey, an organization that both the US and Turkey classify as a “terrorist” group.

* Collection of biometric data on Paraguayan presidential candidates, covert orchestration of an anti-Chavez propaganda campaign in Venezuela, work with Brazilian authorities to illegally monitor citizens of Arab descent and jail suspects on trumped-up drug charges, and support for a Honduran coup government that the State Department knew to be illegal.

* An alliance between the US Military Southern Command and Florida International University to create so-called “strategic culture” reports on Latin American and Caribbean countries, apparently to be used in planning US military operations.

* Pressure on Germany not to prosecute CIA officers responsible for the kidnapping, rendition and torture of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, taken to a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan, tortured, and held for months before being released on a hillside in Albania. One cable describes a US official’s efforts to prevent accountability, pressuring the Germans to weigh “the implications for relations with the US” of issuing international arrest warrants.

And much more yet to come. But the biggest revelation may be that a small organization, with the help of some mainstream media accomplices, can spark such hysteria. It’s a reminder – though officials are quick to issue denials – that US foreign policy is becoming more and more chaotic, lunging from one half-baked plan to the next, angry and hostile to both “friends” and foes.

In the past, without whistleblowers we wouldn’t have found out about the CIA’s secret prisons or the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping. Without leaks we wouldn’t know that civilian casualties from the war in Iraq are much higher than advertised, or that US troops initially went into battle without decent body armor. Sure, some things need to be kept secret. But much more information is classified than necessary, some of it for purely political reasons -- to protect the government from embarrassment, to manipulate public opinion, or to conceal evidence of crimes. When there are too many secrets, it’s hard to distinguish what should be public from what’s legitimately classified.

Nevertheless, one official question of the moment is whether Wikileaks has the right to release classified documents that show the US officials violating laws. Another is whether Assange is some kind of cyber-anarchist or terrorist rather than a champion of transparency. But the real question of the week is: Does the big dump actually shed new light on American intrigue and conspiracies, or just confirm what we’ve long suspected?


Losing Our Religion

It’s conventional wisdom that the US is a religious country. Politicians love to wrap themselves in piety as much as a flag. God and country, right? And yet 80 percent of the young people raised in a church will disengage before they’re 30. That’s the word from the Barna Group, a research organization that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture. Their research concludes that the dropout rate from Christian churches has skyrocketed. In the past 20 years, the number of Americans who say they have no religion has doubled, reaching 15 percent. And most of those who say so are under-30. The polling data basically shows a dramatic exit from Christian churches, combined with a rising generation gap.

Willy Nelson’s Bus Bust

On November 27, the day after Thanksgiving, Country singer Willie Nelson was charged with marijuana possession – again. Six ounces was found on his tour bus in Texas, according to the US Border Patrol. Which raises the question: What did Willy’s entourage think would happen when the bus pulled into a checkpoint? The door opened and an officer immediately smelled pot. This triggered a search and then the arrest of Nelson and two other people by the local sheriff.

Willie was held briefly until a $2,500 bond was paid. It isn’t his first bust, obviously. In 2006, he was charged with a misdemeanor after being caught with grass and mushrooms. He paid a fine, was put on probation, and proceeded to pose for High Times magazine. He’s also on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Run, Johnny, Run

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s “King of Pot” is on the run, but it’s not likely that he’ll be caught anytime soon. The king is a 67-year-old outlaw named John Robert Boone, who has been hiding out for two years, ever since the authorities seized 2,400 marijuana plants on his farm. Since then he’s become a folk-hero with a Facebook fanpage and a T-shirt that says "Run, Johnny, Run.”

People in the rural area southeast of Louisville aren’t saying anything, especially since quite a few hard luck farmers there have plants of their own. In the old days the area was a center for moonshine runners. In the early 1980s, when the economy soured and prices for tobacco and farm products dropped, parts of central Kentucky had unemployment rates nearing 14 percent. No wonder grass became a crop.

Boone spent more than a decade in federal prison after taking part in what prosecutors called the "largest domestic marijuana syndicate in American history." He was the key figure in a string of 29 farms in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Wisconsin. The group he led was known as the Cornbread Mafia, and reportedly grew 182 tons of grass.

Both Boone’s friends and pursuers consider him an innovator. The innovation was to separate male from female plants on a large scale to increase potency and experiment with seeds from around the world in different climates. He still has friends in the area. One resident who spent time with him in prison, 64-year-old “Jim Bean” Cecil, says, "Even if I knew where he was, I wouldn't tell you."

Others describe him as a friendly guy who was quick to open his wallet when neighbors were had trouble, and a heck of a farmer who just happened to grow marijuana. His Facebook page has 1,600 fans. If he’s caught he’ll face a life sentence under the federal three-strike rule. But he could be anywhere, even not that far from his old farm. The feds say it’s like trying to catch a ghost. A friendly ghost with deep roots.

