Thursday, January 6, 2011

MAVERICK CHRONICLES: 1/7/11

THE LOCKHEED DEAL:
IS BURLINGTON FOR SALE?

In early January Burlington Peace and Justice Center director Nancy Lynch announced she was leaving her job. The timing wasn’t the best, since it looks like Lockheed Martin, one the world’s largest defense contractors – or “global security” company if you prefer euphemisms – may be coming to Vermont's largest city to work on climate issues.

A letter of cooperation has been signed between the city and company. They’ve pledged to “work together and share technical expertise to "explore mutually beneficial arrangements involving sustainable environmental practices and renewable energy projects that can be applied in Burlington and elsewhere."

The most surprising twist – beyond the fact that this is happening in the People’s Republic of Burlington, where Bernie Sanders was once mayor – is that Mayor Bob Kiss, a former conscientious objector, actually solicited the business. The talks began during the Winter Olympics at the “Carbon War Room,” a pet project of the 212th richest person in the world, billionaire Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group. This is the guy selling space shuttle tickets for $200,000 a pop.

So, my question this week: What’s wrong with a partnership between Burlington and a huge defense contractor if the focus is safe energy and climate change? Is it green jobs or green-washing? Is Burlington at long last for sale? We’ll come back to that later. Meanwhile…

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’s question: Does the Lockheed deal mean Burlington is for sale? Also, the downside of microcredit, the Wiki leaks continue, Goodbye birds and bees, Top Word Hits, Corporate “people” under fire by local government, Gannett furloughs. Plus, more on Lockheed, Burlington and climate change, and the rumor of the week.

Live Stream: http://www.theradiator.org/drupal/webcam.html
Call-in: (802) 861-9666

NATIONAL SCENE


End of the World Department:
Goodbye Birds and Bees

On New Year’s Eve, thousands of red-wing blackbirds tumbled from the sky in Arkansas. A few days later a flock of mixed birds died in Louisiana. And last Tuesday a hundred jackdaws were found dead on a street in Sweden. A little spooky. Maybe they all just got the flu or became confused. Right?

But what about the 96 percent drop in four common species of bumblebee in the US over the past few decades? At first scientists claimed the decline was likely a result of disease. But then memos suggested the illegal release of pesticides. Bumblebees are key pollinators of wild plants and agricultural crops around the world including tomatoes and berries. A big decline could have devastating implications.

It’s getting strange out here, like the opening of some apocalyptic thriller that doesn’t work out too well.

Recent Wiki-Leaks

Every day, whether we want them or not, we get a few more inconvenient facts. Newly released WikiLeaks cables show, for example, that the US embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified crops. In response to moves by France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety in late 2007, the ambassador, Craig Stapleton, a friend and business partner of George Bush, asked Washington to penalize the EU and particularly countries that didn’t support the use of GM crops. That’s multi-lateral negotiation.

Another bunch of cables show that high US government officials have obliged special requests from foreign heads of state to help close big deals for Boeing. Call them incentives, or pay offs. In 2006, a senior Commerce Department official hand-delivered a personal letter from George W. Bush to the office of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, urging the king to complete a deal with Boeing for 43 airliners, including some for the king's family fleet. As part of the deal, the King wanted his personal jet "to have all the technology that his friend, President Bush, had on Air Force One."

Once he had his high-tech plane, the King said, "God willing," he would "make a decision that will 'please you very much.'" The US authorized an upgrade for Abdullah's plane.

Still another cable describes a November, 2009 meeting between a high-level delegation of Israeli and American political, military and intelligence operatives. On the agenda was the US delivery of 100 bunker-buster bombs to Israel, meant to be used to assault Iran's fortified nuclear facilities.

Those attending the meeting urged "that deliveries should take place in silence so that we could avoid allegations that the U.S. government was helping Israel to prepare for an attack on Iran."

On the bright side, we have a heads up on the next war.

