Thursday, January 20, 2011

MAVERICK CHRONICLES: 1/21/11

A NEW GLOBAL BOSS?

It’s been almost 40 years since President Nixon and Henry Kissinger opened up relations with China. Since then the People’s Republic – no, not Vermont – has avoided major conflicts, kept its military spending down, developed its manufacturing base, and raised millions out of extreme poverty. Along the way, when the US needed money China was more than willing to oblige.

But now the US is deeply in debt. It owes China about a trillion dollars, with more borrowing highly likely. Basically, China has become banker for the nation. As a result, its leaders now feel free to challenge US policies. They don’t agree on capping greenhouse gases and aren’t willing to go along on North Korea or Iran. Meanwhile, China is buying up raw materials – including so-called rare earth resources –while beginning to build up its military.

On the other hand, the two nations do share some vital interests. According to Robert Weil, author of Red Cat, White Cat: China and the Contradictions of Market Socialism, both want to stabilize the current global capitalist system. Where they disagree is on “the best means to carry out the exploitation of the working class” and division of the spoils. “China is challenging the US 'right' to dominate East Asia, economically, politically, and militarily,” Weil says. “This leads to a schizophrenic relationship and an increasingly dangerous rivalry.” Thanks to Sam Husseini for that quote.

Last week, as President Hu met with Secretary of Defense Gates, China simultaneously tested a new stealth fighter and publicly criticized US arms sales to Taiwan. The basic message – between the lines – is that the days of US dominance may be coming to an end – militarily and economically. Like many people in this country, Chinese leaders have serious doubts that the US economy will fully recover, that the borrowing will stop, or that it can regain its competitive edge.

So, the question for this week is: Are we seeing a basic power shift? If the US can’t even control its domestic bankers, how does it expect to deal with China? In short, does America, and perhaps the rest of the world, have a new boss?

This is Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up, broadcast live at approximately 11:30 a.m. Friday on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington.

This Week: Baby Doc vs. Haitian justice, one small step for space tourism, Julian Assange defends himself, an informer in Minnesota, a libertarian progressive movement, gun violence in Vermont, amending the constitution to control corporations, Burlington’s candidate gap, dead cows, and the rumor of the week.


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NATIONAL SCENE

BABY DOC COMES HOME

Former Haitian President Jean Claude Duvalier, who went into exile 25 years ago, made a surprise return from his refuge near Paris last Sunday. He only planned to stay in Haiti for a few days. But on Tuesday Haitian prosecutors charged him with corruption and embezzlement. Now he can’t leave.

The main charges against Duvalier stem from $4.6 million that his family held in Swiss bank accounts. Swiss authorities almost released the money to Duvalier in 2008, but authorities in Haiti blocked that. They argued that the money was part of hundreds of millions of dollars that Duvalier embezzled from the government.

The accusations are actually pretty mild against someone widely blamed for one of the darker chapters in Haitian history. Duvalier’s regime is accused of kidnapping, torturing and murdering thousands of political opponents. The case against Baby Doc represents a strong step by a country with a long history of ignoring horrendous abuses, one where leaders rarely face prosecution – , that is, if it goes anywhere.

Duvalier took control of Haiti in 1971 when he was 19, inheriting power after the death of his father Francois Duvalier, or Papa Doc, who mixed politics and voodoo. Their dynasty used a security force known as the Tonton Macoute to brutally repress opponents and dissidents. Baby Doc was forced to flee the country in 1986 when repression and social convulsion pushed Haiti to the brink of civil war. The outcome was the election of a priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was forced into exile twice – during each of his terms as President.

For the record, Baby Doc, an un-elected dictator and former president for life, couldn’t have returned to Haiti without the cooperation of the US and France, according to Elizi Danto, president of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. But Aristide, who was democratically elected, hasn’t been allowed to come home from exile in South Africa.

ANOTHER STEP FOR SPACE TOURISM

Virgin Galactic, the private spaceflight company started by Sir Richard Branson, had another modest success last week. Its commercial spaceship completed a second successful suborbital test. Dubbed the VSS Enterprise, it was carried high above the spaceport Branson has built in New Mexico, then released by a mothership called the WhiteKnightTwo. Sometime soon the Enterprise is expected to begin carrying six passengers and two pilots, taking them to the edge of space for a spectacular view of the Earth and several minutes of weightlessness. A short but very sweet $200,000 adventure vacation.

