Thursday, January 27, 2011

MAVERICK CHRONICLES: 1/28/11

DOING BIG THINGS

Jimmy Buffet fell off a stage in Sydney, Dennis Kucinich sued a restaurant chain over a defective sandwich, and Jay-Z announced his black remake of Annie. It was another strange week. The Oscar nominees were also announced, and ten pictures, rather than the old five, were nominated as the best. It’s a diverse list. Five of the noiminees went with realism and contemporary themes: A dramady about lesbian parents and their children, a true adventure in which the hero survives by cutting off his arm, a Rocky-style, working class boxing saga, a dark tale of survival in the Ozarks, and a sharp look at social network entrepreneurs with limited social skills. I’m talking about The Kids Are Alright, 127 Hours, The Fighter, Winter’s Bone, and The Social Network.

The other five included a neglected piece of British history – The King’s Speech, a ballet melodrama – Black Swan, another installment of Pixar’s franchise – Toy Story (3), a western remake from the Cohen brothers – True Grit, and a special effects mind game from Christopher Nolan – Inception.

At this point, it’s hard to predict a winner. But one odd fact has already emerged. In the acting categories, for the first time in more than a decade, not a single non-white person was nominated.

Maybe they could add a special Oscar – best performance by a politician. Obama might have a chance there, although he’d be up against Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Darrell Issa, John Boehner, and more. They’re certainly actors. After all, they’ve convinced millions of people that they care about something more than their own careers. Bravo playas.

But Obama remains the man to beat. Who else could sell a slogan for the entire nation: We do big things. More on that later (in Part Two). As Denzel Washington put it in his own Oscar-winning role in Training Day, King Kong ain’t got nothing on Barack. This week, in a special report, we’ll consider his most recent performance in the State of the Union address.

Which leads to this week’s question: Is our Muslim Manchurian Candidate making a comeback?

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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: Deconstructing the State of the Union. Plus, goodbye Jack LaLanne, global unemployment, political prisoners – Lori Berenson and Bradley Manning, Oscar’s Top Ten, Vermont's challenge to corporate “people,” Internet taxes, and the rumor of the week.

Live Stream:
http://www.theradiator.org/drupal/webcam.html

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People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

-Bob Dylan, Things Have Changed

NATIONAL SCENE

GOODBYE JACK

Last week marked the end of an era – or at least of an icon. In 2006, Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru, said "I can't afford to die. It would wreck my image." He was over 90 at the time and still pumping iron. Last Sunday his image took an inevitable hit when he passed away at age 96.

This was the man who told millions of underdeveloped kids that they didn’t have to let bullies kick sand in their faces. For decades he inspired TV viewers to stay trim, eat well, and exercise. He was instrumental in turning diet and exercise into big business. And he followed his own instructions right until the end.

LaLanne died of respiratory failure due to pneumonia at his home in Morro Bay on California's central coast. So, thanks Jack. You can take a break now. Have a cookie.

THE GLOBAL JOBS SLUMP

Americans are constantly hearing about the US unemployment rate. But the problem is really global. According to the International Labor Organization, worldwide unemployment was 250 million in 2010, hurting everywhere although slightly less in emerging economies like Brazil.

So far the so-called global recovery has had no impact on jobs. Actually, 27.6 million more people have lost their jobs since the crisis began. It’s not expected to change much this year. What are the hardest hit nations? The most developed. Meanwhile, more than 1.5 billion people have had to accept temporary work to get by.

BERENSON GETS A BREAK

More than 15 years ago a young New York activist was tried and convicted of aiding terrorists in Peru. Only 26 at the time, Lori Berenson was accused of helping rebels in the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement to plan an armed takeover of Congress. The attack never happened, but Berenson was sentenced to life in prison for sedition in a trial before hooded judges. After intense US government pressure, she was re-tried in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years for terrorist collaboration.

Well, she’s finally free. A Peruvian appeals court has rejected the attempt of a prosecutor to revoke her parole last year. This ends eight months of legal purgatory. But she still can’t leave Peru until her sentence ends in 2015 – that is, unless President Alan Garcia decides to commute it.

The judges said that Berenson has "developed projects for a future life, grounded in motherhood." Basically, they say she’s been rehabilitated. Berenson says she wants to return to New York, where her parents are professors, and work as a translator.
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As the time she was convicted Berenson was unrepentant. But since her initial parole last May she has expressed regret. Specifically, she helped the rebels rent a safe house. But she still insists that she didn't know guns were being stored there and denies engaging in anything violent. As Berenson sees it now, she was a politically convenient scapegoat.

… MANNING GETS EXTREME CONFINEMENT

You may not consider Lori Berenson a former political prisoner. But young Bradley Manning certainly appears to fit the role. And his detention may turn out to be illegal. According to NBC, military officials say that their investigators haven’t been able to directly connect the Army private, who is suspected of leaking secret documents, with Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks.

Last week David MacMichael, who once ran the facility where Manning is being held, wrote a letter to Marine Corp Commandant James F. Amos. In part, he said:

"I wonder, in the first place, why an Army enlisted man is being held in a Marine Corps installation. Second, I question the length of confinement prior to conduct of court-martial. The sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing to the accused in all criminal prosecutions the right to a speedy and public trial, extends to those being prosecuted in the military justice system. Third, I seriously doubt that the conditions of his confinement -- solitary confinement, sleep interruption, denial of all but minimal physical exercise, etc. -- are necessary, customary, or in accordance with law, U.S. or international.