Reality Check: Microcredit Has a Downside

For years one of the most popular programs helping the world's poor has been microcredit, the practice of making small loans to very poor people. It’s a multibillion-dollar business. But microfinance companies have been accused of predatory lending and collection practices so harsh that they’ve driven borrowers to suicide. In India, one state government has enacted legislation that will, in effect, put microlenders out of business.

The idea is altruistic enough: give a small loan to a very poor person to buy an asset that will help her work her way out of poverty. The typical client is a poor woman living in a slum or a rural village. She might earn money as a farm worker or selling vegetables at the side of the road. The theory is that as little as $200 could allow that woman to buy more goods to sell, or a couple of goats to milk, or a sewing machine to make clothing. It’s "up-by-your-bootstraps" capitalism, so appealing to thinkers in the developed world that one of the pioneers of microfinance, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

But in India microcredit doesn't come cheap. The cost may be shocking to anyone who has borrowed for a car or a house. Brace yourself, says Vijay Mahajan, president of the Microfinance Institutions Network. “The typical interest rates are in a range of 24 to 30 percent per year,” he reports. “Most people find it very hard to see that this interest rate does any good to poor people who are the recipients."

Happy Anniversary Gitmo

On January 11, the prison at Guantanamo will enter its 10th year of operation, despite Barack Obama's campaign promise to close it. 174 men are still imprisoned there. It’s one of the most obvious promises that hasn’t been kept and a prime cause of that growing political disorder – Obama Fatigue.

Going After Corporate People

The campaign to legislate a way past the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision isn’t completely new. According to Allen D. Kanner, writing on the Move to Amend website, since 1998 more than 125 cities and towns have passed ordinances that put citizens' rights ahead of corporate interests. They’ve banned corporations from dumping toxic sludge, building factory farms, mining, and extracting water for bottling. Many have even refused to recognize corporate personhood.

Over a dozen towns in Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire have recognized the right of nature to exist and flourish (Ecuador has done the same in its new constitution). Four municipalities, including Halifax in Virginia, and Mahonoy, Shrewsbury, and Packer in Pennsylvania, have passed laws imposing penalties on corporations for chemical trespass – in the form of involuntary introduction of toxic chemicals into the human body.Communities are also beginning to band together. When Pennsylvania’s attorney general proclaimed, "There is no inalienable right to local self-government," and then threatened to sue Packer Township for banning sewage sludge, people were outraged. Six other towns adopted similar ordinances and 23 others passed resolutions in support of their neighbors.

Bigger cities are joining the fray. In Pittsburgh, council member Doug Shields is trying to ban corporations in the city from drilling for natural gas, a damaging practice known as "fracking." As Shields put it, "Many people think that this is only about gas drilling. It's not. ­It's about our authority as a municipal community to say 'no' to corporations that will cause damage to our community. It's about our right to community, to local self-government."

Why is this happening? Here’s a typical story. Local citizens oppose a corporate practice, let’s say toxic sludge dumping. It’s taken a huge toll on health, the economy, and the natural surroundings. They fight for years for regulatory change, only to discover a bitter truth: the system consists of interlocking state and federal laws designed by industry to serve corporate interests. The deck is stacked. They can’t stop corporations from destroying the local environment for the sake of profit – at least without changing laws.

Now Vermont may be getting into the act. Work is underway to introduce a Move to Amend resolution in the State Legislature. Which brings us back to corporations and the Queen City…

VERMONT SCENE

War and Peace in Burlington

Once upon a time a bold independent socialist said “Burlington Is Not for Sale.” But at the opening of 2011, 30 years after Bernie Sanders first ran for mayor, a contract has been announced between the City of Burlington and Lockheed Martin, one of the largest defense contractors. Irony Alert. But it’s not defense work. Rather, it is supposed to include “joint work” on sustainability and climate adaptation analysis; energy and transportation technologies; solar photovoltaic systems; electric car technology; property-assessed clean energy (PACE); and “three-dimensional light detection and ranging (LIDAR) city model.” In other words, good stuff.

So, as I asked earlier, what could be so wrong about a partnership between local government and a big company, even if it is a defense contractor, as long as they’re working together on turbines and solar power? To start, it could lead toward privatizing not-for-profit projects like PACE, which lets US home owners bundle home renewable energy financing into their mortgage and spread out the payments. But a more controversial aspect is the plan to connect Burlington school children with Lockheed Martin engineers.