Scanning Hypocrisy

We’re hearing a lot of concern from Republicans about the TSA’s decision to have a small number of randomly-selected people choose between being scanned or frisked before boarding airplanes. For some reason they’ve suddenly become ardent civil libertarians. But consider this: If George W. Bush was president and presided over the same policy, who would be screaming and who would be defending the policy?

It’s not hard to figure out. Democrats would be outraged at an assault on civil liberties, liberal pundits would be talking about police state tactics, and Republicans would leap to the administration’s defense, charging that liberals were soft on terrorism. But with Obama in the White House, the script has been flipped. The Right and Republicans rage against body scans, Democrats try to justify the procedure, and liberal pundits leap to their defense.

What the dust up shows is that most people mired in politics ¬are partisans first and ideologues second. Thus, arguments are reverse-engineered to justify whatever their side is doing. Forget ideology. The bottom line is usually that the other guys can’t be trusted.

At the moment, this means many liberals can live with intimate body scans so long as a Democrat is overseeing them. And conservatives? They find the new security measures much more frightening with “Big Sister” – that’s Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano – in charge.

Runoff Rundown

Instant runoff voting played a major role in several 2010 elections. In Oakland, for example, it was a big factor in the victory of Jean Quan, the first Asian American woman to be elected mayor of a major American city. Heavily outspent, she trailed by 9 percent in first choices, but took the lead in the ranked tally. Instant runoff also affected outcomes in nearby San Leandro and San Francisco, and avoided a runoff in Berkeley.

Maine's largest city, Portland, has adopted instant runoff for its mayoral elections beginning next year. After the winner of Maine’s governor’s race received less than 50 percent for the sixth time in the last seven elections, The Portland Press Herald suggested that instant runoff could be the key to a new politics. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says the same thing, reacting to the victory of statewide candidates by less than 50 percent.

Meanwhile, more than 1.9 million voters in North Carolina cast instant runoff ballots in the country’s first statewide general election. Nevertheless, Burlington – which used instant runoff in its last two mayoral races – abandoned it last year.


IRV and the Mayor’s Race

Why did Burlington turn against instant runoff voting? To understand, you have to look at the 2006 and 2009 elections in the Queen City. In 2006, almost 10,000 people voted and Progressive Bob Kiss received 3809 in the first round, 700 votes more than Democrat Hinda Miller. After a second round in that five-way race, Kiss pulled even further ahead, winning with 4761 votes – just short of 50 percent.

Three years later, a thousand less people voted – 8980 to be exact – and in the first round Republican Kurt Wright got 2951, beating Kiss by almost 400 votes. In the second round, when the votes of independent Dan Smith and James Simpson were redistributed to the remaining three candidates, Wright was still ahead with 3294 votes to 2981 for Kiss.

But when Democrat Andy Montroll’s votes were redistributed for a third round Kiss finally pulled ahead with 4313, beating Wright’s 4061. It’s easy to see why the Republicans were unhappy. As a result Wright’s supporters mounted a campaign to repeal instant runoff, winning by 52 to 48 percent.

In 2012, the mayor’s race will be decided the old way: The first place candidate wins – as long as he or she gets at least 40 percent. At this point it looks like Wright may have about 32 percent of likely local voters with him. The fewer candidates the more likely that he can reach the legal threshold, unless the Progressives stand aside and Wright faces only a Democrat. Assuming the turnout is less than 10,000, he’ll need about 1000 votes more than he initially received the last time around.

What’s unclear at this point is whether Kiss will run again, and if he doesn’t whether local Progressives will choose someone to replace him. One name being discussed is Senator Tim Ashe, a former member of the City Council who would start with high name recognition and a record of vote getting. But it’s not clear yet that he’s ready to run.


B of A is Wikileaks’ next target

This one comes from the world’s most famous fugitive, Julian Assange. The Bank of America says that it has "no evidence” Wikileaks has possession of one of its executives' hard drives. But interviews with Assange suggest otherwise, which has sent the bank's stock shares plummeting.

In a Forbes magazine interview, Assange claims there will be a "megaleak" about a major U.S. bank in early 2011. Tens of thousands of documents will reveal unethical behavior, he says. He didn’t tell Forbes the name of the bank, but in October 2009 he told Computerworld that Wikileaks was "sitting on" five gigabytes of information from a Bank of America executive's hard drive.

B of A has issued a non-denial. Said spokesman Scott Silvestri, "More than a year ago WikiLeaks claimed to have the computer hard drive of a Bank of America executive, Aside from the claims themselves we have no evidence that supports this assertion. We are unaware of any new claims by WikiLeaks that pertain specifically to Bank of America."

So, stay tuned for that mega-leak. It sounds like a dump so painful that some big bank may need a proctologist. Poor baby.