"Indeed, I have to wonder why the Marine Corps has put itself, or allowed itself to be put, in this invidious and ambiguous situation. I can appreciate that the decision to place Manning in a Marine Corps facility may not have been one over which you had control. However, the conditions of his confinement in the Quantico brig are very clearly under your purview, and, if I may say so, these bring little credit either to you or your subordinates at the Marine Corps Base who impose these conditions.

"It would be inappropriate, I think, to use this letter, in which I urge you to use your authority to make the conditions of Pfc. Manning’s confinement less extreme, to review my Marine Corps career except to note that my last duty prior to resigning my captain’s commission in 1959 was commanding the headquarters company at Quantico. ..."

There is also a new song on YouTube about Manning by David Rovics.

VERMONT SCENE

CORPORATE PEOPLE: THE FIGHT BACK

Following up on last weeks’ discussion of corporate personhood and David Cobb’s visit to Vermont, I’m happy to report that state Senator Virginia Lyons has introduced an anti-corporate personhood resolution in the Vermont Legislature. The resolution is the first of its kind in the country and proposes “an amendment to the United States Constitution that provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States.” Chances of passage are good.

Last year the Vermont Senate became the first state legislature to weigh in on the future of a nuclear power plant, voting to shut down Vermont Yankee. Now they’re looking at the rest of corporate America. Here is some of the language:

“The profits and institutional survival of large corporations are often in direct conflict with the essential needs and rights of human beings,” it says. They “have used their so-called rights to successfully seek the judicial reversal of democratically enacted laws” and governments have become “ineffective in protecting their citizens against corporate harm to the environment, health, workers, independent business, and local and regional economies.”

The resolution also points out that large corporations own most of America’s mass media and use them to project a corporate political agenda and to “convince Americans that the primary role of human beings is that of consumer rather than sovereign citizens with democratic rights and responsibilities.” With such things in mind, the resolution concludes that the “only way” toward a solution is amendment of the Constitution “to define persons as human beings.”

Cobb, who is leading the Move to Amend campaign, calls the resolution an historic document. He told Alternet, “This is the first state to introduce at the legislative level a statement of principles that corporations are not persons and do not have constitutional rights. This is how a movement gets started. It’s the beginning of a revolutionary action completely and totally within the legal framework.”

It could work. After all, an ABC New polls recently found that 76 percent of Americans oppose the Citizens United decision, which has defined corporations as people and opened up the floodgates for contributions to elections.

TAXING INTERNET SALES

Vermont is also looking at the tax system. A Blue Ribbon Commission has recommended a sales tax on Internet commerce. According to the Commission, “the explosive growth in e-commerce presents a devastating threat not only to state sales tax collections but to the health of retail commerce in their downtowns." It estimates that $30 to $40 million in tax revenues is being lost to e-commerce.

This wouldn’t be a new tax, at least that’s the claim. Vermonters are already supposed to declare Internet purchases on their tax forms. But only 25,000 currently admit to making out-of-state purchases and the state collects a mere $850,000. Clearly, some people are having memory problems.

Before you object, consider this: for some retailers it’s a survival issue. Economist Art Woolf has documented a decline in retail in Vermont towns along the New Hampshire border since the introduction of a Vermont sales tax. Now towns across the state face a challenge from online sales. Many local retailers say customers visit their stores to learn about a product, then buy it online. In the most recent holiday season, retail sales grew around 3 percent. But online sales grew in the double digits and are now over 10 percent of all retail sales.

Selling online also creates opportunities for some Vermont businesses. But many actual stores – as opposed to virtual ones – are being squeezed by online sellers who don’t charge sales tax. This is important in protecting downtowns. Vermont’s remaining local stores are part of what makes the place special.

The problem is that a court case has concluded that a company must have a "nexus," or a business presence, in a state if it’s going to collect sales tax. So, if you buy online from a company with a store in Vermont they collect sales the tax. A recent hope was that a "Main Street Fairness Act" would help. The idea was to develop a process for collecting online sales tax. But the "no new taxes" crowd killed that one.

RUMOR OF THE WEEK

GPS testing is a cover for…something bad

The Federal Aviation Administration recently issued a press release to pilots saying that the Department of Defense is testing the GPS system off the southern Atlantic coast. The tests have begun and will continue until February 11. But engagdet.com turned this into a rumor by including the following line: “Don't panic, but anyone planning on using GPS in the southeastern US for the next month or so will likely want to make sure they have a fallback option."

That was more than enough. Chat rooms exploded with rumors that the Defense Department is hiding something — war games off the coast, scientific experiments in the Bermuda Triangle, a plot to make the system more accurate in finding us or our cars for government tracking. Who knows?

In reality, Defense developed GPS after the original Sputnik moment. It was released for public use under an executive order in 1983. Ever since, the Defense Department has been in charge of software upgrades and satellite maintenance.

In January 2010, after an upgrade the Air Force lost about 10,000 signals. Current testing in the Atlantic may really be underway to protect against long-term disruptions in advance of another upgrade. The tests take 45 minutes, followed by a 15-minute blackout. Pilots are advised to contact control towers and check for outages before they take off. The rest of us don’t have much reason to worry. Or do we?

TOMORROW:

PART TWO - DECONSTRUCTING PRESIDENT-SPEAK
Analysis of the State of the Union address

...Until then, just keep in mind what the president said this week. If we want to stay special and win the future – and we all want that, don’t we? – we have to do big things. After all, the future is now and the race is on. So, citizens start your engines.

It’s week 526, 3682 days since the country was taken hostage in a court-ordered coup. This is Greg Guma with the Rebel News Round Up for January 28, 2011 on WOMM-LP. From Burlington in the People’s Republic of Vermont.

* This is an edited transcript and does not include extemporaneous comments and last minute changes or additions.
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