When General Dynamics started distributing pencils, bookmarks and books stamped with their corporate logo a few years ago, Burlington parents and students were upset. Told to attend an assembly to listen to General Dynamics employees, one nine-year-old at Champlain Elementary asked her mom, "Are we for bomb-makers?”

Peace activist Joseph Gainza recently told Jonathan Leavitt*, who has been leading the questioning of the Lockheed contract, "I would hope that the City of Burlington and the Burlington School District wouldn't let a corporate member of the military industrial complex take credit for solving the climate change problems it helps everyday to perpetuate."

Meg Brooke, Chair of Chittenden County Progressives, says of Lockheed's involvement with students: “I am deeply concerned by the way we normalize violence and war and desensitize our young to the horror our military perpetrates, especially on the young, women, and the elderly. Welcoming one of the leaders of this military industrial complex into our schools goes against all I, and many others, believe. I do not want young Vermonters to see the Lockheed logo on TV and have a positive thought about what that business might have done in their school.”

Leavitt met recently with Kiss to discuss the issue. The Mayor called the offer “serendipitous” and said the contract will go forward despite local objections. He apparently wasn’t concerned that a huge defense company might be using the city’s good name to lend it environmental legitimacy. There will be no outreach, beyond informing the City Council. Kiss also wasn’t persuaded by discrimination lawsuits filed against Lockheed, even though the Progressive Party platform insists on having contracts only with responsible employers and favors coops and local business to multinationals.

By the way, the F-35 fighter plane, which may end up stationed at the Burlington Airport, is a Lockheed project.

A few Lockheed facts: 84 percent of its revenue comes from the US government, the majority Pentagon contracts. The company spent $10 million on lobbying just in 2010. Berne Sanders himself has noted that it has been involved in dozens of instances of misconduct and paid huge fines.

Progressive City Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (Ward 3) said in a statement, "When any municipality considers partnering with a corporation there needs to be some sort of conversation around a set of standards and principals that reflect the community. With Burlington those standard would need to include language to reflect issues long enshrined in the fabric of the City's life: human rights issues, equality issues, peace and war issues. Any agreement or discussion needs to be guided by these community standards, be it on a project level or a policy level. Sometimes the money involved in a potential deal or partnership is not enough to compromise these principals. This deal, frankly, considering Lockheed's long track record would violate any reasonable community standards for the City of Burlington."

Burlington has many NGOs, non-profits and local companies already doing environmental work. So, another question is why Burlington even needs Lockheed to deal with climate change? Progressive Party Chittenden County Chair Meg Brooke warns that it will “take credit for twenty years of grassroots organizers blood and sweat.”

In the irony department, there’s also the idea of Lockheed working on climate change when it’s the single largest purchaser of oil in the world (363,000 barrels a day). Again, Chittenden County Progressive Chair Meg Brooke: "The military is the number one enemy of sustainability and Lockheed isn’t going to do much to change that as their money comes from manufacturing machines that are completely unsustainable. Their F35’s, which threaten our environment, use 2,000-4,000 gallons of fuel and hour."

At the end of his meeting with Mayor Kiss, Leavitt asked to what degree the outraged grassroots of Burlington could affect the outcome. Would civil disobedience, for example, have any influence on the contract? Kiss eventually replied, "Well there's nothing date certain in it. This is just a letter of intent, it doesn't have specific benchmarks for specific projects."

To some people that sounds like an invitation to organize and push for a public hearing to reconsider the whole deal. Maybe even making Burlington a no-fly zone for the military-industrial complex. Or better yet, to set clear standards for the kind of business Burlington wants.

* Thanks to Jonathan Leavitt for much of the research in this story.