Meanwhile, the nearly completed Spaceport America – hub of Virgin Galactic's space travel operations – is being evaluated at the request of newly appointed New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. The state-of-the-art launch site is located near Truth or Consequences – that’s the town’s name – and is expected to become fully operational this year.

Spaceport America works closely with a number of aerospace firms, including Lockheed Martin, to realize Branson’s dream of commercial travel into space. Branson also launched the Carbon War Room, which is where Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss made contact with Lockheed to discuss its interest in partnering with Burlington.

So, do we get a spaceport – or at least a few seats on the Enterprise? If not, how about some flight time on an F-35 – if they end up based at the airport?

COMCAST GETS ITS WAY (AGAIN)

If you’re worried about corporate consolidation – or democracy – you probably aren’t too pleased with the FCC’s decision to OK a merger between Comcast and NBC. Actually, it’s a takeover by Comcast. The decision was announced on Tuesday, with a few conditions. The Department of Justice has also said yes. With a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal, Comcast will own most of the network's channels, including CNBC and Bravo, as well as the Universal movie studio.

One condition is that Comcast gives up management of the portal website Hulu. It also has to promote competition in the video marketplace. According to the FCC approval letter, Comcast-NBCU must increase its news coverage, expand children's and Spanish language programming, offer broadband services to low-income people at reduced prices, and provide high-speed broadband to schools, libraries and underserved communities. It must also offer customers the option of having Internet service separate from a cable bundle - for the next seven years at least.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps opposed the vote. He warned that it "reaches into virtually every corner of our media and digital landscapes and will affect every citizen in the land. It confers too much power in one company's hands." Senator Al Franken called the deal a "tremendous disappointment."

Bernie Sanders says the FCC and the DOJ have “ignored their mandates to protect the public interest and preserve competition" by approving the deal. "At a time when a small number of giant media corporations already control what the American people see, hear, and read, we do not need another conglomerate with more control over the production and distribution of news and other programming," Sanders says.

The American Cable Association estimates that the merger will cost consumers $2.4 billion over a nine-year period, with higher monthly cable bills and subscription costs. That’s something to keep in mind in Burlington, where some people say the city should sell off Burlington Telecom. If that happens, the Queen City may again become one small piece of a vastly expanded Comcast media empire.

WIKILEAKS FOUNDER SPEAKS OUT

The US Justice Department has established a secret grand jury in Virginia to indict Wikilweaks founder Julian Assange under a discredited espionage act. The obsolete law was used to arrest peace activists during World War I. Judicial experts call it a “deliberate set up” since this area of Virginia is home for many employees of the Pentagon, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security.

In Switzerland Rudolph Elmer, a banker who publicized private client data on WikiLeaks, has been found guilty of breaching banking secrecy and threatening former colleagues. But he was given only a suspended fine. The prosecution had called for an eight-month jail term.

Journalist John Pilger talked to Assange last week about this and other developments. Despite the threats, Assange claims the US is not WikiLeaks’ main technological enemy. That honor goes to China, he told Pilger. “China has aggressive, sophisticated interception technology that places itself between every reader inside China and every information source outside China,” Assange said. “We’ve been fighting a running battle to make sure we can get information through, and there are now all sorts of ways Chinese readers can get on to our site.”

The US is obviously out to get Assange. In fact, US Vice President Joe Biden has declared him a “high tech terrorist.” Yet Assange is just as worried about what will happen to Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower, who is being held in conditions that the US National Commission on Prisons describes as “tortuous.” Pilger calls Manning “the world’s pre-eminent prisoner of conscience.”

In 2008 candidate Barack Obama said government whistleblowers “are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal.” Since winning, however, he has prosecuted more of them than any other president in US history.

“Cracking Bradley Manning is the first step,” Assange argues. “The aim clearly is to break him and force a confession that he somehow conspired with me to harm the national security of the United States. In fact, I’d never heard his name before it was published in the press. WikiLeaks technology was designed from the very beginning to make sure that we never knew the identities or names of people submitting material.”

According to Pilger, he added: “I think what’s emerging in the mainstream media is the awareness that if I can be indicted, other journalists can, too. Even the New York Times is worried. This used not to be the case. If a whistleblower was prosecuted, publishers and reporters were protected by the First Amendment that journalists took for granted. That’s being lost. The release of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, with their evidence of the killing of civilians, hasn’t caused this – it’s the exposure and embarrassment of the political class: the truth of what governments say in secret, how they lie in public; how wars are started. They don’t want the public to know these things and scapegoats must be found.”

