Saturday, October 22, 2011

Outrage and the Machine

MAVERICK CHRONICLES, 10/22/2011: Journalists Targeted at Occupy Protests, Blood Lust - American Style, and Regime Change in Burlington. Plus, a song from the streets.

As the occupy movement faces the arrival of colder weather, let’s begin with a warm rendition of Woody Guthrie’s classic, “This Land is Our Land,” sung by Burlington area musicians and activists last weekend in City Hall Park as they prepared to hold a General Assembly and march in solidarity with protesters in communities across the country and around the world.

This Land Is Our Land by Ronin Wolfe
Despite positive press in recent weeks, it’s been rough for some people involved with this rebellion – including journalists. In New York, the NYPD claims the right to decide who does and doesn’t qualify as a reporter. As a consequence, at least three journalists have been arrested. Two others have been assaulted while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Since the protests began in late September, reporters arrested for not having a press card include John Farley (MetroFocus magazine), Natasha Lennard (NYT freelancer), and Kristen Gwynne (Alternet). Those covering the demos must meet certain requirements to get press credentials from the police. The standards include having published or broadcasted breaking news at least six times in the past year. It’s an arbitrary bar, impossible to honestly enforce.
The requirements leave out most new journalists, reporters who don't normally cover breaking news and media workers with online publications that may not be considered “official” media, according to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
Journalism advocacy groups go farther, objecting to the idea that the police department should be issuing press cards in the first place. Meanwhile, journalists have been assaulted while trying to report. Fox 5 Cameraman Roy Isen was pepper sprayed, while his colleague, reporter Dick Brennan, was hit by a police baton, according to Reporters without Frontiers. The police said the assaults were "inadvertent."

Occupy Burlington's General Assembly gathers in the park.
And what have reporters seen? Among other things, they’ve witnessed hundreds of people being arrested, police beating and pepper spraying peaceful protesters. In fact, many of those arrested were filming or photographing, according to one of the detained journalists. The NYPD has denied that those with cameras are being singled out.

More troubling news: emails containing the words "Occupy Wall Street" were blocked in Yahoo's email service last week, says ThinkProgress. According to "Fast Company," Yahoo admitted that Occupy protest-related emails were not getting through, but claimed the problem was "not intentional" and would be resolved.  For More:  Journalists covering Occupy Wall Streetdetained, beaten and pepper sprayed  

Blood Lust – American Style

"He'll bring them death and they'll love him for it."
On Caesar and the mob, in Ridley Scott's Gladiator 

No, not the Republican audiences that have cheered for Rick Perry’s record on executions or the political outliers who think individual responsibility means sick people should be left to die. They are certainly out there. But let’s focus for just a moment on the relish with which the death of Muammar Gaddafi was greeted last week. Shouldn’t it have made people just a little squeamish?  In TV clips, the ousted dictator was shown bleeding, then dumped in the back of a truck just before being killed. The young executioner was initially hailed as a hero and TV comedians had a field day.

The response was similar after Osama bi Laden and Anwar al-Awlak were killed.  Shot in the face? Great! Predator Drone strike? Boo-yah.

With that background, it feels like the right time to mention the #3 story on the latest Project Censored list: Obama Authorizes InternationalAssassination Campaign.

Gaddafi in better times.
The current administration has quietly put into practice an “incomplete idea” left over from the Bush II era: a presidential international assassination program. Court documents, evidence offered by Human Rights Watch and a special UN report all suggest the same thing. US citizens suspected of encouraging “terror” have been put on “death lists.”

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence has told a Congressional hearing that the program, including the death list, is within the rights of the Executive Branch and doesn’t need to be revealed.  The CIA has so far murdered at least two people under the program. When the policy was challenged in a New York City court, the judge refused to rule.  Instead, he said “there are circumstances in which the executive’s decision to kill US citizens overseas is constitutionally committed to the political branches and judicially unreviewable.”

So, are we now OK with murdering Americans without the slightest due process – if they’re not in the country at the time and they meet the government’s criteria? Sure looks like it. Given that, public cheering for the assassination of strangely dressed, quirky foreign leaders or dark, bearded “extremists” accused of treason or human rights crimes– or maybe just considered a potential threat – is not a stretch.  

But let’s be clear: We DO have at least one death panel, a secret group of senior government officials. Once you’re on their list, apparently there is no way off – except in a body bag. Yet the public response to this new approach to law enforcement has been much like a Death Match version of American Idol. Remember Schwarzenegger’s movie, The Running Man. We’re almost there.

Regime Change in Burlington?

Tim Ashe
On a sunnier note, the Burlington race for mayor is heating up. No one except Bob Kiss, who has gone from Progressive Party savior to scapegoat during the last few years, knows what he will do. But Tim Ashe, his one-time ally on the City Council, isn’t waiting. Last week he became the fourth announced Democratic candidate who wants to replace the mayor. I’ve begun interviewing the hopefuls for VTDigger, starting with Ashe, who wants to build a fusion movement of Democrats and Progressives. But first he has to win the Democratic caucus in November. That event promises to be a memorable moment in local political history.

The future of Burlington Telecom is already one of the big issues of the campaign.  In the last seven years, the municipal-owned utility has brought its own TV, telephone and high speed Internet service to much of the city, creating more competition in an industry prone to monopoly. But the Kiss administration also borrowed $16.9 million from the city treasury and failed to pay it back within the required two months.

The mayor and his chief administrative officer Jonathan Leopold kept the debt secret until after the March 2009 elections that gave Kiss a second term. In 2010, BT was challenged by the Department of Public Service on behalf of consumers, as well as Comcast, the main competitor. The Public Service Board said that the city had violated four conditions of its license. Burlington is also being sued by Citibank for fraud and breach of contract, based on a $33.4 million lease purchase deal for equipment.

The city must find a way to repay the borrowed money and "cure" its other violations. If not, BT’s license could be revoked. Last week, the City Council came up with a partial solution: drop the  condition that requires Burlington Telecom to build a system that reaches every city resident. If you’re still interested at this point, here is a more detailed report: City Council wants PSB to drop Burlington Telecom build-out rule

The mayoral campaign is already raising thorny questions. For example, could the People’s Republic, birthplace of Vermont’s progressive movement, be heading for a privatized future? Burlington government runs several huge enterprises, but may not be prepared for the challenges of the future.  Ownership of BT is in jeopardy, Republican candidate for mayor Kurt Wright wants to sell the Electric Department, and public-private partnerships are the rage (unless you’re a military contractor).

Or how about this: Everyone says the political system isn’t working, here or anywhere else. But the Queen City may not be ready to go post-partisan quite yet. Tim Ashe’s fusion campaign is based on uniting people in two Parties. But some say Parties are precisely the problem, and Burlington would be better off without partisan elections. Others say it’s about civility, money or special interests. But a new social media-driven politics may also be emerging. So, are Parties over, or what?

These are some of the questions I hope to explore in the coming months. But I’ve already said too much. Until the next time… 
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