MIND GAMES

The Words according to Google

Sam Smith, a DC-based journalist, keeps a running list of the words and phrases that get the most Google hits. Here are the Big Words from the past month. Feel free to free associate…

First, the top 20 Google word hits. In first place, with 11 billion hits, are those obsession-creating six letters – Twitter – followed by his voyeuristic half-brother Facebook and their tedious uncle Blog at 10 billion each. Google itself got 4 billion hits. Other big words are 5. Tweet (3.1 billion), 6. Amazing (1.8 billion), 7. Awesome (1 .5 billion), 8. Marketplace (1.4 billion), 9. Embed and embedded (1.4 billion), 10. Absolutely (1.1 billion), 11. Fuck, fucked and fucking (894 million), 12. Inappropriate (851 million), 13. Empire, imperialism, and imperial (807 million), 14. Shit (656 million), 15. Epic (a new entry with 630 million), 16. Enhanced (555 million), 17. Concerns (435 million), 18. Guru (370 million), 19. Context (339 million), and 20. Closure (302 million).

And here are the current Top (mainly Cliché) Phrases. First place goes to “Prior to” (408 million), then “I/we/you have a situation” (148 million). 3. “As a matter of fact” (125 million), 4. “Next generation” (123 million), 5. “No problem” (114 million), 6. “Check it out” (86 million), 7. “All new” (47 million), 8. “Resolve the issue” (40 million), 9. “State of the art,” 10. “Best practices” (32 million), 11. “Day one” (28 million), 12. “World class” (28 million), 13. “Take full responsibility” (25.1 million), 14. “Partner with us” (25 million), 15. “Bottom line” (24 million), 16. “Real time” (21 million), 17. “Homeland security” (21 million), 18. “Top notch” (18.8 million), 19. “In terms of” (17 million), and 20. “Policies and procedures” (11 million).

Now a chant, words to unite your mind with cyberspace:

Bottom line, no problem. We have a situation. Empire. Homeland Security. Absolutely inappropriate. Epic and embedded. But let’s take full responsibility, resolve the issue -- in real time, in terms of closure and the marketplace. We need policies and procedures, best practices, enhanced, real time, top notch, world class, all new, next generation. From Day One. Amazing? Awesome. State of the art.

(That’s about 27 of the top 40 words and phrases, and very relaxing meditation by the way. Check it out.)

Rumor of the Week: Wilileaks is a CIA plot

This rumor has been circulating for several weeks. I got it from F. William Engdahl, a writer who thinks the whole Wikileaks situation is fishy. To Engdahl and others it looks like a less-than-believable movie plot: A hacker holds the President and his State Department hostage to a gigantic cyber “leak” unless he and his comrades are allowed to release hundreds of thousands of pages of sensitive US Government memos. In reality, goes the rumor, the so-called leaks support the US agenda around the world from Iran to Russia to North Korea. Bottom Line: It’s actually a huge US intelligence con job which will be used to crack down on the Internet.

The notion here is that the whole course of the leaks controversay advances a long-standing Obama and Bush agenda. The government has already shut the Wikileaks server in the US, although no identifiable US law has been broken. More evidence? Ok, policing the Web was underway before the current leaks scandal. In 2009 Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller and Republican Olympia Snowe introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S.773). The idea was to give the President unlimited power to disconnect private-sector computers from the internet. The bill "would allow the president to 'declare a cyber-security emergency' relating to 'non-governmental' computer networks and do what's necessary to respond to the threat." It could become a top priority when a new Republican House gets to work.

The US Department of Homeland Security has already begun to crack down on the Internet. They are quietly seizing and shutting down web domains without due process or a trial. Homeland Security simply seizes domains and posts a "Department of Justice" logo on the site. Over 75 websites were seized and shut in one recent week.

At the moment, the focus is websites that supposedly "violate copyrights." But at least one seized, torrent-finder.com, contained no copyrighted content whatsoever. It was just a search engine that linked to destinations where people could access copyrighted content.

What’s coming? Cyber censorship to combat cyber terrorism? Virtual Fascism? And ultimately, Max Headroom? Stay Tuned.

Until then, it’s week 523, 3661 days since the country was taken hostage. This is Greg Guma with the Rebel News Round Up* on The Rose Show. January 7, 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 additons.
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