The US State Department recently issued a warning to human rights activists, foreign government officials and business people identified in leaked cables about possible danger from exposure. This is propaganda, Assange claimed. In a letter to Congress, he noted, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has admitted that no sensitive intelligence sources have been compromised. NATO in Kabul has told CNN it couldn’t find a single person who needed protecting.

Javier Moreno, the editor of Spain’s El Pais, which has published WikiLeaks material, writes, “I believe that the global interest sparked by the WikiLeaks papers is mainly due to the simple fact that they conclusively reveal the extent to which politicians in the West have been lying to their citizens.”

Pilger’s favorite leak so far is from the Ministry of Defense in London. It describes journalists who serve the public without fear or favor as “subversive” and “threats.” He calls that a badge of honor.

INFORMER FOUND IN ANTI-WAR GROUP

In a new article, author Ron Jacobs reports that Minnesota’s AntiWar Committee, which was raided last September by the FBI for alleged “material aid to terrorists,” has learned that they had an informer in their midst since 2008. The informer went by the name Karen Sullivan and claimed to be a single parent and a lesbian. After getting involved in the Committee, she traveled to Palestine with two other members. When they reached Israel, however, they were told to turn back. The two who chose to stay were detained. “Sullivan” went back to the US.

As it turns out, Israeli authorities had prior knowledge of the visit and the plan to meet with Palestinian women. But no one in the group could figure out how this happened at the time. It now appears that “Ms. Sullivan” provided information to her handler, who forwarded it to US officials. From there it was apparently passed on to the Israeli government.

Jacobs concludes that the discovery of such an informer demonstrates that the government “will stop at nothing in their attempt to silence protest against their imperial designs.”

A LIBERTARIAN-PROGRESSIVE ALLIANCE?

An alliance of libertarian progressives could be the political movement of the future. According to Raw Story, the spark may be the greed of the ultra-rich, which could lead to a global youth resistance movement that breaks down old political boundaries. Ralph Nader sees a convergence of liberals, progressives and libertarian conservatives in the wake of a worsening financial crisis. On the Fox business channel, Nader recently called these shifting alliances "the most exciting new political dynamic" in the US.

How could this left-right movement begin? Maybe it already has, thanks to an alliance between Rep. Ron Paul, godfather of the Tea Party movement, and Sen. Bernie Sanders. The most conservative and most liberal members of their respective chambers have teamed up to propose cuts to the US defense budget and push a more thorough audit of the Federal Reserve, the private central bank which controls US currency. Sanders-Paul, now there’s a ticket.

VERMONT SCENE

GUN VIOLENCE COMES TO HIGH SCHOOL

Senseless gun violence isn’t restricted to the Wild West. On Tuesday morning a Vermont teenager was found dead inside a bathroom at Mount Mansfield Union High School. It appears as if he shot himself, although the police are withholding details while they investigate.

Fifteen-year-old Connor Menning was described as a conscientious athlete, a loyal friend, a polite and courteous young man who enjoyed team sports, especially lacrosse and football. “He was a very committed team player,” said Holly Stadtler, whose son played football and lacrosse with Menning.
His death, whether suicide or not, points to at least two things – easy access to guns puts teenagers at risk, and Arizona isn’t the only place with a problem.

MOVING TO AMEND

Lawyer and former Green Party Presidential candidate David Cobb visited Vermont last week to promote a campaign to amend the US Constitution. The goal is that corporations are no longer legally recognized as people. Cobb spoke in Burlington, Waitsfield and Montpelier, and met with a dozen state senators, 11 of whom who have agreed to support a Vermont resolution calling on Congress to initiate the amendment process.

Exactly a year ago, on January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons. Basically, the Court said that they have the same First Amendment rights to make independent expenditures as natural people, and restrictions prohibiting corporations and unions from spending their general funds on independent expenditures violated the First Amendment. In other words, they’re entitled by the Constitution to buy elections and even run the government.

But critics of the decision say that only human beings are people, while corporations are merely legal fictions. Here is the basic wording of the proposed resolution:

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to: 1) firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights, 2) Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our vote and participation count, and 3) Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate "preemption" actions by global, national, and state governments.

There’s a good chance that a resolution with similar wording can be adopted in Vermont. But other legislative initiatives are also being considered in various states. In Vermont, for example, Jason Lorber (D-Chittenden) introduced H. 299 in 2009. Among several campaign finance provisions in his proposal are modifications to Vermont's public financing system and a provision to regulate reporting and disclosure of independent expenditures.

Last March, Vermont’s Senate Government Operations Committee introduced S.294, requiring sponsor identification information to be included on electioneering communications.

One of the most promising pieces of legislation has come from Maryland, Senate Bill 570. The proposal is to prohibiting a corporation from publishing or distributing campaign material in the State unless the material is true, the board of directors has decided that spending money is in the best interests of the corporation, and both the content of the campaign material and the expenditure have been approved by the stockholders in a vote.

So, maybe Vermont can go farther than recommending that Congress take action. How about some legislation with teeth?

BURLINGTON’S CANDIDATE GAP

Voters in the Queen City won’t have much of a choice in the City Council elections this March. Half the Council’s 14 seats are at stake, but according to Shay Totten, at best two of the seven races will be contested and just one progressive appears to be running.

Democratic and Independent incumbents in Wards 1, 2 and 5 will apparently run unopposed, as will first time Democratic candidates in Wards 4 and 6. There will be a race in Ward 7: Democrat Greg Jenkins will face off against Republican incumbent Vince Dober. The only Progressive on the City Council, another Vince – Vince Brennan, who was just elected in November to replace Ward 3 Progressive Marisa Caldwell – may also face a Democratic opponent.

The deadline for candidates is next Monday, so if you’re interested (and live in Burlington, obviously) there’s less than 100 hours left to get petitions signed.

RUMOR OF THE WEEK:

LANCE ARMSTRONG’S DRUG CONNECTION

According to Sports illustrated, Lance Armstrong may be indicted in a doping scandal. The FDA is currently investigating the period of 1999 to 2004, when Armstrong was a member of the team sponsored by the US Postal Service.

How serious is the inquiry? Very. If Armstrong is proven to be involved, the consequences would be stiff. “If evidence suggests that Armstrong was directing illegal doping activity,” reports Sports Illustrated, “the inquiry could result in charges against him of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering, drug trafficking and defrauding the US government.”

SIGNS OF THE TIMES?

Sarah Palin was on the defensive this week, trying to prove she was the victim of the Arizona shootings. TV host Regis Philbin and politician chameleon Joe Lieberman announced their retirements, just as a 7.2 earthquake rocked Pakistan. Coincidence? Let’s hope so. And Chinese leader Hu Jintao met with President Obama. Reassuring, isn’t it, when the boss comes to town for a site visit?

Meanwhile the list of mass animal deaths continued to grow. Recent examples includes the dozens of birds found dead in Romania, 300 grackles – tall blackbirds, I’m told – that dropped from the sky in Alabama, and thousands of fish discovered dead in Maryland. Now what? Up to 200 cows have mysteriously been found dead in Wisconsin.

In this case, vets say the cows were probably wiped out by an infectious disease. But the exact cause is unknown at this point. They could have contracted a respiratory condition known as red nose - infectious bovine rhinotracheitis - or Bovine Virus Diarrhea. Police say there’s no risk of illness spreading to other animals or humans.

If you’re a conspiracy theorist, this looks like either another government experiment – or one more sign of the apocalypse. So far this year unexplained animal deaths have been reported in Sweden, the US, Great Britain and New Zealand.

Finally, in strange music news, there’s a new Internet hit – a tribute song to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. There's a video: Check it out. And here are some of the lyrics:

She’s a cold blast from Alaska,
Ingrained with common sense.
She’s not a Harvard lawyer, but she knew what the Founders meant.
A cold blast from the North,
That freezes Congress in their tracks.
With God and the Tea party, she’s gonna take it back.
Sarah Palin, she won’t listen to their bunk.
Sarah Palin’s coming south to hunt some skunk.
Sarah Palin, she’ll throw them all in jail.


So, look out world. In the meantime, it’s week 525, 3675 days since the country was taken hostage in a court-ordered coup. This is Greg Guma with the Rebel News Round Up for January 21, 2011 on WOMM-LP. From Burlington in the People’s Republic of Vermont.
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